The twenty-third day of September in the 940th year a.g.l.
I have been to the sanctuary five times today, but each time I have found the doors locked, and I dare not knock on the doors, for I have heard Fenton's voice murmuring prayers. I have been to see my father as well, and he listened to all that I had to say, but in the end he said nothing more than that, having been tutored by Fenton, I could not be expected to understand how Fenton had turned his face from the gods. The best I could do for Fenton, my father said, was to pray that the gods would show mercy toward him.
He also said that the greatest blame lay with himself, for allowing me to be tutored by an Emorian, but when he said that I left the hut, fearing that my anger would overcome me. How can my father not see that Fenton is a man loved by the gods, full of mercy and peace and goodness? It does not matter that Fenton was born in Emor. Even the blindest man ought to see that Fenton's a man of honor despite that.
But I have already brought about too much trouble by failing to show respect to my father. I am praying to the Jackal to solve the problems I have caused, for Fenton has always taught me that the gods can turn good to evil, and that the Jackal in particular can transform evil through his fire.
The twenty-fourth day of September in the 940th year a.g.l.
Nobody has been killed yet. Mountside's men are very much on edge. My father says it is likely that the hunter will avenge Roderick's death in an especially terrible manner, so everyone is taking care to stay close to the village.
I was unable to visit the sanctuary until this afternoon. My father wanted me to help him pick the location for our new hall and to discuss the plans for building it. I tried to keep my mind on all that he was telling me, but after a while he began looking at me out of the edge of his eye, and eventually he said in a sharp voice that he could do better work without me. So I went running to the sanctuary.
The doors were open. I slowed to a walk and entered cautiously, but the sanctuary was empty and was dark from the shadows of the tapestries on the walls. The smoke-hole in the high ceiling beckoned in a beam of light that fell straight onto the altar, as it always does at noonday. When I was little, I thought that Fenton slept on the altar, since the sanctuary has no sleeping loft. Only when I grew older did I realize that he kept a pallet in the storeroom. Everything in the sanctuary is intended for the gods: the wood and pitch for the sacrifice, the everlasting flame from which Fenton lights the sacrificial fire, and the priest's blade.
I used to spend hours looking at Fenton's dagger when I was young. Unlike most priest's blades, its hilt is made of gold and is dotted with polished bloodstones; its blade, curving like the Jackal's claws, is finely tempered and is kept honed as sharp as a thigh-dagger. Fenton told me once that his blade was made by a craftsman in the south, who created it for the High Priest, but since the High Priest has not yet shown his face, the craftsman loaned the dagger to Fenton. I love to watch Fenton practice bringing the sparkling blade down upon the sacrifice. He says that it is better for him to practice the swift death-stroke when the altar is bare than to miss the heart of the sacrificial beast and cause it more pain.
Today, when I arrived, the altar was bare, but the room smelled of burnt meat, so I surmised that Fenton had finished his noonday sacrifice and had gone to take the remaining goat-meat to our village butcher, to be distributed to the poorer members of the village as an offering to the gods. I looked for something in the sanctuary that I could tidy, but all was in place except for a piece of paper and a pen and an open inkwell. I walked over to stop up the inkwell before the ink should turn dry, and as I did so, I caught sight of my name on the paper.
It was a letter of some sort, though Fenton had not yet addressed it; it told of everything that has happened recently, from Hamar's death until the events of two nights ago. Fenton ended the letter by saying, "From all that I have written, you will understand why I believe that my duties will soon be ending here and that, when we meet again, it will be in the manner which we once discussed. That this prospect does not grieve me is due mainly to Adrian: I feel that I have received richer rewards during my four years here with him than most men receive in a lifetime. Therefore, I leave now with the god's peace in my heart and need only record here my very great love for you, in anticipation of our reunion."
I read the last paragraph several times, my heart beating harder each time, until I looked up and found Fenton standing next to me.
For a moment, I failed to recognize him; all I saw was the sober-colored lesser free-man's tunic. It has been many years since I last saw Fenton without his priestly robe. Then I noticed that the man before me had no blade at this belt. I swallowed the hardness in my throat, saying, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been reading your correspondence."
"It doesn't matter," he replied with half a smile. "I never write anything that might be dangerous for others to read."
I tried to puzzle this out, as he reached over to place the pen and ink back where they belonged, on the table where he keeps the holy instruments that are used only in the gods' service. Finally, finding no better way to speak my thoughts, I blurted out, "You're leaving!"
"Only if the gods will it," he said. His long hair, which is usually tucked into his hood, veiled his face as he leaned forward. "If the gods permit it, I'll stay."
