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…]

 

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Prophesarium – Part One

hanginggardens

And on that day a smell will blow in on the sands to wander the streets of our great city. And it shall be a foreign smell, an odorous thing to offend the nostrils of camels and the people will throw wide their windows to investigate the strange stench, then seal them tight-shut and hasten from room to room, flapping blankets, towels and all manner of cloths in their efforts to beat out the smell. And thus they will be united in common ignorance, for none will yet know the foreign odour to be the herald of our Saviour. And the smell shall be named after a great hunter. A bird of prey, who shall fly into our midst from a distant land.

*

Falcon Moskirque blew some of the sand out of his nose, but for all the wealth of silt in his handkerchief he could still feel some grains clinging to his nasal cavities. After the desert trek, he’d been looking forward to a hearty ale to wash the dryness from his throat, but now it looked like he was going to have to snort the stuff as soon as he found a decent tavern.

Blasted Xandria, he thought.

The city was the jewel of the Gyptian coast, but it didn’t half collect a lot of dust. Checks at the gates had been rigorous, with the guards loaded with questions like quarrels of crossbow bolts to be fired at him in rapid succession. But they let every particle of dirt freely enter without so much as a by-your-leave. Not that Falcon could think of an effective way to fence the desert out. The scrap of sack-cloth he’d fastened to the front of his helmet filtered out some, but still enough got through to provoke coughing and sneezing fits.

No wonder the guards had looked at him funny. Locals didn’t bat an eyelid at a bit of invasive sand. Falcon had probably confirmed himself as a feeble foreigner and they’d likely wondered what he was doing here. And with his grubby ginger hair and freckles he must’ve looked partly made of sand, so why was he coughing it up?

Well, he answered their routine interrogations but kept two answers to himself: no, I am made of stuff much less stern than sand; and I am here to seek a future, far far removed from a regrettable past.

The guards waved him on, into their fair city, muttering in Gyptian and flapping hands under their noses. Yes, yes, Falcon thought. A bath would be needed as much as the beer.

Endless days of trekking across the world’s open oven had unleashed a whole host of rare aromas. Pigs, in his experience, sweated apple sauce by comparison. A bath would wash away the journey, but he was acutely aware that some of the stench would cling. Ingrained, like his damned freckles.

Footsore and dog-tired, he dragged his baked carcass through the busy streets, taking in what he could of the sights through dusty narrowed eyes.

People backed away from him, the general sea of bustle parting to let him pass. He was used to that wherever he went. So in that sense the city wasn’t so foreign to him as it might’ve been.

Nearly all who noticed him – and that amounted to most – awarded him funny looks just as the gate guards had done.

What was their problem? He understood Xandria to attract visitors from all over. Some pasty-faced warrior, half-clad in leather, half-clad in dirt, could not be so strange a vision to the native population.

Falcon smiled at a number of them, testing the friendliness of the waters. But that just seemed to make matters worse. They bowed and backed away some more, as though humbled by the passage of a religious leader. Or hero.

Falcon was neither of those, to be sure.

*

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.

*

Half an hour’s meandering delivered him Falcon to Xandria’s harbour front.

Although Xandria’s harbour was a wonder, one that continued another entire third or perhaps even half of the city. Falcon, strolling the dockside, had merely reached the edge of the mainland.

Before him, a bay opened impossibly wide arms, protecting a gathered host of islands and islets, each crowned with pyramids and minarets. Many of the islands were wreathed with palms, fig and olive trees, and other buildings – houses like scattered earthenware bricks with windows clustered at the base of many pyramids, servants at the feet of their geometric masters. While the grandest structures were left to rule their respective islands alone. Ships, steam and sail, ploughed the sparkling blue channels, threading convoluted courses between the islands.

Falcon turned from the panorama, his thoughts returning to bed and board. And bath.

He scanned the jumbled row of blocky buildings along the harbour front. Size alone suggested most were warehouses, but one or two boasted signage that might’ve meant inns.

He tugged at the sleeve of a passer-by. “Excuse me. Can you recommend a decent – ?”

The man stared and backed away a pace. And bowed and muttered a prayer through his beard.

*

And the people shall be humbled by his presence.

For his coming shall be a sign that we are saved. But not before, on the morn after his arrival, our city shall be visited by great devastation.

 

 

[To Be Continued…]

Haven – Conclusion

paradise

Over several days, Verity grew suspicious of Norris as he seemed to emulate her in more than just attire. He took to inventory like a fish to water, absolutely thrilled to partake in the stock-take of coconuts on the trees and livestock in the rock pools. Why, he even laid out sticks on a section of beach, arranging them in columns to record daily incomings and outgoings. Food and other materials consumed, food and other materials produced.

Eventually, Verity had to conclude that he was a man after her own heart and not trying to ingratiate himself with her at all. And he did not appear to be after her, despite her strolling around in a bikini. He was simply more interested in other figures. A quality that rendered him more attractive. Until he began to complain of the heat and pared his robes down to a pair of swimming trunks. He revealed a sunken chest that even the most fearless pirates would be unlikely to seek out.

