Triumvir: Chapter Twenty-Seven

Fiction By Clare Marie // 1/5/2012

**I must apologize for abandoning this story for so long.  If anyone still reads it, please go back and at least skim -- if not reread -- some of the past chapters, to refresh your memory. :)** 

~~

The Westlands was a tumultuous, harsh region of knobby hills and moors.  The air was steel-cold and wispy, pressing hard against a traveler's chest while dancing as if it were light as swan-down about his face.  The sun shone pale on the heather and the silver grass which blanketed the swells and dips of the land.  It was said that the Westlands used to be an elf-country -- a place where warmth and lush beauty abounded, and birds sang in carefully-tended groves of swaying trees and flowers.  Little remained of that former glory, and wild sheep and rabbits cropped the grass off the hills where once the elves sang.  Some patches of gardens managed to survive, though overgrown with thistles and unruly bushes.

This country was called No-Man's Land by those who knew of its existence, and travelers disliked to roam in it.  Those who did brought home tales of bleak and wretched days, and rumors of a savage, lonely people who haunted the moors at night.  There was a grain of truth to these rumors; and there were also those who thought the land not bleak but peaceful, and who could describe all the hidden beauties of the Westlands because they knew it well.

These were the savages who were thought to inhabit the Westlands.  And they did inhabit the Westlands, though they were far from savage.  They were the Westlanders, but they called themselves simply the Caretakers.  They were a philosophical people, oriented more towards calculations and reasoning than art and amusement.  In fact, they rarely -- if ever -- created a piece of art, unless they were drawing constellations or geometric figures.  They preferred what was strictly necessary to the body and the mind, which was, to their thinking, nourishment and logic.  Their time, therefore, was mostly spent in metaphysical arguments and gardening.

The essential basis of the Caretakers' culture was their love of silence.  They believed that fulfillment could be more easily attained through silence; and they also believed that a person would be less likely to say an unkind or damaging word if he had to take the time to think about what he was going to say.  Consequently, the Caretakers communicated through the written word only.  Each Caretaker carried his own personal roll of paper and charcoal pencil for daily intercourse, and when they met in community, they wrote on one smooth, blackened rock with smaller white stones.

The Caretakers had no leader, but rather decided their affairs together in community.  When one wished to make his opinion known, he walked from his seat to the smooth, blackened rock which stood in the middle of the assembly, and wrote his thoughts down with one of the white stones.  No more than five lines of writing could be made, and once he was finished, he resumed his seat.  No one was allowed to go to the rock while someone else was writing.  It was a meticulous system, designed to weed out any harsh and evil thoughts through the time it took to walk back and forth from rock to seat and through the limit on words stated.  Thus the assembly was forced to think carefully over their words before any statement was made.

While observing the Caretakers, it would come as no surprise to learn that they were thinkers.  They complexion was more swarthy by nature than other men, though they generally had striking blue eyes.  Sometimes a child was born with green eyes, and such a child was considered frey – or wise.  The weight of all the cares in the world seemed to rest on the brows of the Caretakers, which made their faces seem darker still, as if storm clouds were brewing behind their eyes.  Their statues were shorter than other men, but by no means stouter.  They were thin and needlelike, not emaciated but rather devoid of muscle.  The Caretakers never fought physically, and thus saw the training of muscles as an unnecessary use of time.

Walking – and even running – was a preferred form of exercise, for they saw it as a means to clear the mind for deeper thinking.  The moors clustered about the Caretakers’ village offered solitude and firm ground, and it was while the Caretakers wandered these hills that a lone traveler at times spotted them and fled, fearing them because they were unknown and unlooked-for.

There was one moor, however, one particularly large moor, on which the Caretakers never set foot.  It was farther away from the village than most of the moors, and unlike the barren slopes of its neighbors it bore waves of sweet grass and leafy trees.  More mountain than moor, the Caretakers called it Freya – Wisdom – and left it alone because it was inhabited. 

