So unlike the cotton robes that Morthos was used to wearing, the thick and heavy camel hair wrap and the dark wooden mask that he now wore made it difficult for him to see. Worse still it made his skin and lungs both feel as though they burned with an eternal fire. Morthos dared not remove the wrap though, nor the mask with its canine features and he suffered the horrific feeling of suffocation and constant itchiness with silent discomfort. It was a necessary disguise, for if Morthos had worn his yellow robes, the robes of a sage in the earliest stages of training, the streets that he now walked would be so much more dangerous. Without such a disguise he would have been killed in a matter of moments for he had crossed the border from his own country, into the lands of the vorsurk, the wolf men. Alone, truly alone, with none knowing of his location or his personal mission, Morthos proudly counted upon his one hand the number five. This was the fifth day he had spent in the lifeless desert. He had found a small raiding party by luck on the third night and had used his basic knowledge of the barbaric tongue of the vorsurk people to convince the lead warrior of the ten soldiers that he was a warrior too, but lost. The sage understood that his addition brought the number of that group of warriors up to eleven, a most holy number for the canine race. He was not certain though if such a fact would cause jealousy or gladness.
“Back to camp!” one of the vorsurk had spat in his face and with great fear, Morthos trudged along after them.
After a day of harsh marching, Morthos was relieved to find he’d been taken to the makeshift city that the army of savages called a home. The streets were paths ground deep in the mud, churned up from thousands of heavily armed troops moving from one campsite to another their strange-shaped huts made from animal hide, mud brick, and bits of the sparse desert vegetation. Merchants sold ale, swords, and daggers of vicious design, armor covered in chaotic spikes, women, even humans like Morthos. The humans were the worst, shadows of the real people they once were, the wretched creatures were naked but for the dust and grime that covered them. That and the soot-colored metal that hung heavy about their necks, or hands, or feet, imprisoning them, linking them via robust chains to the wagon from where the merchants dealt their wares. Other races were on sale here too, some living husks of their former beautiful selves, others, rat-like creatures strung up carcasses displayed by a butcher proud of his wares. In both instances, the eyes of these creatures haunted Morthos’ thoughts long after he passed by them. Morthos felt a deep sickness every time he walked near these stalls. The words of the merchants were thankfully incomprehensible to his ears, still beyond his understanding of the vorsurk tongue, and yet the sights of the poor prisoners only made that which he could not understand in speech, only too clear. Of all the horrors that Morthos’ mind was forced to witness, it was the way the vorsurk treated his own kind that was the worst to bear. But Morthos, young as he was, knew that all the horrors would be worth the prize. He had crossed over from sanity to the ever-present chaos of the barbaric horde, and he vowed that day, as he had every other day, he would not return to the safe haven of his own kind until it was in his possession, was finally his. It was destiny, all of the sickening sights he needed to witness merely a single step along the path he would walk to greatness. Morthos’ young mind had it all thought out. So he continued to wear the harsh cloak, keep covered his face with the rough wooden mask, view the frightful scenes, and wait. The tome would be his. It had told him so.
In the great hall of the palace of Andrapaal, City of Knowledge and capital of the Kingdom of Thuraen, stood a small cluster of Knowledge Seekers, dressed in the yellow robes of their office. Red-robed Knowledge Speakers, not lecturing in the grand palace library or hearing the grievances of the citizens, had gathered there also, summoned by the same message; Edward Bear-Heart, Chief Sage, had an important announcement he wanted all of his beloved sages to hear. Blue cloaked Knowledge Keepers hovered about the edge of the hall, pretending to watch over the younger sages. In truth, they also awaited this new announcement, nervously though. They had not heard any word from Chief Sage Edward that such news was coming. In their line of work, surprises like these were always bad news.
Knowledge Keeper Neros Jefferson worried more than most. Twenty years younger than the Chief Sage, Jefferson had been given his blue-colored robe by Bear-Heart and had spent more than ten years considering Chief Sage Edward to be one of his closest friends. Jefferson had noted changes in his friend since the previous summer. The older sage’s physical health had decreased more than could be explained by aging. At almost the same time Jefferson noted these changes Edward became more reclusive, becoming less a leader of knowledgeable men and more a hermit living in a cavern of millions of neatly tied scrolls, walls built from thousands of stacked tomes, a man surrounded by his many works. Jefferson worried for his friend the sage whom all others looked to for leadership and guidance. Bear-Heart had once been a great warrior and it had been an unheard-of metamorphosis when he turned away from the ways of the Truth Keeper; soldier and protector of the Kingdom of Thuraen and become instead a sage. As he shed his yellow and then red robes to become a Knowledge Keeper, Edward had quickly made a name for himself as a legendary keeper of the written truth. Jefferson now witnessed firsthand his friend undergoing a major change again, but this time such a metamorphosis caused great fear for Neros. With the cooler weather of winter now upon the kingdom, other sages blamed the wind and the rain for the difference in their Chief Sage. Jefferson disagreed, but as much as he searched, as hard as he tried to discover the source of such a change it still remained a mystery.
