When Atticus opened his eyes to the voice, his bedroom was filled with light.
“Atticus, wake up.”
Atticus sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Who are you?”
“You know me, Atticus. You must hurry.”
“I know you? Who are you?” He tried to see into the white light.
“Atticus, I have known you all of my life. Trust me. Trust me now or it will all be for nothing. Get under your bed.”
“Get under your bed, Atticus.”
Atticus shrugged and then stood up. As the six year old crawled under his bed, the window in his room shattered and gun fire riddled holes into where he had been sleeping.
“Mom, tell Dad I am, TOO, going with him to see Otka’s dragons!” Venutha’s command could be heard by the Horsemen of Atticus as they walked onto the mess hall’s front porch.
Ben’s retort was just as loud. “Joan, tell my daughter she is NOT going with me!”
The horsemen paused at the double doors and exchanged grins.
Jeremy put his hand on the door, “This morning’s muck chores says Venutha gets to go.”
“Boy,” Wren-at-Dawn laughed, “The day the queen doesn’t get her way with Ben is the day I will muck all the stables by myself.”
The Horsemen of Atticus chuckled and walked into the mess hall for breakfast.
The Jamaican Me Hungry Hall was large enough to seat fifty with benches and tables scattered around in a friendly way. The three dozen horsemen and dog guards, along with Ben’s family, sat here for most of their meals. But anyone was welcome. The cooks and staff were refugees from other worlds, like most of the horsemen. But they were like family, too, and the morning was filled with the smell of wonderful food and the sound of friendship.
Venutha the Queen stood off to the side, hands on hips, bull-dog tenacity on her face. She was dressed in faux leather leggings, cuffed ankle boots, short broomstick skirt in geometric turquoise and terracotta and gold, a peasant blouse that looked useless over her flat chest, beaded hoop earring, and sterling rings on every finger. Ugly ducklings are supposed to magically transform into gracious swans with time. That hadn’t happened to Venutha yet.
Ben, in jeans, plaid flannel shirt and a red face, also had his hands on his hips.
Joan, Ben’s wife and Venutha’s adopted mother sat on a bench beside a high chair, spooning oatmeal into Baby Ben’s mouth. Her stomach was swollen with five months of pregnancy. Her face was the very picture of contentment. A slight smile lifted one corner of her mouth as she ignored her husband and daughter.
Pierre hobbled over to them, leaning heavily on his cane. His right knee had shattered in a parachute landing during Operation Iraqi Freedom fifteen years earlier, but what little stability the fused bones had given him were negated by a blow from the staff of a dark soldier two years ago as he and his horses fought to hold back the dark on Ganternon. Wren-at-Dawn walked beside him, carrying a tray loaded with both men’s breakfasts.
Hreno made a little screech of joy and jumped up from her table to tackle two people in hugs: Mitchell and Shadow. Mitchell, Wren-at-Dawn, and Hreno first met Shadow five years ago during the Battle of Crystal Lake. Shadow had been the weave of Lord Marcelux, but escaped during the battle and now lived in Mitchell’s dorm. The two were always together. But Hreno joined them as often as she could. The young man was thick with latent muscles under a layer of softness. His tanned face and jet black curls were average. His eyes set him apart. He never seemed to see what was in front of him, but what lay beyond now and here. He was a weave without a redeemer. Hreno and Shadow often whispered fearfully that he was in danger of loosing himself to the Weave, so they stayed close by whenever he opened a portal.
Distracted from her brewing tirade, Venutha smiled and went to join her friends. “What are you doing here this early?”
“We’re weaving the portal for your father and Pierre.” The blind girl embraced Venutha.
“They get to go?” she shrieked over her shoulder.
Ben curled his shoulders, his back to her, and continued his breakfast.
Venutha loved the sound her new boots made as she stomped back to his table. “Why do they get to go and I don’t?”
Wren-at-Dawn whistled twice and counted with his fingers raised above his head: one, two, three. The hall resounded as everyone present shouted, “It’s not fair!”
Venutha punched Wren’s shoulder. He rolled his gorgeous brown eyes at her and smiled.
“We’re not going through to Risardia, we’re just weaving the portal.” Shadow sat beside Hreno.
Venutha stomped her new boots out of the mess hall and across the wooden porch.
Ben sighed in utter relief. His wife leaned toward him while wiping oatmeal from Baby Ben’s fingers, “I’m proud of you. You did a good job of letting her throw her tantrum and just taking those deep breaths.”
“You did good, partner,” Pierre patted his arm.
Jeremy raised his voice from two tables away, “Guess we know who’s mucking the stables today.”
To Hold Back the Dark
© Evelyn Rainey
Available for publication.