Excerpt for Seed of Reason by , available in its entirety at Smashwords









SEED OF REASON



Gavin Mills

















Copyright © 2017 Gavin Mills

All rights reserved.

ISBN-10: 1539417492

ISBN-13: 9781539417491












For my father.

The most honourable man I have ever known.

WHEN THERE IS NOTHING LEFT TO LIVE FOR

IT IS EASY TO DIE FOR SOMETHING.




Contemplate the talents you have and underestimate not the strengths nor the weaknesses of those that stand against you. Though clouds of oppression hang dark and looming, it is the bond that exists between all that lives which holds the key to tomorrow’s gate. Return to the heart of evil and let the revelation unfold. And remember, plant not reason in barren minds. Sow where the seed may thrive… in the heart of chaos and the belly of the beast.






Prologue

Tomorrow…

Gilbert will return with the Seed of Reason - or Joss and Elisabeth will die …tomorrow. Either way, the hell on Earth will end - and incredulous at it seemed, Joss felt relieved.

It wasn’t so much the size of the cell, or the putrid filth - or even the horror of tortured screams. For Joss the worst was being deprived of freedom – and knowing that his life was slipping away one second, one minute, …one day at a time.

He rose slowly on tortured limbs, the filthy floor and rancid humidity rendering futile any efforts at comfort. In the corner by the scarred wooden door he sank back to his haunches, his back to the wall. He hardly noticed the muffled screams anymore, echoing through the labyrinth of corridors outside. How long had it been? …He had no idea.

He glanced down at the wasted woman coiled up on the floor beside him. Starvation, deprivation and abuse had ravaged her once beautiful body, now a pitiful pile of sweat, grime, torn flesh and tattered rags. But her face… After everything, still a picture of serene beauty – even more so while asleep, when the fear and hopelessness in her eyes could not be seen.

Gently so as not to disturb her, he stroked her matted hair and felt the hatred rekindle within. He could endure whatever Gradlock and his lackeys chose to inflict on him, but what kind of beast could do this to a woman. …What manner of demon could do this to this woman - Elisabeth, his wife!

What in the name of the Gods was he thinking, to leave the Valley of his birth - where his father was born, and his father… Where he had grown up and taken a wife. The Valley where he had been blessed with two beautiful children.

What had he and his family done to deserve this?

Was it less than a year ago…? Couldn’t be too much longer. And then, the city of Horizen. The New Order. …The realm of Gradlock, evil incarnate. A world conceived in good, but corrupted to where the rights of man were luxuries enjoyed only by a privileged few.

He thought about his children…Where were Gilbert and Purity? Were they safe – or even still alive? Would they return tomorrow as was ordained? Do they know the horrors that await them?

He shut his eyes and steadied his breathing. He had to be strong. No matter what, he had to be strong. Hopeless despair and self-pity would solve nothing. He just had to wait. Until tomorrow…





BOOK TWO

Seed of Reason





PART SEVEN



A Time To Choose






CHAPTER ONE

Dark Horisons


Gilbert was jostled awake by the hard wood of the wagon digging into his side each time they hit a bump. He had no idea when he dropped off or how long he slept. He only remembered the darkness all around, and the unnatural silence.

His mother and Purity were still asleep in the wagon and his father was where he had been since their departure - facing the front, quietly steering Toby towards the city. He could half recall other wagons joining them all through the night, and squinting into the glare of the rising sun, became aware that they were now in a procession stretching fore and aft as far as the eye could see.



Although the sun was oppressively hot, it was masked. The same as when it shone through clouds. But these were not clouds. The sky was a yellow-brown haze, deepening in colour towards the horizon ahead. It was as if everything was a different shade of the same colour of hopelessness.

Gilbert was not used to seeing the world like this. Far ahead, at the limit of his vision was a dark unnatural shape he could not quite make sense of in the deepening smog.

“Papa, we have entered the fog.”

“I know my son, I know.”

The broken trail they had been following had become a wide well worn road. Gilbert had heard before of the wide roads leading to the megacity, but he had no idea they were this grand.

It was eerily quiet considering the number of wagons and families. …The only sounds, the squeaking of wheels and the occasional exclamation from an exhausted mule.

The shape in front of them loomed larger, closer. A dark, dirty blue-grey with streams of black smoke rising from it. “Papa, is that the city?”

“Yes my son.” Joss’s voice betrayed his thoughts.

As they inched closer the city took on form, holding them awestruck by the sheer magnitude; too amazed to look away, too afraid to speak, too sad to cry, too desperate to turn back.

Horizen was encircled by a massive stone wall, towering above the cleared land outside stretching to the surrounding thickets. Directly ahead a giant iron and timber gate was dwarfed by a menacing arch which looked to Gilbert like a monstrous snake about to strike.

Flanking the arch were two formidable towers with small windows all the way up, lit like demon eyes …And assaulting the silence, an incessant rumble. As if the city suffered.

Somewhere beyond, they heard the tortured grind of metal on stone as the gates opened outwards to reveal to most, their first glimpse of the megacity.

It was grey, oppressive and dirty, by far the largest city most had ever seen - and the stink, like dirty feet and wet dogs, was nauseating.

“What is that smell papa?” Gilbert called from inside the wagon where he was helping Elizabeth with Purity.

His father never answered, and then Gilbert knew: it was fear.

Gilbert clambered out joining his father at the reins. A troop of what appeared to be monstrous men on horses came charging towards them from the gates. He squinted into the morning glare as the horsemen approached.

Never in his life had he seen such ugly creatures. They were as tall as two men and wider than a barrel. Thick mattered brows hung low over bloodshot eyes in mottled flesh above hairy nostrils; beards like wire and wrinkled necks. They had arms like tree trunks and calloused hands ending in stubby fingers with filthy broken nails.

The terror was clear in the eyes of horses straining under their weight as the ghastly creatures moved from carriage to carriage, scrutinizing all heading for the city. Every so often, an unlucky soul was wrenched from a wagon. The lucky ones were thrown back into the throng, but some wretched souls were taken – sometimes with family – and tossed into dark cattle wagons that entered the gates when full - and returned empty.

