Prophesarium – Conclusion

hanginggardens

And lo! The Saviour shall be sore afraid. And the people shall know him by his fear. For he shall be a solitary figure wandering the wasteland aftermath of the battle. He shall roam the chaos and destruction with wonderment and terror and bewilderment fixed upon his pale befreckled face. For the sight of the Seawyrm and the Sandwyrm shall be new unto him.

Falcon flicked a dozen more pages, skimming the text. More of the same.

He gave up in disgust and stepped away from the book.

It was an accurate account, as far as it went, of his time in Xandria. Only in overblown language as elaborate as the illustrations that bordered each page. And the writer had made far more of the protagonist than Falcon had ever made of himself.

“I’m nothing like that,” he told the Vizir, who stood hovering behind him like some hummingbird expectant of nectar. He’d be disappointed. “That’s the reason I came here. Because I’m not a damned bit like that.”

“Then you came here seeking change. A new path. A fresh chapter.”

“Yes. Something like that – but – ” Falcon waved at the book on the lectern as though a simple gesture might have the power to dismiss it from sight. No such luck. “Not like that. Nothing like it says in your damned bible. I’m no saviour. No hero.”

“None of us are. Until we are.”

“What? What kind of rubbish is that? Did you write this book? All this rot?”

“No, sir. I did not.” The Vizir hurried to the lectern to lay a protective hand on the open pages, as though covering the book’s ears against profanity and blasphemy. “This rot, as you call it, is one of the Great Prophesies Of Magracorus. The writings are more ancient than Xandria herself.”

“Wait, you’re saying some guy wrote this way back, however many centuries ago?”

“Millennia. It is impossible to say how long ago exactly.”

“But how could he possibly have foreseen – ?”

The Vizir shrugged. “Impossible to say. That is the nature of prophesy.”

Falcon wanted to kick over the lectern. If only the Vizir would budge out of the way. And the Prophesarium guards were still present, in any case. Impassive observers to Falcon’s general displeasure. They probably wouldn’t remain so passive if he expressed it the way he wanted.

“You don’t get it. Your prophet – yeah, maybe he saw stuff. Foresaw, whatever. But he didn’t see me. He didn’t see inside me.” Falcon laughed. “‘Named for a bird of prey.’ Sure. Falcon. Know where I got that from?”

The Vizir shook his head.

“Foul Ken they used to call me. Foul Ken Moskirk. Because of the smell. Never could do much about that. Moskirk with a ‘k’, by the way. It’s with a ‘q-u-e’ now. Sounded fancier in my head. Foul Ken. Useful moniker on the streets. They used to say they could smell me coming. But they said it with dread, you know. Never a joke when it was me coming to shake them down or administer a harsh lesson because they’d upset the boss. Defaulted on payments or stepped out of line some other way. The why didn’t matter. All that counted was what they were in for.”

He wandered back from memory lane, leaving more than a few bruised and battered bodies behind him on the cobbles. He met the Vizir’s distant smile. A smile from a foreign land and a past that wasn’t foreign enough.

“That, right there,” he said, “is a sketchy portrait of your precious Saviour. That’s the hero your people have all been waiting for.”

“None of us know what potential lies within us,” countered the Vizir. “Not with any certainty. You came to Xandria in search of something, my son. Something new inside yourself.”

“Kind of.” Falcon nodded. “But not really. I’m looking for a change, yeah. But on the outside. Just a chance to do something different. Yeah, to make amends some. But mainly just to move on, forget. Eventually. A job. That’s all I want. No grand redemption. And definitely – definitely – not fighting dragons.”

“I see.” The Vizir rose slowly from his protective stance over the book. Calm as a stagnant pond on a breezeless day.

“Do you?” said Falcon.

“Well, I can’t say I’m ecstatic about it, but it’s not as if you’re the first ever Saviour to disappoint.”

Falcon coughed. “Excuse me?”

