Monday 27 January 2014

The Abduction of Penelope

By Sarah Begg

 “Hurry up Crysta! Do you want to get stuck with kitchen duty again?” the caller raced across the fields holding her skirts high about her knees. Her long sandy hair streamed out behind her and her face was flushed from the exertion.
“Slow down, Penny!” Crysta came stumbling after her friend, breathing heavily and having difficulty keeping up. Her dark hair was plastered to her face and she cursed herself silently for agreeing to skip the evening classes in favour of visiting the meadows with Penny. Crysta knew that she would probably be given kitchen duty for a week for truanting, yet she could not resist the coercive power of her friend. Penny, on the other hand, would get no more than a scowl from Depeter, the High Priestess, who also happened to be Penny’s mother.
“Don’t you just love it out here?” said Penny, once Crysta had caught up. The latter looked sidelong at her friend, and felt the usual pang of envy. Penny was tall, graceful, and beautiful; her sandy hair falling to her waist, her bright blue eyes closed as she savoured the atmosphere of the fields. Yet not only was she graced with exceptional looks, she was the daughter of the High Priestess, miraculously conceived and born of a virgin – for her mother had never lain with a man yet was unaccountably blessed with a daughter. Penelope was proclaimed as a gift from the Gods, meant to succeed her mother and become a religious leader and symbol. Penny had been doted upon from the moment she was born, favoured amongst the priestesses in everything she did. Crysta, on the other hand, was the seventh daughter from a minor noble house – nothing but a burden on her family – and so was sent to the Temple of Bayoneth when she was six years old to begin her life as a devotee of the Gods.
“It’s lovely,” said Crysta sarcastically, her face burning. “Now can we hurry up and pick some flowers so we can get back? I’ll be in enough trouble as it is.”
“Oh Crysta, you’re no fun,” Penny opened her eyes and grinned at her friend, “I’ll race you to the next hill!” and she was off again, running down the side of the first hill and sprinting towards the next.
Crysta rolled her eyes and began to follow when a feeling of uneasiness swept over her. She stopped moving and glanced around. There was nothing unusual moving in the fields yet, inexplicably, fear began to creep up the back of her neck. The only movement she could see, aside from the softly swaying grass in the breeze, came from Penny, cavorting across the fields, oblivious to anything untoward.
But then Crysta felt the ground begin to vibrate beneath her feet, and looking down she saw a small pebble near her sandal begin to dance amongst the grass.
Stop Penny, she thought as she looked up, her eyes boring into Penny's back. Her throat felt stuck together, her body frozen to the spot. She willed her friend to heed her, but Penny was oblivious to her silent plea and continued on her cavort across the field. Then she heard the sounds, carried towards her on the wind – the beating of running hooves and the creaking of chariots. Crysta fell to her knees trembling – the noises were coming from all sides, yet she could not see the riders amidst the undulating terrain.
“Penny,” she whispered, finding her voice. Then louder, “Penny!”, but her voice shook and soon she was struck silent by fear.
Then Penny stopped and stood frozen, staring up at the nightmare forming atop the hill.
First the twin horses appeared, foaming at the mouth. They were black as midnight, their eyes glowing an evil red. Then the rider emerged, as if from a nightmare. He stood astride his chariot, lash in hand, dark cloak billowing out behind him as he sped downhill towards the lone girl standing in the field. He was dressed entirely in black, with black cloth covering his head and face, leaving a small partition for his piercing eyes. Cryst knew who he was instantly. The priestesses cautioned all the acolytes with tales of Lord Hayden, ruler of the city's corrupt and sadistic underworld. Crysta thought that they were simply stories – that no one cold possible exist living a life deep below the ground. Yet seeing this apparition before her – she had no doubts any more.
Crysta watched horrified as five more or these demon chariots appeared from all sides to converge on the girl, who still stood rooted to the ground, halfway up the hill. Crysta was shaking violently as she cowered on the ground, wanting to save her friend yet terrified that these beings would see her. She watched on as the first chariot reached the girl, and, just as the horses narrowly missed colliding with her, Penny threw up her arms in a feeble attempt to shield her face and was snatched up by the rider into his chariot. Wheeling around in a circle, the charioteer signalled with a gesture and the others formed up behind him into a V, and the chariots went pounding back up the hill and disappeared over the brink once more.
Crysta remained trembling and cowering on the ground for some time, until the ground stopped vibrating and she realised that the only sounds she could now hear were those that she was making herself. She shakily got to her feet and with the fear that they might return still within her, she sprinted as fast as possible back toward the Temple of Bayoneth, to bring the tidings to the priestesses.

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