An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

The Sage’s Request Avendor

After climbing down the ladder from the loft, Avendor stepped into the small boudoir, where he kept those things that he did not have room for in the loft, and quickly changed into unremarkable but serviceable clothing. He still had his meeting with Nix to attend, and had no intentions of drawing unnecessary attention to himself with one of the blue and silver overcoats that had become his normal garb since his promotion to Captain. Once he had dressed, he made his way to the sitting room, where he found Tiberius reclining patiently in one of the two high-back chairs.

The old sage looked very much as he always did. His beard swept downward from his high, prominent cheekbones, while his thinning, silvery hair was cropped close to his scalp. He was clad in loose, brown pants, a tan shirt and a humble grey robe, none of which was enough to mask the natural ranginess of his body. The simple garments were well made, from quality cotton—likely harvested from the fields of Kilinshire—but they lacked the silken trim or complex embroidery that was common in the palace. Altogether, it made for a somewhat unremarkable appearance.

Except for the sage’s eyes.

Avendor had known blind men before. Some had been sightless from birth. Others had lost their vision to the rigours of age or some unhappy accident. But Tiberius’ eyes were different. While they were possessed of that vacant, unseeing quality that was common to the blind, they were also bright and clear, and appeared devoid of any disease or failure; their only peculiarity was in their colouring, which was a deep, rich amber.

“Captain,” said Tiberius with a slight nod. Somehow, the sage always seemed to be able to recognize people as they approached him. Here, where the only other person in the house was Vivian, it did not seem particularly remarkable. At the palace, however, surrounded by scores of different people, it was uncanny. Avendor had seen him do it dozens of times with various servants, officials and even Prince Jayslen, but this was the first the Captain had ever been the subject of such recognition.

“Tiberius,” he responded. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting. Vivian is ill.”

“She didn’t sound well when she answered the door,” said the sage, biting his lip thoughtfully. “I’m sorry to disturb her. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Are you a healer as well, then?”

When the old sage grunted, Avendor thought he caught a hint of sorrow. “No. But when you’ve lived as long as I have, you tend to pick up a thing or two. Boiled milkgrass for an upset stomach. Ground sunflower petals for the bowels. Felltail roots to break a fever.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. She’s sleeping now, but we’ll see how she’s feeling in the morning. If she’s no better, I’ll send for a healer.”

“In my experience, sleep can heal many an illness. I wish it could do as much for these aging bones. And yet here I am, interrupting your own rest. My sincerest apologies. I would not be here, if it were not a matter of some urgency and sensitivity.”

“How can I help?”

“I need to make my way down to the Stilt District. I was hoping that you could help me find my way. I’m normally able to make my way around the Upper City unassisted, but I’m afraid the rest of Relen’ayar remains a mystery to me.”

“You need to go at this time of night?”

“I’m afraid so. I need to take care of this before we depart for Ronnex in the morning.”

“I assume this has to do with—“ Avendor frowned, considering the best way to phrase his thought. “With the matter that the Queen has charged with investgating?”

Tiberius nodded. “There’s a man that I need to speak with. A fisherman named Pelor. I have reason to believe that he may have important information.” The old sage pursed his lips nervously. It was a gesture so subtle that, if it had not been for his years of practice in the fine art of reading faces, Avendor might not have noticed it at all. The sage was either hiding something or was apprehensive about meeting this fisherman—possibly both. He considered pressing the issue, but decided against it. All men were entitled to their secrets.

Avendor Tarcoth knew that better than anyone.

“I assume you’ll need me to escort you back to the palace?” he said.

“If you would be so kind.”

“As it happens, I actually have a meeting tonight, also of a somewhat sensitive nature. How long do you expect to be with this fisherman?”

“Not long.”

“Then this is what I propose. I’ll escort you to his house. When you’re finished, you can accompany me to the place of my meeting. Then I’ll see you back to the palace and we can both get some sleep. Agreed?”

“Thank you, Captain. I’m much obliged.”

“You’re on the Queen’s business, I’m sure. It’s my duty to serve.”

Avendor readied himself quickly, lacing up a pair of old boots and fastening a grey woollen cloak around his shoulders. He nearly buckled Peragon to his hip. It was the sword of his office, and with its wing-shaped cross guard and pommel of lapis lazuli, it was far more ornate than anything he was accustomed to. Both sides of the blade were inlaid with a strange, bluish iron that cut through the heart of the fuller. Altogether, it made for an impressive weapon; it also called a great deal of attention to itself, and he knew that he was more likely to be recognized with it than without. Given his desire for anonymity, he chose a simple short sword instead. It would be easily concealed within the folds of his cloak.

He was already out the door when he paused. Thoughts of Vivian flashed through his mind. For a moment, he wondered if he should stay, on the off-chance that she awoke and needed him. It would be the right thing to do, he thought, as a good husband. But then when has she ever really thought of me as a husband? 

