Jadde ndash; the fragile.., p.23
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       Jadde – The Fragile Sanctuary, p.23

           Clive Ousley
 
CHAPTER TWENTY

  ‘We must organise a system of fire beacons atop hills to warn of approaching demons.’ Third of Senate suggested.

  ‘And warn the Olephate tribe,’ added Thicheal.

  ‘And convince them to join us.’

  Thicheal itemised the weapons of the three hundred warriors at his command and told of his idea for fire arrows aimed at seams in demon carapaces. ‘To fry them from within,’ he stated and Malkrin sensed the spirits of the conference rise with this new killing technique.

  ‘I have two plans to add,’ Malkrin had all their attention. ‘I have a scheme to win round the rulers of my people. It will entail great powers of persuasion, but I believe I can accomplish this and bring back with me a thousand men to help annihilate the demons.’

  ‘How do you propose to persuade your bigoted brethren?’ sneered TrathWolf, ‘you barely stand above them as it is.’

  Malkrin ignored the insult, ‘I must take with me living proof of the challenge we face.’

  ‘You’re taking the caged demon,’ Talgour gasped.

  ‘Indeed, and I must ask a representative of each tribe to accompany me to add more weight and urgency to my argument.’

  There was silence as the logic of Malkrin’s plan filtered into their plans.

  ‘I will give you BalthWolf Bone-thrower, he is a greater persuader than you,’ sneered TrathWolf with a sly glint in his eye.

  Malkrin’s highsense intercepted TrathWolf’s thoughts, and realised the deviousness of the offer. BalthWolf was the temporary leader of the Wolf Clan appointed by BerantWolf before he left for the reconnaissance. TrathWolf was putting him well out of the way so he TrathWolf could assume unopposed leadership of his people. But it was a good offer of a potent ally and Malkrin accepted graciously whilst smiling coldly to acknowledge he knew why TrathWolf had offered Bone-thrower.

  ‘With the Senate’s permission I would like to accompany you,’ said Bevin Talgour.

  The First of Senate nodded assent.

  Thicheal added, ‘I will give you Mondroth of the Celembrie; he was of good service on your scouting was he not?’

  ‘He was, and I am pleased you offer him.’

  ‘And I will come’, a wavering voice from behind Malkrin announced.

  It was Palreth Tonell of the Sylve.

  ‘I have Olaff’s death gift to honour. And it will be of great use in persuading the Brenna. It is what Olaff would have wanted and with a part of him in me I am a member of the Seconchane now as well as the Sylve.’

  ‘Are you up to the journey Palreth?’ Malkrin asked.

  ‘Your kinswoman has worked her magic and I have Olaff’s talent safely within my mind. I will complete all that is asked of me.’

  Malkrin welcomed him, and sensed a growing mood of optimism as if the light through the yellow lens windows was bathing them with Jadde’s blessing.

  ‘To my other scheme, if I may my friends.’ Malkrin had their undivided attention, his last plan had gained enough approval to give them good reason his next would be equally as constructive. ‘When I left Cyprusnia . . .’

  ‘Expelled,’ corrected TrathWolf.

  Malkrin ignored him and continued, ‘. . . my sole concern was to find the Goddess Jadde and convince her of the need to bring justice to the downtrodden Seconchane. But now the need to find her for my own people’s need has been superseded by all our dire necessities. I propose that whilst I’m away someone carries on my original quest to obtain Jadde’s help for us all.’

  ‘And where do you propose we look, brave warrior,’ sneered TrathWolf. ‘There are rocks around my tent. Shall I look under them?’

  Malkrin had had enough of the snipping and reached for Palerin, ‘You wish to continue your grudge TrathWolf – let’s sort it once and for all.’

  ‘Be still, comrades,’ First of Senate commanded, ‘I acknowledge you Malkrin believe a Goddess will return to aid you in a time of great need. We at Brightwater do not share your conviction; but we can search some likely locations in case something still exists that may be of use in our mutual struggle.’

  ‘Like where?’ TrathWolf snapped.

  ‘The Pit of Vorbe comes to mind, where the great river flows into a metallic sphere and disappears. Also the deep lake of Ryland where legend has it Jadde’s eagle resides awaiting her bidding.’

