Jadde ndash; the fragile.., p.27
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       Jadde – The Fragile Sanctuary, p.27

           Clive Ousley

  Malkrin’s day started with a visit to his and Cabryce’s home. Familiar things returned to caress his senses. The smell of cooking from neighbours and the bang of a loose shutter in the breeze, then the sight of the new wooden water barrel they’d set up to collect rainwater. He reached his cottage’s door and was saddened to see it had been crudely barred with rough planks. A glance through the small front windows showed his sturdy furniture still tidy but dust covered. Everything outside and within returned his thoughts to Cabryce and he hoped his life would never change so greatly again as it had in the last two years.

  He had one other task to perform before walking to the Priests Keep to consult Nardin and Sire Steth. Halle’s Desira lived in a lower alleyway . . .

  Malkrin left the debris of his previous life and climbed the steep winding path to the keep admiring the blossoming cherry trees in the crisp spring air. When he rounded the last corner, the keep doors came into view. Nardin was there at the gates to meet him as arranged. He stared myopically around at the sound of Malkrin’s footfall.

  ‘Nardin – let me help.’ Without waiting for an answer he lifted his friends arm and guided him with a continuous commentary until they were in the familiar confines of the stepped passage leading to the upper library. Two priest guards stood rigidly at the head of the steps, but stood aside at Nardin and Malkrin’s approach. The momentous decree of last night had reached them.

  Steth sat dozing in his favourite chair and awakened with a start as Nardin wished him a good morning.

  ‘I apologise Assistant, and to you Malkrin, I should be attending to the document search, but the events of yesterday have left me quite exhausted.’

  ‘Rest easy Sire, I will read Nardin’s discovery and then be on my way. There is a lot to organise and little time.’

  Minutes later Malkrin watched Nardin examine a metal box on a reading bench in the lower library. He glanced around at the marvel of the brightly lit chamber, the invisible light alone confirmed it to be the ancient’s genius. Immediately he realised that this ancient building the priests occupied had once had some key significance to the ancients – but what?

  Nardin handed him a slim handwritten volume and he read Lieutenant Edward Morris-Tailt’s chronicles. Then become as confused as Nardin with all the letter and number jumbles that must have designated something once. Then a hammer blow hit him despite Nardin’s warning of the account’s heretical text. The Goddess Jadde’s name appeared with her title General-commander. But it fitted in with what he knew of the ancients. A general was in charge of an immense amount of warriors, so an immortal Goddess would be a commander of them all – would she not? Then he read of her death many years later and he felt cold and spiritually empty.

  Goddesses did not die. How could he deal with the elimination of all he had been told was sacred? Jadde had been mortal after all; his quest had been for nothing. Had the Seconchane priests preached a lie all these innumerable years?

  Then he reasoned, her altar still contained her omniscient and powerful justice, and all the tribes apart from the Brightwater people could not all be wrong in their similar beliefs. General-commander Jadde must have been her earthly manifestation, and when she had accomplished all she intended she had allowed her mortal body to die. Then she had carried on guiding with her magnificent hands encompassing all the tribes from her heavenly realm.

  He relaxed, his reasoning rekindled his faith – Jadde was still the ever-present immortal Goddess and she would help them in their hour of need.

  Relieved he had thought through a difficult text, he returned to more worldly matters and found Nardin deep in the rack entitled Theology.

  ‘Malkrin, I’ve just finished the Divinities sections having searched all the volumes. I found this note within the volume Ethics in Daily Life. I’m afraid it’s not helpful.

  Malkrin took the yellowed note and read.

  Future searcher.

  I have removed the diary pages from here two years after my original note. Please do not think ill of me but you must be sure that you wish to use the weapons. If so, I am convinced that if you search this library diligently, you will find a route to what you seek.

  Use 4765, you will realise its significance I’m sure.

  Kristopher Falconfeather

  Nardin added, ‘there are no other notes left by Morris-Tailt or Falconfeather in Divinities.’

