The Palace at the Roof of the World

The sky’s cold air crushed Barrin. The Roc’s talons kept him in their clutch for days, for months. Perhaps for hours. He could not tell anymore; all he felt was the cold. His fingertips kept constant contact with the scaly claws that held him, but they no longer felt the surface below them.

The roc’s wings flapped like gentle thunder over and again and again, ever north, ever north.

Perhaps Barrin slept. Perhaps he passed out because he could find no way to breathe. Perhaps the cold suffocated him.

When he woke, sunlight streamed in a deep window set in a whitewashed wall onto the mattress he lay on. One hand brushed the rough fabric. He started.

A nearby form jumped when he jumped. “Hold on, little warrior, hold on.” The form stepped more clearly into view. “Gave me a surprise, there, and that’s not wise to do.” A mostly-bald man with long white hair smiled down at Barrin. “I’m sorry. My roc thought you were another snowyak falling off the cliffs. They do it often enough, brainless beasts, and that makes a good, easy meal. Sometimes I think Stonefeather is as brainless as the snowyaks!” He offered a dry chuckle.

“Where…?” Barrin couldn’t find more words. His throat burst into flames of pain.

“Here. Drink. The skies aren’t a good place for someone who isn’t used to them.” The man offered Barrin a massive mug of cool water.

Barrin imbibed deeply. One set of fingertips gripped the cool, smooth lacquer. The other set felt nothing.

“Now, as for where. You’re at the top of the spine of the mountains you fell off of, in the palace of the North Wind.”

Barrin furrowed his brow, but he kept drinking.

“You’re from one of the towers, right?”

Barrin nodded as he kept sucking in water.

“Well, I guess you’re not as trained as we thought you were. It’s our job to protect you from the worst of the cold and all it contains, so you can do your job and wake the trees and remind the sun of its duties. We know how important you are!”

Barrin finally finished the great mug and handed it back. He noticed the man’s hands dwarfed the cup. Finally he realized the old man was huge; at least three paces tall.

The old man raised his eyebrows. “Yes?”

“You’re – you’re huge!”

“You are a keen one. I’m sure you’re the pride of all your fellows.”

“But – how could a roc carry you?”

The old man quirked up a corner of his mouth. “Well, it’s easy when I’m not exactly human. Hollow bones and thin as a rail. Made for flight, I am. Fashioned by the North Wind as a servant to those in the gardens.” He offered a shallow bow. “Haliesen by name, and Stonefeather’s my brainless roc what caught you as you fell. And, if you’re quite recovered, we should deliver you to the gardens. You have a duty to fulfill, don’t you?”

Barrin ventured to sit up and swing his legs out of the bed. “Wait… there’s sunlight.”

“The palace of the North Wind is still safe. She’s come to say goodbye.” Haliesen’s eyes glimmered. “If you hurry, you might see her yet. Maybe you can convince her to return to the gardens; save your partner a trip.”

Barrin paused, a stab of guilt in his heart, but he nodded. “Yes. Yes, I should.”

This is the fourteenth chapter of Summers’ End.

Protection from the Lie Outside

So that’s what blood looked like. Seriah had always heard it in her ears when she ran hard, or when she laughed hard. Blood meant a time of joy. The blood sang with her heart, sang praises to the One who planted the garden for them to enjoy. She had heard it many times before. And of course she had seen something like blood at the turning of every moon, but her mother had told her it was not really blood.

This was the first time she had ever seen her blood. It was meant to rejoice in her veins, but now her hands seeped blood from so many small cuts. She regarded her hand, studying the blackness seeping out. She was told it was red, but perhaps the moonlight changed the color it appeared.

“Truth is worth the price you pay, daughter,” the shadow called from its perch on the tree inside the garden.

Seriah frowned as she turned toward her new friend. “I see no predators from atop the wall.”

“Of course you don’t. It is difficult to see a myth.”

The young woman leaned against the stonework. It had taken all her strength to climb the wall, but she had finally done it, at a price.

The wall mourned for this one. It was designed to protect; why would one of its charges hurt itself to climb? Didn’t she know that the wall wanted only what was best for her, only to keep her safe? That’s what the wall had been created for, and now this woman wouldn’t allow it to be what it was. And anytime that happened, it meant the end was not far behind. To deny the reason for something else would always lead to denying the reason for one’s self.

