[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.]
Knocking on Doors
Tal sat in his chambers, staring blindly at the candle on the table. He had not gone down for Firstmeal this morning. The conversation with Jason Bennett the night before filled his mind, pushing thoughts of food aside.
Jason had told them about his dreams. He also said there were still some things that he could not yet reveal. It boggled Tal’s mind that so much had taken place in the time Jason had been in the sphere with her. The power of the Altered was even more impressive than he could have imagined.
With Regor aiding Bodann, and with the forces Bodann had somehow managed to assemble, their only hope was deception and misinformation. Unless they could pare down Bodann’s army, he could not see any way for them to prevail. But even faced with almost certain defeat, he would fight until his last breath. He knew that every man and woman in Lore’s Haven felt the same way.
He looked up at a knock on the door, and tried to blink away the afterimage of the flame dancing in his vision. He gestured and the door swung open.
“Come in,” he said.
Gatlor stalked into the room, a scowl darkening his face.
“Captain Gatlor, is there a problem?”
“Arynn has been destroyed.”
His heart sank. Although he was afraid he knew what the answer would be, he had to ask. “Were there any survivors?” He braced himself for the answer he knew was coming.
“There was one. The village elder.”
A survivor? This was unexpected. “Where is he? Is he able to speak?”
Gatlor nodded. “He is unharmed. He waits in the corridor.”
“Unharmed?” He wondered at that. “Bring him in.”
Gatlor stepped to the door and motioned. A white-haired man limped into the room, aided by one of the Warders. Once the man was seated, the Warder bowed and left.
“High One,” Gatlor said, “this is Thoris, Arynn’s village elder.”
As Thoris struggled to stand, Tal came around the table and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Please,” he said, “remain seated. You have been through a terrible ordeal.”
He moved back around the table and sat down, studying the old man. Thoris’ weathered hands trembled as they rested in his lap, and deep wrinkles carved his face. The haunted look in his eyes told Tal much about what had happened at Arynn. He regretted having to make Thoris relive what he had endured, but they needed anything that might give them any hope of victory.
“I am truly sorry to have to ask this,” Tal said, “but I need to know what happened.”
Thoris closed his eyes and nodded. “I know, High One, and I will tell you. If I may have but a moment.”
“Of course. When you are ready.”
Thoris sat for a moment with his eyes closed, and then took a deep breath as he opened them. His voice shook as he spoke.
“A man came into our village. He said he was looking for the village elder. When I introduced myself, he sent a blast of dimsai into sky and grabbed my arm.” He looked at Tal, the pain clear in his eyes. “He made me watch as all manner of foul creatures killed the people of my village. When everyone was dead except me, they burned everything to the ground.” A tear traced its way down his furrowed cheek. “It is not right that I should live while everyone I knew was killed.”
“I am sorry,” Tal said. “I know this is difficult. I only have a few questions.” Thoris took a shaky breath and nodded. Tal went on. “What did the man look like?” he asked. He was sure he knew who it was, but it was best to be certain.
Thoris wiped his face. “He was a big man, with dark red hair,” he answered. “His eyes were as green and hard as emeralds.”
Tal nodded to himself. That was almost certainly Bodann. “Did he say why you were spared?”
“I am to deliver a message,” Thoris said. “The man said to tell you, High One, that your deceptions will no longer work. He said that unless the Haven army meets his army at Landscar one sixday from today, they will destroy village after village until there are none left.”
The murmur of subdued conversations hung in the air like dusty cobwebs as Reyga entered the chambers. He looked around at the others in the room. In addition to the Circle, Captain Gatlor and Jason were also present. An old man Reyga did not recognize was there as well, staring at the floor in front of his chair. Reyga saw Lenai enter the room and move to take a seat beside Gatlor and Jason. Reyga smiled as he saw the smile she gave Jason. Yet another debt he owed the young man, but one he was most happy to accept.
He looked over to one side at another young man who would soon be named the Obsidian Loremaster. Borin fidgeted as he stared at the chair that, up until a few days ago, had been filled by his predecessor, Loremaster Chon. Reyga walked over to him.
“Greetings, Borin. Welcome to the Circle chamber.”
Borin jumped a little at Reyga’s voice. “Oh, Loremaster Reyga,” he said, bowing hastily. “Thank you. It is somewhat overwhelming. While I knew I would be here one day, I did not expect that day to come so quickly.”
