OF GODS AND MEN
Chapter 9: Deus Ex Machina
The early morning mist washed over the woodwalk maze that made up the dock of Malthanon’s harbor. Even though the sun was barely up in the sky, most of the ships that called the dock home had left hours before the sun had risen. The few ships left; anchored in their stalls; rocked back and forth, betraying the swells of the tide.
The peaceful, yet haunting scene on the wooden walkways was mostly unpeopled; save for a few sailors who had missed being staffed on the pre-dawn fishing expeditions.
Cecily led her friends eagerly onto the docks. On the walk back to the White Light Tavern the night before, she and Tarsus talked heatedly about what their next step should be. Cecily felt strongly that the answer to their problem could be found on the harbor. Tarsus was not so sure he agreed. But without any better ideas, he felt it wiser to trust to a passionate leaning rather than to a belabored decision arrived at through cautious consensus.
“Didn’t quite get our money’s worth, leaving so early, did we?” Finnian asked through a yawn.
“This is not a holiday,” Cecily answered, maintaining her focus on the dock. “We are not here to sleep.”
“Then why are we here?” Finnian protested. “If the priests of Malthus don’t believe the Under Isle even exists; and remember, these are men who believe that women who can’t have babies just don’t pray enough; how do you expect us to find a sailor with any knowledge of the place?”
“It’s an island. Right?” Cecily snapped, finally turning to her right and confronting both Finnian and his skepticism head on. “Therefore, it stands to reason it lies somewhere on the high seas. Sailors are out on those waters everyday. They have seen more in their travels than any of the priests have seen in their lifetimes. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather ask questions to those who have real knowledge and experience of the subjects I’m inquiring about rather than those who can only speak with authority on their own assumptions, ignorantly mistaking those assumptions for facts.”
Finnian opened his mouth instantly, but no words came out. He looked at Cecily with widening eyes as the realization of what she had said struck him. “I agree,” he finally admitted. “That’s the most sensible thing I’ve heard you say since we set out.”
Cecily looked at him suspiciously. After a moment, she offered a hesitant smile and nodded her thanks for the compliment. She turned from Finnian then, perhaps not wanting to give him the chance to say anything that would ruin their moment of solidarity.
Not far from where the three of them stood, a sailor sat whittling. Cecily approached the man and began a quiet conversation.
“Perhaps not all those who revere the gods are ignorant fools that want to be proven right without having to think,” Tarsus said, smiling at the flummoxed expression that still dressed his friend’s face.
Finnian’s incredulity shrank then, and he looked back at Tarsus shrewdly. “And perhaps not all those who doubt the gods are self-important boobs who only want to prove others wrong because they prize thinking over feeling.”
“You’re not a boob?” Tarsus mocked.
“Give me credit, Tarsus,” Finnian said, very seriously. “Even if I am, that was a very astute answer. Just because I like women and beer doesn’t mean I can’t be incredibly insight…”
Finnian was suddenly shunted forward. Tarsus held out his arms to catch his young friend.
“Are you alright?” Tarsus asked.
“Fine,” Finnian answered, pushing himself back onto his own feet.
As Finnian straightened, a large figure, hooded and wearing a brown cloak, appeared next to the pair of friends. Tarsus could not see all of the stranger’s face, which was half covered by a cloth mask. But above the cloth, he did notice a pair of beautiful blue-green eyes. They reminded him of the sea.
“Sorry,” the veiled figure said in what was unmistakably a feminine voice. She bowed to Finnian.
“Not at all,” Finnian replied with a wide smile. He’d clearly noticed the stranger’s eyes and the dulcet tone of her apology; and thus his charm burst forth like a frothy wave breaking through a dam. “I suppose it was inevitable I’d bump into someone in this crowd.”
Tarsus looked around them. Cecily was ahead, speaking to one sailor. Behind them two sailors sat eating a late breakfast, and three horses were trotting up to the wooden walkway of the harbor. There was no crowd.
“I am glad that who I bumped into was someone with eyes as lovely as yours,” Finnian flattered.
Just then, a trumpet blared. Tarsus, Finnian and everyone around them turned to the harbor entrance. The three horses that Tarsus saw approaching came to a halt at the dividing line between the stone street of the city and the wooden walkway of the harbor. Sitting atop the horses were three shining white knights wearing silver helms. They were knights of the KingsGuard, and they were irradiant in the morning light.
“You there,” the knight in the center called out in a strong and familiar voice. Tarsus did not have time to reflect on that, though, as the knight pointed a hand directly at him. “Come forward please.”
“Me?” Tarsus asked, looking around.
“The woman,” the voice of the central knight rang out. Tarsus and Finnian both turned then, to see Ceclily, who was also turning to look behind her. Surely, there must have been some other suspicious looking woman on the docks.
“You, with the red hair,” the central knight clarified, clearly irritated.
“Oh,” Cecily said, as she turned back. She straightened herself up and began walking, with an air of purpose, toward the knights.
“Sorry again,” the cloaked woman standing next to Tarsus and Finnian said as she backed away slowly, quickly vanishing from the imminent confrontation.
But if Finnian had heard her, he showed no sign of it. Even Tarsus barely noticed her leaving. Both of them had eyes only for Cecily as she passed them by on her way to where the knights awaited her. They shared a glance with her as she walked past, offering their nods of encouragement. A moment later, she stood before the three knights. They sat high on horseback, looking down on her as some tribunal ready to pass judgment.
