Hello hello, my friend!
Today I have an exciting post for you. For a while now, I’ve been working on a short story. I wanted to try to make this one as polished as possible, so I took some time to edit it and have some other people read through it.
Now, at last, I wanted to share it with you. I really really hope you enjoy it, and that it may encourage you at least a little bit.
All right! Without further ado, I present my short story, “Provided”.
A dry cough built from the depths of Henson’s throat and burst through his dry mouth. He doubled over and several more hacks flew into the dusty cloth that covered his right shoulder. His eyes fell upon the color of the cloth under the thick layer of pasty brown grime—a creamy white, which matched well with his blue vest, gray trousers, and knee-high leather boots. Had they been clean and undamaged, they may have been the garb of a great nobleman.
I’m no nobleman though, he thought, a pang of bitterness slashing his heart. Not anymore.
A wave of dizziness from the coughing fit flooded his head. He weaved on his feet for a moment before the sharp pain of rocks biting his knees indicated he had fallen. Again.
Henson gripped the rocks in an attempt to ground himself. He gritted his teeth and forced several long breaths through his nose. Attempting to ignore the irritating tickle of sweat streaming in rivulets down his face, he rose. A second dizzy spell plagued his head, but after a moment his mind cleared. He ran a sleeve over his gleaming forehead, and it came away caked with mud created from sweat and dirt layered over each other repeatedly. He half-heartedly brushed himself off by force of habit and continued.
Through bleary eyes, he made sure to remain on the gravel road. He looked to the left, and appalled by the sight, moved a couple of steps to the right. On the left was a sheer drop, which fell several feet into a treacherous pit. Henson could spot jagged rocks reaching their pointed claws upward from the bottom.
The right side, though just as forlorn and depressing, was not quite as dangerous in Henson’s mind. At the edge of the path rose a sloping hill of hard-packed ground.
Henson’s neck ached when he lifted it to study the position of the sun to his right. It was beginning to sink toward the horizon. It felt as if it had hung there for far longer than it should have, as if adamant to hang just above the horizon until Henson had died from the heat. From the corner of his left eye however, Henson could see dark clouds rushing in. Perhaps a summer storm would relieve him of this torturous sun, and the rest of his journey could be done in cooler weather. If the sun remained on him any longer, dehydration may not allow him to survive the next few days.
A high, pointed peak of a mountain top caught his attention, and Henson squinted.
Speartop Mountain, he thought, recognizing the landmark from maps and charts. A halfway mark between Skybridge Kingdom and the City of Olsontor. That means Fenbrook Village must be only a few miles away from where I am…
Henson bit his lip as he considered his current destination. At Fenbrook he could recover…get a new job, perhaps. And…start a new life.
Henson glanced over at his left arm, flaccid at his side. He tugged a corner of the bandage wrapped tightly about his tricep where it had ridden up too far. Blackish red stained the outside. A trickle of blood had escaped from the folds of the cloth, trailing down his arm.
As he adjusted the bandage, his hands scraped against the wound. A second wave of dizziness from the fresh shock of pain struck him in the back of the head and his knees buckled. He straightened, but only for a moment. The stones met his palms with a vicious stab. Memories flooded back at the sight of the injury. Memories Henson wished would not rise again in his mind. Memories of only a day before…
“Now coming to the stage…a nobleman. Known to be reliable, kind to all, and mature for his surprisingly young age, he is recognized by many! To be promoted to royal head of negotiations, may I introduce, Henson Rainfall!”
Henson rubbed his hands together for the seventh time in under a minute. His palms gleamed with perspiration, and he almost thought that his heart was having a running contest in the depths of his chest. A soft hand squeezed his arm. He turned and looked into the deep, loving gazes of his mother and father’s blue eyes. “Go out there and receive what you’ve earned, Henson,” his father said quietly in the low, rumbling voice that had calmed young Henson on so many sleepless nights.
His mother embraced him. “We’re so proud of you.”
Henson nodded slowly. “All right. See you soon.”
He looked down to make sure his brand new tunic, soft blue vest, well-fitting trousers, and boots were in order. His instinct was to whirl and rush the other direction, but he walked forward as if not by his own choice, onto a dazzling blue and gold bridge that led him to the stage. He surveyed the cheering crowd not far away, and the people gathered far below him, looking up at him on the bridge he now walked. His eyes gazed down at the people of the lower and middle class, awed at those who paraded the skies. Only the higher class and royalty were allowed up here. Two generations ago, the king had decreed that towers and bridges be built for those of greater status.
