1- A Battle of Wills
the mother leaves her child.
from the crib she prowls.
One last kiss upon its brow
one last time her smile is found.
the mother leaves her child.”
-Song of Abandonment, author unknown
The music ended as the boy reached the end of the tunnel. His eyes adjusted to the strange light in these caves coming from the moss all over the walls.
The boy blessed the keenness of his vision, or he would have missed the timri player’s continued presence in the cave. It was in an alcove much like the one he found earlier, given away by the gleam of lilac low on his side. I’ve never seen anything that color, mused the boy, not in any camp of the Family, nor on the uniforms or standards of the Quansi. Yes! I remembered the name of the enemy.
The boy’s mind classified the mystery musician as a creature, for its appearance was different from anything or any being he’d met. Its ears were rounded, its skin was patchy with the same stuff covering the walls, and its body half the width of his own.
The patches of phosphorescent moss extended to the creature’s body and clothing as well, camouflaging it better than any garment could’ve done. The light purple hair peeking out of the hood matched the shining lilac eyes staring straight at him.
Caught! And so quickly as well. The boy had stepped out in to the center of the tunnel entrance in his quest to get a closer look at the odd musician creature. Way to be a good scout, he thought.
Though it was not his language, the boy knew the creature was asking him what he was, not who he was. Strange. Though he thought it a creature, maybe it thought the same of him. And what was the strange warming sensation at the hollow of his throat?
The boy moved a tentative two fingers towards that most sensitive part of the body and felt smooth stone instead of soft, yielding flesh. A rush of recollection came to him…….tied to the cave wall of his family’s tent….strap to the left ankle….strap to the right ankle…left wrist….right wrist….balance, always…blindfold the eyes…strap to the forehead……..rest time for the troops of Pishtar…….faint sounds of swords clashing and drums booming still persist….fitting soundtrack for what was about to occur….no voices, no resentment……tent was packed when the boy fully woke to a slap on the face…..masked man, masked men……lit by fire….all masks….moss grown, salamanders, gnomes, Ekembra……all the evil…purple faced…lilac eyes….moss covered…a cool sensation on the hollow of his throat….then pressure….then blinding pain and heat….want to collapse….return to mother’s womb…can not go….can not fold….strapped….pressure again in the center of the fire that was threatening to burn him from the hollow of his throat outwards…..the roaring color……the red, green, and purple masks….the red, green and purple spots that fill his vision when he closes his eyes…..all fade…pain….blackness.
The creature, the Ekembran, was hovering right above him. The memory of how the stone got into my neck must have knocked me out, thought the boy. So, what am I anyway?
“Y elle Famata. Quanelle es?” the boy replied.
A puzzled look passed across the creature’s face, the lilac eyes narrowing and the thin head cocking to one side. “Y Mateo de Ekembra, quan es mandrage, es ella famata?” The creature, Mateo, sat back on his heels and propped his thin face up, hand to forearm to elbow to knee, that is support on a mission you see? There were many songs and chants involved in the training of a scout in the Family. No hand was forthcoming to help him off the ground, so the boy pushed his body to a sitting position, then inched his knees up, and propelled himself to the same stance. “The Family bears no explanation,” he heard in his head. “The Family bears no reasons.”
I can squat like this forever, the boy thought. He looked up and saw the creature staring at him. I remember this game. The boy smiled. The creature smiled. A staring contest began.
2 – Discovery
“And so we declare that we no longer believe the stars are beneath the diamond eye. The only goddess is Kuitanina, and her words are spoken by the Queen of Khazad. The only sky soars above her Trees, and her Rivers are the divine miracle.”
-Declaration of the Council of Silandre, 5 AB
“Sir? Sir! Are you alright sir?” Korin was worried. A normal day
of fishing it had been, the groupers plentiful and friendly. All
looked well along this stretch of the River Artari, until he saw the
Twiggy laying on the shore. It has to be a Twiggy, Korin thought,
it’s almost two of me. Korin spit the water he could not swallow in a bucket, and poured it back in the river. Water was too precious to risk it running down into the earth.
“Uhhhhh,” his patient groaned, and up came more for the bucket. When Korin returned, the twiggy was sitting up. “Where am I?”
“On the shores of the River Artari, in the lands of the Khazad.
Quite far from your home, I might add,” Korin said, suspicious. The Duelani Nation was known for raiding across the border to avoid water taxes.
“Yes, yes, the lands of the Khazad would be quite far from my
home, I believe. Do you know the year, sir? And thank you for saving
my life, here, I think. You did pull me out of the, the river?”
What was this creature? His lips were a strange mulberry color, and his clothes tattered rags, as if he’d tossed down some rapids. The only rapids in Nieondred were at the Gates of Kuitanina, in the heart of Khazad. A Twiggy, or anyone not Tamali, should have been noticed there. The things you miss when in a hurry, thought Korin.
Coming back to his current situation, Korin replied, “Yes, and
you were dead weight too. This year is the two hundredth after the
Breakthrough. Your name? It is not often bodies wash up in the
“Two hundred years after what breakthrough, sir?”
It seemed very out of sorts. Being almost dead will do that to you, I guess, thought Korin. At least it is polite for its race.
“Ah, the Breakthrough at Diamond Eye, you must have heard of it-” Korin stopped. Maybe the Twiggies did not know? Best to hold close all secrets.
