|Publisher:||Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)|
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|Age Range:||11 - 13 Years|
About the Author
Sid Hite grew up in Bowling Green, Virginia, and now lives in Sag Harbor, New York. Answer My Prayer is his third novel.
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The Distance of Hope
By Sid Hite
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 1998 Sid Hite
All rights reserved.
Disguises are donned — The party assembles — A familial farewell
Yeshe Anjur arose in the predawn darkness and dressed in the strange clothes that had been laid out for him the night before. He slipped into canvas trousers, pulled a heavy cotton shirt over his head, stepped into moccasin boots, and drew a hooded cape around his shoulders. The garments were simple and well made, strange only in relation to Yeshe's usual attire. He was a young lord who typically wore tailored outfits made of silk and soft cotton.
Yeshe adjusted the straps on his boots and went to stand near his bedroom door. Although the guard stationed in the corridor remained perfectly still, Yeshe knew the man was there. Yeshe knew because he could smell a hint of garlic mixing with the faint aroma of cinnamon oil. The extract was popular with many of the soldiers in the royal guard.
After a short while Yeshe heard footsteps treading over the marble floor in a connecting wing of the old castle. He could hear exceptionally well. Hearing was one of his natural senses that he'd been consciously developing during the two years since his eyes had begun to fail him. He was not blind — not yet, not completely — however, his powers of sight were reduced to the point where he could see no farther than his outstretched hand. Or rather, that was generally the case. His condition was strangely intermittent, and he occasionally experienced instances of clear vision. But these instances were extremely rare, and like shooting stars, they never lasted more than a minute or so. They were flashes, really ... brief, tantalizing interludes of clarity interrupting a continuum of myopic night.
Yeshe was fifteen. The castle where he lived lay in the heart of Pelang, a port city situated on the coast of the Oxos Ocean. Pelang was the capital of Padma, one of five countries constituting the subcontinent of Mirasa.
Yeshe waited until the footsteps in the corridor slowed to a halt before opening his door and exiting the bedroom. Despite his limited vision and the dim light of torches flickering in the hallway, he immediately recognized the tall, uniformed figure of Chamba, Lord Anjur's chief adviser and master-of-arms. Lord Anjur was Padma's sovereign ruler. He was Yeshe's father.
With Chamba were two men, both wearing moccasin boots, canvas pants, and hooded capes. This was the traditional garb of caravan traders, itinerant merchants who wandered freely from country to country. Yeshe wasn't fooled by the men's outfits. He knew they were soldiers. After all, he was wearing a similar disguise.
"Good. You're ready," Chamba observed with a quick bow. He turned without waiting for a reply and started toward a set of stairs at the end of the corridor. Chamba wasn't being rude. He was a man of action, characteristically short and to the point. "Come," he said over his shoulder. "Your family awaits at the postern gatehouse."
As Yeshe fell into step behind Chamba the caped men followed protectively on the wings. There was no threat within the Pelang castle. The soldiers were simply doing what they'd been trained to do. No doubt they were the best that Padma's army had to offer; otherwise Chamba never would have selected them for this mission.
The group had exited the main keep and was halfway across the outer bailey when Yeshe addressed the man trailing on his right. "Cheers, Ladak. I'm glad you're coming with me."
The soldier grunted. He had not spoken, and his face was hidden in the shadows of his hood.
Yeshe guessed what Ladak was thinking. He chuckled and explained, "It was easy, Ladak. You carry your weight low, like a cat. I'd recognize the rhythm of your stride in a mob."
A reply formed in Ladak's mind, but before he could speak it, the group entered the gatehouse where Lord Anjur and Lady Anila waited with Yeshe's seventeen-year-old sister, Espa. Ladak drew a sharp breath and stood at attention. It was all he could do to keep his eyes off Espa. He was not alone in thinking that Espa's beauty rivaled the exalted loveliness of her mother, Lady Anila.
The family was attended by a third soldier, also dressed as a caravan trader. This was Kachen. For the past few months Kachen had been poring over maps, gathering information, and generally preparing for the impendent journey. A captain in the royal guard, Kachen was utterly devoted to the Anjur family. No one doubted his loyalty or willingness to do whatever it took to successfully discharge his duties.
Upon entering the gatehouse, Yeshe pushed back the cowl of his hood and stepped forward to take his mother's hand. At the same time Lord Anjur signaled for Chamba and the others to depart. They left quickly, understanding that the family wished a moment for private farewells.
Lady Anila snatched Yeshe's wrist as he reached forward and pulled him to her chest.
Yeshe winced and allowed himself to be squeezed. He was at that age when a young man feels awkward being cuddled by his mother.
