Monday, March 31, 2008

"Seabird" Prologue Pt.2

This is PART 2. Scroll down to the earlier post for the first part of the Prologue

"Seabird" Prologue Pt.2

Lit by occasional glimmers of Stream-light, Lord Thaddis faced the moisture-streaked left wall of the ancient passageway. No physical sign betrayed its presence, but the door to the sorcerers’ prison must be concealed there.

Thaddis was already talking, to the wall or to the somethings beyond or within it. “No, no one knows of my plans, or even that I’ve learned fragments of your Zexian spells. Just listen to me! I have researched it secretly for many years now, and I have brought all that is required.”

Thaddis gestured to the small huddled shadow close beside him. “Even this. All I need is your assent to my conditions.” He held up one finger, like a teacher admonishing his pupil. “Confirmed by your oaths to your overlord, Wenos Zex, of course.” Seeming to read acceptance in the answering silence, he continued, “I will set you free from your chamber if you will grant what I ask of you.”

“What do you ask of us?”

Nortis stifled a gasp at the sound of intertwined voices, the words spoken in the Elder speech but with inflections reminiscent of his master’s self-revealing incantation earlier. The sounds confirmed the location of the five-thousand-year-old prison for Rabada, Zabnar and their Sorcerer-King, Pazgar.

“I ... I ask only a small thing, in return for your freedom.” Nortis frowned, divining a subtle tremor in Thaddis’ voice. Doubtless, the imprisoned sorcerers perceived it as well. Could they use Thaddis’ fear against him? If they did, what would become of him and the Neroli woman?

“I wish to be king of the Tethran Elders.”

Nortis guessed that Lord Thaddis added details to that astonishing pronouncement but sharp barbs of cruel triple laughter shattered his words. Nortis stayed still with great difficulty, gleaning just enough courage to do so from the memory of the voice he had heard within the Stream. He still clutched the amulet, all the while marveling that Thaddis managed to hold his ground so close to the fabled prison and its denizens.

“Go on.” A quiet male voice prompted, the condescending softness edged with restrained scorn.

Two other voices prompted an echoed chant of, “Yes, please,” the mingled sounds more serpent-like than human.

“I will free you if you grant what I ask.” Lord Thaddis straightened and drew a great breath. Throwing back his hood, he spoke with renewed assurance. “Hear this! Permit the reigns of my children and grandchildren over all the Tethran Elders to be peaceful and undisturbed by your presence, and I will release you. My eldest is hid within Fiori even now, awaiting my signal that you have granted my request.”

“And you believe this son loyal? You believe he awaits your arrival?” Each syllable echoed the sadistic mockery of the prisoners’ earlier laughter.

Thaddis nodded. The passive response made Nortis wonder what his former master truly thought, to reveal his aspirations and be answered with such merriment.

For a few long minutes, the only sound was the swirl of the Stream. Thaddis waited, his eyes fixed forward, his hand twitching the rope of the bound Young One. Nortis considered leaving while he had the chance, only to feel the utter certainty that he had not yet borne witness to everything. Still, at some point, he would have to try to make his escape with the information he alone could provide to the Sephan dynasty of Tethra. Neither Thaddis nor the prisoners would allow witnesses. Nortis shifted his feet nervously but the three sorcerers were speaking again, their blended voices echoing and interrupting each other.

“Your favored son, his daughter and her brother will have a hundred years only.”


“Your grandson, Thalidor, will die an old man and a king. Even as the Tethran queen who sits upon the throne this moment, is old, having ruled many years.”

Thaddis shook his head but the softly vicious voices stopped any protest he meant to voice. “One hundred years, friend Thaddis. The Thorin dynasty takes power today, or not at all. Choose quickly!”

The sorcerer drew breath, and then nodded, expelling the air in a great sigh. “Accepted.” He gestured toward the wooden box, and its lid pivoted open. An iron candlestick and black candle floated out, followed by a knife fashioned from blood-red stone.

Nortis caught a muffled sob of horror from the bound Neroli. He took a half step in her direction with no clear idea what he intended to do. The same gentle voice stopped him at once. “No, child! She is mine. Go quickly back through my Stream. Wait for me.”

Nortis hurried to obey, nearly slipping on the steps from the tug of the Stream-tide before he realized he had yet to grip the narthrous stone chain. He gasped a hurried lungful of air and plunged down the remaining steps, then hastened forward as swiftly as the tug of the Stream-tide would permit.

He scrambled up the far staircase and stumbled a step or two down the passageway, finally coming to a halt. His body bent forward with his palms pressed to his knees, he drew in air--and tried hard not to think of what was transpiring on the far side of the Stream. Just as he was recovering, a shriek of agony swept from the Stream. He whirled in its direction, in time to see bright Stream-water froth across the bank toward him. Its blue-green hue was threaded with a dingy yellow, then sullen with the taint of long-dried blood. The screaming continued. It was coming from the midst of the Stream itself, and it was male, not the voice of the Young One. There were words in it, cries for help, half-muffled in the triple echo of taunting laughter.

One shriek of agonized betrayal rose even above the laughter. “What of your promise to make me king?”

Crazed laughter, cries of cruel triumph and taunting words vied with each other for dominance.

“You said that you wished to be king, yet did not ask us to make you king.”

“Only your children and grandchildren will rule Tethra.”

“That bargain will we keep.”

“No! How can this be? I’m not of the Shadow like you.”

“You were not when you entered here, but you are now. For you made common cause with us-” “… and performed the rites of the Shadow before us.” “Welcome, brother! One of us now, for a few moments.”

Black waters, tinged with iridescent red, swelled toward Nortis. He cried out and turned to flee before them down the passageway, only to stumble. A hand light as a feather touched his, steadying him ...

* * *

Nortis paused in his writing and held his left palm toward the dim lamplight. The seabird shape was etched into his palm and would remain so to the end of his days. He’d lost the necklace somehow when he had been touched. That didn’t matter now. His vision dimmed by tears, Nortis wrote the last few words on the scroll with an unsteady hand.

The soft patter of a light footfall warned him the messenger promised by his Neroli hosts was here. Swallowing at the familiar sound of the footsteps, he held back new tears. “She is mine,” the echoed memory of words whispered within him. Nortis sighed and nodded.

When the messenger entered the cabin, he turned toward him and murmured an apologetic “Almost finished.”

As he sealed the scroll tight, he reconsidered how best to keep it secret and safe on its journey to the Throne of Wisdom, far to the east. None of the shadow must learn of its existence. Rummaging through his few possessions in the small leather pouch by his cushion, he brought out his precious bits of the Book of Prophecy. Nortis sorted through them slowly. Which one?

Yes, of course. He wrapped the small fragment of the Ancient Writings tight about his account, then fastened it securely on all sides with the last remnants of the wax. One line of the writings shone softly in the dim light:

“From the meeting place of Wisdom, I come forth …”

Nortis whispered the next line of the prophecy: “From the place where goodness dwells serene.”

He handed the scroll and his instructions to the silent Young One, and watched him walk out the door as softly as he had entered. When the hundred years passed, who would read his account? Who would come to them? From where would they be sent?

Nortis pushed back strands of his straggling hair. How, in the last few hours, had it turned white? No matter. He had performed his part within the Obedience for good or ill. He drew a great breath of satisfaction and, focusing on the golden tongue of flame within the clay lamp, he began to speak to his divine overlord.

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