Rook 1.2: Blood in the Well (Pt. 2)
Rook 1.2: Blood in the Well (Pt. 2)- Adam Pettit -2018
“Pretzacotlyn and Mashti, Vergas and Styl. The movement of the planets progressed erratically this winter. Now, I can hardly predict their orbits. Nebulae color what was once empty, unobserved space. Asteroids are careening leftward into the cyclone sphere. Do you see, Marian, how the waves ripple like water through the air?”
Nevandis Ault was set in his ways, and he never threw out anything. Marian served him cider on an old tin plate, bent in the middle. He would reprimand her if she’d brought him a drink on a new serving dish, regardless of how elegant or grand or clean.
Nevandis reached for the chalice, fumbling, without removing his eye from the down-angled spyglass port. But, even without looking away from the lens, he would notice a change in the serving tin, she knew. He could sense the changes, any alteration made to the most minute of objects in the room. It was stillness he had an issue digesting. It was the life within silence which passed him by unseen.
“Did Cree ever return?” he asked, finding the fishbowl curve of the glass with his pinching fingers.
“He did not,” reported Marian, removing the tin and drawing away.
“The drunkard!” exclaimed the astronomer. “I give him a bonus of two dracnos, and what does he do? He vanishes with important documents. The planets are moving above, like judges, honorable around a table, determining our fates. The stars are restless. This is activity that nobody’s seen for thousands of years, prophesized activity, and I don’t have my notes to compare against the old books because this greedy idiot’s taken awash to lustful animal needs, reposing in a tavern fraught with chlamydic whores.”
He lifted his face from the oculus, a ring imprinted around his eye, his grey hair scuffled and free.
“What if he never returns! What then do I do, Marian? Tell me. Why do I trust anyone besides myself in such a selfish world?
“Nature is an uncertain reaction, and people always prove to be duplicitous. Except for you, Marian. You’re the only one who makes me believe there might be any order to this world. In days where the solid fixtures of our universe have denied physics and have selected to act idiosyncratically, you remain a bastion of service, of predictability and loyalty. I love you for it.”
He kissed her quickly on her strawberry hair, and spat out the strands that became stuck to his lips or flossed like coils around his teeth.
She withdrew from the old man.
“If you’d like, I can try and find him for you.”
“You’ll not find his lot,” shooed the astronomer. “A thousand taverns line the streets on this side of town, and he could be in any one of them. And, that’s only if he didn’t take my work and leave for Rodva to pawn it off. Create weapons from it, they will. No, he could be anywhere in Perlora.”
“I think he likes to hang around The Greyloch Inn,” said Marian. “That’s the place I always hear him speaking of. Perhaps I can try my hand there?”
“The Greyloch?” repeated the astronomer, bringing his thumb to his chin. “Yes, I have heard him mumbling about that place, complaining of the people who always wrong him there. Try it if you can. See if you can bring him back. But, more importantly, get those documents. I was supposed to present them to Simon Trust before the council meeting. Well, Cree was to deliver them early this morning so Simon could review them, but apparently, they never arrived. We had to postpone the meeting, and now the council should be underway. They will not speak about my work, and this fact does not bode well for the future stability of our Lookout, Marian, when they go to raze these hills.
“I need to show them that we’re making progress, to prove our necessity and our worth. Once, Simon instructed me to inform him if ever Vergas transposed with Styl, and now it has. The most ancient of prophesized signs. We need the proof so we can show him that we saw it first, because after Rodva, they’ll bring the plows to the Sciences. Just you wait and see. We’re only another type of bum to them, believe me, since we do not fight or conquer. They do not fear us, so they’ll flatten us.”
He waved his finger.
“One can’t be trusted on their intelligence alone, even with a reputation such as mine. One needs evidence, you see. For the future of our project, for the future of our survival, we need those papers.”
“I will go and find him,” bowed Marian. “But, I’ll ask you for one favor first.”
“And, what is that?” asked the astronomer.
