The thick, deep, luscious green of the oaken giants in summer splendor, kept the harshness of the season’s sun from the backs of the two travelers. As the dead straight forest path abruptly ended, the last of the oaken guardians held out a stoat beam as if to plead or demand the forest’s visitors remain awhile longer. Without noticing the gesture, the two hurried out from the dim, but cosy forest darkness and into the last rays of light for that day. A slight breeze, something neither traveller had felt for the past few days was a comfort. Both breathed the fresh air deeply, but each for their own reason. One let loose a sigh of relief, while the other gave one of deep contentment. From their view point, upon the cusp of The Vale of History, the setting sun basked the walls of Andrapaal. Nestled cozily between two small hillocks in the valley’s belly, in a mystical hew that hid the dirt and grime from the two that approached it, the City of Knowledge gave the look of a prized gift of gold or a precious ring that was fit for a monarch’s finger.
“The twin hills are named after the sheep herders and the Truth Keepers. They are two of the most important groups in my society,” explained Raven, his tone light, his thoughts focused upon coming home and seeing his friends and family again after years away. “And between them is the city that I call home.”
“Yes, the one that your kind calls the City of Knowledge. Isn’t it magical?” Paechra whispered in absolute awe, brushing blonde locks from her face to grant her deep green eyes a better view. The light wind, bored with teasing the stationary oaks, played with the golden strands of hair, occasionally causing Paechra to brush what had come away back behind her slightly pointed ears.
“I hate magic.” her companion replied gruffly, fingering the pummel of his sheathed blade, a habit of his at the best of times but especially when he was deep in thought. The leather of the simple jet black sheath that hung heavy with its burden at the traveler’s hip, looked quite costly in places but a time of neglect had left the prize piece a mere shadow of its former self. The sheathed blade swung gently as if the breeze had affected it too, as the travelers descended from their vantage point and followed the cobbled road that would take them into the valley and finally to their destination.
“What about what I do? Wouldn’t you call that magic?” Paechra responded to her companion’s gruffness, adding one of her sweet mischievous smiles.
The steed the girl sat upon, sniffed at the tufts of valley grass growing at least ankle high in abundance on the roadside and, satisfied it was the same green lush grass of home, began to eat happily, indifferent as it always was to the debate occurring around it.
The fidgeting upon the sword pummel stopped, as did the gentle leading of the grey gelding, while Raven contemplated his reply. Images flashed through his mind, a vast number of situations from the past three months where Paechra had seemed to make strange things happen. He was still trying to decide if what she did was like the dark, sorcerer magic of the Vorsurk, or if it were something that the wise sages would be able to explain.
“Yes… No… In truth I am not sure what I’d call it, but I ask you to refrain from doing what you do,” replied Raven. “Your strange abilities aren’t all about words from books and things like that. I’m not sure though what the sages would do if they caught you ‘helping’ someone,” he added, running a gloved hand through spiky dark hair. Assuming the conversation was at an end, the warrior pulled carefully upon the reigns to get the horse moving again. Paechra just continued to smile, making Raven wonder what it was he had said that was so amusing.
“Let’s go find my father,” added Paechra in a voice that was a mix of excitement and determination.
“Come!” said Raven as the horse relieved the roadside of another grassy mouthful and started to chew. Reluctantly the beast obeyed.
As the sun completed its path for the day, the two travelers and their steed ate up the road that led down into The Valley of Emptiness, named this by the other races for its lack of historical events more so than any physical features. To the residents it was commonly known as Vale of History.
This was quite a joke for the elder races of the world. For the dwarf kind who had lived a hundred times as many years as miners beneath the earth as the humans had recorded as history above it. The Sylva forest dwellers that could date back the existence of their race to the very dawn of the world were of the opinion that the passage of time for which the society called Commoners or Humans had existed and flourished was still too early in its years to have any events that should be classed as historical. For those people who had thousands upon thousands of years to reflect and learn, the mere hundred or so years of this culture in its infancy was something to watch with interest. It was not however, something to class as history. Disagreeing with that idea completely, the Commoners treated their most mundane chores as worthy of record.
As the last of the natural light faded from the valley floor to enable the early night to set in, Paechra and Raven found themselves face to face with the great oaken gates of the capital of the known world.
“Hail travelers and visitors to Andrapaal! State your names and business in our fine city!” cried a voice from the watch tower above the city gate, as it had done numerously already that day.
The great wall that surrounded Andrapaal was around thirty feet high and ten feet thick, made from granite stone, the same grey color as the mountains in the far west that had fathered it. Seven towers standing like guardians were spread evenly along this wall, with two smaller sister towers jutting forth from only one, the city’s fore tower. Each of the greater towers held guards that protected the city from intruders, acted as messengers that reported arrivals and, opened and closed the gates. These gateways built like fortifications into these towering guardians, were the only entrances and exits to the city of Andrapaal. The two minor towers had once held bowmen, Sylva allies of renowned skill, perched within to fire volley after volley of armor piercing shafts that would hew down all enemies that came to claim for themselves the lands and precious city that the Commoners had settled. That time of great danger and loss was in the past now. The sylva had vanished from the kingdom of Thuraen, but for the occasional sighting and the barbaric Vorsurk had been pushed back for leagues. With the lupine warriors, it seemed the war that had already lasted longer than a century would never cease. With war a distance away from the city, the archer’s towers now housed dust and little else.
Raven squinted up at the turret as the last rays of the dying day pierced his watery blue eyes and called back firmly and businesslike, “Raven Stormsong stands at your walls in the company of Paechra Lightheart. We have both traveled far, I in search of a homecoming and my companion to seek an audience with her father, a resident of this fine city.”
