The love between a parent and a child is a force to be reckoned with and, make no mistake, that love extends to adopted children too. I never meant to touch on the relationship between a parent and an adopted child when I was writing Forever Avalon or The Dark Tides, but it presented itself quite plainly.
Imagine if you were separated from your family and, during that time, you came across a child that was alone, lost and without anyone to care for them. What would you do? This is exactly what happened to Bryan MoonDrake during his Grand Tour of Avalon.
In this excerpt from The Dark Tides, you’ll see how the relationship between the Gil-Gamesh and Sarafina, his adopted daughter and Shield Maiden, came to be. It was a relationship forged in tragedy but strengthened by the love between a father and child.
The Convent at Glennish Hills was a holy place for both worship and battle. It was home to the Shield Maidens of Avalon. The sounds of song and prayer could be heard from inside the church while the clanging of steel resonated just outside in the courtyard. It was a dichotomy in both sight and sound but its purpose was singular … To provide the knights of Avalon with the finest warriors to fight alongside them in battle.
In a small courtyard away from the main training area, the Gil- Gamesh raised a practice sword over his head, waiting for the next attack. His opponent was a 15- year- old girl. Sarafina gripped her practice sword tightly with both hands, watching Bryan’s every movement, waiting for an opening to strike.
Her small frame looked bigger than it was, covered in leather armor for protection. Her long, blonde hair was braided up to keep it out of her face. She had a strong, determined look on her face. The Gil- Gamesh took a step back and Sarafina seized the moment to strike.
She lunged forward at Bryan, hoping to catch him off-balance. He swung downward to block her thrust, knocking her sword away. He spun and tried to catch her from behind, but as he swung his blade down, she countered his attack before she elbowed him in the stomach and shoved him back.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa … Time out! Where’d you learn that one from?” Bryan asked his young charge.
“No one, I was improvising,” Sarafina fired back, still ready to continue her sparring practice. Bryan couldn’t believe how much Sarafina had learned in three years at the convent. She was definitely on her way to becoming a Shield Maiden.
“Alright then, have it your way,” he said, sword at the ready as the sparring continued. Sarafina didn’t hesitate and lashed out as soon as he was set. She swung fiercely, back- and- forth, throwing everything she had at the Gil- Gamesh. Bryan countered every blow, letting her think she was winning.
“Eo Ire Itum! ” he chanted quietly, under his breath and he suddenly teleported behind Sarafina. When she turned around, his sword was on her throat.
“Hey, that’s not fair!” she complained. “No magic!”
“It’s called improvising, remember?” he retorted. “Besides, do you think any wizard won’t use magic because it’s not fair? You have to be ready to adapt to any situation and be prepared for any possibility.”
“Well … Captain McLoughlin says I one of the best students she’s ever had,” Sarafina proclaimed proudly.
“From what I’ve heard of Captain McLoughlin, I would take that as a compliment. She rarely gives them out but it is definitely well deserved.” Sarafina enjoyed the praise from the Gil- Gamesh and rushed over to hug him. Once she did, Sarafina realized her error in protocol and let go.
“I’m sorry Sir Bryan, I forget my place sometimes,” she apologized, regaining her composure. Bryan knew the limits on contact with the young girls in training, but he ignored it as he leaned down close to whisper to her.
“Well, when we’re alone like this, I don’t think a hug is totally out-of-place,” he confided in her. Sarafina was happy to hear that and hugged him again.
Bryan felt an overwhelming surge of love and pride. Sarafina filled a void in his life since his arrival on Avalon, that of family. She was like a daughter to him and he treated her like one of his own.
The two started walking back toward the main compound, enjoying this time they have together. The conversation varied from her training as a Shield Maiden to her relationships with the other girls and, of course, the Gil- Gamesh’s latest adventure.
“So, how did you escape from the Swamp Witches of Durley? I mean, they had your weapons and you and Sir Thomas all tied up, ready to be cooked in the pot!”
