Callahan sat at his table, preparing himself mentally for another lecture from his older, lively brother Evan. Evan would stop by Callahan’s residence daily to make sure that Callahan remembered to breath every day. Even though Callahan reigned over the village of Logoff, he seldom if ever wanted to hear any good or bad news about it. Logoff’s fate would be fully out off his hands if he had his way. He had given up on the village years ago but was too uninspired to pack up and leave it. Where in the land would he go? What village would take in a spiritually broken ex-leader?
“When will the madness stop?” Evan snatched Callahan’s glass of watered down berry juice from him.
“I’ve been wondering the same thing myself. You’ve come to rain on my day, I suppose.”
Evan kicked him under the table and waited for a return kick that wasn’t coming. “You aren’t going to kick me back?” Evan was growing annoyed. “Or yell at me to stop?”
Callahan shook his head. “No, I don’t need to avenge my leg. I’m not motivated to do so. I’m not a motivated person. You know this.”
Evan laughed. “You are not a motivated leader. Focus on the word leader. Leaders need to be motivated to fight back.”
“Thank you for the lesson dear brother. What do you want now?”
“I hear that you let Mattau through the gate again.”
“Again? I told you before I don’t deal with Mattau or any other village leader. Only Nestor because of the berry agreement. I barely deal with the people here. How could I help him? He’s obsessed with the gold. I haven’t let him in any gate ever.”
“I’m your brother you can tell me the whole truth.”
“How about this for truth? I don’t care if you believe me or not. I want to sit here alone like I was and drink my berry juice.”
Evan realized that Callahan was too lazy and nonchalant to cater to Mattau’s wants or anyone elses. “You’ve convinced me. But people said they saw you personally open the gate for Mattau.”
“Don’t care, really.” Callahan crossed his arms and stuck out his tongue. “People see what they want to see. Most dislike me so…”
“Someone is pretending to be you to help Mattau. Mattau killed Omeria’s brother Jacobi and took a girl, I forgot her name.”
“To pretend to be me they’d have to look just like me,” Callahan entertained the idea. “But no one here would help out Mattau unless they were forced.”
“How would you know, you barely talk to them. One of them could be plotting against us as we speak.”
“There is no us. Someone else can be me. If they want the village of Logoff, they can have it, the land and the little gold that we own.”
“My brother, my leader, you worry me. You don’t have to give up. I’m really starting to think that you don’t care at all about this village.”
“You are finally catching on.” Callahan abruptly retreated to his room to lay down on his bed. He enjoyed the solitude and the darkness. Callahan once was a charismatic, competent and caring public servant that people looked up to. His outlook on life and his demeanor changed after the events of one cruel summer.
Nestor decided that he was finally ready to visit Malta. He had no idea of how to be a responsible guardian. His Bristolian guardians never kept an eye on him when he was growing up. They seemed pleased that he spent his free time away in the Crescent. He was the only boy who socialized with the witches and vamps. The only boy allowed to travel alone on the Octo Trail without a guardian present. He secretly wished that they had cared a little more however he had enjoyed the freedom.
A nervous Nestor knocked and then walked through Kaytee’s front door. “I’ve brought sweets.”
“Wow. Berry tarts, again,” Kaytee tried to fake enthusiasm. “Don’t you get tired of eating these?” Kaytee sat on the floor and continued to carve the numbers one to nine into various rocks.
“Never!” Nestor handed a tart to Malta who had been using berry juice to paint a picture. He lowered himself to the ground to give Malta a hug. “I’ve missed you, little one.”
“Where were you?”
He noticed that her hair was braided just like his. “I’m going to tell you cause I think you can handle the truth. You are surely going to be a leader someday, never a follower, Malta.”
Kaytee rolled her eyes. “We are all following someone. The gods, guardians, leaders or our flames.” On one side of a rock she carved the word follower and on the other side the word leader. She assumed that she could make a game out of it.
Nestor confessed. “I did some bad things. So Grant and Yessenia had me chained to a post so that I couldn’t do bad things. I couldn’t walk to come and see you but I wanted to see you. I had plenty of time to think about my actions and pray for forgiveness. And I’m much better now.”
“Were you forgiven?” Malta asked.
“I believe so.”