Henson’s eyebrows knit closer together. All his life he had been told that all were created equal in the eyes of the Creator, but the king seemed to ignore that. Perhaps he did not read the old scrolls of guidance the Creator had written for the kingdom hundreds of years before…
Henson shook his head. What a silly thought. Skybridge Kingdom had always followed the Creator’s wishes diligently. Henson’s parents always told him that it was the blessings from the Creator that made Skybridge the greatest kingdom in the land.
Henson blinked and pulled himself back to reality. It didn’t matter now. His diligence and hard work was, at last, paying off. He was being promoted to one of the highest ranks in the kingdom, and, more than anything, he did not want to mess this up.
He arrived at the end of the bridge and turned his gaze from the surrounding area. His vision locked ahead of him, where the announcer stood, waiting for him. The crowd roared as he took the stage. He turned and gave the onlookers a slight bow. The amount of times he had performed that bow in front of the mirror the last two days, he could not count.
The announcer began to clap, and the crowd followed suit.
“Thank you for your incredible service to our glorious kingdom, sir. Now, all rise and salute for King Mersold, the greatest ruler Skybridge Kingdom and the universe has ever known!”
“All hail King Mersold!” roared the crowd. Every person from the age of four to ninety lifted their hands in salute. A pang struck Henson deep in the heart. Greatest ruler the universe has ever known? Henson shook his head. This kingdom was not as it used to be. But he had to continue with this. He did not have to say the king was the greatest ruler…
The king strode from his seat at the back of the stage, and Henson realized his arm was still at his side. He hurriedly raised it then immediately knelt as the king stepped forward to stand before him. In his wrinkled, perfectly manicured hand was his well-worn sword, the one that had knighted and promoted so many others. And at last, it was his turn! Henson felt his heart flutter at the thought.
He slowly looked up into the deep brown eyes of King Mersold. The king’s lips split in a smile, which shone like the sun from under his long waves of black beard speckled with gray. It was only matched by the glowing golden crown resting on his smooth locks of coal hair. His sword lifted. The razor-sharp edge came to rest on the folds of Henson’s blue vest. He could feel the blade through the clothing, pressing down on the skin of his shoulder.
“Henson Rainfall,” the king’s proud, powerful voice rolled out of his mouth like thunder, and Henson lowered his gaze immediately. The king continued. “Do you swear to uphold the laws of the kingdom as a royal negotiator?”
“Yes,” Henson replied without hesitation. He knew the oath was coming, and he knew that all he had to say was that one word to every question.
“Do you swear to be honest, just, and humble to those you work with, inside or outside our splendorous kingdom?”
“Do you swear to serve me and me alone, the greatest king Skybridge and the entire universe has ever seen?”
The deep voice no longer seemed quite so calming and strong. This question felt like a threat in Henson’s mind, and warning lights began to flare in his brain. He frowned and scrunched his eyebrows down. He began to realize that the crowds, those gathered backstage, on the bridges, and even the ones who stood on the ground far below, had grown deathly silent as if a plague had swept in and killed them all.
Tension grew in the air with each second Henson did not reply. His first two ‘yes’es had been so confident, so calm…
He slowly lifted his head to the king. So much respect had been built in Henson’s heart for this man, but now he was not sure. It felt as if everything he knew was beginning to crumble in front of his eyes. Everything but one.
“No. I’m sorry, I cannot agree to that.” His voice was quiet but a sure steadiness lay underneath the words.
The crowd gasped. Hundreds of people began to murmur. The king stood over Henson, eyes smoldering, but no other emotion shown on his face. He raised a hand to the crowd, and all hushed once again.
“You mean to say,” the king’s quiet voice could still be heard by everyone, the silence was so complete, “that you wish to serve someone other than me? That is blasphemy!”
“No!” Henson pulled himself onto one foot, then to both. He straightened and threw his arms up. “This is blasphemy! Calling yourself the greatest ruler the universe has known? Has everyone forgotten of the Creator? The one who for years our kingdom followed, and blessed us for our diligence to his wishes? Now you claim to be greater than He?”
“He is not real!” the king roared, his volume levels spiking instantaneously. “The Creator was a dead god we followed long before our great kingdom was built. This kingdom, this splendor we now enjoy,” his hand swept across the sight of the great blue towers rising above the land, the roads of bridges connecting them, “has all been built with our blood! Our tears! The Creator did nothing for us. I am the greatest king, and if you do not believe it, then die!”
