By ailads bootstraps, p.1
By Ailad's Bootstraps, p.1Kurt F. Kammeyer / Actions & Adventure / Science Fiction
By Ailad’s Bootstraps
Kurt F. Kammeyer
Copyright 2015 Kurt F. Kammeyer
By Ailad’s Bootstraps
Ailad loved working in his uncle’s printing shop. The process of setting the type, casting the plates, inking the press and “pulling” the printed sheets fascinated him endlessly. Today, Uncle Brynmor had put him to work as his ink-boy.
“Now, make sure to ink the plate nice and even,” Brynmor said as he watched. “Don’t miss the corners, but don’t slather it on too deep, either.”
“Yes, Uncle,” Ailad replied while he daubed his leather ink-ball across the plate.
When Brynmor saw that the plate was well inked, he gave a mighty heave on the lever-arm and quickly released it. Aliad turned the crank and slid the sheet back along the bed.
Brynmor bent over and squinted at the sheet: a broadside for the Stroma Sentinel newspaper. “Not too bad…” he mumbled. “for an apprentice, per’aps.”
Uncle Brynmor was always short on praise, so Ailwyn took this as a high compliment.
Just then the front door jingled, and a very pretty young girl entered the printing shop. She was carrying a wicker basket covered with a red checkered cloth. She approached Ailad and smiled. “Hello, Ailad.”
Flustered, he stammered, “Uh, hello, Lleucu. What brings thee?”
“Why, lunch, silly,” she said, blushing. “Thinking I was, me and thee could eat by the river—that is, if not over-busy tha’ be?”
Ailad took the basket and glanced at his uncle, who nodded his approval. “Go, but mind you, be careful! The river, ‘tis in full flood now.”
“Thanks, Uncle Brynmor. I promise we’ll be careful,” Ailad replied.
Ailad and Lleucu walked down to the Spey River on the edge of town, and sat on the riverbank next to a cottonwood tree.
Ailad noticed that the Spey River was in full flood, just as Uncle Brynmor had warned. Ailad wasn’t worried. He’d seen the river crest before, and now that he was fourteen turns old he knew how to avoid danger. Besides, orphans knew better than most people how to look out for themselves, he figured.
Lleucu opened the basket and pulled out a loaf of rye bread, some cheese, and an apple-cake that her mother had baked for them that morning. Ailad’s eyes widened, and Lleucu smiled. “I know… ‘Tis tha’ favorite, aye?”
Ailad and Lleucu eagerly tucked into their lunch. A minute later she looked up at him. “So then, Ailad, hast thou considered that which we discussed, our last time here?”
Here she goes again… Ailad thought glumly. All girls ever think about is marriage.
He wiped the crumbs from his mouth with his sleeve. “Uh, sure, Lleucu… when I’m twenty-one, I promise we’ll get married, aye?” He hoped this would end the conversation.
Lleucu and Ailad’s parents had betrothed the two children to each other when they were just five turns old. Then Ailad’s parents had died, and he forgot about the troth. By now Ailad had lived so long with the pledge that he seldom gave it a thought—except when Lleucu mentioned it. He thought, Twenty-one… that still gives me seven turns… who knows if we’ll even still like each other by then?
Ailad decided to change the subject. He jumped up and said, “C’mon, let’s play a game!”
Lleucu stood, shook the crumbs off her apron and said, “Well then… what game?”
Ailad thought. “I’ll be Nordish King Akamar, and tha’ll be Princess Gudrid of Menggu.” He pointed to a small island near the riverbank. “That’s Akameria, and thou’rt in Menggu, agreed?”
She grinned at him. “Ailad… thou knowest how this tale ends, aye? Gudrid kills Akamar.”
“Not today,” he replied, picking up a branch for a sword. He challenged her in Nordish. “Fram, Nordskona!”
“Oh, very well…” she said reluctantly, and picked up another stick. Ailad could see that she was not very enthused about this boy’s game. She raised her sword and smiled at him. “I warn thee… I shall be riding a team of four elephants, so beware!”
“Huh… we’ll see,” Ailad smirked.
“Gongji!” Lleucu cried as their swords met. They dueled for a time, as Ailad slowly retreated towards his little island-kingdom.