Kaytee couldn’t hold in her laughter. “Same ol Nestor. I’m going for a walk. ”
“Please do. You are ruining the moment.” Nestor looked back at Malta. “As long as you live in Kobo, you have to follow rules. It’s called following code. I broke code so I was punished by people who love me and that I love all the same. Understand?”
“Yes, but who made the code, the rules that we follow?” Malta wondered.
Nestor wanted to lie but he refrained from doing so. “Well, I did a long time ago when I was a boy. We will have plenty of time to discuss it. We need to talk about the fish incident.”
“Foolish people may blame you for bringing that fish into Kobo’s gate. It was not your fault that it ate Rebe and Oberlyn.”
“We tried to return it to the Sea but then it ate Oberlyn. They have been keeping us away from the other children. I’ve only had lessons with Kaytee and meals here.”
Nestor’s face turned bright red. “Oh, I’m in charge here. I will fix this, right away.” Nestor called out to Kaytee.
Kaytee strolled back in. “There’s nothing like fresh air.”
“You’ve been keeping Malta here away from the others as a punishment?”
“No, as a precaution. Ask Yessenia about it. ”
“A warlock named Zee created those man-eating fish not Malta for Mattau’s revenge against me for lying about the beasts in the berry fields.”
Kaytee gripped her cheeks. “Hold on. You clearly said those fish, as in more than one?”
“Why is everyone here so smart. Alright, don’t panic in front of the child.”
“What? Nestor. How many fish are there? You must tell me the truth!” Kaytee shouted.
“Simmer down. I was going to tell everyone during last meal once we knew for sure. ”
“Nestor.” Kaytee stomped her foot on the ground. “How many of those man- eating fish are out there?”
“I’m afraid that you will step on one of those rocks and hurt yourself. ” This was one of the few moments when Nestor wished he was a follower. “The protectors have reported to me that our section of the Black Rip Sea is full of killer fish. Mattau is using them to wage a distant war against us. These fish are also eating the regular fish.”
Kaytee paced back and forth somehow missing the rocks. “The Black Rip Sea is our main water supply. ”
“We may be able to reason with Mattau. He is friendly with Grant…”
“Reason with Mattau? He only understands gold and revenge,” Kaytee objected.
“Or… we can try to reason with this Zee fellow. We can attempt to kill all of the fish. We can seek the help of a witch. We can get water from another village for awhile. There is no reason to overreact. It’s a fixable problem.”
“Well, fix it then. Asher can give us water, if we need it,” Kaytee cheerfully supposed. “We took care of her people. Didn’t we?”
Nestor spoke to Malta. “See, that’s why it is good to have an ally in this land. So you can help eachother out from time to time.”
Kaytee added,”I’d never trust Mattau, this warlock Zee or no witches. Make the right choices. After all of this thinking, I need to rest. I’m old. Take Malta with you.”
Without asking, Nestor took the rock that Kaytee had carved the number one into. “Alright. I hope you are not scared Malta. This land is full of odd occurrences.”
“No, if you’re not scared, I am not.”
“I’m a very brave man though. Braver than all others. You are a little girl. I don’t expect you to be brave like me.” He held Malta’s hand and exited out of Kaytee’s residence.
After last meal, Donavo waited for Nestor on the steps of the dining hall. Nestor was happy to see Donavo as always. “You could have helped with the clean up.”
Donavo smiled. “You sound like Agnes. In the woods, we don’t clean things up.”
“I hear you. I was joking with you. You are a guest here,” Nestor clarified.
Donavo held on to the railing. “Speaking of guests. That Omeria sits next to you at every meal. Listens to your every word. Either she wants to be your new flame or to hurt you. I’m not sure which but you’ve been warned.”
“All of my flames have hurt me. No, Omeria is harmless. Just wants what I can’t give her.”
“So she wants you to commit to her and you can’t?” Donavo asked.
“No, we are not there yet,” Nestor let slip.
“Oh.” Donavo looked around for any listeners.
“No, what I meant to say was that she wanted me to give her the berry fields. There is nothing going on between me and Omeria. She would probably stab me in my sleep if she could.”
“Well, as long as you don’t get to comfortable with her. I think I’m going to leave soon. I need to track down Mercy and Declan Mortis III. They did kill my sister and Glodean. And your undrinkable water is infested with fish beasts. Not good for a guest.” He laughed until it hurt his stomach.
“Don’t laugh people have died. Do what you must. But come back before forty years,” Nestor told him.
