The Malleable Path of Copper, The Third Path of Memory
Two days after leaving the town, his left hand had stopped glowing silver. Not knowing if that meant he was still on the right path or not, he continued on. Now four days out, he was still following the same river he had first followed out of town.
The river descended, leaving behind the idyllic pasturelands he had called home for the last several years. As it widened and gathered speed from tributaries feeding into it, the river entered a more arid land with large areas of dried earth and only a few scatterings of trees. Eventually, the river joined an even larger river coming out of the foothills to the mountains he had been paralleling since he started walking. Being on the wrong side of the river, he pondered how best to cross the river so as to continue traveling downstream. He was stuck on the inside before the confluence where the two rivers met.
Looking around, he located a fallen tree a short distance upstream, hidden by a small clump of brown reeds and weeds. Seeing little other option, except to backtrack or follow the other river upstream, he took a moment to consider the possibility of using the fallen log tree as some sort of transport to cross downstream.
Upon reaching the tree, having fallen over while leaving a rather flat stump, he noticed an almost perfect rectangle carved into the top of the stump. Recollection swirled through his mind for a brief second, he had seen that symbol before – only days earlier, out of the corner of his eye while talking to Torim Rae. But now he knew it was not the first time he had seen it. Closing his eyes, he sees in etched in black stone back at the tower of the Capricious Ones, it is next to the first symbol of the pupiless eye. Concentrating to remember, he realized that there were more symbols, all in a circle around him. He can’t picture any of them except for this rectangle and the eye.
Reasoning it out, he comes to the conclusion that as he completes his quest, he will be shown more of the symbols. The rectangle in the stone at the tower was reflective as if made of silver or maybe even a mirror, completely unlike the one carved roughly into the stump. This symbol looked as if someone had burned it into the stump. How he knew, he was uncertain, but he knew for certain that the next leg of his quest was beginning and to find it, he must follow the river up into the mountains.
Over the next several days he made his way further up the river, traversing first rolling hills and eventually he started to enter actual mountainous terrain filled with large boulders and rocks. The grass, while still brown, was getting sparser. Even though the weather was holding, each night as he ascended a little higher, the air became chillier. He lived off the land, mostly catching fish in the evening and cooking them for a single meal a day. Not really prepared for a long trek like this, having not thought to bring more clothing, he shivered each night under his cloak.
On the sixth day, he finally heard his first sound of life, any life, along the river– a chanting in the distance. Picking up speed he topped a small hill to see several people in black robes chanting and standing around a large gibbet of two logs standing firmly in the ground leaning across each other to make an ‘X’. Tied to the ‘X’ was the broken and naked body of a woman with long blond hair, shot full with streaks of grey. Seeing this, Torim Rae became incensed, some trigger of recognition occurred upon seeing the lady, and he charged forward yelling incoherently, wildly waving his walking stick. The robed figures turned and upon seeing him, fled back up and away from the river following a canyon pass.
Approaching slowly, he looked at the woman. On some level below actual recognition, he felt he knew this woman, something familiar about her stirred up a kinship towards her, but also a great fear. When she slowly looked up, her weathered and beaten face turned to a look of scorn.
“Ah – I see you have come to mock me, hoping to see me die and once again be reborn?” Her eyes lost focus, then with a shake of her head she mutters to herself, “Or are you an apparition, not real but my heart’s desire to see myself punished. . .”
Trying to speak clearly to establish his reality, Torim stated, “I know you? I feel I do, but I surely don’t at the same time. My memory is lost to me.”
“How convenient for you. Then you don’t remember strangling me with your hands, cursing me to be reborn as a harem daughter to one of our bitterest enemies?”
Confused, he considered his words and thoughts before slowly responding, “I remember no such thing. Why would I kill you?”
She laughed haltingly, possibly more of a cough than a laugh with a thin flow of red spittle falling from her lips. “Because you are a fool, were always the fool. Not as great as I, apparently. In my vanity, I sorely underestimated that you might ultimately be as shallow as I.”
Her dire situation trumped his desire to converse at the moment. “I would think it appropriate to possibly help you, I have no knife to cut the ropes, but give me a little time and I can probably free you. Can I trust you?”
“Please don’t – if truly you have no memory, then let me go as a memory not worth keeping. Let me die in the appointed manner of this land. Give me the release of no re-birth,” she requests.
“I don’t understand, why would you wish to die. Is life that horrible.”
“I have made too many enemies on my one great rise to power – now powerful Lords and Ladies seek me out in rebirth each time I die to exact vengeance. I want out – I don’t want to keep this up for the next thousand lives waiting for the one life where I can once again be in a position to do unto others as is being done to me.”
“How is it that you are reborn each time you die?” Torim Rae asked.
“Truly – you are the fool who has no memory. Here – in this land, death is eternal – you die, you die, and you die. Seek out immortality, yes – but careful, in doing so you will make enemies. And once you gain immortality, don’t dare lose it, or at least make sure you have powerful friends so they can get to you first when you are reborn.”
Guessing the answer already, Torim Rae still asks, “If you die then, here and now, won’t you just be reborn if what you say is true?
“Not in these hills, the canyon where they brought me from has the promise of true release. I aim to find out if it is true or not. It is one of the few places in the Pryson where death may be true. The locals denied me a proper death inside the canyon, but they promise that a death near the canyon mouth will achieve the same result.”
“Was that them who fled when I arrived?”
“By their ritual, I have been starved for a week, beaten, and left to die on this wooden cross from exposure to the elements over the next three nights. They were here to keep me company, singing to me as I died.”
“Whatever for, why not just kill you?”
“Because I was a true noble of the Court, I lived in Gashmyr. I have ties to everything Pryson – a simple death will not suffice, the ties must be broken and they believe this is the best way possible. They keep me company, morbidly waiting to see what happens, see if I am truly reborn or move on.” While she manages to get out the words, it is obvious from her ragged voice that speaking is already difficult.
“Move on to where? Where do you hope to go?”
“Oblivion would be nice, but anywhere beyond the cage of this existence. They don’t know, they just know that they are not reborn – they die and that is it. Most of them believe in a paradisial afterlife – some in oblivion, but either way, it is a sweet release from the constant horror of this existence.”
“Can I keep you company, or will they return if I leave. If I am truly responsible for your travails, I owe you the company till you leave.” The kinship Torim was feeling toward her was growing, almost to an adoration. Did he possibly love this woman at one time? Filled with sadness at her plight, he then states with the truest of sincerity, “If this is your wish, I would be honored to sit here and wait with you for your final breath.”
“You have no idea how I have despised and hated you for what you did to me, how you ruthlessly reached out and strangled the life from me. Knowing I deserved that death only makes the resentment worse. Yet, my journey to this cross has been long, and though I have cursed you from waking to sleep many a times, I find that maybe I actually have some sorrow for you in my final hours. Your company will be welcome. It is perhaps fitting that I die with you here. Only one other deserves more than you to sit and watch me die. ”
“Was I so despicable? Perhaps my quest is in error.” More to himself, he finished, “Should I seek its outcome?”
“Of what quest do you speak.”
“I apparently went to the Capricious Ones, they sent me on a quest, and took my memory in the process. If I was this horrible person, what quest would I be on, and is it wise to see it to completion.”
At this, the women gave a short derisive barking laugh which turned into a hacking spasm and then she passed out.
Torim Rae took that time to find a few pieces of wood and start a fire. He left to go back to the river and catching some fish. Then after cooking the fish and eating, he saw the woman stir again. She mumbled for several minutes, obviously delirious. He didn’t speak to her until she finally seemed to gain some lucidity.
“I know you are wishing to die, but it seems wrong not to offer you water or food in the least.”
“Ah, cruel to the last, you are. I must pass on the water and food, my time is short. Fortunately, I have passed the worst of the hunger and thirst pains,” a short pause while she caught her breath, “even talking is a chore,” she finished emphasizing her point
“Then I will just sit here and wait. Do you wish burial?”
“No, leave me – go your own way – and give your quest up. You have a happiness to you now I never saw before, at least haven’t seen since we first met.”
