20 of Eleint 1371, Year of the Unstrung Harp
I went home somewhat uncertain about the outcome of the whole affair. It felt very satisfying to be in control, and the perspective of seeing the little brat twitch and sneeze at my whim was very appealing. On the other hand, I was now committed to spending three whole days in her company. I decided to think about it later, and made haste, as the sun was already setting over the sand dunes at the horizon.
To my great relief, the next morning came cool and windy. The last vestiges of the first seasonal storm made it from the seacoast without evaporating over the hot sands that stretched from the tip of Calim peninsula to the feet of the Marching Mountains. Even here, at the very northern edge of the great desert, the five endless months of summer drove both mind and body to the edge of exhaustion, and melted one's brains into a mass of quivering jelly: hardly a state appropriate for arcane studies. Heartened by the favorable weather, I chewed on a piece of flatbread, gulped down my tea and sought out Chyil, who was up and about before sunrise as was his habit. He stared at me unhappily, visibly upset by my stubbornness, then gave up with a sigh of resignation and beckoned me into his studio, where he dug out Lazarus' bag of scrolls and a fresh bottle of ink.
For a few minutes I could hear him complaining, then everything but my work faded from my mind, and became a background noise to the rustling of parchment and scratching of the quill on virgin white pages. As I sorted through the scrolls, I noticed to my confusion that unlike Lazarus's texts, which were written in well worded Common, many of these were filled with strings of arcane symbols that bore no meaning to me. Row after row of strange pictograms, concentric rings pierced with multi-headed arrows, roaring magical beasts, and even astrological symbols, filled the crumpling yellowed sheets. My head began to spin as my eyes stared in confusion at these forbidden treasures of the arcane. I would have despaired at the impossible task, cursing the fate that had stripped me of knowledge needed to break the puzzle, when my eyes felt upon the parchment marked with the sign of red eye. I immediately recognized the sign as Lazarus's private mark. To make things even more intriguing, a small lens of polished crystal cast in silvery metal was attached to the scroll with a leather string.
I grabbed it and brought it closer to my eyes. Immediately it began to glow, the arcane symbols marching across the parchment like dutiful ants, forming row after row of glittering lines of text. Still, the full meaning of the spell only came to me when almost on its own volition my hand snatched the crystal lens. The scroll flashed with bright light and crumpled into dust, leaving me stunned and breathless, with a blissful smile of triumph plastered on my face. It was my first serious breakthrough, but only later had I realized its full importance.
I had read and committed to memory the most basic of arcane essentials - the Read Magic spell. I grabbed my quill and carefully recorded order and wording of the incantation, noticing to my further astonishment that my hand was writing in an affluent and elegant script of an unknown language. And yet, I knew it by heart, as I was easily reading line after line of my own handwriting. I tried to write some nonsense on a piece of scrap paper. My hand drew 'Nae saian luume' and I blanched as I tore it into smaller and smaller pieces. It had been 'too long' indeed.
I was so shaken after that little incident that continuing my studies was out of the question. So, I sanded the written page generously from the jar that Chyil kept on his desk ,(the refills were easily available), and turned away from the pile of scrolls and papers. Habitually, my thoughts took the darkest path, and for a while I sat there agonizing over the new selection of torments that were surely in store for me tonight. Then my eyes fall on the shadow of the acacia tree outside the window, noting absently that it was nearly gone. With a curse, I jumped to my feet; the sun was already at its highest point, and I was running late.
When I reached the familiar rock, Mirriam was still there, bristling like a wild cat. Her braid was coiled around the fingers of her left hand, and her incredibly white teeth were biting in on it in impatience. She was wearing another flashy, embroidered vest. This time it was purple velvet with a pink trim. The girl gave me a look of chagrin, but was somewhat pleased with my flushed and disheveled appearance.
"Gore and bloody ashes, elf-boy! Do you think I am your pet? The reason I did not leave an hour ago was because I wanted to tell you in your face that you are a miserable piece of refuse!"
