Summer had come and gone since the successful liberation of the first of the lost Swords of Cerathil from the Madorine King Curlicca. Now a harsh winter had set in and this made life even more miserable. A dormant volcano that housed the golden temple to Rindor did nothing to hold back the snow, the heat of the magma confined to a lake far below the rock basin.
Coinin Wulf was thin and short, with blond hair that had darkened as he had aged, and hazel eyes that shone brightly with youth. Several months prior, he had partaken in an initiation ceremony that sealed his destiny as guardian of the sacred temple, and had exercised his duties as Curator at the Brotherhood of the Wulf temple without his usual vigour for life. He had merely offered token service, his mind focused solely on his brother and his whereabouts. Even daily instruction in the magical arts by Archmage Menin held no appeal and felt more like chores to him.
Lack of news concerning the abduction of his brother Marrok by pirates had driven him into despair over the past several months. He had suffered a recurring dream for weeks that showed Marrok trapped in a dark confined cell, and this knotted his insides like an ever-present torment. Marrok’s clothes were dirty and each time Coinin saw him, he appeared to be in prayer. If he were indeed seeing Marrok alive, then it was a blessing and gave him hope that he may yet find him, that is if Archmage Menin would consent to the search he longed to perform.
Where was his brother, and why were the gifts given to him by the gods unable to locate him? He had tried a dozen times without success to use the bond Lord Rindor had bestowed upon them, the unique connection between he and Marrok that enabled him to locate his sibling wherever he may be in the land.
He had searched him out before in this manner, once as a child, and twice several months ago during and following an attack by giants and goblins on the Brotherhood’s temple.
His ability to focus his mind and search out Marrok seemed to be blocked by grief. Either that, or his brother was so far away that he just could not be traced.
He had learnt, following a conversation with General Jonjo, that Marrok’s kidnappers had demanded that he accompany them to a location unknown, to speak with an unidentified entity. Jonjo found himself unable to supply an identity for that someone, and the only leads he had were the Captain’s name, Wilhelmina Kelley, and the pirate ship Blackheart, upon which Marrok had been taken.
Coinin did not now blame Jonjo for permitting his brother to be taken against his will, as he had initially. Jonjo had explained that his men were in danger and Marrok had been told that if he went quietly, then no one else needed to be hurt.
Coinin felt pride that Marrok had chosen the lives of others over himself. This was an unusual trait for his brother to display, but Coinin knew his sibling had already begun to change his character thanks to his renewed faith in the gods.
The day before, a celebration to honour his eighteenth birthday had been held in the Great Hall, however, Coinin had left early, unable to bring himself to enjoy the moment without Marrok present. He now sat on the edge of his bed, moping, when a knock at the door disturbed his peace.
‘Who is it?’ he asked.
A muffled reply prompted him to rise stiffly from the bed, storm to the door, and then wrench it open.
An elderly man on the other side of the door looked taken back, and Coinin returned a sheepish look at his rudeness.
‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have greeted you in that manner,’ Coinin apologised.
The gentleman was Prentis, the temple architect, and he smiled in a ‘think nothing of it’ manner. An elderly man with a very lined face, and fingers calloused from years of chiseling marble into intricate structures.
‘Good day Curator Wulf. If I may, I have something to show you,’ said Prentis with a mysterious air. He bounced on the balls of his feet and appeared to be excited.
‘I don’t have time right now, Prentis.’ Coinin shrugged.
‘Archmage Menin has given me leave to show you something tremendous. Your studies will wait,’ Prentis smiled.
Coinin sighed and reached for his cloak. He donned it, closed the door to his chambers, and then locked it. ‘Lead on then friend,’ he gestured, and nodded to his personal guard Aniol, who had waited patiently outside of his room since cockcrow that morning. She was the same height, if not slightly taller than Coinin now, and had filled out into a more feminine shape. Her former commander had been correct, and she had indeed grown into her armour and tunic. She wore her auburn hair longer, now that she guarded the Curator and was no longer tied to the parade ground for normal active service.
