by Rob Steiner
Despite the stunning news that Dylan Edoss had been deposed as Speaker of the Compact, Taran could not make himself concentrate on the argument Edoss was having with the Tuathan leaders over who was the Compact’s legitimate leader.
The books and artifacts that filled the Tuathan library were too distracting.
He stood on the platform above the library, staring at shelves that held thousands of leather-bound books, scroll tubes, and loose pieces of parchment. Along the entire length of the wall with the windows on the right were five-shelf cases that held intricately designed bowls, and small statues of men, women, and strange creatures. There were white and black scepters made of stone, and clubs that seemed hastily carved from driftwood. Crowns of gold glinted in the meager light from the windows, while crowns of ivy looked as fresh as if they had been picked this morning.
Here was the collected knowledge and art of a culture that had disappeared from Recindia a thousand years ago, and had existed for a thousand years before that. Taran wanted to run down and read every book and inspect every artifact. This was one of humankind’s greatest treasures.
He did not hear Fatimah approach until she spoke. “I believe I would have the same look on my face if I stood in one of your libraries,” she said.
“There’s nothing magical about Recindian libraries,” Taran said. “You won’t find any bowls that make you understand foreign languages or windows that show you what is happening hundreds of miles away.”
“All vessels containing wisdom are magical,” Fatimah said, “even if they are not blessed with the Aspects. The knowledge contained in your libraries is just as valuable and just as interesting as the knowledge down there.”
Taran smiled. “I suppose you’re right.”
He glanced beyond her shoulder. A book sat on a stone pedestal similar to the one which held the Crucible. It was two hands long and a hand and a half wide, bound in brown leather with a symbol on the cover that Taran recognized.
“I know that book,” he said, hurrying past Fatimah toward the pedestal. It was the same book he had in his basement office. It was the book with blank pages and symbols on the cover that he could never decipher.
He looked back at Fatimah. “I have a copy of this in Calaman.”
Fatimah’s mouth opened in shock. “You have a copy of the Book of Ahura?”
“The ‘Book of Ahura,’” Taran said, staring at it. “Yes, I’m sure of it. But the pages are all blank, and I could never decipher the runes on the cover. What is it?”
“It is the only book known to us that tells us how to Wield the Aspects of Ahura as the ancient Tuathans did. For a thousand years our copy has also been blank. But when the Barrier fell, the words suddenly flared onto the page.”
Fatimah stepped forward, opened the book, and gently turned the old pages. Every page displayed words, diagrams, tables, and hand drawn pictures in all colors. Taran even recognized the script in which it was written—a stylized calligraphic version of ancient Tuathan.
“May I?” Taran asked. Fatimah nodded, smiling at his eagerness.
Taran turned each page as if it was made of spider webs, but to his surprise the pages felt as sturdy as any page in a book published in the Compact. The copy in Calaman was the same, which had been one of the things that sustained Taran’s faith in the Mystics. For how could a book a thousand years old stay in such good condition without magic?
“How many copies were made?” Taran asked Fatimah as he studied an index in the front of the book.
“We do not know,” she said, “but we believe it was not many. When the Barrier went up and my ancestors retreated into the Beldamark, they lost almost every book and artifact they had created. What you see in our library is all they could save, a mere fraction of what once existed. Even copies of the Book of Ahura, the very book that would help us remember our abilities, could not be saved.”
Taran shook his head. “I could spend years studying this one book.” He suddenly laughed. “It looks like I will. I have my own copy.”
Fatimah looked uncomfortable. “The Tuatha will need that copy if we are to regain our strength and become what we used to be. The Fomorians are already becoming more powerful than—”
“Fomorians?” Taran asked.
“What you call the harrowers,” she said. “Fomorians were like the Tuatha once, but thousands of years ago they chose to follow Angra. Harrowers are their creations, slaves who were once people, warped and twisted and tortured by Angra until they become—”
“Fatimah!” Ollis Gray strode over to them, his brow furrowed, his glare resting on Taran. He reached to the Book of Ahura and slammed it shut. “This is not for your eyes,” he said to Taran.
“Dr. Abraeu,” Edoss called from the top of the stairs leading down to the library’s lower levels, “we’re leaving.”
“Leaving?” Taran asked. “We just got here.”
“We invited the Speaker of the Recindian Compact,” Ollis said. “Mr. Edoss is no longer the Speaker, therefore he is no longer welcome.”
Taran looked at Fatimah, who in turn stared at Melahara with shock. Melahara glared at Ollis’ back, but she said nothing.
“You mean we have to leave the Beldamark?”
Ollis turned and walked to the stairs where Edoss was standing. He passed the Speaker—former Speaker—without looking at him, then said over his shoulder, “Fatimah, please take the Recindians back to their encampment. They need their rest for their return journey tomorrow morning.”
Fatimah said to Melahara, “Holy Seat?”
“Do as he says,” Melahara said, then turned to Edoss. “I apologize, but the Worldly Seat has final authority in all governing matters. You must take a message back to your new Speaker asking her to come here.”
Edoss shook his head. “I will be back, once I’ve sorted out this mess in my country. But if I don’t come back, nobody else will. Adellia is an initiated Pathist Teacher. She will never come here. It would be an admission that supernaturalism is a real force in the world. If you understand anything about us, you must know that’s something she cannot admit.”
Melahara smiled wearily. “Some among my people have the same sort of…bias about you. As the Worldly Seat just demonstrated.” Then she said to Fatimah, “Escort our guests back to their camp.”
Fatimah bowed her head, then asked Edoss and the other Recindians to follow her. Taran could not hold back his anger and frustration at the turn of events.
“This is ridiculous,” he said, not moving. “We’ve come too far and endured too much to get here. We can’t go back without at least learning who you are, what you can do. And you can learn from us. We have a lot to offer you. We can give you food, technology to keep you warm in the winters—”
“Dr. Abraeu,” Edoss said in a commanding tone.
“No!” Taran shouted. “We can’t go back without them! Mara will die.”
Taran closed his mouth, and then sat down on a bench nearby, his head in his hands. He would not go back to Calaman empty-handed, not when his daughter’s life depended on him. He remembered Fatimah’s explanations that they could not heal diseases, but he would not think about that now. Maybe there was something in the Book of Ahura he possessed that would tell him something different. After all, Fatimah admitted that the Tuatha had only begun to learn about the powers the ancient Mystics possessed. Perhaps there was something in the Book that enabled them to cure diseases.
There had to be.
There was a soft hand on his shoulder, and he looked up to see Fatimah regarding him with sympathy. “I will come to your camp later on and we can talk about whatever you want.”
Taran saw Edoss’s three Shadarlak standing behind her, looking at him as if they were trying to decide how they would carry him out.
Taran sighed, then stood and followed Fatimah, Edoss, and the other Recindians down the stairs, with the Shadarlak behind him.
Taran took in the entire library and tried to burn it into his memory. It might be the last time he saw it, and he wanted to remember it. For the first time in his life, he gave a silent prayer to Ahura.
Don’t let Mara die because of my failure here.