This is a monster. Think twice before reading.
|What is this? In case you missed it before, this is a monster. This is the prime example of my distaste for plot and extreme affection for words. This hideous beast has been hiding in my mind since 2008 and exists solely there (save for the prologue and chapters 1-4). This is me, my thoughts, my being expressed in words. These are my unhindered (and yet vastly edited) thoughts.
If you do wish to take the plunge and forfeit half an hour of your life to read this prologue, please know a few things: 1) I understand completely that it is much too wordy. I think I idolize Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens a little too much. 2) The plot for this story is merely a framework on which is built the worldview I am discussing. 3) If you start, please read until the end. If you can make it through three paragraphs without gouging your eyes out, imagine you are the little engine that could. 4) Since free memberships only allow 50KB per item and the prologue came out to 54KB, I've deleted some paragraphs. It shouldn't change much.
All in all, I wrote this specifically for myself, but since I'm here, and you're here, I thought I might as well share my thoughts. Enjoy!
Prologue: In the Mind of a Ten-Year-Old Boy
His eyes stayed closed, but his mind’s eye sprung open. The sweet delicacy of sleep was over; reality was thrusting itself upon his still drowsy mind. He moved his eyes under his eyelids and saw no light. It was still dark outside. Morning was still very new. Either that, or he had barely closed his mind before he was awakened by … what had awakened him?
He shifted his body to lay on his back. The thick sheets covering him rustled as he did so, caressing his arms with the soft wool they were composed of. An opening in the covers released a mass of warmth, and in its place was the coolness of night. His ears and nose already felt cold, and he shivered, pulling the sheets in tightly around his body.
There was no chance of falling back asleep now. His mind was fully awake and aware, even though his eyelids told him otherwise. He knew there was no point in pretending to sleep, but the comfort of his bed was simply too relaxing. He felt a cool breeze wafting over his face, most likely coming from the window only slightly covered by a mesh of reeds, carrying with it the scent of the early lilacs that had bloomed in the garden below. It was a soporific odor, revitalizing his physical desire for sleep.
Everything seemed normal; nothing was out of place. There was no noise, no movement, no light, no presence presiding near him. He scolded his mind for awakening his body and reprimanded his body for succumbing to his mind. But it was a futile attempt.
His eyes finally snapped open as a deep sound flooded into his ears, the sound of a large object crashing to the floor. He thought nothing of it, though—it could have been anything, and anything was not dangerous to him.
It was indeed dark outside, and it took several moments for him to be able to discern his surroundings, not that they were not already familiar to him. Directly opposite the bed where he lay was situated the the window, through which shone the faint light of the moon, making his sight possible. Along that wall rested shelves of bound codices and several scrolls, mostly just storage. Besides that, his room was plain; his possessions rested elsewhere, for this was only his bedroom.
After a long while of useless consciousness, he shut his eyes again, though only for a moment this time as a shout rang out from somewhere within the Palace. He pulled back the sheets and thrust his legs to the floor, wincing as the cold wooden planks chilled his feet. He quickly stood up, again regretting doing so seconds later as his vision blackened, though only temporarily so. He was curious, though, and one does not worry about strange or even painful circumstances when curiosity leads his way.
Both mind and body were active now as he scurried over creaking floorboards to the door, led by the pearlescent glow of the moonlight. His mind must have been elsewhere as he simply crashed into the hard wood of the door. Closing his eyes and rubbing his head, he opened the door and stepped out into the hallway.
He was grateful for closing his eyes, for when he stepped out into the hallway, even with closed eyelids, he had to squint. All he saw was a red glow as the light shining from multitudes of torches greeted him. Slowly, he opened his eyes, squinting even more from the intense light of the flames in comparison to the almost complete darkness of his room. Even before his eyes had finished adjusting, he turned to his left and started down the long hall, the direction that the shout had come from.
A muffled voice echoed down the halls again, an almost familiar voice this time, a voice that seemed scared, full of pain, or so it seemed. But he cared not about the state of the clue but of its helpfulness. He lifted his head up in the direction of the sound. It came from behind him, back through one of the doors he had passed over—in fact, he had never noticed it before. It faced away from the entrance of the roundabout hall behind a small desk, upon which peacefully sat a crystal vase providing a temporary home for a fresh, yellow rose. He had perhaps never noticed it because of the extravagant desk, catching the eye of the passerby before enticing its admirer to look beyond to a painting like a Siren of old, distracting its viewer from the bones they were hiding. Or, perhaps, the fact that the door was half the size, both in height and width, than that of an ordinary one, concluded in its hidden qualities. Or, even more probable, the door had never caught his eye because it was not a door but actually a continuance of the wall with a hinge and handle. It may have been all three that caused him to never before notice that door, but he did now, and previous ignorance does not matter with present insight.
