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Monday, December 04, 2006

Chapter Six: The Dark Side of the Moon

(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.)

Triska, now awake and alert, had prepared a breakfast of sausages, bacon, fresh berries, scrambled chicken eggs, and boiled Fidget Fowl eggs. James ate gratefully, half choking as he wolfed down a meal for two in a matter of minutes. One of the qualities he most admired about Triska in his short time of knowing her was her ability to cook; the other was her warm demeanor. He wiped his face clean as Triska began to talk.
“You two head on down to Market Street,” Triska said. “Darl should be in his usual spot. Tell him I sent you.”
“Should we tell him the truth?” Pea said.
Triska shook her head. “No, not now at least. Here,” she stood, left the room, and returned with a small wood box with a green weave of lace embedded in the lid. “Show this to him. He’ll understand.”

James took the box and thought to look inside, but decided against it when Pea gave him a look. The box was just longer than the palm of his hand, the wood old and faded, and it weighed practically nothing, putting no strain whatsoever on his wrist. Empty, he thought.
“What about the High Council?” Pea mumbled amidst a mouth-full of food.
Triska took in a deep breath. “I’ll go to Nora…”
“That’s the head of the Healers,” Pea leaned close to James and whispered matter-of-factly.
“She’ll know what to do. I’ll get tested again of course.”
She frowned, but didn’t explain. From the upset look on her face James could only assume that being tested meant a situation of extreme discomfort. He thought about the times he had been given shots at the doctor’s office, or been harassed by the dentist over his lack of flossing. He could easily sympathize.
The room stayed silent for a moment except for Pea who smacked his lips and chewed his way into a third helping—from a Littlekind’s perspective. James began to think of the journey he would have to take: a long arduous journey through unfamiliar terrain amongst enemies and people who would just as soon see him dead. That’s if they left me. What is the High Council going to say? Teirlin’pur must be far, dangerous, and…if Luthien is after me, why go there? And why does he want me, and Laura? These questions and thoughts circled in his mind. No answers came, just the gentle nudge of the Fearl, now a firm entity in the back of his mind that seemed to quiver in an attempt to calm him. He shared some sort of symbiotic relationship with the Fearl; that being the only way he could think to describe it. It had protected him once, and, oddly, it seemed to care—if such a thing were possible—about the things going on in his mind.
“Pea, I’m trusting you to take care of him. Is that understood?”
“Of course.”
“Keep him out of trouble; don’t let him do anything stupid…”
“It’s a little late for that. He almost got killed by a gryphon last night. Tagron to be specific. Nasty one he is too. I think of all the gryphons I’ve met he has the worst attitude.”
“Just, do your best.”
“I will.”
With that Triska left the table and disappeared into another room. Pea stood.
“Alright, now you stay right next to me. No wandering.”
James stood. “I’m not a child.”
Pea scoffed at that. “On this world you are.” With that Pea motioned for James to follow and together they left Triska’s home.
The sun, now completely above the distant mountains, filtered through the clouds in sharp rays illuminating the other business, homes, and people who walked along the path. Light chatter filled the air giving James the sense of a city waking. He looked around as Pea guided him down to the market, hoping he might see the gryphon Tagron. The gryphon had forgiven him, or maybe not. James couldn’t be sure. Despite the violence that had ensued the day before, Tagron had given him a warning, a word of advice even. He still didn’t understand what “look to the western sunrise” meant, but he took it all to heart, every word of it. There are ways into every city, he thought. Look to the western sunrise. Those words ran through his mind over and over.
Then, as the two of them were about to turn the corner onto Market Street, James said, “How do you know if a gryphon has forgiven you?”
Pea turned and curled his brow, then turned back.
“Tagron spoke to me this morning.”
“He sort of forgave me for my rudeness. I think.”
“Was he short spoken about it?”
He nodded.
“Then you’re forgiven. Consider yourself lucky. Just don’t insult him again.”
“He knows about me Pea.”
Pea turned again to smile. “Why do you think we keep gryphons around? They have an uncanny ability to…” He paused for a long time, rubbing his chin. James saw the concentration in the little man’s face. “Well, they just seem to know things. I’m not sure how to explain it. It’s sort of like an instinct, only based in magic somehow. Does that make sense?”
“It makes as much sense as the rest of the things in this world.”
