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The quest for hope, p.5
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       The Quest for Hope, p.5

           A. S. King
 
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  After a couple of weeks in this manner, the day arrived when Aliatta went down for one last visit with the prisoner.

  “My tutor is returning, you see, and I am being required to return to my regular studies. I’m afraid I won’t have as much time to talk with you.”

  The prisoner nodded in understanding and the two grasped hands in a bond of trust and fellowship.

  Lady Aliatta turned to go and then paused, struck by a sudden thought. “What is your name?” she asked the prisoner.

  “My name, my lady, is Raziela. In some places, I am known simply as The Writer.”

  10

  The Tutor

  From a strictly physical perspective, the hallways of the castle were much nicer than the tunnels of the dungeon. Sunlight streamed in through each of the many windows, offering light, warmth, and a stunning view of the outside world. Colorful tapestries lined the walls in those sections where windows were absent. Yes, the halls of the main castle were infinitely preferable to the colorless, cold passageways of the dungeon caves—or should have been.

  To Aliatta, however, there was something now missing from the splendor of the palace. She felt inexplicably empty after having left the presence of the strange woman whom she now knew as Raziela. She had never enjoyed the sessions with her livid tutor, Torin Spring. He was a scrawny, sickly-looking, groveling tree-creature whose voice, when he lectured, could never seem to stretch beyond that of a monotone. Now, having experienced from a mere prisoner what real teaching was like, she was especially resentful of the fact that she must now receive such inferior instruction from such an inferior being.

  It was, then, with an enormous amount of annoyance that Aliatta sulkily stalked into the classroom to begin her necessary time of lecture from the wilty willow. I’m not even going to look at him, she determined as she slumped into her seat and threw her head down onto her arms. She expected a reprimand, or at the very least, his standard groveling greeting. When a minute ticked by without either, she began to grow curious. Another moment of silence brought her head reluctantly up.

  The Livid was watching her with a curious expression. His eyes, though the same muddy color, as usual, contained a brightness she had never seen.

  She returned his silent bright stare with a fierce glare.

  “Good afternoon, my lady,” greeted the tutor, completely unfazed by her disdain. His voice had lost its usual monotone. Instead, it rustled quickly and softly, as you might imagine a slight, gentle breeze would sound if it were to speak. It was also uncommonly cheerful and contained a small trace of amusement.

  The voice startled Aliatta even more than the eyes had. She took a closer look at her tutor. The size and coloring were those of Torin Spring, but there was definitely something different.

  “Allow me to introduce myself,” spoke the Livid, who looked so much like her regular tutor but apparently wasn’t. “My name is Teague Sunray. I’m Torin Spring’s cousin. My cousin decided to prolong his vacation and asked me to temporarily fill in for him. Ah, I see you are confused. That is certainly understandable. We look enough alike that it is not the first time people have confused me with him. Now, shall we begin your lesson?”

  Aliatta nodded dumbly, not quite sure how to respond to this change. This new tutor spoke in a quick staccato that was so very different than the slow drone of her former teacher. She wasn’t, at the moment, convinced this new voice would be any more of a pleasure to listen to than the last one.

  “Let’s see, what were you last studying with that cousin of mine?”

  The girl’s slow answer contrasted sharply with the rapid pace of her tutor’s speech. “Well … he was … umm … was talking about the kinds of plants from the forest where he lives.”

  “Oh, excellent. That may come in handy someday. What else?”

  “The useful attributes of each of the races and how they can best be put to work around the kingdom?”

  “Is that a statement about what you’ve been learning, my lady, or a question?”

  “A statement, I guess. There just seems to be something not quite fair about evaluating a group of people based wholly on how you can force them to use their strengths to benefit your own ends.”

  The tutor looked long and hard at her. There was a slight smile and a glimmer of approval in his eyes. His words, however, came as a challenge. “That is a rather astute and unusual opinion for a girl in your position to hold. As future Queen of Novus, don’t you want to know how to rule over your subjects?”

  “First of all, I don’t want to be Queen!” A fire had been added to Aliatta’s initial resentment of her required presence, though she was now at least interested in … whatever was happening. Her next words were equally fervent. “Secondly, it seems there has to be a better way of ruling than always forcing your subjects into doing things against their will!”

  Teague’s eyes were first thoughtful, then resolute. “I’m going to tell you a story, my lady—a story about these races. You see, they were all formed from the same seemingly insignificant substance: the dirt. The One who made them is able to transform what you and I might deem to be ordinary and unimportant into something very special. From this ordinary dirt, He formed the Yylecks, Zobeks, Noroks, Livids, Pronghorns, and finally, the Adamas. Into each creation, He breathed His breath of life. To each race, He selected kings and queens, dukes and duchesses who would be caretakers of those around them. Days He spent with each leader, teaching them a trade and instructing them with the beginnings of knowledge and wisdom.

