CORIANDER AND THE PRINCE’S TOMB Preface
by David LeBarron
Translator’s note: “No idea” is not a thing academics usually like to say. We ponder and muse, extrapolate and pontificate but, truth be told, and some will never admit it, many, most times we have no idea. Absolutely no idea of what we are actually discoursing. Nowhere else has there been such plethora of “no idea” as in the understanding of The Coriander Scrolls. Translating these ancient scrolls has been a difficult task. The deciphering stone seems accurate enough and our skills are thorough and excellent. The problem in creating an accurate and reliable text is three-fold: time, poetry and magick.
Time. These scrolls are truly remarkable for they exist in what we almost call pre-history. That is to say just before, meaning a few thousand years, Classical Greece. We know little of that world. The names of place have no global perspective. In fact proper nouns in general, those words used to name things, elude us. We have tried to be clever, but honestly at times are lost. The sentence, and they aren’t actually sentences (see below), “He was so angered he went to Atranu.” What the hell is Atranu? A city? A temple? A person who calms people? Some sort of transcendental state? No idea.
Poetry. These scrolls pre-date Aristotle’s lovely Poetics. Perhaps ancient personkind was trying to figure out how to do this new writing thing, or perhaps they communicated differently, or perhaps they didn’t care. For syntax has, seemingly, no standards. Verbs seem to be thrown anywhere, as if the writers wrote for emphasis not clarity. It is entirely possibly, like later bards, these scrolls were meant to remind the teller of the tale. And he or she would add in details. Or perhaps not. No idea.
Magick. Please note we have used magick with a k to use the modern approach of differing stage magic-like slight of hand, with “real” magick-the art of divination and influence. SO yes, magick. As scientists, we tend not to believe in magick, but what academia has taught us is how very important it is to know how a culture views magick. And these people did a lot of what they called magick. So we are left with spells containing phrases of words we cannot decipher. We have “powers’ unleashed with “power words” that mean little to us. One literal translation, well to be honest we are not quite sure of the animal, although are quite certain it is some sort of rodent…perhaps, would be: Rat’s Urine Slave Free. A handy little phrase that seems to set the desired person or object aflame. Possibly. No idea.
So what are we left with then? How do we propose to translate this “gibberish” and unknown words, with no real structure, from a strange world? We have decided, in addition to the academic literal translations lying uselessly about in libraries, to re-tell the stories as best we can. We chose to “make sense” and use dramatic and poetic license liberally. To do so? Enter the storyteller.
We have at times forsworn science and taken up the role of storyteller to give current readers insight into this ancient world. Thusly we have recreated, or sometimes fabricated, the dramas you are about to read. It has been most fun. And informative! We have occasionally added footnotes. We have been warned to do so as little as possible so as not to disrupt the narrative. We have tried to restrain ourselves. However at times it was just too interesting to not add a few notes. You needn’t read them to enjoy or understand the story. Actually you needn’t have read this note! But if you, like us, enjoy a bit of backstory, academia and information in general, we have strived to be inclusive. We do hope you enjoy these translations or rather re-tellings. But please take them in the manner in which they are told: as stories merely based in pre-history. Did we do a good job? No idea.
Coriander and the Prince’s Tomb 1 of 13
“Stupid baskets. Stupid tournament. Stupid school. Stupid teachers!” Coriander was still dizzy from the fight. The bleeding had stopped but his ears still rang. He huffed and fumed while weaving the “stupid” basket. Weaving was supposed to teach discipline and patience. Each thread coming together forming a more important whole. A structure that has a purpose: a basket. Much like the lessons at school. Each student will one day be a piece of a larger unit, which in turn will serve as a piece of a larger unit: the state. Then each state in turn serves as thread for the Goddess.
“Yea yea yea… Goat turds and giant farts!” Coriander swore. He, like everyone…well everyone who was a teenage boy, knew weaving baskets was incredibly boring and he was being punished, or at least being bored to death until punishment arrived.