  ‘They hold the key Nardin, keep looking.’ Malkrin joined in the search. The language of the books was similar to the Brightwater but more uniform along with the lettering. Nardin stated they were regular shaped letters as the books had been produced in multiple copies by printing machinery. Malkrin then realised most of the Brightwater library had been re-copied over the centuries as the original books had crumbled. This library was full off the ancient’s originals; they were of incredible value to all the peoples. It was a storehouse of treasure and he marvelled that ancients had technology installed here to keep the room pristine for millennia.

  After half an hour of searching, he could spare no more time. He still had to check that all necessary provisions and weapons were loaded onto the horses and carts. Then find Josiath his old mentor to find the truth about the highsense suns he wore, and find out who Rachel was.

  Quickly he searched the corners of the chamber where old equipment had been piled haphazardly. The wall behind the junk had a huge emblem emblazoned over the surface. He recognised a depiction of planets orbiting the sun. He moved a large metal cabinet to get an uninterrupted view. It took a moment to relate the familiar sign. Then with astonishment he realised it was the same symbol as the one engraved on the deceased searchers gold suns. He stared at the wall symbol; there was something about it, but he was too laden with other duties to work out any significance.

  He walked back to Nardin.

  ‘I must leave you my friend. Give your eyes frequent rests, try focusing on distant objects to relieve them. But keep reading when you can.’ A sudden thought rose, ‘find out which book is numbered 4765.’

  ‘I have been trying to find out if 4765AD is a relevant date, but so far nothing ties in.’ Nardin’s brow creased in concentration, ‘I see what you mean – 4765 could be a book title or it could be a location from some point in the library leading to a particular book.’

  ‘Or the four thousand seven hundred and sixty fifth book to be placed here perhaps.’

  ‘I will solve the puzzle Malkrin – leave it with me.’

  They wished each other Jadde’s luck and as Malkrin climbed the steps from the ancient’s library he wished he had allowed Seara to return with him so she could have attended to Nardin’s blindness. He briefed Sire Steth before striding out of the Priests Keep to find his onetime mentor.

  Sire Josiath was organising the packing of horse’s panniers. Cart loads of weapons and provisions had arrived from the Brenna homesteads along with the first contingent of Brenna warriors. The market square before the Great Halls of Justice was a bustle of activity. Malkrin’s old hunter companions were arriving with fresh game to store in a provisions cart. A queue of townsmen had formed to volunteer; all were laughing with bravado at the thought of a great adventure. Malkrin assessed which ones were the keenest and fittest for the long march, dismissing the others. Then to the remainder he showed techniques for killing quarter-men. BalthWolf and Talgour took over to further brief the men on the lands they would encounter beyond Cyprusnia. Finally he had a few minutes with Josiath. The two old friends sat on straw bales under a thatched veranda in a quiet corner of the square.

  ‘I wish I could go with you Malkrin, but my place is here to help begin defences in Cyprusnia and the Derant Pass should the demons bypass Brightwater.’

  ‘Sire, I had thought of that too. It is also possible the horde will split to attack both Brightwater and Cyprusnia.’

  ‘I think not Malkrin, it has been discussed and we believe they are too uncoordinated or too rigid in their approach to split for independent a

  ‘I hope you’re right Sire.’

  ‘The Brenna and my advisors believe that will be how events will develop.’

  ‘Your advisors Sire? Are they the people with who you communicated using your highsense sun? The same three sun people that have been pursuing me since my out-casting?’

  Josiath sighed, ‘So many questions Malkrin; and so little time to answer them properly.’

  ‘We have a few minutes Sire and the answers will help me understand a complex situation here. I need the truth regarding who really governs our Cyprusnia.’

  Josiath avoided the question and said as if he had always known of the diaries existence. ‘I know you’ve been to visit Researcher Nardin this morning and he has finally found the lost and legendry Morris-Tailt account.’

