The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Interlude - The Fifth




Reaching up, Seffan Borse grasped one of the sturdy branches above his head and pulled it down. Carefully examining the slowly maturing plums on the fruit-laden limb, he saw no signs of rot, blight, or insect damage. Gently releasing the branch, he smiled and looked about, surveying the large cluster of trees that comprised his hillside orchard. The sturdy trees – planted on the lower slopes and foothills of the Northern Poniçessian range – hung heavy with the dark green fruit. If the season ended as favorably as it had begun the harvest would be bountiful, and although it would be a few more weeks until the green fruit ripened – their skins taking on a dark, purple hue – he could already envision the orchard filled with workers harvesting the sweet, plump fruit.


Smiling to himself, Seffan thought of Belle Harvest and the admiring looks he’d get from his neighbors – not to mention the prize ribbon or two he might win. That, Seffan thought, would be a satisfying jab at his cranky and sour-faced neighbor, Effrum Dobby. Chuckling to himself at the thought, Seffan pulled a bright yellow handkerchief from his pocket. Putting the cloth to his face, the old farmer wiped the sweat from his weathered brow and stared into the heart of the orchard. Lost in thoughts of dried plums, preserves, fresh plum pie and strong plum brandy, Seffan was jarred from his daydreams when a tiny landslide of rocks and dirt from the slope above slid past him.


Turning toward its source, he looked up and found himself staring into the blinding light of the mid-morning sun. Another small rill of stones and dirt came sliding down and Seffan put his hand to his forehead, shading his eyes from the bright glare. Scanning the hillside, he finally saw two figures emerge from the shimmering light. As they got closer, their shadows blocked the glare of the sun and he could see that it was two boys – one older, one younger - carefully climbing down the steep upper slope. After a few minutes, the older boy seemed to spot him among the dense branches of the plum trees. Giving a friendly wave he called out to Seffan, and although he was still too far away for Seffan to hear what he was shouting, the ruddy-faced farmer waved back at them and smiled.


A few minutes passed, and Seffan watched them draw closer to him. Once they reached the lower slopes, they began running. Finally they reached him, but before he could even ask what brought them out this far in the valley, the older boy began to speak between gulps of air


“Sir... we’ve come… through The Pass of Tears… we must get… to my father… and the Circle of Leaders… it’s very important… for everyone’s safety.”


“Whoa,” Seffan said, “Catch ya breath, lad. Come on down to the house and we’ll have ya ta drink somethin’ this warm day.”


“No time, sir,” the boy said, finally breathing a bit easier. “I’m Seth Aldorian and this is my cousin, Lüdowik. We’ve come through the pass. Lüdowik was with Trade Counselor Jaspha and the trading delegation that went to the Green Valley. I’ve come from the city of Konassas. My father is Lan Aldorian, Keeper of the Archives and First Historian to the Circle. We must get to him as soon as possible. It’s life or death.”


“A'right lad,” Seffan said, “but ya must come to the farmhouse anyway. My horses and wagon are in the barn. Life and death, ya say? Well, let’s go. The wife will see ya both get somethin’ to drink while I harness the horses and ready the wagon.”


Quickly they made their way down the remainder of the sloping hill and onto the flat plateau that most of the farm occupied. In the distance Seth could see a large barn, a number of smaller buildings, and a rambling farmhouse. As they approached the farmhouse, a short, thin woman opened the door and walked out onto the porch. Even though it was a warm day, Seth watched her wrap a scarf around her head as she paused on the first of the broad wooden steps of the farmhouse porch, then continued down the stairs to the hard dirt of the farmyard. Seffan introduced the boys to his wife, Hestra, who beamed a warm smile at them while ushering them up the steps and onto the porch. The boys each took a seat on one of the sturdy wooden chairs lining the porch, and Hestra excused herself to fetch them something to drink. When he saw the boys were comfortable and under his wife’s care, Seffan crossed the yard to the barn and disappeared through a side door near the right front corner of the structure.


After a few minutes, Hestra bustled back onto the porch with a tray holding two tall mugs of cold milk and a large plate of oat-nut cookies. Seth accepted one of the mugs and politely took a cookie. Lüdowik took the second mug, and much to Hestra’s delight, grabbed a handful of the cookies and began quickly eating them, stuffing nearly the entire first one in his mouth and chewing rapidly. Although they'd brought some food to eat during their trek, it had gone quickly. Almost a whole day had passed without them having any food, and the smell of the cookies set his stomach growling vigorously. Speaking in the same warm brogue her husband did – that of the farmers of the North Face – she tried to engage them in conversation, but Seth remained distracted and kept looking to the barn while Ludowik focused on his cookies. When he finally saw Seffan emerge leading a team of horses hitched to a wagon Seth jumped up, set down his mug, and placed the still uneaten cookie into his coat pocket.


