Quasi-Indefatigable Xenolith



A Ritual Is Interrupted

All things begin with a load of uncertainty and only pile up a lot of other "un"s quickly enough. Untried. Unproven. Unexperienced (yes, that's more likely "inexperienced", but let's not muddy the waters). Most of all, one is unsure. It is always that way in the beginning, even with the great things, for they were not so great once upon a time. For its part, this tale most unequivocally begins with a steaming helping of uncertainty.

For our first taste, a burly young man looks down at a slightly younger man tumbled on a somewhat deserted beach. For convenience sake, I'll call the burly one Enis, since that is conveniently his name, but I'll not reveal the twisted and mangled yet slightly younger man's name as of yet. You all, as uninitiated readers, have the job of getting tangled up in this story to the point that you'll see the thing through, whether I reveal everything right up front or not. So here we are: Enis the burly one; the bruised, broken, barely conscious and breathing, yet unnamed young man; you perplexed readers; and me, who we shall call Jason, because that happens to be my name as well. Even though we now know a few things about some of the people involved in this story, it seems we are all still managing a load of uncertainty. I will be about that directly.

Initially, because we have only just met, I can only guess at the uncertainty of you readers. Individually, you are reading a book, in which you have invested something. This story is written by a person named Jason which has never written such a large story before and you may be justifiably nervous about making a commitment to a relatively unproven writer. After all, it's quite a risk spending hard earned money on something that may prove to be of little value. My hope is that you bold readers will continue to give this whole venture some attention and I will endeavor to make the entire effort worthwhile.

At the very least, I can reveal why Enis is uncertain. He recently lost his trusted mentor and friend, who uncharacteristically died of old age instead of a spear to the heart, which is the fate of most men of Enis' acquaintance. Other than his father, this recently deceased man taught Enis more about life and shaped his character more completely than anyone else, and the loss is hard on the young man. What is harder still is that this mentor decided just a few weeks before he died that Enis should take the role as leader of their community. It was an exciting prospect for about five minutes, until he faced the reality that all sorts of people were now looking to him for leadership and guidance which he felt infinitely uncertain about providing. Personally, I have faced similar moments and perhaps you readers have as well, though I'm unsure about this.

As for the poor wretch that lies awkwardly on the bleached beach, jumbled in some contorted position where the surf left him, I can only say that with what little coherence he can muster, the man is terribly unsure that he will live. After what seemed like hours where the crash of the surf and the incessant wind were among his few companions, there is this man, not much older than he is, who is staring down at him with a look of (wait for it) uncertainty. I suppose the young man-cum-flotsam is not made overly hopeful by his circumstances, but then very little has occurred as of yet in his part of the story.

"Is he all right?" This is the voice of Tessreen, Enis' newly-wedded wife, who runs onto the beach from a path that leads into the nearby forest. Like so many other young brides, she is figuratively bursting with uncertainties. "Is he breathing?"

Enis doesn't even bother to look away from the younger man's contorted body. This whole "marriage thing" is still new to him and he has not learned that his wife wants to be better acknowledged than this. He will never really gain this understanding fully, but that's explored much later on in the story. "Yes, he's breathing."

Another voice, connected to another youngish man who also emerges from the forest path, calls out. "Hey, are you sure that you should be doing that?" His face looks a bit impish but also wide-eyed with (you guessed it) uncertainty. "You don't know where he's been!" His name is Kevyn and he thinks a bit too much of his own needs and person rather than upon others, as the future again will better reveal.

Enis ignores Kevyn, as he often chooses to do. Of course, in the past, he had this luxury continually, but with his new status as leader of the Waykeep community, which is the name of the village where he lives, he is somewhat obligated to be responsive, even to inane little jokes. "Well, he seems relatively dry, so he must have been here for a while. Otherwise, it seems that he washed up from the sea."

Tessreen looks down on her husband. Now is probably not a convenient time to say such things, but there rarely are convenient times to do anything that really needs doing, such as telling you inquisitive readers that the wife of Enis is beautiful. She is a well-toned and big-boned sort of beautiful, one that a person doesn't want to meet up with in a dark alley in a dangerous situation. Tessreen is an alluring warrior sort and has grown much more disconcertingly so recently, as Enis notices that some of the men in the community, Kevyn especially, still gawk at her longingly as if she were still unmarried and available. "Who do you suppose he is?" she asks.

