THE FEELING BEGINS
|by David Corbett|
Note: The following story is the first chapter of a book-in-progress.
Outside of the quiet room, a wave of activity and voices slowly grew. The first weak groping of the sun slowly unraveled the blanket that night had placed over the land. The air, which during the night had moved as slowly as the bodies that restfully drew it in, also began to take on life. The bodies too, lost in a land of vagueness, began to take on fragile motion, like newly sprung flowers. The shrill yips of children greeting each other, at levels the dead could almost hear, began to pierce the stirring air. Enticed by this, the dogs of the area also commenced their variety of barkings and howlings. Below the cries of the young one, and the yelp of the canines, harder to hear, were the voices of the adults, lowered by age, toil, and concern.
These messengers of the arrival of day, like a worm groping through dumb earth, entered the dreams of a mountainous heap of a man asleep on a pile of dirty straw. The air in the dirty pen gradually became moist, losing the sharpness night had honed, the awakening breath of the crag-like man sending almost visible ripples across the room.
The hillock sighed, a torrent of cascading currents swirling angrily in the rapidly heating room. A mighty yawn, that precursor of action, and a shake of the limbs and wild hair. He looked like a magnificent stallion, with flaring nostrils and eyes stretching to leave their sockets.
The Pear, both title and name of the person now arising, gave the morning a snort in greeting, as he heaved his bulk off his makeshift bed. He rumbled his frame a few steps to a broken shard off a mirror that lay on a dusty wooden box. He picked it up and peered intently at the half of his face he could see.
After a quick study, he reached into a bag near his feet and pulled out of it a handful of material that resembled damp soil. He added this substance to an already swollen and misshapen face, patting it down here, pushing it together elsewhere. The effect of this was to add more to the inclines in his topographical face, the raises and rows punctuated dramatically.
From another small bag, a few pinches of a powdery grey substance. This he threw into his face. After the Pear quit coughing he again contemplated his visage. Eyes of common brown, unremarkable except for a sliver of intelligence heralded by dancing motes of light, gauged his new appearance closely, checking for discrepancies or errors. Boils and huge welts that had only yesterday run rampant across his sorrowful face now were once more present, due to his artistry. Now the Pear was again a figure of horror and fascination.
The Pear intoned solemnly a few nonsense words, and waved one arm in a seemingly random circle above his head. The air, which had felinely clung to his bulk, now suddenly breezed out of the room through every hole and jagged crack available.
The Pear sat back down on the insect-infested straw heap and closed his eyes. Still early in the morning and already the heat was becoming unbearable. At midday it would become almost deadly, the skies surrendering to the angry sun. There would be reprieve from neither shadow nor rain. At first this never-seen-before weather was regarded with a mixture of thankfulness and amusement. Now with crops desiccated and wells offering little water, the people of this region were quickly dying. Some people packed their few belongings and moved away. They were regarded as cowards and weaklings. But the Pear knew that a few weeks away they were being deluged with torrential rains. In the mountains of Allain, the peaks of which could be discerned with a keen eye, they were plagued with earthquakes and avalanches. In the lowlands of the Salt Plains it was snowing. The weather had reversed itself completely, and despondence ruled the hearts of man. From what the Pear could tell even the neighboring provinces of Dealia were experiencing deadly oddities in their weather. He sighed again. It was going to drive him near mad, this sitting in a furnace.
* * *
The Pear sat regally on an old and splintered trunk. He surveyed the gathered crowd as confidently as any seasoned king. A small herd of children crouched and sat in a small semi-circle around the throne the storyteller was heaped on. The adults were seated at rough wooden tables, filling the space between the Pear and the door, They talked about raids on farmsteads, the arrogance of local tax collectors, and of course, the ruinous weather.
After a short time of staring at the huge, immobile figure on the trunk, the children began to fidget, and to urge the Pear to begin.
To high-pitched voices calling “Tell us a story about Fern!”, the Pear slowly came out of his reverie. Young, wide eyes stared at him, as others clamored their agreement.
The Pear spread his large and dirt-stained hands wide in a placating gesture. “Surely your little heads are already filled to overflowing with that great person's countless heroics …”
A chorus of “no's” bounced off the walls of the inn. The adults, who all the while had been keeping an ear on the traditional topic-choosing, silently added their “no's” to their children's.
The Pear smiled broadly, causing a few of the more faint-hearted onlookers to turn away. “Any passing peddler or worthless bard could happily stuff your ears with that nonsense. And were I to add my voice to their cacophony, then I would be resigning myself to a place amongst the less-gifted. No, that is something I would not care for, so instead I shall weave you a story of romance, determination and courage.
