Castle Roland

The Translator

by David McLeod


Chapter 7

Published: 16 Feb 15

The Translator

by David McLeod

The Opening Way

The Shaman had departed. Phillip and his uncle stood beside the truck. "The Shaman knows a lot about the Hispanglos' religion, doesn't he?" Phillip observed.

His uncle nodded. "It isn't common knowledge, but he read religion at the Anglican University in Oxford, and has a doctorate in comparative theology." He gripped Phillip's forearms in farewell, and got into the truck. On the other side, Argon hugged Phillip's aunt.

"Walk in harmony," the boy said in accented, but understandable Athabascan.

"Walk in harmony," Phillip's aunt replied.

The boys watched the dust trail of the truck, and then: "How did you know walk in harmony in my language?" Phillip asked Argon.

"She also speaks what you call lingua Latina," Argon replied. "I asked her to teach me please, thank you, and walk in harmony."

That evening, after bathing and supper, Phillip sat near the entrance and studied. Argon was in a store room, looking for more woolen thread. "Phillip?" Johnny's voice came from the opening of the cave dwelling. "Your uncle said you'd be here, and that I might visit. May I come in?"

"Of course, Johnny," Phillip said. He walked across the room and accepted Johnny's hug.

"The Shaman told me that you had found a boy to love, and that you and he would be leaving, soon. He wouldn't tell me more than that, except that there would be a Grand Lodge to see you off," Johnny said. He looked at Phillip hopefully.

"Johnny Two-Horses, who was my first love," Phillip said. "The secret is not mine to share. The Shaman and the Chief have made that clear to me. I can say that I do love this boy. I can say that if you had not first loved me, I would not have been able to love him, and that I owe you so much . . ." His voice trailed off.

"You don't need to tell me; I know," Johnny said. He watched Phillip's eyes. "The Shaman told me to gather herbs. The herbs are different for each Way. This combination of herbs has not been used in as long as I know.

"It's the Opening Way, Phillip. They . . . we're going to send you through the sipapu. I told the Shaman this, and he didn't deny it. So, it is true."

Phillip's mouth remained closed, but his eyes told Johnny all he needed to know.

"Uh, I made this for you," Johnny said. He took from his pocket a small leather bag, tied tightly shut, and hanging from a leather cord. It was a medicine bag.

"It holds ten beads, each with a strand of my hair," Johnny said. "They are to remind you of the ten moons we were together. There is sand from the arroyo where you saved me from drowning in the flash flood. There are two kernels of corn. Plant them where you start your new life, and never be hungry."

Phillip hugged the older boy, and kissed away the tears that were falling from his eyes.

"The first time we were together, I kissed the tears from your cheeks," Johnny said. You have grown so much."

"Will you come to meet Argon?" Phillip asked Johnny. "He doesn't speak Athabascan or English, but I will translate." Johnny nodded.

"Argon," Phillip said in the Latin he and Argon were using to communicate, "this is Johnny Two-Horses. He was the first boy with whom I shared boy magic. It was at his home we stayed the first night after we left the prison."

"Walk in harmony," Argon said in Athabascan.

"Walk in harmony," Johnny replied. "I thought you said he didn't speak Athabascan?"

"My aunt taught him a few words," Phillip said.

Argon looked at Johnny, and then continued in Latin. "Please tell Johnny I understand why you shared boy magic with him. He is beautiful."

"I don't think Johnny wants to be thought of as beautiful," Phillip replied.

"I heard my name . . . what are you two talking about?" Johnny demanded.

"Um," Phillip said in Athabascan, "Argon says you are beautiful, and he understands why we shared . . . why we had sex. He doesn't—"

Johnny Two-Horses lay between Phillip and Argon. His breathing slowed until he was no longer gasping. "That was incredible," he said. "Does the Shaman know?"

"I think he must!" Phillip said.

"You've not said anything to him about this power—what does Argon call it? Fortiamus?"

"Yes, fortiamus. It means strength in Latin, but I'm pretty sure he means power or energy," Phillip said. "But doesn't the Shaman know about it? Don't you?"

"Um, we don't usually have sex in the kiva," Johnny said. "I mean, can you imagine—?" Johnny could not control himself. He held his sides and whooped with laughter.

"What's so funny?" Argon demanded.

"I will talk to the Shaman, and with his permission, bring someone to the kiva—" Johnny began.

"Jake Paloma!" Phillip said, and then fell silent. I shouldn't have said his name!

"Of course," Johnny said. His voice was soft. He touched Phillip's cheek briefly. "It should be Jake. I'm so glad Jake found you. You know that he had loved you for a long time, don't you?"

Phillip could only nod.

The sky was like a purple-gray which awaited the dawn. Johnny kissed Argon, and then Phillip.

"Walk in harmony, Phillip Windrider."

"Walk in harmony, Johnny Two-Horses."