Everything here was a punishment to him. The solstice was a few days away. He couldn’t be happier about leaving his magoge . It’s not so much he hated it there as much as…he hated it there. He never felt the “honor” it supposedly brought him and his family. It just seemed like more work. Too much work. Coriander was tired of trying to be super-mage, when all he really wanted to do was go home buy a piece of land and shepherd.
Peace and quiet. He dreamed of hiking in the mountains, taking care of animals, nurturing crops and having no concern at all for anything magickal other than the perfect sunset. How nice. Coriander wasn’t thrilled with city life. All the temples, squares and building upon buildings upon more buildings. ‘So much stone and so many walls? How could anyone think looking at walls all day?’ he wondered. He was a country boy and, oddly, proud of it. He didn’t care if the teachers and students, who were all from cities, looked at him like some hick who didn’t know how to hold a bowl . It didn’t matter that his Father was Magistrate of his village. He was thought of as “provincial and poor-born” no matter what his patronage. It made Coriander laugh to think of himself as poor when, in the country, he had so much.
Endless happy hills. Bounty of harvest and Sea. Trees everywhere waving hello. Friends. Smiling faces of every single person whose name he knew. Here he didn’t know anyone. Everyone was so busy or terribly important. The cities were packed with terribly important people all who seemed angry about something terribly important. Or worse: angry at him.
He looked out on the road before him. He had left school with his weaving sticks to get some air. Here, outside the walls of the city, he could glimpse mountains. He could calm down. The cracked Earth. Weeds and shrubs daring to grow before greener mountains far away. He could hear the ocean. And best of all, the magoge and its “oh so better than everyone” people were walls away. How he hated school.
Coriander was constantly being told how ungrateful he was for his blessing by the Goddess. He did in fact know he was ungrateful because he wasn’t grateful at all. He never asked for magick, didn’t want it now that he had it, and was sick and tired of being punished because he couldn’t control it. How could one control something one didn’t even want in the first place! The system was terribly unfair. And Coriander had had enough. He was exhausted at the end of this term, like the end of every term. None of the students slept much studying for exams. The stress to do well also made eating problematic. No food, little sleep and lots of stress equal a formula for disaster. It was as if everything conspired to make the final three weeks as difficult as possible! Case in point, Coriander realized he had messed up the basket half way down and the whole thing would have to be done over.
Frustrated he ripped at the stupid basket and threw it on the ground and jumped on it screaming “I HATE WEAVING! I hate this stupid school! I HATE wrestling and Hera be wise: I hate the Gods of Conflict ….”
Coriander’s eyes grew wide. He covered his mouth with both hands.
He had sworn against the Gods.
In front of them.
He was doomed.
He turned around, looking for witnesses. Searching for divine wrath that was about to sweep upon him and smote his very existence.
Coriander’s mind raced. “Sorry!” he said out loud. He knew that would not be enough. He had heard of an old “cure” for a person blaspheming. He never took it seriously because no one had ever blasphemed before, well, except the non-magick-warrior-herd and they were supposed to say bad things. They would laugh in the face of Gods and whatnot, which made them feared and short lived. But magick users, and most all other folks, were NOT EVER to say such things. Coriander had to take it back. Gods are vengeful and he had just angered them.
He thought about running back and telling Teacher Akti or anyone so they could find a suitable punishment. But they were still mad at him for cheating at wrestling and he knew they would take this opportunity to punish Coriander many times more awfully than necessary. “They might even kill me!” he shook in fear. He already had six lashings for cheating they’d probably add six more for blasphemy. No way was he adding more pain to the game!
Coriander thought back on the old cure and stuck his fingers down his throat. He gagged, spat up and fell to the ground saying, “Mother take back the wickedness I spake.” Then using his knife he dug a hole and pushed the vomit into it. “Hera, Mother of All, burry deep my forgetful language. Know I am dizzy from the Power you gave me to throw Sa’ and in my righted brain serve only to love You.” Then he covered it with some of the dirt, hiding his shame. It didn’t go away completely, there was slight rise and of course the ground was still wet, but Coriander knew the warm afternoon Sun would dry out the patch and make it more or less invisible.