Fishing about in the folds of his road worn leathers, Raven retrieved and then unraveled the scroll Paechra had entrusted him with when he joined her as a traveling companion.
“It is merely a message from the leader of my people written in the tongue of your kind. It explains who I am,” Paechra stated, patiently, each and every time the parchment she carried with her was offered by the Sylvi to a requesting sage. In three months Raven could recall at least a dozen occasions, each one the same, the sage eagerly accepting the parchment and then seemingly disappointed by its plain look and mundane nature.
The mystery of his companion and the document concerned Raven but he did not push the Sylvi for more information, knowing now that Paechra would reveal no more. The first time Raven had demanded to know more about what the mysterious parchment said Paechra had narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips.
“Are all humans as nosey and gruff as you, Raven?” she had asked, coolly. “Or is this joyful side of you a unique trait? I do hope so,” she had added. It had taken what felt like a long time for the Sylvi to warm up to Raven again. Already the strange scribbles featured upon the paper had gained Raven and his companion free board, travel by cart and the occasional meal.
High above them Raven knew that a yellow robed student of words was investigating the contents of the scroll. He was not surprised as the city guard, the Truth
Keepers on duty rang a bell and the gates began to open, he returned the scroll to his chest pocket and smiled faintly as he recalled the moment that Paechra entered into his life and it all seemed to change.
The sound of steel clashing upon steel reverberated throughout the once quiet forest, sending its native inhabitants either scurrying away or taking to the air with just as much noise as the combat that startled them. In a feat of cunning, Raven twisted his midnight blue cloak about the sword arm of one of his assailants and swiftly stabbed fatally at the bulky beast’s chest, as the howling vorsurk lost his footing. Before the beast could fall, Raven swept the legs from under another and then attacked this next foe with an equally deadly thrust. That left only half a dozen or so for Raven’s blade to deal with. A lucky hammer blow from one enemy struck him sharply upon the helmet and as his vision swam it made it seem as though that number suddenly increased from six into nearly thirty. As the hammer fell again, Raven’s new state of dizziness cost him his shoulder. Still fighting valiantly on, but feeling his strength fading fast, it was then that Raven caught the sound of beating hooves.
‘The barbarians have found a steed that can carry them,’ Raven thought to himself, and his heart sank at the worrying thought.
The horde of creatures that had caught Stormsong by surprise now looked up in shock themselves. Raven, dazed and in agonizing pain from the blow to his head and shoulder he was certain would be broken, watched with mouth agape, as a vision, blonde haired and dressed in mixture of furs, skins and cloth of various earthern colours leapt from the galloping steed and entered into the fray cloaked in the eerie sky blue light of what could only be described as the image of a great angry grizzly bear. Vorsurk flesh was ripped effortlessly and soundlessly from Vorsurk bones, almost like the five hundred pound monsters of muscle were really guardians in a field of corn, their purpose to keep the crows away. As the last limb fell quietly to the forest floor and the fallen Vorsurk all twitched their last, the girl turned on the spot to face Raven and attacked him with that same knowing smile the dark haired warrior had come to see as ‘The Look of Paechra’.
“You seemed like you needed some help,” the daughter of the forest began with a shrug and no sign of a shortage of breath. “My name is Paechra. Paechra Lightheart,” the girl added, her beaming smile seeming to make the greeting a proclamation, not the plain statement that it was. She thrust out her hand but then retracted it apologetically, wiping the Vorsurk muck from her fingers upon the lush forest greenery before extending it again. Raven took it and winched as excruciating pain shot up his agonized right arm. Paechra let the warrior’s arm drop immediately
“You’re hurt!” she cried.
Raven let the obvious statement pass, answering affirmatively with just a single nod. Even this action of little effort caused Raven severe pain. Letting his sword drop, the warrior clutched his shattered shoulder and willed the pain to cease, without any success.
“Here let me…” the girl kindly offered as she gave the dark haired warrior another knowing smile. Raven remembered feeling uncertain then, unusually unnerved. As Paechra placed her hands upon the horribly damaged shoulder, the blue light flared up around her again. Raven, expecting to see the bear and face the same fate as the Vorsurk before him, was both surprised and relieved to see the image of a dove instead envelope the girl. Beyond this was the feeling of warmth and the pain vanishing away. A moment later, with a clearer head, Raven looked closely at the girl before him and discovered that the blue haze had vanished; making him wonder if the image ever really happened.
As the last beams of the hot summer sun spread their warmth and light over the fore front of the great city, Raven, having been away from the city he called home for ten whole years, was struck once again by the pandemonium that was Andrapaal’s markets. Trestles overflowing with rich colorful silks were spattered in erratically formed patterns about the dying market stalls. Sellers skillful in the art of agriculture, had charge of table after bulging table of fruits piled in high thin towers seeking the last of the goodness from the dying day’s light, begging for the light to remain. All of this chaos and the day’s trading was almost complete.
To a visitor not familiar with great cities, the market place of Andrapaal would already seem like it held a million people. In actual fact, the total population was recorded at thirty thousand residents, the largest recorded population in the Kingdom of Thuraen but not nearly close to the million the market’s chaos suggested. This number of course did not include the fluctuating population of traveling merchants that would, during the peak season, swell this city’s numbers by another six thousand men, women and their children. In poorer times for trading, this number was obviously much less. This official number of citizens excluded another group too, the holy soldiers blessed with the task of protecting the truth of the written word, known as Truth Keepers of The Word. Once a Truth Keeper had fought beside their brothers of faith and returned in glory to their family and beloved city, they were recorded as true citizens and settled into the true role of the Truth Keeper, as guardians for the sages and the citizens against verbal, written and physical attacks against the holy truths proclaimed by the sages of the Kingdom of Thuraen. Before this though, a Truth Keeper traveled to the border lands and fought against the sworn enemy of the human kind, the barbaric Vorsurk.
