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Monday, December 25, 2006

Chapter Seven: The Council in Darkness

(Note:  This is not official version and may be removed in the near future.  This do not reflect what is read in the podcast version, nor any other version you may encounter.  I have preserved the rough form for posterity -- or something like that.  This novel has since been rewritten.)

“What’s going on Pea?” James said. A few lanterns had been lit and Pea had cast a spell on a nearby vase that made it shine brightly in the room. Screams still rained in from the streets as people argued amongst themselves as to the nature of the sudden darkness and the earthquake.
“I’m not entirely sure James.”
Pea’s eyes didn’t meet his. “Is this to do with me?”
Then Pea looked up at him and said, “Oh, no, I don’t think so.”
He didn’t believe it. There had been too much of a hesitation in Pea’s voice. No, he knew that, whether directly or indirectly, the recent events involved him. Then the confused expression on Gammon’s face reminded him that the man only knew the lies that Pea had told at the gate.

“I’m not who you think I am.”
Gammon looked at him, brow curled questioningly. “Go on.”
“I come from, well, another world.”
Gammon breathed in deep as if ready to laugh, but stopped stiff when Pea gave him a stern look. “Pea, if this is some sort of joke…”
“It’s not. Triska checked him. She’s up with the High Council.”
Then Gammon turned to James. James looked away for a moment, and then returned the gaze. This is going to take some getting used to, he thought. Having seen Pea and Triska give him that same look, he had come to realize that it would be a common sight.
“I don’t believe it…I mean, how?”
“Some sort of old magic,” Pea said.
Then James interrupted. “I came here looking for my friend. She was pulled in the same way. Only she may be in the hands of Luthien.”
“Are you marked?”
Then Gammon spoke to Pea hurriedly, “He can’t stay here! He will bring Luthien down on us all.”
“Luthien would have to cross the Firing Rim and travel quite some distance to get here.”
Arlin City would hear about it long before they reached edge of the valley,” James said.
“Right. Not to mention, unless he plans to conquer the Farthland and use its resources, his army would starve or break apart bit by bit. We’d likely stop him before he reached Arlin, or at least stall his army long enough to move James to a safer place, and, well, without proper planning he hasn’t much chance at the moment of getting here. Not for six months or more and not with a sizeable army.”
“That doesn’t stop his assassins, spies, and the like from reaching this far into the Farthland.”
Gammon’s concern began to spread through to James. He hadn’t considered the other methods Luthien might have to reach him.
“He won’t kill me. For whatever reason he wants me alive.”
The three of them stayed silent. James thought hard, feeling the Fearl pushing at his mind in a gentle throb. It seemed to calm him just enough to clear his head. With all that had been happening, his mind had become cluttered. Everything from what he had learned from the book Pea had given him, to the previous and current events seemed to build up in a tremendous mental tower blocking his thoughts. Home slowly slid away as he became more and more aware of what he would have to do to save Laura—if he could save her. That doubt came and went within him, yet he continued to push it back, unwilling to accept that he might not bring her home.
He wondered what his parents were doing in his absence, imagined them frantically trying to figure out how to get him home. Then he remembered the man he, no, his Fearl had thrown into the trees in order to protect him. He couldn’t be sure if the man had lived or not. The man’s death would have made things horrible for his parents.
A knock at the door broke the silence. Pea stood and went to the door. A few moments of arguing—in which Pea seemed to give in—Pea returned to the curtained room with Darl in tow.
James sighed deeply and rolled his eyes ever so slightly so that Darl would have had to concentrate to see the motion. This he did not because of Darl, but rather that the man’s presence might mean he would have to explain himself and endure another long stare of bewilderment and awe.
But Darl caught him and said, “I see rudeness never fails.”
“I think in this instance,” Pea started, “James has deeper intentions than rudeness.”
Darl’s eyes brightened. “And what might those be?”
“I’m getting tired of this,” he said. “Every one of you has given me the same look. That piercing look. It digs into me like a tick.”
Then Pea showed Darl to a seat, and in one long winded sentence managed to tell a brief version of James’ story. And, as James had anticipated, Darl’s face frowned and the look centered square into him.
“Surprising, isn’t it?” Gammon said. “To think that this would happen now, here.”
“To think I only came to speak with Triska, and instead receive the shock of a lifetime. Darkness and people from other worlds. What next? Lyphons?”