Oh well, he seemed pleasant enough. Quite shy and quiet-spoken. Only really becoming animated when discussing numbers and assessing his array of stick-fenced columns on the beach.

And they revealed a strange truth.

While Verity adjusted to the presence of Norris, the island made its own adjustments.

More fish swam in the lagoon. More shellfish congregated in the rock pools. More fruits and coconuts sprouted on the trees. Paradise had grown more bountiful to accommodate the population boom.

Well, she supposed, that was one reason to continue to call it Paradise.

One thing Norris proved was as incapable as her of construction work. Together, they did manage to whittle and craft some tools and erect a ramshackle shack. A shack which, overnight, passed from ramshackle to tumbledown.

Useless.

But Verity could hardly be mad at Norris for a gap in his skill set that she shared. They would just have to muddle on together as best they could.

They marked the passing days with their regular meetings at the beach columns, reviewing and checking the quantities and agreeing the forecast for their tomorrows, most of which would be the same as their todays.

But there was a sort of mathematical harmony to that, something they could both appreciate over a half-coconut cup of coconut milk. They made it a bit of a ritual.

Norris proposed a coconut clock. Some device that might deliver one bobbing coconut into a rock pool on every seventh incoming wave. But they agreed it probably required a greater grasp of mechanics than either of them possessed.

Besides, Paradise was running smoothly enough with their admittedly imprecise means of time-keeping.

Until Day Twelve.

Day Twelve, when another newcomer splashed down in the lagoon.

She waded ashore and introduced herself as Jennifer. She was blind as a bat and explained how her spectacles had slipped from her nose as she struck the water. Without them she looked stunning and Verity just knew that when she fashioned her black robes with silver trim into a bikini she would have a fantastic figure.

Paradise was getting crowded.

***

Lionel Follymeister knocked on the door.

The cottage looked innocuous enough. Quaint, even, with a fuller head of thatch than him. But there were reasons to be on his guard. And not only the house’s remote location in these sombre woods.

A short doughball of a man appeared at the door, ready with a congenial smile. Which he shucked like a snake shed its skin. “Oh. It’s you. I suppose you had best come in.” He wore robes of crimson and a steepled hat tall enough to warrant its own golden spire. “Wipe your feet.”

Lionel did as bidden and followed his grudging host inside. The quaint exterior gave way to dinginess and clutter. Shelves full of books, books serving as shelves. And all manner of arcane instruments and ingredients inhabited every surface. A cat curled in the dust on the mantelpiece and it raised its head to peer at the visitor. And revealed itself to be a cat composed of dust. A fact which made its gaze seem sleepier than that of most felines.

Lionel tried to ignore its disapproving scrutiny.

“Now, allow me to introduce myself – ”

“I know who you are.” The warlock bustled around an especially unruly bureau, unearthing a hefty ledger from an ancient civilisation of scrolls and other documents. “Although I’m wondering what took you so long. I received your stupid notice of inspection three months ago.”

Lionel straightened his glasses and rearranged his own robes. “Now, really, Mister Salzpfeffer, you mean to tell me you have seen no other assessors?”

“Not a blasted one.” Salzpfeffer waddled over to the nearest table as though heavy with a large meal in addition to the burden of the ledger. He swept some of the junk aside and dropped the book on the table. It puffed up cirrus of dust. “The paths through these woods are treacherous. It’s one of the reasons I live here. Tends to deter unwanted callers.”

“Right. Well, I understand your work is important and I will try to keep the duration of my stay to a minimum.” Lionel cleared his throat and advanced to the table. “But you must understand, this is a matter of law. Hexes and Magicks Revenue Collections is a serious business.”

“Bah.” Salzpfeffer stomped off to the fireplace to pet his dustkitty. “It’s a damned stupid law. Tax on magic. It’s an offence to practitioners, is what it is.”

“The law is the law. And after all, we require only a very small percentage of the magic energies expended throughout the year to be directed to the government coffers.” Lionel tapped the ledger. “Now, can I take it that these are your up to date accounts? Every spell woven, every charm and/or hex cast?”

Salzpfeffer grumbled. His dustmog growled. “I think you’ll find everything in there to your satisfaction.”

Lionel flipped open the book.

The pages were blank. The columns empty.

But as he turned leaf after leaf, searching, the paper developed an enticing blue hue. And the dust – the dust danced across the pages, circling to form an island of sand…

***

Lionel – yes, he was fairly sure his name was Lionel – flapped the voluminous sleeves of his black robes with silver trim. But they failed to keep him airborne.

He fell and fell like year-end profits in an off-season tourist spot. And hit the blue with an almighty splash.

He kicked and swam to the surface. Only to discover he could stand. The water was not nearly as deep as when he’d plunged into it.

Most strange. Where was he? He had no idea. Where had he come from? Also vague.

He waded towards the beach where a group of about a dozen people had gathered. All in black bathing costumes with silver trim.

An attractive brown-haired woman stepped forward to greet him.

“Hello. I’m Verity,” she said. “Welcome to Paradise.”

