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The First Life of Tanan
By Andrew Riley
Cover art by Nejron Photo, Licensed via Shutterstock
Edited by Anita Riley
Design and layout by Andrew Riley
Printed in the United States
The First Life of Tanan by Andrew Riley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
For Kevin, who didn’t get
the chance to do this.
Santhim felt like she might burst open at any moment. The baby growing inside her was dangerously close to coming out right there on the side of the mountain. Tyrim held her hand, steadying her as they moved down the rocky path. The other children followed them down the mountain trail in pairs.
Crossing the mountains was hard on Santhim. But the entire last year had been hard on the pretty thirteen year old. Her mother and father died when a spotted plague burned through their tribe. In the space of three weeks, a tribe of nearly fifty Lataki plainsmen was reduced to just eight survivors. Santhim’s boyfriend, Tyrim, was the oldest of them, and he was just a year older than her.
They had suddenly gone from carefree children to being responsible for the lives of themselves and six younger kids. Approaching another tribe for help was out of the question. The Lataki were brutal people. Any other tribe would have killed the boys, and the girls wouldn’t have been so lucky. So they had avoided other Lataki and moved west toward the mountains.
After a few months of wandering, the group of children found a crystal blue lake at the base of the mountain range and made a more permanent camp. By the time they settled at the lake, Santhim’s belly was already starting to grow. They planned to stay at the lake camp, at least until the baby came.
They were there for four months before the Komisani soldiers appeared on the far side of the lake. All Lataki knew about the Komisani. The Komisani wore clothing that turned away arrows, and they carried weapons that could cut off a man’s arm or head. And, the Komisani always killed Lataki.
When the children saw the Komisani across the lake they abandoned their camp in a panic and ran for the mountains, hesitating only long enough to grab water skins and spears. Two exhausting weeks later, they were over the mountains and there was no sign of the Komisani.
Santhim held tight to Tyrim’s hand as she walked. She hummed a tune that she had learned from her mother. She knew the baby would be coming very soon and she was starting to hurt. Humming the tune made her hurt a little less. Having Tyrim there to help her made her feel better as well.
The trail eventually leveled out and the forest became thicker around them. It was evening when the forest thinned and they came to a wide beach facing a lake so wide they couldn’t see the other side. Santhim was having regular pains and couldn’t go any farther. It was time for the baby to come.
Their water skins were almost empty and they were relieved to see the water. But they quickly learned that the water in the strange, restless lake was salty and not good for drinking. Tyrim collected all the water skins and jogged south along the beach to look for good water. Two miles down the beach, he found a small freshwater stream and filled all the skins before starting back to the camp.
Half a mile from the camp, while skirting the edge of the forest, Tyrim stepped in the wrong place and startled a snake, which then bit him on his lower leg. The bite hurt terribly, but Tyrim continued walking toward the camp to bring water to Santhim.
By the time Tyrim arrived at the camp he was dizzy and feeling weak. He dropped the water skins and sat down hard on the sand where he immediately passed out.
The stars were coming out as Santhim gave birth to her son on the beach. One of the girls cut the umbilical cord with Tyrim’s flint knife, wrapped the infant in his mother’s blanket and laid the infant next to his mother. When Santhim wouldn’t stop bleeding, the frantic kids didn’t know what to do. She bled to death on the beach surrounded by six helpless and terrified children.
One of the girls picked up the infant and laid him in the crook of his unconscious father’s arm.
The remaining six children sat around the fire they’d built, and had a talk like the adults of their tribe did when there were important decisions to be made. The Lataki were superstitious, and all of the kids agreed that the baby was bad luck, probably cursed. The child had killed Santhim, and Tyrim was also dying. The kids decided they had to leave the baby with his father and hope that the curse wouldn’t follow them.
They buried Santhim in a shallow grave in the sand.
One of the girls covered Tyrim and the baby with Tyrim’s blanket and then followed the others up the beach.
Then the children walked north along the beach, away from Tyrim and the cursed child. Fifteen miles up the beach they were found by a Komisani patrol and killed.
Anin pulled at the oars, moving his little boat steadily through the water. He had been on the water since dawn, stopping once at midday to eat a chunk of yeasty bread, and several times to stretch and drink from his canteen. He made this trip to the mainland twice each year, spring and autumn, to collect plants that grew wild along the shore and up the rivers.
Anin was an apothecary. Most of the plants he collected on these trips would be used to make medicines for the people of his village, or traded to apothecaries in nearby villages. He also collected some spices and other non-medicinal plants that he could sell.
It was starting to get dark and he needed another break. He docked his oars and stood up. He’d been rowing for several hours and it felt good to move around. The sun had slipped down behind the curve of the earth and the clouds along the horizon were shades of pink and orange. Anin clasped his hands together, raised them over his head and stretched from side to side. Stretching felt good.
He turned toward the front of the boat, his eyes skipping along the horizon and picking out familiar mountain peaks, dark against the stars that were just starting to peek at him from the deep blue sky. This was Anin’s favorite time of day. The sea was calm and the sky was clear. It was a beautiful evening.
Anin sat down and picked up his canteen. He took a long drink; it tasted good. He’d added a bit of lemon and mint to keep it tasting fresh. He turned toward the front of the boat, kicking his legs up over the bench seat, and faced the bow.
There was a little wooden box in the front of the boat that held enough food for a week. He hoped to be home in four days, but always brought extra in case bad weather delayed his return. He tore a chunk of bread from one of the loaves he’d brought, and dribbled a little honey over it from a small jar.
Anin enjoyed his simple meal under the stars. The cool autumn air felt good after a sunny day of rowing across the sea. As he ate, he gazed across the water at the shoreline. He could tell by the familiar landmarks that he had drifted a little south of his target, a place where a large patch of vivid purple berries grew wild along a river bank. The berries had no medicinal use that he knew of; they were, in fact, extremely poisonous. He would sell them to an artist friend who used them to color his paint.
His eyes picked out a fire on the beach, which was unexpected. He had never come across any people in his many trips to the mainland. He knew there were tribes of nomadic people living on the plains beyond the low mountains that skirted the shoreline, but he had never heard of the Lataki crossing to this side of the mountains. Most likely, he thought, it was a King’s Legion patrol.
He finished his bread, pulled a strip of dried beef out of his food box and stuck it in his mouth. Then, he reached over the side of the boat and rinsed his hands in salty sea water.
Anin stood and stretched again, then stepped back over the bench seat, undocked his oars and started rowing in the direction of the fire on the beach.
His body settled into a rhythm and his mind settled into its familiar rhythm as well. As he pulled the oars, He silently chanted the words of rejuvenation. The simple magic replenished his tired muscles and added strength to his effort.
• • •
Anin pulled his boat up onto the rocky beach, a hundred yards from the fire, and looped a rope around a large rock. He took a long knife from his boat and walked up the beach. It was dark, but there was enough moonlight for him to see that a group of people had walked along this beach not long before.
He moved along the beach toward the fire, expecting to find a group of Komisani soldiers. What he found instead was a sleeping boy. He moved closer to the boy, peering into the darkness around him as walked. There didn’t seem to be anyone else around.
As Anin approached the boy it became apparent that things were not right. The boy was a Lataki. He was pale and clearly very ill. There was a baby cradled in between the boy’s body and right arm.
Anin clutched his knife in one hand and knelt next to the boy, laying his hand on the boy’s shoulder. The boy opened his eyes and, seeing Anin, tried to move, but lacked the strength.
“Let me help you,” said Anin. He pulled back the blanket and found the festering snake bite on the boy’s right calf. Anin bowed his head and frowned. He could have treated the bite when it first happened, but it was too late, the poison was going to kill the boy. The only thing he could do was ease the boy’s suffering.
He examined the baby, and found it to be in good health.
“I’ll be back in a moment,” he said to the delirious boy and then jogged up the beach to his boat. He grabbed his canteen and a stiff leather bag from the bow of the little craft, and jogged back down the beach.
Anin pulled a small mortar out of his bag and pushed it down into the sand, twisting it until it was firmly planted. He began measuring out pinches of various powders from small glass vials that were tucked into pockets inside his bag. As he finished with each ingredient, he carefully returned the vials to their proper place. Then he pulled out the pestle and began to grind the powders together.
As he mixed the medicine, he relaxed his mind and began to silently chant a song of calm in his head. As his calm built, he focused it into a ball of light blue energy in his mind. He channeled the energy through his hands, and into the powdery mixture he was grinding. The grains of the medicine flashed blue for a moment, like water reflecting a shooting star.
Anin stopped grinding and pulled a glass cup and a flask from his bag. He poured a small amount of strong brown liquor from the flask, and then added two large pinches of the medicine and swirled the cup around to mix it. He lifted the boy’s head and put the cup to his lips, spilling a little of the liquid into the boy’s mouth.
Immediately, the boy relaxed and stopped shivering.
Anin put the cup aside and rested his hand on the boy’s forehead. He closed his eyes and began a silent chant of strength. Anin could feel the strength of his body gathering in his chest. He channeled it through his hand and into the boy, whose eyes suddenly opened and stared at him.
Feeling fatigued from the magic, Anin sat back on the sand and looked at the boy.
“What happened?” Anin asked.
The boy looked at him. “Santhim,” he said, “Where is Santhim?” He had a thick accent that Anin had a hard time understanding.
The boy suddenly realized that there was a baby cradled in his arm. He looked at the infant and tears welled up in his eyes.
“Is this your son?” asked Anin.
“My son,” said the boy with a smile before suddenly wincing. The pain was coming back.
“You’ve been bitten by a snake,” said Anin. “There’s nothing I can do to help you. But I will not let your son die on this beach.”
The boy slumped back down and looked at the baby. Tears streamed down his face.
Anin could see that the boy was in a great deal of pain, and his magic wasn’t going to last much longer.
He held the cup to the boy’s lips. “This will help you rest,” he said. The boy took several large drinks and then relaxed and fell into a peaceful sleep.
Anin carried the baby to his boat and climbed in. He removed the lid from a large box that was built into the side of the boat near the rowing bench. The box was full of rope and nets. Anin arranged the nets into a makeshift bed for the baby, and gently laid him down.
He climbed out of the boat, untied it from the rock and walked it through the water to where the boy slept.
Anin pulled the boat up onto the sand and tied the rope to a tree at the edge of the beach. He noticed a trail of dark blood in the sand and followed it to a mound that was obviously a grave. He understood at once what had happened.
Anin returned to the boat. He unpacked some things and set up his camp next to the fire. He lifted the boy’s head and dribbled another large dose of the medicine into his mouth, and then walked to the water and rinsed the remaining medicine out of the cup before returning it to his bag.
Anin made a quick foray into the forest and came out with an armload of wood which he piled near the fire.
He sat down and began mixing a new set of ingredients in his mortar. He had to stop several times and consider what ingredients to use, but finally he was satisfied and began to grind the powders together with his pestle. He chanted a spell in his head and put a generous magical infusion of his own strength into the powder.
When he was finished, he took a glass vial from his bag, poured most of the powder into it and then sealed it with a cork and stuffed it into his bag. The remainder of the powdery mix went into his glass cup, followed by water from his canteen. He mixed the solution well and raised the cup to his nose to smell it. He decided the concoction would provide the child with adequate nutrition until he returned home.
He pulled a delicate glass dropper from his bag, cradled the baby in his lap and painstakingly fed the child his first meal, one dropper at a time.
When the baby was fed and sleeping comfortably next to his father, Anin took a shovel out of the boat and walked into the woods where he dug two graves by the light of the moon.
When he was done, he checked on the boy, who was sleeping peacefully. Anin picked up the baby and sat down near the fire. With the sleeping infant in his lap, Anin closed his eyes and began to sing a song of rejuvenation in his head. He sat like that through the night, keeping a semi-conscious watch over the boy.
• • •
Tyrim died during the night. Anin buried him and then dug Santhim out of the sand and moved her to her proper grave. He spent an hour, with the infant child in a makeshift sling across his chest, gathering stones to line the graves.
Once the sad task was finished, Anin packed up the boat, placed the child in his makeshift crib, and began rowing back to his home on Komisan.
It was evening in the village of Port Billen. All the fishermen had come in and were either having dinner with their families or trading stories at the Rusty Hook Tavern across the village square from the docks. Constable Jelak was relaxing on his usual bench, looking at the stars over the water, when he saw Anin rowing in. He walked down onto the dock to meet his friend.
“Surprised to see you back so soon, Anin” said the constable as he took a rope from Anin, and tied the boat to the dock. He caught sight of the infant laying in the net box. “Is that a baby?”
Anin told Jelak what had happened on the beach while he unloaded the boat. Jelak held the baby for Anin and listened. When the tale had been told Jelak looked at Anin seriously and said, “The King’s law forbids Lataki on Komisan.”
“I didn’t see that I had any other choice, Jelak. I couldn’t leave a baby to die alone on the beach.” Anin had been worried about Jelak. The old constable was the King’s representative in Port Billen and it was his duty to uphold the King’s laws. But Jelak was more loyal to the people of Port Billen than he was to King Dannap. After more than fifty years of serving as Constable of the village, he was more a member of the community than a representative of the King.
“You did the right thing,” said Jelak, much to Anin’s relief.
Jelak carried the baby as the two men walked up the hill toward Anin’s house. “What’s the child’s name?” asked Jelak.
“I was thinking about calling him Tanan.”
“That’s a good name,” replied the Constable. He stopped, and looked at Anin. “People are going to ask questions about this baby. What are you going to tell them?”
“Well,” said Anin. “I was thinking I might go talk with Soama about this. If Soama asked me to care for an orphan from another village I couldn’t very well say no, could I?. And nobody around here would question the word of an Abbot, especially Soama.”
They walked on up the hill to Anin’s home, which was brightly lit and smelled of good food. Anin, who had never married, lived with his father, Lindelin, who was the doctor of Port Billen and a widower.
Jelak handed the baby to Anin. “I look forward to officially meeting Tanan after you speak with Soama tomorrow.” The old Constable gave Anin a nod, turned and walked up the street.
Lindelin had been the doctor in Port Billen for nearly as long as Jelak had been its Constable. He was skilled in his trade, respected by patients, and he lived a good and comfortable life. His father had been the doctor in Port Billen before him and the two had practiced together for nearly twenty years before his father died.
His son’s abilities were more suited to the creation of medicines than they were to diagnosing and treating illnesses. Anin was a gifted apothecary, but also a passable healer and Lindelin was proud of him.
Anin was fifty-three and had never married. He was a kind man, well liked and prosperous. But, much to the disappointment of the single women of Port Billen, he had always been more interested in collecting ingredients and creating his medicines than in romance or marriage.
Things had changed for Anin in the ten years since Tanan had come into his life. His obsession with work was still his defining trait, but he was no longer just Anin the Apothecary, he was Tanan’s father. He loved being a father and Lindelin loved being a grandfather.
When Tanan suddenly appeared in Port Billen, few people believed Anin’s story that Soama had asked him to adopt the child. Soama confirmed the story on several occasions, but it just didn’t make sense to most people that a newborn child would be carried from a village on the other side of the island to a home in Port Billen. But everyone in the village liked Anin, and if Abbot Soama was sticking to the story, he must have his reasons. There was gossip for a while, but the people of Port Billen soon accepted Tanan as one of their own. Eleven years later, Tanan was as much a part of the village as anyone.
Tanan loved Port Billen. He loved the people and he loved living in the little stone house with his father and grandfather. Every morning and evening the three would gather around their big kitchen table for meals. Tanan listened to the discussions between the older men and asked questions about the parts of the conversation that he didn’t understand. Lindelin and Anin encouraged the boy’s interest in their work and patiently answered all of his questions.
Tanan had a true love of learning, but not a great enthusiasm for school. When he was eight, he simply stopped going to school on a regular basis. His teachers were annoyed at this but Tanan explained quite matter-of-factly to Lindelin and Anin that he was learning more by spending his time with the people of the village than from schoolbooks which, by the way, he had already read.
Another reason Tanan didn’t enjoy school was a boy named Grapf. Grapf was two years older than Tanan and had been described by more than one person in the village as ‘dumber than a wormy stump’. Grapf was determined to make up for his lack of intelligence by beating up anyone he could catch that was smaller or smarter than him. He made it a point to punish Tanan for the crime of being ‘a smarty pig’s ass’ whenever he had the opportunity.
After a couple of months of trying in vain to persuade, bribe and order Tanan to go to school, Lindelin took Tanan to visit Headmaster Tews at the school. After a great deal of discussion, the three of them came up with a unique solution. Tanan was free to attend school on his own schedule as long as he showed up for tests, passed them with one hundred percent accuracy, and wrote essays about the things he learned while he wasn’t at school. From that point on, Tanan went to school only on Fridays to take tests, hand over essays and borrow books from the school library.
• • •
Tanan’s eagerness to learn and his willingness to work made him welcome everywhere in the village. He would sometimes spend time with his father learning about the medicinal properties of different plants. He often spent time in the kitchen of the Rusty Hook learning all the various ways to clean and fry fish, which was a staple food in Port Billen.
He usually spent one day each week working on Pessup’s fishing boat learning to catch fish, tie knots, clean the boat and anything else Pessup could think of to keep the boy busy. Pessup treated Tanan like a little brother and taught him the fine arts of cussing, practical joking and friendly hazing.
Tanan would often spend an afternoon with Constable Jelak, who in addition to being the King’s representative in the village, was also his grandfather’s best friend. Port Billen was so quiet that there wasn’t much for a Constable to do, and Jelak had long ago taken up the hobby of butterfly collecting. Over his sixty or so years at Port Billen he had built up quite a collection and he enjoyed Tanan’s interest in it. Tanan and Jelak would have lunch together and then spend a few hours hunting and preserving butterflies from the woods and beaches around the village. Tanan was building a nice collection of his own, and Jelak adored the boy.
His favorite place in the village, however, was at the Port Billen Abbey spending time with Abbot Sweelin. Sweelin had been a resident of Port Billen since a couple of years after Tanan’s arrival. He took over the Abbey when Soama transferred to a secluded mountain Abbey a day’s walk from Port Billen.
Sweelin was tall and physically imposing, but soft-spoken and polite. Unlike Soama, who was an outgoing and involved member of the community, Sweelin was more introverted and content to spend his days in the Abbey library. Not only was Sweelin a voracious reader, but he spent hours each day sitting at his desk in the library making copies of books. Tanan spent countless days in the library of the Port Billen Abbey with Sweelin, reading anything Sweelin would give him access to. Sweelin enjoyed having Tanan around not only because the boy loved books, but because Tanan had a knack for bringing Sweelin a hot cup of tea just when he needed it.
• • •
One evening after dinner, Lindelin asked Tanan to join him in the small garden behind their house. Tanan followed his grandfather outside and sat cross legged on the ground.
“Tell me what you know about magic,” said Lindelin.
Tanan thought about the question before answering. “I know that it comes from the songs that people sing in their heads, and there are different kinds of magic, and most people can’t do it.”
“Very good,” said Lindelin. “The ability to perform magic requires a disciplined mind. To be able to focus one’s attention in the way required to do magic is an uncommon ability. I think that you might have the kind of mental focus that it takes to perform magic. Would you like to try?”
To do magic like his father and grandfather was something Tanan was very interested in. But Tanan knew he was too young. Few people pursued magical training, and then only after they finished with regular school. Tanan was too young to think about magic.
Lindelin was amused with the look on Tanan’s face. “You’re thinking that you’re too young to work magic, aren’t you? That could be true, but I think we should find out for certain. Would you like to try?”
Tanan was very much willing.
“This is the most simple magic,” said Lindelin, “and almost anyone who can do magic can do it. Sit quietly and try to calm your mind. Think about the sensation of cold. Imagine a ball of coldness in your stomach. For some people it helps to imagine a ball of white light in your stomach. When you think you have it, try to imagine that coldness traveling from your stomach to your right hand.”
Lindelin leaned forward in his chair and touched Tanan lightly on the cheek. His hand was ice cold. “When you can touch your right hand to your left and feel the coolness, we will talk about this again.”
“I bet I can learn this by tomorrow,” said Tanan.
Lindelin couldn’t help but smile. “I admire your confidence, but there is no hurry. Most students don’t learn this until they are much older, and it often takes them months. Don’t be disappointed if you can’t learn this in a day.”
When Tanan arrived on the island of Komisan, it had been settled for more than seven hundred years. The ancestors of the Komisani had travelled for two years across deserts and mountains from a place called Sura, a semi-permanent settlement in the middle of the Surani Plains. Sura was little more than a collection of sod huts, animal skin tents and other, even less permanent structures. In the middle of the ramshackle collection was a marketplace where the various Surani tribes came to trade.
The relative permanence of Sura over a few generations gave some of the more regular residents the idea that they should try to cultivate crops, herd animals and store food for later use. The more transient residents would often raid the village and take what they wanted. The Surani were extremely tribal, aggressive people, and had been for thousands of years.
A particularly forward thinking man named Komisa, became tired of growing crops only to have them stolen and persuaded a group of about three hundred Surani that they should leave the village. Komisa left Sura with a group of the best and brightest from Sura. They traveled west to the edge of the Surani Plains and into the great desert that bordered it. For a year, they travelled through the desert. It was a brutal crossing, and they lost nearly a third of their number.
When they emerged from the desert, they came upon a large lake. A portion of the group, led by a man named Latak, were disheartened by the losses and decided to settle at the lake. They set up their camp with the intention of establishing a village, modeled after the one Komisa envisioned, where they could live in peace. Within ten years, however, the Lataki abandoned their fledgling city and returned to the nomadic lifestyle of their ancestors. As their numbers grew, they split into multiple tribes which spread across the vast new plain.
Komisa and his group continued to travel west in search of the right place to settle and build their new village. Komisa believed that they would need to establish their colony far beyond the village of Latak and his people. They travelled for months across an expansive grassland. They crossed a range of mountains and arrived on the shores of a sea, where they established their first village, Masura, or ‘New Sura’.
For the first year they lived near the shore of the sea, fishing and cultivating crops. Komisa sent scouting parties a hundred miles in every direction to learn about the new land and insure that there were no other people in the vicinity. They were alone.
They built crude boats and began to explore the sea. The explorers returned with news of a large, lush island in the middle of the sea. Komisa traveled to this island to see it for himself. The island was almost one hundred miles from east to west and sixty miles across from north to south. The eastern side of the island was mountainous and heavily forested, while the western side was almost entirely rolling hills of fertile land.
The people abandoned Masura and moved to the island they were calling Komisan, and named their new city Panna, or “City of Peace”.
Komisa, who had led his people to this beautiful new land, was proclaimed King by his followers. Under the leadership of Komisa and his heirs, the Komisani thrived. They cultivated the land and focused their efforts toward improving their lives. Over time the Komisani developed a written language, learned to refine and combine metals, and made advances in medicine, architecture, art, literature and philosophy. Within three hundred years, all the cities and villages of Komisan had paved roads, running water and sewer systems. Herd animals were brought from the mainland, and the entire western side of Komisan became a patchwork of pastures, fields and orchards.
The population grew from the one hundred and forty-seven who arrived with Komisa to a hundred-thousand. The population leveled off at that number by royal decree several hundred years after the founding of Komisan. Life on Komisan was peaceful and prosperous.
• • •
Very early on, when the Komisani government was formed, a constabulary called The King’s Legion was created. The Legion was charged with keeping the peace across Komisan. As the population grew, a Royal Palace was built in Panna and an elite branch of the Legion was established to act as a ceremonial guard.
When a hunting party returned from the mainland and reported that they had been attacked by a tribe of Lataki plainsmen, the reigning King sent a platoon from this royal guard to investigate. The Komisani had not forgotten that their ancestors came to their island to escape the warlike plainsmen, and the King gave the Legion the authority to kill any Lataki that came too close to Komisan. The King believed that if the Lataki plainsmen learned of the prosperity of Komisan, they would raid the island and that prosperity would end. The King expanded the Legion further, removing the title of King’s Legion from the constabulary, and reserving it for the military force that guarded the palace and patrolled the mainland. From that point forward, the primary mission of the King’s Legion was to prevent the Lataki from learning about Komisan.
• • •
As the population of Komisan grew and spread across the island, the Abbots were there to guide them. The Brotherhood of Abbots existed for thousands of years before Komisa led his people to the island, and they spanned the inhabited world. The Abbots lived mostly in secluded mountain Abbeys where they catalogued the knowledge of man. They were also subtly influencing emerging societies toward the path of peace and enlightenment.
When Komisa left Sura, he had no idea there were twelve Abbots traveling with him. As the Komisani society began to mature, Abbots introduced written language.
Abbots were also the Masters of magic. They were alert to identify children who showed talent in the magical arts. They trained some, like Tanan’s grandfather, in the healing arts. Others they recruited into the Brotherhood.
The Abbots placed an Abbey in every town and village on Komisan. They set up schools in each town, trained the first healers, performed marriages, and maintained libraries. In villages too small to have a government presence, they often acted as arbiter when there was a dispute.
• • •
The year before Tanan came to Komisan, there was a census. Because Port Billen was too small to have a permanent government presence, Soama took the census in Port Billen. By the time the next census was taken, Sweelin had replaced Soama as the Abbot at Port Billen. Sweelin, who did not care to trade in the gossip of the village, had no idea that Tanan had been born a Lataki. When he completed the census report, Tanan was listed as a new addition to the family. The official story was that Tanan had been adopted from a single mother in the town of Istra, and so that’s what Sweelin wrote down on the report.
When the census reports were sent to Panna, the government representative who reviewed the Port Billen census was a man named Essek, who happened to have been promoted to his position after spending thirty years as one of only two government officials in Istra. Essek had no recollection of an Istran child being taken to Port Billen. Unlike Sweelin, Essek was very much involved in the gossip of his town and he was certain he would have remembered a baby being born to a single mother and then being taken to a village on the other side of the island. And why, Essek wondered, would the child be taken in by a single man? It didn’t make sense to him, and Essek wasn’t one to let something like this slip past without reporting it, which he immediately did.
Census irregularities were few, and Tanan’s case was investigated along with a handful of others. Most of the investigations turned out to be simple clerical errors. In Tanan’s case, no record could be found of the single mother in Istra. Over the course of six months, the case was elevated through the bureaucracy and eventually found its way to Nim, the King’s aide. Nim, in turn, passed the report on to King Dannap.
Jelak had been the constable in Port Billen for longer than most of the people in the village had been alive. Fortunately, Port Billen was such a quiet village that Jelak, who had seen his eightieth birthday come and go, was able to spend a great deal of his time sitting on his favorite bench near the docks. The weather in Port Billen was nice most of the time, and the central location of Jelak’s bench let him keep an eye on the docks and the small town square, which was sort of a community park that adjoined the village’s modest seafront.
The square was ringed with shops, the Rusty Hook tavern, and Lindelin’s clinic. A single cobblestone street began at the docks, ran through the town square, and doglegged its way up the side of the bluff that the village was built on. At the top of the bluff there were four houses, the Port Billen school, and the Abbey. Behind the Abbey was the town’s cemetery. Behind that, was forest.
The Constable’s office was just up the hill from the square at the first bend. It was a single room building with Jelak’s desk on one side, and an iron barred holding cell on the other. Jelak went to the Constable’s office every morning to sweep the floor, polish the desk, and occasionally oil the hinges on the holding cell door. Once the office was cleaned, Jelak would close it up and spend the rest of his day patrolling the town.
He always had lunch at the Rusty Hook tavern, most often with his friend Lindelin, and sometimes with other folks who invited him to join them.