“Thank you,” he said, giving a slight but polite bow to Hestra. “Come on, Lüdowik,” he added turning to his cousin, “We have to get to the town center as soon as possible.”


Lüdowik stood from his seat and began to follow his cousin, but before he descended from the porch Hestra picked up the plate and offered him a second helping of cookies. Smiling shyly, he took two handfuls and stuffed them into the pockets of his coat.


After boosting Lüdowik up onto the wagon seat, Seffan climbed up on the left side of the wagon and took the horse's reins. Seth climbed up on the right side, causing Lüdowik to shift so that he was sitting wedged tightly between the farmer and his own cousin.


“I’ll be back afore th' sun’s over the hills,” Seffan called up to Hestra, who’d remained standing on the porch. Then he gave the reigns a gentle flick and the horses moved out at a walk, the wagon creaking gently as it started out across the yard.


“Now it’s best I tell ya first thing, boys, I can only take ya as far as Chamfer Springs. I’ve sacks o' grain waitin’ fur me there. I was goin’ tomorrow, but today’s just as best. Egert Beck’s had um waitin’ over a week. Once ya get there, there’s always wagons and coaches goin’ to and fro' the center of Cliff Haven. I’ll see ya get yourselves onto one.”


“Thank you, sir,” Seth said, “I know we could have walked all the way to Chamfer Springs, but it would have taken almost two days on foot. We appreciate your help and your kindness.”


“Well, first off my names not ‘sir,’ it’s Seffan. I’m just another farmer from Gilbrennon. If my wife heard ya callin’ me sir, she'd box my ears, thinkin' I’d be gettin’ a big head,” he chuckled. “Not that she doesn’t think that already,” he added with a wink.


“You have a big farm, sir…ah… Seffan, and a nice one,” Lüdowik said, pulling one of the cookies from his pocket and nibbling on it. “It seems very fine.”


“That it 'tis, little lad,” Seffan replied with just a touch of pride in his voice. “But what would a young taddy like yerself know about farms?”


“I live on one,” Lüdowik replied.


“Do tell it, now,” Seffan said. “And where be it?”


“On the South Face. It’s… well, it was my Uncle Jaspha’s,” Lüdowik said, his voice getting soft and trailing off. Seth, seeing the sudden sad look suddenly clouding his cousin’s face, put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.


“There’s but only one farm on th' South Face,” Seffan said, “and that’s th' Arrah Ahmahn.”


“Yes, that’s where I live.”


“Wait now a minute,” Seffan said, sitting back so quickly he tugged at the reins and the wagon slowed down. “That’s… well, when ya say Jaspha… why, ya don’t mean Jaspha Alcera – the Counselor of Trade?"


“Yes, I do,” Lüdowik answered.


“A fine farm…!! ha ha,” Seffan chuckled. “I guess that’s a way to say it. Well, well, lad... yes, a fine farm 'tis indeed. And ya say that ya do live on it?”


Lüdowik nodded his assent


“Tis the finest in all the valley. But more’n that… 'tis a great and grand estate. Covers the whole South Slope, ya know. My, my… well, ya must think I’m daft as a tiller with a bad case o' sun fever. Ya did say ya went to the Green Valley with the traders when ya both come down tha' slope. Ya must think I stuffed some of me own plums in me ears. What was I thinkin’?” Seffan said with a hardy laugh which suddenly faded as quickly as it began.


“Whoa now, wait jus' a minute!” And for a second time the old farmer sat back in his seat, once more slowing down the horses. “If ya went with 'em to the Green Valley, then where d' they be - the traders? A youngun’ like you wouldn’ be travelin’ on his own, even with this laddie sittin’ next ya that ya call cousin.” Looking over at Seth, he chuckled. “Nothin’ meant by it lad, but ya look as fresh as the dew on a new-picked cabbage.”


“The trade council’s gone,” Seth said quietly.


“Whoa!” Seffan said, this time pulling on the reins so hard he really did stop the horses. “What are ya tellin’ me… all gone?”


And Seth began to tell him, but not before reminding the farmer to get his team of horses moving again. As Seth talked, Seffan listened, giving the boy so much of his attention he almost ran off the road twice.


Seth’s training as a barder under his father stood him in good stead, and he went on in great detail, telling Seffan about the massacre at Grüner Platz and his adventures in Konassas. In fact, there were times the boy felt like chanting. After Seth was done, Seffan was quiet for a long time and Seth began to worry that the man might think he was lying to him in order to trick the farmer into letting he and Lüdowik hitch a ride. Finally, giving a long, low whistle, Seffan looked over at Seth.


“If I’d had anything stronger than th' milk Hestra give me this morning, I’d 'aft ta say I was drunker than Bodder Kit at Belle Harvest after he gulped down that bottle of apple brandy. Do ya really mean what you’re sayin’, lad? Your not playin’ old Seffan for the fool my wife always says I am?”


