The Last Tale of Yajikali

Chapter XX - New Lives

by Charles Matthias

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

Afternoon, Kimberly decided, had to be the loveliest time of the day in Glen Avery. Even though August was ready to pass into September, it was still warm outside hours after nightfall. Glenners of all varieties spent most of their days outside in delightful camaraderie. The leaves were bright green, and provided a rich canopy above their heads, as well as concealment for the guards who perched stoically in the heights. And the afternoon sun caught the glint of snow from the mountaintops and bathed them in even brighter light than any other time of the day.

The last two months had been very difficult for her. Without her husband Charles at her side, she had been left to raise their five children almost by herself. Baerle their opossum wet nurse was always at her side to help. But ever since that fateful night last Spring when Baerle had confessed to Kimberly that she had fallen in love with Charles too, Kimberly had felt a small wound in the recess of her heart. It was all the worse because she knew that her husband loved the opossum too, even if he did not understand it.

But Baerle was still very special to Kimberly, and despite those lingering doubts, she was both glad of the opossum’s company and desired it. And to the children, she was a second mother. Each of her five rat-like babies had supped equally of Kimberly’s and Baerle’s milk. Alone, Kimberly could never have managed her children, not so young and vulnerable as they were. But especially now that they were four months old and getting into everything, having an extra pair of paws around the house was essential!

Her babies aged faster than normal human children – nearly twice as fast – and already they were trying to walk on two legs and mimic her words. Lady Avery, whose own children had been born looking like squirrels, had assured her this was completely natural. Still, it seemed so fast. Normally, Kimberly kept her children inside so they could not get into too much trouble. But since it was such a lovely afternoon, she had decided to let them explore a little around the roots of their home.

“Good afternoon, milady,” a familiar voice called out. Kimberly gently nudged little Erick who was trying to climb her leg as she reclined against one of the roots of the massive tree in which they made their home. Her third born fell onto his tail, but still gazed at her eagerly with big black eyes.

It took Kimberly a moment to find the source of the other voice. Standing just beyond the other large root that framed the entranceway was Garigan the ferret. He’d been Charles’s student in the ways of the Sondeckis before her husband left on his mission. Garigan dutifully continued to wear green in all his clothing to signify his rank.

“Ah, good afternoon, Garigan. What brings you here?”

Garigan nodded politely to Baerle who sat across from Kimberly and was keeping a close eye on the other children. The opossum smiled to him once before bending and grabbing little Charles by the tail before he managed to crawl out into the street.

“No reason.” Garigan gestured to the children with one paw. “I saw you both sitting out with the babies and thought I would stop by to see how you are doing.”

“We’re doing just fine,” Kimberly replied, smiling warmly to him. “Erick, no!” She bent down and grabbed her son under his arms and pulled him into her lap. The little boy squeaked in protest, and continued to squirm, little arms trying to push against her paws.

Garigan chuckled lightly and came around to block the entranceway. “I can see that. My, they are getting big already.” The little rat in front of him, Bernadette, stared at him with wide dark eyes. She opened her mouth as she leaned back on her haunches, her front incisors already sizeable. “Good afternoon, Bernadette. How are you today?”

Kimberly laughed and lightly swatted the end of Erick’s nose. “She’s not tried to say anything yet. If Erick would settle down he might try to say hello. Won’t you, Erick?” But the rat-like child in her arms seemed more intent on escape than communication.

“He almost said hello to me yesterday,” Baerle added, as she managed to corral little Charles back into the path with Ladero and the younger girl that had been named after her. “It won’t be long now. It seems like only yesterday that they were born.”

“And a lifetime too,” Kimberly added with a solemn nod. Unconsciously, one paw began to pet down the fur between Erick’s ears. This served to still his squirming, but he still felt ready to burst from his excitement.

Garigan nodded thoughtfully. “I confess I haven’t seen you outside with all the children before.”