Then together they walked into the market, now bustling wildly with all manners of people as it had the night before. Business owners yelled out deals to passersby while hagglers argued with business owners over the price of an item. Some put on shows; one used a Littlekind man as a gimmick. People crowded around the scene as the tiny man bounced around. James curled his lip in disgust. It reminded him far too much of the monkey trainers back home.
Soon they were standing in front of the old man James had seen the day before. At first the man paid no attention, sitting completely still and staring off into the crowd. The disinterest in everything around amazed James. Maybe the man really is crazy.
But as soon as these thoughts came to him, Darl turned, peered angrily at the two of them, and grunted.
“What do you want?” Darl said.
“Good morning sir,” Pea said, bowing.
Darl didn’t move, but glared.
Pea was thrown aback. He composed himself and continued. “Do you have a place we may speak in private? Triska would appreciate that.”
Darl’s attention shifted to James. “I think this is as good a place as any.”
Then James produced the small box Triska had given him. He presented it to Darl. “Triska said you’d understand.”
Darl coughed, spit on the ground, and snatched up the box. The old man’s fingers, warn and wrinkly, rubbed every inch of the box. Then he opened it and produced a small pipe. He held it up.
James looked closely. The pipe had a long white stem, a dark wood bowl, and a series of carvings depicting two knights holding a glowing, star-like object above their heads.
One of the other sellers popped around the corner, saw the pipe, and exclaimed loudly, “my what a lovely pipe. How much you want for it?”
“Not for sale.”
“Twenty-five pieces and anything you want from my shop.”
“I said it’s not for sell you little insect.” The salesman left with a snort, storming away. Darl grunted. “You expect me to teach this boy?”
Pea nodded.
“It takes years to learn. I may not be alive that long.”
“I’m a fast learner,” James said.
“Fast? Look at you. Your arms. Your entire physique is wrong. You could no more lift a sword than I could cast a spell. Not for a long time at least. The strength to weald a blade takes time and effort.”
“Will you teach him or not?”
“Triska has me in a bind. I owe her, that’s for sure. She knows my guilt. I’ll teach him so long as I am healthy to do so. How long that will be I don’t know. Maybe a year, maybe less. Are you up for it boy?”
“Yes.” He thought for a moment about the words Darl had just said and decided he could ask questions another time. Darl owed Triska for something, and that something had to do with the pipe he had just handed over.
“Be at the stables tomorrow morning. No sooner and no later than when the sun rests on top of The Fall. Understood?”
Together he and Pea nodded.
Then Darl dug out of a box nearby a fist-sized egg-shaped object made of what looked like lava rock—dark and cracked. It had a strange blue hue to it. “Take this to Triska. It’s a dud, but she’ll likely enjoy it.”
James took it and peered closely at it. There seemed to be nothing special about it as far as he could tell. Maybe Triska collects such things. The rock did have an aesthetic appeal of sorts. He tucked it under his arm.
“Now, are you two planning to buy anything?”
He shook his head.
“Then, if you wouldn’t mind moving along so I can attempt to make a living.”
“Thank you sir.” Pea bowed.
Darl gently drooped his head. “Oh, and bring a sword.”
Then James followed Pea out of the market and back to Triska’s house. Pea moved fast, at least for such a little man, and now James had to walk at a normal pace to keep up. He could tell that Pea was bothered by Darl, but he didn’t press the matter and instead followed Pea inside and took a seat in one of the soft chairs in the middle room. He placed the round rock on a small pillow chair nearby. Pea paced back and forth.
“Such rudeness,” Pea pointed at James. “I realize it is in your nature as a human being to develop a ripe attitude of rudeness and sarcasm in old age, but to think that we might have to keep that blithering animal around to have you trained is almost unbearable. How do you remain so calm?”
James smirked. “Pea, I don’t let it get to me. Earth doesn’t have other creatures, well not that can really speak to you anyway. So I’m used to rudeness. I just ignore it. That and I think from your viewpoint my world has absolutely no grasp on manners whatsoever.”
Pea grunted at that.
“When will Triska be back with news from the High Council?”
“By evening I suppose. She won’t come alone. The High Council will undoubtedly want to meet you in person.”
“Will they help me get to Angtholand?”
Pea took a seat and sighed deeply. “Not with you being marked. I don’t really know what they’ll do. This hasn’t happened in so long. I don’t think anyone is still alive from the old times who would remember the last off-worlders to come here. And if this satin bag is just lying around in a boarded up old house who knows how many have come here that we don’t know about. Luthien would have nabbed them all no doubt. And how foolish to keep all those old relics, dangerous the whole lot, just lying around for anyone to see.”
