Chapter Four: Her



by

Josie Beaudoin







The landing party the next morning consisted of Morgan, Galen, Brand, and Kemen, accompanied by Bartok, Tamar and Nyda. Jasper flatly refused to let the escort return to the ship. Hauling a good lunch, lanterns, ink, quills, and every scrap of paper they could find, they headed up the hill to the stone house.

“Let's do this logically,” Morgan said once they had reached the atrium. “I'd like to survey each room and see if there is a pattern, or some text that seems more relevant than others. Don't write anything down until we've decided what to keep. There's too much text here to get all of it, so we need to choose carefully. Brand, Bartok, and Nyda, you come with me. Galen, take the others. I don't want anyone wandering off alone.”

“If we separated, we could do the survey more quickly,” Brand said.

“We could, but you don't know what to look for. I do, as does Galen. No offense, cousin, but you would save every least scratch, and we don't have the time. You can stay here if you like, there are a few pieces here in the atrium you could begin work on, but do not go wandering off by yourself. This isn't a sightseeing expedition, that was yestreday. This is work.”

“Well if you're not going to trust me to choose which sacred texts to keep, let me begin work. Show me which pieces here to transcribe.”

“All right,” Morgan said. “Nyda, Tamar, I want you two to stay with Brand. Start on this panel on the north wall. Kemen with me, Galen and Bartok together. Let's go. We meet back here in one hour.”

“Fear not,” Brand said. “I shall diligently maintain the strictest accuracy in recording the sacred works.”

Morgan looked at his cousin and cocked an eyebrow.

“Yes, I'm sure you will. Just get to it, alright? And don't waste paper, we haven't much. Write small, and don't try to copy the pictures. Just the words.”

With Brand's reassurances echoing behind him, Morgan set off in the direction he had gone the day before with Kemen in tow.

“He's writing in different languages,” Morgan noted as he examined the carvings on the walls.

“One language in one room, another in the next. I think it has to do with the culture he's describing, but I could be wrong.”

As they proceeded on room by room Morgan became more convinced.

“This text is from Arden,” he said in one room. “Everything in here. And look at this house; that's definitely Ardenese construction. He's writing about his time there.”

“Is there a room about Erlaya?” Kemen asked.

“Of course not. Erlaya didn't exist when he built this house. Or Krisadon. There were people living there, of course, but there was no nation. That came later. After he was released. Byj, what were those Old Rians thinking? They should never have let him go. Two thousand years of crimes that could have been prevented if they had kept him.”

“Perhaps they didn't let him go,” Kemen offered. “Perhaps he found a way of escaping.”

“Not according to Jasper,” Morgan said. “He says the Ria let Laric go after a hundred years. They must have set him ashore in the Freelands, because that's a few centuries before the Great War when we pushed him out of the North.

“Come on, let's check the next room.”

They trudged back out into the corridor, heading for the next patch of light that indicated the presence of a room.

“What about these carvings, sir?” Kemen asked. “The hallways are all written on too.”

“Well at a casual glance it seems all the hall writings are in Old Rian. We'd have to ask Jasper for help with those translations, and I don't think he'll be very willing.”

“You don't know their language?”

“No, the Ria are too secretive for that. I know languages of lands I've never been to, the Ria are more than willing to bring us that knowledge, but they don't talk much about themselves. Look at this one: Fremerian script, I'm not sure which language, but the figures are quite distinctive.”

“They look like Emmy, and some of the other crew,” said Kemen.

“They are. She's Fremerian. The Ria breed with all the races.”

“But if they're the chosen people... then... but... if they...”

“Don't hurt yourself trying to make sense of it, Kemen. Rian logic is their own.”

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


Galen and Bartok wandered from room to room examining the carvings on the walls. Neither of them could make out any of the writings.

“What exactly are we looking for?” Bartok asked.

