Chapter Five: Hungers
Christian's stomach growled once again. After the discovery of the books and the picture of the tower, Amber had suggested they track down her uncle. She hadn't seen him in many years, but he lived on his own some three day's journey from Aitoc D'avon, and he had a well-known reputation for being obsessed with maps and writings. So much so that most folks in the village were very glad that he mostly stayed out in his distant cabin. For once the tables seemed to be turned on Amber. She was suggesting that they wait for a while, plan things out, while Christian was anxious to head out from the library that very moment with the clothes on his back and the crust of bread in his pocket. They reached a compromise and after several hours, they had gathered together enough odds and ends which they figured would help them on their journey. Although they had taken what they assumed would be enough for four days, after only two they had begun rationing the meagre remains of their supplies. Christian never realized that walking could make a person so hungry. Now, on their fifth day, they had both begun to grow concerned. If it weren't for the fact that they were following the river, they would have thought themselves to be lost. With his walking staff he swatted at the prickly branches that constantly got in his way. Meanwhile, his free hand was trying to maneuver beneath his backpack in order to rub at the aching knot between his shoulderblades.
This had not been the adventure he had envisioned when he and Amber had first set out. He laughed at his naive fantasy of rescuing some girl in a distant tower. A couple days of trapsing through the Tammarran Woods had made him consider dropping this so-called adventure and heading back to his soft bed and making fun of the other boys who could not come close to beating him at swords. If it were not for the dreams each night, he may have turned back. But each evening he approached the tower and her pleading voice came to him. She seemed to know him so well, he almost expected her to speak his name at times. But it was always the same, the same words, the same pleading eyes. He would wake each morning with a renewed desire to go on. There had to be some truth to his dreams. Finding the chest of books and the drawing of the tower within them could not be mere coincidence. But when he tried to determine any other explanation, he was completely at a loss. Was it a premonition? Was she actually trying to contact him?
Lost in his own thoughts, he nearly fell over Amber, who was crouched down near some thorny bushes. She held up a handful of shiny, greyish nuts. "Do you think they're edible?" she asked.
"I thought you were supposed to be the grand adventurer." He smiled as she screwed up her face at him. "Actually, I think I've seen them before. Yeah, my parents used to eat them. My dad would come home with a whole basket of them sometimes."
She took one from her handful and began to crush the outer shell between some rocks. She removed the contents and hesitantly popped it in her mouth. A smile crossed her face. "These are really good. They're not hard and dry either, they're chewy. Try some."
Seeing that it was approaching dusk, they decided that this was as good a spot as any to make camp for the night. He laughed at using the term camp for the place where they would curl up on some moss, covering themselves with the extra changes of clothes from their packs, and go to sleep. When they had left, they figured it was warm enough to not have to pack the bulky blankets. They had not realized that it still got quite cold in the evenings. As Christian sat down by the bushes chewing on the newfound supper, he wondered about the possibilty that they could sleep together tonight in order to stay warm. Funny the idea hadn’t crossed his mind the previous nights. Then he stopped chewing and wondered where his mind had suddenly gone to. Cuddle up with Amber for the night to stay warm? He must be out of his mind. This was Amber he was talking about. Even if she didn’t laugh in his face for suggesting such a thought... and yet the idea did seem to make sense. And oddly enough it also seemed to hold a certain appeal to him that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He looked over at Amber sitting by one of the trees. She was too far away for talking. He painfully pulled himself up and sat down next to her, groaning as the muscles in his back seemed to stretch and snap.
She looked at him with an amused expression on her face. "Got a sore back?" He couldn't read her mood. It was almost as if she were happy about it. "Take off your shirt, I'll give you a rub."
Christian couldn't believe how casual she was about it. Then he nearly laughed out loud. It wasn't as if she was asking him to strip. She was being friendly, that was all, a nice gesture. She knew he was in pain and she wanted to help. It was his mind that was doing all the wandering into uncharted territory. He obliged her and removed his shirt before lying down on the soft grass. "Perhaps she is sore as well," he thought. "Maybe I can return the favor once she is done." As he felt her warm hands massaging between his shoulderblades, he wondered what was wrong with him. He had never before thought of Amber as anything but a friend. Part of him was sure that was still true. Yet his mind was wandering. He began to relax to the rhythm of her soft hands. As he closed his eyes he began to see her, he began to think about returning that favor, he began to be lulled into a sleep filled with dreams.
Amber was pretty certain that Christian had fallen asleep but she continued to massage his back. She enjoyed it. She even allowed her hands to wander up to his neck at times, running her fingers along the length of his arms. She wondered what had gotten into her, she was normally not so bold. Sure, she could pick a fight with any man or do whatever she pleased despite what the rest of the villagers thought, she was bold in that sense, but this was Christian here lying before her. She was never able to be bold in this way.
