Hey, so sorry it's taken so long to finish this!
The play ended this past weekend, so I'll have loads more free time at night, which hopefully means I'll be actually be tending to my poor, forgotten blog!
Read Crossing to Afienda Part One here
Crossing to Afienda
by Meredith B.
*last name shortened for safety reasons*
"The herald read the proclamation to us," Naolia whispered. Both girls were continuing to crush the stalks, a task that should have been relatively easy. Yet, the mallets were so heavy, and the pulsating ground made the girl’s legs throb with fatigue. "We have to be in the market square at noon tomorrow."
"I know. I came to tell you that you have to escape."
"But, I cant. Father and mother—"
"But, you must! Don’t you understand? I am the reason you’re here in the fields. I’m the reason Randolf is gone."
Faluri shuddered as another spasm of memories struck her, and she sank into their insistent clutches.
The breeze had deposited her at the servant’s entrance of Lord Locmana’s grand mansion. She had been found by a scullery maid and been appointed as a serving maid herself. She refused to tell anyone where she was from. The plague had begun the next day, and twenty noblemen had died. Then, Lord Locmana had been stricken with the mysterious illness himself, and hysteria had grown to a fever pitch. The lord had decreed that a Pacmana maiden must be sacrificed to appease Hungali’s wrath and had said that the casting of lots would determine the maiden to be chosen. Now, as Faluri relived these memories, it suddenly came to her that the casting of lots was merely a clever ruse. She had always been the object of Hungali’s desire, and he was determined to have her. She thought of Randolf, a king who was also a brother to a commoner. He had sacrificed himself so that she might live. Should she not do the same for his sister?
Hungali had been as good as his word, for the unexplained illnesses of so many noble young men had caused outright panic. Blame had naturally fallen on the Pacmana race. Only Faluri’s adopted family had taken a stand, for though they did not know where she was, they extolled the Pacmana race as equals to nobles. Thus, they were punished by being forced to become slaves.
Faluri stared at her adopted sister for a long moment. Then, she whispered to herself, "He knew I’d give myself up to protect you, to honor Randolf’s memory." There was no need to wait for the drawing of lots. She would do what she had to do tonight.
"Sweeties. Lovely sweeties!" An old man’s voice rang through the relentless pounding of the mallets and groans of the slaves. Faluri gaped as she beheld a stooped form hobbling through the crowd of slaves. The overseers flocked to the man, snatching sweets from a basket which he balanced upon his hip. "Easy!" he cried. "Plenty for all!"
"All? These beasts don’t get anything." One of the overseers guffawed, his mouth so crammed with barley sugar that his words were garbled. Syrup dribbled down his chin.
"Beasts, eh?" The man chortled, grinning cheekily. "Appears to be only you yourself. Beast in the decidedly singular. Where’s my coin? These treats aren’t free, you know."
"Watch your tongue, you old fool! We’ve never payed in the past, have we?" The overseer yankd the basket from the old man’s hand, dividing the remaining goodies among himself and the others. "Be off with you."
Calmly, the man raised his hands, snatching the basket back. The wicker container now bulged with a vast profusion of treats, and he staggered under its weight. The overseers gaped at his retreating form as he circulated among the slaves, giving each one a cone of barley sugar. "From King Elumi’s own fields. Not ill-gotten by slave labor but freely grown for all."
As the man made his rounds, he stopped beside the pit, gently patting each girl on the shoulder as he handed them the treats. "Only one day more," he murmured. "Then your slavery will cease." As He spoke these words, his eyes locked onto Faluri, who gaped in shock. "You are more than you think, courageous girl," the sweet-seller murmured. "Hungali wanted you to surrender to his embrace. Now, he will surrender to you." He withdrew a cloth bag from the folds of his brown tunic, and a belt the translucent color of honey. Thrusting these items into Faluri’s hands, he enfolded her in a strong embrace. His touch brought a surge of comfort and strength, and the scents of cinnamon, cloves and other spices clung to him. Faluri suddenly knew from whence the breeze that had carried her to the mansion had originated. Then the man vanished.
Faluri blinked in wonder at the bag. Trembling, she opened it and stared in disappointment. A lump of barley sugar, a skein of scarlet yarn and a strangely-scented leaf were the only objects it contained. Faluri withdrew the leaf, gaping it its strange beauty. Scalloped-edged, the leaf was a dazzling white and shone with a mesmerizing brilliance. Faluri returned the leaf to the bag, her mind reeling with confusion. She prepared to journey to her doom.
