Saturday, 30 August 2014

The Wolf Pack Chapter 14

I will be away for 10 days from September 3rd to 13th and so will not be able to post any of The Wolf Pack for that time. I am therefore posting Chapter 14 now. I will possibly blog whilst I am away assuming my ipad will let me!

Anyway, here's Chapter 14. I will try to post Chapter 15 before I go, but no promises.

I am working on Book 2, which is called The Never-Dying Man and I hope it will be out in October sometime.



The third day of her time with the Daughters of Sylissa was again spent in prayer and meditation except for the time in praise of Sylissa in the temple. The services were beautiful, if indeed the preaching was a little over long. Asphodel willed the day away. That morning, an acolyte had brought her the lilac sash and lilac-edged white robes of a curate, and she felt proud to be wearing it. She now addressed the acolytes as Sister, and they had to call her Curate Asphodel. (The few elven acolytes who were in Hambara used her full elven name and called her Curate Aspholessaria.) She found it a little odd not having to bow to other curates. She had to squash a sense of pride in herself, knowing that pride was not one of the nicer traits in people. This made her second day of prayer more bearable, and the knowledge that she would tomorrow be healing once more, and able to speak to people. (The rule of silence she found very oppressive.)
Asphodel’s second day of healing dawned, and after another long service at dawn, she made her way through the corridors to the infirmary once more. As a curate, she could now use the acolytes and give them simple tasks to do as other higher-ranking clerics had done with her previously. The day was passing quickly with a fairly busy morning when a young man came in. He looked around somewhat furtively, Asphodel thought, and then took a seat at the end of the queue to wait. He was obviously in some considerable pain, and Asphodel noticed that he was bleeding from a very nasty wound in his shoulder, although he was trying to keep it from being noticed. In her opinion, the wound should be attended to quickly due to the loss of blood and the dangers of infection if it were not cleaned, not to mention the shock that must accompany such a wound. However, the clerics all seemed to be ignoring or even actively avoiding the man. This puzzled Asphodel and she went over to him. As she approached him, the day’s duty vicar called to her. It was Vicar Weslon, and he was a very severe man; not quite what Asphodel thought of as a caring healer. Still, he was good at his job and she respected that.
‘Curate Asphodel,’ he said as she approached. ‘That man is not to be seen until everyone here has been attended to and then only if there is time, perhaps. Is that clear?’
Asphodel could not believe her ears. Was she being asked—no, told—not to perform healing on one who desperately needed it, and fairly quickly at that? This was against what she understood to be her vows. She dared not argue with the Vicar if she wanted to be released from the Daughters, but it worried her. However, she could not help but ask the reasons.
‘That man is evil,’ came the reply. ‘He is an assassin and has killed many people in his life. We cannot condone such, especially since the Most High wishes the elimination of all evil. By with-holding treatment, he is likely not to live, and so another of the evil gods’ minions will have been eliminated.’
With that, Vicar Weslon walked away to attend to a seriously ill woman.
Asphodel continued with her work, until suddenly she heard a cry from the direction of the assassin. She looked over in his direction. He seemed to be about to lose consciousness, and his wound was bleeding again rather more profusely. He was shivering violently even though it was warm in the infirmary, thanks to the hypocaust under the floor. 
‘I cannot ignore a sick man, even if he is an assassin,’ thought Asphodel. ‘It is for the gods to judge us, not other people, Most High or not.’
So she made her way over to him in spite of her earlier instructions and did what she could. She performed a couple of simple healings that stopped the bleeding, and then she carefully washed and dressed the wound with healing herbs. She had just finished, and the man was thanking her profusely when she heard Vicar Weslon call her. He was extremely angry by the look on his face.
‘Disobedience,’ he spluttered. ‘Rank disobedience of an order by a superior. Go back to the House of Daughters immediately. The Great Father will hear of this. You are not to return to the Infirmary, but to remain in your cell. I will speak to the Great Father personally about this, and it may take a few days for him to see me and you will remain in the House of the Daughters until he sends for you. Pray, girl, for the humility to be obedient.’
He watched as she left the room and walked the corridors back to her cell. What was Sylissa doing allowing such disobedient girls into the ranks of the priesthood? How come she had not been weeded out before this, and why was she on his duty roster? Admittedly, she was a good healer for a newly promoted curate, but still, disobedience was disobedience, and he dismissed Asphodel from his mind until the end of his duty.
The next morning, Asphodel was surprised to be summoned to the office of the Great Father soon after breakfast, as she was praying in her cell. (She could not bear to be among other people just at the moment as she felt that they were all condemning her.) Maybe it was not about the incident the previous day? It was a bit quick for Vicar Weslon to have seen the Great Father she thought. The Great Father did not see lesser ranks very quickly as evinced by her own wait in the temple when she first arrived, and she thought that that would have been longer if Mother Caldo were not known to the Great Father. Still, she would have to go to find out.
She walked down the corridor approaching the office with some trepidation, and as she reached the door, the guard outside said, ‘You are Asphodel?’
She replied in the affirmative.
‘You are to go straight in.’ Then he smiled and said, ‘Good luck. He seems to be rather angry this morning. I hope it is not you he’s angry with!’
‘I rather think it may be,’ replied Asphodel, opening the door and crossing the threshold.
As soon as she saw that the Great Father was present, seated behind his desk, she fell to her knees.
‘Words fail me.’ The voice of the Great Father came to her from over her head. ‘Mother Caldo said you were defiant, but I did not fully realise how defiant. You disobeyed a direct order yesterday I understand, and you have only just come to us too!’
Asphodel said nothing. It was not permitted to speak to the Great Father unless told specifically to do so.
‘You were told not to heal an evil man, yet you went ahead and did so anyway. This in spite of the commands of the Most High, that we work to rid the world of evil in all its guises. That man would not have survived if you had not interfered, and another evil soul would be gone from this world to be judged and punished by the gods.’ Here he paused. ‘I do not know what to do with you at the moment,’ he went on, ‘Do you have anything to say for yourself? What is your excuse for your disobedience?’
Asphodel took that as an invitation to speak and answered quietly, ‘Your Holiness, when I took my vows, I swore to help the sick and injured wherever I may find them. I did not promise anything about selective healing, or only healing good people. The man was in need, and I fulfilled my vows. That is all.’
This seemed to infuriate the Great Father still further. Asphodel heard a chair scrape back as he got to his feet, and then heard him walk round the desk. She saw feet and a white robe edged in gold.
‘I obeyed my conscience and my vows,’ replied Asphodel, still in a quiet voice.
‘Now you speak before being given permission! Is there no end to your defiance?’
Asphodel looked up. It was forbidden, but she was beginning to become angry herself. Who was this pompous man in charge of the Church of Sylissa in Hambara? She saw in front of her a rather tall man, about 6 feet tall, with grey hair, thinning on the top. He was overweight, indicating overindulgence, and his round face was red with anger. Fortunately for her, he was not looking in her direction and so did not see her looking up.
‘Girl, I have decided.’ He turned towards the window. ‘You will join the Daughters on a permanent basis. You will take the vows of the order. You will learn discipline. You will be confined to your cell until I decide that you can once more take up the duties of a Daughter of Sylissa and then you will take your vows. You will, until that time, be fed only on bread and water.’
 Asphodel forgot all protocol and surged to her feet. Her grey eyes were almost black with anger, and she could no longer contain herself.
‘You cannot force a free person to take vows they are unwilling to take. If you do so, those vows are null and void, and you know it. I will not become a Daughter of Sylissa. I’ve every respect for those who wish to take up that life, but it’s not for me. I cannot live that life, and I will not. I’m going to leave this temple now, and you will not stop me. I’ll become a travelling cleric and heal where it’s needed. It’s not our place to decide who will live and who will die, to put ourselves in the place of the gods. Surely if there is evil in the world the gods put it here? If we are evil, then the gods gave us that capacity. We cannot understand the gods and the way they work only do what we can. If this means that I do not progress any further in the ranks of the Church, then so be it. I’ll remain a humble curate for the rest of my days, but I—will—help—people. Whoever they are, or whatever they have done, as long as they have a need. Maybe seeing what good is, some bad folk may reform. That is surely better than condemning them to death, and surely much more pleasing to the gods.’ With that, she turned and headed for the door.
As she left she heard, ‘Yes, girl, that is right, you will remain a curate. No one in the ranks of the Church will test you for your advancement.’
She hurried down the corridor and into the temple. She did not pause to look at the magnificence, but swept through the main doors and down the steps into the late winter sunshine.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Wolf Pack Chapter 13



