An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

The Clerk’s Dreams Dian

Dian sat alone, staring into the burning fire as he slowly forced down the bland stew that Sheeva had prepared for them. They were encamped some twenty miles southeast of the city, amidst the outlying woodlands that marked the borders of the Vernum forest. The trees were relatively young here, but they provided some shelter against the lingering heat of the day. The sun, though now set, had been blisteringly hot over the course of the afternoon—to the point where Dian had wondered whether or not he would survive even a single day of their journey.

Somehow, he had, though he felt that it was nothing less than miraculous.

Now, the small party had set up their camp and were quietly recovering from the rigours of the day. Sheeva sat across from Dian, silent and brooding as she tended to her own stew. Every once in a while she would look up and offer a strained smile, but it was clear that she was still largely unhappy with their situation—and growing unhappier by the minute. As much as Dian appreciated having his friend with him, he was eagerly looking forward to meeting up with Larus. Somehow, the Druid was always able to improve his twin’s disposition.

Jaspar and Emilia stood a ways off, just beyond the reach of the fire’s light, so that they appeared as nothing more than vague shadows against the growing darkness. They seemed to be engrossed in a heated—though hushed—conversation, and one which did not appear to be going the Clerk’s way. Dian made a mental note to avoid her for the rest of the evening. And perhaps the next day as well.

She does seem to be quite testy, doesn’t she? said Azental.

That’s putting it mildly, Dian replied. You know, sometimes she reminds me an awful lot of you.

Are you trying to be funny? huffed the raven. Dian had never quite figured out how she managed that. There was no breath involved in the telepathic link that allowed them to communicate, but somehow that did not seem to stop her.

Sorry. Just trying to lighten the mood. Kwynn seems to be the only one that doesn’t have a heavy stone hanging around his neck.

What stones?

It’s a figure of speech.

You humans and your metaphors, quipped the raven. I will never understand it. But you’re right, he does seem surprisingly cheery.

The colourful merchant—Dian was trying not to think of him as a former Runner—had been humming merrily to himself all day. Now, he was sitting alone, plucking casually at a mandolin that he had pulled out of an old leather case. The melody was bright and clear, a stark contrast against the prevailing mood that seemed to have settled across the rest of his companions.

Dian could not figure the colourfully clad man out. He was probably the cheeriest and most jovial person Dian had ever met, and yet he remained inscrutable and unknown. He was a merchant, and a wealthy one it seemed, but what did he sell? Where was he from? How did he come to be involved in whatever it was they were doing? He had been bold in declaring that he was funding the journey, but he had made no effort at explaining why, or what he hoped to gain from it. It was clear that he was not doing this as some act of charity to the Citadel.

What is it then? Dian wondered.

Why don’t you just ask him? said Azental.

It’s not that simple.

Why not?

It just isn’t, Dian insisted. It’s not the sort of thing you just go up and ask someone.

You know, you humans could make everything so much easier on yourselves if you would just give up on this notion of social decorum. It always seems to be getting in the way.

Thanks, Dian replied. I’ll be sure to let the entire world know that we should abandon centuries of social tradition because a little black bird thought it was inconvenient.

Who are you calling little?

Nevermind.

Dian closed his eyes and listened to the melody of Kwynn’s song. He allowed his mind to linger on each bright note that rang clear and true through the night. Soon the sweet melody began to carry him away. It did little to assuage his troubles, but at least it offered a momentary distraction, something else to focus on other than the lingering, unanswered questions that were floating around his mind.

Surrounded by the song, he could almost forget that we was out in the middle of the wilderness, surrounded by people that he hardly knew—with the exception of Sheeva, of course—on a journey that he did not understand. He could almost convince himself that the world he had known had not been taken from him, and that his sudden and unexpected apprenticeship was nothing more than a dream. He could almost leave behind all the fear, doubt and uncertainty that threatened to drown his spirit.

Almost.

“Obsidian,” someone said. Dian’s heart leapt in his chest and his eyes snapped open. Emilia was standing there, looking down at him with her deep, brown eyes. Her expression was not as stormy as it had seemed recently, he noticed, but it was not exactly friendly either.

“Stones!” he exhaled, releasing the breath he had not even known he was holding. “You startled me.”

“My apologies. I was hoping that you might take a walk with me.” Dian saw Sheeva look up, her eyebrows raised with curiosity.

“Of course,” he replied, exchanging a quick, questioning glance with Mason. He stood and followed Emilia, who lead him away from the camp. They walked through the trees, far enough for privacy, but not so far as to loose sight of the dancing, orange light of the fire. For several minutes, Emilia said nothing. Soon, Dian began to grow uncomfortable by the depth of her silence. She wanted to say something, he was sure. Otherwise, why else would she have asked him to accompany him? Surely not merely for his company. And yet, she simply walked, gazing out into the inky emptiness that loomed between the trees.

“The heat seems to have broken.” he said casually, when he simply could not stand the silence anymore. He had to speak out, to say something.

“It should have been me,” Emilia said. Her words were flat and hollow, and made no sense at all, until Dian realized that she was not responding to him at all. Somehow, his idle comment had dislodged the jam of words in her throat, but she did not seem to have heard what he actually said.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Jaspar should have chosen me as his apprentice. I’ve been working toward it for years, and I was so close. I was sure he was going to pick me.” There was pain in her words, a deep rooted hurt that he could not help but recoil from.