Then he took the remaining dirt and scooped it into his hand, “Let this be all that passed from my tongue and lips.” Coriander ate the palm full of dirt. He made faces as he attempted to swallow. He hoped he appeased the Gods of Conflict. It tasted of death and dust. It was the second time in one day he had to eat dirt. The first was the reason he had “cheated.”
Coriander was good at wrestling. When he first came to the magoge he was stronger than most of the other kids his age. They had lived pampered city lives and he had grown up doing chores. Lifting feed, animals and water gave him strong shoulders, not that he was muscle bound like Sa’, but rather lean, sculpted, flexible and strong. The other students hated to wrestle him. But what he had in strength he lacked in skill and politics.
The teachers always seemed to find him out of bounds or using an unapproved fighting technique. Oddly, well not oddly to Coriander, he seemed to make more mistakes and get more disqualified when fighting sons and daughters of important people. Once he had barely touched his opponent when the teacher clapped thrice calling an end to the match. He insisted Coriander had cheated. Later after he had been given two swats with a cane, Coriander found out his opponent was the King’s nephew. Coriander now hated wrestling.
A few hours prior to the basket weaving punishment, or deed to fill idle hands until teachers had time for punishment, Coriander had been caught cheating again. This time he was up against Sa’, the Magistrate of Taxes’ son. Sa’ was large. His shoulders were as broad as two of Coriander. Spoiled and huge. So not fair. And he was as mean as camel spit. ‘and about as smart as spit’ thought Coriander. However, Sa’ was the unofficial head of the warrior-herd and was being groomed for Kyro-Magis-General . The only thing Coriander thought this fool could lead was a school of bullying people to pay more taxes. However, now at end of terms, tests were tests and Coriander had to wrestle Sa’. So this time he cheated, but not on purpose. Kind of.
Sa’ had beaten Coriander down twice. He couldn’t seem to pin Coriander or make him beg for mercy. Coriander hadn’t held on for pride’s sake, moreover that he couldn’t think of way to throw the fight without being obvious. Throwing a fight, like lying, was met with brutal punishment. It would make this wrestling match look like a sweet hug.
Lying on the ground, his mouth full of sand, Coriander was miserable. He spat out the dirt to the laughter of his peers. He wished he could stay down and pretend to out-for-the-count. It was hopeless. He had to fight. Coriander stood, somehow managing to find his footing again. He clenched his fists. He swallowed the blood that had trickled from his nose. He set his eyes on “Sa’ the Huge.” Coriander wondered if he could take him down if he wanted to. He had stopped ever winning matches over a year ago. Not that he couldn’t win, he just no longer cared. Even when he won he lost, so it was better just to lose often and be less of a threat. Sa’ came at him. Coriander braced himself for the punch that he would take and end the fight.
But something clicked. Coriander was sick of being hit. Out of nowhere a voice rang in his head to take Sa’ down. Before he even realized what he was doing, his feet shifted stance. He met the oncoming bully head to head and at the last moment, with simple twist of his hips, he threw Sa’ over his shoulders and onto the ground. He leapt up in order to land on Sa’ and pin him down. Half way through the jump Coriander realized what he was doing. He didn’t want to fight Sa’ and certainly did not want to win. No good would come of that. SO mid-arc he tried to alter his course which, being impossible, just made him land next to Sa’ in a crumpled pile.
Sa’ flipped over on top of Coriander and while screaming insults punched Coriander in the face. Then started strangling him. Coriander swatted at the huge arms over him. The pressure didn’t let up. Nor did any of the teachers intervene. He might as well have thrown the King’s daughter than a tax collector’s son. He was doomed. He couldn’t breathe. His sight was spotted and darkening. He felt like his head would pop off his shoulders. All the while Sa’s face was red with rage and screaming insults like cur and low-born and raised on jackal teat and some other names Coriander didn’t even know. A part of him, maybe that same part that threw the large boy to begin with, came to the front again and wanted, obviously, to survive.