James agreed. Whatever had compelled the people in Woodton to leave the house practically unattended and so laxly locked up he would likely never know. Especially when people knew about the satin bag and all the magic items—Fearls, and other enchanted things. It seemed all too idiotic to him. Why not destroy the house, he thought. Why leave the way to this place so open? That point rang strongly in his mind. Nobody in Woodton would every truly know when Angtholand became peaceful again, except those that may have fallen pray to the satin bag. All that he knew was that they had known something terrible and dark had taken place. And all they would have had to do was destroy the bag.
“I imagine they will do something. I’ll help you regardless of what they say.”
He smiled at Pea, who returned the smile warmly.
“Now, while we wait for Triska, I think a little education could do you some good.”
Pea left the room and returned with a book that, while small, looked enormous in the Littlekind’s hands. James took the book when it was handed to him and flipped through the pages.
“That there is a book of etiquette, something of which you are in desperate need of learning. Children half your age are better versed in manners than you.”
Taking offense he said, “Is there a rule in here about not pointing out the faults of others?”
“That only applies for people from this world. I can pretty much bend all the rules when it comes to you.” Pea snickered mildly.
James saw the humor and smirked. Then he sat back and opened the book while Pea found another book and began to read.
The book—called How Not to Be a Barbarian, Fifteenth Edition—had fewer than sixty pages, all in the tiniest typeset he had ever seen printed. The pages were worn, browning, and stitched into the binding in a butterfly-like fashion. The print looked old, not just from wear and tear or how old the book itself was, but also in the fact that it looked as if it were done on an ancient machine and not by any sort of complex device. The book had illustrations too. He found that to be the most amusing part. There was even a page on gryphons, and when he flipped to it using the table of contents as a guide he found that all the information Pea had given him were expressed almost word for word in the book.
Finally he flipped back to the first page and began reading. There were rules for everything, even an entire chapter with specific rules for different races of beings. He read on and on, gathering everything from table manners to the differences in how the rich act towards the poor in different countries and under different rulers. It even had a chapter called What to Say When You Don’t Speak the Language. Others—Proper Conversations Among the Dead, Table Manners For Children, and How to Address a King When He Isn’t Wearing His Robe—all intrigued him for their humorous titles. He tried to imagine children reading it, but suddenly realized that the book had far more than sixty pages. At page sixty, new pages emerged. Behind those, were more pages. The book simply created them out of thin air as he read on and on. But when he tried skipping forward new pages didn’t appear. They only showed when he read the work. When he turned back to the table of contents new chapters were added—Geography of the Four Kingdoms (New Version), How to Eat Food That Is Still Alive, and more. Chapter after chapter seemed to just show up whenever he reached the back of the book, yet the book retained its original shape when he closed it.
James sat there reading for what seemed like ages. He felt like he knew everything now, even though he hadn’t finished the book, if there was such a thing as an end to it. Soon Pea brought him a plate of cheese, bread, and meat, which he took thankfully, ate, and resumed reading. He read through Fearls and Their Uses, Magic and It’s Forms, and A Brief History of the High Council with great enthusiasm, now fully understanding what the thing on his arm was—a symbiotic magical entity that would remain part of him for as long as he needed or wanted it and that could grant its wearer the ability to use magic, to some extent.
Pea finally broke him out of his euphoric moment. “You know, you didn’t have to read past etiquette.”
He looked up.
“I just wanted you to read the little bit on how to behave properly, not the entire history of everything that is this world.”
“I know. I wanted to know more. The more I know about this place the better.”
“True. I’d recommend skipping over the wars. They aren’t exactly, well, clean.”
“No wars are.”
“Yes, thankfully among my people wars are fought through a series of boxing matches immediately followed by an all out stick battle. Everyone involved shows up on a field wielding a stick. Someone says ‘go’ and we run down and hit each other until one side has a clear victor, then we heal, mend friendships, and either drink until we can’t stand or go home with our wives.”
“Sounds brutal.”
“Yes, but people rarely die. They just get a little concussed.”
James peered behind him and noticed that the sun had descended down far enough where the streets were beginning to darken. A few people carrying large loads of hay hobbled past the window, but the courtyard looked empty otherwise.
“It’s eight in the evening.”
Pea piped up. “You can tell time by the towers now?”
“Yes. I sort of figured you could when I first came here, just didn’t know for certain. The Fall must be the view from the top then?”
