Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Ark of Tears


Her name was Petra Catseye, she told me; the latter name being gained from her eyes' peculiar tendency to shine in the dark. (I had travelled by her side for half a year, and had noticed no such thing; but perhaps, she suggested, I simply had not been looking closely enough.) She was a Traveller, a member of the Lonchё whose role was to keep its leaders appraised of developments in distant lands. I had never heard of such a thing; but I suppose this merely confirmed their success in subterfuge.

Aside from such ambiguities. Shortly before she met me, Petra had been sent a message, by means of the long and tenuous lines of communication that bound the Lonchё Travellers to the Arks. The message described a band of strange riders seen passing through the Ark of Tears, matching certain ancient descriptions of a group termed the Undying, who the records named a great threat to the sanctity of the Arks. Nothing had been seen of them in centuries; but the possibility that they were once again present within the lands of Men was a matter of great concern to the Lonchё. Thus, Petra was to keep a close watch for any sign of them in her domain, and to make every attempt to determine their nature and purpose should she see them.

And what did she find but me, interrogating a rumormonger for information about those same riders...?

So we pursued the riders together, and ended here, outside the Ark of Flowers. A small town stood before its main gates, mainly comprised of accommodations for travellers and pilgrims. Only holy men and members of the Lonchё, I discovered, were actually permitted to enter the Ark. "Perhaps I should adopt a tonsure," I suggested to Petra. "Why not join the Lonchё?" she rebutted.

She wasn't joking.

So I entered the Ark, my mind filled with awe and wonder as I looked around. The walls stretched terribly far upwards, to a ceiling nearly out of view; curved arches and struts covered the sides, and the Tearpools dotted the floor and the air. (They floated, like balls of glass suspended by strings - but there were no strings to be seen, and the smallest of them was a hundred feet in diameter!) Not too far into the Ark, Petra's superiors met us. Petra described to them our hunt of the riders, and then told them of her intent for my initiation into the Lonchё. In grave tones, the responsibilities of a Knight of the Lonchё were described to me - to hold the Arks as the most sacred of artifacts, and to place their protection as my foremost duty, above and beyond even my life itself. "Are you willing to undergo this commitment?" the Knight-Commander asked me.

"I am willing to place the protection of the Arks above my own life; but not above Ysa's," I told them.

This provoked some discussion. Petra interceded. "Consider your priorities," she suggested gently. "Ysa is a girl - a fine one, from what you have told me, but no more than that. The Arks are holy and ancient wonders, whose importance will far outlast our own lives. Can you place Ysa above that?"

"I have come this far for her," I told Petra. "What would you think of me if I gave her up now?"

The Lonchё-knights conferred, and reached agreement. I would be initiated, with the Arks second to Ysa in my vows.

The initiation itself took a full day. It was a wonderful experience, one that shaped me as a person, I think. To describe it - in so short a term as I would be obliged to here, for the sake of the narrative - would be to do it a terrible disservice. So I will eschew saying anything more of it than I have here. I was knighted; this consumed the first of the two days I spent at the Ark of Tears.

The second was spent raising an army.

And on the third, we marched upon the trail of the riders.


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