Monday, October 13, 2014

Chapter 1

The morning was always soothing to me. The early light brought with it a certain forgiveness of the previous days events. I could smell faint wafts of smoke before I opened my eyes so I knew the little fire from yesterday was still barely smoldering. A slight breeze tickled my ears with the slight sound of a bell and I took a moment to enjoy the feeling before accepting the responsibility of sight. But eventually, I decided the hunger in my stomach and the threat of my fire going out was reason enough to embrace the day.

I opened my eyes and scanned the area, checking it against my memory. The fire was still in the corner of the uncovered room, my quilt was still under my body, and the old bell still hung in its have destroyed tower. I sat up and took a deep breath. Im still not sure what happened here. All that matters is that this structure had been made of stone, and had two stories so I could see the surrounding plains. Always on my wandering, I preferred to find such abandoned places. They offered visibility and the look of absence. Both were valuable for my survival.  But this structure was still curious to me. I had seen many ruined or burned towers, homes, or other kinds of dwellings, but the way this one had been destroyed was troubling. The parts not of stone had of course burned away, such as the stairs and rooftop. That was not so out of the ordinary. In fact, the art of scaling a decrepit building to get to the highest part had become a specialty to me. This one had two trees that use to grow next to the sun dawn side. Last night I had tested the blackened limbs carefully before putting my full weight on them. Though my initial path up the tree brought me down when one of them broke, my next attempt was successful. Trees were always the best way to get onto a second floor. Since my journey to these plains, Ive noticed it an odd coincidence that every house had at least two trees in the yard. Must be some kind of tradition in these parts.

Looking around now even those trees seem odd. The bottoms of the trees were not burnt. The building itself was just the same way. I walked to the edge of the floor and leaned out over the half broken wall. I could just see the green paint of the bottom of the front door. It had been spared the flames as well. I took a moment to ponder of these strange signs and had to wonder what could cause this kind of devastation. After a moment of so, I leaned back and turned tower the corner where my fire had been hidden from the wind. Then my gaze turned toward the old bronze colored bell still hanging in its tower. After a moments inspection, I realized that it must have been part of a pair of bells. It wasnt centered in the broken archway, but put to one side. There must have been two bells that hung in the tower, sharing the arch equally. I walked toward it and reached out to touch the brisk metal. It was cold to the touch and it left black soot on my hands. I wrote, "what happened here," by wiping away the soot to reveal a contrasting brighter bronze and then wiped my finger tip off on my sleeve. How did this happen, I wondered. Then it occurred to me to look over the edge of arch. Perhaps the bells fallen mate might still be there on the ground. I leaned out and peered out over the yard. After a moment or two, I caught sight of a glinting metal on the ground. "There you are," I muttered. I determined that inspecting the other bell would be the first chore for the day once I left the roof top.

First, however, I had to get that fire going again. The mystery of this building intrigued me and I wasnt particularly inclined to move on. Well, then again, perhaps I should move on. Though I like to sleep under the stars and these plains offered the biggest skies, finding shelter from the wind to nurse a fire into health was kind of a pain. Not only that but Frost would soon be here. Almost day to day, I could feel the temperature dropping. Nights were becoming colder and the winds were less and less pleasant. I needed to find a shelter of some kind for lasting protection. Some place to wait out the season and await the warming sun. This building was solid, but without a roof, any kind of precipitation was gonna pose a problem. I sighed. These were the dilemmas of the open road.

My stomach grumbled. My thoughts were thus interrupted and I sat back down on my quilt. With my back to the tallest part of the broken wall, I opened up my pack. I crossed my legs and slowly laid out my things on the rest of my quilt. Three throwing knives remained of the eight I recovered from the dead soldiers in the hills. With a sigh I laid them out next to each other, mourning the loss of the other five. Then my hands returned to the pack. Though it was morning the light was still weak and in the shadow of the wall it was hard to see so I leaned in closer and strained my eyes. Eagerly I shoved a random glove I had scavenged to one side of the pack and found what my stomach was searching for. Wrapped in a piece of cloth, I had two small loaves of hearty bread. Excitedly, I pulled out the small parcel and unwrapped the loaves. Though they were a little smashed from their time serving as a pillow in my pack last night, they looked wonderful. I tore the loaves apart and soon there was nothing left of them. The sensation of swallowing food and the crunch of the odd grain here and there was wonderful. Nothing ever tastes as good as when you havent eaten.

