The House of Spirit
Ferryn awakens Xenograg at sunrise, much to his confusion. He has only rested for a few brief hours and feels drained from using sorcery the night before. He stands and stretches life back into his body, and immediately rolls his shoulder and touches his ribs.
“Ferryn,” Xenograg calls to her as she stands outside his door braiding her long hair. “I have discovered that my shoulder and ribs have healed quite well. Could you tell me something about it?”
“Oh, you wanted those wounds?” Ferryn only giggles to herself. Xenograg washes his face and beard in a water basin she has provided sometime in the morning. He towels his face dry, wondering if she did heal his shoulder for him and how many other talents has she discovered as the Jinzaggin of Spirit.
“Ferryn, I thank you for the water and towels. But I state again that you do not have to wait on me like you do.”
“And I remind you that you are my guest, and I will attend to my guests. Hurry, Xenograg. There are more guests than you can believe!”
“With all the refugees that have arrived lately, I figured that you do not need to waste time on one guest. And I smell food….” Xenograg dons a long linen shirt and buckles his sword, Hiethur, at his waist, leaving the breastplate and Aastego cloak on the bed.
“Haven has its own structure and government. I am very far away from being the center of the community, Xeno. They provide for the new arrivals better than I. It isn’t right for me to attempt to usurp their authority. I only want to help.”
“How long have you been here?”
“About three years. I arrived a stranger, staying to myself and away from trouble. I was still adjusting to being Spirit then. I could have stayed away from cities entirely and enjoyed the whisper of the grasses and the sighs of the winds, but it was far more challenging to be around people.”
“The question asks itself: how do the people know you?” Ferryn smiles lightly.
“I guess that would depend on which people you talk to. I am a stewardess of a rebuilt tavern to most. All the bachelors think I am just a little sister. The dock workers and guildsmen share that opinion, I hope. The ladies see me as someone willing to point out things to do that they can do in their sleep.”
“Such as?” Ferryn and Xenograg descend the massive stairs to the main hall. A long table has been set in the center and is overflowing with food: breads and cheeses, cooked meats with mild spices, boiled eggs in wide bowls, and cakes. A long line of women, wives and mothers, circle the table talking lively with one another as they fill baskets with the food. Everyone smiles to one another as they partake of the buffet. A half dozen women strut in carrying pots of boiled potatoes and fried loins of pork. The entire hall is alive with the aromas as the line of women move orderly through and exit the side of the hall.
“Xeno, I hope you do not mind waiting at the end of the line.”
“Hmm? Oh, no. It reminds me of taking meals with my commandery years ago. The junior officers served the troops and ate last.”
“Then you will appreciate this banquet. The ladies doing much of the cooking and serving are the wives of the council members.” Ferryn smiles warmly, feeling that she has done something right by Xenograg. They work their way through the immense kitchen where the morning meal continues to be prepared. Ferryn chats casually with everyone there never a simple greeting, but always inquiring about their families or friends. Xenograg notices some of the women look his way and whisper between themselves in reference to Ferryn, who catches onto their gossip. She playfully scolds them while he waits at the back door, looking out to the yard. The serving ladies are loading carriages with the basket-meals, which then move off through the city to disperse the fine food. ‘She is feeding the city right from the chapel,’ Xenograg thinks.
“Is this a special occasion, Ferryn?”
“No, no. This is done every morning. The kitchen works until midday and starts to clean up. The carriages circle the city handing out the baskets to shops, dock houses, inns, and the like. They won’t be back ’til the afternoon, but everyone will have had one good meal this day. With the refugees arriving, with have a larger demand for our meals, but a growing workforce to tend to it. This has been so for, oh, two years.”
“Just after you stopped hiding?”
“Yes.” They walk across the lawn for a shaded spot near the hedges. Xenograg observes a pack of healthy men approaching the chapel’s front. He points them out to Ferryn silently. “Uh, oh…the stables are open,” a giggling Ferryn replies. “They come in for themselves to retrieve their share of the food, but of course it is just to visit the non-attached ladies in the kitchen.” After the men enter, joyous laughter of both men and women can be heard in the pleasant morning air.
Xenograg chews on his thoughts carefully. ‘Something is not right. Everything is benign, happy, and calm while Abhornox devours the continent. Why does this all feel staged?’ Xenograg recalls the druid’s question about not asking for Spirit’s help to enchant the bolts. He changes the conversation. “So where is Rainstorm this morning?”
“Oh, I haven’t seen him yet. He comes and goes on his own like he was searching for something he dropped somewhere, taking rest to gather his strength to search on.”
“How much have you talked with him?”