He banished all hesitation from his mind and resolved to follow through with his meeting. Still, he would not leave his wife completely unattended. The Winged Guard was always patrolling the streets of the Upper City. He would speak to the first of his men they came across, and ensure that someone returned to the house to watch over Vivian until morning. Then he would speak to the maidservant, Mina, about staying in the guest room for the next few nights.

“Do you need my arm?” he asked of Tiberius

“No. I can follow the sound of your footfalls easily enough. Just warn me if I’m about to walk into a signpost or some other inconveniently placed object.” In spite of his troubled thoughts, Avendor smiled, and wondered if the sage could somehow sense that too.

It was not long before they encountered two guardsman coming around a corner. Avendor identified himself, then instructed one of them to go back to the barracks and have a servant go to his house and check on Vivian. Satisfied that he had fulfilled his duty to his wife, he and Tiberius continued on.

“You aren’t close to her, are you?” asked the sage after some time. They had just begun their descent down the winding boulevard that led from the Upper City down into the rest of Relen’ayar

“Whose that?” responded Avendor, though there was no need. He knew exactly who Tiberius was asking about.

“Your wife.”

“What makes you ask that?”

“Maybe just a lifetime of experience. Or maybe that fact that you just ordered the Winged Guard to look after her while you escort a foolish old man through the city in the dead of night.”

Avendor shook his head. He was beginning to realize that, in his own way,  Tiberius could see more clearly than most people. “We all have our duties.”

“Yes,” agreed the sage, “I suppose we do, at that.”

Another long silence ensued as they reached Terramore’s Way, the main throughway that cut through the heart of Relen’ayar. The Stilt District was located in the northwest portion of the city, and they could follow the wide, carefully paved road for several more minutes before needing to turn off.

“You’re right though,” said Avendor eventually. He was not really sure why he said it. It was really none of the sage’s concern. “We’re never been close. Our marriage was arranged, and that’s about all there is to it. She never wanted it. I agreed to it because it was—convenient. Now we live in the same house and she shares my name. But beyond that, we’re only a step removed from strangers. Were you ever married?”

“Once,” the sage replied. “Many years ago.”

“Did you love her?”

“More than anything in this world.” There was an unmistakable sorrow to the sage’s voice, echoing a lifetime of sadness. Avendor found it strangely intriguing.

“What happened?” he asked.

“She disappeared. My last memory of her is kissing her on the cheek before leaving to give lessons to Prince Torshen—and that tells you how long ago it was. She was baking. When I came home, a pie was sitting on the table, but Rala was gone.”

“That’s it? No note? No explanation?”

“Nothing. She was just gone.”

“I’m sorry.” The words sounded hollow in Avendor’s ear, and he silently cursed himself for breeching the topic. He felt as though he had torn open an old wound that had never really healed. The look of familiar pain was etched clearly across the old sage’s face. Avendor did not want to risk causing further anguish, so they walked in silence until they reached the boundries of the Stilt District, and stepped from paved street onto the wooden walkways that stretched out across the Kharnine. There was always a slight sense of movement here, as the mighty water of the river ebbed and flowed below.

“I trust you know where this friend of yours lives,” said Avendor.

“The western boardwalk, about a quarter-mile from the High Docks. It’s a house with a small, iron anchor bolted to a blue door—or so I’ve been told.”

“I know the area.”

It took another ten minutes to make the trip. It would have been less, if not for the twisting and haphazard manner in which the Stilt District had built up over the years. The planked walkways twisted and turned, forking suddenly and ending in unexpected places. When they finally reached the western boardwalk and found a house matching Tiberius’ description, Avendor guided the sage to the door.

Glancing at the stars, he determined that there was still three-quarters of an hour until his meeting with Nix.

“I’ll wait for you here,” he said.

“Thank you, Captain,” responded Tiberius as he knocked loudly at the door.

Avendor retreated far enough away to offer some degree of privacy—but not so far that he could not spring to the sage’s defence if the need arose. A strange, uneasy feeling had been building in his mind for the past several minutes, so much so that when the blue door opened, Avendor watched carefully. The man who stuck his face out into the night was not as old as the sage, but he had a weathered face and his hair was grizzled and unkempt. He certainly looked as though he had seen better days.

“Well I’d be a catfish’s mother” the man said. His voice was deep and thick with the accent of the Western Isles. “Here be a face I han’t seen in many a year. Come in. Come in.” Tiberius accepted the invitation. A moment later, the door closed behind him. Still, Avendor found that could not relax. Every muscle in his body was tightly coiled. Something was wrong. He could feel it in his bones.

It was several minutes before he sensed a sudden movement in the shadows. His eyes shot up, just in time to catch a brief glimpse of something—or someone—moving silently along the fisherman’s roof.

Trap! his mind screamed at him.

He reached for his sword and took two quick steps forward, intending to rush into the house. It was only at the last moment that he sensed the hatchet hurtling toward his head.

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