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       Jadde – The Fragile Sanctuary, p.1

           Clive Ousley
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Jadde – The Fragile Sanctuary


  JADDE

  Book One: The Fragile Sanctuary

  BY

  CLIVE OUSLEY

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental

  COPYRIGHT © 2011 by Clive Ousley

  Kindle Edition.

  All rights reserved.

  This book is sold subject to the condition that no part of it may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, microfilm, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, or used in another book, without written permission from the author.

  Cover design and artwork by Clive Ousley

  Also by Clive Ousley

  Out Side

  (Released end of January 2017)

  Execution Grove

  (Released end of January 2017)

  Fountain of Stones

  The Jadde Series

  Book 2

  The Dark Tide

  Book 3

  World of Skulls

  The Interstellar Reincarnation Universe

  The 13 Reincarnations of Luke Arthur

  Ring of Souls

  HISTORY

  AD 2014 – The first genetically modified quarter-man illegally created

  2019 – First secret colony of quarter-men is formed

  2021 – The New York Times exposes the creation of unregulated

  human mutants

  2032 – First quarter-man colonies lawfully permitted

  2039 – The first quarter-man war.

  2046 – The human race fights for survival

  3142 – Malkrin Owlear is tried for crimes against the Seconchane

  CHAPTER ONE

  From three arrow shots away Malkrin Owlear heard and saw each rain drop hit his fellow hunter Guy Beartooth. They hit Beartooth’s matted hair, beard and bear-fur cape with a roar and streamed from him like a waterfall as he ran. For a moment Malkrin stopped running and continued filtering the individual patters from the downpour merely for the pleasure of exercising one of his unique talents.

  That’s where we’re different Beartooth, he thought, and expanded his gift to encompass the sounds of his other hunters. He knew precisely where they were. How fast they were running, whether they were about to whistle a bird-call warning or even whether one scratched the lice in his hair as he ran.

  Malkrin scanned the scrub and tree shrouded valley and again glanced at Beartooth and stopped himself from muttering aloud, this I can do – and you can’t. I have our tribe’s rarest talent, and I have the wife that you desire.

  A twig cracked like an arrow striking a tree. Malkrin mentally tore to the culprit; it was Halle Fisheye six arrow flights away. Malkrin forgave him; it was rare for his friend to make any noise whilst tracking prey. He smiled as rain dripped from his chin, you can’t do what I can Halle – I have the gift.

  Malkrin relished his position in his tribe; The Seconchane. He was head of the hunt and champion of the people because he possessed this rare talent. He could detect the sound of prey far beyond human earshot, monitor people’s intentions, and secretly devise temporary talents to serve his requirements. Called a highsense gift, the priests of the Seconchane had announced his prized but rare ability ten summers ago. Malkrin’s status had instantly risen and had yet to diminish.

  But he possessed a disturbing secret, one that could see him outcast from his people. He knew that his gifts were becoming unreliable. And to the rulers of the Seconchane this was a crime.

  The Brenna, he spat the name in his head, they were the rulers of his people. Losing a highsense talent was decreed a crime far worse than murder by the Brenna. They ruled the people with a sharp bronze fist from the comfort of their stone and timber framed fortresses higher up the mountain pass. How could the village-folk, the priests and the Brenna be fed if he lost his highsense abilities and they had to rely merely on normal hunting skills? Responsibility suddenly hung heavily on him as he compared the game tallies of the other hunting parties to his own. They had no highsense talents and it showed. That was why he had been allowed to partner his beautiful Cabryce. It was also why he had been given a warm cottage with proper windows, ample luxuries and the approval of the Brenna.

  He even had a forged iron sword presented to him. It was too cumbersome to take on a hunt; he’d named it Palerin and kept it carefully wrapped in cloth on a shelf at home. Normally the Brenna kept all the ancients’ most useful artefacts to themselves. The sharp steel knives, the sparking tinder boxes, super hard grindstones and brass telescopes. Palerin was a great gift and a sign of increased privilege but a reminder of his responsibilities.

