The Eleventh Tome - Chapter IV of series by Tim Law at Spillwords.com

The Eleventh Tome – Chapter IV

The Prophecies of Andrapaal

The Eleventh Tome

Chapter IV

written by: Tim Law

 

Year 513 of the Kingdom of Thuraen

Fredrickson the Third is King

Vladimir the Young is Chief Sage

 

Far south from Andrapaal, on the very southern border of the Kingdom of Thuraen Sage Owen, reluctant resident of the township of Ocean’s View cursed the salty spray of the wild waves that crashed upon the shore so far south from the heart of the kingdom.

The sage was young for one who wore the blue robes of a knowledge keeper, rushed from the hallowed halls of truth within the palace to one of the newest towers of knowledge to be constructed within the kingdom. Born just outside of the border of Thuraen in the far northwest Owen had enjoyed the summers of the tropical fishing village of Stargift Shallows, located in the wild lands between the sylva border in the west and the strange circular border of Thuraen, radiating nine days outwards from Andrapaal. Reading the signs of the wind, rain and stars and thus discovering the best fishing spots for cuttlefish, squid and other ocean delights was of higher importance to the residents of the village than learning about the joys and wonders of reading and writing. Owen’s grandfather, the village elder and lead fisherman of Stargift Shallows thought differently about the importance of literacy, teaching Owen and his brothers the required skills through the sharing of playful fisherman’s songs and sea shanties during the day and reading poetry every evening before the family retired for the night. Owen enjoyed the poetry the most as his grandfather read from a book that he had inherited from his own grandfather. Owen hoped that when the time came he would be lucky enough to have the precious book of flowing prose given as a gift. Owen would sometimes read his own poems, words woven from happenings in his life and things he had observed around the village or within the tropical waters of the ocean. This was one of Owen’s proudest moments.

When some red robed knowledge speakers and a small force of truth keepers ventured across the border that far north Owen’s grandfather had welcomed the old men like they were his brothers and gave to the soldiers the deepest respect. This gave a young Owen the impression that these explorers from Andrapaal were heroes to be adored. Every night that the sages stayed as guests in Owen’s family home the two knowledge speakers each took turns in reciting exciting tales of their own. Knowledge Speaker Faris preferred to tell great ballads concerning young truth keepers leaving their sweethearts to ride far to the east to the bloody skirmishes upon the border where they gained riches and glory in equal amounts as they put sword, might and justice to the evil vorsurk pack. Knowledge Speaker Nomus was similar to Owen’s grandfather in his preferred style of poetry choosing to recite long winded poems that had subject matter ranging from the flowing colour palate of butterflies in flight to the ways of the blowing of the wind to the strange and bemusing nature of the human heart.

When it was the time for the sages and their entourage to begin the journey home Faris and Nomus begged Owen’s grandfather to accompany them. Village elder and lead fisherman of even such a tiny village as Stargift Shallows was a position of power and prestige that the old man was not willing to give up. Instead, much to Owen’s surprise his grandfather nominated him, the youngest grandson to travel with the sages.
“I know Owen that you will be the best choice to represent our family and our village in a city and a kingdom which values the written word above all else,” the old man had stated in his rough voice, so obviously filled with the wisdom of the sea.
Owen as a young boy with his head filled with so many tales of adventure jumped at such an opportunity to travel with such learned men. With Sage Bear-Heart, hero of the wars against the vorsurk in the role of Chief Sage Owen had been further excited and had dedicated his teen and early adult years to study. At the passing of Bear-Heart and the induction of Vladimir the Young into the role of the prime sage Owen had been thrilled to discover that Stargift Shallows was to become part of the kingdom. Owen played his role as blue robed knowledge keeper as best as he could, in hope that he would be sent home again when the tower of knowledge was constructed within the village. Instead of this however Vladimir the Young sent Owen as far away from the tropical north as was possible to travel by foot. Ocean’s View, the coldest and thus to Owen the cruelest part of the kingdom became his home.

Owen discovered that Vladimir had been quick in establishing a complete ban of literacy. Signs that had once hung over businesses such as the fishmonger, the blacksmith’s forge and the local tavern had been replaced with copies just depicting an image of the activity or name of the establishment. Owen had been as appalled at such a decision, agreeing with the village elders that such an enforced illiteracy was a great crime against the community. Unable to go directly against the orders of the chief of the sages Owen instead chose to don black robes by night and moved about the village hiring out scrolls and tomes to be read each evening at the cost of a single penny per night. Amongst the citizens of Ocean’s View he became known as Owen the Librarian, sharer and not keeper of knowledge.

For many years Owen felt confident he was doing the right thing by the village, by his grandfather and by the kingdom he now called home. Now he cursed the cold, yelled his fears to the waves, wished he were young again and back in Stargift Shallows. Truth keepers in groups of three and four had begun to appear in villages close by. Truth keeper had begun to appear and there had been no official word from his fellow sages in Andrapaal. Owen the Librarian was very concerned.

***

In Andrapaal night had fallen. After eating alone her evening meal Paechra tried to sleep but her mind was filled with the prophetic words she had seen upon the wall in the great hall. As her mind pondered the meaning of what she had already read and translated of the prophecy, the words she saw in her thoughts began to leap from the stone and flow about the sylva, creating a halo about her head. She heard in her ears whisperings of warnings, made far more serious as they came to her in the druid’s native tongue.
“What city beneath? Where is the source of this threat? Where is my father?” asked Paechra. An image flashed across the stone wall that Paechra saw clearly in her mind. Flames licked at the towers of the gate that Paechra remembered passing through when she and Raven entered Andrapaal. Those very gates shuddered and suddenly fell, crumbling to nothing but rubble.
Paechra took the essence of life from the last of the living plants she had purchased from the market. The blue light burst to life around her as she used her mind to send forth a cry for help.
Goddess, Lady of Everything! Aid your servant, your daughter, your child. The task you set is beyond my knowledge. Guide me to the right path or show me the true paths before me. Without choice there is no possibility. Without You there is no light in the storm of chaos, the sylva prayed. Her need was carried beyond the city and as the last root of the strawberry plant dried up and became mere dust the cloak of blue light left Paechra and she fell exhausted into a fitful, dream filled sleep.