“However, if it is a job you have come looking for, there I believe we may be able to help you.” He crossed the dais to his desk and plucked a scroll from among the charts and documents. “The work is quiet and not terribly challenging, but the Prophesarium is vast and I grow no younger. I could use an assistant.”

He held out the scroll.

“Here. Take this to the Seventh Archive.”

“The Seventh – ?”

The Vizir nodded and thrust the scroll forward, obliging Falcon to take it.

“Yes. The discards,” he said.

*

Discards.

Prophesies that didn’t quite bear fruit.

And lo! thought Falcon. The ‘Saviour’ finally figured it out. Truth dawned. Let there be light.

The Prophesarium was a house of hopes. Some of them didn’t work out. A lot like lives really. Potential in every single one. People had advantages over prophesies, mind. Experience and hindsight. Falcon knew his potential, knew how far he could travel from his ‘Foul Ken’ past. And he was just about there. This would do.

He filed the scroll in one of the countless pigeonholes.

Then wandered back to the Vizir. Job done. Except there was another task to replace it: the Vizir immediately sent him off to fetch another scroll.

“I will transcribe its text into the Great Book. Recorded onto the leaves of pathyrus the prophesy will spread to the consciousness of the people of Xandria. Thus, one hope takes the place of another in the hearts of men and women.”

“Which one?” asked Falcon. And his gaze roamed the endless honeycomb of shelves and all the millions of prophesies.

“Any one you like,” said the Vizir.

And waved Falcon on his way.

 

 

SAF 2016

Prophesarium – Part Seven

hanginggardens

Guards awaited on the pier. A half-dozen of them in colourful robes and golden chain shirts, they stood as pole-straight as their curiously hooked spears.

Falcon moved a hand over the hilt of his sword. But instead of poking weapons at him, the guards bowed.

“The Vizir expects you,” one informed him.

“Well, all right then”

Falcon relaxed and fell into step with his escort as they marched along the pier. This Vizir had to be the bloke in charge. ‘Vizir’suggested visions and visibility, so fingers crossed it was a man who saw things, a man who knew things. The man with all the answers for Falcon.

The soldiers tramped in ceremonial fashion, accompanying Falcon through a trellised archway several elephants wide and woven with some sort of climbing rose, an exquisite tangle of glorious blood-red blooms, thorns like the guards’ spear-tips and a calming perfume. The scent, though, had the opposite effect on Falcon, putting him immediately on the alert, fearful of some attempt to dull his senses.

He passed down several paths flanked by verdure under a cathedral-greenhouse ceiling strung with overflowing hanging baskets, suspended on impossibly fine flaxen ropes. Then on through more archways into a hall that stretched from one forever to another.

As though the heavens had been housed on earth and converted into a library. An infinite honeycomb of shelves spread left and right and up and up for countless storeys – or stories, perhaps. The shelves were caged behind a scaffold of ladders and steps, some of which were mounted on small wheels. And protruding ever so slightly from each cubby, the ends of rolled scrolls were visible, one parchment to each of the millions of pigeon-holes. And central to this hall of worship to the written word was a circular dais, home to a single enormous volume, opened on a proud lectern. And a monumental desk, at which a dusty-robed and cowled figure sat, a beard of snow and charcoal spilling from under his hood to trail over an assortment of papers and charts spread before him.

He looked up, revealing an aquiline nose and deep dark eyes beneath densely thatched eyebrows. The guards stood apart and invited Falcon forward.

Falcon approached the dais. And the man, presumably the Vizir, rose slowly to walk around his desk. He stood before Falcon, marginally shorter despite his position on the highest step of the dais. His hands were clasped and his head tilted at a humbled angle.

“Saviour. Welcome to the Prophesarium. What questions you have shall be fed and watered and nourished with whatever answers I can provide.”

“Right,” said Falcon. And he wondered where to start.

*

And he shall walk among us as an ordinary traveller, armed but dangerous to none save for noses. And he shall be known by his hair the colour of a freshly uprooted carrot and the pallor of his visage and the freckles upon his cheeks as of a handful of desert cast at a face sticky with perspiration.