“No, sir… Seffan… ah, sir…” Seth said, trying to give the farmer the most honest and solemn look he could. “I’d swear it before the Circle of Leaders. In fact, that’s why we’re going to Cliff Haven: to do just that.”


“Do ya say, now? Yah, ya did say you were goin’ to see 'em - I remember now.”


By now they were approaching the small village of Chamfer Springs. Seffan remained quiet, as did both boys. Finally, when they were in the center of the village, Seth waited patiently for Seffan to stop the wagon so he and Lüdowik could get off and find someone else to take them a bit further – maybe all the way to Cliff Haven - but then he sat up straight, first looking around the village, and then in surprise over at Seffan when the farmer kept the wagon moving.


“Sir?… ah, Seffan?” Seth said. “Ah, Seffan… sir?” he said even louder. “I thought you were only taking us as far as Chamfer Springs?”


“Chamfer Springs? Chamfer Springs, is it? I’ll be takin’ ya all the way to Cliff Haven, I will!” the old farmer said.


“But you said you had grain to pick up,” Seth said. “And your wife… you told her you’d be home by sunset… and we can’t pay you or anything.”


“Pay me? Pay me?! Ya must be daft yourself, lad,” Seffan said. “'Twill be pay enough when ya tell me about the Lord Protector. My wife, the grain, and bein’ home by sunset be damned. We don’t get much doin’s going on out here on the North Slope – just watching the plums get ripe and the melons grow bigger. How lucky could I be?


“Ya boys could ’ave landed in old Dobby’s farm. Then what would ya have? A kick in the pants to get off his land, and not even a gift of a rotten apple! I want ta hear everything. The Lord Protector… my, oh my… I must really be drunker than Bodder Kit. Or maybe I’ve got a bad case of the sun, and this is a mad man’s dream. But mad man or not, I’m takin' ya both to Cliff Haven and the Circle of Leaders. And I’ll ask ya to tell me everything ya can,” he clucked as the grin on his face grew so wide Seth thought his face would split in two. “Ya just wait till that old sour puss Effrum Dobby hears this. When he finds out I’s the one took ya to the Circle at Cliff Haven, he’ll howl so loud it’ll make all his cows give sour milk for a month! I’ll be tellin’ this story at Belle Harvest till I’m either too old or too senile ta go any more!”


Seth looked at Lüdowik, who looked back at his cousin as he bit off a piece of yet another cookie and snickered. Then Seth launched into his tale. Why not? He considered it good practice for his meeting with his father and the Circle of Leaders.


It was well past midnight when Seffan’s wagon rolled into Cliff Haven and pulled up into the town center.


“Here ya be, lads. It’s a bit later than I though' 'twould be, but old Seffan and his gallant steeds got ya here in one piece. Now, let's go bout stirrin’ 'em up.” And with that, the old farmer jumped from the wagon and hurried to the large bell in the middle of the square, normally rung only on New Years day and at festival time. Seeing that the rope and clapper were removed, he cursed under his breath.


“Al'ays puttin’ it away,” he groused. “Afraid someone will play a trick and ring it when it ain’t supposed to be. Well, we can fix that.”


Striding back to the wagon, he reached an arm over and began to rummage around in the wagon bed. Grunting with satisfaction when it seemed he’d found what he was looking for, he strode up to the bell and before Seth could stop him, began pounding on it with a large hammer – bringing it down as hard and fast as he could.


“Wake up, all o' ya! Wake up! The Lord Protector comes. Haul ya arses out o' bed. Open ya eyes, the Lord Protector comes! The Lord Protector comes,” he shouted over and over at the top of his lungs.


Dashing up to him, Seth tried to grab the hammer from his hand. “No, sir. No! That’s not the way…” But Seffan would have none of it as he called and shouted and hammered the bell, sounding an alarm loud enough to wake the dead in one of the nearby cemeteries.


It didn’t take long for one, then two, then ten, then twenty lights to wink on in the windows of the houses and buildings bordering the square. A large man rushed into the square and, gripping Seffan’s arm, stopped the farmer from taking another swing at the bell.


“Stop this, immediately! Are you drunk, or mad, or both?” the man shouted, and Seth recognized him as the Sheriff of Cliff Haven.


“Do'na be stoppin' me, man,” Seffan shouted. “He comes… The Lord Protector… everyone must know.”


“If you hit that bell one more time, you idiot, the next blow that hammer makes will be to your head,” the sheriff yelled, gripping Seffan’s arm. “You have some serious explanations to make, sir, or you’ll be spending the next month in our gaol. And if you do, I hope the rats make a few notches in your fingers and toes!”


“I’m sorry, sir. Don’t hurt him, sir,” Seth shouted as the sheriff wrestled the hammer from Seffan's hand.


“It’s my fault,” Seth continued. “Taldor Valoren is facing grave danger. I must speak to the Council of Leaders. Seffan was just trying to get everyone’s attention. I’m really sorry. We didn’t mean to scare everyone.”


