CHAPTER SEVEN - So Close And Yet So Far
The cause of most concern to Jano was the apparent lack of any entry into the place. They walked the perimeter, Markin offered practical observation in that the errand appeared to be fool hardy but was aware of Jano’s need to complete his quest so left it alone early on and continued to walk silently with his new friend.
“What manner of Tom-foolery is this Jano?” he asked as they completed the second circumnavigation.
Jano shrugged and stopped walking. A large Tule tree was providing shade although its limbs were gnarled and ghostly, and its foliage not unlike the fur of the mangy dog that was curled up near the base.
“I have no option Markin, I have to stay,” the frustration sounded on the edge of Jano’s voice, “I have nowhere else to go and I must be here. You go back; you have already spent far too much time with me.”
Markin protested but knew he had to leave, he was expected back for the afternoon shift at the kitchen and his time to leave was fast approaching.
“Jano, return with me, we can ask questions tomorrow, find help for you.” Jano shook his head.
“I will wait, something will happen”. He smiled to Markin, and shook his hand. They walked to the corner of the road that led back to the main highway to the city centre and shook hands again. Markin left and Jano remained, watching him walking away. They agreed to meet in a week’s time when Markin was allowed a holy day.
The heat of the day was descending like a wet mat and Jano walked back to the tree. The old dog was as still as he was when the boys had left. Jano spoke to him in the old speak, a whisper on the wind and he looked up and tried to wag a world worn tail.
“Are you thirsty old fellow?” he asked. Jano stood and walked off to look for some water. At the side of one of the old warehouses was a water tank, much the worst for wear but still holding crystal clear water.
Jano found an old tin container, discarded behind the tank. He filled it and walked back across the dusty road to the dog. He shook his head at the mind-set of people that would just throw away a metal container. Still, he was learning that the ways of the inner set were a far cry from those he had grown up with, he was not sure he was all that keen on them at all.
He knelt beside the dog and made a cup of his hand, pouring the water into it and holding it under the dog’s muzzle, feeling his tongue lap against his palm in appreciation of the relief it gave his thirst.
Jano mumbled a few words of old speak to the dog that raised his head and barked in friendly accord. Jano smiled and patted his head then poured more water; the tin was just too small to leave for him to drink from.
The old dog dragged his bony carcass up to a standing position and stretched, mouth wide and a light hearted growl to accompany the cracking of his joints. He stood beside Jano wagging his tail and walked to the wall.
The doorway was recessed about two feet into the masonry; it was solid timber and had no apparent hinges, handles or locks. Jano walked to it, to where the dog was standing and stared. He looked up at Jano and Jano was sure he was smiling.
Jano touched the timber, it was old and grey, like the planks he saw on the pier at Lorne, looking all the world like they had been there for ever.
He pushed it and found it to be solidly shut. Trying to knock was useless, the timbers were so solid his hand or fist hitting it was eaten up and burped back at him like a whisper.
“Goodness me, will any of this ever make sense?” He said to no one in particular, but really to the dog, he shrugged, talking to a dog was no more absurd than doors appearing in solid walls and then proving to be more solid than the wall it replaced.
The dog barked once, a bark of conspiracy, of support, of the mocking a friend has for a friend, when his deeds are laudable and the friend should be told so.
“What?” Jano laughed. “What do you want me to do? Fly over?” Another bark. Jano turned and walked back to the tree, picked up that can and drank some of the water from it. Then just watched, accepting it for what it was, as the dog leaned against the door and it opened effortlessly, like a silk curtain in a gentle breeze.
The dog turned his head and barked once. Jano just shrugged and walked over and then through the doorway. Jano entered the School Of The Right starting his new life at that moment.
His worldly possessions in one pocket of his travelling cloak, his expectations as malleable as potter’s clay. Today, he left all that was and started what was to be.
* * * * *
Inside, he stood still and studied this place. The wall stretched to his left and right behind him for what seemed like forever. In front, virgin pastures seemed to flow to the horizon with nothing interrupting the fabric of the rich green tapestry. Trees grew tall and luscious along the gravel path leading from where he was standing towards the horizon.
