[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.]
Gatlor scowled and slapped the blade in front of him aside with his sword.
“If you swing your blade like that in battle I will gut you myself,” he snapped at the recruit.
The training yard echoed with the ring of steel as the group of men and women practiced. Following the orders of the Circle, he was conducting training drills for the new recruits. The word had gone out from the Haven at first light that volunteers were needed. Men and women began arriving within hours.
He grabbed the man’s wrist and straightened it, clamping his other hand on the trainee’s forearm. “Control the sword. Do not let the sword control you.”
He turned away and shouted above the din in the yard. “Everyone stop!” Almost at once, the bladesong faded as the fighters lowered their swords and turned to face him. As he waited for silence, Gatlor noticed one of the Warders enter the training yard, apparently looking for him.
Once he was certain he had their attention, he said loudly, “You must never think of your sword as something you are simply holding in your hand.” He began weaving his sword in an intricate pattern as he spoke, the sunlight dancing along the length of the blade. “It must become part of you, an extension of yourself and of your will. Just as you use your muscles to control your arm, so must you also use those same muscles to control your blade.” With a final sweep, he sheathed his sword.
One by one, he met each gaze. “Listen to me very carefully, for I will only say this once. The first time you allow your blade to control you in battle…” He gave them a hard look. “You will die. Remember that. Now back to work.”
As the group resumed their training, he walked over to the Warder.
“You have something?” he said.
“Sir,” the man said with a salute, “we have found the Far Planer.”
“He was on the road approaching Lore’s Haven.”
“What condition is he in?”
“He appears whole and unharmed.”
“Indeed. And where is he now?”
“He is waiting just outside Lore’s Haven with the gate Warders.”
The muscles in Gatlor’s jaw clenched as he glowered at the ground in front of him. “Go get two of your best men, and return here. Then we will take the Far Planer to the Circle chambers.”
“Two men, sir? Do you believe he will resist?”
“No, I do not believe he will resist. You and the other two will be there to make sure I do not do anything unwise before we get him to the Circle.”
The man raised an eyebrow, and then nodded. “I know just the men. I will get them at once.” With a salute he turned and strode away.
While he waited, Gatlor thought about Jason Bennett. The young Far Planer was a bit of a mystery, and he did not like mysteries. Mysteries meant uncertainty, and, as a warrior, he had no room for uncertainties in his life.
He made it a personal rule not to trust Far Planers. His original impression of Jason Bennett had been that the youth was cocky and ignorant, a dangerous combination. Had he and his squad not been under the direct orders of the High One, he would have graciously suggested that Loremaster Reyga find another escort for their journey.
The incident with the Trellin had forced him to re-evaluate his position. While he had yet to decide whether the boy’s actions were born of courage or foolish ignorance, he could not deny that, had Jason Bennett not acted when he did, Lenai would have been killed. Not that he and Lenai were close friends, but they had developed a professional relationship based upon mutual respect, something he did not give freely. He had no doubts about the Shanthi’s honor, and considered her a valuable member of his squad. For that reason alone, he felt uncomfortably indebted to the Far Planer.
But then he disappeared, leaving behind an unconscious Lenai, who had later been found to be a lethal trap. Gatlor had grown up with Tor’s older brother, and knew Tor and Elira well. Elira’s sudden death hit him hard, and devastated Tor. He intended to see that whoever was responsible paid for their actions, and at the moment, all clues pointed to Jason Bennett. His teeth ground together at the thought that he could have been deceived.
And then there were the four villages that had been destroyed after the boy vanished. He did not believe in coincidence. What the Far Planer’s part was in all of this was yet to be determined, but he was going to find out.
He looked up as the Warder entered the training yard accompanied by two other men. He shook his head as they reached him. “These are the two you had in mind?”
The Warder shrugged. “They seemed to be the best choice, sir.”
Seerka gave him a wink. “Who better to keep you from doing something unwise?” he said with a feline smirk.
“Indeed,” added Calador.
Gatlor rolled his eyes and began walking toward the opposite entrance, the three others falling in behind.
Jason stared out his window. The portal that brought him back to Lore’s Haven had placed him about two hundred yards from the front gate, giving him his first view of the keep from the outside.
