Chapter Five: Far Ganel



by

Josie Beaudoin







When it became clear that the Queen was not returning to shore, the Ipar Izar’s crew went back to the ship. The Landers and the Eleli Rei’s crew remained ashore, making camp, finding food, and settling in for the night. Jasper could not be persuaded to move from the spot he occupied on the low hill. In the library of the massive ship, Morgan, Galen, and the Queen worked long into the night.

“What about this?” Galen asked, breaking a lengthy silence. He showed the scroll he was reading to Zirah.

“That might work,” she said after reading it over. “At least for now. A good start, certainly. Let us get some sleep, and we’ll get back to this tomorrow.”

“Where shall we sleep?” Morgan asked.

“I have ambassadorial quarters for guests,” Zirah said.

“Master, how are you doing with your motion-sickness?” Galen asked Morgan.

“This ship is so large, I don’t even feel motion,” he answered. “Which is nice.”

“Do you feel you will be able to sleep?”

“I think so, yes. Let’s go test my theory.”

“As you say, Magister.”

#

“Ahoy, brother, we have a plan,” Zirah said, coming up the hill the next afternoon.

“My Queen?” True to his word, Jasper had not moved from his spot. Neither had he eaten or slept. He stared at his sister bleary-eyed and awaited her next words.

“We’re taking you to Far Ganel,” she said. “There you will be judged by the Tribunal of the High Priests. They shall determine your fate.”

“I submit to my Queen and my Tribunal,” Jasper said, “but how am I to get there? You cannot take me aboard the Ipar Izar, you would be deposed in a heartbeat.”

“No, indeed. That would benefit neither of us. No, your brother Morgan has come up with what I believe is an elegant solution. You will be transported by magics, much as he was abducted these five years hence. He assures me he can teach the requisite spell to Noga and she can perform it.”

“And why should my presence even be tolerated in the Holy Land, my Queen?”

“Because you have not yet had sentence passed, that’s why, and because I your queen shall ask them to, and because you are a good man. Technically you have not yet been proved guilty in a court of law.”

“But I am guilty, Zirah.”

“And if you would hold your tongue on that point, I would greatly appreciate it.”

“I am, as always, at your command, ma’am.”

“I just hope the Archard has not forgotten this skill and that we arrive safely.”

“We?”

“I’m going with you, of course. I have to stand for you as your only kin. The Landers will be accompanying us. That Galen is quite skilled at law, I would have him speak to the Tribunal. Also, he has a great ass.”

“And you feel that will sway them?”

“No, just making an observation.”

“Don’t worry about Morgan,” Jasper said, changing the subject. “His mental acuity has not yet dimmed with the passage of time. He’s been teaching Galen, he can teach Noga.”

“I’m betting on it.”

“So, when do we leave?”

“As soon as she feels ready to cast the spell. Do you have anything of value you wish to bring?”

“Nothing.”

“Perfect. Stay here, and we’ll come to you when we’re ready.”

#

“Where are we going?”

“An island called Far Ganel. Apparently, it’s just like regular Ganel, only much further away,” Galen said.

“Further from what?”

“I have no idea, Andreider. And the Ria won’t talk about it. It would seem the location is a closely guarded secret, which is why your brother has to teach someone else the spell instead of having me do it. For a transportation spell, it would seem that you need someone who has already been there, and therefore knows where they’re going.”

“Why should it be a secret when no one else besides the Ria even have boats?”

“You would have to ask them, I’m afraid. They don’t seem of a mood to discuss it.”

“So that’s what Morgan’s doing now? Teaching someone else the spell?”

“The Queen’s priest, I believe.”

“So the priest is also a magician, like Ruby was?”

“I am given the impression that all Rian magicians are considered priests, though I could be mistaken. At any rate, yes, just like Ruby was.”

“I miss Ruby.”

“Me too.”

“Well shouldn’t you be over there learning that spell too, for future reference?”

