The Eye of Zul

Eye-of-Zul-with-textThis is the first of 6 books in a series I am developing. It contains the history and back-story for the remainder of the series. Check the eBook Downloads Page to get your free copy.

Here is a sample from Chapter 1.

The GuildMaster stood at the lectern impatiently waiting for this year’s group of apprentices to settle down carefully watching one particular candidate. As the noise grew it soon became obvious they were too excited. Coughing loudly he glared with a cold stare when a number of them kept up their discussion.

Raising his voice to get their attention he began. “A story, just what is a story? Is it a statement of fact or fiction? Is it something personalized by the teller, or even the listener?

“A story is history to the teller. It is his-story, not yours, not mine. If we tell our story then we are bragging about things we’ve done, and maybe just a few things we wished we hadn’t. A story is the reflection of someone’s life, their adventures, their passion and their failures. Your job is to prepare that story in such a way that you not only entertain the listener but you hook them, making them want to follow it. They need to feel the pain, understand the anguish, and sense the fear, not only of the unknown but the known as well.

“If you desire to advance beyond the level of troubadour, then this assignment will be required. Is it something that is easy to do? For some of you, yes. Unfortunately most will fail. Only you can decide if it is something you can Master?

“For the remainder of this week your assignment is to prepare such a story. One that is rich with adventure, character, and appeal. You must present it in a way it has never been told before, if you want to capture and mesmerize your audience.”

Groans could be heard coming from his captive audience as the apprentices complained about the task at hand.

“It is impossible to do that in month” groaned one student. “There is not enough time in the day to complete that.”

“Looks you will need to do your work this time” said Ragush glaring at the class bully. “It’s about time.” Before a smart retort could be fired off their instructor continued.

“You have one month starting right now. Your story must be worthy of your position and reflect your own heart for our Guild. The best stories will be chosen by a panel of three Master’s. The best entry will be presented at this year’s gathering.

“Class dismissed. Remember, this is an individual project. Your future as a Bard will depend on the outcome of your story.” Turning on his heel he noted, with some satisfaction, that his cape billowed out behind. He strode quickly across the courtyard and entered the Guild house leaving behind unasked questions and the stunned looks of the bewildered apprentices trying to follow his progress across the floor. Ragush, his questions demanding answers, followed the Master to the doorway. None of the others dared to approach that particular door let alone follow the Master into the inner sanctum of the Guild.

“Ragush don’t go in there, you’ve heard the rumours” cried out a young maid.

Ragush was a handsome lad of fourteen, rugged from working side by side with his father at their forge. His muscles hard from constant use, his hands calloused from the fires he tended. He was of average height with dark brown hair, pulled back and held in place with a leather thong. His face covered in a light down of peach fuzz had never felt a razor. Hidden behind his loose fitting clothing was a body of hard muscles that one girl, in particular, just couldn’t get enough of. His temper was even but like most young men could be provoked to the point of explosion with the right words and prodding. His father had warned him time and time again to keep it under control or face a long hard road of bruises, cuts and possibly even death.

One of the lads poked her in the ribs, “You just don’t want to lose your bed warmer” as she turned red with embarrassment. “Go ahead Ragush, show us what you are made of. Show us if the rumours are true or not!” taunted a classmate as he shoved Ragush toward the closed door. “What’s wrong, are you a winklezort? Are you afraid that the rumours are true?”

“Winklezort?” he replied

“Yeah, a winklezort. Something that only comes out at night, hiding in the darkness, afraid of its own shadow” the classmate grinned sarcastically.

“Are you afraid that the rumours we hear are more than rumours? Afraid that you might piss yourself in fear? I say you’re afraid to open that door? Chicken, chicken” he said strutting like a prized rooster.

####

The Master watched through an upper window as the scene below unfolded. A slight noise from down the hallway caused him to pause before carefully asking. “Is that you, Lord?”

A grunt of affirmation was barely heard as they continued watching; the taunting, jeering, the name calling, the honour smearing, all unfolding before their eyes. “Is he the one you were telling me about?” asked the Lord.

“Yes M’Lord” replied the Master.

“Does he have what it takes or will he give in to his anger, like so many before him, choosing that path over curiosity? We have such poor apprentices that it may be time to start spreading our seed farther and farther away.” Sighing, he continued, “Maybe it is time for this old man to step aside and let younger blood carry on.”