And yet, even as she had these thoughts, her fingers traced the small scar along the center of his back. She had given him that scar, many many years ago. It was their first time practicing swords together. He had thought she was joking but she pestered him until he gave in and offered to teach her. During that first lesson he taunted her and teased her, saying that girls were not supposed to use swords. She knew he was only teasing, that he did it to make her try harder, but that didn’t stop her temper from rising. After an especially embarrassing fumble, he began to laugh and turned to walk away, telling her to stick to things she was good at. She had only meant to swat him on the side with the flat of the practice sword but her anger caused it to be more than a swat. The sword’s point snapped off and the once smooth end became a sharp point that tore open the back of his shirt and ripped into his skin. She had cried so hard after that. And he had been so understanding. More upset by her tears than the blood soaking into his ruined shirt. It was that quality about him that made her - she tried to search for another word besides love but couldn’t find it. Yes, even then it had been true. How could he have understood the reason for her tears. It had hurt her so much at the time. Thinking back to the other day when she had accidentally jabbed him with her sword, she was amazed at how much she had changed. No tears anymore, in fact she couldn’t remember crying since. She had felt ashamed of her reaction that day. Still running her fingers along the scar, she found that she was somehow glad it was there. It was a common link to her that would be with him forever. Somehow, as foolish at that seemed, it made her feel that -
Christian began to stir, he was waking. Quickly her hands went back to their circular motions. Her heart leaped, as if she had been caught doing something wrong. He slowly rolled over and squinted up at her with dopey eyes. He smiled for a moment and then he pulled himself up, nearly knocking her over. “Okay,” he said, “now it’s your turn.”
For a moment she didn’t realize what he meant. Then a grin came across
her entire face. Without a moment’s hesitation, she lay down on the warm
spot of grass where he had been and recklessly hauled her shirt up to her
neck. Although she told herself that she wanted to stay awake, to be able
to absorb every moment of this magical evening, in no time she had drifted
off to sleep, the first perfectly content sleep she had had in many years.
Christian was lying face down in the hot springs up at Blue Eye Pass. It was still the middle of winter and his back, which was exposed to the air, seemed chilled, while the rest of him, safe beneath the water’s surface, was warm and comfortable. He tried to swim down deeper, to fully immerse himself in the warmth of the springs, but found he was unable to. Then the thought crossed his mind that he had had his face under water for hours now and had never come up to breathe. Suddenly the water seemed to give way and he could see light streaming in from the surface.
As he slowly opened one eye he could see several green stalks of grass in the hazy morning light. Then his eyes moved to take in his surroundings. He had fallen asleep on the grass and forgotten to even cover himself up. He didn’t even have his shirt on. What a fool he was, could have caught his death of cold. What had he been doing before he fell asleep? Just then he heard a brief sigh and the ground moved beneath him. And then he remembered it all. But nothing had happened, had it? Amber lay there, still asleep, her shirt still hiked up aroud her neck, lucky she didn’t strangle herself in the night. He slowly rolled himself off her, trying not to wake her. His left hand was resting underneath her shoulder. Slowly, as gently as he could, he eased his hand away. Then, taking a step back, he retrieved his shirt, damp with dew, and hastily pulled it on. He turned and headed off towards the river. He had some things to think about. As he walked away, he popped one of the sweet nuts into his mouth. It made his tongue feel furry. He spit it out and walked on.
The two of them walked in silence for most of the day. The pleasant conversations they had entertained each other with on the previous days seemed too forced to begin. The silence made the hours grind away ever so slowly and the walking aggravatingly boring, leaving them with nothing to distract them from their rumbling bellies or their sore legs. They managed to find a few apple trees and a handful of edible berries, but none of it seemed to help much. As another evening began to approach, instead of looking for a good spot to rest, Christian continued to push onwards. Surely Amber couldn't have been this far off in her memory of the distance. They had to come across the cabin soon. He found that he did not want to spend another night out in the cold. A warm bed with a little fire and a hot meal... but he knew the real reason why he had begun to pick up the pace despite his aching legs and why he really wanted to reach the cabin before nightfall. He was afraid of what would happen if the two of them spent another night alone together. Actually, there was a small part of him that was hoping they wouldn't find the cabin tonight, hoping... and that was what really scared him.
Amber knew the reason for Christian's hurry this evening. She began to worry that she had gone too far the previous night. And yet he had seemed happy after she had finished. He even returned the favor. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to make the memories of the night before as distinct as possible. A low hanging branch brought her out of her daydreams. She had awakened in the morning to feel his warmth and his weight pressing down against her. She had pretended to be asleep as he slowly pulled himself up and snuck off. Had their tiredness from the long walk simply made them vulnerable? Had he awakened in the morning and realized what a fool he had been? Part of her wanted to find the cabin now simply to break this terrible silence between them. All day long she had searched for a way to break the silence. Tried to find some bit of scenery or some past incident to comment on but they all seemed like too obvious attempts to simply talk. She nearly laughed at her childishness . With any other person she would have simply walked up to them and said "what the hell's your problem?" But not Christian. She kicked at a small pile of rocks angrily, scattering them across the forest floor. It accomplished nothing, they continued to walk in silence.
Chapter Six: After the Whirlwind
Crance crouched, half kneeling in the grass, looking out at the empty fields before him. Aelix approached him and sat down cross-legged beside him. From the comfortable position he was getting into, Crance assumed he was in for a long talk and settled down in the grass in similar fashion.
