The Last Banquet (Bell Mountain) (25 page)

BOOK: The Last Banquet (Bell Mountain)
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“We didn’t see it very well,” Ellayne said. “It was mighty dark out there.”

“We saw like Chillith sees: we saw without seeing,” Jack said.

“There are different kinds of darkness,” Martis said. “I think the kind I used to live in was the worst.” But he said no more about that, for the time being.


Helki and the Town

What happened was this.

Wytt understood much of what he heard men say, and he knew how to make the Forest Omah understand it. He met with the fathers of the Omah, and together they planned to attack the invaders as they slept.

It would be hard to explain why they so decided. Wytt would not have known how to explain it. But it had to do with Ellayne, and whatever she meant to them—a meaning that was written on their hearts where no words understood by human beings could find it.

Wytt had overheard the rangers talking about the Abnaks and their woodcraft: so the Omah sought out sleeping Abnaks and killed some of them. It wasn’t long before the camp awoke; and knowing nothing of the Omah, the Abnaks could only believe the dead men had been murdered by the other Heathen. Those who saw the little hairy Omah scampering away thought they were devils. To avenge their fellows, the Abnaks attacked the Wallekki and the Zeph, and a general fight broke out. The end of it was a burned-out camp, a hundred men killed outright, and the surviving Abnaks marching on to the next camp to bring the battle there. “Treason and witchcraft!” was their cry.

By mid-morning the rangers knew it was the Abnaks fighting with the other Heathen. This was all on the north side of the forest, but there were already Wallekki riders speeding to bring the tidings to the south-side camps. They would have to ride around the forest. Inside, runners brought the news to all the ranger camps.

“Are we saved?” Huell wondered. “There’s no love lost between Abnaks and Wallekki. Maybe the whole Heathen army will tear itself apart.”

Chillith heard him say it and replied, “The heaviest strokes have yet to fall.”



Helki and his Griffs had crossed to the south bank of the Imperial River and were moving east toward Caristun—or rather, what was left of it. Early in the summer the Heathen attacked it on their way to Obann. The town survived, but much of it had been burnt and ruined. Now refugees had returned to Caristun, trying to rebuild it. They weren’t happy to see Griffs.

“Peace, peace—we come in the king’s name and in God’s.” Helki stepped out in front of his men to confront a throng of fifty refugees armed with clubs and stones and makeshift spears.

“Who are you?” their leader demanded.

“My name is Helki. I come from Lintum Forest.”

“Helki? Is that Helki the Rod?” a woman cried. “The one they call the Flail of the Lord? Praise God you’ve come in time!”

Flail of the Lord—he’d first heard that from Jandra’s lips, in the prophetic voice. He didn’t like the name: it made him out to be something grander than he was.

“If you’re Helki the Rod, what are you doing with those Griffs?” a man said.

“These men have surrendered to me. They serve King Ryons, as I do,” Helki said. “But what do you mean, I’ve come in time? In time for what?”

The townspeople stopped brandishing their weapons and gathered around Helki. He didn’t like the way they marveled at him, as if he were an angel come to earth. They muttered about him killing the giant, stared wide-eyed at him. Their tattered clothes and hollow cheeks testified to poverty and hardship. They all tried to speak at once, until the biggest man among them got them to be quiet.

“It’s like this, sir,” he said. “We’re trying to make this town livable again before the winter comes; but now we see Heathen camps across the river. They’re all over the country between the north bank and Oziah’s Wood. They could cross over any day and burn us out again. And this time, that’d be the finish of us.”

“But now you’re here—the Giant-killer! Our prayers are answered,” said somebody else. “You won’t let them drive us out.”

“Oh, fry me!” Helki thought. “A dozen men and a dog—what are we? Maybe in the forest I could do something, but not out here.” But how could he say that to these people?

“Do you have any stock of food?” he asked.

An old man grinned at him. “It’s short rations,” he said, “but we aren’t going to starve. Believe it or not, there are a lot of nice, big fish in the river hereabouts, and we catch enough to keep us alive. And we have some onions and turnips stored in the cellars. There aren’t that many of us here—see?”

“How many?”

“Two hundred, counting children,” said the leader. “Fifty more or less able-bodied men. Some of the women will fight, if it comes to that. But the town has neither wall nor ditch. If the Heathen come, we don’t know how to keep them off.”

“And do you think I know?” Helki thought. But he said, “We’ll see what can be done. It’s all in God’s hands.”



The refugees had repaired some of the least-damaged barns and houses with lumber salvaged from the ruins. Much of Caristun was a forest of charred timbers pitched at crazy angles, but the living quarters seemed adequate. About half of the people now lived in the town hall, and the rest in half a dozen houses and a livery stable.

They took Helki to the ruins of the docks and bade him look across the Imperial. That country teemed with Heathen warriors, they said.

“A few of us have been across on boats,” said the leader. “We’ve seen the camps.”

“Do the Heathen have boats?” Helki asked.

“We haven’t seen any. They must have crossed over far upriver, where it’s not so wide. But they can always build rafts. If they want to come across, they’ll find a way to do it.”

“This is a bad place, Giant-slayer,” said Tiliqua—in Griffish, so that the townspeople wouldn’t understand him. “If we stay to help these people, all we can do is die with them.”

“I reckon it might come to that,” Helki answered. “But let’s try a few other things first.”