“Dear lord, Elizabeth, they’re trolls,” whispered Joss.

“Trolls don’t exist, Joss.”

“Silence!” snarled the biggest in a harsh, guttural voice. “We do not exist? Then I must be your worst nightmare. I will tell you once and you will never forget…”

He dismounted and sauntered over to the wagon, lifting the side tarpaulin and leaning in. Thick yellow saliva dripped from a festering mouth with breath of decay, “I am McMalice, …and these my men, of the clans McFear, McGreed, McEnvy and McHate. Welcome to Horizen, seat of the New Order – and retreat to the damned”

The trolls exploded into laughter. Rasping, snorting, insane cackles sending shivers up their spines.

“Greetings, I am Joss of…”

“Silence you pathetic little man! Do you presume we care? Move, move! What kind of a pathetic mule is that?” The trolls all turned hungrily on Toby.

“Leave him be!” A small voice came from the wagon.

Elisabeth moved to muffle Purity, but it was too late. McMalice stopped and turned back towards the voice, seeing the little girl held fiercely by her mother.

“See here… What a delicacy! She’ gorgeous? May I eat her ma’am?” The troll lowered his head, smelling Purity hungrily.

Elisabeth snapped like a frightened puppy.

“Stay away from my child!”

Alarmed and scared Joss leapt in front of her. A long, wiry troll was at his neck, breathing putrid sulfurous breath into his face.

“Back you vermin! In here you are my dog and I eat dogs, …so shut up and kneel before me – or so help me I’ll suck the juices from your skull and feed your eyes to my pigs!”

“McFear, leave them be… He will learn his place soon enough.” It was the large troll called McMalice again. “Now get them inside!”

Then McMalice spotted Gilbert, tucked behind his father’s arm. He stopped dead and stared, drilling deeply into Gilbert’s eyes. The boy was terrified. He saw something in this hideous creature that he could not quite understand. A presence….

Abruptly McMalice turned on his heel and gave the order to move on.

Such was the welcome for new arrivals to Horizen the megacity, vision of Rezden and home of his New Order.

“We have made a mistake, my love,” whispered Joss.

It was the first time in his life that Gilbert had ever heard fear in his father’s voice.






CHAPTER TWO

The Belly of the Beast


The gates thundered shut behind them, blocking out the afternoon sun as an ostentatious carriage, appearing entirely of gold, trumbled towards them from the inner city.

Frenzied wolves, growling and slobbering, were harnessed to the front with silver chains. Standing on a platform in front was a small bony man in a long black coat, stringy black hair pulled tightly to the back of his head. His eyes were like black beads and his long, pointed nose looked translucent blue against his ghostly pale skin. Thin black lips formed a frozen smile as he eyed the convoy, hands clasped before him exposing impossibly thin fingers ending in long, sharp nails.

“Silence!” McMalice screamed the order. “Hail Gradlock, Head of the Supreme Council!”

Everyone around stopped what they were doing, and bowed their heads. There was silence - except for the incessant rumbling which seemed to permeate this strange new world.

When he spoke, his voice was like dry ice. “New friends… Welcome! Welcome to Horizen, the answer to your prayers. Please… Come with us! You will have no need for your wagons. We trust you have come here for new beginnings, a better life… McGreed? Burn them and get rid of those mangy mules. They fester with disease.”

He strutted down the line of wagons, slowing every now and then to cast his eyes on a terrified new arrival. Arriving at Joss standing with his family, he stopped and turned towards them.

“Welcome…” his smiled at Joss through red glazed eyes.

It was like being stabbed in the face. First the intense pain, then dull scratching behind the eyes, as though he could feel Gradlock inside his head.

“…Joss - and your beautiful family, Elizabeth, Purity and…”

Gradlock stopped. He stared at Gilbert, eyes gleaming with concentration. He could not reach within. The boy’s name alluded him.

Suddenly in a rage, he lunged forward and gripped Gilbert’s arm: “What is your name, lad?”

He felt a desire to squeeze the life from the child but resisted, intrigued.

“Gilbert,” answered the terrified boy, his arm immediately discolouring under the pressure of Gradlock’s bony grip.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, young man…,” he hissed, releasing his grip and turning to McMalice.

“Do keep an eye on this one... He is …precious - I would hate anything …untoward to happen to him.” The look in his eyes would have flayed the skin off a brave man.

Gradlock climbed back onto the carriage and turned with a flourish to face the subdued gathering of new arrivals: “I am exceptionally pleased to invite you to Horizen. Please, if you encounter things not to your pleasing, feel free to speak. Our duty is to all our citizens – all of you - and I hope and trust you will enjoy your new life here with us. The gracious McMalice and his esteemed cohort will show you to your new homes shortly. Please remember that levies will be collected each month on the day following full moon. Thank you.” And he was gone.

The trolls dragged protesting families from their wagons, discarding their belongings to the ground. All the wagons were assembled quickly into procession and steered towards one of the dark side streets.

Gilbert squealed in horror as McHate dragged the protesting Toby in the same direction, but no one else spoke a word. All were too terrified to protest. Not one person of the families that had entered the city dared voice a challenge.

Joss and his silent family were led through a maze of damp, smelly streets lined by houses stacked almost on top of each other. Every now and then sullen faces appeared behind half closed windows and derelict doors. Dilapidated structures loomed precariously over the rough cobbled street.

Every so often someone would empty a bucket into the street, the filth running freely into cobble paving cracks before seeping into the steaming blackness of the sewers. Although not one house was exactly the same as the rest, they all smelt the same – damp and dirty.

Zigzagging deeper and deeper into the bowels of Horizen, it suddenly dawned on Gilbert: Not one plant! Nothing but battered decay and malignant filth.

“Please sire, you move too fast,” Joss pleaded with McMalice, lumbering ahead. He and Gilbert were struggling under the weight of the few possessions they were allowed.

On entering the city Purity had experienced an excruciating bout of coughing, and Elizabeth was carrying her, gasping with the exertion and falling behind.

McMalice turned blood-shot eyes on the struggling woman.

“Is this why we wait?” …Gesturing to the miserable child on her mother’s arm.

