Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Novella ~~~ “Razor’s Edge”


by

Alexander M Zoltai

Kael Ventres was nearing the market-town of Levt, having left his parent’s home in the Ravos Hills. They’d set up a meeting for him with a certain tutor, Foeen Susten by name, who was to teach him “many things”…

His time as a soldier had certainly taught him many things, the emotional shock of killing for one, which never ceased to appear when Kael took a life.

He knew the tutor was supposed to teach him subjects that “civilized” folk knew; yet, Kael wasn’t sure how helpful all that might be…

He was going to celebrate his attainment of eighteen years of life in two week’s time; and, he was clear about one thing—Foeen had better be able to hold large quantities of ale—not just today right after they met, to help Kael get ready for the celebration back in the Ravos Hills, but also, hopefully, while the tutor was teaching him all this “civilization”…

He had one year to decide if he was returning to soldiering and Foeen had better be willing to travel and drink for the entirety of that year…

The War in the East would still be there at the end of his year of leave; but, the East was far different from Kael’s home territory—all of which would be travelled and enjoyed by him and his new tutor, as soon as they returned to his home and had the proper birthday celebration with his parents…

He’d been on the road for a week (spurned his father’s offer of a horse…) and was nearly to the junction of Luves Road with the byroad into the market-town of Levt. He stopped at one of the portable booths that crowded against the byroad—merchants not able to obtain a permit to conduct business in Levt—hardly ever the same group of merchants; but, always willing to dicker over prices…

“How much for the pants and overshirt?”, he said to the wizened old man.

“30 rekpahs.”

“Did you say 20 rekpahs?”

“I might have…”

“Well… If I also purchase that belt, could the price be 25 rekpahs?”

“Absolutely.”

Kael handed the man 30 rekpahs and ventured into a clump of trees to change from the travel stained into the used but better-looking garments, knowing his pack would eventually need a good wash, too.

He continued his trek down the byroad and wondered how Levt might have changed since his last visit—just before his march with his fellow combatants down Ancos Road to the Road into the East…

The East was more exotic than his homeland—now being ravaged by the War; but, in the villages his troop would rest in, he felt a strange familiarity with the foreign looking folk…

Sure, his mother was from the East; but, she didn’t seem so exotic—perhaps it had been lived out of her—perhaps living to please his father had diluted the mysterious attitude of those Eastern folk…

As Kael got closer to the market-town, he could smell it—rich with aromas that attracted his stomach—even closer and the sounds became magnetic, drawing him toward the industry, bustle, and frenzy, especially on such a fine day…

He would meet this Foeen character, this hopefully not straight-laced tutor, at the Full Belly Inn—Full Belly where he’d met Sinerna…

He walked faster, kicking up dust to cloud his memories—some things are, truly, best forgotten…

When he stopped at the first merchant’s stall, still manned by his old friend Aqin, thoughts of Sharna swarmed again—Aquin had set-up their first meeting…

“Hello, young soldier!”

“Ah, Aquin, my oldest friend.”

“Your wisest friend, no?”

“Perhaps…”

“What troubles you, Kael?”

“I…uh… I’m going to meeting a tutor—tutor for a year, if I don’t kill him…”

“Ah ha, little Kael the killer is going to be educated?”

“My parents convinced me to use the tutor for my year’s leave—hoping, I’m sure, that learning their civilized way of thinking will keep me from returning to the War… Hell, I can count and talk and bargain and kill—what use is civilized thinking?”

“Hm… it depends on what you want to become, Kael…”

“…become…”

“Even if you stay to soldering and live long enough, high ranks need some civilizing ways…”

“I suppose…”

“Here. Take these boots—if my young friend is going to be civilized, he needs proper boots—no pay from my rich young friend, just recommendations to all you meet.”

“You’ve always been too good to me, Aquin…”

“Hell, if you become an officer, memories of my kindness will keep you from abusing me, eh?”

They shared a laugh and Kael changed his road battered boots for the decidedly fine new boots.

“Here, take this vest, too.”

“Oh my, I shall surely remember this when I have killed legions and become a General; but, Aquin, you know my parents provide for me well beyond my military pay—can I give you a few golds?”

“Just bring me some of whatever you and your tutor eat; and, a tankard of ale.”

“Done! Uh… before I go… have you seen Sinerna around lately?”

“She died…”

“Sinerna is dead? How?”

“Stay as calm as you can, young man, she was hanging around with a soldier and rumor has it he found out she was pregnant and killed her…”

“What’s the name of this soldier?”

“Couldn’t find out… Officers hushed the whole thing up… Merlas brought me the news…”

“No one knows the soldier?”

“Happened in private—officers took her body somewhere… Bad end for a fine woman…”

Kael stood stunned.

Finally, he shook himself fiercely, then said, “What’s dead is dead—I’ll be back by evening with your grub and ale.”

He was nearly staggering when he arrived at the Full Belly Inn—stopped at the entrance to steady himself—entered and saw who must be Foeen waving at him. He walked slowly over to the table…

“Hello, Kael, so good to meet you.”

“Yes… Good that you’ll be making money for spending time with me…” He yanked the chair out and sat. He shook himself a bit, then continued, to a red-faced tutor, “I am deeply sorry to greet you so rudely, Foeen. I just suffered a deep shock; but, let’s start over—how was your trip from Luves?”

“Pleasant…”

And, what subjects will you be teaching me?

“Uh… well… Let’s see… Writing, reading, math, languages, biology, and, if you like, the Science of Fields.”

“Fields…?”

“A specialty of mine; but, only if you’re interested—it deals with the Essences that surround all things—you and me, plants, animals, this inn, the hills and mountains—”

“Why would I want to learn that?”

“Well, all the other subjects we can discuss are, shall I say, preliminary—scaffolds, you might say, for the Science of Fields—”

“So, it subsumes all the others?”

“Excellent choice of words, Kael!”

“Just thought I should let you know that I hardly need to learn language; plus I can write and reckon numbers.”

“Do you know the language of the East?”

“I’ve picked up a bit while engaged in the War.”

“Would you consider learning more of it if you thought the War would soon end?”

“What makes you think it will end soon?”

“I merely project my longing for its end—our Folk and those of the East could be much more prosperous if we could end the War…”

“Let’s talk about the War; perhaps each of our views will educate the other’s: but, first, ale!”

“Oh, my… None for me…”

“You have got to be kidding!”

“Well, I don’t hold it well…”

“So, sip slowly.”

“Um… A sip leads to a gulp leads to a cask for me…”

“Then, we’ll split a cask!”

“Oh my, Kael… I am not to be trusted when drunk—I’ve done some ridiculous things…”

“As have I, Foeen,”

“No, deeply ridiculous—harmfully outrageous—detrimentally atrocious.”

“Couple of words there you’ll have to teach me; but, I got the message—let’s save the cask for another time and drink up to the point where we become unsociable, ok?”

“I will drink one mug for the sake of our shared education; but, you must help me drink no more, Kael—do, please, promise me…”

“Is it really all that dire?”

“It is…”

Kael waved a maid over and ordered two mugs of ale and three of his favorite meal (one for Aquin), then said: “Alright, the War—why do you think it began?”

“Began? Why from the greed of the rulers.”

“No weight given to the East’s raids on our farms as a cause for the War?”

“They were part of the greed.”

“Some say our ruler tried to impose a decree to annex a stretch of their territory and that started the raids.”

“All born of greed…”

“Is there never a good reason to take what someone else has?”

“Never.”

“Yet, I’ve taken many men’s lives in our War.”

“Do you think the War makes killing right?”

“Wouldn’t be much of a war without killing, eh?”

The ale and food arrived, temporarily stopping their conversation—after a number of bites and a sip, Foeen said: “There was a time when our two countries were involved in much interchange and mutual business…”

“Yes, and I wouldn’t be here if that hadn’t happened.”

“Eh?”

“My mother is from the East.”

“Ah…”

“She’s a good woman—many of the civilians I met in the towns of the East were good people, though some did hate us—can’t blame them—killing their people; but, others seemed to know we were no different than their men who also killed…”

“So greedy they want to steal the lives of others…”

“You think I wanted to kill!?

“I think that war is a confusing subject—full of contradictions and paradoxes. You didn’t thirst for blood, you were taken into the military against your will—you killed—”

“So I wouldn’t Be killed!”

“Yes…”

They returned to the meal—Foeen not eating much but drinking down his mug.