And he shall not know himself to be our Saviour. For heroes are not born straight from the womb, but in moments  – sometimes in a single moment – later in life.

*

Saviour. Yes, that had seemed the perfect point to start and Falcon had even turned the word into a question. To the extent that he had no need to say any more. And the Vizir had simply taken him by the sleeve and tugged him along, up onto the dais to stand before the lectern and read the beautifully embellished passage on the open page of the Great Book.

This text, Falcon realised, was meant to serve as his answer. He read it again.

“This isn’t me.”

“You deny that you are he?” The Vizir touched a fingertip to certain choice phrases in the scripture. “‘Hair the colour of a freshly uprooted carrot.’ ‘Freckles upon his cheeks.’” And he flipped the page back to the previous one. “‘A foreign smell.’”

“Well, yeah. Those all apply to me, but – ”

“And what, pray, is your name?”

“Falcon, but – ”

“‘And the smell shall be named after a great hunter’,” intoned the Vizir. “‘A bird of prey, who shall fly into our midst from a distant land.’”

Falcon nodded. Dipped his head in defeat.

Maybe it was him. But they had him all wrong.

 

 

[To Be Concluded…]

Prophesarium – Part Six

hanginggardens

And he shall cross the water to the Prophesarium. And there he shall learn. And through learning ascend to take his place as our Saviour.

And the seas shall be calm and he shall feel seasick. Yea, though his stomach shall be like unto a house plagued with mice: full of scampering and with gnawed foundations.

For he shall fear what he is yet to learn of himself. For even heroes fear the unknown and to the true hero the greatest unknown is his own heroism.

*

The boat dipped and bobbed on gentle undulations of blue. The sail fluttered in the occasional energetic gust, as though the wind was having a day off and doing only just enough to keep the maritime traffic moving in the bay. The surface was a blanket sequined with sunlight.

Picturesque. A picture that told a thousand words or more – and wove them into one big fat lie. Nothing had happened here. No great disaster. No homes and lives ruined. The city carried on as normal out here past the shorefront.

This was the district, Falcon reasoned, on which Xandria’s reputation for beauty and majesty was built. This was the area that inspired artists and storytellers. And this was the part where her wealthiest and most august citizens resided.

The opulence had him leaning over the side.

Although he had to own up to a pre-existing unease, there before his disgust, before he had stepped on board. Before he had chartered the boat.

Hired for nothing, of course. Apart from the guards barring his exit from the city, the natives remained eager as ever to please him. Extending him every courtesy and hospitality even in the midst of their misery. Somehow that made him more ill than all the grandeur of the islands slipping by either side of the sailboat.

Hand on the tiller, the boatman smiled and pointed at the graceful parade of pyramids and palaces, temples and libraries, observatories and museums. He named them for nobody Falcon had ever heard of. Ancient individuals who might’ve been gods or kings, figure divine or merely historical. Grand as they sounded and grand as their namesake structures were, the sights became a slow stream, running into each other just as the channels between islands formed the arteries of one single bay.

“There stands the Royal Palace of the Great Cloepatra, Our Queen, Our Majesty.”

Falcon wondered at the greatness and majesty of a queen who could reside in her ivory tower while her people suffered disaster.

Her tower was not literally ivory, as it would have required more elephants than the continent could muster. But the stone that made up the smooth slopes of her pyramid had a pale tusk-like complexion. The structure was truncated, a plateau on top, with shimmering rivers running down the middle of each face, between enormous tiles inlaid with golden hieroglyphics relating some tale too epic to be read in the single passage of a slow boat. Giant statues  of Gyptian gods stood guard all around the pyramid’s base amid a garden of palms.

The boatman steered a wide course around the island and Falcon wondered if there was some sort of exclusion zone enforced. Then he understood as he observed a trireme the size of a whale, her hull ornamented with carved hieroglyphs and trimmed with gold, pulled out from the docks on the other side of the island. Her three rows of oars dug deep in perfect synchronisation, propelling her rhythmically out into the channel. The current she stirred rocked Falcon’s hired sailboat.

