Finding The Soul Bridge (The Soul Fire Saga Book 1)

BOOK: Finding The Soul Bridge (The Soul Fire Saga Book 1)
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To Shirley Wilson

 

Who taught me to read, write and speak.

 

Prologue

 

 

It stroked the crystal sphere and blew its foul breath over it. A slow roiling ring of putrid green mist billowed over the crystal ball as it started to flicker.

“Finally” its ancient voice rasped. “The foolish child has found them.”

The hagget sat on its haunches rubbing its hands together in a warming motion.

“Yes, yes” the hagget smirked. “Let the madness set in.”

It stretched out its prickly hand for a log and fumbled it into the small fire just behind it.

The small fire was efficient for warming the mud shack, which was poorly slapped together from mud, dung and sticks, its door and windows just a collection of loosely cobbled boards. Inside, the atmosphere was filled with a pungent smoke pall, which served to stink the pests out and infect it with darkness.

The hagget watched as the two boys toyed with the stones. Its head and hands quivered like a nonagenarian trying to do a simple task. Its lip twitched and one eyelid drooped. “Yes, yes.” hissed the hagget. “You stupid boys will be my vessels.”

The hagget shifted its weight for comfort, but to its horror all it induced was a crippling muscle cramp in its right hip. It fell over onto the filthy, cold stone floor, writhing in agony as it tried to stretch out the cramp. It groaned and shrieked for a minute, then lay on the stone floor shivering. Slowly it moved its lumpy, gnarled hand into a pouch around its neck and fumbled a few grains of mixed herbs into its nostril. Sniffing gently at first, it then snorted deeply causing it to choke and cough. It coughed up a slimy mass that gargled in its throat before it spat it all out onto the floor. The slime hissed as its acidity scorched the stone. As the herbs infused the hagget with energy and strength, its droopy eye lifted and its pupil glowed red as it clawed itself back into its original position. It looked into the crystal, stroking it to restore the image.

“No!” it shrieked. “No! What are these stupid boys doing?”

The mixed herbs, working up in strength as they permeated through the hagget’s body, transformed it from a near corpse-like state into one barely able to stand - a vast improvement!

Its anger raged as it stumbled over to the rickety door, slamming on it with its fist. Crying out in frustration it continued banging its fist on the door like a delinquent toddler.

“I must intervene,” it snarled. “It has been a thousand years. Victory will not slip from my fingers.”

The hagget reached into its pouch and snorted another pinch of herbs. Its hands stopped shaking, its lip stopped twitching. It stumbled over to the fire and unhitched a small brass cauldron from a hook above it. The cauldron’s weight overwhelmed the hagget and it slipped from its grasp and landed on its right foot. It shrieked in pain, as the diseased growths on its feet, normally painful, were sheer agony when disturbed. Fumbling the cauldron back into its grip, it stumbled outside to prepare for conjuring.

1

 

 

Jem yawned.

He had been sitting on an outcrop next to a path in the woods for about a minute. He was contemplating. He was always thoughtful about something or daydreaming. This time he was thinking about the day. It was a hot afternoon, a fly buzzed above his head, teasing him with purpose, but he ignored it thinking that it would be the last time it was going to fly by, but it wasn’t.
‘Funny,’
he thought,
‘how flies act in the late afternoon - sort of lethargic and lazy,’
unlike his family.

His mother was poor, but constantly working in her kitchen. Jem was different in most respects to his friends. He was a strange character all round, with long, straight red hair that hung to his shoulders, blue-green eyes, big hands and a muscular build. He loved working and getting things done, but rather than just working hard, he preferred to work smart.

“Come on!” shouted Thist. “I’ve got thousands more than you, and you said I would never beat you at mushroom picking.”

The two boys had been sent out by Jem’s mother to pick mushrooms, and she was strict about how much she wanted. She wanted as many as they could carry, but there were many in the forest, and Jem, an old hand at mushroom picking, knew it was easy to pick more than you were able to carry all the way home, so he knew when to stop. Besides, when Thist got tired, he would offer to carry some of his mushrooms and then they would have equal loads.

“We’ve got enough mushrooms now, let’s head back and stop for some berries on the way.”

Thist looked up, visibly bothered by the heat. “You mean I have enough mushrooms! You hardly have any.”

“I will have more than you by the time we get home.”

“What? So you’re a magician now, is it?” said Thist, with a wide grin.

“Let me put it to you this way,” said Jem, imitating one of their tutors with comical accuracy. “May the gods have mercy on your spine. You will most probably dump all your mushrooms by the time we reach the waterfall, and then I will have more than you.”

“Bah,” was all that Thist was prepared to offer as he shouldered his sack and started off, his curly dark hair bobbing up and down. He had deep dark eyes, was slender but strong, with wiry hands, and hairy arms. He was only seventeen, but unlike many people in the world, Thist was wise beyond his years.

