The Last Banquet (Bell Mountain) (6 page)

BOOK: The Last Banquet (Bell Mountain)
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“Good. That gives us time to think,” Martis said. “We may as well stay here until we can decide which way to go—to Ninneburky, back to Obann, or to the Thunder King.”

“He’d only kill us when we got there,” Jack said.

“Or worse!” Ellayne added.

“Yes,” Chillith agreed. “He’d very likely do much worse.”



There was at the same time another journey being made from Obann to the Thunder King: this one by Lord Reesh, the First Prester, and his chosen successor, Prester Orth. Their servant, Gallgoid, rode atop the comfortable coach that carried them. Seventeen more servants of the Temple came plodding after the coach. They had an armed escort commanded by a mardar named Kyo.

Having let the Heathen into Obann’s Temple by means of secret passages, and betrayed the city to its enemies, they were traveling east to be installed in the Thunder King’s new Temple. That was the agreement they had made with him, through the mardar.

Reesh was too old to make the journey any other way. He would have to be handled with care. Just getting over the mountains in the winter would be more than he expected to accomplish.

“Don’t worry, Excellency. We’ll take good care of you, and you’re under my master the Thunder King’s protection,” Mardar Kyo said. “Besides, you’re too important to die so easily.”

“You mean ‘too evil’!” Reesh thought.

Truly, what would any man call it but pure wickedness, to accept safe conduct for himself and hand his native city over to barbarians—to consign to flames the Temple he had served so long, in return for preferment at another Temple? But as far as Reesh knew, there was no one left alive in Obann to call him traitor.

Nevertheless, they were only two days out of Obann when a rider overtook them in the morning. He was of some far-off Eastern nation, like Kyo—stout and swarthy, with a horn bow slung over his shoulder and a quiver of arrows at his hip. His horse was lathered, wild-eyed, and the rider hardly less so. He jabbered at Kyo in a harsh and unknown language.

Kyo’s face went hard as stone. He questioned the man at length, his voice rising, growing shrill.

“Something’s gone wrong,” Orth muttered. He was a big, black-bearded man who looked splendid in the pulpit, but was turning out to be less splendid than he looked: well Lord Reesh had come to know it. Reesh glared at him and Orth fell silent.

At last Kyo dismissed the rider, who galloped off eastward. Kyo walked around to Reesh’s side of the coach.

“Tidings, Mardar Kyo?”

“I will tell you, First Prester. The army of my master the Thunder King is no more. It has been driven from the city, scattered like chaff. The Temple has burned to the ground, but the city stands unconquered.”

Orth gasped. Reesh clenched his fists. With an effort, he demanded, “How could that have happened?”

“The rider said a monster came out of the river and destroyed the army—a gigantic beast that has no name. A boy rode on its shoulders. It trampled the men by the thousands, and the others ran away. The rider says he saw it all.”

Kyo looked Reesh in the eye as if he expected the First Prester to explain the matter. But how could he? It was like some miracle recounted in the Old Books of the Scriptures—only there was no miracle exactly like that mentioned in any of the writings.

“Are we undone, Mardar?” he said. If so, he thought, these men would probably kill them and be on their way.

“No!” Kyo’s dark eyes flashed with sudden anger, but then he laughed. “No! What are armies to the Thunder King? As easily as he raised those armies, he can raise others. You do not know my master, Excellency, and yours. He is not a man, that you can defeat him by routing his slaves.

“No, First Prester, we are not undone. There is a new Temple waiting for you at Kara Karram. The fate of armies does not concern us. Come the spring, there will be greater armies marching over the mountains. But by then you’ll be in the Temple, and then you will understand. Let us continue our journey.” He shouted a command. The escort spurred their horses, and the coach lurched forward.

Inside, Orth’s face shone with sweat. “First Prester,” he said, “how can such things be? That was the greatest army anyone had ever seen.”

“Didn’t you hear what Kyo said?” Reesh snapped. “Some kind of beast came out of the river and panicked the army. Superstitious Heathen!”

“But what kind of beast could do a thing like that? There are no beasts that can do such a thing!”

Reesh slammed his palm against the side of the coach, making Orth startle. “What does it matter!” he said. “We’ve chosen our course, and we must stick to it.”

“But when the people find out what we’ve done—”

Reesh glared at him so fiercely that he didn’t finish.

The First Prester settled back on his cushioned seat and tried to think. Obann should have fallen. The Heathen had entered the city through the Temple and opened the city’s gates from the inside. There would have been chaos, the defense demoralized, collapsed. It would have begun just as the coach was on its way east.

Lord Reesh did not believe in miracles. He did not believe in God. He believed in the Temple—in man’s great past, and greater future—and had sacrificed the old Temple for the sake of the new.

The servant, Gallgoid, leaned over and looked into the window. It was mildly comical to see his face upside down. “Are you all right, Excellency?” he said.

Reesh nodded. “Yes—thank you, Gallgoid. Just thinking.”

“Yes, First Prester. And I’m up here if you need me.”

Too bad Gallgoid wasn’t a theologian, Reesh thought. He glared at Orth again, then plunged himself into deep cogitation.


Among the Blays

Obst found a seminary student to teach the king to read and write, an hour a day, every day if possible. “I won’t always be here for Your Majesty,” the old man said. “God has lengthened my days, but who can say for how long? A king should be able to read Scripture for himself, so that he might be guided by God’s word.”

