Chapter 10 The Prevost and the Trader
Things are not always as they seem; the first appearance deceives many. –Phaedrus
Nico headed toward the open door. He heard an almighty clang, metal hitting metal, but ear-splitting, as if time itself were being shattered. Through the door on the grass he could see Serah and Jian. Time seemed to be moving slowly, like horses starting up a heavy cart. He moved as fast as he could, but the heat of the fire behind him was closing fast. Hot escaping gas pushed Nico the last few feet into the air and out of the cottage. As he tumbled over on the ground he could see the cottage erupt in a white hot tongue of flame. It reminded him of the statue that had fallen on Serah back at the Museum. And then it was gone. Not even a scorched mark on the earth to show where the cottage had been.
Serah came pelting over and helped him to his feet. “Are you okay?” she asked breathlessly.
“Yes,” said Nico standing up and brushing off his clothes. “I think so.”
Jian came striding over, “What happened in there?”
Nico shook his head,
“I told you to take off the ring if things got bad…” Jian trailed off.
Nico was looking at his hands, and then into Jian’s face. “It’s kind of hard to talk about it. Maybe later, I can tell you more.” Nico felt completely drained.
“The ring? Have you lost the ring?” Serah asked anxiously.
Nico was silent. After a moment, Jian said, “All right. Maybe later. Right now, I think we had better be going. That volcano is still rumbling. It could blow at any minute.”
Just then a strong, fresh breeze swept across the river. It grew stronger and stronger. There was a cleansing chill in it and the rushing noise got louder. As it blew across them, it wiped away all the smoke and ash that had clogged the air. They held their hands up over their faces to protect their eyes and leant forward in an effort to stay on their feet. The trees were all bending over. The wind blew and blew as if to sweep the entire landscape away. Within moments the air was clean and sweet smelling and the grass looked greener than it had before. They turned around to stare at the mountain. The ring of smoke was gone; a long black scar was all that remained of the lava trickle. Everything seemed calm; the ground was still.
In silence they stared at each other, not sure what to say.
“Did you do that?” Serah asked.
Nico shook his head. He walked over to the ground where the cottage had stood and began looking around for some sign of Chrysalis. Somehow he needed to know that she was okay and that everything had turned out like it should. The place where the cottage had stood had turned to green grass. There was no sign of the cottage, Chrysalis or anything for that matter. “How can that be?” thought Nico. “This is the place where the sanctuary was, I know it. Now there’s nothing here to show that anything happened!” Had the sanctuary already moved? Just then he noticed a small round shaped gray stone about the size of a goose egg sitting in the grass. It had a strange symbol on it. It seemed to be shining in the sunlight, the glare had caught his eye. Nico bent down to pick it up.
“What is that?” Serah asked.
“I don’t know, I just don’t know,” sighed Nico.
“What’s wrong?” she asked gently.
He looked at her searchingly. “Is it over? Did I do that right?
Serah looked back at Mt. Phaestus. “It looks over.”
Jian walked over to join them. “Did you find something?” he asked.
Nico showed him the stone he had picked up. “Do you think it’s supposed to stay here, to mark the sanctuary?” he asked.
Jian gave him a searching look. “Do you?”
Nico was taken aback. Why was Jian asking his opinion? Suddenly he realized, Jian believed that Nico had fixed the sanctuary, and he thought that Nico would know what was the next thing to do. But he didn’t. He didn’t know, didn’t have a clue. Somehow he couldn’t bring himself to say that. He looked back down at the stone. The strange symbol on it was winking and glinting at him, almost speaking to him. “No, I don’t,” he said abruptly and put the stone in his pocket. “I think the stone is supposed to come with us.”
Jian nodded his understanding and began to gather their things. “Right, then, let’s go. We can find a Presbyter who will send word to Marcadia’s Prevost. We should be on our way.”
“But wait,” said Serah. “Where is the ring?”
Nico didn’t answer. Jian’s hand covered his mouth, but from beneath the beard, Nico thought he might be smiling. Jian took her arm, heading her back to the path that would take them across the covered bridge. “No, seriously,” she insisted, “Here’s the thing, guys, I can’t go back to the Museum without that ring. That’s a fact!”
