The guards at the gate stood firm. Although they were quite polite about it, they barred Falcon’s path as effectively as any portcullis.
“Sorry, sir, nothing personal. We’re not allowing anyone to leave.”
Falcon gestured at the deserted street behind him. “Nobody else is trying to leave.”
These weren’t the same guards who had admitted him into the city, but they seemed just as strict when it came to procedure. Falcon just wasn’t sure what the procedure for exit entailed and they weren’t telling him. He wondered if that was why there was no queue of locals desperate to leave backed up behind him. Perhaps they knew that it was more about jumping through official hoops than passing through a gate.
“Look, I don’t understand what the deal is here.” In the wake of the disaster visited upon swathes of the city, Falcon imagined everyone would want out. He’d commended himself on getting to the gatehouse early, ahead of the frantic rush. A rush that had yet to materialise. And the longer it delayed, the less frantic it would seem. “You’re saying if people lost everything, their homes, their belongings – ” He broke off as he flashed on an image of Ishmed. “Everything. If they’d lost everything and they came here looking to leave, to travel the desert in search of a new home, somewhere to rebuild their lives far away from this forsaken place, you would keep them here?”
“Technically?” Falcon blinked at the guard. And might have floored him if he hadn’t been propped up with a spear and flanked by five comrades-in-arms.
He had walked through district after district reduced to mud-logged battlefields. People cried. They wandered aimlessly, blinded by tears. They climbed the muddy hillocks that used to be their homes and set about them with shovels. Digging through the remains like archaeologists of the immediate past. Amid the devastation there had been one or two glimpses of hope. Grubby wailing children lifted from holes, filthy matted pets freed from would-be graves to run whimpering and feeling sorry for themselves. Heartening – and all the more to spur Falcon on towards the city gates.
And here was this man saying ‘Technically’.
“Did you just say ‘technically’?”
It was as well to make sure. Maybe Falcon had misheard. There was probably mud in his ears.
“Yes, sir. Technically.”
A fellow guard bowed his head a degree, almost apologetic. “Technically, it’s been official policy since ancient times, you see.” He nodded, directing Falcon’s attention to the still-empty street. “In truth, in practice, it is a policy that has not been needed for many a century.”
“We mean you no disrespect, sir,” said the first guard. “You are not native to Xandria and you cannot understand. Not yet. Disaster comes to us with cruel regularity. Had it not been for the policy laid down by the ancient city elders, why, there would be no city here. There would be no Xandria.”
“Indeed,” his comrade agreed. “But the people know now. They learned long ago. To stay, to endure, to rebuild. And to believe. Our salvation will find us one day. One day soon.”
He added this last in a hushed reverence. Then winked.
Falcon eyed the guard dubiously. He inspected the group of them. They were not about to budge and he had nothing to offer in the way of bribes. Their armour was spattered here and there with mud and it was evident they had weathered worse than any further protests he could offer.
He wondered how these men could regard him with such reverence while stubbornly keeping him prisoner in this forsaken city.
Then again, how could it be forsaken if nobody was permitted to leave?
And so the gates shall be closed even to the Saviour as they shall be for all. For in the denial of one path shall the true path be opened unto him.
And he shall be sore frustrated for his heart shall not be ready to embrace his true role. But as a gate may close in one’s face, so may a sun rise and reveal to one a light that cannot be denied.
It is the light of Truth.
It is the light of Enlightenment.
“Now, wait a minute,” said Falcon.
Which was an odd thing to say to a bunch of guards who were clearly not going anywhere. But still –
“Salvation. Saviour. I’ve been getting a lot of that since I got here. A bit too much, if you ask me.” Heaven knew what a tolerable amount might be, but it was all definitely too much at this point. “What the hell is going on?”
The soldiers looked at each other and exchanged gasps. “‘And he shall not know himself to be our Saviour’,” said one of them. And they all nodded sagely and not a little pleased with themselves.
Falcon frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean? Are you quoting scripture?”
“Sir, we are but humble soldiers,” explained the first guard, explaining nothing. “It is not for us to tell you of your great destiny. But we know who you are. All of Xandria knows.”
“They do?” Falcon doubted it. If they knew him, the late landlord of the Eye Of The Camel would not have been nearly so hospitable. “How’s that even possible? I’m a stranger here.”
“You have many questions, sir. It is natural.” The guard leaned forward on his spear. “Go. Seek your answers. They await you in the Prophesarium.”
The what now?
Falcon sighed. Hell, he was stuck here and it wasn’t as though he had anything better to ask.
So he asked the guards for directions.
[To Be Continued…]