The Legend of Quone-Loc-Sie

Preview #1 - The Dark Days

By Alan P. Ellis

Copyright 2012. Copyright in all media and in all forms remains the property of caelin day pty ltd (aus). Any reproduction in whole or part is conditional on the written permission of caelin day pty ltd

 

Nicholas The Beginning

The Legend of Quone-Loc-Sie has been passed from father to son, mother to daughter since before time: as time is acknowledged or known. They speak of many things; of princes and hero’s; of a time before the waters rose to inundate and famine swept the lands, and strangest of all; of machines that flew.

The part of the legends that will follow is of the prophecy; and have their origin in a settlement called Boramulla, where no more than four hundred souls live in that district. Bounded on one side by a curve of the great Mulgrave River: on another by the savannah plains; and on the third, the foothills of the Blood Mountains. It begins at the end of the dry: in the nineteenth year of the rule of the Lord Marshal, and far from his distant city of Quone-Loc-Sie.

The cluster of humanity that call themselves citizens of Boramulla dwell in simple houses; with thick insulated walls; stout timber doors and heavy shutters. All were needed when the heat became too fierce, or the cold unbearable.

In one of the outlying houses lived a youth turning into manhood by the name of Nicholas Day.

Nicholas had lived in the provider’s house all of his young life, that being almost twenty-two winter seasons. With the exception of occasional trips to neighboring towns on market days; or on the business of his father, he had never left the district; encountered strangers: and from them, gossip from far away. Or paid any serious attention to the troubles and tribulations of the past; those of advancing age liked to share with anyone who would listen.

He was bright, cheerful, and intelligent; assuming intelligence is gauged by ones capacity to manage life’s challenges capably.

In some ways he was privileged, though privilege was an overstatement in terms of luxury. But as his family were the communities provider (a provider being those chosen to process, store and distribute the communal resources; and the one who was responsible on behalf of the settlement to pay dues to the Marshals local representative) it did give them some status, albeit little.

A provider was trusted; his word was his bond, and it was unnecessary to ask for more. To those outside the settlement the provider spoke for all those within; and to those within, he was a person who would do the best he could in the community interest.

In simple terms and in many ways Nicholas’s life was ideal.

On this morning, though he gave scant thought to it, his mother had mentioned the ageing. She had said no more, but he was quick to recognize it as a veiled reference to how he should seek a wife and prepare for the time he in turn would become provider. The obligation to take over the family responsibility he already accepted, but the choice of a bride was something he was keen to avoid; and he had quickly steered her words to ask of her own visits to the most populated town this side of the tablelands; Riverslee.

From past conversations he knew it was sited at a place where the Mulgrave emerged from the chasm the great river had cut through the mountains.

The stories always motivated him, though like everyone he knew, in all probability he would go there only occasionally in his lifetime.

In any case it was of no real consequence. His future: if he thought much of it: was a continuation of the daily toil that was already the pattern of his life. It was normal, even comforting to think that all that was to be, was already set in place. It gave him no worry, it was all that he did, and would do, as the time approached the end of the drying

Now that the heat was retreating the first mists had begun to form. In the coming days they would slowly creep outwards, covering the land more and more densely until the eventual cold froze the moisture into the soil. Before that time, winter crops would be planted, and tended, ready to be harvested after the frost retreated.

The group of buildings owned by the provider; Nicholas’s father, were to the edge of the settlement; closest to the reclaimed fields, and set off a little from the road. While it was ultimately the community elders who decided how each families needs were to be met, the provider needed a great deal of diplomatic tact in apportioning which of the supplies were to be given. It was no easy task, neither was avoiding the ravages of water and damp, arid heat and scavenging creatures, including the odd human one, but it was one that this particular provider and his two sons more than adequately met.

The storedomes, as the round buildings behind the dwelling were called: were seven in number. Two being set up higher than the others; though both were rarely in use at one time, and only after a succession of bountiful seasons. Whichever of these storehouse’s were in use; was filled with the grains from a high gantry traversing between the two, and accessed from the ground by a sturdy ramp. At the top, once tipped through a trap, the grain would fall through to the sloping floor via a series of sluices where it was batched in whatever way was needed.

Of the other five buildings two were for drying, one for treatment with herbs and spices and the others where bags of produce were kept safe for distribution to the village in less bountiful times.

It was the last day of the working week by their calendar. A fine crisp morning: dawn had broken; the sky streaking a pale pink light, and the mists had begun to fade.