  If his highsense failed him, the ordinary folk of Edentown would have to exist on fruit and cornbread whilst the Brenna would ensure they took the bulk of the meat and the priesthood would take the rest. This high in the great mountain lands of Cyprusnia the fruit was small and sharp tasting and the corn and maize grass in the pastures often grew stunted and sparse in the short summer. All this the Brenna knew, and many lifetimes ago had developed a strict penalty of banishment for lost highsense – a punishment designed to bully the holder of the gift to practise keeping it and hopefully to increase its power.

  Malkrin’s highsense suddenly detected a wild pig, and then a leaping white tailed deer frantically trying to evade both the pig and the hunt. His musing faded with the sudden rush of anticipation.

  He froze and owl-called the sign for stealth. His men instantly blended with the dripping undergrowth, fanned out and crept slowly ahead. Malkrin’s highsense followed the approaching pig, noticing its pale almost hairless hide marked with faint black stripes. He owl-called for the men to his left to take the deer; he focused on the charging pig. The beast blundered on as Malkrin anticipated its death.

  Like the fizzle of a drowned campfire his highsense died, leaving him as blind as an ordinary hunter.

  Through many anxious nights Malkrin had rehearsed what he would do should he be afflicted at the worst possible moment. And now this nightmare was upon him and he became icy calm. His arrow fast reflexes brought up his spear and he ran to where he knew the pig would be in five breaths. He ignored the imposed silence of the hunt and crunched the odd stick and scrub branch. He pictured the wild pig’s course in his mind, and tensed his arm.

  He flung the spear.

  Through the waterfall splatter of rain Malkrin faintly heard a wounded squeal and followed the anguished sound. Then even this blended with the roar of rain smashing into the larch and sycamore trees and he blundered ahead hoping to separate the sounds of the cloudburst from the agonised thrashing of the pig.

  Like the light of a re-lit candle his ability returned. He sucked in a moisture laden breath and thanked the Goddess Jadde. He knew again precisely where the prey was. He ran into a small clearing where the wounded beast was flattening the long grass as it tried in its pain to remove the embedded spear. With an unsteady hand he finished the pig by slitting its throat with his dagger, at the same time he was aware of Halle and Beartooth as they killed the deer eight spear throws to his left.

  He owl-called for action. Many arrow flights ahead a roebuck deer was shepherding his females toward lush grass.

  The sun set in an orange glow beyond the great mountains as his hunting party made its way back along dirt paths to their sprawling Edentown. Soon the imposing structure of the Priests Keep rose above the trees. Malkrin eyed it suspiciously; it was old and mysterious. The only solid stone structure in Edentown had
been built long ago by the great ancients, the buildings slate tiled roof shone in the diminishing rain. Soon the rambling community came into sight with its jumble of reed thatched roofs and mud-brick walls. Malkrin sensed all the meat traders and ordinary folk gathering behind a ring of Brenna guards to trade foodstuffs and merchandise for fresh meat.

  The hunting party left the woodland with the pig lashed to a thick sapling and a collection of seven deer, six rabbits, three turkeys and a plump bobcat. Malkrin sensed movement from the woodland with his inner ear and three arrow flights away to his right another hunting party emerged. He counted their tally: two deer, three rabbits, one hare and one turkey. Again he had easily outdone them. He suppressed a grin and raised his spear in salute. They returned the gesture, adding a traditional call to the raising of a spear.

  ‘Praise to the Goddess.’

  ‘Jadde has provided,’ Malkrin chanted back, with his free arm lifted.

  Life was good, but just thinking about his satisfaction made his thoughts turn to his highsense lapse. A tingle of fear rose through his spine as he feared retribution from the great goddess Jadde.

