[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.]
Jason stared into the murky shadows of the ceiling above him. His jumbled thoughts harassed him as he tried to make sense out of the events that had brought him to this situation. Just a few hours before, he had been certain he was in mortal danger. Now, in a comfortable bed underneath a warm blanket, he reviewed the past few hours in his mind…
“Come, laddie. It’s high time you and I had a wee chat!”
The voice came out of nowhere, and before he knew what was happening, he landed harshly on a rough stone floor. An explosion of stars blurred his vision as his head struck the stone.
Through the ringing in his head, he heard Lenai’s exclamation, and then a concussion of power blinded him again. The man said something he couldn’t quite make out, and then the portal closed.
A cloaked figure stood over him. A cowl covered the man’s head, obscuring his features. Jason blinked away the spots dancing in front of his eyes, but still couldn’t make out the face hidden among the shadows of the hood.
“Well, laddie,” the man sneered down at him, “welcome to my humble home. I hope you enjoy yer stay.” Low laughter sent chills up his back.
He struggled to his feet. “Who are you? What do you want? And what did you do to Lenai?”
“Yer little shifter is alive. She’s of no use to me dead, so you needn’t be worryin’ yourself about that.” The man sat in a nearby chair. “And as for what I want, it’s as I said. I want to have a few words with you. Anythin’ wrong with that?”
“I guess not, but—”
“Good!” The hooded figure gestured, and a chair shot out from the wall, slamming into the back of Jason’s legs. He fell into the chair. Wow, déjà vu, he thought, remembering his first encounter with Reyga.
“Comfortable?” Before he could answer, the man leaned forward in his chair. “Now tell me, boy, why is the Circle so interested in you? Are you the one they think will best me?”
“Best you? Who are you?” Something about the man’s voice seemed familiar, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. The throbbing in his head wasn’t helping any either.
“I am Bodann,” the man said, in a tone that implied Jason should quiver with fear.
The man straightened. “Do you mean to tell me those bletherin’ Loremasters have not told you about Bodann?”
He shrugged. “Sorry. Maybe they were saving it for a special occasion.” Bletherin? The phrase seemed out of place, but before he could give it much thought, Bodann leaned forward until his hood was only inches away. Damp, putrid breath invaded Jason’s nostrils, almost gagging him. Light from the wall torches caused the man’s eyes to glitter through the shadows of the cowl.
“Mind yer tongue, laddie,” Bodann whispered, “before someone minds it for you.”
Jason gasped as he felt a noose around his neck. It felt like frigid, dead flesh pressing against his skin, cutting off his breath and sending a chill through his blood. He thought his neck muscles must be turning to ice as fingers of frost crept up the back of his neck and down into his shoulders. Just as shadows were gathering at the edge of his vision, the constriction eased and he drew in a wheezing breath.
Bodann leaned back in his chair. “Now then,” he said, “perhaps we can talk without yer flip tongue gettin’ in the way.”
“Uh, yeah. Sure.”
“Alright,” Bodann said, “here’s how it will be. I’ll ask questions. You will answer them.” His voice took on an ominous tone. “And you’ll want to keep this in mind.” For a brief instant, Jason had the sensation of an ice-cold snake gently gliding around his throat. He couldn’t suppress a shudder as Bodann finished. “If I think yer not tellin’ me everything, you’ll know it. Now, I’ll ask again. Why is the Circle so interested in you?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. Reyga just said I was the first one to come through a portal in several years, so the Circle wanted to talk to me.”
“Why did they take you to Lore’s Haven overland? Why not use a portal?”
“My first trip through a portal made me sick. Reyga said the Circle thought it would be better to bring me overland to keep me from getting sick again.”
“Go on. What else?”
“Well, we were attacked on the way to Lore’s Haven. Some creatures called Trellin. They looked like big lizards carrying swords.”
“And would that be all? There’s nothin’ else you think I might be interested in knowing?”
Alarm bells went off in Jason’s head. Trying to appear calm, he shrugged and said, “No, that’s pretty much it.”
A blazing corona of power enveloped him. It felt as if the skin was being ripped from his body, and he couldn’t suppress a scream. As suddenly as it began, the power disappeared, leaving him gasping in shock. Beneath the memory of the pain, he felt something else, a tingling sensation he couldn’t identify. Bodann leaned forward once more.
