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ME Burnham

"Terra Incognita" by ME Burnham

SciFi/Fantasy text 14 out of 21 by ME Burnham.      ←Previous - Next→
 
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In Geraleam, there's a young boy. A boy without a name. But what's in a name after all? In Geraleam: everything. His birth and his namelessness have condemned his life thus far to one of misery. When you have nothing to lose, even bad ideas seem like the only available options.

This is something of the prologue for a story I've been kicking around in my head. Not sure I'm going to write the rest, but ehn, we'll see.

First of a completed three-parter.
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←- Dragons' First Flight | Terra Incognita Revisited -→

   

The slender boy slammed down the bowl, causing the cold contents to slop out onto the rough-hewn table. He drew himself from the floor with what little pride his life afforded. For a moment, only silence followed him to the door.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

His knuckles whitened as he gripped the handle. He glared at the wood, biting back fiery anger. No matter what he felt, the only father-figure he’d ever known had told him to respect her if no one else. “I won’t stay here any longer to live like a beast. I’m leaving.”

Cruel laughter rang in his ears.

His control snapped as he whirled to meet her cold blue eyes. “Mock on! You won’t ever see me again!”

“I don’t doubt that, yerasha…”

He ground his teeth against the insult. He was not a little fool!

“I have no doubt that the land beyond will swallow you and to leave your bones to bleach in the scorching wind. Good riddance… one less mouth to feed.”

No, he would respect her no longer. Why should he? She’d only ever offered cruelty to him “I will return some day to laugh at you and your bitterness. I would thank you for my life, but you’ve given me nothing but misery. May your life’s wheel return and teach you of your hatred.”

“Be gone, insect, and return no more. You are not my child.”

“No—no, I am not.”

The nameless boy turned on his heels and stretched lanky legs towards the road. He had no idea where he was going. Every big word he’d just spoken was just that—big words—empty and without backing. He had nothing, and he was no one. He didn’t even have a name to claim as his own. Many children of his people did not have first names, but legitimate children had family names to cling to until the naming rite. His father had rejected him as a baby due to his lack of the mighty mask and marks of his father’s house.

His mother hated him for it. Never could she forgive the wretched child who’d caused her to be cast from her husband’s side along with her other five children. Neither would they forgive him his life. They’d all been born with the great, black slashes across their backs. All but his eldest brother, Koren, had also been born with the mask of black streaks, stretching over their eyes and down the bridge of their noses. Why had their father turned them out as well as the colorless rat their—obviously—unfaithful mother whelped?

He had no idea where he’d go. The surrounding villages and towns would not be kind. Nameless strangers were like the plague. They were despised and hated as only beasts unfit for life are. He couldn’t make up a name either. If he was ever found out, his punishment would be severe. No, it wouldn’t be death. That would be swift and painless, even if he were tortured. For such a horrendous crime he would receive a soul-death. He didn’t fully understand what it was, but he’d seen a soul-death punishment carried out. The pain-filled shrieking that filled the air moments before the choking, oppressive silence had convinced him he wanted his soul very much alive.

He knew where his mother had been talking about when she said he’d be swallowed. Terror filled his heart as a cold sweat broke out over his body. Could he? Was he strong enough? Brave enough? Were the stories really true? Shouldn’t he try something else first?

The wound stung even before he realized what was happening. A second sharp rock sliced into his shoulder as the blood began to run down his cheek where the first projectile had made impact.

Katharak!” she hissed at him.

He ground his teeth as he hung his head in shame. He couldn’t help it if he was a katharak—a bond-breaker. It wasn’t his fault he’d been born without the family marks. It wasn’t his fault his father had refused to recognize him as his son even though—especially now that he was older—it was painfully obvious. He hadn’t asked to be born.

He couldn’t look at his sister as he trudged down the road trying to block out her and his other siblings’ scathing calls. Their friends joined in as he moved away from the settlement. For once in his life, he was glad he’d never been able to make friends with the children his age. Those who had once called him friend treating him like this would have broken him.

The village-children’s attacks showed him one thing. He could not remain with his people. It was obvious what he was. Everyone would know, and even if they didn’t, they would ask why he was alone and they would ask his name.

He stood at the crest of the hill and looked back towards the town where he’d lived his short life. Only twenty-eight seasons, was it? He shook his head. The fear rose in his throat again, but his scowling screaming siblings turned him away quickly. There would be no returning. He’d severed the meager bonds he once held. He was no longer the son of the town’s only healer; he was no longer safe within.