I wanted to tell him that my father would never send him from the village, but my voice faltered as I watched Fenton gently place the pen and ink next to the silver blade. Fenton was a priest, and he had vowed to serve the gods; if he could not serve them here, he would have to go elsewhere. "I'll come with you," I said at last.
Fenton raised his eyebrows as he turned round. "Leaving your father with no son to be his heir?"
I could make no answer to that; I knew that Fenton would think less of me if I failed in my duty to my father and my village. In the end, I asked, "Who were you writing to?"
Fenton glanced over at the doorway. People were passing by, and I could hear my father's voice nearby, giving instructions to our village's new carpenter. Without need for instruction, I went over to Fenton, and he and I left the sanctuary together, walking past the village boundaries toward the top of the mountain.
I went slowly, for Fenton's sake; he did not grow up on a mountain, as I did, and it takes him time to scramble over the rocks. When we had reached the edge of the cliff, where the mountainside breaks free of forest, and scrub tickles the legs of passersby, Fenton said, "I was writing to your cousin Emlyn."
I looked at Fenton with surprise. I knew, of course, that Fenton was the one who took Emlyn to the priests' house in hopes that the priests there could cure Emlyn's long-standing mind-illness; I also knew that he had tutored Emlyn when they lived together at the priests' house. But Fenton had scarcely spoken of Emlyn since that time, except when my mother asked questions about him. Since Emlyn's mother was my mother's sister, my mother has a special fondness for my cousin.
"I didn't know that you'd kept in contact," I said.
Fenton nodded, though his concentration was focussed on climbing over a jutting ledge. I paused to help him over the hard part. "Emlyn and I have written to each other since I left the south," Fenton said. "He sends his letters to the priest at Blackpass, and I pick them up there whenever I visit."
I thought about this as we made our way up the rocky path to the top of the mountain. Fenton's exercise in subterfuge was perfectly sensible, of course. My father would not like the idea of any of us sending friendly letters to a native of Cold Run – not while our villages were feuding. I could not help but feel hurt, though, that Fenton had never revealed the secret of his correspondence to me. After all, our blood was now mixed, and our spirits had been mixed long before that.
As though guessing my thoughts, Fenton added, "Emlyn preferred that I not mention our correspondence to anyone. He embroiled himself in some trouble during his time at the priests' house – he never got along well with most of the priests there. Therefore, he has been trying to live a quiet life now, hoping that people will forget his past so that he may freely make his mark on the future when the time comes."
"What sort of work does he do?" I asked as I scrambled my way up to the mountaintop, and then waited with restrained impatience as Fenton followed behind.
"He is a jeweller," replied Fenton, and smiled at my look.
A more unlikely profession for my cousin I could not have imagined. What little I remember of him is of an active boy, forever darting around our village when he came to visit – often in a secretive manner, since he and Griffith were fond of playing pranks on their elders. When he was not helping Griffith set up water-traps for men or locking indignant women in their chambers, Emlyn was most often busy ducking through the woods next to Mountside, playing Jackal and Prey. He was the best Jackal I ever knew, though he said that I was the best prey. Certainly I was the only boy who had any success in keeping hidden when he went hunting for us.
If I had thought about it, I would have imagined Emlyn as a soldier or a dagger-thrower or at the very least a fisherman. The idea of Emlyn being content to spend his life sitting on a bench, poring over bits of gold and emerald, was sorely disappointing.
"He's not an ordinary jeweller," Fenton said loyally; he always seeks to see the best, even in men who have wasted their lives. "He sells his own work rather than depend on traders to do so – that allows him to travel a great deal. And his way of looking at precious metal and stones . . . He sees into the heart of them. I remember standing in the work chamber of the priests' house when Emlyn was a boy, watching him craft a neck-chain for a noblewoman. He told me – as though he were my tutor rather than I his – that the Koretian people are joined together by their love of the gods, like the links of a precious chain."
I puzzled over this image as we walked across the scrubby grass that shivered continuously from the wind from the black border mountains. "Joined together in what way?" I asked finally.
"I mused on that thought for many a day afterwards," Fenton responded. "I finally came to realize that what binds all of us together is our belief that we must make sacrifice to the gods. If I truly love the gods and their law, I will know when the right moment comes to offer up my sacrifice. That is true of all of us who love the gods."
I raised my eyes from our path and felt a shiver shudder over me as though I were grass, for as chance would take it, at that moment we were passing the spot of my earliest memory.
Although I was only five at the time, I could still remember that day: hearing Emlyn give one of his lilting cries, like a wild animal, and then arriving at the mountaintop to see my cousin standing over the body of a dead man. At the time, being young and filled with stories of the gods, I had imagined that the Jackal would appear at any moment to carry the man away to the Land Beyond. I was therefore eager to help Emlyn start the funeral fire so that I could meet the god.
