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ebooks: The Inshkin Chronicles – Chapter XII
Chilliwack author Dennis Tkach has written an historical epic seeking to follow in the tradition of imaginative classics as diverse as Dune, Snow White, and Lord Of The Rings. The book, now available for the first time, is being serialized by Today Media Group.
Each week we will bring you another installment from this fantastic journey as the adventure unfolds, taking twists and turns, exploring a world which existed far before our own time but which, as you will discover, has many hidden parallels.
The Inshkin Chronicles takes its readers one million years into the past to time hitherto unexplored and undreamt of by archeologists and historians.
Once upon a very, very long time ago, there lived a little berry farmer by the name of Pynch Beamcheeks. Rising from the humblest of beginnings Pynch’s story tells of the making of a hero.
The Inshkin Chronicles is also the story of the first intelligent life on Earth, long before Adam and the coming of Man. It was a time when Chaos sought to plunge a dagger into the heart of a young world full of promise, a world of Order.
We always knew Pynch was different. I mean, for an Inshkin he had some peculiar ways about him. How different he really was, and the why of it, we who were closest to him would eventually discover. Were we surprised? I’ll say! Though not nearly as surprised as Pynch!
As Calabar neared the conclusion of his carefully worded story, he never took his eyes off the young Inshkin. Why has this one been chosen? What has set him apart in the eyes of Lehi-om? A part of him was totally fascinated by the fact that of all the people and races inhabiting the Great White North, this naive farm boy was the one chosen by Lehi-om for such an important assignment. How is he going to react when he learns why I am here?
The wizard felt a twinge of reluctance in not revealing the full truth behind his words. He knew it was for the lad’s own good. There would be plenty of time, in the days ahead, to reveal all. He’d been cautioned to spoon-feed details to the Halfling slowly, allowing him to grow into a full understanding of the big picture. First the milk, Calabar thought, then the meat.
An ever-changing play of expressions crossed Pynch’s face that Calabar found at times perplexing and difficult to read: the brow that ceaselessly creased and smoothed in no particular pattern of response to what he was hearing; the pursed lips and the unreadable but emotive eyes, forever dancing between the wizard’s gaze and the blue sky overhead. Throughout his narration, Calabar was also unable to ignore the niggle of doubt whispering in his ear: Can this really be the Messenger?
“I do not know, Pynch Beamcheeks,” he concluded, “why you have been chosen to assist me on my mission, but the point is . . . you have been chosen. We must both place our trust in providence and the hand that guides it.” Calabar leaned forward, skewering the Inshkin with his steely gray eyes. “Will you help me, boy?”
Pynch did not answer immediately. Leaning back on his elbows, he turned his gaze upward as he tried to assimilate the implications of Calabar’s story. If it’s all true, Pynch first thought, then chastised himself: No! It has to be true! It’s a fantastic yarn, woven by a total stranger, yet it must all be true. Through the confused jumble of thoughts born of the wizard’s words, there shone a beacon of light . . . of revelation.
He returned his gaze to Calabar with calm acceptance, offering a small, shy smile. “I will help you, sir. We Inshkins are a simple and ordinary people, and among the people of my valley, I feel I am especially ordinary. But if you say I was chosen, then chosen I must be! And if you, a great and learned wizard, do not understand the why, perhaps we can both work on solving the mystery.”
Calabar laughed, deep and hearty. “Master Beamcheeks, the world is full of mysteries, even for such as I, who has lived a very long time. They are all out there, waiting to be solved. The world is also filled with ordinary people, but it is filled with extraordinary opportunities, as well. When the mystery, the opportunity, and the right person come together,” the wizard clasped his long fingers tightly together, eyes sparkling with excitement, “it is a beautiful thing to behold! Those are the moments in the lives of ‘ordinary’ people that make life truly worth living. And to think it is all going to start with your own two feet, a questing mind, and a large measure of adventure!”
