Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Great Hites Season 2 Episode 6

This week's Great Hites is hosted by, Phillip (Norval Joe) Carroll.
The Prompt was, Darkness Falls and I know they are coming

Download This week's Episode

This week there are stories by:
Ashley Redden<--------- This week's WinnerWinner
Phillip (Norval Joe) Carroll
And Jeff Hite

This week we have Promos for:
The Mad Poet Files
The Gearheart
and hear The Assistant Dark Lord's Thoughts on Ravenwood.

discuss these Stories On our Discussion Fourm

My Princess Part IV
By Jeff Hite

Alexander stood quietly in his room waiting for what he knew was going to come. This had been his decision, but that didn't make was what coming any easier. They had worked it out, they had planned it, they had even gone through what he was going to do, but none of it was making this any easier.
How had King Andrew done it, he had made it look so easy. He had been so calm, even after they got the news about Marrie. He had made a sacrifice that no one should ever had have make, and he had made it and then moved on. There was no doubt in Alexander's mind that the king was suffering, had suffered would continue to suffer for a long time over the death of his youngest daughter, but he had not flinched from the plan when he got the news. Both Mitchell and Mathews had to see him as the hard and cold king that they believed him to be. And at the same time he must not let them know that he knew what was going on. They had to believe that he thought this whole thing had been a terrible accident.
King Andrew had to be his model. His father had certainly not been that. His father had never been there while he was growing up. He was always off doing business, while the King had always been there, with his daughters of course, but offering encouragement and yes even love to Alexander when he needed it most. It was not until the last few years when his father had been in the thick of things with king Matthews that he had even taken an interest in Alexander, and that was only to keep him away from Lindsey to prove to Matthews that he was a person who could control his own family.
Yet, as he stood here, in his room waiting from night to fall so that he could make his move, he was afraid. Afraid of a great many things, some of which he could control, but a good number of them he could not. He knew that King Welterbock's men were coming at night fall, but that did not make the hour or so until then any easier. If the confernce between King Mathews and his father broke up before they arrived, the evidence would not be there an had would have an hard time getting the men to arrest them. Then of course there were the guards, the place was swarming with them. Welterbock's men, he knew, were only going to be a token force, barely a dozen men, if the two men decided to make a stand of this, they would be overwhelmed in moments.
There was more than his own life, and the lives of a few men at stake here. There were the lives of the million or so people in the three kingdoms. If there were a war many people would die. If they could settle this peaceably, arrest King Mathews and Lord Mitchell, then only Marie would have to die for this foolishness, and in Alexanders mind, her death was more than enough.
he stood up from his desk and paced the room. This was not at all what he had hoped his life was going to be a few years ago. A few years ago he was thinking only about how wonderful it would be to be the Lord of the border realm with Gladies on his arm. He had dreamed of children and growing old together. Now he didn't know what was going to happen.
He checked the clock again, from his window. The sun was setting, it was time that he had his way down to meet Welterbock's men and gave them there orders. He just hoped they would all be in time.
Two hours later they all stood outside the chamber doors waiting for the right moment to enter. The Leader of Welterbock's men and sworn to protect him, and the men under his command had been eager to follow his lead. Many of them had known princess Marie and were ready to bring the orchestrator of her death to justice. The hardest part of the whole thing would be keeping them from being over zealous and killing King Mathews.
"Then it is agreed, in two weeks time we will begin the invasion of Andrews Kingdom." Mathews voice boomed from the other side of the door.
"Yes, it is agreed." This was the moment he had been waiting for. Everyone had heard them. Alexander stood up straight and tugged on his coat, with Kind Andrews Crest on the chest and pushed open the doors. The men would wait outside until called, for now he had to go in alone. Too much commotion and they could have the whole of the castle come down on them in moments.
"My Son, what good timing, King Mathews and I have just finalized our agreement."
"Why does your son wear the Crest of King Andrew, have you no control over even your own family Mitchel?"
"Alexander, take off that foolish coat, and come over here so that we might show you what our plans are."
"Father, King Mathews," he said with a slight bow "I will not removed my coat." He wished now that the men had followed him in. He wished that they all stood right behind him, swords at the ready.
"Alexander, I order you to take off that coat. Here we are on the eve of our conquest of King Andrew's kingdom and you wear his crest."
"That is what I have come to speak to you about." he hoped that they could not hear the quaver in his voice. "I am here."
"What is the foolishness." Mathews bellowed. "I will not have some one who might be in leauge with Andrews in here while we discuss our plans. Have him removed Mitchell or I will."
"I am here..." Alexander began again, if he didn't get the words out quickly, Mathews would have his guards in here, and they would be out numbered. "to place you both under arrest for treason against King Andrew." There he had said it. And loud enough for the guards in the hallway to heard. Now, he had to hope they could get in here and secure the room before, Mathews could call his own guards.
It was the longest darkest fifteen seconds of his life, he knew they were coming, he could hear them enter the room, watched the draw their weapons, but all he could really see where the looks on the two rulers faces. His fathers changed from Annoyance to surprise to anger, while King Mathews skipped all the steps in the middle and went straight to rage. His single guard reacted for him and fired his crossbow, killing one of Welterbocks men, but the others quickly subdued him, while he attempted to reload. It was all over in five minutes. And by the time to two former rulers were properly restrained and ready for the trip back to the court of King Andrew, Alexander felt as though had aged fifteen years.

