Monday, May 24, 2010
The hunched figure poked a thick stick into the glowering embers; prodding it to life. The silence before dawn, the change of guard between the night creatures and those who worshipped the sunlight was a time Dante had always taken pleasure from. Death often stole its more tenacious victims at this time, when hope had failed and it appeared there would be nothing more than an eternal darkness. That hour before the suns burning fingers inched its way over the landscape was a turning point, hard to describe, but one so fuelled with a universal energy Dante believed was Gods closest presence on earth every day. One he’d chosen to complete his work and worship.
Crackling of dry leaves beside him announced the small form rousing and waking. Dantes hand came to rest on its shoulder as he gazed down at the slumbering boy. Strange how he felt his face soften as he watched the lad. Dante caught himself wondering how old his own son might have been have been. With a jolt, he realised how many years had passed since those bloody figures lay on the flagstone floors of their cottage. Hard to believe that he might be a father to a grown man with his own trade. Dante snatched his hand away from the lads shoulder and threw another stick onto the fire. One act of selfishness and his own sons future had been snatched away; leaving Dante to repent and repay those moments for eternity. He shook his head trying to clear the unbidden thoughts from his mind. Strange how he’d not thought of his own son for this many years, had kept that locked away, refusing to look at it. Strange too that this boy had crept under his skin; when countless others had not. He consoled his mind with thoughts of ransom and reward which would be his when he found the boys father. Dante poked the fire violently and kicked the boy to wake him. “Wake lad. We need to ready ourselves for the next arduous climb.”
After their escape from the Spanish Capital, Dante had no plan for their direction but had found himself gravitating back to Rome and to its populated outcrops. Although they’d taken a wide birth round Capena, its proximity had woken too many memories. He snapped a stick and vowed to ensure particular longevity to the worship and care he would take with the boys father when he was located.
They’d lost the trackers over a week ago. Even so, he’d purposely kept a low profile; suspiciously eyeing any traveller they passed, covering campsites and movements. Although he’d been the best the Brotherhood had trained, Dante refused to let any detail slip. He would not fall prey to the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins. The cold twist of a knife as it thrust virtually through his heart reminded him again that he could no longer trust the Brotherhood. Pride was the ultimate source from which the other sins drew their powers. Dante knew he would need to atone for his slip into melancholy. He body surged with the need to cleanse, but with no direction from the Brotherhood nor from God, he felt cheated and spiritually lost.
Fishing a soft leather pouch from under his tunic, Dante opened the mouth wide and smoothed it flat on his palm. Dark symbols stood out on a scratched map upon the leather. From his educated guess using the map, they were still a weeks march to a safe harbour. Dante was now determined to find shelter in Sicily and purpose with the dark brothers. Although the faceless father had no sins confirmed, Dante had busied himself cataloguing punishable reasons he would use to prolong the trial he would preside over. He felt an old glow of certainty return to his soul. His mind now calmed; finding peace with a God-sent plan. His role now was to protect his boy; to find his worthless father and make him pay for deserting Matthias into the cruel hands of Belicia. That the fool deserted the Queen of Spain was of secondary irritation, but one he would ensure a great financial gain would be secured before a slow painful death could be delivered.
Too preoccupied with his own thoughts, Dante had not realised that the forest was silent. Rays of light from the sun should be pouring through trees by now, beginning to warm Dantes back, but he suddenly realised that he felt none. The birds had not woken. The change over from night denizens and daytime scurrying creatures had frozen.
“Matthias, wake lad.” Dante bent low and shook him. The boys eyes slowly blinked open and he rose rubbing his face. “Its still dark ,Signor.”
“Father. You must now refer me as your Father”
“Father. Its still dark.”
“Put your boots on Matthias, we’ll eat something first and then we need to move to higher ground. There is something amiss.”
“Have fled. Best we continue on foot in any case.”
The earth groaned under them. Shrieks, as though from the damned, echoed within the silent forest.
Dantes face became as unreadable as a solid stone wall; his movements liquid as he doused the fire and collected their meagre belongings into a bundle.
“Come Matthias. Gods punishment day has arrived.”
“Should we pray?”
“If it is the end of times, then God would want us on our feet and ready, rather than on our knees. Leave that for priests and the weak minded. We can worship his glory in many other ways. Best we make it to the top of this bluff before we plan what to do next.”
Darkness enveloped them as they climbed upward through the sparsely wooded forest. The feint unmistakable smell of sulphur washed over them as drifting white ash began to fall softly about them.
Stopping at a rocky outcrop, Dante and Matthias peered though the liquid darkness toward the horizon.
Although the sun blazed above them in its midmorning position, black clouds billowed about it cloaking and smothering its rays, revealing only a faint outline of a mountain several leagues in the distance. Broad sheets of fire and leaping flames blazed outward from its centre, emphasising the darkness as it spewed clouds of noxious gases into the atmosphere.
“Its sign from God, Matthias.”
He looked at the calm face of the lad beside him and wondered again about the identity of the boys father. Royal blood gave him his poise and refined looks, but his fathers blood ran thick with courage, fearlessness and touched with a luck he’d seen rarely.
“In the midst of this” Dante waved his arm in front of the spectacular volcanic display, “I need to seek Tranquility of the Mind. Its Gods plan for us. In Sicily, I promise to begin to teach you the true way to be at one with God. To find true peace.”
In his sinful pride, Dante had neglected to observe the basics. However, they had hope if they could reach the harbour and onto Sicily before being caught. The trackers may not have announced themselves in the last few days, but Dante knew they were relentless and would not have given up easily. He should know, only a few years ago his religious zeal had him hunting human pray on one of those very teams.
Story inspired by the [Fiction Friday] prompt at Write Anything, submitted to JM Strother’s #FridayFlash and to Tony Nolands Tuesday Serial via Twitter.
This short snippet will appear - somewhere - in the Chronicles known as The Astonishing Adventures of Captain Juan.
Prompt - A boy and his father awaken early to watch the sunrise from their mountain campsite, but they begin to panic when the sky remains dark long into the afternoon.