Nico picked up his pack and fell into line behind the others.
“He still has the ring, doesn’t he?” Serah asked Jian as they walked. Jian just shook his head and Nico could hear her chattering as he fell further and further behind.
They walked most of the day. They reached the gates of Chiniak, but found that they were closed and there were no guards.
“Maybe they evacuated, too,” suggested Serah. “It did look really bad there for a while.”
Jian nodded. “Perhaps. Anyway, it doesn’t look like the Presbyter is there either. We might as well keep on going. So they decided not to go in and continued their trek hoping to reach the Cathedral of Marcadia before nightfall.
“What’s your Cathedral like?” Nico asked Serah.
“It’s not like the one in Validian. Ours is less grand. More like a meeting house with lots of little buildings and a pretty little chapel. We actually use ours, it’s not just a tourist attraction,” she sniffed.
Nico nodded his head and continued walking. After a bit he asked. “What’s your Prevost like?”
“Prevost Keller? He’s very young. He hasn’t been Prevost very long. He travels all the time, talking to all the people in the small towns and villages. But he’s old-fashioned. He believes in the old ways. He’s not too excited about joining the United Continental Congress. We haven’t had our vote yet, you know.” After a pause she added, “But when we do, we will all get to vote in person, no fancy G.L.O.B.E.s for Marcadians,” she laughed.
Nico asked Jian, “Do you think that Aydreon has started its orbit again?”
Jian shook his head, “No, I think we have to find the other sanctuaries before then.” He looked behind him, “But I think we stopped the volcano.” He put his hand on Nico’s shoulder and smiled at him. “You did a good job back there. Benefix was right to put his faith in you.” Then Jian pushed on ahead, shouldering his pack, “Come on, just a little bit further.”
Nico was so filled with happiness then he thought he might burst and he jogged a little bit to keep up with the others. A little while later Serah pointed ahead and said, “Look, there it is! The Cathedral!”
“Good,” said Jian. Now if we can find the Prevost we can get back to Validian through the portal.”
But finding the Prevost was not that easy. When they reached the Cathedral, which was long and low slung with a thatched roof and many windows, there was no one about and no guard standing at the door.
“Do you think we can just go in?” asked Nico.
“Of course,” said Serah brightly and she pushed open the door. Inside were row upon row of soft wooden benches worn smooth by much use. They walked to the back calling out as they went but all they heard in return was the echo of their own voices.
“Where else might a Prevost be?” Jian asked Serah.
Serah chewed her bottom lip in concentration, “At his house?” she hazarded.
Jian said, “Of course, at his house. And do you know where the Prevost lives?”
“It should be one of these buildings around here, let’s go look!” Serah said.
As they reached the doors they could hear a great crowd approaching. Within seconds the door burst open and people began streaming in and taking seats on the benches talking excitedly and clapping and smiling. In the midst of them all was a young man wearing the white robe of a Prevost. It was trimmed in royal blue cloth around the neck, hands and along the bottom and golden symbols had been embroidered on the trimming. He was short like most Marcadians, but instead of having his hair tied back in a thick braid, it was loose and hung only to his shoulders. As he marched to the front of the room, it flew out around him like a veil.
“Look, there he is,” whispered Nico.
“Looks like a meeting is starting,” said Serah. “Let’s have a seat. We can talk to the Prevost when it’s over.”
So they took seats at the back. Nico was a little nervous because he couldn’t ever remember being at a prayer service and he wasn’t sure what was going to be expected of him. But the people had not gathered for a prayer service but a meeting.
Prevost Keller approached a podium at the front and asked everyone to settle down. “Now as you know,” he began, “The volcano has settled down just as mysteriously as it started up.”
“Does that mean everyone can go home?” asked someone from the crowd.
“Well, we want to be cautious,” he replied. “After all we don’t know what started it and we don’t know why it stopped. It could start up again.”
“The Fate-chasers say the volcano is showing anger about the vote!” a voice shouted out. This remark was greeted with a combination of agreement and derision.
