Twilight of the Gods
Book One

Cinátis - Volume I

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Chapter One - Awakening of the Stone Felder

Chapter Two - The Power in the Staff

Part I
The Plague
Chapter One
Awakening of the Stone Felder

The quivering came again, as though from a subtle shifting of stone in the earth's bedrock below the road--or as if something dark were coming to the surface. Jeru, a broad shouldered youth with yellow hair like his mother's and gray eyes the color of stone, felt the shifting as he walked along the road. Because he was a stone felder, he felt the movement, while others who were not so gifted would be oblivious to it, altogether. Even the bottoms of his feet tingled with pain as the earth, itself, groaned with dread, and he knew that whatever affected the ground cast an evil hue.

He was a large, muscular boy, which partially indicated his lineage as a stone felder, like his father's clan in the City of Lauxis a moon wheel from where he now trod. His booted steps were heavy from the power of his stride, as well as from a heavy heart. It was late afternoon, coming on dusk, though still hot and sultry. Earlier, he had removed his blouse, which now hung at his waist from his belt together with a leather water bag. Sweat glistened on his chest in the golden light of the afternoon. Although he was heading home to prepare for his departure, he focused on the strange disturbance in the earth beneath him.

At times, he thought the coming plague might be making its impressions in the earth as it moved northward across the land. Rumors said the plague was coming from the southern realms of Omoham, moving relentlessly this way. Although no one reported the plague as far north as the city of Cinátis (only two days by foot from here), people in Jeru's valley had already abandoned their farms with crops still in the field. His own parents had stayed only long enough this season to harvest their crops; then, like everyone else, had packed up and left.

Off in the distance, toward the south, as the earth fell toward the C'ien Valley, a dusty haze rose into the sky from the many hundreds of wagons that must be on the road on their way to the Great Trade Route, no doubt passing through the City of Cinátis. The heat of the day finally began to diminish, and long shadows from the Oleg bushes with their succulent leaves lay over the road as he made his way homeward. No longer home, he reminded himself, sadly. His two older brothers, Joshu and Samu had been gone for more than a moon wheel. And just that morning, with the last of the harvest having been sold to a Ch'turc merchant his parents Megan and Wanu-té had left for Lauxis. Yet Jeru had stayed behind, wanting to visit the fields for the last time this day where he had worked most of his sixteen summers.

Now that he was alone and would be leaving, he had spent the day trying to glean what he could from the strange impressions coming to him from the bedrock. Although he did not know what he should do, he planned to travel southward to Cinátis, plague or no plague, and begin asking questions there. Surely in Cinátis other earth gifted or witches might have a better understanding about this plague that had driven so many people from their homes.

Earlier that day, Jeru had helped his parents pack all that they could carry in their wagon and, heavy laden in both substance and mind, they had said their good-byes.

His mother Wanu-té had given him the family's Book of Té, which he had learned to read on her lap. "I want you to have this, Jeru," she said. "It has been handed down from mother to daughter for many years, but having no daughter, I give it to you. It goes well with a traveler."

His father Megan had given him a leather purse filled with gold and silver coins, which was part of the payment he had received from the Ch'turc merchant for their harvest. When Jeru attempted to return it to his father, feeling he did not deserve it, Megan had waved the purse away, saying, "You have worked hard and, like Wanu-té and me, you love the land and follow the Way of Té. 'Tis not a lot of money, besides, so spend it wisely. Never seek to pay less than the price you agree on. But do not pay more. Never show another your purse, and when you go into a public establishment, show only as much as you intend to spend."

And so their leave-taking had gone, with a last chance to give him advice and to express their own regrets at having to leave the farm. Then Megan had slapped the reins over the backs of the oxen, and the wagon, heavy laden and creaking, began to roll forward. Not another word had been said as Jeru watched them pull up onto the road that led first south and would then turn westward a day's journey from there at the village of D'iev.


It seemed to Jeru, now, as his thoughts returned once more to the moment, that what had been substantial and would surely last forever, had been so easily undone, because of fear more than anything, whether the plague were real or just rumors.

But renewed tingling in his feet brought chills to his back, where before he had been sweating. He pulled his blouse loose from his belt and slipped it on, feeling cold as though stepping from a bath into a winter night.

Something evil is indeed creeping along underground, he thought, once again, trying to discern what it might be that moved across the land. Many-headed were the rumors of what the plague was or what had caused it--but none made sense to Jeru, save that people were dying, and even more were arriving from the south in such numbers that thievery and fighting broke out in the villages and towns in their wake.

In the midst of the plague, priests had come into the country of Omoham, as well, from the land of Ch'turc claiming that it was punishment by the god Rael on the Omoham'EYE for harboring witches and allowing the earth gifted to practice their earth feldings. Jeru knew of these priests from farmers who came to visit his parents a moon wheel ago, bringing the rumors and the fear with them.

At first, Jeru's father and mother had dismissed their neighbors' fears and speculations, and so had Jeru, wondering why any Omoham'EYE listened to such as these priests. As a stone felder, schooled at the Academy for the Earth Gifted in Cinátis, he had been taught by witches. Everyone, earth gifted or not, knew witches were kind and intelligent people, who celebrated the birth of every child born in Omoham, who taught the principles of the Book of Té, which was kept in every home and by which the Omoham'EYE lived.

The priests even accused the witches, themselves, of causing the plague as a way to hold power in the land. This rumor was as unfounded as any other, and Jeru doubted the witches would wreak such chaos as now gripped the land. Omoham was their sanctuary from the likes of the Ch'turc with their god Rael and his priests and their many machines. Whatever its cause, however, the idea of a plague scared Jeru, because he had rarely seen a person die, or heard of death so frequently, or felt it so close at hand.

The most frightening rumor said the plague was caused by strange, hairless animals that walked upright like men and came out of the Miasma forest. Not far from here, to the east, lay the western edge of that great forest, which continued unbroken all the way to the Sea of Splendor in southern Omoham. For many years, Jeru had been warned about the dangers lurking within its dark and mysterious interior. Adults warned their children never to set so much as a foot into it. In the daylight, such rumors did not frighten him; but he believed such animals might live in the Miasma forest and would attack humans--whether they were naked and walked upon two legs was another matter. Even on the plains, and within other less danger-ridden forests, there lurked Wilde Dogs and Cribears, either of which could rip a person to shreds. So of all the rumors, it seemed plausible to Jeru that these strange animals might lurk near the roads that ran close to the Miasma forest--roads like the one that led into Cinátis from here. At this thought, the skin crawled on the nape of his neck.

I could surely outrun a two-legged animal, he thought, picking up his pace. I am strong of limb and broad in the shoulders, quick of foot, the fleetest of my brothers. But he was unable to wrap his thoughts around such notions.

He still did not know if fear of the plague had driven his two brothers from home earlier in the summer, but his father had accused them of as much, since Joshu and Samu lad left just when the rumors of the plague had reached their valley and the harvest was coming on in the fields, leaving him and Jeru to do all the work themselves. Jeru could not think his beloved brother, Samu, was a coward, however. Nor even his enigmatic brother, Joshu, the only member of the family who was not earth gifted in some way.

Jeru believed that Joshu had left because he was unhappy and wanted adventure, and wanted to be among those of his kind who, in a country of earth gifted, would eventually band together.

Samu had left only a fortnight after Joshu, crawling into bed with Jeru, pulling him close, and kissing him on the mouth. "I will miss you," Samu had whispered. Then he said, "I love you," and kissed him, again.

