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ebooks: The Inshkin Chronicles – Chapter XX
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.
It was a day like any other, until cousin Pynch arrived unannounced at our door. How could such an innocent visit have caused such a violent upheaval in our lives? The question pops up now and again, and depending on our moods there are two answers. His visit was as welcome as a glass of fine wine, or as unwelcome as foot disease.
Pynch marveled at Toga’s stamina, both surprised and pleased at the distance they were able to cover during the first part of the day. The old dog showed little sign of his long dog years and no ill effects whatsoever from carrying the additional weight of Pynch’s saddle packs.
By noon they reached the Little Bridge, where Pynch and his furry companion stopped for a meal and a brief rest. While Pynch was laying out his mother’s victuals on a blanket on the grassy slope beside the bridge, Toga, free of his burden, took a running leap into the Wet River. The dog barked excitedly, playfully snapping at the water being churned up by his forepaws. Toga swam in circles before looking toward the shore and his master, barking an invitation that Pynch ignored. He was intent on filling his rumbling stomach with the tasty food before him.
As he munched on a piece of cornbread slathered with beebleberry jam, the Inshkin focused his thoughts on the packet lying so innocently by his side. Prudence gained an upper hand over the itch of curiosity and the packet remained where it was, unopened. Pynch reached up and felt the pouch beneath his tunic. He dearly wanted to have another look at the mysterious gemstones the wizard referred to as “the Crysfyre,” but the Halfling remembered too well the warning that came with the jewels.
His meal finished, Pynch lay back, enjoying the cool grass at the back of his neck and the warm sun on his upturned face. Even though he and Toga were alone, the Inshkin pulled the packet closer to his side, comforted by the security he felt as his fingers traced the shape of the little sword called Coorus. Pynch felt good about the fact that the only travelers he had so far encountered were his own people and, other than a cheery wave, there were no conversations, ergo, no questions asked.
Pynch was really not too worried about his precious package being stolen. Thievery was completely unknown amongst the little people of the Valley. However, stories abounded of outlander robbers and lowlifes who placed little value on honesty and respect for another person’s property. “Never trust a stranger!” all mothers ingrained into their children, and Pynch and his siblings were no exception. His father, however, discovered after a lifetime of trading with the outside world that honesty was in fact more universal among the people of Dawn than its unsavory counterpart. Pynch wondered if his mother would have included wizards in her rule concerning trust.
Tiring of his river frolic, Toga scrambled up the bank, running to see what food had been left out for him. The soggy, dripping dog sniffed at the large hambone, his tail wagging like a giant metronome. Before settling down to a serious bout of chewing, Toga gave himself a violent shake, giving his master a shower Pynch did not appreciate.
With an “argghhhh!” of indignation, the Halfling lunged at his dog, playfully wrapping Toga in a bear hug. As the animal fought to extricate himself, Pynch laughed, holding onto the struggling mass of wet fur and rolling over and over with his canine captive. Almost too late, Pynch realized they were rolling down the hill and the water’s edge was fast approaching. Turning himself sharply, the Inshkin dug in his heels and he and his dog came to an abrupt stop within a measure of the river.
“Oh no, my friend,” Pynch shouted, laughing as he fended off Toga’s tongue as it extended to lick his face. “One bath today is quite enough!” The dog replied with a sonorous “woof” before freeing himself and bolting back up the hill to his hambone.
While Pynch was gathering up the remains of his picnic and folding a very damp blanket, a procession of Inshkin children tramped across the Little Bridge, their laughter and youthful chatter preceding them. They stopped when those in the lead noticed Pynch and Toga. Curiosity soon had little eyes peeking over the side of the bridge, studying the strangers. Toga let out a series of deep-throated barks that sounded menacing, and a few of the children drew away, but it was only the dog’s way of greeting. Pynch simply waved and smiled.
A stern-faced lady appeared behind the flock of little ones—the children’s schoolteacher, Pynch surmised as she impatiently urged the children to continue walking. She was the perfect picture of a mother hen gathering her chicks. Although he did not recognize the lady, Pynch gave her a friendly wave, surprised when the wave was returned with a scowl of disapproval.
“And a good afternoon to you too, madam!” he hollered toward her retreating form. Another strong advocator of the never trust a stranger ilk, he thought.