“I warned you to tell me everything,” he said. “You seem to have forgotten about your father, laddie.” At his startled look, Bodann nodded. “Aye, I know about him. I know you picked him up at Carilian’s Roost in Gildenfell, and that he’s been here in Teleria for nigh on thirty years.”
“How do you know that?”
“I have ways that are none of your concern, boy. But then, you’ll find there’s very little in Teleria I’m not privy to.”
His mind was racing. How much did Bodann know? Was it even worth the effort to try to hold anything back? And what would the man do the next time he caught him holding something back?
“Now then, let’s continue our chat. And remember, I know more than you think. It’d be a sair fecht indeed if I find that yer still tryin’ to hold anythin’ back.”
A sair fecht? Suddenly he knew why Bodann’s voice sounded so familiar. Before he could stop himself, he blurted out, “You’re Scottish?”
Bodann didn’t answer at first. Then he said, “Aye, I called Scotland home for a time. From the day my mother bore me until the day I came here.” He studied Jason for a moment, and then said, “So, you’re from back home. An interesting coincidence, but it changes nothin’. You’ll give me the information I’m wanting, or I’ll drag it from your bones.”
Like puzzle pieces, several bits of information came together in his mind. He stared at Bodann with his mouth hanging open.
“What is it, boy?” Bodann asked. “You look like you’ve seen a spirit.”
“You wouldn’t be… I mean… Are you…?”
“Och! Out with it, already!”
He took a deep breath and said, “Are you Bothan McFarland?”
Slowly, Bodann stood up. “I haven’t heard that name in many, many years,” he said. “How would you be knowin’ it?”
Heart pounding, Jason said, “Well, um, if you’re Bothan McFarland, you’re one of my ancestors.”
Bodann reached up and pulled the hood back from his head, revealing a shock of unkempt auburn hair and mutton chop sideburns surrounding intense sea-green eyes. Jason gasped for air as the icy rope again encircled his neck.
Eyes blazing, Bodann towered over Jason. “Do you take me for a fool, boy?” he snarled. “Yer name’s Bennett. I know that much. You should have told those foolish Loremaster friends o’ yours to come up with something a bit more convincing. More’s the pity you’ll never have the chance to tell them of their blunder.” The noose tightened.
Jason’s body screamed for air. “I’m not lying,” he managed to choke out. “My father’s name is Bennett. My mother is a McFarland. Her family is from Aberdeen.”
The constriction around his throat eased almost imperceptibly, but it was just enough to allow him to draw a whisper-thin breath. Bodann stared at him with an expression he couldn’t decipher.
“Aberdeen,” he said. “Alright, you’ve got my attention. But mind you, if you make even one wee mistake, it’ll be yer last.”
Although the frigid noose was still uncomfortably tight, Jason went on. “My great-uncle Nyall lives outside Aberdeen. We were visiting him.”
“Touching. But it proves nothin’. You’ll have to do better than that.”
“Uncle Nyall lives on some land that has been in the McFarland clan for generations.”
“Go on,” Bodann said.
Jason shivered from the chill around his neck. As the cold seeped into his neck and jaw, it was growing difficult to talk. “There are some woods near the manor house. I went for a walk and found an old stone building in the middle of the woods. I was exploring it and ended up here.”
The pressure on his neck faded away. “A faerie glow inside the building just after twilight,” Bodann said. His voice sounded distant as he stared at a point over Jason’s head. “Look through a door, and instead of a room there’s a wood as green as any I’d ever seen. I couldna stop myself even had I wanted to. I had to go. Forgive me, Morna. I had to go.”
Eventually, Bothan’s gaze returned to Jason. Jason leaned back in his chair, away from him.
“So,” Bothan said, stroking his chin, “you have McFarland blood in you. Do you know what that means?”
A broad smile broke across Bothan’s face. “Why, lad!” he exclaimed. “It means we’re kinsmen! C’mere!” Grabbing his arm, Bothan pulled him out of his chair and into a bear hug, pounding his back with enough force to drive the air from his lungs again.
Just as he was sure Bothan was about to crack a couple of ribs, the man stopped his pounding and held him at arm’s length.
“Oh laddie,” he said, “please forgive a suspicious old galoot for his harsh treatment. I thought you were another pawn sent by the Circle to destroy me. Can you ever forgive me?”
