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The Parables of Ancient Earth
The First Scroll: Rephidim, City of Reptiles
By H. D. ANYONE
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 H. D. Anyone
All rights reserved.
"The world was once a single Continent ..."
THE PARABLE BEGINS with a bird and a boy ...
"You're only a stupid songbird," said the boy.
"Warbler. I am an O-l-i-v-e W-a-r-b-l-e-r," spelled out the bird.
"Olive Whatever," said the boy with disrespect.
The warbler had perched on the sill of a barred earthen jail window some ten feet above the thirteen-year-old boy who sat cross-legged on the dirt floor of the cell. The boy wore a brown woven sack with holes ripped open for neck and hands. The garment hung on him like a dreary dress revealing pale, sickly, skinny legs and knobby knees.
"You are imprisoned," said the bird looking at the boy.
"Well, isn't that stating the obvious? For a talking songbird, you're not very bright, of course I'm imprisoned!" The boy glared. His purple, sunken eye sockets revealed years of malnutrition and poor rest.
"It is not so obvious. It is possible to be imprisoned and free, or free and imprisoned," said the bird. "Regardless, you should be grateful. Normally, only first-born nobles receive an Airborne Counselor on their thirteenth birthday, and you are far less than a Noble. You are an imprisoned commoner, a lowly slave."
"Counselor? What kind of Counselor are you? You are the tiniest bird on the Continent! What can you do for me besides harass me?" The boy shook his head and turned a vacant gaze toward the iron bars that kept him from a torch lit hall.
"Well. I assure you. I may be small, but I am eminently capable of setting you free."
The boy jerked his head up and raised a hand to brush light brown dreadlocks from his eyes to better study the bird. The moon shining through the cell window made it possible to discern the creature. He wondered if the bird were teasing him: a stupid songbird landing to taunt me with false hope. The bird appeared too feeble to accomplish anything meaningful. Counselors were supposed to be Airborne Reptiles. Songbirds don't speak. This simple bird was not more than five inches long from beak to tail, and had a grayish body with black and white striped wings. His vivid burnt orange head gave the impression someone had dipped him head first into a vat of honey. The black color of his tiny beak reached up and encircled his eyes like a mask.
"Set me free? What are you going to do, peck out the eye of the guard?"
"As you are so ungrateful, I'm not going to do anything. A common landling being sent an Airborne Counselor like myself and you don't even appreciate it!"
"Appreciate it? I don't even believe you. You're not a Counselor. Only Airborne Reptiles have the gift of speech. You must be a mutation of some sort to have developed the spoken word. And you come here no bigger than my fist and tell me you are able to set me free, all the while wearing a mask. I'll bet you're hiding something!"
"Everyone has something to hide," said the bird.
"The question is am I hiding something good or hiding something bad?"
"No one has to hide good things," said the boy.
"Wrong," said Bird.
"No, not wrong!"
"Why are you in this cell then?"
"What's it to you?" the boy snapped.
"I simply wish to make my point."
The boy hesitated. Who is this pesky winged thing? The boy hated to admit it, but it pleased him to have conversation, even if it was unpleasant and antagonistic. It was, after all, his thirteenth birthday. "I'm in here for stealing."
"What did you steal?" asked Bird.
"To feed my sister."
"And did you try to hide the fact that you were stealing?"
"Yes, of course."
"But you were stealing for what you felt was a good reason, correct?"
"Yes, of course."
"So, you were hiding something good because you were doing something bad, but you were doing something bad, because you were doing something good. Bad and good, black and white have shades of gray." Bird lifted his black and white wings and pointed his beak at his gray chest as if to drive home his point.
"Bird, you're giving me a headache. I'm already tired and strained from a day of scribing, so free me, or leave."
"I am not going to free you—"
"I knew it!"
"Why not yet? I've been in here for five years!"
"You're not ready."
"Not ready! I get only a fist of bread in the morning, a slice of cheese at midday, and a fist of bread for evening! And the only reason I get cheese is because they noticed the scribes die off less and get more done if given a piece of cheese every day! I'm whipped if I don't get enough work done, and I'm whipped if I do get enough work done! I almost died once from a beating, and I've not stepped outside this dungeon for five years! I never see the sunlight because I work during the day by candlelight in the scriber's cavern, and at night, I see only the moon lighting the night sky. I try to sleep, but am greeted by nightmares. What on earth would make me ready to escape if not these things?"
Bird looked at him, tilted his head right, and then tilted his head left. "Definitely not ready," he asserted. With a nod of his head, Bird flew off.
"Come back!" Boy screamed.
A passing night guard banged a club on the boy's cell door. "Silence in there!"
Boy rolled into a ball and began to cry quietly.
