Pietro and the Plateau

Written in response to: Write about a character learning to trust their intuition.... view prompt

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Adventure Coming of Age Friendship

Pietro’s voice rang weakly across the countryside. He was heading home after his first venture into the world, his first attempt to share his art. It had not gone well. He found the largest fountain at the center of the largest city he had ever seen. There he stood upon the box that carried all his worldly possessions save one, his mandolin, and sang the songs he had played since he was a boy. It had taken years of saving every coin he made and took him weeks to walk the rugged, mountainous trail, but one cared. No one listened. No one threw money in his hat. His eyes welled up at the thought of the fiddlers cap full of the people's hard earned coins. 

It had been a tough journey from his small village, but the box strapped to his back felt heavier than ever. His quills and ink bottles rattled against the edges. He hadn’t even cared to wrap his precious writings, instead choosing to cram them hastily into the box. His mandolin, his prize position, hung against the box’s edge, clunking against it with every heavy step Pietro took. He had spent the last of his meager savings faster than expected. His face turned red at the thought of returning home with nothing to show for his journey. 

He had failed.

A tear rolled down Pietro’s cheek as the weight settled into his chest. He stopped singing as the trail steepened. He was breathing heavily and allowed the tears to flow freely down his face. He was approaching the plateau. The halfway point home. He walked a few more steps and welcomed the level ground of the plateau. He saw the large, flat rock under the shade of a gnarled olive tree in the center of a long stretch of flat earth. He had rested there on his trip away from his village, and even though the sun hadn’t even peaked, Pietro looked forward to resting.

He had been walking for days. Talking quick breaks only when hunger or thirst physically hurt him. He had to get away from the shame of his defeat, but somehow, the closer to home he got, the more shame he felt. He had played next to that fountain for weeks, waking early to get what he thought was the best spot to perform. Right in front of the main arch that led into the town square. Every person entering the city would have to pass by and hear his superior mandolin playing. In the early mornings, in the empty square his deep baritone voice echoed against the beautiful brick buildings. He had been so excited, so optimistic to show the world his talent. 

But they chose the fiddler who stood on the opposite side of the fountain. They chose to pause their day to hear him, they chose to throw their coins into his cap. “How could they?” he thought spitefully. In desperation he had spent his last week sleeping in the square. Right on the spot where the fiddler played. Facing the cold, blank brick wall instead of the glorious arch, and still little coin found their way to Pietro. His last day in the city he opened his coin purse and found nothing; he hastily threw his things into his box and stormed out of the city. Pietro shoved through the crowd to pass the fiddler and made sure to kick his cap and spill his coins. 

Pietro had made it to the large flat rock, big enough for him to lay on. He tossed his box and mandolin carelessly next to his hard bed. He winced at the clunk and twang his mandolin made as it hit the ground, but was too tired to care anymore.  He laid flat on the rock, and exhaled deeply. His feet hurt. His shoulders were raw from the straps he had crafted for the wooden box. He had made them months ago in preparation for a new life. He counted the splinters in his back in time with pounding in his head. He remembered how he boasted to his village. “The only way I’ll be back is by carriage!” He wept at the thought of his mother and father seeing him return in the same, filthy clothes, with the same, now splintering box. He doubted both straps would even last the journey home. He curled himself into a ball, he had been distracting himself with his mad march home. Without the pain of continued motion the hurt entered his soul. He cried until he fell asleep. 

Pietro awoke, still in the shade. The sun still hadn’t peaked. Pietro yawned and shook the numbness out of his hand. He stared at the sun’s rays through the olive tree’s branches. As he stretched he pondered if had slept a full day or merely minutes. He looked down for his mandolin and gasped. He rubbed his eyes in disbelief. The flat, empty plateau was now covered in a thick, thorny plant as far the eye could see. 

Pietro was perplexed. He stood on the rock and squinted in every direction. The world had faded into a sea of unfriendly foliage, and Pietro was alone on a life raft. His confusion turned to fear and he yelled as loud as he could. No response. Fear turned to panic. He remembered his box full of his work and his mandolin. He whined in frustration as he peered through the thorns around the rock. Where had he set it? Was his last action towards his beloved instrument a careless toss? He got dizzy from the thought of never playing his mandolin again, he had mistreated and abused it ever since he had left the square. 

Pietro's eyes filled with shameful tears at the thought of his actions; kicking the fiddler’s cap, abusing his mandolin, crumpling his writing, and quitting his dream. He sank to his knees as the weight in his chest pulled him down. He slumped down until his hands and face were against the rock, inches from the thorns. 

