As I walked into the Emerald Candle, Fionn and I were waved over by Alyssa, Rachel and Tika. “Over here, Jeff!” Rachel called out.
“Go join them, lad.” Fionn began. “I have to do some business with Ser Balda.”
“Alright, Fionn. Thank you.”
“It’s fine – go be with your friends.”
I turned to the girls and waved. “Hey!”
“Hey yourself!” Rachel laughed. “You looked great out there today.”
“Yes, definitely!” Alyssa said. “I see you have yet to open my present.”
“Ummm. Yeah – sorry. I didn’t think I should do it while I was standing Vigil – and then Sir Fionn started teaching me about channeling my will and my faith and I got distracted. I can open it now, if you like?”
“’Tis your present, Sir Geoffrey. You may open it whenever you like.” Alyssa smiled.
“You did great for your first time, yup you did!” Tika chattered. “I’m so excited for you!”
“Thanks, Tika.” I took a seat in the booth next to Rachel, and started to open the birthday present Alyssa had brought me. I tore off the colored paper – it was sealed with glue, not tape – and found a cloth wrapped lump inside.
The cloth was simple white linen – a handkerchief – with a sheathed dagger inside. The sheath was decorated with some leatherwork and silver inlay of vines and berries, and the pommel of the dagger looked like it was set with a piece of jade or something very similar. I pulled the dagger from the sheath, and the blade was long and sharp, with a small fuller down the side. It was beautiful.
“They say every good warrior needs a trusty dagger, Geoffrey. I hope I’m not presuming too much in gifting one to you?” Alyssa asked.
“No! This is wonderful, Alyssa. Thank you so much!” I grinned from ear to ear – this was a beautiful weapon, designed for fighting and work, not a simple belt knife. It probably cost a pretty penny. “I’ll wear it with pride, and think of you.”
Alyssa grinned, and nodded, and Rachel waved over to the kitchen – and much to my surprise, I saw Fionn carrying what looked like a birthday cake – complete with frosting and tiny white candles.
“You got me a cake?!” I said, surprised and happy.
“It can’t be a birthday without a cake!” Rachel smiled. “Surprise!”
Fionn set the cake down, placing it in front of me, while I could see Gideon and Gudrun bringing plates, spoons, and a serving knife. “Rachel said this is where you make a wish.”
“I don’t know what to wish for!” I laughed. I thought for a moment about what I did truly wish for. I wish to be happy, not to just exist, but to be truly happy. Not all the time – no one can have that – but a happy life, full of love and family. “I made my wish – now let’s see!” I took a breath and puffed – and blew out the candle. “One candle for my first birthday on Mercia?”
“Yup!” Tika exclaimed. “First of many!”
“Thanks, Tika, Rachel, Alyssa. I don’t know what to say.”
“Say you’ll cut the cake.” Rachel joked. “We’re all hungry.”
“Okay, Okay. One cake cutting, coming up.” I took the proffered cake knife from Gudrun, and cut the cake into nine pieces – it was about 10 inches square, so it make some nice sized pieces. The cake was white, with a lemon custard filling, and a sweet looking frosting that was dark brown… “Is this chocolate frosting?”
“Yes! I used some of the chocolate I brought from Earth to help Gudrun make the icing. There wasn’t enough to make a chocolate cake.” Rachel grinned.
“Awesome! Thank you!”
“You’re welcome! Now cake me.” She replied.
“One cake, coming up.” I served cake to Rachel, Tika, Alyssa, Sir Fionn, and also a piece to Gudrun, Gideon and Unther, leaving myself two nicely sized pieces to enjoy. We all tucked in, and I felt a tear come to my eye as the quiet reminder of home filled me with happiness. Today had been amazing, and it was only half over!
Once we had finished our cake, and licked all the frosting from our spoons, I turned to the others. “I guess Rachel and I have some news, too. King Colin is ill, and may be near his last days. I would very much like to meet him before as Fionn says, the gods take him into their embrace. I was planning on leaving tomorrow – and Rachel was coming with me, as is Sir Fionn.”
