Castle Roland

The Translator

by David McLeod


Chapter 12

Published: 12 Mar 15

The Translator

by David McLeod

Prisoners of War

A fair wind made Javari's task easier as he steered Xander around the point. Javari and Maranon cheered when their village came into sight. Phillip hid his dismay. I was hoping for a large port city—one that traded with other continents, other peoples; one that would hold men of wisdom, men of greater magic than at Japura's village. I should have known better, though, based on what Javari's father said. Argon had joined the two Elven boys in their excitement, calling "Ahoy!" and "Halloo!" to the approaching boats. Putting aside his disappointment, Phillip joined the exuberance.

The boys' cheers died, and their excitement turned to puzzlement as the larger boats neared. In each boat, men and tweens held bows. "Strike your sail!" a voice called from the closest boat. "Heave to!"

Javari and Maranon hurried to comply. Argon grabbed Phillip's hand. The boy's face was white with fear. Phillip squeezed the boy's hand. "It will be okay," he said in Argon's native tongue. "They will not betray us. See, they're puzzled, too."

"Yes," Argon said. "But the men on the boat fear us—" A voice from one of the approaching boats interrupted him.

The Elven man in the lead boat, who seemed to be in command, called, "I know you, Javari and Maranon. But who—" He stopped abruptly, and then continued. "Humans? You bring Humans? They are not bound—"

The leader glanced at the bowmen, who raised their weapons with arrows nocked.

"Stand clear of the Humans!" he ordered Javari and Maranon. At his gesture, two tweens from another boat dove into the water of the bay, and swam toward the Xander. Seizing the gunwale, they heaved themselves into the swallow, landing on their feet. "Do you speak our language?" one asked, looking at Phillip.

"I do," Phillip replied, "I am—"

"You are prisoners of war," the Elven tween said. "Hold out your hands to be bound."

"No! Urucará," Javari cried. "They are not our enemies. They saved my life and Maranon's when a storm capsized Xander! Phillip and Maranon were amici in another life." Javari did not see Phillip's frown. Phillip had begun to understand that amici used in that context meant a great deal more than simply a friend—or a lover.

Urucará frowned. "I know you believe this to be true," he said.

He's a Sembler, Phillip thought.

"You do not know all that has happened since you sailed," Urucará continued. Returning his attention to Phillip, he added, "If what Javari says is true, you will be released. In any case, you will not be ill-treated. It is not our way. Nevertheless, you must be bound."

Phillip shrugged. We've got to trust them, he thought. "We must trust them, Argon," he said in the Elvish language. "Do what he says, please."

Closely guarded, Phillip and Argon were brought before the headman of the village. With him was a second man Phillip guessed to be a cleric. The tween Sembler who had bound their hands stood beside the headman. Javari and Maranon, their family, and—it appeared—the entire village was present.

"Javari," the headman began, "Urucará has said that you believe these Humans not to be enemies. Why do you say that?"

"They rescued Maranon and me," Javari began, "at great risk to their own lives. They helped us rebuild Xander. Maranon knows that Phillip was amici." The boy continued, describing in detail the storm, the rescue, and the journey home. "Phillip and Argon said they know of the slave raiders, but they are not of that ilk," Javari concluded.

"Who are you? How came you to Solimoes, and what do you know of the slavers?" the headman asked Phillip.

"I am Phillip Windrider, also Spartus. Argon, who is under my protection, and I are a long, long way from our homes, which are not on the continent from which the slavers come. We are truly castaways," Phillip said. "We met others of the Lucernae," Phillip said. He told of Japura's father's interrogation, of being examined and declared tween, of his oath to Argon, and of their meeting with Javari and Maranon. "We were given, by their cleric, a symbol to attest to our amity with the Elves," he added. "It is on a thong around my neck."

Urucará nodded. "He speaks the truth."

The headman nodded. "Let us see the symbol."

