Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: New Year (05/09/05)
By Val Clark
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Shannon watched the merry making in the market place below. Brgh’yn the Dagh’illi stood at her side, his cloak pulled tightly around him.
‘In Dagh we do not celebrate the coming of the New Year as you do. We visit the caves of the HeartStones and meditate upon the past and upon the future. It is a time of blessing and of healing.’
Shannon risked a look at his face. His startling green eyes, characteristic of his race, fixed on hers briefly before he turned away from the window. He’d only betrayed himself once. Weeks ago, for the briefest flicker of a second, she had seen respect and another emotion she felt totally inadequate to deal with – desire.
My people! Shannon’s calloused fingers dug into the wooden windowsill. She should be home with Mum and Dad and Nan, sitting around the table playing cards and waiting for the fireworks display on TV. Electric lights, hot and cold running water, flush toilets and toilet paper! How could she ever have overlooked how important that humble item was? She gazed at her tattered fingernails, her homespun clothes. There was absolutely nothing romantic about living in the Middle Ages. Medieval they were and evil they felt. Nuselmir had told her that the Dark Lord was gaining strength and in the city of Pleth she could feel it.
‘Come,’ she whispered, throwing Maryjanah her cloak and forestalling Brgh’yn with a wave of her hand. ‘We are going to the markets. Two women shopping in those crowds. We’ll be quite safe.’
Brgh’yn nodded. ‘As you wish.’
Deter looked up from cleaning his sword. ‘Your Highness of course knows best.’
Shannon shook her head at him. Would he never learn? Walls had ears. Anybody could be listening, ear cupped to a tapestry covered hole. Deter may be seventeen – two years her senior – but sometimes he showed no sense at all.
Maryjanah and Shannon slipped out of the house and strolled back to the white amphitheatre she had visited earlier in the day. The beggar had called it the Temple of Light. She wanted to recapture something of the joy she had felt standing in its soundproof room singing the song he had taught her. There, for the first time since being bought to Tetraylon she had been free to open her heart and her voice and sing – even if it was the unfamiliar and unfathomable words of the beggar’s prophecy. Words that had seared themselves on her mind. She needed him to teach her what they meant and she craved the peace that had enveloped her in that room.
Then there had been the HeartStone, a small white pebble reeking with dis-ease. Without even realizing it she had removed it from her money pouch and grasped it tightly in her hand as she sang. When the song was over it was as if the stone were singing. Returned to health. She didn’t know how a stone could be ill or well. She was still learning how different the rules of Tetraylon were from those of Earth. The wizard Nuselmir had told her that the stones were connected to the Life Force of Tetraylon. Somehow her singing must have healed it. That might explain how the evil was allowed to spread, for singing was punishable by death.
The old man was not there to direct her to the secret door. She ran her hands over the panel searching for a catch. Maryjana’s sharp intake of breath distracted her and she turned. A company of soldiers. Not King’s men, she noted from the absence of the blue insignia. Their leader stepped forward. Lord Herlon, she might have guessed. He bowed with mock extravagance.
‘Your Highness. How inept of my men to allow you to live. Yet it has been bought to my notice that you have certain…. gifts that might be useful to me. My not-so-able followers, sadly passed on, have done me a small service.’
He walked over to Maryjanah and grasped her roughly by the chin. ‘I suppose this little charade – pretending the princess is your page – was your idea, wife. You two have thwarted me for the last time.
A black carriage rolled to a halt in front of the Temple of Light. Herlon clicked his fingers and soldiers bundled Shannon and Maryjanah inside.
His laughter echoed in Shannon’s ears as they were bound and gagged. ‘Well, that saves me wasting one of my New Year wishes.’
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