written and illustrated by VVBG
Summary: Young Esra lives a small life in a remote village, where his father helps the desperate flee their tyrant God King to safer lands across the sea. This changes suddenly when his father's treason puts him directly in the path of a fearsome Knight of the Order of Balor, whose dark intentions Esra quickly finds himself the focus of.
Tags: M/M, Dark Fantasy, Dubious/Non Consent, Graphic Depictions Of Violence
* * *
The ship loomed over Esra, a hulking black shape against the starless sky.
With its sails furled, it seemed like a great beast at rest, only waiting to be set free on the open sea. And with it, the refugees could be carried to safety - far away from this land where they had suffered under the rule of God King for so long.
But it would take Esra’s father away from him.
For the passengers, the journey meant freedom. But for Esra, it meant loss.
This was how it had always been. For as long as he could remember, strangers would come to the village from all over, bundled in layers of clothing, all their worldly possessions on their back. Later, they would set off for the safety of the Continent.
Esra’s gentle heart went out to them, always. He did not fully understand what they were fleeing from, but it must have been horrible if it made them come to this.
And always, Esra’s father would go with them. Although Esra was only eight summers, he understood that this was the way.
“Your father is a hero,” one of the refugees had insisted to Esra, his cold wrinkled hands clutching at the boy’s with a broken sort of desperation. I must be brave for them, Esra thought, and tried to quash his childish fears. He smiled up at the man, and nodded with understanding, as his small fingers were squeezed gratefully.
At his reaction, the old man’s weathered face broke into a beaming smile.
The orange flame of the torches whipped in the sea breeze, sometimes guttering, but never going out. Shadows flickered over the ship’s side, the ragged forms of the refugees. Clouds had smothered out the stars, and the air was chill.
Young Esra suppressed a shiver.
From the deck, the refugees looked down at the villagers gathered by the pier who had come to see them off, their faces lit by torches. They looked up and beyond, to commit to memory the dark land they were leaving behind forever. This view would be the last glimpse of their homeland.
A strong gloved hand landed on his shoulder, squeezed. Esra looked up into the dark gaze of his father, Marten. The village leader was dressed well for the sea voyage that was to come, and the sight of him fully prepared to leave him made Esra’s eyes prick with tears despite his promise to himself that he would be brave.
His father noticed. “You must stay strong, Esra. As my son, you represent me while I am away.”
“Yes, father,” Esra whispered, and he wiped his eyes on his scarf.
* * *
“But where do they go?” Esra had asked his best friend, Kian.
Kian was a few years older than him, and vastly worldly in Esra’s young eyes. For every question that came to Esra’s curious mind, Kian always had an answer. He was tall for his age, and russet-haired, with a sly smile and cheery disposition.
“To the Continent,” Kian answered blithely, “where they will be safe from Balor’s slimy reach!” He wiggled his fingers at Esra threateningly, making the boy flinch back and laugh.
On that golden autumn morning the boys sat together on a grassy outlook that let them see the village sprawl beneath them, small and remote against the blue-grey sea. The gentle breeze swept over them, bringing with it the fresh scent of the sea.
Esra leant his head on Kian’s shoulder. Because they were alone, the older boy wouldn’t shrug him off. “Why must they go to the Continent?”
“Well, they need to escape of course.” Kian’s eyes glinted. “Most people on Fomoria are hoodwinked, Esra. A long time ago, a great beast rose from the sea, and enslaved the humans, making himself their God King. He made an army of black knights that ride on dragons. The knights are half-seabeast, drink blood, and if they catch you...”
Esra yelped as Kian tackled him to the grass in a billow of crisp autumn leaves, pinning his wrists to the ground and getting right up in his face.
“They eat you!” Kian bared his teeth.
“Kian!” Esra wailed, wriggling. Being restrained always set his heart thudding. He was a scrawny boy, with little strength, and Kian was much bigger than him. “Get off me!”
Kian did, eventually, but not without making Esra beg.
* * *
The village even harbored fae folk a few times, those frighteningly beautiful creatures that had taken Esra’s breath away to look upon.