The Sanctuary of Slumber
By Ashley Redden

Irony? Or a comedy of errors? Or some stupid satirical play? My life in a nutshell.
The world has come to an end. No longer a worry, but now a fact. Done. Finished. The credits have rolled.
No. My worry is much more personal. A need. A requirement.
What do I think about? Sleep. Blissful, uninterrupted, pristine sleep.
When did I sleep last? Good question. Maybe someone out there knows.
I hear someone laughing, not just giggling, but laughing hysterically. I look around bewildered and realize that the person laughing is me.
Irony? A comedy of errors? Whatever. Just give me some stinking shut eye.
I take my last bottle of water and pour some into my hand, not too much but just enough. Into the eyes it goes. I blink furiously.
I absently scratch behind my ear, frown and notice that the back of my head doesn’t feel quite right. I mean I’m fully aware that hygiene has left the building for awhile now, but I should still have a pretty good head of hair. It should feel maybe nasty or matted, the hair on the back of my head, or something like that, but my fingers scratch scalp. No hair, just dry itchy scalp.
I pull my hand away and peer at the fingers. I wouldn’t say that a handful of hair resides there in the midst of my grubby paw, but there are some, a few lonely sprigs. I stand looking at the hair, too tired to be shocked. This cannot be good.
I wiggle my fingers and the sparse bits seem to float and flutter as they leave my hand. I study my fingers as I still work them back and forth. As I stare at what must be my very own hand, I can’t help but wonder whose fingers could these be?
The nail beds are like tiny black circles at the end of those wiggling fingers. Where the nails used to be shiny and flat, now each brown and yellow nail is warped like a bad roof and seems to be attempting to break loose and flutter away, just like the hair. No, this definitely cannot be good.
I drop my hand and stagger on. Destination? Who knows?
Sometimes the going is difficult, my legs and mind don’t work so well anymore.
The city streets don’t help. They are littered with all the necessities of life. Rotten clothes, rotten wood, broken televisions and assortments of other things that used to make a home a home. Most everything that China has ever produced lay in these streets. I used to live in a world of wonders. Now, I live in a world of crap. The whole city is just one big cesspool of garbage.
But none of that matters. Walking doesn’t matter, eating surely doesn’t matter, that is such a distant memory as to seem like a myth.
No, oh no, the first and last thing that matters now is sleep, just a little rest. When did I last rest? Days? Months? Years? Decades maybe? Who can remember?
I hear someone laughing again, a wretched high unbalanced sound. I don’t bother to stop and look this time. It’s probably just me again. That’s probably not good either.
I turn the corner and stop for just a second resting on the side of a building that is doing its level best to bring the outside in, one piece of rot at a time. I shake my head half expecting to hear a rattling sound from my fuzzy brain and gaze into an alley. I think I dozed off, but just for a minute, not long enough to attract attention.
Sitting in the alley, on the far side against another dilapidated building, three sets of wide deeply blood-shot eyes greet me. Three boys, thugs of the most wretched sort most likely. Two gaze into my eyes the bags beneath theirs probably mirroring my own; the third stares at my leg. Unsure of whether to attack and beat me or run for their lives, the three rise from their haunches.
I wave them back and say, “Don’t worry, I’m just moving on. I won’t stop.”
One of the thugs says, “You just stay back bug bait. We don’t want no trouble.” The other two nod in agreement.
If I wasn’t so stinking, unbelievably, completely and utterly exhausted, I would laugh aloud. This triplet of thugs has probably killed more people in this past year and a half than the birthdays of the three added together.
Instead I croak out, “I won’t. I’ll just be going.”
I stagger by, not even bothering to look at the young killers. They, however, eye me as if I were about to sprout fangs and strike.
Irony, that’s what this was. Complete and total irony. My life in a bucket.
For the past year and a half I’ve spent almost every dirty filthy scrounging second crawling about in the deepest darkest crannies I could find. Living like something out of prehistory, filthy dishelved and feral always running from thugs just like these three. Then I went to sleep one night, or was it daytime, those of us that dwelt in those dark wretched places below the city streets had stopped keeping track of such things, and woke up bitten. It wasn’t so bad at first, just small blotches, like bruises that didn’t hurt. But God they looked awful.
