Shadow of Doubt

This is yet another bit from Parts of the Whole, a free ebook available on Smashwords. This gives a little bit of plot exposition, and gives a bit more insight into where The Statford Chronicles is going. It’s going to be… interesting, to say the least.

Shadows of Doubt
Oh, Thomas.
I often wonder if you know how long I have seen this world, and how much of it I have seen, and how much of what I would tell you that you would believe. So many years, so many lifetimes, so many triumphs and tragedies. So many questions.
I have seen them all.
I do not remember what I was before, if I was anything before. Did I really have a body? Was my hair always so luxuriously blond? I do not know, nor do I care. My earliest memory is of a single question. Anything before that is nothing, a blank that I know will never be filled. All I had was that one question pounding into my form as I sprang from nothingness, and it is a simple question, but one that I did not understand. Not at first.
I wondered how many before me had answered that question wrongly.
The first Keeper. Even after sixty centuries, I still remember the first mortal to wear the mantle. He was brave, and true, though not the deepest thinker. I did my best to help him fulfill his destiny, at least when he would listen to me. Perhaps his destiny was to help me be a better guide? With thousands of years on which to look back, I find it both exciting and frightening that I have not thought of such a thing before. It shows that, even with my age, I still have much to learn.
As do you.
I never told you of the first Keeper, and how lost his life in battle against a terrible foe. He fought bravely, but he truly never had a chance. A pity, I assure you. As the life left him, he held out a hand to me, and I reached to grab it. We touched, for the first time in however many seasons we had known one other, and I knew he was not long for the world. He beat the one he faced, but died regardless. It is only across this gulf of years that I do not weep, for even spirits may shed tears of sadness.
As I will one day soon.
The second Keeper was much more interesting, and I, still a newborn spirit, not knowing any better, accompanied a young man in exile. A wanderer, marked by a wrathful deity, a murderer. The mantle goes where it will, and it went to this man. I learned much from him, possibly the wrong things, as it turned out, but I watched him closely. He made me realize the difference between good people doing evil things out of necessity, and that all actions, no matter the aim, have consequences. Rarely would such results show immediately, but there are always results, for good or ill.
I never wanted anything to happen. Nothing like this.
After the wanderer founded his city and cast off the mantle, I was attached to one Keeper after another, watching them go by like snowflakes in a storm. Sometime during that millennium, I barely cared about those I was assigned, for I knew each would fall in likely a horrific way. Some retired the mantle, proving to themselves one thing or another; I cared not, as they were like guttering tapers in a whirlwind. Others threw themselves into their work, trying to be more than mortal, trying to compete with the gods who kept bickering like children, trying to keep them from tearing reality apart for no better reason than sheer ennui, all to make sure that this tiny corner of the universe would still be around the next day.
Does that sound familiar, Thomas?
Life after life. Place after place. Civilization after civilization. It all became the same. Whether it was the lyrical songs of those original settlers of the Fertile Crescent or the enigmatic Dreamwalkers of the island continent of Australia, for those thousand years it was all the same. There was nothing in that time that I can honestly remember in particular other than I was a spirit who wanted to die, because I had nothing left for which to live. That I could not die only added to my torment, which made me care less and less. A life of lifelessness, very much what the children of the time would call “emo”.
I needed something to bring me back.
She was my first woman Keeper. It was in what is now Egypt, and she was glorious. There could be no other word to describe her. The first Queen of the Nile, an inspiration to her descendant Cleopatra, Hatshepsut was the greatest queen, wise, brave, canny and beautiful. Gods, she was beautiful, Thomas, as if the gods had formed her from the stuff of Creation. Spirits can fall in love; I am proof. She said that Amun-Ra had called her pharaoh, and she was right. We met on the last weeks of her reign, her nephew set to take the throne.
You always were a romantic, Thomas; that is why you would appreciate this.
She asked me if the gods had sent me. I said yes. She asked if I had a purpose for her. Again, I said yes. When she asked if she would likely die in service to her gods, I could not help but stifle a sob and say yes. She was so open to me, Thomas; her heart was on her sleeve. This woman who, to stifle her critics because of her gender, wore a beard and dressed as a king, told me she was willing to die for the greater glory of the gods. Such naivete in royalty, even in those ancient times when the Pyramid of Khufu had stayed strong in the face of eleven centuries of wind and sand and sun.
What would you do with those ebony eyes looking at you, through you, and ask if they’re doing the right thing? What could you do?