Asphodel watched Carthinal as he strode away after leaving her on the steps of the temple of Sylissa. She could still feel the faint touch of his lips on her hair. Suddenly she felt very alone. She may never see Carthinal, nor Bas or Fero again. She pushed those thoughts aside as she climbed the steps. This is what she had always wanted to do. Be a healer in the service of Sylissa.
She entered the temple through the great double doors. Inside, the main room of the temple was circular. There were seats all around a central altar, and the windows around the walls and in the dome high above, concentrated the light so that it fell on the altar and also on the alcove opposite the doors where there was a life-sized statue of Sylissa. The temple was built of white marble and the floor was paved with a beautiful mosaic, showing Sylissa giving the gift of healing to her first priestess. Asphodel stopped to admire the beauty.
‘Yes, it makes everyone stop the first time they see it, sister.’ The voice came from by her elbow.
Asphodel jumped. ‘Oh! I didn’t hear you coming,’ she said, adding “Minister” and bowing her head as she saw his deep orange sash, indicating his rank.
‘Sorry, sister,’ replied the minister. ‘I’m Minister Micory, and I’m on duty here today. Is there anything I can help you with?’
‘I have a letter for the Great Father, Minister Micory,’ replied Asphodel, bowing her head to a superior. ‘Could you tell me how to get it to him please?’
‘If you give it to me, I’ll get a novice to take it to him. Do you need a reply?’
‘Yes. I will need some response from the Great Father.’
‘If you wait here,’ continued Minister Micory, ‘The Great Father will send a reply to you as soon as he is able. I’ll let him know where you are. You could use the time in meditation and prayer, sister.’
With that, Minister Micory called a passing novice and Asphodel gave her the letter to take to the Great Father. She then went and sat down in one of the seats surrounding the altar to wait for some response. She had no idea how long she would have to wait for an answer to the note that Mother Caldo had given her for the Great Father, so she settled down for a long wait. As she sat there in the magnificent temple Asphodel framed a prayer to Sylissa to thank her for allowing her to reach Hambara safely, and also added a prayer for the continuing safety of her travelling companions. She then tried to meditate as Minister Micory had suggested, but found that it was almost impossible. Her mind kept wandering and she found the time was passing all too slowly. The duty minister changed. When they changed, Minister Micory said something to the new minister, and they both glanced over at her. She guessed that Minister Micory was telling the new minister who she was.
The new minister came over and spoke to her. ‘Good afternoon, sister. I am the new duty minister for this afternoon. I assume that you have not eaten your noon meal. You may go to the refectory with the other acolytes and get something to eat. The Great Father will not be responding until after he has eaten.’
‘Thank you, minister,’ replied Asphodel, again bowing her head.
The protocol and hierarchy were very strict in the various religions of Vimar, and Asphodel, being of the most junior rank, that of novice, equating to apprentice in most other callings, was outranked by just about everyone she met in the church. The highest ranked cleric of each god was known as the Most High, but each church and temple had its ruler known as the Great Father or Mother who were answerable only to the Most High of their specific Church.
The minister called over a novice and asked if she was about to go to the refectory. The girl replied in the affirmative, and was given instructions to show Asphodel the way.
The girl introduced herself as Chejorie, a new acolyte, and she chatted on as she led the way to the refectory. They passed through a door to the right and along a corridor to a large door at the end where there was issuing a smell of cooking. Asphodel realised that she was very hungry, and she relished having a meal.
After eating the food served in the refectory, and listening to Chejorie’s chatter, Asphodel made her way back to the main temple. She sat down again to wait. Again time passed and eventually a door opened near to the statue of Sylissa, which was situated at the opposite side of the great rotunda from the big main doors. A procession of initiates then made their way in single file around the temple. They were singing a sunset hymn, which made Asphodel realise that much of the day had passed. The singing was beautiful. There were at least eight parts, Asphodel realised, and instead of each part being grouped together, as in a conventional choir, they were spread around. This gave a very beautiful and melodious sound as each group of eight people made a chord and this chord was spread all around the temple. She was entranced. People were sitting in the seats of the temple now. Some were initiates and acolytes of Sylissa, but many were ordinary townsfolk, come to pray for sick relatives and friends or to give thanks for a recovery.
The officiating cleric entered through the same door as the choir, and began to conduct the service. It was a beautiful service, Asphodel thought. The choir sang all the rest of the service in praise of Sylissa with as much feeling and beauty as the hymn at the beginning, and everyone in the congregation joined in for their parts.
Eventually the sunset ceremony was over, and the Minister on duty came over to her.
‘It’s obvious the Great Father won’t be seeing you today,’ she told Asphodel. ‘You’d better stay in the guestrooms tonight. If your letter needs a reply, I expect the Great Father will send a message tomorrow. Follow me, please.’
She began to walk away to the door that Asphodel had gone through with Chejorie earlier, and this time opened the second door on the right. ‘You can rest here tonight. You’ll find an evening meal will be served in the refectory in about an hour, and breakfast at the second hour in the morning after the dawn service. I expect you’ll want to attend that. It commences at the twenty fourth hour of the day.’
She stood back to allow Asphodel to enter, and then closed the door behind her.
‘Well, that sounded more like a command,’ muttered Asphodel. ‘I’ll get a wash and then go and eat. If I am to be up before dawn, I’d better get an early night.’
The water for washing was cold, and the bed was harder than the ground she had been sleeping on recently. She sighed, put on a clean robe and went out for some food, which was just about sufficient for her hunger, but not for her palate as it was very basic. Asphodel went to bed feeling unsatisfied at her first experience of the Temple of Sylissa in Hambara.

