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A Chance Encounter (1)
A Vision (2)
On the Road (5)
The Sword of Fanuiloth (7)
The Apprenticeship Begins (9)
The Sword (11)
Lady Viola and Lady Diatha (13)
The Bantes (14)
First Blood (15)
The Dancing Troupe (16)
The Six Riders (17)
The Fnerxers (20)
The Torc (22)
The Dragon (24)
Cappor at Last (25)
The Stews of Cappor (26)
A Night on the Town (27)
Death in the Street (29)
Back North Again (30)
The Castle of Otran (31)
Lthon Lost (32)
The Elf Realms (33)
The Darkening Horizon (35)
Fluin Gathers his Forces (38)
Preparations for War (39)
The Battle of Woodend (40)
The Destruction of Waigath (41)
Volume 1 of The Tapestry of Life
Much has been written about the elves, and much of that is inaccurate. True things: they are longer-lived than men; they have few children (which is why they love ours so much); they are magical; they are sexually promiscuous (by our standards); they are related to the dragons, who are shape-shifters; they are impatient with petty human concerns; they are taller and finer-built than we are, though only by a little; they are on the whole beautiful, with grey eyes and chestnut hair. Falsehoods: they are dishonest and tricksy (no worse than we); they hate mankind (they pity us); they are nobler than we (maybe!); they desire our lands (only one who has never seen the elf-realms would believe such piffle); they do not help us in our troubles (Tut! Remember the Battle of Woodend!); they are better than we in bed (indeed!). You may have detected my bias—and I make no apologies. The saddest fact in all this is that this marvellous race is inexorably dwindling, and the world will be a lesser place when they are gone.
Katya ys Jorac—The Geography and Peoples of the Inner Sea
The countryside around was smiling and prosperous. The farms were more numerous but also smaller, and they met more people on the road—farmers going to market, herd boys and girls driving cattle and sheep to pasture. Neat fields surrounded by hedges of small trees and shrubs abounded, and the farmhouses, which huddled together to make frequent small villages, were tidy, clean and well kept. The land itself was becoming more hilly, and it was clear that they were beginning to move into the foothills of the Outen mountain range that ran up the isthmus past Cappor into the northern lands. The style of the buildings changed, with many of the farmhouses having large ornamented beams over the front door and on the sides of the roof, and many houses had representations of the Weavers carved into the beams that formed the frames of the building. Mud-brick was still the main material of construction, in a timber frame, but the mud was rendered and painted white, and there were often window boxes or small troughs next to the doors planted with bright, sweet-smelling flowers. Fluin loved it—everything was so neat and beautiful. Looking at these new things helped take his mind off what awaited him in Cappor.
Their two guards changed from time to time, and they had clearly been given instructions not to fraternise with Steppan and Fluin, because they responded with grunts or outright hostility to attempts at conversation. So the two friends talked quietly between themselves, until the guards told them not to.
“Even condemned prisoners are permitted to talk,” said Steppan mildly, and continued as if they hadn’t spoken.
“Tell me about the elf-realms,” Fluin asked Steppan. “Lthon said that they were on the other side of that volcano,” and he pointed with his chin at the ever growing bulk of the mountain ahead of them.
“A beautiful land, clement and rich,” said Steppan dreamily. “The elves do much what we do, farming, trades and the like, but they are exceptionally fussy about doing things well and with style. Even the humblest dwelling has flower-boxes and pretty creepers around the doors and windows. Elf clothing is brighter and shinier than what we wear. I always feel underdressed when I go back, and yet their clothing is not garish or tasteless. Rather the opposite, in fact. They worship the Great Spirit directly, not through the Weavers as we do here, and in many places in the realms, magic seems to seep from the very ground itself. The most holy and magic places in the world are there. It’s hard to explain the feeling that you get when you come to one of these places. You can feel your skin prickling and your mind peaceful and yet filled with the joys of life, and the inevitability of death, which somehow, when you are there, doesn’t seem frightening at all. Perhaps it’s because these places are also gateways to the spirit world. They are not for a casual sightseer, but for those searching for truth, there are places where you can enter.”
“Have you been to the spirit world?’ Fluin was fascinated.
Steppan nodded, silently.
“Tell me about it,” he urged, “you never tell me anything.”
Steppan raised his eyebrows at this, but spoke, nonetheless. “After my father .... died, I went to the priests at the temple of the holiest place, and spoke to the oracle there.”
Steppan thought back to that warm summer evening. He had dressed in the robes of a supplicant, and had brought the ritual gifts. At the portico surrounding the temple, he had waited patiently, for nearly an hour before he was summoned by a priest into the inner sanctum. The priest looked at him intently, and spoke in the singsong ancient Elvish used in the worship of the Great Spirit.
“Thou wilt not find the answer thou seekest here,” intoned the priest. “The answer thou receivest will be to a question thou didst not ask. Dost thou yet wish to continue with the audience?”
Steppan nodded, “Yes, reverend father.”
Once more, the priest looked at him intently, and then sighed. “So be it,” he said.
He had led Steppan into the centre of the vast temple, into a giant door flanked by smoothly curving pillars, through which Steppan could feel magic power flowing. The door led to steps going down, and Steppan descended them. The priest vanished. Every few steps, the power augmented, and he began to feel light-headed, queasy and headachy. He came to a room at the bottom of the stairs.
There, waiting for him was his father, sitting with his back to the door, in a chair just like the ones they had at home.
“I killed thee, papa,” he said, his breath tight in his throat. “I’m sorry” He was weeping, now, the guilt poisoning his soul.
“Thou didst, my son. Wouldst thou that I forgive thee?”
“Father, forgive me, I beg thee. I love thee.”