  Malkrin began to get an inkling of the extent of his mentors involvement in intrigues buried beneath the daily life of the Seconchane. He nodded and Josiath continued. ‘The people that hoped to find you are called the Jenna from our hidden brother state, Highnirvana. They are benevolent and have powerful highsense gifts, but are cloaked in a psychic veil. This is why no one from Cyprusnia has discovered them. Ten years ago they recruited me to delve into a rumoured trend that ordinary folk were concealing their highsense gifts for fear of being cast out.’ Malkrin listened intently; questions he had long pondered over were being answered.

  His onetime tutor continued, ‘I apologise profusely for an ulterior motive in allowing your expulsion. The Jenna needed someone with great talents to assess the resurfacing quarter-man scourge. That someone had to be a skilled hunter with superb tracking abilities and one who could look after himself in a fight with any man or creature. Also that person had to have developed highsense abilities with potential to further improve. Lastly he had to have natural leadership qualities. They rightly assumed the chosen one’s journey would increase his powers, and you Malkrin fitted the criteria exactly.’

  Josiath looked intently at Malkrin; his expression was of apology for what had been imposed on his onetime pupil. He carried on as if needing to complete a confession. ‘The Jenna deemed they were not sufficiently qualified in all these attributes and feared they would fail in the quest. It is not that they lack courage or highsense ability, just the stamina to breathe the rich air beneath their high mountain lands. The air downhill from Cyprusnia fogs their thinking and drowns their lungs. You had every skill required in overflowing quantities, so they grasped you in desperation.’

  Malkrin thought hard, it all fitted, right from the first moment on the hunt when his highsense had drastically failed him. ‘They arranged for me to lose my ability at the most inopportune moments?’

  ‘I am mortified to admit it – but yes, they directed their abilities from afar and focused on you to create momentary highsense blindness.’

  Malkrin felt anger building. It was the only way he could come to terms with what had then transpired. ‘If I had not been exiled then Cabryce would not have died and Halle and Seara would not have felt the need to follow and break up their family.’ He punched his fists together in frustration, but began to see the devious cleverness in the three-sun-people’s plan.

  ‘I feel terrible about all that has happened to you, but we could not foresee all the consequences. The Highnirvana Council tried to tie up the loose ends by taking Cabryce to a safe place but were too late, Brenna hardliners were slightly quicker. And we did not know of Halle’s and Seara’s hidden abilities at all – which went to confirm the rumours of hidden highsense talent.’

  ‘In all those years you found no one with hidden talent that would admit to it?’

  ‘You remember the solitary loner, the hunter who somehow killed mountain lions that got into our lands?’

  ‘I remember Will Snakeeye; he disappeared whilst hunting a pair of wild bears two years back.’

  ‘He didn’t disappear, it was the only way I could get him to announce his abilities. He would not inform the Brenna so we took him into Highnirvana. And over the years four others too, but I won’t tell their stories now.’

  Malkrin thought of how Josiath’s tale added together to make perfect sense, his highsense confirmed every word to be true.

  ‘Just to finish before we return to work. The Jenna sent their three fittest people to assess Halle and his daughter and to persuade them to return to Highnirvana. Seara’s talents were deemed too precious to lose. The Janna wore newly designed breathing masks to enable them to dilute the rich air. Even with these aids the cloying air filled them with a desperate lethargy, and they could not intercept you. Unfortunately you instinctively cloaked your own, Seara’s and Halle’s highsense emissions as you sought to protect them. That is why you couldn’t be found.’

  Malkrin remembered how he felt his powers expanding after they had left the wild-cat cave. Then he recalled the dead strangers unusual face mask. It all fitted, and in a strange way he was relieved – relieved to go ahead with a straight forward war on the quarter-men without having to guard against threats from unknown directions.

  ‘Can the Highnirvana people come to our aid?’

  ‘They are working on more aids similar to the masks your pursuers wore that will help more of them breathe lowland air. Only then can they can join us.’

  ‘Can they not send a highsense to shield us?’

