Form: Story – incomplete
Topic: Places
Genre: Dystopian/Utopian Fiction
Word Count: 1,578 words.

I wrote this for the Terry Pratchett First Novel Award Competition for 2012 but by the time I saw that Mr Pratchett was holding this competition, it was already September 2012 and the competition closed on 31 December 2012.  It was hardly a good time of year to start writing a novel, which I would have to try to cram into three months.  It was asking too much.  This is what I managed of it.  I thought I would post it here.  Let me know what you think and if you think it’s worth pursuing.

Beyond Our Land

Rahjet took a deep breath and stepped out from the warmth, comfort and safety of his dwelling. The icy wind blasted his face and the solidified raindrops pounded the top of his hard hat. He squinted through the darkness, waiting, counting time ticking away. Out here, time slowed to a crawl. Every minute became ten minutes. Finally he saw the dim light flickering in the distance. It ebbed and flowed as it drew nearer to him. And then he heard the shouts of the men and the synchronised screams from the packs of wolf-dogs. At last the group was upon him. They pulled up with a flurry of snow and ice spraying out into the atmosphere. The front man jumped lightly from his cart and ran, in that padded puffin kind of way, which was the only way to walk with snow shoes, toward Rahjet. The man was completely covered in a thick full-body blanket, only his eyes peeked through tiny slits in the top but Rahjet knew immediately who this man was. “Brother,” he called as the man came to within hearing range.

The man raised his hand in greeting and, in a muffled voice replied, “Brother.”

The two men embraced, briefly. “How were your travels, Mahir?”

“Good, my brother. The wolf-dogs behaved themselves for a change.” And he laughed heartily.

Rahjet laughed with his brother. “You must all come inside for refreshments before we commence the return journey. The wolf-dogs can go into the sheds down the bottom. There is fresh water, heat and some meat for them.”

Mahir nodded his agreement and shouted some orders to the others who quickly went about their work. It was no good standing around outside in that weather. A human body would be chilled in less than two minutes. Then you may as well leave it for the dogs and they had already lost several on their journey here, and four of the dogs who had gone over a cliff edge. Every year they made the journey and every year they lost riders and dogs because of the fluctuating landscape. They planned their route as best as they could, plotting courses based on the previous year’s journey but there was always something changed, something different, which made the journey treacherous. Only the toughest men braved the journey and those who were lost on the way would be remembered and honoured once they had completed it. Mahir followed his brother inside, along with several other riders. They walked along the damp, narrow corridor, descending deep into the earth, where there was still some warmth, their way lit by oil-burning lamps. Mahir noted that his brother had several of these lamps lining the walls. It must have been a good year for his brother. Good. They were in desperate need of oil. A year was a long time to stretch their limited resources. Mahir had brought extra carriers this year. He wanted to take as much oil back with him as possible.

They had made their way into the heart of Rahjet’s home, the conversational lounge. It was a large lounge, rounded with stone carved benches lining the walls, all the way round and all covered with cushions made from the softest Angora. A large oil fire burned in the centre, its beaten metal flume bored up through the ground to the semi enclosed smoke pile on the surface. It released the oil into the cold air outside and at the same time allowed the fresh air to seep in from above, balancing out the warmth and the freshness within the lounge. Mahir had always wondered why his brother had to have such a big lounge, as his only visitors were other traders and he knew his brothers’ hospitality did not extend to inviting them into his home. So, was the lounge only for Mahir and his entourage and left to stand empty for an entire year, waiting for his visit? How much oil did it take to heat this dwelling? He always wanted to ask his brother but respect for the eldest sibling forced him to remain quiet, although Mahir was pleased that he had not brought his wife on this journey. She was so feisty. He was certain that if she saw the size of his brother’s dwelling, she would say something about it. She always said things without thinking and finding herself in mounds of trouble. It was the main reason Mahir had chosen her as a wife. Most men wanted quiet, obedient women. Mahir chose Jacinda for his wife because she was so different to the other women. She was happy to stand up for herself and express her thoughts and beliefs on anything and everything. Rahjet had not been pleased with Mahir’s choice and had said that he would regret it. The only thing Mahir regretted was that his brother could not see Jacinda for the wonderful person she was. He did not understand that women were strong and could be of great use in their society, more than only housekeepers, cooks and child-bearers. He knew that although they did not have the physical strength needed in the societies of today, they had the mental strength to keep the fractured societies together. He laughed inwardly thinking that if Rahjet knew some of the company they were keeping at their own dwelling, he would be horrified. But Rahjet’s eyes were closed. He lived with his family on his own. He only cared for his own survival and that of his wife and children. He kept himself isolated. He did not see that the world around him was changing, that clans were becoming communities and communities were becoming societies. People were realising that they needed more that the occasional trade-off; people were starting to live closer together, in larger groups. They supported and cared for each other. They married outside of the clans to keep the blood pure and strong and they did not need to trade their children off for that purpose, the children could choose for themselves. Rahjet was a dying breed. Soon there would be no more like him in society. They were moving into an exciting, modern era.

Mahir sighed. He wanted to tell his brother about the archaeological finds, in the caves not far from where they were. And that those people who had come here were compiling evidence into documents to create materials for distribution to all the societies of the world. So people could learn from them. They called it an education. He wanted his brother to realise that the world was very different before them and their ancestors were around. He knew that Rahjet would dismiss it as foolishness. His brother would tell him that the only thing they needed to learn was how to survive.

Mahir blinked, realising that he had been sitting on the long bench, in silence for some time. The room was alive with the chattering of the men from his journey team, all members of his community. But Rahjet sat silently, watching his brother, his eyes narrowed into suspicious slits. Mahir smiled warmly and raised his mug of Shamanco, a strong brew made from a mix of distilled potato and distilled sweet potato that warmed the muscles and loosened the tongues. Rahjet returned the salute with his own mug but Mahir could tell his mood was sombre. Something was on his mind. Mahir forced his attention away from his brother and looked around at the spread that had been placed on the floor in front of them. Some of the men were already sitting on the woven mats, another elaborate expense. Rahjet’s wife was an accomplished homemaker and the food looked delicious. He had not seen her or any of Rahjet’s daughter’s. They were silent anomalies, spirits that wondered the house. Despite the warmth, Mahir found Rahjet’s home to be a cold, heartless place. He sat down on a mat and ate his way through the spread of roast rabbit and ptarmigan, boiled ptarmigan eggs, pickled willow shoots (Mahir wondered where his brother had managed to source this particular delicacy. Mahir had only ever had it once before and that had come from a stranger who had stopped by their village on his way across to the oil rich fields of Rahjet’s people. He supposed that Rahjet had encountered the same man) and a warm salad of potato and sweet potato mix.

With a full tummy and tired eyes, Mahir now made his way to where Rahjet sat. He had the head of house seat, a large, single, well-padded cushion made of arctic fox skins. Rahjet sat regally, sunken down into the splendour of the fox-seat. Mahir knew that Rahjet would have made the kill or kills himself as he was well-renowned in these parts for his skills as a hunter. The arctic foxes were cunning, wily creatures who camouflaged themselves so well that you could walk directly past an entire fox pack and would be none the wiser, unless you were Rahjet, of course. “Brother,” he said as he sat down next to him, “what worries you?”

Rahjet sighed,  “You enjoyed your meal, my brother?” he replied.

Mahir knew he was stalling.  “I did, very much. You can thank your wife for me.”

Rahjet snorted. He hated any reference to his wife or daughters. They were not important enough to praise.  Yet what he was about to tell Mahir, had everything to do with them.

Copyright © 160513 by Karen Payze