He had circumnavigated the wall of the place earlier in his search for a door, he knew it was not possible that it could contain all he saw before him but also knew enough of things to know that anything was possible and here, most so, after all, this was the centre of the Gifted’s world.
He looked down at the dog. It stood tall and strong, now a golden coated retriever, solid and handsome. It barked once and sounded as strong and true as any Jano had ever heard. His eyes shone in the light and he bounded off barking his call to follow as he did. Jano broke into a light trot pursuing the athletic form of the retriever. Only now did he realise just how peaceful this place was, how peaceful he felt.
They travelled along the path for about ten minutes and came upon a hill that had introduced itself gracefully, sneaking up on Jano till he realised he was starting to have to fight the incline. The dog sat at the top waiting, his tail wrapped around his legs and lightly tapping against the grass by the side of the path.
“I’m coming” Jano puffed and the dog barked once, sounding the world like a call of encouragement. They crested the hill together and stopped. In the valley below was the most magnificent series of buildings set alongside a stream that seemed to flow through the reality of the place although he had not noticed it on his approach.
The buildings were a brilliant white and topped with the popular red tiles Jano had first seen the afternoon prior when he first caught sight of the White City. But these buildings were of a different calibre to those outside.
Magnificent in their simplicity of design, the white washed walls as pure as the snow they, Jano and Dannid, had witnessed when they broke through the clouds all those weeks back. The red like nothing Jano had seen prior.
The dog pushed against Jano’s leg gently and they started walking down the path towards the place that Jano would learn was the School of The Right.
Here, the Gifted of special note were taught and then teached. During his life time, Jano would often think of the beauty of this place when he needed reminding of all he was doing and its true worth.
This haven in a world of changing times was to always be Jano’s solace, but now, as less than a novice in the scheme of things, he approached feeling small and insignificant as the sheer power of the place overwhelmed him.
His new friend just walked beside him, never outpacing him, keeping station as any friend would, beside and there for support. Jano absentmindedly patted the retriever’s head as they walked on, approaching the outer walls of the school.
* * * *
The walls stood as tall as three men and were made of a dark stone quarried in the distant mountains to the north, drinking the light and returning the images of people as they walked past, rendered in dark detail like people begging for food on a cold night. It was almost solid Lock Stone, flecked with a little Trispar, a volcanic rock as strong as iron.
The passage reached out and ran the length of the north wall and the footsteps the manmade seemed to echo and cry out in the macabre half-light so typical of the Trull castle. It had been designed to give the image of imposing and oppressive power and that is just what it did.
Tully walked slowly down the long corridor, towards the east wing doors and the inner apartments of the family proper. His audience had been requested by his older brother Kule and he sure that his advisor Marion would be there as well.
Of late there had been a certain spirit afoot, one of wishful expectation. Tully was not sure whether this was good or bad as both seemed to render the same reaction from Kule. Since he had commissioned the services of Marion, a Mage of the Orrin Sect, a break-away group of the School Of The Right, those in concert with the more specific magic of man and science not the whimsical stuff of the old order, things had seemed to take on a new pace for the Trull Dynasty.
Tully was a courtesan, more at home reading poetry, playing the Zimla, a five stringed instrument that was laid across the lap and hit with a small hammer of silk and horse-hair, and competing in calligraphy competitions than serving as a member of the High Tribunal, something Kule was very displeased about and he never let Tully forget it.
This morning he was to have been a guest of honour at a poetry reading and this summons had made his day fall around his heels. Dressed in the elegant robes of court dignitary, face painted light blue in the current fashion; he turned into the inner rooms and came face to face with a captain of the inner guard.
The guard, a giant of a man saluted him but Tully knew that he was the brunt of many a half whisper in the house. Something that, if heard would lend the whispered a punishment that befitted the crime and this often gave Tully a bluster and bravado beyond his real strengths.
“Morning Master Tully, my lord is expecting you, please go straight in.” The captain said with a straight and fixed expression. Tully flicked his hand at the man to step aside and went to move forward.
“Your sword please sir.” The captain said holding him by the shoulder with a strength that was something Tully would never be able to combat. He removed the sword belt and handed it to the captain, grunted once and walked through the door.
