To Give Aid and Succor
by Daniel Olarnick
(Previous chapter's conclusion:)
"Enter," commanded the headmaster --a bitter taste of bile ran through Fallows' mouth as Gazine and the scribe entered the chambers of the head scribe.
The secret chambers stood in the second tower of the scribal priesthood's fortress of knowledge. The view of the distant valleys filled the skies with a rich array of blues, gold, white and blood red valleys. A magical golden waterfall filled a mountain lake with its pools of liquid gold.
"I bring you the scribe," said Gazine, in his most formal of tones, well aware that a scribal singing stone was recording this moment for posterity. "He was in the Cave of Forgetfulness, despite being unable to understand the simplest of messages."
"And the stones, of course, revealed nothing to you, young scribe," asked Fallows.
"I am a mere human, possessing no gem stone. If the jeweled priests cannot interpret the songs, how could I?"
"True," sighed Fallows. "Now you are to be honored. Twenty-five years ago, you were left in our cavern doorway. Your time with us is at an end. You now have to fulfill your duty. We have a quest for you. You are to retrieve The Relic!"
"The Relic," gasped the scribe in astonishment, his sense of honor at being asked to achieve the impossible. A death quest the thought flashed through his mind and then passed away, forgotten.
"And this scribal troll will accompany you," gestured Fallows, pointing to the corner of the scribal library, housing a green-gray troll named Utre. "Should you fail or attempt to flee from this honorable quest, once in the outside world, he will kill you and dine on your marrow. Am I understood?"
"Yes, my master. I am honored that you have chosen me for so noble a quest."
"Do not fail us. And for the sake of the dragon-gods, choose a damn name - and do not choose the name you are not permitted to speak aloud of. Am I understood?"
"Did you know, in our library, there is a book called, 'The Care and Feeding of Dragons.' Strange, is it not, if the gods created the Dragons in their own image."
Fallows hesitated. The scribe was irritating, even to the point of being infuriating, but what can you expect from a species of beings that were born without a gemstone within their forehead.
Poor, pitiful imbeciles. He thought. I must control my anger.
The scribe knelt down in the corner and introduced himself to the troll. "I am told your name is Utre. I am the scribe without name. You may call me, 'Scribe.' We shall be the best of companions."
"Eat you, I will enjoy," said Utre the Troll, his jaws making a cackling sound as he spoke in a series of gruff almost belligerent bgrunts.
"Assured and honored to be a fulfilling meal for the Trolls of Prince," replied the scribe-with-no-name, in perfect Trollish, emphasizing Utre's position amongst the trolls, the scribe's guttural intonation a perfection of troll-speak.
The troll continued to gnaw upon a large femur, snapping it in two, before he looked up, trying not to be stunned, as he was delighted by the huge compliment that he had been paid by the nondescript scribe that crouched down before him, assuming a subservient position.
"How know that, human puny, language of people of mine," grunted Utre in his most disinterested unaffected tone.
"Studied languages of ancient races - but only races that are worthy - what is more worthy than Troll?" responded the scribe, in an almost reverent tone.
Utre grunted acceptance of the obvious.
"Think of me as your friend, Utre."
"Think I of you as my meal best," savored Utre, "should you fail in deed to accomplish."
"Yes, should I fail. But do not count my ribs until then, my friend."
"Gazine, prepare an ideogram for the scribe's departure," commanded Fallows.
"For him? He is unworthy of a scribal ideogram!" argued Gazine. "He has failed every martial test we have set before him; his constant questions have distracted the entire graduating class. He is nothing but - but a failed apostle. Let his demise not be recorded, his name stricken from our honor rolls."
"There is tradition to be upheld, Gazine. Assemble the students, in full regalia. The full assemblage of the student body will show that there is no blood on our hands; that we have upheld the ritual and our traditions; that our motives are pure. Then, when that abomination of a scribe fails in the quest to recover the Relic, there will be no doubt as to our motives, that we sent the best -- as have the last eight failures who have attempted this quest."
"As you command, your Eminence," replied Gazine, feeling foolish about his outburst - the fault of that damned no-named foundling.
Gazine commanded his orderly to assemble his staff. "Prepare a scribal procession to honor the departure for the troll and the scribe.for the quest," he directed with his most authoritative voice, watching, with joy, the shocked faces of his staff, knowing that none would question his command. Within his mind, he carefully planned his demarche, the path that would lead him to his titled position. His staff would assemble the entire student body, their scholars, priests and priestesses, have them line the tributaries leading to the cavern through which the River of Wight runs, leading to the portal that bears passage to that troubled and turbulent world, the land of Volante. And, at least, he would have the personal pleasure to scrutinize that foundling's scourging. His hands would be clean, he thought, and his plan brought a smile to his fierce visage.
"A ritualistic bath, unholy one, to prepare you for your quest," commanded Gazine, as he extended his arm and pointed towards a steaming pond, which began to bubble with boiling waters. A water-dragon materialized, seemingly from nowhere, to continue flaming and heating the waters. "Scrub yourself clean, foundling. Cleanse yourself thoroughly," Gazine said, contemptuously, and then tossed the troll a bonded rope towel. "See to it that he is thoroughly flagellated, Utre," and pressed a gem-coin into the troll's palm, "And I mean thoroughly."
"Yes, your prominence," bowed Utre, "Fully I understand and comply gladly I will."
The troll grinned as he snapped the rope towel across the back of the bathing scribe. Ten times the troll whipped the towel through the air, each mark delivered with sadistic purpose and scribal tradition, all in the name of the quest.
