Libraries - Part III

Abafouq stood against the trestle of the bridge spanning an ice flow between two promontories in the glacier field. Bundled up in furs and leather thongs, he watched the birds circling high overhead, clouds trailing along in the evening air, and the last rays of the sun glinting off the rocky mountaintops. Beneath him, the ice river was gurgling, a few patches of the thin sheet breaking apart in one of the last days of warmth they would have before winter set in fully. He was determined to enjoy it as best he could.

Despite the solemnity of his environs, his thoughts were a maze of ideas and plans and proposals. Questions ranged through each, most of them centring around the note he had received a few weeks back from the Åelf. So many things that he had read about, so many little stories and possibilities that he'd never expected to see in his lifetime were finally coming together. How he wished he could be involved in the actual events playing themselves out then stuck up on this glacier only able to watch from a distance.

Abafouq was unusual for a Binoq, though any human ever seeing him would never know it. His short dark hair was curled about his ears, bundled tightly together under his bearskin cap, and his small hands burrowed beneath the jerkin to fight against the cold, much like any other of his diminutive race. What was different was that few of his kind even lived this far into the glacial passes, where the Nauh-kaee ruled. They did not take kindly to trespassers in their demesnes, but that was another reason why Abafouq was peculiar.

Scraping his boot against the stone-hewn bridge, Abafouq turned away from the sky-scape and headed back to the small home built into the side of the mountain. Lifting aside the thick canvas, he scrambled down the sloping pathway of stone, and into the anteroom. Slipping free from the heavy jacket, he could feel the artificial warmth filling his bones. He had lived on this glacial plateau for so many years now, that he almost forgot how warm the hearths of his people's homes could be.

Moving to the next room in the cave, the dim light from Geurnef's enchantments cast the place in brisk shadow. With a single word, he was able to call them back from dormancy, giving the main room a more pleasant illumination. Abafouq pondered when Geurnef would return from his hunt. It had been several days since he had seen the Nauh-kaee who had taken him in. It was not unusual for him to leave for weeks at a time though.

Pulling the gloves from his fingers, he traced the small digits over the cache he had chiselled from the very stone. It was not too large, as he did not have much to store within it. A few books, some papers of his own, and his ink and pens. It was hard to come by ink in this clime, s it had a tendency to freeze on any journey through the mountains. So he very seldom used it.

Also, the message he had received from the Åelf was kept within that chamber. Every night for the last few weeks he had read it over again, trying to decide what he could do about it. There appeared to be little that he could do, trapped as he was in the glaciers. But Abafouq hated feeling so useless.

The sound of the claws against stone broke his mind free once again. Standing beneath the canvas covering the door was Geurnef. He was at least three times the Binoq's size, and appeared to be nothing remotely human in shape at all. Almost pure white, from the feathers adorning his upper half and wings, to the tawny fur covering his hindquarters and long narrow tail. His hooked beak was black though, a glossy black that reflected the ambient light that came from each of the walls. The chimæra peered coldly at Abafouq, not bothering to greet him as he entered.

"I'm glad to see you have returned safely," Abafouq said, addressing his keeper in a respectful fashion.

"Still reading that note?" Geurnef spoke, but not in words that could be understood by many ears. The Nauh-kaee do not speak the tongues of humans, or even the Binoq, for their throats lack the capability to do so. Yet their intent is inherent upon their voices, and those to whom they wish to be understood, would know what they said. In all his time here, Abafouq had never understood the speech of any Nauh-kaee except his keeper.

"Yes, I have been trying to decide what to do about it. I think I need to see these things for myself, instead of waiting here to discover them months later."

The white head turned to focus on the unkempt mattress, and the table at which he ate. Geurnef pulled a small white satchel from across his back and set it on the table. Abafouq knew it would contain fruits and meats from the lower lying mountains. It was his means of survival.

"So what shall you do?"

"I wish to go to Metamor itself. That is where all of these people have gathered. I want to speak to this Felikaush directly."

Geurnef gazed at him with those unreadable eyes. Like the rest of his body, they were white on black, an obsidian as unfathomable as most of his race. "It is a month-long journey just to leave the glaciers if you wish to head to Metamor. That will leave you travelling in October without shelter. You would die in such cold, and you know I am not large enough to carry you."

Abafouq had thought of the same thing himself, and so sighed. "I will meet this man, I do not wish to watch from afar forever."

"I doubt you will." Geurnef turned then and started towards the canvas leading back into the anteroom. "Once the Spring thaw arrives, we will go visit Metamor."

"We?" Abafouq asked in some surprise.

Geurnef tilted his head to one side. "Qan-af-årael's message was for both of us. And I would like to meet this Felikaush as well."

The Binoq considered that for a moment, and then pointe out, "But the shadow without a shadow will be revealed by then."