The next morning, the guard came to fetch Boy. This same guard had fetched him every day for the past five years. The guard was huge, some six and a half feet tall. He wore a leather vest and pleated skirt and sandals, and always held a very thick club with pointed iron spikes. An iron helmet that fastened in front of the mouth allowed only his dark eyes to peer from the cold metal. A large, dark raven's feather plumed the helmets crown.
The only words Guard ever spoke to Boy were, "Time to scribe." The words sounded muffled given the impersonal clasp that hid the man's mouth. The guard would then unlatch the iron door and lead Boy to the scriber's room, a clay walled area with a large wooden table and stools. Guard then attached Boy's ankle to the table with a chain. Torches and candlelight lit the dark table boards.
Day after day, Boy dipped his iron-tipped wooden pen into ink and copied the Sixteen Absolute Laws, referred to only as 'The Absolutes.' The High Ruler of the Iron Hall had authored 'The Absolutes.' and had ordered copies posted on every commoner's door in each of the seven cities.
Boy glanced down at the master copy of 'The Absolutes' placed on the table before him. It was his duty to make copy after copy, day after day, week after week.
The Teachings are to be administered by the Council of Twelve in each of the seven cities.
Three hundred first-born of nobility will elect each Council of Twelve. One of the twelve will be appointed Lord or Lordess as Proconsul, and these said elected officials would in turn elect two representatives of nobility to sit on the High Council of Twenty-four acting as pleators for their respective cities. All officials are elected for life.
The High Ruler of the Iron Hall must be of nobility and be elected for life by the Council of Twenty-four and will remain unwed.
Each of the Councils of Twelve will have supreme powers of government in interpreting the Teachings, or Six Sacred Scrolls, and the order of Law descends from the High Ruler of the Iron Hall to the seven councils of the Seven Cities.
Each Council of Twelve will hold trials to condemn or acquit an accused of civil matters and lesser offenses are punishable by imprisonment and the more serious by the severing of a finger and treason by death on a cross.
All trials will take place in the Judgment Hall for the City in which the offense took place. An unresolved trial will move an accused to the Fourth City where the High Ruler of the Iron Hall will determine judgment. The same applies for crimes against the Continent.
Commoners are not to discuss, read, write, interpret, or possess the Teachings.
The High Seraph is a myth and must not be spoken of.
Airborne Counselors will instruct only first-borns of nobility for it is an abomination for an Airborne to counsel a commoner, and each council member will pass judgment under guidance of her or his respective Airborne.
Each of the Seven Cities will erect and maintain the four mandated structures according to the prescribed structural design, which includes the Judgment Hall, Prison, Quarry, and Mind Sculpting Center or MSC.
Lords and Nobles will adhere to the covenant of the neck rings.
All Landlings will tithe ten percent to the High Ruler of the Iron Hall on the biannual trek of the Feast of Adoration. Half of the nobility will send tithes at the summer feast and the remaining half at the winter feast as directed by the city Law-ers.
Give of the first fruits as prescribed in subsection XIII to the Council of Twelve in your respective cities on the twenty-fourth day of each month in order to subsidize both the Council and required structures.
All four-legged creatures are cursed to be Servants of Burden to the Landlings who care for the Continent.
Gunners are warriors of Noble descent trained to maintain the peace and as such are to be obeyed and permitted to enforce order and are trained for war. No commoner can participate in the trainings.
Honor the High Ruler of the Iron Hall.
Boy had watched many scribes die off from hunger or beatings until there were only a few scribes left. Sometimes there would be a new scribe or two also making copies, each one chained to a table leg like him. Boy thought these new scribes were new to the art as indicated by their unskilled scribbling.
The scribes were not permitted to speak to each other. For if one scribe so much as glanced in the eye of another, both scribes would be whipped by Guard.
Today, Boy sat at the table and thought about the strange visit from the songbird. It was the first conversation he'd had in five long years. It had been a cruel joke to promise to free him, and then just fly off. Boy tried not to let his tears run onto the cypress page. If he were to smear a word, the beating would be horrible.
Twelve hours later, after a two-minute break that permitted Boy to swallow a piece of cheese, Guard led him back to his cell and tossed a fist of bread onto the dirt floor.
Boy grabbed the bread and bit it ravenously.
"Hello again," said Bird.
Boy looked up gulping the bread down his dry throat. "What do you want, to make me more miserable?" His stomach churned from sadness, but Boy attributed this agitation to hunger.
"No. I have come to cheer you up."
"Then free me as you promised!"
"No. You must first share your bread with me."
Boy dropped his jaw. "You're a sick bird! I'm starving to death, and you have free range of the earth! You should share your food with me!"
"I will share food with you," replied Bird.
"Where is it then?"
"There are many types of food. I have food to eat that you know nothing about."
"Where is it?" Boy demanded.
"You're a liar!"
"To trust, or not to trust," Bird mused.
Boy took another hungry bite, noting he had only one bite left.
