Its only a first draft and it is chapter one. I know there are grammatical errors, spelling mistakes etc. I just wanted to get it out there…
Kicking a foot against the crumbling brickwork of the tower, Mordin watches the dust and debris spiral in the wind until finally coming to rest on the stone cobbles below. From this height, the streets resemble the military model he has often admired in the castles garrison. The artisan who built it has seen fit not to incorporate all the sights which are landmarks to a small boy, such as the bawdy paintings honouring old pagan gods of fruitfulness and wealth on various warehouse roofs by the docks. These are missing on the castles version.
A perfect view of Hevensar with its deep sapphire sea and a near cloudless sky is worth any future recriminations heading his way; although the formidable Lady Ranaya, his mother, is going to be seriously displeased if he gets caught up here again.
Perched astride the turret he picks out the structures he has conquered – the Chantries Prayer tower (estimated at three hundred feet), the West Wall turret (close to four hundred or so the scholars have told him) and the Flower Square Market tree (his first big conquest). He currently sits admiring the city from the north boundary wall tower, his most recent conquest.
Dominating the skyline to the east, the red rock face shining in the sun, lies Heavens Gate. It was already here when man arrived in the ruins five thousand years ago and whilst mortal castles and kings have fallen, the tower remains resolutely steadfast. It is the only structure of substance that Mordin has yet to climb.
You’ll never meet a Bard or a Gypsy Teller who can’t weave you a contradictory tale of myth or magic describing its origins. Heated arguments can arise when the two forces meet and they seldom agree on how it was built or on its purpose and definitely not on why it was mysteriously left untouched by the devastation that cleared out the first races.
Intimidating in its dimensions and simultaneously a vaunted work of art. The educated leave the mysterious to bards and choose a different area to wrangle their thoughts. The height – one school of science is seven hundred and fifty feet, whilst another says it must be nearer a thousand. Whoever is right, it is by far the tallest structure within the city walls and covered from base to top with a beautiful red sandstone carved relief. Many sculpters and artists travel to Hevensar hoping to be inspired by the beauty of the craftmanship. The intertwined trees and runes so wonderfully captured the locals joke you can see the branches sway in summer winds.
There is no discernible entrance at ground level and the scholars that argue on its height, similarly disagree on whether it is a solid structure. The ones who believe it is close to a thousand feet tall, believe the dark archway visible from the harbour is nothing more than a folly. Others believe that somehow the first races must have been able to get up there. Nobody but the gods knows the answer and so the archway was nick-named “Gods Doorway” as common sense said they would be the only beings ever able to use it.
Every few centuries, men with power and resources take an interest in the tower. Intricate building projects are started but curiously, anything of substance built within thirty feet of the base simply falls apart. Strong sturdy blocks of Easenter oak shipped in for the purpose become little more than wood shaped piles of sawdust.
There was one particularly determined man, a few centuries ago, who even had Granite shipped in (at considerable expense) he was said to have been drunk for a week when the stones mysteriously turned to sand.
A few brave souls from the Knights Academy bouyed by Brandy and the arrogance of youth take a more physical approach each year. Waking the morning after with wounded pride or still half soaked having fallen into the harbour they have a story to tell in their dotage. Mordin has heard one of the old tin plates himself, the man with runny eyes and a sniffle remarked, “When I was a training as man of arms, we got awful drunk one night, me and the boys, got as far as the second branch of one of them damn stone trees and I swear as the gods are my witness that damn tower shook as off like a mutt with fleas on it”.
The sound of the midday bell calling believers to prayer breaks Mordins reverie of the city. The son of a Kings Chief Physicka has his responsibilities waiting. Resigning himself to afternoon lessons, he begins the slow climb down, fingers holding firm in the tiniest of cracks, feet placed surely and carefully. People often think it is the way up that is the most dangerous but Mordin knows the real peril is which way you come down, and with the down, slower is always better.
The wind creeps up in strength and requires him to adjust his movements, a fall from the Flower Market tree at six has taught him a healthy reverence for the conditions. He remembers his mother had been so angry when he’d fallen, that she didn’t speak to him for a week. His father had simply ensured the broken arm was set properly.
Mordin had learnt two things. First, never climb something without also working out how to come down again and second, climbing isn’t just about brawny skill; it takes intelligence too. These days, he studies the objects of his obsession very carefully before placing a single hand or foot upon their surface.
Starting back across the rooftops towards the keep, his mind is on the first set of lessons with the latest in a long line of tutors. His father whilst loving and kind is losing patience with the sharp minded Mordin. He can read and write well enough and it is certainly not a lack of intelligence that keeps him from being a scholarly student. The histories of banners, pennants and long lists of dead people, simply do not hold his attention the same way as the dream of reaching “Gods Doorway”.
Reaching the keep, the two royal guards at the Gatehouse tip a helmet and chuckle as he sprints through, they know the boy well, his fathers villa with medicine gardens sitting in the shadow of the castle. He’s at full tilt as he passes the stables, then the courtyard buildings and on reaching home is dusty, out of breath and late. Straightening his clothes and brushing himself down, the lightly laughing voice of Tibs startles him.