With no breath to call upon, Coriander ‘s will dug into the Earth and called her for Power. He silently begged the Earth Mother, ‘get him off of me!’ He felt it surge into the small of his back, move up his spine and in the next instant out his arms and hands. The Power streamed out of Coriander and into Sa’. He was thrown up and into a wall. With a loud thud, the bully screamed and fell to the ground.
The entire area was still. Sa’ tried to stand but collapsed again. Coriander sat up and looked around. Students and teachers were wide-eyed. The silence terrified Coriander. It was as if no one was breathing.
The First Teacher appeared out of nowhere, like he always did, and mentally pushed Coriander back on the Earth. He was held there as the now-awakened staff ran to Sa’ and helped him up. His face was angry and embarrassed and pain-ridden. None of that bode well of Coriander. The teachers brought him, limping, to medics.
First Teacher turned to Coriander and released the binding spell, “You forfeit your will and the match. You will learn.” First Teacher turned to all the students and raised his voice, “Behold Coriander the cheater. He who used magick in non-magickal combat. He will be punished. He will learn to control when and how and why to use magick or in the best interests of the State, and the Goddess, he will merit his demise.”
“I didn’t mean to!” Coriander slipped out. He threw himself on the ground bowing at the feet of First Teacher who smiled cruelly as he said, “that is precisely the problem.”
“Leave my sight groveling dog!” Yelled the First Teacher, “return at sunset for five lashings!”
“FIVE?!?!” Coriander again blurted out.
“SIX!” bellowed First Teacher!
A firm hand gently grabbed Coriander’s belt and shoulder. He was helped up and quickly led backwards out of the yard. As he backed out into an alleyway he heard the loud voice continue, “be back at sunset! We will not tarnish the Moon with your treachery!”
Coriander and the Prince’s Tomb 2 of 13
Teacher Akti-Selini, one of the few who was ever nice to Coriander, set him down in small hallway out of view. Akti had a gentle voice and used it to calm Coriander, “Shhh peace young warrior. Peace.” He mumbled some words and Coriander could feel his back relaxing. “It’s over for now. Breath child.” Akti was kind and sweet. He was slight of figure and sweet of face and was sometimes mistaken for a woman. He smelled of incense. He held Coriander. Coriander felt safe in the strong arms of the weapons teacher. So he burst into tears.
“There you go. Release your magick. Return it to the Earth child,” Akti said sweetly and without judgment. Coriander could feel his body emptying. The Power was in fact returning to its source. “Well done.” Akti added.
“Why is it so hard?”
“School? Wrestling?” Akti questioned.
“YES!” coughed Coriander, “all of it.”
“It’s supposed to be difficult. You are not only tested on the subject but too tested on being tested.” Akti smiled. “It would a fine thing if our students went into the world with Power they could not control and untested in conflict.”
“I’m so sorry,” Coriander’s tears were lessening as well, “ I didn’t mean to….”
“Well….” Coriander could not lie to Teacher Akti, “…I did mean to get him off of me! But not to hurt him.”
“How did you do it?” Akti said in a kind but firm voice. Coriander tried to explain how he did what he didn’t really know how he did. Teacher Akti got very quiet.
“Did I hurt Sa’ badly?” Coriander tried to guess at the teacher sudden silence.
“It will take more than a wall to hurt Sa’” laughed Akti, “in fact it might do him some good to know he’s not the strongest in magoge. Yes it will do him good.” Somehow Coriander knew that Akti was certain. He had the Sight and the Power and a lot of other things with capital letters.
Coriander wiped his nose on his tunic to the shock and disapproval of Teacher Akti, who handed him small cloth, “wipe your eyes. What is done is done . But consequences may be dire. Since you called the Power in you we have a difficulty. The real problem now is two fold.”
“I think you mean six fold as in me folding over in pain!” interrupted Coriander anxiously.
