THE IRON GATE

Prologue - Part One:


The constant clangs and cracks of the miners at work filled the mind of every living person in the small vicinity on the outskirts of the kingdom. The miners' arms swung up in arcs over their heads, then plummeted back down smoothly, hammering the pickaxes down into the black rock surrounding. Small fractions of the rock crumbled down to their feet, but rarely did even a sliver of the substance below it peek out.

The man in charge—a large, burly fellow—watched with hawk-like eyes by the mine entrance, beefy arms crossed over his chest, an unmoving statue. The only signs of life emanating from him were the slowly roving eyes and the occasional barks of orders and insults at miners who weren't working fast enough.

Further into the cavern, Ohen Inescha raised work-hefted arms for the umpteenth time since his shift began, feeling the stabs of pain and weariness through his arms and chest, but ignored them, throwing his arms back down. With a dull crack, a slightly larger piece of rock tumbled down to his feet with a clatter that didn't carry further than three feet.

With exhausted eyes, he peered dully down at the rock, kicking it with his booted toe, but saw no hint of silver in the resounding black. He sighed, feeling sweat trickle down his neck and back, but blinked back his fatigue and raised his arms again. He was doing this for them—for his wife Jacielle, and for their five-year-old son, Jakeihs. Both of whom he had left back at their home.

His arms arced down, and he unwillingly pulled back his arms to hit it down again. He needn't go through this pain, this never ending tiredness and the hunger that accompanied it. He needn't tough out the harsh nights in the heat or the storms. It had been a month since he had last seen his loved ones, and even then he had only been back a week before he was sent back out again.

Gritting his teeth, Ohen smashed his tool back into the rock. He had a way out of it. He always had. He needn't work in these godforsaken mines and conditions for money that barely kept him and his family alive. He worked as often as he could without risking permanent injury, and yet did they have any money left on the side to use at their leisure?

The hammered rock seemed to crack out his answer. No. They had nothing to show for his days of slaving in the mines, working literally until he dropped, starting the day at the crack of dawn, days, and days, and days on end.

Bringing his arms down again, he let out another sigh. But he was doing it for Jacielle. They had both sworn they would tough out the times—and the pain, hunger and fatigue that accompanied them—to keep their son safe. They couldn't resort to what measures they had. They couldn't risk Jakeihs to be harmed from their practices, or from any others who sought them out. If they used the sources they once relied on, they would put the boy in the spotlight, in danger. So they refrained, no matter what that cost would be.

The days flew by, blurring together in an endless stream of crumbling rock, swinging arms and jolting pains throughout every working man's body, until they were told the four words they had strained their ears to listen out for ever since they had arrived at the mines.

"You can go home."

For Ohen, it seemed a little hazy after that. He saddled his horse wearily and rode away from the mines as fast as he could, racing back towards the heart of the kingdom. He never knew where the other miners had lived; he had never bothered asking. Nor did he know where the people in charge retired to once the work was done. All he knew was that he was returning home to Cassedeuil, to his wife and his son, and that was all that mattered.

The road he took swerved and bended, rose and fall, but he took his rests sparingly. He would be home in less than a week. Sometimes, he rode for hours without seeing another living soul, whereas other times, he had trouble weaving his horse through the endless stream of bodies. The days ticked by, and his mind often wandered, back to the days where a hard life seemed fantasy and imprudent. If he had known back then the hardships he and Jacielle would have to face, he would have concealed what they could do. Maybe then life would be easier now…

Ohen's horse stopped abruptly, rearing back with a whinny before its rider soothed it, petting its neck and peering out into the quickly darkening evening. He could make out a figure, neither growing larger or smaller, simply staying where it was. Uncertain, Ohen glanced around, but saw no one else.

"Excuse me," he called, jumping off his horse, holding the reins firmly in his hand. His free hand tensed, and with a fleeting impression of despair, he let it relax. "Are you alright?" He strained his eyes to see past the blanket of darkness enveloping the figure, and he took a tentative step forward before a voice floated out to him.

"Thank you. But I'm fine, Ohen Inescha." Ohen stopped abruptly. "The question is: Are you alright?" The voice belonged to a woman, smooth and soft, though she did not come any closer. Ohen leaned back, eyes trained on the figure, but his feet shuffling back warily.

"What did you call me?" he asked, eyes darting around again. Common sense told him to find out as much as he could without giving anything away himself, though his slight sense of worry told him that perhaps this person already knew things even he did not know about himself.