"Everyone is starting to get a little restless Crance. Not just the villagers, but the men. It's been two days and nothing's happened. What do you think is up?"
"I'm afraid that the fellow in charge of the other post had a few more brains than I counted on. I figured that on seeing what was left at the Dobern post, he'd storm up here with the men that he had and we'd be able to put up a good fight and hopefully fend them off. But this guy has patience. He knows we took the sprayers and he knows we're at least a bit of a threat to him. So, he's probably still down at the post, waiting for reinforcements."
"Then why not take them out now, while their numbers are small, while we stand a good chance?"
"For all I know there is a whole army of them waiting beyond those trees. Perhaps they are waiting for us to get restless, waiting for us to come out of the safety of the village. I just don't know. The thing is, in here, we stand at least a fighting chance. Out there, we're completely vulnerable to any guard that has a sprayer on him. But you are right, something has to be done. The simple fact is that within a matter of days, any reinforcements he may have called will arrive and they will storm through here and before it's over there won't be a single one of us or the villagers left alive. But there's an even bigger problem I think that has nothing to do with sheer numbers. I've been trying to ignore it, hoping I wouldn't have to face it until after this fight, but now I don't think I have any choice. Do you want to know what I would do if I were him? I would bring out my men to the opposite edge of this field and put on a big show, have them doing their marching and perhaps calling out for the rebels to surrender and so on. Meanwhile, a handful of men, perhaps only three or four, armed with sprayers, would come in, all from different directions, out of those woods in back or over by the river.
"These sprayers change everything. I always knew they were deadly, I had seen them kill Tom Villins with one years ago, but that was one man. Seeing how you can mow down a whole sqaud of men with one, that changes everything. These weapons are too dangerous. As long as we're all in one place we're vulnerable. You saw how easy we took out the guards here at the village. When we did our plans, we mostly thought about defending this village against a small army of men with swords. But how can we guard the entire village from a single man slipping in? That's all it takes. One man with a sprayer could end this rebellion in a matter of seconds. I'm almost surprised it hasn't happened already."
"It sounds as if you have admitted defeat. Are you preparing to give yourself up, turn the lot of us in?"
Crance's look ended any speculation Aelix might have had. "We're going to have to leave the village. It's not a choice I want to make but it seems like the only possibility now. Look at these villagers. I thought they would really rally behind us. Half of them seem angry that we've ruined the festivities while many of the others seem to have learned their bravery from my father, accusing us of bringing the wrath of the Amberians down upon them. Bloody fools! If Flame himself showed up here with his men to free them they'd probably complain."
"Have you spoken with your father yet?"
Crance shook his head. "The chances of holding this place even with their full support would be slim, but without it- No. if we are here when the Amberians arrive in force, the villagers will be killed along with us. Even if the soldiers want to spare them, you can't be selective with those monstrosities. I want your honest opinion. If we are not here when the Amberians arrive, do you think they'll kill the villagers?"
"If they know we have left? I don't think they'd harm the villagers. Things might be a little more strict when they come back, but the people are useful to them. They need folks like us to supply them with those constant wagonloads of lumber and vegetables."
"That's what I believe as well. I think the safest thing for the villagers right now is for us to leave. I'm sure there are some scouts out in those woods as we speak keeping an eye on us. We want to make it obvious to them that we are leaving but we don't want to give them much advance notice. And there's still the chance that they're all just waiting out there for us. So, we're going to have to split up, all leave the village on our own. Figure out a spot for us all to meet up later. I think there are still a number of people that will join us. Maybe you can check into that. Don't glorify it to them, make sure they're not expecting soft beds and warm meals every night. Hmmph! Well, I guess it's decided, isn't it. No use sitting around here anymore waiting for them to roll over us. Let's go tell the others."
He was about to get up when Aelix grabbed hold of his shoulder. "Then what? What do we do once we leave?"
Crance nearly laughed at the question. He was so caught up in the idea of leaving, he hadn't even thought about where they would be going, what road it would take them on. But the answer seemed to come to him easily enough. "Have you wondered what it would be like to see battles being fought where both sides were using sprayers?"
"I don't think I'd like to see such a slaughtering."
"I know. But what would happen if I sent ten of my men against ten of yours?"
"I think they'd all be killed."
"And if I sent two men to your ten?"
"If the two guys were fast enough, I still think they'd all be killed."
"Exactly. I wish I could have talked more with that Saysidian. Asked her what the battles are really like. With these weapons, a single man is as dangerous as five or ten men and he's a much smaller target. We can't form an army to fight these soldiers, we need to become raiders. We need to be able to work and fight on our own, to live off the land. We won't be able to stay in one place. Funny, this wasn't quite what I had envisioned when I began planning all this, but it seems like our only choice. We'll be more like outlaws than soldiers."
"Are you having second thoughts?"
"Too late for that. Whether I like it or not, there's no turning back."
"And the others?"