"Let me begin. There was a grand kingdom that rivaled and perhaps surpassed our beloved own. Fair and sprightly were both body and mind of all its inhabitants, and the kingdom prospered as one with gold in their veins. A glad homage was willingly offered up each day to the rulers and their rustic gods, such was the nobility and simplicity of these people. An idyllic existence, even for the workers who toiled in the fields.
"The ruler of this land was a mighty man of girth and sparkle. He had founded the kingdom in his early years, and like him, the kingdom flourished and grew. He had but one daughter to dole his attentions on. A daughter hardened as Realm. I could not start to describe her gestures or stature; it will be enough to say that she gave the poets swollen tongues, as they were confounded with trying to capture in words her beauty. The adoring multitudes of the populace eagerly listened to and retold verse and prose, all claiming to describe her presence, all failing.
"And now, of course, I will tell you about a boy. A herder of ragged beasts and ardent worshipper of rocky coulees and carpeted gorges. What is that? Well, yes, he is important; aren't you the bright child! This boy lived alone with his goats, and rarely encountered people, preferring to walk untroubled and undaunted on the outskirts of civilization. He believed, as do I, that the gods are found in deafening rainstorms, in parched thirst, in thick piles of deadwood, in the air just before the sun shows his back. He led a happy, content life. Well, one day, as was wont in that kingdom, there was held a grand royal pageant. This was a festival that occurred quite frequently, as it gave all the subjects of the kingdom a chance to bask in each other's goodness.
"During one event, in which the royal family rode their horses in mock battle commemorating an ancient battle, Realm's horse was stung by a cloud of wasps, and it ran madly off, or perhaps it ran sanely off as you would know if you've ever been stung by one. Anyway, the horse ran off, with Realm clinging on tenaciously. Perhaps the stinging was the work of some unknown malevolent force, or a simple accident, I can't say. But the princess was thrown off her horse eventually, tumbled down a steep incline, and hit her head on a trunk, forcing the un-sleep upon her.
"She awoke a time later to see the sickly pale green eyes of the Uluki coming towards her. For those here who have not heard of these hideous monsters, I will describe them as best I can, having thankfully never encountered them on my travelings. They stand a head taller, at least, than the tallest man you have here in the village. They are thin in the shoulder and chest, but have strong legs, with which they hunt their prey relentlessly, for days. Their hands come to an end in wicked jagged claws. They have pale yellow or white hair, and they speak to each other in whistles and gestures, not possessing the intellect for speech like we have … and now they were coming for Realm. She began to scream for help, any courage and will she had quickly losing to wisdom and fright. And her call was answered. Yes, that's right. The Goat-boy. In a whirl of precision and passion, he slew the two Uluki with crushing blows of his crook. And then he looked at her. It is said that in that kingdom, there was a pause in time, and that every man and woman for whom time and familiarity had dulled the passion between, there came a sort of whetstone, and they looked at each other as when they had first met.
"Realms face was that which the herder had drawn, nights countless, in the blazing watching lights. And his was the visage that swelled her body with air that seemed scalding, for it was he whom she had glimpsed in calm waters from the corners of her wondrous eyes.
"As they gazed fiercely at each other, the King and his retainers came thundering down the slope onto the unfolding scene. He was a very wise man, as is our current King, and seeing his daughter and a scruggish peasant staring at each other in a way he remembered well, he knew his voice was one which could only say yes to this union. Thus, the princess Realm, and the goat-tender known as Anniche, came to be together.
"Even though the shepherd was on the same societal level as the beasts he tended, he was eagerly accepted by the populace as Realms suitor. They could see his strength and character, and besides, love had brought out spring in Realm. She had blossomed into an earthbound angel, and there were no more poems striving to breathe the same air as she, for the poets realized finally they could never honor her as they wished. Even the numerous suitors and hopefuls seemed not altogether bitter, for they lost no personal honor in their complicated hierarchy that the higher-born love to ravel, as Anniche was outside of the court intrigue. Yes, this was a time of happiness, of bountiful reaping, when the lives of the populace, never dull, seemed as refreshed as that of their mountain water.
"And now for the villains. They were expectant princes and lords from other kingdoms, desirous of the beauty of both princess and land. And a few of them brandished smiles as pointed weapons. These so passed over seethed and pounded the earth. 'A commoner?' they sneered, 'Grain? No different in texture or substance than one who spends their life as a slave.' They decided that at the least one of them should be prince, and eventually king, and that they would stop the upcoming marriage by killing Anniche. But, carried away by their brilliance, and by their greed, they began to plot to take both princess and land by force of arms. So, while some of these wretched sons of royalty worked on the assassination of the soon-to-be-prince, others, with teeth like daggers, talked to their fathers, and to their vassals. And a mighty war band was formed. On the borders of the fair kingdom they frothed. The people of the threatened land put aside their scythes and chisels, and took up instead swords and bows.