“Oh no Lord, don’t even think that. You still have many years of service to the Guild left. What you have done for us will be sung about for decades to come. You pulled us all together, gave us hope, brought order where only disharmony existed.”

“If this is to be the one, I want him brought to me once he has reached the inner doors. I want to examine him for myself.” Turning he quietly followed an erratic pattern moving here and there, stepping over unseen things as he disappeared down the corridor.

Turning his attention back to the in the courtyard below the Master once again watched his students intently. A crowd, of more than students, had began to gather, the noise growing louder and louder. They watched in anticipation at the obvious inner struggle Ragush had to deal with. They did not know what the outcome would be, but they both knew he would be marked by whatever his decision was; either as a coward, a fool, or a brave young man.

####

Carefully weighing the odds, Ragush approached the door and intently studied the raised panels, noticing the intricate patterns carved on their surface. The patterns seemed to be random yet somehow familiar. Their identity danced along the edge of his consciousness, eluding his grasp. Stepping back he noticed a small, well worn symbol forming the outline of a lyre. As he studied the door, the taunting, then the cries of concern, then the crowd, simply ceased to exist, until he stood all alone before the door. Slowly, he traced the pattern in his mind, not wanting to defile it with his touch. Each time he repeated the pattern it got brighter and brighter until it had his complete attention.

Ragush slowly touched the pattern on the door. It swung open and he stepped through. It closed, with a large clang of a lock falling into place. As the cries of anguish roared through the market were cut off with the closing of the door, Ragush pictured the bully strutting like a peacock as he jeered “I told him not to go, now he gets to find out first hand if those rumours were true. Hey sweety I’ll keep your bed warm tonight.”

During his stay here, Gerald, had made it his personal goal to get under his skin, to provoke him into a fight, but had failed. When the direct attack had failed he had shifted to assaulting his honor and picking on their classmates. At times Ragush had stepped in to maintain an uneasy truce, but there were still those who buckled under that taunts and pressure. Gerald was big for his age of sixteen, overweight, and spoiled. He was used to having things handed to him, or forcing others to do the work. That was until he came to this school. His parents one step short of forcing him into a life of a soldier had enrolled him here, hoping the Brad’s guild would teach him something about life.

Ragush had become oblivious to the noise outside, and the fear that permeated the air. He stood at the edge of nowhere, a place that he could not define let alone explain. As he stared at the ornate symbols carved in the floor it felt like an unseen hand was inscribing story after story onto his heart. Stories that overwhelmed and consumed his deepest thoughts possessed him. Slowly he moved forward, from one empty square to the next. Moving in a pattern that his feet knew but his mind didn’t register. One that if asked he couldn’t recite.

His feet moving on their own, propelled him across the hall. He moved like a drunkard, one step forward two to the right, one backward, four to the left, three forward while his attention stayed riveted to the walls as they came alive. Words carved in them began playing themselves out creating lifelike pictures of moving characters that drew Ragush in, inserting him into the actual story. It kept pulling at his attention, threatening to the engulf him, to overwhelm him. It was the story that he was living as the main character.

It was the story of a father and son discussing the young lads future, something he was very familiar with. The scene was a Master Craftsman’s’ shop. An old man hunched over a workbench, tools lined up, each in their place and within easy reach. Along the upper shelf is a row of containers, each containing a special blend of oils and metal fragments that would bring out the very soul of the metal he worked. Next to the old man sat a young apprentice. His bench is littered with tools, half finished pieces that are roughly crafted, the intricate work of the gentle Master definitely missing.

As the Master works he lovingly caressed the wood, pausing only to carefully listen to the wood’s heart as it slowly begins to take shape. His hands work tirelessly as intricate designs are cut into the wood with fine detail and care. All of this spoke volumes to Ragush, reminding him of unfinished stories, about adventure, and the turmoil between father and son over his desire to become a Bard, forgoing his family’s heritage as Master Swordsmiths. Try as his father did, he could not persuade him to change his mind. Accepting the desire that burned deep in his son’s heart, rather than his own wishes, he gave him his blessing. Ragush could still hear the defeat in his words when his father reminded him that he would always be welcome beside him at this forge.