Hopelessly he rose a few inches and opened eyes. Right in front of him, an arm's reach away, through the thorns, was his box, and laying on top was his mandolin. Pietro laughed with disbelief. He brought his knees to the edge of the rock and slowly reached forward, into the plant. His hand was fully submerged and the thorns were starting to get him. It was tolerable at first but as his forearm was buried it became unbearable and Pietro ripped his arm from the plant’s grasp. He cradled his arm with his eyes closed. He was afraid to look, it had felt as if his skin had been pulled from his flesh. He focused on breathing as he opened his eyes. 

There was not a scratch on Pietro’s arm.”This can’t be my arm” he thought and he flexed his fingers. The pain subsided and Pietro’s attention turned back towards his mandolin. He loved that instrument and felt more connected to it than he did to most people. Still leaning over the thorns he made a quick decision and threw his arm into the thorns. He grabbed the neck of the instrument and screamed. The thorns had gotten all the way up his neck. He felt he had been burned with fire. He pulled back as quickly as he could, ripping branches of the thorny plant up with his instrument. 

Pietro blinked fiercely and focused on the olive tree. Minutes had passed since he saved his friend. He had almost passed out from the pain. His mandolin sat opposite of him on the rock, covered in thorns and a little blood. Except for the thorns he had pulled up when he grabbed his mandolin’s neck none had pierced his skin. He pulled the few thorns that had entered his hand out, grimacing in pain and frustration as the barbs gripped his flesh. 

Once Pietro had tended to his hand as best he could, he refocused on his stringed travel companion. He brushed the remaining thorns off and picked up the instrument with the intention of strumming a chord. He recoiled in horror as the now too familiar sensation of the thorns returned to his chest and hands. Carefully and quickly Pietro set the instrument on the rock, with the strings facing up. He squinted and lowered his face to his prized possession. He exhaled heavily out of his nose and observed the tiny, sharp protuberances that now coated every surface of the mandolin. The body, the neck, the tuning knobs-even the strings were now coated in a smaller version of the thorns that had trapped Pietro next to the olive tree. 

Pietro crossed his legs and sat in front of the object that had brought him so much joy. He couldn’t comprehend the pain that it had caused him. He swiveled his head and cried out. He continued this routine and watched the sun lower. With it’s last light leaving his world, Pietro gazed longingly at the mandolin’s fretboard, admiring the way the sun’s low light bounced off the wood. He sang quietly in a hoarse voice, and reached towards the fretboard. He hesitated and held his pointer finger just above a string and took a deep breath. His other pointer finger found its way to pluck the string. Pietro held his breath and played a single note. 

Pain shot up his hands, he felt it flow through his body and out his still singing mouth. He bellowed the note he had selected and the thorns surrounding the rock recoiled. Pietro held his hands to his chest. He could not believe his eyes, so he closed them. He squeezed his eyes shut and grabbed the mandolin. Quickly he started playing. An old melody. A melody that had long been forgotten. The pain was immense, the worst pain Pietro had ever felt. But he couldn’t stop. 

This melody had laid dormant in the back of his mind, and he did not want to let it go again. He sang louder as the thorns ripped his fingers. He was sure no skin remained on his finger tips, that the thumb he strummed with was stripped to the bone. He felt blood gather on his clothing as he cradled his instrument.  Pietro clenched his eyes shut and sang from somewhere deep within him. His voice expelled the weight from his chest and spread to his fingertips.

The pain left Pietro. He stood and sang a song he had never heard. With it came a joy he had forgotten, a part of him he had lost. As he approached what he believed to be the end of the song tears began streaming down his face. In his heart he felt that this unheard song would be his last. He would succumb to his wounds and spend eternity trapped on the plateau.

Pietro held out the last note and enjoyed the silence that followed. He only thought to open his eyes when he heard the sound of clapping. Not a full applause, but a small group of people clapping. He let one of his eyes open a sliver and saw them standing in front of the rock. They had a small wagon filled with goods strapped to a lone donkey. The thorns were gone. Pietro looked down at himself and saw no blood, not even the holes where the thorns had pierced his hand. He looked up at the people in front of him with his mouth slightly open. He realized they were speaking to him. They thanked him for a beautiful song and asked if he would join them for a meal. 

Pietro blushed and thanked them. He stammered through an introduction as the kind folks prepped some food. The group was returning to the city he had left days earlier. “Surely a city the size of ours needs the entertainment you provide!” A member of the group exclaimed and introduced himself as a tavern owner. He passed Pietro a skin of wine. Pietro was already dizzy from the day's events, but he gladly accepted. The tavern owner offered him a room in his building, all he would have to do was play his music in the evenings. Pietro choked on the wine. The tavern owner laughed, and added he was no meiser, he would provide a modest wage as well. He insisted they sleep on it. 

In the morning Pietro woke feeling new. He happily accepted the tavern owner's offer. He stacked his box onto the donkey's wagon. He held his mandolin, his friend, his lifeline, to his chest and sang for the group as they departed towards the life Pietro had dreamed of creating. 

January 07, 2022 03:07

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