The Exiled Monk (The World Song Book 1), страница 1
The Exiled Monk
A World Song Tale
Copyright © 2015 by James T Wood
All rights reserved
Cover design © 2015 by Rebecca Hull
Map design © 2015 by Andrea Wood
For Vorece and Rocco, Roy and Larry, Brent and Don and Mike. You – along with so many others -- took the first steps with me and taught me to walk on my own.
Authorship is at once both lonely and crowded. I spent huge chunks of time alone dreaming up this world and writing this story, but were it not for the crowd of people around me I wouldn’t have been able to finish the story, let alone give you something of this quality (trust me, whatever you think of this book, it is immeasurably better for the thoughtful work of so many people who aren’t listed as its author).
The first and most profuse thanks must go to my wife, Andrea. She has patiently listened to me ramble about other worlds that exist only in my head. Were it not for her thoughtful, loving, and kind support this world would have evaporated into the mist.
Second, I could not have told this story without the critique of Erik and Ryan. We were learning how to critique at the same time as I was learning how to tell this story. It was messy, brutal at times, and absolutely necessary. I’m better because you took the time to rip apart what I had written. Your hours of reading and talking were worth it. Thank you.
The longsuffering generosity of those brave souls who contributed to the Kickstarter for this book has driven me to continue even when I wanted to quit (which was many, many times). Thank you to all of the people who pledged and supported me through the years (two-and-a-half) that it has taken to whip this book into something resembling a story. Thank you Linda Eagleton, Craig and Merschon Hutson, David Henniger, Mollie and Jake Williams, Chuck and Cindy Schafer, Jonathan Teel, Beth Weare, Tom Wood, Kathy McCurdy, Susan and Tim Wood, and Aaron Madison. I feel like thanks are not enough, like listing your names here is not enough. I felt you with me through this whole process. For that I will be ever grateful.
By no means least, though last on this list are the beta readers who took the time to read a rough version of this story and provide invaluable feedback. Many thanks to Kate Butkowski, Amanda Quinn, Susan Maughlin Wood, Dana McCabe, Dody Burke, and Heather Steele. Thank you wading through the draft and providing feedback to help me make this story even better.
In any project like this there are far too many people to thank. So if your name wasn’t mentioned, it’s not because you didn’t make a difference in bringing this story together, but because that difference was so integral that I can’t separate the cause from the effect.
One[James T W1]
Long ago people ruled over each other with violence and fear. Kings, if they could even be called such, reigned for only as long as they could continue to wield the sword. The gods they worshiped were similarly tyrannical and mercurial. Power existed to make the powerful rich and the weak poor. Kings and gods demanded sacrifice and blood; they ruled through fear. As soon as one more powerful came along, the prior ruler would be deposed and destroyed.
But there was one man who was wise, thoughtful, and whose power came not from fear. He lived far to the east in a barren desert. People first found him eating fruit from a small tree that struggled to survive in the heat. Only a tiny spring gave water to the[James T W2] man and the tree. The first visitors saw a raving wildling, barely subsisting. They pitied him, gave him clothes, and went on their way.
“The one who hears no music derides the dance.” Chaucor of Cnoc De
eek’s heart pounded with the urgency of escape. As soon as a hint of silver stained the black sky he roused from his straw pallet in the corner. Slowly he rose and groped for his tunic and sandals. Across the hut Vlek snored, still drunk from last night. Rea’s empty bed sat untouched, as usual. Cor slept in the bed nearest to Peek. That was as close as they would come to being brothers. Cor was, technically, Peek’s uncle, but in practice was the only person who treated Peek like family.
After dressing silently, Peek slipped outside, barely rustling the flap of heavy leather that covered the doorway of the daub and wattle hut he shared with the three people. Rea was Cor’s sister and Peek’s mother. But her wanton indiscretions labeled Peek’s birth as illegitimate. And Vlek hated Peek for it. Vlek, Peek’s maternal grandfather and father to Cor and Rea, wanted to rule the village, but without a marriageable daughter to connect his family to that of the village chief, he settled for ruling over his house, ruthlessly. For whatever reason, Vlek didn’t blame Rea for her nocturnal activities. Instead he blamed Peek for being born as a result.
As the leather slid back into place Peek heard a sound from inside the hut. He froze and weighed the benefits of fleeing against the risks of being caught. Both would likely result in a savage beating or worse. He heard it again: a cough, then snoring. Paralysis slowly drained from Peek’s limbs and he crept away from the only home he’d ever known.
Over time Peek had learned when to avoid Vlek, those times when he drank enough to give free reign to his anger, but not enough to be clumsy and weak. Peek spent as much time as possible away from the hut, working in the garden, doing chores, fishing, exploring the countryside, and most often when all those things were done, just listening. Those were the best times, when he could just listen to the world.
