Well, here I am again. I know I have been less visible lately and I apologize that it is taking me longer to visit all your wonderful posts. I work continually to catch up.. Between work and trying to enjoy life a bit as well as my creative projects I have less time for blogging as often as I have in the past.
To that end, I have been working more diligently on the novel and, as in the past, I wanted to share a chapter with you here. If you haven’t read past chapters, some of the characters won’t be familiar but the sequence can stand alone as a preview of what is to come.
I welcome your thoughts or comments and hope you find something in this story that intrigues you. If you are interested in the history of the story or previous chapters I have post, just type in Forever Never under archived posts.
I hope you all have a terrific week!
Forever Never/Dawn of the Dream
Copyright Cheryl K Pennington 2019
One by one they made their way
Into the hills of dark decay..
Othar climbed the jagged steps to reach the summit where she knew the view was unobstructed, the work made harder by her girth and the added weight of the small girl who insisted on going with her. And why wouldn’t the child want to see where her father had gone? Youth and age somehow found communion in their sorrow and hope. They both loved Rith in their own way and were relieved when others in the village decided to join him. Of course, the proud and private Rith balked at first. He had always been such a loner but for his friendship with Carraig and grew even more withdrawn in the days following Carraig’s decision to join Amhain in his search for the mother of of their world. He was always amiable with the villagers; but he kept himself busy with work in the mines and trying to give his daughter enough love to make up for the absence of her mother. Rith was grateful she had only been a babe when the starry night bled fire and rained ash, his heart torn between gratitude and anguish. He was thankful his precious child would not be tormented by dreams of Damanta’s dead eyes as she descended into the valley of caves, burning over half the villagers alive as the rest watched in confusion and horror. No one above ground saw it coming, with such a simple life going on as usual. They had their food, laughed and chatted while the children chased light bugs around the fire pit.
Othar giggled out loud, then slapped her hand over her own mouth.
“Dear Mother,” she whispered. “What a damnable thought,” she cursed herself for that moment of thinking. Light bugs. That was what Damanta looked like as she descended into their valley. Her eyes glowed like a couple of giant light bugs.
Othar had seen them first, floating above the horizon silently, then growing larger and brighter as she shattered their world with rage and purpose. By the time the others saw them and grasped the reality of danger, the beast was in the valley, spewing fire and cinder across their lives. Damanta cared not what she destroyed in her fury. Families screamed as they fled in futility, their contorted faces melting before Othar’s eyes just before they burst into flames. Her only thought in those moments was to grab her best friend’s infant daughter and run, scrambling for the safety of the caves. Her mind raced to Carraig and their friends, but she could only worry about keeping Agra out of danger. The heat of Damanta’s breath singed the ground behind every labored step that she ran; but the terror in Othar’s heart refused to allow her to see anything but the lights above them, the glowing miracles of the caves. As she fought her way to the steps, those lights soon began to flicker and fade, for the ones who were safely in them snuffed their fires in the hopes of being spared. The ground quaked beneath her feet as she climbed the rocks that led to hope, holding tightly to Joy’s daughter and counting the familiar steps that would bring them to safety. Rocks began tumbling from overhead and she ducked to avoid them, shielding the child with her body. Dust and grit flew into her eyes and she cried out, unable to wipe it away. She squinted, reached for the ledge with a free hand and climbed up, hoping her beloved and friends were there, waiting.
“Carraig!” She screamed. “Joy, Rith! I have her. Agra is safe!” Othar stumbled towards the safety of the cave and ran smack into Carraig. “Oh! Dear love, you’re safe!” She sobbed into the darkness.
“What in the name of all that is holy is happening?” He shouted over the din of falling rock, shouting and other unidentifiable noises. “Look at your face, Othar!” He pulled a soiled cloth from his pocket and tried to brush the dirt from her eyes the best he could. She winced when he rubbed the fresh cuts on her cheeks. With her eyes working again, she examined the infant for damage, but Agra slept in her arms as peacefully as though the world was not crashing down around her. Othar and Carraig were relieved to see Rith bound up the last few steps, panting, his eyes wild with terror.
“Have you seen them..” he began, then nearly collapsed when he saw Othar clutching his child to her bosom. “Blessed Mothers, thank you,” Rith mumbled as he rushed to their side and took his daughter from Othar, giving his friend an appreciative kiss. “Thank you, thank you..” he murmured between wet the kisses he planted on his daughter’s face. Huge rocks crashed against the ledge before tumbling to the ground below, sending a new wave of screams into the night. Rith looked around frantically.