The next morning, Asphodel awoke feeling stiff. A bell was being rung somewhere nearby to wake the faithful for the dawn prayers. She washed in cold water again, and dressed before making her way to the temple. The service began with the same polyphonic choir, this time singing a hymn to the dawn. Then the rest of the service commenced. It continued with praises and thanks to Sylissa, and the officiating cleric, a deacon this morning, spoke at length about how all should be striving to eliminate evil in both themselves and the world. He spoke of injury and disease as evils that had been brought upon the races of the world by their evil ways and how they were the punishment of the gods. He explained how the Most High wanted to eradicate all evil beings in order for the gods to lift their punishments on the peoples of the world.
His talk was long, Asphodel estimating an hour at least, and she wondered how anyone could manage to talk for so long about the need for the elimination of evil, and her mind wandered. She began wondering where the others were and what they were doing. Was Carthinal getting ready to take his tests? She realised that she had no idea when the tests were to begin. Would he have to wait in Hambara for a while or would they begin straight away, today? She thought that Basalt and Fero would be seeking work, and sent up a little prayer that they were both successful.
After the long sermon there were prayers to Sylissa asking her to help them to overcome their faults, and then fifteen minutes were set aside for the congregation to meditate on their own evil and to ask for forgiveness. By the time the service was over, Asphodel’s stomach was beginning to rumble, much to her embarrassment. The service had taken well over two hours. She left for the refectory where she was given a bowl of porridge and a glass of water. She sighed as she took it to a table and began to eat. Was this how Sylissa wanted her servants to live? Surely not! All these rules and abstinence, even having to eat poor quality food. It had not been like this at the temple in Bluehaven when she left, and she found herself wondering if this was the only temple where such abstemiousness was practiced.
After her breakfast, such as it was, she returned to the temple to wait, again admiring its beauty. Just before the sixth hour, a novice approached her with a message to follow him. She was taken along a corridor off the first one she had gone down, with the refectory at the end and the guest rooms, until they came to a door on the left. A Temple guard dressed in white, the colour of Sylissa, guarded it.
The novice knocked and a harsh male voice called, ‘Come in.’
Asphodel opened the door, and at once saw a rather large man in front of her with gold-edged white robes. The Great Father. She immediately fell down onto her knees as she had been taught, and kept her eyes on the floor. All she could see was the carpet beneath her feet, which was a very rich one, in deep blue and gold. The voice spoke from somewhere above her head.
‘I have read Mother Caldo’s letter, child, and I find it most disquieting. She thinks that you would be better here and that I can do more with you than she can. I think that maybe she is right there. Firstly, I think that we should effect a means of teaching you discipline; a virtue that you seem to be sadly lacking if Mother Caldo’s letter is anything to go by. So I have decided that you will join with the Daughters of Sylissa. As you know, they are an order who devote their entire lives to the service of the goddess and others. They are an order who do not mix with outsiders, who have taken vows of chastity and obedience and who spend their days in quiet prayer and contemplation. They only have contact with the general public during their times on duty as healers in the infirmary.’
Asphodel stifled a cry at this. The life of the Daughters was not one that she had ever contemplated, knowing instinctively that she was not cut out for such a life.
The voice went on, ‘I do not think we will expect you to take the vows and become a full Daughter, unless, that is, you decide that you are called to them, but as long as you remain with them, you will abide by their rules. You will have no contact with anyone other than your fellow sisters except when you are healing. Of course, as far as the other Daughters are concerned, you are going to become a full member in due course. Only the Mother will know that it may only be temporary. Do you have anything to say, daughter?’
‘H-how long will I be with the Daughters, Great Father?’ Asphodel stuttered, appalled at the idea.
‘That depends on you, child,’ came the reply. ‘You must show that you have learned the discipline required of a true cleric, which includes obedience to your superiors. Now I will call for a novice to take you to the House of the Daughters.’
Asphodel felt faint. She could hardly believe what was happening. Not to have any contact with anyone except the Daughters for an unspecified length of time. She felt as though she had just been sent to jail, but worse was to come. When she arrived at the House of the Daughters, which was connected to the temple by a windowless corridor, she was horrified when she was taken into a room, told to sit down, and the Mother cut off all her long black hair. Her protests that she was not actually joining the Daughters permanently fell on deaf ears.
‘As long as you are within our walls, you are a Daughter. The Daughters all have their hair cut off. It’s a temptation sent by Allandrina, that evil goddess of deceit, to tempt men into lustful thoughts and deeds, and young women into the sin of pride and vanity. No, it’s better that the hair be removed. It’s obvious that you’ve already fallen into the sin of vanity by your objection to having your hair cut.’
And removed it was. Asphodel watched as her raven tresses fell down to the ground. Afterwards, she put her hand up to her head to feel her hair. It had been cut off to her ears. She almost asked for a mirror, but two things stopped her. Firstly she was not sure that she really wanted to know what she looked like, and secondly, she thought that Mother would accuse her of the “sin of vanity” once more.
After that, she was shown to a cell in another part of the building. If she thought the guestroom was primitive, it was luxury compared with what she now had. There was a narrow bed with a blanket over it, but no pillow and only a very thin mattress, which would do nothing to soften the hardness of the bed. There was a small shrine to Sylissa in the corner of the room, with a statue and a triskel, and a tallow candle in a candlestick. There was no cupboard for any personal items, nor any chair or chest: just a bed and the shrine.
‘I’ve been given permission to speak to you,’ murmured the novice who showed her to the cell, ‘So that you’ll know exactly what to do. The wash place is at the end of the corridor. You’ll wash at night, before retiring and in the morning on rising. No other time is permitted.’
‘Is there no bath house?’ asked Asphodel. ‘I do like to bathe sometime to get properly clean.’
The girl looked shocked. ‘No! Bathing is strictly forbidden. It’s a luxury, and we eschew all luxuries as they can lead to the sin of avarice. We always wash in cold water too for the same reasons. We’re not allowed to converse with one another except for one hour after the evening meal. We attend all services in the temple. On alternate days, we work in the infirmary, and the days we’re not there, we spend in meditation and prayer. We’ve been instructed by the Most High to pray for the eradication of evil from the world, and for the help of Sylissa in doing so. I think that’s all that you need to know. If there are any other things you want to ask, you can ask me now, or after the evening meal.’
She paused and then remembered something else. ‘Oh, yes. We are allowed no personal property except our robes and triskel, and a cloak for if we have to go out to attend a sick person outside the temple. Any other property you have you must hand over to Mother.’
