When Prince Jaspin fled from the games, so disrupted by the sudden and unwelcome appearance of the Harrier and his grisly mementos, he flew at once to his castle at Erlott Fields. “Let the games continue,” he had announced magnanimously after disposing of his debt to the odious tracker (who demanded twice the payment he had been promised, and his dead companions’ shares as well). Prince Jaspin, being caught in an awkward situation, was anxious not to offend public sentiment, which held that anyone dealing with the Harriers was a villain himself, so he paid the savage and sent him off with a minimum of show.
So Jaspin called for the contest to be resumed lest the people be too disappointed. Then he, with a handful of his esteemed confidants, left the field immediately, allowing that he had been called away on some detail of state importance.
The prince and his cronies had run at once to the security of Erlott Fields and there held a hasty conference to discuss the situation.
The meeting availed little in terms of correcting the damage already done, and since the prince could not reveal the actual source of his fear, he dismissed them all brusquely and retired to his own counsel in his inner chamber.
Once the door to his outer apartment had been secured and guards posted to make certain no intruders would interrupt, the prince stole into the inner chamber, a small dark room with no outside window, a nook hollowed out of the massive outer curtain of the castle.
There Jaspin sat down before the enameled box. Lifting off the lid and placing his hands upon the sides of the miraculous pyramid, he felt the pulse of power throb as the golden object began to glow. Soon his sharp features were bathed in the waxing light. He listened to the drumming throb of his own heart pounding in his ears and watched the opaque sides of Nimrood’s invention take on a misty appearance.
Then, as always before, Jaspin looked into the clearing depths of the enchanted object and watched the thinning mist reveal the dreadful mien of his malicious accomplice.
“Well? What is the meaning of this unexpected summons, prince-ling? Lost a pin? A throne?” The necromancer threw back his head and laughed, but the sound died in his throat. He then fixed Jaspin with an icy glare.
Prince Jaspin quailed at the message he had to deliver. But having no choice, he plowed ahead and steeled himself for the wizard’s awful fury. “The Harriers have returned,” he said simply.
“Good. They enjoyed the benefits of a successful hunt, I trust?”
“N-no,” Jaspin stuttered, “they returned empty-handed—or rather one of them did. The other two lost their lives.”
“You fool! I gave you but one more chance, and you have wasted it. You are finished! Hear me, you insignificant dolt!”
Thinking quickly, in an effort to appease the raging sorcerer and avert further threats, Jaspin seized upon the one scrap of information he had and flung it forth like a leaf against a thunderstorm. “I know where they have gone, Nimrood!” he shouted.
The seething sorcerer quieted his ranting but, still frowning furiously, demanded, “Where have they gone, then? Tell me.”
“First, you must promise—,” Prince Jaspin started, but Nimrood cut him off.
“Promise? How dare you! Listen, dog of a prince! I give my word to no man! Never forget that!” Then the black magician changed, instantly sweetening his tone, as if speaking to an unhappy child. “But I forgive you. Only tell me where the scheming wretches have gone and I will forget this trouble between us.”
Jaspin told quickly the minute fragments of information he had been able to drag from the Harrier. “There are six, and there is a woman among them—the queen, I believe. It is fair certain they have gone to the ruins of Dekra—to hide, most likely. Everyone knows there is nothing there.”
“There is more at Dekra than people know,” said Nimrood. The faintest trace of worry crossed his wrinkled face but was instantly banished by his haughty leer. “They will leave that place as they must. I will ready a special surprise for these bold travelers. Yes, I think I know what it shall be.” Then, speaking to the prince again, he continued. “You serve me well in spite of yourself, proud Prince. And you have earned yourself a reprieve from my anger. It may be I can use you yet.”
“You are forgetting your place,Wizard!” Jaspin, incensed at the staggering insolence of the necromancer, rebelled. “It was I who hired you— you serve me!”
“I tire of your games of petty ambition,” hissed the sorcerer. “Once it suited me to further your childish schemes. But I have designs you cannot imagine. But serve me well, and you shall share in my glory.”
The pyramid lost its crystalline transparency and became cold and solid once more.
Quentin had begged and otherwise pestered Mollena into arranging a meeting with Yeseph for him at the earliest possible time. That meant the moment he opened his eyes the very next morning, the day after their limited tour of the ruined city.
Toli sat opposite Quentin over their breakfast, pointing at objects around the room and demanding that his instructor supply the appropriate word that he might learn it. Quentin, although it seemed sometimes a colossal chore, beamed with pleasure at his pupil’s progress. Toli could already speak halting sentences, albeit simple ones, and could understand most of what Quentin said to him, though he could not always repeat it. When others were around, however, he usually lapsed into his native tongue.
They were deep in concentration when Quentin heard the old woman’s shuffling footsteps on the stone steps outside the kitchen, where they were finishing their meal.