The great enemy of the Kingdom of Thuraen was a nomadic people that once called the humankind their slaves. Towering at between nine and twelve feet tall and averaging four hundred pounds of muscle the Vorsurk race were majority warriors, all masterful in a number of sharp and pointed weapons. Their skin was covered in a course hair and their face was elongated like a wolf or dog, all snout and ears with sharp eyes. The creatures were wild by nature, hungry for glory and hungrier for bloody battle. As a race they longed to reclaim the lands of the Kingdom of Thuraen, recapture the humankind and begin again their conquest to claim the lands of the Sylva and beyond.
Like so many other cities of the Kingdom of Thuraen, Andrapaal was arranged in sections within its well guarded walls. The southern section contained the market place with all its locations for merchants to sell their goods and eager purchasers to buy them. Close to this was the stables and pens where a number of fine horses and other beasts a little more exotic, lazily spent their time eating and sleeping, occasionally being exercised by the city’s busy stable hands or boys and girls brought by the merchants for specifically this task. Near the stables, caravans and sleeping quarters of canvas were erected by the visitors that could not afford to hire a cabin for the time they planned to stay. For some traders it was up to just how well trading went, to whether they upgraded later from tent to cabin or spent their whole time calling canvas home. Some merchants were luckier than others. For them a small house in the market area was always home away from home.
Beyond the markets and their residents unfolded the true city. Multistoried housing sheltered the citizens throughout the midsection of the city, with cobble stoned roads crisscrossing to create a grid that would lead slow moving wagons and coaches for the rich, and sandaled feet for the not so wealthy, about their daily lives. Makeshift tents and shelters constructed by visiting merchants mingled with these grand residential buildings where the city’s slaughterers, bakers, inn keepers and seamstresses lived out their lives and often also sold their trade. On the outskirts of these living quarters stood tall towers that housed sages, wondrous men and women of knowledge whose striving for truth was an inspiration to the citizens. These towers were direct branches from the palace and library where two of the most precious things to the Kingdom of Thuraen were housed, the written words of truth and the governing family. The last section of the city, and to the sages and wealthy, the section of the city classed as the least, there was the slums. This was where the poor and homeless gathered, where raw materials were sent to be processed, where weapons as well as tools were made, where bread was baked, where cattle was slaughtered. It all happened in the slums. Organized as it may have been, the overall affect was that of one great maze that challenged all new arrivals and citizens alike to find its centre and then from there the exit out again. For some it took weeks to leave. For others the challenge lasted for a life time and was still left uncompleted.
The moment that the gates opened before him, Raven knew he had finally returned home. He was so stunned by the market’s attack upon at least three of his senses, that for a moment he stood rigid, like a creature carved from one of the many mighty oaks that stood guard before the entrance to The Vale of History. Time had made him forget the sights, sounds and even the fragrant smells of this welcoming committee to the City of Knowledge. Raven recovered, as he thought to himself, with a quick glance towards the far off horses pens, which like all markets large and small, some fragrances were much more preferable than others.
“Where is everyone?” Raven asked himself. He knew that word of their arrival should have traveled ahead of him and Paechra. The lines of communication between the cities and the surrounding farms and the villages one of the things the human kingdom prided themselves upon. It was tradition too that friends and family of the newly arrived were always waiting at the gates for a welcoming. Unofficially it had quickly become a contest of popularity, the more famous, or popular that you were, the larger the crowd became that gathered to welcome you. Raven did not expect a large welcoming party, or even a small one. The fact that no one awaited his arrival though had him very worried indeed.
“I suppose this just gives me more time to think things through,” Raven added, his heart heavy with his burden. He patted the sword that hung at his hip and sighed, pulling on the reigns of the steed to hurry it on.
Unlike Raven who had grown up in the city, for Paechra, the market place was a canvas of new wonderments. She had witnessed human settlements before but nothing of the same grandeur as Andrapaal. Her senses were bombarded by sights, sounds, smells that even after months traveling through Thuraen still seemed so foreign and urban to her. As she heard the guards high above them cry out to the gatekeepers below, Paechra had witnessed the gates to the City of Knowledge seamlessly open like two welcoming beckoning hands. Raven led the horse along the cobbled main street and Paechra found that as they approached the entrance and rode slowly through the gates beneath the towers that protected Andrapaal, she could only stare in amazement about her. As she looked, browns of all shades, blacks darker than a night’s sky, greens seemingly more shades than the grass and leaves, every color its own rainbow pierced her deep, wide green eyes. A myriad volume of sounds mixed and mingled to make one monstrous cry, which Paechra could not bear to have silenced. With eyes filled with excitement, the young Sylva took in this urban jungle. Tables everywhere were overflowing with goods; strawberries that Paechra knew were out of season, clothing made from animal furs and skins the druid could only guess the origin of, a blacksmith selling sharp things of blue and silver weapons for killing and soil tending alike. Everywhere the traveler turned there was something new, unseen, something she never expected to see. Then there came the smell. It was at first animal, but stronger than Paechra had ever experienced. There was sweat and grime and the waste of animals all combined. Mixed with this was the delightful scent of fruits and perfumes and such exotic spices that grant food its divine taste. Finally unable to distinguish one thing from another, Paechra just found she needed to laugh, a melodic sound that seemed to suit the scenes that played out around her. It was all so unnaturally brass and so like the common kind. This place was so different to the life Paechra and her people were accustomed with. At that very moment the Sylva could understand why her father had wanted to come to the city of Andrapaal.