It rose from the earth like an extension of bedrock. The walls were made from massive blocks of white stone marbled with gray. The road led to an iron portcullis twenty feet high and equally as wide, flanked by two large gate towers with a walkway running between them. At each tower, and spaced along the parapets, were flags of iridescent material with a white starburst in the center, outlined in royal blue. As the flags waved in the breeze, the sunlight reflected from them in all the colors of the spectrum. He could see Warders stationed at the towers and at intervals along the wall walk.
Before he was within a hundred yards of the keep, shouts rang out from inside. Four armed Warders came out and stopped him just outside the gate. About twenty minutes later, Gatlor, Seerka, Calador, and another Warder appeared and escorted him inside. As they walked through the corridors, he couldn’t help but feel the tension in the air.
The first time he’d walked through the halls of the keep, everyone he’d met seemed relaxed and welcoming. Now, the smiles and greetings, while still given, were subdued. Gatlor seemed even more on edge than before, if such a thing were possible. He didn’t know what had changed, but the conversation with Bothan ran through his mind again and again. For his part, Gatlor had remained silent, telling him that the Circle would answer any questions he might have. Seerka, Calador, and the other Warder had not offered any information either.
Then he was in front of the Circle…
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
Confronting him was a rather short, stocky Loremaster with a staff made from woven strands of metal. The stone at the top of the staff was dark, with pearlescent streaks of color running through it. The Loremasters had all been civil enough, until this man stood up.
The man snorted. “So you would have us believe that your disappearance, and the subsequent destruction of four of our villages, is nothing more than a coincidence?”
“It’s the truth!” Although shocked to hear about the villages, those feelings were quickly overwhelmed by his feelings of dislike toward this man. It was obvious that the feeling was mutual. “I don’t know anything about any villages or anything else,” he said. “All I remember is walking through the corridor with Lenai, and then waking up in the woods.”
Bothan had suggested that he not mention his stay with his ancestor to the Circle, and until he knew more about what was going on, he thought that was probably a good idea.
“Well that’s convenient,” the man said. “You disappear, our villages are attacked, and you tell us you took a nap for a couple of days. I trust you are well rested?”
Reyga stood. “Chon! He said he knows nothing about it, and I, for one, believe him.”
“Oh, I am certain of that, Reyga,” Chon said. “And I have no doubt you would also believe it if—”
“Enough.” The High One stood. “Both of you sit down,” he ordered. Reyga and the Loremaster named Chon slowly settled back into their seats.
The rest of the meeting had gone downhill from there, until the High One declared an end and asked Jason to return to his quarters and remain there. He understood that it wasn’t a request, and reluctantly agreed. Two Warders had accompanied him back to his room.
An insistent knocking on his door interrupted his reverie. What now? He opened the door and saw his father standing outside.
“Dad!” His reasons for returning flooded back.
“Jason,” his father said. “Are you alright? These Warders weren’t going to let me see you until I explained a few things to them about fathers and sons.”
Jason couldn’t quite suppress a grin. He knew how well his father was at explaining things to people.
“I’m okay, Dad,” he said, as the elder Bennett wrapped his arms around him.
After his father let go, Jason closed the door, shutting the Warders outside.
“Dad, you’re not going to believe what happened.”
His dad frowned. “I thought you told the Circle that you didn’t know what had happened,” he said. “At least that’s what Reyga said when he told me you had returned.”
“I couldn’t tell them, Dad, but I was with Bothan McFarland.”
“Bothan McFarland? Our Bothan McFarland?”
“Yeah. The one who was supposed to have fallen in the well.”
“So he did come here,” his father whispered. “Amazing. But why couldn’t you tell the Circle?”
“There’s something going on between Bothan and the Circle. I’m not exactly sure what, but according to Bothan, the Circle is trying to control all knowledge, and keep all of the power to themselves and whoever they think should have it.”
“I find that hard to believe. I’ve been here thirty years and I’ve never heard anything like that even hinted at.”
“I know, but I guess Bothan used to live here at Lore’s Haven too, and was even friends with the Loremasters. Now he says the Loremasters want to kill him.”
His father pursed his lips. “That doesn’t sound like any of the Loremasters I know.”
