Chapter 30: The Hand of Fate is That of a Blue Faerie
A Hand reaches out,
Twitches the curtain aside;
Granting a quick glimpse.
~ Miyara Miwa
With a week's journey ahead of us, we took the rest of the food from the now-closed Red Bull, and bought a little from the few villagers who still remained. We planned to supplement those provisions as we traveled: both Kyosuke, after his lonely journey of two years in the western wilderness following me, and Ash were skilled in living off the land. The village leader invited us to take what we wished from the doctor's house; Ravena replenished her store of medicines and salves, and Hosei stuffed many odd things into his pockets and pouches. He will be traveling with us, as he had been on his way to Iri when we met. He is an elderly monk and should not be traveling in this dangerous place alone anyway. Although I am not certain but that he might be safer on his own after all. The old woman did say that chaos dogs our heels. Omi, his arm still broken, stayed in the village.
I asked Sun his preference: to travel with us or to stay in the village. He said he would prefer to continue following me. I do not mind, as he has become quite useful in his quiet way. Should I ever be favoured by Fate so as to be allowed to return home, I wonder if he shall wish to follow me that far. A western servant would make quite a splash back home. I am not certain whether for good or bad. Certainly the Isawa would appreciate the oddity, but the Miyara clan is more conservative. My and Kyosuke's eventual return will shake things up a bit, I think. We will have to trace Og's history before our return: I believe that will enable us to claim Kyosuke's and Og's clown-fighting technique as an honorable, if lost, tradition.
Our journey was about a week long, and quiet. We did pass a recent encampment of about five orcs, but did not see the point in following the days-old tracks. We had tarried long enough in Karusa Hofen. At last, we came to a narrow track winding up into the mountains, just past Wintersteeth Pass, which I was told is the main path through these jagged mountains. The terrain reminded me much of home. The air became cooler and crisp as we climbed, and I was certain it would not be long before the peaks saw snow.
We slowly and breathlessly climbed up the steep path, zig-zagging amongst cliffs and sharp rocks. The scent of juniper was strong. We caught glimpses of the monastery now and then, but it did not come into full view until we stood before the ravine that separated us. A bridge, about the width of a cart, took us to the gates. The barbarians seemed nervous that it lacked rails and looked flimsy; they began making noises about tying themselves together to cross it. I told Kyosuke what there were talking about and he looked at me unbelievingly. The wind was not alarming, and we simply walked across; they naturally followed us.
As we walked up to the portcullis that closed off the entrance at the bottom of the cliff that held Iri at its top, high above us, Hosei moved ahead. These monks are his own, I believe, and he would be our best spokesman amongst them. On the other side, a human guard stepped up and began telling us to state our name and business in a bored voice, but then he caught clear sight of us and he stopped, his eyes wide with surprise. He seemed to recognize one or some of us and gestured us in happily, apologizing that although we were certainly expected, we were not expected just at that moment. For a brief moment, it was like the first time I spoke with the White Faerie, when he knew who I was before I said a word.
We followed him through the portcullis, and he closed it after us. He led us through a wide tunnel into the rock that opened up inside into a huge natural cavern. Although lit, we could not see to the other side. He led us across the middle to a wide stairway, disappearing into the stone above. The White Faerie seemed happy with the workmanship, which I assumed to be faerie, as he is never satisfied with the work of mere humans.
It became apparent quickly that this staircase climbed all the way to the top of the cliff, where the monastery perched. We passed two landings, separated by several hundred steps. As we climbed the stairs, Hosei, who must be in better physical shape than one would suppose, spoke with our guide and asked him who among us he had recognized and how. The guard told us they had been waiting for us since Yazeran died, 57 years ago. He had left them a prophecy that foretold of our coming, complete with a full description of every one of us, save Sun but including Hosei. I remarked that he was most certainly now part of our group, and he replied, "Fate, my lady." How true. At last, we stepped up into open air, the sky above our heads and surrounded by buildings.
In each of four corners was a tower, and buildings clustered against the outside walls. There was one building in the center of the large courtyard, and we could see a statue of the small blue faerie we had seen in our fire. He had apparently started setting us on our way 57 years ago, although only Hosei might have been alive at that time.