Among the trees of Freya, there was hidden, by clever design or magic, a large wooden house.  It seemed to the eyes of the Caretakers to be rather small, when they first discovered it, but it was in reality quite sizeable.  Had they entered its door, they would have seen a great hall with room after room branching off into hundreds of nooks and dusty corners, and all the walls were made out of living trunks of trees, but rugs, and not one leaf, covered the floor.  They would have seen books, many books, which would have intrigued them because they wrote their wisdom down on scrolls.  They would have seen odd little machines making various whistling noises, trinkets and past experiments of an inventor’s making.  They would have seen many other curious things, but they did not, for the inhabitant of the house came out to greet them himself, though he did not invite them inside.

This person’s name was Camryn, and he was a wizard.  He was old, though he did not look it.  His thick hair was red and curly, and so was the hefty beard which covered his face and most of his chest.  His nose was round as a mushroom-cap, his eyes were midnight black, and his laugh was eager.  He had a gold ring in his left ear, a souvenir of his younger days as a sea-rover.  He wore a soft brown robe, tied with a thick rope, and tough leather moccasins covered his feet.  He was stout, round in the middle from too much bread and cheese, but robust.  He enjoyed wine and other strong drinks, and was never happier than when he was sitting by the hearth with a bottle, singing dashing tales of the sea.

He had two constant companions.  The first – and most constant – was Merril.  Merril was a turtle found by Camryn on some far-away island in the middle of the sea, where day and night passed in equal length.  Merril was small enough to fit in Camryn’s pocket, and he never left Camryn’s side.  He was as fond of bread and cheese as his master, though he disdained strong drink.  Camryn was jolly; Merril was sleepy.

Camryn’s other companion was his foster daughter, Ana.  Her hair was dark and curly, framing her pale face and large hazel eyes.  She wore a medallion round her neck that held a piece of black hair inside.  She was slender and small-boned, and she was very quiet.  Camryn supposed that she seldom spoke because of the influence of the Caretakers, with whom she would sometimes mingle, though she usually explored the country alone.  She looked delicate, but Camryn knew she was hard as stone inside, easily persuadable but undaunted when challenged.  Camryn taught her early on how to fend for herself, yet though she learned how to kill and skin an animal, and though she would never do so unless in dire need, she never enjoyed it.  She disliked domination, but she was not one to hesitate when injustice or an urgent task was before her.  Camryn knew all these things, because he was her Dreamkeeper.

 A Dreamkeeper is a guardian, a warrior given the task of protecting and guiding a certain child.  To every child newly born, a Dreamkeeper is assigned, though most people never find their Dreamkeepers.  The Dreamkeeper also is rarely aware of the charge he has been given.  It is a mutual triumph when both the Dreamkeeper and the child become aware of each other, although it is always the Dreamkeeper who first discerns the connection, if unconsciously.

In one of those extraordinary, happy circumstances, both Camryn and Ana knew the tie that bound them.  It is usually the case that a child who is parentless, or at least is separated from his parents, more readily discovers his Dreamkeeper than a child who is raised by those who gave birth to him.  Ana never knew her parents, and Camryn kept secret her origin.  But though she longed to see them with all the love in her heart, she did not pine, because she had Camryn.  Any child who has found his Dreamkeeper knows he has found the half of his heart that was missing.

 

--

 

“I don’t see anything,” said Eltar, squinting his eyes at the line of trees.

Raam leaned in front of Eltar, pointing very steadily with his finger.  “See that tree with the white bark?  Direct thy sight to its first branch, and then slowly look to the right.”

Eltar followed his directions, and soon nodded.  “There.  I see him.”

Raam smiled.  “Good.  Now suppose an army was making ready an attack on our realm.  Suppose thou were the leader of the elves.  What dost thou see missing from our line of defense?”

“A wall.”

“Correct.  What then wouldst thou do to remedy the situation?”

Considering, Eltar frowned.  “I suppose –”

“Never suppose; a leader only does.”

“I would build a blockade under the trees, and place my soldiers in the trees to pick off the enemy when they attempt to scale the blockade.”

Raam narrowed his eyes.  “What if they broke through?  If all thy men are in the trees, how could they stop the attack?”

