Geiren, chief guard of the king of Cendia, stood at his post awake and watchful.
His partner had been released for his mid day meal, and was currently finding a temporary replacement, which left Geiren alone. But he didn’t care; nothing ever really happened to put the king in danger, and if anything started, it would be put to rest as soon as it showed its face.
He had always wanted this post. To feel the strength of knowing that he was fighting for a cause, protecting a good man. . . It surpassed all his wishes and dreams.
The echo of footsteps reached his ears, coming from down the hall. A young woman was approaching. As the woman neared the guard, she reached a hand up to brush aside a stray lock of her blond hair.
She moved to enter the king’s hall, and Geiren stepped in front of her. When he did this, she looked at him, seemingly confused. Did she honestly think she could gain entrance to the king’s throne room without permission?
She spoke. Her words resonated within Geiren, somehow shaking his resolve. Something about her voice—it hit him so hard.
No! A voice inside resisted her unnatural charm.
Geiren lifted his spear, now firmer than ever. She did not have good intentions toward the king.
The woman’s face hardened as she realized that her magic hadn’t worked. She reached a hand forward, all pretenses of kindness gone.
A flash. Darkness.
Geiren fell to the floor, dead.
The woman stepped past his prone figure, simultaneously reaching into the bag she carried with her. She pulled out an object and began to caress its smooth metal edges and curves, thinking about the person who had given it to her.
She would not fail him.
She opened the double doors and stalked into the room beyond.
There were no guards directly inside the doors, but there were two of them standing about twenty feet from the throne. The throne on which the king sat.
The woman stalked forward. The two soldiers ran forward. Any person who had not been announced was a very potential danger. She spoke a few words, loud enough to be heard by all. They froze, paralyzed by the release of god-power. She walked forward through the room of stillness. Before they knew it she was standing next to the king, whispering in the old man’s ear.
The guards watched their ruler’s eyes widen in horror. Then they watched the king slump in his throne.
They ran forward, anger and confusion mingling with fear. Their loyalty served them poorly.
Training her eyes on one guard, she muttered one word. He fell to the floor.
The other guards hesitated before coming at her again. She repeated the word. This time it was closer to a plea. When they came at her again, she killed them.
The light haired woman now stood alone in the throne room. She left knowing that her actions here would only help the mages’ twisted plan. She wasn’t in control of them. She only needed to worry about her own actions.
Once again, she pulled out her metal keepsake, given to her by her best friend. Killing the king, to her, was acceptable for only one reason: She had come closer to saving her friend.
She was willing to kill to save him. Because to her, he was all that mattered.
Zaire sat down on the stool next to the counter. His father—the barkeep’s assistant—looked up, glared at him, and went back to his work sorting bottles.
“You didn’t come to my ceremony.”
His father Lehn looked up. “No I didn’t.”
Zaire raised his hands in a questioning gesture.
“What makes sense to you about staying at the tavern all the time? You didn’t come to my Graduation Ceremony last night.” He waited for a response and when his father didn’t speak he clarified. “The one where the headmaster tells which students earned the advancements? The bar was closed, for the god’s sakes, yet you stayed here!”
The weathered bartender looked up with a bored expression on his face.
“I knew it was happening, and I knew what it was. I just don’t care one whit about you or the university, so leave me be and go home to your mother. The gods know she needs all the help you can give her.”
Zaire felt no surprise at his lack of caring. Lehn had never loved his son, he had only cared for his wife and daughter.
Zaire’s sister had died at age eleven, slaughtered by a raiding band of Cendians. His mother had gone into mourning and refused to come out of it. When Zaire had started to move on, both his parents had took that to mean that he had stopped caring; that he had forgotten the crimes of the Cendians. They had told him to start caring, and he had retorted with his opinions. He said he thought that they needed to move on. No one could bring Enera back. So what was the point of grieving for the rest of his life?
They hadn’t done anything drastic about his response, but it was obvious that they hated his words and the meaning behind them. After that, they seemed to be even colder towards him than before.
Zaire stood to leave. “Well, father, maybe I shouldn’t care about you either.”
His father continued loading glass bottles into the wooden tray. When he didn’t reply, Zaire walked towards the door.