Kael noticed and ordered him another…

The afternoon wore on into the early evening and both men were deeply intoxicated—Kael keeping Foeen from doing anything “detrimentally atrocious”…

They left the Inn, with Aquin’s meal and drink to deliver, then, at Kael’s insistence, wandered down the byroad to Aust—city of delights…

Camping near the halfway marker, amongst a copse of trees, under the heavens, gave them impetus to talk of their families and lost loves and plans and hopes, until the ale and the journey plunged them into sleep…

Somewhere in the middle of the night, they were set upon by a few ruffians…

Kael dispatched them swiftly and Foeen learned what a dagger slash felt like…

So… The tutor taught Kael how to bind a wound with leaves and vines—special leaves and any old vines—and Foeen decided he could teach this killer…

~~~

Aust was called the city of delights by soldiers—civilians thought of it as merely one of the country’s cities.

The “delights” were, of course, whores…

But, Kael and Foeen having bonded with talk of The War and a drinking bout and an evening’s trek and encounter with the ruffians, along with Foeen’s absolute rejection of Kael’s offer of paying for a whore for him, had them sitting in the Celestial Inn sharing more ale—food could wait…

“So, my tutor, you held up fairly well on our short journey, I’m impressed.”

“You thought I was an educated weakling?”

“Yes.”

“Fair enough, though I need to know how bad I was during our drinking bout back there…”

“You don’t remember?”

“No…”

“You tried to rape three of the maids and offered marriage to a soldier; but, other than that…”

“What did I actually do?”

“You got over-excited about many things, you cried once or twice, you did a good job of challenging most of my ideas with great vigor, and you were quite sloppy.”

“Hm…”

“Was that an example of being detrimentally atrocious?”

“Yes…”

“Couple of fancy words for acting drunk…”

“Couple of carefully chosen words—words tending toward over-emphasis—meant to show you how important I feel moderated behaviour is…”

“Moderated…”

“Balanced.”

“No show of spirit.”

“No show of unbridled spirit.”

“Over-controlled.”

“Well-controlled.”

Kael stared at his companion and started wondering about whether Foeen could teach him about discovering a purpose in life…

“Kael…?”

“I’ve no purpose, Foeen—parents coddled me—military taught me to kill—never thought much about what I want…”

“Well then, your parents made a lovely mistake hiring me to teach you the civilized things of life, since all I know is not ‘civilized’ in the sense of ‘proper’ and ‘non-embarrassing’—it’s civilized because it’s the knowledge needed to mature—to have the tools of thinking that can build character—exactly what can give a person purpose in life…”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-five.”

“You speak sense…”

“I hope so.”

Kael signaled the maid for two more mugs.

When she’d delivered them, Foeen asked her, “What’s your purpose in life, my dear?”

She gave him a coy look and said, “My purpose is to help you men stay extremely comfortable.”, then hustled off toward a group of soldiers demanding her service.

“That, Kael, is a woman who will die miserable unless she wises up…”

Kael stared at his friend intently then took a large swallow of ale.

He waved the same maid back to their table to order food. When she finally arrived, he said: “We’ll order our food now; but, a question first—when will you marry?”

She seemed somewhat stupefied as she said: “Married? I’m still young, sir—still willing to play life’s games”—another coy look from her…

Kael smiled and said: We’ll have the deer with bread and more ale; but, if you play too long, most good men will avoid you…”

She raised her hand to slap him but thought better of it and stomped away.

Foeen said: “Perhaps she’ll poison our food…”

Kael stared yet again at his new friend and said: “So… Even a brief reminder of a purposeful life can scare people…”

“Indeed.”

“When the military took me away, I was barely fifteen—any purpose I might have found already dampened by my parents’ hazy aspirations—soldiering demanded obedience and concentration and courage; but, no purpose…”

“War is a wholesale affair—life itself is very particular transaction…”

The food and ale arrived with the glaring maid, Kael said to her: “I beg your forgiveness for attempting to make you think.”

She said not a word but stood for a moment, looking like she wanted to strangle him, then stalked off.

Foeen smiled at Kael as he said: “I think we shall tutor each other my friend.”

Kael smiled and dug into the food.

~~~

Waking from his sleep in the one of the Inn’s rooms, Kael roused Foeen with the words: “Rise and shine, oh warrior of knowledge, grab thy tools of utterance and attack my purposeless being!”

Foeen sat up with a startled face, processed the words he’d heard and broke into a merry laugh.

Kael’s face went from a smile to a look of audacious as he said: “I think we should meet with a few acquaintances I have in this town.”

“Toward what end?”

“No end yet—an exploration—a sharing of ideas that might lead to a stirring-up of mutual purpose…”

“Purpose toward what”

“Toward peace in the Land…”

“Intriguing…”

“Indeed. It appears I’m to drop my role as tutor and become a co-conspirator…”

“I believe we both can retain our tutorhood as we plot and plan our stratagems.”

~~~

The first people they invited to the Inn were Colceida and Muringel, married and both tradespeople.

After the drinks were served Kael said to Colceida: “Are you and your husband free of royal suspicions?”

“Strange question, my friend; but, we have no current entanglements.”

“Muringel, what are the past entanglements?”

“Kael, it was just a local problem with the current magistrate about our vendor’s permit. One of his flunkies reporting to him that it was out of date—probably because we’ve been having a good pace of trade lately; but, the magistrate can’t read—he was installed by his brother, the former magistrate, who owed him a favor for covering up his misdeeds with a certain widow—the former magistrate left his post to join the King’s court. We had brought the owner of the Celestial Inn as our witness and he verified the permit date was still valid.”

“Thank you for the details, Foeen and I need all the information we can gather…”

Colceida said: “Information for what purpose?”

Foeen interjected: “You could say the information we seek, no matter the source, is all about purpose—purpose directed at a cessation of the War.”

Kael said: “Foeen was hired by my parents as my tutor, to teach me civilized subjects. Thank the gods he is truly civilized and impressed me with his character to the point we now agree we’re tutoring each other on how to make the War obsolete. But, we’re starkly aware we need a coalition of people—a growing body of folk dedicated to teaching each other, then teaching many others the way to dismantle the ideas touted as a ‘reason’ for the War.”

The couple was quiet a moment—the wife looking to her husband for his silent approval, then proceeded to give their response: “We’re interested—have you talked to anyone else?”

Kael said: “Not yet.”

Muringel said: “I recommend the four of us have a few extended sessions to hash out some goals before we approach anyone else.”

Foeen said: “I agree.”

Kael surveyed their faces and made a promise to himself that This was the beginning of a purposeful life, then said:

“Best if we rotate our gatherings between here and the other two Inns, agreed? (Nods…) Then, the Crimson Inn next?”

All nodded gravely

~~~

The Crimson Inn was not as nice as the Celestial; but, not as bad as the third Inn in town, the Black Boar.

They chatted about nothing of consequence until the food and drinks arrived. They’d agreed before entering that they needed a table on the fringe of the room.

Kael began with: “Let’s start with what our ultimate goal should be, then move on to the ways to reach it.”

Colceida spoke up: “I feel, very deeply, that we won’t, by ourselves, stop the War—this is most obvious, right?” Nods all around. “So… We need to, somehow, inspire enough other people so that a movement is begun that has the internal energy to spread by itself—‘engulf’ others, if you want a poetic view…”

Kael responded first: “Well said.”

More nods.

After a few beats of silence, Foeen said: “I very much like the idea of the ‘poetry’ of our efforts—when capturing another’s attention, emotional value has to be mixed with intellect—intellect alone leaves most folks dry and sandy—poetic wisdom fosters, at the least, some form of deeper interest, even if the person won’t at first admit it…”

Muringel said: “Even though we’re veering toward the how to do it, I feel like the way its approached can help determine what it should be.”

Kael: “It going to be so easy to mess this all up—so many folks are behind the War—their children have died in the War, they’re crazy with feelings of retaliation…”

Colceida: “There will have to be something of the Spirit in what we do…”

Foeen: “How do you mean that?”

“Kael knows we’re members of the Lord of Light Assembly… Most other religions hate us—most religions hate All other religions… Still… There’s a spark of Spirit in all things, all peoples, even those of the East…”

Kael: “The people I met in the East seemed very attuned to nature in a way that felt like religious adoration; but, if they have any organized religions, I didn’t get to know anyone well enough to find out…”

Muringel: “I’m not as smart as any of you, especially my wife (warm smiles all around), but there has to be a certain spiritual quality to what we do—something all religious folks can accept without resistance—something basic—deep… Plus, there’s a big difference between how to talk to folks in a city compared to a village or market-town…”

Colceida: “And… Do we even approach magistrates or anyone of the Court…?

Kael: “Alright… Good talk… Lots to think about… Let’s say we meet at the Black Boar in two days?”