After having his lunch, Jelak would stop by the Apothecary and see if Anin had any prescriptions that he could deliver on his afternoon walk up to the Abbey and back. The rest of the time he could be found sitting on his bench in the town square.
• • •
Jelak was sitting on that bench when Kirkik, an officer with the King’s Legion, arrived in Port Billen. The old Constable watched the young soldier come down the street, followed by a line of children, and enter the Apothecary. The children, having been warned by the soldier not to follow him into the Apothecary, milled around for a moment and then spotted Jelak on his bench, and rushed over to talk excitedly about the soldier.
When the soldier emerged from Anin’s shop some time later, Jelak asked the children, in his best conspiratorial tone, to go keep watch at the top of the hill in case any more soldiers came into town. The children, excited to be entrusted with such an important mission, dashed past Kirkik and up the hill.
Kirkik walked across the square and stood in front of Jelak, who rose from his bench to greet the younger man.
“Are you Jelak?” asked Kirkik.
“I am,” said Jelak. “Pleased to meet you. What’s your name, son?”
“My name is Kirkik. Can we go to your office to talk?”
Jelak lead Kirkik up the hill toward his office, stopping several times to speak with people that they met along the way. Kirkik found this very annoying.
Once they reached the Constable’s office, Kirkik spent an hour questioning Jelak about Tanan, Tanan’s family, and about the day Tanan had been brought to Port Billen. When the interview was complete, Kirkik left town.
Tanan was not able to learn his first bit of magic in a day as he had hoped, but that was not due to any lack of effort. The boy spent every free moment for the next two weeks sitting cross-legged on the floor of his room, concentrating on feeling the cool white light in his belly.
“I can’t figure out how I’m supposed to make the cold light show up in my stomach,” he said to his grandfather one evening at the dinner table.
“You cannot force it, Tanan. If it’s there you’ll find it. Once you learn how to see it, you’ll find that it’s not so difficult to manipulate. That is how it is with all magic.”
“Father,” said Tanan, turning to Anin. “How long did it take you to learn?”
Anin looked at his father and the two men smiled. “How long did it take me?”
Lindelin shrugged. “Seems like it was the better part of two years. But you were a terrible student!” The two men laughed.
Tanan slumped in his chair. “I hope it doesn’t take me two years,” he said meekly.
• • •
In fact, it did not take two years for Tanan to learn his first bit of magic. Two days after the conversation around the dinner table, Tanan walked up to Lindelin and placed an ice cold hand on his forearm. He received a coveted pat on the head from his grandfather, and a promise for further lessons very soon.
Tanan practiced his trick until he was able to produce an icy cold hand on demand.
• • •
The next Saturday, during breakfast, Lindelin told Tanan that the two of them would be taking a trip that day to see a friend. He asked Tanan to fill two canteens with water and pack a bag with some food for lunch.
Lindelin and Tanan started out shortly after breakfast and walked inland along the road toward the town of Yants Bay. Tanan had been to Yants Bay once with his father, who made the trip a few times a year to trade medicinal plants with the Apothecary in that town.
After they had been walking for about an hour, Lindelin led them off the road, turning right into the forest. They followed a rough trail through the woods and up the side of the mountain. At midday they stopped and sat on a large rock to have their lunch.
“Grandfather, are you the oldest man in Port Billen?”
“No,” replied Lindelin, “there are a few people in our village that are older than I am. Constable Jelak is a year or two older than I am, I believe.”
“Jelak is always falling asleep on his bench, and he walks slow. When I walk with you, I have to go fast to keep up.”
“You know that I am a healer. I use magic a little each day, to maintain my body. I have been able, over the years, to slow down the effects of age. Some healers have been able to live very long lives by using magic to slow the natural aging process.”
“I think everyone should do that,” said Tanan.
“Not everyone can do magic. You know that. And among those who can, not everyone has the gift of healing magic as I do.”
“Do you think I might be able to do that kind of magic someday?”
Lindelin looked at his grandson with affection and said, “It wouldn’t surprise me, Tanan. And that is why we are going to visit Soama.”
Soama was on hands and knees in his garden, pulling weeds from a row of onions when Lindelin and Tanan came walking up the path to his secluded mountain Abbey. He was happy to see his old friend. He got to his feet, wiping dirty hands on even dirtier trousers, and wrapped Lindelin in an iron grip hug. Lindelin returned the embrace with enthusiasm. It had been far too long since he had seen his friend Soama.
“Nine years?” asked the Abbot, grasping Lindelin firmly by the shoulders and inspecting him at arm’s length.
“Nine years,” Lindelin replied, “and far too long at that. How are you, my friend?”
Soama patted his friend on the shoulder and said, “I am very well. And I am so happy to see you.”
He turned to Tanan. “And you’re Tanan.”
Tanan smiled awkwardly, “I’m pleased to meet you, sir.”
Soama returned the smile. “The last time I saw you, you were still a baby. I see you’re grown up.”
Soama motioned for them to follow him, and the group walked up the hill toward the Abbey.
“You’ve come just in time for dinner,” Soama said, “I hope you’re hungry, because I’ve had a stew on since mid day.”
Tanan, like most ten year old boys, was indeed hungry, and said so to the great delight and approval of Soama.
When they reached the Abbey, Soama excused himself and disappeared into the building. Lindelin walked into the Abbey, and Tanan followed him in. They were in a small kitchen. Lindelin pulled a chair back from the table that dominated the room and sat down with a sigh of relief. It had been a long walk, and despite the increased vitality his magic gave him, he was still an old man.
Tanan looked around the room. In Port Billen, most of the buildings were made from stone. Soama’s Abbey was built entirely of finely cut, carved and polished wood. In the corner of the kitchen was a large black stove with a pipe running up through the roof. Unlike the stoves in Port Billen, which were built from brick and had only plates of iron on the top, this stove was made entirely of iron.
When Soama returned, he had washed up and changed out of his dirty gardening clothes and into the simple blue cassock that Abbots normally wore.
“Food!” cried Soama, and began clearing books and papers from the table. He pulled down intricately painted and very delicate bowls from a cupboard and handed them to Tanan, who set one at each place. A large brown loaf of bread, wrapped in dark paper, appeared from somewhere and was placed upon the table.
While Soama ladled stew into the bowls, Lindelin and Tanan stepped outside to wash their hands using water from a bucket next to the well. They returned to the kitchen where they joined Soama at the table and dug into the stew.
“How do you like the it, Tanan?” asked Soama, after a few bites. Tanan thought the stew was terrible. It tasted like dirt in his mouth.
“Uhm, it’s very good,” the boy replied.
Soama and Lindelin roared with laughter.
“You’re a poor liar,” said Lindelin, “and Soama is an even worse cook. The only reason he can eat his own cooking is because his taste buds gave up and died many years ago.”
“It’s true,” said Soama with a shrug and a grin.
The bread was quite good. Soama told them that he had brought it back from a recent trip to Sothport.
Lindelin poured a small glass of red wine and handed it to Tanan. “This will help with the taste.” It did help.
When dinner was finished, Tanan cleared the table and helped Soama wash and put away the dishes.
Night had crept in on them while they had their dinner, and Soama showed Tanan to one of the extra rooms. After the long walk Tanan was tired and was soon asleep.
• • •
Soama returned to the kitchen, where Lindelin had lit a small oil lamp. He sat at the table and poured more wine into his glass.
“Now,” he said, “tell me why you’ve come.”
“I want to leave Tanan with you.” Said Lindelin. “He has shown the ability to do magic already. I am also concerned that the King’s Legion might be suspicious of him.”
Soama took a drink of his wine. “Have the authorities discovered that he is a child of the Lataki?”
“There was a Legion man in Port Billen. He questioned Sweelin, Anin and Jelak about Tanan. I don’t think they know he’s Lataki, but it seems the census raised some concerns at the capital.”
“This is my fault,” said Soama. “I neglected to tell Sweelin about the boy when he took over the Abbey in Port Billen. It would have been best to just leave the boy off the census. I should have thought about that when I left.”
Lindelin waved away the idea of Soama being at fault. “They were bound to find out about Tanan sooner or later. Half the village suspects that Anin brought him from the mainland. It’s a miracle it’s taken this long for the Legion to catch wind of this. They’ll figure out the truth sooner or later.”
Soama sat his glass on the table and refilled it. “Sooner, I’d expect. We’ll need to be ready to take him off the island quickly when that happens. He will be welcomed at Jesera.”
Jesera was a monastery hundreds of miles north of Komisan. It’s existence was a closely guarded Abbot secret. Lindelin was one of very few non-Abbots that knew about Jesera.
Lindelin nodded. “Anin and I will go with him. I should have retired ten years ago, and Anin could do his work anywhere. But I will feel bad leaving Port Billen without a Doctor or Apothecary.”
“Issues that will be dealt with easily enough,” said Soama. “I will arrange for a new doctor and Apothecary to find their way to Port Billen.”
“Let’s make the necessary preparations,” said Lindelin. “Will you be able to arrange for an Abbot to take us to Jesera?”
“I think,” said Soama, “that I will take you to Jesera myself. You should return to Port Billen soon and discreetly wrap up your affairs.”
“I will go back first thing in the morning.”
The men sat in silence for several minutes, drinking wine and making plans for their departure from Komisan.
Finally, Soama’s thoughts came back around to what Lindelin had told him about Tanan. “You said that the boy has shown the ability to do magic?”
Lindelin nodded. “He mastered cold summoning in less than a month.”
Soama looked skeptical. “He is quite young.”
“Observe him, Soama. Spend time with the boy and you will see.”
Kirkik was leaning against the wall in an ornately decorated antechamber in the Royal Palace. He was waiting to see his royal majesty, King Dannap. The King was always busy with one thing or another, most of it complete nonsense. Waiting to see him was normal.
When the big double doors to the King’s throne room finally opened, a procession of finely dressed and self-important people filed out, completely ignoring him as they moved through the room. At the rear of the procession was Nim, the King’s elderly and diminutive aide. Nim gestured into the throne room, “He will see you now.”
Kirkik touched the top of Nim’s head as he walked past, “Thanks Nimmy.”
Nim shook his head at Kirkik in stern disapproval. “Rotten brat,” he said, eliciting an impish grin from Kirkik.
Kirkik walked into the audience chamber and Nim closed the large wooden doors behind him. Kirkik glanced around and was not surprised to find himself alone with the King. He stopped twenty paces from the Dias upon which sat the King, and dropping to one knee, held his arm out in an exaggerated bow. “Your illustriousness!”
“Can’t you bow any lower for your King?” asked Dannap. “Are you not sufficiently awed by my magnificence?”
“I’m awed by the fact that you’ve managed to remain King for so long without being chased off the island for incompetence. You’re lucky they choose heirs based on order of arrival instead of intelligence, or you’d be bowing to me, your most splendid highness.”
Dannap rose from his throne, laughing, and walked over to Kirkik, “I can’t argue with that logic. I’ll give you this crown right now if you want it. It makes my head itch.”
Kirkik stood up and faced his brother. Both men were smiling as Kirkik followed Dannap out of the throne room and through a small door behind the throne. The King removed the itchy crown and dropped it carelessly on a chair, and then tossed his formal robes across the arm of the same chair. He plopped down on an overstuffed red velvet couch and looked up at Kirkik.
“How was your trip? Did you thoroughly investigate the taverns and single women of Port Billen?”
Kirkik dropped into a chair across from Dannap’s sofa, beside a gigantic fireplace. “Damn!” he said, “I knew I had forgotten something.” The brothers laughed again.
“You got the census problem straightened out, I gather?” asked Dannap.
“Actually, I didn’t,” said Kirkik. “I spoke with the local Abbot, the one who filled out the census, and he didn’t know anything. When I talked to the boy’s father… he gave me the same story from the census report. Said an Abbot had asked him to adopt the child. But he seemed nervous. Same with the local Constable who, by the way, is so old he probably pees yellow dust. There’s just something not right. They’re hiding something.”
Dannap kicked his feet up onto the sofa and was staring up at a five hundred year old ceiling fresco depicting old King Komisa’s arrival on the island. “Why would these villagers be nervous about this?”
Kirkik picked a bit of lint from the arm of the chair and threw it into the cold fireplace. “I have a suspicion, but I have no evidence.”
The King turned his head to look at his brother.
“I think the boy might be a Lataki,” said Kirkik.
“Why do you think that?” asked Dannap.
“A boy mysteriously appears in the village closest to the mainland. There is no record of birth father or mother. Everyone I ask about it is either completely ignorant or starts sweating when I bring it up. I think the boy is Lataki. It would explain everything, and the simplest solution is usually the most accurate solution.”
Dannap sat up and faced Kirkik. “And you believe the local Constable would hide this from us?”
Kirkik shrugged. “As I said, the Constable is an old man. He’s been in that village for something like sixty years. It wouldn’t surprise me if he turned a blind eye to something like this just so he wouldn’t have to deal with it.”
Dannap stood, walked to a window and looked across the expansive royal garden behind the palace. After a couple of minutes, he turned back to Kirkik. “I need you to go back.”
Kirkik started to object and Dannap held up his hand. Brothers or not, Dannap was his King. He sat back in the chair and listened.
“I need you to go back and find out. But there is no reason to rush. Mother’s seventy-second birthday is in three weeks and she will expect you to be here. After that, return to Port Billen and relieve the Constable of his duties, with gratitude from his king and all that.” Dannap made a dismissive gesture.
“You will serve as Constable for the time being. Determine if the boy is, as you suspect, a Lataki. If he is a Lataki, kill him and anyone who was involved in covering up his presence. Once this is resolved, a permanent Constable will be assigned to Port Billen and you can return to Panna.”
Kirkik nodded his acceptance of the task.
“Unless,” said Dannap with a toothy grin, “you fall in love with a local fish maiden and resign from the Legion to become a fisherman.”
Dannap threw a tasseled red pillow at his King’s laughing face.
After the first couple of days with Soama, Tanan decided that he’d better do the cooking. He would be staying with Soama for a month, and he wasn’t sure if he could handle a month of Soama’s food. Thanks to the time he had spent helping out in the kitchen of the Rusty Hook, Tanan was pretty good at cooking a few things and was soon doing all the cooking. There was no fish, but fortunately, Soama was happy to eat vegetable stew and green salad for every meal.
Tanan quickly settled into a routine. Each morning, Soama would wake him while it was still dark and the two would sit in the back garden and meditate as the sun came up. Soama told Tanan that being able to clear the mind of the normal clutter of thoughts would make it easier for him to perform magic.
Meditation was followed by breakfast, and then the two would spend the morning in Soama’s garden pulling weeds. Tanan didn’t enjoy being on his hands and knees in the dirt for hours at a time.
After several days of weeding, Tanan finally asked, “Why do we spend so much time doing this?”
Soama pulled weeds in silence for a few moments before responding. “Tell me about a person that you don’t like.”
Tanan was irritated that Soama had ignored his question, but thought about Soama’s question while he carefully picked weeds out of a row of carrots. “There’s a kid in Port Billen named Grapf. Every time he sees me he punches me or trips me. I think that’s really the only person I don’t like.”
“Think of your life as a garden. And think of all the things that happen in your life; they are either flowers, or vegetables, or weeds. Grapf is a weed, Tanan.”
The thought of Grapf as a weed made Tanan laugh. He imagined pulling a tiny little Grapf out of the ground and throwing him into the basket next to him with the other weeds.
Soama continued. “Grapf is a weed in the garden of your life. We are pulling weeds from this garden because they take nutrients from the soil that our vegetables need to grow to their full potential. People, and even our own thoughts, can be weeds too. If we let the weeds in our lives take root, they use up the energy that we need to reach our full potential.”
“They steal our energy?” asked Tanan.
“They don’t exactly steal it, Tanan. But people often waste energy on the things that don’t really matter. The best thing to do with a weed is to get rid of it.” He yanked a particularly large weed and held it up for Tanan to see.
“I don’t think I’m going to get rid of Grapf any time soon.”
“Perhaps the best way to deal with this Grapf boy is to turn him from an enemy into a friend. Some weeds produce very nice flowers.”
Tanan thought about this as they continued to pull weeds in silence. There were things in his life that he wasted energy on. A bully like Grapf was certainly a weed in his life. But he had to admit that there were times in his life when he had been mean to other kids too. Not mean like Grapf was mean to him, but still mean. It was possible that using his energy to make fun of someone took away from better things he could do with his time.
“What are some other kinds of things that are weeds in my garden, Soama?”
“There are all kinds of things,” the Abbot replied. “Just like in this garden that we work in every morning, no matter how many weeds we pull today there will always be new ones the next day. In our lives, most of the weeds involve things like regret, anger, and jealousy. The worst weed in our minds is the desire for revenge. That is the most harmful weed. It poisons everything it touches.”
The analogy made sense to Tanan. “What do we do with all of those things, Soama?”
“The same thing we do with the weeds you’re pulling from the garden right now,” he replied. “How much time do you spend thinking about the weeds we threw in the compost pile yesterday?”
“None,” said Tanan.
“Exactly,” said Soama. “We have to be diligent when it comes to keeping our garden free of weeds. But we don’t worry about the weeds we pulled yesterday or the weeds we will have to pull tomorrow.”
Tanan sat back on his heels. “So, we spend so much time pulling weeds because it reminds us to keep the weeds out of the garden of our life.”
“No,” said Soama. “We spend so much time pulling weeds because the garden has a lot of weeds.”
Tanan sighed heavily and went back to pulling weeds
Kirkik returned to Port Billen, arriving late in the evening. He went straight to the Constable’s station, which was unlocked. That would change when he took over. He dropped his backpack on the chair in front of the Constable’s desk and walked into the empty jail cell.
There was a shelf at the foot of the cot stacked with neatly folded bedding. He pulled down a thick wool blanket and threw it on the bed, then kicked off his boots and the thick leather belt that his sword was attached to.
Kirkik laid the sword on the bed next to the wall and stretched out next to it, pulling the blanket over himself. He was asleep almost instantly.
• • •
The next morning, he awoke to the sound of Jelak sweeping the floor. “Good Morning,” said the old Constable, cheerfully.
Kirkik sat up and rubbed his face. He slipped his feet into his boots and laced them up while Jelak went around the room dusting and polishing everything in the office.
When Jelak had finished his morning cleaning ritual he sat behind the desk and looked back at Kirkik. “What brings you back to Port Billen?” he asked.
“I’ve come to relieve you, Jelak.”
Jelak nodded once. “I suppose I’ve been at it long enough,” he said.
“You should have retired twenty years ago,” said Kirkik with a slight edge of irritation in his voice.
“Truer words have never been spoken,” replied Jelak, cheerfully. He stood up from the desk. “Come on,” he said, “I’ll buy you breakfast. You should never fire a man on an empty stomach.”
• • •
The two men walked down the hill to the Rusty Hook. It was still early, but the sky was starting to turn a lighter shade of blue over the water. There were groups of fishermen streaming out of the Hook, heading down to the docks to begin another day’s work. Jelak greeted the men by name that they passed.
They entered the tavern and sat at a table right by the door. Jelak ordered fish and eggs for both of them, the standard breakfast at the Hook.
Jelak fixed serious eyes on the younger man sitting across from him. “Son,” he said, “I want you to know something about this village before you take over as Constable. The people that live in Port Billen are good folks. There isn’t any real crime. Not because of anything I’ve done, but because people here look out for one another. As long as you don’t come in and rock the boat, it’ll stay that way. Keep that in mind and you’ll do fine.”
Their food arrived. Jelak smiled and thanked the young girl as she sat a plate in front of each man.
Jelak looked at Kirkik over the plates of food. “Have you got a place to stay yet, Constable?”
“No,” said Kirkik, “I haven’t made any arrangements.”
Jelak looked around the room and spotted Pemmy, the middle aged woman who owned the Rusty Hook, standing and talking with a table full of fishermen. “Pemmy!”, he called and waved her over.
Pemmy nodded and said her goodbyes to the men at the table. She walked over and sat down at the table with Jelak and Kirkik. “Good Morning, Jelak,” she said, resting an affectionate hand on Jelak’s forearm. She looked over at Kirkik. “Who’s your handsome friend?”
Kirkik was surprised to find himself blushing slightly. The women in Panna were certainly not this forward.
“This is Kirkik,” said Jelak. “Constable Kirkik, I should say. He’s come to replace me so I can spend more time chasing women.”
Pemmy arched one eyebrow and gave the old man a gentle slap on his shoulder.
“Kirkik is going to need a place to stay. Do you know if Anin would rent the room behind his shop to our new Constable?”
“I’m sure he would,” she replied. She turned to Kirkik. “If it doesn’t work out, you’re welcome to stay with us until you find a place. We’d be happy to have you.”
“Thank you, Pemmy,” said Jelak.
Pemmy patted his arm again, nodded to Kirkik and left.
Jelak looked at Kirkik. “Anyone in the village will make you that same offer, Constable. That’s the kind of people you’ll be dealing with here in Port Billen.”
They finished their meal. Jelak pulled three small silver coins out of his pocket and laid them on the table. “Come on,” he said to Kirkik, “Let’s go talk to Anin about that room.”
Tanan walked with Soama through the woods near the Abbey. They often took walks in the afternoon and talked about various things.
“Cold summoning is the magic that most people are able to do,” said Soama. “It’s not the easiest, but for some reason it’s the one that most people can do first.”
“But I thought you said most people can only do one kind of magic,” said Tanan.
“Most people can’t do any magic. Of the few of us who do have the gift, very few are able to master more than one kind of magic. Most can do a little elemental magic, but it’s not good for much. Even those who are able to reach some level of mastery in elemental magic can’t do much more than light a campfire or cool a drink.”
“Do you know anyone who has mastered two kinds of magic,” asked Tanan?
“A few, yes.”
Tanan had only known two people who were able to do magic; his father and his grandfather. And now Soama, which made three. All healers.
“Maybe I will be able to do healing magic like you,” said Tanan.
“It is possible that healing with be your gift. But no child has ever shown the ability for magic at such a young age. I suspect it will take years for your talents to fully reveal themselves.”
“Would it help if I read books about magic?” he asked. “Abbot Sweelin would never let me read magic books at the Port Billen Abbey.”
“He was right to keep that information from you. One of the main missions of the Brotherhood of Abbots is to protect magical knowledge. There are people in this world who would use magic for great harm.”
Tanan picked up a stick as they walked and began breaking small pieces off and throwing them into the woods. “I would never use magic for harm,” he said. Then he realized he already had. “Not on purpose, anyway.”
Soama patted Tanan affectionately on the shoulder. “I have received a letter from your grandfather. You will be returning to Port Billen in time for your birthday next week. I will send a message to Sweelin and ask him to allow you access to the books on magic. You will be coming back to study with me again so you may as well start reading up on magic.”
“Thank you, Soama.”
“You are welcome, Tanan. Now, let’s head back to the Abbey. It’s my turn to cook isn’t it?”
Tanan shrieked ‘no!’ and started running up the path.
Kirkik rented the room from Anin and officially took over as Constable of Port Billen the next morning. News of Jelak’s retirement spread through the small village like wildfire. There was no question whether there would be a retirement party, only when it would take place. The people of the village asked Kirkik to give a speech and he flatly refused.
It wasn’t that Kirkik had any kind of aversion to public speaking. As the King’s younger, and only, brother, he had been groomed from childhood for public service. He refused to speak at Jelak’s retirement party because he considered the old man incompetent, and wouldn’t stand before a crowd of people and say otherwise.
Kirkik wasn’t here to give speeches. He was here to investigate Tanan. Kirkik didn’t yet have proof that the boy was Lataki, but his gut told him that was the case. Once he had proof, Jelak would be punished for treason against the Komisani people.
No, his job was not to give speeches, his job was to watch and listen.
Tanan was tired of pulling weeds. There were just so many of them, and every day there were more. The worst part was that his back was aching from spending hours on hands and knees in the dirt pulling, pulling, pulling.
“My back is sore,” he complained.
“Three things,” replied Soama. “First, I’m sorry to hear that your back is sore. Second, complaining about your back being sore won’t make it hurt any less.”
Tanan rolled his eyes at that one.
“And third, when you’ve finished complaining, maybe I can try to teach you a bit of healing magic that will help the soreness in your back.”
Finally! In two weeks, all Soama had taught him, other than how to pull weeds, was the cold trick that he already knew, and the warm hands trick, which was so easy he had figured it out in an hour.
Tanan took a deep breath. “I would like to try to learn it.”
Soama very slowly and precisely enunciated a long string of words. “Repeat that back,” he instructed.
Tanan had caught about four syllables before it started sounding like gibberish. “I didn’t get it all,” he said sheepishly.
“Listen very carefully this time,” said Soama. “These are the words to the song that you will need to chant in your head if you want to try to ease the pain in your back.”
Soama said the words, slowly and precisely. “Gering luvea cestoreth surven celtane hehinke apendrowde.” And then he repeated them a second time.
“Say them along with me,” he said before repeating them again.
“Can’t you just write it down for me?” asked Tanan.
“No, I cannot. Now say them along with me. Pay attention to the exact sound of each word.”
They repeated the words together for almost an hour as they continued to pull weeds. When Soama was confident that Tanan had it memorized, he instructed Tanan to begin repeating the words silently in his head, but to maintain the precise sounds as he imagined saying them.”
They pulled weeds.
After another half hour, Tanan told Soama, “I think I feel something.”
“Tell me what you feel,” said Soama.
“It feels like kind of a warm tingle, but also numb at the same time. Is that right?”
“That is exactly right,” said Soama, suppressing his astonishment. He had not expected Tanan to be able to get results. “Tomorrow I will teach you the melody that goes along with the words.”
Kirkik had been in Port Billen for two weeks and hadn’t seen the boy Tanan once. He stopped by the school to speak with the boy’s teacher, and in addition to learning about Tanan’s unorthodox attendance arrangement, he ended up being convinced to spend an hour in front of a classroom full of children answering questions about what it was like to be a Constable.
When he questioned the boy’s father directly, he was told that the boy was on a trip to a friend’s farm learning about agriculture. Follow up questions were deftly avoided, and no real information was actually gleaned from the conversation.
The boy’s grandfather was even less helpful. The man was extremely pleasant, but a master of saying a great number of words that amounted to nothing. Kirkik thought that Lindelin would have made a fine addition to the crowd that frequented the King’s court in Panna.
Other than to continue to watch and wait for Tanan to turn up, there was very little for Kirkik to do in Port Billen. He spent a great deal of time walking up and down Port Billen’s single street.
• • •
The night of Jelak’s retirement party was eventful. Every person in the town turned up in the town square, which had been meticulously swept, cleaned and decorated for the occasion. Windows were cleaned, flower beds weeded and mulched. Even the stray dogs were caught and given baths. A few of the buildings on the square had been given a fresh coat of paint.
There was a great deal of food and drink. A group of fishermen dusted off musical instruments and spent every evening for a week secretly practicing at the school. They played music all evening. There was singing and dancing and even a few good natured wrestling matches. Kirkik attempted to break up the first wrestling match, which he mistook for a fight, and received bewildered stares from everyone involved. After that he decided it would be best to just observe.
Jelak was the center of attention. He had been kept busy for two days before the party while his favorite bench was given a complete going over. The bench was stripped of uncountable coats of paint. Then, a beautiful bas-relief of Jelak’s face was carved into the back of the bench along with the inscription, “To our dear friend Jelak from the people of Port Billen.” Several coats of a brilliant blue stain were applied to the wood. There was an almost luminescent sheen to the finished product. Kirkik suspected some magic had been used to achieve the effect.