“Mollena! What news? When can I see him?” he blurted as soon as he saw her creased, kindly face poke into view.
“Soon . . . very soon.”
“Mollena . . .”
“Today—we will go as soon as you are ready.”
“I am ready now!”
“No, you have not finished your food. You must eat to regain your strength.”
Toli watched this conversation, as he did most others, in an alert silence. But then he broke in, demanding in his own tongue to know what Quentin prepared to do. “What is it that my friend requires?”
Quentin ate and related to him as well as he could the discussion between Durwin and Theido, their disagreement and the final resolution that had brought them to Dekra. Toli nodded and said, “This leader, Yeseph, he will tell us what we are to do?”
Quentin would not have put it quite that way but, after considering for a moment, nodded his head in agreement. “Yes, he may tell us what we are to do.”
Mollena, who had observed their talk with admiration for the growing bond between the two, now stood them on their feet. “Let us go, you lazy young men. It does not do to keep a Curatak leader waiting.”
The three hobbled together over the jumbled stones of the deserted streets. Quentin, again, was impressed by the elegance and grace of the vanished Arigas’ city. Even in their crumbling state, the abandoned buildings spoke of a purity and harmony of thought and function. Surely, buried here were treasures beyond material wealth.
As they made their way along, occasionally meeting a group of Curatak workmen hauling stone or erecting scaffolding around a sagging wall, Mollena explained to Quentin who Yeseph was and how properly to address him. Quentin listened attentively, careful to mark her words so he would not offend the man best able to answer his questions.
They turned down a walkway, or narrow courtyard, lined with doorways that opened onto a common area of small trees and stone benches. “These are the reading rooms of the Ariga library,” Mollena explained as they passed the open doors. Quentin peered through some of the doors to see scribes busy over scrolls at their writing desks.
“Where is the library?” he asked, realizing that he had seen no structure large enough to house the great library that had been described to him. He looked around to see if he had missed it.
Mollena saw him craning his neck, looking for the library, and laughed. “No, you will not find it there. You are standing on it!” Quentin’s gaze fell to his feet, and his expression changed to one of puzzlement. “It is underground. Come.”
She led them to the end of the narrow courtyard and to a wide doorway. Inside they crossed the smooth marble floor of a great circular room, ringed around by murals of robed men. “Those are Ariga leaders,” Mollena said, indicating the murals with her hands spread wide. “We know little of them now, but we are learning.”
In the center of the round room, which contained no other furniture of any kind that Quentin could see, rose an arch. As they approached the arch, Quentin saw steps leading down to an underground chamber. “The entrance to the library,” he said.
“Yes; notice how the steps are worn from the feet of the Ariga over the ages. They were lovers of books and knowledge. This”—she again embraced the whole of the edifice with a wide sweep of her arm— “this is our greatest charge: to protect the scrolls of the Ariga, lest they pass from human sight and their treasures vanish with the race that created them.”
Quentin caught something of the awe with which the old woman spoke; he was touched as before by the mingled reverence and excitement, as if he were in the presence of a mighty and benevolent monarch who was about to give him a wonderful gift.
“There.” Mollena pointed down the darkened stairway. “Yeseph waits for you. Go to him—and may you find the treasure you are looking for.”
Quentin stepped forward and placed his foot on the first stair. Instantly the darkened stairwell was lighted from either side. He turned to Mollena and Toli, who appeared about to follow him but then hung back uncertainly, and experienced the strange sensation that he might never return. Brushing the feeling aside, he said, “I won’t be long.” Then he proceeded down the stairs.
He had just reached the bottom when he heard a voice call out, “Ah, Quentin. I have been waiting for you.” Quentin stepped forward into the huge, cavernous chamber to see more books than he had ever seen in one place. Shelves three times the height of a man held scrolls without number, each one resting in its own pigeonhole, a ribbon extending on which was written the title of the book and its author and contents. So taken was he by the staggering display that he did not see the small man standing right in front of him.
“I am Yeseph, an elder of the Curatak and curator of the library. Welcome.” The man was dressed simply in a dark blue tunic over which he wore a white mantle edged in brown.
“I am glad to meet you, sir,” said Quentin, somewhat disappointed. He had expected someone who looked like a king or a nobleman of stature, not a short, balding man who walked with a slight limp as he led the way along the corridors of shelves.
“Come along,” the curator called after him. “We have much to talk about and much to see.” Yeseph stopped, standing between two tall shelves, and said, “I can tell a book lover when I see one—you belong here, you know.”
Quentin started, as if to speak; the words seemed to fly out of his head—banished by a most remarkable sensation. It was as if he had been here before . . . seen it just like this . . . somewhere, sometime—long ago, perhaps. He had been here and now had returned.