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The Clan of the Stone

Book Three

The Dawn of the Seventh Eon


By

Kurt F. Kammeyer


Copyright 2017 Kurt F. Kammeyer


Smashwords Edition


License Notes


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Introduction


I am Millie. I was slave-born, so I never had a first name until Elizabeth gave me the name of her mother. Until then I was just known as Tretivu-sjey—Thirty-seven, my slave-number.

Elizabeth befriended me, and she taught me how to read and write. My mother, the Supreme Sibyl Budicca, was very angry when she heard about this. I loved Elizabeth as my sister, but then she got the sjuka and went mad, just like my mistress Basilea before her.

Elizabeth threw her amulet away, and I picked it up and kept it. At first I feared it, but one night I placed it around my neck. Then I had the strangest dream, about Bøn and Bøs and my pony, Brúna. Bøn welcomed me to his clan—then I awoke, clasping the amulet. I knew then that there was a powerful magic in the amulet—just how powerful, I was soon to learn, as you will see in this book.

Millie isha Benjamin


Kanosh City, in the fourth turn of the Seventh Eon



Chapter 1

Ariella


I shall never forget Elazar’s face pressed against the window of the telegraph office as he cried, “No! Don’t do it, Ariella!”

I lifted the Sólsteinn and spoke to it in Dravidian. “Torsborga ke lie mujhe bheja.”

One moment I was in the telegraph office at Fort Kanosh; the next moment I found myself standing in the central keep of the Fortress of Torsborg in Torshavn. It was early evening, and the courtyard was filled with soldiers, noblemen, commoners and courtiers, all going about their errands.

As I suddenly appeared out of thin air, the dazzling blue flash from the Sólsteinn must have startled the people. A young imperial scribe standing not more than five feet from me dropped his books, jumped backwards and cried, “Af öllum guthanna á himnum!” By all the gods in heaven!

All about the courtyard, people froze in their tracks, staring at me. I noticed that the ground was still bathed in an eerie blue glow from my Sólsteinn, so I quickly stuffed it back in my blue United Order dress. ’Tis time to become my sister, I thought.

“Take me to the king—er, emperor,” I growled at the scribe in Nordish. He just stared at me bug-eyed.

I snapped,“Ert thú heyrnarlaus?” Are you deaf?

He stooped down, glanced fearfully up at me as he picked up his books, and stammered, “Eins og thú vilt, Hjákona Budicca.” He hefted his books and headed toward a small, arched postern gate in the stone wall of the central keep, and I followed. Budicca and I had often used this side-gate many years before.

When the two guards at the gate saw me, they snapped to attention and one of them opened the gate, saluting as we entered.

I looked around. It all felt familiar to me. I know these corridors well. Nearly forty years ago, I ruled this rock-pile. I answered to no one in this palace, save the king. Many ghosts still wander these halls.

I imagined mad Queen Annora rounding the corner toward me. She was dressed in black, with a gabled black wimple on her head. She looked from side to side, raised a finger to her lips and whispered to me furtively while giggling, “Have you seen Theo? I seem to have misplaced him… I hid him in my pocket here, but he jumped out and ran away, and now he refuses to play with the other children! Oh, what am I to do with him? Such a bad boy he is!” The queen wrung her hands, lifted her skirts and ran off down the corridor, wailing softly.

I shook my head. Such a sad end she met, pierced through by her own sword…

I followed the scribe until we reached the broad double doors of the imperial bedchamber. The scribe gestured at the doors and whispered, “Ath vera allt, Hjákona?”

“Yes, that will be all,” I replied, and the scribe made a hasty departure.

My long walk down the palace corridors had shaken my resolve. Am I utterly mad? Can I actually go through with this? How will he react when he sees me? How long can I masquerade as Budicca?

I felt the kitchen knife chafing my ankle, and I braced myself for the deed. He is an evil, wicked man who forced me to marry him, else all the Believers would have been killed. This war against Deshret is entirely his fault. Many times he has sought to destroy God’s Believers. Now he is worthy only of death. I shall be doing God a favor.

I bravely resolved to carry out my plan or die in the attempt. I approached the two guards dressed in green imperial livery and loudly announced, “Hjákona Budicca requests an audience with His Imperial Majesty, Rikur Theobald.”

Immediately the two guards snapped to attention, crossed and uncrossed their pikes, and saluted me. I heard a voice from within the bedchamber. “Sláthu inn.”

One of the imperial guards reached over and lifted the catch on the great door. Still standing at attention, he said without looking at me, “Eins og thú vilt, Hjákona.”

This is it, I thought, trembling. I wonder what the old wretch looks like after all these years…

I entered the bedchamber and looked around. The memories flooded back to me. This room hasn’t changed a bit in nearly forty years…the same dreary, worn tapestries and furnishings, the same bed covers, even the old game board in the corner, gathering dust.

Emperor Theobald stood at the far end of the room next to the royal bed, dressed only in his white linen undertunic. When he saw me, he raised a tankard of bjor, smiled and saluted me. “Allar heithur, Hjákona!”

I looked at Theobald and thought, Oh, Baldur, what am I walking into here?

Theobald had surely changed in forty years: he was old, paunchy, wrinkled, and his red beard had turned greyish-white. He put down the bjor and held out his hand to me. “Enter, Hjákona! It has been quite some time since we shared my bed—er, room.” He belched.

Drunk as always, I thought. Some things never change. And he still doesn’t recognize me.

“May I offer you some bjor, Hjákona? Or perhaps some beef?” He looked me up and down like a side of beef and licked his lips. His eyes narrowed. “Your dress… Is this a new custom, Budicca, to dress like a peasant in my presence?” He scowled.