He smiled as he rushed to the door, pure excitement behind his actions. The discovery of a secret hall or passage in the centuries-old Palace was tantamount to an alchemist arriving one step closer to the philosopher’s stone. Now what awaited him was testing the functionality in turning ordinary metal to gold. But here he was, in the middle of the night, discovering, by way of strange thuds and shouts, a passage burrowing deeper inside the mysterious mansion. Curiosity and adventure seem to go hand in hand, for once one is established, the other is not long to follow.
He pulled the desk aside and yanked the door open. The edge of the door caught against the corner of the desk and sent the vase falling, crashing in a mess of glass, water, and flower. However, the crash never reached his ears, for by the time it had fallen, he had already ducked down into the newly uncovered hall and traversed steps down the staircase the hidden door had admitted him to. Curiosity had overstepped propriety.
A louder shout echoed through the stone staircase, still muffled yet closer. To say the child ran faster, knowing that he was heading in the correct direction, would be false, in fact contrary to the truth. Instead, he stopped halfway down the unfamiliar staircase as the shout’s echoes were still reverberating around him. He had noticed something in that shout, a factor the previous two did not exhibit. It was a female voice, that of his mother.
Had he been able to recognize the chain of events, the young boy may have turned around right then, sensing that nothing good could result from a situation like his at the present. Here he was, a curious child, sifting his way through a labyrinth, not even knowing what he was searching for but letting his appeal for adventure direct his path. Now another factor thrust itself into his situation, that being the conflict of personal interests.
His mother was a kind, patient woman, generous, whole-hearted, loving, and altogether beautiful. To say he cherished his mother more than any object that he knew of would be an understatement. If he was sick, she would care for him; had he been hungry, she would appear with a bowl of hot soup; if he was frightened, she would be at his side, comforting him with her caressing touch and soft voice. His father had always had more important matters to attend to, and his sister was always courting some young prince. All who were left for him to be with were the slaves and the woman who had given him life, granted unto him his first gift.
Because of this, even at such a young age, he felt a need to protect her. Had she fallen on the dusty floor, he would be at her side to help her back up; if she was angry, he would be there to soothe her temper; when she felt grief, he was there to remind her of her purpose. This close relationship between mother and son was beyond even that of her husband, for neither owed the other, nor was there any obligation; everything was done for the sake of the other. True love existed between the two, devotion not subject to emotion and personal interest but on the mere presence of the other, the knowledge that someone was there to hold onto when nothing else was left. For that is complete human love: When all else fails, there will be someone to remind you that everything else failed on its own, and you just have to realize that there truly is more.
And here, at that moment, he had heard her shout—maybe scream, he could not tell. Something was the matter, and he cared not what the consequences might be. His quixotic, decade-old mind rushed to the conclusion that she was in danger, and he had been awakened to save her. He had forgotten about the crash, the previous shouts, even where he was. All that remained was the distance between him and rescuing his mother. Even the curiosity was gone, the adventure, the discovery as well, all dispersed like the echo of her voice and in its place came danger and fretfulness
His reasoning complete, he dashed ahead with much less of his previous composure than a newly found and angry anxiety. With a reckless abandon, backed by nothing but the thoughts of his mother, he ravaged up all the strength he could muster to get him to that unknown destination ahead, taking strides that would have amazed him had he been watching this journey unfold. He did not care what lay ahead of him now. He had forgotten all reason through his thoughts and cast out on a whim, on just a chance that he might be able to save his mother from whatever situation she might be in.
The end of the staircase opened to yet another hallway, lined with portraits, mirrors, and flags, all created by the finest makers of their art. It was well lit, not with torches, but by some bright luminescence emanating from the numerous arches in the ceiling as though each contained within them a star from the heavens. He did not notice any of the majesty or brilliance, though, neither did he even look at himself through one of the mirrors, see his own portrait near the front of the hall, nor did he stop to catch a breath. Instead, he flung himself down the hall towards the ornately carved doors at the end, through the cracks of which he could see an orange light pouring out.
Each step he took echoed as though he were walking atop a hollow log, and each stride seemed to last longer than anticipated, gradually increasing in time each step taken. Each step, each stride subjected to himself a new thought, a fear, a realization of the childishness in this quest. With one, he would be told how far he had overreacted. With the next that he would be powerless to do anything even had the danger been there. Following that, he would finally understand the danger of wandering alone in the night, following sounds that his mind could simply be creating, himself being easy prey for a thief seeking something more precious to the land than gold and diamonds. Putting another foot down, he would feel an ounce of fear weighing in his foot, fear arising from the dread of the thought that anything could be waiting behind those closed doors, be it his own family or beings much more sinister. As the next stride was taken, he would begin to fret if he would ever be able to make his way out of the place he had found himself in or be instead forced to wander aimlessly among the hidden passageways of the Palace, those forgotten even by the descendents of their creators. By the time he reached the end of the hall, he was nearly in tears, afraid and alone, frightened at what might become of him.