Teacher Akti tightened his lips to suppress a smile, “I will try and speak with First Teacher. Sending children home for the Solstice with bruises isn’t very Sun-welcoming . Perhaps I can find a means to help First Teacher save face and lessen your back.”
“I would be grateful a thousand times! I’ll clean your room for a year! I’ll sharpen every blade in the armory! I’ll…”
“None of that will be necessary. However we have the problem, which despite your personal beliefs is much worse than a few lashes.”
“…said the guy not getting lashed….” Coriander whispered. “It’s Sa’ right? I have to apologize for magicking him.”
“NO!” Akti took Coriander’s chin roughly, “Never do that. You must never tell anyone you meant to do magick. Never say you called it up. You don’t understand child. You should not have been able to do that.”
“I’ve seen you move things….”
“Yes in ritual or with much preparation,” Akti seemed desperate for Coriander to understand, “but to simply throw another, very large, individual like that…..is unheard of. I know. First Teacher held you down. But he used his Will against yours to make you lie down. He didn’t physically hold you down. And he is First Teacher so he’s supposed to able to do magick most of us can’t. This could be bad for you child. Think of the repercussions. The military use of that power? No Coriander you must never tell anyone that you called upon the Earth and She came!”
“What do I say?” the boy gulped.
“That you do not know how it happened,” said Akti sternly.
“LIE?” he re-gulped, “to First Teacher? Isn’t that blasphemy?’
“He’d like to think so,” a small smile returned to Akti’s lips, “but no. You must tell him you do not know, and since you don’t actually know, it isn’t really lying.”
“I think my Mother would disagree,” Coriander smiled back.
“She is probably wiser than First Teacher,” laughed Akti, “but please do not share this with anyone but me. Promise?”
Coriander bit his thumb and said, “on graves on stones.”
“Excellent,” laughed Teacher Akti at the provincial custom. “We shall work next session on this….ability. In private.”
“Uhg,” sighed Coriander, “MORE work? Can’t it all just go away!”
“Apparently not,” reassured Teacher Akti, “now you best get out of sight and be less idle. Have you finished your baskets?”
“……no…..” confessed Coriander, “ I hate baskets……”
“Better that than catching the eye of First Teacher or Teacher Onion and being made to do something worse. I’m pretty sure the stables need a good cleaning…..”
“Baskets! I love basket weaving! Who doesn’t? I’ll go grab my sticks from the weaving room! Can’t wait! Baskets here I come!” Coriander, over doing it, ran for the weaving room.
Watching him go Akti made small prayer of protection for the child he was so fond of and for himself to convince First Teacher not to harm him.
Coriander swallowed the last of the dirt and wished he had brought a drink with him. He looked at the pile of sticks that didn’t even remotely resemble a basket and felt ashamed. Teacher Akti was helping him and all he had to do was weave a basket and instead he was behaving like a brat. Like some fat city kid who got treats whenever he wanted. He hated people like that. Like Sa’ and his friends. He never wanted to be like them. So he decided to stop it.
He took a huge breath and sat down. He thought about the kindness of Teacher Akti and his words of caution. Was he really that powerful? He worked magick that had astonished the whole magoge. Did he have Power? Could he do it again? Should he do it again? He was so lost in thought he didn’t notice the man running down the road screaming until he was only a few feet in front of Coriander.
Coriander looked up and saw to his surprise an old wrinkly man with white skin and white tunic and an even whiter beard running for his life. He was being chased by a demon.
Coriander and the Prince’s Tomb 3 of 13
“HELP!!!!” screamed the old man. He was out of breath and obviously about to fall. Coriander jumped to catch him. He was too late. The old man fell at his feet screaming and pointing at the demon, “HELP ME!”
The demon was now running at Coriander. He knew it was a demon because it certainly wasn’t from this world. The pieces were identifiable enough: Its body was like that of a rhino but with fangs. It had eagle wings and a scorpion tale . But assembled together made it look very otherworldly. Coriander had seen demons before. They were conjured occasionally at magoge. Typically , the energy, or spirit, called or assembled itself either from earthly things it “felt” it “should” look like or as a reflection of things “they believe they should mirror” in this world. That is why spirits looked human. In this case an obviously evil or predatory spirit, as it crossed over, took the shape of predatory animals. Or perhaps, it took the shape of things that feared the caller. These things happen.