“I fear to give my quest up,” he said quietly
“You would be wiser to join me on the cross. Consider your quest finished and perish in these hills,” she advised
“Do I have enemies like you have enemies? Can I expect great peoples to hunt me down on my death?”
“Perhaps some might hate you, but none of them will ever be anything but pawns and food for greater evils. But no, enemies like I have you, have none,” she then coughed before resuming, “at least to my knowledge. Only my husband, who once called you friend and brother, holds you in such contempt, but his situation is far worse than mine – he has no time to think of how you betrayed him into downfall, into the very hands of his greatest enemy for once Duke Simnet captured him, rumor is he has yet to be allowed even a first death.” The lady on the cross paused for a long time, resting her voice before quietly speaking again with an almost used up rasp, “There was my maidservant.” Again a long pause. “She might have despised you, though I doubt she even remembers you – she wasn’t near powerful enough to retain her memories from her previous life – she is hopefully blissfully off to her next existence.”
“Did I kill her also?”
“No, I did. I had her blinded, raped, then beheaded. All because she sought to rise above her station.”
Torim Rae took a moment to digest this. “Then why would she hate me?”
“Because you never acknowledge her plight, only observed. You might have saved her, probably could have, but didn’t.”
“Perhaps you are right, I should join you on that cross after you die – I sound like a horrible person.” Despite his words of agreement, the doubt was strong in his voice.
“Perhaps you should, Torim, perhaps you should.”
The lady on the cross passed out again. She would not awake till the following morning when the sun was starting to heat the air up. As Torim Rae looked upon her, he felt a profound remorse start to grow. He had killed her, possibly led her to this doom, yet she sounded somewhat despicable herself – what kind of person attracts enemies who hunt you down in death, what kind of person has their maidservant mutilated, humiliated, then killed.
In the morning light, he saw that she was starting to swell, her body badly sunburned from the previous day's exposure. Torim Rae was confident she wouldn’t last much longer. Resolving to find out more about his quest, he waited for her to wake up so that he might try his best to persuade her to talk. She never woke up.
Granting her wish, he didn’t bury her. Gathering his few supplies, he sat out up the trail where he saw the hooded figures disappear. As he walked along the pebble-strewn path, he suddenly realized that she had called him Torim despite his never informing her as such. The possibility that his name was previously Torim sent shivers down his spine. Quickening his pace, he was looking forward to finding out who the hooded people were – maybe they would at least have a warm bed where he could reflect on his situation. How does someone become as horrid as the lady had described him?
She said he had destroyed his world, cursed his people. He had betrayed a man who called him friend and brother into the hands of his greatest enemy. He had killed that same man’s wife, and now just watched her die without lifting a hand to help her, even though that was her wish. She accused him of having strangled her, does her own cruelness justify his actions at all. She had called him as vain and shallow as she was. As he trekked further into the beginnings of the canyon, he had lots to ponder – was his quest a quest of redemption or was it a quest that would only result in greater tragedies for those around him.
Nearing nightfall, the walls of the canyon rose to nearly twenty feet to either side of the trickling river, now more of a stream than a river. The stream itself was barely wider than twice a man’s height, and though running fast, it looked as if with some hazard, it might be waded. The water was so clear that it looked to be inches deep, the large fish swimming in its depths and pools were the only real hints at how deep it might actually be. Because of the stream’s extreme cold, Torim dared not drink directly for fear it might further sap his strength. He was forced to fill his water skin and wait for the water to warm before finally taking any gulps of it. But when he did take a drink, the water had an ambrosial quality which refreshed him more than any normal water.
As the darkness descended on the canyon, he began looking for shelter from the sharp wind blowing down into the ravine when he saw lights reflected off the evening the sky in the distance. Taking a chance, he hastened up the river and finally coming around a bend saw the outskirts of what might be a small village to either side of the stream consisting of about twenty huts.
Despite the darkness, several people were still milling around three large fires tending several cooking pots and what looked to be the remains of one large herd animal being slowly turning over the largest of the fires. Now that he could see the fires, he could also smell the mouth-watering smell that only freshly cooked meat can provide. Some of the natives looked up as he approached, but none made any effort to greet him, or even stand up and challenge his approach. Their entire behavior was one of acceptance – he was there and that was where he belonged.
Approaching with caution, slightly scared by their complete lack of wariness toward him, he walked up to the eight standing near the largest fire, two of which were turning the sweet-smelling herd animal. With a growling stomach from the overpowering scent of freshly cooked meat, he asked, “Can you spare some food for a stranger – I have had little but fish these past several days, maybe weeks.”
The eldest of the villagers stood up to greet him, an ancient man, several inches taller than Torim despite his aged stoop, grinned and pointed to one of the others, a young girl. She produced a wooden plate and quickly cut a small sliver of meat off of it and then handed it to Torim. He devoured the meat in seconds. Before he was completely done with the first sliver, the girl and plopped a second larger sliver onto his plate and then stood there holding a bowl filled with some soup waiting for him to finish. “You need some plants in your meal, sir, if all you have had is fish.”
The ancient man, with a face covered in more wrinkles than smooth areas continued to grin. “The soup is good too – it has a little of the meat from the white antelope here, but seasoned just the way only my granddaughter here can season it. The harvest of jolo gourds just came in so you won’t find better tasting soup in the lands for several months.” He then sat back down to the same position as he was sitting when Torim first entered the village.
Torim sat and handed the plate back to the girl before starting in on the soup. He noticed they had also put a drink nearby. “I thank you much for the meal, as I said, I have been long on my trek with little sustenance.”
The old man still grinned. “Call me Joscua”
“Sorry, I forget my manners, I am Torim Rae.”
“Greetings Torim Rae – you are most welcome. It is highly displeasing to the higher powers not offer aid to those who need it whenever they might need it, even if they might be an enemy. Failure to help makes a mockery of their teachings – it is what the gods do for us every day when they answer prayers and we should do no less.”
“Well I assure you, kind sir, an enemy I am not”
“That is good Torim Rae,” he glibly said, his grin so big now that Torim could see that many of the man’s teeth were missing. “Might I ask, what brings you up the river.”
“I am on a quest.”
“Ah, a quest, quests are exciting I hear, you will have to tell the village of your journeys.” At this Torim noticed that everyone else at the fire was listening intently to him and that the crowd was starting to grow as people from other fires made there way over.
“There isn’t much to tell, largely because I don’t remember much of who or what I am. Truth be told, I am not even sure what I am questing for,” Torim answered between spoonfuls of soup. “Right now my quest is to find out my quest – though I have recently become worried that this might be in error and abandoning my quest might be the proper thing to do.”
Joscua’s grin disappeared and he began to stare intently at Torim. “Finish eating and I will tell you of us. Then you can decide if you wish to divulge the secrets you are holding back.”
Torim started to object that he had no secrets but Joscua just started talking, all humor now gone from his voice. “We are the descendants of Ip – a small nation of mystics. From generation to generation we were conquered, never putting up a fight, for each new conqueror valued us as a great resource. We would guide each nation to greatness, but in the end, they would turn their judgment against our advice and eventually fall to a new conqueror. As always, we fell to the next nation, and as always, we had foreseen this, but then the time came when the nation who was our current captor descended into a level of greed, selfishness, and debauchery unlike anything that our world had ever seen. And so the first tendrils of the Pryson entered our world and within decades, we were consumed. This we did not foresee.”
“However, the descendants of Ip did not belong in the Pryson. Many here don’t belong, many are just the hapless victims of the cruel masters who bring them here, but the descendants of Ip not only didn’t belong, we lacked the ability to be cruel. Avarice is a concept we barely get. As such, we have always stood apart from the Pryson though we live in it. Our mystical foresight began seeing visions of this canyon and so here it is we came. It is a construct of the Pryson for certain, but it was made for us. Though many argue that the Pryson is not sentient, it is alive and when something is disruptive to any living organism, somehow the body will find a way to separate it off to protect the whole. Our lack of the evil which attracts the Pryson is an anathema to it – the Pryson doesn’t tolerate us very well.”
Torim finished eating, confused somewhat at the story but now sat there nodding as he listened. “So you are saying this canyon is like a scab to the injurious nature which you people of Ip claim to be?”