Yet it only took him a matter of seconds to make it to the end of the hall. He looked back, half expecting himself to be trapped there, but it was not so. He could faintly see the bottom few steps, hewn into marble as smooth as the surface of a calm lake, trodden on by fewer feet than they had seen years. It was inviting him to go back, to escape back into his own world, his own reality, to be set free from whatever spell was binding his feet just outside the doors. One would imagine he would, seeing the invitation, immediately retreat back up those inviting stairs to his still bed he had abandoned just minutes before; one would imagine that, with such a changed scope of his situation, the fear of being alone, of being forever lost, he would follow reason and forget about any troubles that might be awaiting him where he was.
His eyes turned back to the door with its two brass handles and beautifully carved reliefs, depicting scenes from some point in history. They were old doors, blackened in places by age, not by use. He could tell they were constructed many years ago by their hinges—a simple, metal hoop from the door and wall held together by a rusty pin. Though probably only opened several times in their years of service, they looked fragile, almost as though they might collapse any moment. They were old, older than he, and that felt strange to him, though he also felt a strange attraction to those erect doors. They knew secrets. They could tell him of years gone by, of times long past, times before his family was in rule, before this land was theirs. They had observed secret meetings and been the only eyewitnesses of murders still to be uncovered. They could tell him of his father, of how he truly viewed his people, for they knew. And they could tell him dark secrets, even deeper and more terrible than any, words that would even curl the nose of a witch and make her run away from the terrible magic they held—that he knew. One would imagine he would run away.
Such was not the case; he remained where he was. Catching up his breath, he leaned his ear to the wood of the door. He expected it to be cold, but it was not. There must have been a considerable number of people in the room to create such warmth as would heat the outside of an old, wooden door. A shiver was sent down his spine, and he realized that the door was not warm, but he was deathly cold. He peered into a nearby mirror hanging on the wall to see his reflection, seeing not his own but that of a ghost, that of a young boy whose face was white as a clean sheet and eyes as wide with fear as a man being sentenced to be hung. It frightened himself so, seeing his own physiognomy such, but something else had attracted his attention. There were voices.
His breath caught in his throat, and he jerked his ear away from the door. He was astonished that there actually were people in the room, just through the door he stood before. He had half expected it all to be nothing more than the fancies of his mind, first wakening him and then sending him off on a ridiculous journey as though testing his ingenuity. There he was, his subconscious mocking him for his naïveté, only to be condescended itself at the realization of the truth: There were people in there. He had been able to even trick his mind into believing the present situation was its planning. It was all real, though: He was in fact here; there was no way of escaping the fact of this reality.
Very carefully and excruciatingly slowly, he leaned his ear back to the broad door, just above the keyhole. It still felt warm. He tensed in that position, just before he pressed his ear completely to the old wood, hearing in that position the whisper of voices, analogous to a ghost mumbling to itself and all who would take time to listen, rambling off the secrets of life and the enigma that is death. Yet few stop to listen to his wisdom, for they are afraid of what he might know and what they might learn.
The young boy felt this very same disquietude as he stood still, his ear pushed but not pressed against the door. All that was left for him to do was commit, to lean against the wood and transform the mutterings of a specter to the words of a man. Oh, how he wished a wind would gust down the staircase and bend him the inch further he needed. If only a friend was there with him to encourage him to take the final step. There was none, nothing of nature nor of man. He was alone. Alone provides no motivation. Alone supplies no encouragement. Alone fails to understand your motives. Alone instead understands your weaknesses, knows your faults, informs you not so clemently of your flaws. In the moments of your solitude, something surrounds you and chokes out all that might remain of your purpose. This antagonist, this solitude, this Alone can bend knees of warriors to the ground, bow the heads of kings to the floor. That young boy was alone. He had no purpose there, no status to determine unto himself what was occurring in there, in the room inches away from his head. He was just a child, a worthless entity in comparison to the importance of his position, the prince of a kingdom.
He was a silly child on a silly adventure with nothing but ultimate disappointment in the end.
He began to feel self-conscious, a wave of guilt disguised as insecurity. He should not be there, he had no purpose, no right. He was such a silly boy.
Had he continued with this flow of thought, he very likely might have convinced himself of these apparent truths. He had abandoned the voice of reason long ago—he could not turn back now. And that was what pushed him to lean just that much further into his situation, perhaps his predicament. Had he any hope, all would have been lost, but with that spark of imminent failure came the desire to discover its outcome, to be proven wrong rather than to guess whether or not it was true. He was already a lost cause; why not make it completely reproachable?