“For this?”

He grabbed Purity savagely by the scruff of her neck and ripped the child from her mother’s grasp, holding her aloft much the way one would a puppy.

Elizabeth stood dead still and spoke quietly, but her eyes projected murder through her fear.

“Give me my child or I will have your eyes,” she hissed.

McMalice hesitated. …Studied her thoughtfully.

“My eyes…?”

The other trolls were watching him.

“Might be a trade worth considering,” he scoffed, “but maybe on some other day… Here! Have your wretched mouse,” tossing the limp Purity to Elizabeth like a rag doll.

Joss frowned as he turned back towards their heading. A cruel and frightening creature no doubt, but was that fear or sympathy in his voice? Whatever, Joss was thankful the moment had passed leaving all unscathed.

There was more traffic now. More carts, people, industry. Even hints of frivolity. Suddenly, a dog came charging around a corner and knocked Gilbert nearly off his feet.

“Stupid child!” shouted the dog and carried on running. Joss dropped his burden in an instant and sprinted to Gil’s aid. He lifted his son and hugged him protectively... The trolls bellowed with laughter.

“I’m OK Papa. …I’m fine.”

Gilbert wrestled free and started picking up his scattered load.

“I’m fine. Really.”

They passed under a stone arch and stopped in amazement. Before them, hoards of people hollered and jostled, this way and that. …A space of trade, a space of recreation. A grand promenade. A space where almost a half century before, Maxmillian had sworn an oath to Fletch that an ancient well would be conserved, for the free citizens of the New Order.

Running the full length of the square, grand buildings rose behind grandiose arches. Buildings which they would later learn, were the seats of state, the Supreme Council, and all those at the helm of commerce, trade and industry. And there, centre stage and dominating all was the Clock Tower, …thick, high, overwhelming; with massive copper clock ticking away the days one second at a time.

But in spite of the grand testaments to man’s genius and innovation, that which caught - and held - all their attention was the tree. A single oak tree, stood just off centre beside the well. The only vestige of nature they had seen since entering the gates. The only sign of nature they would see at all in the megacity of Horizen.

It was an old tree, with rugged branches and hard leaves. In front of the tree was an ironwood bench - and the ancient stone well.

The well was beginning to show early signs of neglect. But in spite of appearance, there was a strange … presence. Gilbert staggered. The energy from the well as he faced it was like a physical force.

Purity suddenly woke on Elizabeth’s shoulder and manoeuvred impatiently for a view. She frowned for a second, and then her sleepy eyes twinkled into a glorious smile. She giggled with glee, waving towards the old well.

McMalice glanced at the gurgling child, and followed the subject of her attention.

“Insanity starts young in these times,” he scowled. “Move! Time is wasted.”

A tall dark woman with dark eyes and disturbing presence sauntered towards them from the Clock Tower.

“I have the keys to your dwellings.” She was obviously bored with her lot in life. However, it was welcome relief from the troll’s aggression. Joss lowered his eyes as he took the keys.

Why were the trolls in such good spirits, …anticipation? ‘What scheming do they know of - that we are as yet unaware…?’ Joss was thinking.

Giggling hysterically the trolls converged on the family like hyenas, grabbing from them what little they had left of value.

“Empty your pockets!” McMalice growled, obviously displeased with the meagre takings.

“My lord,” Joss tried to protest.

“I am not your lord! Come to me!”

McMalice grabbed the man’s sleeve, pulling him off balance. Joss was bewildered by the incredible force and strength of the troll. Before he could respond, McMalice ripped and the hip pocket of his old weathered jacket was no more. A small package, neatly wrapped and bound in fresh linen, dropped to the rough stone sidewalk.

Joss lunged to retrieve it, but McMalice, moving with a dexterity belied by his size and weight lunged, locking the man’s head in a vice like grip.

“Not in front of my children. I beg of you.” He pleaded, truly believing the troll was going to crush his skull and spill his brains. He could not believe the incredible strength.

“Take it. It is yours, but unhand my father,” Gil screamed, picking up the package and offering it to McMalice. Amused, McMalice studied him for a second before releasing his grip and surprisingly delicately, reaching for the trinket.

“Now what have we here…” McMalice looked even more menacing when he smiled. Shifting beady eyes from one to the other, he picked at the acquisition, growing in frustration at the futility of his efforts.”

“Please sire. It is of no value to you but immeasurable sentimental significance to me,” Joss pleaded.

“Be quiet you pitiful little man!” he barked, turning to Gil. “You! Unveil this secret your father so treasures – and need I suggest you take care? We would not wish to tarnish whatever treasure it might contain.”

Hands heavy, Gilbert slowly removed the linen wrapping. His eyes flashed recognition – for only a split second – as the cloth fell away to reveal a shimmering disc, just smaller than the palm of a mans hand, but beautiful and finely crafted.

McMalice snatched the artifact from Gil’s hand.

“…And we have…” He suddenly stopped and studied the object as if mesmerized.

“I know… I heard from…”

He flipped the object over like a coin, holding it close to his face as he studied it.

“Gruff! It cannot be…”

In total disbelief, McMalice was mouthing the inscription over and over when he became aware of the quiet and the eyes of all, man and troll, watching him.

“Where did you get this!” he barked

Joss was terrified. “It was a gift, sire”

“From who?” the livid troll roared

“A friend deceased,” Elizabeth interjected. She was staring at Joss, willing him to shut up as it dawned on the farmer: It had been given him by Poulus. And Poulus too lived in the city. If the trinket had a legacy which could bring harm, best lay the legacy to rest where it could not be found.

McMalice shuffled closer. “Deceased…” He stared at Joss for a long time, and then smiled. “We will talk of this later.”

And without another word, he pocketed the trinket – a beautiful compass crafted in gold inscribed with ‘Gruff’ – and walked away.

Entering a narrow archway, they faced an insanely steep flight of stairs. The trolls assisted with their last remaining possessions and as they mounted, Elizabeth could hear her precious things cracking and breaking up the rickety stairwell.

McMalice stopped and fumbled with the bolt at a derelict olive green door. McEnvy growled just beside them and lashed out viciously with an iron studded heel, exploding the already tattered door inwards.