Phillip and Argon's hands were untied. Phillip reached into his shirt and removed the medallion he had been given by the cleric. "They said you would recognize this—"

The babble that had begun when people realized what Phillip wore around his neck slowly stilled. The headman stood to look more closely at the disk with the golden spear, but did not touch it. He looked to the cleric, who also stood. "May I touch it?" the cleric asked.

Phillip nodded and the man stretched out his finger and placed it on the edge of the disk. He paused, and then spoke. "It is genuine, and it is truly his."

Urucará turned his face away, and left the assembly.

"How do you know," Phillip asked. "How do you know it is mine?"

"Why, it is in harmony with you," the cleric said. He frowned. "I see you do not understand. We will talk more, later."

"You claim to be a dragon rider," the headman said. "On what grounds?"

"The wisest and most powerful of my people declared me so," Phillip said. "I have not, however, ridden a dragon, and have seen one only in a vision."

Javari and Maranon's family—extended family, rather, consisting of parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers, a sister, and cousins—insisted that Phillip and Argon were to be their guests ". . . for as long as you wish," their mother said. Their home was a complex of buildings, built against the hills above the wharves. Paths ran from the wharves to the square and then to the homes. "We build in the hills," Javari said. "Even the fiercest storm's water cannot reach them."

Javari and Maranon were anxious to bathe in clear, hot water. The boys of their family were anxious to get Phillip and Argon in the bath so they could have these visitors to themselves. When everyone was clean and in the hot soak, the boys demanded more of Phillip and Argon's story. "Where are you from? How did you get here? Did your boat wreck on the coast? Where is the rest of your crew?" The questions were overwhelming. Argon looked at Phillip and said, "Say what you will. I have trust and love for you."

Phillip frowned and thought for a moment. "I can say little other than what we told the headman and the cleric. We are truly castaways. Argon is from an eastern island—perhaps a continent. I am from much farther away. We really do not know exactly how we came to this island."

"I've heard of that!" one boy said. "Masterfisher Affonso and his sons. . . when they were wrecked. One of the boys didn't know who he was for months! His memory came back," the boy hastened to add.

Let them think that, Phillip thought. I've told the truth and enough of the truth, and at least one of these boys may be a Sembler.

"How did you get the medallion?" another boy asked.

On safer ground, Phillip told of encountering Japura's cohort and being escorted to his village. He told of being tested to prove he was a tween, and of the oath he and Argon had taken. They pressed for more, but Javari interrupted. "That's enough for now," Javari said. "Besides, the water's getting cold."

Phillip and the cleric sat on the seawall, a sturdy stone bastion against which the waves broke. Every seventh wave was strong enough to toss a little spray into their faces. Given the heat, this was welcome, although occasionally Phillip had to lick salt from his lips, and blink it from his eyes.

"You said we might talk about why the medallion and I are in harmony," Phillip said. "At least, how you knew that to be true."

"What do you know about the Great Magic?" the cleric asked.

"Very little," Phillip said. "The wisest of my people can gather power which they can then use. Argon was learning. He's tried to teach me, but I can't grasp it."

The cleric chuckled at Phillip's pun, but did not seem surprised by what he said. "Few people can, except for those who are born with a gift that can be developed. What is Argon's gift?"

"I don't know," Phillip said, a little surprised. "I don't know that he has one."

"Hmm," the cleric said. "Perhaps it has not shown itself. It often does not until a boy becomes a tween, and that is many years away." He looked over the sea for a moment while he gathered his thoughts.

"To the matter at hand," he continued. "Magic is a power that some can see. It is as if the warp and weft of a giant loom filled the world. I gather power by plucking the strings on that loom. That is all I can say, for more would reveal secrets that you are not—entitled? Perhaps that is the wrong word. Secrets that you are not—"

The cleric paused, and seemed unable to continue. Phillip filled in for him. "I have been trained in the secret paths of my people; I understand secrecy and the need for it. Based on what I've learned, I suspect your reluctance is more about readiness than about secrecy. I know that I am not ready to know more about magic.

