Out From Metamor - Part II
insah found himself in the terrazzo tiled courtyard once more, but it was different, its colors autumnal, and he felt that he was not awakening, as he normally felt, in this place, Her place. No, it seemed that he were reliving, returning to a past that he had already lived, wearing the simple robes of an acolyte priest. Then he found himself moving, turning, but not of his own volition. He knew it was his body, his will, which turned to look behind him, to find Her standing nearby, holding out one closed hand to him. He felt no fear for that lack of personal control, for he realized that it was merely another strange aspect to the dreaming place which he shared with Her.
She appeared to ignore him as she held out her hand. Opening wide her palm, he saw the quartz sculpture held between her fingers. The two eyes fashioned from agate and surrounded by the darker chalcedony gazed back at him with deliberate intensity. “Murikeer would like you to have this. Will you not accept it?”
“I want nothing from that skunk!” Vinsah heard himself cry, felt his mouth open and the words emerge, and remembered even as he stepped further back from the woman. He tore his fingernails at the mask, but of course, it did not shift in the slightest. “Nothing, you hear me? Nothing!” Were these words his own? Had he spoken and lived this already?
The woman was suddenly at his back, as if she’d always been there. Her gentle hand touched his shoulder, that shimmering appendage flowing into him, soothing the anger he wished to hold onto. “Please, don’t make me take it,” he whimpered softly. “I’m afraid of it.” He could feel the fear he’d possessed filling him once again. It was strange, almost alien now, but real nevertheless.
The woman gently reached over to where his hands hung limply before him, and set the quartz statuette within his palms. She then closed his hands over the object, and gently ran her finger soothingly up his arms. He held the object tightly then, afraid to open his grip and see those eyes again. “It is yours Elvmere. Yours alone.”
“But why me?” he asked, his voice more that of a child's than a man of fifty years. He turned to face her, like a boy to his mother. She gently ran the back of her hand along his cheek, just as a mother might. “We all ask that question, but there is never an answer for us. Sometimes we must rely on the wisdom of those who fashioned us.”
He cast his eyes down, unable to look at her anymore, but still he kept his hands closed, unable to look at the statuette either. He was still wearing that acolyte's robe, but he could not explain why. It simply never occurred to him to remove it. In fact, it seemed a rather silly thing to do, undress before this woman, his lady. Still, it was better to think of that than of that was clutched tightly in his hands.
But soon, he found a gentle finger beneath his chin, lifting his head up. “Murikeer is waiting for you. You have to go with him now.”
Vinsah started, glancing over at the skunk standing just a few ells away by the gently flowing brook. His expression was solemn, but there was a hidden expectation within that face. It did not seem odd that he still possessed both eyes. Was this memory? The Bishop shook his head. “No, not with him. Please, anyone but him.”
She gently brushed his hair back, one finger tapping the mask he wore. “You may take your time Elvmere, but he will still be waiting for you when you are ready.” She then stepped away from him, fading into the garden itself. Vinsah turned about, to look for her, but she was gone. He felt panic flood him. Hadn’t there been something he wished to ask her? Some question that had shocked him to the core of his being for a moment’s span?
“Where did you go?” he cried out, refusing to look at the skunk who was still standing by the brook. “Why have you left me with him?” He did not truly expect a response, and so he nearly lost his balance when her voice rang from all about him as if the pealing of great golden bells. “I am always with you, Elvmere.”
“I am always with you, Elvmere.” Her voice echoed, filling his ears even as his eyes snapped open and he sat upright abruptly. Across the fire from him, seated with his legs crossed, an open book in his lap, Murikeer glanced up, an expression of curiosity drawing up one eyebrow as he gazed at the raccoon.
Vinsah’s jaw hung slack for several moments as he tried to gather his wits, his heart aching after that voice even as it faded into the soft crackle of the banked fire and the susurration of night sounds beyond the circle of wan light cast by the fire. After a few breaths he found his voice, turning his gaze across at the silent skunk.