  Malkrin was intrigued; the First had been researching Jadde whilst they were on the reconnaissance. The Brightwater people were certainly not leaving any possibility unexplored.

  ‘No chance,’ snapped TrathWolf, ‘they will be overrun with demons now.’

  ‘Malkrin’s idea has merit and I will send a party to attempt to search Ryland if the demons are not in evidence. And the team I send to the Wild-men of Trothwell can divert to investigate the Pit of Vorbe.’

  TrathWolf growled but sat down.

  Thicheal added, ‘I will add the Bylow Tarn to the list, there has been many a mysterious legend coupled with it. I will provide a section of warriors to go there.’

  The confrontation was resolved with the weight of consent, and TrathWolf deflated with a sigh. ‘Very well; do what you must.’

  Malkrin relaxed his grip on Palerin’s hilt and announced, ‘I will leave at first light tomorrow.’ He stood up. ‘I go now to make arrangements before the evening draws in.’ He bowed to the assembled allies and officials including TrathWolf. The ornate doors of the Senate chamber swung open and he strode into the dimming evening light.

  He found Halle with Seara in their quarters. Seara looked improved, her colour had returned and wisps of her inner healing caressed his highsense. He explained his plan in detail to aid them in representing the Seconchane in his absence; then went on to detail their particular tasks.

  ‘Halle, you must continue research in the library and look for a different interpretation from that of the Brightwater scholars. They do not believe in Jadde’s return but it has not always been so. So there may be records that they still dismiss that you can reinterpret. Search in particular for references to the Pit of Vorbe and Bylow Tarn. Look for the Goddess’s whereabouts, but also for information that will allow us to rebuild her weapons. There may be small details to add together, things the Brightwater people may have missed.’

  ‘I will do as you suggest Sire.’

  ‘And Seara; I notice your gift reignites, nurse the embers and feed them, so they grow to flame strongly again. If you can help wounded warriors return to battle quickly then you will be of huge benefit to the allied tribes. Study the book entitled ‘The Surgical Battlefield by Doctor Ivan Kollosky’ in the library; its ancient knowledge in treating injuries will save many lives. Use your time to learn from it and add the knowledge to your highsense. Then teach its knowledge to tribes’ women best suited to assist you. I think it will be a unique way of repaying your debts to Olaff.’

  ‘Olaff was the greatest, kindest man, and this will indeed be a great way to honour him. Thank you Sire.’

  Malkrin looked from one to the other; he had no greater friends.

  ‘I’ll bid you farewell, till we meet again. And don’t fret; there are great plans afoot to defeat the demons.’

  Seara hugged him, and Halle clasped his shoulders.

  ‘May Jadde go with you Malkrin, and give my love to Desira.’

  ‘I will.’

  Malkrin felt his eyes fill and strode out into the bustling street before his friends noticed.

  He settled wearily onto his bed in his apartment and viewed his full backpack and new leather shoulder scabbard for Palerin, gifted to him by the Celembrie people and graven by them with fine runes.

  All was prepared, but there was one more thing to do before sleep. Carefully he produced the three highsense suns and gingerly placed each one on the bed before him. As he did so he willed his highsense to observe in the back of his mind, and to remember and remind him later – lest Jadde try to charm him and cleanse his memory.

  He took one at random and examined it closely. The front wa
s much the same as the Seconchane suns but this one had a symbol inscribed into the centre. It reminded him of an illustration from a musty book in the Brightwater library of the planets whirling around the sun. He turned the metal emblem over; it had an ornate sprung grip sealed into the gold metal; and was far superior in workmanship to the crude pins soldered onto the back of the Seconchane suns. He began to think his previous sun decorations were just poor imitations of these. The feeling resolved to a conviction as he noted the thickness of the metal in the centre of the symbol and the precision of the overall casting. It felt light – and powerful. In admiration he rubbed the front surface with the palm of his hand.

  In a flash his highsense displayed in his mind and he instantly knew that should he choose one facet specifically it would focus with speed and power. Carefully he placed the sun in a small leather pouch purchased in the Brightwater market.

