The Kingdom of Viller
A new day is dawned, but a rain still falls. Under a tree, in a field, stands a cow. Alone. Cold. Damp. Water drips from leafs above. A faint humming in the distance grows to a rumble, a howling, a roar, and a train thunders past on the railroad down at the edge of the field. A monster of steel and science, with passengers from here to there.
A cow raises her head to look, but a train is long gone, and the noise with it. There’s just the cow now, and the rain.
– – –
In a train, by a window, on her own, sits a paladin. Group of four seats and a table. Plenty of space, but still she is alone. No one wants to sit near a weirdo with dreads in her hair and tattoos on her face.
Her chronicler is elsewhere. Getting more coffee, and a tea. Leaving her alone. Not that he speaks. Not that she answers. It is still good to be alone.
Her mind wanders.
Outside a window, her homeland glides past. Fields – vast and green under a grey sky. Far to the south are hills and mountains. On a clear day you can see them. Snow tipped peaks glistening in the summer sun. But not today.
A paladin remembers. She knows those mountains. Knows these lands. It is far too long since last.
– – –
Toini sighed and reached for her cup. Still empty. She frowned and put it back on the table. A plain paper cup with a plastic lid and the International Rail company logo printed on the side. Crap coffee, but still coffee, and that’s what mattered.
She stared out the window. A familiar view. Not that she’d traveled this way a lot, but it still felt familiar – like home. The land spoke to her in a way it didn’t do anywhere else, and she’d been a lot of places. All over the known world, and more.
Her calling had shown her lands she’d never dreamt of seeing with her own eyes. Jungles, mountains, deserts, swamps. Doing her god’s will where he needed her to. Upholding the laws of nature. Saving lives, dealing deaths.
That too, she’d never dreamt of – not like that.
Sure, she’d been in the army. She knew what that meant, but it wasn’t the same. Up here, in the peaceful north, war had been an abstract concept – something that happened elsewhere, to other people in other lands.
She’d trained and served and done her duty, but when the weekend came, or in the evening if she wanted to, she could take the train home and see her sister and her friends. Her home had still been there.
Even when she’d signed up for the international peace keeping force her home had still been there. She’d always known she could go back and that her sister would be there and that Roy would crack some stupid joke and punch her in the arm.
And then that all changed.
A routine mission that went wrong. Stranded in the jungle. Captured, tortured, broken.
Her squad. That had been the hardest. They’d been used against her. One by one. Anderson, Rayfolk, Ephraheim. Slowly and without mercy. She never even knew why. Still didn’t. She hadn’t known anything, hadn’t been anyone, carried nothing important.
In the end she’d been the only one left, and then it had been her turn.
Pain and hunger. Thirst, darkness, madness.
And then the heat. Burning, searing heat, full of screams and shadows, and someone had told her not to worry and that she’d be safe and she’d wanted to believe but it had all been a lie and the pain hadn’t gone away and the shadows hadn’t stopped screaming and the hands that tore her flesh hadn’t let go and they would never let go and she couldn’t breathe and she would never see her sister again.
Toini pressed her eyes together and pushed the memories away. Clenched her jaws, clenched her fists. Took a deep breath. Took another.
Keep it together.
Little by little she cleared her mind. She barred new thoughts from entry and let the ones still there run their course, fade out, and go away. Eventually there was just she left. She, Toini, the paladin.
That woman she’d been, she’d been wrong. She would see her sister again.
Beside her, someone cleared their throat, and she opened her eyes.
Raoul stood next to the table, a steaming paper cup in each hand, and a worried frown on his face.
“Boss? Are you okay?” He set down one of the cups on the pushed it over towards her. “You don’t look too good.”
She rummaged through the pockets of her parka for a napkin. He was probably right.
Toini dabbed at her face. Damp with sweat.
She reached for her coffee, removed the plastic cover, and took a sip. Hot, black, and bitter. Better now. With a sigh she leaned back in her seat and a faint smile pulled at her cheeks.
Raoul nodded, but his frown didn’t go away, and he remained standing.
“It’s okay. Just memories.” Her smile stayed on – grew, even. “Nothing serious.”
“Do you want me to…” He weaved down the aisle, back the way he’d come from.
Toini shook her head. “No, it’s fine. You can sit down. I’m okay. Really.”
He nodded and took his seat, diagonally across the table from her. Sure, he was a nuisance to be around, but when it really mattered he knew to shut up. He had that going for him at least. Good when it mattered.
She turned back to the window and stared out over the rain drenched fields on the other side. Here and there a lone tree. A muddy road ran some way from the track, but she saw no one on it. A small village, complete with a windmill on a hill, but no one was out, and then more fields.
It was one of those days. You wouldn’t leave the house unless you had to. There was cooking to do. Attics to clean.
“I always thought I’d never see my sister again…”
She wrapped her hands around her cup of coffee, warmed her palms, held it close to her face and smelled the fumes. Sure, it wasn’t all that, but it was warm, and she was home.
“…and now I will.”
On her left cheek, among the green vines, a small bud blossomed.