“I’ll be at the university. It’s my last day, so I’ll be there until sundown. Friends to say goodbye to, gifts to give. . . That sort of thing.”
Lehn stayed silent.
Zaire left the tavern.
On his way to the school, the sun was still rising against the horizon. The Sende Mountains stretched north to east, tall monuments of stone silhouetted against a sky of autumn hues. Sparse clouds dotted the sky, whispy and wind-blown.
A slow breeze brushed past Zaire. The trees complied to the moving air with a rustle. The shaking leaves built to a cacophony of brushing noises as the wind grew. Zaire’s ear-length dark brown hair brushed softly against his cheek. He closed his eyes and wished he could fly.
Stuck in a reverie, with the wind filling his ears, Zaire didn’t hear the storyteller for a while. When he broke out of his meditation, the man was just starting another tale. His small audience was enraptured with his current story.
The tale of Anlar God-Bender, Zaire noted.
Caught up in the moment, he stopped walking to listen to the story. The teller’s voice was now the only sound he heard. Only in the back of his mind did he realize the danger as he was led slowly into the talented storyteller’s web of words and emotions.
Anlar God-Bender was a tall man, strong in the art of swordsmanship. He won duels all across his kingdom and others. He killed the Sky Seeker, achieving the honor and respect of the northern countries. When the Silk Weaver was stolen he killed the guards at the gates of Hell with three words. He was renowned as a great warrior, but for the most part it was not because of his skill with the sword.
He was the best with words; his tongue led more men to their deaths than his arm. With his bold, fierce words he could intimidate nearly all his opponents. With his sly, logical words he could negotiate a better business deal for himself than for the seller. With his soothing words he could lull any man to sleep, given enough time. Rousing words could anger a man, causing rash actions and clumsy reactions.
He was a master of charisma, and even the Five Kings bowed to him when they heard his speeches. Regardless of the respect the Kings had for him, he would accept no position of nobility. He was a man of the people, and for the people he would fight. So he joined the army.
As many suspected, he was general in a day’s work. Admittedly, he was a good leader. But some could not help wonder what his motives were. Others followed him blindly.
The Kings now observed his power, and having forgotten the words he had spoken to them, they withdrew their trust from him. In the light of their new suspicion, they were relieved that he had not accepted the positions they had offered.
But it was too late. They had realized their folly far after his plan was put in motion. He convinced the army with his words, rallying them to move against their rulers. But he couldn’t convince all of them.
The Five, along with the citizens who had not been hoodwinked, conceived a plan of genius and cunning. Executing it, they trapped Anlar in a prison, and announced that execution was to follow. He tried to convince them to set him free, but they knew his tricks. Knowing what he could do, the people could refrain from believing him. So he turned to the only source of help left. The gods.
He cried out to them, and amid the convincing web of lies and fake sincerity, even the deities of the god-place couldn’t help but comply. He bent their wills to his own.
The gods rent his prison in two, setting him free, and Anlar God-Bender escaped out into the forests of Cendia. Some say that he taught others his art with words. Others claim that the gods teach those worthy enough to wield the power of words.
Whatever the truth is, one thing cannot be denied: The power to hoodwink with words remains, and those who wield it can fool any unsuspecting man or woman. So remember this story the next time any “Storyteller” comes to town….
Zaire snapped awake to find a woman shaking him. She looked very concerned and he saw why when he sat up.
Everyone who had been listening to the storyteller was sprawled out on the cobblestone road, some sitting up and wiping the sleep from their eyes. They had all been put to sleep, lulled away on a ship of fantasy. All by the dirty “Storyteller.”
Zaire checked his pockets. Sure enough, his money was missing, every last coin. Unable to contain his frustration, he slapped his hand down on the stone path. No satisfaction came.
Suddenly remembering the university, Zaire groaned and looked up at the sun. It was halfway through the morning already!
He stood and tried to run the rest of the way to the school, mostly stumbling to the doors of the front building.
How could he have been such a fool?
The recording student today was a boy named Tallev. As Zaire walked past, Tallev muttered under his breath. “You’re late. . .”
“Not my fault; just write my name in the book.”
“I will, Grumpy, now be patient.”
Tallev scratched his quill over the parchment, recording Zaire’s entrance into the university grounds. Zaire walked past Tallev without saying goodbye.