The captain rested the sword down on the cabinet to the left of the doorway and gently withdrew the blade. Its shine was lost in a gentle browness that was growing across the face, the etchings and symbols loosing definition as the rust galloped over them.
He shook his head, a travesty in this man’s eyes, such a beautiful weapon, the finest Kusso mastery and left in the hands of this weakling. He clicked it back into the scabbard and went back to the entrance of the inner rooms, to stand guard and wait instructions.
He was concerned of late, more and more these instructions came via the wizard that had leeched himself onto Kule, the stick-insect of a man, cruel and cunning and as sure of himself and his lot as any man the captain had ever known. A gentle shiver crossed his soul as he took up station again. Things were not good these days, not by a long shot.
* * * *
Tully entered the sitting chamber. It was sparse and just as vast. At the far end on a raised platform was a simple desk of the finest Toca wood. Polished to a gleam that seemed to radiate light into the room.
To each side and running back towards the door were rows of straight backed chairs and a centre rug between them, termed the Gauntlet by those unfortunate to have walked it while the family council was in session.
Kule sat at the desk with the ephemeral shape of Marion beside to his right, as he was always seeming to be these days. Kule was busy signing papers that Marion was orchestrating, pointing at and moving away from the lord of the Trull dynasty.
“Take a seat Lord Tully. Marion said in a voice that seemed to cut straight to Tully’s heart, and he did just that. The first seat on the left side directly below the desk, as far away from the man has he could be. He did not and never would like Marion. The man was evil, of that Tully was sure.
They worked on for another ten minutes with not a word being spoken, save for the scratching of nib on parchment, there was no sound. The floor to ceiling length glass doors on each side of the desk were closed against the afternoon breeze which had a pinch in it now as the long day’s of summer were starting to share the hours with the first of autumn’s.
Finally, it was done and the tall thin man acquiesced his departure, bowing towards Kule in the accepted manner of the high court, although Tully noted the depth of each bow was less than he would have expected.
“You allow that man too much lee-way brother.” Kule looked up at his brother and he could see an anger so solid in his eyes he stopped his words immediately. Kule stood, his attire of the finest silk, ten layers from white to the dark blue of the fighting ensign of their trooping colours. His stature was short but he was built like a fighting dog, and was as vicious and smart.
“Be silent!” He yelled.
“You will listen to what I have to say brother. You will heed my words and by the Maker if you do not you will rue the day you were born, do I make myself clear?”
Tully nodded as scared as he could ever be and as scared as he had always been of his brother, fifteen years his senior and born of a different mother to their father, now dead but in his time, one of the most feared man of the Mid’ Lands.
Kule stepped around the desk and stepped down to his brother. Although Tully stood a lot taller, he felt like a child beside this man. Kule grabbed hold of the lapel folds of his outer jacket and pulled him forward and down roughly till their faces were almost touching, the sweet spices of his scent water in stark contrast to Kule’s smells born of a morning of sword practice and archery.
“Tell me brother that you did not allow Aldo Cupins to move against you.”
Tully felt his knees buckle slightly as he remembered the events of the previous evening. The play was being staged at the centre ground of the Cupins Castle, a visiting troop of Faerie players, re-enacting the stories of the first tribes; a high point of Inner Set society.
Tully was attending in the company of a number of his friends, all young men, younger than he and as aware of the gentle things of their wealth and position as any. They arrived in large coaches and disembarked to join the throng of visitors to this gala occasion.
Aldo Cupins was the middle son of the Cupins family and was known in some circles to find the hold the Trull had over Sinterland politics less than acceptable given his families established entitlements as founding members of the initial thirty seven tribes.
He had made sport of his harassment of Tully and as it continued it had grown stronger and more obvious, from snide comments made behind hands and whispered, to now, loud taunts in public places.
Tully had always been able to stand aside from all this and was never a man to entertain setting things right with combat as would have been the accepted solution.
Last night, the evening filled with good cheer and oft good cheer was accompanied by too much meed, Aldo had physically man-handled Tully, yelling to the crowd things that demanded response but which did not get it.
