It's protected by Magi, who seemingly keep it safe from attack by Wolf Riders.
When they arrive at the city they're greeted with suspicion, doubt, fear. Marrida already knows what fate awaits her in the city. When her predictions come true it's up to Alagur to gain the trust of the citizens.
The South Spires is the bastion of Magi. What Alagur discovers quickly is that it doesn't serve as a safe haven but as an instrument of fear.
He has tried to put aside his old life as a Wolf Rider. This city forces him to confront this past...
Release date: August 24, 2021
Publisher: Emerentsia Publications
Print pages: 857
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Truth of a Betrayer
Nathalie M.L. Römer
MARRIDA FRANTICALLY shakes the sleeping man in the bed, imploring loudly, “Alagur, wake up, get up... We haveto leave NOW...” Her panicked voice echoes through the lodgings.
“What—what’s the matter?” Alagur mutters sleepily.
Marrida answers the question by shaking him hard once more.
“THEY—ARE—HERE...” Marrida answers urgingly, then she rushes fast around the room. She piles all their worldly goods on the bed and almost throws two of the haversacks at the man.
Alagur pushes himself upright in the bed, rubbing a hand over his head. He tries to comprehend what Marrida is telling him.
“Who is here?” he mumbles.
“Wolf Riders. They’re about to attack the city, if they’ve not already started their—” Marrida says before she abruptly stops talking when an audible loud bang in the distance confirms her assessment.
Alagur is instantly wide awake when a moment later the house shakes from the shock wave of the impact heard moments earlier. To emphasise the woman’s words once again, Alagur now also hears a sound that’s closer to their dwelling, which is all too familiar for comfort, and then it repeats. Both sounds interrupt Marrida and him from speaking any further.
He jumps out of bed and starts packing everything Marrida is still carrying to the bed, into the readied haversacks. She’s darting in and out of the room with even more belongings all the time. Alagur’s thoughts betray what he really feels about the situation going on right now.
An agreeable thing. I’ve been doing the same to smuggle me from the city when I went to Alzamar. Less left to pack, really...
They pack the books first as they could not be left behind and pack their last clothing around them to safeguard them, as in nature there was the risk of them being damaged by water, wind, or sun, or by animals, or by being found by a man, woman or child passing by.
When Alagur packs food, Marrida stops him with a hissed comment before she darts to another part of the lodgings. “Leave the food. We can catch what we will need for feeding on our way south...”
Alagur complies. Instead, he packs more clothes, and anything else he fits into the bags as Marrida keeps dumping more belongings on the bed, snapping, “I can also use the bedding as packing material if we run out of time.”
Alagur realises that once they’re away from the city, and out of danger, they can repack and check over what losses they’d suffered in their haste.
Alagur knows that Yalla, and Lya who is Marrida’s much younger wolf, both keep themselves hidden from view a half day’s travel south of the city where he’d left the animals before he had arrived back in Damrachia with Eldagu months earlier. Once they’re reunited with them, they can ride away from the city and be safe within a day.
They both freeze when they hear two loud knocks on the front door. They wait for a few minutes, listening. The same two loud knocks repeat, seemingly with more urge to them.
“Stay here...” Alagur hisses, and he quietly descends the stairs.
Voices trail up the stairs, and Marrida listens for a moment.
“It’s Dargu...” Alagur calls up to Marrida, who is still busy packing in their sleeping room. “He’s helping us out of the city. He’s leaving too but going west to Azaquina.”
Dargu who’d become a good but eccentric friend over the previous year or more, while they lived in the city nods at Marrida, when she descends the stairs partway handing Alagur a haversack and rushing back up for the other.
“There’s a pass which leads up the mountain is at the north side of the city which is usually used by herdsmen for their mountain sheep, but we can go along this route to get away from here,” Dargu explains to Alagur who nods.
He trailed the pass several times out of curiosity, so is aware where the pass would lead them. This is if the Wolf Riders haven’t discovered the road north of the mountain yet.
Alagur helps Marrida first with her haversack, securing it in place precisely. They can’t afford any delays caused by it sliding off. He fastens his own after this. Marrida is wearing one of his trousers for the same reason, which makes Dargu raise an eyebrow when he realises she isn’t in her more familiar long skirt.
“I got my rucksack near the path out of the city,” Dargu mentions quietly. “I put it there before I came to find you...”
“How did you know of the attack?” Marrida queries, curiosity clear in her voice.
“You should remember the height of my house,” Dargu replies, “The top floor easily overlooks the nearby valley. I remembered Alagur mentioning once about how you can see Wolf Riders approaching. I saw the dust cloud, then saw the first projectiles hit the city in the north west and knew the attack you warned about had started. Others are leaving too. They’re going south like you. Like Anayra. Also, the people in the city’s north west seem to have realised it sooner than us it was about to start because many of them started coming towards the south gates from about mid-morning...”
“Will she cope with the journey?” Marrida asks.
“Yes. Don’t worry about her. She’s a tough one...” Dargu acknowledges, smiling warmly.
THE TRIO WALK FROM the dwelling, and all look up at the now so familiar house. Marrida and Alagur both know they’ll miss the house with its lengthy history, part of which Dargu had explained to them after both had to swear never to let Anayra know that they knew a lot more about what went on inside then she’d ever mentioned.
In the street there is panic, with hundreds of people streaming from their houses carrying the few belongings they could manage to collect in minutes, similarly to Marrida and Alagur, because the many carts, that had left for the previous few weeks, had contained as much of people’s belongings as they could hold. Most people had sent away most of their worldly belongings long before this morning finally came. When the Wolf Riders finally got entry into the city, they’d find that most of what could give them wealth would have vanished, and they would place their blame for not getting more spoils at Samur’s feet, who’d suffer humiliation.
It took some effort but when Alagur explained to the part of the population that wanted to stay; they realised they’d be dead when the Wolf Riders arrived, and they’d contribute to whatever Samur planned. So, everything not bolted down got taken in carts, which only would carry the oldest, youngest, and frail, with as much of the belongings as possible all disguised to appear as additional people to deceive the scouts among the Wolf Riders. In the meantime, all people went through the hidden passages in the mountains north and east of the city and would take hidden paths towards the beaches north of Upper Plains or take a route south past the oasis where the wolves had been, who now were closer to the city because of it, then trek until they arrived at the marshlands where they’d reunite with the people who went with the carts, and then all of them would travel towards Alzamar or Callers’ Camp.
This was Alagur’s deception against the Wolf Riders. They saw the evidence of soldiers on the walls, but that would cause them to not see the departure of an entire city. Many men also went around to set up traps for the approaching attackers, guided by Alagur’s last-minute instructions. He had told various men where to set the traps for when the city empties for a time. Others sheltered those made homeless in the most southern parts of the city. This is also why the screams that Alagur and Marrida can hear are so loud. They tried to prepare the city for the carnage, but when the carnage came, fear still entered many hearts...
