As a kind of writing experiment, I post here the first part of a short story written in english. It takes place in Queitaris, the mythical city which plays a key role in the adventures of Erban and friends in "El Héroe Durmiente". It is a short introduction to the world depicted in the novel, as well as to some of the secondary characters (not too much, though. Just a pair of brief appearances). As some of my friends can't read the novel in spanish, I though it would be good to show them a bit of Helárissos in a language they can understand, but this doesn't mean you shouldn't try learning spanish!! Ah, just kidding ;)
Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and please be indulgent with all the awful grammar mistakes I have surely done (any feedback will be more than welcome). It's been quite a challenge to write in english, but also a very funny task.
Here it goes... and keep in touch for the second part!!
NEWCOMERS IN THE ELDEST CITY (I)
The first time he saw Queitaris, through the mist of a cold dawn, Sënn thought it was far beyond his deepest dreams. No matter how many times he had heard tales of the Eldest City before, the picture the sun was drawing in front of him with a mixture of light and shadow was such an astounding one that he had to close his eyes for a second so as to fix it in his memory.
“Impressive, isn’t it? –His uncle said, smiling at him with a spark of delight in his eyes–. I had exactly the same reaction the first time I came here. This is a place like no other in Helárissos, and yet what you see now is just a hint of what Queitaris has within. Enjoy this chance you have, Sënn... but try to keep your mouth shut and don’t move away from me, understood?
Sënn nodded despite having barely heard any of his uncle’s words. His eyes were still enchanted by the stains of green the sun was painting here and there across the city; that was the sign of the many trees that grew up within the city limits, wood and stone combined by means of a mysterious will of life which, according to ancient legends, came from the holy ground the City was built over.
“...and the ground under Queitaris is sacred indeed. –His grandmother always said–. For the Ancient Gods chose that place and no other to swear their Holy Pact with the first men and women, the sons of the stars...”
Hundreds of times had Sënn heard that legend from her, and yet he always thought it was nothing but a fairy tale for children. But now Sënn couldn’t help feeling that his old grandma was right indeed.
“Come on, son! –His uncle said, pulling the rein of their old donkey. It carried the goods their intended to sell in the City–. Time is gold and our wallet is empty.
The sun had risen over the mist when they finally reached the suburbs. After a while the two found themselves almost swallowed by the noisy crowd that infested the streets even so early in the day. Sënn try to follow his uncle steps but it was quite a challenge not to get distracted by the many wonders Queitaris was unveiling before his amazed eyes.
First of all, there were the people. Sënn has never seen so many different clothes and faces, so many colours and races. Voices shouted and whisper around him in tens of languages and accents that formed a garbled music and made him look around as confused as he was trapped in the middle of a storm. Luckily, his experienced uncle helped him to identify the different tribes and nations that habited Queitaris: Tall and proud aquireans, wearing light tunics and robes; pale alberanirs carrying long spears and leather clothes; dark-haired punneqs dressed with coloured turbans; natives from the western lands, their skins covered by mysterious tattoos... They even passed by a few moijurs like themselves, and Sënn felt funny to find a familiar face in such an astonishing place.
But Sënn’s attention quickly moved from the busy crowd to the City itself, as Queitaris was really worth of more than a hurried sight. Many men had lived there across the millennia, many hands had shaped each building, each wall and tower with a distinctive style, and so Queitaris was the result of a disordered mixture of people and history, not a single city but a set of cities built one upon another. But where there should be chaos and confusion, the trees brought harmony and order, combining all the pieces into a single picture full of sense and life.
Even the smallest corner of Queitaris was painted by the green and wood of trees and plants, which grew up always in the right place to enhance the work of humans. Therefore, Queitaris did not have actual streets but groves, not squares but forests. Olive trees, holly oaks, aspens, pines and many others Sënn had never seen before flourished across Queitaris at their own, unpredictable pace.
“C’mon Sënn, we’re in a hurry! –His uncle said, waving his hand to rush him–. Move on, boy!
