Thorn's Chronicle continues...
Waning half moon of the Coming Snows (on or about Eirmont 23, 997AC)
It was a trial, dragging myself from the blankets and goose-down comforter and dashing the room temperature water on my face the next morning, especially since the room temperature away from the hearth in the corner or brazier by the door was barely endurable.
One of the servants had laid out a fresh set of clothes near the hearth, and these I struggled into gratefully, enjoying the warmth of the fabric against joints aching from the cold.
Ilsa showed me the way to the dining hall, where I saw that I was at least not the last one awake this time. Durin was leading Silva by the hand through another doorway, nodding his thanks to the manservant who’d shown him the way.
We broke our fast with a hearty porridge, which the cook had flavored with honey and butter. As we finished, the baron ushered us into his study.
It hadn’t changed much from our last visit, save the low table between the settees — rather than cups of tea, it was piled with several stacks of books, and a sheaf of maps, one rolled into the other, so it was impossible to determine just how many there were.
Silva peered at the pile of books, stood on tiptoe to look over the top of one of the stacks. She reached for the maps, then drew her hand back, glancing up at the baron.
“Please, please, look!” he said, gesturing and nodding.
Silva bobbed a curtsey, then unrolled the maps — carefully, as several were old and cracked. She frowned at the topmost map, which I recognized as a depiction of the Duchy. I got her attention, then gestured all around us, and pointed to where Threshold would be on the map.
She nodded, and then traced our paths up until we’d met her and the dwarves in the Gap.
She let the page roll itself closed, exposing the next map, which was a map of the heavens around this time of year. Silva hummed the song she’d sung in the Korizegy orrery chamber, moving her fingers along the dots and circles marking in the wandering stars’ places in the sky. Her finger trembled as she reached the end of the song, though, as she looked where her finger rested on the map, along a blank expanse of sky.
Or, it would be empty this time of year, but for the bright blue star that we’d seen shining there. With her other hand, Silva slid a finger from where Risia was drawn on the map, to where her other finger held the empty space.
“Risia,” I said. “But what is this? What is here?” I pointed to her right finger, which she’d used to point out the different stars.
“Atra Xoriat,” she said simply, slowly.
“That word again,” Kuric said. “My Lord Halaran, have you ink and paper? I would see how the girl writes the word.”
The baron rose to his feet, and pulled a sheet of paper from a drawer of his great desk.
“Silva, dear, come here, please,” he said, gesturing again.
She crossed the room, and he showed her the quill and ink.
“My dear, do you know how to write? Here, let me show you….”
He spelled out his name in the Thyatian alphabet, in large, bold strokes. “Sherlane,” he read, and Silva glanced back and forth between the letters, the pen, and the man with a nearly comical look of exasperation.
She took the quill from his fingers, dipped it in the inkwell, and wrote letters of her own. They were letters such as I have never seen, delicate, flowing, but stemming always from a bold first stroke of the pen, either across, or down. She wrote from right to left, opposite the manner of Thyatian and Alphatian letters and words.
“Sher-lane,” she read, pointing to the two marks she’d written upon the page.
I leaned forward, and began singing Silva’s song back to her. As I named the stars, she drew the likeness of their names in her strange, swirling script.
The signs astronomers today use to denote the stars’ on their charts are but crude, rudimentary depictions of the delicate symbols that Silva drew. But they were clearly recognizable to the baron and myself, (even viewing them upside down as I was) being familiar with astronomy and the keeping of such records.
When she drew the last sign, though, many different reactions happened all at once. Kuric and Durin both jerked their heads back, and made warding signs in the air. Sherlane drew forth his symbol of office, a silver amulet bearing a crescent moon, and kissed it with a muttered prayer.
Ana actually took the quill from the girl’s hand and scratched through the word.
Silva glanced around, her own brow furrowed at the reactions.
“Samaam,” she said, sitting back in the baron’s chair and crossing her arms. “Etah evam Xoriat.”
“Do not be so quick to relieve the girl of her hands, for crafting the witch’s glyph,” came a woman’s voice from the doorway.
We all glanced up, somewhat startled.
“We would do no such thing!” Durin sputtered. “The girl surely knows not what she’s written there.”