“At great length but he doesn’t reveal much about himself. With me, he is of good cheer, ready to tell stories and entertain, but I know he is avoiding making connections to others.”
“If he has been inside the Keep…like Abhornox was, he may know things that we need to know.”
“He hasn’t admitted to knowing anything.” Xenograg falls quiet, as his intuition demands his attention. Something of the benevolence and peace of the city reminds him of another such city, far to the west and over a decade ago. It was a calm happy city with one singular figure controlling the undercurrents and attitudes of the people. It was Guillaume then as Jinzaggin of Spirit. Hiethur purrs well on his hip sensing Xenograg’s train of thought. ‘I need to know how much Ferryn has engineered what I see around me.’
“Ferryn,” he starts, “connections seem important to you.”
“Very much so! Everything has or can have connections to each other. Family connections are an important base. Love relationships and romance test resolve but are so brief. Friendships and camaraderie are very deep ones.” Ferryn gestures lively with her hands as she speaks. “Without attachments, people just float free of the community, lost and unsure. Doubts and anxieties are unhealthy and no way to live a life.” She looks directly into Xenograg’s eyes, searching through his doubts and questions that reach out to her mystically. As before when she healed his shoulder, she uses her influence over Spirit to reshape his worries, but this attempt does not work. Xenograg reacts as if shaking off a hand gripping his throat and stares her down. He knew what she tried!
“Do not do that with me, Ferryn! Please, not with me. You want my help and trust, but that is the worst way of achieving it.” Ferryn’s face casts an innocent expression of a child caught in the midst of trouble.
“How did you do that?”
“Training, discipline, awareness, and heritage.”
“I can understand the three but not heritage.”
“My father.” Xenograg looks away from her in such a way that ends the segment of their conversation. “I am grateful for the healed shoulder and ribs, but I want to know why you feel the need to manipulate my will.”
Ferryn falls quiet for a long while, wanting to walk away and let the conversation pass over. She wishes the circumstances of the day and perils of the last years did not exist and compel her to such means. Mostly, she hoped that Xenograg had never gone away so his pointy questions would have saved her from the tough choices she has made.
“Xeno, Abhornox is such a terrible threat that we are in real jeopardy of dying as a whole. People need to feel connected, to feel special for a time. If Abhornox succeeds, at least the souls of everyone will have had the joy of unity before the end. Does that make sense?”
“Yes. As before, very logical sense but—” Hiethur thrums on Xenograg’s hip in a small alert.
“That sword does not like me. I hope it isn’t still mad for being thrown into the fireplace.”
Xenograg laughs shortly. “Hiethur is still a mystery to me. It was forged with a purpose and reacts, I think, in accord with that purpose. I do not believe anger is a trait known to it.”
“May I see it?” Ferryn looks very child like in her curiosity in contrast to her composure the afternoon before. Xenograg see a lack of shame in her face and that sours his hopes for the future.
“I do not think that is wise, Ferryn. Hiethur may be my sword and I its wielder, but Hiethur’s best trait is cutting, not connections.” He will not reveal to her that Hiethur hungers to destroy otherworldly creatures and that Jinzaggin are a very close parallel to that purpose. Xenograg does not remember much of what happened to Guillaume when Hiethur struck; only that when he awoke later, his hand was burned and there was no trace of the former Jinzaggin. “How much effort does it take you keep everyone so calm?”
“A lot. For the first year in Haven, I stayed secluded because I didn’t have the strength or will to roam around. It takes less effort now than it did then. Did I offend you, Xeno?”
“I am sorry.”
“Understand that my doubts and concerns motivate me towards solutions. If you take those away, that diminishes my edge.”
“Your warrior edge?”
“Yes, and my learned disciplines in sorcerous pursuits, too. A dull sword cannot cut, foggy vision cannot see.” The half-blind acolyte comes to Xenograg’s remembrance. “Perhaps it is time to talk of other things for now.”
“Xeno, I am sorry!”
“Ferryn, consider again what you did and realize that you are only sorry that I caught you.” She opens her eyes wide as if slapped, stands and leaves him next to the hedges. Xenograg watches her go, hoping that she understands his growing uncertainty and his desire for honesty between them, if they are to be cooperative allies against Abhornox. She enters the chapel through the kitchen, ignoring the busy servers and cooks, who stare in wonder at what has disturbed their hostess.
Xenograg’s words and meaning were plain and it stings that she offended him. With Spirit, she can empathize with anyone, select words that can offer comfort and free the mind of pain. Xenograg was the last person she would believe she could insult, but it has happened.