Caught off guard by the sudden change in the man’s attitude, Jason said, “Uh, yeah sure, I guess.”
“Good! Good! That’s a good lad,” Bothan said. “A forgivin’ heart, that’s a true sign of the McFarland blood flowin’ in ye.”
“Um, I guess so,” Jason said, still cautious. “So, if you don’t mind my asking, why does the Circle want to destroy you? If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s OK,” he added quickly.
Bothan sat down. “No, no. You deserve to know, after what I’ve put you through. To be honest, lad, I kinna tell you, for I don’t truly know myself.” He motioned for Jason to sit down as he went on. “It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when I was a friend to the Circle. A time when I believed them to be noble and upright, defending the land from anyone or anything with evil motives. I even lived at Lore’s Haven.”
“So what happened?”
“I found out what the Circle truly stood for.”
“What do you mean? What do they stand for?”
“They want to have control over all knowledge. They don’t want anyone havin’ any knowledge without their leave.”
“Well, sure,” Jason said. “That’s what they told me too. They want to protect the knowledge from anyone who might use it in ways it shouldn’t be used.”
“A half-truth is what that is, lad,” Bothan replied. “Aye, they want to protect knowledge. But they also want total control over it. They want the final say-so as to who gets taught what, while the rest of the people become ignorant, dull-witted sheep.”
“Uh, that’s not exactly how it was explained to me.”
“Of course not!” Bothan snapped. He stopped himself and made a visible effort to relax. “Sorry, lad,” he said. “Whenever I hear the lies of the Circle it makes my blood boil. Like as not, that’s why they’d just as soon be seeing the end of me. Because I’m no longer blind to their ways.”
“Sorry,” Jason said. “Didn’t mean to make you mad.”
“It’s not your fault. You only know what those smooth-tongued Loremasters have told you.” Resting his elbows on his knees, Bothan leaned forward in his chair and looked into his eyes. “But I’ll warrant they haven’t told you everything you need to know either.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, for instance, they didn’t tell you about me, did they?”
“Well, no, but maybe they were waiting for the right time,” Jason said.
“Aye, perhaps. But tell me some of the other things they’ve told you, and I’ll let you know if they’ve forgotten any of the details.”
He wasn’t sure how much he should say. But then again, he probably already knows about everything I’d say anyway. He decided to chance it.
“Well, they told me about a prophecy,” he said.
“Aye, that would be Taleth’s prophecy no doubt. Did they tell you what the prophecy said?”
“The High One said someone named Jaben would come, and that he would have the fate of this world in his hands. He said they thought I might be this Jaben person because my name sounded a bit like it.”
“He said they weren’t sure whether Jaben would be a savior or a destroyer, so they had to be careful with me not to reveal too much information about themselves or Teleria. That’s why they tried to keep me from knowing about dimsai.”
“Ha! The fools.” Bothan laughed. “You can’t keep someone in Teleria from knowing about dimsai any more than you could keep them from knowing about air.” He shook his head. “What else did they tell you about the prophecy?”
“That’s all? Lad, you’re not serious!”
“Yeah,” he said. “That’s all they told me. Is there more?”
“Only the most important part.” Bothan ran a hand through his shaggy hair. “Alright, laddie, brace yourself. You’re not goin’ to like what you’re about to hear. This is the part that should concern you. Part of the prophecy says ‘His destruction is our hope’ and ‘For our land to live, the far land must die.’”
Brow furrowing, Jason asked, “What does it mean ‘His destruction is our hope’?”
“Just what it says,” Bothan replied. “They’ve got plans for you, lad. Dark plans.”
“Aye, and that’s not all. Did you catch that other line?”
“The other line? Well, sort of. What was it again?”
“It says ‘For our land to live, the far land must die.’” He nodded as Jason’s eyes grew wide. “Aye, lad, you see it now, don’t you? They’re goin’ to go to our world and destroy it.”
Jason went over the conversation again and again in his mind. They’d spoken of other things as well, but the words of the prophecy echoed in his thoughts. Had Reyga lied to him? Was it all just a front? And what about Lenai? Was she really repaying a debt to him, or had she been told to keep an eye on him? Was he in danger? Was Earth in danger?
There were too many questions that needed answers, and each time he pushed one aside, two more popped into his head. Finally, he gave up and closed his eyes. Before too long, he drifted into a troubled sleep.