Three was a long, steady silence. James spotted Pea’s face as it turned pale as the moon had once been. Then he said, “Pea mentioned that very word earlier…”
The group all eyed Pea, who seemed to fold under the pressure instantaneously, but just as the little man opened his mouth to speak the door burst wide open with a thunderous boom. Four armor clad soldiers—the same armor as Gammon, only one had a red streak of metal running on both sides of his head—followed closely by Triska and a black-robed figure, glided into the room and in one swift motion surrounded James, Pea, Gammon, and Darl. Gammon got up and put himself at attention while Pea and Darl grumbled and rose angrily as if they were about to be under attack. Only James remained in his seat. He recognized the two red streaks as the mark of a captain.
“You four come with us. You’re to be brought to Brendan’s Hall, by order of the High Council,” the captain said.
“First things first,” the robed figure said, moving forward to James’ side. The figure was a woman; James could tell by the softness of her voice. Yet, the softness didn’t make the situation feel any less threatening as the woman grabbed his arm and examined his Fearl. An angry throb filled his mind. The Fearl sensed something; he sensed something. “This must come off.”
Then the woman tugged on the Fearl, trying hard to untie the knot. In return, the Fearl tightened tighter and tighter until his veins pumped hard. Then, as if knowing his limitations, the Fearl stopped.
“I tried to tell you Nora, it’s bonded with him,” Triska said.
“Yes, but you also said that the Laws of Magic did not exist on his world. How can he be bonded to a Fearl, and only after such a short time?”
He recalled some of things he had read about Fearls. Fearls bonded with their hosts, but it could take years at best for that to happen. He had done it in a matter of days, something which in theory was impossible.
Then Nora placed her hand a few inches above the Fearl. A bolt of lightning shot from her hand and wrapped around the Fearl. The throbbing boomed in the back of his head and his vision suddenly became wobbly. Then a shockwave of energy burst from his Fearl. The lightning shot away and disintegrated; Nora lurched back as a shock snapped her fingers.
She cursed, then said, “Have you a Voice yet boy?”
A voice? That he hadn’t read about.
“You’re surely in for a treat then. Come, all of you. Follow me.”
Nora ushered everyone out of the house. First the guards, then everyone else. James snatched up the rock Darl had told him to give to Triska on his way out and tucked away the etiquette book in his pocket, which to his surprise held the book perfectly without bending it.
Nora walked hurriedly up the path, out of the courtyard, and up a long cobblestone road that ran along a hillside toward the towers. Long shadows filled every crevice of the city. Only a few places were lit where people either carried torches or had lit large fires. In that faint light James could see people huddled close to each other, soldiers walking in single file down roads and along the walls.
The walk ended at the base of a wide stone and white marble building—Brendan’s Hall. Along the front, just above a set of stairs that spanned the entire length, stood a long row of equally spaced white pillars, gently fading and showing stress fractures from thousands of years of holding the roof up. Directly in the center, just behind the pillars and wide open, were two large wooden doors engraved with the same design as the gates to Arlin City. On either side of the door were two beasts made of gold inlaid into the stone framework. They resembled man, serpent, and bird woven into one creature. Above all this, at the peak of the hill, were the towers—Al’dul and Naz’ra. With the lack of light he could easily see the glow of the Adul’pur centered over The Fall hundreds of feet above.
They traveled through the doors into a long hall way of more white pillars, in which were carved detailed sceneries of battles, celebrations, and what looked like knighting ceremonies—so he guessed. Each pillar seemed to progress in timeline fashion from age to age. The last two pillars, however, were bare. Spells of light had been cast above each pillar, which in turn dimly lit the entire hallway. Beyond these stood a long marble table speckled with obsidian shards. There in soft cushioned chairs sat a line of six figures, some dressed in robes, others dressed in soft tan shawls and off-white tunics and pants. Nora slipped away from the group and joined them in the line, making the number of the Council a total of seven. The four guards took stations at four separate points in a box around James, Pea, Triska, Gammon and Darl.
Then, in a deep, raspy, but still powerful voice, the center figure spoke. “I am Ammond, lord of this council. James, please step forward.”
James did so, bowed low as per custom, and waited for Ammond to acknowledge him.
“This comes as a great surprise, as I am sure you are aware. Tell me of the place where you come from.”
And he did. He spoke of Woodton and all that had happened there before he had come to the Farthland. In great detail he described the forests, roads, and the technology—as best he could at least. It seemed as if they understood some of it, but as soon as he reached computers their faces curled up in confusion and some mumbled amongst themselves. Then Ammond stopped him.
“This magic device you call a computer, it stores memories?”