“I suppose so,” Ryons said. He wanted to be able to read, but to have to study every day seemed hard.

“Cheer up, Ryons! You won’t be alone in your studies. You’ll have a schoolmate—Subchief Uduqu.”

So it was that a serious young man named Dyllyd found himself tutoring the boy king and a savage old Abnak who was best known for chopping two Heathen warriors in half with one blow of a giant’s sword. Scarred and tattooed, with his scalp shaved except for one long, black lock, Uduqu experienced some difficulty adjusting himself to a desk and a chair.

“What’s the matter, Chief?” Ryons had to control the urge to laugh out loud at him; but they’d been friends for a long time now, and he knew the old scalp-taker was fond of him.

“I don’t see why we have to have our lessons in a nasty little room where you can hardly breathe,” Uduqu grumbled. They were in a classroom in a part of the seminary that had been spared the fire. “It’s not healthy to spend so much time indoors.”

Dyllyd watched nervously until the old man finally settled himself. The chief frowned at him. “Well? What are you waiting for? Teach us!”

“Obst says I have to learn to read and write because I’m king,” said Ryons. “But why should you have to, Chief?”

“Because I want to. I’m getting too old and stout to run into battle like I used to,” Uduqu said. His Obannese was good. “Do you know, no Abnak has ever learned to read and write? I want to be the first. Then I can make my words live on after me. I’ll be able to speak to Abnaks long after I’m dead and gone—to men not yet born. There are certain things I want to say to them. I want to tell them how the True God gave us victory.”

Ryons looked at him with some awe. He hadn’t thought of it like that before—but it was true. Thus King Ozias himself, dead these long ages, still spoke to his people.

Dyllyd finally cleared his throat. “Your lordship is a man of understanding,” he said. “Therefore let us begin. First I’ll teach you how to read and write your own names.”



At the same time, Gurun decided that she liked the Blays and didn’t mind being their queen.

For one thing, she was taller than any of them and they had to look up to her when she spoke. That was a good habit for them to start with, she thought. Maybe they’d learn to look up to her in other ways.

For another, these little men were amusingly peculiar. She talked with Shingis constantly, both to learn his language—his Obannese showed scant signs of improvement—and to learn all she could about his people.

They came from a country very far to the east, beyond some Great Lakes that she’d never heard of. She knew what a lake was, although she’d never seen one. Blays carried spears for close-in fighting, but most of them were expert slingers, too: lucky was the bird that escaped them. If they had time, they always spat on a rock before launching it. They liked raw fish when they could get it—a taste that the island girl shared with them, but that revolted Tim the trapper.

“They’re every inch barbarians,” he said. “I heard Shingis tell you their high chief always marries his sister. And they eat dogs, too. I’ve seen them eat ants! The sooner we can escape from them, the better.”

“But in one thing they are like the people of Obann,” Gurun said. “They think they need someone to pray for them, rather than speaking to God for themselves.”

“You need a prester to get the prayers right,” Tim said. “Everybody knows that. But these people think their gods have all been locked up in a castle.”

“We have no presters in the islands where I come from.”

“Well, how could you? Only the Temple can make a man a prester. I guess God makes allowances for your people.”

As Gurun understood it from Shingis, the Thunder King conquered the Blays and made them his slaves. He took away their idols, all of them, and locked them in a prison: so they had no gods to pray to, and they had to pray to him instead. But now that they had failed him by being defeated before Obann, their god was angry with them and they were afraid. They dreaded he would find them out with spells.

“I will surely pray for you, Shingis,” Gurun said, “but not to any Heathen god.”

“To Obann god, then?” he asked.

“There is only one God, and He is All-Father, God of all. Not just God of Obann. To Him I shall pray for you.”

“How can one god be God of all?”

“I don’t know!” Gurun admitted. “He just is, and always has been. I suppose it’s because He created the world itself and everything in it. I’ve never heard of any other God to pray to—although I know that in ancient times, before my people fled into the North, there were false gods and idols in this country and foolish people prayed to them. But if the Blays’ gods were truly gods, then no one could have made them prisoners. You must never ask me to pray to false gods.”

He puzzled over it. He reported her words to the men, and they had an animated discussion in their own language, which sounded like the squabbling of seabirds in a rookery.

“You’d better be careful not to offend them,” Tim said. “Those spears are sharp.”

“I won’t lie to them. They won’t want a liar for their queen. Besides, I’m thinking of a plan for them.” Gurun took Tim’s elbow, drew him closer: she didn’t want Shingis to overhear them. “I’m thinking that these men must settle down. We must find a town for them to live in. Maybe there is a town where the people would like having two dozen armed men to protect them. The sooner they can settle down and lose their fear, the sooner I can go to Obann and see the king.”

“There is no king!” said Tim.

“I’m sure there is by now,” said Gurun.


Helki on the Trail

When he went to Gilmy to begin his hunt for Jack and Ellayne, Helki took only a single companion—Cavall, the king’s dog. A hermit in Lintum Forest had bequeathed the hound to Ryons, and Cavall saw him safely across the plains all the way to Obann. Ryons hated to part with him.

“Bring him back to me safe and sound!” the boy said.

“More likely he’ll bring me back safe and sound, Your Majesty,” said Helki. “Don’t worry about him. He’s a wise dog, but he’s not used to city life, no more than I am. He wants to be out in the wide world for a while, like me.”

BOOK: The Last Banquet (Bell Mountain)
11.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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