The old man chuckled, “We prefer to think of this canyon as the Pryson’s bowel.”
Torim Rae thought it about it, then laughed himself. “So, if the Pryson is a collection of all that is wrong and evil and cruel, and if it is alive, then anything good in it must somehow be expelled. You know, I believe that is also the theory behind what makes a pearl in the oyster’s heart.”
The old man gave a single exaggerated nod. “Precisely.” Looking at Torim, he let him think for a bit before adding, “And now you have a question.”
Puzzled, Torim started to say ‘no’ when he realized that he did suddenly have a question. “Wait a second – was it you, or your people, well it must have cause who else could it have been, who I ran off from my friend at the entrance to the canyon.”
“Yes it was us – we have no instinct for fighting or self-defense. It is fright or flight, never fight.”
“Ah, I apologize if I scared you, what I saw seemed to be a grave injustice.”
“Do you think so now?” Joscua queried.
“I am not certain. It was what she wanted, and I guess you were trying to help.” After some thought, “Merely wanting to help and merely trying to help does not always equate to actually helping. In any other perspective what you were doing was evil.”
“Ah, perspective, a funny thing that, isn’t it. I see you know it well.”
Torim was suddenly reminded of his recent epiphany in Misty Forge. “Yes, perspective is just one facet of perception. It is perspective which deceives us more so than our perceptions of sight and sound.”
“And from your perspective, what we were doing was evil, so you reacted accordingly. Could it be that perspective then shapes perception rather than the other way around?”
“I don’t follow.” After a second, Torim then said, “Well maybe I do. If I expect to hear a lie from someone, it doesn’t matter how truthful they are, I will hear the lie.”
“Most perceptive, Torim,” the old many mildly taunted. “And vice versa, if you expect to hear the truth, then it will take much for you to acknowledge the lie. Demagogues depend on this – tell you something you agree with then secretly tell you that which you didn’t really know you disagreed with so that when you hear it again, you are suddenly reversed on your beliefs.”
“I quickly amended my thoughts of all of you from being evil tormentors to at the worst, being misguided do gooders.”
“And why is that, Torim.”
“Um, well the lady told me.”
“And you believed her?”
“She seemed familiar – I trusted her.”
“Yet – do you know her name?”
“Didn’t think to ask – she seemed so familiar like I had always known her. A name didn’t seem necessary or even important at that point.” Torim Rae then thought to himself. Do we use names to distinguish the unfamiliar? For the familiar do we even need names?
“Interesting. So, you believed her because she was familiar? Where do you know her from?”
Torim Rae was stumped. “Well, I guess I only had her words for everything – she accused me of some despicably horrible deeds. Maybe I should trust in my instinct as to what is right or wrong before believing her. I suppose it is entirely possible I never knew her.”
“Trusting your instinct for right or wrong, as you did when you chased us off? Or as you did when you assumed she told you why she was on the cross. If she told you wrong, you realize what the means don’t you?”
Torim gave his most disarming smile, just in case he was in great peril and was only just beginning to realize it, “It means you are evil after all.”
“That it does. Evil is so subjective – but then so is good.”
Torim thought for a while longer before slowly responding, “Well, I must go with what I can best ascertain – you are not evil, but good. The lady was telling me the truth, at least about you.”
“Yet you are not sure about the other things she said?”
“No, I am not – at least I hope not. What she accused me of was horrible – I can’t feature that I am capable of all she said.” Would I have believed her as readily if what she had said about me was all good?
“And yet you were.” Joscua said this with such finality that it caused Torim’s eyes to grow wide and jaw to go slack. This was not an agreement from Joscua, this was a straightforward confirmation of the lady’s words.
Torim Rae then stood up angrily and stepped back, “No, it can’t be. I don’t believe I am capable of all that. I am not such a vile creature to doom all my people for personal gain, to murder those I call friend. I am not.”
“Sit down Torim, did I not tell you I am descended from mystics. I see much, and though I don’t see your actual past, I do see the shadows. It is all true. Even now the emotions bear heavy on you.”
And then Torim fell to his knees, the anger and grief from memories unremembered seemed to well up and overcame him, he broke out into a sobbing cry that lasted for almost an hour before he could even begin to look up and continue the conversation. The abject sorrow of deeds he didn’t even remember completely drowned out his ability do anything else than sob. It was if part of him knew the truth and had been seeking an emotional release even though his conscious understood little of the why.
When he looked up, it was completely dark and only the old man was still there staring at him. At some point during his emotional outburst, everyone else had left, leaving just the two of them at the dwindling fire pit.
“It’s all true, I did do those things didn’t I.”
“Yes Torim, you did, and much worse.”
“Then my absent memory might be the greatest blessing of all. Can you see my quest, should I continue it, is it worthwhile?”
“I believe it is – memory is but a vision of the past. It is not a vision of the future.”
“But it clouds the future, that is inescapable. Our past molds us, predicts our future actions.”
“Really Torim Rae? What if you had stayed in Misty Forge? What then.”
“Irrelevant – what I have done clouds my future. Should I continue on this quest as such? I know that when I started this quest my memory was intact, or at least I believe it was. I fear now more than ever to continue. Tell me of the release you granted my friend.”
“You said you don’t remember the quest. How can you possibly know if it is bad or not.”
“Ah, but you must know some of it – didn’t you just recommend I carry on? Please tell me of it,” Torim Rae pleaded.
“I don’t see it, I only see enough to think it is important for you to continue on your quest.” Before Torimr Rae can respond, Joscua redirects the conversation, “You called her friend again, why?”
“Why not, she seemed a friend and we knew each other, her husband was my friend.”
“Perhaps she was a lover?”
“Was she? I could see that. Before your mistreatment of her, I can see how she was beautiful. Is that why I betrayed my friend, her husband?”
“Possibly – but you called her a friend without certain knowledge.”
“It seemed right,” Torim Rae responded after a little thought.
“And you believed all she had to say about you.”
“You did confirm it.”
“True, so you believed her, and believe me in confirming it, but choose to doubt me about continuing a quest you are uncertain of?”
“You are confusing me, old man. But yes, that is my dilemma, where do I stop believing what I am told and go with what feels right.”
“Where indeed – but that is the crux of all decisions, at some point you have to decide blind with only the information you have at hand, and decide with the information you feel is important discarding the that which you find less important. Even the greatest of leaders must deal with this quandary. In the end, there is only a best guess. Prayer for guidance only eases the burden, the best guess must still be made.”
“I need time to think on this.”
“You have four nights to stay with us, then you must leave. We have cleared the outermost hut for you – take the time you need.”
“Why must I leave – not that I want to overstay any hospitality, that of which I am most thankful, please believe me, but why must I leave after four days.”
“Remember how I said this was like the bowel of the Pryson, only those who are worthy, or unworthy of the Pryson that is, may stay here. That is why your friend was forced to leave – she had found enough redemption in herself to find us, but could never stay.”
“So on some level, I deserve to be here, four days at least, you are saying?”
“Yes, Torim. Now no more questions. Time for sleep – you rest up and think on your future. You have two paths, one to continue seeking your quest and one not. On the morrow, I will pull forth the cards of destiny and perhaps we can delve more into why you have found us.”
“We are mystics, after all. Mere tools, yet helpful.”
While sitting there, one of the young ladies of the village brought him something to drink. As he accepted the drink, he felt the warmth through the mug. A vapor was rising from the dark liquid. Holding it close, he smelled the vapor and detected a floral scent with a hint of spice, possibly nutmeg. Taking a slow sip, the liquid was as thick as syrup. Whatever it was, it was delicious and he started drinking more.
“Careful Torim Rae, that is the nectar of the ligaris melon. It will aid in your sleep, but it will also aid in your dreams, perhaps revealing that which is hidden.”
Torim Rae didn’t remember any more of their conversation as the nectar was also an intoxicant. Blurrily making his way to his hut, he found that there are several furs making up the bedding in the far corner. Not even bothering to disrobe or take off his boots, he crawled into the furs to sleep. If he had been less drunk, he would have been delighted at his first night’s sleep in a long time where he wasn’t cold.