"Yet," he added.

"Um, you have the right of it," the cleric said. "I think you are ready to know this: everything on World—every object and every person—moves among the warp and weft of magic. More than move, they interact with it. This interaction causes perturbations. A trained magic user can see these perturbations. Know then, that the strings of magic around the medallion and those around you are in harmony. They interact and reinforce one another when you wear or hold the medallion. That is how I know it is yours."

"The cleric said that the reason you are able to gather magic is that you have an inborn gift," Phillip told Argon. "He asked me what it was, and I could not answer. Do you know?"

Argon looked puzzled. "I don't know," he said. "No one has ever said that, before. Is magic so much different here?"

Phillip smiled. "You would know more about that than I."

"Japura! Jurua! Padraig!" Phillip cried. "We never thought we'd see you again!" Morning had brought news that visitors had arrived from a distant village. Phillip and Argon had not been interested, and were caught unaware then their three friends appeared in the square.

"I insisted," Japura said. "Although it was not hard to convince father that we should accompany him and the cleric here. You know that a Council has been called."

"Yes," Phillip said. "We have heard about the council, but we don't know why it is meeting. The people here believe that we are not part of the slavers, but we are Human. Not everyone trusts us. Was the council called because of us?"

Jurua answered. "Not exactly," he said, "although I think your appearance precipitated the event. You see, more slave raids have been reported. The Council is meeting to decide if we should reinstitute contact with our ancestors' descendants. They will decide if we should contact the king."

Phillip's Journal

The Elves of Javari and Maranon's village have met Japura's father and the cleric who gave me the medallion, Phillip wrote in his journal. Having heard our story from the cleric, they seem much more willing to accept Argon and me. Our friends and we have been lionized. (That word does not exist in their language. I wonder if lions exist.) We are popular, but still primarily as a curiosity. I am reminded of Gatsby, in another of those books we were required to read. He, too, was lionized and was a curiosity. He came to a bad end. I hope better for us.

We are not privy to the deliberations of the Council, and Javari and Maranon find themselves somewhat isolated from their peers. They, as well as Japura, Jurua, and Padraig remain staunch friends.

The cleric has offered to teach me his people's magic. I have thought very hard about this, and have agreed to share at least some of my people's magic—from the Shaman's book—with him. I believe him to be good, and I believe that Argon and I need his friendship.

We may be here for some time while the council meets. They've just sent messengers to remote villages—and to the Dwarven kingdoms! I think perhaps I will have time at least to begin learning the magic of this world.

"The sea fascinates you," the cleric said. Once again, he and Phillip were seated on the seawall. The tide was low, and the wind was light; there was no salt spray to be licked from lips and blinked from eyes.

"I come from a desert place," Phillip said. "I don't know if you know what that is." He struggled to find the Elvish words to describe the sand, rocks, desolation, plants, and animals.

"I believe I do know," the cleric said. "In the center of Solimoes, in the shadow of the newest of the volcanoes, is a barren place. The eastern slopes of the mountains steal all the rain that the prevailing winds carry. Little falls in this place. The—what you call sand—is black, however."

"From the volcano," Phillip said. "Just like the beach."

"You didn't invite me here to talk about geology," Phillip said. "Although, I thank you for doing so. I've learned some new and useful words."

"No, not geology," the cleric said. "But we did agree that you would try to learn our magic. Are you ready to do that?"

For the rest of the afternoon, Phillip listened closely to the cleric's description of magic. They were both, at times, frustrated by the many new words Phillip had to learn, and new concepts he had to absorb. More often, however, the cleric affirmed the things Phillip had discovered for himself. Magic was, indeed, like electricity and magnetism, although Phillip found he could not express what little he knew about those subjects. I do wish I'd paid more attention in general science, he thought on more than one occasion. Magic was, indeed, gathered into oneself, and then directed by force of will, by words, and by gestures.

