Author: Quatorze PM
His path leads from Golden City to slavery and back to his own people, but what will life be like after everything's been lost? (contains homosexuality).Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 15 - Words: 44,168 - Reviews: 12 - Favs: 12 - Follows: 7 - Updated: 08-05-04 - Published: 06-12-03 - id: 1327640
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
~ Discoveries ~
Morning dawned over a landscape dusted by the first snow, but on that day the two hunters stayed in the village. It was immediately apparent that Merilion was unusually listless and silent, and when he nearly stumbled and fell as he was getting up after a mostly untouched breakfast, we realized that he was in fact running a fever. Golden Deer simply hauled him back inside and to bed and announced that neither of them was going anywhere that day. In his estimation the combined willpower of myself and Alaish would hardly have been enough to ensure that the prince stayed in bed if his partner was out hunting, and I didn't feel like protesting - he was probably right, too.
Poor Alaish was torn. On one hand he would've wanted to look after his father and keep company as best he could, on the other he felt that he ought to stay out of the way and not bother the prince too much. I did my best to appease both parties: kept Alaish busy, always asked him to get things in and out of the cabin, and sent him to ask if the men needed something, instead of going myself. During the day a few people came to inquire what was wrong; of course they had noticed that the two hadn't left, and they looked alarmed as they heard the news. I assured them that there was nothing to worry about and they went on their way, shaking their heads.
Merilion was at the same time subdued and cross with his body that had so betrayed him. However, one look at his flushed face was enough to tell us that no amount of grumbling would help - this was something he needed to let time take care of. But for once he didn't seem to mind our fussing, at least not too much. And by the evening, when we all retreated to the cabin, he was obviously feeling a lot better, even if his arm still hurt quite a lot. He winced every time he moved it, and rolled his eyes in exasperation at the pampering such signs of pain elicited from us.
"It's years ago," he muttered irritably. "How is it possible that it now aches so much?"
"It could be the weather, my Lord," I said as I crouched next to him to hold the bowl, so that he could more easily eat from it one-handed. "I have understood that old scars and injuries feel changes in weather. And now it's definitely getting cold for real. No doubt there'll be snow soon."
The prince snorted in grudging agreement and swallowed his spoonful. "Where's Golden Deer?"
"He asked me earlier about his belongings, my Lord," I replied. Merilion lowered his spoon and frowned.
"His belongings?" he echoed. "But why? And they are all here anyway."
"No they aren't. Remember, there was this one roll that was bound very tightly but didn't look in any way unusual. I'm sure that at least we've never opened it, and I believe it was put in the shed as it was. Most probably he's gone to get it."
Merilion shook his head. "What does it then contain? Looked like blankets to me, as I recall."
"That's what I thought, my Lord. But he seemed very happy to hear it was there."
"I think he's coming," put in Alaish who'd been greedily digging into his dinner.
Indeed, we heard a familiar footfall nearby, then the door was pushed open and Golden Deer squeezed his large frame inside with a satisfied grunt. In his arms was the mysterious blanket roll, as tightly packed and wrapped as it had been when we'd detached it from his horse's saddle where it had been tied to rest sideways across the animal's back, behind the rider.
No one spoke as he began to carefully open the leather straps that held the bundle together, one by one. His face was concentrated, respectful, and the expression intrigued me. This couldn't be a mere bedroll, or he wouldn't have treated it with such reverence. But what was inside it? Merilion and Alaish appeared to be equally fascinated. Clearly Merilion had been about to say something at first, but had thought better of it at seeing his companion.
At last Golden Deer got the last straps open and cautiously unrolled the bundle. It was a blanket all right, but the edges had been folded in to ensure that no smaller objects would fall out of the ends once it was properly tied together. The first things that were revealed to our eyes were three small leather pouches; these Golden Deer picked carefully up and handed them to Merilion.
"What's this?" the prince asked weighing them in his hands.
"Look," Golden Deer said.
At first there was just a yellow glint, and Alaish exhaled loudly. Merilion looked at the pieces of jewelry with dilated eyes: a bracelet, a large heavy earring, a brooch with a small bird perched on it. A choker with a row of tear-shaped pendants hanging from it. A handful of rings. Another earring. And a delicate chain, evenly spaced stones attached to its link with graceful loops of gold.
"I take them from ground," Golden Deer said. "Near Temple."
"Some priestess must've dropped these," Merilion mumbled, caressing them with his fingers. "So beautiful..."
Golden Deer turned his attention back to the roll and unwrapped it further. What I saw next made me cry out and snatch one of the things into my hands as tears welled irresistibly up.
"Books..." Alaish whispered in a daze and picked up one, fingers shaking. "You have books?"
