Jadde ndash; the fragile.., p.4
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       Jadde – The Fragile Sanctuary, p.4

           Clive Ousley


  Cabryce and Nardin had always been close. Their families had been neighbours since childhood and if Cabryce’s highsense hadn’t been announced then fate may have predicted her marriage to Nardin. She thought they would have been very happy. Then stopped her train of thought, she was more than happy anyway – with Malkrin. He was all she desired and it was right that the Council had decreed their union. Now looking at Nardin’s worried features she realised continuous hunting and punishing labour had aged him more than Malkrin and herself. Their highsense abilities had gained them an income from the Brenna Council and the employment of the servant girl Danna had alleviated the necessity for most routine tasks. Her good fortune had extended from her childhood when her father had insisted she learnt the rudiments of written letters and words. Sire Steth Harefoot of the Priesthood had taught her as a favour to her father who had once saved him from a runaway cart. She was proud of her ability to write her name and a few other letters and to read many more words so they formed understandable lines in her mind. It felt like a skill close in power to having a highsense. She hoped that one day she could increase the skill of word reading.

  Her mother had taught her well in all a Seconchane woman should know. The Brenna and the High Priest had recognised her highsense. It elevated her within Edentown beyond her wildest childhood expectations. The best stitched clothes, the best cuts of meat, the solidly constructed cottage. She was indeed fortunate and she looked forward to the children to come. But it didn’t stop her feeling sorry for friends who struggled daily. She watched Nardin thoughtfully spooning the bowl of hot potato broth she’d handed him, then busied herself preparing a food parcel of luxuries for his family.

  ‘Where has my Malkrin gone tonight?’ she asked anxiously, knowing Nardin would be straight with her.

  ‘He has been frequenting the market outside the Great Hall four times in the past three days. I worry for him. I’m afraid he’s up to something that will get him in big trouble soon.’

  Cabryce nodded in weary agreement, ‘I hope not. He won’t listen when I warn him to focus his gift on hunting. I tried asking what he’s being so secretive about. He just says it’s best I don’t know.’ She paused while adding a slab of mountain goat cheese to the parcel.

  ‘I also have tried to warn him. But I have no gift so he takes little notice of me.’ Nardin rubbed his eyes. ‘But I help people as best I can. It pleases him that I share that same ideal.’

  Cabryce knew Nardin only fiddled with his ears or soothed his eyes when thinking hard, which he did a lot of – and in great detail. He’d always been that way. Some found it beyond their patience when he spoke slowly, at great length for a whole hourglass about his thoughts. Most walked off, but Cabryce loved him for it and had always listened.

  ‘Can you tell where he is now? And do you see him in your mind?’ Nardin asked as he thought about one of his theories.

  ‘My highsense will not change or enlarge to encompass those talents I’m afraid. For the love of Jadde I’ve tried, but to no avail.’

  They lapsed into silence as Nardin assimilated the negative titbit leaving the sound of the storm to fill their minds.

  ‘Malkrin believes the priests know more than they are prepared to tell ordinary folk and possibly the Brenna too,’ said Nardin, who then reeled off a list of priest’s names.

  Cabryce waited until the chanted list was completed. ‘Yes, he’s always believed in the treasure legend. Recently, in his sleep, he has muttered of a new highsense and trying in vain to find the prized hoard. He’s also been troubled about discovering a secret vault beneath the sacred keep.’

  ‘It’s interesting what you can find out from your partner when they are sleep-troubled. I have memorised tales from three other neighbours who say . . .’

  Cabryce didn’t want to be sidetracked from helping Malkrin, so just this once she stopped Nardin before he moved from their discussion. ‘I’ve told no one Malkrin has developed a new gift to seek the great treasure.’ She looked at Nardin, imploring him to keep the secret.