"I am quite amazed at your consistency," I interrupted her spill of angry tirades. "Was I mistaken or have you been calling me names again?"
"And what am I supposed to do when you are almost an hour late!" Mirriam yelled at me. "Who do you think you are? The Pasha himself? This is the first time ever that a man had made me wait!"
"I imagine it is usually the other way around," I retorted shrugging off her insults. "And to think that I am actually here on your request..."
She almost choked, giving me her nastiest stare.
"What? Do you think you are doing me a favor?" I raised an eyebrow, doing my best not to laugh into her face. She looked so outraged, and yet so attractive in her fury that I almost decided not to continue the charade. Still, something kept me from dismissing her for the day. "I can leave right now and send you back to your mother's house," I offered neutrally.
Mirri shook her head sullenly.
"Then let us begin," I suggested coldly, offering her my hand.
It was not a particularly hard session. After the morning exercise my mind was quick, and my fingers moved almost mechanically through the familiar patterns. To give her justice, the girl turned out to be an excellent subject, as she was both sensitive and patient enough to sit silently through the long periods of inactivity. She even showed timid interest in workings of the spells. Naturally, I took it with a grain of salt, as I never believed that one of her kind would be intelligent enough to comprehend the importance of my studies.
As a reward, I performed some minor tricks, first summoning a mouse for her to cuddle, then changing it into a bat, which she released from her grip with a squeak of surprise. Females are easily impressed with such displays, yet I had to admit that her admiration was flattering. The last thing I had expected from our time together was the sense of familiarity and even a certain camaraderie that we shared by the end of that first session.
As Mirriam sat there on a rock, dangling her feet and relentlessly bubbling about every trivial thought that visited her pretty head, I leaned over the stone's rough warm surface and closed my eyes, basking in the sense of accomplishment. Without warning, a bout of vertigo came over me, followed by a strange memory flash.
I saw a woman's face, pale and hungry, with eyes of dark blue tinted with red. A black mane of wild hair spilt over well-muscled shoulders; plump scarlet lips were pulled back to reveal sugar-white canines. As she looked me in the face, her eyes widened in surprised recognition, and a slow, knowing smiled spread over her lips. I went numb. All my senses screamed in alarm, even as my mind wondered blindly. Who was that woman? Why did my heart throb painfully at the memory of her, as if a cold hand squeezed it in a slow grip?
"Are you alright, elf-boy? They say you've been on death bed for months, and would have perished if not for Chyil's skill with healing herbs." Mirriam was standing very close. Too close for my comfort. And her black eyes reflected genuine compassion. I jerked upright as if hit in the face.
"I will survive. I have a slight headache. That is all. In any case, it is time for me to go."
A hurt look appeared in those two pools of dark shimmering light, followed by silence.
I squirmed uncomfortably. "Don't call me 'elf-boy'. If you have to address me, you can at least use my name."
A slight smile and a nod was her only reply.
"I will see you here tomorrow, Mirriam."
"I will be here ... Jon."
Women. There are always complications with them. I knew it in my heart of hearts. Now she was going to invent an exciting story, and make me into a dark romantic hero. The reality was so much smaller, and probably dirtier. Whoever I was - I had no past. No family, no relations, and no friends. If one did not count the notorious company of strangers who had abandoned me on Chyil's doorstep a few months back. He had always been very careful when he talked about them. Careful and more than a little nervous - as if he himself did not fully understand how he had gotten involved into this mess.
At first I had not pressed the old man for information, simply because I had been so sick and miserable that I could not care less. Now that my mind started to awaken, I had developed my own theory, which I had not shared with Chyil.
I was almost certain that they had tortured me, had drained me of all valuable information, and then had left me to die. That I had survived their treatment had been their mistake. A mistake that will have dire consequences for them. Now that I had something valuable to my name again, as my magic was returning at astonishing speed, I intended to use my new abilities to discover who I was, and, perhaps, deal with whomever was responsible for my condition.