  He picked up the second sun and examined it as he had the previous one. And nuances from previous highsense encounters vividly returned to remind him of how he had modified his gift on each occasion. A useful reminder and tool, he thought, and placed it in the pouch with the other.

  Carefully he handled the sun-ray edges of the third and drew a deep breath – it felt even more powerful. This must be the one he had touched in the senate meeting. He made sure his highsense stayed at very low power, just enough to observe.

  Then he grasped it firmly in his palm.

  A strange connection was made in his mind and a female voice asked in his head. ‘Is that you Timothy. We had thought you dead?’

  Malkrin was startled; somehow he kept a firm grip on the emblem but started to shake. Jadde was speaking to him.

  ‘Hello. Timothy?’

  He thought back, I am not Timothy your Highness. He thought it very faintly not wanting to alarm the Goddess or prompt her wrath.

  ‘Who is this?’

  He had offended her. What was the correct manner to speak to such an esteemed presence?

  ‘I detect you are a friend. Fear not.’

  His hand felt weak and he reached for the pouch.

  ‘Is that you Malkrin Owlear?’

  It really was Jadde – actually talking to him.

  ‘It is an honour great Goddess; that you talk with me.’

  ‘I am not Jadde, my name is Rachel and I want to find you Malkrin.’

  ‘You are a lesser Goddess that serves Jadde?’

  ‘No you have it wrong Malkrin. I am like you, with gifts, but I and my friends need to find you urgently.’

  With a start he dropped the sun onto the bed and stood in alarm.

  Rachel was one of the searchers. Why did the sun people want him so badly? Rachel had spoken to him by name, had he already met her? Could Rachel be one of Jadde's fellow Goddesses? It was too much to take in; he needed to think carefully whether to use the sun symbol to respond again. Carefully he placed it in the pouch, and returned the leather bag to his most secure pocket then waited for his heart to stop pounding.

  He lay back assessing the revelation. Much later he slept an exhausted sleep, having decided the suns themselves were not a threat. They must have been fashioned by Jadde or unknown Gods and presented to Rachel and the searchers. But because Rachel was searching for him so fervently he could not trust her or them. Eventually he would need to meet her on his terms but that was not now.

  The next day as dawn glimmered above the horizon, he arose, ate sliced venison, rye bread spread with goat butter and soft cheese and drank fruit cordial. Fortified he shouldered his packs and went to the steps of the Senate to meet his travelling companions.

  Within ten minutes they had all gathered, eager to begin the trek. Four muscular Brightwater athletes hauled a Wolf Tribe cart in which the demon was imprisoned behind a framework of iron riveted saplings. Malkrin led the procession over the Lighthouse Bridge before the majority of the Brightwater people had congregated to give the usual send off.

  A few farming people waved as they rejoined the track back the way he had come all those months ago. The track weaved uphill but was well compacted and they all helped haul and push the hissing demon filled cart uphill then along the well trodden path along the gorge bank.

  They camped that night in a raised clearing surrounded by a copse of oak and fir which formed a barrier against the wind. A small stream wound around the copse adding the sound of trickling water to augment the wind roaring in the branches. According to BalthWolf Bone-thrower this stopover had been used for generations, deep patches of bone fragments and ashes confirmed it as a ritual stopover for the Wolf Clan.

  The quarter-man had learnt to communicate hunger and it now emitted a high pitched howl, demanding sustenance. Strangely Malkrin thought the hunger cry made it more human – sounding like a feral child. Its face contorted in an almost human grimace as the Brightwater guards thrust two dead rabbits through the bars on the ends of spears. A wooden bowl had been fastened to a cage bar and the guards poured water into it. Malkrin stood nearby and observed the demon as it licked gore from its fingers then held out its spindly hands demanding more. He wondered, with its overlong armoured legs and muscular arms, whether if you removed its carapace shell it would be almost human. Someone had sliced off the finger-knives and the stumps had healed to look like recognisable fingers. Its dark face was hairless and rugged to the point of looking like old leather with fangs that protruded into groves that formed the chin. Its ears protruded from the head shield of the carapace and twitched like a cats as it stared back at him. Then it snarled and squatted to defecate. The stench was appalling and Malkrin ordered the cage hauled to the edge of the clearing then sluiced with water from the stream.