Asphodel told the girl that she thought that she had explained well, and that if there were nothing else she would like now to go into her cell and meditate. The novice then smiled and left. Asphodel entered the room and sat down on the hard bed. Tears pricked at her eyes. Her head felt wrong without the weight of her hair, and she felt ugly. She rose and closed the door. She would not let them know how she felt. She felt violated. Her hair had been taken away without her volition, and she had had all contact with the outside world removed from her, and her few meagre possessions were forfeit. How would she find out about her friends? They would think that she did not care about them. She wanted to know if Carthinal had passed his tests, if he had survived them even. What about the others? Bas and Fero? If they got jobs that took them out of the city, she would not know, and may never see them again. The tears began to flow, and she turned onto her stomach and allowed them to continue. She cried until she felt wrung out, then, still sobbing, she turned to the shrine and the statue of Sylissa. She spread her hands and prayed.
‘Why are you letting them do this to me? Deep down inside me I know this is not right. Most of what is happening here doesn’t feel right. Even praying for the eradication of evil doesn’t feel right. Surely you and the other gods put evil here as well as good for a purpose? We don’t know why you did so, but I feel inside that it’s necessary. I know the Most High is the leader of your clergy, but could he not be wrong in this? Or is it blasphemy to think that he could be fallible? Give me the strength to get through this ordeal. I’ll do my best to do as they wish so that I can once again go out into the world and heal as I wish to do.’
The rest of the day was spent in attending services and meditation and prayer. The Daughters were allowed to do their meditation in their cells, or in the gardens in the centre of the House. Asphodel decided to go into the gardens, as it was the nearest she could get to the open air and a feeling of freedom. Elves loved the natural world and felt stifled if they could not get outside into the woods and open country. The gardens were beautiful even this early in the season, with some early spring flowers already beginning to bloom in the sheltered garden surrounded by high walls and covered walkways. There were also flowering trees putting out their blossoms and the scent of spring was in the air, but even so, Asphodel found the atmosphere oppressing, so after a while she went back to her little cell. 
After the evening meal, many of the Daughters wanted to talk with her as they were allowed speech at this time, but she pleaded tiredness and went to her room where she sobbed herself to sleep.
The next morning, after another long dawn service in the temple, she was told by Archdeacon Jenoria, the Mother of the Daughters of Sylissa, to report to the infirmary for duty. She was accompanied in silence by several other Daughters of different ranks all going on duty, with bent heads in a gesture of humility and submission. Asphodel did so as well, but found that she kept glancing around her and it was almost impossible to keep her head in the bowed position. Eventually they reached the infirmary. It was a light and airy place. The floor was made of white marble, and the walls were also painted white. The whole room gave a feeling of cleanliness and efficiency. The acolytes were all given a number of tasks, or simple healing to do. Asphodel was told to clean a nasty cut on a child’s knee, and to bind it up to keep it clean.
While she was doing this, a vicar on duty came and spoke to Asphodel. ‘Sister,’ she said, ‘The Great Father told me that Mother Caldo said that she thought that you may be ready to finish your noviciate and become a curate. I’ve been asked to watch you and to ascertain whether this is in fact true. If you are indeed ready to become a curate, then Sylissa will grant you the power to increase your healing. I’ll watch you as you work if you don’t mind.’
‘Of course not, Vicar,’ replied Asphodel, her head bowed in the presence of a superior. ‘Thank you.’
During the course of the morning, Asphodel had to do some simple binding of wounds, but little actual healing. She did do a simple healing on one small boy with a head wound, got from falling out of a tree he was trying to climb, as he was obviously in pain, but there were no serious injuries to deal with. Vicar Helzel, she told Asphodel that was her name, said that typically as she wanted to assess the girl’s progress, there seemed to be less healing necessary than usual. In the afternoon, however, all seemed to change. A woman came in with bad a knife cut on her hand where a knife had slipped while she was gutting fish. She was in danger of losing the use of her fingers, and Asphodel was asked to see what she could do. Firstly, she gently removed the pad that someone had placed on the injury, and wiped away all the excess blood. Then she cleaned the wound as best she could, and prayed to Sylissa for healing. She felt the strength of the goddess entering her and then passing to the woman until the bleeding stopped, but the ligaments concerned were still in danger of not knitting properly, so she prayed once more to Sylissa for her strength. This seemed to be sufficient to ensure that with further natural healing the woman would keep the use of her fingers.
Shortly after this, a man came rushing in carrying a boy. He was in a panic. The boy had been bitten by a poisonous snake in the grass outside the city. The man, the boy’s father, had carried him to the temple as quickly as possible. Asphodel was told to try to help him.
She prayed for the goddess to slow the poison. She knew that she would only be able to carry sufficient power from the goddess to slow the passage of the poison, that she was nowhere near strong enough to break it down and render it harmless. The goddess granted her power through Asphodel, and she felt the strength going out of her once more. After that, a more experienced healer would take over, but the immediate panic was ended.
If she was truly of an ability to become a curate, then she should still have the strength to perform some further healing. She felt as though this was possible, for although she felt tired, she did not feel as drained as she did when she had used up all her strength. The next hour was quite simple, prescribing herbs for a cough, cleaning grazes on children’s knees and the like, but nothing requiring any serious healing work. Then a young girl came limping in on the arm of a young man. The girl’s ankle was swelling very badly and she could hardly bear to put it down.
‘She slipped down the stairs coming out of the temple of Parador.’ explained the young man as Asphodel gently felt he ankle.
‘Can you move your toes?’ she asked the girl.
‘Yes, I think so,’ she replied, trying.
‘Well, I don’t think it is broken, just a bad sprain. I’ll do a simple healing on it, which will help with the pain and then give you a poultice. You must rest it after that until the swelling goes down. I’ll give you some more of the herbs so that you can make another poultice.’ 
This she did, and felt the strength go out of her as the healing took effect. She felt some elation as it meant that she had now performed one more healing than she would previously have been able to do. Vicar Helzel also noted this, and wrote it down in her little book.
Finally, Asphodel performed a final, simple healing on a man with a bruised head, and at last was feeling exhausted.
‘Well done, Sister,’ Vicar Helzel said. ‘I will inform the Great Father that in my opinion, Mother Caldo was correct and that you are indeed ready for promotion. Go now back to the House of the Daughters and get some food and rest.’
Asphodel bowed her head and replied, ‘Thank you, Vicar Helzel,’ and gratefully left. She realised on her way back to the House that she had been happy during that day. This was what she wanted to do—heal people, not spend all day praying and meditating. Not that she felt that to be a waste of time, she prayed regularly to Sylissa and occasionally to the other gods, and on occasion she meditated, but a life of doing nothing but that was, she felt, not for her. Oh well, she would be healing every other day, so she would be happy half the time, which was more than could be said for some people. Also, it was not going to be forever, just until the Great Father decided to allow her out again. She decided that she must be seen to be submissive and obedient so that her time with the Daughters would be short.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014


