Shallice and Morband: Chapter 9

Paltrus handed the wine pouch back to Mr. Why and stood, feeling his strength growing with every movement.  The two men returned to the party, and together they walked up the spiral staircase until they came to the hatch leading to the roof.  Mr. Why motioned for Paltrus to first enter the hatch.  The men moved aside to allow Paltrus through.

As Paltrus opened the hatch, he was struck by a familiar fragrance.  It was the fragrance of the summer air in Dhelian.  So high up in this tower, the fragrances of bakeries and blossoming plants were absent, and Paltrus could detect only the air itself.  It was, he believed, the smell of purity.  Memories of Dhelian and the Dhelius came into his mind, and with them the sympathies he learned for most of his life.  He remembered seeing his father working diligently with his stargazing equipment.  He remembered how much his astrological work benefited the entire kingdom, and how he was always extraordinarily adept and precise in predicting the flow of seasons and the rise and fall of kingdoms.

Paltrus climbed through the open hatch and saw, as he expected, a calm summer night.  As he looked across the roof, he saw the backside of his father, sitting in a chair and adjusting a spherical astrolabe.  His concentration was divided between the astrolabe and the sky, which was brilliantly filled with stars.  The king was carefully charting the movement of the planets and drawing complex diagrams with a compass and straightedge.  The glow of the moon was bright enough to make everything visible.  Paltrus felt as though even the quiet was visible, or at the very least visibly demanded by the moonlight.  He dare not disrespect the demand.

He came up behind his father, not intending to disturb his work.  He looked at the many diagrams of constellations which were far beyond his own capabilities.  Beside the diagrams were pages of notes regarding future weather conditions and political troubles and even resolutions to those troubles.  Paltrus’ admiration for his father’s work was renewed.

After Paltrus watched for a few minutes, the king noticed his presence.  He turned towards Paltrus with a confused expression.

“Your face is familiar.”

“I am your son, Paltrus.”

“Oh yes.  What are those filthy rags that you are wearing?  I did not recognize you in them.”

Paltrus looked down at his clothes and saw that his armor was now dirty sackcloth, and he was ashamed for his father to see this.

“Why are you with those people there?” the king said.  He looked towards the hatch and Paltrus turned to see his party, also in sackcloth clothing.  Paltrus turned back to face the king, who looked at him with fatherly concern.  “Do you not know that they are from the unknown lands to the south?”

“They tell me that these are the unknown lands,” said Paltrus.

The king laughed a kindhearted laugh and said, “Oh, now, that’s something I’ve not heard before.”  He then stood, smiled at Paltrus, and said, “Come, we will kill a fatted calf to celebrate your safe return.  I will have someone dispose of the barbarians.”

Paltrus was now comforted that his world was now to return to what he had known.  His relief was reflected by the release of tension in his muscles, and the beginnings of a smile.

“Do not be deceived, sir!” said Wolvus.  Paltrus turned to look at Wolvus and saw that the party was now again in their armor.  He turned back to the king, who was still smiling, happy to see his son.

The king then unhinged his jaw and opened his mouth wide.  The high-pitched, deafening scream paralyzed Paltrus from fear.  As Paltrus watched the king scream, he saw that his teeth grew to be inhumanly sharp, his beard and most of his hair dissolved, his crown became black, his skin became a sickening color, and his eyes retreated into his head, leaving only dark sockets.  A blast of lightning revealed the pouring rain, and the stars disappeared.

The monster raised his left arm and some weapon materialized in his hand.  The weapon itself could not be seen because it was surrounded by a black smoke.  The weapon quickly moved to land on Paltrus, who raised his shield at the last moment.  The force of the weapon was powerful and knocked Paltrus to the ground.  Another scream was followed by a second blow, which Paltrus dodged by rolling out of its path.  The weapon crashed into the water collecting on the ground, and in his panic, Paltrus nearly drowned in the water as it rushed towards him.

Paltrus stood and faced the monster in terror, who turned to him and again screamed maniacally.  Paltrus struggled to remain conscious.

Then he heard a familiar voice, that of the One, say “Do not be afraid.  You are in a Mighty Fortress.”  Without understanding the reason, Paltrus became calm as he watched the monster raise up his arm and swing his Un weapon at him.  Paltrus did not raise his shield or sword against the monster, and the weapon landed on his arm.  He did not feel any pain, and he was entirely unharmed.  Though the monster was still screaming, it brought no pain to Paltrus’ ears.