The grounds were extensive, reaching all the way up the slope of the small mountain called Felen. This being the case, the roads were uphill almost the whole way. That is, unless you were walking down them. As one might expect, and as many students complained of, the teacher’s quarters were all at the top of the mountain. This made it so that the students would have to walk all the way up the steep cobblestone roads every time they wanted to talk to the headmaster.
Nehn Trees were planted along some roads, blossoming crimson in the daylight. In the hurried end of the school season, they had been slightly neglected, and looked more overgrown then usual. The same was to be said of the grass. And all the other plants.
As Zaire Headed up to the teacher’s quarters, he found himself breathing hard and sweating more than usual. Apparently he too had become slightly out of shape as the school season had ended.
Walking past one building, the history one, Zaire saw one of his teachers taking books off his shelves and putting them into boxes. Curious, Zaire entered the building and walked up to his teacher smiling.
Verin looked up and nodded. “Ah, Zaire. How are you?”
Zaire shrugged and grimaced. “Not very well, actually. A Teller caught me unawares, and he took all my spending money.”
The master let out a small chuckle. “Those don’t come often. It is a good thing that you saved all the money you actually needed, yes?”
That lifted Zaire’s spirits a little, and he began to feel more alive.
“What are you doing with your books? Don’t you want to leave them here for next year’s semesters?”
Verin smiled sadly.
“I would say yes, but I can’t stay for next year. My family needs me back home, and Alkar, as you know, has graduated.”
“Seraph hasn’t, though. Where will she go now?”
“Oh, there are schools all over the place.” He paused. “I wish she could stay here another year as well, but I cannot find it in me to stay.”
He picked another book off the shelf and put it in a seemingly full box. Somehow he made it fit and closed the lid with a snap of its steel latch. He lifted the box and proceeded to load it onto the pile of boxes filled previously. When he moved to get another box, Zaire stepped in front of him.
“Why can’t you stay? What’s making you want to leave?”
Master Verin sighed. “It is not that something is making me want to leave, it’s just that everything keeping me here is leaving. You included.”
The teacher looked up from the book he was holding.
“Have you read A Philosophy of Founders?”
Confused by the compliment, as well as the sudden change of topic, all Zaire managed was a weak “no.”
“You should. It’s a good book to read. Re-read, actually. I have many times.” Verin suddenly held it out to him. “Here. Take it with you.”
Zaire reached out, hesitant and reverent. The leather cover was rough and textured. It was brown and had no title on the front. He opened it and looked at the author’s name.
The author was Herdel Verin.
“You wrote this?”
“Indeed I did. I didn’t want you to know yet, but I guess I can’t stop you knowing. Now stow your praise and go find Alkar. He’s worried you won’t come. In fact he came by twice this morning to see if you were here.”
“I will. Thank you so much for your book.”
“You’re welcome. I’d only give my favorite book to my favorite students. I trust you’ll read it?”
Zaire nodded. A sudden realization hit him that he might not see this man ever again after today.
“I’ll miss you.”
“And I you. Don’t forget what I’ve taught you: The history of man is of great importance, but learning of the gods surpasses any story you will hear anywhere else.”
He nodded again.
“Zaire, the gods are real—I know this. They will guide us. They will guide you.”
Zaire suddenly felt like crying. The words reverberated inside him like the gong of the largest bell.Verin didn’t give him time to cry, though, telling him to run along and find his friends. Zaire did leave, after a quick hug and a sincere farewell.
He would miss this school.
He found Alkar talking to his friend Herdian, and felt rather rude when Alkar seemingly abandoned his previous conversation to speak with Zaire.
“Where have you been? I’ve been waiting all day for you!” Suddenly he pulled Zaire closer and hushed his words. “Seraph has too.”
Zaire blushed and looked at the floor. Seraph had taken a liking to him early on in the school year, obviously falling for him. The teasing had been endless. Alkar took the hint and dropped the subject.
“So,” he said awkwardly, “did you visit my father?”
“Yes. He told me to run along and find you. Apparently you’ve been dying to see me. Why?”
“No reason in particular,” He said with mock nonchalance. “Just that I got my leave of absence, I can now travel anywhere I want. I am no longer bound by my birth-country.”
Zaire almost dropped the book he was holding.