Ferryn moves to her room, sulking on her bed, touching the long shadows of her chamber with her fingers. In her mind, she imagines the chapel as more than a building but as the extension of her Jinzaggin gift. Every fragment of the imagined chapel is a soul: a flooring board, a beam, shingles on the roof, the stone foundation. As she explained to Xenograg last night, the chapel is the best way she can view the biosphere of D’wyndane and all the complexities it has. Her first attempts to picture a spider’s web or woven fabric could not hold the prismatic depths of life and souls of the world. To try only induced fugues of timelessness until Ferryn acknowledged that the model was wrong. With her house model, everything that she felt through Spirit had more meaning, inspired by the day she viewed the tavern in decay and ruin. As the people became more connected with her help, the House became stronger and richer, and Ferryn directed work to restore the former inn to the fine chapel. The souls in the House not only form and support the structure, but also enrich the vision in beauty, depth, purposes, and strength.
Through her thoughts, Ferryn can walk the halls and rooms as easily as walking through the chapel itself. She beholds how Abhornox’s presence in ‘Dane is unmaking the manor of her hopes. The House is crumbling as It kills—entire wings of communities are empty and withered. Some chambers float apart, and without strong connections, threaten to drift away into Abhornox’s path. The House’s foundation is solid because of Ferryn’s work in bringing unity among the people of Haven. The more work she does to connect the people together, the smaller the House appears but stronger.
Daridiane appears slowly inside the bedroom as Ferryn absently touches the shadows. “Summoned, I appear. What may I do for you?” Sitting on the floor, Daridiane looks at the younger woman in worry.
“Xenograg is proving more difficult than expected.”
The elf-shade sighs. “What were you expecting? What happened?”
“He caught me adjusting his mood.” Ferryn cradles her head in her arms. “I guess I expected him to rally along with the Plan.”
“Have you told him the Plan?”
“Have you looked at his Spirit without adjusting it?” Ferryn looks at the dark sharp features of Daridiane face and shakes her head. “Then I suggest that you do. I can try to explain what I have seen of him, but ’tis better for you to search on your own. That way you will know.”
“I cannot find him in the House, Dari.”
Ferryn extends her thoughts of the House of Spirit as she did with Xenograg. Daridiane looks upon the House with her own perceptions, beginning with the grounds and working inward. “What is this section?” Daridiane asks meaning a large rocky basement that dangles off the house in peril of falling away.
“Caer Crismac. Abhornox has burned away so much that region that Crismac is on the verge of being discovered by the creature. If you look closely, you can see a pillar inside of it. That should be Earth’s presence. If we can build stronger connections and bridge the gaps, we may save the people.”
“Where are the rest of the Jinzaggins?”
“Above the house is a dark cloud where Dove hides.”
“And that raven among the cloud?”
“It isn’t a raven, it is a dragon.” Ferryn guides Daridiane to the skeletal beams of the peak. “You see, as we build the House stronger the distance between us and the cloud grows. I do not understand why. It is as if the stronger we become, the further Dove wants to be.”
“What about Rainstorm?” Daridiane says calmly, not wishing to confess more than a small interest in the man who now understands the depth of Ferryn’s plan. Ferryn points to burnt sections, where damp barriers of cloth halted the flames.
“That is how I know Rainstorm is there. Where Abhornox destroys, Rain is close. They are sadly connected.”
“Where is the Jinzaggin for Fire?”
“Xenograg believes that the dragon is Fire. He thinks the dragon won’t appear until the major fighting begins.”
“Do you believe him?”
“I have no reason not to.”
“So, where is Xenograg in the House?”
“I don’t know! I cannot find him! He could be the air among the rooms, or this incomplete peak. I do not have a symbol to understand him and thus he is a mystery. Until I find it I cannot perceive his spirit, nor understand the man.” Ferryn dissolves the vision for Daridiane and they sit opposing one another in the room.
“Daridiane? How much do you know about Xenograg?” asks Ferryn in desperation.
“What are you willing to know?”
“Anything, but make it truthful.”
“I have never gotten to know him, but I have crossed paths with him. Most of what I know is from watching from a distance in peace and battle. Also, I have known a man who traveled with him and fought beside him.”
“Who?” Ferryn leans forward in curiosity.
“Please, let me talk of Xenograg as you asked. Xenograg is a detached man caught in adventures not his own. He has been separated from happiness by distance and hidden from it behind duty. He has walked in the darkest places in ‘Dane and beyond them. He survives.”
“Did you…look at his spirit…before you passed it on to me?”
“I only tried once and it was confusing. He is an older human so, with more memories, the layers stack deep. He thinks in his native language so I could only discern images. I saw a rocky countryside with a warrior’s…no, a conqueror’s culture. He rejected that culture but has connections to his home. That was before arriving in ‘Dane.”