All nodded solemnly…

~~~

Kael and Foeen had stayed overnight at the Celestial Inn and both woke when the first birds began their warbling. They were both quiet as the dressed—almost moving in slow motion until Foeen said: “We are getting ourselves into something massive…”

“So, what wisdom does my tutor offer on such a fine day?”

“Your tutor says prepare for the violent storms; but, what does My tutor say?”

“…in war… you’re aware of potential safe ground at every moment, whether you’re in active battle or recouping in an encampment… No matter how small that piece of ground may be…”

“Safe access in the storms…”

“Safe access even if the weather-sensitives all say it’s going to be a wonderful day…”

“Well, Foeen, we have a day’s respite from glorious battle-planning—what do you say to a visit to a witch?”

“What kind of witch?”

“Just a potion witch—Merlas is her name?”

“You need some potions?”

“No; but, I want to ask her about a woman who disappeared…”

“Let’s go.”

They walked the streets—from the Inn, on the south side of the city, to Merlas’ home in the north—arriving just before the lunch hour. Foeen showed interest at the passing of each building, each intersection. Kael experienced growing dread at what he might learn from the witch…

When they arrived, Kael asked Foeen to not ask any questions which got a strange look but an affirmative nod.

Merlas opened the door after Kael’s gentle knock and said, “Master Ventres! Come right in, along with your curious friend.”

When they’d entered and sat, Kael introduced Foeen as his tutor and immediately asked, “My dear old friend, how is the potions business?”

“Bustling right along during this War—how have you fared as a soldier?”

“I’ve lived to be here, Merlas; but, I have to ask about another soldier…”

“Yes…?”

“There was a girl raped—Sinerna Melun was her name—raped by a soldier… Do you know the name of that soldier”

“I don’t; but, wasn’t she the maid you were with just before you went off to the War?”

“Yes…”

“Pity… Such a nice girl… Got in with a very bad soldier… I got the news from the butcher, Ogdurn… He may know more; but, I heard the officers kept it all hush-hush and spirited that soldier away…

“I doubt the butcher knows more—the military is extremely efficient in covering up harm inflicted on women…”

“T’is true, my lad…”

“We’d better get going…”

“Oh, my—could you first let me ask your tutor a question?”

“…sure…”

“So, Foeen, did you ever study with Master Elenint?”

“How did you know?’

“He came to visit a year ago and described a young man he was instructing in working with Fields—quite impressed with you was that Mage…”

“I was as much impressed with him, Merlas—too bad folks don’t realize the important knowledge being discovered by true Mages.”

“Yes, there are many untrue ones—pretenders…”

“Indeed.”

“Well, your student seems eager to move on to another adventure—nice to meet you Foeen—and Kael, do try to visit a bit more often on your leave…”

“I’ve never figured out how you know things never told you…”

“It’s just because I’m very old and have paid immaculate attention to life…”

“Hm…”

She reached in her pouch and handed Kael a bottle.”

“Take this if you start to feel downhearted about poor Sinerna, OK?”

“Thank you…”

Merlas hugged them both and showed them out her door, with a final: “Be brave, both of you lads—great storms are coming…”

They both stood stock still—Merlas closed her door—Kael said to Foeen, “Think we should include her in our plans?”

“If the others agree, yes, assuredly…”

~~~

They walked to the western sector of town and entered the Black Boar Inn. They ate ravenously and drank sparingly—the Black Boar was not always safe. They retired early…

In the morning they left their room and when they entered the eating area, Colceida and Muringel were already there: but… two rather repulsive-looking men were seated with them—Colceida seemed afraid…

They approached the table and Kael said: “Colceida—Muringel—and, who might you two men be?”

The heavier of the two said: “Aquin set us over—lend our assistance…”

“Assistance in what?”

“What you’re doing.”

“And, what am I doing?’

“You don’t know?”

“Alright, you go see Aquin and tell him I want a note about why you’re here, along with another leather vest, then fetch those back here, OK?”

“Aquin said wait here…”

“If you don’t leave and do what I requested, I’ll meet you both outside and teach you some manners!”

The two men looked at each other, got up, and left.”

Kael and Foeen sat down and Muringel said: “We’d wondered if they were from Aquin—you suspect bad doings?”

“After this meeting, Foeen and I will go visit Aquin’s shop to clear things up; but, I completely distrust those two men… So… New thoughts?”

Colceida said: “I think those men were sent by the Magistrate and he told them to say Aquin sent them…”

Foeen added: “If that’s true, we need some form of security, perhaps a few hired hands…”

Kael: If Whoever sends only two at a time, I can handle it; but, if the Magistrate already has some hint about what we’re doing, we need to start meeting in a private home—actually, should do that no matter what’s in the air…”

The others said “Yes”, nearly simultaneously. Then Colceida said: “We can’t use our home—the kids and the maid would be a constant interference…”

Kael: I have a wholesaler friend I intended to bring in on this once we’d come up with some fairly definite ideas—seems Foeen and I should see him and explain things and test his sincerity with a request to use his home.”

Muringel: Is this Alunder?”

Kael: “Yes, what do you think?”

Colceida: “Perhaps, if he’s been able to stay out of the Magistrate’s mind…”

Muringel: “He’s an extremely honest man—helped us find our home..”

Kael: OK, I’ll see if he’s up to some peaceful conspiracy; but, we need to adjourn this meeting and plan another at the Celestial Inn in two days, around noon—enough time to talk to Aquin and Alender—get things squared away—you Azelts feel safe at your home for a couple days?”

Muringel said: I have friends, very strong friends, in the Lord of Light Assembly—we’ll have them in for a sleep-over…”

“OK, adjourned?”

All agreed.

~~~

After a brief rest half-way to Levt, Kael and Foeen, forcing a swift pace, arrived at Aquin’s shop just after sundown—Kael checked the rear entrance where there was a window—saw Aquin’s body on the floor and rushed back to Foeen.

“Foul play! We need to get in and check if he’s alive…”

“I have some lock picks…”

“You?”

“Me.”

“Wh—never mind—Come around with me and use them.”

As they approached the door, Kael wondered how it could be locked when Aquin was inside—unless attackers used a lock pick, too…

Foeen set to work and Kael looked through the window again, noticing there was a wound on Aquin’s head…

With the door open, they went to the body—examined it—noticed it begin to stir—heard Aquin mumble, “Damned fools…”

Kael’s saying, “Aquin!”, made the old man’s eyes open and he said, “Two of the Magistrate’s men, Kael—bashed me hard…”

Kael asked, “Did they pick your lock?”

“No, but you must have—they hit me out back, I staggered in and locked the door…”

“Any idea how long ago?”

“Can’t be sure; but, I saw one of them—nickname’s Rooter—born mean…”

“Fooen, please lock the door and tend to Aquin, I’m on the hunt.”

With that he was gone…

~~~

Morning saw Kael back at Aquin’s shop, the trader sitting at his table, and Foeen gone…

“Calm down, son, he’s out for food and ale, back any minute—how was your hunt?”

“Tried to follow tracks—went to the southern sector, asked around—everyone jumpy—got a tip to go to the eastern sector—nothing…”

Foeen knocked at the door.

“How did it go, Kael?”

“Didn’t get much, except for a bunch of wound up folk…”

“I say we take the alleys to your friend’s house after we get back to Aust…”

Aquin: “Which friend?”

Kael: “Alender…”

Foeen: “You know him, Aquin?”

“I do; but, I wonder if going there would be any safer than you staying here…”

Kael: “Aquin, us going to Aust and taking to the alleys means you, too…”

“Why should I leave?”

“Because you’re a stubborn old man and you don’t know what we’ve gotten ourselves into and I trust Alender to at least hide us until we have a better idea about which way to move…”

They took Aquin’s two-horse wagon to Aust, left it at the eastern end of town with a business associate of Aquin, to stable the horses and hide the wagon. It took the rest of the day and into the next morning to slowly walk the circuitous alley-paths—plenty of time to explain things to Aquin and find out what he sensed or knew about the Magistrate and his flunkies’ doings.

In the last part of their trip, the weather turned colder, signaling an expected seasonal shift: but, to Kael, it felt like some Energy Field thing mirroring their plight…

He said to Foeen: “So you studied with a Mage—does that mark you as a freak?”

“Only in the minds of hopelessly bigoted people…”

“I guess this situation has me thinking about all kinds of conspiracies…”

Aquin said: “What did you study Foeen?”

“The Science of Fields.”

“Ah, Essences—excellent.”

Kael: “Aquin, this Luves boy was hired to teach me and I decided we should teach each other; then, I lured him into this conspiracy to defeat war…”

Foeen: “Kael is over-stressing his leadership abilities—it was a totally mutual conspiratorial aspiration.”

Aquin: “Ah, the dangerous hopes of youth…”

They arrived in the area of Alender’s home—the better part of town—slowing them down even more until their approach from the woods behind the house startled one of the young housemaids in the garden.

“Oh!—my… It’s Kael…”

“Yes, Trician, how are you?”

“Very well, Kael—but, what makes you come visiting through the woods?”

“We’re on a mission for King and Country and you must know how the Magistrate feels about the King…”

“Indeed… Are you being followed?”

