"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"
XXI. A Divine Gift <=== / ===> XXIII. The Eagle's Flight
XXII. The New Villagers
“Are you sure this will work, brother of mine?” Alyssa asked, concern painted clear across her face.
“Of course not,” Darawk groaned. “It’s a theory. For it to become a fact, it has to be proven. Old man, the bandage is getting warm, could you please replace it?” The last words were directed at the strange god, who was standing at the window of Caltrya’s house in the midrealm village, wistfully looking out at the orderly street and the plaza with the blue flame of worship. Now the old man turned around, blinked, then quickly nodded and hurried towards the bucket of water placed on a stool next to the bed where Darawk was lying.
The God of Knowledge was bathed in sweat. His leg, propped up slightly on a pillow, was heavily bandaged. The fire of Lógrims, the dragon god, had burned away skin and flesh. If it had been ordinary fire, the god could have wished it away, but wounds inflicted by another deity were not so easy to handle. To undo their damage required more strength than he had left.
“Be quick about it,” Alyssa muttered and wiped the sweat from her brother’s face with a wet rag.
“It will only take a moment,” the old man said. He dipped his right hand into the water, stirring it with his fingers. Icy cobwebs started to spread, diffused into the remaining water by the motion of his fingers. After a brief while, the old man nodded, then took a roll of bandages placed next to the bucket and drew them through the chilled water. “They are cold now,” he said and walked over to the ailing god to replace the bandages. Darawk bit his teeth together when fresh pain flooded his body.
Alyssa shook her head. “Your theory had better work.”
“I… agree,” Darawk managed to grumble between his clenched teeth.
The villager’s name was Voldert. He had asked Caltraya to stay at her house for a while, after his own home had been demolished by the goddess Koultirsp. He hadn’t been happy when she had returned to the village and told him to find a new shelter because she had three new visitors. Nonetheless he had left, without asking who the three new villagers were or why she preferred them.
Caltraya wondered why she had been incensed by that. Had Voldert picked her home on a whim, rather than having liked her? The next night he’d spent at Aldread’s house. The two men often went gathering berries, sometimes they played games – so why hadn’t Voldert asked to stay at his friend’s house in the first place?
At this point, though, she was angry about what Voldert had just said. “Your new friends, they weren’t at worship this morning. They had better be there at noon, or the gods will take offense.”
Aldread was standing a step behind his friend, gazing at her with the lips turned into a sneer. Of course, Caltraya thought. Aldread didn’t like her much, because she always won in games, especially those of the mind. Whose words are you speaking, Voldert? Yours or Aldread’s? “One of them is hurt,” she said calmly. “He can’t get out of bed, much less come to the flame.”
“The others aren’t hurt,” Voldert muttered. “And about the injured one – why doesn’t he just kill himself, so he’ll come back unscathed? He shouldn’t lag about, he ought to be at worship! The gods haven’t spoken to us for five days. Lonapal has never stayed away from the village that long. We must prove our faith, so that they come back!”
“Maybe,” Aldread suggested, “your friends are the reason for the gods’ absence.”
Caltraya gaped at him. That was the most ridiculous notion she had ever heard. After all, her three visitors were gods! Oh, why wasn’t she allowed to tell them? Alyssa had forbidden her from doing so, and Caltraya would never disobey the Lady.
“They came here, and the gods stopped talking to us,” Aldread continued. “Maybe that is no coincidence.”
Voldert said bitterly, “Maybe the gods will talk to us again if we make your friends leave the village.”
Caltraya shook her head forcefully. That was so ridiculous! “You have no idea what you’re speaking about, you fool!” she cried. “The gods stopped talking two days before my – my friends came here! They aren’t the reason!”
“Let’s find out,” Aldread said and took half a step closer, still standing behind Voldert. “Why don’t we tell them to leave, and then we’ll see if the gods come back.”
“They can’t leave,” Caltraya protested. “I told you that one of them is hurt.”
“And Voldert said,” Aldread fired back, “that we can kill him. Your friend will appear someplace else, so what? In fact, why don’t we kill all three of them? They’ll be gone from our village right away, and the gods will know that we do their bidding. Right, Voldert?”
“Right,” Voldert nodded.