Enis considers the question, one can suppose, for in a moment he cocks his head and begins to gently examine the ship-wrecked man. First, there's the rolling over so that the young man is facing skyward. Not too long into his prodding, the leader sees the puckering of skin on the palm of his left hand which took the shape of a star with numbers beneath it. "Marvelous," he whispers under his breath.

Though none of the assembled people from Waykeep, who are about a dozen on the shore at this point and poking about a scattering of debris, have ever seen such a branding, the Waykeep leadership have learned of such things that were done to men that had the misfortune of living on Firsthome. It's a symbol that the beached man is owned. The man with the star in his palm is the property of the Convocation of Ladies and it can only be a matter of time before some woman arrives to collect her possession. Though the people of Waykeep don't go to Firsthome, even Enis knows stories of those who live on that sunset island across the channel and their peculiar ways.

"It's one of them." Kevyn spits the statement out with a mix of excitement and nervousness as he ventures a guess and hits the mark. "The Alaed'll be coming." Already, he's looking up and down the shoreline and beginning to move back toward the cover of the trees. "Maybe we should just leave him..."

Tessreen doesn't pay much attention to Kevyn, the mark on the beached man or its repercussions. "He needs our help," she says emphatically in her always strong yet caring way. "We should take him back with us."

Enis remains silent on the plan. The young slave certainly looks healthy enough, but besides the ugly brand, there are no scars of abuse or mistreatment. His hair is roughly cut, but it appears tidy enough. The clothes he wears, though torn in a few places from his ordeal in the sea, seem of fairly good make. For all the stories of slavery that had filtered across the bay, it appears that at least this man is treated tolerably well. In fact, looking at his own clothes, Enis surmises that the slave's circumstances may be materially better than his own. For me, it begs the fleeting question of who should be saved of the two.

The young man's head lolls about and he lets out a groan. Enis pulls back, still uncertain about getting involved, but Tessreen nearly bowls her husband over to tend to him. "Are you all right?"

It takes a moment of blinking and coughing for the slave's eyes to open and come into focus. He looks at the young woman's face and although immediately smitten with her beauty, he averts his eyes from her as he had always been taught to do. He tries to say something, but whatever his mind is attempting to push out, his mouth seems unable to articulate. "You poor dear," Tess coos as she brushes her fingers along his scratched cheek. The broken young man looks to revel, as much as a twisted and battered man can, at her touch against his skin, drinking it in.

The foolish Kevyn continues to race about, back and forth between the safety of the cover of the forest path and the touching little scene playing out on the beach. "Those slaver women will be coming for him!" he whines with anxiety. "We should just get the ceremony done and get out of here..."

It's as if Tessreen can't hear the nervous man as she places the Convocation vassal's head in her lap and begins to carefully and gently arrange him properly and better check him over. Enis stands not too far away, diligently biting his lip, torn about what to do and feeling a tinge of envy that this broken thing on the sand was getting better and more tender attention than he generally gets from his new wife. The young beached man, even through the pain he is obviously feeling at Tess' care, is also looking terribly conflicted as his body reacts to the unfamiliar attentions of this lovely woman and his mind screams for him to show proper reverence. If it wasn't for a good stiff evening wind blowing toward the sea, one could only imagine the smell of anxious sweat that prevails over the scene.

In a snap, Enis knows what he should do. He doesn't know what to do about the ship-wrecked man or his own jealous feelings, mind you, but he knows what he should be about in the current swirl of action. He will do what they had originally come to do: to honor their God and his Mariner, who brought his people to Waykeep and shared his Log with them. "The Ceremony of Gratitude" is what he will do.

Probably just as you readers had been getting a handle on a few things, here I go introducing something new that drags everyone back to the realm of uncertainty. What is all this about God? Who is this Mariner and why should I care that he gave anybody something called a "log"? My only answer to any of these queries is that this is the beginning of the story and everything is going to seem a bit strange and unfamiliar. I can only ask that you patient readers soldier on and take it on faith that these things will ultimately come to make some sense. However, I can reveal a few things at this particular juncture.

In answer to his premonition that he needed to do what he came to the beach to do, Enis makes his way toward a stone marker that juts up tall from the sands of the beach. As this marker is a major feature throughout this story, I feel the need to explain a few things about it.

