The preview of The Key of Alanar continues! If you haven’t already done so, be sure to read the Prologue, Chapter One and Chapter Two first. Following some life shattering revelations and a failed attempt to flee the island, David must now deal with the repercussions of that fateful day–and his own actions.
Just as the storm clouds dissipated, things outwardly appeared to settle down in the wake of that traumatic day. But the shockwaves continued to reverberate and in many respects the most painful blow was yet to come.
David’s concussion lingered for several days, which he spent in bed as Janir had advised. But whilst his body recovered, his mind was far from rested as it replayed events over and over again. The light of truth had altered his world in a way that could never be undone. He now had to come to terms with the truth of his origin and the mystery that surrounded his very existence.
His parents hadn’t mentioned it again. In a way it was almost as though the revelation hadn’t slipped out at all. Part of him was annoyed by their evasiveness, but another part was relieved. The events of that day had taken their toll and exhausted him both physically and emotionally. He needed time to recover.
Daily life soon resumed and David returned to school a week after the incident, albeit with much reluctance. It was virtually impossible to keep a secret on such a small island and he knew that just about everyone would have heard about the storm incident. From the moment he set foot outdoors he was acutely aware of having been a major topic of conversation. He disliked being the centre of attention at the best of times and so he detested the self-consciousness that he now experienced. But after a few days interest in him began to subside, much to his relief.
One person he particularly dreaded encountering was Dahn. In his mind he’d envisaged numerous scenarios in which he carefully planned out what he would say to his tormentor, but none of these encounters transpired as he’d imagined. When he did see Dahn it was on his way home from school and they merely exchanged frosty glances. The next time they crossed paths, Dahn ignored him altogether. Evidently now that Dahn had done what he’d set out to do, to hurt him, he’d lost all interest and was content to seek his sadistic pleasures elsewhere.
Back at home, concern soon shifted to David’s father. Jon was not as resilient as his son and was still suffering the after-effects of being out at sea amid the storm. He had developed a cough that had spread to his chest and was steadily worsening. Sania, the island’s head physician, had tried administering several remedies, but they had failed to help. Although loathe to admit it, she was at a loss to help further. Though Sania was proficient at treating minor ailments, this was a problem that far exceeded her expertise. Much to Sania’s chagrin, Jesanda sought out Janir, the mysterious stranger who had helped rescue David. Janir appeared to possess a medicinal skill that Sania, for all her good intentions, lacked. At Jesanda’s request Janir agreed to examine Jon.
David was excited to see him again, although he wished that the circumstances were different. By the time Janir arrived, Jon’s condition was deteriorating. He was now bedridden, having difficulty breathing and was coughing up large amounts of fluid. As Janir examined him, Jesanda and David waited outside anxiously. When Janir emerged from the bedroom, David noticed the solemnity of his expression and immediately realized that things were bad. “He has an acute infection of the lungs,” Janir said. “It appears to be a bacterial infection. I would guess he contracted the infection when he was out at sea in the storm.”
David felt a sharp pang of guilt, for he knew that he was responsible.
Janir went on: “It is possible he ingested some form of bacteria from the water. His body is doing its best to fight off the infection. All I can do is to aid it in its struggle. I can try giving him some herbs and extracts known to have anti-bacterial properties.”
“Do whatever you have to do,” Jesanda said, her voice filled with desperate resolve.
Janir immediately set to work preparing several remedies, including a salve that he applied to Jon’s chest, a compress to reduce his fever and three different tinctures made with ingredients he claimed to have obtained from far-off lands. Jesanda was fired with the determination that with Janir helping, Jon would soon recover.
On one occasion David happened to walk into the room and saw Janir sitting by the bedside, his hands placed upon Jon’s chest as he slept. He was chanting a strange incantation and David thought that for a fleeting moment he saw Janir’s hands glow. David slipped out, not wanting to interrupt whatever Janir was doing. But he found his curiosity piqued ever more by the enigmatic newcomer and felt compelled to learn all that he could about him. Currently, however, everyone was too preoccupied by Jon’s illness, which despite Janir’s best efforts was not improving.
David tried to help his mother as much as he could, assisting her around the house and trying to bolster her resolve whenever she succumbed to the intense fear and vulnerability bubbling beneath the surface. He shared that same fear and looming sense of loss, but it was confounded by another emotion: that of guilt. It was his fault that his father was ill. If it hadn’t been for his disastrous attempt to flee the island, Jon would never have contracted this infection. If his father died, it would forever be on David’s conscience.
