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Read Part 1
For the past few years Marduk has been hunting down every lead for a possible cure for Mirriam. Everytime she would slip under and be gone for days, unable to speak, he would then leave to learn more. Everytime it was only to find out that it was an old wivestale or a story designed to make him part with some money.
After many failures Marduk decided to find the Veritas flower, as all other options were exhausted. Every medicine person he has spoken to, swore by the flower. They truly believed in its power. The last medicine woman had told him of a place called “The order of Faith.” An almost religious like institution situated only a few months ride from the Barons furthest border.
Marduk took a lot of supplies for the trip but he also wanted to move as quickly as possible. He took extra men and horses with an intent to cut weeks off of the time it would normally take to reach the destination.
Deep in mountains to the west of the Barons lands is where he found the “Monastery” , Marduk found this an odd name as the Order of Faith did not believe in anything. The Order of Faith merely kept a vast collection of human knowledge and artifacts protecting them from destruction.
The medicine woman had promised he would be permitted to enter, so Marduk rode up the big fortified gates and merely called out “Veritas!” , the gates opened before him and he rode through, astounded at the huge walls rising up and slowly fading into the side of the mountain as one thing.
Inside a lady dressed in royal blue robe waited for him, “Good Evening, you may follow me.” The clerk said and turned without waiting for a response. They went into the mountain face it felt to Marduk and then they followed stairs and natural crevices down into the mountain. Eventually they stepped out into a clearing.
“What is this place?” Marduk asked as he stopped himself and gasped at the huge space opened inside the mountain, it was like a whole world before him. Different from the one above.
“It is the Veritas chamber.” the clerk told Marduk. “This is where the last of the Veritas flowers can naturally be found. This is important, because if the Veritas can grow naturally it does not cost anything.” Marduk looked at her questioningly. “I did not expect this to be so easy.” He finally said.
“This won’t be easy Marduk. The medicine women have sent word, and I know of your suffering. The Veritas can save …Mirriam” The clerk hesitated, “...but it will cost your life.”
“I know this.” Marduk replied curtly, he obviously knew and was not sure how it would but he knew it was worth the cost. The clerk looked at Marduk for a moment and decided to not speak. They strolled through the cave forest , with natural light coming from high above, glowing fauna on the walls illuminating the waters of a lake.
The clerk stopped and bent down to touch the petals of a blue lily like flower Marduk had never seen before, “Is that the Veritas?” He asked. “Yes, touch it.”The clerk commanded him, “Be gentle, think of Mirriam.” she further instructed him.
As Marduk traced his fingers over the flower's soft vibrant sea blue petals it opened and a mist escaped. At the centre of the petals was a glowing round orb , semi translucent like smoke caught inside a pearl. “Take it,” the Clerk said, and Marduk gently took the Pearl of Veritas and as he did the petals of the flower withered and fell to the ground.The pearl mist spun and twirled until Marduk could see nothing but a white seed in his hands.
“The power is now contained, and you may plant the flower.” the Clerk told Marduk. He looked up at her and just nodded. He really expected more books in the place but seeing the wondrous cavern filled him with more hope than any book ever could.
Marduk left immediately, the seed of the Veritas flower safely stored on his person. He rode for two weeks, less than when he left and the poor horse almost did not make it home. Climbing off, he patted the horse in admiration of its strength and valour then rushed to Mirriam's side.
As he entered her room Marduk knew something was not right. He knelt beside her bed and as he took her hand, felt the coldness that had started to take hold. “What is wrong?” He asked absentmindedly, the Baron standing by the door answered him, “She has gone deeper than ever Marduk. I fear...” the Baron's voice trailed off as silently walked away.
“No!” Marduk said loudly, laying her hand down, As he stood up, he thought she is not dead but her life could be slowly fading.. “I know what to do.” Marduk said, the Baron kept walking, “I know.” Marduk repeated to himself.
The medicine women and clerk all agreed that the most likely truth behind the Veritas flower is that it shall accept one person's life force for the other’s. The process however was shrouded in mystery with the only concrete thing that the people and history agreed on was that the plant required ten years of darkness. Marduk left the keep and went about a mile into the woods to the east where he had prepared a cave after hearing the stories about the Veritas flower. This cave had no light entering into it and he would be able to easily grow the Veritas flower hidden and protected from the world outside.
Marduk planted the seed in his cave under the cover of darkness. There was no light of any kind that penetrated the depth of it, but for the light coming from the seed itself. Marduk stared for a moment thinking it to be a trick of the darkness but the seed gave off light in his palm.
He pressed his finger into the wet solid to make a hole to plant and dropped the seed into it. The light was dazzling and then, it was gone . He could not see anything so instead felt for the hole and covered the seed with the wet soil.