Jelak received gifts from everyone in the town, including several intricately sewn and quite stunning quilts, several suits of clothing, and more preserved fruit, jellies and dried meats than he would eat in a year. The people of Port Billen all pitched in for a lovely silver plaque commemorating his years of loyal service to the village. Kirkik didn’t dare argue when he was told that the plaque would hang in a prominent place inside the Constable’s office.
At the end of the evening, people came to Jelak singly and in groups to congratulate him on his retirement. Everyone shook his hand or gave him a hug. He received more than a few slightly drunken kisses from village women. His embarrassment only prompted more kisses and a lot of good natured jokes.
Eventually everyone went home to bed, leaving the village square as spotless as it had been at the beginning of the day. Kirkik walked around the empty square and ended up standing in front of Jelak’s bench, which was slightly luminescent in the moonlight. He sat on the bench and wondered how long he would have to be in this place.
Jelak appeared out of the darkness and joined Kirkik on the bench.
“Shouldn’t you be home sleeping?” asked Kirkik.
“Old habits die hard,” responded Jelak. “After so many years as Constable, I can’t sleep until I know everything is in order.”
After sitting quietly for a few minutes, Kirkik turned to Jelak. “The boy, Tanan. He is Lataki, isn’t he?”
If Jelak was surprised to hear the question his face didn’t show it. He considered the question for a few moments before looking back at Kirkik. “The first milk that boy suckled came from a Komisani goat. He is as much a Komisani as you or I, Kirkik.”
Kirkik was growing tired of the evasive answers he’d been getting for the last two weeks. “You don’t deny that the boy is Lataki.”
Jelak rarely lost his temper, but he could feel it slipping with Kirkik. “Are you so weak that you feel threatened by a ten year old boy?”
Kirkik was satisfied with Jelak’s answer. As far as he was concerned, it was an admission that the boy was Lataki. He stood and glowered at Jelak. “Go home to your bed, old man. The streets may not be safe after dark.” Kirkik turned and stalked up the street.
Tanan was now able to sing the healing chant in his head as he pulled weeds in the garden. He had a pretty good grasp on the words of the incantation, and learning the melody that went along with it improved the effectiveness. He was no longer stiff and sore after spending the morning in the garden.
Most days, after pulling weeds, Soama and Tanan would harvest vegetables, clean them, and then prepare a salad and some tea for lunch. Soama introduced Tanan to chamomile tea, which was brewed from the small white flowers of a plant that grew in a large patch on the sunny side of the Abbey. They would simmer dried petals in a tea pot for the last hour of the morning’s gardening and it would be ready for them when it was time for lunch. The tea was a little bit sweet, and it smelled and tasted great. Tanan found that drinking it helped calm him and clear his mind.
The two sat enjoying their tea at a small table on the stone patio outside the Abbey’s kitchen door. Tanan watched as a skinny grey cat with bright green eyes appeared at the far side of the garden and walked between two rows of peas. The cat jumped into Soama’s lap and put her front paws on the Abbot’s chest, looking him right in the eyes.
Soama smiled at the cat and stroked it from neck to tail, “Hello Leeka. Have you brought me a message?”
“Is that your cat, Soama?” Tanan was sure he had seen the cat in Port Billen.
Soama was rotating a narrow leather collar, which Tanan hadn’t noticed before, to get at a little tube attached to it. He laughed at Tanan’s question. “Anyone who thinks they own a cat is a fool. Leeka is my friend.”
“She’s pretty,” said Tanan.
“I agree,” replied Soama. He pulled a tightly rolled piece of paper out of the tube on her collar and tucked it into a small pocket in his shirt. He scratched the cat on her neck, prompting the cat to flop over on her side and almost fall out of Soama’s lap. Soama petted the cat a few more times and then, bored with the attention, the cat jumped to the ground and started grooming herself.
“What is that paper you just got from the cat’s collar,” asked Tanan?
“It is a message for me,” said Soama, letting Tanan know that he wasn’t going to discuss it.
“I never knew a cat could carry a message like that,” Tanan said.
“There are many things that you don’t know,” responded Soama, with a mischievous tone. “Like how to properly weed a garden, for instance. Weeks of practice and still you haven’t mastered it!”
“And I have noticed,” said Tanan, “that you haven’t either!”
“Oh… right.” Soama said with a look of surprise. “I know I’ll get it one of these days.”
Tanan took a drink of his tea. “Soama, how does the magic help my back to not be sore?”
“That’s a reasonable question, Tanan, and one that a man could spend a lifetime trying to answer. What I can tell you about it, is the same thing I can tell you about all magic. Magic is the art of using the mind to focus and manipulate energy. In this particular case, you’re using a chant to help you focus and intensify the natural healing power of your body.”
“You may have noticed,” he continued, “that since you began using that chant, your appetite has increased. When you use the energy from your body like that, you have to replenish it.”
Tanan had been pretty hungry lately. “I guess I’d have to eat a lot of food if I wanted to learn harder magic.”
Soama nodded. “Our magic does have limits. The body only has so much energy.”
“Could you use energy from another person,” asked Tanan?
Soama nodded slowly. “Yes, it could be done, but it would be wrong. It is dangerous, and extremely unethical.”
“I understand,” said Tanan.
“Good,” replied Soama. “Now, I think it is time for our afternoon walk.”
After four long weeks of pulling weeds and talking about magic, Tanan understood just enough to know that he didn’t know very much about magic. He knew plenty about pulling weeds, though, and vowed to one day invent a spell that made the weeds pull themselves.
One morning after meditation, Soama told Tanan that he would be returning to Port Billen that day. “I have two letters that I would like you to deliver for me. One is for your grandfather and the other is for Sweelin.”
Tanan was shocked. “You want me to walk all the way to Port Billen by myself? I don’t remember the way.”
“Well, of course I’m not sending you off by yourself,” said Soama. “Leeka knows the way. Just follow her and she’ll lead you right home.”
The thought of following a cat home was both amusing and horrifying. He trusted Soama, but the idea of Leeka leading him all the way back to his village was insane.
“I can see by the look on your face,” said Soama, “that you are skeptical. You can trust Leeka. She has made the journey many times and she will not lead you astray.”
After breakfast, Tanan gathered up his things. Soama gave him a well worn leather satchel, which he slung over his shoulder. “The letters are in there, and some bread for your lunch. I also put a book in there that I would like you to study. The next time I see you, I expect you to know the contents of that book from front to back.”
Tanan promised to study. As eager as he was to be home with his father and grandfather, he was a little sad to be leaving Soama. He had developed a great affection for the Abbot during the month he’d spent at the Abbey.
Soama bent and scratched Leeka on the head. “Don’t let him get lost,” he said. The cat started off down the same path Tanan and Lindelin had arrived on a month before. Tanan gave Soama a quick hug, and then ran after the cat.
“See you soon,” called Soama, waving.
• • •
Leeka led Tanan home without incident. Thanks to the chant he had learned from Soama, Tanan wasn’t even all that tired when they arrived at the Abbey at the top of the hill in Port Billen. Tanan made a quick stop to deliver the letter to Sweelin and then ran down the hill to see his father.
Tanan walked into his father’s Apothecary just as Anin was closing up. Anin, being a man of few words, smiled and gave the boy a big hug. “Help me close up and we’ll go home.”
They closed the shop and locked the door on the way out. Their single story stone block house was just a few dozen steps up the street. Lindelin walked through the door two minutes after they arrived, and his face lit up when he saw Tanan, who immediately gave him a hearty hug.
“Is it possible that you’ve grown taller in just a month?” asked Lindelin. “You look taller to me. I guess Soama’s cooking didn’t stunt your growth.”
While they had their dinner, Tanan delivered a detailed account of his stay with Soama. When he reached the end of his story, he reached into the satchel and took out the letter Soama had sent for Lindelin, and the book Soama had given him to study.
After dinner was eaten and the chores had been done, Tanan went out the door in search of Jelak. He had been sad to hear he’d missed Jelak’s retirement party and wanted to go congratulate him now that he was back. Lindelin warned Tanan that the new Constable wasn’t friendly like Jelak, and Tanan should steer clear of the man.
Lindelin retired to his room, where he sat at his writing desk and opened the letter from Soama.
My Dear friend Lindelin,
I have had a most enjoyable several weeks with Tanan. The boy’s gift for magic is remarkable. I believe his talents may be greater than either you or I initially suspected.
During his stay at the Abbey, I observed him manifesting heat and performing energy replenishment on himself in conjunction with stamina enhancement. You know that I am no master of the temporal arts, but I am inclined to believe that during our many hours of gardening, the boy may have slightly altered the flow of time in his immediate vicinity without realizing it.
The boy has clearly shown an early talent for magic and I think it’s likely that he will master more than one of the five disciplines.
I received your note concerning the new Constable of Port Billen and his interest in Tanan. I agree that we should proceed with our plan to move him to where he can be properly instructed. I will wrap up my affairs and arrange for another Abbot to come to this Abbey. Expect to see me within the week and we will leave at that time.
I have given Tanan a book of basic chants and symbols with instructions to study. I have also asked Sweelin to open the library in the Port Billen Abbey to Tanan. My hope is that his studies will keep him busy and out of sight of your new Constable without alarming the boy.
Leeka will be lurking about should you need to respond to this letter.
Tanan walked around the village for a while, talking with his friends. He eventually wandered down toward the square. Jelak was sitting on his refinished bench watching the fishermen come in and the stars come out. Tanan sat down beside him.
“Nice bench, Jelak,” he said. “Sorry I wasn’t here for your party.”
“I wish you could have been there, Tanan. It was a nice party. I hear you’ve been off studying with Soama?”
“Yeah, mostly learning to pull weeds.”
“Well,” said Jelak, “I’m glad you are back.”
Tanan rubbed the smooth wood of the bench. “It sure is nice how they fixed up your bench.”
“The people of this village have always been good to me. You and I are lucky to live in this village with so many good people.”
Across the town square, down by the water, Tanan saw Grapf and his friends throwing rocks at seagulls.
Tanan pointed toward Grapf. “Mostly good people,” he said.
Jelak nodded. “Grapf isn’t all that bad. Pretty soon he’ll grow up and he’ll calm down. I’ve seen worse than him in my time and they always grow out of it.”
Having apparently grown bored with the gulls, Grapf’s little gang was crossing the square and heading up the hill.
When Grapf spotted Tanan sitting with Jelak, he shot him a dirty look. There was a promise in that look. It was the promise of trouble in Tanan’s future.
Tanan spent the first couple of days at home studying the book Soama had given him. It was full of intricate symbols and glyphs with detailed descriptions of what each symbol was for. Lindelin gave him a small slate and some chalk, advising him to practice drawing each of the symbols exactly as it appeared on the page of the book.
“When you can draw a symbol, perfectly, from memory then you will be ready to start on the next,” he said. “Only draw your symbols on this slate, and when you have finished studying each day, clean it and return it to me.”
On his third day back, Tanan visited Sweelin at the Abbey. He found Sweelin around the back of the Abbey sitting and reading in a chair that had been woven from long pliable tree branches. Sweelin was a young man, but very tall and quite large. Tanan wondered that the fragile looking chair could hold the Abbot’s bulk.
“Good morning, Sweelin.” said Tanan, announcing his presence.
Sweelin looked up from his book and nodded. “Good morning, Tanan. What can I do for you?”
Tanan showed Sweelin his book. “I’ve been studying this book that Soama gave me, and I was wondering if maybe I could look at some other books?”
Sweelin held out his hand and Tanan handed it to him. The Abbot gently turned the book over, looking at the front and back covers, then carefully opened it and looked at the inside. Watching Sweelin handle the book so reverently made Tanan feel guilty for the careless way that he handled books. He vowed to try to be more careful with them in the future.
“This is a very interesting book, Tanan. If you don’t mind, I’d very much like to borrow it when you’ve finished with it. I’d like to copy it and add it to the library here at our Abbey.”
“I guess that would be okay with me as long as Soama doesn’t mind.”
Sweelin stood up from his chair. “Follow me,” he said.
Tanan followed him through the Abbey, which was the largest building in town. All of the rooms they walked through were tidy, but Tanan had no idea what they were for. He had only ever been in the main hall of the Abbey. Sweelin led Tanan into a large room that had bookshelves lining every inch of the walls. Some of the shelves were so high that even Sweelin would need a ladder to reach the books on them.
In one corner of the room was a tall desk with a slightly slanted top. Along the top edge of the desk was a small ledge lined with a dozen corked bottles of different colored inks, and a stack of various sized brushes and quills.
What really caught Tanan’s eye was a small globe, about the size of Tanan’s clenched fist, resting on a base of intricately woven silver wire. The globe radiated a clear, white light over the work area. A cone had been fashioned out of an old piece of parchment and rested on the globe, presumably to keep the light out of Sweelin’s eyes as he worked.
“Is that globe making light with magic?” asked Tanan.
“Yes,” Sweelin replied. “It gives me plenty of light when I’m copying books at night.”
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” said Tanan, clearly amazed with the artifact.
“There’s one in every Abbey. I’m surprised you didn’t see the one at Soama’s Abbey.”
Tanan hadn’t ever gone into the library while he was visiting Soama. Probably because there were no weeds to be pulled in the library.
Sweelin cleared the partially completed book that he was copying from the desk and laid Tanan’s book in its place. He opened the cover to expose the title page, and examined it closely. He opened a small drawer below the desk and pulled out a palm-sized silver ring with red glass set into it. Holding the lens just above the surface of the paper, he slowly moved it around examining every inch carefully.
Sweelin stopped moving and held the lens over one place, frowning. “Look at this,” he said, pointing. “This book was written by Soama and he doesn’t want it to be copied,” said the big Abbot. Sweelin was clearly disappointed.
“Why wouldn’t he want you to copy a book?” asked Tanan.
Sweelin returned the lens to its place and slid the drawer shut. He carefully closed the book and handed it back to Tanan, who was more careful with it than he had been before.
“Soama is a wise man, and a respected Abbot,” said Sweelin. “It’s not my place to question his wishes.”
Sweelin stood up from the desk. “Now then, you’re looking for more books like this one. Soama asked me to open the library to you.”
“I’m going back to study with Soama in a few weeks,” said Tanan. “I thought it might be good to get a head start.”
Sweelin held out his hands, gesturing to the book lined walls. “The library is open to you,” he said. “However, I will need to be here when you use it, and I have other things to attend to today. You can come back tomorrow and get started if you’d like.”
Tanan thanked Sweelin and left, promising to return the next morning.
On the morning of Tanan’s eleventh birthday he was greeted at breakfast with gifts from his father and grandfather.
From Anin, he received a new coat, which Tanan tried on immediately. It was wool lined and had a hood. The coat was a bit big for him, but he would grow into it. Anin also gave him a stiff canvas backpack and a set of quills in a polished wooden box with a shiny silver clasp. His name was carved into the top of the box in intricate and flowery script. Tanan had never owned a new quill, let alone an entire set. He had always used old quills that his father or grandfather had handed down to him. It was a lovely gift.
Lindelin gave him a thick book, bound in deep red leather. Tanan opened it and discovered it was blank.
“As you learn magic, you’ll eventually want to copy the symbols and chants that you learn into a book of your own,” explained Lindelin. “Take care of that book and it will last you a lifetime.”
Lindelin also gave him a brand new pair of dark leather boots that fit perfectly and went almost up to his knees. “I suggest,” said Lindelin, “that you wear those boots for the next couple of days to get them broken in.”
It was the best birthday Tanan had ever had. He thanked his father and grandfather for the presents and gave them each a hug.
While Anin cooked breakfast, Tanan folded his new coat and put it into his backpack along with his new book and quill set, which fit perfectly into an inner pocket.
• • •
After breakfast was finished, Lindelin and Anin went off to work. Tanan put on his new boots and walked up the hill to the Abbey. He was eager to have a look at the books of magic in the Abbey library.
He found Sweelin sweeping up in the main hall, so he pitched in and helped the Abbot finish the chore.
Once the sweeping was done, Sweelin and Tanan went into the library.
“The books you’re interested in are in this section,” Sweelin said, gesturing at a particular shelf. “You may read them, but they must stay in this room. Do not copy anything from them.”
Tanan was happy to have the opportunity to study. He looked at the books for a few moments before selecting one at random and carrying it to a large, slightly dusty chair near a window.
The book was about healing magic, which was his grandfather’s specialty. He read a few pages of magical theory which explained that healing magic was largely based on the practitioner’s ability to harness his own energy, shape it, and then pass it from his own body into another person or even an object.
He’d never really thought about it, but his father used healing magic in his Apothecary, infusing his healing energy into the medicines he made. His grandfather, on the other hand, used more direct healing methods to compliment his knowledge of medicines and the human body.
Tanan had always privately thought of his grandfather’s magic as more useful than his father’s. Now he thought the two types of healing magic might be complementary. Between the two of them, they certainly kept the people of Port Billen healthy and whole.
He returned to the shelf and replaced the book. The next one he chose had green binding and was titled “Advanced Protective Enchantments.” He sat back down in his chair and opened the book, flipping to a page in the middle. The page described a personal protection spell. There was an intricate, eight sided symbol drawn out under the descriptive text. Tanan looked at the symbol for several minutes, studying the intricate series of loops and whorls.
Beneath the symbol were the words of the chant that went with it. He mouthed the words slowly, the way Soama had taught him the spell in the garden. “Oinducturesee cruestass hindewedee abelenciss reticulagh evalarmat.”
He repeated the words over and over until he had memorized the sounds. Below the words were musical notations that contained the melody of the chant, but Tanan didn’t understand the notations so he used a melody of his own that seemed to fit the words.
He continued to repeat the words and melody while he studied the symbol. The lines of the symbol seemed to wriggle on the page. When he looked directly at the parts he thought were moving, they seemed to be still. But when he relaxed his vision slightly, the lines crawled on the page. It was an amazing effect and Tanan wondered how the illusion had been created.
Sweelin was standing in front of Tanan, talking. Tanan shook his head and snapped out of the haze of his concentration.
“I’m going to have some lunch,” Sweelin was saying. “Would you care to join me?”
Tanan hadn’t realized what time it was, he’d been studying the symbol in the book for nearly three hours.
He put the book back on the shelf and followed Sweelin to the kitchen where they had cold chicken and spiced potato soup, left over from Sweelin’s dinner the night before.
After lunch, Tanan thanked Sweelin and made plans to come study again the next day.
It was a beautiful afternoon in Port Billen. The late summer sun was warm and there was a nice breeze coming off the sea. The only sounds were the gulls and the ever-present rhythm of sea and its gentle assault on the beach.
Tanan thought he would go down to the docks and spend some time with Jelak, who would almost certainly be on his bench this time of day. The square was deserted, but he knew Jelak would be along soon enough, so he sat down to wait.
Tanan watched the water slide up the beach only to retreat with a hiss. As he watched the waves, his mind wandered back to the syllables of the incantation he had been studying. The rhythm of the incantation played through his mind, and fell into time with the rhythm of the waves that moved up and down the beach. The minutes slipped past him.
Tanan pictured the eight-sided rune from the book. He was curious about the illusion of the moving lines, and wondered how lines drawn on a page could play that trick on the eyes. He would have to ask Sweelin if he knew how that…
A rock slammed into the back of Tanan’s head, jarring him away from his thoughts. He was suddenly in pain and angry. Tanan jumped up from the bench and turned just in time to see Grapf hurl another rock, which flew straight at Tanan’s face and struck him above his left eye. It hurt like hell and sent Tanan into a rage.
Kirkik came around the corner of the butcher’s shop just in time to see Tanan, with blood streaming down his face, scream, “Pig faced bastard!” and charge at Grapf with fists clenched. Kirkik bolted, intent on stopping the fight.
He reached them just before Tanan got to Grapf, and threw his arm between the boys, sweeping back toward Tanan to gather him up and prevent the impending punch.
The moment Kirkik touched Tanan, there was a deafening boom, like a clap of thunder. Kirkik was sent tumbling through the air and landed ten feet away, motionless.
Grapf screamed like a startled little girl and ran away from Tanan, tripping over his own feet and then scrambling up to run some more.
The thunderous noise brought people out of the Rusty Hook, shops and homes. A crowd gathered, fed by more people who came running down the hill. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.
Tanan was stunned. He stood staring at Kirkik’s body. Lindelin arrived, and pushed through the crowd to where the Constable lay, and placed his fingers on the man’s neck.
“What happened here?” asked Lindelin. His tone left no room for anything other than an immediate answer. The crowd of faces turned toward Tanan, who was still staring at Kirkik with a stunned expression on his face.
Lindelin went to Tanan, taking him by the shoulders and giving him a gentle shake. “What happened, Tanan?”
Tanan could barely whisper, “I don’t… did I… is he… dead?” His eyes were filling with large tears that began to stream down his cheeks.
Lindelin left Tanan and returned to the dead Constable. He closed his eyes and began to chant. His lips moved, but he made no sound. After half a minute he laid his hands on Kirkik’s body and held them for a moment, his lips still moving.
Lindelin bowed his head. When he turned to look at Tanan, he looked as if he had aged ten years. His face was ashen and he looked tired. There was sadness in his eyes.
“Go home right now,” he said to Tanan. Then, he turned to the crowd, focusing on no one in particular, “Someone go find Jelak.”
Jelak arrived a few minutes later carrying his butterfly net, took stock of the situation, and dispersed the crowd. Nobody argued, but every window around the square with a view of the scene was soon filled with curious faces.
Lindelin and Jelak stood over the body.
“I think Tanan did this,” said Lindelin. He was tired, and sat down on Jelak’s bench.
Jelak looked at Kirkik’s body. “How could Tanan have killed a full grown man?” he asked. “There’s not a mark on the body.”
“I told you that we were planning to send him off to study with Soama, but I had no idea his magical ability was this strong.”
He looked from the body up to Jelak, “I didn’t see what happened, but I saw his face afterward. This was an accident.”
Jelak joined Lindelin on the bench. The two sat quietly for a few minutes, each lost in their own thoughts.
Finally, Jelak turned to Lindelin. “Did you know that Kirkik was the younger brother of King Dannap?”
Lindelin shook his head, his heart sinking.
“This isn’t going to end well,” said Jelak.
Lindelin nodded, and then put his hands on his knees and stood up. “We were planning to leave Port Billen. I think we’ll have to go sooner rather than later.”
Jelak looked up at his friend. “Get Tanan out of the village now, Lindelin. The King’s Legion will track him down. I won’t be able to stop them, but maybe I can slow them down.”
Lindelin squeezed Jelak’s shoulder as he walked past. “Thank you, my friend.”
• • •
Anin saw the commotion from his Apothecary. When he heard that Tanan had been involved, he closed the Apothecary and went home. Tanan was nearly hysterical with grief over what had happened.
When Lindelin arrived, he made Tanan tell them what had happened. After a few follow up questions about his morning’s studies at the Abbey, it made sense.
“Tanan,” said Lindelin, “you didn’t know. Nobody could have known that you would be able to work that kind of powerful magic. This was just a terrible accident.”
Lindelin and Anin went into the next room and spoke quietly. Anin started packing bags while Lindelin went to talk to Tanan again.
“Tanan,” he began. “I’ve always been proud of you. What happened today doesn’t change that. Even though it was an accident, some people won’t see it that way.” He paused for a moment, not wanting to say what he had to say next. He touched Tanan’s chin and tilted the boy’s head up until they were looking at each other.
“Your father brought you from the main land when you were an infant. Your mother and father were Lataki.”
Tanan felt sick. He had always been told he was from Istra, but his mother wasn’t able to take care of him so Soama had brought him to Port Billen where Anin and Lindelin had adopted him. Like every child in Komisan, he grew up fearing the Lataki, hearing stories about how the Lataki would come and kill everyone if they ever found out about the Komisani. How could he be a Lataki?
“Son,” Lindelin continued, “I’m sorry you have to find out today, like this. There are going to be men, soldiers, who will come…”
Tanan was crying.
“Your father is going to take you out of Port Billen and you can’t ever come back.”
Tanan threw himself at Lindelin, burying his face in the the old man’s chest and sobbing. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Tanan followed his father up the road with his chin in his chest. He was miserable. He just wished he could disappear. Anin left the road and found the trail that led to Soama’s Abbey.
Tanan followed along, silently. He was in a fog, replaying the incident over and over in his mind. When Grapf hit him in the head with the rock, things had gone fuzzy. Tanan could still see the look of amusement on Grapf’s face when he threw the second rock. He had looked at Tanan as if he were nothing, a plaything that only existed for amusement.
Why had the Constable been killed? Tanan had been thinking about the protection spell, but that wouldn’t kill someone would it? His grandfather said it was an accident.
Tanan wished he’d read about the spell before he learned the chant.
They walked through the afternoon and into the night, neither of them speaking until they reached Soama’s Abbey.
“Wait here,” Anin said, putting his hand on Tanan’s chest to make the boy stop. He went up to the Abbey while Tanan stood waiting in the dark. Tanan was surprised to find that they were already at the Abbey.
A few minutes later, Anin came back and led Tanan to the building where Soama was waiting. Soama led Tanan to the room where he had slept during his month long stay, and helped Tanan take off his boots and get into bed.
Tanan was asleep the moment his head hit the pillow.
Tanan was feeling better when he woke up, but still emotionally drained.
Soama was in the room, opening curtains and letting sunlight flood into the room. It was well past morning.
“Please stay in bed for a moment,” Soama said and then left the room.
Anin came in a minute later with his mortar and a flat wooden stick. “I’m going to treat your blisters so they’ll heal more quickly.” He began to smear smelly ointment on what Tanan suddenly realized were painful blisters from his new boots.
“The good news,” said Anin with a slight smile, “is that you’ve broken in your new boots. Let that dry for a few minutes and then you can come out and have something to eat.” He left the room.
Tanan thought about what had happened the day before. He hadn’t meant to kill the Constable. He would never even really want to hurt Grapf, he’d just lost his temper. He’d been chanting the spell and thinking about the rune when Grapf hit him with the rock. Grandfather was right; it was an accident. But knowing that didn’t make him feel any better about it.
He got up and went to the kitchen. There was a bowl of soup and a chunk of bread waiting on the table for him. Soama and his father were sitting at the table.
“Good morning, Tanan,” said Soama. “Sit down and have something to eat.”
Tanan sat at the table and started eating the soup without really tasting it.
“Your father told me some of what happened,” began Soama. “I need you to tell me the whole story.”
Tanan told Soama, leaving out nothing and finishing with his theory about the protection incantation. Soama listened without interrupting.
When Tanan had finished, Soama said, “Can you tell me the words of the spell?”
Tanan didn’t want to say them, but didn’t argue. Softly, he chanted the words of the spell, using the melody he had set them to.
Soama repeated the words back, without the melody. “Those are the words?” he asked.
Tanan nodded. He fought back the urge to cry.
Soama described the symbol that went along with the spell and Tanan nodded again.
“You shouldn’t be able to perform that spell. No novice should be able to make that spell work.”
Tanan finished his soup and, by force of habit, cleaned his dish and put it away, and then sat back down. Soama was staring into the distance, deep in thought.
“Here’s what I think happened,” Soama said. “And I think that I have underestimated your abilities.”
Tanan studied the pattern of the wood on the tabletop and wished he were someone else.
“Tanan!” said Soama, sharply.
Tanan’s head whipped up and he looked at Soama.
More gently, Soama said, “Feeling sorry for yourself won’t change what happened. Please listen to what I am saying to you.”
Tanan nodded, “Sorry, Soama.”
Soama continued, “It is rare for a person to be able to harness and use magic. There are five known branches of the magical arts. For someone to be able to do more than one kind of magic with any proficiency is extremely rare.”
“The first is what we call Environmental Manipulation, which is the ability to manipulate the elements. The hot and cold tricks that you learned fall under this category.”
