It’s been a while since I have posted, and unfortunately I am not going to be able to post much for the next week or two, so I thought I would put up a little short story to tide you over. It is called ‘The Escape’, and it is set in a fantasy world, but I expect that you will realise that soon enough. I hope you like it.
“I want you to make me a promise.” said Calder to his Grandfather.
Merrin turned from the warmth of the fire to meet the younger man’s gaze. “What is on your mind, Grandson?”
“The Baron is searching everywhere for us. If he gets hold of your secret our people will live in misery forever. Eternal life is too terrible a power for a man like the Baron to get his hands on.”
Calder’s eyes were moist as he spoke. “The rope bridge across the crevasse is three hours ride from this village; we should try to reach it before the sun is high and we become conspicuous.” His voice was sad, his throat dry in the cold winter night.”If it comes to it, you must leave me behind and save yourself.” He took his Grandfather’s hand. “I want your word on this. You must think of our people; you must escape at all costs.”
Merrin’s eyes filled with tears as he embraced his grandson. “You have my word,” he whispered, kissing him tenderly on both cheeks, “now, let us rest.” They lay down together on the straw mattress and dozed until the fire burned low, and the first fingers of dawn stole in through the narrow window.
For weeks the Baron had sought a cure for the sickness devouring his body, brooding on the words of his physician: ” This is beyond the skill of any mortal man to cure.” he’d told him that night, ” I fear you shall not see another spring, my Lord. I am sorry.”
Then, during the dark days that followed the physician’s pronouncement, the Baron’s valet had told him a story. “He is said to be a Holy man from the farmlands, your Lordship. They say he went away to the Freelands far beyond the crevasse and learned secrets from the ancients, and. ..,” he’d hesitated, “they say that neither time nor sickness can touch him, and he has come back to save his grandson.”
So the Baron had begun to search for the holy man even as his health failed him. His men had scoured the countryside looking for the old man with the young companion, and offered a reward for their capture. The grandson was of no importance to him, but he had to have the Holy man and the secret that he carried – his life depended on it.
Now with them almost in his grasp, he couldn’t resist the temptation to increase their misery.”We will skirt the village and wait for them down at the rope bridge.” He ordered. “There are places there where we can lie in wait for them. Let the Holy man think that he has made good his escape before we reveal ourselves and capture him in sight of freedom.” He dug his heels into his mount and winced in pain as the charger leapt forward and headed for the bridge, his soldiers galloping in pursuit.
As morning broke Calder and Merrin prepared to leave the inn. Calder thanked the innkeeper – unaware of his treachery – and the two rode away from the village along the dusty road towards the crevasse. After almost three hours riding they were close to their goal. The road meandered back and forth between the hills until suddenly the land on either side opened up and the hills were behind them. Before them, a few hundred yards distant was the rope bridge, and on the other side of the crevasse tiny in the distance, a tall wooden gateway that marked the entrance to The Freelands.
“Look Grandson, the bridge!” cried Merrin excitedly.
“Stop!” called a voice from their left. Riding out to meet them was the Baron and his soldiers.
Calder’s eyes passed between the bridge and the approaching riders, a swift mental measure told him that the chase was over. They could not hope to outrun the horses, how could he save his Grandfather?
“Well Holy man, you put up a good sport, but now you are mine.” Said the Baron with a smile, as his men encircled the travellers. “You know what I want, old man. I want what you know. I want your secrets.”
The old man looked at him sadly, “Let the boy leave for the Freelands beyond the bridge and I will share my secret with you. But I warn you Baron, should you harm a hair on his head I will die to protect my secret, and by the look of you, you shall follow soon after.”
The Baron considered for a moment then nodded to his men, he could always torture it out of the old fool if he tried to double cross him. “Very well, Holy man, we have a deal.” The circle opened to allow the young man safe passage. He got down from the mule and briefly threw his arms around the old man’s waist.
The old man tousled his hair affectionately. “Go. Go quickly and don’t come back.” The young man looked up for a moment, his face wet with tears; and then he ran. Past the soldiers and down to the bridge, he ran and did not stop. On and on, he sped as they watched him, the bridge bouncing and jumping as he made his way across.
At last they saw him disappear beyond the great gate on the far side of the chasm. The Baron turned back to look at the old man, surprised to see him smiling. “Now old man, it is time for you to keep your side of the bargain. Time to share your secret.”
“My secret,” the old man laughed, “is that I know nothing about how to live forever.”
The Baron paled. “What are you talking about? I need the secret of eternal life!”
The old man pointed to the gate on the other side of the bridge. “Well,” he laughed, “perhaps you should have asked my Grandfather.”