Sënn walked quickly behind his uncle, but his eyes were still wandering through the marvels of Queitaris. The two crossed a wide avenue and entered a large, circular market. Almond trees grew up there, and the stands were built amid the rough trunks. Many different goods where shown there, and Sënn felt the smell of freshly baked bread, rosemary and lavender, which made his stomach roar of hunger. However, as his uncle pointed out, that was mainly a fabrics market, and the strong scent of dyes filled the place.
“Here we may get a good price for our moijurean silk. –His uncle said, his voice trembling with hope and uncertainty–. Let’s find a merchant willing to buy... and for Gods’ sake, Sënn, keep your mouth shut!
Sënn nodded. Young as he was, and maybe not as smart as their family wished (“A trader shouldn’t be that naïve!” was his father favourite complaint), he knew the year had been quite bad for the family and they really needed the money that journey could provide. That was the reason of his uncle’s agitation.
They spent the rest of the morning talking with merchants and looking for a profitable deal. Praised for his skills as the best seller of their village, his uncle did his best to obtain a favourable price, but his opponents were accomplished merchants (most of them from Punnaq, the so-called Islands of Traders) and were far beyond his simple tricks. After a short break for lunch (Sënn literally devoured his ration of cheese, cured ham and toasted bread), they keep trying until the light started to fade, but the best price they were offered was just a half of what they expected.
“Do you seriously pretend to sell that stuff for so much money? –The last merchant asked, with a kind smile and a spark of pity in his eyes–. Trust me, chap, you will not get such an offer in the whole city. This is a time of fear, and people aren’t willing to spend their money in luxurious fabrics. Food is becoming much more valuable nowadays, you know, because war is at hand.
“War? Is it that serious? –His uncle sighed, tired and discouraged–. I never thought it would arrive to such an end.
“Well, it has, actually. –The merchant looked around, a bit nervous, and dropped off his voice–. You know, they say the Archon has lost his mind. He thinks himself to be not an arbiter anymore but a true emperor, even a kind of God. He would not let anyone to challenge him. But Áquiros will never accept to be dominated by Queitaris; neither will do the rest of nations of Helárissos, and so...
“War is right here! –A deep voice said.
Sënn gave a start and looked at the man that had suddenly appeared next to him. A short, old man, dressed as a beggar. His face was deformed by many lines of age and his eyes were pale like the ones of a blind, despite what he stared at the merchant with a fierce expression.
“War is right here! –He repeated–. For the Archon is a tyrant, sick of glory and power. His legions will arise soon; the entire city will yield to his evil determination and the once sacred Queitaris will become nothing but a malignant hideout for his armies. The recruitment has begun, and those who defy the tyrant will be killed on behalf of his malevolence.
“Shut up, you fool! –The merchant whispered, terrified–. Do you want us to be arrested? There are sentinels and spies everywhere in these cursed days! Shut up and go away! I don’t want any bloody problem.
The old man showed a sardonic smile.
“Fear is the most dreaded weapon of the tyrant, and I see he uses it very efficiently. All right, merchant, close your eyes and pretend to live like nothing was happening around you. It may work... or not.
He smiled again and turned back, slowly walking away and whispering with a deep, menacing voice, like a disturbing prayer:
“Beware of the Bloodthirsty, for he will drive Helárissos to war. Beware of Soloscrán, the Crazy Archon of Queitaris... Beware...
“Shit! –The merchant shouted, both scared and furious–. The city is getting full of people like that. They are crazy... but I’m afraid they are right too. Will you accept an advice, you two? –He added, looking at Sënn and his uncle–. Sell your fabric as soon as you can and then run away from this damned city. Come back to your homeland and you might avoid the storm...
With nothing else to say, the merchant quickly took down his stand and flew away, leaving the two alone. As the sun was falling down the sky, the market became a quiet place, plunged into a half-light under the branches of the almond trees. The noisy crowd had let pass to just a few people wandering around: a couple of traders closing a last minute deal, beggars looking for a lost coin or a forgotten leaf of bread, guards beating the ground with their spears... Suddenly Sënn shuddered, like touched by a cold wind or a gloomy thought.
“All right, son, –his uncle said–, let’s find a place to pass the night.