 

The aroma of freshly brewed coffee having sped his dressing, Nicholas opened his sleeping room door to the welcoming sight of his mother, glancing up from stirring a large bowl of thick porridge that hung over the open kitchen fire. She smiled, looked at a serving dish at her side, and nodded towards the large table.

Nicholas understood the familiar gesture and picked up the dish as he made his way to his usual seat. He placed the dish between another laden with freshly warmed meats, and a cutting board that had a barley loaf and a slab of bright yellow butter on it.

Morning”, he said belatedly to his mother as he looked through the window for his father “Is help needed with the milking?” His father was always around when the morning meal was served.

A deep male voice answered. “No, but thanks for the concern.” His father entered the kitchen, and placed a pail of creamy liquid on the bench. “Where is Philip?” He said, noticing with slight annoyance the empty seat opposite Nicholas.

His mother said nothing and avoided the questioning looks in her direction

Nicholas. Where is he?” His father muttered grouchily.

Nicholas tore off a huge chunk of bread and forced it into his mouth in an attempt to avoid replying, he didn't want to start the day by placing his elder brother into trouble, but the man stared at him patiently, until he swallowed. The firm gaze didn’t break, and he had no alternative but to answer. “I believe he was with Becky Martin last night... maybe his return home was a little… late”. ‘Very late’, he thought, in fact he wasn’t even sure Philip had come home.

Philip.” his father’s voice boomed through the house carrying a threatening tone.

Frederrick.” his wife chided him. “Let the boy be, breakfast can wait.”

But already there was a feeble answer. “...Coming” The voice was still coated in a mantle of sleep.

Nicholas”, said his father shaking his head. “Your brother is a worry to your mother and me, but I sometimes despair of you. It is time you, not just Philip, were courting; or better still, betrothed to one of the village girls.

Nicholas had heard all this before and he answered passively. “Yes father.”

It’s one of the village girls I want to hear a yes from, not you.”

The words started to slip by without Nicholas listening. His father was right, he knew that, but although he found the village girls enjoyable company, none had tugged at his heart, as his mother liked to refer to falling in love. He would find a girl someday; he had no doubt. He just hadn’t found the right one yet, though Philip seemed to find a different right one, every week.

His father was still talking. “…Is far too well known about the village. Already several fathers have had words with me about his…”

Be patient with the boy”, interrupted his mother “Nicholas’s match has been made; the future is set for him; we will all have to wait for the time it is to show.”

His father shrugged and let the subject drop, but there was no doubt to any that he felt both of his sons should be married; with children on the way; as other boys already had.

A youth entered the room. “Morning Mother. Father. Nick... Sorry, I did not hear you awaken.” Nicholas looked at him, his eyes gesturing over to their father, in something of a cautionary way. There was no acknowledgment, but Philips voice effortlessly slipped into an apologetic tone.

Nicholas watched as his brother’s words spun their charm on their father: as had been done countless times before. There was no malice: there was mischievousness, and Nicholas knew their father subconsciously knew he was being manipulated. In a way Nicholas envied his brothers ways, and it was easy to understand his popularity with the village girls. Handsome: tall with brown eyes, and loose golden hair the colour of freshly baled straw; indeed longer than some of the girls that he was constantly in the company of. In reality it was only the colour and length of their hair that marked any great difference between the two brothers. Nicholas's hair being black as night, and only just brushing past his shoulders, though he always tied it into a tail. Soon Philip was sat with them, helping himself to the offerings greedily.

Your tardiness has only one benefit,” muttered their father turning to Nicholas with a wink of his eye. “Be quick to take your fill, for I fear that one of our tribe may eat the bowl from which we serve”. His humour was back again to the embarrassment of Philip, who immediately slowed the movement of ladle from plate to mouth.

 

It was the day before temple day; a day they would finish work well before dark so that they could prepare and decorate the place of worship ready for the dawn service: bearing this in mind Nicholas spoke hesitantly. “I would like to visit with Jonathon later, if that would cause you no trouble?” he looked pleadingly at his father.

The man sighed, other than the never-ending maintenance there was no urgency for his son’s help. “I see no problem,” he said looking at the woman. “More reading I gather?” He referred to Nicholas teaching the other boy all that he himself had learned of writing and reading from Nicholas’s mother.