Startled, I replied, “What? Oh—yes, I, uh, was just laboring in the coventry gardens. Forgive me, Your Highness.” I winced. Why am I apologizing to him? He is revolting.

I felt the carving knife scratching against my ankle, and suddenly lost my will. Pity and disgust welled inside me. I cannot do it—I cannot kill this senile old man to whom I was once wed, and with whom I shared that bed. At one time, as a seithkona, I could have put a death-binding spell on him—but not now.

He approached to within a foot of me and grasped my chin. His foul breath nauseated me, and his teeth were yellow and rotten. Turning my head from side to side, he muttered, “There is something…different about you, but I can’t quite place it. Is it your hair, perhaps?”

I took a step backwards and faced him. ’Tis now or never. I still must confront him. I pointed at him. “I am not Budicca, you old svín-skútu. I am Ariella.”

He stared at me and chuckled, then laughed. “This is some kind of game you are playing, eh Budicca? Or perhaps it’s my bjor talking to me?” He belched again and waved his hand. “But come! We are wasting time!” He turned down the covers and patted the bed. I stood impassively. He turned halfway back and eyed me. “Well? Why did you come here this night, if not to bed me?”

I thought, This may be my only opening. I took a deep breath. “I am not playing games. I want you to end this useless war against the Believers, Your Majesty. It has gone on far too long—ever since we first met, in fact.”

He smiled and tipped his head. “And if I don’t? What then, ghost of Ariella?”

Budicca always said I must be forceful with him. If I show any weakness, he will destroy me. I stood tall, pointed my finger at him, and in my screechiest Budicca-voice I screamed, “Then you shall die!”

He looked at me, bemused, and took another swig of bjor. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and replied, “No, I think not. And I must say, this is one of the cleverest ruses you have ever played on me, Budicca. Well played, indeed.” He chuckled.

I stamped my foot in frustration. There is but one way to convince this old fart of who I be. I reached in the collar of my dress and pulled out the still-glowing Sólsteinn. “I repeat—I am not playing games, Theo. I am Ariella, returned from the dead.”

His leathery old face turned ashen, and he sat down heavily on the bed. He stared at the blue crystal and muttered, “The Sólsteinn… It was my wedding present to Ariella.” He swallowed hard. “What do you want with me? Are you come to claim my soul?”

I have him, I thought. “Rescind the extermination decree. End this war. As your co-regent, I am still equal in authority to you—remember? And as your royal seithkona, I can still cast a wicked spell on you.”

He shook his head. “Not if you are dead. But here is what I shall do.” He raised a finger. “A game of hnefatafl? Budicca and I played this once.”

And she beat you, I thought, smiling. This could work.

He continued. “If I win, you shall go back to Nithafjöllum and never haunt me again, and the war continues. If you win, I shall rescind the extermination order.”

I leapt at this offer. Perhaps, I did not come here in vain? “You would do that?”

He nodded firmly. “Yes—agreed?”

I took another deep breath. “Very well.” I sat down at the table, and Theobald sat opposite me. He blew the dust off the old hnefatafl board and opened a tiny drawer in the base. He withdrew thirteen white playing pieces and twenty-four black pieces, and arranged them on the board.

Theobald pointed at the board. “Now, pay attention. Your objective is to reach one of the corner squares. That tallest piece in the center is your king. That square is called the konakis—the king-square. No one else may occupy it.”

“I know how the game is played, sire. That is my queen, you mean. So I decree, that square shall now be called the drottnakis.”

He looked up at me and scowled. “As you wish. You must make the first move.”

I studied the board for a moment and moved one of my guards. Theobald responded by moving one of his soldiers. I could sense the emperor’s barely concealed rage at me—rage, and a smug sense that he couldn’t possibly lose to a woman.

Step by step I moved my queen toward the edge of the board. I was careful to keep the queen surrounded by my guards. Occasionally one of my guards was captured by the emperor’s soldiers, but I maintained my steady pace. Each time the emperor had a turn, he mumbled and growled and took another swig from his tankard of bjor. Then he selected a player and moved it with a loud thump. His senile old mind made a number of tactical errors—but at the same time, I was inexperienced at hnefatafl, so we were fairly evenly matched.

Will this game never end? I thought anxiously. My Sólsteinn is losing its charge…

At the end of nearly an hour I was mentally exhausted, but my queen was just one move away from the corner of the board. I looked up at the emperor, smiled and said, “Your move, Theo…”

By now the emperor was quite drunk and had difficulty even picking up his players and moving them. I tried to maintain my composure, but inside I was in turmoil. My queen was surrounded on three sides, with only one path of escape.

If he moves that one piece, I am captured, I thought frantically. If only I could put a binding-spell on him… That is what Budicca would surely do.

The emperor stared at the board with his bleary eyes for what seemed an eternity. I stared down too, trying to will the emperor not to see the obvious move. Come on, come on… I mentally pleaded. I am running out of time.

The emperor picked up one of his players, dropped it, picked it up again and hesitated. He waved it around above the board, grumbled, and finally set it down. He sat back and leered at me. “Bead tha’!” he gloated.

I shook my head. “Sire, you cannot move diagonally.”

Theobald growled, “Thessi kona er ómögulegt.”

I replied, “I am what? Impossible? Just finish the move, Theo.”

He picked up the player again and moved it one square to the side.

I let out a huge sigh of relief and moved my queen to the corner square. I looked up at him and smiled. “Game, Your Majesty. I win.”

Fjandinn thér!” he roared as he took a wild swipe at the board, scattering pieces.

I could scarcely believe my good fortune. I smiled at him and held my palm out. “And now sire, the extermination decree? Remember our agreement?”

Skrúfa your ‘greement! Guards!” he bellowed. Immediately the emperor’s two guards burst into the bedchamber. “Take thiz ghos’ t’ the dungeon!”