That night, he dreamed. He was much younger, riding a fast horse through a pasture of bloomed heather. The sky was overcast, causing the heather to take on more a brown coloration. Suddenly a horn sounded nearby. Looking over, he saw his childhood friend pointing who was on another horse. “Torim, Torim, our prey is that way, I just saw it bolt into that thicket,” Amajeum yelled triumphantly before kicking his horse's flanks to spur it into faster motion.
Laughing himself, Torim turned his horse to follow, while reaching back to release his crossbow from its holder at the back of his saddle. Pulling it around while riding with one hand steering with the reins, guiding the horse as much by his knees as by the reins, he holds the crossbow up high pointing upward. Then yelling as loud as he can, “Run if you can, little pig, we almost got you.”
His friend veered into the thicket flushing the boar out. Torim Rae waited, it was after all his friend’s hunt. Amajeum was his closest friend since childhood and was to be the future Count of Terazily. And he was to be married in two days to the most beautiful woman in the land. With that marriage, his family would be sealed to the family of Duke Simnet, for she was the duke’s only daughter. A looming war threatening to destroy the entire kingdom would be avoided by that marriage.
The boar then turned back, heading toward the opposite row of trees, beyond which was the stream bed. The stream was shallow this time of year and if the boar made it that far, the deep banks would shield the escaping animal as horses would be unable to follow. Future Count Amajeum raised his crossbow early and fired at that same moment his horse stumbled a step. The shot went wide.
Seeing the boar would escape, Torim fired himself and hit the boar deep in its flank, causing it to fall and roll before getting up and starting to limp toward the safety of the stream. This gave Amajeum enough time to close, draw his sword and slay the animal. Just as he was about to swing through, he stopped, “Torim, this is your kill, please don’t let me steal the glory.”
“Brother, this is your day. Take the kill. No one will ever know it wasn’t your bolt that took it down. And with all the secrets between us, what’s one more,” said Torim.
“Agreed, this time, I take the kill. The next kill will be yours, brother.”
Torim Rae awoke in the morning. It has been a pleasant dream and he simply laid in the furs for several minutes basking in the memory. Then he focused, he couldn’t remember anything else about Amajeum except that one vivid memory. But in the memory, he knew beyond knowing that Amajeum was his closest friend. They called each other brother because, in truth, they were closer than any brothers. And for the first time in four years, the first time since that cursed citadel, Torim Rae remembered what it was like to love another person. Amajeum was the closest a friend could ever be without being truly family or a lover.
And then Torim Rae’s heart sank. He at once knew that this memory was not an accident. Amajeum was the friend he betrayed, the friend whose wife he strangled. Torim Rae immediately got up and moved toward the entrance of his hut. Not even making it, he started retching. To have so totally betrayed someone he cared so much about destroyed Torim Rae in that moment.
A few hours later, he collected himself enough to venture outside. He saw the village for the first time in full daylight. It was a simple settlement with several huts scattered about. Four main fires were spread throughout the village with groups of people gathered about. Approaching the closest one, he saw Joscua sitting eating some bread. The mystic pointed toward a small bench attached to a tree stump. “I left you some food in that bowl. If I’d known you sleep this late, I would have waited to pull the meat from the fire.”
Torim Rae responded, his voice rough from crying, “Thank you. I had one of the best dreams ever and yet I wish I had never dreamt it.”
Joscua gave him a perplexed look, though his smile suggested he knew exactly what Torim Rae meant. “A good dream that is bad?”
“I was reminded, I have done a great evil. Possibly the greatest evil, I betrayed a trust and a friendship.”
“That was your dream, betraying a friendship?”
“No, my dream was how enduring and strong the friendship should have been. It showed me in full just what was lost to betrayal.”
“What was the cause? Surely you are not so evil that you would do so without reason. If truly you are as evil as you imply, I best send you out of our camp now.”
“You might be right.” Torim Rae sits there for a moment, then asks, “However, I am on a quest and it does appear to have led me here. You mentioned that it takes some level of redemption to find this place in the first place?”
“Yes friend, it does. It does. I was going to use the use the cards of destiny today, however, your emotions are too muddied. Walk, rest, visit with us for the day. On the morrow, we shall consult the cards.”
That night a different youth, a young boy, brought by the same liquid. Looking at the steaming liquid, he was fearful to drink. Then decided that maybe this beverage contained a truth he was not gaining while being awake.
Preparing himself in advance, he took the drink back to his hut. Stripping down to his night clothes, he sat in the furs and then drank the now cooled beverage before lying down. Sleep took him quickly, and with sleep came another dream.
He was in the middle of making love, on top. Looking down, it was the woman he had left on the cross, a much younger version. Though in his dream he did not realize this, in the dream was in the moment, listening to her moan his name. This continues on for several minutes. Then the dream moves forward.
He and the woman are lying in post-coitus, arm in arm, both with their skins flushed. She looks up at him, her head on his chest, “Amajeum will be back soon, you need to get up and dressed.”
The last thing Torim Rae remembered before waking was saying to the woman, “I think he knows already, and if not, I am going to tell him tomorrow. We are entertaining a delegation from Flornayse tomorrow, I think I will do that as we all set down to break our fast. Publicly will be best. That should pierce him sharply. Do you like that, my beautiful flower?”
This time upon waking, there was no moment of peaceful respite. The shame Torim Rae felt was nearly unbearable, how could anyone be that cruel. Looking down, he saw his body was still aroused from the dream, yet the revulsion was present. The sun hadn’t even come up yet. Fearful of sleeping again he went out for a night walk.
The next morning, Joscua came walking along the canyon floor and found Torim Rae on his knees sitting before the cross of the now bloated corpse of the woman. Torim Rae didn’t move as Joscua approached, he had fallen asleep in this position sometime during the night.
Joscua woke him up with a light shake of the should. “You keep this up, we won’t have to use the destiny cards at all. Another good dream that was bad, or this time a good dream that was good?”
Torim Rae tried to speak, his voice was hoarse from yelling throughout the night. Trying again, he said, “What is it that I am questing for if not redemption. I am certainly the evilest of evil.”
“Really, have you killed hundreds, have you slain children?”
“Possibly, maybe. Probably, I am a man without morals or scruples.”
“Really, and yet here you are, what does that say? A man with no conscious wouldn’t be a complete wreck looking at the face of what he perceives as his greatest crime, and what is that crime again? Sleeping with your friend’s wife. That is an oft-repeated crime, I hear.”
“You don’t understand,” Torim Rae pleads. “This was done out of spite, this was done with the intention to destroy another. It wasn’t love, it wasn’t satiating a curiosity or giving into lust, this was pure avarice. The intention to destroy was there. I could feel it. I would have killed Amajeum if I would have thought it hurt more.”
“Interesting,” says Joscua. After sitting there for several more minutes, Joscua repeats himself. “Interesting. And yet here we are?”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure thing, Torim, it is your quest, after all, that we are spending these few days on.”
“Did she stay with you for several days. When she arrived, was she seeking the release of the cross here, or was she seeking other alternatives.”
“Oh, she came to us specifically to be released from the curse of being reborn. Those who hunt her are still looking for her. Angers run eternal in the Pryson. For some, anger and destruction are the only food they know.”
“I think I might seek the same release,” Torim Rae said.
Joscua sighed, “That is not for you, not now or ever. You are not being hunted, that I can promise you.”
“I think I hunt myself.”
“And what of your quest. If you give in, have you failed your quest?”
“If it is a quest to seek atonement or redemption, I do not feel as if I wish to continue. Wouldn’t leaving the cycle also be a form of atonement. If I am truly a despicable person, wouldn’t ending any chance I return to what I was be the best form of redemption.”
“You realize, of course, that proper atonement or redemption requires this step, a feeling that you truly deserve the consequences, whatever they may be.”
Torim Rae takes time to consider. “Yes, I do.”
“And then it takes a willingness to move on. Feeling you deserve the consequences and accepting the consequences are two entirely different activities.”
“That I don’t wish to do right now. But you are right, whatever else I may be, suicide doesn’t seem to fit within my nature. I am given to remorse over these dreams.” Attempting to get up from his kneeling position, Torim Rae found that his legs had long ago fallen asleep and weren’t moving properly. Rolling over to his side, he stretched them out and then started rubbing them to work the blood back into them. “Tell me, Joscua, a thought has occurred to me. Are these dreams real, I mean, how do I know them to be truth. They could just be dreams induced by the drink and playing on the story of the dead lady there.”