At least he wasn’t quite as convinced as his friend, but his readiness to agree with Aldread disgusted Caltraya. On the other hand, the gods had given her a task – it was Caltraya who did their bidding. “You are sure of that knowledge,” she said slowly. “So you have followed the teachings of Darawk, to learn all that you can, right?”
“Don’t confuse the issue,” Aldread huffed. “Darawk has nothing to do with this.”
Oh, if I could only tell you how wrong you are! Instead of speaking her thoughts she said, “The God of Knowledge teaches us that we must learn all that we can. We must do as the great god tells us, don’t we? He also tells us that we should not rely on assumption alone – such as the assumption that my friends are the cause.”
Aldread dared to leave the protective shadow of Voldert and raised a finger. “Stop talking like that. I know what must be done. See, that’s knowledge! Now that you’re satisfied, we’ll go and –“
“No,” Voldert interrupted him and held his friend back. “She… She’s right, Aldread. I haven’t asked about her friends, and… Come to think of it, neither have you. Nor have we really asked why the gods haven’t spoken to us…”
Caltraya couldn’t help but smile inwardly. Voldert was a nice person, after all – at least when he was pushed in the right direction. Granted that he needed a lot of pushing, but there was some hope left for him.
Aldread on the other hand was unconvinced. “We don’t question the gods,” he muttered. “The strangers have got to go, and that –“
“Aren’t you putting words in the gods’ mouths right now?” Caltraya asked sweetly. “You have not learned what the gods intend, but you assume you know what they know. Aren’t you putting yourself on their level?”
The second man’s face darkened, fury grabbing hold. He opened his mouth to shout, but Voldert pushed him back, darting a curious glance at Caltraya. “You know that isn’t true,” he said. “It’s just that –“
Caltraya snarled, “You’re ignoring the teachings of Darawk. You should pray to him for forgiveness. You and everybody else in the village. And while you’re at it, pray to the good lady Alyssa that she can teach you compassion and love. Go on! Do it now! The blue flame is waiting!” She whirled about, shook her head angrily and walked off, leaving the two men behind to make sense of her words.
Had she done enough? Caltraya wondered about that as she walked back to her house. She had spoken to others after Voldert and Aldread, reminding them of the prime duties to the gods – especially Alyssa and Darawk. But had her words pierced the shells of complacency around the other villagers? Or had she done no more than prove herself a nuisance?
She didn’t dare glance over to the plaza when she opened the door of her home. “Hello?” she called carefully lest she disturb the gods. The gods – in my home!
“Over here, Callie,” Alyssa responded in a tired voice.
Caltraya fought the urge to fall to her knees and beg for a pardon. The goddess wouldn’t be tired if Caltraya had accomplished her task! But she stayed on her feet, walked down the short corridor to the main room and entered.
Darawk was still in bed, the old man was twirling his hands through the bucket of water, his fingers encased by an inch-thick sheet of ice. Alyssa sat on a chair by the door, legs folded, her upper body arched back so that her head could rest against the wall. “You’ve spoken to the villagers, girl,” she muttered when Caltraya entered.
“I have failed you,” the villager whispered, her eyes closed, her head lowered. “I should have found better words, I should have –“
“What are you talking about?” Alyssa interrupted her with a weak chuckle.
Caltraya dared open her eyes. No, the goddess still looked weak. She should have been filled with strength by the worship dedicated to her, shouldn’t she? That was what Darawk had explained, after all. Alyssa could not be weak, she must not! Caltraya jerked her head down again, folded her hands together and sent a small prayer to her.
The goddess of love sighed, a shiver running through her body and her long legs. “Thank you, girl,” she smiled, “but that isn’t necessary.” Alyssa left her chair in a fluent motion that seemed not to involve any muscles, raised her hand to gently trail it over Caltraya’s cheeks. “Nor do you have to stop, my dear.”
The villager girl’s eyes widened. What did this mean? She hadn’t fulfilled her task – or had she?
Alyssa’s hands on her cheeks suddenly tightened, the finger nails digging into her skin, just enough to be on the verge of pain, while the goddess moaned softly.
“I –“ Caltraya swallowed, not daring to remove the hand. “I’m sorry, my lady, but I don’t… I’m not praying right now.”
“I know, Callie,” Alyssa breathed, shivering.