He is doing well at his learning. I think that I shall be able to teach him little more.” The comment was aimed mainly at his mother. She was one of the few educated people in the village; most village folk learning only what they needed for work, household duties or to know which coins would buy a flagon of ale. His mother would not speak of where she had learned this rare skill. At least only vaguely, saying that she was lucky as a child to have known educated people. Nick had never pressed for more information, though he was always curious for more detail.

His father too was different from most men, who could barely read. He could also write sufficient words, and understood more than the moderate math required to carry out his providing work.

Nicholas appreciated this good fortune with both parents, but it was his mother who had encouraged him as an infant, regaling him with tales of a library at the house of the Alderman.

He had, had no real concept of what a library may mean, as few manuscripts were available to village folk, and barely any were needed to undertake their daily lives. But those early formative years had created a thirst for knowledge in Nicholas that few other boys had.

The stories of a library had proved true, and he had purposely set out to make friends with the serving staff. With offers of help in their work around the great house he had, had both access and opportunity to read books, though without the Alderman knowing. Eventually he had been found out and ordered from the house, along with a serving girl who by chance happened to be caught with him. It was one of the few instances in his life that he regretted: not so much for himself, that was a risk he had known and accepted, but for getting the girl in trouble. He had begun to like her, but that mattered little now that she had been sent away.

His mother’s words as he stepped outside into the weak, but pleasant rays from the still rising orb, warned him that they would be at the temple till dark, and that they would eat late.

It was going to be a nice day, even though there was a chill in the morning air, an occurrence that would slowly become more noticeable and severe as they approached the season of ice. He muttered to himself. ‘It is going to be a wonderful day‘. He had no idea how wrong he was about to be.

 

The workday passed in a pleasant and relaxed way. The fruits grown during the dry had all been harvested, wrapped and stored in sand, so father and sons worked together treating Hessian sacks with preservatives ready for long term storage of the soon to be harvested grain. The only real work they felt they had done was in stacking small bags of untreated seed on the raised benches where the community could access them for the next crop sowing.

Nicholas was sad that it would be some time before he saw litchis, mangoes, and papaw on the tree again. He loved the tropical fruits, and it was only the thought that after planting the crops, there would be the budding apples and cherry blossom to lighten the foreboding winter that cheered him up.

The midday meal came soon enough, and his mother after having spent the morning washing, cleaning, and baking, brought loaves, cheese and pickles, followed by fresh buttered scones. Philip still trying to get into good favor with their father went to fetch a large pitcher of sweet well water to wash it all down.

After the meal both boys tendered to some small repairs on the wagon so that it would be in good order for the work ahead, but their enthusiasm for labor had passed, and Nicholas was pleased when bidding them not delay the evening meal for him, he left

 

Most of the fields behind the grain stores were now being ploughed and though the smell of freshly turned earth was pleasant; and the furrows made by the plough shear may have looked neat and tidy from afar, it was a different thing again to walk them. The soft crumbling earth made for a heavy going; by experience he found it easier if he stepped over the raised soil, and into each rut. Vaguely wishing that the seeds had already been strewn, and that the soil had been evened out so that the frost could break it down, he eventually arrived at the path, and through to the edge of the woods.

As the walking became easier his mind wandered in thought. It was festival, time to be at one with Mother Earth. Soon village folk would be gathering at the tavern; but he had said he would be late, and arriving when everyone else had supped their share made him uncomfortable. It wasn’t he disapproved; which he didn’t: it was more embarrassment that he had to force smiles and amusement to unamusing ale influenced humour. It was a relief when he decided instead to return past his own private place of solitude.

Jonathan's house was of similar style to his own, but attached to a single large building that was used to grind the grain. A small stream ran past the rear: diverted from the great river; turning a large timber water wheel. Nicholas could see it was still, indicating that the sluice was diverting the water, and that the workday was finished.

 

A youth his own age; though a little stockier, and with almost white hair came out to meet him. He smiled in welcome, but Nicholas spoke first. “I have a need to be with nature today. May we talk together in the fields?”

I will bring fishing rods, and we may try our luck in the river”.

Nicholas knew it was a favorite pastime: almost an obsession of Jonathan's. There would be no use talking further of fields. Nicholas accepted the rod that appeared almost magically in good mood. Though he would have preferred to continually walk the grassed lanes, the following hour was well spent.

It was to be believed that the fish were deaf, for the boys talked incessantly about everything, and nothing. The periods of silence were few and far between, as were the bites.