“—from Erionwei to the east. I had not imagined being unexpected as I was informed a message came weeks before my arrival here to warn you of our visit. Did they not come?” Silence followed the hoarse voice. Whether it was silence or muttering, he could not tell, but no response rang out clearly through the door.
Finally one did come. “No, I am afraid we were not able to anticipate your arrival. Some error must have occurred regarding…” The voice trailed off bemusedly, but the young prince did not notice—neither had he understood any words the deep voice had spoken beyond that first word, the identifier of the voice. He knew that speech—it was that of his father, King of Srong.
What astonished himself more than even the presence of his father on the ulterior side of the door was his immediate lack of astonishment. Why would his father not be there, present at where the original mystery began? All along, he had been led by some force, some magnetic attraction. He knew all along yet never believed himself, such a fatal flaw, yet entirely too common.
Despite this, he felt perplexed, mystified really, though on a completely different matter. Formalities were an important part of Srongweian policies, and his father was one to never forget the systematic order of his culture’s decorum. These first few sentences that he had heard could be none other than the start of a conversation, based on the unwritten code of conversational ethics. Yet, coming from what he could tell was the same room, had come four noises—one scream.
How, then, could it be so when all four would have occurred before their initial meeting, before his father would have placed eyes on whomever this stranger was. Maybe by chance he had followed the direction of sounds incorrectly and stumbled upon an even more mysterious event, a meeting of nations, and he was there, listening, learning what he assuredly was not supposed to discover. That made it all the worthwhile, though, for who does not delight in the forbidden when they can enjoy it and yet have no fear of discovery? When darkness comes and none can descry his neighbor from the blackness, the thieves come out to steal. Do they accomplish the same in the light of day, when eyes catch sight of them even before their minds become bent on evil? This young boy was the same, though with much more innocence than a thief. For what harm could result from a little eavesdropping when no one would discover it had occurred? He might even need to know this information, whatever would be spoken between the men opposite the door. If not, his mother would surely find out and tell him (he had forgotten by this time that his mother was one of the noises, one of those who had shouted). It was not forbidden, it was necessary.
Time does not stop for thought, though, and neither did the raspy-voiced stranger. By the time the young prince resumed his ear in the conversation, he had missed half of what had been said.
“—have felt this a necessity. It is more than a request, it bases on our survival. This is why it was pertinent for you to receive…. Never mind the formalities, we need your help! The Cracking Grounds are falling! An entire foot was lost the day before we left, and we have reason to believe it will get worse. And do not think it will not spread. You may be in the middle of the world, but you are not invincible!”
As the reader, you may be slightly confused, but that is only to be expected. All will be explained in due time.
As for our young eavesdropper, this was taken with as much surprise as common knowledge. His tutor had taught him of the world, of its geography, of the Cracking Grounds, of the marshes that would literally swallow any traveler; but they all seemed so distant, a world away, a place where he would never go and never see. Especially the Cracking Grounds, whose name implied its nature. Could the world really be falling away? What if it did reach them? He had no idea how long that would take, or whether it would ever be possible, but the nameless, faceless man opposite the door he leaned against, probably a much wiser man than he himself, a mere child, sure thought it possible. Once again, he was enveloped with fear, though not for his own sake but for those who might fall off the end of the world—forever. He felt as though it was his fault, for had he not wished to discover the mystery, he would not have heard this terrible fate. Ignorance is bliss, it is said, and for good reason, for with knowledge comes understanding, and with understanding, the pain of knowledge.
He relaxed slightly, putting more pressure on the door. The added weight shifted the door forward, pressing against the lock and simple hinge, nothing more than a small, rusty pin resting between two small hoops, one from the door, the other from the wall. With the added weight came added strain on the two objects keeping the door stationary, the hinge and the lock. The rusted pin in the hinge gave way first, snapping in two. The door shifted on its lock as the iron hoops slid apart. The door fell, though still vertical, thudding tremendously as it did so, resting now on its lock and the ground.
The boy jumped back in alarm, his heart racing. He collapsed on the marble floor, his face now more wan than it had ever been before. He was discovered now, no doubt about it. The people inside—his father and that stranger, possibly others—would push down the hardly supported door and see him there, this boy, the prince, eavesdropping on a matter of national affairs—of affairs regarding the safety of the entire world! He had abandoned his previous reasoning of the necessity of his presence there, of his needing to know the conversation. In place of this pride rushed in fear—the fear of discovery. He had been doing the forbidden, and punishment would follow the discovery.
He immediately began to breathe heavily, formulating a plan that could give him reason to be there. He had gotten lost. In his sleep? He was sleepwalking. Opening doors? The truth. What sounds? And what are you doing out of bed? Magic had brought him there. You know magic now? He ransacked his brain for any possible excuse, any potential reason why he would be lying on the floor in a hidden hallway in the middle of the night. There were none, absolutely none, that would not bring trouble.