But there was also a certain degree of clarity. In just a few, brief moments, Dian began to understand the Clerk’s recent animosity. He had taken something from her, even if he had not intended to, and she was angry. Maybe even more than angry.

“Jaspar insisted that I tell you,” she continued. “He said that if we were travelling together, we had to clear the air. So there you have it. I’ve said it.”

“I’m sorry, Emilia. I never asked for this.”

“You know, that only makes it worse. I have asked. Never directly, of course, but I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I want to be counted among the Magi. I’ve worked harder than anyone I know. Studied longer. I’ve made myself available to them whenever they needed me because this is what I wanted. And then they just go ahead and make you Jaspar’s apprentice. A nobody—” Even though he had heard it all of his life, Dian could not help but recoil from the word. “No, I’m sorry. That was cruel and I didn’t mean it. But you have no desire for this, and I do. I have for years. And it’s just—Stones of our Fathers, Dian, it’s just not fair!”

It was dark and even though Emilia kept her face turned, Dian could tell that there were tears in her eyes. Her voice quivered with the strain of tightly coiled emotion. So this is what’s bothering her, he thought. This was why she had been so curt, why she had stormed out the room even before Jaspar had announced that he had selected Dian as his apprentice. She must have already known; she must have been dealing with all the feelings of rejection in being passed over for him.

And as much as it stung, Emilia was right. Dian was a nobody, and orphan with no family or heritage, no money or wealth, and no position other than that which the League and Citadel saw fit to give him. He had no right to the honour that Jaspar had bestowed on him, no talent or training that made him fit for the task.

All he had was Azental, and the unusual memory that their Joining seemed to have bestowed upon him.

Emilia had all the credentials. As a Clerk, she was well learned. She could read and write far better than Dian himself. She knew history, had demonstrated a firm conviction in the teachings of the Holy Stone. She was already involved with the Magi. Everything about her made her the most logical choice for an apprenticeship. And yet, she had not received it. Worse, she was being forced to travel with the upstart Watcher who had been made a Magi’s apprentice without even knowing it.

She must hate me, he thought. She must despise me with every single fibre of her being. Somehow, that hurt more than he would have expected.

“Maybe I can talk to him,” Dian offered. “If I can show him that he made a mistake, maybe he’ll reconsider.

“No,” she responded. Her voice was sullen but firm. “Jaspar is adamant that this is his choice. The necessary choice, as he called it. I don’t think that talking to him will do anything, other than make him testy.”

“So there’s nothing we can do?”

Emilia sighed. “He did make one concession. I’ve been instructed to work alongside you, where permitted. The hope is that some of what I learn will help me if I ever do get apprenticed.”

“See,” said Dian hopefully. “It’s probably just a matter of time.”

“Hardly.” The defeated and dejected tone of her voice seemed so totally out of character that it left Dian feeling somewhat troubled. “I wasn’t just looking to be apprenticed to any Magi. It doesn’t work that way. I was preparing to be selected by Jaspar. I was studying in his areas of interest and expertise.”

“Oh,” Dian responded. “Well maybe when he’s finished with me…”

The Clerk grunted in frustration. “Obsidian, your ignorance is infuriating. Tell me, how old would you say Jaspar is?”

“I don’t know. Somewhere in his mid fifties?”

“He’d be flattered I’m sure. No, he is sixty three. And did you know that the average apprenticeship lasts ten years?”

“Ten years?” choked Dian. “You can’t be serious!”

“I am. And most apprentices have already spent several years preparing before they’re even chosen. You’re already so far behind that all we can do is hope and pray that Jaspar lives long enough for you to complete your apprenticeship. But even if he does, I’m sure he will not have the vigour or energy to take me on as yet another apprentice. No, the best I can hope for now is to be chosen by someone like Zaymenar.”

Dian’s lips curled in disgust as he remembered the look of cold loathing and disapproval that the hard-eyed Magi had given him as he had presented his report to the Stone Seat. He felt his cheeks flush as he recalled the accusation of madness and the insinuation that Azental was somehow corrupt. He was certain that if Emilia was ever apprenticed to Zaymenar, it would clearly mark the end of whatever tentative friendship they had established.

“That old windbag?” he said dismissively.

To his surprise, Emilia almost smiled. “He can be unpleasant, I admit, but he is very wise and learned, though he has some theology that I do not completely agree with.”

“Like eating babies or something?”

“Dian! That’s grotesque!”

“Sorry.”

“No. He merely adheres to perspective that is more theocratic that I am necessarily comfortable with. He and those who share his position believe that the Stone Seat should have a stronger authority over all of Tarvayes.”

“And what do you think?” asked Dian.

“That we fulfill our role best as advisors. We interpret the Will of the Stone and offer what counsel we can, but the burden of leadership remains, as it should, with the Clanlords. But enough of that. I wanted to apologize for my unacceptable behaviour today, and I have. Now, all I can hope is that you can forgive me.”

“Of course.”

“Thank you. Jaspar also asked me to send you to him. You should go now. I expect that your first lesson is about to begin.”

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