I went through the rest of Lazarus's package next morning, after spending yet another night fighting off sickening nightmares. This time the dream had been about crimson eyes in the darkness full of cat-like hisses and chuckles. I had been hanging on a butcher's hook thrust through my ribs. My abdomen had been split open, and I had felt the flow of blood dribbling down my feet. A shallow marble pool underneath had been slowly filled with blood, draining from my dying body.
I had shrugged off the nightmare, as another fantasy of my tortured mind. My work was the medicine that had made me whole again. Studying mornings away had become a habit, and I thought with some distress about future. What would I do when I ran out of scrolls? After the desertion of the monks and Lazarus's departure Amkethran had returned to its state of a backwater settlement. The smugglers remained the only link between the village and the rest of the world, but their current leader was an illiterate and greedy roughneck, who despised mages. Besides, I doubted very much that Chyil would let me spend coin from the temple's cashbox on purchasing new scrolls from Farheed.
In the mean time, there was one more divination spell to learn. It was called Detect Magic, and, not surprisingly, it granted the ability to sense enchantments on unanimated objects. I recorded it diligently and decided that I had just enough time for two more scrolls. These turned out to be the incantations of more offensive nature: a spell of Sleep and a spell of Magic Missile. I copied them into my spellbook with a certain degree of enthusiasm. Then it was time to collect my belongings and depart for another training session.
Mirriam was resplendent in the cherry-red vest, crisscrossed with bold green stripes. I scowled, wondering privately if she chose her outfits according to some special pattern, or if it was a random pick. Not that it mattered much, since on every one of her garments the color of the fabric clashed violently with the color of its embroidery, making her look like a moving fruit bowl. At the sight of me, she jumped from her perch, grinning at my dour face.
"By the Gods, aren't you cheery today, Jon-Jon!" were the first words out of her mouth.
"Thank you I am well," I replied acerbically. "Since you are bound to invent something even more horrific if I ask you to drop this latest nickname you've just invented, I forgive it too. I suppose I should be grateful that I am not an 'elf-boy' anymore."
"I thought you'd like it!" Mirriam beamed at me ignoring the hidden jibe.
But the twinkle in her eyes was a bit too innocent to be genuine. So, the brat was more intelligent than she wanted me to believe. I decided to keep it in mind when dealing with her in the future, and doubled the workload I assigned to her.
When we were done with all the excursuses, she was sweating and cursing me with names that were far worse than her original piece of frivolity. I decided to take a well-deserved break, and released her from her duties of a test subject. Mirri sprawled on her belly on a stone shelf overhanging the trail, picking at the bunch of grapes and spitting the seeds at small lizards that dwelt in the cracks of the sun-baked rock. I politely refused her offer to share the fruit, and positioned myself on the same rock, but a few paces away from her. With my feet crossed under me, and my wrists resting on the tips of my knees, I quickly slipped into meditation, wondering at the buoyancy of my body that remembered its favorite stances better than my mind remembered who I was.
But as soon as I tried to take a deep breath, and drift away from my companion's endless stream of trivia whereas pretending to listen to her blabber, we were interrupted. Since I was trying to concentrate on the ambient noises of the desert, I was the first to hear the steps. The man, (and somehow I was sure it was a he), was walking lightly and lithely down the trail, without making any effort to conceal himself.
As a matter of fact, it sounded as if the newcomer was trying to make his approach as noisy as possible, for he was whistling a merry little tune and talking to himself. Mirri gave a little squeak of surprise and sat up, grinning happily and waving at whoever was approaching at his leisurely pace. Unlike she, I could not yet see the stranger, but already was annoyed at the interruption. Considering Mirriam's betrothal to the leader of the local smugglers' gang, it was quite possible that someone had finally took notice of her midday disappearances. Felling rather uncomfortable at the idea, I braced myself for a rough conversation with the her fiancée. I had seen Farheed only once, and that from a distance, yet his reputation of a roughneck and a brute was a common knowledge.
