Friday, October 1, 2010

Chapter Three


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 33,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1990. All rights reserved.

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Throughout the realm the name of evil was Damaleous. But to the people of The City Below the Castle, evil bore the name of Dalanmire. This evil took the form of a monstrous winged lizard, a dragon, with scales of dark blue, deeper than the color of a midnight thrush. The old regime had extracted a dragon tax from its citizens and had delivered the gold to the beast in order to spare The City and its valley from destruction. The system had worked for decades—perhaps centuries—but the followers of Farchrist thought it was just a scheme to steal what little they had and, with the revolution, they quickly abandoned the collection of the dragon tax. In Farchrist Year Four, seven years had passed since the last collection and the tax came due again.

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The three of them left early the next morning, before the sun was an hour over the Shadowhorn Forest. They decided first to travel east to Queensburg, a journey that would take all day on foot. There they would spend the night and buy the supplies they would need for the trek south.

Shortwhiskers was dressed much as he had been the night before, but he had a pack mule with him, laden with all sorts of things he had acquired. Most of it was hidden in packs and saddlebags, but Brisbane could see a myriad of weapons and a small suit of chainmail tied securely to the beast of burden.

Roystnof, as usual, was adorned in red and black. He wore comfortable walking shoes, black pants with plenty of large pockets, and a red shirt, buttoned down the front and tucked into the trousers. He wore a black cap, carried a backpack, and leaned on a polished wooden staff that was tipped with metal and as tall as himself. He looked very much like an ordinary traveler.

Brisbane was dressed simply as well. He wore boots that laced halfway up his calves, tanned leather pants, and a blue tunic his mother had made for him. His hair was tied back with the same red strap he had worn the night before, the tail falling to the bottom of his shoulder blades. He still wore the pentacle medallion.

He remembered the scene the night before, after he had left Roystnof’s house and had told Otis that he would be leaving with the wizard in the morning. Otis had taken it surprisingly well. He had merely nodded his head as if he had long ago sensed that this day would come. Brisbane had seen deep disappointment in Otis’ eyes, but Otis had contained himself and had not spoken out against his stepson’s decision. He had even tried to give Brisbane a small bag of gold coins, but Brisbane had not been able to bring himself to take them. Now, the memory gave him a chill in the warm sunlight.

But as the day wore on, Brisbane began to shake loose some of the guilt he felt for doing what he wished instead of what had been expected of him. He began to feel that he had left his old life behind and became eager to start living a new one.

Roystnof was generally quiet throughout the march to Queensburg, only mumbling to himself on occasion, obviously deep in thought about some part of his craft. Both Brisbane and Shortwhiskers felt it wise not to disturb the wizard, so they spent the time getting to know each other. Shortwhiskers said he was from a small clan who lived in the northern reaches of the Crimson Mountains, and that he had left his home about the time the Farchrists had come to power in the valley. He was elusive about the reason he had left, but it was obvious to Brisbane that he hadn’t been back since that time, and that such a long absence pained him deeply.

Brisbane didn’t feel he could tell Shortwhiskers much about his true family that the dwarf didn’t already know, so he spoke of his childhood in Scalt, his mother, Otis, and his upbringing.

“Nog,” Brisbane said at one point in the day. The dwarf had asked the young man to call him that after Brisbane had called him ‘Mister Shortwhiskers.’ “Nog,” he said. “Last night you used two names in exclamation that I did not recognize. Moradin and Abba-something. What are these names?”

Shortwhiskers gave him a slanted look. “Do you mock me, Gil?” Brisbane had in turn asked the dwarf to call him by his first name.

Brisbane was shocked. “Of course not. I was just curious, that’s all.”

Shortwhiskers still looked at him in disbelief. “Moradin and Abbathor,” he said clearly. “They are two gods of the dwarven pantheon. Moradin is the Soul Forger, creator of the race of dwarves, and Abbathor is the Great Master of Greed, the thoroughly evil opponent of Moradin and his followers.”

Brisbane’s curiosity jumped up three notches. In all his studies and teachings, he had never heard mention of gods other than Grecolus. In fact, the worship of false gods was one of Grecolus’ deadly sins. “Tell me more,” he said.

“You mean,” Shortwhiskers said, “you have never heard of Moradin?”

Brisbane had thought—and had been taught—all the races: men, dwarves, and even the elves, worshipped Grecolus. He had been taught that Grecolus created them all. “No,” he said with all honesty.

“I didn’t think anyone led such a secluded life,” the dwarf said. “But since you are a Brisbane, I will accept you word as the truth.”

“Tell me about your gods,” Brisbane said.

Shortwhiskers showed his teeth in a smile, revealing one gold incisor. Brisbane already knew the dwarf well enough to know he liked telling stories.

“Well,” Shortwhiskers started, “when the world began, the fold of the dwarven gods, ruled by Moradin, and the gods of the other races decided to populate the Earth with races of their own creation. Moradin is called the Soul Forger because it is he who created the first dwarves, forging them in the center fires of the world from iron and mithral. He gave them their souls when he blew on their mortal forms to cool them.”

Brisbane found this information fascinating. Here was a totally different view of the creation of life. This one dealt with many different gods creating many different races. It was so foreign to what he had been taught that he found it strangely attractive.

“And Abbathor?” Brisbane asked.

“In the beginning,” the dwarf continued, “Abbathor was not an enemy of Moradin. He was the God of Gems and Metals, and his worshippers were respectable members of the community. But when Moradin named Dumathoin the protector of the mountain dwarves—”

“Dumathoin?” Brisbane interrupted.