The guards seized me by my arms. Stunned, I cried, “Wait! How dare you? We had an agreement, remember?”

Without looking up, Theobald grumbled, “Go back t’ Nithafjöllum, whoever you are.”

As the guards dragged me out of the chamber I caught one last glimpse of the emperor. He pointed at me and growled, “An’ you’re not Ariella. She would’a let me win!”

The guards carried me, still protesting, out of the bedchamber. I flailed about, but they kept a firm grip on my arms. If only I could reach the knife in my stocking, I thought—then I realized how ridiculous that sounded.

I gave up fighting against the guards and they allowed me to stand on my feet. Salvaging my shredded dignity, I rearranged my skirt and said tartly, “I can walk on my own, thank you very much.”

One guard looked at the other and nodded silently. They took up a position behind and in front of me, and off we proceeded, down another twisting corridor to the central keep, and down a steep, slippery flight of stone stairs. As we descended, the light diminished until we were in near blackness at the foot of the stairs.

One of my guards spoke to the head gaoler. “By order of the emperor—this woman is to be jailed.” Then the two guards turned and disappeared up the stairs.

The gaoler was a massive, stocky man with arms the size of my legs. He wore an iron-studded leather jerkin and wool knee-britches. He stank like a cesspool, and his breath nauseated me. He grinned toothlessly, looked me up and down and breathed, “A woman? Aye, a fine bit o’ horseflesh ye are.” He reached out to touch me but I slapped his hand away. He laughed. “Oh ho, a fiery little druslan ye be, eh? We’ll see!”

He lifted a heavy set of keys from a peg and unlocked an iron-barred prison door. It opened with a screech. “Slá, slá,” he said as he prodded me into the cell. “I’ll be back fer ye after dinner, druslan.” The door slammed shut behind me and his laughter echoed down the prison corridor as he waddled off.

I beat my fists on the prison door in despair. “Now what have I done? Why did I do this? What was I thinking?”

I knew the answer. I let Shaitan’s influence overcome me. I gave in to the Evil One, and he has me in his grasp.


Chapter 2

Benjamin


After fleeing from Marsilia I tried to lose myself within the dank, crumbling recesses of the old city. So far, it appeared to be working for me. I slept in a different hiding place each day, and I only came out at morning or evening to find a quick bite of food and then disappear again.

I desperately tried to reach out to Bess, but to no avail. It can’t be over between us, it just can’t… I thought. We need each other, if only to survive here.

One night, I quietly slipped back to the telegraph office to recharge my bullets, fearing for my life every moment. I crept into the alleyway behind the Great Western Telegraph building and looked around. Seeing no one, I shinnied up a telegraph pole and connected my pistol-case to the overhead wires. I knew I was risking electrocution or capture, but I felt like I hadda take the chance. It took ’bout an hour for me to steal enough current from the wires to charge my bullets.

Early in the morning, as I entered the alleyway leading to my latest hiding place, I heard a woman’s voice whisper urgently behind me, “Ben! Look out!”

I looked around and saw no one. Then I felt a blinding explosion in my head and everything went dark.

I awoke some time later with a throbbing pain in the back of my head. I was lying on my back, and my hands were tied behind me. My feet were bound, too. I shook my head to clear it, and when I finally got my eyes to focus in the gloom, I saw I was lying in a tiny cell with bars on the doorway. Another man was lying next to me. This is it, I thought, my heart sinking. They’ve finally caught me. My next stop is the arena. I’m sorry, Bess.

I struggled to sit up, and managed to crawl over to the other man. I nudged the man with my knee, but there warn’t no response from him. Then I felt tiny shards of glass on the floor digging into my knee. I bent over as far as I could and saw tiny, sparkling slivers of glass and bits of foil in a small pile on the floor. Then I was shocked to see the bullet-clip to my electric pistol grasped tightly in the stranger’s hand. I always kept the clip separate from the gun, for safety.

Where am I, and who’s this man? I thought. And what was he doing with my bullets?

I nudged the stranger again, and he flopped over flat on his back with his eyes and mouth open. I now noticed that he warn’t breathing. I bent over and placed my ear on his chest, listening for a heartbeat, but I heard nothing. When I saw more bits of glass and foil on the man’s face and in his open mouth, it finally dawned on me what had happened.

This thug musta whacked me on the head and kidnapped me. He dragged me here and searched me, and found my bullet-clip. Then like a fool he tried to bite one of my electric bullets and it exploded in his mouth and killed him. So whaddo I do now?

With great effort, I retrieved the bullet-clip with my bound hands and managed to slip it into my boot. Then I searched the dead man, and found a small clasp-knife in one of his pockets. I was just about to cut my legs free when I heard someone approaching. I quickly slipped the clasp-knife into my other boot and lay still.

“Warin, you still in there? It’s me, Odo.”

Another man approached the cell door. He unlocked the door, entered, and gave Warin a kick with his boot.

“Passed out drunk, no doo’t… Well, I’ll just hafta take care o’ this’un meself,” he grumbled as he approached me. He seized me by my bound wrists and stood me up. “On yer feet, sojer, ya’ll make a fine addition to th’ army!” he growled.

I suddenly realized that these men warn’t policemen; they must be the Vegalleren—a gang of roustabouts who kidnapped people offa the streets and sold them to the army for a bounty. I’d been warned about this gang, but I never imagined I’d run into them.

I played along, trying to buy time. “Where’re you taking me?” I said.

Odo laughed. “T’ th’ nearest recruitn’ station!” he said. “Where else?”

“You’ll hafta carry me, unless you untie my feet,” I said.

