Saturday, 12 March 2011
#SampleSunday – 13th March 2011
For SampleSunday there is this - the beginning of Chapter Two from Prison of Power.
All power is divine in origin. All Enchanters carry the blood of Immortals in their veins. All who carry a hint of that blood have the ability to view the Heart of the World and shape its geometry with their imaginations. That shaping is the structure of magic, but without Source it is merely a shape in another reality; without Source it cannot be made manifest. Source must fill its shape fully in order to bring the spell to fruition. These are the things that limit the power of an Enchanter; the ability to create complex structures in that place knowing the effect that will result here, and the control of enough Source to fill that shape and make its consequence manifest.
Kaldrathan: The Basic Nature of Magic
Hebron awoke abruptly in the middle of the night. The fire had burned down to hot coals and the room was in near darkness. For a moment he did not know what had awakened him. Then, as he extended his awareness and adjusted his eyes to the dark he saw that he was observed. The woman had opened her eyes and watched him, her face expressionless.
Slowly he reached over and placed a log upon the fire, stirring it back to life with the Earthpower. She watched him do this without comment. The stew had cooked through and was still warm. Without comment he filled a bowl and brought it to her. At this she shrank back from him.
"You are safe," he told her. "Drink this. You will feel weak now, and need replenishing."
"I don't understand," she whispered.
"You are safe," he repeated. "Sit up and eat."
Slowly she sat up and looked around, her eyes resting for a moment on the boy. She was not young, he noticed absently. The boy had her look and was probably her son. He was in his teens and she then must, he guessed, be forty years or so. Her black hair was streaked here and there with gray, visible through the clotted blood that he had tried and partly failed to clean away. He had bound her hair back so that she would not awaken to instant distress to find her hair so matted. Her face, once pretty, showed the beginnings of worry lines. Forty years of life and she was old. Their lives are so short, he thought. By the time the mental strength of maturity is reached, the body begins to weaken.
"Rial?" she asked.
“Is Rial a name?” he asked her.
“Where is my daughter?”
By the fevered look in her eyes he saw that she already knew the answer. Her eyes were a doorway to the mind of the human animal, which lives hidden behind the mask of reason.
"I came late," he told her gently.
"My husband? I remember ... " Her face became gray and haunted almost in an instant.
"They are no more," Hebron said, as kindly as he could.
"He said it would be safe," she accused.
"The High King has been gone so long. Orlan said it would be safe to worship again, as our people did in the past. He said the gods would hear us again, as they used to."
"But the gods are dead," Hebron told her, for all the world at a loss as to why anyone would worship beings who no longer existed. At least the burned building had been explained; it must have been a shrine or temple. Once they had been common and mortals had worshipped the Immortals. Ulrin had explained all. But he had not understood why worship had been offered them even when they lived. Even less did he comprehend why these people should worship gods long dead.
"When the harvest failed the village blamed him; they said the High King looked on and was angry that he had turned people’s eyes to the old gods."
"The gods are long dead. The High King is also dead." Hebron was genuinely puzzled, but she did not seem to hear him.
"The solders came. Some of the villagers stayed away. They used to come from other villages but no one came. It was the festival of sleep, to sing the Earth Mother to her winter rest, but no one came from the other villages, and not all of our own."
"The mind of the earth goddess is gone," Hebron told her, gently. "Only her body remains."
"They ... “ she fell silent, her face contorting. “The soldiers came. Who are you?” Her eyes suddenly locked on him, scared and challenging at once.
“I am Hebron,” he told her. “You are safe now. Sleep.”
“They said we had been giving shelter to the enemy. There were deserters from the army. There had been a battle. But they left. They would have stayed but Orlan made them go. When he saw the temple. You could see he was angry. Someone told them about the temple. Burn it, he said. Orlan stepped forward, just to speak, just to protest. And the soldier drew his sword…” she trailed off, her eyes wandering aimlessly around the room.
“You should sleep,” Hebron told her.
“Rial?” She called out the name without hope.
"Sleep now," Hebron told her. Gently he reached out and touched her with Earthpower once owned by a now long dead goddess. The woman slept.
Hebron sighed. He could not really empathize with the woman at all. For all she was of his blood, in that they were both humans, he really had no idea of what was in her mind. He reviewed the two curiously one-sided conversations. No, he thought, I have no idea what she was trying to say. That her family had been killed? He had seen. He knew. That their friends had betrayed them? How did that concern him? That soldiers had done the killing? This at least was of interest. If they came to destroy the temple it indicated that there were those still loyal to the precepts of the High King. His hatred for all things divine was known. As for the rest - he shed the matter from his mind. It was clearly none of his concern. The safety of these two was, however, at least for a time. He had taken their burdens on himself when he healed them. He must at least see them safe before he moved on.
