William discovers Inari-Anari.
| Please... abide ye here awhile, and I will wax poetic concerning the unlikely victories of fools such as I. The last of my people, alone, abandoned-- Antiquated... Like this empty monastery, that is my home. Let us wander down to the water and sit upon the shore. There I will tell my tale of wonder and glory.
So... You are an explorer. Yes?
I thought so! No sitting about at home for you. Oh no... no, not you. You, young sir, are made for the far countries and the adventures that accompany them. In this age of peace, no one cares about men such as I nor places such as this. Few have the curiosity or heart for journeys into the unknown, yet here you are. Miraculous!
Now, let me look at you again-- you seem rather young to have wandered so deep into the mountains. No, young is not what I mean, you are the perfect age to be under the spell of wanderlust. But I am missing something important; I can feel it. You are a mystery and that is no mistake.
So I... I think, I am surprised to find you here. Unless, maybe, I should have been expecting you-- No? But of course, that must be another story. Not to worry lad, I am glad for your company. It will be good to have someone to talk to on a summers day beneath the trees.
Oh, no need to look so serious, Truly, we shall have a grand time together for we are well matched. It is quite evident that you are mute. Yet I care not, for I am deaf. You cannot speak and I cannot listen. But we will understand each other well enough. Not all language is spoken and we seem indeed fated to this endeavor
Young man, look about you. Here is the sacred lake of the Paladin, the last monastery, and the last Paladin. I pray that it is all you were seeking and that I am all you expected. I believe you are here to see if men like me still live and I am wondering who would point you in this direction
What's this! You seem offended. Have I gotten something wrong already? Perhaps you are hungry...No? That look on your face. What does it portend? You are mute are you not? Yes, of course you are.
Well now, let me think a moment. Wait!... are you ill or injured perhaps? I am such a fool. I was so happy to see you I thought only of myself. You should know,I am a famous healer and I should know better. Come and I will soothe your wounds. I can make you whole again if you are broken. Show me what is wrong and I will mend it.
But first things first, you have been in those clothes for far too long. Take those tired garments off. They need a good cleaning as do you. The lake is enchanted, empowered far beyond its great beauty and a swim will do you a world of good.
Well, well now-- that is better! It is good to see all of you. Dive right in. Swim, feel the power of the water.
I can now see in what way I have misjudged you and I understand your annoyance with me; how could I have been so mistaken? Please, do not be angry, it has been a long time since I have had the company of anyone besides myself. And so... well, there you are... Naked, and a young woman. You have an unusual beauty about you, something more than youth and courage, something deeper. Not at all what I expected.
Are you laughing at this silly old man? I deserve it, I know. Go on, move through the water, it may cleanse away your sins and you will be reborn. It has happened before.
So, you have not come here for healing, not of the body... No-- You are not wounded, but rather, in remarkably good health for one who has come through the great wilderness.
Yes, yes... it is a long hard way. I am wondering how you did it.
Ah, so you are hiding something. Do not be worried, I will not pry, not yet.
I must admit, I envisioned another visitor. A determined gentleman, worldly-wise and of great age; such friends as these are more inclined to this sort of thing. Ancient wanderers seeking old truths from the people and places that are disappearing. I have not met any of them in a very long time but a few of them must still be wandering about.
Well, good. What a lovely smile you have. I am glad that you are not overly modest. It is such a waste of time. Just to see you, so healthy and glorious. You are like a vision of the promised land.
But your splendor reminds me that I have been to other places... terrible places with other visions. Whole lands of naught but disease and dead children. All the beauty gone. I remember... I could not get out. Trapped. I can see these things in my mind's eye. I can hear their cries. I can hear them still... I can see it all.
Wait-- I have lost my footing.
Where are you, child? Lend me your arm. Do not panic, they are gone. I will be fine after a moment..
What is that you ask? Who is gone?
Ack! The ghosts of cruel, hurtful memories. They do not mean us any harm, it is we who give them strength. Wisdom is also in those nightmare lands but I must be more careful.
There, there...it is alright. I am in no pain, you can let go now. I will sit for a few moments to regain my courage. I see things sometimes, I know nothing is there but I see them nonetheless and at times I reach for my sword but I no longer wear it.
Oh. do not get dressed. Heh, I mean, not in your traveling gear, go inside and get a robe, it will be much more comfortable. Choose not a yellow robe, that is my color.
So, pale blue. It fits you perfectly and a white broad-brimmed hat just like mine. Good Idea! A young priestess shining like the setting sun.
Ah-ha, I made you smile again. Are you blushing? What a wonderful day it is.