Raven’s deep blue eyes sparkled as he skimmed over the blur of the multicoloured palate of the market. The clothing of the new season’s fashion was impossible to miss in bold oranges and deep purples, a stall of leather scabbards showed that each sheath was a deeper and darker shade of earthy brown than that of its kin, even the poorest looking scabbard in far better condition than the one that held the blade that swung at Raven’s hip. The scents of the stalls filled his nostrils, allowing Raven to catch a hint of exotic perfumes mixed with the deeper and far less pleasant whiff of animal; these were accompanied by floral aromas and the unforgettable smells of fresh herbs and vegetables grown with extreme patience by local sellers and farmers from lands far off. It all mixed upon his nose flooding back the knowledge Raven had about this very place from his childhood years. Listening intensely he tried to recall the names of some of the merchants he had befriended growing up, as he guided Paechra and her horse past as many of the stalls as was possible he did it for Paechra’s benefit as much as for his own. Raven led mount and lady through the chaos he knew, onwards towards the palace where he would report his returning, where both he and his companion would continue the historic trend of every visitor to Andrapaal and have their arrival and business officially recorded.
“Fresh fish!” the statement shocked Raven out of his thoughts and made him laugh. The balding store keeper dressed in little more than a gutting knife and overalls advertised his wares without an ounce of nervousness or uncertainty. With no ocean nearby the freshness of the catch was debatable but the customers still continued to buy.
‘Never underestimate the selling power of a confident voice.’ Raven thought to himself, allowing another dry chuckle of a laugh to escape from within him and float away to join the din of the marketplace.
Raven searched for a quiet place to think and a path to it, amongst those busy buying and selling. Finding neither in the chaos of the markets, he turned to Paechra and lifted his shoulders in a shrug of uncertainty, hoping from her perch upon the back of the mare, that the young Sylva could navigate them through the forest of market dwellers.
“Can you see a way through, Paechra?” Raven cried as loudly as he could, trying to be heard in the city’s din.
He noticed only then, the excitement of his friend. He smiled at how Paechra turned first one way and then the next, sitting upon the steed granting her a vantage point to see above and beyond the thick crowd. Unable to distract his friend, Raven decided to pull the horse into action again and find a way himself.
Paechra whispered in the ear of the horse, sharing her joy and wonder, wishing her father was near to join in the experience. The townships she had visited in the company of Raven had been quaint little settlements where the people were awed into a stunned silence whenever she approached them to speak. The sylva was pleased to see that here in the great city she was just another body, free to observe, but not the focus of every face she passed by. As she pointed out the weapons to the horse she rode, the beast’s head turned to see, almost as if it was a tourist and Paechra was the guide. The more she searched the market place and the city beyond for new sights, the more Paechra discovered the spirits of the place. As a druid she had been trained as a child to see both the physical and beyond the physical to sense and communicate with the very spirit of the stone that surrounded the city and created the buildings, the creatures that lived within the leaves of the plants and the very same plants as well. Where her home within the thick forests beyond the mountains in the west had an abundance of natural spirits, this city contained new beings, the souls of swords and knives, arrogant things hungry for use, domestic animals crying out for freedom, many new voices that caused the Sylva to swing her head from left to right, to whisper in the steed’s ear with greater excitement, to yearn for her father to be riding beside her, for the great linguist to hear his daughter describe the sights beyond their physical characteristics.
In his chambers within the palace of the city of Andrapaal, Chief Sage Vladimir listened to the constant murmur from the crowd below. Beside him, lying still upon his plain oak desk, was the sparrow that had delivered to him the news, a quick artist’s sketch sent from the Merchant’s Gate that showed two of the city’s latest arrivals. The sparrow began to noiselessly bleed, something Vladimir took a moment to notice. When he finally did, his plain wrinkleless face broke into a pattern of lines and creases. His hairless head scrunched and his wispy long beard, the color of snow, twitched as a frown took form.
“It will not be King Fredrickson who will be hardest to convince,” the sage pondered as the sparrow oozed out crimson. “There will be other fools who welcome this troublesome pair.”
A boney hand stroked his beard thoughtfully.
“Needless to say the prophecy cannot be allowed to be fulfilled,” Vladimir finally decided.
In a flurry of actions, the elderly sage scooped up the bird, unlatched the window of his study and sent the messenger on its final flight.
They had already entered the city, something the sage would need to discuss with a particular soon to be ex-guard of the city, but the markets would be a sufficient distraction. Vladimir breathed a disappointed sigh as he took one last look at the picture he was sent, before it was scrunched into a tiny ball and thrown into the dying embers of the study’s fire. Wrapping his deep blue robe about him and securing it tightly with a silver tie of silk, Vladimir doused the candles that bathed his study in light and exited into the corridor. If he hurried, the chief sage still had time to have the two travelers met before they made it to the hall. It was a curse she had arrived already, but for the head of information in The City of Truth, it was imperative this piece of information was not recorded. Vladimir allowed himself a brief smile before his usual emotionless mask fell back into place. For such a delicate task the sage of the silver sash knew exactly whom to send.
Still lost amongst the bargain seekers and cornered by a seller of strange shaped wooden carvings, Raven was overjoyed to see a familiar figure, a Knowledge Keeper judging by the robes of blue that the figure wore. The old man was picking his way with difficulty through the crowds as quickly as his old frame allowed.
“Welcome travelers! Welcome to Andrapaal. If you are new to our city we please implore that you visit the hall of records to have your business here in this fine city recorded for ever more. It is one of our few laws,” the old man dressed in the blue robes chattered, as he weaved through the parting market crowd and came face to chest with the patiently waiting Raven. As the old man smiled up at the two new arrivals, Raven glanced over the head of the Knowledge Keeper and saw one of the guardians of the City of Knowledge, seemingly hurrying towards them.
