[For 14 weeks, beginning on March 19th, on Sundays and Wednesdays, I’ll be posting chapters of book one of my Far Land Trilogy: Jaben’s Rift. I hope you enjoy it. The first part is here. I’d love to hear any feedback.]
Reyga stood before the Circle. As soon as he and the others arrived at Lore’s Haven, he had gone to the High One’s chambers. Minutes later, he followed a grim-faced Tal Vardyn back out into the corridor. Grabbing a nearby page, the High One ordered an emergency meeting of the Circle. As the Loremasters gathered, almost without exception they expressed surprise to see the Emerald Loremaster.
“You were not expected for another three days,” Chon grumbled as he spotted Reyga.
“I will explain everything as soon as we are all assembled,” Reyga said.
Once they had all settled into their seats, the High One stood. “Loremaster Reyga and his party were attacked.”
A collective gasp filled the room. Delani Morn, the Amethyst Loremaster, demanded, “Where? By whom? Who would dare attack a Loremaster?” Her auburn hair and hazel eyes seemed aglow with indignation at the mere thought that someone could attack one of their own.
“It was a band of Trellin raiders. It took place shortly after they left Gildenfell.”
“Impossible,” Chon said. “That is less than four days from here. The Trellin do not come this far north.”
“Nevertheless,” the High One replied, “Jason Bennett even now lies in our healing area with a Trellin bloodfang in his shoulder. Captain Gatlor has already sent trackers to see if they can determine where the attackers came from. Loremaster Seryn, I know you wish to hear what will be said here, but I must ask if you would personally see to the young man. While I am certain your assistants are most capable, we dare not take any chances at this time. Loremaster Reyga or I will answer any questions you have once he is out of danger.”
The Diamond Loremaster rose immediately. “Of course, High One. With your leave, I will go tend to his wounds now.”
“Thank you, Loremaster Seryn. Please see to your patient.”
Once Seryn left, the High One turned back to the Circle and said, “Loremaster Reyga will tell you of what has transpired this day.”
Now, Reyga stood before his peers, wondering how they would take the extraordinary news he would be giving them. Chon, of course, would bluster and bellow. Delani would think of nothing except defending the honor of the Circle. Seryn and Jarril would want to take time to consider the options. The High One, as always, would ponder how today’s events fit in with history and prophecy. Of the remaining three, he was not sure.
His gaze wandered around the chamber. The circular walls were made of polished white marble, with a domed ceiling arcing overhead. There were fourteen high-backed seats, each exquisitely crafted from dark blue chola wood. He had always admired the subtle touches of gold filigree accenting the head and arms of the chairs. The High One’s chair was opposite the main entrance to the room. Four chairs sat to either side for the remainder of the Circle. The last five chairs faced the Circle from behind a modest stone podium in the center of the room, where he now stood. These were for guests, or anyone summoned before the Circle. Set into the wall near the ceiling and circling the room were nine intricate designs of iridescent tiles, each surrounding a large gem corresponding with one of the nine Orders.
The Loremasters were watching him expectantly. “I have many things to tell you today,” he said. “As you have already heard, we were attacked by Trellin. Why the Trellin attacked us or, even more disquieting, why they have come this far north, we do not know. We did manage to capture one, and we will find out as much as we can from it. What you do not know is that before we stepped through the portal, we counted the bodies.” He paused, and then said, “There were sixteen dead Trellin, and one alive. The raiding party consisted of seventeen Trellin.”
Kalen Dristal, the Topaz Loremaster spoke up. “How can that be? The Trellin never travel in groups larger than five.”
“I do not know,” he replied. “But that is how many there were.”
He looked around the chamber as the Loremasters whispered to each other, and then said, “The next thing you should know is that Jason Bennett came to Teleria through a chaotic rift.”
Several raised their eyebrows at this, but none seemed overly taken aback at the news.
Jarril said, “While that may be unusual, Loremaster Reyga, it is not unheard of. Although, he is a fortunate young man to have arrived unharmed.”
“True enough. However, his father also came here through a chaotic rift.”
“What?” Chon said. “You did not tell us his father came with him. Why did you not mention this before?”
“His father did not come with him,” he said. “His father arrived in Teleria thirty years ago.”
The Loremasters looked at him in confusion. “What deception is this, Reyga?” Chon demanded. “We were told this Jason Bennett was a boy of less than twenty years. How could his father have arrived here thirty years ago?”
“There is more,” he said. “From his father’s point of view, he did not step into the rift until twenty years after Jason had disappeared from their world.”
Brin Jalasar, the Ruby Loremaster said, “This is madness, Loremaster Reyga. Did his father come to Teleria before or after his son?” The Ruby Loremaster was a tall, broad shouldered man, with a hawk-like gaze.