I see you brought all your own writing supplies, a curious burden to carry so far... I am wondering, exactly who it is you thought to find out here? No answer, eh? Oh, it does not matter. It is well; good quality parchment with fine quills and ink, I like such things. Clearly, you know what you are about. So, you must be here for a tale.
If it is your wish I will tell you my story, the entire story as true as you would like it.
It begins a long lifetime ago but my memories our strong. Let us remain here for a time before I continue-- I must ask your indulgence. As I approach this adventure, forgive me if I wander... For you are young and it is disconcerting; in your face I see my comrades past.
Something makes you unhappy. I can detect it just below the surface of your skin. Perhaps you were not expecting me to be so worn, I understand, I am a bit befuddled at some moments. Do not be sad for me. We will not yield to tears, they are not for fellow travelers such as you and I.
Now, take up your quill and let me look into your eyes.
Alright, before I begin... as you can see, I am old-- I know, and among the old I appear older still; ancient some might say. . My aged features I have earned; with a gallant company I sailed the oceans and walked upon frozen seas. Seeking renown, I followed many perilous paths for I dreamed such dreams as these and wandered searching for the places where my dreams might dwell.
Understand, I have many regrets for my courage failed me more than once. I am sometimes bitter, so beware, I may not be what you all you have hoped for. Yet it was my good fortune to share the company of the wise and the brave and they were reward enough.
So now back to your parchment and I will continue.
Once young-- yes... I am remembering now. I was in a hurry. For a day had arrived. That day of days, when destiny twisted my path to one of audacious adventure. I possessed naught but sixteen years of youthful wisdom; villages and country roads filled all my experience. Alas, I rushed to leave all that behind. I would discover that the past should not to be discarded so thoughtlessly for we often find our finest selves when we dwell in the past, the present and the future all at the same time. But I did not know that when I began.
I was told that at the end of the road was a wondrous city. I was eager to see such a thing and rode far ahead of Father and Mother. The forest pathway we traveled took us up and over many thickly wooded ridges as it twisted this way and that but always to the South and West. We stopped at a village and stayed there at the inn for the night.
Father and I returned to the road the next morning at the first dusky light before the rising of the sun. And at last, as we traveled due West, my horse surmounted one final steep and rocky ridge which had no trees. The crest was lined with towers all arranged in a long row from the North and on to the South. Far below flowed a wide river.
I recognized my destination, for there in the distance; as in my visions, I witnessed the top of a majestic castle materialize from the mists and shadows ere the dawn... it was "Inari-Anar". In my imagination I saw myself silhouetted there before the sun with golden banners flying atop white watch-towers and long blond hair blowing in my blue eyes. On that glorious summer morning as the dawn's light crested the slope I saw there glistening three walls, twelve gates, and one mighty keep guarding a vast city. I had never seen the like of it and so glorious was the moment that I dismounted and knelt upon the ground.
Do you understand my ramblings so far? Yes? Well, good. Many voices will join us but be they malicious or benevolent they will all tell the one tale; the true tale of my road to glory. As I said this is sacred ground, a place of memory and the apparitions that accompany it. They are strong here. Have courage, for such voices are dangerous and will break your heart if you allow it..
My adventure went awry almost immediately.
Within an hour of passing the first gate I was lost and the City of Inari-Anar had me quite surrounded. Father and the horses had gone missing and I was alone in the crowd. I realized that there was no finding the distant inn where Mother awaited my return-- had I wanted to find it, which I did not, not yet.
Father's disappearance was a conundrum. I didn't even know if I should be worried because he did things like this all the time. He was good at losing me, especially on long walks in the woods or just out on the roads between villages, so I didn't really think it was my fault that I was lost. I believed Father was trying to test me, although in those days, I never knew what for.
Food was everywhere, there were all manner of shops and inns crowded around the main square. I spent some time walking about in aimless wanderings, buying expensive appetizers that Father would not approve of. I will admit that I felt a bit panicked at first, what with so many people, horses, and carriages, all in one place, and all moving at the same time. I had never seen such a commotion. It was all very exciting.
Earlier, an hour before first light, Father and I had made our preparations to enter the city.
"William. I will be looking for a wizard I know," said Father cryptically. My father, Father Jonn, was a devout priest who quietly worked the miracles of his faith. Father's intentions today were a mystery. Wizards and Priests do not usually get on well and I was surprised to learn Father had any wizard friends at all.
Something unusual was going on and as usual no one told me anything.
Father watched my mother's every move as she went about the rooms at the inn unpacking things. Mother was a slender, fragile woman with long dark hair and fine features, very different from most of the other woman of the Valley who had large sturdy bones. Some folks back home whispered that my great grandmother was an Elf; but of course, no one back home really believed in Elves.