“Scenes of Laric using magic, mostly,” said Galen. “My master hopes that there might be spells inscribed near them. There's no need to be afraid, there are no active spells here. We're just looking for descriptions of spells he may have cast in other places and times. It could help immensely to know what he has done, and see if we can find a way to turn it against him, don't you see? There could be things written on these walls that could lead to his defeat.”

“Do you actually intend to meet him in battle? No offense, Galen, but Morgan couldn't take him, and you know less than he does. How do you expect to fare better than the Shield?”

“There might be something here that would help me fight. Morgan's never seen this material before, you know. Now do you see why this is so important? We can use all the help we can get, and help might be in the next room. Oh Vargaas, look at this one.”

“I'd rather not. Oh. Oh, God. Is that what I think it is?”

“I think so. How could they worship someone who was capable of that?”

“You worship him. He's your god, remember?” Bartok shuddered.

“He's not my god,” Galen whispered, his eyes stuck on the atrocities carved on the walls. “The god I worshiped was powerful and ferocious, but never cruel. This is inhuman.”

“Actually, it's very human,” said Bartok. “God doesn't do these things, man does.”

“Perhaps your god doesn't. Unfortunately, some of them do.”

“False gods,” Bartok said. “Gods created by men to excuse their own vices, gods created to let them subjugate their fellow men, to justify their wars. The Oathbreaker proclaimed himself to be a god, and he is only a man. God Herself has nothing to do with these false creations.”

“What does your goddess do, Bartok?”

“Well firstly, She's not a goddess, She is just God. As for what she does, well... she just is.”

“Is what?”

“God.”

“Well what is she the god of?”

“Everything. The whole world and everything in it. You, me, everyone who has ever or will ever live. Every animal, every plant, every grain of sand and drop of water. She created it all, and all of it belongs to Her. We are Her children and She is our mother.”

“Everything? She must be awfully busy.”

“She is,” Bartok replied, “all-powerful.”

“Well that must give her a certain edge,” Galen said.

Bartok stared at him for a moment, then burst out laughing. He clapped Galen on the shoulder.

“I like you,” he said, still laughing. “Come on, let's go find another creepy room to be uncomfortable in, shall we?”

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


Morgan and Kemen arrived at the head of the stairs that led down into blackness. Kemen lit their lanterns and they descended to the lower level. The darkness parted before them, and when they reached the bottom of the stairs there was a small open area with hallways leading to the right and left.

“I turned right yestreday,” Morgan said. “Though I have no clue where exactly I ended up. Let's not get lost down here.”

“Don't worry, sir,” Kemen said. “Not getting lost is my job. Or at least it was.”

“Mmm, quite so. Then I shall leave you to keep track of where we are. Let's turn left and see where we end up.”

“If I may suggest it, sir, it would be wise to choose one wall and follow it. It doesn't matter which one, but it would be helpful to stay on one wall if we don't wish to miss anything.”

“Very well. Let us follow the right.”

“Sir, can you read any of this?”

“No, it's all Rian. But all the hallways in the house seem to be carved in Rian.”

The hallway turned right, and they followed it. The wall across from them was broken regularly by many doors, but theirs had none. Again the hallway turned right, and again they followed it. More doors on the other side of the hall, and Morgan was beginning to think there would be none at all on the right side, but he was wrong. There was one door. The room it led to was enormous.

“It must go all the way back to the stairs,” Kemen said.

“By the gods,” breathed Morgan. “Look at her.”

In the precise centre of the room was a statue, life-sized and so perfectly carved it looked as though she might take a breath at any moment and speak to them. She stood with her arms crossed casually across her chest, her head cocked to one side as though listening. She was a very ordinary-looking woman, dressed in simple clothes, but it was clear that she was confident and strong-willed. It was also clear that the man who had carved her loved her intensely. Every smallest detail of her plain form was rendered with exquisite craftsmanship from the texture of her hair to the stitches on her hide shoes.

There were no carvings in the room, the walls were blank and smooth. Nothing detracted from the pristine perfection of the stone woman, standing expectantly in the centre of the room. Nothing drew the eye away from her. She stood alone, magnificent in her simplicity.