THE SCENERY THEY SEE around them reminds both Marrida and Alagur of Ruh’nar from when that city had come under attack of a much smaller group of Wolf Riders which had only numbered five squads in total. When Marrida asked about it she was told by Alagur it was around six thousand men with their wolves. This attack is five times more... if what Jymar stated was even correct. Alagur said he knew of at least forty squads around central Keldarra, and that number didn’t include the Wolf Runners, the squads around Hayzan, or any that may be further away.
Each of them sees the attack differently; this scene seems more pronounced than anything Marrida has ever witnessed before in Ruh’nar. For Marrida, her concern also comes from being concerned about the innocents inside the Temple. Alagur soon comprehends by glancing around him that unlike Ruh’nar this city possesses no defensive stone throwers or any other form of defence.
As they walk up the steep slope, following Dargu, who turns soon on to another path, and then passes the place where the path splits off also towards the plateau where they’d sat watching the progress of the Wolf Riders, Alagur stops and glances for a moment behind him. He can see roofs aflame in the most south-western and western quarters of the massive city and in the north-east, and he knows spear arrows, like those hidden near the wolves, are the cause. For the first time in his life, the man who was the attacker in a past that now seems a lifetime ago, understands how it feels to be on the receiving end of such attacks, and it gives him a renewed sense of purpose to undo what he previously took part in.
As Alagur turns, he notices he had stopped walking, and his two companions are waiting a scant distance away. Approaching them quickly, the glances from Marrida towards the west and then north shows that she’d come to similar conclusions about their surroundings without him saying anything about it.
“Can you see the white rock outcrop there above us?” Dargu remarks, “It’s where the path we’ll take is. It goes partially through a cave, and afterwards it’s a steep slope down, and after this we’ll be at the road where you can go east, and I’ll go down to the beach to follow others going west to Azaquina...”
“When we part ways, be safe...” Marrida says in a quiet tone barely audible over the surrounding turmoil.
“I will. Don’t worry about me...” Dargu comments. “I got the letter you wrote in my pocket here...”
He taps on his chest to emphasise the sentence.
“With this letter Emelyse will know I come to her as your friend if she doesn’t recognise me anymore, and she’ll welcome me with open arms—” Dargu laughs at his own attempt to sound confident about the welcome he’d get when he arrived. It makes Alagur and Marrida laugh too.
“And what will you do if she turns you away?” Alagur flashes a teasing smirk at the old man.
“I guess there’s no option for me. I’ll go to the nearest tavern to drown my sorrows with a well-filled pitcher of wine...” Dargu says as he winks at Alagur before he laughs again. And promptly speaks again in a more serious tone.
“If she’s as kind as you make her out, and if her son is as clever as you say he is, I must hang up my travel boots, become a sober man, and ask her to be my life partner. Even if I’m old enough to be her father really, and really in name only to honour my daughter’s memory...”
The statement brings back memories for Marrida of the day when Alagur asked her. It was sudden, but it was something she wanted. She wonders for a moment how Emelyse would react to this man, and whether he’d succeed... in persuading her.
Bergas needs a father, she thinks. Someone to guide him into adulthood...
When the trio reach the higher elevation leading to the path out of the city, they stop for a moment to watch the city behind them. They catch sight of the bright orange glow slowly spreading itself in the western quarter of the city, and the beginning of the same at the southern end of the city. It has an eerie, otherworldly quality to it, which is even more prominent at the height they stand.
The smell of burning pitch fills the air, and gradually the volume of the screams of residents who were so rudely awoken by the carnage unleashed on them lessens as more of them exit from the city through the hidden passages only they know of. The sound penetrates the deepest recesses of Marrida’s insides, and she notes that unlike the soft bee-like hum she’d heard in Azaquina during its spring festival, this is a sound of terror and pain.
“You’ve both seen this before?” Dargu says solemnly. Alagur and Marrida both nod.
“And you may have done this to others in the past, haven’t you, Alagur? How does it feel to be on the receiving end of it?”
Alagur looks at the man beside him who has an expression of concern and not the anger he expected to see on his face, which surprises Alagur somewhat.
“This is what we’re trying to end...” Alagur says hesitantly after a few moments.
“If you do, then make sure also that the things they do in this city don’t continue...” Dargu says. “Promise me this...”
“A time will come when the Order of Truth will be the original pure version, and not what exists now...” Marrida responds. “I observed it in a vision of three years ago when we passed the old watchtowers that we told you about...”
“I remember you telling me about them,” Dargu says. “You said the fourth one you saw is interesting...”
“It was, and if you arrive at a ravine, you’ve passed it,” Alagur adds. “Make sure you look at the back of the bottom floor. There are—some interesting drawings there.”
Alagur looks at Marrida, who nods agreement. They’d never figured out who the two people depicted are precisely, although a book she carries seems to offer a clue, and Marrida maintains the assertion they will find the answer in the cities they plan to visit that are somewhere ahead of them.
After looking at the turmoil of the city for a few more minutes, two men and a woman turn silently and start the final ascent towards the tunnel offering a safe exit from the city. Their three-year tenure in the city has ended. It is only two seasons ago, when Alagur and Marrida bonded as life partners, but now it feels like a lifetime ago. Alagur and Marrida see they aren’t the only ones using this tunnel as an exit...
They use old tunnels and the many hidden passages, which had served a function of smuggling people from the city when it was under constant occupation by northern invaders one last time. Alagur, Marrida and Dargu are possibly among the last to use the passages to get away from the city. On the other side they would split up, and Dargu would go down to the beach, which is a hundred paces below them, while Alagur and Marrida were going to travel along a path high in the eastern mountain range, leading them to a small copse just west of the oasis.
This route was earlier taken also by Anayra and others travelling at the same time as she did. Almost all those who left earliest were the civilians and the reason for it is to make sure they didn’t become unwilling conscripts for the army defending the city, and with men or boys, it’s so they wouldn’t end up as one of Samur’s recruits...
The journey over the mountain range will take them two entire days, and Dargu warns them they’d get a ‘excellent view of the action.’
PARTING IS HARD FOR all three of them. Their friendship grew in the time since Dargu first approached them and had grown even more after Marrida’s heroic actions within the dark building, which everyone knew only ever as the Temple of the Hidden until recently but is more and more just being referred to as the ‘False Temple’. Its fate is unknown in the current events, and although both Alagur and Marrida have seen glimpses of that fate, with so much changing every day, they don’t know if the fate is the same as before.
As she glances in its direction, Marrida sees a trickle of smoke coming from a tower that’s part of the False Temple. She recognises what part of the building this is. The people left behind inside were told of her vision. All had stated it was best if none of them remained alive to allow anyone among the impending attackers to use their skill similarly as Ladrysa had once done. They knew they’d have to kill themselves after killing the Elder, and all those around the Elder who were in her service. It was a dangerous task.
Marrida shuts her eyes for a moment, and her mind asks for mercy for those in the False Temple who’d give their lives. She’d been learning some old knowledge that once, in the days of Keltana, might have been a ‘prayer for a soul,’ which she’d learnt from books that she and Anayra translated and which they both explained to as many as possible.
Although Marrida is uncertain what a ‘prayer for a soul’ is, she hopes that what she’s doing is it. Anayra explained the words to her in Sab’ruhi dialect, and even then, the words made little sense to her, even after the many more explanations from Anayra.