“Well, it’s not exactly magic…” He stopped himself. The people of the Farthland knew nothing of electricity, motherboards, or processors, and for him to try to explain hundreds of years of science seemed practically pointless. Even if they understood, it would all be magic to them. “In some ways I suppose you could say it is magic. But they store more than memories. You write on them,” and he described a keyboard to the Council, “and you can have access to all sorts of information on this thing called the Internet. It’s sort of a connected library between all other computers.”
Ammond looked as if he were concentrating, hunched over with his hand gently tapping on his chest.
“Triska, I was under the impression that magic did not exist on his world, or at least had been lost long ago and could no longer be wielded by its people.”
Triska stepped forward and bowed. “I did. They don’t have magic as we do, or as any do in the Farthland, or all of Traea.”
“Yet he is bound to a Fearl,” Nora said, to which Ammond seemed keenly interested.
“A Fearl? How could this have happened in such a short time I wonder…”
“I don’t know sir.” James shrugged. “In my world, magic and fantastic creatures are only found in fairytales. Sometimes they are written in history, but those accounts are from so long ago that most shrug it off.”
“So it is possible that magic once existed on your world?”
“Some believe so.”
“This intrigues me. Your Fearl, where did you get it?”
He told Ammond about the house in Woodton and how the Fearl had come to be around his arm, how it had attached itself to him like a leech, and how it had protected him.
“I came here to find my friend.”
Ammond bobbed his head, apparently already aware of his predicament. “We have sent word across the Farthland.”
“If Luthien truly has her,” the figure to the left of Ammond said, “then we must decide on a course of action that would best serve the Council and the people of the Farthland.”
“With this turn of events,” Nora waved her hand to the dark sky outside, “I think it best that, for now, we keep you within the Lord’s Hold, primarily as a guest of course.” The last words she said delicately and with an air of superiority. James popped one of his knuckles as he flexed his left hand. The way she had said it, somewhat snooty as he saw it, made him suddenly dislike her. She didn’t see him the same as she saw Triska.
“I agree,” Ammond broke the silence. “You should be kept out of the general public until we can ascertain the truth of these events.”
James agreed as well, though only because Ammond had first. He respected Ammond, though he couldn’t be sure why. Perhaps it was the genuine way in which Ammond addressed him, or the look of concern and caring that seemed to pour from the two brown eyes that were sunken amidst the wrinkles and aged skin. Either way lent a helping hand to Ammond’s position. Nora’s attitude suggested both her annoyance with him, and her annoyance with Ammond.
As if anticipating what he would say next, Ammond said, “Your friends must stay here as well.”
At this Darl groaned loudly, gave a look of contempt to James and Ammond, and grumbled to himself. Gammon’s face filled with deep concern as his eyes sunk, but Pea only seemed slightly annoyed. Triska too.
“This is the only way we can keep this contained until we know what to do. And it’s the only way we can keep James safe. The stamping out of the moon only suggests bad things for the Farthland and this city. Your family will be cared for Gammon. Darl and Triska have no need to concern about their businesses.”
“I understand,” he said.
Then Pea stepped forward and bowed. “Sir, if I may make a suggestion.”
Ammond waved Pea to continue.
“I would like to begin training James. He has a Fearl, yes, but hasn’t the knowledge on how to properly use it, nor the strict Laws of Magic. It would be wise for you and Arlin City to have him learn as much as possible so that he may be capable of defending himself.”
“Are there objections within the High Council?” Nora tried to speak, but caught herself in Ammond’s harsh gaze. “Good. I see no problem in this. I will send for one of the High Council’s mage guards.”
James bit his lip, wanting to blurt out that Pea had volunteered to teach him, but Pea didn’t said anything either and it began to irritate him. But it could insult Ammond to deny the offer. At least that had been what he had read. Such as it were, someone had to tell Ammond. Besides, he didn’t much like the idea of having someone completely new teaching him something that, as far as he could see, could very well break every bit of logic left in his mind. Physics.
Finally it was Triska who spoke up. “Sir, I am afraid that we cannot accept your offer at this time. Pantifilus has taken that position for the time being. We do however need a set of swords so that Darl may teach James basic swordsmanship. That being a talent he will most definitely need.”
“Consider it done. Please, let us get you to your new accommodations.”
Ammond stood slowly and flinched in pain. James heard a strange pop. He’s old. There was no avoiding it. Ammond’s face hung low, wrinkles filled every inch, and more wrinkles were on top of those. Age has not been kind to him.
