I am feeling a bit out of sorts this morning, for no good reason, and have nothing fizzing around inside my head…you’ll have to put up with this, if you have ten minutes.
This is from, book 4 of the ongoing comic fantasy series, The Mining of Lif. One day I’ll get it published. The fourth novel is a work in progress. Feel free to mentally edit and correct any mistakes.
On the border of the desert country of Sunniclimes lies the town of Brothelingham which has recently become the centre of attention once more after someone claimed they had re-discovered gold. They hadn’t, but this hasn’t stopped the place being flooded by starry-eyed hopefuls.
A railway line is due to pass through the town, illegally, and this is going to cause problems. Brothelingham is about to get a visit from one of the mysterious Wiseman’s, a firm of Private Detectives. and there’s a war brewing. Amidst all this a young pregnant woman arrives on the back of donkey cart. And she is carrying one very special child indeed…
There was a distinct chill in the air. Winter was on its way. He could smell it. Soon it would snow. But for now, except for a few wispy, narrow bands of cirrus cloud, the sky was a canopy of stars.
The old man nodded and grunted an acknowledgement at the ever-changing seasons. He sucked thoughtfully on his cigar, while poking some life into the small fire with a stick.
Something went clonk, and nudged him in his back.
‘What is it, old girl?’ he asked without turning.
The ageing goat bleated and nudged him once more. The bell around its neck went clonk again.
The old man sighed, reached over to a small hessian sack and rummaged around inside.
‘Here y’go,’ he said, offering the goat an apple.
Issie, as he was known, was a goatherd. Or at least he once kept goats. He never really herded them; they mostly sort of followed him around. These days there was only a solitary female so maybe the term goat-her would be more appropriate.
Her name was Flem. Named after a camel owned by a friend he knew a long time ago.
Issie came up to this high place to watch the stars, he said.
‘Most people never look at the stars, you know?’ he once explained. ‘Not really look at them.’
‘But what are you looking at? They’re there. It’s not as if they’re going anywhere, is it?’ they would say.
He would reply wistfully, ‘Oh… nothing really, I suppose. Just, well… looking.’ And he would smile.
He’d been coming up the mountain every night to the same spot for years. The villagers said he was soft in the head.
Issie could see the lights from the village far below. He thought they looked pretty. Not as pretty as those above, but still pretty; in their own way.
He became aware of the sound of muffled conversation. He sighed.
Oh well, he thought, so much for an uninterrupted evening of peace and quiet.
From the sound of it, the two individuals responsible for disturbing his karma were having one of their famous philosophical discussions.
‘But why are we called shepherds, that’s what I want to know?’ said the first voice.
‘Because we are. All right? How the hell do I know? It’s just one of those things.’
‘Yeah, but surely it should be sheepherd, not shepherd. I mean, we don’t herd sheps do we?’
There was a short intake of breath, and then a pause from the second speaker as this question was considered.
The first speaker, sensing he had gained the upper hand pressed his argument.
‘I mean, what do you call a person who herds goats?’
‘A goatherd, obviously.’
‘Right. Obviously. They’re not called gotherds. So…’
‘All right, all right!’ the second speaker snapped. ‘Have it your way. Be a damn sheepherd for all I care.’
The two men crested the rise onto a wide, flat expanse of meadow. Their breath plumed in the early evening air from the exertion of the climb.
One of the men wore a smug expression whereas his companion was scowling.
Issie looked up from his fire and hailed the new arrivals.
Flem went ‘Maaaaar’, dropped her head and began a mock charge towards the two young men, which became more of a geriatric stutter due to a gammy leg. Besides, despite the waning light the clonk of her bell would have alerted them in ample time.
She reached the pair and offered a desultory butt just for the look of the thing.
A hand reached down and scratched her behind the ears.
‘Evenin’’, Mister Issie,’ replied one of the men.
Although many people thought Issie a bit doolally, they still showed him respect. After all, he was old. Exactly how old no one had been able to ascertain.
He’d turned up at the small village many years before, asking if he could stay for while.
People are often wary of strangers but they warmed to Issie very quickly. Two donkeys laden with precious gems encouraged warm- hearted feelings all round.
Besides, Issie also brought his own goats.
Gems are all good and well, but you can’t eat them.
‘Hello, Levi. Strauss. How is it…,’ Issie paused as he searched for the correct term of address. ‘hanging?’
‘Dangling, Mister Issie. How’s it dangling,’ Levi replied.
‘Ah. Right. Sorry boys. Can’t keep up with all these modern terms.’
The young men smiled in the manner of all young people who have to put up with the idiosyncrasies of the elderly.
Levi tugged his sideburns for emphasis. Issie nodded. Levi’s sideburns had been growing for several months. They now hung, or rather dangled past his chin.
This was the current fashion amongst certain young men. Strauss had a similar pair of dangly sideburns and both men sported very long beards.
And they had contrived to wear their skullcaps back to front. This had proved more difficult than it might sound, the caps having no peak. They’d had to make do with having the label sticking out.
And their hair was cut very short.
‘This is the modern look, Mister Issie, you see?’ Levi explained.
‘It’s cool, Mister Issie,’ Strauss added. Both men grinned sheepishly, or in Strauss’s case, shepishly.
‘Must be. Especially without any hair!’
‘Not cool like that, Mister Issie. Just cool,’ Levi said, stressing the word.