It ran fast. Coriander had never thrown up a shield in real battle. Certainly he and his friend Vushi would practice with rocks, but having a friend throw a rock at you once you’re positive the shield is up is incredibly different than throwing up a shield on the fly, with no preparation, in the face of a charging demon. Coriander had little choice. He might be able to roll out of the way and run screaming but the old man at his feet was not moving. He wasn’t sure if he could make a shield strong enough for a charging rhino. He didn’t even know how strong shields were. He also quickly realized he wasn’t exactly sure how big a shield was. Coriander suddenly felt there might be a few gaps in his shield training.
Coriander could see its eyes now. The thing’s eyes scared him. They were serpent-like but horizontal. The creature was just wrong. He had no more time for doubt. He took a breath and called up Air Energy and Rock Spirit. He saw the shield in his mind. Then to be sure he added three more shields, two for the Gods of Conflict and one for Hera lest she lose another child, or a child and an old man. Then he chose to believe it would stop the beast. Or rather chose to believe with one eye closed and hands shaking and whispering “Dear Gods please don’t let me die! I swear I’ll finish this basket!”
The demon slammed into the invisible wall with such a thud Coriander winced. It back peddled and seemed disorientated. Well obviously it was confused, it had just banged into an invisible wall. Coriander took this moment to examine his foe. He realized this demon couldn’t be very smart. First the tail: Yes a scorpions stinger was attached to the back of the rhino but it could hardly reach any opponent, unless said opponent was behind him. Also the tail would have to get around the two giant eagles wings, which being impressive were not terribly functional. There was no way this demon was flapping off the Earth. It was just too heavy. And finally: tusks and a fangs? Either could easily skewer a person but to use one meant the lack of functionality to the other. Coriander laughed. Any single of these animals would have been too great a match but in this hotchpotch the sum was a lot lesser than its parts.
The demon did not appreciate being laughed at. It roared up, wings flapping, fangs shining in the Sun, and slammed its front feet into Coriander’s shield. He could feel it shake. The beast roared up again and as he did Coriander dropped the shield and took out his small obsidian knife used to tame sticks into baskets.
The beast expected the wall again but instead fell to the Earth with a thud. As it landed Coriander looked at the dirt and willed ‘keep him there Mother!’ The dirt softened just enough for the monster to get tripped up as it tried to stand. Coriander had hoped the Earth would reach up and grab his foe and root it to the ground but alas it only caused dust to fly everywhere and the beast to slightly trip up and land on one knee. Which was the opening Coriander needed.
He leapt up on the head of the rhino, using its own horn as a stirrup. Then he jumped on its neck reverse saddle style. Coriander was no way Powerful enough to take the demon on with magick. He’d seen a Kyro-Magis go brain to brain with a demon once. The master won but fainted after. So he knew he had to do it the soldier way.
The idea of dismantling a demon is simple. It matters not the size. It is weakest where it is fastened. Depending on the caliber of demon this could be done by throwing rocks, literally, or using magickal blades. Coriander had his small obsidian knife. The demon started to get its bearings. It attempted to knock Coriander off. It tried to gut him with its tusk. It succeeded in whipping its tail at him. The tail was longer than Coriander surmised. Coriander’s swordsmanship was more than decent and he parried the stinger with his small knife.
The demon responded with bucking. Coriander was jostled and flopped around the back of the monster. Coriander was no city boy, his legs held on tight like they would for a wild horse. Finally he had his next chance. The beast reared and threw its wings wide. Coriander called upon magick strength then he took the small knife in both hands and threw himself at the exact spot where the rhino stopped and the eagle part began.
