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Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Lady's Quest


Today we had sun, rain, hail and wind - that's Adelaide weather for you! I wish I was someone who enjoyed being out in it all, but I'm more cat-like than that - I like warmth and stillness. Sometimes, though, there are little beauties that make it worth venturing out, like these beautiful bog iris.

Enjoy this week's fantasy story - and come back next week to read the second half.

The Lady’s Quest
Pale sunshine broke through the grey of dawn, and it seemed to Anvik that it was the Lady herself encouraging him to persevere on what had seemed only yesterday a 'fool's errand'. Enchanted by the first hint of warmth in weeks, Anvik felt the stirring of renewed hope. To continue day after day was all he could do, yet sunshine would make the journey more pleasant, if still futile.
Anvik and his companions had left the city of Estenada some months earlier, on a bright day in late summer. In the spring before that, he had seen the Lady in a dream he knew to be as real as daylight, and he had been gripped by her command.
'Seek the way of glory, find the stolen treasures of Estenada, win again the honour of old for your people,' she had whispered to him.
He had begun to seek out what little remained of the lore. Most of the elderly he spoke with jeered at him; others, who had already lost sight of reality, mumbled words which made no sense. Anvik pressed on against all ridicule, strengthened by the sense of destiny which remained when the dream was but a memory. The prophecies told at his birth had seemed to confirm this journey, and in spite of the mockery of his brothers and the grief of his widowed mother, Anvik had followed his calling. From spring to summer he made his preparations, and to his joy, five others chose to accompany him.
 'To the ends of the earth!' they had proclaimed as they marched along the mute streets of the city, northwards. The journey had been pleasant, the thrill of the glory that awaited drawing them like a golden thread, and the weather was warm and, for the most part, dry.
But misty days began to create a haze in their hearts, and the memory of the dream was shot through with doubt. Mountains which had taken weeks to climb, backtracking and seeking alternative paths, seemed to symbolise the growing mass of unanswered questions which plagued Anvik in the night.
Winter set in, and the darkness without and within deepened. Cold to the bone, Anvik could not recall the sense of destiny which had warmed the start of this pilgrimage, when the days were lengthening and the sun shone in a sky blue with unending promise. Before long, despair had become their habitat. On they trudged, for no better reason than the shame of returning home defeated. But the day came when even that was not enough.
‘We’ll die in these caves,’ declared Fiangor the Grim. He was dark of visage and mood; he was also Anvik's most valiant fighter. ‘We have failed, and right fools were we to think we could undo the curse of our once-fair city.’
‘He’s right. I can’t go on,’ wailed Olwin Orfus, stumbling among the stones on the floor of the exaggerated overhang they had taken shelter in three days earlier. Fiangor had attempted to leave at first light that morning but the storm’s vigour had renewed, threatening worse if they chose to leave their little protection. One by one the companions announced the bitterness of their broken dreams and their vivid fears. At last even Anvik surrendered to it.
As if branded by an unexpected iron, Sitran, the oldest among them and the last to join the expedition, leapt to his feet. ‘We must fight,’ he shouted, and Anvik thought, He has lost his mind. No doubt he would have seen the same thought written on the others’ faces if there had been light enough to see clearly. Sitran’s madness was the confirmation of the end of the dream.
Waving a firetorch, the old man walked between and around them, trying to get each to stand. ‘Don’t give up,’ he urged. ‘That is the battle – we must fight the gloom for it is the spirit of the mountain rock itself which seeks to keep us here, to make us one with itself.’
He brandished the torch wildly. 'Away with ye, foul demons of darkness! Anvik, hold on to the vision of glory and honour which led us to venture on this quest in the manner of our forebears. No matter how impossible it seems, hold on,' he urged.
Anvik felt a spark within, and against the weight of a great unwillingness, he forced himself to remember as he had not done for days: the beauty of the Lady, the fragrance of summer hope, the call through centuries of forgotten ancestors, the sorrow of his mother and the sacrifice he had forced on her. He clenched his teeth and his fists and he remembered until it burst from him in a rage of mingled despair and longing, a wordless battle shout.
He stood with Sitran, who was beginning to flag; one by one the others stood, dazed and shaking.
‘We should never have forgotten,’ Sitran said with a tremor in his voice. ‘Even after all these years, we know the saying of old: Break the spirit of the man and the journey will end before it has begun. Plain words, but we forgot.’
They stood for some time, calling to mind fair times and places, saying them aloud into the gloom of the cave, and all the while the sound of thunderous rain and howling wind scorned them. But they had won. The soul-devouring darkness had been banished, and hope began to well up within them.

That was yesterday. Now as Anvik gazed at the dawn-lit horizon, the other members of the quest stirred. The contrast with the previous days created a sense of wonder among them, and even Fiangor dispensed with his customary grumbling. All were delighted to see the wintery sun.
Dwarves are not generally known for their love of the light, but those of the ancient city of Estenada had never been typical of their kind. Though they were made of stern stuff, like their cousins of the caverns, something of the ethereal had also been bequeathed them by their elvish ancestors. Every child of Estenada was told from birth that their forebears were both Hammer-hands and Light-Spinners, 'made of the wedding of Light and Might'. Anvik had not been the only child who dreamed that he or she would be the one to restore the former glory of the City of Light and Might – Estenada, the jewel of the Dwarvish Kingdom – a glory overcome centuries before.
The only work of the Light-Spinners now was the spinning of dirges, the only might of the Hammer-Hands the thuggery of self-appointed overseers. While the sayings of old were repeated mindlessly, the present day reality of Estenada made a mockery of their proud past. Hammers simply shattered stones, looms produced nothing but inferior cloth. Fell raiders picked out the finest young men and women to trade in the stinking cities of the Anakim; children in Estenada were discouraged from doing anything well so that the raiders would not take them. Like all places where hope is seen only with backwards glances, it required a miracle to give it a future.
            The company set out, down the mountainside towards a wide green valley. Anvik hoped to cross directly and reach the ranges on the other side by nightfall. They were making good progress, the sun managing to dry the rock so that it became less slippery by the hour, when suddenly the peal of bells sounded below, the echo drifting up to them like feathers caught in an upward draught.

To be continued next week
Claire Belberg

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