“I was,” Galen said, “forbidden to even listen to the spell. In case I somehow discovered the location of the island.”

“But Morgan’s doing the talking, he’s the teacher,” Paige said.

“They are very concerned about security. The Queen may yet be in trouble for allowing us Landers to go there at all, even without knowing where it is.”

“Well of all the ridiculous-”

“Excuse me, Andreider, but they seem to be summoning us. I suspect it’s time to leave.”

#

All the Landers, as well as Jasper, Zirah, and Noga, gathered on the low hill for the spell.

“What about the rest of your… the crew?” Kemen asked.

“They will board the Ipar Izar to await the decision of the Tribunal,” Zirah said. “If Jasper still has need of a crew afterwards, they will be contacted. If not, they will disperse to other assignments. There’s no need to drag them all the way to Far Ganel.”

“I see. And who will-”

“Time to cover your ears, Lander,” Noga said. “You’re not to listen to my spellcasting.”

With that, bundled cloth was bound over the ears of each Lander.

“Great, we all look like we have toothaches,” Morgan said, but no one heard more than muffled babble.

“Do we hold hands or something?” Paige asked. No one replied, but from everyone’s behaviour, she guessed the answer was no. Morgan came to his sister’s side and put an arm around her.

Noga had her back to the siblings, but she appeared to be chanting. She took a stone from a bowl and dropped it to the ground in front of herself, and then to pace a circle around the huddled group. As she did, a glowing rose up from the ground and arched over to form a dome above their heads. Paige drew in a sharp breath.

“It’s the same spell!” she gasped, her mind racing back to the picnic and the abduction. She looked up at Morgan with tears running down her cheeks, and he bent over to kiss her forehead and hold her closer. She leaned into him, shaking.

As the dome met above everyone’s heads, the world grew darker in Paige’s eyes. She squeezed them shut and held on to her brother for dear life. She thought she felt a rushing wind but dared not look. There was a moment of vertigo and a clap like thunder, then silence and stillness.

Paige felt Morgan’s arms move, disentangling from her, but she held him all the harder. Then she felt him lift the bandages from her ears.

“It’s alright, Paige, it’s over,” he told her. “We’re there.”

“Where’s ‘there’?” she asked.

“Welcome to Far Ganel,” Zirah said. “The most holy land in all the world.”

The group looked around in astonishment. They were standing on the white sand of a beautiful harbour. Around them, nearly circling the bay, were high, white cliffs, with an opening to the south that let onto the ocean proper. The narrow strip of land they stood upon was barely more than a sliver of beach, and directly opposite the opening, huge pillars were carved out of the cliff face, framing an enormous door flung wide in welcome.

“Far Ganel,” Jasper whispered in awe, and for a moment, Paige thought he had collapsed before she saw that he had bent to kiss the sand at his feet. Then she saw that all the Ria present had done likewise. They stood up in time to see a woman come out through the wide doors with arms outspread.

“Zirah!” She exclaimed. “And Jasper! So good of your Highnesses to visit! I’m so sorry the circumstances are not better, but come, embrace me.”

Zirah did as ordered, but Jasper hung back.

“Come on now, Your Highness, you were never shy with your affections before this.”

“I never came to you in shame, Keleva,” Jasper managed to choke out. “I never thought that I could.”

“We’ll discuss it later, Prince Jasper,” Keleva said. “For now, you all look quite bedraggled and tired, not to mention hungry. Please, accept what hospitality we have to offer. You are all welcome to Far Ganel.”

“Our thanks, great lady,” Morgan said. “Am I correct in thinking I speak to the TaRia?”

“You are quite correct, Archard.”

“Please, that title…”

“We all of us wear titles, Morgan, some of which suit us better than others. I want you to be nothing but comfortable during your stay here, so if you do not prefer your title, I shall advise my people not to use it.”

“Gratitude,” Morgan said.

Keleva gestured them all inside, and in they went, Jasper taking up the rear. He hesitated as he neared the threshold, cringing in the shadow of the great doors.

