Chapter 4 in which our travelers meet the ancient prophet Merops, explore the ruined city of Palo-Enlil, and lose a great deal of formatting.
Presently they came to a row of trees. They walked along in single file until they came to a road that made a sharp left. Curious now, they explored this side. Halfway down the line a gate appeared in sight Jorlath whistled.
ASo this place is inhabited after all.@
AIt certainly seems that way,@ answered Myridon.
AI think we=d better stay away,@ said Basnu.
AI wonder, is it safe to enter?@ asked Atma.
AYes, of course it=s safe to enter,@ replied a strange voice.
The group whirled around and standing behind them was a little wrinkled old man, bent with the years, with a long flowing beard. He wore a single long white tunic of rough wool that went down to his heels and carried a staff in his right hand.
AWhere did you come from?@ Asked Aidin.
AWhy, I=ve been here the entire time. You just didn=t see me, not everyone can, or so they say,@ he added as an afterthought.
They looked astonished at the little man, especially the Rodamine brothers who later admitted that no one of their families had been able to conceal himself so cleverly.@
AMy name is Merops. I am the caretaker of the Garden of Cathmarten which is where you are now. Follow me into my home and have a rest from your travels.@
They followed his advice and went in after him, Basnu and Myridon last. After the gate, they came to a lawn, then through a twisting maze of apple trees. Next, came a small brook, which they waded across, and then through some more apple trees. Eventually they came to a clearing, if clearing it was. For what met their eyes was a blur of reds, yellows, blues, greens, and every other color imaginable. Everywhere their eyes looked they saw gardens. All types of gardens too. Flower gardens, vegetable gardens, herb gardens , and others. In the middle of it all stood a long, low, wooden house. This, he said, was his home. He invited them to sit on a flat grassy area in front of his house.
AWelcome to Cathmarten. I=m sure you=ll stay for awhile. Many travelers have rested here on journeys. Though I dare say its been a good score of years plus five since the last ones were here. I trust that you=ve had a pleasant journey since leaving Velusia?@
AHow do you know where we come from?@ asked Myridon.
AI know many things that go on in the wide world,@ he replied.
AAnd just how do you accomplish this?@ asked Malchius.
AAh, you shall see.@
The old prophet contorted his face ever so slightly and began whistling a strange tune. As he did, a large owl nearly a foot tall with very bright eyes alighted beside him. Merops began a different sort of whistling. After five minutes of this language, the owl began making tu-whoo-whooing noises that sounded similar to Merops’ whistles. Then, with a great flurry of feathers, the owl flew off.
AYour hurried departure has worried the lord of Velusia. He has sent men to look for you, however, they have returned. What troubles you?@
AWe didn=t know we were being followed, replied Malchius@
>We thought that there would be the chance hence the reason for our quick departure,@ said Myridon.
He told Merops of the northern dragons and the new traders. Merops nodded then with a grave look began.
ADon=t believe a word of it, my friends. Dragons have not been in that part of the world for many hundreds of years. The deaths that you speak of are the result of bandits and outlaws. My messengers bring word that Megisteron of the far eastern realm of Longurio is building his empire again. These traders are merely his outlaws and agents sent out to corrupt the land and spew the venom that he has brewed for many a dark year.@
“Megisteron!@ said Myridon. AHe died in the first age of the world. Surely it cannot be he.@
AAye, its true that the Megisteron you speak of disappeared, but the fact remains that he didn=t die. He was disembodied, and only for a time. Few on or in the earth nowadays remember his disappearance. I am one of the few. It is an evil tale but one you should be told. At least in part, for the telling of the full tale would take practically forever. Still Megisteron will be vanquished from earth.@
AWill it be soon or even in our lifetime?@ asked Malchius.
ANo, my friend, not during this age of Tellus. Megisteron is very powerful and a long liver, a longaeva extraordinary.@ He cleared his throat and continued. AAs you have heard, Megisteron became disembodied in the previous age of Tellus. From man’s perspective, however, he in a sense, died.@
AI don=t understand?@ asked Aidin.