I've just finished The Never-Dying Man, Book 2 of The Wolves of Vimar. I've run the spelling and grammar check, but now I need to do the reading through to check for any discrepancies. Still, I'm getting there. The end is in sight!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Wolf Pack Chapter 12



The next morning, Carthinal rose at the dawn hour and after he had washed and dressed, he went down to the common room. The other two were still fast asleep in bed, not having come up until late. They had both had a fair amount of ale, and after a few attempts to badger a studying Carthinal to join in their good humoured banter, each fell onto his own bed and were still snoring this morning.
Carthinal ate a rather frugal breakfast and drank some coffee and then set off for the Tower. It was a slightly warmer morning than it had been up until now, and it was almost fully light, nearing as it was, the equinox. There was already some activity in the market square, most stall holders having already set up their stalls, and the cooks from the richer households were out buying fresh goods as early as possible so they could have the best choice. The morning resounded to the cries of the market, and the fresh smells of vegetables, flowers and freshly baked bread. From somewhere across the square, young men were roistering, having been out all night, and just on their way home, and the lights were going out in Madame Dopari’s Emporium as she closed the doors for another day to allow her girls to get some much needed rest. Madame herself was just seeing the last customers out of the door, and the women who came in to clean the place were going up the steps. 
‘And I am going to do some tests! I’m not sure I want to do this, but I promised Mabryl,’ Carthinal muttered to himself as he walked past the Emporium.
Eventually, he arrived in the main hall of the Tower. Once again, he had the odd sensation that the inside was bigger than the outside, then he was spotted by Grimmaldo, and was soon involved in discussions about how difficult or easy the tests were supposed to be.
‘Tomorrow’s test is the one that I am dreading the most,’ said Olipeca in her quiet voice as she came to join them.
‘Oh no,’ said Carthinal. ‘The history one is the one that is the worst for me. I could never get into the idea that what happened in the past is of any importance or interest.’
‘That’s just typical.’ A haughty voice spoke from just behind Olipeca. It was Ebrassaria.
‘Just the sort of thing one would expect from the likes of you. Everything to do with magic is interesting and important if you want to become anyone in the magical field. Obviously you do not have any great destiny or ambition. I intend to become one of the great mages of Vimar, if not the greatest.’
‘Pride goeth before a fall,’ quoted Laurre. ‘There are four written tests and a practical, and we’ve not even begun the first written one yet. Let’s wait and see what happens here before we begin to express our ambitions for the future.’
‘Good thinking, Laurre.’ This came from Grimmaldo. Then he looked round.
‘I think they are coming for us now. Good luck everyone.’
‘You may all need luck. I don’t. I will be relying on my skill and knowledge,’ retorted Ebrassaria, and with that, she stalked over to where a mage in red robes was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. He led them up many flights of stairs until they came to the very top of the tower. Again Carthinal had the impression that they had gone up more flights than they should have for only ten stories. They found themselves in the room at the top of the tower. There were windows all round giving uninterrupted views over the town. They could see as far as the Blue Lake to the north, glimmering in the morning sun, and looking such a clear blue that it was obvious how it had got its name. They could also see the park land around the Palace and the Palace itself. On the other side was the Temple district, with the gleaming white temples and the shops associated with them, as well as other districts. In the distance to the west could be seen the faint blue outline of the Western Mountains across the Plain of Grosmer, but to the east, the peaks of the Mountains of Doom were far too distant to be made out.
While they were admiring the view, a door opened and a mage dressed in purple robes came in. ‘Please sit down, ladies and gentlemen,’ she said. She paused for a moment until all had found a seat at one of the six desks set up in the room. ‘I am Arch-Mage Rikonda, and History is my speciality as you may have guessed,’ she continued. ‘I will be conducting the test this morning and marking your papers too. I will be relieved part way through by Arch-Mage Akkaldo, but will return to end the test and to collect your papers. The papers will be marked this afternoon, and you will be able to see the results tomorrow morning pinned up in the Great Hall.’ Here she paused. ‘There should be writing equipment on the tables in front of you and sheets of vellum. You should each have three quill pens, ink and a knife to sharpen the quills if necessary. Are there any questions before I hand out the question papers?’
No one spoke, and they all looked nervous except for a supremely confident Ebrassaria. So the arch-mage handed out the question papers and they began the test.
The time seemed to pass quickly to Carthinal. He risked a glance at the others and they all seemed to be writing hard. He did not notice when the arch-mages changed duties, nor when Arch-Mage Rikonda returned.
He was just about writing his last word when her voice said, ‘All right, ladies and gentlemen. Time is up. Please stop writing now and put your quills in front of you,’ Then she smiled for the first time and Carthinal noticed that she was not as old as he had first thought. 
‘You may now leave and go to lunch,’ she continued. ‘You will find it in the same place as yesterday. Please be back in the Great Hall for half an hour past the seventh hour to be ready for an eighth hour start this afternoon.’
The apprentices stumbled wearily down the stairs discussing the paper as apprentices had done throughout the ages. There were some groans as one or another realised the mistakes they had made, (some of these were from Carthinal) and whoops of joy over correct answers.
At lunch, Hammevaro sat next to Ebrassaria. It was obvious that he thought that his charms would win over the elf maid, but in spite of his charming smile and golden mane of hair, he was making no headway at all with her.
Carthinal muttered to Grimmaldo, whom he found himself sitting next to. ‘He may as well forget her. She’s an elf, and many of them think that humans are little better than animals. I suspect that she’s one of those.’
‘You’re right there, friend,’ replied Grimmaldo. ‘Although they make a lovely couple, don’t they, with their imperious looks and conceited smiles,’ he continued with a grin.
Carthinal could not help but laugh at the truth of this remark, which made the pair look at him in surprise. Their expressions made Grimmaldo join in and the two of them were soon convulsed with laughter. The others wanted to know what the joke was, but it was several minutes until they managed to calm down enough to tell them without Hammevaro and Ebrassaria hearing.
The group went outside to sit in the gardens. Hammevaro was still trying to gain the attention of Ebrassaria, and the pair sat a little way away from the others.
Suddenly, Laurre said, ‘Do you think that there is something odd about this tower?’
‘If you mean the way it seems that the inside is too big for the outside, then yes, I have,’ replied Grimmaldo.
The others agreed that they had noticed it too, even to saying that they felt they had climbed more stairs than they should have done to reach the test room. Much discussion followed on that point until they realised that it was time to go to the Great Hall again.
The afternoon’s test passed in much the same way as the morning’s had, and afterwards they all decided that they would have a few drinks that evening, the others having gone to their lodgings the night before after Carthinal left them. Olipeca was worried about the Alchemy and wanted to study it for a final time so she decided not to go, and Ebrassaria said she was not interested. Hammevaro also, strangely for one who was so confident in his abilities, decided that he must study too.
‘He’s really trying hard with her, isn’t he?’ observed Grimmaldo, and the others laughed, earning a look of daggers from Hammevaro who had overheard.
Grimmaldo grinned at the other man and earned a scowl in reply. ‘I don’t think he’s used to meeting resistance to his charms,’ he went on.
Carthinal suppressed another laugh. He could not help it, but he felt a strong, inexplicable antipathy towards the other young man.
They visited several inns, but were careful not to get drunk so that they would still be able to function the next day, and they did not stay out too late. Carthinal returned to the Golden Dragon by the seventeenth hour and fell into bed where he slept peacefully until morning, not even disturbing when a rather drunken Basalt and Fero came in much later.
The next morning, to their delight, they found that they had all passed the first test. Hammevaro and Ebrassaria had both gained distinctions and, much to her surprise, Olipeca had gained a merit. The rest of them had achieved passes, but Carthinal was satisfied with that for this particular test.
This day was much the same as the previous one; test in the morning, and after lunch the results of the previous afternoon’s test were posted up. Carthinal was surprised to find that he had gained the highest mark and had been awarded a distinction along with Ebrassaria. Hammevaro had gained a merit as had Grimmaldo. The others had all passed again. It was thus with high hopes that they entered the hall for the last written test.
That evening no one went out on the town as the following day was the practical test, and they all had to be alert and full of energy for that, so an early night was on the cards.

