KEEPER OF DAYS I: The Book of Day and Night – Chapter Five

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FIVE

BLOOD AND METAL

 

I walked through the bustle of the following morning as if asleep.  I spent the early morning packing clothing, provisions, and of course, books.  It was expected that I would still observe my daily prayers and read from the texts heavily, and therefore I packed my personal copies of each text of the Seven Lords, as passed down by the ancient men: The Books of Day, Night, Storm, Shadow, Wind, Flame, and The Void.  My copies were brand new, the colored ink of the illustrations fairly leaping from the page, yet I found I missed the older copies of my Apprenticeship, annotated by learned Brothers and Sisters from long before my time.  I had crafted these painstakingly for the last four years of my time as a Journeyman, and they were perfect copies in every detail (with exception of the commentary and annotation) of the originals passed down the Ages.  Even the illustrations were exact in every aspect, although I have never found mine to be as good as those before.  They lack the passion for the material that those earlier Brothers and Sisters conveyed, at least in my eyes.  Perhaps I judge myself too harshly.  In any event, they were mine, and represented one task necessary in my Mastery of the mysteries of our order, crafted to be mine until the end of my days, and I took great pride in that accomplishment.

Master Timeon conducted Morning Prayer, and said an eloquent prayer to the Lord of Storm for guidance.  There were no “signs and portents” this day, for which I was quite glad.  A bracing wind swept through the chapel, and I folded my hands into the sleeves of my robe, glad for the warmth, yet I felt trepidation, for I was not to wear the robes of my order or its sigils when I traveled.  Unless traveling in groups, such as trade missions, Monks are well advised not to reveal themselves for fear of being accosted by brigands, who think us keepers of secret wealth (as we are, though not a wealth they would desire should they see it).

Following Morning Prayer, I again attended to the count.  Again my apprentices took their positions around the center post and grasped the first wheel, to advance the count of days only.  They marched forward, and the grinding of the gears sounded as the wheel was turned.  The inner track on the floor moved, stone grinding on stone, and the count of days advanced.  We were now within two weeks of the new Age.

I felt it a good time to see to the maintenance of the machinery, since I would be gone for an extended time.  I took the time to go over the process with the Apprentices, making sure they knew how to remove all the working parts, clean, and reattach them.  I quizzed them and tested them and listened to them recite all that they knew.  I would have gone still farther, making them recite passages of text, pushing them perhaps farther than I had before, but Brother Fergus appeared in the doorway, waiting for me.

“Yes, Brother,” I said.

“Master,” he said with a small bow.  “Master Timeon awaits your presence in his Office.”

“Thank you, Brother, please inform him I am on my way.”

After Fergus had gone, I gathered the Apprentices and we sat on the floor, not in the main Star Chamber, which was a Holy place, but in the entry hall just outside.

“As you know,” I said, “this will be our last day together for a time.  I want you to know I’m very proud of you.  You’ve shown excellent attentiveness to your studies and to the service of the Lords.  I want you to continue doing so in my absence.  Matron Sebelle will see to the count each morning, and I expect you will be just as good for her as you have been for me.  Yes?”

They nodded, except Sister Esme, who appeared to be dozing off.

“Esme,” I said.

Her eyelids flicked open. “What? I mean yes, Master.”

“I trust you will be able to stay awake when it is my senior, Matron Sebelle, giving you instruction, and not me?”

“Yes, Master.  Sorry.”

“See that you do.”  I rose, said my goodbyes, and proceeded to the Office of the Abbott.

“Ah, Daniel.  Come!”  Timeon seemed almost giddy as I was ushered into his office by Brother Fergus.  I stepped up the slope and stood before his desk.   He did not bid me sit as he had before, but rather walked around to clasp my shoulders and place a kiss on each cheek.  “Welcome, welcome, Master Daniel.  Welcome.”

“Thank you.  Will Matron Sebelle be joining us?”