“Oh, I guess I wasn’t thinking about placing a fighting force on the inside,” said Eltar with a sigh.  “But I don’t think I would have a ground force; I would place the inside fighting force on the palace walls, with hot oil and arrows.”

“Very good!  But what wouldst thou do with the hot oil?”

“Burn the enemy, of course.”

“Young sir, this is war, not a slaughter,” Raam reproached.  “Men are too hasty to resort to savage methods.  Thou shalt learn the elven way while thou art here.  Hot oil poured on living flesh tortures more often than it kills.  Attend – the elves would pour the oil in front of the walls, but they would use oil that thou would use for lamps.  It easily catches fire.  They would then wait until the enemy comes close, and then they would shoot a flaming arrow into the oil, causing raucous, dangerous flames.  Sudden fire scares the bravest of men, and we would have a chance to cleanly shoot those who hesitate.”

“But you must coat the walls with something to protect them from the flames, and have water buckets ready to douse flames that come too close for comfort.”

Raam chuckled and clapped Eltar on the shoulder.  “Thou art learning.  Thou still hast much to learn, but thou art getting there.  Thy lesson is over; I must be off.  It is my duty to ride out and scout the borders today.”  With a swift turn, the elf was gone. 

Eltar looked again at the tree line before him.  Every day Raam brought him out into one of the fields surrounding the palace to teach him what he called “proper warfare.”  The fairies, he said, could hardly have done the job properly, and dwarves were not much better.

“Elves are the ones to seek council from when thou art fighting on open ground,” the dark-haired elf had declared.  “Fairies prefer the luxury of flying and dwarves are uncomfortable without solid rock at their backs.”

Eltar, eager for the chance to learn, was glad of the lessons, but sometimes he felt that he would never learn anything.  He walked thoughtfully toward the trees, flexing his sword hand.  It was a long time since he had practiced with Haspam.  Raam had offered to take him to the sparring field to practice with the elves, but a few of Raam’s oral warfare lessons had convinced Eltar that his physical lessons would be much worse.

If only his father had raised him.  He remembered Emperor Armir’s story about Lord Gladio’s skill with a blade, and he envisioned it in his mind, wishing he could have been there.  How would things have been different if his parents were alive, here, present.  I could have been a great warrior.  I could have made him proud.

“You are a stranger here, are you not?”

Eltar turned about swiftly, startled by the sound of a strange voice behind him.  A man stood there.  He wore a loose brown tunic, tied with a worn leather belt, and dark trousers tucked into muddy black boots.  About him wafted a long black traveling-coat, almost a cloak but for the sleeves and the heaviness of the cloth.  It had a hood, but this was cast back.  Steely green eyes gazed watchfully out of a smooth, sun-tanned face with a hard, distinctive jaw.  Shoulder-length dark hair was on his head; but a slight wind gave the strands a little toss, revealing streaks of grey on the underside of his hair.  He watched Eltar steadily, remaining very still.

“I am,” Eltar said suspiciously.  “And you look a stranger yourself.”

The man permitted a small smile to cross his grim features.  “Nay, I am no stranger.  I am well-known to the elves.”

“Who are you?”

“I am a will-o’-the-wisp,” answered the man, leaning back against a tree casually.  “I am an alien, but no stranger; a friend to none, an ally to all.  I amuse and I abuse, depending on who I am dealing with.”

“Whatever else you are, you obviously enjoy riddles.”

The man laughed softly.  “And you do not?”

“I like to know things as they are, and know straight out who is friend and who is foe.”

“A plucky answer, that.  Be assured, I am no enemy of yours.  Some call me The Raven,” he went on, “but I generally answer to Brennan.”

Eltar crossed his arms.  “ ‘Generally’?  Then that’s not your real name?”

“Perhaps, perhaps not.”     

“Why are you called The Raven?”

“That is of no consequence.  Now, one good turn deserves another.  You have not told me your name.”

“I am Eltar.”