To my disappointment, the man had been alive, though close to death.
"You offered up your sacrifice to your god long ago," I said as we turned our paths toward the mountain range north of us. "You came to Koretia when your god called you, though you nearly died on the journey."
"The god was guiding me during that journey, else I would never have survived," said Fenton as we reached the edge of the mountaintop and sat down where I had rested on the day I mourned Hamar. "Few border-breachers make it past the patrol alive."
"You did, though," I said, feeling pride swell within me as I looked over at Fenton. Even in a lesser free-man's tunic, he is no ordinary man, I decided. Fenton's face contains something I have seen in few other men; my father once told me that Fenton has a look of patience that was won through endurance to hard pain. Fenton's eyes, too, are beyond the ordinary – not dreamy, as one would expect in a pious priest, nor practical, as Felix's eyes are. Fenton's eyes are cautious and calculating, but not in a mean sense – rather, when Fenton looks at you, it is as though he sees everything in you, down to the blackest evil residing within you. And yet I have never heard him say a harsh word against anyone, not even the Emorian slave-master that he fled from.
"I had assistance," said Fenton, his left-hand fingers rubbing the slave-brand on his right arm as he stared out at the black peaks before us. "Do you remember that I mentioned my master's son?"
"Yes, he helped you to escape." I was bubbling with pleasure that Fenton would discuss his life in Emor; he so rarely does. "He and an older boy he'd met in the Emorian borderland. The older boy gave you food for your journey, and your master's son persuaded you to leave Emor."
"He did more than that for me," said Fenton, his gaze continuing to embrace the still peaks. "My master's son and the older boy became acquainted because they both wanted to join the border mountain patrol – in fact, they had spent that day in the mountains, listening to the patrol guards whistle their signals."
"Whistle them?" I stiffened with excitement. This was a part of the story that Fenton had never told me.
Fenton nodded. The wind was blowing his hair into his face like a mask, but he was paying it no heed. "The patrol guards aren't like any other soldiers. I remember how startled I was when I first caught sight of them, for I expected them to be in armor, like ordinary soldiers. I suppose, though, that the weight of leather, small as it is, is considered too high a price to pay for the loss of speed. Speed is all-important to the patrol – it is how they manage, against all odds, to catch breachers who are making their way through or near the pass in the mountains. Speed is important, and secrecy. If it hadn't been for my master's son, I wouldn't have known that the guards were near me, until they had me surrounded. But my master's son, who had spent the day watching and listening to the patrol as the guards went about their business, revealed to me one of the secrets of the patrol's success.
"Rather than shout messages to one another – spoken messages that would be heard by the hunted – the guards instead whistle messages to one another. My master's son, clever boy that he was, had managed to guess the meaning of a few of the whistles. Just a few; I believe that the patrol may have two dozen or more whistle-codes. But the few that he taught me were the most important ones, and with their help I was able to detect the changing movements of the guards and flee accordingly."
I had stayed quiet all this time, but now I pelted Fenton with questions, like a Daxion archer sending forth his arrows. To my surprise, Fenton answered all my excited queries. Within the hour I had learned all of the whistle-codes Fenton had been taught, as well as facts about the patrol that Fenton had never before told me. I will have to record them here when I have greater leisure, but the one I remember most – because Fenton looked so grave when he said it – is that, if I ever crossed the border into Emor, I must never, ever draw my blade in the presence of a patrol guard. I am not sure why this is so. Perhaps it has to do with Emorian customs I have not yet learned.
As the afternoon shadows began to enfold us, I was still practicing the whistles – for Fenton, always the tutor, had insisted that if I were to learn them, I must learn them well. Fenton had his arm around me, which made me feel like a boy again, but so great was my contentment that I snuggled my head under his chin. I still am not as tall as Fenton, so it was easy to do that. I could hear Fenton's heartbeat, as steady as well-balanced blade-steel, and the vibration of his voice as he said, "I've never wanted to reveal the patrol's secrets to others. I breached the border through sore need but would not want others to follow in my footsteps. Yet it occurred to me today that the day may come when you will wish to visit Emor. I thought I should give you what information I could in anticipation of that day."
"I wouldn't need to breach the border, though," I murmured; I was beginning to grow sleepy in the heat of the sun. "My father would give me a letter of passage. . . . You could come with me," it occurred to me to add. "You could visit your native land and show me places where you'd lived. The patrol wouldn't recognize you in your robe. Where is your robe, by the way?"
