The unknown rising
The sun may have been rising over Davon’his but its still cold rays never reached the mines of the Lonesome Mountain that morning. In fact, they did not reached them most mornings, hidden by the rocks as they were. The mines were a mixt structure of dwarven and human structures resulting in a strong contrast that seemed beautiful from afar. Up close, however, its beauty faded just like all that is passing in this world. Built on both sides of the mountain the mines were marked from a distance by the monumental slabs of huge rock perfectly shaped by the dwarves before they passed the mines to humans. Between these huge slabs were the actual entrances to the mines. The creatures of the underworld used the rocks as a windlass to bring the coal from beneath. When two of the mines were exhausted the slabs stood there useless. The humans began building their houses into the mountain using the dwarven construction as a support. Soon enough, the slabs were covered up by human dwellings. House upon house ended up in a vertical city that consisted of four blocks covered up in wood, leather and clay from top to bottom. And between these blocks, the entrances to the mines lay uncovered, cold and bottomless as they seemed. The entire ensemble resembled the first human dwellings but at a much larger scale. Even the dwellers resembled somehow the first humans …
It was a bleak place to live but no soul cared for the miners. Working here, in the depths of (name of mines), had no honor to it. Due to this, the human kings thought that the most heinous of crimes were to be redeemed through hard work in the mines. If they could be redeemed, that is. There were no walls surrounding the mines and the guards only came in every few weeks to keep count of those sentenced or to add someone new to the list. The condemned would wear a mark for their crimes, a mark that was to be burned into their skin with fire and iron. Few dared to run because running from the mines meant giving up your name, your family, your past, all there is to one’s true self. Giving up on your chance of redemption was punished by hanging. Those brave or foolish enough to risk it would run down south to the abandoned city that lies in ruins. But living between stone and rubble without access to the outside world was no easy life. That’s why criminals preferred the mines. They had shelter here and every moon or so a caravan made stop there, bringing them corn and grains from the farms. The well-to-do citizens of the Free City would often give away their junk in the name of some long gone god …
But things looked bleak those days at the mines; even more so than usual. Two full moons have passed since the last merchant arrived at the Lonesome Mountain and even the dwarves inside the mountain started to worry. Food was scarce and their stocks of ore and coal reached their full capacity. Work was put on hold and people grew restless. Leaving the mines to hunt or scavenge was a risk. There were the guards from the Green Keep in the south and the north was scary even for lowest scum of the human race. What they were afraid of nobody knew anymore but everyone stayed out of the north. For most dwellers of the mines, this was probably the only rule they had not broken.
But unlike most people there, on the second tower was a girl who did nothing for her to be there. Her mother died when she was no older than three years of age and her father was sentenced to work in the mines after stealing from a nobleman. They had no other children and their closest of kin were gone so he had no one to leave the girl with. However, seeing how his crime was a small, petty one, his time in the mines would be short. But after a few weeks there, he was coughing up blood and grew weaker with each passing day. When one of the passages collapsed he was too weak to escape in time and was swallowed by the mountain leaving the girl alone.
But there was kindness to be found even in such a place as (name of mines) for she was taken in by a woman sent there to cook for the workers. These women had an even harder life than the miners. They were often raped and beaten sometimes even to death. To escape such a fate, they often gave themselves to those who were able to protect them. They ended up having families and raising their children in that horrible place. When their retribution came to an end, most miners forgot about their children or their spouse. They simply took off leaving behind them infants crying of hunger. Their heartbreaking cries could be heard far off on the main road and deep into the mines. But not that morning …
That morning the innocent girl lay awake in her bed, enjoying the quiet. Her name was Neya and she was seventeen of age. Or at least that is what her stepmother counted. She didn’t know her day of birth but (name of mines) was a place where such notions were ridiculous and useless … She liked the quiet. Her house was up on the top levels of the second block where the sun still reached. Here she could feel its rays every morning waking her up at the crack of dawn when no soul was awake. She shared her chamber with her benefactor and her stepbrother. He too was of no crime thus bearing no mark. They enjoyed each other’s presence as children but they grew cold as the years past. The boy got sent off to the mines at a young age, as it was their custom, while the girl was hidden from the eyes of the workers, by her mother. She was a rare beauty to be found in the kingdom of Azum’rah, but that was most unfortunate for a young woman who lived at the mines. When she turned fourteen, the workers started to notice her.
“I must leave the mines soon before some horrible man claims me as his” she thought to herself that morning.