Kimberly smiled and felt the warmth of the leaf-scattered light fill her. “It’s their first time together. It was such a lovely day, and they are getting stronger and more adventurous.”

“Much more adventurous,” Baerle added. The daughter who shared the opossum’s name was trying to climb under her dress, much to Baerle’s chagrin. “You won’t believe where we found Ladero two days ago.”

Any mention of the youngest of the five – and the one born with the Sondeck, the same power that Garigan and his mentor Charles shared -- always piqued his interest. “Really? Where?”

Baerle plucked the little girl rat from the ground and held her still in her lap. She then cast an amused glance at Kimberly. “Do you want to tell?”

Kimberly shook her head and continued to pet her middle son. “No, you go ahead. You’re the one who found him.”

Baerle nodded while cradling the child. “Well, we were in the main room that morning. Kimberly was feeding the girls while I attended to some of the chores. The boys were in their pen, but while our backs were turned Ladero gnawed his way out.”

Garigan guffawed, and little Bernadette who had still be staring at him let out a squeak and scampered back down the incline. “He gnawed?”

“By Eli,” Kimberly swore in exasperation. “We need to put chain mail around their pen to keep them in!”

Baerle laughed and slowly began to rock the girl. “Anyway, when I looked in on them, little Charles was trying to get out too. I first had to push the pen against the wall to keep little Charles and Erick from escaping. Kimberly put the girls in with them, and they weren’t happy about having meal time interrupted! Oh the screams! Anyway, we searched for Ladero. I went in to the kitchen to see if he had tried to climb the shelves again. But do you know where I found him? He’d managed to open the cast iron stove and was trying to climb inside the smoke pipes! I had to drag him back out by his tail. The poor dear was completely covered in soot; it took an hour to wash out his fur.”

Garigan spied the youngest child and raised his fist in salute. “That’s my boy! Not even six months old and you’re already powdering your fur like a Glenner scout! And opening up the stove all by yourself! Your Dad would be so proud!”

Kimberly rolled her eyes and then scooted the boy with her foot. Ladero jumped up from where he’d been gnawing at the tree root and scampered towards the ferret. “Here, why don’t you hold him for a bit. He always seems so calm with you.” She glanced down at Erick who had taken advantage of the opportunity to try and worm his way free. “Unlike some other little boys!” Kimberly resumed petting his back, but still he let out a small squeaking pout.

“Ah, Erick is just restless,” Garigan mused whimsically. He plucked Ladero from the ground and pulled the small rat into his arms. Ladero looked up at him with large wondering eyes. The fur on his face was black but the rest was white, giving the impression that he was wearing a dark hood. This only made his eyes seem all the brighter. “I’m sure once his godfather puts a horse between his legs he’ll calm down.”

Kimberly felt a twinge of uncertainty. Charles had named the boy after the knight Sir Erick Saulius, to whom Charles had squired for a short time. Ever since then, Sir Saulius had made his intention of turning little Erick into a knight all too clear.

“Sir Saulius sent a letter last week asking me when I thought Erick was about nine human months old. He says that in the Saulius horse tribe a babe is nine months in the womb, and nine months at breast before being born to the horse.”

Baerle nodded sagely. “A very Flatlander thing to say.”

“Indeed.” Kimberly kissed Erick on the top of the head. “I’m not so sure I want my boys riding just yet. Maybe Sir Saulius can teach them when they are a year old.” She looked back to Garigan and a smile spread across her muzzle. “There, I told you. Ladero calms right down in your arms.”

The ferret grinned. “It’s my Sondeck. Little Ladero can feel it and my control over it. I’m sure it was the same when his Dad held him.”

Just thinking about her husband hurt in so many different ways. She sighed. “I wish I knew when he was coming back. Have you heard anything new?”

Garigan shook his head. “Nothing that you don’t already know, milady.”

Baerle held out her paw as if to comfort Kimberly with its touch, but they sat on opposite sides of the entranceway and could not reach. “He’ll return. It agonized him that he had to leave. He probably thinks of you and the children everyday.”