The seam tore open like laces being cut. The demon shrieked and screamed as its hides fell off of it. Coriander leapt off the beats. It bucked and roared and threw evil glances . Pieces of animal fell to the ground. There was no blood just some sap of some sort. Finally there was just skin, wings, tusk or tail left, as if deflated, on the ground. A small shimmer of energy, albeit evil dark angry energy that now wanted to kill Coriander, remained alive.
Instead of creating a circle Coriander simply drew a line on the ground. He stood cockily on one side and smiled at the energy-thing, “I suggest you leave while I permit it. Cross this line and you cross no mere mortal! Go. Now.” He knew the spirit could not remain on Earth for long without its shell…but how long? The energy shifted. Coriander thought perhaps he had chosen a bad time to be brave. “I tell you thrice: Go!”
The spirit came at Coriander so fast it blurred. It crossed his line, knocked him down, and he was sure he heard laughter, as the spirit vanished. Coriander shook his head, spit out dirt for the third time in a day and sighed. He got up and yelled at nothing, “YEA well I had you goat turd!”
“You certainly did,” laughed the old man at Coriander’s feet. He lifted his hand and Coriander helped him up. “Well done child! Thank you!”
“Why did that thing attack you, old man?” Coriander felt he had the right to know.
“I don’t think it meant to attack me personally,” the old man laughed more, “I think it just followed me out of the portal, as beings from other places do, and demons are always seeking Power so it set its claws, or rather fangs and tusk, at me.”
Coriander missed a lot of what the old man had said, “you can PORTAL!”
“Who are you?” Coriander’s eyes were huge! Creating portals and doorways was very rare and difficult magick indeed. Summoning a circle or speaking stone to another dimension was one thing, hoping around the globe or maybe globe-S was another.
“Seems you already named me,” laughed the old man.
“You called me Old Man,” said Old Man.
“That’s not your name!” Coriander wondered if he didn’t have the right to know who he just saved.
“I can’t just call you: Old Man” Coriander became exasperated.
“You certainly can! It’s a name I’ve earned! I’m proud to be Old Man! Old Man it is!” Old Man babbled on.
“You are very odd.” Coriander shook his head.
“Yes! And going odder places!” conspired Old Man.
“Where?” Coriander lowered his voice to match Old Man.
“A place that harbor’s Power!” whispered Old Man, “a place with magick so intense it will change you forever! Don’t you want Power?”
Coriander’s face wrinkled, “ummmm don’t take this wrong, but no, not really. To be honest I don’t really want the Power I have.”
“INGRATE!” scowled Old Man.
“I know I know I know!” sighed Coriander, kicked a rhino hide out of his way, and sat back down on the rock amongst his twigs and would-be-basket. “I don’t mean to be. I mean I love the Goddess and Gods and all of everything, whatever, but I sort of just want to be left alone.”
“That is no longer an option for a boy who can move mountains!” Old Man patted him on the back.
“Mountains? If you mean large bullies then I guess so,” Coriander did a double take , “how did you know about THAT!”
“ I know a great deal,” laughed Old Man, “I know you do not seek Power and that is why it will come to you. As it always does, yes? Perhaps then if you come with me and seek Power it will not come?”
Coriander processed. Finally he turned to Old Man and said, “huh?”
Old Man looked around and whispered, “Come with me to the Prince’s Tomb! There is said to be a treasure there that will grant the harnesser Power unmeasured!”
“Prince’s Tomb?’ Coriander liked the idea of adventure even if he didn’t like the idea of Power unmeasured, “when? We leave in two days for the Solstice.”
“Tonight we depart and back with the Sun! If at all.”
“Tonight?” Coriander laughed sarcastically, “sorry Old Man, as much as I’d prefer to go tomb raiding and break about a thousand oaths against the Gods of Death, I really must stick around tonight and get the chance to be beaten!”
Old Man ignored Coriander’s insane laughter, “If you do not come three will die that need not!”
“What?” Coriander stopped laughing.
“The Power I seek, if we can get it, could save lives. Lives you love.”