The fae lived in the secret places at the edges of mankind’s knowledge, where most feared to tread. From forest to forest, mountain to mountain, they moved in shadow, always avoiding the God King’s reach.
Centuries back, the fae had ruled over these lands, Kian once told Esra. They had been kings and queens. And the seabeast’s kind had been banished beneath the waves, forced to look jealously upon the lands controlled by their mortal enemies.
“Not many men have laid eyes on a fae,” his father told him. Esra, then thirteen years old, had been gawping at the tall, ethereal creatures around the fireplace with a child-like wonder, unable to take his eyes off them; their long pointed ears, colorful clothing, and delicately pointed teeth. They could speak to men, but they had their own language too, and it was like music to Esra’s young ears. Their eyes were like jewels, bright greens, blues and yellows…
“There are many on Fomoria who are part fae, from back when man and fae mixed more closely,” his father continued. Esra, who was always in awe whenever his father spoke to him, listened raptly. “Your mother… Sihannah, she had a bit of fae blood. Gave her the prettiest pointed ears.”
He sounded wistful.
“It doesn’t show on you. Probably for the best…”
He’d smiled, then, but Esra had the feeling that his father’s smile was not for him. Marten’s eyes were distant with memory. Then, he was serious again.
“They are our allies against the tyrant, Esra. Always be a friend to the fae.”
“I will, father,” Esra had promised sincerely, without fully knowing what it meant.
The fae always treated him with an undue kindness whenever he served them, even though he must have seemed a graceless, awkward creature in their eyes.
Growing up, no-one had ever called him handsome, or beautiful. There were no mirrors in the village, so he came of age with no real idea of what his face looked like. His nose felt sloping, narrow. His mouth was small, and his lips thin. From catching his distorted reflection in rivers and polished metal, his eyes stood out like huge dark circles in his narrow face.
It must be something in the way his eyes were set, or shaped, but they caused well-meaning people to ask him if he was sad. But the fae all, unfailingly, called them soulful eyes, a beautiful gift from Danu.
Esra didn't know anything about Danu, and had been too nervous to ask Kian, who, once he had moved from the children’s sleeping hut to the men’s, decided that Esra’s company was a bother. But it was nice, Esra thought, to have a feature that could be called beautiful.
* * *
By the time he’d come of age, Esra had grown into a slender, long-limbed youth, more gracile than gawky, thankfully, now that he'd finished his growth spurt. He wore his hair, long and inky black, tied neatly back.
His father had congratulated him, and in a roundabout way told him that it would soon be time to instruct Esra more completely in the work that he did around the village. So that Esra could follow in what his father did, when he passed. So that Esra could become the hope, the new hero of many.
Esra had felt a bit of fear at that, at so much responsibility. He much preferred following orders, felt safe when he was being told what to do. But his father wanted him to smile and be excited, and so he had. Marten was a man that Esra desperately admired, but he had expectations of his son that Esra knew he would never be able to fulfil.
His childish awe of Marten had matured into a deep and fearful respect.
Esra was so different from his father. All they had common was their olive skin and inky black hair. Where he was delicate, his father was tall and broad. While his personality was quiet, shy, his father had the commanding presence and untiring strength that was required to lead their village, and captain the ships. He was so often away that Esra knew him mostly through stories others told of him - his father the hero, his father their saviour.
Still, there were memories Esra held close to his heart: being lifted up, as a small child, to be shown around the ship; the warmth of a kind hand ruffling his hair; the joy of being swept up into a strong embrace upon every homecoming. These affections became rarer of course, as Esra grew older, and then stopped entirely, until his father became something of a stranger to him.
When Esra moved from the children’s quarters to the men’s, he found it difficult to sleep in this new, larger building. He was surrounded by people who, while polite, kept their distance while they tried to gauge his character as a man.
Compared to his father, they no doubt found him wanting.
As much as Esra tried to hide it, he knew he wasn’t like the others. He was gentler, more easily hurt, his slender frame not strong enough for a whole day of manual labour. And he’d had little instruction as a sailor, being a weak swimmer. Qualities that were forgivable in a child were not as kindly dealt with upon reaching adulthood, when one was expected to be useful.
