Wednesday, February 17, 2010

They watch all – but what they don’t want to see is also watching them.
They seek knowledge – but what they don’t want to know will hunt them down.

A new sci-fi / fantasy novel by S. E. Scribner

This is part of the first chapter, where the world of Tond is first introduced. Two of the main characters, brothers (children in this beginning chapter), venture where they shouldn’t be…

…The sons of Tlaen Ras-Erkéltis, Rodan and Arnul, were four years apart. They were raised by Keldar in the manner of the ahíinor loremasters, and they grew strong and wise in the lore of their people. Rodan was muscular and stocky, with hair and eyes the color of the sands of the desert, a handsome face but with the somewhat long nose of his father Tlaen, intense dark eyes, and an expressive mouth that was often shaped into a smile. Arnul was lankier (he would probably be much taller when he reached adulthood), with long arms and legs so he looked somewhat spidery, green eyes (very rare among the Fyorians) and hair the color of night; he was often described as “foreign” in appearance, though like Rodan he was considered handsome.

There was another, more subtle difference. If asked to describe what this difference was, I would say this: if Rodan were on a walk just outside of Sóa Ríisuhand and came upon a nest of desert-rats, he would observe them carefully and for several hours, watching their coming and going and their bringing food back to the nest; he would stay until they were comfortable with his presence, and would remember the place and return the next day to see if anything had changed. If Arnul were on the same walk just outside of Sóa Ríisuhand and were to come across the same nest of desert-rats, he would kick the nest to pieces and chase the rats away or throw stones on them; such vermin did not belong living so close to the world of the Fyorian ahíinor…

A small flickering light appeared in the dark room. Rodan Ras-Erkéltis, age eleven, sat up on his mattress, looked around him. It was Arnul, holding a candle.

“...wha...what time is it? Why are you up so late?” Rodan asked.

“It’s a little after sundown. I stayed up. I didn’t drink my nemurath tea tonight. Easier to stay awake. Come on, I have something to show you.”

“After sundown?”

“Inside of course. Ever wondered what Keldar does in that room downstairs? Look; I hid this.” From under the folds of his night-robe he produced a gold-colored key.

Rodan laughed. “Silly. Keldar will miss it. He goes down in that room every night.”

“He has four of them. He often loses one. You didn’t hear him at dinner tonight? ‘Now where is that key?’ he asked, ‘I thought it was here, but I’m always mislaying things. Must be getting old.’ he said. Now come on, let’s go.”

“Go where?”

“You know, stupid. What’s the key for? The lore-room, of course.”

Rodan got off of his mattress, slipped on his night-robe, and padded out of the room behind Arnul. “You always get us in trouble.” he muttered, half to himself, as they passed the door to Arnul’s bedroom and then through the gently sloping rounded hallway to the stairway. The stairs led to the rooms underground, where they spent much of their days out of the burning heat of the desert sun. (There were a lot of rooms, and some whole dwellings, underground in Sóa Ríisuhand; rumor had it that if you knew where to look you could find whole systems of interconnected tunnels and secret passageways, but Rodan and Arnul had never found any). But one room had always remained secret; this very room, the lore-room, which they stood in front of now.

Arnul slipped the key into the keyhole and massive wooden door creaked open inward, as if by itself. Nothing could be seen inside; but Arnul slipped in confidently. Rodan followed into the darkness and the door shut behind them with a muffled FWUMP.

It certainly was dark. Even Arnul’s candle seemed dull in the stillness and the heavy air, and the flickering light did not reach the ceiling (either that or the ceiling was painted darkest black). In the dimness Rodan could barely make out a large cabinet, plain and undecorated, with some space behind it for the curve where the floor met the wall; a bookshelf, also plain and undecorated, half full or old tattered books stacked at odd angles; and a plain table covered with all manner of curious objects apparently made of metal and glass: knives, goblets, rings, crystals, and some things he couldn’t name.

“Are you sure we should be in here...? What if Keldar comes in...?” he whispered.

“Keldar’s asleep.” said Arnul. “Now, see those things on the table? Here.” He went over to the table, set the candle down on it (a little too close to one of the crystals, thought Rodan) and picked up one of the strange objects, a metal ball. “Keldar calls these things mechanas; they’re left over from the Ancients, he says. From before the Devastation. Here.” He handed the ball to Rodan.

Rodan almost laughed. Some of the things were certainly mysterious; this ball, however, was not. “This is for playing ten-ball. If you wanted to come in here and risk getting in big trouble just to play a game of ten-ball...”

