Nature Boy: Chapter Six

Nature Boy: Chapter Six

A Chapter by spence
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Paul is forced to face his fears.

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Paul stared, his mouth agape, petrified to the spot as the three larger boys closed in on him.

‘Thought you could run out on us again eh squirt?’ Aiden laughed.

‘You’re going down this time Paul!’ Kieran promised.

‘No one does that to me and lives!’ Kai predicted.

Paul began to back off as shock wore off and his ability to move came back to him. He looked over his shoulder to the road and saw that a bus was ambling toward where he stood and that a line of four cars followed close behind.

‘There’s nowhere to run,’ Kai mocked him, ‘we’re all on the football team and you can’t hardly breathe. I’d save your energy and accept your punishment if I were you.’

Paul knew that many of Kai’s words were true; in all likelihood the three super-fit sporty bullies would outrun him and visit retribution for Kai’s humiliation upon him, but he had no intention of accepting anything just yet. An opportunity was closing in that he was about to take. He knew it was possibly the stupidest thing he had ever thought of doing, but he felt that he had little choice other than to dart into the road a split second before the bus reached him.

Paul grimaced as he dashed into the path of potential doom, praying that there was no traffic moving the opposite direction to knock him over. He heard the beeping of a horn and the whistle of the bus passing him close-by, but his gamble with death worked and he was running toward the other side of the road to the disbelieving cries of the bullies. Paul glanced over his shoulder again and saw that the driver of the bus had slowed to scold him from the window opening, but hadn’t stopped entirely. The would-be assailants would now have to wait until the line of traffic had passed before pursuing him.

Paul ran as fast as his skinny legs would carry him, the plastic lunch box bouncing noisily against his spine on every stride he took over road and path toward the two streets that led to the fields and Wytchthorne Village. He didn’t have long to put as much distance between himself and his enemies as he could so he had to make every second count.

‘Get him!’

Kai’s rallying cry sounded as Paul was halfway along the first street and acted like a starting pistol for his race to freedom. Paul rushed to the end of the row and turned a sharp left to run the length of the houses and double gardens, that in itself almost the length of the streets, making the area almost square shaped. The fields were two house widths and four garden widths away, but already the mixture of fear and exertion hampered his asthmatic breathing and made his limbs feel heavy and lethargic.

Paul considered trying to pull his inhaler free from his blazer jacket pocket, but the heightening sounds of his pursuers voices spurred him on without it.

‘We’re gonna get you Nicholson!’ one of the three, probably Kieran, Paul thought, yelled as Paul arrived at the second street.

They’d gained on him already, only a street away now, but Paul tried his hardest to focus on only the task ahead. The waist high fence that bordered the first of the two fields ran half the length of the second street until it reached a stile which he considered to be too far before they caught up to him. Paul calculated that scaling the fence where it began at the top of the street would give him a much better chance of success and determined to make the leap upon approach.

Once over the obstacle it was a clear run through soon to be harvested fields of wheat until he reached the woodland plateau. That the fields began on an incline would help him build a head of steam before the flat. If he could make it across he gave himself a chance.

 With his thoughts and senses now a blur of panic it wasn’t until Paul reached the end of the street he realised the error of his plan to take such a shortcut; namely the hawthorn and bramble filled ditch that he would have to clear before tackling the fence. He had also failed to consider the barbed wire that ran all along the top of the fence.  Paul knew he would never get across in time.

Footsteps pounded heavily on the gravel path behind Paul and he was on the verge of giving up, but then, in a moment of inspiration, he sped up as if he was actually going to take the leap of faith. The footsteps behind him quickened also and Kai yelled,

‘Get him before he jumps the fence Kieran!’

With the yell came the sound of panting breath and the head rush of fear at being hunted down. Paul knew that it was Kieran behind him. He was the fastest, the left winger of the school football team, (Aiden was a central defender while Kai was of course, the ‘star centre forward’), and this made him the main workhorse for the ‘Bully-dom of Kai Brunswick’ so perhaps Paul would have expected to be taken captive by Kieran, were it not for the inspiration.

Without slowing Paul quickly twisted left toward the line of the back street and Kieran, moving too quickly to do the same at such short notice, missed his target and continued toward the fence. Kieran’s screams of agony told Paul that he hadn’t had time to jump the spiky bushes either.

Paul stifled a laugh then forgot all about humour as the mouth of Kai again informed him of their intended actions. His arrogant stupidity saved Paul time not to look and allowed him to use that time to plan ahead.