“Yes, I will travel with you, Murikeer.” He stated with a sigh, as if some weight were lifted from his chest. Silently, the skunk nodded, then returned to his reading. The words had come easier than he’d expected. A slight smile twitched at the corner’s of the skunk’s muzzle, but otherwise, his travelling companion said nothing.
Slowly, his path now set, Vinsah began to descend back into the embrace of his bedroll. When he’d left Metamor yesterday, he’d never expected to venture into Sathmore. What could Eli have in store for him in that country, he wondered. And he was almost afraid to go back into sleep as it would bring the morrow all the quicker. But, when the Bishop set his head upon his paws, green eyes looking into the brightly curling flames, sleep came to him in a rush of silent water. It washed across him, gently pulling like the undertow into the deeper currents of dream.
Vinsah did not recall if she had come to him any further in his dreams that night. The strange urgency he’d felt when he’d relived that dream from his past was gone, replaced only with the certainty that his journey was now truly beginning. The morning came as twilight filled the sky and the stars began to wink out one by one in the growing light. Murikeer and Malger were both already up, the latter playing a soft melody upon his flute. It’s feathery tones landed upon his ears with a mellifluous charm that lured him up from his dreams.
Blinking the sleep from his eyes, the raccoon priest stretched. The grass was only slightly damp, the fire having kept most of the moisture from settling over them during the night. It was still burning crisply, though Murikeer was feeding it judiciously. The skunk saw Vinsah stirring in his bedroll and smiled warmly, long tail twitching behind his head. “Good morning, Vinsah. Would you care for a little bread to start your day?”
Vinsah nodded, smiling back to the skunk. “Thank you, Muri. Bread would be delightful. Good morning to you as well.” He shifted about in his blankets, pulling himself into a seated position at first. As the skunk began digging into his saddlebags, Vinsah stretched, yawning wide, tongue rolling from his muzzle in a beastly fashion. There was a chill upon the air, but both the fire and the coming dawn were holding it at bay.
Malger set down his flute then, and smiled at the Bishop. “Muri told me that you have decided to travel with us.”
Vinsah nodded at that, pulling cloak about him tightly as he slipped from his bed roll. With one paw, he straightened out the blankets, tail curling around his legs to keep warm. He still felt the stiffness in his joints as he had after the first night upon the road, but the fire and companions seemed to have ameliorated some of it. “Yes, I will go with you,” he looked to the horses that were once more at grazing around the tree. “I fear I will slow you down though.”
The marten saw the glance and shook his head, brandishing the flute in one paw. “Nay, my good priest, if it is walking upon paw that you fear, we shall endeavour to ease that. It is but a simple matter to purchase another horse for the journey.”
Murikeer had by then retrieved the bread from his saddlebags and handed half a loaf to the raccoon. Vinsah smiled and thanked the mephit as he took it in his paws. He nibbled from it, finding the bread still soft and pleasant to eat. “No, I cannot ride,” he said, remembering well the injunction his lady had placed upon him.
“A man of your years has never learned to ride?” Malger said in surprise.
Vinsah shook his head. “It is not that at all. I can ride upon horseback if necessary. I am not comfortable in the saddle though, and I’ve not ridden since my change. There is something else. It is part of my journey. I know this much. I was told to go upon foot.”
“Told?” Murikeer asked, even as he nibbled upon his own loaf. “By whom?”
Vinsah spread his paws before him. “We all have guiding forces within our lives. Mine has led me to this, and I know has asked me to go upon foot. That I will not betray.”
“What is your guiding force?” Malger asked curiously.
“And that is something I will not say,” Vinsah chided, waving one finger good naturedly at the marten.
“Did your decision to join us in our travels, was that guided too?” Murikeer asked softly from where he crouched over the fire.
The raccoon nodded. “Yes, although I should have seen it before. I was guided to it a long time ago. This I now understand. At the time, I feared it greatly, but now that it has come to pass, I am happy that it has. I know that we have not had much chance to know each other Muri, but you left a deep and abiding impression upon Akabaieth. Before he died, he told me that he thought very highly of you. I will not repeat all that he said, but I will say this: for you to have impressed him so at your age, and he at his, is a feat that was so seldom seen that I could count such events on but one paw.”
Murikeer sat in mute silence at this, simply chewing upon his bread thoughtfully. His long tail was stilled behind him even, only the fur curling when the wind picked at it. Behind him, the sky continued to brighten, growing from violet into a deep blue, paling ever towards the east until the grey mountain peaks stood.
“Was it you?” Malger asked suddenly, his voice speculative. He was fingering the keys upon his flute distractedly. They made a soft patting noise as they were pressed down. “Was it you that I happened upon that night?”
Vinsah blinked, letting the bread rest in his paws for a moment. “What night?”
“‘Twas when the Patriarch had been a day at Metamor. I had been out dancing the halls of the Keep, dressed in aught but a fine jongleur’s mask and night robe. I happened upon an elderly priest of the Patriarch’s retinue walking about in a robe carrying a lantern. I did a pirouette and bowed before the man, expecting a pleasant laugh, or perhaps a bit of applause. Instead, he screamed and ran from me as if he’d seen his nightmares walking the earth. Was it you?”
The Bishop stared in amazement at the pine marten as the story was told. It had been so long since that night, that he’d almost completely forgotten it. That had been the first night she had come to him in his dreams. And that been the night that she had gifted him with his mask. He’d seen that masked dancer, and screamed, because it had been his nightmare come to life. Just how blind had he been in those days?
“Yes, that was I. I’d just woken from a strange nightmare, and my nerves were not at their best.” Vinsah lifted the bread to his muzzle, but did not eat. “In some ways, you had walked out of my dreams, as if we were meant to meet in that way.”
Malger stared in a bit of unsettled shock, but he said no more, lifting his flute back to his muzzle where he began to pipe out a discordant theme. It sounded as if he were pouring all the oddities of his thoughts within that flute, and it produced the strangest and most peculiar combination of tones that either the Bishop or Murikeer had ever heard.
The skunk’s ears folded back in distaste, and his expression was pained as he stared at his companion. But Malger continued to play, though after a short time, the notes became softer and more rounded, less shrill than before. Vinsah finished off the last of the bread with that music at his ears, watching as the sky continued to brighten. It would not be long before the sun had risen. But it would still be a while before the shadows lifted from the Valley. It took longer for the sun to crest the mountains after all.
“Well,” Vinsah said, after he’d swallowed the last of the bread. He brushed the crumbs from his cloak, keeping his gaze upon the skunk. Murikeer had also finished his meal and was now rubbing his paw pads over each other. “How must you go about fashioning a charm for me to wear that will make me appear human?”
Murikeer looked up and frowned. “I do not know for certain how long it will take me to enchant the illusion, perhaps two or three days. It requires a great deal of effort, and a foci that is close to you to enchant it to. Malger and I have used our necklaces as you saw, but they were magically bonded using mithril, which has an inherent readiness to it for magic with a little preparation. Since I’ve no magically prepared mithril to bond the magic to, I will need something very close to you already if I am to create the enchantment in a short span of time.” As if three days was short, but apparently it was considerably shorter than the week or more he had mentioned the previous evening if he were to actually try anchoring the spell to a mithril pendant or charm.
Vinsah paused for a moment, and then lifted the yew tree that he’d set upon his pack. During the day it was always about his neck. He’d been given that when he’d first become a priest, after all. What did he have that was closer to him than that symbol of his faith? “Will this do?” he asked, proffering it in one paw.
Murikeer nodded, taking the necklace into his paws, cradling it carefully. “Yes, I can use this. I will not need it until the final hours of the enchantment though. You may keep it until then.”
Vinsah reclaimed his pendant and slid it over his neck where it was most comfortable. “It will take two to three days to fashion this?” At the skunk’s nod, he continued, “What then are we to do during those days while you work?”