“Yes, well,” began the Prevost uncomfortably. “I think to be safe everyone should just try to stay where they are until… well… for one more week.”
“Yeah, after the vote you mean,” called out another farmer. Many people laughed, but it seemed their relief at the volcano settling down had put the crowd in such an agreeable mood that they were up for anything.
“So what’s happened to the Conveyor?” someone shouted.
The Prevost cleared his throat. “Yes, I was coming to that. It seems that the Conveyor has er… has broken down.”
“New fangledy jangledy magitech!” someone yelled. A chorus of voices joined in, some expressing glee, others dismay.
“How are we going to ship our crops now?” someone moaned.
“Maybe that’s what was making the volcano active,” a voice piped up. At this the room got silent. Serah and Jian and Nico all looked at each other and shrugged. Nico suddenly felt an overwhelming desire to stand up and tell the crowd what had happened. He had promised Chrysalis that her sacrifice would be remembered. He began to get to his feet when Jian pulled him back down.
“Magitechnicians are working night and day to get it going again,” reassured the Prevost. “A special team from Freisland will be arriving at any time. We’ll get the crops moving again, don’t worry.”
“Yeah, but what if when the conveyor starts back up so does Mt. Phaestus.”
“No,” thought Nico. “That’s not right, Jian,” he urgently whispered, “I have to tell them what really happened!”
Jian looked at Nico thoughtfully. He would like to know what actually happened, but he also knew that crowds sometimes behaved in unexpected ways. He shook his head, “Now is not the time,” he whispered gently placing his hand on Nico’s arm. “But soon, I promise.”
“Well, we will er… cross that bridge when we come to it,” the Prevost was saying smiling weakly. “Now the important thing is for everyone to remain calm and continue to be good hosts to the evacuees. There are donation stations set up where you can drop off blankets and food and, of course, those of you lending your barns as shelters are greatly appreciated.” The Prevost began to go into details about what everyone should be doing and Nico’s attention was grabbed by the farmers in front of him talking in a somewhat lowered voice.
“I heard the Prevost was in Sult when the Conveyor broke down,” one was saying.
“He weren’t going to Validian neither!” chortled his companion.
“Think he fixed that contraption good?” asked the first.
“I think our Prevost would do what’s best for us!” the other replied and the two men laughed. Nico looked over at Jian and Serah to see if they had heard but they were talking quietly with each other.
“Not much longer now,” Serah was saying. She reached out to squeeze Nico’s hand. “You’re going to love Prevost Keller, Nico. He’s a real man of action!”
Finally the meeting ended and the people started to trickle out of the building. Jian, pushing his way upstream was trying to catch the Prevost’s eye. “Prevost Keller!” he shouted. The Prevost was surrounded by a group of excitedly talking townspeople but eventually he was free and Jian managed to have a word with him. Nico saw the Prevost nod his head rapidly a few times and point out the building. Jian nodded his understanding and began to make his way back to Serah and Nico.
“Okay, it’s all set,” he said. “Let’s go.” Just as Jian was beginning to walk away, a large farmer blocked his path.
“Hello there, friend!” he said.
“Excuse me,” muttered Jian and tried to step around him.
The man laid a beefy hand on Jian’s arm and said, “I’d like a quick word with you, friend.”
“I’m kind of in a hurry,” said Jian looking behind him to make sure that Serah and Nico were close.
“That you are, that you are,” heartily agreed the man. “Let me introduce myself, my name is Philard de Longue. I’m a traveling salesman. A trader, if you will. I take things from Validian and sell them in Marcadia. I get things from Marcadia and sell them in Gliadax. I get things from…”
“I understand,” grated Jian, “but you’re blocking my way. Excuse me.”
“Well, now what I’m trying to tell you here is that maybe you could help me. As you heard the Conveyor is broken and the land bridge is just packed. In order to keep my business going I need to travel. Now, I couldn’t help but overhear the Prevost there tell you where to meet him.” He looked significantly at Jian.