“I would be willing to bet a sizable chunk of my estate, dwarf, that she has a very clear notion what it is she writes.” The woman was tall, nearly of height with Varis, with wavy, curling hair to match autumn leaves and the flames dancing in the hearth. I would have said her eyes were hazel, but they had far more gold in them than brown.
She strode into the room with the bearing of nobility: back straight, shoulders squared, an air of dispassion and detached watchfulness radiating from her as if her hair were flame, and did give off a tangible aura.
Kuric stepped around his brother, and stood in the woman’s path, feet planted firmly, hands on his hips. “To infer that this girl has intimate knowledge of demon summoning— that she would sully her— that she would have anything to do with —” He grew steadily redder about the face, and began edging towards purple before the woman stopped before him, bending at the waist and laying a long-fingered hand upon his shoulder.
“Be at ease, Master Kuric.”
“Not until you take back what you have said of Silva.”
The woman straightened, still glancing down at the dwarf, her lips quirked in a half-smile. “I can do no such thing, for I am bound to speak only that which is True. And this girl whom you call ‘Silva’ has such intimate knowledge — far deeper than any of you could possibly know. Far from having nothing to do with such things, Master Dwarf, she has everything to do with them.”
The dwarf’s hands shook at his sides, and he reached back an arm, and would have let fly his hand at the stranger’s face. Then Silva was there, her fingertips upon the dwarf’s arm. None of us had seen her move, though all our eyes were upon the dwarf at the time.
Not a grip, no hold, just the barest weight of her slender hand upon the dwarf’s wrist.
“Astu, Koo-ric. “Aham’man’ye asti atra sahaayat.”
The woman dipped and flowed into a curtsey so low, her curls tumbled from about her shoulders, and brushed the floor. She held her eyes at a point in the floor just in front of Silva’s toes.
“Namas’te, Amara‘Aatmajaa ap Andahar,” the woman said.
The warmth that had built up in the study fled as the name hung in the air between the girl and the woman bowing before her.
Had Halaran opened the two large windows to the blizzard outside, he could not have made the room so cold so quickly. It seemed the air froze in our chests, even as the flames in the hearth and three braziers roared to twice their previous heights.
The gem adorning Silva’s left arm flared and flickered in concert with the flames, shining brilliantly even through the two or three layers of heavy cloth that hid the webwork of silvery metal from sight.
Her face, half lit by that ghostly orange-yellow glow, had gone ashen, a sheen of sweat standing out across her brow. While our breath did not seem to want to move from within us, the girl breathed shallow, panicked gasps.
“Saa kaa?” she whispered, through stiff lips. She wrenched her gaze away, fixing her haunted eyes on the baron.
“Saa kaa, Hal-a-ran?” She pointed a shaking finger at the woman, who had not moved, hadn’t batted so much as an eyelash at the response her greeting generated.
“Kaa iyam naarii?” The flames leapt at the question, as Silva added some steel to her shaking voice.
She turned back to the woman, and sank to her knees, then flopped — rather undignified — to her backside, gown tangled all about her legs.
“Kaa tvam?” she asked, tears welling up in her eyes. “Bhavaan katham ajaanaat? Katham?”
The woman still did not move, did not speak.
“Kathayami!” Silva slapped her left hand flat upon the floor as she barked the command at the woman, and the keep rocked with the sound and force of a thunderclap overhead. The windows rattled, the stacks of books tumbled from the table. The inkwell jumped on Halaran’s desk. The braziers rocked, one coming dangerously close to tipping over, the flames leaping to nearly double again their height, seeming to pile higher as Silva’s fear and anger grew.
“Listelle, I think it best you answer the girl before she brings the keep down about our ears,” the baron said, his own voice shaking and thready.
At last the woman, Listelle, looked up, her golden eyes meeting those of silver, and the smile again quirked her mouth sideways.
“Caellimi Listelle,” she said, as she sank from her bow, moving her legs in some impossibly fluid manner to suddenly be sitting before the girl, legs folded beneath her.
“Asti ahd—” Her voice caught. “Ast—” Again, her voice seemed to catch in her throat, and she cleared it once, twice. “I am a teacher, and a weaver, from the Tower, in a land called Alphatia.
“Oh dear,” she said, the long fingers of her hand coming up to her lips. “It was supposed to last a bit longer than that.”