Ragush’s attention was drawn back to reality; he found himself standing before a door. Etched on it was the symbol of the lyre as well as a warning in an ancient language that strangely he understood.

“Choose wisely young apprentice!
Once your choice has been made,
It cannot be undone!
Cimion himself, awaits, and will bear witness,
To etch your choice upon his heart forever!”

Ragush paused, and pushed the door open, with no thought about what lay on the other side. He was answering a call that had burned deep within his heart for as long as he could remember. The call to become a Bard, to sing the songs of love, adventure, and pain. To see the world in a different light than most, and to craft it into something all could understand. Maybe, just maybe, he was also being called to greatness, like the Lord’s of the Guild from ages past.

Ragush stood inside the closed door, not sure how he got there, or how he would ever return. A cough broke through his thoughts. As he realized he was not alone, he recognized the man that stood before him, but not the two that flanked him.

“Master, forgive me” he said falling to his knees. “If I could figure out how to leave this place I would! I know apprentices are not allowed in the Guild hall.”

Trembling with fear, he waited the harsh judgment that all the apprentices knew would befall them. Their dorms had been rampant with the rumours of apprentices that disappeared never to return, never heard from or about again.

“Bring him,” barked the Master, “the Guild Lord wishes to interview him before passing judgment.”

Hiding their smiles they hoisted Ragush to his feet and dragged him down the hall. Their glaring looks just daring him to further insult these hallowed halls with his voice, his mere presence was a sufficient insult.

They passed a number of entrance ways, leading to only the gods knew where. Half dragging, half pushing they moved up stairs, down stairs, through dungeons, as he was given the grand tour, or so it seemed. His mind in turmoil, nothing registered; he was hopelessly lost. Forever condemned to a Keep he knew absolutely nothing about. A place of rituals, and traditions that people died to keep secret, a place that had literally scared him speechless.

Why did you have to approach that door, you fool. Your questions were not that important, they could have waited until tomorrow. Here I go again, got myself in a real pickle this time. One that I am not going to be able to talk my way out of. One that I am not even going to try.

They had stopped moving, unceremoniously dropping him on his knees before a massive door. The Guild Master grasped his cloak and forced him to stand on his own two feet, his knees screaming in pain, as his two escorts and the Guild Master, slipped away unseen, abandoning him before a great door. It was formidable, large enough to allow a giant to enter, yet ornate with intricately carved stories about people he didn’t know, or recognize.

In the center, over a simple sign, hung a huge knocker:

“Ask the right question and you just might find it.
Seek diligently and it will be revealed.
Knock and it will open.”

He wondered what it meant. He dared not move. Minutes crawled at a snail’s pace and became hours. His legs ached, refusing to move for fear of…. He didn’t know what he was more afraid of. Finding the answer, or not knowing.

His curiosity finally got the better of him, and he re-read the sign.

Hmmm ask the right question and you just might find it, seek diligently and it will be revealed, knock and it will open. I asked the questions of the Master and it lead to the door, I went looking for the answers and ended up here. I wonder.

Reaching up and grasping the great knocker attached to the door he was surprised at how light it was. When he released it a great boom he heard, and felt, reverberating through the door and down the passageway behind him. He thought he heard cheering from somewhere behind him, quickly deciding that it was just his mind playing tricks on him.

He waited and waited but nothing happened. He raised the knocker again, and dropped it, no sound came this time ….. nothing.

Strange.

He raised the knocker, for the third time and dropped it. Again there was no sound, but the door swung slowly inward.

Now you’ve done it, you fool.

As the gap widened, he glimpsed into a huge room. A large fireplace filled the opposite wall and held a raging fire in check, burning like an angry animal just waiting for release. Two strategically placed high backed chairs and a small table between them sat facing the warmth.

Someone coughed. “Come in and close the door, or stay outside. It is your choice, not mine. But remember the sign on the door; you have asked a question, and the door opened for you. Do you still seek the answer?”

Ragush stood surprised and scared. What should he do? The chance to find his answers overwhelmed him. Now, if he could just remember the question, everything would fall into place, he hoped.

“Lad, decide. These old bones don’t like the cold anymore and this place is damp. You are letting the heat escape.”