Friday, 8 August 2014

The Fracking Debate

Last night I watched a programme on PBS America about fracking. It was quite an eye opener. I knew that there was a danger from the breaking of rocks underground, but had not appreciated everything else. The extraction process uses a lot of very nasty chemicals. Many are carcinogenic, but others are neurological in their effect. These can, and apparently do, escape into the air. Children living near fracking wells have been seen to suffer from tremendous nose bleeds. The wells themselves may be a long way away from housing, schools etc, but the bores travel kilometers underground. They line the boreholes with cement, but sometimes this cracks and allows the chemicals to escape. There are also natural vertical splits in the rock up which these nasties can go.

Not only that, but the water they use is highly toxic when it comes out. In some places in the States it has seeped into the drinking water. Methane has also come out of taps. The programme showed a running tap being lit by a flame. This is obviously a great danger.Houses could blow up if methane seeps in and a spark is struck.

This toxic water is a huge problem. Where to dump it? It cannot be left lying around and so they are burying it deep underground. This process has already produced earthquakes in parts of the USA. Some places are reporting several each day. The industry uses vast amounts of water that is beign taken out of the water cycle for ever. Eventually, along with climate change, this will result in very severe droughts and possibly famine.

One state in the USA, I forget which, has banned fracking, as also has France. What do we prefer--Pay  more for our energy, or risk severe health problems and possible famine, and also increased risk of earthquakes?