When as evening approached and they were packing their equipment, Jonathon spoke more seriously than he had. “…I had the vision again last night.”

Nicholas looked doubtfully at him.

It was the same, a great red bird, with wings too short to fly, yet it did, at a great wall. Trying time and again to pass; and then at last the wall fell. It is a premonition Nick of that I am sure.”

Nicholas didn't know what to say. Jonathon’s grandmother was always saying things that other people could not understand, and because of her Jonathon too believed his dreams foretold the future. Nicholas would not say what others did, that the old woman was unsound of mind. He wanted, whenever his friend spoke this way, to discourage him, so that he would not be thought of the same.

I don't know what they mean, but dreams they are. You must be careful not to make things out of that which does not exist,” he said quickly, but as soon as he had uttered the words Nicholas regretted them, for he saw the hurt on the others face.

The boys walked in silence for a while, but soon the exchange was forgotten and they were again talking, the invitation and prospect of Jonathan's mothers cooking, dominating the conversation.

Though he tried to refuse sustenance it was early evening when Nick left to return home, remembering almost too late that he had promised himself a few moments of solitude. He cut across to the edge of the forest to a thicket on top of a small rock outcrop

Nicholas sat and looked across to the mountains. Their rounded peaks lit and emphasized in the last parting rays of daylight. He had no concept of how high the mountains were for they were much farther than he had ever ventured, but dry or winter, their tops were always covered in snow.

He sat in silence and watched as the relics of sunlight slipped over and the peaks turned to pink: the reflected colour spreading across them as if by accident some god had spilled wine, on a crisp table cover. He watched enthralled; now the change had begun, it would deepen until the coming night allowed no one to see more.

The pink had given way to a plum shade and the colour for some reason brought back a memory. He smiled thinking of the time, when he had been only a boy. He and Simeon had been caught taking the fruit from the Alderman's orchard. The smile slowly passed, but the warm feeling of friendship remained. Simeon was the only other person who knew, or had known of this place. It was him who had needed to name the colours instead of just enjoying them.

It was still beyond Nicholas’s understanding why Simeon had murdered his own father and then fled to those distant mountains to be forever separated from his loved ones.

That was two years ago, ‘Simeon would have only been…’ Nicholas realized he was on the verge of the same age.

The golden orb had long sunk behind the mountain, now too had almost all of its rays. The peaks were now becoming the colour for which they were known: a deep red, the colour of blood.

Somewhere amongst those mountains was Simeon. Nicholas wondered if he too was sitting up on one of those hillsides, looking back towards the place where he had once lived.

The feeling of warm that the memories brought, ebbed into sadness. Nicholas had not thought of his friend for some time, and it pained him to remember the lost, but happy times of their childhood.

The red had deepened to purple and on to the blackness of night. Now the mountains changed from background to foreground as the stars took that place. The first moon had risen; he saw a flash from it and counted to ten. They were common enough these flashes, and always to a count of ten, before a second appeared. 'What wonders we do not understand, are but, normal to the g...’

His ears caught a noise. He froze, his heart pumping wildly. His mind had been more at one with the dream than he had realized, for he had sensed, rather than heard a movement over to his left. Visions of a bear, or worse, a panther creeping up on him flashed through his mind. He wanted to run, but deep down knew that he was lost if he moved. Barely breathing he slowly turned towards the sound

The first moon was too small to light the woodland, and it was only the snapping of another dried twig that took his gaze down into the trees below him.

What seemed like several minutes passed, but he could still discern no movement. He was above; at least that was in his favor. Suddenly his eye snatched a glimpse of a shadow silently approaching, and though this relieved him of thoughts of a wild creature, it made them worse for an unknown demon. Unexpectedly he was suddenly bathed in light as a cloud moved from in front of the rising larger moon and lit the forest in its pale glow. Now he dared not move a muscle, but at last he could see that the shapes were horses. Four, five mounted men were almost directly below, but still they made no sound as if they were indeed spirits. Though Nicholas knew this could not be, it was something he did not want to test until the thought struck his mind that he had fallen asleep and was watching himself dream. But if it was a dream then he felt wide-awake, and he could feel a slight breeze on his bare arm, that was not his usual dream pattern.

His mind now was keen; these were as mortal as he, but ones who did not wish to be heard. Nicholas decided that he would not disappoint them, he would watch, and wait his time to trounce these rascals, for whatever their intention, to come in such a way they were surely up to no good.