“Please, James, if you would walk beside me.” James did so as the other council members left the long hallway through a side door. “You must forgive Nora for her…rude behavior. It’s not often that she is challenged magically, nor is it often that she finds herself incapable of success in the presence of one untrained as yourself. She can be…a bit unpleasant at times. But I assure you that she is a competent leader when hard pressed to defend her people.”
The four guards split up, two taking posts at the front of the hall and two at the back where another door lay, smaller than the main entrance, but still larger than a normal sized door. Pea, Triska, Darl, and Gammon followed some distance behind as he and Ammond walked slowly through the door into a long courtyard flanked on both sides by the towers. Torches were set up every ten feet to provide light.
Now that he could see the towers so close he truly marveled at their design. He had seen pictures of castles on Earth, their towers, keeps, and gatehouses, but these were magnificent. Rising from the base of the courtyard—six hundred feet high into the blackened sky and nearly a hundred feet in diameter—the towers were smooth circles, almost perfect, connected by a thick stone bridge three quarters of the way up. The bridge was supported by two half-arches that used the walls of the towers as abutments. Small arrow loops were evenly spaced twenty feet apart, vertically and horizontally, at each of the eight directions. At the very top of each tower were four blunt spires, each in its own corner and accompanied by short crenellated walls.
“How old are these towers?”
“We don’t know. Much of Arlin City was already here when the first men came into the Farthland. It is believed that men once lived here and that we have only forgotten the past. I see that as dangerous thinking.”
“Why?” Perhaps the past is filled with sorrow. Terrible things may have happened once.
“If such stories are true, we could be doomed to repeat whatever mistakes had been made. I have tried to find the answers, but there is no written record, nor anything but the few ruins we have found. Arlin City was the only one left standing. There is more now than there once was, but I am still reminded of what may have been.”
That’s a logical way to look at it. James recalled the many times someone had repeated a mistake on his world—some had worked out, and others had not.
“I believe that whoever once lived here simply left. They picked up their belongings and left this city behind.”
“Maybe they found a better place to live.”
Perhaps they did leave for a better place. But he wasn’t sure he believed that. He started to think that rather than simply leaving, the original inhabitants of Arlin City fled. Perhaps there was a war. He hoped that his presence would not bring the same fate to the people living there now.
And, as if Ammond could read his thoughts, “James, I fear that you may have brought down a terrible doom upon us. I don’t blame you, but I sense that your presence disrupts the peace. A great many things will happen soon. Through it all you must be kept safe. Luthien fears you, but for what reasons I don’t know. You must be kept away from him. Train well, train hard. You must learn to use a sword, bow, and magic.”
“Darl has,” he paused, “volunteered to train me with a sword.”
“You must learn all these things. Especially magic. You’ve been gifted with your Fearl. It possesses powerful magic. Few who are Bloodless,” meaning those not born with magic, “have the fortune of such a thing. And the fact that this Fearl has so strongly bonded with you that magic users such as Nora cannot remove it suggests there is much more to you than meets the eye.”
No, he thought. There is nothing special about me. Except that I come from another world.
Ammond had led them past the courtyard and towers to a gated building guarded by four guards. It looked much like a small castle with four wall towers and a two story keep just barely visible over the top of the crenellated walls. One guard walked along the walls lazily—a behavior James only assumed could come from months or years of walking those walls without a single hint of activity. The four guards at the gate spoke and laughed amongst themselves until Ammond and James came into clear view from a series of shadows where the torches could not reach. They instantly snapped to attention.
“We have guests,” Ammond said.
“Yes sir,” one guard said, a small silver spine on his helm. He belted out a few commands over the wall.
A moment later and the gate creaked loudly, jerked as it began to open, then grinded along the earth on a small wheel as the gap widened like a wooden mouth. The rest joined up with James and Ammond and together they all walked into the Lord’s Hold. Once inside James could see the full face of the keep—a tall stone structure with several glass windows, two of which were made of stained glass of bright red and crimson that flanked a metal studded wood door—and in the center stood a well. He could only imagine how long it had taken the people to dig such a thing seeing how the Lord’s Hold sat only a few dozen feet below the apex of the hill.
The door to the keep opened with a thud and another soldier, this one with two parallel spines of silver on his helm, came out and greeted the group.
“Lord Ammond sir,” the soldier said, bowing.
“These five require accommodations.”
“Yes of course.”
“Also, if you might be able to procure two training swords.”
The soldier bowed gracefully. “So the rumors are true then?”
Ammond paused for a moment, and then said, “They are.”
With that the soldier guided the group to the keep.
Ammond placed a withered old hand on James’ shoulder. “Stay safe.” Then he let go when James acknowledged him and left the Lord’s Hold.