Thur the spirit that was air, the wind, servant of the goddess flew about like a worry free child, forming its physical self into various shapes as it floated effortlessly through the open sky. First it took on the shape of an albatross, long, sleek and designed for graceful flight. A few moments later this form was shed and like the change of the breeze, the elemental spirit suddenly became a leather winged bat, screeching to the night to find its way. There was a moment where the tiny mammal was covered in crackling green flame as another transformation took place. The fire ran from the flat nose of the bat all along its back and across its flapping wings to finally lick at its claws. In place of the bat and bird Thur became its true self, the wind, the breeze, the very element itself. It was in this form that the spirit heard the call of its goddess. The breeze blew from the west to the north-west and then to the north as the spirit of air decided to discover what it was that the Lady of Possibility desired.

***

Raven looked in on his companion Paechra as soon as he and Gregory had returned to the forge.
“She sleeps so deeply,” Raven stated, looking from the sylva to the remains of the meal she had eaten.
“She shall be fine there. The summer breeze is warm, even at this late an hour and the forge still burns with the coals that I shall need for tomorrow morning’s work,” replied Gregory.
“I will have the stars for my ceiling tonight. I will not attempt to haul her up upon your roof, not now or any other time,” said Raven, indicating that the blacksmith pick the sylva up.
“You take her where you wish, truth keeper. I am retiring to my bed to spend what hours of night remain fast asleep dreaming of the gold that never was,” answered Gregory.
Alone with the sylva girl he had traveled with for only a short time Raven decided that he would watch Paechra sleep for as long as his eyes remained open. The games of the evening had left him distracted. There was something about the strange way that Paechra lay which told the truth keeper perhaps he should have left the gambling to the blacksmith.

Knowledge Keeper Jefferson clicked his tongue and shook his head in disbelief as he peered over a number of different passages, none of them making any sense to the sage. He sat at one of the many desks in the grand library of the palace. The humungous room was lined with shelves filled with tomes and scrolls, some ancient works, some new publications, all combining to record the entire life of the human race since they had settled the land that had been named Thuraen.
“Here it states that Johannas Stormsong was one of a number of truth keepers sent to retrieve the sage Vladimir who was residing near Eastern Fort… Yet in the book of Vladimir the fifth it is penned by the sage himself that never would he take up the pompous mantle of chief sage,” Jefferson murmured. “I would feel like a little girl encaged within the city walls, surrounded by suitors not brothers!” the sage stated, mimicking Vladimir’s crackling voice, and then laughing so heartily at his attempted imitation that he managed to extinguish two of the ten candles he had lit to give himself enough light to read by. Embarrassed by how loud his laugh sounded in the normally quiet library, the knowledge keeper paused. The hour was early though, well before the dawn and the library was empty. Jefferson ignited the pair of candles before he turned his attention to yet another passage in yet another opened tome.
“Here Vladimir is writing under the title of Chief of Sages, Vladimir the Young. The passage is sloppy, something I would expect of a yellow robed student,” he said to himself, pondering why there could be such a difference in writing styles. “What too would make the old man so severely change his mind? While he was the voice in the darkness out there on the border Vlad had strong felt views, ideals that none of us ‘suitors’ ever thought he would change.”
Jefferson continued to scan the tomes, at first curious and then concerned at what he read. The arrival of Johannas at the gates of Andrapaal after so many years away, after so many years pronounced dead had sparked in Neros Jeffereson a desire to know more. It was in a sage’s nature to seek the truth and make sure it was recorded. Much about the chief of the sages suddenly seemed so wrong.

A star fell from the skies over Andrapaal, a gift to Paechra from her goddess. The blazing light took the form of a fire licked blade before it crackled with bright purple light and altered its shape to become the form of a nymph, a scantily clad spirit of the great oak trees. As the feet of the newly formed figure touched the grass beside the road that led to the Merchant Gate the warm summer breeze blew about the long tresses of the fair forest maiden.
AIERA! YOU HAVE BEEN SENT BY THE GODDESS ALSO, WE ARE TO WORK AS A TEAM, whispered the wind in the slightly pointed ears of the nymph.
BE IT A BLESSING OR A CURSE, WILD ONE? THAT THE LADY HAS CHOSEN TO PAIR US, LIGHT AND AIR TOGETHER IN AID OF THE SYLVA? replied the nymph.
DEFINITELY A BLESSING, replied the wind, crackling green light encasing the spirit of air as it took on the form of a young boy. AIERA, LIGHT AND THUR, AIR TOGETHER AGAINST THE FORCES OF DARKNESS AND DISPAIR! WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? the figure of the child added with an age appropriate laugh.
WHAT INDEED, Aiera, spirit of light murmured, unconvinced.
Both spirits stared at each other for a moment longer before the child, a humanized form of the wild and free wind let loose another peel of laughter.
I WILL NEVER BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND THE WAYS OF OUR LADY GODDESS, sighed the spirit of light. AS ALWAYS THOUGH, I EXSIST TO OBEY.
ME TOO! replied Thur enthusiastically. NOW FOLLOW ME AND I’LL SHOW YOU THE CITY… HUMANS ARE SO FACINATING!
Without another word the boy was encased in the green fire and then was gone as the warm summer wind blew up and over the great wall surrounding the city of knowledge. After offering up a prayer to the Lady of Possibility for patience and wisdom in large helpings, Aiera at a much slower pace followed after.

