Characters in the Cosmos: Meet Ren de Lunya
This week we introduce Ren de Lunya, a supporting character in the novels Scion of the Ring, Daughter of the Goddess, and The Witch’s King by S.M.Roffey. These novels are currently in the editing stage, though Scion of the Ring will be in the querying process by January 2018. S.M. Roffey is a writer living in the Northeast with a coffee-loving husband (she prefers tea), two non-conformist teens (is there any other kind?), and a tyrannical Kindergartner (think Tywin Lannister but smaller.) Her non-fiction writing can be found on The Good Men Project, Huffington Post, and her blog, but her greatest love is writing fantasy fiction.
Catina swallowed hard, her hands hovering above the priest’s chest. His wide face was softened in sleep, the lines etched from years of worry softened by the gentle light of the glow lamp. He could be resting, if it weren’t for the blood staining his hands and the side of his tunic.
"Are you sure you want to do this?” Lonn asked, concern wrinkling his pale, narrow brow. Soul-walking was dangerous at best, and in her condition it could be much worse.
“Ren would never allow you in. You’d be in more danger than he is,” she replied. The priest didn’t believe in touching another person’s most private, personal thoughts, and he would push the Seriolim out with force for sure. But he trusted Catina, and that would have to be enough.
“You’ll see things you don’t want to. You’ll learn more about Ren than perhaps he wants you to know.”
The Seriolim wasn’t making this any easier. His pointed ears twitched when she said so. He sighed, and waved a hand toward her to begin.
Catina closed her eyes, blocking out the carved stone walls and bare furnishings of Ren’s small, private quarters. Down, down, down. She touched Ren’s chest.
“Who are you?” a terse voice demanded. “What are you doing here?”
Catina opened her eyes to see a tense, bewildered man, wide of face, stocky, a man who built his body to prove that height had nothing to do with power.
“It doesn’t matter who I am, other than you can trust me. You,” she answered, “are Ren de Lunya. You are a priest. A warrior. And my friend.” The lie choked her.
Ren sneered, taking two steps back. She noted the leather kilt and cuirass he wore—Falkyrian armor. He had never returned to his home after his capture and slavery, but it’s influence was clearly prominent in his self-image.
“Do you not know me, Ren? You, who swore to follow me at all costs?”
“I don’t know you. I don’t know this place. What is this place?”
Catina looked around, the heavy weight of her duty crushing her heart. They were in the middle of a village—Falkyrian, probably, and judging by the thatch-roofed homes and the lavender gray lubidium trees, on the borderlands. Young children ran to and fro, giggling and calling out to one another in the guttural Falkyrian tongue. A woman in a heavy green common dress with wild red hair knelt by a boy with dark eyes and a wide face, drying his tears with a corner of her dress.
“This is your ideal world—but full of your greatest hopes and worst fears as well. This is your soul-scape.”
“Soul-scape?” he demanded, lurching back. “Like witchcraft?” His eyes were full of terror, and he pulled a knife from nowhere. A cut here was a cut in the real world, and she kept a safe distance, but Catina wondered how a man who believed in gods and fairy tale prophecies could be afraid of a little magic.
“No,” she lied. “Like…like a dream.” She slid toward him, hand stretched out the way she would to a skittish horse. He narrowed his eyes, but didn’t run, and lowered the knife.
“Look—there is your happiest moment.” He glanced over at the red-haired woman and the child, as Ren’s mother picked him up and let him touch the delicate lowest branch of the lubidium tree. He’d told Catina of that memory often. It had been the quiet before the storm, the last moment before his life changed forever.
“And there,” she continued, as the scene before them drifted backward as if in a fog, morphing into a new vision, “is your worst moment.” She hated to watch it. Hearing of it was one thing, but as the kilted warriors swooped in on their heavy northern horses, forcing the boys and men to line up, conscripting them into service of their king, she felt a clenching in her chest she hadn’t expected. She knew what came next, but the priest, in his amnesiac state, did not remember.
Then-Twenty-annum old Ren, lined up with the rest of the men, growled as his mother, now bent with age, pushed forward, slapping at the hands of the soldier pushing her back. That Ren bolted out of line, only to be stopped from reaching his mother by three burly soldiers grappling his arms. His mother slapped the soldier in front of her across the face. As Ren roared, the soldier drew his sword, ramming it through the woman’s stomach. She and young Ren fell at the same time to their knees, she to her death, and he to his despair. The soldier kicked the old woman’s body aside, and roared for the men to line up. Ren, after having his hand tied to another conscript’s, stumbled along beside his partner, eyes glazed over and shoulders slumped.