Even her stepbrother started watching her with different eyes. It was indeed hard not to notice her for she grew up beautifully with hair curled up in locks that went down all the way to her full breasts. Her skin was still soft from the lack of labor making her truly unique in that place. She was picturing the outside world – as she stood awake – imagining the wonders of it: the untamed forests of the south, the exotic elves of the Free City and, maybe one day, the north and its dragon. She was one of the few free people there yet she felt as trapped as the others.
“Where am I to go if I leave the mines? I know nobody on the outside world … at least here I have mother … and Alan” she added after hearing her brother snore as if he had a bad dream for a second.
She knew neither trades nor crafts that could earn her an honest living. During the day, when the workers were down in the mines she would sneak in empty huts and steal what she could to help her mother. At first, she opposed her daughter’s thieving ways but soon learned that morals were long gone from the place they called home … Still; leaving the mines to become a criminal was a bad idea... She would only end up back there.
As she kept thinking, she heard her brother who was turning and fussing about in his bed. She turned her head only to find him staring at her with wide opened eyes. He said nothing. Her fear of Alan was growing day by day. She wouldn’t go to sleep at night until he did. He used to be harmless. Yet, of late, his eyes never stopped following her around. It frightened her. She wanted to ask him why he was gazing at her. She didn’t though. She was scared that his answer might confirm her fears and that would mean losing a brother. In the end, she left the place anytime she would find him acting weird. And that is what she did that morning as well. She went outside their home and found herself staring at the abandoned entrance of a mine. The wooden structure creaked under her delicate feet.
There was cold rising from the ground as usual. This morning however the cold air, cooling as it was in the summer nights, brought along with him a foul smell. Bad smells weren’t uncommon in those parts but never like this. She covered her nose with her fingers thinking the smell would go away soon. She had her elbows resting on a wooden beam with a sharp end. Suddenly she felt a man pressing his body against hers and, before she could turn around, he took her arm away from her nose and twisted it all the way to her back.
“Finally came out to play, did you?”
It was a stranger, an old man by his voice. Before he could harm her in any way, her stepbrother came out. He heard his voice and ran to aid Neya before she could even scream for help. Alan took a swing at the criminal who, unwillingly, made a step back to keep his balance thus freeing the girl. She had never been this angry before. In the heat of the moment, she broke off the sharp end of the wooden railing and stabbed him in the stomach when he leaped towards her brother.
The old man was strong for his age and had an even stronger reputation amongst the others. He didn’t make a sound but looked the girl in her eyes and spat blood between the few teeth he still had. When she took out the stake another wave of blood poured out into a puddle at Neya’s feet. Her eyes widened and hands started shaking. The man wanted to grab on the railing but he missed falling on the floor. Alan took the stake from her hand and kicked the suffering man into the abandoned mine thinking he could hide the crime before anyone saw. But when the body hit the hard rock of the bottom shrieks and cries rose from the mine...
Their mother was woken up by the unnatural howls and when she went outside she saw her children covered in blood.
“Leave now!” she said.
If anyone saw them, the guards would have found out about their crimes and the dream of setting off into the world would die for good. They understood that as well and turned the other way to run but they didn’t get too far and the long, opened corridors of the blocks were full of people staring down wondering what could have made that noise. Everyone’s eyes turned at them when they made a sudden movement to escape.
“I killed the man! I killed Gabe, son of Murich, the one you all feared!” yelled Alan loud enough to cover the shrieks.
Others thought he was asserting his dominance, but his stepsister understood differently … he sacrificed his chance of freedom for her. Seconds after that the shrieks stopped and the people from the surrounding blocks started shouting and running from one floor to another thinking demons were rising from beyond. But without a platform to lift them to the surface they were safe from whatever the abandoned mines were sheltering.
Alan and Neya took advantage of the chaos that ????? over their block to escape. They reached the ground floor and made a run to the east thinking they were bound to find something soon enough. After a few minutes of running, they escape the mines and it was all quiet once again. They slowed down the pace, Alan even more so than Neya. He stopped and stared at her. She may have been free but he was not. The miners would tell of his crime to the guards and he would be hunted by the guard. The guards that checked the miners knew him well and chances of running into them were high enough. Even if he gave up on his name, his overworked hands and back would give him away as a miner. The only young miners in the world were runaways.
“What is it?” Neya asked after catching her breath.
“I can’t come with you …”he said looking at her as if he was never going to see her.