  She was the single deity who had saved the Seconchane from oblivion. It was she who had decreed that any highsense talent would be honoured with special privileges. And it was she who had ordained that each high status person would be given a badge that would show them to be above all but the Brenna rulers. She had caused the emblem signifying great highsense talent to be created. It was shaped like a sun with five projecting rays and made from an unknown metal coated with gold by the ancient metal-smiths. Jadde had decreed that a metal clasp be attached to the back of the highsense sun so that its wearer could proudly display it on his or her garments. The Brenna held an ornate casket full of these emblems. Two or three times in a generation a member of the Seconchane was recognised as having special abilities, he or she was awarded with one or if deemed highly talented, two suns.

  Malkrin put his hand within his bear-fur cape and traced the outline of one of the two gold suns pinned to his leather waistcoat. Apart from Cabryce he was the only living member of the Seconchane to be honoured. He thought of how his incredible luck had expanded to include Cabryce, at present the only other highsense sun holder. She wore her single emblem with great pride; Malkrin had often pretended not to notice as she carefully polished and positioned it when she shifted it from dress to cloak. As his hunting party strode toward Edentown he cast his mind back to her story.

  During her seventh spring and summer she had taught herself to hold the air in her lungs for thirty normal breaths as she swam under water or as she lay in the cold snow of the higher mountain. This highsense had been spotted when she was eight summers old. Cabryce had been swimming in the deep Fethwerth pool under the Shimmerrath falls. She’d been feared drowned. A crowd had gathered and wails of sorrow built into a grieving chorus when she’d failed to surface. Some present assumed a monster of the depths had ensnared her. Other more practical citizens believed her body to be tangled in bottom weed. Then, when all hope had ceased; from the diamond-water depths a lithe form had wriggled upwards. Cabryce had surged from the water clutching a glistening turtle shell scooped from the deep floor. All present that day had rejoiced. A celebration was thrown in her honour as her highsense was officially recognised by the Brenna Council of Elders. Bredon the Fox had personally pinned the single highsense sun on her tunic. Her parents had beamed for they had no knowledge of her talent. But some said they cried that night for the time that may come when Cabryce lost the gift.

  Later he lay with Cabryce and worried about his highsense lapse during the hunt. It had happened at a crucial point and only his quick thinking had enabled him to work out the pig’s position. He had succeeded by using a skill taught by his father to bring down a deer or wildcat in full flight. To do this you had to instantly figure where the speeding prey would be when the spear hit it. He had been lucky today and fell asleep hoping his luck would hold.

  Six days later the inevitable happened. The good luck gifted to him by the Goddess Jadde was taken away.

  His serious failure occurred suddenly whilst tracking prey in the wood of Dronfor where the trees met the many sheer cliffs leading up the Great Mountain. Malkrin’s hunt was following a large boar along the narrow trails. Prized for its strong meat, it would be a good kill. Malkrin sent Guy Beartooth and two other hunters ahead. They managed to circle behind the boar and were working back toward the main hunt, beating the undergrowth to flush out the animal.

  ‘Where is he Owlear?’ Beartooth hissed disrespectfully, knowing Malkrin’s highsense would pick up his whisper out of any other earshot.

  He should have addressed his query to ‘High-person’ but Malkrin ignored the insulting omission and concentrated his inner ear. ‘That way.’ He gestured to the front left.

  He was right – and wrong.

  The boar stormed from the undergrowth near where Beartooth was crashing and thrashing his club. Malkrin’s highsense was fully focused; he had already perceived the creature. Instantly he threw his best spear into its flank. The boar died squealing and gnashing at the air. Another crash rose from their left and panic ensued amongst the hunters as a second boar shot out of the thicket behind them. This hog was even larger than its mate and had large curved tusks that protruded almost a hand’s length in front of its snout. It was in a foul temper, having smelt and heard the death of its mate.

  Hunters shouted and screamed, crashing away through the dripping undergrowth – ruining the disciplined silence of the hunt.

  One long tusk was thrust into Halle Fisheye’s thigh. Malkrin turned toward the boar as it ripped its bloodied tusk from the screaming hunter. He threw his second spear with all his might, skewering the massive hog through its heart.