The large man, Sheriff Garras Leff, looked down at Seth. “Seth? Seth Aldorian? What the bloody hell? Does your father know what kind of trouble you’re causing? It’s bad enough this one’s as mad as a drunken Kellerman, but you’re the son of the Historian, and nephew of the Chief Speaker. Your father…for that matter your whole family...will be scandalized when they see what kind of hooliganism you're taking part in."


“Sir, please, just listen. We’re not hooligans, and I want you to call my father. It’s important that I see him."


“Oh, I’ll call him, right enough,” Garras said, “and I’ll stand by and watch while he tans your hide.”


“Fine, sir,” Seth said with exasperation, realizing he was getting nowhere. “That’s fine, just please call him.”


With all the commotion, a crowd was gathering in the square. Some people were standing in their nightclothes; others were half dressed and still half asleep. All of them were either asking questions, or shouting at each other.


“What is all of this?” a short man shouted, rushing up to the sheriff. But before the sheriff could answer, he caught a glimpse of Seth.


“Seth?” Koran Aldorian said, looking incredulously at his nephew. “What are you doing here? Your father said you… but what…?”


“Uncle Kor,” Seth said, seeing an opportunity to inject rationality into an irrational scene. “We’ve come through the Pass of Tears. Taldor Valoren is in grave dan…”


“He comes,” Seffan began to shout again. “The Lord Protector, he comes.”


“Seth, who’s this bloody mad man? What are you doing with him?”


“I can explain everything, but I must see the Circle of Leaders. It’s life and death, Uncle Kor. Really. I’ve come from Konassas. I’ve been with the Lord Protector. Seffan is right - he comes, but before he does…”


“Alright, alright,” Koran Aldorian said, “This isn’t the place to discuss it. Save it for the Circle… and your Father. If I didn’t know you for the level headed boy you are, I'd have you locked up in the gaol, with this maniac,” he said, glaring at Seffan.


“He’s not a maniac, uncle, he was just trying to help. He’s a good man. He brought us all the way from the North Slope after we came down from the Pass of Tears. It just turned out all wrong. I’m sorry.”


“Very well, we’ll go to the Hall of the Circle and maybe we can sort this all out.”


The crowd that had gathered in the square had grown. As Koran Aldorian lead Seth, Lüdowik and Seffan away they tried to follow, but the sheriff wouldn't have it.


“Back to your beds,” Garras Leff shouted, still holding the hammer that he’d taken from Seffan. “The excitement’s over for the night. We’ll make sure these hooligans are dealt with. There’s nothing further to see, unless any of you’d would like to spend a night or two in the gaol with them.” At the word 'gaol,' the crowd slowly began to disperse.


Quickly leaving the square, Koran Aldorian led the way to the Hall of the Circle – a low building with a slightly domed roof. Once inside, he ushered Seth, Lüdowik, and Seffan into the Circle Chambers. Within minutes, a few of the members of the Circle of Leaders entered the chamber. Like some of the crowd in the square, they looked to be in various stages of dress and levels of consciousness.


“What’s the meaning of this, Kor?” Artur Boss said, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes.


“Give me a few minutes, Artur,” Koran said. “As soon as everyone’s here, we’ll begin. I promise it won’t take long, and then we can all get back to our beds.”


“Back to bed?” Seffan shouted. “What’s wrong with ya all? The Lord Protector… he comes! This boy’s seen 'im with his own eyes.”


“Sir,” Koran said, speaking sharply to Seffan. “The only reason you’re not in the gaol of Cliff Haven at this very moment is because my nephew’s vouched for you. But regardless of Seth’s oaths, if you don’t settle yourself and remain quiet, you will spend the night there – if not a month.”


Seffan muttered something under his breath, but otherwise remained silent. Seconds later there was a flourish of activity and Lan Aldorian entered the chamber.


“Seth, what? But, I didn’t expect… Your last message…”


“Calm down, Lan,” Koran said, approaching his brother. “They showed up in the Center, and this one thought he’d waken the town by pounding on the great bell in the square.”


Lan opened his mouth to speak, but nothing would come out as he looked from Seth to Lüdowik to Seffan and back to Seth.


A few more minutes passed as, one by one, members of the Circle entered the chamber and took their seats. When they were finally all accounted for, Koran Aldorian turned to Seth.


“Alright Seth, everyone’s here. You’ve got your wish and chased us all out of our beds in the dead of night. You better have a good explanation for us, or I just might decide to put you in the gaol for the night.”


“Kor,” Lan interrupted. “Seth has been sending us information. You know that. He didn’t come all this way on a lark. I’m sure…”


“He’s almost a grown man, Lan,” Koran said. “He can speak for himself. Now take your seat with the others.”  Taking his own seat, Koran turned back to Seth. “Very well, Seth, we’re ready to listen.”


