Jadde ndash; the fragile.., p.17
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       Jadde – The Fragile Sanctuary, p.17

           Clive Ousley
 
Nardin couldn’t close his mouth or move. Despair gripped him. All his attempts to become a scholar paled into insignificance with Cabryce's death. The bad news kept on coming as if each event were an additional affliction sent to demolish him. Their plans had failed almost before they'd been instigated. Only he was left now, unless he could count Malkrin; and he may well have left this world already. Nardin imagined sand blowing over a crumpled body somewhere out in the deadlands. Then he imagined Cabryce sinking, and managed to shake his head to remove the imagined horrors.

  The faces of Moleskin, Rantiss and the Abbott emerged from the despairing paralysis. He stared from one to the other looking for a crumb of compassion and saw it only in the Abbott’s eyes.

  ‘Let him leave; he knows nothing,’ the Abbott looked directly at Moleskin.

  Moleskin held Nardin’s tunic as if enthralled by his own revelation and kept glaring. Finally he came to a decision. ‘Very well: leave. If you turn out to be lying then you’ll wish for the point of a sword by the time I’ve finished with you. Now go.’

  Nardin focused on the door, keeping his pace even and his head high as he had seen Cabryce do. Outside the room he realised he was shaking and bathed in sweat. His enemies had identified themselves, their suspicions roused and only the Abbott had backed him. He hoped the Abbott’s support meant the priesthood was not after all totally subservient to the Brenna.

  His feet felt heavy and his shoulders slumped, he considered renouncing his decision to be a scholar now that Cabryce and Malkrin’s dream had died with them. He left the large doors of the Priests Keep without remembering getting there and headed down the cherry tree lined avenue back to the track which led into the town and home.

  Cherries were ripe on the trees. The priests and the Brenna would be able to add variety to their diet, he thought idly. A vision of fat Brenna being fed by fawning priests re-triggered his resolve. All right, his friends were dead, but he would carry on their crusade, it was what they would have expected of him.

  Energy returned to his limbs, even his fingertips tingled with determination. More than ever he would be a model villager and would throw himself into the farming and hunting routine like he should have been doing all along. But in the evenings he would increase his efforts to learn and use the knowledge to outwit the Brenna. ‘It’s what Malkrin and Cabryce would have wanted,’ he thought aloud. And maybe, just maybe, one day Malkrin would find a way to return.

  He arrived home, his new resolve again laced with sorrow. Cabryce deserved more than dying at the hands of the Brenna. He decided to ask Sire Steth if he could find out how she had actually died. He hoped knowing her fate would allow him to set his memory of her to rest.

  Rose lay dozing as she waited for him snuggled in the warm bed. His children slept soundly in theirs. He had decided to tell Rose nothing; he did not want to worry her. Nardin resolved to teach her as much as he could to help her realise there was more to life than mere gossip and trading his meat and produce earnings.

  ‘You’re getting later every evening. Is the learning tiring you my love?’ Rose muttered sleepily.

  ‘No, all is going well, it’s really intriguing,’ he lied, and gave her a kiss then drew her into his arms.

  ‘Intriguing . . .?’

  ‘Sorry . . . it means, very interesting.’

  The next morning Nardin felt a little guilty at his hidden grief, but ruffled the children’s hair and waved his wife goodbye. He walked down the winding path deep in thought but with renewed energy. He informed the hunters he would be joining the threshing team. It was a chore shunned by most of the hunt but meant his family had a larger share of the wheat and available fruit. He had previously shown great attention to detail extracting the wheat from the chaff, so he was excused from hunting whilst there was this unenviable chore. He worked with elderly villagers filling the coarse sacking bags with wheat. Then they tied up the full sacks, and pounded the kernels free from the stalks. Three days later they had finished this first stage. Luckily a moderate wind blew enabling them to winnow the kernels by emptying the bags onto sheets and throwing the contents skyward. The wind blew away the light chaff usually into their clothes, hair and surrounding trees. People downwind angrily kept their doors and windows firmly closed. Tomorrow they would store the wheat in the special earthenware jars in the underground stores. One for the ordinary folk, one for the priesthood and three for the Brenna – in that proportion for all four hundred jars. It was the arrangement that had been ongoing for generations and Nardin thought how unfair the split was. The only consolation was the fruit and wine handed in meagre portions by the Brenna Collectors to the threshing workers.