“Aye, you did mention that you intended to leave Enders Hollow and travel to Callenden.” Alyssa replied. “Has Rachel discussed it with Seoni, so that she won’t miss her lessons on being a woman, or with Cheerit so that her magic lessons will be suspended?”
“Oh Crap. No.” Rachel said.
“Well, never fear! Tika and I spoke to Seoni and Cheerit for you, Rachel. I’m to accompany you to help you maintain your lessons on how to be a woman, and Tika has decided to come with me to help you with your magic lessons, and because she would miss us all terribly. I have only one request.”
“What is that, Alyssa?” Rachel asked.
“I’d like to be back in Enders Hollow for our transformation ceremony – in 50 or so days – if we can. Priestess Seoni has been a great mentor, and I would like the change to be at her hands. I would also like to be here so my family can see me become their daughter in the flesh as well as the heart.”
“I can understand that. I accept your conditions, and thank you for coming with us. I was worried we would have to say goodbye.”
“As was I.” I said. “I’m actually pretty glad you’ll be coming. It’ll be fun.”
“Assuming you have a good reception at Callenden, Geoffrey.” Fionn reminded me. “You yourself have expressed some worries about how the King’s family may receive you.”
“True, but I think I will put my trust in the gods. He’s my Grandpa. I just want to meet him, and tell him Grandma never stopped loving him. I think it would give her – and maybe him too – some closure. Some peace of mind.”
“A noble quest, then. For love, and honor.” Fionn stated.
“Yeah, I guess so.” I replied. “For family.”
We all nodded, and the rest of the day was taken up by Sir Fionn telling Tika and Alyssa what they would need to travel with us for the journey to Callenden, and getting their gear ready. Rachel spent part of the afternoon packing, and part of the afternoon thanking and saying farewell to Seoni the priestess, and Cheerit, her magic teacher. Meanwhile, I had a chat with Gideon Balda, and arranged to leave some of my wealth in a strongbox in his in, a strongbox to which he gave me the key. Just in case. That way, if we were waylaid and robbed, Rachel and I would have some money to fall back upon.
The rest of the day passed, and Alyssa and Tika retired to their homes to say farewell to their families, while Sir Fionn joined us – Rachel and I – for dinner at the Emerald Candle. Dinner tonight was a large stuffed sausage, filled with bread and onion stuffing and covered in gravy, alongside a hearty chicken soup, several slices of fresh bread, and butter and seasonings. Gudrun told us there would even be cherry pie for dessert if we so wished it.
I couldn’t help but notice how much the locals – the common townsfolk – deferred to me. Was it because I was apparently a wealthy warrior, or the bastard son of a noble, or perhaps some measure of both? I decide it didn’t matter, really. What mattered was how I treated them. I was a firm believer in treating people the way I’d like to be treated – and I hoped the literal privilege I had been born to wouldn’t cause me to forget where I came from… Back on Earth I was just a commoner, like almost everyone else. It reminded me to be humble.
I fingered my holy symbol of the Twins – the birthday gift Rachel had given me. It was pretty, to be sure, but it was also the first piece of jewelry I had ever owned. It felt nice. I looked up at Rachel, and smiled.
“Penny for your thoughts?” She asked.
“I’m not sure they’re worth that much.” I joked. “But okay. I was thinking about the privilege I was apparently born to, and was trying to remind myself to stay humble. I was also thinking about your gift today, and how much I appreciated it.”
“Awww! Thanks, Jeff.”
“It’s the truth, Rache.”
Rachel just smiled and nodded. We sat quietly for a while, and then Sir Fionn changed the subject.
“It’s perhaps three days hike to Callenden… Maybe four if we get bad weather. Assuming we travel lightly – if you carry large packs, it could take an extra day or two.”
“I understand.” I replied. “I’ve made arrangements to store some goods here with Gideon. I’ll thin my pack’s load so it’s lighter and leave what I don’t need here.”
“I’ll do the same. Alyssa’s folks lent me a trunk in their back room to store stuff for a while. They were really nice about it.” Rachel said.