“She will,” came her voice from the far corner of the office.  She stood gazing out one of the windows near the corner to my left.  I had not seen her as I entered, and felt fairly certain she had not been there.  More mysterious comings and goings.  I smiled.

Sebelle walked over and casually leaned against the front of the desk, as she had before.  “You don’t seem surprised,” she said.

“You two appear to have mastery of more than the spiritual knowledge of our monastery,” I said, “but of the cuts in its very stone, as well.”

She laughed.

“Indeed,” Timeon nodded, “Indeed we do.  What have you learned, Daniel?”

“I have learned that your ‘signs and portents’ were not sent by the gods at all, but made by men, and women.”

Timeon nodded.  “Continue,” he said, sitting in one of the chairs before me.

I am being tested, I thought.  Very well, this is one test I shall pass.

“As I prepared to deliver Morning Prayer, one person acted to ensure the disruption of the crows.  That person was none other than you, Matron.”

“Really?” She raised an eyebrow.  “And how did I do that, pray tell?”

“Through the use of a substance unknown to me, but one the crows found irresistible.  You worked your way around the chapel, touching the inner wall, the back of the bench upon which Sister Patrice sat, and even the wall just above you.  Finally, you took your seat along the back wall, after quickly washing your hands in the water basin there.  The crows scraped and clawed at the stone walls, but bits of your potion remained in one place.”  Here I produced a small bottle, into which I had scraped a few flecks of wood.  “It stained the wood of the lectern, where the last crow landed, in the place you yourself touched when you greeted me.”

She smiled, and placed a bottle of her own next to mine.  Hers was filled with a pinkish liquid.  “Well done.”

“And the bell?” Master Timeon asked.

“Sebelle’s accomplice, a man you know well,” I said with a grin.  “When the crows began to land and make a stir, you slipped out of the main chapel and into the courtyard.  From there you entered the catacombs and took the secret passage up to the belfry.  After you rang the bell seven times, you slipped back inside, closing the door behind you.  This time you took the other exit from the catacombs, into the cloister.  It was easy enough for you then to follow us up the steps and stage your fit of exhaustion there.”

“Not so staged as you would have it,” Timeon said, smiling.  “All that running up and down is quite tiring, at my age.”

“There is one thing I still don’t know: why? Was all of it merely a test for my benefit?”

Timeon frowned.  “No, Daniel. No.  I told you when last we spoke: signs and portents must not be ignored.  The order needs to embrace its new leader, we gave them reason to do that.”

“False reason,” I said.

“Is it?” asked Sebelle.  “Think on it, Daniel.  Who else would have seen through the deception as you did?  Who else knew to carefully consider all possibilities before leaping to the conclusion?  A new Age is about to arrive, an Age for which none of them are ready.  You are the one to guide them there.”

“You can walk out of this office and undo our little charade if you wish.  You may tell them everything that we did, if you choose,” Timeon said.  “But that will not make you any less the right one to see their way through a difficult time.  It will only make it more likely that they choose the wrong one.”

I thought in silence for a time.  “I will think on it during my time in solitude on the road.  But I will not lie to my brothers or sisters, should any of them ask before then.”

“Very well,” he said.  “Now, I have other things to impart, Daniel.  Important things.” He walked behind the desk and lifted two items, placing them on the desk.  One was clearly a walking staff, the other a long locked case.  Timeon walked around the desk again and lifted the staff, the head of which topped his own.  I am nearly six and a half feet in height, and the staff, when touching the floor, reached the height of my nose.  It was carved of a strange, dark wood, from a tree whose aspect I did not know.  The shaft was carved so it appeared a ridge spiraled the length of the staff, ending in the curved knob of a head.  There the spiral ridge made the circle of the new world, with the eye carved at its center.  Around it were carved the seven suns, each in a different phase.  This had been the staff of a Master, that much was clear.

As if he had read my thoughts, Timeon said, “This staff belonged to Master Renshaw.”