Ignoring the question for the moment, Reyga said, “Not only did his father come to Teleria through a chaotic rift, he came through the same chaotic rift that brought Jason Bennett to us.”
At this, there were a few outbursts of “Impossible! Ridiculous!” The room dissolved into a buzz of conversation.
T’Kel Sho, the Sapphire Loremaster stood. “Loremaster Reyga,” she said in a soft, lilting voice, “you know as well as we that by its very definition, a chaotic rift does not appear twice in the same place. How can you explain this?” The Sapphire Loremaster was the other non-human Loremaster on the Circle besides Jarril. She was F’aar, an amphibious race that could function equally well on land or underwater, although they preferred their watery home to the land. As she spoke, small gill slits on either side of her neck fluttered.
She went on. “And what of Loremaster Brin’s question? How can you explain the apparent contradiction as to when this boy’s father came to Teleria?” T’Kel resumed her seat as she finished speaking.
“Obviously we have made a mistake in our definition of a chaotic rift. Either that, or there is yet a third type of rift that we have just now encountered,” he said. “As far as the discrepancies regarding Jason’s father, I believe it may be possible that the rifts not only traverse space and dimension, but also time. It would appear to be the only explanation.”
“Preposterous,” Chon scoffed as the Loremasters once more began to talk amongst themselves. “Traveling through time? I suppose next you would have us believe trees can talk.”
“I understand that what I have proposed sounds unbelievable. But what I have told you is not all. There is yet more you need to hear.”
Chon crossed his arms as the rest of the Loremasters quieted.
Reyga took a deep breath. What he was about to tell them would send the room into chaos. “When Jason’s father was telling him about how he came to be in Teleria, he told Jason that he had found records indicating that one of their ancestors had also disappeared some three hundred years earlier. This ancestor had apparently entered the same rift as Jason and his father, which, one would assume, would have brought him here.”
As several of the Loremasters began to speak, he held up his hands and said, “Please. Allow me to finish.”
When they settled back, Reyga said, “Jason’s father—I have known him for many years as Brusha, but Jason tells me his name is Bruce—in any event, his father told him that the name of his ancestor who had disappeared was… Bothan.”
There was a moment of stunned silence from the Loremasters, and then they were all on their feet trying to make themselves heard. Even the High One seemed startled by his last statement, staring at Reyga as if he had just transformed into some fantastic creature.
Then the High One regained his composure and stepped up to the podium. His staff came alive, crackling with dimsai and getting the attention of the Loremasters. One by one, they stopped talking and resumed their seats.
Once the room was quiet again, the High One said, “Loremaster Reyga, you did not mention this when you came to my chambers.”
“I know, High One, and I ask your forgiveness. But you left to summon the Circle before I could tell you.”
The High One did not answer at first. Finally, after several moments, he said, “So, considering that you felt it was necessary to mention this young man’s ancestor, should I assume that you believe his ancestor to be the one we know as Bodann?”
“I believe it is, at the very least, a distinct possibility.”
“You realize, of course, how extraordinary this chain of events would be if that proves to be true?”
“If it is true,” he replied, “and it is my own personal belief that it is, then that would mean that Jason Bennett is almost certainly the Jaben of Taleth’s prophecy.”
“Then we are indeed at a critical point in the destiny of Teleria. Let us go see this young man.” Turning to the assembly the High One said, “This meeting is adjourned. Think about what we have heard today, but say nothing of this to anyone. We will meet again tomorrow after Firstmeal. May the mantle of wisdom ever rest upon your shoulders. Come, Loremaster Reyga.” The High One turned and strode from the chamber without waiting for the formal reply from the Circle.
Jason was dreaming he was back in Drey’s Glenn. The village was in flames and a hooded figure stood in the marketplace, arms raised to the sky. The figure laughed as terrified townspeople scrambled to find shelter. Crackling tendrils of lightning danced on its fingers.
Occasionally the figure would point at a building or a person, and lightning would shoot from its hands, setting the target ablaze. Jason saw the burned corpse of the tall, green man he had seen. Over there was the body of the werewolf, the fur burned off its body in patches.
He saw his father come out of one of the buildings and walk toward the figure. His father had stepped out of the building as a man in his forties, as Jason remembered him. With each step, however, Bruce Bennett grew older and older.
He tried to run to his father, but his feet wouldn’t move. He yelled at his father to get back inside the building, but couldn’t make himself heard over the pandemonium. As Jason watched helplessly, the figure turned toward his father. One hand came down to point at the now elderly Bennett. A torrent of lightning shot forth, and his father disappeared in a flash of light.
Dad! No!! Jason screamed in his dream. Then the figure turned to face him. The hands came up and pushed back the hood of the robe, and Jason found himself staring into his own laughing face.