“Come along now, Prince Jasper,” Keleva said, “you wouldn’t want me to have to keep the rest of my guests waiting on your account, would you?”

With a sigh and a shake of his head, no, Jasper followed the others inside the fortress.

#

“Really, husband, I think this might all be for the better,” she said.

“How can you possibly say that?”

“Pain. There is none. I am in no pain at all, not the tiniest bit. And you can hear me clearly, can you not? Well then, I’d say things are looking up. Why if only I’d known it would feel this good, I would have had you do this centuries ago. One does get tired of being in pain.”

“But you’re a skeleton! A fleshless, dry, white skeleton.”

“Actually, I don’t think I’m even that, you know,” Mjarni told him. “I strongly suspect I’m just my skull. I don’t think the rest of me really matters any more. I can’t feel my legs, for example, nor my arms. I mean, I can see them, since you’ve laid them out in front of me, but I can’t move them. And I don’t know, but I just don’t feel… attached to them anymore. They seem to be extraneous if you understand me.”

“Beloved, I don’t understand any of this,” Baqeas said. “It looks to me like you’re in worse condition than ever you were before.”

“But I feel so much better, and which is more important?”

“I’m just afraid that there may be no way to restore you from this state.”

“Who says I want to be restored?”

There was a shocked silence.

“I mean really, Baqeas, aren’t you relieved to be rid of that shambling corpse after all this time?”

“Mjarni, you’re my wife!”

“I’m well aware of that, Baqeas, and if I ever doubted it, I always have you to remind me. But we haven’t exactly been lovers recently. Only companions. And I’m here to tell you that your companion is no longer feeling pain. You should be glad of that.”

“Well of course I am, I never once wished you pain, but I did wish to restore you to life at some point, and now I’m afraid I can’t.”

“Dear, sweet man, you have always been overly optimistic on that issue. But perhaps it’s time you set that ambition aside and concerned yourself with other things. And for pity’s sake, please stop pacing! You’re making me dizzy.”

Baqeas sat on the edge of the bed where Mjarni was laid out, but his knee jiggled as his foot twitched.

“What about your Song? Is that still gone?”

“All but my ability to speak to you, and I’m not quite convinced that’s not your power rather than mine.”

“Mjarni, I’m not sure I can go on like this. Everything I’ve ever tried to do has gone wrong. Now this. I don’t know what to do about this.”

“Did you ever think that maybe you’re not supposed to do anything about this, husband? That this has happened for a reason, and we should learn something from it?”

“Learn what? That life is cruel and death even moreso? That your husband is an abject failure even after all these centuries?”

“Never mind, beloved. Please, just be quiet or go out for a bit. I need to rest.”

“How can you need to rest, you’re not doing anything!”

“Baqeas!”

“Alright, I’m going.”

The door closed behind him, and Mjarni listened to his footsteps thudding down the stairs. Satisfied he was elsewhere, she composed her mind and fell asleep.

#

Jasper skulked under the high lintel of the keep. He half expected a lightning bolt to strike him down or a tentacle to rise up from the bay and drag him to the Depths, but nothing happened. His friends looked at him quizzically, lacking an understanding of the situation. Keleva’s smile did nothing to reassure him.

“Do you hear singing, Magister?” Galen asked.

Morgan looked at him and frowned.

“Not now, apprentice,” he said with a scowl.

Galen nodded and put his curiosity aside for the time. He looked around the room instead. Apart from ships, none of the Landers had ever seen Rian architecture before.

The Great Hall of Far Ganel was carved from a white marble that nearly glowed. Looking closer, Galen realized that it was not marble after all, but rather a white quartz crystal, polished to a brilliant shine. Daylight shone right through the outer wall of the keep in shades of white quartz, amethyst, and tourmaline, leaving no need for windows, though it was provided with numerous defensive arrow-slits. The floor was richly mosaiced with all manner of fish, birds, and other ocean creatures, many of which Galen was unable to identify. All were executed with great precision in various precious and semi-precious stones of all colors. Galen noticed that the Ria avoided stepping on the images directly, instead winding their way through the Great Hall in an effortless dance of reverence. High above their heads, the ceiling was made of the same carved crystal in the shapes of waves and winds. The overall impression was one of being underwater while still being able to walk and breathe.

