You stand there blinking, young sir,” replied Yeseph kindly. “Is there something your heart would say but your tongue cannot?”
Quentin, suspended by the feeling that he had once stood in this very spot, talking to this venerable little man, could only stare in wonder.
But the feeling passed like a cloud sweeping before the sun, and Quentin came to himself again.
“I had the feeling that I have been here before and that I have seen you before too,” he said, shaking his head slightly.
The Curatak elder smiled knowingly and nodded. “Perhaps you have—all the more reason I should treat my guest with honor.” He turned and led the way between the towering shelves. “These are my life,” Yeseph said, indicating row upon row of books with his raised palm. He went on to describe the work going on in the enormous library.
Quentin followed in rapt attention, fascinated by all he saw and haunted by the lingering feeling that he belonged here, that somehow he had come home.
Presently their tour led them to a row of copy desks where Curatak scholars were hard at work over manuscripts, making notes and translating. Yeseph made his way along the desks, stopping at each one to offer some word of encouragement or answer a question. Then he reached a door that stood ajar, and Quentin entered Yeseph’s own workroom.
The small room was sparsely furnished with a desk, piled high with scrolls, and a table straining under the weight of still more books. Generous light poured into the room from a round skylight overhead.
Two fragile-looking chairs faced each other, and Yeseph took one and waved Quentin to the other after closing the door for privacy.
“Now then, Mollena tells me you have questions which only I can answer. I will try.” He nodded, smiling encouragingly.
For a moment Quentin had quite forgotten his questions, but upon recollection they came back to him, if somewhat reduced in importance by the things he had seen around him. Quentin explained to Yeseph, who listened patiently, about the disagreement between Theido and Durwin, and Theido’s reluctance to come to Dekra. He ended by saying, “. . . though I can see no reason for fear—surely there is only good here.” He paused and added, “Unless the danger lay not in the destination but in the reason for coming.”
Yeseph smiled. “Your mind is quick! Yes, I could not have put it better myself.
“There is no danger here. The stories—” He dismissed them with a mocking frown and a wave of his hand. “Bah! Superstitious prattle— made up to scare the children. Though I admit we do not discourage them. Our work is very important; it is best that the world stays far away and troubles us only rarely.
“But that is not why Theido did not want to come, or rather, did not wish Durwin to come.” He stood and began walking around the cell, hands clasped behind his back in the manner of a teacher instructing his pupil.
“Dekra is a place of power, one of the last remaining on the earth. Durwin knows this, as does Theido.” He laughed. “You little know your hermit friend—a man of amazing talents. He came to us as high priest of the Temple of Ariel. On a pilgrimage, he was, seeking to further his quest for knowledge. He believed at that time that knowledge alone could transform a man, make him immortal, exalt him to the status of the gods.
“Here he found how far wrong he was—it would have crushed a lesser man. But not him. He grew from strength to strength, discarding all his previous beliefs as fast as he could embrace his new ones. In three years’ time he learned all that we had to teach. He went back to the temple and renounced his faith. They nearly killed him—would have, but for the scandal.”
Yeseph stopped walking and placed his hands on the back of his chair and looked at Quentin. “Durwin returned to us then, but only for a short time, though we begged him to stay and join us in our work. But he had greater things to do—the god revealed that to him.
“You see, he had only come back to divest himself of all his earthly power. As high priest he had studied long the magic of the sorcerers, the wizard’s art, and he had become keenly adept. But he saw that for what it was—the way of death. He put off his power—here, where he knew no one would misuse it.
“As it happened, when Nimrood was discovered to have risen against the king and his kingdom, Durwin thought to come here to retrieve his power, to take it up again in this good cause. He proposed to face Nimrood himself, alone.”
Yeseph smiled sadly. “That was not to be.”
The elder’s words sank slowly in, but as their meaning broke fully in Quentin’s consciousness, he exclaimed, “Then what will become of them? They go to meet the enemy unarmed!”
