Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Inkweaver" Excerpt--What Are You Afraid Of?

On the night of the Decorum Banquet, all the eligible lads and lasses gathered to display the wonderful manners they had learned and the academic skills they had acquired. Graduates with compatible skills necessarily paired off as a fortuitous match. I did my best to demonstrate my worth as a practical companion, what with my working skills of gardening and ability to compile neat and functional fashion, plus my special skill in animal training and care. In academics, I possessed superb diction and an excellent vocabulary, so arithmetic could slide at a level just above average without affecting my class standing.
When Belak's turn came, I felt the same cold deadening of my heart. He broke a wild mountain horse faster than the others; he displayed knowledge of trade and politics as befits a merchant. He expressed himself superbly in legal terms and computed figures with blinding accuracy. When he finished, he returned to sit next to me. We were calm and composed, but a storm raged between my ears. There was one young man by the name of Kollan, who demonstrated the capacity for farming and teaching that matched mine. My mind protested; I did not know this Kollan fellow any better than I knew the King of Gramble! Why couldn't I have been compatible with Belak? I turned to my friend.
"I want to go now," I whispered desperately.
"Leave?" Belak's dark eyes glinted with concern. "Shereya, the Banquet isn't over yet."
"I don't want to sit here till it finishes!" I stood up, forcing Belak—as the nearest availible male—to do the same and escort me away.
"Shereya," he coaxed, "what are you afraid of?"

Hearing the echo of Larryn's words, I knew immediately what the answer to my trouble would be. I gripped Belak's hand firmly and led him back through the village, through the market, all the way to The Wall.

"That!" I snapped, jabbing a finger at the ominous structure. "The Wall, and what it's hiding, and what it makes me think of, and what secrets could be moldering away behind it, just waiting for the first stone to drop so it can seep through the cracks—" I was so relieved to give voice to ten years of abject horror that my whole body shook and I sobbed as I spoke. "I'm frightened of what might be, and then I am frightened that a part of me still believes there might be something even though no one has seen anything since they erected the last row!" I watched Belak's face, but in the dark I could not see any kind of emotion. "You ask me what I am afraid of, Belak?" My voice was bitter and rather hoarse as I declared, "I AM AFRAID OF THE WITCHES' HILL!"

Belak said nothing. The only sound to be heard was my own pitiful whimpering. I felt him put his arms around me and hold me in his strong embrace. So what if we were not compatible enough to be a couple? He still knew me well enough to be my friend.
"Is that all?" His words were muffled by the folds of his doublet around my ears. When he let go, I just stood numbly as he retrieved a lantern from one of the market stalls and lit it with a flint. By it's light, he gently rubbed the tears from my cheeks.
"Why don't we just see it, then?" he suggested simply.
"What?" My whole body recoiled at the idea. "Are you mad? Why do you suppose they built The Wall?"
Belak shrugged, "I don't speculate, Shereya. It would be just this once, and you can lay your fears to rest forever."
The very notion made me reckless. "All right, I will go with you."
Belak clasped my hand so that his fingers crossed mine. "I wouldn't consider it any other way," he remarked.

Together, we walked along The Wall until Belak stopped.
"This looks like a good place," he said, and handed me the lantern. "Hold it high."
I held it as high as I could as I watched the sinew of his back ripple with the motion of his powerful arms tearing away at a small section of the Wall. I giggled as a fleeting image of willowy Kollan attempting the same feat crossed my mind.
"What?" Belak turned to me. "Is there some trick I am missing?"
I shook my head, and the vision of Kollan disappeared.
One more stone, and Belak had an opening just wide enough for us to slip through, sideways, Belak first then me.

I gasped. My first glimpse of the Hill since the Wall grew taller than I was! Everything was quiet and grave. Sparse, gnarled bramble grew over scorched earth. At the top of the Hill was the broken shell of the cottage. Belak glanced at me. "Are you ready?" he asked.
Bathed in the light of the lantern, I felt safe. "Yes."