“See the holes?”

“Of course, silly. The thumb-hole and two finger-holes. I thought Keldar showed you how to play.”

“Put your thumb in the thumb-hole.”

Rodan did, half noticing that there was a Fyorian word “open” scratched in the metal beside the hole. Before he could wonder what it meant, a searing, eye-numbing light poured out of the ball, filling the room with clarity, rainbows and shadows. Rodan cried out and dropped the ball and it rolled into a corner (the shadows danced crazily).

Arnul laughed. “It’s called a glow-ball. Heard Keldar talking about it the other day. Better than a candle!” He retrieved the ball from its corner.

Rodan’s sight was returning. The light was actually not so bright; it had merely seemed so because he had been looking directly at it when it started.

Arnul turned the glowing ball around in his hand. “The other two holes; one is for ‘suspending’ it; here.” He put his finger in one of the holes and held the ball up above his head, and let go, dropping his hand. The ball remained in the air above his head. “Try to pull it down.”

Rodan reached up and gave the ball a yank; it stubbornly remained in the middle of the air as if held there by an invisible solid object, and when he let go it bounced and rolled a couple of inches across its invisible floor. Arnul reached up again and slapped it; it bounced again and rolled back into the corner, but now above their heads. “You can use the light to read but it stays out your way.” he commented. “I came in here last night and tried it. The other hole stops the light. ‘Closes’ it, says Keldar. Here.”

He went to retrieve the ball again, and suddenly froze. From outside of the room came the muffled sound of footsteps.

“...Keldar! He must’ve heard you yell when you ‘opened’ the light! Quick, behind the cabinet!” and in one motion he grabbed the ball, replaced it on the table, snuffed out the candle with his fingers, stopped the light from the ball and apparently jumped behind the cabinet in the dark, leaving Rodan to feel around blindly.

The footsteps grew louder, then stopped, and another light, this time a shaft of whiteness, split open the dark. Rodan saw the location of the cabinet and dived toward it, suddenly feeling Arnul’s hands drag him back behind it. There was the FWUMP of the door closing as the light went out, and then he could hear Keldar’s raspy breathing in the room.

And then silence.

And another spate of raspy breath, this time with some sniffing.

And another silence. Rodan could feel Arnul’s hot breath down his back.

Another light appeared. A glowball, from the dancing shadows it cast. Then the shadows stopped moving; Keldar had suspended it in a corner.

Silence. Rodan could feel his heart pounding. Then, almost imperceptibly, Keldar muttered to himself, and chuckled. A small scraping sound, and the light went out.

Silence; a long deep dreadful silence, and darkness. Rodan felt his sweat running down his face, though the air was cold. But nothing could have prepared him for what happened next.

Keldar’s voice, now loud and powerful, speaking nonsense. “Trúmiti káva mikáva ahíkulaa!” And a blast of light, much more intense than the glowball. When Rodan’s eyes readjusted, he saw that the room was now filled with the yellow flicker of firelight.

Arnul’s green eyes were filled with terror. “He’s started a fire in the middle of the room! He’s going to burn us up, or smother us with smoke...!”

“I don’t smell any smoke,” said Rodan, truthfully enough.

And at that moment Rodan felt something awaken deep inside of him, something he could barely name and scarcely control; he just knew that he absolutely had to see what Keldar was doing, no matter what the danger. He cautiously peered out from behind the cabinet while trying to bat away Arnul’s attempts to pull him back.

Keldar the old man was seated on the floor, with his back towards Rodan, facing a blaze in the middle of the room. Really in the middle of the room; though no coals or embers were visible, it started a little more than a foot above the floor, and reached to about a foot below the ceiling (which was painted black, Rodan could now see) without changing or diminishing in intensity. And as he watched, the center part of the flame changed into many colors and formed a scene of the desert with the half moon above.

“...Get back behind, you fool!” Arnul whispered, quite loudly, and Rodan felt clammy hands on his shoulders. He squirmed free, and suddenly Keldar turned around with a sharp glance right at the cabinet. Rodan withdrew just in time. “Stay here!” whispered Arnul.

Reflections and shadows moved across the wall behind Rodan. For a moment he hardly dared to move, and then, slowly, quietly, he looked out again, fighting Arnul’s protests.

