YA parallel world historical fantasy
That morning, the boy woke up and remembered medicine and pain and men standing over him arguing. He must have been very ill.
He lay in a four poster bed with a red and gold canopy, adrift in a vast room with crimson walls and a ceiling covered in complicated moldings. Heavy curtains hung the full length of one wall and a nightlight burned on a silver tray at the foot of his bed. The back of his head itched. He raised a hand to scratch it and found a bandage there. Had he been in an accident? His mother had been with him, he was sure, but he couldn’t remember where or why they were travelling. Had his father been there?
He couldn’t remember their faces.
That wasn’t right, that couldn’t be right. He tried again and failed. He tried to think of his own name and could not and a hole full of darkness began to grow in the centre of his head, reaching out to drag him in. Perhaps he was mad. Was this what being mad felt like? He turned over and buried his face in his pillow. His stomach began to twist and knot, tears filled his eyes and a deep painful sob began to force its way up from somewhere below his chest.
A key rattled in a lock and hinges squeaked.
“Good morning, Master Jerald. Time to be up and at ’em.”
Was that was his name, Jerald? He forced back the tears. He could feel that the hole was still there, waiting to swallow him if he lost control for an instant, but he had to keep calm. Until he found out where - or who - he was and what had happened to him and to his parents, he needed to be careful.
“Jerald?” he said out loud.
“That’s your name, young master. It’ll all come back to you bit by bit, they tell me.”
Jerald. The name seemed to fit. He heard the clink of a glass set down on the tray then the sound of the man stamping around drawing curtains and pulling open drawers and cupboards. Jerald took a deep breath and sat up, pushing the weight of the brocaded bedding off his legs, and swinging his feet onto the floor. The man was gathering an armful of clothes from a long wardrobe set into the far wall. He marched across the room, dumped them on the end of the bed and picked up the glass.
“Your drink, Master Jerald.”
Jerald took the glass and sniffed the yellow liquid suspiciously.
“What is it? It stinks.”
“For your health and well-being, young sir. You’ve been through quite an illness and the quack - begging your pardon - the pharmacist says it’ll rebuild your strength.”
Jerald drank it down, aware of the man watching him closely. It tasted of earth, with a trace of honey, and left grit on his tongue. He winced and the man chuckled.
“Time to get into some clothes,” he said. He was much older than Jerald and wore a drab grey uniform with a white sash threaded with scarlet. A broad black belt held a hefty wooden and leather object Jerald recognised as a holster.
I can remember things but not people, he thought.
“Is there a gun in that? Why do you need a gun?”
“I’m here to protect you. You may be in danger from the same people who attacked you and your family. Can you stand up yet, sir? Easy now.”
Jerald stood up and swayed. The man took his elbow.
“Attacked me? Who attacked me?” He began to fumble at the neck of his nightshirt and the man helped him draw it over his head. He handed Jerald stiff black clothes frogged with braid.
“Rebels, we reckon. Ne’er-do-wells and Shapers. Scum from the Black Mountains or worse.”
Jerald’s legs wobbled and he almost lost his balance pulling on the black trousers. The man steadied him.
“So are you a soldier?”
The man chuckled.
“I’m just a servant, sir, name of Sardis. There are quite a few of us - you’ll see us hanging about, here when you need us. You’re quite an important young man. Now, the finishing touch.” Sardis handed him a red sash threaded with purple. Jerald tried to drape it over one shoulder and somehow got it tangled up. The man gently helped him sort it out.
“Thank you,” Jerald said.
“We live to serve.”
Jerald looked at him but there was no trace of sarcasm on the weathered face.
“My sash is different from yours.”
“Because you’re the Regent’s son, sir. Like I said, an important young man.”
Jerald touched the purple threads. Purple evidently meant something.
“I feel much better now. If my parents are here, I think I should see them,” he said.
Sardis coughed and looked at the floor.
“I’m sorry, sir. That’s probably all the answers as is good for you, begging your pardon. Keep him calm, that’s what the pharmacist said. Maybe your tutor will explain more.”
Jerald felt tears prickling again. He blinked them back and closed his eyes. Something had happened to his parents. He’d been attacked - had they been killed? But the servant had only mentioned his mother. He struggled to remember and again a dark, blank space reached out for him. He opened his eyes and touched the bandage. For the moment, he would do what he was told until the memories that seemed to be missing began to return. But what if they didn’t? He thrust the thought away and sat down to pull on the socks and boots Sardis had set out by the bed. The servant was over by the windows, opening one wide and breathing in theatrically.
“Lovely day, Master Jerald. You should see if you can get outside for a bit. Do you a world of good.”
Jerald walked carefully over to the main window and looked over Sardis’ shoulder. Beneath them, a wide green lawn, dotted with shrubs and patches of snow, sloped down towards a high stone wall. Beyond the wall, woodlands. Beyond the woodlands, fields. Mist fringed the trees and the distant meadows, and a steam tractor clanked noisily towards a gate in a wall. The air was cold and Jerald shivered.
“I’m hungry,” he said.
Sardis led him out of his room and along a wide, dusty corridor lined with sombre paintings and door after oak-paneled door. Opposite the doors, deep set windows letting in shafts of pale light alternated with dusty alcoves edged with dirty white paint . Draughts rattled the the old, loose window frames and Jerald hunched his shoulders in the thick cloth of his uniform. A narrow, winding staircase descended to a broad landing. It was hung with a huge tapestry of a city tumbling into an abyss as mountains crumbled in flames and waters thundered in. The population were no more than tiny motes of two or three stitches - all the weaver’s craft had gone into the flames and clouds of ashes. Jerald stopped in front of it. It seemed significant but he couldn’t place why.
“Is this a story?” he asked. Sardis shook his head.
“It’s the end of Old Galla,” he said. “It’ll come back to you, by and by. When the old Shapers tried to break the world apart and do for us. Some of our cities fell, Angle broke off from the mainland and the sky was black for a decade but the Society held things together. Well, the Society and the Empire. One and the same, really.”
“It’s horrible,” Jerald said. “What happened to the…the people that did this?” Sardis shrugged.
“Blew ‘emselves up and good riddance. They rocked the world from top to bottom and left everything colder, that’s what the Society says. Them that calls themselves Shapers these days aren’t much more than water gypsies. They reckon they’re descended from those old sorcerers but I can’t see it, for all the trouble in the countryside they go around raising for us.” He nudged Jerald sharply in the ribs. “‘Us’ meaning ‘you’, eh?”