“She doesn’t want to see you,” Grant informed his leader Nestor.
Nestor and Grant were on their way to drop off the gold that was promised to the Ash village. Nestor never liked the people of the Ash village. Everyone there had a name that started with the word Ash. Nestor believed that he had received a few death stares after getting their names mixed up. He felt that his memory was getting even worse with time. If he had a vision related to the person he could easily retrieve their name from it.
Grant went over his handwritten notes. “Listen, there should be two guards at the Ash entrance gate. Their names are Ash Ton and Ash Ford. Their gold keeper is called Ash Leigh.”
“I’m getting Ash bored listening to you. I am not going to try to remember these silly sound-a-like names. I only need to speak to Asher.”
Grant and Nestor walked up the stairs of the gray Ash palace. Two extremely muscular guards Ash Lynn and Ash Bern escorted them through the palace doors.
“You really write down all of their names?”
Grant closed his ledger and adjusted the sack on his back that contained the gold. “Yes, it is the responsible thing to do. You know they can ban you from the village if you can’t respect their names or their beliefs. It’s a huge slap in the face to them. I need to be able to communicate well with these people.”
Nestor took the sack off of Grant’s back. “My man, they are all named after a tree. Not a great war hero, a previous leader or a god. A simple tree and they built an ugly dark palace.”
The guards stopped walking and turned towards Nestor. “Is there a problem Nestor?”
Just then Asher appeared in the hallway. Nestor’s heart leaped in his chest. He had forgotten how it felt to see his old flame. She was wearing the same gray gown that she always wore that had a long unnecessary train, for security reasons. You’d have to walk far behind her due to the length of the back of the dress.
Asher, the female leader of Ash village spoke, “Grant, there is no need for Nestor to be here.” She gave her guards a head nod meaning farewell. “You could have brought the gold yourself.”
Nestor laughed. “It’s good to see you, not to hear you as much though.”
Asher out of the blue aggressively pushed Nestor through two doors into her chamber. Grant banged his fist on the door. “Nestor, are you alright?”
Nestor used his hands to mimic brushing dirt off of his shoulders. “I’m good. She still loves me.” Nestor laid flat on his back on her bed. “O’h, how I miss this bed.”
Asher charged towards him. “I don’t love you, Nestor.”
“Right, because I’m a cursed man. You want to be an example for your tree loving people.”
Asher stepped back from him. “It’s not about you being cursed and you know it. It’s about all of the things you did after you were cursed. Anyway why do you care about what I think of you? You have Hettie back in Kobo. You can barely handle one flame.”
Nestor sat up. “I had to exile her. She was plotting against me. Agnes tried to warn me but I was so taken by her that I didn’t care at first.”
Asher crossed her arms. “Hettie is gone, so you decided to show up here? Grant always comes alone.”
“You told him to tell me not to come back here?”
“Of course, I did. You lied to that tribe. You used me to help you steal the berry fields from them.”
“Everything, I did was for Kobo not for me. For Kobo. I didn’t think I would lose you so easily because of one lie that I told to other people. Afterwards, I did tell you the truth about why I lied.”
“Yes, to make Kobo rich. You don’t fool me. You are a scammer at best. I can assume that you did something awful back in Bristol. ”
“No, I didn’t. I was all of eleven when the Punishere gave me the gift. I wasn’t given forgiveness, Asher. I had always heard that I was an attractive young man. There was a man at the Bristol market selling miros. I wanted to finally see what I looked like through the glass. He told me that it would cost me more gold than what I had. The seller turned around to sneak a peek at Goldean’s female guardian who had just arrived at the marketplace in a golden carriage. I saw that as my opportunity. I stole one small miro and stood in the back alley staring at my reflection. A man wearing a black cloak grabbed me and turned me in to the Punishere. I thought that they would go easy on a child. The Punishere told me that I would be able to see other people very clearly. I walked towards my home with a smile on my face. The Punishere, I thought was nothing but a tale told by the guardians to keep the young in Bristol under control. I sat under a tree and ate an apple. I was allowed to keep the miro. A man, a stranger to me walked by the tree. My eyes quickly closed and then reopened. I saw this man violently kicking a man repeatedly who owed him some gold. Next, a young girl passed by me. I had a vision of her cutting her own arm with a piece of glass. I started to run home. I was starting to see everything that everybody in Bristol had done. All of the bad things. I ended up on the Octo Trail. I was running away from other people’s memories. I ran as far as the trail would take me. When I got to Kobo, my visions weren’t as frightening. The people of Kobo had for the most part pleasant pasts. So I felt comfortable staying in Kobo. I love Kobo, but my punishment did not fit my crime.”