  He stayed at home for three evenings satisfied and exhausted with his punishing labour. On the fourth evening, he played with the children and then ate his meal with them. He had the toy spear and his son a wooden sword. He looked up from play-fighting over to his hunting spears stacked neatly by the door – and the nagging curiosity of the scriptures returned to overcome his tiredness. It was again what he really wanted; not hunting, farming or threshing.

  Nardin waved his family goodbye and left for the Priests Keep. It was time to ask Sire Steth a huge favour – to find out exactly how Cabryce had died, and why her body had not been released for burial. During the last few days a conviction had grown that it was all a ploy by the Brenna to warn him off, to show what happened if you dared offend them. Perhaps Cabryce was snuggled safely in one of their luxurious guest rooms, being courted by a new suitor.

  He walked through the keep’s large doors; then greeted the occasional priest as he travelled the passages to the scriptorium. He intended to wait patiently for Sire Steth to arrive, but he opened the door and Steth was waiting for him grim faced.

  ‘Wait here Apprentice,’ he said simply, and walked off on an errand. Nardin presumed he’d gone to fetch a particular scripture.

  Half an hourglass later he returned.

  And with him were another elderly priest and a young novice.

  The elderly priest was Josiath Nighthawk, Malkrin’s highsense tutor. The novice he had seen occasionally in the keep and around the town but he did not know his name.

  'Apprentice Nardin,' Seth had his attention before Nardin could request anything from him. 'Sire Josiath has brought some very bad news.'

  'Relating to Cabryce and my conversation with Moleskin and the Abbott?'

  'I'm afraid so, the information we have is grave. Please be prepared for the worst news.’ Sire Steth looked as if he were about to break down, had he somehow guessed that Nardin was hoping Cabryce was still alive?

  Nardin felt fingers of dread worming into his stomach and whispered, 'go on Sire.'

  'The Brenna were not bluffing, I'm afraid Cabryce is probably dead.'

  'Probably?'

  'I'll let Sire Josiath explain.'

  Josiath looked intently at Nardin as if summing up whether he could be trusted. Then he spoke in a strong but sad tone. 'Friend Nardin, you know I have Malkrin and his good wife's interests firmly at heart?'

  'I know that Sire.'

  'Then trust what I say as the truth and that I know it to be so.'

  Nardin nodded and the fingers of dread turned into knotted fists.

  'Cabryce was taken against her will . . .'

  'I know I was about to visit her when I saw her dragged out; arrested. I had to creep away like a chastised dog.'

  'You could have done nothing to help her.' Sire Josiath stared at Nardin with sorrow and compassion. 'This is what happened to her.'

  Nardin listened with rapt attention. Fury built in him as Sire Josiath spoke of Erich Gamlyn and his vindictive henchman Janna, then of a damp wretched cell.

  Nardin seethed with impotence.

  'In the cell was a woman long believed dead and almost passed from memory. Her name was Bettry Gamlyn, Erich's cousin. Unknown to anyone until now, incarcerated for many years within Gamlyn’s dungeon. It would seem that somehow she and Cabryce escaped t
he cell directly into the river Kryway far up above the Shimmerrath waterfalls. They had no hope of surviving the great cascades.' Sire Josiath hesitated, the sorrow in his voice increased. 'Bettry's body was found by a washer woman in the Fethwerth Pool. After an extensive search by the Brenna and again covertly by several of our brothers, Cabryce's body was not recovered.' Sire Josiath cleared his throat. ‘We believe her remains are trapped deep in the pool. I can only offer my deepest condolence.’

  Silence descended in the room, broken only by the sound of the ancient clock.

  Finally Nardin said, 'someone should find Malkrin, he may not have gone far. He could be waiting to find a way back through the frontier guard-post. He should know what has happened.'

  Sire Steth took over as Josiath dabbed his eyes with an embroidered cloth. 'We have thought exactly that, and have decided that the young acolyte Olaff Deerhide will search for him.' Sire Steth nodded to the young priest who smiled shyly. 'His father was the legendary hunter Jory Deerhide who was killed by a wildcat three years ago. He taught Olaff how to live off meagre resources, track spoor and kill accurately with bow or spear. Olaff is young and has kept himself fit to hunt. There is no better person to find Malkrin.'

  Nardin looked at the acolyte and assessed him. He was certainly fit and had a look of inner strength about him. 'May Jadde protect and go with you, ' Nardin said with gratitude in his voice.

  The boy smiled again and looked imploringly to Sire Steth – there was something else.

  'Yes', Sire Steth acknowledged the look. 'Olaff has given us permission to tell you of a secret that you must divulge to no one outside of this room. Do you so swear before Jadde and the four of us?'

  Nardin was surprised then intrigued. 'Of course, I swear.'

