[For 14 weeks, beginning on March 19th, on Sundays and Wednesdays, I’ll be posting chapters of book one of my Jaben’s Rift trilogy: From a Far Land. I hope you enjoy it. The first part is here. I’d love to hear any feedback.]
A Matter of Opinions
Jason woke from a dreamless sleep to someone shaking him. As he pried his gritty eyes open, he saw Reyga.
“Oh, did I doze off while you were talking?” he asked with a yawn. “Sorry about that. What were you saying?”
“No, my boy, it is time to get up. You have slept through the night, and now we must meet our escort and get underway for the Haven.”
He stretched, and rubbed his eyes. “Are you sure? It doesn’t feel like I slept all night.”
“Oh, I am quite sure,” Reyga said with a chuckle. “And if I know Gatlor, he and the others are already waiting for us even now.”
“Okay, okay.” He struggled to his feet. “I’m up.” He looked around for the clothing they had purchased the previous day until he realized he was still wearing it. “Is there anything to eat?”
“We will eat as we travel,” Reyga replied. “Time is of the essence. If we are late you will find that Gatlor’s tongue is every bit as sharp as his blades.”
They gathered their supplies and headed out into the pre-dawn darkness. Jason was glad Reyga was with him. He would have been totally lost otherwise. The deep shadows made everything appear eerily different from what little he remembered. The Loremaster seemed to know precisely where he was going, and soon Jason saw the stone building where they had previously met their escort. The three warriors were waiting for them as if they had never left, this time with gear and animals. They arrived just as the first signs of light crept across the sky.
Jason saw Gatlor glance up, and then turn to Calador. He heard a clinking sound, and the rumble of the giant chuckling. As they put their supplies down, Gatlor turned to them. “Well,” he said, “a promising beginning, although you have already cost me coin.”
“Indeed?” Reyga said. “And how have we done that?”
Seerka snickered and said, “Gatlor had, shall we say, ‘concerns’ about young Jason’s fortitude. He was not convinced you would make it here by first light. Calador had no such concerns, and now has Gatlor’s coin.”
Although Calador said nothing, he jingled the coins in his massive hand, and Jason again heard the giant’s rumbling chuckle.
“Oh,” Jason said. He looked at Gatlor. “Sorry.”
Gatlor scowled. “Aye, well, it was worth it. I would rather get a timely start to our journey than take coin from this great lout’s purse.”
Calador and Seerka laughed.
“Do not let him fool you,” the Ferrin said. “Gatlor despises losing bets.”
“I also despise falling behind schedule,” Gatlor said pointedly, “and we are wasting time with this idle chatter.” He turned to Reyga and Jason. “I have secured several charnoths for our journey. We have left one unburdened for you to load your supplies on.” He gestured toward the animals standing nearby.
Reyga turned to Jason and said, “Would you please see to the supplies? I need to have a word with Gatlor.” Then the Loremaster walked off with the warrior, speaking to him in tones too low for Jason to hear.
Seerka walked over to Jason. “I will assist you,” he said. “You do not want to approach the charnoths without being properly introduced.”
The cat-man grabbed one of the bundles and walked toward the unloaded pack animal. Jason followed, carrying the remaining supplies. The animal looked like a rhinoceros, minus the horn, and stood about five feet high at the shoulder. Its legs and feet were like the legs of a big cat, complete with claws, and two wickedly curved tusks emerged from its mouth. The hairless gray skin looked thick enough to stop a bullet.
“Not so glamorous as horses, perhaps,” Seerka said, “but these will also serve to guard our camp during the night. Come, we must introduce you.”
They moved to the lead animal. Seerka held Jason’s hand up to its nose. The animal snuffled at it for a moment, then studied Jason’s face with what looked to be more than the usual animal curiosity.
“Are they intelligent?” Jason asked, returning the animal’s curious gaze.
“More so than most other animals. That is one reason they are preferable to horses on a journey such as this. They can be fierce fighters when confronted by an enemy.”
The beast blew a short gust of breath at them and tossed its head. The other charnoths turned to look at Jason, and then they too tossed their heads before turning their attentions elsewhere.
“There,” Seerka said. “You have been accepted. The charnoths know you are part of our group, and will defend you with their lives should the necessity arise.”
“Well, that’s good to know,” Jason said. I’d hate to have one of them mad at me.
Gatlor and Reyga returned as Jason and Seerka were finishing. While Reyga checked their supplies, Gatlor motioned for Seerka and Calador to join him.
When they had moved out of earshot, Gatlor told them, “We have been instructed by the Circle to use no dimsai in front of our young visitor unless we are in jeopardy of our lives.”
“Interesting,” Seerka said. “And did they tell us why?”
Gatlor shook his head. “No, and I did not ask. If the Circle thinks we need to know the reasons for their actions they will tell us. My oath is to serve, not question the orders of the Circle.”
“True enough,” Calador rumbled, “but I do not recall the Circle ever giving an order such as this. It does make one wonder as to the reason.”