“I think not; but, could you do us a favor and announce our arrival to Alunder?”

“Fate shines on you, he’s home…”

“Good, we’ll rest in the garden then…”

About fifteen minutes later, Alender came out to the garden.

He seemed radically troubled and said: “Kael, what kind of mess have you gotten yourself into?”

“Hello, Alunder, sorry I hadn’t visited much, been out warring and killing you know… Mess? I’ll tell you when you can affirm that you’re not being bothered or watched by the Magistrate’s rowdies.”

“My own bruisers keep me well clear of the Magistrates men… And, I’m sorry I greeted you so unpleasantly—things are rather interesting of late…”

“Well, you know Aquin, I’m sure; and, this is my compatriot Foeen, from Luves—we all have the need to be sheltered fro potential harm, hopefully in one of your warehouses—Aquin has already been attacked by the Magistrate’s lackeys.”

“Please, come into the house and have some food and drink while we hash this out…”

After dining and copious drinking of ale and various wines and two hours of discussion—Alender said: “I need to be a part of your movement—the War may be good for some wholesalers; but I’m not at full earning potential because I won’t deal with the King’s war-supply demands—not a problem with the King himself, we respect each other; but, it bothers the hell out of the Magistrate. He knows, all too well, that if he lifts a finger against me, my own small army of protectors will rid him of all his verminous lackeys; and, the King will probably kill him…”

Foeen, with quite a slur to his words, said: “Yo’re.…acquinted with… (very slowly pronounced) Colceida and Muringel Azelt?”

“I met them once at Kael’s send-off to the War. They seem a valuable part of the team.”

Kael took over for his drink-sodden friend: “They weren’t only our first recruits, they’re passionate about every one being in-tune with all others…”

Foeen said: “Membrs of Lrd of Lighd Assm_bly—(slowly) deep with Spirit…”

Kael patted Foeen on the shoulder and said: “Alunder, is there a couch my friend can rest on?”

Alunder smiled and said: “Foeen, the room behind you is perfect for dreaming…”

“Thnksh, Alndr…” He rose and wandered his way to that room…

Kael: “So, if we bring the Azelts to the warehouse, you’ll come and meet them, Alunder?”

“Absolutely.”

“And, staying there long term is perfectly fine?”

“Rensul has been with me twenty years—incorruptible; and, he’ll protect you with his life; plus, after consultation with the others, you may want him to join us…”

“Noted…”

Aquin spoke up: “Alunder, I want you to use my property for your business, if possible…”

“I will think it over, Aquin—an outlet in Levt could be useful—thank you and be assured, if I use it you will be payed well.”

“Any money you feel obligated to pay will be put into the common pool of our movement. What it seems necessary for us to do will take much time and will need financing.”

“You’ll have to spend the money I give you on yourself, Aquin—I’m going to fund this movement to the gills. Kael, grab your friend from his dreams and meet me at the stables—I’m giving you three an inconspicuous wooden, partially run-down, covered wagon for your trip to the warehouse. Trician is to be your food and drink supplier through-out your stay and she’ll give you whatever you need immediately and for tomorrow—I’ll meet the Azelts and bring them out with me—get on with you.”

They rode slowly through the night and through the next day, until evening—Kael, with hooded cape, first driver of the rig—Aquin and Foeen in the back, under cover—taking their turns as driver after each rest stop for the horses…

One of Alunders security men took a fast horse to the warehouse to alert the crew there…

~~~

The trio had slept in the wagon for two nights, security guards nearby—spent the rest of the time wandering around and relaxing. The warehouse had a huge loft that had been cleared out and was being converted into enough “rooms” for about 20 people plus a central “meeting place”—Rensul had his own four boys doing the construction—keeping it in the family—their home very near the warehouse.

The first things hauled in that morning were small wood stoves for the rooms. The warehouse was at the very edge of town backing on a dense forest—Rensul assuring them that his own dogs were trained to roam that forest and raise a ruckus when anyone crossed their paths—trained to leave attack decisions to Rensul or his boys when they arrived…

It was nearly noon and Kael knew it would take Alunder and the Azelts until at least sundown to reach the warehouse. He decided Foeen needed some hair of the dog and Aquin needed to unwind his apprehensions. He gathered them up, grabbed a jug of ale, and sat with them on some of the packing crates. When they’d settled, He began with: “Foeen, tell us what you been observing in the Fields…”

“I had a dream in Alunder’s home and on the way out here I interpreted it—I often dream about Fields I’ve been through…”

“And…?”

“Ever since that meeting with the Magistrate’s men in the Black Boar, we’ve been flowing with a Field that has a long tail—it surrounds us and trails behind us—any good Mage could find us here…”

“Any good Mages nearby?”

“None to my knowledge. The only good and true ones are my teacher in Luves and one other in Menislev…”

Aquin spoke up: “So this Field we’ve been flowing in—it protects us?”

“Only if we open to it’s influences. The Azelts talk about it as being At One with the Holy Spirit—I say we’re in soul-rapport for our mission…”

Kael said: “Maybe some day I’ll learn how to be at-one or know what soul-rapport means; but, I find it fascinating how you can have a dream and then comment about the harmony of the people in our Cause…”

“It’s one way to apprehend the Truth…”

When Kael felt Aquin was feeling more secure, he hopped off the packing crate and went outside to find Rensul. His oldest son said he was out back, so Kael bid good morning to the security men (four out of the eight always on duty) and walked around his new, but temporary, immense home. He couldn’t believe Alunder was going so far out of his way to help them—become part of them… He was determined to only check Rensul out, not recruit him—that was for the whole group to decide…

“Rensul—how’s it going.”

“Very well, sir.”

“This accommodating us is a lot of extra work for you, eh?”

“Ah, no—my boys always do all the extra work—keeps ‘em sharp.”

“So… I sure don’t mind sleeping on a packing crate; but, your boss will be bringing a married couple out this evening—any comfortable little space for them?”

“Well… Doin’ up the loft isn’t what I’d call extra work, sir—me and my boys will have it done shortly after sundown—I’m only back here waiting for the dogs (Kael immediately understood the large chunk of meat in Rensul’s hand)—they need to be roused up to extra vigilance, eh?”

Just then eight rangy hounds appeared—Rensul tossed the meat at them—they had a fine fight over it—their owner stopping it with, “Cease!” The dogs sat, lolling tongues dripping blood and saliva…

Rensul then went to each and repeated, “Bad men—alert—Bad men!” The dogs stayed with rumps on the ground but began quivering… “Good Boys! Alert! Bad men! GO!” The hounds disappeared into the forest…

Kael: “Truly beautiful…”

“Yep—great hounds, only two years old…”

“They’ll grow…”

“Yep”

“You’ve been with Alunder for years, eh?”

“Many blessed years—best man in the world…”

“Your home near here?”

“Back in the woods a bit—Missus never leaves it—her choice…”

“Seems the ideal way to live…”

“You musta been in the War, eh”

“Yes.”

“On leave?”

“Yes…”

“Goin back?”

“More than likely not…”

“Good lad.”

“You’re not a fan of the War?”

“I’m not a violent man—fight if I must, especially for family; but, killin for the King? He seems a decent man, of sorts—might say a good man, misled by power, eh?”

“Indeed…”

“No disrespect, lad; but, must get back to work to fix up your group’s home, eh?”

“Can I help?”

“Not on your life—you’re all guests of the Master!”

“I bow to your sentiments, sir.”

“If you’re not careful, lad, talkin like that might lead ya to servin in the Court…”

They shared a hearty laugh and walked back around front—Kael going to the run-down wagon where his friends were, Rensul up to the loft with his boys.

“Foeen, are you going to be somewhat sober tonight for the gathering?”

“I think I’m beginning to expand my stay-standing-capacity—yesterday’s behavior was from mixing wine and ale…”

“Right—so, no detrimentally atrocious behavior?”

“I think not…”

“Aquin, feeling OK?”

“This air out here is bracing me up.”

“Good to hear it—head aching at all?”

“Not a bit.”

“Very good—I did some conversational testing of Rensul—see if he might be up to helping with the Cause—he hates war…”

Foeen: “Can he help us while he’s working out here?”

“He not only works out here, his family lives in the woods.”

Aquin: “So, the loft will be a sort of safe haven for our members?”

“Could be…”

Foeen and Aquin fell silent…

Kael considered their faces and said: “We may meet severe violence…”

Foeen said: “I learned more than Fields from Master Elenint—he doesn’t stay in the same place—each night sees him in a different student’s home—fifteen students, all aware they’re involved in an education that attracts antagonists, some violent…”

Aquin: “We move around…”

Kael: “Or, we stay here, except for whatever travel is necessary for the Cause—for the recruiting of new, what shall I call them—cells—other groups organized enough to be locally bonded…”

Foeen: “I’m so glad Alunder is with us—he’s said to be an organizational genius.”

Kael: “You heard about him in Luves?”

“Yes, all the traders there speak well of him—I’d say he’s envied by other wholesalers; but, I wonder if they’d ever get nasty with him?”

Aquin: “Nobody messes with the wholesalers—King’d be down their throats in a wink.”

Kael: “So… Let’s relax a bit with food—and, ale to ward off this chill weather.”

They retreated to the packing crates.

