The White Feather by Nils Durban

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SUMMARY: Entry in the September '08 Flash Fiction competition. Theme - "A Feather"

The barest sliver of moon shone down upon the boy as he scaled the pitted stone face of the Keep, the white feather secured in his cap. The blood coursed through his veins, the adrenaline rush almost overwhelming the intense concentration that the ascent required. No rope supported him, no net would save him should he slip.

Many had gone before and, no doubt, many more would follow, each carrying the symbolic feather in honour of the first of them, one Guy du Bec, who had gained entry against all odds and secured the release of dozens of men, women and children who had been either enslaved or imprisoned for innumerable years.

Du Bec, the original ‘White Feather', did not return - had no doubt sacrificed his own life whilst gaining the freedom of those pitiful, malnourished folk. Indeed, none of those who actually made it to the top of the wall, a feat in itself, ever returned. And yet, every so often, a trickle of thankful peasants would issue forth, full of praise for the brave saviours who had either fought or petitioned on their humble behalf.

The boy, Gerald by name, son of the farrier, paused momentarily to steady his nerves before reaching up once again for the next available purchase which would bring him closer to the summit of the immense and ancient structure. His hands were numb through the cold and the damp, but this was no bad thing as his fingers and palms were now badly torn and bloodied.

Thoughts of his poverty stricken family constantly played on his mind. He could imagine them now, huddled together for warmth in the corner of the small barn that they shared with the animals and yet still called a home. He fought to keep these thoughts at bay, but knew in his heart such images served as a spur.

Again he pushed upwards, but this time he failed to secure a handhold. He searched around desperately before the realisation dawned upon him that he was at the top.

He eased himself over the parapet and then huddled below it, his gasping breaths becoming almost crystalline in the air before him. What to do next had not, could not, have been planned for. All his effort had gone into the ascent and this was now uncharted territory. No maps or knowledge of its geography existed in the town which was now so far below him.

He did not dare to cross to the opposite side of this lofty perch, to peer down within the Keep itself. Somehow he did not feel ready for this and convinced himself that it was unnecessary to his cause. Instead he scanned the battlement both left and right, seeing that seemingly identical doorways existed within the turrets to either side. He decided quickly before scurrying to his left and then down the narrow twisting steps that plummeted down through the ill lit innards of the tower, disgorging him eventually at a much lower level.

As he came to a halt once more his ears caught the faintest noise from above him, growing steadily louder. Footsteps, of a quickening pace, accompanied by the unmistakable jangle of chainmail. He rushed ahead into an arched passageway, grateful that the meagre wrappings that served him as shoes made the barest sound upon the cobbled floor.

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