“Our great Queen, she goes to the people! To visit them in their time of need!”

Okay, thought Falcon, so she wasn’t the aloof and uncaring monarch he had imagined her to be. But he doubted she would mingle properly with the rabble or dirty her sandals amongst the mud and ruin.

“What about the Prophesarium? How much longer – ?”

“There!” The boatman pointed and grinned. “There she stands! The Prophesarium Of Xandria!”

Falcon felt inclined to ask if there were any other prophesariums anywhere in the world. But the sight of the building silenced the cynic in him.

Here was a pyramid of tiers. Garden terraces stepped up and up and up to a peak crowned with a gold and blue globe. Marble and variegated mosaic walls decked with rich greenery and blossoming shrubs. Every tier a fountain of plant life and colour. More beautiful than the Palace of Cloepatra and Falcon wondered that her Majesty tolerated such a structure as so close a neighbour.

Still, here he hoped to find answers.

And if there was truth to be discovered somewhere within this great edifice, well, that was more important than any monarch.

 

[To Be Continued…]

Prophesarium – Part Five

hanginggardens

The guards at the gate stood firm. Although they were quite polite about it, they barred Falcon’s path as effectively as any portcullis.

“Sorry, sir, nothing personal. We’re not allowing anyone to leave.”

Falcon gestured at the deserted street behind him. “Nobody else is trying to leave.”

These weren’t the same guards who had admitted him into the city, but they seemed just as strict when it came to procedure. Falcon just wasn’t sure what the procedure for exit entailed and they weren’t telling him. He wondered if that was why there was no queue of locals desperate to leave backed up behind him. Perhaps they knew that it was more about jumping through official hoops than passing through a gate.

“Look, I don’t understand what the deal is here.” In the wake of the disaster visited upon swathes of the city, Falcon imagined everyone would want out. He’d commended himself on getting to the gatehouse early, ahead of the frantic rush. A rush that had yet to materialise. And the longer it delayed, the less frantic it would seem. “You’re saying if people lost everything, their homes, their belongings – ” He broke off as he flashed on an image of Ishmed. “Everything. If they’d lost everything and they came here looking to leave, to travel the desert in search of a new home, somewhere to rebuild their lives far away from this forsaken place, you would keep them here?”

“Technically, yes.”

“Technically?” Falcon blinked at the guard. And might have floored him if he hadn’t been propped up with a spear and flanked by five comrades-in-arms.

He had walked through district after district reduced to mud-logged battlefields. People cried. They wandered aimlessly, blinded by tears. They climbed the muddy hillocks that used to be their homes and set about them with shovels. Digging through the remains like archaeologists of the immediate past. Amid the devastation there had been one or two glimpses of hope. Grubby wailing children lifted from holes, filthy matted pets freed from would-be graves to run whimpering and feeling sorry for themselves. Heartening – and all the more to spur Falcon on towards the city gates.

And here was this man saying ‘Technically’.

“Did you just say ‘technically’?”

It was as well to make sure. Maybe Falcon had misheard. There was probably mud in his ears.

“Yes, sir. Technically.”

A fellow guard bowed his head a degree, almost apologetic. “Technically, it’s been official policy since ancient times, you see.” He nodded, directing Falcon’s attention to the still-empty street. “In truth, in practice, it is a policy that has not been needed for many a century.”

“We mean you no disrespect, sir,” said the first guard. “You are not native to Xandria and you cannot understand. Not yet. Disaster comes to us with cruel regularity. Had it not been for the policy laid down by the ancient city elders, why, there would be no city here. There would be no Xandria.”

“Indeed,” his comrade agreed. “But the people know now. They learned long ago. To stay, to endure, to rebuild. And to believe. Our salvation will find us one day. One day soon.”