Odo pondered this dilemma for a moment; then he scratched his bald head and said, “Argh… yer right. Blast ’im, ’at fool Warin trussed ye up like a sheep.”

Odo grabbed my wrists with one hand, reached down, and cut the ropes around my ankles with his knife. “Ye try anythin’ I’ll stick ye,” he said. “Now, march, sojer!”

He steered me by my bound wrists and placed the point of his knife against my back for emphasis. We left the cell and walked down a narrow, dimly lit corridor. At the end of the corridor Odo unlocked a barred door and pushed me through. I was momentarily blinded by the morning sun. When my eyes adjusted, I saw that I was in some decrepit alley, standing at the back of a large, covered ox-cart filled with men.

“Up ye go!” Odo said. He seized me by my wrists and feet, nearly disjointing my shoulders, and flung me into the cart along with the other men. I cried in pain as I landed on top of the other captives. Odo grabbed the end of a rope extending from the front of the cart and threaded it through my bound wrists; then he slammed the tailgate of the cart and hooked the end of the rope onto it. I was now securely bound to the cart along with the other eight men. Odo dusted off his hands and said, “I call ’at a good night’s work, I do!”

Odo disappeared ’round to the front of the cart and climbed up onto the dickey seat. I heard him crack his whip, and the ox-cart started creaking down the alleyway.

Now’s my chance, I thought. I’ll never get a better one.

I carefully tipped my boot up and let the clasp-knife fall out. Then I grasped it in my bound hands and whispered to the man next to me, “I’ll cut you free if you’ll cut me free.” I thought, I’ll just hafta trust him not to bolt on me.

The man’s eyes widened in fear, but he silently nodded yes. We sat back to back and I carefully sawed at the man’s bonds until they came loose; then he quickly cut me loose. The man quietly slipped out the back of the ox-cart and disappeared.

I quickly worked my way down the line of men, cutting each one free to escape. At last, when I reached the front of the cart and was alone, I reached in my vest pocket and pulled out my little pistol. I inserted the clip and pumped the air-chamber five times. Then I carefully peeked through the canvas cover of the wagon until I could see Odo sitting on the dickey seat. I aimed the barrel of the pistol through the opening and pulled the trigger. There was a soft pop and a blue flash, and Odo slumped over in his seat. The unattended ox-cart slowly creaked to a halt.

“A good night’s work, indeed,” I said, as I quietly exited the cart. “But if this keeps up, I’m gonna soon run outta bullets.”

Exhausted and sore, I fled down a side street, found my bearings and looked for another hideout. I finally found one in a small crevice under an arched bridge. Once installed there, I finally figgered out a plan to contact Bess.



Chapter 3

Ariella


I sank down on the filthy stone floor, weeping in the dark. The cell stank of vomit and human waste, and I heard water softly dripping. Just the faintest glimmer of light entered in through the small barred window in the door. The cell was tiny—as I spread my arms, I found I could touch both walls.

I suddenly came to my senses and smote my forehead. “Oh, by Idunna, what was I thinking?” I pulled the Sólsteinn out of my dress and held it up. I saw just a faint blue glimmer. “It brought me here, it can still take me home—I hope.”

I held the Sólsteinn up and spoke softly. “Yes, you lovely stone… Listen to me carefully: Kanosha ke lie mujhe bheja.”

The crystal made a soft chirp and went completely black. I looked around expectantly. I was still sitting in the same cold, dank prison cell. “No! Oh, no, no no…” I cried, beating my fists on the floor. I wept again. “Elazar, I be so sorry, so very sorry.”

I heard the gaoler’s heavy footsteps approaching my cell. “I’m coming fer ye, my little hvítkál!”

Fiercely I thought, I am not this man’s plaything. I will die before submitting to him. I said a brief but fervent prayer to the God of the Believers, begging his forgiveness for what I was about to do. Then I stood up, slipped the kitchen knife out of my stocking and held it behind my back.

I heard the heavy door-bolt slide back; then the door creaked open. The gaoler’s massive frame filled the doorway. He leered at me through his beard, and giggled. “Komdu hingath, litla hvítkál minn.” Come here, my little cabbage.

I studied him intently from the pitch-black far end of the cell. My little kitchen knife will simply break on that leather jerkin, I thought. I must come up underneath it, where he is most vulnerable.

My heart pounded in my chest. The gaoler took another step into the cell, scarcely an arm’s-length from me, and beckoned with his finger. “Komdu hingath.” He pursed his lips in a kiss.

Now… I thought, as I grasped the knife firmly and swung it in a mighty underhanded arc toward his groin. I missed him, tripped over my skirt and fell sprawling on the floor. The gaoler laughed as he loomed over me, and the cell went pitch-black. ’Tis over, I thought, bracing for the worst.

Chapter 4

Major Jacob


I awoke in the bushes early the next morning, just as the sun was rising in the west. I looked ’round the patch of bushes where I was hiding, and suddenly the previous day’s battle came crashing back into my mind. I thought, It’s a long walk to Stroma, and even farther to Strathy in the north, but that’s probably the safest route for me. I’ll never make it over the mountains in my condition.

I peeked through the bushes to make sure I was alone. I was just turning back when I heard a snort behind me. I whirled ’round and drew one of my pistols, fearing I’d been discovered, but to my surprise I saw a horse’s nose poking through the brush. The horse nickered and pushed its head toward me, and then it timidly stepped into the small clearing that I had trod down the night before. It was a coal-black mare, still carrying an empty Akamerian saddle.

“Well, hello there, girl,” I said softly. “You might just be the answer t’ my prayers.”

I reached for the horse’s reins, approached her, and stroked her neck. I reached in my knapsack, pulled out a hunk of Akamerian hardtack and offered it to her. She neighed and turned her head away.

