Shard of Hope
A new fantasy novel in the making (first in a trilogy) that explores high concepts. What is the power of ideas in a barren world? What good is a God if he can't repair the damaged earth? What is freedom worth when the very idea of it has been lost?
I didn't choose the god. He chose me.
The plains were no less scorching because of the winds that swept them. The air in the /midlands/ proved no relief to the heat all year round, nor did it warm the cold nights. It never brought anything different; it was as if the breeze didn't come from beyond, rather, it hung above the plains, circling it. As he looked up, hoping for rain or at least a cloud to cover him, a thought crossed his mind. Not even the winds can escape this place.
He lifted his hoe and struck again, driving its point in the ground. The dirt held little value and nothing grew on the plains, but below it there were the roots that they were forced to take. You couldn't uproot them, for as far as he knew, the roots stretched all below the plains like a massive anthill, never breaching the surface and going deeper than any man could dig. The roots only thrived in darkness, and so the people had to toil in the sun to scavenge them. When they got them out the roots shriveled and grew shorter, but the only way to avoid that was working by night, and no one dared work by starlight.
Senn brought his hoe down again, and it hit true. Something squirmed underneath the metal and the sun, and Senn dropped to the ground and grabbed it. He pulled with all the strength he could muster. He looked around, but the others were far. They would hear the yelling, but too many of them would come and Senn's bounty would diminish until they gave it to him to hold in one hand. Senn was tired of being given the scraps. He wanted to hold something with both hands outstretched and have it be so bountiful he wouldn't be able to hold it.
He dug his ankles in the overturned soil and pulled. His frame was still small, but he knew that with a good leverage, he could hold his own. The root would give way. It had to.
The sweat fell in a trickle from his chin and he felt his back muscles spasm. But he would not let go. The roots resisted as if something held them back: fear of the sun, or a giant hand under the earth. But they were just plants, and had no smarts unlike Senn. They knew nothing of effort, of strength, of true fear. The gnawing in the nights, the hunger that filled him constantly, that made him walk farther away each day only to find a root to chew on to become stronger and let the hunger subside for a while.
With a final push, something ripped, and Senn fell backwards. His back flared so much he held still. The fear came back. If I'm left here without being able to move, they'll eat me instead of the roots. Senn knew people held more nutrients than plants, and more than once he had been filled with that joy. I'm no one's root to gnaw on.
He rolled on his back until he could gather himself up. His back hurt, but it was the muscles and not the bones. They would hurt for a while, but nothing more than a minor strain. He'd had worse.
He looked towards the overturned soil. The root lay there, writhing under the sun. It had shrunk, but wouldn't shrink any more now. It was a good ten-palm slice, thick as an arm. Senn crawled towards it anxiously, looking around, but the others were far away still. He held it and cradled it. Now that it was out, he was able to cut it. Those things seemed like rocks when one pulled, but when you stabbed them they opened up easily. Thick, red juice oozed out of the wound, and Senn put his lips to it. The juice was barely nutritious, but it was cool from the ground beneath. The rest he would have to cook over a fire, watching his back. Someone bigger would likely end up stealing a part of it, but Senn would hide most, wrapping it and burying it on a shallow pit. But no one was stealing his juice.
The heat grew stronger as he sucked on it. A lone cloud had shaded him for the last few minutes and he hadn't even noticed until the full weight of the sunlight fell on him. He looked up and cursed. What have you ever given us but grief?
Something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. He turned quickly on his backside and held his knife up. No one is taking it.
He thought he would see someone approaching from far away. But the figure in front of him was a lot larger than his shadow had led him to believe. He wasn't tall enough or close enough to blot out the sun, but the sun seemed to wane all the same.
'You'll get nothing from me,' Senn said.
'Really?' said the man in shadow. 'How would you stop me? Are you strong enough?'
'Come and see if I am.'
The stranger seemed amused, though it had to have been Senn's imagination. He hadn't spoken and he couldn't see his face, so how could he be sure?
'You are stronger than some,' he said finally, 'and weaker than most. That will be true all your life.'
'Not me,' said Senn. 'I'll be the strongest anywhere.'
'What for? Why do it? Why the effort? Making yourself strong to live another day? Only until you're too strong and the others stab you in the back while you sleep? It's easier to lie down and die.'
'I don't care. I'll be the strongest.'
The man knelt down before him. He was still shaded as if he had his own cloud above him, his face partly obscured by it. But it was a noble face, and Senn could see his clothes, unsullen and smooth, as well as a metal stick or blade by his side.
'Why be stronger? Why not be weaker? It's the same. Everyone dies here in the midlands sooner or later. Weak means less energy to spend, less work.'
'Because... I'm. not. weak.'
Senn sliced with his knife at the kneeling man. He caught him across the neck. He looked down. A few red drops had stained the ground, but he traced them back to the root held in his other hand. The man had not bled. He hadn't even flinched.
'You are,' said the man. 'But maybe you'll grow out of it.'
The man walked away, but just a few steps from him the heat made the air wavy and he vanished.
I didn't choose the god. He chose me.