~~~

Alunder and the Azelts rolled in an hour after sunset—all but Rensul, his boys, and the security guards retired to the meeting room in the loft, with the food and drink Alunder had brought.

They mutually caught each other up on happenings while they ate their supper.

The last thing said before they got down to business was Alunder’s statement that Trician would be out around noon the next day with a week’s food and drink—that to be her normal routine and they shouldn’t worry about anyone linking her to them because she always came out weekly for the security guard’s necessities.

Kael then said: “My friends, I have request for another individual to be invited into our Cause, the supervisor here at the warehouse, Rensul—possibly his four boys, too…”

Alunder spoke right up: “I second that request; but wonder how you came to that conclusion, Kael?”

“I spoke with him earlier—he’s clearly against the War and I can’t believe he’s raised those boys to be anything but peace-loving…”

Alunder nodded a firm yes and said: “The whole family is incredible—some of the finest folks I’ve ever dealt with—trust them all with my life; and, you Azelts will find their spirituality interesting—some would say pagan; but, very compatible with your own beliefs, without the organized meetings. And, I think they’ll need to be brought in because we’ll have to have not only the security guards, which tomorrow will be doubled, and the dogs in the forest—we’ll need this location as a haven for future members and those new recruits will need the support Rensul and his family can give them; so, I’ve planned for some trusted crew to come out and construct another ‘warehouse’—certainly not a business expansion for me; but, an expansion to enable our Cause’s expansion in a safe environment… I have other ideas for consolidating our operation; but, they can wait till Kael has turned eighteen.”

There was a group cheer followed by unanimous consent to Alunder’s plans.

They then plunged into consultation that lasted till nearly dawn—all of them charged with fervor—all of them full of creative ideas—all of them building a Field around themselves—a protective “force” sustained by their principles—a surety that they’d be in this Cause for the rest of their lives…

After the gathering broke up and each retreated to their new rooms, Alunder and Kael went outside, into the gathering light and had a discussion that any soldier would recognize as a staff meeting of the generals—one having experienced war, the other competitive business—each committed to protecting those in their purview—not lesser folk—not underlings; but compatriots in a vital Cause, equal in effort, equal in decision-making power—all forming a unity of purpose…

These “generals” of life came to the conclusion, in their conversation that saw the sun rise, that even though the rest of the group might treat them with deference, they would kindly steer them toward feelings of camaraderie—a comradeship of souls that radiated an affinity of spirit.

It was a bracing conversation—a fortifying discussion that would lead them and, by example, their cohorts, in future days, to exploits that, even if their Cause seemed to fail, would secure them a place in history.

They retired to the loft—exhausted but elated—ready for the adventure of their lives.

Kael was aware that Alunder would spend time attending to restructuring his business dealings, to free time for the group’s activities; but, he suspected Alunder just might find a creative way to have his business serve their Cause…

~~~

The afternoon saw the group doing a cross-question session to make sure everyone was thinking in the same direction—the team at the warehouse would continue to consult on viable methods of contact and recruitment, plus the underlying principles of a method of inducing peacefully directed initiatives. When the birthday celebrants returned, plans could progress to paths of action…

Kael and Foeen left for the festivities in the hills that evening. Alender had supplied them with a pair of fine horses to get them there in time for the birthday party…

They quickly reached the byroad out of Levt; then it would be Luves Road to Terlinad Road, then up through the hill routes to his parents’ holdings in the Ravos Hills.

The horses were rare outside the ranges of the East—a special breed capable of lengthy spells of blurring speed that kept them from encountering ruffians or bandits on the trip. Their rest periods were taken under cover at elevated areas of the terrain, aiding their ability to see trouble coming—this cooler season that had come on quickly saw more thieving and mugging on any stretch of roada simple response to the seemingly inevitable poverty that war induced.

Still, the fact that the men met no hindrances to their travel seemed nearly magical—at one stop, Foeen declared: “We’ve had a robust Field surrounding us; plus, these horses have quickly bonded with us. On our return, I must consult with the Azelts about their experiences with what they called spiritual-protection…”

You know, Foeen, our group has to incorporate a collective set of ideas that can be shared with others to help them see the possibilities of the power of unity to induce peaceful attitudes…”

With the people so far, there are, if I’m counting right, eleven of us; and, I’m thinking Alunder won’t disagree to having his security men tested and proved against becoming traitors—plus, Trician and her drivers need to be embraced by our group…

My dear Foeen, we’re entering into some highly dangerous but absolutely necessary activities—we must keep all this from my father—mother might be able to handle it, though I can’t be certain she still feels an allegiance to he home country…”

“Then, during your celebration, I must be your tutor and you must be the man who’s served his time in the military and wishes to become a civilized being.”

“Is subterfuge necessary in all this?”

I think only around those we feel could take violent action against us; or, carry tales to those who could…”

Alright then, I will ask our cohorts to consult on ethical subterfuge; and, you need to instruct all of us in how to naturally and swiftly induce and increase bonding Fields…”

Work of a lifetime…”

“Teaching the group about Fields?”

“No, the whole endeavor—effectively spreading attitudes of unity—helping induce a self-generative growth of peace-desiring people…”

“Yes, may the gods aid us…”

“Kael, does your sense of spirituality include the possibility that there’s only one God?”

Hm… Good question… How can we preach unity to a bunch of people who believe in different gods…?”

Right… Again, I feel the Azelts with their Assembly affiliation and Rensul’s family’s natural spirituality will help all of us tackle that potentially explosive issue…”

“It is a war…”

“Yes, a war for sanity and co-existence…”

~~~

The birthday celebration lasted two days and let Kael evaluate the potential for future recruits to the Cause from amongst his friends in the rarified atmosphere of the Ravos Hills residents—living in wealth, apart from the trials and tribulations of the folks of lower elevation—overseeing activities in the rest of the country while never taking part in them directly—acting through a constant stream of vassals carrying orders to manufacturers living in the cities and carting back supplies for the entrenched wealthy residentsa people who birthed kings and had royalty begging them for support…

Kael didn’t know how his mother put up with his father…

He decided he couldn’t broach the topic of his Cause with her—he felt she’d forgotten her root and become a supporter of the profit making from the War—become inured to the feel of the cocoon of exorbitant wealth… He had to make her believe he’d be coming back home to become his father’s Successor—as if birth conferred rights and advantages that perseverance and discipline could never enjoy…

He’d lived eighteen years, fought for three of them in the War, met a man named Foeen and found himself tumbling into a grand scheme of a Cause—a movement that could bring him an early death—martyred for the sake of the Unborn’s chance to live in complete peace and tranquility… Many would pronounce him insane…

The return trip to the warehouse was, up to the return to Aust, with three of his friends from youth—Belzun, Ralfeir, and Nuncin—all unknowing potential recruits to the Cause. They were going to whore it up for awhile in the city of delights before they visited the Royal court in Menislev—carrying propitiations for the King and returning with new Edicts favoring their parents…

Five men on fine steeds capable of vigorous speed kept them safe—Kael kept them fascinated in his tales of the War, always told in a way to instil a lessons of its incredible waste of life and potential—tales that made them laugh until they had to pause in embarrassed silence…

These friends of his had obtained deferments from service in the military. They were coddled youth of the Ravos regime; yet, still, intelligent and brave—untested in serious relations with those of a lower social class—ripe for enlightenment, if only they could accept it… Time would tell.

After a few rounds of ale in the Black Boar, Kael and Foeen wished them well and left of what was described as a need to attend to Kael’s civilizing education.

When they’d returned to the warehouse, in the dead of night to cloak their arrival, they found Trician in the frontage of the warehouse, leading her horse to the stables for the night.

Kael dismounted, smiled, and said: “Has Alunder explained what this is all about?”

The whole group did—I’m just waiting for your and Foeen’s approval.”

He felt a bit disoriented by her smile… Even though it was surpassing dark, her face seemed bright in the chill night… He responded with, “I say yes, how you, Foeen?”

“Yes, indeed, especially if she also knows how to cook.”

Trician responded with: “I can cook, quite well; but, I will have to train you two so you don’t try to enslave me with what you think are a woman’s ‘duties’.”

The men were silent—Trician’s personal security guard arrived out of the night and she said, “Does your acceptance of me in your plans include my personal guard, Elisen? He’s also been appraised by the rest of the group…”

Kael said, “Absolutely, I welcome you to danger Elisen.”