The barley fields were eerily silent. Faluri stood alone, her hands trembling. Around her waist was the golden belt, and attached to it was the small cloth bag. She felt the thrumming of Hungali’s heartbeat and knew what she had to do. Stepping to the edge of the barley pit, she prepared to enter it yet again.
A thunderous pounding of hoofbeats tore through the silence, and Faluri shrank back, fully expecting the ghostly black steed to rise from the pit’s depths. Yet, the sound came from behind her. Trembling, she turned around and came face-to-face with a towering steed. The horse’s coat was dazzlingly white, and a scarlet mane flowed down its back. The horse neighed and reared onto its hind legs, and she realized that it was wild. Yet even in it’s wildness, it stood before her, its glittering golden eyes scrutinizing her closely. Faluri reached into the bag at her waist and withdrew the lump of barley sugar, a sugar more refined than any grown in these fields. She proffered the sweet, and the horse bent forward, its mouth nuzzling her fingers as it took it from her hand. The majestic animal nickered softly and knelt upon the ground. Light poured from its shimmering mane, and Faluri caught the distinct scent of cinnamon, cloves and other strange spices.
"Y-You will allow me to ride upon your back?" Her heart pounded in fear, but her eyes were filled with tears of wonder. "I must journey to the mountains."
The horse inclined its head. Faluri grasped its mane and clambered upon its back. Instantly, the horse rose and began to gallop, its cloven hooves thundering across the fields. The steed’s movements were so graceful, and Faluri’s hair flew behind her in a gentle breeze. The horse’s movements grew even faster, and they were suddenly airborne. Faluri gasped, clinging to the mane with an iron grip. You will not fall. The steed’s thoughts were amused. Trust me.
Soon, Faluri felt familiar biting cold, and she felt a tremendous jolt as the horse landed upon a stone walkway. To her right yawned the immense chasm, and everything was as she remembered from that harrowing day. The only difference was that now there was no one to lend her a helping hand. Even as she thought this, the steed vanished and the ground began to quake.
Ah! I knew you would return. Hungali’s rumbling voice rang with jubilant triumph. Your weak heart could not bear that others die. You’re so pathetic!
Faluri swallowed, staring as the breeze began to intensify. "Y-You want me to come to you. Why? You love no one but yourself."
Have you any inkling of how hard I’ve worked to establish my kingdom? He had to interfere, to take into his home a worthless donkey of a girl. The prophecy will not be fulfilled. His own weakness prevented it. Once I have dealt with you, then I will be safe. My reign will be firmly established.
Faluri felt the tears course down her cheeks, and she thought of Randolf’s intervention. "He is strong, far stronger than you’ll ever be."
There was a long silence. Then, Hungali’s tone of contempt abruptly changed. What do you wear around your waist?
Faluri trembled, clutching the bag in her sweat-soaked hand.
Come now. Let me see.
Faluri held the bag toward the gaping chasm, keeping the contents hidden from sight. "I’ll show you if you’ll consent to remove the illness from the land."
Hungali laughed. You presume to bargain with me?
"This bag contains great weapons from King Elumi’s own land. Would you not desire to possess them yourself?"
The air from the chasm roared in anger, jerking Faluri’s tunic as it pummeled her extended hand. Give it to me!
"I must have your word first."
Very well, shrewd creature. I will remove the plague, but you will not leave here alive. I’ll have you and the weapons as well. Now give me the bag.
Faluri opened her hand, reaching toward the roiling breeze. Instantly, iron fingers snatched the bag away, tearing it open to expose the contents.
A snarl of utter rage erupted in the air. You deceived me! What is the meaning of this? The bag was flung into the air in disgust. It flew toward Faluri’s outstretched hand. Hungali’s aim was wrong, for the bag clattered onto the stone walkway at Faluri’s feet, the white leaf and the scarlet skein of yarn erupting from their cloth enclosure.
Suddenly, the overpowering scent that Faluri knew so well filled the air. She gasped as a tree appeared where the Lleaf had fallen, a squat object from which dazzling light poured forth. The tree’s golden branches swayed, its dazzlingly white leaves glimmering.
Hungali’s laughter was horrible to hear. You think a mere tree will stop me? A massive tree the size of a great oak burst from the chasm’s depths, it’s towering branches a garish black. The tree bent forward, the snake-like branches wrapping themselves around the smaller tree. The trunk snapped, the deafening pop resembling the sound of a breaking back, and the Talmun tree hurtled into the chasm’s depths.
Your games bore me. Come and be mine.
As these words rumbled around her, Faluri’s attention was arrested by the glimmering scarlet yarn that still lay on the stone walkway. The skein was unraveling by itself, the glimmering thread stretching until it reached the lip of the chasm. The yarn continued to unwind, stretching until a thin rivulet of scarlet spanned the infinite divide. Faluri realized she was staring at a bridge.
