[original] Stripes

There was something about the frigid room curtained with stalagmites that Jem felt was both terrifying and calming.  There was a double formed in the centre of the room before an ancient dais engraved with the markings of the Angbroda.  The children were trembling with fear in front of their resolute Guardians as rays of light speckled with tiny flakes drifted down from the ceiling.  Zosimus and Jem joined the line quickly as the child’s gaze looked at the other children.  She didn’t know what was going to happen but Jem didn’t feel afraid at the moment.

Her Guardian stood behind her, resolute in the fact that the child he had only known for the better part of two days was not showing fear.  It was a sign of her strength that would serve her well in the future as a member of the Angbroda.  He hoped to have his current charge carry on in his footsteps even as a memory of himself came to his mind.  He remembered his initiation into the tribe very well.  He had stood in that very spot that Jem now stood, quaking in his boots from the ominous air that circulated through the cave-like room.

Jem looked up at Zosimus, her ice-blue eyes lit up with curiosity.  “Where are we?”  came her innocent question.

“You’ll find out soon enough, child,” he answered while pointing her line of vision toward the front of the room.

Jem’s tiny hand reacted quickly by wrapping itself around Zosimus’ large finger causing the man to smile.  She was so much like him, he noted.  He’d done the very same to his Guardian in the only admittance of fear that she would show.  Those curious eyes glanced up at him to show her fear about the mysterious figure that was descending into the room.  The Guardian’s attention was focused solely on the hooded figure descending from a hidden flight of ancient stairs.  He smiled softly and nodded his approval as the old one’s gait captured the child’s attention.

As the person removed their hood, the thing the two saw was a head of soft white hair surrounding an ancient looking face.  The face was neither stern or gently but merely impassive and thickly lined with age.  As they approached, the robe was discarded to reveal the same black clothing they all wore.  One the man’s left side was a multicoloured knot in bright hues of green, gold, blue and white.  The four colours stretched down to a bony ankle and up to a sinewy shoulder.  His chin and nose came down into fine points with wise gray eyes and puffy looking cheekbones.  When the man opened his mouth to speak, it filled the room with a cacophony of sound that one who seemed that ancient shouldn’t be able to produce.  It was awe-inspiring how one man’s voice could fill such a large room.

“I am the Eldest of the Angbroda,” he intoned.  “You young ones have been chosen to carry on the legacy of protecting our world.  You all will face many hardships as you train to protect these Crater’s teeming with precious life.  One by one, you all will come to face me and be initiated into our proud clan.”

The Eldest thrust his knobby hands into the air as the symbols on the dais behind him glowed with an iridescent light.  Jem’s eyes shut until the blinding light dissipated.  She slowly blinked the stars from her vision as the first child stepped forward to stand before the Eldest.  He placed his weathered hands upon the young girls’ shoulders and nodded in approval as a knot of white, pink and yellow separated into the child’s stripes.

“This child shall be a healer,” The Eldest intoned as the Guardians clapped once.

“Whatcha clappin’ for?” Jem asked Zosimus.

“We clap for every child that we accept as a member of the Angbroda,” he answered as he clapped again for a young boy whose stripes were three varying shades of blue.  They were the colours of the ones who would guard the perimeters of the Crater towns.

For every clap that resounded through the hall, a new Angbroda was born as the children all stood in a neat line behind the Eldest.  One by one these children were inducted into the clan until at last, it was Jem’s turn to walk up toward the dais.  She was thankful for the warm clothes that Zosimus had picked out for her to wear on that day.  The soft black fur around her neck itched a bit as she timidly approached the Eldest.  She got a better look at the man with each step that brought her closer toward him.  His face appeared to be transposed into a look of pure rigidity that the tradition of induction into the clan asked him to but his ancient blue eyes were soft and gentle.  They beckoned for her to come to him as a harsh, cold gust of wind blew down on the girl.  Her blond hair flew out behind her as she inched forward to finally stand before the Eldest.