Slowly Ragush entered the room and pushed the door closed, amazed at how easily it swung for its massive size. He heard a soft thunk as it closed, some unseen latch gently dropping in place.

“Come, sit with me by the fire. We have a lot to discuss, you and I. We are not all that different, except your journey is just beginning and mine has almost ended. Would you care for some spiced tea? It is still hot. There is honey there in the pot next to it. Help yourself, but no messes.”

Ragush settled in the empty chair and poured himself a cup of tea and topped of his hosts cup. Carefully setting the pot on the hearth, he picked up the honey and added a small amount to each cup.

“I am Kooramish. You may not know who I am but I know all about you. I have been aware of you from an early age and have, from time to time, checked to see how you and your family have been keeping. Your adopted father and I are old friends. We have seen a lot of this world together, in our younger days, traveled to the far reaches of the continent, chewed on some of the same mud and grime. We ….”

“WHAT? What are you saying?” Ragush almost choked on his disbelief. “I don’t believe you. Adopted? That can’t be possible ……….. can it?”

“Yes lad, you were fostered out, adopted so to speak, by a good family, as is the custom of most Bard’s children.”

“Did you say ADOPTED?” he roared his shock now turning to disbelief and rage. “That can’t be. I even look like him, we share many family traits, we have a bond that goes beyond a simple father and son bond.”

“Your father, as you call him, is actually your uncle. Your mother was his sister, who died giving birth to you. Your father was young and foolish and wanted to see the world. He didn’t know that you were alive until you were three years old. By that time your uncle had filled the role as dad, and it was thought best that it be left that way. Part of my heart died the day your mother passed. The birth of her son never mentioned, perhaps it was for the better that way.. Enough. This is not about me, but about you.”

“What do you mean part of your heart died when my mother died? She is still alive, living with my father, tending his home, our home, my home! How dare you insult them!” Ragush cried leaping to his feet.

“Young man, sit down, now!” ordered Kooramish. “I may be getting up in age but I can still teach you a lesson or two in manners and respect. Do not push my patience, you are here by invitation, and that invitation can be withdrawn as easy as it was extended.”

Haughtily Ragush replied, “Only the Lord of the Bards can retract that invitation. And you are….”

“Yes, continue.”

“Lord forgive me, I didn’t realize” he stammered. Oh you fool, you have really messed up this time. Not only have you shoved your boot in your mouth but it’s all the way up past your knee this time.

“For now all you need to know is that you have fulfilled three of the four requirements to become a Master Bard. We have anticipated your eventual arrival, but no one expected you to be so young, so untrained, and so full of such raw talent. It takes Bard’s years, some decades to breach the outer corridor, you have gone beyond that, to my very own door, in less time than it takes to teach you a new skill.

“Is it your desire to become a Bard?”

“Y-Y-Yesssss.”

“Good tell me what a Bard is. Tell me what it is you seek?’

Ragush paused as he gathered his thoughts. No one had ever demanded he articulate his desire to become a Bard, something he had always struggled to explain, to understand but couldn’t.

“Well I am waiting, we don’t have all night.”

“A Bard is” he said hesitantly. “A Bard is competent in several trades but truly only a Master of one. They must be a journeyman fighter who learns the use of several weapons but never reaching the level of a Master. They must learn the art of the thieves Guilds advancing to a journeyman level. But their real weapon is their music, their song whether it be by voice, instrument or both. It is something that is unique to each bard and just as deadly. Their training teaches them how to find it, identify it and more importantly to control it. Not much has been heard of rogue bards that attempt to develop their wishsong on their own, but it is presumed they do not survive long. A few learn a smattering of majik and can manipulate simple spells for healing and the creation of portals. Some, the very rare ones, can tap into their wishsong and use it either as a weapon or a tool drawing their audience deep into their song until they feel they are an integral part of it. I am here because I have felt my wishsong, reveled in its presence and would learn how to control it and use it to weave music that has never been heard before.”

“Impressive, you have a better understanding than most, but do you know what that commitment entails? The standard you will be held to?”

“Sort of.”

“Are you aware of the training and final requirement you will need to fulfill?”

“No”.

