Yesterday I was whittering on a bit on Facebook about a story I had written part of during Nanowrimo, well I wanted to share with you how it is looking...feedback very welcome...and you might need a cup of tea as its medium length..
The force of each foot as it pounded the ground caused ripples along his thigh muscles and his bones vibrated in response. His pace was quick and even, but if he wanted to reach the gate in time, then he would need to find the energy to increase his speed.
It was a daily ritual that he went through, a self-imposed challenge to see how late he could leave it and still make it through, and he hadn’t been beaten yet. As he drew nearer he could see the gap between the gates ever shrinking, he had to slide through sideways, and held his breath as he did so.
He looked around at the steel box that provided a holding station for those waiting to return to Isletunna (his homeland beneath the earth’s surface). The box protected them from the unknown dangers that waited outside for them at nightfall and as he joined the queue to descend he wondered how many people had perished in its construction. Isletunna had no record of its construction; there were no history books that existed before his birth and very few that had been written since. Each day as he waited, he often thought about it and wondered what life was like for those living in Isletunna back then; he couldn’t remember anything of his life before he was 8.
The queue tonight seemed longer than usual and he grew impatient with waiting. In the past delays were almost unheard of as so few ventured out, but as each day passed more and more people wanted to see what it was like. The entryway was rudimentary, a hole in the ground with a ladder that you climbed down, that led you to the main exit/entry tunnel to Isletunna and then it was as though the ground opened up in a magnificent cavern with small caverns and tunnels spread out like tentacles from the centre. His father hated tardiness and although he had felt his wrath many a time, he had strong beliefs that were often in conflict with him, he didn’t want to argue over something as petty as time-keeping. He knew it was an abuse of power but he strode to the front of the queue and asserted his position in the hierarchy by removing the cape that covered his Royal Armour. The people of Isletunna queuing there, on seeing his armour, knelt on the ground and in a hushed whisper they recited the laws of Isletunna. The guards were not required to kneel but they avoided eye contact all the same.
Addressing the low ranking soldier who was guarding the tunnel, he asked, ‘What is causing the delay, Soldier?’ The soldier recognised him straight away as the Crown Prince of Isletunna, Prince Matthias Benjamin Dex (Dex to his friends), and unsure of the proper protocol he half-curtsied and replied, ‘Your Highness, there is an obstruction, something has blocked the entryway.’
‘And is someone looking at it?’ he queried further, ‘Yes, my comrade went to investigate an hour ago but he has not returned. I think I shall have to go and check too.’ Dex’s impatience hadn’t subsided and if the Soldier went that would leave his post empty, pushing the soldier aside Dex declared that he would go instead and without waiting for a response he began to clamber down the shaft that lead to the entry tunnel.
He knew the route as well as he knew himself, and yet he couldn’t find it the doorway into Isletunna. The place where it should have been, it no longer seemed to, all that was there was earth, it was almost as if the tunnel had healed up. He removed some of the earth but as each handful was dislodged, the hole it left was instantly refilled. He repeated the process and each time the same thing happened. It made no sense to him but it did remind him of a tale that was told on many an evening in the royal cove, a tale that he had always thought to be fictional, he never imagined it could be a true story.
He headed back along the tunnel and climbed up to meet the waiting soldier and the people who had, like him, left returning home until the last possible moment. As he emerged from the ground the people returned to their knees and started to recite again, it was an old rule that his father thought highly of, but one that he found annoying. However, in this instance he found it to be to his benefit as their hushed whispers drowned out any hint of panic in his voice as he told the soldier that the entrance had been closed, that it was enchanted by a magic he didn’t know, and that maybe the Magi of Isletunna had returned.
The soldier he had spoken to looked as though he would swallow his tongue when Dex mentioned the Magi. Dex realised that he would need to take control of the situation, to keep everyone calm and to find a way in, he wasn’t too concerned as he knew that his father would come in search of him if he didn’t return. The people came to the surface not only to see the sun and feel its warmth on their skin but to forage for foodstuffs and medicines. It was something they had done since his birth, and he could see that they had plenty of food to keep them well fed until morning, and so he suggested to the soldier to tell them to settle down and be prepared to spend the night sleeping in the container.
One of Isletunna laws said that Royalty could not speak to those who were not in the employment of or of the same standing as them, another rule his father was obsessed with that he thought pointless, and the reason that he wore the cape on the surface; it gave him the freedom to live as one of the people, without all these rules. Dex was about to instruct the Soldier to tell the people what was happening when instead he told him to inform them that from this moment on until the door to Isletunna was reopened, they should not think of him as the Crown Prince but as one of them, and that this was a strange situation that they were in and they would need to deal with it together, so they should rise up from their knees and stop reciting the laws.
The soldier’s face changed to that of disbelief, but Dex nodded at him in encouragement and confirmation, the solider cleared his throat and spoke to the people. They were shocked but stood up, , tentative glances to one another as though they felt at any moment they would be struck down, an elderly lady refused to believe it and stayed firmly kneeling on the ground.