“Well, people are different,” Jason said. “I know it doesn’t sound like Reyga, but that Chon doesn’t seem like such a nice guy. How do you know they’re all like Reyga? For that matter, how do you know Reyga is even like what he seems? How do you know it’s not just an act?”
“Jason, I’ve known Reyga for longer than you’ve been alive,” his dad answered. “So let me put the same question to you. How do you know Bothan is telling the truth? Maybe he’s the one that has plans to attack the Circle, and not the other way around.”
He frowned as he considered that. For some reason, the possibility that it was Bothan who might be lying had not crossed his mind. Before he could reply, a knock at the door interrupted their conversation. He opened the door and saw Reyga, Tal, and Seryn standing outside.
“May we come in, Jason?” Reyga asked.
He knew Reyga was trying to be polite, but couldn’t help his irritated response. “Like I have a choice?”
“Jason,” his dad said.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “Sure, come on in.” He moved back to the center of the room as the Loremasters entered.
“I am certain you have many questions,” Tal said. “We will answer your questions as best we can, but first Loremaster Seryn needs to examine you.” He looked at Jason’s father. “I am sorry. I must ask you to wait outside.”
The elder Bennett showed no sign of moving. Reyga placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“Please, my friend,” Reyga said. “I promise nothing will be done to Jason, and I will explain everything later.”
Bruce held Reyga’s eye. “Fine,” he said, “but I’m holding you responsible, old friend. He’s my son and I don’t want anything happening to him.”
“Have no fear.”
His father turned to him. “We’ll talk more later.” Then, with a glance at the three Loremasters, he walked out. Reyga closed the door behind him.
“Why do you need to examine me?” Jason asked. “I’m fine.”
“Please, Jason,” Reyga said. “It is necessary.”
He wondered what they would do if he refused. As he looked at their faces, he saw that, once again, they weren’t really asking. “Fine,” he sighed. “What do I need to do?”
Seryn stepped forward. “Please lie down,” she said. “It will be much the same as when you were in the healing area.”
Once he was lying down, the Loremasters moved into position beside the bed. Seryn stood in the center, with Tal and Reyga to either side, their hands resting lightly on the Diamond Loremaster’s shoulders. The two men raised their free hands, and Jason saw Tal’s hand begin to glow with a milky white light, while green sparks danced on Reyga’s fingers.
“Wait a second,” he said. “I don’t remember you two doing that before.”
“Peace, Jason,” Reyga said. “You will not be harmed, but this is a necessary precaution.”
He tried to relax as Seryn’s hands blossomed with the same soft argent light as in the healing area. That had been a pleasant experience, but he didn’t know what to expect with the other two Loremasters displaying their power as they were.
“Please try to relax, Jason,” Seryn said. “This will not harm you, but I must probe a little more deeply than when you were injured.”
“Does this have something to do with what Reyga felt when I was at his place?”
“Perhaps,” Seryn said. “That is yet to be determined. Now, please try to remain still and silent.”
Seryn moved her hands to just above his head. Tal and Reyga seemed tense, which made him nervous. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on staying calm.
After a moment, he heard Seryn say, “Nothing unusual yet. I am going to probe more deeply now.”
Jason opened his eyes and looked at her. Her eyes were closed, and her face showed her concentration. The dimsai danced on the other Loremasters’ fingers as they focused on Seryn.
A tiny line furrowed the space between her eyes. He wondered what she was looking for. Then her eyes opened suddenly. “Oh!”
Instantly, a barrier of energy sprang up between Jason and the three Loremasters. He flinched away at the sudden appearance of the crackling shield, almost falling off the other side of the bed. The glow left Seryn’s hands and she grasped the men’s wrists.
“No,” she told them. “There is no danger here.” Tal and Reyga looked at her then extinguished their power as well.
“What’s going on?” he asked. “What was that all about?”
“My apologies, Jason,” Tal said. “There was an incident during your absence which has required us to take certain precautions.”
“What kind of incident?”
“I think that would be best discussed another time,” Tal answered. “For now, suffice it to say that I do not believe it necessary for you to remain in your quarters.”
“So I can go out and walk around?”