Prentis slowly led Coinin and Aniol out of the temple and into the bright sunshine of a fresh winter day. They squinted at the low sun and shielded their eyes. The sight before them radiated beauty and magnificence, and a pure white blanket of snow covered everything. Treetops that peeked over the top of a high wall that encircled the temple appeared weighed down and looked about ready to shed their heavy loads. Coinin had had the misfortune to venture under such a tree a week ago and had found himself covered head to foot in a thick layer of snow as the tree finally gave way to its weight.
Down the steps and along the main walkway from the temple he spotted a group of workers, wrapped up warm. Blue with cold, they stamped their feet or blew icy hands, but greeted Coinin enthusiastically as he approached.
‘Here we are then,’ said Prentis, stopping opposite a covered statue that stood next to his father’s own.
At a nod from Prentis, several workers deftly removed the statue’s protective covering to reveal a bright marble effigy that gleamed in the winter sun. Prentis looked proudly at his creation and then turned to Coinin.
‘My greatest achievement.’ Prentis swung his arm to indicate the statue.
Coinin rounded Prentis and looked up at the visage of his brother Marrok. He shot a questioning look at the old architect.
‘It is in his honour,’ Prentis smiled happily.
Coinin stared blankly for a minute, and then turned without word and headed back to the temple as fast as his limp would allow. Aniol shrugged to the old man, and raced after her charge. Prentis looked crestfallen; he had expected Coinin to react quite differently to his creation.
Not a sound reached his ears in the Temple, each of its occupants busy with daily chores, or prayers. He marched straight to the Great Hall, bypassed several witches in the process of rearranging the furniture, and nodded to Zaruun, the Archmage’s personal guard, as ever on duty outside of her chambers. Zaruun opened the door to Archmage Menin’s suite and waited for Coinin to pass. He then closed the door to bar the way once more, while Aniol stood with the guard and waited.
Coinin took a deep breath and knocked at an inner door that led to Menin’s office. He could hear muffled voices coming from the other side, so he knocked again, and the voices silenced. He heard footsteps and then a moment later the door opened, and Laliala Menin stood there with a frown on her face. She wore her finest robes, the ones she used for special occasions, and her hair that had begun to grey severely was hanging loose around her shoulders. He wondered if the greying happened to all Archmages, or if it was simply that she was already quite old. Her green eyes flicked about his face searching for signs as to why he stood there.
‘Oh, it is you Curator. Come in. I shall be but a moment and then we can talk.’ She ushered Coinin inside the ordered chaos of her office. Every square centimetre of wall was adorned with portraits of former Archmages, and a hodgepodge of furniture was scattered here and there, reflecting her taste.
His favourite piece was the desk, made from exquisite eagle wood, and decorated with the delicate carvings of strange lettering, the same he had seen in some of the books he had read over the previous months. He had been told that it was part of a very ancient language, one which he would soon begin studies in to enable him to harness the power of the words in his magic.
His tuition in the magical arts had for the most part gone quite well, and he had progressed to the satisfaction of Archmage Menin. They had engaged daily in his instruction, and the first month he had spent focused on the extraction of energy from the elemental forces contained within and surrounding Er’ath. He had found it difficult at first, but Menin reassured him that he would be able to use his new abilities to do magic beyond his wildest imaginings.
Sat in front of Menin’s handsome desk, an overfed man of around fifty looked at him intently. He had come dressed in purple and green finery, and a grey floppy hat with a badge of office sewn into it shielded his eyes. He sweated profusely, despite the cold, and dabbed at his brow with a square of linen. He stood as Coinin entered and turned to face the newcomer.
Menin pulled Coinin back to the moment. ‘Curator? I do not believe you have met Chancellor Rhyop from Rostha.’