He heard the flowing sound of the river tumbling over the rocks with the occasional splash of a fish fighting the frothy current to find calmer waters; the crashing sound of the ocean pounding the shore, retreating, and attacking again; the rustling of wind through the trees accompanied by gulls on the wing calling joyfully to each other; and the whisper of death from the padded footfalls of a cat stalking a mouse in the tall grass. Peek drank them in, immersed himself in them, got drunk, but in a different, less violent way than Vlek.
The village slept as Peek slid between huts. He knew where the night watchman liked to cuddle up on a dark night with his blanket and gave him wide berth. Peek barely breathed as he carefully settled each step to the ground. He constantly scanned the huts for any sign of pursuit, like a doe watching for predators. A sound, off to the left. Peek froze in mid-step. He willed his eyes to pierce the darkness, to give him some hint. A handful of heartbeats passed — pounding loudly in Peek’s ears — and nothing emerged from the blackness to confront him. He stepped forward, paused, and stepped again. He was almost free.
A moment of loss flashed through Peek’s mind as he stepped out of his village. Despite Vlek’s abuse and Rea’s neglect, Peek still had a few moments of light that he regretted leaving. Cor, for one, was kind to him. As the only son of Vlek, Cor was expected to carry the hopes of the family. Vlek wouldn’t abuse him like he would Peek, nor would he deride Cor like he did so often with Rea. Cor blindly accepted his good luck and passed it on effusively to anyone around him. Most often that was Peek.
The other spot of light was Dray. Leaving her hurt the most, but also felt most right. Peek glanced toward the hut she shared with her family, fought the welling of tears, and continued on the path away from everything he’d ever know. It would be better for Dray if he left, he thought. She had no future with a bastard like him. She deserved more than that.
Peek found the path at the edge of the forest by feel and memory; he walked through the darkness. He couldn’t yet hear the waves on the shore, but he could smell the salty breeze of the tide starting to go out. He’d planned his escape to coincide with the daily movements of the sea. It was the only way he thought he might succeed.
The sun slid above
Only once had Peek defied Vlek openly. The beating didn’t stop until Rea and Cor got the village chief to help pull Vlek away. Peek convalesced for a week in a strange hut and remembered only moments of broth, cool cloths on his head, and a sweet song sung lowly by a lovely voice.
After that week Peek was returned to Vlek’s house and warned to obey. He did. In every public way he obeyed Vlek. In his heart, however, Peek rebelled with stolen moments away, sitting on a log by the ocean, hidden from the village by a rocky outcropping. Peek never yielded his heart to Vlek’s abuse, but he carefully avoided any external rebellion for fear that no one would be around to pull Vlek off and no one would be there to shelter him while he healed.
Now he feared that if Vlek caught him it would be the end. This defiance would be too much. Peek would die.
He scrambled to his feet, brushed himself off, and hurried to the edge of the forest where his escape plan was hidden.
He shielded his eyes against the rising sun reflected off the waves. Glittering light blinded him after the dim forest. In a moment he spotted the canoe, prepared days earlier. A pile of brush camouflaged it. This was his escape plan. This simple canoe, stocked with everything he could think of, was how Peek planned to escape Vlek and his village. The canoe, and an impossible voyage to an island of legend.
After pulling away the branches, he dragged the boat toward the water. It had taken him the entire summer to amass the meager wealth necessary to outfit his canoe. The soft, white sand shifted and slowed him as he tried to run. Peek dropped to a normal pace, hoping that Vlek’s slumber continued. Peek had plied him with as much wine as the stinking, bearded old man could hold. Usually that would keep him asleep until midday. But Peek still shook with fear. Out here, in the open, Vlek would catch him and end him. For a man who did nothing at all, Vlek was surprisingly fast and agile.
Once Peek reached the packed sand closer to the water he moved more quickly, checking behind him often to see if anyone followed. Bile rose in his throat and his jaw twinged with the sick-feeling of early morning hunger combined with nerves steeled against terror. Willpower forced his feet to move. The part of himself caged against Vlek’s wrath, the part Peek kept free, slowly emerged into the light. Weakly, it settled into its role. But the part that kept Peek alive continued to shriek at him to stop, turn back, beg forgiveness. He hesitated for a moment but then heard a voice behind him, shouting but muffled by the waves and the trees. Was that his name called out into the darkness of the forest?
Time for a decision. Go back now and hope that a lie would keep him alive. Or, go forward and escape. Even Vlek couldn’t paddle as fast as Peek. Back to a life with the guarantee of daily, little deaths or forward to the fear of death with the hope of true life? For all his planning and preparation, Peek still teetered over the decision. The weak, former-captive of his soul found command awkward and uncomfortable. The facade of submission came too easily and faded too slowly. He heard the voice calling again, it was his name borne on the wind.
The lightning of fear reanimated his stone form. Peek’s legs pumped frantically as he ran toward the water and into it. The first splash of ocean spray on his legs shocked him. He kept running, more slowly now, into the waves. Peek aimed the bow of the canoe directly into the wave-line to keep it from tipping when the foamy crests slammed into it. A few more yards and the canoe would float with him in it. A few more after that and he would have the depth to paddle instead of just pushing himself along.