Jian stopped and finally gave Philard his full attention. He saw before him a large man dressed in layers of clothing, a fur vest tightly bound on top of it all. He was mostly bald and had dark eyes. It was impossible for Jian to tell where he came from, but his smile seemed genuine. For some reason, Jian felt mildly distrustful of him, but decided to hear him out. “Go on,” he said cautiously.
“Well, now, you seem like a man who understands trade. You got something I want, and I believe I have something you want.”
Nico pushed a little closer to be able to hear Philard. “I’m not understanding you.” Jian said flatly.
“Okay, okay,” Philard said. “Let me be more plain. I want passage through the Prevost’s portal to Validian. I believe that you are about to go and do that very thing. In return, I have some information that I think the Prevost would like to have.”
“H-h-how could you possible know all that?” blurted out Nico.
“Shh shh shh,” said Serah pulling Nico back a little.
Jian remained stony faced. After an tense moment of silent he said, “Indeed, how could you know that?”
“Well, now,” said Philard, not in the least uncomfortable, “I trade in information too, you know. A man in my position gets to know things, hear things, if you understand me. I’m right about the portal, aren’t I? You’ve no need to worry. Prevost Keller knows me. We’ve worked together on some other… er… projects together. I don’t think he will object to my traveling through the portal so long as you’re the one doing the asking.”
“And about the information?” asked Jian.
“Well, like I said. I travel around a lot and I’ve heard that your Prevost Benefix has been looking for information about long lost sanctuaries.”
“And you have some information?” asked Jian coldly.
“It wouldn’t be a trade if I didn’t have something you wanted,” assented Philard with a wide smile on his face.
“Come with me,” muttered Jian taking Philard by the arm and hustling him out of the building.
“How does he know so much?” Serah hissed in Nico’s ear as they trotted along behind Jian.
Together they strode to the east side of the complex where there was a very comfortable looking house. White smoke lazily blew out of a brick chimney, indicating that someone was home. Jian knocked on the door and presently it was opened by Prevost Keller himself.
“Come in, come in” he greeted them opening the door widely and gesturing them in. Now that the meeting was over he had removed his robes and looked more like a typical Marcadian farmer. He froze a moment when he saw Philard but allowed him to pass without comment. Looking quizzically at Jian he said, “Err.. is this everyone?”
Jian asked him bluntly, “Do you know this man?” pointing at Philard.
“Yes, yes, how do you do?” he answered.
“He says he has some information we need.” Jian said looking at Philard who had not stopped smiling as if he were completely at home.
“Let’s sit down,” said Keller weakly.
They all went into a small but cozy den in front of a warm fireplace. Keller fussed around them providing drinks and food and trying to make them comfortable. Nico wondered if Serah had meant, “man who never stays still,” when she had called him a “man of action.”
“Prevosts sure come in a lot of different styles,” Nico whispered to Serah.
Serah giggled, “Well, you’re used to Benefix. He’s the head Prevost, so he’s, you know, a bit more grand. Our old Prevost before Prevost Keller was different from this too. He was very stiff and spoke with really big words.”
Nico and Serah grinned at each other as Jian was saying, “Let’s get down to business.”
Philard beamed at him. “A man after my own heart,” he chuckled as he reached into one of the many pouches that hung around his shoulder. He pulled out a scroll and laid it on his thick, strong thigh.
Jian stretched out a hand to take it when Philard quickly pulled it away. “Not yet, not yet, friend,” he said. “We haven’t come to terms yet. Do I get to use the portal?”
Jian looked at Keller who gave a tiny shrug. “How do I know that you have information that I’m looking for? Can the Prevost examine it?”
There was a longish pause as Philard thought this offer over. “I reckon that’d be all right,” he said at last. “After all, if you can’t trust a Prevost, who can you trust?” he asked and laughed handing over the scroll.
Nico craned his neck to see what was written on it. In thin crabbed handwriting were five lines.
“What does it say?” Jian asked.
The Prevost read,
“Five tapestries, five objects, five anchors there are,
To find each of them you must travel quite far.
Each sanctuary has been caught and held by a doom,
Free them and heal them thus our orbit resumed.”
“We know this already,” Jian said to Philard bluntly. “It doesn’t help us at all.” He started to get up.
