Friday, 8 March 2013

Mamelon - Chapter 21

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE



Mulac had ‘heard’ Beth’s mute plea and answered in kind.  Whether she caught his telepathic message of reassurance, he had no idea and could but hope so.  Although his mind’s eye remained the only source of vision available to him, he had begun to believe that it was more reliable than his normal sight had been. Certainly, it hadn’t taken him long to grasp its huge potential. Now, he rounded angrily on the druid.
“Why keep me and let the others go?” the Nu-gen demanded.
“You don’t know?”
“I can guess.”
“Then guess.”
“Use me as you will, vut you’ll get no help from me,” growled Mulac, noting with satisfaction a sharp intake of the other’s breath.
“You have spirit. I like that.”
“I care not for your likes or dislikes, druid!” Mulac spat.
“I’d watch my tongue if I were you,” came the unruffled response. “You are merely Nu-gen, whereas I am…”
“Merely an image,” Mulac spat again. “So why do you bother with such as I, a blind Nu-gen?  Could it be you need my help?”
“An astute observation,” remarked the apparition dryly.
“Why should I help you?  This sight I have, it is no thanks to you. Yet. without it Bethan and I would never have found this place. You would have let us perish in the desert, druid!”
“I mean you no harm.”
“Then let me join my friends.”
“Friends?” the hazy face raised an eyebrow, “A Nu-gen with friends? How times have changed!”
“Why do you keep me here?” Mulac persisted, “That you should release the motherworlder, I can understand since she is a Keeper…” He laughed as a frown replaced the druid’s enigmatic smile albeit fleetingly. “Oh, yes, I see that also. Much I see, druid. But of myself, I see nothing. Why is that?”
“You tell me.”
“You have to ask?” Mulac countered, sensing the druid’s growing impatience despite an outward calm.
“Truly, I mean you no harm. You may well be right about the motherworld female. But I let the elves go, too, didn’t I?  Surely, that alone is proof of my good intentions? Trust me.”
“Trust a druid?  I’d rather mate with an aryd.” Mulac fumed. “Besides, there are elves and there are elves. And there is the son of La…your son, Astor, Mage of Mages.”
“You see too much, Nu-gen,” the blurred image kept a rein on its temper with obvious difficulty.
“What’s going on?” Mick sauntered out of the heavy shadow surrounding him; his hands in the pockets of leggings he still called jeans. “Oh, it’s you!” He greeted Mulac without a trace of friendliness, “Where’s Beth? What have you done with her, you peasant?”  He would have lunged at the Nu-gen, but a warning signal from Astor checked him instantly.      
Although he did not particularly like this Michal, called Mick, it crossed Mulac’s mind how unfortunate it was that the spirited motherworlder should have become lapdog to a druid. Trust a druid, indeed!  “She lives,” he grunted. “She was here but moments ago. It seems your master has other plans for her.”
“Here?” Mick frowned and looked to the druid for an explanation. .
But Astow was giving nothing away. “We have much to do. She is a distraction. You will see her again soon enough,” he added soothingly. Meanwhile, the two of you might as well try and get along. Petty squabbling is another distraction we can do without. Now, young Michal, let us show our guest some hospitality.” He turned to Mulac, “Come. Eat, drink, and be refreshed.”
Mick took the Nu-gen’s arm but Mulac shrugged it off. “I will follow you.”
“But…your eyes…” stammered Mick, embarrassed.
“I will follow you,” Mulac repeated between clenched teeth, every nuance of his body tense, like a wolf poised for the kill.
The silvery disc Mulac always wore around his neck suddenly reminded Mick of the albatross in Coleridge’s poem although he could not, for the life of him, have said why. In general, he hated poetry. But they had read The Ancient Mariner in class once and he’d been forced to admit it was a good yarn. Even so, it had annoyed him intensely how everyone felt sorry for the mariner and no one spoke up for the poor old albatross.
The druid had gone. It was left to Mick to pass through the curtain of heavy shadow into the light. He turned to make sure Mulac was, indeed, following close behind. He need not have worried. 
While not wholly convinced by the druid’s declaration of kinship, Mick had enjoyed getting to know his supposed grandfather and learning more about his mother’s alleged place in Mamelon history. It was all too far-fetched for words, of course. But who was he to argue?  So he’d made a show of settling in, accepting everything and doing as he was told. 
In no time at all, Mick had become fond of the old man. Certainly, in the beginning, they had spent many happy hours together.  Then Astor began to change towards him. The druid became moody, even aggressive. He took to disappearing without a word for passages of time that grew longer and longer. Moreover, each time he returned, he seemed moodier and more aggressive.  Yet, whenever Mick felt the most afraid or threatened, Astor would revert to his old self and they would edge closer to each other.  During such times, Mick could almost believe that this man was his mother’s father, however incredible it seemed. Mostly, though, he felt lonely and homesick. The truth was, in spite of everything that had passed between them, he was glad if not relieved to see the surly Nu-gen again.
