For those of you who've been bugging me... ;-)
(Note: I'm still busy writing book 2, so this is very much a FIRST DRAFT.)
There we go, folks! Hope you enjoyed it! :-)
(Note: I'm still busy writing book 2, so this is very much a FIRST DRAFT.)
“This is where it happened,” Daergan said, pointing at the circular stretch of earth. “Do you see?”
His son, seven moon-cycles old and apparently taller than Daergan had been at the same age, stepped forward and peered into the open space. The Monument-shadows covered the ground in thick, black slats that crossed into each other, leaving blocks of dark and light on the ground. As if the sun and the pillars of Wielded soul-stone had conspired to create a game-board of some kind at this hallowed spot. The young Elvayn was about to say as much to his father, but this seemed to be a serious occasion, and so he remained quiet. It was early morning, the sun’s glow having just crested the horizon, and all around them lay a heavy layer of silence.
“Soon,” continued his father, “the Disciples and the Holy One will be released, and this place will become the site upon which the true destiny of our people shall be built.” He gestured around at the monuments, whose shadows had begun to slowly turn with the sun’s movement. “These pillars will form the centre of the Seed House, and it will be Wielded outwards until it covers even the ground that the City of Traitors held, so long ago.” He could see a fervent light in his father’s eyes, as if they were lit from within with the visions of future grandeur that his son wasn’t able to share in. “The Seed House will be the beacon that stands in the middle of the new city, waiting for us to return from our journey to rae’Fallo.”
Tuning out his father’s words –for he had heard them many times before- the young Elvayn sneaked a glance at the ruins of the first city his people had ever Wielded. Very little remained, since most of the surviving structures had either been razed or removed, but it seemed that the earth remembered that ancient battle.
In places the ground was barren and dusty –where Wielders had stood and drawn upon the energy at their feet until nothing but lifeless soil remained- and great depressions marched off into the distance, some small but many large enough to swallow five or six men, as if massive fists had struck out in unfocused anger. He tried to imagine what that day must have been like, wondered what had truly happened, and failed every time. According to the histories that were taught, the succeeding battles to take the remaining cities had been brutal and vicious, too, but every story he had ever heard or read seemed to agree that this first battle of the Traitor-War had been the most brutal.
It was just too … large for his mind to comprehend. The destruction and death, the broken family-cells, the shortages of food and shelter; more and more he was beginning to agree with his mother.
Nothing warranted the doling out of such pain and misery. Nothing.
“And we shall return in glory and triumph,” his father continued. ”In our lifetime will this occur, Aedral, do you understand? You will witness the unveiling of our destiny.”
Aedral looked back just in time to meet his father’s gaze and he fought to maintain the connection, and the illusion that he was his father’s son in more ways than just biologically. He wanted nothing more than to run to his mother and take her far away from this place, to finally join the Circle and to take his place among the men and women who remembered the truth, not the manufactured and carefully maintained lies that had been fed to them over the generations.
“Come here,” Daergan beckoned, undoing the buttons of his black jacket before lowering himself to his knees beside one of the Monument-pillars. Aedral joined him, careful to maintain a ‘reverent’ air and to copy his father’s posture. When his father bent at the waist and lowered his head to the ground, Aedral followed suit, and their foreheads made contact with the earth at the same moment. Aedral expected a shock of contact, the Holy One reaching out with His thought-voice to acknowledge his presence and his genuflection, but once again nothing happened. Perhaps there was some truth to what was said – that the Holy One waited for each new Disciple to reach the correct age before the first Communion took place. He almost wished he had a headband such as his father wore, to somehow buffer the contact with the ground, because this was a place that made his skin crawl.
Aedral would rather that the Communion never occurred – he was sure that his thoughts would be laid bare, his motives and the motives of the Circle discovered, in that instant. It was difficult to disbelieve the stories of Communion he had heard when almost everyone he came into contact with on a daily basis shared his father’s fervent loyalty, and his father wasn’t the only person who had said that they had heard the Holy One’s thought-voice.
Bent now as he was with his forehead touching the very ground upon which the Binding Chorus had been unleashed, Aedral was suddenly thankful that his ill-advised attempts had failed. He hadn’t told his mother what he’d done, and he hoped the others would keep quiet, too. The threat of Judgement would serve to keep their mouths shut, at least until the night of their Internment, but after that? Who could say? He hoped to be on his way to the Circle long before the ceremony began, because the fact that he had lied to them would be revealed – they had heard the Holy One and he had told them that he had, too.
He didn’t want to be here with his father, not like this and not now. The Internment ceremony was days away, and as soon as they were done here he would return to his mother and try to convince her that they had to leave as soon as possible, that lingering was courting discovery and that … that he was afraid.
“You must remain prone during the Internment,” his father was saying, his voice muffled against the dirt. “From the moment the ceremony begins until the Holy One releases you, understand? To break contact is an act of terrible disrespect, an act that will taint our family’s honour for generations.”
Aedral almost voiced his frustration aloud at that moment, swallowing back the groan of frustration. He knew that his father wasn’t an evil man; Daergan had never shown anyone disrespect, had never been callous or unthinking, had always been gentle and respectful toward his wife. He wasn’t like some of the others, those who treated the Traitor-born with scorn, insulting them and even assaulting them on occasion. He followed the laws and had never once misused them. But it didn’t change the fact that he was on the wrong side, and that some day he would have to face his father, stand firm as a member of the Circle, and possibly Sing against him.
Better that outcome, he remembered his mother telling him, than the complete destruction of the Circle. We must stand, Aedral. We cannot falter.
“I won’t bring dishonor upon us, Father,” he said, his voice also muffled by the ground inches from his lips. The soil was warm, its musty odour filling his head. The effects of Wielding left an indelible mark on the earth, something that no-one should have been able to dismiss. But it happened, the minds of the loyal so focused that such a simple thing as the difference between the scents of live earth and dead earth completely escaped them. Such an obvious thing. He was sad that we was lying to his father by saying those words, but it couldn’t be helped – his choice had just been made anew, and it seemed to him that the price he might one day have to pay to ensure that balance returned was something he could live with.
Aedral sensed the motion of his father rising and lifted his head from the dirt before rising to his feet, secretly happy that he wouldn’t have to genuflect like this again. He felt his father’s hand on his shoulder and he turned to face him.
“I am proud of you, Aedral, and so is your mother.” He smiled. “You will become a great Disciple – you are already a worthy son.” He squeezed briefly, as close to showing affection as he ever came, and said, “Return to your mother. I promised her that I would not keep you long.”
Aedral nodded at his father, relief spreading through him in a wave, and when he turned away from the Monuments he was walking slightly faster than what he intended. He didn’t see his father watching him, and didn’t see how his father’s shoulders slumped in resignation.
His feet took him down the path towards the smaller environs of the Second City, the name it would carry until the destroyed City of Traitors –Mathra’umaen, he thought proudly- was rebuilt. The wayward children of the Holy One had to first be saved and returned from rae’Fallo before that could happen. The path, wide between a corridor of over-grown shrubs and the odd leaning tree, swept down off the hill towards the wide spaces of grass and stones that had faced the old city. Rounding the bend, Aedral watched the city come into view – a haphazard jumble of variously sized buildings, blocky and graceless in the style of the southern cities, the structures arrayed in concentric circles that became tighter and more choked the closer one came to the middle.
In the middle, rearing like a slab-shouldered beast of weathered soul-stone, stood the Disciple’s Hall, the largest building in the Second City. It was featureless except for the four openings on each side, three times the height of the city’s more general structures, and covered a large section of ground. Everyone knew that it had been Wielded into place upon the very spot which the Seed had occupied, bot no-one spoke of that anymore. It was as common a knowledge as the rising of the sun. Most of the time Aedral’s father was there, among the other Disciples, though he retired to his home every evening to spend what time he could with his wife and son. Aedral knew that his mother would have liked to spend every free moment she could with his father –she loved him and respected him, even though she was part of the one group that was working against him and the other Disciples- and he wouldn’t have minded, either.
Though he was still considered a child among the adults, he had been born –as all Elvayn were- conscious and aware, able to communicate and move about with minimal training and supervision. Many of the children his own age knew their fathers better than he knew his own, but then again, only a fraction of the population that had rebuilt itself after the Traitor War were Disciples.
Those who were members of the Circle numbered even fewer people – another important reason for their secrecy and circumspectness.
As Aedral approached the outskirts of the city he began to pass people –traders and their loads pulled by straining ergoi, minders keeping an eye on the younger, more rambunctious children, older people out for a stroll where the air was fresher- and he couldn’t help but wonder if he was passing members of the Circle and if they knew him, because of his mother. He saw no-one looking at him, or even stealing glances, but he felt as if he were being watched, and even constantly judged. One of the questions he’d never been able to get his mother to answer was what happened to those who knew about the Circle but weren’t allowed to join its ranks?
What would happen to him if he was found wanting?
Passing into the cool shadow of a small home, Aedral shook that thought off. His mother wouldn’t allow any harm to come to him. But would his father be as protective? Aedral hoped he would never have to find out.
Forcing himself not to think of possibilities, he concentrated instead on the certainties that he saw all around him. The dusty paths, marked by the scuff marks of thousands of feet, curved and bent and speared around the many buildings, creating a puzzle of routes that most people took years to memorize. The soul-stone of the structures was unadorned, the only hints of colour coming from the clothing the people wore; robes of various lengths and cuts for the members of the tightly controlled Guilds, trousers and sleeveless tunics for the rest of the population. All shades cycled between green, brown and a dull yellow, while the Disciples were marked by the black jackets they wore and the headbands around their foreheads.
He saw one of them now, walking slowly between the buildings, turning his gaze this way and that and smiling at the people he passed. He was probably doing his rounds, patrolling his sector as all Yearling Disciples did; Aedral’s father had performed the same duty for a full moon-cycle before attaining the next level of devotion as a Student. If the Circle didn’t accept him and he somehow passed muster and was allowed to begin his training as a Disciple, such a path that lay ahead of him.
Mother will see that I’m accepted, he chided himself. Even if she has to go against Father- He crushed that thought immediately; he would never allow the situation to reach that point. Better to hand himself over for Judgement than to witness his father Wielding against his mother, the course of action he would be forced into since the law stated that Traitors could only be dealt with in that one manner.
He managed to still his thoughts as he made his way between the houses and Guild-buildings, and before he knew it he was approaching the building in which he lived with his parents. It was like all the others, walls of weathered soul-stone capped by a flat roof, yet he knew it intimately, perhaps because the patterns of weathering on the outer walls were inimical to it and it alone, perhaps because he had never spent the night in any other building.
He passed between the frames of the open doorway –another structural aspect shared by all the residences of the Second City as stated by the laws and enforced by the Disciples- and blinked as his eyes adjusted to the semi-gloom inside. His mother spoke before he saw her.
“Your father doesn’t suspect?”
Aedral sighed, turning in the direction of her voice. “No, Mother.” He took up a block of wood from a table close by and instinctively began Singing, bringing back the energy-memory of the wood so that it gradually began to shift and flow back into its true form, but his mother hissed at him.
He flinched, dropping the block, stilling his voice, and watched as she snatched it up, Wielding it back into the block it had been before his Singing had begun to re-make it.
“Never do that,” she whispered urgently, “not here! Never in the city, do you understand?”
He nodded, knowing that if anyone had caught him Singing not even Judgement would be necessary – he’d be executed on the spot as a Traitor, and probably his mother too, for witnessing and perhaps teaching the forbidden art to him.
She took a breath, composed herself. “Good. It is good that he doesn’t suspect.” He heard the relief in that one word. “We have only to wait two more days, and then we can get you out of the city.”
“It cannot happen sooner?” he asked, walking up to her and taking her hand. She was taller than him, but not by much, and her mouth curved in a gentle smile as she squeezed his hand in return.
“You know we must be patient. Leaving with the Guild of Harvesters is the only way to smuggle you out of the city.” She squeezed his hand. “I know you are anxious, Aedral. I am too. I know what could happen if your father...” She broke eye contact briefly, shook the thought away, and then made eye contact again. “I will make sure that you reach the Circle. Have faith in that.”
For a long moment he could only fight the thoughts that tumbled through his head, the what-ifs and the other questions that threatened to overwhelm him, but eventually he managed a nod. She wrapped her arms around him and gave him a brief squeeze.
“I’ve prepared something for you to eat,” she said as she drew back, releasing him. “Make sure you finish eating before you report to the Educators, but quickly!” She gave him a playful swat on the shoulder. “Go on now. You may be the son of a Disciple, but even the Educators won’t allow you to be late.”
Aedral groaned. It seemed that the day had hardly begun and he felt tired already, but his mother was right. If anything in his routine changed prior to the day he finally left to join the Circle, people would notice. And when people noticed something different, they reported it to the Disciples.If that happened, the questions would quickly serve to trip him and his mother up, and as soon as they gave differing answers, Judgement would follow soon after.
There we go, folks! Hope you enjoyed it! :-)