Bringing his attention back to the people, Galen realized he had missed most of a welcome speech by Keleva who now began issuing orders to find housing for all the visitors. Ria scuttled off, eager to obey her.

“Please, come with me,” a kindly Rian said to Morgan.

“My apprentice will room with me, if you don’t mind,” Morgan said.

“Of course,” the man said, and Morgan nodded, gesturing Galen to follow him. The two men were led through many corridors, some brightly lit with crystal, others dark stone. They came at last to a long hallway that was dark but for lanterns every few yards. A row of doors lined the left-hand side of the corridor. Their guide led them to one of the doors, opened it, and gestured for them to enter.

The room was brightly lit through a crystal wall, as the Great Hall had been. The ceiling sparkled with uncut crystals. Two beds graced the room, their feet opposite each other on either side of a central pillar that rose from a fireplace in the middle of the room. Arrow-slit notches were cut in the crystal outer wall, revealing a sheer drop to the water below.

“Will this be adequate?” their guide asked.

Morgan set his bundle of papers down on one of the beds and sat down by way of reply. The Rian bowed and left the room, pulling the door shut behind him. Galen whistled in admiration.

“Adequate?” he said, “this is palatial! Not even Laric has quarters as grand!”

Morgan winced at the name.

“I’m sorry, Master,” Galen said. “Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like this. Who would have thought it of these gruff people, that they would go in for pretty instead of starkly functional?”

“But Galen, look around you,” Morgan said. “Everything here is starkly functional, and there are no extras anywhere. No tapestries, no carpets, no trophies or decorations. Just the room, the beds, a place to put clothes. That every inch of it is beautiful seems almost an afterthought.”

“I suppose. How amazing, though. You can read by the light of the wall! Did Jasper ever describe this to you?”

“No, nothing. He only said that Far Ganel is a holy place, and that its location is a closely-guarded secret. I see why now, of course.”

“As do I. The Golden Palace itself pales in comparison to this place.”

“I was never that impressed by it, but that may have something to do with a tiny disagreement I’ve had with the owner.”

Before Galen could reply, there was a knock at the door. Morgan strode over and opened it to find Paige on the other side. Her hair was wet from a quick bath, and she was wearing borrowed clothes.

“Can you believe this place?” she asked.

“We were just talking about it,” her brother said. “It’s quite impressive.”

“They’re going to give us new clothes, thank the Gods! I’d worn that same outfit for over a week now, and it almost smelled as bad as I did.”

“You know the Ria only have one God, right Paige? It might be impolite to invoke others while we’re here.”

“Such a funny tradition, but I suppose you’re right. I wish mother would have allowed me to wear pants, these are quite comfortable even if they are dirty. And I imagine they make it much easier to climb.”

“I have no doubt you’re right. Perhaps you can bring it up when we get home.”

“Oh, we are going home! For the first time, it actually feels possible.” Paige continued to babble excitedly about the people she looked forward to seeing, but Morgan no longer heard her. It was good to see her animated, but that same sense of possibility filled him with as much dread as it filled his sister with delight.

Another head poked through the open doorway. This time, it was Ashia who came in, with little Willow clinging to her skirts.

“They put us in a room together,” Ashia said to Galen, “but Willow would much prefer to be with you, sir, if that is allowed.”

Galen held out his arms and Willow ran to him with a squeal of glee. He scooped her up in a hug and then settled her on his hip where she clung to him like a limpet.

“Is it allowed, Magister?” Galen asked. All eyes turned towards Morgan.

“How could I say ‘no’ to that face?” Morgan asked the room at large.