  Then as they strapped both beast’s legs to sapling poles Malkrin sensed Beartooth had decided this was an opportunity that was too good to miss.

  ‘You should have sensed the boar’s mate Owlear,’ Beartooth shouted in triumph so all could hear, ‘the council will hear of this lapse.’

  ‘Do your worst Beartooth,’ Malkrin hissed back.

  But the damage was done; his highsense had flickered again like a candle in a draught. The whole hunt had witnessed it.

  Beartooth was torn apart with jealousy. He had no highsense and resented Malkrin for his talent so had recently resorted to putting him down with sneering comments. Malkrin believed it was all caused by his boiling longing for Cabryce. Now he, Malkrin, risked losing his esteemed status and his marriage to Cabryce as well. His heart sank, he had dreaded this moment. He’d hoped anyone other than Beartooth would discover and then ignore any flaws in his highsense. But the worst had happened and now he would have to defend himself before the Brenna elders.

  They covered Halle’s wound with thick moss, bound it in leather cord and carried him back to his family’s hut. Malkrin felt a pang of guilt. Halle would go hungry, his wife Desira and child Seara would live on beggars’ rations until his wound healed. Halle was one of the most skilled bowmen among the hunters. Many a time he had downed a bear or a leaping deer with a single arrow – thereby saving a poor hunt. Only Malkrin had bettered him in accuracy. That was when his first arrow had taken a wildcat in mid leap, saving Halle when he was pulling a spear from a dead bear.

  Malkrin resolved to pay Halle’s meat tax to the Brenna himself and to supply his family’s living needs for as long as they needed assistance. It was the least he could do – if he survived the trial imposed by the Brenna Council of Elders.

  For many lifetimes the Brenna had interpreted Jadde’s laws mercilessly. If a convicted highsense holder was judged to have lost his gift completely he was always sentenced to roam the deadlands of Monjana until he regained his highsense. Monjana was the great unknown, its vast lands stretched away down beyond the misty foothills toward the peaks of a long line of distant mountains. Malkrin knew that everyone that had returned to attempt renewed citizenship had bee
n retested, rejected and sent back into exile. Where they went no one knew as villagers never ventured past the stockade barrier below Edentown. They just disappeared into the cursed lands beyond. The priests taught that only death from starvation or execution by starving bandits awaited them beyond the Seconchane’s fertile valleys and forests. Everyone assumed they were not lying.

  But Malkrin had spent a day chasing mountain goats in these deadlands and he suspected far off bandits clad in wolf-pelts were a lot better fed than the priests claimed. He also knew he could only be convicted of temporary highsense loss and he was confident he would emerge with his membership of the Seconchane intact.

  Malkrin counted the hunting parties on his fingers six times. They were all back and there had been no further injuries. The piles of game had built into sizeable heaps as the butchers started taking apart the carcasses on bloodstained benches. He watched them divide the produce while tribes people kept dogs at bay lest they steal prime cuts or offal. A Brenna officer with a highly visible curved sword in a scabbard across his back kept a close watch on the division of the meat. His guards watched for misdemeanours as they guarded their cart which already contained heaps of the best butchered game. Idly Malkrin noted the blood seeping from the cart and trickling into the weed filled gutter.

  He should have been hungry for the meal Cabryce would be cooking him, but his stomach boiled like storm clouds beyond Great Mountain. How was he going to tell her the moment had finally arrived?

  The butcher Beavertail handed him his share of the hunt, prime segments of deer and turkey wrapped in a stained canvass cloth. He acknowledged people with a slight nod as they slapped his back, thanking him for the produce that would keep the townspeople fed. His hunt was presented with their share and they wound their way back to their wives and children. Little Alder Gullwing ran from his mother’s side and ran alongside Malkrin hoping for some acknowledgement.

  ‘Take me tomorrow Sire?’

  ‘Go home Alder,’ Malkrin snapped. ‘You have four summers before you can be of use to the hunt.’ He thought the young boy would slink away with the rejection. But Alder just smiled and followed Malkrin.

