I am thrilled to share an extract with you today on The Abdication by Justin Newland Blog tour
The town of Unity sits perched on the edge of a yawning ravine where, long ago, a charisma of angels provided spiritual succour to a fledgeling human race. Then mankind was granted the gift of free will and had to find its own way, albeit with the guidance of the angels. The people’s first conscious act was to make an exodus from Unity. They built a rope bridge across the ravine and founded the town of Topeth. For a time, the union between the people of Topeth and the angels of Unity was one of mutual benefit. After that early spring advance, there had been a torrid decline in which mankind’s development resembled a crumpled, fading autumnal leaf.
Following the promptings of an inner voice, Tula, a young woman from the city, trudges into Topeth. Her quest is to abide with the angels and thereby discover the right and proper exercise of free will. To do that, she has to cross the bridge – and overcome her vertigo. Topeth is in upheaval; the townsfolk blame the death of a child on dust from the nearby copper mines. The priests have convinced them that a horde of devils have thrown the angels out of Unity and now occupy the bridge, possessing anyone who trespasses on it. Then there’s the heinous Temple of Moloch!
The Abdication is the story of Tula’s endeavour to step upon the path of a destiny far greater than she could ever have imagined.
14 The Funeral
… The procession followed the eastern edge of the cemetery, which brought them near to the ravine. Draughts of hot desert air gusted across them, blowing off Wincorn’s funeral hat. Obedient schoolboy that he was, Chimor gave chase and brought it back to his master. Kebel sat and guarded.
The drop was sheer. The searing wind howled through the vast gap as if the two sides of the ravine – like great jaws – were opening to take in a mammoth gulp of air. Tula’s head was spinning. In her mind, she reached out and touched the town of Unity; it seemed so close, she could feel it, sense it, smell it. Yet after Taurus’s threats, she feared she would never see it. At least Musa had shown some humanity.
The sound of two youngsters shouting at the tops of their voices interrupted her reverie. Lost in a game of hide and seek, Abel and an older lad had separated from the procession. They ran around the cemetery, skipped on top of the wall and hid from each other behind the gravestones.
Tula stood next to Amina, who tutted her obvious disapproval of the young men’s antics.
By the graveside, the gravedigger and his mate waited as patiently as the dead. The beetles, ants and woodlice were less so and climbed willy-nilly over the heaped mounds of earth, blithely unaware of the awful gravity of their social transgression.
Digging graves was possibly older than the oldest profession. It required little or no training. Brute force, ignorance and previous experience of digging holes in the ground was useful. Dig a hole, lower a wooden box into it, then fill in the hole with earth. Then repeat. That was it. And do not, under any circumstances, spill the contents of the box.
Leaning on their spades, the gravediggers were nattering about the box found on the bridge and its poignant message – HELP. She was going to mention how she had found the box and the message but thought better of it.
She felt a tinge of melancholy, not only for Jevros but because this was her first funeral ever. In the city, she had gone to her aunt’s wedding, at which she had made a pretty bridesmaid if she said so herself. But this, her first burial, was unremittingly sad.
Musa and the other guards stood behind the Commander as he recited a homily to Jevros, what a fine man he was; a father, a husband, a consummate doctor, good at all tasks, loved by many and revered by all. While Wincorn was saying a prayer for his soul, Tula wondered what had happened to the two hide-and-seekers. They had gone. The last time she had looked, they were loitering near a path that led away from the cemetery and which seemed to end in the ravine. That could not be right. They could not have fallen into it. Not on a day such as this.
Her heart thumped against her chest. Quietly, she moved away from the ceremony, walked through the cemetery gate, and strode down the path for a minute. It ran tantalisingly close to the edge of the ravine and seemed to come to a stop at a high stone wall. She peered around it.
Her mouth dropped open.
The two boys were perched on a narrow ledge cut out into the cliff face. With their backs to the ravine and facing the cliff, they were shuffling along the ledge.
