When a man bleeds
“Persius, my boy,” the man spoke up in his old kind weathered tone, the one lined with the wisdom of a massive forest, “I have something to tell you, come inside for a bit.” With that the older man went back into his log cabin, closing the door behind him. Persius stayed his hand, axe held above his head with both of his powerful arms, before planting it next to the piece of wood he was about the cleave in two. His axe dug a few inches into the large log he used as a board, and the young man dried himself off with a rag before taking a nice, clean spring breath. Surveying the forest around him, he smiled a bit to himself before he draped his linen shirt onto his wide muscular torso and climbed up the few steps into their cabin.
Stepping inside, Persius was met with the smiling face of Chiron, musing over a cup of green tea. An aroma of herbs could not detract from the fireplace’s homely waft of smoke, despite a chimney that was constructed by the old woodsman when he was younger. In fact, the smiling old man with his long white hair, weathered face and laughing lines around his bright green eyes had built this entire cabin with his own hands, back when he’d gotten tired of living in Athens.
Chiron directed Persius to sit across from him, next to the window where a fortunate breeze could cool both of them. The young man took his place in the comfortable armchair and sighed. He had done many chores today since dawn, and shafts of light streaming through the window told him it was already noon. Still, he still had much to do, not least of all chop firewood. “How are you doing, honourable father?” he asked, kissing Chiron’s ring finger as a sign of respect, keeping his eyes on the old man’s.
“My boy, it is nigh time that I told you some things,” the man said, ignoring Persius’ decorum. His expression retained its usual kindness, but Chiron looked grave. His tone drew all of the young man’s attention, and all of a sudden the cozy atmosphere of the living room, the warmth of the fire, the cool breeze from outside the cabin, as well as the sunshine became objects at a distance, a reality separate from the one the two of them occupied. A cold shudder went down Persius’ powerful back, strengthened from his father’s and his craft, and he listened intently to his Chiron’s next words, his eyes following the man’s every movement with extraordinary intensity as the man said the fateful six words:
“Persius, I am not your real father.”
It was if the old man himself wished to deny the truth of this statement with his very being. The one and only father Persius had ever had looked stricken by his own words, and a sigh went through him as his muscles relaxed with the revelation, shoulders released from the burden they’d held up for more than twenty years. To Persius it was obvious that this simple statement had taken everything that his father had, that it had broken and mended him, shattered and unmade him as it left his lips. His father lay before him, bare and afraid, yet resigned Persius’ judgement. He could see his fear.
“Yeah,” he answered, with a bit of trepidation, “I know, Father.”
Chiron recoiled in his chair as if he were struck with a physical blow, spluttering for a few seconds. “Impossible!” he exclaimed in shock, “But how?! I’ve always been so careful, never let a thing slip.” The man’s hands waved in the air, convinced that he had done something wrong somehow, and that just added to the uncomfortable feeling swirling in Persius’ belly. He let Chiron go on for a few seconds before cooing him and shooing him until he calmed down.
When that was done and the man was only slightly spluttering, Persius rose from his chair, circled over to his father, and knelt in front of his chair gently. “Father, what is your natural hair colour?”
The man sipped his tea audibly. “Blonde”.
The man looked sullen for a second, then said, “black…”
Persius nodded, smiling. This was a good start. He didn’t want to hurt the man’s pride, after all. “And body type? Height? Do we look at all alike, father? Are my eyes like yours?” after a moment of silence Chiron slurped at his mug again audibly, then shook his head in a hurt manner. That last part was a bit much, for Presius happened to own extraordinary eyes.
After that, it took only a little of bit of effort to get the old man to cheer up again. Persius mostly worked at Chiron’s pride, praising him for keeping his secret well and being so clever, until his frown turned back into confidant laughing lines. When that was done, Persius sat on his armchair as his father relaxed into his own with more comfort now, with the burden of his “secret” taken off his back. Chrion looked quite pleased with himself, in fact. “So, Persius my boy, do you know anything else about your heritage?”
“Umm… No, father” answered the young man, being careful not to hurt Chiron’s feelings again and start him on another pouting spree. All he knew was that the old man had raised him since he was a child, and other than his father being eccentric as well as a woodsman, it was all shrouded in mystery. Chiron pointed a finger at him in triumph, drawing his attention.