Much to my surprise, the smiling face that appeared at the edge of the rock after its owner pulled himself up to our level was young, beardless, and good-humored. There was something strikingly familiar about the cut and color of the young man's eyes, the shape of his mouth, and the general outline of his features. Like Mirriam's, his looks combined the local Calimshite roundness with more aquiline nose and lighter skin of a northerner. Even his dark curls, gathered into a smart ponytail, possessed the same reddish tint that direct sunlight brought out in her braid. In truth they looked so much alike, that I groaned in sudden revelation. Mirriam was a handful, but now I had to deal with the two of them.
"What are you doing here, you slimy newt?" Mirri greeted the newcomer. "Jon-Jon, you can say hello to my twin brother Kessen!"
The boy hauled himself up the rocky shelf and squat at its edge, looking at me curiously. In this position it was hard to guess his exact height, but it looked like I will be at least a head taller if we stood next to each other. Crouching there with his head tilted to one side, while his quick eyes kept me in check, he resembled a roadrunner: a long-legged desert cuckoo plentiful around Amkethran. I greeted him with a curt nod, but otherwise stayed silent, letting the boy decide when to break the uncomfortable silence. He was the one who had interrupted our training session by barging in, and I was not about to give him additional advantage by speaking out first.
Kessen looked at me briefly, then switched his mercurial gaze back to his sister.
"So, Mirri, you've been hiding here with your new eh… friend?"
"We were not hiding," the girl objected, suddenly alert to the hidden meaning of his comment. "What gave you that idea? I told you, Jon asked me to help him practice his magic."
"Well, I am not sure what kind of magic he was practicing on you," the boy had a decency to look embarrassed, even though he could not stop himself from making a clever joke. "Farheed summoned me this morning and asked to tell you privately that he is not happy. One of his goons had been following you; and after you were spotted sneaking away with the elf for the second time the tongues began to wag."
I felt blood rising to my cheeks and coughed. Kessen, who did not look at me during this little scene, blinked and lowered his gaze.
He was a nice looking youth. A thin dark line of first mustache graced his upper lip, but failed to mask his real age, that I estimated to be about sixteen or seventeen. Chyil once mentioned that the twins' father was a northerner. Apparently, they had inherited his sharper features and reddish hair. The boy was wearing the same brown leathers as most of the local men, but his belt was of a finer quality and adorned with delicate silverwork.
"It looks like we have to interrupt our little exercise," I said jumping to my feet, and making a show of dusting off my clothes and gathering my belongings that consisted of my notes and a water flask. I felt very tense but was doing my best to conceal my irritation. "Good day to you both. Mirriam, your brother will deliver you safely to your home."
"But..." she started in distress, then stopped at my raised eyebrow. "Is it all done, Jon-Jon? Are you giving up our third appointment?"
"I did not say so," I raised my chin stubbornly.
It gave me strange pleasure to observe the spectrum of emotions that played out so openly on her expressive face. I watched her almost hungrily, wondering how one so young could have such intense feelings. She flushed with embarrassment and some stronger, deeper disappointment; then the anger at been publicly humiliated by her brother's crude jokes had been added to the mix. Finally, her distress at being forced to break her word when she had been so close to completing her obligation won over everything else.
"I did not say I wanted to forgo our third meeting," I repeated savoring every word and watching her reaction. The whole situation was entirely her fault, and I intended to extract my payment one way or another. "But your brother said we cannot continue. I think we should part ways and forget about our deal. You can stay unredeemed and unforgiven for all that I care."
"I did not say we cannot continue!" Mirri blurted out angrily. I watched unblinking, enjoying the agony of her conflicting emotions. She turned to her twin. "You told me that I would have a year to think about Farheed's proposal. That he only needed me to behave as if we were engaged until he could convince most of the father's old crew to support him," she hissed at him. "And now he is acting like he owns me."
I carefully stored away these new revelations, remembering how she had flung that engagement into my face at our first meeting.
"But Mirri," the boy pleaded backing away from her, "You need to be reasonable. You cannot challenge Farheed's authority so brazenly: he has a reputation to maintain. Nobody is forcing you to marry Farheed, and everything stays the way we planned it. Within a year, either Father will to return to Amkethran, or Farheed will feel secure enough to break the engagement. What came over you anyway? I thought you hated the elf."