Silva blinked, and the hopeful look that had dawned as the woman finally introduced herself crumbled. Two large tears welled up, and slid down the girl’s cheeks. The fires in the room banked nearly to embers, and the gem on her wrist flickered and went dark.
There was a sharp pattering from the hallway outside, and another woman hurried into the room, her skirts drawn up in one hand, the other hand raised in a defensive-seeming manner.
There was another shift in the feel of the air, and a great shivering — as if being doused with icy water — came over me. Ana and the baron, too, shuddered, sucking in sharp breaths.
“My lady Listelle, I heard a crash, and then the fires! Are you—”
Silva scrambled backwards along the floor, her feet slipping for purchase as they tangled in her gown. She backed against my legs with enough force I needed to steady myself against the desk. She trembled nearly as hard as she had during the last few hours of our journey to Tarnskeep.
Kuric stepped to the side, coming between this other woman and the girl, and I crouched down behind Silva, taking her shoulders in my hands, and whispering to her as I would to calm an injured animal — and with just as much caution. With such unpredictable magic about her, we’d seen only a fraction of what she could do, and I, for one, did not want to see what she was capable of if these women tried to corral her.
“Nevinia, release your Power at once,” the woman Listelle said. “There is no threat here, just a very confused and frightened girl.”
The icy prickling sensation along my skin suddenly ceased, and a tension I didn’t know I was holding in my shoulders and neck abruptly released itself.
Silva, though, did not relax, and kept shaking, staring from one woman to the other.
“Saa’te kaa?” Silva asked, glancing up at me.
I glanced at the two women. “I think she asks—”
“She wishes to know who we are,” the red-haired woman said. “Before that, she wished to know who I was, and how I knew who she was. Before that, she told the dwarf…” She frowned. “It is beginning to cloud, but she said… said… ‘Be at peace,’ and ‘I think she will help.’”
I looked up at the scratching sound coming from the desk behind me.
There was a crisp sound of parchment tearing, and Gilliam came into view, his hands held, one upon the other, and he was shaking them. He bent, and opened his hands, but kept them cupped. He held them out to the fiery-haired woman.
“What is this?” she asked, plucking a folded slip of parchment.
“The first question you’re going to answer,” Gilliam said. “With so many flying about, I thought it best to pluck them from the air, that we might get a handhold on them.”
“Well,” the woman said, after we’d taken seats upon the settees and other assorted chairs the baron pulled from this corner or that, “I’ve already given my name. I am a teacher of history, as well as certain arts in the weaving ways at the Tower, in Alphatia.”
“Which tower is that?” Varis asked.
“The Tower,” Ana said. “Where they snatch up girls off the street with any glimmer of magical talent and—”
“We do not ‘snatch them up!’” the other woman — Nevinia — snapped. Her back went even stiffer, and her hands clenched in her lap.
“Oh, that’s right. Girls of Alphatian citizenry are bought. It is the girls of other countries that are snatched.”
Now Varis’ back was the one to stiffen. “Is this true? Abduction? Slavery?”
Listelle rolled her eyes. “Calm yourselves, all of you. The girl paints a very stark picture, but her brush is rather wide. The Tower seeks to train girls who show ability in the proper use of their talents. The Empire pays a stipend to families that would endure hardship the loss of a daughter might incur. We have sisters wandering all the Known World, searching for others who show this same affinity for the weaving of the power of the Spheres, and merely seek to conduct them to the Tower, where we may instruct them. It is for the wellfare of the girls, their families, and the families around them that we do this. That kind of power, without proper control…. Well, the results can range from irksome to disastrous.”
“Tell them what you do to the girls that do not wish to go.”
The woman fixed her golden eyes on Ana. “What happened to your sister was regrettable. Tragic. But we were not at fault. If she had come sooner—”
Ana stood up, and stalked quickly from the room. I think we all pretended that the crackling of the fire drowned out the sound of her sobbing as she left.
The baron rose to his feet. “If you will excuse me.” He gave Listelle a long, searching look, and strode after Ana.
“The Tower is a school, not a prison,” Listelle said. “We do not force anyone to attend, but do our best to persuade them that it is what is best.”