With my stomach full of delicious bread, my bodies other needs began to take precedence. Though it was wonderful to have food in my belly, my throat was dry and I was on the edge of shivering. I looked around the little rectangular space and...nope...no water. With a sigh, I put that on hold and stood up. I stretched my arms toward the sky and let out a loud yawn. "Maybe I cant manifest something to drink, but I can get you going," I said to the small pile of ashes. I walked over the burnt tree that had provided me access the roof and retraced my steps back down it. As I made it to the trunk of the tree I thought briefly of my knives but kept going. Once on the ground, I looked around the various grasses that had grown up around the stone walls of the house. Then I thought again of how strange it was not to see more signs of fire on the ground. There were areas where the grass had been singed and burnt down but most of it remained tall. Really, quite strange.

I moved around the house pulling various dead grasses and sticks up. The sticks I threw up onto the roof and the grasses I shoved under my belt. Eventually, I had sort of a skirt and that was my cue to go up to start the fire, but then I thought of the other bell. I raised my eyebrows and walked over to the side of the house the bell was on. It only took a moment to find it. With the light much stronger and my eyes shaken from sleep, I could see it clearly hiding half sunk into the ground. I bent over and pulled the weeds away from it and tugged at rounded edge that was still sticking out. At first it didnt give way, much to my impatience and frustration. I was surprised in fact by how it didnt budge. "Pshh," I muttered, and I kicked it, which was stupid because it only hurt my foot. "Ahh, come on," I said exasperatedly. Then I centered my weight around the bell put both hands on it and tugged with my full body. This time, I felt it move and start coming up from the ground. "Finally," I said. Once it was free, I let go of the cold metal and looked at my hands. The skin burned from the struggle and I said, "pshh," once more. Then I looked down at my prize. After a second or two, I looked from the rooftop to the bell and back again. "How...am I gonna get you up there," I whispered slowly. My mind worked on it for a moment and I considered strategies involving trees or catapults. Nothing really seemed plausible at the moment, so I decided to put that on hold too. "Water, bell, weird fire," I said to myself. "I'll figure it out," I said, and returned back up the tree to my rooftop.

Once there, I looked around at what my foraging had accomplished. Sticks of various size littered the floor. Lazily, I moved around and gathered them into the corner by pushing them with my feet. Then I took the grasses my under my belt and crinkled them up into a ball. With any luck the embers I had smelled when first waking would still be alive. Gingerly, I searched through the ashes and shrunken limbs to find the source of the faint smoke. My fingers quickly sensed heat and I found the infant flame. Like a tender father, I fed the flame a diet of dried grass and breath. I had definitely gotten better at this because soon the flame grew and matured into something useful. From grasses to sticks to snapped off tree limbs, I soon had a fire again. This process, though a chore, always brought me a source of pride and accomplishment. Even times as desperate as these were improved by the symphony of crackling flames.

With a deep breath, I moved back away from the fire to my possessions. My pack, now empty, seemed sad. The knives went to my waist, occupying the space the grass had, and the quilt went back into the pack. "There, all ready," I said and shifted back toward the fire. The flames warmed my face and felt good on my legs. I took off my shoes and rubbed a little more life into my feet. I knew I couldnt stay here for long. Without the cover of darkness the smoke would attract attention before long. Last night I knew the light was a risk, but wedged into the corner and considering the circumstances it was a risk I was prepared to take. Now that I had eaten, rested, and survived the night without attack, I had enough hope in me to consider playing it safe. So I let myself enjoy the morning and the fire, and the sound of the swaying bell. But I also began to store up my courage for the day, slowly gripping the handles of my knives tighter and tighter.

These three were among the very little of all I had left. The last year had taken so much from me, so much that no amount of distance or preoccupation could give back. It seemed strange to become so connected to things that could not last. My home had burned in front of me, blackening my face with ashes. And yet, I cannot hold fire accountable for that ruin, for the fire warms my feet now. Fire has often been the difference between dying chilled to the bone or surviving the night.

"No, its not fire's fault," I said to myself. "I may never know who or what came upon us that night. All I need to know is that my father was more than he seemed and the last I saw of him was... this pearlescent light... flying over the ground faster than was humanly possible..."

