Hand of Time
By Caitlin Jackson
Powerful hooves beat the ground as a warhorse is pushed past its physical limits. It wants to stop and cool off in the sprinkling of rain, but its rider urges it forward. She is not only on a mission, but also running for her life. Occasionally hearing a rush of feet behind her, she glances between the knotted trees, but sees no other inhabitants.
Her name is Anya; a born warrior. When the invaders from the North were attacking her home, she convinced the villages to ban together and fight, but instead led them to their doom. Now, being one of the few survivors, she must warn the remaining villages.
Tendrils of finger-like fog attempt to cling to the horse’s hooves, as if wanting to drag them back into the shadows. Both rider and stead sense the lurking of evil in every nook and cranny of the forest, and the adrenaline caused by their fear is their only drive. Glancing through the forest’s canopy, Anya sees only ominous rain clouds bruising the sky. Onward she journeys, until she eventually spots an opening in the trees.
A sudden burst of air assaults Anya’s face as they break through the last of the branches, and into a muddy clearing. With the smothering forest behind her, Anya finally inhales untainted oxygen. Color returns to her cheeks as life once again reenters her body. Breathing deeply, she slows the gelding down, and uses the saddle to halt the trembling of her exhausted muscles. Looking through her grungy locks of rain-soaked hair, she sees a village outpost in the distance. Relieved, she gently nudges her horse forward.
* * *
As she approaches the village, Anya immediately notices something is amiss. The wooden gates are wide open, but the sentries are missing and the guard towers are empty. Children’s toys lay in the street and restless chickens sit in their pens. Anya can see faint smoke exiting huts through chimneys, but not a single person can be found. She knocks on a nearby home, but no one answers. Letting herself in, she finds the shack empty.
Back outside, Anya surveys the village. There are no signs of an attack, and there are no signs of life besides the livestock. It is as if the entire village voluntarily stopped what they were doing and evacuated, leaving all possessions behind.
Suddenly, Anya sees a flash of red through a nearby window. Drawing her sword she cautiously sneaks up to the hut. Kicking down the flimsy door, she charges the home with a war cry.
The moment she enters she feels a sharp clunk on the head.
“You’re late!” scolds an old man in a crimson cloak.
In a dazed state, all Anya can manage to say is, “Who are you…”
“Who am I?” he repeats with slight amusement in his voice. With haste he hobbles to a table and chairs. Setting his staff on the floor and putting his knobby feet in a pot of water, he turns his calm, blue eyes towards her. “I am not but a humble Seer; a keeper of time if you will.” After slightly bowing his balding head, he turns his attention to the chessboard resting on the table. Moving his rook, he then waits for his invisible opponent’s t counterattack. Anya begins to think the man is daft, until the opponent’s chess piece begins to slide across the board on its own.
Confused, Anya tries to regain her composure, and once again takes a fighting stance. The Seer’s grey, bushy eyebrows and leathery face frown at her with annoyance.
“Put those weapons away and eat the stew I made for you,” he huffs, any hint of merriment gone from his voice.
“Where are all the villagers?” she shouts, still not completely trusting him.
The old man’s expression turns thoughtful. “Why don’t we see what the waters have to say?” Taking his feet out of the pot, he heaves it onto the table, sloshing its contents in every direction. Pulling two vials from his robes, he explains, “Five drops of my blood so the waters can identify me, and a bit of crushed owl bones to see through the darkness.”
Anya watches the Seer as he hovers over the pot. Slowly the waters begin to shift, and his eyes glaze over. Unaware of his surroundings, his face remains vacant as the container begins to shakes violently. Then abruptly everything stops and the old man comes back to the present. “Very interesting,” he mutters to himself.
“What is it?” Anya prompts. Forgetting her mistrust, she lowers her weapons, and steps closer.
“You’ve had quite the journey, and it appears to only be the beginning,” he tells her, once again staring at his chess board. “You must now go west until you reach a castle. There you will find your villagers.”
“Why are they even there?” she questions, confused as to why they are so far from home.
Picking up his walking stick, he heads for the door. “I only know what the waters show me. Now eat,” and with that said he closes the door behind him.