“Where is Joy?!” he shrieked, as his eyes searched the shadows of the cave for that beautiful face and listened for the musical sound of her voice. But, there was only silence within that darkness and the eerily dancing glow on the cave walls from the fire outside. The shadow and light seemed to mock him. He turned back to his friends, his moment of gratitude shattered by new fear as he looked past them and shouted, “Joy! Joy!”
Rith glared at Othar accusingly, the gripping fear overriding any crumb of rationality he might have had in that moment, and it broke her heart. “Where is she, Othar?” His eyes begged for the answer he wanted to hear but she had no words. She shrugged innocently while Carraig stood behind her defensively, his arms wrapped around her.
“Rith, Othar just got here with Agra. She climbed up here alone. We haven’t seen Joy…”
“Rith! Othar, Carraig, where is Agra?”
Joy’s stricken face appeared like a miracle as she clambered up over the ledge, tripping on the last step. When she saw them all standing there-everyone she loved-safe and sound, her heart beat with relief and happiness. Being Joy, she found a smile in her heart and it spread across her beautiful round face, glowing like a torch in the darkest of nights they would ever know. She held out her arms and Rith hurried towards her, holding their infant daughter. He was a mere step or two away from his life’s purpose when a blast of hot, rancid air struck his face, stealing his breath and blinding him. Instinctively, the loving father turned away, shielding their daughter from the heat. He heard the sharp, scraping of claw to rock and the muffled, shocked cry that escaped Joy’s mouth in that last moment they shared.
By the time he turned around, by the time Othar and Carraig ran from inside the cave and by the time Joy knew what was happening, she was firmly in the clutches of the beast. Although she wriggled, kicked and punched, she could not free herself. The last image Rith had of his Joy was her arms reaching out in futility for those who longed to save her; and the look of shock and terror etched on the faces of her friends would be the last thing she would remember.
Joy watched those anguished faces grow smaller as Damanta retreated, climbing higher into the night of a million lights. She struggled against the claw that held her tightly, wanting only to die in that moment. Why hadn’t the beast burned her along with the others? Who would care for Agra and Rith now? She wailed into the silent sky, still as death, as it whooshed past her tear streaked face. Her heart was broken and she cursed the Realm for abandoning them all.
Othar couldn’t breathe. Carraig stood frozen on the ledge, the images of burned bodies, piles of rock and ash singed onto his his heart and soul. The valley wreaked of death, the lingering cries of pain and despair hanging on the hot air like a fog that numbed his senses. He looked at Rith, standing too near the edge of the ledge with his daughter lying precariously in his arms. As if in a dream, Carraig saw Rith’s legs jerk, jarring him back into stark realization. Carraig jumped, grabbing his friend by the shoulders. In that same moment Othar realized what was about to happen and lunged toward the distraught male, grabbing Agra from his limp arms. Othar clutched the infant tightly to her bosom, fresh horror invading her heart.
Rith tried to jump, he longed to jump over that ledge. Somewhere inside his momentarily deranged mind, he thought he could fly after them, that the wings of his love would take him to where they were so that he could save his beloved, his life, his Joy. He was only vaguely aware of the strong arms around his shoulders and that his daughter was ripped from his arms as the evil interloper held him back, keeping him on that dreadful, empty, painful ledge. With fresh rage he fought against the intrusion, kicking and spitting.
When Carraig finally wrestled his friend to the ground, they rolled away from the ledge, landing in an exhausted heap against the dwindling fire. Orange embers scattered over their heads, igniting the anger in Rith’s heart, and he jumped on top of his friend, pinning him to the ground. With one hand around Carraig’s neck and the other raised over his head, fist clenched, Rith leaned in so close that Carraig could smell his dinner on the words he spat out.
“Why. Did. You. Stop. Me?” He growled into Carraig’s face. “I could have saved her.” Carraig choked and shook beneath him. Rith was angered by the look of fear and disbelief on his friend’s face-his stupid, fat friend that only cared about food and sleeping. What did he know about saving anyone? Rith’s long suppressed grudges boiled up from the dark corners of his soul, demanding their due. In that moment he wanted to pummel Carraig’s face, for all the times he had been stupid, lazy and undeserving. He shook with anger and was ready to put his fist right where it belonged, but a firm hand wrapped itself around his weapon, its fingernails digging into his tough skin, the fresh pain stopping him. The strange mix of painful strength and soft skin against his own confused Rith, drawing his attention from the moment of regrettable sweet vengeance.