He added this last in a hushed reverence. Then winked.

Falcon eyed the guard dubiously. He inspected the group of them. They were not about to budge and he had nothing to offer in the way of bribes. Their armour was spattered here and there with mud and it was evident they had weathered worse than any further protests he could offer.

He wondered how these men could regard him with such reverence while stubbornly keeping him prisoner in this forsaken city.

Then again, how could it be forsaken if nobody was permitted to leave?

*

And so the gates shall be closed even to the Saviour as they shall be for all. For in the denial of one path shall the true path be opened unto him.

And he shall be sore frustrated for his heart shall not be ready to embrace his true role. But as a gate may close in one’s face, so may a sun rise and reveal to one a light that cannot be denied.

It is the light of Truth.

It is the light of Enlightenment.

*

“Now, wait a minute,” said Falcon.

Which was an odd thing to say to a bunch of guards who were clearly not going anywhere. But still –

“Salvation. Saviour. I’ve been getting a lot of that since I got here. A bit too much, if you ask me.” Heaven knew what a tolerable amount might be, but it was all definitely too much at this point. “What the hell is going on?”

The soldiers looked at each other and exchanged gasps. “‘And he shall not know himself to be our Saviour’,” said one of them. And they all nodded sagely and not a little pleased with themselves.

Falcon frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean? Are you quoting scripture?”

“Sir, we are but humble soldiers,” explained the first guard, explaining nothing. “It is not for us to tell you of your great destiny. But we know who you are. All of Xandria knows.”

“They do?” Falcon doubted it. If they knew him, the late landlord of the Eye Of The Camel would not have been nearly so hospitable. “How’s that even possible? I’m a stranger here.”

“You have many questions, sir. It is natural.” The guard leaned forward on his spear. “Go. Seek your answers. They await you in the Prophesarium.”

The what now?

Falcon sighed. Hell, he was stuck here and it wasn’t as though he had anything better to ask.

So he asked the guards for directions.

 

 

[To Be Continued…]

Prophesarium – Part Four

hanginggardens

And the Great Dragons of Earth and Water shall clash and the Heavens shall be their battlefield. The mighty Sandwyrm and the equally mighty Seawyrm shall wage their war and the sky shall turn to mud and raineth down on our fair city. Ever was it thus and ever shall it be, until the Saviour doth come to, well, save us.

*

Falcon cowered under a hastily assembled fort he’d constructed from bar furniture. He’d hurried to brace chair and table legs and any other bits and pieces he could find against the bar. Then arranged whole furniture items on and around that basic frame. It was crude, ramshackle and haphazard, but it was the best he could manage.

It was the only thing braced in the muck-spattered ruins of the tavern. He peered out from his hovel and watched and waited for the rest of the place to tumble down around him.

He was miserably aware of the fact that he was cowering. Unlike most of the times when he ran – he could run free and never once think of the word ‘run’. But here, all the while he cowered and listened to the slop, slap and thud of the muddy deluge, his head seemed to fill with the single word. Cowered. Or coward.

Their phonetic similarities were a curse. One or the other, it made no difference. At times they teamed up and conspired to accuse him together.

At least his self-recrimination kept his mind off the open grave in the kitchen. Mostly.

Poor Ishmed. And the landlord. Had the man been the boy’s father or merely his employer? Falcon would never know. And how many others had perished in there? Falcon was not about to sift through the debris and count bodies.

For the seventh time, he drove out thoughts of the dead and focused on the living. Him. Alone and cowering.

The drumming mud pattered and petered out. Wet percussion slowed to fewer and fewer spluts and splats. Falcon imagined the sounds as the gentle slaps of a hand waking him from his nightmare.

He crawled out of his fort and looked about. The building appeared to have weathered the rest of the dread storm. Although the ceiling above creaked and groaned as though under a great weight.

Falcon scrambled to his feet and raced to the shattered window. He vaulted through and flopped into the mud-mired street.

