Chapter Three The Draw of Luck
Ruarc walked for the entire morning, and being accustomed to soft soil and grasses, his feet chafed from the rough road. Small blisters emerged on his soles demanding relief, but Ruarc wrested his attention back to the road. It’s only blisters. He welcomed the cool morning’s fresh breeze upon his face instead of dwelling on pain. He might have imagined this to be an after-breakfast stroll had the circumstances been different.
The Goblin Road narrowed to a rocky trail that could hardly be called a road, for two horses could not ride abreast. Riders traveling opposite directions would be spurred to the challenge of who would move aside for the other. It seemed as if the road picked the worst of spots to shrink, as if it craved conflicts among the travelers and herded them like sheep across the land. Nevertheless, Ruarc began to wonder if he was fated to have a quiet journey, not quite the dangerous adventure he had suspected.
As the road bent around an imposing copse of thick trees, Ruarc came face to upside-down face with his answer: a diminutive rope-bound creature hanging from a branch. A tight cloth gagged the small creature’s mouth. The rope covered him from neck to ankles so that he triggered in Ruarc an image of thread upon a spool, but then he noticed the bruises on its face. He’s hurt. Bad. The creature’s eyes shot open at the sight of Ruarc and he wriggled within his bounds. A muffled moan escaped though the gag.
Ruarc’s surprise rooted him to the earth. It took another moan from the captive to snap him out of his stupefaction. He yanked the gag off of the captive, who drew in a loud breath.
“What?” asked Ruarc. What language is this?
“Behind you!” the captive shouted, “Gremmon!”
Ruarc ducked as he spun around, somehow anticipating the large branch that whooshed overhead and hit the hanging creature in the stomach, rendering him breathless as his small body swung upwards.
“Grem … gremmon, “ gasped the creature, “Help.”
Chapter Two The Burden
Ruarc stepped down off the road into a ditch crowded with bushes, well hid from any potential passersby. Dew had soaked the ground, so he patted down lush clumps of ferns until he had enough to make a passable place for rest. He plopped upon his makeshift bed and pulled his feet closer to rub them gently; traces of blood streaked across his palms. He lay on his back and tucked his hands underneath his head as he stared up at the stars. The night air had grown icy and he watched his breath with each exhale swirl before the moon’s light.
Then he stared blankly, losing interest in the stars, and his eyes glazed over with a flood of yesterday’s memories.
Only hours before—though it seemed longer—Ruarc and his brother Aidan sat on the floor between their beds long past when their parents had tucked them in to sleep. On many nights they would lie awake telling each other the stories that they had heard countless times, and often they might throw themselves into the tales as a character. Always they played the hero regardless of the threat, even 7-year-old Aidan with his infinite imagination. On this night, however, they were playing their favorite game of knockstones.
Aidan flicked a large white stone toward his brother. The polished rock rolled across the floor and knocked several stones out of the way with a light clink. A giggle escaped him before he could cup his smiling mouth.
“Shh!” whispered Ruarc. “Not so loud.”
Aidan shrugged as he mischievously grinned. He bobbed his head with a loyal nod.
“Yeah?” whispered Ruarc. He sent a yellow stone skittering under the bed and then smiled with triumph.
“This is fun.”
Ruarc poked his little brother playfully in the shoulder and grabbed a black stone. While he steadied his aim, his attention drifted away as he noticed his brother fixated on something behind Ruarc. The look on Aidan’s face struck him as trance-like and sent a shiver down his back. Aidan’s wide eyes matched his open mouth and briefly Ruarc thought he looked too comical. He’s trying to pull your leg.
“Stop fooling,” said Ruarc. But Aidan continued to look, and Ruarc felt compelled to peek over his shoulder and saw the tiny light floating into their room.
A thick column of smoke rose from the smoldering ruins of Ruarc Sprouls’ home, dark against the dawning light in the distance. The thirteen-year old boy watched as he sat cross-legged upon the hill. Grass stains streaked his pants on his knees and along the cuffs of his tunic. From where he sat, the people of his village seemed like tiny insects swarming towards his home. He knew the villagers would be there to offer helping hands, and that his parents would be grateful.
Ruarc shifted in his seat to face the other direction and marveled at the nighttime sky full of stars and the bright face of the moon. A thin line separated the reality from where he came and the one he entered, like a veil between two worlds. He saw where the dawn of his lands collided with the midnight of this unfamiliar territory and knew that none of this would be visible on the other side.
He tucked a few locks of his oak-colored hair behind his ears and pushed his hands deep into the damp grass where the wet chill soothed his palms. The journey ahead of him weighed heavy upon his thoughts and he had to take just a little time for himself: just enough to consider what he faced.
The dark and unknown hill sloped downwards into a forested valley. He traced the contours of the land with his eyes, aware that few others from his village had ever been here, and noticed how moonlight enhanced its beauty. The mountains to each side of the valley reached toward the horizon, each range becoming smaller into the far distance beyond his sight. The trees wore the moonlight upon their tops as if they coveted light, yet the forest floor darkened underneath the thick canopy.
Ruarc spotted a few black splotches darting across the midnight blue sky, swooping and rising, diving and soaring, hunting food in the night. Bats. He imagined how deep within the woods, predators and their prey would likewise be engaged in their nightly game of life and death.
Along the edge of the forest the dense terrain overflowed with wild grasses and thorny bushes. The chaparral extended to the start of a road, a short stretch that tightly hugged the nearby foothills and then disappeared behind the forest. Ruarc stared at the road and rubbed his eyes, then looked again. The Goblin Road. He pushed himself off the ground, wiped his moist palms against his pants, and brushed the wet grass from his clothes.
the bird eyes the scene
By J. Parrish Lewis
remember when we muddied
our elbows and knees, crawling
through the creek? we kept
our eyes trained
for the enemy. we built
forts above and below
and sometimes in between
we saw eyes staring
out of sewers and imagined monsters
it was probably only imagination
plays and plays
through the water. it sleds
down the snow-covered hill
it flies when you fly
but flees when
your leg breaks
until you are lying there staring
up at the sky and up at the trees
and a little black angel comes
that you’ve never seen before and
never will see
now you walk those paths again
there by the creek
and it isn’t
ever the same
only drifting memories
By J. Parrish Lewis
I drove into sunlight
63 miles an hour
the Sun’s stare skipped across the heavens
— a sharp pebble across the stream —
as if knowing and illumination
were one and the same
I had to shield my eyes
and pull down the visor
but there’s no hiding brilliance
that truly wants to reach you.