The conversation had escalated so quickly, Henson barely had time to register what was going on before the king’s arm swept upward. The sword in his right hand came shrieking down horizontally at Henson. He stepped back, adrenaline rushing through his body, but the blade reached him. Pain roared through his nerves. The agony shot up and down his left arm. At the sight of bright scarlet instantly staining the flawless, creamy white tunic sleeve, Henson fell to his knees, eyes bulging.
The king planted both feet and raised his sword again. Henson barely registered the crowd screaming and covering children’s eyes. Officials, noblemen, and even those of lesser class rushed about in mayhem.
Hands, as if magically appearing out of nowhere, wrapped around Henson’s armpits and yanked him safely away from the king’s death blow.
“Sire!” a voice yelled from behind Henson. The hands dropped him to the ground in a seated position, and four guards ran in front of him, raising their arms protectively toward the king. “Sire, please! Do not kill him. We have a large crowd watching…it would not be professional.”
“Then get him out of my sight!” the king roared in their faces, throwing the blood-stained knighting sword onto the wood boards of the stage. “Put him in the stocks for three nights and then execute him!”
The guards shook their heads. “Er…sire, the punishment for blasphemy is a flogging and life banishment! We should not kill him.”
The king rolled his eyes, his lip curling up in disgust. “Fine! I should alter that law. Take him to the city limits, whip him a dozen times, and cast him from the city. Just get him out of this kingdom. He is a problem to our peaceful society!”
As if in a dream, Henson could feel the guards return, pick him up, and half-carry, half-drag him from the stage. He glanced up as the crowd roared, some in approval of what was happening, others in dismay. Just before he turned a corner, he could see his mother and father fighting the crowd, attempting to reach him, eyes sparkling. The sight nearly caused a tear to well in his own eye, but many other worries on his mind kept him from it.
The rest of the banishment he hardly remembered. The whip bit deep into his back, and he could remember that he screamed, but he felt disconnected from his body then, as if he was spectating another person.
A guard was kind enough to wrap his arm in a tight bandage, then hands were leading him across the harsh earth, and out the gates of the kingdom. They crashed shut behind him, as if saying in final, powerful words, “you are an outcast here.”
With despair flooding his heart, and no plans on where to go, Henson locked his eyes on the rocky path in front of him and began to walk.
A deep rumble shook Henson from his daydreams, and he lifted his eyes to the sky. The clouds had swooped in, and the sun blinked out in their restrictive embrace. Rain would fall in a few minutes no doubt. Henson closed his eyes, wishing this was all but a bad dream, wishing that, if he opened his eyes now, he would wake up in his bed, the morning he was to be promoted.
He opened his eyes and was met with the harsh, cruel image of rocks and his scratched and filthy hands.
“I did it all for You,” Henson whispered. The words barely escaped his lips, his throat felt like an inch-wide pipe packed with cotton. “I stood up for You!”
Henson craned his neck and looked at the sky, where all he could see were the smirking clouds looming over him. They were black meshed with dark blue, as if covered with ugly bruises. The sky rumbled at him, laughing at his helpless state.
“Why, Creator?” Henson shouted. The words broke through in a cracked, weak voice. “Why, Lord? I have studied Your word diligently all my life, and You said You would bless and watch over the men who followed Your commands but look at me now! I am broken, all alone…no care or provision has been given to me. You have betrayed me…”
The entire time Henson had wandered he had struggled not to think of what he had lost. Now, the dam in his mind crumbled and the thoughts came pouring over him. He would never see his parents again unless they also left Skybridge Kingdom. Every ounce of respect he had ever gained from the people around him was worthless and non-existent. This was not to mention the other comforts: good food, a mansion, entire wardrobes of fancy clothes. It had all been his. If he had simply kept his mouth shut and agreed to the oath, even more could have been his.
“But what did I receive?” Henson whispered. “My integrity with the Creator? My devotion to Him? But does that…” The hopelessness in Henson’s heart was complete. More deep thunder rumbled, confirming how heartless and uncaring the clouds truly were. “But does that even matter?” Henson bowed his head as if boulders had been dropped upon his shoulders. Tears flowed down his cheeks.