Coinin stretched out his hand and received a somewhat moist handshake in return. ‘A pleasure to meet you Curator,’ said the portly Chancellor, although the face did not denote pleasure.
‘Likewise,’ said Coinin with disinterest.
‘We were just finalising the details for this year’s wine trade, and I think we have reached an agreement. Please allow me to show you out, Chancellor.’ Menin took him by the arm and escorted the man from the room.
Coinin sat at one of the comfortable chairs opposite Menin’s desk and played with his fingernails impatiently. Several minutes later, to his frustration, Menin returned and closed the door quietly.
‘What a repulsive man Rhyop is. I know I should not speak ill of him, but he is detestable. Quite how he is still in office I do not know,’ said Menin. She crossed the room and sat opposite Coinin. ‘But you didn’t come here to talk about him. How can I help you Curator?’
Coinin bit his lip. He was angry, deeply angry, and it certainly showed on his face. Since he was addressing the Archmage in an official capacity, he switched to a more formal way of speaking expected of him as Curator. ‘Can you tell me why is there a statue of my brother outside?’ he asked.
‘It is in his honour. All of our great warriors are honoured thus,’ Menin replied.
‘What has Marrok done that is so great, except to get himself kidnapped?’ Coinin spat.
Menin looked at him worriedly. ‘What is the matter Coinin?’
‘It is like you have given up on him, like the statue is a kind of memorial,’ Coinin wailed.
‘That is not so. I thought you would be pleased that we hold him in such high esteem.’
‘Well, I am not pleased. It has been seven months, not a word of him has reached our ears and for too long now you have prevented me from looking for him. Do you intend for me to find him or not?’ Coinin challenged.
‘Of course I want to find Marrok.’ Menin looked hurt. ‘However, the Swords of Cerathil have to take precedence.’
‘The swords? All you think about is the swords. Marrok is important too,’ Coinin said.
‘Of course he is important, but what is the point of finding Marrok and not the swords, if we are all to die in less than four years time?’
‘You told me,’ Coinin yelled, ‘that we could not find the swords without him.’
Menin stood now, outraged at his outburst. ‘Do not presume you can talk to me like a petulant child.’
Coinin found himself shocked into silence at the sound of her voice. It was the same one she would use to command her subordinates when she had been Curator of the temple. He bit his lip, and then lowered his head at the scolding.
Menin paced the room, agitated at his actions. ‘You dare come into my presence and insult me so. I ought to strip you of your title and cast you out. I told Archmage Orodor that you were too young for this position,’ she fumed.
Coinin kept quiet. He had not meant to offend Menin, he was still very upset over the disappearance of Marrok, and this drove his actions to his detriment.
Menin stopped pacing and cocked her head as if listening to someone whispering in her ear, and then grunted in response. She turned to Coinin. ‘I am sorry that was unfair. It seems Orodor sees the pain in your heart and has offered a solution to our problems.’
Coinin looked up slowly. ‘And that is?’ he asked confused. She had spoken to no one.
‘Orodor and I have conversed on this matter at length over the past few months, and we seem to be in agreement today. It would make sense for Lordich Secracar to have abducted your brother. He had wanted to use General Jericho as a spy for him, so why not your brother?’ Menin once again sat at her desk. ‘You think me unsympathetic to your plight, but I understand only too well. I have lost hundreds of brothers and sisters over the years, in one fight or another, and I feel no less pain at Marrok’s disappearance. Therefore, it has been decided that you will seek out Lordich and find Marrok, as it seems you are indeed correct, the prophecy says both of you will find the swords.’
‘I am sorry Laliala, my intention was never to-’
‘Say no more of it,’ Menin interrupted. ‘What is of importance is to find the Swords of Cerathil, and if that means we need to locate Marrok first, then so be it.’
Coinin wept quietly, the release of anguish sudden and unexpected, and he noted the moist eyes of the Archmage. ‘Thank you Laliala.’
‘I suggest you speak with General Jericho, and see if he can shed some light on Lordich’s location.’