“Giant farts!” Coriander stood and pushed the man away, “Now you’re just manipulating me. You think because I’m not city-fed I’m an idiot you can mold and mock? No one can see into the future that clearly. And you don’t know anything! You’re just trying to bully me! I HATE bullies,” Coriander clenched his fists and tried to calm his breathing, “you’d better portal off to somewhere Old Man before I clobber you!”
“YES!” giggled Old Man, “yes you are perfect! I can feel the energy around you! The Dirt spoke of this and I see it is true! Coriander it is not my intention to bully you. I want to help someone we both love. I cannot do it alone. You needn’t trust me but please believe me.”
“Who is this person?” Coriander paused, “hey wait! How did you know my name!”
“ I told you, I know many things,” smiled Old Man, “I must go. One is coming who mustn’t see me. Do not ask why. You will not understand. I must leave.” Old Man seemed disappointed. “I see you are resolved to stay here and adventure not. Know it will not be your fault rather mine.”
“I just can’t…” Coriander wasn’t sure if he was angry anymore. He was confused. He was intrigued at the thought of adventure but nervous about disobeying First Teacher. This old man was really getting to him. Why was he here? How did he know such things? Maybe it was foolish to ignore opportunity? Coriander wasn’t really going to hit and old person but he really wanted to!
“Then you cannot,” Old Man seemed to slump, “such is destiny. Now I really must depart. Should you change your mind meet me just before moonrise at, what you call, Hangman’s Tree.”
“Hangman’s Tree!” Coriander looked toward the western Mountain path that led to Hangman’s Tree. They had been brought there once last year to honor the Tree at Imbolc. They had also been told never to go there alone. Some believed it was a doorway and faeries would snatch you away to Faerie Land. Coriander didn’t much believe that. Why would a faerie snatch him….then Coriander had anew thought, “Are you a….?” he said to Old Man.
Old Man was nowhere to be seen. Coriander was alone on the road.
Coriander and the Prince’s Tomb 4 of 13
“CORIANDER!” Yelled a girl’s voice.
It snapped Coriander out of his thoughts. “Why are you yelling?” he snapped at having been snapped.
“I’ve been calling you since the gate! Stupid boy! You dream too intensely at nothing!” snapped back the girl.
“NOTHING!” Coriander’s pride all but beamed, “look at that and tell me nothing Vushi!”
Vushi looked around and saw nothing but a basket that was nowhere near done. “At what? An unfinished basket?”
“The demon!” Coriander turned and expected to see pieces of animal strewn out on the road. Nothing was there. He knew demon-hides eventually fell apart and dissolved but he didn’t think pieces so large would go so quickly. He had hope they would hang around long enough for him to look like a hero.
“Coriander?” laughed Vushi, “have you been eating rotten figs ?”
“I wish!” Coriander’s bubble burst and in the immediate moment following he grumbled to himself, “of course it disappeared….Gods forbid I get credit and not blame….” Coriander was all set to have nice, well-deserved, self-pity party.
But Vushi kept laughing. Her eyes sparkled against her dark skin and large mouth. Vushi came originally from Indi, but now was from the same village as Coriander. She was the daughter of a slave woman but once she developed magickal talents none of that mattered. Magickal blessings bestowed by the Goddess superseded race, class, gender, religion, or standing. Vushi practiced gratitude for her blessing, unlike other people. She was strong for her age and size and would someday be a powerful magis. Coriander could tell. He could see it in her eyes. Vushi stopped laughing and returned his gaze.
Coriander looked away quickly. He was fond of Vushi but not quite in the same way Vushi was fond of him. Over the past ten years of school she had become like a sister to him. These moments were always awkward. Some part of Coriander knew Vushi wouldn’t mind at all if he went up and kissed her in these silences. Coriander felt guilty that it would never happen.
“So?” Coriander broke the silence, “come to mock me?”
“Always!” Laughed Vushi. “and give praise….what you did to Sa’ was…”
“Stupid.” Countered Coriander. “I should have let him kill me.”
“Then I would not have a friend,” