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The Wanderer

BY CALE RUBENSTEIN


He appeared from the ravine just as the mist was clearing, emerging like one of the spirits that would come and take our goats at night. My father and a few elders were there, watching the man approach and holding sharpened sticks and heavy branches. I stood behind them, instructed to run and warn the village of any danger.

“Who are you?” my father called out, hefting his cudgel as the man neared.

 

He stopped a few paces from us. “I am a wanderer,” he replied. He was young, only a few years older than me, covered in a thick layer of dust and had matted, windswept hair. He turned his face, revealing a jagged scar that ran over his left eye.

 

“How did you get here?” my father asked. “No one has ever come through the valley this way. How did you survive the giants who live on the other side?”

 

The man tilted his head. “You mean the nephilim?” He shrugged and spread his hands. “I have some knowledge that keeps me safe in these troubled parts of the world. Do not be concerned, I won’t disturb you. I only ask you to let me pass.”

 

A ripple passed through the group. My father narrowed his eyes and motioned for the others to lower their weapons. “You look weary, wanderer. Will you stay, and perhaps share some of this knowledge?”

 

The man wavered, then nodded. The elders turned back to our village, and my father beckoned for him to follow. “What is your name?”

 

He hesitated again before responding. “Tiras.”

 

My father inclined his head. “My name is Irad,” then gestured to me, “and this is Elam.”

 

When we arrived, my father pulled Tiras into a hut, while I was sent off to water the goats. I rushed through the task, eager to see more of this visitor, and as I drove the flock back to its pen, I passed Tiras crouched on the ground, drawing in the dirt, encircled by a few villagers.

 

“This should keep the shamir away,” he said. “That’s the name of the creature you saw that killed your chickens. This symbol creates a barrier. You’ll have to redraw it every night, unless you use a couple drops of lamb’s blood…” I strained to hear more, but the rest was lost under murmurs from the onlookers.

 

My father invited Tiras to our cookfire that night. My sister wouldn’t meet his eye as he sat between me and my mother, but he gave me a small smile as I handed him some food.

 

“We’re grateful for your help today,” my mother said.

 

Tiras bent his head. “I’m grateful for your warm fire, Zillah. It is rare I’ve found such kindness.”

 

“I must know, Tiras, how did you learn these things?”

 

“My family,” he replied. “They were born in a wondrous place, where the trees bore every type of fruit and animals would trot up to you ready for slaughter. As they left, they learned some of its secrets, and they taught them to me.”

 

We were quiet after that, letting Tiras’s description linger in the night air. I lifted my head back and looked at the stars, trying to imagine such splendor.

 

“And will you leave soon?” my sister asked then.

 

“Awan,” my mother scolded, “be respectful.”

 

Tiras gave a short laugh. “I’ll leave at dawn. Any longer would be a burden.”

 

“Where will you go next?” I asked, ignoring my mother’s pointed look.

 

His smile vanished. “I couldn’t say. I’ll keep wandering.”

 

My father spoke then, looking up from the fire for the first time. “Our lives have been hard here; these last few years even more so. Tell me, Tiras, what else do you know?”

 

Tiras stayed the next day, and every day after that. With each passing morning, the less people questioned when he would leave, until the very thought seemed an impossibility. He showed us herbs that would dull pain, and prayers to keep the mazzikin from spoiling our milk. He would set broken bones and cure wounds that should have been fatal. But most spectacular were the harvests. I watched him turn our few scattered patches into lush, bountiful fields. For the first time, no one starved that winter.

The next year, my father agreed I could work alongside Tiras. In the mornings I would meet him in the fields, and we’d sow and water and reap. I would tell him about our village’s history, its myths and gods, and he would tell me fantastic tales of men conjured from dust and talking serpents. When it was warm, I would stay past sunset, clearing dead leaves and breathing in the scent of earth, leaning into every caress of the stalks as the wind blew down from the valley. Each year the plants would sprout around us like magic, ripening but never rotting.

 

During my third autumn in the fields, Awan started to bring us food at midday. She and Tiras would stroll around the wheat, out of sight, whispering and laughing. She never told me what they talked about, but six months later they were wed.

 

The next summer, we were pruning the peach trees, and the air was thick and intoxicating with their scent. I looked at Tiras, brows furrowed as he inspected each branch. “How did you get your scar?” I asked, the words tumbling out of my mouth before I had a moment to consider them. Embarrassment washed over me.

 

He didn’t respond, continuing to cut away the desiccated branches. Admonishing myself, I returned to my work.