Suddenly feeling unsure of himself, Seth looked around the Circle. Before him sat the leaders of Taldor Valoren – all men older, more experienced, and much more serious than he. Even though he’d spoken with confidence to Seffan during the journey to Cliff Haven, he felt like the little boy who’d failed to study his lessons and then was asked by his teachers to recite them.


“Well, it all started when… I was in Konassas… and…” he began trying desperately to make his tongue and brain work together. “It was… ahhh… no, it is…” he stammered and sweat beaded on his forehead when he looked at his uncle Kor and realized the Prime Speaker was beginning to scowl at him.


Still unsure of what to do, he suddenly remembered something; reaching into the folds of his cloak, he slowly withdrew the baton Jamie had given to him. Silently he held it out for all of the members of the Circle to see. “This is from the Lord Protector. He told me you would recognize it, Father,” he said quietly, turning to Lan, and then stood in silent.


Lan was out of his seat and standing in front of Seth before the boy could blink. Then, for all his rush and hurry, he just stood looking at the short silver and gold baton in his son's hand. Extending his arm, Seth held it out to his father, but just as Seth had been reluctant to take it from Jamie, Lan kept staring at the object, appearing almost afraid to touch it.


“Father?” Seth finally said, and Lan snapped out of his trance. Then carefully taking the baton he held it gently, turning it over in his hands.


“Borum,” he shouted to one of the seated men to his right. “The Great Codery - get the Codery. Hurry!”


Borum Roste rose from his seat and rushed from the room. For a few moments, Lan continued to stand before Seth – no one said a word, and the silence hung as heavy as the large tapestries decorating the walls of the hall. There was a sound of rushing feet, the slamming of a door, then another, and Leader Roste reentered the hall, carrying an enormous iron-and leather bound book. Known as The Great Codery it was a compilation of the many stories of the founding of Taldor Valoren and the early post-Imperial history of the Kalorians. Carefully transcribed from the many stories and oral traditions of the Kalorians, it served as the benchmark of early Kalorian history. Approaching Lan and Seth, Borum set the large book on the table in the middle of the circle with a thud that sent a vibration through the chamber.


Lan approached it, gently opened its heavy front cover, and quickly began to turn its pages as his eyes rapidly scanned the words and pictures etched on them. Finally he stopped, looking at the baton and back at the book. In apparent disbelief he turned a few more pages, reading some of the writing they contained, then turned back to the original page where he’d first stopped. Once more examining both the page and the baton, he looked up and stared into the eyes of his brother, Koran.


“We need to get Sed, right now,” he almost shouted, once more looking down at the book and scanning the page it was opened to.


“Are you sure, Lan?” Koran asked.


“Kor, we need to get Sed, right now!” Lan repeated, his voice even louder than before.


“Get the Chief Finder,” Koran commanded, and one of circle leaders – the youngest of the Council Leaders, named Jessone - got up from his seat and left the room.


“What is it, Lan?” Koran Aldorian asked, concern and puzzlement coloring his voice.


“I’m not sure. If it’s what I think it is… no, I can’t say… I’m just not sure. We need Sed. If anyone can tell us, it will be him.”


“Well, we’ve sent for him, and there’s nothing to do but wait. I suggest we recess for a few minutes until he comes.”


Standing up from his seat, Koran backed away from the table and made his way toward the door. “I’ll be right back; I must go to my chambers. When Sed arrives, come get me.”


The other leaders milled about and conversed quietly with each other. Lan walked back to Seth, who still stood in the center of the circle as still as a statue. Gently extending his arm he reached out and gently put his hand on his son's shoulder.


“I got your messages, Seth… but I never…”


“You can’t imagine, Father; none of you can. It was… he’s… well, you just can’t imagine.”


“It’s alright, Seth. You’ve preformed a miracle. I sent you to fetch a stone and you returned with a mountain. I’m very proud that it was a member of our clan who was able to succeed, but most of all, I’m very, very proud of you. You know that, don’t you?”


“Thank you, Father,” Seth said quietly, “but I did make a bit of a mess out of it all. Nothing went the way it was supposed to… but Father… you just can’t imagine,” he repeated once more.


“I think I can, Barsetba,” Lan said, using his son's given name. And as he spoke he thought about the history of his people, and of Clan Aldorian - the first of the great clans - and he recalled all the work of his ancestors. “I really think I can.”


A few minutes later, Sed Aldorian entered the chamber with Jessone. Like some of the other leaders had done upon their entrance into the room, he too was still rubbing sleep from his eyes, yet instead of appearing annoyed he looked eager and excited.


“Jessone was telling me what Seth brought back,” Sed said to Lan.


“Tell Koran, Sed is here,” Lan said turning to Jessone, and the man nodded and once more left the room.


“Here it is,” Lan said, handing the baton to his brother Sedrik.


