The Sunday Spot – 27th March

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…

Darklands – Journey for Freedom (One of The Questor Chronicles – by Thomas Duncan Bell)

Chapter 2

A Newfound Friend

With the death of their father still filling their hearts with torment and fear they had to stop. It had grown too dark for them to continue travelling by the light of the moon and Samuel had decided it was time to find shelter. This came in the form of a makeshift tent, made from the bristling crooked branches of fallen trees, held together with vine and shrub, from the matted undergrowth around where the boys stood. Samuel did the best he could, but the awkward form of his creation was barely wind tight as the boys, exhausted, scared and beaten by the elements, had settled down to spend the night.

Once again the brothers woke to find themselves in what felt like a strange yet familiar place. The area was vibrant with colour; a cacophony of pinks, yellows, crimson and lilac lead their eyes astray, while the shrill sounds of the forest were alive in their ears, as the boys set about foraging for food. Their father had taught them to feed themselves in the woodland as part of their training, so they were not un-experienced when it came to seeking out sustenance when provisions were sparse; though it seemed very different without the voice of their father to guide them. William had clambered nimbly up a small tree and began picking fruit, while Samuel pulled up mushrooms and gently broke up bits of fallen tree bark to find grubs, a simple but effective substitute for protein. Together the brothers gathered dried wood and grass for kindling, carefully arranging it in the circular centre of some mossy rocks they’d arranged, before Samuel, striking a small piece of flint against his shimmering knife blade, expertly managed to induce a fire. William took his brothers knife and began to segment the fruit into smaller pieces; then the boys mixed it with the mushrooms, berries and grubs that Samuel had gathered, wrapped it tight in to packets of woven leaves and then used these as parcels, to shield their breakfast as they placed it upon the fire to simmer.

After a short term in the glistening heat, a fruity scent filled the air and the soft aroma of the earthy mushroom made the boys mouths water at the thought of the meal to ensue. After very swiftly finishing, each, their entire portion, the two brothers were unsure of what to do next; they were alone for the first time in their lives, with no home and no one to aid them.  “Where do you think those men took our mother and the people of our village?” said William; hoping that his older brother would be able to provide the answer. “I don’t know little brother. They took everyone in those cages away to the north maybe even as far as the Darklands.” Samuel replied.

The Darklands were a place of myth and legend to humble people, like those of the brother’s village. This was a place of adventure and destruction alike, where many a fierce warrior who set forth on the road into the foul realm beyond the northern blockades, never returned.

“What are we going to do?” William chimed on, again hoping that Samuel would be able to offer some sort of solution. “What if they harm them?” he continued. “We must aid them” Samuel started. “We will follow the carriage tracks in the earth as far as we can and continue onward from there” he said, rising to his feet. “But what if it’s dangerous?” said his younger brother, trying hard for his sentence not to sound too wobbly as he delivered it. “We have each other William. We must stick together and keep our courage about us. We will find mother and the villagers and what’s more we’ll free them, no matter who or what stands in our way!” William; renewed by Samuel’s spirit, got to his feet, picked up a few rounded stones from the campfire side and put them in his pocket. Then, clutching his sling tight in one hand, the other one white as he stood with fist clenched, in a state of pure readiness, he took one long look at his brother and the two began to stride forth with conviction into the brush. Without truly knowing what they were facing, the boys knew only one thing; they must protect the people that they cared about. Their mother and the villagers must be set free and the brothers felt in their hearts, that their journey had begun.

They began to find their way through the trees, to the winding road that led on from the north side of the village. After a while of walking through prickling undergrowth and densely packed branches at the bases of the trees of the wood, they found what they were searching for. Along the road as they drew closer, the boys could make out that the wagons had left tracks inset deep into the earth along its centre and they began to follow these slowly, constantly aware of anything around them that might seem odd or out of the ordinary. The tracks of the wagons had soon enough begun to draw faint as the road became partially cobbled and the boys saw a bridge stretching forth across a winding river. Neither of them had been this far away from home before, but they knew that they must continue onward if they were ever to find their kinsmen or their mother again.

When they reached the bridge the tracks had finally disappeared completely, as if someone had just washed them away and the pair decided that the men must have continued onwards over the bridge as the path drew far north into the distance, so they decided to cross. All of a sudden and no sooner had Samuel set one foot onto the structure, a strange little ‘gnome like’ figure sprung up, out of a small trapdoor at its centre. The boys stayed where they were, dead still, though both seemed visibly nervous at the unexpected appearance of the queer being, now standing before them. Without considering his father’s sword laced tight across his back, Samuel slowly began to draw his dagger from its sheathe, while William, still clutching his sling tight, slid his other hand down,  drawing a stone cautiously from his pocket and adding it to the weapons pouch, ready to loose.