These bites were easy to hide in the beginning so that at least I had friends. We were a pitiful bunch and running constantly for our lives, but together nonetheless. As a group we surely were misery personified, but together with everyone in the same boat, it made the days seem a bit better. A shared burden is maybe a little bit less than one carried alone.
After I realized what had happened, I tried my best to stay awake and did so for several days. But people aren’t built to go without sleep forever, it just doesn’t work. So it happened at last. I sat down, going to rest for just a minute or so and accidentally fell asleep. When I awoke, the bugs had had their way with me.
People saw. My friends threw me out like so much refuse, which is kinda funny when you think about it because that’s what we were living in. Decades earlier we would have been considered refuse ourselves.
I hear that laughing again and look around this time. The three thugs are inching away, all eyes on the calf of my right leg now. I reach down before I realize what I was about to do and run my hand down the back of my right leg. The skin is stretched perfectly over the bone, no muscle, no sinew, nothing but tight skin over bone.
When I look back my three would be murders are gone, presumably off to harass and exterminate others that the bugs haven’t gotten around to eating yet.
A couple of weeks ago, I would have been killed within days roaming the streets not affiliated to any of the gangs of thugs whose rule holds sway here. But after the bugs bit me, made me bug bait as we leftover remnants of human society say, well then, I found myself free to go wherever I wanted. Molested by none, shunned by all. I have to wonder if the lepers back in biblical times also had it this good.
People were always saying that the world was going to end. They were laughed at, ridiculed and despised as nut cases which most were. But even they, with their hysteria and paranoia running on overdrive, surely never imagined the world ending like this.
In the end the so called nut cases were right. The world was surely in its death throws, for people anyway. The bugs were seeing to that.
No one knew where the bugs came from or where they went or how people were chosen.
I used to wonder if maybe they were some great intergalactic spiders that spun webs between here and there, wherever there was. Once we humans went to sleep we slipped into their gossamer unseen webs, captured in that strange other place that our dreams take us to.
The spiders pounced, or just took their time, who knows which and gnawed upon us unlucky chosen few. They injected their strange otherworldly venom and it did its work making our soft parts softer. Then, when we unlucky dreamers fell again asleep, they sucked out all the good stuff at their leisure and left nothing but the skin and bone as the calling card of their handiwork.
The only problem with that notion was that there were not just a lucky few. In the beginning, the chosen had been many. People worldwide were sucked dry while they slept, one slumbering victim at a time. The species Homo sapiens had been unceremoniously placed on their own endangered species list.
People learned to sleep less and when they did, they catnapped, which helped, but eventually, everyone needs a good REM sleep and that’s when the bugs got you. Mankind stood on the brink of eradication, being eaten by a predator that they could not see, hear or touch that struck when they were most vulnerable, when at rest.
Sleep was supposed to be a sanctuary for the mind body and soul to reenergize, to renew. But that sanctuary, that haven of rest had been defiled, desecrated in the worst way. Mankind no longer fell asleep to rest. Now, mankind falls asleep to die, not quickly, but in pieces, losing a little bit more with each slumber.
Why are they called bugs? They had to be called something. Humans have always needed a face on their enemy even when they cannot lay eyes on one. As far as I know, no one has seen the bugs yet, maybe never will. But the bugs do have one accomplishment that a sundry of religions have been working at for centuries, longer still. The bugs have made believers out of mankind. Not some people, but all people. The ones that are left anyway. The bugs have the whole world believing in something they cannot see, hear or touch. For a tactile people such as mankind this simple little fact is quite the accomplishment.