  Steth walked to the far wall and removed a tapestry, carefully folded it and placed it on a chair. His behaviour at this moment was strange, Nardin wondered if he’d just removed it because he had a new wall hanging for the spot.

  Sire Josiath continued. 'Olaff showed signs of a great gift at a very early age but as usual it would sometimes come when summoned and at other times disappear. Jory knew what would happen if the talent was announced to the Brenna and then it failed completely. So he ordered his son to never reveal the talent to anyone. Something that Malkrin said to him one day convinced him I would help. And I did, to the best of my small ability. I arranged with Sire Steth Harefoot to nurture and guide him in the scriptures and to teach him the ways of the priesthood – to shield him. I am, as you know, skilled in mentoring highsense and showing my pupils how to nurture and hold on to the gift. So I have managed to increase his ability and hold it constant.'

  Nardin remembered it was Josiath's tuition that had allowed Malkrin to hold his highsense for so long.

  'Rather than explain, would you like to demonstrate Olaff?'

  The young novice nodded and stood up, his face lit with excitement. He began to flex his arms then his wrists, then his fingers. Nardin realised he was proud of his ability and was demonstrating it with an entertainers build-up. And he thought with sudden curiosity it must be a potent power for the two priests to have worked together to keep it so secret. He realised both men did not work entirely for their priesthood but had ulterior motives of their own. That was another question that required answers. His contemplation was interrupted as suddenly Olaff stretched his arms out before him and extended his fingers as if to grip an unseen object.

  Sparks flowed from his fingertips, in an instant they formed into a churning ball of seething blue energy that crackled with pent up vigour. Olaff flicked his arms and wrists and the energy ball flew against the wall where the tapestry had recently hung. The ball ate into the stone as if it was a living thing with ravenous teeth. Then with a crackle it faded away leaving the air laden with a sharp burning smell. A large glowing hole had appeared in the wall that he could have easily inserted his arm into.

  Nardin was astounded; it was certainly a mighty highsense and one that should be carefully guarded. 'That is a powerful gift,' he said in wonder.

  'You see why it must not be revealed?' asked Josiath.

  'I do. It would kill great numbers of men or animals instantly, and would have to be used with great thought. Also if it disappears from Olaff, it would be a great loss to our people.’

  ‘Indeed.’

  ‘When does Olaff leave?'

  'Immediately. For the Brenna suspect he has something to hide,' said Steth as he re-hung the tapestry on the wall.

  Josiath added, 'Malkrin must be found, for there are growing rumours of great and nameless dangers rising from the deadlands. We need his knowledge and talents to unify the Seconchane to meet this relentless evil.'

  'What evil?'

  'As I say, we do not know exactly, but we have contacts . . . err . . . outside of the Seconchane. I cannot reveal the source for the time is not right.'

  ‘Malkrin must also be informed of Cabryce's death.'

  ‘He must, but his inevitable return for revenge must be redirected and wrought into a finely tuned weapon. For it is necessary that a unified Seconchane meet the threat emerging from the deadlands.'

  Nardin thought of all that he had just learnt and realised just how closeted his people were. He inhabited a very small part of a huge and dangerous world. Now he felt like a grain of sand in a great riverbed with water swirling and bowling him over and over with ever more dangerous knowledge. 'How can I assist you with this quest? I realise I'm merely a naïve beginner in what I now see is a complex problem,’ he said nervously.

  'For now, continue learning,' began Sire Steth, 'for I have seen your constant curiosity and absorption in the great library. Your research ability will be useful, possibly vital.'

  Nardin felt embarrassed, Steth could not have slept at all, as he had browsed the multitude of books.

  Sire Steth acknowledged his awkwardness. 'Yes, I have observed how skilled and selective you are becoming with your choice of script. Somewhere amongst the multitude of texts there are lost references to mysteries that we need to find. These will aid us in the coming struggle. What they are we know not, but we do know the ancients had great powers. Somehow they attached wings to fly and even carried each other on their backs when they did so. They could swim far below the waves of great oceans and dig far underground to mine mysterious ores. How they grew wings, gills, limbs and tails to do this is another mystery. But it is your duty to research and rediscover what you can. To this end I will show you the library’s greatest secret. One of which you are well chosen to use, given your astounding progress.'

  Nardin's curiosity reached fever pitch. He was about to be trusted with the hidden knowledge – it was everything he had worked toward.

  Sire Josiath announced, 'We will leave now to prepare Olaff for his search. He will leave Cyprusnia tonight.'