Silva sat on the settee next to me, across the table from the two women from the Tower. She mostly stared at her hands, which she’d folded in her lap. After glaring at Listelle after Ana had departed, Silva had lost interest in the conversation, and she stared at the books now stacked in shorter stacks across the table. Or she would glance behind the women, at the hearth, and watch the flames. Whatever power she’d had over them earlier had diminished, for the flames were back at their proper level. The room was gradually warming again, and our breath, at least, was not clouding in front of us any more.
Gilliam leaned forward, and pointed at the woman sitting beside Listelle. “Your overprotective friend, here? What of her?”
“I am called Nevinia, and I assist the Lady Listelle in her teaching. Where she knows history, I know of the societies and cultures of which she would teach.”
“And you are also a weaver,” I said, remembering the icy tingle of her power against my skin.
“Yes, of course. All who teach at the Tower can do so.”
Listelle and Nevinia were a study in contrasts. Where Listelle was tall and fiery, Nevinia was small and earthy. Her hair and eyes were a brown so deep as to be nearly black. Her complexion was deeply tanned, as though she spent excessive amounts of time out in the sun.
Like Listelle, she bore no lines about her mouth or eyes, and appeared of perhaps thirty years, though they both carried a weight of years in their eyes that spoke of many decades more. I had heard that women who made use of the Power, tapping into the Spheres as they did, ceased to age after a certain number of years of using their gifts. Of those I’d heard who displayed their apparent age, it was usually said that they were the ones who drew from the Sphere of Entropy, and bore the touch of chaos in their ravaged appearance, hunched backs, and gnarled fingers.
Listelle leaned forward, and plucked another folded piece of parchment from the bowl on the serving table. She carefully opened the scrap, turned it over. The half-smile quirked her lips.
“You allow no room for any airs of mystery, do you, Master Gilliam?”
He shrugged. “Call it a dislike for being left to grope in the dark, if you would.”
She folded the paper again, setting it aside. “Nevinia and myself were summoned here by the baron to consult with him on several goings-on in the duchy in general, and his barony in particular.”
“And we’ve landed feet-first in the midst of such goings-on, haven’t we?” I asked.
“Indeed you have,” said the baron, as he entered the room bearing a tray with a teapot and several cups. He set the tray down on a clear spot on the table, and began serving. The first cup he handed to Silva, who took it with a dip of her head, and a whispered “Dhanyavaada.”
“The blue star Risia appearing a month and a half early, and holding the same place in the heavens when it should have moved over the course of the past three weeks causes me great concern.”
“Perhaps such is the will of the Immortals,” Gilliam said.
The baron frowned. “The Immortals do not interfere with the workings of the heavens,” he said.
“I seem to recall a legend that they turned the very stars in the skies, to remind men not to dabble in things best left untouched.”
“That is a legend grown of misinformation,” Listelle said, leveling her gaze at Gilliam. “Yes, it was a result of men treading the wrong paths in the wrong company, but it was men who brought down the disaster upon themselves.”
Varis blinked, slowly. “You’re speaking of the Great Rain of Fire? The work of men? Surely no mortal has the power to move the every star in the sky!”
“The Old Magic was capable of such things, and men in the days of Blackmoor had mastered its use. And they turned that power upon their enemies.”
“I cannot imagine being so desperate as to remake the very face of the world rather than simply surrender and —”
“There was no surrendering to the demon-tainted host of the Afridhi,” Nevinia cut in.
Silva gave a start, her attention snapping to the dark-haired teacher. Her tea came dangerously close to sloshing over the rim of her cup, and I set a steadying hand on her arm.
“Uddizati na ap Afridhi,” she hissed, drawing her fingers across her mouth.
“It would seem she does not like that word, either,” said Varis.
“As well she should not,” Listelle said. “The Af— those people were an ancient tribe, mountain barbarians. What few records we can find indicate that they swept from the mountains, down through the lands surrounding Ancient Blackmoor, conquering all before them. In a matter of a decade, they had gone from a primitive tribe to a wandering army-nation of ironsmiths, charioteers, horsemen and archers.”
Varis’ eyes went wide. “Such change does not happen overnight.”
“They were also demon-worshippers, and their priests were warlocks of the darkest sort,” said Nevinia. “Their foul priests were given the secrets of steel, of the bow and stirrup. Their generals made to dream of advance knowledge of battlefields, and the tactics they were likely to encounter.”
