Here's a little sneak peek at Chapter One of The Crossways. This introduces a new character, quite important to the book, and one of my all time favorites.
The sharp crack of a whip cut through the air. A long, thin strip of leather sliced through the dark, tanned flesh on the boy’s back. He winced and bit his lip to hold back a scream. Down came the whip, again and again, sending searing pain through every inch of the boy’s body.
He strained at the ropes that bound his wrists to the whipping post. The knots held firm, he knew they would, and he also knew that to break free would result only in more severe punishment. As the lashes continued to fall, a scream threatened to break forth. He clenched his teeth together, determined to neither scream nor beg for mercy.
He caught sight of his sister’s face in the crowd of slaves that were forced to watch the beating. It was for her he was being beaten, for her he was determined not to cry out. Tears streamed down her face, creating streaks through the dirt. Just when he thought he could hold in his cries no longer, the blows ceased.
“Back to work!” the man with the whip bellowed at the slaves. The slaves turned and hurried away, having no wish to subject themselves to the punishment the boy had just received. But the boy’s sister lingered near. The man with the whip untied the boy’s hands and left him lying crumpled on the ground. The little girl hurried to her brother.
“Oh, Adriel,” she cried, “why must you always do it? I can’t bear to see you hurt.”
Adriel forced a smile. “What kind of a brother would I be if I didn’t?”
The little girl sighed. “Let me see.” She grimaced as she looked at Adriel’s bloody back. “You look awful.”
“I’m alright, Rae,” Adriel said. He climbed wearily to his feet, not quite suppressing a groan. Lucky he was young enough they didn’t whip him into a pulp, though that likely wouldn’t last long at this rate. Rae took his hand.
“I love you, Adriel,” Rae said.
“I love you too, Rae,” Adriel replied. But his emotional state was complicated by more than just his love for his little sister. As they walked hand in hand toward the cotton field where they were forced to labor day after day, Adriel’s anger and hatred for their captors mounted. Anger towards the strytes who had conquered Calhortz and enslaved its people, who had kept Adriel’s family in such unsanitary and careless conditions that it was a wonder all of his parents’ children had not died in infancy rather than just four. Slave owners who had sold four of Adriel’s siblings and his mother away. Overseers who had forced his father to work in the hot sun when he was ill, and not even given him a proper burial when he succumbed to the conditions.
Rae must have felt how tense he was becoming, because she squeezed his hand and said anxiously, “Don’t get angry.” He knew he should heed Rae’s warning . . . he had been whipped just as often for his defiance as for defending Rae’s inability to do all that was required of her. But his smarting back, his aching body, the blood running down and soaking into his pants, Rae’s timid, weak little form beside him . . . it was all getting to be too much to bear.
A whip cracked in the air. “Get to work, boy!” the overseer roared. “Or do you want another whipping and no dinner?”
Glowering, Adriel dropped Rae’s hand and went to work in the cotton field. Adriel’s anger simmered inside him all day long. His back was stiff and sore, and sometimes throbbed painfully, but it was no new sensation. Ever since he and Rae had been left alone, he’d been subjected to a new whipping just as soon as the last healed sufficiently. After eating the scant evening meal provided for the slaves, Adriel retired to the shack they shared with all the other orphan slaves. Adriel sat cross-legged on his blanket in the corner, and scowled at the ground.
Rae tiptoed over with a bucket of water and a small wooden bowl of salve. She knelt beside him. “Adriel, do let me clean the blood off your back,” Rae begged.
Adriel still scowled at the floor. Rae dipped a rag in the water and laid it on Adriel’s back.
“Ouch!” Adriel exclaimed. “That hurts, Rae.”
“It’s okay,” Rae soothed, sounding much older than her six years. “I just have to clean it up a bit, and then I can put some of Selima’s salve on it.”
Adriel grumbled under his breath, but sat still as Rae cleansed the lashes. Her gentle fingers rubbed an herbal salve over his raw back and into the wounds. It stung a bit at first, but gradually the healing power of the herbs drew out the pain. Rae’s soft touch on his skin felt so like their mother’s. He squeezed his eyes shut. The strytes had stolen their mother from them.
“There, now,” Rae said. “Don’t you feel better?” Adriel turned to look at his sister. Her brown skin, deeply tanned by long hours in the sun complemented her long black hair nicely, though the hair was rather ragged at the edges. Her dress consisted only of an old feed sack with holes cut for her arms and head, and a rope knotted around her waist. Yet her brown eyes shone, reflecting a spirit very different from his own.
“Yes, Rae,” he said. “I’m sorry I snapped at you.”
Her face lit up with a smile. “I’m so glad you’re feeling better! Here,” she handed him an extra pair of pants, “change into these. The ones you’re wearing are so filthy.”
Though Adriel was fourteen and Rae only six, he sometimes felt as if she was older. He didn’t mind. He loved his little sister, and she was the one person left to him he didn’t mind obeying. Rae tucked Adriel’s dirty pants against the wall, then took his hands in hers.
“Now we must pray.” She closed her eyes. “Dear God, thank you for letting us live again today. Thank you for letting Adriel and me stay together. Thank you for taking care of us . . .”
Adriel watched his sister’s face as she prayed. She was so earnest, so sure that God was there, that He was taking care of them. Adriel wasn’t so sure anymore. If God was there, if He really cared about them, why did He let such terrible things happen? Why had He let Adriel’s mother and siblings be sold away? And why did He let his father die so cruelly?
“. . . and please let the promised ones come soon to set us free . . .”
The promised ones. The prophesied children from another world who would come to deliver the Calhortans from the hands of the strytes. Rae believed the prophecy. Adriel’s mother had believed it as well. But if the prophecy was true, where were the promised ones? Many said the Time Captives of Crannig Castle were the promised heroes. Maybe they were, but if so, they weren’t doing a very good job of freeing the people.
“. . . and please bless Adriel and help him learn to control his temper. Amen.” Rae opened her eyes and grinned up at Adriel.
“It’s time to go to sleep, Rae,” Adriel said.
“Alright.” Rae settled down on her blanket and was fast asleep in moments. Adriel lay down on his stomach, his wounded back exposed to the air, his arms crossed under his head. He sighed, then slowly drifted off to sleep.
© 2015 Morgan Elizabeth Huneke