Seriah ventured across the stone walkway to peer beyond the garden for the first time. “What are those things in the distance?” So far away shadows loomed, great shadows that could devour the garden whole. If the wall kept them out — !

“Daughter, those are called mountains. They are regal. Magnificent. And this wall has kept you from their beauty all these years.”

The wall struggled. It wanted to reach out with stone fingers and snap the little thing’s neck. Didn’t it know? Was it that evil?

“I want to see them.” Seriah felt herself smile. The gardens knew beauty, yes, but she had lived here all her years. What would it be like to see something like this? Something that had been denied her?

“Oh, daughter, I do not know. It is a long journey, and you do not know the way.”

“I see some footsteps,” Seriah pointed. “In the ground, there. The dirt looks very fine.”

“It’s called sand.”

“Yes. In the sand. I can follow them. I’m sure they’ll help me! And maybe the wall didn’t keep everyone in, I guess, if someone’s walking around out there.”

“Go then, daughter. I will stay here in the garden. I have been kept out for so long. But you! Go. Explore. See what is out there. Enjoy all I created, and not this tiny little portion.”

Seriah spun back to the shadow. “Thank you! Thank you for showing me this.” She placed her hand against the stone of the wall in her excitement.

The wall wanted to cry out. Blood! Why would she want to shed her blood for this? There was no reason.

Seriah ran along the wall until she found a rope ladder hung over the edge near some sort of shelter built right atop the wall. She smiled. Yes, this would be an adventure. To see beyond the wall! And there were no predators.

Time to explore!

This is the thirteenth chapter of Summers’ End

The Creative Fire

The Creative Fire: Book One of Ruby’s Song By Brenda Cooper

Ruby grew up gray. She will service the ship. Without the grays, nothing would happen. There would be no clean water. There would be no fruit. Without the grays, the Creative Fire, the great generational ship, will never find home.

They’ve been gone for hundreds of years. No one remembers what the stars look like. None of them know what a bird looks like. They all long for home.

And one more thing: They long for freedom.

The reds control the grays. They beat them. They rape them. Whatever the reds want, they take. Sure, there are a few kind reds, but they are the exception to the rules. And Ruby’s heard rumors that there is another color. There are people who are allowed to wear blue, people who command even the red.

Ruby has one talent: She can sing. And when she sings of freedom, she may spark a rebellion. But any rebellion that happens in a spaceship must be very careful; damage the ship, and they all die.

The more Ruby sings, the more attention she gets. But will that attention lead to freedom… or everyone’s death? Continue reading

I Will Stand with You

Amaril’s voice was like fruit that the tree refused to bring down to her. She couldn’t shout. She couldn’t warn. She could only watch.

No. That was her husband. She needed to stand with him.

The dark, feline forms stalked down the sandy dune behind Westing. He knelt next to the child’s form. She heard his voice, but the heartbeat in her ears kept her from understanding his words.

The sword. She had his sword. A gladius. Would it be any good against those beasts? It didn’t matter. It would be something. She hefted the stout metal blade. Throw it across? She couldn’t jump across and make it if Westing thought he couldn’t. Fine then. She slipped the metal out of the stout leather scabbard and ran the few paces toward the edge of the chasm. She spun and flung it as hard as she could, aiming just to Westing’s left.

The hilt slid from her grasp and she skidded to a stop on the sand. She fell backward into the grit. Her feet slipped off the edge, but the rest of her stayed on the solid ground.

She heard an exclamation from Westing. The blade – she heard its impact on the sand. And then a hiss. The things – they’d made themselves known. Westing shouted. The child screamed.

Amaril scrabbled to her feet, peering across the cleft in the ground. Could she make the jump? She should be able to. She just needed to back up, take a running start. And then she would stand beside Westing, no matter what came. The sand sucked at her sandals as she backed up. Oh. She needed to get the pack off. It was too heavy. She dropped it in the sand.

“Amaril! Stay over there!” Westing’s words cut through her haze.

He knew her too well.

Too bad. She would not honor her husband when it meant forsaking her vows to him.

She sprinted, arms pumping.  Time the jump. Got to leap off as close to the edge as possible. She heard her own feet on the sand. Westing shouted more. He grunted. Like his morning workout again, but harder. More desperate. The child was screaming again. Did the child do anything else?