“They go. Unarmed they may be, but not unguarded. We could not allow our honorable friend to take such a terrible burden upon himself. It would destroy him. Theido understood that, although imperfectly. He knew that coming here would very likely mean the death of Durwin.”
“But he changed his mind—why?”
Yeseph shrugged. “He weakened in the face of the threat posed by the Harriers, and Durwin’s insistence. Still, that mattered but little. We did not allow them to carry out their plan.
“The power has been put off. It is here, and here it will stay.”
Quentin fought his rising emotions, but fear for his friends and anxiety over their safety roiled within him. “How could you let them go?” he shouted, leaping from his chair. Quentin knew nothing of Nimrood, only that everyone around him seemed to tremble at that name. The sorcerer appeared to be the cause of all the troubles besetting the land. He had not experienced the evil of the black wizard firsthand; he had been spared that, but he had formed a picture in his mind of something grotesque and twisted in its terrible hate, less a man than a maleficent monster. It was the monster Nimrood his friends now quested, unarmed by the power that Durwin might have commanded.
“How could you let them go?” he asked again quietly, hopelessly.
“How could we prevent them from going?” rejoined Yeseph kindly.
“What will happen now?” Quentin already expected the worst possible outcome. “They cannot stand against Nimrood alone.”
Yeseph smiled knowingly. “Your friends are not alone. The god goes with them.” He said it so simply, so trustingly, that Quentin wanted desperately to believe him. But his own doubts, and all that he had seen in the temple, stole away his seed of belief before it could take root. His face fell in misery.
“What good is that? The gods do not care! Our lives mean nothing to them,” he said bitterly.
“You are right—and yet you are far from the truth.” Yeseph crossed the distance between them and peered into Quentin’s brown eyes intently. “The Most High God is One. The gods of the earth and sky are but the chaff blown before the mighty wind of his coming. They cannot stand in his presence, and even now their power grows weak.”
“But what makes this nameless god different from all the others?”
Again Quentin wanted desperately to believe, for the sake of his friends. But the years of temple training, all his earlier beliefs, rushed upon him and extinguished any spark of hope that what Yeseph said might be true. “I wish I could believe you.”
“Do not fear for your friends,” Yeseph said, placing a hand on Quentin’s arm. “The god holds them in the palm of his hand.”
“They will be destroyed!” said Quentin, recoiling in horror at the thought of his companions marching headlong into battle with the beast Nimrood, defenseless and vulnerable.
“They may be killed,” agreed Yeseph, “but not destroyed. There are worse things than death, though I would not expect you to know about them. It would be worse for Durwin to take up again the power which he laid down years ago—that would destroy him in the end. He would become the same as Nimrood. He would become the very thing he hated. That would be worse than honorable death.
“Besides,” the Curatak elder said lightly, “do you think your presence with them would sway the balance very much?”
Quentin’s head fell toward his chest; his cheeks burned with shame. “Who am I to make a difference?” he mocked sadly. “I am no one. No one at all.”
“You feel things deeply, Quentin,” soothed Yeseph. “You are young, impetuous. Your heart speaks before your head. But it will not always be so.”
“But is there nothing I can do to help them?” Quentin asked. He felt helpless and cast aside, useless baggage.
“Does it mean that much to you?” The elder eyed him closely.
Quentin nodded in silence. His eyes sought Yeseph’s for some sign that he would help him find a way.
“I see. Well then, here is something to think about. I will bring it before the council of elders. There are those among us who discern more closely than I how the god’s hand moves through time and men’s lives. We will seek their counsel.”
Quentin’s eyes brightened at the prospect, and hope revived in his heart. As he left Yeseph to his work, he felt as if a great burden had been lifted from him. He did not know what to make of the feeling.
“Quentin,” the elder curator called after him as he slipped through the door, “there is more to you than meets the eye. I knew the moment you opened your mouth to speak. When you have done whatever it is that has been given you to do, promise me that you will come back again and sit at my feet—there is much I would like to teach you.”
That night Quentin dreamed another flying dream.