Jadde ndash; the fragile.., p.8
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       Jadde – The Fragile Sanctuary, p.8

           Clive Ousley
 
CHAPTER SEVEN

  Cabryce wiped a tear from the corner of her eye and straightened her back. She removed both hands from the hearth’s mantle and ran them through her hair. No one would see her sorrow. That was the end of it – on her face at least. She would find a way of getting Malkrin back into Edentown. In the meantime she would be a model citizen and court any suggestion the priesthood or the Brenna made. Short of taking anyone as my betrothed of course, she thought fiercely. Images of Guy Beartooth filled her mind with revulsion. She hoped the Brenna would not leave their comfy castle homesteads to involve themselves with her – a mere kinswoman. They’re too busy feeding of the taxes extracted from the ordinary folk, she thought bitterly. Then threw an earthenware jug against the hearth and seethed. The fire hissed in sympathy as the honey beer evaporated.

  That felt better. She smacked her hands together and took a deep breath, habitually holding it.

  It was only two days since Malkrin had been escorted from Cyprusnia. They had stopped her wishing her husband farewell and she had screamed at the restraining guards to no avail. Then slammed her door on them and cried into the bed pillows.

  A knock on her door, then friends waiting for her help had dried the tears. Already she had successfully smuggled Halle and Seara past the Brenna border guards. She was pleased, the fight back had begun.

  It had been easy really. The night had been blackened with heavy cloud and all she had had to do was make a scene and shed more tears, this time in front of the guards. Cabryce laughed emptily. This had drawn them away from the palisade and the sentry huts beside the path. The ones resting in the large hut had peered at who was outside making the fuss and had returned inside leaving the duty guards to deal with her. All the guards knew her of course. The sentries had seen it as an opportunity to rant against her exiled husband.

  ‘The same fate will befall you if you dare lose your highsense.’ They had gloated and roared.

  She had pretended to regain her composure and apologised for her stupidity in coming to look for Malkrin. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed two heavily loaded figures creep past and through the main gate. She had wiped her eyes and bade farewell to the guards, then made out she was going home.

  It was an hourglass of fast walking to get back to Edentown. But first she had to make sure Halle and Seara were safely on their way. After two sharp bends in the track a goat-path led up the scree to a high ledge. She knew that from there she could see into the Darent pass leading away from Cyprusnia. The moon was free of cloud; its light would aid her to see Halle and Seara. Just a quick view – to be certain they were on their way. It would be a last chance to wish them a safe journey and send a prayer to Jadde to watch over them.

  Panting, she scrambled up the narrow path and reached the ledge. The moon was still out, casting dark shapes all around. She hoped its light was Jadde’s bidding as she scanned the distant track. Partially obscured by boulders and midnight shadows it was difficult to see any detail. She had almost given up, and was about to turn dejectedly round when a distant movement stopped her.

  There they are, she thought, almost shouting aloud. Keeping within the dark shadows, they ran along the path and out of her vision. It had been a mere glimpse, but in that instant she had seen the long fur wrapped shape of Palerin on Halle’s back. The sword was going to be reunited with its owner with her love – and with a message she had persuaded Halle to memorise.

  ‘Good luck, dear friends,’ she whispered toward them. More tears fogged her vision as she turned to walk back down.

  Cabryce wandered back to Edentown confused with her emotions. Should she be feeling elated or tearful? She settled for both. Her anger with the guards had been for effect, but her tears had been for Malkrin and for Halle and Seara as she imagined them wandering lost in barren deserts or gale swept mountainsides.

  Then when home, tired and aching, she slept restlessly. The next day her chores saw her withdrawn into a blank face, just smiling slightly at other folks attempted sympathy. As evening darkening the skies she ate without enjoyment. Then she cleared away the meal and stood surveying her comfortable cottage with its hanging tapestries and luxurious seating in front of the roaring hearth. Sadly she viewed the furniture that Malkrin had lovingly crafted or they had jointly chosen in the market. She held her breath, practicing her highsense as she thought hard. She had stopped the servant girl Danna from helping – her Brenna allowance was not enough without Malkrin’s as well.

  She could rely on Nardin, her old friend had sworn to help in any way he could. He had smuggled the sword Palerin and now she was waiting for him to visit so she could relay an account of Halle’s safe escape. She had plans to discuss – a campaign of protest. She must get the Brenna to see sense; Malkrin would have been more useful to them as an ordinary hunter. Now she could see the folk of Edentown going hungry next winter.

  A loud knock sounded on the door, she turned to open it for Nardin to enter.

  But the figure at the door was not Nardin.

  A furtive stranger stood there under the reed-thatch overhang. He looked everywhere before slipping past her uninvited, into the warmth.

  ‘My apologies high-lady,’ he gave the sign of respect. ‘But I had to ensure I was not followed.’

  She released her breath; vaguely realising she’d exceeded her forty-five breath record. Then on her next breath she sucked in the odour of a high-ground sheep crofter. She put a hand over her nose and disguised the gesture as a cough. His dirt smudged trousers and cloak confirmed her assumption. The crofter looked around her comfy room, then reassured they were alone he reached within his tunic and produced a token so astonishing she gaped wide-eyed at it.

