Halfway through! Good grief, and what a day to actually pull ahead of the par for the first time this year. This set me wondering; is it an anticlimax to just finish the last chunk on the last day, exactly on par? First time I completed NaNo, it was with a mammoth 10k on the last Sunday of the month. That was actually the 28th, so I finished early and in style, mainly because I'd been behind almost all month. This time it looks like I'm bang on par. We shall see!
Trip walked slowly around the man wearing the face of High Father Hork. He was slumped almost exactly in the centre of the circle of guards, each one doing nothing but keep their eyes on their captive. Trip started forward involuntarily and Matron Yohloh’s hand grabbed at his arm.
“No, young one. Don’t cross the ring.” She pointed down. The guards in turn were stood outside a metal ring set into the floor which was attached to another small metal box. Trip became aware of a hum, almost beyond his hearing, that caused a shiver to whisper down his spine.
“The ring keeps him contained. Here,” she said, passed him her stick. “Tap the air above the ring.”
Trip took the stick a little dubiously, fully expecting her to fall over, but she seemed to be perfectly fine without it. He reached out and tentatively probed into the empty air over the ring with her stick.
Almost immediately the surface of some invisible dome rippled as if he had thrown a stone into a millpond; he grinned as they expanded outwards. Suddenly, the ripples stopped expanding and contracted suddenly; the next thing Trip knew, he was flying through the air as the stick was forcibly pushed out of the dome. He landed on a pile of cushions, rolled once and sprang to his feet.
By the time he got back to the circle he was greeted by barely-stifled laughter from the soldiers. Matron Yohloh let out a chuckle as he roughly handed her stick back and for a moment he felt embarrassed, slighted. As he looked around the smiling faces of the soldiers, he saw no malice in them and forced out a little laugh that quickly became a giggle.
A slow clapping echoed around the chamber, first drowned out by the laughter and then, as everyone became aware of it, killing the merriment stone dead. Then he caught sight of the prisoner. Each clap jingled a little; bracelets on the man’s wrists banged together as he mockingly applauded.
“No, really,” he said, his voice gravelly. “Do please continue to take pleasure in my confinement.”
“Trip, do you recognise this man?” Matron Yohloh asked.
Trip nodded. “This is High Father Hork. Why do you have him locked up down here? I saw him in the Duke’s throne room. He was… odd. But what you’ve done here, he doesn’t deserve this.”
Matron Yohloh spat on the ground. “This is not High Father Hork. He calls himself… well, introduce yourself, plant-man.”
The man dragged himself upright, still kneeling on the stone floor apparently without discomfort. “I am Quinary.”
“Quinary?” Trip said. “Why do you look like High Father Hork?”
“I don’t know who High Father Hork is,” Quinary replied.
“He is the head of the Church of the One Tree.”
“That sounds particularly… important,” came the whip-crack reply.
“But you look like him.”
“Perhaps he looks like me.” A raised eyebrow wrinkled his forehead.
“What were you doing when the Gargorians captured you?”
“Apparently towards the ambush point the Gargorians had set up.” Each answer came back almost without thought, without preamble; Trip found himself growing frustrated.
“Where were you going before the Gargorians ambushed you?”
“To my destination,” Quinary replied.
“And that was…?”
“Where I was going.”
“Yes, but… where were you going?”
“Forwards.” A small smile appeared on Quinary’s sharp features. He had no stubble, Trip suddenly realised. No facial hair of any sort. He turned to Matron Yohloh.
“How long ago did you capture him?”
She nodded, as if this were the question she had expected. “Five years.”
Trip began to walk around to the other side of the circle. “How often do you give him food?”
She grunted and slowly followed him, weaving through the soldiers. “We’ve never given him food, Trip. His hair never grows. His fingernails never need trimming.” With a wry smile she caught up to him and put a wiry hand on his shoulder. “You’ve put your finger on what it took us almost a week to establish; we thought he was starving himself so that he would die without giving up his secrets but, no, here he sits still.”
“And you don’t know what he was doing here?”
She shook her head. “No. He was vaguely heading away from the Arbour, towards the north-west shore, but it could be anywhere along that line.”