The channel between the mainland and the island was spanned by a log. Ailad had crossed the log many times before, but today it barely bridged the gap over a fork of the swollen river.
“Hah!” he cried, as he parried Lleucu’s blow and jumped back. He was now standing on the log, inching his way back towards his “kingdom.”
Lleucu looked down at the rushing stream, paused and said, “Ailad, be careful!”
He made another thrust at her. “I be Akamar, king of Iskaldurey and Suthurl–ahh!” he cried, as he toppled backwards off of the log into the rushing river. Lleucu screamed.
Ailad surfaced and gasped for air. Lleucu ran down the riverbank, knelt down and extended her sword to him, but he was already too far out to reach it. Frantic, she cried, “Ailad, swim!”
Stunned by the freezing, roiling water, Ailad desperately tried to swim to shore, but the current quickly swept him into the main channel. Gasping and choking, he looked at Lleucu’s anguished face disappearing in the distance. His last thought was, So, this is what it’s like to die…
“Son, fetch me my specs!”
It was Pa speaking. Whenever Pa said those words, Ailad knew it was the signal for evening prayer.
“Coming, Pa,” Ailad replied. He took the spectacles from the mantle and handed them to Pa. Pa hooked them over his ears, and the family gathered in a circle near the fireplace.
Pa took the old family hymnbook and turned to a familiar hymn called “Evening Shade.” Ma and Catrin took the upper line, sister Thoetha tackled the middle part, and Pa, Hywel and Ailad sang the bottom part. At fourteen, Ailad’s voice was still changing, but he could reach most of the lower notes:
The day is past and gone,
The evening shades appear,
O may we all remember well,
The night of death draws near.
Next, Pa took his well-worn copy of the Norm and opened it to a dog-eared page that Ailad knew on sight. Pa read a familiar verse:
“A seer shall God raise up, who shall be a choice seer; him shall ye obey in all things…”
The family all knelt next to baby Llachar’s cradle, and Pa prayed:
“O God of Caerwyn, I invoke thy blessings upon my family.
“Protect us from Shaitan, and grant us slumber.
“May the Seer come quickly,
“And may we rise to meet thee at thy coming, Amen.”
After the prayer everyone stood and hugged, said their goodnights, and the older children climbed the ladder to the loft above the main floor of the cabin—boys to the north end, girls to the south, with a partition between them. The younger brothers Clywed, Gwilym and Siarl took one of the beds on the boys’ side of the partition, and Hywel and Ailad took the other.
Ailad heard a scraping sound downstairs as Ma dragged baby Llachar’s cradle over near the fireplace, next to their own bed. He looked down through the trap door and saw Ma bustling about, carrying bedding. Then he turned his head back. “G’night, Hywel,” he said.
“G’night Ailad,” Hywel replied, and blew out the candle.
Hywel settled right down as usual, and soon Ailad heard him snoring. Ailad wasn’t very sleepy. He leaned his head against the headboard and thought for a long time. He was feeling sort of guilty for some of the foolish things he’d done lately, and for trying to cover them up.
The men had been clearing land for crops, and Ailad had left his axe stuck in a tree-stump overnight. In the morning the axe head was all rusty from the rain, and the stump had swollen around it so he couldn’t even pry the blade out. Pa got angry, and Ailad tried to blame it on his younger brother Siarl, who was supposed to collect all the tools at the end of the day. That just made Pa even more upset. He pointed at Ailad and in an angry voice said, “Ailad, ‘tis a sin before God to lie to thy elders.”
Ailad didn’t think it was lying, exactly, just kind of passing the blame, but he knew he was in trouble.
When the chores were done, Pa took Ailad to the local church in Stroma—the Cairwyn-Eglwys—to see a Dioddefwr or “Sufferer,” to take away his sin. Ailad had been through this ritual several times before when he did something bad, and he hated it.
Pa dragged Ailad into the huge rock church, and marched him down the aisle to a small booth at one side of the sanctuary. Pa shut the door of the booth behind them and they sat down together on the bench, facing a sliding panel. It felt rather hot and stuffy to Ailad, sitting inside the booth.
Pa waved his finger at him and sternly said, “Tell the truth, son. The Dioddefwr, he will know if thou’rt lying.”