"Everyone's free to do what they choose. That includes you. Anyone that wants to stay here is welcome to. But they should realize a few things. Things are going to become pretty strict around here. More guards perhaps, harsher punishments. And there's always the chance of getting found out. I still don't know half the people in this village. There may be some backstabber willing to turn one of these fellows in to the Amberians if he thought he had something to gain from it.
Chapter Seven: Uncle Edmund's Cabin
It had been growing dark for half an hour now and Christian continued to push on stubbornly through the twilight. His back and legs ached but he ignored them. It wasn't until he began to get slapped in the face by branches he couldn't even see before him that he decided it was time to give up on his foolish attempt at reaching the cabin that night. As he stopped, Amber nearly ran into him.
"Looks like we're not going to reach it tonight, might as well call it quits until the morning."
"I'm sorry," she said, "I -"
"It's all right, it wasn't your fault."
They lapsed into silence once again. Neither of them could tell whether they were just talking about what happened last night or about Amber's estimate on the time to reach the cabin. As they stood there in silence, Christian began to get a faint whiff of smoke. For a moment, he thought that they were there, that if he turned around the next corner, he would see the fires and the people running and out of the darkness would appear the great tower. Amber had already begun to run in the direction of the smell. Christian followed closely behind her. After only a minute or two of fumbling through the darkness, the trees opened into a small clearing by the river containing a cabin, set a short distance from the waters, emanating a warm red glow into the night. By the time Christian reached it, Amber had already softly rapped upon the door and was waiting patiently for it to open.
There were sounds of movement, followed by what sounded like a sword being drawn. Then the door opened a crack. For a moment, Christian was blinded by the sharp light. Then he was able to make out a wrinkly, beardless face with curly grey hair coming down past his shoulders. The face stared with threatening eyes for a moment and then they lost their harshness and the man's face broke into a wide grin as he pushed the door open and allowed them in.
"Oh my dear sweet Amber," he said as he wrapped his arms around her, "I hardly recognized you standing there. It has been so long since I last saw you. My how you've grown. Oh, come in, come in. I couldn't dream who could be coming to my door at such an hour. Get so few people coming by these parts as is. Oh please, introduce me to your friend here."
After a quick introduction between Christian and Amber's Uncle Edmund, they removed their boots and packs and were guided over to some soft seats near the fire. Then the old man hurried off into the shadows and returned with a pot and a bagful of items. "You two look like you haven't eaten for days," he said as he began chopping up various vegetables and tossing them into the pot. "You must have walked all day. Did you leave home early yesterday morning?"
"We left nearly six days ago."
"Six days? Did you walk backwards the entire way? What path did you take?"
"We followed the river."
At that, Edmund set the pot to one side and began to laugh out loud uncontrollably. After a good minute of this, he finally calmed down and got up and went off into one of the shadows without a word. When he returned, he had with him a large sheet of parchment which he sat down on the floor near them. Then, beginning to chuckle once again, he pointed out to them on the old map the locations of the village, his cabin, and the long winding river that seemed to have travelled through the forest like a lost child, twisting and turning, nearly falling back upon itself at times, eventually going far beyond the cabin before finally turning around and passing within a throwing distance from the cabin's front door.
He set the parchment safely on one of the tables before returning to the pot of vegetables."Oh, that just added an extra five years to my life. If you do nothing else while you're here, you've given me the best laugh I've had for nigh on twenty years. Now, what is it that brings you two all the way out here that's so important you'd risk five nights in the wilds for it?"
Amber got up from her seat and went over near the door where they had removed their packs. She retrieved the books and brought them over near the fire. Edmund's eyes widened as he saw the books and he quickly abandoned the meal he was preparing. However, as anxious as he was to see the books, he quickly washed his hands from a pail of water and carefully dried them before rejoining them. As he sat down, he rubbed his hands over the beautifully inlayed cover.
"I'm afraid that one seems to be written in some unknown language. It's just filled with strange symbols and drawings." said Amber as Edmund opened the book, and carefully began flipping through the thin pages. "This is the one we really wanted you to see." Edmund frowned at this second book, obviously not impressed by the simple cover and the cracked binding. But as he opened it up and began flipping through the pages his interest seemed to grow. A good five minutes passed before he finally stopped to speak.
"Wherever did you come across this book?"
"We found it in the library. Actually it was under the library. Chris and I sort of fell through the floor."
Edmund's eyebrows raised at this. He returned to the book and became lost in it for another long while. Then, quite unexpectedly, a loud rumbling growl emanated from Amber's stomach. Edmund nearly jumped at the sound. He suddenly seemed to remember his guests, apologized for neglecting his duties as host and returned to his seat to finish fixing up the soup he was making. "That growl sounds like you've been walking without food for six days. Are you both fools? I thought my niece would grow up to be a bit more sensible than that."
"We packed food for what we thought would be three days, but we sort of ran out after two."
"Ran out? With a whole forest full of stuff to eat? Did you not bring a bow with you or a fishing line? Couldn't you find any redberries? They're everywhere this time of year."
"We found a few things, but not much. It was the first time I've really been out in the woods for more than one night."
