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?


2. Chapter Two.

The metal door held my reflection, my face beaded with sweat and my hands bloody. I looked down at them. I had no idea how it happened. They were so scarred from the hard labor we were made to do that you could hardly notice the new scratches among the array that decorated my hands. I’d kind of become immune to the pain, there was no point complaining about it if you were going to feel it anyway.

That was something that my mother always drilled into me ‘Complaining won’t get you anywhere Kojo Mashurati. You’ve got to deal with the pain, and reap the rewards after. Are you listening to me? Deal with your demons and your angels will rise out of the ashes. Kojo, this is important.” She’d think I wasn’t listening, but I was. I always listened to what she told me. Back then, I wasn’t sure why I concentrated so intently on what she was telling me, I just did. I think I must’ve sub consciously, somewhere, known that I would be separated from her soon, forever.

I knew how to cope without her because she’d had to go away to work for someone, when I was about eight. She worked for those people for about three years, and then she was dismissed. I hadn’t known why. During that time I’d live with Saskia’s family. They had been some of the happiest days of my life and whenever my mother would come home to visit, there was nothing that made me happier than being with Saskia and her.

Those memories of her are my most treasured possessions. I have nothing to call my own, apart from my memories. My father was a bad man. He used to beat my mother, arriving home in a drunken state, ludicrous and violent. He never laid a finger on me, though. He tried to once but my mother blocked his way so defiantly that the blow he delivered to her face a moment later, didn’t even make her shake. She was the one person in the world who I loved more than anything, and I knew she would defend me until her last breath. My father died when I was 10. He had gotten into a drunken fight, the man he’d been in a brawl with had delivered death blow to his head. The man was prosecuted and jailed for what he did to my father.

Neither of us grieved for him. I found that strange, but my mother was adamant that we shouldn’t. He had been nothing but cruel to both of us, abusive and parsimonious. We never had any money because of him. I grew up in what you’d call poverty, but for me I was content with just living. I had no desire to live in luxury or have everything I wanted; I just wanted to be with my mother and for neither of us to have to live in constant fear of the demon my father was. Once he had gone out for the night, to drink and gamble, my mother would tell me stories of the shadow world. They became the things I lived for, the nights she would tell me of the world we passed into once we died. It intrigued me and terrified me at the same time, but I was constantly desperate for more stories about it. I would recite them to Saskia, painstakingly making sure I remembered every single detail. She loved them as much as I did. “Tell it again Kojo, please!” She would always say after I had finished, wanting me to repeat it again and again and again. And I would, because I loved her. I would’ve done anything Saskia. I still would do. But it’s hard for people to ask for things, when they’re dead. But I know Saskia’s a princess in the shadow lands. I can feel it.

The story I loved the most was the one where my mother described how the people were in the shadow lands. You see, in the shadow world our positions in society are reversed. My mother would say that was why generals and kings were so afraid to die. Because they knew they’d be the ones serving us. They’d be the ones taking orders from us, while we laughed at them, making them feel the humiliation they’d made us suffer. If that’s true, I cannot wait until I am able to do that to General Deverick. He is the most mean spirited man I have ever come across in my life, taking delight in other people’s fear and pain. He especially has it in for me. He hates me more than anyone in the rest of the compound. I have the scars to show for it. There has been more than one occasion where I have been made into a bleeding mess, my back unrecognisable from the lashes.

I was often unconscious after these beatings and would wake up in the girl’s quarters, with them tending to my wounds in silence. I knew they were only silent because the matron would be in the room. As soon as she left, they would begin to chatter, their meaningless talk soothing to my ears. They would sometimes talk to me, as they knew how close I’d been with Saskia. The last time I had been beaten was after Saskia died. Many of the girls had wept while they cleaned my wounds, grasped my hands and whispered words of comfort to me. They had all loved Saskia. Everyone had. They wouldn’t have offered me the words of commiseration if they had known I had caused Saskia’s death. No one would’ve.

I woke from my reverie at the sound of footsteps. This was not good. If anyone found me here I was as good as dead. There was no point running, I wouldn’t make it anywhere. The clanging of the metal doors would give me away. Better to stay here and face my punishment. That didn’t mean I wasn’t entirely terrified, which I was. It was almost like I could sense the pain that came with the whip, the agony as it tore into my skin, the blood that pooled onto the floor, coming to rest at the feet. During the ordeal I would stare into the pools of my own blood and imagine a world where Saskia was alive, where I wasn’t subjected to torture at the slightest mistake, where life was fair and worth living. I did that every time. If I’m honest, it didn’t really work but it managed to make me feel slightly better.