“None of us did,” Reyga said. “You join the Circle during trying times and under most difficult circumstances. It cannot be easy for you.”
Borin lowered his voice. “Loremaster Reyga, what if the Circle elects not to confirm me? To choose someone else for this position?”
Reyga shook his head. “Highly unlikely,” he answered. “The Loremasters select their own successors. Unless there are very compelling reasons, the Circle abides by those decisions. It is only our present situation that has prevented us from confirming you already.”
Borin let out a shaky breath. “I am not certain I am ready for this.”
“I am afraid you have little choice.” Reyga put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Just remember what you have learned from Loremaster Chon and you will do well.”
“Thank you, Loremaster Reyga. I will do that.”
The High One stepped up to the podium. With a last squeeze of Borin’s shoulder, Reyga moved to his chair.
“Greetings, Loremasters,” the High One began. “I will dispense with the formalities and come straight to the point of this meeting. It would appear that Bodann has discovered our ruse. Arynn has been destroyed.”
Reyga closed his eyes. More innocent lives lost. He could hear the other Loremasters murmuring as they absorbed the news. He opened his eyes as the High One continued.
The High One indicated the old man. “This is Thoris. He was the elder of Arynn, and is the only survivor. Bodann spared him so that he could deliver a message to us.” He gripped the sides of the podium. “Unless we meet Bodann’s army at Landscar a sixday from today, he will continue his attacks on our villages until they have all been destroyed.”
A stunned silence filled the room. All of the Loremasters knew the size of Bodann’s army. Most had seen firsthand during the ambush at the edge of Faedor Woods. Reyga knew what their chances of success were against such a massive force.
Gatlor stood. “High One, I will say what everyone in this room is thinking. We cannot win against the army that Bodann has amassed. Not without more forces of our own.”
“Nevertheless, Captain, we must try,” the High One answered. “If we do not meet him, thousands of innocent lives will be lost, while we sit within the safety of Lore’s Haven. That is unacceptable.”
“Then we need no longer keep up the pretense with the spies within our walls. I suggest we capture them and find out what they know.”
“Agreed,” the High One said. “Lenai, can you tell us where they are now?”
Lenai stood. “I will try, High One.” Reyga watched her eyes take on a faraway look as she sent her senses ranging for Bodann’s spies. After a moment, she shook her head. “I am sorry, High One, but they are no longer within Lore’s Haven. I do not sense them anywhere.”
“Of course. Once Bodann knew we had discovered them, there would be no need for them to remain.”
Delani stood. “Can we not ask for more aid from the Dokal or the Ferrin? Or perhaps the Yellowtooth, or the Shanthi?”
The High One turned to Lenai. “Would your people be willing to aid us, do you think?”
“High One, as you know, my people prefer to remain neutral in such matters, and they have little love for humans,” Lenai answered.
Reyga stood as an idea popped into his head. “And yet we know there are Shanthi aiding Bodann.”
Lenai turned to him. “That is true, Loremaster Reyga. However, it is almost certain that those aiding Bodann are rishna kel.” She spat the words as if trying to get a bad taste out of her mouth.
He had expected her answer, and had an answer ready. “And as it is primarily the fault of the rishna kel that the Shanthi are a mistrusted people, would not that very fact help to sway at least some of them to aid us?”
Lenai considered his words. Then she nodded slowly. “Perhaps,” she said. She looked at Jason. “If Jason were to accompany me, and I told them of what he did for me, that may help persuade them as well.”
Jason looked surprised, but didn’t say anything. The High One looked at him. “Jason, would you be willing to go with Lenai to ask her people for aid?”
Jason looked around at the Loremasters watching him. “Yeah, I guess. If you really think it would help.”
“I would like to join them as well, High One, if it is allowed,” Reyga said.
The High One looked at Lenai. “Would that be acceptable, Lenai?”
“Loremaster Reyga is ch’tasa to me. I would welcome his company.”
“Then it is decided,” the High One said. “You will leave at first light. We will also send an emissary to the Yellowtooth, in the hopes of enlisting their aid as well.”
Jarril stood. “High One, while I hope otherwise, the Yellowtooth may decline simply because they know my people are aiding you. The Ferrin and the Yellowtooth, while never coming to open hostilities, have never been on amicable terms.”