AI think, perhaps, it would be best to begin with a short history.@
AMany years ago during the first age of Tellus, Megisteron, then called Avitar, was the eldest son of a great king. As the heir to the throne, his father wisely sent his son on journeys throughout the empire to acquire knowledge and wisdom. For it was his belief that exposing one to many different cultures would help prepare Avitar for the throne. So, he traveled far and wide encountering new people, ideas, and beliefs. On one of these journeys he got lost in a great wilderness. He and his traveling companions wandered around hopelessly for weeks. Everyone in his company died except Avitar. It has been said that they were murdered but the truth may never be known. He somehow lasted a few days longer and apparently discovered the Tree of Ealdor in an oasis.@
AYou don=t mean to tell me he ate from the Sephirotic Tree?@ asked an incredulous Atma.
AYes. Sad but true. He happened upon it one day in his youth. He took of the fruit and at once his eyes lit and he became more aware than ever. Armed with a new vigor he made his way back home. At first, no one noticed any difference in him. Yet gradually as the years went by it was noticed that he didn=t seem to age. People called him >youthful.= Not only did he seem ageless, he also became more crafty. In the past he was a generous man, always helping others. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, he grew more wicked. As his father the king aged, outlaws and marauders from Lanste overran his people land years later and most were killed. Megisteron was one of the few to escape. Some say he bribed the Lantsians but the truth may never be known now. Anyhow, Megisteron lived in the mountains for a long spell, building his army of Nephilim in secret, and plotting the day that he would rule an empire.@
ADuring the last age, a great war took place in the realm of Longurio. Megisteron had assembled a vast host of great warriors called the Anu-Naki. The smallest stood seven feet high and carried a spear of iron. They were a terror to behold in their wrath yet it led to their ultimate undoing. For years Megisteron led these fell warriors in many battles. Most fled in terror from the mere sight of his army yet there were a few with heart and courage enough to withstand him for a time. Yet even most of these he eventually overcame. With Longurio finally in his grasp his eyes wandered even further. In his greedy mind, the entire world could be his. Yet in the greatness and height of his power he was betrayed. Sardon, his personal body guard and closest friend, if indeed Megisteron had any true friends, stabbed him in the back while he slept. However, Megisteron didn=t die instantly as Sardon had hoped. In fact he never did die. He fought with Sardon and even in his weakened condition killed his ally. Megisteron was badly maimed yet the fruit he tasted in his youth made death impossible.@
AHmm,@ Basnu nodded, AThat is a tale I=ve not heard the like of, but you said that he died, or became disembodied, did you not?@
AMegisteron in a sense died,@ the old prophet replied. AMegisteron hid himself in a deep dark cave for time out of mind. The body remained dormant yet his spirit he let roam free at will. It traveled hither and thither about the world seeking knowledge of evil in dark places. One day he will again rise to great power. Perhaps that time is near.@
AIs there then no hope? Surely somehow he can be stopped.@
AAny who eat of the Sephirotic Tree will never die. It is also written that a great hero will arise and bind him in a secret place until the doom of man has come, but for now, we must wait.@
APerhaps it would have been better if this tree had never existed. What good is a fruit that gives one immortality if it also gives birth to evil?@
ANay. The tree itself does not give birth to evil. The evil is in the one who eats the fruit. The smallest grain of evil in a man=s heart will grow to vast proportions over time. Avitar, as I said before, was a good man once, a king among men. But alas, evil dwelt in his breast though he knew it not. The seed of pride, common to all men, was in him. Through the years it grew unheeded until finally it became too great to control. He pride overthrew him.@
AShould we even consider taking the fruit if all this be true?@ asked Malchius.
ANo! Under no circumstances. It will be the destruction of you and all Tellus in time. The leaves you may, for they have the virtue of overcoming any sickness. That is what the Sephirotic Tree was originally planted for. There are other uses of the Sephiroth but reserved for others in another time. Iluvatar in his great wisdom knew that in time mankind would become eventually become a lesser creature. Through the years his lifespan would shorten and gradually he would become like a hapless beast. Already many men have lost a great portion of their rationality. It is partly for this reason that the King=s Wars were fought. But come. We=ve talked about Megisteron long enough for one day. Look. The fog has lifted and the sun is making merry again.@
They looked and sure enough the fog had lifted from the valley. Merops led them to a stone tower behind his house. He took out a silver key and unlocked the great door. It was dark inside and had a slight musty odor but they could see well enough that it was designed to be some kind of observatory for watching the heavens. Bits of hay littered the floor and in the corner stood a single ladder. They climbed to the top and entered another room through a small hole. This room contained a chair and a table upon which lay open an enormous book bound in rich-smelling leather. The words were written in golden ink and when the sun hit them at a certain angle, they glimmered.