Marrida opens her eyes, and glances sideways towards two men standing beside her who both didn’t notice her pause, and chose not to out of respect for her. Alagur is the first to see her looking at them, and nods at her to show that he understands she wants to go. It still surprises her even after three years of them travelling and living together that he can understand her this well.
She nods once. More to state an unspoken confirmation than anything else...
“ARE YOU SURE YOU WON’T travel south with us...?”
Marrida looks up at Dargu with pleading eyes, who responds to the comment with a wistful smile, then answers her question. She’d been asking this same question two dozen times already as they trekked through the tunnel.
“As much as I want to, I need to go west. Someone needs to tell Emelyse what has happened here, and she needs to get told about her friend, however hard that will be...”
“I think Emelyse knows already about her fate deep down. Her Caller skills are active, and she trained with Jarryca, who’s very good at the skill. She probably knew before you did a long time ago that her friend perished in there...”
Marrida motions her head into a southern direction in the approximate direction where the False Temple is. Just as she does this, they hear a massive crashing sound.
“What was that?” she asks in a tremulous voice.
“I think that’s the fate of the False Temple,” Alagur hisses. “I think it just met its end at the hands of the Wolf Riders...”
Marrida looks at him tearfully.
“The women and girls in there—” is all she says before they hear a second booming sound that shakes the ground even though they’re well over twelve hundred paces from its location.
“I think we better move away. If I remember correctly what my father told me they had designed these tunnels to collapse after enough ground shakes have happened,” Dargu comments. “With this amount of damage going on, it would have been sooner rather than later...”
“Is everyone out of the cities?” Marrida now asks Dargu in a panicked voice.
“They’re all gone.” Dargu nods solemnly. “All that the Wolf Riders will find in the city now, are voles and traps, and they won’t live long enough to know about the traps...”
“We all better go...” Alagur suggests.
“I agree...” Dargu replies.
Marrida throws herself against the old man once more, and he gives her a tight hug.
“I will miss you, Daughter of Darius Kayrsan,” he whispers, “Everyone in Azaquina will know what a hero you are, and whose daughter YOU are...”
Marrida looks up and smiles before blushing when Dargu plants a kiss on her forehead. It was something he’d never done before this day. After this he holds the woman at arm’s length for a few moments, then he let’s go of her, shakes Alagur’s hand before he gives the man a hug too, and for good measure gives him a kiss, too, on the forehead which causes Marrida to get giggling. He turns and starts his descent towards the beach.
She won’t let him forget that little teasing in a hurry, Alagur thinks, grinning.
MARRIDA AND ALAGUR watch after the man until he turns a corner, and the landscape obscures him from their vision. They instinctively listen for the sounds that come from the city and realise it’s getting quieter.
“We need to depart before the Wolf Riders go inside the city,” Alagur says. “I was told to do something with this tunnel before we go. It’s best you stand away a bit as it involves me going inside a small distance. I can sprint fast, and I’ve practised this over the last several days so I know I can do this. Dargu said there’s a few minutes of delay...”
Marrida nods resolutely. She’d seen images of them travelling together that were from the future, and in them she’d seen Alagur healthy and uninjured.
Alagur walks into the tunnel, and from the glow of the ember Marrida sees as she moves away some distance as instructed, she can see he isn’t far inside. She wonders what he’s doing as no one had told her anything about this part of what seems to be a pre-determined plan. She smiles when Alagur emerges after a few minutes.
“Now watch, and maybe cover your ears...” Alagur says as he smiles at her, “I’ve been around enough explosive sounds to cope with what you’re about to witness... well, at least the beginning of it...”
Marrida frowns, then she covers her ears. She hears a muffled, loud sound, then another, and a few moments later another. She hesitantly takes her hands off her ears.
If I have to deal with the war that’s going on, Marrida thinks, glancing at the man at the same time, I might as well get used to this as it’s something military—
A moment later, Marrida wishes she could take back those words as she cringes and digs her head into Alagur’s chest. “It’s over now—at least this part. The rest will happen slowly, but we better move off this mountain before it can happen...” Alagur mumbles.
“Will it be safe to travel over them?” she asks.
“Yes, it was designed to only cause—what they’d planned—to happen to this part of the mountain... When they come back to rebuild the city, there will be no morning darkness to make mornings cold...” he explains, then laughs at Marrida’s puzzled expression.
THEY’D BEEN WALKING for over half a day when they stop feeling the ground shake underfoot. They look northwest, and Marrida’s mouth slowly opens more and more when she sees something impossible. The mountain seems to move, but then it stops. She glances at Alagur.
“No, you didn’t imagine that...” Alagur winks at her.
“But how...?” she asks.
“It’s something the ancient occupiers built here, and it’s a guarded secret only ever passed down from parent to adult child. It’s one thing Ladrysa never uncovered about the city, and before her the Warlords who came to occupy this city didn’t know either,” Alagur explains. “According to what Dargu told me today while you were busy packing. It’s something left over from the earliest days when all this was still Keltana... He says this city dates back to those days, some nine thousand years ago...”
“What will happen with the mountain?” Marrida asks.
“It will ensure that blame falls on Samur for the failure of this attack. He will be eager to send in all the troops but will be a coward and stay behind. Or stay behind to ensure he can go to do whatever he’s got planned next, because I don’t think this will end in a day, a week, a season or even a year. I’m uncertain, but I think it will be ten years or more before the War Ender ends it...”
“I think so too,” Marrida whispers, “I just wish that I knew who the War Ender is.”
She turns and starts walking again, followed by Alagur who keeps his face neutral while he thinks, But I know. I’m certain of it...
IT’S CLOSE TO DUSK when they reach the furthest eastern side of the eastern mountain range where they sit for a quick, but cold, meal. They don’t want the smoke to alert any possible Wolf Rider scouts of their presence, both recalling what Marrida once told Alagur about seeing a single plume of smoke south of the Fourth Watchtower.
After some fifteen minutes a droning sound coming towards them from the west interrupts their meal which seems to grow louder by the minute.
“I think the Wolf Riders are coming towards the city,” Alagur explains. “That sound you hear is tens of thousands growling wolves... If the timing is correct, I think in about ten or fifteen minutes the next sound you’ll hear, is nature taking her revenge on them for attacking this city...”
“What will happen?”
“Just wait...” Alagur answers, smiling knowingly, and constantly glancing at the mountains on the north side of the city.
Marrida keeps glancing over her shoulder while she chews on a piece of honey bread. She hears a sound...
“Now...! Do YOU want to watch?”
She nods, then gets up, taking Alagur’s hand as the sound increases. The next moment her eyes widen both with fear and with amazement when she sees the mountain sliding down. To Marrida, it almost appears like it does when someone cuts through butter with a hot knife. She jerks her head to the west, when she hears screams in the city.
Not the screams of residents in fear of Wolf Riders with their weapons, but these are the voices of Wolf Riders who also see the mountain’s descent towards them. There’s no way to know who the men are.
I hope Jymar isn’t in the ‘cutter squad’ down there,Alagur thinks, feeling regret over the likely death of the unusual ally he’d won himself. He keeps this thought quiet, though he was certain that similar thoughts are going through her mind by the somewhat grimaced look on her face.