‘Unusual…’ thought Raven to himself.
Paechra noticed the similarity between this man hurrying towards them and the Truth Keepers who manned the city gates.
“Master Jefferson! Master Jefferson! All is well. I believe I am best suited to assist these two guests of ours…” the new arrival cried out as his metal and leather shell of chain mail gave him an awkward looking stride.
The sage referred to as Jefferson smiled, even more broadly, something Raven did not think possible and then murmured to Raven “You are in luck. As we say here in Andrapaal… Respect the silver sash,” before he nodded to Raven and his companion, and then weaved his way through the market crowd once more. As the soldier of the city and the blue robed sage chatted briefly, Raven had a chance to look over the new comer. Black hair turning grey showed this Truth Keeper’s age. Raven put him at about six feet as he compared the new arrival to his own height. A silver sash stretched over the armored girth, something Raven had never seen before. Raven cast his mind back and sorted through the city’s faces that he could remember. It took Raven only a moment to realize that this was a friend of his father’s, though try as he might Raven could not think of a name. Confusing him further was the fact that his memory suggested that just like his father the Lord Michael Stormsong, this man was retired from the ranks of the Truth Keepers, though here before them, the armor this warrior wore clearly suggested active duty. The two men parted as Jefferson went on his way, broad grin in place and the other targeted in on the lost Raven and distraught Paechra.
“Lord Johannas! Mistress Paechra! I do hope your journey here was uneventful. May I introduce myself? I am Anton, Master of the Truth Keepers and servant of Chief Sage and Knowledge Keeper Vladimir of Andrapaal. I take pride in our network of information in this fine city and its environment and we have been expecting both of you, but not together and not quite as soon as this,” the master Truth Keeper cried out as a greeting when he was finally within distance to shout and be heard.
At the sound of his true name, Raven felt a moment of uncertainty. It passed the warrior by without a thought however, as in the same breath the silver sashed figure had revealed something about the girl he’d spent the last few months traveling with that Raven had never known.
“Mistress?” Raven enquired of Paechra, swiveling his head from the old man to the young girl, the moment Anton had named Paechra as Mistress and in a single word identified her as a sage’s daughter.
“Lord..? Johannas?!” Paechra replied, her head flying up from the horse’s neck allowing her to meet Raven’s inquisitive stare with a stare of her own. Raven saw plainly that it was full of Paechra’s annoyance.
“You never told..!” both travelers said together to each other. Raven noted there and then that he had perhaps been not as revealing about himself to Paechra either. Noting it down in his mind as something to be addressed soon but not at that very moment, and cautiously, Raven ignored his companion’s silently questioning stare and focused all of his attention to the old Truth Keeper.
“Hmmm, I apologize. It was of my thinking that the two of you knew each other. It has been arranged for the both of you to stay with a local blacksmith. This can be changed if it proves to be of an inconvenience to either of you. The great sage Vladimir regrets that he could not arrange more suitable accommodation without ample notice.” Anton continued with some concern.
‘What of my father and his home?’ Raven thought to himself, aloud though he asked “At whose home have we been placed?” with mild curiosity.
“You are to stay with the blacksmith Gregory. He creates the swords our Truth Keepers wield in the Vorsurk battles fought far-east from here. He was very excited to know I have arranged for you both to lodge with him. If you should change your mind I am sure he will be very disappointed but very understanding. He holds in high regard all the warriors who carry his blade and protect those who bear witness to The Truth.” The older warrior replied professionally, giving all of his attention to the blade and sheath that hung at Raven’s hip.
“Yes… Master it shall be as you suggest. We shall record our arrival in the great tome and then consider the senior sage’s wishes,” Raven responded with respect, looking back over his shoulder to Paechra making certain it was a unified decision.
“If we were expected, why isn’t my father here to greet us? What has happened to Therdous Lightheart telling me I was his favourite daughter?” Paechra did not return her companion’s searching gaze but instead, after watching Anton with narrowed eyes, broke her silence and aired her concerns.
As the girl spoke, the old man looked up at her perched in the saddle and flicked a small smile across his lips.
“My dear Mistress, I can understand your concern. Worry yourself not however, for I shall explain where your father is. He sends greetings and apologizes to you, his favourite child, but he is waylaid in a runic translation. Ancient arcane dwarven I believe is the alphabet he is attempting on this occasion. Quite an achievement for even a Sylva of his age I would say.” Anton replied courteously causing Paechra to break her searching stare and think.
“Work before family was often the way with him even when I was small. Please send word to him of my arrival then and explain that I have urgent business to discuss with him. The sooner the better…” Paechra sighed, knowing that if her father were truly involved so deeply in a project, it would be a little time before she would get to see him.
“Of course Mistress, I take it the accommodation arranged will be suffice then?” the old man continued, the slight smile leaving his face and being replaced by something plainer as he spoke.
“If the lead sage has arranged it, I am certain the place we will be staying is more than suffice.” Paechra graciously replied.
“I am surprised that my father has not opened his arms and his door to flesh and blood,” Raven said honestly, drawing the eyes of the silver sashed Truth Keeper back to his.
“Lord Johannas, I fear it may be that your father is no longer in a position to offer the hospitality you would expect from the Stormsong household. I believe you will enjoy your stay with this blacksmith. Gregory gets along well with all other commoners of this fair city. However, he worships almost more than the words of truth themselves, the holiest of warriors the Truth Keepers, of whom I believe you are still a member. The dust caressed by the soles of your feet Johannas, will be treated as sacred. And Mistress Paechra, your father will be notified of your need to see him as quickly as is humanly possible,” Anton continued to say, addressing both Raven and Paechra equally. Once this issue was resolved the silver sashed Truth Keeper then began to explain to Raven the path that would take him and Paechra to Gregory’ forge.