"At first the new prince was delegated to a position far behind the battle lines, but as defeat visited the kingdom's forces, his position was overwhelmed. He led the counterattack, and stopped the impetus of the invaders. In a series of battles that followed, it was Anniche who was the soft-spoken mastermind behind the strategies of the defenders, and it was his valor and leadership in the fore of the clashes that inspired those whose thoughts had turned to rout.
"Of course, the disgruntled invaders could not help noticing the peasant whipping their army, and so they quickly and deviously acted.
"During the next battle, while the Prince again was leading his peasant army, and thrashing the rabble the invaders had under their command, an assassin sat amidst the foliage of an on-looking tree. Picked specifically for his unparalleled skill, the master marksman waited and waited, then let the perfect shot loose. The poisoned arrow leapt in the air. The Prince was just beginning to raise the pursuit cry, when the arrow struck his moving arm. It pierced his right hand, knocking him off his horse with its momentum. Immediately Anniche could feel his limbs weakening and burning, and his eyesight fading. Awkwardly, with his shield hand he fumbled on the ground until he found the hilt of his sword. Gritting his teeth he raised the blade, and hacked off his hand at the wrist. The spurting blood that gushed out onto the already sodden field carried with it much of the poison that lurked within his system. His followers milled about him, protecting their dying leader, until one of them had the correct idea of applying a torch to the oozing limb. Anniche screams so frightened the enemy that they retreated miles past their normal withdrawal distance.
"The shepherd's pain was so intense, and such was their unusual bond, that the princess, miles away, felt the same anguish, and pitched unconscious onto the path she was walking on, joining her love in the un-sleep. As her ladies fluttered about, from the surrounding flowers and bushes came a band of grim-faced men, dressed in burgundy, and they quickly slew the maidens. As silently as they had appeared, they left, taking Realm with them.
"The prince awoke days later in the royal castle, and when the news was told to him by the King about his love, he turned grey, and his easy smile disappeared. The invaders had begun to win each battle now, and they pressed closer to the castle. It seems that the princess was not really that important after all to them, merely a pretext for invasion and conquest. For a short time Anniche assumed his old command, but his head hung heavy, and his dreams were torturing him into a state of insanity. Consulting with the King, he decided to find his princess, and he set off alone. Such was his love for Realm that there existed a tremulous connection between them, which was how he had first come upon and rescued her. This link acted as an attachment of devotion, and drew the prince unerringly closer to his princess.
"In those old days, there were such things as witches and warlocks, and foul monsters beyond count and name. Through agonizing triumphs, for he had to fight left-handed, over beasts both small and great, the prince neared the place where the invaders had assumed Realm safe from any army. Far north in the cold mountains of K’al he found her. Their meeting I cannot speak of, the pain and joy of such a reunion sure enough to hasten tears from the most bitter and hardened of us.
"So it was with bursting hearts and worried souls that they began the long journey home. Neither could guess at the outcome of their beloved kingdom's fate. However, there was a more immediate problem. Although the princess was hardy and determined, she was weakened by her captivity, and the trials the prince had faced to find her would be much worse, for now the evil he had passed through was alert. So the trek home began, and it was indeed a nightmare. I shall spare you the countless heroic deeds performed by the lovers. But one night, with dire creatures slithering and clicking, the princess was stung, and poisoned. And as she lay dying in her true love's arms, her eyes, more beautiful than the moons, already had begun to glaze, and she fought to look into the prince's face. And she said in a voice that would silence the birds, 'I promise to find you again.' And she died. And the prince died too, for his grief and sorrow, unnamable by mere words, fractured his spirit, for it he lost half of himself. He lived as an animal for a space of many years. Gradually normality of sorts returned to his feral thoughts, and he wondered at the kingdom's state. He made his way to that kingdom's border, and stopped. Where once had been verdant growth and healthy life, there was now only a greyish yellow waste, as far as his stunned eyes could see. Bewildered, he wandered into the desert, but everything had been devastated beyond his comprehension. The prince was captured by an enemy patrol, who recognized his disfigurement. He was taken to a far-off city and executed. He never spoke a single word after his farewells to his one love, Realm."
"The Pear stretched and smiled. He picked up a full vessel of wine that had been warming throughout his story, and quickly downed it. The audience began to applaud, thumping their weathered fists on wooden tables. A few coins of meager worth clattered around the feet of the story-teller, and the children began to fight over who would pick them up to give to the Pear. A few of the grain, seasoned by work, had been touched in their husken hearts, and they sat there in a sort of rapture. And if the face of the Pear had shifted, if one fold of voluminous flesh had dropped below where it could possibly have been, or if one sunken eye began to change colors, none that may have noticed mentioned it. *
copyright ©1998 by David Corbett <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Illustration copyright ©1998 by Romeo Esparrago <email@example.com>