The Orb And The Spectre (Book 2)

BOOK: The Orb And The Spectre (Book 2)
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ENCHANTMENT’S

REACH

Volume Two:

The Orb & the Spectre

 

 

Martin Ash

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enchantment’s Reach Volume2:  The Orb and the Spectre

© Copyright: Martin Ash 2013

© Outside Publishing 2013

 

Cover design & artwork: Alexia Dima, Michail Antonellos

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means without the prior written consent of the publisher, other than brief quotes for reviews.

 

 

 

Other works by Martin Ash in eBook

Enchantment’s Reach One: The Orb Undreamed

Enchantment’s Reach 3: Orbelon’s World

Enchantment’s Reach 4: Into The Dark Flame

Enchantment’s Reach 5: What Lies Within

Enchantment’s Reach 6: OrbSoul

 

 

 

‘We do not understand much of anything… We have a wilderness of mystery to make our way through in the time ahead.’

Lewis Thomas (Physician, Essayist)

 

 

‘What was life? No one knew. It was undoubtedly aware of itself, as soon as it was life; but it did not know what it was.’

Thomas Mann – The Magic Mountain.

 


My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are,
At random from the truth vainly express'd;
For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
who art as black as hell, as dark as night.’
William Shakespeare     Sonnet 147

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ONE

 

 

 

I

 

 

 

   King Leth brooded.

  
What am I to believe? There are gods, but they are not gods. Not as the factions had previously conceived. Yet there are correspondences. They exist; they are powerful; they are vengeful.

   King Haruman's Deist Edict denied them.

  
No!
He would not permit himself to falter on this. The Edict only denied the religions and superstitions that had been purposefully promoted in their names as a means of controlling the will of the people. The factions had become powerful political forces, but for all their preaching they had little to do with spiritual truth or knowledge of the gods. They battled, almost mirroring the endless battles of the gods they worshipped, the gods they did not know. Without the Edict they would have torn Enchantment's Reach apart.

  
Yet even with the Edict we are being torn apart by those same forces, in ways that I cannot comprehend.

   But we have never denied the gods. We have denied only our ability to know them. Haruman established our path. Following him, we have striven to acknowledge and
admit to our ignorance in the hope that in that way we might eventually be rid of it. This is what I stand for. The search for true knowledge must be paramount; the gathering of greater clouds of ignorance and superstition can only ultimately harm us. That is the purpose of the Edict. Surely, surely we can’t have been wrong?

   But then, what of the Legendary Child? Isn’t its existence - if it does exist - proof that at least one of the factions may have been right all along?
If one, then why not others?

   Leth's head rang with unanswered and unanswerable questions.

  
Issul, Issul, why did you not tell me more?

   The import of the knowledge he had been acquiring from Orbelon, which he was forbidden to impart, weighed upon him and elated him at the same time.

  
The gods exist, but not as gods. They number twenty four. They war in order to create, to extend the borders of their environment which we call Enchantment. They are perhaps only half aware of the purpose behind their striving. They do not truly know what they are. Generally they have no interest in us, though in pursuing their own aims they would have no qualms in destroying us. One of them at least has aligned itself with the Karai, against us of Enchantment's Reach.

  
The knowledge that the gods were not as the factions claimed, and that they did not demand worship, was a small comfort. But the very fact that such beings existed strengthened the factions' position.

   Leth felt he could be sure of nothing.
All this is brought to me by a magical creature who dwells somehow in an empty blue world contained in a casket no larger than a maid's jewellery box. All this is only true if Orbelon can be believed.

   If Orbelon can be believed! I take him at his word, with no means to disprove him. Is this the way of a responsible ruler?

 

 

II

 

   And now had come definite news. Issul was lost. Perhaps dead. Perhaps a prisoner of the Karai.

   Remnants of the platoon Leth had sent to escort her had returned to Orbia with the news of her ambush. Of the eight members of her original escort, led by Sir Bandullo, only two had survived. Sir Bandullo was not one of them. Seven members of the platoon had also been killed, and eight others wounded. One was missing.