The guard said: “I am rather quite used to that… sir…”

Kael started to feel like he was tying himself in knots when Foeen said: “I too say welcome and must also say that Kael has probably seen a different danger than you constantly face, Elisen—yours is normally potential danger, eh? While Kael’s time in the War saw him meeting danger with nearly every breath…”

The chill night grew icy for Kael, he wondered where Foeen learned this level of impertinence, until he heard Elisen say: “I beg your pardon, Kael—truly… I didn’t know you’d been in the War. I feel a need to reproach myself for my words… Master Alunder secured a deferment for me—I am deeply ashamed…”

Kael almost fainted; but, somehow, found courage to say: “Elisen, you have no need to bear any shame; but, I’m in total wonderment at Foeen, how he could have sensed that he could get away with what he said to you…”

Foeen said: “I didn’t ‘know’, Kael, I just let my respect for you help me follow a deep intuition—I’m as surprised as you are…”

Trician said: “Completely fasinating… This group is going to be quite an education…”

She then hugged her horse’s neck and led him to the stables.‘’

~~~

The next morning, Kael took Alunder aside to discuss the stunning independence of his housemaid, Trician. Alunder had a jolly laugh and said, “She’s definitely more than most men imagine—sort of a secret weapon. I’ve had many occasions when drunken male visitors have resisted my genteel requests to leave and Trician has appeared and whisked them out the door with three well-chosen commanding words.”

“Definitely a boon for the Cause—a potent woman to convince other women…”

“Yes…”

Alunder checked his timepiece and nodded toward the warehouse. He and Kael went up to the meeting room.

They all found their favorite places, all thirteen souls…

Some folks thought thirteen unlucky; but, the most knowledgeable Mages (and, their students) accepted thirteen as meaning transformation through crisis; and, crisis as a decision point…

The people of the Cause were indeed facing a crisis—two, in fact: the crisis of the War and the decision point they were now ready to discuss.

These people were Souls of the Age—attuned to the potential transformations and willing to exert effort to attempt to aid those transformations to succeed…

Kael; Fooen; Aquin; Colceida, Muringel; Alunder; Rensul and his sons Bulin, Rezle and Tenlu; and Rensul’s wife, Merloun ; plus, Trician; and, Elisen.

Each with unique talents—each with a unique personality—each with a different history—each accepted as equal in the Cause…

The Cause… Its shape and direction to be determined in this session…

Kael began the discussion with: “You all know that Foeen and I met and forged a unique bond around wanting to do something, if possible, to end the War. Now, all of you have signed on to help find a way to attempt that… I say attempt because we have no guarantees except the assurance that each of us will contribute, in their own way, to our Cause… I feel it’s necessary to stress that any of us could see violence and even death—the War is profitable, in money to business men and traders, and in power to the magistrates. I do think the King might be persuaded, through careful and secret diplomacy, to see the wisdom in ending the war; yet; he may treasure the adulation of his Magistrates more than the prosperity of all his subjects… So… I want to thank those of you who will carry on the fight away from our haven here; and, equally thank those who will remain here to maintain the haven… I think I should now shut up and let the whole group explore the ways and means of beginning our war against the War.”

The discussions were general and specific—involving the whole group as well as smaller sets of folk exploring things they could specialize in and bringing their ideas back to the full group.

The sessions continued for three days and most of three nights…

Foeen was heard to remark on the beautiful Field they were weaving…

Some of them shared their joyful tears, some their angers, some their hopes, some their beliefs, some their fears, and some their faith…

The unity they attained was a true Phenomenon—something rarely seen in such a large group and rarely accomplished for such high aims…

On the fourth day, some slept in; but, all relaxed and celebrated.

Kael, who knew of discipline, felt assured that every one of these souls would give their all—would exceed their own expectations—would be a living blessing to the peoples of this country as well as those of the East.

As the day approached full dark, Trician came up to Kael and said: “How long do you imagine you’ll be recruiting in the Muae Islands?”

“Hard to tell; but, naturally, at first, only two months so we’re back for the next group gathering.”

“Of course…”

“Still, I can imaging, depending on who we’re able to contact, that it could be as much as a year all told—it is such a key location, right there near the Road East…”

“Yes…”

“There’s something else on your mind…”

“Yes…”

“And…”

“…well… I’d like to… see more of you… um… privately…”

“My goodness, such a bold and nearly brazen woman being so hesitant in her speech.”

“Oh, never fear, Kael, my intentions are bold and clearly brazen; but, I… wonder… what you… feel…”

“I feel quite warm and eager… Yet… We should take it as slow as we’re able—we are involved in a war, eh?”

“Yes. But… We should clearly plan our trysts, right?”

“Yes; and, I would like to plan our first one for the time surrounding the next full meeting of the members—see if Rensul and the boys can build us a little bungalow, eh?”

“They do seem quite Earthy and could be very understanding; but, you need to offer them a goodly amount of pay…”

“Perhaps… after our first tryst, we might, perhaps, ask Rensul’s wife if she could conduct the same sort of bonding ceremony they’d had performed—to help us strengthen our mutual Field…”

“Perhaps…”

Almost as if they were being pulled by that mutual Field, they went behind the warehouse and embraced. Their first kiss was extended and hard to pull back from; but, they were, of course, strong individuals; yet, still, they needed all of each of their powers of discipline to stop…

Trician said: “I have a strong feeling that Rensul and Merloun will be happy to help us strengthen our mutual Field with a ceremony—get Alunder’s approval for a cottage in the woods and pay Rensul for the construction before you leave.”

“Yes ma’am, I’m compelled to fulfill your orders!”

“Good boy…”

~~~

Those who had to co-ordinate their travels and plans for this first joint mission took some extra care to confirm times and places—those who had only one destination before returning to the warehouse sat back and marveled at the whole situation—a Cause in fervent motion—dedicated to finding those who’s feelings about the dangers of the War were strong enough to be appraised for possible inclusion in the Cause—a self-replicating Desire for Peace…

Kael and Foeen first went with Aquin to the barn Alunder had provided for items of Aquin’s former trade that he wanted to use as an ‘introduction’ to his appraisal of folks he knew—propose a private trade and discuss private matters until Aquin could make a decision to continue another day or just quit.

He gave Kael and Foeen a set of leather clothes like the folks on the Muae Islands wore. He reminded them to keep their normal clothes on under the leathers—it was always a bit cooler up there than in this southern part of the country.

The Muae Islands were, obviously, all in the Muae Lake—largest boy of water in the country—kept full by the run-off from the Augra Mountains and feeding the flow of the Senl River—going straight into the Royal city, Menislev.

The Muae Islanders were a varied lot—each island seeming to breed a different lineage of the main northern stock of folk.

The one thing they had in common was a healthy disrespect for the Royalty.

They also were feared by the Royalty because of their close ties to the people’s of the East—some saying they had direct descent from the western-most of the Eastern folk.

One could say they all hated the War; but, that would be a false and dangerous opinion.

What they all did was taunt the East about its blackmarket trade—ask for prime deals while warning that no deal would mean a revelation of the blackmarketing individuals—a seemingly dangerous proposition in its own right. Still, much more often than not, the Easterners were more willing to suffer a discount on high value goods than risk the discovery of their dealings.

Kael and Foeen knew that their first two months on the islands would be simple and clean reconnoitering—pretending to be on a preliminary mission to potentially take part in the blackmarketing—using Kael’s experience in the War as an opener.

They had to walk the fine line of detached interest—revealing, at first, their cover as merely excursionists—wanting to expand their knowledge of the histories of the various island groups…

This first foray had to be always just shy of solid deal-making—they needed to meet the folks who purely hated the War; but, not ignore those who were milking it for all it as worth—delicate maneuvering…

In fact, their subsequent visit, after the next group gathering, could well be just like this one…

~~~

Many assumed the Azelts had both retired from years of work—only their closest friends knew the truth; but, their fine house and their hired help came from the secret endowment from the Chief Priest of the Lord of Light Assembly. He found them to be the most trustworthy disciples of their Faith—wanted their seemingly innate wisdom and discretion to be focused on expanding the Assembly.

This had given them a freedom of movement which become their strongest asset in the accomplishments they’d planned as their contribution to the Cause.

The endowment they enjoyed came from the coffers of the Lord of Light Assembly and they felt absolutely no guilt in now using it to expand the Cause (along with efforts to win souls to their Faith…), since they were certain that the growth of the Cause was completely in line with their Faith’s tenets—they would talk about the Faith, as they always did in their travels between Aust and Luves; then, appraise those who seemed suited for both the Faith and the Cause…

~~~

Aquin set off for Levt; and, after that, Urvas to meet with his former trading associates.