I see. Yet another tiresome tactic. Hungali rose upward, suddenly transforming into the most handsome man Faluri had ever seen. His jet-black hair billowed around him like a cape, and his fathomless eyes shone with triumph. Calmly, he reached out a hand, clutching the thin rope bridge. I will break this as I destroyed that useless tree.
Yet, Hungali’s boasts were futile, for the harder he pulled at the scarlet thread, the weaker he seemed to become. Faluri saw him shake with exertion.
"Hungali." A voice shattered the stillness, and the scarlet thread seemed to move. Faluri saw a form in the distance, a shimmering man walking toward her with measured strides. "Your day of reckoning has come."
That voice! That compassionate, powerful voice! Faluri gaped in shock as she beheld Randolf’s approaching form. He walked upon the glimmering bridge, his scarred hands held out in front of him. His face shone with a translucent light.
Instantly, Hungali lunged toward Randolf, his face contorted with rage. The man form dwindled before Faluri’s eyes, and the powerful breeze pushed against Randolf’s advancing form, repeatedly attempting to hurl him yet again into the cavernous depths. It is not possible! You were crushed.
"Faluri, come to me." Randolf continued crossing the bridge, heedless of Hungali’s rants.
Yes, Faluri. Go to him. Step upon this futile bridge. It will not bear a mortal’s weight. When you fall, I shall be waiting to catch you. You shall melt into my embrace, and we shall become one. Hungali’s jeers pummeled Faluri’s stomach, and her heart quaked with fear.
"I will enable you to cross, Faluri. Do not be afraid. Did I not give you sustenance in the barley fields? Did I not transport you here? Did not my branches weaken his power? Though I fell, I rose yet again, and the thread of my life’s blood has provided a crossing over Death’s demesne."
Faluri gaped, seeing within Randolf all the things that he was; a loving brother, a provider of sweetness, a scarlet-maned horse, a tree of life, a bridge builder and a conquering king. Shaking, she took her first tentative step toward the gaping chasm. In her ears, she heard Hungali’s laughter. When she stepped onto the bridge, she felt it sway and give. The breeze grew so furious that she heard as in a recurring nightmare the walkway begin to collapse yet again. The bridge groaned as it swayed to and fro. A scream erupted from her throat.
"The bridge will not collapse, Faluri. Trust me."
Her heart in her mouth, Faluri took another step forward, her right hand extended. Warm fingers closed over her own, and she and the king began to walk forward together. The bridge continued to sway and shake violently, but Faluri clung to her brother’s strong hand.
As they reached the other side, they stepped from the bridge onto a snowcapped mountain peak. Instantly, the bridge ceased shaking, and in the distance, Faluri saw a towering tree burst from the chasm’s depths. As the tree emerged, Hungali was thrown back into the chasm. A low rumble emerged from the chasm’s depths as the ground closed with a thunderous roar. The chasm had closed forever. Hungali’s screams were abruptly silenced.
Faluri flung herself into Randolf’s embrace. Brother and sister twirled round and round, and Faluri saw a dazzling sight. Vast barley fields stretched before her, the pure snow blanketing them in a profusion of downy white. Oddly, the air was not cold here but crisp and caressing, and the scents of cinnamon, cloves and other unidentifiable spices tickled her nostrils.
This beauty was unsurpassed, but as Faluri stared, she glimpsed a sight more wondrous than any landscape. People worked in the fields side by side. No overseers plied their whips. People of every color and class were united here. In the distance, she saw two figures, a petite, dimpled woman and a muscular man. Both of them sported pointed ears, and their faces were a mirror image of her own.
Suddenly, Faluri was running, her pace as swift as a mountain gazelles. As she ran, the two figures ran as well, their eyes shining. Daughter, father and mother met in a blinding collision, their tears of joy mingling together as they embraced.
Then King Elumi, (or Randolf as he would always be known by Faluri), was there, enfolding the family into his arms and gently wiping the tears from their eyes. "Welcome to Afendia, my sister," he said, his voice like the rushing of many waters. "Welcome home."
Two days later, a brother and sister descended a vast mountain. They trod upon a walkway of scarlet stone which was skirted by two Talmun trees that stood on either side of the path. The trees stood like strong, silent sentries.
The brother and sister journeyed to a valley in search of willing pilgrims, travelers who would accompany them to a new home, a land of perpetual joy. The Chasm Crossers would make many journeys of this kind, and all would be well. The prophecy had been fulfilled. An adopted girl from the Pacmana race had called forth the King’s wondrous grace.