Joscua looked up at the lady. “She is a sad case, hunted to this release. What she did, she did to find release from a future she thought too horrible to bear. Her story is true. Your story, sadly Torim Rae has elements that aren’t true. I can see that. And the ligarios liquor doesn’t lie, the memory is real as you perceived it.”
Taking hope, Torim Rae asked as he continued to rub his legs, “Now that she is dead, shouldn’t we take her down and give her some form of decent burial or something. Being left naked to the elements is, I don’t know, it just feels disgraceful.” The feeling was starting to come back to his legs in the form of tiny little pricks of discomfort. Soon his legs would start to ache, but that would also mean that soon he could start attempting to stand.
“What she did was disgraceful, surely you see that. She decided to end the one true possession she had, her life. Justified or not, she surrendered it. Why should her decision be honored? Did she sacrifice her life for something noble or worthy?” Joscua asked.
Torim Rae immediately rebutted this logic. “It is disgraceful for us to leave her in this fashion. I don’t care about what she,” and he paused to think, “well I do care, but that is not important. It is wrong if we leave her staked up there. I am going to figure out a way to give her body a proper burial, or maybe a pyre, or something. Please help me with this.”
Joscua reached out a hand and helped Torim Rae to his feet. “In truth, I won’t help you. Her goal is not yet achieved, if I take her down now, she will be thrown back into the cycle. This is not her wish, and my village must respect that.”
“I want to argue and say I don’t care, I am doing it anyway. So it comes down to whether I respect her last wishes, yet again.”
“In truth, it does. However, I have a question for you, I want you to think about it carefully. Why do we bury the dead, or burn them, or mummify them?”
“To honor them.” Walking around in a circle now, kicking his legs out to help get the aches out of the muscles, Torim Rae answered without looking at Joscua. “And I suppose to get rid of the bodies. They would start to stink, they are a poor reminder of who the person was, and I suppose they bring the curse of disease if not properly tended.”
“I like your wording, they are a poor reminder. Well, no one is around but us to smell her, and if we leave, well, we leave and no one is the wiser. Animals have not bothered her and will not come into this pass. So for the poor reminder, isn’t this actually the perfect reminder of who she says she was, a haggard creature on the run, much harried for the horrible deeds she had done in her previous life?”
Torim Rae nodded.
“Then tell me,” Joscua continued, “Have you ever killed an insect? Swatted a fly, stepped on an ant? Did you bury it? Of course not.”
“We bury that which has meaning,” Torim Rae responded. Then he went silent as he considered that meaning largely depended on perception. Didn’t he just spend three years blind learning a lesson about how perception matters? “I probably knew her in the past, I sat with her as she died. That has meaning. Will you let me bury her once her time has come? How long must she hang there?”
“As long as needed. We will know when, and then if you are still here in this place, you can bury her. My solemn vow on this.” Joscua then started looking back in the direction of his village. “We are best heading back, this is a lot to think about. You may not think so now, but trust the mystic when he says, these words will have meaning later on.”
They started walking back to the camp and while doing so Torim Rae asked, “If I take that strange elixir again tonight, I assume I will dream again. And if I do, how do I know if my dreams are real or not? I mean, I can handle bad dreams, it’s the possibility of reality that scares me.”
The mystic Joscua nods. “True. But did you know that all dreams depict truth? But for your questions, what is the lady’s name?”
“I told you, I don’t remember.”
“She told me, so I will tell you this. If in your dream you learn her name, then it is likely true. If it is just your fevered dreams from the drink, then finding out her name would be unlikely. If you can come to me with her name, I can tell you the truth of your dreams tonight.”
Once they arrived back at the village, Torim Rae once again drank the dreaming concoction and slept. And once again, he dreamed.
And once again, he was in a bedchamber, and once again, he was with the same lady, but this time instead of being above her during a session of lovemaking, he was straddling her with his hands around her neck.
She was flailing, hatred visible in her eyes as she stared up at him, not in fear of death but in a desperate attempt to break loose. Torim Rae squeezed as hard as he could, fingers deep in the skin of her neck, and heard his own voice say, “Dearest Kolista, oh the humiliations I had in store for you, rejoice, for you don’t ever get to know any of them.”
That was when he felt a sharp pierce his side. Looking down, he saw she had just pierced his side with a tiny golden dagger. The dagger was slender for its length, more of an ornamental dagger, and made of a single piece of metal. He felt it bite deep, burning as it sunk in. With his ability to breath suddenly impaired, for she must have hit his lung, he released one hand from around her neck and swung it down with enough force to knock her hand from the dagger. He then continued the swing of his arm back up and around to slam a fist into her face. Already she was turning colors in the early morning light. Blood splattered from her nose, her eyes already starting to lose their focus.
Hitting her a second time for good measure, he then resumed strangling her with both hands. She struggled for only a few more seconds before her body stopped fighting, going more into the spasms of an unconscious person. “Damn you, Kolista, I wanted to see your fear, not your fight.”
Torim Rae woke up. This time wasn’t early morning, this time it was late in the morning, he could smell the fires burning for the morning meal. Rising up he was surprised he felt so rested. And surprised at how numb he felt, he had just murdered someone in his dreams, but more likely, he had just remembered a past episode of his life. And yet, he felt numb.
Walking slowly out of the hut, he approached the nearest village fire. Joscua was nowhere to be seen. He inquired of the old man turning the spit. Some type of small mammal was cooking. “Where is Joscua?”
The old man then spat to the ground, he was chewing some type of weed. “He went hunting, told me to ask you a strange question when you woke. He said, what is the woman’s name?”
“Kolista,” Torim Rae answered without any hesitation.
“That’s correct. He said you’d know what that means. Sit, here have some food.” The old man pulled out a knife and reached forward toward the cooking animal. Moving quickly, he cut a piece of meat and pulled it back. He then reached into a bowl beside him and pinched a small amount of seasoning which he sprinkled over the meat before handing it to Torim Rae.
Torim Rae took it and began eating. Looking around, he saw nothing to drink with so got up. “I need to find something to drink and then I need to step away to relieve myself. Do you know where I might find somewhere to wash up and clean these soiled clothes?”
The old man gave him directions, so Torim Rae spent the morning doing just those things. On the first day, they had given him extra clothes to protect him from the mountain cold. They were mostly fur. None of them were new and they definitely had the slight soured smell as having been used by someone before. Once he cleaned up, he found one of the villagers on the edge of the town boiling some clothes for several of the villagers. He borrowed some different clothing while his current set of clothes was being cleaned. Once that was done, he sat out to find Joscua, or at least find when Joscua would return. He was told that sometime before nightfall the hunting party would be back.
All in all, despite his dream, he had been ignoring the implications all day, trying his best to stay busy. He found three of the men working hard dragging branches back toward the camp and two more taking small axes removing branches to make long poles. When he asked, he was told they were preparing to build another hut soon.
He helped them for a while before heading off into the small copse of pine trees to aid in finding more branches suitable for use. He found they were actually cutting down young trees and hauling them back. He again helps for the rest of the afternoon hours before heading back into the village.
He spent his day like this, helping out where he can, doing his best to ignore the last dream. He decided he must have been emotionally exhausted from the day before and just couldn’t produce the emotion any longer. That he despised himself wasn’t in question. It possibly was that his actions had felt so unlike him, that even though he knew it was true, he couldn’t fathom or understand how he could ever perform such a heinous action.
Possibly another shock was that he couldn’t deny that it had been him. He had heard his own voice, he had seen his own hands strangle the lady, and worst yet, when he had been cleaning up that morning, he had checked to see if he had been wounded as in the dream. There was a scar under his ribs that matched exactly where he was stabbed in the dream. His hope that he was possibly seeing another man’s visions vanished.
By evening, Joscua had returned, they had caught two small deer. He announced the village would eat well for the next several days. Once he finished with his tasks of making sure the deer were properly handled, he approached Torim Rae. “Greetings Torim Rae. Tonight will be your last night, then you will need to move on.”