The best mushrooms - the type that tasted like lamb if prepared well and could be stored for months without spoiling - could only be found deep in the forest. Jem’s mother cooked them and sold them to travellers from a little shop in their home, along with honey and an assortment of jams and spices.

As the two boys wended their way through the forest, great trees of sap and hard pith greeted them. Trees with boles big enough for a horse to hide behind, their roots smothered in moss. The mushrooms were found growing on deadfall trees lying on the forest floor between an assortment of small plants and herbs accustomed to growing in the relative gloom of the forest’s undergrowth.

As they walked, Jem marvelled at the forest, its musty odours, the chirping of birds and the peeping of their young in the trees. Baboons barked in the distance. The trees creaked as they swayed in the breeze. When Jem looked up, he saw several owls dozing in the branches of trees, sometimes as many as two or three snoozing side-by-side.

“There must be a lot of mice.” Jem said.

“What are you thinking about now?”

Jem had a habit of thinking aloud, and was often heard saying odd things at the most inappropriate moments. He got bored easily, and was always trying to find new ways of doing things, as if he was never happy with the current trends.

“I was just looking at the owls in that tree. There are so many, I was thinking that there have to be a lot of mice in the woods to support them all.”

Thist stopped in his tracks, and gazed up at the trees in question. “What owls? Oh! Oh wow, there are a lot of them,” he laughed. “They look so peaceful! How could I have missed them?”

“You’ve never seen them before?” asked Jem. “You, who claim to know so much about birds!”

“Sure, I know birds,” said Thist, “but I don’t have keen eyes like you. Those birds are well camouflaged. You don’t seem to miss anything, do you?”

It was more of a statement than a question: Jem was known for his ability to notice things. He had once embarrassed a travelling magician by exposing him as a common trickster. It had been a classic example of slight of hand meets sharp of eye.

“I will never forget that time with the magician. How old were you, seven or what?” said Thist. “I wonder what happened to that guy.”

“Who cares?” said Jem, almost breaking a smile at the memory. They stooped under a large branch across their path. “He probably wasted himself away in a tavern. Talk about drinking, I could really use some water now. This heat is killing me.”

Thist adjusted his load of mushrooms and wiped his forehead. The marks left on his face by his dirty hand made him look comical.

“And I’d guess your prize catch of fungi must be killing you by now?” teased Jem.

“What? These feathers you mean? I feel as fresh as a fish in water.”

“Well you certainly smell fresh like fish water. I say we take a shower under the waterfall. It’ll sure cool us down a little.”

“Great idea Jem,” said Thist, “We’re almost there.”

The two boys hastened through the woods and down a short slope. The steady plunging of the waterfall could be heard a short distance away. The forest’s undergrowth seemed to get thicker and greener as they neared the stream. The woods suddenly opened up in front of them, and they found themselves having to squint as bright daylight hit them in the face. As they had left the relative humidity of the forest’s canopy, the air had become thinner and the waterfall overspray fell gently around them causing a dancing rainbow. It was a small waterfall and safe to swim under.

On windy days the water floated away from the steep hillside as if by magic. The water was as clear as the afternoon sky and as cold as the spring feeding it. This close to the falls there were no fish in the pool, but further downstream it met a river teeming with trout, salmon and kretchin fish. The rocks were slippery from thick, wet moss and the boys took care not to slip. Jem climbed up onto the rock nearest the waterfall where the pool was deepest, and jumped in feet first. Knowing that it would be as cold as a dead frog in winter, he’d braced himself for the shock.

As he surfaced, he stifled a gasp and shouted. “Come, you scared rabbit, it’s warmer than you think.”

Thist laughed, and jumped in as Jem had, and came up with an expression of horror, disbelief and anger. He considered screaming but besides not being able to catch his breath to do so, he always thought twice before he screamed, as his screams were legendary. When he cried as an infant, the whole town used to shake. Even when he was baby, the slightest squeal of delight from him would bring a man to his knees.

. “You ah-ah-ass,” stammered Thist. “It’s free..eezing! In one minute I’m g-g-going to be a girl.”

Jem laughed loudly. “That’s the funniest thing you’ve said today. But you must admit, it’s invigorating, isn’t it?”

“What, being a girl?”

“No, I mean cold water on a hot day. But, I must say, you sure complain enough to be a girl.”

“For that, you’re going to get a right dunking.”

The look in Thist’s eyes told Jem he was going to get it, so he dived down to the bottom of the plunge pool. He had tried before, but it was too deep and he could not hold his breath for long enough. The pool’s depth was possibly caused by years of erosion. But whatever the reason, Jem was determined to reach the bottom now.