“Good. And as we travel, I can teach Geoffrey some more about channeling his faith and give him some lessons in history and religion. Your blade skills are fairly good, Geoffrey – but we might need to work on them as well.”
“Sure. That sounds fine, Fionn.” To be honest, I was really looking forward to being able to heal or smite, and all that cool Vigilant stuff.
“Good. We’ll leave as soon as the girls – Alyssa and Tika get here in the morning. I’m sure their parents will want to make sure they’ve had a solid breakfast before leaving. I remember my mother always trying to feed me well before I left home after a visit.”
“Alright, then.” I replied. “We should tuck into dinner before it gets cold!”
* * *
Later, after a pleasantly filling dinner and a lovely piece of cherry pie, and a half-pint of apple cider, Rachel and I headed upstairs, to get a good night’s sleep. The room was a bit warm and muggy, like the late summer weather outside, so I opened the window to let some air in.
“Sorry if it lets in a few bugs, but the cool of the night air will be worth it, I hope.”
“No problem, Jeff. I’d rather have some cool air. A few bugs won’t kill me.”
I went and sat on the edge of my bed, as Rachel lit the green candles we used to light our room, and then put the glass shield over them to protect them from the wind. “So what did it feel like, getting healed?”
Rachel sat down, and smiled. “It felt good. It felt tingly, like my chest had that pins and needles feeling when your arms and legs fall asleep, but not painful in any way. It felt a little physical too, like something pushed inside me. I don’t know how to explain it, but it felt like one moment I was tingling and feeling some pressure, and the next moment I could breathe clearly and I didn’t feel any shortness of breath. It was like night and day.”
“Wow. And to think I’ll be able to heal once I’m done my training, too. Amazing.”
“Yeah! That is pretty cool! I’m really glad you’ve found something you like here, Jeff.”
“Thanks Rachel. It makes not being able to go back easier. I think I’ll like it here.” I smiled back at her – her joy was infectious. “How have you been, for the last few days? I’ve been training so hard, I haven’t had time to ask.”
“I’m okay. The Call of Hrask is mostly gone – it should be totally gone in another day or so – and I’ve been doing well with my lessons. Cheerit says she might teach me another magical word when I get back, if my lessons have progressed far enough – and Alyssa and Tika as well.”
“That sounds pretty exciting. I guess we’ll have to get the three of you to level. Oh – and look at our party? Two paladins, and three sorcerers. No cleric, no rogue. Dungeon masters everywhere will be screaming about what a screwed up party we have.”
“Well the Hobbit’s group was 12 fighters, 1 commoner who took rogue levels later on, and 1 wizard who probably multi-classed with bard at one point. I mean, as weird groups go, we’re in good company.” Rachel chuckled. “It’s even worse if you go by MMO standards – we have two tanks, and three spellcasters – no warriors, no dps. By any normal metric, we’re screwed!”
“Hehe. I guess you’re right. Comparing this to a game is silly, but it’s kinda fun to joke about. Are you going to miss our video games or RPG’s? I might miss the internet a bit.”
“Maybe. I think I won’t miss RPGs much – but I think I’ll miss playing American Gods with you. I liked that MMO and I have a lot of good memories from it.”
“Well, we’re spending a lot of time together now. I feel like I’m getting to meet you all over again as you explore the girl side of you, Rache. I honestly hope it’s everything you’re hoping for. I feel like I’m sharing in your big adventure, and it’s been amazing seeing you grow and change.”
“Thanks, Jeff. I hope being a Vigilant is fulfilling to you too.”
“I think it will be. To be honest, I was just floating, back at home. I wasn’t really happy – I wasn’t really sad. I was just existing, with my shitty job at McDonalds, and my life online. I felt like I was missing something I couldn’t put my finger on, geez, I guess for the last three or four years I guess. Nothing I tried felt quite right, so I just found a comfortable niche and just… coasted in neutral. I still don’t know what’s missing, but I think being a Vigilant is one of the pieces.”