The two men stood speechless for a moment, struck by the power and grace. The stone woman stood waiting, looking at them with a stern but patient face.

“Who was she?” Kemen whispered.

“I have no idea,” Morgan said in the same quiet, reverent tones. “But she's... beautiful.”

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


Her name was Mjarni, and she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Baqeas had thought her lovely in the first moment he saw her, though he could not have said why. Her face and figure were notable for neither their plainness nor perfection, yet there was something in the way she held herself that immediately caught and held his attention and breath. And when she turned her gaze to him, he thought he would die.

Mjarni was a strong, independent woman who never deferred to her powerful grandfather, the man who had taken Baqeas on as apprentice. He had traveled far to reach his apprentice’s home. The young man had duties and responsibilities to the people of his village that would never allow him to leave, so the old man and his nomadic family came to his remote town to teach him instead.

Before his teacher discovered him, Baqeas had served his people as a skald. While training to become a sorcerer he also trained his replacement for the people of his village. During the long winter, he fell in love with Mjarni. She scorned him greatly at first, for the lessons he was learning from her grandfather she herself had mastered years earlier. She did, however, return his love eventually, for he strove mightily to earn it.

Baqeas and Mjarni’s marriage was a joyful event for the whole town. They had a new skald and two sorcerers in their midst. Baqeas’ master admitted that he had never encountered a stronger wizard. Mjarni was, once her heart had been won, very devoted to her husband. There was no reason to suspect that their future would be anything but idyllic.

Their family grew over the next few years. One day Mjarni announced she was carrying her fourth child. The news was greeted as joyfully as had been word of the first three.

All was well until the time came for her to be delivered of the child. Though Baqeas tried all his power and skill to help them both, after two days of labour the child was dead. Then Mjarni begged him to let her die with it, but he would not give up. In his desperation to save his wife, he cut the stillborn from her womb. It was thus that his only daughter entered the world. But Mjarni could not be saved. Her labour had gone too long, and she had lost too much blood. By the fourth day after the surgery, she was dead.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


“Let's get out of here,” Kemen whispered, his voice shaking. “There's something...”

“...not right here,” Morgan finished for him. “And nothing to read.”

Still the two men stood there, staring at the stone woman who stared back at them. The flames of their lanterns flickered and danced, and the shadows danced on the woman's face and form, as though she were moving, breathing, about to speak. Slowly they backed away, both expecting her to move at any moment, until they reached the door.

“Close your eyes,” Morgan said, “and don't open them until we're down the hall.”

Kemen gulped and nodded, then closed his eyes and turned away, back the way they had come. He felt a hand on his shoulder and shrieked. Whirling around he threw his lantern towards his attacker and heard it hit something before it fell to the floor, the glass chimney shattering. Drawing his sword, he swung it in a wide arc, his back to the wall. Sweat was pouring down his face and the sword shook in his hands.

“Kemen, it's me, it's just me,” Morgan said.

“W-where's your lantern?”

“I dropped it when someone threw theirs at me. Now they're both out. We'll just have to make do without them. Come on, lead me out.”

“Which way?”

“Oh, don't say that, Kemen, you're the tracker. Calm down and think.”

“We... uh... f-follow the w-wall. But I don't know which wall, sir. I got turned around.”

“So did I. Byj! You really hit me.”

“Shhhh! Do you hear that? Is it her?”

“Kemen, calm down. I think one of the lanterns tipped or rolled. It's not her. Now focus: does it matter which wall we follow? Even if we have to go through a dozen rooms, both walls will lead us back to the stairs eventually, right? And we'll know right away which one doesn't have any doors, because the inner one has none at all. So if we pass a doorway, we know it's the wrong wall, correct?”

“Unless it's the doorway to... to her room. Sir, I can't. She could be anywhere.”

“Kemen, 'she' is a block of stone. It's not moving, it's not following us, it's right where we left it. Quphic knows it was eerie, but it's not alive.”

“H-how can you be so calm, sir?”