“Our guide told me there’s another child here about her age,” Ashia said.

“Wonderful news,” Morgan said.

“Oh, I see you have company,” another Rian came in. “I was just going to ask you if there was anything you need? A bath? A meal? Fresh clothes?”

“All of it,” Morgan said. “I’d also like to see my brother. We haven’t had much chance to talk.”

“If you are referring to Prince Eosain – er, Jasper, I can take you to him,” the Rian said. “but I cannot bring him to you. Prisoners must stay in their cells.”

“Prisoners?”

“Until the trial,” was the answer. “The prince is charged with a most serious offense. It would be improper for him to wander freely around.”

“What a confounding nuisance,” Morgan said. “But who is this Eosain?”

“One and the same with your Jasper,” said the Rian. “His name in Old Rian, his real name, is Eosain, which translates into Avysh as ‘Jasper’.”

“I’ve known him most of my life, and only now I’m learning his actual name?” Morgan was stunned. Paige giggled.

“It is very like him, you must admit,” she said.

“You’re right, it is,” her brother answered. “I almost feel a fool for not suspecting something of the sort before now.”

“I can take you to him now, if that is your wish.”

“It is,” Morgan said, “but I think I should go alone to see him, at least at first.”

The Rian nodded and led him back to the Great Hall. From there, he followed his guide down a long staircase into the heart of the island. The crystal dropped away, and they travelled through ordinary stone passages lit with torches and lamps. To Morgan’s great relief, the passageways were rough, the ceilings rounded, and bore no resemblance to Laric’s dungeon back in Erlaya. He pushed the memories sternly aside and concentrated on the moment.

The Rian dungeon was not what Morgan had expected. The tunnel widened into a rounded room without warning. A handful of alcoves clustered around the edges of the room. Each was blocked off with iron bars in a diamonded pattern to make the cells. Each cell was well-appointed with a narrow but comfortable bed, a table and chair. Lamps were provided, though only one – in the occupied cell – was lit. The general feel was of space and openness, despite the fact that Morgan knew they were underground and probably below the level of the ocean.

Jasper lay on the bed in his cell. He did not raise his head or even open his eyes as the pair stopped in front of the bars.

“There he is,” the guide said. “Please don’t let him out.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The cell – he’s meant to stay in it. Please don’t open the door for him.”

“Isn’t it locked?”

“Well, it only latches from the outside, but it’s not really an issue. We’re on an island.”

“So, the bars are – what? A gentle reminder to stay put?”

“Essentially, yes.”

“What would you do if you had a violent prisoner?”

The guide smiled.

“A violent prisoner would not have been brought here,” he said. “Prince Eosain certainly does not qualify as such.”

“You’re not worried he’ll hurt himself? The lamp, the furniture-”

Again, the guide smiled.

“He’s been asked not to,” he explained.

“Well this is the politest prison I’ve seen, bar none,” Morgan said.

“You are on Holy ground, Archard.”

“I’ve asked not to be called that,” Morgan said.

“My deepest apologies. I was unaware.”

“Never mind. Just leave it alone.”

“As you say, sir. Now if you’ll excuse me, I trust you can find your way back to the Great Hall when you’re done here?”

“Quite. No trouble at all.”

“Excellent.”

With that, the Rian turned back to the tunnel, leaving the two men alone.

“I say,” Morgan said to his brother, “you’ve got quite the cozy home here, Eosain. It’s no wonder they don’t expect anyone would try to break out, when it’s so comfortable.”

“Yes, I’m in the lap of luxury,” Jasper said, his eyes still shut, “and don’t call me that.”

“What, you mean your name?”

“Yes, Archard, I mean don’t call me that.”

Morgan winced.

“Alright, so we both have titles we’d rather not hear. Point made. I’m sorry. But brother, if security is so lax here, and they’re not afraid of you hurting anyone, why even bother to put you in a cell in the first place? Why not simply let you roam?”

“To make a point, I imagine,” Jasper said.

