The Last Tale of Yajikali


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

Laurence lowered his head and closed his eyes. “And that,” he said, voice quiet, but still rich with the dramatic landscape he’d painted, “is where this, the last tale of Yajakali, comes to a close.”

Around his legs the many ratlings slept soundly, little whiskers, paws and tails twitching in dream. Even some of the adults sat with drooping eyes and chins ready to slide from paws and knees. Erick reclined, eyes weary but open, with Lise’s head resting against his chest and her tail entwining his. He nudged her gently, and she stifled a yawn as she sat back up. He took a deep breath and glanced at the clock. Only a few hours until dawn. His uncle had been at story for nearly a full day without rest!

Erick glanced at his children, then up at his uncle who quietly glared at his sleepy audience. “I would applaud,” the Lord of the Narrows said softly, “but I don’t want to wake the children. That was an astonishing tale. You are right. I have never heard the like!”

“Nor I,” King Albert said. The long-eared stallion rubbed his exhaustion from one eye and stretched his back. A faint rippling crack ran up his spine. “You have exceeded yourself, Master Laurence.”

The elder rat smiled, whiskers twitching in delight, and bowed to his King. His long scaly tail rose behind him as he swept one arm over his back. “It has been a great pleasure regaling you with so momentous a work.” He stood, took a deep breath that swelled his chest and doublet, and then deflated with a slow shoulder slump. “It has taken me years to cobble all of these pieces together. Truly this has been my life’s work.”

“And you will be commended for it more formally than this,” the regal horse said with firm diction, the last vestiges of sleep vanished from his comportment. “But not until after we’ve all had some sleep.”

Laurence stifled a yawn and clasped his paws over his belly. “A very wise decision, your majesty.”

Lise woke the servants and together they collected the children who woke only long enough to see who it was who picked them off the carpeted pile. Their whiskers and ears twitched as their dreams resumed. Erick’s wife carried their eldest boy in her arms and offered him a meaningful glance. “I trust you will be joining me in bed soon?”

Erick nodded and stretched as he rose. “Very soon. I don’t think I can stay awake much longer.”

“Me neither,” Timothy said. His cousin was sprawled on the steps of the depression with his flop hat slid over his eyes. Erick had thought it might be to hide a nap, but he’d never heard his younger cousin snore. Timothy pushed the flop hat back over his ears and rolled his shoulders in circles. “I still cannot believe you would end us on that note. What of their return voyage to Metamor?”

Laurence lifted one claw and smiled to his nephew. “Ah, you forget that this was a tale of Yajakali. He is now dead, and so what comes after should only be enough to assure us that all are safe and will be home soon.”

“Not all of them,” Father Rouse said as he stood on his gangly legs. The bright yellowish-green tree frog flexed his fingers and jaws. “If I’m not mistaken, I caught the beginnings of many more tales sown in your conclusion.”

Laurence favoured the Questioner with a satisfied glint in his eyes. “And just what tales would those be?”

Rouse’s red eyes met the impish jongleur and betrayed none of his exhaustion. “The founding of the Sisters of the Holy Mother’s Immaculate Heart, the arrival of the first Questioner to be stationed in Metamor, St. Elvmere’s long journey back into the Ecclesia, all of the political manoeuvring surrounding the establishment of a diocese in the Northern Midlands, not to mention the fireworks that Father Akaleth’s visit to Marigund will bring. I know of these events only through history, and I’d be very interested if you know those tales as well.”

Laurence smiled to the frog and lowered his eyelids until he gazed through his lashes. “Many of them I do know, but now is not the time to hear of them. It is very late, and they deserve their own day to tell.”

“Not to mention the birth of Thomas and Alberta’s first child,” King Albert put in.

“Or the elevation of Grandpa Charles to the nobility after returning to the tragedy of his family and the journey he undertook,” Erick added, his whiskers twitching in delight at the thought of the founder of their family’s subsequent adventures.

Laurence snorted, “As if you haven’t heard me tell you those stories many times before.”