“You looked like you were happy?” Rachel replied a little curiously.
“Yeah, I guess. Everyone saw what they wanted to see. I never felt like things were quite right, but I guess I hid it well. You hid stuff pretty well, too, so I guess we fooled each other?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Rachel watched me curiously for a few moments. “What do you think of the spell to change Alyssa and myself? Isn’t it cool that they even have something like that?”
“Yeah it is, actually. It’s super cool, and I’m glad it’s going to make you and Alyssa into the women you always were inside. I envy that about you, I guess. You know who you are. Me? I’m just a slacker looking for purpose. I don’t know what I want, don’t really know who I am, or what I stand for, and I don’t know what will make me happy, so I’m going through the motions until something sticks. So far, the only thing that has stuck is being a Vigilant. I think it’s going to be awesome.”
“Have you ever thought about what it would like to be a girl?”
“That’s kind of an odd question. Do I come off as trans to you?” I asked.
“Well, first off, if you did, it wouldn’t be a bad thing, and second off, no, not really. There’s no one true way to be trans. I was just asking a question. I’m curious.”
“I dunno. I guess when I was younger I thought about it a bit – what it would be like. I mean who wouldn’t? I daydreamed about being a superhero too, and being a big damn adventurer in a fantasy world. I guess I just grew out of it, or gave up on it – pretty much the same difference. I hadn’t even thought of it in years. Didn’t you daydream and imagine stuff when you were younger?”
“Of course I did! I dreamt one day Wonder Woman would arrive and take me to Thymascira and ‘fix’ me so I could join her tribe of magical amazons. I dreamt of weird sci-fi scenarios where stuff would happen that would change me and sweep me up in an interstellar adventure. You know what? In two months I’m going to be a girl. I’m a big damn adventurer on a magical world. So I’ve got two of your list covered. It’s not that silly after all. Dreams are important.”
“Heh. I guess you’re right. I guess we are big damn adventurers. I want to have an adventure, too – but as for the rest I dunno. I’ve been going through the motions for so long, I don’t know what I want anymore. Maybe I knew a long time ago, but I can’t remember. Maybe I just gave up?”
“You don’t have to give up. That’s what I’m trying to say, Jeff! We’re in a world with magic – where the expectations of the world we came from don’t matter anymore. We can be whatever we want to be, or whomever we want to be – with no judgement rendered. Don’t settle for existing, when you have the chance to live for the first time.”
“Thanks Rachel. I never thought of it like that before. I guess we don’t have to settle for good enough – and you’re right. We should try to be happy. We have the right to be happy, don’t we?”
“I think we do.” Rachel said quietly.
“I’ll sleep on it.”
“Okay, Jeff. Just don’t forget. You have the right to be happy.”
I nodded, not really knowing what brought this whole line of questioning on, and feeling increasingly uncomfortable discussing it. “Why don’t you get changed for bed first. I’ll turn around.” I got up, and walked to the end of the bed, and turned around to give her privacy. Why had she asked me that? Does she think I want to be a girl? How the hell could I be trans? The big giveaway for Transness back on Earth seemed to be gender dysmorphia – a feeling that your body was the wrong gender. I didn’t feel that. I think. I mean I didn’t feel right, but I had no idea what was right? They weren’t the same thing, were they?
My thoughts whirled as I mulled over the discussion, so much so that I missed Rachel calling me for several seconds. “Oh… sorry, Rachel. I guess I was woolgathering. Is it my turn to get changed?”
“Yes, doofus.” She said from under her thin coverlet on the bed. She rolled to put her back to me, so I could get changed.
“Okay, thanks.” I quickly got changed – into boxer shorts and a T-shirt. My clothes I folded and piled carefully on a chair, and set my leather boots underneath them on the floor. My armor had been taken off earlier – the only thing I kept wearing to bed was my silver holy symbol of the twins, from Rachel. It felt like it gave me strength. I blew out the candles, and crawled under the thin sheets of my own bed. “Good night, Rachel.”
