by Allyson Batis
The Orphaned Hero’s parents are mentioned, when they are mentioned, as the foundation
of The Orphaned Hero’s story. Theirs is an established, expected, dreadful tale. The Orphaned
Hero’s Parents were dispatched by violence orchestrated by the Terrible Villain. The Orphaned
Hero grew to join the virtuous fight at a shockingly young age. But as vulnerable as The
Orphaned Hero was, he lived always with the knowledge that he was loved. His parents died to
protect him. No sacrifice could be greater or more absolute.
The Orphaned Hero spent his youth in hiding from the Terrible Villain and his most
fearsome lieutenant, the Witch Woman, in a jumble of safehouses where he was watched and
warned about the danger of the world. It was when The Orphaned Hero entered his teenage years
that he was moved to the safe house run by his father’s friends. When he arrived they stared at
him for several long moments before greeting him by name, for his resemblance to his father was
Soon he joined them in their training and took up the burden of his position as a hero. He
learned the magic that his parents had used to fight against the wicked, the magic that was his
birthright. He was given the black handled knife that The Orphaned Hero’s Father had used to
work his magic, and The Orphaned Hero carried it on his belt from that day forward. He was
given his parents wedding rings, and he kept them on a chain around his neck. He was given
stories of his father, who was brave and bright, and stories of his mother, who was quick and sly.
He learned only as a teenager that his parents, when they were scarcely older than he was,
had fallen in love at rebel meetings and married in secret. His father was the son of a wealthy and
powerful man. His mother was born poor and soon fled from home. Such intermixing of classes
was dangerous, and he understood why they kept their love a secret. When she birthed their son
he was deemed dangerous by The Witch Women, and their life turned from vigilance to terror.
His father became a spy and was preparing to go into hiding when he was killed in the
streets. Mother and infant son were smuggled through the network of rebels for months before
she was caught rummaging for supplies and executed. The Orphaned Hero carried their
innocence in his heart. He carried his own guilt in his heart. If he was not a danger then his
parents would still be alive. It was the mantra he wished he did not carry.
He could not know that his mother was no innocent bystander. He did not know that one
day she was caught while pregnant where she should not be with information she should not
have. Her bright hair was covered in a dusty cloak, and when it slipped she was recognized. As
the patrol who caught her drew breath to call for reinforcements she flicked her wrist and pulled
his breath out of his lungs. She had no formal magical training so she only used her hands, not a
knife like The Orphaned Hero’s Father, the Witch Woman, or other magicians who studied such
things in exclusive schools. That lack of a tool made her efficient and unexpected. The guard
died silently within a minute and she slipped away without being caught again. That night she
sobbed in The Orphaned Hero’s Father’s arms. She was in awe of the power she had and defiant
that she should have behaved any other way. She was afraid of the dark part of herself that
relished in her ability. For weeks after whenever she saw a child alone in the market she had a
pang in her heart. The patrol’s child, if he had a child, was now fatherless. She had great
remorse. She would also do what was necessary. And she did what was necessary until her death
dispatched her ability to execute justice.
The Orphaned Hero’s Father’s friends did not tell him this. They tried to tell The
Orphaned Hero stories of the war, stories The Orphaned Hero could not quite believe. The
stories were brutal. These men were not heroes. They were rebels. Their fight and his parent’s
fight was not glorious. They were fighting against evil itself, as common and flat as it was. They
did not tell him about his mother’s capabilities. They knew of her as The Orphaned Hero’s
devoted mother, their friend’s spiky wife, and a smuggler who, while useful and clever, was of
no true consequence to the war. The Orphaned Hero believed that his mother’s contribution to
the war began with falling in love and ended with her protection of him. No one alive- her
handlers, her informants, her husband- could tell him differently.
No one could tell him her ability to slip in and out of places, to run information and to
neatly dispatch with enemies was legendary. She was not known by her name. She was the Silent
Lady or the Rebel’s Hope to the rebellion, the Maiden of Death to the forces of evil. The Terrible
Villain and his followers suspected her in life and identified her after her death, when the talk of
the Silent Lady ceased on the street. They were happy to let her memory die. She was dangerous
to them, even in rumor, even in death.
Even if her story was known, The Orphaned Hero could not hear his mother’s
accomplishments. The Orphaned Hero lived in a world where evil was tangible and named. The
fight was split neatly between the evil of power and the good of resistance. He knew the name of
every enemy, and every enemy had an equally evil family. It was one great unbroken chain of
wickedness. How could he be certain in his role as a liberator if he knew the legacy of death that
dwelled within him?
