The trees lined the perfectly paved road as he passed a neat row of yellowish houses along the way. Cato was frustrated; he wanted to do so many things but ‘there are always limitations,’ he thought, ‘I never get to do what I want to do.’ He was a young man, and consequently impatient.
‘I’m hungry’ he thought, ‘and this makes me angry and frustrated. I want to eat. I am less effective than what I can be. I am not able to do what I want to do. Why am I so worried about what other people think? Why do I worry so much?. Things are going reasonably well but I want them perfect. My weekend was filled with pain because something is not quite right here and the wizard, who is supposed to be fixing things, doesn’t seem to be doing his job No matter how much I find to eat it never seems enough. Why are all the cities still deserted? Nothing but discord these days wherever I travel…’ All of these thoughts and others like them tumbled through his mind, causing him to lose the tranquil, meditative state he had enjoyed throughout the previous evening and to become positively morose.
Cato continued to walk on beneath a threatening sky, which featured streaks of the ubiquitous purple clouds he had come to expect.
‘I’m feeling exhausted now,’ he groaned to himself, enjoying the pleasure of being able to grumble about everything. The journey was taking him longer than he had anticipated. His repose in the forest and the delicious dinner he had eaten beneath the stars seemed so long ago.
The purple colour of the sky, which was fractured by gold streaks and grey clouds, had resulted from the death of the Solar star. As he moved into a clearing, the track that led Cato through the forest from the last walled city had ended, and he found himself in an open field, where the yellow grass came up almost to his waist.
Before long there approached some enormous metal creatures – like giant elephants – moving through the long grass. They moved slowly, deliberately, as though alive and as though following a path predetermined for them. Alongside them, marching in loose order, were some metal-clad soldiers equipped laser lances.
He continued to walk on, and such was his state of lamentation, with his head bowed he was unconcerned by the behemoths that made their way parallel to him through the dry grass.
‘I feel totally out of place. I felt that despite everything going well I was still unhappy. I can not enjoy my success or take any satisfaction in my achievements.’ He was lost in the afternoon heat. Wandering around mysteriously. Dreaming of all the useless things he had done. ‘Dextrous and mendacious, that’s what he is! I knew we could not trust the wizard.’ The young man made his way to the palace. Tired from sleeping in the open air and from walking from village to village, he looked at the sky, hoping it would not rain.
He wanted to get to the castle by nightfall. He had heard the army were making there way there as well and he was keen to avoid them. The wind whistled through the trees and the mechanical birds flying clunkily from tree to tree were proof the wizard’s domain was near. Cato whistled and his dog moved to his side clumsily, a brown-eyed, droopy-eared beagle.
Cato approached the castle from the open field. There was silence all around. The field stretched over several kilometres and the field was yellow, tinged the color of rose gold in the purple twilight. He quickened his pace. The air became cooler and the deathly silence created a sense of fear within him.
To the left of the castle was a high wall and a tower. The wall surrounding the castle was somewhat lower but still immense. Tribal villagers were moving in and out through the main gate which was guarded by two sentinels and overlooked by guards over the gate in two towers one on eiter side of the gate. The moat underneath was barren; the water level was low and filled with rank weeds.
He made his way forward and came to the gate and drawbridge. The two paladins looked warily at him but decided he was not a threat so their gaze became weary acceptance. The mood was more and more subdued as though depression blanketed the air. He dreamed of his childhood, wondering why things had changed so much. He remenered many years ago when the grandparents raised him after his parents untimely death, how he used to play in the castle grounds. Back then there were real animals, many of them, all around the perimeter of the castle. The castle hardly needed protection; the guards were jovial, the people merry. Food was in plentiful supply and people came to the village from all around the countryside. The dread he felt as he walked through the gates began to build and it was not long until he realized that he felt an empty regret even for coming here. Still, he was a resolute and somewhat stubborn young man, determined to carry on in his mission. Something told him that he needed to be here. He had no idea why he was here other than he was sure he should be here.
He made his way in through the main roadway leading to the palace entrance. The faces of the people, unlike many years ago, when they seemed fresh and full of life, now looked pasty and sallow, their eyes hollow like lifeless black tree stumps, left over from a forest fire. Their clothes looked like those worn by locals in the villages and walled cites he had passed; old, dirty and frayed, as though they had not been able to buy new clothes for many years…