“Do the children miss their Dad?” Garigan asked.

Kimberly frowned. “I think so. Before bed we tell them stories about their Dad. That helps them sleep better.”

Garigan smiled and looked down at the boy in his arms. “Like hearing about your Dad, huh?”

To everyone’s surprise, in a crisp and clear voice, Ladero squeaked, “Dad!”

The ferret was too surprised to say or do anything. In unison, with voices of delight and wonder, both Baerle and Kimberly exclaimed, “Oh!”

“Ladero!” Kimberly squealed, her whiskers sticking out on either side of her face. Poor little Erick was completely forgotten in her arms and managed to crawl free. He plopped on the ground and scampered over to his older brother who had discovered that the tree roots were tasty.

Baerle managed to hold onto the girl, but only barely. “He said his first word!”

Garigan laughed, his face split wide. “Good boy! Know anything else?”

Ladero returned the grin. “Dad!” he repeated, as if that word alone said all that was worth saying.

Before Garigan could even move, both women were upon him, bestowing hugs and kisses to their talented little boy.

Even after three months, waking up to the warmth of a cramped wagon felt odd to Grastalko. For a brief moment before slumber completely ebbed from his mind, he expected to wake in the Driheli tents with the sound and scent of horses, sweat and oil all around. Instead he woke to the creaking of the bunks in the wagon, and the scent of his fellow Magyars.

It had not truly been Grastalko’s choice to join these nomadic people. He had always been a strong lad, and when he was of age, the most natural thing in the world was to join the Driheli. He’d been assigned to squire under Sir Andrej, a seasoned veteran who was quick to point out his shortcomings. Andrej did train him, but Grastalko had always felt insufficient in his master’s eyes.

Nevertheless, Sir Andrej had been Grastalko’s knight, and when he was killed by the Magyars, Grastalko knew he’d failed again. What was worse, the Magyars captured him, and then forced him to tell them everything he knew. Everything he thought he had worked for in his life in a single moment he had betrayed. And now the very people who had taken him prisoner he now called friend and family.

It had not been long after the Magyars had taken him prisoner that they decided that he should be a Magyar too. They gave him to wear the multi-coloured patchwork garments that they favoured, and at the same time, took away all of his own clothes. (And only a few weeks ago he’d seen one of the seamstresses cutting his old clothes apart and sewing the remnants onto other garments.)

And they had also instructed him in their tongue and began to teach him the tricks and skills of their people. He’d become part of their pageant already, and he had to admit, he rather enjoyed it. He could not juggle though, a fact that was made plain to him each morning as he climbed from his pallet.

It was instinct really. He would reach out with his left hand to support himself as he got up, but there was no hand left. Grastalko grunted and shifted his weight. Dawn had already come, so there was enough light in the wagon to see by. What appeared to be his left hand protruded from the sleeve of his linens. But when he tried to touch his fingers with his other hand, they passed right through. Grastalko could feel the dull pain that always existed in that lost appendage. And he well remembered the day he’d received this perplexing scar.

The Magyars had been hiding in the Vysehrad mountains from the Driheli knights who waited in the Steppe. Nemgas, who Grastalko knew was the man the Driheli were sent to kill, had been alone in one of the wagons watching over his son. The boy was in a coma, victim of some great and terrible evil that Nemgas said resided in Yesulam.

Grastalko had gone to the wagon to try and kill Nemgas. Or at least, that was one possibility. Nemgas never looked at him, but gave him a choice; he could choose to remain a Magyar or return to the Driheli. If he took up the golden blade he had chosen the former, the black and silver blade Caur-Merripen and he would have chosen the role of the knight. With a heavy heart, Grastalko had known the only way he could fulfill his honour was to stay a Magyar.