The result of the mountain’s journey wasn’t visible from their location, but there was enough sheered stone visible on the higher reaches of the mountain to get an idea of what it might look like below in the city...
Alagur was certain that most of the northern half of the city didn’t stand anymore. Then he smirked when he realises something.
“Marrida, do you realise something?”
“What?” Marrida’s voice betrays uncertainty and fear.
“Am I correct that the Temple... not the False Temple, but the proper one stood in the city’s north-east?”
“It means a mountain now also buries the box,” Alagur explains.
Marrida looks at him confused for a moment, then as clarity sets in, comprehending what Alagur had just said, Marrida’s sad face turns to one of her carefree grins.
“I guess now no one can ever get to it unless they’ll spend a hundred years digging for it.” she beams.
“Longer than any survivors there will be alive for...”
Marrida nods to continue watching the spectacle in the north. It seems the mountain didn’t want to end its game of toppling just yet.
“How far into the city will it go?”
“Dargu says that it will cover about two-thirds of it over...” Alagur replies.
Alagur expects her to say more, then he notices her eyes are closed, and he guesses she’s saying the ‘prayer for the soul’ as before, wondering for a moment for who she might be saying it for.
“Can we go now, please?” she asks, and her sudden question causes Alagur’s heart jump involuntarily.
“I prayed for the women and girls in the False Temple who may still be alive and hope they’ll find peace under the rubble...” Marrida explains softly but unexpectedly.
“You told me before that they’d avoid becoming a target for the Wolf Riders,” Alagur replies softly, “so I think all of them in there are dead already...”
“I think so too...”
They pack up their bowls and utensils, fold the blanket, then put their haversacks back on their backs and pick up the packs and start their trek due southeast where the thief’s stairs would which they’d used to descend into the oasis. A last rumble bids them a farewell as they walk away from the city...
MARRIDA STANDS DOWN at the cliff face they’d reached after walking for two days. Their journey through the mountains has been uneventful, almost peaceful. If it wasn’t for the occasional distant rumble, that now was becoming quieter too. No sounds were coming from the city itself anymore. The Wolf Riders who’d escaped the carnage from nature which the ancient trap had created, either had retreated to the flanks of Upper Plains, or were now silently searching the rubble for survivors among their own kind.
She felt an occasional pang of guilt for feeling sorry for them, especially for a few among them who are themselves trying to orchestrate the downfall of the Wolf Riders. She’s uncertain how many would have followed the cutter squad into the city; perhaps two or three thousand. It means that there were still many who posed a danger to the world... and to Alagur and herself. She realises that they’d regroup and would go south, eventually. It’s likely they saw the many carts that had travelled in that direction.
One day the pursuit to find them among those carts would start. They have to be as far away as possible to make this an impossible task.
“Alagur, do you wonder if Jymar was in the cutter squad?”
“I hope not. But something he said makes me wonder if perhaps we’ll meet him again one day—I hope as friends. I really hope as friends...”
“I wonder about something I’ve been thinking about ever since the attack started. It’s something that Anayra said. And Jarryca said it too...” Marrida continues. “They both told me that I need to heed the future. I know you worry about being captured, and so do I, but something tells me they already know its outcome, and didn’t want to say anything so not to alter any other good we may still do...”
“I think you’re right. I’m hoping that Jymar understood my message fully. If he did, we’ll have extra help. If he understood its meaning maybe in a time of true peril, we actually will have an ally by our side.”
“To be honest, I’ve been thinking too. I know that I’m still very untrained in the skill of Calling, so I’m still very uncertain of what I see of the future and I only ever see small glimpses of it. The alteration of one to three is by far the best attempt I had.”
“Do you know its meaning yet fully? I know you spoke about it to Anayra, but you said little about it...”
“I said only what I understood,” Marrida answers. “She told me that most of the understanding of an Awakening comes later, well actually, when it’s somewhat closer to the time when it happens. She said to me two days ago that she thinks Anora or even her grandson can help me much with understanding what I saw in both of them. Most in Callers' Camp are pure in their interpretations of the Awakenings.”
“I see... But you still want to visit the village first, right?”
“Yes, I do. I owe a duty to the last rightful Caller here to do that...” Marrida whispers. “I also owe to all those who died here, and who will still die...”
Marrida looks up at Alagur. Instead of saying more, he lifts a hand and caresses her cheek. He understands her meaning with her words, and he doesn’t have any words he can offer her at this moment.
ALAGUR HOLDS HIS HAND out as Marrida tentatively steps onto the top tread of the thief’s’ stair, and for a moment she frowns over the question that pops into her mind. “This is one of the thief’s stairs, right?”
“Dargu told me that’s what they are...” Alagur replies.
“Did he know what they’re for, or how long they’ve existed?” Marrida asks while she navigates herself to the narrow platform where Alagur stands.
“He had told me that they date back to the earliest days of when the northern invaders were here... They were used to escape from the city to travel to other cities with news or information for others who were fighting against them,” Alagur explains. “Apparently, it was their use as a means for the thief girl from Achellon that gave them the name...”
Marrida stops moving and stares at the man for a few moments. “He never told that before...” Marrida says then she gives Alagur a playful punch before adding, “But I guess he told you in one of his ‘fatherly’ moments...”
“Ouch, and not actually. He told me so we had a faster way down to—” Alagur says.
“And you still don’t know when I tease,” Marrida interjects, giggling loud suddenly. “But perhaps we should hurry down. I don’t want to linger here. I still feel the ground shakes, and I don’t like it...”
Alagur nods, turns and climbs down to the next flattened area. There he reaches again for Marrida’s hand. This goes on for the next thirty minutes and now in silence so they could concentrate on the process, then suddenly Marrida speaks once more.
“I sense Lya,” she shrieks. “Are we near enough now for the Distant Bond Imprint...?”
“We are,” Alagur says, then he smiles, “but I’ve been sensing Yalla for a while already...”
“You’re more skilled than I, and you’ve had her longer...” Marrida says in a mock-accusatory tone. She laughs when Alagur looks at her incredulously.
“I guess I’m doing teasings because I’m nervous,” Marrida mumbles and in a serious tone. Alagur caresses her cheek and smiles.
“I’d be nervous as well, and to be honest when I was told of the way the city’s ancestors had placed traps below the mountain, well, to be honest I was not sure I would have gone exploring them if I’d known about it,” Alagur confesses.
Marrida looks at the man, then she leans forward and gives him a kiss on his forehead in the way he would always do whenever she’s upset or worried.
Alagur smiles at her, mumbling, “You always know how to settle my mind...”
YALLA RUSHES FORWARD, followed closely by Lya, and both wolves circle Alagur and Marrida, while each receives rubs over the nose bridge and many hugs. The man and woman had missed the animals greatly while they lived in the city, and out of them both it had only been safe for Alagur to go visit the wolves, and even those visits were sparse.
They looked both wolves over, and Alagur and Marrida glance at one another, curious looks on each of their faces.
“They seem better fed then I’d think them capable of. Do you think people from the city knew they were here somehow and came to feed them?” Marrida asks.