"Hummmph!" Edmund said as he tossed another peeled carrot into the pot. Then he placed the pot on a hook over the fire and went to wash his hands again before returning to the book. "That damn sister of mine, trying to make you a lady I suppose. But you, young man, what is your excuse eh? Can't even feed the woman you're travelling with? What kind of things do they teach you these days, eh? Must be bloody damn worthless if you don't even know how to feed yourselves. Well, if there is one thing you two kids are going to do before you leave here, you're going to learn the first thing I would've taught to my kids, the basics of survival."
With that, he went silent once again and absorbed himself with the book. Christian and Amber opened the other two books and began comparing the symbols in them. One thing they noticed was that while the writing in the well-bound book had been meticulously drawn to perfection, the second book, which seemed newer and yet more worn, was hastily scrawled. The symbols were all legible, but some of it seemed as if it had been drawn by a drunken hand. As Amber looked closer, she realized that some of the scribbles that she had previously mistaken for smudges and inkblots were actually words.
The hissing of the water spilling over the brim of the pot brought Edmund away from the book once again. As he went over to check on the soup, Christian moved over to the other book and began to flip through the pages to a section near the center.
"What we really wanted to know was if you could tell us anything about this tower."
"A tower? What's it look like?" he asked, glancing over as Christian held up the page for him to see. "Ahh, that's a big creature. Someone's got a fine eye for detail there but that tower certainly isn't anywhere near here. I've been as far as any man can go across these lands and a thing such as that would have to stick in your memory."
"It has a map here, showing where it is."
"Hmmm, remarkable maps. How did they ever get that kind of detail? Well, that has to be a made up map. We don't have anything like that sort of coastline anywheres. And those hills. No. But the whole thing seems far too detailed to simply be someone's imaginings. Who would have the time and patience to simply make something like this up? Have you two read any of this?"
"Parts of it. I was trying to find out about the tower, but those sections have so many unfamiliar names and places and expressions I haven't heard of that I couldn't get anywhere. I started to read from the start, but it's such a big book."
"Would you complain that a girl were too pretty? That your corn grew too tasty? This is knowledge we're talking about here. You can't ever have too much of it."
By now, Edmund had poured up the soup and handed Christian and Amber each a steaming bowl. Christian finally realized how hungry he was when he looked down at the empty bowl and wondered where it had gone. Edmund poured him up a second helping and then returned to the book. After the soup, Christian found his eyes becoming droopy. After fighting off the hunger all afternoon, he had no energy left to fight off the drowsiness. In a few minutes he was fast asleep.
He woke to the sound of excited voices and Amber tugging at his arm. He blearily opened his eyes and tried to make sense of his surroundings. Moments before he had been running in circles around the tower, trying to find the window of the girl. But she was nowhere in sight. The entire place seemed empty. And yet he still could hear her cries, more intense than ever. He tried to shake some sense into his mind. The reality of the cabin kicked in and he saw Amber smiling down at him. As he pulled himself up from the awkward position he had slid into on the chair, he saw Edmund on the floor with the book still in front of him and the rest of the floor covered in numerous maps of all shapes and sizes.
"Come here sleepy," was all she said to him. Then she walked over to Edmund, picking a careful path between all the maps before she sat down next to him. Christian rubbed his eyes and took the long way around. In his sleepy condition he figured it would be disastrous to try navigating a trail through all those fragile documents.
As he peered over Edmund's shoulder, he saw the book open to a page towards the end. At first, it simply looked like a map with a few islands in it, perhaps sitting on a lake. They were small islands, and there was so much water in between them. But as he crouched down and began looking at the detail he could see that one of the islands was filled with markers to represent cities and lakes and rivers. The body of water must have been enormous. And yet the map showed a trail, marked by a ship, between the two islands, as if someone had actually travelled it. Edmund glanced back to see Christian peering at the map.
"It would be quite the journey, would it not? A journey of weeks, perhaps months. I haven't read far enough to tell. Tell me young Christian, do you recall the name of that tower that you have been seeking?"
"The Tower of Ithern."
Edmund's finger pointed to a small dot on one of the islands. As Christian leaned closer, he could see the word Amberia in large letters across a large portion of the island. "Amber's land?" he said jokingly. Then, as he looked closer at the smaller print, he saw a small drawing of a tower with the single word Ithern written beside it.
"Now, look at this. Edmund traced his finger along the lengthy path of water towards the second set of islands. His finger stopped on a small V-shaped harbour. He looked back to make certain Christian was still paying attention. Then, with his free hand, he grabbed one of the maps from the floor. It was somewhat crude and contained none of the detail that the other map did, but it also contained a very distinct V-shaped harbour. Christian went to open his mouth but before he could say anything, the finger left the harbour on the original map and followed the coast upwards and stopped at what appeared to represent a group of mountains, four in all. Three seemed to form a triangle and the fourth, the highest of the group, rose from the center. A mischievous smile crossed Edmund's face as he looked back this time. Then he grabbed yet another map. This time it was the one he had used earlier on to show the meandering river which they had foolishly followed to get here. Edmund's finger traced along the coast from their seaside village down past the hills and Lake Renfrin down through areas Christian did not know, and stopped, right at the edge of the map, at a set of four mountains, with a central one larger than the outer three. It was named Devil's Triplets.
