Stone guardian


Part 1

They walked at a quick pace, with a spring in their step, their feet barely touching the dusty ground. Flames of sunset burned low and already the early twilight crept up from the lowlands as the tired red sun kept sinking into the horizon. The wind was warm and swept the ground lazily, erasing the travellers’ light footprints from the dust, making the road look like no one had walked it that day.

The Stone Guardian blocked their way. He was bored, this cold-blooded stone giant, like he always used to be when the sun, his greatest joy and friend, left him alone in the dark.

These little creatures in front of him were as warm as if they carried their own suns under their skin. The Guardian’s sudden appearance startled them and made them unsheath their swords. He smiled, knowing that the swords can not hurt him, and stood perfectly still as proof that he meant no harm.

A little human, very young, with a golden braid, came closer and put his humble offerings at the flat stone in front of the Guardian: jade, bread, wrinkled mummies of dried fruit…

Gifts… How cute!

The Stone Guardian didn’t need gifts but always accepted them, to the little travellers’ delight. He kept the gifts in his cave where time and water eventually entombed them into stalagmites.

And once again, as the golden-haired boy stepped away from the stone, the Guardian collected the gifts carefully, one by one, and held them on his enormous palm against the setting sun. Beautiful, naive, wonderful thingies… He stepped aside and let the travellers pass.

The Stone Guardian watched the jade statuettes glimmer in the moonlight long after the sun had set, thinking of the little creatures who walk lightly, with a spring in their step, their feet barely touching the ground; who carry the warmth of the sun under their skin…

He enjoyed their rare visits, always wishing they would come more often.

The night’s cold grasp was firm on him now, freezing and restraining. He could barely move. Soon, he knew, his malachite eyes would go dark, turning into dead stone until morning. And yet something warm fluttered deep inside his chest. Something warm and gentle. He always felt it when people came: a long farewell echo of their own sun’s inner light.

He wished they would come again soon. And stay longer…

(September 24, 2003)

Part 2

“I received a couple of interesting stones from Ilcenoy,” said Brook and laid the said stones on the table.
“Who sent them?” his sister Natalika wondered, curious. The stones looked quite ordinary and were rather dusty at that.
“A merchant, an old aсquaintance of mine,” Brook briefly explained. “He must’ve got them from some adventurer… These are the Stone Guardian’s eyes, Nat.”

Seeing his sentimental little sister recoil from the supposed “eyes”, Brook gave her an indulgent smile.

“You know what’s interesting, sis?” He mused. “These two stones go against everything I’ve been taught about the essence of life. It’s a living creature, and yet it’s inorganic! Its body consists of cooled and cracked lava rock and minerals filling the crevices. By all means, it’s no different from the rocks a nearby mountain consists of.”
“Brother, why does it matter so much what a body is made of? The proteins your body synthesises are not alive as well and aren’t any different from the ones you make in the lab. It’s the immortal core - the soul maybe - that matters.”
“Exactly, my dear Natalika! I heard that from you so many times that I decided to listen for once,” said Brook sweeping the stones from the table. “That’s why I sent my man after the “soul” of the Stone Guardian. According to the legends, it’s in his eyes.”

Brook walked away, his heels clicking loudly against the lacquered floor, each click echoing many times from the corridor walls. The silence that came after was uncanny, heavy with guilt and fear. Natalika huddled herself up in an armchair in front of the fireplace. She felt so cold no fire could warm her up.

“This wonderful creature’s death is my fault,” she thought again and again. “Brook used to twist my words before, but never like this… I must do something. Make things right somehow!”

In the darkness of the night, the little window of Brook’s lab shone red on top of the tower like an evil eye. The locals, simple-minded and gullible as they were, thought the current tower owner to be a sorcerer of an alchemist. Who he really was only Natalika alone knew. Brook was both a wonderful, loving brother and a mad scientist, a kind guy when with his family and a cynical madman when alone in his lab. Secrets, he thought, had no right to exist.