He had sat at the dinner table one night trying to see how long he could hold his breath. When he had suddenly let out his breath with a sudden blast and a gasp, he had startled everyone at supper. His mother had scolded him for his lack of respect, and given him the task of washing up.

Jem had practiced in private thereafter. Now it gave him just what he needed, and he came up victorious with a handful of what he thought were pebbles. With a loud gasp he broke the surface and shouted, “I did it!”

The concerned face that greeted him told him that something was amiss. Thist looked like he had seen a wonder.

“Jem!” he squealed. “You scared the last demon out of me! Are you all right? You were gone so long I thought you had drowned or something.”

“Sure, I’m okay.”

“Good, 'cause I still owe you a right dunking!”

Thist leapt after Jem with purpose, planted his hand square on his head and forced him under. Instead of meeting any great resistance, Thist felt his arm being yanked under. He fought for a second, came loose, and choked up a mouthful of water. Once he had reoriented himself, he noticed Jem sitting on the side of the pool inspecting the contents in his hand.

“You’re wicked Jem,” said Thist as he splashed his friend.

Jem said nothing.

“What’s wrong Jem? Seeing a bad future in your palm?”

Jem sat, quietly fingering the contents in his hand.

“Jem?”

Jem looked up with a dead straight face, and said, “Diamonds.”

“What?”

Before Jem could repeat what he had just said, Thist was next to him. Jem closed his hand and looked his friend in the eyes.

“Let me see!”

“Remember I told you I wanted to see if I could touch the bottom of this pool?”

“Yes. Open your hand you moron.”

“Well... I did it, and picked up a handful of pebbles. I dropped most of them, but look: out of the four I have left; only one is not a diamond!”

Thist was struck with disbelief. He looked at the stones. “They’re way too big to be diamonds. Come on! They’re probably the same old quartz you find all over the place.”

“No, look, they shine differently.”

Comprehension dawned on Thist’s face.

“Hey! This is our secret! You tell no one, you hear? If you’re wrong, then it doesn’t matter. But if you’re right, then we must be sure of what we are going to do with them. Throw them back, but keep one - the smallest one. We can go to the nearest town, or even a town further away, find a jewel smith and ask his professional opinion. We’ll be rich, man! Rich!”

“You know, Thist, you are a clever little man.”

“Let’s go, it’s getting late.”

It was late afternoon and the two boys needed to cover a good bit of ground before they arrived home. They brushed the excess water off their skin, shook the water out of their hair, dressed quickly, shouldered their mushroom sacks, and started for home.

They walked in silence, trying not to get their eyes poked out by thorny branches, or step on droppings, or worse, onto something venomous.

Jem and Thist liked to do things in silence. They found each other's company stimulating and were often seen together, silent, thoughtful and content. They were also behind most of the mischief in the town, but they tended to cover their tracks well.

“I think there are rocks in my sack,” said Thist.

“Hey? Oh!” laughed Jem. “Getting a bit heavy there are they?”

“Yeah, what are you pondering so deeply?”

“Well, it’s just these dia… ah, pebbles we found. I think we should make a trip to that town you were talking about. I was thinking Fineburg might be our best bet?”

“But we don’t know anybody there!” said Thist.

“Yes. Exactly! And I bet nobody there, knows us. We can say we are from the coast, or even the islands.”

“No. Not the islands. We don’t have the accent.”

Thist sat down, panting like a thirsty dog. They had barely walked a mile, and still had about one more to cover in less than two hours. It wouldn’t be dark for another two hours, but the badgers that prowled the forest in the twilight were dangerous. They were small, roamed in packs of ten, and had been known to attack bears, though this was not their favourite sport. They were there in the early evening, and it was not wise to join them - they didn’t like light, or dark, and they never attacked anything in groups. But if the sky turned orange, it was best to run.

“What now?”

“No, I can’t anymore,” said Thist. “These things are killing me.”

“Aw, you baby! Let's balance things out a bit. If we don’t hurry there will be hell to pay!”

“Okay,” said Thist, “maybe a few.”

Jem grabbed Thist’s sack and exclaimed, “Wow! You do have a thousand more! Mother’s not going to use all these. Besides, the ones at the bottom are probably all squashed, what were you thinking?”

“I was a little overeager, I guess.”

Jem brought his sack nearer and scooped a dozen handfuls of mushrooms into his own. When the sacks looked more even, he shouldered his own, and started off. Thist followed suit, but had to hurry, as Jem had picked up his pace.

“What’s the hurry?”

“Look,” said Jem as he pointed to the sky. “Clouds are moving toward the sun. In half an hour and we might have to ditch our sacks and run for it. The sun is low, and clouds make the sunset orange a lot sooner.”

“Well, let's pace up. We can jog for about ten minutes, and walk five minutes, and we’ll get back in no time.”

BOOK: Finding The Soul Bridge (The Soul Fire Saga Book 1)
3.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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