Although Lady Anila sensed Yeshe's embarrassment, she did not allow that to deter her affections. Indeed, she made a point of hugging him tighter. At the same time she whispered, "The moment you reach Tigristan, find the White Bean Lama and present your father's gift. The lama will heal your eyes ... I know he will." There was an edge of suppressed anxiety in her voice. Although the journey had been her idea to begin with, she was torn about sending Yeshe away. She only did so as a last resort ... after having tried everything to help her son. During the past two years she had summoned each of Mirasa's most renowned healers to Pelang, and after swearing the various practitioners to a vow of secrecy (Lord Anjur did not want it publicly known that his son and heir was partially blind), Lady Anila had brought them before Yeshe. Physicians had poked and prodded the young lord, shamans had peered into his eyes and ears, folk doctors had studied his tongue, and one old witch had applied a steaming seaweed poultice to Yeshe's face that left it green for a week. Amulets were fashioned, potions were produced, foul-tasting pills were concocted, and incantations were said over Yeshe's head. In the end, the efforts were all for naught and not one of the healers could provide an effective palliative ... much less restore the boy's full vision.
"I will find the lama and present the gift," Yeshe informed his mother softly, if not a bit wearily. They had discussed the plan many times before.
Lady Anila kissed Yeshe's forehead and whispered a final request. "Promise me, as soon as you can see again you will hurry straight back to Pelang."
"You have my word," said Yeshe, withdrawing from his mother's embrace and attempting to reassure her with a look. It was not an easy task. Both knew good fortune would be required for him to reach Tigristan and return to Pelang before the end of the summer season. That was, of course, if he reached Tigristan in the first place. Several councilors in the royal court doubted that he and his party would ever find an east-west pass through the great Tigri Mountains. Few folks from the mainland had ever made the trip (no one living in Padma had ever been to Tigristan), and it was believed that the mountains were virtually impassable.
And that was not all the councilors doubted: they were also of the opinion that even if the party should somehow find their way to Tigristan, they could not then locate the White Bean Lama. One of the councilors had even suggested that the lama was merely a character in a fable for children and did not actually exist. But Lady Anila was not daunted. She had scoffed at the doubtful councilors and refused to be swayed from her decision.
Lady Anila had grown up in Ord, in the foothills of the Tigri Mountains, and had heard too many miraculous stories about the great lama to doubt his existence. Supposedly the man could rid people of fevers in an hour and heal broken bones in a day. Surely, if the lama could do that, he could restore her son's sight within a week ... or a month ... or however long it took. She agreed that there were questions she could not answer, such as: If the man was a great healer when she was a child, how old would he be now? Or, more poignantly, did the lama still live? Even so, Lady Anila never wavered in her decision. She would not sit idle and watch her son go blind. No one in Mirasa had managed to help Yeshe. It was imperative that he go to Tigristan.
Yeshe kissed his mother quickly on the cheek and turned to Espa. He did not need to see his sister clearly to guess her mood. "Don't pout," he chided her tenderly. "If you don't mind, I'd prefer a smile for the road."
Espa drew her lips tight. "I only smile when I'm happy."
"I haven't died, Espa. I'm going on a journey. That's all. I'll be home so soon, you'll wish I'd stayed away longer."
Espa sounded a dismissive snort. "Don't try to baby talk me, Yeshe."
Yeshe shrugged. He knew how much Espa cared about him and hated to see him go. "Sorry, Espa. I will miss you."
"And I will miss you," said Espa, her voice suddenly warm with affection. She reached into a fold in her dress and removed a small envelope, which she handed to Yeshe. "Keep this safe. It's for Lepanna when you see her. Don't forget to give it to her."
"I'll remember," Yeshe promised. He opened his shirt and placed the letter in the pouch he carried next to his chest. Although it had been over two years since Yeshe had seen Lepanna (the problem with his eyes had started soon after her last visit to Pelang), he was not likely to forget a legitimate reason for speaking with her when he got the chance. She lived in Mojheno, the capital city of Jaswant, situated just north of Ord in the foothills of the Tigri Mountains. Yeshe hoped to pass through Mojheno sometime in the next two weeks. He patted the pouch and looked forward to delivering Espa's letter. If his math and memory were correct (they were), Lepanna was sixteen by now.
After hugging Espa and kissing the tip of her pretty nose, Yeshe turned to take leave of his father. Anyone viewing Yeshe and Lord Anjur together would know in a glance that the man's blood pulsed through the veins of the boy. Both were lean, muscular individuals with thick, russet-colored manes. Each had a high-ridged nose and squarish chin that appeared cast from an identical mold, and although Yeshe had inherited his mother's hazel eyes rather than his father's brown ones, there was no mistaking the similarity of the pronounced brows under which their respective eyes were nestled.
Lord Anjur gazed proudly at his brave, uncomplaining son, and yet at the same time there were elements of grave concern in Lord Anjur's look. He was a realist. He knew the open road across Mirasa was a potentially dangerous arena. The terrain was rough in places, there were bandits to be avoided, and there was always the question of King Larius, the ambitious monarch of Zell-Asmar, situated to the south of Padma. Larius also controlled a narrow strip of land on the west side of the Great Dream Lake. At one point Yeshe and his companions would cross this territory, and it was largely because of this planned crossing that Yeshe's party would be traveling in disguise. Lord Anjur did not trust what Larius might do if he discovered Yeshe passing through Zell-Asmar.
