The Keeper of the Secret
Alex and Stew walked through the woods of the campground, gathering fallen branches to use as kindling for a fire. Goose was as close to Stew’s heels as he could get without getting in the way.
“What was it like?” Stew asked as he placed a load of firewood on a pile. “Being gone for a year, not being able to talk to anyone and let them know you’re okay…”
“It wasn’t my fault,” she replied quietly, her head down.
“I know it wasn’t, Babe.” Stew walked over and stood so that he was facing his girlfriend. He placed his curled finger at the bottom of her chin and guided her face up so that her eyes met his. “I know it wasn’t your fault. I wasn’t trying to assign blame. I was just curious to know what it was like for you. I can’t imagine...”
“It was like…” She glanced up and took a deep breath, closing her eyes briefly while she recalled the stored images of the previous year. “...like being in Heaven and Hell at the same time. I mean, I was in this place that looked like how I imagine the Garden of Eden looked. It could have been the actual Eden for all I know. Maybe it was. Anyway… this beautiful, tranquil garden. Every peaceful image I have ever seen in my entire life… was there. But no people. No one to enjoy that with except for this guy who looked like Max Von Sydow in The Exorcist and talked like Sean Connery. I had no phone, no computer… no t.v. I could draw and write but only after I learned how to conjure a pencil and paper. I had all the fruit and vegetables I could ever want. But do you know how hard it is to conjure a good pizza?”
“No, I—” Stew started.
“First, you have to own all the ingredients you need. Then, you have to imagine combining them all. I think cooking would be a heck of alot easier.”
“So, you’ve had a pizza since you’ve been back, right?” Stew asked.
“Are you kidding?” she chuckled. “It was the first thing I did. Well, after trying to call your cellphone. I was told you get faster at conjuring the more you practice, but I haven’t seen it.”
“We’re talking about immortals here,” Stew noted. “He probably meant hundreds of years of practice—not just one.”
“At least you can practice,” Stew commented with a smirk. “I can’t even do that.”
“Heh-heh,” Alex snickered. “Rookie.”
“This is going to be hell for me,” Stew nodded. “I can feel it now. Time to get prepared for the immortal hazing.”
“Hopefully, we’ll only be gone a few days,” Tófa told Marie. “Here’s a thousand dollars for food. You never know.”
“You guys be careful,” Stew’s mother took him by the shoulders and held him at arm’s length. “You may be immortal, but there’s always someone bigger than you.”
“Mom, why…” Stew sighed and smiled. “Nevermind.”
“What?” Mrs. Kasey asked, her eyes boring into Stew. “I can’t worry?”
“Yes. You’re a mother. You’re allowed to worry. You just go overboard sometimes. No. A lot of times.”
“Well, that’s just the way I am, so...deal with it.”
“I’m trying. That’s why I said ‘nevermind.’ Sheesh.”
“Stew, be respectful towards your mother,” James chided. “There’s no handbook for being a parent to an immortal. Give her a break.”
“Yes, Sir. I’m sorry, Mom. We’ll be careful.”
“I love you, Son.”
“I love you, too, Mom.”
Wiz was getting anxious. He sighed and looked at the campground entrance. A tall stranger walked toward them from the road. Skin pasty white, with platinum blonde hair that was trimmed neatly, he wore a pastel blue, straight button-up collar shirt, khaki pants, motorcycle boots and a dark-brown, leather duster, all of which had not a speck of dirt or wear on them.
“Who the heck are you? Wyatt Earp? That is an odd combination of clothes,” Stew remarked.
“Master?” Alex asked, one eyebrow cocked up.
“Hello, Astrid,” the man said, calmly and coolly.
“And you can call me Lugus.”
“Lugus?” Brandr asked. “As in First Tier?”
“Yes. I heard the Circle of Light would be going to Prague on The Ides.”
“Yes,” Wiz replied. “They need to be told about a certain situation.”
“How did you know?” Wiz wondered.
“It’s my gift. I know things. I have some information for you before you go, though. You need to talk to Nemesis. She is on the Council. If you can get her on your side, the rest of the Triskaideka will be more willing to listen. Also, Zachary has a vulnerability—his ravens. Like Samson’s hair, they are his strength. If you manage to capture one, drain its blood and remove a feather, then cover the feather with the blood and burn it. Everyone he has brainwashed into following him will be free. Of course, he can always get more but he’ll have to start the process all over again.”
“I know you from somewhere,” Stew said as he stared at the man.
“Probably. I did teach History at your high school.”
“Mr. Gorman! You had a beard back then. You always dressed in unusual clothes… and apparently still do.”
“It’s called non-conformity. Most likely why they never let me have a seat on the Council.”
“Do you want a seat on the Council?” Brandr asked.
“Not really. Bureaucracy isn’t really my forte. Out here, I’m unrestrained, more able to help where I’m needed. However, it would have been nice to have been given the opportunity to decline the invitation.”