“What—” He stuttered over the words in his surprise. “How?”
Alkar’s expression sobered, replacing a sarcastic grin with a sad smile laced with satisfaction.
“It wasn’t easy.”
“I’d be sure! I considered that once, but I stopped pursuing that earlier on than you would guess. Also, earlier than I’d like to admit.”
A cough. Zaire turned to see Seraph standing next to him.
“Seraph.” He kept his voice light “Did you finally finish your end-of-year project? You’ve been working on that day and night.”
“I did.” She practically glowed with pride. “Now I’m all caught up. Now that the year’s over.”
Her arms were folded, and her hands were hidden in her long black sleeves. Her hair, the same light color as her brother’s, was swept back into a complicated swirling pattern. She was holding a book just like the one in Zaire’s hands. He refrained from asking about it.
“Seraph, you don’t know how much you’ve helped me survive at this school.”
“Are you kidding, that was Alkar. I just tagged along.”
“Maybe, but you were a serious person, not all jokes and comic relief.”
Her smile brightened. Suddenly Zaire remembered how much he would miss her when he was gone. The soberness broke as Alkar announced that they were going to get food from the tables at the other side of the Gathering Hall.
Seraph grabbed his hand and proceeded to drag him to the tables and eat some small sandwiches. Zaire just stood against the wall, looking out at all the people he had met and studied with. The people he had never met yet. The people he wished he hadn’t met.
Yes, he would miss this school.
Gods help me, echoed his thoughts, gods help me be strong.
He wandered the hall for the next hour, talking to all his friends and acquaintances. Each one had good things to say about Zaire, and he felt rather rude for not having many things to tell them. Legen was the only one he purposely avoided. He of all the students was the most conceited. Inversely, he was also the one with the most spending money at the tips of his fingers.
Once the gathering was over, he went to speak with the headmaster. The headmaster had many compliments. He said that Zaire had studied harder than most students, and that if he ever wanted to, a teaching position at this school would be offered gladly. If Zaire ever felt the need.
Zaire said his thanks and his goodbyes.
As students began to migrate out of the hall, Zaire hung back. Alkar noticed and Seraph stayed with both of the boys.
“You okay?” Her question was serious.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” He sighed heavily. “But I’ll never see these people again. I’ll miss them so bad—I’ll even miss arithmetic tests!” He stopped speaking and let Alkar think over his words. “I don’t know how I’ll deal with all of this being gone. Something tells me that reminiscing won’t be enough to dampen my feelings about this place. I’ll miss everything about it.” A tense laugh escaped his mouth. “Even Legen’s tricks and jabs. His cheating.”
Alkar turned his mouth down into a frown. “I won’t. I won’t forget him, but I wish I could.”
Seraph just cringed. She had hated Legen more than any of them. Especially when he had started warming up to her and written disgusting letters addressed to her dormitory. She cringed again at the memory.
Alkar laughed and led the way out of the building.
Zaire was going to walk home, but Master Varin offered him a ride. Though he felt guilty, he accepted. It was late, and Zaire felt like collapsing.
Seraph offered to ride with her father instead of with Alkar, and Zaire slid in behind his friend. The ride home was silent.
As Zaire walked into his house, he could see the light on in the small kitchen. His mother was still awake. Had Lehn come home? Zaire hurried into the kitchen, not sure what he would find. When he looked in, he saw the picture he had known he would see.
His mother, alone in the kitchen, standing against the wall, crying silent tears.
Zaire crept past knowing that his mother had noticed him. He had tried to comfort her before, and it hadn’t helped. All she wanted were Lehn’s words.
Lehn never acted like he cared. Sure, he worked day and night, but he hardly came home. He hadn’t come home at all for three nights in a row.
Since Zaire’s sister Enera had been killed, their family had fallen apart. And there was nothing Zaire could do to stop it from shattering completely. He had been one of the wedges driving the three of them apart, though it wasn’t entirely his fault. It was all his father’s doing.
Zaire slept that night with his head full of familiar faces and sounds. Pictures of the Silk Weaver and Anlar God-Bender mingled throughout. Twisted versions of his favorite memories.
Author Notes: This, as you could probably see, is the beginning of a larger story. I just thought I would put it on here. Please leave a review!