“I’m uncertain. I guess we’ll only know an answer to that once we’ve gone to Callers' Camp.”
“Are we going into Callers' Camp with the wolves?”
“They know about them. They’ve met them. But the people who arrived there from Damrachia do not. They’ll think Wolf Riders have arrived to kill them. Somehow, I think my new brother at Callers' Camp is forewarning them about these wolves. And that they’d ask why we didn’t bring them if we arrive without them...”
Alagur grins broadly at the thought of the shock the people, formerly from Damrachia may experience, once they’d arrived there, too...
“HOW FAR IS IT TO WHERE the wolves were before...?” Marrida stops walking and resolutely sits down on a nearby rock, then removes her water container from the pack she carries. The actions look remarkably familiar to Alagur, who’d seen similar behaviour before during their journey towards Azaquina, and later on the way towards Damrachia. He knows from this it is Marrida’s way of telling him she’s getting exhausted.
“Not too far now,” Alagur replies. “Do you see that tiny hill there, directly to the east?”
“Yes, I can see it,” Marrida says.
“We go there, then it’s directly south until almost sundown,” he continues, “We then eat something, then walk further and then we’re there. We have to travel initially at night so not to be endangering anyone who is still travelling south from Damrachia...”
“I think I can manage the distance...” Marrida mumbles in response. She gets up and walks mechanically towards the direction Alagur had pointed at. After a moment, observing her, he follows.
Marrida knows why she is so tired. She didn’t get any sleep from the moment she’d suggested for them to get sleep. Whereas Alagur had fallen asleep fast, and was snoring even, she’d been lying in bed awake, feeling restless and uncertain of the feelings she was experiencing. She’d gone to do a vision then.
The images in the vision match most of what Alagur showed me, she thinks. But it also showed me things that I’m uncertain that I should tell him about. One part of it is what I saw Jymar do... He claims Jymar could be a likely ally, but I’m uncertain...
Marrida glances up suddenly, staring directly into a south-easterly direction. She seems to sense something in the distance. She stops walking again. Alagur, who’d been walking behind her, stops beside her and looks in the direction she’s looking. “Marrida, what is it?” he asks softly. No answer comes from Marrida. Alagur looks closely at Marrida’s face. It has a rigid appearance to it, almost like she’s in a vision, but her eyes, which are wide open, are their normal colour; neither the familiar black of doing a Keeper vision nor the white of doing what apparently is a pure form of doing a Caller vision. Seeing the latter happen to Marrida still disconcerts Alagur...
“They are there—” Marrida whispers. “Who? Wolves?” he asks, now suddenly feeling uncommonly uncertain of his skill as Wolf Master for unknown reasons. He feels a knot of fear in his stomach at that moment. “They are there...” Marrida repeats, again in a whisper and unaware of Alagur’s question.
Alagur places the packs and haversack he’s carrying on the ground, moves so he stands in front of Marrida and observes her familiar face. He knows every emotion that her face can display. Her face had a placidness to it he’d never seen before. He moves away from her, glancing one more time over his shoulder to determine whether she was still standing still. She was, so Alagur brings the wolves to him instead of letting them roam ahead of them...
He stands maybe ten paces from Marrida, facing her, then lowers his head and his mind sends the hidden signal that only those familiar with the skills of being a full Wolf Master know; a skill he has discovered to have originated from the days when Darius Kayrsan lived and when that man had been the first one to call a wolf to himself, a wolf whose name he later had used for a wolf of his own. He called Yalla to him rather than waiting for Marrida to come from whatever ‘vision’ she might be in. This time he didn’t think it was a splendid idea for him to use the pulling out techniques... another, more powerful than he could do it: Lya.
He feels the bond with Yalla returning to his mind after just minutes, then his ears hear her familiar wolf song, then another that Alagur recognises as the wolf song of Lya. He looks at Marrida who still stands still on the path, still whispering the same words over and over, “They are there...”
Who the ‘they’ in the sentence is referring to Alagur is now uncertain of, because when Yalla had got the pull to return to her master, she will have communicated the sameto the subordinate in her pack. Wolves have their own way of breaking the Distant Bond Imprint when a Wolf Rider communicates this to the leader of a pack, such as Yalla, as a command. This is also one reason all wolves of the Wolf Riders became so active and vocal prior to any attack against any city. It was another of the things that Alagur did not yet tell Marrida about, though she now understood fully why she’d been able to see Jymar and the other men around him at such a great, almost impossible distance, which for a person with no bond to a wolf was impossible to see.
All that Alagur can do now is two things. He needs to wait for the wolves to arrive and hope that Yalla with Lya’s help can bring Marrida out of the ‘vision’ she seems to do. And he’d have to wait to see if she’d come out of it by herself. He was uncertain which would happen first.
Alagur pries the packs Marrida carries from her rigid fingers and feeling them gives him a sense of foreboding about what might happen to her. I guess something caused her mind to lock itself into this behaviour, Alagur thinks.
Somehow, in a delayed reaction, the events of seeing the wilful destruction by the fleeing residents of their own city set in motion the behaviour that it had exposed her to in the False Temple. Alagur’s assertion is correct. Marrida’s brain had to deal with the horror of seeing a child killed in front of her. Then she saw the destruction and heard the sounds of men and wolves being killed by the falling mountain. Alagur recalls seeing the sheer terror in her eyes as they fled through the city. Somehow it got too much for her mind to deal with and it shut down.
“Maybe, she’s still thinking the attack is happening, and maybe that’s why she keeps repeating the same words...” Alagur mumbles softly, hoping Marrida wouldn’t hear the words and cause her further problems. He also wished now he knew more about the things that could happen with the brain. “I wish Anayra was here. She would know what is going on with her...”
Alagur looks up when he hears wolf song once again, but a lot closer now. It was Yalla, and something about her wolf song showed some level of urgency to it. He frowns. The last time he’d heard her do that sound was on his way back to the City of Wolves when he’d first called her to him. The sound puts all his senses into alertness. He looks around in all directions. The landscape is empty around them. He looks once more at Marrida; still standing rigid on the path. Alagur pulls out a container of water and drinks several long gulps from it.
He gets up and checks all the packs, both haversacks. He does now what he’d stated to Marrida they would do once they were far enough away from the city. Apart from a few old pieces of clothing left behind by Marrida because people can recognise them as being from Ruh’nar or the surrounding region, or a few that were his own clothing he’d worn when he came to Ruh’nar, most of them are present. There is almost no food. Most of their tools were present, though he does a cursing when he discovers a few tools given to him by one of the many toolmakers he’d called ‘friend’ are missing. Almost all items the townsfolk gave them as gifts at their ceremony to become life partners are there...
“I can hunt ailep hounds and fish in the stream near a pond I saw north of here...” Alagur hisses. “I can replace what we’ve lost during the evacuation during the rest of our journey... or whenever we finally arrive back in Ruh’nar or maybe earlier than that when we get to Chiva’na...”