“Come, Toga, it’s time to be back on the road to Puddledubbin—and please try to control the ferocious way you address fellow travelers!”
“Rrruuufff!” replied the dog before he resumed his gnawing of the hambone. In dog talk, Toga was probably saying, “How can I bark when my mouth is full?”
By afternoon’s end, they’d followed the road to its lowest point in the Valley, the rolling meadows suddenly giving way to the soggy marshland that marked the eastern portion of Yarda. Squinting into the distance, Pynch could make out the stilted profile of Puddledubbin, surrounded by its neatly defined rice paddies.
To the south, across the mighty Dune, lay the frog and fish farms of Boggy Down, though from his vantage point the only thing he could discern was the faint smudge of chimney smoke on the southern horizon. The sight of smoke rising from both towns reminded him that the dinner fires were in fine fettle, and so was his hunger. He idly rubbed his stomach.
Small dikes of stone and mortar built to hold in the shallow pools of rice water now lined the road, another indication that Pynch was entering Puddledubbin territory. He could see large groups of barelegged field workers bending to their labors while joyful work songs filled the air. The unusually early and warm spring this year meant an extra crop of rice for harvesting, which translated to the promise of a very profitable year for Puddledubbin. Pynch was glad it was not he who would be delivering the bubble-bursting news of what lay in store for Yarda and the Great White North.
He continued on. The warm breeze blowing from the direction of the town now carried the melodious sound of distant reed pipes, wonderful musical instruments indigenous to the bog dwellers of Boggy Down and the rice farmers of Puddledubbin. It instantly conjured the memory of his cousin Pooka. Pooka Noody was a reed player of great fame and stature, known throughout Yarda and admired by the few who called themselves his peers. Pynch smiled, reminding himself that in Pooka’s eyes, reed playing placed third behind eating and complaining.
Within the hour Pynch found himself surrounded by workers who were vacating the fields and heading back to town and supper tables. Clean feet and wet shirts and trousers branded a Puddledubber. How very different they were, Pynch mused, from their cousins across the Dune. There, the land was wild and swamplike, very difficult to cultivate, much less inhabit. The clever Boggy Downers’ solution was to build homes and work stations on floating rafts, all interconnected by a network of reed swing bridges that hung close to the brackish surface of the marsh. Boggy Down’s residents didn’t care one whit about clean feet. Among the other valley dwellers, the marsh people were often referred to as mud-footers. Pynch rarely had occasion to travel to Boggy Down and quite honestly did not enjoy it when he did. Although the town was famous for its beefsteak frogs and its fish farms, Pynch was no lover of either and whenever his father asked him if he wanted to accompany him on a trading trip, Pynch would graciously decline. Boggy Down was not only dirty, the odors that drifted up from the fetid swamp water upon which the town floated were enough to make any outsider gag.
Puddledubbin, by stark contrast, was a place he wished he could visit more often. Pynch had a very special affection for the Noody family. His mother’s sister, Letta, was his favorite aunt; his Uncle Gimble, his favorite uncle.
Pynch and Toga finally found themselves under the forest of poles that marked the stilt supports of the Noody residence. The family name was painted in bright orange letters on one of the stanchions. Both dog and rider quickly smelled the mouth-watering aroma of roasting chicken and all of the wonderful spices that went into one of Pynch’s favorite meals. The savory welcome prompted Toga to utter a series of sharp, excited barks announcing their arrival.
Six measures above their heads a shutter flew open, and the familiar face of his Aunt Letta thrust itself into view. Her eyes widened with surprise, then she bestowed a smile that would have lit up the darkest corners of despair. “Why, bless me up and bless me down,” she cried, clapping her hands in delight. “If it isn’t Pynch Beamcheeks, and all by his lonesome, he is!”
“Rrrrufff,” replied Toga, which in dog talk probably translated into something like, “Hello? I guess that makes me a nothing!”
Aunt Letta’s head disappeared, and Pynch heard her announcing his arrival. Soon more windows flew open, each filled with a happy cousin’s face. Then a large trap door directly overhead popped open, and a rope ladder tumbled down. Fert and Pooka shot to earth like arrows, sliding down the ladder rather than using its rungs. They greeted Pynch with vigorous hugs and back slaps, and a storm of questions.