Aside from being a realist, Lord Anjur was an incisive thinker. After having agreed with his wife that Yeshe must go to Tigristan, the matter was settled in his mind and he questioned it no further. And now it was time to say farewell. He wanted Yeshe out of Pelang before the day dawned over the city. "You travel with dedicated men, my son. I trust them to protect you. Should the need arise, they will give their lives to save yours."
Yeshe nodded solemnly. Young lord or not, the idea that men would sacrifice their lives for his was not an easy concept to accept.
Lord Anjur studied Yeshe for a final moment. "You must go."
Yeshe bowed. "With your grace, Father."
"And with my soul," Lord Anjur replied warmly, a hint of sorrow in his voice.
Yeshe directed a parting nod at Espa and Lady Anila, then turned quickly toward the door. As he was leaving the gatehouse he heard his father whisper, "I pray that old lama still lives, and that he can perform the miracle your mother and I dream of every day."
Yeshe heard his father, yet did not look back. He did not want his family to see the moisture welling in his eyes. Besides, this was a moment for going forward, and Yeshe did so with only one small regret: his good friend Tumpi had not come to see him off. Tumpi was fourteen. He lived in a loft above the kitchens, where he was employed as a cook's helper. That lazy sleepyhead, thought Yeshe, a smile forming on his face.
Chamba and the others were waiting atop a stone stairway carved into the curtain wall of the keep. Before releasing the party, Chamba offered a final few words. "Remember, this is not a fact-finding mission. Padma already has ears where it needs them. Your job is to get Yeshe safely to Tigristan and return him to Pelang. You are traveling merchants with no interest in politics. When you encounter strangers, treat Yeshe as a normal lad. No one should suspect he is a lord. Now begone. Do what you are supposed to do."
In the next instant Yeshe, Kachen, Ladak, and the third man, Neuf, were descending into the sleeping city.CHAPTER 2
All journeys begin with the first step — There must be change — Stalked — Long roads grow longer — The adventure begins
As Yeshe's booted foot hit the cobblestone street by the rear wall of the old castle he felt suddenly and strangely free. Finally the waiting was over; his journey had begun. With a single step he was emancipated from the stuffy protocol of his father's court. He had escaped the life of royal rigmarole. If not for the need to be silent, Yeshe would have thrown back his head and cheered. No longer would his mornings be dominated by strenuous exercise programs and self-defense training. No longer would his afternoons be spent under the hooked nose of some pedantic scholar determined to improve the mind of Lord Anjur's son. Contrary to what one might imagine, it was not easy being a young lord. The position required an almost constant control of natural, adolescent enthusiasm and conflicted with the basic urges of youth.
Yeshe was delighted by Chamba's orders that the men treat him as a normal lad. He had often wondered how it might feel to lead an ordinary life. Now he would experience that condition. Or rather, he would approximate the experience; Yeshe knew normality had little to do with fifteen-year-old lads venturing secretively to faraway lands. Still, Yeshe would take what came his way. For him the trip was a break from arduous routine. It had to be a lot closer to normal than growing up in a castle surrounded by a well-meaning yet nosy royal retinue.
Yeshe was not bitter about his family. He did not resent his noble birth. He was happy the journey had started because it represented the beginning of change. That was what he needed now. A new time, a new experience — something different from the last two years of perpetual disappointment. Something had to change. He had to see again ... if not for his own sake, then for those who grieved on his behalf and depended upon him to fulfill his destiny as Padma's future sovereign. In particular, he was worried about his mother. So great were her hopes for him, he was afraid she might succumb to permanent despair if he did not soon regain his vision. Although the matter lay unspoken in the future, Yeshe understood that Padma could not be ruled by a blind man. That would be unfair to the people.
* * *
Kachen maintained a slow, steady pace as he led the party westward through Pelang. He did not wish to risk the chance of Yeshe stumbling and attracting attention. Who knew? Someone might awaken and peer from a window. In this initial stage of the trip, stealth was far more critical than speed.
Ladak walked at Yeshe's side, ready to navigate the lad around corners and steady him over steps. Neuf brought up the rear of the group. Neuf was not as swift as Ladak or as shrewd as Kachen, but he was stronger than both of them put together and was a good man to have along. Neuf always adhered strictly to orders.
After leaving behind the castle and other grand buildings lining the pearl-rich waters of Pelang Bay, the group entered the city's premiere residential district. As a rule, the homes closest to the water were larger and more stately than the homes situated farther inland. Some were veritable mansions, with fenced-in lawns and ornamental gardens. The party soon passed through the wealthy quarter and entered a humbler zone where two- and three-story buildings stood side by side without gardens, or yards, or fences separating them from the street. Yeshe sensed the transition, even if he could not see that the structures were smaller and the streets more narrow. He could hear it in the echoing patter of the party's stealthy footfalls bouncing off the enclosing walls.
Excerpted from The Distance of Hope by Sid Hite. Copyright © 1998 Sid Hite. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part I: Pelang to Kosh,
Part II: The Great Dream Lake,
Part III: Out of Ghoom and on to Mojheno,
Part IV: Into the Mountains,
Part V: To Tigristan,
Also by Sid Hite,