Taking care not to awaken the boy, he fed the fire so that the room would stay warm. Then he ate the stew the woman had refused. If they could not yet eat that was no reason to starve himself. This done he rested again to awaken just before dawn. He looked over his charges, seeing at once that the boy was gone from his place by the fire. Hebron sat up slowly and looked about. Cold air filled the room. He looked to the single door to the outside and saw that the boy stood there, still as a statue, outlined by a pearly light, silhouetted against a pre-dawn mist that hung in the hollow between the hills. As Hebron got to his feet the boy walked out into the cold, unaware of him. Concerned, Hebron followed, shutting the door behind him, hoping that the woman did not wake alone.
He found the boy by the woodpile, running his hand up the shaft of the axe and testing the cutting edge. He did not turn about as Hebron approached but Hebron knew the boy was aware of him.
"A strange time to cord wood." Hebron made it a question.
The boy’s voice was flat and empty. "I wasn't thinking of burying the axe in wood, stranger."
Hebron noted that the boy sounded calm but there was a flat plateau of anger beneath. His voice was dead. He is planning revenge, Hebron thought.
"Who will you kill? All the soldiers of the world? The villagers you grew up with? All in the world who are capable of evil?"
The boy turned dark-eyed regard on Hebron and Hebron saw the flickering of a violent flame behind his eyes. "The solders burned her temple. And I am the vessel of the Earth Goddess, Cerene. So I will do as she bids me do and slay the desecrators of her holy ground."
"The gods are dead."
"How can you say that when She sent you to save us?"
"No one sent me."
He thought for a moment before responding. "Father taught us that the gods worked in their own way, using what tools were to hand. He did not say that these would know themselves used."
Hebron wanted to sigh and close his eyes and walk away. Instead he tried again. "My teachers taught me other things. That men will use whatever justification is at hand to do what they have already decided to do. That a little learning is more dangerous than none. That anger is evil..."
"And to condone evil is to be evil?" The boy, whom Hebron now saw as a man full formed in mind even if he had not quite come into his full growth, ground out the words like a mill grinding wheat.
Seeking the kernel amongst the chaff, Hebron answered. "And if by opposing evil you become evil?"
"It is not evil to kill. A man must kill to survive. The gods understand and permit it. Only murder is evil. I have read the sacred writings. I know. Would there be a god of war if killing were evil?"
Hebron was about to answer once more but a muffled cry from within the cabin stopped him and he kept the words for another time. The boy dropped the axe and ran into the house. Hebron watched him go. Alone for a moment, he took up the axe and buried it deep in the wood with a single, effortless swing. It would take a strong man to pull it free. "When you are strong enough to pull the axe from the block you may be able to use it," he said softly to the boy, knowing his words would not be heard.
For a moment he considered returning to the house. But they had food, warmth and shelter. And they had each other. For the moment, at least, they did not need him. His presence might even be unwelcome. So instead he walked the short distance to the village.
The fires that had raged the day before had burned themselves out in the night. The scent of burned wood hung heavy in the air, and with it another smell he was not familiar with but which was an assault on the senses. It did not take long to discover the source. Not all the buildings had been empty when they were torched. Once more, he began the task of gathering the dead and giving them to the earth. Half the day passed before he was done with it. The children were the worst. If he could have healed them, brought their minds back from the eternal dream, he would.
Hebron heard footfalls behind him and turned. It was the boy.
“Why did you come?”
“I saw smoke. I wondered who had made it,” Hebron told him truthfully.
The boy looked about himself, bitterness twisting his face. “And now you know?”
“I will stay for a while,” Hebron said.
“Don’t stay if you don’t want to,” the boy spat the words at him. “Go! We don’t need you.”
Hebron pondered the boy’s change of mood. Earlier he had been cold, his mind blank, fixed on revenge. Now wild with spite.
“You found the axe where I left it,” Hebron guessed.
The boy shrugged. “I don’t need it. There are other weapons.”
“Perhaps the men who did this will loan you one of theirs?”
His face flushed with a sudden anger, the boy stepped forward as though to hit him. Hebron watched, ready to defend himself if he should need to. He would not let the boy strike him. He was not prey, just as he was not predator. But the boy hesitated, held himself in check.
“You’re testing me,” he said.
“No. I am not.”
“I am not like them. If that is what you were trying to say. I am Jakan, son of Orlan and Isaula. Cerene, who is the earth, knows me. My father was a wise man. He knew the truth. He taught us.” He was going to say more but his voice failed him and his eyes began to fill with unshed tears.
“The gods are dead,” Hebron told him.
“Stop testing me!” The boy shouted the words, his voice breaking. Then he turned and ran.
Hebron watched him go. Testing you? He was mystified by the words. Who am I to test you?