Purity who had dropped off again, jolted awake by the commotion and burst into tears.

“There are no ablutions here – Ask your… neighbours and you will find what you need for this precinct.” McEnvy knocked Elizabeth comforting the terrified Purity almost off her feet, slamming and virtually destroying the already battered door as he turned to leave.

The flaking walls were covered with dark grease stains, and the floor was moldy and sticky. The hearth was caked with grey brittle paste where the last fire had been doused and forgotten about. The iron fireplace was rusted. A leprous old mattress balancing on crumbling bricks just about filled the entire space of the small enclave supposed to be a bedroom. All window awnings were remnants of tattered calico, harnessed in obscene ways, directly to the walls.

“Dear Lord, Joss. Is this our destiny?” Tears welled up in Elizabeth’s eyes.

“We will make this work, Beth. We have to…” This time his voice did not betray the anguish and trepidation he felt in his heart.






CHAPTER THREE

The First Week


The first week in the city was the most miserable any of them could remember. Joss was collected before light the very first day, herded off with the rest of the broken men living nearby, being put straight to work feeding the great furnaces conceived by Jessop.

Elisabeth was left to turn the hovel that had been allocated to them, into a home. Completely out of sorts in his new surroundings, Gilbert hovered near her, helping here and unpacking there, but more in the way than of much help. Back in the Great Valley, she would have told him to go play outside, and he would have been gone in a second, but here, wallowing with the dregs of existence, she would not dare risk the boy moving too far from sight.



And as for Purity. Her health continued to deteriorate. Her head was stuffy, her bowel movements had become sporadic and extreme and she had developed a wet rasping cough.

“It’s the foul air,” people close by told the mother. “They all go through it at first. She will adapt,” but Elisabeth remained doubtful.

It was in the fourth week, late one evening as Joss rested his tired bones that a knock at the door announced a visitor. Joss and Elisabeth locked anxious eyes. They had learnt quickly that unexpected intrusions seldom heralded good fortune.

Before either of them could move, Gilbert was at the door. “Uncle Poulus! Greetings!” The young boy threw his arms around the bulbous man.

Joss and Elisabeth leapt to their feet. They embraced and exchanged greetings as Elisabeth invited their friend to join them for dinner.

“Nothing would give a ravenous man more pleasure than to dine with you, but unfortunately, I must decline.” Poulus apologized. “Alice has prepared our meal and I cannot dally. But we will be gathering at the Clock Tower Square two weeks hence. A lot of folk from the old country will be there. We break bread and share stories, and it keeps us in touch with our lives, our friends and our sanity. We would be honoured if you would join us.”

Gilbert jumped up and down with excitement. At last they would get out of the dingy old hovel and could enjoy some space.

“The honour would be ours,” Elisabeth smiled. “Who all will be there and what do we provide?”

“There will be a lot of faces you may or may not remember. But they are all people who like us, have lost all and have come to the city under duress. Of us there will be myself, Alice, Ernest – he’s living with us now - and our children. Bring an old blanket, some food and some mead, and meet us before the midday hour near the well, under the oak tree. Ask for directions if needed. It is known to all.”

“The Clock Tower Square?” Joss asked. It was much too close to the quarters of the Supreme Council. …To Gradlock. Joss thought back to the encounter at the gate. “Is it permitted?”

“Yes – and not really,” Poulus answered, “but the trolls turn a blind eye. I believe they feel as long as we fraternize by the light of day, we do not pose a threat. I must leave. Will you come?”

Joss walked the three short steps to the front door. “We will be there my friend. God speed.”

“God be with you too, Joss,” and he was gone.






CHAPTER FOUR

Words In Jest


Gradlock sipped dark red wine from an elegant bronze chalice as he watched the jester’s ludicrous antics in the ostentatious Supreme Council chamber.

“Bravo!” he cackled with bored sarcasm as the jester sang and rhymed and performed his antics.

His shrill voice echoed round the cold stone hall dominated at the one end by Gradlock’s magnificent throne, strategically elevated opposite a cavernous hearth large enough for a man to enter without bending. Rustic copper encrusted flares along the walls flickered off stuffed trophies of the hunt, ancient armour and implements of war cast haphazardly around the room. Above Gradlock’s head hung a magnificent coat of arms with the insignia, ‘In Power We Trust’.

The jester stopped abruptly. He seemed to listen like one would to whispered advice, then turned and grovelled up to Gradlock.

“What I say is in the stars, and in the stars is what will be. Would the great Gradlock have the valour to hear what they say will be?”

Gradlock scowled, caught a little off guard. He fidgeted irritably as he considered the question.

“Speak joker, and tell me what it is you see. Tell me what the stars say will be.”

“Beware the young tree, a young boy and old soul - with bad blood.”

The leering smile on Gradlock’s bony face turned to stone.

“Beware the stream of bad blood! It comes from another time and it is the time. It is he who shall turn the world, and all men and beast alike. For though the blood was spilled and path lost, a heart beats now to the rhythm of the Universe. No might will stop it, no fright will kill it, beware the young tree of bad blood!”

Gradlock exploded in a frenzy. “Speak plainly jester!”

“I say what I know and I know what I hear. And I fear what I hear, for what I hear is the coming of a hearman, beware the young tree of bad blood!”

“Out! Get out! …Now!” Gradlock was seething.

His mind raced back to the boy he had encountered at the gate less than a moon before. The boy whose mind he could not read. The lad whose arm bruised instantly in his grip.

He turned to McMalice and whispered into an ugly, wax-filled ear: “Keep your eyes on that child… He is not what he seems.”






CHAPTER FIVE

The Day on the Square


Purity’s condition had become of growing concern, deteriorating even further when Joss was transferred to the mill.

The coughing had become so bad at night that Elizabeth feared she might have contracted a palsy. Mother and father would take turns at her bed, burning oils of lavender and eucalyptus and massaging her tiny chest to dispel the violent spasms thrashing at her body. They stood by and comforted her but their hearts grieved watching powerlessly as she fought valiantly for breath.