  He set guard duty, sleeping well then taking the last shift himself. As a new day dawned with misty rain they fed themselves and the demon. Then they moved off following the edge of the gorge along the same path that he, Halle and Seara had followed months before. Three days later they came to the dense hawthorn scrub and bracken barrier where previously he had taken a detour along an animal track. It would be too narrow for the cart. The demon seemed to be aware of the problem and hissed an evil laugh. Malkrin looked around for the continuation of the Wolf Tribe’s ritual route but a barrier of layered rocks appeared to be the only break in the surrounding scrub.

  Sensing his consternation Bone-thrower came over.

  ‘It is well hidden is it not?’ he smiled warmly, proud of a secret knowledge.

  ‘BalthWolf, your people cannot have gone under the rocks or floated above for that is a power available only to the ancients.’

  ‘Accompany me Malkrin and observe the skills off my people.’

  He thought of demanding an instant answer but followed Bone-thrower to the rocks.

  As they reached them, BalthWolf turned and laughed, ‘the natural world is not all it seems.’ The shaman pushed on the edge of a huge upright slab higher and broader than two warriors.

  It pivoted around a hidden fulcrum and BalthWolf gently pushed it into a chiselled recess in the rocks revealing a nine foot wide path. Malkrin examined the pivot point; the rock was so well balanced it had not even disturbed the surrounding grass. He was impressed and congratulated BalthWolf as they strolled into the gap. He became aware of suppressed sniggering and turned to see what the source of his companion’s mirth was. It was himself, it appeared they all had shared the joke over his ignorance and could hardly restrain themselves.

  ‘All right have your fun friends. I cannot help being part of my people’s ignorance.’ They all howled with laughter and BalthWolf admitted they had briefed Mondroth of the Celembrie who was the only one who was also ignorant of the hidden entrance. Even the demon was aware that Malkrin was the butt of the well meaning joke and snarled with an evil leer, gesturing a shorn finger in an obscene gesture at him. In a wild and vicious fashion it seemed to understand. Malkrin decided to see later if there was some level he could communicate with it.

  BalthWolf still smirked, ‘the pivot was creat
ed by us many lifetimes ago to fool anyone that may follow. A ruse that the storytellers say gave us the name ‘The Vanishing People’. Nowadays the Brightwater know the shortcut as ‘The Magician’s Pivot’ and use it themselves with our permission.’

  ‘It is an amazing thing, and it’s also very interesting that your people have cooperated with the Brightwater for so long.’

  ‘For lifetimes we have traded with all the people on our journey; yours are the only exception.’

  Malkrin was not surprised; again it reinforced his resolve to change things.

  After a brief break they continued along a track clear of rocks, they had been piled either side to form thick walls. Then natural rock cliffs rose to make the path seem as if it followed a natural gully. Some of the rocks had been intricately carved and BalthWolf explained the God that each carving represented and the deity’s purpose to the Wolf people.

  The next night was spent against the towering walls of an ancient ruin. Rectangular holes showed where once large windows had framed magnificent views. Now the remains merely shielded the group from the breeze whistling along the grassy plain. Beyond the ruin and toward sunset the sparsely wooded plain revealed many grassy hillocks some with walls and high chimneys protruding. Malkrin was saddened, convinced this had been a large township once inhabited by many ancients. BalthWolf joined him as he finished a contemplative meal. Malkrin asked about the deserted settlement.

  ‘My people leave offerings here to placate the ghosts, but have never strayed from the sacred route to disturb Jadde’s ruins.’

  Malkrin nodded in understanding, his highsense still picked up lingering loss amongst the grass shrouded wreckage.

  ‘You have an interest in ancient remains, so I suggest a detour for you and me tomorrow. It will allow our companions to rest for the day and perform the offerings ritual. I shall take you to a valley cursed by the ancients where sorrow and marvels reside together. Only a few of the Wolf brethren even know of the place.’