“After coming here, he was quickly drawn into conflicts of the First and Second Dawns. That is when the images faded away from me.”
“You did search—?”
“He kicked me out.” Daridiane smiles to Ferryn. “He caught me intruding, too. I was dismissed with a thought. There is more about him than his Spirit, Ferryn. His actions say volumes.”
“Back in his native land, he must have had a title and legacy. Those things allowed him to remain a singular man when everyone in D’wyndane was playing for his favor. The darker ones wanted his talents to advance their plans and the goodly ones wanted him to assume a benevolent destiny where all may share in the honors. He never had the chances to make his own way or to even try to return to his world. Other powers were too busy choosing his way for him.”
“Dari, if that’s all true, then why did he get involved at all? The Dawns show him as a willful shaper in the events of our past. This is against all that.”
“Stories do not have every truth. Do you still want truth?”
“Yes.” Daridiane takes a long breath, pausing to make certain Ferryn will not interrupt her. Ferryn’s doubts are plain on her face.
“In all Xenograg’s travels he serves his own duty. He believes in a better world than which he grew in and serves that vision even though he knew that others were manipulating him. He is loyal and dutiful as an ally, seeking not to be the center of the world. Outside, he is a frighteningly-skilled warrior and adept wielder of magic as foreign to ‘Dane as he is. Inside he has doubts which he wrestles with every day, but also circumspection. He carries great power and accepts the responsibility that comes with it, fearing that the power will destroy others.”
“Dari, I made a great mistake telling Xenograg to release the Jinzaggins back into the world.”
“You told me that you felt more comfortable dealing with individual people. Why is this a mistake?”
“Because I wanted him to give the talents back to ‘Dane. I knew that he was afraid of having terrible powers, and I was afraid that he would never use them knowing how powerful they can be. I thought he was too careful.”
“You did him a great disservice. Let me ask you: how do you feel now that he is here?”
“Better, less doubtful, as if he were in charge of things.”
“That is the nobility I spoke of. As a man, he doesn’t crave power. If you asked him now if he were in charge, he would deny it. If he had a choice, he would never have become a Jinzaggin, but his own character demands that he become more than he is. He knows how to be a leader, without wanting to, because he was born and bred to it.”
“More than that, he inspires people around him. He believes that his strengths are attainable to all and he projects that to others. This is where your stories are incomplete: his sincere modesty, compassion, his mysterious insecurities, and proven ability to lose with more honor than any enemy will get in defeating him. People fight for such men even though when he risks, he prefers to do it alone to spare others the consequences of mistakes. You know this in your heart, Ferryn. The stories are correct in that he isn’t avoiding conflicts, but carefully selecting which ones he becomes involved in. Otherwise you would not hang such hopes that he will change your mind about your plan for Abhornox.”
“Will he fight when the time comes?”
“You won’t be able to stop him from fighting, even though it may look like he is moving the other way.” Daridiane takes Ferryn by the hand and walks her to Xenograg’s chamber. “Look inside and compare this simple room to your House and tell me what is different.”
“But I have seen his room before, just this morning—”
“Ferryn. Look at it again.”
Ferryn steps inside the room of the Darelir. Everything is just as she arranged it for his arrival, but in one night Xenograg has marked it as his own. The bed is tightly made, the table in order with no hint of melted candles from his long night of study. The books are stacked neatly and the trunk is closed and sealed. Ferryn can smell the candles that burned all night, and also fragrances of pines and oaks as if the room had been open to the forest. Ferryn flaps her hands in frustration, not understanding what makes Xenograg’s room unique.
“Dari, I really do not notice it—!” she whines.
“Ferryn, you do not know how to read, do you?” Daridiane points to Xenograg’s spellbooks. “You cannot find him in your House because you are innocent of the joys and power of books! They rest on shelves adding fine flavor to rooms—until you open one and read it. Poof! The power of the written words is concealed behind covers that protect them from mishandling. You feared that Xenograg would never use the Jinzaggin. That is fair…until something provokes him…opens his ‘book’. Then his power is revealed and active. You will not be disappointed.”
“Why was he so insulted when I tried to adjust his Spirit?”
“Ah! Ask Rainstorm how he would feel if you were to change one of his songs for your own desires?”
“I could imagine that he would beat me to death with his mask.”
“I shall leave you now, Ferryn. Somewhere inside the House that you have created is a book named Xenograg. Find it, and learn how to read it without changing anything in it.” Daridiane fades into the shadows, leaving Ferryn alone to ponder. Ferryn notices more of the subtle changes Xenograg has done with his chamber: he has made markings on his bed, inscribed picturial symbols around the door, and even the white candles have colored enhancements. The discovery both assures her and frightens her.