I blink at the sun, wondering where it has come from all of a sudden. One minute I was staggering in the dark the next minute it is broad daylight. The realization hits me as I lay sprawled upon the ground. I moan, not wanting to look. But look I must. Curiosity, no matter how perverse, will always be there. Humanities secret weapon and Achilles hill all rolled up in a nice neat nosy little package.
I raise first my right arm then my left. My right arm seems fine, my left won’t budge. I peek over, a bit squeamishly and wonder at the sight. The skin is stretched over the bones of my left arm from the shoulder down. A master taxidermist would have been proud of the work, seamless and pristine in detail as it was. A little long divot was even visible between the radius and the ulna. I would gag, but there is nothing left on my stomach.
I manage somehow to get up onto my feet. The left leg is fine, more of the right, however, is gone, everything below the knee. I stagger hop until I am able to find a crutch, an actual crutch. I think to myself, ‘what good fortune.’ I hear familiar hysterical laughter. I think that it’s probably just me again but I'm too tired to check.
I argue with myself about cutting the leg off below the knee. Once the bugs have done their deed, the appendage is useless, attached but just there, no pain no sensation no nothing. In the end, I decide to leave it be. I have nothing with which to cut the leg and ultimately, don’t have the willpower to do it, dead and useless or not. I will have to drag it some, but that is just how it is.
Later in the day, I stagger into an opening in a building that is in surprisingly good shape. Why I went in there, I can’t rightly say. Perhaps subconsciously I was looking for companionship. I found none.
The room is indeed full of people, maybe ten to twenty which in this sleepless kill or be killed non society in which we live is a serious crowd. They look up; all of them, when I stagger stumble into the room. The conversation immediately goes from a gentle buzz to complete quite, like a switch was flicked. For several beats the quiet reigns, then cacophony explodes as every last one of them began yelling for me to get out.
I stand a bit overwhelmed, it no longer seems to take much, swaying as the crowd screams and screams for me to get out, leave, be gone, just get out and get out now. Someone throws a brick and I try to raise my left hand to shield my face, but of coarse it doesn’t respond.
The brick sails by my ear close enough to smell the creosote buildup lingering from the dirty chimney where once upon a time the flung brick resided.
Someone yells at the thrower not to hit me, do they want me to die right here and bring the bugs in here to finish me off. They scream and scream, but none came close.
Eventually I get back some semblance of order within my sleep ravaged brain and shamble back out the way I came. I stagger on the rest of the day and into the night, meaninglessly lost, with nowhere to go, no hope no future no promise.
Finally, I fall on some bulky detritus; I’m too tired to look at what.
No matter the origin, the scraps of civilization are all the same now, just junk to trip over and nothing else.
I turn my head to the right, or was it the left, who knows. There not two feet away, sits a skeleton; complete with a generous supply of desiccated skin stretched tight over its bony carcass. Looking at my long dead neighbor, I wonder how strange it is that the skin doesn’t rot. Neither do the bones for that matter. I had never thought about it before, I had never cared.
I wonder, ‘how bad can it be.’
To sleep, to finally sleep might even be worth it. I watch the skeleton as my eyelids slide down once blocking the moon bright alley. I watch as the darkness swallows everything.
I open my eyes again, one long heady blink to find my grinning companion still resting comfortably upon the wall.
I blink again, then again, each slower and more luxurious than the last. Finally I let my eyelids fall a final time. I think, but cannot be certain that I hear that maniacal laugh again, but for once it seems far away distant beyond caring.
I fall effortlessly into the bosom of unconsciousness; it has been so long since I closed my eyes on purpose that the feeling is overwhelming. Like falling into the arms of darkness, sweet succulent darkness and knowing that in that moment rest awaits, blissful welcome rest.
I am so very very tired, not just physically, that has been going on for weeks now, but mentally. It is as if most of my will has been sucked out along with the tissue of my arm and lower leg.
I know that I am just fooling myself, telling myself that it is okay; everything’s honky dory, that kind of stuff. But deep down I know better. I find that I don’t really care that much, haven’t cared for a while now but just kept on going through the motions.
Let them have me. Let the pitiful excuse for an existence that was my world turn, what will be will be.
I offer myself up to darkness, pining for its cold touch and fall into the welcoming arms of slumber and finally, after so long a struggle, finally find respite. I close my eyes for the final time and willingly enter the now violated sanctuary of slumber.
I don’t even wonder if I will perhaps wake up again, which is a new thing. I have always wondered that right before dozing off, but not this time. I already know the answer.
I go to sleep, not to reenergize or renew, but to die. Finally and forever. At least I will finally be at rest.
They say that to die in ones sleep is a blessing. So maybe I’m blessed after all.
Just before drifting off I hear a sigh. I’m not sure where the sound comes from. Who knows, it may have even been from me.