Sed caressed the baton almost as careful as Lan had. Taking Sed by the arm, Lan led him to the Great Codery. Soon both men were poring over it and talking softly. As they conferred Koran reappeared, and Seth’s brow wrinkled when he noticed that his uncle was accompanied by two men carrying a large object wrapped in a cloth of gold brocade. Koran whispered and gestured to the men and Seth watched as they carried the object into the center of the circle and carefully set it on the floor just in front of where he stood.


When Koran, who was supervising the operation, appeared satisfied he dismissed the men, then he joined Sed and Lan and soon all three brothers had their heads together, looking at the book and the baton and quietly conferring among themselves. Seth, still standing in the center of the circle, shifted uneasily on his feet as he grew more worried. Finally, his father and two uncles ended their conversation. Koran and Lan returned to their seats along with the other leaders, while Sed stood near Seth.


“Tell them,” Koran said in a commanding voice, looking toward Sed.


“For me, there is no doubt,” he said, “it is the scepter of Enrick, thirty-sixth emperor of Altinestra. And we all know the story behind it – every Kalorian does. The accounts are all in agreement and quite accurate.”


“Then it’s true?” Koran said, looking at Seth.


For a few moments Seth stood silent, until he realized that his uncle was addressing him. He started to speak, and then stopped as he scanned the room. The eyes of everyone were fixed on him, and he felt self-conscious and alone. Once more trying to speak, he faltered. He’d had no difficulty telling Seffan during the journey to Cliff Haven, but now he seemed at a loss for words. Maybe if he could chant them…


“Wait,” his uncle said, interrupting Seth’s thoughts and pointing to the object on the floor in front of Seth. “Take off the wrappings.” Seth reached out and slowly began to unwrap the object. As he carefully folded back the golden cloth, Seth suddenly realized what the concealed object was, and froze.


“Finish uncovering it,” Koran said, encouraging Seth to continue.


Shaken from his daze, Seth reached up and pulled at the last folds. The cloth dropped to the floor and a murmur arose from the Circle of Leaders.


Seth suddenly felt he might faint. He immediately recognized that the magnificent harp standing before him was none other than “The Enchantress,” so named by its first owner. It was a magnificent four octave crossing triple. Its seventy-eight strings of bronze and brass, when plucked by the harpist's fingernails, would cause its notes to sound like the melodic ringing of bells.


An accomplished harpist, Seth could clearly see that the amazing instrument was essentially a double harp with two ranks of parallel diatonic strings and a third crossing row of sharps – thus its distinction as a 'crossing triple.' Seth had mastered a number of harps – his last being a traditional triple with three rows of parallel strings. And while his own triple was a grand instrument, it had been difficult to learn and play since the harpist's fingers had to reach in between the outside rows of diatonic strings to pluck the inner third row in order to sound the sharps. Few had ever attempted the triple, and Seth was a master at it. But because the sharp strings of The Enchantress intersected both rows of diatonic strings, there was no reason to reach between them and the harpist could easily play the sharps with both hands. The advantages of such a triple harp were clear: a permanent chromatic instrument, capable of doubling the melody and splitting it between two hands, without having to lift or lower sharping levers.


But while the design of The Enchantress was ingenious, the beauty of the instrument was its most amazing feature. Two carved feet grounded the harp and allowed it to stand unsupported on the floor. Its column, neck, and shoulder were carved with some of the most amazing designs Seth had ever seen. Interspersed within the designs were sections of enamel work and around them, various precious gems. The turning and bridge pins appeared to be made of silver, and the shoulder had a crest carved and painted on the either side of it.


“Approach it,” Koran commanded.


“But, Uncle Kor… uhm… Prime Leader Koran… ah…”


“Everyone knows you’re my nephew, Barsetba,” Koran said, smiling. "There’s no need to be so formal."


“But this is… it’s… the Harp of Altonn,” he said. Hearing his voice ring off the walls of the chamber, he suddenly realized he was almost shouting. “No one’s seen it for an age… for more than an age. We saw drawings of it in school. Father has a book showing all the engravings and explaining their meaning, but…”


“The Harp of Altonn. Yes, Seth, every Kalorian child knows this. I’m glad you were paying attention to your lessons when you were taught about it,” Koran said with a grin on his face. At Koran’s words, the men sitting around the circle – suddenly acting more like unruly school boys than the revered Leaders of Taldor Valoren – spontaneously broke into laughter as if they all were playing some sort of prank on Seth. “But you’re right,” Koran said, “it hasn’t graced this chamber in an age… maybe an age of ages. Now approach it, Seth,” Koran once again commanded, extending his arm toward his befuddled nephew.


“But…” Seth was still a bit tongue-tied.


“Approach it.”


Just as Seth prepared to take a step toward the magnificent harp, the door of the chamber opened and a man Seth recognized as his father’s first assistant entered the room, carrying a small, armless chair. If Seth's eyelids could have opened any wider, his eyes would have popped out of their sockets. As if the harp wasn’t enough to stop his heart, this second object was even more special.