“All in good time,” replied Pynch, responding to their excited greetings while wondering what he was going to say.
Within minutes Toga found himself in a dry corral full of tail-wagging Noody dogs, where he was quick to share a trough full of dog feast.
Up at the house, Aunt Letta had to pry Pynch away from her two oldest children to give him a hug so intense, he had to pull his head from between her pillowy breasts or suffocate from lack of air. Uncle Gimble came away from his duties at the hearth fire to offer his warm greeting and immediately led Pynch over to a place of honor at the end of their dinner table. Fert and Pooka were quick to grab the seats on either side of their cousin, anxious once more to bombard Pynch with questions.
Though twins, Fert and Pooka bore no resemblance to each other. Fert’s genetics ran to his father’s side of the family, best described as reed thin. The young scribe, in the final year of his apprenticeship, had greeted strangers with intellectual aloofness since he was a wee boy; large brown eyes magnified by the glasses he wore for myopia only accentuated the owlish image. For Pynch and those within the young scribe’s small circle of friends, Fert possessed a quick wit and a fine sense of humor.
Pooka Noody appeared to be everything his brother was not. He was a genetic paradox, a pumpkin with legs and a clown’s face that never failed to evoke smiles from any who came his way. His bright blue eyes were a mystery in a clan that was consistently brown-eyed, but they always twinkled with merriment that every once in a while translated to a burst of laughter. Around the town he was known as Joy Boy because he always made everyone around him feel happy. At home he was known as the bottomless stomach.
Intellectually, Pooka seemed like a candle compared to Fert’s bonfire smarts, but nature balanced the scales by giving Pooka a rare musical talent that approached genius. While he was a very accomplished master of poetry and song, it was his talent on the reed pipe that set him apart from anyone else in the Valley. His musical gift coupled with his infectious humor gave him a special place in the community of “The Puddle.”
Uncle Gimble placed a humungous platter of roast chicken and rice dumplings in the center of the table. He licked his fingers, victims of a gravy overflow, and gave a nod and a broad smile of approval for his wife’s culinary endeavors.
While Pynch’s eyes were locked on the wonderful food before him, the Noody children had their full attention on their cousin. The four youngest, Yantl, Lantl, Mantl, and Bod, joined their older siblings with a torrent of questions before their father quickly put an end to it.
“Children, there will be plenty of time for all of us to catch up on news from the other end of the Valley. For now, I can imagine that Pynch would like to eat and replace some of the energy he spent to get here.”
In Inshkin homes it was considered rude to talk while eating—except, of course, to ask for more food to be passed. However, both Letta and Gimble fully understood the impatience of youth and did not protest when bits of conversation popped up between bites and swallows. Pynch smiled and give terse replies, all the while trying to figure out what he was going to say to the Noodys without lying to them.
“Such a long way,” whispered Fert, “and you say you left Flinder this morning? Wow! You were that anxious to visit your favorite cousins?”
“Of course not.” Pynch smiled and playfully kicked his cousin under the table. “If I were visiting my favorite cousins, I’d be in Milktown.”
When Pynch’s Aunt Letta finally spoke, her voice held a touch of concern. “My sister and the family are well? No bad news to report, I hope.”
“No, Aunt Letta,” replied Pynch. “All is well and all send their very best thoughts and wishes.”
It was Pooka’s turn to get Pynch into uncomfortable waters. “So . . . why are you here, cousin?”
“Why do you find it so unusual that I would wish to visit you and your family?” Pynch countered.
“Because, cousin Pynch,” Pooka quickly replied, “you’ve rarely done it, and never without your family.”
Pynch answered with a shrug, biting into a plump and juicy drumstick.
Fert looked over the tops of his glasses, fixing his cousin with the piercing gaze of an inquisitor. “No, I sense there is another purpose for you being here in Puddledubbin. May I ask for the real reason?”
“You may ask, Fert, but I may not answer,” Pynch replied. “Perhaps the real reason, as you put it, is . . . too personal to share.” Regretting his hasty choice of words the moment they passed his lips, he quickly sought to put a lighter face on things. He playfully punched his cousin on the arm and said, “What is important is the fact I’m glad I had the opportunity to come and see all of you. Regrettably, it has to be a short visit. I must be on my way again in the morning.”