Mother laid out our finest clothes that day; for father, a biretta hat and black cassock with a shoulder cape that had bronze buttons down the front. I wore my best red doublet with silver buttons and a matching hunters cap. Before we left the inn Father insisted that we both bear our broad belts and swords. Father was quite serious about this and did not explain his motives, which meant I was to say nothing and do as I was told.
Father was not like normal fathers or anyone else 'normal' for that matter. He said and did the most unusual things and sometimes they were most disturbing. He trained me in the art of swordsmanship since I was old enough to carry a stick and he taught some of the local boys also, this was unheard of in my village. Some of the neighbors went so far as to gossip that nothing good would come of it, this was especially true after Father brought home two black powder cannon. What fun my friends and I had upsetting the local populace as we practiced firing those guns, we became quite good at it under my fathers expert guidance. I always wondered how a priest knew about such things.
But, despite the military training, Father and I did not normally go about armed and I didn't want the burden of the thing, besides, I found the notion that I might need to fight someone unnerving. "Perhaps the city is not safe," I thought to myself. In any case, once mounted and on our way, all worries faded.
So there I was, a sword at my side and all dressed up and completely lost. Presently, my bewildered brain finally formed a plan. Father always said, “When lost-- sit; have a drink and perhaps something to eat. You will think better then." Therefore, in need of a peaceful place away from the confounding crowd, I entered an open archway leading into a tower. I climbed the stairs to the top and there a guard stood in a colorful uniform bearing a sword and arquebus, he didn't seem to mind my company.
The battlement was marvelous, a quiet place with a soft warm breeze. A quick look around restored my sense of direction. A battery of gleaming bronze cannon gazed down on the city's high-peaked slate roofs and then beyond the walls to surrounding villages and their green lands. In the far north, a river emerged from forested foothills, the water flowing over many falls as it ran past the East Gate; it continued southward, passing the city docks and flowing into a valley which went on away forever to a misty distance.
"Good morning!" the guard said cheerfully. "What brings you here today? Come for the view, perhaps?"
"No sir, I have come seeking a wizard but my father has lost me and I came up here to get away from the crowd."
"What's this. Come looking for a Wizard. And your father lost as well...Ah, I see. It's easy to get lost here. The streets here are made to confuse our enemies, alas, they confuse our friends as well. Unfortunately, no wizards have been up here today, nor fathers looking for their sons. Do you have a name or address for this wizard you seek?”
“No sir... no one tells me anything.”
“I understand your problem exactly. No one tells a soldier anything either. By the way, my name is Grendale. I'm a corporal,” he touched a patch on his sleeve proudly. He appeared five or so years older than I.
“My name is William. I am especially pleased to meet you.”
“Well now, William, there is a well-known wizard out front of that big Inn over there, maybe he can help you. He possesses an excellent reputation. Should you remain lost come see me again, I will be here till the first bell past noon and after that you can find me at home." He handed me a crumpled card with a address on it.
“Thank you very much, Grendale!”
“Now, off with thee William, good luck!”
I was about to run down the stairs when my thoughts were interrupted by a fair voice on the wind, a bold male voice that rose oddly above the noise of the city. The words were not clear, but it had a friendly, welcoming tone. Following the sound I looked over the parapet and I saw the porch of an impressive, half-timber structure, some four stories high with walls of stone.
For some reason unknown to me I became determined to find the person who owned that voice and it felt better knowing where I was going. I bid farewell to Grendale, thanking him again for his help, then flew down the stairs and out to the square.
I stood at the curb of a wide boulevard lined with birch trees and stared at a sign across the way: “The Royal Inn at Drummond Hill.” Then I felt a firm hand suddenly placed on my shoulder and started in surprise. It was Father, who often appeared as suddenly as he vanished. I was speechless, so it was he who finally broke the silence after a long minute.
"Thought I would find you here," said Father, he did not look at me but rather he stared at a cloaked man seated on a porch across the boulevard. "See there the wise man wearing his wizard cloak and grasping his wizard staff. That one there is an Old Wizard and there are not many of them left to be found."
“Father, did you really expect me to find this man all by myself?”
“No, William, I expected him to find you. All that was needed on your part was to have faith in your instincts and the wisdom to follow them.”
On the large, stone porch of the Royal Drummond many astounding plants sat in large pots scattered all about the floor and in an extra-large rocking chair sat an extra-large man. He was not a giant, a giant would have crushed the chair but this man filled it completely; obviously, this was his chair built purposely for him.