He lay still on the floor as though paralyzed, awaiting his doom. He told himself to run, to get up off the stone floor and run, but his mind would not listen. It had already given up hope; fear had stopped its functions save for surrender, so surrender he must. He did not wish it, but he could not combat the mind—that is who the decisions belong to.
His doom never came, though. Half a minute passed by, yet no perceivable actions had been taken on the inverse of that door. He felt rather foolish right then, the coward he was, falling on the floor, fretting about a possibility of danger, of shame. What kind of audacious prince was he, cowering at a noise he had made! He was supposed to be there, was he not? There could be no consequence in that.
He scrambled back up to his feet and charily placed his ear against the door, the other one this time. He held his breath in apprehension, just in case that door would fall again under his pressure, he told himself. There was another reason, though.
“—understand how we can help you.” The conversation had continued as normal. The boy’s eyes widened with surprise, and he tensed slightly. Had they not noticed? Had they not heard the harsh cacophony of the metal hoops sliding apart, or the booming blast that had echoed for dozens of seconds as the door collided with the floor? Were they deaf?
Characteristic of young minds, the reasons behind the conversationalists not noticing the blatant noise was pushed aside, and he resumed listening. “How can we control what is the natural course of this world? Maybe it is meant to be. Perhaps the reason—”
“Perhaps you just want us all to perish!” The stranger’s voice cracked painfully as his volume increased. “You would not dare to say so to my face, to the face of our—of my—nation, but that is how you feel!” The man’s anger was evident, even through the closed door.
The king responded civilly in an attempt to calm the nerves of the irate man before him—or beside him, though the boy imagined the two face to face. “We are of no such mindset. We two have every intention to help you to the best of our abilities, do we not?” He paused “However, we cannot defy nature.”
We, he had said, three times. We, two. We meant more than one. ‘We, two’ meant, usually, two people. Others were in there. So why was he not invited? He had the same amount of right as anyone did, if not more. He should break down what was left of that door and march right in, making his presence known. He was the prince, not a slave. He was to be the next king! No one would have the power to stop him—none would dare. He had high authority. So then, why was he not in that room!
His attention turned back onto his superiors’ conversation as the moments of silence in the room concluded. The stranger spoke again, much more subdued than his previous outburst. “But there is a way you can help us, a way to step over nature.”
Again, there was a pause, an almost impatient pause, as though words should have continued but did not proceed. The young listener furrowed his brows, wondering if he was missing something, but he dared not push any harder against the door. His mind muddled over those words: A way to step over nature. Was there really such a thing? Could humans, a part of and subject to the concepts of nature indeed control it? Could the created control a creator? Even in his uneducated mind, he could tell either this stranger was wrong or knew something he himself did not. He knew one could not stop the rain. He knew one could not cool the heat of sun. He knew one had no power over where lightning struck, or where earthquakes hit, or where winds toppled trees. All humans could dream of doing is dealing with nature as best they could, simply surviving whatever catastrophe this tireless antagonist throws against them and receiving with supplication the gifts that this misunderstood friend offered. Then how could any human—his father especially—have this authority to subdue forces the world had established years past, the forces that made the world fall away?
His father and whoever was accompanying him most doubtless inquired as to the same question in their pause, or at least their hesitation in response seemed to clue so. Silence prevailed. The boy began to notice things in this silence, like the whispers of a flame from a fire that must be in the other room. He could hear breathing, more than just the muffled heaving of his own. And, above all, he could hear that clamor that his mind seemed to create, the racket that always prevails when nothing else is sounding, as though the brain wishes to have some noise. It is in the silence when this noise exists to drown out all that cannot be heard, for it would drive men mad to hear just one more thing. And as the young boy pressed harder on the door, he wished the din would cease so he could hear one more thing, the thoughts of those inside.