“So,” Stew interrupted. “When do I get to be trained? I don’t like being the only newbie around here. My girlfriend is two tiers above me, for Pete’s sake.”
“You’re in training right now,” Lugus returned. “On-the-job training.”
“Can’t you take me to the place where you trained Alex?”
“The only reason I did that was out of convenience. Zachary sent her there by burning her in your sacred circle. I kept her there so he would think he killed her. You needed him to think that, if only for a short time. You can’t conjure anything but you are immortal. That’s good enough for now. You and your friends have a meeting to get to. When you get there, be sure and talk to Nemesis. She might have some information for you. I’ll leave you to it. Call me if you need me. You have my number now.”
He turned around and as if he was going behind an invisible curtain, he disappeared into the folds of the air around him.
“His number?” Marc wondered. “What did he mean by that? I don’t remember him giving us a number.”
“His name,” Tófa replied. “That’s it. Call his name. That goes for mortals, too. If you need help while we’re gone, just call his name.”
“Like a prayer?” Alex asked.
“Just like a prayer,” Tófa assured her. “Regan said she would stay here, too.”
“You can call on Lugus,” Fred said. “I’ll call on Jesus.”
“On that note… Shall we go?”
The flight from North Carolina to Prague was long and tedious, though, it did give Alex a chance to tell Wiz and Stew what she had learned in her training with Lugus. She spoke quietly as to not disturb the people in front of them, but played with her words and made it seem as though she were talking about her favorite fantasy novel—just in case there was someone nearby with extremely good hearing. Brandr sat in the row behind them and looked down at the dark ocean below as Tófa slept with her head on his shoulder. Samal sat next to her, in the aisle seat, and enjoyed New Wave Hits of the 80’s on his headphones.
As Brandr looked down at the vast blue, he let his mind wander. You would think, Brandr thought, that, for an immortal who has lived nearly 1300 years, the world and the life contained by it would not hold much mystery. But it does. I thought I was in control of my destiny. But I don’t think I am. And I have a hard time believing that the world has ever been governed by a bunch of politicians who think they are gods. So, what the frick do I believe? Do I even know?
The yellow taxi van rumbled down the cobblestone street and came to a stop at the corner of Křemencova and Opatovická streets.
“I wish I could have brought Goose,” Stew whined. “He looked so… forelorn.”
“I know. He just isn’t allowed where we’re going. Brandr replied. “Uh, driver. He leaned forward toward the front seat.
“Ano?” The driver leaned to his right and turned just enough to hear while keeping his eyes ahead.
“Right here is fine,” Brandr told the driver, handing him two thousand Czech crowns. “Keep the change.”
“Děkuji,” the driver replied as the group of six emptied onto the sidewalk. “Prague is a city filled with relics most people in this city have forgotten,” he told them. “Find them. Enjoy them.”
The band of friends waved at the cabbie and followed Brandr. “You know where we’re going, right?” Tófa asked.
“Yes, Sweetheart,” he assured her. “It’s been awhile but I have a good memory. The bookstore is just right down here.”
Brandr slowed in front of a store called Trináct Knihy. “‘Trináct’ is Czech for ‘thirteen.’ And ‘knihy’ is ‘books.’”
“Okay…” Stew said, “So, the Triskaideka is in a bookstore?”
“No,” Brandr grinned. “The entrance to the catacombs where the Triskaideka is… is in a bookstore.” He pulled the door open and held it and let the others file in.
“Dobré odpoledne!” the shopkeeper announced.
“Ahoj. Mluvíš anglicky?” Brandr asked.
“Ah,” he replied. “Yes. I speak English okay. My name is Khranitel’. What can I do for you?”
“We’re Americans,” Stew said. “Well, some of us are, anyway.”
“I never would have guessed that,” the shopkeeper replied.
“Fidem. Spero. Amor,” Brandr recited. “Maxima horum est caritas.”
“I see,” Khranitel replied. “What is your name?”
“Brandr. And you are here for the Ides of March meeting?”
“Would you be Hringr Ljóss?”
“That’s us,” Wiz replied.
“I have a letter for you.” The shopkeeper reached under the counter and pulled out an envelope, sealed with red wax, and handed it to Wiz. “I was instructed to tell you not to open it until after you meet with the council.”
“Okay. Thank you,” Wiz said, putting the envelope in a pocket on the inside of his jacket.
The shopkeeper went to a shelf behind the counter and reached up where there was a pestle inside a mortar. Khranitel rotated the handle of the pestle and a secret door opened and revealed a dark, stone stairway. “Tall, dark and handsome fellow in the back,” the shopkeeper looked at Sam. “Could you turn the lock on the front door and flip the sign around so that it says ‘Closed?’ Follow me, please. Brandr, if you would hold the door open? If it shuts, it will lock and it is a one way door. I will exit in the alley behind us and come back around.”
Sam locked the door and turned the sign as instructed and was the last to enter the stairway before Brandr. Khranitel struck a match and lit a torch that hung on the wall so they wouldn’t be swallowed by darkness once the door closed. “Watch your step.”