“That’s awright, I couldn’t chaw it down neither,” I said. “Let’s find out if you’ll let me mount you.”

I slowly approached the horse’s flank while stroking her neck, slipped my left foot in the left stirrup and swung up and over, wincing from the pain in my cracked ribs. The horse responded without a whinny, as if I’d always been her rider.

“I name you Heimrithur,” I said. “Home-rider. Let’s see how you ride! Hyeeah!”


Chapter 5

Grand Hegemon Elazar


Just as Ariella disappeared, Floyd and I broke down the telegraph office door and rushed in. Floyd looked around. “Hegemon, where’d she go? What just happened?”

“I don’t have time to explain,” I replied. “Can you repair this telegraph? I have an urgent message to send.”

“Sure thing, sir,” Floyd replied as he sat down at the telegraph. He reconnected the loose wires, clicked out several sparks with the key to test the circuit and said, “Ready.”

I dictated a brief message, then Floyd tapped it out on his telegraph key. Our heliograph tower instantly beamed the message northwards. Then I sat back, lost in thought. Why would she do something so rash? That is not like the Ariella I thought I knew.

Floyd spoke. “What should we do now, Hegemon? And where’d Mistress Ariella go?”

“I’m not sure, precisely, but she could be in grave danger. We can only wait—and pray. I warned her not to try this, a long time ago.”

We both fell to our knees next to the table and I offered a fervent kadesh-prayer that Ariella would return to us safely. Then we waited. And waited…

About an hour later, the telegraph receiver clattered. Floyd transcribed the message onto paper and handed it to me. I scanned it and wept. “Praise be to God…” I whispered as I read:

Ariella is with me.

Prepare the image dissector.

Gather your people.

Wait for further instructions.

Baruch


Chapter 6

Ariella


The light shifted. I was still sprawled on the cold flagstone floor, clutching my kitchen knife. I sensed someone looming over me. The gaoler… He shan’t have me.

I rolled over into a defensive position and swung the knife in an arc, desperately hoping it would strike the gaoler somewhere. My arm stopped in mid-swing as someone seized my wrist. I closed my eyes in resignation again, and heard a soft voice.

“That will do, Mistress.”

I looked up and saw the stern visage of the Seer Baruch looming above me. I thought, Have I gone completely mad? “Where am I?” I whispered. My heart was pounding fiercely.

The Seer gently pried the knife out of my hand and helped me to my feet. “Welcome to Qumran, Mistress. Would you mind explaining to me why you were brandishing a kitchen knife, just now?”

Confused, I glanced around. I appeared to be in some kind of conference room with a long table surrounded by twelve upholstered chairs. The light was very soft and soothing, and it seemed to exude from everything—the ceiling, floor, walls, even the long table. The room rather resembled the Sanhedrin council chamber in Salem, I thought.

I wiped the hair out of my eyes, and the Seer helped me sit down in one of the chairs. I stared at him, collecting my thoughts. He waited patiently.

“I was fighting for my life, in the prison of the Fortress of Torsborg. The gaoler was attempting to molest me. Tha’ snatched me from him in the very act. How did ye do that, Brother Baruch?”

He leaned forward. “I prayed you here, Mistress. Seers have that power, although we rarely use it. I received a telegraph message from your husband, the Hegemon, informing me of your disappearance. I was able to locate you, uh, through a special means which I shall explain later. Once I realized the danger, I used the power of hatsetset-hashem, the key name-stone, to transport you here. This gift is called ha’avrah in the Edomic tongue—the gift of transport.”

I recalled my journey to Salem with Elazar and Benjamin so long ago, when the Seer Asaph declared, “And now, I must be off to Qumran!” and vanished. I spoke cautiously. “So, tha’ hast that same power, as did the Seer Asaph before ye? I am most thankful, Brother Baruch.”

I noticed another man sitting at the far end of the table. He was small, dark-haired and rather thin, with a beaked nose. He wore a long tunic made of some curious white material. Strange, how I never noticed that man sitting there. When did he enter?

The man stood up and approached us. He spoke. “You are welcome, Mistress. And now, if you don’t mind, I shall take possession of that false name-stone, also known as the Sólsteinn?” He held out his hand.

“Who art thou?” I said.

“I am Abdiel, the Seer of the Fourth Eon. That stone rightfully belongs to me.”

I turned bright red. I reached behind my neck, unclasped the silver necklace, and drew the Sólsteinn out of my bodice. I handed it to Abdiel and dropped my head in shame. “I am sorry, sir. I truly did think I could end this war simply by…by, ah, killing the emperor, but I was weak. It all ended very badly.”

“Perhaps not,” the Fourth Seer replied, while palming the Sólsteinn. “I may yet have a use for this old Dravidian trinket. It has a very long, convoluted history, which I would be more than glad to share with you.”

Baruch spoke. “Yes—but not now. We must move quickly. There is little time. Thank you, Abdiel.”

The Fourth Seer bowed slightly to me and vanished.

Baruch stood up and walked to the door of the conference room. He pressed a button on the wall, and I watched the door slide silently into the wall. He spoke into the outer corridor. “Brother Orson, would you come in? It is time.”

Chancellor Orson entered the room. He approached me and grasped my hand. “Ariella! So good to see you. I hope you are enjoying your stay at Qumran?” His greeting was so matter-of-fact, we could have been exchanging pleasantries at Fort Kanosh, to all appearances.

The Seer spoke. “Orson, please inform Fort Kanosh that Grand Matron Ariella is safe with me. Then we must alert all of the forts along the Olami Mountain Range of the threat from the Akamerian armies.”

Orson nodded, sat down at a small telegraph table and tapped out a brief message. He waited a moment, and the telegraph clicked a response. “Sent and acknowledged, Brother Baruch.”