“Adventure?” Pynch squeaked, taken aback by Calabar’s words. “Me? An Inshkin?” He shook his head in vigorous denial. “If one of your requirements is an adventurous spirit, perhaps you do have the wrong person. We valley folk will never be accused of being adventurous!”
“Without adventure, one’s life would be like that rock over there on that hill: doing nothing all day long, just a-settin’ still,” the wizard said reflectively, adding a smile of assurance. “Your mission into the mountains will not be an arduous one.”
Pynch turned his eyes toward the craggy range that bore the name Brothers of the Sun. It had never occurred to him that the monolithic foursome dominating the eastern horizon held places that could be visited. “However,” he slowly replied, “I will concede that from time to time, I have felt a small—very small, mind you—curiosity about life in the world outside Yarda.”
Calabar nodded, looking relieved. “Curiosity,” he said with a wink, “ is a good thing. It is a key that can open many doors.”
Pynch hesitated, feeling a rush of renewed uneasiness at the prospect of traveling into the mountains. “When do we start this journey?”
“For my part, I will be setting out as soon as I finish with you,” replied Calabar. “You, Master Beamcheeks, will depart at tomorrow’s dawn.”
Pynch widened his eyes in alarm. “So soon? I haven’t thought about what I’m going to tell my family! I cannot lie to them, yet surely I cannot tell them the truth! This I know—they would not let me go.”
The wizard nodded with understanding as he reached down and squeezed the Halfling’s shoulder. “Don’t fret, Messenger; when the time comes, you will find the right words. You do not have to lie, but you can be . . . imaginative.”
“Why do you keep calling me ‘Messenger’?” asked Pynch.
“What I choose to call you is unimportant,” Calabar replied, “but if it offends you, I will apologize and try to remember to call you by your given and family name. Fair?”
Pynch nodded rather than try to explain his uneasiness with the word, when it was something that he himself could not understand.
“But we digress,” Calabar continued. His voice suddenly came like a rumble of thunder, deep and ominous, as he fixed the Halfling with an icy stare. “So hear me now and hear me well! You must never—and I mean never—reveal the true purpose of your journey, your destination, or the contents of the package I will be entrusting to your care! There must be absolute secrecy on this and there is no margin for failure.” With a sad shake of his head, he concluded, “We cannot . . . we must not . . . fail.”
“Is there no way that you can leave tomorrow,” Pynch replied meekly as he sought to subdue the trembling in his heart, “and we can travel together?”
Calabar smiled ruefully. “Not possible, for it would defeat the plan and purpose of the mission. However, we will be reuniting in but a few days’ time.”
Pynch sighed, then brightened with a thought. “At least I will have Toga with me!”
“My saddle dog, sir. Surely I can travel with my dog!”
“Messenger.” The wizard chuckled. “Set your mind at ease. Of course you can.” He grew serious once more. “Now, you must satisfy me that you fully understand what I have related to you. Please repeat it.”
Pynch nervously cleared his throat. “The Great White North is in great danger, about to be invaded by a terrible enemy of Order. This army is being led by someone called the Black—”
“The Dark Lord,” corrected Calabar. “Continue, please.”
“Lehi-om has given you three precious jewels and the instructions to have them set into am . . . am . . .” Pynch struggled with the uncommon word.
“Amulets,” said the wizard. “Fashioned like medallions . . . Please, go on; you’re doing fine.”
“Amulets,” Pynch repeated before continuing. “I am to deliver these jewels and the instructions on their crafting to the Mountain Elves in a place called . . .”
“Havilah,” Calabar supplied with a smile. “Don’t worry, I will also be giving you a map you will find quite easy to follow. Now go on, you are doing fine.”
“Once fashioned, these amulets will be used as weapons against the enemy.” The Inshkin paused once more when a question came to mind. “These . . . amulets—are they magical?”
“Oh yes, Messenger,” replied Calabar, “indeed they are.”
“Uh . . . whatever,” Pynch decided not to press the “Messenger” complaint further. “You—we—are then charged with delivering the amulets to your homeland, Shen Rothor. After this is done, I can return home to Flinder.”