Jeru had been shocked to learn that Samu was going away, too, and held onto Samu wanting to cry. Samu returned his younger brother's embrace, holding him tightly for a moment, whispering, " 'tis not for brothers," then finally pulling away, saying he had to go.

"But you do not fear the plague! Do you?" Jeru had whispered loudly, feeling a lump in his stomach at the thought of his brother's leaving.

To that question, Samu had laughed. "I do not fear it more than anyone else."

"Then why? Why now?" Jeru had asked, looking blindly in the dark toward his brother's beautiful face. "We have sold the maize to a Ch'turc merchant, and if you help, surely--"

Samu had clamped a hand over Jeru's mouth, because his voice had risen with emotion, threatening to wake their parents in the floor below the loft. "I must be off, little brother. 'Tis a serious time in our land and there is much we must do to prepare."

The excuse sounded thin to Jeru that night. Although Samu was a gifted wood felder, and therefore a diviner of amulets, he wondered what a farmer's son could have to do with preparing for the plague. All he could do that night was cry into his pillow as he listened to his brother's departure out the open window of the loft.


So Jeru continued homeward, heavy-hearted and fearful, confused and yet determined to make sense of why so much had changed in so little time.

As the afternoon light gave way to dusk, he grew frightened that he was not yet home behind the thick stone walls, where he would feel safe for the night. Quickening his pace, he cast his eyes left and right into the shadows and peered ahead of him for any unexplained movement. As the sky darkened with the coming of night, the gold and pink drained out of the clouds overhead and began turning gray, like drifting rain clouds.

With each step, the tingling in his feet grew stronger, until they were aching and the pain caused his legs to tremble--as though the plague, whatever it might be, was about to burst out of the ground--right here.

He rounded a curve in the path and broke free of the Oleg bushes, catching sight of the thatched roof of his house and the smoke rising gently from the chimney.

Hackles rose on his neck. He had left no fire burning in the hearth, as he had already provisioned his pack and stored the food for his journey just inside the door. He had intended to spend one last night at home and begin his own journey before the green mists of morning had flowed across the land, but now his fear redoubled, and he moved cautiously down the hill into the yard, hardening himself for an encounter, with whom he did not know.

As he came into full view of the yard, the house, and the well next to the empty stone barn where the oxen had been kept, he saw light flickering in one of the windows in the kitchen. This, too, frightened him; but as well, it angered him that someone would make themselves at home by his hearth, perhaps thinking it had been abandoned. He intended to have a word with the thief who had so quickly taken possession of his home.

He strode silently on the balls of his feet, gently placing each booted step on the hard ground as he made his way to the door. He listened.


Closer and closer, he drew toward the front door, prepared to fight or flee, until at last, he stood just outside. Still nothing. He pushed on the door, slowly at first; but it made such a loud shriek of metal and wood, he shoved it open quickly, realizing that whoever was inside would hear the noise.

Although the room, which served as the kitchen and sitting room, was devoid of furniture or any lamps, save the one Jeru had kept for his last night, the room was alive with light; not only did the hearth provide golden light full of flickering flames, causing shadows to dance in the room, but the stone walls, themselves, glowed a soothing green. His own shadow was cast on the ceiling and danced with those of the fire.

Even more curious, the entire room was bathed in the delicious fragrance of moon-flower, which usually bloomed only in mid-summer in the middle of the night; and even though there was not a single white bloom anywhere, Jeru's nostrils were filled with their delicious aroma. Further, in the hearth, laid across the steadily burning flame was the carcass of a rabbit on a spit, just turning a golden brown and dripping juices into the fire. As he made his way over to it, he fought to keep his fear sharp. For despite the pleasant and surprising light coming from the walls, the perfume of the flowers permeating the room, and the perfect and simple meal waiting for him--all was strange and confounding. Even though he was not a mist felder, something nagged at him, warning him to stay alert.

It was either sinister beneath its pleasant aspect--this light and a meal waiting for him--or whoever had done this might return shortly to eat the rabbit and be equally surprised at Jeru's presence, thinking the house had been abandoned.

Yet, except for the crackling of the wood in the fireplace, all was quiet. Jeru listened, but the weight and thickness of the stone walls muffled what noise there may be from outdoors or from within the rest of the house. Having no notion as to what he should do about it, he saw no reason not to partake of the meal. If someone were to return and complain, he should be glad to tell them that this was his house.

When he approached the hearth, however, he became curious about the pale green glow of the walls. As a stone felder, he knew stone could be made to burn, or be kept warm by felding; and he knew that stone, like other substances, could at least partially absorb the ethereal mists of the person who had been there. He pulled off his clothing, stripping the blouse over his head, slipping out of his leather britches and leaving them in a pile on the floor. Thus, completely naked, he pressed himself from chest to thigh against the stone. At first, the stone was cold, but as his felding rose, it began to warm. Almost at once, came a strong, clear image of the other, the one who had left the roasting rabbit.

He pulled back startled, for it was a youth, naked as a tree in winter. Then immediately leaning into the wall again, he continued to feld. The youth had long auburn hair that veiled the aspect of his face, except for a glimpse now and then of his nose and mouth. But the images danced around so quickly, Jeru could not retain them long enough to study them. That the youth was tall, however, was readily discernible. His shoulders came above the top of the hearth, which allowed Jeru to judge that he was fully grown, and was at least as old as he was, though much leaner. The green glow surrounding the youth made it difficult to judge his skin color, but could have been a golden or even a darker, copper hue. This one danced within the room, and Jeru saw him carrying the rabbit, leaning into the hearth and lighting the fire--or rather, appearing to bid fire burst from the wood as no Firestone or striker lay nearby, which meant he was at least a fire felder.

Then came words from the stone as though spoken into Jeru's ear: "Ah, my sweet Jeru. As you see I have roasted you a rabbit, provided light from the dark, for you have smitten me, and this is my gift."

That words could thus be absorbed by stone startled Jeru even more than the words themselves. Although this strange being knew his name, Jeru knew of no earth gift that could enable one to communicate with another through stone. Nor was that a power taught at the academy. Only wood felders could communicate thus through their amulets. And so he grew increasingly confounded, recalling the youth's words, and he was less appeased than suspicious. Unbidden to his mind at that moment, once again came the rumor of the naked animals in the Miasma forest, and he shuddered at the thought that such an animal might also be clever enough to entice his victims in so innocent a way.

But Jeru shook off this last thought, chiding himself for being a fanciful child. For the youth was obviously human, rather than animal, and certainly harmless appearing, as well as rather striking and beautiful. Jeru leaned once more into the wall, felding it for further images, but from the stone now came only images of his own family as they moved through the room, filling his mind with them and chasing off those of the youth.

At this, he pulled away and bade his stone felding to subside, once again turning his attention to the rabbit, roasting on the spit. When he pulled it from the hearth, laying it upon the stone floor and began eating, it proved to be not only substantial, but very tasty. Jeru ate it to the bone, discarding the bones into the fire, where they dried, then blackened, and fell to ashes.

Thus feeling full and oddly at peace, as though he had partaken of a pipe of burning Mangot leaves, it no longer seemed so strange, after all, that such as the naked youth had entered his home and cooked him a meal. Nor, in his present state of contentment, did Jeru give further thought to the prospect that this would be his last night in this house--or, that come morning, he would leave as the rest of his family had, perhaps never to return. Instead, he carried himself up the stairs to the loft, barely able to hold his eyes open. He was still naked as he pulled a blanket over himself on the straw mattress. When he was nearly asleep, once again came images of the naked youth and the scent of moon-flowers.

