vrijdag 20 februari 2015

Stone: Chapter 8


            Theresa had a difficult time. Her tasks were all kinds of domestic activities as there were preparing meals, repairing all sorts of clothing, washing and cleaning. She was used doing these things, but she never had a boss above her to whom she had to answer for. She knew she could do all these assignments to the perfection, but Kulkadan was impossible. Her new master wasn’t happy with anything. One time she had baked his flesh too long, another time it was too raw. The times he wasn’t happy about his meals, he mostly threw away the dish and food at her head. In this way, the first time he did this, she had caught a blue eye because she couldn’t duck in time. The next time it happened, she was quicker and dodged the dangerous projectile. Theresa was a fast learner.
            However, she couldn’t trust the brutal warrior. She tried as less as possible to come into his reach. Unexpectedly, he could take a swing and he beat her for nothing. Theresa had the personality of a kind soul, but now she learned to hate. She also knew she couldn’t hold forever. Once he would slap her in the face too hard and that would be the end of her. Maybe she could get hold of a knife in her despair and would try to kill him. She knew this was wishful thinking because she couldn’t compete with such a bully being a woman.
            Still, she had mercy upon one of the young women Kulkadan had chosen. Her guess, that she would be a toy for him, soon became true. Without any cause, even during a meal, he tore her clothes from her body and abused her in the most horrible ways. When Theresa, powerless to keep him from doing this, had turned away to not have to witness this behavior, he had called for one of his soldiers.
            ‘Let her watch, soldier,’ he growled while he pushed Talia, one of the young women against the ground. ‘If she dares closing her eyes, kill her.’ He had, with a cruel smile on his face, done the most disgusting things to Talia and Theresa was forced to look at it. Quite a lot of tears had been shed because of her powerlessness in this situation. Afterwards, she had taken care of the young woman trying to console her after Kulkadan had left the tent.
            After a few days travelling through the Forest of Bandar, she had seen the wizard for the first time. First she thought it was a priest. With his bloody red habit, he looked like a religious man. When he lowered his hood, she knew this couldn’t be a man of God. It wasn’t the brutal cruelty of Kulkadan she recognized, but more a subcutaneous evil she unconsciously felt. The glance in his eyes burned with a mad and heavy fire. His wild black hair gave him a threatening appearance and on his lips there always was a cruel grin testifying of his evil intentions.
            There was a haze around him. The air around him curled somehow as if he gave warmth. Theresa also had seen he didn’t leave marks on the ground. The place where he put his feet stayed untouched. Branches he walked on didn’t break. That’s why she knew this man had powers a normal person didn’t have. She had heard of wizards, but she had never met one.
            When one of the guards outside Kulkadan’s tent had fallen asleep during his watch and his leader had burst out in rage, she had seen a demonstration of his powers. Kulkadan had shouted an order at the red wizard. This man lifted his arms and between his fingers sparkles ignited a fire on the palm of his hands. With a wild gesture, the wizard threw two flaming bolts at the whining soldier. Theresa would never forget this image because it was engraved in her brains. The man’s skin started to melt before her eyes. She saw the blood boiling that came free and, while he collapsed already dead, his bones fell out of their protecting shell. Inside and around his body, she saw sparkles as little flashes of lightning, and his bones pulverized till there were only a little bit of ashes left.
            Afterwards, she heard whispering his name between the warriors with fear and respect and from that moment on when she heard the name of Masaga, the wizard in the red habit, she trembled with fear. She wondered how nobody tracked down such a large group of Dulkas who were travelling through the forest. On one hand, they were protected by the trees, but the sound of such a savage and brutal army could be heard from far away. Just as in all the other departments Spira had a detachment of the Royal Forces in their region. It would surprise Theresa if this force of war should stay unnoticed. However, the wizard was the reason they could travel without a sound. On one of the mornings following the incident with Talia, Theresa had seen how he provided this magic.
            With a wide movement of his arms, Masaga had drawn an arc over the troops. It looked as a soft membrane that covered the forces as a sort of light gray transparent dome. A protecting skin that kept all the sounds inside this space. This muffling dome travelled with them and became smaller or bigger as the army walked closer or more spread. She noticed how the more time had passed, the lighter the color became and she apprehended the effect diminished in time. That’s why Masaga now and then had to renew the dome. Where were they travelling too? What was the meaning of this voyage of the Dulkas? Theresa didn’t know, but she understood this wasn’t good at all.