“Such a force would be unstoppable,” Varis breathed.
“It very nearly was,” said Listelle. “If it were not for Blackmoor’s sacrifice, this world would have been overrun, and every generation since would have known naught but slavery, and pain, and suffering.”
“But... What can events of thousands of years ago possibly have to do with us?” Varis asked.
“Demons nearly broke the world, and Blackmoor stood against them,” Ana said. “Demons stir again, and it would seem that Blackmoor once again intervenes.” She stepped away from her place in the doorway.
“Impossible,” I said — speaking before the rest of my thoughts could catch up. I nearly sloshed my own cup of tea, and set it down on the table.
“The records are very clear — Blackmoor, the land, its people, all of it was obliterated, sunk beneath the seas.”
“Not so,” said Listelle. “The passages reads ‘Mountains rose where there were none, as others tumbled to become seas. The land and skies were rent asunder, the sun moved in the sky. It shone down on a world remade when the last of the fire and darkness fled.’”
“The druids’ histories read differently.”
“By the time the lore had passed down to your people, much had changed in the telling,” said Nevinia. “In some places, only a word has changed. A phrase. A missing passage. It is very subtle, but very deliberate. The gaps usually appear between Kingdoms. First and second, second and third.”
“Tell me, Thorn, have you studied any of the elven writings?”
“What has that to do with—” Gilliam started, but I raised a hand. Listelle’s question, while seeming to hit me from behind where I was not looking, gave me pause. It was not unrelated, there were strands, weaving it into the web of events in which we were all firmly snared. I closed my eyes, drew a breath, and paced back, back amongst the memories of my middle training years.
The elves are among some of the longest-lived peoples on the world. Some accounts put them at a mere six generations removed from the Great Rain of Fire, and their writings on events are some of the cleanest records that exist.
The most commonly known of the elven poems, of course, is that of the Last Daughter of the Lost Kingdom, set down some five hundred years ago, among the last of the writings before the elven homelands to the north went silent. Hard to forget, because of its haunting, terrible imagery.
Last Daughter of the Lost Kingdom
Keeper of Dreams, Waking Dreamer
Sleeper Wakened, Walker in Moonlight
Blood of Kings, Bane to Those Beyond
Her Life, the Prison’s Binding Chain.
“Surely, you cannot mean that she….” I said, staring at the girl next to me. Small and pale, with hair of gold and eyes that seemed to have seen too much. A girl who spoke a dead language, and bore newly minted coins from a kingdom gone for three thousand years.
Kuric only shrugged when I voiced my suspicions.
“Surely something such as this would not be beyond the men of the World that Was.”
“Thorn, you must ask yourself another question,” Listelle said. “Think not of how it was done, for that knowledge is surely beyond us.”
“But what should I…?”
The frown on Gilliam’s face suddenly lifted. “Why would the elves have any knowledge of one such as her?”
“Why indeed?” Listelle asked, with a satisfied smile.
“The elves of the north put down a demonic invasion,” Ana said. “Their workings of magic are of keen interest to those of my order, and the intricacy of the bindings are still not fully understood, even after centuries of study.”
“Thorn, the demons. They are the link. When they appear, she appears.”
“And what happens, once they are defeated? What becomes of her?” Durin asked.
I shook my head. “I know of no stories that tell that.”
Listelle shook her head as well, as did her assistant.
“I suppose we will find that out for ourselves, then,” Varis said.
“I wish we could just ask her ourselves,” said Durin. “I see that she would have helped us, warned us, many times, if we could but speak.”
“What of your weaving, earlier?” Kuric asked. “You could speak her tongue.”
Listelle shook her head.
“That was a… concoction, a potion, if you will. It took months to prepare, and many, many special ingredients. It is not something one can just ‘whip up.’”
“Well, start whipping,” Durin said, waving his fingers.
“The passes to the elven homeland are closed until spring,” Listelle said. “That was where the bulk of the ingredients were from. But if you were to go there, you may as well just bring the girl and try to find an elf, for her language and that of the oldest of the elven clans are very similar.”
The baron cleared his throat, and we all looked up at him, as he stood by the hearth, warming his hands.
“We may not see a springtime, at the rate this weather is going. It is Risia’s closeness which brings on this untimely cold, I am sure of it.”