But the golden blade had burned him, causing his left hand to shrivel into a smouldering cinder. If he looked hard enough, he could see past the illusion and note the smoky flesh. And if he willed it, he could make his hand burst into sombre flame. But that hurt even worse, and so after a few experimental tries, he never used it.

With a long sigh, Grastalko rose from his pallet and pulled on his multi-hued jerkin and breeches. His wagonmates were still snoring, but they’d be up soon. He thought about giving them a good shake, but decide to let them sleep in a bit. They were on the open plains east of Vysehrad, and it would be another few days before they reached any more settlements. All that they would do today was continue their relentless and never-ending trek north.

Outside his wagon Grastalko saw that he was not the first to rise. Hanaman their leader was already up, as well as Adlemas and Nagel. Adlemas was gaining in years, but could still sing falsetto – his voice was better than many of the women’s! Nagel was one of the eldest amongst the Magyars, but few could rival him as a contortionist. His tall, gaunt appearance made him perfect for the role of the evil, skeletal wizard in their pageant.

Beyond lay the rolling hills that marked the plains east of Vysehrad. The hills were alive with flowing grasses and small scrub. Further to the east he could see a thin line of blue that marked a distant river. Fields and farms dotted the river’s course, and somewhere beyond the horizon, cities lay in wait for the Magyars to come.

“Good morning to thee, Grastalko,” Hanaman called, waving him closer to the spent remnants of the fire pit.

“Good morning to thee, Hanaman,” Grastalko replied. He’d found the northern tongue surprisingly easy to learn, and more often than not he was thinking in it too. “What dost thee think we shalt find today?”

“More plains. We wert told it will be many days yet before we reach another village,” Hanamn replied. “Come, bring this fire to life.”

Grastalko nodded and went to retrieve more wood from one of the wagons. Though at first everything the Magyars did seemed fraught with confusion and chaos, the more Grastalko lived as one of them, the more he realized how well they organized and structured every facet of their lives. There was one wagon dedicated to carrying wood for the fires, another two dedicated to food and water, and yet another dedicated to the cooking pots and pans. And then there were the wagons in which people slept; they were highly organized too.

Grastalko gathered wood as best he could. His left arm was capable of keeping the split timber pressed to his chest, but he had to pick up each piece with his right hand. It took him longer than he liked to have a good pile arranged over last night’s coals. Thankfully, Adlemas had brought the flint. Grastalko did not like trying to start a fire. He could have just used the strange heat in his phantom left hand, but he was afraid that the fire would burn more of his arm than it already had.

Once the fire was done, Hanaman and the rest began to ignore him as they usually did. Grastalko hated to admit it, but he wished Gamran the little thief was still here. Gamran had taken an active interest in him and had shown him the many ways that life as a Magyar could be enjoyable. The older Magyars all treated him kindly, but they were not friends in the way the rogue had been.

Truly, there was only one other who he thought made life lived as a Magyar worth living. He glanced over at her wagon, and smiled inwardly. She would be awake now. She rarely left the wagon, so if he wanted to go talk to her, he had to go there himself. Grastalko sat ripping up grass as he watched that wagon for several minutes, gathering the courage he needed. He’d spoken briefly with her several times already, he could do this.

That’s right, he assured himself. This time, he would actually ask her how she was, and invite her to eat with him, or something like that. Grastlalko grinned and imagined leading her out of the wagon to join the rest. He would tell her funny stories and she would laugh, and maybe later she would tell him some of her own. Yes, Grastalko decided, that’s exactly what he would do.

And after pulling the grass out by its roots for a few more minutes Grastalko managed to get to his feet and walk up to her wagon. He spent a moment going over what he would say before climbing up to the door and knocking. He heard movement inside and tucked his fictitious left hand behind his back.

He smiled as she opened the door. “Are you here to see Dazheen?”