   They had given chase, not aware for some time that it was Karai they pursued, for the attackers had almost vanished into the forest. But some distance into the forest they were attacked again, and then again. Eventually they had lost the trail.

   Leth's one consolation was that Issul had not been found among the dead. It gave him some hope that she lived. But what could have become of her?
A captive of the Karai?

   It was unthinkable. What would they do to her? Or did she yet lie dead in some lonely place, her corpse undiscovered by the searchers? Or was she wandering the forest, lost, the eventual prey of wild creatures that haunted the wood's depths?

   King Leth had sent out search-parties, had dispatched a force two hundred strong to find her. He had stamped and cursed that he could not accompany them, but the deepening crisis at the capital demanded his presence in Orbia. When the searchers returned some days later it was without sign or news of Issul or the Karai unit that had ambushed her. The trail was cold.

   A survivor of the ambush had been the peasant woman, Ohirbe. She was brought to Orbia in a state of near-madness brought on by the events that had overtaken her. She was grief-stricken at the death of her husband, Arrin, and the loss of Moscul, the child she and Arrin had fostered.

   What had become of Moscul? Nobody knew. His body had not been recovered. Like Issul he had simply disappeared without trace.

   Leth, frantic with worry over Issul, troubled and preoccupied by the issues that hung over him, had ordered that Ohirbe be brought to him. He questioned her about Moscul, and Issul's involvement with the child. But Ohirbe, tearful and dazed, could tell him only that the little boy had been brought to her when he was just a few days old. She hadn’t known it was the Queen who brought him, nor anything of his origins. Nor had she learned anything since.

   An unusual child? Yes, she confirmed, little Moscul was not like other children of his age. He was unusually bright, and very precocious, very knowing. And now he was gone. And the Queen was gone. And poor Arrin was dead. . . .

   Ohirbe believed it must somehow be all her fault. She had done wrong, she knew it. She was a bad person and this was her punishment. She buried her face in her hands and howled her grief, too overcome to feel fear even before the King.

   Leth came away from that fruitless meeting with tears staining his own cheeks.
Issul, Issul, my love. Live! Come back. Find your way back to me. I have no will to exist if you aren’t by my side.

   His days and nights were a torment during this time. He barely slept, but tossed and turned throughout the dark hours, dreaming terrible dreams and lurching into
sudden, dreadfully clear wakefulness, Issul's name on his lips, the sound of his cry reverberating across the silence of their bedchamber.

   Leth spent more time than ever before with their children, Jalry and Jace. It was as if his closeness with them might summon Issul, somehow draw her back to complete the unity that her absence prevented. Both children enquired about their mother. Leth told them she had gone away on state duties but would be back soon. He instructed their nannies and minders to say likewise.

   Leth took immense delight in his children’s games, but fell into sudden despondency every time he was reminded that their mother was not there, enjoying them. Jace's likeness to her mother struck him more and more, the light on her fair hair, the laughter and sadness in her eyes, the ways she had of unknowingly imitating Issul and her mannerisms and gestures. Whenever chance offered he took the time to put both children to bed, and their cousin Lir, also. Lir, too, was deprived of her mother, as Mawnie's recovery was not swift. Lir had become even more silent and withdrawn than usual, and seemed indifferent to Leth.

   Leth told them stories of fairies, monsters and gallant knights, and sat by their bedsides until all three slept. When he left them he was cast back into the pit of loneliness and despair which seemed to become more his natural dwelling place with every passing day.

   He brooded upon what Ohirbe had said. He considered the accusations of the faction leaders. He wondered:
I have been godless. Has the wrath of divinities fallen upon me? Is this my punishment?

   Somehow - usually - he found the strength within him to fight back:
No! I have never denied the gods. I have sought knowledge and truth, as I do still, in the manner of my predecessors. I will not become the victim of superstition and blind, baseless, fixed belief!

   But in the darkness in which he dwelt more and more it became harder to withstand the taunting voices that echoed in his mind, the recriminations of guilt and irresponsibility.