“Because I've seen much worse than eerie over the years. I've also spent a good portion of the last five years ten flights underground in pitch blackness. If there's one thing that doesn't scare me, it's the dark. Alright, soldier, hold on to my belt and don't let go. I'll get us out.”

They were met at the stairs by Galen.

“What's wrong? What happened?” he asked.

“We dropped our lanterns,” Morgan said. “It's nothing.”

“You're bleeding.”

“Yes, Kemen dropped his lantern on me. It was an accident. Let's get upstairs and get to work, shall we? There's nothing I can read down here, it's all Rian.”

“Maybe Jasper could-”

“No. We don't have time to waste.”

Galen felt fear pounding in both men's hearts. Something was definitely down there that had unsettled them, something Morgan refused to talk about. Galen itched with curiosity, but dropped the subject. If his master said no, the answer was no.

“Let's get back to the main atrium so I can see to your cut,” he offered instead.

“Good. It's time for lunch, isn't it?”

“It's always time for lunch, Magister,” Galen said with a smile. It was bluster on Morgan's part, but it also showed he was recovering from his shock, whatever it had been.

They returned to the front of the house and found the others. Brand had nearly finished inscribing the first panel, and Morgan looked at his work while Galen fussed over the cut on his forehead. Someone put some bread and cheese in his hand, and he munched absentmindedly while he read.

“This is good work, cousin,” he said at last. “Very legible.”

“What does it say?”

“I'm not sure yet, but the letters are clear, and that's what's important. I can translate them later. This is very helpful, thank you.”

“I'm not doing this for you, I'm doing it for the glory of the Ya'Sret.”

“And I'm sure he appreciates your efforts. Keep up the good work.”

“Do you think he does?”

“If you want my honest opinion, Brand, I'd say that if he knew anyone were reading this stuff he'd send the entire island to the bottom of the sea rather than have his private writings known. The island itself is proof of a huge failure on his part, I don't think he wants people reading what he wrote while in prison.”

“Then why would he write it?”

“Boredom. Vanity. Fear. I don't know”

“The Ya'Sret does not know fear!” Brand was indignant.

“Oh calm down, Brand. Just preserve the holy books, you're doing a wonderful job. Start on that panel next.”

They worked on through the day. Morgan selected several of the panels Galen had suggested, as well as a few others he had missed. When it was time to return to the ship, Morgan laid a scrap of paper on the floor in front of each section he wanted recorded so they would not have to waste time the next morning. A small rock atop each sheet ensured no wind would blow it out of place. The group made their way down the rocky shore to where the boat waited. A fog had come up while they worked, reducing the ship to a dark smudge. The Ria pulled on the oars, and the Eleli Rei emerged from the mist like a phantom.

“You're all like that,” Moran whispered.

“Did you say something, sir?” Bartok asked.

“No, nothing” Morgan said. “Just thinking aloud.”

Soon they were all back aboard the ship, sitting down to a good dinner. Morgan seemed more withdrawn than usual, and only picked at his meal.

“Did you find what you wanted, brother?” Jasper asked him. Morgan started out of his reverie.

“Yes,” he answered after a pause. “Yes, there is some promising... yes.”

“You don't seem very excited about it.”

“I'm tired is all,” said Morgan. “I'd like to get some sleep.”

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


“Kemennnn...” the voice echoed down the black hallway. “Kemennn, help me. Come back, I need your help.”

Kemen raced along corridors he could not see, feeling his way in the darkness. He was lost in a maze of stone. The stone woman pursued him, her feet inexplicably silent as she glided along the floor. His own footsteps echoed through the blackness as he fled, sword in hand, and his gasping breath was loud in his ears, but not loud enough to drown out her plaintive cries. Through room after room he ran, yet all was lightless and windowless. His left hand was raw and bleeding from scraping along the carvings on the walls of room and hall in the black, and all the while she followed, followed the echoing of his feet, followed the pounding of his heart, followed the smell of his blood.

