He waited for Vandar’s tall frame to fade into the shadows of the forest then turned and made his way towards the stone stairs. It was easy going at first, tripping down the gently sloping steps as they stole down the side of the chasm. Ferns and lichen grew from fissures in the rock, brushing against his arms as he passed and sprinkling dew on the worn surface beneath his feet.
After descending only a dozen yards he was forced to check his pace. The stairs grew steadily steeper and slick with rain which hung in the air as a fine drizzle. Clouds of silver mist materialised in the canyon, lingering above the green canopy until Eldris couldn’t see a single tree. He was caught in a place between worlds. Above was a mass of grey cloud, hard walls of granite between and a floor of white haze below.
Okay, where should I start? I have an idea, something which might grab your attention. No doubt it’s something you’ve wondered about. The Day The Internet Broke. Let’s start with that day, that one event which shattered the crystal cage we built around ourselves and revealed just how decrepit our sense of security was in relation to the enormity of the risk we faced.
In my office, waiting for a PhD student who, in stark contrast to her usual precise punctuality, was more than half an hour late. God forbid I would be forced to eat lunch in the campus cafeteria, rather than strolling into town and visiting my favourite deli. But if she didn’t arrive soon, it seemed more and more certain that I would be forced to compromise in saving what little was left of my afternoon break.
“Professor!” Her voice shredded the calm aura of my office. You have to understand, I am a man of no small pretensions. It has always been my aim to affect an air of studious impenetrability, my corner of the crowded campus being an oasis of serenity where minds could come together in restrained discourse. All of my students understood this unspoken rule and she was no exception. In spite of this sacred trust, she burst in like the furies were at her back and shouted. “You won’t believe what happened!”
He watched the tide recede, leaving streaks of green kelp exposed as the steel grey waves peeled back from the sand. Sadness and relief mingled in his mind, knowing the parting mist of dawn might bring pilgrims across the headland, dreading the interruption they would visit on his sanctuary. At least, he thought. The tide will return to leave me alone again, and the people will return when the waves part to bare the sands once more. As he could bear neither being utterly at peace nor suffering interruptions without intermission.
While he chose solitude to be his burden, it was a blessing he could only shift off with reluctance.
“Keep marching, filth!” the veteran spat, swiping at Ongur’s back with his long whip.
The lash snapped across the heavy burden hanging from Ongur’s shoulders and, for the first time since their journey began, he was glad to be carrying it. Then the whip’s barbed tip raked the exposed flesh behind his thighs, a searing pain which made him howl in agony.
Ongur didn’t hesitate a second time. He stumbled forwards, or rather upwards, towards the distant summit of the sun-drenched dune. Sand swept away underfoot to run in cascading bronze waves towards the dune’s base. It made every step a torment and more than a few times he suspected his steps only brought him further from rest. Days of marching under his heavy load without rest, water or comfort.
Brenn watched the enemy fill the fields across the brook. Their numbers seemed vast, impossibly numerous even from such a distance. He knew, with a familiar chill of fear, that their numbers would only swell the closer they came. To be trapped amongst the oncoming horde, fending off blows on all sides… It was enough to turn his stomach and cause him to doubt the noble purpose which brought him there.
Am I really about to stake my whole life on nothing more than a promise? he wondered. And whose promise? A bishop, a man who never touched iron nor spilled blood in his life.
Further doubt was forestalled by a ripple passing through the ranks of armoured men around him. Men shuffled around under the weight of plate and mail to look over Brenn’s shoulder. He turned and saw the king nudging his horse between the disorderly ranks of his vanguard.