Tal nodded. “Yes. My only request is that you tell the Warders where you are going whenever you leave. They will remain posted here at your door.”
“You were abducted once, Jason. I would hate to see that happen again.”
He thought it was a pretty flimsy excuse, but didn’t want to make them mad and possibly risk being confined to his room again, so he didn’t say anything.
Tal seemed satisfied with his silence. “I would also like to talk with you again,” he said. “I will send for you tomorrow.”
“Then we will wish you a good evening,” Tal said. “Loremasters, we have matters we need to discuss.”
Seryn nodded to Jason, with Reyga adding a wink to his nod, and the three Loremasters left him alone in the room.
The next morning, Jason woke up still unsure whether the Circle was telling the truth or his ancestor. He needed to talk with his dad some more. He opened the door and saw two Warders stationed outside.
“You wouldn’t happen to know where my dad is, would you?” he asked.
One of the Warders nodded. “He came by earlier and requested that we tell you when you woke that he would be in the training yard.
After the Warder explained how to get to the training yard, Jason went to find his father. Ten minutes and two wrong turns later, he found the entrance.
As he opened the door to the training yard, a cacophony of clashing metal, shouting trainers, and the grunts of men and women swinging their weapons met him. The smell of sweat and leather hung in the air, joined by smoke and ash from the forges at one end of the yard. The sound of the smiths’ hammers formed a ringing cadence winding in and out of the other sounds.
The balcony ran around the yard, broken occasionally by steps leading down to the training area. There were also several entrances to the yard at ground level. A small set of sturdy benches stood along the far wall.
Jason saw Gatlor barking orders at a group of swordsmen, while a short distance away, Seerka was a blur as he fended off three men attacking him with blunted sticks.
Dominating one corner of the training area, Calador was studying a scroll of some sort. Just as well, Jason thought, who’s going to spar with him? No sooner had the thought crossed his mind, when a second Dokal warrior ducked through the entrance in Calador’s corner. Laying the parchment aside, Calador stood and greeted the newcomer, and then picked up two large clubs. An instant later, the two were engaged in a furious exchange of strikes and parries. Jason watched for a few moments, fascinated by the battle dance of the behemoths, and then observed, with some amusement, the men closest to the two giants decide to train in another section of the yard.
He saw his father standing at one end of the benches. Reyga was there as well, seated at the opposite end talking with one of the Warders. Jason waved to get his dad’s attention, and motioned for him to stay put while he came down.
Steps led down from the balcony close to where his father was standing. Rather than try to cross the yard, he decided to walk around the balcony. He was about halfway there when what sounded like a clap of thunder rang out. Everyone stopped and looked around for the source. Then, from an entrance behind his father, Chon stepped into the yard.
“Hear me!” the Loremaster shouted. “And heed my words well.” His voice echoed from the stone walls. “I serve Teleria! I serve the prophecy.” He took another step into the yard. Chon’s was the only movement. His audience was frozen, waiting for his words.
“What I do, I do for Teleria and for the prophecy.” Another step, and still no one moved. “The prophecy says ‘His destruction is our hope.’”
Jason noticed Chon’s steps were bringing him closer and closer to his father. Suddenly, he knew what was about to happen. “No, no, no…” he whispered as he started walking, and then running, for the stairs.
“His destruction is our hope!” With one hand, Chon grabbed Jason’s father and spun him to face the yard. His other hand lifted a wickedly curved dagger over his head. The curves of the blade burned into Jason’s mind as it hovered above his father. For an instant, the sunlight flashed off the blade, piercing his eyes.
“For Teleria!” Chon shouted, and plunged the dagger into Bruce Bennett’s chest.
“No!” Jason screamed.
As Bruce Bennett’s body sank to the ground, the Loremaster yanked the dagger out and disappeared into a portal that opened and closed before anyone could react.
Without knowing how, Jason was on his knees, cradling his dad’s body. “Dad! Dad!” he pleaded, as tears burned hot trails down his cheeks. “C’mon, Dad, wake up. Wake up! It’s gonna be okay. Please don’t leave me. Please be okay. Please, please, please…” His father didn’t move. He buried his face in his father’s shoulder. “Dad, no…”
A small part of him noted that no one had moved yet. The rest was too overcome with grief to care. Then he felt a hand on his shoulder, and Seerka’s voice intruded upon his loss.