***

The sun rose, beaming its warm rays straight in on Raven causing him to wake stiff and sore. His mind was still troubled by the strange game he had witnessed the night before. To Raven’s disappointment the warmth of the new day did not rouse Paechra in the same way. He watched over the sleeping Paechra, willing her to wake so that he could tell her of how he had felt the game coax him into risking more and more as the night drew on and the drinks that he had been served dulled his inhibitions. Throughout the night Paechra had not woken, but had cried out as if her slumber had been plagued by horrors. It brought to mind for Raven his own troubled sleep. Since deciding to return home to Andrapaal Raven had been suffering his disturbing nightmares, memories he did not want to revisit, and yet the closer he got to the city the more often they came to plague his slumber. While he journeyed alone the truth keeper found he could dismiss the visions. Once he began traveling with the sylva he could no longer ignore such nightmares. Still he refused to discuss them with the druid. Now that he witnessed his friend’s slumber troubled, Raven was unsure of just how he could help. Any words or actions that sprang to mind the truth keeper dismissed as insufficient.
‘Paechra will probably respond to any of my so called friendly advice with another one of her looks,’ Raven thought to himself.
“If I could look like that I would do the same,” he murmured.
“I agree,” stated the blacksmith, thinking that his friend referred to the fact that Paechra still slept. “Is the pretty sylva still out to it?” he queried, unaware of Raven’s poor night.
“Perhaps our evening of dicing has left us a little coinage for food?” replied Raven.
“I doubt we could manage a meal at one of the taverns,” the blacksmith said, his voice filled with regret.
“The markets then, some fresh food?” suggested Raven, hopeful.
“Indeed truth keeper, truer words have not been spoken,” Gregory stated as he fished out a few copper and silver coins from a pouch at his hip. “We may even have enough to spring for some cold meat and hard bread for pretty Paechra.”
“Lead on blacksmith. I believe that the fresh air will do well to help me order my thoughts,” announced Raven.
With a shrug Gregory led Raven away, the truth keeper pondering why dreams came, the blacksmith calculating how many coins he would need that night to recover his losses already accumulated from a week of evenings at the gambling hall.

Sweat covered the face of Vladimir the chief sage as he sat in the entrance hall surrounded by the prophecy. The first of the morning’s new comers to the city approached, asking him to scribble down the business they had with his fine city. He hated the entrance hall. It reminded him of the very fact that not all words were his to understand, and that not all words recorded as truth were important to him. It seemed unfair that he held such a position of great power and responsibility in this great kingdom and yet there were still mysteries that he did not understand, and still mundane roles to play that sucked away his time and his focused concentration. He swore at that very moment that when he ruled the kingdom proper, he would do away with such mundane tasks. These were not tasks for the master of the Kingdom of Thuraen, they would need to be delegated to minions, to servants, slaves of the pen and ink. Not tasks for the illiterate, they would need to be trusted to loyal sages, or better yet, another race. The word sylva was forming in the back of Vladimir’s thoughts as he was suddenly interrupted.
“Your Wisdom? Are the thoughts of the great sage of Andrapaal with us or with the words he is surrounded by…?”
It was a sage in blue who had dared to interrupt Vladimir’s thoughts. He had four armored truth keepers beside him and a yellow robed novice standing with a humbly bowed head near by.
“Forgive me, please. State again the purpose of your visit,” Vladimir mildly stated, biting back the fury and embarrassment he felt at being disturbed.
“We have traveled at haste to see you, Your Wisdom. We have done your bidding and wish to report. It is I, sage Sammeal of the blue robes,” the sage announced.
Vladimir quickly noted the information into the ledger and then scanned his way up the page. The last hundred entries at least were illegible nonsense. Once again it was something he would need to repair with the assistance of the black tome. Looking up, Vladimir cursed within as he noticed the other sage eyeing off his work with a look of concern.
Flicking the ledger to a blank section, Vladimir ignored this and barked a command at the waiting truth keepers.
“Sammeal has need of you no longer. Report to Anton your arrival and ask of him for your next orders.”
The truth keepers bowed respectfully and then marched off in search of their leader.
“I can return when you have time to see me,” Sammeal said, the look of concern remaining across his features.
“Can the boy write?” asked Vladimir.
Caught off guard by the question, Sammeal merely nodded.
“Good. He can take my place then. Tell him to write neatly and accurately and then meet me in my chambers. What we have to discuss will not wait,” Vladimir the chief of sages snapped before he rose up from the great desk and stormed up the stone steps.
It was an embarrassment, some of the trivial tasks he were forced to undertake as chief sage. At least now, that day, on the list of trivial tasks, there was now one less.