‘I will do that right away, thank you, but I have one small thing to do first.’ Coinin stood and wiped his eyes.
‘Very well. Please come and see me when you are ready to depart, I would like to know your plan before you enact it.’
‘Certainly.’ Coinin felt a warm feeling begin to flood him. He had been given leave to search out his brother, and quite possibly bring to justice the man who had attempted to destroy the Brotherhood by striking at the heart of its spiritual home several months ago. Without further word he left, closing the door behind him, and stepped into the Great Hall.
Aniol had rested her feet while sitting on a pew to the left of the door, and immediately jumped to attention at Coinin’s sudden appearance. She looked sheepish, and gave him a little grin. He returned the grin secretly, out of sight of Zaruun, and shook his head. The older guard looked less than impressed at her actions.
‘Don’t worry Zaruun, I’ll make her wash my floors with a small hand brush,’ said Coinin. ‘Twice.’
Zaruun brightened visibly at this, satisfied that the insubordinate Aniol would receive some form of punishment. Fastidious concerning his own duties, he reasoned that everyone else should follow suit.
He nodded goodbye and walked quickly from the Great Hall, followed closely by Aniol. As soon as they were out of earshot, he turned to her. ‘You do attract trouble don’t you?’ he asked.
‘I’m sorry, my feet are sore, the cobbler hasn’t made my new boots yet, so my toes are crushed,’ said Aniol apologetically.
‘Do you not have any sandals?’ Coinin asked.
‘Sandals, in this weather?’ Aniol looked at him oddly.
‘Well, ok, maybe not sandals then,’ he laughed.
He led Aniol outside once more and strode to where Prentis looked forlornly at the statue of Marrok. Coinin marched up to the elderly architect and patted him on the shoulder to indicate his presence.
Prentis scowled at him and said nothing. It was obvious Coinin had upset him deeply.
‘Prentis, I’m sorry that I rushed off like that, it was rude of me,’ Coinin said in an attempt to appease the man.
‘It was indeed very rude. I have half a mind to dismantle the statue and leave the space empty,’ Prentis huffed. ‘This was my attempt to thank your brother for his valiant efforts.’
‘Again, I apologise. I thought you had created it to honour his memory, almost as if you’d given up on him.’
‘Nonsense, it is a statue to honour the living, as was your father’s.’ Prentis brightened a little. ‘Do you think I caught his likeness?’
Coinin stood back and then circled the statue, contemplating Prentis’s work. He noted that the chin appeared to be not quite right, perhaps a little too square, but he would not reveal this to Prentis; he had already upset the man once today.
‘I have to say; I have never seen Marrok looking finer. You caught him perfectly.’ Coinin smiled.
Prentis looked happy and shook Coinin by the hand. ‘Well, I guess I need to work on yours next, but first there is the unveiling ceremony to organise.’ Prentis indicated to his workers that they should cover the likeness once more.
‘Oh, there is no need to do that. Perhaps we should wait until Marrok returns,’ said Coinin, and for the briefest of moments he saw it there in Prentis’s eyes, a disbelief that Marrok would return.
‘You have much to learn young one, and the first thing you need to understand is that we use every excuse to party,’ Prentis winked. ‘Besides, would you deprive an old man the chance to show off his finest work?’
Coinin refrained from an outward show of annoyance. Eager to set off and find Marrok, he was irritated that here was yet another delay.
Aniol sensed his frustration and stepped between them. ‘We’d be delighted to attend the ceremony,’ she smiled, and then turned to Coinin and gave him her best ‘comply with me’ look. Coinin faked a smile and nodded his assent.
Prentis looked simply overjoyed at the thought, and walked away with a positive spring in his step. He snapped his fingers for his workers to follow him, and whistled a merry tune as he went.
Coinin rounded on Aniol. ‘Why did you say we’d attend? I have pressing matters to attend to.’