AThis is where I like to sit and collect my thoughts. Nearly everyday I come here to think and write. The book you see here is a history of the peoples of the world. Much of what is written here is of people and lands you=ve never heard of. Not that nothing important ever happens in Selidorn and Velusia, but your lands are rather secluded from the rest of Tellus. Now, where did I put my pipe. . . Ah, yes, in my pocket. Must remember to put it out next time.@ He scratched his head and continued. AEh, what=s that? Oh, not that you would understand or anything. You=re too young and inexperienced.@
ASome of us, but I think I do know what you=re driving at,@ said Myridon.
The only opening was through a long horizontal slit in the wall approximately equal to Merops stature. Nevertheless, it afforded them a fairly good view of their location. Cathmarten lay in the center of a great bowl of trees. They were in the center of a great fir forest and felt themselves rather fortunate they stumbled across his doorstep when they did. The trees grew so close that a perpetual gloom seemed to penetrate the surrounding land and an uncanny silence haunted their senses.
ATonight, my guests, you will see a rare event in the heavens. The star of Henoch will rise above the horizon for the first time since the Great Disaster. Henoch will then be the brightest object in the night sky. This portends great events in Tellus, but whether good or bad remains to be seen. But tonight, we will see what we shall see.@
* * *
Hours later, the star of Henoch was gone. Merops led them down into the lower room where they were to spend the night. He bid them a good night and closed the door. They felt it strange that Merops didn’t seem to want them to enter his house, but after discussing came to the erroneous conclusion that ’after all, a hermits a hermit and probably felt shy about having so many visitors inside.’ Malchius wasn’t so sure. He felt a slight bit of tension between the prophet and the wizard.
When they tried the door, they found it couldn’t be budged.
“Trapped! I knew it all along,” said Basnu. “Those two are up to something.”
“If they were really up to something don’t you think...”Jorlath said in a slightly perturbed voice.
“And what did he mean by saying, ‘You little ones will be safe here.’ I don’t think he meant our height,” said Aidin in a lowered voice. “Something’s got to Myridon. That bit about Megisteron worried him. I’ve known him for years, as even tempered as they come. Yes, he’s been surprised tonight.”
“But I don’t see why they needed to keep us out here...in the cold,” he bundled his tunic closer and put his cloak on. He was always the first to feel the oncoming winter.
“Something’s got to him anyhow. What do you know about Megisteron?”
“Hmm...lots and nothing at all.”
“How do you mean by that?”
“Well, I’ve heard some of the elders when talking about some especially mean rascal in years gone by say that he was ‘as mean as Megisteron.’” I’d never given much thought to it. Turns out this chap may be living after all.”
Aidin said, “So long as he stays on his side of the Wall, I for one don’t mind.”
“Do you think he’ll have men guarding the Sephirotic Tree?” asked Basnu.
“I don’t see how if it’s as inaccessible as Myridon says.”
“That’s if it even exists now,” said Basnu in lowered voice, but no one seemed to hear him.
The night drew on and one by one they fell to sleep. The tower was deathly quiet and no sound could be heard from the outlying forest, except perhaps for the subdued conversation of the two men in Merops house.
The sun was well above the eastern horizon when the rustling of a key in the door awakened them. All four started to their feet but relaxed when Merops and Myridon entered. The wizard seemed a bit more haggard than yesterday but Merops was as cheery as ever.
“I only hope you slept well in my little observatory,” the little man replied. “It must have been a bit crowded but I don’t usually have more than one guest or two at a time.”
They replied that it was quite comfortable and were really quite glad to sleep indoors for a change. They ate a hearty breakfast of porridge, eggs, buttered toast, and coffee on a small courtyard that lay hidden in one of the many gardens.
AOne more word. Take only a few leaves. If more then one is taken the Guardian will be aroused.@
AWho is this >Guardian=?@ asked Aidin.
AThe Guardian is the one who takes care of the Sephirotic Tree. It is said that he remains unseen to most eyes but at times can be seen if in the right place at the right time.@
AAnd this >Guardian=, is he human?@ asked Basnu.
AThat is beyond my knowledge. Yet let it be known that he is certainly a great being.@
AWhat will he do if we take a fruit?@ asked Basnu.