"By the Gods!" Mirri cried out tugging at her braid; (the yank was strong enough to make her yelp). "Are you both set on driving me mad? I am not having an affair with him!"
She blushed, and I smiled at her embarrassment; she deserved it all tenfold.
"I promised Ma I that I would apologize, but Jon-Jon refused to accept it, so I had to agree to come here and be a test subject for three days. Can't you understand?"
"That is what you say now," the boy shook his head stubbornly, "but only a few days ago you had made me hold that sheep for you while you…" He bit his tongue and looked at my coif.
I smiled sardonically. "No need to interrupt your account on my behalf. I saw both of you on the roof anyhow."
"Jon," Mirriam wailed with an expression of utter misery. "I already said I am sorry. You were so smart and reasonable all that time! Why are you behaving like a… ," she looked for the right word, "like a wicked spoilt child?!"
"You had promised to never call me names again," I said in a cold stiff voice.
The spectacle had been entertaining, but I was quickly getting tired of this shameless display of emotions. She had managed to score a point with her last insult - I was behaving childishly by allowing myself to enjoy the game too much.
"I shall see you tomorrow, if you choose to come. Same place, same time. After that you can consider yourself free of any obligations towards me." I nodded stiffly and left them to settle their differences on their own.
My mood was gloomy and fretful as I walked down the trail back to what at present moment was my only home. By making that last assignation, I had invited the unnecessary trouble. There was no need for it at all. Before Kessen had barged in with his suggestive commentary, our session had been extremely productive, rendering me with a complete set of required tests. I was acting childishly and unreasonably, but it felt good, and between fits of guilt and worry over tomorrow's meeting, I savored the satisfaction of my petty revenge.
I was restless that night, and initially my nightmares blended into a blur of broken sequences. Finally, the instruments of torture and metal cages faded away, and I found myself on a rope-bridge, suspended amongst the branches of living trees that towered two to three hundred feet above the forest floor. All around and below me spread the city built of living wood; her delicate webs of ropewalks, suspension bridges, and balconies were railed with gilded metalwork, and maintained by magic. She looked more like rainbow light crystallized into solid matter, than a settlement created by the skillful hands of mortal architects.
In my dream I did not pay attention to the beauty of my surroundings, except to notice that many of the trees and walk-bridges were blackened and scorched with recent fire. Tears stung my cheeks at the sight of this devastation: the trees would restore themselves given time, but nothing would bring back the dead. With my heart heaving with sorrow, I continued my journey across the rope-bridges, finally reaching the spacious tree-house at the end of the section. Knowing what awaited me inside, I rapped on the ornate door and walked in.
Lady Nyonin is dying. She lies in her chambers day after day, and her once tall and slender frame now looks like the shrunken carcass of a mummy. Her hands are terribly thin, covered in loose layers of yellow skin, and her haughty, beautiful profile is sharp and fragile against the white silk of her pillows. She is not eating and barely taking any water, even though every day I strive to bring her her favorite foods.
Ellesime sent the best healers to attend to the invalid. It is not clear if the Queen still considers lady Nyonin her responsibility, or if it is simply one of the many futile gestures dictated by her position. The Queen's authority was badly shaken on the day of the Shattering; when the sky was raining fire, and tears ran like water across the talans and bridges of the crumbling tree-city. Afterwards, many of the survivors wanted Ellesime to resign; there are still plenty of ones who think that her departure from the city is imminent.
Too many have perished on that fateful day, and yet lady Nyonin has lived. I wonder if the old woman herself knows how unlucky she was to survive.
"Ryndeth, is it you?" her voice is bright and fragile like the fall of an icicle.
"Yes, Mother." I reply neutrally.
She is not my mother, but my love for the girl whom she carried in her womb had forged the bond between us. It was severed on the day when my heart turned to ashes. I would not remind the dying woman of these other deaths, for it would achieve nothing.
"I am dying." She says matter-of-factly.
I remain silent. There is nothing I can say that would bring relief to either one of us. The sick one knows it herself.