The losses aren’t as great as Alagur had feared. He has to admit now that Marrida’s frantic rushing around was a lot more efficient than his sleepy mind had interpreted. He straightens up and looks around again, then looks again at Marrida, and his sharp hearing notes her whisper of the same words is undiminished. How can she stand there in that way so long without moving? Alagur thinks. Is this from when she was in the False Temple?
Alagur watches Marrida for a moment, then attempts the pulling out actions even if they won’t be successful. It will give insight into what to do if this happened at other times during their journey. Alagur knows events can close the brain from being able to function well. He’d seen it with the youngest of boys in the City of Wolves on certain occasions, and the explanation had come from Belduran once when he’d asked the old man about it.
“It happens when a mind cannot cope with what it sees. It’s the way for the mind to still the memories that can cause a mind to become violent and disoriented...”
Was this what’s happening to Marrida now? Had the events in the False Temple been even more damaging to her brain than she’d ever told him?
ALAGUR FEELS A SIGH of relief when fast-paced running feet become audible now, soon followed by the fast breathing and occasional snorts of the two wolves. They rush towards him a moment later, and Alagur squats down to embrace them both. He has missed them both...
They let him pat them for a while, then both animals turn and with apparent caution pace towards Marrida. Yalla stops next to her and sniffs her face. Lya copies Yalla’s actions. Alagur watches their reactions. He can see from their behaviour that they realise that something is wrong with the woman. She doesn’t even react to the hot moist breath of the animals on her face.
Yalla glances towards Alagur who can see from her eyes she questions him. He gives her the signals taught to her so long ago that means ‘pull her out of the vision.’ The animal turns to the woman again and sniffs her face again. Yalla licks over the woman’s cheek with a long, wet tongue, then prods hard into the woman’s stomach area. Harder than Alagur wishes for, and he cringes a moment seeing it, but he is certain that the animal knows better than him in this moment what the best action is. Alagur notes that the behaviour is like how he’d seen a mother wolf prod a lifeless new-born to bring life back into its lungs. There is something not just physical about the action, but something that went deeper into the emotions involved. It is the part of a wolf’s life he never had seen before.
Alagur lowers himself quietly to the ground, using a pack to support him in this action. He will watch on in silence so that the wolves can take the actions they see as needed to bring Marrida out of this apparent state of rigidity she is in.
Yalla turns her head towards the younger wolf beside her, and her grunt gets answered by actions from Lya, who walks around the woman and stands behind her. It seems to Alagur, almost, that she was there to act as a barrier in case the woman would become limp suddenly and would fall whenever the rigid state left her body.
Most of Yalla’s actions were the normal ones of her doing a wolfish equivalent of the action of pulling the woman out of a vision as Alagur had instructed her, but there were also actions he didn’t recognise, and he was certain they were the mother instinct within her asserting themselves. She knew how to be a mother to vulnerable pups, and she sensed a similar vulnerability in the woman.
Slowly, Marrida’s left hand relaxes itself first. The hand had been a rigid fist after Alagur had pried the bindings of the pack from it, but now it hangs limp beside her body. Alagur sees Yalla now pushing against Marrida’s other hand, and it too goes limp now. Then he flinches as the wolf prods hard against the woman’s stomach.
That will leave her bruised for days..., he thinks.
Alagur frowns for a moment, then realises Marrida has stopped saying the words repeatedly. He also notices then that some rigidity disappears from her face a moment later. It shows itself as a slow-motion action as Marrida slowly falls over...
He feels tempted to rush by Marrida’s side at that moment, but Yalla’s gazing at him for a few minutes stops him. Something about her demeanour tells him that in this moment she, with her mother instinct, is in charge. She probably knows much more than he does about survival, as it is an animal instinct that allows her to determine what is wrong with the woman whom she’d sworn loyalty to, and who is part of her pack.
Alagur realises he’d got up, but decides that right now he isn’t the leader here, but that Yalla is. He slumps back down and rubs his hands over his head for a few moments, feeling the same despair he’d felt when he had discovered that Marrida had in fact gone to the Temple of the Hidden, or as the name is now - False Temple. Not anymore, he thinks, feeling a sadness for all the innocent women and girls who’d seen their lives end there.
The False Temple has vanished. They all vanished. And who knows how many people died in that avalanche, and I was the one who organised it...
“Alagur, what happened?” Marrida’s voice is croaky, and it’s a fraction of her normal voice.
Alagur’s head jerks up hearing that. He looks at Marrida who sits on the ground with Lya behind her and with Yalla lying in front of her and occasionally licking the woman’s hands or arms and, occasionally, sniffing her face. “I... don’t... know. Something happened to you. But I’m uncertain what. And I thought it was a vision. I tried to pull you out but was unable. I did the release from the Distant Bond Imprint early to see if the wolves could help...”
“I think they did...” Marrida whispers.
“What happened to you? Do you know?” Alagur asks. “You kept repeating some words over and over...”
“What words?” Marrida whispers.
“You said, ‘They are here.’ You never stopped saying it. It’s the words you woke me with. For a moment, I thought you were in a vision of the attack against Damrachia,” Alagur replies, now with his own voice cracking under the weight of emotion he now feels. He feels something moist come down one cheek and wipes it to realise that he is crying for unknown reason: either it’s relief or it’s from the worry. Alagur and Marrida stare at one another for a while, both staying silent, both trying to figure out an answer. And both unable to find one.
“I think it’s too dangerous to do a vision...” Marrida says, now with a somewhat louder voice.
Alagur just nods.
“I’m uncertain, but something seems to pull at my mind again, like was happening when we were approaching Damrachia, but it’s not a feeling of being watched this time...” Marrida says after a pause.
“Is the feeling the same as before?” Alagur asks.
“Not exactly the same. I’d say it’s more direct in how it feels, like this time there’s a purpose to it being there whereas before it was unfocused...”
“Possibly unfocused because the people doing it didn’t know what they needed to do...” Alagur suggests.
“I think you’re right...” Marrida mumbles. She’s silent for a few minutes before speaking again. “I miss them. The other women and girls who were being held in the False Temple against their will...”
“Marrida, I remember something from my vision that’s rather odd...”
“Odd in what way?”
“I think I forgot to tell parts of the vision, but now I remember seeing something in it that makes me wonder if I understood it correctly,” Alagur says. “I thought I triggered the landslide, and it was devastating for me too. But in the part of my vision that escaped my attention so far, I saw some women running. I think I omitted it because I thought it was showing you dying. But now I wonder about it. The old man showed us the tunnels, and he said something odd to me as I passed him to collect more mud from the stream...”
“What did he say?”
“He said, ‘There was a time when these tunnels served another function as the means for a few escaped girls to plot against the future of the False Temple,’ and he walked off before I could ask more of him...” Alagur explains. “But I’m wondering if I saw something from a distant past that explains why Ladrysa went from collecting girls herself to demanding mothers to deliver them to the doors...”
“I don’t understand what you’re going on about. What has Ladrysa to do with that landslide?”
“Remember what Dargu said before we left. He said there were secrets the people of the city knew that have preceded the coming of the northern invaders. I don’t think I’m the one who set the trap to destroy everything there. I completed what a few brave women started when they defied Ladrysa...”
“You mean to say that the Elder knew somehow she’d come?” Marrida asks, now clearly shocked.