His hat caught my attention immediately, it was not a pointy, broad-brimmed hat commonly associated with wizards but rather a black cavalier hat made of beaver felt with one side pinned up by a round cloak pin. A flamboyant feather was stuck in the hatband and long, red hair flowed from beneath the hat and fell about the man's shoulders in curls
A group of children was gathered before the tall, powerful man and listened intently as the wizard told his tale. They chewed on pastries and chocolates from a low table. The story produced many smiles, much laughter, plus a few frightened minutes of silence.
I recognized the voice immediately. It was the one I heard while atop the tower. I had to find out more about this wizard. He was dressed in magnificent style, turned out in a black cloak of fine intricately embroidered fabric so long it almost touched the ground. A cloak to be worn only in the best parts of the city since dirt streets would not agree with it. Shiny, tall black boots and tan riding breeches complimented a white silk shirt with ruffles running down the front. A bell tolled Eleven, it was still morning.
We three, all had one thing in common, we were armed. "No one else is," I thought.
The Wizard carried a rapier, a long, lean, deadly weapon and in his left hand he grasped a staff, not a walking stick, this was clearly a magic staff. All in all, he appeared a very formidable Wizard indeed and a rather friendly one too; and that seemed most uncommon. Most folks who wield magic are not reputed for their social skills or their love of children.
"An 'Old' Wizard?" I asked Father, "but he does not seem that 'old' at all."
Father spoke to me without taking his eyes off the Wizard on the porch.
“It is the soul which is old.”
"To understand such men you must know that they carry many secrets, both of murder and mercy. These wizards are wanderers, perpetually searching and never-resting long. Their quest drives them on with a terrible passion."
I found 'murder' a most alarming practice, secret or otherwise, for old or young wizards and I looked at the children, with their sticky fingers, laughing as they listened to the story-teller.
"Murder?!" I said dismayed, “ he does not look dangerous from here?"
Father's tone turned grave, "and yet, he is a very dangerous man. These men seek always to do good. They know the right of things and the wrong and they invest their lives in the difference. An Old Wizard will always fight for his convictions. You must be careful around such men, lest you get caught up in one of their heroic tales. But this wizard here is special and you can trust him with your life.”
An uncomfortable feeling developed in my gut as the conversion turned ominous.
A passing carriage momentarily blocked my view and once it passed I was startled to see the wizard staring directly at me. Fierce blue eyes held me, I could not turn away. The broad face looked very familiar with its prominent features and great red beard, mustache, and bushy eyebrows.
I gathered my thoughts as I saw Father's attention go elsewhere, for he was attending to the faithful. Many people in the square noticed the tall, handsome priest in their midst and paused to say good morning and ask for a blessing as was the custom.
Father chanted a very long blessing for a decrepit old woman dressed in a shabby black dress. She held a baby, the child was very still and breathing slowly.
I was impatient and oft self-centered at that time. Long experience and hardship would eventually teach me to be better than that. But now all I wanted was to learn more about the Wizard. When I could not remain silent any longer I blurted out, "What is this Wizard's quest and why must he wander?"
I had interrupted Father and he was not pleased, I could tell. Father gave me a stern look and returned to finish the prayer. He picked up the child and cradled it in his left arm, his right hand covered the babies face and he whispered into its ear. He gently rocked back and forth, he swayed as if music moved him.
Then the infant stirred and cooed grabbing for my father's buttons as it stretched its arms and legs. The old woman took the baby back and held it close. She wept and touched my father's arm. A small crowd had gathered and applauded. Father grabbed my arm sternly and moved me down the street .
"Now," he said, "to your very important question that could not wait. Think you that maybe that woman was too poor or the child too small to be worthy of your notice."
"I'm sorry, Father"
"William, you have no right to be sorry," Father said quietly. "You have the wisdom to know what is right and to be right the first time. I will expect more from you in the future."
"Now then... These men, the 'Old Wizards', are nomads by choice and inclination, traveling here and there about the world, searching for those of good will who yearn to do good works. Those who choose to follow an Old Wizard will gain wisdom and strength beyond their greatest ambitions. These champions will gather warriors and philosophers to their cause; they intend to make the weak strong and change the world."
"But Father how can you know so much about this man?"
"I know him better than any other man. He is my brother."
My mind was spinning and suddenly I felt light headed. "You never told me I had an uncle?"
"He is your Uncle James and no one can teach you better than he all the things you will need to know and I have decided that you will travel with him so that you may learn what good you can do."
"But father, that could take years and years!"
"Yes it will, my son, it will. Ten years, at least... I think. It took me fifteen."
Leaning on a tree for support, I contemplated that my life was changing faster than I ever anticipated. And now that it came to it, I was not so sure that this was the dream I had been dreaming.