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Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Crypt (Part Two)

Cape Gooseberry
I wrote too quickly about our winter-ripening fruits. Not long after my last post we experienced frosts in the garden for the first time in the sixteen years we have lived here. The pepino was badly burned, the agaves on our deck turned to mush, and the lovely cape gooseberry pictured here is much reduced. I have learned to make pepino & lemon jam, and pepino & ginger chutney, so all is not lost!
Next winter I'll know to check for low overnight temperatures and to cover the vulnerable plants with a sheet. But now the spring is coming, though a little colder and wetter than usual after what seems a wet enough winter to me, but which they tell us was actually much drier than average. South Australia needs its winter rains so that we have enough water in the long, hot, dry summer. So bring on the rain!

Continuing the story, begun in my previous post, of a courageous young woman and an uncommon sword in a desperate situation...

The Crypt (Part Two)

He stands with his arms crossed, leaning against the rail while his goons come at her from each side. Sharpy is there to her right, his knife doing its dance. She swings that way, then to her left as the first boy runs at her, then back as quickly as she can again towards Sharpy, trying to swish the sword a little so that he cannot entirely anticipate her moves. Back and forth they duck and lunge, and sometimes the blade makes contact with a boy or the box or the rail. All the time Honeytongue keeps up a languid commentary until the young woman wishes she could switch him off.
She cannot keep it up much longer. How she has even managed this long is a puzzle she has no mental capacity to examine yet. The boys are making hits with the tip of the knife and with fists, and the young woman’s body is bruised, cut and aching all over. The sword hangs from her hands, its weight unable to be raised higher than her waist. Her back is wet with sweat, and her mind foggy with weariness. It is difficult to see in the faint light with sweat misting her vision.
Honeytongue vaults the box and stands directly in front of her, towering over her. There is no room to swing the sword even if she had the strength.
‘Drop it.’
The voice does not sound right, her dazed mind tells her. She tries to let go of the sword but her fingers will not unclamp. The sword dips down to the platform on Sharpy’s side. But Sharpy is not there. Honeytongue is still on the box but he is looking towards the door. The other boy is crouched low on the platform looking the same way.
‘How dare you treat the Sword of Truth with such dishonour! Stop playing around. Put it back where you found it and come down here.’ The imperious voice rings out through the dark crypt. Steps sound, and suddenly the room is filled with light.
Honeytongue had used the last moments of darkness to grab for the young woman. But she is not there. She too had used the distraction to advantage, slipping into Sharpy’s previous position, dragging the sword with her. The man’s voice has charged her with new energy though she barely recognises the words.
‘Get off the altar,’ the man says. He strides towards the platform, his indignation evident in his steps.
‘She needs help, sir,’ Honeytongue says, his voice dripping with compassion. ‘She’s not herself.’
‘He’s a snake. Don’t listen to him. They chased me here to do me harm. There’s one with a knife somewhere, and another one up here where you can’t see him.’
‘Put the sword down,’ the man says.
‘Not until you make them leave.’
Honeytongue turns back to the young woman, drops to his haunches and reaches for her in a swift movement. Before the man can say or do anything, she brings the waiting sword down with all its weight flat onto the boy’s head. He falls like a stone on the platform.
The man runs up the stairs, shouting, ‘My God! What have you done?’
The young woman lifts the sword again, every muscle straining. ‘Don’t come close,’ she warns. ‘And watch out for the other two.’
The man steps back, then walks around the other way. There a black-clad boy squats, springing up as he sees the man.
‘She’s dangerous. Look what she did to my arm,’ he whimpers. But he keeps his distance.
‘Where’s the third one?’
‘Probably trying to get to the door. He’s a coward. I don’t think he’ll stay for his mates.’
The man hesitates. He looks at the sword and at the boys on the platform, one unaware, the other cowering. ‘Come on,’ he says to the whimperer. ‘Come with me.’ He leads the boy down the steps and across the floor to the door. As they pass a stack of boxes, Sharpy darts out and, grabbing the other boy, pushes the man away.
The man staggers, but in spite of his scrawny physique he holds his ground. He simply watches as the boys run through the door and out into the night.
‘Just you and me now,’ he says, walking back towards the platform. ‘You can put the sword back in its place.’ He waits at the bottom of the steps.
The young woman sobs a single choking cry as the sword clatters onto the floor. She falls forward against the box, her head hanging, her hair a curtain hiding her face. She has no strength to protect herself any more.
The man walks slowly up the steps and checks the slumped boy. He picks up the sword and examines it closely, pommel, guard and blade. Apparently satisfied, he replaces it carefully in its bed. ‘Your work is not over yet, it seems,’ he murmurs. ‘And I had thought, all these years, that your glory lay in history. Can your light and hope influence even this age?’
The young woman, now standing, sees her rescuer a confused old man. Where is the booming voice, the certainty that banished her assailants?
She takes a step towards him.  ‘You did what was needed, sir. We all did – you, the sword and I.’ After a moment she adds, ‘Do you mind if I leave now?’
The man stares at her, looking at her closely for the first time. She knows what he sees – the now dust-smeared and slashed burgundy clothing, the dyed black hair and stark makeup now smudged into a mispainted mask. She can feel blood dripping from her side, and wonders if it shows through her tunic. She senses a residue of violence in her very skin and longs to be washed clean, of this and the endless fear.
The man looks at the remaining boy, still as death on the platform. ‘I think we had better call the police. Why don’t you come to my house and clean up? My housekeeper will have some clothes, I think.’
The young woman studies his grey, lined face; he keeps his eyes on the fallen boy. ‘I guess so,’ she says, resignation and hope mingling. With one last look at the sword, now still, its jewels gleaming in the electric light, she limps down the steps and follows him towards the door.

That’s the end of the story. I like subtle endings. How do you feel about them? Do you prefer endings that tell you more about what happened afterwards? Happy endings? Endings that leave possibilities open? Perhaps you have a favourite story ending you would like to quote. Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

See you next time!

Claire Belberg