“Then there is Healing Magic, which is what your father, grandfather and I can do to varying degrees. When you were working in the garden, you learned a chant that eased the pain in your back, proving that you are able to perform healing magic.”
“The third kind of magic is Protective Magic. What you did yesterday, without fully understanding it, was Protective Magic.”
“The fourth kind of magic is Temporal Manipulation, or the ability to effect the flow of time. I know very little about that kind of magic, but I have a suspicion that you might have some ability in that one as well.”
“The final branch is, of course, Offensive Magic. Throughout history there have been very few Abbots who had any talent with it. I don’t think it should be considered a proper branch of magic.”
“Tanan, you have shown that you have the ability to perform three kinds of magic. If my suspicion about your ability to perform temporal manipulation is correct, you will be the first person that we know of who has shown talent in all four of the main branches.”
Tanan stood up from the table. “I don’t think I want to be able to do any of it if it means I’m going to hurt people.”
“You have no choice in the matter. You can’t wish it away any more than you can wish away the color of your eyes. What you can do, is learn to understand your abilities and control them so that what happened yesterday never happens again.”
“But why me?” asked Tanan. “Why me?”
“I don’t know, Tanan. The Brotherhood of Abbots have studied magic for a thousand years and we still know very little about why anyone has the gift. Magical ability can be passed from parent to child, but not always. Sometimes, parents with no magical ability have a child with extraordinary abilities. Like many things in life, it is a mystery.”
Tanan crossed his arms in front of him. “The King’s men are going to kill me when they find me. I killed the Constable, and I’m a Lataki anyway. Maybe that’s why I killed him.”
Soama sighed, “Sit down, Tanan.”
“Despite what you’ve heard about the Lataki, they are not mindless killers. The difference between the Komisani and the Lataki is that the Lataki live a nomadic life and the Komisani have developed a somewhat more advanced civilization. The truth of the matter is that the Komisani have killed many Lataki to prevent them from coming too close to Komisan. The Lataki fight amongst themselves, but even if they had the desire to come to Komisan, they have no organization, and inferior weapons. They would stand no chance against the King’s Legion.”
“How do you know that?” asked Tanan.
“The island of Komisan is part of a much larger world. The Brotherhood of Abbots is part of that larger world, as you will soon see. You were right to say that the King’s men will kill you if they find you. But we’re not going to let them find you. When your grandfather arrives, we will leave Komisan and travel to a place where you will be able to learn to use your magic properly.”
A fluffy grey cat walked into the kitchen and jumped up onto the table in front of Soama. The Abbot removed a narrow leather collar from the animal, who meowed once, jumped down from the table and walked back out of the door it had come in.
“Was that the cat that’s always sitting on Jelak’s bench?” asked Tanan.
Soama ignored the question, focusing instead on removing a tiny scroll from the tube attached to the collar. He pulled a silver ring from his finger and held it to his lips, whispering a few words. Then he looked at the scroll through the ring, reading the words that were otherwise invisible.
Soama looked at Anin. “Lindelin says Jelak is acting Constable. He wrote a report and sent it to Panna. We will meet him in two days and take our leave from Komisan.”
“And,” he looked at Tanan, “he says to tell you everything will be okay.”
Soama turned back to Tanan. “Go lie down for an hour and use the chant I taught you when we were working in the garden. It will help with the blisters.”
Once Tanan had left, Soama turned to Anin. “Jelak sent a runner to the capitol this morning. It will be an urgent message. Once the runner reaches Yants Bay I expect the message will be carried on horseback. I’m not sure if two days will be soon enough.”
Anin nodded his agreement. “Let’s leave for our rendezvous point this morning. I’ll slip into Port Billen after dark and speak with my father.”
Soama spent the rest of his morning sending a series of messages to fellow Abbots telling them that he was leaving and asking for an Abbot to be sent to the Abbey as soon as possible. Then he packed his things. Anin went to Tanan’s room to work more healing magic on the boy’s feet. An hour later the three departed Soama’s Abbey.
Late in the evening, they arrived at a narrow beach about five miles north of Port Billen. Anin left Soama and Tanan on the beach and set off for the village to retrieve Lindelin and a boat. Tanan and Soama climbed onto a large rock and sat looking out over the water.
“How are you feeling?” Soama asked.
“My feet feel better,” replied Tanan.
“And how do you feel about what happened with the Constable?”
“I know it was an accident, but I still feel like a terrible person.”
“That’s because you have a conscience and a good heart,” said Soama, putting his arm around the boy’s shoulder and giving it an affectionate squeeze.
“I want you to know about the man that died. He was more than an ordinary Constable, he was a soldier in the King’s Legion. He was in Port Billen because he suspected you of being Lataki. If he’d had enough evidence to prove it, he would have killed you.”
“Just for being born a Lataki?” asked Tanan.
“The Komisani have hundreds of years of fear and prejudice when it comes to the Lataki. The Lataki aren’t bad people. I have met Lataki and I can tell you that they fear the Komisani more than the Komisani fear them. For hundreds of years the King’s Legion has been patrolling the mainland and they kill any Lataki that they find, just to keep them away from Komisan. The Komisani live in fear of their Lataki cousins, but they are the ones who do the killing.”
“That’s horrible,” said Tanan. “Why haven’t the Abbots told people about this?”
“We have tried, but beliefs are hard to change. And the Kings of Komisan have used the fear of the Lataki to rally and control people for many generations. It is a complex situation.”
The two sat in silence and watched the stars come out as the sky grew darker.
“Soama,” said Tanan. “Thank you for telling me this.”
It was nearly midnight when they spotted Anin rowing his boat along the shoreline. They ran down to the water and helped him pull the boat up onto the beach.
“We need to hurry,” said Anin as he climbed out of the boat. “Where are your packs?”
The urgency in his voice spurred them to action. They ran and grabbed their gear from the rock they had been sitting on and dumped it into the boat. Tanan and Soama climbed in, then Anin pushed the boat into the water and jumped in.
Anin grabbed the oars and started pulling hard out to sea. He looked haggard.
Soama, who was sitting in the back of the boat gave Anin a questioning look and received a small head shake in return. They would talk about it later.
As they got farther out into the sea, Anin began to chant his spell of rejuvenation. Soama told Tanan, who was sitting in the bow of the small craft, to stow the gear and then get down low and try to get some sleep.
Soama slipped down onto the floor of the boat and sat cross legged in front of Anin. He closed his eyes and began a rhythmic chant in his head. After a short time, he rested one hand on Anin’s knee and sent a steady trickle of energy to the younger man.
They arrived on the mainland shore at dawn. Anin, with the help of Soama’s magic, had made the trip across the sea in half the time it normally took. Even with the replenishment chant he’d been using and the extra energy from Soama, Anin was dead tired and needed to sleep.
“Let’s hide it,” he said as he started pulling gear out of the boat and carrying it up into a wooded area beyond the beach. The three of them had the boat unloaded quickly and then pulled it across the beach and into the woods where they flipped it over next to a large bunch of bushes.
“Don’t eat any of these berries,” said Anin, “They’re poisonous.”
“Get some sleep, Anin,” said Soama. “Tanan and I will keep watch.”
Anin nodded and slid under the boat, stretched out, and fell asleep almost immediately.
While Anin slept, Soama and Tanan kicked sand around on the beach to hide the evidence that a boat had been dragged across it. Soama walked knee-deep out into the water and then back and forth, looking at where the boat was hidden in the bushes. Satisfied that it was hidden well enough, they went back to the boat and sat with their backs against it.
“Tanan,” said Soama after a few minutes. “I am very tired. I need you to keep watch. If you see any boat on the water, let me know right away. And stay hidden.”
“I will,” said Tanan and crawled through the bushes nearest the beach where he could watch without being seen.
Soama closed his eyes and quickly fell into a light sleep.
• • •
Anin stirred at midday, and woke Soama. They sat on the ground and ate some of the bread and dried strips of meat that Soama had brought from the Abbey. Anin was ravenous after pushing his body so hard to get them across the sea.
When they were finished with their meal, they double checked their gear to make sure they weren’t leaving anything behind that they would need and stuffed everything else under the boat.
“Before we leave this place,” Anin said to them, “there is something that I would like you to see.”
They walked south along the beach for about a mile before Anin beckoned for the others to follow him into the tree line. A short distance in he stopped and stood in front of two neat rectangles of rocks.
“This is where your mother and father are buried,” he said to Tanan. “Every time I come to the mainland, I come here and straighten up the rocks and try to keep it neat. I was planning to bring you along on one of my trips when you were older so I could tell you the truth about where you were born.”
Soama decided to give the father and son some privacy, and walked down to the water to scan the horizon. He was watching for any sign that the King’s legion might be following them. He didn’t know what had happened in Port Billen, but he knew that it was something bad.
Tanan stood at the foot of the graves. Looking at them gave him a strange feeling. He knew that his father wasn’t his “real” father. But standing in front of the graves of his real parents made it feel real for the first time in his life. Like it was more than just a story.
“Soama told me about the Lataki,” Tanan said to his father. “He told me what the King’s Legion does to Lataki. Did they kill my parents?”
“I think your mother died after you were born, and your father was bitten by a snake. I arrived after your mother had died, and your father was too far gone for me to save him.”
Anin gestured for Tanan to follow him. He pointed to a place on the beach. “This is where I found you. Your father was holding you. All I could do was ease his suffering.”
“Thank you for burying my parents.”
Anin had his arm around Tanan, and pulled him close for a moment. “We’d better go.”
They called Soama up from the water and the three of them walked into the woods. Within half an hour they were farther inland than Anin had ever gone on his foraging trips.
Soama pointed out a distinctive mountain peak. “We’re heading just to the left of that peak. It’s been years since I made this trip, but I remember the landmarks.”
“Father,” said Tanan, “what happened in our village? Why didn’t grandfather come with us?”
Soama looked over at Anin. He had been wondering the same thing, but could tell that Anin wasn’t ready to talk about it.
Anin stopped walking and leaned against a tree. He had not been looking forward to this moment. “The King’s Legion got to Port Billen faster than we expected. They must have come from Yants Bay without waiting for instructions from the capitol. I got to the Abbey without being seen. Sweelin told me...”
He looked at the ground. “The King’s Legion…” Anin steeled himself and looked back up into Tanan’s eyes. “They killed him. They killed grandfather, and they killed Jelak.”
Tanan couldn’t believe his grandfather had been killed. People in Port Billen didn’t get killed, especially by the King’s Legion. The Legion was there to protect people, not kill them. When Soama had told him about what the Legion did to Lataki, he hadn’t really believed it. If they could kill his grandfather, who spent his whole life helping people, they could kill anyone.
As the hours drew out and they walked farther into the woods he thought about his grandfather and Jelak being killed by the Legion and it started to hurt. He couldn’t help but imagine a Legionnaire stabbing his grandfather through the heart with a sword. He imagined his grandfather and Jelak’s bodies laying on the cobbled street in pools of blood. He didn’t like to think about it, but he couldn’t help it.
When Anin had told him what they’d done, he had cried into his father’s chest. Anin cried right along with him. There had been a pain, a wrenching of everything inside him as if everything in the world had suddenly changed and he was no longer part of it.
Under the heaviness of the grief, there was guilt and anger. If he hadn’t killed the Legionnaire, his grandfather wouldn’t be dead. If he hadn’t been born a Lataki, none of this would have happened. But they didn’t have any reason to kill Jelak and his grandfather. What kind of evil people would kill two old men to punish a boy for an accident? The anger Tanan felt was sifting down into all the cracks and crevices, where it hardened into a hatred for the King’s Legion, and for the King that made them do the terrible things they did.
• • •
Soama led them through a mountain pass and through to the Lataki plains. From the summit of the pass, Tanan marveled at the seemingly endless prairie stretching to the horizon like a sea of grass.
Once they reached the flat grassland, they turned north and travelled with the mountain range to their left. For three weeks they continued north, keeping a vigilant watch for any signs of Lataki or King’s Legion. Only once did they see a column of smoke in their path and they altered their path to avoid the Lataki camp.
A second range of mountains, with much higher peaks, grew up in front of them as they continued north. They eventually came upon a river and followed it into a wide valley. The mountains grew larger around them every day. Eventually, the valley narrowed and began to slope upward as they neared the foothills of these mountains, which Soama said were called the “Appas”.
They stopped for the night where another river joined the one they had been following. They had been traveling for six weeks and they were starting to feel winter creep in. The days were getting shorter and the nights were getting colder.
“We’ve been out of Lataki territory for about a week now,” Soama told them. “I think it will be safe for us to make a fire tonight. Maybe we can catch some fish and have a hot meal.”
Anin had been able to supplement their modest stock of dried meat with roots and berries he harvested as they travelled. They were barely getting enough calories to sustain them. Fish would be a real treat, and Tanan would have even been happy to have a bowl of Soama’s dirt tasting stew if it meant warm food. A meal of cooked fish sounded like a feast.
Anin took a small net out of his pack and walked along the river bank until he found a suitable spot to try his luck. Soama and Tanan went into the woods to gather firewood. They returned a short time later with armloads of various sized branches. Soama stacked the wood, creating what Tanan thought looked like a little wooden tent. He stuffed a couple of handfuls of dry grass and moss under the wood.
Soama looked at Tanan, who had been watching him work. “I’d like you to try to light this fire using the heat trick that I taught you.”
Tanan could easily make his hand warm, but he didn’t think he would be able to generate the kind of heat it would take to start a fire. When he told Soama this, the Abbot told him, “Build the warmth in your belly, but instead of letting it flow into your hands, try to build it up and focus it.”
Soama picked up a handful of the dry grass he’d gathered and held it in his open hands. “Imagine you’re pressing it down and making it smaller.” He demonstrated by smashing the grass into a ball in his hands.
“Once you build up the compressed heat, push it through your finger to a spot outside your body. If you send the heat into the dry moss, it will catch fire. We have some time, so just practice and see what you can do.”
Tanan spent an hour trying, succeeding only in becoming frustrated. When Anin came back from his fishing spot with several good sized fish Tanan gave up and Anin lit the fire by scraping his knife on a piece of flint from his pack.
“Keep practicing,” said Anin. “Anything worth doing takes practice.”
Soama went into the woods again and returned with green branches, which he stripped of bark. They roasted the fish over the fire and enjoyed the first hot meal they’d had in weeks.
There was no sign of rain, so they didn’t set up the tent. They would sleep near the fire, taking their regular turns on watch. Soama always took first watch. Anin would take the second watch and then Tanan had the last couple of hours. When the sky showed the first signs of dawn, Tanan would wake the others and they would pack up and be ready to move as soon as there was enough light to see.
A messenger arrived from Komisan with news that the King’s brother had been murdered by a Lataki boy. All the Legionnaires on the mainland had been sent out in pairs to locate the fugitives, who were believed to have fled the island. Nubran and Elsib had come across the trail of two adults and a child. Nubran followed the trail and Elsib returned to base to report what they’d found.
Nubran had been tracking the fugitives north for a month now, marking his path for Elsib and the other Legionnaires she would bring. He’d caught up to the Lataki boy two days ago and had been watching them ever since. The boy was traveling with a middle aged man, probably the boy’s father, and an elderly Abbot. The orders they had received were to kill the boy and anyone who was with him.
As a fresh recruit in the King’s Legion, Nubran had been trained in the new camp at Lake Larin. He had then been sent to the mainland to train with an experienced Ranger for six months. He’d been partnered with Elsib, one of the few female Legionnaires, for his training. His training with Elsib was nearly finished, and he would soon join one of the many Legion patrols that monitored the western Lataki plains, hunting Lataki that came too close to Komisani territory. He had less than a week of Ranger training left when the word had come down about the fugitives. And now Nubran was going to be the one to kill them.
It was late in the day and the fugitives had stopped and were setting up their camp. Nubran circled around to the left of them into the deep cover of the woods. He watched as the old Abbot came into the woods and gathered firewood. Once the old man returned to his camp, Nubran crept to within a hundred yards of the camp and held his position, watching. Eventually, they lit a fire and cooked some fish the other man had caught.
Nubran watched until the boy and the middle aged man went to sleep. The previous two nights, Nubran had only slept for a few hours at a time so he could learn the watch schedule of the fugitives. The old man took first watch, followed by the younger man. A couple of hours before dawn, the boy would take watch. Nubran would wait until the men were asleep. Tonight he would strike. The Lataki boy would be dead by dawn and Nubran would return to Komisan a hero.
He moved two hundred yards into the woods, sat with his back against a tree and allowed himself a few hours of sleep.
Tanan woke with Anin gently shaking his shoulder. “Time for your watch, son.”
He sat up and rubbed his eyes. Tanan knew that Anin never actually slept while he was on watch, just closed his eyes and kept watch with his ears for the last couple of hours. Tanan knew he wasn’t ready to have an actual watch by himself, but he was glad his father pretended to let him have a watch.
He stood up and stretched, then walked twenty paces down toward the river where he watered a bush. The fire had burned itself out during the night, and when Tanan walked back to the camp he sat in front of the blackened remains and poked at them with a stick. He reached over and pulled a handful of dry, yellow grass out of the dirt, throwing it on the black circle that had been the fire.
Tanan was bored, so he kept pulling handful after handful of dry grass and piling it up. Eventually he had pulled up all the grass he could reach without moving. He had an impressive pile of grass where the fire had been. He looked around. It was quiet. The river splashed it’s way through the rocks, and crickets chirped lazily.
As he often did when he was on watch and it was cold, he summoned the warmth in his belly like Soama had taught him. It warmed his body and he let the warmth flow out into his feet and hands.
As he stared at the pile of dry grass in front of him, he decided to see just how much heat he could build up. There was no pressure to start the fire now, so maybe he’d be able to concentrate a little better. If he could figure it out now, maybe he would be able to impress his father and Soama by lighting the fire later that night.
Tanan let the heat in his belly build until he felt very warm all over. He imagined smashing the heat down into a red hot coal right in the middle of his stomach. He held the coal in his mind and allowed its heat to radiate a warm bubble around itself. The bubble of heat grew until his belly was again filled with heat. Then he smashed it down into the coal, which he now imagined was glowing a bright yellow.
Three more times, he let the coal heat up his entire belly before compressing it down. He was starting to sweat a little. He imagined the coal glowing bluish-white and pulsing with heat. This was more heat than he’d been able to summon before. If he could just focus it into a pinpoint. He reached his hand out toward the pile of dry grass…
“Tanan!”, screamed Anin as he scrambled to get out from under his blanket. Tanan hadn’t realized his eyes were closed, but when he opened them he saw a man from the King’s Legion standing over him. The man held a shiny silver sword and it was arcing down toward his head.
The anger Tanan felt for what the King’s Legion did to his grandfather surged through him. Tanan let loose an incoherent scream of rage as he threw his hands toward the man, unleashing a stream of white hot energy and hatred into the man.
Nubran exploded with a sickening wet pop, sending a slag of blood and flesh flying in every direction. The sword, which suddenly had no hand wrapped around the hilt, flew over Tanan’s head and slid to a stop behind him, glowing red hot. What was left of Nubran sloshed to the ground in a boiling pile of twisted metal, bone and viscera.
Tanan's eyes widened, then rolled back and he slumped over, unconscious.
Soama leaned over Tanan and put a hand on the boy’s forehead. “He’ll be fine,” said the Abbot. “He’s going to sleep for a while after expending that much energy.”
Anin started packing up their things, shaking gore out of the blankets as best he could. There would be time to properly clean them later. Now, they needed to move.
What was left of the Legionnaire was nauseating. Anin kept his eyes on other things as he worked. He couldn’t believe what he’d just seen Tanan do. He’d never even heard of magic like that. It was good that Soama was taking them to a place where Tanan could be properly trained.
Soama returned from a quick search of the perimeter. “I don’t see any others out there. We were lucky. He was alone.”
“What should we do with the… body?” Anin asked.
Soama looked at the bloody mess. “That man meant to kill Tanan. Let the crows have him.”
Anin slipped into his backpack, picked up Tanan, and started walking. Soama followed, carrying his and Tanan’s packs.
Soama didn’t think there would be any more of the King’s Legion this far north, but he also hadn’t expected the one Tanan had killed either. He chose a circuitous path, doubling back a few times and walking through an icy stream for a mile to throw any tracker off their trail.
• • •
They made it into the mountains by nightfall, stopping only when it got too dark to travel safely.
Soama was able to wake Tanan the next morning, and the boy’s demeanor was grim. Anin had hoped that the boy wouldn’t remember what had happened, but Tanan remembered. He didn’t regret that he’d killed the man, either. He had no sympathy for the King’s Legion. They had killed his grandfather, Jelak and countless Lataki.
Tanan was beginning to think it was anger that made his magic so strong. He had been very angry at Grapf when he killed the Constable, and his anger had turned his simple fire lighting experiment into the burst of magic that had saved him, his father and Soama from the soldier. With what he’d learned about the King’s Legion, Tanan didn’t regret that his anger had caused two of them to die.
Elsib was something of an anomaly in the King’s Legion, being one of only a handful of women, and the only female who had become a Ranger. She was as tough as any man in the Legion and smarter than most of them.
She was currently leading a squad of Legionnaires north in pursuit of the fugitives who had killed the King’s brother. Her trainee, Nubran, had been tracking them and leaving markers for her to follow. Nubran had a few days lead on her, but she’d been pushing the squad hard and they had almost caught up to him.
The fugitives left a trail that a blind simpleton could have followed. They had passed through this area side by side, trampling the grass and stepping in every muddy spot they could find. It was almost as if they wanted to be found. Nubran’s trail wasn’t much better, which irritated her. She had trained him, and she expected better. When she caught up to him, she’d set him straight.
She held her hand up, signaling the squad to stop. She’d found a spot where Nubran had stopped and lain in the grass. His trail led away to the left, towards the woods. Elsib let her squad rest while she followed Nubran’s trail into the tree line. He must have been watching the fugitives. Elsib was able to track every move Nubran had made, including where he had napped next to a tree. She could clearly make out the imprint of his butt where he’d sat and slept.
Elsib moved down out of the trees. There was a black circle where a fire had been and she walked down toward it. There was the carcass of an animal near where the fire had been. She drew closer and saw that there were pieces of metal and leather mixed in with the blood and entrails.
And then Elsib doubled over and threw up.
• • •
Elsib and her squad tried to follow the trail of the fugitives. Apparently their encounter with Nubran had caused them to become more careful. The fugitives had doubled back, created false trails and entered streams several times. The squad spent two weeks trying to find any sign of the fugitives before giving up. They turned south and started the long journey back to the Legion mainland headquarters.
It was another week of hiking in the mountains before Soama led Tanan and Anin over the crest of a hill and they saw a beautiful green landscape laid out below them.
“Welcome to the Jesera Valley,” said Soama as Tanan stopped beside him.
Soama pointed out the enormous building halfway down the valley. “That is the Monastery of the Jeseran Abbots. I trained here when I was a young man. Your grandfather came here for his medical training when he was young.”
They walked down into the valley and Tanan took in the amazing view. They were coming in on the East end of a valley that was surrounded by snow covered mountain peaks. There was a long narrow lake that filled most of the left side of the valley. The right side of the valley was a patchwork of cultivated fields. Right in the middle of it all was the monastery, a marble structure that towered over all of the other buildings. Log homes were scattered around the monastery and throughout the valley. A network of stone paved roads and streets connected it all. There were people working in fields and moving around the valley. Jesera was a busy place.
The path they were on became a paved road when they got farther down into the valley. As they got closer to the monastery, several Abbots recognized Soama and walked along with them.
Tanan was in awe of the monastery. The buildings in Port Billen were mostly made of stone, but the stone that the monastery was built with was like nothing he had ever seen. It was smooth and had been polished until it was as smooth as glass. Tanan couldn’t believe that stone could be stacked so high.
When they reached the building, Soama led them right inside. He told Anin and Tanan to wait, and then disappeared up a wide and grand staircase and out of sight.
Tanan looked around. The room was so large that his whole house in Port Billen would have fit inside it. He had never seen a ceiling so high either, and rather than the thatched roof he was used to, the ceilings here were made of the same smooth stone as the walls. The walls were lined with soft couches, but Tanan was so dirty from weeks of travel that he didn’t dare sit down.
A few minutes later, Soama came back down the stairs with a very short man. Soama was talking and the man was listening and nodding. They came straight over to where Tanan was standing.
“Tanan,” said Soama, “I would like you to meet Figis, the Senior Abbot at Jesera. Figis, this is Tanan.”
Figis gave Tanan a warm smile that instantly made Tanan like him. “I am happy to meet you, Tanan. Welcome to Jesera.”
It had been seven years since Dannap’s brother was murdered by the Lataki boy. The years hadn’t diminished the anger he felt, but it had changed. What had been a stabbing rage became an ever present hatred for the Lataki.
Dannap’s anger wormed its way in to everything he did, every decision he made. It was a dull pain that, even during the happy moments, never truly went away.
He had issued kill orders for the Lataki and any traitor that aided him. The Legion had killed the boy’s adopted grandfather, and the senile old Constable who attempted to prevent his men from dispensing justice. A dozen men went to Port Billen with orders to kill anyone who had been involved.
There was a hefty bounty on the Lataki’s head, and the King’s Legion had been searching for seven long years without finding him. Dannap was sure the little bastard and his father had escaped to the mainland where they were no doubt conspiring with the Lataki.
The very fact that a Lataki had been discovered on Komisan went against everything his ancestors had stood for. It was a direct threat to Komisan and the Komisani people. The murder of Kirkik was proof that the Lataki needed to be exterminated like the vermin they were.
For seven years, the Legion had been expanding. When the news that a Legionnaire who had been tracking the Lataki had also been murdered, volunteers poured in. The Komisani had always lived in fear that the Lataki would find them. Now that the Lataki were infiltrating the island and killing Legionnaires, that fear turned to anger.
Dannap fanned the flames of his people’s anger into hate. His army was ready, all he needed now was an excuse to launch an all out war.
The ranks of the King’s Legion had grown from about 300 men to more than 15,000. Every able-bodied man and woman now had basic military training. Every town and village, no matter how small, now had a Legion presence. The perimeter of the island was patrolled, and a series of outposts were being built along the eastern coast.
Dannap had increased the activity of the Legion on the mainland as well. His commanders had leeway when dealing with the Lataki. Those commanders, hand picked by Dannap, had no sympathy for the Lataki. Any tribe unlucky enough to encounter a Legion patrol was slaughtered.
Komisani society had fundamentally transformed. The people of Komisan were ready. Dannap would have his revenge.
Abbot Gowrand had been a teacher at the Panna Abbey for fifteen years before the untrained novice Tanan killed the King’s brother. People knew that most Abbots had at least some ability with magic. After what Tanan did, people became suspicious of magic. Enrollment in his school had been dropping ever since and schools not run by Abbots were becoming more popular.
Gowrand could feel which way the wind was blowing. The Komisani were rejecting the Abbots and their teachings. They were moving toward war. Unlike all the other Abbots, Gowrand was smart enough to realize what was happening and leave this island full of fools.
When Gowrand announced his intention to leave Komisan, the news had been a surprise to his brothers, but not entirely unwelcome. Gowrand was a famous egomaniac. The other Abbots at the Panna Abbey had learned to tolerate Gowrand, but were not fond of the man. The morning Gowrand had packed his things and made his intentions known, nobody was sad to see him go.
Gowrand walked across the island to Port Billen where he ignored all established protocols for Abbots leaving Komisan and simply hired a fisherman to transport him to the mainland. He told the fisherman that he was going over to research the flora and fauna. He was, in fact, traveling to Jesera where his considerable talents could be put to better use.
