Eben huffed as he pulled on the weathered rope. After four years it still hadn’t split, thank heavens, but it did lose the cracked strays that used to give him splinters. He kept pulling and pulling until he made it to the far side of what he dubbed the kitchen, as it was where he received his food for the week and other supplies. It wasn’t typically this heavy though, so he was hopeful.
With a final tug, he gained enough slack to tie the rope to a pulley system he designed during his second year. The crank squeaked and squealed, but it held strong, just like everything else in his home; just like Eben.
Eben didn’t quite know how he got to wherever he was; he didn’t even know how old he was, but he was certain of three things. The box came every five days with all the supplies he needed, he had been here for three years and three hundred and sixty-four days, and at the start of every day he would place a tally on the wall.
He wasn’t sure of anything else; he didn’t know where the box came from, who the people who put him here were, he didn’t know what compelled him to start marking tallies on that second day, but he knew the box always came, he knew how long he’d been here, and he knew he’d mark a tally at the beginning of the day.
The box toppled into the room with a ‘thud,’ which was odd; the box rarely held anything heavy enough to warrant that kind of sound. Eben opened the box hesitantly, jumping back as a single package fell through.
It was about the size of his torso and it was covered in a sickly pink liquid. It looked like it used to be purple, but the liquid had transformed it into a mottled brown. A small note floated to the floor, only for Eben to snatch it from the air just before it landed.
“Eben, it’s time. Transport will be arriving shortly, take care. See you soon, King Terrence.”
Eben scanned the page, once, twice, at least a dozen times, each attempt trying desperately to find some sort of meaning in the demands. He couldn’t for the life of him recognize any king, or recall the significance of the time, but he knew what one word meant. “Transport.” Whoever had sent this was coming for him, and this package had something to do with it.
He swept the object into his arms with the strength of a man who has nothing better to do than exercise for four years and carried it into the most secure room he knew; his tally room.
Eben gave the walls of tallies a fond glance and placed the parcel on the small coffee table that never opened that he situated in the corner when he was new to these surroundings. It hadn’t moved since. He stared at the package, then glanced at the note again before returning it to where it was originally hidden in a little pocket sewn into the fabric of the mystery oval.
A tell-tale flickering of the lights alerted him to the end of the day, and with a pat to the package and a muttered “good night,” he left for his room. The mini nest of blankets welcomed him back and he accepted their gifts of sleep and dreams.
Lightning flashing horizontally, heading straight for him, straight for her. He races against the clock, shielding her as best he can, but she is weak, practically lifeless in his arms. No, no. She has to live for him, for her.
A flicker, and he is still by her side, holding her hand as she lays in bed. Her eyes wrinkle as they share a wry smile. “Terr is worried, but we Dawsuns are strong.” She pats her swollen stomach. “Especially the women.”
“Strong and stubborn.” He quips, and she swats at his arm.
“Shut it, is that any way to speak to a woman in labor?”
“I’ll say it isn’t.” Her husband is in the doorway, arms laden with the supplies he had hurried out to grab. He glides forward and leans down to kiss her forehead. “How are you feeling?”
“I’d be better if I wasn’t surrounded by fretting wusses.” She grumbles, but accepts the chocolate. “And if my dear husband would grant me a proper kiss.” She tilts her head up with a proud smirk.
“I’d be honored.” He leans down again and as they kiss, Eben kneels close to her stomach.
“I’m so sorry you have to hear this.” He whispers and the couple parts for her to swat at him anew.
“Stop filling my baby’s head with your hate! I demand you leave at once!” She levels a finger at him, “Husband, remove this intruder.”
“Of course, my dear. I have to speak to him in private anyway.” He grabs his shoulder and they leave the room, all good natured smiles fall for them to show faces of mirrored concern.
“I know, you’re worried, but it’s going to be fine. She’s strong, and stubborn.” He chuckles. “Nothing’s going to stop Ilda from holding her baby.”
“It’s not Il I’m worried about. It’s the baby. She’s…” His composure slipped for a moment and his face betrayed the terror he was feeling. “The mages cursed her so that unless one of her guardians catches their first glimpse of her face, she’ll die, and if Ilda doesn’t make it…”
“Her baby will be parentless and the kingdom will be left without a king for four years.” He finished.
“Exactly, and we have no idea how the curse will work, so I need a favor. You’ll be named the baby’s royal guard, as promised, but you’ll need to stay away from her for four years. We’ll ship her to you with enough time for her to arrive on her birthday. Eb, I swear I wouldn’t be doing this unless it was absolutely necessary…”
“I’ll do it.”
“Of course, but you remember my curse, don’t you? There’s no guarantee that I’ll remember any of this.”
“I have faith, and that’s all I need to know everything will be fine.” His grip on his shoulders relaxed and his eyes softened. “There’s a ship waiting for you just outside. We’ll make sure you have all the supplies you need.”
“How my scientific, fact oriented sister ended up with you is beyond me.” He laughed and slapped his brother-in-law’s shoulder. “Tell her bye from me.”
Eben woke up the same way he always did, a few quick blinks, and closing them again to catch that final scene of a man smiling and waving goodbye. He swore that man looked so familiar, but when he tried for a name there was nothing to remember.
He stood to get dressed, fishing in his pocket for the piece of chalk he would use to mark the days. Stumbling down the hall while pulling on his pants, he let his mind drift to the vanishing features in his dream. Who were those people? Why did he feel such a connection with them?
He swung open the door to the tally room, moving instinctively to the empty spot where he would put yesterday’s tally only to find it was all empty space.
A giggle sounded from behind him followed by a tweet. He whipped around to see a small girl, dressed in a pale dress, hands clasped behind her back with the most striking green eyes Eben had ever seen.
The most familiar green eyes he’d ever seen.
“Sorry about your lines, Uncle Ebby! Bird made me do it.”
A robotic bird on her shoulder chirped. “I most certainly did not!”
“Who… who are you?”
She glared at the bird accusingly. “Daddy said he’d recognize me.”
“King Terrence said that seeing you might jog his memory. Only one thing is certain.”
“Then do that!”
“Very well.” A mechanical sound came from the inside of the bird, and a projection of a woman appeared. The woman from his dream.
Suddenly, everything clicked. He was never dreaming, they were memories; showing him why he showed up here. He glanced at the girl, who was staring at him expectantly.
“What are you waiting for, you little rascal? Get over here for a Dawsun hug!”
She squealed and jumped into his opened arms, giggling as he blew raspberries into her neck. “Stop it, Uncle Ebby! That tickles!”
“That’s the point, little one.” He chuckled between raspberries, still swinging her around. “It’s to expose your Dawsun tickle spot! Every Dawsun has one; didn’t your momma teach you that?” He placed her back on the ground.
“She told me you would, when I turned four.” She held up her fingers. “And now I am, so you’re gonna take me home and you and Momma and Daddy will teach me all about being a Dawsun!”
“That’s right little one.” He strode over to the coffee table and gave it two sharp taps. It opened to reveal a button that he immediately pressed. The walls started shifting to reveal panels of lights and buttons. The floor shifted to form two seats.
He lifted the little girl and placed her in the smaller seat, buckling her up. He then sat himself in the other chair and began preparing for the takeoff sequence. The ship disconnected from the rest of the station and began flying towards the blue planet below.
“Now,” He turned his seat so he could face his young niece, “why don’t you tell me your name?”
She grinned so wide that he could see the missing tooth near the back of her mouth. “My name’s Dorothea Helios Dawsun!”
“Well Dory, we’ve got a few hours until we land; why don’t you tell me what I’ve been missing?”