  Malkrin’s curiosity was instantly aroused. Could they spare the time? He was tempted; it would be a chance to discover more about the ancestors and perhaps another clue as to the whereabouts of Jadde.

  ‘I need more information to justify breaking the urgent journey. What is the manner of this secret and is it so necessary to delay our journey? The demons approach ever nearer to the Brightwater lands.’

  ‘It is a mystery of the ancients, mostly intact to this day. As a youth I was told of it by my father who had strayed there whilst hunting. He swore he had told no one but me as the place had an evil feel to it. Now I tell you because I believe you can work out the meaning of what we shall see.’

  ‘How long will the detour take?’

  ‘We must leave at first light, then arrive at high sun and get back at first darkness.’

  ‘A long day – it had better be worth the effort.’

  As dawn created colour from grey shadows Malkrin and BalthWolf trotted along a level twisting path through foothills leading toward an angular hill in the distance. The wide path was very smooth underfoot but occasionally completely broken up where streams had flooded over the centuries destroying the surface. At one of the rippling brooks the plant strewn surface had recently cracked open and the water was visible flowing beneath. Curiosity made Malkrin scramble down the bank to look at the crumbling stone bridge that supported the track. Another lifetime and the bridge would be no more. It was truly old and he guessed it was the work of their ancestors.

  Then the track wound through clumps of conifer trees, some had disrupted the track surface, their trunks and roots protruded from the crumbling slabs. He examined a jutting piece; it was the same ‘crete’ material that was used for the floors of some of the most ancient Seconchane homes.

  Midday saw the track run over a steep winding slope and then down to a small hidden valley with conifers filling it like a smothering of grass.

  ‘The valley hides from the sun and guards its secret well.’ BalthWolf muttered.

  They followed the road through the dense trees and came to an ivy covered entrance – a gap in a large encompassing wall made of crete. This had partially crumbled over the centuries but was still a formidable barrier. From one length rusting anchor points protruded at an angle decorated with strands of rust corroded wire and more ivy. Malkrin surmised the wire had once stretched all along the top of the crete wall.

  They passed through the entrance and the hard track widened into an oval arena then quickly ended in sapling shrouded buildings, most of which were now decayed frames. Behind the ruined abodes a cliff rose vertically trapping the buildings beneath its formidable crags. BalthWolf took him to one of the almost intact buildings with a weathered metal door sealing its frontage. The massive panel was twelve feet wide and eight feet high and when Malkrin tried it to see if it shifted on a pivot or fulcrum like the rock, his hand went straight through the decaying metal.

  ‘Another door, this way,’ announced BalthWolf.

  The two men entered through a smaller metal door that squealed on ancient hinges and seized half open. Inside, light filtered in through two windows that still retained cracked and filthy glass. In the middle of the room four ornate carts stood in two rows of two. They sat on the floor, each nestled on four small wheels. Under the wheels crumbled black shards indicated they were once covered in an unknown substance. Each main compartment astride the carts had mildew darkened glass. Within, Malkrin could see green rotting fabric covered seats amidst a thick mass of spider webs. They had certainly been ornate carriages fit for prestigious chiefs, he thought in wonder.

  ‘Very heavy to haul,’ he commented to BalthWolf. Then he saw a faded sign high up on the wall. It was the same writing as the ancient volumes in the Brightwater library.

  Derantvale Army Detention Centre 34

  Garage 1 - 2

  It was meaningless, the ancients spoke his language and yet they did not. He concentrated but still the words made no sense.

  ‘I brought you in here first, to show you the great carriages belonging to the important people who once lived here,’ said BalthWolf as they returned to the open air.

  He pondered on the words ‘Detention Centre’ and a glimmer of the village’s purpose emerged. He looked at the two clusters of skeletal ruins and imagined people restrained within and guards armed with spears and clubs outside each encampment. He used his highsense to sample the surroundings, and a blanket of hopelessness emerged from the buildings like a thick evil fog. He quickly stopped probing.

  BalthWolf took him to a large redbrick ruin built almost against the rear cliff. It still had a tiled roof and BalthWolf took him around the shadowed far wall, again to a jammed and rotten door. A hole had been kicked through a bottom panel and they crawled in through it. Malkrin thought they could have just kicked the whole door in, but detected the miasma of restless spirits. The whole place seemed filled with them and BalthWolf obviously had considerable respect for them.