Keldar was facing the flame again, and the scene of the desert was moving, speeding past as though they were on a horse. It stopped momentarily at a ríisuhand with quite a number of houses, and then proceeded again, now passing through several more oases and then suddenly into a grassland. A few farms were visible in the moonlight, but now the scene was moving so quickly that Rodan could see few details. There were some mountains in the distance, visible as vague shadows, and apparently the scene was moving toward them. In a moment Rodan was gazing down into a deep snowy crevasse, and then the mountains were behind, and the moon vanished behind a cover of clouds, just before a second range of mountains appeared and was hidden in the dark. “Darkness in a flame; an odd idea!” Rodan thought. For a minute the image was blank, and then an eerie greenish light illuminated a scene of mountains again; the picture was now moving quite slowly, about the speed of a man walking. Rodan could see bizarrely shaped outcroppings of rock, twisted and bent, and old gnarled trees with branches like twisted, diseased arms. Presently a strange creature appeared, seemingly made of body parts of several different animals; a scaly fish-like body, a bird’s head with a long, spiny lower mandible and no feathers, and arms that appeared almost like the branches of the trees; it thumped along on thin muscular legs shaped like those of an insect; it gleamed metallically in the strange light (was it wearing some kind of armor?) and seemed to be carrying something on its back. The scene followed along for a moment, and suddenly the creature turned and stared straight at Keldar (and Rodan); its eyes were small and black; and it spat something red. Rodan ducked, expecting to get hit with venom (surely the creature was poisonous!) but the red stuff fell to the ground in front of it; this was of course only an image of the creature and it couldn’t have hit them even if it really did know they were watching it. The venom had been aimed at something else, apparently, and Rodan began to feel frustrated that Keldar wouldn’t show him what (certainly Keldar was controlling the scene). But then the creature turned and jerkily strode away. A shooting star appeared overhead; the image tumbled headlong towards it, ignoring the hybrid creature; Rodan saw the trees and rocks and mountains in the distance spin dizzily. The scene went blank again.

A face appeared in the flame, a Fyorian man with a long bushy blond beard. The light was normal again, and the man was looking directly at Keldar.

The man spoke. “Keldar Ras-Áelinar. Pleasant to see you.”

“And you, Eilann Kun-Táninos.” Replied Keldar. “But I have just seen--”

The man in the fire cut him off with a wave of his arm, but his face was smiling. “Before you tell me, uh, there is…”

Keldar laughed loudly, and mumbled something inaudible. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, followed by more whispered words.

Surely they were talking about Rodan! What could he do now? He couldn’t just disappear back behind the cabinet; he’d been seen (the image in the fire obviously did go both directions). And he noticed now that Arnul had stopped clawing at him; in fact Arnul was staring at him with such wide eyes and open mouth that it was almost fishlike; comical, if Rodan was not worried himself...

“ I’ll bring it up at the next Council of Ahíinor.” Keldar was saying, in a normal voice again. “A gruntagkshk...” (his pronunciation of the word was bizarre, with all of the consonants in the jumble at the end clearly enunciated; obviously not a Fyorian word) “...a gruntagkshk that knew we were watching it, and a flyfire in Borrogg. Who could possibly have a mechana for a flyfire in Borrogg...? Anyway I’ll worry about it later. AND NOW FOR THE LITTLE SPY...!” he turned around and glared right at Rodan with his narrow dark eyes, and at the same time the glowball in the corner lit up and rebounded through the air and came to rest about an inch from Rodan’s nose. Rodan withdrew, only to crash into Arnul (who had apparently slipped while trying to squeeze out from the other side, although the bookshelf was blocking his escape); he stuck his elbow in Arnul’s eye, Arnul swore and lunged at him, and they both tumbled out onto the floor.

To be continued…

©2009 by S. E Scribner

A parallel story involves Teyan Dar-Taeminos, another Fyorian. This is an excerpt from chapter nine, catching him in an inn in the Drennic Lands in the far north of Tond, after a disasterous misadventure. He is in a rare moment of indecision.

Well now what did he want to do...? He'd escaped from the Chelloi and there was obviously no reason to go back there despite the hospitality. So, wow what an original idea, he could go somewhere else. Back to Kaii and to visit his old teacher and loremaster; that would be a starter. Besides, even though that town was near the base of the Horn Hill and that horn thing sounded every morning with a skull-shattering racket, he was actually beginning to miss the place. Even with the Horn. Or did he miss the horn blasts? If nothing else, they were a unique way to wake up. Well anyway he would go back there, but what after that? His duty as a wandering ahíinor was to collect lore from wherever he could and return the knowledge to Rohándal. He'd gotten quite a few interesting tales from Kaii, but to stay there and learn more would probably entail learning the Kayánti language. A difficult proposition even if he were good with languages. (He'd always used to make fun of it anyway as sounding like katakatakatakatakata and wondered how they could ever say anything because all of the words sounded alike; he'd only stopped himself after hearing that the Kayánti people said Fyorian sounded like takanda takanda takanda takanda, and they wondered how anybody could ever say anything because all of the words sounded alike. Yes, there was a proverb in Fyorian, something about circles looking round from either direction...)