“You have twigs in your hair.” She pulls one from a tangle of black curls and passes it to him, “Go on get in there. This must be the last tutor to agree to teach you in the whole of the continent, ya father will be sending out ships next.”
He pushes the door open for her and bows, she is two years older and already a beauty, Mordin doesn’t yet notice that she has lumps and bumps in all the right places. Tibs walks in with the basket of flowers on her hip and moves out of his eye-line towards the kitchen to dress the stems. Stood in the centre of the hall is the Lady Ranaya with her arms folded neatly across her chest. She is wearing a look that signals any conversation is unlikely to be pleasant.
“Mordin Albero Ranaya, it is a quarter past the hour and your studies were to begin, as discussed at breakfast, at a quarter too.”
The use of both his first, middle and last name is very concerning and he does the only thing a boy of twelve faced with an angry mother can do. He blushes and looks at his feet.
Lady Ranaya, softens slightly, “You’re still late, your tutors waiting” he looks up with big green eyes, “This conversation hasn’t finished Mordin, now get.”
He runs up the spiral staircase towards the study, taking the steps two at a time and bursts through the door. He is expecting an old man, slightly stooped and smelling of moth balls to be scribbling on the blackboard. This is not the first time he has been late for a tutor and he has a thousand ready apologies and an arrogant sneer on his lips. The vision that greets him is as unexpected as it is terrifying.
A Black Warden sits behind the central desk picking at his nails with a dagger. The black leather boots he wears are in sharp contrast to the Cherrywood desk they rest on – a prized possession of Mordins fathers, and he is whistling a sea shanty. A long thin scar runs from chin to scalp on the left side of his face.
Despite his brash entrance into the fairly small tutelage room, the man makes no sign of acknowledging his presence. Mordin has heard many a tale of the Swords of the Church – the Black Wardens. He wonders how you should address one as this is his first? He thinks he should probably include the word Sir. Where is his tutor? Has the warden killed him?
A strange noise alerts him to the presence of the large black hawk on the windowsill. Cocking its head, the eyes transfix with their bright yellow irises and cobalt centres. It feels like the bird is somehow assessing him. He estimates it stands about a meter tall and the folded wings must be twice that. Claws two inches thick scrabble for purchase on the stone sill. The light outlining the bird makes the feathers shine with a gentle opalescence, they look silk-soft and he wonders what it would feel like to stroke them.
As the seconds pass, the wardens lack of attention towards him is becoming uncomfortable and he shuffles from foot to foot. The warden continues to whistle. Checking his impromptu manicure, the man holds his fingers up to a patch of sunlight wending around the eagle. Mordin notices how long and slender they are, more suited to a gypsy fiddler or one of the kings famous portrait artists than the man sat at the tutors desk.
The warden is wearing a deep blue cloak over the iconic black uniform and is well kept and clean which suggests to Mordin that he has entered the city before today, as the trade route roads become dustpans during summer months. If he arrived via boat the nearest other port is two weeks away and he doesn’t smell like he has spent two weeks at sea, so he has had the chance to wash and brush up first. The villa is made from sandstone, so it would have been difficult for the man to scale the walls without even the slightest red smudge on his clothing.
This leads Mordin to the scarier conclusion that his mother and father must know this man and be aware of his presence in their house. He wonders if he will be threatened into study? A warning that if he continues to fail this warden has his name and gods forbid, also seems to know where he lives?
The warden starts a new song, the whistle is skillful and precisely in tune, Mordin recognises it from the dockside taverns where he often listens to the Bards and Gypsy tellers hoping to catch some mention of Heavens Gate. It is from across the sea, he tries to place it, Samarka perhaps? Laying on the roof of the Ship and Sails, late at night, looking up at the stars, he loves to listen to tales from far away lands. He has also picked up an impressive knowledge of sailors songs and now knows how to swear in ten languages.
The eagle flexes its wings, distracting his focus and being unable to open them fully in the confined space, tumbles backwards and soars away. Did that bird just nod at the Warden, Mordin shakes his head to try and clear it. The stress of this mans presence must be affecting him.
“Well Mordin, she is happy with you. I am as yet – unsure. Her eyesight is sharper than mine as are her instincts” the voice is loud, rich and deep.
“Sir?” Mordin squeaks, pleased he remembered to use the sir.
“If I were a gambling man, which I am. I would wager that you would be thinking the following. Why is there a Black Warden in my study room when I was expecting a tutor of history and dead languages?”
“I could answer that question but your father is outside listening, so hows about I welcome him in and we’ll see what’s about shall we?” the Warden chuckles and rises from the desk, the dagger disappearing smoothly under the cloak, “Bear, your skills at sneaking have not improved.”
Standing at six foot five, his father is impressive, next to the Warden as they clasp hands, he looks smaller.