  Dim light filtered into a corridor with entrances framed by mildew soaked doors in various stages of decay. They walked past rooms to the far end where the walls and doors appeared drier and the contents better preserved. The shadows contained piles of crumbled furniture, some metal, some wood, and some a strange coloured but brittle material that snapped when he gripped it. In one room a bleached skeleton lay settled in a large high backed chair as if stopping for a snooze it had never awakened from. The image was instantly dispelled as Malkrin noticed a rusty knife lodged in its ribcage. Another room had two skeletons sprawling on the floor amidst smashed furniture and piles of green mould that had once been something substantial. Guards killed in a fight, he guessed.

  BalthWolf entered the last room and pointed to a piece of intact wooden furniture filled with drawers and adorned with a strange box with a glass front sitting on top the flat surface.

  Silently BalthWolf wrenched a swollen drawer to reveal the contents: sheaves of bound paper.

  The top sheet was entitle
d.

  Inmates – Entry. Male. Another was entitled, Inmates – Entry. Female.

  He had no time to work out the puzzle but picked up a small shiny box with inset glass and buttons with numbers and letters on, then shrugged at BalthWolf.

  The Bone-thrower nodded and opened the lowest drawer and withdrew a shape wrapped in an oiled cloth, unwound it and handed it to Malkrin.

  ‘This is a magician’s tool of great importance. Even my father had no knowledge of it at first,’ he whispered.

  It was a gleaming angular thing of strange design with a hollowed metal stump one end; the other was shaped to be held. It had a carved bone grip inset into dark grey metal. Malkrin wrapped his fingers around it and hefted it up to gain a better view. It was light and felt well balanced.

  ‘Careful,’ hissed BalthWolf, ‘it produces thunder and raging wasps.’

  Malkrin was surprised, it didn’t look as if it could do anything other than sit in your hand and look decorative.

  ‘Watch,’ hissed BalthWolf, and took it from Malkrin’s hand. Then pointed it at a wall and squeezed a small lever in front of the grip.

  It was exactly as BalthWolf had said. The roar and flash deafened and blinded Malkrin. A section of plaster crashed down in a cloud of dust. Malkrin dropped to the floor his hand on Palerin ready to defend himself. BalthWolf just stood there holding the magic implement, a look of awe frozen to his face.

  ‘I told you it spits wasps,’ he gestured to the bare brick where just now plaster had covered. A small hole was bored into one brick where the insect had entered.

  ‘This is powerful magic; I will have a specific use for it.’

  BalthWolf handed Malkrin the magical device without further comment and whispered, ‘was it worth the diversion here?’

  ‘Indeed it was,’ Malkrin said absently as he tried to understand the ancient purpose behind this old settlement. Obviously the chief in charge was a great magician cruelly overseeing a large amount of people. Had they already been judged guilty of criminal acts? It was strange and complicated; he risked another glimpse at the paper in the top drawer withdrawing a metal clipped sheaf entitled.

  Centre 34 Detainees

  Each page was divided into columns and the first one was headed by the word ‘Date’ and below it lines of numbers, the second column repeated ‘Detainees’, and was a list of people’s names. The third column was headed ‘Crime’. He read along from each name and read in the crime column, ‘Looter’ the next line; ‘Mugger’, the next ‘Malcontent’ or ‘Anti-authority’. This last word seemed to be more common as he looked further down the list. Some crimes were to him justified, others a mystery, but it gave the solution to his nagging suspicions. He imagined the last days of the great ones before Jadde came to save the survivors from the demons. Pictures of turmoil and hatred rose into his mind and he threw the document back in the drawer.

  ‘Let’s go, we’ve a long run back,’ he snapped.

  As the sun disappeared and stars sparkled to take its place they reached their camp. Malkrin reclaimed a sense of security in his band’s companionship. But his mind kept returning to the old ones and the nightmare of their last days. He felt the weight of the magic wasp-stick in his pocket alongside the three sun symbols. He added it to the plan forming in his mind.

 

 
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