‘Leave him Aid,’ he said of the now crying and pleading minion to the other minion, who had apparently tried to help the first minion, then of Paul; ‘if we don’t catch him we’ll be late for class!’

Paul was heartened further to hear of their time limit, so was afforded the luxury of a right sided glance as he reached the stile.

Even though the red faced and furious Kai was only a matter of yards away the sight of Kieran trying to crawl slowly from the thorns and Aiden running from him at the behest of his tyrant leader while yelling back apologetically, ‘Sorry Kieran- Kai said’, brought a smile to Paul’s face.

The smile was short lived as Paul tripped on the cross section of the stile and tumbled head first down the incline of rugged, sun dried farmland. He managed to roll straight back to his feet, wincing at the sting of his palms and struggling to draw breath, but he had lost vital seconds in the fall.

Seconds later Kai landed heavily on the turf where Paul had fallen, slipped on his heels a fraction and then burst forth at top speed. Paul urged himself on between the chest high rows of wheat, his feet beating a steady tattoo against the arid earth, but though his efforts exceeded even his expectations he knew that Kai would catch him before long.

The heavy footsteps of his pursuer were gaining by the second and he was considering whether it would be best to run until he dropped to the bully’s mercy or turn now to conserve his energy for defend himself. His mind was whirling in fear, confusion and anger at the hopelessness of the situation until he saw, between the thick stems on the dried impressions of tractor tyre tracks a few paces away, a large white rock about the height of a doorstep.

In itself the rock was rather unspectacular, but the idea that accompanied it rather was.

It was an idea that came from nowhere, so far as Paul could decipher, but it had the potential to end this particular hunt with the prey victorious. What was more; he had absolutely nothing to lose by testing the theory.

Paul’s vision became tunnelled as he ran those last steps; his peripheral sight as blurred as it had been three days ago, but crystal clear at its centre. The rock seemed to glow to mark its spot and a thought resounded in Paul’s mind like the cracking of a whip.

‘Use his strength and speed against him!’

Paul slowed at Kai’s approach, not once glancing back as he feigned total exhaustion.

‘Gotcha!’ Kai declared expectantly and that was when Paul made his move.

As Paul landed on the rock he turned his foot inwardly which twisted his body 180 degrees so that he was facing Kai. He then braced his ankle and swung his tightly clenched right hand toward Kai’s face.

To Paul’s immense satisfaction Kai’s triumphant expression turned to one of dismay a split second before the bony knuckles collided with his nose.  The bully’s eyes glazed over at the tremendous power his momentum had given the flailing blow and he flipped off his feet and landed back to the floor.

‘Ah! Me dose!’ he complained clutching his already gushing nose, a split second before fresh tears spilled onto his blood stained cheeks.

Paul could see that having just crossed the stile, Aiden was approaching cautiously. His facial features revealing his shock and disbelief that such a weakling had bested his two closest friends. Paul guessed that Aiden’s wariness would be temporary so did not hang around to gloat.

Instead he contented himself with saying, ‘Maybe you’ll leave me alone in future, eh Kai?’ before turning and jogging toward Wytchthorne Woods with his inhaler at his mouth.

…………………………………………………….

The wily escapee did not stop running nor did he look back until he reached the bottom of the wooded hill and only then did he stop to recover from his considerable efforts. Paul was greatly relieved to see that Kai and Aiden were returning along the back lane toward Kieran, who had extricated himself from the natural hedgerow apparently, and seemed to be gesticulating angrily to one another.

Paul couldn’t be certain however, his sight was diminishing rapidly, but he was not so worried by it now he had almost reached his destination. He sat on a grassy hillock to take the weight from his aching legs and the strain from his burning chest. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d ran so far, if ever he had and pulled his water bottle from his satchel to quench his thirst.

His adversaries soon disappeared from view and Paul slowly recovered his energy. Paul took two extra blasts from his breathing medication and a final swig of water before beginning the tiresome uphill journey into the woodland.

It wasn’t until Paul arrived back at the clearing that he considered how he was to contact Brithomar. There had been no prior arrangement made with the Druid on this score and the notion of being an apprentice to him seemed quite ridiculous now that he had returned.

As time had passed Paul had begun to think of the Druids’ timely intervention as one might a wishful dream of being the star of the show or of winning some sort of grand prize.