There was a long silence, then his father slowly fell to the floor, and as he fell, his head separated from his body as it had before, and the black blood began to spurt. Steppan watched helplessly, as the blood flowed. In a moment, there was a pool on the floor, and he gazed in horror as the pool grew and rose until it was lapping round his ankles. He couldn’t move or speak. Then the blood began to turn clear, like the purest of mountain streams, and in the stream he saw a picture, of himself in the robes of high office, and then of two figures trekking across a snowy slope, and then a face which he knew but could not place. A voice began to intone inside his head, the ictus in each word coinciding with each beat of his heart, which had slowed down almost to the death stasis. “Bringer of death. Bearer of peace. Lover and Friend. Betrayer.”
These words had made no sense to him at the time, and they still remained mysterious. But at this moment, as he thought back to that spirit encounter, he recognised the face he had seen in the blood mirror. It was Fluin’s. And he remembered that he had felt that Fluin’s face was familiar the first time he saw him.
At the time, he had wept, at the guilt, at the denied absolution, at the renewed horror of the severed head. He had turned and moved, sleep-walking up the stairs, stumbling across the great floor of the temple, and staggering outside, where the evening warmth, the silver sprinkling of stars in the violet sky, the scent of moonflowers and food cooking, and magic and sweat, were just as he had left them.
As he explained all this to Fluin, he felt again the rightness of what was happening. Like Fluin, he resigned himself to the end determined for him by the Weavers. He remembered everything at the temple as if it had been yesterday. But now, there was comfort in the knowledge that years ago, when Fluin was still a little boy, the oracle had shown him his face, this face. He had not known what the oracle had revealed to him, or why, but he now knew as certainly as he knew himself, that the other words of the oracle would in time to be revealed. It suddenly struck him that they might apply to Fluin, not to him. He did not know. Whomever it applied to, he hoped that the significance of the last word would be revealed before it was too late.
Fluin was overwhelmed by the story that Steppan had haltingly related to him. Steppan did not even conceal the vision of Fluin in the blood-mirror. He felt that as it had with him, it would give him a measure of comfort, that the Gods knew exactly what they were about. As for understanding the words? There would be time enough for that later.
“Bearer of peace, not bringer of peace. But bringer of death. What did it mean?” queried Fluin. He half expected Steppan not to answer, deflecting questions as he had often done before.
But Steppan felt that in their predicament reticence was pointless. “I always assumed that bringer of death referred somehow to the death of my father. Do you recollect my dream in the chapel in the forest, where my father said that his death was still unavenged? I think the two are related.”
“Why do you blame yourself for the death of your father? How can you be to blame?”
“I—it’s a long story. ” He began again, “I was one of the chief wizards of Queen Aliya. I was still relatively inexperienced. Not everyone advances as rapidly as you! There was a skirmish between Empire and Roidan troops where for the first time since the time of Fanuiloth, they used necromancy openly. I utilized my powers to attack the necromancer. But for some reason,” which Steppan knew but would not, could not yet reveal to Fluin, “the attack he made on me was diverted, and it caught my father unawares and killed him, because our minds were linked. He is still unavenged, because that dark evil magicker is still alive. One day, I will kill him, and cast his body into the fires, and his soul into eternal torment.” His fierce loathing of his enemy and his shame at his own failure filled Fluin with pity and compassion and anger, and he reached out his hand and put it on Steppan’s arm.
“Whatever you need from me, and whenever you need it, I will be there, moi brath,” he said, and then, embarrassed by his emotion, coloured and looked away.
Steppan was deeply moved. “Thank you,” he said huskily. He knew that one day Fluin’s power would be much, much greater than his own, and with him at his side, they would together destroy his enemy and avenge his father’s death, while also ridding creation of a perverted evil that had already darkened the world too long. He felt that his meeting with Fluin at that sordid inn was ordained and right, and that his small act of courage and kindness was bringing and would bring to him huge rewards. He had found a true friend, who complemented him in every way.
As the sun set, they rode into yet another small settlement. Grigor came up to them, and advised that they would be sharing their room with two guards, to prevent escape. “We have given you our word,” said Steppan with quiet contempt. He knew who Grigor was, now, and there was an anger burning in him, an anger at how Fluin had suffered at this man’s hand. Grigor had the grace to look away, ashamed, but he did not back down.
“Thank Weavers, no more clandestine trips to the privy,” said Fluin with a grin.
“Yes,” sighed Steppan, “I am looking forward to civilization. That’s if we do not languish in some filthy jail, before coming to a sticky and painful end.” They smiled at each other in perfect understanding.
Fluin spoke. “One question—yes, I know I’ve asked loads. It really is the last, for today! Why don’t you want us to use magic?”
“I am afraid of attracting the attention of the dark wizards in Roidan, and actually, anywhere. Nefta and I are frightened that you will be a target for these perverts, because of your innate power.” And your innocence, he added to himself. “The trouble is that your actual power isn’t great enough to repel an attack. But each exercise we do, each day that goes by, your abilities increase. One day, you will take them on and beat them.”
“Will I be as powerful as you and Nef?”
“Much, much more powerful, moi dligo car. Even if you do not end up as king, you will be the most powerful person in Cappor. Scared, yet?”
Fluin just grinned at him. Steppan was friend and brother and lover all rolled up into one. He felt happy, despite the fix they were in.
That night, as they lay in bed together, Fluin clung to Steppan like a long-lost brother, and Steppan was glad of it. He could feel the tickle of Flu’s breath on his shoulder, and the soft thud of his heart, as if they were twins in the womb together. The blood-bond lay coiled between them like a safety rope, secure and comforting. As they approached an unknown fate at the hands of the king, they drew what comfort they could from each other. The presence of their guards, sleeping on the floor, did not concern them one jot.
2013 Nick Thiwerspoon. All rights reserved.