Erick shrugged. He was too tired to argue with his uncle. He glanced at his many guests, watching them rise one by one and stretch the fatigue from their muscles. Kalder, the ambassador from Vysehrad, had his eyes closed in thought as he lifted his feet up and down to wake them. Beside him, Count Floran adjusted his blue sash, an unsettled moue on his lips. Sitting behind them, legs crossed, her vibrant eyes no less astute than they’d been in the morning, Sinhåsa el-Abarei, the Åelvish ambassador, cradled her ivory handled sword in her lap and watched the others rise. In the other corner, Prime Minister Ryman Ertham rubbed his eyes with the backs of his paws, long frazzled tail flitting back and forth and nearly striking Father Rouse in its erratic circuit. Captain Demetrius of Whales sat with stiff-back and alert eyes through the entire performance, and now stood with equal poise.

On Erick’s side of the room, he noticed the ram, Lord Arister Dupré, rising and muttering something to himself, clearly disturbed by what he’d heard. Nearby, Andre the red dragon reclined with his wife, the russet brown gryphon named Tessa, and his cousin Scyllia, the ferret mage who dressed more colourfully than anyone else Erick knew, leaning against him on either side. For a moment, Andre’s long snout looked ready to fall into his lap, when it snapped up and he snorted with fierce pride, “What a joy it was to hear that my ancestor Kayla was the one to strike down that foul Marquis! Ah, what a gripping climax, Master Laurence!”

Scyllia nodded as she pushed off his heavy, crimson scaled arm, “Oh it was. I’m so happy for her! She got to free her lover from the cards! And I was so happy to see Wessex help Jessica one last time. That was so touching! But oh,” the ferret’s face fell and her enthusiasm turned to melancholy, “poor Lindsey and Habakkuk. I was wondering why they didn’t have any descendants here to listen.”

“I am confused,” Rouse admitted with a narrowing of his red eyes, “why the last Felikaush appeared to St. Elvmere. He had no children. The new line of prophets emerged in Sil...” Rouse stopped, blinked, and then laughed. “Now you must tell me that story if you know it!”

Laurence waved one paw at the frog as he walked from the centre of the room to where King Albert sat. “I told you, Father, another day perhaps.” His eyes lit upon the horse lord and he bowed. “Your majesty, I am very tired, and beg your leave to find a bed on which to rest my weary head.”

“You may. I suggest we all retire for the night.” King Albert rose and tottered on his hooves for a moment. “If I cannot find my bed, then like my ancestor, a pile of hay would suit me at this hour.”

There were a few weary chuckles at Albert’s bit of levity, but most failed to grasp the humour. One by one they all made it to their feet and shuffled toward the chamber’s exits. But before Laurence could leave, Count Floran stepped in his way with a deep frown. “Master Laurence, I must know something.”

Laurence looked up at the southerner and twitched his greying whiskers. “What is it?”

“You say that Duke Verdane sent William Dupré to Metamor because of a messenger from the Åelf. Yet I have never heard such a thing in all my years at the Kelewairan court, nor in any of the histories of that time. How come you to say such a thing that has no evidence for it?”

The rat took a deep breath and gestured to the pearl-grey skinned woman with pointed ears and exotic armour. “Sinhåsa el-Abarei is five hundred years old. She saw and remembers when Grandpa Charles and the rest arrived in Ava-shavåis. It is from her predecessor here at Metamor that I came by such knowledge.”

“And I have spoken with Tyliå-nou,” Sinhåsa said in silvery tones. “He admits to bringing the letter as he was asked. It is also the last time he has spoken your tongue.”

Count Floran’s glare weakened but did not entirely fall from his face. “And what of him now? Does he care that his name is passed around in tales?”

“He is in seclusion aiding Andares-es-sebashou.”

Timothy squeaked in surprise, “Andares is still alive?”

“And serves as Lord of Colours for Ava-shavåis.”

Laurence waved them to silence with one paw. “Does that satisfy you, Count Floran?”

Floran took a deep breath, eyes scanning the room briefly, then settled on the rat. “It does. Thank you and good night.”