  It was a highsense sun. She quickly slammed the door.

  ‘Where did you get that?’ she demanded.

  ‘I will come to that mistress. First I must implore you not to tell of my visit.’

  ‘That would depend on its purpose.’

  ‘I will explain my lady.’ The crofter walked to the window and peered out as if trying to see round corners. He turned and looked deep into her eyes. ‘A dark evil seeps from distant lands threatening us all, so it has been decided that I secure your help.’

  She wondered whether she should be alert to deceit, but his apparent sincerity was already arousing her curiosity.

  Then in an instant she was confused. What could she possibly help him with? Who had sent this bedraggled stranger to her? They must be aware of Malkrin’s banishment and had sent this low-man to test her in some way. Her old secure life was over and suspicion filled her. If she failed some obscure examination then would he report her to the Brenna for some trumped up crime?

  ‘My lady, can I have your attention,’ he thrust the highsense sun at her. It swam before her eyes. Her legs wobbled and she sat down abruptly on the nearest shawl covered chair, and just stared at the confiscated item.

  ‘Is it Malkrin’s forfeited sun?’

  ‘It is not, I can ease your mind on that.’ He paused and looked searchingly at her – then came to a decision. ‘Forget my attire, it’s merely a disguise. I have always found it a good one, for no one takes the least notice of a lowly goat herder. May I sit lady?’

  ‘Yes of course, the shock of the token has made me forget my manners.’

  ‘I must start by telling you a story. You can take it as unsanctioned history.’

  ‘Unsanctioned . . . Not sanctioned by the priesthood?’

  ‘Or by the Brenna.’

  ‘But the sun token . . . ’

  ‘. . . I will come to that my lady.’

  He relaxed into the chair. His eyes held an intensity that now made her feel uncomfortable, as if there was something behind them greater than the best highsense.

  Cabryce prepared for a long night.

  ‘In our grandfathers-grandfathers time many more highsense suns were awarded. People were not afraid to celebrate their talent and announced it as soon as they felt a gift arise in their children. Unli
ke today, the pressure was not so great. Although many failed – they were not evicted from your valleys. Although some chose to leave to regain their powers in seclusion, others left because they couldn’t put up with the shame. Gradually the shame became inherent in the Seconchane and then the Brenna began to evict. Resulting in the extraordinary situation you now all live under.

  But I am authorised to reveal that there is another hidden valley higher in the mountains where these so called fallen people have congregated for many lifetimes. It’s a fertile valley where bad weather parts to the east and west leaving clear skies at day and rain only at night. Crops, cattle and people prosper and there is time for them to develop themselves along the paths Jadde decreed.

  Cabryce interrupted in protest. ‘You should provide food for my people – this winter, before they go hungry.’

  ‘It has been decided that we cannot reveal ourselves – yet. Our leaders took the decision six generations ago to remove all mention of us from your scriptures. Now the Brenna and your priests have forgotten we exist. I must admit – with a little gentle persuasion at first. We feared the Brenna’s developing aggression. We did not want a bloodbath to decimate both our peoples.’

  Cabryce sighed, ‘Continue, I am struggling to understand.’

  ‘It is best for all our people – for now. I will finish then explain why.’ The crofter resumed his account, speaking fast as if he had little time. ‘Before our enforced isolation, talented people amongst the Seconchane were spotted by our scouts. Little persuasion was needed for them to join us. We became many and filled our valleys. They were drawn by one man’s precious and massive talent. He would have been awarded four gold highsense stars by the Brenna had such an honour existed. But the priesthood feared him like no other, and had informed the Brenna of his occasional lapses . . .’

  ‘What highsense was so dangerous they feared him so?’ Cabryce queried. Her interest roused, all concern for her own worries became temporarily forgotten.

  ‘Kristoph Falconfeather was the great one. He possessed an incredible innate ability to attract or reject people. He could, by force of will change them for the better if they sought to harm, or subvert. His ability to sift right from wrong was incomparable. He could see deeper into people’s minds than any other, and would lavishly reward good, scold minor misdemeanours then encourage the aggressor to improve. But he severely punished wickedness, and this he had to increasingly do with the Brenna. Call his ability what you want, beneficial or bad, but he repelled or attracted people for all the right reasons. His highsense ability became honed to unheard of heights and we benefited greatly. Eventually the Brenna sent a cowardly assassin to his home but Falconfeather sensed him and showed his assailant the evil nightmare of his mind. The assassin lost his sanity and ran screaming and sobbing. Apparently the Brenna kept him locked away in chains for the rest of his unknowing life. Then they sent a whole troop to arrest Falconfeather on a trumped up charge created by a jealous priest. Falconfeather was forced to blank their minds and they returned believing they had disposed of his body.’

  ‘But he must be dead by now and his incredible highsense lost?’