Neon lamps - Brook’s invention - were placed upon the walls where torches used to be. Their soft ethereal light flooded the corridors at night leaving only the deepest niches untouched, where ancient gargoyle statues stood collecting dust for centuries.

Natalika, clad in a grey cloak, ascended the stairs, one careful step at a time, ready to jump into the nearest niche at the slightest noise and try to blend with the darkness there, in this thief-like outfit of hers.

She reached the door untroubled, though, and peeked into the lab through the keyhole.

There were Brook and Anika, his assistant, seated across each other at the table. They looked disappointed and had a quiet conversation about their research.

“X-ray analysis didn’t show anything unusual,” stated Anika with a tired sigh. “Let’s hope that chemical analysis will throw some light upon the problem.”
“And electric tests,” Brook added. “We’ll start tomorrow morning.”

They closed the lab and descended the stairs still discussing their tests and killing the lights as they went.

When Natalika could no longer hear their voices and the echo of their steps, she had finally mustered up enough courage to leave her hiding place.

From the folds of her cloak she produced a little wooden key, a copy she recreated from a print of the real key on a bar of soap. She put it into the lock and turned it very carefully. It was her lucky night: the wooden key didn’t break and the door opened without a sound on its well-oiled hinges.

The lab met Natalika with hundreds of thin light beams hanging in the air, each one primed to start an alarm if disturbed. That would stop any thief, but not the local “sorcerer’s” sister. She knew how to turn the alarm system off by pressing a certain brick in the wall. So she did.

Natalika crossed the room and approached the table where, among the messy piles of books and papers, she saw a porcelain cuvette with the Stone Guardian’s eyes which were as dull and bleak as old pebbles. Natalika put them in her pocket and left a couple of real pebbles in their place. She took them from the bottom of the little stream her brother harnessed with a watermill to generate electricity for his lab.

Of course, Natalika knew that Brook and Anika would find out the stones had been replaced, but not right away, she hoped.

Next evening Brook, absolutely furious, burst the door to his sister’s room open and stormed in. He yelled at Natalika for a long time. She’s never seen her brother being like this before and was so scared she couldn’t utter a single word in her defence.

“Where are they? Tell me!!!” He demanded again and again. It was a nightmare.

Anika was the one who stopped this madness. She entered the room and put her hand on Brook’s shoulder.

“Leave the kid alone, Brook,” she said in a soft voice. “Come with me to the park. Wonders are happening there right now and I want you to see them.”

Surprisingly, Brook’s anger had calmed down, as if by magic. He looked so tired and sad now that Natalika’s heart went out to him.

“I always do wrong things and hurt everyone…” she thought bitterly.

Anika took Brook by the hand like a child and led him to the park. The old park near the castle was a sad and long-abandoned place people rarely visited at all, but today it looked like half of the city had gathered here. Something really big was on. Brook put his grief aside for a while and gave in to his natural curiosity. Secrets had no right to exist in his world!

What he saw almost made him fall to his knees in awe and shock…

There was an old statue in the centre of the park, a blind stone knight, overgrown with moss and tangled with ivy, his name lost to history. Today he was no longer blind. He looked at the world with his new eyes: the eyes of the Stone Guardian! Those eyes were no longer two dull dusty pebbles, they were full of life and happiness. The Knight’s huge stone palm held little gifts against the sun: apples, cookies, jade figurines…

The Guardian smiled when he saw Brook, happy to greet another human. The warmth of these little scurrying creatures filled his stone body with life.

Brook just stood there watching the wonder with his eyes wide open and in these eyes a whole world was collapsing, the one he built brick by brick during the long years of studying.

The final blow was what Anika did. With a happy smile, with a spring in her step, she approached the Stone Knight and placed a handful of jade beads on his open palm.

(February 21, 2004)

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English is not my native language.
If you see an error or a typo, please, tell me. I will fix it.