The Sleeping God
by Richard Ong
|part 1 of 5|
Julio stirred out of his bed at the sound of his name being called from afar. It must be the wind, he thought; and then he heard it again.
He peered through one eye from under the quilt and shivered. The wind howled from the north, a “whooing” sound that rolled down the mountain and rattled the shutters above his bed. The wind called out to him, “Let me in! Let me in!” Julio threw the blanket over his head and cried, “Please Paz, don’t take me with you tonight. I want to come home!”
He heard a roaring laughter that seemed to echo from afar. The laughter became a rumble and the bed shook violently under him. Something touched his shoulder and he screamed.
“Hush, Julio! You’re dreaming again.” Julio opened his eyes. Through the dim glow of a candle light above his head, he could see the young woman’s half-lidded eyes peering down at him. Her long, black hair fell like a cascading waterfall around her face.
“Sh-sh-sh. Keep quiet, child. It’s only a dream. No one’s going to get you. You’re safe here. Sh-sh-sh.”
“Lucinda?” He stared up at the beautiful face above him. She smiled like an angel and he immediately felt his fears melt away along with the fading memories of his nightmare. Even though he was only ten and might even be allowed this sudden burst of emotion, he nonetheless felt ashamed as he put his arms around her and buried his face on her shoulder so that she would not see him cry.
His tears stained the delicate cotton of her blouse, the same one she wore on her wedding night, when she became the thirteenth wife of the village king, Don Mateos de la Cruz, Julio’s grandfather. Although Lucinda was only sixteen years old, she loved his grandfather all her life and hardly left his side. Julio adored her like his sister and her kind heart and generosity were well recognized by everyone in the village, so Julio did not feel so bad in drenching her with his tears.
After some moments, he released her and smiled. “I’m all right, now that you’re here.”
“Oh, my dear child.” Her cheeks lifted though her eyes looked sad. She gently brushed Julio’s hair from his eyes. “I wish it were so.”
Julio froze. A cold shiver spread from his heart and engulfed his chest in suffocating numbness.
“He’s dying isn’t he? Grandfather is passing on.”
Lucinda nodded and her eyes suddenly welled with tears. “Yes.”
“But the medicine! The healer said that the medicine would work. Why is he passing on?”
“I don’t know. Your grand — my husband, they said, might be... might be... too old to heal.”
“I don’t believe that! I don’t! Grandfather still has many years ahead of him. He said so himself. He promised to be there when I come of age and take my place by his seat at the Great Lodge!”
“I know he did, Julio and I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry. Believe me when I say that no one cares more about you two than I, but I don’t know what else we can do.”
Suddenly, from the watery reflection of Lucinda’s eyes came an idea. It was a subject forbidden by the elders. It was a taboo that if broken was punishable by death through the eyes of their god. It was a possibility often whispered among the villagers and known to his playmates — joked about then forgotten for fear of their immortal souls. But it might be the only hope of saving his beloved grandfather. His eyes told Lucinda what he was thinking even before he uttered those words.
“No. I forbid it!”
“But Lucinda, it may be grandfather’s only chance of recovery. Please! We have to try. We owe it to him.”
“Paz can see everything beneath him. Paz knows what you are thinking. So please, Julio, do not think any more of these thoughts. Purge them out now before someone hears you.” She felt someone staring at her and her eyes darted quickly towards the half-open door of the room.
“Is anyone there?” she asked. But only the silence of the shadows greeted her in return.
“Lucinda.” Julio wiped his tears and got up from the bed. He slipped on his sandals and stood up facing his step-grandmother who was more like his sister. He was tall for his age and his head already reached up to Lucinda’s chin.
“I will go alone tonight and please do not stop me. I will beg Paz to spare me to let me through the path unharmed. I am my grandfather’s only heir and it is my right to go and get some help from outside. Please do not tell anyone. Please do not tell the elders where I’m going. Tell them you know nothing.”
“They will know, Julio. They will know! Besides, where else would you have gone to if not outside? They will suspect.” Her eyes darted once again to the half-opened door. She quickly crossed the room and closed it. She leaned her head against the door and listened.
“Lucinda? Is anyone...?”
“Shh!” she said and placed her hand over his mouth. She whispered, “I thought I heard or felt someone looking in.” After some moments, she took her hand from his mouth. “Perhaps it is nothing. I am just tense and we’ve been speaking of committing heresy.”
“I am so sorry, Lucinda,” Julio said. “But I have to do this. For grandfather.”
The beautiful young woman with her long dark hair and eyes like those of an angel took his hands and squeezed them gently. Then she hugged him fiercely to her breast and kissed him on his head and said, “I know you have to. I would too if I could, my dear child. But I must stay with your grandfather until... Promise me that you will return to us as quickly as you can.”
“I... I promise, Lucinda.” Once again he felt his tears streaming down his cheeks but he didn’t care. Not now. The great burden of responsibility — his grandfather’s life and the fate of his lineage bore down on him. On his coming back alive.
Lucinda gave him a half-smile. “You have grown up too fast, dear Julio. I can no longer see the child that woke up from the nightmare. This is a great burden that you chose to undertake and I respect it as I would my husband’s — no, as the king’s only heir. Very well then, I will pack your things with some food and walk with you as far as the bridge over the lake while darkness is still on our side. Then we will part and I want you to run as fast as you can across the bridge and through the gates towards the edge of the deadwoods.
“It is said that once you enter the deadwoods, you will see a dark path as you go in. This is the black trail of Paz. The holy book tells us that Paz once walked on the earth amongst men and these are his footprints. I am so sorry, Julio. I wish I could tell you more but for the past ten years only one man has ever been outside the village. His name is Ghotta. He is your only hope of passage through Paz and beyond his fiery domain.”
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Copyright © 2011 by Richard Ong