Koren had left years ago, when he was also still very young. He’d been something of an outcast as well. Maybe he would accept him. Maybe in this brother he didn’t know, he would find a savior.

 

“I’m seeking a man of the Tollfsenen House. He would have passed through here some time ago.”

“Who’s asking?”

“I-” He clapped his mouth shut. He couldn’t claim brotherhood with Koren though they were brothers. To claim Koren as brother would indicate he was of the Tollfsenen House as well—something he was forbidden from doing.

“We knew each other when we were younger. Do you know if he is about, or if he ever passed through here?”

“I will need to know your name before I conduct any business,” the man grunted. “Don’t do business with bower trash, you know.”

His ears burned at the offense. Maybe the man didn’t know he was this ‘bower trash’ he spoke of, but to hear the direct insult from a stranger was more than he could take. He turned and walked away.

The man shouted after him. He must have figured out this young stranger was the sort of character he didn’t want around.

The boy ignored the shopkeeper and sidestepped the piece of fruit the man threw at him. The half-smashed plumb looked like a feast to his travel-worn eyes as his stomach twisted in bitter application. However much he wanted or needed it, he could not stoop to snatch up the offending food. He couldn’t be labeled a thief on top of a nameless wretch. One was abhorrent, the other meant death.

Many of the stops and inquiries he made went much like the first. His people were not willing to deal with strangers. They wanted names and they wanted connections—of which, he had neither.

He had to make a decision soon. If he didn’t find Koren, he would starve to death. Even if he found Koren, there was no guarantee his older brother would be willing to have anything to do with the child who’d caused him to be striped of his place—teetering though it was—as first son of the illustrious Lord Tollfsenen.

 

He stood on the ridge overlooking the dark lands beyond those he knew. The sun didn’t seem to shine in the distance, though it was high over-head. The rocky ground was littered with debris and what could only be bones. He felt a shudder run through him as he clenched his hands.

He’d been three weeks on his own and this was his last resort. He’d survived on mud-puddles and village trash-piles. Even in his darkest dreams, he’d never imagined he could sink so low. His life had never been easy. He was mocked at every turn and spurned whenever he tried to reach out. However, this wasn’t even life. This was half-a-step above death. He wanted more than a pitiful survival. As he said when he’d stalked out on the woman who’d brought him into his wretched being, he wanted to thrive—to return, laughing at their bitterness.

The darkness beyond was frightening, but not anywhere as frightening as his last encounter. He truly believed if he hadn’t have been swifter on his feet, the last villager he spoke with would have killed him.

The darkness may have a hundred stories linked with his devastating terror, but as of yet, he hadn’t experienced any of the shadow’s horrors. He had experienced the malice and cruelty of his people; he wouldn’t last against it much longer.

The hope of finding Koren had faded to nothing. He was on his own. No one could help him except himself. He squared his gaunt shoulders and swallowed hard. This was it. The wheels of fate were grinding. Whether they ground towards destructions or towards a better life he would have to wait to see. For now, he pressed into the darkness—into the land beyond—the Terra Incognita.

 

The boy was surprised to find the land beyond was not the dark wasteland he’d heard described. It was desolate, but looking over his shoulder offered a view of his once bright homeland as the same dark void he’d seen moments before when he looked at where he now stood.

He shook his head and squared his shoulders. Bones meant living things. Perhaps he would find a way to scratch out a life among the rocks and dust. It had to be better than the life he’d lived up to that point.

The cooling winds rushed along the valley floor and blasted against him, finding every opening in his garments. The boy grasped his shirt in an attempt to keep the sands and winds from finding anywhere to hide near his skin. In the shadow of the great rocks, the warming sun could not protect against the biting chill.

In the distance, the boy thought he spied smoke. Maybe that was an encampment of some kind. Perhaps those who dwelled there would be less obsessed with names and connections. Maybe he would find someone to take pity on him—or at least he could find a decent refuse pile.

He swallowed hard and willed his feet to trudge in that direction. What did he have to lose?

His mind filled with dread as a heavy feeling weighed upon him. The boy didn’t know where the feeling came from, but it quickened his breathing and stilled his heart. In the distance, a small cloud of dust rose as a few pebbles tumbled down the steep, rocky slope. Behind him a whisper of a breeze drew his attention, and above him he felt something.