“Very good,” the Seer replied. “Now Orson, you can work your magic with that new device of yours.”

Orson pulled some curious-looking equipment out of a closet and went to work. He aimed a small box with a lens at the Seer as he sat in a chair. Next he placed what looked like an ear-trumpet a few inches in front of the Seer’s face. At the lower end of the trumpet was a small metal can, connected to two copper wires.

“Ready?” Orson said.

“Yes, let’s get on with it,” the Seer said impatiently. “Talking into this, ah, ’speaking device’ is rather disconcerting to me, as is the concept of addressing an invisible congregation.”

“What is all this?” I said.

Orson replied, “This device will allow us to project the Seer’s voice and image all the way to Fort Goshen, and then onward to Fort Kanosh. Your own Benjamin helped invent much of this technology.”

Orson closed a switch and the box with the lens began whirring. The Seer spoke. “My fellow Believers…”



Chapter 7

Elazar


As soon as Floyd and I received the Seer’s telegraph message, I called an urgent assembly of the whole community in the Fort Kanosh dining hall. There, I set up a curious device called an “image dissector” and connected it to our telegraph line, as instructed by the Seer.

We all gasped in astonishment as a ghostly grey image of the Seer Baruch appeared before us on the wall. Old Sister Rachel took one look at the apparition floating before her, cried “Oh, Lordy!” and fainted dead away. Next, we Believers were stunned to hear the new Seer speaking directly to us in a scratchy, hollow voice.

“My fellow Believers: I, the Seer Baruch, have availed myself of this new device to warn you that the Akamerian armies are threatening the defenses of Kanosh Pass! Your very lives depend upon following my counsel to the letter. You must evacuate the fort and seek shelter elsewhere. The walls of the fort will be of no protection to you when the enemy arrives. Hegemon Elazar will advise you in the matter of choosing a sanctuary. You must trust his counsel. We are sending reinforcements, but they may not arrive in time.”

Sister Eliza and several other women began weeping. “’Tis just as we feared,” she sobbed. “Oh great Seer! What has become of our husbands?”

The Seer could not hear her. His ghostly image hung in the air. Then he disappeared and I saw Ariella’s face swim into the view. She waved at all of us. “Hello to all my friends at Fort Kanosh. You must do as the Seer instructed you. And to my dear husband: I love thee with all my heart, and I am most sorry for the grief I caused thee. That is all.”

The Grand Matron vanished. We all sat in stunned silence for a moment. I thought, Well, she truly is safe, as the Seer told us—but where?

There was no time to waste. I gave the Believers their marching orders. “Take only the essentials—food, clothing, bedding and weapons. We’ll need to move everyone into the hoodoo formations immediately.”

“Why the hoodoos? Wouldn’t we be safer here?” said old Counselor Zechariah—one of the few men left in the fort.

I replied, “No, when that Akamerian Army comes boiling down out of Kanosh Pass, there’ll be no stopping them. We have no defense against their artillery. If they trap us here, we’re all dead. The hoodoos are at least a bit more defensible than the fort. The Brethren in Salem have also advised me to burn the fort to the ground before they get here.”

“Burn it?” Shifra said to me, shocked. “But…this be our home!”

“Not any more, my dear,” I replied. I raised my voice. “Brothers and sisters, I regret to say it, but this is much like the evacuation from Ganedom back in fifty-eighty, all over again. I wish it were otherwise, but as the Seer said, our very lives depend on following the counsel of the brethren to the letter. And we may have just hours to carry it out, before the Akamerians arrive. Help is on the way, we’re told, but it won’t arrive soon enough to save the fort, I’m afraid. So let’s get cracking!”


Chapter 8

Ariella


Brother Orson turned a switch, and the soft whirring of the image dissector ceased. I turned and faced the Seer. “Why have ye brought me here? Tha’ hast just directed our people to evacuate Fort Kanosh and burn it. They need me out there, more than ever. Is that not more important?”

“No, and that is what I wish to discuss, Matron. I need you to accompany me on a mission.”

I was baffled. I spread my hands. “How?”

“Follow me, please.”

The Seer stood, and I followed him out of the council chamber and down a long corridor. The same soothing, uniform light as before bathed the corridor. We arrived outside another sliding door, and the Seer pressed a button. The door slid open, and I peeked into a rather large, cube-shaped room that was nearly filled by a huge metallic sphere. There was a small door on the side of the sphere.

“What is this strange place?” I said.

The Seer replied, “The Regents built this device about the time you were born. In fact, the Seer Asaph received much of his early training in this very room.” He looked at my puzzled expression. “Come, I will show you.”

The Seer opened the curved door in the side of the sphere; then he took my hand and helped me step up into the sphere. I looked around and saw the same metallic walls, from the inside. In the center of the floor was a small podium. The Seer moved to the podium and pushed a button. Immediately the walls vanished, and I gasped at the view.

I looked up and saw the night sky, black as ink, with countless stars shining brilliantly. The stars passed overhead at a tremendous rate, as if an entire day and night were compressed into mere minutes. Periodically, a brilliant sun passed across the sky – but it was a sun of such size and magnitude that I felt as if it would consume me with its brightness. The most beautiful, ethereal music played in time to the passage of the stars. I caught my breath. “Where am I? What is this wondrous place?”

The Seer looked at me and smiled. “Welcome to Kolab, Mistress Ariella.”

I was stunned. “Kolab? The Bosom of Eternity? I be dead, then? What have ye done?”

The Seer laughed. “No, I assure you Mistress, you are most certainly not dead. This place is, shall we say, an imitation of Eternity.”

“An imitation? For what purpose?”

He smiled. “Oh, it’s just something the Regents call a ’screen-saver’, for some odd reason.”