The twin oaken doors of the great hall swung open, allowing six servants of the palace to reverently carry in the elderly figure of Chief Sage Edward Bear-Heart. He was built like the greatest grizzly the forest could produce, still retaining his stockiness from when he had been a key strategist and fighter in the wars against the dog-like vorsurk.
“Place me down and help me rise,” croaked the chief of the sages. At his command the servants gently placed the stretcher they bore upon the stone floor of the palace hall. Four of the six that had carried in the great bed, struggled against the old but still broad bulk of the sage who wore the silver sash. The other servants remained, poised on hand to assist with keeping the old sage upright, stepping in to lend required support whenever Bear-Heart coughed or shifted his weight.
When the sage was comfortable, he leveled a gaze that captured the thoughts of all in his vision. Slowly the room drew to silence; it was then that the sage began to speak.
“I am dying,” began Bear-Heart, causing feelings of shock and wide-eyed looks from all the young Knowledge Seekers and some of the Red-robed Knowledge Speakers. The elder Knowledge Keepers stayed tight-lipped, more nervous than ever.
“A man that is dying lives surprisingly with a clear mind,” the blue-robed Bear-Heart continued, ignoring the reaction that filled the huge room. “With this clear mind, I have made an important decision that will greatly affect the present time of this kingdom as well as its great and glorious future.”
More than one thousand miles away, sat a yellow-robed Knowledge Seeker. He sat sheltered within a small canvas tent, protected from the flames that engulfed a small farming settlement. The same fire slowly cooked the flesh from the slaughtered Truth Keepers he had been escorted by, to this desolate farm situated upon the border of the kingdom and the lands of the vorsurk race. He sat upon a simple, three-legged stool at a simple wooden desk, both obtained from the farm that continued burning. A singed and slightly bloodied blue robe lain across the sage’s lap. Although it was still day the sage had burning brightly a lantern to shed light upon an open tome bound in black leather. Strange symbols were written across the open pages, written not in the native tongue of the human but in a language far more barbaric and savage. Looking with unfocused eyes towards the rear of his tent, the sage spoke. Although there was none in the tent to hear his young voice, over a thousand miles away, a gathered crowd listened.
“I myself have chosen, before I pass on into the realms of history, my successor.” said Morthos, the yellow-robed sage. Through his use of the forbidden act of magic, Morthos continued to place words into the mouth of Bear-Heart, twisting the future of the kingdom to his own ends.
The blue-robed sages in the great hall of the palace of Andrapaal sucked back their cries of despair. This had never happened before. Had the Chief Sage been heard correctly? Had he truly stated that he had chosen his own successor? This was a task for a council of Knowledge Keepers. It was unheard of! It was impossible!
“Write! Record this news, Novices of the yellow robes and Elders of the blue!” coughed Bear-Heart. “This is history in the making and important wisdom that must be written as truth. I have not long left in this world.”
In a flurry of panic, students of the sage’s ways delved within their robes to find a feathered quill and rough parchment. The blue-robed sages were far more professional as they retrieved pen, ink, and paper, not wanting their charges to notice the worry that plagued them, or the childlike excitement that equally possessed these old men, as they began to note down the grave changes to their laws and very way of life that this great and wise man was in that instance making.
Fredrick the Red, ruler of Thuraen watched on from the shadows of an alcove in his own grand hall. The sages, a blend of the three colors due to the crowding of the giant room were all focused upon the leader of their role in the kingdom. Fredrick and Edward were close friends and it deeply saddened the king to hear Edward speak of a replacement. He and the Chief Sage had the relationship of two powerful pieces in the game of life, meeting often to discuss things of importance for the kingdom, and thus their world. They spoke together in earnest of the battle that waged upon the desert border, they spoke of crops and how best to keep the kingdom fed, they met whenever either of them felt troubled and they especially met to discuss the progress of the king’s only son, Prince Fredrickson. Hearing what his friend stated so boldly worried the king. They were not words of someone likely to live much longer.