Argon and Phillip stood together facing the sipapu. They had bathed, but had not eaten since the night before. They wore a mix of modern and traditional clothing: blue jeans and cotton shirts; sleeveless buckskin vests; and leather boots. The boots reached nearly to their knees. The boots has no heels; they were strong and well padded. The four traditional stones of the Athabasca—turquoise, white shell, abalone and jet—formed designs on the vests. Both boys wore Concho belts—heavy leather ornamented by silver disks set with turquoise. Phillip had made the belts at the craft co-op. Phillip also wore a silver bracelet. Both boys wore silver rings, also made by Phillip.

Packs contained food and extra clothing and a few simple tools. Phillip had included his jewelry-making tools and a few sheets of silver. At their belts hung the Athabascan forerunner of the Bowie knife: a large, heavy steel blade with a bone handle. Aluminum military surplus canteens hung at each hip. Phillip had considered what books he might bring, and had settled on three dictionaries: Latin-English, German-English, and Athabascan-English. If anyone needs proof that the Hispanglos have dominated history, here it is. English is the only language where these three others come together in dictionaries. Who'd ever write an Athabascan-Latin dictionary!

He had included his journal and a new, blank journal. He'd rejected ballpoint pens in favor of pencils. The Shaman had given him another book, this one hand-bound in leather. "This book I began to write when I was apprenticed to Johnny's great-grandfather. It is my book of herbs, healing, and magic. In it, you will find descriptions of magic, including magic that we can no longer perform. I do not know—we do not know—if it is because we no longer know the correct Way, or because too much magic has left our world. You may have a chance to find the answer to that question.

"Not that you will be able to tell me." The Shaman paused, "You do know, don't you, that you will never return here?"

"I understand," Phillip had replied. However, standing in the kiva, the reality of that statement struck him, hard.

Men, boys, and smoke filled the kiva. A pipe containing herbs—the exact composition known only to the Shaman and Johnny Two Horses—passed from person to person. Actually, at least a hundred pipes moved among the nearly two thousand people. The Shaman and the Grand Master of the Builders Lodge sat on a bench, raised above the seats of the lodge members. The Shaman was costumed as a Basket Maker; the Lodge Master wore a top hat, a stiff white shirt, and a tailcoat. The Chief of the Athabascan Nation and his Council, including Phillip's uncle, sat opposite them, across the large, circular dirt floor. A doorkeeper stood at each of the four entrances. The doorkeepers were armed with ceremonial weapons: one held a flint knife; another carried a spear nestled in an atlatl; a third held an M-1 rifle from the Great Global war; the last bore a 50-mm sniper's rifle.

A stone block dominated the center of the kiva. On the block rested the symbols of both lodges. The builder's square sported feathers; the draftsman's compass was made of the horns of a bison. One kuchina was dressed in blue jeans and a hard hat; another wore a soldier's battle fatigues. A rattle was made of titanium. A steel sword rested beside a compound bow made of Osage orange wood and deer sinew. Here, the rites and rituals of two cultures had been fused into a single great mystery.

At the cardinal points of the circular floor, four men beat drums, one after the other, in a measured cadence. The beat of the Eastern Drum was accented; the others were muted. The beating was soft. When the Shaman spoke, his voice carried easily.

"When our ancestors came to this world, they knew it was only one in a succession of worlds that our people would inhabit, each for a time. They came here to escape flood and poison. Today, this world faces the twin dangers of human-caused climate change and industrial pollution. It may be that our people must quit this world for another.

"Of our people, many doubt the history of the Athabasca; many doubt the magic that has saved our people in the past.

"Even here, I see doubt.

"The boy Argon is from another world. There can be no doubt of that. The boy Phillip is from our world. There can be no doubt of that."

"Today, we will open the way for Argon to return to his world. Phillip Windrider, now Spartus, will accompany him."

The Shaman began the chant. The faces of the men and boys registered surprise: it was the simplest chant; the first one taught to a boy when he entered kiva. An Hispanglo might have compared it to the a-b-c-d-e-f-g-_alphabet song of his childhood, or to the simple night-time prayer song, _Hayseuss loves me, this I know…

A handful of men and boys joined the chant. Others nodded understanding, and added their voices. Phillip was not the only one who thought, of course. The most important magic of our people must be the one first learned.

Phillip watched the words of the chant beat the air and shape the smoke of the herb pipes into a spinning wheel whose axle centered on the sipapu.

The sharp smell of cinnamon cut through the acrid smoke of the herb pipes.

In the kiva, the drumbeats slowed, and then stopped. In silence, the men and boys left the lodge. The desert night was silent save for the rumble of battered pickup trucks and the occasional whicker of a horse. The men and boys had seen the greatest magic of their people. They knew that the mysteries of the kiva and the lodge were true aspects of reality. The surety of this knowledge would change their lives, forever.

The Shaman remained long after the others, save Johnny Two-Horses, had left. Johnny waited patiently, but had nearly fallen asleep when the Shaman spoke. "This is for your ears, only, Johnny. The boy Argon said that he was pushed or pulled into this world; he did not know which. Today, we opened a doorway through the sipapu. We opened the doorway, but it was not our power that took the boys through. They were pulled by a power greater than still exists on our world.

