This was my entry for the Spring Contest at Short Fiction Break. The theme for the contest was to write a story about someone in a hole.
I took on this challenge as a way to try writing in a genre that I’ve never written in before, as well as attempting another short story.
While I didn’t win the contest, I accomplished what I set out to do. I hope you enjoy the story.
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‘How do you cross without moving? How do you see without looking? How do you hear when there is only silence?’
As I rode into town, I repeated the riddles over again in my mind, unable to make any sense. What did they mean? Hoping that I might find answers, I ventured into the old bookshop where I had first come upon these riddles.
Much to my dismay, I could find no other text to aid my search and was left empty handed. As I departed, the proprietor said to me, “Fillion, you float on the current, allowing the water to do all the work.”
I looked at him, expecting something more, but he just gave me a curt nod and turned away. As I was about to ask for further explanation, Thalen came and told me it was time to go.
Knowing I could trust Thalen, I asked about the history of Sheridan.
“Of course. We are all taught the history throughout our time of learning. You should know this too Fillion. Why ask such a silly question?”
“I, well,” I stammered, “I read a story that didn’t fit with what we’ve been taught.”
“What story would that be? And more importantly, where exactly did you come across this, contraband?”
I was taken aback at her declaration and sudden change in attitude. Knowing she was a fellow seeker, I thought she would have been more understanding.
“The bookseller gave me a book last time we were in town. A page fell out that told a story of a different Sheridan. It also contained these riddles. Not that they make any sense, but it got me wondering. And since we are Seekers, isn’t it our responsibility to find the answers?”
Thalen turned and looked at me with a fierce look of determination. “Fillion, you must put this from your mind. If you still have the paper, it too must be destroyed. No one can know anything about this. Do you understand?”
I nodded in agreement, unsure that if I spoke my voice might betray me. We spent the rest of the journey in silence, allowing me to ponder my next course of action.
A few days later while in the courtyard of the castle I encountered Elder Haslip. Before I could consider the consequences, I asked, “how do you cross without moving?”
His reply sounded mechanical, as though the words were memorized, but not understood, “You float on the current, allowing the water to do all the work.”
After an interminable silence, he turned around and saw me. A look of panic crossed his haggard face as he called for his guards. Despite my attempt at a hasty exit, the guards were quicker and I soon found myself chained in the decrepit dungeon.
Softly at first, then louder as they grew closer I heard bells followed by the footsteps of someone approaching.
“What do you know of the riddles, Fillion?” A hooded figure with a disembodied voice inquired.
“Nothing. I mean, well, no…” I mumbled while thinking the voice familiar.
“I’ll ask you once again and consider your answer first. What do you know of the riddles?”
With contrition in my voice, I replied, “I know a story of three riddles. But in my defense, I have no understanding of what they mean. I apologize most deeply for any disrespect that I may have caused.”
“Very well, if that is how you wish to proceed.”
“Wait. Please. I don’t understand. How long am I to remain here? What am I charged with?” But I was only met with a cold and deafening silence.
Over the next three days, my only visitor was a guard who, without commentary, delivered my meager meals. I was released the evening of that third day with no further explanation given. Walking out I found Thalen waiting for me outside the courts’ walls. She had a stern look on her face, but when she saw the state I was in, a softness arose in her eyes.
“Fillion, I warned you to forget what you read. You must promise me you’ll not go stirring up any more trouble. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Thalen. I’m sorry for any trouble I may have caused you. Please, can we just go home?”
Returning to our camp, I lay awake the remainder of the night, still unable to come to terms with the story I had read. As Seekers, we were charged with finding truth, in all of its entirety. This story of another Sheridan however, didn’t fit with what we had been taught all those years and I couldn’t reconcile it with our mandate either. Based on Haslip’s reaction to my asking the first riddle, I knew something was amiss.
On the next trip into town, I made sure to stay away from the bookseller. Instead, I offered to see the cobbler to pick up the boots we had repaired. Upon entering the cobbler looked up from his work, retrieved the boots and placed them in my hands.
Before I could offer payment, he said, “By the touch of your fingers, what you smell with your nose, and taste with your mouth,” and pushed me out the door. I heard the lock fasten behind me, indicating I should not try to return. I stood, boots in hand, coins still in my pocket, now with more questions and no other answers, accompanied by a feeling of dread. Why was I being given these cryptic phrases, but complete strangers no less, I wondered. I tried to put his words out of my head, but they rang as loud as bells in my ears the entire journey home.
That night, long after everyone else had retired, I wandered into a clearing and sat watching the stars. It was then I saw that same hooded figure that had visited me in my cell.