“I don’t know of a Master by that name.”

“Indeed.  He died long before your time.  He was a Master when I was young, and a man of great learning.  He used to conduct our trade missions, and walked far and wide with the aid of this staff.”

“This is a great honor,” I said, humbled.

“Greater than you know,” said Timeon with a wink.  “The staff is carved from ebonwood, a tree no longer known in this world.  They were said to grow near Firsthome, where the ancient men first lived under the direct tutelage of the gods.  The Eye of Stone rises above the valley of Firsthome.  The staff calls out to the ghosts of its brothers.  It will lead you there true.”

I felt no call in the wood of the staff, of course, but I could sense that it would make a powerful fighting weapon as well as a walking staff.  I lifted and twirled it, resting it atop my hand.  It balanced flawlessly there.

“Thank you, Master,” I said, not bothering to point out that I found his story of ebonwood trees questionable.  I had read most, if not all, of the texts that survived concerning the ancient men of Firsthome, and had never read of such.

“Now,” he said, turning to the case, “put aside your skepticism, Daniel.  This is not the time for it.”  He unlocked the case, a case of the same dark wood from whence came the staff I now held, and opened it.

For a moment, my eyes balked.  I was not sure what it was I beheld, or if I truly beheld anything at all.  Finally, something in my mind reconciled, and my eyes knew for the first time, the ancient weapon of my order that was to change my life in more ways than I can count.

“Take it, Daniel,” said Master Timeon.  “Take it, and behold: Nak-Tun!”

I grasped the pommel, and lifted the blade into the air.  Timeon had spoken its name in the tongue of the ancients, but I named it now in our own: “The Bloodsword…”

This weapon I had indeed discovered in our ancient texts, though I had no idea it had really existed, nor than we in our order gave it shelter.  This was a blade forged in a time when the ancient men served the seven Lords directly, had in fact been brought to its surface by them directly.  Pure white metal shone in the light, a reminder that this blade, tang to tip, had been forged of an unknown metal by smiths who pounded metal heated by the Lord of Flame himself.  The tip was actually two prongs, with a channel at its center that ran down the inside of the blade.  Strange holes were carved in the blade itself, running through the metal like wormwood, so that it whistled as it arced through the air.  The guard branched out and up into sharp points, emblazoned with flames.  The pommel was a clear stone, with an absence at its heart that drew the eye inside.  The scabbard lay in the case, dark black with no marking of any kind.

Timeon spoke the ancient words: “Blade like day, scabbard as night, strikes like storm, hides heart in shadow, sounds of wind, burns foes in fire, and set in its hilt…”

“The void,” I finished, gazing into the clear stone.

“This is no deception, Daniel,” Timeon said with a smile.  “This weapon was forged from a metal of which no man living has knowledge, and it carries power no man living has ever wielded.  It has lain in our catacombs for thousands of years.”

I lifted the scabbard from the case and slid the Nak-Tun into its sheathe, quieting it somewhat.  I could still sense it, though, burning to strike.

“It is yours now,” Timeon said.

I was the first to go to my knees and pray, but Timeon and Sebelle joined me.

When at last I rose, Sebelle and I helped Master Timeon to his feet.  “I must warn you, Daniel,” he said, “that the Nak-Tun is a dire weapon.  Do not unsheathe it unless there is no other choice.”

I nodded.

“There is a cost to its use.  It is called the Bloodsword with good cause.  The gods demand sacrifice for the aid of their power.  The sword must taste its master’s blood before his enemies, always.  Before you strike with this sword, it must taste yours.”

As he spoke I remembered the passage from one of the ancient texts.

“What if it does not?” I asked.  “What if I strike before it has tasted my blood?”

Timeon put a hand on my shoulder.

“Do not do that, Daniel.  For your own sake.”

NEXT: THE HIDDEN ROAD

(c)opyright 2013 by J. David Clarke

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