“What has been the overriding aspect in all that’s been going on?” Alagur asks as he smiles at Marrida who thinks for a moment then shakes her head, feeling confused.
“You told me to analyse things as a military man. I’ve been doing that, Marrida.” Alagur gets up and walks to Marrida and sits down in front of her. “I think I know who is doing the stuff to stop the corruption in the Temple...”
“Alright, I know you’ll likely start laughing like insanity has entered my brain, but I think the plot is being organised by the last pure enigmas in the world...”
“Are you sure of that?”
When no answer comes, she looks up and sees Alagur is nodding his head.
“HOW DID YOU COME TO that conclusion?” Marrida asks. “There’s no sign in anything we learnt from Jarryca or Anayra, or you from Anora, or from anyone else that this is going on...”
“I know it sounds very dubious, even ridiculous...” Alagur says.
“I never said either of that...” Marrida protests.
“I know you didn’t. It’s how I view it myself. I sat waiting for the wolves to pull you from this vision, or whatever happened to you just now, and thought about it again. One message keeps repeating itself in every conversation we’ve had about why the corruption exists,” Alagur explains. “Every time it’s a message that somehow a mysterious place should exist somewhere in the south-west of Keldarra. That’s the total opposite end of this world from where we got sent if you pay attention to that too...”
“Do you think someone is trying to stop us going there?” Marrida asks, now with a worry knot showing.
“Not stopping us but delaying us. If I take a military viewpoint, and I’ll use the one I know best, and that’s as a Wolf Rider, it’s like we are gathering secrets and information for someone,” Alagur says.
“You mean like a scout?” Marrida asks, and unable to snort a giggle, remembering how badly Alagur did that task in Alzamar.
“Alright, yeah, yeah, I know I was a bad one over there...” Alagur grumbles, realising why Marrida snorted.
“Actually, I don’t think so...”
Alagur looks up in surprise, “How do you mean? They saw me there...”
“They SAW you but think about what you just said. How valuable was it for those you helped there when you went back?” Marrida explains, “and the combination of you being found and then helping is possibly also what allowed you to turn Jymar from foe to friend when you met him with Eldagu when you were coming back here. It all connects...”
It’s now Alagur’s turn to look confused, though deep down he feels grateful for this version of Marrida’s behaviour. Which was her less of the brooding, quiet person she’d been lately?
“You just stated it is all connected with Ladrysa. But continue...” Marrida says. “I want to hear the rest of your reasoning.”
“So you think I’m right then?” Alagur asks softly.
“Yes, I do...” Marrida replies.
“The message is one we keep repeating. You were first told this message by Sharriba at the Temple, and we later discover she came from here,” Alagur continues. “She insisted you went to Azaquina, and when we told the message there, we’re told information of events there, and they insisted we’d come here. And now the people here have told us it’s a marvellous idea to travel south...”
Marrida’s frown smooths off her face as she comprehends what Alagur is telling her. “You mean we’re the messengers telling everyone to ready for war?” she asks.
“That’s exactly what I’m thinking...” Alagur says, “and I think also that it’s here where the existence of the knowledge of The Truth by people other than the earliest Wolf Riders originated from. That’s again directly linked to what Ladrysa did. Remember, in the vision when we saw her stand on the walls and looking at the masses of Wolf Riders under the leadership of Sey’qar and Yozan?”
“Yes, I do, but does that have—” Marrida says, but Alagur interrupts her before she can end her question.
“I think she didn’t just walk away to go into the Temple that day. She went to see them. That’s why those women escaped. That’s why the traps were part activated. They got caught before they could finish their task, and instead of letting themselves being taken back to the Temple, they set off part of the trap and killed themselves. They warned us that some tunnels were unstable, and that this was a reason we needed a guide.”
“She... went... to... see... them?” Marrida asks slowly. “Are you sure of that?”
“Yes, I am. I’ve never been as sure of anything as I’m sure of that,” Alagur replies.
“And you saw the women do this?” Marrida asks.
Alagur nods as a response.
“I think something that the women in the room with me talked about now makes sense to me...” Marrida continues. “We didn’t speak often, but when they discovered I wasn’t from the city some older women said to me I had to get out of the False Temple and stay out and not let myself get captured as before—That’s the word they used.”
“Are you certain they said that?” Alagur asks, leaning forward.
“Yes, I’m certain of it...” Marrida replies. “Why do you want to know?”
“It’s something Dargu said when I wanted to get you out on the same day,” Alagur whispers. “He said to me this: ‘There will be people inside who’ll warn her of the dangers, and then tell her how she can get out,’ and I didn’t understand what he meant, but since our escape and doing the vision where I saw those women, I understand...”
“I think they were brave...”
“Yes, and the city dwellers were clever too...” Alagur smirks gleefully.
“What’s so funny?”
“And still you don’t notice what went on,” Alagur says. “For a person who can see the past you’re blind to this past it seems.”
“Alagur, why do you say such a thing?” Marrida rebuts angrily.
“No need to get angry with m but let me explain this better. As you know from your visions, Ladrysa came to deceive them there,” Alagur continues. “But as SHE only saw the past and never the future, she didn’t see what generation after generation of women were doing slowly right under her nose. Remember, being told about the pit apparently full of dead people?”
“Yes, I do. It was awful to even think about it.”
“NOT all who went down the hatch were dead...”
“What?” Marrida screams. “You mean that they could have thrown me, or others, down it alive?”
“No. That’s not what way living people went down. You said they told you that there was no way out of it, so those who did this knew their sacrifice,” Alagur explains. “They did this to work on the deception that a city was doing against a foe. Against Ladrysa and all those who followed her...”
“I still don’t understand what you’re saying, Alagur...”
“I think they made sure that the building got connected with the tunnels, and that each woman who went down there alive did more to ready the city. Because they knew that the attack—this one—was coming when you arrived there. Remember WHO they were, Marrida,” Alagur explains. “They were ‘Callers’ in there. I will go even further in saying that they, like Anayra, and also Anora, and Anora’s child, and like Jarryca, and many others whom we don’t even know about, were, or are, all enigmas. You’re such an enigma. The Truth isn’t a message for a treacherous Keeper who replaced a rightful Elder. Somehow in The Truth, there’s a code word that repeats itself every time the true messenger repeats it. Something Eldagu said, he explained to you about his own communications with Joharan, and even Sharriba uses it in her journal. You are that messenger...”
Alagur stops talking, and he waits for Marrida to say something. He can’t help himself from laughing loudly at her face that contorts itself in every motion, with the woman opening and closing her mouth repeatedly, like she wants to say something, then dismisses yet another thought. Alagur waits.
“You’re saying all this is about enigmas?” Marrida asks after several minutes.
“Well, the part about getting the corruption out of the Order is about that...” Alagur replies, “and what’s the purest form of the Order? You chastised me once for saying it’s the Order, not the Order of Truth...”
“Alright, we’re even now in that respect. But what else do you know now?”
“Well, there’s one crucial thing and for that you need to look at the beginning. Well, two beginnings really...”
“Why two?” she asks, “and in what way does the beginning connect with—Alagur, you’re confusing me totally...”
