Friday, 19 April 2013

Friday Flash Fiction - Brothers on the Marsh

Two figures, brothers, trudged across the marsh, tall rubber boots splattered with mud. They travelled without speaking. Any voice could disturb the purpose of their trip. When one stumbled, the other offered a hand to help him up. When they crossed a gully, they helped lower each other down and boosted or hauled each other up the other side.

The ground grew softer with every step. Every metre they travelled took longer than the one before, but they had to go on. Their goal was visible ahead, where the maps had said it would be - a silver-coloured tree in the middle of the marsh, bare of leaves, glinting in the sunlight, standing alone.

The younger brother, who was not younger by much, stepped by mistake into a bog hole, sinking up to his middle. He caught his breath before he cried out in surprise. The elder brother gestured at him to keep still and, in the thick mud around the hole, searched for a solid place to pull his sibling to safety.

The best place was not perfect, not even very good, but it would have to do. He tied a rope around his middle, made his footing as secure as he could, tied another loop in the other end of the rope and threw it to his stuck brother. The stuck man shuffled his shoulders into the loop, secured it as best he could, then gave the signal to be hauled out.

The rope pulled taut and the younger brother in the bog fell forwards, his head submerged for a breathless moment. The other man pulled faster, and his head emerged with his gasp for air. He helped pull himself out, when his arms were free, but his boots had been lost at the bottom of the sticky mudhole.

Both men stood still, trying to decide what to do. The younger brother gestured that the older should go on, the older indicated that they should turn back. It was not safe to travel on the marsh barefoot. The promise of the silver tree and its glassy, miraculous sap would not be worth anything if they could not make it there or back. The younger pleaded with his eyes. The tree was so close, and it would surely be just as treacherous to travel back now as to go on a little further first.

The older brother sighed and assented. They trudged on, even more carefully now, the younger brother getting more exhausted with every step, his boots no longer helping his footing, but they reached the base of the silver tree. The glass-like sap of the silver tree, when conditions were right, could harden into a bead the shape of a water drop, as hard as rock on one end, but explosively fragile if the pointed tip were fractured. It was said to happen only once or twice a decade, and only here on the dreaded marsh. The medicine man had asked for one of the beads as the price for curing their brother. None of them knew whether such a bead would be here, or if the brothers could bring it back intact.

They examined the tree from root to branch tip, searching for the bead of sap, until they finally found one, tiny and delicate, clinging to the tip of one twig. It refracted the sunlight into a little rainbow circle with rays cutting across it. The brothers could see why the medicine man wanted it, and why they were so valuable.

The younger brother, with as much care as he could muster, plucked the bead from the twig and rested it in the padded box they had brought. He tied it closed, wrapped the box in a blanket, and eased it into his pack. They smiled at each other. If they made it back in time, their youngest brother would live, and everything would be fine.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The bead of sap I describe is essentially a Prince Rupert's Drop.
PPS - Though those are made of glass and cooled in water.

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