He pushed the button again, and the celestial scenery and music ceased. The gray metallic walls reappeared.

“But I digress. Mistress, do you recall our conversation some time ago concerning young Benjamin and Elizabeth?”

I gathered my scattered wits. “Why yes. Are they in danger, think ye?”

The Seer nodded. “Very grave danger. Without your assistance, I fear for their lives.”

“Their lives? How? And how do ye know this?”

The Seer looked down at his podium and said, “Observe…” Then he pushed several buttons and levers, and the walls vanished again. I seized hold of the podium for dear life, overcome by vertigo. We were now several hundred feet in the air, looking directly down at old Torshavn.

“Oh, Baruch… Ye be frightening the wits out of me! What if someone sees us up here?”

The Seer gazed at the scene below. “Mistress, this is only a projection. We are not really ‘here’, if you follow me.”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “I do not. I am sorry. Please put me down on the ground again quickly, else I fear I may become ill. How does this conveyance work, by the way?”

He touched my shoulder. “Do you recall the image dissector, just a few minutes ago? It cast a faint image of me hundreds of miles away. This is, shall we say, a more sophisticated version of that device, but the principle is the same. You can travel almost anywhere in Edom with this machine, without really taking a step.”

I still had my eyes closed. As I gripped the podium I swallowed and said, “’Tis truly miraculous. Now put me down—please.”

“It is not miraculous—it is simply Dravidian technology. Observe.”

I cautiously opened my eyes and fixed them upon the Seer and his podium—the only solid objects within my view. We slowly descended until we stood in the center of a town square in old Torshavn that I remembered from my youth. It was night, and the only light came from the Great River overhead and a few feeble window lamps.

“I remember this place,” I whispered to the Seer. I was afraid someone would notice us standing there in the gloom, and I recalled the strict Akamerian curfew and chain-law. “What if someone notices us here?” I whispered.

“They won’t. Remember, Mistress, we are not really here. We are completely invisible.”

I was still not convinced. The Seer pushed a lever, and we glided effortlessly toward an arched stone bridge at one side of the town square. I saw a figure huddled under the bridge, sleeping.

The Seer moved us to within a few feet of the figure. He was filthy and dressed in rags, but I recognized him. “Benjamin… Oh, I had no idea. You poor dear, what has happened to you?” I whispered, but Benjamin did not respond.

Out of the corner of my eye I sensed a motion. I peered into the blackness of an alleyway off to the side of the square. Someone was observing us furtively. “Ssh! They will see us!” I hissed to the Seer.

“I think not,” the Seer whispered back.

The stranger emerged from the shadows and crept across the square toward us, glancing about. It appeared to be a young, beardless man, with his hair tightly pulled back in a short Nordish ponytail. He wore a woolly sheepskin jerkin, baggy leather knee-britches, and a pair of Nordish ankle-strap sandals. He was filthy and very thin. He held a knife in his right hand. He approached Benjamin and stooped down.

“What is he doing to Benjamin?” I said, alarmed. “We must stop him!”

“Just observe,” the Seer replied.

The man placed himself close to Benjamin’s ear and whispered in a high-pitched voice. “Sleep well, Ben.” He placed a half-loaf of rye bread next to Ben. Then he scuttled back to the alleyway and disappeared.

Now greatly puzzled, I whispered, “Who was that?”

“One of our spies, who is looking out for Benjamin,” the Seer replied.

That was somewhat reassuring. “Can you take me to see Elizabeth?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Unfortunately, we cannot see through walls with this device. We can only see outdoors. Some years ago the Regents placed sensors inside the royal throne-room and elsewhere in order to observe King Theobald, but the sensors have long since ceased to function. That is why it was so important for us to place young Benjamin and Elizabeth here, in Torshavn.”

I bowed my head. “I saw Elizabeth, not so long ago. She was pitiful.”

“Yes, I know,” he replied. “I observed you from here.”

I looked up. “Really? How?”

“We can not only view the present with this Kolab room—we can travel back in time, as it were, and view past events. After I learned that you possessed the Sólsteinn, I reviewed your comings and goings at Torshavn and saw you enter the coventry.”

I blushed. “I am so sorry… I meant well.”

“Yes, well…that is why I have brought you here. There may yet be a purpose for that curious Dravidian bauble—but we will proceed according to God’s plan, this time.”

I looked up at him. “Can you see the future with this device?”

The Seer shook his head. “No, I cannot…but a seer has no need of such things. In fact, an over-reliance on these mechanical devices can be dangerous to us.”



Chapter 9

Shifra


All the Fort Kanosh citizens, frantically engaged they were in collecting food, clothing, bedding, and a few cherished possessions to carry to the canyons. Assisting the other women I did, as wagons, carts, and wheelbarrows were loaded with goods. Mothers ran to and fro in the dark, their children gathering and re-gathering. All the domesticated animals we turned loose to fend for themselves, except the few remaining horses. Elazar I did assist to collect a few essential items and papers from the Hegemon’s office.

“Where be Ariella?” I asked, as we rummaged about. “There is seeing her likeness I did, on the wall just now?”

Elazar shrugged. “Oh… I sent her to Salem with some important messages for the Seer.”

I did not believe him, but no time to argue had I.

While crossing back to the main gate, Jacob’s two wives I did visit. Busily packing they were. I knocked and said, “Assisting you, may I?”

“No, there’s precious little to save from this old shack,” Sarah replied over her shoulder from inside. “But I thank you.”

I did not press the issue with Sarah, but through the open door I her observed.

“Come, Naomi, we must hurry!” Miriam said, as the last treasured possessions from Jacob’s shanty, she did collect—a silver pitcher and spoon, two ceramic wedding plates, and Jacob’s army medals.