Jeru smiled in the darkness. Would that such as the youth would reveal himself, he thought, closing his eyes, for I am smitten by such as I have seen in the stone. Yet why did such a one leave me the meal? And how, he wondered, had the words come to him from the stone? How did he know my name?

These questions did not disturb him as he drifted off, feeling an odd sort of weight within his limbs, as though he had worked a full day in the fields. Sometime later, when he heard sound within the room and caught movement out of the corner of his eyes, he attempted to awaken but could not hold his eyes open, nor even turn his head. Soon, he was drifting into a dream wherein he felt the weight of another upon him who moved as he moved, wrapping him in arms that were warm and lovely.

Whispered into his ear as close and warm as his brother's breath had been when he crawled into bed with Jeru to say good-bye, came these words as Jeru dreamed: "Ah! My little human. Gäloven, ye be! Ye hast smitten me! I sing and burn deep. Gäloven, ye be."


Jeru awoke to the singing of birds, just as the sun began to light the earth. From the loft window, he saw the green mists of morning flowing through the tops of the trees. He sat up on the straw mattress, momentarily confused, as remnants of his dream of the night before played around the edges of his consciousness. Had someone been in the bed with him? It had seemed so; yet in the daylight, did not seem possible. He took a deep breath through his nose, pulling in the familiar smells of the loft, the chilly morning air, and just a faint whiff of the other--but nonetheless still there--a subtle, earthy smell.

He threw back the blanket, intending to get up, dress and, like his family, set off into the world. Then he noticed the bits of dirt on the mattress, and here and there a leaf. Sniffing at his own skin, he closed his eyes, realizing that some of what he had thought was a dream had to be real, just as the rabbit was, just as was the more distinct perfume of the moon-flower on his skin.

Gäloven, he thought. What sort of word could that be? And why did he think of it?

He stayed on the bed a moment longer, until all remnants of the dream fell away. And even though he tried to recall just what he had dreamed, he could not.

Rising and going downstairs, he made water out the back door onto the bare ground, looking into the thick fog of the green mist as it moved from east to west across the small valley. Not hungry, he decided it was time to take leave of all that he had known. For a time, he pressed his naked body against the stone walls of the house. By the hearth, the stone released its memories of his family gathered there. Into his chest, the vibrations poured, of his father's hearty laughter, of his mother's smile and her kind touch.

Of his oldest brother Joshu's quiet unhappiness, Jeru also drank, tears coming to his eyes for him. Joshu had been borne bereft of earth felding, and though he never complained, Jeru figured of all his family, he felt a lack within, for earth felding could not be learned. Joshu had participated in the family reading and discussion of the Book of Té, but had never been able to participate in the earth feldings the others engaged in. Until Joshu had left home, Jeru had not realized the depth of Joshu's sadness. And now it was too late to make amends, Jeru thought. Yet Joshu's strength of will, released by the stone at the hearth, poured into Jeru, and he knew his eldest brother was strong nonetheless.

Of his beloved brother Samu's brilliant smile, his warm touch, Jeru drank deeply of the stone's memories. Pressing his lips and body against the walls of the loft where he had slept with his two brothers, he trembled as their youthful passions absorbed by the stone walls were released into him, drinking deeply of their dreaming as their hearts sorted through their affinities. When he was close to bursting, he pushed away from the stone, his arms and legs trembling.

Outdoors, he stood back and looked at his home, tears coming to his eyes at having to leave it.

But he could not be sad for long. Now that his leaving was at hand, he looked forward to seeing the world. As the sun climbed higher and became white and the green mists had dissipated, Jeru dressed and checked the contents of the leather bag he had packed the day before. Wanting to travel as lightly as possible, all that he carried included only two pairs of leather britches, blouses, a leather cloak lined with fur, the purse containing the coins, and the Book of Té. In the top of the bag was a loaf of bread his mother had made, some hard cheese from the well house, and the remainder of the dried meat she had given him the day before as she and Megan were leaving. He shrugged into the back pack, strapped a water bag to his waist and, from next to the hearth where it had stood for three years, he took a wooden staff that Samu had fashioned for him from Mantle-wood. It was a dense, heavy wood preferred by wood felders in their craft. Samu, being a wood felder, had divined it especially for Jeru and gave it to him when he was coming into his first summer of manhood.

When Samu had made a gift of the staff, it was higher than Jeru's head; now it only reached his shoulders. Jeru caressed its thick circumference, hefted it in his hands, feeling its weight. He put his cheek against one end where Samu had felded a phallic likeness of himself--an amulet-- into the wood. " 'Tis not for brothers," Samu had said, with his often repeated admonition, winking when he gave it to him. "But I have long recognized this affinity of yours and have divined it for you, here. When you hold this thing, you will think of me; but more important, because of your strong affinities, it will focus your own power. Only in time, however, will you recognize this."

Jeru had not understood what Samu meant, but as he caressed the staff, now, pale blue flame encircled his face, and he felt it coursing through him, as he could feel the moonlight when he bathed in it, causing his body to tingle. So, taking the staff in his left hand, he walked away from home, and when he let his stone felding rise, blue flame gelled around his fist, and crawled up his arm. Oddly, he felt the bedrock tugging him, or rather, him tugging it, as if...

He shook his head, doubting he could actually pull the stone from the earth to him, merely through his will to do so; but surely, he thought, willing his stone felding to subside, I cannot think why I should want to call it to me.

Once or twice, before the path curved around the bend in the road, Jeru turned and walked backwards glimpsing his home for what must be the last time. Heading south, the soles of his feet tingling unpleasantly, he set off in the direction of the city of Cinátis, where the plague was sure to come, if it was not there already. Unlike his parents and the neighbors thereabouts, who had run from the plague, Jeru headed toward it.

Along the way, he hoped to glean answers to the many questions that now confused him: What had caused the plague? Were the Ch'turc priests right in blaming the plague on something within the land of Omoham that was, itself, cause for punishment? Or, was the plague caused by naked animals that walked upon two legs, who lived in the Miasma forest? And for all that, who was the strange youth who had come into his home (possibly even into his bed), and spoke to him from the stone? Or from his dreams? And would he ever see him again?

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Chapter Two
The Power in the Staff

As Jeru began his journey, he looked out over the C'ien valley as it fell southward toward the Great Plains of Omoham. Bright sunlight lit up the valley below him in late summer splendor. Although the harvest had all but stripped many of the fields, some still lay full, their owners having fled in fear of the plague. There, the Cherokí birds with their bright red plumage feasted on the maize; yellow-bodied Wranuk flies swarmed a field of rotting melons. Oleg bushes grew tall and dark green along the edges of the fields and, peeking out above them, stiff, spindly Black Rods with their nodding heads of white fluff waved in the breeze. Far below in the bowl of the valley, Jeru spied the Ree-uq river, its deep blue water becoming frothy rapids in places where it rushed over rocks. Nearer, but still some way ahead of him, the river ran along the east side of the road, where it flowed out of the Miasma forest; but it was hidden from view by the tall bushes and the rolling hills of the farm country.

He stopped frequently to gaze on the earth's many-faceted wonders. A bluff overlooked the valley to the southeast, where water falls from tributaries spilled into the Ree-uq; now and then he caught glimpses of the winding road, ever-widening as it approached the city of Cinátis, still invisible in the distance, a long two day's walk.