“Well, mister know it all, do I have a story for you!” Without waiting for his (adoptive) son’s reply, Chiron went right into his tale, starting with a deep dramatic raspy voice. His tone was grave and serious, extravagant almost, yet controlled as an axe would be in his callused hands.
“It was a dark and lonely night,” he started, then licked his lips apologetically, “well, no, it was a normal sunny summer day, and I was walking my way down a narrow forest trail, following a boar… I had more than half a mind to eat that boar, you know. Too bad a baby lay there on the road’s centre, wrapped in white velvet like you’ve never seen, wee as a floppy fish.” He glared at Persius, and the son cast his head down in shame almost instinctively, before remembering that nothing here was his fault. “I’m sure the boar would have tasted great, too. I’m a kind soul like you’ve never seen, though, and so I decided to give you priority….” he trailed off, waiting.
“I left a note with the blanket, telling whoever it was that left you exactly where I could be reached if needed. When nobody called on you for three days I decided to take care of you for the time being. Been twenty two years since then, and still nobody came.”
Persius had waited in anticipation, but when the Chiron looked pleased enough with the story he had delivered; the youth took a slow breath, thinking of whether to voice his next question. Chiron may be a strange man, but he was still the only father he’d had since he was a boy. And that he was as kind as he was comically inept. He did not wish to offend the man, but Persius asked, “And… my real parents? Did you ever get any clues?”
For a few seconds Chiron remained silent, before looking up from his mug with sadness in his eyes, as if remembering a faraway pain. “Boar… wait, what?” with a snap he came to, and Persius gritted his teeth in strained patience. “Ah yes, it’s obvious from the colour of your right eye and that blanket. There’s no doubt about it, boy, you’re a half nymph.”
Night had cast its shady curtains upon the forest when Persius finally stole away from the cabin, a pack slung across one shoulder. He went to find the nymphs of the stream in the middle of the forest. He knew that sneaking away in this manner was useless, for Chiron could no doubt sense him from inside the house. No matter what, the old man was still an incredible woodsman and tracker. No, the reason Persius did things in this fashion was to avoid his adopted father’s goodbye. This was good enough for a farewell, and he didn’t want the man asking questions. Persius caught, with his trained ears, Chiron stir awake in the cabin, but in response he stepped on the ground even more gently. After a second’s hesitation, he heard the man roll over onto his other side, after which his breath went into a deliberate steady rhythm.
He knew that he was doing his father a disservice, but Persius thought it a necessary evil. Chiron had spent all of this time taking care of him, on top of touring the forests as a woodsman and taking care of what was necessary for his profession. The man hadn’t lost his edge, but as he’d gotten old his health had waned instead. There was no way that the man was going to live much longer, the youth had seen that in the volumes of blood he coughed up when he thought no one saw. Persius knew that the real reason the woodsman had told him about his origins was so that his son would leave him to die in peace. Chiron did not want to burden the closest thing he had to a beautiful baby boy, not with his profession nor with taking care of him in old age. The woodsman was doing all he could to allow his son to live a better life, and thus suffered in the process. It was a sacrifice, pure and simple. That, Persius could respect. When a man bleeds for the sake of others, it’s only polite to pretend that you didn’t see.
Firm belief did nothing at all to soothe the lump in his throat.
It was almost dawn when Persius made his way to the centre of the forest. In the morning mist, he could just barely make out a clearing, filled only with a meadow, a large tree so thick that five men could not link their hands around it without pressing their faces against its serrated light brown bark, and what seemed like a small moat running around the tree, then feeding into a stream that flowed away. Persius was familiar with most of the forest, but even he had never been here. It was no problem, however, for Chiron had been so intent on having him gone that he told him everything he needed to know about the place. Making it look like he let it slip, of course.