They dismounted, and then he heard it, there was a sharp noise, it was faint but he knew it was metal upon metal. Instinctively he knew a weapon made the noise. It was the sound that a sword made as it came slightly out of its sheath; then dropped back in again. Whoever they were, these men were armed.

While his mind raced, they had tied their horses and melted into the sweet smelling pines in the direction of the village.

The mists were starting to form again, it would be hard to follow, but the challenge to catch them about their mischievous; or even criminal activity was too great.

Hold back and then when they did not expect it he would spring a trap, alert the village, and become a hero. He smiled; they would toast him for a week at the tavern.

He waited a few moments, as much to increase the challenge as to ensure he was not discovered. After all he carried no weapon of his own, and even if he had, possibly five armed men were far too much of a match; even though he remembered smugly that he had been told a knife was placed in his hand at birth.

Nicholas started moving down and over to the tied animals: slowly but not too secretively to startle them. As he approached he heard them shuffle their feet as they caught his sent, now no longer blown away on the wind. The animals were untroubled by him, and once they had glanced his way they went back grazing on the long grass. He became bolder and stepped closer seeing now the reason for their silent approach, the hooves had been wrapped in cloth to deaden any sound. Another thought came to him as a shock. These were not the horses of common men; dull work animals, with the sparkle taken out of their eye through too many years with the sun in front, and a plough behind. The thought troubled him, as it could mean these men were part of the guard, but the nearest garrison was hours away and he could see that their coats showed no sign of sweat and their breathing was easy. They had not been ridden hard, or far

He became even more cautious as doubt plagued his mind. He was almost able to touch the nearest and moved round to its side, careful not to frighten the beasts. As if it knew his thought it stopped eating and lifted its head towards him; looking not in fear, but curiosity.

The Large moon had by this time risen high enough so that he could see the saddles, and that they had markings and ornaments hanging from them. Nicholas hand reached out to touch them as he whispered to the animal. “Easy…easy.” His words trailed away as he discovered that the shiny brass had been covered with a thin coating of axle grease and soil. His interest growing he brushed a little of the grime away.

The emblem fell from his fingers as if it burnt. He knew now that this was none of his business. These were the saddles of men of the guard of Quone-Loc-Sie. Whatever their mission, it was definitely none of his concern.

Backing away he saw one last thing

The horse was still staring at him; its eyes sharp and penetrating, as if it was waiting for him to do something. Nicholas smiled and lifted his hand. “Do not tell your master I was here,” he whispered his fingers touching its brow. As if in reply the horse flicked its ears and Nicholas saw it displayed a perfect white star on the back of its right fore. By some strange quirk of nature this animal carried the symbol of the sky, and its mystery. “Shah…” he breathed. “I shall go as I came.” He backed away thinking how apt it was, black as night with the brightest star, and the fire of the sun in his eyes. This was a prince of horses.

 

Nicholas made his way back to Boramulla by the longest route. He did not wish to meet anyone more this evening, especially five of the guard.

The mists were now down, and as thick as they would be for the rest of the night. He could see for perhaps twenty meters, and maybe another ten past that as vague shadows.

Within his reduced world, his footsteps were all that could be heard, all sounds from deeper out in the mist had been smothered as if one had placed a thick blanket over them. But he had no real need for sight, this had been a route taken many times, in daylight and dark since he had been a young boy.

He guessed the time would be past nine when he approached his home. It was the first building he would come to, as the village itself was further down the road. Though at this time he would be unlikely to see anyone. All working folk would be asleep, and any others would be in the tavern, even further down towards the river.

As the shape of the building formed in the mist there was a flash of light from the front of the house, as if someone had opened and shut the stout oak door.

His parents would be in bed, as he should too, likely it was Philip, but it may be that there was a sickness. His pace quickened.

His feet crunched on the loose gravel path that led up from the gate, and he pushed open the door.

A lantern was still lit at the far end of the room next to the kitchen. But the room was empty. His mind relaxed, they were in bed but had left a light for him. Nicholas walked to the lantern and glanced into the kitchen.

It was as if some great vacuum sucked the breath from his body. He stood riveted to the spot and stared, unable to accept what he saw.

Face down; half sprawled on the table, lay both his mother and brother. The great slab of thick timber worn smooth over generations in labour of love was now stained with their blood

That they were dead; there could be no doubt. Long cooking knifes still penetrated their bodies to the hilts.