‘Preparations for your departure will take some time. I can prepare most things for you while you attend the ceremony.’
‘How do you know-’
‘You have talked of finding Marrok and nothing else for the past several months,’ Aniol interrupted. ‘You left Archmage Menin’s office all smiles, a different person to the one I saw this morning. It’s an educated guess that you have been given leave to seek him out.’
‘Well reasoned, you are correct. I am to seek out Marrok and I’m going to need help to do so. First we need to speak to Jericho.’
‘General Jericho? Why?’
‘He knows the location of Lordich’s lair,’ Coinin replied. ‘He should be drilling the troops by this time.’
Aniol looked up at the position of the sun, and then turned to Coinin impressed. ‘You’re really getting the hang of this! Did you read the sun?’
‘No, nothing as complex as that. Every morning he drills the troops outside of my bedroom window until midday. I get no peace,’ Coinin smiled.
Aniol shook her head and wondered if this boy would ever truly fit in and use the skills he had been taught by Archmage Menin. ‘Come on then, let’s go find him.’
They skirted the perimeter of the golden temple and bypassed the balcony upon which he spent most of his time in contemplation of his life and how it would have been very different if he and Marrok had not accepted the summons to the temple all those months ago. He would never have learnt that Death had a plan to add himself to the Scroll of Life, and this would permit him to ascend to the heavens and challenge his brother Rindor to rule. He would not have been tasked with finding the Swords of Cerathil, which Rindor decreed must be reunited once every thousand years to bind his rule, and Marrok would not have been abducted. As it was, he did know these things, and he could do nothing about them except to fulfil his destiny, but in order to do that, he needed Marrok.
He stopped to rub his ankle, the same ankle that had been broken in a vicious duel some months ago when he had been possessed by Death. The entity within him had used his body to duel Archmage Menin, and as a result he had ended up in the infirmary severely injured. Now he walked with a permanent limp.
Aniol, several steps ahead, stopped and rejoined him. ‘Are you okay?’ she asked.
‘Yes, just a little ankle pain,’ Coinin replied a little stiffly.
‘Should I fetch the General?’
He briefly considered sending for Jericho, but felt that it would be better if he approached the General himself. He was, after all, going to ask the man for assistance. He had learned that people are less likely to be forthcoming if they have been summoned.
‘No, I’ll be fine. I have to use the leg sometime,’ he grimaced.
With one final rub of his leg, he straightened and followed Aniol once more. He waved cheerfully to several worshippers as they passed, and gave polite little nods. Another minute later they had rounded the temple and ahead of them they saw the familiar figure of General Jericho striding up and down in front of a line of soldiers who looked fed up and extremely cold. He had lost weight as a result of the loss of his wife, and appeared very drawn about the face.
Jericho heard them crunching across the gravel pathway and turned to greet them. ‘Curator, a surprise inspection?’ he asked.
‘No, not at this time. I need to speak with you privately,’ Coinin replied formally.
Jericho nodded and turned back to his troops. ‘Lieutenant Reena, please take over where I left off. The Curator wishes to speak with me.’
Coinin had not spotted her until then, and looked at Reena dreamily, still caught up in her beauty. That was until Aniol nudged him in the ribs. ‘Put your tongue away, everybody’s watching,’ she said with a smirk.
‘You’re not funny Aniol. I could still yet have you clean my study floor.’ He inwardly chastised himself for his outward show of affection, and then the sadness that something he could never have churned his stomach. Archmage Menin had explained to him that since he was essentially an Archmage in training, he would never be free to marry or share his life with another. His devotion would be to Rindor and the Brotherhood. This had broken his heart tremendously, but he knew the importance of his position and role within the order, and had come to accept his path.
Jericho rejoined them moments later and the trio walked away quietly until they were out of earshot of the troops.
‘You said you wished to talk with me privately, Curator?’ Jericho asked.
‘Indeed, I wondered if you could tell me the location of the black tower.’