He opened his eyes with a start. He was on a cot in a large room. He tried to lift his head, but the effort brought a wave of pain, as if he hadn’t moved in weeks. He gasped and let his head fall back to the cot. As his eyes focused, Reyga appeared.
“Jason?” the Loremaster asked softly. “Are you awake?”
His throat was dry. “I think so,” he managed. “Where are we?” He tried to shift his head, but even that tiny movement caused him to grimace at the pain.
Reyga put a light hand on his uninjured shoulder. “We are safe in Lore’s Haven. Try not to move,” he said. “You have not yet fully recovered from the bloodfang.”
“The what?” he whispered.
“The dagger the Trellin raider used on you. The bloodfang is a lethal weapon. Its blade is hollow and filled with a particularly virulent poison. Once imbedded in flesh, it slowly releases the poison into the victim. As you discovered, it is a very painful process.”
“Then why wouldn’t Gatlor let me pull it out?”
“A bloodfang must be removed almost immediately,” Reyga explained. “They are crafted in such a way that if one waits even a few moments to take it out, the blade will break off in the wound. This releases all of the poison at once. Had you removed it, you would almost certainly have died. Even as it was, enough of the poison had been released into your body that Seryn had to use all of her skills to keep you alive.”
“Seryn Shal serves as the Diamond Loremaster, who preserves the knowledge of the healing arts,” Reyga said.
Jason thought about how close he had come to pulling on the dagger, and how lucky he had been that Gatlor had stopped him in time.
“What were those things?” he asked.
“They are called Trellin,” Reyga told him. “They are a particularly ill-tempered race, who generally spend more time fighting amongst themselves than attacking others. Because of their adversarial nature, they have never traveled in groups larger than five.”
He winced as a spasm of pain ran through his shoulder. “It sure looked like there were more than five when they jumped us.”
“Indeed,” Reyga agreed. “There were seventeen Trellin in the party that attacked us. We have many unanswered questions. We do not know why there were so many together, or why they were so far north. We also do not know if this was merely an aberration, or if the separate tribes have declared a truce. If they have banded together…” The Loremaster shook his head. “Well, we will have to wait to see if there are any more reports of large groups of Trellin. Meanwhile, we will see what we can find out from the one we took captive.”
“What about the others? Is everyone okay?”
“Yes, we are safe.”
“And Lenai? She’s okay too? That thing threw her down pretty hard.”
“I am well, human,” a voice said from his other side.
Startled, he gritted his teeth against the pain and forced his head to shift in the direction of the voice. He saw the Shanthi girl standing by the wall about twenty feet away. As he struggled to turn his head toward her, she took a few steps away from the wall, but stopped short of coming all the way to his cot.
“Lenai has not left this room, or slept, for the last three days,” Reyga told him.
Reyga nodded. “We returned to Lore’s Haven three days ago. You have been unconscious since then.”
“But why has she been here all that time?”
“You saved my life,” Lenai said. “A debt such as that must be repaid.”
“Repaid?” he said. “Hey, listen, I just didn’t want to see that thing split your head open, that’s all. You don’t have to repay me for anything.”
The girl shook her head. “Honor demands it.”
He was too weak to argue with her. He noticed the fatigue that showed in her face and stance. “Well, we can talk about that later, I guess,” he said. “Since it looks like I’m going to live, you should get some sleep.”
She raised her chin. “I am well. I will stand watch until you are recovered.”
He sighed and looked at Reyga, pleading with his eyes. Reyga appeared to understand. “Jason is right,” he said to her. “You do no one any good by denying yourself needed rest. I will watch over him.”
“It’s not like I’m going anywhere,” Jason added.
She looked like she was about to protest, but when the Loremaster lifted an eyebrow at her she relented. “Very well,” she said. “But I will return after I have slept.”
“Fine,” he sighed.
She walked to the door and hesitated, as if unsure whether she should really leave or not. Then, with a final glance back at them, she walked out, closing the door behind her.
After Lenai had left, he looked at Reyga. “What was that all about?”
“It is as she said,” Reyga replied. “You saved her life.”
“Well, yeah, I guess so. But can’t I just say ‘forget about it’ and have it over with?”
“Do you remember when I told you about the Shanthi? How some of them had used their abilities for dishonest gain, and that this was why the Shanthi were a mistrusted people?”
Jason nodded as much as his pain would allow.
“Well,” Reyga continued, “most of Lenai’s race do not use their abilities in such ways. Due to the actions of the less scrupulous few, however, for the majority of the Shanthi honor has become of paramount importance. If they feel they are indebted to someone, they will not rest until they feel that the debt has been repaid, and neither will Lenai.”
“Please don’t tell me she has to save my life to feel like we’re even.”
Reyga chuckled. “While that would certainly settle her debt to you,” he said, “it does not necessarily have to come to that. When she returns, ask her what she feels would be adequate repayment. Often the Shanthi will offer their services to those they feel indebted to until they feel honor has been satisfied.”