Even a respected physician, known to Ernest and reputed to be of the best in Horizen, had given council. But far from curing her, his endeavors although providing some relief, shed no light on or solution to the cause.

Even though exhausted from the day, cursing his helplessness, and raging at the Gods for their nature, Joss despised not knowing what was to become of them. …And he prayed for deliverance from this hell on earth, and for the health of his little girl.

Life in the city was neither worse nor better than the worse Joss had feared, but was far worse than anticipated by wife and offspring. But the small family remained brave and resolute, strong in the love that held them so close.

Joss marveled at Elisabeth. She showed a strength in adversity that he never knew she had. He knew that if it wasn’t for her, they would never have been coping as well as they had. And it made him love her more. …Love his family more.

Slowly the days passed and in an inexplicable way, their lives settled down into routine, and eventually the day of the outing dawned.

Gilbert was up first. He could hardly contain his excitement. Even Purity rose with a clear head for the first time since they had arrived. The young girl walked around mimicking her brother poking his head inside every few minutes, asking, “Is it not yet time? We should not be late?”

Joss, helping Elisabeth with the lunch hamper and old blanket, just smiled. It would take more than this terrible place to destroy his family. Of that he was sure.

Not a second too soon for Gil, about an hour before noon, Elisabeth declared herself prepared and ready to leave.

They got lost twice en route, but after stopping for directions each time, were soon back on course, and it was only a few minutes after lunch that they arrived at the square.

There were crowds of people of every shape and form. Gilbert squealed with delight, and Purity clapped her hands with joy. There was an almost carnival like atmosphere tainted only by the presence of two trolls lurking in the shadows, watching every move.

Some of the people Gilbert remembered from the Valley, some not. Elizabeth nearly burst into tears when Poulus approached with Ernest.

Once all introductions were done, while the women prepared the spread for lunch, Joss, Poulus and Ernest ambled over to the old bench by the well, talking about the old days - and the future. Gilbert and Seth, posturing like two young colts strayed slightly behind.

Seth was holding stage, trying to impress an unimpressed Gilbert with his expansive knowledge of the workings of the city. Gilbert smiled feigning interest, but in reality was about as interested in the inner workings of the city as he was in flying to the moon.

Listening with one ear, his attention was drawn to a strange creature approaching from the avenue directly opposite the trolls. It looked like a character from a child’s tale: a strange cat with a royal disposition, a patch on one eye and an artificial leg.

Timor was making perfectly sure he kept the bench between himself and the trolls. Rumour had it Gradlock knew he was alive, but there was a cold unspoken truce. Like the calm before the tempest, he thought bitterly.

He slinked up to Ernest, loped easily onto the bench next to him, and rested his head on the man’s lap.

“And this?” Joss chided. “I could see you with a hunting hound, but I never would have believed I would see you petting a cat. Especially an old warmongerer such as this.”

“Meet Captain,” Ernest smiled as he massaged the cat’s ears. “He came to us just before Josephine passed. If it wasn’t for him in those early days, … I don’t know if I would have had the strength.”

“What happened to him?” Joss asked as Seth moved closer.

“That is a long story for another day, but he and I have both suffered and grown strong together.”

“Will you keep him?” asked Gilbert overhearing the end of the conversation as he returned to announce food was served. The cat lifted his head and looked at the boy. This one was also different. Like the lady they called Alice – but stronger.

“He is not mine to keep. In fact after his recovery, I believe he made it his mission to keep me. How long will he stay? I don’t know… As long as he wants… He will always have a home with me. But I cannot help feeling he is staying simply because he thinks I need him. It is as though there were something he must do, but his allegiance keeps him here. I wish I could somehow let him know that I am okay.”

He stroked the cat with love from muzzle down to his amputated leg. “That’s my Captain.” Ernest was the only being alive that Timor allowed to touch his missing leg.

The conversation fizzled as the trolls sidled closer. Gilbert’s curiosity was further aroused as with feline elegance, almost simultaneously, Timor slid from the bench and slinked away. This was interesting. What secret made the cat sideline the trolls?

After their meal, man talk switched back to trials and tribulations of life in the city, and Gilbert stole away unnoticed and made for the shadows where Timor had disappeared.

“He says it’s okay if you go, you know.” Gilbert said casually.

It was as if the cat, sprawled in the shade of a low balustrade had been shocked by lightning. He shot straight up, the hairs on his neck flared like a porcupine. Gilbert had to suppress a smile. He loved talking to animals that didn’t know. Every time bar none, the reaction was the same.

“Who are you,” Timor hissed. “From whence do you come? Who sent you. Are you of Gradlock?”

Gilbert chuckled quietly. “Relax Captain. I am not of Gradlock. In fact, I do not like Gradlock, and I do not like this city. I am from the Great Valley and my name is Gilbert”

The cat eyed him with suspicion, then looked across at Ernest and Poulus bantering with the boy’s parents and relaxed. “I have to take care. I am …marked.”

“Marked?” Gilbert enquired. “By who. For what?”

The cat turned away, “Be careful what you ask, be careful what you think and be careful what you say. This city is not a safe place…”

“What happened to you. I hear you were attacked …by savage hounds”

“Ah mon ami. The dogs were the weapon, but they are not the enemy.”

“I don’t understand…” Gilbert squatted down next to Timor against the sun drenched wall.

“There are some things that should never be discussed, and some things that should, …but only at expedient times.”

“Do you have … a calling. …Business yet unfinished?” asked Gilbert.

“Ah… Old Ernest is a perceptive man. You can convey my thanks… Do I have to go? The answer is yes.”

“So…?” Gilbert leant closer, waiting expectantly.

“Let us just say …I have a quest. There are truths to be unveiled. Scores to be settled.”

Gilbert’s mind was racing when Timor addressed him again.

“Tell me Gilbert, is that child your sister?”

Gilbert looked back at Purity giggling and rolling on the blanket with the other kids. “Yes. That is Purity”

“Ah yes of course,” the cat nodded, “Purity… Has anyone ever told you about a legend around these parts?”

“Legend?” the boy cocked his head slightly.