“I understand,” the High One said, “but we must make the attempt. We have a sixday to find as much aid as possible, or Teleria may fall under the control of Bodann and Regor.” He turned to the Loremasters. “Whether our requests for aid are granted or not, we must use our time to prepare. The next time we face Bodann, the fate of Teleria will hang in the balance.”
Jason, Lenai, and Reyga stood in the middle of a small clearing in Ambrewood Forest. They had used a portal that morning to travel to the village of Brynden, where Reyga found horses for them.
The man they got the horses from had trained at Lore’s Haven with the Amethyst Order. When Reyga told him where they were going, he told Reyga to simply let the horses go once they arrived. His link with the animals would guide them back safely.
Their ride took them across the Shonta River. Once they crossed the narrow bridge, Lenai pulled her horse to a stop.
“Welcome to the land of my people,” she said. “Loremaster Reyga, I must tell you that the Circle holds no sway among the Shanthi. There is no danger here, but you should know that we will be watched for the remainder of our journey. When we arrive, do not speak until I tell you. There will be some that will be displeased that I bring outsiders among them, and will not welcome the sound of your voices.”
When they nodded, she turned back to the path and they continued on. As he swayed along the trail, Jason thought about using his special vision to see how many Shanthi were around, but then decided he wasn’t sure if he really wanted to know. When they reached the clearing, they dismounted and turned the horses back toward Brynden.
Now they stood in the clearing, the horses gone, almost certainly surrounded by who knew how many invisible Shanthi. Although Lenai had assured them they would be safe, he couldn’t help but feel a nervous fluttering in the pit of his stomach.
She took a couple of steps away from them and said something in her native tongue. Jason looked around, but didn’t see or hear any response. She spoke again, a little more forcefully. For several uncomfortable moments, there was still no reply. Then a disembodied voice answered her, speaking Shanthi. She said something else, and again the voice answered.
Jason leaned toward Reyga and whispered, “Can you understand—”
“Silence, human!” a voice ordered, right at Jason’s shoulder.
Lenai spun around. “Bena sin rish!” she snapped. She turned back to the clearing. “Is this the honor of the Shanthi? These humans come willingly among you, unarmed and accompanied by one of your own, and this is the welcome you give?”
Without warning, a man appeared in front of Lenai. He was several inches taller than her, lean and muscled. Occasional strands of grey streaked his ebony hair. He wore a simple headdress and an unmistakable aura of authority. As soon as he appeared, Lenai crossed her spread fingers in front of her face and bowed. When she straightened, he fixed her with a stern gaze.
“They are outsiders, Lenai. Surely you did not expect us to welcome them as our own?” He looked at Reyga’s staff. “They may be unarmed, but this one is a Loremaster. He needs no weapon.”
Lenai put herself between the man and Reyga. “Yes, he is a Loremaster. That in itself should be enough to convince you of his honor. However, if that will not suffice,” she raised her chin, “he is also ch’tasa.”
The man glanced at Lenai, and then appeared to reappraise Reyga. “This is the one?”
“Yes. This is Loremaster Reyga, the one I told you about.” She turned to Reyga. “Loremaster Reyga, this is Baruun, the leader of my people.”
Reyga bowed. “It is a privilege to meet you, Baruun. The honor of the Shanthi is well known among those who value truth.”
Baruun inclined his head. “Well spoken, Loremaster Reyga. Be welcome among the Shanthi. What you did for Lenai is known to me, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to offer you my thanks after so many years.”
“What of this one?” the voice by Jason demanded. A muscular man appeared, gripping a spear pointed at Jason’s stomach, which he instinctively sucked in. “He is not a Loremaster. What speaks to his honor?”
“I do,” Lenai countered.
“And what if you are deceived?” the man snapped.
“Then Sho tu Ishta is a lie.”
“Sho…” the spear tip wavered as the man looked uncertainly at Baruun.
Jason heard whispering around the clearing, and here and there he caught brief glimpses of Shanthi as their concealment wavered. Lenai had apparently taken them by surprise with her statement.
“Lenai,” Baruun said, “you shared Sho tu Ishta with an outsider?”
She dropped her gaze. “Much has happened since last we spoke,” she said. She looked back up at him. “If I may be allowed to show you, I believe you will understand.”
After a moment, he nodded. “Very well.” The man beside Jason took a stance a few steps away as Baruun raised his hands so that his palms faced Lenai. Then, as had happened with Lenai during the ritual, he stretched out his hands, elongating the fingers. Lenai spread her hands and placed them palm to palm against Baruun’s. Then the two of them bowed their heads, eyes closed.