Grastalko had the words on the tip of his tongue. Here before him was Bryone, a sweet girl that was far shyer than many others amongst the Magyars. Her face was soft, and her hair unkempt. Her eyes studied him, but he could not tell if she was hoping he would say yes or no. Grastalko opened his mouth to speak, his heart folding inwards upon itself as the words tumbled from his tongue. “Aye, Bryone. I hath come to see Dazheen.” He wanted to stab out his heart.

Bryone nodded and gestured towards the curtained interior of the wagon. “She hast risen and be at her table.”

Grastalko moved back into the wagon. He didn’t really have anything to say to Dazheen, but it was too late now. He’d look like an idiot if he tried to change his mind now. With one last look at the frail girl, he pushed aside the curtain and stepped into the seer’s inner sanctum.

Dazheen was old, with her skin wrinkled and pulled tight to her skull. Bandages were wrapped over her sightless eyes, and cracked white hair rose from her head in almost every direction. She lifted her face at his entrance and a small smile crossed her lips. “Good morning, Grastalko. How art thou, young man?”

He stood dumbfounded. “How didst thee know it be me?”

Dazheen just smiled and gestured to the seat across from her. “Please join me, young man. I sense much in thy heart that needs a voice.”

Grastalko sighed again and sat down in the chair. “I dost not know what to say to thee, Dazheen. I hath one thing I desire, but I canst ne’er say it.”

She continued to smile, her face always pointed directly towards him. He could not help but wonder if her arcane magic allowed her to see. “‘Tis the way it be with many a man, Grastalko. Fear not, for thy tongue wilt say what thou wills it in time.”

He shrugged and glanced back at the tapestry. Bryone would be out there, and he had no doubt that she could hear every word they said. He couldn’t just tell the seer when the girl he so wished to speak with was in earshot! “Perhaps thee art right. But there be another matter that I wishes to tell thee.” Lifting his left arm he set the illusionary hand before her. “My hand hath not improved with time. What shouldst I do?”

Dazheen let her gnarled fingers trace across the smouldering stump. He winced as lances of pain raced up his arm. “Thou hast not used the fire in thy flesh?”

Grastalko shook his head. When she continued to gaze sightlessly at him, he added, “Nay, I hath not done so. It hurts to use it.”

“‘Tis not its time,” Dazheen added cryptically. “The cards... tis not its time.”

“The cards?” Well he remembered the time when she had performed a reading of the cards for him. A strange voice had spoken through the cards, mocked her, and then flung the cards into her eyes. She’d been blinded in that moment, and it had been he who had taken the horrible cards from the ruinous blobs lodged into her eye sockets. Hearing them mentioned again sent a shiver up his spine.

Dazheen lowered her face and lifted one hand to the bandage over her eyes. “Forgive me. I canst feel them still. They prey upon my thoughts.”

Grastalko felt his interest piqued. “What dost they say?”

“‘Tis why I am so weary,” Dazheen explained, her voice growing distant. “They say nothing at all.”


“They hath ne’er been so quiet ‘fore.” She lifted her face and smiled to him. “Fear not, young man. Thy hand’s wound hath little to do with the quiescence of cards.”

“Then what dost it mean?”

Dazheen’s smile grew sad. “I fear I hath no answers for thee, my young man. But thou mayest find them in the healing of thy heart.”

Grastalko grumbled and slumped in the seat. “I suppose. I shouldst go and tend to the morning meal. We wilt be travelling soon.”

“Aye, thou shouldst. Fare thee well, Grastalko. Thou art a fine young man.”

He smiled faintly, rose, and stepped back through the curtain. In the small alcove Bryone sat waiting. She looked up at him but said nothing. Grastalko opened his mouth to tell her something – he didn’t know what. But no words came. For several seconds he stood gazing at her face, and she back at him. Finally, he slipped back out the wagon and into the warm summer sun. There would be another day. Maybe tomorrow he would ask her. Maybe tomorrow.