Esra learned quickly that he wasn’t allowed to cry anymore.
He missed Kian, who as a newly married man spent most of his nights (when he was not at sea) with his wife, a sloe-eyed girl called Lynn. After a whirlwind romance, she had left her Continent-bound family to promise herself to him. A handsome young man, Kian had been chased by a few girls already, but Lynn was the first to truly catch his heart. Kian had laughed at the romance of it, and enjoyed the jealousy that his young wife provoked amongst the mostly older male populace of the village. He seemed harsher now, something taunting in his gaze.
Esra did not feel the same sort of jealousy that the other men did, another mark of his difference. Instead, he missed the cheery-eyed boy who shared his bed as a child, who wrapped him in his arms when he had a hard time falling asleep, who answered all of his innocent questions, who made him laugh when he was feeling sad.
Kian was every inch the man now, and gave Esra none of the tendernesses he’d been used to. Instead, he kept his distance, for reasons Esra didn’t understand. Esra felt a painful sting of betrayal from Kian’s actions, but he knew better than to ask why.
What was allowed for children, was not for men.
* * *
It was late summer. Sunlight peeked over the edge of the horizon, its warm rays hitting the small village where it nestled between forest wilderness and the vastness of the ocean.
Inside the men’s communal sleeping hut, Esra’s eyes blinked open at the muted sounds of those around him, rising, sighing, dressing, getting ready for the day’s work. His bed creaked gently as he sat forward, spine rounding, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. His dark hair, now long enough to brush his mid-back, slipped forward over his narrow shoulders.
On the floor beside him were piled sails the workers had left for him, frayed and damaged from their difficult trips from their island of Fomoria to the Continent. Fixing them would be his work for the day. He was the best at it, all agreed, thanks to his fastidious nature.
Esra dressed himself in his usual neat manner and tied his hair up and out of the way, his movements automatic and unthinking. He glanced at the workload by his feet, brow creasing at how much he had to do, and bent down. With a huff, he hefted the heavy linen pile over his back.
The lonely blue-grey expanse of the sea met him as he padded outside the sleeping hut. There was something about the vast body of water that had Esra feeling tiny, insignificant. His father’s ship was ready for the next voyage to the Continent. All they needed were good sails.
The refugees were getting restless, but his father didn’t like to set sail too often. Such a thing could draw unwanted attention.
With the weight of the sails bearing on his slim back, he turned away from the shoreline and started up the dirt path to the grassy outlook just outside of the village. Here, the wind gently brushed over his skin, and the morning granted him plenty of light. Seating himself on the soft green grass, he took the first sail from the pile, laid a part of it out over his knees, and set about darning the holes.
Esra found a rare inner peace when he could narrow his attention down to focus on a single task.
Growing up, the other kids had called him witch-fingers because of his slender hands, with unusually delicate narrow fingers that nearly tapered to points at the nail bed. Now, they were what made him useful. Give it to witch-fingers, the sailors would say when something was broken, or damaged. He can fix anything.
A faint smile blossomed on Esra’s face, and he neatly tied off his darning, folding the sail aside. One down. He reached for the next.
Below him, he could see the village stir to life as he worked. There were ships to maintain, food to gather, things to be made and mended. He saw his father, tall and stern, directing the sailors who were loading up the ships for the crossing to the Continent with food and clothing. His authority was never questioned.
Esra felt again, that gnawing fear of responsibility. Could he ever be like that? He still struggled with asking people to please move when they were blocking his path...
Lost in thought, Esra’s grip slipped, and he accidentally pierced the side of his index finger with the darning needle. He hissed in annoyance as red blossomed over his skin, and sucked his finger into his mouth before checking the minor wound.
It didn’t go too deep, he mused, intent on examining it further, when movement from the lands behind the village caught his eye.
There were dots on the horizon, people coming. Esra put down his materials for a closer look as the crowd raced closer. They were men, on horseback, he realised. A rather large number of them…
Esra’s heart froze in his chest when he saw steel armor glinting in the morning light.
Comments (112)See all