The stitch in his side worsened, but he pushed on, stumbling. Finally he fell, unable to stand, unable to silence his gasping breath. In a moment she would be on him. Kemen forced himself to crawl, searching for a corner, but before he found one he felt a gentle touch on his shoulder. With a scream he rolled to one side, swinging his sword in an arc above him. It struck stone and shattered, the broken blade clattering on the floor. He dropped the hilts and scooted backwards on hands and feet, but she was there, her breath like dust on his face as she knelt over him.

“Kemen, help me,” she pleaded. “Take me out of here.”

“NO!”

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


There was a cry, a thump, and ragged gasps. Kemen found himself awake on the floor, the blessedly wooden floor of the hold. Two lanterns illuminated the room with a soft glow, revealing the rows of hammocks that held the Ria, some sleeping, others looking at him curiously. Looking up he saw his own hammock, empty and swinging above him.

“Are you alright?” a man asked.

“Where is she?” Kemen demanded. “Where has she gone?”

“You're dreaming, Lander,” was the answer. “Go back to sleep, and try to do it quietly this time.”

Kemen climbed to his feet and back into his sling-bed. He did not, however, go back to sleep. He kept his eyes wide, drinking in the lamplight, reveling in the sleeping sounds of the others around him. She was not on the ship. She was in the house.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


The Landers spent two more days transcribing the carvings. Kemen refused to leave the ship. He insisted that he wanted to take care of Paige, and no one pushed it, but Morgan saw the look in his eyes and knew why the scout preferred to stay off the island. He was far from sanguine about what lay under the house himself. Telling the others there was nothing useful down there had kept them from exploring, and it was the truth – the carvings seemed all to be Rian, which would be useless without Jasper's help – but Morgan also wanted to protect the others from the disturbing image of the woman below.

“I hope you're nearly done,” Jasper said on the morning of their fourth day ashore. “There isn't a full day's worth of work left to do, so we'll be leaving as soon as you get back tonight.”

“Can't we stay a little longer?” Morgan asked.

“Is it really that important? My God, Morgan, I'm supposed to be taking you home, not on a pleasure cruise. We can't just stop every time you see something interesting. This journey's going to be long enough as it is.”

“But there's so much there,” Morgan said.

“You don't even know if any of it will be useful. It's probably nothing more than him bragging about all the people he's destroyed over the millennia. Personally I'd rather you were training with Galen again. At least I can see a use for that. This obsession with the Oathbreaker's past is baffling to me.”

Morgan gave a deep sigh.

“Just give me the rest of today, brother,” he said. “I'll come with you after that. Anyway, we're almost out of paper.”

“You've got today,” Jasper said. “Tonight we sail.”

“Do me a favour, alright? Don't tell Brand that.”

Jasper grinned.

“He has been less obnoxious these past few days, hasn't he?”

“Yes, and imagine the stink he's going to raise when we leave.”

“Hm. Well, we put up with him annoying us before, we'll put up with him annoying us again. Go. Copy down your words. Have fun. We'll be ready when you get back.”

“Fun. Right. I'm doing this because it's fun.”

“Well finish up quickly, then. I'll see you later.”

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


Brand was, indeed, upset and angry when he was told they would not be returning. The ship had already left port, and the island dwindled into the distance in the fading evening light, and there was nothing he could do.

“But there's so much left undone!” he railed.

“We're out of paper, Brand,” Morgan pointed out. “Every scrap of available paper has been written on.”

“Can we get more paper and come back? We can't just leave all those holy texts behind.”

“Brand, we're not coming back. Be grateful for what we managed to salvage, and let the rest go. You did a wonderful job, but it's over now.”

“So now we begin translating them?”

“Now I rest. And you should rest. What's the hurry, cousin?”

“You wouldn't understand,” Brand sniffed. “I'm not hungry. I think I'll go back to my cabin.”














This web page and all it's contents were written by J.C. Beaudoin, who is solely responsible for it, for better or for worse. Copyright 2005 and 2006. Hands off. Lookie, no touchie! :-)