Towering before Abafouq was a wide arch carved into the stone. It bore a passing resemblance to the mighty doorways he’d seen in Metamor during his brief visit. Into the right arch a large pick axe had been chiselled, while into the left a counterweight was depicted. These were the doors of justice, and to pass through them under guard could mean only one thing – whatever his crimes were, they were far worse than he had imagined.

Sick dread filled the Binoq as he walked forward beneath the massive arch. Beyond lay a wide room with a ceiling that sloped down towards the far end. Raised platforms with short stone lecterns were arranged in several layers like a long staircase. On either side of the room two light towers cast all into brilliant illumination. With Inkiqut’s spear at his back, Abafouq walked towards the lowest stone slab and climbed upon its well-worn surface.

Standing behind each lectern was an elder Binoq. Abafouq scanned their faces with heavy heart, recognizing many. Some had been teachers in his youth, others he’d only known because of his father. And there, very nearly in the middle of the circular arc of faces, was his father Afqulit. His face was downcast, but those dark eyes never left the sight of his son in disgrace. Abafouq felt as if the world were spinning away from him. How could any of this be happening?

A loud clang signalled the closing of the Judgements doors. Abafouq swallowed tightly as one of the Binoq stepped forward to speak. It was Kifqunan, one of the oldest amongst the Binoq, and also one of the most conservative. Even before Abafouq had left Qorfuu, this one had disapproved of his thirst for knowledge. Or at least, of the types of knowledge he sought.

“On this day, the elders of Qorfuu, the last home of the Binoq, stand in judgement of one who has broken our laws, and flagrantly done so: Abafouq of Qorfuu. In the days before he left Qorfuu in violation of our laws, he spent his days studying knowledge best left for others. No Binoq should have lusted after the forbidden arts. No Binoq should pine after the world of the outside. Yet this is what Abafouq throughout his life has done.”

Abafouq’s father coughed and glowered across the room. “Allow me to remind honoured elder Kifqunan that what he describes is not a crime. Many Binoq in the past have studied the ways of the other races. It has allowed us to better defend ourselves against them.”

The words, though he was glad to hear them, would have been more comforting had Afqulit not steadfastly avoided looking at his son. Kifqunan did hearken to them, merely waving one hand as if swatting away an irritating lock of hair. “It was his lust for forbidden knowledge that has led him to commit his crimes against the Binoq. I call him oath-breaker. I call him traitor. I call him unforgivable.”

Abafouq winced under each word. He longed for even one of the elders to spare him a sympathetic glance. All he met were the stony gazes of men who had already decided his fate.

Kifqunan was not finished. He stood up straighter, gnarled fingers digging into the hem of his cloak. “This council has decided to lay three crimes at your feet, Abafouq of Qorfuu. First, you abandoned your duties to the Binoq. Before you left Qorfuu six years ago you were beholden to the Council of Scribes. It was your duty to copy the ancient wisdom from our most sacred of walls and deliver this knowledge to the Åelves. They have brought us much that we cannot fashion ourselves, and it is this commerce that helps sustain our way of life. The Åelves have never betrayed our trust, and for them we will do much. But you abandoned your duty, and left your work incomplete.”

His voice reverberated from the walls, and Abafouq felt each indictment strike him like a hammer across his back. “And your first crime you quickly followed with a second! You left Qorfuu to live with the Nauh-kaee! In the earliest days of our race they sought to eradicate us from our mountains. Until we took all our homes beneath the surface of the rock, they would kill us without qualm or quarter! Yet you went into their land and gave yourself up to their mercies, and have, to our knowledge, befriended our enemies! For five long years you stayed there, Abafouq, traitor to Qorfuu, and your crimes against the Binoq have only multiplied.

“And that is not the worst of it. Now you return to Qorfuu, thinking nothing of your dereliction and treason, and you compound your madness by bringing humans to our sacred city! Humans! It was the war against the humans that drove us forever into these mountains, and put us under the talon of the Nauh-kaee! Only our association with the Åelves affords us any contact with the outside world. They are the only ones who care for us to exist. And you reveal our whole world for the humans to see. These particular humans may have no wish to bring us harm, and they may be on a mission of great importance, one that the Åelves have decreed must be allowed to succeed, but it was you who brought them here, Abafouq. You must pay for your crimes. They are terrible. They are unforgivable. Just as you, Abafouq, traitor to Qorfuu and all Binoq, are unforgivable.”