“Now hang on, hang on! Don’t be so hasty. Maybe, there’s something else I can do for you.”
“Like what?” Nico could hear Jian’s voice seeming to fade away. He and Philard continued to argue, but somehow, Nico was far away from the fracas. Something was calling him to look at the stone he picked up at the cottage. He pulled it out slowly. All the noise was gone, there was just the stone. It looked the same as last time, except now Nico could see the faint tracings of more symbols deep in the rock. They were calling him, he could almost see something there; if he just looked a little closer.
Prevost Keller looked at him. “What have you got there?” he asked. Nico suddenly snapped to and was back in the room. He realized everyone was staring at him.
“Looks like a Jakodan stone,” said Philard. He held out his hand.
Nico handed the stone over to Philard. Afterwards he noticed that Jian had made a move as if to stop him. Nico realized that Jian still didn’t trust Philard.
“Do you know something about it?” Jian asked Philard.
“Well, normally, I’d charge extra for information like this, but seeing as you folk are being so nice to me, letting me use the portal and all,” he paused looking at Jian. “I’ll tell you that for free.”
After a moment, Jian said, “Ok, you can tell us now.”
“You are going to take me to Validian, right?” he asked.
Jian nodded his head. “What is it?” repeated Jian in a deadly calm voice.
“I don’t know!” Philard answered promptly. Jian got to his feet in a menacing way when Philard added, “That is I don’t know what these symbols mean, but I know where it comes from. There’s a place in Jakodan to the North called Storla. Ruled by a king, they have kings in Jakodan, you know. Quaint custom, very glamorous, if you’re the king that is…”
“Go on,” growled Jian.
“This symbol is one used by the King of Storla, King Chelten his name is. Nice enough guy, bit pompous though. Kind of the head king, if you get my meaning. Anyway this symbol means him. It’s probably a king’s stone. He’s probably looking for it,” Philard added softly. Somehow Nico got the feeling that Philard had just gotten a useful piece of information he would be trading very soon. He looked at Jian in alarm.
Jian had already risen to his feet. He looked as if he regretted letting Philard see the stone. He roughly took the stone from Philard and put it in his pocket. “Okay. We are leaving,” he said, “Now. Serah, Nico, get your stuff.”
Everybody jumped to their feet and gathered their things. Jian looke expectantly at the Prevost. “We need to get back to Benefix,” he said.
“And Mr. de Longue?” Keller asked. Jian gave a barely perceptible nod of his head.
“Very well. This way.. this way,” beckoned the Prevost. He led them through a low hanging archway into a study crammed full of books and shelves. Books were on the desk, the floor, the chairs and stacked into every nook and cranny of shelves along the wall. He led them to the corner of the room where one wall of shelves looked much more organized and less crowded. Pushing a spot on the paneling caused the bookshelf to swing open and reveal a dark passage leading down. Taking up a lantern, Prevost Keller led them down the stairs to a cellar-like room. A large wooden doorframe stood in the middle looking extremely out of place because there was no door in it, just empty space. Prevost Keller walked over to one of the posts and began to trace symbols on the wood with his finger. Everywhere his finger touched lit up in a glowing blue. Soon symbols were on both posts and the air between them began to glow a light blue as well.
“There,” he said at last. “It’s ready. Just walk through and it will take you to the Cathedral in Validian. Benefix is there. He must be waiting for you.”
“How do you know Prevost Benefix is there?” asked Nico curiously.
“The air wouldn’t glow blue if he wasn’t receiving,” Prevost Keller answered curtly.
“That’s why Philard needed us,” whispered Serah and Nico nodded at her.
Jian took a deep breath and said, “Right, I’ll go first. Next is Philard. I want to be there when you walk through. Finally, Serah and Nico. Got it?”
Everyone nodded and Jian walked through. When Nico’s turn came, he turned to look at Prevost Keller. He had thought to thank him for his help, but the words froze in his throat when he saw the expression on his face. Mingled there Nico saw fear and exultation and it occurred to him that Prevost Keller might have indeed sabotaged the Conveyor. He decided to say nothing and passed through the portal without comment.
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