Golden Deer watched in surprise as I cradled one of the tubular cases reverently to my chest, choking on emotions. Yes, they really were book rolls, six of them altogether, their minutely decorated metal cases intact if a little soiled. My heart was beating madly, as if intent to break free from my chest. It hurt.
"Books? What is that?" Golden Deer asked, totally puzzled by our reactions. "I not know what it is. They are so pretty."
My hands were trembling almost uncontrollably as they sought the latch that I knew to be there, in one end of the cylindrical case, and found it. The latch released the lock, I pried the end free and slowly pulled the book open. Golden Deer let out an exclamation of dismay.
"No." Merilion put a hand on the man's arm and stared at the book I was holding, mesmerized. "Not broken. Look."
This was one of the Scriptures, I could tell as much by merely looking at the case. Golden Deer's jaw dropped when he saw the neat lines of writing that emerged from the case, and the occasional miniature that dotted the text, each brightly colored like a handful of flowers. These were not written on thick leaves of parchment or on paper made of reeds. This was the finest, smoothest, densest linen cloth one could imagine, the one painstakingly made for precisely this purpose: to be written on and then rolled into a book, like the one in my hands.
"Prayer of the Spring," Merilion said quietly.
Alaish opened his reel as easily as I had opened mine, and gave us a teary smile. "This is a chronicle," he sniffled.
There was another prayer book, but the other four were all chronicles of the City, its history, its origins. Very clearly Golden Deer had indeed been in the vicinity of the Temple when he'd found these; books like this would've been held there. Probably someone working in the Temple Library had met his end while trying to rescue his treasures, and I remembered once again what the prince had said to me - how the threat of destruction made people reveal what was the thing they valued most.
Alaish studied them enthusiastically.
"I can still read them," he announced proudly. "Listen, father!"
He began to read from one scroll. Golden Deer's frown deepened with every word, and soon he couldn't remain quiet any longer.
"What is that?" he demanded. "What Alaish does?"
"The books - they contain writing," Merilion said softly. "Look at those black markings - they are letters. They make words, and stories."
Golden Deer stared at him, eyebrows crunched together. "I not understand."
It took a while before the whole fantastic idea of writing things down began to dawn upon him, but when it finally did, his dark eyes opened wider than I'd ever seen them.
"You say there is story inside? In book?" he asked. "You not know that story, but that - book - tell you?"
"Basically, yes. That's it." Merilion nodded with a rare smile on his face. "Golden Deer... these things are more precious to us than any amount of gold."
He embraced the Forester tightly. Golden Deer shook his head, still reeling with amazement, stunned by the things he'd just heard.
"I just see they are pretty," he sighed. "I not know there is story."
"Tarisha!" Alaish had been scrolling the books open and examining them, and now he glanced up. "Look, Tarisha, this one was written by you!"
My heart stopped, I nearly leaped beside Alaish to grab the book he was raising towards me. Yes, I recognized my own brushwork - and there was also my sign, right where it should be, at the very end of the scroll. Of course it was there, we were each required to put our own symbol to every piece of work we did, to show who had copied which scroll. As long as we were still apprentices it directed the supervisor's wrath upon the right culprit, should he find any mistakes. And once we were fully trained, we'd be paid according to our output and its quality. There it stood, my signature. Tarisha-maan... Red Seven.
I dropped the book and cried, harder than I ever remembered crying before. I could smell the heat and dust and ink, hear the scraping and hiss of brushes on cloth and paper, and the shuffle of the Master's feet on the ground as he wandered around, overseeing our efforts. Yes, it had been hard, tedious work, and yet so rewarding - to see the words appear as my brush touched the paper, to know that I was able to make them appear, to strive for ever neater strokes, to know that one day I might perhaps get as far as copying the holiest texts... I cried and cried, after a while not even knowing what I was crying for. Myself? My lost dreams? My family and friends? Dayn Armallah? Probably all of those, for it felt that the tears would never end.
At some point a pair of arms wound around me and pulled me into a tight embrace. I pressed close to the comforting warmth, but it took a good while before I registered who it was. I had all but buried my nose into the loose braid, but his hair no longer smelled of incense, and thus I didn't realize it was the prince holding me before he murmured something into my ear. I sniffled ungraciously and tried to dry my face with a hand, thoroughly ashamed.
"I'm sorry," I muttered. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be, Tarisha. I can understand." Merilion patted my back, and I nearly yelped with surprise when it dawned upon me that I was in fact pressed between two warm bodies - that Golden Deer had also shifted closer to hug me.
"Tarisha can make writing?" he sighed in awe. "You can make writing from any story, yes?"
"Yes," I said proudly and felt him shake his head.
"I wish we could make ink and parchment," Merilion pondered. "Then you could also write the story of what happened to Dayn Armallah."
