At dusk I waited outside the tunnel. I had spent the better part of the past day trying to decide if this was a good idea. I had little interaction with people since my mother was taken, and nothing close to an interaction with a man like Hari.
The sun was almost set when I saw a figure emerge from the half-toppled building above the tunnel. Hari was dressed casually in similar simple clothing to what he had been wearing the first time we had met. He had a bundle under his right arm as well.
“Good, I thought I might have had to find you.” He smiled as he motioned for me to come towards to him.
“What do you want me for?” The question had been torturing me. I refused to come closer till he answered.
“Maybe you have talent, I don’t, but something whispers to me that you are wasted here.” He gestured with disgust at his general surroundings. I mustn’t have looked satisfied because he continued, “We Speakers spend years sifting through the rough, that is this population, to find those gems capable enough to join our ranks. Sure, we get hundreds of second or third sons, and unimportant daughters from the wealthy and noble, but rarely do any of them have any spark. I’m not saying you do. I don’t know yet. As I said, something tells me you shouldn’t be over looked.”
“You want me to become a Speaker?” I asked incredulously.
“I said you might have the talent for it.” Hari pulled the bundle from under his arm. “There’s a book in here I want you to read and there are some puzzles.”
“Puzzles?” My mom had given me a puzzle once when I was eight. It had been made by a smith and my mom had paid a lot for it. I remembered spending hours trying to figure out how to move around the different pieces to free the iron ball inside.
Hari pulled out three separate contraptions. One of them was a mess of string. Another looked like a miniature chest. And the last looked like a bunch of loose objects inside of a bag.
“The goal of the string is to untangle it into a circle. This box has a weight inside of it that you need to work into position so the latch triggers and opens. And, here are pieces that form together to make a patterned Hexagon,” he explained.
“Hexagon?” I asked.
He sighed, “A six-sided shape.” I nodded in some understanding. “Do you think you can figure this all out?”
I nodded, fairly certain I could.
“Good, the book that I want you to read will take some time. So, in order to make sure you don’t spend your time stealing or begging, or whatever you do to eat, here’s some bread and cheese. A water bag is inside as well.” He passed me a larger bag, “If we meet back here in a week will you be here?” I nodded again “The Water’s fresh, no need for you to catch anything before we’re done.”
After Hari left, I found a sheltered area where one roof ended at a wall of taller building. The roof of the taller building offered some shelter to the roof of the lower. There I created a what would be my home for some time.
The week passed quickly as I devoured the book. It was about, Ruah, the son of the Creator. It told the tale from when he was just a boy till the day he died. He had heard the voice of the Creator and had begun traveling the world while the Quatane, the language of the Speakers, was revealed to him. With it came the nature of things and the wisdom to unite and end the warring of the Old Kingdoms.
The book was full of fanciful stories. I remember one where Ruah deceived two Kings to simultaneously meet with him. When they met, the Kings almost killed each other. But, Ruah calmed their minds with the Quatane.
Ruah had said. “You two hate each other but have never met more than briefly and have never exchanged words. Before you set your countries on fire, why don’t you have a discussion?” Ruah held their emotions in check not allowing either to rise to anger. The two spoke and spoke. They spoke till they knew each other as well as lifelong friends. That is what they would become, all thoughts of war forgotten.
My favorite story that I would read from that book Hari had given me was that of Ruah and Marcela, the Hemomancer. To be fair, it was actually a dozen different stories that spanned the entirety of the book.
To this day I have not been able to find another copy of the story in any library in all of Ruaheon. It wouldn’t be in Ruahden that I’d hear of Marcela again.
The story was a romance. Marcela found Ruah imprisoned by one of the Old Kings of the many kingdoms that had made up Ruaheon. She was one of the Hemomancers who served under the Old Kings as servants, soldiers, or enforcers of their laws. She had been enlisted as a young girl to be a Hemomancer. She didn’t know anything else. She was valued by her master because her powers were beyond any of her time.
When she heard of Ruah’s fight against the tyranny experienced in many of the kingdoms she risked everything to free him when he was captured. Her ferocious powers held off those who tried to stop them where Ruah’s beautiful words would not. They journeyed across the kingdoms together spreading peace through the Old Kingdoms as the people rose up against the corrupt Kings.
They fell in love, Ruah the son of the creator with a Hemomancer. They died in each other’s arms when they were betrayed to one of the last of the Old Kings; who burned them alive in an ambush with more Hemomancers than Marcela could hope to defeat. I had cried at the end, though despite their deaths the story didn’t end without hope. Their movement had already been set in motion and wouldn’t be stopped.