When The Orphaned Hero was old enough to go to war but still far too young to fight he
fronted an epic battle against evil. The forces fought with The Orphaned Hero well outmatched
by the skills of the Terrible Villain. When it seemed The Orphaned Hero would surely perish
magic offered him a possibility born of desperation. The Orphaned Hero used his father’s knife
to slash through the air, sending a spell to puncture the lungs of the Terrible Villain. The horrific,
outsized man died gasping for breath. Those who would not surrender to goodness were soon
dispatched by the rebel forces. It was decided by the opinion of the people that The Orphaned
Hero had not killed the Terrible Villain- what an ugly word for someone so pure of heart- but
had instead purged their land of evil.
Celebration ensured. Goodness had won. A new government was installed, one which
promised justice for all. The Orphaned Hero refused the positions of power, but was respected
for his good council all of his days. He never spoke of the spell he used. He trapped the memory
of taking life deep in his mind, encountering it only when it tormented him in his dreams. If he
had examined the memory he might have asked if his actions had been necessary.
Shortly after victory The Orphaned Hero took his mother’s wedding band, simple and
spare, to The Jeweler. He requested that it be melted down and reformed into a lovely, delicate
ring, one with sparkling stones and intricate metalwork. It was to be a ring for peace, not for war.
It was time that he married the girl he loved above all, who had fought bravely with him in the
war. The Jeweler nodded his enthusiasm, but a few days later The Orphaned Hero received
notice that The Jeweler requested his attention. When The Orphaned Hero returned with crisp
expectations the jeweler set the ring before him. It was enchanted, The Jeweler explained. A
rebel innovation. Rings like this allowed messages to be passed through touch. It was charmed
for only one person. Sometimes those would recognize the immediate family of the person.
Would The Orphaned Hero try?
The Jeweler instructed him of the words to say while touching his knife to the ring. The
Orphaned Hero performed the spell and the ring began to speak. A woman’s voice, hushed but
clear. The baby was in the hands of the old guardwoman. She did not have long. She knew that
he would take the information to the right people. Old state secrets followed with troop counts
and positions. If he did not come back safely she would harm him gravely.
The Jeweler clucked his tongue. He had never seen anything quite like that. The
messages were usually only a few words long. Whoever had done it was a master of magic. Did
The Orphaned Hero have any idea?
The Orphaned Hero took the ring away in silence. He bought the girl he loved a new ring.
He was left with questions that no one could answer. None of his father’s friends had any idea
how The Orphaned Hero’s Mother had obtained that information.
His dreams became haunted by his mother. She came to him, her bright hair lined with
silver, her eyes wrinkled, her hands gentle. She came to him as she would never be, softened
with peace and age. Her words were different in each dream, but always with the core center of
resolve that he heard in her voice whenever he listened to the ring. He wondered if she knew
what she had died for. Had she thought she would see peace? Would she have been proud of
him, he wondered, for doing what was necessary?
Not long after The Orphaned Hero had defeated the Terrible Villain and secured the
promise of marriage he met his grandfather. The Orphaned Hero’s Grandfather had been a
coward, who had publicly disowned his son when he was killed. The Orphaned Hero’s
Grandfather was a brave man who passed money and information for years onto the rebels in
exchange for assurance his grandson was safe. The Orphaned Hero struggled with his feelings
around his grandfather, for he was not familiar with ambiguity. Eventually he decided to forgive
his grandfather and they reconciled in grand gestures.
The Orphaned Hero’s Grandfather invited him to stay at his large, elegant home. The
Orphaned Hero declined. It would have felt strange to live in such luxury and comfort after years
spent in hiding, and he was preparing to begin life with the girl he loved. But he did spend time
with his grandfather, and one day he went to his father’s old rooms.
No one had visited the chambers since the house had been searched for his father’s
secrets. After the soldiers left The Orphaned Hero’s Grandfather put the room right and then
warded it against visitors. The Orphaned Hero’s Grandfather spent the morning dismantling the
decades-old wards with The Orphaned Hero helping, tracing the lines of the spell with his
father’s own knife.
The air inside the chambers was heavy. The rooms had the feel of magic. It lingered on
the skin with the same heaviness as a humid day. Just as The Orphaned Hero could feel the
magic, he could feel its purpose to protect something hidden. It was magic spelled with his
father’s knife, and it would release to him.
The Orphaned Heros’ Grandfather left to give him the privacy of exploration. It took
some time of tracing the knife against the surfaces and following the lines of power but finally
the floorboard in front of the sitting room hearth loosened. And there was the treasure his father
had hidden over twenty years ago, the treasure the Terrible Villain’s soldiers had not found.