Catina grabbed adult-Ren’s arm as he let out a sound like a wounded animal and attempted to follow.
“It’s not real,” she said, and as he continued to pull away, snapped, “Ren! It’s not real. These are your memories, nothing more. Like a dream, remember?”
“Then why are you here?” he gritted through clenched teeth, his eyes still following the horses as they galloped into the tree-covered horizon.
“Because I’m your friend. Some might say your best friend. And you’re hurt. I could no more leave you to die than you could me, and there have been plenty of times you might have wanted to.” She let the smile that was stuck in her craw make it to her lips. She was certain it looked more like a grimace. “Besides, who is going to slow me down by praying every two gods-damned leagues?”
He shook his head, holding it as if he could jog the memories with a tight enough grip. “Why don’t I remember?”
“I told you. You’re very hurt. Here, sit here.” She knelt and patted the ground. Eying her, he sat down a careful distance away. Catina shrugged and sat back, crossing her legs lotus-style.
“I brought you something to help you remember. But…be warned, it isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s all at once. Understand?”
Ren’s head barely bobbed up and down, as if he wasn’t sure he should agree. Catina took it as assent. She pulled a locket of hair from her cloak, a fiery cut of braid, taken from his mistress after he betrayed her. She leaned across the space between them, placed it in his hand, closed the long, tapered fingers around it.
He cradled it, head down, fingers drifting over the cut threads. She knew he remembered when his shoulders trembled, and blossomed into full blown quaking.
The priest looked up, red eyes welling with unshed tears and anguish rife upon his face. “Go home. I don’t deserve to live. I don’t want you to see me…here.”
She pressed her lips together.
Behind him, the mist swirled again. The scene unfolding made the muscles in her neck cord, but she didn’t take her eyes off Ren’s face. She already knew what happened. She needn’t watch it.
But Ren did. He forced himself, his throat working as he bargained with Catina’s most hated enemy. He had given Prince Evans all the information he had asked for—including her child’s “true” identity.
“Why did you do it?” she croaked, surprised to find her emotions betrayed by her dry throat. She looked down, knowing it would be echoed by the color of her irises.
He was silent for long enough she thought he wouldn’t answer. But as she closed her eyes, unwilling to grant his misery absolution, he spoke.
“I fell prey to the basest of all human emotion. I was jealous.”
Her eyes snapped open. Her jaw worked. Jealous? Of a defenseless child?
Ren laughed, and she’d have been a complete fool to miss the bitterness. He bolted to his feet, grasping his hands in his wavy brown hair. “I could watch you give yourself to your greatest enemy, and live with it, knowing of the greater good that would come of it—the weapon that would some day be his downfall.” The priest closed his eyes, but Catina hoped he could feel the dagger-thrust of her glare. “But to think of you lying with him—with his arrogant assumptions and his damned mismatched eyes—”
Mismatched? Shock thrust its own blade through her center. “Lord Gabriel? You’re jealous of—you insulting, infuriating, misinformed—”
“You are in love with him.”
“I chose him to sire my l’dwar,” she spat, her voice reverberating through his soul-scape. “My. L’dwar. Chosen child. As an Azarian woman, it’s my duty to support my sisters—”
“You can couch it in all the pretty terms you want,” he interrupted. “You can blame it on your traditions, you can tell me all about the way Azarian women choose a man to sire a child—a l’dwar who will have no father. It changes nothing. You’re in love with him.”
“You’re an idiot. I don’t know how many ways to tell you I’m not—and that it wouldn’t be your business if I were. I thought he would be powerful enough to protect a child. A decoy. And now, because of your jealousy,” she enunciated, dripping with disdain, “my l’dwar is dead. My. Son. Is dead. Come here.”
Braver men than he had never dared disobey her. He stepped forward, ready for the pain. He turned his head to the side, and she judged he was hoping for a quick end.
He gasped when her hand touched his wound. She felt the bones and the skin rearrange themselves, healing him within. His eyes darted up to hers, anguish bare.
“I give you my healing, and require your return. You have betrayed me—the worst pain you have ever dealt, I assure you. And there will a come a time for reckoning. You will feel as I felt the moment Jaxom’s eyes looked up at me with no life within them. But for today, you have a duty to me, and I have a duty to protect my people. So wake. But know that while you are healed, from this moment you are dead to me, Ren de Lunya. Once, you told me you feared nothing but the loss of your place with me. I think you have much more to fear now.”
She closed her eyes, his stricken face fading from sight.