Storm clouds clustered in the early morning sky as Madred made his way along the meadow path. Grasshoppers whirred in the tall grass. He paused to breathe in the heady scents of late autumn. If he could have spared a few minutes, he would have lain down in the sweet grasses and gazed at the clouds until his stare summoned forth unimaginable creatures from among them. But, alas, time was short. He must be in Cordin before the town awoke from its sleep.
An earth-shuddering rumble turned Madred’s full attention upward. Black clouds boiled overhead, and lightning flashed, its thin bright finger zigzagging through the sky.
There will be rain before I am through with this quest.
The boy quickened his pace. Before him, golden grass heads bobbed in the rising winds. His cloak billowed around him.
If only my cloak was feathers and I were as black as the crow, I would arrive in Cordin undetected and much faster.
Ahead of him, the path led into an oak forest. Madred sat down under a huge oak tree, intending to rest for a moment. His eyelids grew heavy with the sleep he had denied himself for more than two nights. He jerked his head upright before his lids could close completely.
No! I must reach Cordin before it is too late.
Madred stumbled to his feet and plunged headlong down the path. Cordin lay on the other side of this wood. His journey was almost over. He paused as a new thought inserted itself into his brain.
I’ll never be able to gain entrance to the Temple of Ardis. And anyone caught there without leave is killed.
His steps slowed as he reconsidered his mission. No one knew he had left his own village. He was an orphan beggar. No one cared. Why should he attempt this great thing for his countrymen?
Because the high priest is wrong and he will call down a curse upon our land if he does what he intends.
The oak trees thinned as he neared the end of the path and in the gray half light Cordin loomed before him. The Temple of Ardis towered above the thatched roofs of the village. Madred craned his neck upward to see the pinnacle of its golden spire. He had not seen the Temple for years, ever since the high priest executed his father, took his position, and initiated the worship of Ardis. One thing stood in the way of the priest asserting himself as God to the people. His heart thundering in his chest, Madred approached the center of the village. Footsteps sounded behind him and he turned in time to sidestep a man who was carrying a basket of grain.
The morning offering.
Madred followed closely until the temple door opened. With one swift movement, Madred tripped the basket carrier so that he spilled the grain at the guard’s feet.
By the time the two men realized what had happened, the young boy slipped through the door and down the narrow hallway to the altarpiece of the Most Holy Place. The last Holy Book in the land of Ardithia rested on the altar awaiting the ceremony. The boy brushed a tentative hand over the jewel encrusted cover before tucking it under his arm.
Now what? Lord of my father, hide me and protect this book from destruction.
“Where is that boy?” The guard’s enraged voice drew nearer. Madred crouched behind the altar, his breath shallow with fear.
A shadow fell over the boy and he glanced upward into the face of the guard. Madred squeezed his eyes shut and hoped that his death would not be prolonged.
“Nothing here,” the guard grunted. He put the bull’s horn trumpet to his lips and blew the alarm.
Madred shivered, incredulous that he had not been seen. With no further fear, he tiptoed down the hallway and out the door.
A fat warm raindrop plopped on the end of his nose. More droplets followed, and soon the village was being battered by the torrent. Ahead of him was the oak forest. He began to run, pumping his legs and arms to make better speed. A few feet into the copse, his thin chest heaving with his efforts, he flung himself onto his knees. Rain pattered on the leaves overhead, a lulling sound. Madred hugged the Holy Book to himself, worshiping the God of his father.
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