Orb and Arrow, Book I: Exploration

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*** 5 ***

Brillar was not at the Great House. She was still in her room taking the morning to prepare what she was going to say and how. She had another pair of thick gloves knowing it would have to be handled, a dark cloth and a silver jewelry stand. Finally, she put on the green dress and pin Elden had bought for her and was ready. When the bell rang at noon, her mother, who had spent an anxious morning quietly talking with Rodenis, joined her. Mother and daughter went to the empty meeting hall and waited for the assembly to begin.

It was a short wait. Everyone who had been able to gather ate quickly and filed in to find a place to sit where they could see easily. The front rows had been reserved for the senior of the Sisters and for the Brothers who had come to see this relic. The tiered hall filled quickly and people pushed together to give others room to sit. Behind the dais where she had put the trays, gloves and stand, was the crest of the Sisterhood. As she looked out over the company, Brillar almost smiled at its colorful nature, even though worried about what was to come. The Brothers, fond of darker colors, blended their dark blues, deep reds and purples with the bright colors of the Sisters most of whom preferred the colors of sunlight and flowers. Pinks, light greens, peach, yellows were everywhere. Their familiar colors relaxed her. Finally, younger Sisters, not allowed in the hall, closed the doors.

Rodenis, in pale green, stood and everyone was quiet. “We know why we are here. Begin,” was all she said, and re-took her seat.

Brillar stood. She’d prepared a way to display the dimlock, now she put on gloves, cut the thongs on the silver tray and put the dimlock on the silver stand; her mother’s and made for a necklace. Brillar had placed the dark cloth behind it and the dimlock seemed to pulse with menace.

Miles away in a field, Elden brought Jez up sharply. “Brillar!” he breathed, then shook himself and turned back to the hunt.

There were mutters from the assembly. She let them look at it for a few moments, and then began the story of how she had found Garnelden bound by the dimlock and searched him to see if he was lawfully held. She held up the pick and told what herbs and spell she had used on the lock. Holding up orb, powders, knife, everything that she had used to remove it, she explained how and when each was used. She explained how she wrapped each link of the dimlock in cwel skin to keep it from touching them. She stopped and answered questions at each point.

When she came to the removal of the pendant and Garnelden’s response, she stopped and bowed her head, overcome. The company was silent while she calmed herself. She added her forgetfulness that there might be an infection and fever and explained how it was cured. She told them about the deep healing sleep it had taken for him to gain strength. She told them about the herbs she used in stews to strengthen him. Then she stopped.

“This I had yesterday,” she said baring her arm showing the crescent scar there, “after the merest touch of a link and with a healing mage ready with a spell.” There was a stir in the assembly. “Now watch.”

She re-gloved and removed the dimlock from the stand, replacing it with the chicken skin then she put the dimlock on the skin. A stench came from the skin and she removed the dimlock quickly, revealing that the skin was already marked by it. The collar she placed back on the silver tray.

“The dimlock has only one purpose: To separate mage from mana and the world, sending him into a half-life, leaving him unable to cast a spell, unable to touch what burns him. Only another person can remove it. I removed it using the skills the Sisters taught me here and using cwel skin to protect us both; then I wrapped it and kept it in the foldbox. Now I ask that it be destroyed for it is wholly and utterly evil.” She took her seat and sighed deeply, relaxing her shoulders.

There was a silence when she sat, then everyone one was standing, clapping, shouting. Rodenis stood and took the dais, hands in the air to quiet the crowd. “Silence!” Her voice carried over the din but it was still some time before all settled. “All students are dismissed; yes the senior students as well.” There was some grumbling but they all filed from the hall. The teachers, scholars, and elders remained seated. Once the hall was cleared of students, Rodenis announced, “Discussion may now begin.”

First, they formed a line to get a closer look at the dimlock, probing it as it lay on silver. “Why silver,” was asked again and answered more than once. Healers asked to see the mark on her arm so Brillar left it uncovered. Healing spells were offered, many strange to her, but the mark remained. Brothers probed the dimlock with muttered spells and were repulsed. “No,” she said, many times, “I don’t know how it was made.”

Rodenis was asked for the lore she had discovered. She had the texts in the hall and scholars from both Houses poured over them. There was information on the locking of the collar and its removal with a key but nothing on its making or unmaking. Some proposed the idea that perhaps there had only ever been one such collar made long ago and the process forgotten, then the collar reused. That idea had some deep in thought. A Brother was dispatched to their Great House to have the more elderly scholars there review all the writings they had.

Brillar finally sealed the dimlock between the two silver trays. She handed them to an astonished Rodenis.

“I’ve kept it safe only because no one knew about it. Now everyone knows. I can’t take it up again; it’s for other hands now.”

Rodenis nodded agreement and left unaccompanied, “No one else should see where I put it,” she stated firmly.

As soon as the dimlock left the hall, Brillar felt something lift from her that she hadn’t known was there. Her eyes went to her mother who was waiting quietly; as a Senior Sister she had never left the room. Suddenly, she began to laugh gladly, almost giddy and her mother laughed with her. The others in the hall looked toward the sudden sounds and smiled.

Brillar breathed deeply and exhaled. “I hadn’t known how dark it was until it was gone. Senior Healer?” her mother nodded, “is it close to supper, I’m suddenly hungry?” There was more laughter at this. “If everyone will excuse us?” Brillar and her mother walked home, her dark green gown and her mother’s ocean blue shifting in the twilight.

The men had been back for some time and were enjoying wine on a terrace when they arrived. Elden looked at his glass and refused to raise his eyes.

“Welcome home, sweet,” said Prendar kissing his wife, “and don’t the two of you look wonderful. Your afternoon must have agreed with you.” The women just glanced at each other and took wine from a tray.

“How was the hunt?” Darwa asked.

