by Nick Queen
This is a rough first chapter to a book that I am one day hoping to finish.
The dust of the road littered the ends of his robe, and Cullon was convinced it weighed him down. It did not help that his master rarely stopped to rest, which he did not understand. He at first wondered why a man as old as Ranslor was tasked with the weaving of an area as distant as the Outlands. Now he found himself wondering how someone so old was outpacing him. He figured he’d need to drag Ranslor back half-dead before they left.
He now was sixteen years old, and on his final apprentice weaving. He still remembered beginning his studies, especially learning the methods that grew out of centuries of perfection, and most of all when he took his oath. His first few weavings he stayed in Lonistra Proper, but now he was as far from the capital as he ever wished to be.
Ranslor came to a sudden stop and swiveled on his sandaled feet. He gazed levelly down his long beaklike nose at Cullon. "Hurry up, boy. We're already late." Cullon noticed he was again lagging behind the enigmatic Elder Weaver. He first encountered him at the Tapestry Council. At the time he seemed an unmovable force, and still held those same stony features. His hair was close cut, and resembled white cotton, here and there polluted with locks that revealed its past hue. “We will soon arrive in Larek, the first city we will weave into the tapestry. I will conduct the weaving of its ruler, Mordran.”
“Master, I thought I was to conduct all of the weavings, and you were coming along to prepare me for my own commission?” Cullon said, a little taken aback by this news. Why else had he been training since the age of six? He knew he was ready for the duty, but something in Ranslor’s eyes kept him from protesting further.
“Mordran is not to be trifled with. At his best he can be hateful, and at his worse he is a full tyrant. In your past weavings the leaders of the areas were more than willing to cooperate. The emperor is near them, and the weight of his power is overwhelming. Out here in the Outlands that is not the case. Most of the leaders you encounter have grown in independence, and may soon outright rebel against the empire. Do you remember what you swore an oath to?”
“The truth, that no man may prevent its uncovering.” Cullon replied quickly.
“Yes, spoken like a true rote student. We do not pledge our oath to any man, not even the emperor. Even so, people see us as a symbol of his power. Mordran hates seeing us pass through his gates, and despises having to give an accounting to us.” Ranslor said.
They finally came to the top of a hill, and looked out on Larek. The most remarkable feature to Cullon was how it was not remarkable. Cullon thought his room back at school was larger, and realized suddenly that he may never return to it. His first thought about the town was how it was nothing like the capital city of Brelun. Something else itched at his mind, however. At first, he could not place it. He stared down at the village, eyes flashing from one thing to another, searching for something concrete to tie the feeling to, yet nothing presented itself. Despite this he finally was able to name his feelings. The town looked like death, a slow, painful death. It was not due to any outward signs. Crops were near harvesting, and people played, walked, ran, worked, and did all things people are known to do. Yet he saw death.
“Come on Cullon, we can’t waste time staring at towns from above. We need to speak to its residents.” Ranslor obviously would not agree with his vision. Reluctantly he walked down the hill, and joined his master. The sounds of the village flooded his ears, and he tasted their sweetness. Voices! Laughter! How he had missed them, and how much he still dreaded their end. Smells engulfed him, some sickly smells of people doing their wash outside with chemicals foreign to his sensibilities. Other smells stepped forward and welcomed them to taste and experience. Cullon wished that Ranslor would accept the invitation.
They weaved themselves into the fabric of the village, down one street, and then up another. Finally, they arrived at a tavern, Ranslor assuring him it was the cleanest and best in town. “When Mordran first came to the throne he was much more accommodating. Now his only accommodation is to lend us enough food and water to set us on our way.”
They stepped inside and Cullon waited while Ranslor made the arrangements. They were obviously old acquaintances, and he was shocked that they both laughed at jokes he could not hear. Ranslor finished and Cullon hoped he would lead him upstairs. Instead, Ranslor stepped out the door.
“I want to meet with Mordran before we settle into our rooms.” Ranslor said, once again threading himself into the city.
Cullon rushed to keep up, speeding past unfamiliar people and more unfamiliar buildings. Something caught his attention slipping behind a wall to his left. The form, a man maybe, had rushed past in a blur of red heading away from them. Cullon came to a full stop, and focused his sight toward the spot he saw the form cross. Nothing. Was his lack of sleep affecting his senses? Maybe, yet the color of the blur was not easy to miss. The villagers all wore brown, earthy tones for the most part, nothing close to bright red. He noted what he saw, decided to keep an eye out for it and ran to catch up with Ranslor who had already made it to a clearing at the end of the path.
Cullon looked around and noticed that all the streets led to this area, and then looked up and saw the large building that stood over it. The clearing itself was connected to a large guarded gate. The gate was huge, and the posts in the gate took the form of either vines or serpents. Cullon decided getting closer to figure this mystery out was not a good idea. The guards stood on either side and watched them like they were an armed enemy. Both kept a hand on the daggers at their side, and neither eased their tense shoulders. The energy of the standoff echoed in the crackle of voices in the distant village square. Ranslor eased forward, and took a scroll out of his traveling bag.
“We are here to speak with Mordran, Lord of Larek. I am Elder Weaver Ranslor, and this is my Apprentice, Cullon.” The guard took the scroll, and glanced over it. Cullon realized he most likely could not read every word, only the important ones.
The guard opened the gate, and both weavers walked through. Mordran’s castle stood at the top of a hill just beyond the gate entrance. Grassy splotches stood out on the hill’s face, and this to Cullon was a sign that his earlier premonition was correct. Death resides in Larek. It was in the air, and this is the source. Cullon noted the shape of the castle, and concluded that Mordran must have ripped it wholly out of a mountain. Violently.
Each step up the hill was painful in the pit of Cullon’s stomach. There is nothing to fear, he thought, all of this is nothing but nerves. The door of the castle was now close enough to inspect. The wood was a shiny, polished black. Clouds reflected dark upon it, and moved across its face. One guard stood in front, his sword drawn.
“What is your business, weavers?”
“If you recognize our station why must you ask? Move aside and allow us to conduct our duty.” Ranslor sounded confident, but his words did not move the guard.
“Lord Mordran will be the judge of when you can and cannot conduct anything in Larek. You will wait here while I notify him of your visit.” the guard replied.
Time passed as they waited for a response. Cullon agreed with his master that Mordran knew the moment of their presence the moment they arrived in Larek.
“He is testing us, and seeing how we’ll react. While we can pass judgment ourselves on him, we must not taint the Tapestry by that judgment. Men can be many things, and most do not rise above pettiness and their own reflection. Mordran sees himself as a great and might man, and in truth he is small and insignificant in the Outlands. His domain is limited to the village below us, and a little land past the gates of the village. He sees himself, however, as much greater. That is his reflection of himself.” Ranslor seemed tired. After an hour passed, someone appeared and told the guard to allow them to enter.
The weavers pulled themselves together, and entered the castle.