“Good, at least you are being honest. A Bard must learn and Master, to the best of his or her ability, several musical instruments before settling on a favourite one. You may be called to play in a royal court for a king or queen, or the courtyard of nobility for a gathering, or forced to play in a local pub for your dinner. You must learn to do this with dignity and respect, and never betray this house. You will learn how to defend yourself with no weapons except your hands and tongue, how to fight like a warrior and manipulate the shadows like a thief. The training will be difficult, dangerous and exhausting. It takes time to learn all of these, while you may excel in some areas, in others you will struggle and fail.

Lord Kooramish groaned as he stood, moving to the fire. He turned his back to it, taking great delight in its warmth before continuing.

“Tonight you have learned something new, something that you can never share with anyone. Information is a weapon, in the right hands a lever than can be used against you in ways you can’t imagine.

“You also need to make a decision. Once reached, you are bound for life, not only by that choice but by your oath. I will give you the remainder of the night to decide.

“You will now be returned to your dorm. If you decide not to continue, then you will be gone by first light. If you decide to stay and begin your journey, then you will return to the door where this all started with nothing but the clothes on your back, and your weapons on your hip. Everything else will be left behind, and I mean everything. It will be collected and disposed of. I strongly suggest you spend the night alone, without the distraction of a warm body next to you. It will only make things more difficult come morning.”

Nodding his head an unseen figure approached from a darkened corner. “Go with the Guild Master. He will escort you back to your dorm.”

Without saying a word the Guild Master motioned Ragush to follow. Moving off to a smaller door, they quickly made their way through the Keep to a smaller servant’s entrance. The old man deftly locating the hidden latch, the door opened and he followed.

Ragush found himself standing in the hallway, just outside of his dorm. Quietly he stepped along the wall, staying to the shadows until he reached his room. He could hear the passionate groaning, from across the hall, of a couple in heat of their lovemaking. The door partially open allowed a quick peek. He was not surprised to see his young maid, his bed warmer as Kooramish had called her, in bed with the bully. Didn’t take her long to change her loyalties, he thought with disgust.

Shaking his head he moved into his room and quietly closed the door, but not before checking to see if anything had been tampered with. Sitting on the edge of his pallet he slowly mulled over all that had happened to him in an attempt to sort out the events of that day and to decide what to do, where to go.

Systematically he worked through all the information he had learned, the shock of what he had learned slowly wearing off, no longer impeding the process. He was amazed to find out he was actually the son of a Lord, and not just any Lord but the Guild Lord, the son of a Bard. But he couldn’t tell anyone. He was confused, shaken and at a loss to try and explain what happened. His thoughts muddled and confused, kept coming back to that one question; would he accept the invitation or decline it?

Ragush had stretched out on his bed, hoping to get a few hours sleep before having to face his decision. He tossed and turned and could not settle down enough to fall asleep. His mind alive with questions, self doubt, and fear. He drifted back to the first day he had discussed the idea of becoming a bard with his father. A memory still filled with hurt, and anger, at its outcome. It had not gone as he had planned or thought it would. At first his father wouldn’t discuss it, then he got angry demanding to know if being a Swordsmith was beneath him. Nothing he said could ease the tension, but only seemed to make things worse. They had parted company with him storming out, as his farter turned to his anvil. Angry peels could be heard as he hammered out a piece of metal he had been working on.

Over the next few months the arguments got hotter until finally Ragush stood before his father and said “I hear your dissent with my choices, but it is something I want to do, need to do. This isn’t a passing fancy, it is something I have thought long and hard about. I have written the Bard Guild hall and enquired about their apprenticeship program. I got a reply from the m yesterday. Da it is not a choice I make lightly” he tried to reason, “but one that I understand, including the implications. If I don’t go and attempt this then I will never know. I can make a living at being a Swordsmith, but not the way you do. The metal sings to you as you work it, bend it, shape it into something only you can see. To me it is just a piece of metal that needs to be shaped, that’s it. If this does no work out I will return and admit to my mistake, and enter into an apprentice program with you. To grow old with you, standing everyday in this forge has been a dream you have had for as long as I can remember, one that I don’t share. Please try to understand.”

” I do understand” said his father. “I understand the implications better than you think. If a bard is what you want to pursue then a bard you will become. There will always be a place for you here beside me.

“You must make your own way to the Guild House. Where is it?”

“Three days ride from here” he replied surprised at the sudden change in his father.

“Which is four days ride, or six days by wagon. I am forbidden to help you, you do know that don’t you?”