“Now,” said Edmund, “I think it’s time for you two to tell me what this tower is all about.”
Christian's heart began to race. Even when he had found the picture of the tower, he hadn't quite believed it all. But now, everything was suddenly so real. These were maps of actual places. If he followed the coast down from his home he would reach those mountains. The tower existed, there was no denying it now. It was all too much to be a coincidence. And that meant that she was real. The girl was real. Her sorrow and agony were real. He may have only been half-heartedly pursuing these visions before, but now he realized that he had to find her, her had to free her. Then, Edmund’s voice seemed to bring him back down to reality. And all of a sudden he remembered that there was an entire ocean between him and the tower. He had barely covered a fraction of the land on these islands that he had considered the entire world and yet that tremendous body of water must be ten times, no twenty times larger. It made the lands on either side look like insignificant pebbles tossed into a giant puddle.
Christian took a seat on the floor next to Edmund. While he explained to Amber's uncle about the dreams of the tower and the girl, somewhere, in a small village far across that endless ocean, a group of perhaps thirty young men gathered together their weapons and whatever supplies they were able to manage and waited in the center of the village. At the first light of dawn, they began to leave, each of them running in a different direction. Many of them, just before entering the woods or passing over the ridge of the nearby hills, took a long look at the village that they were quite possibly leaving behind forever.
Back in the cabin, after Christian had finished speaking, Edmund remained silent for the longest time. Then, at last, he closed the books and began to speak.
"All this information is almost too much for a man of my age to deal with all at once. I would probably laugh at your tales of dreams if I did not have Amber here to back them up and the proof which these books show to me. What you have said has suddenly opened up an entirely new world of possibilities. It's late now, we all need our rest. In the morning we'll think on it more."
With that, he left them for his own room. For a moment Christian toyed
with thoughts of how he could make it across that great body of water.
Then his mind returned to the entire purpose of walking all day in order
to reach the cabin. To avoid a situation just like this. Once again, it
was just the two of them, alone. As he crawled back into his comfortable
spot in the chair, he watched her straighten up a pile of blankets on the
floor. He thought about offering to sleep on the floor instead. But a little
part of him felt like changing the word instead to as well. That kept him
silent and still as she covered up in her spot near the fire. His eyes
stayed on her for several minutes as she shifted to find a comfortable
position. He continued watching her as his eyes began drooping. It was
some time before he noticed that she had turned to face him. Was she looking
at him? Could she see his eyes were open in the dim shadows? From his position,
he couldn't tell if hers were open or closed. As if to answer his question,
Amber suddenly got up and walked over to the table where the books were
now lying. Christian shut his eyes, worrying that she may have seen him
watching her. When he opened them again, she was seated close to the fireplace
with a blanket draped over her shoulders. He could not see what she was
doing but from the occasional sound of flipping pages he knew she was reading
one of the books. Where did she get the energy he wondered. After their
long day of endless walking, all he wanted to do was sleep. And yet his
eyes stayed open, watching her, her skin glowing orange from the dancing
firelight. For the longest time he lay there looking at her, wondering
what she was reading, wondering whether he should get up and join her,
Christian awoke to the sounds of arguing.
"You have no idea what you are messing with there Amber, please, put that book away until we are able to learn more about it from this one. If those are the books they speak of here, they may tell us how to use them, warn us of any dangers."
"But it's all beginning to come so clear. Why should I just put it aside? It could take months to go through that book. I can't just leave this alone. It is too incredible."
"And too bloody dangerous! You have no idea what you might be toying with. There was probably good reason for those books being hidden away beneath the library."
"And what of that book? It was there as well. Would you be willing to just set that aside."
"This is knowledge."
"So is this."
"What's going on?" asked Christian.
Amber smiled when she saw that he was awake. Her eyes looked tired but they sparkled with excitement. "Watch this." she said. Then she closed her eyes for a moment and he could see her lips moving silently. Then she opened them and said "touch my hand."
Christian pulled himself out of the chair, almost falling to the floor when he tried putting weight on his left leg, which appeared to be still sleeping. He reached out his hand and laid it against her extended palm. He immediately withdrew it, his fingers smarting from the intense heat. "My God, it feels as if it's on fire. Does it hurt?"
Amber smiled mischievously. "Not a bit. I can control it. Feel it now."
He cautiously placed his hand in hers once again and felt only the natural warmth of her palm. She wrapped her hand around his for a moment, holding it tightly, almost daring him to pull it away. His mind suddenly went back to that previous night, when he felt those hands gently running across his back, lingering on the old scar she had given him. How long ago had that been? She had always been there, he couldn't think of a time when she was not around. Funny thing was that he sort of liked that. She was perhaps the only constant in his life. Their hands stayed together for a moment longer and then she smiled and let go, going back to arguing with her uncle as if nothing had just happened. But had something happened? He tried to shake the confusion out of his head. Then he realized what had just happened. Somehow the touch of her hand had made him forget about the scorching heat that had come from it moments before. How had she done that? She said she could control it. What did she mean? And then she turned away without giving him any further clues. He tossed his blanket aside and joined the two of them, trying to understand their heated conversations.