“Alright, let me explain it fully,” Alagur whispers. “Just let me speak...”
“I’ll start with the second beginning, because it relates directly to where we’re heading currently,” Alagur explains. “The second beginning is also linked to a few other things that I’ll explain in a moment. But first, look at your memories, at what you were told about the girl thief who stole a gem...”
Marrida is about to protest again, then closes her mouth instead, and closes her eyes to concentrate on the request made. Alagur watches her, and a few minutes later her eyes fly open in surprise. But before she can speak, Alagur continues talking, “The first beginning is the event of a woman being murdered by her only son...” Alagur says flatly.
Marrida’s face pales as she blurts out, “But that means—Alagur, are you telling me that all this links me to Samur...?”
“It does, and in more ways than one...” Alagur nods as he speaks. “It also links back directly to the events here. The reason Ladrysa and others like her thought they needed to betray the Order is because corruption set in when a girl thief with her criminal mind changed its nature. Before her it was the Order, after her it became the Order of Truth. And she was definitely not the only one after the power that the Order offered at its core. Which is where Samur comes in? Remember the portrait?”
Marrida swallows hard, then nods.
“I remarked it could easily be Samur. I think I know how the portrait of so long ago and the events of now link,” Alagur says. “I think Samur may be a descendant... either from the girl thief or from a family line that could be much more dangerous. If it’s the latter then they are behind all the things that have been going on for the last two decades, maybe even longer and even as far back as fifty years ago, and if we want to go even further back also behind Roha’dea’s fall... which was not just a Caller or a Preserver stronghold, but I’m now convinced it’s where the enigmas were. I’m certain that Sey’qar and Yozan killed the last real enigma to rule over a Temple...”
“You mean that in part all this is some coup?”
“It started with one, so yes, it is one now...” Alagur says. “Sey’qar wanted to have what the Warlords had up to about fourteen hundred years ago... Which is when the girl thief lived... Which is also when Darius with Mountain Ghost by his side defeated almost all the northern invaders. And then five hundred years later the power of the Wolf Masters was waning. That was not by accident either now. I think Samur repeated what they did before.”
“But you said Sey’qar came from Ruh’nar?”
“He did, but only as an adult. He too travelled from his original home to infiltrate... I’ve been certain that this is one aspect that repeats itself. Eldagu said that he thinks Achellon is still a stronghold for descendants of the northern invaders. We have to be careful there,” Alagur explains. “If deception is what they used to get the world into a state of war outside their city, then deception likely governs every aspect of what goes on there. If they appear friendly towards us, be always cautious because underneath it all as they will want to cause harm. Eldagu told you never to mention who or what you are here in the east. I’m certain he was referring to Achellon specifically.”
MARRIDA SILENTLY REPACKS her clothing, thinking closely about what Alagur had said. She can’t really protest about him explaining because she asked him to analyse various events with his military knowledge. She just didn’t expect it to be in such detail. He explained little, only ever covering a few specific events, she has to admit to herself how right his words were. It all makes sense. She always had regarded the girl thief as a rebel, but now it seems the girl thief was a lot more sinister. It was almost like they purposely sent her to the Caves of Elgorra to infiltrate it, to steal some of what it produced. But rather than returning it to her task masters, she kept the item for herself.
Could she perhaps have discovered the properties of the crystal soon? Maybe she discovered it while still at the Caves of Elgorra. That would mean she never went back to Achellon. Is that perhaps the reason they started this campaign of deception against the rest of Keldarra?
“I know that look on your face...” Alagur whispers in Marrida’s right ear then kisses her ear playfully.
“I was still thinking about what you said. I think I got one thought to add to what you said,” Marrida replies. “My thought just now was that the girl thief was maybe doing the stealing of the crystal that later became the Stone of Truth for someone in Achellon. You mentioned deception, but I now think the deceiver got deceived themselves as well...”
“So, the girl thief could be the cause for the rise of those who wanted to take revenge for their kin being driven from these lands by Darius? Is that what you’re saying?” Alagur asks. “If that’s the case you could be in grave danger if you get recognised as a Keeper, a Caller, a Preserver or enigma... whatever it is you are now.”
“I know that, and I want to leave the gem somewhere safe on the mainland before we go into the city,” Marrida says. “Then I can retrieve it after we’re gone and safe. I don’t think it will be safe to hide it in my shoe when I’m there.”
“I can do something better.” Alagur says. “If you want it safe, I can put it inside Yalla...”
“Inside Yalla?” Marrida shrieks. “You mean that you’re making her swallow it? But what happens if she disposes of it with her excrement?”
“Well, I guess there’s yet another of the many things I’ve not told of the Wolf Riders I need to tell now,” Alagur says glumly. He whistles once, sharply, and a moment later Yalla stands next to him. “Place your finger here then push it forward and down...”
Marrida does as she was instructed then glances surprised at Alagur, “What is that?”
“That’s a special pocket we create on the wolf for storing things. Using old techniques from The Old Days, we sew on extra skin onto the wolf. It uses the same technique as you used on this,” Alagur points at the left side of his head where only a small white mark now shows where once someone had mortally wounded him.
“Did it hurt Yalla when you did this?”
“No, we use a special ointment to dull the feeling in the skin where it’s done. The body ends up believing it’s just a wound that was healing, so after a few months you’re left with this ‘pocket.’ You can store your gem in here. It’s deep enough for the gem not to fall out, and I can make an extra leather rope for around Yalla’s neck for extra security...”
Marrida’s lips curl to a grin, “This means she becomes Keeper Yalla...” Alagur laughs loudly at the humour of the comment, and Marrida laughs too.
“But in this way the gem is safe, and the wolves won’t come to the city with us,” Alagur continues. “So, there’s never a chance for any there to discover it.”
“I need to get rid of the chain. Most Keepers use a gold chain of a specific length and it’s length can cause recognition.”
“Do you want to sell it, or is there a sentimental value to it?” Alagur asks solemnly.
“No, there’s no sentimental value. Hmm, we’re going to that village of the true Elder. Maybe I should give it to them to repay what the corrupt ones of my Order of Truth did to one of them,” Marrida suggests.
“Only if they want to accept it...” Alagur counters. “They too may realise what it is and reject it for that reason.”
“If that’s the case, I can give it to someone at Callers’ Camp to take with them to give to Eldagu in Alzamar. He can send it to Joharan with a message to keep it safe for me until I return...”
“I think that’s a better option. I want to keep caution in mind when dealing with anyone around these parts of Keldarra. Even someone in that village can cause danger later... Even if it’s not caused intentionally.”
“We give it to someone at Callers’ Camp then...”
“Are you finished with repacking?”
“Yes, I am finished...” Marrida replies.
“I’ll ready the wolves. You sit down over there in the shade of that tree.”
Marrida nods, but before she complies, she grabs the water container and takes it with her. It isn’t even halfway during the day, and she already is feeling exhausted.
I guess I will never get used to the oppressive heat of this region...
She watches as Alagur pulls both the wolves, so they stand side by side. He puts the harness first on Yalla then on Lya then he walks to Marrida.
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