Rolling over, he looked back at the battered tavern, expecting it to crash in on itself. It defied him and remained standing. Although it was heavily bruised and caked in mud.

Falcon stood, conscious that his own condition reflected that of the building. He was in good company, as far as that went: the entire street had suffered a similar beating.

Slow and nervous, people emerged from half-demolished structures like desert rats from burrows. Or barrows, perhaps, given how many might be buried in the mounds that used to serve as shops and houses.

The skies were clearing, clouds parting like glacial curtains. But as Falcon looked up, hoping to bathe his eyes in a little light, he saw that the clouds were not clouds.

Two monsters, the size of large islands, drew apart.

Dragons.

Claws raised. Cavernous mouths bared giant fangs, stalactite canines and stalagmite incisors. The beasts backed from each other like combatant cats, both done fighting for now but neither willing to show weakness. Great wings fanned turbulent winds, their writhing serpent forms coiled and curled. One boasted a segmented body of swirling sands, raging granular motion in place of scales, as it retreated towards the desert beyond the city walls. The other was a fluid chain of churning whirlpools, bright shimmering water and thrashing fringes of white, withdrawing over the rooftops in the direction of the bay.

So staggering a sight, it was a miracle Falcon didn’t fall down on the spot.

*

And lo! The Saviour shall be sore afraid. And the people shall know him by his fear. For he shall be a solitary figure wandering the wasteland aftermath of the battle. He shall roam the chaos and destruction with wonderment and terror and bewilderment fixed upon his pale befreckled face. For the sight of the Seawyrm and the Sandwyrm shall be new unto him.

While all around, the people shall huddle and seek solace in one another as they rebuild and mourn the dead. For to them the devastation shall be all too familiar.

And yet in the Saviour, the solitary wanderer, they shall see hope.

For here before them, meandering as one lost through the field of ruin, shall cometh the hero who shall set the people free.

And he shall be named for a bird of prey. For he shall prey upon the Wyrms.

And he shall slay the two Dragons.

*

Numbed, Falcon stumbled from one street to the next. Feeling like he was trapped in a maze and a nightmare at the same time.

And feeling , most of all, that he had to get out of this hell-hole.

The sooner the very much better.

 

 

[To Be Continued…]

Prophesarium – Part Three

hanginggardens

Heavens roared. The windows rattled and walls trembled. Falcon was sure he’d slept a good eight hours, but morning was nowhere to be seen.

Some unholy and furious darkness had swallowed the dawn. And now it rampaged through the streets, engulfing everything, devouring the city. Not, he hoped, literally.

Falcon approached the window, peering intently in hopes of making out something, anything. But there was only a swirling morass, reminding him of the sandstorms he’d weathered on his long trek here. All that sand he’d washed out of his pores in last night’s bath. And now the memory of all those grains returned, vividly enough to make him itch. But the churning maelstrom outside was denser, darker and uglier.

Falcon pressed his face to the pane and looked up at dirty skies. The rattling glass pummelled his cheek while shadows battled high overhead.

And his mind redrew them as identifiable shapes and forms: fierce raking claws, writhing serpent tails, ferocious dragons’ maws, spinning and snapping at each other in some celestial duel.

A filthy blot slapped the glass. Falcon jumped back from the window.

The heavens had started slinging mud.

More blots splatted the window and the walls shook under a thudding barrage. Something punched through the ceiling and splashed messily over the floorboards. Other mudballs followed, raining in through the hole and exploding over the room.

Falcon ducked aside. Danced this way and that until he’d manoeuvred himself to the bedside. He thought about diving under the bed for shelter, but reckoned he’d be safer downstairs.

Grabbing articles of clothing, he threw and pulled them on and wrestled into them. He yanked on his boots and stamped about some to make them snug, between hopping and skipping to avoid the onslaught of mud missiles puncturing the ceiling and slapdashing the floorboards. Finally, he buckled his sword belt and raced out.