At last, his father spoke, slowly yet deliberately, almost as though this was a conditioned response. “You seem to be mistaken. I am not a god, nor a sorcerer, nor any of the sort that would enable me to accomplish your bidding. I am sorry, but I cannot help you here. This problem is not mine, but it belongs to—”
“Do not pretend to deny your knowledge.” If voices could be seen anthropomorphically, the way in which this stranger cut in, the tonality in which he spoke those words, scornful yet full truth, laughing yet so condescending, would bring to mind most assuredly some terrible man, a murderer, a luster, a coaxer, a thief. The young boy caught his breath in his throat as though something had ceased its flow. It was a frightful phrase. But there was more to be said on this matter. “Do not think I have come here unprepared.” He heard a step being taken as though this man was a lion, circling its prey. “Do not think my fellow people do not know what is hidden in this castle.” Another step sounded from inside. He closed his eyes, trying to picture what was going on in that room but could not. It was all he could do to not thrust himself through that door and discover the truth. He dared not, however fretful he became. Again, the sound of leather against the marble floor sounded out. “Do not think there is any chance of survival without it.” The voice was becoming more and more like that of a snake, slithering in and out of the prince’s mind, begging him to believe yet reminding him that it was not true. That is where missteps occur, when confusion strikes and what is expected, the lie that surely must accompany, becomes what is believed. “Do not think we do not know about—”
“Silence!” The shout was so unexpected, the boy nearly leaped back in alarm again. The voice was full of fury, of rage, of fear that had been bundled up for ages, finally let loose in an explosion terrible to behold. It seemed to swallow that devious voice of the stranger, wiping even the memory of how it felt to be washed by its sound, to be in peace yet awaiting the danger. For that is how the furtive voice traps its prey, by masking the truth in the guise of tranquility, forcing the forget of all but the gray certainty of what is being said. All this vanished at the booming shout, a shout that, though wrought in anger, carried with it a freedom, a sense of home in the midst of terror. That shout, no doubt rung out by the king, could have been heard in halls stories above where they stood. The entire Palace must have been awakened by the thunderous noise.
The boy stood frozen to the door, his eyes spread in a wild look, fearful yet awaiting the truth. The climax was near, he could tell, and he would not leave if even the walls started caving in. What was this the stranger spoke of? Why did his father shout out at the man? What was going on?
His father spoke, still with fury in his voice. “We have not dared touch it for generations! I do not even know where it is, let alone know where to begin searching for it! And we cannot risk using it again, in case what happened last time occurs again. That could be catastrophic! It would cause more harm than good, no doubt. No, I will not. I am sorry, but it is time for you to go.”
The boy was distressed. What happened last time? What would they be searching for? What harm could this object cause? The answers he had received led only to more questions, more unanswerable queries that, he had no doubt, would never be answered. He felt frustrated, defeated, worthless. It was all a huge waste of his time, he knew that.
But had he turned then, had he left his post and walked away, dejected and none the more wiser, he would have missed out on the most important situation of his life. Had he traipsed back to his bed and collapsed into its warm, inviting features, he would have neglected the discovery that would change his life. Somewhere deep inside him, he must have known that, must have understood the importance of this encounter, so he stayed, his ear still pressed against the wood door, expecting now nothing but disappointment.
The stranger spoke again, his voice more enticing than before. “But we do know where it is.” He paused again, and the boy could just barely hear the sound of parchment brushing against something. “This holds the secret to our security.”
It was the perfect moment; everything was going to be explained. No doubt, the boy thought, his father would take whatever the stranger had uncovered into his hands and read whatever might be written on it aloud. It might be a map, a letter, a picture, and whichever of these it was, he would surely vocally express. Then, the boy imagined, the stranger would explain what it was and how it came to him. A story would be told of its origin, and they would all go off and discover the magical object that would save the world. This is how the young boy imagined reality to occur. He had made up his mind that this would happen. In a sense, he had already created reality for himself.
None of this did occur, though. His reality was immediately shattered as what in his mind had already come was changed. Nothing was given to his father, and his father said nothing about the piece of parchment. The stranger did not explain everything, and nobody left the room to discover the magical object and save the world. If there could be a complete opposite to this, that was what occurred.
Instead, half of a noise was uttered from the king’s lips, but whatever was going to be said was immediately halted, the ghost of the word still lingering in the air. There was a moment of complete stillness where nothing occurred, but it seemed much longer than just a fleeting moment. For in a pause, what ideas come and infest the mind, ideas of what might be, thoughts of repercussions, silence, isolation. Then there came a moment of confusion.
From his position, the boy could only guess what was happening in those moments. He heard an object fall, or perhaps something—or someone—was shoved against a wall. Next, he could hear gasps, faint reminders of breath, as surprise caught the flow of life in their necks. He heard a step, then a tussle with murmured shouts, then the unmistakable sound of the impact of metal in flesh.
Then there came a shout, a shout that sparked a memory, a moment of déjà vu, a moment of confused realization. He had heard that shout before, perceived its harshness, noticed the pain riddled in with the sound. It was the very same shout that had led him here, the same voice that had clued the location of that hidden door—the voice of his father, in pain.
One of the strangest concepts for children to grasp is the mortality of their father. Being a figure of strength and power, holding through storms of life when nothing else still stands, even the nightmare that this figure can fall is unrealistic in the mind of a child. This young boy was in that situation of realization, of the moving from ignorance to knowledge, bringing with it the pain of truth. In that shout, that scream, was the essence of lost hope, that the battle could not be won. It was this that frightened the child most. The only figurehead that could withstand anything was falling.
