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18 November 2010 @ 03:53 am
[Fic] "Ashes" part 12 -- original, NaNo 2010  
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Ashes, part 12
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["My name," Morgalen said, her voice ringing clear and direct through the room, "is Morgalen ha le Shani. The favor I ask of you is shelter and assistance for me and my companion on our journey, once she recovers from her wounds. And the reason we have come south is to close the Gate."]

There was a long pause as everyone tried to make sense of Morgalen's words. Riam thought he must have heard wrong. Close the Gate? Nobody even knew where the Gate was -- beyond the vague idea that it was beyond the Waste, near the Eastern Ocean and the end of the earth. Nobody knew how it had been opened, nor by whom, nor what the openers had intended to do; they had all either died or held themselves to shamed silence for the rest of their likely short lives.

Zalir broke the silence, tossing her knife again. "You're a magician; of course you're insane. What I don't understand is how you convinced a binder to follow you."

Several people laughed, startled out of their tension. Riam, watching Morgalen, didn't join them. There was no humor in her face -- only purpose.

"In the years before the Gate," Morgalen said, talking over the dying laughter and the rustle of shifting bodies and clothing, "there was communication all through the world. It was not quick or cheap to send a message from one end of the earth to another, but it could be done. It was done, especially among rulers, merchants, and scholars, all of whom wish to know what their counterparts are doing in other lands."

"We haven't lost our records," Tir said, her voice level. "What's your point?"

"A scholar in the old country of Chisitlinunnet maintained contact with a scholar in Riyyu, who maintained contact with a scholar in Yavad, which is the country my father's holdings were born from," Morgalen said. "For a long time, this meant nothing; the woman's books and letters were taken by a magician and passed from one recluse to another. Ten years ago, they came into my brother's hands when he led a company to put down a magician who had run mad."

She said it so calmly, as if a rampaging magician were simply another way the world sometimes twitched and groaned, reminding people that they were made for the earth, not the earth for them.

"My brother was always given to reading," Morgalen continued, "and he learned from the old letters that the scholar in Chisitlinunnet was part of a group who were examining the thin places in the world, hoping to learn what might be on the other side. My brother believed that this scholar and his friends were the ones who opened the Gate. Furthermore, he believed he knew where they had kept their records. Three years ago, he renounced his position as our father's heir and vanished. Two years ago, I received a letter he sent from Adijat, explaining his reasons for leaving, and copying out information he had found there, held by the heirs of the scholar of Riyyu."

Morgalen reached into the hidden depths of her cloak -- Zalir tensed beside her -- and slowly pulled out a bundle of papers. "You see? My brother found the Gate and a way to close it. But he should have reached the Eastern Ocean at least a year ago, and nothing has changed. Nobody more than a month south of Adijat remembers seeing him. I think he died before he achieved his goal. I plan to finish it for him. I met Gydra in Adijat; she helped me gather and translate these papers. Then she agreed to travel with me, for the sake of our world and all the people in it, because it will take a binder and a magician working together to close the Gate."

Morgalen tucked the papers away again. "I do not ask you to come with us into the Waste. I do not ask you to believe me. All I ask is that you help Gydra heal, and send us on our way with supplies and a map of the lands between Zerlon and the mountains. In return, we will save your future."

Silence fell again.

This time, Riam broke it. "We'd do that anyway. We're not barbarians."

For a half second Morgalen looked as though he'd struck her. Then her face went cold and blank. "Maybe so. Others have made similar claims and failed to keep their word."

"Judge us by what we do, not by what others have done," Tir said. She pressed her hands on the table and stood. "Thank you for your story, Morgalen ha le Shani. We will, of course, continue to make you welcome in Zerlon. Tomorrow you can visit your companion in the taint-house, and if you wish, you can move there yourself until she's recovered enough to leave. For tonight, I give you the freedom of the compound, in return for your pledge of good intent."

"I pledge to do no harm to you and yours, Holder Tegera," Morgalen said, inclining her head with a formal air. "Let my name be struck from memory should I break my word."

"Done and done," said Tir. "Any objections or other questions?"

There was a general demurral, save for Korim, the chronicler, who smiled at Morgalen and asked whether she would be willing to tell him about her journey in more detail someday before she left Zerlon. "We get so little news from other lands," he said, "and you've seen so many. It would be a shame not to share your knowledge."

Riam thought of the scraps he'd learned simply from talking at supper and looking at a single map, and agreed. It was always good to learn -- new ways might not be better, but if you didn't at least try them, how would you know? And if Morgalen and her companion succeeded in closing the Gate, the rest of the world might come knocking at Zerlon's borders sooner rather than later, and they would need to know what to expect.

Morgalen smiled, but not the sharp flicker-flash that Riam had begun to anticipate. This expression was gentler, and sat oddly on her face, as if she were unused to wearing it. "I am on my brother's quest, and he was always a scholar," she said. "To share knowledge will do him honor. We will talk at length once I know that Gydra is healing."