He looked back to see a shape silhouetted against the forest. Was it Vlek? Peek couldn’t tell. He squinted and stared for a moment. That was a mistake. When he looked back toward the sea, a wave was cresting directly ahead of him. It crashed over the bow of his canoe and drove him to his knees. The water came over his head and, for a moment, Peek contemplated drowning. But the tide took the straggling wave out and gave Peek a chance to get to his feet and moving again. A short glance showed the figure moving down onto the sand, arms waving.
Peek took a few more steps and deftly lifted himself over the gunwale and into the canoe. He picked up his paddle and pushed off of the sandy bottom. In a few strokes he was out, past where Vlek could swim. He was free.
Behind him Peek saw the figure get to the water and keep going. The sun was just behind the person, obliterating the face. Peek squinted again but no details resolved. He paddled on. Whether it was Vlek or not, Peek still intended to leave. No one could stop him.
“Peek! Peek, where are you going?”
Peek ignored and paddled.
“It’s too early to be out,” Cor’s voice drowned in the waves, “come back.”
The fact that Cor was here meant Vlek didn’t know yet, he was still sleeping off his drink back in the hut. Peek still had time to escape. But this wasn’t how he’d planned it.
Peek battled with himself. He wanted to flee. He wanted to be gone from the slave-life that had been his childhood, but one of the only spots of joy in that dark time was Cor. He, of all people, deserved an explanation. Peek turned the canoe back toward shore to see Cor shielding his eyes against the dazzling sunlight on the waves. For someone with no brother, Cor was the best substitute Peek could hope for.
Sand crunched under the bow as Peek drove the canoe at Cor’s feet. He pulled it forward as Peek jumped out, their practiced rhythm felt right. Cor was just a few years older than Peek, nearly an adult. His strong, broad shoulders seemed out of place with his earnest face as if the cynicism of adulthood had yet to reach his expression. He moved with the easy grace of the natural athlete. Cor never struggled with canoeing, fishing, running, climbing, or any other activity. He would toss his brown hair behind him and laugh in the sheer joy of his body’s power.
Peek envied that. He struggled for everything. He felt like his arms and legs belonged to someone else and would only obey him under duress. He had the strength of a man, mostly due to grueling work, but there was no grace to accompany the power. Where Cor floated, Peek clomped. Peek’s tousled blond hair should have been carefree, but his eyes were always watching, looking for danger, so the effect was more one of barely contained panic.
“Where are you going?” Cor was quiet as if he feared the answer.
“You know I have to leave. It’s not safe anymore.”
“Why do you say that? You can just move out. Make your own home. You know how.”
“I do. But he wouldn’t let me. You know it.”
“Why would he stop you?”
Peek envied Cor’s innocence even as he crushed it.
“I’m a bastard, Cor,” Peek smiled slightly as Cor winced not wanting to hear the epithet.
“So that means I’m a servant and he won’t give up a servant. He’d rather kill me than see me free.” Peek sat on the bow of his canoe and crossed his arms.
“That’s not true.”
“You just don’t see it. He’s careful around you now, but you saw the time he almost killed me. He hasn’t stopped.”
“No.” Cor raised his arms in a pleading gesture and then let them fall at his sides.
“I can show you the bruises if you want. Cor, you just don’t know what kind of monster your father really is.”
“He’s your father too.”
Peek felt his fist ball, but forced himself to relax knowing that Cor didn’t think he was being
“That you were found peeking out from behind a tree, Father took you in out of pity. He adopted you.” He actually believed it; he looked at Peek with a facile expression of ignorance.
“No, Cor. It refers to the peek of a pregnant belly. My mother’s belly showing she wasn’t a virgin before marriage. My mother, your sister, Rea.” Anger returned Peek’s voice to him.
Cor swallowed. Peek could see the world clicking into place for him. Half-truths and whispered comments that floated through the village all made sense in an instant.
“But…where will you go?”
“To the island. Vlek can’t get me there.”
“He can’t get there because no one can. The current is too strong. You’ll never be able to make it. We’ve all tried when the fish aren’t schooling. It’s not possible.” He half turned as if Peek would realize his error and follow him back up the beach.
“I’ve been practicing. I can make it. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. My canoe is fast and light with a shallow draft. The current won’t touch me and I’ll make it.”
“That’s a big canoe for just you.”
Peek stared down at his feet burrowed into the sand, “I thought she’d come with me.”
“Never mind. I was stupid. That’s something a bastard can’t afford to be.”
Cor winced again, “Peek, you don’t have to go.”
“I do, Cor. If this is all life has to offer then I don’t want it. There has to be more. Do me a favor, Cor. Don’t tell anyone that you saw me leave. I paid for all of this, Vlek won’t have any reason to follow me.”