“Don’t trust Cree before me anymore. Just because he’s a boy and I am not. You know I don’t possess his weaknesses, and yet, I still serve you your dinners and your ciders. He’s trusted with your most important errands, and yet he lets you down.
“When the time comes that you need to train an apprentice, I want you to consider me. Cree doesn’t read the books in the library, whereas you know I’ve memorized them all. I can navigate the stars. I know their positions, when they’re fixed relative in the skies. He can tell you only slightly more than your average citizen. So, why does he get the prime portion of your inheritance after you decide to retire? Is it only for the reputation of the astronomical society?”
“It is,” said Nevandis, without hesitation. “It is. Don’t think that I haven’t noticed you. I have.
“Go. Find him, and if you don’t, at least locate the documents. I need to calculate of the distance between Vargas and Styl, and their rate of movement, to prove their changes made across the sky.”
She turned toward the door.
“They’re 48,500 farnaughts apart, typically in this season. Through the sky-scope, it should measure precisely one quarter turn. If they’re an eighth of a turn closer, then they’re moving at twice their speed of 67,000 mps, which I believe they were travelling abnormally, last I checked.
“But, yes, I will find your documents. The evidence will prove what’s already logged in my memory. Then, Simon will not plow the Lookout down.”
Nevandis remained still for once as he watched her leave, and she didn’t see his look, but knew it on his face, as she passed through the oval-topped door. He listened to her hard-footed steps descend the spiraled turret stairs of the old citadel, and he said, “Yes, the universe is up there. The universe is up there, mapped across your mind.”
“Rodva has proven a waste for us all. Over the past two-hundred years, it has devolved into ruin. Whatever intention our ancestors had in establishing it has been wasted and forgotten. Even if its only quality was to house the poor, the wretched of our species, we’ve grown to a might where we can push them out farther to the edges, away from our sight. I know of a squalid patch of marshland down in the warmer southern reaches of the city, where they’d be better off. They’d have access to water, so they could boat in closer to the center if needed. They’d have no excuse not to move, as we improve upon their land for the benefit of all. And, most importantly, they can take their evil ways with them, out of our concern or jurisdiction.”
Simon paced as he spoke, his arms behind his back. He wore the white robe of the elder men, as did the other ten, Yerroth, included. Simon’s white beard was cut short to show that he was not dejected in age like the fisherman, but established that he was the eldest of the ruling council, and thus the wisest through years. He’d warmed himself through the course of more hard winters than all of them. Questioning his logic, countering his ideas, was a difficult task for this reason, but Yerroth was used to it, and he rose now, standing on the opposite side of the table, fists clenched.
Nyste watched in secret from behind a high rock on a spired slag, hidden from the guards with their sharp helmets and long spears. He gripped at a razor weed, seeing his father smile, prepared to oppose the council.
“We would be invading them,” said Yerroth. “Like Yvers tried to invade us. The moment we force fellow Perlorans to move en-masse, is the moment we strike the chord within us that we’ve never wished to play. It would begin a trend of moving everything we do not like away, in order to survive in a world catered only to us.”
“That is the purpose,” said Simon. “The Rodvans are a brutish people, who actively frighten most of the families in Perlora. Rodva is a place to be avoided. Friends of mine who live at the base of the hill, at the border, where peace begins to prevail again, say they live in constant horror that the rot will roll down the slopes, that they’ll be robbed or their daughters corrupted. We must control the hill as it prepares to spread, as it boils over. It’s our duty as protectors.”
“And, if we help the hill without removing the people?” asked Yerroth. “If we provide them with resources to improve their lives? If we meet with the men and help to establish some sort of purpose for them, something to work with that will benefit us all? What then? Don’t you think that would be the nobler path, the natural one?”
Simon and some of the others laughed.
“Yerroth,” said Simon, walking around the table to meet him closer, “what you’re saying is insanity. We cannot change them. We have tried for years. There is no reasoning with these men. They are out of control. It’s in their nature to be this way. So, if we move them to the marshes, they can continue their business as they please, elsewhere. Then, we will be safe.”