“And this as you may remember, was where we saw Morgan the Traitorous torn limb from limb by trained warriors,” Gregory chattered eagerly as he finally stopped leading the lost Raven and gazed lovingly at the pit of the arena. Raven, not paying the blacksmith his complete attention, stumbled back as he stepped past his guide and caught sight of the blood stained cobbled floor.
“Beautiful isn’t it…” the blacksmith continued with a grin, unaware of the horror Raven was feeling. “It was written that Morgan was a great thief who stole from one of the outer branches, a great tome and taught himself how to read…”
“So here the city’s gladiators train before their day in the ring?” Raven asked weakly.
“Not just gladiators, no! Here the young truth keepers learn the battle moves and ways of their sworn enemy the vorsurk,” Gregory replied eagerly, spitting upon the ground an arms length from his and Raven’s feet.
Raven had a sudden thought, a memory plucked from his youth of when he was learning the ways of the sword. He stood in an open field with a dozen or so other boys. His hands shook as he held the sword, using both because his youthful arms were too weak to hold up the blade. The smell of fresh cut straw was as clear to Raven, at that moment, there standing within the arena as it had been all those years ago. It was the distinct smell of the straw-bale enemy that was to be slashed to ribbons by the end of each training session.
‘What was here, where stands this ring of death?’ Raven wondered trying to recall what had been demolished of the city he so loved that this great pit for gladiators could be constructed in its place. ‘Probably more taverns,’ he decided, as the memories of this part of the city eluded him.
“If you look in the far corner you will see a fine group of youngsters already well experienced in how the wolfish vorsurkers fight,” the smithy explained further and, with a beefy arm about Raven’s shoulder, led the truth keeper forward. As the tour continued, all thoughts of the past vanished. There was far too much to see in the present.
As the two figures made their way across the arena, Raven saw that indeed six young men, the muscles of their teenage years just becoming evident, each held a squat flat sword of wood resembling the blades Gregory had been working so feverishly upon in his metal smith. The six had their backs to the new comers, each of them only having eyes for the medium built, grey haired warrior before them. This figure held a two handed mallet in one hand leaning upon it as if it were for his rest.
“Once more… Simon de Ghoul-bane, step forward and show me the first three steps towards the Peasant’s Defense,” the solitary figure announced.
At the request, one of the truth keeper novices stepped away from the others towards the trainer and raised his wooden blade.
Raven halted Gregory as the training began and the two joined the remaining truth keepers in training, watching their fellow novice.
“Correct!” cried the trainer happily as the hammer blow, his two hands struck, was deflected by the novice. It was a light blow and Simon caught it easily.
“Don’t get cocky though boy…” the trainer added as the second attempt at a block by Simon, was weaker and slower to respond. The third stage of the disarming maneuver was made precisely, surprising the trainer and making him loose his footing.
As the trainer fell with a cry to the stone floor, Simon ran to assist him up. Two more of the trainees ran forward and all together the three of them had the required strength to help their teacher rise.
“Well done Simon,” the trainer panted.
“How could that old man justify calling that a vorsurk attack?” Raven murmured to the blacksmith, all thoughts of the red stains on the cobble stones forgotten.
The excited smile that plastered the blacksmith’s face wavered slightly but he did not respond.
“Come old man… Truly you cannot call that an education,” Raven began, striding with purpose from the side of Gregory.
“Novices take note. A stranger is in our midst claiming to know more than your teacher about the truth keeper’s ways and the ways of our enemies,” the teacher cried out, more confident than Raven expected from such an elderly frame.
“What you don’t seem to realize is that these creatures don’t fight fair! They don’t pick out a single combatant or look for a clean battle. They mob you with numbers, fight with hammers, huge clubs… jagged blades that rip rather than cut, that is the vorsurk weapon of choice,” Raven stammered, trying to justify his outburst.
“If you know so much about them boy, why don’t you show us exactly what you know,” the teacher growled low in his throat. “Draw lads and don’t hold back. This stranger feels there is a lesson to be learnt. I believe we will be doing the teaching,” he then added, motioning his students forward to attack.
“Now look here!” cried Gregory, as he finally found his voice.
“Hold. I need not your help against these young lads,” Raven said calmly as the agitated blacksmith strode forward.
The first two novices to draw their wooden blades ended up on their rears so suddenly that they did not have a chance to even raise their weapons.
The other four approached with far more caution.
“It is in the nature of the vorsurk to swarm like this and try to over run or surround you,” Raven explained as the four novices remained at bay.
“Get him! Or it will be from your hides!” threatened the teacher.
The two novices Raven had bettered rose gingerly to their feet and crept forward to join the others before all six attacked at once.
“To fight our kingdom’s enemy successfully you must be like a worm,” Raven panted as he began ducking and weaving, striking occasionally with boot or fist. Three of the novices flew free of the skirmish with cuts and bruises, before the teacher waded into the fray with his two handed mallet, knocking his students away. Raven took a blow to the thigh that caused him to grunt and wince with pain, before he caught the teacher with a blow across the chin that flattened the old man instantly. With that the truth keeper kicked away the hammer out of the old man’s reach and fell upon the old man before he could rise. As they lay face to face Raven looked closely at his fallen foe for the first time.
“Father.?!” Raven cried out in awe and alarm.
“My son died. That was ten years before you arrived. You are no son of mine,” the old man growled, pushing the weight of Raven off him so that he could rise.
“Good day to you all, boys. Soon you will wield a real blade like poets… Come on Raven, we have to go,” stammered Gregory as he took a shocked Raven by the arm and led him away. Raven did not resist.
“You have traded your armor, a prized possession for those who guard the truth and the city of truth. Instead you wear what looks to me like the shell of some unfortunate animal that you butchered and fed upon, just like the raven that you are. Begone Johannas, the people you chose to turn your back upon ten years ago, choose now to turn their backs upon you,” the old man called as he watched his son walk away.
Raven paused, tempted to turn back and reply to the cold words spoken by the old trainer, but the words he wanted to say stuck in Raven’s throat.
“This was not how I wanted you and your dad to meet again,” grumbled Gregory as he dragged Raven away.
Startled and unsure of themselves, the students watched on with mouths agape. With a sharp grunt, their teacher snapped them back into attention. It was obvious though as the session continued, the heart of the trainer was no longer present. It had left with his son and the blacksmith. Much to the relief of the students, they were released early.