Jason didn’t know how long they sat there. No one moved. Not Lenai or Baruun, not Reyga, not the man with the spear. After what seemed an eternity, Lenai and Baruun opened their eyes and lowered their hands. Baruun wore an expression of confused wonder.
“Ch’nai?” he said quietly.
Lenai ducked her head, and then nodded, staring at her feet.
“And this human? Bodann?”
She looked back up at him, eyes burning. “He used me to hurt those I am sworn to protect.”
Baruun hesitated a moment. “Does he know?”
She flashed a glance at Jason, then looked back at the ground at Baruun’s feet and shook her head.
Jason wondered why Bothan wouldn’t know he’d used Lenai. Or were they talking about something else? The way she’d looked at him. Was there something about Bothan that he didn’t know? He would have to ask her about it sometime. Before he could give it any more thought, Baruun walked over to him.
Baruun bowed his head. “Jason Bennett, I have seen what you did for Lenai. I extend my thanks to you as well. While Loremaster Reyga protected her from bodily harm, you restored her soul. Ask a boon of me, and if it is within my power, I will gladly grant it.”
Jason looked at Reyga, unsure how to respond. Before Reyga could say anything, Baruun went on.
“However, before we discuss such things…” He turned to the clearing. “Shani ko rin!” Suddenly, they were surrounded by dozens of Shanthi, as the hidden watchers ended their concealment. “Hear me,” he said. “These men are welcome here. Prepare a feast, for tonight we will show them the hospitality of the Shanthi.”
Around the clearing, the Shanthi bowed to the three visitors, crossing their fingers in front of their faces as they did. Then they scattered in various directions.
Baruun turned back to the three. “Be welcome in our telosh. Please, come to my home, where you may rest before the feast.”
Jason looked at Reyga. Reyga bowed to Baruun once more. “You honor us beyond words, Baruun. In truth, the hospitality of the Shanthi would gladden any heart. However, we come on a mission of some urgency, and would speak with you of our need.”
“I understand. Speak, and I will hear you.”
Quickly, Reyga told Baruun of the recent events. Baruun’s face darkened as he heard of the Shanthi spies in Lore’s Haven. Reyga finished by summing up the situation with the Haven forces and Bothan’s ultimatum.
“So you see, Baruun, we have come seeking your aid. In less than a sixday, we must face an army it would appear we have little hope of defeating. Emissaries have been sent out in the hopes of garnering more forces. We have come to you. I believe Jason would agree that, if he could ask one boon of you, it would be that you and your people would stand with us against Bodann.” Jason nodded as Reyga finished.
Baruun looked at them for a long moment without answering. Then he shook his head. “What you ask, I am unable to grant. As the leader of my people, I could order this, but I will not.” He looked at Reyga. “Loremaster Reyga, you, perhaps more than any other outsider, should understand this.”
“I do,” Reyga sighed. “But I must confess, I had hoped for a different answer.”
“I know,” Baruun said, “and I wish I could give you the answer you seek. But the mistrust among my people towards humans runs deep. As their leader, I must respect those feelings.” He looked back and forth from Jason to Reyga. “I will pass your words along to my people. I will also tell them of what you both have done for Lenai. Perhaps some will feel that such deeds are worthy of their aid,” he placed his hands on Jason’s and Reyga’s shoulders, “as I do. Whether my people choose to aid you or no, I will be there. But you must stay for the feast tonight. After that, you may return, or you may stay with us for the night and return in the morning.”
“Baruun,” Reyga said, “you honor us greatly, but we—”
“Loremaster Reyga,” Baruun interrupted with a twinkle in his eye, “surely you would not have my people believe you refused their hospitality?”
Reyga hesitated. “Ah…what I meant to say, Baruun,” he said at length, “was that we might lose ourselves in such hospitality and forget our reason for coming.”
Baruun grinned. “Well said. You have my word. We will see that you do not forget your purpose.”
Jason stared at the forest from his window at Lore’s Haven. It had been three days since the visit to Lenai’s telosh and they still hadn’t seen or heard any sign of the Shanthi. A contingent of Yellowtooth, the race that Jason had originally thought of as werewolves in the marketplace in Drey’s Glenn, had arrived two days ago. They agreed to join the Haven forces only with the assurance that they would not be taking orders from any Ferrin. More human, Dokal, and Ferrin fighters had arrived as well, but even with the additional forces, they were still badly outnumbered.