“The legend of the Seed of Reason”

Gilbert was trying to recall – he had heard talk - when Timor became tense and purred a whisper. “The trolls move in this direction. I do believe it is time for me to depart. I will see you again soon, young hearman. A bien tout – and Timor: That is my name.” And he was gone.

Gilbert stood up and headed back to their party, the trolls directly in his path. He lowered his eyes to the ground, desperate to avoid their attention.

“Idle minutes with a crippled cat can sometimes lead to undesirable consequence, m’boy. Am I not right?” one creature sneered as he passed. Gilbert fought back panic and the urge to run.

“Look at me when I speak t’you boy. I said…”

Elisabeth’s voice cut like a knife, “Gilbert! Come here now! I said this minute!”

She glared at the trolls daring argument. Gilbert hesitated, frozen with fear as the trolls turned to his mother. One lifted a monstrous scaled hand as though to speak, but the second, less enthusiastic with the attention they were attracting, stopped him.

Making little effort to conceal their contempt as Gilbert scampered to his mother, the two trolls turned and lumbered back towards their posts.

“What were you doing you silly boy?” she hissed.

“Sorry. I know. I was talking to the cat”

“What cat?” Joss asked.

Gilbert ignored the question walking straight up to Ernest.

“He says thank you for what you have done. He says thank you for understanding, and he is glad that you have weathered your suffering. And shortly, with your blessing, he will take your leave.”

Ernest stared at the boy, as dumbstruck as his parents and the friends. “Who, my little man? Who says thanks? Who will be leaving?”

Gilbert’s face was serious. “Your cat... He told me so. And by the way, his name is not Captain, it is Timor.”






CHAPTER SIX

Purity Suffers


“They are destroying what’s left of the forest to keep the furnace running. Everything! The forest that provided us with food and shelter for generations is being raped and burned to keep this city alive.”

“How can you be sure…”

Joss slumped back and breathed deep of the bitter sweet aroma rising from the steaming brew Elizabeth had just prepared. He sipped, testing before indulging …and closed his eyes in ecstasy as the warm liquid washed dust and grime from his mouth and throat.

“I know! It is so unjust. No wonder the Gods are incensed! And nothing can be done. We have no choice. Oh Elisabeth. I am so sorry. If I could do more…”

Elizabeth caressed his hand, letting him speak.

“Samuel from the eastern side of Collingwood stopped loading... He too was sickened by what we are doing. He was flogged Elizabeth. Beaten to within an inch of his life.”

And then they heard Purity, screaming, coughing and convulsing in the next room. Elizabeth was up in a heartbeat. Moments later she screamed, “Joss! Come! Now!”

Purity was not breathing. Her eyes rolled back and her little face was turning blue. Her tiny body convulsed and thrashed wildly.

“The doctor! I will summon the doctor!” Joss sprinted out leaving Elizabeth desperately kissing Purity softly on the brow. “Please don’t take her from me. Please don’t let the city take her from me,” she pleaded over and over.



Three hours later Elisabeth emerged with the doctor from the small dimly lit back room shared by brother and sister. Father and son stood just outside waiting anxiously. After a few hushed words with Elisabeth and the doctor, Joss turned to Gilbert…

“She is sleeping, my boy. The physician will come tomorrow. She opened her eyes and smiled a few minutes ago, but the doctor has given her something to ease her chest and help her sleep.”

Gilbert heard the grief in his father’s voice.

“Papa, she will improve! I know it,” he whispered, as much seeking reassurance as giving it.

Joss forced a thin smile, kissed him on the forehead and followed his wife back to Purity’s room. The next few hours were long and tense, as parents kept vigil and Gilbert listened…

Even when silence and tranquility finally settled, he could not sleep. Quiet as a ghost, he dressed and tiptoed to the front door. His parents had succumbed to their exhaustion. They would not wake easy.

He stole down the battered stairs to the street, not sure of the time: day or night - light hardly changed in the slum - but he knew for certain it was still night. He could not believe the city could be so empty or depressing. His mind drifted to Alice – and the growing fog. Was this really the source of the fog? He knew the answer…

He slumped on the bottom step. It was cold but he did not care. He closed his eyes and in his thoughts, could see his old home with thatched roof and rough stone walls. He could hear the wind singing about spring, and smell the jasmine floating in the air. The forest danced to the wind and in the distance he could see the blue Providence surging to the Greatmist Falls… He could hear Purity giggling and his father’s full belly laughter and his mother humming as she hung out the washing.

Gilbert sat there for ages, his heart heavy and his eyes grew sore, counting the fungus covered bricks making up the cobbled paving, tracing the cracks. Sudden movement behind a dark dank stormwater drain caught his eye. Deep in the darkness, he could just make out a tiny pair of beady eyes watching him intently.

Curious, he leaned closer, but in a tick the beads were gone.

Gilbert lent low to the ground, peering into the blackness, and the next second, crashed down onto hands and knees, almost with his face in the drain as a monstrous dog collided into him at full gallop from behind.

It was the same huge dog that almost sent him flying on their first day in the city.

“Stupid child!” barked the dog.

“You are stupid! …And I’m not a child!” Gilbert snapped back.

The hound stopped in his tracks; turning to look at Gilbert rubbing the mark left on his knee from the hard cobble paving. He cocked his head in disbelief. In the darkness, Gilbert could not see the comical look on the dog’s face or the bruise he knew was forming.

The dog was monstrous, a dark tan with a droopy bearlike face. Without doubt one of the biggest dogs Gilbert had ever seen. His teeth were huge and fearsome, but with head cocked slightly - one ear erect, one flapping over, eyes the size of saucers and a prancing gate not unlike a circus pony, Gilbert couldn’t help but be amused.

“You speak dog?” the dog asked in disbelief.

Gil felt his hackles subside. This comical creature could possibly shed a different light on life in Horizen

“I speak doggish, cattish, rattish, birdish, fishish.”

“Fishish???”

“Shhhh!” hissed Gilbert, “Keep it quiet! I do not need trouble.”

“Well, …how long have you been here?” asked the dog.

“Here as in here, this spot? Or here as in here, this city?” Gilbert answered mischievously.