She stood from her chair and held her hands toward Korim, palms down. "Until tomorrow, scholar."

Korim looked askance at her gesture, but nodded his head in thanks.

"If that's all, we're wasting light," Zalir said, and pushed open the door. "Life doesn't stop because we have guests. Go get some sleep." As the council filed out, she looked toward Morgalen and Riam and added, "Yes, Riam, that means you. I'll escort our guest to her rooms, so you can stop worrying about her getting lost."

And Zalir would make sure Morgalen went only to her rooms, without getting a full sense of the compound or seeing any of its defenses. Riam rolled his eyes as he walked past his friend, leaving Morgalen and Tir to discuss the timing of next day's visit to the taint-house. "You're off duty," he muttered, lapsing out of trade tongue. "Werabim could take her."

"Werabim is retired from field duty," Zalir said, glancing back toward Tir and Morgalen with a frown. "I don't care if she's telling the absolute truth about closing the Gate. I don't even care if she pulls it off. She's a magician, she tore your binding, and she nearly started a wildfire. She's dangerous, and it's my job to watch her."

Riam sighed. "You're going to slink your way into riding with her to the taint-house, aren't you?"

Zalir smiled like a satisfied cat and reached up to tap Riam on the tip of his nose. "You know me too well. I know you, too -- don't pretend you won't turn up there too. You haven't had anyone to talk about binding with for years, and you think this magician is the best thing since salt in the tainted lands."

Riam tried to hold a serious expression, but couldn't manage it in the face of Zalir's amusement. "I've never met a magician before," he said, leaning against the outside of the doorframe and grinning at Zalir. "She's interesting. And I should take Sular to learn whatever this Gydra might have to teach."

"Excuses, excuses," Zalir said. "I'll tell Tir to include you and Sular in the plan. We'll probably ride out after breakfast, so you'll just have to get to the practice rooms extra early. I owe you at least three falls from this morning."

"Tir knocked me down! I'll be bruised for days. You don't have to do it again," Riam protested, waving his arms for emphasis. "And I should spend the morning making sure the patch in the boundary is holding."

Zalir set her hand against his chest, stilling him. "You can do that in your sleep. Riam, I need to know you can protect yourself. Maybe you can shake a magician's attention -- and I don't think you should trust that idea, since nobody reveals a weakness without a reason -- but that doesn't mean you can't be hurt. So. Practice rooms, at dawn, or I'll find you."

"I know," Riam said, wrapping his hand around hers. "You always do."

Zalir smiled. "I always will. Now go to sleep and let me deal with the magician." She pushed, gently, and slipped her hand out of Riam's grip.

He pulled a candle from the rack just inside the map room, lit it from the candle in the wall sconce, and called out to Tir. "I'm going to bed. Let's share a light on the way."

Tir nodded, then walked around the room, blowing out the candles as she went. Morgalen mimicked her on the other side of the table, and they joined Riam and Zalir in the corridor. "Until tomorrow," Tir said in trade tongue, and plucked the candle from his hands. "Will you need a light?"

Morgalen held up her hand and made flame dance over her fingertips, rippling from gold to white to blue. "No," she said. "But your guard might."

"I won't," Zalir said. "I know where I'm going."

"Until tomorrow, then," Tir said, and began walking down the corridor toward the family's rooms in the back of the compound. Riam followed. As he turned the corner, he glanced back and saw Zalir and Morgalen walking away, their black clothes nearly swallowed by the shadows of the corridor, now lit only by the eerie, green-gold dance of Morgalen's fire.

"A strange day," he said to his sister.

"Yes," she agreed. "With luck, life will settle back into rhythm tomorrow."

"Maybe," Riam said, but he ran a mental hand along the boundary as he walked, feeling the ragged edges of the tear Morgalen had made, and he wondered what else she might change before she left Zerlon.

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1) Or maybe that should be the end of chapter one. I dunno -- I kind of like the abrupt "keep reading!" of the previous section's end, but this is a more natural transition point. Oh well, it's not like I have to decide right now at gunpoint.

2) Finally I got Zalir and Riam on-page for a private(-ish) conversation that wasn't all about Immediately Important Plot Developments (TM). Zalir is, to my annoyance, still the least developed of my three main characters, but she will be appearing more during the trip to the taint-house and during subsequent events. Also, in December I must remember to go back and flesh her out more in the opening scene.

3) So, the council. They exist because Tir ought to have a council, and they ought to be present to hear Morgalen's story, but they are totally unimportant to the plot, which is why they remain largely unnamed and also largely silent. Does that work, or should I either get rid of them or try to make that meeting a bit longer with some more dialogue?

4) 1,800 words today, 16,550 total.

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And now, like my characters, I am off to bed.

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No.iponly on November 18th, 2010 10:43 pm (UTC)
I like the other end of chapter 1 better. Readers all knew it was coming- it happens- and then at the start of chapter two we get to be curious again.
Elizabeth Culmer, only a *little* bit crazy...edenfalling on November 19th, 2010 05:04 am (UTC)
Duly noted!