Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: The Reader (04/15/10)
TITLE: Into The Light
By Patricia Herchenroether
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The merciless sun rose higher, burning the exposed backs of the laboring slaves, many covered with crisscrossed scars from the lash. Young Krilak moved among the men and gave each of them one gourd of water as permitted-only one, although many a man could have consumed ten. When he came to the old one, Jaman, he surreptitiously ladled an extra portion.
After a meal of watery gruel, the exhausted slaves dragged their way into the small sleeping caverns and sunk onto the hard-packed soil. Krilak and Jaman managed to find a corner off to themselves for the evening lesson. The boy trembled out of fear as well as excitement. If they were found out, both would be put to death. Krilak was young, but Jaman was no longer afraid of dying. He knew a better place awaited him. The only worry he had was dying before passing along the sacred knowledge. Using a stick, he scratched lines in the dirt, forming strange pictures only he and Krilak knew were written words. Even the overseers could not read; it was forbidden to all except the high priests.
Krilak crashed through the forest, thrusting small branches aside and disregarding the long scratches on his arms and legs made by brambles. The sack he carried seemed to gain weight with each mile. His breath came in ragged gasps as he tried to fill lungs already overtaxed. Three days. Three days have I run since escaping. Am I far enough away? How long will the guards chase a single slave, just one pitiful child among the many? Exhaustion took its toll and the boy collapsed in a copse of willows. His last thoughts before succumbing to sleep were of Jaman-his teacher and friend….
When the old man had been dying in Krilak’s arms, he struggled to speak in a whisper, “Son of my heart, you must pass along the things I taught you during these past years. Don’t let them blow away on the wind like the ashes of this old body. It is a sacred commission I give you-this truth was meant for all mankind and must be brought back into the light. Make plans to escape from this place of oppression. You have to succeed!” A silent promise was made by Krilak as he watched the old man’s slight body thrown into the fire like so much refuse.
Consciousness slowly returned to Krilak, and his eyes strained to focus on the mumbling people surrounding him in the woods. His fear rose like bile as he abruptly sat up. “What, who?..” These people aren’t guards and their clothing is strange, nothing like slaves wear. He stuttered, “Wh-Who are you?”
A young woman stepped forward and spoke softly, “Do not be afraid, boy, we won’t hurt you. Are you ill? You look as if you could use healing and a hearty meal. Come with us to our wagon encampment.” Strong arms helped Krilak to his wobbly legs and guided him into camp.
Weeks later and many distant miles from his old life, the boy was still in awe of the group who called themselves “Searchers of Light.” Other than Jaman, no person had ever shown him kindness like this; and certainly, he had not known such bounty in the past. Krilak grew healthy and learned how to laugh, the sound foreign in his own ears. Off by himself one day, Krilak pulled the old book from his sack and started to turn the pages. Memories of Jaman’s scratchings surfaced and formed actual words on the paper. The sudden snap of a broken twig caused him to slam the book closed, but it was too late to hide it. One of the Searcher elders spoke up, “What do you hold, young man?” Krilak cringed with fright.
The entire community gathered for the meeting, Krilak on a stump facing them. When an elder called for silence and gestured toward Krilak, the boy opened the Sacred Book and began to read out loud for the very first time. His young voice carried through the clearing, “In the beginning, God created the…”
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