When the fisherman dropped him off on the beach, Gowrand gave the man the agreed upon amount of coin. Then, realizing that he would have no further use for Komisani currency, simply dumped all of his coins into the man’s hand. He walked up the beach and into the forest without bothering to thank the man.
The stupid fisherman, Gowrand assumed, would spend the money in some tavern and wake up the next morning with nothing to show for his binge but an even duller mind than he currently had.
Calid had been in the Legion for three years. Like many of his friends, he joined right out of school. After he’d completed his training, he had been assigned to the coveted beach patrol duty on the mainland.
His father was a carpenter and, expecting his son to go into the same line of work, taught Calid all he knew about the profession. Even though Calid had opted for a career in the Legion, he put his knowledge to good use, building himself a crude but usable hut a hundred yards off the beach.
Calid was assigned to a ten mile stretch of beach. After a month of endlessly walking from one end of his territory to the other, he had started spending time each day building and improving a shelter.
Six months later, he was spending his nights sleeping in a log hut with a thatched roof. He wanted to add running water to his little home on the beach, he just needed to find the right kind of clay so he could construct an earthen water tank.
He was two miles south of the hut, digging a hole in search of that clay, when he heard someone walking through the woods. His first thought was that it was a fellow Legionnaire and he was going to have to explain why he was standing in a four foot deep hole. He ducked down and tried to prepare a plausible excuse.
It sounded like the interloper was only going to miss his hiding spot by about thirty yards. Calid dared a peek over the edge of the hole. Much to his amazement, it was an Abbot. Calid almost called out, but thought better of it and just watched. The Abbot was carrying a pack over one shoulder, which was very odd.
Why would an Abbot be walking through the woods on the mainland? The only people who were supposed to be on the mainland were Legionnaires. If the Abbot had a valid reason for being here, he should have at least had a Legion escort.
Calid climbed out of his hole and followed the Abbot, who was making so much noise that an entire company of Legionnaires could have been behind him and he wouldn’t have noticed.
The Abbot clearly had a destination, but there was no place in this part of the woods for anyone to go, much less an Abbot. Calid knew his territory, and there was nothing in it other than trees, sand and his hut. The only place anyone would want to go on the mainland was the outpost the Legion had built, and that was at least fifty miles south of Calid’s territory.
The proper thing to do would have been to stop the Abbot and question him, arrest him if necessary, and then bring him to the outpost. But Calid was curious. He had heard some fishy things about the Abbots. Everyone knew that an Abbot had helped the Lataki murderer, Tanan, escape to the mainland. Calid decided to follow the Abbot and see where he was going.
He had to go back to his hut and get his pack and some supplies. Picking up the Abbot’s trail wouldn’t be a problem. The man was leaving a clear path. Calid jogged the two miles back to his hut, packed up his things and set out on the trail of the mysterious Abbot.
Calid had been tracking the Abbot for weeks. If this didn’t pay off, he was going to be in real trouble. His commander must have noticed that he’d abandoned his post. He was probably going to get kicked out of the Legion, or worse.
The Abbot walked from sunup to sundown and Calid was having a difficult time keeping up. He was careful to stay far enough behind the man so that he wouldn’t be spotted, but he didn’t want to lose the trail. He couldn’t afford to go back empty handed.
Calid had followed the Abbot across the mountains into Lataki territory and then north. There was little danger of running into Lataki. The Legion had slaughtered every Lataki tribe they could find within fifty miles of the mountains. The bigger danger was that he would run into a Legion patrol and have to explain why he was so far from his post. Then again, if he were to find a patrol, he could hand off pursuit of the Abbot and go back. It was unlikely that any patrols would be this far north.
• • •
Calid didn’t know where the Abbot was going, but continued to follow him north day after day. Another range of mountains appeared on the horizon and grew larger with each day’s travel. The Abbot’s path took them into a wide valley. Calid hoped the Abbot wouldn’t go into the mountains where it would be harder for him to follow the trail.
The immediate problem, however, was food. Calid’s Legion rations were running low. After the first few days, he decided to ration his food, which turned out to be a good decision. Even with his rationing, he would soon be out of food. The Abbot’s nonstop pace didn’t give Calid any time to set traps. Even if he were able to trap a rabbit, he wouldn’t be able to build a fire and cook it, anyway. He was able to supplement his supplies with root plants he’d learned about during his training. He wished he had paid more attention to that training.
The Abbot was following a river and eventually that river led them into the mountains. As Calid feared, the trail became harder to follow once the Abbot left the plains. Calid had to slow down and watch closely for clues. He followed a sparse trail of snapped branches, muddy smudges on rocks and the occasional smelly trail marker that the Abbot hadn’t taken time to bury.
A couple of times, Calid thought the trail was lost and had to double back and search for new clues. After a week in the mountains, Calid admitted that he had completely lost the trail. He knew the general direction that the Abbot had been heading, so he continued on, hoping that he might get lucky and find the trail again.
One morning, three days later, Calid climbed to the top of a rise and found himself looking down into a valley full of fields and buildings. In the middle of the valley was a tower that made the royal palace in Panna look like his beach hut. This was the Abbot’s destination. Calid sat down with his back to a tree and cried with relief. His gamble had paid off and he would be able to go home.
At the moment when Calid discovered the Jesera Valley, Tanan was on his hands and knees pulling weeds from the garden beside Soama’s house. He spent several mornings each week working with Soama in the garden. He found it relaxing.
In the years Tanan had been at Jesera, he had grown in several ways. The wiry boy who had walked into Jesera was now a tall eighteen year old who had a better understanding of himself and the world around him.
He was something of an anomaly at the monastery. Not only was he the youngest student ever to study at Jesera, there had never been a student who was able to achieve a high level of competence in more than one of the five branches of magic. Occasionally there were students with a small amount of skill in two areas, and a famous few that were able to muster up a small amount of skill in three kinds of magic.
Tanan had not only shown ability in each of the four branches, he had actually achieved Master level in each one.
Soama was Tanan’s healing arts teacher. He’d been a teacher at Jesera before going to Komisan and was happy to return to teaching. Soama was well over one hundred years old, but had used his magic to slow the natural process of aging. He slept only a few hours each night, devoting most of his sleep time to deep meditation and rejuvenation chants. Because of this, he looked no older than a man of sixty, and had the energy of a man even younger than that.
Tanan was the best student Soama ever taught, and the two had formed a strong friendship. Tanan looked up to Soama in the same way he had looked up to his grandfather. Under Soama’s guidance, Tanan reached Master level in just five years, while also pursuing three other courses of study.
For his temporal arts studies, Tanan worked with Figis. Tanan loved his hours with Figis, not only because the old Abbot was a great teacher, but because Figis was such a joyful person, and his happiness was infectious. When Tanan arrived at Jesera, he was angry. Figis, as the senior Abbot at Jesera, didn’t usually take students. He made an exception for Tanan. Figis insisted that Tanan meet him each morning before sunrise for several hours of meditation.
At first, Tanan hated getting up so early. As he got to know Figis, he looked forward to their morning meditations. By the end of his first year at the monastery he was able to sit and meditate alongside Figis for several hours. Meditation always left Tanan feeling refreshed and relaxed. When he asked Figis if this was an effect of magic, the Abbot simply laughed his joyful laugh and said, “Meditation is powerful, but it is not magic.”
Tanan attended a daily Protective Magic class, which was taught by a variety of instructors throughout the years. There were a few students of the protective arts. It was the only lesson he took with other students. He enjoyed it because he was much younger than the other students, and his classmates treated him like a younger brother. He enjoyed the companionship of the older boys so much that even though he could have advanced in the class very quickly, he kept the same pace so he could continue to study with them. He waited to take his Mastery exam at the same time as the others.
There was no Master of elemental magic at Jesera, and he was the only student of the subject, so his only resource was the great library in the tower. Because he understood the mechanics of magic from his other studies he was able to learn most of the things he read about in the books. When he turned eighteen, he had the opportunity to present what he had learned to a panel of Abbots selected by Figis. Tanan was able to demonstrate enough knowledge and skill that they awarded him the Master title in that discipline.
Anin took root at Jesera as well. The academic atmosphere was a good fit for his approach to the science of medicine. He kept an expansive garden of medicinal plants and spent most of his time working to develop new and better medicines. He and Tanan lived in a comfortable log house on the grounds of the monastery, not far from Soama’s home.
The population of the Jesera Valley fluctuated as Abbots came and went, but there were usually around 350 people at any time. When Tanan was twelve, he spent two days counting all the animals in the valley. He counted 18 cows, 32 goats, 46 sheep, and 59 chickens. There was also an ever changing and uncountable population of cats, including Leeka, who arrived a month after Tanan.
There was a small population of farmers and tradesmen who also lived in the valley. There was no separation between any of the people. It wasn’t unusual to see an Abbot working alongside the blacksmith or a farmer sitting with a group of Abbots who were learning about stamina incantations.
Though Tanan had always loved Port Billen, he had grown to love his life at Jesera even more.
One morning, eighteen months after Tanan arrived at the monastery, Figis ended their morning meditation by asking Tanan to stay and talk with him. Tanan sat cross legged across from his teacher.
“Now that you are beginning to cultivate a peaceful mind, we will begin your training in temporal magic.”
“I thought that’s what we had been working on for the last year and a half,” said Tanan.
Figis smiled. “In a way, we have. When a farmer wishes to plant a field of wheat, he must first prepare the soil. He must plow his field to expose the soil. He must remove the rocks from the soil so that it can be more easily worked. Only after much hard work does he plant the seed.”
Tanan understood. “Do you think my mind is prepared to learn temporal magic?”
“We shall see. Today, I want you to experience temporal magic so that you may begin to understand it.”
Figis picked up a small wooden tray filled with sand and placed it on the floor between them. He took a pinch of sand and began to sprinkle it back onto the tray. As Tanan watched, the sand began to fall more slowly from Figis’ hand. And then the sand stopped moving. Tanan was able to see each grain of sand hanging in the air. And then the sand began to move again, falling more and more quickly until Figis had sprinkled all of the sand back to the tray. Tanan was amazed. Figis, enjoying Tanan’s wonder, gave a hearty laugh.
After his first lesson, Tanan learned a great deal about manipulating time. The first thing was that, much like protective magic, temporal magic had a limited range. Time could only be manipulated in a relatively small space. Within the bubble, time could be slowed, stopped or even sped up in relation to the space outside the bubble. When Tanan asked if time could be reversed, Figis just shrugged and said, “It seems unlikely.”
• • •
One of the first things Tanan learned when he began to study protective magic was how to create a bubble around himself that wouldn’t accidentally kill someone.
He also learned protective incantations that gave the body a protective charge. The incantation that had killed the Constable was one of those spells. Now that Tanan understood the spell, he learned just how much of a statistical miracle it had been for him to successfully summon it that day in Port Billen.
Healing magic was much easier than temporal or protective magic, and it was the most commonly practiced kind of magic. In addition to the healing magic he learned from Soama, he also studied his father’s medicinal magic.
By far, the most common kind of magic was environmental manipulation. Compared with other kinds of magic, it was almost entirely useless. Most people who possessed abilities in magic could do a little environmental manipulation. At it’s simplest form, it could be used to slightly warm or cool the body. The best that most Abbots could hope for was to light a candle or cool a glass of liquid.
There were no Abbots at Jesera who specialized in environmental magic, so Tanan’s only real source of information on the subject was the library, which contained exactly two books on the subject. One was a basic book of incantations that could be used to test children for the magic abilities. The other was a book on the theory of offensive magic, which was the fifth branch of magic. That book talked a great deal about how environmental manipulation might be used offensively. When Tanan was fifteen, Figis allowed Tanan to discover and study that book.
When he was seventeen, Tanan began studying offensive magic in earnest. He had mastered the fine art of lighting a candle, but had not been able to recreate the kind of effect that had killed the Legionnaire.
There was a large hall in the monastery that was rarely used. Tanan pushed all the tables and chairs to one end of the hall and started using it to practice his offensive magic.
After many conversations with Figis, he understood that fear and rage had amplified the effect of his magic on both of the occasions when he had killed. Figis said that strong emotions of any kind could effect magic in unpredictable ways. Rage, said Figis, was to be avoided in daily life, but especially when performing magic. That was a large part of the reason Figis spent the first year of Tanan’s training teaching him to meditate. Tanan now knew that a calm emotional state was optimal for performing magic.
He began to practice, trying to replicate what he had done to the Legionnaire on the Lataki plains. Instead of a Legionnaire, he was experimenting with a tomato. He was able to build energy, condense it, and add to it in the same way that he had that morning on the plains. But after almost a month of practice, he wasn’t able to do much more than make the tomato so hot that it split open.
When he killed that Legionnaire, he’d used so much energy that it knocked him unconscious for a full day. Even if he could replicate his results from that day, being unconscious for a day wasn’t very practical.
He went to talk to Soama.
“You told me once that a skilled practitioner of the magical arts could pull energy from the sun, water or air. Can you tell me more about that?”
Soama recommended that Tanan speak with Figis.
“This is an interesting question,” said Figis the next day after morning meditation. “My mentor, Kelzang, was able to harness the energy from the world around him. I have never been able to accomplish this, but I will tell you what he told me.”
“To harness the energy from the world around you requires incredible concentration. Kelzang was able to meditate for days at a time, completely separating his consciousness from his physical body. He told me that once he achieved that separation, he was able to observe the world in its most simple form and draw power from it.”
“Imagine a pebble. Crush the pebble into sand. Choose one grain of sand and crush it into dust. Choose one speck of dust and crush it into smaller pieces. Kelzang told me that eventually the pebble would be broken into pieces so small that they could no longer be broken. And he said that the smallest particles were moving faster than you can imagine. He was able to harness the energy in those spinning particles and focus it into his magic.”
Tanan was intrigued. “How did Kelzang achieve the separation of consciousness from his body?”
Figis smiled broadly. “That is the question, isn’t it? I have attempted this many times, but my magic doesn’t require vast amounts of energy, so my interest has never been more than academic. But it was most useful for Kelzang, who was a Master of healing magic. Kelzang was more than four hundred years old when I studied with him. He was able to draw upon the energies around him to maintain his vigor. He was also able to heal injuries and sickness that other healers could not.”
Tanan stopped trying to explode tomatoes and began using his time in the large hall to meditate. As a student, he had obligations that prevented him from meditating for long stretches of time as Kelzang was said to have done. He would have to attempt separation of consciousness with the time that he had available.
After a week of fruitless efforts, Tanan realized he would need more time if he were to make progress. He sat to meditate, and after getting comfortable and relaxed, he formed a temporal bubble around himself, speeding up the passage of time inside the bubble relative to time outside. It took several weeks of practice, but Tanan was eventually able to maintain the temporal bubble while going into deep meditation.
Each day, he would meditate longer and longer inside his bubble. To the outside observer it seemed like he was meditating for an hour at a time. For Tanan, it was several hours. Eventually, he was meditating for days at a time inside his bubble of accelerated time.
One day, during one of his expanded meditation sessions, Tanan became acutely aware. He continued to meditate, exploring his state of heightened awareness. He found that he could look down at himself, sitting on the floor of the large hall. Tanan realized that he had separated his consciousness from his body and took time to enjoy the sensation.
He always brought a tomato with him, and it was there on the floor in front of his body. As he focused on it, the tomato seemed to zoom at him. He moved his focus closer and found himself looking at the inside of the tomato. He zoomed in farther until he could see all the different kinds of small parts that made up the tomato. Tanan didn’t understand what he was seeing, he just selected one of the small pieces and focused in until he was looking at the molecules that made them up. He zoomed in on one of the molecules and found himself looking at particles that were vibrating very fast.
Tanan moved his awareness closer and could feel the immense energy in each of the tiny particles. Tanan was sure he was looking at what Kelzang had described.
Thinking about the feeling he had when he gathered energy inside his body, Tanan attempted to gather some energy from the atom he was observing. He pulled his awareness back and gathered energy from an entire group of atoms. So much energy surged into him that it jolted him back into his body. His temporal bubble was gone.
Tanan opened his eyes. He felt as though he had been blind to the energy that moved around him, but now that he was aware of it he could feel it. It was as obvious to him as sunshine on a summer day. The energy was surging through him, and he had to force himself to relax. Now that he was aware of it, he could feel the energy in the air as it moved around his body. There was energy radiating from the marble floor below him.
He drew a small amount of energy into himself and compressed it to a pinpoint. This was more energy than he had ever had at his command, and he could feel infinitely more all around him. He looked down at the tomato and pushed the gathered energy into the center of it, as he had dozens of times before.
The tomato exploded into a fine red mist, and then there was a sound, like a peal of thunder, that was so loud it left Tanan’s ears ringing.
Abbots came running into the room, drawn by the noise, and saw Tanan, sitting cross legged on the floor with a huge smile looking at a blackened place on the marble floor in front of him.
Tanan could feel the energy swirling in the air around him and knew that it was his to command.
It was six months after Tanan learned to harness energy from around him when Gowrand arrived in Jesera and immediately started complaining about Komisan, King Dannap and all the other things that he found unsatisfactory. Many of the Abbots at Jesera knew Gowrand and were used to filtering the useful information out of his overly dramatic rants.
Before Gowrand, it had been almost a year since an Abbot had arrived from Komisan. It sounded like trouble could be brewing on the island. A meeting was held in the great hall, which still had a scorch mark that Tanan hadn’t been able to scrub out, and it was decided that in the spring, a group would travel to Komisan to investigate.
The Abbots didn’t know Gowrand had inadvertently led a King’s Legionnaire to Jesera who was, at that moment, observing the valley from a rocky outcropping in the mountains.
• • •
Calid left Jesera after a week of watching, making a map and taking notes. He took longer to make the return trip because he was out of food and had to fish and trap rabbits in order to eat.
When he arrived at the Legion outpost, his appearance stirred up confusion. The commanding officer was relieved to see him, and also ready to court martial him for dereliction of duty. When Calid managed to make the man listen to his story, the officer stopped screaming at him and started paying attention. Calid made a full report of what he’d seen and turned over his maps and notes.
The officer wasn’t extremely intelligent, but he knew this information was important. He appointed an interim commander and then he and Calid left for Panna to deliver the information to King Dannap.
Dannap listened to Legionnaire Calid’s report in silence and then asked a series of questions which Calid did his best to answer. Dannap sat on his throne and stared at Calid, who stood uncomfortably under the scrutiny of his King. After two minutes that felt like an eternity, Dannap stood and left the room without a word.
The King went into his private chambers and sat in the large chair beside the fireplace. A secret Abbot village in the mountains. The murderer Tanan would certainly be in that village. Dannap would have his revenge.
The Abbots were not only harboring the fugitive, but had a secret village in Lataki territory. This was troubling. It was not simply a single rogue Abbot who’d helped the boy escape, it was much worse. The Abbots were all over Komisan, and if they were working with the Lataki that meant trouble for Komisan. They would be dealt with.
Dannap spoke to a guard, who was standing motionless near the door. “Bring me Brakkas.” The soldier left without a word. Moments later, Brakkas, the Legion Commander, who had been waiting in the throne room with Calid, entered the room.
“The Abbots are working with the Lataki,” he said to the Commander. “Have Pinter brought to me at once, and have your men be ready to start arresting all of the Abbots when I give the order.”
Brakkas nodded and left. He returned to his offices and immediately sent a squad of four men to bring in Abbot Pinter.
• • •
Although there was no official hierarchy in the Brotherhood of Abbots, Pinter had volunteered several years ago to act as spokesman when it came to King Dannap. Because of this, Dannap thought Pinter was their leader. And so it was Pinter the Legionnaires wanted when they barged into the Abbey.
The Abbots were perplexed by the aggression of the Legionnaires, but in more than seven hundred years they had never had reason to fear the Legion. The first Abbot they came to led them through the Abbey in search of Pinter, who was in the kitchen making preparations to cook the evening’s meal.
“You’re under arrest,” one of the Legionnaires said as he roughly took Pinter by the arm. The Abbots who witnessed this were taken aback.
“For what?” asked Pinter, sure that there had been some sort of misunderstanding.
“Shut up!” said another of the soldiers as he took hold of Pinter’s other arm. The Legionnaires walked Pinter, who did not resist, out of the kitchen. There were three Abbots in the kitchen, plus the one who’d escorted in the Legionnaires. They followed the soldiers to the door of the Abbey and watched the men manhandle Pinter up the street toward the palace.
They immediately rounded up the remaining Abbots and held a meeting. The situation in Komisan had been deteriorating for some time. The Abbots had become increasingly marginalized over the past several years and there was a sense of growing hostility toward anyone with the ability to perform magic. The arrest of Pinter, especially in such a rough manner, was a bad sign. The Abbots across Komisan would need to be told of this development.
Within a half hour of Pinter’s arrest, dozens of cats were on the move, carrying messages. The news of Pinter’s arrest would spread to every Abbey on the island within thirty-six hours.
Pinter was brought to the King’s chambers and finally released. He bowed to one knee before the King and muttered the standard, “Your Highness.”
Without waiting for the Abbot to rise, Dannap began his questioning. “How long have the Abbots been working with the Lataki?”
Pinter rose and stared at Dannap, a bewildered look on his face. “The Lataki, Sire?”
“We’ve discovered your secret base in the northern mountains, Pinter!” Dannap could barely contain his rage.
Pinter had certainly never expected the King, or any Komisani for that matter, to have knowledge of Jesera. The surprise on his face gave away more than he would have ever said with words. He knew he was in trouble.
Dannap stared at the Abbot with malice. He rose from his throne and moved forward until he was inches from Pinter, glaring into the Abbot’s eyes.
“Remind this man that he should always answer his King truthfully,” he said, still staring the Abbot down. “When he is ready to be honest, bring him back to me.”
As Pinter was dragged from the room, he heard Dannap say to the Commander, “Arrest them all. Now.”
Pinter was dragged out of the palace and through the street toward, he presumed, the headquarters of the King’s Legion. He had no intention of being tortured by these brutes. Pinter’s expertise was in protective magic and he was very good at deflection spells. He would be able to protect himself from torture if it came to that, but he’d seen and heard enough. It was time for him to stop pretending to be helpless.
He summoned up a protective field around his body that gave the men holding him a mild shock. They immediately let go of him. He dropped to one knee, expanding his protective field to form a bubble around himself. One of the Legionnaire escorts tried to kick Pinter in the back. His foot hit the field and rebounded, throwing the man off balance and causing him to fall, face first, into Pinter’s protective field. The man rebounded again and went flying back. The other three soldiers were circling him. He rapidly expanded his field, and sent them all flying. Pinter ran.
The Abbots were waiting when Pinter sprinted back into the Abbey.
“We must flee Komisan,” he said. “Dannap has ordered to arrest all Abbots. Go! Get word to the other Abbeys. I will take care of the library.”
Each Abbey was home to an extensive library. The Abbots knew that the information in those libraries could be dangerous in the wrong hands. King Dannap and the King’s Legion had just become those wrong hands.
In the library of every Abbey in the world, there is a fist sized globe that works perfectly for illuminating a writing desk. The globes were crafted, long ago, by a group of powerful Abbots at a monastery far to the east of Jesera. Inside of each globe was a powerful fire spell that was frozen in time and wrapped in a protective shield spell. It was perfectly safe and unbreakable unless its trigger words were spoken.
Pinter raced into the library and took the Abbey’s globe from the writing desk. He ran back to the door of the library, turned, and threw the globe in a high arc that would end in the center of the room. As it left his hand, Pinter grabbed the edge of the door and screamed, “LEENSECIS KNIMIL FERETIO!” and then slammed the door and ran as fast as he could.
As the trigger words were said, the shield around the globe disappeared. When the globe struck the solid surface of the floor, the frozen time spell ended and the fire spell contained within it was released. A massive ball of fire exploded in the library, incinerating everything in the room and blowing out the windows. The walls and ceiling were on fire, and within minutes the entire Abbey was consumed in flames.
The Abbots scattered to the wind. Knowing this day might eventually come, they had prepared escape plans. There were caches of clothing and supplies hidden in various places throughout the city, and they were all able to escape without being caught or followed.
The King’s Legion was searching Komisan for Abbots. Each time they arrived in a town or village, the Abbey was on fire and the Abbots were gone. The Abbots, along with almost the entire population of the island’s cats, had disappeared.
Dannap grew more and more furious as news continued to come in from across the island. Abbeys were burned and the Abbots gone. The Legionnaires who had been escorting Pinter were executed for incompetence. Dannap declared the use of magic on Komisan illegal under penalty of death. This sparked a sudden mass retirement among the island’s doctors.
News that the Abbots were working with the Lataki spread across the island. Every citizen had seen an Abbey burning in their town, which removed any doubt.
Battalions of Legionnaires were dispatched to the mainland to hunt down the Abbots. Companies of fifty men each scoured the mainland in search of Abbots with orders to kill on sight.
Meanwhile, Dannap and his military leaders planned their assault on the Abbots’ secret village in the north mountains.
Figis surprised Tanan by visiting him at home one evening. Tanan invited Figis in and offered him some tea. He showed off a little for his mentor by filling the kettle with fresh water and causing it to boil almost immediately without the use of the stove. Figis laughed and clapped his hands with amusement.
The two of them sat at the kitchen table.
“I wanted to stop by a little early to congratulate you,” said Figis.
Tanan didn’t know what Figis was talking about and said so.
Figis smiled broadly. “I understand your friends are throwing a party tonight in your honor, Abbot Tanan.”
Tanan’s mouth dropped open. “Abbot?”
“The vote was unanimous.” Figis handed Tanan the package he had been carrying. “This is an early birthday gift.” Tanan would be nineteen in a week.
Tanan opened the package. It was a blue Abbot’s cassock. He hadn’t even known he was being considered for entry into the Brotherhood; he was too young. He looked at Figis with tears in his eyes. “Thank you.”
“You earned it,” said Figis, patting Tanan on the hand. “I wanted to talk to you about something else while I was here.”
Tanan looked up at Figis.
“As you know, the library contains limited information about the fifth branch of the magical arts. It’s been thousands of years since there was an Abbot who was skilled in the art of offensive magic.”
Tanan tilted his head to one side and shrugged. “I’m not even sure if offensive magic should be considered a branch of its own. I think Soama is right with this theory that offensive magic might simply be the application of the other four kinds of magic in an offensive way.”
“You are certainly in a unique position to make that argument,” replied Figis. “This is the task I propose you undertake. I encourage you to research offensive magic and write a book on the subject. One day, when you and I are long gone, your research will help to instruct others. I think it would be a worthwhile undertaking if you chose to do it.”
Tanan considered the idea for a moment. “I have never thought about writing a book. Would you be willing help me with it?”
“I believe everyone at Jesera would be happy to help you with it.”
Figis stood and walked to the door, and Tanan hurried to open it for him. Figis stopped in the doorway, and looked up at Tanan with a serious expression. “Wear your robes well, Tanan. Do good things with your gifts. Contribute to the happiness of others and you will always have meaning in your life.”
Then Figis smiled, “I’ll see you at the party, Abbot.”
Tanan closed the door after Figis and immediately put on his Abbot’s cassock. He, apparently, had a party to attend.
Two months after the night of Tanan’s party, Abbots from Komisa started arriving from Jesera. The news that Dannap had ordered the arrest of all Abbots came as a shock to everyone. They knew Komisan was becoming increasingly unfriendly toward the Abbots, but this was certainly an unexpected turn of events.
Pinter arrived two days after the first group and delivered the news that Dannap knew about Jesera. A meeting was called in the great hall and Pinter addressed the crowd of Abbots, sharing with them everything he knew and warning them that he believed Dannap would send the Legion to attack Jesera.