Tully pulled himself away and scurried into the crowd as on-lookers watched on with awe of the situation. Tully tried to talk to his brother but he could find no breath. Kule was shaking with rage and pushed him back into the chair.
“Do you even begin to understand the dishonour you have bought our clan? You weak-kneed kitten! How could you allow that to occur and not strike him down?”
Tully cowered away from him, not able to respond, knowing that the action Kule suggested was exactly what Cupins wanted, given he was a swordsman of note and Tully hadn’t the strength to strike his blade through the thinnest plank of Toca.
“Be silent NOW!” His brother roared at him. Starting to pace the gauntlet his head bowed and his brow set. He pulled a paper from his sleeve and threw it at Tully. It was on Cupins parchment, sealed and tied with violet ribbon.
“It is a demand for satisfaction. This upstart is demanding you met him in the field of honour. He is DEMANDING do you understand!”
Tully felt sick, hot bile rising in his throat and burning the back of his tongue, which he swallowed loudly.
“You weakling, what did you think, he challenged you and you ran away like some beetle from a man’s boot. His challenge is just and you will have to face him.”
Tully snivelled his reply “but he was drunk brother, a bully, he wanted to hurt me”
Kule turned and slapped him so hard he felt consciousness float above his head and try to fly away. Save for his being grabbed by the lapels again he would have slipped off the chair onto the floor.
“Hurt you. HURT YOU! He is going to kill you do you understand you’ Kule couldn’t find a word to suit how he felt and settled for “sparrow. He is completely within his right now. How could you have allowed this to happen? I cannot help you. If I had been there I could have but not now. This is an issue of honour.”
Kule stopped talking, thinking the way he always did. People often mistook his rough exterior and manners as an indication of a simple mind, there could be nothing further from the truth.
“You have to fight him Tully” he said, his brother now holding his head between his arms and rocking like a little child.
“Stop it do you hear!”
The door to the side of the room opened gently and Marion appeared through a gap that seemed less than wide enough for him to do so. He seemed to float across the floor as his long black cloak hid his feet and was cut to such perfect length it teased the stone flooring as he moved.
In a voice so soft it could have been mistaken for vespers from a distant chapel he said
“My Lord, I think all is not lost.”
Kule turned to the man and his face showed his anger.
“Are you blind man? Look at this mouse.” He said as he gestured towards his brother, now crying openly. Marion nodded.
“Sire, I can help here. What’s more, the end may justify the means. The Cupins have been vocal in both this instance and prior regarding the current balances of power.”
He leaned closer, as if wanting to shield his words from all but Kule and then only if he concentrated on the air moving in his ear.
“They need to be taught a lesson; this could be made to back-fire on them I am sure.”
Kule turned his head to face the man, a look of expectation spreading across his square-cut features. The Mage continued.
“This is a blessing in disguise my Lord. The council needs to be shown who leads it. You have your hands tied in the protocols of the events there and never would any of the would-be provocateurs approach you or most of the clan in such a way.” The tall man started to pace gently along side his leader, continuing.
“This is a ruse you see. It is planned, but they have underestimated you, they think you will endeavour to use you position to rescind the challenge and under old laws that have gone mostly forgotten, such an act could lead to a vote of no confidence”
Kule stopped short “What are you telling me Marion” his voice was raised “there is such precedent?”
The Mage nodded his head.
“It is so my lord, lost in time but available just the same.”
A smirk drifted across his features as he looked back at the shaking scarecrow in his peacock finery.
“They overestimated your” he searched for a word “feelings and ideals I believe.” Kule nodded.
Marion, the Master Mage of the Orrin sect stood back a little and watched the puppetry do its business. How easy these fools were to control and move, like men on the Chooka board. How he wished he could just take control of it all with his powers, something he could have done so many times before in his ascent to his present position.
With the power within his sect and the tools they had at their disposal, they could have seized control of it all with the bat of an eye. The only problem was the blasted School of the Right. The school where he was once seen as the most gifted in many generations, the school where he almost made the mistake of most of the misguided old men there in and took on the responsibility of order for the good of all men.