“That is correct, Mess—Master Beamcheeks,” replied Calabar. “And of greatest importance, you must keep the Crysfyre safe.”
“Crysfyre?” questioned Pynch.
“It is the name given the jewels you will be carrying to Havilah,” answered Calabar. “The Dark Lord and his army of Chaos will do anything to possess and destroy them, and I will not lie to you—it is a long and winding road, from here to Havilah and from the home of the Mountain Elves back to Kell. Your journey can be easy, but it is not without the possibility of danger. You will be given certain protections, but the best protection you can carry will be secrecy.”
Concern passed through Pynch. “Sir—”
“Call me Calabar,” interrupted the wizard. “From this day on we are friends and familiars, Master Beamcheeks.”
“Then please call me Pynch.” He smiled before growing serious once more. “As I was going to say, Calabar, this Dark Lord . . . does he too possess magic?”
“Yes,” admitted the wizard. “The power he wields is known as the Bane Force and it is a very great, as you put it, magic.”
“Then how can he know of our mission? And surely he must, since you speak of the possibility of great peril on the journey before us. If there is danger, do you know what form it will take?”
“No,” conceded Calabar. “However, we are not without some powerful magic of our own. I sense that agents of Chaos have already infiltrated the Great White North. They can wear many faces. Therefore my advice to you is to avoid strangers as much as you can. And if there is in fact a hunt for that which we carry, be assured that it is I who the Dark Lord and his minions will be looking for. Understand that in this matter, you are the secret and I . . . I am the decoy.”
Calabar paused, turning his gaze to the east. “I will take a more open route to Havilah and many will learn of my passing. As for you, I do not believe one Halfling traveling with his dog will draw much attention. Therefore I believe there is little chance of danger for you, big chance of danger for me. Besides, as I said earlier, you will not be traveling without . . . certain protections.”
“ Okay, let’s do it!” said Pynch. The words came out with more confidence than he actually felt, but something told him he could place absolute trust in his new friend.
“Good on you, Pynch Beamcheeks!” The wizard’s face cracked with a large grin. “Remember this: a little danger is like a sprinkling of salt. An adventure would be less of an adventure without some seasoning.”
“I’ll pass on the salt, thank you,” replied Pynch, smiling back at Calabar.
The wizard clapped his hands, then rubbed them vigorously together. “Now, to the rest of the business at hand!” He produced a large package wrapped in deerskin from a fold in his voluminous robe. With slow, almost reverential care, he placed it on the ground before the Halfling. “These you will take with you on your journey.”
The first item Calabar presented was a small roll of soft parchment, tied with a bright red ribbon. Unrolled, it revealed itself as a beautifully drawn map. Pynch was a little surprised to see the name of his town elegantly scripted at one end of the map, Havilah at the other. It was a very specific map, full of detail, specially prepared for his mission. A bright red line showed him the path he was to follow. The wizard traced a long finger over the route. “As you can see, I have even marked the places where it is safest and best for you to take measures of rest.” He passed the map over to Pynch.
Calabar next withdrew a small but heavy-looking pouch that he bounced in the palm of one hand before tossing it into Pynch’s lap. It landed with a loud jingle. “You will require some funds. There is one hundred gold links. It will be more than adequate for your needs.”
Pynch did not hide his amazement at the size of the purse so casually offered him. It was a fortune! More than he could ever earn or spend in a year!”
Calabar interrupted his thoughts. “Tell me, Master Pynch, have you ever wielded a sword?”
The question caught Pynch off guard. “Why, er, no,” he replied before giving the wizard’s enquiry more thought. “But we Inshkins do enjoy the sport of reed fencing. I am quite good at that.” He frowned. “But, a sword? An actual weapon? I . . . don’t know. I would rather place my trust in fast feet or the ability to hide myself.”