The figure was about two feet tall, with orange scaly skin much like that of a snake or lizard. He had bright purple eyes that shone skittishly in the daylight and skipped around like marbles as they enter a fray. He also wore a smile that stretched from what must have been cheek to cheek and curled up slightly at each side giving the boys the impression that this creature was not necessarily to be trusted. He wore what appeared to be a black merchant’s cap with a tassel at its centre and a short grey dressing gown with a thick brown suede belt around his podgy little waistline. The ‘gnome like’ figure was carrying in one hand what seemed like the skeleton of a fish, which he used to awkwardly comb bristly tufts of hair that crept from beneath his cap at either side and attached to his belt was a pale leather sheathe containing a small blade, not much bigger than Samuels knife, yet looked more like a sword in the company of the odd little man. “Hello smello’s!” he cried, as his eyes roved around, seemingly scanning as much of the boys as he could manage. “You can put those away, there’s no need to be afraid of old Bindlebob!” he continued. “Who are you?” asked Samuel, still clutching his knife tight with one hand. “I told you silly. My name is Bindlebob!” replied the creature. “And what are you doing here?” said William, trembling slightly with nerves at the thought that this new presence might be a foe. “No need to be scared little one, I am the keeper of the bridge, the bridge riddler! People can only pass this way to the north with my permission!” “May we have your permission?” asked Samuel steadily trying to hold his nerve. “Nope! Sorry, can’t let you go unless you answer a riddle!” replied Bindlebob, almost confused that they hadn’t grasped the concept sooner. “Those are the rules you know!” “What kind of riddle?” asked William. “Well, the riddled kind of course!” said Bindlebob, skipping from one foot to the other in a sort or merry jig, clearly excited by the prospect of his game to commence. “Are you ready to begin? I haven’t done this in such a long time.” “Well if we must, then we must.” said Samuel, putting his knife away carefully back into its’ sheathe, which seemed to relax his brother. “Very well” said Bindlebob, “here we go!” “What goes up, seldom comes down, wear’s lots of green and in the winter brown?” he chanted. “That’s an easy one!” said Samuel, slightly puzzled as to why the riddle hadn’t been harder. “What is it then clever clogs?” cackled Bindlebob, visibly un-nerved that Samuel might actually have the answer. “Well it’s a tree of course!” announced Samuel with a smile. “What!” cried Bindlebob. “How did you guess? How did you guess?” “May we go now little man?” asked William. “No you may not; and I’m not a little man, I’m a hobgoblin and no one ever guesses my riddles, best two out of three!” Samuel, still glowing slightly from his previously swift triumph over the first riddle, was feeling rather confident. “Go on.” he said, winking at his brother. “Very well then, but you’ll be sorry, this one is much harder.” said Bindlebob. “In water I sink, on dry land I rest, in structure or shelter, my kind are the best.” “That’s a stone!” said William without hesitation, excited at the idea he’d managed to match his brother by guessing this one. “What?!” screeched Bindlebob again, still hopelessly shocked that his riddles seemed like nothing more than a joke to the two boys. “Even the little one gets it now” he muttered to himself as his scaly face began to turn a sort of beetroot colour, a mixture of both anger and embarrassment. Before the brothers could utter another word he began again. “You will never guess this one!” he shouted, almost with a squeak. “Very well” said Samuel, beginning to enjoy and to humour the strange creatures company. “What is blue, sometimes black, reigns over all, in house or shack?”

The boys pondered this for a while as it was certainly a little more tricky than the previous riddles. “Can’t get this one can they, cheeky pipsqueaks aren’t they!” Bindlebob grunted to himself gleefully. But before he could continue, his face dropped as William, once more, began to speak. “Is it the sky?” said the youngest of the brothers.  Bindlebob’s frustration seemed at this point to grow out of control; he began to prance up and down the bridge, restlessly repeating himself over and over again. “How does the little one know? How does the little one know?” he wailed. Then, without any warning he stopped. As if something had popped into his mind, striking him as suddenly as a lightning bolt to the brain. He turned slowly to face the boys, his little purple face slowly fading back to its original sunburst orange complexion. “You guessed all of my riddles.” he began. “When I first became a bridge riddler, my master said to me that if a day should come where one might guess all of my riddles, then I must aid them in whatever way they so desire. I swore then to uphold this oath and that means I must help you, in whatever way I can, as you are the cleverest I’ve met! You’re on a quest I feel?” “Yes we are” replied Samuel, but it is a perilous one and we are not sure if we will ever return this way again. “An oath is and oath my young master and I will do all I can to aid in your journey.” “Very well” said Samuel, “we know what it is to honour something that one believes in. You may travel with us.” “And where is it you are travelling to young warriors?” said Bindlebob, briskly taking off his hat and combing his hair again with the fish skeleton, before replacing the hat carefully, as if endeavouring to make himself a little more presentable for the journey ahead.

“I am Samuel and this, my younger brother William. Last night our father was murdered by men in black armour. They took our mother and many of our villagers, burning our home and our village to the ground. These men were travelling north. We must find our mother and the villagers to set them free, this is our quest.” announced Samuel. “They passed this way, young warriors” said Bindlebob, “too many for old Bindlebob to ask riddles, so I stayed all safe under my bridge. But I will help you! Though the road ahead is full of danger, we must remain careful and never ‘ever’ wonder too far from the path.” He said ‘matter of factly’. Then, without further ado, the small hobgoblin placed the unusual fish comb into his pocket, set his hat at a jaunty angle, as if to make himself look a little menacing, but to no avail, and the three travellers set off together across the bridge and onward down the road to the north.

The two brothers were happy to have found a new friend, and although he kept it well hidden from the boys, Bindlebob was glad to have found some friends too.

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