The marker is set firmly and very deep in the sand, for the tides and surf of many generations have not dislodged it, though it was very obviously placed there by human hands. It was set there by the followers of Kiyami, the righteous son of Alaedeus and Cassandra, who were all ejected from Firsthome many generations ago for frankly being a bit too righteous. They were the first residents of Waykeep, Kiyami was their first leader, and among the first things they did upon arrival was to erect this tall marker in gratitude for their blessings.

Normally, I wouldn't care much about standing stones, as the world seems loaded with them. What interests me about this particular one is a carving on the stone's sea-ward face, a little way from the top. The carved symbol is hard to explain in words, so I have it pictured on the cover of this book. It is actually ten symbols that are carved as one which symbolizes the journey of existence. It is the answer to the ultimate question of "Why are we here?". God had Kiyami and his followers fashion it to help their children when they struggled to understand what life was about, and that is all I am going to say about it for now.

As Enis is moving toward this monolith in answer to an impression that came into his mind, a number of other people who followed Kevyn out of the forest are also moving toward it, knowing that this is what everyone has come here to do.

I feel the need to explore this whole idea of premonitions, for it is a much bigger thing than most people guess. Of course, Enis and his Waykeep friends perform the annual ritual of thanking God for the Mariner and his Log that was carved into the stone, in response to one premonition. But, as he is doing this almost mechanical act that he has participated in since boyhood, another few premonitions are coming, ones that have little to do with the past and everything to do with the futures of everyone we have talked about so far, which I shall conveniently break down for you.

Enis, who doesn't even have to consciously think about the ceremonial words he is reciting, looks around himself and sees snatches of the future. He sees himself doing what God asks him to do, just as he is doing now. Although he is still quite young and inexperienced, he will continue to lead his people as he was meant to do and he will do the will of God and follow the course shown in the Mariner's Log to a fine eternal reward.

He can see Tessreen, his young wife, still kneeling on the beach and attending to the ship-wrecked man. She is not where she should be, participating in the ritual, and the premonition is that she will similarly turn from her loyalty to God and the Mariner, just as she is doing now. The cold chill that this fact will one day split the newly joined couple apart creeps across Enis' skin. One day, Tess will distance herself from Enis and all he holds dear to find fulfillment from different circumstances. Gratefully, such things lie far enough in the future that they can hopefully be dismissed, at least for now.

Kevyn is looking and running about in fear of the slave's mistresses, totally forgetting the ritual. He will also ultimately forget to show any concern for God, the Mariner, and a covenant that he made with both as a boy. His fear always convinces him to abandon the things that matter, both now and in the future.

I imagine that you readers are again scratching your heads, wondering about this ritual that I am steadfastly not describing to you, blathering on about God, a mystical seaman, and some covenant that I will also steadfastly not elaborate on at this point. You all will hopefully keep reading to discover how these premonitions will work themselves out, just as you are doing now.

The man on the beach, which is actually a main character of this story and is finally named Daavor, is presently becoming somewhat infatuated with Tessreen, which he was practically bred to do. To the sorrow of many, he will become infatuated once too many times which will hurt everyone around him, but the premonition says that at that future time, he will thankfully recover, just as he will on this occasion.

I imagine that you readers may be thinking that this is quite a boatload of premonitions to try to process over a few paragraphs and I think Enis would agree as it raises quite a headache to the little place on his head just north of the line running between his eyes. It makes it difficult to drone out the words of the ritual, but the young man is used to facing difficulties and he simply perseveres. Also, it allows me, as the obnoxious writer that I am, to plant several dozen story "hooks" in this text. I can only assure you dedicated readers that I will endeavor, before this story is finished, to tie up every "loose end" that I have already managed to create.

Though his mind is not particularly on the ritual at hand, it ends in due course and Enis is left to ponder these premonitions. I will say, as I have said not long ago, that such things as premonitions are often more purposeful that many allow for, and that such things come from God, who is often much more involved in events and the lives of people than (again) many allow for. In fact, it was God that set up the whole scenario that I describe in this chapter, for it is not coincidental that Daavor washed up on the shore on the very day of the ritual honoring God and the Mariner. Though he is greatly distracted by Tessreen's tender touch, the broken man has also noticed the Mariner's Log stone that marks the trail through the forest that leads to Waykeep. This will be important knowledge at some point later on.