“If we evict these men,” asked Yerroth, “then what’s to stop one group of ours to gang up on any other, and move their families out? If Rodva had an elected representative to speak on their behalf, if we were twelve in the council, would you still be fighting so openly about their forced relocation? Lucky for you, we haven’t allowed them a representative. Makes it easier for us to decide their fates for them.
“They are defenseless, and thus they have fear, and thus they produce and reproduce their notorious, searing attitude.”
“Your family would have them poison our well, wouldn’t they?” asked Simon, pressing his finger bent onto the table.
“My family represents equality for all the parts of Perlora,” said Yerroth.
“One must chop off a leg,” said Simon, “if it begins to rot. Otherwise, the whole body will die with it. Rodva must be removed.”
Nyste heard an animal clicking in the breeze, and not caring much for the fate of Rodva, he left his observation-post to hunt. Nyste hopped the thornberry bushes and returned to the main trail, winding down to the temple. He swiped a pointed branch off the ground and lofted it up into a spearing stance, to strike down whatever beast he’d come across. But, when the temple’s top returned to sight, a mild isosceles peak, nestled between two high ledges, Nyste was struck with both pride and breathless disbelief. The grandeur of the temple’s architecture, the sheer size of it, the age, and the attention to detail, smacked him with its opulent legend, and he dropped his feeble weapon. He felt the need to weep over his earlier fault, now that he was alone with its past and purpose. This building did not disappoint its name, nor his, and he decided that from now on, he would only carry hands to hunt with.
A wave of dizziness washed over him, blotting the brown and yellow rocks littering the grounds into spots of black. It was a spell by which he could not touch the source of; the temple, it must be. Looking at the temple now was like looking into the face of God, like looking into the planet’s natural soul. Nyste dropped to a knee without intention, blasted by the weight of his personal insignificance, a speck wandering through infinities. He held back tears, weeping in, consumed by his inevitable, human mortality, a green leaf crisping brown, understood while standing at the foot of this thing, this idea made real, so colossal and immortal, by an arrangement of rare stones, casting moods far greater than individual stones can cast, scattered over Sorcho.
But, the temple also brought him a new sense of supreme vitality, once he felt recovered, that he too was a God of sorts, simply by being allowing to live, by having the opportunity to feel, to stand within the temple’s presence. He felt a tricky temptation, which he knew could change his life if fully accepted and applied, that fate had declared him God, him Nyste, by bringing him here before the monumental door.
He passed the well without a thought, blood still streaked across the round stone lip, splatters from the spill, now dry. His fingers grazed the ring as he passed, absorbing too its history and importance, the spring providing for all of infant Perlora.
Hoping to remain unseen by the guards, who, because of the council, may kill him on sight, as his father had warned, Nyste sprinted to the temple’s corner, and hid behind the chamfer, peeking around to get a good look about. He was alone, with only the whistle above, and the spinning petals of the blossoming tulip trees, plucked, and let lose by the zephyr.
Nyste felt encased within the stone’s ancient life, inseparable from his own. Through his hand, the wall seemed to breathe an invisible energy, a blue spirit surrounding the immortal body, transmitting tales of the ancients, in through the thin gate of his skin.
Eyes lazily skimming the façade, Nyste noticed that the front entrance door was cracked open. Crouching, he snuck closer, around the corner, his back against the wall, past the blackened windows, fingers finding cracks and imperfections in the base. Inside, he closed the door behind him, and even with a careful attempt at silence, an echo reverberated, thunderous, through all solemnity.
In the center of the room hung the granite casket, elevated above the ground in a cradle of iron chains. Sunlight streaked-in through the rounded stained glass window overhead. Beside the repository bowed a woman kneeled in prayer, her garments washing over her like a wave.
“Are you insane?” whispered Nyste, snapping out of his stupor. “The parliamentary council is in session right now, and the punishment for intruding is death by hanging!”