"Magic takes many forms," the cleric said. "How one uses it depends very much on the gift with which one was born. Our limited knowledge tells us that dragonriders are born with an ability to communicate with the mind, alone; an ability to see and feel what others see and feel—not only dragons, but people, too; and, an ability to project their own thoughts and feelings to others. It is here that we will concentrate our efforts."

It's not unlike what I thought about Jurua, Phillip thought. "Empathy, telepathy," he said, forming the words from their Latin roots.

The cleric seemed startled. "Yes," he said. "Yes. You are indeed a great linguist to create in my own language words I did not know, but which describe those concepts so well."

Phillip shook his head. "Those words exist in my version of your language. Empathy is simply an ability to feel in one's heart and mind what another person is feeling. But, we cannot really see or feel; we can only guess. Telepathy is only a myth."

"You have words for things that do not exist on your world, and we do not have words for things that exist in ours." The cleric paused. "Phillip, where are you from?"

He has offered me so much, Phillip thought. Can I not trust him? I must.

"Thank you for your trust," the cleric said when Phillip finished his story. "It is a great gift. Moreover, it has given me much to think about.

"It is my belief," the cleric continued, "that the power we call magic once permeated all the places where people lived. Why it is no longer on your world. . . rather, why it is not prevalent on your world. . . I do not know."

"Some of my people would say it is because we have harmed our world. Rather, they say that those who do not follow the old ways have done so," Phillip said. "I think that is too easy an answer.

"I do wish I could tell my teachers and family and friends that I am here, and well, and am surrounded by great magic—magic of which they only dream."

"Tell me of one you loved," the cleric said.

Phillip hesitated. He was still uncomfortable talking about loving a boy, and his love for Johnny was linked inexorably to the Third Mystery of his people. Hesitating often, and carefully choosing his words, Phillip told the cleric about Johnny.

"He gave me this before we left my world," Phillip took the medicine bag from its thong about his neck. "It holds beads into which he melded his hair; sand from a place important to us both, and corn—an important and ancient symbol of our people."

"His hair?" The cleric was clearly excited.

"Um, yes. That's what he said," Phillip said. "It holds ten beads of glass, each with—"

"May I see one?" the cleric asked.

The cleric looked up from his examination of the bead. "We can do this, you and I," the cleric said.

Phillip nodded. He wasn't as confident as the cleric, but he was willing to try. They had spent two weeks talking about magic—including the magic of contagion. "We can send this bead to Johnny," the cleric had said. "I know that it will seek him. But, our magic does not have the spell to send it."

Phillip weighed the options. It needs the Opening Way, he thought. And perhaps the herbs. The Shaman's book lists the herbs, but not the chant. Of course. . . it's so simple, and so ingrained in his memory and mine, we'd neither of us think to write it down. This cleric and I can do this. We need neither a kiva nor 2,000 people. The cleric is right, though. It is Right.

Phillip and the cleric sat in a guarded room. Javari, Maranon, and Argon stood outside. The bead had been tied with the finest woolen string to a flower the Elves called Amaranth. The tiny bundle lay on the floor between them. The cleric gathered magic and—in a way unknown to Phillip—channeled that power to the boy. We don't need the drums, the smoke, the symbols, Phillip thought. It's clear. All we need is the will.

Phillip began to chant. Perhaps a thousand heartbeats later, he and the cleric looked at the bare floor between them.

"It went somewhere," Phillip said.

"It went where it had to be," the cleric replied.

Johnny Two-Horses woke and sniffed the air. What's that? Did something spoil in the garbage? No. It's too sweet.

He opened his eyes. On his bare chest lay a flower. It was one he'd never seen before. It was one that could never grow in the high desert. It was wrapped in string. What the—

Johnny carefully lifted the flower and untied the string. At the end of the string was a bead—one he recognized. Tears filled the boy's eyes. Phillip is safe, he thought. Phillip is safe.

Previous ChapterNext Chapter