Mikhal’s Story: Chapter 6
A few years ago, WC completed a first draft of a novella. It’s not all that good, and publishers have not been leaping at the opportunity to buy it. But it’s likely good enough to blog… So WC will inflict his fiction – well, his overt fiction – on his long-suffering readers. Chapters will posted on Sunday mornings.
Warning: the story involves graphic violence.
From Antonin’s Oddities:
Gudsawr was killed by the sword, of course. Some thief did half of what he had jokingly asked, stealing the sword but then spitting him on it. If he afterwards watched idiots kill themselves with the sword, he watched it happen from Hell.
For the next two weeks Mikhal rode slowly towards the western mountains, carrying the sword constantly, but always wearing gloves. After one week, his food had run out, and after ten days there were no more people. He was in the true wilderness now. But now the mountain he sought, the mountain Reverend Abbot had described to him, was in sight.
It would have been impossible to miss. By day a long, dark cloud of smoke and ash blew away to the west. By night, it glowed a dirty red, reflecting on the clouds and the smoky ash.
The next day he entered an area where there was an inch deep blanket of ash on the ground. There would no longer be anything for his horse to graze on. Mikhal took off saddle and reins, pointed the horse back to the east and spanked it sharply on the haunch. The horse walked off.
An hour later, Mikhal found a spring. As he bent to fill his water bottle, he saw tracks in the ash around the spring. Horses and people. And one set of tracks, he saw, had only a left foot; the right was a peg.
Mikhal gave a great sigh. Ah, well. He would use the sword’s powers, then, but only to allow him to destroy the sword. He took off his gloves, taking care not to release the sword. Holding the sword in his bare left hand, the sky darkened slightly, and there was that sense that time had changed. He filled his water bottle one-handed, and then walked on up the ashy slope of the volcano.
He followed Reverend Abbot’s instructions and not the tracks, aiming not for the summit but slightly downhill from a notch in the summit. In the early evening, he found the first lava, frozen black rock, all sharp edges and shiny surfaces. Reverend Abbot’s instructions had been explicit. He started across the broken surface. So long as he held the sword, a fall, while uncomfortable, could not hurt him. As the stars started to come out, he sighted along his route towards an island of burnt, blackened trees, marking the route. It was two hours to moonrise, but the moon was a waning quarter. Not much light.
He slowly made his way across the warm rock of the lava field. Just past the burnt trees he saw what Reverend Abbot had described. A red glow, where molten rock ran under the stuff he walked on. The last five hundred feet were very hard to walk, and as he struggled across, the waning moon rose behind him. The rock under his feet was hot now; his feet were sweating in his boots. He stopped for a swallow of water. As he started to drink, Felici’s voice called out from the shadows.
“If you throw the sword in the lava, you are a dead man.”
Mikhal drank his water, put the leather jug away and continued his careful way across the lava the last few hundred feet. There was a rumble in the rock under his feet now, and his shoes felt as if they were on fire. At least four men emerged from the shadows around him. “Felici,” Mikhal said, you have already told me I am a dead man. You told me I was a dead man when I didn’t pay my taxes.”
When he was fifteen feet from the opening, he stopped and looked at the red light. Molten rock was running through the opening, seemingly moving as fast as a horse could run. It was almost silent, only a soft hissing noise came from the fiery light and the faint rumbling through his feet. The heat was very bad. Not wanting to chance missing if he threw the sword from where he stood, he forced himself to move closer. Even the sword in his hand was warm now.
Felici called again. “The moment you throw the sword, arrows will hit you.”
Mikhal looked back into the faint moonlight. Yes, there were at least two bow men. “Felici,” Mikhal called, “Isn’t the Empire enough? Must you have my life as well?”
Felici snorted. “Without the sword, holding the Empire will be too hard. Give me the sword and go away, and I will let you live; destroy the sword and I will destroy you.”
“You know I can kill all of you and that you cannot stop me. I can run on this rock, you cannot. I am invulnerable, you are not. And nothing can stop the sword.” Mikhal saw the silhouettes of the two bowmen look at each other.