After a week Marduk went back to the cave to check the seed,He was thrilled to find a baby plant growing. He rushed to Merriam's side to tell her, only to find her not in her bed.
Where could she have gone he thought . He walked through the keep and could not see anyone. “Hello?” Marduk called out, and heard no reply. “Hello? Merriam!” still no reply.
Passing a mirror on the wall Marduk caught a view of his reflection, he looked old,and worn out. Dark bags under his eyes, cheek sunken to reveal his protruding jaw bone. He looked away. He looked back. He looked normal.
Rushing back to the cave, Marduk checked on the plant. Maybe something was wrong, maybe he hurt it somehow. He felt the plant and was surprised to find that it had grown to maturity . He stopped touching it and sat back in the darkness.
His mind was failing him.
He rushed back to Miriam's bed, and there she was. Her face hauntingly thin, life had faded from her eyes. “No!”Marduk screamed as he fell to his knees. Sobbing. “I am sorry!” He screamed .
Marduk felt guilty for not having told her that the plant would trade his life for hers. He wasn’t sure how it worked but he was willing to do it.
He sobbed uncontrollably on the floor, thinking of Merriam and how he has now lost her. “What did he do wrong?” He could not figure it out. “What did I do?” He screamed helplessly.
Marduk woke up.
He had fallen asleep in the cave, it was quite warm and the ground was soft. He went to visit Mirriam and on passing a mirror caught his reflection. He noticed how much older he felt and looked. The nightmares had been getting more intense, it did not matter where he slept but he felt safer sleeping in the cave.
He walked into Merriam's room and as always he took her hand, the warmth had returned and that made Marduk smile. He loved Mirriam dearly, He felt guilty for the trade, his life for hers. It had to be done. Marduk gently placed her hand down and felt something wet. Looking down he saw his hand covered in blood, Merriam's face in agony.
Marduk woke up.
The Baron had scouts combing the mountains to the west for Marduk, he had not yet returned and the Clerk reported that Marduk had in fact left the Monastery. Whether the flower truly works was not of concern to the Baron as he has made his peace with his daughter's life. He loved her dearly but it was out of his hands. Marduk was a good man, and he would not abandon her in her final hour.
It had been almost a year since Marduk had gone missing, the maids reported that they could hear him speaking to Merriam at night and yet when they got there he would be gone.
Mirriam had been looking much better and her skin had more colour and she even had moments of consciousness, she does not speak, but her eyes are alert. Her gaze would settle on those who visited her, but she would give no indication of understanding them. Mirriam was healthier but something still seemed missing, a part of her was lost.
The Baron continued the search for Marduk and asked that everyone in the land come forward with information that could help them find him. He knew that without Marduk by Miriam's side he would lose his daughter. She would not live without Marduk and he would be damned if she came back from death only to welcome it over his loss.
In a moment of clarity, free from pain Marduk had left the cave to the nearby stream he had found. He drank water greedily, feeling energy return only slightly to his weary body and mind. He washed his hands and saw they seemed older. Not the hands that he remembered. Moving down to a small pool at the end of the stream he looked at his reflection in the clear spring water and jumped back in shock. His face was old, his hair had gone grey.
His eyes caught sight of a rabbit, and with unnatural reflexes he caught it in a single lunge. These moments he was out of the cave were about survival. Marduk had a suspicion that the Veritas flower allowed him this as a kind of reprieve from his torment.
Marduk was not certain how long he had been in the cave, his mind melded the time. He felt as though it might have been a week or two. He specifically remembered having only a few meals which he caught as he had just caught this rabbit. It meant that he had no need to leave the cave,and when he thought about going to Mirriam a new wave of sadness and despair would come over his being.
He did not fear returning to the Veritas flower, it gave him solace, through the dark memories and twisting of his heart which the flower inflicted on him as it took its price he still felt at peace. His life may be draining from him but he knew that meant Mirriam was getting stronger.
Marduk paused for a moment outside the cave, facing the sun rays that escaped through the leaves to play on his skin. “Marduk” he heard a slight whisper, “Marduk!” the call intensified.
“Mirriam?” He called to the wind, “My dear Mirriam, I love you.” Marduk yelled spinning around in the clearing of the trees, then he stood still, feeling the breeze on his skin, there was something invigorating about it. He listened but no call came again. “I love you.” He said under his breath and went inside the cave.
A ray of light was shining down on the Veritas flower, Marduk would have panicked before at the mere thought of the flower bathed in light but he knew now the stories were wrong. The flower did not need physical darkness, it could thrive under the sun and still heal Mirriam. The Veritas flower needed the person's darkness. That was the real price.