The wizard laughed. “ Reed fencing and swordplay—very similar, lad. Tell me this.” He paused before continuing. “If your life was in peril, and your feet were frozen to the ground, would you not draw a blade and use it?”
“But you said there was little chance of danger! Now you’re telling me I might have to use a weapon to defend myself?”
“We are dealing with ‘ifs,’ Messenger. Ifs can be very important in considering a course of action. To that end, I am simply saying, ‘What if?’”
“Then, if I did find myself in the land of If, as you put it, of course I would defend myself,” Pynch replied. “With sticks or stones if I had to; after all, I would be protecting a life I value very much!”
“Believe me when I say that what I am about to give you is better by far than a stick or a stone,” replied the wizard, magically producing a small, thin scabbard with a great flourish. “Allow me to introduce you to one of the best friends you will ever have. In the days ahead I pray you will never have to call upon its aid, but if you do, it will prove itself a fine companion.” Calabar’s countenance darkened. “But you must promise me this: you must never—and I repeat, never—let this sword leave your side. Even in sleep, keep it close at hand.” He handed it to the Inshkin with great reverence. “It is a special sword. A magic sword! A blade of great power forged in the days of The First Age by the Krall. Its sole purpose is to protect its bearer.”
Pynch took the weapon by its hilt but before he could draw the blade from its scabbard, Calabar’s hand came down heavily on his, accompanied by a stern warning.
“Coorus must only be drawn—” He paused as if reading the question that quickly formed in Pynch’s mind. “Yes, Messenger, the sword has a name. As I was saying, from this day forward it is not to be taken from its scabbard unless it is to be used. The substance from which it was formed was drawn from Banne Garoth, the mountain of fire, its blade folded a thousand times on the anvil of an Ancient. By my understanding, someone or something imbued it with a special power and terrible thirst satisfied only by the blood of those who would dare stand in its path.”
Pynch looked warily at the scabbard resting in his lap. “You speak of the sword as if it possesses intelligence!”
“I am speaking of a magic sword, Messenger,” Calabar replied testily. “ I do not understand the how or the why of its secrets. They lie dormant beneath the innocent-looking sheath you now hold, and it is my hope they remain so. I only know that from this day forward, I am greatly relieved to know that Coorus is with you.”
Pynch remained apprehensive, and Calabar obviously sensed it, because the wizard’s tone softened. “Do not be alarmed, my friend, for Coorus is possessed of good magic . . . good magic indeed!”
“You said it was made by the Krall? The giants spoken of from the time of the Ancients?”
Calabar hesitated, looking pe¬nsive for a moment before replying. “It is a survivor of The First Age, and I know nothing of the hand for whom it was originally crafted, or how it gained its special powers.” He tapped the scabbard and smiled. “I do know, here and now, that it has a new master.”
“Most peculiar,” Pynch mused, hefting the sword and marveling at its light weight. By the sword’s size, Pynch surmised that it had either been originally forged for a Halfling such as he, or it was meant to be a smaller companion blade for a full-sized weapon. “Most peculiar indeed.”
“You had better believe it! Of all the strange objects passed down from The First Age, this is one of the strangest. Now, back to the present; you are now allowed, this one time, to examine Coorus. There is no one present who would satisfy its thirst.”
Listening to the wizard’s description of the sword, one would think it edged in gold and trimmed with diamonds and precious jewels. But nothing could have been further from the truth. The scabbard was unremarkable, the stitching worn and the gray leather scuffed, betraying the long wear of time. The leather thong wrapping the hilt also bore the patina of long years. But when Pynch slowly withdrew the blade, his lips rounded in a silent O of amazement.
A mere two fingers wide, the blade seemed too thin, too fragile to actually serve as a weapon. Coorus was clearly not made of metal, yet Calabar had said it had been forged and folded a thousand times. Only metal could be folded and forged. The milky white surface reminded him more of glass, or some type of highly polished mineral. Pynch studied the unfamiliar runes delicately etched into both sides along the full length of the blade, then looked at the wizard in puzzlement.