  “The Yylecks, with their pointy ears keen of hearing, sharp noses with no sense of smell, small bodies, and lithe limbs, were shown how to discover precious metals hidden deep within the earth. They would be able to form these substances into items of use for each other and for the other races.

  “Zobeks and the Noroks, as you know, are large and strong of body. To them was given the skill of builders and craftsmen.

  “To the Livids, the wisest of the races was given the task of receiving and teaching Truth.

  “The Pronghorns, with their varying combination of human and animal characteristics, were entrusted with growing and tending to the crops.

  “The Adamas were given the responsibilities of ruling, managing, nurturing and being the representation of the One, who made them to the rest of His creation.

  “Each member of each race held within them the desire to do what they were created to do. If they served their Maker and each other, these deep, inner desires would be fulfilled—their life would hold meaning and purpose and nobody in the community would be lacking in anything. If, however, they chose to pursue their own ends and purposes—if they rejected the gifts they had been given—then they would always feel that something was missing. Society would fall apart, and the strong would prey upon the weak.”

  Aliatta was silent, not sure how to take this new information or what to do with it. Then she had a thought. “Tutor,” she said, ‘you forgot two of the races. What about the Skerps and Hellions?”

  “When a dark power began to exert his influence over the land, it emboldened some of the Yylecks to leave the path of their Maker. Their greed came to the forefront. They believed themselves to be obtaining the freedom to follow their own ends, but the reality is, in pursuing their greed, they put themselves in bondage to it and by extension, in bondage to the dark power. These creatures soon became known as Skerps.

  “As for the Hellions, the dark power had long been jealous of the Maker. His entire existence became focused on proving himself to be better and stronger than the One, who created him. In an attempt to copy the creative genius of the Maker, he brought forth another race: the Hellions. Their forms, far from being beautiful, were ugly and warped. They were made to serve the dark power and a deep-seated hatred for the Adamas was burned into their being. These creatures now act as henchmen to this darkness, loyal only to him, though otherwise, they seem to prefer keeping to themselves in the darkness.”

  The remainder of this
session, as well as many of those that followed, was spent learning more about each of the races: where they lived, what they needed to survive, what their preferences were, how to best communicate with them, and what they were capable of becoming.

  Aliatta ate up the information she learned each day, mulling over much of what her tutor said. During her precious moments of solitude, she would record as much as she could remember in her hidden journal.

  11

  Teague Sunray

  While Aliatta found her mind busy with information after each session, Teague Sunray was busy with other matters.

  At first, he simply wandered about the streets, becoming familiar with the city, continually communicating with the High King about where he should go. These walks were not exactly pleasurable for the Livid. It pained him to see Zobeks and Noroks working in the shops with an iron chain about their ankle. It hurt him to see the wealthier Adamas disdainfully pushing aside poorly-dressed Adamas as they walked or rode their horses along the roads. He didn’t want to see all that was happening around him, yet he knew he must keep his eyes open.

  Occasionally, something about a particular person would give him pause. Their eyes would meet, and a nod of understanding would pass between them. Teague would thereafter begin to observe more carefully these few people—how and where they lived, where they worked, what their habits were, what they had in their window, and especially, what they looked like in “Second Sight.”

  And so it was that one evening, about a fortnight after his arrival in Earlington, Teague Sunray stood before a small, insignificant wooden house which lay on the northern outskirts of the city. A pure white candle glowed welcomingly in the window. He could hear the low murmur of comfortable conversation, occasionally punctuated by the sounds of children’s voices. Taking a deep breath, Teague approached the door and knocked.

  There was instant silence. After a few minutes, the door slowly opened, and Teague was met by a tall Adama with thick gray hair. Both men stood in silence, each studying the other carefully.

  Finally, the older man spoke, his tone low and his words very deliberate. “May the King live forever,” he said.

  Teague nodded, never losing eye contact. “And His light never be extinguished.”

  The grey-haired man let out his breath and smiled. Opening the door wider, he welcomed the Livid into his home.

  Every day for the next week, as soon as the tutoring session was over, Teague made his usual rounds about the city and then ultimately found his way to this same home. He was very careful to keep a low profile around the castle. Since he looked so very much like Torin Spring and spoke to no one, almost everyone assumed that he was Torin. Teague opted not to inform them of their error and went about his business without interference.

  There were, however, a couple of people who seemed to suspect something.

  Teague sometimes caught Aliatta’s weapons trainer looking at him curiously. Teague would smile and try to spirit-speak to him. Everything is fine. Don’t worry, he said over and over again.

  Sir Raz, however, had lived alone for so long in the midst of a dark system that he was out of practice in hearing the subtle communications of the light. He would glare suspiciously at the Livid and then walk away with his blue cloak trailing behind.

  One bright, sunny day, as Sir Raz and Lady Aliatta were working through some basic fencing maneuvers, Sir Raz brought up the subject of the tutor.

  “There is something strange about him—something different. I don’t know if I quite trust that Livid, Aliatta.”