“You may wonder all you like,” Gatlor said, “but see to it that he does not see any power being used unless and until the Circle gives us leave. Understood?”
As the others nodded their agreement, Gatlor looked over to where Reyga and Jason were waiting. “Something tells me I am going to be very glad to be rid of this Far Planer by the time we get to the Haven.”
Tal Vardyn sat in his chambers mulling over the meeting of the Circle the previous day. The gathering had started out civil enough, but as he related what Reyga had told him about the young Far Planer, he had seen a myriad of emotions running across the faces of the Loremasters. Then he mentioned the prophecy. That may have been a mistake. Almost before he finished, several Loremasters were on their feet. He leaned his head back against the chair and closed his eyes…
“He must be killed immediately!” Chon Artel, the Obsidian Loremaster, bellowed. “The prophecy is clear! His destruction is our hope!”
In a smooth voice that seemed to glide through each part of the chamber, Seryn Shal, the Diamond Loremaster, said, “We must not do anything rash. Now is not the time for ill thought out action. We need to meet this young man, and ascertain for ourselves what manner of person he is. The prophecy is not as clear as we may think.”
As Chon glared at her, the gathering dissolved into pandemonium, each Loremaster trying to be heard over the others. Tal watched the scene for a few moments, and then, with a blast of dimsai that cast a glare over the entire Circle, he roared at the top of his voice, “ENOUGH!”
Silence filled the room.
“We are Loremasters,” he said sternly, “and we will conduct this assembly, and ourselves, with the dignity and honor that our office demands.”
In a lower, yet no less authoritative voice, he went on. “The next one among you who displays another outburst like that will answer to me.” He gave them all a hard look. “Now, everyone sit back down and let us discuss this in a calm, rational manner as befits civilized people.”
He watched as the Loremasters took their seats. “I realize it is no small shock to suddenly find ourselves in the middle of a situation that, if it is what the prophecy refers to, may very well determine the future of our world. While we are all familiar with Taleth’s prophecy, I am certain none of us expected to be living it. Nevertheless, that is the path fate appears to have given us, and it is up to us to walk it as best we can.”
He paused for a moment to study their faces, and then went on. “Loremaster Reyga is bringing the young man here. They are coming overland, so we have a few days to discuss our options. I personally agree with Loremaster Seryn. I believe that we should meet him. After that, we can decide what to do with him. Until they arrive, I believe we need to devote ourselves to studying the prophecy to see whether or not we can divine exactly what it is saying.”
Chon stood up once more, although with somewhat more dignity than the first time. He was a short, stocky man, with a thick black beard and bushy eyebrows. “As I said before, High One,” he said in gruff voice, “the prophecy seems clear enough to me. ‘His destruction is our hope’ it says. That seems easy enough to understand.” A couple of the other Loremasters nodded thoughtfully as he sat down.
Seryn stood. “The prophecy also states that ‘for our land to live, the far land must die.’ What land would that be?” She looked around the Circle. “It does not sound so clear to me when you consider the entire prophecy instead of just one line,” she finished, looking directly at Chon, who favored her with a scowl.
Jarril Breth, the Amber Loremaster stood. He was Ferrin, one of only two non-human Loremasters on the Circle. His bright green eyes scanned the faces of the other Loremasters as he spoke. “Something else to consider: Taleth also said that although Jaben would be the last to arrive, he would already be here. What are we to make of that? Are there two of him? Will he have an accomplice? No, I do not believe the prophecy is clear at all. We must study her words and meet this Jason Bennett. Perhaps after we speak with him, we will be able to understand the prophecy better. Or we may decide that this young Far Planer is not the Jaben of Taleth’s prophecy at all.”
For the next hour, the Loremasters took turns expressing opinions and asking questions. Finally, Tal stood up.
“I believe we have discussed all we need to today,” he said. “We all have much to think about, both concerning Taleth’s prophecy, and also each other’s words. Let us adjourn for now, and we will meet again in three days.” He looked at each Loremaster in turn. “I urge all of you to seriously consider each position and opinion that has been presented here, even if it differs from your own. Only by exploring all of our options can wisdom prevail. May the mantle of wisdom ever rest upon your shoulders,” he concluded.
“May your power be exceeded only by your honor, High One,” came the formal reply from seven voices as the Loremasters stood and began to file out…
On the whole, he thought as he opened his eyes, although it had not gone as well as he would have liked, it also had not gone as badly as he had feared. Perhaps the meeting two days hence would not be too trying of an ordeal. He opened another of the texts and resumed his studies.
From this vantage point, the world spread out before her like an intricately woven tapestry. A chill breeze whispered against her cheek. She didn’t notice the cold, immersed as she was in secret thoughts of her own.
“I see you’re up here brooding again.”
The dark-haired woman didn’t need to look behind her to know who was speaking. Without turning, she replied, “What you call ‘brooding,’ I choose to call reflection.”
“Call it whatever you like. It accomplishes nothing, and it changes nothing.”