  Olaff reached over and gripped Nardin’s hand.

  'Good luck Nardin, I will find Malkrin, do not fear.'

  'Thank you Olaff, I am in your debt.'

  Olaff smiled, lowered his eyes and followed Sire Josiath from the room.

  Nardin turned expectantly to Sire Steth.

  'We will take a little refreshment, for what I am about to show you is the priesthoods greatest secret. Strangely, little used amongst my colleagues, even nowadays. For until recently it was considered against Jadde’s teachings to indulge and learn from such blasphemous ancient scripts. Consequently all of my brethren still shun this resource. I am the keeper of our library and all it contains, so I do visit its secret; but only very occasionally.’

  They drank a goblet of elderberry and cherry cordial. It was Steth’s favourite beverage, but Nardin only drank his to be polite. He found it too sweet, and after the evenings revelations he just wanted to wallow in the hidden secret . . . to help Malkrin and avenge Cabryce.

  Eventually Steth rose from his deep padded chair and gestured Nardin to follow. They entered the library after Steth had checked th
e passage either side was empty of snoopers.

  The long rows of leather bound scripts filled countless shelves and alleys stretching down to the far stone wall. There was not a vast amount for him still to read – he’d browsed them widely by now. Most were repetitions of older scripts, copied by priests in generations past to aid their pious dogma and to help them memorise the original texts. Nardin had discovered this when reading dedications on the first page of many. After awhile the words, ‘In honour of Jadde I do copy her majestic sermons’ meant it was just another badly transcribed copy. So he just returned it to the shelf and moved on to another volume. He knew probably the very last book he examined would contain the hidden knowledge that would help them all. But because he was not reading every word he may have missed something vital already, some small disclosure that could have added to another irrelevance to rebuild the location of Jadde. Maybe somewhere in this full room a line of text would reveal how to summon the great Goddess, and then he could ask her to regain justice for the people of Cyprusnia.

  As they pottered along Steth stroked a favourite volume here and there, and muttered as a distantly remembered author resurrected memories. Nardin contained his impatience and wondered which volume Steth would withdraw and which page would reveal the revelation.

  Suddenly Steth seemed to come to a decision and darted for the furthest corner. Nardin had already carefully examined the volumes in this secluded corner, surmising the darkest, furthest shelf would most likely contain controversial scripts hidden away from casual discovery. He had drawn a complete blank; someone had relocated the most illiterate of the pious ramblings here out of the way.

  Steth began looking at the back wall as if trying to remember something. He scratched his chin and muttered, oblivious to Nardin's presence. Then he groped along the heavy stone blocks of the far wall still mumbling. Nardin realised he was counting. Counting the number of blocks horizontally – and he had just counted the blocks vertically down from the high vaulted ceiling.

  Steth pushed on a chosen point and held Nardin back with his other arm. There was a click of some hidden mechanism and a section of wall swung free on a well balanced pivot.

  Nardin looked down and saw stone steps leading into midnight black – a black so dark it was like a huge pool of writing ink. He guessed this must be the vault that Malkrin had highsensed.

  'Good, good,’ Steth muttered and walked to the nearest oil lamp and held it before him as he walked down slowly but purposely, dispelling the liquid black.

  Nardin followed closely to keep in the lamplight, because outside its glow the narrow passage seemed to be contracting and pressing in on him. The air was unventilated, but not as stale as he expected. A shiny wooden rail ran along the wall. It had been carefully positioned to be the correct height for his arm. He guessed right away it was a hand support, although no other stairs in the town or the Priests Keep had such a thing. They reached the bottom of the steps and Steth paused. Nardin looked at the stone floor which was covered in a layer of dust like a peppering of grey snow. His footprints were plainly visible in the dust on each step. No one had been down here for years.

  Steth whispered, as if to compound Nardin's sense of mystery, 'when we go through this door something will happen. I don't want you to be alarmed for it is a magic that is quite normal down here.'

  Nardin nodded and looked at a wooden door set into a dull metal frame. It had once been coated in a transparent layer which now hung off it in strips. Flakes were lying on the ground mainly covered in dust, with some fresh flecks lying on top. The door itself had a small sheet of glass built into it at head height; but only the blackness of a tomb radiated through it. At waist level, a light grey metal handle was set into the door. It had no latch like doors he knew. He wondered how you unbarred it.

  'Are you ready?' Sire Seth asked.

  Nardin braced himself for the mysterious magic. Steth pushed on the handle and the door opened with a slight squeak of hinges.

  Steth took a step inside and the whole room lit up with the light of the sun.

 
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