A week passed, with Janir a constant presence in the house as he tended to Jon day and night. But it was becoming increasingly evident that while the treatment was helping to make Jon more comfortable, the underlying illness was resisting treatment, and was in fact worsening.
That evening Janir gathered Jesanda and David in the main room. The moment he asked to speak with them, David saw the fear in his mother’s eyes. As they sat down, Jesanda’s hands trembled as she placed them in the lap of her blue dress. David sat beside her, fidgeting nervously. The last rays of sunlight filtered through the circular window, shining on the sparkling stone floor. “As you know,” Janir said, “I have done everything I can think of to cure Jon’s illness. I have given him various medicines, but his condition is not responding to treatment. The infection is spreading throughout his body and though I have tried, there is nothing I can do to stop it…”
The silence cut through David as the implications of Janir’s words sank in.
“No,” Jesanda gasped, shaking her head. “There must be something more you can do.”
Janir knelt by her side. “Jesanda,” he said gently. “There is nothing I can do. His zhian is weak.”
“His life force. When the life essence starts slipping away, there is nothing anyone can do to prevent it. If his zhian has decided it is time to withdraw from the physical sheath, then any measures taken to counter that will merely delay the inevitable.”
“What are you saying?”
“You have to be willing to let him go. His time is nearing and there is nothing we can do to change that. We can only accept it and in so doing help ease his passage.”
“How can this be happening?” Jesanda cried, pulling back from Janir. “He’s young, healthy—he’s never been ill like this before! What if it’s you that’s done something to him? How do we even know we can trust you? We know nothing about you! For all we know, you could have…” She trailed off and broke down into sobs.
Janir reached out and placed his hand on her trembling arm. “I know the pain you are feeling. I too have lost people dear to me. But you have to be strong; for your husband and your son…”
As if suddenly just remembering that David was still there, Jesanda reached over to him and held him tightly. He felt her teardrops falling upon the top of his head. David was too shocked to cry. His mind and senses felt numb.
“How much longer does he have?” Jesanda asked, her voice but a whisper.
“There is no way to be certain, but I do not believe very long. Perhaps a day at most. Take this time to be with him. Talk with him. Sit with him. Make the most of this time together. It is more than many people ever get.”
An ominous silence descended upon the house as they kept a deathbed vigil. This was David’s first real experience with death. Although he had lost his grandparents several years earlier, he had been too young to comprehend what was happening. When his parents had explained to him that they were ‘gone’ and that he wouldn’t see them again, he had assumed that they had simply left the island to live somewhere else.
He recalled a time when he was perhaps five years old and had found a dead bird lying in the forest. The bird looked as though it was asleep, but despite his best efforts to nudge it awake, it wouldn’t move. His father had to explain that at some point, when a person or animal is very old or ill, it simply falls asleep and never wakes up again. That was death. Like most children, David had countless questions, most of which his parents were unable to answer. Upon realizing that, like the bird, he too would one day fall asleep and never wake up, he was terrified of going to sleep for months, despite his mother’s assurances that he wouldn’t die “for a very, very long time”. The notion of death horrified yet morbidly fascinated him. He had often wondered what would happen if one of his parents died. Now he was about to find out.
His mother never left Jon’s bedside and David spent long periods sitting with her, as his father drifted in and out of consciousness. When he was awake they would talk (although the conversations were distinctly one-sided, for he was too weak to say much) and when he slept they sat quietly by his side. Janir remained in the house, keeping a discreet distance but available should he be needed.
David couldn’t bear the pain that was tearing him apart. His father was dying and it was his fault. How could he live knowing that? Confused and racked with guilt, he sat huddled in his room at the foot of his bed. He heard someone enter the room and turned around to see it was Janir. “May I come in?”
David nodded reluctantly. Janir walked over to the bed and knelt down beside him. “This is not your fault you know,” he said. “You are not to blame.”
David was startled that his feelings were evidently so transparent, and to a stranger no less. “Yes, I am. If it wasn’t for me he wouldn’t be ill.”