Brennan considered this gravely.  “It is a good name.  I am honored to make your acquaintance.”  He pressed his hand to his lips and bowed, in an ancient form of showing respect.  His every move was smooth and calculated, like a wildcat.  Eltar dipped his head in a bow.

Brennan straightened.  “Walk with me for a while.”  He strode away swiftly and without waiting, his eyes fixed straight ahead of him.  Eltar hurried after him.

“Tell me,” said Brennan, after Eltar had caught up and was walking by his side, “what brings you to Tothy’ta?”

“I – we – have business with the king.”

“We?”  Brennan cocked his eyebrow ever so slightly.

“My sister came with me.”

“I see.  But do you not mean ‘business with the emperor’?  Armir is not called king.”

“No,” growled Eltar, a little resentful of Brennan’s sardonic tone, “I meant what I said.  We are on our way to see the king.”

“But there is no king near here, except farther North.  And if I am not mistaken, North is where you came from.”

Eltar glanced at Brennan, wondering exactly who this man was, and suddenly unsure if he should proceed in the telling.  Brennan met Eltar’s gaze.

“Why are you silent?” he asked softly, sounding as if he knew the reason.

Eltar steadied his look, maintaining unwavering eye contact.  “I don’t know if I should trust you.”

Brennan tilted his head.  “You are wise for your years.  But do not mistrust me.  As I said, the elves know me well.  Come, tell me who this king is.”

“Glayde,” said Eltar simply, guessing that Brennan would recognize the name of the tyrant king.

Brennan sucked in his breath and stopped.  He faced Eltar slowly.  The look in the man’s eyes was startling.  It was cold, and it was murderous.

“Glayde, did you say?” Brennan asked, almost gently.  Eltar nodded.  They stood there a moment, silently.

The Raven brusquely turned and walked on.  Eltar followed warily.

“Do you know of him?” he ventured.

Brennan shrugged his shoulders.  “I’ve heard of him.  Mostly rumors.  Tales here and there.”  He glanced at Eltar again, but his eyes had lost that death look.

“Sounds as if you travel a lot.”  Eltar changed the subject hopefully, wary of Brennan’s mood and unwilling to see him look so cruel.

“Oh, I like to get around,” drawled his companion.  He reached into his pack and pulled out a smooth golden ball.  “There’s good money to be found wherever you go.  You just have to know how to earn it.”  He nonchalantly tossed the ball from hand to hand.

“You’re a juggler!” exclaimed Eltar, surprised.  Brennan certainly had not the appearance of an entertainer.

“I dabble in the art of juggling, yes,” allowed Brennan.

Eltar eyed the bulging pockets of Brennan’s pack.  “What else have you in there?”

Brennan stopped again and slung off the pack, dumping it on the ground.  He began opening the pockets and pulling out their contents.  Eltar edged closer curiously.

“Ravens,” said Brennan, “collect shiny baubles that fascinate them and hoard them in their nests.  These are my baubles, trinkets I’ve hoarded over the years because they fascinate me.

“This,” holding up a short, fat black stick, “is my balance staff.  It doubles as my walking stick, and even a weapon, when needed.”

“That?” said Eltar, almost laughing.  “But it can’t be more than a foot long.  How do you use it?”

Brennan only smiled grimly.  “Watch.”  Straightening up, he flipped open a clasp on either end of the stick and gave it a sharp flick with his wrist.  Eltar watched, impressed, as the stick elongated, each end of it extending visibly.  Brennan suddenly twirled it about him in a fast-moving blur, ending abruptly with a firm tug at each end of the stick.  It gave a muffled click.

“You see?” said Brennan, holding up a graceful and glowing staff.  “There is a lesson to be learned in all this, young Eltar.  Never judge by appearances.”

Eltar grinned sheepishly.  “Um…may I?”  He held out his hands for the staff.

The man’s eyes glinted with grave amusement.  “Of course.”  He handed the staff to Eltar.  Eltar ran his fingers along it, feeling its grooves and contours.  He had never fought with a staff, but he gave it an experimental whirl.

