Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Escape from Death - Part 1

Having left the Golden Sheaf Monastery to find backers for their daring plan against the Locusts, Storm Wizard and Clarence departed across the long fields towards The Estates, where the wealthy people live.

Meanwhile within the Monastery, inside the Womb of Minvar, Juliette was laying inert on a slab of stone in the dark silence. The Abbess Penelope then returned and chanted an ancient Earth-Song as she placed six candles, six sticks of incense and and six sacred gems around the body of the dead girl.

Juliette, her eyes fixed firmly in the other world, saw sacred stones appear along the shores of the cold black River of Death, which lapped around her ankles. On each stone she saw a fire. And off of each stone stepped a man. And the men came to her over the waters and entered the boat. And they took up the oars. At her command the silent oars men rowed her to the golden shield with the lion’s face on it.

“I’m not ready to die”, said Juliette, and at this the Sun-Lion smiled.

Juliette thought of the symbols of Minvar, but around the river none of the six stones seemed to have any correspondences to the Earth. She saw that there was a mist around the river in which were many dead trees. However, the tree that the Sun-Lion stood near was a living tree. The only living tree. When Juliette began to walk toward the Sun-Lion, she found that one of the oars men, a youth with blond hair and blue eyes, came with her.

“Can you help me to get to the other side?”, asked Juliette of the Sun-Lion.

“As there is night and there is day, I can offer two ways to return to the land from whence you came”, said the Sun-Lion.

“What are the two ways?” asked Juliette, mystified. As she waited patiently for an answer, she noticed a shadow fly over head and land on a branch in the tree. It was a black bird with a red beak and red talons holding a small feather doll. After it settled, ruffled it's feathers and cocked its head to one side for a moment, it began to peck at the little white feather doll.

As that happened Juliette heard splashing in the water, and turned around to see that on the other side of the river a rowboat-sized scorpion was manuvering into the cold black waters with a man standing on its back. The man had long black hair, an elegant purple cape with gold fringe, and beautiful silver sword. He was looking imperiously at Juliette. The scorpion made its way through the strong black currents of the river.

Then Juliette, heard another splash not far from where she was standing, and turning around she saw that this was made by a salmon swimming in the dark waters near the shore. It swam around and around a gray stone that was just below the surface. She thought she could see a symbol engraved on the stone, and it appeared to be a glyph of the constellation of the Fish, whom she knew to be Pisces.

“Do these represent my choices?” she asked of the Sun-Lion.

“Yes and no”, replied the Sun-Lion enigmatically.

Not wishing to be rude, Juliette remained quiet.

“As there is night and there is day, I can offer two ways to return to the land from whence you came”, repeated the Sun-Lion. “The right hand way, or the left hand way. Both of them require a sacrifice”, he added sternly.

“What sacrifice?”, she asked.

“I am forbidden to say”, replied the Sun-Lion.

Perplexed, Juliette answered, “I must think about this.”

Juliette decided to find out what the other stones had in store for her, and so she walked to the stone where the salmon was swimming. The blond hair youth, who had said nothing at all, returned to the boat, and another oars man stepped out of the boat and went to her. He had brown hair and gray eyes. She deduced that each of the youths in the boat were somehow associated to each stone along the sides of the river. But who they were, and what they were doing there was a great mystery. Where they her servants? Guides? Guards?
The salmon stuck its head out of the water and looked at her. She returned its gaze.

“What sacrifice must there be for you to help me return to the land of the living?”, she inquired of the salmon.

“If I help you, you will learn wisdom,” replied the salmon in a high burbling voice.

“That does not seem like a sacrifice to me,” replied Juliette, mystified.

“All roads back require a sacrifice.”

“Do you mean that someone else must die for me to return?” she asked.

“I am forbidden to say,” said the salmon.

Juliette returned to the oars men and asked them if they had any insight into the matter. But none of the handsome youths spoke.

At that time the scorpion arrived on the shore not far away, and the man with the black hair leapt off the back of the fearsome creature. He walked briskly toward Juliette with a powerful gait, and when he got to where she was he stopped and gazed at her appreciatively.

“You have come a long way,” he said.

“Yes, I have,” she replied. “And I wish to return.”

“I understand you wish to return. I can help you,” he said.

“You don’t happen to be a black bird of death?” she asked.

“Do I look like a black bird of death?” he asked.

“Not necessarily.”

“I can help you.”

“At what cost can you help me?” she inquired of the dark man with trepidation in her voice.

“At a very small cost,” he replied.

“Such as?”

“I shall give you power, and you shall be my queen.”

“I do not wish to be a queen”, responded Juliette. And so Juliette returned to the salmon and asked him for his help.

“Capture the bird”, said the salmon.

Juliette looked at the black bird that was in the tree. It was pecking at the feather doll on a high branch. There was one single ray of light in the entire dark cavern, and that ray of light landed on the tree, and in particular it landed on the feather doll that was in the grim clutches of the black bird.

“Hey, you, bird. Why are you eating that doll? It doesn’t look very tasty,” called Juliette. It cocked its head for a moment and stared at her. It then returned pecking at its prey.

Juliette then took out her knife and cut her hand so that the blood flowed freely down her arm.

“Hey bird, this is much tastier,” called up Juilette, holding up her bloody hand, trying to coax it down from the tree so that she could capture it.

“An eye,” croaked the bird, and then went back to pecking at the small white fluffy feather doll in it’s red talon.

“An eye?! If I give you my eye will you let me take you to the salmon?”, she asked.

“An eye,” it croaked.

It was the man with the black hair and the elegant cape who spoke next.

“I will give you one of my eyes.”

“You will? In exchange for what?”

“You will be my queen. I will give you power over men. I will be your champion. We will conquer the realm and rule together. With this power you can effect all of the great good in the world that you wish,” he replied in regal tones.

"I am too young to be your queen," replied Juliette firmly, and she turned away from the man with the black hair to look around the gloomy cavern again. The mists shrouded thousands of dead trees. There was no wind. No sound, except for the roar of the waterfalls in the distance, and the pecking of the black bird on the living tree.

Juliette looked around for a rock. There was black sand along the river’s shore, but in the river she saw that there were many smooth stones. But she didn’t wish to enter the river again. And so Juliette tried instead to climb the tree to gain a hold on the black bird with the feather doll. She climbed up the tree and found herself at the end of the branch on which the bird was perched, still pecking at the feathery white doll. She then remembered something, and pulled out a smooth stone that she had in her pouch. It was the stone with the strange spiral glyph that she had gotten from Storm Wizard at the Tower on Black Hill, with which she could see through walls.

“This is better than my eye,” she said. “You will see a lot better with this than with my eye,” and he held out the stone in her hand.

The black bird cocked his head, and then went back to pecking.

Juliette wished to take the doll. But the bird was too far out on the branch for her to reach it. She tried shaking the limb of the tree to free the doll, but she was not strong enough. She tried to coax the bird to her, but it didn’t come.

“The bird can not eat the stone”, commented the man with black hair wryly, and reiterated the offer of his own eye. Juliette felt that she was not ready for marriage, and so slowly made her way out onto the branch. The bird hopped further out along the branch away from her, with the doll in his beak. She stretched herself to reach further, and the branch began to bend. The bird was still out of her grasp.

Juliette climbed back down the tree, and looked around her. What should she do, she wondered bleakly.

Previous Episode: The River of Death
Next Episode: Escape from Death - Part 2

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