Othar’s voice trembled with disbelief for the sense of betrayal she felt towards their friend in that moment, for the sense of betrayal she felt towards the gods and goddesses who had allowed this to happen to them, and for the pain that threatened to drive her into an abyss of despair as well.
“Get off of my Carraig,” she warned. “Or I will push you over that ledge myself!” She squeezed his fist as hard as she could, digging her nails in so deeply that droplets of red blood trickled down his forearm. The glaring truth of Othar’s intent punched Rith squarely in the chest, taking his breath away as Carraig watched from beneath him in stunned silence.
Rith could feel his anger deflating but he clung to it desperately, for it was the only thing that made him feel alive in that moment. He trembled as reason won the battle and he lowered his arm, his fist falling open in defeat. Still seething over his friends’ interference, he aimed his accusations at Othar.
“Why do you defend him? He lets you cook for him and clean up after him, and what does he do for you?!” he shouted. “Does he ever take care of you? Does he carry the wood, or even chop the wood for that matter? No, he does not!” Rith heaved a sigh and looked his friend in the eye piteously. “Do you want to know what he does down in the mines all day, Joy..”
“You are angry Rith, but not about Carraig,” She cut him off. No one knew Carraig as well as she did, warts and all; but he was hers and she loved him. “Get off of him, Rith. Now. No one can do any good if we fight among ourselves this way. It only helps the darkness to defeat us.” Othar cocked her head and whispered. “Listen, Rith. Do you hear those awful screams and moaning? Those are our friends down there. They need us now more than ever. How will we help them if we can’t help each other?”
Rith hadn’t heard anything above the pounding of his heart and the roaring in his head until that moment of truth. One by one the voices carved a place into his awareness. Every anguished cry, every lapping flame and tumbling rock hammered his heart with new pain. He clapped his hands over his ears and shook his head as if he could empty it, the moan coming up from his gut in baleful recognition of their plight.
As if in protest, a fresh new cry pierced the air with its innocent insistence. The familiar sound stopped Rith’s writhing, stilled his anguish and spoke to every cell of his being. In Othar’s arms, the blood of his blood, the flesh of their flesh and the light of Joy’s life, cried out in bitter protest. Rith gasped, snapped back to his senses by the voice of his Joy, somewhere from deep within his heart.
“You are stronger than this. These are our friends. Our daughter needs your strength now, all of you. I will always be with you as was our promise.”
Yet she was not there. There was only dust and fire and ash. And there was death. There was so much death.
“She is still alive, Rith,” came the voice of his long time friend,. Rith looked into the eyes of allegiance from where Carraig had remained silently pinned down. “And I promise we will find her.”
Defeated and suddenly exhausted, Rith got to his feet, wiped his bloodied hand on his pants and leaned over to touch Agra’s screaming face. He kissed her forehead comfortingly and whispered, “Your Mama and Papa love you. Always know it.” He held his hand out to help Carraig up from the ground. Rith put his hands on his friend’s shoulders and kissed his forehead roughly. They embraced and no more words passed between them. None were needed.
Tears streamed down Othar’s face. Tears of pain and joy. Joy. She feared for her friend’s life but dared not speak of it in the days that followed. Those days had been for burying the dead and rebuilding their lives.
Now Othar stood on the edge of the cliff overlooking the valley that lay between the Valley of Caves and the vast plains that would take Rith into the Black Mountains.
A chubby pink hand tugged at her skirt. “Can you see him, Mama Othar? Can you see my Papa?”
Othar shielded her eyes against the glare of the rising sun and imagined she could see the small band of travelers inching their way towards their destiny. She put her arm around Agra’s tiny shoulders and pulled her close.
“No, child, because they are getting close to the mountains now. Soon your Papa will find your mother and…” she choked back the tears. “and my dear Carraig. Then they will all return home.” The cheerfulness in her voice did not betray her sense of foreboding. Othar knelt to face the child and brushed the hair from her eyes. “Now won’t that be wonderful?” She smiled away the fear yet again for the sake of innocence and hope.
Agra nodded and pointed at the jagged black horizon. “Is that where my Mama is?” She asked.
“I hope so,” answered the only mother she had truly known. “I hope so..”
to be continued….
I hope you all have a beautiful week. Like this…