There were no state secrets. There was nothing of use to a war effort. There was a
wedding robe in black, heavily embroidered in gold of better quality than most could afford. And
a delicate silver crown, carved in the shape of sharp flowers and sparkling with stones. And there
was a portrait. It was the only portrait he had ever seen of his father and mother together.
The Orphaned Hero’s Father was beaming in the portrait. The Orphaned Hero and his
father had the same broad nose, the same heavy brow, the same smile. He was taller than The
Orphaned Hero, strong and proud and vibrant in his wedding robe. His arm was around The
Orphaned Hero’s Mother.
She was small, like The Orphaned Hero. They were both raised in hardscrabble, harsh
environments where they had to learn to fight too soon. She had a sharpness around her eyes that
his father lacked. Her one distinctive feature was her bright hair, arranged in braids. She was not
beaming. But she was glowing, with the silver crown set on her braids, and her hand resting on
his father’s arm. The Orphaned Hero stared as he attempted to memorize details- he had her
cheekbones, but his father’s eyes, and something about his mouth was taken from each of themuntil many hours passed and The Orphaned Hero hid the treasures again to keep them safe. He
married the girl he loved above all, she wearing a crown like his mother’s and he wearing a
wedding robe that resembled his father’s. They moved to The Orphaned Hero’s Grandfather’s
house as the old man grew frail. They filled the house with children. The house became theirs
after The Orphaned Hero’s Grandfather died. The Orphaned Hero told no one about his
discovery for years.
The Orphaned Hero’s Wife found him one day. The portrait was well-worn from being
taken out and caressed several times over.
“They don’t have to stay hidden,” she said, announcing to The Orphaned Hero she had
arrived. She was stealthy and he had not heard her enter. He had gotten careless with reapplying
the wards. On the battlefield that would have cost him. In peace her silence was less treacherous,
only a part of their marriage that always surprised him.
His shoulders tensed. “I can’t share this part of my history.”
“It’s their history too,” The Orphaned Hero’s Wife said, crossing the room and sitting
next to him. “The children deserve to know what they can.”
There was silence between them and the next day the framed portrait appeared at the
place of honor in the entryway of The Orphaned Hero’s home. People remarked upon it when
they entered. How could they not? They were the brave souls, the first to give their lives for him.
They were martyrs, they were innocents. The Orphaned Hero did not contain the certainty to
correct those misunderstandings.
The Orphaned Hero lives his days in peace now. He has deep lines around his eyes. His
wife is now called distinguished rather than beautiful. His children are adults, or almost. His
youngest is the age The Orphaned Hero was when defeated the Terrible Villain. She is tall and
straight-backed with her grandfather’s eyes. She laughs and smiles freely. She practices her
magic diligently, and chooses to use her hands, not a knife. She has never known war.
In the privacy of his mind The Orphaned Hero believes his daughter would not survive
battle. She is too gentle, too kind. He does not know that if he had lived in peace he would be
like his daughter. He does not know that if his daughter needed to she could be fearsome. His
daughter does not share his ignorance. She senses the same potential for violence in herself as
her father and grandmother. She knows that she is lucky to live in peace. It is much easier to live
a virtuous life.
His daughter is a storyteller. The Orphaned Hero wonders where she acquired this skill.
This is another thing he will never know about his father, his gilded tongue. She scours histories
and she probes memory for details. With great respect and caution she approaches The Orphaned
Hero and asks for his stories. She does not want to know how many men he fought, or the
positions of the companies. Those details are all well-recorded elsewhere. She wants to know
what the air tasted like, how he could face going into battle, who does he still see in his dreams.
She asks other questions as well. She asks about the games he played as a child, and his
first thoughts when he first saw his wife. She asks about his meetings with princes and priests,
about the group of rebels who raised a baby in silence and in secret. She asks about the first time
he used magic, if it felt as warm and fluid it does for her.
Once the portrait of The Orphaned Hero’s Parents is displayed in the entryway the
questions about them begin. How did they meet? What did they do during the war? What could
he tell her? Had their fighting been necessary?
The Orphaned Hero would never discourage his daughter. He had spent his youth not
believing he would live long enough to have children, let alone to raise several. His children are
his chiefest joy. To tell her stories is such a small thing.
And yet. The stories of battles were easier. Then he could tell the happenings as he
remembered. He did not need to speak of his memories for the nightmares to come. They had no
consideration for if they were called forth or not. When she asks questions of his parents he
Batis/Necessary/9needs a stretch of silence to collect himself. He then tells her what he knows. The stories are only
fragments. He wishes he had more to share than myths.
Allyson Batis has a Bachelor’s in English with a writing concentration from Luther College and was a 2020 Artist-in-residence at Everwood Farmstead. She is currently working on her first novel and lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.