Paul called Brithomar’s name four times before thinking to himself,

‘Did it even happen?’

Paul shouldered off his satchel and slumped against the gnarled, moss covered oak in the same spot as he had on his first visit. He settled back and tried to focus on the surrounding trees as best he could while becoming gradually more upset at the prospect of his sight returning to what it was. Paul even supposed that the last three days could have been a dream that saw him return to the point where it all started. Was he going to wake up for real at any moment and find that it was still Friday afternoon?

‘Oh no!’ Paul mumbled to himself tearfully and closed his eyes in the hope that when they opened again he would be back in the Otherworld with the forest creatures and their king, Brithomar the Druid.

Paul began to countdown from ten in his mind, meaning to open his eyes at zero. He was at five when he suddenly fell backwards and banged his head against the ground.

‘Ow!’ he complained, but stilled as he opened his eyes to see the Druid looking down at him.

The braided pony tail of his mohican hairstyle hung over his left shoulder while his grey toothed smile revealed his pleasure at seeing Paul land with a bump.

‘Welcome back to my kingdom Paul Anthony Nicholson,’ he said in greeting, but Paul sat up to interrupt him, rubbing the back of his throbbing head as he did so.

‘Just call me ‘Paul’ if you like, it’s much easier.’

Brithomar laughed heartily and offered his hand to the boy.

‘Very well Paul- as you wish.’

Paul took the hand on offer and stood with its aid.

‘So, have you considered my offer on its merits?’ Brithomar wanted to know.

Paul squinted over the Druids shoulder as he replied,

‘Yes… and I’ve decided that I want to learn how to be a Druid.’

Brithomar exhaled his satisfaction, his broad smile widening yet further.

‘Ah! Such news pleases my ancient soul!’

The druid became more serious then and eyed Paul suspiciously,

‘But I am required to ask; have you chosen to become Druid for the benefit of others or for your gain alone?’

Paul looked to surface of the grassy glade guiltily.

‘For myself I suppose, I’ve loved not needing glasses,’ he confessed then quickly added,

‘But I would like to help others too. I’m from a very caring family… we used to work to help people less fortunate than ourselves before we moved here and even now we look after Granddad and my Mam works in a care home while Dad studies…’

Brithomar nodded his understanding and Paul allowed his sentimental sentence to taper off in time to the druid’s insistence.

‘You and your kin are indeed of noble and learned stock. Perhaps that is how you came to see the Otherworld? That is rare for the uninitiated tribes that now inhabit the Earthworld, but come- I have much to show you before your journey begins.’

Brithomar’s statement raised a multitude of questions, but too much happened next for them to stick in his thoughts long. Immediately after his speech Brithomar clapped his hands twice in quick succession and suddenly the glade disappeared and Paul found that he and the druid were stood in a perfectly circular dome roofed cave.

It was not an ordinary cave by any stretch of the imagination.

For a start there was also no way in or out, no cave opening or doorway revealed itself as Paul turned, enchanted by the magic he was witnessing. There was no light source, but Paul could again see perfectly; the unlit wood stacked stone circle fireplace in the middle of the cave and the small cushions of rolled fibre around it, the bed of straw opposite him and the shelves filled with stacks of books, ornaments and bottles. The walls were adorned with a miscellany of items from different ages including a large Persian rug, a medieval coat of arms and a stone frieze of Egyptian hieroglyphs. 

The cave appeared to be a person’s home, Brithomar’s presumably and he confirmed this when he said, ‘Welcome to my humble dwelling’ and promptly sat on a cushion opposite Paul, the fireplace between them.

‘This really is real,’ Paul uttered introspectively, then,

‘W… where are we?’ he asked while obeying the Druid’s gesture to sit.

‘We are in my home, as I have said.’

‘Yeah, but w… where is that ex… exactly?’

Paul was exceptionally nervous of enclosed spaces.

‘We are beneath the oak, in the very heart of the woodland earth.’

Paul looked around the room from a seated position now,

‘Oh, so is this the Otherworld?’ he asked dumbfounded by the news.

‘That it is boy. You have returned as you said and so you retain the sight that I gave you.’

Paul realised then that the druid was right. The blurring at the periphery of his sight had vanished, his vision was again perfected.

‘I… I th… thought y… you’d have to blow that p… powder in my eyes again,’ Paul said, wincing at the memory of the gritty pain.