“You do not know that, David,” Janir said. “If it is our time to die, if we have reached our journey’s end, then the event that triggers it is merely the catalyst. This is the end of your father’s journey and nothing can alter that. If he had not contracted this infection, then something else would have happened sooner or later to send him on his way.”
David said nothing, but listened as Janir continued. “Death is a part of the great wheel of life: birth and death, death and rebirth. I am curious, David. On New Haven, what do you believe happens to the individual after death?”
David looked up, confused. “What do you mean? When someone dies, that’s it. They fall asleep and never wake up.”
Janir shook his head. “That’s not entirely true. David, I want you to know that no one ever truly dies. They leave behind their body, yes, but their zhian, their life essence, lives on. The zhian is not of this world and therefore nothing in this world can harm it. It was never born and therefore it will never die.”
“How do you know that?”
“Let us just say that I have some experience in these matters. If you like, we can talk about it another time. But for now I want you to be strong and to know that although your father is now leaving his physical body, he will live on in a different way; and in a sense he will always be with you.”
Before David could think about this, there came a call from the other room. It was his mother, urgently calling for Janir. Both he and David hurried through to the other room, where Jon was uncontrollably coughing up blood.
“Please, do something,” Jesanda cried.
Rushing over to the bed, Janir propped him up and asked for David to pass him a cup sitting on the bedside table. It contained a dark colored liquid with an astringent smell. Janir held the cup to Jon’s mouth and helped him drink it, amid much coughing and spluttering. Almost immediately Jon’s coughing fit subsided but he was still having difficulty breathing.
“You can help him, can’t you?” Jesanda pleaded.
Janir shook his head slowly. He got up and indicated that he would leave them alone now. David understood the subtext: that these might well be Jon’s last few moments.
Somehow Jon himself also seemed to sense this. Still gasping for breath, he motioned for David to come closer. Jesanda, trying to compose herself as much as she could, put her hand on David’s shoulder as a gesture of support as he sat down by the bed. She then stepped back, allowing father and son one last moment together.
“David…” Jon rasped, struggling for breath. He looked pale and weak; so unlike the strong and vibrant man that David had known. David hated seeing him like this, for he was clearly in great pain. “I want you to know…that…I love you.”
“I know. I love you too, father.”
Jon used what strength he had remaining to clasp his son’s hand. “I want you to…look after…your mother for me. Promise me…you will look after her…”
“I promise,” David said, tears spilling from his eyes, one of which landed on his father’s pillow. After a moment, David lent down and gently kissed him on the forehead. Without a word, he stepped aside to let his mother do likewise.
“Jon,” she whispered into his ear. “I love you. I always will.” As she bent down and gently kissed him on the lips, Jon drifted out of consciousness. His labored breathing continued until he made what sounded like one, last exhalation. All went silent. David looked up at his mother. Was that it? Was that the end?
Not yet. For Jon struggled to draw yet another breath. He wheezed, his whole body contorting as he struggled to breathe. David and his mother sat by his side, holding his hand and whispering occasional words of comfort.
Every so often there was a pause between breaths and each time David thought this to be the end. But Jon’s body continued clinging to life, oblivious to the uphill nature of its struggle. It was bad enough that his father was dying, but for him to linger in such agony was almost more than David could bear. It wasn’t much longer however before Jon finally breathed his last breath; emptying his body not just of air, but of life.
The room fell silent. David looked up at his mother. Her eyes were glazed and she seemed quite oblivious to his presence. She continued holding Jon’s hand as she buried her head in his chest. David, sitting beside her, was frozen to the spot. He felt as though his heart had been carved out of his chest. It was over. His father was gone.
From that moment on, David’s life changed. Every day that followed would be profoundly different in that a large part of his old life was forever missing. Life went on, of course; the suns continued to rise and fall as they always did, all the while oblivious to the joys and suffering of those upon whom they shone. The grieving process took its toll as David and his mother struggled to accept their loss and move on from it.
They had support from their fellow islanders and Janir played a big part in helping them come to terms with Jon’s death. He was adamant that a person never truly dies, a notion that intrigued David, and he wanted to know more. Janir explained that knowing was insufficient, for one had to experience the truth for oneself. And there were moments when in the subtle embrace of silence, David could almost feel his father by his side, guarding him and guiding him onward. Whether this was his imagination or not, it was nevertheless a feeling he relished in the fleeting moments in which it occurred.
The story is only just beginning…
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