I've thought quite a bit about this 'series' and I've come to really like it - I hope anyone reading can too. It's meant to be an intriguing story of self-discovery, friendships, hardships and magic. I'm thinking it will be aimed at young teenagers (those coming into adolescence and unsure of where they belong in the world). Please enjoy! Any pointers welcome.
Blood: the symbol of power, energy, fierceness, humanity and passion. Blood: the symbol of life… and of death. Blood: the story of one of the four kingdoms in Candantera of which I was born. The Kingdom of Blood.
The elders and blood-readers passed the chalice and knife through the ranks. All the upperclassmen of our kingdom were gathered to mourn the passing of our greatest blood-reader – Durn-rah. As Durn-rah’s favourite, but not overly successful apprentice, I was allowed to join in the ceremony. I was the lowest class there, at the end of the line, after the other apprentices and my Father, Jin-lad. I watched as the ornate cup was passed around in a circle from the Great Elders, to the Master blood-readers, to Durn-rah’s three children (eldest to youngest, male to female), to the citadel leaders and the common blood-readers, then to the crowd of ordinary townsfolk who had a sound reason to join this event (nobles and upperclassmen, then labourers and slaves of nobles, then the select children still learning the Way of Candantera but with expectations of greatness). And I, Sash-lad, was the last one in the whole procession. My Father had especially removed himself from his specific place in rank to stand with me. After all, this was the first ‘escape’ I’d ever been to.
Our kingdom has many rituals involving blood. Seeing as, to us, it is a life source, and an element so present it becomes living and tangible, blood plays an important role in everything we do. I watched as the chalice and ceremonial dagger were passed on to my Father. He quickly gave me the slightest of smiles, then pressed the sharp blade against the edge of his right hand, drawing red liquid from the veins. He held his hand over the chalice and let a few good drops fall into it. Lastly he dipped two fingers in the chalice and smeared the blood of the congregation on his right cheek (another reason higher classed people went first – they couldn’t have the blood of commoners tainting them but the commoners should have the blood of all those greater to fill their essence) and he wiped the knife on his pants and passed the objects on to me, covering and healing his hand as he did so.
I looked at the chalice and knife fearfully, and at Jin-lad who smiled his encouragement. Some of the nearby children and labourers were looking at me, the last in the line, practically considered scum, and waiting for me to finish the ritual. The Elders and Master blood-readers were looking at Durn-rah’s body, they would know when the ritual was complete. Suddenly, I couldn’t stand being such a lower class in our Kingdom. The son of a commoner and his simple wife. I loved my parents – Jin-lad and Min-fey-lad – but it meant that in our Kingdom I could never be great. I could never be like Durn-rah, even if I could learn blood-reading to the same level, the highest rank I could ever achieve would be a common blood-reader. I would spend my days guarding the outer gates or commanding crime within the citadel. If I couldn’t do that even, I would be forced to work as a lesser blood-reader in an alchemist shop or armoury. It would still be better work and a better status than that of my parents, but I wanted to be more in life, and I realised, staring into the dark chalice holding the blood of the closest people in Durn-rah’s life, that I didn’t belong in the Kingdom of Blood.
I looked around the spiral of people; some of the citizens were shifting uncomfortably now as the ritual continued to be delayed and the Great Elders were now looking at me with distaste.
“I can’t do it.” I muttered, a little surprised at my own words.
Jin-lad gave me a look telling me it was okay, but in his eyes I could hear what he was really saying, Don’t disgrace me. “Son, you must do this. I’ll heal the wound, it’ll be fine.” He gave me a tense smile and squeezed my shoulder.
“It’s not that...” I said with my eyes still glued on the thick red liquid, “I don’t belong in the Kingdom of Blood. I don’t belong in this ritual.”
Silence fell over the hall. The High Elder’s advisor tutted his disapproval.
“Sash-lad , don’t say such things!” My Father hissed, and then composed himself. “Do this for Durn-rah, please son. He taught you well and he ought to die with the spirit and love of his favourite pupil.”
Of course, I thought, the only reason I was here was for Durn-rah. I’m just being bitter because, now he’s gone, there’ll probably be no-one as kind-hearted and accepting to teach me. I have to do this for him. But after this ritual, I will never perform another.
I nodded to my father and held the chalice in my right hand and the knife in my left, as I’d been taught. It was customary to give the blood from the arm which acts most, in my case my right arm. Like the others gathered, I ran the blade across the edge of my palm, transferred the chalice to my left and let the blood drip into it. I then dipped in my fingers, stirred the syrupy mixture once, and streaked it across my right cheek. Then, like my Father had done, I wiped the blade on the leg of my pants and passed the chalice to the High Elder’s advisor who took it back to the High Elder, the leader of the Great Elders and, as such, ruler of this Kingdom, to continue the ceremony.
As I was wiping my fingers clean my Father whispered, “We’ll discuss this when we get home.” I felt terrible for what I had done. Word would spread and my father would most likely be punished for raising such an ‘inconsiderate nuisance.’ However, all I could do was stand there, and try to watch as my best friend and greatest mentor’s soul escaped from the Kingdom of Blood, the land of Candantera and the entire feasible plain, to a land of No Earth, Light, Dark or Blood. I watched as the chalice and the blood of the gathering was blessed and the strongest of the Master blood-readers pulled the red life force out of Durn-rah’s body to mix with that of the congregation. The chalice, now brimming with blood was poured over his body, and the immense spiritual pressure of the combined blood caused a miracle – one I had heard of but never seen.
His body shook, and then Durn-rah’s pale and wrinkled face took a great heaving breath. He looked around the congregation with the kind grey eyes I knew so well, confusion slowly becoming realisation – he obviously understood what was happening, whereas my heart was still pounding from the shock. When Durn-rah’s eyes found mine, his expression softened, and the familiar little smile – as if to say, “It’s fine you got it wrong, we’ll keep trying” – appeared on his face. Then he spoke. Durn-rah’s voice was weaker and a little more raspy than it had been when he was alive, but he could be heard throughout the room all the same.
“Sash-lad... You will do great things. Never forget who you are, and who you want to be. This, and only this, will lead you to your destiny.” I was stunned, the whole congregation was staring.
Durn-rah looked at me a moment longer, then turned to the High Elder and bowed his head. Slowly, the greatest of the Master blood-readers lay back down onto the wooden podium. All assembled could hear his last breath sigh throughout the old hall and fade, even as his body turned to ash under the weight of the gathering’s magic in blood.
“Thank-you, Master Durn-rah.” I whispered, as a slight breeze danced around, carrying Durn-rah’s ashes away.