Marduk had been paying the price every minute of his life, every loving thought he has had of Mirriam has been corrupted by the flower. His mind still knew that he loved her and why he was sacrificing his life for her but his heart has turned black. The ten years of darkness is taken from the person's life force and soul .
That is the only way a person could save the one they truly love. Not many would survive the flower's price because not many would make such a sacrifice. The flower was yet to show Marduk his true darkness, the part that will break him and he will offer his own life.
“Marduk!” He heard Miriam's voice echo against the cave walls, the ray of light that found its way through the cracks shone on the flower. Marduk recognized the seed protected by the flower's radiant blue petals, the white pearl looked as though it had a storm inside. Smokey tendrils ran across the surface and leapt into being outside the seed.
“Save me Marduk, I love you.!” He heard her voice so clearly that it felt as though she stood right next to him. “Ï am Mirriam, I am here to save you!” Marduk said looking around hopelessly. She was not there, only the flower was. He walked to it and heard her voice clearly again, it was coming from the Veritas flower. Truthfulness is what the word Veritas meant, but it has been doing everything to disprove the truthfulness of Marduk's love for Mirriam.
It was intent on forcing Marduk to madness, hatefulness and now it wanted him to end it. It wanted him to make the greatest sacrifice by his own hands. He could feel it inside him, his life force draining but there was always just enough left behind. The flower wanted him to make the choice.
“Marduk! Come to me!” Miriam's voice reverberated through his mind. He loved her he knew he did, although the flower had darkened his heart this was a truth he knew. He could not die for her. He had to live for her.
Marduk ran out of the cave, towards the keep. He was weak from being drained by the flower, his mind fragile, his emotions in turmoil but he kept running.
At the keep’s gates the guards opened without question, they recognized this old, weary, grey haired man and let him pass, Marduk made his way up the stairs to Mirriam’s room , followed by passersby who knew him. They all congregated outside in the hall as Marduk entered the room to go kneel at Mirriam’s side. He took her hand and felt the warmth of her life force returning, this made him doubt his conviction. “Mirriam I love you, I am sorry. I made a mistake. Promise me my love you will live and find joy when I am gone!” He could not say anymore or he would falter. He took the knife from her breakfast plate and drove it into his heart.
Marduk was so certain he had to live, but seeing Mirriam’s beauty , her life returned , eyes filled with joy made him not want to gamble her life on what may have been a selfish whim.
This was the Veritas flowers payment for Miriam's life. The pearlescent seed dropped to the wet soil in the cave, the cloudy tendrils no more and turned to a solid milky white. The flower’s petals died and drifted to the ground as Marduk’s life faded and Mirriam’s tears were shed as she watched her love die and her life return.
Mirriam’s body felt as though it was on fire burning from the inside, not a red hot flame which destroys but also creates. She cried for her love and the overwhelming sacrifice but she could not accept it. She looked inside herself and saw the blue flame, she could see and feel Marduk in it. His love and his sacrifice allowed her to gain all of his life force and his soul. Even if she lived and he died he would ebb with her eternally.
“No!” She cried out. “This is not love!” she screamed and got out of bed and lifted Marduk into her arms, his lifeless body paining her, fueling her. She took the knife from his chest, and kissed his cheek. Then plunged it into her own heart.
The Veritas seed became cloudy , the smoking tendrils escaping the pearl encasing they found themselves in. Flashing brightly and unobserved in the cave, only the single ray of light illuminating the event to the world but yet there was no one to observe. The storm raged inside the seed of the now dead Veritas flower.
Their souls, love, joy, sacrifice and all that made Mirriam and Marduk human, entertwined in that moment. The Veritas flower did get its price of darkness, and the weak would always succumb to it. True love would fulfill all the flower had to share.
Miriam's sacrifice in return showed the truth of love to those who now looked on at the tragedy before them. With Marduk gone for almost two years, and Miriam recovering miraculously and life would have continued.
Miriam's father was frozen in place as he saw the life drain from his daughters eyes, he knew she could not live without Marduk but had hoped she would survive.
A blue mist formed around the two bodies now shrouded to all who were present there. The sunlight from Miriam's window could not penetrate as the Veritas seed turned to dust causing the mist to evaporate.
Miriam's father’s sobs became tears of joy, the people who have by now filled the room in mournful fashion started to whisper even though all could see.
Marduk was on his knees, his hands caressing Mirriam's face, the two lovers locked eyes with each other, Marduk still grey and seemingly ten years older kissed Mirriam in between moments of just staring, touching her and she kissed him back passionately.
The depth and truthfulness of their love revealed for all to see.
This is an entry to the Marianne West #WeEvent contest with the prompt: Ten years of darkness inspired by @improbableliason
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