None of them knew he’d stopped being a tradesman and, if he told them directly, would want to know why…

He knew had to skirt their ‘where ya beens’ by saying he’d needed a break from the challenges and risks in the profession; then, strike-up a private trade with one or more of the items he’d secured from the barn; then, after a successful or a failed trade, get them talking about the impact of the War on their business…

Once he’d sounded them out about the War, he could decide if he would add them to his list of possible recruits or tell them he was actually quitting the business and to not count on seeing him any time soon…

He felt his job was to scout out the potential folks then bring someone else in the Cause to convince them…

~~~

Alunder’s main mission was talking to the influential folk he knew in the Royal city of Menislev.

He didn’t really need an initial cover story—he had plenty of topics he could pursue that he could use to transition to talk about the War.

Also, he knew already who the people were who already completely supported the War—those he would have to entertain briefly…

He had potential access to not just the royal hangers-on but also many of the King’s Court—they would demand his most careful and deft appraisal—any revelation that he was against the War before they revealed that they themselves were against it, could get him killed…

~~~

Concerning Trician and Elisen and the Wurnis family at the warehouse, they would receive no direct requests for specific missions until the next group gathering in two months…

~~~

Kael and Foeen had reached the northern bridge on the Ancos Road going over the Senl River.

Kael paid a man they talked to for about an hour to take care of the horses—quite common to meet a few trustworthy and needy folk in the unique community that took up residence near the bridge. They bought a sturdy boat and took the river up into Muae Lake.

They used the first week to navigate around the lakes islands, looking for places that might have genial folks—people who one could engage in wide-ranging conversation…

They used the method of docking the boat and engaging the people near the landing in conversation—if they met with hostility or trepidation or suspicion, they immediately moved on to another island. There were about twenty decent-sized islands in the lake—places where they could meet and talk to a number of folk…

Sometimes people at the landings were intrigued by two men who dressed somewhat like them arriving in a small boat and striking up conversations—sometimes the same two men in leathers would strike fear into the folks on the landing, necessitating a hasty withdrawal—a few times, Kael and Foeen decided that an island was more than worthy of a second extended stay.

The weather had cooled even more than expected so, on those promising islands, they bought more clothing…

After the week of scouting the islands and the six weeks of re-visiting the promising ones, they’d identified nine people who very well might be recruited, six women and three men. They’d also had to defend themselves against some young islanders and been asked to make their homes on some of the islands…

They returned to the bridge community, got the horses and paid the man who’d taken care of them to store the boat for future visits, then headed back toward their haven…

~~~

The Azelts were having an easy time re-contacting members of their Faith but met unexpected resistance from many of them—a certain jealous reticence to reveal who might be ready to be spoken to about joining the Assembly.

They knew most of these people were being far too egotistical about it—feeling that they were the only ones who could convince potential converts to join the Assembly.

During their two months, they helped 25 folks convert to their Faith and, of those, six who could be re-approached about joining the Cause—five women and one man…

~~~

Aquin used up every item he’d gotten from his stash of trading goods at the barn and talked to eleven men and one woman he thought might be induced to join the Cause…

~~~

Alunder had found three individuals the group might accept for recruitment—one woman and two men.

If they were recruited, their influential qualities and high-level contacts could be counted on to bring productive results.

But, Alunder was also returning with a trove of up-to-date information about the state of the Royal Court and some intriguing rumors about the King himself.

The rumors would have to wait to be checked out until his three potential recruits were either accepted or rejected—he wasn’t at all ready to ask for a Royal Audience until he could buffer it with at least one member of the Court that was aligned with the Cause…

~~~

The two months were passed…

Everyone had arrived back at the haven, in the dead of night…

All rested in their rooms until just before noon the next day—all except Kael and Trician who had their first night in their new cottage…

The group met on each of the next five days—some talking into the morning hours—spending the time discussing the potential recruits—asking and answering many deeply probing questions…

The sixth day was for general relaxation; though, exchanges about the Cause were frequent.

On the seventh day, they met to consider their duties in voting on which of the potential recruits were to be recontacted, to affirm their desire to align with the Cause—a tricky proposition since it was likely more than a few would not even consider it.

They all discussed various ways to present the membership offer so that they could back out of it smoothly if trepidation manifested itself—arguing a person into membership would cause no end of dangerous repercussions…

They also discussed what to do if one of the potential recruits decided to report them to the Magistrates or the Royal Court… This was when Alunder let them know that the Court was in a state of flux—support for the King uncertain; and, there were rumors about Him, the importance of which couldn’t yet be ascertained…

They were becoming fervent diplomats—able to dance in a conversation until the other person began to take the lead or bow out when the dance got clumsy…

The seventh day meeting went into the early morning and made them have another rest day.

On the ninth day, they voted.

Nineteen people had been accepted to be approached for inclusion—nine women and ten men. All would be invited to the haven to meet and bond with the other members; and, if they couldn’t, either Trician and Elisen or one of Rensul’s boys would visit them and find out what they intended to do to further the Cause.

They all agreed that sixty-three percent of their contacts being approved was an indicator of collective competence—a sign that their efforts could, potentially, become self-replicating—new recruits spawning more recruits…

The next day was another day of rest and recuperation.

Two months and ten days and they were ready to leave for the real test—convincing potential recruits to become loyal members of the Cause…

Just before they left, Kael and Trician said they had an announcement…

The buzz was instant—quiet questions flew…

Kael bowed to Trician and she said: “You all know that we obtained permission to have Rensul and the boys build us a cottage. You all know that Kael payed them handsomely. What you didn’t know is that Merloun has performed a bonding ceremony for us and we are now, according to King’s Law, married…”

The group positively erupted—jumping like children—clapping and reaching another collective decision without any consultation.

When they’d quieted a bit, Alunder spoke the group’s wish—“I think we all want one more day to celebrate this marriage!”

Further eruptions and great elation—Rensul and the boys bringing libations, Merloun announcing the cooking of a grand supper.

During the rest of the day, amongst discussions of how many children and where their permanent home should be, not a single person failed to begin at least one conversation about the future of their Cause…

They had become a Family that was about to attempt to expand the range of their relatives…

They were due to arrive back at the haven in three months, or less.

They were about to engage in risky business—they were ready.

They would change their world—it was yet to be determined how much…

~~~

Each of them truly felt they were on a “Holy” mission—somehow “Chosen” to act on behalf of a “Higher Power”—make their own desires and wishes subservient to the Cause…

But even holy missions had their devilish details…

Nineteen individuals now needed to be helped to see the supreme dangers of the War—convinced to become agents for change, learning to evaluate others, to find the ones who might be willing to join the Cause…

The original Thirteen were deeply aware they had a certain Grace—all seeming to be “divinely” ordained to form the foundation of the Cause.

This new potential tier of individuals, if they committed themselves to action, would have all the help the original members could give them; still… they would face a stiffer point of decision—a crisis point that needed to be transformed into a moment of gratification… If this couldn’t happen, an extremely careful disengagement had to be initiated…

The thirteen had decided the best phrase to begin this disengagement from decision—this letting the new individuals “off the hook”—would be “Would you like me to stay in touch about how the War is developing?”

This would open a channel for possible future recruitment and give the individual a chance to feel a bit safer, even if they felt threatened by the War and its pressures, since solid information of what was happening were almost invariably twisted by rampant rumor.

Alunder’s potential recruits could be extremely valuable sources of trustworthy information, even if Alunder had to use a slightly different statement of disengagement—“Could you keep me informed about developments concerning the War?”

His prospective enlistees had been long-time acquaintances and he’d let them know he was taking his business “in a new direction”; so, they would certainly give him information—if they remained at Court… Even if he didn’t deal directly in business directly involved in the War, his dealings still touched those in the Court—they might be powerful people; but, they were, in certain basic ways, always needful of products and services that Alunder could either supply himself or facilitate that supply.

It took him two weeks to schedule and accomplish the multiple, delicate discussions necessary to persuade all three of his potential recruits that they should and could function at Court as well as be loyal to the Cause…

They all embraced the dangerous opportunity to attempt facilitating an end to the War.

In the process, Alunder discovered that the King was already considering various methods of bringing the War to a mutually beneficial end—this, in turn, causing a polarization in the Court that could well become its own type of war…

Alender and his new compatriots were, so far, the only people who knew this explosive information; and, these new members of the Cause had the most dangerous, yet, if successful, amicable mission—helping bring a change of opinion into the Court that would protect the King and squeeze out or sway the potentially traitorous members of that Court.