At this, Malger lowered his flute once more. The tune he’d been playing had continued to grow softer until finally it was gently flowing once more, like a raging river that finally settled into a pleasant stream. “You are to travel as an apprentice bard, my good Bishop. Why not spend these hours learning what you will need to know to be such an apprentice?” The marten glanced at Mur to whom he favoured a crooked grin. “I am already trying to train the skunk here, but I fear he cannot even keep a simple beat!”
The skunk grimaced, but a smile lurked behind the corners of his muzzle. “I have no difficulties holding a rhythm, you letcher.” the skunk growled, his dark eye gleaming as he adjusted his eyepatch with mock affront. “You just don't like the one I keep!”
At this, Malger laughed slightly, holding out his arms melodramatically. “‘Tis true. I confess. But a rhythm that a bard does not like ought not be kept at all!” Even Murikeer had to shake his head and laugh quietly at that. The pine marten was quick to turn his attention back to Vinsah. “So tell me, have you ever had any musical training?”
Vinsah shook his head with smile, even as Murikeer rose to his paws and began to look around the field of trees they had settled within. “No, my good bard,” the raccoon offered with a helpless shrug, “When I was an acolyte one of my mentors attempted to teach me the piccolo, but he gave up in frustration after a few short weeks.” With a smile he smoothed the front of his shirt, “I did sing, however, in the choir, for many years.” He glanced at his hands and frowned for a moment, the gray fur and black pads shimmering gold in the firelight, “But I haven’t tried since... I changed,” he said with a frown. Malger let out a disgusted grunt, though it was overdone, much as his foppish attire was overdone. The marten then went to his saddle bags once more to retrieve some instrument he thought the Bishop might be able to play. Vinsah simply leaned back, looking forward to a bit of diversion.
After a morning of beating upon stretched animal hides and attempting to blow air across silvery holes, Vinsah allowed his sore paws and muzzle a chance to recover from their musical experimentation. According to Malger he was not a total loss, and perhaps would be convincing as a beginning apprentice during their journey through Sathmore. This was not a comforting though to the raccoon, as it meant he would have to practice even more upon those varied and confusing instruments.
The drums were easy enough to understand, as he merely had to hit them with a certain rhythm. But there was a significant difference between the travelling songs of Sathmoran or Pyralian bards and the chant and hymn heard within the walls of Yesulam. On the road, song had a particular metre, as if one was timing the words and notes to ones footfalls. Within the ancient high walls of Yesulam, those songs were sung to resound from the vaulted ceilings, as so were freer in pacing.
So, Vinsah found it quite difficult to keep time in playing of the drums, although after rubbing his paws for what may have been the tenth time to return some feeling to the pads, Malger at last told him that he was starting to get the idea of keeping a rhythm more in keeping with contemporary works which most minstrels were wont to play. The hymns of Yesulam were not commonly among them, though minstrels did travel freely between cities, towns, and even kingdoms which bowed to different higher powers
What was worse was when Malger had produced the very instrument that long ago mentor had tried to instruct him upon nearly half a century ago: the octave flute. A piccolo in common parlance, which produced a range of notes slightly higher and more sharp than the common flute and took a skilled musician to master. Which was something Vinsah did not believe himself to be, or have the talents to become. With wide green eyes, Vinsah had considered the silvery instrument as he rolled it back and forth in his paws. Malger seemed to possess an almost morbid sense of wry humour as he gave instruction on how to produce a tone from that slender device. It was not quite the same being as they were both morphs. Leaning back against a tree, the marten crossed his hands behind his head as he laughed, yet again.
A strange mentor, the marten was, who never derided or chided or scolded his awkward student. His jibes were delivered with a gentle humour that softened even the harshest rebuke and had a strange amplifying affect upon the young old priest’s learning, despite his lack of skill. “Your claim that all you possess are thumbs, your grace, is for naught. I taught a woman with broken hands to play a flute, and a man whose hand had ended up with three hoof-fingers after the curse took him how to play his viola again.” He leaned forward and rested his hands upon his knees, paws crossed. “You merely have to understand how the curse has changed you in some of the more subtle ways.