"Poetic Justice"
By Norval Joe

The houses and shops that lined the cobble stone street seemed to lean together overhead and block out the sky. They had never seemed so ominous before, only the homes of friends and the shops of family and neighbors. Everyone in this corner of the city were related by blood or by marriage. Why then did the narrow street feel as if it closed in on him to squeeze or choke him?

Sam carried a lantern, though it was not yet dark. He may not need the light to find his destination, but once he was there, and entered, he could only hope there was enough oil in its reservoir to give him enough time to find his brother, Peter.

Only the day before, they had walked together along this same route. There was the cobbler, the smell of new leather wafted from the door aside which sat display racks of newly made shoes and boots. The cooper was next, empty barrels stacked as high as the second story of the stone block building. At the end of the lane, imposing and high, stood the cathedralof the Nameless God. Its leaded windows, vertical kaleidoscopes of rainbow brilliance directed the onlookers gaze to the heavens.

They had stood on the top step outside the heavy oak double doors and waited anxiously for their parents.

"Children," their father wheezed in surprise,when he and his wife stumbled upon the two boys waiting at the top of the broad stone stairs. "What are you doing here? You ought to be home tending to your chores."

Their father's uncharacteristic bluster didn't distract the boys enough to miss the worried glance passed furtively between the parents.

Peter, older than his brother by five years, and not as timid as Sam, was the one to reply.

"The chores are done, Father. We were finishing with the stoop when we saw you and mother heading this way," his voice carried the hint of a whine, defensive. "We've never seen you at the church before, and was sure you'd come right back out, to walk home with us. When you didn't return, we started to worry that bad things were happening to you, and we might not see you again."

Their father blanched white then fiery red. The anger underpinning his voice this time, was undisguised and unaffected, "get the two of you home, now. Worthless, offal. Presumptuous whelps. Your mother's not the only god fearing one in the household. When I catch up to you, I'll show you the fear of god."

The look in their fathers eyes sent the boys running for home. They turned and bolted so quickly they missed the expression of pained worry on their mother's face.

Sam and Pete were at the corner desk carefully reviewing their schooling when their parents stepped into the room. Their narrow home was squeezed in between the weaver's shop and the general mercantile, where their father sold chairs, stools, and benches he made in his wood shop out back. The occasional sale of furniture supplemented the meager wage their mother received for the small amount of time each day she could spend weaving. It had been some time since the last piece of furniture sold.

"Peter, Samuel. Quickly now. Here is some bread and soup, then get ready for bed," their mother said. She looked at neither of the boys and coughed daintily as if trying to control the quaver in her voice.

"Mother, what is it," Peter asked? "It is not yet dusk. We have just begun our studies. Must we be in bed this early?"

Peter stood and held out the small slate to lend credence to his argument. On the black board were verses of poetry written in his small immaculate script, copied from their mother's single prized possession, a leather bound book of verse.

Their father burst in to the exchange, "I have had it with your insolence, boy. You need to learn your place and not speak back to your mother. The brethren will teach you a thing or two..."

"Harold," their mother exclaimed, "what you say."