“Mommy, why are we leaving? Where are we going?” said Naomi.

Miriam reached down and hugged her daughter. “We’re going away to the hoodoos, dear, just for a little while. Then we’ll come back…”

My heart, it did break for Jacob’s two good wives. Much grief Miriam must have felt as well, as she abandoned the tiny shack that for over fifteen turns their home had been. She sighed, her traveling bag in one hand she took and Naomi in the other, then the candle she extinguished and the shanty she exited. I turned me about to observer and with Sarah I nearly collided. Furiously sweeping the threshold with a broom she was, in the near-dark.

“Why do ye sweep?” I said.

Sarah replied, “I’ll not have those Akamerians thinking I’m a poor housewife.” Throwing down the broom, she said, “To Sheol with it. Come on… Let’s go.”

I assisted Sarah, Miriam and Naomi to the front gate, then for stragglers I looked. When every soul in the fort, assembled at the gates they were, Elazar he appointed Counselor Zechariah to guide the community. He patted Zechariah on the shoulder. “Look after them, my brother. Help is on the way, I promise.”

Zechariah, he nodded firmly. Then his guards he called to order. “Company, form up!” Ten aged soldiers took their places on either side of the main gate and their rusty old muskets they shouldered.

Zechariah, he led the ragged squad of soldiers through the main gate. The Believers, they picked up their push-carts, drag-frames, and children and followed him out. They turned to the right and to the hoodoos made their way, and from my view they disappeared.

When the Believers, they were full departed, myself and Elazar did take one last, longing look at our beloved Fort Kanosh. Costing us it had, so much labor and toil to build—the dining hall, the cooperative store, the tannery, the carpentry shop, the tailor shop, the barn…

My husband, he sank to his knees and a fervent kadesh-prayer offered he up to God—that our last evacuation this might be, that our friends would protected be, and that God’s Visitation, soon it would come. Then Elazar sighed, stood up, to the bakery he went and lit a torch, while his horse I held at the flagpole.

Shortly he returned with the flaming torch. Flickering beams the torch did cast across the deserted courtyard, as if already aflame was the fort. Elazar, he looked at me and said, “Well? What are we waiting for?”

“I canna’ bear to look!” I cried, hiding my face.

“Then you’d best wait outside, my dear,” he replied. “It’ll be safer for you there.”

I fled the silent, darkened fort, and waited. A few moments later, white smoke arose from inside the compound. Elazar, he quickly exited through the main gate, leading his horse.

“No sense locking the door,” said he, as we embraced. Then to the hoodoo formations he pointed. “Go, my dear. You’ll be safe there with the others. I promise you I’ll return shortly.”

Into his saddle he swung and his gaze he fixed on me. Hesitating and shifting my gaze I did, betwixt the fort and my husband.

“Go now!” he entreated me. “Quickly!”

Bitter anguish I felt as smoke and flames from the fort arose. Then I tore my gaze away, and my steps I turned toward the red sandstone cliffs behind the fort. I glanced over my shoulder, and Elazar I saw gallop off into the night, seeking rescue. The crackling flames, they had begun to engulf Fort Kanosh.

Chapter 10

Benjamin


Late in the morning I left my hideout under the bridge, threaded my way outta the narrow streets of the old town, and headed for the Althing-plaats. When I arrived there ’bout a half hour later I saw a row of booths attended by Sibyls, just outside the wall surrounding the Temple of Idunna.

Just as I figgered, I thought. They’re open for business as usual.

I walked as nonchalantly as I could across the Althing-plaats and approached the booths. I ignored the booths labeled “Sacred Apples,” “Votive Images,” and “Waters of Immortality,” and zeroed in on the booth that was labeled “Alms for Idunna.”

This is ’bout the riskiest thing I’ve ever done, I thought. I could be sending myself to prison with this stunt—or worse.

I approached a pleasant-looking, rather plump Sibyl at the booth and announced, “I have an alms to request of Idunna and Braggi, but it can only be performed by one special Sibyl, named Estrilda. Do you know her?”

The Sibyl frowned, and spoke hesitantly. “Why, yes… I know her. Why are you asking for her, specifically?”

I paused. This is the dangerous part. “Tell her that her brother, Blagwin, wishes her to perform the ritual. Here is my prayer to Idunna for her.”

I pulled out a sealed letter and handed it to the Sibyl, who took it and said, “Very well. I shall see that it is delivered to her. That will be ten kroner.”

“Ten kroner?” I exclaimed.

“Special delivery costs more. I could do the ritual for you myself for five, if you wish.”

“No, no…” I grumbled, fishing in my pocket for the coins, which I deposited in a pottery urn, one by one. “…eight, nine, ten.”

She smiled. “I shall see to it. Thank you… Next!”

I quickly exited from the Althing-plaats, made my way back to my hiding place, and waited.

Chapter 11

Elizabeth


About an hour after Ben showed up at the Althing-plaats, Nesta was relieved from her post by another Sibyl. Nesta had orders to take her cash proceeds to Budicca’s office for an accounting.

Budicca no doubt looked suspiciously at Ben’s letter for a moment; then she broke the seal and pulled the letter out. She carefully scanned the text and slipped the letter back into the envelope.

“Approved,” she said. “See that it is delivered to Estrilda.”

“Yes, Mistress,” said Nesta, who curtsied and left the Supreme Sibyl’s office for the coventry.

A few minutes later Nesta knocked on my door. When I came to the door, Nesta appeared shocked at my appearance—and rightly so. My hair was straggly, my kyrtill was filthy, and I must have smelled like I hadn’t bathed in days—which was the truth. I be certain the wild, far-away look in my eyes must have made Nesta very uneasy.


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