This is a rewrite of an old idea from back in 2004 or so. I don’t remember the exact date.
They were speaking in a language I didn’t understand. I was being held down on top of a stone, by men from a country I couldn’t identify. It had all happened too fast to do anything. I was surrounded, and then suddenly a dozen wavy swords pointed at me. Obviously, I gave myself up. I was unarmed, and even if I had had any weapon I didn’t have any battle experience. They must have gotten the wrong person, I thought.
They called me by a name that wasn’t mine, although it was not the first time someone used it. “Sorry, you got the wrong person”, I always said. Most often, they were comprehensive and excused themselves and let me go, but a few times I had had to run. That worked because those people usually found me in a city, where the streets are narrow and there’s a lot of places to hide in. I had to learn how to use the cities to my advantage the hard way, though.
You see, I was young back then, way too young. I had left home because I hated to work at my dad’s workshop. I couldn’t say why, but that kind of physical work repulsed me. I decided to journey to the city and get a nicer job there. As if it was all that simple. Essentially, I had nothing. I took a backpack and filled it with a few days’ worth of food and some coins. By the time I reached the city, I had already run out of food, and I was starving. I tried to get myself a room at an inn, and a table. Silly me, I expected those few coins to last, but they weren’t even enough to get me a hot plate with food in it, let alone a room for the night. I exchanged all the coins for some leftovers that would have eventually been thrown to the pigs, and they kicked me out of the place like if I should have thanked them for wasting the food on me instead.
Hunger is a very strong incentive. After a couple of days, I had to resort to theft to keep myself alive. The local gangs didn’t like a foreigner taking money from their prey, though, so it wasn’t long before I had to flee the city. I survived out in the forest for a few weeks, slowly getting away from that city and following a path parallel to the main road. I’d spend a few hours every day walking, and a few hours more trying to hunt anything. I had stolen a knife back in the city, primarily to defend myself, but it turned out to be useful in the forest.
Eventually, I reached a different city, and I used the new experiences to try to makes fewer mistakes. Regardless, it also didn’t work out in the new city, which led me to travel to yet another city. That cycle of traveling, stealing and fleeing lasted for a few years, and over that time, I started to meet people who seemed to recognize me by that name. In hindsight, I had been extremely lucky. Until a party riding horses started chasing me, that is.
On the upside, if there is suck a thing in the situation, they seemed to have a hard time agreeing on something, so that probably kept me alive. At some point, a new man reached the place where I was being held, listened to what my captors had to say, and then replied with a very sharp word that I couldn’t possibly reproduce. Their intention seemed clear to me, though. They pushed me down on the stone, and then pulled my hair up, leaving my neck exposed. Then they held down my face to the stone. They were going to cut my head off.
A sword was drawn behind me, and I panicked. Of course, they were ready for it, and I couldn’t do anything to escape. I saw the point of the sword enter my field of vision, then raise up. Whoever held the sword wanted to do it right on the first try. It’s funny how adrenaline can speed up your body, slowing down the perception of time. I had a few seconds to think, and while there was a lot I could have thought of, there was only one thing that filled my brain: I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die, I want everything to stop right now, I don’t want to die, … then I suddenly realized I was still alive. Enough time had passed for whoever was holding the sword to have dropped it on my neck. Why was I still alive?
I turned around, and then I realized I was supposed to be held down. Why wasn’t I being held down? I looked, and saw that the people around me didn’t seem to be around me anymore. They were there, but there didn’t seem to be there either. It was like if we were not exactly in the same place, like if I was seeing a shadow of where they used to be. And those shadows were still. I walked out of the circle, through the shadows of the people who wanted to kill me. I noticed the sky had a strange tone, and when I looked up I saw some birds in the middle of the sky, still, and shadowy. I ran to the trees, and through the forest. At some point I stopped and looked around me. Everything was still stopped, there was no wind moving the leaves of the trees, no breeze. I realized that unlike those people or the birds in the sky, the trees were solid. I would not understand until much later that trees don’t perceive time the same way we do, so anything that affects the flow of time affects them differently. At the time, though, all I knew was that I was alive, and that something made everything around me stop and become shadows. I found a tree shaped in a sort of spiral, which made it easy enough to climb. A few meters above the ground, it split into five branches, and the place where those five branches met was round and soft, the perfect place to rest and think. I needed to think because I had to figure that out somehow. Everything that had happened that day.
I did not know then, if it was some power that I had in me, or some sort of higher entity decided to take pity on me and do me that favor. As I was distracted in my thoughts, I didn’t notice how as I relaxed, things seemed to shift back into their right state, and as they did so, they began moving again. I closed my eyes and reached a decision.
I needed to know more. I had to find someone who knew anything about me or why I looked like someone with a name I could not pronounce. I knew then where to begin, since after thinking on it some time before, I had realized that I didn’t look anything like either of my parents. The first question would be simple, then: who am I?