by Gordon Saunders
Available in the Spring, 2021
Overview of the Verduran Pentology
A Light through the Cave is the first book of the Verduran Pentology. In 1836, in Barren County, Kentucky, the adventures of four teenaged kids – Joshua, Marie, Amanda, and Steven (who is a slave) – start in a wooden hotel by Mammoth Cave.
Their adventures continue a couple of earth-years later in the second book, The Lord Steward and the Servant King. That adventure starts very close to the place where their first adventure began, but it’s deeper and darker than that one. In Book 2, they face another purely Verduran enemy in addition to all the Verdurans he has duped.
In this book, The Boatwright, Book 3 of the Verduran Pentology, we learn about Steven’s father, Dalat, who becomes known as Sabal on earth. It chronicles the events leading up to the earlier adventures. This one starts in Verdura but goes back to 19th century America. Many unanswered questions from the first two books find a solution in The Boatwright.
In Book 4, The Founding of Denispri, Joshua and Marie return to a Verdura whose timeframe is millennia earlier than that of their first adventure. There they meet Verdura’s first citizens and discover how Verdura came to have the geography and ecosystem they experienced in their first adventure.
Book 5, The Kingdom of Light, brings Joshua and his young wife, child, and Chinese nanny, into a Verdura that is fighting and fading into its cataclysmic apocalypse – into a new way of being that none of the characters could ever have imagined.
From Chapter 8: The Green Corn Dance
…one dance, done with feathers, particularly interested him. The dance boss watched him, and as the dance concluded, he extended the dance stick to Sabal, meaning that he was to lead the next dance. Sabal hesitated. But when the man started to take the feathers back to the tchoc-ko thloc- ko, he gestured for him to bring them back.
He set the stick down, took some feathers, and stepped into the leader’s spot. After he had placed feathers between his fingers, he held his arms down, straight and tight against his body so that the feathers splayed down toward the ground. He closed his eyes for a moment and gave himself over to thought. That bird, he mused. He remains in my mind, though I do not know whether to love him or to hate him. But then he opened his eyes and nodded.
He knew the story of Ispri. He had heard it in his creche. He began to dance the story. He raised his arms very slowly from his sides until they formed a straight line across his shoulders from hand to hand, feather to feather. Everyone in the dance circle turned slightly and stretched out their arms similarly.
He fluttered the feathers. They fluttered their fingers. Then he moved his hands – slowly, with deliberate grace – up and down, and up and down. He arched his back and began turning his arms so that the hands made small circles in the air. The others mimicked his circles.
Then he swayed his upper torso, gently, undulating. The others followed. He continued to do so as he stepped from one foot to the other, side to side. The entire line swayed and stepped from foot to foot. Then he waved his arms more swiftly. And when they were moving very swiftly he jumped.
He broke the circle, skipping and jumping. From place to place to place he skipped and jumped. The circle became a line, following him, a line turning and crossing and undulating. And then he tumbled to his knees. All the others fell, likewise, to their knees. His arms still made circles, but smaller, more slowly. Then he settled to his haunches, arms slowing still more. All did the same. And now, he gently rolled and waved his arms, gently, gently, feathers extending from the fingers, until he pulled them in upon himself, cradling himself.
He let his face fall forward and touch the ground, rise again slightly, and then fall again, unhindered, into the dirt. All the other men set their faces in the dirt. Sabal allowed his fingers, and the feathers, to ripple slightly, and then he was still. No one moved. No one made a sound.
The fire crackled softly. A few night birds sounded in the distance. Sweat trickled down Sabal’s down-turned face and dripped to the ground with a tiny hiss. An animal called in the distance. Crickets sang. Sabal’s forehead remained in the dirt. The dancers remained still.
But then Sabal moved a feather. He moved it and was still, but it had made its scratching sound on the earth.
And then he moved another. He rippled his fingers gently, first on one hand, and then on the other. Stop. He did it again. The others began cautiously to move their fingers, to turn their faces sideways to watch.
Then Sabal pulled an arm out from underneath himself, stretched it once and put it back. Then the other. Then both at once. Now he raised his head a bit, arching his back and shoulders, then straightening them, bending back down. And then he was up again, undulating. Slowly, slowly, arms gaining speed, circles becoming larger, he rose to his feet.
Then suddenly, instantly, wildly, he waved and turned and shouted and jumped… running to the edge of the dance circle… running along the edge, jumping, waving his arms. The dance followed. They all jumped and leapt. He led a wild, shouting procession all around toward and away from the edge of the dance circle, waving and weaving, exulting and leaping. On and on.
But finally—slowing, quietening, gradually—he led them back to the center of the circle. He led them back to the center and to stillness.
After a time, Sabal took the feathers from his fingers, picked up the dance stick, raised his head briefly, nodded at the dance boss. Then he bowed his head again.
The dance boss approached Sabal and gently took the stick from the ground in front of him. At that moment everyone broke out in cheers. But Sabal wept.
Keeta led Sabal from the dance circle. As he neared its boundary, did the single rotation and bow required, and stepped out, Chono approached. She took his hand in both of hers, gathering it to herself as one does a precious thing. He said nothing because he had no words. He had shared himself in the dance. There was nothing left to say, nothing left to share.
From Chapter 15: Shipwreck
Sabal pulled off the two-gang pump handle with the help of another man. They scaled the ladder and battered the grating with the pump handle until it came apart in a shower of water and splinters. Heedless of the sharp edges, Sabal and the other unshackled slaves scrambled out.
The key! thought Sabal. They had to have the key! He rushed up the ladder and through the casing to the deck in time to see a boat on the davits, filled with sailors, being lowered over the starboard side. He ran toward it. A wave crashed over the hull and swept him off his feet, throwing him along the deck. He slid to the starboard rail. He pulled himself up and began to drag himself toward the boat.
Snap! The foremast broke above the yardarm and crashed through the rigging, landing on the capstan. Splinters filled the air. Sabal made his way through the stinging spray slowly, so slowly, to the gangboard, then the rail. He looked for the boat.
The boat and sailors were hung up on the side, and several seamen were struggling to clear it. But two other boats were rounding the bow and heading for shore, only too close at hand. Sabal became violently angry. They would leave us to die! He grabbed a long, thin piece of broken mast from close at hand and ran to the bow. He would swim to the boats and get the key by force!
Where was that petty officer? He couldn’t see him. He ran back to the boat on the port side. The boat splashed into the water, apparently freed, and oars sprung out from both sides. Sabal leapt for it.
He missed. But he was not far. He came up spluttering, but intent. He swam toward the boat. Someone must have seen him, for suddenly an oar was thrust at his head. In his anger he reached for it and tore it from the man’s grasp. He lunged for the sheer of the boat.
Another seaman lashed at Sabal with his oar. Sabal caught the sheer and pulled it sharply down with all his weight, nearly capsizing the boat. The man had stood to attack Sabal and went toppling into the water. Grey-green saltiness howled around them.
“The key!” shouted Sabal. “The key or I sink the boat!”
There was confusion, and other seamen began to move toward Sabal. There was a brief argument and the petty officer produced the key from a pocket. He reached out to Sabal with the key as the boat lurched, and dropped it. Oh Ispri! Sabal thought.
The key had brushed Sabal’s foot as it fell. He lunged and caught at it. But he didn’t quite catch it. He dove. He propelled himself downward and downward, losing air. Kicking. Kicking. Did the key glow? How could it?
But then he had it. He had it in his fist. His air was gone. But he couldn’t fail! He kicked toward the surface.