  ‘He left this life as we all must, but his high-highsense lives on in his descendants in the valley. We use a mental force to turn back the few unwanted hunters and Brenna who stray too close. Our valleys and people remain hidden and forgotten. But we have someone amongst the Seconchane who informs us of ejected talent. Malkrin has long been watched and recognised for his abilities. But we missed two others who strangely have eluded our every eye. They were very secretive and obviously unrecognised by the Brenna.’

  He must mean Seara and Halle. Cabryce decided to keep the names and her assistance to herself until she could fully trust the man. ‘So why are you telling me this?’

  ‘Our leaders believe Malkrin has great gifts some of which he has yet to acknowledge. One of these hidden highsenses has allowed him to become cloaked from our searchers. They cannot find him, and we believe he has inadvertently spread that highsense cloak to cover the two refugees that sneaked out of Cyprusnia.’

  Cabryce frowned. The man acknowledged her disbelief by squaring his shoulders and looking intensely into her eyes. ‘Malkrin has a latent talent as great as Krisoph Falconfeather; therefore we must find him to tell him the hidden truths before he is lost forever or decides on an untimely revenge against the Brenna.’

  ‘Malkrin holds no unreasoned malice toward the Brenna or priesthood. He is a good man who tries to act for the people and asks just that they are treated fairly and be elevated from their poverty.’

  ‘Indeed, we agree with your assessment of Malkrin.’ The man looked even more intense, his eyes held a request. ‘We ask that you come with me now. We believe your husband will seek you out when the extent of the dark threat we all face is revealed to him. We want him to come to us first, not Cyprusnia. You can help us persuade him.’

  ‘I don’t know . . . How can I trust you? I am to be bait to attract my husband. You could be Brenna come to deceive me, or a minion of Priest Rantiss.’

  ‘I will reveal my sincerity to you by opening my mind and showing you the truth of my words.’

  Cabryce just looked at his open face and sincere eyes and somehow . . . saw the truth in everything he had told her. She thought of his request to accompany him and was convinced. It would be easier for Malkrin to contact her if she was beyond the Darent Pass.

  ‘Yes, I think I believe you now, and Malkrin will . . .’

  A sharp rap on the door interrupted them, followed by gruff commands.

  The man suddenly rose and hurriedly concluded, ‘I will return tomorrow, but will leave this token with you to show our goodwill. It is one of our treasured relics, an actual star worn by Falconfeather himself.’ The crash of a shoulder on the thick wood door threatened to drown his voice. ‘Be ready tomorrow night.’

  He strode to the curtained window and peeped out, ‘Brenna guards: I must leave.’

  Cabryce stood, frozen in indecision.

  ‘Take, keep it safe.’ He handed her the gold sun. She concealed it in her dress pocket, and then backed away abruptly as the door burst open sending the locking bar splintering across the room. Two Brenna warriors burst in with spears extended before them. They paused, peering into the fire-lit shadows. The stranger’s eyes fixed on her for a moment, and then he ran for the high rear window obviously intending to dive through. He bounded over a chair and clambered up grasping the sill but the warriors grappled him to the floor and held him down.

  A third warrior, an officer with his orange sash insignia over a crimson cloak entered and barged past Cabryce. ‘Search him,’ he spat. A fourth grabbed her wrist from behind – she hadn’t seen him enter. Stunned, she didn’t resist as the man held her wrists firmly behind her. She looked on as the warriors dragged the stranger to his feet and held a sword to his throat.

  The officer approached the man in triumph.

  ‘And who might you be?’ He laughed coldly,’ I expected the outcast but you are a good alternative.’

  One warrior held the stranger confidently, the other continued pointing a sword at the crofters throat. The stranger looked to Cabryce as if to say, good luck. Later she realised his eyes had also said goodbye. She watched in horror as the stranger grabbed the sharp sword blade and thrust it deep into his own throat with a look of determined resignation. The stunned Brenna warrior tried to prize the blade away but he seemed to be struggling with an immoveable object. In horror Cabryce saw the stranger’s eyes lock on the warriors. An invisible command seemed to emanate from them, freezing the Brenna man; somehow it allowed him to complete his self sacrifice. Blood spouted from his slashed fingers then from his neck as he forced the blade through his windpipe. The stranger choked and a hideous gurgle came from the wound. The warrior finally came to his senses and jerked the weapon away. The stranger collapsed to the floor.

  ‘Fool,’ the officer rasped. ‘Get a cloth woman, staunch the flow,
he shouted to Cabryce.

  She stood aghast, staring at the stranger as his blood soaked the floor tapestry. Then alarmed at his life draining away she ripped the woollen shawl from her neck and crouched to press it tightly to the man’s throat.

  It was too late, the stranger shuddered. A look of contentment formed on his face then he lay still in a spreading pool of his lifeblood.

  Her hands felt weak, useless. She did not even know his name.

  ‘Fools,’ the officer repeated, ‘you will be punished for your incompetence.’

  He turned to Cabryce. ‘And you will come with me. You are not as innocent as you appear.’

  CHAPTER EIGHT

 
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