Nicholas felt nausea well up in him and spun away; retching in the corner: leaning against the wall lest his legs should give way and he crumple into a heap of despair.

He needed help. Turning back toward the front door he now saw his father laid face down on the floor, half hidden by the old couch.

His father seemed to be asleep, or drunk, though Nicholas had never known him to take excess ale other than on special occasions. Anguish overwhelmed him as he ran to the man and gently turned him over. In his bloodstained chest close to his heart was Nicholas's own knife, a small but deadly weapon that he used to throw at tree trunks for pleasure.

His father barely clung to life. Nicholas knelt and held him in his arms, resting the dying man’s head upon his shoulder. “Father.” he wept.

The man's eyes opened a little at his voice. “Nicholas?” he groaned painfully. “...Thank god your alive...” he coughed up blood. “Leave here… run… I... should have known… I should have told...” The knife moved with each the man’s pained words.

With his left hand Nicholas carefully pulled the blade from his father's chest. Fresh blood spurted out. Nicholas tried in vain to stem the wound with his bare hand. His pouring tears mingling with the blood as it spread over his own clothes. “I’ll get help.” He sobbed but he knew no one could.

Wait...” his father gasped urgently. “…I must tell you…”

Be quiet. Be still father. Help is coming.” But Nicholas knew it was impossible to halt the flow. The wound was too deep, the cut too wide. The blade had found its mark too well. “I will get help.” He wept. “All will be well. You will see.” He lied, the words choking him as they passed his lips. A feeling of hopelessness and dread overwhelmed him.

His father spoke again. “It is time...” He coughed again, more blood trickling from between his lips. “You must seek the rebellion… for already it may be too late?” He coughed again. “There is so much… we have waited too… long...” The man’s words trailed off as the first throes of death squeezed the life from his proud heart. “Find Simeon... The rebellion...” and with those words his life drained from him.

Nicholas wept uncontrollably; he had no idea for how long. His body ached with such deep sorrow that he paid no heed to the clamor around the open door, or the group of village folk who stood there.

At last he gently laid his father on the floor, stood.

See. He still holds the knife.” called one sharply.

Aye and his father’s blood wet upon his hands.” said another.

All Nicholas could do was stare at them.

The blacksmith, a burly man had pushed to the front.

Give me the knife,” he said softly. “Your deeds here are finished, now it is time you must come with us.”

Nicholas was about to walk over to them until his stunned mind recognized accusation in the voice.

No. No. I did not...” He said desperately, his mind torn between grief, and growing disbelief. “Please help me… I... they... I have but just walked through the door... Please help me,” he begged.

The tone was soft, yet accusing as the smithy spoke. “It is not up to us. You must come and tell of how it happened to the Alderman.”

You waste time”, said a voice from the back. There were now a number of men jostling to get through the doorway, and into the room with the smell of ale strong upon their breath. “See he holds the knife...” The unseen man continued.

The blade in Nicholas’s hand suddenly felt like a burning ember and he threw it towards the open fireplace.

What has happened here is as clear as the nose on your face... even if we had not evidence of the fight.”

For the first time Nicholas caught sight of two soldiers. One a captain in the guard of Quone-Loc-Sie: it was he who now spoke. “I bear witness to that. And to this being the man, foul murder that he is. We need no more. Take him and let justice be done.” The mob lunged forward now that Nicholas was unarmed.

Nicholas could not believe what was happening, but he realized that his situation was grave, and would not improve in the hands of a drunken rabble. He turned to the only escape within his reach, a low opening to a shaft leading to the roof. Quickly he was through it and climbing two rungs at a time up the ladder set against the wall. He had given no thought of where he was going or why, he just ran in blind panic, followed closely by the shouting and curses of the mob.

At the top of the shaft he twisted his head sideways thrusting his shoulder up at the closed hatch without a pause, and snapping it back over against its hinges.

Once out onto the partially flat roof he slammed the cover back over the hole, jumping up onto it so that his weight would hold it shut. Nicholas sat there too stunned to think. He could feel them hammering below, others were running about outside the building looking for a way up. He had broken out in a sweat of fear. Why was this happening; he was a victim too. He hadn't done anything wrong. Why wouldn't they let him explain? He needed time. Tomorrow the alcohol would be soaking into the grass, and the blood lust would be gone; then they would listen, but now he had to get away

The roof was surrounded by a low parapet. The nearest storehouse was across a gap of some three meters. That was the store of preserving materials. There was nothing else on the roof, or near the roof. He felt the hatch beneath him lifting and heard the Smithy grunting and swearing. He couldn't hold it down forever. There was no other way.