Persius was not alarmed when he saw the blue lights floating around the tree, rather he took it as a sure sign that he was in the right place. He walked over, letting the white wisps of morning mist move around him like tendrils of smoke, allowing the dew to gather on his leather shod feet, feeling the world hold its breath for what was about to happen. The silence here was so intent he could almost hear those blue lights fluttering about. He was excited, he couldn’t deny that, but he forced his breath to be slow. Going around the tree, he saw where the stream reached… no, that was wrong. He paused in confusion, for the youth could not be sure if the stream flowed to or from the large tree. Depending on how he looked at it, it was almost as if the water went full circle clockwise around the ancient thing, then flowed away in a straight line back the way it came. In fact, it was as if the left half of the stream went towards the tree, and the right half away from it. Almost like two separate existences running side by side. All Persius really knew was that from above, the stream would look like a straight line, ending in a circle, with the tree being a dot right in the middle of it. That was their symbol. He pushed complexities out of his mind, for the magic of strange beings is not meant to be understood.
Looking at the base of the circular moat, where it met with the stream, Persius noted a rock jutting out from under the surface of the thin shallow thing. On the rock he saw that same symbol, a line ending with a circle, which in turn had a dot in its centre. He went on one knee and leaned to examine it closer, noting that it was only wide and deep enough for one of his feet to sink to the heel. Impossibly clear water flowed here, and the bottom of the stream was lined with smooth white oval rocks. This was the place.
Persius straightened himself, looking all around. Nobody around but the blue lights. The youth took his clothes off slowly, laying them next to him on the grass and shivering in the morning cold, despite the sun starting to rise far to the east, brought by Helios’s chariot and dragged by his horses of flame. Marriage of night and day. Persius had very little time left until his window of opportunity was over. If not now, he would have to wait until the next day. He closed his eyes, feeling sunrays on his face, and leapt headfirst into the tiny stream.
Instead of falling face first into the tiny stream, however, Persius felt the ground expand to give him entrance. All of a sudden he was engulfed in water from all sides, and when the youth opened his eyes from the shock of cold, what he saw made him gasp. There, beyond his last few precious bubbles of air, sprawled an underwater city populated exclusively by young beautiful people. They all had the same black hair and blue eyes, and they danced and sang merrily everywhere in sight, going about their happy ways. The city was made entirely of large slabs of white marble, and it was a bustle such as Persius had never seen. For an instant, Persius worried about drowning here, but then he remembered what he’d been told and gulped air normally.
The entire city was suspended underwater with the houses and buildings seeming to stand upon invisible foundations. Persius could not have known which direction was up if it were not for the orientation of the buildings, but he assumed that the surface of the lake was “upwards” from the houses. Such was the scale of the body of water he found himself in. It was as if he were within a separate spherical world occupied by a city drifting underwater. Just as he was contemplating this, he glimpsed a figure dressed differently from the others break off from the city and swim towards him. This figure had the same features as the others, but had golden armour instead of the green attire everyone else was in. Added to that, his demeanour and the harpoon in his right hand hinted at him being a guard of some sorts. When the two were face to face the stranger took a good look at Persius’s face and smiled. “One blue eye,” he mused in a melodic voice unlike anything the youth had ever heard, his long black hair flowing freely. “Welcome, child.” His unfriendly manner changed entirely and he led Persius to the city gates.
“That is your mother, young Persius,” the chief of this part of the city stated, pointing towards a woman who stood a distance away from them, contempt apparent in her features. The chief himself looked at her disapprovingly, although the severity of his gaze was counteracted by the fact that he looked no older than eighteen himself. In fact, wherever he saw, Persius saw none who looked older than he himself was. He guessed it was true then: nymphs always looked young, and were in fact so long lived that they were considered immortal by humans. Such was the life of the water elves. This Included his mother, who made no attempt to approach the two.
“Your father died shortly after you were born, and so Mathilda left you in the forest, in a place where she was sure you would be found. That is something she has already been punished for, but you have every right to be angry. Interracial relation were only recently allowed, and that is our fault to bear.” The chief looked as if he were still upset but he pressed on, his headdress trying its best to stay atop his head despite the bobbing of his head due to slow constant swimming. His headdress was consisted of a crab holding on to his black curls for dear life. Persius had noticed early on that nymphs were somewhat silly, in some ways. “No matter,” said the chief, “that is something between the two of you to clear up. You are, of course, welcome in our city.” His hands opened in a formal gesture of friendship, and Persius wondered what his proper response should be. Before he could do more that mumble thanks, however, the young looking leader pressed on. “Now, as a half nymph, you will stop aging in a few years, but you can only live as long as we do if you stay in this city, otherwise your lifespan will shorten. In order to live more than five hundred years, I suggest leaving the city only once every year or so. However, when you are here, you must adhere to our rules. Clothes are made out of sea weeds, we eat nothing that is not of the Lake, and we live a rather gay life here.”