When he returned to the house Jakan was not there. The woman was alone, sitting by the fire and staring into the flames. The woman had so much the look of the boy that he knew she was named Isaula. She looked up listlessly when he said her name.
“Why didn’t you let me die?” she asked. “It didn’t hurt.”
Ever since he had acted Hebron felt a disquiet that he now realized was encapsulated in that question. Why didn’t I let them die? he asked himself. What right did I have to reach out and change their destiny? Was it just because what had been done to them offended him so deeply? That it just then occurred to me that I could heal their wounds and make them whole? Did I do it just to see if I could?
“You only have this life,” he offered. “It is precious. Not to be squandered.”
“It was precious. It is said that the god of the dead could bring people back.”
“The god of the dead is himself dead. And properly he was only the god of ghosts, then.”
She looked quizzical. It was the first emotion he had seen on her face, so he tried to explain. “Ecrose, like all of the Immortals, found a time when he needed to be involved in the world.” She looked confused, so he tried again. “Cerene was the patron of farmers,” he began.
“Cerene is our patron, the goddess of the earth, of nature. You of all people must know this?”
He let it pass. “She became the goddess of nature,” he told her. “She loved all wild things. It was she who taught men to domesticate. She gave a gift of the first dog to Ithlan, a man who was her lover. Dogs, who helped in the hunt and whose senses are so much keener than man’s, were her first gift. When men began to farm she became the patron of farmers. She was not born as she became, but rather chose her sphere of influence, as other gods chose other things. The Immortal who first loved the sea became the god of the sea, and then the patron of sailors. Hakant became the patron of thieves.” Without pausing in his explanation, Hebron stepped closer to the fire and sat down. “When Ecrose desired to become involved in the world there was nothing he loved well enough. He was a dark being, grim and cheerless.”
“He was the god of the dead because he did not truly wish to live himself,” Isaula interrupted him. “That is what it said in the book.”
Hebron allowed himself to be led away from the subject. “Perhaps I should read this book.”
“It was burned.” Isaula turned her gaze back into the flames, her face again blank and her voice dead.
A few moments passed in silence.
“Minds, souls if you will, never truly die,” Hebron said, softly. “Each kind of life has its own dream, a place where the minds sleep and the memories fade. Sometimes, when they are ready, they are drawn back and re-born.”
When she said nothing, almost seeming not to hear him, he decided to continue anyway. Perhaps that had been some comfort to her, and perhaps not. Perhaps she did not believe him. Perhaps she had not even heard him. But to speak calmly and gently is soothing to the listener, and he would have her understand.
“Some minds refuse to join the dream. When the will is too strong, when the love of life too fierce, when any emotion is too great to be left behind - these are called ghosts.” He saw her almost imperceptible nod. “One such would not allow herself to fade into the dream for love of Ecrose. She followed him and pleaded with him to return her to life, to make her immortal, to make her his queen. But he could not. After many years he came to love her, but still he could not do as she asked.”
“In the book it said he could.” Isaula sounded sullen.
“He could not then. He did not know how. But he had softened to her, or perhaps merely grown used to her company. In any case, he made a hall in the earth, deep under the world, where they could live together. After a time he became the god of the dead, of ghosts, those too strong of will to join the dream, and brought them to him.”
“So if I did die, I would only be reborn?”
“Yes,” Hebron said simply. “It does not seem to me that you want to cling to life, and only those who do are taken to the halls of the dead.”
“I don’t,” she said, simply.
He could not think of anything more to say. He doubted that he had helped her. Yet, knowing the truth of what death would bring, she might choose to live. And if she lived, he knew, the memories would fade and newer experiences would take on more immediacy. In time she might heal. Without another word he set about heating water. She watched him unquestioningly. When he was done he set the heated water and a clean cloth before her, laying a dry towel to hand.
“There is still dried blood in your hair and on your face,” he explained when she looked at these items without interest. “You also might wish to change your clothes.”
She nodded once, convulsively, not taking her eyes from the gently steaming water. Seeing this, he left her alone.
Outside, he reached with the Earthpower until he found Jakan, and then went after him. The boy was also confused. And by now would have had time to become calm.
Hebron found him at the burned out temple. Jakan was dragging fallen timbers clear. He did not look up as Hebron came close, but continued about his task in a sullen silence. It was clear that Jakan intended to repair the building. Without a word exchanged, Hebron joined him. Jakan gave him a single angry glance, the meaning of which was clear. So Hebron said nothing. He bent and gripped a fallen beam in one hand and dragged it almost effortlessly free. As he pulled the beam clear he looked about the charred interior of the temple. He could have repaired the building in moments but sensed that that would not be wise. He did not want Jakan to be in awe of him. Also, the boy needed something to occupy him. And so, Hebron realized, did he.
Together they spent the rest of the day repairing the damage.