08 December 2008

One version of the end of chapter 6

* * *

“Anyhow we’re all safe and sound with most of our baggage intact, which is more than most people can say who’ve met dragons in the wild.”

“Yes, I guess you do have a point there.”

“I sincerely doubt that we’ll encounter a dragon for the last few hours march. However, it’s a risk that must need be taken. We’ll reach the gates of Layam, I think, next Thursday. If we hurry we’ll arrive sometime mid-morning. From there, we’ll return the way we came. Malchius, I, along with the others will return to the Forest of Ambia and make further plans for Malchius to take the Sephiroth to the villages.”

A half hour later they were on their way again. Malchius looked back to take one last glimpse of the Sephirotic tree, but saw nothing but a thick mist. Carefully, they climbed back to the base of the mountain Danyabad. They began to breathe easier as they descended. This had the effect of making them feel more lively and of course made Aidin more talkative than ever.

Unlike the others, Basnu had openly doubted the existence of the Guardian. At first, he kept this to himself, but at times he uttered a phrase or half-muttered sentence that expressed his contempt of such an idea. Nevertheless, he did have an image of the Guardian in the back of his mind. He didn’t know why but this fact bothered him. It also made him uneasy, edgy, and rash when the others discussed it. Now that they were actually on the mountain he found that the part of his mind that still half-believed in the protector of the Sephiroth was practically silent. So it came as no surprise when he heard Malchius’ description of how he acquired the Sephirotic leaves he became fully convinced Malchius merely imagined an unseen ‘presence’ and that the cold air and harsh climate caused it.

Basnu had a love for his people that few among the Velusians could match. The outbreak of the Plague or enemies affected him so much so that he took it as a personal attack. Three years previous, dragons had wandered from the Northern Reaches and had killed some sheep and cattle. Krenos called for one hundred men to guard the outlying houses and fields. Basnu was the first to volunteer. He proved himself to be a capable hunter and tracker of the beasts and soon became a leader for others to follow. Capable as he was as a hunter, his rashness and over eagerness put the other men in needless danger. Krenos overlooked his shortcomings for he never failed to let any dragons live. Months later, the remaining dragons migrated back north and the men went back to their homes.

Just before a steep bend in the path Atma and Basnu, walking ahead of the others, started talking.

“Do you think Malchius’ leaves will be enough?” asked Basnu. “I mean, after all, suppose they accidently get mashed or lost in one of these crevices?”

“Remember the words of Merops, answered Atma. He said that only one. . .”

“Yes, yes, I know what he said. But after all this trouble we’ve gone thru and jolly nearly getting killed what would a few more leaves matter in the long run?”

“The Guardian. Have you forgotten him?”

“What Guardian, He didn’t see anyone or anything up there. He only felt something.”

“They say he will know.”

“Oh come on Atma, that’s old wives talk. Think of the good we can do for the Rodamines. No more long expeditions into the northern marshes for fenwort. No more deaths among the newborns. And don’t forget Saris.”

At the mention of Saris something like a sharp pang hit him in the heart. Saris, Atmas betrothed, had died two years ago and the bitterness of her death was still fresh in his mind.

“Saris’ death couldn’t be stopped. Nearly everyone had somebody from their family die, from the Plague.”

“Yes, and that’s it. . .if it ever comes back. We’ll have the cure. We’ll be ready for it. Don’t you see?”

“So what are you proposing?”

“Simply this tonight I’ll be on watch. We’ll just climb back up and pick a few more leaves.”

“Hmm, that does sound interesting. However, I still refuse to go.”

Basnu in a still lower voice said, “Well, think about it for now. Perhaps you’ll change your mind later.” And with that he strolled away back down to camp. Atma gazed down at the others. His hands in his pockets looking for all the world like nothing happened.

Atma began thinking about Basnu’s words. True, the extra leaves would help the Velusians. Perhaps Saris’ death could have been thwarted by some of the leaves extract. But Merops said only one leaf was to be taken. Why? The words planted in his mind by Basnu began to grow. His mind ran wild thinking of the good and worthy causes he could do. Oh, if only he had more leaves. However, the old prophet’s words kept coming back into his mind. Merops was always right in his prophecies. His father had told him of the time during the years of plenty that Merops foretold of a great farming. Sure enough, the next year a great famine struck the land. Merops was also correct in his prediction of the Magna incident, Atma swayed back and forth between the two choices. Finally he let out a long sigh and muttered.