And with that, Kifqunan stepped back from his lectern, arms crossed over his chest. Cold, stony eyes gazed downwards at him. A small smile graced his lips, one of triumph. Abafouq knew in that moment that he was doomed. Kifqunan would only smile if he knew he’d already won.

He extended a hand, and said, as gracefully as he could, “You are allowed to speak on your own behalf. Tell us why you should be forgiven for these unforgivable crimes.”

Abafouq knew there was nothing he could say. He let his face pass across the thirteen Binoq that stood before him. Some of their faces were haughty and indignant like Kifqunan’s. Others were ashamed like his father’s. And still others seemed uncomfortable and unhappy, but not truly at him. Maybe there was hope after all. But there was only one excuse he had, one reason for everything that he had done. It was all he could offer them. Perhaps, he hoped, it would be enough.

He stepped forward, hands folded before him. He lifted his face, doing his best to be unafraid. “I did all the things I have been accused of. And if I had to do them again, I would. But unless you know and understand why I have done what I have done, any words I could say are meaningless.”

Abafouq saw that he had their attention and continued. “I was a member of the Council of Scribes. The menhir the Åelves asked me to translate concerned prophecy and evil magic. I acted completely under the auspices of the Council in my transcriptions. Seven years ago one of the Åelf who was receiving these tracts invited me to enter into a compact between himself and his allies. I would be able to help them in their coming battle against the evil forces about which I was reading. Eager to be of assistance, I agreed.”

He took a deep breath, as the next memory was still quite painful, even without the accusations. “I learned much in the first year, enough to convince me that if I did not do all that I was asked, our world could come to a cataclysmic end. The Walls of Nafqananok record the downfall of Jagoduun and the corruption of Yajakali. That ancient Åelf prince tore a hole to the Underworld, and now he seeks to finish what he started. If we do not stop him, all of this, every stone, every law, every idea in this world will be overturned and time turned withershins.

“And so, when the Åelf told me to seek out one amongst the Nauh-kaee for training, I could only do as I was asked. I hated to leave, but I knew that I had no choice. This had to be done if I was to save everything that I loved. I wish there had been some other way, and I asked for some other assignment, but the Åelf insisted, and so I went. I did what I was supposed to do, even if it marks me a traitor in your eyes, it is what had to be done.

“It is the same with bringing the humans here. You have allowed them in this place because the need is great. You have treated them like guests! Whether I brought them here or not is irrelevant. They would be here no matter what I did. But, I was told to bring them here by the very Åelf who told you that they were coming. Just as you have out of courtesy obliged him, so too I out of loyalty and shared purpose obeyed him. For these reasons, I am guilty of these crimes, but I am forgivable too.”

He licked his lips and balled his fists tight against his shirt. The members of the Council of Judgement were regarding each other speculatively. Kifqunan seemed mildly irritated by Abafouq’s words, but he spoke as levelly as he could. “The time for judgement has come. By his own admission he is guilty. All that now matters is forgiveness. Raise the black stone if he is unforgivable, the white if he is forgivable.” A moment later Kifqunan raised the black stone.

Abafouq watched as one by one each member of the Council raised a black stone. Some were quick to lift that merciless rock, others seemed to debate with themselves whether it was worth the risk of censure to offer Abafouq forgiveness. When they cast their votes, they still voted black.

The last to vote was Abafouq’s father, but by then, it was already too late. Abafouq looked at him, hoping that he alone would at least show him some courage. Afqulit looked at his son, and then looked at the rest of the council. He set his jaw firm, and lifted the white stone.