‘Why do you slur your speech and hunker down as if you are afraid, boy?’ Brithomar asked, rather bluntly.

Paul’s mind stuttered at the stirring of long suppressed memories of being trapped in the darkness, (of a gloved hand across his face, of terror, chaos, shouting and confusion), and his tongue followed suit.

‘I… There w… w…. I… I can’t s… say… it.’

Brithomar’s eyes narrowed with concern as he studied the shaking and blubbering child, but when he began to speak his expression was alive with knowledge and understanding.

‘Reality has always been a savage place when ruled over by barbarians. Their ways are against nature. They hide behind an order of things that is a falsehood of their making. When this occurs the Earthworld is merely a veneer that disguises truth.’

Paul sniffed back his emerging tears at the sheer power of the man’s words. Almost immediately his fear began to fade and Paul yearned to hear more.

Brithomar cast his hand across the grate and the wood within ignited, the domed room lighting up in wild flickers of orange. Paul jumped a fraction at the leaping heat, but quickly calmed to listen to Brithomar’s words.

Many ages ago I lived as flesh and blood as you do today. My fellows and I oversaw tribal matters in this region and used nature’s magic to protect crops, ward off evil-doers and heal the sick. The people were happy and free and most chose peace over war. Then the invaders from Rome arrived at these shores and many of my kind were persecuted; imprisoned and murdered for our defiance of the Empire and our refusal to abandon our pagan ways.

Those of us that survived the onslaught of power took refuge in the wilds of the land, but even that was not far enough. The Empire wanted each of us taken captive, converted or killed and feared no inconvenience in pursuing us to our end. The people native to this land held us in such regard that the Roman’s needed to be rid of our influence to properly conquer the hearts and minds of the island’s inhabitants.

As more of the brethren fell to their swords and spears the more creative we became, but still they closed in on us, relentlessly pursuing our demise. In a final act of desperation I concocted a spell that would allow me to become one with the woodland until the time of their Empire had passed. I reduced my form to that of an acorn and grew into the mighty oak tree that you rested by.’

Paul had become hypnotised by the flicker of the smokeless flames that danced between he and the druid. Brithomar said, ‘see’ while pointing two fingered toward the boy’s eyes and Paul beheld a vision in his mind.

He saw from on high a vast expanse of greenery running from shore to shore, connecting mountains and rivers, woodland and streams. Below his flight small communities were intermittently placed along waterways and manufactured farmlands. There were wandering tribes too, many of them peaceful, many of them not, but generally there was harmony. Paul understood as he saw images of the robed priesthood mingling with the ordinary people that this harmony was sustained by the efforts of the Druids who offered spiritual and practical guidance to the inhabitants of the island.

Then the skies darkened as, from across a stormy ocean he saw the ships of the invaders and their armed and armoured passengers who meant to conquer the land.

Suddenly Paul was plunged into scene after scene of carnage, as villages were pillaged and burned by foot soldiers, the men women and children who lived there cut down by men on horseback as they fled. He cried out his compassion at the terrible sights he saw; tears flowing unashamedly down his face as the flames from the villagers straw roofed homes became those of the fire in Brithomar’s cave.

Paul sobbed helplessly as the mage looked on.

‘That’s awful,’ Paul bubbled, not wishing to look up for shame of his sorrow at atrocities long in the past, ‘that’s so cruel.’

 A silence fell between them while Paul absorbed the sights he had seen. Presently Brithomar said,

‘You live in the world that this long dead Empire gave birth to. Your tears cannot change what has happened, but your knowledge can prevent such things occurring again. I know nothing of your tragedy Paul, but you should not let fear conquer your heart’

Paul nodded that he understood, wiped the wetness from his face and tried to appear brave as Brithomar placed a condition upon him.

‘As I have shown you my sorry story your first task as my student will be to tell me your own tale of woe.’

Paul looked to the druid disbelievingly,

‘B…but…’ he began to object, but Brithomar held up a finger to signal that the boy hushed and added,

‘Without pause’



© 2012 spence


Author's Note

spence
Are the preceding chapters interesting enough to bring the reader to this point of understanding? (It's going to be a very long book- I estimate 120,000 words from material i have so far)

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Added on January 6, 2012
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Author

spence
spence

Grimsby, United Kingdom



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Just returning to WritersCafe after a couple of years in the wilderness of life. I'm a 40 year old (until December 2013, at least) father of two, former youth and community worker, sometime socio-pol.. more..

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