They moved slowly out of the market and found themselves again in a labyrinth of now silent and lonely streets. His uncle walked along, head bowed, and Sënn followed him, pulling the rein of the donkey. The sky was dark blue and the stars were waking up above them, and the trembling light of torches started to fill the darkness underneath the trees.
It was now a completely different Queitaris for Sënn, after what he had heard from that mysterious man. The morning city full of marvels and amazing surprises unveiled by the bright sun had become a place of dusk and dark corners. Of course he had heard rumours of war before. But there in his village, far away in the plains of Moi-Xian, that kind of news was nothing but pointless chatter for idle men or tales for elders and children.
Now those rumours were as real as his tiredness after such a long day. There was a deep shadow slowly descending upon the city of Queitaris. Sënn could see it in the shivering voices of the people they were passing by, in their expressions of caution and concern, in the ominous shine of their eyes. It was the same shadow he felt crawling across his own heart.
“Why are they so scared? –He asked–. Is the Archon really doing what that man said? I thought he was a fair and wise man.
“Their predecessors were. Most of them, at least. You know the Archon is supposed to keep the peace between all the nations of Helárissos, right?
Sënn nodded. He had heard that many times.
“For this reason, the Archon only rules in Queitaris, as this is a free city opened to all people no matter where they come from. Out of the Eldest City, the Archon is just an arbiter, a judge for kings and lords with no power other than the one granted by his wisdom and the respect due to his position. And so it has been for centuries, until Soloscrán became Archon.
They passed by a pair of guards. His uncle fell silent for a while, and then he kept talking in whispers.
“Soloscrán has broken many of the old traditions. He raised an army much greater than the one Queitaris needed for his protection, and took part in many of the internal issues of other nations.
“But I always heard he is a hero, a great warrior and leader.
“Of course he is! The problem is that he shouldn’t be. That’s not the role of the Archon. –His uncle sighed, dispirited–. Many people praise him for his heroics deeds, and not only in Queitaris but in other parts of Helárissos. I thought he’d have enough with that and there would be no war. But it seems that he has become obsessed by dreams of glory and power. Only the Gods know where his madness will drive us to...
His uncle looked at him and tried an encouraging smile with little success.
“Don’t worry too much about this, Sënn. War is an issue of great cities and powerful kingdoms. Once we’re back in our small village far from everywhere we’ll be safe.
Sënn nodded and the two fell silent, walking without direction under the many trees of Queitaris. But while they wandered in search of a place to stay at night, Sënn remembered the old man’s words and couldn’t help feeling that his uncle’s hopes were a bit too optimistic.
It took them an hour or so to find a small inn, in a tiny square adorned by a tall and lonely aspen. His uncle let him outside with the donkey and came in to arrange a staying with the innkeeper.
Sënn yawned, feeling really tired and sleepy. It has been a long day after all. The donkey shook his long ears and looked at him. He smiled and caressed the animal, wishing for a comfortable bed and something to calm his complaining stomach. He felt really sleepy and his eyelids were falling...
Suddenly there was a beating, the sound of quick steps over the paving. Sënn opened his eyes and saw a figure carrying a bulk and running away. A quick sight to his donkey made Sënn shout, terrified. The precious silk was gone.
“Oh, shit! Shit, shit, shit!
Embarrassed by his mistake, Sënn chased the thief. He was so desperate that he didn’t think on anything else than running with all his forces and recover the fabric his family’s future depended on.
“Come back, you bloody thief! –He shouted, running as fast as he could. But the guy was much faster and clearly knew the place, as he quickly ran into a maze of small alleys and disappeared. After a while, Sënn lost the trail and lost himself.
He stopped under a pine tree, gasping, ashamed and more scared that never before. He looked around, hoping to find a clue of where he was. But the street was narrow, dark and silent; there was no sign of the thief and no way to come back to the inn.
Suddenly all his worries about the Archon and the war vanished and a much worse fear grew up inside him. He was lost in a strange and dangerous city and his foolishness might lead his family to misery. The fear became panic, and Sënn cried:
“What can I do now?
But apart from the quiet creaking of the pine branches, there was no answer to his moan.
To be continued...