“What do you know of the riddles, Fillion?”
I sat still, offering no answer, trying to discern any features that might reveal who this was. All I could see was darkness, the moon rising behind.
Taking a step closer, the figure repeated the question. Hoping it was just a dream, I remained silent.
Without another word, the figure turned and seemed to float away. In the darkness, I could only make out the swish of its robes, which seemed to change and reflected its surroundings as they retreated. Unable to move from where I was, I stared in the direction it had gone until sleep overtook me.
Thalen found me the next morning, furious that I had spent the night alone.
“Do you have any idea what could have happened to you out here? Did you not learn your lesson after your days in that cell?”
“Thalen, I’m sorry, but I must leave. As a Seeker, I have to figure out this story. You know our mandate, to find the truth in all. What if this story is the truth and all that we have been taught is a lie?”
“Fillion, have you lost your mind? Do you know what could happen if you are found out again? The cell will be the least of your worries.”
Knowing I couldn’t say anything else to change her mind, I picked up my pack and set off on my quest.
Attempting to keep out of sight of the guards, I journeyed around the walls of Sheridan, fending off skirmishes with pesky Bladgers, and asking those I met if they had any information that might aid in my search. At week’s end, tired and spent, I finally made my way into the apothecary’s shop. While waiting, a woman approached me and said, “By paying attention to the actions of those around you.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”
She looked straight into my eyes and repeated the words, “By paying attention to the actions of those around you,” then turned and walked away.
I knew it would be of no use to follow her based on previous experiences; this must be the answer to the third riddle. But what did it mean? And now that I had three answers, what was I to do?
I worked my way back outside the walls, considering my next steps when I saw guards approaching. I could tell they were coming for me, though I had no idea why.
“By order of Elder Haslip, you are to come with us,” they demanded. With my hands shackled behind me, and my belongings left behind, I was marched into the castle, back into the same dank cell I had occupied before. Chained and alone, I was certain death was my only fate now.
It was then I heard the chiming of the bells and a swish of the robes, and I saw the dark figure approaching.
“Tell me, Fillion, what do you know of the riddles?”
Exhausted and knowing nothing more could harm me now, my head hung low, I replied, “How do you cross without moving? How do you see without looking? How do you hear when there is only silence? You float on the current, allowing the water to do all the work. By the touch of your fingers, what you smell with your nose, and taste with your mouth. By paying attention to the actions of those around you. As a Seeker, I am looking for truth. But what these words mean, I do not understand. I have journeyed and fought, lost friends and loved ones, only to end up here. So kill me now, for I know nothing else.”
Awaiting what I hoped would be a quick death, I slumped to the cold floor, my legs no longer able to support me.
“Fillion, look at me. Your heart is pure and your motives were just. While you did not know the purpose of your journey, you undertook it anyway. I tried to dissuade you, but you wouldn’t listen to me.”
Looking up, I saw the robes drop away and Thalen standing before me in a form and resplendent glory I had never seen before.
In awe of her appearance, I was finding it difficult to comprehend what was taking place. “Who? What? Thankful? I don’t…”
She continued, “We thought you might be the One, the true seeker, who would lead us back to the Sheridan we once knew. But we had to be sure. The tasks you have been given, the people you have encountered, even the Bladgers you tussled with, were all tests. You have proven yourself worthy Fillion, and for that, we are eternally grateful. However, you must complete one last challenge before we can return to rule Sheridan as it’s meant to be.”
Without hesitation, I agreed.
Standing before the court, Haslip asked, “What do you have to say for yourself, Fillion?”
Looking directly into his eyes, I replied, “I finally understand.”
“What exactly do you think you understand?”
“I understand that you and the other elders are frauds. That the stone laying upon the altar is the Saphris which you stole from the Pymeterite, thus hiding their true form. That despite you knowing the ‘answers’ to the riddles, you couldn’t comprehend the truth they revealed and unlock the knowledge needed to truly rule.”
Realizing what I was about to do, Haslip attempted a move towards the altar, but before he could reach it, I proclaimed, “You must allow yourself to float and be carried to your destiny, stop looking with your eyes and allow what is necessary to be revealed to you. By this decree, I declare it is time for the Pymeterite to be revealed and return Sheridan to its rightful state once again.”
With a blinding flash the Saphris broke open, revealing the Pymeterite throughout the kingdom as Thalen stepped forward, and addressed the court and kingdom, “Brothers and Sisters of Sheridan, I return to you. As is our way, join me in true harmony and knowledge, and know, Haslip and the others shall rule no more.”
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First published at Short Fiction Break March 2017