The guard did not pause, and we followed him to a two-story building, and up its stairs on the outside. Having arrived at the door, the guard suddenly realized in his excitement that he had been completely remiss in his duties: he should not have allowed us this far carrying weapons, and he also realized that he was leading a rather large group of people carrying a good amount of traveling gear to what was apparently a small room. As is our custom in temples and other places that restrict weapons, I handed him Kita, but kept the smaller sword at my side. We left our packs at the foot of the stairs. At our knock, the door opened and we squeezed inside. The guard, as he returned to his post, asked Jeisan his last name, which was Featherhand, something I had not known. The guard laughed as though the name were funny, but did not explain his amusement.
The room was definitely not meant for as many people as we were. I briefly wondered why we were taken here, when they knew exactly how many of us were coming. The roostmaster, as he introduced himself, was quite elderly, and I bowed deeply to him. I was happy to see Kyosuke follow suit.
His name was Geregoru. He tended to mumble and ramble and lose his way as he spoke, making it hard sometimes for me to follow. The White Faerie could not hear the roostmaster's quiet voice, and I began to repeat everything for him, and then to translate for Kyosuke. With one sentence, it was clear that I could not do both and keep up with what was being said. Res Li, who had climbed up on the White Faerie's shoulder so as to see (and not be stepped on), said he would take over that portion. With so much practice, I have become very good at translating for Kyosuke and not losing my place.
I sometimes think it would be good for Kyosuke to learn this language so that he could become more truly part of the group. With Omi's brief presence and Hosei's ability to sometimes speak with Kyosuke, I have seen a difference in him. Of course, he is rightfully scornful of the westerners and their barbaric language. But, I think his scorn often cause him to underestimate them, which is always a mistake either when faced with any adversary or with allies. As well, the others of this strange group I lead also underestimate my cousin. Yet I feel reluctant to command him to learn this distasteful tongue.
Hosei interrupted the roostmaster's ramblings, which were confusing and uninformative, and said that we were slightly mystified on exactly why we were so well-known by everyone here. The roostmaster replied, "the prophecy." Hosei asked, "exactly, what prophecy? I'm brother Hosei from," something I didn't understand, "on my acolytes journey, and I met this group of fine people in Karusa Hofen and I have no idea what prophecy you're speaking of."
Once assuring himself we knew Yazeran was, which we did: he was indeed the Blue Faerie from our fire, he gave us some short history.
Iri had been a small collection of huts until about a hundred years, when Yazeran arrived and started to build it into its present form. No one knows why he did so, although we could make a guess. Yazeran died about fifty years ago, having completed the monastery (and presumably hidden the crystal of air somewhere here safely), and he left a prophecy about us. His brief spurt of clarity ended here, and he fumbled around before asking us if we wanted some tea. Wondering if the tea would be decent, and perhaps settle him down again, I answered for us all, "Of course!"
He yelled out the door for some tea, and another monk, little more than a boy still, brought some within moments, and handed it all around. It was typical western tea, but I drank it anyway. He took the time to put his thoughts together while he sipped at his cup, and gave us a sort of vague idea of what the prophecy said. Very vague.
"Danger on all sides ... some people arrive and sort it all out ..." He described us pretty well. "Just this morning, I was talking to Yazeran, but I did not know if he was listening. Translucent. Blue. He said to expect you, and here you are. I have a message to you from him ... cannot quite remember ... Oh, yes ... Cut open the cover of a book, and I should find something meant for you." He looked doubtful for a moment. "I told him it was a valuable book, and he did not really want to do that, but Yazeran faded away. Surely enough, I found it, in the book's spine." He rummaged around on his desk for a moment, then handed a piece of paper to Res Li, who read it aloud for us:
Greetings honored Roostmaster, whoever and wherever you may be.
I am old and weak, and I sense that this is my final illness. Soon the Mason will come to seal me in my tomb, back in the Element from which I sprang. I have given him my seven silver coins in advance, as is his due.