She heard the huff of her own breath as she pushed off. The air over the chasm seemed colder. And then she landed and crumbled onto the dirt on the other side.

Why was it so hard to breath? Oh. She should take in more air. Yeah. Good idea.

“Amaril! Take the child! Go!” Westing lunged at one of the shadows and spun to the other, keeping them back.

The things growled, low in their throats. She could feel their weight just by looking at them. Long fur cloaked how big they actually were, but they came up to at least her shoulder. Golden eyes reflected the half-moon that hung in the sky. They moved back and forth, long tails lashing.

Westing roared at them as he swung his blade. He made himself big, trying to scare them away.

And then something tackled Amaril. Oh, it was the child. A girl, maybe? Perhaps eight years old? Amaril stood, holding the child close. “I’ll stand with you!”

“Not now! Run – jump to the other side! I’ll run after you once you’re both safe. I think I can hold them off!” Westing roared again.

His voice rose in pitch. He was scared.

All right. Get the child to safety. Get herself to safety. Westing will follow.

And then both shadows charged him at the same time.

This is the twelfth chapter of Summers’ End.

The Name of Gladius

The bright flames flared like a beacon, and the sounds of laughter drew Gladius from the trees. The bonfire burned in the middle of a great clearing. Flowers, closed for the night, lined the outer ring of the clearing. Many people had gathered to the fire. A few had musical instruments – oh! That one was a fiddle, and that one a flute!

Gladius smiled. A musician had taught him about instruments once, and a pudding-head rarely forgot!

One man drew a bow across the violin, and another man blew into the flute. The song was a happy traipsy kind of song, with notes tripping all over each other as if they all wanted to be first in line. A few men and women danced.

Gladius spied Artur and his woman in a knot of other people, all huddled together a short distance from the flames. They didn’t pay any attention to the music.

Gladius decided to tell Artur the good news. He strode over on his long, long legs and raised a finger to interrupt their muttered discussion. “Hello, Artur! Hello, woman!”

The woman stared at him a long time with a neutral expression on her face. That meant something, Gladius was sure. He wished someone would tell him what it meant!

“I talked with the little chattery thing. He gave me some fruit! It was very tasty. He said that we could eat the fruit from his tree as long as we told him it was his tree. I thought it was silly, but I did it anyway.”

Artur spoke up, “His tree? What does it think it is? No one owns the trees!”

The woman just kept staring at Gladius. He addressed her, “When I begin staring like that, it means I am tired. Are you tired?”

“You were dead!” she exploded.

“Oh, I assure you, I was not. If I was dead, I do not think I would be talking with you. I have never seen a dead person talk. Have you?”

She nuzzled back into her husband’s chest. The others in the knot of people inched away.

“Are you hungry? We can go back and talk to the owner of the tree. Maybe he will explain why he was gone so long.” Gladius cocked his head. “Why are you all going away?”

Artur cleared his throat. “You aren’t normal.”

“Of course not! I’m a pudding-head! If I were normal, you would be like me!” Gladius laughed.

“What’s your name?” Artur asked.

“Gladius.”

“Like the sword?”

“Oh, is a Gladius a sword? I thought I was named that way because I am always smiling. You see? I am glad. Glad to eat fruit and glad to learn. I am glad to be told things so I know them. And that’s why I like sharing what I know, so other people can be glad to know things, too! Like when I told the woman that’s stuck under your chin I wasn’t dead. She should be glad to know something new!”

“I’m not stuck under his chin!” the woman spat, separating herself from Artur. “And I have a name!”

“Oh! Well, how would I know that unless you told me? Please tell me your name.”

She stared at him with that neutral expression again, but Gladius waited. Pudding can be very patient, you see. Finally she answered, “Tamara.”

“It’s fine to meet you, Tamara. Should we go back and talk to that strange animal about getting you some fruit?”

This is the eleventh chapter of Summers’ End.

The Journey Down

Contrary to popular belief, going down a mountain is not easier than going up. Barrin struggled to keep his feet on the narrow ledge that lined a steep cliff face covered in pitted ice. At least a half moon gave him some light, and the snow reflected it brightly.