"Your mother fetched it away this morning to mend it, before I awoke," said Fenton; I could hear the smile in his voice. "I think it was her way of apologizing."
I was silent for a long moment, listening to the regular pace of Fenton's heart. Then I said, "Fenton, I tried to talk with my father—"
"It doesn't matter." Fenton's voice was quiet. "If this brings good that I cannot yet see, then I am glad. If it brings evil, then I am sure that the gods can transform that evil to good. . . . We were talking of sacrifice before."
This was such a sudden change of topic that it took me a moment to retrace our conversation. I could feel Fenton's hand tighten on my arm, as though he were thinking hard about what to say next. "Yes," I said with a yawn. "Sacrifice. You gave your sacrifice a long time ago."
For a moment more, Fenton's hand remained tight on my arm. Then it loosened, as though a decision had been made. "Not my sacrifice only," he said. "The dearest desire of my master's son had been to join the patrol, yet he broke Emorian law in revealing to me the patrol's secrets so that I could breach the border. He was too honest a boy to lie about his crime to others, so in aiding me, he lost his chance to join the border mountain patrol. I've never forgotten the sacrifice he made for me."
Amidst my sleepiness, I felt a sting of jealousy toward the young boy who had captured Fenton's heart by offering him a sacrifice. I have never had the opportunity to make a sacrifice for Fenton. Then I remembered that I had possessed Fenton's company all these years, while the boy would never even know that Fenton reached Koretia alive. I chided myself for my selfishness.
Fenton said, "The older boy . . . Adrian, are you listening?"
"Yes," I said, swallowing another yawn. "Go on."
"The older boy was named Quentin. Since he did nothing more for me than give me food, it's possible that he joined the patrol in the end. If so, he could be of assistance to you if you ever needed to enter Emor and had trouble doing so – if, for example, you lost your letter of passage during your travels."
I was going to deny scornfully that I would be so careless, but it seemed too much trouble to break through the weight of the heat pressing itself down upon me, hugging me like Fenton's arm. Heat, I thought; a bright spring day. Emlyn standing over a dead body . . . "Emlyn," I murmured, feeling misery embrace me. "The Jackal . . ."
I heard a loud thump against my ear that woke me suddenly. After a moment, I identified it as Fenton's heart, which was now beating hard. I raised myself drowsily, saying, "What happened?"
Fenton smiled at me, though I thought there was a curious look to his gaze. "You were dreaming, I think."
"Yes," I said, remembering. "I was dreaming about the Jackal coming to our land and claiming the High Priesthood. That was one of the reasons I chose him as my god," I reminded Fenton. "Because there's a chance that I might meet him one day. Don't you think that would be glorious? Meeting a god face-to-face?"
"I imagine it will be a bit frightening, too," Fenton said, continuing to smile.
"I suppose so," I said reluctantly, not wanting to dwell on this aspect. "What do you suppose he'll be like? He'll have black fur, I think, with golden whiskers and fiery eyes . . ."
"Fiery eyes for certain," said Fenton with a laugh. "As for the rest . . . I should think that his outward appearance will be less important than his godliness. We were talking of your cousin Emlyn a while ago – do you remember his trick of being able to guess people's thoughts? He always seemed to know when villagers were intending to walk through certain doors, and he planned his water-traps accordingly. I suspect that when the Jackal comes, he will have that power, but in a godly form. He will know our spirits in a way that we do not know ourselves."
I said nothing for a moment; Fenton's words had uncovered for me the forgotten portion of my dream, the part that had distressed me. Always, my first memory had been of Emlyn finding Fenton and calling to the rest of us, but now my dream had reminded me of what had happened a few moments before that call: Emlyn insisting on travelling further, though all of us were planning to return to Mountside at that point. He had ignored our objections and gone ahead to the mountaintop, just as though he had known what he would find lying there. . . .
I felt myself shiver, and Fenton put his hand over mine, though he continued to look deeply into my face. "Is it the dream?" he asked quietly.
"It's something I remembered," I said in a low voice. "I don't remember Emlyn well, but I remember a few things . . . I don't suppose anyone else noticed this about him, not even Griffith; Emlyn always hid it from everyone when it happened. But I was so small, I suppose he didn't realize that I'd understand. I didn't at the time; it was only later, several years after he'd left for the south, when my father was speaking about how Emlyn's illness made him stare into emptiness . . ." I shivered again and gazed upon Fenton, frightened for the first time.
I have never before been frightened in Fenton's presence. I've known, of course, that he is a priest, and I've known what duties were required of him, but our village has always been filled with god-loving people, so his duties in that regard have gone unexercised, like a blade that remains always in its sheath. Yet if I told him . . . Was it right for me to place Emlyn in danger?