Realizing how famished she is, Anya quickly pours herself a generous helping of chunky, vegetable stew. As she slurps the thick gravy, she runs outside to find the Seer, but he has vanished. Returning back to the table she studies the chessboard. After awhile it becomes apparent the game is being played all wrong; he is protecting the Queen instead of the King. “How odd,” she thinks to herself. “Then again, seers have a reputation for being abnormal.”
After her satisfying meal, Anya is back on her horse, heading west to the castle.
* * *
By the time she reaches her destination, night has fallen and echoing claps of thunder promises imminent rain. Eerie shadows appear with every flash of lightning, and Anya must calm her imagination as she enters the unguarded castle. Leaving her horse tethered in the courtyard, she strides confidently into the darkness.
The damp corridors smell of stagnant water, and the only light source is from the brewing electrical storm. Tapestries and art are missing from the stone walls, and all rugs on the floor are worn-out and frayed. Anya spies a door, and enters.
The total darkness of the room prevents her from proceeding. Planning her next move, she starts to see a faint, flickering ember in the distance. As if on cue, every torch becomes lit, and her surroundings are revealed. It is an undecorated, circular room, with a platform situated at the far end. There are many doors around the perimeter, and on the dais are two ornate chairs. She has found the Throne Room.
Hearing footsteps behind her, in one reflexive action, she whirls around and throws a knife at her attacker. Drawing her daggers, she runs through a series of blocks and counterstrikes as she backs him against a wall. Going in for the final blow, she suddenly finds herself airborne. Hurled across the room by an invisible force, she lands in a crumpled heap. Noticing a ball of light flying towards her, she swiftly rolls to safety. In a state of shock, Anya does not see the second ball of light until it is too late. Upon impact, Anya’s body fills with increasing warmth, until she can no longer feel or move her limbs. She is momentarily paralyzed.
Mischievous laughter echoes in the chambers as her attacker glides toward the platform. He is an intimidating man, dressed in black leather, who appears to find the entire situation amusing.
“For someone causing so much trouble, one would think you’d be more impressive,” he booms.
Attempting to break free from her temporary paralysis, she spits on the leader of the Northern invaders. “What have you done with the villagers?” she snarls.
Delight shows in his beady, black eyes. “It’s amazing what one can do with a few magic words. One can even transport an entire village to the dungeons with a snap of the fingers.” A crooked smile plays across his lips. “Although, snapping fingers can be challenging without a hand,” he says as he raises his stumped arm. “I have you to thank for this.”
Before she can deny the accusation, the ground begins to shake. Out of thin air the old Seer appears by Anya’s side. Instead of looking frail and crippled, he now stands surprising strong.
Recognition instantly spreads across the enemy’s face. Filled with rage, he flings a ball of fire in the Seer’s direction. The old man simply raises his hand and extinguishes it with ease. Closing his eyes in concentration, he produces a small hourglass from his robes and smashes it on the ground. In a matter of seconds each granule of sand multiplies into thousands, until the entire chamber is a swirling storm of sand. With a subtle wave of his hand, the Seer directs the sand around the Northerner’s demented leader. Through the cloud of dust, another fireball emerges, hitting Anya’s rescuer in the chest. Staggering back, the sand rains down uncontrollably as he loses his focus.
“I have out powered you old man!” the leather clad figure proclaims. “Your simpleton tricks and distractions don’t affect me!” With a superior laugh, an aura of flame ignites from his skin.
Then in one fluid motion, before anyone can react, the Seer conjures a vortex of sand and water, and shoots it at the human pyre. Upon impact, the granules instantaneously melt together to form molten glass. The sand hurricane then morphs the molten glass into an indestructible casing around the foe. He has become a grotesque statue.
His task complete, the Seer looks down at Anya, and begins to magically reverse the spell placed upon her. Struggling to avoid unconsciousness, Anya blacks out.
Upon awakening, Anya surveys her surroundings. Once again she finds herself on a horse, heading down a forest trail. Could she have fallen asleep?
“What an odd dream,” the warrior mumbles as sand falls from her hair.
- - -
Besides reading and writing, I also enjoy dancing, art, and archery. “Hand of Time,” is the sequel to, “Remember the Dead.”
Labels: Caitlin Jackson