“Not exactly. It’s the view from the center of the bridge where the Adul’pur sits.”
“It’s a magic crystalline stone suspended in the center of the walkway. On a good shiny day you can see it reflect down. It’s one of the few reasons this city is still standing. It prevents Underkind and Daemonkind from entering the city. There’re others it keeps out too. Shiftkind are the only ones that can cross through the gates. Very powerful magic.”
Very old magic, he thought. The Adul’pur, as he remembered briefly from the book, was one of few ancient stones crafted so long ago that its origin couldn’t be traced. As far as anyone in the Farthland knew, the stone just appeared during the creation of Arlin City.
“Shouldn’t Triska be back by now?”
“Or tomorrow morning. Being tested is a long process and not a happy one. Healers and Mindsleepers have to go through every corner of your mind to find out if you are pure. Triska is likely going through tests she hasn’t had to take in thirty years. Your coming here is no small deal to anyone. Just to say there’s an off-worlder is the same and declaring you’re insane by dancing around in a dress.”
A loud cry broke the two of them from their conversation. Then screams and shouts erupted and the sound of people arguing filtered into Triska’s home. Pea leapt from his seat and went to the door. James followed quickly after.
Outside, a large mass of people—Humankind and Littlekind—stood pointing and yelling. A woman screamed and fainted in a balcony above and nearby a small child cried as its mother shouted loudly, “Alert the High Council.”
“Pantifilus!” someone said from the crowd. The guard from the previous day pushed his way through the crowd and ran over. “It’s horrible.”
“What is?” Pea said.
James followed the hands and fingers and looked at the sky. Then he saw it and dropped his jaw. The moon, normally shining bright and whitish-yellow, looked darker and seemed to be darkening further. He knew instantly from the lack of a shadow that it wasn’t an eclipse. The moon itself became dark black in a slow, gradual motion. Then all its light was stamped out, leaving only the last few rays of sun filtering over the mountains behind Arlin City—the Lor Range.
He grabbed hold of Pea and forced the little man to look. In his arm he felt Pea release all the air from his lungs in an enormous wheeze.
“What does it mean?” James said.
“I-I don’t know.”
Suddenly the earth shook violently. People were knocked from their feet. James, Pea, and the guard slammed into the side of Triska’s home. Cries and screams filled the air and in the distance of Arlin City he could see pieces of homes falling to the ground.
“Stay here.” With that Pea ran down the street and disappeared. James sensed magic being flung about and could see sparks and bits of stone were stopped in mid-flight from hitting the ground.
The earth still shook—harder. James tried to call out to people to get them to safety, but nobody could hear his voice. Then, as he looked up toward the towers he saw a large slab of stone and wood fall from the top of a home. In its path stood a woman who raised her arms in fright. He let his instincts take over, feeling the Fearl poking at the back of his mind, and ran a few steps before raising his hand. Then his mind went blank and he sensed something inside of him bursting forward. His vision went blurry and then a moment later cleared. When he looked toward the woman he realized that he, or the Fearl, had tossed the stone violently aside, crashing it into the side of the building it had come from. But the woman was alive. She ran to the center of the courtyard and James thought to do the same.
Then the earthquake stopped.
“You saved that woman’s life,” the guard said, righting himself.
James bobbed his head in agreement.
“This is very dark magic.”
He didn’t say anything for a long moment. Pea came around the bend, breathing heavily.
“The darkest of dark.” James recalled what he had read. “To change the face of the moon to create darkness…”
“It’s power only a Lyphon has.” James looked down and started to ask a question, but Pea interrupted. “Never mind that for now. Both of you inside. Especially you James.”
He obeyed and scurried inside with the guard and Pea in close tow. Pea paced in the center of the room as he and the guard took a seat.
“Gammon,” Pea indicated the guard, “do you trust me?”
Gammon paused for a moment, looked to James questioningly, and then nodded.
“Good. I have something I have to tell you because I am going to need your help in something.”
“Of course.”
“But first, I need a drink.” Then Pea went into the kitchen, fumbled around for a moment, then appeared with a large black bottle and a cup. He poured himself a drink, downed it in one gulp, grimaced, and then stared seriously forward.

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1 comment:

  1. Great stuff. Your pacing is right on and I judge a chapter by how much I want to read on at the end (something I could do if this were in print) and I really want to see James start training. And I love the ettiquette book. A great device for bringing the outsider (and reader) up to speed. Next chapter please.