Nicholas jumped off, running back several meters he spun kicking himself off the opposing wall and tore across the roof. The smithy was half out of the opening as he ran by. The man reached out his fingers briefly tugging on his coat, before the material ripped from his grasp.

The wall came up fast and for a moment Nick thought he had mistimed his steps, but thrusting his foot out with all his strength, he leapt.

There was shouting as he sailed over the men below, and between the two buildings. For a second neither he nor those wishing him to fall, thought he would make it; but he did, crashing half over the parapet of the adjoining roof. The breath was violently knocked from him as his chest impacted against the solid crete. Ignoring the pain his fingers scrabbled for a hold. For long seconds he hung half on, half off, recovering his breath. Then to the dismay of the baying mob below Nicholas clambered over and dropped onto the roof.

The buildings were not very high, but to follow him over that distance was enough of a risk to deter his pursuers, and those on the ground were now running in all directions, completely confused by the myriad instructions being shouted down to them from men now pouring onto the other roof.

Alongside where he stood ran the gangway. It climbed up to the top of the bulk stores to allow the grain to be tipped down into the storedomes; it was along this that Nicholas ran.

By the time he was at the end they had gained the second rooftop and at last started up after him. He looked back. He could see those on the first roof scrabbling to get back down the shaft. There were very few where he could see now. He guessed the others would all be making for the ramp, or in the store, or coming up the ladder. He was trapped. In seconds they would be upon him, justified in their accusations by how he had attempted to flee.

He looked over the side. The smooth crete fell away from him; below was quiet and deserted. As a boy he and a friend had for a dare slid down the side of this very same storehouse. That time he had earned himself a broken leg for his trouble, and punishment from his father when that had healed.

He stepped over the rail, holding it behind him he let himself down onto his back. Holding his arms and legs stretched out to prevent rolling, and his head up from the scraping of the crete. He let go. “By the powers of mercy, don't let me break my leg again.” he muttered as he felt himself slide away.

The slight ridges became as large as rails, every one banging against his spine; the friction heated his clothes as the earth zoomed toward him and the crete disappeared into a blur. He relaxed his legs hoping to cushion the impact.

With a heavy thump he stopped, his body was thrown up and he collapsed forwards into a heap, and lay still on soft earth in acceptable pain. In the dim light he guessed, but mainly by the smell, that he had come to rest in the house animal pen. At least here the ground had been soaked in water and trodden into mud by the creatures.

High above he could hear voices. They seemed confused. The confidence replaced by calls of questions. It would not take long for them to realize where he had gone, so he lifted himself up onto his knees. He ached all over, but there were no broken bones. Shouts were raised again, maybe his escape had not gone unnoticed, or his pursuers had guessed quickly of the slide.

Nicholas was off again; he ran to the timber rail, once over the fence he made for the forest. If he could reach there he may lose them in the mists, or at least gain time to think.

He had age and sobriety on his side, and was soon into the first field. This one not been tended since before the dry, and with the exception of the occasional clump of high grass the ground under him was swift going. The following three fields were different, these were the ones he had crossed on the way to Jonathon’s and had been freshly ploughed. He sank, stumbled, and fell all the way across them, and at the far side felt considerably fatigued.

But he was now into the edge of the forest, and had gained some distance. Here it was lightly timbered, but with innumerable young trees. After falling over two of these saplings Nicholas decided it would be safer to skirt around the edge and follow the path until he could lose himself in the heavily timbered woodland

Dozens of times he ran off the trodden surface, and into the long grass. It slowed him down but it was still preferable to more collisions with trees. He was covered in grazes on his face and hands. It would have been worse if it had not been for the cloak, but even that was by now half torn to shreds.

He fell again, this time his forehead hitting a glancing blow on a rock, he lay there for some time his mind floated in the state between consciousness and sleep; shaking his head he stumbled once more to his feet. He couldn’t see where he was anymore. Besides the mist, his sight was deteriorating in one eye. Likely blood was running into it from the blow. But he forced on knowing somewhere ahead was the forest and safety. He was tiring and the cloak hung heavy; soaked from waist down through contact with the long moist grass. His breath came in noisy gasps, and his head throbbed. A less fit man than he would have succumbed to the desire for rest a long time ago, but he pushed himself on. He had to escape. He would tell them all what had happened, but not now, not to a rabble intent on swift justice.