The rain came minutes later. For a time Henson didn’t register it, but then realized cold, freshwater was mixing with his tears. He let it cool his parched skin and run down his face. After a time, the onslaught of the summer storm grew too uncomfortable. He let out a long sigh and slowly pulled himself to his feet. Shelter would be handy. His entire body throbbed and ached, as he stumbled along, looking first from one side of the path to the other. When he studied the right side, where the hill sloped upward, he spotted a dark chunk further up ahead. As he neared it, it cleared in his vision. It was a cleft in the rock, which formed a natural shallow cave. Henson studied his soaked clothing. His teeth dug into his lip.
The rain suddenly grew worse, and Henson came to a conclusion. He hurried forward, off the path and up the hill to the cave. Inside, the ground was not rocky, but made up of softer dirt. He sat down in the back of the cave, perhaps six feet from the opening where the rain continued to pound. A small ledge grew out from over the entrance, yielding a few more inches of dry ground. Carefully leaning back, Henson rested the back of his head and neck on the harsh, irregular surface of the cave wall. Thunder rumbled just above him, but now it sounded slightly muffled, and in his mind, it felt much farther away. Rest reached him at last, and he dropped off.
Henson opened his eyes after an unknown amount of time and straightened. He vaguely remembered drifting in and out of consciousness for several minutes at the least.
Rain still poured rhythmically on the rocky hillside the cave sat under. The oddly sweet smell of rain mixing with long-dry dirt reached his nostrils.
He pulled himself up into a straightened position from where he had slumped in sleep. The aching of his muscles had not left, but at least it felt more bearable here, in the natural shelter of the great rock. His clothes had already begun to dry, and he took a few deep breaths, simply allowing the relief of current safety to cover him like a warm blanket.
He examined the cave with his eyes, hardly moving his head but scanning the area thoroughly. Green stems and leaves arrested his attention. Grunting with the effort, he pulled himself onto his hands and knees and crawled toward the sight.
Sure enough, a large, beautiful green plant had sprouted from the dirt just next to the left rocky wall. On further inspection, Henson realized it was a Cowari bush. Underneath every single one of the many leaves hung plump, ripe Cowari berries. Stripping the leaves of their gift, he began to eat his fill, letting out a long sigh of satisfaction as the explosion of sweetness erupted in his mouth. The hunger that perpetually resided in the pit of his stomach lessened as he ate, until the plant was at least half devoid of berries.
He wiped juice from his lips and stained his tunic sleeve a dark purple as he did. He leaned back and stared at the plant, a smile slowly spreading on his face. He reached forward and plucked a leaf from the plant. It was large, wide, and flat, with naturally strong fiber that held it together like natural cloth.
An idea struck his mind, and with sudden decision, he wrapped the leaf about his left arm, over the filthy bandage. It wrapped fully about his injury and left enough of the stem to tie it tight.
He yanked the old bandage off his arm, then bit his lip with distaste at the sight. The cut was yellowed and crusted over with filth. Henson pulled himself again to his feet and walked out to the opening of the cave. He noticed that the ledge above the entrance acted as a natural sort of gutter, and dripped water off the sides. The constant water had hollowed out small holes in the rocky earth and created what looked like in-ground bowls.
Henson cupped some of the water that filled the bowls in his right hand and splashed it over his wound. He hissed at the sting that flitted up his nerves, but after a while of washing and scrubbing with another leaf, the wound was raw and bare, yet clean. He took three new, fresh leaves and bound them tightly onto his arm. With a grunt of satisfaction, Henson lifted his arm carefully with his opposite hand and studied his work. The new bandage would hold for a good while, no doubt.
“It’s good,” he whispered, but the noise that came out sounded more like a dying frog. He cleared his throat, but no moisture remained inside of his throat. He walked back to the entrance of the cave and took water from the pool on the other side of the ledge. He drank his fill of the freshwater and moved back to his original seated position at the back of the cave.
His mind moved ahead to the future. All he had to do was make it to Fenbrook village after the storm passed, and he would surely find hospitality there. Freshly bandaged, with berries and water in his stomach, he looked out at the rain and the rumble of thunder. Deep peace grew in his heart, and he blinked back sudden tears that rushed involuntarily to his eyes.
In one single cave, provision had been given. All of his current needs had been met, and the future looked bright. It was not a mansion perhaps, or multiple pairs of clothes, hot meals, and servants waiting on him every hour of the day, but it was enough. His eyes raised to look at the deep, dark blue clouds.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
Thank you very much for reading. I hope that story was able to encourage you in some way today. I hope you have a wonderful day (or night, depending on when you’re reading this! 😆)
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