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Wolf Pack Chapter 11



Carthinal lifted the young thief over his shoulder. He was not heavy, and it was not difficult for him to carry the lad. Shortly after they had left the Warren, he felt the boy stirring.
‘Hey! Put me down, you bastard!’ he cried.
Carthinal did so, but did not release his grip on the boy’s arm. The boy was struggling, but was nowhere near as strong as Carthinal, and his efforts were futile.
‘If you don’t struggle, you won’t get hurt,’ said Carthinal. ‘You’ll come with me to the inn. I’ll let go of you, but if you run, remember I am a mage. I may forget I said I wouldn’t hurt you.’
‘OK, I’ll not run,’ replied the boy sulkily.
The pair walked along side by side, each watchful and distrustful of the other until they came to the square in which the Golden Dragon was situated.
‘They’ll not let me in there!’ exclaimed the boy. 
‘Leave it to me,’ replied Carthinal. ‘I think I can get in with you. I’m good at talking my way out of situations, and so I think I can talk my way into the inn with you.’
As luck would have it, there were few people about, so Carthinal did not have any problems entering the inn with the young thief. As he passed through the public room, Basalt and Fero waved at him to come over to sit by the fire. He walked over with the boy in tow.
‘What have you got there… and why?’ queried Basalt while Fero raised an eyebrow at the boy’s dirty and unkempt look.
‘The thief who robbed me this morning. I spotted his red hair running away after he’d picked my pocket, and saw him again a few minutes ago,’ replied Carthinal ‘I want to get my goods back. I’m taking him upstairs and I intend to find out what he has done with his ill-gotten gains.’
‘I hope you don’t intend to hurt him.’ Fero said with an anxious look at the boy.
‘Gods! What do people think I am? Of course I won’t hurt him,’ snapped Carthinal. ‘You’re the second one to ask me that.’
‘I apologise, Carthinal,’ Fero was truly contrite. ‘But I fail to see how just talking to him will make him give up his secrets.’
‘I have my little ways,’ smiled Carthinal, tapping the side of his nose, and with that he took the boy’s arm and went up the stairs, leaving the others looking after him with bemused expressions on their faces. Fero shrugged and returned to his drink then after a few more seconds, Basalt did the same.   
Once in the room, Carthinal surprised the boy by speaking to him in the language of the underworld, developed by the under-classes so that the Guard and others could not understand them when messages were passed. 
‘I want my goods back. You cut my pouch this morning. You ran. You are very good, but not good enough. I saw. I recognise you now.’
‘How do you know cant?’ replied the thief, with a look of amazement in his green eyes. ‘You don’t look like one of us.’
‘No matter,’ replied Carthinal. ‘You get my pouch back and return it to me. But I don’t trust you out in the streets. You’ll run and hide. Then you’ll stay low until I leave. I’ll come with you to get it.’
‘You must be one of us if you speak cant, even if you look like one of the grollin.’  The boy used the disparaging word the thieves used for the honest population of Grosmer. ‘I’ll return your pouch. We don’t steal from our own. You come with me now.’ The boy stood and started to walk towards the door.
After a second’s hesitation, Carthinal followed. ‘I should be studying for tomorrow,’ he thought, ‘But this will probably be my only chance to get the figurine back. I must take it.’ With that thought, he followed the boy out and down the stairs, quickly catching up with him.
‘Going to get my stolen things,’ he called to Bas and Fero, leaving them gaping after him, and wondering how he had persuaded the lad to return them.
The pair of them walked through the Market Square.
‘What’s your name, boy?’ asked Carthinal.
After a second’s hesitation, the boy replied, ‘Thad, sir.’ It seemed he had a new respect for Carthinal, honouring him with a “sir”.
‘I assume that is short for Merothad. But there’s no need to call me “sir”. I’m just another punter who has been stupid enough to be caught by a very good “dip.” My name’s Carthinal.’
‘That’s twice you said I were real good, s… er Carthinal. D’you really think so? That’s so cool.’ The boy seemed to glow in the slight praise.
‘Yes, I do. You have some things to learn yet though. Like not getting caught. One thing you could do is hide your red hair with a hood, you know. You are not very old are you? Thirteen? Fourteen?’ asked the half-elf.
‘Fifteen, Carthinal. Sixteen just after the Equinox.’
‘You’re rather small for your age. Still, there are plenty of folk who are small at your age and grow quickly after that to overtake their taller friends. You may be a giant yet!’
The boy laughed at that idea, but seemed to be warming to his captor. They came to the edge of the Warren.
‘We’re now come on my patch. We talk cant from here or we’ll be so bloody suspect,’ advised Thad. ‘There’s always people sussing out guards in disguise. Everyone speaks cant on the streets in the Warren.’
‘Done!’ replied Carthinal, and the pair relapsed into the language of thieves, assassins and other undesirable characters.
Eventually, they entered a dark, dismal and rather smelly back street. Carthinal entered with no hesitation, a fact that gained him an admiring glance from Thad.
Towards the end of the street, Thad bent down and lifted a grating in the middle of the road. ‘Down ’ere,’ he said, and Carthinal could see his grin in the dim light.
‘Down here being, I presume, the sewers.’ Carthinal peered down into the depths. ‘Smells rather, but if your hiding place is down here, who would go looking? What are we waiting for?’