***

The heat of the day caused Paechra to wake as the sun was nearing its midday mark. Her eyes were darkly ringed since her sleep during the night had been restless. In her dreams Paechra had witnessed her father held captive in an extravagant citadel beneath a maze where the walls and floor were all carved from ice. While Paechra looked on from above, her father was repeatedly struck down by the fiery blasts of a vorsurk sorcerer and then brought back to life by the monster’s magic to scribble and scrawl upon a prison cell wall the words of the great prophecy announcing his doom. The scene played out over and over, each time more and more of the sorcerer’s features were revealed until the light of the moon beamed through the icy floor and revealed the silver sash and the blue robes that the sorcerer wore, the cloth torn to almost rags and stained with blood. Paechra spent the whole dream searching the maze for a way down to her father and the blue robed sorcerer, only to discover that no such path existed. The druid awoke from her nightmare with a jolt and looked around the empty room, at first unsure of where she was.
“Father, what has become of you?” she whimpered.
With both Gregory and Raven still away, the forge and the home of the blacksmith remained silent.
Paechra washed the worst signs of the night from her face and then broke her fast with what little food she could find. With that ritual completed the sylva began in earnest the search for her father.

The cobbled streets of Andrapaal’s slums district seemed different to the sylva girl, as Paechra walked them without Raven by her side. As a precaution she delved deep into her inner power and using the divine abilities of a druid, borrowed energies from the natural weeds and mosses that were around her. A thin light blue veil enveloped her and began to take the form of a small bird of prey. The sylva’s senses that were normally fine tuned became even keener. She picked up instantly, the path traveled by two mice as they scurried by her. With great effort Paechra resisted the urge to scoop them up. Instead she forced her eyes away from the tiny creatures and focused upon the path ahead. All the while she sent out strong thoughts.
‘Father I know you are here somewhere…’
Her answer came as a flash, a mere moment that caused her great fear. She had spent at least a good quarter of an hour ignoring the city folk of the slums as they murmured and whispered at her approach or ran indoors and shut up their houses.
‘Father had always said that the humans had the natural urges of wild forest animals, urges to flee and distrust,’ Paechra thought to herself. ‘Fear what you do not understand. That was the way of the citizens of Thuraen. So father had traveled far to this kingdom, to educate the human.’
It was then that she saw it. An image that flashed across her mind, but it was so vivid and disturbing that it seemed to burn itself permanently there. It was a mysterious link that each sylva shared with their kindred, mother to son, father to daughter.
“Daughter leave! Leave this place! The danger is true! Hear my plea. Leave, quickly and soon. You are not safe.”
Her father had said this as if he were standing right there beside her in the street. Instead though, the image Paechra had seen had showed him shrouded in darkness. A simple red circle, whose dark magic signature had made her shudder with dread, was what held him captive there. Her heightened state caused her to feel a strong urge to fly and fly quickly, searching out the safety of the nest. She released the power and it flowed back to the plants it had been borrowed from. The sense to flee drained from her, but Paechra felt the fear and dread remain, they were her own feelings. The druid began checking the cobbled stone street for weaknesses, the walls of the homes on either side for secret passageways. If her father was indeed just below her, just out of reach like he had been in her dream, Paechra was determined to find the path that would lead her to him.
“Therdous Lightheart, please give to me your daughter a sign of how to find you! Be my guide to the secret way that leads to the city beneath spoken of in the prophecy, in the words of our people that whisper in my ears,” pleaded Paechra. As her fingers ached from digging into the stoned street where no secret pathway lay and no further signs came from her captive father, Paechra wondered if the image she had seen was real or just her mind recalling the horrors from the night just past. The sylva knew the feeling in her heart of dread to be real though, a feeling that would not leave her. This alone was enough to keep her searching. Painstakingly slowly Paechra made her way along the winding maze of the slums streets. Alone searched, knowing that somehow she had to find her father. He suffered and he needed to be set free.
“Spirits that obey the lady of all possibilities, hear my cry for help!” whispered Paechra as she continued to search.
WE HEAR YOU, stated a voice in the sylva’s mind, so faintly that she almost missed it. Paechra took heart from that reply and continued her search with renewed energy.

Anton pulled the weeds that grew up around his dozen tomato plants, admiring as he did this chore just how well the plants grew, each of the dozen plants bearing at least a few, at best too many ripening fruits all hanging plump and almost deep red in colour from the spindle thin branches.
‘Almost ready for harvesting,’ he thought to himself. ‘Much like the young truth keepers I am growing into men.’ He pondered on the words of the sylva Paechra, those shared not even twelve hours before. Anton yanked at a stubborn marshmallow weed that he had somehow missed in previous weeding sessions.
“Johannas Stormsong, you are going to be the thorn in my side… Already you have proven to be the marshmallow in my vegetable patch!” Anton announced. The sylva was right in saying that the one known as Raven would not return to training. The boy had too much to sort out before he could focus upon the duties of a truth keeper. Anton considered reporting to Vladimir the fact that the Stormsong boy failed to appear that morning as he had been ordered. Anton dismissed such a thought though. Johannas’ situation was unprecedented. Never had a student of the blade disappeared from the border only to reappear like a ghost a whole decade later. Boys left the city and spent time learning to be men while treading the desert sands. Sometimes they did not return and sometimes they did, lessons learnt fighting against the vorsurk making them appreciate the safety of ‘guarding’ the fortified city and the well protected kingdom. Raven’s was a whole different case. To Anton it seemed like the boy had become a man without guidance, had certainly walked the desert sands, but had come back haunted, troubled, looking for answers without knowing the questions to ask. As a feather from the bird nest in the branches of his peach tree fluttered down to rest upon his shoulder Anton brushed it away.
“I pity you your troubles, Raven,” stated the master of the truth keepers, “But I cannot be the source of your answers. I only know that your father’s house was given to me. I now tend the plants, pick the fruits, enjoy the wares. This place that once had been home to a family, a friend; an aging man, his wife and a young boy I wanted to be my own, now belongs to me alone.”
The weed finally gave in a burst from the soil with a spray of earth. Anton nodded his satisfaction at a job well done. He rose from the vegetable patch and then strode over to pluck from the tree a ripe, juicy peach.
“What is within this garden is now mine,” said Anton, biting into the fruit.