I had ignored the puzzles till the sun had set too far for me too comfortably read by on the third day after Hari had given me his gifts. The first puzzle I pulled out was the little chest. It had made me curious because I was sure something would be inside of it. It didn’t take long till I felt the weight click into place and the top of the chest popped open. It was empty. Disappointed, I set it aside and moved onto the mess of string. This gave me a headache. I’d missed the connections and patterns in the tangles because of the poor light. I couldn’t focus on it, so I set it aside and moved onto the bag full of little pieces that made a hexagon. I poured out the contents. They were all small little wooden pieces cut oddly. I quickly figured out that some of them fit together and their patterns lined up. However, my eyes began to bother me, as the sun set on my slow progress. I decided to set it aside for the day.
The next morning, I instantly set upon finishing the construction of the hexagon. The unfinished book, needing to be finished, sat like a thorn in the back of my head. So, the moment I slid the last piece into place I had the book out and was reading. I stubbornly avoided the string puzzle.
I finished the book on the fifth day after my meeting with Hari. It’s an interesting feeling finishing a book. I lost the rest of my day staring at clouds, lazily enjoying the heat. My mind full of stories and dreams.
The sixth day came, and the string puzzle and I engaged in an intense staring contest as I willed it to reveal its secrets to me. Eventually I picked it up and began fiddling with it. At first, I’m fairly certain I made it worse, however, eventually I began to make progress. I gained momentum as things fell into to place. The sun wasn’t even halfway through the sky when I held a solid circle of string.
Exactly one week after Hari had given me the bundle, I waited for him in the same place. Hari emerged from the crumbled building looking bothered. He saw me and smiled.
“It seems at least someone is capable of keeping their word. Now I’m in a hurry. How did you do?”
“I finished all of them. Do you have another book?” I desperately hoped he did.
“The puzzles too?”
“Can I see them?”
“Oh, they’re up there.”
“Well then…” He paused for a second and I caught on. Quickly, I scampered up into my make shift home and gathered up his gifts. The hexagon puzzle I was forced to dismantle and place back into the bag. Once back with Hari I presented my successes to him.
“I had to take apart the Hexagon puzzle to move it, but I could complete it for you right here if you want?” I said.
He laughed. “I believe you could it was by far the easiest of the puzzles.” He held up the solid loop of string looking impressed. “You read the book as well?”
“How many kingdoms made up Ruaheon before Ruah united them?”
“Can you name them?”
“Umm maybe, the Kingdom of Voth in the North… Sensin was Southeast of them, and bordered what is now Jahzn. The Entenial kingdom controlled most of Eliar Lake. Vez made up most of central Ruaheon. The Norvs lived to the northwest of them along the coast. Then, there were the Cords and the Glyphs who lived along the Storm Wall. The Hevogh Kingdom controlled the largest area, it was south of the Storm Wall just west of today’s Ruahden. The Chez Kingdom contained what would be Ruahden and much of the area along the Eliar River till it passed through the Vez Lands and the Orzan Lands on the river’s southern edge. The last four kingdoms were more tribes than kingdoms and mostly warred amongst themselves in the southern most part of modern Ruaheon. They were the Clix, the Norms, the Bansee, and the Lon.”
“Correct, I’d refrain from telling a southerner that their ancestors were less than the old kingdoms from the north. They might have been nomadic but they were equally capable as any of their northern counterparts, now back to the questioning.” Hari cleared his throat. “Marcella was?”
“Ruah’s lover and Hemomancer.”
“A fact you should keep to yourself. The year Ruah was born?”
“Forty one Preceding Unity.”
“The year of Ruah’s death?”
“One After Kings.”
“The year Ruaheon became one nation?”
“Also One After Kings.”
“What is it we celebrate when a New Year begins?’
“We celebrate Ruah’s life, and the unification he gave us.”
“Good so you actually read the book.”
“Do you have another?” I asked.
Hari laughed. It was an honest, humorous laugh. “Yes, Dmitry, I do. I believe there might be something to you after all.”
For the next two years Hari would bring me books, puzzles, and other things to stimulate my mind and further educate me. I spent most of the time absorbing everything Hari had to offer. The books and puzzles he gave me may have taken up a lot of my time, but I started taking the occasional trip through what I would name the Pantry tunnel. I named it this because it literally was a tunnel that lead into the pantry of the Church of Ruah. I became fascinated with the Church knowing that Hari had offered me a chance to one day have a place amongst its grandeur. I spent much of my free time memorizing the Church grounds.
