by William King
El Jardín Perfumado (The Scented Garden)
I woke to the sound of bird song and that was very odd, although it didn't register as being odd immediately. I suppose that was because I still felt tired and had aches all over from the journey, I just wasn't sure I was awake. When I heard the sound of water cascading I was sure I was dreaming.
Sitting up, I threw off the dirty old blanket and looked around, wiping the sleep from my eyes, but more than the sight of the wonderful greenery that surrounded me, more than that, I was bathed in the sweet scents of the flowering shrubs. Their different odours mixing together like some expert perfume maker was concocting his greatest work.
As I stood up I saw the water cascade which fell off a flat moss covered rock into a pool that was irresistibly inviting. I didn't care if it was a dream, I couldn't think about things anymore, I removed my clothes and shoes and walked naked towards the pool. The water was cool as it lapped around my feet, the shallow shelf at the edge belied the deepness a step further in. I fell down into the pool, swimming now to keep my head above water.
I ducked under, swam a few strokes towards the cascade, then pushed back off a rock, lying now on my back looking at the blue sky. That was when I noticed the white wall surrounding the pool and the round tower that seemed to disappear upwards to meet the sky.
After travelling all day across a barren sun baked wasteland this was paradise. Finally, tired of splashing in the pool I made my way back to the edge and pulled myself out. When I was out of the water, as I raised my head to get up, I was confronted by someone standing over me. Confronted is perhaps not quite the right word, I was shocked, startled. I stood up almost falling backwards into the water, but two arms reached out and held me, pulling me back and stopping my fall.
It would seem impossible, but there standing in front of me, holding me by both arms was Jabez. I embarrassed him, I hugged him and pulled him close to me, I kissed his lips and a tiny tear fell from the corner of my eye. I was about to speak, I had a hundred questions for him to answer, but he looked straight into my eyes and touched his finger to my lips.
He whispered, his warm breath on my ear. "We must go."
He led me by the hand towards a gate or door in the wall I had glimpsed from the pool. I bent down to pick up my clothes, but he indicated to leave them. At that moment I noticed he was dressed exactly the same as the last time I had met him in the Palacio de los Sueños. We hurried through the gate, turned right and entered a white walled corridor through an archway. Jabez had let go of my hand, but he looked back over his shoulder to be certain I was keeping up.
The corridor was narrow and completely closed, but small holes in the ceiling let through enough sunlight to lighten the passage. We moved along over these little spots of light that made circles on the floor. Finally, we stopped facing what looked like a strong oak door with diamond shaped metal studs encrusted into it. Jabez reached into the pocket of his robe and withdrew a large silver key. He quickly inserted the key into the door, turned it and pushed open the door, which slowly revealed a spiral stone staircase no wider than the corridor.
This must be the tower I had seen, I wasn't sure, but somehow I thought it must be. Jabez moved ahead of me quickly climbing the stairs, there was only room for one person, I followed behind. Round and round, the climbing was tiring and I was starting to feel dizzy.
"Come on," he said, stopping briefly and turning back to face me. "There is no time to lose."
'No time to lose.' The words rang in my head, 'No time to lose.'
We reached a small platform and I followed Jabez out through an opening onto a sort of parapet. When I looked down, I had to reach out and grip the stone wall, the height and the climb left me feeling light headed.
"There!" Jabez pointed to a courtyard way below where I could just make out some figures, the tiny shadows of people moving. "We have to get there now." I heard the urgency in his voice.
Back down the staircase, it was not too far below when we slipped through an opening I hadn't noticed on the way up. Completely out of breath now, we had reached a view point just slightly above the courtyard. Even Jabez was breathing heavily.
"What's happening?" I asked, but he gave no reply.
I looked at the scene below, it seemed familiar. The figures I had seen as little shadows from the tower I could now see were the boys from the Palacio de los Sueños. There was a man standing next to a sort of bench and two men in dark suits sitting in chairs opposite. I wasn't sure, but I think these were the same two men who were being entertained the other night.
I studied the scene and when doing so I suddenly realised a boy was bent over the bench, there were only three other boys standing in a row, like silent witnesses to something that was about to take place. I felt uneasy, a sick feeling in my stomach.
"What's going on?" I demanded to know now and Jabez replied this time.
"The boy is being punished," he replied.
"Why, punished for what, how?"
He didn't need to explain further, I saw the man who was next to the bench walk over to the three boys and he was brandishing a whip. 'No, no!' I screamed inside my head, this can't happen.
In an instant I was out through the way we had come and down the staircase. I came up against a thick wooden door and pushed it, but it didn't move. I leaned my shoulder into the door and with all my weight I pushed again. It protested, but opened.
I ran out across the courtyard, blinded by the bright sunlight, I reached the boy who was tied to the bench as the man with the whip approached. There was no time to think, no time to do anything, just one thing was possible. I covered the boy with my body, leaning over him, it was not difficult, he was much smaller than me. I felt his skin against mine, I felt his body trembling.
'Crack!' The whiplash broke the silence, cutting through the air like a knife and slashing a diagonal line across my back.
I woke with the noise and commotion, people were running around in the still semi-darkness, it was not yet dawn. For some reason I couldn't move, I was frozen in the back of the truck. Lightning lit the sky with electric streaks, the sound of thunder crashed through the silent air. I realised why I couldn't move, the branch of one of the only trees for miles around had broken and was laying halfway across the truck trapping me under the tarpaulin.
I could smell the burnt wood from the tree the lightning must have hit. Another bolt of thunder startled me with the light and noise. It was then I briefly glimpsed the driver scrambling into the cab. The motor roared into life, the headlights shot two bright rays of light into the distance. The truck jolted forward with the sound of wood against metal, I stayed as low as possible to the floor of the truck and listened as the branch slid back off the truck, freeing the truck and me, but taking the old tarpaulin with it.
In the early morning light of the day, just as the sun was about to peak over the horizon, it was obvious that no real damage had been done. That is to say, the truck had a few more knocks and scratches, nothing much new there.
The storm had disappeared as quickly as it had come. Absolam asked me how I was and I guess I was fine. There was a large scratch on my forehead which I looked at in the broken mirror of the truck, nothing serious. My body ached, but that was probably from travelling all day in the back of the truck. Worse was the pain I had across my back and I couldn't see what it was.
I asked Absolam to take a look and he lifted my shirt. "You have a large red stripe across your back," he said. "It looks like a whiplash from a branch, but the skin is not cut."
It hurt like hell, but I would just have to bear it for the rest of the day, there was nothing else to do. The driver had cut half the tarpaulin free of the tree branch so at least I would still have shade in the back of the truck.
The day dragged on, the sun scorched arid ground gave up only a cloud of dust which swirled in spirals behind the truck obscuring the desert behind us in hazy mist that disguised everything, nothing was clear.
Nothing was clear in the landscape just exactly as nothing was clear in my head, I could not stop thinking about Jabez, all my hopes were somehow fixed on the idea that everything would be resolved when we reached Chiapas. In reality this was crazy, thinking that reaching a destination would magically bring things right, I knew deep down inside me that this was not true, but I had to fix my mind onto a tangible point or I risked getting lost and losing myself completely.
I just couldn't remember anything before the journey started, I didn't know how or even why I was travelling, I had only very few points of reference, I needed to get to Chiapas and I needed to find El Cuervo de Plata. The other things I knew were like the desert that stretched out in all directions, it's there before you, it's evident and dominating, you don't ask yourself what it is, because you know.
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