“The high priest of Malthus sent us to give you this,” the center knight said as he handed Cecily a roll of parchment.
She broke the seal and unrolled the scroll. She stood there silently, reading over the contents of what she had been given.
Tarsus watched her closely. Tilts of her head and fidgets of her hands betrayed to him that whatever she was reading, it was not good news.
Finally, Cecily raised her head to the knights and lifted the scroll to prominently display it. “This is a ban,” she said, almost questioningly. “I am never to return to Malthanon.”
“Correct,” the central knight confirmed. “For your insults against the high priest and the clergy of Malthus, you are no longer welcome here.”
“What did you say?” Finnian called out excitedly, as he propelled himself forward finally stopping right behind Cecily and trying to peek over her shoulder at the scroll.
Tarsus chased after him, with every intention of admonishing his friend for his foolish outburst. But curiosity, too, got the better of him. As he stood, flanking Cecily’s right side, he could not help himself looking down at the scroll and reading the first few lines.
“I only asked if any of them had ever left Malthanon,” Cecily justified. “They told me no. So I made a logical conclusion: how could any of them speak with authority on the Under Isle?”
“I wish I could have been there for that,” Finnian said quietly.
“You would,” came the authoritative voice of the central knight from above them.
The three of them looked up, as one, at their judge who loomed over them as a grim statue. In response, the knight raised his hands to his helm and lifted it up off himself. Tarsus was momentarily surprised, and then admonished himself for being so. This was becoming all too ordinary in his world.
The central knight: the herald of Malthus’s justice: was Drake.
Drake dismounted and handed the reigns of his horse up to the knight on his left.
“Captain Mathix!” the soldier said, alarmed. “Is something wrong sir?”
“Clearly something’s wrong Jeremy,” the knight to Drake’s left answered. “He took off his helm. We never take off our helms.”
“I do sometimes,” Jeremy answered. “It gets bloody hot under here.”
“Enough,” Drake said calmly. “I know these two, and I would speak with them without interruption.”
The two knights on either side of Drake fell silent, and even though they resumed looking like grim warriors Tarsus could not help but smile as he continued their conversation of being hot in their armor in his own mind.
As though in answer to Tarsus’s improper decorum, Drake looked directly at him, ignoring the other two. Tarsus quickly stopped smiling and tried to focus on a fishing shack behind his old friend. He did not like being the focus of one person’s intent and scrutinizing gaze, so he employed the trick of focusing on something behind his inspector to alleviate his own embarrassment.
“What are you doing here?” Drake asked.
There was incredulity to Drake’s question that Tarsus felt the need to respond to. He looked from the shack to his old friend; and whatever expression was on his face, he could tell by Drake’s reaction to it that it was not a good one. “We’re here with her. On a mission from Malthus.”
“Don’t worry Drake,” came Finnian’s reply. Tarsus could hear the derision in his friend’s voice. “Just because we’re doing more for your GodKing than you all are, doesn’t mean you should feel bad. You turned your back on your home, you’ve abandoned your family, you’re a terrible friend…those are the reasons you should feel bad.”
“I have to agree with Finnian,” Tarsus replied, playing into his friend’s verbal attack. “Especially with the ‘friends’ part. It’s one thing to be honest with your friends. It’s another to be intentionally cruel.”
“Indeed,” Drake replied with a smirk. “I did not mean to be cruel, whatever the two of you believe. I was hoping my words at the Good Shepherd would push you, which it seems they did.”
“Oh, so you were trying to motivate us,” Finnian mocked. “Well, that’s not at all abusive.”
“Oh, so you were trying to motivate us,” Finnian mocked. “Well, that’s not at all abusive.”
Drake shifted his focus to Cecily. He seemed to study her with a reserved intent. “Take care of these two,” he said to her, indicating Tarsus and Finnian. “They are serviceable warriors, but as you can see they feed into one another; like the rod and bob of a pendulum. Even when they disagree, they will swing in the same direction. Sometimes, that direction will be helpful. But the pendulum swings both ways.”
Drake stepped back and took them all in with one last look. He gave a small smile. Tarsus did not know how to read it: was it derisive or proud?
“Be well,” Drake finally said. He turned and mounted his horse again, taking back the reigns from his fellow knight. “But do not enter this city again. Any of you. If you do, you will be arrested.”
He did not give them time to respond, but turned on the spot and trotted off back down the stone street into the city proper. His knights were close behind him.
“He seems bound and determined to discourage us,” Tarsus said absently.
“Not if we come back with the sword,” Cecily offered. “If we can find it…all will be forgiven.”
“Yes. Malthir is the answer,” Tarsus agreed.
“Malthir, you say?” came a voice from behind them.
Immediately after hearing it, Tarsus felt a very slight pull in the pit of his stomach. He turned to find a man about his same height and build. The man had black hair and brown skin, as he had. But this fellow’s eyes were black, and they were alight with a broad smile directed at the three of them.
“And what would mere mortals do with the sword of the GodKing?” the stranger asked.
“Who are you to ask about our business?” Tarsus demanded. He couldn’t believe that this man was a god. True, he felt the pull of divinity, but it was much weaker than he had ever felt in the past.
“Who am I? Behold your prince and pay homage,” the stranger said proudly. “My name is Cassius. I am Malthus’s son.”