As Abbots continued to come in from various parts of Komisan, it was confirmed that all the libraries had been destroyed, and all the Abbots were able to escape the island. Most of the Abbots had enough warning that they were able to bring provisions for the journey. The ones who didn’t have time were able to meet up with others who shared what they had.
A hundred and twelve Abbots had been on Komisan, and a hundred and twelve arrived at Jesera. The monastery didn’t have enough food to sustain the extra Abbots through the winter, so about three quarters of the Abbots left after a few days rest and went west, with the intention of founding a new monastery.
Gowrand tracked down Tanan a few days after the meeting, he was in the great hall and had just finished meditating.
“Hi Gowrand,” said Tanan, when he saw the Abbot. “How are you today?”
“I’m well, Tanan.” Gowrand always made it a point to be friendly to Tanan, who was likely the most powerful Abbot in the world. “I was hoping to speak with you for a few minutes if you have the time.”
“Sure,” said Tanan. “What’s on your mind?”
“Well,” began Gowrand, “it’s this situation with the Komisani. Some of us have been talking about it and we are worried about how things might go if they attack us here in the valley.”
“I know we’ll manage to figure something out,” said Tanan.
“But if we don’t,” said Gowrand, “Just… I hope you know that there are many of us who stand behind you.”
“What do you mean, Gowrand?”
“It’s no secret that you’re the most powerful Abbot at Jesera. Whatever you have to do to protect us from the Komisani, we will support you. I hope it never comes to that, but if it does… you have the support of many of the Abbots.”
Tanan wasn’t sure what to make of this. He’d never considered that he might have to defend Jesera. But Gowrand was right, he was the most powerful Abbot at the monastery. And he might be called upon to use his power to protect people.
“Uh, thanks Gowrand,” he said.
Gowrand smiled at the young Abbot and patted him on the arm as he walked past him and out of the room.
From the time it was first settled, Jesera had been a peaceful place. There was never any thought that it would be attacked. The Lataki never came this far north, and the Abbots had good relations with them anyway. The Komisani had never known about Jesera as it was far outside the areas they patrolled or explored.
The idea of a military force coming to Jesera was so foreign that the Abbots had never given any thought to how they would defend it. There were a dozen or so Abbots that were Masters of protective magic, but that wouldn’t be enough to defend such a large perimeter. They didn’t even have enough protectors to defend the tower.
Tanan knew his abilities would be the greatest weapon Jesera had available, but one man couldn’t defend an entire valley against an army. He couldn’t possibly protect everyone. Besides, Tanan knew what it felt like to kill and he wasn’t eager to do it again.
The idea of abandoning the monastery was considered. The problem with that was that the library was far too large to move and it would have to be destroyed. That would be an incalculable loss. And if they left the valley, the Komisani would hunt them down. It would be foolish to lead the Komisani to another monastery which would be just as defenseless.
It was decided that they would prepare a contingency to destroy the library as a last resort. Their best option was to try and negotiate with the Komisani and convince Dannap that the Abbots would never again travel to Komisan. A truce was not likely, but they had to try.
Winter was upon them. The mountains surrounding the valley were already covered in snow, and it had snowed a few times in the valley already. Winters on Komisan were generally mild, so the Komisani wouldn’t be prepared to march on Jesera in the winter. It was likely that the King’s Legion would come to Jesera in the spring. They knew it was probably an exercise in futility, but they would use the winter to prepare themselves for a battle.
The winter was spent primarily on two pursuits. The Abbots selected representatives to act as emissaries to King Dannap. They were charged with delivering a proposal for peace that would appeal to Dannap and prevent war. It was decided that the Abbots would offer to send a group of Abbots to assist in the construction of a new, more impressive, royal palace for Dannap and his successors. Once the proposed palace was built, they would withdraw from Komisani territory and there would be no further contact. Surely a new, grand palace would placate Dannap.
The other pursuit was a project led by Figis. The goal was to create fire globes like the ones that had been used to destroy the Abbeys in Komisan. Figis thought that if they could make enough globes, they could be used as weapons in the event that the valley were attacked.
Each globe involved three kinds of magic; elemental, temporal and protective. Tanan agreed to help create the compressed fireball for the first stage of globe creation. Figis would create a small ball of frozen time around the fireball, and then Pinter would encase it in a protective bubble with a trigger word. A second Master of protective magic and several healers would be on hand in case something went wrong. Everyone involved spent weeks researching and practicing their part of the process.
When everyone was ready, the globe creators went to the middle of a corn field, far from any buildings. Tanan began by gathering energy from the air around him and compressing just the right amount into a pinpoint of light and heat. The amount had to be just right. Too little and the weapon would be ineffective, too much and the Abbot who threw the fire globe could be hurt.
Tanan held the compressed ball several yards off the ground. Figis then cast a spell that would make it frozen in time until it came into contact with something solid. The tricky part was that once Figis’ spell had been cast, Tanan could no longer hold on to his spell. Pinter had to cast his spell a split second after Figis so that the protective shell would encase it before it fell to the ground.
They finished creating the first fire globe and it fell to the mud with a wet thump. Tanan picked it up and carried it back to the group. “I suppose we should test it,” he said as he handed it to Pinter, who knew the trigger words.
Pinter was nervous, but there were safeguards in place. He threw the globe as hard as he could and yelled, “SPETHE ILDRTROW EFERVALT!” The globe fell into a patch of snow and a twenty foot sphere of flame erupted around it. Tanan put up a protective bubble, but it hadn’t been necessary. The globe worked as intended.
Over the following week, the group created one hundred of the globes. As each was created, Pinter would write the trigger words on a slip of paper. Each globe, along with its unique trigger words were placed into a small cloth bag. One hundred Abbots would receive a globe if it looked like an attack were imminent.
When the hundred fire globes were created, along with an extra half dozen that would be used for training, Figis suggested something else.
“If the unthinkable happens and the valley is overrun, we will need to be able to destroy the library. I believe that if it comes to that, the tower should also be destroyed. I hope that doesn’t happen, but there are books and other items throughout the tower that should not fall into the hands of the Komisani.”
They agreed to create ten larger globes. Each one would be roughly the size of a man’s head. Tanan would put a massive amount of explosive fire energy into each one. Figis would freeze it in time and then Pinter would encase each one in his protective globe with a set of trigger words. As an additional safeguard, Tanan would enclose each globe in a second protective globe, with a second set of trigger words.
The trigger words would be the same for all of the globes, but there would be two sets of words. Only select Abbots would know what the globes were for, and they would be divided into two groups with each group having one set of the trigger words. No one person would ever know both sets of trigger words.
In the event that the monastery were lost, two Abbots would have to sacrifice their lives to trigger the explosion that would level the tower. Tanan didn’t tell anyone, but he packed more than enough energy into each globe to destroy the tower. If the ten large globes were ever triggered, the resulting explosion would likely incinerate everything, and everyone, in the entire valley.
The globes were hung in decorative iron holders in a circle over the library, which took up the entire second and third floors of the tower. They would provide illumination for the entire library. Hopefully, that would be the only purpose they would ever have to serve.
Spring was imminent. The Abbots sent the negotiators out of the valley to intercept the Komisani army they expected to be marching on Jesera. The delegation consisted of the two negotiators, a healer and a protector. If they ran into trouble it was reasoned that the protector could keep them from harm and the healer could keep them alive. Six of the younger Abbots went along to act as runners, to carry messages back to Jesera.
The delegation travelled to the Lataki plains and then another twenty miles south and set up their camp at the top of a long rise where they would be able to spot any approaching force. The negotiators remained at the camp, watching the plains to the South. The three teams of runners rotated daily. One team stayed at the base camp while the other two patrolled the surrounding area. Each day at noon, a new team rotated into base camp.
On the seventeenth day the incoming patrol didn’t arrive. That afternoon the Komisani army appeared on the horizon moving toward them. At dusk, the army stopped and camped. Their fires were visible through the night.
The next morning, the second group of runners came to base camp to report that they had found the bodies of the missing runners. They had been killed with swords, which meant Komisani.
The runners who had been at base camp were sent to Jesera to report that an army was approaching and Komisani rangers had killed two of the runners. The two men split up and headed back to Jesera separately to increase their chances that one of them would make it. The remaining runners were sent north to observe from a safe distance.
By noon of that day, the Komisani army approached the camp, stopping a quarter mile from them. The negotiators counted about two thousand men. A small group broke away from the army and approached the them. It was Commander Brakkas along with two Legion Captains and four other soldiers.
As the group walked up to the negotiators camp, two soldiers stepped from behind the group and fired crossbows. One bolt struck a negotiator in the chest and the other one barely missed. The healer was struck so suddenly and severely that he couldn’t heal himself and fell over dead. The protector created a bubble around himself and watched it deflect two more bolts.
The seven Komisani sprinted into action, circling the remaining Abbot. The rest of the army advanced.
The negotiator wasn’t willing to give up. “We have an offer for you,” he said. “Let’s prevent further bloodshed and negotiate.”
Brakkas turned and whispered instructions to one of his Captains before turning back to the negotiator. “I’m Commander Brakkas. Tell me, Abbot, what do you propose?”
Several dozen soldiers ran toward the woods while the negotiator made the offer the Abbots had prepared. By the time he was done speaking, the men were returning from the woods carrying armloads of dead wood. They piled it around the Abbot’s protective circle and began setting it on fire.
“Your offer is rejected,” said Brakkas. “Drop your shield and tell me everything you know about your Abbot fortress. I will let you live.”
The Abbot negotiator knew that he was dead regardless of what he did. He turned and motioned to the runners to go and then turned back to Brakkas and looked him in the eye. The smoke from the ring of fires was seeping through his bubble and he coughed. He could feel the heat. The Komisani soldiers were laughing.
The Abbot pulled a knife out of a sheath attached to his belt. He placed the tip of the knife carefully over his heart. His father had given him the knife twenty years earlier. He’d been a boy then, living in Panna. His father was proud that his son had become an Abbot, but died several years later. He was glad his father hadn’t lived to see what Komisan had become.
He looked at Brakkas through the smoke. “I would rather die with honor than live as a coward,” he said, and then he plunged the knife into his heart.
• • •
Two days later, the only surviving runner sprinted into the valley and ran straight for the tower where a group of Abbots gathered to meet him.
“Two thousand of them,” he said between panting breaths. “They killed the negotiators. Get ready.”
Komisani rangers were scouting Jesera a week before the army was spotted on the plains. They spent a week watching the Abbots, making detailed maps of the valley and gathering information for the assault.
Just before dawn on the day of the attack, three Komisani rangers moved quietly across a field toward the house of the Abbot they believed to be Soama, former Abbot of Port Billen and accomplice of the murderer Tanan. When they reached the house, one of them knocked softly on the door and called out, “Soama! Come quickly!”
When the Abbot opened the door, the Rangers rushed in. Two of them pinned Soama to the ground and the third closed the door behind them. His hands were tied, and then they stood him up. Two of the soldiers held him while the third held the point of his sword to Soama’s throat.
“You’re Soama?” the soldier asked.
“Yes,” said Soama, a mix of anger and fear on his face.
One of the men held a rag over his mouth and nose. Whatever it had been soaked in smelled terrible and made Soama feel tired, like he’d had too much to drink.
“You make one little noise,” said the ranger, “and I will saw your head off with this sword.”
The Ranger cracked the door open and looked out before opening it all the way. The other two walked Soama out. The door was closed and the four men walked casually across the field and into the tree line.
Abbots watched from tower windows and from various locations around the village as the Komisani army entered the valley from the East side. They marched out of the woods in two columns and formed up into platoons.
Brakkas’ command group were the last to enter the valley. Brakkas jogged to the front of the assembled Komisani, Legion men leading less well trained volunteers.
The Commander raised his voice so that everyone would hear, “Men of Komisan! We have travelled far to rid ourselves of the treacherous cult of the Abbots. They are murderers! They are arsonists! And they are traitors against you, against me, and against our King!”
The soldiers roared their approval.
“Take no prisoners and show no mercy, for they shall show none to you! We will wipe these treacherous masters of the dark art of magic from the earth right now, today!”
The men roared again, and a horn sounded. The Captains yelled “Charge!” and led their platoons forward.
The Abbots had no command structure. Two Abbots were stationed in the library and all the doors had been secured. If the battle were lost and the Komisani made it into the tower, each of them would speak their set of words, triggering the ten fire globes and incinerating the Jesera Valley.
Abbots were positioned around the valley in various places. They had no training for combat, but most of them carried knives and one hundred of them carried fire globes. Their goal was to kill as many of the Komisani as possible with each one. If they could do enough damage, perhaps the Komisani would retreat.
Mixed in with the Abbots were all the farmers in the valley, armed with scythes and machetes. The farmers’ wives and children were in the tower.
Tanan stood near the monastery with his father and Figis. Each of them held a fire globe, and Anin had his knife. Figis was also holding a knife, but he wasn’t sure how much good it would do him. They saw the army start to move and heard the sound of the horn fill the valley. They knew it was time.
Platoons of men rushed into the valley. Brave Abbots rushed forward to meet them in fields, ready to throw their fire globes. Balls of light soared, and trigger words were shouted. Screams of aggression turned to screams of horror as entire platoons of men were engulfed in magical flame.
As the first wave of fire globe proves successful, more Abbots moved forward to engage the Komisani. The Legionnaires were trained to attack in formation and there was some confusion when men started to panic and break ranks. More fire globes were thrown amid the confusion and hundreds of Komisani died as the air around them became fire.
Half of the Komisani army was dead before the ranks broke entirely and chaos reigned on the battle field. Abbots who had already used their globes tried to fight the Komisani with knives and were cut down. Some Abbots threw their fire globes and ran. Fiery explosions punctuated the battlefield, and a smoky haze soon floated over the entire area.
Some Komisani were running around the sides of the battle field to flank the Abbots or get behind them. Figis saw this and went running around the tower to try and cut them off. Tanan saw him throw his fire globe, which killed an entire group of the Komisani.
The battle was moving closer to the tower, and Tanan was choosing a good target for his globe when a crossbow bolt flew past his head, narrowly missing him. A second bolt followed, striking him in his left hip. It was just slightly more than a grazing shot. The bolt almost passed completely through him.
Tanan screamed in pain and looked down at the feathered end of the bolt, which was just barely sticking out of him. He reached behind himself, grabbed the front end of the bolt and yanked it through. The wound felt like fire tearing through his body, but it wasn’t bleeding too badly. He would deal with it after he dealt with the man who had shot it.
Looking up, he saw a small group of crossbowmen through the smoke, reloading their weapons. Tanan threw his globe at them, screaming the trigger words as it left his hand. One managed to fire his shot, wildly, before the globe struck the man next to him, consuming all of the men in fire.
He saw another group of soldiers running toward them, and pointed, yelling to his father, “Throw it!”. There was a thump and Tanan turned to see his father had fallen to the ground. There was a crossbow bolt sticking out of his right eye.
Anin’s fire globe slipped out of his hand and rolled across the cobbled walkway they had been standing on, coming to a stop when it reached the edge and fell into an empty flower bed.
Tanan heard a scream of pain and turned to see a Legionnaire pulling his sword out of an Abbot who had been armed only with a knife. The soldier looked at Tanan with a smirk and moved toward him, ready to kill again.
“No!” screamed Tanan and rushed toward the soldier, blind with rage. The soldier was so surprised at Tanan’s action that he didn’t even raise his sword. Tanan slammed into the soldier, driving the man back and knocking him down on his back in the middle of the cobbled path. Tanan landed on top of the man and let loose an enraged scream right in the man’s face.
He was lost in anger and grief. The air around him crackled with energy. He pulled that energy into himself. Two more Legionnaires were rushing toward him. In a split second, Tanan created a protective bubble and expanded it, hard. The soldiers were sent flying backward, broken. The man beneath him was pulverized to a bloody paste. His armor was flattened with him inside it.
The world was a blur around Tanan. He stood and walked toward the first Komisani he saw, sending a ball of flame into the man. The man exploded, the sudden intense heat splitting him apart from the inside.
There were soldiers everywhere Tanan looked. He walked across the battlefield and killed every Komisani he saw. He waved his arms with each strike, channeling massive amounts of energy into the hearts and heads of Komisani soldiers. Men exploded, sending streamers of flaming gore flying across the battlefield. All Tanan could see through his red haze of rage were the men who had killed his grandfather. These were the men who had killed Jelak. More men erupted into flame. The men who killed his father.
Komisani erupted in flames as fast as Tanan could shift his focus from one target to the next. As one man fell, Tanan was already sending killing fire into the next. Any soldier that Tanan laid eyes on was dead. They were running to get away from him, but Tanan didn’t stop killing.
Then he saw the Commander of the Komisani army, screaming orders to the retreating soldiers.
Tanan walked toward the man. He was about to unleash a firestorm when he felt a hand on his chest and looked down to see Figis looking back at him.
This didn’t make sense. Figis? Why was Figis standing in front of him?
“Tanan,” said Figis, his voice sounded distant, and too calm for this place. “Stop.”
Tanan shook his head, trying to understand what was happening. “Figis,” he said. It was a statement, not a question.
“The battle is over, Tanan. Stop.”
Tanan blinked a few times. There were hundreds of dead Komisani around him. He was covered with blood and worse. He was suddenly aware of the pain in his hip and the awful smell of the battlefield. Figis was saying something he didn’t understand.
The Legion Commander was thirty yards away, staring at him. Tanan stepped around Figis and walked toward the Commander, who started to back away slowly. The fighting was done. Injured men were making sounds that Tanan had never heard. Komisani were fleeing the valley. They had never faced an enemy who could fight back.
“What is your name?” asked Tanan as he walked toward the Commander.
“I am Brakkas, Commander of the King’s Legion,” said the man, mustering his courage. He saw what this boy had done and he knew he was about to die. He wouldn’t die whimpering like a coward.
Tanan stopped ten feet from the man. “My name is Abbot Tanan.”
Tanan looked out across the battlefield and gestured toward a large area where there were no bodies, living or dead. When Brakkas looked to where Tanan was pointing, Tanan caused an immense ball of flame to erupt on the faraway spot. It produced a sound like a lightning strike and sent a gust of hot air washing past them.
Brakkas looked at Tanan and waited for the fire that would consume him.
“Carry this message to your King. Tell him that Tanan, son of Anin, grandson of Lindelin, and Master of the five schools of magic commands him to recall his soldiers. Tell Dannap that if he fails to obey my command, if I discover even a single Komisani has left your island, I will come to Komisan. I will walk into his palace and I will turn him to ash. Repeat what I said.”
“Y-you are Tanan,” the man stammered. “Son of Anin, grandson of Lindelin and Master of the f-five schools of magic.” Brakkas repeated the message back.
Tanan pointed to the East, where the Komisani had entered the valley just an hour before. “Leave this place.”
And then Tanan turned his back on Commander Brakkas and walked away.
Tanan and Figis walked around the valley, visiting every area that had been effected by the battle. One of the Abbots they spoke with noticed Tanan’s wound and insisted on healing him.
The battle had taken place primarily in a large field on the East end of the valley, but small groups of Komisani had also attacked from the sides and from behind. Figis organized a group of Abbots and farmers to start digging a mass grave on the far east end of the valley. Tanan and a few other healers started searching for wounded survivors.
There were a lot of dead, but thanks to the fire globes, most of them were Komisani. One of the Abbots Tanan was working with found a Legionnaire who was badly burned, but still alive. Tanan had never healed more than a minor wound, but he tried to heal the man. He harnessed energy from the air around him and put it into the most powerful healing spell he knew, laying his hands on the soldier’s body and chanting. The man’s wounds were too severe and Tanan wasn’t able to heal him, so he did what he could to numb the man’s pain and stayed with him until he died.
In all, they found twenty-three Komisani that they were able to heal. They sent the men out of the valley as a group, giving them the same message that Tanan had given to Brakkas.
By the end of the day there were twenty-four Abbots that were either confirmed dead, or could not be found and were assumed dead. Soama was among them. Some Abbots had been caught in the radius of the fire globes, and there were so many bodies that were burned down to black bones that they couldn’t be identified.
Over the next several days, the men and women of the Jesera Valley dug graves. Seventeen for the Abbots and farmers who had died, and one mass grave for the remains of the Komisani. The seven missing Abbots were given funerals, and markers were placed even though there were no bodies to bury. The mass grave was filled in and marked with a circle of stones.
Nobody in the valley came through the battle without losing someone they cared about, and they all grieved for those they had lost.
• • •
A month after the battle, spring was in full bloom and the valley was greening up. It was sunny and warm. Gardens and fields were being planted and people were beginning to recover from the emotional drain of the battle. The new graveyard, just west of the tower, was being heavily seeded with flowers.
The Abbots were sending out patrols to insure that the Komisani were gone. There was no sign of them within a week’s walk in any direction. Once planting was done, they would send a group of Abbots to check along the coast to be sure that the Komisani had indeed left the mainland. Everyone in Jesera desperately wanted the war with Komisan to be over, but they would be vigilant.
Another Abbot moved into Soama’s house and Tanan took Soama’s books and some of his other possessions. After Anin had been killed, the house felt empty. Tanan spent most of his time out of the house helping rebuild the damage that was done during the battle.
Tanan completely tore up the area of the walkway where his father had been killed. He dug a ten yard wide pond on that spot and rebuilt the path, splitting it so that it wrapped around each side of the pond and continued on the other side. He carried pink and white water lilies from the far west end of the lake and transplanted them in the pond.
When there was no more repair work to be done, Tanan started working on his book about offensive magic. He agreed with Figis that the book needed to be written, so he would spend a few hours each morning at the far west end of the valley practicing and perfecting offensive spells. Then he spent time each afternoon writing down what he learned.
He knew that his actions had saved Jesera, and he had been thanked for what he’d done by a hundred people, most notably Gowrand, who went out of his way to tell him that he had done the right thing. Tanan didn’t feel bad about what he’d done, but he never wanted to have to kill like that again.
Four months after the battle at Jesera, a group of Abbots arrived from the monastery on the northern edge of the great desert. They had travelled through the eastern Lataki plains and spoken with several Lataki tribes along the way. The news they brought was disturbing.
The Komisani, while avoiding the northern and western plains, were actively hunting down and killing Lataki in the east. The Lataki, with their spears and animal hide clothing were no match for the Komisani, who had steel armor and weapons. The Lataki had no chance.
Tanan heard the news from Gowrand, who said that he wasn’t surprised at the actions of the Komisani and was afraid more drastic actions might have to be taken. Tanan went directly to the newly arrived Abbots and heard the information first hand. Then he went to his house and packed up his things. He took his book of research to Figis, along with a few personal items, and asked the old Abbot to store them until he returned.
Figis tried to persuade Tanan to stay, but he knew that his arguments were falling on deaf ears. He agreed to store Tanan’s things and urged his favorite student to exercise good judgment when dealing with the Komisani.
He stopped to see his friend Cartos, who was the unofficial map maker at the monastery. Cartos gave Tanan a copy of a map of the Lataki plains, asking Tanan to improve it if he could.
Tanan left the valley where he had lived for so many years. He had come to Jesera an angry eleven year old boy. Now he was nearly twenty and a Master of the five schools of magic. He was still angry, but it wasn’t the vengeful anger he’d carried as a child. Now he was angry because he knew he had to do something terrible, and he didn’t want to do it. But it was something no other person in the world could do. He had to find the Komisani army and kill them. And then, he had to pay a visit to King Dannap and make good on his promise.
The Lataki plains were vast and Tanan had to walk the length of them. The journey would take weeks.
He decided to spend his time in the emptiness of the grasslands experimenting with magic. As Tanan walked, he gathered energy from the air. Rather than drawing it into himself as he usually did, he attempted to focus the raw energy on a spot yards in front of himself.
When he gathered the energy into himself, he could feel it building. He could feel the accumulation of power. Focusing the energy outside his body wasn’t difficult, but it was hard to measure. When it was building inside his body, there were specific physical sensations. When he built energy outside his body, it was more like hearing a distant echo.
Several times while drawing energy together in front of himself, the hair on his arms began to stand up. It was an odd, tingly sensation. When he reached his hand out toward his ball of energy there was a loud pop and he was knocked off his feet by the static shock. He was glad nobody had been around to see that.
Tanan decided he wouldn’t do that again. After the jitters wore off, he decided to try and gather the energy farther away. He was walking through gently rolling hills, and picked out the top of a hill about a quarter of a mile in front of him. He willed the energy to gather a hundred feet above the hill. From that distance, he couldn’t gauge the amount of energy he was building, or if it was even working. He just kept gathering and sending more and more energy as he walked.
When he got to about a hundred yards from the top of the hill, he stopped. He could feel the faintest echo of the energy, but he wasn’t sure what to do with it. As he stood and pondered his options, a bolt of lightening struck the top of the hill. He jumped, and his heart raced. The sky was clear and blue. The lightning struck right below where his ball of energy had been. There was no way that was a coincidence.
He climbed to the top of the hill and looked at the scorched spot of earth where the lightning had touched the earth. Tanan started walking again and spent the rest of the afternoon practicing his new trick.
• • •
Evening brought an overcast sky and a clear threat of rain. Tanan stopped at the top of a hill and set up his tent. When it started to sprinkle, he sat inside and erected a large protective bubble around his camp. He ate strips of dried meat and watched the rain run down the dome of his bubble, as if it were made of glass. The full moon broke through the clouds, sending fingers of light that danced across over the plains. Tanan had never seen anything like it. It was beautiful.
Somewhere out on the plains, there was an army of Komisani. This rain would wash away the Lataki blood they were spilling. Nature would take back the bodies of the dead. But the blood on the hands of the Komisani, that would never wash off.
Tanan closed his eyes and spent the night in deep meditation, trying not to think about what he had to do.
Tanan had been walking for weeks, always keeping the river to his left. He was looking for a house built near the river. Figis had said to be sure and make a stop at the house to visit a retired Abbot named Ohlara, who lived in seclusion out on the plains.
He had been making fast progress by using his magic to replenish the energy he used and spending his nights meditating to further repair and rejuvenate his body. He’d walked nonstop starting when it was light enough to see, and stopping only when it got dark.
It was late in the morning when Tanan passed through a stand of trees and found himself standing at the top of a long hill covered with tiny blue flowers. At the bottom of the hill was a small stone house with a thatched roof. It had to be Ohlara’s home.
Tanan started down the hill, looking forward to meeting Ohlara. After weeks alone on the plains, he was eager for human company. Tanan had a nice view of the house from the hill. It was a stone house with a thatched roof and it looked like it was well maintained. The house was about fifty yards off the river. There was a cobbled path leading from the river up to the house. Near the house, the path widened into a patio that wrapped around the house.
Behind the house was a large garden with rows of vegetables. Next to the garden was a sturdy looking pig pen containing a single pig that was watching Tanan walk down the hill and grunting his disapproval.
All of this was surrounded by a bright blue picket fence. The fence formed a huge circle and the house was right in the center of it. Tanan followed a narrow dirt path through the flowers. The path ended at a gate that was spanned by a vine-covered arbor. Beyond the gate, the path was cobbled.
As Tanan reached the gate, he called out. “Hello?” He hadn’t seen anyone as he walked down the hill. He pushed the gate and it wouldn’t move. He couldn’t find a latch or a lock.
He shrugged off his pack and sat it next to the gate. The pig grunted.
“Hello?” he called again.
He walked along the fence, down the hill toward the river. He could see that the fence didn’t go all the way to the river. Jumping the fence felt wrong, so he’d just walk around.