If you are reading this, then my vision was true. The time of Iri's greatest peril is upon you. It is the time of my prophecy. Those whom I have foreseen shall arrive at Iri shortly. You will recognize them from my verses. Heed them and help them, but do no wrong and suffer no wrongdoings from them - I have foreseen that the love of Iri is not the greatest of their motives.
Before you is the first of my clues, to be given to the Foreseen along with these words. To find the second clue, wait until the dinner hour and seek where my line runs true. Each clue will lead to the next, and all lie within the walls of Iri. When they have all eight - or was it seven, my memory is not what it once was - they will be able to use them together to find that which they seek. Ask not what it is - they know, and I know, and you shall know if need be. Its fate and theirs are entwined with that of Iri, although this may not always be clear to you.
Hurry, for now the time has come for deeds, not words. Those who come will know of what I write.
Yazeran, his Mark
Another piece of paper proved to be a drawing of us all, the Foreseen. Truly a miracle of Fate, and I contemplated my part in it briefly. A third piece of paper was an odd thing. It was a 6-sided playing card with a picture on it and words around the edge. The words were, "Only whole when one is over." We were meant to follow the clue from the card to find our next clue. Since Yazeran was uncertain how many clues he had created for us, I hoped it would be clear to us when we had finished gathering them. He must have loved puzzles, for surely he could have told us directly in his letter, secreted away for so many years, where he hid the crystal.
The Roostmaster was not interested in the riddle, and he pointed at the young monk who had brought us the tea. His name was Dita and would be our guide for as long as we were here. Before we left, Hosei asked him for the prophecy, since we had not heard it yet. He dug around on his desk and handed us a copy, which Hosei read to us. I have asked him to read it to me line by line, and also the letter, so that I could write them down in my journal tonight.
Nine hands of fate will come up from the pass
And the time will be time of great need
Not with book nor with quill yet within Iri still
Will be found what the rescuers need
Black hair, white order, power not by part
Healer by nature, by practice, and art
Holder of stone, and no little ire
Tumbling gymnast, and wielder of fire.
Deep seeing lock smith and point guard by role
Being an Elf, both by half and by whole.
The night on two feet, chrome helm like a flame
With fists like two rams, an ironic name
Tall black human, through the forests he prowls
Woodcutter, tracker, and student of owls
White skin and dark beard, following along
Another prescient Dwarf, Gruni strong
Proud fighting clown from a far away land
Seeking an ork who's death was at hand
Shaper of paper, and intricate rhyme
Looking for answers backward in time
A one handed monk and slave to the truth
Balancing the fortunes of his opposite youth
The oldest of foes shall approach through the peaks
With their hearts on the treasure within
May the rescuers find what is hidden in time
Else the enemy surely will win
Intricate rhyme indeed.
While we pondered this prophecy, the Roostmaster called for another monk. He was introduced as Noberu and his title was the Flagmaster. He led us back downstairs, all the way to the cavern at the bottom of the stairs. He explained that this was a monastery, and the monk's rooms were small. We would be sharing two, and there would not be much room for our bulky traveling packs. We left those items we would not need immediately in a room to keep them safe. The White Faerie insisted on some place more secure for the chest he carries, and the Flagmaster said he knew of a place that should do.
He then looked at us sternly and said that weapons were absolutely forbidden in the monastery and we would have to leave them in the armory upstairs. That is also the custom home, although a warrior is always allowed to keep the smaller wakizashi to mark her status. As it is carried on the opposite side, and it is small, it is not considered an immediate danger. I explained my people's customs to him, and he offered me a choice: either leave it in my room, or with the other weapons. I could see no real benefit for leaving it in my room if I were not allowed to carry it, so I allowed all my weapons to be stored in the armory. I felt as though I were a small child again, and I felt out of sorts until I was allowed to reclaim my weapons.
Upstairs, we were shown two rooms next to each other. It was obvious that we would not be able to all fit inside, as each held four beds. These westerners are beyond understanding: armed with a prophecy that foretold our exact number as well as a portrait of us, still they could not manage to have a place ready for us all.