He heard the dull impact of a body crashing to the ground, no doubt his father collapsing from whatever harm had befallen him. Yet his mind did not linger on this, for an inference based on these events dawned on him. Four distinct, uproarious sounds had come from this very room. The first was a heavy impact while the other three were human shouts. He had heart the likeness of the first one when the door he had been leaning on slid to the ground. He had heard a shout following this from his father, an uproar that would have traversed the entire Palace, quite similar to the muffled sound he had heard while still lying in bed, the noise that had given him courage to find his way to its source. Here again was that second scream, full of pain that his father uttered, the same sound that had clued him to the location of the hidden door. It was all falling together now; he almost laughed at his solving the puzzle, at his cunning in putting together these instances that should not have been at all related; he could have jumped for joy, smiled in delight.
But then he remembered the final sound, that fourth noise, that scream that had erupted from his mother.
In that moment, his mouth dropped and his eyes widened even further. This was no game anymore. He had no doubt what would be soon to follow, what would erupt from that room in the moment to come. The only question still left was the purpose for it, the reason for his mother to shout out, in pain, fear, or both. He was frightened, for not only had his fortress fallen, his protector was about to fall too.
The mind hates to be frightened, and when if faced with such a circumstance that causes that feared feeling, it resists by creating a mask, a channel for this fear to run the mind without its cause being known, this being anger. In that instant, everything that the boy had been frightened of became objects for anger, recipients of rage. He had been afraid for his father, but now he felt enraged at the perpetrator of his father’s failure; he had been frightened by whatever had just occurred in that room in the midst of the silence and confusion, but now he felt a rage against its conceiver; he had been scared for his mother, but now he felt an anger that seemed to entitle him to save her. With that transformation from fear to outrage came a boldness, an audacity, an overwhelming courage to make right the situation. His blood seemed to boil within him as his heart and mind agreed on that one decision, to act, to be the savior.
It was in that fleeting moment, there for just a brief expanse of time and gone as the next came, forcing its way into the world, that this young boy took the plunge into insanity, leaving behind any thought, his entire being behind this action.
He broke through the door.
The room he had just broken into, the room outside of which he had fantasized for quite some time now, the room which seemed to hold all the secrets, was hardly larger than his bedroom. It indeed seemed like some secret place, what with the stone brick walls and shelves filled with both writings and possibly more questionable materials. A large fireplace, placed in the wall just opposite the now horizontal doors revealed a hearty fire, not only warming the room but providing an ample supply of light to illuminate most every corner of the room. Just above the empty mantle was situated a large map, somehow fixated against the stone wall, barely able to be made out with the flickering light of the fire just below it—it was a map of the world, all that was known, the familiar circular land with its central mountains, its eastern desert, its southern marshes, and its northern woodlands. It was gray, though either with age or with smoke it was hard to tell.
There was one other door leading into the room, that being an ordinary wooden door in the center of the right wall, positioned between two large, clear cabinets, holding in them objects that were surely of immense value. The door was slightly ajar, allowing a cold draft to make its way into the hidden room. Besides several rugs, candles, tapestries, desks, and other paraphernalia cluttered in the musky room, there were four chairs, obviously not made with the original intent to collect dust. All in all, its furnishings made for a regal room, complete with the kingdom’s symbol, a stalk of wheat in the mouth of a lion, situated on all four walls.
But there was an element that drastically changed this view of the room for the boy, the addition of human influence.
As though arriving to a play mid-scene, this boy took in the location and position of the characters involved, but he knew the context, he knew what had just occurred and quite possibly what was about to occur. Of the five other inhabitants of the room, three were familiar to him. His sister, a princess in both title and manner, stood just in front of the fireplace, her complexion pale and her eyes vacant. In her right hand was a short knife, the tip of which was covered with a red substance, the same color and substance that was racing out from the wound of the king. Lying facedown on a lion skin rug was his father, the king, bleeding from a spot in his lower back. Kneeling down beside him was his mother, a tear already racing down her cheek as she looked up into the face of one of the strangers.
He was a young man, not more than twenty, with a wild, unkempt look about him. In his right hand was a yellowed piece of parchment, folded into a small square, the very object that had the utmost attention of another man, about the same age as the aforesaid, though more kempt and with a slim scar over his throat. His look was that of incredulity, of disbelief, of fault.
And here he was, a young prince, thrust into the midst of all of this turmoil and confusion. In that moment of fear, in that moment of anger, in that moment of courage, he felt completely out of place, like he did not belong, though not necessarily because of his emotions.