“When last you brought such an instrument to play upon, you had lips that could pucker and channel the air,” Malger had explained, trying his best with his musteline face to demonstrate both. It was a comical expression, but it did do a great deal to show Vinsah the importance of the lesson. The muzzle and lips simply were not supple enough to allow a small slot for the exhalation of air. “Now, your muzzle cannot do these things, and you must find a new way of making your whispers sing.”
Malger had then brought his own flute to his lips, and keeping his muzzle very nearly closed, he curled his long tongue at the very entrance, and blew through that funnel. A gentle note then resounded upon the air, sending the birds into another chorus of chirping and tweeting. “You must use your tongue in a new way, my good Bishop. Curl it up as you saw myself do, and you shall make a fine note.”
Of course, when Vinsah had tried this, it had not quite brought about the lovely sound the pine marten had predicted. In fact, it had taken many long minutes before Vinsah was even able to get his tongue exactly the way the marten had shown him. And even then, he’d only been able to produce the faintest whisper of melody.
But it was nearly noon, Malger had tired of instruction for the time, and Vinsah yearned to stretch his legs. Murikeer had found a decent sized rock earlier in the day, and it was upon that stone that he had, with delicate deliberation, inscribed a small host of intricate marks and strange writings which made Vinsah’s hackles rise whenever his eyes happened to chance upon them. In the center of that strange circle of writing the skunk sat, unmoving, his legs crossed, tail draped over the back of the stone, wrists resting upon his knees as his hands hung boneless before him, palms up. His good eye closed, the other inscrutable under the black patch he wore, the skunk sat unmoving and unmoved upon the stone, lost in a deep, meditative concentration. On what, Vinsah did not know, but could only assume was magic, though he cound neither sense nor ken its presence. To all outward appearances, the skunk was merely asleep, or lost in a somnolent meditation like northern Yashuite monks. But the raccoon knew better than to bother him in such a time, and so instead simply began to walk about the clearing amidst the ring of trees that they’d camped nearby.
As he emerged from the copse, he reached up to one of the pink blossoms and pulled it towards his muzzle, sniffing it with delicate interest. He cupped that fragile bloom between two of his fingers, claws curling just over the lip. It bore a pleasing fragrance, subtle, and as soft as the petals that made it. He smiled widely as he let his paw slip free from the blossom. His gaze then swept across the dell, noting how the road meandered along beside it. There was something strangely familiar about the lay of the land, but the Bishop could not think what it might be.
But he spent a little time moving about the sheltered area next to the road. Much of the grass was still crumpled from the winter’s frost, but a great deal was beginning to show new signs of life. The sky was clear, a deep blue in which the sun shone brightly. Vinsah could feel it warm upon his fur, most especially his face. For several minutes, he stood alone in that clearing with his eyes shut, simply letting that sun warm him until he felt its heat all throughout his body.
Vinsah continued to explore the area immediately surrounding the camp for some time. On the other side of the clearing, the copse extended into a more rugged terrain, filled with numerous trees, jutting rocks and narrow ditches through which water trickled down to the river. On the other side of the road, the land was fairly flat, long since cleared of trees to make travel safer. He did not venture beyond the tree-line though, as he did not wish to lose sight of their crackling fire and the camp.
Satisfied with his brief excursion, Vinsah returned to where Malger was laying another log upon the flame. It was burning brightly now, the flame dancing a few feet within the air. The marten had widened the circle of stones and placed within even more of the kindling that had been collected. They had caught the flame quickly, and soon, it rose higher and higher, providing an even more brilliant warmth.
Of course, he’d moved their bedrolls back a few paces from the fire first, so when Vinsah returned, he took a moment to straighten his. Once satisfied, he stretched out upon it, resting on his belly, elbows beneath him to prop himself up. His legs stuck up into the air, while his long striped tail curled about the booted footpaws, rubbing at where the boots stopped beneath his hocks.
