Every Sunday I will drop the businessman in me and put down a piece of fiction… This could be something you enjoy yourself for a bit of escapism, or just read the kids before bed…
This Sunday we begin:
Darklands – Journey for Freedom (One of The Questor Chronicles – by Thomas Duncan Bell)
An Un-Expected Sorrow
Amongst the woodland plains of Southern Earthengale, Samuel woke to the smell of fear on the air. Charcoal ash and luminescent flames rose eerily from a clearing in the distance, whist the ground around him thundered; rumbling to the rhythm of horses hooves that swept along a dirt scattered forest path somewhere nearby. His younger brother William had slept silently in the brush to his left, but as the earth began to tremble, he too was cast from his slumber only to endure the reality of what was to come.
Without hesitation, Samuel struck out to gain hold of his brother, clutching him tight by the wrist of his worn woollen sweater and dragging him almost effortlessly, deeper into the pale mottled undergrowth away from the cobbled road that ran through the centre of the forest.
The two brothers had been fishing no more than a mile from their village since the early hours of the morning and having grown hungry they’d found their way to a blueberry patch where they set about supplementing their stomachs. Shortly after taking their fill the boys had sat down to relax in the softened moss beneath the blueberry bushes, whilst the dappled sun rained through the trees creating gentle shadows that skipped in the breeze. Thus they came to sleep.
Samuel was the older of the two and cut a slim figure with his matted dirty blonde hair, which stood almost at attention at least an inch or two over his regular height. He wore a fitted leather jerkin over a cream coloured cloth vest, almost giving him a gallant sort of appearance, if it hadn’t been for his murky brown trousers that rode just a little bit high above his ankles. His belt was a simple leather strip with a wooden buckle and a coin pouch he filled with oddly shaped stone figures he’d moulded with some sort of crafting tool over time. He also had a short knife in a darkened sheath; the sheath was made from a boar’s tusk and had been given to him by his father as a gift after his first hunt. Samuel’s flesh was pale, giving him an almost gaunt appearance, but his green eyes were keen with a soul of their own; the soul of a spirit within, that shone as emeralds do in the bright of the day. This was the spirit of a boy destined for something greater than even he could imagine.
William was the youngest by a couple of years; he wore similar trousers to his older brother, almost jodhpur like, but on the opposite front, his were ever so slightly too long, meaning that he was constantly catching them on his heels. His thick, baggy woollen sweater was a sort of grimy blue and was held tight around him with an oversized blackened belt that had clearly been meant for someone twice his size. He’d also never been on a hunt so did not have a knife like his older brother, however, he did have something else attached to his belt; almost like a folded, lost strip of leather, with a thickened pocket at its centre, it was a sling, the weapon of the youth of his village. A sling would be used before their coming of age to train their senses and their eye as the boys grew to become young men, “to feel the wind as you poise to swing and the elements that affect your hand as you loose a stone upon your target; these are the foundations of a warrior”, they were told.
As they knelt side by side, deathly still; keenly listening for signs of movement beyond the tree line, the silence was shattered by the shrill cry of more horses and the clacking of the riders armour while it twisted and buckled as they rode. The boy’s hearts beat faster and faster, blood pulsing through their bodies, barely able to breathe for the fear that they would not be passed un-noticed. They retained their state until the final rider was no longer audible and once again the silence of the forest was restored, as the hooves that had been so close echoed at a distance and away into nothing more than memory. Still aware of any potential threat that may be lurking nearby, Samuel drew his brother close and the boys retained all sound for what seemed like an age. After some time, William was the first to speak, “I’m worried Samuel, were those riders heading toward our village? What about father and the others?” he said. “I don’t know William, but we must find our way back and aid them if we can” replied Samuel. And without further conversation the boys were gone, drifting through the trees on the keenest of hidden trails and back to their home; their footsteps as silent and soft, as autumnal leaves in the wind.
The boys steadily broke from their run as the trees of the forest fell away to reveal the outskirts of what had previously been their proud village. Stood before them was a wall of flames and the crumbling brittle structures of what had once been people’s houses. The smell of death slid thick through the air and their lungs hurt to breathe in the heat that surrounded them, as they moved forth into the centre of the village.