Erick exchanged a quick look with King Albert, and then both of them, feeling intense relief, left the chambers to find their beds. No more was said as all of them stumbled to where they’d been promised sleep. The grumbling shuffle of boots, paws, and hooves echoed down the empty corridors.

It was sometime well past midmorning when Lord Erick Matthias climbed from his bed to attend to his many guests. At Lise’s suggestion, he had Robert bring them when they woke to his morning room to break their fast. His wife, still exhausted from Laurence’s long tale, nevertheless felt it her duty to make sure that the children received their lessons and spent some time out of doors after four days clustering at the paws of the master jongleur.

Erick personally went to the kitchens and instructed his staff to bring a wide selection of pastries, eggs, and juice to his solar. That task done, he made his sore muscles climb the steps to the east-facing room with wide windows over looking the Narrows. Magical artifice had provided them with large panes of glass free of whorls and other impurities, so the view was nearly as pristine as if the window were open. Yet this way, even in the winter months the Matthias clan could enjoy a lovely sight without freezing. The engineers had assured his grandfather when they built the room that no trebuchet could reach them so far from the outer walls, and Erick hoped they would never need test that pronouncement.

A couch lined the wall beneath the window, with a lacquered table that came to his chest spread the length of the couch. Erick often liked to bring books to read here in the quiet mornings when he could afford such leisure. Now, all the ornamental decorations were pushed aside and plates were arrayed for all of them.

Laurence was there already, soaking the sun into his grey-whiskered snout. “Good morning, Nephew.”

“Good morning, Uncle,” Erick replied. He slid onto the cushions and leaned against the pane of glass. His tail curled around and rested in his lap where the sun shone. Every bit of him struck by the light felt a rich warmth suffuse throughout. “I cannot get my head around this story of yours. Did everything truly come together at the last moment?”

“It did,” Laurence replied. “Little evidence remains that time stopped for all not in Marzac, but how would you leave evidence of stopped time? It is only from the diaries of Duke Thomas Hassan V that I even learned of what he saw that night.”

Erick pondered that as he enjoyed the sun. “Just how long have you been working on this tale?”

“Most of my life,” Laurence replied. “Oh, the stories of Grandpa Charles have been passed down through our family, but never in such detail. Grandpa Charles wrote most of this down, and it made for entertaining reading. The rest I’ve found in diaries and ledgers and treatises of all stripes. But it wasn’t until I found that snippet from Duke Thomas’s diary that I began to understand just what had really happened all those years ago. And also how fortunate that makes us.”

“We wouldn’t have been if they’d failed. Is that what you’re saying?”

Laurence shook his head. “It is worse than that. Although they would not discern it for many years, the mages of Marigund, in cooperation with those of Boreaux, were able to determine what would have happened if Yajakali succeeded.” He paused and let his eyes stare past the glass to the distant mountains resplendent in their summer coat of green. Towers and towns pockmarked the valley, all radiant in the sun’s midday light.

Erick tapped his claws on the lacquered wood. “Uncle, you aren’t at story anymore. You can tell me.”

Laurence chuckled to himself, whiskers drooping. “It is frightening to think about, Nephew, what could have been. Or rather, what wouldn’t have been. To undo his mistake, Yajakali sought to bend time backward. He smote Vigoreaux in order to unhitch time. That is, to break the current moment in time from the ever forward moving stream of time. And he smote Sir Autrefois in order to loop time.”

Erick shook his head. “I’m not seeing this.”

Laurence plucked at a loose thread from his tunic sleeve. “Just a moment and I can demonstrate.” He lowered his snout to his sleeve and bit the thread loose. The strand extended the width of his paw with fingers outstretched. He held the ends in either paw and gently pulled it taut. “Imagine that the end of the string in my right paw is the past, and that of my left paw is the future. The present is somewhere in the middle ever moving toward my left paw. Do you follow?”

“This sounds suspiciously like my philosophy lessons.”

“Then if you paid attention you should understand. Normally time is straight like you see here. What Yajakali did was concentrate enough magical power in the same place after weakening the veils between the worlds with his multiple wars and death that he made the time line break free. He unhitched the time line so that it didn’t have to be straight anymore. And then he looped it, by taking the present moment and sending it to the past. Like this.”