  ‘Thanks Cabryce – for telling me. It helps to tie up a few theories I have.’ Nardin paused and she sensed a long explanation. But he straightened and resolve firmed his features. ‘It has helped me come to a decision I’ve been meaning to make for some time . . . to help everyone in Edentown.’

  Cabryce looked questioningly at him.

  ‘I’m going to ask the priests to teach me to read the histories and the scriptures.’

  Cabryce was stunned. It was the peoples’ right to learn to read, but few had the time, even as children. The priesthood discouraged it with tales of the ancient tribes obtaining too much knowledge and destroying each other with it. That excuse put people off as they envisaged the curse of written knowledge destroying their families and friends.

  ‘I and Malkrin will support you, but are you sure?’

  ‘I am, and when the priests trust me, I will in time find a way down into this hidden vault, and from there . . .’

  ‘They will never leave you alone to explore. You will only be there to learn the lettering and then only the words they wish you to see.’

  ‘I know, but I am determined to learn things in the histories – as well as sneaking off to explore. It will help you and Malkrin to aid the townsfolk, of course.’

  ‘How will you feed your family?’

  ‘I will hunt as usual, and till my father’s fields later in the day and learn the scriptures during the evenings.’

  Cabryce nodded, her eyes watered. Nardin was surely the people’s truest friend. ‘But you will exhaust yourself with no time to sleep.’

  ‘I sleep little, there have always been too many questions spinning in my head. And I am determined.’

  Nardin finished his broth with fast sips; then as the shriek and roar of the storm against the cottage windows increased he got up to go.

  The door crashed open and let in a howl of wind to flicker the candles. Smoke sucked out of the chimney from the hearth fire and filled the room.

  Malkrin staggered in as if ten goblets of corn liquor filled his stomach. He was white faced and shaking, water streamed from his face, cloak and leggings.

  ‘Close the door.’ Cabryce shouted.

  ‘Wait Cabie, he’s unwell . . .’

  Nardin grabbed Malkrin as he tottered against the wall. They removed his soaking cloak and helped him to his hearthside seat. Cabryce wrapped her arms around him oblivious to his damp clothing.

  He rambled for almost an hourglass of time before intelligence returned, expelling the wildness from his eyes. His breath smelt stale – he had not touched any liquor. Cabryce and Nardin waited patiently for an explanation. Malkrin’s breathing slowed and in the reflected firelight colour returned to fill his pale features.

  ‘Where have you been?’ she asked.

  ‘What have you seen?’ Nardin added.

  Malkrin’s eyes took on a deep and haunted look. ‘I have seen the flight of a million invisible birds. I have been to the ends of the earth and returned without even leaving. I have seen fireflies in myriad hordes dancing in procession down invisible streets. I have travelled through the windows of countless buildings – all flashing with magic. I witnessed the migration of lightning as it sped on a thousand journeys. Then I watched the lightning return before it began its travelling again.’

  He shuddered and brief sanity entered his eyes. ‘And yet I know and recognise nothing. I have learnt naught and been nowhere.’

  Cabryce caressed her husband’s shoulders. ‘We know you’ve been to the Great Hall – I need the whole tale please.’

  Malkrin took no notice of her stern words. ‘Jadde’s magic is limitless. I have been taught a lesson by a great Goddess, majestic beyond mortal eyes. I am a mere worm before the great Warrior Goddess.’

  Slowly he shook his head as if attempting to regain his senses. Then sagged and fell silent again. Cabryce continued massaging her husband’s shoulders and ignored Nardin.
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  Suddenly Malkrin sat bolt upright and stated, ‘my new highsense, it is seared to blindness. It is gone.’

  Nardin took a step toward Malkrin, changed his mind, went to ask a question, then stuttered an apology and took his leave.

  Cabryce laid with her husband that night as he muttered and turned in restless confusion. She thought of the mysterious burden he had assumed. How she and Nardin were not going to allow him to fight the suffocating priesthood, reform the bronze fist of the Brenna and alleviate the poverty of the folk of Edentown – alone.

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