The boy began to turn circles in a vane attempt to find the cause of his distress. He could feel something watching him, and he could only hope it was not hungry or malicious.

After one final turn, he found himself staring at a broad, gleaming chest only inches from his nose. He staggered backwards to try and observe the man who had appeared before him. The stranger was tall with long, dark hair, intense eyes, and a critical smile.

“Don run,” the sneering man advised as he took a single stride forward.

It probably would have been wisest to obey the wild-man, but the boy’s wits abandoned him in his fear. His feet spun him around and took to flight before he could even string two thoughts together. He felt something lash out and wrap around his flailing feet. The ground rushed up to meet him, and though his arms flung out in an attempt to catch him, the headlong tumble was too much to stop. He rolled down a steep embankment covered with jagged rocks.

“Ah, ya foolish boya…”

The boy looked up to a different man who stood over him.

The second stranger shook his red head and sighed as his fists rested against his hips. The look on his face was not altogether unfriendly, but pity was not an expression the boy could recognized when pointed in his direction.

“He told ya not ta run, din’ne boya?”

“Stop yer jaw’n, Arestah,” the first man growled as he came to stand at the top of the embankment. His massive arms crossed over his sculpted chest as a frown twisted his mouth. “Grab the ijiot an let’s geh autta he’ah. The lord’s await’n on us.”

“I hear,” the man hollered back with a frustrated scowl. The red-head turned to the boy and shrugged. He bent over and lifted the youth like a sack of potatoes and heaved him over his wide shoulder. “Gotta ways ta go,” he informed. “No whine’n, see, or Lafnel’s liable ta get cranky.”

The boy dropped his head as his heart tumbled. Well now what?

He watched the sharp stones tumble down the embankment where Arestah’s feet trod on them. The blood rushed to his face and he felt both awkward and foolish. When they reached the path again, the boy felt the stranger tense beneath him and crouch down.

“Are ya daft?” a harsh voice interrupted. “Ya cain’t do that in fron’ova tresspass’r.”

“Right,” the boy’s captor laughed and stood straight. “Guess not.”

“Uhm… sir…?” the boy started. “I could walk…”

“Don talk!”

The boy wasn’t sure how the first stranger had gotten so close so fast, but a heavy fist landed at the back of his head.

“Dinna tell ya not ta botheh Lafnel?” The man’s head shook as he sighed. “Ya really need ta jus be quiet now.”

The boy shook his head and tried to blink away the stars dancing before his eyes. No… you said not to whine. However, that thought remained exactly that. Somehow, he didn’t think that either of the men would appreciate such an observation.

 

The boy fought the urge to groan as his backside hit the hard floor. Lafnel had made good on Arestah’s promise four times now, and the youth didn’t want to tempt his rage or his heavy hand a fifth time. He fought to sit up to his knees, though the bindings on his hands made it difficult. He was in a large hall built of grand, white blocks that glittered in the torchlight.

“A little excessive for such a small threat, don’t you think, Arestr? Lafnel?” a new voice questioned.

The boy dared to look up at this new stranger—a man the two men claimed allegiance to. He wanted to know what sort of man now held sway over his life—valueless though it was. The dark man—like the others, naked from the waste up—sat in a fine chair and watched with impassive regard.

“He’s donna listen ta instructions,” Lafnel growled as he shoved the boy’s shoulder down to a more respectful position before the lord.

The boy found himself staring at the floor that was mere inches from his face. His shoulders ached from the strain of having his arms bound behind his back, and his head pounded from his anxiety and the wallops he’s received at Lafnel’s hand.

“He doesn’t look dangerous,” the lord commented, his voice both disapproving and tired. “Did you really think you need to be so rough on him?”

“Oh, mosta that happened when he ran from Lafnel,” Arestr spoke up, punctuated by a slight, nervous laugh. “He did tell’im not ta run, milord.”

A low, warm laughter rang through the air, and the boy winced as his heart twisted.

“Unbind the boy’s hands. I don’t think he’s going to run now.”

“Yes, milord.”

The boy’s hands tingled as free circulation cycled through them again. He brought them forward and rubbed his wrists. However, he didn’t dare look up for fear of angering either Lafnel or this stranger.

“Look at me, child.”

The boy bit his lip in apprehension and raised his face and his eyes to meet the gaze of this master. He remained motionless as the man’s eyes assessed and appraised with the scrutiny of one who considers buying a new horse.

