Chapter 17: Summer Grove
As night reached out to claim the world, we arrived at the valley floor. Behind us, the dark forest receded up the mountain side and before us chest high grass spread out like the waters of an inland sea. Far in the distance, I could make out the shadowy forms of the mountain peaks that ringed the valley like the walls of a castle. Somewhere at the heart of the ocean of grass lay the crystal blue lake and the island that Uriel showed me in his dragon memory.
With the sun just recently set behind the western most peeks, the sky glowed in vibrant shades of orange, red, and deep purple. But the colors would soon fade to be replaced by velvety blackness and countless stars. Night claimed the world with greater speed and fierceness in the wilds than it did in civilized places … or so it seemed to me anyway.
“We should make camp,” Uriel suggested, “it has been a long day.”
Truer words had never been spoken. I started the day striped of my belongings and my dignity as a captive. Once through the shimmering green and copper veil, my captivity ended. Freedom was mine once again.
“You knew that Toad and his boss couldn’t pass through the magical veil,” I commented as I slipped from Argo’s back.
“Of course … it’s part of the test. Only a mage, or someone touched by magic, can pass through the resonance barrier.”
“What about the animals?” I remembered watching small mammals and birds flit back and forth though the curtain without care. Even Argo walked through without seeming to notice.
“Unity’s lower creations are immune to the barrier’s effects.”
“How did the barrier come to be … or is it a natural phenomenon?”
Balthazar once told me that strange magical anomalies existed throughout the Ten Kingdoms. These sites were rare and, though the Grand Order of Magi studied them thoroughly, they continued to defy explanation. His own theory was that such sites were marks left behind from Unity’s creative power as Everlast was wrought from the void of Nothingness.
“Even Dragons, withal our great age and wisdom, cannot fathom all the depths of Unity’s scared mysteries.” With that he bounded off into the tall grass for an evening’s hunt.
Morning brought with it a cool fog. The grey mist descended on the valley over night leaving the world around me covered in a fine layer dew and shrouded in a swirling gossamer cloak. I wasn’t looking forward to throwing off my blankets and crawling out of bed to meet the new day. After spending several nights sleeping tied up and cold, I found that I was more tired that I realized. Nothing would please me more than to spend the day wrapped in my blankets sleeping. I moved my foot, testing the place where Uriel slept; it was empty. The cat dragon was out hunting no doubt. I sighed and stretched lazily.
“I was beginning to wonder when you would awaken.”
The speaker’s voice was unfamiliar and I leapt hastily from my bedding at the sound of his words. I was on my feet and facing the unknown speaker faster than I thought myself capable of so early in the morning. When I had my wits about me again, I noticed my bow and lone arrow still laying on the ground beside my bedding Fat lot of good it did me there, I cursed myself.
The unidentified man standing in my camp wore grey, long sleeved, woolen robes that covered him to his ankles. The folds of a hood hung limply from the yoke of his robe to lie against his back like a cloak. A thick knotted rope belted the waist of his attire and from it hung a plain letter purse and a common eating knife. His feet were shod in simple leather and rope sandals.
“Good morning Journeyman,” the young man continued, “or perhaps I should say … Journeywoman.”
“Good morning,” I returned in a startled tone. “Who are you?”
“Brother Sinjin,” he bowed ever so slightly as he introduced himself. “Our monastic order makes its home here in Summer Grove. We provide hospitality for the Journeymen as they complete their final task before ascendancy to the rank of full Mage … and we certify their accomplishment to the Seven Masters.”
“How did you know I would be here?” I asked as I began to relax a bit. At least he wasn’t a bandit.
“Abbot Sextus foresaw your arrival during his meditations last night. He sent me out before first light to fetch you.” Then he frowned briefly, “Not as many Journeymen come to the valley these days. You are the first in more than two years.”
“Then I truly regret what I am about to tell you,” I began as I gathered my bedding to pack it away. “I’m not a Journeyman … I’m Kerri, Apprentice to Master Balthazar.”