“I understand,” Torim Rae sourly responded.
“Kunda tells me that you dreamed the woman’s name. Was it another bad dream. You don’t seem too shaken up, not like yesterday.”
“It was a bad dream, I saw myself strangling her, killing her. She told me, that is, the woman back there in the pass on the gibbet told me that I killed her once, strangled her she said. I believe that is what I relieved last night.”
“Well, if atonement is your quest, I suppose the memory needs to happen. Correct?”
They continued to talk about his dream for only a couple of minutes before the conversation turned to the hunt Joscua had just returned from. Finally, Torim Rae asked, “What can you tell me about Kolista, I understand she came to you, did she tell you about her past?”
“She really didn’t need to tell me about her past, I saw the mark of the hunted on her as soon as she appeared. We see about two to three such individuals a year. Most we turn away, most we convince that a true death is not what they are looking for. With her, I didn’t even try. I could see enough pain and suffering in her shadow. Pain and suffering afflicted on her but also pain and suffering she had afflicted on others, to know that if anyone deserves this fate, it was her.”
“Still, did she impart anything else about herself?”
“Very little, only that she was currently a runaway slave and had been fleeing for nearly eight years. She said that she had escaped just before her planned execution and that she had been reborn and killed a dozen times already. She spoke of it being a member of the Court who so ruthlessly hunted her down each time, that he was on her trail and was soon to find her again.”
“And nothing else,”
“Only her name, Kolista.”
That night, his final night in the village, Torim Rae dreamed once more. This time he was lying in a different bed, restrained and bandaged. Beside him was a man he knows well, his servant Kenaras. Kenaras was wiping a warm brown cloth across the brow of Torim Rae.
Torim Rae knows in his dream that he has woken up a few times before, it is now several days since Kolista was killed and that he had survived the dagger wound to his side. He also remembers that he had been feverish for a few days before a healer had arrived to draw out the poison of infection.
As Kenaras continued to deliver his ministration, Torim Rae heard himself say, “Kenaras, tell me, where stands matters with Countess Kolista’s death?”
Kenaras bowed and with somber voice responds, “Her father, Duke Simnet, has marshaled his troops. He marches now on our city to take her murderer back to his lands for punishment. And with that, he has promised that all alliances made by her marriage to Count Amajeum are nullified.”
“Even with the murderer returned, he has declared war?”
“Master, surely you remember the grave news, already he has attacked and slain several on his way here. With the Countess’s death, the roads from Terazily to the Duke’s lands are lined with the heads of our people. By estimate, he has already killed nearly one hundred thousand men, women, and children.”
Sitting there, Torim Rae could feel himself shaking. “Surely not all this for one man.”
“She was his only daughter. Amajeum’s liege lord pleaded that the children and women be spared, for it is said that the deaths given are most gruesome. However, Duke Simnet will not be swayed, he arrives tomorrow. And has promised that the deaths will cease as soon as he has both her body and the murderer in his custody.”
Torim Rae then paled, his whole body going cold. Death would be preferable to being turned over to the Duke.
Looking shocked, Kenaras replied, “Master, you should not worry so, the evidence of guilt was undeniable. The preparations leading up to her strangling were months in the planning. You yourself provided the key proof needed to implicate Amajeum.”
Then Torim Rae heard himself say, “Yes, but no man deserves the fate Amajeum will face for killing his wife. No man.”
“Be that as it may, master, you need to rest and get well. As soon as Amajeum is handed over and heading is back to the Duke’s castle, you will be named Regent of Terazily until a new Count is named.”
“Yes, Kenaras, you have tended me quite well. For that, you have my eternal gratitude.”
“Master, if I might be so bold, if Amajeum’s fate concerns you, we could have some of the necromancers concoct a potion that will dull his pain and cause him to pass quickly over the next few weeks. I have already inquired, they have a potion that will slowly start to rot his insides. Painful yes, but they said certainly fatal within a month.”
“No, loyal Kenaras, absolutely not. Amajeum needs to be at the full mercy of Duke Simnet’s torturers. He gets to decide Amajeum’s fate, not us.” Torim Rae then paused. “Anyway, Amajeum buys us all, the entire city and land, survival. The Duke must never have cause to believe we are not complying in full to the desire of his revenge. I want to have a carriage ready for tomorrow, we follow Duke Simnet out. I want to see just how many of our citizens he has killed during his march here. Please make it so.”
“Don’t I make everything happen to your wishes, Master?”
“Yes, you do Kenaras, yes you do.”
Torimrae awoke on the final morning before he was to leave the village. Unlike the day before, where he was in shock, now he was in complete panic. Upon waking, he couldn’t breathe, he was unable to draw a breath. He started convulsing as a low moan broke forth from his lips. All four dreams now piled up on him, he felt the comradery for his best friend Amajeum, he felt the lust and passion for Amajeum’s wife and a desire to inflict Amajeum’s humiliation, he felt the anger and hatred as he strangled Lady Kolista, and finally he felt the certainty that Amajeum was going to answer for the crime of killing Lady Kolista.
More so, he understood that so many deaths were on account of that one act of hatred. His dream hadn’t ended with that last conversation with Kenaras, in his dream, he had visited everyone one of the cities, towns, and villages that Baron Simnet had marched through on the way to the take Amajeum into custody. He had seen all the farmers, all the women, and worst of all, all the children publicly displayed as they were nailed to whatever structure was handy and killed, some of them displayed to show the worst forms of crucifixion imaginable, killed in a manner reserved for the worst form of criminal.
And all this was at Torim Rae’s feet. He now knew with a certainty what his quest was, his quest wasn’t for redemption, it wasn’t for atonement, it was for penance. His quest by nature needed to be punitive. He had been reset by the Capricious Ones. He had been allowed to live an idyllic life for several years in Misty Forge, allowed to regain his morality, and now he was set upon with the full impact of his deeds.
Quickly dressing, he exited the hut and immediately found Joscua.
Joscua started his normal greeting of asking about the dreams when Torim Rae cut him off. “The dreams are what they are, Joscua, dreams. But they are also the truth, I know and understand this. While I deserve to stay on the path I am on and deserve to face the consequences of my actions, I am asking for the one thing I don’t deserve. A release. I dare not face the future which is intended.”
Joscua closed his eyes and looked down. Without looking up, he gravely asks, “You wish for the same as Kolista? You wish for a gibbet and a crucifixion so you are not reborn again, so you are once and for all free from existence?”
“Yes, I do,” Torim Rae responds. His response carries the full impact of his grief and resignation to this action. For with this last dream, much to his disgrace, Torim Rae learned that for all the depravity which he embodied, he was one more thing as well. He was a coward, he would not, could not face this version of himself.
Hanging from the gibbet, shaking from the cold, Torim Rae watched as the last of the robed villagers walked away. Had had not eaten or drunk anything for the last three days of their purification ceremony. All he had received was regular beatings, nothing to break bones, but enough to leave him bruised and bloody.
The conversation of their leaving had been brief, they had merely turned and started to walk away. With his parched voice, he cried after them, “Wait, I thought you stayed unto the end.”
The robed figure of Joscua turned, “Second thoughts, it’s a little late now. Even if we took you down, you would likely not survive.”
Forcing himself to speak, even the act of lifting his head hurt, he argued, “No. But you must stay to make sure it is all as it should be. You stayed for Kolista.”
“We did not stay for her if you recall. You ran us off. But the situations are different. She was not fleeing her past, but her present. Her continued existence was only pain and torment. We stayed with her out of honor. You, on the other hand, are fleeing your past and your future. This was the end of her quest, it was her goal.”
He then waited for the Torim Rae to respond. When he didn’t, he continued, “You see, you had a quest. You have a future that you chose to end. For her, I saw her path ending here, for you, your path is to go on. Her death is as one who is terminally ill surrendering to inevitability. Your death is an attempt to avoid life. You were to face and answer for your actions. You have chosen the craven’s path and fled. There is no honor to be found here on these crossed trees for you. You are alone. We will not share in your shame any more than we have already done so by granting your request.” With that, Joscua spat on the ground and turned, moving quickly to catch up to the rest of his village making their way out of the canyon.