“Ah but you see, there is a dragon that lives in the Durley Swamp called a Naga,” Bryan explained. “It looks more like a giant two- headed cobra but it’s still considered a dragon. I was able to befriended one when we entered the swamp, as kind of a back- up plan; you know, just in case something went wrong.”
“That seems to happen to you a lot, doesn’t it?” Sarafina zinged back at him sarcastically.
“Do you want to hear the rest of the story or not?” Bryan cajoled. Sarafina quieted down and listened. “Anyway, unfortunately, the Naga are rather slow-moving, so it was taking quite a while for it to get there, so we had to stall for time.
“When it looked like one of us was going to go into the pot, Thomas and I started arguing about who they should cook first. You know, who would taste better, who was meatier, etc.; and this lasted a good fifteen minutes. By that time, the Naga showed up and attacked the witches while we got ourselves free,” he concluded. “Not my best plan, but it worked out in the end.”
Sarafina loved hearing his stories of adventure and looked forward to the day when she would share in them as his Shield Maiden. “Can you tell me some more about your family in the outside world?” she asked.
Bryan’s heart sank and his eyes sullen. He tried not to think about Stephanie and the kids that much, though they do come to his mind each and every day. It’s as if somehow he was still connected to them, across time and space, beyond the magical barrier that surrounded Avalon.
Sarafina saw the heartache in his face and back pedaled quickly. “No, never mind, I’m sorry for bringing it up,” she said.
“No Sarafina, it’s alright,” Bryan interrupted. “I don’t get to talk about them that often and it’s nice to have someone so interested in them.” Bryan sat down with Sarafina along on the steps outside the main training area. He took out his pocket watch and opened it up. Though it didn’t work anymore, the picture inside still held the memory of his family.
“You never told me about this picture,” she asked, pointing to the watch. “Why are you all wearing funny hats?”
“Well, it was Christmas and Stephanie, my wife, she loves Christmas. She listens to Christmas music all year round, watches Christmas movies too.”
“Movies?” Sarafina thought for a moment, trying to remember what he told her about movies. “Oh, I remember. Those are they plays you watch inside a little box, right?”
Bryan couldn’t believe how she remembered that. She seemed to be a sponge when it came to stories about the outside world. “Yes, that’s right. Anyway, we all dressed up and went down to the photographers and Stephanie pulled out these hats for us to wear. Now at first, I refused. I mean, I wouldn’t be caught dead in that hat, but she always had a way of convincing me to go along with whatever scheme she had.
“It’s funny, I hated this picture at first but it grew on me and I consider it one of my favorite pictures now,” he said, staring at the picture in his watch.
“It reminds me of a special moment when we were so happy together.” Sarafina looked at the watch and imagined herself as a part of that happy family. It made her feel so good inside but sad at the same time. It was something she never had nor ever will. Bryan noticed the change in her demeanor.
“What’s the matter Sarafina?”
Sarafina hesitated at first, not sure if what she wanted to ask him was appropriate or not. “Sir Bryan, may I ask a favor of you?”
“Of course Sarafina, anything …” The young girl gathered the courage to ask him.
“Most of the girls here either have parents or some kind of relative to call on, but I have neither. I know you visit me as often as you can and I can’t tell you how much that means to me, but …”
She hesitated for a moment, but Bryan pressed her to continue. “Yes, go on …”
“Would you mind if, in private moments like these, would you mind if I called you father?”
Bryan was taken aback by her request but couldn’t help feel honored and humbled being asked by this young girl to be her father. He had lost his own children and Sarafina helped fill that particular void in his life. A tear rolled down his cheek as he is overcome with emotion. How could he say no to her?
“Sarafina, I would love for you to call me father and I hope and pray I can live up to your high expectations of me,” he said.
Now it was Sarafina’s turn to start crying as she jumped up into Bryan’s arms to hug him. For the first time since he arrived on Avalon, Bryan felt completely at home. “I will speak with Mother Superior about visiting you more often and even about the possibility of you coming to visit me on Emmyr.”