When the sun had reached Noon Zenith midway in its journey across the sky, Jeru left the road and wandered part way into the Oleg bushes, where he sought a flat stone to lay out a meager meal. He had brought the last of the bread, the cheese, and the dried meat. He drank from his water bag. When this food was gone, he would have to forage, but he made no plans to stop long enough to catch a rabbit or a bird; nor did he want to leave the road far enough to find a stream in hopes of catching a fish. By nightfall, he hoped to reach the westward road his parents would have taken on their way to the Trade Route. A little ways along that road lay the village of D'iev, where many of the farmers had brought their produce in days past, on its way to Cinátis, or where the more staple products were bagged or milled for transport, either into Cinátis or westward toward the Trade Route. He would not spend the night in the village, but looked forward to a good evening meal at the small inn, there, where his father had often stayed during his many recent trips to Cinátis trying to sell their crops.

Surely, people would not have abandoned that village, he thought, suddenly, not quite so sure. Or would they? It saddened him to think this might be; yet, just as the farmers had abandoned their land, why should not the people of D'iev panic and leave as well, fearing the plague?

Pondering these questions, or merely listening to the animals and birds in the under brush, he lay prone on the rock, feeling it for the essence of others who had come this way. Later, rested from his morning walk, he followed the ruts of the wagons, wondering how his parents fared. Having left the day before, they should be traveling west toward the Trade Route. Later, perhaps in a moon wheel, they would cross the Trade Route and begin the last leg of their journey heading west, until they reached the city of Lauxis. Into the afternoon Jeru walked, thinking about the Trade Route, itself, where Ch'turc machines were said to rove like metal beasts, powered by some force of fire that did not require horses or oxen. He had never been there, although everyone knew about it.

The Trade Route was a wide highway that went north into the country of Ch'turc and south all the way to the great city of Omoham'EYE on the coast of the Sea of Splendor. It was the only true highway in all the land of Omoham, and the main entry into Ch'turc. Traders from every corner of Omoham made their way up and down the great highway, as did the traders from Ch'turc. His thoughts drifting with the monotony of his steps, Jeru wondered about the Ch'turc machines, like the one the Ch'turc merchant had driven, which had reminded Jeru of a metal wagon, with a forward compartment where the merchant had sat to control it. Such machines must surely fill that highway. He recalled asking the merchant one day where he got the fuel to run such a machine, for surely in all of Omoham no such fuel existed. But to that question, the merchant, who was round and fat and had seemed friendly enough, had suddenly become huffy and slit-eyed. "Ye are not capable of understanding such as me machine, boy, an' Ay see no such reason for your questions." Jeru had not persisted, seeing that the man would so easily take offense.

He grew angry thinking the Ch'turc had come in so close to the city of Cinátis with their machines. This they had not done until this summer, when the plague had also come.

Vague unease continued to cloud Jeru's thinking. Beneath his feet, the bedrock was disturbed, but it must be the Ch'turc vehicles, and not so much the plague, he decided, running along the road farther south that caused such hues in the bedrock. Why had the Ch'turc been so bold, bringing their machines and their money into Omoham, when his own people had fled in fear? And what now of the Trade Route? Surely trade was not as active as it had been before the plague. Although it was said that many amazing items could be seen coming from Ch'turc, what would people fleeing the plague want with them? His parents would not stop to further load their wagon with more clothing or Ch'turc trinkets.

Jeru had considered traveling as far as the Great Trade Route with his parents and getting off there. But with the present turn of mind, he was glad he had not. He had never been on any other road but the one which he now trod, had never seen another city but Cinátis, and that city only rarely, once his schooling at the Academy for the Earth Gifted had ended. He did not want to travel too far from his home without first visiting Cinátis and getting his mind firmly set on what he should do. Unlike his brothers, he had never wanted to leave home to find his own way, considering that hearth and home was more than he could ever know completely.

As he grew into manhood, there had been times when his body ached for a mate, so he knew he would eventually have to leave to fulfill that desire as Samu and Joshu apparently had done. It was natural, his father had said. As the hair grew on his body, where before there had been none, he would begin to have such mating needs. "Whether 'tis for a male, female, or a dual-sexed individual, only your heart knows, Jeru," his father said. "When your heart swells at the look of a man or the look of a woman, you will know." And Jeru knew, now, as he walked southward, that part of his destiny lay in finding another man, for whose life he would lay down his own, if need be.

He was happy about that prospect, recalling the barest images from the stone of the youth with auburn hair. The bits of dirt and leaves he had found in his bed was a happy truth of the youth's visit and, so, perhaps his own affinity. And, oh, the heady perfume of the moon-flower! His heart swelled at the remembered vision, so lovely was the young man, so perfectly clothed in natural beauty, his mind could not invent clothing for him. Would not life be perfect, he thought, wistfully, if this one should come to him more fully and less dreamlike? For what purpose had the youth's visit been so furtive?

He walked on. As the day passed, and carts and wagons came onto the road from other farms and overtook him, men and women waved to him. "Would you like a ride?" they asked. "We are going west to the Great Trade Route."

"Cinátis is my destination," Jeru called back.

"Do not go there!" the people called. "Do you not know that a plague is coming? 'Twill be in Cinátis soon enough, if it is not already," they said, shaking their heads and slapping the reins to hurry their oxen.

Jeru continued southward, anyway, realizing that, where the road ahead forked westward, there must be other wagons joining those of his parents, heading for the Trade Route. But would there not also be Ch'turc? He cast off this thought, uneasy at the feelings it brought.

For most of the afternoon, the earth pulled him downhill. Finally, as the sun sank to the horizon, and the sky began to deepen in color, the city of Cinátis, far below, began to twinkle in the coming evening. No doubt lamps in many of the houses had been lit and torch bearers walked the main streets with their globes of light. If he ate only a small meal in the village of D'iev at the Tu-boar Inn and did not spend the night, he might make Cinátis by dawn. Thinking he would do just that, he quickened his pace.


Later, though it was dark, Jeru saw the road that forked off toward the west. He turned onto it, shifting the weight of his pack. On the north side of that road, lay the beginning of the great Woldent forest, where wood felders got their wood from Mantle-wood trees and wood artisans got their wood from Pin-wood trees for their furniture, carts, wheels, and doors. It was in this same forest where Samu had cut the Mantle-wood for Jeru's staff, for Mantle-wood was best for wood-felders' uses. What desirable properties such wood contained, he did not know, except that because his staff was Mantle-wood, Samu had been able to imbue it with a measure of wood felding that Jeru felt as he hefted it in his left hand. A light blue flame gelled around his fist for a moment at his thought.

To his left, on the south side of the road, the land fell away from his sight in a blurry whiteness of the Great Plains, where darker patches in its ghostly aspect revealed copses of trees and stands of Oleg bushes. Though the sky was black above the plain, the torch bearers of heaven filled it with a froth of pale lights. Ahead of him along the road toward the west in the village of D'iev lights shone in the windows of some of the homes. He was relieved the people there had not yet fled, and he began to anticipate a meal.

As he drew nearer the village, the stone houses scattered about the sides of the road resolved into silhouettes against the whiteness of the plains. The sound of water came from the left side of the road where some stream off the Ree-uq river ran, and the miller's water wheel turning in the stream made a steady thunk thunk as its paddles moved through it. Then he passed the millhouse, which was silent now, save for the monstrous wheel turning slowly in the stream.

The Tu-boar Inn was the largest building in the village, though not much larger than two or three of the stone houses, together, which stood nearby. It was distinguishable from the houses only by a rather large second floor, with many more windows looking out onto the road below than would be found in the homes. A few of the windows were lit with the rich yellow light of Oleg lamps, and in one was the silhouette of someone looking out onto the road. When Jeru walked below the window, he saw that the silhouette was that of a large man and, oddly, it struck Jeru that it must be a Ch'turc, though if asked to say why, he would not have been able to do so.