“Here as in the city! He thinks he is smart too! What are you, a spy? Have they sent you to keep your eye on us? Is that why you are here?”

“Here as in here, this spot? Or here as in here, this city?” smiled Gilbert.

“Aaaargh! You are impossible!” barked the dog.

“I have to go, my mama will be looking for me.”

“Wait, what is your name?”

“What is yours?” asked Gilbert.

“They call me Truman,” said the dog.

“They call me Gilbert,” winked Gilbert as he turned and headed for home.

The dog yapped with excitement, his tail more wagging the dog than vice versa. He stopped. “Come back! Hey. G-gilbert!”

Truman paced back and forward, looking to where Gilbert had disappeared. “Angus must learn of this! Yes! I must inform him. It must be a sign. Angus will know… Angus! Angus!”

Truman scampered at full speed for a good few seconds before finally finding traction on the sodden cobblestones and careering from view down the dimly lit alley.






CHAPTER SEVEN

Seth To The Rescue


Elizabeth was waiting for Gilbert when he returned. “Gil! What are you thinking? Do you not see we have worries enough?”

“Sorry mama. My head was in a turmoil. I went outside so as not to cause disturbance…”

“To bed, young man, and no dallying.”

Gilbert undressed as quietly as he could and climbed into bed. How long before day he had no idea, but his mood had lifted. Life in the city might not be so dismal after all.

Gilbert woke up with a start, no clue how long he had slept. A strange man spoke in low tones with his mother in the living area. It had to be the physician for Purity, which meant it had to be day.

Gilbert greeted the man politely.

“Take care of your mother and sister big man, they need you,” the man smiled as he bid farewell and left. Gilbert saw the physician to the street below and returned in high spirits - until he saw his mother’s tears.

“What’s wrong mama” Gilbert asked softly, panic building inside. “Purity… She will get well?”

“We hope so,” the distraught mother whispered bravely.


* * *


Joss returned from work early that evening. The trolls had not taken kindly to his request, but the man no longer cared.

Father, mother and son ate in silence when Elisabeth served dinner.

While Elisabeth cleared up after the meal, Joss bantered weakly with his son, trying to lighten the heavy air.

“It is your bed time, good sir.”

Understanding their worry, Gilbert bid his parents goodnight and a few minutes later, was washed, tucked and still.

Once they believed the children were asleep, Elisabeth related what had transpired with the surgeon

“But surely they should have some idea…” Joss reasoned softly.

The worried couple sat side by side at the old dining table, unfocused eyes staring straight ahead at nothing. Gilbert lay silent in his bunk, straining to overhear the whispered conversation.

“There is no outward infection, no sign of… He says it is almost as though she has lost the will to live. She wilts in the same way as our world. It is this cursed place! How else can you explain her condition since we arrived?”

“Then let’s go back.”

“We can’t Joss! I do not have to remind you, surely!”

Gilbert strained to hear, intent not to miss one word.

His mother sobbed: “My eldest child is as brittle as china and my baby carries the pestilence of the world! Why? Why? Why? Why is God punishing us so! I prayed and prayed for years for someone to look after Gilbert when we are gone… God knows he needs that… And we are rewarded with a child even worse off!

“Who will look out for Gil? How is he going to look out for Purity? If she were to die…”

“Shhh, Elizabeth. You will wake them. I know your concerns. But it is no use torturing yourself with questions for which there are no answers. We must just be brave and have faith.”

“Faith!” Elizabeth hissed as she began sobbing once more. “In what? I don’t want it! Do you hear? I don’t want it!”

Gilbert gripped the bed so his knuckles showed white. Was it his fault? Was he to blame for Purity’s sickness? If he were not so weak then… The thought was too much. He needed air. Without a sound, he tiptoe-ed to the front door. Like a mouse he eased it open and slid outside and down the crumbling stairs. And then he ran.

He ran and ran, until his lungs were on fire. Sobbing so hard he could hardly breathe, he kept running, and running. Left, right, straight, right, bumping people, animals, he ran and ran - and sobbed and sobbed, until he could run - or sob - no more.

He stumbled to a stop and looked around, trying to get his bearings. It was almost dark and he started to panic.

“Control yourself you silly boy,” he rebuked. “It is a city, nothing more. Control yourself!”

“Dear dear dear… Lost are we, my boy?”

Gilbert spun towards the voice.

“Poor, poor lad… Lucky you caught the eye of old Lexon then, isn’t it” A porky man with crooked teeth smiled through ice-dead eyes, mincing towards him on boney legs.

“Can I be …to your service perhaps?”

Gilbert had learnt not to talk to strangers, but here for all to see? …And he needed directions.

He started towards the stranger.

“Sire, I…”

“…Am waiting for a relative - who would be arriving shortly – before being escorted by the same to the parents of said, for dinner. …And what have we here? The said relative’s much anticipated arrival…

“Greetings Gil. I trust you have not been waiting long?”

Gilbert stood bewildered.

“Seth?” he uttered in surprise.

“Yes my friend – and we are expected. We should go…” turning back to the stranger, “Thankyou for your gracious charity, sire. You are too kind. Have a splendid evening.”

Gilbert scampered behind with Seth tugging him along by the arm.

Once out of range, Gil yanked free from Seth’s hold. “What are you doing Seth!”

“I am protecting your naïve little rump, my friend. A word of gratitude would be in order…”

“For what?”

Seth stopped and looked at him.

“This is not the Valley – and even if it were true you speak to the winds, this is still not the Valley! Do you think that pervert’s intention was to assist? Grow up little boy. This is not the Valley!”

Gil slowed his stride.

“Yes. This is not the Valley…”

“Come. You need time to look, listen to your spirit, and think…”

Seth led him down some obscure back alleys until to his delight, they finally emerged on the familiar terrain of the Clocktower Square.



Gilbert slumped down on the bench beside the well. That intriguing well. Seth approached the ancient stone void, peering into the hollow darkness.

“I must return home – truly.”

“And I should not be out,” Gil mumbled

“But you are, and you have spiders in your head. Clear the cobwebs and the spiders move on.”

Gil smiled.