“Come!” Vladimir barked, not even attempting to hide his impatience.
As Sammeal entered, his bushy snow white eyebrows rose inquisitively.
“Report!” the chief sage barked again as the door to his cell clicked closed behind the sage Sammeal.
“We could find no sign of the sage Morthos, Your Wisdom. The site that you suggested we visit was a camping ground for the enemy. Being that close to the border, anyone would be mad to farm, mad even to think of setting up house and calling such land home,” Sage Sammeal explained.
‘We were there once, Morthos and I when a farm still stood and a family lived and worked the desert sand all in the name of Fredrick the Red,’ Vladimir thought to himself.
“Enough excuses. There was a farm, once. Did you manage to find that?” Vladimir hissed. The anger of the chief sage did not disappear quickly so it was said, a rumour that had quite a lot of truth to it.
“Yes, Your Wisdom. There was a farm or the skeletal remains of one at least…” Sammeal began and shuddered as the memories came flooding back.
Vladimir fought back the urge to say the words that the tome screamed for him to say. To read the thoughts of this blue robed brother was tempting, but risky.
“Go on…” Vladimir prompted.
“We traveled the months it took to reach the border as it was requested. For the entire length of our travels and our return, the same question was asked, both in the towns and at each farm we came across. Each time the answer was ‘nay’. None have seen the yellow robed sage Morthos. We did reach the settlement of the Wolfheart clan and found the grounds as I had stated before. They were empty but for a few ruined buildings, vorsurk warriors everywhere, we could have been killed if we had not been so careful. Out there, Your Wisdom, amongst the dunes, the sands of time find it easier work to disguise where we have tried to settle, and the brutish wolves feed upon our bones as the harshness of the desert kills us off one by one. All is written in the official terms of truth. You can find it all, Your Wisdom, noted down in my report,” the sage explained.
Vladimir sat silently at his desk, his fingers pressed firmly together in an arch. As Sammeal finished his report, the chief of all the sages nodded thoughtfully.
“I ask you Sammeal, to remain in Andrapaal a few days. Leave the report with me to look over. I will ask you to officially present it to our brothers soon. For now rest and enjoy the finest that this city can offer you. I will personally find a cell for you to stay in, or you may choose to stay in the city herself if you so wish…” Vladimir chattered, vaguely, causing Sammeal to shuffle nervously.
“Thank you, Your Wisdom. I have accommodation already prepared,” Sammeal explained.
“Very good then Sammeal, you are dismissed,” Vladimir finished, his fingers untangling to wave the other sage away.
As the blue robed sage fled Vladimir’s cell he was followed by maddening laughter that even the solid oaken door he had closed behind him could not completely muffle.
‘When will this ever end?’ Vladimir questioned himself, silent and alone in his cell. ‘I am Morthos! Why torture myself? Why send out scholars to search for someone that I am keeping hidden inside?’
“It must be the tome!” Vladimir cursed; slamming aged, yet tightly clenched fists down hard against his desk. The stinging pain helped clear him of his fit.
“At least I will only need it for a few more nights. The king has forced my hand… That rogue truth keeper and his sylva mate… Fredrickson will not believe my tale yet. I need something on her, something that will turn the thoughts of our king my way. Magic! Of course!” the sage continued, deep in thought. As the beginnings of an idea struck him the chief sage began to laugh again. This time though it was his laugh. It was the laugh of Vladimir.