What made it all the more worse was that as the clamor from the broken door reached all those assembled in the room, they all, each and every one of them, save for the king, turned their eyes upon him. His sister remained expressionless, lost in utter fear. The man with the scar turned upon him with the look of concerned alarm. The stranger with the yellowed parchment looked on him with an almost frightened astonishment. And his mother, already disheveled with the fall of her husband, turned her sad eyes upon him with concern, with love, with angst, with every emotion that could be forced into one flash of green eyes. Her eyes wept, not with tears, but with the reflection of her son, for the cause of grief was not of the present situation but of his presence.
With all of this captured in a single glimpse, the boy could not do anything but stand. His mind had stopped, his heart had stopped, time had stopped as far as he was concerned. He was supposed to save the day, to rescue his mother from the danger that was to come. But in that moment of realization, all had changed. His plan was smothered by his entrance, for there is a large gap between romance and reality, more than just the manner in which they were created but in how they are perceived—the romances of the mind have to make sense, whereas reality seldom does.
What made no sense to this boy, and thus what assured his unconscious that what he was experiencing was truly reality, was the object in his sister’s hand. That piece of metal, flawless and beautiful, was corrupted with the wine of a body, the blood that sustains and gives life to everyone. The blade was not inherently evil, but when its perfect sheen became masked by the blood of a man, the object changed from an artifact of human ingenuity to an emblem of evil. But that was not the knife’s fault. It was simply a tool, a slave doing the bidding of its bearer. That is who the real thirst for blood resided in.
The boy initially regarded his sister and the knife as two separate entities. However, as his subconscious worked out the universal truth of the inborn nature of any weapon, he began to see the two objects, one inanimate, the other human, as one. The relation between the two bridged every gap, every doubt in his mind that it could not truly exist. It did not matter that the blade had no mind, no thoughts, no resolve, no ambition, for its purpose came down from its bearer. The weapon simply did what it was told. And it had been told to drink.
The man with the parchment in his hand made a movement toward the girl, and the boy almost wished the older man had had a knife in his hand to pay back his sister for what she had done. It was a terrible thought, but how he wished it to be so, how he wished to settle scores with his sister, to avenge his father—their father! His wish was granted, though the count of knives in that room remained one. The boy watched with a mixture of rage and anxiety, both for his sister, as the man took the knife that had already drunk once the blood of a man. The girl did nothing, only stare with apprehension at the man now holding the knife, now blameless in the hands of its new wielder. The boy stared too, though at nothing in particular, his mind more focused on the room than his eyes.
As he stood there, mind racing yet altogether dumbfounded, unable to do anything physical beyond functioning, the queen lifted her eyes back to the man that seemed to hold the balance of all things in his hands. She peered into his face and saw the expression with which he looked at her son. The boy noticed the way she scrutinized the man’s face and saw her expression change, change from helplessness to hopelessness, from terror to complete desperation. With that glance she saw the motive with which he stared at her son. In that moment, she let out a scream.
It had all come to pass, all that the young child knew. There was that shriek, that awful noise that can only exude from sheer terror. Yet, encased in that last desperate attempt to somehow fix everything was a glimmer of hope, of assuredness, that what she was attempting would work, that her plan for her son’s salvation would succeed.
Unfortunately, it did.
The young prince watched as the man turned his face upon the woman. His gaze was that of fear, that she was thwarting him somehow. Had the child been able to know the thoughts of this man, he would have seen a mess of indecision as he grappled with first the seed of an idea that grew into a dense forest, so thick that only it clouded the mind. He would have seen the surprise this man felt within himself as he thrust out his left hand toward the queen. He would have sensed the astonishment that flooded over the man on account of his own actions as he withdrew his arm, the blade no longer in his hand. He would have understood the confusion he faced as he, disbelieving his own actions, shoved the other man toward the fireplace. And he would have related to his triumph as he raced out of the partially opened door, throwing that parchment into the fire as he left, escaping into a freedom with more gained than lost.
But the child did not know the thoughts of this murderer, for his own were occupied with the actions of the latter. He watched in disbelief as the only remaining solid figure in his life collapsed mid scream, a scream that had barely lasted any time at all yet echoed eternally in his ears. The only thought he had left was of fault—it was all his fault. He was such a silly child.
He was such a silly child.
In these moments, in these temporary expanses of time, more had occurred than he ever thought possible. In those moments, his life had been transformed. In those moments, he had gained what he wanted but lost everything he cared for as a result. In those moments, he had lost his mind to his emotions, lost his emotions to his actions, and lost his actions to his circumstance. In those moments, he had transformed from an adventurer to an absent body. In those moments, he had seen everything, so now he saw no more. It was at that moment, in those moments, reality ceased from the vantage point of his memories, and what filled his thoughts was the beauty a blind man sees in the sunset, the richness a deaf man hears in the rain, everything that he knew, yet nothing he understood. The tablet had been wiped clean, the slate renewed, tabla rosa, and he was simply there.
And all this went on in the mind of a ten-year-old boy.