She didn’t stop praying and she didn’t acknowledge him or his noise. As he came closer, he could hear her rapid mumbles, uninterrupted by outward stimuli, heavy and breathy.
“Did you hear me?” he asked, coming forward. “You’re lucky I found you before they did.”
She heard his nearing step and ended her prayer with a heart-stopping abruptness, freezing Nyste still, his foot planted in place, forward.
“I came to Perlora to find Ernos the Striker, only to discover that he’s dead.”
Nyste relaxed his stance. His face crooked, bedazzled and confused, feeling suddenly, that everything was wrong.
“Ernos has been dead for hundreds of years,” he said. “Nobody living has ever known him to not be.”
“People live longer lives in the west,” she replied, rising. “But, my informant must have been mistaken. He told me that he knew Ernos the Striker, and tested and proved the fact that Ernos was made an immortal. I was to find Ernos and bring him to the Etcholadia. But without him, they will never open. The journey was a waste.”
“No man is immortal,” said Nyste, shaking his head, “no matter how much he wishes to be. No man that I’ve seen.”
“My name is Nyste Mericetchi. And, had he allowed the Perlorans to declare him King, I would be the royal heir of Ernos.”
“The heir?” she asked.
“I am his most direct descendant,” he said, “excluding my father.”
Then, she bowed to him.
“I’ve been travelling now for three years. I’m very tired, and finding Ernos dead has wrung me more.
“I’ve just arrived in Perlora, and I have nowhere to stay for the night. I have no friends or contacts. Perhaps you can help me find some sort of accommodation? My spirits are damp, and I need to recoup. I don’t have the heart to search for lodging.”
“We do have an inn,” he said, “my father and I. The Inglenook.
“We keep it on the side, but it’s still one of the finest in town. I don’t know what your budget is, we aren’t the type to give away discounts, not even to pilgrims seeking out our fame, regrettably.”
“I have the money,” she said, put-off and flattening the wrinkles on her clothes.
“You see, we’re also richer in the west.
“Lead me there. And, if he’ll allow me, I would like to speak with your father. We were relying on finding Ernos, in tact. Since I have not found him in this condition, my options are severely limited. I may need to take one of you back with me, if you share his blood.”
“What’s the importance?” asked Nyste, leaning in, suspicious. “What brought you out on a three year voyage, just to find a dead man?”
“It’s been said that only he can protect us from what’s to come.”
“And what is that?” asked Nyste. “What is it that you expect is to come?”
She didn’t answer, but looked into his disbelieving eyes.
“How did you get here,” he asked, “past the guards?”
“When you’ve been trying to get somewhere for as long as I have, you don’t let a wall stop you,” she said. “Even when they tell you it’s a tomb on the other side.”
“Yerroth,” said Simon, stopping him with a black touch on the shoulder. “The exit is this way.”
Simon signaled with his head to where the others of the council were leaving in a line down toward the guard tower, into town, conversing with each other in quiet pairs.
“I’m going to stop by the temple before I leave,” said Yerroth, “and pay respect to my ancestor on his honored day.”
“That’s very fine, that’s very fine,” said Simon, looking to the ground, kicking at the hill-scalp dust.
“You know,” Simon continued, “there are some in the council, and others outside the council, who think your family’s reliance on your name and heritage has become a hindrance for those who may actually deserve power, power that you claim. You disagree with major decisions which would be unanimous among us without you. The only thing keeping your voice with us is the ceremonial honor of your historical line. But, you were not elected by the people. You are also not a king, even if some of the more conservative in Perlora would call you so.”
“Just because I won’t be paid off like Hendle or Jeffers, doesn’t mean my opinion is invalid. I do not misrepresent my people,” said Yerroth, strong. “I’m not a dictator or a king. If we held an election on my hill, I believe that I would still be voted in.”
“Then why don’t we host an election?” suggested Simon. “I can bring it up in the next council, and if you agree, it will make you look more honorable and validated to the other representatives.”