He finished his breakfast, shouldered his pack, took his staff and his sword, and headed out into the main room of the inn, ready to go back onto the road. ...Oh wait; there was a map on the wall there by the fireplace. Better have a look; it might tell him a good place to head to next.

Well, it was nice of them to write it in Drennic; it was covered with squarish stick figures that definitely were pointing at him (and laughing) because he couldn't read them. It would have been nicer if they'd written it in a language that they didn't know (Fyorian, perhaps?) so that he might have some idea what they were trying to say. Well, at least the shapes of the land were the same in any language. He recognized the Drennic lands there, the cluster of dots and specks that were islands in the sea (and they were in the center of the map even though there was nothing west of them but ocean and a bunch more of those stick figures; why did everybody have to always put their own country in the center of a map even if it's not...?). Beside the islands were those two arms of land reaching out to grab them; the two peninsulas encircling Kaii Bay. Or Drennic Bay, depending on who was naming it. Farther eastward was a jumble of mountains and forests (and stick figures) and Kaii proper, the flat forested lands, flat except for that one hill (Horn Hill; they even had it on this map; oh well, not that there was anything else of particular interest in Kaii) and beyond that, within a ring of mountains, the mysterious land of Borrogg. Always a weird place. The Ancients had certainly done something interesting there, but nobody knew what it was or had ever found it; or at least no one had ever told about it, anyway; few people ever went in to Borrogg and fewer came out. And why did the place have a Karjaenic name, (or at least it sounded Karjaenic) so far from the Imperium? Creeping Karjaenism, obviously. That's what all the other Fyorians would say; they always said that the big bad Imperium was engulfing everything. Maybe he'd go take a look at the Karjaens' land sometime himself and see if it was really as menacing as everyone said. (Bunch of friendly guys, those Karjaens, said all the stories; but they couldn't really go into towns with the intention of killing everything that moves, including plants that waved in the wind. Fantasies of people who were too friendly with the Sherványa, probably.)

He glanced down the map to the Imperium, which was squeezed in very small at the bottom and apparently jumbled in with the Emb Lands. Well what would the Emb say about that? Anyway he couldn't make out any of it (backstab those stupid stick figures, blocking all of the space!) so he glanced northward to Rohándal.

Swords and daggers! The Taennishman's prophecy suddenly came into his mind unbidden. The prophecy is written, in a book somewhere in the Halls of the Grimborn in Rohándal. Dog feathers. Worm legs. He'd never heard of any place called the Halls of the Grimborn, and he'd lived in Rohándal for nineteen years. And what were the Grimborn anyway? A Fyorian word, obviously, more than one grímbor; that certainly helped clear things up because he'd never heard of one of those, either. Well, maybe it would be interesting to find out. Just to know not to go there.

There was an elderly Drenn woman sitting by a table near him, sipping tea from a black Kayánti teacup. He went over to her.

"Kyâuwàp. Xr grímborn nók syèbtûk qótàt?" "Excuse me, where are the Halls of the Grimborn?" he asked her, pointing at the map and trying to wrap his tongue around the strange clicks and singing syllables of Drennic. (Whoever decided that a language had to make so much noise anyway?, he wondered.)

She studied at the map for a while, then pointed to a set of stick-figures in the center part of the desert in northern Rohándal. "Grímborn nók syèbtûk qxô qótàt." she said, and sat down again and took another sip of tea. "The Halls of the Grimborn are right there."

"Nqèp." He thanked her, and pondered the map again. Hmmm, right there in northern Rohándal. Right where no Fyorians ever went because there wasn't anything there. Backstab that Taennishman! Telling him to go to no-place places. Or was there something there? Hmmm. He caught himself. No-place place. That's exactly what Ro-hánd-dal meant. He sighed. Alright, Taennishman, he muttered. You win for now. I'll go to the Halls of the Grimborn. Briefly. And I'll find that there's nothing there. Oh, wait; maybe there is something there. The Drenn had at least put it on the map, and it was probably closer to them than to the places he had been before in Rohándal. And the Taennishman had been right about the evil gruntags too. At least one gruntag. Mumbling to himself, he left the inn.

To be continued…

©2009 by S. E Scribner)