“Do you know your way home?” Seth asked.

Gil nodded. “Go home. I am fine… …And Seth. Thanks.”

Seth smiled and left.

A bat suddenly rocketed from the well, just missing Gilbert. He jerked back and watched the bat flutter off into the mottled sky.

As he followed the bat’s departure, he noticed two small dots of light in the oak tree just above eye-line. Another pair of eyes! He could not see who or what they belonged to. He could only see small specks of light reflected from the oil street-lamps evenly lining the square.

“Silly child,” said the two eyes, in a soothing, controlled voice.






CHAPTER EIGHT

Gilbert Meets Angus


The dark shadows behind the eyes slowly took form as Gilbert’s vision adjusted to the darkness. It was an owl, with long white eyebrows framing a chubby face, grayish blue and puffy.

“I am not silly. Why does everyone here have to be so rude!”

The owl ruffled his feathers, not unlike a pinecone with a beak. His response concealed his surprise, “Perhaps you are not silly. That remains to be seen. …But if you are not silly, who might you be?”

“I am Gilbert.”

“Ah. Your reputation precedes you… My name is Angus. Angus Owl. . .son of Fletch. But you can call me Angus.”



“Thank you for small mercies,” Gilbert replied sullenly.

“Small mercies maybe, but mercies all the same, my young friend. By what stroke of ill-fate have you landed in this place of the damned?”

“By what stroke of ill fate...? By the decree of the Gods. By the absence of choice. …My family came here when the forest died.”

“Ah! Hard times for man and beast alike. The consequence we suffer together, but unfortunately the cause rests firmly on the sloping shoulders of those that have forgotten how to care.”

“Us humans?”

“Your words, not mine,” replied the owl.

Angus changed direction: “My young friend. How many others that you know have the gift which you flaunt so flippantly?”

“Gift… What gift?”

“Ah the innocence of youth. The ignorance of the young… Now how shall I put this…”

Angus thought for awhile, scanning the derelict buildings stained by the dregs of the stale street lights. “Yes… Yes... That will do… What am I?”

Gilbert was puzzled. “Why, you’re an owl.”

Angus smiled. “Well yes… You could have said a fine feathered owl, but I will accept your mundane reply. I am an owl. How many people do you know who can speak to owls?”

“Including everyone I know?” Gilbert replied, unable to resist his mischievous humour.

“Including everyone you know.”

“Well let me see… None – except me.”

“Exactly!” Angus fluffed himself out imperiously. “You know what we call humans like you?”

“Weird?” Gilbert shot back.

“…That too” answered Angus thoughtfully, “But no. Through the ages, there have been humans like you. Rare and in obscure places. But there have been others before. And the name for those like you is: Hearman.”

“Hearman?” Gilbert was intrigued.

“Whoo!” Angus swayed back and forth, reflecting “And in all my years, you are only the second true hearman I have met!”

“Hearman?” Gilbert tried the word on his tongue, his mind racing over the implications of this revelation. He was not alone! There were others…

Angus continued, “In this world there are many different forms. You have the sun, wind, rain, plants, insects, animals, trolls, elves, fairies, gnomes, hobbits, demons, mortals, …immortals, dragons, oracles and of course, humans. But it is said that on one moon in ten thousand, the earth gives birth to one who talks to all. And that one is a hearman. It is said that it is a gift bestowed only in times when the world is in need of …change.”

The realization hit the boy. “The fog… The earth needs cleansing. But why me? I am just a boy.”

“Ah but that is where you’re wrong Gilbert. For in reality, a boy is simply a man in a different place and time.”

“But how can I make a difference?”

“The dew makes a difference to the morning air. The bee makes a difference to the existence of life. It is not only the great that bring about change. It is not only the powerful that demonstrate strength. It has been said that the meek will inherit the earth…”

“Are you saying that I was born this way for a reason?”

“One cannot be sure, but it is possible,” answered Angus.

“But how. What is my purpose? What is my destiny?”

“That I cannot tell you hearman… But it is a fact that you have a gift, and it is a gift that comes with a price.”

“Well then it cannot be me of who you talk. I have no money!”

“No, no boy… not that kind of price. It is written that hearmen carry the burden of listening to the world. For only once someone can converse with everything, can one truly understand anything, understand the truth, and appreciate a state of balance…”

“Mr. Owl…”

“Angus”

“Mr. Angus”

“Angus”

Gilbert thought he knew where this was going, and he had to tell the owl that it was a waste of time and energy, as everyone treated him as though he were crazy when he spoke about his gift.

“Angus, I am just a boy and no one listens to me…”

“Yes, yes. This is the burden - and tragedy, of being a hearman. I have not heard of one that has ever reached true balance, for it is precisely to be accepted into the human brotherhood that they give up, and renounce their gift. That and the fact that every man, hearman or not, has a price… a weak heart, deep pockets, or in your case… I have heard, bad blood…”

Gilbert grew impatient: “What’s your point?”

“The point, Gilbert, is that your destiny has been chosen. I was born with wings and so I must fly. You are born with the gift and so you must fulfill your destiny.”

“But Angus…”

“I know this is much to hear, especially for someone so young, but these are desperate times, I fear that if delayed further it will be too late.”

“My sister…”

Angus nodded, “…Purity.”

How did he know about Purity? Timor had known as well…

“How do you know….?”

“She is not well Gilbert, and…”

“Yes, and it’s my fault because if I was stronger…”

“Aah. You blame yourself for her ills, Gilbert. You are not entirely wrong.”

So it was true. He was to blame! Gilbert lowered his head into his arms, not seeing Angus rise on powerful wings and settle lightly on the fragmenting stone well beside him

“Be still child, and listen. Purity is of this world, but she is also this world incarnate. I know that’s hard to digest, but please hear me…

“It is written in the stars, of a child… A gift from a forbidden union between man and immortal. A child whose coming into the world heralded the end of what was and the birth of what is.

“The child in man was lost… But the child will return when it is time. And with will come the fruit of Earth. A rebirth of purity. A beacon of good to show the way and shed light along the path ordained.

“In Purity, the child ordained will see both pain and light, and for her, he will endure.”


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