“Wait until you taste the linic hens,” Terol put in excitedly. “I took a cwel at distance. I almost missed because Bright seemed to stumble a moment when Elden reined Jez in” that got Elden a sharp glance, “but I hit him well, didn’t I father.”

“A fine shot, fine. But now I hear the cook calling.” He put his arm over his son’s shoulder as they went in.

Dinner started with a light chicken soup. “Cook said you took a chicken skin with you this morning,” Brillar nearly choked on her soup.

“Something Rodenis wanted,” Darwa put in, getting a look from Elden. “Nothing important.”

To delay discussion, Brillar went directly to her room after dinner leaving Elden to her mother.

“A word, Elden?” she asked when her daughter had left the table. They went to the sitting room where she poured a brandy for each of them, and recounted the afternoon’s happenings.

“So they think that there may have been only one dimlock all this time? Over a thousand years, set aside, hidden, then re-found and used?”

“There isn’t any record of how to make them,” she answered, “and I would think that a skill like that would be recorded somewhere.”

“And a destruction,” Elden added darkly.

They finished their brandy and said no more that night.

The discussions in the Great House continued for well over a week. Finally, a messenger arrived and went into conference with Rodenis and elder Brothers. Three days later, a carriage arrived carrying an elderly scholar and a parchment. Brillar and Darwallen were summoned and Darwa asked her husband to make sure that Elden was away from the house. He was puzzled, but had been married to a mage for a long time and nodded his compliance.

Mother and daughter walked to the Great House. As was now her custom, Brillar dressed in green. Rodenis greeted them and led them to a small meeting room where they were introduced to Brother Chefin, a bent grey-haired Brother who had been teaching for over seventy years.

“I believe I have found the answer,” the old man began, eyes sparkling, “and such a simple answer it is and so easy, no one would have thought it. Oh what I fine time I had in locating it, I can tell you. The parchment is decayed, torn, and the question had never been asked or we would have known so quickly, but it’s all here for anyone who can read it.” He coughed. “Dusty in those vaults.” A senior Brother handed him a glass of watered wine. “Dusty everywhere down there and we need to get these old parchments copied before we lose them. Now where was I?”

“The dimlock, Brother?” his friend prompted him.

“Ah yes, the dimlock. A nasty thing.” He spread a parchment on a table. “It is all here, oh no not the making that is surely lost for there are few parchments left older than this, no, no, this it its destruction. You see, first a list of herbs to be spread.” Everyone bent close.

“I can’t read it,” complained Rodenis.

“I can read some words,” spoke up an Elder Brother, “I studied with Brother Chefin. Still, Chefin if you would.”

“The problem begins and end here,” he marked the page with a finger. “First the herbs to be spread on it, ‘by one who knows it well.’ That, I think, is a person who has had contact with it? Then it says, ‘…it is to be salted a…’ do you see?”

“I take the meaning to be that it is to be hidden? Salted away?” asked one of the Brothers.

“I admit there is much lost, dimmed, a hole in the parchment, but the final faint words, ’….can….be…dest..yed.”

He looked around at the silent company. “SALT” he shouted, “not ‘it shall be salted away’ as in a hidden place, but that ‘it shall be salted,’ herbs first then salt!”

“Salt?” came the question from many lips.

“Salt!” he replied. “Oh there are the other things, the herbs to be powered and spread, I said that didn’t I? Then silver to be used, but most certainly, salt.”

“Herbs, which herbs,” the herbalist was in the room, and Chefin read out a list.

“At once,” and she went off as more of the group gathered around to get a better look at the parchment. The room was full of questions and discussion.

“I am told,” said Chefin going to Brillar, “that you sheltered it in silver, well done, well done. We must talk you and I. However did you think of silver?”

Before she could answer, the herbalist came back with her powders and a Sister came up with a cask of salt.

“I think this is best done now and in the courtyard,” said Rodenis, “if you will go there while I fetch the dimlock?” The courtyard was paved with heavy stone. Students and younger sisters were sent away and told to stay away and senior Sisters were asked to stay with them. Rodenis set the trays on a stone table and cut the bindings lifting off the top tray and setting it aside.

Brother Chefin leaned closer, staring. “No one I have ever met has seen such a sight, well, except those here. If I am right, no one will ever see one again.”

Brillar whispered to her mother, “They were away?” and received a nod.

“You, you,” he beckoned to Brillar, “you took it, you know more about it than the rest of us.” Brillar stepped forward reluctantly, shuddering. He handed her gloves. “I think this is for you to do.” He gave her an encouraging pat on the arm. The others stepped back. Brillar looked desperately at Rodenis and her mother, but the senior Sister only shook her head.

“Pile salt deeply on the empty tray,” Chefin commanded. She was shaking so hard that she emptied half the cask onto the silver and spread it by hand.

“It appeared to me that the herbs were to be spread directly on the collar,” he said and handed her the cup. “First the herbs, then place the collar on the salt and cover it with the rest of the salt.”

She was loathe to get so close to the dimlock again, but did as she was told. As she dusted the collar it began to turn color filling the air with a dark choking smoke. She lifted it and dusted the reverse side.

“NOW!” Chefin shouted. Brillar raised the collar with both gloved hands and dropped it on the salt. It hissed and spat; acrid smoke curled from it. She felt weak and couldn’t see clearly

“THE SALT!” a voice said, and she shook the rest of the salt on the dimlock, covering it. The smoke was in her eyes, her nose, her stomach heaved, she was falling toward the dimlock as it twisted in the salt like something alive and in pain; hands grabbed her roughly and threw her to the stones to vomit. Her arm was on fire. Grabbing the scar she screamed, “ELDEN,” and could hear an echo of his distant screams. They tore at her as her arm burned and the thing in the salt hissed and writhed. That was all she knew.

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