Fenton was still watching me, saying nothing, and peace descended suddenly upon me, as it often does when Fenton looks at me that way. My highest duty is not to Emlyn but to Fenton – to the gods, really, but Fenton is their representative. I knew, without asking, that Fenton would only do what was good for Emlyn's spirit, however much pain Emlyn's body might undergo. I said, trying to keep my voice steady, "Emlyn used to see things that weren't there, and know things that were about to happen, before they happened. I think . . . I think Emlyn has a demon."
The words were out, and I waited tensely. When Fenton finally spoke, though, his words were not ones I had expected. "Would your feelings about your cousin change if he was possessed by a demon?" he asked quietly.
I stared at him. Then I felt hot shame cover me as I realized the answer, and discovered what Fenton already knew: how small my loyalty is to the gods. "No," I said painfully, staring down at the rock upon which Fenton and I were sitting. "I'd still love him. I know I shouldn't love a god-cursed man, but . . ."
After a minute of agony, I raised my head, and to my surprise, I found that Fenton was smiling. "I feel the same way," he said simply.
The heat in my face increased as I took in what he must be saying. Of course; what a fool I was. Fenton must have known all along that Emlyn was demon-possessed. And knowing that Emlyn's spirit was being eaten by a murderous demon . . . Any other priest would have placed the curse upon Emlyn at once, but not Fenton, I realized. No, Fenton would wait until the final moment before Emlyn's spirit was lost, doing all he could to draw Emlyn back from the evil path he was taking.
This, then, was the meaning of the correspondence between Fenton and Emlyn, and for the love that Fenton had voiced in his letter to my cousin. Blade and fire were not Fenton's primary weapons against evil, as they would be for any other priest. Fenton would fight the demon by loving the man who had given himself over to the demon.
"Adrian, you speak of matters that I would gladly share with you, but I cannot," said Fenton solemnly. "The god has bound my voice on this subject, and I cannot speak to you without his permission. Perhaps, if my god should give me liberty—"
"It's all right," I said quickly. "I know that you can't reveal the words of someone who confesses evil to you. I don't need to hear what's happened; I know that you'll help Emlyn if you can and kill the demon if you can't." I felt my skin prickle at the thought of what will happen if Fenton cannot rid Emlyn of the demon. Then I quickly put the thought aside. Fenton, I'm sure, can exorcise any demon.
Fenton seemed about to speak; then he stopped. The wind from the north continued to blow over us both, whistling through the mountain peaks like soldiers far away. Finally he said, with an intensity that surprised me, "There is one thing that I would have you know, Adrian, and this is something I want you to remember even if I must go away, and you and I are not able to keep in contact with each other. You'll meet many people over the years, even priests, who will tell you, 'My god told me to do this,' and 'It is the gods' wish that we do this.' Don't make the same mistake I once made and assume that their words are true. Though the gods can turn our evil to good, not all that men will in the gods' names is the will of the gods."
I felt like a prey that has entered the Jackal's trap. Too late, I realized what subject I had been inwardly hoping all afternoon we would avoid. This was not what I wanted to hear; I did not want to listen to any speech from Fenton that suggested my father's words about him are true. Of course I know that the gods would never punish Fenton for criticizing the gods' law – how could they punish a god-loving man like him? But I who am so weak in my love of the gods in comparison to Fenton, I who might misunderstand whatever truth lay behind Fenton's mysterious thoughts about the gods' law and use that misunderstanding to attack the gods and their law . . . Could it be, I wondered suddenly, that the gods had arranged for Fenton to leave this village so that I would not be endangered by his presence?
So horrible was this thought that I leapt to my feet. "I promised my father I'd help him with his duties," I said. "I'll have to go now." And I bounded away while Fenton was still trying to reply.
I ran across the grass and then down the mountain, feeling guilt claw at me because I knew that Fenton could not match my pace. Only as I reached the village did I look up toward the skyline, where the top of our mountain meets the sky. A man was standing there, silhouetted against the bright blue. Though his face was shadowed, I somehow knew that Fenton was smiling down at me.
I see that I have written a very long entry today; I suppose that is partly due to my guilt at leaving Fenton so abruptly. I will have to apologize to him tomorrow, and I think I will have to tell him also about the doubts I am having about the gods' law. For me not to confess my evil would be as wrong as if Emlyn had not confessed his evil to Fenton. If I am indeed in danger of turning my face from the gods, Fenton must be told.
I must shamefully admit, though, that I spent most of this evening thinking about the patrol guards and their whistles. I suppose that shows how frivolous I am.