"I'm waiting," said the bird.
Boy chewed slowly as he thought about Bird's request. He looked up at Bird, down at his bread and glanced up warily again at Bird. It is sad to admit, he thought, but if I don't give this bird a piece of bread, he might not come back. Whether or not the ornery bird freed him, this cruel visitation was the only interaction with outsiders he could recall since his imprisonment.
"Fine." Boy pinched a small piece of bread from his last bite, and threw it up to the clay sill.
Bird took the piece of bread and flew off.
"I hate you!" screamed the boy. He curled into a ball trying not to cry, but cried himself to sleep anyway.
In the middle of the night, Boy was awoken by a sound. He sat up. The sound was the loveliest he had ever heard, and it was coming from the windowsill. The light from the moon showed the warbler sitting on the ledge, the bird's orange-gray breast heaving in and out, as he sang from low to high, chirp, chirping quick patterned sweet notes to long drawn out full tones. Boy stared in silence. Moisture rolled from the corners of his eyes. He scarcely breathed for fear the song would stop, but the singing continued on and on, finally lulling the boy back to sleep. It was his first sleep without nightmares in the five years of his imprisonment.
The next evening, Boy waited, bread in hand. He stared at the windowsill. His heart fluttered when the flap of wings arrived.
Boy pinched a piece of bread, threw it up onto the sill, and watched to see what would happen next.
"Why, thank you," said Bird.
"What are you going to do tonight?" Boy asked in a hushed voice.
"Last night, a song, tonight a story."
Boy was silent. The silence filled the air with expectation.
"Heh, hem," Bird cleared his throat. "Tonight, I will tell you of the High Seraph—"
"No! Shush! You must not!"
"No, really, I must."
"No, you mustn't!"
"Why mustn't I?"
"It's a crime to speak of such things!"
"I am an Airborne. They can't do anything to me."
"But they'll punish me if I listen!"
"What can they do? Throw you in prison?" Bird chuckled.
"They might cut off one of my fingers!"
"You'll have nine left then. Now let's see, where shall I begin."
Boy crept close to the wall beneath the sill, and then glanced wide-eyed at the bars to see if the night guard was approaching.
"The High Seraph, Eloam, is a giant white bird with a wingspan of forty feet. His eyes are crystal blue and his sharp beak, golden. He speaks things into being. He says a word, and it is so."
"The High Seraph is a myth! I write this each day in the High Ruler's law."
"Of what you write you know not. I myself have seen the Seraph at the top of the Scrimshaw Tower, and don't interrupt me, or I won't finish the story."
Boy half thought it might be better not to finish the story. He glanced again at the bars, but seeing no guard, remained silent.
"Now, where was I ... ah, yes. The High Seraph speaks things into being. His greatest creation on the Continent was Lord Gargoyle, a most incredible creature, for he was an Airborne with a beautiful brown wingspan of some twenty feet, and he was given a face, legs, and a torso just like you Landlings.
"But the High Seraph made a mistake—a regrettable, unrepeatable mistake. He wanted Lord Gargoyle to be able to create and in wishing this gift for him he gave him hands. Seeing that this combination was very effective, High Seraph created thousands upon thousands of gargoyles.
"But giving Lord Gargoyle hands and the ability to fly turned out terrible. It made the gargoyles powerful—far more powerful than Airborne's with beaks and wings. And Lord Gargoyle led the gargoyles to do dreadful things. Eloam, the High Seraph, to this day, has never again allowed for this combination on the Continent. That is why Airbornes don't have hands, and Landlings don't have wings. Only in the After-sky is this permitted for it is the Land of Hands and Wings."
"I don't believe in the After-sky," said Boy. "But what did Lord Gargoyle do that was so dreadful?"
"Lord Gargoyle decided that if he could create like the Seraph, he should possess the Emerald Scepter to rule the Landlings, and a battle was waged in the air for control of the Continent.
"The High Seraph did not want war, and offered to appease Lord Gargoyle. He told him he could have dominion over all the Airbornes, that he could feast freely on the sea creatures, and coast on air currents through silver-lined clouds, and even assist the Landlings as the Seraph directed, but that Lord Gargoyle could not possess the Emerald Scepter, for the Landlings must learn to govern themselves."
"And Lord Gargoyle didn't agree?" asked the boy.
"No," said Bird. "Lord Gargoyle insisted upon receiving the scepter."
"But why not let him rule the Landlings? What difference could it make? If Lord Gargoyle was good enough to govern the Airbornes—if he was the Seraph's 'greatest creation,' as you say—why not let him rule the Landlings?"
"A self-righteous rule is merciless," said Bird.
Boy squinted at him while trying to process this information. "So what happened? Did the battle end?"
Excerpted from The Parables of Ancient Earth by H. D. ANYONE. Copyright © 2013 H. D. Anyone. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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