Monday, 1 October 2012

September Pictonaut: The Journey

September was a strange month for me. Not least because I spent approximately half of it in Oxford on a terrifically challenging "summer" school. One of the unfortunate side effects of this seems to have been that I thought there was more September than the poor month had to give. Consequently, though my entry for the September Pictonaut challenge was completed with approximately 15 days to spare, it has ended up being posted approximately 15 hours late. My apologies to The Rogue Verbumancer for my tardiness.

This months' entry is based on an idea which has been tormenting me for a number of months now. It actually started out as a concept for a piece of fan fiction, but when I saw the prompt for September's Pictonauts, I knew I could easily adapt to to be original. Hypothetical cookies to anyone who can guess which fandom this was originally intended for, I worked quite hard to conceal it. This piece doesn't come anywhere close to finishing the story I had in mind, so I expect we'll see more of this character's journey.

The Journey

For the first few weeks he would alternate between fitful, feverish sleep and screaming for his parents, though he could not tell them anything about them. He couldn’t remember his name, or where he was from, or how he had come to be in the desert. The weeks turned into months and still the boy’s memory did not return, he slowly stopped screaming for his parents and started picking up words in the language of the Desert People. Eventually he began to call Shand and Asis mother and father and they knew that they were his family now.  They named him Shade and took him for their own son.

Just has Shade had always known he was adopted so too had he known that he was different. His milky skin set him apart from the copper skin of the villagers. Though time spend in the sun darkened his skin, he always stood a shade apart from all the others. He was a precocious child, and worked hard to please the other villagers. His sharp wit and curious nature did him no favours in the eyes of the other children, but eventually he won them over with his kind heart and trusting soul. He worked hard, learning all he was taught and completing all tasks set him with boundless enthusiasm.
Shade grew tall and strong and showed considerable skills in tracking and hunting. He could find water and vegetation when others could not and so provided well for his village. As he grew to adolescence he showed an interest in learning what arts of war the simple Desert People possessed and he gave himself over to defending the village as well as providing for it.

Time passed and Shade was content; he loved Shand and Asis dearly, and though he was curious about his birth parents and where he had come from, his parents could not enlighten him. He put his former life out of his mind, knowing that his birth parents would have assumed him dead. Life in the desert was hard, but it was simple and fulfilling. And so it was until the eve of Shade’s nineteenth birthday, fourteen years after his parents had found him in the desert. On the eve of this anniversary, Shade began to have the strangest dreams.

At first they did not trouble him for the dreams were calming and enjoyable, views of mountains and green pastures and cool blue lakes. Slowly, the dreams became more focussed; he dreamt of a little boy running around a courtyard, of riding in the forest and swimming in the river. The blurred faces of the other people in these dreams seemed comforting and familiar to him, and slowly he realised that these were not dreams, but his own long forgotten memories. Each morning he discussed his dreams with his parents and though they were uneasy they assumed him they would be supportive should he wish to search for his birth family.

The dreams continued, though the details never sharpened. His own name continued to elude him, as did the name of the country which he was from. So too did the names of his loved ones ever eluded his grasp, though sometimes he felt as though he were about to discover an important detail just before he woke up. The people in his dreams became as familiar as those in his waking life. His father was a tall man with a bearded face, his mother a woman with long black hair. And he realised too that he had a sister, a twin sister, and he knew her smiling face and laughing eyes the same shade as his, though he never saw them in his dreams.

Suddenly, six months after they started the dreams stopped. At first Shade mourned their loss but he slowly adjusted and once again threw his efforts into providing for his village. Winter came and went, such that it is in the desert, and he dreamed of normal things. Then one night in early spring, his dreams returned. But this time they were different.

This time he dreamed of a wide, blue river on a great plain. He dreamed of a shining city on a mountain, of a tall silver tower in the morning sun. He dreamed of great white walls and a great wooden gate, beyond which there were miles and miles of fertile farmland. He dreamed of mighty banners caught high in the afternoon breeze and of the sound of silver trumpets calling him home.

And this was home, he now knew. Though he enjoyed his life in the desert village he physically ached to return to this great white city. It called to him, as though his very soul belonged in this place. His destiny was calling him. Shade spoke to his parents, to everyone in the village describing what he had seen in his dreams, but none knew of a city that matched the one in Shade’s heart. He began to despair of ever making it home, of ever finding this city that could make him whole. Then one day, a rare travelling trader passed through the village and Shade sought an audience with him. The traveller knew of this city that had haunted Shade’s dreams and was willing to guide him there.

So Shade bid farewell to his village and to Shand and Asis who had raised him as their son. They were elderly now, and though he promised to visit again if ever he could, they held no hope of seeing their boy again. For many weeks Shade and the trader travelled leagues and leagues through the desert, heading north to this city of dreams. They travelled in the cool of the night and slept through the heat of the day. Hunger and thirst they endured, and fought their way through sandstorms until Shade could not remember a time that they were not walking through the desert.

One day, at sunrise, Shade crested a mighty sand dune looking for a place to camp for before the day grew too hot. At the top of the dune he rested a while, scouting out the nearby terrain. Suddenly his breath caught in his throat; through the haze of the early morning, he spied in the distance a great mountain. And atop that mountain something glistened in the light of the rising sun. The air moved and Shade thought he could hear the sound of distant silver trumpets. They were calling him home.

The mountain was still leagues away but Shade knew that soon they would cross the great winding river. Soon enough they would begin to see fields and farms, more fertile than anything he had ever known in the desert. Some day in the near future they would spy the great silver tower in the distance and see the great banner that flew atop it. They would pass through the great wooden gates into the white city of Shade’s dreams. The trumpets would ring out clearly in the morning breeze and Shade would know he was home.

That night Shade dreamed of his family for the first time in many months. He clearly heard his father’s voice telling him he would soon be back where he belonged. He would soon be home.

He would soon be home.

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