“Feel free to lodge your steed with a friend I have. He lives near where Gregory lives and works. If your blade is not enough to show your connections with the faith Lord Johannas, please feel free to mention that Sage Vladimir sent you to him. I am certain you will have no troubles then,” the older man added before he turned, and with a nod for both the new arrivals, he weaved his way back through the market crowd, his chain mail carried upon his broad shoulders effortlessly as his elder figure slipped effortlessly through the thinned numbers that searched for the last of the markets’ produce.
For a moment the two travelers watched the master Truth Keeper leave.
“What did he mean… that remark about a network of information? Are we being followed?” Paechra asked with trustless uncertainty.
“First we need to reach the great hall and there I can show you the great prophecy. After that we need to focus upon finding our fathers. Hopefully by finding these two men we will discover just why the head of sages is paying us so much interest,” Raven replied.
“Fear not friend Raven. When my father is ready to see us he will seek us out. I do look forward to meeting your father however,” Paechra suggested.
“First I shall show you the prophecy then. After this I know my father will not be difficult to find,” said Raven, once again taking the reins of the steed.
Beyond the chaos of the markets, even beyond the towers of residency in the centre of the city of Andrapaal, was The Grand Palace. It was a sandstone structure three grand stories tall, which stood like a temple, beckoning all to come and worship.
Home to King Fredrickson the Third and his family, it was also, and mostly, home of millions of scrolls, tomes and manuscripts that the sages kept and cared for. Few people ever moved beyond the entrance hall of this grand building. The walls were scrawled with intricate symbols from the lowest place where they met plain tiled floor, to the twentieth foot where they kissed intimately, the glossy ceiling. Few who gazed upon those dark symbols saw them as forms of the letters of the languages of the known world, including the common tongue. Those who did recognize the dark shapes as letters, wondered just how long it would take the wise and all knowing sages to decipher the chaos and reveal the nature of the mysterious walls wordings. All however marveled at the four pillars, plain as both the floor below them and the ceiling above, standing majestically in the very centre of this hall unmarked by the artist whose graffiti slashed almost aimlessly across all four of the very walls it aimed to keep erect. Aside from this, the abyssal room played host to a plain oak desk and plain oak stairwell whose, stairs creaked every step to the next floor. Busy behind the desk was one of the many blue robed Knowledge Keepers and before the sage who sat at the desk, was a long line of new comers to Andrapaal. The gigantic palace room, in which the walls contained the words of madness, also bustled with the kingdom’s business. Truth Keepers at the hall’s entrance checked each new group of arrivals for weapons, while the one elder sage at the desk played welcoming committee, scribe, city guide and all round friendly face. For many of the visitors the first and only contact, guards aside, with Andrapaal these people would have. The writing upon the wall remained a mystery for one particular reason. For all who came to visit the city of knowledge and understanding, to feast their eyes on the famously scrawled palace wall, had first to sign a visitor’s tome, a novelty for those whom had never seen the letters form their name or business, and an honor for those who on the rare occasion had. For of all the citizens of the Kingdom of Thuraen, a place whose very existence seemed to be to give reverence and great value to the truth written and housed in the great tomes of history, only the sages, be they knowledge seekers of the yellow robes, knowledge speakers of the red robes or knowledge keepers of the blue robes could read and record the holy words. All others of the kingdom communicated by symbols that showed what it was they sought. In this way the sages of the kingdom felt they could truly keep trace of the words that they worshipped.
Raven’s heart leapt as his heavy boots climbed the stairs that led to the great palace and his destination, the meeting hall. Unlike some of the city, the palace and the buildings around it had seemed to remain just how he had remembered it all, nothing seemed to have altered in the time that he had been away. The great palace complex seemed to dwarf the buildings near it and warp the view of all who looked upon it. It was majestic and grand, a structure of solid stone, arches and polished oak doors that seemed to radiate trust, royalty, dependability.
“You’ll need to dismount now. Large animals like your horse are discouraged in the palace,” explained Raven.
Without question Paechra gracefully did as her friend suggested. She gave Raven a quizzical look as she saw him confidently hand the reigns to one of many armoured figures lingering about the entrance to the palace.
“If you can’t trust a Truth Keeper…” suggested Raven vaguely. He then led Paechra by the hand beneath a great arch, the public entrance way into the palace. The Sylva noticed a symbol etched into the stone at the apex of the arch, one of a dozen designs spaced evenly around the arch structure. This particular symbol reminded her of the spirit of earth, but by the time Paechra realized what it represented they had already waded into a thick noisy crowd and the chance for her to speak and be heard was gone.
Raven’s smile grew wider as he joined so many of Andrapaal’s visitors and citizens coming to the palace to have recorded their business in the fair city.
“Ah, Johannas Stormsong, the missing Truth Keeper novice, the one with promise…” stated one of the blue robed sages. The final words were left hanging in the air. Raven turned his gaze quickly to focus upon the one who addressed him by his full, and for so many years unheard name.
Raven was surprised to discover that the sage who addressed him wore a silver sash, when he left the kingdom Bear-Heart was chief sage and this figure before him was certainly not that man. Secondly he found between himself and the sage was a great table with a giant tome opened upon it.
‘The chief sage is acting as scribe. Hardly the role of one so important,’ Raven thought. Beyond the table that the sage sat behind, quill poised and wet with a dark ink, Raven’s eyes took in the great prophecy of Andrapaal. The strange lettering unnerved him. So many of the words of this prophecy were in his own tongue, a language he could easily speak but which like nearly all of the kingdom he was unable to read. Raven knew, as the sages had told that the prophecy contained words in languages that not even the sages could as yet translate.