Laurence lifted the end in his left paw and set it down in the middle making a loop in one end of the thread. Erick nodded. “So when they moved forward in time, they’d be moving through the past?”

“And stuck in a loop,” Laurence added. “Yajakali didn’t want that either. And had he killed Jessica, he would have loosed time. That is, he would have pulled the loop in time free.” Laurence lifted the thread to his teeth and severed it. Now he held two pieces, one a thread dangling from his right paw, the other still held in a loop. “Yajakali and all he drew over would remake time anew in this thread,” he waved the strand in his right paw. “While all time in this loop would be forever trapped.”

“How could time stay like that?” Erick asked, blinking and suddenly wishing he’d stayed in bed. Not even the sun’s warmth could make his brain move fast enough to follow his uncle.

“Ah, and there is the final nightmare that our ancestors avoided!” Laurence waved the loop of string in the air as if it were evidence of a great crime. “To answer your question, it couldn’t. Time couldn’t stay like this. The loop would have broken free, and in so doing, the magical backlash would have destroyed Yajakali. The magical backlash that did occur when the loop broke was enough to destroy the World Bell.”

Erick shook his head, ears folding back. He could hear the distant sound of boots and hooves coming up the servant’s stairs. The scent of pastries struck his snout a moment later. “So how was Yajakali going to prevent this?”

“That is why he sought alliance with the Underworld. It swallows all magic. Everything in that time loop would have been loosed to the Underworld. All eleven thousand years of time would have been the Underworld’s to feast upon.”

Laurence dropped the thread as the doors to the servant’s passage opened and the first trays of pastries and cheeses were brought into the solar. Erick tried to smile to them, but his mind kept poring over his uncle’s words. The servants were long used to his distracted moments and quietly set about their tasks. They arranged the platter of pastries, rich breads glazed with cream and fruit, while various fresh cheeses were arrayed on another platter. Erick took a small wedge of a rather sharp cheddar and nibbled on the end. He would have to thank them later.

Once they’d left, Erick turned to his uncle and whispered, “Listening to you tell the tale, I could tell that Yajakali had become evil. But until this moment, I never really understood how much. That’s... inconceivably profane. It’s... I don’t know what words to use to describe it.”

“A failure, praise Eli,” Laurence supplied.

Erick’s ears turned as the voices of some of his guests echoed up the hallway. “Aye, a failure. Thank you for telling me, Uncle.”

Laurence patted him on the shoulder in a way only family could do and nodded, his smile warmer than the sun. “It is a pleasure. Besides, it is as you say, I am no longer at story, and can give away things now! Hah!”

The momentary fear passed from his heart and both rats laughed together as the first of their friends joined them.

It was well past noon when one by one his guests began to depart for their homes. Captain Demetrius of Whales was the first to leave, but not after complimenting Erick Matthias on a fine home and Laurence on a marvellous tale. The stalwart captain offered Scyllia a ride back south, but she declined preferring to spend a little more time with her cousin and his wife.

King Albert and his retinue slipped away before Erick and Lise could arrange a fanfare to send them on their way. Much to the rat’s chagrin, Albert had his Prime Minister keep them both occupied while he arranged his departure. Father Rouse and Sinhåsa el-Abarei accompanied him as before, and before they knew it, their liege was bidding them farewell.

After the excitement of the tale’s conclusion, watching his guests depart left Erick feeling nostalgic. And it reminded him of the many tasks he had to attend to as Lord of the Narrows. He’d spent four days listening to Laurence. He couldn’t put off his duties any longer.

Still, he enjoyed every last minute he could with his guests. After breaking their fast in his solar, he led what guests remained on a tour of his castle and grounds, helping each of them to work out the soreness in their legs from sitting too long. The day was warm with a bright sun and only a few clouds to mar the saintly blue of the sky. And to all their surprise, another set of stormclouds broke and dispersed.