“He’s right, I simply mustn’t be greedy with the Sephirotic Tree. Tonight, I must stop Basnu from going back up the mountain. The fool will be killed if he’s not.”

He felt a heaviness leave his mind, and presently joined the others around the campfire. Eventually, the group reached the large block of ice where they had rested on the way up. They flopped down to the ground beside it and gazed at the Beren River below. It was decided that they would camp here for the night. Atma secretly wondering if Basnu had anything to do with the decision.

Basnu and Atma didn’t say much to each other the rest of the evening. The rest of the gang was all up in happy spirits and already they were making plans to storm Mizraims castle and save Arweena. Gradually one with one they fell asleep. Basnu looking around to see if all was clear nudged Atma awake. Atma, feigning sleep, rolled over and groaned.

“What do you want?”

“Well, do you want to come or not? It’s now or never. We’ve over got a few hours till the others awake. Fortunately, the full moon will help us.”

“No, I’ve decided not to go. I’m not climbing it. And you’ll be asked to do the same.” Humph! Basnu grunted as he stood up and crossed his hands.

“Then, it seems that I’ll go alone. You’re a fool to miss out on an opportunity like this.”

“Perhaps in your mind I am. Nevertheless I wish you luck. You’ll need it for the Guardian.”

“Bah on your fanciful “Guardian!” he whispered hoarsely. “I’m off!”

And with that he stormed off into the moonlit night towards the Sephirotic tree. Atma gazed after him for a few minutes till he was only a dim vague shadow in the night. He rolled back over and stared at the fire.

“Might as well keeps watch if Basnu’s gone, he thought. There’s no telling when he’ll come back. As the hours crept by Atma becoming drowsy and drowsier. His head nodded on his chest when suddenly just as dawn was approaching he heard a low blood-curdling shriek somewhere high on the mountain above him. He quickly roused the others and told them of the situation. Myridon became very cross and said.

“Why didn’t you tell me last night. We could have stopped him.”

“He’s my brother. I knew how rash gets at times. Usually he settles down. I didn’t think he’d actually make it to the Sephirotic tree.”

“Come on! said Malchius.” We’ve got to look for him”

Off they rambled up the mountain sides in the general direction of the Sephirotic tree. After an hour’s scrambling and much yelling Jorlath came across a dark object in the snow. He turned it over and saw with a horrified expression the body of Basnu. He was dead. Clenched in his hand were six golden berries. He waved the others who came around. Atma, who arrived last with Malchius, upon seeing his brother fell upon him. “Basnu! No! It can’t be! Why? My brother, why?”

The others stood around silently while Atma went, Jorlath touched Atma gently on the shoulder and said, “My friend, your brother was a noble man. Not many would risk their lives for a token.”

“Yes, he was a brave man. But, alas he was foolhardy." He related the conversation held last night. After a moment Myridon said.

“I believe he meant to do well. He will be long remembered by the Rodamines. Yet, his rashness led to his undoing. He will be sorely missed.”

Aidin suddenly cried “look!” At his hand!” The others looked at Basnu’s hand and saw the berries emitting a thin silvery colored smoke. Within seconds they were completely gone, only a bit of ash remained.

“And so ends that,” exclaimed Myridon.

“Let us bury him,” said a solemn Atma.

They carried the body of Basnu to a relatively sheltered spot on the mountain, and piled stones over his body. Atma said nothing as he sat and watched the others. The rocks made an uncanny sound in the cold silent air. The mound became bigger and bigger until the body of Basnu was completely covered.

The company stepped back. Atma, arms straight down by his sides, knelt down. The others, too, bowed their heads in respect.

After some time the company began the long trek down the mountain. The sky was cloudless and no wind blew. Each one kept his thoughts to himself. The stones underfoot made an uncanny sound in the cold silent air. At last the silver-colored Beren River came in sight. Soon they heard the tinkling of the water over the stones in the river. Myridon broke the silence by saying.

“Tonight, we’ll camp by the Beren. I’ll keep watch tonight. I’ve got much to think upon. This has been a long day for us. Tomorrow, will start off a bit later than usual.”

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