As he got closer to the river he saw that the cobbled path from the house led to a wide wooden dock that extended out into the river about twenty feet. There was a wooden bench on the dock and someone was sitting on that bench holding a fishing pole.
“Hello!” he yelled.
A tiny old woman stood up from the bench and looked around toward him.
“Hello,” he called again. “Are you Ohlara?”
The tiny old woman gestured for him to wait and turned back to pull in her fishing line. She picked up the pole and a wooden bucket and started up the path toward the house.
“I’ll meet you at the gate,” she said.
“Okay,” said Tanan and started walking back along the fence. He walked slowly, timing it so they would both arrive at the gate at the same time.
Ohlara was a tiny woman with short, mouse-brown hair and two brilliant blue eyes set in her well wrinkled face. As she walked up to the gate, she smiled broadly and said, “You’re a tall one, aren’t ya?”
“I’m Tanan. Figis told me that I should stop and see you. You’re Ohlara, aren’t you?”
She nodded. “The password for the gate is Exissis. Come on in.” Having said the word, she pulled the gate open.
Tanan grabbed his backpack and walked through the gate, ducking slightly to keep his head out of the vines that hung from the top of the arbor.
Ohlara started back down the path and Tanan followed.
“A protective field on the gate,” said Tanan. “I take it you’re a Master of protective magic?”
“The field surrounds the whole place,” Ohlara said. “The fence is there to keep anybody from walking into it and getting a bloody nose.”
They reached the house. There was a lacquered wooden table and chairs on the patio in the shade of the house. Ohlara motioned for Tanan to sit down as she sat.
“A friend put that field up or me years ago. The Lataki don’t bother with me, but it keeps out animals.”
She reached down and pulled a fish out of the bucket near her feet. She put the fish on the table, picked up a knife and started cleaning the fish. “So you’re Tanan, eh?” She looked at him for a moment and then went back to her task.
Ohlara had a bowl of water on the table and placed a cleaned fish into it. “I’ve heard about you. People tell me you’re a Master of all five branches. That true?”
“Master of four. Not sure if anybody is a Master of Offensive magic.”
Ohlara stopped cutting her fish and looked at Tanan. “If half of what I heard about you is true, if you really beat that Komisan army by yourself I’d say you earned the title.”
Tanan didn’t know why, but he felt chastised.
Ohlara went back to cleaning the fish. “Too bad that stupid King doesn’t have sense enough to keep to his island.”
“Have you heard anything about the Komisani hunting down Lataki?” asked Tanan.
She nodded. “The Komisani are afraid of you, boy. They’re afraid of the Lataki because you’re Lataki. Seems to me they’re not going to stop until all of you Lataki are dead.”
“I’m going to find that army and stop them,” said Tanan.
Ohlara was finished with the fish and put the last of her filets into the bowl. She used the knife to slide a pile of fish guts off the table and into the bucket. She stood and picked up the bucket. Tanan followed her around the house, through the garden to the pig pen where she dumped the fish guts into a trough. The pig snorted his thanks for the feast.
She handed the bucket to Tanan. “Rinse that in the river, would you?” Tanan was happy to help.
When he walked back up from the river Ohlara was pulling another bucket of water out of the well. “I’ve never met anyone who knew the right kind of magic to keep flies away,” she said as she dumped the water on the table, washing away the fish blood. Tanan pulled two more buckets of water out of the well and finished the job for her.
“Thank you,” said Ohlara. “Now, how about some lunch.”
Tanan followed Ohlara into her house, which was a single room. To the right was a wooden counter where Ohlara prepared her food. To the left of the counter was a brick stove with a shiny iron top. A large hearth took up the back right corner of the room. Along the back wall was a bed covered with a blue and green checkered quilt. A calico cat with green eyes sat on the quilt looking at Tanan with the focused disinterest that only a cat can achieve.
The entire left wall of the room was lined with shelves. One section held dozens of books, and the rest of the shelving was full of different sizes of wooden boxes. In the middle of the room was a large, heavy looking wooden table surrounded by six chairs. The entire home was clean and well organized. It was a warm and comfortable place.
The shelves full of books reminded Tanan that Figis had sent a book for Ohlara. He stepped back outside for a moment and pulled the book out of his pack.
“Figis asked me to give this to you,” he said, holding the book up for Ohlara to see.
She was combining dry ingredients in a bowl. “Just put it on the table,” she said. “Figis never misses a chance to send me a present. He’s a good boy.”
Tanan couldn’t imagine anyone referring to Figis as a boy.
“You know Figis well?” he asked.
Ohlara laughed. “Of course! Figis is my son.”
Tanan, surprised, blurted out, “How old are you?” He immediately turned red, embarrassed at having asked.
Ohlara was amused. “I’m far too old to be offended by that question,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” said Tanan. “Figis was my teacher for seven years. He’s been like a grandfather to me.”
“He is a kind and patient man. I’m very proud of him.”
Tanan didn’t know what to say, so he just smiled.
“I am,” she thought for a moment, “one hundred and thirteen years old. But I use magic to keep myself young, which is cheating.” She gave Tanan a smile, full of mirth. He saw where Figis had gotten it.
She had finished mixing her ingredients and sent Tanan to get wood for the stove. Tanan brought in the wood and offered to light the fire for her.
“I’ve never seen a Master of elemental magic at work,” she said.
Tanan loaded the wood into the stove and then carefully gathered energy from the air around him. He sent a controlled stream of heat into the wood, which began to smoke. Within a few seconds, a flame appeared and started to spread across the wood, fueled by Tanan’s magic. In less than a minute, there was a roaring fire in the stove.
“I am impressed,” Ohlara said with a nod of her head. She reached under the counter and pulled out a large iron pan. She went to the shelves and selected a clay pot, carrying it back to the counter. Using a wooden spoon, she dug out some thick grease and plopped it into the pan, which she then placed on the stove.
She returned the pot to its place on the shelf.
“Doesn’t the grease go rancid?” asked Tanan.
“I’ve placed a temporal bubble around the pot,” Ohlara replied. “It’s frozen in time. I store all of my food that way.” She gestured to the multitude of wooden boxes on the shelves.
“You’re a double?” asked Tanan.
“Master of healing magic and temporal magic.” Ohlara made a slight bow. “At your service.”
“I would love to learn that spell,” Tanan said. “Would you teach it to me?”
Ohlara was pulling fish filets from the bowl of water and dragging them through her bowl of dry ingredients before placing them in the pan, causing the grease to pop and hiss.
“It’s a simple spell, Tanan. I’ll show you how to do it after lunch.”
After a few moments she changed the subject. “How do you plan to deal with the Komisan army?”
“When they attacked us at Jesera, I warned them. If they won’t go back to Komisan on their own, I may have to kill them. I don’t want to kill anyone, but I don’t think they’ll stop killing Lataki.”
“I spent fifty years on Komisan when I was young. There has always been fear and hatred of the Lataki, but things have changed now. I’m afraid you might be right.”
Ohlara slid fried fish out of her pan and onto plates using a wide wooden spoon. She put the plates on the table and sat down and looked at Tanan. “Sit, boy. Eat before it gets cold.”
• • •
Tanan had an enjoyable afternoon with Ohlara. The two went for a walk along the river and Ohlara talked about her years living on Komisan and the years she had spent teaching at Jesera. After leaving Jesera, she’d made the trip to the monastery in the Mestib Valley, north of the great desert.
They talked about magic, and Tanan offered to help Ohlara make a fire globe that she could use for light. They created the artifact together and Ohlara put it into a box on her shelf. She would use it for light in the winter when it got dark early.
That night, Tanan slept on the floor of her house and left the next morning after breakfast. Ohlara walked with him up the path to the gate. “You remember the password?” she asked.
“Exissis,” said Tanan and pulled the gate open. “Thank you, Ohlara. I hope to see you again soon.”
Ohlara’s beautifully wrinkled face smiled up at him. “The path ahead of you won’t be easy, but I know you’ll do what has to be done. May good fortune be your companion, Tanan.”
She turned and started back to her house. Tanan closed the gate and started walking.
Tanan walked for eighteen days after leaving Ohlara’s house. He walked through the days with the rejuvenation chant playing constantly through his head. There had been no sign of the Komisani army, but he knew he had to be in the area where they were operating by now.
It was starting to get dark. Tanan walked toward the highest hill he could see. There were no really tall hills on the eastern plains, but he wanted to be able to see as far as possible. As the sun set, he sat at the top of the hill and ate dried meat. He was running low. He was also running low on water now that he wasn’t following the river. It hadn’t rained in over a week either.
Tanan didn’t know how he was going to find the Komisani. The plains were seemingly endless and it would be easy for him to pass within a mile of them without ever knowing. He didn’t bother putting up his tent. He sat at the top of his hill under his protective bubble and went into a deep meditation.
The three-quarter moon was high overhead when his eyes popped open. He had an idea.
Tanan picked a spot, very high up in the sky, and started to push energy into it. He pulled energy from the air and earth around him and then pushed it into the ball of energy he was creating. After ten minutes the ball of energy began to glow, just slightly. Tanan was afraid it might discharge as lightening, but he hoped it was high enough that it wouldn’t. He kept pushing wave after wave of energy into it.
After half an hour, the ball of energy was glowing very brightly. It would be visible for miles around. Tanan closed his eyes and meditated.
• • •
When Tanan opened his eyes again, it was still dark. The moon had moved across the sky, but his ball of light was still burning brightly. He stood, stretched and looked around.
To the south of his position he saw a flash of light reflecting off of armor. There were five men walking toward him, maybe a half mile away. Tanan decided to wait for them. He had a drink of water and a piece of the dried meat while he watched them walk to him.
They were Komisani soldiers. As they got closer, they split up and kept walking, clearly intending to surround him. Tanan collapsed his protective bubble, replacing it with a tight field that hugged his body. The men were around him now, twenty feet out. Tanan closed his eyes and focused on the ball of energy high above, pulling it down toward the earth. A bolt of lightening flashed to the earth, very close to where they were standing. The sudden flash of light and immediate clap of thunder caused all of the men to jump.
Tanan opened his eyes and looked at the man who was in front of him.
“Come with us,” the man said. He was trying to speak with authority, but he was clearly nervous.
“Are you part of the Komisani army?” asked Tanan, ignoring the man’s order.
The man hesitated. “We’re the ones who will ask questions, Abbot. Come with us now.”
“Can you take me to the commander of the Komisani army?” Tanan asked, again ignoring the soldier’s demand.
“I told you to shut your mouth, Abbo…” The man stopped talking and stared as Tanan raised his arms and shot a plume of flame from each hand. Just the effect he was hoping for.
Tanan turned slightly to the left and faced the next man. “You will take me to the commander of the Komisani army.”
“Yes,” the man said without hesitation. “We will take you there right now.”
Tanan started walking in the direction the men had come from and they had to hurry to catch up to him. They fell into awkward positions, trying to surround him while staying out of his line of sight as much as possible.
The group walked for almost an hour. It was almost dawn when they reached the army encampment.
When they got close to the assembled army, the soldiers who had been escorting Tanan sprinted away from him and returned to the anonymity of the ranks.
Tanan stood looking at the formation of a thousand soldiers that had been hastily assembled as he had approached. There was a sound of steel on steel from the rear of the formation, like a sword being slapped against a shield. This was apparently a signal because there was a sudden flurry of crossbow bolts flying in his direction. Tanan looked from man to man in the wide front rank as bolts bounced and ricocheted off his protective field.
Tanan walked forward, addressing the first soldier he came to. “Bring your commander to me.”
The man sneered. He was about to tell Tanan to do it himself when a ball of flame burst into existence between his feet. The man jumped, scowled at Tanan for a moment and then jogged back through the ranks in search of his commander.
As Tanan waited, he walked down the rank of men. Most of the rank and file soldiers were not King’s Legion and wore various mismatched styles of armor. The one thing they all had in common was a look of disgust for Tanan. If looks could have harmed him, Tanan would have been dead on the spot.
Within a couple of minutes, a man came walking through the ranks toward him. The man wore full King’s Legion armor and he was older than the soldiers in the ranks. As the man moved through the ranks, soldiers started to move, relaying the order to spread out and form a circle around Tanan.
The finely armored man stopped ten feet from Tanan. “I am Captain Biklin. Surrender yourself and we will transport you to Komisan where you will stand trial for…”
Tanan cut him off. “Are you the Commander of this army?”
Biklin looked irritated. “No, I…”
A bolt of lightening struck the ground right behind Biklin, causing the man to jump and scream. Tanan, who had closed his eyes for the strike, breathed a quick sigh of relief. He hadn’t been completely sure he would be able to control the lightning bolt he had been preparing.
The lightening had blinded all of the soldiers and they were falling over each other as they scrambled to move away from where the lightning had struck. Tanan began to walk through the men, toward the back of the formation.
A group of men in Legion armor stood together, waiting for him to approach.
“Which of you is the Commander of this army?” asked Tanan, a hint of anger in his voice. He was done playing games with these people.
A tall, barrel chested man with closely cropped grey hair stepped forward, looking down his nose at Tanan. The man was the embodiment of authority and self-confidence.
“I am Commander Stows of the King’s Legion. Surrender yourself, Abbot, and you will receive a fair trial in Komisan.” When Stows said the word “Abbot”, he made it sound like a profanity.
Tanan was nearly as tall as Stows, but the Commander was making the most of his height to try to intimidate him. Tanan looked the Commander up and down casually, and then looked around at the army of men who had closed in around him.
Tanan spoke slowly and loud enough so that many of the soldiers could hear him. “Here’s my counter offer, Commander. Take your army back to Komisan and end your aggression. If the Komisani do this, there will be no further bloodshed. I will consider any other action a declaration of war. And if we are at war, Commander… I will show you no mercy.”
Stows laughed in Tanan’s face. A roar of laughter exploded from the army of men surrounding him.
“Kill this filthy pig,” said Stows and sneered at Tanan.
An ocean of chaos erupted around Tanan as men rushed him from every direction.
Tanan hadn’t expected anything else from Stows. These men were bloodthirsty and hateful.
Tanan sucked energy from the air around him and sent a burst of fire into Stows. The man’s chest exploded and a fountain of flames and blood burst from every gap in the man’s armor. The first men to reach Tanan were struck dead when they touched his protective field. Tanan unleashed streams of white hot flame into the crowd, igniting flesh, melting metal and burning men alive. Still, they surged forward to attack him, their lust for blood overwhelming their instinct for survival.
Within five minutes, Tanan was standing in the center of a charred circle of blood soaked earth. Most of the men had died attacking him, but Tanan had killed every man who tried to run as well. He had promised no mercy, and he had delivered on that promise.
After the battle, Tanan walked to the area where the army had been camped. He found three wagons filled with supplies. He replenished his food stores and filled his canteen from the army’s stores. He picked up a couple of extra canteens as well. There were three oxen in a makeshift pen. Tanan removed their harnesses and set them free and then picked up his gear and started walking west.
He walked a few miles and then set up camp, erected a protective bubble and slept through the rest of the day and night. Magic was draining. Even when Tanan channeled energy from around himself, it drained him And killing took a toll on him in a different way. He needed the sleep.
The next morning he started walking again. He had a lot of time to think as he walked. The Komisani soldiers had been so full of hatred. Even after they knew they couldn’t hurt him, they just kept attacking. He could still see soldiers stepping over burning bodies to get to him. These were not the Komisani he remembered from his childhood.
All the times Gowrand had told Tanan that the Komisani would have to be killed to be stopped, he had never really believed it. After what he had seen during the battle, he understood what Gowrand was talking about. The Abbots didn’t have the power or the will to do what Tanan had done. Tanan wasn’t sure he had the will to continue with this either. He just wanted it to end. Why wouldn’t Dannap just stop and let things go back to how they had been for hundreds of years? Tanan was tired of killing.
Tanan also knew that if the Komisani weren’t stopped, everyone he cared about would die. He couldn’t protect the Lataki and the Abbots both. Even if he just stayed at Jesera and let the Komisani murder all the Lataki, they would eventually come to Jesera again. He wouldn’t be able to stop them forever.
He walked across the plains for weeks, alone with his thoughts. He had learned that loneliness was a problem on the plains. All the weeks he’d spent walking alone through the grasslands was wearing on him. Tanan wondered if he shouldn’t have kept one of the soldiers alive just so he could have had someone to talk to.
When the mountains appeared on the horizon, he was so happy for the change in scenery that he could have cried. It took him another two days to reach the mountains. He had no idea where he was. He might have been north or south of where he wanted to be. He climbed into the mountains, having to backtrack several times when he found his path impassable.
He climbed to the top of the nearest peak and looked out across the sea. To the north of him, he could just see the hint of land on the horizon. He climbed out of the mountains and when he reached the shore he started walking north.
The afternoon of the next day he saw a figure on the beach, far ahead of him. He continued on and saw that there were several people and they were moving toward him. It was a King’s Legion patrol. The first people he had seen in weeks and he was going to have to kill them.
“Where are you coming from, Abbot?” asked one of the Legionnaires as they came within talking distance. The man had a look of disgust on his face.
“I just walked across the Lataki plains.”
The man looked to his companions. “Conspiring with the Lataki, I expect.”
“No,” said Tanan, holding up his hands for them to stop. “I was actually out there killing the entire Komisani army. You wouldn’t happen to have a boat that you could lend me, would you? I need to get to Komisan so I can kill your King.”
The three Legionnaires drew their swords and charged, intending to kill the unarmed Abbot easily. Instead, they dropped over dead as Tanan sent small explosions of fire into each man’s heart.
Tanan walked past the men and continued up the beach. There was a large grassy area just up the hill from the beach. There were about a hundred boats that had been pulled up into the grass and flipped over. Two large canvas tents stood to one side of the boats. There was a fire pit, ringed with rocks in front of the tents. The men had been there for a while, guarding the boats.
He checked the tents. One had three cots and the men’s gear. The other contained a cache of dried meat along with relatively fresh bread and tomatoes. His mouth started watering immediately at the sight of the food. He didn’t waste any time and dug in to the first fresh food he’d had since leaving Ohlara’s house. He gorged himself and then sat in the grass under a tree for the rest of the day enjoying the sensation of having a full stomach.
After his food settled, he walked back down the beach to the bodies of the men he had killed. One of the men was about Tanan’s size. He stripped off the man’s armor and clothing and carried it back up to the camp. He washed the man’s clothes in the ocean and then rinsed them with water from a large earthen jug at the campsite. He spread the clothes out on the hull of one of the overturned boats to dry overnight.
It was getting dark, so Tanan built a fire in the pit. He sat on the ground next to it and ate more of the tomatoes and bread. So much food made him tired so he went into the tent and laid down on one of the cots. There was a thin mattress on the cot. After months of sleeping on the hard ground, or meditating all night, the cot felt wonderful. He erected a protective dome over the tent and enjoyed the best sleep he’d had in months.
• • •
When Tanan woke up the next morning the clothes he had washed were still damp. He moved them to a sunny place so they would dry more quickly. He raided the food stocks again and had a nice, if somewhat less gluttonous meal.
He took a look at all the boats. They were lined up in neat, military rows. He picked one of the smaller ones, flipped it over and pulled it down the beach to the edge of the water. He stripped down and took a dip in the ocean, scrubbing himself, and his filthy robes clean using sand. It was the first bath he’d had since leaving Jesera and it felt great. He used water from the jug in the camp to rinse the salt off.
The clothes he’d taken from the dead soldier were dry and he put them on. He hauled the armor, along with the man’s sword and shield down to the boat. Then he packed some of the food and full canteens and put them into the boat. He transferred his things from his pack into one of the soldier’s packs and threw it into the boat too.
He went into the tent where all the food was stored and piled everything together in the center and covered it with a wool blanket. Using the magic he’d learned from Ohlara, he created a bubble of frozen time around the pile. He wrung out his wet Abbots cassock and hung it in the door of the tent to dry.
Tanan stepped away from the tent and attempted something new. He’d only ever created a protective bubble around himself, but he thought that by modifying the spell he’d learned from Ohlara, he might be able to put up a bubble around the tent. After a few attempts, he was able to toss a handful of sand at the tent and see it hit the invisible barrier. He didn’t know how long the bubble would last, but if he came back this way, hopefully there would be food and shelter waiting for him.
Tanan walked down to the beach and pushed the boat into the water and climbed in. He got everything situated and then picked up the oars and started rowing toward the island of Komisan.
Tanan had made this trip twice before. The first time had been as an infant after Anin had found him on the beach next to his dying Lataki father. The second time was when he was eleven years old and fleeing Komisan after accidentally killing the Constable of Port Billen. This time he was going to Komisan to confront King Dannap and, hopefully, convince the man once and for all to stop waging war on the Lataki and the Abbots.
He was rowing for Port Billen. Tanan hoped that nobody in the village would recognize him. It had been nine years and he was no longer the skinny boy he’d been. He hoped to pass as a King Legion soldier. He rowed hard, chanting the rejuvenation melody in his head as he pulled on the oars. He stopped a few times to drink water, and once to eat and rest.
It was getting dark by the time he saw the lights of Port Billen over the water. That suited him because he didn’t want to be seen by the fisherman who would be coming in at dusk. He altered his course and aimed for a beach a few miles up the coast from Port Billen.
When he reached the beach it was dark and he was lucky enough that he hadn’t been spotted by any of the Legion patrols. He pulled his boat up the beach and flipped it over behind a large bunch of bushes, then kicked sand around the beach to try and obscure the marks the boat had made.
Tanan sat on the overturned boat and ate what was left of the bread and tomatoes before setting off for Port Billen.
• • •
It was late when Tanan arrived in the village where he had spent his childhood. The street was deserted, so Tanan walked down to the town square. It was smaller than he remembered. He walked over to see the bench where he had spent so many hours talking to Jelak. The bench had been removed.
The area down by the docks had completely changed. A third dock had been built and it extended farther into the water than the two old docks. There were half a dozen boats being built near the docks, and dozens of finished boats lined the docks. A single soldier was walking around, obviously on guard duty.
It was time for Tanan to test his disguise. He walked down to the docks and toward the soldier. As he approached, the man stopped and saluted. “Lieutenant!” Apparently the man Tanan had taken this armor from had been a Lieutenant.
“At ease,” Tanan said. “How are things coming along?”
“Uh, very well, sir.” The soldier was young and looked very uncomfortable. “I can take you to Captain Jonel if you’d like, sir.”
Tanan tried to look mean. “If I wanted to talk to Captain Jonel, I’d go talk to Captain Jonel, wouldn’t I? Now, do you know when these boats are going to be finished, or are you too stupid to answer even the simplest of questions?”
The poor kid looked like he might soil his armor. “No, sir. I mean to say, yes sir. I think all of the boats will be finished in two months, sir. I’m sure everything will be finished in time, sir.”
Tanan nodded. “The next time an officer asks you a question, don’t make him ask it twice. Dismissed.”
The soldier saluted and quickly walked away from Tanan.
A drunk soldier came out of the Rusty Hook, belched loudly, and staggered up the hill in the opposite direction from Tanan. Tanan walked over to the Hook and hesitated a moment before going in. If he was going to be recognized, this would be the place it happened.
He steeled himself and pulled the door open. There were a dozen soldiers seated around the tables, drinking and joking. Tanan walked over to the bar and sat down. The barmaid came over, “What’ll it be, hon?” Tanan recognized this woman. It was Pemmy.
“Beer,” Tanan said. In his mind he sounded like an eleven year old boy. He knew Pemmy was going to recognize him. Pemmy hadn’t even looked at him. She turned and walked down the bar and poured him a mug of beer. Tanan dug into his pocket for some of the money he’d pulled from the dead soldiers. He had no idea how much beer cost. He took a wild guess and pulled out a silver coin with seven sides on it and laid it on the bar. Pemmy returned with the beer and the coin disappeared. Close enough, he guessed.
Tanan took a sip of the beer and lowered his head trying to be inconspicuous. He drank the beer slowly and listened to the conversations happening at the tables behind him. He learned that the Komisani were preparing for another, larger attack on Jesera. Tanan guessed that’s what all the new boats were for.
It sounded like Port Billen wasn’t the only village involved. There was a lot of talk about “the war effort”. Apparently every town and village on the eastern end of the island was building a fleet of boats to ferry soldiers and supplies to the mainland.
Tanan also learned that two full armies were already on the mainland. He’d known about one, but hearing that there was a second army came as a shock. There was no way he could have known about the second army, he just hoped they weren’t attacking Jesera.
Another man came into the tavern and sat at the bar, three barstools down from Tanan.
“Pemmy!” said the man, too loudly. Tanan looked at the man out of the corner of his eye and saw that the man was already drunk.
“Pemmy!” the man said again. “Gimme the good stuff!”
Pemmy came out of the kitchen and stood across from the man. “Show me some money,” she said.
The man looked around and, seeing Tanan, staggered down the bar. “This young soldier will buy me a drink, won’t ya, buddy?”
Tanan looked up at the man and recognized him right away. It was his old friend Pessup. He had spent many days on Pessup’s fishing boat. This was not good.
“Leave me alone,” Tanan said, trying to sound gruff.
“Aw, c’mon buddy!”, Pessup bellowed in his face. “Let’s drink a toast to ten thousand dead Lataki!”
The soldiers at the tables were watching now.
Pessup’s face screwed up as he started at Tanan. “Hey, you know who you look like? You look like that killin’ bastard Tanan!”
There was a chorus of “ooh’s” from the tables behind him. Apparently, Tanan had just been insulted. He decided to use that to his advantage.
Tanan stood up and pulled the sword from the scabbard on his hip, placing the tip on Pessup’s chest. Pessup backed up and Tanan followed the drunk man. When Pessup was standing with his back to the wall Tanan moved the sword up and held it to the man’s throat.
“You ought to be more careful what you say to a King’s Legion man, mister. If you were sober, I’d kill you where you stand.”
Pessup sputtered an incoherent apology.
“Go home,” said Tanan. He stared down Pessup for a moment before sheathing his sword and returning to his barstool.
There was a roar of laughter from the seated soldiers as they realized Pessup had pissed himself. Pemmy pushed Pessup out the door and told him to go home and sleep it off. One of the men at the tables shouted over the laughter, “Nice one, Lieutenant!”
Tanan sat down and resisted the urge to run out of the tavern. He ignored the men at the tables and finished his beer and then left.
He’d left his pack stashed behind a house a little up the street and he retrieved it before heading up the hill. Tanan wanted to get out of town before he ran into anyone else he knew. When he reached the top of the hill, he was sad to see that the Abbey was no longer there. The burned ruins had been torn down and in its place was a King’s Legion encampment.
Tanan walked a mile up the road and then a quarter mile into the woods, set up his tent and his protective bubble and went to sleep.
Tanan was up early and heading for Yants Bay. The road between Port Billen and Yants Bay was really just a wide path through the woods. Once each year, a crew of men would walk the road and cut tree limbs and brush. He reached a fork in the road late in the afternoon. To the left was Sothport and to the right was Yants Bay.
At the junction, there was a large clearing that was commonly used as a campsite for travelers. Tanan thought it would have been a smart place for someone to build an inn or a restaurant, but for one reason or another nobody had ever done it. A small garrison of King’s Legion had set up camp in the clearing. Tanan had no intention of camping near them, so he took the fork to the right and kept going toward Yants Bay.
He spent another night camping in the woods and arrived in Yants Bay early the next day. The military presence wasn’t heavy, but the boat construction was going just as strong. He spent an hour chatting up random locals. The only thing people were talking about was the war effort. People were convinced that the Lataki were a problem that had to be dealt with and the overwhelming opinion was that the world would be better once the Lataki were removed from it.