“These have to be the books they mention there. There were two of them. One contained all the information on how the magic worked, how to create and form it. But it was supposed to be written in code and in unknown langauges. The second book was supposed to contain all the translations of the words and symbols. Just look at that book, look at the age and the quality of it. It must be ten times older than these other books and in far better shape. it must be the book they speak of."
"I'm not arguing with you on that, it is very likely that it is the Tome of Symbols which this book refers to. But what of the other book? Would you say these two are of the same quality or written by the same hands? No. This one has all the symbols but was scrawled out like a child would do. I don't even see how you can read half this mess. You have no idea whether this is a genine copy or some fool's attempt at figuring it out for himself."
Amber was about to speak again but Edmund continued. "And even if this book of translation were indeed correct, we are speaking of magic here. If you are able to do that with just a casual reading of the first few pages, imagine what else could be inside those covers."
"Does that not worry you?"
Edmund threw his arms up in disgust and stalked off into the other room.
Once he had left, Amber began flipping through the first pages of the book, trying to show Christian what she had discovered, trying to explain to him what it was that she did. He wasn't sure if it was just that his mind was still groggy or if he really couldn't make any sense out of what she was trying to explain.
When Edmund returned, Christian looked up from the baffling symbols of the book. "Do you have any idea how far it would actually be? Do we have any ships that could sail that distance?"
"You're not seriously considering trying to make that journey, are you Christian?" Edmund still hadn't lost the scowls from his argument with Amber.
"Surely you can't believe that all this is simply coincidence. How else can you explain the books and the tower? All of this has happened because of the dreams. They have to be real, they have to be trying to tell me something, lead me somewhere. And they keep on changing."
"I don't know yet. Last night I wasn't at the tower anymore, I was near a lake. I don't know, it's so hard to remember. But if the tower is indeed real, then the dreams must be real. That makes the girl real. She has been calling out for help for God knows how long. I can't simply ignore that."
"But do you realize what kind of undertaking this would mean boy? You and Amber nearly starved on the simple journey to get here. You expect to be able to cross a body of water larger than any of us can comprehend? That alone would seem almost impossible. Then what, let's imagine just for a moment that you were actually able to make it there by some miracle and find the tower. Do you expect to simply find a key, let her out and that will be that? What if this tower is guarded by an army? What if that girl had been imprisoned for good reason? You know nothing."
"That's why I must find out. These dreams are not going away. I feel that they are trying to guide me and I must follow them. If you experienced the dreams as well, you would understand."
Edmund shook his head in despair. "And what of you Amber? Are you planning on following this lad on his fool's journey."
"God protect us all from the likes of this naive lot."
"Will you come with us?" asked Christian.
At this, Edmund nearly choked. "Come with you? Do see you a young lad here before you? I work up a sweat just walking down to the river for some water. Tracking off after some foolish tower like I were a wide-eyed little kid, such nonsense."
"I thought you said you were going to show us how to survive on our own."
Edmund paused in what he was doing and looked over at the two of them. "You are not bloody well leaving today. I won't have it! The two of you just barely crawled in here last night like starved pups. And this fool girl here barely got a wink of sleep last night on account of that blasted sorcerer's tome. You'd walk ten feet from this door and be up to your necks in quicksand."
"There's no quicksand around here, is there?"
"Ha, that proves it. Damn quicksand, what a bunch I've got here." With that he wandered off into his bedroom muttering to himself.
Christian looked over to Amber. "You're really crazy enough to go along with me?"
"I don't think it's that crazy. It may prove to be impossible, but I think it's right." She looked at him for a few moments and then returned to the book in front of her.
Edmund returned moments later, carrying several baskets, still muttering to himself. "Well, if I can't keep you here, the least I can do is provide you with a little something that should keep you going. I'll make a rough copy of one of the maps for you, choose a straightforward route so you can't get lost. It will be a little longer than it should but I think the two of you are used to that by now. There's a small village that's about three days before Devil's Triplets, called Denufilia. Woman there by the name of Ezra Nenshard. I'll send along a letter for you to give to her. She'll look after you fine and hopefully supply you with something to get you the rest of the way."
Christian got up from his chair and approached Edmund, putting a hand on the old man's shoulder. "We really appreciate this."
"Suppose you'll be taking the books with you, eh?"
"They'll break our backs, but we'll need to learn as much from them as we can."
"I still say you - " Edmund interrupted himself and went back to what he was preparing. Christian smiled slightly and then went over to the book and opened to the page of the tower. After looking at it for some time, he flipped throughout the book reading bits of sections here and there. He was anxious to leave but he knew he couldn't rush Edmund now. It took a great deal for Edmund to help them even though he was so against them going. And the idea of not having to forage for berries and nuts the entire trip made him not mind the hour or two that would be wasted. As he looked through the pages, a handful of pages at the very end of the book caught his eye. It seemed to have been written in a different hand than the rest of the book. As he looked over these last few pages, the names and places were still just a confused jumble, but there was no denying the urgency or the importance of what was being said.