When the woman spoke again, it was with the same softness as the first time she spoke. "I called you by your name, Ohen. Yes, I know who you are," she added. Ohen swallowed back a sudden fear and shook his head in the darkness. How could she know? How could she know anything about him? He shook the thought off. Surely it would not be difficult to know of the many who worked in the mines. A name was just a name. It didn't necessarily match up with a history.

And yet…there was something about the way she had said his name that made him unsure. It was knowing, yet gentle; wise, yet empathetic. He took another slow step forward, and then another. His horse walked quietly along side him, beady eyes glinting in the darkening light.

"I want to see you," Ohen said as he slowly approached the figure, uncertain if she would allow it or not. But the figure did not move.

"Of course."

Ohen held his breath as he stepped closer to the stranger. With every step he took, the darkness blanketing the woman began to fade, and eventually, just five feet from her, he stopped. Dark hair hung past her shoulders, down past and around dark eyes that watched him closely, though this wasn't what caught the man's attention. It was the mask. In the darkness, it glinted, the colours beautifully rich and vibrant as they swirled about her face, and as he stared, the swirls seemed to come alive, dancing about one another. Only the woman's voice snapped him out of his reverie.

"I see you, Ohen," she whispered, her eyes never leaving him. "And do you know what else I see? I see the darkness, swirling around you. I see your pain, your sorrow, your hope for change." The man stood rooted to the spot, finding himself unable to will himself to move. Though as he looked at her closer, he saw that her eyes, while looking at him, weren't actually seeing him at all. He stared in confusion.

"What—"

"But that is not all I see." The woman's eyes were unfocused. She shook her head and whispered, "No, not all I see. You have a son who adores you, who believes that you fight the evils when you leave him. You have a wife who loves you, who wishes you never had to leave them, who wishes there is another way but cannot find one. And that love will grant you a gift, Ohen. I see Jacielle, I see her…"

Ohen blinked and started, "How did you know—"

"She will give birth to new life, one year from now," the woman breathed. Ohen's breath caught in his throat. "She will give you three daughters. One will see what was and will be; one will see through the eyes of those around her; and one will have the power to change past to present."

The man stared in awe and amazement. "Daughters," he whispered with smile of wonder. "Three daughters." A slowly rising elation began to build within him merely at the thought. They were going to have daughters. Their family was going to grow. Jakeihs would have sisters. He and Jacielle wouldn't have to feel so alone every time Ohen had to go away.

But as the woman before him stiffened, his smile began to disappear. She reached out a hand towards him, palm open. Tentatively, he placed his own hand in it, and jumped when her hand suddenly closed around his.

"But be warned, Ohen Inescha," the woman whispered, her soft voice taking on a harsher edge. Her eyes were glinting in the darkness, unfocused, unseeing of him or their surroundings, but something completely different. "With the birth of your children will come the death of one you love, and the beginning of an era borne of destruction. The Dark Ones will come for you, and for your children."

A cold fear trickled through Ohen's blood and he felt the colour drain from his face. Dark Ones? Who were they? What did they want with him, with his family, with his unborn children? Did that mean that they knew about him and Jacielle, and what they could do? Panic stricken, he forced down the lump in his throat and whispered, "What do I do?"

The woman drew his hand closer to her, eyes lost on his face. "You must do as your heart tells you, on the day of your children's birth," she answered. "Whatever it is your heart is telling you, you must oblige. You must follow its commands. You must protect your children for as long as you can." She squeezed his hand, her voice dropping even lower. "Follow your heart, whatever it says."

He looked at her face for a long time, fear slowly creeping up on him, until he jerked his hand away and stepped back, face pale. "No," he whispered, eyes wide. "No! How can you know this? How can you know who I am?" His voice became louder, almost shouting at the stranger. "I don't know who you are! I have never met you before! How can you say these things? How can you know this?"

The woman's eyes glazed over, and she became still for a very long time. Ohen shuffled back a few more steps, trying to settle his breathing and his racing heartbeat. He hadn't noticed her eyes focusing back on him—seeing him again—until she spoke softly, her voice back to the way it was when she had first said his name.

"I can see this, Ohen," she said quietly, an obscure emotion behind her eyes. "I see it…I see it all."

Ohen shook his head again and stumbled backwards, dragging his horse along with him. She didn't come after him. With shaking legs, he jumped back onto the horse, and then raced past the woman, dirt from the road flying up into the darkened sky, but he didn't look back around to see what had happened to her. He didn't look back once.


- She Doesn't Row