   A few days after Issul's disappearance, news arrived at Orbia of a slooth attack on a small market town to the west of Enchantment's Reach. The assault had been swift and savage. Twenty one people were killed, randomly and indiscriminately. No slooths had been brought down. Leth despaired. Against attacks of this nature he could offer no defence. He could spare no men to garrison the town: the slooths would almost certainly aim their next attack at some other remote and undefended community. Prince Anzejarl's strategy was apparently to terrorize and demoralize while placing as much pressure on Leth as he could. In this he was succeeding.

   No ransom demand for Issul was
received, nor any other indication that Prince Anzejarl had her in his hands. Could he be ignorant, or - more likely - might silence be another element in his overall strategy?

 

 

 

 

III

 

 

   On a wet, windy morning Leth met in Special Assembly with the heads of the major factions. Lord Fectur was there, as was Pader Luminis and, representing the military, Sir Cathbo. Palace Guards stood in close attendance, ever wary since Grey Venger's attempt on the King's life. The heads of the Far Flame, the Children of Ushcopthe, the Mark of the Golden Thought, and several others congregated within the hall, all keen to hear what King Leth had to say. They had called for the assembly, though Leth had already come to the decision that such a convocation was the most advisable course.

   "I am concerned that word may have leaked out about Issul's petition to Grey Venger and his subsequent reply and declaration of terms," Leth confided to Pader Luminis on the way to the hall.

   "I have heard nothing to that effect," Pader replied calmly. "To my knowledge this meeting is to question your methods of dealing with the crisis, to once again make demands, in view of current developments, to rescind the Deist Edict, and to ascertain the status of the Karai prince, Anzejarl, in regard to his alliance with, apparently, a god."

   "Have I done wrong, Pader?" Leth asked. "Have I handled this badly?"

   "I do not think so. From where I stand it appears that you have done what any other in your position would have done under similar circumstances. The problem is that you are beset by potent mysteries and unparalleled menaces the like of which no monarch before you has had to confront. At least, not simultaneously. The factions are using this as a means to their own ends. Unfortunately there is little unity behind you. The crisis to them is most relevant in that they perceive it as an instrument which they may use to bring you down."

   "Am I to be brought down?"

   "I for one would hope not. What would be the outcome? Apart from losing a monarch who is perhaps without peer, the realm would succumb to anarchy. The factions have no agreement between themselves. They would fall upon each other, while the Karai moved in almost unopposed. But I say to you now, as your loyal subject and an old friend, that if you falter or glance aside, even for an instant, if you make one wrong decision at this time, your enemies here, within Enchantment's Reach, will seize that moment and use it, if they can, to destroy you. They can see no further than the ends of their noses. Beware, Leth. You are surrounded by hungry wolves."

   "Are you one of them, Pader?" asked Leth, struck with a sudden spasm of doubt.

   Pader Luminis halted in his stride. His face showed a hurt but concerned expression. "Be sure that I am not. I am of the Arcane College, and a lifelong friend and supporter of the Crown. But the fact that you can ask such a question of me is an indication of how serious this matter has become."

   "I feel I may not even lead my people to war against the
Karai," Leth said, "for so many have been poisoned against me."

   "Then seek diligently for the antidote to the poison. It is the truth that people really seek, though they may not always know it."

   Leth clasped his hand. "Pader, you are a true friend, this I have never doubted, and I apologise if I have just caused you to question that. Outside of my immediate family there is no other I would trust as I trust you. One day soon, then, I may come to you with a request. A request which at the time may seem unusual. If that happens, I entreat you, do not question me. Do simply as I ask. Much will depend on it."

   Pader Luminis studied him with a gaze that was simultaneously intent, questioning and compassionate.

   "Ask nothing more, Pader," said Leth. "For I can tell you nothing."

   "My lord, you have my word."

 

 

IV

 

   The faction heads were unsympathetic, which came as no surprise. They sought blood, and they smelled it in the air. They had taken their respective places around the great oval table, Gursmaeden, the Table of Debate, and the moment Leth seated himself and declared the assembly open, they were upon him. As Pader Luminis had predicted their main thrust was against the Deist Edict.

BOOK: The Orb And The Spectre (Book 2)
11.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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