The inn was set back from the road. In front of the entryway were posts to which people could tie their horses and a large yard where travelers could park their carts and wagons. But there, gleaming under the light spilling out from a large side window of the inn, were several Ch'turc machines, smaller than the one the merchant had used, yet larger in their bulk than even the largest two-horse cart, the sight of which made Jeru's heart lurch with anger. So close to home! he thought, and again wondered where the Ch'turc got their fuel.

He heard laughter as he pushed open the door to the inn. But as he lay eyes on those gathered there, the laughter died immediately, and it struck him that the patrons were Ch'turc--all of them. Among the dozen or so large men were a few women, who were no better looking than the men but in whose company they were apparently content. All looked in his direction with smiles fading on their faces.

Then, as if they had sized him up and found him to be uninteresting, everyone turned away--save for one fellow across the room at a table by himself. Before him on the rough-hewn table was a half-eaten meal and several pewter mugs, one of which he was holding to his lips as he studied Jeru. His black hair shone with oil and, below that, his brows were knitted together in a frown, from which black eyes looked coldly at him.

On the wall behind the man were the heads of several Tu-boars, from which the inn got its name, mounted on large slabs of wood. The Tu-boars' lifeless eyes were shadows, while their snouts and tusks were lit from above by sconces of burning Oleg oil. In gloomier areas of the room, mounted on the walls were the heads of other animals; among them a Wilde Dog, its snout as large as an ox's, yet fierce, its jaws mounted open in a snarl of gleaming white teeth and fangs, which were as long as Jeru's fingers and as pointed as a hunting arrow. There were Cribears, as well, no doubt killed in the Woldent forest, their large heads sprouting curved fangs, also snarling fiercely. Below them, their front paws were also mounted to reveal their long claws, any one of which could pierce through several inches into a man's stomach and rip out his entrails.

Although Jeru did not fear the Ch'turc, he was uncomfortable that they were Ch'turc and not fellow countrymen. Even their dress was foreign like that of the Ch'turc merchant. The men wore black boots, bearing bright metal chains and buckles. On one of the women, whose left foot was sticking out into his view, was the oddest looking red boot he had ever seen, which was buttoned to mid-calf with metal hooks and eyes. Further, most of the men wore beards. While beards were not unheard of in Omoham, they were usually worn by the very eldest men. Here, the eyes that beheld Jeru from the bearded faces were sharp and young looking.

Jeru took a table on the opposite side of the room from the lone figure near the bar, who had continued to study him. Pulling out a chair, Jeru shrugged out of his back pack, which he set on the floor close to him. He leaned his staff against the table, close to his left hand. A moment passed before Jeru realized the man was not staring at him but at the staff. In the flickering light of the inn, his brother's divined phallus at the top of the staff stood out well, and Jeru wondered if the man admired the workmanship. Several other people were looking in his direction, too; some of them frowning.

The inn boasted no serving staff, and Jeru waited for a long time before the inn-keeper himself came out of the kitchen, beyond the bar. During the wait, he began to think it was a mistake to have come into the inn, but he would not leave, now, until he had eaten. When the inn keeper spied him, he hurried over to the table, wiping his hands on his apron and, instead of the friendly greeting Jeru expected of a fellow Omoham'EYE, he was also frowning below bushy gray eyebrows, his blue eyes flicking from side to side. That he was Omoham'EYE, however, Jeru did not doubt, for the man wore the customary muslin blouse, tucked into leather britches, sashed with a wide band of soft leather. His boots were soft tan.

"Welcome, lad," the inn keeper said, still frowning, also glancing at Jeru's staff. Jeru looked at the staff, as well, and caught the eye of the inn keeper, who leaned closer to Jeru and spoke in a quiet voice. "Ay would nat display that thing, lad, as the Ch'turc, here, are full of opinions about our Way. They do nat like nakedness, as Ay will advise you from these last few moon wheels of dealing with such as they."

Jeru leaned closer to the inn keeper, as well, pulling the staff below the table and laying it on the floor by his back pack. " 'Tis odd, sir. What harm is there in it?"

The inn keeper rolled his eyes. "Ay will tell ye. Me own children were roundly rebuked one day whan they were wading in the stream down the road and passed by on foot one of me patrons out for a stroll. Me children came in a-crying all the while wailing about he that scolded them, calling me children Na-té and hairless animals."

"'Tis only a phallic rendering," Jeru said, glancing down at the staff, shrugging, confused at the Ch'turc for their odd conceits.

"Nonetheless, they be too numerous, now, nat to attend to." The inn keeper straightened up, looking around the room as he did so and raising his voice. "What may I serve ye, lad?"

Jeru bought a plate of cheese and meats, some of which he stuffed into his back pack, and a mug of Kuaff; thinking that he would need to stay awake were he to travel the rest of the night. When he was done with the sausage and lintels and two mugs of Kuaff, he bought a tart with cream poured over it, eating it with relish. All during his meal, which he took deliberate time in consuming, Jeru looked around at the Ch'turc. Most of them paid him no further heed, but he was sure that others found him more interesting than they ought, and he did not like the attention.

At the end of his meal, Jeru pulled out his coin purse and, keeping it below the table withdrew a small silver coin. When the inn keeper returned, Jeru handed him the coin. "My mother's own cooking would not have tasted any better, sir."

This time, the inn keeper smiled, slapping him on the back. Again, he leaned in close and spoke quietly. "Ay will nat bed you in my inn, lad, if you were a mind. Though no harm has come to me and my family, these Ch'turc coming through D'iev are mean spirited, and Ay would nat have ye thrashed in your bed. 'Twould be best, I'd say, to trust your safety against the Cribears and even the Wilde Dogs of the night than to close your eyes upstairs."

The warning did not frighten Jeru but angered him. When the inn keeper returned with his change from the silver coin, Jeru stuffed the copper coins into a pocket in his britches preparing to leave the inn.

He adjusted his pack, took up the staff, and was headed toward the doors, when the man who had been staring at him came around from the other side of the room and stood in his way. The Ch'turc was easily a head taller than Jeru and outweighed him by several stone. Behind him, Jeru heard chairs scraping on the stone floor.

"What dost thee list, sir?" Jeru asked, using the formal language, even though he was angry and would just as well have preferred to shove the man aside.

The man's black eyes crinkled into a mocking grin, his mouth opening in a sneer to reveal stained and crooked teeth, one of them capped with gold. He did not have a beard, but his face was rough with black bristles. "Ay would have your nasty stick, so that I may burn it."

Noises behind Jeru alerted him that others were getting up. But he could not look away from the Ch'turc in front of him, who had not yet moved closer, although he had crossed his arms and stood in front of Jeru with his legs spread in a challenging stance.

"You'll get my staff across your backside, and I warrant that would burn you! Now, I ask you, sir, stand aside." Jeru said this, while becoming aware that a couple of men had come up on either side of him, whom he could see out of the corners of his eyes. Although he had never faced such a challenge, he was not afraid, but angry, all the while his grip on the staff becoming stronger. And from within, came the familiar feeling of stone, moving up his left hand. Where his fist gripped the staff, blue flame began to trickle under his palm.

The Ch'turc, however, had not noticed, so intent was he on fighting, he had not glanced away from Jeru's face. But Jeru made a move, which immediately brought the two Ch'turc at his side closer. In one movement, they tried to grab him from either side. He backstepped, bringing his staff to a horizontal position. Gripping it with both hands, he jabbed hard to his left then to his right, knocking each man in the ribs that sent them sprawling. And from both fists, crawling from the staff, blue flame surged around it.