Tanan also learned that the use of magic had been completely banned on Komisan and ‘Abbot’ was a dirty word. The former doctor in Yants Bay had been a little too outspoken with his opinion that magic, in and of itself, wasn’t a bad thing. People who had been his patients for years hung him by the neck from a tree for that opinion. The doctor’s entire family disappeared the next day and nobody was sure if they had just left town or if they were taking up space in a shallow grave.
One thing Tanan was sure of was that the people of Yants Bay had changed dramatically in the ten years since he had last visited the village with his father.
That night he booked a room in the local Inn. He enjoyed a hot bath and a good meal before slipping into the comfortable bed. It was probably unnecessary, but Tanan put up his protective bubble before he went to sleep.
• • •
From Yants Bay to Cosh’s Springs was a good three day trip over low mountains. The eastern and western sides of Komisan were almost like two different countries. The east side was more rural and often looked down on by the westerners, who thought of easterners as uncultured and uneducated.
The western half of the island was more developed and more densely populated. Before the ramp up to war, the only regular travelers between the two halves of the island were merchants with ox carts full of food and other goods. When Tanan had been a boy in Port Billen, he’d never heard of anyone from Port Billen traveling any farther west than Yants Bay. The trip from Port Billen to the capitol city of Panna was a week’s journey on foot.
An ox cart stacked high with crates of vegetables, and driven by an obese man, overtook him a dozen miles west of Yants Bay. The man offered to give Tanan a ride. Tanan gladly accepted the offer and climbed up next to the man.
“Got to help the war effort!” the man exclaimed. Tanan and his tired feet were grateful for the ride, regardless of the man’s reason for offering.
“Name’s Lodd,” the man said. “What’s your name, son?”
“Lieutenant Howt,” Tanan lied.
“Glad for the company, Lieutenant. This trip gets awfully boring, you know.”
The man was enamored by his own voice. Tanan rarely had to interject more than the occasional, “yeah?” or “really!” to keep the man going. This wouldn’t have been bad if not for the fact that Lodd was a disgusting man. Tanan had never met anyone who farted as frequently and loudly as this man.
Every half hour or so, Lodd would dig into a box behind the seat and produce something to eat, usually chicken that had been fried in fat and wrapped in greasy paper. Lodd offered to share and Tanan politely declined each time.
What Tanan couldn’t comprehend was, as disgusting as the man was, he bragged at length that he had a wife and six children in Cosh’s Springs on the West side of the mountains and another wife and three kids in Yants Bay. He would spend a day or two with each family at each end of his route. Tanan couldn’t imagine how this foul man had managed to attract even one wife, much less two of them. The ox pulling the cart was more pleasant than Lodd.
They were moving faster on the cart than Tanan could walk and by midday they had reached a place where the road split off toward the mountain town of Istra. When they reached the fork, Lodd stopped the cart and climbed down. Tanan climbed off the cart too and turned around to see Lodd squatting, not a yard off the road, to deposit a generous portion of digested chicken into the grass.
Tanan retched at the sight. It took all his will not to vomit. Instead, he started down the road toward Istra, raising his hand to wave and calling back over his shoulder, “Thanks for the ride, Lodd! Give my best to your wives!”
He jogged a quarter mile down the road toward Istra. His grandfather had always told him, “It takes all kind of people to fill up the world.” Tanan was pretty sure he had just met the foulest of those people. The thought of Lodd squatting on the side of the road made him retch again. Tanan didn’t want to risk running into Lodd again, so he decided to rest for an hour before walking back up to the main road.
Tanan cut through the woods to get back on the main road toward Cosh’s Springs. Several ox carts passed him, but he chose just to walk. Sometimes solitude could be a good thing.
He crossed the summit of the mountain pass that evening and spent another night sleeping in the woods before continuing on to Cosh’s Springs the next morning.
As he got closer to town, the landscape changed. The forest was replaced by wide expanses of rocky pastures full of cows and sheep. Cosh’s Springs was a glorified wide spot in the road. There were a few restaurants and taverns along the road and two streets crossed it. There were several shops that dealt in leather goods and a large cattle yard at the edge of town.
Tanan stopped at a place called The Wretched Wench for an early lunch. It was a dirty place, but the food was good and inexpensive. He ordered a steak and it came smothered in beans, which was the local custom.
He listened to the conversations of the few other people in the tavern. Most of the talk revolved around the cattle business, which was in the middle of a boom thanks to the war effort. There was a huge demand for dried meat. The Legion boys had to eat, and Cosh’s Springs was doing their best to supply them. Like in the other towns he had visited, the people here supported the war and wanted nothing more than to see the Lataki wiped from the face of the earth. The rhetoric in Cosh’s Springs bordered on fanatical.
Tanan left Cosh’s Springs and followed the road around Lake Larin. The lake was to his left, and the right side of the road was a series of King’s Legion training camps. As he got closer to the town of Larin, the amount of Legionnaires on the road skyrocketed. He blended in well enough that nobody bothered him.
Larin looked like a brand new town. There were taverns lining both sides of the road and a large King’s Legion building had been erected right in town. The road was virtually swarming with soldiers, most of which looked like they should be sitting in a school room pulling pigtails instead of wearing military uniforms and carrying swords. Tanan overheard much boasting about how many Lataki each boy would kill once they reached the mainland.
Tanan walked right through Larin. From Larin to Panna was about a two hour walk, but there were plenty of shops and homes along the way. As he got closer to Panna the buildings got closer and closer together until Tanan realized that the city had crept up around him. He had never seen so many buildings so close together, and most of them were two levels. None of the structures were as impressive as the tower at Jesera with its marble walls, but there was no contest when it came to sheer numbers of people.
The streets of Panna made no sense to Tanan. They seemed to angle off in random directions. He asked several times for directions to the Royal Palace. He wondered what the people would think if they knew they were giving the infamous Tanan directions to the palace so he could kill their king.
Tanan discovered that the street he’d followed into the city eventually crossed a very wide and straight avenue that would lead him straight to the front gates of the Royal Palace.
The Royal Palace was a wide building of grey stone, surrounded by expansive lawns. There was an ornate iron gate blocking a wide cobblestone path that lead right up to the palace. Tanan thought the palace was unimpressive. As a boy, he had imagined the Royal Palace would be much grander. This was oddly disappointing.
The gates were closed, but there was a smaller gate off to the left side of the main one. A group of King’s Legion with shiny gold armor were stationed around the gate. People were coming and going through that gate. Some of them walked in completely ignoring the guards, but most were stopped and required to show papers before being allowed to pass. Some were turned away.
Tanan loitered around across the street from the gate for half an hour watching people come and go. He waited until a large group of King’s Legion approached the gate and slipped up behind them. As he approached the gate he started gathering and compressing magical energy.
It was his turn at the gate. “Lieutenant Howt to see the Commander.”
As the guard asked to see paperwork authorizing him to enter the palace grounds, Tanan unleashed a massive fireball on the second story of the building across the street. Everyone, including him, jumped and turned to look at the spot where the explosion had just happened.
Another ball of flame exploded across the wide street, near another building. There was instant chaos in the street. Everyone at the gate crowded backward into the royal grounds and one of the guards slammed the gate shut.
Tanan sent another ball of fire twenty feet above himself, right on top of the guard tower. Everyone scattered. Tanan followed a group of King’s Legion that were running toward the palace, which was also in chaos. When the group entered the palace, he broke away.
Tanan spotted a low ranking soldier and ran up to him, “Take me to the Legion Commander, right now!”
The soldier, who looked relieved to be given an order in the midst of the chaos said a quick, “Yes, Sir” and took off down a hallway with Tanan in tow. When the young soldier stopped in front of a door and gestured, Tanan told him to go back and see if anyone needed help. The soldier left at a run.
Tanan took a moment to catch his breath and then stepped through the door. There were several people sitting at desks in the room. One of them, a pretty red haired woman, looked up at him and said, “What can I do for you, Lieutenant?”
“I’m Lieutenant Howt. I’ve just come from Port Billen with an urgent message for the Commander.”
“What’s the message?”
Tanan tried his best to look uncomfortable. “I was ordered to deliver it only to the Commander.” He shrugged. “I don’t want to get into trouble.”
The woman stood up from her desk. “Just a moment,” she said. She walked to the back of the room, knocked lightly on a door and then leaned in. After a moment she beckoned Tanan over. “The Commander will see you,” she said.
Tanan walked into the room and the woman closed the door behind him. He stood there looking at Commander Brakkas as the man shuffled through a pile of papers.
“I’m busy son,” said Brakkas without looking up. “What’s your message?”
Tanan moved closer to the desk. Brakkas looked up and turned as white as the paper in his hands. Tanan held a finger up to his lips and whispered, “Don’t make a sound, Commander.”
Tanan sat in one of the chairs in front of Brakkas’ desk. “I sent a message with you. Did you deliver my message to your king?”
“I delivered your message. He almost had me executed for it.”
Tanan leaned forward. “It’s too bad your king didn’t take my warning seriously.”
Brakkas nodded his head nervously in agreement.
Tanan stood up. “You and I are going to have a word with Dannap right now. My name is Lieutenant Howt, and I have information from Port Billen that the king needs to hear immediately. Do you understand?”
Brakkas said that he understood and started toward the door, looking like a condemned man.
“Commander,” said Tanan. “Pull yourself together. The lives of all the people in this building depend on you delivering me to your king without raising any alarms. I believe that Dannap and I can find a solution to our problem, Commander. Nobody needs to die today.”
Brakkas straightened himself up, squared his shoulders and said, “Follow me.”
Tanan followed Brakkas from the room, through the outer office and down a series of halls. They came to a large set of doors. There were guards on either side of the doors. Brakkas addressed one of them, “Get Nim”.
One of the guards slipped through the doors and returned with a very short man a minute later.
“Nim,” said Brakkas, “I have urgent news for the King.”
Nim nodded and passed back through the doors. Brakkas and Tanan followed the man into Dannap’s very large throne room. He led them to a door at the far end of the room, behind the throne.
Brakkas motioned for Tanan to wait as Nim went through the door. Several minutes later he returned and escorted them through the door, bowing slightly as they passed him.
When Tanan and Brakkas entered the king’s private chambers, Dannap was standing at a window looking over the palace grounds. There was another man sitting in a large chair next to the fireplace. Two King’s Legion men in golden armor stood at the far end of the room.
Dannap turned as they walked into the room.
“Your majesty,” said Brakkas with a slight bow. “This is Tanan.”
Dannap gave Tanan a sarcastic smile. “So this is the person that murdered my brother and threatened to reduce me to ash. I’ve been expecting you.”
Tanan suddenly realized that something was very wrong. He couldn’t move. He felt as if he were being squeezed inside an invisible tube. He tried to summon energy from the air around him and couldn’t. Somehow, the magical restraint was blocking it. When he summoned fire in his belly, he couldn’t push it past the invisible barrier either. Tanan was helpless inside the magical restraint. He took the precaution of erecting a protective field of his own.
The seated man began to laugh softly. Tanan looked at the man, who was giving him a sickly sweet smile. “Poor boy. Magic isn’t as much fun when it’s being used on you, is it?”
Dannap crossed the room to stand in front of Tanan and gloat. “Did you really believe that you could walk into the Royal Palace without me knowing? And did you think I would be defenseless against your magic? I am the king of Komisan, boy.”
The King gestured to the seated man. “This is my aide, Zasin.” The bald man smiled his saccharine smile again. “Abbots are not the only people in the world gifted with magic. Unlike you traitorous Abbots, Zasin is loyal to his King and his country.”
“But,” he continued, “a Lataki wouldn’t know anything about loyalty, would you?”
“Dannap,” said Tanan, “you have the power to stop this. I defeated your army at Jesera and offered you a way out. The Lataki pose no threat to Komisan, and the Abbots have left your island. There is no need for this war. What do you have to gain from this?”
Dannap turned on Tanan, his eyes flashing with rage. “You murdered my brother! Do you think you can murder the King’s brother and go unpunished, Lataki?”
“Killing me won’t bring your brother back, Dannap. But if it will end your war, kill me and be done with it!”
Dannap got close to Tanan and whispered, “It’s not you that I’m going to kill.” He turned to the guards at the end of the room. “Bring him in.”
One guard left the room and returned dragging an emaciated man by the arm. He shoved the man to the floor between Dannap and Zasin, then returned to his post.
The man looked up at Tanan. It was Soama. His eyes were sunken and bruised. His entire body was covered with old and fresh bruises.
“You took my brother from me, Lataki. Now you can watch while I take away someone you love.”
The king drew a gold plated sword from the scabbard on his hip and looked down at Soama.
Tanan shouted, “You took my father from me! You took my grandfather, and you took Jelak! You’ve had your revenge, Dannap.”
Dannap wheeled around, face to face with Tanan. There was madness in his eyes. “I will take everyone from you, boy. Everything you love will die.” He turned back toward Soama for a moment and then back to Tanan. “You threatened to turn me to ash? I will turn your entire world to ash! The Komisani will burn your world to ash and every Abbot and every Lataki will burn with it. We know about your monasteries. We know about all of them. Thirteen armies will leave this island within ten days and there is nothing you can do to stop them.”
Tanan cursed himself for being stupid enough to walk into this trap. Brakkas stared at Tanan with utter loathing, and Zasin smiled his cloying smile.
Dannap looked down at Soama, who was curled up on the floor. “I will give you one thing that you never gave me. You still have time to say goodbye to this pathetic old man before I cut out his heart.”
Soama lifted his head weakly and looked into Tanan’s eyes. Through cracked and bloody lips he whispered, “Kill them all.” Soama’s skeletal hand shot out and grabbed Zasin around the ankle. With a touch, Soama violently drew every bit of energy from Zasin as Dannap’s golden blade drove through Soama’s back, piercing his heart.
Something inside Tanan changed in that moment. He was free. Free to move, and free to do what needed to be done. The Komisani were finished, Tanan knew that before Dannap pulled the golden blade from Soama’s dead body. Tanan, enraged, channeled so much energy through his body that he couldn’t control it. A pulse of white hot energy emanated from his body, blasting everything and everyone away from him and blowing out the room’s windows and doors. He stood in the center of the room with his head down and his eyes closed, as a vortex of flames whipped around him, cleansing the room with fire. When he was finished, sparks and dark smoke swirled around him.
“Kill them all,” Soama had said to him. “Kill them all.”
• • •
Tanan left the room. The door he had come in through had been blown off its hinges and was on fire. Guards were running into the throne room and Tanan dispatched them with a thought, engulfing them in flames. He stormed out of the Palace, burning anyone who got in his way.
When he reached the iron gates at the edge of the grounds of the palace, he created a protective bubble around himself and expanded it so fast that it blew the gates open and left them hanging at wrong angles.
He turned back toward the palace and closed his eyes. Again, he channeled massive amounts of energy from the air and earth around himself. He sent wave after wave of fire into the palace creating a fire so hot that some of the stone blocks were glowing red and growing soft under the weight of the structure above. When the palace collapsed in on itself, Tanan turned and walked away.
Tanan walked through Panna, retracing the route he had taken when he entered the city. The area around the palace was in chaos as people ran to see the destruction he had caused.
A platoon of King’s Legion soldiers attempted to arrest him and it did not end well for them. A large number of people saw him kill the platoon of men, and that became a problem. When a mob began to form around him, Tanan was afraid they might overwhelm him with sheer numbers. They began to hurl insults at him, along with rocks, bottles and anything else they could pick up.
The world froze around Tanan. He created a bubble of fast time around himself and started to walk. He had meditated in a bubble like this many times, but never had he attempted to move the bubble. He was able to move, but it felt similar to walking through waist-high water. Tanan needed to get off the island quickly, and even if this were difficult, it was going to have to work.
• • •
To the mob that had gathered around Tanan, he was simply there one moment and the next moment he was gone. Another platoon of Legionnaires arrived on the scene and attempted to disperse the mob only to find themselves under attack. The mob turned their attention to the people who had failed to protect them and began to throw their rocks and bottles at the Legionnaires. Within minutes the area around the ruined palace became a full scale riot.
• • •
Tanan was tired. He had done a lot of walking before arriving at the palace. Channeling energy through his body always left him feeling a bit worn out and jittery. The energy he channeled while in the palace had been more than he knew he could even handle. Tanan was drained, but he had to keep moving. He had thirteen armies to stop and there was only one way he could do it. And time was a factor.
He pushed on, moving through the people of Panna as if they were statues. He found the road that would take him back out of town and kept walking until he was out of the city. He walked through the town of Larin and past the huge army training camp. When he reached Cosh’s Springs, he stopped walking and dropped his bubble of fast time.
Tanan went into The Wretched Wench and ordered food. He needed to eat, and rest. He had another steak smothered in beans and fried potatoes. The walk to Port Billen was going to take another five days and he had lost his pack at the royal palace.
He left the tavern and walked back toward the lake to the first of the large army training camps. It took him twenty minutes to find the supply building, which was one of the few wood constructed buildings in a sea of tents. The supply master didn’t want to give Tanan a new canteen without the proper requisition form. Tanan took out a handful of the money he had left and dropped it on the counter in front of the supply master. It was about two month’s Legionnaire pay.
The supply master took a look at the coins, smiled and asked, “How many canteens did you want?”
“Three,” said Tanan, “full. And some dried beef if you have it.”
The money disappeared and Tanan walked out of the supply building with three full canteens, a new pack and enough dried beef for several weeks.
As he walked through the camp, he realized there was a commotion. A soldier ran past him, stopped and ran back, saluted him and said, “The Royal Palace has been attacked, sir. Everyone is supposed to report to their units. We’re at war!” The soldier ran off.
There would be no time for Tanan to rest.
He slipped into fast time and started walking.
• • •
Tanan slogged through the next thirty-six hours in his fast time bubble, moving steadily to the East. He removed and abandoned the heavy armor and sword almost immediately. By the time he crossed over the mountains and reached Yants Bay, he was fighting to remain conscious. He had to stop and rest and he didn’t think he could maintain his fast time bubble while he slept.
As he had walked, time around him continued to move, but very slowly in relation to him. He’d left Cosh’s Springs late in the evening, and it was now after dark He dropped his time bubble as he entered Yants Bay. People were asleep and the town was quiet.
Tanan walked down to the docks where the boat construction was happening and walked right up to the young soldier who was on guard duty.
The soldier started to challenge him, and Tanan just held up his hand for the young man to stop. Tanan pulled out the rest of the coins in his pocket and held them out.
“I need a quiet spot to sleep,” Tanan said. “I’ll give you half of this now and other half if you wake me up an hour before sunrise.”
The soldier looked at the money, then pointed toward a building, a little away from the area he was guarding. “You can sleep there, but not down here.”
Tanan nodded, counted out half of the coins and gave them to the soldier. “An hour before the sun comes up,” he said again and then went and laid down next to the building the soldier had pointed at. He barely remembered to summon his protective bubble before he fell asleep.
• • •
Someone was shouting. “What the hell is this?”
It was nearly morning. The soldier attempted to shake Tanan to wake him and encountered the protective bubble instead. And now he was raising the alarm. Tanan sat up and looked at the soldier, who was yelling, trying to summon more soldiers. He jumped up and dropped his protective bubble, and then shoved the soldier as hard as he could, knocking the man down.
Tanan summoned his fast time bubble and stood for a moment, allowing himself to fully wake up. He was still tired, but the sleep had helped. He grabbed his gear and left the frozen form of the shocked soldier sitting on the ground, wide-eyed and frozen.
Tanan made it to Port Billen in sixteen hours. About thirty minutes had gone by outside the bubble and the sky was starting to show signs of dawn. Tanan went straight to the docks, walked past a few men who had arrived early to begin their work. There was a small boat tied to the dock. He dropped the fast time bubble, dropped his gear into the boat, untied it and climbed down into it.
Tanan pushed away from the dock and started rowing. The men at the docks didn’t seem to pay any attention to him, which suited him just fine. He tried forming a fast time bubble around the boat, but it was impossible to move the boat through the water so he dropped it and just rowed.
To Tanan it had been days since he had killed Dannap and burned down the palace. He estimated that it must have been about twelve hours in real time The King was dead along with the Commander of the King’s Legion, but there were thirteen army commanders and tens of thousands of soldiers on Komisan. Tanan didn’t know what they would do, but he was pretty sure they weren’t going to abandon their plans. If anything, they would be moving forward with them more urgently.
Tanan rowed hard, using his replenishment chant to push his body beyond its normal limits. He couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t been tired. He wanted nothing more than to sleep.
Before he could sleep, though, he had to end this.
Tanan arrived on the mainland just a half mile from the camp where he had killed the boat guards. He was so tired he just climbed out of the boat and let it drift. When he stumbled into the camp, he was exhausted. The world was a blur. He couldn’t put it off any longer, he had to sleep.
His protective bubble was still in place over the tent. Tanan removed the bubble and went into the tent. He collapsed onto a cot, summoned a large protective bubble around the tent and slept.
• • •
When he woke, it was morning. He didn’t know how long he’d slept, but he was hungry. His null time bubble had kept the food fresh, so he ate his fill. He stripped off the King’s Legion clothing, threw them into the fire pit and set them on fire. After a quick dip in the ocean he put on his Abbot’s cassock.
It was time.
Tanan sat cross legged on the beach and looked out over the water. He created a protective bubble around himself and then closed his eyes. He entered a fast time state and began to meditate, eventually entering a state of deep meditation.
After a time, he felt his consciousness separate from his body. He was acutely aware of the energy in the air around him. He could feel the tremendous power of the sea.
Tanan’s consciousness floated up and looked down at his body on the beach below. He moved higher and higher, to where the energy in the air became a cold nothing. He looked at the world curving below him, a mix of water and land. Plains and desert. It was beautiful.
Komisan sat in the water between two large masses of land. He dove for the center of the large island and into the earth. Tanan slipped through solid rock and kept going down and down until the rock turned to liquid fire. The energy in this churning world of molten earth was tremendous. Tanan spread himself across the energy, absorbing it until he became one with the fire.
And then he began to slide upward, between the cracks in the rocks, pushing into the tight spaces, melting solid rock and absorbing it into himself. He was a serpent of molten fire, slithering upward between the layers, throwing aside solid rock, dissolving it, making it part of himself.
He was close to the surface now. The earth stirred and shook as he slithered beneath it. He heard Soama’s voice whispering to him, “Kill them all. Kill them all. Kill them all.” He saw his father’s dead body on the ground, with the crossbow bolt in his eye. He saw his grandfather being cut down by faceless soldiers.
• • •
Komisan trembled. Cracks appeared in the ground all over the island. The earth heaved and buckled. The low range of mountains that crossed the island crumbled. And then the earth split and hell exploded out of the opening. A rolling shockwave of heat and ash rolled across the island of Komisan, flattening trees, buildings and people. Liquid rock erupted from the opening and rained down fire on every town, village and forest across Komisan. A cloud of ash and poison gas spread across the land and into the sky.
• • •
Abbots at Jesera, and the few remaining Lataki tribes on the plains felt the earth quake and saw the black cloud climb into the sky over Komisan. The thousand men of the second mainland Komisani army stood on the beach, twenty miles north of Tanan’s empty vessel, and watched as Komisan erupted, and then collapsed in on itself and sank into the sea.
Tanan’s eyes snapped open. The ground was shaking violently. Across the sea, a plume of ash was climbing into the sky over Komisan. He stumbled to his feet and watched as the silhouette of Komisan, hazy across the sea, began to collapse in upon itself.
He stood on the beach with tears streaming down his face, watching the destruction he had caused.
And then the sea started to pull back from the beach, leaving the sand and rock exposed far from the shore.
The earth was still shuddering when Tanan saw the water coming back. A roiling wall of water was speeding toward the beach. It was moving impossibly fast. Tanan was filled with terror as he watched the water bear down on him.
He ran up the beach and grabbed his pack and his canteens from the tent. There was no place for him to go, no place he could run.
Tanan created a protective bubble around himself, pulling energy from the air around himself to fortify it. The water slammed into Tanan’s bubble and sent him tumbling violently away from the shoreline. He knew he was going to die.
After what seemed like an eternity, the violence stopped. Tanan realized he had been screaming. The water had carried him miles inland and deposited him in a large outcropping of rocks in the foothills of the mountains that ran along the shoreline. All around him were trees and other vegetation that had been torn from the ground and carried in the water.
Tanan uncurled himself and lay quietly inside his protective bubble, sobbing, trying to slow his breathing and calm himself. He was sore from being tumbled, but he didn't think anything was broken.
He let his protective bubble go and climbed to the top of the rocks. The water was receding. Tanan wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his cassock. He thought it would be wise to get to higher ground in case another wave came.
Tanan camped on the side of the mountain for two days, resting and staring at the sea where Komisan had been. He slept. His body healed, but he didn’t know if he would ever recover from what he had done.
When he finally climbed down from his rocky camp, he walked north along the beach. He would travel to Jesera. Hopefully the second Lataki army hadn’t already been there.
When he discovered some of the army’s equipment on the beach to the north, he investigated further inland and found bodies of Komisani soldiers that had been caught in the wave. The second army. Tanan knew there could have been no survivors.
• • •
Tanan didn’t have to go to Jesera. Not yet. He would visit Ohlara. He wasn’t ready to face Figis, and he didn’t want the attention he would get among the other Abbots anyway.
After a month with Ohlara, Tanan was feeling better. The old Abbot was wise, and their long talks helped Tanan come to terms with what he had done. He knew that he would never forget what he had done, but that one day his wounds would heal.
• • •
Jesera was as he had left it. His arrival in the valley created a stir. Everyone wanted to know what had happened. And when the story had been told, faces changed. People he had known for years became distant.
Figis was happy to see Tanan, but visibly saddened by the news he brought.
“What else could I have done, Figis?” Tanan asked.
Figis didn’t have an answer, but Tanan couldn’t stand to see the look of disappointment on his face.
After two days at Jesera, Tanan packed the things he wanted to keep, the blue book his grandfather had given him. A couple of books that had belonged to his father, and Soama. The rest of his possessions, he gave away or traded to a farmer friend he knew for some non-Abbot clothes.
It was time for Tanan to leave. He said goodbye to Figis, and the rest of his friends at Jesera. He would travel far to the east, maybe to find the Surani, maybe farther.
Tanan’s life as an Abbot of Jesera was over. It was time for him to find a new place in the world and begin a second life.
Andrew Riley lives in central Illinois with his beautiful wife, handsome son, two dogs and three arrogant cats who refuse to carry his mail. He has eaten Kangaroo in Australia, crossed Bulgaria by taxi, and bathed in a Korean bathhouse, which is not as exciting as you might think. The First Life of Tanan is his debut novel. You can connect with him online at andrewriley.net
Writing a novel is a lot of work. After writing The First Life of Tanan, I think I have a better understanding for what a collaborative endeavor it really is. I owe a heartfelt thanks to Aaron, Duane and Doug for reading my first draft and giving me the kind of critiques that made this book, hopefully, readable. Sara and Trudy were my awesome proofreaders. If there are any spelling errors in this book, it’s only because I couldn’t stop editing pages after you’d fixed everything. Thank you to Alicia and Sally (and all the kids who sent me artwork) for giving me a beautiful first-edition cover. Thank you Matt for forcing me to revise the final cover art until it was right. The people who read my first draft as I posted it every day, you kept me energized to keep writing and eventually win my first National Novel Writing Month. A super-mega thank you to my wife and best friend, Anita, for encouraging me, listening to me while I talked out story lines and for editing this mess. Maybe I could have done this without you, but I probably wouldn’t have. And finally, thank you to everyone who reads this. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.