As its name suggested, the Chasm was a rift in the earth that varied from less than one to more than five kilometres wide. It encircled the whole land of Medar, so that it was like an island. The Chasm was impossibly deep and, with nearly vertical sides, nobody ventured close to the edge—nobody who valued their life, anyhow. Once she’d thrown a rock the size of her fist over the edge—lobbed it as far into the Chasm as she could—and she’d never heard it hit anything, even though she’d strained her ears for a full ten minutes.
Beyond the Chasm was the Wall.
The grey mass of the Wall rose vertically from the top of the cliff on the opposite side of the Chasm until it disappeared into a pall of dirty, grey clouds. It was said that it never ended. Freya knew from stories that the Wall encircled the whole Land and that it was impenetrable. The Wall was always there and had always been a part of their lives. Its shadow reduced the sunlight available and this, in addition to living in a part of the Land that was less fertile than most, often meant that their crops were poor. What they did grow was barely enough to keep the family fed, and they hardly had any left to trade for other items they might need. Freya had never thought too much about the Wall. It was just a fact of life, like rain and clouds and the Master.
The village boys weren’t giving up this time, and Freya could hear them getting closer to her hiding place. Carefully, silently, she withdrew deeper into the depths of the thorny bush. Suddenly she froze and gasped as she realised that her feet were no longer resting on the ground but were dangling in mid-air! Luckily, the sound of her gasp was drowned out for, at that very moment, there was a thunder of galloping hooves.
One of the boys shouted, “Guards!”
“Quick, let’s go!” yelled another.
Freya could hear the apprehension in their voices, as they raced off, back towards the safety of the village, their prey instantly forgotten. For just as everyone knew to stay away from the Chasm, so too they knew to steer clear of the Guards.
The Guards’ sole purpose was to conduct the Master’s business, and the Master’s business was to prosper from Medar. When it came to the Guards, it was best to keep a low profile and draw as little attention to oneself as possible. There were rumours that bad things happened to people who got in the way of them.
Freya held her breath as the beating hooves came closer and closer … but did not slow, and raced by. The sound faded into the distance. She breathed a sigh of relief and drew her legs quickly towards her stomach. How could she be so close to the Chasm? She must’ve lost her bearings. But no, she saw as she craned her neck under her arm, it wasn’t the edge of the Chasm at all. She manoeuvred herself around under the bush, ducking her head so that she could have a better look, her hair catching in the thorns.
The bush’s gnarled roots clung to the edge of a hole in the ground—perhaps an old well. The opening was not large, but more than big enough for Freya to fall in. She wormed her way closer so she could peer in with her good eye. No, it wasn’t a well after all, as it was not a vertical shaft. Rather the walls of the hole sloped downwards at a gentle gradient, so that this was more like a tunnel than a hole.
The fading light meant that she could not see much at all. Curious, she reached for the tinder-box in her old leather satchel. She always carried that, slung diagonally over her shoulder, and it was now resting on her back. Gathering a small pile of twigs at the lip of the hole, she struck a spark onto the dry tinder and dropped it into the kindling. Instantly, the twigs crackled with flame. Taking care not to prick herself on the thorns, she snapped a thicker branch off the bush and held it to the fire. As soon as the branch caught, she threw a handful of dirt on the pile to extinguish the last flames, then carefully poked her burning stick into the void.
The burning branch did not cast its light very far, but it was enough to see that the tunnel continued to angle downwards. She slithered into the hole and wriggled carefully forwards on her belly and elbows, shielding the flame with her hand. The cavity was not large and ended a few metres farther down in an enlarged, dug out space—a cave! Freya could fit all the way in and sit down with only a small clearance above her head. If she had been much bigger, she would not even have been able to manoeuvre herself around. Whoever had made this place couldn’t have been much bigger than her.
The feathery roots of the bush grew through the ceiling of the cave and brushed her head. It smelt earthy, but it was dry. Careful not to touch the flame to the roots, Freya shone her makeshift torch around the confined space. The flame flickered and her shadow danced over the walls and ceiling. But she could still see the fading daylight at the entrance of the tunnel, and her torch was not in danger of going out. What a great little hiding place! She would turn it into a proper hidey-hole, her own secret place. Yes, she would come back tomorrow and bring some candles. Maybe she could even sneak one of her mother’s old blankets. She grinned, delighted with her discovery.
As she wriggled around to crawl back out of the tunnel, her foot caught in something on the floor of the cave. She tugged her ankle, but it wouldn’t come loose. Carefully, she reached back under herself to free the obstruction, expecting to feel a plant root. Instead, her hand encountered leather—there was something buried in the floor of the cave! Holding her breath, she scraped away the dirt with one hand, the other holding her burning stick.
Her excavation revealed a leather-wrapped object about the size of a small book. She prised it out of the ground and unwrapped it: it was some sort of tablet, and glinted and shone in the light. It was made of some sort of glass, but the surface was cloudy. It was hard to tell what it was in this light. It looked like it should be heavy, but she was surprised to feel it weighed hardly anything. And then, as she held her flame close to the object to examine it more carefully, she gasped as writing appeared on the surface, faint at first, then clear and bright:
Tyrelia! Land of gold
A land so lovely to behold
0, land of beauty, land of light
Joyous refuge, pure delight
Tyrelia! That land so fair
Of meadows green and clean pure air
Of stately trees in forests vast
Of ancient rocks from ages past
Then she noticed, etched into the bottom of the tablet, the following numbers:
50 – 63 – 92 – 99
Suddenly, she coughed as the smoke from her torch, which had been building up in the small space, caught in her throat. Hastily, she extinguished her flame and, more by feel than sight, she wrapped the leather back around the tablet, stuffed it into her satchel, and crawled back up the tunnel. Having wormed back out from under the bush, her heart thumping with excitement as much as exertion, she realised with alarm that it was almost dark—she should have been home ages ago. Sure that her mother would be worried, she quickly surveyed the scrub so she could memorise the location, and noted a large boulder a stone’s throw away. With a satisfied nod, Freya turned on her heel and set off for the village at a jog, calling to Nan as she went. It was not long before she heard the clanking of the goat’s bell. As she herded it before her, she pondered her strange discovery. She couldn’t wait to get home and look at it again.
As she neared her hut, a murmur of voices reached her ears and her thoughts immediately jumped to the thundering horsemen. She’d forgotten all about them! Rounding a bend in the path, a dozen people came into view, crowded around the doorway to her home. Immediately thinking something bad must have happened, she tied Nan back in her lean-to, and ran to the front of the house. But as she got closer she saw that the people were laughing and chatting happily, not in distress at all. Relieved, she squeezed her way through the throng and into her home. Her mother was busy chattering away to two other women and hadn’t noticed her enter.
She tugged on her mother’s sleeve. “What’s happened, Ma? I heard the horsemen …”
Her mother looked down at her with a flushed face and wide smile, her eyes sparkling. “Oh, Freya, there you are! We’ve been looking everywhere for you. You’ll never believe it … I can hardly believe it myself. Oh, it’s our lucky day!”
Martha swept Freya into her arms and spun her around.
“Ma, calm down. You’re not making any sense!” Freya laughed as Martha put her down, the jovial atmosphere contagious. “What’s happened?”
Her mother cupped Freya’s face with both hands and announced in a breathless voice, “We’ve been Selected!”
Freya was stunned. She stood motionless for a second, then jabbed her fist into the air and whooped with delight.
Her father and brother came over, and her father gathered the whole family into a massive bear hug, tears of happiness streaming down his face.
“That’s right, Freya,” he laughed. “Golden City, here we come!”