Torim Rae would have cried if he could. He was ashamed and he was defeated. For three days they had mistreated him. Starved him while they tied him up and proceeded to beat him throughout the day. They inflicted pain, stretched his joints but at no time did they break any bones. Skin was another matter, he had several weeping wounds from the bruises they caused. Some of the younger adults had taken switches to his arms and legs. At any time, they told him, he could simply step away if he but wanted to, but if he did, they would not repeat the process. They explained that such crucifixions, while they saw this as their duty, were difficult. The ritual must be completed from start to end and tried but once.
Each time he thought to ask for release, he remembered vividly each of his dreams. As his consciousness drifted in and out of awareness, he would dream more of his past. He would see other times that he and Amajeum had bonded their friendship. The time they had survived a raid gone bad on an orc camp. The time that Amajeum had broken his ankle and for three miles, Torim Rae had helped support him back to safety. He remembered the time that Amajeum had covered for Torim Rae when the father of his current love interest wanted satisfaction for his daughter’s honor. He remembered all the little things a lifetime of friendship contained like breaking horses together, riding in arms to battle, nights celebrating with an excess of intoxicants, all the little things.
And in his delirium he remembered more instances of sleeping with Lady Kolista. Many, many more. How could Amajeum be unaware? She wasn’t innocent in these endeavors, he remembered that now. She was just as implicit in their meetings. He remembered them plotting to humiliate Amajeum. What he didn’t remember was when had he turned on his best friend. When had he decided that Amajeum deserved hatred over friendship?
Looking up now to the bloated body of Lady Kolista hanging across from him, he wondered at how this nearly unidentifiable woman had led to his downfall. And in that, he pondered Is that trying to misplace the blame, as if it is her fault and not mine. We were both equals in this endeavor.
Even now, his body spasmed very little, he was close to death. Though he shivered from time to time, being naked on his own x-shaped gibbet, it took energy to shiver and his body was almost past that.
He remembered more of his deliriums during his mistreatment at the hands of the villagers. He remembered watching as Duke Simnet first arrived. His first act was to have his men pin Amajeum to the ground and then force Amajeum’s mouth open. With an evil looking device, Duke Simnet stuck it in Amajeum’s mouth, “You can scream, but I wish no words from you. I will not blind you, I will surround you with mirrors. But for words, you will have no more. You can scream all you want an no one will ever understand you again.” And with that, he ripped the man’s tongue from his head.
He remembered traveling the lands. Those were the worst dreams of all. He remembered seeing all the death and destruction his sordid affair with Kolista had caused. And he remembered not once being repentful. He saw himself act sorrowful, saw himself several times express outrage that Amajeum had allowed this to come to pass. Not once did he act contrite in his role. Not once did he ever mention his guilt, not even to his trusted servant Kenaras who must surely have been in on the ruse to frame Amajeum.
Torim Rae’s last thought before lowering his head into unconsciousness one more time was, soon, I will be free from this burden. His head slumped forward, and he had one more dream.
In this dream, it was the first meeting between Amajeum and Kolista. It was not a good meeting, she was railing to her father that she did not want to leave to get married and the Duke insisting that this was for the good for of the realm that she would leave with Amajeum and be his wife. And then, when she first met Amajeum, her revulsion was evident on her face. For Amajeum was never one to be considered fair to look upon. And when it was spoken of how she was the fairest in the land, she was definitely the fairest when one considered the political capital that went with her marriage. Her beauty lent itself to her disdain of marriage to one she considered far beneath her in appearance.
And he dreamed about how he had come upon her one time and she had tried to seduce him. And out of character, he had not only rebuffed her attempt but promptly scolded her as to her station and how such things should never happen. He dreamed of finding out about other lovers she had taken and being conflicted as whether to tell Amajeum or not. He remembered the sad day he found at that Amajeum had been aware of his wife’s unfaithfulness for several years. He remembered being thankful that there were no children to cause doubt from Amajeum’s and Kolista’s union.
And he dreamed of how he had found about her darkest secret. He had come across disturbing rumors that one of her maids had disappeared. This was not the first such servant of Kolista who had turned up missing. Upon investigating, he had found that the maid was in a dungeon which had been abandoned long ago. It lay under a tower near Kolista’s quarters. With torch in hand, he had descended the stairs to investigate when he came up Kolista and two her men torturing the maid. Before he could leave, they had seen him and with a word from Kolista he froze, completely unable to move. He discovered that she was much more than a Countess, she was a dark enchantress. With that word, his body no longer belonged to him. She made him watch as she tortured the maid and eventually offered the poor girl up as sacrifice unto the evil being she called god and master. She even made him participate in the final tortures of the maid. It was in that dungeon that she finished a ritual which gave her complete domination over his will.
From that time on, his will was not his own. She made him attend her on a regular basis in her chambers. He always felt at the time the will and decisions were his, he willingly slept with her. Yet later he would come to find that he was revolted by his actions, yet helpless to say or do anything. For twenty years this went on. For twenty years, he was forced into actions too horrible to mention. He remembered confronting Amajeum in view of everyone how he was regularly desecrating the Count’s wife. He remembered Amajeum’s wrath, yet Amajeum’s love for his best friend held him in check.
Torim Rae dreamed of that conversation that ensued afterward, a conversation between Amajeum and Kolista. Amajeum and just pushed her down the ground, “I have allowed your dark arts to go unchecked for too long. What makes you think I was not aware of your actions.”
Kolista raised her hands, calling forth her powers only to have Amajeum stare at her in concentration. Nothing happened and a look of fear came across Kolista’s face.
“I am the rightful heir of this land, your god’s powers have no hold on me. I understand that my friend is helpless before your charms, and for that, I will let his insult pass. However, you ever try to embarrass me again publicly, you will not survive, Kolista, you will not survive even it means I destroy Torim Rae and this land.”
From that moment on, Amajeum kept his distance from Torim Rae. Kolista never once again tried to openly cause shame for Amajeum, believing his threat to be genuine. Torimr Rae was by now full in thrall to her. She had him constantly by her side when she was alone or with just a few others. She had Torim Rae speak the vilest insults to Amajeum in private, testing this threat. Then one day, that changed. Amajeum came up Torim Rae alone. Suddenly, the fog which had covered his senses and morality lifted. Torim Rae immediately fell to his knees, begging for Amajeum’s forgivingness.
“Brother, I know you have been beguiled these many years. I have found a way to free you, I have made a pact with Kolista’s god, granting me powers to compare. Tonight I free you of her yoke, but tonight, you must take up my yoke, for though you are not at fault, you are the instrument of her hate and the instrument of my sorrow. Tonight, you will kill her, tonight you will go to her and went she has spent herself, you will strangle her. From you, she will know that I strangle her through your hands. She will know that it is I who am killing her. And my dear friend, you will then take the blame. I will deliver you myself to her father. While I do not blame you, I cannot but feel betrayed by you. You will feel the final sting of this hatred, I apologize. Now go and slay my wife.”
He then relived killing Kolista, he relived the final words as he strangled her, now seeing them in a new light. Though it was his voice, it was the words of Amajeum channeled through him. He remembered the dagger piercing his lung, he remembered seeing her die and then passing out on top of her as Amajeum relinquished his control.
And he finally remembers his most loyal servant, Kenaras tending his wounds in the coming days. “Master, I have waited a long time for you to be free of your charms. Now that you are free, rejoice.”
“I can’t rejoice, for there will be a reckoning to these actions. I must pay for her death.” Even now, Torim Rae was relieved to be free of the whole affair, not blaming Amajeum for his actions. Sorry that Amajeum had felt the need to go to the dark god of Kolista and make such a cursed deal, possibly losing his soul to a dark god in the process.
“No one knows, master, for I pulled you from her chamber before any found her strangled. I had witnessed that final conversation between you and Count Amajeum. I took it upon myself to clean you up. With the dagger, I stabbed her side and let her bleed out on the bed then departed with the dagger. I placed it in the stables under the hay near Amajeum’s mount. Everyone thinks you have been sick, not injured. No one knows that she injured her attacker or suspects.”