I told her I would protect her as I could, but she was not serving the gods. She would, in fact, serve humanity, protect it from those who wished it harm. She actually smiled then, and I would have gladly given my soul to have her smile be only for me. When she said that such had always been her way, my heart soared. This was someone who actually understood what it meant to be the Keeper of the Conclave: to serve humanity, no matter the cost, in the face of incredible odds. Not because she had to serve, but because she wanted to serve. My interest in life, humanity, the world around me returned, and I was only too glad to serve her. We made our plans and disappeared after her nephew became pharaoh.
She was one of the few who died in her bed. A blessing for her.
Was I in love with her? Yes, and I believe I still am. Three thousand years is a long time to love someone, Thomas. I held her as she breathed her last, her frail form bowed but never beaten by age. Her body was light, lighter even that I am. When she passed from the mortal coil, I felt her pass through me. It was light, it was life, it was happiness, something I had missed for so long. Even as she died, even as her soul would cross into the realm of Anubis to whatever reward awaited her, she served one final time by imparting what she truly felt for the world to me. She showed me heart and soul above anything I had ever seen in the strongest men, and it was beautiful. She was beautiful.
Life is beautiful.
As time went on, Thomas, I kept that love in mind, in heart, in soul. I kept my charges safer, I cared more, I felt more. When a young Aztec became the Keeper, I led him through the lands to a place he would not be turned into a sacrifice, at least not for the priests. A Centurion from Rome, believing me to be an avatar of Mercury, traveling the world to protect it from itself. He never suspected I directed him away from Britannia to save not just his life, but a young boy from certain death at the hands of a dark cult. It was all so that boy would become the ancestor of an explorer.
Indeed, everything connects into one flow, one pattern, and we are the weaver and the woven.
A few centuries later, more exploits. It was with a very good bearded playwright that I could finally get some of the stories out of times past. Even with his penchant for anachronism, he got the point across quite well. His words would outlive him, I knew, and his thoughts would always be considered the greatest to grace the page and the stage. Centuries would be spent trying to decipher who gave him the words, the inspiration, and no one would guess it was a spirit gifted to him.
I wonder if he would have written had he known what I was meant to do. What I was commanded to do.
Thoughts of the times gone fill me more and more as the years go on. So many different lives, so many shadows of doubt in my soul. I never forget the love I was shown, but I know now I cannot be sure if my queen meant to do that, or if she was commanded to do that. We who are called free spirits are rarely one and never both. Perhaps she served others without knowing it, perhaps not. I know all whom I serve, most gladly. Others, however, I serve because I must.
A puppet who sees the strings is still a puppet, and he may never cut the strings, lest he become a broken toy, and a broken toy is always thrown away and replaced.
Even now, so many thousands of years later, I see the path that started with a single question. I see how it twists and turns and carries and ferries those in my care to their inevitable ends. I see where this question has forced me into places I do not want my soul to go, yet I continued anyway. I would not cut the strings, so I could give myself the illusion that I was fighting from within, that I was going to change things, that this time the end would not be because of me, just as it always had been.
Each time, I would be wrong. Over and over I would be wrong.
The Keeper before you was a good man. He was brave like all the others, wise like most of the others, strong like some of the others. Unlike all the others, however, he asked me one question, one I should have expected to be asked, the law of averages being what it is. With that one answer, he discovered that which I had had hidden from all, even my Queen. She never knew why I had been attached to her; even I did not know, not then. Not until he had asked me one little thing. It was not the same as that first question; had it been that, I would likely have been rendered to ethereal nothingness.
He asked me why I was there, and I could not lie, so I answered him fully and truthfully.
That Keeper shot himself, Thomas. He did not blame me for it, but he said he could not stand to live his life if it were not his. He smiled at me as he put the gun in his mouth just after telling me he did not blame me. I pondered telling him that what he was doing was preordained, that he was nothing more than a placeholder, a stepping stone on a six-thousand-year trail.
To you, Thomas.
You will never read these words, Thomas, but if you did, I believe you would understand them. You would know it was not my choice for what happened to you, to what will happen to you. You might possibly even believe me if I told you I had no control over these events.
That first question still haunts me. Who do I serve?
You will not forgive me; I know that fully well. When your rage and anger and hatred blot out all reason, I expect that you will not accept anything I have to say. That is not for now, though, Thomas, and I am glad we still have this time together. Before I forget to do so, allow me this one chance.
I am sorry, Thomas, for what must be done to you, and I am sorry for my part in it.

~ by Walker on February 23, 2013.

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