The appetizing smell of breakfast greeted him the next morning as he awoke. He yawned and stretched, and then looked around the room. He’d been too distracted the night before to take note of his surroundings. It was a comfortably decorated room, with tapestries on the walls and warm sunlight streaming through a large window. He swung his feet over the edge of the bed. A cool breeze from the open window lightly tickled his toes. He stood up and stretched once more before shuffling out into the main room.
“Ahh, you’re awake then.” Bothan set a steaming tray of meat on a large table. Bread, fruits, and other foods sat on the table. Two plates waited as well, apparently for Jason and his host.
“Come, lad, have something to eat.” Bothan gestured to one of the chairs. “Eat as much as you like. I know when I was your age I could put away most of a good-sized cow.” He gave Jason a wink. “Well, that’s what my mother always liked to say.”
The mention of Bothan’s mother sent a pang through Jason. He ducked his head to hide the unexpected tears that came to his eyes. Bothan looked puzzled, then his eyes widened and he slapped his forehead.
“Och! Bothan, ye bletherin’ idiot. Curse ye for a fool. Laddie, I am so sorry. I didna think before I opened my mouth.” He shook his head. “I’ve been here long enough for my loss to fade and be replaced by more cheerful memories. But you, you’ve only been here a few days, and the wound is still fresh.” He laid his hand on Jason’s shoulder. “I am truly sorry, lad. I didna mean to cause you pain.”
Jason wiped his eyes. “It’s okay. I’m fine,” he said. “So, you had a hard time when you first got here too?”
“Aye, lad, that I did,” Bothan said. “It’d be fair to say I almost drove myself mad trying to find a way back. They told me there was no way, but I wouldn’t believe them. I tried for months, even years, to find a way back home.”
A slight twitch at the corner of Bothan’s mouth was the only sign that the remark had affected him. “Aye. Morna was my wife, but she’s not all I left behind. I also had three sons and a daughter, as well as my parents and a brother that I haven’t seen since setting foot in this world.”
“I’m sorry,” Jason said. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“It’s all right, lad. As I said, I’ve had time to accept my fate, and can look back on the memories of my kin with fondness instead of tears. You’ll get there too eventually. It will just take some time.”
“And look on the bright side. You’ve got your father here, and now you’ve found another kinsman in me. Truth be told, having you here lightens my heart, it does.”
“There is that,” he said. “I guess things could be a lot worse.”
“That’s the spirit, laddie! I know it will be a tough go at first, but you’ll be fine. Just give it time.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
“Of course I am. Now, let’s eat! A good meal does wonders to lift a broken spirit.”
With that, the two sat down and began breakfast.
With a stifled yawn, Reyga stood up from his chair. He put his hands in the small of his back and pressed, grimacing at the barrage of pops and cracks. He and the High One had assisted Seryn as she triggered the trap again and again, each time being met with slightly less force. Finally, she deemed it safe to allow her assistants to finish the work.
Before bringing her assistants in, they moved Elira’s body into another room, out of view. Tor, looking broken and frail, shuffled out without a word. After that, the High One returned to his chambers while Reyga remained in the healing area. He wanted to be there if and when Lenai awoke. He sat in a chair by the wall, watching the students work. Now, the latest trio, a young man and two young women, turned away from Lenai’s still figure.
“Loremaster Seryn,” said the young man. “The power appears to be drained. We no longer get a reaction from our probing.”
Seryn had not left the healing area either. Shallow circles under her eyes were the only sign of her fatigue as she walked over to the bed. Reyga tensed as light blossomed about Seryn’s hands and she examined Lenai. He relaxed as she stepped back, apparently satisfied by what she saw.
“The remaining power has been expended,” she agreed. She turned to the trio. “Well done. Go back to your quarters and get some rest. Return after midday meal.” Together, the three bowed, first to Seryn, then to Reyga, and filed toward the door.
Just as they reached the door, the young man turned back to the two Loremasters. “Loremaster Seryn? May I ask a question?”
Although obviously exhausted, Seryn nodded. “Of course, Teryl. What do you wish to know?”
Teryl looked at the two young women with him, and then took a tentative step back into the room. “Loremaster Seryn,” he hesitated, and then continued. “It is common knowledge that Elira is the most gifted student in the Diamond Order, but she was not here this night. Is she well?”