The woman stood and turned to the speaker. A dark figure faced her, cloaked in shifting shadows. Only fiery eyes blazed at her from the darkness surrounding the head.
“Oh, take off that silly disguise,” she said. “There’s no one else around, and you know it doesn’t impress me.”
“Really?” the figure responded. “Don’t you think it makes me look taller?” As he finished, the shadows faded until a handsome, wavy-haired man stood smiling mockingly at her. “So tell me, my dear, what were you ‘reflecting’ on?”
Tilting her head slightly, she said, “Actually, I was thinking about when we first met so very long ago. About how different we are now from how we were then.”
“You mean, of course, how we were when we were like them.” With a disdainful toss of his head the man indicated the vista behind the woman.
“Yes, that. And more.”
“Well, I for one prefer what we are now.”
“And what is that?”
“Gods,” he said. “Or at least the closest thing this world has ever had to them.”
With a wistful laugh, she replied, “Gods. Funny, I’ve always thought of God as a benevolent father figure, watching over His creation.” She shook her head. “We act more like petulant children, fighting over a toy that none of us wants to share.”
“My, we are in a mood today, aren’t we?” he said, raising an eyebrow. “Why do you do this to yourself? Why, after all these centuries, can you not accept the simple fact that we have been given a great gift? That we have been raised above what we were, what they still are.”
“Is it a gift?” she asked. “Or is it a curse?” The man rolled his eyes and turned away. “Think about it,” she urged him. “Look at what it’s done to us. We were all friends. We all loved to be together. Now, we can barely be on the same planet without the Covenant keeping the peace between us.”
He spun around. “Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps the Covenant is part of the problem?”
“What? The Covenant was the only thing that kept us from destroying this world after we were changed. It’s the only thing that’s kept us at peace with each other for over a thousand years.”
Holding up his hands, he said, “Okay, I’ll grant that in the beginning, before we learned to control our powers, the Covenant was necessary. I’ll give you that.” He shook his head. “But now, the Covenant is like shackles, taking our freedom from us. We may as well be in cages.”
“That would seem only fitting, since cages have long been used to keep people safe from dangerous things.”
His eyes narrowed. “We are not animals, and I am tired of being caged. And I’m not the only one who feels this way.”
“What are you saying?”
“The time for the Covenant has passed. There was a time for it once, but no more. The time has come to abolish the Covenant and make other arrangements.”
“Other arrangements? Such as what?”
“Such as being given our due as the most powerful beings on this planet. Such as stepping out of the legends and back into the world.”
“As gods, you mean.”
“Why not?” he asked. “Compared to them that’s what we are.”
“No. We are not gods, and I will never think of myself that way.”
He softened his tone. “My poor, dear Alayn—”
“No! Don’t ever call me that!” she interrupted. “When this first happened to us we agreed that we weren’t the same as we were before. We reversed our names to remind us that, even though we didn’t know what we had become, we were human once. In that respect, I still agree with you. We aren’t the same as what we once were. Once I was Alayn, but no more. Now I am something else. Now I am Nyala. Alayn exists only in the past.”
“In the past? How can you say that?” He spread his arms and spun in a slow circle. “Everywhere I look, I see Alayn. After all, Alayn is largely responsible for how this world came to be as it is now. How we came to be as we are. Or had you forgotten?”
“How can I forget? It still haunts me to this day.” She drew a shaky breath. “So many died. Just two short days, but they’ve become the longest two days of my life.”
“Yes, I know,” he said. “And that’s why you can’t simply accept this power for the gift that it is, choosing instead to carry a ridiculous load of guilt throughout the centuries.” He shrugged. “So now you are Nyala. Nyala, the Brooding One. Do you remember when they used to call you the Sparkling Goddess?”
She stared into the distance. “Of course. And they called you Regor the Shadow Lord.” Her eyes came back to him. “A name I’m sure you would like them to know again.”
“I wouldn’t object to being called that again. But what about you? Don’t you remember saving that child’s life? Wouldn’t you like to be able to do that again? Just think of all the good you could do now that you have so much more control of your power.”
“Her name was Lisa,” she said, remembering. “And I’m glad that I was able to save her, but even after saving her life, she and her parents were still afraid of me. Even after all these centuries, the fear in their eyes still pierces my heart.”
“But this is a different world,” he said. “They didn’t understand the power back then. Now it’s just another part of life. It would be different now. It would b—”
“No,” she said, turning to him. “We are not gods, and I will not agree to any new ‘arrangement’ that implies that we are.”
He searched her eyes. Then he was cloaked in darkness again, eyes blazing at her.
“I know,” he said. “I didn’t think you would agree to it. But I think it’s only fair to warn you, you may not have a choice.”
Then she was alone once more, with nothing but the chill breeze for company.
She scanned the horizon and the sky overhead, sensing that he had truly gone and was not just hiding.
“Do you know what you’re doing, husband?” she whispered. “Because I do.”