Jericho looked at Coinin quizzically, and with a cock of his head he smiled. ‘You want to go there?’ he said, and thought back to his imprisonment in the dungeons of a black tower on a lone island in the southern seas of Er’ath.
Coinin returned the smile. ‘I do, yes, and I would hope that you will join me.’
‘For what purpose do you set your sights on the tower?’ Jericho enquired.
‘Orodor, Menin, and I are in accord. We believe the likelihood that Lordich instigated the kidnap of Marrok is high, and he may be held at the tower.’
‘Knowing Lordich as I do, I do not believe he would have remained at the tower. Like the coward he is, he will have run with his tail between his legs.’ Jericho spat on the ground at the name of his former friend and now enemy. Lordich had kidnapped him and his wife, and then transported them to the island where his wife had been killed. He had learnt that Lordich desired the destruction of the Brotherhood of the Wulf, so that his own order of dragons would become the dominant religious order on the planet.
Coinin kicked at a snow drift that blanketed the grassed area which followed the pathway, and sent a cloud of white into the air. He knew what Jericho had said would likely prove to be correct, and the sudden excitement of the possibility of finding Marrok waned.
‘I know what you say may be true Jericho, yet there has to be a reason why Orodor would believe this to be the right course of action to take,’ Coinin offered.
Jericho stopped and looked out at the white coldness before him. ‘I suppose it would beat sitting on our hands here, and I am eager for some payback. The difficulty will be to locate the tower in the wide open sea, but luckily I am observant.’
Coinin brightened slightly. ‘So you will help?’ he asked.
‘Of course, without question. You only have to say the word, my Curator. This is going to take some planning though. When do you wish to leave?’
Coinin’s eagerness would see him set off immediately, but he knew preparations needed to be made, and would take time. ‘As soon as it is possible to do so. I would ask that you take charge of proceedings, and whatever you need, I’ll ensure you get it,’ he replied.
Jericho nodded and flicked a thumb in Aniol’s direction. ‘Would you mind if I borrow your guard for the morning? She will prove useful.’
Coinin looked to Aniol, and almost imperceptibly asked her permission with a drop of his eyebrows. She picked this up and nodded in agreement. They had grown so close over the preceding months, and could almost finish one another’s sentences, so that non-verbal communication between them had become quite prolific and handy in certain circumstances.
‘Aniol will do all that you ask, just don’t keep her too long please. Come and see me when you have finished.’
‘Very well. Aniol, please follow me.’ Without further word, Jericho strode off with what appeared to be the gait of a satisfied man.
Coinin reached down and grabbed a handful of snow and curled it into a tight ball. He took aim, and threw it at the disfigured statue of Lordich Secracar. It had the fortune to land squarely where the face would have been. ‘I’m coming for you Lordich, and I’ll not show mercy,’ he growled.
Jericho had marched ahead, and left Aniol to jog behind breathlessly. She had dug into her pack for a quill, ink and parchment in anticipation of orders. She was no fool; she had learnt to juggle each item expertly over the past months. She had fashioned a loop in her belt to hold the inkwell that had an unusually long neck to prevent spillage, and she rested upon a clay tablet to write. Coinin was full of orders and instructions, and she had learned to always be at the ready.
Jericho looked at her and chuckled. ‘Is this normal for you?’ he asked.
‘Curator Wulf may have a limp, but he can move when he chooses to. Even I have a hard time keeping up with him sometimes,’ Aniol responded.
‘Of that I’ve no doubt,’ Jericho nodded. ‘You do know you are there to guard him?’
‘Of course, but Curator Wulf says it’s valuable to him if I can help him keep a track of his thoughts and ideas,’ Aniol replied.
‘Fine then, if that’s what he wants, write this down. Our first stop is to consult with Axl, the cartographer. We need to find a suitable map, so that we can plot the course to the tower. Once I know where we’re headed, I’ll gather supplies and the manpower needed.’