“Ah.”

At last Jasper sat up and opened his eyes. Swinging his feet around, he perched on the edge of his bed, eyes locked on the floor.

“And how are the others settling in?”

“Quite nicely, thank you. Jasper, this place, it’s really amazing. Why did you never tell me? I would think it would be something to boast of, but you never said a word.”

“Has none of this gotten through to you, Morgan? How many times must we tell you? This place is sacred. Holy. Divine.”

“As a matter of fact, I was just explaining that to Paige. Of course I know that much. But why is ‘sacred’ also ‘secret?’”

“We don’t want it profaned by lesser peoples.”

“Like me, you mean?”

Finally, agonizingly, Jasper looked his brother in the eyes.

“There are occasional exceptions, but in general, yes. Besides, very few people actually live here. Of all the ships in the world, only a few hundred even know the location or ever visit here. There is a handful of permanent residents, but most Ria never even make a pilgrimage to Far Ganel. It’s not really a priority to come here, it’s more important to simply know it exists, and keep it hidden.”

“I’ve never seen its equal in nature or manufacture,” Morgan said.

“Nor will you. Ever.”

“I believe you, brother. But let me ask you; apart from its undeniable beauty, what is it that makes this place holy? Or is that it? Just the sheer magnificence of it?”

“No, this is where God stood when She split the world,” Jasper said in hushed tones.

“I’m a little vague on Rian theology,” Morgan admitted. “Like this place, it’s not something any of you have seen fit to explain.”

“There’s not much to explain,” Jasper said. “There is only one God, and we are Her chosen people. The rest is history lessons and behavioral codes.”

“A history lesson, then. Humor me.”

“Another time, perhaps,” said Jasper. “Or you could ask Keleva. I’m sure she’d make time for you.”

“Because you’re too busy right now?”

“As a matter of fact,” Jasper said with a glare, “I should be. I’m supposed to be reflecting on my crime, in preparation for my trial.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Morgan was surprised. “I’m sorry, I’m trying to understand, I really am, but the whole predicament just doesn’t seem sensible.”

“Life is rarely sensible.”

At that moment the guide returned. He approached respectfully and bowed.

“Your pardon, Highness,” he said to Morgan, “but you’re wanted by your apprentice.”

“Alright, I’m coming. We’ll talk more later, Jasper.”

Morgan followed the Rian back to the Great Hall, where Galen was pacing and wringing his hands.

“What ho, apprentice?” he said.

“I’m concerned, Sir,” Galen told him. “I keep hearing this voice, and it’s coming from a very strange mind.”

“Magic?”

“Yes, Sir, not a real voice.”

Morgan nodded understanding.

“Well, what’s it saying?”

“For the most part she’s singing, but that’s not what worries me. She sounds… I don’t know exactly, but not right somehow.”

“Have you spoken to any of the magicians here? Can they all hear it, or is it directed at you?”

“I haven’t, Master, I wanted to talk to you first.”

“Well I haven’t the first idea, so we’d better go find out. I imagine there’s a large percentage of magicians here, this being a holy place and all the Rian magicians I’ve met are also the priests.”

Morgan touched the shoulder of a passing Rian woman. “We’d like to speak with a magician, if that’s possible,” he said.

“And so you are,” she said. “How can I help you?”

“Who’s the singing woman?”

The blunt question caught the priest off guard. She blushed, clearly flustered.

“We don’t – I mean… perhaps it would be best if you asked Keleva.”

“Is she available?”

“I can go and find out for you, if you’d like,” the priest said, anxious to extricate herself from the uncomfortable conversation.

“That would be lovely, thank you,” Morgan said.

The woman scurried away.

“I wonder what that was all about,” Galen mused.

“Whoever this woman is, it’s a very touchy subject,” Morgan said. “Even I could sense her agitation. Galen, maybe we’d best -”

“Galen?”

A woman’s voice, full of awe, sounded behind Galen. He turned around.














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