Abel in the lead, the other lad behind, they appeared supremely confident in the execution of this frightening manoeuvre. Yet the drop below them was fatal. The ledge was so narrow they had to walk along it sideways, grabbing tufts of grass and cracks in the rock above their heads to keep their balance. The ledge was about fifty steps, of which they had traversed the first ten.
It reminded Tula of the high-wire circus act that had come to the city when she was eleven. It made her feel dizzy just watching. Even then, she was afraid of heights.
She felt as though someone had kicked her hard in the stomach.
“Boys, come back, please,” she called.
“No, we’re doing just fine,” Abel yelled back, without even lifting his head.
Their level of concentration was astonishing and their courage even more so.
“Abel, what are you doing?”
“I’ve done it before.” Abel’s voice echoed once, twice, thrice.
She was scared, not only for them but also for their families. The boys were mad to attempt this escapade, especially at this time of raw emotional upheaval. Should anything untoward occur, they would blame the bridge devils.
At the top of her voice, she pleaded, “Abel! Come back!”
They carried on.
“Boys! Remember, we’re here for a funeral.”
They stopped. Abel glanced back at her.
“This is not the time to play games with your lives. Get back here. Now!”
They edged towards her.
Abel leapt across the gap between the ledge and the hill. He nearly fell and had to scramble up the slope, Tula hauling him up to save him. He fell into her arms and his legs capsized beneath him. He lay there flat on his face, arms akimbo, as if giving obeisance to the Earth goddess. Tula let out an enormous sigh of relief.
She noticed that the other end of the ledge ended at the flagstones by the bridgehead. Maybe Abel was one of the missing pieces of the puzzle. When he had got his breath back, she said to him, “What on earth were you thinking? You should know better. Your mother and your father have already suffered the heartbreak of a missing daughter. How do you think they would cope if you were to fall?”
“Y-yes. S-sorry, Miss Tula.”
“Promise me you’ll never do it again.”
“Promise, Miss Tula.”
“Good. Now tell me, when was the last time you were on this ledge?”
He smiled at her with that sheepish grin.
“Abel, be a good boy and answer me, please.”
“I-I don’t rightly remember, Miss.”
“Oh, but I think you do, Master Abel. On the evening poor Jevros came to the bridge, I thought I saw someone else on the flagstones. That was you, wasn’t it?”
He nodded, averting his eyes from her gaze.
“Was that a ‘yes’, Abel?”
“And what did you see?”
“I was on my own. I like the ledge. It makes me feel good. I got to the flagstones. I was near the guard’s cabin. I saw a man on the bridge, so I hid in the shadows.”
“Which man? Jevros?”
“No, Miss Tula. Jevros was coming down the snaking path.”
“Then who was on the bridge?”
“I don’t know. It was another man.”
“What happened to him? Where did he go?”
The maudlin sounds of solemn chanting swirled around the cemetery.
“Thank you, Abel. Listen, we need to pay our respects to Jevros and his little girl,” she said, and led the boys back to the cemetery.
After that, she could wait no longer; she had to face her fears head-on.
About the Author
Justin Newland is an author of historical fantasy and secret history thrillers – that’s history with a supernatural twist. His stories feature known events and real people
from history which are re-told and examined through the lens of the supernatural. He
gives author talks and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio Bristol’s Thought for the
Day. He lives with his partner in plain sight of the Mendip Hills in Somerset, England.
The Genes of Isis is a tale of love, destruction and ephemeral power set under the
skies of Ancient Egypt. A re-telling of the Biblical story of the flood, it reveals the
mystery of the genes of Isis – or genesis – of mankind.
The Old Dragon’s Head is a historical fantasy and supernatural thriller set
during the Ming Dynasty and played out in the shadows the Great Wall of
China. It explores the secret history of the influences that shaped the
beginnings of modern times.
Set during the Great Enlightenment, The Coronation reveals the secret history of
the Industrial Revolution.
His latest, The Abdication (July, 2021), is a suspense thriller, a
journey of destiny, wisdom and self-discovery.