The amphibious F’aar sent word that, since the battle would be in the arid Scorched Plains, they would be unable to take part. Instead, they sent loads of materials for weapons and armor, as well as food for provisions.
The disparity between the two armies wasn’t all that had Jason worried. The battle was tomorrow, and he still didn’t know how to use his power. He didn’t see how he could be so important if he couldn’t do anything. He hadn’t had any more memories, and Nyala and Crin had both been conspicuously silent over the last few days. Had revealing what he had to the Circle made them angry with him? Or had it changed things some other way? He hoped he hadn’t gotten Nyala in trouble with the other Altered.
When they’d returned to the keep the day after the feast, the war preparations were in full swing. Between sessions of the Circle, Lenai showed him what the saiken were doing to make sure the Haven forces had the arms and supplies they would need.
“The Orders work together making weapons and armor, and laying up any supplies the Circle thinks we might need,” she’d said.
As they walked the plateau behind the keep, he saw groups of saiken handling various tasks, with the Rodinn scurrying back and forth on numerous errands. Chipmunks serving as gophers, he couldn’t help but think with a touch of amusement. He used his vision so he would know what Orders he was seeing. In one group, saiken from the Emerald Order used their power to accelerate the growth of plants, while Amber students guided the growth into perfectly straight stalks.
“Here they are making shafts for arrows,” Lenai told him. “In other parts of Teleria, members of the Ruby Order use their abilities to find the metal ore needed for the Obsidian craftsmen to create weapons and armor. Emerald students will also grow crops when necessary, with members of Topaz ensuring the fields receive adequate rainfall. Amethyst students train hawks for surveillance, horses and charnoths for battle, and also create any leather goods that may be needed.”
As Jason went over the things he’d seen, a knock on his door interrupted his thoughts. When he opened the door, he saw Lenai standing outside.
“Would you like to see more of our preparations before this morning’s meeting?” she asked.
“Sure,” he said. “What will we see today?”
“I thought you might be interested in watching the Obsidian Order crafting the armor and weapons. Then, after the meeting…” She stopped, her face taking on a distant expression. Then her eyes widened.
“Come!” She grabbed his arm and pulled him into the corridor.
“Where are we going?” he asked, trying to keep up with her insistent grip.
“Baruun has arrived,” she said. She wouldn’t tell him anything else in spite of his persistent questioning. After numerous turns and a couple of staircases, Lenai opened a door and they walked out onto the wall of the keep. The sudden openness and height gave him a moment of vertigo until his senses adjusted.
A short distance out on the wall, Jason saw Baruun. The Shanthi leader turned as they approached.
“Ah, Jason Bennett, good. I was hoping Lenai would sense my presence and bring you. I have requested that Loremaster Reyga and your High One join us as well. Come.” He turned and began walking along the wall toward the front of the keep.
As they neared the front gate, Jason saw Reyga and Tal coming from the other direction. When they met, Reyga bowed. “Baruun, it is good to see you again. May I present Tal Vardyn, Pearl Loremaster and High One of the Circle of Nine.” He turned to the High One. “High One, I give you Baruun, the leader of the Shanthi.”
Baruun inclined his head. “If Loremaster Reyga is any example of your influence, High One, then it is an honor to meet you.”
Tal bowed in return. “The honor is mine, Baruun. You are most gracious. Be welcome in Lore’s Haven, where all who seek truth, knowledge, and wisdom are welcome.”
“Thank you, High One. In truth, at times it can be difficult to be a Shanthi. At other times, such as now, I cannot conceive of being anything else.” He looked at Reyga, and then at Jason. “Loremaster Reyga, Jason Bennett, for what you have done for Lenai, we are in your debt.” He waved his arm toward the road leading to the front gate. “Behold how the Shanthi repay.” He turned to the road and shouted, “Shani ko rin!”
The gate Warders jumped back in surprise as wave after wave of armed Shanthi warriors suddenly appeared on the road. The column extended down the road as more and more warriors became visible. Jason watched, slack-jawed, as the ranks of Shanthi grew until it disappeared around a bend in the path. He heard Reyga and Tal gasp in surprise. He looked at Lenai. Her eyes were shining as she watched the warriors appear.
Baruun turned back to them with a triumphant smile. “High One, Loremaster Reyga, Jason Bennett, behold the deadliest warriors in all of Teleria. We are at your service.”