“No, I didn’t” Ragush said gulping his plan beginning to fall apart.

“You work for me here, in the forge as an apprentice, for the next seven days and you will have earned enough gold to cover a wagon ride, your food and a little extra. That is the best I can do, and even that is stretching the boundaries. You start tomorrow morning. If you talk to farmer Jack I believe he sends a cart out once a month to the city for supplies, he might have room for you. His next trip is as soon as we get those wagon wheels re-rimmed, which I figure will take seven days with all the work we have.”

The next seven days flew by, Ragush worked from sun up to sun down. His muscles ached each night as he crawled into bed, and were still sore the next day. It was good work, he added more muscle to his lanky frame and began to fill out. It was during theses last few days that he grew closer to his father than he had ever been. He developed a better appreciation for the man and his craft as they shaped metal into shapes that seemed impossible.

At the end of the last day his father approached me an hour before sundown and told him to put his tools away, one of the other apprentices would clean up the forge tonight. “Wash up your mother is waiting for us inside.” he said.

Quickly he scrubbed away the dirt and the grime from the forge, careful to make sure he put on clean clothes and boots, before entering his home of fourteen years. What greeted him was a feast like none he had ever imagined, amassed to feed a large group of friends that had quietly arrived making sure they were not seen.

“Ragush, my son, come take the place of honour” said his father leading him to the head of the table.

“In case you have forgotten today is the fourteenth anniversary of your birth, and we would celebrate it with you. Today you have become a man. On a sadder note, it is also the last night you will spend under this roof as your destiny takes you elsewhere.”

Ragush looked at everyone assembled, and noticed his mother wouldn’t look at him in the eye as tears ran down her face.

“We have gathered here to celebrate your birthday and to share in your last meal here. May these memories always keep your heart warm in times of cold, and may you always know there is a place at this table for you whenever you need it.”

“Here, here.” was heard all around the massive table as friends and relatives all lifted their tankards to toast him.

“I don’t know what to say” he stammered. “Thank you everyone of you.”

Ragush turned and raised his tankard, waiting for everyone to quiet down before speaking. “Dad I will treasure these last seven days for the rest of my life. You have taught me values that no book learning could ever do. You have instilled in me a sense of justice that I will always live by, and the desire, no I would say the need, to always give my best in everything I do. Mother, I will miss your gentleness, your love, the softness of your hair, and your warm arms. I take with me a love that is unbroken and hope that I can live to be able to share it with those I meet. To my friends, well what do I say to you lot, except, LETS PARTY.” Laughing he drank to them all and sat down to begin eating,

The night passed quickly and at midnight they chased the last of the party goers out. The silence was amazing, yet eerie. His father drew him aside and handed him a bedroll and a small sack. “You have earned every copper of this” he said “And then some. Do not count it here, do that in private. If you are careful there is more than enough to get you to the Bard Guild House and back again, if needed. Good night my son. Sleep well” he said turning for his bed. On an impulse he stopped and hugged Ragush. His huge arms encircling him as his love poured out.

“Thank you father, I will do my best not to sully our family name.”

Awkwardly they came apart, his dad heading up the stairs to the loft which his mother had retired to earlier, and he to his own cabin behind the house. He slipped the sack into his pocket and quietly closed the door, placing his bedroll on the small table. He reached for a light and was surprised when he heard a giggle behind him. “Who is there?” he demanded.

“Just me” came the reply.

“And who are you?”

“Rebecca, but you can call me Becky. If today is truly your fourteenth birthday then I wanted to be your first. Come join me before we lose the darkness of this glorious night and you have to leave us.”

He quickly shed his clothing and headed for the bed before turning and dropping the bar in place, effectively locking his door. “We don’t want to be disturbed, do we.” he said with eagerness as he rushed the bed.

Becky taught him things about his body that thrilled and educated him. He was a fast leaner and soon had her moaning in his hands. She was a good teacher and the lessons he learned that night would help him out more than he ever expected.

Ragush smiled as he relived that night in his mind. Tomorrow is another one of those days. What will it bring” Uneasily he slipped into a shallow sleep, waiting for the first cock to crow at the hint of a new day.

 

Posted in Eye of Zul, Eye of Zul Saga, Novels |

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