Thursday, April 29, 2010

The cleft of the rock.

For quite some time, I've wanted to write some fiction based on my photos from our Ireland trip. Several times lately, the concept of "a picture is worth a thousand words" has floated past me. I've realized that I can write little bits of fiction for fun. My first endeavor into fiction does not have to be a full length novel! So here is my first bit of fiction - roughly 1000 words. (And yes, this sounds like Stephen Lawhead writing to me too.)

I was starting to think that my Druid guide was lost. The Druid Elfodd did seem to be exceptionally young to be a Druid who had already completed his training. He was no more than sixteen summers, as best as I could tell. But I had made bold to ask the Learned Brotherhood for help deciphering the cryptic message my dying father had left for me. As soon as the oldest shriveled Druid had heard the message, the light of understanding immediately dawned in his eyes. Suddenly, I was treated with a great deal more respect. Suddenly, my chilly reception was revised to include a warm bed, a meal, and a stable for my horse.

The next morning at breakfast, Elfodd was brought to me and I was told that he would guide me to my destination. In their enigmatic way, they would not tell me either the meaning of the message or our destination. Provisions and horses were readied and soon we were on our way in the persistent spring mist.

Three days later, mist still in place, Elfodd was remained almost silent. He would occasionally make conversation, but it was like pulling teeth and only about the most benign of subjects. Now the pace had slowed and we spent more and more time examining landmarks and gauging our position against the shore opposite the cove below us.

Finally, just past noon – perhaps it was noon, we had not seen the sun for days – the young Druid dismounted and handed me his reigns. He walked to the near precipice and looked over. Soon he was back and said we could finish the journey afoot. I looked all around. We were precisely nowhere as far as I could see. But, by now I had learned that asking him questions was pointless, so I merely shrugged and dismounted. We hobbled the horses and left them grazing and dripping in the mist.

Twenty paces past where he had glanced over the edge, a tiny foot path seemed to materialize from amongst the rocks. The slope was steep, but with only a little difficulty we descended towards the crashing sea crag below. After a few minutes, Elfodd seemed to vanish from the pathway below me. I hesitated a moment, but continued on to the spot I had last seen him.

A small cave was visible around a large boulder. There was a square, raised fire place tucked back in the far reaches of the cave, away from the spraying mist of the ocean below. Old smoke had stained the roof of the cave. There was a pile full of extinguished torches tucked into a shelf in the rock. The floor of the cave was perfectly flat, partially damp with ocean spray, but swept completely clean. As we approached the fireplace, I could smell fresh smoke, not the sour ashes I had expected. The coals were still red, though there was no evidence of another living soul for miles. Who had been keeping this fire?

Elfodd took down a torch from the shelf. He pushed the tip of the torch into the coals and it came alive with fire. He handed me the torch and continued to poke the fire back to life. So armed, I turned to look at the empty cave. There was an opening, man height, further back in the depths.

Elfodd brought my attention back to his face. “I will wait here for you for 3 days. I’ll mind our horses. After three days, if you have not returned from the doorway, I’ve been instructed to return with your horse to the Druid settlement. We will care for your belongings until what time you might return,” said Elfodd.

“How will I get back there without a horse?” I asked.

“When you emerge, that will be made plain to you, have no fear,” he said confusingly. He handed me a small gold object, the like of which I’d never seen before. “This is a time compass. The hand advances one number for each day. I will depart when the moving hand reaches the three.” The hand currently pointed to twelve.

“I don’t understand what I'm supposed to do,” I said.

“I don’t really either, but these were my instructions,” he said.

I walked through the doorway and snaked our way through a narrow, winding hallway. The hallway seemed to double back on itself several times, so that soon, I could not hear the ocean from the cave.

Around another corner, I came to a thick velvet curtain. It draped from floor to ceiling, and was the width of the hallway. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought them to be bed curtains. I pulled it aside and looked through. I was looking at a large, four poster bed from the point of view of the headboard. The room was lit by sunlight coming through the windows. I hung my torch on a sconce in the hallway, since I no longer needed it to see.

Curious, I stepped through, and promptly fell as I stumbled on the exceptionally deep mattress. I rolled, my muddy boot bumping a table which sent a large brass candle stick crashing to the stone floor. The din was horrific. I recovered myself, muttering curses, and inspected the room.

A small writing desk and stool overlooking a view of a pastoral setting. A hearth swept completely clean of ash, but laid with wood for lighting. A comfortable looking chair. The brass candelabra had had new, unlit candles in it. From the look of the room, I guessed it to be personal bedroom and study. The room looked comfortable, useful, and yet unused. There was a soft knock at the door.

Startled, I said “Yes?” A middle aged woman came in, not at all surprised to see me.

“Are you unhurt, sir?” she asked.

I looked blankly at her. “Yes.”

“I heard the candlestick fall and knew someone had come. That candlestick was always a bit tippy and might fall over with a gust of wind. Well, now, would you be the master’s son, John, that we’ve heard so much about?” she asked, all smiles.

“Yes, my name is John. But what do you mean?”

“Sir Reginald McNair said, last time I saw him, that he had to go back to get his son. He said we might not see him again, but that his son would take over running the place. I'm glad he found you so quickly. Will he be soon behind you?”

I stood gape mouthed trying to take this in. That was my father’s name, but he certainly hadn’t been here recently. For the twenty years before his death, I had seen my father every day at our home in Celyddon. That was more than a week’s travel from here.

Questions swirled through my mind, but I asked, “When did you see my father last?”

“Oh let’s seen here. He left about a fortnight ago." She righted the candlestick and replaced the candles. "Look here, you're damp head to foot and you've managed to track mud in here. I'll go fetch you some water to wash and some dry clothes. You look about your father's size. I'll bring you a bite of tea as well. You look a bit peaked." While she rattled on, she cleaned up the candle fragments as if there had never been a mess. "The brewmaster will want your advice on the new storage system." She leaned over and with a flick of her hand, managed to light the carefully laid fire. "The blacksmith wants to know how many weapons we'll be needing. And the cook wants the mason to enclose the entire kitchen garden with a wall higher than he thinks necessary and their screeching arguments are nearly daily now. Just sit tight and I'll be back in a jiffy."

She continued this daunting list of responsibilities as she headed out the door and down the stairs somewhere. He sat by the growing fire, rubbing his hands over his face and hair. The woman was frighteningly efficient. But he had no clue who on earth she was. But with promise of the first dry clothes and hot food in days, he simply settled in to wait.

The Bible on the table beside the comfortable chair said, "Property of Sir Reginald McNair" on the inside. We'll that didn't explain much.

His overwhelming thought as he slowly steamed by the fire was simply, "Oh boy."

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