Aniol listened intently, and wrote everything the General said on her parchment. Jericho shook his head and secretly smiled. He had always liked the girl; she had spirit and an eagerness not often seen amongst his troops. They could learn a lot from her, he thought. He led the way through cold marble corridors, and the air felt cooler indoors than out. The floors had been strewn with rushes to try and warm the ground underfoot, but did not really help. He shivered lightly and gripped his fur collar about him tightly. His breath fogged in front of his face and he blew warm breath into his numb fingers.
‘I do believe it’s getting colder,’ he said. ‘I hope it’ll be a little warmer in Axl’s study.’
Aniol paused a moment, and then scribbled out a sentence she had written with a scowl. ‘I’m sure he’ll have a roaring fire going for us,’ she commented.
Jericho turned the corner of one final corridor, and slipped swiftly down a marble circular stairwell and into the bowels of the temple. At the bottom, it was indeed less chilly; however, it was darker here. Reaching for an oil lantern he lit it from a wick situated in a holder fastened to the wall beside a torch that flickered nearby. He closed the delicate glass door and held his new light source aloft. The light sent dancing shadows across the walls and Aniol’s face.
‘Why these scholars insist on working down here in the dark, I don’t know,’ said Jericho.
‘I think it’s the peace and solitude. It can get quite hectic upstairs.’
‘It’s probably why they are all odd.’
‘Odd?’ Aniol asked.
‘Well, just look at Axl himself. An extraordinary young man, and all those inventions he’s endlessly tinkering with,’ Jericho replied. ‘A bit strange wouldn’t you say?’
Aniol tried unsuccessfully to hide a snigger as she pictured Axl in his study surrounded by a multitude of creations he had invented, and the shock of white hair, inherited from his father, that gave him a wild appearance. Every moment of her spare time she spent visiting Axl, she didn’t find him odd or strange at all. In fact she rather liked him.
Jericho led the way down a very dark corridor, lit very briefly by floor standing braziers that gave off a weak glow from within alcoves set at regular intervals. He was thankful he had chosen to use the oil lantern to light the way. At the far right of the solid stone corridor he turned right and after several metres, he turned right again, to stop outside of a shabby wooden door with a notice pinned to it. It read ‘Axl Thulomn - Cartographer’. Someone had roughly carved the words ‘and Inventor’ underneath. He had found the right place at least. There had been times that he had become lost in the rabbit warren of hallways and corridors under the great temple.
He did not bother to knock and opened the door. It squeaked as the bottom grated against the cold stone floor and set his teeth on edge. Stepping inside, he shook his head in wonder. Axl had managed to squeeze even more inside this small room since the last time he had visited. He had even begun to hang wooden models and other items tied with rope from the ceiling. Dozens of shelves lined the room complete with books, models of things he had invented, and instruments Jericho failed to hazard a guess as to the use. A long, low table occupied the centre of the room, and on it piled high were tubes and glass jars. In the middle, a cut-out had been formed through which a fire pit had been constructed. Over this hung an iron pot, the contents of which bubbled happily, yet gave off an acrid odour. Every other square inch of remaining wall was covered with diagrams and plans that Axl had drawn up on parchment. To the left as he entered, Jericho saw that a high leather armchair faced a pleasant fire that crackled and popped, but there were no signs of Axl.
‘Axl?’ Jericho called.
The armchair squeaked and Jericho crossed to it to see Axl sleeping, his mouth open to catch flies, his lips forming drool at the corners. His white hair was tousled and his cheeks glowed beneath dark skin.
‘Axl?’ Jericho called firmly, and then shook the young man.
Axl shot up, his wild hair bouncing around his head. ‘I was…I was just checking my eyelids for holes,’ he stumbled with a shocked expression, and proceeded to rub a crusty sleep from his eyes.
‘Sure you were.’ Jericho smirked. ‘Aniol and I have some questions for you, if you have a moment.’