ANo one can take a fruit and live. That is the miserable creature Megisteron.@
AWhy, did he elude the Guardian?@
ANo, my friend, that is another tale altogether. One that would take a hundred and one days to tell in full. But I will tell you this much. Many ages ago, the Sephirotic Tree was not guarded. There was no need for it. Alas, but that age has ended and a great peace has left the world. Yet even now those who are brave enough to venture such a courageous journey are rewarded with some of its leaves. That is all the council I can give you now. I am old and my powers of sight aren=t quite as they were in days past. But with courage and a little luck I believe you can succeed. A
And with that they thanked him many times and promised him part of the leaves when and if they returned.
ANo, my friends, the Sephirotic leaves are not for me. For to eat of even a small portion of that fruit would mean many more years of life for me. Not youth but life. Do you understand? The Sephirotic Tree doesn=t give you life. It gives you existence.@
“Hasten now on your journey!” he said. “And tarry not in the Layam.” They bowed graciously to their host but found no words to reply. Merops stood leaning on his gate watching them. Just before they came to a sharp bend in the road, Myridon raised his hand and looked back. Merops in turn raised his. Soon after midday the travelers left Merops of Cathmarten and continued on the desolate trail towards their goal.
The path zig-zagged along for a few miles before they found themselves on the great Eastern road once again.
* * *
ASay,@ said Aidin. AWho made this path we=re traveling on?@
AA very good question, my friend,@ he answered. AAt one time the Gates of Layam were the entrance to a great city named Palo-Enlil. The Layam desert wasn=t then a desert, but a large lake. Traders would come on this path from Velusia and other villages to do business. Over time a series of earthquakes made the Layam run dry. With no water source the people left. It is now populated with wild animals. Once a year the chieftain of Velusia sends a messenger to the Gates to see if water has returned. The desert will never return to its previous state, and except for a few oases, it will always remain dry and barren.
I heard the stories of a few traders and they say that loud wails can be heard sometimes at night when on the other mountain trails nearest the desert.@
ALet=s hope your right,@ said Myridon.
The afternoon was spent much the same as the morning. Climbing up the narrow rocky paths and ambling down the other sides. An occasional hawk or eagle could be seen flying in the distance. Upon reaching the top of one path, Atma pointed out a large yellow area in the distance.
AThere it is,@ he cried. AThe Layam desert.@
The others gathered around and gazed. Before them lie the dry and barren sands of the Layam Desert. It didn=t seem very big from where they stood. Especially when compared to the towering heights of Mt. Danyabad on the other side of the yellow plain. It was far too late to think of reaching the Gates that day and so made camp.
After dinner, the company crawled in their tents and promptly fell asleep. All except for Malchius, whose turn it was to stand watch. Malchius whiled away the time by trying to count the stars but this only aroused boyhood memories when he would lay under the summer stars and make up his own constellations. He thought of Heldur and Laeknir, his two best friends.
Laeknir was forced into King Mizraims army as a cooks helper when he was only twelve. Laeknir, well. . .He wondered about the misery his father and mother were going through back in their little village far, far away.
AProbably going off to the village priest to offer a sacrifice to the goddess Naedrus. Sometimes I wonder if Naedrus really exists at all. She jolly well didn=t help me when I encountered one of Mizraims dead deer.@
Basnu relieved him at midnight.
Morning saw the group up and on their way in a bit of a hurry. Their goal that day was to reach the gates before dark. Except for a brief ten minute rest, they traveled without stop past endless ravines hundreds of feet deep, and over piles and piles of rocks. As the sun was sinking below the horizon the large gates loomed up before them only a few hundred yards distant. They patted each other on the back and ambled to the large rocky arches. Two great pillars of stone seemed to beckon them on. The last thin crescent of sun was showing when they all collapsed to the ground. Tired and exhausted, everyone went to sleep almost immediately. Atma was supposed to take the first watch, which he did, however after fifteen minutes of gallantly trying to stay awake he too succumbed to sleep.
Next morning, as the dawn grew clearer, Malchius awoke first. He had not slept well on the stony ground which happened to be the only place for them to make camp. This was fairly unusual, considering that yesterdays march was the longest undertaken by them to date. If there was a reason, he wanted to know why.