“GET AWAY FROM ME!” His grief exploded into rage. “Don’t touch me!” Blinded by his sudden fury, he barely noticed Seerka flying through the air away from him. His dad was dead at the hands of a Loremaster! He let his father’s body slide to the ground. It was just an empty shell now. But he wasn’t empty. A wrath like none he had ever known filled his soul. Even his skin felt like it was on fire.
He stood and faced the yard. The men and women there squinted against a glare that threw their shadows into sharp relief upon the walls. He didn’t know where the light was coming from, nor did he care. He scanned the faces until he found the one he was looking for: Reyga.
He pointed a finger at the Loremaster. “Bothan was right,” he grated. His voice sounded alien to him. “He told me not to trust you. He told me about the prophecy, and what it really meant.”
He looked at his dad’s body. The suddenness of his loss tore at him again. Then the rage returned. He glared at Reyga. “But I didn’t want to believe him. I wanted to see for myself. My dad didn’t believe him either, and now he’s dead. Killed by one of you!”
Reyga raised a hand. “Jason, please—”
“No!” Now it was Jason’s voice echoing from the stone. “I gave you a chance, and it cost me my father. I won’t make that mistake again.”
He reached inside his shirt and pulled out the summoning stone. He gripped it tightly and concentrated on Bothan as hard as he could. Almost immediately, a portal opened up beside him.
“Don’t try to find me,” he said coldly. “Don’t any of you try to find me. I promise you’ll be sorry if you do.”
Then he turned and stepped through the portal.
Reyga was stunned. So much had transpired within the last few minutes that even his disciplined mind was finding it difficult to know what to focus on first.
When Chon stabbed Bruce Bennett, Jason had reached his father with a speed only possible with dimsai. Then, when Seerka attempted to comfort Jason, the Ferrin was blasted into the air by a corona of power that erupted around the young man. Only Seerka’s feline reflexes saved him from injury when he hit the ground.
Reyga replayed the events in his mind. The question about what Reyga felt in Jason had been answered in dramatic fashion. In its place, new questions arose. Was Chon a traitor? Why did he kill Bruce Bennett? Where was Jason now, and how would he respond to his father’s murder, apparently at the hands of a Loremaster? Jason had said his ancestor was right. Another question answered that gave rise to even more. What were Bodann’s plans for Jason? What had he told Jason about the Circle? Was Chon in league with Bodann?
His thoughts turned to the Obsidian Loremaster. Certainly Reyga and Chon saw Teleria through different eyes, and had even had their share of tense moments during meetings of the Circle. But there had ever been an underlying current of mutual respect between them. For all of Chon’s blustering, he often made observations that caused the Circle to rethink its position. Reyga found it difficult to believe the man capable of what he had just witnessed. But, then again, events over the last sixday had Reyga questioning his own judgment on more than one matter.
He wiped a hand over his face. That was all for another time. For now, there were other matters to which they must attend. He knew one of the Warders would already be hurrying to notify the High One, so he focused on the one question that might lead to answers to several others. He turned to find Gatlor at his elbow.
“We must find Loremaster Chon,” Reyga said. “Have the Warders conduct a thorough search of the Haven. If he is not found, be prepared to alert all of our villages to notify us if he is seen, should the High One order it.”
Gatlor nodded. He started to turn away, then stopped. “Loremaster Reyga,” he said, “I know you thought well of Jason Bennett, but even were he not an enemy before, we must certainly consider him one now.”
Reyga stared at the body of his friend. “Aye,” he said at last. “Unless we can prove the Circle is not responsible for this atrocity, that would be the prudent position to take. At least for the time being.”
A Warder ran up to them. “Loremaster Reyga, the High One has summoned all Loremasters to an immediate meeting of the Circle.”
“Of course,” he said, “where we will discuss and debate yet more questions to which we do not have the answers.”
“Loremaster?” the Warder asked.
He shook his head. “Pay no heed,” he said. “Thank you for notifying me. I will go there at once.” He nodded to the Warder and Gatlor, and then headed for the Circle chambers.