Trip bit his lip and considered the man. The likeness was uncanny. It could have been High Father Hork sat there in the empty space, stripped to the waist and looking as if he had just stepped from a barbershop. He decided to try one more question.
“What are you doing?”
Matron Yohloh was there in an instant. “Waiting for what?”
“For the next minute.”
She seemed to deflate. “I thought we might have something there,” she said into Trip’s ear. He nodded and she turned back towards the cushions, her slow step seeming ever-heavier.
“What do you want me to do?” Trip said once they had settled back onto the cushions.
“You have the Tree’s Word in your head, yes? Your holy book.” She shrugged. “We have never seen a copy; as far as our agents tell us, there were only the two.”
“Trees are felled to make paper; it’s important that ideas are kept in the pages, but equally important that the information is carefully kept, that waste and carelessness do not contribute to overall loss of the world’s trees,” Trip said. “The Tree’s Word, addendum 712.”
The Matron nodded approvingly. “Good to hear that your Tree’s Word has apparently been kept up-to-date by more modern thinkers.”
“The core of the book is the same as it always has been, but each new High Father has added something,” Trip said. “We never copied out the Word again though, simply added the new rules in at the back. A few blank pages were left.” He shrugged. “The scribes write small.”
“You must make a copy now.”
Trip frowned. “But that would take-“
“A long time, I know. We cannot ask you to perform this task all at once. I am given to understand that the core text is over nine hundred pages long?”
“Well, it depends on how large I write,” Trip said, “But it’s going to be something like that.”
“We have a place set aside for you, Trip. There is paper all ready for you; a quill, ink, all is laid on for you. Perhaps you would prefer a scribe be made available for you?”
Trip shook his head. “Part of my training was in how to write. I copied out valuable manuscripts that were in danger of being destroyed.
Matron Yohloh nodded sagely. “Then it shall be so. Fear not; we will keep your body alive while your mind is free to work.”
Trip sighed. The world was suddenly a wider place, full of people who wanted him. People who relied on him.
“What do you hope will happen if I write out the Tree’s Word? It’s not some magic spell that will make everything right, you know.”
“No.” Matron Yohloh shook her head sadly, blind eyes once again staring into space. “But it is hoped that there is some truth to be found amongst the lies of your religion, as all stories emerge from a grain of truth. Write, young Trip, write so that we might read a better future.”
Speechless, Trip moved with halting steps towards the writing desk that Matron Yohloh pointed out, set up to one side in its own little alcove of crates.
He picked up the quill and cleared his mind.
“In the beginning there was nothing,” his pen scratched out. The fine sloped script he had developed over his entire life, hours spent copying out text, came naturally to him.
“Then the tree, glorious in its bounty, spread its boughs over all the land, and there was peace.
“It came to pass that fruit grew upon the branches of the tree and, in time, the fruit were released from the bough to fall upon the earth.
“The first fruit fell and from it sprang the rivers and the seas, for all must come from the Tree in time.
“The second fruit-“
“Really?” Trip said, putting the quill down. “Is this going to help us?”
“I have no idea, young one,” Matron Yohloh replied. “You will learn, when you are as old as I am, that most things even out over a long-enough timeline. Will you putting quill to paper help us? Perhaps. Perhaps today. Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps not until the moon has traced its course once across the sky, or until the world has spun its gentle ballet around the sun a dozen times.
“It will help eventually, though, and that is why we toil.”
Trip was silent for a moment, then he picked the quill back up and began to write. For long moments the only sound was the tip of the pen scritching its way across the rough parchment. Unheard by him, Matron Yohloh returned to the cushions as he sank back in to a world of memory.
“The second fruit fell to the ground, and from it sprang every other type of vegetation that the wide world could produce, from the smallest shrub to the largest of trees. Each was connected to the next, a living community.
“The third fruit was the next to fall, and from it sprang Man, complete with the knowledge of all that had come before. He stood upon the earth and saw that it was good. The Tree stood before him as a reminder of where he had come from, and the Earth stood before as a token of where he would lead.
“The fourth fruit fell to Earth…