Chapter 4 Part 2
Aven moved to stand before Rayne, watched those eyes intently for a few seconds, and lifted his arms.
Moving his hands in minute circles, he murmured something.
Hearing Averroes behind him, McSee saw her holding the Medaillon whispering inaudibly. They assisted in Rayne’s return. McSee retreated to his chair, out of his league and confounded by what happened. Everything was changing, including his outlook on most everything.
Rayne fell to his knees, sending McSee hurtling from his chair again. “Rayne?”
McSee was frightened. Presented with the physical realities of sorcery - Rayne’s remarkable and surprising ability and Aven’s casual use of magic - he questioned his commitment and it fast became a terrible time to do so. Nothing in his training prepared him, and thus he understood Rayne more; nothing prepared Rayne either.
“Come back to us … gently does it …”Aven murmured in a singsong tone. The fair man jolted as if pulled to that voice. Aven bent over him, whispering words of encouragement, his kindly face concerned.
Rayne rocked back and sat elbows on knees cradling his head. “Old man,” he said in a strangled voice, “what game is this?”
Aven dragged Rayne’s hands away. “Let me look at you.” He took the man’s face in his hands, turned it this way and that, and pronounced himself satisfied. Releasing, he returned to his armchair.
“Are you all right?” McSee asked, kneeling at Rayne’s side.
Rayne looked at him. “The question is, are you? This shocked you.”
McSee shrugged. “I’m questioning my commitment, I admit.”
Rayne grimaced. “As am I.” He rose in a fluid movement. “I am really peeved also. Aven, the Mantle has been played as fools for years! Thane left, what, fifteen years ago? And we relied on a replica! Gods, what if it all went up in flame before now?”
Only Averroes noticed the slip, and it rocked her. Gods. He said gods; not God, not Taranis, not Aaru, but gods. In her private world, where she dealt with her demons and her angels, she knew it as a significant difference, that one simple word.
“Does it matter now, Rayne?” Aven questioned, unperturbed by the outburst. “Yes, I see that it does. Well … McSee, these candles, do you know why they are here?”
“Old man …”
“Bear with me. McSee?”
“It’s a warding; candle tallow placed in a crucible with the sap of a Silver Fir bush and glamorised to give off cool silver light. The result usually wards those within a four foot radius against discovery, as well as throwing a ring of ten additional feet - it can be more, depending on the amount of light - and it acts as discouragement, which is why the children outside dare no closer. I would suggest it renders one invisible to an all-seeing eye, if such an animal exists, and after this here, I would say you warded the Medaillon against discovery.”
Despite his even tone, McSee was unsure. He was unsure of much now, a novel and uncomfortable notion for him.
Aven murmured, “Exactly right. The warding will no longer be effective though, seeing as Rayne here broadcast its presence to whatever all-seeing eye may or may not be looking.” He faced Rayne, who paced the perimeter created by the candles. “Stand still if you want answers. You know I hate tracking the eyes of a pacing man.”
Rayne halted, and came to sit, pulling his chair closer to Aven. “I have answers of my own, Aven, but first I want your explanation.”
“There is evil a-foot. Yes, I state the obvious, but it explains why I warded the Medaillon. You can no doubt confirm that witch Infinity is the source. I expected you some time back, for signs have plagued a while now, and I thought you would hark to the Medaillon in Galilan, discover the replacement and come to me. All this, I prayed, before you threw the Mantle into disarray. You didn’t even spare a thought for it, did you?”
“Mete Lin made a suggestion, but no. You know how I felt.”
“Felt, not feel?”
“How I feel is peeved, but it is done. I laid my hands on the device with the intention of using it, and cannot now undo that.”
“Answers?” Aven prompted.
“You first, old man.”
A breath, a sigh, and, “When I discovered Averroes’ secret I made a decision, and it wasn’t easily made. You know what would have transpired had I revealed it to you - you would have insisted on its return, as is your right, but that meant its mistress would be forced to accompany it. You are the Mantle, and I was not justified in refusing, but I could not allow you to take Averroes - she was too vulnerable. You would have had her trained, and she would have displayed the same reluctance as was present in you at that age.”
Aven shrugged. “I knew you had the stamina and the talent, but I am not sure she has more than what connects her to the medal. Besides that, she was not fit for the life. You can be ruthless, my boy, particularly for the Mantle, and I was afraid I would not sway you. You, Senna, and Lin were not to destroy the promise of my ward, and she did not deserve another form of abuse. Thus I kept it safe here.”
“You hid it?” Rayne sounded disbelieving. He did not refute Aven’s summation of Averroes’ fate with the Mantle.
“Unnecessary. Averroes is its mistress and would know when a threat is imminent.”
“A great risk, Aven.”
“Perhaps, but Valaris was not under threat until recently. Sometimes hiding something in plain sight is best. I do not regret my decision.”
“Are you always so sure, old man?”
Aven looked at his hands. “Sometimes so unsure I wonder if I deserve another day of life.”
Rayne drew a ragged breath. “I am sorry.”
“We will each question motives soon. I am fortunate in that I do so daily and thus know myself.”
Rayne nodded. McSee did, too. That was real wisdom.
“When I saw you enter with McSee I assumed the Mantle and Society reached an understanding - it explained your delay in coming to Farinwood - and I assumed you knew the Medaillon was no longer in Galilan. Assumption, the mother of disaster. Thus I jumped into Averroes’ tale by way of explanation of a decision made four years ago; forgive me, I should’ve prepared you in private.”
Rayne said ruefully, “Mete Lin suggested I take the Medaillon and that proves no one at the Mantle is aware a switch was made. Had I known, I would have entered here guns blazing.”
“’Guns blazing’?” McSee squeaked.
“Just a saying, McSee,” Rayne murmured.
“Fate,” Aven said. “It was for a reason, the way it played out. Valaris is in trouble again; is it chance the Medaillon and its controller are together, now, when it counts most? It is meant to be.”
“Fate?” Rayne repeated in an irritated tone.
“Curse it if you like, but it happened. We are going to need the power in that device.”
Rayne squeezed the bridge of his nose. “I do not know how to ask it to do something on my behalf, such as remove the influence the children of Farinwood suffer.”
He could feel a tension headache building. Why him? Why now? Why had he been saddled with this burden? He wanted to be home today; it was Rees’ birthday. His sister could drive him mad, but he adored her.
“But the power in the Medaillon revealed certain nuances of its own accord,” he added.
“Answers?” Aven repeated.
Rayne inclined his head. He would not call them answers exactly, but was not about to put too fine a point on it. He closed his eyes briefly to renew what he saw; some images were answers, others led to more questions, but one caused him to shiver inside. A face, a man’s face, dark eyes and hair, smiling at him, and he somehow knew that man was his real destiny. And he mocked fate, did he?
He opened his eyes, knowing he would not say a word, not to anyone, not until it came to pass and perhaps not even then.
“I vividly experienced the last days of Drasso’s war, the desolation after and the Deities’ dilemma in the aftermath.”
Rayne paused, and looked at Averroes. Northern. She had to be northern.
He looked away and continued, “Valaris is a world divided, physically, emotionally, culturally and spiritually. The Great Dividing Forest serves as a barrier between us and the northern peninsulas.”
“It has been thus since Drasso,” Aven murmured.
“Nothing lives in the north,” McSee scoffed.
Rayne did not look at him; he held Aven’s eyes. “Wrong. We are living a lie, a legacy caused by the devastation. The Deities knew, but we turned on them after they saved our butts from Drasso and Infinity, and they wisely decided to leave us to rebuilding. They could not abandon us entirely, and solved their dilemma by gifting both north and south a tool to aid reconciliation, tools that could carry us across the wastelands.”
“We got the Maghdim,” Aven whispered. “Sweet Lord, we got the Maghdim and were too stupid and afraid to use it.”
“Our fear of magic,” Rayne responded. “The Medaillon calls the clans, Aven.”
“It called to them?” Aven’s eyes were bright with anticipation.
“To the four oldest clans.”
“Impossible,” McSee said. “The devastation in the north is encompassing.”
“We thought so, as they did of the destruction in the south. Imagine standing at the tree line on both sides and seeing only wasteland.”
“Great Taranis, what a waste,” Aven said.
“You believe this crap?” the big man asked.
“How can I not?” Aven said. “Have you seen the state of this once wholesome town? Have you seen the terrifying knowledge in the children’s eyes and bearing? Have you seen the signs elsewhere? Is that not what brought you? Did not the Klef Dam dry up overnight? Have you not heard the rumours about Infinity? Was she not Drasso’s mother? Man, that dara-witch is bent on revenge and I doubt time has in any way lessened her thirst for it. Everything is strange, but certainly no longer in dispute. Why dispute people in the north? We should celebrate, not only to mark a reconciliation, but because Valaris needs them. Every able-bodied man and woman will step in before long to fight this new evil; we need them desperately.”
“A wake,” Averroes murmured.
“What’s that, my dear?” Aven enquired.
She shook her head and her eyes slid to Rayne when he looked her way. A moment of silent communication ensued, and thereafter she scrutinised her hands while he licked his lips.
A wake, she said - a wake, not a celebration. There was death ahead and he did not doubt it. Rayne stared at the old man, and knew he would say nothing of this either. Aven was wrong; she would have coped with the Mantle’s training … easily. Aven had no idea his beloved ward was more than a city-waif.
He frowned at McSee. “Are you going to deny the north?”
“Not so you can hear me,” McSee muttered.
Rayne looked away. “Forget the questioning. The north is populated, fact. And if you want to traipse through the Forest to check, McSee, then be my guest, but we move on from this point right now. The Medaillon achieved a few minutes ago what was intended millennia back or any time in the interim. Two men and two women head south to answer the call. It cannot be denied. The Medaillon gave them a specific place to gather, and that is where we are headed shortly. I guess we will soon be making fact of fiction, friend McSee.”
McSee grinned. He did have an adventurous spirit.
“Where are they gathering?” Aven asked.
“Where, according to legend, Taranis bathed before defeating Drasso. Now if that isn’t mockery on Infinity’s part, then call me stupid.”
“The Well of Crystal Sound?” McSee blurted. “In that haunted wood?”
“It’s not haunted,” Aven murmured. “It never was.”
“And you know this for sure?” McSee asked.
“The Herbmaster goes there all the time,” Averroes murmured. “He gathers herbs and always comes out happier than when he went in.”
“Well, maybe he’s crazy!” McSee spat, and coloured immediately. “I’m sorry, Averroes.”
Rayne rose. “There is a time limit to this gathering, and it is all-important to Valaris’ well-being.” He looked down on Aven. “As reluctant as I am, the device made me responsible, more so than the Mantle alone has. I am headed to that Well to find what is to be found there, and hope it is a way forward. Something to help the children here. Maybe a gathering of like minds will offer solutions to stopping Infinity. If it takes north and south rejoined, then I shall be tireless in aiding it. We have until the New Moon’s rising tomorrow night to get there.”
“I admire your new resolve,” Aven said. “Go, do what you must, and come and tell me after. I’m too old and stiff to travel.”
“You have to come - you and Averroes. She carries the Medaillon and is therefore integral to this endeavour, but you already know that; you said it yourself earlier. You will not trust her to me, thus her guardian accompanies us.”
“I’ll look after her,” McSee said. “Promise.”
Aven looked from one man to the other. He glanced at Averroes and sighed.
“I will start packing,” he said and rose from his armchair. An instant later he gazed fixedly at Rayne. “What of the girl who needs our help?”
“What did you say?” The reaction was explosive, and Averroes and McSee shifted to stare at Rayne.
“I can see images, too,” Aven said, concentrating on the fair man. “A small blond toddler cries for help, but not here, nowhere on Valaris. Am I right?” He pointed a finger at Rayne. “Had Infinity not happened to this world, her face in your dreams would have brought you here demanding clarification. It nearly drove me to Galilan to you.”
Rayne remained wordless.
“Then you enter Farinwood and discover children on a dark path,” Aven continued. “Perhaps you thought she is in danger somewhere close. Perhaps you think now, what is happening to Valaris is connected? You would be right.”
As Aven left the room he waved his hand and snuffed the candles, plunging the three within into darkness. He walked out unapologetically, and Rayne snorted a laugh. It sounded forced.
“And that?” McSee asked in the dark.
Averroes lit a lantern. “He thinks we’re conspiring against him. He’ll be fine.”
“Yes, well, now nothing stops those kids,” McSee muttered. Something in the man’s face prevented both him and Averroes questioning Aven’s revelation. “I’m going to check …” McSee followed Aven into the house and they heard him call out, his footsteps receding.
“You said nothing of the Oracles,” Averroes said into the silence that came after those footsteps silenced somewhere.
“That comes later,” Rayne returned. He put the chairs back into corners and parted the drapes behind Aven’s armchair for light.
It was a gloomy non-light as if thunder threatened.
Averroes snuffed the lantern and watched him stare into the courtyard at the back. It was paved, had shrubs in pots, an empty wash line and a gate on the far side. “I don’t recall where I was born,” she said.
He glanced over his shoulder. “Neither do I.”
She nodded as if it confirmed something she suspected. Recalling, for them, went beyond the age when a toddler could hold onto memories. “You believe there is more to the gathering at the Well than north and south and the bringing together of the Oracles and Medaillon.” She did not mention the blond girl, but inferred it.
She saw too much, and possessed greater maturity than Aven believed. “North and south were ultimately responsible for Drasso’s death.”
“Therefore Infinity is behind this.”
“There is no doubt left.”
“And there is a plan in place that requires four northerners … and us.”
“And others,” Rayne added.
“Why not tell Aven?”
“He worries too much for you already.”
“I am not that weak,” Averroes frowned.
“No, you are stronger than anyone realises.” I find that disturbing.
Averroes placed a hand on her chest, over the Medaillon. “Rayne, I have seen her.”
He drew breath as if to respond, but left the chamber instead, leaving her to tidy away the wine and tea.
Rayne waited at the front door.
It was late afternoon and he was impatient to be on his way.
A darkness is coming.
It was a stray thought, unprovoked, and his blood went cold. He wondered if the unnatural silence on Farinwood’s streets spooked him.
No, there is a darkness coming.
He stilled. The thought was not his. He agreed with it, but it was not his.
Look beyond the skies.
Gods. Rayne stepped into the deserted street. Where are you?
Moment after moment passed, and there was no reply.
“I am going insane,” he said aloud, and went back to the door. Hoisting his pack, he called to the others to hurry up.
A quarter of an hour later they were on the road, Rayne in grey, cloak swirling as he strode the streets heading north out of town. Every instinct told him the Mantle was powerless. Every instinct told him the gathering at the Well would become the real saving of Valaris. He prayed it was true, for leaving the children of Farinwood behind was akin to abandoning the innocent deliberately, without conscience.
Aven donned a thick brown robe and appeared as a cleric from one of the Taranis abbeys in Tetwan. McSee was in leather breeches, a blue tunic and a huge jacket for warmth. It was cold under the pervasive mists. Averroes put on leather boots and hitched her gown to free her feet by cinching a wide leather belt about a narrow waist. She left her fur cap behind and swung on a dark green cloak, pulling the hood up to hide her hair, but not before Rayne and McSee caught sight of the dark bounty.
As they walked out of town, she trailed for a time to plait it out of sight, the thoughtful looks of both men causing her to feel uncomfortable.
No one said much, particularly Rayne, who wrestled with the meaning behind the earlier communication. Yes, there was a darkness coming, but the urgency in the tone suggested it was something beyond the obvious, beyond what waited at the Well, and it frightened him. He was not ready.
He halted, frowning. On seeing how the others looked at him, he moved swiftly on.
Again there was no answer.
He walked on, gnawing at his thoughts.
They reached the Divide by nightfall and plunged in.
Peace surrounded them.