“Not as a slave, but as an equal, freely offering assistance.”
“May I offer you a piece of advice?” Reyga asked.
“This is an opportunity for you to learn about the Shanthi, and about Lenai. It is an opportunity very few humans ever get. Do not lightly dismiss her determination to repay you for your deeds. Your words and actions will determine how much you will learn about her and her people.”
“What do you mean?”
Reyga looked him in the eyes and said, “Do not insult her by asking her to do menial tasks. And do not offend her by asking her to do things that are, shall we say, inappropriate. Honor her desire to repay you, and treat her with respect as an equal.”
“Okay,” he said. He was having a hard time keeping his eyes open.
“But enough for now,” Reyga said. “You need more rest. Sleep now, and someone will be here when you awaken. Oh, and one more thing, Jason.”
He forced his eyes open again.
“I wish to thank you for what you did for Lenai. I would have missed her greatly indeed, had you not acted when you did.”
He nodded groggily, “Sure, no probl…” Then he drifted off to sleep.
When Jason awoke, a pale light streamed through the lone window in the room. He cautiously moved his head, and, feeling no major pain, tried moving his arms and legs. Movement caught his attention. Lenai stood by the wall, looking like she had never left.
“You are awake,” she said. “I will tell the others.” Without waiting for a reply, she left the room.
He looked around, getting his first look at the inside of Lore’s Haven. It was a large room with a high ceiling. There were other beds, all empty. Against the far wall, he saw a long table and a set of shelves. The table and shelves were loaded with books, containers, mugs, and various other items.
The door opened and the girl returned, accompanied by Reyga and a flaxen-haired woman wearing a circlet about her head. The circlet held a clear stone the size of a robin’s egg. Bracelets on both of her wrists contained smaller versions of the stone. As Lenai returned to her post by the wall, Reyga and the woman came to the bedside.
Reyga spoke first. “Are you feeling any better?”
“Yeah,” he said. “There’s still a little pain, but at least now I can move without feeling like my head is going to fall off. How long did I sleep this time?”
“Only through the night,” Reyga replied with a smile. “And now, Jason, I would like you to meet Seryn Shal, our Diamond Loremaster.”
The woman bowed her head and said, “It is an honor to meet you, Jason Bennett.” Although her voice was soft, every word seemed to resonate throughout the room.
“Nice to meet you.” While Seryn had a gentle manner, and there was an air of kindness about her, he sensed an intensity behind her sky-blue eyes that made him think that he would not like to be on this woman’s bad side.
“Reyga tells me you’re the one who kept me alive,” he said.
“With the aide of my assistants,” she explained. “I served in more of a supervisory role.”
Reyga shook his head and said, “Loremaster Seryn is being modest. She is the most accomplished healer in recent generations.”
Seryn smiled. “Reyga flatters me. I do what I can, and simply hope that my efforts will be sufficient.”
“Well, I owe you one,” he said. “Thank you.”
Seryn bowed her head once more, and then said, “I need to examine you. May I?”
“Sure, go ahead. Do what you need to do.”
Seryn raised her hands, and then hesitated, looking at Reyga.
“Jason knows of dimsai,” Reyga said.
She nodded and closed her eyes. After a moment, her hands began to glow with a silvery-blue light. She opened her eyes and stepped towards him. Suddenly, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be examined after all.
Reyga said, “Do not fear, Jason. You will not be harmed.”
He tried to relax as the woman’s hands got closer. Seryn’s hands stopped about six inches from his head. She kept them at that distance as she moved them down over his chest and arms, and from there over the rest of his body. He felt warmth emanating from them that eased the pain wherever they passed. When she finished, the glow faded from her hands and she stepped back.
She nodded in satisfaction. “The last traces of poison from the bloodfang have dissipated. You should be able to leave the healing area by tomorrow.”
“Wow,” he said. “That was amazing. All of the pain is gone.”
She smiled politely at the compliment. “I am pleased that you are feeling better,” she said.
“I feel great. Are you sure I need to stay here until tomorrow?”
“While you no longer feel the pain of the poison, your body is still in a weakened state. I would like you to stay here for one more night. Then, tomorrow you may go to the quarters that have been assigned to you.”
He sighed. “Okay, one more night isn’t that big of a deal, I guess.”
“In the meantime, I will let your father know that you are awake. He has been very anxious during your time of healing,” she said.
After she left, Reyga said, “The High One has been waiting to speak with you. With your permission, I will tell him that you will be able to speak with him in the morning. Or would you prefer to meet with him this afternoon?”
He thought a moment, and then said, “Let’s wait until morning.”
“I will tell him.”
The door opened again, and the elder Bennett hurried into the room. Reyga nodded his farewell and left father and son to themselves.