“What do you mean you can’t come? We already made it, Alan.” she said smiling and pointing into the direction they were running.
“I will be a burden upon you. They will hunt me and you too if seen with me. Besides, if I am not there to let the guards know of my crime, people might twist the story and make you look as the criminal.”
“But …” she insisted.
“You will be fine on your own … even better than you would be with me hanging by your side.” he said bowing his head. The truth was painful.
“But … you can’t” she continued as if she heard nothing from what he said. “I know nothing of this world and I can’t read the stars like you do. Which way should I take when the sun is down? I need you by my side.”
She realized the moment he took the stake from her had that it was not lust but love that made him act queer around her. As they were running away he was holding her hand. It made her feel safe once again after so many years. All of a sudden her dreams of seeing the world included him. And now, now that she wanted him, he couldn’t go.
“Why didn’t we leave earlier?” she thought. She blamed herself. But now it was too late to point fingers. If she stayed than Alan’s sacrifice would have been in vain. For the first time in years, she stared back into his eyes.
“You are right … Farewell then, brother!” she said.
“Never call me that again. It always confused me so.” he replied partially insulted by the way she called him.
He leaned over and pressed his lips awkwardly on hers. The girl had no reaction but she did not stop him. Only when he pulled back, she did a little push with her own lips. She had her eyes closed and her mouth slightly opened as if she was shocked by what happened. When she looked at Alan he took her into his arms, wrapping them around her waist and sinking his head between her shoulder and neck. Her hair smelled like old leaves. She too put her arms around him and they laid there on the ground holding each other until they fell asleep, tired from all the running. Her mother kept her from notions such as the coupling between man and woman. Alan finally got her to look at him … he didn’t want to risk scarring her off in their last moments together by trying to bed her and the idea never came to her mind. Oddly enough they kept their innocence in that place.
When she woke up the only thing she had her hands around was her stepbrother’s thick jacket that he left her while she slept. The sun was all the way up in the sky and Alan was long gone. She could see his footsteps in the grass. She felt heavy but grateful. A long goodbye with him going off into the horizon would have been much more painful. She pictured the world countless sleepless nights, yet now she found herself picturing a life with Alan back in the mines. She thought of him holding her during the night and she even thought of laying with him … but it was never going to happen. Her life back there was over. Never again would she wake to the sound of pickaxes hitting rocks, children crying and creaking boards. Never again would she wake to Alan’s big brown eyes gazing at her half asleep.
Everything was silent in the forest. Stillness was a little frightening as was being there all alone, unaware of what dangers lie in the wood or beyond them. She tightened her grip on Alan’s jacket. After adjusting to the creeping silence, she sighed as a sign of acceptance and got up from the cold ground. She took one last look at the Lonesome Mountain and set off in the opposite direction, leaving his jacket were they slept. She was going to have a hard time forgetting him as it was without having something of his constantly reminding her of the love that never came to be; reminding her of the fear that held her back from a life of happiness even in that place of torment …
After two days with no food and nothing but the morning dew to calm her thirst, she regretted running away even more.
“This will be the end of me. There is no danger to this world, to these woods. Emptiness was the least of my fears yet here I am starving and there is no sign of another human’s soul, or beast, or path. Just tree after tree … after tree”
She felt losing herself to fatigue. Her eyes were rolling back and she gasped with every step she took. Soon she would stumble upon every root on the ground barely dragging her feet on the ground. There was a single idea that made her carry on - The thought of asking for help in the investigation of the abandoned mine. She felt her strengths coming back when she saw the dark green and still unripe berries of a bush. No plants grew at the mines so Neya couldn’t have known much about herbs and berries. Hunger got the better of her judgment so, at their site, she dropped on her knees and started eating them with both hands. When trying to get up a strange feeling came upon her. She felt feverish and her eyelids grew heavier and heavier until holding them up was a burden too much for her to bear. She fell with her face down on the ground and slept. Her body was even weaker from the poison and she had terrible nightmares. She dreamt of Alan in the mines surrounded by black water rising at his feet. In her restless sleep, she saw him from the top entrance where he saved her a few days back. It was him yet he was just a boy with dark cheeks from the coal. The water was all the way up to his knees when she woke up for a second; long enough to mumble:
“Alan … Alan …”
She went back to sleep without realizing it was but a dream. The second time she saw the forest come to live in her dream …
© Copyright 2016 Paul Ficut. All rights reserved.