Thomas leaned closer to the table and examined the manuscript.
“It is beautiful.”
“And complete.” His master smiled, and with a shaking hand, closed the book. In the distance, a trumpet sounded. Both men jumped up at the sound. Fear gripped Thomas by the throat,
“It is. We must go! Bring the book!” As they ran, Thomas wrapped the book in oilcloth. The twenty years his master had spent working on the book would go up in flames if it were found.
Ten minutes later, their pursuers closing in fast, they hid the book. They split on separate trails, but it was too late.
A chained Thomas watched from afar as his beloved master was burned at a stake in the fortress’ courtyard. His captors, finding that servant was as silent as master, tossed him into the vast, empty dungeons to die.
Because he found a friend in the vast maze of tunnels and cells, he lived. He called his friend “Forgotten” because when Thomas found him dying of fever and thirst, it was the first word that made it past the parched man’s throat. They spent the next ten years exploring their prison. Forgotten taught him how to catch food and navigate through the darkness. Thomas would have been lost without Forgotten’s guidance through the dark corridors. Thomas did his part though, through the long years he spoke, quoting from memory the manuscript words. Forgotten embraced the words of the book and never tired of hearing them.
Liam would have to leave the road. He’d come to that conclusion five minutes before. He was a boy being chased by men with dogs and torches. He spared one glance in his pursuers’ direction before veering off the road and plunging into the thick darkness of Nighting Forest. His fleeting look confirmed the presence of torches, and dogs were baying at the scent trail. Liam would not be able to see in the forest, but remaining on the road guaranteed capture. If they hadn’t had the torches, he could have stuck to the road as his younger eyes were adept in piercing the darkness that had blanketed the land for the last two years. Hopefully, the fears of the dark, overgrown woods would slow pursuit..
Brambles clung to his clothes impeding his progress forward; he struggled to maintain a straight course through the dense foliage. Thorns tore at his hands and caught at his face.
When exhaustion forced a break, he could hear the men—dogs had led them to the point where he entered the woods. Then he heard the blades, hacking through the wood.
He pressed on, stopping when he felt the difference in the air. Smooth rock underfoot indicated a cave’s discovery.
As his breathing slowed he listened intently to the men in the distance. They were arguing, obviously about the difficulty cutting through the undergrowth. With a sinking heart, he listened as they decided to set up camp on the road and wait until Liam called for rescue.
Sickened by their confidence, he shrank farther into the cave; there was no folly in their words. Likely he’d be calling for them in a day or two, perhaps he could find a way to kill himself before hunger and thirst drove him to call for help. He curled into a ball against the rock wall and cried. It wasn’t until his sobs quieted that he realized.
He was not alone. He could hear his ragged breath, but there was another—deeper into the cave.
“Hello?” It was a man’s voice, soft and deep. “You are a boy?”
Liam gasped in fear.
“Don’t be afraid. I will not hurt you—cannot even reach you—due to these bars.” The man paused and continued when no sound came from the boy. “My Lord told me you would come, or rather, that someone would come. My name is Thomas.”
Speaking softer, as to himself, “Forgotten will be sad that he chose this day to check his traps and missed the moment we have been waiting for this last year. Imagine, a boy, the Lord sent a child to carry on His words, what a marvel.”
He paused, then realizing the boy had yet to let go of his silence, proceeded to explain where they were and more importantly how Thomas had ended up here, behind bars, but—he believed—in the same cave where the manuscript was hidden. After a couple of hours, Forgotten returned with his raw meat in hand and Thomas introduced him to the boy. The boy didn’t speak until he had consumed the meat and water Forgotten offered.
Once Liam began to speak, he didn’t stop for a long time. He told of the ash and darkness that had covered the land, which, Forgotten noted, was why the opening that was directly over their heads had stopped letting in meager light as it had in the past.
Before sharing the importance of the manuscript, Thomas asked Liam to look for it. With bated breath, Forgotten listened as the boy felt his way around the cave at Thomas’ direction. The two men cheered when Liam pulled the oilskin from a shelf high on the wall. Liam smiled with pride for the first time in his hard life.
Liam spent another week in the cave. The verses that Thomas quoted gave the boy a hunger to hear more. At the end of the week, he left with the book and a new sense of purpose. His feet slowly traveled along a narrow, long-forgotten trail toward Thomas’s old home. Once reached, Thomas believed Liam would be able to find the path that led over the mountain to the Whitlow monastery.
When he broke into the small clearing, the dim light of day showed the vague shadow of the broken-down abode. He knew the path out from there, and that it would take him to a road beyond where his searchers were waiting.
Ignoring the cabin, he knelt down and placing the oil skin wrapped package before him, unwrapped the covering. He sat back and stared at the book. He could barely see the beautiful tooled surface of the binding. He wished he could see better, but knew the monks at the monastery would have candles that would illuminate its surface and the words within. Thomas had promised; the boy would learn to read the words for himself.
Thomas’s quest had become the boy’s own. He wanted to know more of the manuscript. Any book that would cause men to willingly submit themselves to pain, torture, and exile—truly must have the power to shape his future into something of meaning.
Solemnly, he wrapped the book and tucked it under his arm. He was ready to resume his journey. He found the new path without much trouble. As he was about onto the dark trail, the clouds overhead parted and a strong ray of sunlight rained down bringing the path into clear relief. He lifted his face to the light, smiled and confidently took his first step down the enlightened path.
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