The Ch'turc's eyes widened in surprise. "Devil! Na-té!" he cursed, reaching for a dagger that hung at his side.

Without allowing the man time to pull it from its sheath, Jeru brought one end of the staff around and pushed with stone felding. In an instant, the blue flame arced into the man's chest knocking him backward with such force that he landed against the door of the inn and fell out into the street.

People began to yell behind Jeru, and he glanced around in time to see other daggers in the hands of the patrons who were now standing. Twisting rapidly, Jeru pushed again, from within, and sent blue flame out in a circle, knocking men into the tables with enough force to overturn them and send dishes clattering to the stone floor. In the sudden confusion, Jeru bolted for the door, pushing it open and running into the darkness, back toward the road he had come in on.

In the village behind him, he heard one of the Ch'turc machines grinding into life. The sounds of men shouting reached his ears. He ran on, pushing the anger into his legs, feeling the wind whistle past his ears. He was the fleetest of his brothers, and knew he could outrun any of the Ch'turc, but he did not think he could outrun the machine, which he heard not far behind, roaring and clanking in pursuit.


Running hard, his back pack shifting from side to side, Jeru reached the road to Cinátis, then darted into a stand of Oleg bushes, sliding as low as he could, pushing his way back into the darkness beneath their low branches. The Ch'turc machine roared after him along the winding village road, growling and snarling, its lamplight bouncing up and down, alternately lighting the road with its bright yellow light and washing the bushes on either side in its glare, looking much like a fierce metal beast with gleaming eyes, roving for prey.

Jeru stayed hidden, waiting for the machine to come onto the road. But it stopped, just before it entered. From the vehicle's lamplight, he saw two men climbing out of the vehicle. They came onto the road carrying what Jeru thought must be spears. But as they neared his hiding place, he saw that the spears gleamed with a metallic shine, and at their base were wooden stocks, which the men rested against their shoulders, pointing the end of their weapons in front of them.

"Come closer with the light!" one of the men shouted at the driver in the machine. It growled forward, the lamps illuminating the bushes where Jeru was hidden. One of his boots caught the light and he pulled it under him. Suddenly, there was a loud detonation, as fire burst from the weapon one of the men held to his shoulder, followed by a thwack! where something hit the bushes over Jeru's head. The air was filled with the smell of burning Firestone. Jeru was startled, realizing their weapons used it, knowing that Firestone, thrown on a flame, would explode. Then came another explosion and a burst of fire from the other man's weapon, followed by the thwack! thwack! near his right shoulder as whatever the weapon ejected broke branches where he lay. Flame caught for a moment in the tangle of branches, and a burning pain shot through his neck. He jerked back, instinctively, managing to stifle a cry of pain that would give him away.

Lying as flat as he could within the bushes, smelling the tang of the Oleg leaves in his face and the odor of his own flesh burnt where the hot branch had apparently stabbed him, he peered out from his position. The chains and buckles gleamed on the men's boots not more than an arm's length from where he lay, as they walked about.

He heard the machine heading toward the south and, though he could see the boots of the men on foot, he could not hear their steps over the roar of the vehicle. He jumped when the explosions came again, farther down the road. When he was sure it was safe, he peered out of the Oleg bushes toward the south. The lights of the vehicle washed the road in front of it with its yellow light. He shifted position, so that he could watch the machine. When it turned around and came back in his direction, he slid on his stomach back into the undergrowth, breathing heavily.

On the way back, the men fired their weapons into the bushes and into the Miasma forest on the east side of the road. When one of the men began to move into the trees, the other one yelled for him to stop. "Do not go in there Taur'ag! The fruit is poison! Do you not smell it?"

Taur'ag shouldered his weapon and turned around. "If that boy was foolish enough to go in there, then I say we shall not find him. 'Twould serve him justly to be poisoned!"

"Then let us return to the inn. We shall tell the others we chased him into the Miasma trees."

" 'Twill not soothe M'agor, I'll warrant, what with his neck broken from the shove that Na-té spawn gave him out the door."

"Still, the fool should not have provoked him."

"But he did not know the lad was a witch!"

"Pah! 'Twas trickery, causing that flame to burst from his staff. M'agor tripped over his own boots!"

"You saw it, Dirk! 'Twas flame that knocked M'agor out the door and knocked the others off their feet."

"I felt nothing but surprise. Still, let us be gone. Tomorrow we will go down into Cinátis and find him."

Jeru heard the creak of metal as the two men opened the doors on their vehicle. A moment later, the machine turned onto the westward road, the sound of its engine receding.

Relieved, he lay a moment longer before crawling out of the bushes, his legs trembling. He was as angry as he was frightened--and weak, though he could not say why. His neck still burned from where the branch had snapped into it. Touching the spot, expecting to feel a bruise, he was almost knocked to his knees as new pain like teeth bit into the wound. Pulling his hand away and holding it up to the pale light of the night sky, he saw he was bleeding. His head swam, realizing he had likely been hit by the thing ejected from the weapon.

He had to get to Cinátis before the sun came up, or be caught on the road by those two Ch'turc, Taur'ag and Dirk, and no telling how many others. He was dismayed to learn that the man who had challenged him in the inn had broken his neck. But there was nothing to be done, now, except try to reach safety. He did not know how seriously he was hurt, but he was growing dizzy. He had been amazed that the staff had somehow aided him with his stone felding, and recalled his brother telling him, "When you hold this thing, you will think of me; but more important, because of your strong affinities, it will focus your own power. Only in time, however, will you recognize this." Whatever divination Samu had done to the staff that allowed the enhancement of Jeru's stone felding, using it had come as naturally to him as his stone felding had, and for that Jeru was grateful. And now, with the strength that such stone felding imbued in him, he hoped he would be able to make it to a farm house where there might be a water felder who could stop the bleeding. If not, he would at least paste river mud on the wound.

He used his brother's staff for support and, with his tight grip, faint blue flame gelled, once more, around his fist. Until this night, he had not seen such fire as this and wondered at it. Although he had often brought stone into flame, he had never been able to direct it, as he could with the staff. Yet, knowing its power, he was loathe to use it, again, except to defend himself.

Staggering into the middle of the road, holding one hand against his wound and gripping the staff with the other, he knew he had to get away, bleeding and weak, or not. It was obvious he would be hunted by the Ch'turc from the Tu-boar Inn. Once he got to Cinátis, he could lose himself in the crowds, but getting there might prove more difficult now that he was wounded. His legs threatened to buckle beneath him with each step. But if he did not hurry, he would bleed to death, long before he got to Cinátis. He began to walk southward, wearily picking up his feet. He could not stop lest the Ch'turc find him.

Across the road to the east came a cool breeze off the forest of thick-leafed Miasma trees, bearing the aroma of its ripening fruit. He covered his nose. As the Ch'turc had said, the fruit was supposed to be poison and could put a person to sleep for twelve wheels of the moon. Jeru did not know whence came this legend but he would not test it. No one ventured into the Miasma forest, for even in daylight, is was dark and forbidding. And, hence, no one knew what lay beyond the Miasma forest, either. Some said it was endless. Others said that other lands lay beyond it. It was true that it closed off Omoham from the Great Wall in the north all the way to the city of Bender in the far south of the country. No one had ever seen or heard anything from the forest, save for the sound of birds in the trees and the sounds of strange animals, which some said were themselves far more dangerous and hideous than even the Wilde Dogs of the plains. It was also true that no one would go into that forest for fear of what lurked within. Some said the poison would do more than put a person to sleep. Some said it would cause death--or worse, madness.