“Um, why, of course I have heard of the Breakthrough. The two
hundredth year you say? Well-”
“If you do not mind me asking, where did you come from? Do you remember? It is not often we find those not of the Tamali on
“Not of the Tamali? But I am a Monk of the Diamond Eye! We are
still Tamali, no matter how often you Khazad laugh behind our backs.
Speaking of which, what is that lavender space above us? Is that the
color you chose for the ceilings of your caverns?”
Korin was shocked. This twiggy looked nothing like a Tamali, excepting his long beard. All the way down to his waist, which would signal a great one among the monks.
“Sir, if you are a Monk of Diamond Eye, I am Sergio himself. You are at least three spans high, if you have not noticed, while the tallest of the clans, the Ctharu, does not boast of any warrior taller than two, and the rest of the clans know they are exaggerating. You must be some sort of Twiggy, tall as you are and with that strange hair color. Though I have never known a Twiggy with blue hair and purple lips, your nation has enough strangeness in it to produce anything, I suppose.” Korin nodded.
“Three spans high? Blue hair? Have you Khazad become so obsessed
with your delusions of a ‘sky’ that you see colors and visions now?”
The Twiggy was standing, yet had not realized how much he loomed
over Korin, who was a respectable height of one and a quarter spans high.
“Go to the river and look at your reflection, Twiggy, and see
for yourself. Did you take a knock on the head while you were trying
to steal from us? And that ‘sky’ we are deluded by is the lavender
expanse above your head.” Not a very nice way to treat someone who just danced with death, but, he was delusional, Korin thought. Please.
“Steal? I have done no such thing in my life. The last thing I
remember is-” The Twiggy’s protests cut off as he stared at his
reflection in the water. He was touching himself all over, trying to compare his height to Korin’s, reaching out to the water.
“Twiggy? Are you okay?” Korin was concerned, despite his anger. The Twiggy’s claims were looking a little more proper, now, as he seemed to not know his own reflection. How had he come to be floating in the River Artari? Korin posed the question again.
“I am not sure sir. The last thing I remember is being in the
Diamond Eye. Are you sure we are in Khazad?”
Korin wanted to believe him.
“Follow me. Here is your axe. It washed up beside you, so I guess it is yours.”
Korin set a fast pace thru the brush. He stared at the foliage and swirling grasses surrounding him, and the first of the great gates, gloriously rising to the sky. While all three gates together could rival the Lattice of Longing in width, and even then they did not come close to the height of the eyries of the doves, the Gates were the Khazadian ideal of heaven, and he asked for no more. Their great roots stood astride the three rivers: Artari, Erlong, Sirana. His nation still revered the Goddess, at least, thought Korin. Water was to be guided, preserved.
And my solitude approaches, thought Korin, as a ramshackle fishing hut came into view.
He constructed it from the brush, using the little nature magic he possessed to bind the grass into bricks with some water from the river-a bit, mind, not enough to hurt anything. He knew. He kept track of the height of the River for a living. The hut was three spans high at its peak, covered by a roof of grass he laid and bound into place with the same sort of magic. A pallet of grass, a river outside, a ring of stones to mark where he pulled the grass to replace the thatch every year.
Setting the basket with the grouper down, Korin turned to
the monk, “Wait here. I have tinder inside the hut.” He marched off.
Korin rushed inside and ransacked his hut. There was not much to go through. He could not stand knowing the stranger was outside alone, able to run off. Those long legs had to be good for something. He ran back outside after a few minutes of searching and sighed in relief when he saw his catch still by the fire.
“You would not happen to know fire magic, would you?” Korin was
desperate after his quick search, realizing the tinder box was wet from his attempt at heroism, and his spare was lost the last time he gambled with Emasu. It was a bad joke, anyway, no one knew fire magic in the west, and only the monks claimed to know anything about it, from books taken by the Ctharu in raids over the Great Divide.
“Can I see your tinderbox? And your bucket, sir, water is not something you like to waste.” The twiggy smiled, then began to wave his hands over the box in slow motion, while mumbling some strange, sharp words under his breath.
Korin stared open mouthed as he watched droplets of water, glistening in the light of the purple and amber sunset, form on the surface of the box and then glide toward the Twiggy’s hand. He could not speak for the beauty and horror of it.
“There, your tinder should be well now, and we can get to eating, and rest,” the Twiggy said as he dropped a small globe of water in the bucket, and handed Korin a dry tinderbox.
Korin turned the box over in his hands several times, sliding it open and closed. He started the laborious task of getting flint and steel to make any respectable flame on the plains. One had to be careful. Too big a flame and the grass would burn up around you. The wind was not your friend here. To his surprise, it struck the first try, lighting up the threads inside. “Hurry, Twiggy, get some grass in the pit!”
His helper threw some grass from beside the stone ring in the pit and Korin rushed over with the starter flame. The first step of a fine dinner was on its way. He had the Twiggy help clean the fish – he hadn’t lost his extra belt knife to Emasu, thank the Goddess.
He began to gut his, mulling the options over. Should he take the Twiggy immediately to the queen, or let him go off into the wild.
“How did you do that?”
“Make my tinderbox so dry it caught on the first try. That’s
what.” Korin put his hands on his hips.
“I was trying to be helpful, sir.”
“How did you draw water out into a ball? Be careful of your words. Water magic is forbidden in Khazad.”
“May I ask why, sir?”
“Because it burns up the flaming water, Twiggy! Go take your foul magic back home, back north where you belong. Before I have to arrest someone I saved.” Korin went into his hut and slammed the grass door.