It’s not easy finding work in these hard times. Drought and war, an empty throne fought over by many, raids on the borders and from across the sea. I survived, taking jobs here and there. The first time I heard the banging, it was quiet and far away, but I was alone in the middle of a field, one of a dozen or so workers scattered across the wide expense, working our way along the rows harvesting the grapes. I dismissed it as someone dropping something or something breaking back in the press barn, even though it was coming from the other direction and, when we delivered the harvested grapes at the end of the day, nothing was damaged. But you don’t ask questions and you keep your head down when a job like that is all you’ve got between food and starvation.
But it didn’t stop. There were gaps, sometimes days at a time, sometimes only a few hours. Wherever I was working – harvesting grapes in the foothills, chopping lumber further up the slopes, or back in town carrying goods around or even just waiting around for someone to need workers, the banging came back.
Two of them, metallic-sounding and ringing, like someone dropped a hammer in a cauldron, then picked it up out and dropped it again a couple of seconds later. Nothing melodic about it, no church bells these. And nobody else heard it, even as it got louder in my own ears. Some nights it woke me, and those nights I never slept well. They got closer together, so that it got to a point where not an hour passed when I didn’t hear it, wherever I was, whatever I was doing. One time the surprise of it made me drop my end of a load. I got sworn at for that, and they didn’t hire me the next day to finish the job. Found someone else instead. Someone who wouldn’t drop things for no reason.
I decided to run. It got louder and more frequent when I went back to town, so I left, passed the vineyard again – nabbed a few sour-tasting grapes to snack on on my way by, grapes unripe when we’d harvested them. But the banging followed me.
Bang! Bang! as I passed the pressing barn, and Bang! Bang! again as I crossed the little wooden bridge over the river down the way, still in sight of the vineyard. Bang! Bang! as I followed the river downstream, skirting the edges of fields nearly ready to be harvested and orchards with apples ripening on the branches, still too sour to enjoy, but I hadn’t anything else so I picked and ate them anyway. Louder every time, and every time I looked around, looking for a source, but there was nothing out there but farms and sheep and trees.
BANG! BANG! as I plucked blackberries from a hedgerow. BANG! BANG! as I turned from it to continue my journey. A few steps taken, and again BANG! BANG!
Dizziness overtook me. I tried to run, the uneaten blackberries falling from my fingers, but instead the world spun and the ground seemed to rush up at me.
No impact. No pain. The ground was under me, but even with open eyes I couldn’t see it. It wasn’t the patchy grass and packed dirt I’d expected.
I ran my fingers over the ground, moving no other part of my body. Hard and smooth and flat. No texture at all, not wooden floorboards or stone slabs. No joins.
The noise of it was too loud. I wished it would stop. I rolled onto my back, getting a fresh dose of nausea in the process, and covered my ears. The world seemed to swirl around me once more, no sign of the trees or the river or the hedgerow I’d been near before, but a darkness full of colour, hints of purple and green at the edges of my vision.
Even with my hands over my ears, the noise was no quieter. I sat up, and another wave of dizziness flooded over me. There was nothing new to see, still the same swirling colours in the darkness, or of the darkness, or something.
“What’s going on?” I shouted.
The blackness lightened to grey, and the swirling purples and greens softened, almost merging with the grey. Noise beside the banging returned, a hum, it seemed, a buzz perhaps. Something familiar.
Sensation returned. Cold. The riverside had been warm, a mild summer afternoon, but here it was cold. The grey lightened, the swirling colours instead fell, all moving downwards.
I uncovered my ears. The softest touch ran down the contours of my face. The noise behind the banging became clearer and the cold on my skin told me what it was, even as I still couldn’t quite see right: rain.
“There you are. We’ve been looking for you.” The voice seemed familiar, but my ears still didn’t feel quite right and I couldn’t see much more than the grey rain in front of me.
“You can’t just run away from your destiny, you know.”
“It’s a good thing we found you.”
“Do you know what might have happened if we hadn’t?”
I looked around as my vision finally cleared. Three figures in dark purple robes stood before me, and beyond them stones jutted to waist-height out of the long grass, a ring all around us, and beyond them only more grass, sloping downwards, until the incessant rain hid all.
And just as my hearing had cleared, and my vision had cleared, now my mind became sharper. I remembered.
“You’ve got a destiny to meet,” the central figure before me said.
“An evil to overcome,” the one to his left continued.
“A kingdom to unite,” said the third.
I stood up with a sigh. No nausea now, though the hunger remained, and the hint of sour apple in my mouth.
“Albion awaits you, Arthur,” said the wizard before me.