Apparently, even the Ch'turc would not risk entering there, Jeru thought.

* * *

He continued his trek southward, ready in an instant to conceal himself within the Oleg bushes at the slightest sound. Struggling forward for some time, he finally began to think he might be safe for the rest of the night and could tend to his wound when, suddenly, he heard deep-throated snarling near at hand.

He listened to see if whatever beast it may be was coming his way. It was a quiet time of night, and he strained to hear; but he could not tell where the sound had come from. He began to trot, knowing he was in danger. The effort was grueling and he had to stop frequently to regain his balance, lest he keel over. Again came the snarling on his right, this time from within the Oleg bushes crowding close to the road, and he pushed on, realizing that whatever it was moved with him.

Breathing heavily and becoming more faint, he tried to quiet his breathing, listening for the sound of the beast in the Oleg bushes.

Then, out of the corners of his eyes he saw a slight flicker of light and, in a wave of air coming from the Miasma forest, came the smell of Miasma fruit on its breath. But surely the light was not coming from within the forest!

He began to run in terror, grinding his teeth against the pain in his neck, sucking in air to keep himself from blacking out. The plague! The two-legged animals! The night was much too dark without a moon. He began to run faster, stretching out his long legs in a stride that had won him many a foot race with his brothers, but it was like running in sand. He was weak, stumbling, his lungs beginning to burn.

Off to his left, from the Miasma forest, he did see the flicker of light, closer this time.

His heart was pounding by the time he stopped to listen for the snarling, hoping to have outrun it, hoping not to see the light in the forest, either--unless he had imagined both. Was he delirious? Losing too much blood? Not even a day and night from his home, would he die as a Wilde Dog ripped out his throat? Or be infected with the plague from the hairless animal in the forest?

He did not want to lose his wits and do something foolish. Hairs prickled on his neck. The light shone again, off to the left, inside the forest! He began walking, again, his legs as heavy as stone. One step, another. His left foot dragged. His right leg buckled, and he was going down, grasping the staff with both hands, the blue flame coursing weakly, now, as he lost grip on it and it fell away from him.

He was sweating, yet beginning to feel cold, clammy. And he smelled his own blood on his hands and on the front of his blouse, a reeking odor--

Again came the low growling, from across the road, within the Oleg bushes. Peering into the dark shadows of the bushes, he heard the tread of a heavy animal, the growling low, but distinct, above his labored breath.

The smell of his blood and sweat were strong in the air. Strong enough, he realized, even as he was losing consciousness, that it would have attracted the Wilde Dogs, like those whose heads hung in the Tu-boar Inn, with long fangs.

Jeru struggled to regain his breath, to bring himself out of the blackness of receding consciousness, clawing with his hands toward his staff, laying cold fingers on it, and grasping it, hoping to gain strength from it, as he had in the inn.

The growling was closer as he managed to sit up. Peering into the shadows, he caught the gleam of yellow, almost luminous, eyes, low to the ground. Without seeing the rest of the animal, he knew it was a Wilde Dog, crouching low on its haunches, about to pounce.


I am delirious, he thought, feeling as though he was floating. Now the smell of the Miasma fruit was strong, as was another odor, that of moon-flower, much stronger than the night before at home. I have already bled much and am near death, and this is a dream. For why else would he feel no pain?

And then he felt hot breath on his neck, where he'd been wounded and he struggled, feeling teeth sinking into the wound. But oddly without pain and he knew he was almost dead, for he felt nothing beyond the floating sensation, even as the beast ripped at his neck.

But how can I be aware? he wondered. Is this death? He struggled to open his eyes, and was only conscious now of the sucking at his wound; the pressure was not unpleasant--

The plague! The tooth bite! I--!

--until suddenly, Jeru opened his eyes.

He was lying on a nest of something soft, the chill air wafted across his naked chest, and just out of the corner of his eyes, he saw flickering light as that of a fire in a hearth. Turning his head to his right, he saw he was lying in a clearing in the middle of the Miasma forest (for the smell of the fruit was all around him, cloying, yet warm in its odor) and there, not ten arm lengths away squatting by the fire tending something above the flames, was the naked youth of his visions, his auburn hair falling about him like a veil of reddish gold, and the firelight flooding his naked body with golden hues.

His aspect was so sweet as he tended the fire Jeru knew he must be dreaming. The youth suddenly looked up, grinning toward where Jeru lay. In this vision, everything about the youth was much clearer than it had been as images in the stone. Although the youth's face was clear and beautiful in the firelight, Jeru could only see shadows for eyes above a small nose. Was it a trick of the light that he could see the full, wide lips and a well-defined jaw and chin, yet not be able to see the youth's eyes? Rather than a vision of sweetness and beauty, was the youth also not rather sinister and sly in aspect? Was it not said that the animal which caused the plague was hairless and walked upon two legs? Did that not just as well describe this naked being?

Yet, what of it? Jeru thought. I am either dead and this is the last of my Animus draining from my body, or I am mad with the poison of the Miasma fruit. Somehow he must have managed to run from the Wilde Dogs, just to end up poisoned and going mad within the mysterious and dangerous forest.

Jeru was torn between trying to sit up and speaking to the vision, or closing his eyes, until the last of his Animus was gone and his dead body was absorbed by the soil. He sat up, finally, finding it amazingly easy to do so. Still there was no pain in his neck, where before there had been stabbing fangs of pain and skin-searing fire. From the firelight, he saw warm auburn highlights in the youth's hair, blowing gently in a breeze. His hair was long and ran over one shoulder. The light revealed every part of the young man, including his manhood, as he stood up and looked toward Jeru. The light danced around the edges of the youth's eyes; but their centers remained invisible. And below the shadows of his eyes, the youth grinned, his teeth glistening.

Then came a feeling of sweetness all around Jeru, and he was no longer afraid, for it was the youth who had been in his house, and his heart began to feel warm.

"Are you real?" Jeru asked, softly, peering at the naked youth, yet not attempting to stand, afraid the vision would dissolve, if it were only that. "Or for that matter, am I not speaking from within a deep, dark dream? Or dying? Is my essence drifting into the heavens to rejoin the etheria?"

The young man caressed his chest, felt of his arms, and cupped himself between his thighs. "I feel solid," he said, grinning again.

"Then I have seen you before?"

The youth nodded. "And I have seen you many times, Jeru. You see? I even know your name." He laughed, its sound cheerful and playful.

"But how?" Jeru asked, feeling that he was merely speaking in his dream to a beautiful wraith.

"I came upon you working in the field one summer day," the youth said. "I was so drawn by your beauty, I could not leave. And since that day, I have watched you every day, wanting to let you see me, but always being afraid, for you seemed so angry."

Jeru could not believe his ears, and yet he was so drawn to the youth, his heart was about to burst. "I am happy at that. Yet... yet I find this to be too strange. I must be dreaming still. I was wounded, this night, and..." Jeru said, feeling of his neck, then looking at his fingers. "Yet there is no blood! And... why did you say I was angry? I am confused. I must be dreaming, for I was wounded and bleeding."

The youth took a step closer. "I say you are not dreaming, Jeru. I am as substantial as the ground upon which you sit. I am called Eríl."

Jeru was still hesitant to believe him. "I see you standing before me, and last night I smelled the most delicious perfume in the air, where you had been. But my heart is full of wanting, and I wonder if I have not eaten of the Miasma fruit and dreamt you."