Kifqunan snorted derisively and called out, “Abafouq has been judged unforgivable by this Council. His name shall be struck from the Sentinel of Forgiveness for all to see. Take him to the estuary so that he can see his shame before all Binoq!”

As one, the thirteen members of the Council brought their stones down against their lecterns. The crack resounded off the walls like the clap of thunder. Abafouq felt his knees give out beneath him and he struggled to stay standing. He felt his cousin’s hand under his shoulder hoisting him up. Against his other shoulder he felt the sharp point of a spear.

The next few minutes were a daze. All he could see where those twelve black stones held up to condemn him. Before he could digest what that meant, they had reached the wide courtyard outside the Doors of Judgement. In the centre was a ring of six spires, with a seventh and the tallest in their midst. A mallet and chisel was placed in Abafouq’s hands. “There, upon the stone, mark your name!” He didn’t even know who gave the order.

With tears threatening to burst from his eyes, Abafouq set the chisel against the rock. Never in all his life had he ever thought he would be forced to this. The Sentinel of Forgiveness was a place that only criminals would set their names. Rarely was it used. If a Binoq was found guilty but forgivable, they too would carve their names into the rock, but their names would be left for all to read. They were forgiven, but not forgotten.

He lifted the mallet high and brought it down against the head of the chisel. He let out a cry of despair, unable to hold it back anymore. With each stroke, his wailing became more severe. There was no sound left in the world but of heartache and sorrow.

And then, he lowered the mallet and chisel, his name complete. He stood immovable, a Binoq about to be excised from their society. His home forever denied to him. The unforgivable had no place in Qorfuu except death.

Kifqunan pushed him aside and took the chisel and began to score out his name. Abafouq fell to the ground and sat there, staring in disbelief as his name was fouled. With a satisfied smile, Kifqunan lowered the chisel and declared, “It is done. You are unforgiven, Abafouq. Out of deference to the Åelf you will be allowed to stay here this night, but on the morrow you and your company must leave. You will never be allowed back to Qorfuu. You are banished to die in the mountains in whatever way you think best. Be warned. Our gods still watch you. Should you, in your banishment, act in any way to threaten any other Binoq, then you will spend eternity in unremitting torment as it is written.”

Kifqunan smiled in triumph, and then turned stiffly and left. Abafouq gasped for breath, staring up at the others of his kind that all looked on him with disgust or pity. His cousin Inkiqut looked ashamed, but his father was even worse. He looked pale and there were tears in his own eyes.

“Son,” Afqulit said, bending down and resting one hand on his shoulder. “I am sorry. I failed you. I tried so hard to convince the others to forgive you, but I failed. I have failed you, my son.”

“Father?” Abafouq’s words were choked. He wanted to say more, but couldn’t move his tongue.

“I love you, my son. I have always loved you, and I am proud of you. You did the right thing. One day, your name will be honoured amongst the Binoq. Our people are not ready to face the world, but one day we must. Kifqunan is afraid of it, but you he could destroy. I wish I could have done more... I’m so sorry.”

Afqulit knelt beside him and drew Abafouq into a tight embrace. Abafouq let the tears roll down his cheeks as he hugged his father. “I would forgive you my son, but in my mind and in my heart, there is nothing to forgive.”

“What am I to do?” he wailed.

Afqulit patted his back firmly. “What you have always done, my son. What you thought was right. If this is what you do, then I will always be proud of you, and I will never let them forget it.”

“Nor will I,” Inkiqut declared. Between them, they helped Abafouq to his feet. “We are, and always shall be family, Abafouq. I have never been more ashamed of what I have done then in bringing this to you.”

Abafouq shook his head. “No, please. Say no more. I will do as I must. I love you, Father. But I must go.”

Sadly, Afqulit lowered his hand from his son’s shoulder. “There are many day’s left to this world. Or there will be thanks to you.”

Abafouq nodded and numbly began to shamble away.

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

« Previous Part
Next Part »