The staircase and landing were exposed under a perforated ceiling. Mud hammered and pelted the stairs. Falcon did his best to trot down them, dodging left and right in a slalom. Until he gave that up, hopped on the banister and rode the rail for the last few stairs.

Panicked shouts mixed with the din down on the ground floor. Falcon, arm up in a token effort to shield himself, battled his way across the bar area, homing in on the voices. The room’s ceiling was intact and the bar itself relatively clear. The front window had smashed and thick mud had pancaked over a sizeable section of floor, congealing around the broken remains of table and three chairs.

Terrible winds blew more mudballs in, from pellets to bombs, piling on the original puddle with plops and violent splashes.

Falcon ignored the wind at his back and the few stray bullets of filth that splattered his cloak. He tried not to think about last night’s wasted bath.

He fought his way over towards the kitchens.

Mud thud mud thud mud thud.

Dirt drummed the building into submission.

An almighty crash buried the shouting voices. Blasted through the kitchen door and knocked Falcon on his behind. The ceiling shook and creaked and quaked and groaned under the punishing blows.

Mud thud! Mud thud! Mud thud!

Hauling himself onto his knees, Falcon crawled the short distance to the kitchen door. He pushed it with an outstretched hand. It budged an inch at best before thumping against something. Falcon pressed a shoulder to it, leaned his full weight into it. The blockage shifted and a narrow gap opened between door and frame.

A gap into Hell.

The entire place looked to have caved in, with a couple of upstairs rooms having dropped in on top of the stove and counter tops. Open to the skies, the heaped hillock of debris was being beaten and smothered by raining mud. As though some angry god slapped fistfuls of dirty brown clay onto the first attempt at a mountain.

Amid the wreck and ruin of furniture and pots and pans and slurry, bodies lay. Still and silent as the dead while the heavens chucked dirt into their open grave.

An arm jutted from the debris nearby. The sleeve was mottled with muddy splotches. The limb was lifeless as a protruding table leg.

Until the fingers twitched.

Emulating a claw, scratching empty air close to Falcon’s face.

Falcon scrabbled backwards.

Above the grasping hand, eyes opened in the depths of the wreckage. Wide with terror, they searched and begged.

Falcon crawled slowly forward. Lips parted in the bloodied and muddied visage. Teeth revealed themselves in the grubby beard. The man’s mouth moved.

Falcon grabbed the hand, if only to cease its unnerving clutching. He inched further forward, straining to hear words under the ongoing bombardment.

He tilted an ear towards the man. He’d finally recognised the face as that of the landlord and he was frankly a bit more comfortable not looking into those eyes.

A cracked whisper escaped the mouth and found its way into Falcon’s waiting ear.

“Saviour,” it said. “Save us. You must – save us – all. Ishmed. Please. Find – Ishmed.”

Saviour? What? Falcon was no saviour.

He let go the hand. The fingers clutched at nothing. Then fell still. Empty.

Falcon backed away. His gaze explored the burial mound. And settled like a carrion crow on a battlefield. Coming to rest on another protruding arm. This one dirty and bare and cruelly broken. Unmoving, it ended in a small hand.

Falcon nodded shakily.

He had found Ishmed.

 

 

 

[To Be Continued…]

Prophesarium – Part Two

hanginggardens

The man overcame his strange seizure, at least long enough to furnish Falcon with directions to a local hostelry. He delivered his recommendations in hushed tones and kept slipping into his native tongue for sporadic mutterings, but eventually Falcon felt adequately informed, thanked the man and navigated his way through the busy streets to the suggested establishment.

The sign hanging above the door depicted a camel, single-humped in silhouette, with its head pierced by a sharp instrument. Falcon had gleaned from the man’s spilled explanations that the place was called The Eye Of The Camel.

The façade was on the run-down and shabby side, with wonky window frames and a doorway that leaned as though mimicking many a drunk who had passed through it. Supporting timbers inside also leaned at differing angles. There were a few customers propped against them, risking structural collapse, while others huddled over gloomy tables, settling over the furniture like dust. Never mind, thought Falcon. He wasn’t picky.

