I’m sorry I am not able to post the original content I had intended to this evening, but life happened all over the living room rug today. Oh well. I’ll give for anyone’s enjoyment this more polished followup on A Rough Draft. I hope to incorporate it into a much larger story about a, well that would take too long to explain. Also, I will add a later scene from the same story.
Over the Wall
In the stillness of that night air, amid the low hoots of an owl and the sounding crickets, a machete hacks through the thorny vines that long ago had grown, like a seal, over this forgotten courtyard. And so too, the sounds of exertion grow as, closer and closer, the lone wayfarer breaks forth from the underbrush into the deserted openness, his brandished steel caked with the green flesh of weeds.
Bent over, hands upon knees, he huffs and puffs as the cold night meets his lungs like shredding daggers. With each breath the air cuts through those organs as he had cut through the bramble. The curved instrument he keeps clasped; though he now rests, his white knuckles encompass the weapon’s handle, ready for use if legends prove true.
The breathing quiets slowly and the man stands erect. Pacing about he views his surroundings. Here, in a forest of hills, he stands atop one indistinct in height being as tall or as short as any other peak, and has the pleasure of looking down on some and looking up to others. Low hanging clouds fall over the crest of the nearest hillside, like a river’s cascade, filling the valley between them with a wispy mist.
Then he turns to face the daunting castle. Her gargantuan twin doors stand as if they were meant for the traffic of fabled giants and not mortal men. He feels more a mouse stealing itself into a pantry than a knight errant questing as he tests this new obstruction, but neither knight nor mouse now tries the forbidden passageway that was long ago closed by bands of iron thick as boards of timber. About ten of these seals cover that passage ascending regularly like the crossbars of a ladder.
This way could only be taken by a giant, or by the strength of one, he decides finding no crack or hole in those miserly doors. Studying the rusted bars whose plain appearance contrasts with the intricate runes carved onto every piece of wood and stone the neither mouse nor knight rubs his grizzled chin.
Gazing upward he absently wipes his tool clean against a pant-leg. Looping it under a leather belt he frees both hands and, leaping suddenly, launches himself at the lowest band of hard metal. He hangs there, stretched out, about a shin’s length off the dusty ground. Slowly he rises. His head first comes to his hands and then moves upward past them till he balances like a carnival gymnast about to mount his stage.
His great arms bulge as they hold his weight. Gradually a leg begins to ascend till it comes over and he finds footing on that narrow ledge. Hunched, he begins climbing like a spider up the surface of those doors to their very archway.
The white haired man fights for his breath as he reaches the uppermost part of the portal. There is still three feet of stonework to surmount before he finds his way over that wall. Above the long forgotten entrance a deep etching of a skull snarls. The jaw hangs open, the next hold he needs. He stretches his arm, reaching upward. Inch by inch it rises to that mouth. Straining, a hairsbreadth away from reaching that jovial face of death, he slips.
The head falls backwards into the empty air behind him, and, for a moment, all he sees is a silver moon sailing through a clear summer sky. She is so radiant this evening that the bashful stars hide themselves. A solitary bat flutters randomly through the night, a spot of black in the luminous oceans of heaven.
He falls, but thanks to the regular beams of rusted iron that forbid his passage he catches himself a moment later. Yet this salvation roughly swings body against iron and wood cutting open his shin on the edge of the next lowest band. Stretched out, hanging by the fingers of a single hand, the man looks down to the base of this summit. He sees his raining blood fall, mixing with the courtyard’s dust.
Wheezing breaks the silence of the night like the cries of a dying bird as he throws a free arm over his head trying to grasp the bar above. But the swing, instead of firming his hold, loosens it. He feels his one grip fail, and falling, smashes his rising hand into the cold metal meeting it halfway instead of coming over it. Helplessly he watches the iron bars fly upward, faster and faster, until he is suddenly encased in darkness.
The hooting owl persists unperturbed by the tragedy. A freshly cut path through the untended wilderness terminates in footsteps newly pressed in the dust of a long forsaken courtyard. Those tracks lead to the broken pile of a man alone on a hillside where men dare not go. But movement stirs under those blood-soaked clothes.
Intruding upon the night calls the billowing whistle of dark magic begins to reverse the destruction. Bones begin to shuffle and then, with the same sickening pop that had sounded at their sundering, fuse, again whole. As the shapeless form contorts in a slurry of popping cracks a low moan begins. It grows as the adjusting concludes until the reformed man is screaming like a newborn babe.
Eyes that have seen Hell look upon the beauty of creation, an order they are no longer a part of. His screaming subsides, replaced by the deep-set breaths of a man starved for air. Sitting up, he hugs his knees into himself hanging his head between them. To his side lies a shattered machete.
Overhead the moon continues her course as the wayfarer sits in a circle of his own blood. It has soaked into the ever-present dust forming a brown sticky mud. Wiping his eyes the man smears this filth around his face. The leftover life clings to his skin as if unwilling to part. He reaches over and picks up the handle of his weapon. About a handbreadth of the blade remains terminating in a zigzagged edge.
Placing it in a pocket he stands. The man backs away from the door leaving the circle of blood he had been formed in. Pacing backwards he reaches the center of the courtyard. Around him the night sounds play their lullaby. He tilts forward into a sprint. Racing towards the door he flies into the air kicking off the first iron beam, catching the second. Again he begins his terrible climb. Up, up he goes to that same archway from where he fell.
Looking into that snarling skull above he begins to draw his legs up into his chest. For a moment there is nothing touching the doors but toes and fingers. Then he leaps. Springing into the sky he floats like a dandelion’s tear. Time stands still as he comes face to face with the etching staring into the empty eyes of death. Throwing his hand deep down that mocking mouth he finds his hold.
A hand reaches, clasping the castle’s battlement. The man pulls himself over that final climax and climbs onto the top of a wall left untrodden for a thousand years. He crawls onto the middle of a walkway. To the left and the right stands the rotted wood of ancient doors leading into the dark interior of the twin towers that guarded the unpassable entrance. Rising to his feet he crosses the path and looks down into that accursed place.
There the ancient denizens lie nothing but bleached bones, spread out and covered in dust.
On His Return
The horses had been expertly gutted so they would bleed slowly. Tom watched their shivering flesh spasm against the cords tying them down. Their joints had been broken and displaced so as to lie them flat on the floor. The Council delightedly cheered as the flail struck out the eye of one of the old mares.
“Why are we killing the horses?” Tom whispers to the demon.
“They are old, they served their purpose, we have only one use for them.”
Tom sat back watching the torturers accumulate on a stallion he had once ridden. It looked at him pitifully as the clubs rained down shattering its spine. Throwing head back it let out a horrible whinnying and ceased all movement, the head collapsing to the floor.
Tom had rescued three of the Council. What would his purpose be once he had found the last three?