Friday, 18 January 2013

Mamelon - Chapter 3


“In the Beginning,” related Ricci, “there was Ri, the Creator or Ruler who gave life to the motherworld called Earth. Under Ri, there was lasting peace and prosperity for People of the World and Beasts of the World alike.  But the Beasts of the World were jealous of people because Ri favoured them. For they had soul and the beasts did not. When the Creator passed into the Great Unknown, they sought out his body to remove and devour the heart. By doing so, they thought to release His soul and seize its powers for their own. But the spirits hid the body of Ri. So the Beasts of the World could not access the soul that sustains all Goodness in the world and keeps Light in the world. As long as the heart beats, the soul of Ri is contained and the World avoids total Darkness.”
      “Of all Earth’s territories, only Mamelon stayed pure. So Ri destroyed the motherworld and granted it a new Beginning. He sent debris from the galaxy crashing down upon it. At the same time, he granted a prayer from the great druid, Ca-an, to spare Mamelon but sent it spinning into another Time.”
      “Alas, such evils that festered on Earth have insinuated itself like worms into our very soil. Between the marmalade sky and once lush grass of New Mamelon, such seeds grew that bore a terrible fruit.”
      “Mamelon was ruled by Michal the Great, who married Galia, daughter of Astor, the great Mage. It was rumoured that Astor was part elf, but no person knew for sure and none dared ask.”
      At this point, Pete could not restrain himself. “Elves!” he scoffed. But Ricci placidly ignored the interruption and continued without a pause.
      “Michal had a Grand Palace built for himself and Galia in Lunis, City of Moons, at the very heart of Mamelon. They had a son called Calum and a daughter, Nadya.” “Michal’s sister, Shireen, and her husband, Boris, governed the southernmost parts of Mamelon in his name. In the northern territories, a younger sister, Marta, did the same.  Marta took a lover, Ragund.  The word was that Ragund had been expelled from the Order of Druids for dabbling in Dark Forces.  Stories to make the blood run cold circulated about him in every market place the length and breadth of Mamelon.  It was even rumoured that he raided Ti-Gray, Isle of the Dead, for slaves to help him in his workshop and performed unspeakable experiments upon them. Michal ignored such tales except to laugh at the most bizarre. But Galia, his consort, became fearful for her sister-in-law and the whole of Mamelon.”
      “One summer, brother and sisters were reunited in Lunis, City of Moons, and stayed at the Grand Palace.  They came for a Festival of Pipes to which pipers from all over Mamelon flocked to play their own and traditional music. On the last day of the festival, Marta was taken ill. So, too, was Boris. Not wanting them to miss the grand finale, each insisted that their respective partners should attend together.  Ragund and Shireen did as they were bid.”
      “By the time the festival was over, Marta and Boris were dead. If it was discovered exactly how they died, the facts were never made known. Michal merely issued a general statement to the effect that his beloved sister and brother-in-law had died of a sudden fever and the nation was plunged into a period of mourning. But Shireen and Ragund were seen to be keeping close company and tongues began to wag. Oh, but I’ll say they wagged!”
      “Unlike her sister, Marta, who was the epitome of goodness and easily left content, Shireen was ambitious and resented the fact that Michal, not herself, ruled Mamelon.  She would have been easy prey to Ragund’s predatory instincts.  The story goes that, after eliminating Marta and Boris by means of a poison that could not be confirmed without particular skills, the evil pair proceeded to plot the deaths of Michal and all his family. A vile plan was hatched to lock them in their bedrooms and set fire to the Grand Palace at dead of night, no matter that a hundred or so servants would also perish in the flames.
      “Now, among the entourage that accompanied Marta and Ragund to the Festival of Pipes was a young musician and apprentice to the mage, Astor. He was called Riccolo, known to everyone as Ricci.”
At this point in his monologue, Ricci paused to take a few mouthfuls of vinre, a beverage not unlike what those in the motherworld called cider. He looked around, well pleased to see his guests were enthralled. They were plunged into the Mamelon of old, just as he told it.  He could tell by their faces, even the red haired boy’s. The dog, Ace, had sloped off. Ricci frowned. He could not see for the life of him where the boy had any place in the scheme of things. The canine, Ace, of course, was another matter. He had his suspicions about the little dog. Goodness me, yes, Ricci reflected uncomfortably before taking another long swallow of vinre and continuing.
      “I was no hero. I certainly entertained no illusions of saving ruler and country. My only concern was for Galia.”  Only Beth detected the faintest of pink blushes beneath the yellowy skin. “I had what your world would probably dismiss as a schoolboy crush on her.  Be this as it may, she was very beautiful and I was hopelessly in love.  When I overheard Ragund and Shireen plotting to set fire to the palace and kill everyone that very night, I could only think of warning Galia. There was no time to lose. I dashed in the direction of the ruler’s bedchamber. Alas, foul deeds ran ahead of me. Traitors, doubtless paid a king’s ransom by that devil, Ragund, to commit mass murder were already swarming about the palace.”
      “I encountered the Holy Seer, Timon, in the Great Hall. He and Michal had been friends since childhood. Timon had long since turned his back on worldly affairs, but retained a passion for music and had come for the festival. His skill on the pipes was legendary. I blurted out my terrible news whereupon he took me to Michal by way of a secret passage. In no time at all, we had gathered in the royal bedchamber. There were seven of us, an omen perhaps since seven is said to be a number favoured by Dame Fortune’s wheel. We were poised to pile into another hidden passage that led beyond the palace walls. Galia took her son Calum by the hand while the children’s nurse, Oona, carried the princess Nadya in her arms. Then someone yelled “Fire!”  A pitiful cry, full of rage and terror, that haunts me still.”