He’d seen the chair more than a few times in the Gallery of Archives. Once, when he was a small child, he’d walked up to touch it only to receive a sharp and stern warning from his father; ever since that day, while he’d admired it at a distance, he given it a wide berth.


A work of great craftsmanship, the chair was covered with a base of black and red paint that was then coated with layer upon layer of Celestian lacquer – each layer sanded, rubbed and polished until the end result was a warm, glossy finish that appeared to glow. On the chamfered legs and low, curved back were tiny hand-painted leaves and roses that alternated with inlays of mother of pearl and enamel.  Small and compact, it had been designed for only one purpose. Its seat was shallow, and its back just high enough to lean against when playing the harp. In the center of the red, tufted, velvet-covered seat, a solitary petit point rose had been skillfully stitched. Staining its white petals was a single drop of blood.


“The chair… its… its…”


“You can’t tell us?” Koran said, chuckling. “Maybe you weren’t paying as close attention when this lesson was taught.” And once more the Circle of Leaders broke into amused laughter.


“Hawkens’ Stool!” Seth finally managed to blurt out past the stricture in his throat.


Gently and carefully his father’s chief assistant set the chair down in front of the harp, just inches from where Seth stood.


“Yes, Hawkens' Stool,” Koran said, now broadly smiling at his nephew.


Seth’s couldn’t take his eyes off of it. Although not really a stool, the chair had supposedly come from the Sun Palace, and had been given the name since it was said to have been used by Gerold Hawkens – the last Emperor’s barder. One of the few precious and rare objects saved from The Stand at Angels Fall, it had been used by all the early barders who’d been chosen by the Circle of Leaders to tell and retell the tales, histories, and legends of the Kalorians.


It was last used over eight hundred years ago by the legendary barder, Simon of Green Spring. After the great barder's death, Prime Leader Horase Leys - in a passionate speech before the Circle - argued that it should never be used again until the return of the Lord Protector, and should sit empty as a constant reminder of the promises made to the Kalorian people, and the Kalorian's promise of felicity. At the time of Leys impassioned oration, much time had passed and the Kalorians – although still faithful to the promise – were fighting a cultural and psychological malaise of despair that was threatening to overcome them.


Having survived The Stand and then the integration of those survivors of the Journey of Travail, their society was changing.  It had been a full millennium and some odd centuries, and still there was no sign of the promise being fulfilled. Leys had argued for steadfastness when others were ready to abandon hope. The great Prime Leader had prevailed, and in agreement with his wishes the Circle decreed that Hawken’s Stool was never to be used again until the return of the Lord Protector. It was ordered that it occupy a prominent place in the gallery of archives to serve as a reminder of the promise of the Protector and the oaths of the Kalorians. Further, they decreed that it should sit empty and unused until a fitting barder could be found to sit in it and tell of the return of the Protector and the fulfillment of the promise. 


“I do believe you have a tale to tell us, Lord Barder, do you not?” Seth’s uncle said, smiling at him.


Seth swallowed hard. “Well yes, I have a tale to tell,” he answered softly, “but…”


Turning to his fellow Leaders, Koran addressed them. “The hour is very late – or very early – depending on your point of view,” he said, smiling. “But I know none of us will get a decent night's sleep until we hear what this barder has to tell us. But as you know, my friends, it’s not permitted that just any barder chant for the Circle. Only the Barder of the Circle is permitted to chant for us. Only the Lord Barder can take the Stool of Hawkens and play the Harp of Altonn; therefore, I ask the Circle for its assent in making Barsetba Aldorian Lord Barder for the Circle of Leaders with all its honors… and responsibilities,” Koran added giving Seth a long hard look.


“I concur and so attest,” Toma Rentell, the oldest of the Circle Leaders immediately called out.


“I concur and so attest,” Wellan Mert, the second most senior member of the Circle, said.


And so it went from the oldest to the youngest leader. By the time Jessone Tront gave his assent and concurrence, Seth was numb.


“It has been attested and concurred,” Koran said, “Now, Lord Barder Barsetba Aldorian, be seated in your chair. You have been chosen as Lord Barder of this Circle, and from this moment on until the day you die, it is yours to occupy. Now, tell us your tale.”


Looking as if a boulder the size of the Amber Palace in Konassas had fallen on him, Seth approached the small chair – Hawkens' Stool – now his for as long as he lived. His fingers gently ran across the smooth lacquered back of the ancient chair. Carefully he started to sit, and then paused. When he did, Koran motioned impatiently at him.


“We've waited long enough, Lord Barder,” he said.


For a second time Seth began to lower himself into the chair, so slowly that it was obvious he was afraid that it might collapse.


“You’re not sitting on a nest of eggs, Seth. It’s quite sturdy,” Koran said. “If you remember from your lessons, it was used as a weapon at least four times – in three separate fights, and once during The Stand. It can stand on its own legs and its back’s unbroken – which is more than can be said about the men it was used against.”


