"Call of the Dragon, Part I"
"Call of the Dragon, Part II"
"Ruins and Hopes"
"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3
"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4
"Childhood of a Fighter"
"The Pledge" Cornell #5
"The Rock of Discontent"
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"A Tale of the Gods"
"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6
"The Pilgrims' Trial and Faith"
XIII. Two Searchers <=== / ===> XV. Through the Hole
The city wall towered high over Lonapal. The god gazed up its broad gilded blocks of stone, towards the silver caps cresting it. Like the sea, Mannannan had said, when he did this section. Haguen had not been pleased that the god of water had presumed to build a part of the wall. For half a millenium, the two had not spoken a word to each other.
And neither did they now. The charades had been a bad idea, he now realized. Both were so serious that they could not see how enjoyable they were. Oh, how much fun Lonapal had always had playing with the villagers! How they amused him by trying to transform their tiny ideas into gestures! They had rarely guessed his gestures right, at least in the beginning, before he taught himself to lower his ideas to their level. After all, how could they possibly comprehend the concept of a moon circling a planet because of its own speed and the planet’s gravity?
Lonapal smiled. A little longer, and then he could play with the villagers again. Maybe they had devised a new game? Something physical perhaps. He could easily limit his strength and limbs to the same as the villagers had, that wasn’t difficult, and then he could have fun from the start.
Still so many days until he could traverse the city wall. He sighed and leaned against the gleaming surface. It felt warm under his back. “Like the sea,” Lonapal chuckled. The sea wasn’t warm, it was cold, but Mannannan hadn’t let that stop him. He’d wanted to be comfortable with this.
Lonapal patted the wall, reaching a bit inside to see how far the warmth extended. He frowned after a moment. It was still warm several inches inside, not the cold of rock. He was sure that Mannannan had only coated the surface, not worrying about the interior. Curiously Lonapal turned around and stretched his arm further out, extending it further than the normal length. And it was still warm. He reached out more, and then he felt his fingers pass through the wall into the open air.
“I should ask your forgiveness,” Lonapal shook his head. “Mannannan, you are a better artificer than I gave you credit for.”
A presence came closer, he felt and turned his head. Alyssa strode along the circumference of the wall, seeming very concerned with herself. The poor girl, Lonapal thought. She was taking the situation worse than he was. “Hello, Alyssa!” he called out. “Care for a little game?”
The goddess gave a start, then essayed a small smile in his direction – which died the moment she saw him. “What are you doing?!” she shouted and hurried over to his side.
“Why?” Lonapal asked as he withdrew his arm. “I’m… Well, I wanted to find out how Mannannan built this, I mean how –“
“How far did you reach through the wall?!”
Lonapal shrugged. “To the outside. Did you know that it’s warm all the –“
Alyssa pushed him aside, stepped past the confused god through the wall. Lonapal blinked, wondered if he had missed something when the goddess re-emerged, a bright gleam on her face as she slapped his shoulder. “That’s wonderful, Lonapal! You did it!”
“Good,” he mumbled, rather insecurely. What was it about a warm wall that excited her like this?
She laughed heartily, slapped him again then patted the wall which was solid to her touch now. “I didn’t think this was possible. Haguen’s always so concerned with duty, and he – Well, we won’t tell him, will we?”
Lonapal wondered what exactly she was referring to, but he quickly shared her laughter. “No, certainly not.” He went on laughing a bit longer before he realized that Alyssa had stopped. “Uhm, is there a problem?”
“Apparently so,” Alyssa said with a raised eyebrow. “You haven’t realized that you’ve found an exit, have you?”
“An exit?” Lonapal gaped at her, before his eyes swiveled first to the wall, then to his arm which had just reached the outside of the Eternal City. “An exit!” he cried.
Alyssa snickered, but sobered up quickly. “All right, there is a way out of this cage after all. I need to tell my brother, so please don’t go out before he’s here, too. When Decirius finds out about this, you can be sure he’ll close it down in a heartbeat.”
Lonapal stared at the hidden passageway in merriment. He could go to the villagers now, there was no need to wait! He could play charades, he could – oh, he could do all the things he so enjoyed. Casting the blaze of happiness, becoming air and light. Oh, yes!
“No,” he whispered.
“What is it?” Alyssa asked, on the verge of leaving for her brother’s study.
“I…” Lonapal started, stopped and thought about the right words. “Decirius said we are not to leave. If he overlooked this opening, it… That doesn’t mean we should disobey his commandment.”
“Excuse me?” the goddess muttered. “You’re happy to stay here? Look, it doesn’t make any sense to coop us up here! Decirius hasn’t said a word why he’s doing this!”
“He’s always taken care of us,” Lonapal insisted cautiously. He could tell that Alyssa didn’t like what he said, but he needed to explain himself. He needed to make her understand and appreciate his opinion. Yes, that was it. She might not enjoy it at this point, but she had to see it was the right thing. “Alyssa, our lord has never steered us wrong. We have followed every one of his commandments for all our existence, and that was good. We shouldn’t disagree with him whenever we do not like his orders.”
“Yes, absolutely,” he hurried to say. “We do not know the purpose of his actions. I… I have faith in Decirius that there is a good reason for this, one that will benefit us all. You cannot think that he would intend to harm us!”
Finally! That thought hit her enough to make her angry façade melt for at least a brief while. She had to see the truth of his words!
Alyssa turned up one end of her lips. “No, he wouldn’t harm us. That is, as long as we follow his orders. The question, Lonapal, is whom he wants to benefit. The entire abode, or himself?”
The god was taken aback. She was questioning Decirius, he who had always been there for the abode, he who had taken up justice as his purpose. “Alyssa,” Lonapal whispered, “you’re treading a dangerous course. Because you don’t believe in our lord’s righteousness anymore. That only because of one decision, a single order that is unpleasant to you. Please, reconsider. Talk to Decirius. Ask him to explain everything. I… Alyssa, he has always been just. Always! You mustn’t forget that, I beg you.”
She listened to him. That was more than he had expected. But then she said, “Justice is a two-edged sword. My brother could lecture you about it for a couple of centuries, but I don’t have the patience. If you’re convinced that Decirius has imprisoned us for our own good, fine. I don’t agree, and my brother and I will decide what we do with this opening.” She had spoken with an even voice up to this point. Now her voice took on a deeper tone as she leaned forward to look into the god’s eyes. “Don’t tell anybody about this passage. If you do, I’ll make sure you’ll rue this day. I am stronger than you.”
“Yes, you are,” Lonapal agreed. The conversation had taken a turn for the worse, worse than he had imagined. “You… I won’t do anything against you, I promise. I like you too much for that.”
Her stare did not waver for several uncomfortable heartbeats, then she pulled her head back and smiled. “I know, Lonapal. I like you, too. But now, I will go see my brother,” Alyssa said sweetly before whisking herself away.
Lonapal frowned and wiped his forehead. He was glad, in a way. Alyssa liked him, that was very… nice. Yet she would leave the Eternal City, along with her brother. What would become of her when Decirius found out? The chief god would be angry, that was sure.
Maybe Lonapal should tell him, so he could not punish Alyssa. On the other hand, would she then still like him? He sighed. Why did existence have to be so difficult? The mortals had it much easier, with their tiny lives that held no problems when the gods provided everything for them.