That night Chief Sage Edward Bear-Heart passed away, satisfied that his empire of knowledge had been kept safe and secure. The fact that he was still affected by the lingering dark magic that had been cast upon him was oblivious to all who tended him. The blue-robed sages mourned his passing and feared the time to come. Witnesses to history and a new turning point in the lives of those who resided in the Kingdom of Thuraen, red and yellow-robed figures celebrated shamelessly in the streets of Andrapaal and in the nearby townships of Eaglehaven, Secondtun, and Oak Forest, in fact, celebrations broke out all along the River of Friendship, the Stream of Knowingness, even as far as the Blood River. Thanks to the branches of the tree of knowledge, news from Andrapaal traveled quickly. Within the week such news would have traveled from border to border across the land inhabited and claimed by the humans. Quite possibly this news would penetrate across these borders east to the lands of the vorsurk tribes and west into the forested lands of the sylva people.
Jefferson wept silent tears at his friend’s passing. The last works that Bear-Heart would ever write were all opened upon the floor of the Great Library of the Grand Palace with Jefferson sitting cross-legged before the tomes. He watched as a flame flickered wildly, the tiny light belonging to a wide girthed candle he had brought with him from the chamber of his lost friend to illuminate the darkness.
“Farewell Bear-Heart. The sash of our Chief Sage has been passed on,” Jefferson sighed to himself. In his blurred sight, the shadows that danced across the spines of other tomes were like children celebrating the expiration of a great life. In no mood to join such a dance, Jefferson shelved the books, wiped away the salty tears that still ran gently down his cheeks, and blew out the source of light. He did not need the candle or any other guide to help lead him back to his bed. He had walked the floors of the library, the palace, the city for over fifty years. Each step Neros Jefferson had taken beside Chief Sage Edward Bear-Heart in the last decade of his life had been a step to burn deeply into his heart and his memory.
One more openly showed his sorrow at the loss of the powerful sage, now alone in the throne room, the king felt such emotion was appropriate. Like a shadow, the king had followed his friend as Edward Bear-Heart was moved from the great hall to his chamber to slowly die. King Fredrick the Red felt his heartbreak as he witnessed Edward breathe his last.
“Farewell dear friend,” King Fredrick murmured. “I fear I shall be joining you soon.”
Three days after the Chief Sage passed away, his friend Fredrick the Red, the King of Thuraen also passed away. The dual cremation of these two great men was a momentous occasion. As with all citizens of Thuraen who had died before them, the ashes of these great men were given to the wind to carry across the kingdom.
Far away, the blue-robed sage Vladimir also celebrated this historic event. He watched the dying embers from an engulfed farm consume a yellow robe before he began his solitary journey back home to the city of Andrapaal. Morthos of the yellow robes was no more. That Knowledge Seeker’s future and that of the Kingdom of Thuraen rested in the stolen robes of blue that he wore. Vladimir whistled youthfully through now ancient lips. Out here on the border, none had born witness to his treacherous act but all would play audience to what it was he had in store. He had weeks of travel left to learn how to act old. Morthos considered his needing to become the crabby sage Vladimir was a small price to pay to gain the silver sash. Vladimir tapped his fingers upon the spine of the black leather-bound tome and smiled. The tune he whistled was a happy one. Everything was going exactly to plan.
For five whole weeks, Vladimir walked his chosen path. The journey should have taken him eleven days, but it had stretched out to be so much longer because he walked it alone. The whispers of the tome he carried echoed in his mind, sometimes the boy pretending to be a great sage thought he heard the voice of the book out loud, but those times he realized, quite quickly that it was, in fact, his voice, repeating the words that his mind heard. The voice of the old man was still something that Vladimir had not yet become familiar with. Morthos’ ways had to be forgotten though; Morthos had to become the stranger. If he was to fulfill his desire, Vladimir had to be… Vladimir. It had to be a total metamorphosis. Morthos was not allowed to remain. The first true test would be at the city gate, the gate of Andrapaal, where even now those near and dear to the sage Vladimir would be gathering to celebrate his arrival. The entire city would be gathered to catch a glimpse of the newest leader of the sages. Vladimir vowed that this would be the first thing he would change. No longer would friends and family crowd the market square, no longer would strangers stand gawking at new arrivals to the great City of Knowledge. It would all change. As he began his descent into the Vale of History and passed by the landmark of the Truth Keeper’s perch Vladimir revised the first decree he would convince the king to make law. His knowledge of the old tomes was limited, but the Vladimir that drew ever closer to Andrapaal’s gates felt confident that he already knew far more than he needed to know to put in place all of the changes he had planned for Thuraen. There would be a new way, his way. It would all begin that very day.
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.