“Good night, Jeff. Sweet dreams.”
“Same to you.” I replied. My mind was still whirling. I did have the right to be happy – but what did I need to become happy, instead of simply existing? I didn’t know how to resolve my problem, so I decided to try what Fionn had suggested to me… when a problem became too much to bear, or too confusing to understand, then give it to the gods – and maybe they will send you wisdom.
“Feana, Hathor…” I whispered. “Give me the wisdom to understand why I’m not happy, and to know what I must do to find happiness in my life. I’m tired of merely being – I want to be happy. I want this feeling of something not being quite right to go away, or at least learn what I have to do to make that burden go away. I want to be happy, or failing that, at least know who I am. Please help me. In your holy names, may blessings be upon me.”
As I finished my prayer, I half expected to hear a voice in my head, like I had so many times before – but this time, the voices were strangely absent. Still, I was tired, so I closed my eyes. The Twins had thousands of prays given to them each day – I didn’t expect an instant answer, if any answer at all. I suspected that in the coming days I would be expected to find my own answer – but even that thought didn’t daunt me… as long as it got rid of this damned feeling of something unknown being wrong, I wouldn’t care.
Sleep was a while in coming, but in the end it came – sneaking up on me when I least expected it. The first sign I was dreaming was when I found myself on a grassy knoll, overlooking a beautiful crystal blue lake, with a faerie tale medieval castle perched on the side of the lake, small fishing boats and sailboats dotting the lake with colored sails. Pennants with a golden wolf on a crimson background were flying on the turrets and the spires of the castle, and for some reason, the whole scene felt peaceful to me – like I had found a piece of heaven, and at least for a time, it was mine.
The day was sunny and warm, and there were puffy white clouds in the sky, being pushed along by a stiff breeze that slowly changed the outlines of the clouds themselves. It was the kind of day where you wanted to lay back in the sweet smelling grass and watch the clouds go by, so that’s what I did, imagining the clouds to be the chariots of the gods as they flew across the heavens.
I didn’t hear her approach; I felt more than heard her sit next to me in the grass, her long green skirts spread out around her on the ground. I looked up, and saw the brown haired girl with the black leather boots and silver buckles – the one from my dream a few days ago. She was looking down at me, and smiling.
“Enjoying the clouds?” She asked. Her voice sounded strange and familiar at the same time, and it was more than a little disconcerting.
“Yes… Who are you? I saw you before.”
“I don’t really know. I’ve never had a real name. I’ve been here for so long, I don’t know who I am. When I saw you a few days ago, it was the first time in a very long time.”
“I don’t remember you.” I said, quietly.
“I know. You tried to forget me. I hurt you too much.”
“How? You would think I would remember?”
“I don’t know, Jeff. I never tried to hurt you. I was just tired of being alone. No matter what I tried, you kept shoving me away. It got lonely, and after a while I stopped trying to be with you. And I guess you moved on, leaving me here. Alone.”
“Where is here?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” She replied. “I’ve never seen this place before – but I like it. I’d like to see it for real one day. It feels like home.”
“It does.” I agreed. “Are you me? Like a me that could have been?”
“I don’t know, Jeff. Maybe. Maybe I’m a memory of a day dream, or a daydream all grown up. I don’t know where I came from… I just was. One day I wasn’t – and the next I was… and I was your friend for a while, at least I thought I was – and then you left me alone one day and never came back. I’ve been watching you quietly for a long time. You aren’t happy, are you?”
“No, not really. I’ve found my purpose… I’m a Vigilant of the Twins. That’s the path I’ve chosen… But as to who I am, or what I want, I don’t really know. I’ve just been going with what was expected of me for so long I guess I didn’t even realize I could decide to do something else.”
“I missed you, Jeff. You used to be happy.”
“I haven’t felt that way in a long time. I don’t think I remember how.”
She looked at me sadly, and placed her hand over mine. It felt warm, and comfortable – but not sexual at all… like being touched by a close family member, rather than a pretty person of the opposite sex. She had blue eyes, and long brown hair, and around her neck was a silver necklace of the Twins. I didn’t remember it being there before.