He turned to his aunt and changed the subject. “I brought a package for you and the family.” Reaching down into his bag, he pulled out the heavy wrapped bundle his mother had prepared.
“Why, bless me up and bless me down,” Letta exclaimed, “what a wonderful surprise!” The wee ones quickly greeted the appearance of the package with cries of “Open it! Open it!” before she quickly dampened their excitement. “We will, but after we are finished our meal.” Groans of disapproval greeted her announcement.
Fert was not about to be dissuaded from pursuing his line of questioning. “So, if you are only here for an overnight visit . . . this tells me that Puddledubbin isn’t your destination. And since we are the last town in the Valley . . .”
Pooka finished. “You wouldn’t be heading out of Yarda, would you, Pynch?”
Pynch could only stare at his prescient cousins for what seemed like an eternity. He rubbed a burning ear and took a drink of milk to ease a suddenly dry mouth. “Why ever would I travel out of Yarda?” Pynch asked innocently, then decided to add another small half-truth, hoping it would put an end to what was turning into a most unwelcome interrogation. “Mother wanted me to visit . . . the Winkletoofes.”
“Aha! “ exclaimed Pooka, slapping the table. “Pynch is here to see the Flashe! Say no more, say no more . . .”
Pynch’s words may have satisfied Pooka, but Fert still eyed his cousin with a look of skepticism. Pynch feared that Fert was remembering the last clan gathering, when Pynch showed no interest when the comely Winkletoofe girl had attempted to flirt with him. If he remembered that, then Fert would know that a visit to the Winkletoofes made no sense at all. Pynch saw Fert’s eyes narrow, and he gulped. Fert knew there was more to Pynch’s story than met the eye, and he was determined to get to the bottom of things.
“Tomorrow morning, I will personally escort you to the Winkletoofes!” exclaimed Aunt Letta. “There should, after all, be a proper introduction. I’m surprised your mother is not here with you!”
“She couldn’t leave the family, what with how busy Poppy is with his mayor duties and all . . . besides,” Pynch added, trying to sound casual, “it’s a little more than a ‘hello’ visit.” He felt his ears heat and stammered, “Uh, er, there is something I have to do . . . something I have to get, before I pay my . . . er . . . respects to the Winkletoofes.”
Uncle Gimble sucked the last bit of meat off a breastbone before pointing it at his nephew. “Surprises are a good thing! And secrets are only secrets when best kept secret, isn’t that right, children?” He waved his chicken bone like a weapon. “If you are playing with the Winkletoofe kidlets tomorrow, before cousin Pynch has his secret visit, you mustn’t breathe one word.” Lantl, Yantl, Mantl, and Bod nodded in wide-eyed acquiescence, all eyes riveted on the threat of the chicken bone being waved in their faces.
Aunt Letta interrupted. “A gift! Of course, why didn’t I think of it? A gift for the prettiest girl in Puddledubbin—or should I say, the prettiest most eligible girl in Puddledubbin?”
Pynch groaned inwardly. It was like hearing an echo of his mother. All he could do was offer a weak smile in reply and bury his head in the remains of his meal, hoping for a change of topic.
“Nice visit, cousin,” exclaimed a disappointed Pooka. “But not a satisfactory visit if tomorrow you are gone.”
“Most decidedly a not-visit,” concurred Fert.
“On my return perhaps I can stay for a few days,” Pynch replied, feeling his ears begin to burn once more.
“And when is the return?” Fert asked, fixing his cousin with another inquisitor’s stare.
“Sooner than later, cousin Fert,” replied Pynch, “sooner than later.”
Suddenly, Fert’s face illuminated with a revelation. “The Bolewood! You are going to see the Elves! A gift most special, if it is Elf made, very special indeed. Is that your secret destination, Pynch? The Bolewood?”
“Have you forgotten the words of your father, Fert?” Pynch felt himself getting testy. “Secrets are only secrets when best kept secret. And that,” he emphatically added, “is my last word.”
Later, with the delicious dinner out of the way and the Noody children setting to their chores, his uncle invited Pynch to sit with him. The young Inshkin followed Gimble out onto a large swinging balcony with an excellent view of the Valley. The sun, fast setting on the horizon, painted the clouds in glorious hues of pink and red.