There was no way to have these people come to the haven—Alunder would meet with them at his home and Trician and Elisen would carry word to the others…

~~~

Kael and Foeen had little difficulty recruiting the five folks from the Muae Islands.

All would return with them to the haven; and, Kael was very happy they were all coming—he couldn’t imagine Trician roaming the Islands, even if Elisen accompanied her—too much rough and smelly living, even for such a strong woman…

~~~

The Azelts were able to recruit two women—the other two sufficiently happy with only their new Faith…

Naturally, subsequent visits may see them, perhaps joining the Cause; but, Colceida and Muringel were happy they had two people who were strong in Faith as well as firm in devotion to endeavoring to end the War…

Yet even though two of the women wanted only the Faith, they immediately began reaching out to other souls…

~~~

Aquin was able to persuade three men and one woman—all key people in the country’s inter-city trade—all with extensive networks of acquaintances…

The woman was currently bound to Luves for talks with members of her ad hoc and very private traders’ association—banned by the Magistrates by vital to productive and safe commerce—she would be visited by one of the Wurnis’ boys…

~~~

There were fourteen new members in the Cause, ten to arrive soon at the haven, one to be visited regularly, and three meeting with Alunder at his home.

The ten arrived at the haven over the period of a week, being entertained by nine of the original members.

The Wurnis boy was in Luves with the trader and Trician and Elisen were with Alunder entertaining the recruits from the Royal Court.

The Cause was now twenty-seven souls strong.

They would all, in their various locations, and through messages carried back and forth, educate each other—learn from each other—bond with each other. A Field of bonds stronger than the armies of the King and the East…

There were now six fields of action for the Cause—the cities of Aust, Luves, and Menislev; the market towns of Levt and Urvas; and, the Muae Islands.

~~~

The Azelts had run into a man named Vezelun, when they’d gotten back to Aust—he’d been one of the folk they’d not gotten a vote for from the group, to invite into the Cause.

Still, they invited him to their home along with the two women they’d brought into the Cause— Helnur Qules and Vinel Silur—much joy for the Azelts’ children—much deep and fervent discussion for the adults.

Vezelun had been born in the East; and, essentially, banished for his religious activities.

The Azelts and Helnur and Vinel were fascinated by the man, even though his spiritual claims seemed quite fantastical—he told them he was a Prophet, sent by the one true God to find a few worthy souls to die for his Cause.

When they asked how many souls he’d found he said twenty-seven.

They were a bit taken aback—twenty-seven being the number of people currently in their Cause.

Muringel asked him: “Why seek souls just so they can die?”

Vezelun said: “We all die to this life—when we die in the Service of the One True God, we enter the Most Elevated Worlds of God—we become the Prime Teachers of the Souls still in their bodies down here.”

Colceida: “How many of these souls have you found?”

Vezelun: “All of them…”

Helnur: “What shall you do now?”

Vezelun: “I wait for the right moment—the time when all but two of my souls will die.”

Vinel: “What of the last two?”

Vezelun: “They will become known to most of the people as the most unworthy ones—to the Souls of the Most Elevated Worlds of God they will be known as the Leaders of the Twenty-Seven.”

There was more conversation; but, when Vezelun departed, they all sat stupefied…

Finally, Colceida said: “That was the sweetest man I’ve ever met (sorry, Muringel…); but, I fear he’s insane…”

~~~

Alunder was entertaining the members of the Cause who were also members of the Royal Court. Trician and Elisen were in attendance.

The men, Montur and Rimau were doing all the talking—the woman, Resiin, was strangely quiet.

At one point in their conversation, Trician said to her: “Are you feeling quite well?”

“I am… except for what seems a tendency for Alunder to make claims for this movement that are beginning to sound like they do not favor the King…”

Alunder spoke up: “Which claims, Resiin?”

“I may bring the issue up in the future… Now, I must return to the palace.”

They watched the first major threat to the Cause leave the room…

~~~

The action of Resiin, totally unpredictable, was driven by an inexplicable motivation that began to spread to the other new members of the Cause.

Over the next month, nearly every one of the recent recruits began to have various reasons to question the motivations of other members of the Cause—it was as if their initial commitment had been attacked by fears that they were doing something evil…

Alunder had been unable to placate Resiin’s doubts and her influence with the King drove him to change his course and mount a huge new offensive against the East.

As the frenzy of the escalation of the War increased, the Cause lost every one of its recent recruits to their fears of a reprisal by the East—fears that were also spreading in the general population.

It was as if fate had opened a small window into a peaceful future and then decided it had made a mistake—as if the people were suffering a general guilt about every hopeful thing they’d ever cherished…

The original members of the Cause retreated to the haven…

They tried to encourage each other…

After a miserable week of frights and tears, Foeen was heard to say, “The Field is falling, we’ll soon be completely unprotected…”

In a conversation with Kael, Foeen explained that most Fields in the general population had never been well-adjusted—they’d always had an inherent “friction”. And, as might seem natural, those in the Cause being sensitive folk, the Field bonding the members of their movement had always been under stress from the contending Fields of the general population.

Kael had responded that the members should scatter to the hills, find protection from the general hysteria.

~~~

Over the next few months, many people committed suicide—most people had become completely dispirited—the East was beginning to push back strongly against the King’s forces—invasion seemed imminent…

~~~

Alunder had been called into the King’s presence, charged with high treason and immediately executed…

Others of the Cause, trying to rally the people against general hysteria, were accused of subversion and given over to mobs that called themselves militia—mobs who loved the sight of burning flesh…

Kael, Trician, and Foeen had tried to save every one of them; but, eventually had to make for the hills.

They dared not seek refuge with Kael’s parents who were well-known supporters of the War.

They made camp in a cave above the hills, near the upthrust of the Augra Mountains—Kael’s time in the military being a God-send for their survival.

In time, Trician sickened—se lingered long, having a determined spirit.

The day of her death began Kael’s war against insanity—Foeen becoming his Tutor in the Art of Hope…

~~~

Kael eventually regained a semblance of his former self—enough to let him lead Foeen on various scouting missions—all such treks showing the fringes of a War-Madness that seemed to have thrust every bit of rationality into the graves of delusion…

One day, they were having a lunch of berries, when an old man approached the cave.

Kael and Foeen felt a strange attraction toward him, even at the distance remaining between them.

As he advanced closer, they began to walk toward him, meeting him near a large, gnarled tree.

When they were face to face, as if on cue, they all sat…

The old man said, “My name is Vezelun. I have spared your lives to explain my Mission. You are the Leaders of the Twenty-Seven…”

Kael said: “How can we be leaders of people that are likely all dead?”

“I speak in the tongue of Souls of the Most Elevated Worlds of God. All your companions in the Cause you created are waiting for you in those Worlds.”

Foeen spoke up: “What of the Fields, Master?” (…he wondered at his calling the man ‘Master’…)

“Your attainment to the Divine Knowledge of the Fields is lacking one critical concept—If the Field of Environment is forgotten, no matter how strongly one may contend against war and delusion, Environment will win-out—for a time… Your efforts to war against the worst aspects of your country’s Environment have planted seeds of Fields-to-come. You are my chosen Disciples—my Tenders of the Garden of my Faith.”

Kael and Foeen felt wonder and confusion equally.

When Vezelun hadn’t spoken for a number of minutes, they invited him to their cave.

Nine months later, their hearts completely full of love—their minds brimming with their new Mission, they walked down the hills with Vezelun…

They continued to walk—walked to the palace of the King…

The guards challenged them at the gate—Vezelun raised his hand in a gesture of blessing and the guards opened the gate.

They walked unchallenged to the Royal Throne.

The King was struck dumb at their approach.

He stood and said, “I believe I know you two young men—Alunder described all his cohort, in fine detail, as the hot irons were applied—you’re the leaders of the crazed anti-war movement; but, you, wizened old man, who are you?”

“I am the Promised One, your Deliverer, O King.”

“My, my, another delusional religionist.”

He called his guards and continued, “Take this old man to the Royal Courtyard and chain him to the tree my distant ancestors planted—invite the people to ridicule him. And, let these young, crazed men go; but, first, burn my mark of revulsion on their brows.”

Vezelun lived for a month, chained to the tree, wasting in body; but, delivering exultant discourses that enchanted many of the rabble that came to revile him.

Kael and Foeen traveled the country, all sectors and districts, surrounded by a Field that didn’t stop taunts and stones; but, kept them from fatal harm—traveled, eventually to the East when the War fizzled-out from sheer exhaustion.

Kael and Foeen spoke to receptive souls—taught the doctrines of Vezelun to those ready to hear—love, a complete lack of contention, service to all—seeds that would sprout in some, bringing them to minister privately to others—seeds that would live on in some, be passed on to their offspring, to sprout in the next generation.

Kael and Foeen continued for many years to spread these seeds from a Field that transcended their efforts—transcended time and space—grew to envelop the lands—grew into a span of Peace that lasted thousands of years—a Peace that was displaced by new Wars, only to rise up stronger, more vigorous—continuing across the Eons, expressing the Desire of the Supreme Will of the Worlds…

~~~~~~~~~

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