Within the keep there were several rooms. The bottom floor served as a dining area of sorts with two round wood tables, several chairs, and a fireplace. The top floor contained six rooms, each furnished. James found the beds lacking after having spent a night in Triska’s home, but he figured they would suit him for the time being. As long as he could sleep he didn’t much care.
It had been an exceptionally long day. He felt exhausted and entirely ready to fall backwards into the slightly stiff bed and pass out. Without the moon to guide him, he looked out the window and made a guess. Midnight. Then he rolled into the bed and drifted to sleep.
James awoke to the sounds of the morning, only, morning had never come. He knew that he had slept a good night’s sleep, but when he looked outside all he found was darkness. The sky seemed burnt black as the charred remains of a fire. A single lantern lit his room; he had left it on throughout the night.
He climbed out of the bed, which had served nicely to allow him to sleep—though he missed sorely Triska’s soft fabrics—and noticed a pair of clothes and a pale filled with steaming water, something that looked like a bar of soap, and a rag. Near that, hanging on a post, was a long blue towel made of a material he at first thought was cotton, but came to realize was something far softer. On the edge of the bed sat a change of clothes—a bleach white tunic, grey pants, a black belt, and a gray cowl. A smile crossed his face.
After washing up and changing his clothes, leaving the hood of the cowl rolled back against his neck, he left his room and proceeded to the bottom floor. There he found Pea and Darl in an angered debate while Triska poked at the fire with a thin log of wood. When the others noticed his presence the debate stopped and Triska stood and greeted him with a hug.
“Sleep well?” she said.
“Yes, though I prefer your home.”
At this she beamed. “Pea and Darl have been arguing over what you should be taught first. Magic or swordsmanship. It’s a silly debate if you ask me. Both benefit the other and you can’t possibly learn it all in the same instant. Unfortunately Darl’s pigheaded stubbornness and Pea’s relentless Erdluitle pride have left no easy compromise to the situation.”
“I may be stubborn, and perhaps a little pigheaded, but I know full well that you cannot survive on magic alone,” Darl said grumpily.
“And,” Pea began, “if you don’t begin your training in magic now you will be stunted in your growth as a user. It takes great discipline and practice to be able to use magic. A sword doesn’t haze your vision.”
“No, but a sword will cut you in two if you can’t defend yourself against one.”
“Yes, but if he’s using magic and can’t see he would be far more incapable of defending himself my good sir.”
Then the debate started up again with each yelling at one another. The situation made James snicker seeing the tiny man argue relentlessly with a human ten times his size. Triska seemed to find the humor in it as well and grinned softly at him.
Gammon soon appeared dressed in a tunic and pants. James found it odd to see the man without armor. The man looked naked.
No more than a few seconds passed before Pea and Darl jumped up and verbally assaulted Gammon like a pair of angered lions. Gammon took a step back before the onslaught of words began to make sense.
“You make the decision Gammon,” James said. “Should I learn to use a sword first, or magic?”
“I appreciate having this responsibility placed on me,” Gammon said.
“Well, I figure someone is going to be upset over whatever decision is made. This way they can be mad at you and not me.” At that he grinned widely.
“Again, I appreciate having this responsibility placed on me.”
Then Pea and Darl gave their arguments again and remained completely silent for several moments. Gammon seemed to be in deep thought on the matter. He is deciding my future.
Then, after a long, deep breath, Gammon made a decision. “Darl is first.”
Pea gasped, his mouth hanging in astonishment. From the looks of Pea’s face James thought that some sort of blasphemy had been committed.
It’s been decided, he thought. I’ll learn the sword in my first lesson. Then magic. He felt a little upset about that. He had hoped to learn magic first and only because Pea would be his teacher. The same desire was there to learn the sword, but he had mixed emotions about Darl. Darl was rude and, as far as he could tell, a man who would place far too much value in the most mundane of things. This impression led him to believe that his time with Darl would not be one of enjoyment. Still, he understood that either way he looked at it he would have to learn to do both equally well. And he had no desire to be responsible for angering Darl by selecting Pea personally. He’d likely take it out on me.
“Get a good full meal,” Darl said to him. “You’ll need it. Meet me outside when you’re finished.”
He agreed and sat down at one of the tables. Triska brought him a full plate of potatoes, Fidget Fowl eggs, and crumbly bread—similar enough to corn bread that he didn’t question it. Pea grumpily took a seat nearby and mumbled to himself. A few moments of silence and James slowly ate.
It’s going to be a long day.

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