Sarah the seamstress used her simple broom with practiced precision. The last of the street’s dust had been vacated from her large establishment when Paechra wandered past looking very lost. The seamstress ran a gnarled hand through her still flaxen locks, her work with the needle and thread causing her eyes and hands to age quicker than the rest of her.
The sylva girl cursed in her native tongue, a melodic and angelic sound to the untrained ear. To make her true intentions known, Paechra then added the common tongue version of what she had said, causing a muffled chortle to emanate from the seamstress.
“Lost young one? No forests here!” Sarah yelled out in a friendly way, the sly smirk and twinkle in the seamstress’ eye leaving no doubt in Paechra’s mind that here, finally, was a citizen that might help her.
“Yes and no,” Paechra began her reply, using the common tongue colloquialism so naturally that it made the seamstress laugh. “I am staying at the forge of Gregory the blacksmith, but I am looking for somewhere known as the city beneath.”
“I know Gregory. He’s a member of the eleven, like me,” announced Sarah. “One of the only women, I am. If those men had their way it’d be not even Rebecca and me!”
“I bet Gregory would be one of the worst cases,” replied Paechra, unsure of whether to ask again about the path she sought.
“Nah, Gregory and I grew up in these streets. He knows I’d give him grief in return if he caused me any. If he is giving you these troubles that Sarah can see in those eyes of yours… Well you just say the word,” stated the seamstress, giving Paechra a friendly pat across her shoulders.
Paechra’s pause, although only brief, was enough for Sarah to nod in a way that even the sages would have been envious.
“Here girl… I’ll be taking you home so you follow no more wrong turns, see?” Sarah explained gently, taking the sylva by the hand and leading her down a side street that veered sharply left. Paechra allowed herself to be led, still looking out for a sign of a tunnel at the side or a covered hole in the middle of the path they walked.
It may have been a minute, perhaps five at the most, but suddenly her father’s image, bound by the sinister circle of dark magic flashed once more unprompted into her thoughts. Paechra pulled free from Sarah’s light grasp and stared about her. The sylva found that she was in exactly the same street, in fact the very same place where the image had come to her the first time.
“Do you sense any trouble girl? We are not far from the forge, why do you stop so suddenly?” Sarah the seamstress asked, looking wildly about her. When she sensed nothing herself she shook her head holding her hands to her face.
“In the name of the truth, are all sylva mad?” she asked herself.
“It is my father. I am Paechra, my father is a sage here… Oh but it is nothing that I should trouble you with, Sarah. Please just take me to the forge,” stated the druid.
“Paechra you say… Hmmm… That name has featured once or twice lately at the council meetings. Never in a bad way let me assure you, just mentioned by the great sage. Men! I say, cannot even trust ‘em and yet you find that there be times when you actually need them to be around. That’d be the truth if ever it were written,” replied Sarah
“Perhaps then you could tell me more about this council?” Paechra asked “I have been in your fine city almost two days and when we asked to see the city all Gregory seems to have wanted to show Raven and myself are taverns and the likes.”
“Indeed that does sound like our blacksmith. At day’s end when the hammer rests and the fires of the forge do cool, Gregory you can guarantee will find himself planted firmly upon a stool. That is what all the girls do say about our common blacksmith friend,” Sarah chuckled to herself. “As for the council, well, it be made up of commoners like myself and our blacksmith friend. The idea be that of the current sages, Vladimir the Young did push for it mostly. It does seem to help things run smoothly for our king. And I be honoured to play a part in it,” the seamstress explained.
“Why then is it that Gregory holds a place upon such an important team, this group of eleven citizens?” Paechra asked, with extreme interest.
“Our blacksmith friend has earned great honour from the masterful works he churns out from that forge of his. The man truly is a master smithy,” the seamstress explained. “He has respect gained from what he can do with his hammer and tongs. Others ask him for advice.”
“I see,” murmured Paechra in reply, trying to imagine the burly smith capable of anything more than drinking.
“Sometimes the advice he does give concerns the blacksmith trade. At other times…” Sarah continued.
“I must admit that last night did demonstrate a surprising ability to listen,” Paechra added after a moment’s thought.
“Well there you go then,” announced Sarah with a knowing nod and a wink. By then the seamstress had led Paechra back to the forge where the sounds of Gregory hard at work could clearly be heard.
As Sarah had been leading the strange girl through the twists and turns of Andrapaal’s slums, the seamstress noted with some concern that a strange blue glow seemed to lightly envelope about the sylva. If it were not nearing dusk, when the natural light was at its lowest the seamstress would have sworn she’d have missed it. She went to make the mark to ward off the dark magic, but something made her hesitate.
“All the signs tell me that my father is in danger…” Paechra was mumbling. The sylva did not seem to be looking at Sarah when she said it, but the seamstress felt that the strange behavior of the sylva did not threaten. It was with great relief that Sarah finally left the mysterious girl at Gregory’s door. For these two though that was only the first of many meetings.