In the night, Nestor heard knocking on his door. He jumped out of bed and grabbed a large knife. Who could it be, he thought. Omeria stepped backwards when she saw the knife. “Is this how you greet people?”
Nestor grabbed her arm and pulled her inside his residence. “If you are going to pester me everyday and night, you might as well meet the Octo Trail. I don’t have time for this. Why are you here?”
Omeria unexpectedly began to cry. “I have no one and nothing in this land. I don’t want to hate you any longer. Your people love. They love you. I can sense it everyday, in everything. There is a peace here underneath. There’s an order to things.”
Nestor grinned. “I know what I’m doing here. I’m the best leader in the land. You had to tell me this right now?”
Omeria wiped her face. “Well…”
He almost felt bad about snapping at her. “Hey, since I can’t go back to sleep now because of you, you get to stay awake with me. How about that?”
Omeria waved her hands. “No, I just wanted to tell you that I didn’t hate you. I forgive you.”
“Nestor sat down at his table. “Sit down here. Did you hear about the time that I jumped into a pit of snakes? No, you heard that one. Oh, there was the time that I drank poison to impress Mercy and her sister witch. That was way before she tried to burn down Kobo.”
Nestor braided Omeria’s hair so it would look like his. He talked for hours about himself while she mainly listened. Nestor’s eyes began to droop and he let out a wild yawn. “I feel tired again.” He walked her to the door and gave her a hug. “I hope you feel better.”
“I really do. I’ll see you around I’m sure.” By now it was light outside, so Omeria was less afraid of being ambushed by the alleged black cat. She would sleep for a couple of hours and then see if Sarah needed any help with the berry pies.
Strangely enough, three days later Asher and her villagers came out to the berry fields to perform a water cleansing dance for the Black Rip Sea. Sam stated to Rayden, “They are just making this stuff up as they go. Nature could care less about them and their dancing. They dance and the vicious fish disappear? You believin any of this?”
“Not really. I’m here for the dancing. Plus Asher is kindly giving us barrels of water,” Rayden acknowledged.
“I’m not drinking their water,” Sam maintained. “They probably did some hocus pocus to it. Gonna turn us all into tree worshippers.”
Donavo sat in the grass next to Yessenia and Sarah. He loved watching Asher dance even though he thought that the purpose for it was ridiculous. Asher was annoyed by the fact that Nestor kept looking over at Omeria during her performance. She shook her hips harder hoping to hold his attention. It was her first meeting with jealousy. Omeria and Teffani walked over to the water table to get a glass. They shared greetings with Ash Leigh who manned the table. Nestor grabbed a glass of water and briskly pulled Omeria away. She yanked her arm away from his grip. “What exactly are you doing?” Some water ran down her gown.
Nestor frowned. “I’m sorry. I tend to ruin other people’s things.”
“It’s not ruined. It’s water. Do you need to tell me something, Nestor? I’d like to get back to the festivities.”
Be brave, he thought. “You’ve been avoiding me.”
“Have I? Omeria asked him. “I haven’t tried to.”
“Yes, I haven’t seen you around that much lately.”
“Oh, no I went to the Bristol market with Sarah, Igna and Maji. It was a long journey. I was able to sell a few of those berry pies and I didn’t have to tell one lie to do so. It was fun.”
“Oh, I wasn’t aware that you were going with them.”
“Well, I hope it was alright. I like being included.”
Jayson ran as fast as he could through the grass into the berry fields. He searched the mixed crowd for the ageless gray haired man. He was out of breath by the time he reached Nestor and Omeria. Teffani, Rayden and Grant gathered around Nestor. “What is it?” they asked repeatedly. “What’s wrong?”
“Hurry, she’s back,” Jayson mumbled. Nestor feared that Mercy had returned to Kobo. If she had at least most of the villagers where in the berry fields.
They looked up to the sunny sky above them but saw nothing irregular.
“Who is back?” Rayden questioned Jayson.
“Lottie, Lottie Punishere,” Jayson mumbled again. “She’s at the gate.”
Nestor spun around and whined like a frustrated child. “Why now? Why today? For once, I’d like to have a normal day.”
“None of this is normal in any way,” Grant responded.
Nestor threw his hands up in the air. “Someone, please go and talk to her. Find out why she’s back.”
Jayson reached for Nestor’s chest. “That’s not all. Sam told me what the warlock Zee is like. I think he is with her at the gate.”