"It should not be happening like this," her whisper is like the rustle of dried leaves stirred by a gust of wind, yet it resonates with power and intensity of tempest. The sick room is humming with her words, and I wonder if she is using her inborn talent of compulsion. Magic runs in the old woman's bloodstream, it must have sustained her through the endless weeks of her agony.
"Ryndeth, I would want to see my children one more time before departing this Plane."
She is drawing on my name, as if it gives her power over me, and I shiver unable to break her spell.
"Your daughter is dead, Yaaraerea, same as my unborn child."
Yave bled to death in my embrace after the Tree of Life burst into flames. I still remember how she quivered as the warmth of life trickled out of her cooling body.
"I am not speaking of my youngest one." A spark of kindness flickers within her steel-grey eyes, but her face remains harsh and rigid, like the stone features of the idols in the Elders' Grove.
I know this look; it used to give me shivers when I was still courting my beloved. Nyonin Ithilnien, the last scion of the ancient moon elf House, the Elder of the Mistwinter clan. She is truly the last of them now: her grandson was stillborn, and her two remaining children are not likely to survive her.
She did not approve of me at first. Their ancient lineage, and her son's grand position at the Queen's Court made my humble roots undesirable even for the youngest of lady Nyonin's daughters. When she finally gave up to Yave's continuous pleading, it was done with the habitual gracefulness of a true-born noble Teu'Tel'Quess, which, in turn, made me feel even more rustic and uncouth.
"You have no other family but me, Yaaraerea."
"Now, this is a lie, young one." Nyonin's hot, fragile hand grips mine with startling strength. "Lean closer, Ryndeth, so I could see your eyes. I know you want my son dead, perhaps rightfully so. Forgive me, but I have no time for your pain. My wounds run deep, this sickness is eating at my soul, and as I waste away so does my connection to the Arvandor."
"You've brought this sickness upon yourself, Yaaraerea!" the words jump out of my mouth before I can shut it up. "You should not have lingered on this Plane when your time has come."
"There is no need to remind me of that," her eyes are steel-grey within the deep shadows of her eye sockets, but her face looks like that of a corpse.
When the weave of the city's mythal anchored to the Tree of Life was unraveled, the lifeforce of the Tree that sustained the weakest of the city's inhabitants was siphoned away to feed the dream of a madman. The lives of the sick and the elderly were sniffed out first, next came the turn of the youngest children and expecting mothers. No newborns will be blessed before the statue of Angharradh this year; the school and gymnasium will be silent, as no small hands will open the doors of empty classrooms. The city's soul is broken.
Lady Nyonin should have perished with the others, beginning her last journey to Arvandor, the blessed Realm of the Seldarine. Yet she lingered behind, unwilling to tear herself away from the fate of her children. There were rumors of the dark rituals that she performed to delay her passage, and survive the Shattering. Now she is paying for that delay. Her lifeforce leaks out of the shell of her body, bringing about her true death.
"I know what I have done," she rasps through the dried crack of her withered mouth. "And I know why I did it. I have to see my son one more time before I depart."
"This will not be allowed, even if he regains consciousness!" I bristle with anger. "The Elders have traveled all the way from Evermeet to revive him, so that he can stand his trial, but it is still unclear if he will live. Your daughter sustained less damage, since she was on the ground holding back the Queen's guard, while your son was attacking the Tree. You know very well why she refuses to meet with you."
The old woman's face freezes as the cruel and senseless words tumble out of my mouth. Terrible pity seizes my heart as a single tear dribbles down her shrunken cheek. I drop to my knees at her bedside, hiding my face in her bedcovers.
"Please forgive me, Yaaraerea," I manage to say through the violent sobs that shake my entire body. "You are still Yave's mother. I should not have said that, even if I wish that both of your elder children have never been born."