  ‘Sire – please take me along next season.’

  ‘No, just go,’ Malkrin growled. He was more intent on predicting Cabryce’s reaction and didn’t want to be bothered. The boy looked crestfallen and slunk off. Malkrin felt mean, scolding a small boy of seven summers – after all he had been that boy once.

  He stopped and looked for Alder in the bustling crowd. He spotted him turn as he weaved between a squad of Brenna meat-guards. The boy beamed, revealing his child bright teeth as he waved to his hero.

  Malkrin forced a smile and waved back as he walked into the alley containing his cottage.

  Back in the familiar smells of his home he sunk into his favourite chair. Its ancient frame creaked under his weight.

  ‘Good hunt my love?’ Cabryce swung quickly down the creaking stair ladder; her usual bright dress had been replaced by practical leggings for walking the muddy alleys. She had the same beaming smile as Alder. For an instant Malkrin resented it – knowing what he was about to tell her.

  ‘Yes Jadde was with us.’

  ‘Good.’

  Malkrin hesitated. She read his body language as he gripped the wooden chair-arms and lent forward. Her lips firmed, and she stared into his eyes.

  ‘However . . . Jadde was not with me.’

  ‘Has the worst finally . . .’

  A disrespecting thump vibrated the door latch. Not a friend, Malkrin thought, and glanced to Palerin on the shelf – one short step away.

  He flung the door open and Beartooth’s leering face glanced beyond him. Malkrin knew Cabryce stood behind him anxious for him to give her details of the hunt.

  Beartooth lifted his gore-smeared hands for Cabryce to see. ‘Fisheye’s blood,’ he snarled. ‘He’s at home, laid on his bed in agony. His wife and child are weeping – because of you Owlear.’

  ‘I will look after his family,’ Malkrin snapped back.

  ‘Not enough.’ He stabbed a finger at Malkrin, ‘People’s favourite no more . . . just a lowly hunter like the rest.’

  Malkrin batted the accusing finger away, his highsense had felt Beartooth tense ready to prod him.

  Beartooth’s face formed a deeper leer. ‘After the elders have finished you, I’ll take –’

  ‘Shut up.’ Malkrin did not want Cabryce learning of events before he had a chance to tell her.

  ‘I look forward to Cabryce sharing my –’

  ‘If I go to exile then I swear I will return to tear you apart.’

  ‘Threats Owlear, I’ll have –’

  Malkrin had had enough after all that had happened that day. He raised his fist. A hand grabbed it.

  ‘Enough – both of you.’

  Cabryce forced herself through the door and between them in a colourful blur.

  ‘Go find your own wife Beartooth,’ she stated assertively.

  ‘Once he’s gone. I will . . . for sure.’

  Beartooth ran his eyes over Cabryce once more and Malkrin emitted a roar similar to a wildcat giving warning to an adversary. He clenched both fists and Cabryce snatched each clump of rigid fingers.

  ‘Indoors Malkrin. Now.’

  But first Malkrin watched Beartooth disappear down the lane toward his elderly parents’ hut. Then he allowed Cabryce to guide him back to his chair. She latched the door tight and stooped before him with arms around his neck and gently caressed his rigid shoulders.

  ‘Do we need to pack our things . . . To travel?’

  He let out a deep breath and shrunk into the seat cushion.

  ‘No. No. They’ll just take one highsense sun from me.’ He gripped her hand as she stared with glistening eyes. ‘I’m sure, my love, it has always been so.’

  ‘I would have come with you Malkrin.’

  ‘I know Cabryce, but whatever happens you cannot.’

  ‘I will. If your highsense finally leaves you – I will.’

  ‘You must promise me you’ll stay. It’s safe here. I must search for Jadde, to ask for her to return her blessing.’ He reached behind his shoulder and gripped her hand. ‘And I must do it alone.’

  Long seconds passed then reluctantly she nodded. ‘I promise. Now tell me what happened today.’

 

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