Flowers of the Field: Part IV

Hello, hello, hello.

I am sitting in a Jobcentre waiting for a client who was supposed to turn up at 2.00. Therefore, I am posting the next instalment of Flowers of the Field. You will be glad to know that I’m cracking on with Coals of Fire as well. For my next Lifting the Lid I may post my rough draft for chapter ten, so you can compare.

Anyway, have fun reading this!

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Flowers of the Field

Part IV

They walked all day, while the sun climbed slowly up the sky in front of them, reached its zenith, and began its long descent towards the western horizon. Every few minutes the boy looked over his shoulder, watching the standing stones grow smaller and smaller. Despite what had happened, there was a part of him that could not bear the thought of losing sight of them. They were his anchor, the one thing he knew in all of this brown wilderness, the only reminder of the home and the family he had left behind.

It was midday when at last he looked back and could see the stones no more: they were gone, swallowed up by the hazy line between the sky and the earth, and with them had gone everything he had ever known. His chest tightened, but at the same time he felt a measure of relief: there was nothing left back there for him now. He turned away for the last time, and did not look back again.

All that day they crossed unchanging moorland, brown and harsh. There were no paths out here in the wilderness, so the boy was forced to take uncomfortably long strides, picking his way over pricking gorse and skirting clumps of tearing thorns. The man fared better; his long legs reached easily over any obstacles in the way, and he never once showed any signs of weariness.

The boy did not ask where they were going. He had never been more than a few hours’ walk from the villa in his life, and they were already in lands as foreign to him as any barbarian forest or desert. He simply followed the man in silence, trusting he knew where he was going.

As they walked the boy studied the man, watching the way he moved, the way he held himself. He was so confident, almost unnaturally so, walking through the world as though he owned it. There was no trace of fear or uncertainty in anything he did. His head was constantly moving, constantly watching and surveying everything with the attitude of a lord surveying his domain.

Occasionally through the day they would see a distant shape hovering high overhead: a buzzard maybe, or some other bird of prey, scanning the ground for the tiny signs of movement that would bring it plummeting to the kill. The man would watch these distant specks impassively, but with a fierce intensity, as if he was directly caught up in the violence of the strike in some unfathomable way. After a moment he would mutter a phrase in his language, but the boy never asked why this was and the man never told him.

When the sun dropped into the thick bands of cloud in the west they were still walking, and the land had begun to rise in a series of gorse-clad hills. As the sky burst into flames the man stopped and turned to look back, and after a moment’s consideration he came to a decision. He gestured to where a brook leapt down the hillside, and said something the boy guessed had to do with making camp. He did not argue. His legs were weak and his belly was empty, and he had been thinking about sleep for a long time.

They found a patch of level ground beside a moss-covered stone. The man built up a small fire, and the boy hunched eagerly over the flames, shivering against the gathering cold. The man dipped a hand in his bag again and brought out two strips of cured meat. He handed one to the boy, who took it and tore into it with a will. It was salty and dry, but he did not care.

When their meagre meal was over they sat on opposite sides of the fire. The man looked deep into the flames, as if reading some hidden message there, and the boy tipped his head back and watched the stars come out and fill the huge void one by one until the whole sky was a black veil crowded with light.

The man saw him looking and cast his eyes upwards as well. “Tuarin,” he said, pointing, and the boy followed his finger to the constellation he had named.

“We call it Hercules,” he said. “The warrior. Hercules.”

The man nodded and smiled knowingly. “Hercules,” he repeated, then, “Herakles.” The Greek name.

The boy nodded. “So you know the Greeks, then? The Greeks.”

The man nodded. “Greek.”

The boy looked up again and found another constellation. “The Bear,” he said, using his finger to trace a curved line of stars in the northern part of the sky.

“Goloth,” the man replied. He shifted his finger to point at a bright star that shone at the head of the constellation. “Tiorliel,” he said, and his voice was soft with something approaching love, or maybe awe. Then he began to sing, and the soft words flowed around the boy so that his eyes drooped and his limbs became unaccountably heavy, and he knew he had to lay his head down and sleep.

So he did, and listened to the man’s song as he drifted into dark oblivion, and for the first time in two days he knew peace.

*

The man watched the boy as he lay by the fire, his small chest rising and falling regularly. After a moment he rose to his feet and from his thin frame unwound a piece of cloth, which he draped over the boy tenderly, like a father tending to his son.

He did not sit down straight away. Instead he reached for his pouch and took a pinch of the black powder, which he sprinkled over the boy’s outstretched arm. Then he took the stones and knocked them together to make a spark. This time there was no glaring flash of light when the spark fell on the powder, just a soft green flame which burned for a few heartbeats then died away, and only when it had died did the man sit back again, an inscrutable expression on his face.

He sat like that for a long time, watching the boy sleep; then he, too, laid himself down and closed his eyes, and the stars wheeled overhead as they slept on the cold ground.

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I hope you’re enjoying this little series. There are prizes for spotting the links to The Endless Circle and Coals of Fire. Please do click back and catch up with previous instalments.

Enjoy your day, everyone!

Ed

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