“Mikhal, there are men hidden where you will never find them. You cannot kill us all, and if you destroy the sword one of us will get you.”
“But Felici,” teased Mikhal, “Without you Donal will never hold the throne. If I simply kill you I kill your dreams of empire.”
“Without the sword, I, too, am a dead man. As I have told you before.”
“No, Felici, you will merely be less powerful. You are clever enough that, with Donal, you can hold the Empire for yourselves and your heirs without the sword. If you kill me, it will be because of spite.”
“If you destroy the sword, I promise you will never know.”
Mikhal smiled in the direction of Felici’s voice. “As you say.” He dropped to the ground, and in the same motion threw the sword in the molten lava. If the lava showed any sign when the sword struck it, Mikhal did not see. His hands and legs burning on the hot rock, he started to crawl away, keeping his face turned down. If arrows flew at him, he didn’t see them and could not hear them over the noise of the lava. He heard shouting and curses, but made his way on his belly diagonally across the hot lava rock, away from where he had last heard Felici.
He had not crawled ten feet when time seemed to stop completely, and he was nearly overcome by a powerful feeling this had all happened before. The world felt stretched, like a rope pulled too tight, to its breaking point. Then there was a soundless white flash. It seemed to go on for a very long time, but after what may have been only a moment, the feeling passed, the moonlit dark returned and time seemed to move normally again.
Immediately, there was a sudden, brighter light for a few seconds and the shriek of a man being burnt alive. Someone had broken through the crust of rock below the vent into which Mikhal had thrown the sword, and fallen into the lava. By that light, Mikhal saw Felici standing not twenty feet away from him. All of Felici’s attention was on the burning man. Resisting temptation, Mikhal simply froze, waited for the light from the human torch to dim, and then continued to move away. The rock was already a little cooler under his hands.
. . . . .
A wild man, emaciated and scarred, with dirty hair and beard, appeared at the monastery gate one afternoon. His clothes were rags, charred in places, and the hand with which he knocked on the monastery gate was marked with the red lines of recently healed cuts and burns.
A head appeared above the gate. “Who knocks?”
“I beg refuge and the wisdom of the Reverend Abbot.”
“What can you pay?”
“I have nothing. I am sorry.”
“What name shall I give?”
“Please tell the Abbot I have come to apologize.”
“We will not admit those who will not give us their names.”
The wild man stared at the youth. “Take my message to the Abbot.”
A long while later, the gate opened. “Do you pledge peace while inside these walls?” the young man asked.
They walked in single file to the small building with the trestle table. The young monk knocked, and opened the door. “He is here.”
There was bread and wine on the trestle table in front of the Abbot. Sunlight from a window gleamed brightly on the Abbott, the table and the food.
“Leave us, my son,” said the Abbot.
The young monk looked at the wild man, and looked at the Abbot. “Go on,” said the Abbot, “Leave us.”
The young monk reluctantly left, pulling the door closed behind him.
The wild man dropped to one knee. “I thank you and the mission for refuge, Reverend Abbot, and I thank you for your advice. I apologize for losing your horse.”
“Sit down here, Mikhal of Blackberry Hill, and tell me your story. I am already well paid for the horse.”
“Just my presence endangers the monastery, Reverend Abbot. Felici may suspect I live, and he knows I know you.”
“First tell me your story. Then I will judge if you endanger the monastery. And please, eat while you talk.”
Mikhal ate slowly and told Reverend Abbot his story. “When I came away from the mountains, Donal’s – the Emperor’s – soldiers were everywhere. It took a very long time to get here.”
“And what do you want to do now?”
“Reverend Abbot, I have not the least idea in the world. I had expected to be dead.”
“For a time, at least, Mikhal shall become a brother monk from the northern monastery, under a vow of silence and seclusion. We will see if Baron Felici gets over his fury.”
Mikhal smiled at ‘Baron Felici.’ “I have no vocation, Reverend Abbot.”
“I can always use a gardener. Just live for a time, Mikhal. You have done enough for a while. You have removed an evil from the world. Rest a bit.”
“Thank you, Reverend Abbot. I think I will.”