            Kemir and Adriana got on pretty well with each other. Kemir wasn’t around a lot of girls. Adriana wasn’t really a young girl anymore, but rather a young woman, but the only woman he really knew was his mother and she was aged already. Because of his work at home, he hadn’t the opportunity to make many friends, that’s why he liked it to have someone he could talk to.
            ‘Adriana, are you also an exile, considering you’re living there in Melissa? My mother told me once most of the inhabitants of this city were exiles from Spira, Konteki or Westerend.’
            With her masculine clothes and short cut hair, Adriana looked more like a boy than a girl. She was riding a brown stallion she suitable had called Browns. The gelding of Kemir, White Cloud, was a lot calmer than the stamping impatient horse of Adriana. Browns obviously had taken the lead and never left the leader's position in favor of White Cloud.
            ‘Easy, Browns, I’m the boss here and you have to do what I say,’ Adriana smile when she had to tighten the reins. ‘It’s already a while he has made such a long trip. So he is a less manageable, but he’s never reckless. Isn’t it, Browns?’ Her horse snorted as if he understood and she caressed him on his neck as a reward.
            ‘I, myself, am not an exile to answer your question, but my father was. When I was a little girl, he once had given a punch to a noble who abused a woman. He couldn’t tolerate injustice and always chose the side of the oppressed. It has cost him a lot. He had a beautiful farm he had to leave behind when he was banished with his wife and child to Melissa. It’s my father who made the pen what it now is. Despite the fact he was homesick for his village and his relatives, he was always an optimist. I’ve learned to handle the knives from him. He was a champion, could split a fly whit his knives.’ She was silent for a moment and had it difficult to talk about her memories of her father.
            ‘You’ve been through a lot, Adriana Somp, ‘losing your parent and now maybe your brother kidnapped. But I swear I’ll do everything to help you. You can’t lose courage.’
            Adriana smiled at Kemir. She liked him a lot. Not that she knew a lot of boys in Melissa. Her preference for boy’s clothes and her knives she wore didn’t help to act like a girl or being one for that matter. Her father always told her that if people didn’t take you as you were, it wasn’t worthwhile making an effort.
            Kemir frowned when his eyes roamed the landscape. He turned himself half in the saddle to check something and then looked at the sun. ‘There’s something wrong, Adriana.’
            Adriana was startled and looked around her. She didn’t know what Kemir had discovered, but this was a region where you had to pay attention for predators. The real ones and those of the human race. Robbers, eager for some money or jewels, dare to attack lonely travelers. Unaware she had drawn her knives and was ready to slash possible attackers.
            ‘No, sorry, Adriana, I don’t see an imminent danger. I’ve only got the idea we’re riding in circles. You see that split tree over there on my right side, I could swear we have passed it an hour ago. The sun isn’t in the spot it should be. I’ve never experienced such a thing. Have I been dreaming that I’ve taken a wrong turn?’
            Kemir looked at the trees and the bushes and saw the snapped branches and fallen leaves from the track along which the kidnappers had been travelling. Confident and watching attentively they followed the track. After a little while, Kemir rubbed through his hair. ‘I’ve lost it. Is it possible that I can’t follow a track anymore? I could swear an oath that the last fifteen minutes the track of the horses of the Dulkas was perfectly clear. Now I don’t see it anymore and I’m sure, when I look at the sun, we already ride in a curve.’
            His female companion looked at him with worried eyes. ‘It smells like magic, Kemir. Once there was a wizard passing through Melissa. He could make vanish an object right out of your hand. I don’t know what’s happening, but if you’re riding unconsciously in circles against your will then there’s someone who has caused this abnormality.’
            Kemir never had seen a wizard. His mother had told him about the power of wizards, but he had concluded it was only fairy tales. ‘I’ve got an idea, just ride ten meters behind me. If you see me turning to the right of left, you have to ride in the opposite direction. Every hundred meters you have to shout at me of whistle for me, I’ll join you and we’ll do it again and again. That way we’ll neutralize the deviation.’   
            Adriana liked the idea. They had to try something otherwise they would hang around in the same place forever. She followed him and noticed he made a wide curve to the left. She rode with Browns the same curve, but to the right and whistled for him after a hundred meters. At first Kemir looked surprised, but rode in gallop at her.
            ‘I think it works, Adriana, there I had lost the thread again. But look, on your right side, the branches have been broken. Alright, I’ll go further, we can make some distance before dark if we move on.’
            Their plan worked in a sense that they could follow the tracks. However, they had to do with another problem. The further they got, how less fast their horses walked. It didn’t matter if they urged White Cloud or Browns to make some speed, the horses walked slower and slower.
            ‘It’s getting dark, Adriana. We’re on the right path, but in this way we’re not going to make any distance. Let’s find a place to sleep and we’ll see tomorrow of this spell or what it is, still causes trouble.
            Kemir looked after the horses while Adriana made a fire upon which she prepared the rabbit Kemir had shot earlier in the day with his bow and arrow. After a while, the smell of the roasted young animal reached his nostrils while he was fixing their sleeping place. The water ran down into his mouth and he praised himself lucky he had Adriana with him.
            After a delicious meal, it had become totally dark. Kemir places some dry wood in the fire to make sure it didn’t die after a while. He would take the first watch. In these regions and especially in the Forest of Bandar you couldn’t risk that some predator caught your smell and paid you a visit. Therefore, they had this fire, but someone who stayed awake was still better. Kemir didn’t need much sleep. He was used to it when he was at home to sleep for four hours or even less when there was a lot of work. When Adriana had slept enough, he could take a nap for a few hours in the early morning. It didn’t take long before Kemir heard Adriana’s deep breath and knew she was already deeply asleep.
            Adriana was restless her sleep. In her first dream-sleep, she saw her little brother Jani wrestling in the arms of a giant Dulka. She never had seen a Dulka, but in her sleep, she saw a ferocious type who didn’t look like a normal human and who pulled Jani just like a rag doll behind him. Unaware this nightmare went over in a sort of fog that covered her range of vision. She didn’t see a thing. With her arms before her and taking little steps, she moved on. Suddenly she heard a voice. At first she couldn’t understand the words and couldn’t determine from where the voice came. But with a soft breeze coming up, she began to understand the words which came together and formed sentences.

            ‘The day of tomorrow shall be in nothing compared to… those who still live will be dead… the future will be carved on the rocks.’

            These three sentences were being repeated again and again till the voice slowly diminished and eventually disappeared.
            She didn’t see the face of this man coming and that’s why she was so frightened when she woke up with a cry out of her dream when she saw a distorted and bloody face racing upon her out of the mist. Kemir who had dozed off a bit, jumped up and swayed around with his new broadsword. Adriana trembled as a reed while looking anxiously around her.

© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere

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