Song of the Lamkee

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Exerpt from Chapter 8

SONG OF THE LAMKEE

Book One: Erebis Series




          Five days slipped past with insidious speed and left Talin with only blurred recollections of heliofoils, horses, and anxious Cadre.  When he and Sabra finally arrived in Larsending’s Perimeter town, their bodies were beaten and their mounts splay-legged with fatigue.  A heliofoil hovered as it waited for them.  Their driver handed them a written message as he ushered them into the Artifact.  Talin had barely closed the door when the Neophyte punched the boosters and sped off toward Kaptaal and its capital of Larsending.  He was apparently aware of their urgency.

            The note was from Cedric.  It was written in his own hand - an upright, narrow script that exuded an air of militancy.  The message was brief:

            Do not rest at turn-town.  Alacrity paramount.  Be prepared - it may not be enough.

            -Cedric

            Sabra had been reading over his shoulder.  She made no sound, but bowed her head.  Several clumps of dirty auburn hair had escaped her braids and they hung in limp strands against her cheeks.  Talin tapped the brown-robed Logen on the shoulder.

            “I don’t think I have to tell you to push this thing as fast as it will go,” he said.

            The Neophyte shook his head.  “At this speed we will expend the battery long before we reach Larsending, so we have arranged for another heliofoil to be prepared at turn-town.  We will stop only as long as it takes to transfer vehicles, my lord.”

            Talin nodded, took Sabra into his arms, and leaned back into the seat.  He was trying to control his frustration.  It would take them three hours to travel a distance that took three days on horse back - and it still might not get them there in time.

 

            *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *           

 

            Talin was out of the heliofoil before it came to a complete stop in front of the main administration building and the two Ancient towers flanking it.  Sabra was on his heels as they ran across the lawn and up the steps of Waywester Tower.  Behind Chandler Tower and flanked by Helios, the sun hovered low on the horizon and cast an eerie and foreboding shadow of the Ancient Tower across its twin.  Talin ignored the omen and pushed the heavy door open, refusing to believe he was too late.

            Ailaine’s suite of rooms were on the top floor of the tower and Talin was so out of breath by the time he ran to the top of the narrow spiral staircase he could not ask the horrible question that was on his lips.  His sister Faye was seated on an elegantly upholstered couch in the corner, her left arm wrapped in the sensors and cords of a bios Artifact.  Her green eyes had dark circles under them, and the pale folds of her rose gown had more color than did her drawn and weary face.  She ignored Talin completely and continued speaking to the Logen standing over her, a stubborn expression on her face.  Cedric stepped forward to greet his daughter and Talin with a nod, his eyes filled with a pain and anguish Talin had only seen one other time in his life.  That time had been long ago and it had been his mother standing in front of him and his father laying beyond the closed door.  But now Ailaine was behind the door and Cedric grasping his shoulder.

            “She is waiting for you,” he said and keyed open the door.  Talin went in.

            The room was dark and warm; it took his eyes a moment to adjust to the dim light and for his mind to grasp the reality of where he was, what was happening.

            “Talin?”

            “Mother,” he said, somehow making his feet take him to her bedside.  She was nestled beneath the sheets, her silver hair resting on the pillows in soft heaps.  Everything about her - her skin, the whites of her eyes, even her lips - looked wrong.  She was dehydrated, a shell of the woman he’d seen so alive and vibrant only weeks ago.  The only thing colorful about her was the heavy lamkee brooch clasped to the neck of her night gown.  Even its spectacular colors seemed muted and somber against the linen beneath it.

            Talin sat on the bed, careful not to jostle her.  She was as dry and yellow as Ancient parchment.  He took her hand, nearly dropped it when he felt how cold it was, and tried to conceal the emotions written across his face.  She smiled and stroked the back of his hand. 

            “Silly little Lamkee Prince,” she said, squeezing his fingers in her cold ones.  “You were so brave for me when your father went.  Can’t you be brave just one more time?”

            He wanted to scream, to tell her not to talk this way and that she wasn’t going to die.  But he couldn’t.

            “I’m trying,” he said, his voice an uneven croak and sounding too loud in his ears.

            She struggled to sit up higher in the bed and winced as she bent too much at the waist.  “Here, tell me about Brary,” she said, touching the brooch at her collar with a shaking finger.  “Were they there - the lamkee?  Did you find out why?”

            “Yes, they were there,” he said, some of the excitement so recently forgotten coming back to him.

            “Tell me,” she whispered.  “Tell me everything.”

            He did.  He remembered everything he could, told her every detail, from the bitter cold of the shaft to the smoothness of the cards.  Ailaine nodded as he speculated about the opened crate, but her surprise at the ransacked room left her gasping for several moments.  She listened as he continued, took it all in, a smile curving her lips frequently, a wince stealing it away almost as quickly.

            “I thought as much,” she said, closing her eyes when he had finished.  She lay very still for a while, so long in fact that in fear Talin reached out a hand to touch her face.  Her eyes fluttered open.

            “Does it hurt much?” he asked, seeing the deep lines running across her forehead and around her mouth.

            She shrugged.  “It’s bearable.  The Logen give me what they can.”  She winked at him, a sparkle of the old Ailaine flashing before him as she spoke.  “I have my own source of strength, though,” she said.

            “I wish I could do something,” he said, suddenly angry.  “Why don’t they give you something better, something that will take the pain away completely?”

            “They are doing the best they can.  We’ve always known they’re a little backward, you and I.  Don’t blame them,” she said.  “Well, at least not entirely.”

            “But why not?” he said, remembering his fury at Erudite Ansel for his blindness, at ECO for their too far-reaching foresight.

            “Because we are better.”

            “How?”

            “Because we have the lamkee,” she said, tapping the hard shell of the brooch clinging to her breast.  “We have a connection, a real, tangible connection to our world, our past.  You know that we are partners with the lamkee, with Gaea, with the Ancients.  When the Logen touch their Artifacts, they don’t understand them, don’t know or care how they work for us, for the world.  But we,” she squeezed his hand again, “we understand the lamkee.”  Ailaine looked toward the window, her head cocked and her face relaxed into that listening expression Talin had come to know so well.  His mother had listened to an inner voice all her life and it had never misguided her.  Talin often wondered whether he would be half the Principal she was.

            Ailaine looked at him, studied him in the darkness, and smiled her satisfaction.  With trembling fingers she grasped the lamkee brooch, raised it up to her lips, and kissed the back of it.  She placed it in Talin’s hand.

            “You belong to him now,” she said, and Talin felt a moment of confusion as he wondered whether she was speaking to him or to the brooch.  Ailaine closed his fingers over the jeweled lamkee and held his hand in both of hers.  “Guard this and all it represents with your life, my son.”

            Talin felt the cold prick of the stones, of the tiny legs against his skin.  “I will,” he vowed.

 

            *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

 

            Talin stayed with her early into the next morning.  Like his sister, he asked the bios Logen to give him something to keep him awake, and so it was that he read to Ailaine until she finally fell into unconciousness.  It was a day later before she died, and Talin could finally weep as he sat looking at her, her face once more and forever smoothed of its lines and cares.  The lamkee brooch, tucked away in his tunic pocket, weighed heavily against his chest as he held her hand for the last time.  He took some comfort in knowing the pain, at least for her, was past.  But try as he might, he couldn’t shake the feeling that it had only begun for him.  He felt abandoned and anything but brave.  Somewhere within his mind, a voice told him that he wasn’t alone, but grief had already taken him.  It was hours before he could leave the room and let the rest of the world know of his loss.




© Barbara E. Hill 2017