"Edmund, have you read the last few pages in here yet?"
"History is just like any other story Christian, you have to read it in the order it happened to fully appreciate things."
"Yes, but I think you should read this, I think it's very important. It's written in another hand."
"That is common among such books. Once the writer dies, someone often finishes the final chapter, ties up any unfinished business, perhaps tells how and when the author died."
"Yes, but I think this is a little bit different."
"Well go on then, I'm up to my elbows here, perhaps you'd be so kind as to read it for us."
Christian got up and moved himself to a chair closer to Amber, who just seemed to have emerged from the book she was reading and gave Christian a confused look.
"I, Virimus Lanthfin, have taken the task to hand of writing the final pages of this history and it is with a worm ridden heart that I do so. Three days ago, twelve men, eight of them members of the council, including Arathan Dubaii, keeper of this history, were killed by Jared."
"Who is Jared?" asked Amber. Christian simply shrugged his shoulders but as he did, Amber anxiously flipped to the end of her book and read the name which had been hastily scrawled at the bottom of the final page.
"No one is certain as to the reasons why Jared unleashed his deadly magic, killing himself and - then he lists off all the names - , some believe that the magic simply made him go mad. Most agree that he had not been the same since being rescued from the tower. However, there are some who believe he was finally able to use his magic in order to read the minds of the council and discovered the truth about what happened to his father and his family.
"The true reasons are still unknown, but what has occurred in the ensuing days is certain. The two remaining council members and the new members who have been so recently inducted - he lists their names here - believe that the Tome of Magic is what caused Jared to go mad. Over these last few months, as has been dutifully recorded by Arathan, Jared has been unable to pass on his magical teachings to anyone. Despite much effort by many who were eager to learn, including myself, no one but Jared has been able to master even the basic elements of fire. Therefore, believing it to be a danger that has no benefits, the council unanimously chose to destroy the two tomes.
"It is the duty of the keeper of the history to report the events as an unfeeling witness, to put aside any personal opinions or beliefs, but as I was never trained in the ways, I am unable to write of the second decision of the council without stating that I, and several others, violently oppose it.
"Only two men remain of those who originally made the pact, the promise to return in victory, and they seem to have forgotten their oaths of only a year ago. When it was originally made there had never been any thought given to the books of magic. They were so far beyond our reach as to be foolish to even briefly consider. But since the books have entered into the plans, it is all that anyone can think of. Where once we had planned on returning with an army of mighty warriors, now they can only think of an army of sorcerers. And with the failure of these dreams, they have decided to give up completely. They have come to the conclusion that the original plans were foolhardy, that the Amberian armies would crush any force we could manage to send back over the seas. They have used the excuse of the pact long enough to find a haven of peace for themselves, and now they have forsaken those who have sacrificed so much to get them here.
"I was given the duty of destroying the books of magic and I was reluctant, but willing to do so. Now, I have also been given the duty of destroying this history. Although the council believes that they have made the correct decision, they do not seem to wish to give others the opportunity to question it. I am an old man now, and too weak to fight these men to convince them to honor their pact. The little that I can do is to hide these books in hopes that they shall one day be found, so that whoever comes across them will understand the disgrace that their forefathers have placed upon them, and the duty that now falls upon their shoulders, to honor the oath that was made by honorable men, in a land far distant from the one we now stand upon."
Christian finally looked up from the book he was reading. He had only read the first few lines before and he had been so engrossed in reading it this time that he had not noticed that Edmund and Amber had both laid aside what they were doing and now stood next to him, peering at the book with wide eyes.
"All these years we've been leading a lie, haven't we. We have always assumed that we have been here forever, that we were entitled to the peace and prosperity of these lands simply because we had all kept the peace between ourselves. How blind we have been. Perhaps these dreams of yours have a deeper purpose, perhaps the girl only symbolizes the suffering of many more."
"No, I think the girl is real."
"Perhaps so. I must think on this. God, so many things. We must tell others, we can't let this remain their secret. I can't let the excuse of being an old man keep me from doing what I know to be right. Amber, Christian, as much as I would rather remain comfortable wrapped in blankets before this fire, I must come with you. Just give me time to prepare a few things. Amber, could make certain that that does not burn?"
With that, he hurried off into the other room once again.
Before Amber went up to check on what was hissing upon the crackling wood stove, she leaned over towards Christian and whispered to him. "Jared, that man that went crazy and killed all the men on the council, he's the one who wrote this book with all the symbols. If Uncle Edmund were to know that he would have another fit."
Christian nodded absently to her, his thoughts suddenly a thousand miles away. Or perhaps further, he did not know how wide the ocean was.
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main story page
Well that's the story so far. I'm still in the process of writing this story. As I'm happy with certain sections, I will continue placing them up here. Still not sure if I'll put the entire story up once I finally finish it. But for now, I'll toss up what I have. I would love to hear any comments you may have about the story. Even just to know there is someone out there reading this. Just go to the contact page to send any thoughts or criticisms.