They were in an ever-widening circle of light, shadows like a transparent curtain around them against which the huge boulders,  or ‘Guardians’ as Mulac knew them to be called according to tribal legend, loomed fantastic and intimidating.
Protectors, his grandfather called the hugestones, but as far as Mick was concerned, they might as well have been prison guards. It was a view Mulac felt inclined to share.
Straight ahead, a flight of marble steps let to a magnificent structure that comprised granite pillars and sumptuous halls. Its crowning glory was a dome that radiated a shimmering red light. Beautiful though it was, it also conveyed a grave warning even as it drew the enchanted onlooker into an embrace just as it was guaranteed to send a rush of blood coursing through the veins. This was the Inner Sanctum, towards which Mick now led his companion up flight after flight of winding marble staircase. In vain, he tried to shrug off fragments of tales surfacing a deeper consciousness which, defying Mick Wright’s paltry imagination, related with awful clarity how the disciples of Ca-an once performed hideous rituals there, among them a sacrifice of living souls.  For sure, the son of Gail and Tim Wright would have dismissed them as rubbish. Not so, Michal of Mamelon.
Following close behind, Mulac’s inner vision revealed something of the terrors passing through his companion’s mind. “Stop…!”  But it was a while before Mick turned to face the Nu-gen. Indeed, it seemed to Mulac that, as he did so, the young motherworlder experienced extreme difficulty manipulating every limb. “We should go no further. We must go back.”
“No!” howled Mick, and Mulac clearly ‘saw’ the expression of anguish on his face. 
“We must fo back. Here, take my hand.”
“Go to the devil!” Mick yelled.
“Not if I can help it,” returned the Nu-gen grimly. Grabbing Mick by the arm, he dragged him back down the circular staircase. “Trust me,” he muttered between clenched teeth, unthinkingly echoing the druid as his reluctant charge continued to drag his feet, resisting every step of the way, struggling to break free.
Mulac set his jaw and persevered.
Once in the courtyard again, Mick felt the need to fight the Nu-gen flow out of him. Mulac sensed it too and gladly relinquished his hold. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the druid reappeared, just ahead of them, by a queer tree stump.
For an image, thought Mulac with fresh misgivings, Astor looked flushed and out of sorts. The robed figure beckoned.  Mulac moved to lay a restraining hand on the motherworlder’s arm. He was too late. Mick was already striding, almost running to greet the druid. Around them, it seemed to Mulac as if the giant guardians were homing in on them, casting a lively kaleidoscope of light and shadow. His head ached terribly. It was as if something were tearing at the layers of his mind, seeking access. He felt violated. Drawing upon very ounce of willpower, he gritted his teeth and resisted. After a time, and without any real justification for doing so, he began to suspect it had something to do with the gnarled tree stump occupying the circle’s epicentre like a sore thumb.
The druid beckoned again. This time, Mulac’s legs refused to obey his throbbing head.  As he approached the stump, he saw young Michal kneel. The druid gestured for Mulac to do the same.  It was no invitation. Mulac understood only too well. It was a command. All his Nu-gen instincts balked at the idea, even as he prepared to kneel. Just then a sudden movement at his feet broke his concentration. He looked down to discover a small snake slithering over his moccasins. A handsome thing, it was. He didn’t feel in the least threatened. Rather, he was admiring the bold yellow markings on a dark green skin when he heard the faintest sound of pipes. A familiar melody, but one he couldn’t place made his ears ring and his pulse race. Dimly, he thought he heard a dog howling… 
No dog but a wolf, his senses rebuked him. Mulac frowned. How could he have been mistaken?  He knew wolves. Before the Nu-gen found and adopted him, wolves had cared for him.  The strangeness of it had never troubled him. Neither had he ever questioned the why or how of it. Rather, he was simply grateful, enjoying an affinity with wolves that he accepted for what it was…a gift.
Mulac pricked up his ears. Faint or no, there was a discernible urgency in pipes and howling alike. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. Without knowing why, the sum of the Nu-gen’s being screamed, No-oooooo! He lunged at the motherworlder.
Mick keeled over, Mulac pioning him with his whole body.
The druid vanished.

To be continued