Eríl laughed. "You might touch me, if you would prove my existence to yourself."

Still, Jeru doubted what he heard. "Tell me how you know my name and why you thought I was angry, and how I was wounded and yet, now, am not."

" 'Tis no great secret, Jeru. In the early summer, when I first saw you, there was another working with you, who called you by name. You called him Samu. Yet he has gone away. I gleaned that he was your brother, and I also gleaned that you loved him and were sad when he left. For after that, you worked in the field by yourself, and you punished yourself with the labor. Then came that horrible machine and the one you spoke with, who mistrusted you, who took your harvest away. As to your last questions, you were wounded by those men carrying their fire-spitting tubes, I saved you from the Wilde Dogs before they attacked, and I performed a quick healing on your wound, though you still need attending."

Jeru began to hope Eríl might be as substantial as he seemed and could not help trying to stand, but he fell back, his head spinning. "All that you have said is true enough. Yet, how came you to me? And how can we be within this forest? Lest I am poisoned--or you are...he whom.."

Eríl cocked his head to one side, as if listening. Then, in one instant, he was standing beside Jeru, so close that he felt the heat from Eríl's body; he breathed deeply with delight at its warmth and sweetness, and yet was slightly frightened, so quickly had Eríl managed to close the distance between them. If he were, indeed, the naked animal of which the rumors spoke--

But Eríl put a gentle hand on Jeru's neck where the wound had been. His touch was hot, yet soothing. "You see? Feel my touch. 'Tis warm no doubt, to you. I healed your wound just a short time ago."

Jeru touched Eríl's hand, no longer disbelieving. "Ah, sweet heavens! How warm you are, yet you are naked and the air is chilly."

"Come." Eríl said. "Being this close to you, I can feel that you are still weak from your blood loss. We will talk by the fire. I have roasted us a rabbit."

"A rabbit? It was you then! You came to my house when I was not there, built the fire, made the meal. And...and slept in my bed!"

Eríl laughed, with a sound that was silvery. "The same. Yet last night, I only wanted you to sleep and be at peace for the last time in your home made of stone. Enough, however. Come."

With Eríl's help, Jeru got to his feet and, with an arm slung around Eríl's neck, was helped to sit by the fire. Beside the fire was a nest of grass and leaves.

"Do you live here?" Jeru asked. "Sleeping upon the ground? You have no blankets."

"I have no need of such things," Eríl said, busying himself with the spit, upon which he had slid the carcass of a skinned rabbit. "But I will explain in time. For now, you and I must eat. I built the fire, after I rescued you from the pack of Wilde Dogs and after I performed a healing upon your wound. And now I have roasted my rabbit, and we shall eat."

While Eríl worked, removing the rabbit from the fire and sprinkling it with dried leaves of some sort, Jeru rummaged through his pack, which Eríl had also rescued, and pulled out a clean blouse, which he drew over his head and let fall to cover his body. He laid back watching Eríl. Although he no longer doubted his eyes at the young man's appearance, he was stunned and happy and could not quite believe he was really awake. In the light of the fire, he still could not see Eríl's eyes. But there was no fear left in him.

When the meat was pulled apart and placed on a flat stone between them, its aroma filling the forest, Jeru asked, "Why do you not wear clothing? We of the Way of Té often discard ours on a warm day, or to delight in a rain, but I see no clothing anywhere."

Eríl was sitting cross legged on the other side of the flat stone from Jeru. "I cannot cover my body with skins of dead animals. None of my race wears clothing or lives in dwellings as you Omoham'EYE do."

"What is your race, then?"

Eríl shrugged. "A very ancient race. I will tell you, later." He pulled a leg off the rabbit and handed it to Jeru. "So your parents left their farm?"

Jeru nodded and bit into the rabbit, shutting his eyes at the delicious flavor. He chewed hungrily for a moment, looking at Eríl. His heart was warmed by Eríl's face, Eríl's nakedness so casually displayed, and he felt his strength beginning to return, his interest in this strange young man growing.

"Why can I not see your eyes?"

Eríl cleaned a leg bone with his teeth. He tossed the bone into the fire and grinned. "My eyes are personal to me. I give them to those whom-- But I think you will soon see for yourself."

A wind rustled into Jeru's back. He shivered.

They ate in silence for a few moments. Jeru ate every morsel of meat placed before him. He opened the water bag, took a long drink, and passed it to Eríl. "Thank you for sharing your meal with me. I ate a meal of sausages and pastries in the village of D'iev not long ago, yet with everything that happened, I was starved, again. Did you hear the commotion, earlier, on the road?"

Eríl sat cross-legged in front of the fire, taking a drink from the water bag. He nodded. "I did. I gleaned that you and those Ch'turc had had a fight, earlier. I watched from the forest whilst they hunted you and caused fire and the loud explosions. I have been following you since you left home this morning, Jeru. I could not let you get away. For I knew that, if I did not openly reveal myself to you this night, I might never have such a chance, again."

Jeru was surprised. "I never heard you."

Eríl smiled, but it looked rather like sadness, since his eyes were in shadow. "You heard me, Jeru, many times, but were too intent on your destination to heed me." Then he smiled again, this time just the barest glint of green light came from the shadows of his eyes. "And now you are with me. Your belly is filled and your wound is healed. Yet, why are you not content?"

Jeru thought the question odd. But he knew what Eríl meant. "How can I be content, Eríl, when there is no contentment in the land? There is a plague in Omoham; the Ch'turc have come with their machines and fill our villages and are hateful to our citizens, though I can not say why they are not afraid of this plague. My brothers, as you know, have long been gone from home, and just this day, I too have left, as have my parents. They are no doubt sleeping upon the hard ground this night, homeless, driven in fear by the plague, with a long journey to the city of Lauxis ahead of them."

Eríl's shadowed face again looked sad. "Aye, this plague. Do not doubt that I, too, am dismayed by such a thing. Yet I merely meant why are you not content at this moment? There is a saying among my people: 'one who is not happy in the moment cannot be thus in the next.'"

Jeru did not know what to say. His belly was, indeed, full and he was relieved to have been healed of his wounding by the Ch'turc weapon. Further, wherever his parents were this night, or for all that, wherever his brothers had gone, he trusted that they, too, were alive and well. He smiled, realizing that for the moment he was content to be sitting by the fire with this youth, this Eríl, who claimed to be from an ancient race. "When I saw your image in the stone, I knew I beheld a perfect man for the longing in my dreams. And now that I have felt you and smelled your perfume, and have eaten a meal with you, I am content. Yet beyond this night, this moment, Eríl, I fear I must seek answers to satisfy me. Would you... is it possible...?" he trailed off, not knowing what it was he wanted to ask.

cinV1Readers will recognize this cover, as volume one of Book One. It has been out for a year. By May of this year (2004), volume two of Book One will be out, and volumes 1 & 2 will have new covers.

Ironically, it was intended to be one complete book, but the small press that so graciously tried to publish my work was unable to publish the entire first book, due to its size. The retail cost of the book would have been prohibitive to buyers.

In the intervening months since its publication, other factors have entered into my plans, and I have decided to bring out volume one of Book One in a new edition.

The cover artist, Holly Smith, of Bookskins.net  created  new covers. Here is a sample of her work:

Please visit her wesbite for other samples. If you are yourself a writer who is brave enough to self publish, you need not look any further for a talented and willing artist for the cover of your next book.
Look for Cinátis, the complete Book One in these two covers:



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