Asher shook her head. “You lived in Bristol. You stole a miro from the market. The Punishere punished you for it. Don’t look to me for any sympathy.”
“Bushear, the leader of Kobo, took me in. I worked in the palace for food and a roof. I gave Bushear and his flame Eleanador the miro as a gift. I didn’t expect the miro to be cursed, just myself. Bushear saw his flame’s past and went mad. I promised Bushear that I would take care of Kobo. Keep it only for the humans. My whole life has been affected by the choices that the Punishere made.” Tears dropped from Nestor’s eyes.
“What happened to the miro?”
“I placed it in a small box and threw it into the Black Rip Sea. I was young. It didn’t dawn on me to destroy it.”
“I see. I hate to see you hurting.” Asher tried to hug Nestor.
“I don’t need your sympathy.” Nestor gently pushed her arms away. “I’m a cursed man, don’t come to close.”
“Nestor.” Asher grabbed a small square piece of cloth from her table. “Here, wipe your face. Never let them see you cry. You’ll seem weak.”
“Commit to me.”
Asher’s eyes widened. “What?” She walked back up to Nestor.
“You heard me. Don’t pretend. I told you why I’m cursed. You loved me before.”
Asher gave Nestor a kiss on the cheek. “You may be cursed, but you live more than any of us beings. Nestor you’ve had multiple flames in every village.”
“And…For the record, I was only with one witch and one vamp.”
“Nestor, spend some time by yourself. Let Kobo be your flame. I will have to see you out. I’m going to be late for an Ash ceremony. ”
“Can I attend?”
“You wouldn’t appreciate it. We are celebrating the Ash trees that live on our land with us.”
“Boring, I’ll be going now.” Nestor playfully ran for the door. A now worried Grant quickly opened the door. Nestor flew right into the hallway without looking causing him to crash into a female Ashian named Ash Lee who had been carrying a tray full of berry juice. Asher angrily stood in her chamber’s doorway. Her century old, passed down gray gown was now stained by Kobo’s berry juice. Nestor gave Ash Lee his signature wink, found his footing and ran to the palace stairs. “O’h, Grant!”
“Right here, Nestor!”
They ran all the way to the start of the Octo Trail. Surprisingly, no one had followed after them. Nestor frowned. “We will have to send them some gold for that gown of hers.”
“I agree, but next time you stay in Kobo, where you belong,” Grant pulled out his ledger.
“Yes, I’ll stay in Kobo. I forgot to tell her that Agnes was stolen from us by a troll. I was distracted. That Asher is still in love with me, made me quite uncomfortable. You see how she shoved me into her chambers. She’s wild like a beast.”
They continued home on the Octo Trail. Grant was adding the name Ash Lee to his records. “Nestor.”
“I heard everything. She turned you down cold. You don’t need to lie to me. I know who you are. You are indeed a freak amongst us humans, but I accept you for who you are. You are cared about by many people, that’s not cursed.”
Nestor wanted to feel a sense of relief but he couldn’t. He wondered if the present would be a good time to tell Grant that Hettie hadn’t been exiled. He didn’t want Grant to turn against him. Truly, he had various potential enemies already. He loved Grant, so he feared losing him. Grant would never forgive Nestor for drowning his friend Hettie in the Black Rip Sea.