“It is a spell whose meaning I know not, written in the lost language.” Then, as if having again heard his confused thoughts, the wizard added, “The sword is made of alva, drawn from the very bowels of Dawn. It is neither metal nor mineral and it is stronger than tempered iron or steel. Its edge is sharper than any blade found on Dawn.”
Pynch lightly touched a finger to the tip of the sword and immediately snatched it away. The lance of pain had left a welling pearl of blood on his finger. “Ouch!”
“Careful, Master Pynch,” Calabar warned, “ I told you it was sharp.”
Suddenly the blade began to glow. With a yelp of surprise, Pynch dropped the sword into his lap. What at first seemed little brighter than a reflection of sunlight quickly grew so intense, it hurt the eyes to gaze upon it. Long wands of blue-white light streamed in every direction, so blindingly bright, the noonday sun overhead seemed dim.
“Return Coorus to its scabbard,” instructed Calabar, his voice calm. “As I warned you, Pynch, Coorus has a terrible thirst for blood. When you pricked your finger, its hunger was awakened.” He shrugged as if speaking of something commonplace.
Squinting at the brilliant radiance, the Inshkin complied. Though the scabbard quenched the light, dark spots danced in front of his eyes, and he blinked several times. “Wow!” was all he could say. Then he held the sheathed sword out to the wizard. “Calabar, I think you should take it back. I am unworthy of such a gift. Could I not have . . . a regular knife, or something that doesn’t scare the daylights out of me?”
Calabar laughed. His answer was cryptic. “And perhaps it will scare the daylights out of any enemy! Pynch Beamcheeks, it is not for you to deny Coorus, for you did not choose it. It chose you. In the days ahead, do not think of it as a sword of magical powers, but rather as a friend and protector.”
The wizard suddenly became alert, his eyes darting upward, scanning the skies across the four corners of the valley. It reminded Pynch of the way his people could sense a shift in the weather, announcing the approach of a storm. After a long silence, Calabar returned his attention to Pynch, as if satisfied by what he could or could not see, but when he spoke it seemed directed more to himself. “I sense a disruption in the currents.”
“Currents?” Pynch repeated, looking into the heavens and seeing nothing but the small armada of clouds now adrift far to the west.
“Never mind, boy,” the wizard replied. “there is more to show you and more to explain and our time is precious.”
He next withdrew a slender silver metallic tube perhaps half a measure long. The ends were sealed with dabs of red wax, each seal bearing the imprint of a bird with wings outstretched. When the wizard held it out to Pynch, the Halfling noted that a ring on Calabar’s finger bore the same symbol. “This, as with the D’ru D’rau D’reeche Manii, you must guard with your life.”
“ The . . . what?” Pynch was getting more and more confused, uneasy at the growing complexity of what was initially declared a “simple” mission.
“As I said,” Calabar replied tersely, “one day, all will be explained. This holds the instructions on how the amulets are to be fashioned. You will place this into the hands of Seleram, leader of the Guild Masters of Havilah. Remember the name, Pynch Beamcheeks! Seleram! Surrender these instructions to no one else. Without this,” the wizard shook his head as he contemplated the slender tube in his hand, “the power of the Crysfyre cannot be activated . . . cannot be channeled.” His eyes grew dark. “Do you understand the importance of what I am saying?”
“Uh, sir . . . Calabar, I understand about importance, but at this moment, that’s about all I understand.”
“It is enough.” A good-natured smile broke through the wizard’s braided beard, dispelling his somber countenance. “And now we come at last to the heart of the matter.” He dipped a hand down the neck of his tunic and slowly withdrew a silver chain, at the end of which hung a small brown cloth pouch.
“The Crysfyre?” asked Pynch, eyes wide.
“Aye, lad, the jewels indeed,” Calabar confirmed, passing the chain and pouch to the Inshkin. “Go ahead, look upon the key to restoring balance to our world.”
