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…]