Quietly, so as not to arouse the others still sleeping, he crept away to have a walk through Palo-Enlil. He grabbed a bit of a torch from Atma’s bag, along with a tinder box, and crept silently away. (When he was well out of sight, the sound of a snoring Aidin could still be heard for some time). Soon, even the sound of a snoring Aidin passed away. He lit a torch and looked. Everywhere about him, piles and piles of carved stone lay in heaps. He came to a relatively open space and found himself at the head of a long row of pillars. He couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of him. In the flickering glare of torchlight, he could, when he looked carefully, just make out the remnants of paintings on the pillars. The majority of the scenes were life must have been like in Palo-Enlil. One scene showed a large group of dark-skinned peoples pulling an enormous column towards a pit in the earth. In another part of the same scene, the same pillar lay at an angle in the ground and many black things surrounded it. He held the torch closer, but the paint was too damaged by the years to see much. He turned to a different pillar that revealed a hill with many white and brown blotches.
“Ah, these must be sheep or cattle,” he said to himself.
On he walked. Another showed a half-man half-bull in the act of slaying a prisoner. Still another had a large lizard-like creature beside three of the white cloud-like things as the earlier painting. He wondered if it were a dragon. If so, he certainly didn’t want to meet one out in the middle of the wilderness.
What was curious was that in nearly every case, a tree with eight limbs (four on each side) laden with fruit, appeared somewhere in the frescoes. But what exactly it symbolized, the long forgotten artisans took to their graves. He came to the end of the row of pillars and discovered a set of stairs leading up to the top. It took him longer than expected. The sense of entering a very sacred and holy place came over him.
Now, hot and sweaty, he sat down on what well have been a seat, though now it was so cracked and crumbly he could not tell. As the dawn grew clearer, he heard the croaking of unfamiliar birds overhead. In the absolute stillness of the new day, in a strange land, his mind was stimulated and aroused to new thoughts.
The grandeur of the forgotten city resonated with him on many levels, some unknown to his conscious mind. The task that confronted him would alter his mind forever. Many times during the day doubt racked his mind and slowly unraveled his nerves. Malchius passed through a row of massive pillars. If he looked carefully, he could see the remnants of long forgotten artists on the sides.
Sometime later, (he had in fact finally fallen asleep), the sound of voices came crying up from below. Soon the figure of Basnu appeared with Atma just behind him. He stood and shouted to them.
“Hoy! Away! Up here!”
It was some seconds before they heard him. Malchius gingerly walked down the steps of the pyramid to meet them.
AThis was simply an amazing place,@ said Malchius. AIt must have taken hundreds of years to build these pillars.@
AOnly ten were needed,@ replied Atma.
AOnly ten years?@ Malchius said.
AYes,@ said Basnu. AForty-thousand people working nonstop in only ten years time built the city of Palo-Enlil. It is said that the hammers could be heard from miles away. It was one our ancestors greatest accomplishments. These gates at one time rivaled even the great ziggurats of Kish.@
AIt=s been said that many Kishite slaves helped in their design,@ said Jorlath.
AThat is true also. It is one of the tragic stories of history. Sitobezzia, the ruler of Palo-Enlil, made a treaty with the emperor of Kish. In the agreement, ten-thousand slaves, captured by Kishites in their many wars, were to be sent here in exchange for gold. Gold, of course, was mined here which also explained the great deal of trade.@ said Basnu.
AAnd all destroyed by earthquakes,@ murmured Aidin.
AHow is it no one has tried to rebuild the city?@ asked Jorlath.
Atma gazed keenly towards the desert.
AIt has been tried. However, it will never be rebuilt again. The last and greatest earthquake that destroyed Palo-Enlil was foretold by the prophet Oris in his writings. I don=t remember the full rhyme but the last part went something like this.
Woe to thee on that evil day, When red will be the sun
And valleys tremble and mountains quake, with no place to hide or run
The crown of the hills shall be broken, dark will be the sky
Know then all ye peoples, The undoing of Palo-Enlil is nigh
Myridon whistled. ACome. It=s time to be moving off.@
Fifteen minutes later they were off. The group solemnly walked past one of the largest columns. Malchius walking last gazed up. There ominously perched on top of the column was a large vulture. It cocked its head, looked down on him, and croaked. The others stopped and looked up at it. They continued on.
next up: THE LAYAM DESERT