Most of the buildings had already been destroyed when they reached the central square, with none but the bell tower and the crooked frame of their home on the edge of the square standing firm; but for how long? Both structures were covered in speckled blackening ash, as thick grey smoke poured out of the tiniest crevices in window frames and doors, then up into what was now swiftly becoming a sprawling night sky. The moon shone bright and almost full above their heads, illuminating the majority of their surroundings. In the distance they could make out the thick ‘stock like’ figures of men in black armour, loading the people of the village into a heavy set wagon topped with what could best be described as a wired, wooden cage. The faces of the men and the villagers were too far away for the boys to make out, but they knew any attempt to save their people would be futile. The blackened figures seemed too large, even in the distance, for the brothers to match them in battle and besides, they were vastly outnumbered and without any real weapons to serve them.
Samuel drew William into hiding behind a warped, craning sycamore tree at the edge of the clearing, where their now decimated village had once stood firm. There they remained, as still as the bestial bark upon its branches, until the wagon and the armoured figures had parted from their gaze. When they were quite sure they were alone, the anxious pair crept gently back to the centre of the village into the path of destruction that lay before them, edging towards the remnants where there home had once stood. There was little to be seen amongst the ash and rubble at their feet, a few clay bowls and the charred remains of what was once their dining table; the walls of the building were nothing but fallen stones offering a grim outline that merely gave anyone looking on a glimpse of what used to be. In one corner William saw that his short bow had fallen from the wall it had previously clung to; though despite being a little darker than before, it remained relatively unpunished by the elements that had befallen the rest of the house. William shouldered the bow and his quiver that lay beside it, before returning to his brother’s side. Samuel had found nothing much left of use within the remains, though he had picked up a small leather satchel which he clutched tight in his right hand as the boys left the building.
As the soft wind of the evening let slip a gentle clang from the broken bell that still swung from the now gothic ridden bell tower, Samuel found his eyes drawn to the well near the squares centre. Standing there, upright, as if from a story of old, Samuel saw a familiar sword driven fast into the earth. He knew this sword! He knew this sword because he’d felt it, he’d held it in the past; he had wielded the sword aloft like a knight; like a King. At the centre of its intricate golden hilt was in-set the most beautifully crafted ruby, basking in the light set down by the stars, with the swords blade, a solid ‘silver like’ steel, glinting at him as if not wanting to be left alone. Despite its familiarity and the beauty of its features, Samuel could not stop his stomach from sinking or his heart from throbbing as if it was in his mouth. His eyes began to rove around as they drew away from the sword and he came closer to the large, yet silent frame of a man clad in bright red armour, crumpled alongside it and soaked in blood.
Samuel never heard the screams of his brother, who threw himself upon the body and began to shake it as if trying to rouse the lifeless figure; he could not hear the sound of the wood, crackling, spitting and then disappearing into the deepest crimson that rose all around them; and he could not hear the sound of the creatures that watched on, blissfully unaware of their ignorance during routine wanderings. His throat was dry as if full of dust and his palms damp with beaded sweat, as the word “father” brushed silently past his thin lips. Suddenly, without thought or sorrow something flashed throughout Samuels mind. It was his most base of instincts, he knew he must act, but he could barely gather his senses, he felt weak, numb. He knew that the area and the village were no longer safe and that he must protect William. A sickening sense of fear and responsibility, coupled with adrenaline washed over Samuel; he did not know what it meant, but he had never felt it before. This feeling began to grow and to grow inside of him, until it became so vast that he began to drown in it. The adrenaline had taken over his body and was racing through his burning veins as he grasped his brother’s hand, pulling him to his feet. With William in tow he swept up the sword from the earth by his father’s body, pulling the sheath free from the armour of the heavy figure before he and Samuel began to run.
The fear was gone and he knew what he must do, pounding through the village; through burning embers and wall after wall of wispy, sickening smoke and dust he thrust himself, with William by his side. At this point Samuel could hear his father’s words echo in his mind, “There is nothing to fear in this world Samuel, but your fear itself. The only thing that allows evil to triumph over the good and the true is for men of honour and courage to do nothing. One day you will be a man Samuel, and I will be a proud father to know you hold courage in your heart and all fear at the gates of your soul”. As a single tear ran solemnly down his cheek at the thought of his father, he turned briefly to take one final look back across the debris to the body at its centre; still motionless in the chaos and Samuel remembered that the most important thing of all was to survive. Almost without thinking he drew his brother forth, swept him up under his arm so his feet were barely touching the floor; then, as swiftly as they’d entered the burning village, the brothers ran, deeper and deeper into the hazy green shadow of the forest night.