He slipped thick leather gloves onto his hands to protect them from the snow. One hand always brushed the face of the cliffs, just the fingertips touching. He kept taking his glove off to touch it skin-to-stone, and then winced when the cold seeped into his bones. The glove went back on, but never for long.

“Duty. Your body was given to you with a reason. Take care of it!” his father would say.

The old man would laugh at him, that dry chuckle. “If you don’t keep those hands of yours out of trouble, you’ll never make it to the gardens!” His eyes twinkled in the sunlight. “And what would we do then? The trees would never remember their duty!”

A light breeze stirred the upper surface of the snow, sending sparks of burning cold into his eyes. He took the hand out of one glove to rub his face. He stumbled down the ancient pathways he had been taught but had never walked. His foot slipped off the path. He threw himself against the cliff face, trying to keep from falling.

His other foot lost its grip. He slid off the narrow ledge. One glove struggled for purchase. One bare hand clawed at the icy path.

He fell.

Fifty generations went before him. They had waited for this. They had watched for the end of the Summers. They had been prepared. Duty boiled in his blood.

No matter.

He plummeted beside the cliffs. Barrin closed his eyes.

No. He didn’t weep for the old man. He didn’t have time to weep now.

Bands of iron wrapped in leather snatched him, dug into his skin. His head snapped down. Something stopped his fall, and it wasn’t the ground.

The smell hit him: rich soil and rotting vegetation. The scent of worms in the rain. The wind beat at his face, stabs of icy snow attacking his eyes. He struggled to open them.

What would his father say now? “Not even a roc should keep you from doing your duty!”

Barrin was sure that was true. However, the claws of a roc gripped him now. A great black bird with white-streaked feathers flapped its wings, carrying him – what direction?

He could get to his sword. Should he attack the thing? Would it matter? Given his angle, he doubted he could strike the claws effectively. And if he did any damage, the thing would just drop him.

“Take it easy, girl. You’ll have your supper soon enough,” a grizzled voice called over the wind.

Barrin strained.

Someone rode the roc?

Did that make things better or worse?

His father had never trained him for this. Where was duty now?

This is the tenth chapter of Summers’ End.

Questions at the Wall

The wall stretched beyond sight in both directions in the dim moonlight. The smooth stone wall towered above Seriah, gentle and strong, like a mother protecting a child in her arms. She set her hand on it.

The wall wanted to wrap around her, to guard her. That is what walls were for; to separate its charges from any harm. But now the harm lived inside the gardens.

The dark thing, small as a sparrow, clung to the smallest twig of the nearest tree. “See, Seriah?”

“Of course,” she giggled. “It’s the wall.”

“And what is a wall far?”

“My parents told me it keeps out predators. It keeps us safe.”

“Of course they said as much,” his voice slithered. “They are faithful parents who want to do best for you. Who told them that?”

Seriah spun and leaned against the wall, feeling its coolness through her dress. “I never thought of it. Their parents, I suppose.”

“And who told them?”

She cocked here head. “Their parents.”

“And on and on, yes? And you trust your parents, and they theirs. It is simple. It is the way I designed it many, many years ago. Faithful parents raise up their children to follow in their footsteps. Every child should be in the image of its parent, daughter.”

Something in his words caught at Seriah. “Is that why you call me daughter?”

The little thing grinned in the darkness, its tiny, sharp teeth bright in the moonlight. The moment stretched.

Seriah turned away and paced along the wall. The thing leaped from tree to tree, never touching the ground. Finally she turned. “You said you would show me something I didn’t know. You’ve only shown me the wall.”

“Yes. The wall. The wall that was built to keep you safe. Safe from things out there.”

“Yes.”

“What dangerous things?”

“Predators!” she snapped.

“Predators? Have you ever seen predators before? Some creature that could harm you in any real way?”

She paused. “Well, no. But my parents told me stories.”

“Of course they did, daughter. But what if they’re just stories?”

Seriah’s dress kept pulling at her, tugging at her, away, away! Get away from the beast! Get away from that thing and its lies!

She paid no attention to her dress.

The trees leaned away from the shadow, their branches twitching in fear and disgust.

She paid no attention to the trees.

“You mean there are no predators?” she asked.

“What if there were no predators?” the shadow answered.

“Then why would the wall be here?”

The thing only smiled in answer.

This is the ninth chapter of Summers’ End.