Gurun and Obst

Gurun was given her own room in the palace, with a Ghol to stand outside her door to guard her, and a maid to come in and wake her up in the morning and bring her breakfast. The Ghol didn’t speak a word of Obannese and only grinned at her when she tried to speak to him. His name was Kutchuk. The maid was a girl of her own age; Bronna was her name. She lived with her father and mother in the city. The first time she came into the room with a tray, she amazed Gurun by curtseying to her and calling her “my lady.”

“Why do you call me that, and why do you curtsey?” Gurun said, sitting up in bed—by far the most luxurious bed she’d ever slept in, or even imagined.

“Why, because the people call you Queen, my lady,” Bronna said.

“What people? Who says I’m a queen?”

“Everyone, my lady.”

“Well, that must come to an end right away,” Gurun said. “I am a plain girl, just like you. In my country there has never been a king or queen.”

“They said you came across the sea, my lady. No plain girl could do that!”

Gurun ate her breakfast hurriedly, eager to find someone in authority who would understand—and make it clear to everybody else—that she was nothing more than King Ryons’ guest. All this talk about her being a queen must stop! She was sure God would punish her if she ever started to believe it.

When she was ready, the maid and the Ghol took her to another room within this enormous building called a palace. There a tall, old man was waiting for her. This was Obst, the king’s teacher. She’d met him last night at supper.

“Sit down, sit down, be comfortable,” he said. “I was awake all night, looking forward to this meeting. Tell me all about your country, and how you came to Obann.”

“Where is King Ryons?” Gurun asked.

“Visiting various places in the city: letting his people see him.”

“I want to see him, too. I am told the people are calling me a queen, and I am not a queen.”

The old man smiled. She’d thought him grim, the first time she saw him. But when he smiled, he was warm and wise and sweet.

“No one knows how that got started,” he said. “People will take notions—who can account for it? Perhaps they think you look like a queen.

“But to cross the sea! There were seagoing men in ancient times, but there aren’t anymore. It’s been a thousand years since any man of Obann dared to put to sea.”

“Why is that?” said Gurun. She could hardly imagine anything stranger. “My people live on islands. The sea is how we travel. We couldn’t live without it. Fish, sealskins, seal meat, whales, and whale blubber for fuel in the winter—by God’s providence, our living is the sea. Why should Obann’s people fear it?”

Obst shook his head. “No one knows,” he said. “It happened in the days of Obann’s ruin, when God’s wrath fell on us. We have no writings from that time: everything was destroyed. It is said that God’s wrath came down from Heaven—and up from the sea. All our ships and all our ports were suddenly destroyed. Since then our people have feared the sea and will not live in sight of it.”

They had a long talk. It was pleasant for Gurun to talk about her island, although it made her homesick, too. Obst was most interested in the way the islanders had preserved the Scriptures, and studied them, and knew them—and all without the guidance of the Temple and its presters.

“I believe that in these days, God wants His people in all lands to do as your people have done,” he said. “I believe that God Himself ordained the destruction of the Temple, because instead of bringing the people into communion with their Lord, it became a separating wall between them and Him. But don’t speak of these things in the streets of this city! Having lost the Temple, the people are afraid.”

“I have noticed that they will not pray unless somebody leads them,” Gurun said. “In the village where I stopped, they asked me to lead them in their prayers. It wasn’t proper, but I did it. I hope I did no wrong.”

“Of course not,” Obst said.

He was also greatly interested in the filgya. He believed it must have been an angel, but Gurun didn’t know about that. She wanted to know how Ryons became king, and Obst told her: how a prophet of the Lord proclaimed him king while he was still a slave, how the power of God converted a Heathen army and made it Ryons’ army, and how lost Scriptures were found. “We believe,” he said, “that Ryons is of the seed of King Ozias himself, miraculously preserved in fulfillment of prophecy.”

“King Ozias? But he lived so long ago!” Gurun cried.

“Nevertheless, we believe King Ryons is his descendant in the flesh.”

Gurun knew that God had promised Ozias that his seed would never fail: that the throne would be reserved for his bloodline forever. But Ryons? It made her head reel to think she’d ridden side by side, and stood hand in hand, with a descendant of that same King Ozias who wrote the Sacred Songs. How could such things be?

“I know—it’s hard to believe,” Obst said. “But most of the people of this city believe it. They saw Ryons come riding on the shoulders of a beast that was like a mountain walking, and he saved the city when it surely was about to be destroyed.”

“And yet they locked him out,” Gurun said.

“They couldn’t bring themselves to keep him out, when he came back. They couldn’t look him in the face and be against him. The troublemakers who blame us for the burning of the Temple are silent now. The people are ashamed they ever listened to them.”

Gurun shook her head. “Did not this city also turn against Ozias—and more than once?”

“You do know the Scriptures, don’t you?” Obst said. “Well, we’ve only followed where the Lord has led us. Left to myself, I would have stayed in Lintum Forest. But God wouldn’t let me.”

Each story Obst told her was more wonderful than the last. He climbed Bell Mountain, where he should have died. And maybe he had: he wasn’t sure. Two children went on to the summit to ring Ozias’ bell; but Obst came down alone with new life and the gift of tongues.

“I’ve been brought to a country of marvels,” she thought. They were God’s marvels, the work of His hand. And she was more than just a little bit afraid.


BOOK: The Last Banquet (Bell Mountain)
8.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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