Malger, once satisfied with his blaze, pulled out his dulcimer, the largest of the instruments he carried with him. While the marten could play a broad selection of instruments, from tambour to drums, violin to lute, his preferences lay with the flute and dulcimer, which were his most prized possessions. Drawing a pair of slender hammers from a pocket of his vest, the marten quietly began to tap out a quiet, speculative tune which turned the priest’s mind toward memories and introspective thoughts. Vinsah laid there for several moments simply listening to the minor key melody. There seemed to be a longing in its simple phrases, as if his companion were imaging a long lost home to which he yearned to return. Thinking on this, Vinsah stretched out one arm, and drew his travel pack closer. Deftly untying the laces, he reached inside and drew out his small journal, as well as the quill and ink.
A quick inspection of the ink demonstrated that it was a little too cold to write well with it. He set the bottle close to the fire, but not so close that the glass might shatter. He then drew his tail more tightly about his hocks, and opened up the journal, scanning the already filled pages. His handwriting before he became a raccoon had always been crisp, though his advancing years had added a bit of tremble to a few of his loops. After the curse had claimed him, he’d found it difficult to write at first, and so several pages in his journal were filled with a disorderly scribbling that appeared the work of a five year old. But it gradually improved, and now Vinsah found his penmanship was just as accomplished as before, even if it bore a subtly different appearance.
He reached the final page upon which he’d written in his journal and smiled. He’d penned the entry the morning he’d left Metamor, just before taking those fateful steps form the room he’d used the last three months. He could not quite remember what he’d written, and so took a moment to read it once more.
Vinsah smiled to himself as he finished reading. His lady had not abandoned him at all. She had come back to him that last night in fact, telling him that he was to travel with Murikeer. She had told him that so long ago in fact, that be had to laugh at his own forgetfulness. Turning, he tested the ink bottle, and found that the ink was ready o be used. With a gentle claw, he turned the page to the next blank one, dipped the quill within the ink, and began to write.
Vinsah paused in his writing, the quill firmly held in his paw. No matter how painful it was, he would let himself offer not even a hint of deception to reside within that journal. It was meant for no eyes but his own and that of Eli’s. Though he may not want to bring all that there was before himself, when he wrote in that journal, he would deny none of it. Steeling himself, he continued.
Again he paused, tapping his black nose with the end of his quill. The questions were not easy ones, and he hated to admit it, but he had no answers to offer. Akabaieth had seemed to know something of the solution, but what it might have been, he never spoke aloud to any. Vinsah could not imagine that the Patriarch had been worried about how the Bishop’s would have thought of him. But what other reason he’d have for not making an issue of it if he felt the Ecclesia was wrong, Vinsah could not guess.
His gaze skirted across the field to where Murikeer was still perched upon the flat rock, still meditating. The skunk’s tail had curled around his side and was framing his legs and foot paws firmly. Small round ears were completely still, and even the slender whiskers at either side of his muzzle remained motionless. All the skunk’s efforts were directed at fashioning a pendant to cloak Vinsah’s identity, to hide the furry form that the Bishop now bore. His path was already set, so why should he spend his time debating the wisdom of that choice?
Vinsah paused once more, glancing over what he’d written already, taking a moment to consider his thoughts. And then, nodding to himself, he blew across the ink gently to dry it, and closed the small book once more. Several more of his journals remained at Yesulam. He had accumulated several over the course of his long life. As he did not write every day, it did take several years for him to fill one completely. His present journal had at least another year of life to it, provided his entries were not too long and rambling as a few since the changes had become.
After drying his quill, he returned it and the ink bottle to his travel pack. The noon day sun was high overhead, smiling at the from above the valley mouth to the South. A warming breeze caught at the ends of his fur, but it was slightly, he perhaps would never have noticed it when he was still fully human. Malger had stopped playing his dulcimer, and was now merely tuning the strings, testing variances in pitch that only he could hear.
Pulling a small bit of bread from his pack, Vinsah leaded against the massive maple and watched the marten tune his instrument as he nibbled upon the bread.
|Talk to me!|