I drifted off into thoughts of that night. The fire crackled and the little stick fortress I had constructed collapsed. My eyes lazily moved to address the problem. Subconsciously I decided to let the flames fizzle out because it was time to move anyway. That and I knew those following me would undoubtedly find this camp. If the fire was completely put out, they would assume I had left for good. If the flames were still smoldering it would delay them. So I should just let go, perhaps buy myself an extra hour or two.

I lingered in thought for a while more. My head became tight and I clenched my jar. Specific memories...voices, the smell of my blankets, the touch of my mother's hand filled me with such sadness. Tears formed at the corners of my eyes for just a moment before I cleared them away.

I took a deep breath. And then another. "I cannot change these things, I cannot," I said with almost a whimper. It occurred to me briefly about how free I was to express this sadness. For neither the fire, the bell, or the stones in the wall would ever judge my weakness. Their unseeing gaze would never shame me with tales of my lonesome nights, or even more lonely mornings. "You guys have enough to worry about," I laughed wryly, my eyes motioning around at their state of decomposition. No, here I was free to cry. Free let my guard down and go over and over the years events...and yet, I was not free.

The wind blew harder than the occasional slight breeze and carried with it a peculiar smell of burning. This isn't the aromatic burning of wood but rather a stinging smell.

My face tightened and my heart beat slowed. If I can smell them, they're close. Do I run, I thought. My hands again remembered that which they were holding and I thought again of how poorly armed I was. Quickly, I put on my shoes, tying them almost uncomfortably tight, and began weighing my options.

Slowly I evaluated my surroundings with a new criteria. Stone walls and elevation were a strong advantage. Plus, being runned down on the open plains was not a good thought. But I definitely had no chance of repelling any real raiding party. How dearly I missed my bow. The past year had taught me how to throw a knife with some accuracy, but nothing could compare to having a bow and full quiver. "Never trust a woman," I said out loud, shaking my head. I rubbed my temple. "Think Sky, think!" I moved my hand over my eyes and squinted into the darkness.

"What if..." my voice trailed off. "That...could...work," I slowly muttered, working my way through an idea. "Well, either it works or thats all for me," I asserted. Then it was time to put my plan into action.

I got up and smoothed out my shirt. Scrambling down the tree, I tore at the ground for things that would burn easily. Viciously, I ripped up the grasses, that previously I had so discriminately moved over, and threw them on top of the house. This time I will litter the place with burnable things and not be cleaning them up. However, I knew that while these grasses would burn readily and quickly, they would not last long. However, perhaps to recreate the kind of fire that took this place down, all I have to do is burn the top? I dont know, but that's what Im going for. I next moved to the tree. With all the skill I could manage, I started snapping random branches off. "I dont want them to be able to tell this was done recently. I just need things to burn," I thought. Adrenaline started rising in me. I have to get this going. If they see the house go up, they will know. But if the first time they see it burning, perhaps they will move on. "This has to work!" I told myself.

Just before I decided to set everything on fire and hide it occurred to me to sweep the area for tracks. I let out a sigh. If I had forgotten to do that! With some skill and a definite quickness in my step, I hurried about the circumference of the house sweeping the ground with a wad of grasses. Not bad for a make shift hand broom. In just a few moments, my work was done and I hurried to get up the tree and hide.

My pulse had started to raise and I was suddenly filled with the desperation to succeed at this trickery. "See, you do want to live," I mused to myself. I looked at the fire, now in front of me. I thought for a moment. "Ok," I said, and used my "broom" as a torch. It only took a moments coaxing to set it alight. With extreme hunger the flames consumed the tips of the yellow straws and began inching down towards my hand. I then moved around the roof setting various piles of grass on fire. Very quickly I was surrounded by heat and very unexpectedly afraid to be standing where I was. I looked around, my eyes wide with doubt and worry, and found a spot to crouch down. It was the farthest from any other fire and next to the wall so at least that side would be cool. Just then, I felt the heat my touch start to burn my hand. Instinctually I dropped it, but then made a split second decision to pick it back up and toss into the tall grass growing around the house. Then I dropped low and pushed myself as close to the cool stones of the wall as I could. I took out my knife and began working on the mortar, worming my way through it to form a hole. After a while I had poked a hole just in time to see their glinting armor near the house. I couldnt see their eyes, but I knew they were searching for signs of life. Through the haze I began counting. My vision was frustratingly limited but already I could see at least fifteen or so brutes. Big, heavy footed, adorned with skulls and hungry; they sniffed at the air and walked a little closer. "This is it," I thought.


 

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