Their father was suddenly silent, shock widened his eyes to full circles. He took a deep breath as if to launch into a second assault, but immediately deflated, suddenly drained of energy. He slumped he shoulders, turned away, and said weakly, "what I mean to say is, that , well, they could teach you a thing or two. Now, eat. Both of you, and get off to bed as your mother has said."

"Well, I'm not hungry, then," Peter declared. Chalk and slate still in hand, he turned and lept up the creaking wooden staircase, two warped and splintered steps at a time. Sam started to climb the stairs in his brother's wake when he turned back to his parents. About to ask a question, he stopped when he saw his father slip his mother a small leather pouch.

When Sam entered their small room, Peter lay on his pallet, facing the wall. Sam watched his brother's body rise and fall with each rapid angry breath. He lay on his own pallet, the bedding not much more than an old straw tick, stuffed with dry grass he and his brother cut from where it grew along their father's shop. He watched through chinks in the clap board walls as the day faded to night.

Sam woke feeling stiff from a night on the uncomfortable bed. The gray light of dawn filtered into the room through the spaces between the warped boards of the street facing wall. The house was silent, but not unexpectedly so. His father was likely to be in his shop out back. He mother next door at the weavers, and his brother...Sam looked at Peter's bed.

Where was Peter. Sam usually woke first and lay beneath the threadbare handmade quilts and listened to his brother's quiet respiration. Today, there was no sound.

Sam slid quickly off the edge of his cot and peered around the room in the half light. He remembered his brother stirring in the night, and had assumed, after Peter's sudden exit up the stairs the night before, he had merely gone to the privy. If he had, then he hadn't returned to bed.

Sam was pulling on his trousers when he noticed Peter's slate in the middle of the floor. He stepped through the bedroom door into the stairwell to take advantage of the small waxed parchment window on the landing. In the window's glow Sam saw smeared through the chalk of his brother's writing,written with the tip of a finger, "Page 27".

Sam hurried down the stairs. In his youthful mind, fear and imagination combined to create alarming possibilities. If his brother was sending him a message, there was only one book where Pete knew Sam could look. He stumbled through the half light to the desk in the corner and opened his mothers book of verse.

Sam turnes the book around and angled it to take advantage of the existing dim light and thumbed through the pages until he arrived at the 27th. He read,

The darkness falls on faeries wings, a thousand tiny eyes above,
In sightless wonder they observe, they come to me to share your love.

Away they take me to your arms, though deep within the earth you lie,
Through death's grim passage I must follow, for at your side I too would die.

Sam stood on the steps of the cathedral, as he had only the day before with his brother, as the boys awaited their parents.

He had never been inside the imposing structure.

"Church is no place for children," the bent, hooded monk had said, when Sam and his brother had once sought their mother during the morning devotional. The boys had peered through the narrow opening the monk had allowed as he spoke to them through the doorway, but were unable to see any of the chanting devotees within the Cathedral of the Nameless God.

Twice a day their mother came to prayer devotions with a small group of women and one or two men. For half an hour chanting filtered faintly through the thick brick walls and leaded glass windows. Afterwards the solemn devotees filed back out, silently, heads still lowered in contemplation, to return to their daily tasks.

Sam tried the door. It was unlocked, as was expected. He had heard his mother declare to his father, more than one time as she tried to convince him to attend to spiritual things, "the cathedral is never locked. You may go and pay devotions any time of day or night."

Until the previous day, their father had never set foot in the cathedral.

He eased the door open slowly and peered into the candle lit dimness of the ante chamber. There was not a soul at the fore alter or in the main chamber. The next scheduled service would be an hour after sunset, therefore unlikely anyone would be about for some time.

Sam slipped through the door, closed it quietly behind himself and worked his way along the left wall toward the head of the chamber.

He had no idea where he should look for his brother, other than down. If he was dead, or going to be killed, or even locked in a cell, it would likely be in the crypt. The crypt was always below ground.

An alter sat on a raised dais between the walls at the far end of the chamber. Many backless wooden benches sat in ranks facing the dais. Two exits were visible in the glow from the setting sun through the stain glass windows; one to each side of the dais.

Sam moved quickly, his bare feet silent on the cold flagstones of the cathedral floor. He was through the door in a heartbeat and descended a circular stairway lit by torches at lengthening intervals. As he reached the bottom of the stairwell he was blocked by another door. His eyes, now accustomed to the darkness, located the bolt and slipped it slowly back.