  ‘I’m afraid they cannot project any of their highsense abilities further than Cyprusnia.’

  ‘Well tell them not to take too long to send their warriors, we may only have weeks.’

  Josiath nodded and they wished each other Jadde’s luck.

  Later that day preparations and loading of the horses were completed. A great farewell feast was arranged for the throng of improvised warriors that would leave at sunrise.

  A huge fire was lit in the town square and great platters of roast meat, fresh bread and corn-cakes were handed around with flagons of sweet beer and wine. Dancing and singing filled most of Edentown that night and a bond formed with the Brenna for the first time in many generations. Old animosities were forgotten over Bredon the Fox’s generous contribution of ale to the event. The Brenna Council supplied the majority of the food and a troupe of dancing girls previously reserved for Brenna celebrations performed to drunken imitation and merriment. Toasts to inter-tribal unity were roared above the singing and laughter, to which Malkrin’s band added their voices. Malkrin went to his bed that night with a hoarse voice and a developing sore head. But he slept soundly even without Cabryce at his side.

  The journey began in dazzling sunshine and the entire column made good progress with Boele the Great Bear in the lead. Malkrin’s companions were dotted through the column to urge the men on and answer any nervous questions. Malkrin had told his companions to ensure all the Seconchane and Brenna had a good look at the dead quarter-man in its cage as they passed the Derant Pass fortification. He was convinced the delay was worthwhile to stop the warriors believing quarter-men were mere phantoms conjured by overactive imaginations. They would all have an idea of what they fought. Death had not diminished its ferocious fanged mouth and evil starring eyes, but the whole column now knew the quarter-men were not invincible. It had the desired affect and the men marched with hope and a determination to rid humanity of the evil threat.

  As they left Cyprusnia behind, a forty horse contingent of mounted Brenna rode ahead as scouts to keep a lookout for quarter-men. Malkrin had no idea how far small bands of demons had infiltrated but he was determined not to be ambushed. Whilst they travelled, Boele the Great Bear taught Malkrin to ride a spare horse. The Bear demonstrated then helped Malkrin mount the horse and dismount on the move. Occasionally he fell, but ignoring the bruises. He soon got used to the jogging movement of the horse beneath him, but his new accomplishment left him with the discomfort of a novice rider.

  ‘Saddle sore?’ The Bear roared, a massive grin splitting his beard. Malkrin’s face answered his question, but his thunderous laugh had sympathy for Malkrin’s discomfort.

/>   They followed the now familiar landmarks of the Wolf Tribe’s sacred route. It brought back Malkrin’s memories of Halle and Seara and their first stumbling journey away from Wildcat Cave.

  Day after day the column followed the same routine; occasionally hunters broke away from the column to kill fresh game. The supplies on the pack horses diminished and the few men that were struggling to keep up were hoisted onto horseback and tied on with empty food sacks. The weapon carrying carts and horses were spread through the column for easy access. These were accompanied by the fittest townsmen ready to run with additional spears and quivers of arrows in an instant. Malkrin’s saddle sores diminished as they followed the track to the great gorge. Then the sound of rushing water refreshed the air and drowned the song of crows and bluebirds. He drew the men into a tighter column alongside the great rift and then rode ahead to join the Brenna outriders, anticipating his first glimpse of the Brightwater lands.

  It was an hour later, when he was at the head of the Brenna, that the first tell-tale signs that all was not well ahead rose above the horizon. He squinted and shielded his eyes against the sun. There above the horizon a haze of smoke rose and thickened in the next hour to a conflagration. BalthWolf sent his two warriors ahead to pivot the rock which barred the exit from the rock defile. Beyond the giant rocks the plain opened up. Behind sparse trees, rising smoke filled the horizon and contained the first glow of orange flame.

  It was a day’s march away at their normal speed, but the whole column’s pace quickened to a run. In the approaching evening, flames added a fearsome flicker to the sunset around Brightwater. Malkrin feared they were going to arrive too late after all.

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