Axl looked to Aniol and blushed lightly. ‘Hello Aniol,’ he said brightly and then turned to the General. ‘What can I do for you?’
‘This is a delicate matter, and none of what I say is to leave this room, understood?’
Axl nodded and crossed the room to retrieve two wooden stools, which he then placed beside the warming fire. He invited his guests to sit, and then sat once more in his armchair, his face serious.
‘Curator Wulf has been tasked with an undertaking to locate Lordich Secracar; however, we don’t know the exact location of the tower where I was held as a prisoner. With your skills as a map maker, perhaps you can assist us?’ Jericho said openly.
Axl frowned and stood. He placed a hand to his forehead and groaned. ‘The art of map making is an exact science, and a difficult one to master. What can you tell me about the tower?’
‘It’s situated on a small island in the southern oceans,’ Jericho replied.
Axl breathed out heavily. ‘That’s a lot of water, General. Do you have nothing else I can use to pinpoint the location?’
‘The stars told me we were travelling southwest and the sun was ahead of me during the day. The dragon set a moderate pace, I’d say one wing beat every two-seconds,’ Jericho answered. ‘I did drift to sleep and that may not have been consistent, but it’s all I have.’
Axl blanched. ‘How does a dragon come into this?’
‘Ah yes of course, not everyone knows. During the attack on the temple several months ago, I was taken against my will to a high black tower in the grasp of a dragon,’ Jericho responded. ‘That’s how Eraywen and I got there.’
Axl paced the room, and huffed and puffed at the almost impossible task before him. Somewhere in the miles upon miles of southern ocean, a tiny island waited to be discovered, and he had to find it. Jericho opened a leather sac attached to his belt and withdrew a tobacco pouch. From within his clothing he extracted a clay pipe. He packed it full of tobacco and lit it, and then silently puffed away while watching Axl with some amusement.
‘Assuming the dragon maintained the same speed and-’ Axl began, and then rushed to a set of shelves in the corner of the room and rooted around. He removed a long parchment and after he had cleared a space on his table, spread it out and secured it with weights at each corner. Studying the parchment in candlelight hurt his eyes but he persevered and began to make notes in a small leather bound notebook he had plucked from his robes. He dipped the end of his quill into an inkwell nearby, and then absently placed it into his mouth. The foul liquid was bitter to the tongue and he threw the quill down in frustration, placed his hands on the table, and hung his head low.
Aniol walked across the room and quietly stood beside him. She placed a hand on his arm and smiled up at him. This seemed to have a calming effect, and he returned the smile, and then flushed pink again.
‘Let’s work through it together,’ she said.
‘Thank you,’ Axl said, and then turned to face Jericho. ‘What time do you think it was that the dragon took you?’
Jericho took a couple of puffs on his pipe and blew a steady cloud of smoke that collected in the air around him. ‘At best guess I would say eight in the evening, give or take.’
Axl nodded and noted it down in his book. ‘And what time would you say that you arrived at the tower?’
‘Not long after sunup.’
Axl returned to his notebook. ‘Okay, this is good. We have a heading of sorts, but I do need to know how far a dragon will fly in a single wing beat. Without this knowledge it will be virtually impossible to determine the distance travelled.’
‘We are in luck; we are sitting on the world’s biggest library. Dragons may once have been thought extinct, but surely someone must have had knowledge of them?’ Aniol offered.
‘Then I think, young one, that you should take Axl to Curator Wulf and research this matter. I will finish the many other preparations needed,’ Jericho decided.
Aniol’s heart leapt at a chance to spend some time with Axl, and she nodded heartily. ‘Where will I find you once we have completed our task?’
‘That’s difficult to say. I would try the wharf. We will be transporting supplies there for most of the day.’
‘Very well.’ Aniol turned to Axl and grasped him by the hand. ‘Come with me.’
Aniol and Axl swiftly exited the room, and left Jericho alone. He smiled at the obviousness of Aniol’s affections for the young man.
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