“Balthazar,” the young monk muttered in awe. When he had his wits about him again, he moved to help me break camp. “Why would the Master Mage of Light send his apprentice here … and why did the Abbot insist that a Journeyman was arriving this morning?”
“Unity only knows,” I replied as I pulled a hunk of stale bread and the remaining bit of hard cheese from my provisions. I offered half of each to my guest. “How far is your monastery?”
Sinjin took my offering of food with a grateful smile and a nod of thanks. Before he could answer, Uriel sauntered into camp. The cat dragon rubbed affectionately against my leg before plopping down in the grass to groom.
“The monastery isn’t far,” he insisted as he washed his face with a damp paw. “It will be go to finally meet Sextus. My Sire had fond memories of him.”
The bread fell from Sinjin’s hand as his eyes fixed on the small striped cat resting in absently in the grass. He made the sign against evil as he took several hasty steps backwards. By his reaction, I could tell that Uriel’s mental comments were corporate rather than private.
“Uriel,” I uttered his name in a scolding tone.
“He may as well get accustomed to it,” the cat dragon dismissed my correction smugly. “There’s no telling how long it will take you to craft a suitable staff. We could be with them for a fortnight or more.”
I certainly hope that crafting a staff didn’t take a whole fortnight. I had the Temple of Unity to get to after all.
“It … it speaks,” Sinjin muttered. His face was pale with shock as his eyes remained locked on Uriel. “It speaks … inside my head.” Then he turned his gaze to me, seeking an explanation for what he heard in his head.
“It is a Dragon,” I began as I moved to saddle Argo, “and his name is Uriel … son of the Sky Lord Asgeer of whom your Abbot Sextus is familiar.”
Silence hung in the wake of my words for several heartbeats before laughter erupted from the stunned young monk. “It’s a mage’s trick,” he pointed at me and grinned, “Master Balthazar taught you to do that.”
We traveled in relative silence for most of the morning. Every so often, I caught Brother Sinjin glancing over his shoulder to stare at Argo … or more precisely, at Uriel’s travel basket which hung from Argo’s saddle. In spite of his earlier belief that I was responsible for the voice in his head, the young monk no seemed less than confident about that. Before leaving camp, I tried to explain again that Uriel was a dragon transformed by a working of magic gone wrong. The young monk wasn’t completely convinced that the cat sleeping in the basket was actually a mighty dragon in disguise. I knew this to be true because every time his eyes cast upon the basket, he would make the sign against evil. Perhaps he thought Uriel was a demon of some sort and I, a hapless mage’s apprentice, fell unknowingly under his influence.
The Fog burned off my mid-morning leaving a sunny warm day in its wake. We walked north along a well trodden path that wound its way through the endless sea of grass. Such fields would be highly sought after by the farmers back along the bleak and rain soaked Isadora Coast.
It was just past noon when I caught my first glimpse of the assemblage of buildings off in the distance. Monastic complexes that I’d seen in other parts of the Ten Kingdoms were grand structures made of stone and circled around with imposing walls. As we drew near to Brother Sinjin’s monastery, I noticed that the buildings were simple in their construction. The imposing wall was waddle fence with a gate set into it at the entrance. Stone buildings were replaced with the more modest building materials of waddle, daub, and thatch.
Sinjin opened the gate and I led Argo through it into a large open commons. At the heart of any monastery lies the chapel, always set on an east to west alignment so that the main doors faced the west. The apes and the alter of Unity lay in the eastern end of the chapel.
Just to the south of the chapel was a grouping of buildings known collectively as the cloister. Here could be found the living quarters of the monks, the kitchen, and the refectory among other amenities. While wood was the building material of choice for the chapel, the cloister was constructed of waddle and daub with a well kept thatch roof.
“The stable is this was,” Sinjin pointed to the northern side of the complex. “Once you have your horse settle, I’ll show you to our Pilgrim’s House.”