And then the impossible had happened. The liege lord of Terazily had sent soldiers and had Amajeum arrested for practicing dark arts. When Amajeum had surrendered his service to his new dark lord, Amajeum’s tie to the land had been severed. His liege lord was immediately aware that one of his vassals was no longer his but belonged to another. He had acted immediately. His troops had arrived and arrested Amajeum for dark sorceries before Amajeum could bring suspicion back on Torim Rae.
Then the dagger had been found. At first, Amajeum had stayed quiet, not pointing the blame at Torimr Rae for knowledge that it might point blame back at him. By the time that it occurred to Amajeum to reveal Torim Rae’s involvement, he had already been bound in silence and seclusion by the sorcerers of his liege lord.
And upon hearing that Kolista had been killed, the liege lord immediately started attempting to make peace with Duke Simnet. Knowing full well that war was imminent if Duke Simnet was not appeased, he revealed all to the ruthless leader. The Duke agreed that war was not good, but images must be kept. He would come into Terazily, leaving carnage in his wake, and take just Amajeum. The matter would be settled. He knew of Torim Rae’s involvement, however, he also knew that Torim Rae was but a pawn. In a parting act of diplomatic fickleness, the Duke insisted that Torim Rae be the one placed as regent of Terazily.
Torim Rae remembered wondering at this fickleness when it was his servant who offered an answer, “Master Torim, it is evident why. The Duke is a man of action and a man who expects obedience. His daughter defied him, she did not honor her marriage and she brought us all to this crisis. Amajeum will spend eons in his dungeons not paying for his crime, but paying so that the Duke can keep up appearances. The Duke has seven other children, seven sons. They will know the truth and to them, the message will be a reminder of having you as regent of Terazily. It will be a reminder to each of his children the cost of disobedience. That he will act swiftly to defend the honor of his family, however, he is not above rewarding the physical killer of one of his children should they disobey him.”
And with that last dream, Torim Rae didn’t drift off back into the oblivion he intended for himself, he woke one more time. Looking up at Kolista, he manages to spit out, “You really were the evil one, weren’t you. You and your family.” And then with a pathetic dry laugh, “I fear that yours in the oblivion which is undeserved. I was just the miserable pawn.”
Sadly, Torim Rae realized that he was still doomed to die. Mustering a yell, he then screamed at the other corpse, “You bitch, you have caused so much pain and suffering. You don’t deserve that cross of trees on which you are hung.” With that yell, he jerks his hands forward and feels a little give in the rope.
Hope didn’t surge in him, he was too far gone, but that looseness made him think. All I am, all I have come to is because of perception again. No – not perception this time, this time memory. I didn’t perceive an untruth, I did indeed do all those things, I didn’t have the full memory. As he considered this, his thoughts start racing. In Misty Forge I made decisions based on a lack of perception and when I realized that truth is altered by perception, I was able to continue on my quest. Can the same be true now, did I ever leave my quest?
He started testing the ropes and felt greater looseness in them. With an epiphany, he realized what his body already had figured. His body was constantly trying the ropes, he did not want to die. Not here, not now, and not for this reason. Even if free a hand, what then, I am close to death. Damn these memories. If not for them, I wouldn’t even be here. Now I want to be far from here.
He screamed at her again, then jumped slightly. Kolista’s head moved, if only slightly. Something had given way in her neck and the head which was already lolled to one side slightly repositioning itself. Now the dried out hollows of her dead eyes looked directly at him. In those eyes, he saw a full measure of dispassionate hatred.
“Where is that plea for understanding you had days ago,” he yelled at the corpse. “What do you want, I will not apologize, you deserved everything that has happened to you.”
The corpse remained silent. Torim Rae railed on, “Why must you glare at me like that.” More silence.
Already weakened, this last display was all that Torim Rae could sustain, his head fell forward once more. To himself he mutters, “What have I learned.” I learned that perception matters. But was that the first lesson. He thinks back, what indeed was the first lesson. It wasn’t perception, it was that senses deceive in and of themselves. His first lesson had been when he first met the older Torim Rae, when he first learned that he didn’t need sight to fish, didn’t need sight to walk. His first lesson had been that there are other senses to use. The lesson of perception was the second lesson.
“If perception is the second lesson, surely, this must be the third lesson.” He tried and tried to come up with the lesson, and as he did he gained a small measure of strength back and started working the rope around his right hand a little more. Looking up one more time at the corpse looking back, he started laughing, “Of course, the third lesson is memory, isn’t it.”
His hand jerked free, he had freed a single hand from the rope. Now reaching across, stretching being painful with his bruised body, he began working the other rope around his left wrist. All the while more and more strength began returning to his limbs. I’m not giving up, am I?
And to the corpse, he scoffed, “I think I understand. My path isn’t being chosen based on perception, its based on memory. As my senses mold my perceptions, my memories mold my intentions. My intentions are based on memory as much as on perception.” Then to the sky he yelled, this time with more vigor than should be possible, “Is that your lesson Capricious Ones, is that it? I must be wary of allowing my memories make bad choices for myself? I must not let experience bound my future decisions?”
He finally freed his other hand and from there, he loosened the ropes around one leg and then the other. Sitting and resting on the ground, shivering as he was still naked, he looked around. The sun would come up soon, and with that, some warmth. And nearby he could see the wetness on the canyon wall where water was seeping through from a spring. Making his way over to the spring, he starts drinking water as it falls down the rocks.
Feeling refreshed, he looks back over at Kolista. “They said you weren’t done yet, I think now you have served your final purpose. I suppose now I can bury you, and in so doing, I bury your impact on my life.” He rose and went over to her and started losing her ropes. She fell to the ground with a soft thump.
Resting, for he was still tired, he then finds a large piece of rock with a sharp end and began scratching back the earth to make a trench for Kolista. With the strength regained from the spring, he makes good progress throughout the day. He recalled when he had first drank water near here and how refreshing it had been. Surely this water had some curative properties.
By the late afternoon, he had carved a hole he felt was sufficiently deep. As he started to stand to go get the corpse, he noticed something shiny in the ground. Crawling down in the hole, he reached out and noticed that his left hand is glowing silver now, much like it had done back at the river in Misty Forge.
Taking this as a sign, he reached and grabbed the shiny object with his glowing hand. It was a copper cube, just big enough to fit firmly in his hand. Looking at it, he saw his reflection, but not his current reflection, a reflection of a past life. Turning the cube, each surface showed a different reflection to a different time in his life. Possibly different lives altogether if he can believe what he has been told how the Pryson operates. Turning it over to look at the last side, he held the cube up closer to his eyes, now looking closer at the image. It was an image of him when he was younger, an image of him looking off in the distance with his arms around the shoulders of his best friend, Amajeum. They both appear to be-be laughing.
As he looked, the cube started melting. Panicked he tried to pull up the copper sides only to have the cube continue to shrink and start to spread around his left hand, much like the silver had. Now his hand glowed copper, not silver. And after several more minutes, his hand was once again glowing not at all.
Standing up, he went over and grabbed kolista by the foot and started dragging her toward the hole. He couldn’t bring himself to try and pick her corpse up, that was just too much. Pulling her over to the hole, he rolled her in it and then proceeded to bury her.
Now done with that, he began to take in his situation. He was in the mountains, naked, and it was getting colder. The work of digging a hole and then scraping the dirt back had kept him warm, however, night was falling and he needed shelter. He began walking back toward the village.
When he arrived, the village was gone. A filled sack sat where his hut had been. Going to it, he found that in it was a full set of clothes and some dried meats and vegetables. While dressing, he found a note in one of the boots. Opening it up, it was a short message from Joscua.
“Torim Rae, to be reading this means you have freed yourself from your own prison. I hope that is your desire. The village is not gone, you are gone from us, your time to be allowed in our place is passed. Good luck on your quest. ” On the back of the charcoal written page, he sees but one symbol, a triangle.
He finished eating and then stood up, wishing to be gone from this place. Wadding up the paper, he tossed it on the ground and began walking away from the village’s location, saying to the ghosts of the valley, “Quest or no quest, I have a new purpose. To find and free Amajeum, for the fate he has endured is far beyond the fate he deserves.”