It was about a year into my studies with Hari when he gave me my first book on the Quatane, the Truth Speech that Speakers used to manipulate the world around them. My progress with it was frustratingly slow in my opinion, however Hari seemed to think otherwise. It would be a full seven months before I would be able to make a trickle of water run up hill instead of down. The language made the Common tongue seem like children’s babble. Its complexity was ridiculous. Even if you knew the right way to say something, it was the how and the will you put into the words that seemed to have more to do with the end result. By the end of my second year under Hari’s tutorage my greatest accomplishment was speaking a flame into existence on a candle.
It was the fourth year since my mother was taken. I now stood waiting for my teacher as I had done almost every week for the past couple years. I was a tall fourteen-year-old, a proud five foot eight inches. Hari had measured me the week before saying something about getting me some nice clothing. It was early in the winter months and though Ruahden didn’t often get snow the sky seemed to look like we might get a rare coating before the New Year’s festival in the next couple days. I wore a heavy cloak that I had snatched from the Havens a week prior. I was quite proud of it. It was one of the few articles of clothing I had that actually fit me. My hair was an auburn mess just shorter than shoulder length. Hari had given me money to get it cut, but I had bought a nice knife off a peddler who was selling it dockside instead. I used it to cut my hair myself which had much to do with its messiness.
I smiled as Hari climbed out of the fallen building, which was much as it had been two years ago. Hari looked the same as always, simple but fine clothing, tan skin dark hair, though specs of grey had recently appeared in his beard but that was all.
“I told you to get a haircut not to get into a fight with a blind beggar holding sheers. You should look at yourself, you’re a mess!”
I smiled broadly.
Hari shook his head. “I guess it was foolish to believe that if I gave you the coin you would actually spend it on getting your hair cut. Now tell me, Dmitry, what did you spend my money on?”
I flashed my knife proudly.
Hari sighed, “And I guess that mutilation of your hair was you’re doing then?”
“It’s not that bad,” I said running my hand through my hair.
“It is that bad,” Hari said taking a step towards me. I eyed his bundle eagerly.
“What do you have for me today?”
I looked at him disappointed. “Nothing else?”
“But I already have clothing.”
“You have rags and a cloak you must have stolen from some lord’s son on Church grounds. By Ruah Dmitry, if you were caught, these past two years I spent teaching you would be a waste, ending with your brilliant little head on a spike!”
“But I wasn’t caught.”
“One day, Dmity…” his train of thought seemed to trail off before he continued, “You will need to find a better teacher than I.”
I just laughed.
“I have avoided my duties of belonging to the order of Blood Hunters for too long. I’m leaving Ruahden after the New Year’s festivities end.”
“But!” I protested.
“It can’t be helped. But it won’t affect you all too much. You will be coming to the Church today. We’ll need to have someone give you a proper haircut. Then I will present you to the Chair of Speakers to be inducted into the year 348 After Kings class to be trained as a Speaker.”
My eyes widened. “This year?”
“Yes, by Ruah Dmitry, what do you think I have been training you for?”
“So that’s what the clothing’s for?”
“Yes, well I can’t very well present them with a Coastowner that actually looks like a Coastowner.”
“Here,” he passed me the bundle. And then a purse full of coins. “There is a spa and grooming facility in Low Town called the Groomed Main. The woman that runs the place knows me, so that and the coin should get you taken care of. I will have Glren meet you at the Low Town entrance to the Church grounds. That cloak should keep the guards from harassing you.”
“See, it was worth it,” I said smiling broadly. “And why don’t we just go into the Church through the Pantry Tunnel?”
“The ‘Pantry Tunnel’ as you call it isn’t known to many. It wouldn’t be good for my reputation to simply conjure you into existence to present to the chair of Speakers without anyone seeing you enter.”
“That kind of makes sense.”
“Just make sure you don’t take too long getting to the Church. The Glren at the Church entrance will be awaiting you, and Dmitry, please behave.”
I smiled, “Of course, Hari.”
With that he passed me his bundle and turned back towards the Pantry Tunnel. Before he reached it, he turned back to me. “They are going to test you, and it won’t be easy, especially because of what you are. You are no high borne, Dmitry, no matter who you claim your father is, and you better not be claiming that too loudly around the Church, or anywhere actually.”
Tyler W Golec