The chair creaked just a little as he placed his full weight on it and settled into it, and he flinched when he heard a soft pop as he sat back. Staring ahead, he found himself gazing at The Enchantress. Reaching out, he took the harp and drew it back to rest on his shoulder. Gently touching the strings, he withdrew his hand and looked up at his uncle.


“There are seventy-eight strings, Uncle Kor, and it hasn’t been played for an age. It will take some time to tune. I’ll hurry as fast as I can, but…”


“Take your time, and do it right. It’s taken an eternity to get to this point - a little more time won’t matter,” Koran said, and then looking to his fellow leaders, added, “If any of you would like to stretch your legs while we’re waiting?” But when Koran saw no one make any move to leave, he shrugged and took his seat.


The Circle Leaders remained quiet and watched with patient anticipation as, one by one, Seth tuned the strings. He’d been blessed with perfect pitch – as if he’d been created for the harp and the harp for him, and after a time he looked over to Koran and nodded.


“If there’s any formal ceremony to this,” Koran said, "I don’t know it. It’s been a long time, so just begin.”


Seth nodded, and glanced around the chamber. All the Leaders looked to be on the edges of their seats, their faces as open and eager as children anticipating an exciting bedtime story. Old Seffan, who’d been brought into the chamber with Seth, and had remained, reminded Seth of their family cat Chiara when she successfully caught a mouse and proudly dropped it at his feet. Seth smiled, thinking of the tales the kind-hearted farmer would be telling at Belle Harvest this year, and what his nemesis Effrum Dobby’s reaction would be.


Still smiling, Seth turned to see his cousin Lüdowik giving him a look akin to hero worship. By now it was long after midnight, and the little boy had taken his place on Lan’s lap. His father had his arms around Lüdowik and Seth guessed that soon after he began to play the sleepy-eyed boy would nod off in Lan’s arms, just as Seth himself had done countless times when he was a small child. But the thing that made Seth sit up straight, touch the strings expertly, and prepare to sing with confidence was the look of pride written large on his father's face. He could see Lan’s eyes glistening, and as he nodded toward his father, returning Lan’s proud gaze with one of respect and admiration, Seth’s fingers swept across the strings, and he began to play.


When Seth was finished, it was mid-morning and sunlight was pouring in through the windows of the chamber. His body was tired, but because of his years of practice and the vocal exercises that he practiced every day, his throat wasn’t sore and his voice remained clear and strong to the end. Sounding the last chord, Seth set the harp back on its feet, stretched to ease the crick in his neck and the knot between his shoulder blades, and looked around the Circle to the Leaders who’d been sitting quietly and listening to him.


Although they should have all been tired, every one of them was bright-eyed, and Seth could see looks of joy and hope on their faces. The only causality was Lüdowik, who’d quickly succumbed to sleep a few minutes after Seth began to play, and still sat on his father’s lap – his head on Lan’s shoulder – oblivious to what had transpired around him.


“We need to send someone to The Pass of Tears,” Koran said.


“No!” Seth shouted, then looked to the ground and blushed over his own forwardness. In one day he’d gone from student to Lord Barder of the Circle, and suddenly he was acting like the Chief Speaker.


“What is it?” his uncle asked.


“Jamie…ah… The Protector was very clear in telling me that we don’t go to the pass.”


“Well, we won’t send an army. Other than Kopper and the archers, we don’t even have an army. We need someone to greet them when they come.”


“But it’s too dangerous,” Seth said. “There’s a war about to be fought there… and we can’t be sure who’s going to win it.”


“I think if you want to greet them," Lan said, turning to his brother, “we should station someone at Hiram’s mirror. From Seth’s account, I have a feeling they’ll come through there.”


“Of course,” old Toma Rentell said. “It would be a fitting end to the legend – not such a legend though, eahh? They closed it when the seven and eighty-one passed through, and they stayed behind to fight. Now they, too, shall finally pass.”


“Then we’ll station someone at the mirror at all times,” Koran said.


“And?” Jessone asked.


“You heard Seth,” Koran said. “We wait for The Lord Protector. And in the meantime, we prepare.”


"Yes, we should prepare in all haste," Lan said.


Seth noticed his father had moved back to the table holding the Great Codery, and was examining one of the pages. Crossing to the table, he stood next to his father and looked down at page Lan was studying. The carefully rendered drawing was that of a flower. A caption under it informed the reader that it was an Isweirian Inlet Lily. The beautiful flower, with its creamy white color and deep blue and silvery gray highlights, suddenly reminded the boy of Jamie's iridescent wings.


"We shall prepare with all diligence," Lan said, his finger tracing the shape of the beautiful lily on the page, "and If the story I was told as a child is true, I know exactly what welcome we should give him," he added, looking up and smiling at his son.