Yerroth stopped to think, and shook the attack away.
“The election would be corrupt,” he said. “As I know yours have been. The ballet-count would be fixed or manipulated. Perlo cannot take that risk. You would select Troner to run against me, and he would win despite having no public support, and he would fall gracefully into your line, giving your decisions virtually no opposition. No, I could not do that to Perlora.”
“Then, if you won’t give us the honor of seeing how worthy your people think you are, at least agree with us on the Rodva issue,” demanded Simon. “A lot of money stands to be made, and the future of Perlora would undeniably be improved.”
“Stop pushing the Rodva issue. They are not my hill, but I will protect them.”
“Look at you,” scoffed Simon, “believing yourself to be so just. The protector of Perlora. You are nothing but a thorn in our heart, wedged between the ventricles, pretending to be a natural feature in the anatomy.”
“And, you are a tumor,” said Yerroth. “Whenever we try to scoop you out, you come back stronger and more dangerous than before.”
With his teeth clenched, Simon swung out his arm to backhand Yerroth, but Yerroth stood forward to dare him on, and Simon didn’t follow through.
“Would you strike me?” asked Yerroth. “What else would you do to get your way with Rodva? How far would you go?”
Simon withdrew his arm and tried to outmatch Yerroth’s barrel-chested stance. He could not fill the figure.
“Only one man has ever been so stubborn before me.”
“My father,” said Yerroth, and Simon’s face changed, sinister.
“It’s a pity, what happened to him,” said Simon. “If I were you, I’d be careful, lest you befall a similar fate. You know what they say becomes of the proud.”
He turned away and took off down the path at a rapid pace, his hands behind his back, feigning wisdom.
“Yes,” said Yerroth quietly. “We’ll see, Simon. We’ll see what becomes of me.”
He didn’t notice the shadow stretching behind him, or the creeping chill before he turned, but when he turned, the gelid steel of a twisted knife wormed its way smoothly into his belly. And, with a fowl wind winding up from the city’s streets, the hood of the haunt blew away, revealing the snaking face of death itself, the last face that Yerroth saw before the knife was pulled from his body and then plugged in again, closing him away from the paradise of vision and movement, the black blotting spots closing him unfairly out away, forever.
That same wind rode frigid over the hills, chilling the grass and the flowers, canceling out the spring-time warmth. It washed over Nyste and his new acquaintance as they stepped out through the temple doors. A black cloud rose up over Perlora’s harbor, a dragon, and as it did, the traveler gripped Nyste’s arm with both hands. He turned to see her wild eyes, a different blue than before, a maelstrom of alarm.
“Do you smell that?” she asked. “Do you smell that on the breeze?”
And, he looked back over the old, dark city, which had been shrouded in sunlight only a few minutes prior, and he tried to take in a large drink of air, but his lungs wouldn’t let him. He was only able to absorb half a draw before the way closed passage, became constricted, unfulfilling. He wasn’t through investigating the breath, closer. The breath was a puzzle, where only clues to the answer had been found, an opera that had only partially played through, when the curtains fell.
The air which had once been so pure, now seemed spoilt eternally.
A sound, unlike any he’d heard before, cracked over the sky. It brought the traveler to the ground, and she hung loosely from Nyste’s arm. Nyste held his hands over his ears, and after the initial pain, mesmerism sank in, and he felt as he’d never felt, not once inside this body. The temple pushed him outward, imploring him to look-out over the hills for retribution. Movement stirred in his legs and shoulders, movement from a darkness swirling in his blood, sourcing from his heart.
And, there he saw the robed holy men standing in a row, over on the summit of Vern’s Monastery Hill. The monks were beating a percussive device, creating cascading chimes, and in harmony, they blared new waves, waves visible like wafting mirages, through white slope-sized horns.
The traveler pulled herself up and said to him, “Forget about the Inn for now. Take me to that mountain. I’ve heard this sound before.
“I’ve heard this song, and I have to find out why they play it.”