Lion Heart

The shadow world has always fascinated Kojo. From his mother's stories when he was young, to being certain Saskia is now there; this fascination has almost taken over his life. But can the mysterious Tsar's daughter help him? Can they together find out why he, and many other 15 year olds have been taken to this remote camp? Does anyone have the answer?

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1. Chapter One.

I crept silently through the undergrowth my feet as light as feathers on the earth below me. I was barefoot and it reminded me of how things had been before. Saskia and I had barely worn shoes as children. I’d left my shoes at the compound, hidden under the broken floorboard. If any mud or debris from the ground had been found on them I’d be for it.

I found it fascinating that we didn’t just fall straight through the dry ground, how our feet could pound the ground day after day but never break it. Every day I thought about how if I kept digging, making my way through all the dirt and plants, I would eventually reach Saskia's body. What would I do? Embrace it? Tell her I was sorry? Tell her I was still in love with her even though she was gone, dead and buried under the unforgiving earth? It wouldn’t matter though. It was only her body; her soul was in the shadow lands. If I kept on digging until I had grown old and weary, my bones bent and hair white, I would eventually reach the centre of the earth and I would see my dear Saskia again.

I would watch the dead dance and sing, skip in circles around me while they glorified in my aliveness while smirking about my inevitable death. They would ask me how their families were and how the world had changed since they had left. I would clasp the hands that were offered and tell them about the world. I would tell them I was king, the tsar of the whole land with my tsarina Saskia beside me. I would tell them of the life we shared, the wonderful feasts and laughter we enjoyed. I would tell them of the beautiful holidays we took on the island every summer, drifting the day away by taking long boat trips and sunbathing on the golden shores. I would describe the balls we held and tell them the meticulous detail of everybody's finery. But they would sense the lies in my voice. The dead would cast me out of their domain, sending demons and fire creatures after me. They wouldn't even let me see Kia and I would land in my bed again, eyes open with shock and sweat beading my body. It was the nightmare I had every night. I missed Saskia more than anything in the world.

I pushed a palm tree leaf out of my way, smelling the peculiar scent that Feradon had at this time of year. I didn't like it. It reminded me of the way Saskia had smelt. The days after Saskia had died; I had refused to talk and refused to get up from my bed. They told me to stop grieving for a woman; they should be nothing to men. General had grabbed me from my bed and shouted into my ears 'is the talk I’ve been hearing true?! You won't rise for duty because a girl is dead? Listen boy, they're here for cooking and cleaning and fucking. They're good for nothing else and I mean it. They have no other use in this god damned world! Hell, they're even the servants in the shadow lands! Get out of this bed and get ready or I’ll hand you over to Alec. Now you wouldn't like that would you, young Kojo?" He said my name with a sneer. I was supposed to be addressed by Kallum now, but I’d refused so defiantly none of them even tried any longer. Not that many people talked to me anyway. But I had known what he was saying wasn't true. Women were queens in the shadow lands. I had seen it in my dreams. Saskia had sent me them, I was sure.

Finally, I reached our tree. K M and S H were scraped into the bottom of the trunk, the letters Saskia had hastily scratched into the bark were still as clear as the day she'd made them, 5 years ago maybe. I traced them lightly with my finger. My heart still ached whenever I thought of her. My fault. Scrabbling to find the foothold, I hoisted myself onto the lower branch and then higher and higher and higher. Up at the top I had a perfect view of the lake. The water glittered menacingly as if to say you dare? You think you can escape me? Try then little soldier, try and escape me. But I couldn't escape; I couldn't escape from anywhere or from anyone. Up here I could also see the little white girl who sat here every single day. She was always here when I was. Her back was to me, like it always was. She traced the same letter into the sand repeatedly. S. S for the sea, S for the sky, S for summer. S for Saskia. She sat cross legged before the water and she moved so little it was unnerving. Her white cotton dress seemed to move around her as if an invisible spirit inhabited the material. I knew who she was. She was Lady Alexcia; the Tsar and Tsarina's daughter.

Despite myself, I sub consciously registered the fact that she was beautiful. Even barefooted, hair in tangles and mud splattering her white dress, she was radiant. We had all grown up hearing about the Tsar's daughter, how her parents were very protective of her, even though her father scorned her slightly because of her sex. Their son, Luca, was a very high up general. But then he would be, being the Tsar's son. I'd seen him on only one occasion and all I remember was a very tall, stern looking man with a shock of white blonde hair. He and Alexcia looked nothing alike. Her with her soft caramel curls and him with his shockingly fair hair. There had always been rumors  Her mother had allegedly had an affair with one of the Tsar's advisers when he had been on a business trip. I'd also heard that she’d been an accident. The Tsar and Tsarina were getting older and Alexcia couldn't be older than I was.

She stood suddenly, and I ducked to cover myself, wincing as the sound of the leaves rustling echoed like a gong being shattered. Alexcia snapped her head round quickly, a look of pure surprise on her face. She obviously hadn't realised anyone had been there. I'd had a feeling she met secretly here with admirers as I had once found a discarded belt and a bracelet I had assumed was hers, as I took a detour home along the lakeside. She scanned the area with suspicion, and then seemed to decide it was safe.

She took one last look then dived into the lake. I couldn't believe my eyes. What was she thinking? Didn't she understand the dead worshiped the depths of the waters? I knew I should jump in and save her from their torturous hands but something held me back. I couldn’t enter the murky depths. I couldn’t do it. I was scared. I was too scared. I couldn't face their murdering hands that would twist and snap your bones, contorting your body. I couldn’t bear to face her. To face Saskia. I watched her swim to the other side forgetting altogether I was in complete view of her.

She had been a pinnacle part of my upbringing, this girl who was the same age as me but was so completely different from me. I had often wondered what it would be like to be a princess, the daughter of the wealthiest man in our small country. My mother always told me that she was unlike her parents, that she was different. I had no idea what she meant by this or how she knew that, but I believed her because it was my mother’s word and I valued that more than anything. She dragged herself onto the muddy bank of the lake opposite and sat up. It was then she saw me. Our eyes locked, hers reflected only shock and curiosity, mine must have been burning with fear. She gave me a quizzical look but smiled slightly, lifting a hand in a small greeting. I ran then and I didn't look back. What was I doing? Everything I had done that evening was going to get me killed. I couldn't even remember why I was out here. How had it got so late? I guessed time passed fast when you were thinking about death.

I raced to the compound, my feet slapping the cracked ground until I reached the metal doors of my quarters. Yanking them open, I let out a breath I hadn't even realized I had been holding and slid down the side of the door. I was safe. For now.

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