The creature summoned a great deal of strength to force a particularly powerful blow directly on the top of Paltrus’ head.  Like all of the other blows, it did not harm Paltrus in the least, and this time the feedback from the blow knocked the creature down onto the ground.  Paltrus looked, and he saw that the eyes of the creature, the eyes of his father, came back into their sockets.

“You would defy your own father?  You would deny your own family and rebel against your nation?” said the king.

Paltrus thought again of the many oaths he had taken to protect his nation and his king.  The nation was to be put before his own life.  His king was to be obeyed, and his father respected.  Those oaths were now shattered.  “You were an oathbreaker before that,” he remembered Mr. Why telling him.

Paltrus refocused his attention on the king and said, “I have no interest in your arbitrary notions of honor.”

The monster’s eyes then fell out of its sockets and onto the ground.  It then stood and desperately continued to scream and strike Paltrus, who merely watched and pitied the creature.  Eventually, the creature released one more desperate scream and then enveloped itself in its own mouth.  There was now nothing remaining; the creature had gone out of existence.

Paltrus looked at the table where he once saw an astrolabe and astrological diagrams.  He now saw a mutilated body and papers that had been destroyed by the rain.  The rain and lightning then stopped and Paltrus turned to his party.

“Is our task complete?” Paltrus said.

“No, there is much more to do,” said Mr. Why.

Mr. Why and the rest of the party then began to climb down the hatch and Paltrus followed.  They descended the staircase and came to the room in which the body of Polius lay half-eaten.  Hanging on the walls of the room were corpses of people that had been strung up and left to die some time ago.  Also in the room were many cruel devices of torture in place of furniture.  The party merely walked through the room and into the passageway.

They then walked through a door and onto a terrace, where they looked down from the hill to the city below.  The clouds had cleared and the smoke coming from the chapel had lessened.  The sun was rising and Paltrus could see the ruins of the entire city.

“Why did our own knight turn against us?” Paltrus said.

“He was deceived,” said Mr. Why.  “It is a devastating reality at times.  There are some that always see the Crystal City, and never the Celestial City.”

“I think he really believed that he saw and understood the One.”

“Most do.”

“How do I know that I am not as he was?  How do I know that I see things as they are?”

“Never trust your own judgment, but never question the judgment of the One.”

“How will I know that I correctly understand the judgment of the One?”

“You can never be certain of this.  But follow what He says and understand His Words as best as your abilities will allow.  Your abilities will be highly limited while in the world of Extension, but He will strengthen you.”

Paltrus contemplated this, then said, “Before he turned against us, he told me not to pray while in the Black Chapel.  He said that we do not want the enemies to hear our prayers.”

Mr. Why shook his head emphatically.  “No. There is no time that does not specifically call for prayer.  Every moment is bettered with that aid, and it is never unsafe.  Never cease to pray.”

“Would the Ministers of Un have heard the prayers while we were in the Black Chapel?”

“That is very likely, though I do not know for certain.”

“If they could possibly have heard them, would it not have been safer to stop prayer at that moment?”

“We have no need to keep them from knowing what we know.  We do not need to deceive them.  We do not need to be cunning as they are; we only need to be truthful.”

Paltrus continued to look at the city below.  He saw that most of the people were hiding from the sunrise behind whatever remaining walls were standing, while some were peeking around those walls to see the sun.

“What do we do now that the Dhelius is destroyed?”

“We will tend to the people,” said Mr. Why.  “We will show them what their king really was.  Some will come with us to Shallice.  Others will refuse to believe us, and I am not exactly certain of what they will do.  I expect, though, that they will fragment themselves into different sects and rebuild the Dhelian Empire, though not quickly. I think it will happen very similarly to the building of the first Dhelian.  Patriotism will be destroyed and reborn under a different flag with a different identity many times over.  Unquestioned heroes will become unquestioned villains, and unquestioned villains will become unquestioned heroes.  It will have a different flag, a different name, different rulers, different ideas, and different superficial goals.  Eventually, they will use the guise of peace to rebuild the Dhelian tyranny as it was yesterday.  Even before they come to that, it will still be Morband.  It was Morband since the Flame first came to Arrburdak, and it will not cease to be Morband until the last days.”

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