“I have traveled many miles to return to where my life began,” stated Raven.
“Your journey has been followed with great interest,” purred Vladimir in reply.
“Have I come home then? Or must my heart continue searching?” Raven asked.
Vladimir smiled a thin, humourless smile.
“As the truth states and the tomes of history record: The lessons that are taught by time, the answers it reveals are the truest forms of truth. These are that which we must reflect upon, we must learn and we must build the next life and then the next. Young one, it is only time who can honestly answer for you such a question. If you are staying or merely resting before continuing your search, know that the citizens of this glorious city bid you peace and welcome you as a long lost son,” came Vladimir’s reply.
“Your Wisdom it is comforting to stand within this hall again and hear such words,” Raven answered, to which Vladimir nodded.
“Great sage I wish to have recorded that I come to Andrapaal to continue a search and to begin a search. I have with me a Sylva by the name of Paechra Lightheart. She carries papers from her prince that she states do explain her presence in our lands.”
“I am certain that such information was cited and recorded by my brother sage before the Sylva was granted entry,” Vladimir stated, giving Paechra a brief nod. “Be at peace citizen of Andrapaal and go about your business,” Vladimir declared. “I shall eagerly await hearing if this searching leads to discovery.”
“The trust in truth sets us free,” stated Raven, a traditional farewell.
“The free are the true keepers of truth,” Vladimir gave as the required reply. Already the sages mind had disengaged from the conversation. Dismissed, Raven took his leave and wandered back into the crowd, joining those whose business with the sages was finished for now, and those whose business within the city could finally begin.
As Raven walked away from the great hall confident that he had done his duty as the laws of Thuraen demanded, Paechra remained within the great hall, an obstacle for the crowd to navigate around. She stared transfixed upon the words of the prophecy. The words spoke to her. At first she could identify some of the different languages of the races of the world from what little her father had taught her. She could see the scribbles of the mole-like Lytholi, creatures similar to her own race in that they preferred to live amongst nature, but for them the stones and earth was home. The words of the cave dwelling giants the Vull-Ki could also be seen, each word made up of consonants and lacking in vowels. The ancient dwarf that the Truth Keeper spoke of was what caught Paechra’s attention next, the time that race spent beneath the earth searching for precious stones had caused their written language to take on the shape of sharp edges like the point of a pick or the blade of an axe. Some of these words she could read while others she did not know. As she attempted to create sentences and puzzle out what the words said she discovered that her excitement at being in such a city was growing.
“This is what has drawn my father to these people. So much complexity in such a short life,” the Sylva murmured. When Raven called to Paechra for the fifth time reluctantly she turned from the fascinating wall of words.
Vladimir hissed with fury scaring the next visitor to Andrapaal that approached his table.
“Name,” the sage requested bluntly. ‘Sylvi magic, curse it!’ were Vladimir’s thoughts as he went through the paces of recording the mundane business of yet another foreign merchant.
“Is that with a single T and two Ps?” he enquired, only half paying attention to the answer. ‘That must have been how his approach to the city remained hidden from my eyes and ears within the kingdom,’ Vladimir thought, his frustration building. Yet another figure attempted to draw Vladimir from his thoughts. The chief sage called upon another sage wearing blue robes.
“Lois of the Northlands, come attend to the needs of this visitor of our wondrous city,” Vladimir commanded. “I have business of great importance that suddenly requires my attention.”
“It shall be as you wish, Your Wisdom,” the other sage replied, the older man’s voice filled with reverence. “The trust in truth sets us free,” Lois added as he took up the quill.
Without giving the visitor or Lois another glance, Vladimir hobbled away. His travels took him down one passage, up a flight of stone steps, past three closed doors and finally to the twin portals of the great hall.
‘The tome said that by sending the Vorsurk soldiers, the raven and the lioness would worry me no longer,’ Vladimir thought, his shaking hands resting lightly upon the hall’s doors.
“Curse this prophecy! Curse the tome! Curse these old bones!” Vladimir cried out.
As Vladimir heard the echo of his anguish fade, the doors opened to the great hall and citizens who had just had an audience with the king spilled out into the passage. The chief sage tried to ignore the looks of the citizens as they moved by him, looks of sympathy, eyes that showed concern. Some citizens moved by as quickly as they could, showing obvious fear. Vladimir could not help noticing that none of those who passed gave him a look of respect.
“Come in and rest a moment, Vladimir my friend. I would love your company,” called the voice of King Fredrickson, still seated upon the throne.
“Are you ill, Your Wisdom,” murmured Moosuf suddenly standing beside the chief sage, his voice holding a mixture of reverence and concern. From within his red robes the Knowledge Speaker found a water skin which he offered to his master. Vladimir waved it away.
“My thanks but you may be on your way, young one,” he sighed. “I need only a little rest that is all.”
As Moosuf left, glancing behind him a half dozen times, Vladimir willed his old figure to make way into the great hall. Vladimir knew that it was that figure upon the throne who he wanted to replace.
“Then you will all have no choice but to respect me,” the sage thought quietly to himself.
“Paechra!!” called Raven loudly, grasping his friend by the shoulder and shocking her out of her trance. “Are you ok? You look suddenly pale.”
“Let us leave,” Paechra suggested, pushing her way through the crowd, dragging raven behind her.
“Come,” said Raven, giving Paechra a confident smile. “I know a place where we can rest after our travels. I am sure at the home of the Stormsongs you’ll feel better in no time.”
