Prologue-- 1504 words
The crescent moon outlined a shabby tavern in silver. A warm glow from the fires within peeked under the doors, welcoming tired travelers to partake in its heat. The smell of strong drinks and rich potato-based dishes ignited the hunger inside all passers-by.The sound of hushed conversations and the crackling of the fire filled the air, and on a tattered blanket in the back room a lay an old man. At first glance, one might have believed him to be asleep, but his twitching features suggested otherwise. He was listening to the words being whispered in the front of the tavern.
“Did you hear about the Vonrut royals?” One deep voice had started, with a clink that sounded like a glass being set on a table.
“Yeah didn’t they all just vacate Castle Gozgarden?” another voice hissed.
“I heard they were expelled by a vengeful enchantress,” said the deep voice, “and they were all cursed.”
“Really?” The voice was incredulous.
“Well, we know is that the castle is empty and there have been no sightings of the family anywhere.”
“How peculiar. Do you think they just ran away?”
“I don’t know what happened. We’ll just have to keep watching.” For a while all was quiet but the occasional splash of a drink in a glass.
“What are they going to do for the government in Vonrut?” the second voice asked.
“It’s been a dead province for quite a while. I should think that nothing would really change. It’s hard to believe they even noticed. It’s not like the royals do anything but bicker over there anyway.” The man with the deep voice cleared his throat, and the scraping of a chair signaled he was leaving.
The man on the blanket heaved a sigh and rolled over to face the flickering fire on the other side of the room. The next morning the tavern-keep found footprints leading out the back door, and two gold nubbins lying side by side on the fireplace.
One more run. That was the thought that was pounding through Jason’s head as he closed the gap to the finish line. A camera flashed. Mom.
Why did she always have to take a picture of him at every race he ran, and lost? Jason checked his coach’s standings sheet: thirty second out of forty racers. Jason felt bile creeping up his throat.
“This wasn’t your best effort, Jason,” his coach said.
Tell that to my legs! Jason wanted to scream, but didn’t. Instead he collapsed by a tree. Jason watched people pass by, going to the water station, or the bathrooms. Jason felt a jab in his shoulder, and he turned to face the smirking face of Jack Bolson.
“Nice time, champ. What, you only got an 6 minutes worse than everyone else this time? Heh. Loser.” Jack kicked him in the side and disappeared around the back of the tree, guffawing.
One more run.
Jason spotted his mother coming towards him. “Mom,” he yelled, “I’m gonna take the train home, kay? It’s a new team tradition!”
His mother nodded and turned back to the parking lot. As soon as he couldn't see her car, Jason sprinted towards the train station.
"You run fast now, why not in the race, idiot?" Jack called after him.
One more run. But this time I'm running away from this, not to it.
Jason flashed his train ticket to the conductor. His plan was to go as far as it would take him, and then wing it from there. Maybe he could get a job somewhere, and pay for an apartment with someone else down on their luck. Like anyone would take a homeless sixteen-year-old. Jason shut down that path of thinking before he did something stupid like throwing himself in front of the train at the next stop. He would just see what was going to happen at the last stop, wherever the heck that was. Jason sank into the train seats, soft from many travels with people wearing them down.He tried to take his mind off of these worries. Lulled by the gentle motion and the subtle blue reflection of the sky on the metal surfaces of the train, Jason fell asleep.
He awoke to the mustachioed conductor grabbing his shirt and dragging him out the nearest exit.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing!” Jason shouted.
“End of the line kid! Get out!” the conductor roared.
“I’m going to report your train for this,” muttered Jason.
The conductor responded by tossing Jason out of the train into a frigid ocean. By the time Jason surfaced, floundering and spluttering, the train was already puffing back to stop number one. The strange thing was that the tracks appeared to be floating on the water, which extended as far as he could see in that direction. In the other direction, Jason could see a rocky beach with high bluffs. He hesitated a moment before setting out for the imposing cliffs. He was unwilling to go a direction that even resembled home.
It was a long, hard swim to the shore, despite it's short distance away. He was already tired out from the race. He arrived there only slightly cut up and only partially unclothed—he had left his shoes and shirt somewhere in the churning waves. He lied on the shore, panting and shivering. Jason was unsure as to how long he had been face-down in the sand before he heard the whistling coming from down the beach. He lifted his head, and the sand that had been clinging to his forehead trickled off. The man in the distance was just a hazy shadow to Jason’s eyes, blurry from the salt and sand. As he came closer, his whistling broke into singing.
“They call me Shaed, the man in the mist,
who has every soul written down on a list.
They call me Ka-Reb the man from the stars,
who sings oh so wide, and travel so far.
They call me The Ley, the man from the deep,
but I’m just a simple herder of sheep!”
The jolly melody came lilting over the shore. As the man came closer, Jason could make out the filthy woolen blankets and worn robe he wore. His long gray beard wobbled as he sang, and his hair was disheveled and unwashed. The man’s feet stopped right before Jason’s head. Jason squinted up against the blazing sun at the man who was peering down at him.
“You are no ewe,” the man chuckled, “if no ewe be you, who are you?”
“Quite a little peep from one who’s not a sheep. Get up boy, and tell me your name.”
“I’m Jason,” he said, struggling to stand.
“Say! Say! His name is Jay!” The man tottered around, laughing.
“Jay... I like that... But who are you? And where am I? And how did I get here?”
The man chuckled, “Many questions he asks. Very well. I am who you make me, you are where you think you’re not, and as for the last, I’ve no idea.”
“You are what I make you?”
“Aye. I am but a shepherd. You may call me what you wish.”
“Kay then, Mr. Shepherd, I’ll call you Shep. But really, where am I? Last thing I know, some train conductor tossed me into the ocean. But there shouldn't have been railroad tracks out there.” Jay brushed some sand off of him.
“Well I think he just answered his own question, didn’t he?” Shep said to something behind him. “As for the middle question,” he turned back to Jay, who had been leaning, trying to see what was behind the shepherd, “We are in the grand land known only as Trevon. To be more specific, we are on a southern coastline of said land, in a province known as Troy.” The shepherd seemed to notice that Jay was shirtless, and turning a slight shade of blue. He pulled a woolen blanket off of the many that were around his shoulders and handed it to Jay who accepted it gratefully.
“I’ve never heard of… Trevon. Or Troy. Well, I think they mentioned a Troy in my history class or something…” Jay pulled the blanket tighter around him and was surprised how warm it was, and even more surprised at the fact that it wasn't filthy.
“And I have never heard of a road made of rails. Or a conductor of such a place. But come. I must make haste to the nearest town which is in…” he paused and looked around. He pointed the way he had been heading, “that direction. You may tag along if you wish, but try not to trip on my sheep.”
"Umm..." Jay peered at the sand surrounding Shep, seeing nothing, sheep-shaped or otherwise.
"So you cannot see them either." The shepherd seemed upset. "But it should not surprise me. So far, only I have been able to. Still, we have a room and dinner waiting for us!"