"I'm not sure that I could find the words," I said weakly. "I only copied things."
"We could help you," piped in Alaish who'd been carefully reeling the books back into their cases. "And maybe we'll do that some day. But Father, do you think grandfather would like to see these?"
Merilion froze. "No doubt," he said hoarsely. "But I will not speak another word to him, and I suggest that you steer clear of that lot as well, Alaish. You wouldn't be too welcome there either."
Alaish sighed but nodded.
"Yes, father." He sounded unhappy, though, and the prince pulled the boy closer to himself.
"Don't mope, Alaish," he admonished. "You know it yourself - they have chosen not to accept this life, and there's nothing we can do about that. Come, I'm tired. Come to sleep next to us, both of you."
I still felt too drained to move a finger, but the boy didn't waste time as he dragged our beds closer and spread them next to his father's. But I wasn't too tired to feel unreal when we at last crawled under the blankets and settled down for the night. I had to resist the urge to reach out and touch the prince as he lay there, on the other side of Alaish who'd squeezed himself between us and snored slightly. So close.
By the morning Merilion's fever had passed and he was once more able to flex his right arm without grimacing in pain. Golden Deer decided, though, that they'd still stay at home for another day to make sure the prince was all right, and Merilion accepted that without protest. Somehow he seemed more peaceful now, more at ease, and I wondered if he might finally begin to heal now. Perhaps Golden Deer's tale was helping him to drive away the dreadful guilt and doubt that had been haunting him all this time? And to think that he'd never talked about it to anyone, just carried it inside him, driving himself to the limit just to make amends to people - to most of whom it hadn't ever occurred to blame him of anything in the first place. No, actually that wasn't right, there had been something even crueler than people to drive him: he'd been trying to win forgiveness from himself. I fervently hoped that he'd finally find it.
But if I had thought that the day would be otherwise just like any other, I was wrong. Some time in the afternoon, as I was going about in the village in search of some things from the storerooms, I noticed that the priestesses' house was quiet, its door closed, the ground outside it not trodden on. As if nobody had been in or out that day. I was too curious to let it pass, and inquired about it from two women who were busy pelting sand and dirt out of a stack of beddings. Their affronted snorts spoke volumes before they said a single word.
"No, nobody's been there," the younger of the women said. "Not after they had the gall to have words with poor Lienn, last night - as if she didn't have enough work to do as it is, helping her mother and all! Really, she's been groveling in front of them far too long."
"So, what happened?" I asked, holding my breath.
"Oh, Lienn actually lost her temper somewhat and told them what's what!" said the older woman. "And her mother was there too, Lila sure let them have a piece of her mind! Told them that they'd better start showing some gratitude, instead of snapping at people like that, and that she'd sure like to see their Holy Mother providing for them for a change, seeing as they're always making such a number of it!"
So it was 'their' Holy Mother now, I thought in some trepidation. Was this because of what Merilion had said during the quarrel, or had the people already lost faith in the Goddess some time earlier? Whatever... "And?"
"Well, nobody's been there today." The younger woman nodded. "Let's now see if their prayers really work or not! If they do, then I'm willing to say that the Holy Mother hasn't forsaken her people after all."
I left them at their arm-breaking work and almost ran to our own cabin. The prince's eyebrows climbed to his hairline as I repeated the story to him, and he let out an incredulous sigh.
"So what is this latest folly now?" he huffed. "Are they perhaps going to sit there and pray until their tongues fall off? Or dare we hope that they'd come to their meager senses at last and actually start doing something useful?"
"At least today there's been no sign of them," I told him. For some reason, this turn of events put a cold knot of vague dread into the pit of my stomach. "I think they might be praying."
"Wonderful. They have gone crazy for good." Merilion rubbed his face with his hands and then looked at me, eyes deep green and tired. "This is exactly what we all needed now, isn't it, Tarisha?"
"Maybe we should go and try to talk to them?" Alaish suggested.
"Oh no. Who would they listen to?" Merilion flashed a gloomy smirk. "Certainly not me. And you're my son, you're on my side, as they see it. No, let's wait. Maybe, just maybe they'll start seeing the truth in a while?"
I didn't feel too hopeful, and neither did the prince, that much was obvious. But he was right. The old King was the only one the priestesses would listen to, and as to the King - he'd listen to nobody. Especially not to one of us; we were the accursed lot anyway. Never mind that the accursed lot seemed to be doing so much better than the true believers.
And thus there was nothing else we could do but wait with abated breath, wait and see what would happen next.
Author's note:No, I haven't abandoned this story... I just tend to get hijacked by whatever I write at the moment. Sorry about that to anyone who might have been lamenting the lack of updates here!