"You have always been a weakling," she whispers listlessly, while her yellow claw of a hand caresses my head. "Still, Yave cherished you, and I can no longer deny her choice. Perhaps I showed her less affection than she deserved; but love her I did, for she was my youngest, most fragile child. Bodhi was the sly one, always praying on weakness, always worshipping the strength. I was too forgiving of her ways, but it does not matter anymore." She gasps violently and her whole body shudders from the sudden fit of coughing. "I feel I will not last long enough to see my son through the trial," she complains, and her hand grasps at her breast, as if trying to remove some hidden object. "Ryndeth, swear to me on Yave's grave that you will honor my last wish. I have nothing left to hold me on this Plane but this one thing... and I feel my soul being drained into the vortex of oblivion."
I shudder at her words. It would never enter my mind to disregard the last wish of the one dying the true death, and my lips tremble as I repeat my oath after her.
"This is good enough," the old woman whispers into my ear, drawing me so close that her hot, acrid breath singes my cheek. "Now take this," she presses a small object into my hand with both of hers. It is a very small pouch of worn suede, attached to a leather cord.
"This is the Selu'Kiira of the Mistwinter Clan," lady Nyonin gasps listlessly. "The lore crystal that holds the knowledge collected by generations of our High Mages. Give it to my son. Do not try to wield it yourself, for you are not worthy of its power. It will steal your mind away if you try. I received it from my grandfather, the last of the Mistwinter High Mages, who perished in the bloody, scorched halls of Myth Drannor. I could not wield it myself. All these years I waited and delayed my departure to Arvandor to ensure that my son receives it, when he is ready. He is the only one alive, who would be able to control it. I cannot take it with me, and it should never be touched by anyone not of the blood."
She turns away from me, and with the last listless wave of her wasted hand orders me to go.
"You must realize that they will never let him live, let alone touch the 'Kiira stone!" I cry out in despair. "He is a criminal, the kind of which have never been born among the Tel'Quessir. Even if by some strange twist of fate his escapes his punishment, I swear I shall take his rotten life in exchange for Yave's and my son's." The old woman remains silent, as a reel in despair. "What should I tell him if he survives," I beg her on my knees, "and I will be allowed to see him one more time before his final punishment is carried out?"
"Tell him that I loved him still."
I awoke abruptly and lay with my eyes opened wide, staring into the grey murk of predawn. The dream explained nothing, but left me more devastated than my usual selection of horrors. I did not remember those people. I would never meet them again. They were nothing. It all meant nothing. When the sunrise finally came, it felt like reverse of the death sentence.
Chyil was already making fire in a clay-and-stones fireplace when I entered the kitchen.
"You are up early today," he observed mildly without interrupting his task. "How was your night?"
I shrugged off his question. My scull was squeezed in the tight iron circle of ringing headache, the cold heavy lump in my chest did not feel like a living heart. It did not matter.
"I have noticed," Chyil continued his small talk as he filled the bronze kettle with water and hanged it on the hook over the small fire, "that your nightmares have become worse as of late. I expected as much."
"Why would you say so, old man?" I asked sullenly. I did not care much about his opinion, but his nagging persistence required some reaction.
"You have been your usual careless and arrogant self," the old priest observed simply, "and you did not listen to me when I tried to warn you. You succeeded in recovering some of your magic in a matter of days. I thought you would punish yourself harshly for that little victory."
I gave him a blank stare, unable to comprehend his deduction.
"Did not you realize that your nightmares are the product of your own mind?" Chyil inquired mildly.
"Maybe. But what does it have to do with self-punishment?"
"I don't know, Jon" Chyil blinked at me unhappily, "you should ask yourself, I suppose. Most of the cases of amnesia that I encountered, were self-induced." He opened the cupboard, pulling out teacups and cutlery.
"How many amnesiacs have you seen before?" I sneered at him. "Did you have an epidemic of memory loss here in Amkethran?"
"Before I was sent to this humble place to reopen the old temple, and spread the word of our spirited beautiful goddess, I served in a much bigger temple in Calimport." Chyil answered with a hint of quiet pride. "It was the Ilmateri hospice of spiritual healing."
"You have switched your loyalties to a new deity?! I understand that such things happen - but why?"