 

“I killed a man,” he said then, breaking the silence.

 

I stilled, my stomach clenching. “You did?”

 

His hands had fallen to his sides, and he was looking over the fields. “Yes. I had no choice. I loved him, but when I saw what he was doing...” He trailed off, and his eyes shimmered. “Even so, I see him every day, but I’ll never be able to tell him why…”

 

He remained motionless, looking into the distance. I felt a twisting in my chest. I moved towards him and put my hand on his shoulder. “You’re a good man, Tiras. I know you are. We all do.”

 

He turned to me and smiled. “I am only half the man you are, my friend,” he said.

 

My mind drifted after that, wondering if his scar came while trading blows or in the last heave of life from the person he killed. But we never spoke of it again.

 

The years continued, and the village grew to the edge of the valley, driven by ample food and safety from the evils that roamed the land. Wooden huts were replaced with stone homes, surrounded by animal pens and green pastures. I was with Tiras and Awan one morning, bouncing their son on my knee. He was a joyful child, untroubled by fear or hunger. Tiras was on the floor, whittling a toy bird, while Awan was cutting herbs at the table. My mother ran in, her brow creased and eyes wide.

 

“Tiras,” she said, “There are some people here, we think they’re looking for you.” She wrung her hands. “They came through the valley.”

 

Tiras seemed to consider the knife in his hand before placing it down and rising from his seat. “Stay here, I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he whispered to Awan before striding through the door. I handed their son to my mother and followed him outside.

 

“You shouldn’t be coming,” he said, not pausing as he headed towards the edge of the village. “I don’t know what to expect.”

 

I gave a small shake of my head in response. “You don’t have to face things alone anymore, brother.”

 

My father and some villagers were waiting at the entrance to the valley. Across from them were a man and woman, each carrying a long stick with a sharp rock strapped to the end. Their faces were lined with age, but unlike my father, who had withered over the years, they stood straight-backed, and thick muscles coiled around their arms and legs. The white at their temples glowed like halos.

 

“Tiras,” my father said, his voice rasping. “These people are looking for you.” His eyes slid over Tiras’s scar. “Or someone who looks like you.”

 

The man sneered as we walked past the crowd and stood to face them. “Tiras? Is that what you call yourself? You think by shedding your name you can forget your disgrace?”

 

Tiras nodded at each of them. “Father. Mother. What brings you to our village?”

 

“An offer of redemption,” the man said. He moved closer, his voice lowering. “Our banishment is over. We can go back.”

 

Tiras raised an eyebrow. “Then go.”

 

The woman stepped forward. “We have to go together, all three of us. We’re the children of the garden. He won’t let us return while you’re here.”

 

I could see Tiras’s muscles tense. “I’m not leaving.”

 

The woman’s face darkened. “What do you mean?”

 

“I won’t go with you. I’m happy here.”

 

“Don’t be a fool,” she hissed. “You never saw it, you can’t imagine what we had. You think this hovel you’ve salvaged with some meager tricks can compare? Forget this place, and let’s go home.”

 

Tiras straightened. “This is my home. I have a family here. A wife and son.”

 

A feral noise erupted from the man. “You monster. You dare mention your son to me, after you took mine away? Have you any remorse, Cain?”

 

Tiras flared. “More than you can ever imagine. I told you years ago. I tried to save him, but he wouldn’t listen. You thought he was a beacon of virtue, but he was corrupting what you taught us. His offerings were violations. He sought an unnatural control over the land, and we all would have suffered if he wasn’t stopped.”

 

“Liar,” the woman shouted. “You were nothing compared to him. You knew it, and you cut him down for it.” She lunged at Tiras, but the man held her back.

 

“Enough. We’ve been offered a gift, Cain. You will not cause us any more suffering than you already have.” He picked up his stick, and advanced towards Tiras. “You will come with us, now, if we have to tie you up and drag you.”

 

There were a few angry mutters among the villagers, and then they swarmed around us, a few picking up and brandishing stones.

 

The man faltered, eyes darting between Tiras and the villagers. “You would stay here, and give up paradise for these people?”

 

Tiras stiffened. “I would never choose anywhere else.”

 

The man opened his mouth, but closed it before saying anything. He looked at the woman and she shook her head, and then they turned around and walked back the way they came.


 

Cale Rubenstein is an aspiring writer based out of Alexandria. He enjoys writing fiction and fantasy and spending time with his dog.


© The Wanderer | Cale Rubenstein

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