Lighting up his pipe, Gimble grew pensive as he regarded his nephew. “Whatever you are up to, lad, and wherever bound, be it the Bolewood or elsewhere, keep your eyes wide and watch your back at all times. I do not want to alarm you . . .” He paused, studying Pynch through a halo of cherry weed smoke. “But caution you I must. There have been strange rumors of late.”
“What kinds of rumors, Uncle?” Pynch felt a chill run through him.
Gimble studied Pynch for long seconds, his face now grave. Pulling his seat closer, Pynch’s uncle lowered his voice. “Tales of dark deeds outside our valley home, tales best left untold. The land is telling us . . . something is not right. I fear there are days ahead that will not be welcome.”
Hearing his uncle’s words, Pynch felt his throat tighten. He wondered how anyone in Puddledubbin could have so quickly learned that something was amiss outside Yarda. After all, he had only found out the previous day. His uncle’s words made Pynch suddenly concerned that his parents would hear something of these rumors before his return. Knowing his father, he would probably journey to Puddledubbin to escort Pynch home.
“Tell me more of what you have heard, uncle,” Pynch urged, hoping he was showing no more than mild curiosity over the ominous pronouncement.
“There is talk of great wars being waged closer and closer to the Great White North. Yesterday two hunters from the Bolewood brought the unpleasant news to our town council. On specifics they were vague, but the Elves did say there was a terrible evil stalking the lands of Cemaria and evil, we were reminded, is no respecter of boundaries. The Elves urged everyone to be on their guard.”
Now for the BIG question, thought Pynch. “Has the council sent the warning to the other communities in the Valley?”
“No, but I am certain that we will,” replied Gimble.
“Then rest assured I will deliver the news to Flinder on my return. Could you please let the council know?”
“Of course,” said Gimble. “It will save us sending a messenger; for this you have our gratitude. Remember this to pass on, nephew: rumors true or rumors false they may or may not be, but a story heard, a terrible story such as this, is a story that must be told. It tells of a storm such as the world has never seen, and it is coming this way.” Uncle Gimble paused, his face now full of concern for Pynch. “Not a good time to travel far from home, not a good time, indeed!”
“Uncle, a quick trip to the Bolewood, and soon I will be returning to Flinder—this I promise,” Pynch replied, surprising himself with how unconcerned, even optimistic, he sounded. He wished he felt that way inside. “If my family hears of this before my return, they will be worried for my safety.”
“And so they should,” replied his uncle. “When you get to be a parent, you’ll understand.” After several long draws on his pipe, Gimble Noody repeated, “It is definitely not a good time to travel far from home. Not a good time, no sir.”
Pynch spent the rest of the evening trading stories about everything under the sun that young Inshkins would find interesting. He, Fert, and Pooka talked long into the night, refreshed by each other’s company until finally, reluctantly, they yielded to the call of sleep.
The sounds of banging pots and pans and the smell of frying gammon in the air woke Pynch the next morning. He yawned and stretched, hoping the rest he sorely needed had not robbed him of too much travel time. Searching for his clothes, he was surprised to find them washed, neatly folded, and set at the foot of the bed along with a large package to take back to his family. Pynch mused over how much Toga was going to love the addition to his load.
With a full tummy and a replenished food pack, Pynch climbed onto Toga and bid farewell to the Noodys. Aunt Letta and Uncle Gimble smiled warmly and hugged him with great affection, but it did little to hide the looks of concern in their eyes. A far different reaction, one that puzzled Pynch greatly, came from Pooka and Fert. They clapped him on the back and said their goodbyes, Fert with a wink, Pooka with a sly smile.
“See you later,” said Pynch as he rode off.
“Not if we see you first,” answered Fert.
The sun was still low on the eastern mountaintops and the morning air smelled crisp and clean. It was going to be another beautiful day in Yarda. Pynch could only hope it would continue on the path that would take him out of the Valley. Tucking away any somber thoughts he may have had on wars and dark magic, he turned to wave a final farewell.
Pynch did not know what awaited him on the road ahead . . . nor, he definitely decided, was he in a particular hurry to find out.
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