  Aliatta shot a puzzled glance at her trainer but otherwise kept her concentration on the exercise. Her response was made in a casual, matter-of-fact manner. “Teague Sunray? Why ever not? He is far more interesting than his cousin, Torin. He’s been teaching me all kinds of things about—”

  Sir Raz came to a sudden standstill and barely managed to avoid getting a rapier in the face. “You mean he’s not Torin? I knew something was off! Why keep it such a secret?”

  Aliatta rolled her eyes. “He hasn’t kept it a secret. He told me right away. En garde, Sir Raz. You’ve lost your focus and are about to lose your weapon as well.”

  They continued to duel, but Sir Raz’s mind was indeed no longer focused on the training session. Shortly after that, Aliatta succeeded in disarming him.

  As they cooled down and their session came to a close, a soft breeze blew in, drawing their attention to the open window. Sir Raz glanced out and caught a glimpse of the tutor gliding quickly through the streets.

  “I wonder where it is he goes …” he muttered softly.

  Aliatta caught the words, and her head tilted slightly in thought. Then her eyes brightened. “I’m going to find out,” she said with a mischievous smile. Before Sir Raz had a chance to reply, the girl was gone.

  Unbeknownst to Sir Raz and Aliatta, and unobserved by all others in the castle, two Erela had been listening in on the conversation.

  This all would have been so much easier had Sir Raz known how to communicate with our King’s servant, said one of them to the other.

  Don’t be too hard on the man. He has served long and hard in this dark place for the sake of the Master. He has done what he’s had to in order to survive, and although he doesn’t recognize it as such, he does hear from and respond to the High King to the extent he is able. The seed he has planted within Aliatta is a good one. We must now be about the task of protecting the girl.

  A cloud. We are to surround her with a cloud.

  The other Erela nodded, acknowledging the direction given by the High King.

  The next day, Aliatta pretended to leave the tutoring session in the same manner as she always did. This time, however, she hid behind one of the statues in the hall and watched as Teague Sunray left the room. She was more than a little disappointed when he went directly to his own chambers. Nonetheless, she refused to give up. Determined to wait him out, she sat down around the corner, expecting to be spotted at any moment and forced to return to her own daily routine. However, nobody bothered her. In fact, everyone walked right on by as though she didn’t even exist.

  After about an hour, her patience was rewarded. The door opened, and the Livid appeared. Looking about in all directions, the tutor made his way purposefully out of the castle. Aliatta immediately jumped up and followed him, her heart pounding in anticipation of an adventure.

  The streets were thick with people yelling, pushing, and clambering to and fro about their business. The sounds which had once been a meaningless, muted reminder of life outside the castle now slammed full force into the young, sheltered princess. As they neared the marketplace, the chaos of the city grew even worse. Teague moved with confidence in and out through the crowds while Aliatta wearily followed, doing her best not to get stepped on or jostled too much, frustrated that nobody was moving out her way. Truth be told, she was rather affronted that no one was taking any notice of her at all. Were they too dense to realize that the Lady Aliatta was walking about the streets, gracing it with her grand presence?

  As for Teague, he went about what had become his usual routine.

  At the booth of a fruit seller, he purchased some apples. Most of these he took to the booth of one who sold cloth, but some of the apples were given to small children who trailed about behind him. From the seller of fabric, he purchased several yards of fabric which he took to a tailor. From the tailor, he received tunics of various sizes. These he took to the baker. In exchange, the baker gave him a few loaves of fresh-baked bread. These he took to a small house where a little white candle glowed in the window. He knocked quietly, and the door opened. Cheerful hello’s poured forth into the street, and then the door closed.

  Aliatta stood hesitantly outside, uncertain as to how to proceed. After a few moments, the door opened again, and a woman stepped out. A smile lit her face as she spotted the girl behind some brush.

  “Come in, my child, come in. You must be tired after having walked so far.”

  To
o startled to do otherwise, Aliatta followed the woman into the house, alarmed and slightly ashamed that she had been caught spying.

  Once inside, Lady Aliatta looked around at the people who were seated on pillows in what appeared to be a combined dining and visiting area. In addition to the woman who had greeted her at the door, there was an older man whose age was only apparent from his gray hair, a younger couple, two young boys and a little girl. Standing beside them was a young man of average height and build with shaggy brown hair and brown eyes. Her Livid tutor was nowhere in sight.

  The young man stepped forward with a smile. “My lady,” he said, “I’d like you to meet some old friends of your parents—your real parents. This is Ian and Rosemary, their son Faran and his wife Kamila, and their children Giron, Henry, and Marnie.”

  “And who … who are you?” asked Aliatta hesitantly. The speaker’s voice was gentle and comforting, and he spoke as though he knew her, though she knew for certain they had never met.

  The man’s eyes widened in revelation, and he smiled apologetically as he answered. “I do apologize, my lady. I forgot I had already changed form. That does occasionally happen, the forgetting of which form I am. You know me as your new tutor, Teague Sunray. But in this, my natural form, I am called Levi.”

 
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