He eased the door open only a crack. Enough for one eye to peer through into the large dark room. The space was narrow but long and packed, side by side, with benches and work tables. Unlit oil lamps and candelabra were the only adornment to the otherwise empty tables. A single candle created as small halo of light at the far end of the chamber. In the circle of light was the silhouette of a small form, bent over the table.

Sam held his breath and slowly, ever so slowly, widened the opening in the doorway, just enough to squeeze his slight frame through. The only exit he could see was at the far end only yards away from the candle and its attending monk.

He wished he could get on hands and knees and crawl along the floor to the door. Carrying his own lamp made that impossible, so instead, hunched as low as possible, Sam made his way to the exit. With each hesitant step he was sure his panicked breathing and rustling breeches would give him away. However, the monk continued to scratch noisily with quill pen on parchment and remained unaware of the intruder.

Within feet of the door, as Sam's hopes began to rise that he would slip through, unnotced, the monk stopped his writing. Sam froze, mid step, as he felt the other's eyes searching the shadows for the interloper.

All the while, maintaining his gaze in Sam's direction, the monk shifted off the bench and stood directly in front of the short guttering candle. The little man stood no taller than he had sat on the bench. He slowly stepped toward where Sam cowered in the the monks dancing shadow.

Sam stood up straight, feet set to flee when the monk suddenly stepped aside to allow the weak candle light to fall upon the frightened boy.

"What?" the robed figure said in an unusually high pitched voice, "What are you doing here?"

"Pete," the Sam cheered as he launched himself at his older brother. The metal lantern spashed a small amount of oil as it dropped the short distance to the floor. He threw his arms around Peter and held onto him tightly, ignoring the scratchy coarseness of the wool cloak his brother wore.

He body shook with sobs as relief for his brothers safety washed over him. Through his tears he explained, "I thought you were dead. The message you left me sounded...Well it sounded like you were either dead or would be dead soon."

"Message?" Peter asked, and suddenly broke into laughter. "Oh, the slate. That wasn't a message. I was just doodling."

Sam's concern turned rapidly to embarrassment, and then annoyance at finding his brother in obviously good health and safety. He stepped back and asked, a note of anger in his voice, "what are you doing here?"

"Mother said she would tell you when you woke up. Didn't she tell you?" Pete asked sounding surprised.

"No," Sam said. He felt bewildered and frustrated. "No one was around when I woke up. I got tired of waiting for Mother or Father to come home. I thought if I didn't come find you, soon, no one would."

Pete started to laugh. It was so genuine and cheery, Sam had to join in.

"Come on," Pete said, "Let me show you my room."

Pete retrieved the candle from the table and headed for the door at the back of the chamber. As they climbed a similar circular stairway to the one Sam had descended, Pete began, "Mother and Father showed samples of my writing to the monks, here at the cathedral. The head librarian thought it was pretty good."

They reached the landing and Pete pushed open a door to an enclosed courtyard behind the cathedral. He continued, "You know Father has not sold any furniture in a long time, and we were getting low on food. The brethren here are paying our parents to have me copy documents for them."

He grinned at Sam. "You get meat and bread and I copy documents all day."

Sam furrowed his brow, and asked, "Why was father so angry at us last night then?"

They entered another building. A narrow passageway split the low building in half. Doors were set at intervals along both sides.

"I think he felt guilty about selling me off, and that he thought I would be angry," Pete said and shrugged. "I was a bit, at first, but after I got here, it's not so bad. I get my meals here. You get your meals there. And I even get to come home one day each week. Here's my room."

Peter pushed open the door and waved his brother inside. Sam's eyes went wide. Light from a rising moon through a tall leaded glass window spilled a rainbow of color across the floor of the narrow room.

"Look at that," Pete said, "a real bed, with a frame and a straw mattress."

"I want one," Sam whined.

"Sorry. You'll have to wait. You have to be at least twelve years old to work in the cathedral. But, If you'll you stay out of trouble and keep practicing your letters, I'll put in a good word for you."

He grinned at his brother, and said, "come on. I'm sure they'll let me walk you home. Mother's going to be beside herself, worriying if she can't find you."

As they left the room, Sam eyed the bed enviously.