 

 

SAF 2016

Haven – Part One

paradise

Paradise was a lonely place.

Beautiful. But lonely.

Verity took strolls along the beach every day. An hour’s leisurely walk would take her full circle around the shores of the island and, if she elected to slip off her shoes, finagle soft smooth-grained sand between her toes. Which she would then wash away with a paddle in the glittering shallows of the lagoon. Every day.

At least, as far as she could estimate. There was no night and the sun never moved in the sky.

But she had a very reliable body clock and by adhering to a routine she had been able to create what could be counted as a day.

Approximately eight hours’ sleep. Then Hour One: breakfast on fruit and coconut milk. Followed by her stroll. Then two hours – or what she gauged to be two hours – of scribing in the sand, mostly drawings of the kind of shelter she would like to build for herself out of trees and foliage if she ever acquired the tools to cut them down. Then a lunchtime attempt to spear fish with a stick of bamboo she had broken off for herself that first day she had landed here.

Fishing was not always successful, not least because she had not yet sharpened her bamboo, and so she often went without lunch. But it didn’t matter as long as she devoted the same amount of time to the activity.

Whether fed or not, she would then spend three hours running inventory on the trees and bushes that covered the island interior. Then she would gather shellfish and a salty but edible weed from the rock pools and sit down to dinner. After which she would write a short story in the sand, a tale for her to read back to herself at bedtime.

Between all this and a handful of other assorted activities she had no trouble filling her time. But such days as she created still felt very empty.

Until the day the man fell from the sky.

He splashed down in the water not far from shore and she watched him flap and flounder for a bit before he realised the lagoon was only waist-deep and he could safely wade to the beach. Which he did and then stood dripping into the sand, while his black robes with silver trim hung about him, sodden and lightly adorned with seaweed.

Verity hadn’t had lunch that day and the seaweed was the edible kind. So she was sorely tempted to pick pieces off the man’s robe and snack while he dried off. But really, he might consider such an act terribly forward and she did not wish to give him the wrong impression.

He was not ugly. He possessed a rather flat, inoffensive face with a moustache that had been careful to grow only so far in order not to provoke any strong reactions either way. He seemed polite enough as he reached up to doff his hat – before discovering that he had lost his headwear in the splash down.

All the same, Verity did not wish to broker any relations beyond civility. She thought it very unfair if the gods intended this gentleman as her mate since she would much rather have been presented with a choice. Not merely handed one prospective husband from the sky and expected to make do.

“Uh, hello,” said the man. He flapped the sleeves of his robes to shake out a little excess water, then proffered a handshake.

Verity smiled and advanced close enough to shake his fingertips. “Hello,” she said. And wondered if she should add more. “I’m Verity,” she said finally – and trusted that did not sound too forward.

Honestly, she had quite forgotten all the social graces. She must have been here alone for longer than she thought.

“Ah. Verity. I’m – allow me to introduce myself – I am – that is to say – I think I am – yes, I’m reasonably sure my name is Norris.”

“Norris,” repeated Verity. “That’s so funny.”

“It is?”

“Oh, not your name. No, it’s perfectly – ” Perfectly what? Lovely? Hardly. “Fine. Perfectly fine name,” she decided. And hoped he believed her. “No, it’s only that for days and days after I arrived here, I couldn’t remember my name. Odd, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Yes, I should say so. Slight memory loss – from hitting the water, I suppose.”

“Hmm.”

Verity’s mind wandered on from names to the black robes with silver trim in which her castaway was attired. She was struck both by their familiarity and a sudden consciousness that she was comparatively underdressed. After days of sweltering on this well-baked island in the sun she had torn up her robes and re-fashioned them into a bikini. She glanced down at herself and it reminded her that it too was black with silver trim.

Interesting.

But if Norris thought that turning up in a matching outfit would guarantee him a mate, then he was sorely mistaken.

Still, there was no denying the simple fact that he was here. On her island. Which meant adjustments would have to be made. Adjustments to her daily timetable. Adjustments to everything.

“Well,” she said, “welcome to – ” She realised she hadn’t yet named it officially. “Paradise.” Why not? “Paradise. First of all, you’ll be wanting to dry off. And then we had better talk inventory.”

“Inventory?” said Norris.

“Yes. This is an island economy with limited produce and, between you and me, no industry. And now a population that has doubled. Also, between you and me.”

Norris appeared to enjoy the joke. “Why, I would love nothing more than to take inventory with you.”

“Whoa! Steady on there!” Verity showed him her palm.

Even in Paradise, men wanted to move too fast. She was here first and this was her island. She wasn’t about to stand for any funny business.

She turned and led the way up the beach. If nothing else, Norris might have some DIY skills and assist her in constructing a sturdy shelter.

He trudged after her, squelching and dripping, but otherwise good enough to keep quiet for now. Which was something. Because in the short space of their conversation Verity had lost all track of time.

Now she was going to have to start all over again from Hour One. Which would mean breakfasting again. This time with company.

What kind of screwy Paradise was this?

 

 

 

[To Be Concluded…]