Paradigms Lost — Chapter 38
Chapter 38: It Was an Age Undreamed Ofâ€¦
The Sh’ekatha, or Highest Speaker, gazed in bemused wonder at the tiny figure before him. Beneath the tangled mass of hair, filled with sticks and briar thorns, two serious, emerald-green eyes regarded him. Across the back was strapped a gigantic (for such a small traveler) sword, three feet long with a blade over five inches wide. A bright golden tail twitched proudly behind the boy, who was dressed raggedly in skins.
Yetâ€¦ yet there was something special about this boy, more so than merely his strange race. The way he stoodâ€¦ and that sword. Surelyâ€¦ surely it was workmanship of the old days.
“Yes, boy? What do you wish?”
The boy studied him. “You areâ€¦ in command here?” he said in a halting, unsure fashion. The voice was rough, like a suppressed growl, but just as high-pitched as any child’s.
V’ierna smiled slightly. “I am the Sh’ekatha. I am the highest in authority that you may speak with at this time, yes.”
The boy frowned, obviously trying to decide if that met with whatever requirements he might have. Then his brow unfurrowed and he nodded. “My Master sent me here to you.”
V’ierna understood what he meant; he had been being taught by a Master of some craft, and now this Master wished the Temple to continue and expand his education. “But there is no certainty that there will be an opening here, young one. We select only a certain number of willing youngsters, and then only when there is proper room for them.”
The boy shook his head. “You have to take me. You have to teach me. That is what he said.” He blinked as though remembering something. “Oh, I was supposed to show you this.” He reached over his back and unsheathed the monstrous blade. Holding it with entirely too much ease for such a tiny boy, he extended the weapon to the Sh’ekatha.
Puzzled, V’ierna studied the weapon. Old workmanship, yes, and very good. But that didn’tâ€¦
It was then that he saw the symbol etched at the very base of the sword: Seven Towers between two Parallel Blades.
His head snapped up involuntarily. He scrutinized the child more carefully now. Yesâ€¦ now that he knew what to look forâ€¦
He gave the blade back. “Have you a name, young one?”
“Master said that you would give me one.”
“Did he, now?” V’ierna contemplated the scruffy figure before him. Certainly of no race born of this world. He smiled. “Then your name is Raiakafan.” He reached out and gently pulled a briar free of its tangled nest. “Raiakafan Ularion.” He turned. “Follow me, Raiakafan. Your Master was correct. There is indeed a place for you.”
* * *
“It has never been done!”
V’ierna shook his head. “In the ancient days, there were no such distinctions made, milady. None of these separations of duty or of privilege. I am not at all sure that the comfort brought about by such clear divisions is worth the price paid in inflexibility. Be that as it may,” he raised a hand to forestall the First Guardian’s retort, “in this case, it will be so. The Lady Herself has so decreed it. If Raiakafan can pass the requirements, he is to be trained for the Guardianship.”
Melenae closed her mouth, arguments dying on her lips. If the Lady decreed it and the Sh’ekatha concurred, there was nothing more to be said. “As the Founder decrees, so will it be,” she said woodenly, and turned to leave.
She looked back. “Yes, Sh’ekatha?”
“I will not tolerate any manipulation of the testing. If he is held to either a higher or lower standard than any other trainee, I will be most displeased. And so will the Lady.”
Her mouth tightened, but she nodded. “Understood.”
V’ierna watched her leave. He sighed, and began walking in the opposite direction, down the corridor that was open only to himself, the corridor that led to the Heart. How long had it been? Three thousand years? Four? Ten, perhaps?Â More? Long enough for mortal memory to fade, and fade, and cultures to change even when one who founded them tried to retain that which had been lost. Even the name of the city was, to them, little more than a name. To him, it was so much more; Atla’a Alandar; Atlantaea Alandarion it had been, “Star of Atlantaea’s Memory.” But he was one man. Highest Speaker, yes. Blessed in his own way, noted in ritual and in action. But even his longevity was nothing more than a faded echo of the Eternal King, and he had no Eternal Queen, save the Lady Herself.
He emerged into the Heart. The Mirror of the Sky glinted as a wind ruffled the sacred pool’s surface. V’ierna knelt by the Heartstone and closed his eyes.
Time changes all things, V’ierna.
I know that, Lady. As always, he felt warmed merely by the silent voice within his mind. Her limitless compassion and energy lightened the world merely by existing. But is it so necessary that I see loss as well as change? Have we not lost enough already? Atlantaea —
— was as near perfect as a society of humanity shall ever be, V’ierna. But that very perfection was its destruction. If your people are ever to attain such heights again, they must work themselves through all the difficulties, all the perils and hatreds and disputes, that are part of growing up. You are all part of nature; I am loving, but a stern teacher as well. Even to my most favored I am not without requirements or price, as you know well.
V’ierna knew. I understand, Lady.
He could see her now, night-dark hair ensnaring the heavens in a warm blanket, her face the hardness of the mountains and softness of the fields, beautiful and terrifying and comforting all at once. And Raiakafan? What is his place in this?
She smiled. He has a higher destiny than he knows. His people are filled with violence, a race of savage killers; yet by being born here — his mother landing here, on this world, and giving birth to a child — it was permitted that I touch upon him. He is a part of me, a part of the Earth for all time. He will become my Guardian, as you are my Speaker, and Seirgei my Priestâ€¦
It will not be easy.
The arguments of the Guardians will be overcome by his ability. Jealousy cannot be helped. Evil will come of it. But no choices worth making come easily. The Power fades, my love; those who destroyed Atlantaea bent all their power to sealing it away, and Zarathan, our sister world, now lies beyond our reach. Without something truly extraordinary, even I shall fade from the world, and thenâ€¦ her phantom face looked forlornly into the distanceâ€¦ then only a miracle will restore that which was gone. And you will have to provide that miracle.
V’ierna’s heart seemed to freeze within him. This was the first time the Lady had spoken so clearly about the possibility of her own death. I? What can I possibly do? If you go, Lady, will I, too, not pass from this world? For I am nothing but a man blessed by your powers.
Her smile lit the world again, driving away the ice in his heart by the certainty of her love and concern. V’ierna, to the one who held to me beyond death itself I have given all that I can. You are tied to this world more strongly than I, and by the Ring that symbolizes the Blood of Life, you carry my blessing. You are a part of Earth’s life, and so long as this world lives, so shall you, though the quality of that life may well change. Through you, some part of me will survive though all other magic be sealed away from the world by the actions of the ones who destroyed Atlantaea. If the worst comes to pass, still will there be you, to find the path to miracle that will bring the Spirit of the Earth back and let Eonae, the Lady, be reborn.
He stood, feeling her presence fade. But he felt more ready now. The Lady was right; he could do no more for these people than he had already done; to force them into a mold of his own vision would deprive them of the full understanding of the reasons behind that mold. Better a return to barbarism than the iron dictatorship he would have to create.