The steps were getting closer. I closed my eyes, willing for them to take a turn or another route. But I could hear they were heading straight for me. I knew I should really stand up, so that when they saw me I was facing it like a man. But I felt better sitting, my eyes shut, almost as if I was blocking the pain out. Blocking the horror that consumed me every time I faced the general. I heard someone enter. I didn’t open my eyes. Kept my head bent. It was better this way. I didn’t want to have to look at the pustuled face of the general until I really had to.

Instead, I heard someone whisper. Whisper. Why was the general whispering to me?

"Get into bed you fool! They'll whip you! You should've seen the state of poor old Linton. He's still bleeding; it's all over the dormitory floor. He keeps whimpering for his mom and, I feel bad because he'll never see her again will he? He won't right? I mean we don't get visits or nothing do we?" I looked up and stared at the figure across the room from me. It was a small boy. He had dirty blonde hair, white skin and a crooked smile.

He had a playful innocence around him; he looked like the kind of guy who would have every girl talking about him. I stared at him. Why was he here and why was he talking to me? Was there something wrong with him?

“Do you have some kind of death wish?” I asked him quietly.

“What?” He asked, laughing nervously.

“It’s just, you’re out of the dormitory, you’re shouting and you don’t have the uniform on. You look you want to be whipped.” I realised that I didn’t sound very friendly. It was hard once you were out of practice. I didn’t have any friends here. I didn’t want any. I didn’t want anyone apart from Kia.

“Who are you?” I inquired, trying to sound nicer.

“My name’s Caledon, but I’m Cal to my friends. I’m new, got here a few days ago. I haven’t seen you around before. Nice to meet you.”

He walked over to me and extended his hand; I shook it and stood up. I realised I was trying not to laugh. It was bizarre to me that someone could be so upbeat in this place.

He obviously hadn’t discovered any of the horrors the camp held within.

“Where did you come from? I’m guessing you’re not from Feradon. You’re white.” I hadn’t meant to cause any offence but Caledon blushed. I wasn’t sure why.

“I get that a lot. But no, I am from here. It’s strange, I know.”

I was shocked. I’d never seen anyone who’d grown up in Feradon who was white. I was amazed his family hadn’t been killed by people who lived here.

“You’re thinking how come I wasn’t killed, aren’t you? You’re thinking ‘how the hell did his family survive in Feradon?’” I nodded. I felt embarrassed; it was stupid of me to be so judgemental.

“My mother died when I was born. She was white, my father isn’t. He was a sailor, so he travelled a lot. When he found out my mother was pregnant with me, he stayed with her and gave up his job. When she died, he was heartbroken. I don’t think he could bear to stay where she lived, so he got on the next boat back to Feradon with me and the rest is history. He used to tell people I didn’t get out enough, which was the reason I was so pale. Used to say I ‘reflected sunlight’ or something like that.” Caledon flicked a small smile at me.

I returned it. It was funny, because I could imagine the people in Feradon just accepting it. People there weren’t really very educated, so they probably just thought it was a medical illness too complex for them to understand.

“So, I grew up there. I was bullied a bit. People took the piss out of my colour a lot. You probably would’ve been one of them.” Caledon shrugged like he didn’t care. It was probably true. I would’ve joined in, just because everyone else was. Not because I felt like that. Saskia wouldn’t have though. She would’ve been the person to stop everyone from doing it. The good samaritan.

“Then I was sent here. It was strange. They turned up and took all of us who were fifteen. I didn’t think they normally did that. Then I ended up here. What are we actually here to do?” I laughed, bitterly. The question that was constantly on everybody’s tongue. “I don’t know. No one knows, really. Not even Alec, though he pretends he does. Likes to make everyone else feel inadequate. Definitely not someone you want to cross.”

“I’ve met him already,” Caledon said to me, “He’s a bastard.”

I started to laugh, and nodded my head. “That’s the most accurate description of Alec I’ve ever heard. We better get back, someone will find us.”

Caledon nodded his head and we made our back to the dorm. The whole way back I had a tight knot of fear in my chest, but it wasn’t just for me now. If the general found me with Caledon, I wouldn’t be the only one who would be whipped. It would also mean that the general would beat Caledon too, just because he’d been with me. I couldn’t do that to him. We managed to sprint back to the room and get in without being seen.

I feel asleep that night with dreams of girls in white dresses, a baby who never really belonged and a shadow land girl smiling, her hand outstretched ready for me to take.

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