***

Far away from Andrapaal, a full day’s march true north from Samuel’s Lookout, on the very eastern edge of the kingdom a scouting party of truth keepers searched for signs of their enemy, the vorsurk. The party was led by Edmund of the North with Henry of Chalk, the only other senior truth keeper in the party of twenty five. Henry was the first to spy the strange sight, a small band of stragglers, not the barbaric wolfmen but human instead calling a halt as he noted them on the horizon.
“What do you think?” Henry asked Edmund, raising one bushy eyebrow.
“So far from anywhere could they be mad citizens?” Edmund suggested.
“Who do you mean?” Henry replied sarcastically. “Surely not those same fools who are making our task of protecting Thuraen impossible since they continue to change where the kingdom’s border unofficially lies.”
“That would be them, yes,” Edmund replied, his face deadpan and emotionless.
“I’ll take three of the lads and see if we are right,” Henry announced, selecting a trio of youths to join him, marching them at an easy pace to meet with the group.
The temperature was stiflingly hot as always, the desert sand and the wild winds doing little to create a comfortable environment for the humans that lived there. The heavy armour that the truth keepers wore to protect against the weapons and ferocity of vorsurk warriors did nothing but cook the man inside that much quicker. The part of the desert that was claimed by the humans as Thuraen land was known as Sylvi Gift on the maps but called Sylvia’s Kitchen by the soldiers who marched across it.
“Erect a tent! Do it on the double!” Edmund ordered of the remaining truth keepers, hoping that such a construction would do something to keep him and Henry cooler. There was an eruption of activity as backpacks were emptied and pieces of the puzzle that was a pavilion style shade were gathered up and put together. By the time Henry returned with the young truth keepers and a small group that did not resemble farmers the tent was ready, including a table with a map depicting the border and around the table five chairs. Edmund of the North sat at one of the chairs, taking a swig from his water flask. Around the tent truth keepers rested, diced or ate a light meal of whatever rations they had which were free of the grit and sand of the desert.
“You must hear this tale!” announced Henry as he joined Edmund, taking a long drink from the flask as his fellow truth keeper offered it. The eleven figures behind Henry were certainly not farmers, explorers or sages. These were truth keepers, young soldiers, battered and bruised as if they had experienced the entire war against the vorsurk, fought it first hand and alone.
“Permission to speak,” requested one of the eleven, Edmund estimated him to be no more than thirteen summers.
“Permission to sit first,” replied Edmund.
“You others remain and take a seat if you so wish. Otherwise ask the men to tend your wounds,” Henry added, offering one of the three remaining seats to the group.
Edmund noticed the empty sheaths at the hip of each of the warriors. The figure that sat beside Edmund seemed to be the only one still armed. The boy drew his weapon, showing it to be only the bottom third of one of those wider swords coming from the city’s blacksmiths. What remained of the weapon was caked in blood and grainy, golden sand. He threw it atop of the map and then collapsed into the offered chair.
“We are all that remains of a force of one hundred!” announced the boy, his voice full of despair.
“Not possible!” replied Edmund, picking up the weapon by its hilt and wiping the blood away until he could read the symbol stamped upon the blade.
“The rearing hippogriff?” murmured Henry as he caught sight of what Edmund had revealed.
“I am Zackary the Third, of the Southern Blood River. I am the son of Zackary, he who was known to many as the hippogriff. That is his blade and upon it his blood,” the young boy announced, a tear in his eye.
“We are sorry for your loss,” Henry murmured.
“We have all lost those we love. It is sadly a hurt we must all bare and the anger we feel must be used against our enemy before we use it to destroy ourselves,” added Edmund as he respectfully returned the sword to Zackary.
“We are the eleven that remain from the force of the southlands. Our numbers are heralded from the Cliffs of Ravenest, the Southern Limits and of course my homeland of the Southern Blood River. Two yellow robed sages, one red and one blue traveled with us until South Fort,” Zackary explained.
“Trust the sages to leave us truth keepers to do the real exploring,” Henry grumbled. Edmund however had eyes and ears only for Zachery’s story.
“Somewhere between South Fort and the river, before we sighted Border Fort a great sandstorm struck us without warning,” Zackary added, his face changing, eyes closing tight at the memory.
“Go on…” urged Edmund, needing to know more before he decided the next actions of the small force he lead.
“My father ordered us to make a tight circle, each man to protect the ones beside him,” said Zackary. Edmund and Henry nodded, knowing this as the standard tactic against the cruel combination of desert sand and harsh whirlwind. “None of us suspected the work of sorcery, not one of us drew our weapons. Who draws a sword against the wind?”
“But there was sorcery involved? Was the death of so many the work of one of their damned wizards?” Edmund asked, quite concerned at the possibility of a vorsurk wizard so close at hand.
“The wolf pack of vorsurk warriors burst forth from the sand of the desert itself. I know not how they lay there, how we could have approached them without spotting any sign of the enemy. There were well over one hundred when the very ground we stood upon erupted. The sands still whirled about us as suddenly there were spears and knives and hacking axes. We could not draw our swords quickly enough…” Zackary explained.
“So do you believe there were dark forces involved?” asked Henry of Chalk.
“There must have been!” declared Zackary. “When the sandstorm died down at last the vorsurk sank back into the sand and none of us could find a trace of them. Our fallen, my father included sank beneath the sands too, as if the grains were water. I managed to grasp the hilt of my father’s blade and…”
“And so you still hold a piece of him in your hand as you do in your mind and heart,” finished Henry.
The teen nodded, not willing to speak another word.
“I have heard of this very same attack happening only once before,” stated Henry of Chalk.
“Same,” replied Edmund, “Again, eleven were left to tell the tale.”
“The sages named it materializing… powerful sorcery and any form of sorcery I hate!” Henry added.
“This is the fifth incident this week of an attack on our reinforcements, within our own kingdom, the third where magic was so efficiently involved,” Edmund noted.
“Upon your orders I shall escort Zackary and perhaps the two healthiest survivors to the nearest tower. This information needs to be told to the sages as soon as is possible,” stated Henry, marking upon the map where he thought that the attack had occurred.
“Hold Henry, your travel plans may lead you into the path of attack as well. We all travel to the tower together and when we get there we demand that we are all sent back to Andrapaal,” stated Edmund gruffly.
Henry stared at his commander for a moment in disbelief, as did Zachary, the boy unsure if he heard what had been said correctly.
“You jest!” announced Henry, waving a finger at Edmund accusingly.
Edmund nodded before giving his real orders, a variation of Henry’s suggestion that differed only slightly.
“Henry I trust you and only you to take all of our surviving eleven brothers. Take them now to the nearest tower. They need to be re-equipped, rested and their story definitely needs to be recorded. While at the tower see what you can do in organizing a few more seasoned soldiers reinforcing us and perhaps a yellow robed boy to scribe for us. The less we need to march through this sand the better.”
“Agreed,” replied Henry before he turned his attention to Zachary. “We head for Samuel’s Lookout as soon as you and your men are ready.”
“I suppose they are mine to lead now,” mused Zachary the Third of the Southern Blood River. “Men, pack up and be ready to leave! We have a tale to tell and damn straight the sages are going to hear it!”
At that Henry and Edmund nodded their agreement.

Later as he led the scouting force back to the main camp Edmund thought over the story told by the young boy, still not able to believe the brazen nature of the vorsurk attack.
‘It must be a hundred and sixty years that we have been fighting against this enemy, maybe even more than one hundred and seventy years,” Edmund thought to himself.
The tale told by Zachery was further evidence that the magical attacks against the truth keepers were steadily increasing.
“Why not make a full scale attack across the border and into the heart of vorsurk lands?” many of the truth keepers suggested, some even demanded. The sages refused and Edmund knew why. He had seen it firsthand. Since the vorsurk were driven out of the lands now known as Thuraen, the humankind freed from slavery by the sylva there was no known location where the wolf-like creatures had settled. The sages ordered no attack further than the border since it was not known where the enemy would be, there could be no strike on a heart that could not be found.
‘When they do strike at us though, it is obvious that they are not one clan. The monsters display so many colours and so many pennants. So many strange totems and yet such a common thirst for our blood,’ Edmund thought mournfully. He hoped that the small band led by Henry would reach safety soon. Edmund breathed a sigh of relief as his own home came into sight, the tent city. It would only be home for so long. Soon, very soon Edmund of the North would have the chance to return to where he was truly from. The northlands called, safe within the kingdom’s lands instead of standing upon the sandy border as a target for sorcerers.

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This publication is part 5 of 5 in the series The Eleventh Tome