The nameless child took the time to further his own previous assessments. The lord would be a tall man and had tone on body that he could have claimed a spot in the imperial army’s elite assassin squad. Even though he wasn’t as muscular as either of the men that brought the boy forward, there was an authority in his face and his eyes that spoke of abilities far greater than brute strength. His long black hair curled around his face and ears, and his dark eyes, though firm, held no emotion.

“What’s your name, boy?”

He clenched his jaw, rage exploding in his heart and mind. “Why is that the first thing everyone asks?” he shouted, forgetting his fear and his respect for any of the three men who could kill him without thought. “What does it matter what my name is? My name has no bearing on our interactions!”

“Hold!” The man waved down Lafnel, who’d rushed forward to remind the boy of his place after his senseless outburst. “The boy is permitted to speak his mind.”

Lafnel scowled and stepped backwards, leveling a heavy glare at the boy.

The stranger’s eyes softened when he returned them to the boy. “You don’t have one, do you, boy?”

His anger died, leaving behind only bitter pain. He hung his dirty head in sorrow and shame. The sound of his sniffles echoed in the grand hall, amplifying his humiliation.

“Answer, boy.” The tone was neither hard nor angry.

“No,” he whimpered. “I have no name.”

“Who is your father?”

“I am not permitted to say,” the boy growled.

“We are not in your old lands; we are in mine,” the man rebuffed. “There are no foolish laws forbidding connections, barring those without names. Who is your father?”

“A lord,” the boy forced out, unable to vomit up the actual name. “He threw my family away when I was born without the family markings of his house—but I look just like the dog.”

“You have an elder brother, do you not?”

The boy looked up with a nod, wiping both blood and tears away. He tried to focus more on the man before him. He didn’t know what was to become of him, but the man hadn’t demanded his death yet.

“And would you recognize him if you saw him?” the man pressed.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “It’s been many years since I last saw him. I don’t even know if he would speak to me.”

The corner of the man’s mouth tipped upwards in a lopsided-smile. There was a tender look in his placid eyes. “I don’t believe you’d recognize your brother.”

“Why do you say this?”

“Perhaps I too am the son of a cold-hearted lord. Perhaps I have a younger brother whose lack of markings removed my family from my father’s dithering graces…

“Perhaps this brother of yours would recognize you.”

“What?” The hinting look in the man’s eyes made the young man wonder if what he insinuated was really true. “Are you…?”

The stranger rose from his chair and turned his back on the youth who’d unwittingly wandered into his holdings.

The boy almost fell over as he recognized the thick black lines crisscrossing over the shining back. Koren!

“Forgive me!” he pleaded, falling off his knees to lay prostrate before his elder brother. He gripped his head in his humiliation and his mourning. “I did not ask to be born. I wish I hadn’t.”

He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up into the kind eyes.

“None of us ask to be born, little brother.” Koren helped his brother to sit up. “It is what we do with this life once we have it…

“Welcome to the Terra Incognita. I think, in time, you will find it a hospitable home.”

←- Dragons' First Flight | Terra Incognita Revisited -→

DateNameComment 
10 Oct 200745 Federico Diaz
Another engaging story, which is very fast-paced compared to your other stuff. This is good because it doesn’t dance around and make the reader grow bored and confused, but it also feels like we’re missing out on something by how fast it goes. Example: this boy’s appearance (except for his lack of black markings) which is a shame because you’re very good at describing characters as we saw in Magic and Wings!
This whole concept of children being born with black marks to symbolise their family is incredibly fascinating. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like it before. I can’t wait to see what happens to him in the new lands now that he’s reunited with his brother =P. The idea of the runt or social reject finding new meaning in a rebellious land makes me quiver with anticipation =) Yay!
I like the brutish dialogue you have going with Koren’s two henchmen. That was well done I think.

Some little oopsies:
"would be willing to have anything to do with the child who�d caused him to be stripped of his place"

"As he said when he�d stalked out on the woman who�d brought him into his wretched being" (awkward use of the word. Maybe I’m wrong but maybe use something different)
11 Oct 2007:-) Heidi Hecht
Now this was good. No confusing points or slow-paced areas. I sure hope you continue with this because this would make an awesome start to an awesome story.
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'Terra Incognita':
 • Created by: :-) ME Burnham
 • Copyright: ©ME Burnham. All rights reserved!

 • Keywords: Angst, Nameless, World
 • Categories: Fights, Duels, Battles
 • Views: 667

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