      “A terrible screaming erupted. Michal ran to the door sobbing and crying out that he must help his people. The door had been locked on the outside, of course. Even so, he found a superhuman strength as one does in a crisis. Deaf to Galia’s hysterical pleas to remain with her and the children, he smashed it open with his shoulder. He grabbed his sword, Pausing only to kiss Galia and little ones, he plunged into a thick, acrid smoke and was never seen again.  After a few garbled instructions about taking care of Galia and the children, Timon rushed after him.”
      “Poor Galia was distraught. I had to shout at her to make myself heard, pointing out that we must save the children. She saw the sense of that, naturally, and calmed down. We made our escape, and I intended to take them to my parents in Sol, at the northernmost tip of Mamelon.  Oh, I had such plans for Galia and me. For you have to remember that I was very young, naïve, and hopelessly in love.”
      Ricci shook his head sorrowfully as painful memories came flooding back of events that might have taken place hours instead of centuries ago, so appallingly vivid were they in his mind’s eye. Moreover, he took Beth and the Wright brothers with him. They were in the thick of it, fleeing with Galia and her children for their very lives along dark passageways, down crumbling steps and through rat-infested sewers that snaked for miles beneath Lunis, City of Moons.
      “Somehow, Ragund discovered the passage. From his point of view, Galia was less of a problem than young Calum. The boy was Michal’s heir, after all, and might well prove a threat one day.  The hunt was up. Galia proposed we should seek sanctuary with the elves.”
      At the mention of elves, Pete Wright started out of his dream state long enough to pooh-pooh the notion a second time.  On this occasion, though, Ricci did not ignore the interruption but went on to elucidate. “Just as once there were elves in the motherworld so, too, in Mamelon. The oldest legends say that a part of Mamelon remains pure elven. It is called the Forest of Gar. As a matter of fact, it isn’t far from here. I had to pass through it to find the Time Gate. I saw no elves though. Not that I would expect to as I’m only a magician after all. An apprentice magician at that, he added ruefully. I can’t compete with elves. Huh, I’ll say not!”
      “Now, where was I? Oh, yes. As I was saying…Galia was adamant. So we headed for the Forest of Gar.  What a journey. I’ll say!  Ragund’s forces dogged our very footsteps every step of the way. As it was, we missed Gar and ended up in bog lands. How can you miss a forest, you’ll be asking?  Well, elves have a way of tampering with the senses. If they do not wish a person to pass through their homeland, there is no way that person may do so. Galia insisted we turn back. We argued. Suddenly, she pushed Calum into my arms and ran off.  She hadn’t gone fifty paces before a mist came down out of nowhere and swallowed her up. It fell like a curtain, dividing us. We heard her cry, “Wait for me!” and then nothing.”
      “Little Nadya began crying. Nothing poor Oona, the nurse, could say or do would pacify her. Calum tried to run after his mother and it took all my strength to restrain him. He kicked out and even bit me on arms, hands and legs. Finally he collapsed, weeping in my arms, such tears that cut me to the quick. How could she have left them, I asked myself then just as I ask it now?”
      Ricci paused and looked around. “It was not far from this very place where she left us. I never saw her again. That is…” Ricci checked himself and became slightly flustered. His audience put it down to grief and even Pete kept a respectful silence.  Indeed, Mick and Beth were starting to warm towards their host and Pete was starting to have second thoughts about elves.
 Ricci rallied. “We waited a long time for Galia to return. Somehow, little Calum wandered off without either Oona or myself noticing. I bade the nurse stay with Nadya and went to look for him. He hadn’t gone far and we were on our way back when I heard Oona screaming, “Bog folk! “ At first, I was too shocked to move. It was unlike bog folk to attack unless provoked. Ugly, foul creatures they may be but they keep themselves to themselves as a rule. Oh, they might eat the occasional stray traveller but only when he or she is beyond mortal help.”
His audience paled and looked around nervously.
“Somehow I found my nerve and rushed forward. Then I realised I would almost certainly be too late. When bog folk strike they strike fast. Besides, I had to protect Calum or Galia would never forgive me. I turned to grab his hand and make a run for it. But he was gone. Gone!  I ran here and there like a creature demented, but dare not call out his name in case the bog folk heard. Noises warned me they were heading my way so I hid until certain they were long gone. The next day, I found remnants of poor Calum’s clothes. There were wolf prints nearby. It’s anyone’s guess how that poor child met his end. He was devoured, certainly, but by wolves or bog folk I dare say no one will ever know. Whatever, it was likely down to that darkest of Dark Mages, Ragund. Oh, how I berated myself for a fool! Hadn’t I let him win?  How could I have let myself become so blinded by puppy love to have underestimated him so?”
Ricci fell silent. The others shifted their feet restlessly. No one moved, however, although none would have admitted how desperately they wanted Ricci continue. Nor did they quite understand why it should be so important to them that he did. Yet, instinctively, all three had a sense of being part of the events Ricci had been relating so graphically and with such intensity even though they had been enacted in another time and place long before they were even born.
“It’s like we‘re being confronted with our own history,” Beth murmured and hadn’t meant for anyone to hear.
“Or our future,” Mick growled.
Pete felt Ace tense. A low growl rumbled through the dog’s belly. “Don’t be frightened,” whispered the boy, but it was he not the dog, whom he sought to reassure as he lay his hand against the animal’s fur.
Ricci remained silent, straining to hear a voice in his head. Try as he might, however, he could not catch a single word. The tone alone, though, was enough to make him increasingly uneasy.  .
Of one thing, Ricci was certain. Someone was trying to warn him, but who and of what?

To be continued