As almost an afterthought in the face of what has already been said, Kevyn has managed to get himself up one of the forest trees and indeed spies out a group of relatively well-dressed people making their way along the beach, just as he predicted. The agitation he was displaying before is now replaced with a full-scale frenzy as he falls out of the tree, rushes about frightening everyone nearby, and gets them moving back toward the trail to Waykeep and the safety of the community. Last of all, Enis once again stands over the now-improving circumstances of the young Alaed slave, still held gently in Tess' lap and lapping up the woman's tender care like some love-sick puppy. As you can expect, this continues to be terribly disconcerting to her just-married husband, but he contents himself with the fact that she is already making motions to detach herself from her care-taking.

"We must get away!" Kevyn runs up and hisses for the seemingly thousandth time as he picks at Enis' tunic. The group moves into the forest and out of sight as the new party approaches.

There are four people moving up the beach, but one particular member is stealing away all of my attention. At the center of the group is a fashionable woman around her twentieth year. Even from a distance, I can tell that she is obviously curvaceous and well-endowed, for she made the decision to wear a bright yellow sheath dress with matching high-heeled shoes, pill-box hat and parasol for this excursion. The other members of the group are men that don't seems pre-disposed to advising the woman on clothing choices, for they spend the bulk of their time chasing the parasol that the stiffening ocean wind keeps tearing from her daintily gloved hand. She can't use both hands to keep a proper grip on anything, for one is always needed to stead her balance as her yellow heels keep sinking inconveniently into the sand. I suspect that she would have been quite fetching standing outside some motion picture premiere and vamping for the cameras, but in this setting, she looks the klutz and close to splitting her dress in two as her shoes twist her about and she splays her quite attractive legs. "Fiddlesticks!" she swears.

One of the men, much more sensibly dressed in a proper sailor's uniform, has just retrieved her sunshade and arrives to try and help right the woman. She tries to twist herself into some sort of composure when another wind-gust pries the hat from her head, taking a selection of bobby-pins with it and whipping her lustrously long brown hair into her face. Another man chases the hat as she claws at the hair to settle in a more glamorous way and shifts herself at least onto her knees. She seems to be recovering quite well and even puts her kid-gloved hand gracefully out for the third man of the group, who was a bit zealous in his help and jerked the woman up and forward before she could manage to find her footing. The young woman is forced into a double-armed windmill maneuver, flinging again the parasol and one of the gloves. Now face down in the sand, she is likely saying something a bit un-becoming, but I can't hear it at this distance. Her three male attendants manage to retrieve the accessories again and get the woman in a sitting position before she brushes them off with an annoyed jerk of the arms. Sensibly, the men didn't try to return the shade or hat and they made no comment as she pries her shoes from her feet and throws them into the sea as best she can.

The group slowly manages to move from one body to another as if they are looking for something that the woman has not yet found. As they go, the young woman chooses to ignore another damaged man that crawls after them in vain. They finally reach Daavor and, as one men stands idly by, holding the parasol so that it shades her, the woman kneels awkwardly and examines the branded hand. Satisfied with what she sees, the young woman calls to the men with her and issues curt instructions. The dazed and limp castaway is lifted between the men, and the party moves off in the direction they came from. Apparently, the other beached people are of little interest and left behind to somehow fend for themselves.

As Enis watches all of this from the trees, I imagine that he can't help feeling that chill of premonition upon his skin afresh. He would be seeing that Alaed slave again and their lives would become tangled together at some point in the future, for good or ill. But that day will not be today as the Waykeep leader signals his loitering group to pick up the remaining stranded men and help them along the path toward home. It seems life will continue, even for abandoned Alaed fishermen.

Hopefully, this will be the last of premonitions for poor Enis for some time. He has definitely had his fill of them.

As for the future, I will be leaving any more talk of Enis, Tessreen, and Kevyn for some later time in the tale and we will not be seeing them again for a long while. Our journey together, you readers and mine, will continue in another direction now as we follow the party that bears Daavor back to a small ship that will return him to his life among the Alaed and his future in the hands of the Convocation.

Next Chapter...

Copyright, Jason Nemrow. All rights reserved.