‘It’s all about being hip, you see, Mister Issie?’ Strauss added.
‘Well, as long it doesn’t make you limp,’ Issie said.
Strauss shook his head. ‘Hip means with it, Mister Issie, he explained, with exaggerated patience.
‘Ah, I see. Well, better with than without, right boys?’
‘Aw, Mister Issie, now you’re having us on,’ Levi said.
‘So, what brings you two up here, then?’ he asked.
‘We’re off over the mountain, Mister Issie. We’re going down to Brothelingham,’ Levi informed him with a note of excitement in his voice.
‘Oh, are you indeed,’ Issie replied giving them an old look. He knew about the Hotel Kaliphfornication. ‘Couple of young fellahs like you, off to sow a few wild oats, I’ll bet?’
‘Nope. ‘S’nothing to do with farming, Mister Issie,’ said Strauss, shaking his head. ‘In fact we’ve all but given up sheepherding too as a matter of fact,’ he announced, waving a hand in a dismissive manner to emphasise the point.
Although those involved in pastoral work spent most of their time outdoors it was somewhat of a sheltered existence in other areas.
Levi grinned at his friend. ‘See. Told you sheepherding’s the right term.’
Strauss grimaced. ‘Shepherding, I meant to say.’
Issie also knew of other things that were going on in Brothelingham.
‘So, you’re off to seek to your fortune, then?’
‘S’right, Mister Issie. We’re trading in our woolly jumpers for T-shirts.’ Levi explained.
‘And a pick and shovel, of course,’ Strauss added. ‘We’re going prospecting,’ he beamed.
‘Gold, is it?’ Issie asked.
Both men nodded.
‘They say there’re lots of prospects in prospecting, Mister Issie,’ Levi said.
Issie cocked his head and looked at him askance. He almost smiled then realised Levi was not being facetious.
‘Well, there would be, I suppose?’ he replied, forcing himself to keep a straight face.
‘And they also say if you touch that kid it’s extra luck,’ Strauss said.
His eyes sparkled in the firelight.
‘Oh. Yes. I heard about that. Some sort of saviour, right?
The two young men nodded.
‘We heard of some fellah who touched the kid’s head and a few hours later he hit a rich vein.’
Issie had heard this story too. You got to hear of a lot of such tales from travelling merchants and those who returned after finding out that mining was not as easy as was first thought. It was said the vein the chap in question had hit was on the inside of his leg.
If someone told you that mining was “bleedin’ hard work” they sometimes meant it literally.
‘Well you just be careful when wielding those pickaxes, all right?’ Issie cautioned.
The men smiled.
‘Yes, Mister Issie,’ they agreed. Then they looked at each other, mumbled a few words and nodded.
‘Why don’t you come with us, Mister Issie?’ Levi asked.
‘Me? Whatever for?’ Issie replied only half-paying attention. Something else had distracted him. He cast a quick, furtive glance at the stars.
‘We thought you might like a change of scenery. Might do you good to get out a bit, don’t you think?’ Strauss said.
‘I am always out, young man. And usually more than a bit.’
‘What we meant was away from here. The mountain. Not healthy spending all this time up here.’
‘I would think it was very healthy,’ Issie replied with a slight frown.
‘What Strauss means is for your…’ Levi paused. This was dangerous territory.
‘You think I might be going a bit senile, is that it?’
‘No…well…maybe. Not exactly loony tunes, but just…well…’
‘Soft in the head?’ Issie supplied, with an air of innocence.
Both men coughed awkwardly.
‘Besides,’ Levi chirped, ‘three of anything is a lucky number. And we could share in all the gold we find, eh?’
‘Gold,’ Issie echoed with little enthusiasm.
‘Yeah! Gold! Strauss agreed. Levi nodded vigorously. And there was that look in their eyes again.
‘So why is three of anything lucky?’ Issie asked. Whatever it was that had distracted him was now moving across the night sky in a lazy, but very definite manner. It would be best if these two well-meaning twits did not turn around for a minute or so.
‘Well, there’s the three Wiseman’s…’ Levi began but Issie interrupted.
‘Yes. They say there are three but has anybody ever seen the three Wiseman’s together?’
‘Um, well, not together as such. But everyone know’s the stories, right?’
‘Right,’ Issie said. ‘So, what else comes in lucky threes then?’
‘Shepherds?’ Levi suggested hopefully, forgetting for a moment that neither he nor Issie had ever herded a shep in their lives.
‘I always kept goats,’ Issie reminded him.
‘Yes. Well. It’s still herding, I suppose, so it must be lucky, right?’
Issie sighed. It almost sounded as if in relief.
‘I’m sure you’ll be fine with two, Levi. Now best you be getting along. Weather looks like it might be closing in. You boys don’t want to get caught in a storm or anything.’
The two men looked a bit dejected but they shrugged and after wishes for good fortune and a few reluctant farewells they turned to leave.
Suddenly they were transfixed by a blaze of light that appeared out of nowhere. Well, not nowhere, as there is no such place. But one minute there was only the light from the fire, and the stars, and the next, this was the only light visible.
A figure stepped into the light. It appeared to be man-shaped.
Levi and Strauss had not moved. They stood rooted to the spot like wax dummies.
Levi blinked and partial mobility returned to his mouth.
‘It’s a go…go…god!’ he croaked in awe.