"After Waukeen's disappearance during the Time of Troubles, there was a crisis of faith in her church. Many of the weak-hearted renounced their faith, leaving the church shattered and forlorn. After assisting one of the renegades, and listening to his embittered words, I prayed to the Crying God for a guidance, and received a revelation. I was to lend my support to the missing goddess in her time of need, and move to Amkethran."
"A compassion on a divine level, no less," I grumbled humorlessly. "It is nice to know that I share your obliging generosity with a goddess. Sorry for not being as imposing as Waukeen. A weakling like me is no match for the real divinity. What are you going to do now, that she is back in her full glory? Would you find yourself another divine exile to worship?"
"Your bitterness does not help the healing process in the least," Chyil noted matter-of-factly. "Jon, you should try to break this pattern of working yourself into oblivion, lashing out at the ones who are trying to help, then punishing yourself with more nightmares."
"This is really not of your business, old man," I growled at him rising to my whole height. "Your idea is senile! You have no proof that my nightmares are self-induced. You know nothing of me, you know nothing of what I must do to regain my memories."
"I may know next to nothing of your past," Chyil pointed out meticulously, "but I can see enough of your present to make some well-founded guesses. You are bound on self-destruction, and I am not going to sit back and watch you damage yourself further. Not after I spent three months pulling you out of the pit of despair that you have dug for yourself.”
"Did I ask you to save my physical form so I could carry on 'living', weak as a slug, and useless as a vegetable?" I cried out in anger.
"Am I right to assume that you are thinking about finding the ones who brought you here, and forcing the truth out of them?" Chyil asked suddenly.
I recoiled at his sudden question. My first instinct was to deny it, then I thought better of it and nodded my confirmation.
"I think it is time for me to show you something," Chyil said after a short pause, "it may not give you any answers, but it will certainly make you think. I imagine you are very good at thinking, so I should try to try to engage your mind when I cannot touch your heart."
The old man put down the spoon he was cleaning and beckoned me to follow him into his living quarters. There was a metal-bound chest in the corner, which I had never seen opened before. I assumed that was where he kept his cashbox, and the temple archives. Indeed, when the old man opened the chest, the first things that I spotted were the pile of old legers and a number of packages wrapped in oiled paper. But the item that he pulled out of the very bottom of the strongbox and spread out on his bed for me to examine, was as alien in this dusty little room as the royal regalia of Oysar Shoon the VII.
It was a garment intended to be worn as a one-piece armor: a tangle of worn leather straps, bent and scratched buckles of soft yellow metal, a gleam of a polished gem here, a swirl of a half-visible rune there. The whole thing looked like a garb designed by a maniac, wishing to attend a masquerade party in the insane Asylum.
Nae saian luume' - it has been too long (elv)
Ithilnien - can be loosely translated as Moontear (elv)
Yaaraerea - Ancient One (elv)
Selu'kiira - The kiira (formally the telíkiira) are lore gems. Wearable only by elves, kiira are semisentient depositories of knowledge; whatever is known to a wearer of a kiira is recorded into the gem and can become known by future gem-bearers accessing those memories. The magic of a gem attaches it physically to the forehead of a new wearer and psychically to the wearerís mind. Ostensibly, these gems are created for a noble House lord to pass on his knowledge, clan history, and power. A major version of these gems are the SeluíKiira, the High Lore Gems. Made exclusively from rainbow tourmalines, these long, faceted, sparkling crystals are larger and more ornate than standard telíkiira. These gems also tell tales of their power and knowledge by their color shifts; with each bearer, the gems absorb the long centuries of discipline of each, and the cumulative years of experience darken the gems. The seluíkiira begin life in hues of blue, then age to green and later to black, then brown, and orange. After a seluíkiira contains more than 3,000 years of stored knowledge, it brightens to a blistering red, its final and most powerful state. These gems hold not only many centuries of knowledge about magic, but they hold the secrets of High Magic. (elv)
Last modified on May 18, 2008
Copyright © 2003 by Janetta Bogatchenko. All rights reserved.