The old man said gently, “The others are worshipping her, girl. Allow her to rest. She has never felt such strength flowing into her.”
“No… Never…” the goddess agreed – then spasmed all of a sudden, her upper body slamming into Caltraya. The villager grasped Alyssa’s body, held on to her, felt herself pushed against the door, was afraid of letting her drop.
Moments later two more arms slung around the limp body of the goddess. The old man – no longer old, but young and strong – quickly swept Alyssa up into his arms, graced Caltraya with a smile, then carried the goddess to the bed and deposited her next to her brother.
“What… Why aren’t you old anymore?”
On the bed, nearly unconscious, Alyssa rolled to her side, winding her arms around her brother. Darawk twitched at the touch, his own arms enfolding his sister.
The third god shook his head, watching them, before he turned to the villager girl. “For some reason,” he said, “I don’t feel that old anymore. Girl… Callie, isn’t that your name?” The villager nodded slowly. “Callie,” the third god repeated, tasting the sound on his tongue. “None have ever dreamed that your people could create such power. Your worship, dedicated to a single deity, it is more than any of the other sapients have ever given. Our two friends here aren’t accustomed to that. Give them time, they need to get used to this.”
“But… I haven’t…”
“You’ve done more than enough,” the third god cut her off. A frown glazed his face. “I think it might be time for me to change as well. The world is different, now. Thanks to you, Callie.”
She stared at him, unable to comprehend a word.
The third god shook his head. His hair was black, a thin mustache on his lips. The wrinkles were gone, replaced by firm, fresh skin, and his clothes were now resplendent leather, with silver threads running through them. “Do not worry about this. In time, you will understand.” He glanced over to the divine siblings in bed. “And so will they. You have done well, Callie.”
He nodded to himself. “Yet I need to make the change. I have been a solitary traveller long enough. I shall take a name. A name.” Again he paused, as if the word alone was opening new vistas and a new life. “Callie, can you think of one?” he asked kindly.
She didn’t answer, her gaze shifting between each of the deities.
The third god stepped closer and touched her shoulder. “Is there a sound you think of when you see me?”
Finally Caltraya was shaken from her observation, gaping at the deity before her, the hand on her shoulder. “Olmawi,” she whispered.
“Olmawi,” the god repeated. “Is there a meaning to the word?”
Caltraya trembled. It was so difficult to answer, so difficult to force words out of her mouth. “It means cold. I… We… Voldert and I, many dozens of dozens of days ago, we walked away from the village, and we found a place that was utterly cold, where the water was frozen. He – Voldert, I mean – didn’t like it, but I… The cold was so curious and strange, but the sight of the frozen water was beautiful. We called it the Place of Olmawi.”
“That is a good sound,” he said, tightening his grip on her shoulder before letting go. “Then, my dear Callie, I am now Olmawi. No longer the nameless traveller, but Olmawi. What a curious sensation this is! To have a name – what power there is in a name!”
“Do you –“ Caltraya caught herself, working up the strength to speak, “Do you want me to worship you, Olmawi?”
The god stared at her, as if the connection hadn’t occurred to him before. After a brief while he hurriedly shook his head, a sense of fright entering his face. “No… Not unless I am worthy of worship.”
Caltraya didn’t understand, but she didn’t mind. The god had told her that a time of comprehension would come. For now, though, she said, “You have given me satisfaction, Olmawi. For that I thank you.” She lowered her head for a moment, concentrated on her gratitude – and heard a surprised groan before her.
When she looked up, she saw that the god now named Olmawi had nearly doubled over, breathing quickly, his right hand clawed around his chest. “Dear… By the existence!” he cried. “Is that close to what Darawk and Alyssa are experiencing? This is –“ He interrupted himself, gazed intently at Caltraya. “Please, girl, do not thank me this much. Not now. One of us has to stay conscious.”
“Did I hurt you?” Caltraya whispered.
“No, surely not!” Olmawi reassured her, his eyes glazed over with joy. “You villagers, you are – far more powerful than any of us had anticipated. I… Callie, please sit down, I will do the same, and we will think about this. Until our friends there are able to join us again.” He smiled, motioned to the chair next to the entrance.
Not knowing what else to do, Caltraya sat down. She dearly hoped that she would be able to understand this very soon.