A number of drinkers sat upright as they noticed Falcon approaching the bar. The landlord, a swarthy local with a tapered beard and eyes that gleamed like glass, bowed so low over the bar he nearly dipped his chin in a puddle of ale.

“I was told you have rooms. Preferably one with a bath.”

The fellow sniffed, but whatever he thought of Falcon’s aroma he hid with a grin big as a city wall. “Rooms? Sir, for you we have the finest chamber this humblest of establishments has to offer. And a bath, of course. Hot or cold water brought to you by our swiftest runner.” He clicked his fingers and a boy jumped up from a stool at the end of the bar. “Ishmed! Light the cauldron, fetch water. As much as the gentleman desires.”

“Thank you.” Falcon nodded to the boy, but he was already scooting off to the kitchens. “Thank you,” he addressed the landlord.

“Oh no no no no. Thank yous – or thank mes – are not necessary. Thank you. That you would choose my roof to shelter you, above all others – it is my honour and my pleasure, wonderful sir.” The landlord placed a hand over his heart. Then, face lighting up like he had a head full of candles, he reached under the bar and produced an enormous ledger. Blowing dust from its sleeve, he opened it like the holiest of books and smoothed down its vellum pages. He turned it and pushed it reverently towards Falcon. “Please, would you do me the great honour of signing our guestbook?”

“Uh, certainly.” Falcon guessed there was more ritual in registering at a hotel than was customary back in his hometown. He was happy to observe local ways as long as it got him his bath and bed.

Accepting the proffered quill, he scratched out his name. “Might I inquire as to your rates?” He was conscious of his limited purse. Hopefully there would be employment to be found somewhere in the city, but in the meantime he would have to ration his expenditures.

“Rates? Why no. No no, wonderful sir.” The landlord clasped his hands and watched Falcon writing his name as though witnessing some great engraving taking place. “It is on the house!” Falcon hoped that didn’t mean he’d be sleeping on the roof. “Free. Gratis. My gift to you.”

“Right.” Falcon nodded slowly. “Um, thank you. Again. That’s – incredibly generous.”

It was tough to be courteous and gracious with suspicions so aroused. There would be a catch at some point. Had to be. For now, Falcon chose not to question it. No sense looking gift-camels in the mouth.

He slid the ledger back to the landlord and laid the quill on the bar.

The landlord twirled the book around and snatched it up to read the single latest addition to his list of guests. Figurative candles burned behind his eyes once more. Falcon had never seen anyone read so few words so avidly. Over and over, it seemed, several times before the man set the book down.

“Falcon,” he uttered. “A fine, fine name indeed.”

“Oh. Well. Thanks.”

Falcon was rather pleased with it himself.

The landlord bustled out from behind the bar and beckoned for Falcon to follow. “Please, please, let me show you to your room.”

Falcon went along, trying to disregard his suspicions. Complimentary accommodation and compliments were wrong somehow. He’d travelled all this distance to escape a past that he ought to be paying for. If life was ever disposed to give anything freely, then it shouldn’t be dishing it out to him.

He wondered what form the bill would take when it came his way.

*

And he shall be bathed and cleansed and yet his bodily odour shall endure in spite of all the soap and three full hours in the tub. But he shall descend, refreshed, to dine on a simple supper and enjoy a single beer before bedtime.

And as he shall drink and eat, so shall he draw much attention from among the clientele. Yet he shall brook no approaches nor seek any company. For he shall be a quiet man, who feels undeserving of attention. A man who seeks to hide in his own head. For he shall be full of sin and know nothing of the greatness to come.

And he shall utter only two words before he ascends to his room. And they shall be “Good” and “night”, spoke in that order. And he shall close his door and not be seen by a soul until morning.

And on that morning our world shall turn to hell.

*

Falcon jolted awake and leaped out of bed.

“What the hell was that?”

 

 

 

 

[To Be Continued…]