Copyright © 2010 Hanna Marlyn
All rights reserved, Wild Child Publishing.
Asil woke with a start.
His dreams evaporated instantly. Something called his attention to the window. He slipped from the large four-poster bed, pushed his feet into his soft sheepskin slippers and walked over to the window. Stiff muscles in his calves reminded him of the vigorous training the day before with Leo in the Oak Grove. Moving towards the window, his eyes lit up as he noticed the falling snow, knowing it came with an unusual silence and strange warmth in the air.
On the wide stone windowsill lay a dove, its wings slightly spread out. Its head was twisted above the black ring of feathers on the grey neck. He touched its delicate feathers, soft as the snow, and realized it was dead. His mother had told him the dead had to be returned to the earth. He glanced over his shoulder and noticed the hourglass still held a good knob of sand which was making its way down the bill. It was not yet time to wash and go for breakfast. If he was quick, he would escape trouble and be back in time for his morning lessons.
He couldn’t invent an acceptable excuse which would convince his elders he needed time to bury a dove. The recent death of his mother, and with her, with her beliefs, was a relief to many in Boron Castle, and to some she had been a dangerous person with unacceptable habits. He would just have to be quick and stay out of trouble. She would be proud of his courage.
Asil pulled his wool-lined boots on to his naked feet and dragged his thick coat over his sleeping shirt. He estimated that he would have just enough time to run down to the forest edge and bury the sweet dove. He slipped out of his bedroom but withdrew instantly from the passage when he spotted a servant woman walking past, a basket with dirty linen balanced on her shoulder. The early morning torch in the passageway had been extinguished and a black soot line marked the square stone bricks of the wall. He checked the passage again, and ran quickly over the stone floors into the adjoining room. Leaning on the cold metal handle, he had to shove the door to open it on disused hinges. The compact room’s full bookcases filled with books lined the walls. A small desk with a large wax candle stood at the centre. He didn’t glance at the desk and turned to the only wall without a bookcase. The wall was hidden behind a heavy tapestry displaying many figures of men, women, children, various symbols, flowers and small animals. On a low hill in the tapestry’s background, a horse with two riders was depicted. Asil was impatient and ignored the details.
For a moment, he remembered his father’s warning regarding the hidden passage behind the tapestry. He had never used the passage before, but knew that in order make it back in time, he had to use it. He stepped forward and felt a restraining hand on his chest. He hesitated. Shaking his head he grabbed the tapestry edge with his free hand. Lifting it aside, he moved into the narrow darkness of the hidden passage beyond. He gasped in the icy cold passage. He groped in a dark void for some support towards the left side of the passage then remembered most people were right handed and stretched towards the right side instead. His hand touched a rusty handrail. The firm handrail gave sure support under his palm and he grew confident in the dark even with his face and hands growing numb from cold. He wished he could blow heat on his fingers to bring life back into them.
After only a moment he realized that no cobwebs touched his face, which meant someone had recently used the passage. It assured him all was safe.
Cool air at the mouth of the passage greeted him before he saw the light. He crawled out of the opening packed with rough boulders, and edged his way from behind a bush, into the snow.
Snow had been falling all night, his boots crunched in the soft whiteness. One day he would recognize this creaking snow sound as similar to the shifting of a wooden boat’s deck. He moved along the wall’s edge and darted down a hollow which he identified as the path leading to the first trees in the wood. Here tree branches supported a delicate build-up of snowflakes, in knife-thin white triangles between the black branches. Stepping away from the pathway, his feet sunk up to his ankles in the soft snow. He bent down on to his knee, laying the dove down gently, and tried to dig a grave. He scraped away the snow from the earth.
His hands soon turned blue, for the earth below the snow was stone hard. A short stick broke in his hands against the frozen earth. He peeped at the bird and said: “Sweet dove, if only I could create a bed in the earth for you to sleep in, I would.”
The dove wriggled, shook its wings and flew up with a loud flapping.
Asil stood up, his mouth agape. The dove rose through the pine branches. Asil realized the bird had not disturbed the fragile snow balanced on the twigs. What magic sparked here? Frightened, he fled out of the wood and down the path he had made earlier. As he stepped behind the bush to slip into the castle wall’s entrance, returning the way he had come through the secret passage, he bumped unexpectedly into a heavy brown cloak, which covered the solid legs of a monk.
Staggering back, he clutched his hands to his mouth, and looked up.
“Come with me!” ordered the monk with firmness.
Asil stared at him guiltily, having been caught where he should not have been. He fumbled for excuses and mumbled:
“I have to return quickly, Father. Or I shall be late!” Asil looked up but the stern face under the cowl made him hesitate. He started; he had never seen this monk before. He’d not seen the monk in the monastery in the mountains behind Boron Castle, where, with his fellow classmates, he had been guided to learn herb lore in their extended gardens. Why was the monk so far from the monastery’s warmth, and at such an early hour?
“You will turn around and follow the way you have just come from the woods,” instructed the monk. A firm hand twisted Asil’s shoulder. He dared say no more, a price would have to be paid for his running off, for going beyond the castle’s safety alone, and worse, for having used the secret passage, regarded as privileged knowledge.