With a gnarled ancient hand, the knowledgeable one, Vladimir, secured the five special locks that barred any troublesome visitors from his office and home. Satisfied he was locked in and the rest of civilization was locked out, the old man busied himself with the fire place. His hands shook as he maneuvered the kindling and small logs of dried timber, more from the chill of the room than from old age, the knowledge keeper told himself, as the flint and steel he caressed together sparked causing the fire to slowly ignite. As the heat from the flames that crackled lively and gaily, finally warmed the old sage to the bones, he stepped away from the hearth and strode purposefully to his small personal selection of tomes. Without a glance, his fingers found the black leather encased book. Vladimir tried to remember when and from where he had gained such a powerful treasure but as the familiar stabbing in his head began the sage ceased his searching.
Walking the familiar streets of the familiar city was a great joy for Raven.
“Here is where father introduced me to my first blue robed sage,” explained Raven to his Sylvi friend. Paechra nodded, her almond eyes sparkling as she soaked up the happiness Raven showed at being home again.
“I was both polite and upstanding. I believe those were the words recorded by the old man to describe me. Ancient and smelling musty I think were the exact terms I used to describe the wise one to my friends,” continued Raven with a chuckle. Paechra stifled her own laugh. “I was six at the time. It was a real challenge I can tell you for one so young to be so good for so long in front of a perfect stranger. When the sage said I was upstanding I thought he meant standing up. I am fairly sure I told him I’ve been an eager runner from my very first summer…”
“So kind of you to slow yourself to this leisurely stroll,” replied Paechra giving Raven a smile.
The clip clop of the hooves of the steed filled the silence of the next few minutes.
“I suppose I have found that the world is such a huge place,” Raven finally replied. “I’ve discovered it is far too large to search in its entirety. When I come back to a place I know I like to slow down and enjoy the familiarity,” he explained.
As Paechra nodded, encouraging her friend to say more Raven suddenly stopped before an olive green gate.
“Behold!” Raven announced.
They were in the north eastern quadrant of the city, down a street where fine houses mingled with more of the same. Either side of the gate grew a lush hedge of holly, red berries gleaming and thorns razor sharp. Across the gate at waist height was a silver band and in the center of the band was the name of the family that lived in the house as well as the family crest. Raven ignored the words, but studied the crest.
“Strange,” murmured Raven. “This hedge… This gate… This is not my family’s crest,” he added, somewhat confused.
“Your father no longer lives here,” stated Paechra soberly. “Perhaps he resides in another of these homes?”
“When I lived here this house was open to all. There was nothing to bar entrance to our family home,” continued Raven, his voice level but all the happiness and excitement Paechra had detected was now gone.
“Shall we just go to this forge?” Paechra suggested.
“Yes of course,” Raven replied. “That silver band can surely mean only one person. We seek answers and I am sure that Anton will have them,” the dark haired figure stated, grasping the reigns of the horse and starting Paechra off at a trot.
Far from the chaos of the great city of Andrapaal a shadowy figure crept silently, catlike from the undergrowth of a dense fir forest. It sniffed the air and wrinkled its nose, not liking at all what scents it could detect upon the air.
“Where are you, pretty one? Surely you have not followed your father, flown so far from the nest?” the figure murmured, barely a whisper. The strange language spoken revealed that the figure was not human.
“Who be that who does go o’er there?!” came a shaky cry as two lamps suddenly burst into illumination high above the figure, revealing it to be one of the fey-kind. The light of the lamps hid the identity of the two who held them aloft, but the Sylva held no fear.
“We do so ask that you be stating your name and your business, stranger. It be our custom it does,” a second voice demanded.
The Sylva looked up curiously, unable to comprehend the language, but still able to gleam their meaning.
“I… am… g… o… ne,” stated the figure in a very broken version of the common tongue. With that slow statement made, Athun, the low prince of the Spiritgrove sylva was swallowed up by the firs, vanishing as ghostlike as he had arrived.
“Go ‘n fetch the sages, Old Thompson ‘n Billoh,” stated the older of the two lantern bearers as he hid his light.
“Aye, I’ll fetch ‘em,” the other stated seriously, his voice gruff. Then his face broke into the cheeky smile of a youth having a joke with an old friend. “I’ll fetch ‘em but it’ll be you as sure as sure who’ll be tell ‘em both this tale,” the younger one added and then quickly scampered down from the lookout tower before his companion had a chance to take a playful swing. The one still glowing lantern betrayed the path that the watchman strode. Athun watched the light bob, considering stopping its bearer, an easy task. It would only end as a fool’s errand though. What Athun sought had obviously not traveled this way. He howled to the night sky, the most animalistic and primal sound that the outer village of Springtun-gates had ever heard. Silently, Athun retraced his steps from the last few hours and chose a fresh direction to continue his searching.
Timothy Law is a writer of fantasy, horror, detective fiction, general fiction and everything else that pops into his head. He heralds from a little town in Southern Australia called Murray Bridge. A happily married father of three, family is very important to him. Currently working at the Murray Bridge Library in the role of Library Manager he has dreamed since his early high school years of becoming a full-time author. Working for a library, surrounded by so many wonderful stories it is difficult not to be inspired to write. Many of his short stories and general musings can be found on The World of Myth magazine website, his blog - There Are Some Who Call Me... Tim! or on the Parenting Express website. Tim is also the author of the fantasy novel The Eleventh Tome, book one of The Prophecies of Andrapaal. He has a multitude of other novel ideas floating around in his mind. All he now needs is what every author wishes for, time, a little peace and quiet and of course a willing and understanding publisher. While seeking what seems to be the impossible he somehow finds time for scotch and board games with his brother-in-law, family movie nights and weekends away with his wonderful wife.