“We’ll just climb a ladder and put that star back where it belongs,” Gilliam said with a smirk.
We adjourned for lunch, a hearty soup of chicken and vegetables, with more dumplings that Silva seemed to enjoy so much. Afterwards, Silva and I took up the roll of maps, and looked over them, using the baron’s large dining room table so we could look upon several at once.
Listelle had brought some maps from the Tower, these being very old, and the coastlines did not appear at all to be any I knew. Silva peered at some with intense interest, but ultimately shook her head.
I unrolled one, a map of the entirety of the Known World, and again, once I pointed out our initial location, Silva retraced her steps across the map, down to Specularum, near the coast, along the Westron road, up through Threshold and the Gap. She swung her finger sharply east, then, a winding route through the Black Peaks, up into the Altan Tepes, to southern Rockhome.
“Where next?” I asked.
She seemed to at least understand what I wanted to know, for she glanced over the remainder of the maps, but shook her head. So wherever it was she’d come from wasn’t covered on any of the maps. Which ruled out all the countries of the Known World, the Isle of Dawn, Alphatia and Bellisaria.
If Listelle’s wild notion that the girl was descended of Blackmoor worked out to be true, then that would place her homeland in the frigid oceans beyond Skothar.
The possibilities with the maps exhausted, we returned to the study, where the two women and dwarves were deep in conversation, the two no doubt grilling the dwarves for every kernel of information they could glean about the girl’s appearance and what went on in her time with them.
I went to the baron’s desk, where the parchment, quill, and ink still stood on the desk. I carefully scribed my name in every language I knew — which consisted of the Thyatian and Traladaran alphabets, a runic representation of the druids’ shorthand, and a clumsy attempt at old elven script, the glyphics of my name about the only bits of the meandering script I knew with any certainty.
Ana joined us at the desk, and added my name in the old and newer Alphatian alphabets. Then she handed the quill to the girl.
I pointed to each rendition of my name, pronouncing it, and then the letterings, which again caused the girl to shake her head in frustration.
“Eiaoni zabda ‘Thor-n’” she said with a frown. Her pronunciation of my nickname was oddly worked, as though she wanted to roll the “r” and add another syllable to the end.
I took the quill from her, and wrote my other name, which until then, I hadn’t used since my Shearing.
“Marcu,” I said, showing her which letters made the sounds. It felt strange on my tongue.
This she seemed to grasp, and she drew two intricate characters, which resembled sticks and snakes. I could see shadows of the elven script there, but the lines didn’t add up to the proper inflections.
“Mahr-koo” she read, and Ana giggled at the girl’s exaggerated pronunciation.
Silva bent, and drew another quick sign, this one looking like rushing water.
“Andahar?” I asked.
She paled, glancing left and right, at the fireplace, and the braziers about the room, biting her lip.
The name looked remarkably like a sweeping hawk. She scratched through it after we’d gotten a good look.
I took the pen, and scribed my surname, pointing out the syllables and then pointing to where she’d scratched out her family name.
“Marcu Markovic,” I read, putting my first and last names together, then I handed the quill back to her.
She chewed at her lip for a good several minutes, shifting from foot to foot. I knew she knew what I’d indicated.
She dipped the quill, and scratched a series of sigils, but she did not read them back to us. They were spidery, suggesting clouds and light — that is the only way I can describe what the symbols looked like to me.
“You will not speak them?” Ana asked, pointing to the name, and then to her lips.
Silva shook her head. “Uddizati na,” she said, making the same fingers-across-lips gesture she had earlier.
I took the quill, and dripped ink over the string of characters, and the girl seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.
If she was involved with old magics, especially the kinds dealing with demons, then she was wise to keep her true name secret.
Best to play safe, and not pry too much more, then. I drew a single stroke on the page.
“One,” I said, holding up a finger.
She blinked, then dragged a chair over to the desk, as she’d been standing on tip toes the whole time. She climbed up on the chair, folding her legs beneath her, then held up one of her own fingers.
“Ekka,” she said.
We traded the words back and forth before we were satisfied with each others’ pronunciations, and then I drew a second stroke on the page.
“Dvha!” she said, putting up a second finger before I could.
We spent the rest of the afternoon learning numbers, and after a while, the dwarves joined in the instruction, so I began to pick up their language, as well.