“You’re me… You’re a version of me that never was.”
The brown haired girl smiled sadly. “Maybe. I don’t know. All I do know is that I feel alone, all the time. Please, don’t go away and leave me alone again.”
Tears started to run down the girls face, and I could see and feel the pain she was in, and I wrapped her in a hug, so tight I didn’t know if I would ever let go. “I’m sorry I hurt you.” I said. “I’m sorry I left you alone. If you’re not me that hasn’t been, then you’re one of my dreams… and I shouldn’t have abandoned you. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry too, Jeff.” She said, hugging me back, still crying. “I’m sorry for hurting you so much you left me behind.”
“It’s okay Cassie.” I said, trying to smooth her hair, and comfort her. “It’s okay. I won’t leave again.”
“Cassie… is that my name?”
I realized with a start, that it was. Her name was Cassandra. “Yes. That’s your name. Your name is Cassandra.”
“Thank you, Jeff. Thank you for giving me my name.”
“I… I…” I didn’t know how to speak – it was if my tongue couldn’t form words, and my mind was trapped in a whirl. I felt like my heart was pounding like it was going to explode… I was hyperventilating, and I could feel panic encroaching around me, enveloping me in its folds… I screamed... and woke in the pale moonlight, sweating profusely in bed, gasping, still gripped in the feeling of panic… I tried to calm myself – using the techniques Sir Fionn taught me to maintain mental control, and soon I was back to my senses… still disturbed, but in control of myself.
The dream was still vivid in my mind, and I replayed it in my mind… Was she me? Or was she a memory of a childhood game? How was she important to me? How did she hurt me?
“Cassandra.” I whispered quietly. “Who are you? What is happening with me?”
I didn’t sleep the rest of the night; instead, I just lay there replaying the dream over and over, trying to divine some clue about what happened, or why it was important. Why Cassandra was important. I had the feeling that if I didn’t figure this out, I would never be content… That I would never escape this lingering feeling of wrongness. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was scared. Scared of where following this trail of crumbs might lead. Scared of what it might mean.
As dawn came, I heard a gentle knock at the door…
“Geoffrey, Rachel, ‘tis time to ready ourselves for travel. You have a half hour.” Sir Fionn’s voice carried quietly through the door.
“Aye, Sir Fionn. We’ll be ready shortly.” I whispered. My dreams would have to wait, no matter how much they might be bothering me. I turned to wake Rachel. We had travelling to do.
- Ontario, Canada
Hi! I'm in my late 40's, and I write fantasy, sci-fi and modern fantasy/horror stories. I often feature Trans characters because there aren't many stories with Trans characters in them as action heroes, but not every story I write will have them. I'm an avid RPG gamer both on Console and Tabletop RPG - and have been playing and running RPGs since I was 9 years old. I also suffer from Schizophrenia, which sometimes makes posting regularly difficult. Schizophrenia is a crippling mental illness that usually strikes people in their late teens to early twenties - it hit me when I was 21, and I've had it ever since - 28 years. It is not pleasant, but medications help. Unlike popular Media, it doesn't feature a split personality - instead it confuses you so that you can't tell what is real and what is a hallucination. It's actually rather terrifying to experience. The movie Joan of Arc: The Messenger had a good example of how it might seem. All of the novels and stories I've written have been while I was ill with Schizophrenia - so although some of them, especially my early works, have errors, I'm glad I could still focus enough to write them.
I like supporting LGBT causes, Mental Health awareness, and Food Banks and Animal Shelters. I also like mentoring young gamers and teaching them how to play RPGs. My favorite console RPG is Skyrim and Fallout 3/New Vegas/Fallout 4, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Red Dead Redemption, Neverwinter Nights, Baldurs Gate and Icewind Dale. Bioware for the win!
I've written Four Novels and am working on more. They are Call of the Void pt1: Dreamers, Call of the Void pt2: Dragons, The Mandate of Heaven, and Tales of Empire City: The Virus.