"Hold your lashing, Utre," demanded the scribe, as he uttered a chant of repentance, which seemed to freeze the troll as he was about to deliver another lash. "I am cleansed," said the scribe, as he held back his tears of pain and anger.
In the Cave of the Shattered Stones, crystals sang a song of departure for the scribe-with-no-name. "Take me," they would sing and cry aloud, all of them promising songs of success.
The scribe placed 18 sacred crystals within his ditty bag, ignoring the demands of the troll to hurry.
"Our scribal procession awaits us," he whispered not knowing how the scribe had convinced him to enter the holy cave and its maddening singing stones.
"It is not I who selects the stones, but the stones that select me," responded the scribe.
"Hurry, hurry, before Gazine finds you have entered the holy cavern and bewitched me to accompany you."
"The Cave of Forgetfulness will keep our secret. The stones command me. I am but a cog."
The assemblage gathered throughout the basin, lining the roadway, leading to the river portal. Gazine stood next to Fallows, signaling each scribal priest to pass before him, to line up their students three deep in groups of eighteen, and to begin the chants of departure.
"You May Pass," commanded Gazine to the scribal kennel keeper, who held the sacrificial white pup within his robe. "As is our tradition, he has chosen a whelp?"
"Yes, he insisted upon the one I was to cull today," said Liam of the Kennels.
"A fine example of a mongrel. You have done well," said Gazine, laughing within at the tradition of sending a canine companion with a scribe charged with performing the Quest for the Relic. True to his form the nameless scribe had chosen the most unworthy of the fine litters that the Scribal Priesthood bred for herding, protection and pit fighting. It pleased Gazine to watch the future unfold before his very eyes. Surely there would be yet another failure and the prophecy shall remain unfilled.
I will send word to the Court of Moultrance.
"Here is the beast you have chosen to accompany you, scribe-with-no-name. May he bring you the successes you deserve," said Gazine, as he bent down from his seven-foot height to whisper in the scribe's ear, "The beast has been poisoned. You have three full moons to find the Cave of the Relic. There you will find a cure, ancient scribal knowledge, and the Relic. Bring it back to us, foundling, and you will surely be honored forever and always."
"I will be back, Master Gazine, and the dog will be by my side.always."
"And what a welcome sight that will be," To see the dead walking
"Good-bye, SCBWNN," cheered the assemblage of scribes-in-training, calling him by his shorthand no-name.
"Don't forget to keep your pants up," they taunted him, reminding the gathering of the foundling's futile attempt to pass his white belt rank, when the drawstring to his pants snapped, causing them to drop down to his ankles, before the entire assembly.
"Enjoy your meal, Utre, it is certain to be soft and tender."
"Eat the dog first. He's more deserving."
"Strike his name from the honor rolls - oops -- he has no name."
On and on the taunts went, whispered as they were, accompanied by the cheering so that the Scribal Eye of BeNob recorded the events for the history of the Quest of the Relic.
High above the cheering crowd, the Scribal Mistress of Passion stood, her sheer gown clung to her voluptuous body, tears of longing filled her eyes. She quenched her illuminating stone, and blew a silent kiss and said a prayer for the scribe-with-no-name. A dear, sweet man-child. I shall miss him so, and our midnight talks
The scribe, the troll and the white mongrel strode towards the entrance of the cavern that leads to the river, and onto the portal. Before entering the cavern, they paused, in silent tribute, before the Wall of the Nine Dragons, which depicted an ancient game of death, one played by the Dragon-Gods, themselves, its meaning long since forgotten, a jeweled orb being passed among the nine dragons and their team of 13 men and women of various races.
The portal to the outside world began to open before them. A ferry appeared, its oarsman cloaked in a tattered scribal robe. The scribe pressed a coin-of-passage into the oarsman's skeletal hand, as the hooded skeleton, whose ferry would carry them through the portal into the world that is the island continent named Volante, on the shroud-covered planet called Odessa, reminded them of their duties:
"Give Aid and Succor," the skeleton said, as he pocketed his coin-of-passage.
"Thank you Oarsman," said the scribe, feeling a new found freedom rushing through his body.
"Oarsman, excuse me.I have to - go - you know what I mean, don't you," pleaded the scribe.
The skeletal being turned around from his oarsman's command seat, his whip frozen in motion, as he had been read to beat his skeletal crew into their rowing motions.
"I'll have another coin for you, for your troubles," said the scribe, who appeared slightly bent over in obvious discomfort.
"Disgraceful," mumbled the shrouded oarsman. "Go," he shouted.
The scribe ran, with urgency, up to the top of the hallow, ducking behind a boulder, as he disappeared from the troll's view.
"Damn puny human," grumbled Utre, as he began to follow the scribe . the mongrel dog leaped out of the boat and growled deeply, as if to block the troll from following by its sheer force of will.
The sky grew dark and then brightness filled the entrance to the cavern where without warning, a lightning bolt appeared, to some it would look like a closed fist, and then the fist's middle finger of lightning appeared, as torrential rain fell upon the assemblage of scribes who still were gathered in the valley.
The scribe hurried down to the ferryboat where the son of Charon the Ferryman of Hades awaited.
"Took you long enough, scribe," said Utre.
"I was contemplating on how to give aid and succor," said the scribe, as a smile crossed his face reflecting on the running students and teachers, as the skies opened, drenching them through their very robes. The crystal named The Fickle Finger of Fate resonated within his ditty bag, its raison d'etre accomplished.
"Oarsman, your extra coin, as promised," said the scribe, as he climbed onto the ferry to begin the quest.
The Oarsman caught the coin that the scribe tossed into the air, and chanted his pronouncement, "Give Aid and Succor."
Art by Dan Mills
|| The Quest Begins!
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