Thad looked rather taken aback by the fact that Carthinal was willing to go down into the sewers. If he had had any ideas of escaping through the sewer system while Carthinal rather fastidiously waited on the surface, he had to shelve them.
The pair climbed down into the depths. Water came up to Carthinal’s knees, and he tucked the skirts of his robe up into his belt, leaving his legs bare. The water would not be so difficult to walk through then, and his robes would keep some semblance of cleanliness. He did not care to think what was in the water flowing by his legs. The smell was almost overpowering, but Carthinal sighed and put up with it even though he winced as he felt solid things bump against his legs as he walked through the noisome fluid. He followed Thad’s figure, which appeared to glow a deep red to his infra-vision. Again, if Thad had intended to escape in the dark, he was out of luck.
The young thief had no need of a light as he could find his way through the sewers as well as he could the upper streets. They twisted and turned and took many side branches until Carthinal was completely disorientated. He half wished that he had invited Basalt to come along. Dwarves were used to being in caves and mines, and could not easily get lost, having an excellent sense of direction underground. 
Eventually Thad stopped. He felt up to a ledge and pulled out a torch and a flint. Quickly lighting the torch, he pulled out a brick from the sewer wall. Reaching in, he rummaged around for a few seconds, and then pulled out a pouch.
‘This it?’ he asked Carthinal.
‘Too right it is,’ replied the other, opening it. He emptied out the coins onto his palm and counted them.
Thad quickly said, ‘I spent a few crowns on some eats at the six hour meal-time.’
‘That’s OK, Thad, but where’s the figurine?’
The boy’s face fell. ‘The figurine? You mean that gold horse thing? Yeah, well. I’m sorry, but I’ve fenced it already.’
‘What? Already?’
‘It’s always good to get goods changed to money real quick, right? Chances of being traced and all that. You know!’
‘Yes, yes, of course. But that really was quick.’
‘I’ve a good fence, like.’ said the boy dismissively. ‘Was it important?’
‘Someone I know thinks it is,’ Carthinal sighed. ‘Oh well. That’s that then.’
‘Maybe I c’d get it back for you. My fence’ll do me favours if I ask, right? ’E’s so into boys, see, (if you know what I mean) and ’e thinks if ’e does me favours, like, I’ll do him one sometime. It’s summat I don’t try very ’ard to change. It’s useful.’
‘Yes, I’m sure it is. I just hope you know what you are doing with him that’s all. That sort of game is dangerous.’
‘Don’t worry, Carthinal,’ the boy replied, cheerfully. ‘I’ve a dagger and am bloody good wi’ throwing knives.’
‘Just be careful, that’s all, Thad. Don’t go relying on weapons. That way lies the end of a rope.’
Thad looked up at Carthinal and grinned. ‘I ain’t scared of no old rope. Anyways, they’d ’ave to bloody catch me first.’
‘Anyway, if you do manage to get the figurine, you can bring it to the Golden Dragon and give it to me. Now are you going to show me the way out of here, or abandon me to wander for ever through the dark and dismal sewers, never to see the light of day again!’ This last said in a sepulchral tone.
Thad grinned and said, ‘Don’t tempt me! That’d be real cool, you comin’ up at night to scare the bleedin’ punters. All but me, o’ course. We’d be partners an’ all. You’d scare ’em away and I’d “acquire” their things. But come on, or you may end up as a zombie scaring the honest folk of ’Ambara for real, comin’ from the sewers at night to prey on the innocent townsfolk.’ He imitated Carthinal’s tone.
The pair laughed and set off back through the sewers. Carthinal found he liked the young lad and wondered what his story was—why had he ended up a thief in the Warren and not one of the honest poor?
Carthinal was surprised to find that the grating that Thad returned him to was near the edge of the Warren, in a place he recognised.
‘You don’t think I’d, like, take you straight to me bleedin’ hidin’ place, do you? Or bring you straight back? That would be so not sensible,’ grinned Thad. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get that statue thing.’ With that, the young thief slipped back down the sewer grating and was gone.
‘Well! That was an adventure,’ muttered Carthinal to himself as he strode across the market square. People drew away from him and held their noses, but could not make out why he smelled so bad. Some of the rich folk held pomanders to their noses as he passed. His robe had kept out of the noisome water, and now covered his legs and feet, so the filth of the sewers could not be seen, only the smell was apparent.
On entering their room, Fero and Basalt stepped away from him as though he had the plague.    ‘Where have you been?’ asked Fero. ‘You smell like a sewer rat.’
‘Rather a polite way to put it, Fero. Carthinal, you smell like shit. Quite literally. Get a bath before you come anywhere near either of us, or give us any explanations.’
So Carthinal, with a grin at his friends moved off in the direction of the bath house to get clean, after which, he returned to their room ready to give the story of his trip with Thad and its results. At the end of the story, Fero expressed his surprise that Thad had been so co-operative.
 ‘I had certain advantages that I used,’ replied Carthinal, but did not go into any further details. 
‘Now I think I’d better do some studying. Tomorrow’s the test of History of Magic—not my best or favourite subject. I always thought history was a bit of a waste of time.’
As it was obvious from his attitude that he did not want to make his remarks about his advantages any clearer, the other two left him to his studies and went into the bar for a drink.