His benefactor stopped a moment beneath the canvas. It's tapered hide lay against the smooth white fur of his back for a moment, while the feathers of his wings bristled slightly. He appeared to wear that same contemplative look as he had when he pulled a shivering Binoq from a snow drift several years ago. "Well, things aren't supposed to become interesting until after that, so you might as well as wait. There will be quite a bit of work to do this Spring."

Abafouq sat open mouthed for several minutes even after the Nauh-kaee had left. His eyes finally turned back to the cache, and the message he was holding in his small and. With a sigh, he slid it back beneath the rocks, and walked over to the table to see what sorts of delights awaited him in the satchel. He could read it and any of his other books again later.

Gazing resolutely up through the high pinions and bright minarets clothed in ivy towards the bright stars overhead, Qan-af-årael studied their story. Every night, the stars sung hymns to the deeds done of men, Åelf, or beast, and that would be done by them as well. Even though the motion of the stars was carefully structured by a hand far wiser than he, and could be predicted years in advance, there were subtle changes hat could not be accounted for. There were only a few times during each night that one could observe and know the story, and so of course it mattered where the clouds were. Another factor was the brightness of each of those distant suns, though on this night that hardly mattered.

His ageless face betrayed non of the concern he felt at this night's story. It was of something in the future, a change that had not been foreseen. Every night these last few months, at the appointed hour, the constellation of master and servant had been visible. Tonight, the master was gone, vanquished behind a dense matting of dark grey clouds, leaving only the servant standing, and even then his left arm was missing. Their was a melancholy dullness to their light as well that gave the ancient Åelf pause. The story was not a pleasant one this night.

Lowering his head, the angular features contorting into a frown as he peered into the depths of the forest outside his tower window. From far below came the sounds of the festival of colours and lights. Even so, the foliage between himself and the distant Earth was too great for any of the dancing embers to reach him. Though it had ben a century or more since he had participated in any of the festivals outside the rebirth ceremony, he knew exactly where they were in the rituals. At this moment, they would be drawing a deep band of maroon across their foreheads. With one slender finger, he mimicked the motion, though there was no paint to darken his pearl grey skin.

Qan-af-årael knew however that this was a story that would not wait for him to overcome old memories. Taking a deep breath, he called out, "Andares!" in his soft tones through the glistening chamber. Only a single glowing jewel set in a sconce provided any light in this his upmost chambers. To watch the stars he needed the darkness about him, and so that was all the light he would allow here.

His student had of course been waiting for him in the room below, and so rushed up the stairs, taking two at a time so as to be at his master's immediate call. "What do you desire?" was his immediate question. Often times, Qan-af would have his student write down the stories he would see in the stars, other times he would make the boy find them himself. Tonight though, he had something completely different in mind for the young Åelf.

"Andares-es-sebashou," the ancient figure pronounced. "I need you to travel to the lands of the west, to the lands of the humans."

The shock was plainly evident, a small change in the angular jaw-line. "Has the story revealed this to you?"

It was hard not to possess a bit of pride at such a bright young student, but now was not the time for such fleeting emotions. "There is a task you must perform there. You will find a man with only one arm grieving for his dead master. I want you to deliver a message to him."

Andares appeared sceptical for a moment, taking a quick breath. Even in the dim illumination, Qan-af knew of the boys fears. "You will invite him to come meet with me. But warn him that he must come before the new year of his people, or it will be too late."

"And the message I will deliver to him?"

"It is a simple thing, enough for him to come here, for I cannot leave these walls just yet. Tell him that his master's death is part of larger story. The story that I hae told to you."

Andares-es-sebashou nodded his head slowly, shifting his weight form one leg to the other. "The lands to the west are many, how will I know when I find him? Many of these humans may have lost limbs over the course of their fragile life."

"His will be a recent wound," Qan-af-årael supplied. "Also, he will likely be wearing black, as the custom of many humans is to don black to show their mourning. Also, follow the stars as I have taught you, they will lead you to him."

"Of course, my master," Andares inclined his head respectfully, almost abashed, as if he were ashamed of himself for not thinking of such things himself. "When do you wish me to depart?"

"Tonight. Gather your things and go. The journey will take you many weeks. I shall see you again when you return."

Andares started to speak, but then slowly closed his mouth, the thin lips set in a resolute moue. "Of course, my master." Then he turned about, and rather leisurely made his way down the stairs, leaving Qan-af-årael alone in this tower of Ava-shavåis.

Turning once more to the stars, Qan-af noticed that the clouds had shifted slightly. The master was still obscured, but the servant had his arm back, and there appeared to be a slight brightening of the stars to either side of the servant's head. Turning away from the sky, the ancient Åelf resisted the urge to shudder, instead forcing himself to listen to the sounds of the festival rising from the boughs below. He would have no more of that story yet to be told this night.

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