Dex went to her, ‘Madam’ he knelt down beside her and placed a hand on her shoulder and felt her body flinch and recoil at his touch, ‘Madam, please rise and be my equal’ he said. The old woman raised her chin and looked at him, his eyes were set in steely determination and she knew he meant the words he spoke; she let him take her arm and help her to stand up. As Dex was about to walk away she touched his elbow, so gently like a whisper, but it sent chills through to his core and he turned back to meet her gaze, ‘I was there…when you were born…when you were brought up here…I was there’ she said in raspy tones that belied her frailty.
Dex had often heard tales of his childhood but his birth was a closely guarded secret, all he knew was that only his parents and the Magi had been there. Something in her eyes made him believe that she was speaking the truth, and he moved back to stand beside her and then, taking her unawares, he knelt down in front of her, took her hand and said, ‘Please, I beg of you, tell me of that day…’ he paused and looked around to see the people watching him in silence, listening to his every word, resting on his every breath. ‘…tell us all, we are eager to know, I am eager to know, no harm will come to you…I promise…’ and he signalled to those around him to kneel beside him and listen to the old woman’s tale of his birth, almost trance-like they did and so she begun,
We had been in the tunnel for many long years, years that had been hard on us, there were few children who had survived our ritual, and we all but had no hope left until the Queen became with child. The Magi of Isletunna had prophesised the birth of our saviour and no-one wanted to dream that the child would survive and be the one.
I was a nurse back then, had learnt my skills young, and I had become a favourite and was lucky enough to have seen many children I birthed survive the blackness.
‘…the blackness?..’ Dex had heard mention of it but no-one would share the details and those kneeling beside him had gasped at its mention too.
It wasn’t an easy job, she continued, more often than not it was a heart breaking job, but the queen asked me herself to be in attendance. She was young, very young, and scared of losing her child. I remember the labour was long and there were moments when I worried more about her survival than that of yours. When you were born you opened your mouth and gave an almighty wail. You had only just entered the world and you could hardly know what your future would be but you gave an enormous cry as if you knew.
‘Knew what? Dex blurted out, the woman’s voice was hypnotic but she spoke as if she knew the future and more specifically his, ‘sorry, please continue’ he said.
The Magi took you to the surface and laid you on the ground; I couldn’t bear to watch but I was too scared to look away. Your lungs drew in great gulps of the toxic gas that filled the atmosphere and we were helpless to do anything but stand by and wait. Your parents looked on in hope, praying that no damage would or had been done to you.
It was the only time I saw your father waver on a Isletunna rule. You know your father does love his rules. When our people had first been forced underground it was due to the desolation of the environment, something our ancestors had done themselves, they didn’t respect it and didn’t realise how life depended on nature to survive. When Isletunna was founded and the laws laid down, they had only one that should never be broken, we were to lay each child at natures mercy out of respect to the Gods. The atmosphere then was heavy with toxins and all the children of Isletunna were to be taken to the surface at birth and forced to breathe those toxins, nature would decide its fate and those that survived the blackness would be allowed to enter back into Isletunna.
‘But the blackness…what was it?’ Dex asked.
Once the baby was laid on the surface by the Magi, they would take their first few breaths. The parents could only watch and hope that their child would not succumb to the blackness, most did and within a minute or two, these small delicate children would begin to cough and splutter and a thick stench of black sludge would dribble from the corners of their mouths, their eyes would roll back in their heads and turn a burnt red, the veins in their bodies would become turgid and ripple beneath the skin as the blackness began to fill them. It would create a map on their bodies like that on the back of a leaf and soon the sludge would burst the veins and begin to emanate through every pore, it would spread over the child and smother it in a hard unrelenting casing. The casings, and the child inside, were left on the surface and their parents would have to return to Isletunna with only the pain of their loss for company. Their tiny bodies had been consumed by the blackness.
As she spoke of the death of the new born infants tears streamed down her crinkled face, but her voice remained steady.
Practically every family in Isletunna had experienced this at some time; you are an only child because the Queen thought she had used her luck on having you. She had clung to your father for those minutes you were on the surface, her knuckles white with fear, her legs still shaking and tired from the birth, and her face splattered with tears and dirt. The King had stood tall and proud and never showed signs of his fear, I doubt he would let it penetrate his armour, although I think even his heart was crumbling into a million pieces at the thought of losing you. They had looked at each other, exchanging glances that spoke a thousand words.
As we all waited for the time to tick by, all your parents could do was watch you lying there, not wanting to hope, not wanting to start loving you, but they couldn’t fight it, it had been instant. I could feel loves warmth in that room.
‘What happened then...’
After 5 minutes you hadn’t presented with any of the symptoms of the disease and after 10 minutes they allowed hope to creep in, after 30 minutes the Magi took you in to be marked with the Seal of Isletunna. You had survived this ritual and they could take you home. As soon as they announced that you had beaten the blackness, the people of Isletunna rejoice. We were right to do so because after your birth, no child who was placed on the surface was ever consumed with the blackness again. The rule was changed and people didn’t have to do it anymore, there was no need, the blackness had gone. Things changed and we slowly started to test the atmosphere for toxins but they were gone. The Magi left too and when they did so the blackness took to the sky, only appearing at nightfall.
You are the reason we are all here today, you are destined to be the new leader of Isletunna, you saved us and that is why we serve you.