“Well, I’ll be. You received my letter then. We weren’t sure you would show. We were wondering where we’d get another tutor. You will be the twelfth in two years” said his father. “You must dine with us this evening, Lady Ranaya, will demand it.”
“I do not know if I am staying in Hevensar. I have yet to decide. The terms remain, friend, no interference, you know better than most how this works.”
“Yes, yes, I’ll try to keep out of it.” His father mischievously grins, “I happen to have a bottle of Davinta brandy somewhere, perhaps by the docks later…”
“We’ll see, Bear. Although I am certain your good lady will not approve”
Mordin is sure he hasn’t become invisible yet the aura of the two men fills the space. How does his father know a Black Warden? He had heard tales that he was once something of an adventurer before settling in Hevensar. The legends surrounding how he had become the Kings Physicka were wildly exaggerated by the local folk or so he had thought. Who was this Bear? He considered these men whilst his small world view shifted permanently yet lightly on its axis.
Nodding, “I’ll leave you to todays lesson.” His father pauses at the doorway, “He is the best of me. Stay, Old friend.” The door closes softly behind him leaving them alone and Mordin decides to sit down, his legs feeling a little unsteady.
He takes a place at the table and when he looks up the warden is staring directly at him. The mans eyes bore into him, their clear firm blue growing in size until they fill Mordins vision reminding him of vast open oceans and bottomless seas, he involuntarily flinches a little and finally he can’t help but look away. Now this won’t do he thinks, squaring his shoulders and putting all the courage he possesses into the gesture, he puffs out his chest slightly and looks up again.
The Warden roars, a deep throaty sound, the laughter warm and infectious, Mordin can’t help himself as he starts to giggle although not really sure what he is laughing at. They continue good-naturedly for a time and as the merriment dies away, the warden looks thoughtful.
“Jarant is my name and I am a Black Warden. The fact that you just tried to hold my stare does you credit. The hawk seems to like you and as we have already discussed her opinion is no small matter. Your father thinks you worthy and loves you as a father should. What do you think, are you worthy of receiving Akin training?”
Mordin drops his gaze. The Akin training? You were supposed to be fourteen before even commencing it. Even more unusual was those who were trained usually sought out the Wardens. There were nearly as many songs of what aspirational students did to get taken on by a Warden as there were tales of actual deeds by the wardens themselves. Mordin had never heard of students failing the training or at least any that had lived to pass the information on.
“It is unwise to keep a warden waiting on your answer.”
“Sir, I would be honoured to be considered worthy.”
“You haven’t answered the question.”
“I meant no offence, I am only twelve and apart from climbing things my mother tells me not too, I don’t know I have shown any particular worth.”
The warden considers this, stroking his chin, Mordin sneaks a look at the scar. It is deep, yet even and appears to have been healed with some skill.
“This scar would have been deeper without your fathers axe being in the way. Answer me this as you feel you have no worth. What one wish would you ask the Gods? Consider this well, some thought would be appropriate, its answer will decide your fate and mine.” Said the Warden.
Mordin reflects that here he is asked if he would like to begin training on one of the most difficult paths of the Gods. He searches deep inside himself for the answer; a response designed to flatter will be seen for what it is. It is said you never lie to a warden twice.
“I would find out if Gods Doorway is a folly by climbing Heavens Gate and seeing if there is anything inside.”
“You wouldn’t just ask to be transported inside by the Gods?”
“No, I would wish to be skillful enough to climb and find out for myself.”
“Even if no one could ever know that you had? Nothing sung in those bawdy taverns by the docks where you lie listening to tales of heroes?”
How did he know about that, thought Mordin.
“It is the only thing I haven’t climbed yet and I would know even if no one else ever did. There is one person, I would need to tell.”
“Who is so important to you?”
“When I was a little boy” the warden raises an eyebrow, Mordin continues “My father would tell me tales of the tower to help get me off to sleep. He would tell every story he could think of and a few I think he made up. Even, when he set my arm after I had a fall he told me a tale about the tower.”
“When I asked him what was inside he told me that he didn’t know and that in fact nobody in the whole provinces or even alive knew if it even had an inside. At the end of every story he would tell me that nobody knows the truth of it.”
“So, you wish to tell your father the answer?”, Mordin nods and smiles, “I’d also like to know the answer and be famous! But if I couldn’t have a tale or a song about me then maybe just knowing would be okay.”
“Hmmphhh” said the warden concealing a smirk, “We start tomorrow at Noon. I would advise against any further tardiness on your part. Please give your mother my apologies for my absence at dinner” with that the Warden rises and crosses to the door.
As he hears the wardens footsteps die away, Mordin feels slightly disappointed and was expecting something more dramatic as an exit, maybe a puff of smoke or disappearing in a flash of light.
“Even Wardens use stairs, boy!”, The voice makes him jump as it sounds as if the warden is still in the room,
He stays seated at the table for a long time, his hand absently stroking the varnish as he considers todays confusing events, in the distance he hears a hawk scream as it circles high above the city and he breaks into a smile. He is still there in a world of his own some hours later when finally located by a frustrated footman for dinner.