With that, he took a step forward to point at something, and Persius said absentmindedly, “Yes, I can see that many of you look quite happy.” They did, truly. Many laughed and danced and feasted around fires that burnt bright even underwater, singing merry songs. This was a more peaceful place than any he’d known.
The chief cast him a sidelong glance. “No,” he said, “Literally, lots of us are gay. We’re open about such things. I personally am a big supporter and I don’t see why many humans aren’t.”
“Oh,” remarked Persius eloquently. “Well chief, you misunderstand.” The young man drew himself to his full height, “I am not going to live here. I’m going back to the surface.”
“….what?” asked the chief, incredulous, “but you bel-“
Persius cut him off with a look. “I belong with my ill father. Would you do any less?” his tone softened as the chief gave him a pained look. “I came to search for medicine. Nymphs were known for that. Please, he only has a few months left. Chiron is the one who raised me, what would I be if I left him now? An eternity of life would not be worth the betrayal.”
The nymph looked at a loss for words for a few seconds, but when he finally answered, it was with a smile. “You’ve been raised well.” he said simply, wiping a tear which glistened with a blue light, distinguishable from the water all around them for but an instant before breaking into tiny particles. “The answer is in our blood. You mix it with certain herbs and then make pellets that you melt into a tea. I will gladly teach you the method.” Persius bowed to the man, glad to have what he came for. Then he turned to his mother, who was now less than fifty feet away, standing with a smirk on her face. She’d kept close the entire time while the two had walked and spoken.
He went to her, and as he came, she started to talk with obvious contempt, “Well, well, here comes the lost child. Going to cry at me? Scream? Kill? Come on, do your worst, I can take i-“ ignoring her, Persius wrapped her arms around his mother, engulfing her in a warm hug. He’d never hugged a person so shocked in his life.
“Why?” she whispered, sounding both hurt and confused, then started to sob into his shoulder, grabbing handfuls of his shirt as she cried. He could tell that was what she had longed to do the entire time. “You’re s-supposed to h-hate me! Why don’t you HATE me!”
In response, Persius answered in a calm kind tone,“No mother can bear to leave her child easily. I know you had reasons, and I know you’ve hated yourself for more than twenty years for what you’ve done. You wanted me to hurt you so badly, didn’t you? That is punishment enough, I can’t stand seeing my one and only mother do that to herself. You gave me this body I have, after all. It would be selfish to ask for anything more.”
As she bawled her eyes out, Persius held on to Mathilda, telling her how glad he was to have her as a mother, of his life with Chiron, how happy he had always been- and how he was going to leave for that life again. In truth, he himself had needed this embrace as well, although it had been a mystery to him until that very moment. “You are welcome to visit whenever you want, mother,” he concluded, “I can’t tell you how lucky I am. What a gift it is, to have not two parents, but three! I’m sure I would have loved him too. Dad, I mean. Tell me about him sometime.” At that she sobbed even harder, but Persius stayed with the nymph until she was finished, kissed him on the cheek, and promised to visit him soon.
Turning around to go, Persius saw the chief standing among the circle of smiling nymphs around him, holding up a piece of parchment with instructions upon it. “What a curious child,” he remarked as he handed Persius the rolled up medicine recipe. “Your adoptive father should be proud of you.”
Persius just smiled as he headed to the exit and back into the forest, emerging out of the tiny mysterious stream. He imagined Chiron will be furious. However, the old woodsman will have to bear with it, for when a man bleeds for the sake of others, it is only polite to pretend you didn’t see anything.
Thank you for reading this story. I hope it was an enjoyable experience. If you would like, please have a look at my Shakespir, amazon, scriggler, or goodreads. I even have twitter.
Persius is a woodsman. It is all he knows and all that his father has ever taught him. In some ways, his craft depends on his bond with Chiron. This all changes when Chiron reveals that not only is he not Presius' real father, but that the youth may not be entirely human. This revelation changes many things, but Persius cannot show it to his father. After all, he has been taught a valuable truth about the blood of men...