Ailad swallowed hard, but said nothing.
Pa knocked on the panel. A moment later the panel slid up, revealing the Dioddefwr. He was dressed in a long, black robe and he wore a round cap like a pillbox, and he had a long black beard. His face was pasty white, like he didn’t see the sun much. He knitted his fingers together, smiled and said in a kindly voice, “Please state the nature of the transgression?”
Pa nudged Ailad, and he reluctantly confessed to the incident with the axe. When he was done, the Dioddefwr looked at him and said, “A minor transgression… That will be two pence.”
Pa pulled out two coins and gave them to the Dioddefwr, who dropped them in an urn. Then Ailad watched as the man’s face suddenly contorted. Tears came to his eyes, and he bowed his head and groaned and sobbed, softly beating his fists on the counter between them. This went on for about a minute as Ailad squirmed uncomfortably. Then the Dioddefwr straightened up, sighed and said, “It is finished. I have suffered for your sins, young man. Go, and sin no more. That will be all.”
The panel slammed shut, and they exited the booth.
As they were leaving the church, Ailad turned to his Pa and said, “The Sufferer, did he truly my sins take away, Pa?”
Pa hesitated. “I used to think so, Son, but not anymore. But I still hope tha’ didst learn thy lesson—else I be out two pence, aye?”
“Yes, Pa,” Ailad replied, scuffing his feet and looking down. Then he looked up again. “But, Pa… if tha’ don’t believe in it, why do we still attend the Cairwyn-Eglwys?”
“‘Tis the best God has to offer us, Son, until the return of the Seer. ‘Twill just have to suffice.”
Pa went silent for a time. Ailad could tell he was gathering his thoughts to say something important. Finally he spoke. “Ailad, my son… someday soon, tha’ll receive a visitation from… someone very important.”
“Important? Who, Pa? A kin of ours?” Ailad replied.
“Aye, a close kin… But mind thee, thou must obey his every word, understand? Every word!”
“Aye, Pa…” Ailad replied, puzzled.
Ailad had always been very close to his Pa—much closer than his older brother Hywel, he imagined, and not just because he shared Pa’s name, either. Pa seemed to take a special interest in Ailad, and at times he could almost read Ailad’s thoughts, it seemed. Ailad’s other brothers were aware of Pa’s favoritism, but generally they kept quiet about it. It was more than just a spiritual bond. Ofttimes, as Ailad was passing someone in the street, they would pinch his cheeks and exclaim, “My, you look just like your father, young man!”
That evening, lying in bed, Ailad was more convinced than ever that the Dioddefwr was just taking Pa’s money. He thought, It just isn’t possible for one man to take away another man’s sins—not that I’d really sinned, exactly, just told a fib… but didn’t Pa read to us from the Norm, about how God forgives sins? And God wouldn’t charge two pence for it either, I’m certain.
He said a little prayer to God, asking for forgiveness for all the foolish things he did, and right away he felt better—and not just because it was free of charge, either.
Ailad laid there, feeling pretty good about himself, until he noticed that the room was getting lighter. Is it morning already? he thought, looking around.
He sat up, nearly bumping his head on the rafters, and looked to the side of the bed. Just then a brilliant shaft of light appeared right next to the trap door. In the center of the light a man stood, not on the floor, but in the air. He wore a white robe that reached to just below his knees. Around his neck he wore a flat, oval-shaped stone that glowed a brilliant white. His hair was white too, and his eyes seemed to drill right through Ailad. He had brought a young boy with him, about Ailad’s age.
The man spoke. “Ailad.”
His voice was like listening to a rushing stream, and it sent a thrill through Ailad’s body. He looked back at the man while trying to shade his eyes, and said in a timid little voice, “Who art thou?”
“My name matters not,” he replied. “I am a Messenger from God. Ailad, he wants thee to know that thy sins are forgiven thee.”
That was a huge relief to Ailad. He’d been worrying right then about dying and having to face God in the next minute or two. He thought, So, I was right… it is God who forgives sins.
The Messenger continued. “Ailad, God has an important work for thee here on Edom.”
Me? Important? he thought. I’ve never amounted to much in my fourteen turns on Edom, and my family isn’t much to brag about, either. We’re honest and hardworking, but important?