“You handle it like a butcher with his meat cleaver,” observed Brennan wryly.  “The staff demands a light touch.”

“Sorry,” said Eltar ruefully, handing it back to The Raven.  “I prefer the sword.”

“No need to apologize.  You have experience with the blade?”

“Some.  I have a lot more to learn.”

“Don’t we all.  Your words are modest, but your eyes betray you.  I know the look of a fighter when I see it…or at least, there is much potential in you.  You must set it free.  There is too much holding you back, here.”  He stabbed Eltar’s forehead lightly with two sinewy fingers.  “Do you spar with the elves on their practice field?”

“No.  They would shame me with their skill.  I am so untrained.”

“Ah, but you could learn much, much more than you already know.  The best way to learn to fight is through experience.  It may be humiliating at first, but the rewards are boundless.”

Eltar looked at him, musing.  His words were so knowledgeable, self-assured.  Was he a warrior?  Who was he, really?  Where did he come from?

Brennan saw his audience’s mind wandering.  He snapped his fingers in front of Eltar’s face.  “Hey, are you listening?”

Eltar blinked.  “Of course I am.”

“Hmm.”  Brennan shot him a dry look and set his staff on the ground.  “There is a saying: The whip chastises, but real pain comes from lack of knowledge.  So it is with weaponry.

“Go the practice field, young Eltar.  Regularly.  I’d like to watch you.”  As if there had been no interruption, he went on with presenting his ‘trinkets’.

“These are my juggling balls,” he said, producing six smooth golden balls exactly like the one he had had before.  “Sometimes I juggle them with my hands, sometimes with my balance staff.  Depends on my mood and how much room I have.”  He set the balls aside and rummaged in the bag some more.

Eltar, peering over his shoulder, suddenly stopped him.  “Wait, is that a lute?”  He pointed at a stringed instrument tucked in the recesses of the bag.

Brennan regarded him quietly.  “It is.”

“Then you must be a bard!”  A bard was a rare and well-loved personage, respected as much as a king – if not more.  Eltar now regarded Brennan with awe and excitement.

“In a manner of speaking, yes – you could call me a bard.”

“Bards are said to be wizards.  Is that true?”

Brennan sighed.  “All bards know one or two useful spells, but to go so far as to say – ”

“So let me get this straight,” interrupted Eltar, crouching on the ground next to Brennan.  “You’re a juggler, a warrior, a bard, and a wizard?  Why aren’t you in some great lord’s castle, earning gold and bread, living in wealth for the rest of your days?”

The Raven glared at Eltar, green eyes hard.  “Let me help you ‘get this straight’,” he said, half angrily, half sarcastically.  “I only dabble in the art of juggling – as I already said – as well as barding.  And I never said I was a warrior or a wizard.”

Eltar bit his lip, stung.  “So it’s a little bit of everything, is it?”

The corner of Brennan’s mouth lifted in a grim smile.  “I said I was a will-o’-the-wisp, did I not?  I explore many things, many areas of trade, but do not often have the time nor the patience to commit myself to one thing.  That is why I travel.  I do not like to stay long in one place, either.”  Abruptly he stood up and packed away his trinkets.

“I’ll see you around, young lord,” he said, shouldering his pack.

“You’re going?” said Eltar, disappointed.  Why did I pry so much?

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry if I offended you, Brennan.”  Eltar stood also and faced the man squarely.

“It is I who should apologize.  My manners are horribly unpolished.”  Brennan looked at Eltar seriously.  “Don’t forget – sparring with the elves.  Practice field.  I’ll see you there.”

~~

 

Comments

 I've been looking forward to

 I've been looking forward to Brennan! For a loooong time now. ;) HE can't be the spy, or he wouldn't have been so frightened and he certainly wouldn't be talking to Eltar in that manner. Unless he's a really good actor, which implies double agency... 

Anna | Wed, 01/11/2012

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

...

mwahaha. ;)

Clare Marie | Sun, 01/15/2012

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve." -Bilbo Baggins [The Lord of the Rings]

Navigation

User login

Please read this before creating a new account.