Remember those 200-words-at-a-time writing challenges over the past few weeks? Well, what I didn’t mention was that for each piece I wrote, I actually continued and wove into a fuller story. Here is the longer, completed version of Exile.
Feedback always appreciated.
The accursed shoreline sat in the hazy distance, the beach from this distance a delicate piece of golden thread. Beyond, a few rolling hills of verdant forest were visible before the land was lost in a low, thick fog that sat like a cushion over the land.
Jorick couldn’t see them, but he knew the mountains were there. The mountains, the source of his suffering, the reason he was here, trapped on this fat tub of a ship, exiled from the land.
Both hands gripped the rough, sun-scarred wood of the ship’s taffrail as he looked at the land.
He thought of his mother and father, both lying dead on the floor of their home. He had found them there. There was nothing he could have done. It had all happened so fast. The image had flashed through his mind countless, painful times over the past two months.
He dropped his head between his shoulders and listened to waves slap the ship’s hull and the creak of its bones. A breeze tussled his chestnut hair and it was fresh, salty sea air.
“Jorick,” a man’s voice said from behind him. “The doctor needs you. It’s happened again.”
Jorick took a lungful of fresh air and turned to descend into the stinking belly of the ship to rejoin the hundreds of people exiled along with him.
“I don’t know what help I can be,” Jorick said to Captain Wray. His regalia was old and tattered, but it still carried its meaning. When he summoned, a man should follow.
Captain Wray and Jorick cut through the crowd until they had almost crossed the length of the ship. Jorick saw a tiny girl had curled up behind a barrel. The doctor’s face showed restrained concern.
“What is it?” Jorick asked. The doctor’s eyes were the white-gray of ash, light and haunting. She motioned to the girl. Jorick sighed and dropped into a familiar squat, careful not to topple over. He placed a calloused hand on the girl’s forehead. It was damp, and just a touch colder than it should be. Jorick tried to temper his reaction. He did not look back, but spoke low enough for the doctor to hear.
“Neither you nor Captain Wray said she was in a trance.”
“Does it matter?” The doctor let out a deep sigh. Jorick heard her patience float away with her breath. “I cannot gain answers from her now. You can.”
Jorick closed his eyes and searched for the girl in the shadow.
He felt himself break away, a piece of him floating from corporeal limitations. Jorick tried not to think about the consequences, and was quickly distracted by a spark in the corner of his eye. The little girl snapped her fingers to a silent rhythm, and light danced from her hands.
“You can do tricks here!” She called out, somersaulting in the air. She did not seem to mind or question another’s presence in the shadow.
“You can,” Jorick replied. “What is your name?”
“Alyna,” she smiled. “What’s yours?”
“Jorick,” he returned her smile with his own, though it was neither as bright or authentic. Alyna stopped, her back to him.
“You’re the one who killed the little boy,” her voice damned him. Jorick felt her nudge his mind, reading his secrets. “You killed others, too.”
“Come now, you are smarter than that,” Jorick reprimanded as he floated closer to Alyna. “You can see the truth, and you know death came after I tried to help.”
“And perhaps if you hadn’t interfered, death may not have come at all.”
Jorick pressed forward, ignoring her and the implications her words had, the harsh light shining on that moment when he arrived and saw his parents, dead by the hearth.
“What did you see, Alyna? What did you see before you entered the shadow?”
“I saw nothing, Jorick.”
She turned then, facing him. Her eyes were pale and opaque like thick fog. Startled, Jorick lost his control and awoke in his body with a prolonged shiver. The doctor pulled him to his feet.
Jorick could not meet her pale, piercing eyes. He mumbled and she leaned in to hear him repeat his findings.
“Alyna. Blind. Chosen.” Jorick’s chattering teeth punctuated each word.
Captain Wray gasped. As he led Jorick away, the girl’s body gave a violent shudder and she woke with loud yawn.
“Alyna remembers nothing of the shadow, then?” Jorick spooned the thick paste into his mouth. They were in Captain Wray’s quarters, which were just a shade above sparse. Jorick leaned against a desk, the doctor uncomfortably close in the chair beside him.
“Nor you, nor anything that happened to put her in a trance,” the doctor said. “This makes it considerably more difficult to narrow down what causes these events.”
“And thus prevent them,” Captain Wray continued. “What happens in the shadow?”
“The mind can see certain abilities,” Jorick said. “Abilities we have trouble seeing in corporeal form, but abilities we have an easier time remembering after.”
“Alyna said she could fly and set fires with her mind,” the doctor noted. Captain Wray shook his head, his face flushing rage.
“That cannot happen – not on this ship, not transporting these people. Death I can manage. Death I can notate. But shadow-walkers? No one will take them. You people are supposed to be going into exile, Jorick.”
“One might argue that floating around, imprisoned here, would suffice for exile,” Jorick swallowed the doctor’s medicine, feeling it tie a tight knot in his stomach. “At least, exile enough for the law.”
“I will ask the serving constable,” Captain Wray sighed. “I imagine he will agree with me, because otherwise we would be in exile, too. It is not fitting for men of our station.”
“Oh, the constable is dead,” the doctor said. Jorick and Captain Wray stared at her. “Went mad and killed himself after returning from the shadow. Didn’t seem to agree with him.”
Captain Wray sputtered as she stood. The doctor touched her hand to his temple and he froze. Only his eyes moved, darting wildly around the room. Despite his scrutiny, there was no salvation available to him.
“You are not a bad man,” the doctor began, “though you are misguided. Bad breeding, I suspect. Still, I suspect you are strong enough to pull yourself from the shadow and not be a raving lunatic – but one can never be certain.
“I do think you are weak enough that it will take you some time, though. Weak enough for us to sail the length of the coast, darting in fog and night to approach the land and let people free. We’ll pry this boat up, board by board, and drop each person in the ocean so their stories of shipwreck seem true. They all look it, emaciated as they are.
“No one should be forced from home because they don’t fit the ideal citizen, Captain Wray,” the doctor’s words were sharp and clear. She pulled her hand from Captain Wray’s temple and he crumpled to the floor. He had entered the shadow.
The doctor turned to look at Jorick. Her white-gray eyes melted to reveal spring green, and short blond curls straightened to long chestnut locks.
“Sister,” Jorick smiled and took her hand.