He said warriors were invited to sleep with the guards, and the White Faerie immediately said that would be his preference. Ash stuttered out that he would prefer to sleep outdoors, even better if he could sleep on a tower roof. Hosei said he would like to room with fellow monks, as that is what he would have done were not part of the Foretold. With the absence of those three, we were able then to fit inside the two small rooms: Kyosuke, Res Li, Jeisan, and Sun in one, and Ravena, Caramela, and I in the other.
The Flagmaster then told us the rules of the place before setting us free. No visitors were allowed in the library, and nothing could be removed from the library. If we needed anything from the library, any of the monks would be happy to research our questions and bring us copies of anything he found. None may raise a hand against another in anger. No gambling. I smiled, sure the guards found ways to gamble among themselves at least. Breakfast is at the fourth hour of the morning, lunch at the noon hour, and dinner at the eighth hour of the evening. If we had any questions at all, Dita would answer them for us. Or at least find someone who could.
Then the Flagmaster left, saying that Dita would take us for a tour of Iri. As we settled our things in the rooms, Hosei spoke quietly to us. I heard his voice in the western tongue, but he urged us to speak in our native tongues. I understood that to mean that he wished to ask a question and not have anyone here understand the answer.
The question was what we were here for. I realized suddenly that although he knew of the Blue Faerie appearing in our fire before we met him, he knew nothing at all about the crystals, one of which we were to find here to use to protect Iri from the orcs. As the one whose language was least likely to be understood by anyone here, I gave him a quick explanation, as I knew it at least.
I ensured he knew about the western's system of four elements, rather than five, and then told him there were four magical crystals corresponding to each one. I said we have the crystal of fire, and he glanced at Caramela, now knowing what it is that she carries. I then said we knew where the crystal of earth is, but we could not retrieve it yet and it was probably quite safe for the time where it was hidden. Yazeran, the Blue Faerie, had commanded us to come to Iri and save the crystal of air. I also told him the danger that the White Faerie had seen about having them too near each other: the entire world disappearing into a vortex of chaos, according to his vision.
Dita took us first to the armory, where the White Faerie could safely leave his chest. The armorer was there, and the two began to speak of there common skills and interests. The White Faerie was happy to accept Kulasu's invitation to sleep there rather than with the guards. Hosei asked Dita about the kitchens, wishing to ensure they would not feed me meat. As with temples and monasteries back home, meat is the exception rather than the rule, and it would be quite easy for me to avoid meat.
We all wished to see the statue of Yazeran before anything else, and Dita led us there. It occupies a prominent place in the courtyard, and as people pass it, they show reverence towards it, even when in a hurry. Dita was quite awed, and he carefully polished a bit of brass with his sleeve while we inspected the statue.
The Blue Faerie's body was carved from one large piece of stone, and the pedestal is another. There were two items in his hands which were brass. Res Li quietly said that the statue and its pedestal are solid, and there is nothing underneath it but solid earth and rock. We looked long at each of the four sides of the pedestal.
The north face pictured us faithfully and Hosei read the first stanza from the prophecy which was written above us. It was apparent that the drawing we had was a study for this carving. It was also entirely unnerving to be the subject of something ordinarily left to heroes long dead.
On the west face, Yazeran was depicted on his death bed, surrounded by monks and writing on a small scroll. There was a phrase carved above this picture as well, and Hosei read, "Yazeran departs, leaving a sadder but wiser world. Yorugi inscribed this stav when I took my seven coins and laid him in his grave."
The south face held an idealized portrait of Yazeran standing at the top of one of Iri's towers, raining down lightning on goblins far below. Hosei read, "Yazeran the philosopher, smiting our enemies as he has stricken ignorance from our minds."
The east face depicted the rebuilding of Iri, with many workers scurrying around being supervised by Yazeran. He held a scroll in one hand and a level in the other. Hosei read, "Yazeran the architect raising the roost".
Hosei said we needed to be back here at the statue at the dinner hour to find the next clue. He said "This is the line that runs true." I did not understand, and he explained that "true" has two meanings: the truth, but also it means straight. What had looked to me be a fishing line with a bob at the end is instead a "plumb bob" and is used to find the true vertical by builders. And so this line that runs true shall in some way point us to the next clue at the dinner hour.