There had to be time to think, to put the facts together, to try to make sense out of a senseless act. Then he could convince them that it was not of his doing. He was sure of that.

A sharp pain ran down his shoulder as he ran into another unseen tree. Then the soft cold feel and smell of wet grass and ferns smothered his face as the earth came up to meet him. Nicholas lay still.

He could hear them. They were still following. Though some distance off: it was hard to know for sure as the mist softened the sounds. But there was no mistaking the new sound to his ears. A baying; they had brought up hounds.

He was stricken with fear. Up to now there had been a chance that his pursuers could be confused at which direction to follow. The mists were thick upon the ground, and unless they had a similar knowledge of this part of the woods as he did, they could go round in circles for hours without knowing.

But hounds you could not fool, they would seek as one who could see through the mists, as indeed they could. Their senses would guide them as if they were following a man with a lighted torch. Nicholas staggered up on his feet yet again. 'If I can make it to the great river, it may be possible to plunge in and swim some distance out', he thought. 'Then the current may carry me to safety?'

He fell heavily again, some creature had dug a home for itself and family, and he had stumbled into it. His legs hurt; his heart felt as if it would tear from his chest.

It was still some distance to the riverbank, but there was a chance, if he could only remember which way it was.

The followers were now hot onto his trail, coming as straight as an arrow. He knew that, but thankfully they still seemed some distance behind.

The clothes he wore had now become totally saturated from the wet grass. The chill of the night air stung his burning throat as he gulped great gasps. He took solace in the fact that his pursuers would be in a similar sorry way. But without the overwhelming desire of escape to drive them on, they may give up and come again on the morrow, on horseback properly organized. It was a hope, but a little one. For now he must keep making for the river, tomorrow he could make his way back to Jonathon’s. It would go well for him to offer himself to his friends. They would see that all was done to speak his case. No sane person would believe that he could have murdered his own parents; it was beyond belief. On the morrow all would be well.

His mind came back to an object in front of him. He realized in alarm that it was a horse and on it a rider. The man was laughing, and calling to unseen others. “See; here he comes, like a moth to the flame.” and with that he laughed out aloud. Others materialized out of the mist. Two: three, four other riders. Nicholas stopped and stood; there was no point in going on, they could easily run him down.

Behind he could hear the dogs and men, coming onto the scene with shouts and cheers, both baying at the end of their hunt.

He was too tired to move any more. All was lost; they would not believe him now, now that he had run. That alone was proof of guilt, guilt of a horrendous crime. He had played his last card, and lost.

Only one thing was on his mind now. It was the white star on the ear of the horse before him. No longer ridden by a dark cloaked figure, now the rider wore the blue uniform of the soldier, with the yellow sash of a captain of the Quone-Loc-Sie guard.

They were all around him now as the captain moved beside him, and called out to the mob. “This is the youth I saw arguing with the old man. We were on the other side of the Holokai hedge.” He continued. “…At that distance we heard his shouted threats of violence against his own peaceful family. I swear there is no doubt. This is the one.”

And no doubt.” called another of the four excitedly. “As you all witnessed he held the bloody weapon with which he took his own fathers life.” His voice rose.” Justice must be done.” There were shouts all around Nicholas as blood lust carried thought past reason.

He wanted to scream out that they were wrong. He had loved his parents and brother. They couldn’t be more wrong. But before he could speak the captain’s leather booted foot lashed out, catching Nicholas full in the face. He fell onto his back, his eyes clouding over with a red mist; the blood from one or more dislodged teeth tasting salty in his mouth.

He sensed rather than saw that the other soldiers were dismounting, as his pursuers closed about him. He groaned as the steel cap of a military boot dug deep into the side of his ribcage. Feebly he raised his arms in a pathetic defense, as it seemed every one of the mob began kicking him.

Once, maybe twice they stopped, and he was dragged to his unsteady feet and held, while uncountable punches pummeled every part of his body. Then they would let him collapse and began kicking again. It seemed it would never end, and all that existed was excruciating pain. Then suddenly it was over and the men backed off. He wasn’t aware of the heavy wooden club coming down. It was long after his body had become numb from the tough leather toecaps and beating of clenched fists. It was almost a relief as he felt the thin bone of his skull give way beneath the cudgel. Instantly there was nothing.

Download from Amazon...... Return to australianstoryteller.com