Seryn looked at the ground, steeling herself for what she had to say next, before meeting their eyes. “No,” she said quietly. “Elira is not well.”
The girl to Teryl’s right stepped forward. “What is wrong with her?”
Seryn studied their faces for a moment before answering. “Elira was the first to trigger the trap within Lenai.” The girl’s hand flew to her mouth, and she shook her head, clearly not wanting to hear Seryn’s next words.
“Elir…” Seryn’s voice broke, then she steadied herself and continued. “Elira’s wisdom is no longer with us.”
At this news, the two young women began to cry quietly. Teryl sniffed and wiped his eyes, trying to maintain his composure.
Seryn said, “I will be announcing this to all of the students later today, and the High One will tell the people of Lore’s Haven. I would ask you to keep this news to yourselves until then if you can. It is a terrible tragedy, and I do not want rumors and speculation springing up before I have a chance to tell everyone.”
Teryl cleared his throat. “Of course, Loremaster. We will not reveal what we know.”
Seryn nodded, and the three turned and left the room.
“Will they be able to conceal their knowledge?” Reyga asked.
Seryn shook her head. “No. Even if they do not speak of it, their tears will proclaim it.”
Reyga turned back to the still form. “How long will she remain asleep?”
“I do not know,” Seryn replied. “I have no way of knowing what effect having such power placed within her will have. We can only watch and wait for now.” She studied Reyga’s drawn face. “You should rest,” she said. “Please. I will send someone to you as soon as there is any change.”
“I cannot rest until Lenai is recovered and I know what has happened here.”
Seryn looked toward the room where they had taken Elira’s body. “Nor can I.”
Tal’s face was grim as he listened to the report from Warder Thom. First, there was Elira’s tragic death combined with Jason Bennett’s unexplained disappearance, and now this.
“Who brought this to your attention?” he asked. They were in the courtyard surrounded by a small group of Warders and residents of Lore’s Haven. He had been taking his usual morning walk when Warder Thom stopped him.
A thin-faced man stepped out from behind Thom and bowed deeply. “I did, High One,” he said.
Tal searched his memory. “Gerrid Carr, yes?” he asked.
A look of surprise crossed the man’s features. “Yes, High One. We met at the last Gathering’s End festival.”
“Of course,” he answered, nodding. “Your chola wood carving won top honors in the craftsman competition as I remember.” Gerrid smiled, clearly pleased that the High One remembered him.
“I hope we see more of your work this year,” Tal said. “Now, please tell me again what happened, and start from the beginning.”
Gerrid’s smile faded. “Yes, High One,” he said. “I have a friend who lives in Brayden Fenn. On the first day of every sixday, we speak with each other through the contact portal. This morning it was my turn to open the portal, but when I did there was no one on the other end. I could see the wall of the portal room, but nothing else. This is not the first time that this has happened, but usually someone will come to the portal within a short time.”
“And this time was different,” Tal said. It was not a question.
“High One, I waited half the morning for someone, anyone, to come to the portal.” Gerrid’s voice shook. “Something has happened at Brayden Fenn, High One. I just know it has, and I am afraid for my friend and his family.”
Although he found this news disturbing, even more so now that Jason Bennett had disappeared, Tal tried to keep his expression and voice calm. It would not do to start a panic among the people. “Be at peace, Gerrid. We will find out what is happening at Brayden Fenn. I am certain there is a perfectly good explanation for their unusual absence from the portal room.”
“I suppose so,” he said. “You are probably right, High One.” His expression did not match his words.
“We will try to contact them throughout the day, and if, for some reason, we are unable to do so, I will send someone to check on them. Now, what was your friend’s name so that we can tell him of your concern?”
“Thank you, High One. His name is Cale. Cale Jalasar.”
“Yes, High One,” Gerrid answered. “He is Loremaster Brin’s youngest son.”
Tal’s face did not betray the sinking feeling he suddenly felt in the pit of his stomach. “Ah, yes. Of course,” he said. “Well, Gerrid, thank you for bringing this to our attention.” He motioned for Warder Thom. “And now I am afraid I have other duties I must attend to, but rest assured, we will look into the matter.”
He turned and walked back toward the door leading into the Haven, with Thom falling into step beside him. As soon as they were out of earshot, he said, “Find Captain Gatlor and have him come to my quarters. Tell him I have an assignment for him.”