Pynch tipped the contents of the pouch into his palm, gazing in rapt fascination at the three glinting gemstones. Like the sword Coorus, they began to glow with increasing brilliance, until both wizard and Halfling were completely bathed in crimson radiance. Unlike the light from Coorus, this was soft and easy on the eyes. Once again, “Wow,” was the only word that Pynch could utter.
“You hold in your hands the key to unlocking the power, the very essence of the D’ru D’rau D’reeche Manii, drawn from the fiery heart of creation.”
“The creation of the world?” whispered Pynch.
“ No, Messenger,” Calabar replied, “think much bigger than that. They come from the place where our universe itself began.” Like Pynch, he stared at the jewels, totally mesmerized by the radiant beauty of the Crysfyre.
“What are they capable of doing?”
“That,” Calabar conceded, “I do not understand, for I was not given such knowledge. But this much I do know: as much as there is mystery surrounding the nature of the Crysfyre, I believe they are a key to unlocking an even greater mystery.”
Calabar reached out and gently folded the Inshkin’s fingers around the jewels. “Now, it is time to put them away. They must not see the light of day until they are delivered into the hands of Seleram at Havilah.”
Pynch slipped the Crysfyre back into the pouch and hung the chain around his neck, feeling the weight of what it held against his chest. His mind must be playing tricks on him, the Halfling concluded. What had at first seemed light now seemed oppressively heavy.
“No one must learn of their existence,” the wizard warned.
Calabar rose to his feet, grimacing as he flexed his back. “Age,” he reflected with a smile; “sooner or later it affects us all, even we Guardians of Order.” He looked past the berry fields, down to the town. “Our business here is done. It is now time for me to go and you to prepare for your journey.”
Pynch gathered his newly acquired stash, placing it under a napkin in his picnic basket. He peered up into the friendly giant’s face, uttering words that surprised him; doubly surprising was his tone of vigor and determination. “We shall succeed, sir. You will have my very best efforts!”
“Ha! Good lad!” barked Calabar, reaching down to slap the Halfling good-naturedly on his back. However, in his exuberance, he forgot Pynch’s diminutive size and the force of the blow sent the Inshkin tumbling forward down the grassy hillock.
Pynch was shaking the stars out of his head when the Guardian of Order rushed down the slope and picked up his startled friend. Holding Pynch at eye level, Calabar asked with sincere concern, “Can you forgive me, Master Beamcheeks?”
“Only if you put me down,” replied Pynch, “for I am more afraid of heights than the massive bruise you’ve given my back.” A smile followed the words, and the wizard returned the smile as he gently lowered Pynch to the ground.
Calabar climbed back up the hill with Pynch and retrieved his walking stick. “And so, for now, I will bid you farewell. Until we meet on the road of our . . .” he paused and winked one twinkling eye, “adventure! Fare thee well, and remember my words of caution.” With a wave, the Wizard of Shen Rothor set off down the hill.
Pynch watched the white-robed figure’s long, swift strides carry him past the berry fields and through a neighboring swath of high grass. He was surprised at the sadness that came over him, watching the wizard disappear from sight.
Pynch turned his gaze to the village as the bell in Flinder’s town hall began to peal, announcing the end of another workday. He saw fellow Flinderians leaving the patchwork of fields, wending their way along the pathways that stitched the quilt of crops together toward the cluster of ornate, multicolored corncob rooftops, toward home and warm baths and supper tables within the brightly painted huts. “Home it is,” Pynch said to himself, looking down at the innocent-looking basket in his hand.
As he set off toward home, his thoughts were far from the dinner awaiting him and his family. Instead they dwelt on the past hour of revelation and the memory of the wizard who, but a short time before, had been but a fabled name mentioned in stories.
Calabar. The name now generated a pleasant stirring. In the short period of time they had spent together, Pynch sensed a strong bond of kinship had been formed and somehow, it gave him great comfort. The apprehensions over what lay ahead were still present, but at least for now, they were diminished by the wonders that lay hidden in the food basket and the excitement he felt over his encounter with a wizard.
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