The Messenger began to instruct Ailad about this “work” he was to do. He informed him that the Sixth Eon was about to open on Edom, and that Ailad would be the one to open it as the Sixth Seer. He warned Ailad that the Evil One would try to tempt him, and that all Sheol would soon break loose on him, but that God would protect him. Then he held out his hand to him.
“Come, Ailad,” he said.
“Where?” Ailad replied nervously.
“Follow me and see,” he said, pointing upwards.
Ailad stood up and hesitantly approached the column of light. The closer he got, the more overwhelming it felt to him. He reached out his hand to the light and felt a glow race through his whole body.
The young boy who had accompanied the Messenger smiled at Ailad, stepped out of the column of light, and sat down on the bed.
The Messenger locked hands with Ailad, and they rose up the pillar of light.
Instantly Ailad found himself standing in a very strange but wonderful place. He was alone with the Messenger. He looked up at the night sky, black as ink, with countless stars shining brilliantly. The stars passed overhead at a tremendous rate, as if an entire day and night were compressed into mere minutes. Periodically, a brilliant sun passed across the sky—but it was a sun of such size and magnitude that Ailad felt as if it would consume him with its brightness.
He looked down and saw that the ground he was standing on was clear, like an ocean of glass. It glowed in fantastic shades and colors that he’d never seen before, and a myriad of images quickly appeared and vanished, then reappeared some distance away. It made his head spin as he tried to follow the images. The most beautiful, ethereal music played in time to the images.
I don’t think I’m in Edom anymore, Ailad thought. Overwhelmed, he turned to the Messenger and said in a tremulous voice, “Where be this place? Am I dead?”
The Messenger laughed. “No, thou art most certainly not dead, Ailad. This is the Bosom of Eternity, the place where all things are revealed—past, present, and future. Thou art at the very center of the Great River of stars, near to the place where God himself dwells.” He pointed. “That bright star is named Kolab.”
“Is this heaven?” Ailad said, looking around.
“Not quite, but very near to it,” the Messenger replied. “Time has no meaning here. A thousand turns are as a day to God.”
Ailad had no idea what that meant, so he set it aside. “Why’st thou brought me here?” he said. “And who was that boy thou didst leave in my room?”
“Why, that was thee, Ailad,” he replied.
Confused, Ailad said, “Me? But… I’m here, not down there. How can I be in two places at the same time?”
“Thou aren’t,” the Messenger replied. “As I said, time has no meaning here. When thou returnest to Edom, thou wilt see what I mean.”
Still baffled, Ailad decided to set that riddle aside, too. “Why was I not told all this down there?” he asked.
The Messenger smiled. “Line upon line, Ailad. Thou canst not bear all things at one time. Now, I must reveal to thee the difference between good and evil, so that thou art never again inclined to do the latter. If thou wilt turn thy attention upward, here…”
Ailad looked up at the sky overhead, and suddenly the music and lights went out. A swirling black hole rose above the horizon, ringed with fire. Ailad suddenly realized that the hole was an exact twin of the star Kolab, only in reverse. Ailad watched as the blackness spread like a pool of ink—only it was a blackness that he had never experienced before. He could feel the blackness approaching, and an awful dread came over him. Now he saw, or rather felt, a legion of even deeper blacknesses swirling and drifting in the void. They seemed to be aware of him. He tried to look away, but the awful vision followed him wherever he gazed.
“Behold the gates of Sheol,” the Messenger said, pointing.
Horrified, Ailad looked into the void and felt himself drawn towards it. Now he was surrounded by the evil beings, and he felt the very life being drained out of him. Frantically he cried out in terror, “Oh God, save me!”
Ailad felt the Messenger seize him by the hand, and in an instant he was standing on the sea of glass again. The Messenger embraced him, and Ailad felt the warmth of his body envelop him.
The Messenger placed his hands on Ailad’s shoulders and looked in his eyes. “Never, ever give in to the Evil One, Ailad. He can have no power over thee, except thou permit it. Remember this principle, and God will be thy protection throughout thy life.”
By Ailad's Bootstraps by Kurt F. Kammeyer / Actions & Adventure / Science Fiction have rating 2.8 out of 5 / Based on37 votes