Marion Of Ule, eldest son of the Magistrate of Jandrus, Gifted of the tenth level and perhaps higher now, given the years that had passed since his last grading and his subsequent quest for the powers and tools that had prior been seen to be away from the path, still had a fear of the power of those old men.
Although he could surely beat any one of them, their combined power was still something he respected. Early on he realized the only way to win and wrest control of all things was to use the very fabric of the world his mentors and now nemesis’s held so dear and true. Those things political that guaranteed the society would be used against it as he was doing now.
He had to condescend to the likes of this Nor’ Lands barbarian, to influence events. Soon, so very soon, it would all be ready for him to strike and then, the world would see the greatest ruler it had ever seen. It was his destiny, the stones had told him so, now he just had to bide his time and push here, prod there until all the pieces where in conjunction, then; one push; and it would be a new order for Sinterland, one that he would decide. He continued
“They expect you to ban the event, use your power to force the issue and then they will strike, all legally and above board Sire. The simplicity of the plan is wonderful.”
Kule smirked. “Let them have him Marion, he is of no use to our cause, let this upstart blood his blade and then, I will have to seek revenge.”
Marion nodded “Yes you could let it happen that way my Lord but it would never do to have the leader of the High Tribunal rough-shoeing in the dirt.” He paused to let the last words sink into the little man’s head.
“But, if Lord Tully was to fight and win, can you imagine the ramifications. Particularly if the Lord were to then demand a replay of honour which he is entitled to do under old law.”
“If he were to demand the replay of the youngest and most favoured son Destin, Lord Cupins would come running to you like a whining dog begging your interference and as such would be in your debt.”
Kule roared in high spirit, a laugh that formed into a cry of triumph at the plan. Then he turned and saw the pathetic sight before him and his shoulders slumped as he did.
Marion leaned closer to him. “I can help my Lord, if you would wish.”
Kule felt that ripple that always passed over his soul when this man offered such assistance, something he was doing more and more of late. The fortunes of the Trull were soaring and this reliance on the wizard was a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things, or so Kule thought.
“How?” he asked with a hint of trepidation.
Marion clapped his hands twice. The door to the side that had stood ajar since he entered, and opened onto his antechamber office, opened and through it walked Tully; standing tall and strong, a solid look in his eye that beset strength and purpose. His likeness so absolute it scared Kule immediately.
The man walked up to them, past the cowering figure who was completely unaware of any of the goings on as he rocked tightly into a ball and snivelled to himself, in a world away from here.
Tully stopped before them and took Kule’s arm in a shake, the strength completely solid “Brother” he said. Kule was dumb struck.
“Rest easy my Lord” Marion said “this doppelganger is your brother, more so than that there” he pointed to the form at the head of the gauntlet.
“Say the word Sire and your new brother will bring glory to the clan.”
Kule’s head was spinning, this magic was an abomination; there was no doubt of it. It should be stopped and never be allowed to interfere with his world, at least that was what the voice inside was screaming at him.
He turned to face the Mage. Looked at him, then said “do it” in a whisper, turned and strode out of the room leaving those left to do what they had to do.
Marion smiled gently, turned to Tully and touched his cheek, his head dropped to one side and for all intents and purposes was asleep standing where he was.
Marion walked to the pathetic shell of a man and stood before him.
“Weakling” he said as he touched his forehead. In a flash of dark light, that seemed to come from the ground up, tendrils of dark smoke started to spin around the body of the second born son of the Trull dynasty. He lifted his head, jolted from his stupor, and saw the evil face of the Mage before him, a grin that was shining in the dark light.
He tried to scream but no words were able to sound. Faster now, the smoke spun and he felt himself moving with it until his form seemed like paper flowing in the breeze, then, as quickly as it all started it stopped.
Nothing remained. The white ghost of the former fool flew around the room forming a stream and flew toward the other. With one breath it disappeared into its open mouth and was gone.
Marion walked back to the doppelganger and touched him awake. “Go now my Lord Tully, let the world see the new you.”
With that Tully turned and walked towards the door, shoulders square and strength of purpose that was born on the Mage winds from whence he came. Marion stood alone in the room. It would be just perfect.