His smile was warm and gentle as he placed his bony hands on her shoulder and nodded his head once.  Many things happened at once then.  A rush of cold ran through Jem’s body as a bright light flashed before her eyes leaving her dazed and being supported by the Eldest’s hands.  Her knees felt like jelly as she sank to the ground as a burning heat ran through her left side.  She looked up at the man with a look mixed with confusion and awestruck wonder before her pulled the child back onto her feet.  As the traditional clap signalled her induction into the Clan, Zosimus was by her side in an instant, cradling Jem in his arms as he looked down to see the lone gold stripe that had appeared.

Both the Eldest and Zosimus looked between each other and the shaking child who was curling into her Guardian’s arms.  He complied and held Jem close to him as he cast a knowing look at the Eldest.

The Gold Stripe meant one thing only.

“This child shall be our Queen,” the Eldest announced to all present as a wave of shocked gasps rang through the room like peals from a bell.

“Then who has the silver stripe?” An older Guardian asked.

“One who is currently away from the planet,” the Eldest admitted.  “I inducted him into the Clan several years before our little Queen was born and sent him away for training.  Now is the time to call him back.  He shall become her second Guardian.”

“Eldest…” Zosimus breathed out.  “Surely you don’t mean him?”

“Yes my son,” the old man responded.  “Send for the Silver Knights.  It is time for them to resume their place within the Angbroda.  Along with the one meant to be our King.”

“And the Queen?  Eldest… she’s not ready.  She’s too young.”

“She’s weak and barely withstood my power,” he replied gently as he stroked a wisp of Jem’s hair off her face.  “Yet, she has been chosen.  She will –”

“She needs a Doctor,” Zosimus interjected sternly as the Eldest nodded gravely.  It was rare that Zosimus interrupted anyone and he only did so when he felt that a situation was growing dire.

“Send for Julian at once,” the Eldest boomed.

The Guardian’s and their charges left the room quickly as Zosimus waited for them to leave.  Afterward, he saw that the Eldest was safely on his way back to his chambers before taking Jem to see Julian.  He held the little girl close to him as he walked briskly through the corridors that would lead him to the chambers that their newfound Queen would occupy.  He prayed that they were warm enough for the little girl to endure.

She laid there in a deep slumber for quite some time before her icy blue eyes slowly opened.  Her mouth was dry and everything was foggy in her mind before a set of strong arms hoisted her into a sitting position.  She sank into those arms as the fog began to clear from her vision.  Something was pressed to her lips as liquid kissed her parched lips.

“Drink,” a voice whispered gently.

She complied with the request and drank until she felt ill.  The object was taken away and she was placed back in a warm cocoon of blankets.  She nestled into them quickly; suddenly cold from the mere seconds she’d spent elevated.  She tried to speak but no words would come to her as she glanced around at her surroundings.  The blankets that covered her were soft against the uncovered portions of her arms and the room itself was lifeless with the exception of the people milling around her bed.  She looked at them curiously as they smiled warmly at her.

Then Zosimus appeared, his face seemed to have aged a great deal since she’d seen him last.  He placed his hand upon her cheek before kissing her forehead.  She felt his relief through the gentle touches.

“Jem, you’re awake.  Do you recognize me?”

Jem nodded tiredly as she stirred under the covers as the Guardian smiled softly.

“Rest my little one; you’ll be well again soon.”

The child nodded again as her eyes drifted shut.  There were questions burning in her mind but she lacked the voice to ask them.  For now, knowing that Zosimus was there by her side was enough to soothe Jem back into a peaceful slumber.

Her rest was dreamless as another day slipped past in an instant.  Her eyes opened to an unfamiliar face.  It was a round face devoid of hair – save the eyebrows with hard grey eyes, a strong squared jaw and a crooked nose.  The face startled Jem out of her slumber with a startled cry as she sat up much too fast for her weakened body to handle.  She was dizzy in an instant as the face’s arms reached out to guide her gently into her cocoon.  The blankets were pulled over her in response with a sad smile already on its face.

“I apologize for frightening you, little one,” he rumbled softly.  “The people of our clan will be thrilled to hear your fever has broken.”

Fever…? Jem questioned with her eyes.

“I’m Allen,” he introduced himself.  “I’m one of the Silver Knights that train diligently to protect the people of Enceladus.”

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