While Erick was describing the watch posts high up the mountain ridge, Arister Dupré, who had been uncharacteristically quiet since the conclusion of the story, turned to Count Floran and announced, “Count Floran, I apologize to you and the house of Verdane. I and my family have born them ill will for so long, I never thought it possible there could be another truth. But Duke Verdane only wished to protect his people, and it was my forebear that brought them to harm. Forgive me my wroth words of yonder night and all the enmity I have born these many years!”

Floran’s frown turned into a long sigh. “If Master Laurence is to be believed, and I don’t see why he shouldn’t, then I owe you an apology too for what I have said. I always believed your house to be founded by a traitor to Kelewair. But it seems that it was just one more consequence of evil that swept men along.”

Arister’s snout spread in a firm grin. The older ram crossed to Floran’s side and extended a woolly arm. “I may not agree with you on policy for the kingdom, but on this we can agree. There is no reason to bear a grudge against our ancestors or each other.”

Floran hesitated as he stared at the hoof-like hand for only a moment. Then he smiled, faint but sure, and they clasped hands. “Yes, on that we can at least agree.”

While the two enemies shook, Erick’s ear caught Laurence’s words muttered under his breath, “Finally! Thank Eli!” Erick smiled but kept his muzzle shut.

By midafternoon, Erick was left wandering his grounds by himself. Andre and Tessa flew back with Scyllia riding between her cousin’s wings. Arister Dupré promised to drag Timothy to the Wall again before he left. Timothy swore he’d flee to Midtown first before begging leave to return to Metamor and his family. Even Ambassador Kalder had to return to Metamor.

Laurence didn’t leave the Matthias Keep but he did excuse himself once the other guests had all left. Erick didn’t blame him for his desire to sleep. He’d been surprised to see him up at all. But, it meant that Erick was alone in wandering the grounds. All about him was silence apart from the wind.

Erick wandered over terrazzo and natural stone as he wended back between the mountains. The land fell into soft shadow, and ivy cascaded from the high walls like running goats. Erick trailed his paws through the ivy and wondered what it had been like for his ancestor to have ivy grow from his flesh.

The ground sloped upward as it narrowed between the pass. Eventually, it gave way to a twin set of stairs, one on either side of the pass. The ivy clung to the steps, but his family kept them clean. This was a task that the Matthias clan always performed for themselves. No place was more special to them than this. Between the sets of stairs a mausoleum stood. Its facade was simple and only bore a depiction of the Yew beneath which on bended knee genuflected a rat. The vault descended deep into the earth, but it was not there that Erick sought.

It was to the garden.

At the top of the staircase hid a reclusive garden. The sun only directly struck the garden for a few hours a day; but with it and the light reflected from the snowy peaks it was enough that simple plant life prospered during the Summer. Trees lined the exterior, with a circular terrazzo walkway surrounding a central section of smaller bushes and flowers. A long wall stood at the western edge overlooking the sudden drop. While only a few hundred feet, it looked as if the mountains had been sheared with a knife. It was the reason that they had never feared attack from the mountains.

But what truly made the garden special was the statuary. A dozen statues of rats stood, sat, or reclined in various positions about the garden. Plaques were set beside them so that all Matthias family members could come here and remember them. The most recent was only ten years old. Laurence’s eldest brother, now a statue of firm granite, polished with loving care by his family, leaned against the western wall peering over the edge, long tail curling around an iron post for safety’s sake.

Erick rubbed one paw over his uncle’s back before moving to the central figure. Standing with snout lifted toward the heavens was his Grandpa Charles. A black handprint covered his right eye and cheek. The eyes were faceted obsidian. He wore doublet and hose with the Narrows heraldry, with a Sondeckis robe draped over one arm. Crawling over his back and chest was an ivy which burrowed into his back above his long tail.

The living rat reached out a paw to touch the granite corpus of his progenitor. He smiled softly and half imagined that heavenly gaze smiled in return. “Well, here I am again. So, tell me, Grandpa. What happens next?” And in the silence that followed, Lord Erick Matthias almost thought he heard the stony remains of his ancestor regale him with the next tale.

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

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