"I know this power to be a good power; I felt that, and I heard its voice. That voice held a promise—a promise that the power would come to us when we needed it. It also held a warning, that we would need it, soon."


Trooper MacComb looked up from his sandwich. He jumped to his feet, banging his knee on the table. It was a face he recognized: the Chief of the Athabasca. He was a head of state through whose sovereign nation ran hundreds of miles of state and federal highways. By treaty, the State Police and the Athabascan police had concurrent jurisdiction on those roads; nevertheless, the Chief was a man who could make Trooper MacComb's job easy or impossible. Another man, in a city suit and carrying a briefcase, stood behind the Chief.

"Trooper MacComb, may I join you for coffee?" the Chief asked.

"Of course, sir, please . . . you and your friend?" MacComb replied.

"Arthur Braelin, I represent the Athabascan Nation's interests in New York, and I am licensed to practice law in all the states bordering the Nation," the man introduced himself.

"Trooper MacComb," the Chief began, "At the request of Phillip Windrider, I made inquiries. I learned that the unorthodox departure of two boys from the state police post a week ago caused considerable difficulties for you and Sergeant Kimmel. Mr. Braelin will tell you some things, and give you some papers that should resolve these difficulties."

The Chief sipped his coffee and looked out the window at the falling snow while the lawyer spoke. "The boy, Argon, is a member of the Athabascan Nation. This folder contains a birth certificate from the hospital in Farmington, and certified copies of tribal membership papers. He is an idiot savant. Do you know the term? Good. He has an incredible memory for words, but has difficulty stringing them together to create rational thoughts. Here are records from the Tribal Health Agency describing this condition. His parents are dead; he is a ward of his aunt. Those papers are here, too. He ran away from his aunt. She believed, however, that he was visiting a friend. Hence the delay in reporting his absence to the authorities.

"The boy Phillip you know to be Athabascan. When he realized that Argon was a brother, he was fearful that the White Man would put the boy into a mental hospital, and that Argon would never see his people again. Therefore, he effected Argon's escape from your post."

The lawyer paused. "That's the only weak point in the story. You know that Phillip is not irrational. Nevertheless, the story should satisfy your superiors and get you and Sergeant Kimmel off the hook. The Chief and Head of Council signed this letter. It provides the outline of the story as well as thanks for your kindness and that of Sergeant Kimmel to the boy while he was in custody. It concludes with a request that you both be honored for the care you gave to Argon. The original has already been hand-delivered to the Governor. Copies have been mailed to the Commander of the State Police and to your own Captain."

MacComb glanced at the papers. They all seemed perfect. Perhaps too perfect, he thought, but a little folding and rubbing to give them the appearance of age will take care of that.

"The letter, alone, should be sufficient," he said to the lawyer. Turning to the Chief he asked, "Sir, I am relieved, and glad that the boys went to you. But I must know this: are they well and happy, and will they be cared for?"

"Trooper MacComb, the boys were well and happy when I last saw them. They are in the care of family and friends," the Chief said.

"Thank you, sir," MacComb replied. "That assurance is more important to me than your letter and these papers, but I thank you for those, too. Sergeant Kimmel will be especially happy."

The chief rose to his feet and extended his hand to MacComb. "I am personally obliged to you, Trooper MacComb. Please call on me whenever I might repay that obligation."

"But you have, sir—" MacComb began, gesturing with the folder of papers.

"That only scratches the surface of our debt." The chief turned and left the diner. MacComb stayed for a long time, sipping his coffee and thinking. Who is the boy that he means so much to them?

Translators' Notes

Chapters 1—7 submitted to Castle Roland c. October 5, 2014.

This completes the first part of "The Translator" as it appears in The Book of Heroes. Additional chapters will be submitted soon.

In this universe and all universes which it touches, "boy" means a young male of the age of consent.

This story begins on an Earth-analogue in which the people we call Navajo (but who call themselves Dine or Dineh, "The People") call themselves Athabasca(n). The "Builders" rites they practice—alongside rituals that likely are more ancient—are adapted from rites brought to the reservation by Athabasca(ns) who worked the high steel of the skyscrapers of the eastern cities and who served as soldiers. These rites may seem similar to the rites and rituals of the Masonic Lodges of some worlds; however, we have found no direct connection. Details of the rituals—both "Builders" and traditional—were scant in the original document and were redacted in the translation. (Two members of the translation team are Masons. They were reluctant to publish anything that might reveal the secrets of the organization. The rest of the team respects their wishes.)

The people who invaded the American continent and whose nation surrounds the Athabascan Nation (a reservation comprising parts of Arizona, Mexico, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Utah) are called by the Athabasca, Hispanglos. This word is an obvious combination of Hispanic and Anglo—Spanish and English. This may suggest a history of colonization different from that on other Earth analogues. It may simply be the Athabascan way of referring to "outsiders."

"Pan-Asian" was clearly the term Phillip used to refer to all Pacific Rim peoples; we substituted "Chinese" at one point because it seemed more appropriate to our readers.

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