Shortwhiskers chuckled. “Not heard of him either, eh? Dumathoin is another of our gods, the Keeper of Secrets Under the Mountain. You see, the mountain dwarves are miners by and large, and since they mine for secrets under mountains, Moradin appointed Dumathoin their protector. Abbathor argued that since the secrets that the miners discovered were gems and metals, he should be their protector. But Moradin would not hear of it. From that day forward, Abbathor has worked to wreak his revenge on the other gods—and especially Moradin and Dumathoin—by trying to establish consuming greed as the focus of dwarven lives.”

Brisbane began to realize that this mythology was remarkably similar to the one he had been taught. But in his case, Damaleous had not been a god, but a powerful servant of Grecolus who had felt wronged by his creator and who had sworn undying vengeance upon Grecolus’ flock because of it. Brisbane began to wonder if in fact Moradin and Abbathor were really just the dwarven names for Grecolus and Damaleous. He wanted to see if there were other similarities between the two religions.

“But how did your gods get here?” Brisbane asked the dwarf. “You said they were here when the world began. Did Moradin create the world? And who created Moradin?”

“Moradin did not create the world,” Shortwhiskers answered. “The world was here when Moradin and the gods of the other races arrived. Where they came from is only speculation in most circles, but the highest dwarven clerics believe it was from a faraway place in the sky where our laws of nature do not apply. It is also believed that Moradin exists out of the time frame that structures our lives, so that to us it would appear that he has always been and will always be.”

Some of this differed from what Brisbane had been taught. Grecolus was said to have created the universe: the stars, the sun, the moons, the Earth, and everything on it. He did it all. But as far as Grecolus’ origin was concerned, it was left as abstract as Moradin’s. Brisbane’s lessons had always been hazy in this most important respect. The best he had ever been able to come away with was the explanation that Grecolus had created himself, too.

They passed the day with this kind of talk and about two hours after the sun had dropped behind the Crimson Mountains, they stumbled into Queensburg. It was a small town, much larger than the tiny village of Scalt, but small when compared to Raveltown, the City Beneath the Castle. It lay on the shores of the Sea of Darkmarine, nestled between the Shadowhorn Forest and the Windcrest Hills.

Queensburg was dark and quiet when they arrived, but light and voices could be seen and heard coming from the town’s square. When Brisbane and his companions arrived on the scene, they found the square filled with people. At one corner of the square stood a large stone platform which pushed a small pulpit twenty feet above the throng gathered below. Two huge torches burned their orange lights on either side of the pulpit and, in the pulpit itself, shouting to the crowd, was the figure of a woman.

As Brisbane followed Shortwhiskers and Roystnof as they meandered through the crowd, he listened to what the woman was shouting.

“Friends! Citizens of Queensburg and subjects of Farchrist! Look into the sky and see the full face of the white moon of Grecolum.”

Her voice was like that of a choir. It had many facets that seemed to reverberate in unison. She sang the words into the night air, and her voice had the power to warm the chill that hung in one’s bones.

“The Evil One’s satellite is dark this night, afraid to show its red luminance. For tonight is the eve of Grecolus’ holiest day. The Whiteshine is upon us!”

Brisbane had momentarily forgotten it, but the woman was correct. As everyone knew, the Earth had two moons, the token symbols of Grecolus and Damaleous. Grecolum was by far the larger of the two and, when it was full and Damaleum new, it marked the eve of the festival of Whiteshine. It happened once every three years. Brisbane had no way of knowing it, but he assumed worshippers of Damaleous held a similar festival when their moon was full and Grecolum new. How often that happened, no one Brisbane knew had ever bothered to figure out.

“And so I have gathered you faithful here to hear the good news of Grecolus,” the woman in the pulpit went on. “For some time now we have been plagued with rumors of an army of orks massing in the Windcrest Hills to our south, intent on burning our homes and destroying our crops.”

Brisbane had heard of orks although he had never seen one. They were denizens of evil who warred continuously to claim more and more power. Some people classified them as a separate race, like the dwarves and the elves, while others believed them to be demons on earth, slaves to their master Damaleous.

Brisbane looked and saw that his friends seemed to be making for a small inn on the far side of the square. He followed them, but tried to keep his eye on the speaker.

“But it is a time of goodness—the heavens confirm it—and no abomination of evil can expose itself to the full radiance of Grecolum!”

Shortwhiskers and Roystnof arrived at the inn, a homey little place called The Driftwood, and Brisbane stopped just outside the door. The inn was near the corner where the woman stood in the pulpit and Brisbane was as close to her as he was going to get that night. He looked at her one last time before he went inside and, as he did so, he realized that she was beautiful. The door shut and her voice became muffled, but still understandable.

“So be at peace, my friends. Rest easy tonight and enjoy the festival tomorrow!”

A tremendous cheer went up throughout the gathered crowd.

“You want rooms?” asked a small balding man behind the front desk.

“Just one large one,” Roystnof answered as he stepped up to deal with the innkeeper.

Shortwhiskers moved closer to Brisbane. “Her name is Stargazer,” he said.

Brisbane was watching her descend from the pulpit through a small window. “She’s beautiful, Nog. Who is she?”

“A mystery to most,” the dwarf replied. “I’ve known her for some time, but most, even those who live in Queensburg, have not. Her first name is Allison. Allison Stargazer.”

“Why was she addressing them? Is she a priestess?”

Shortwhiskers paused. “Not exactly,” he said as he scratched his beard. “She’s more of a prophet, now. She worships Grecolus in the old traditional ways. She has a place outside of town where she practices her art.”

Brisbane lost the mysterious woman in the crowd. “Her art?” he asked, turning back to look at Shortwhiskers.

The dwarf nodded. “Allison’s a healer. She says her power comes from Grecolus himself.”

Brisbane could only stare at the dwarf. He found he had no other response to make.

Roystnof suddenly called to them from the stairs, saying their room was ready, and the two stragglers quickly caught up.

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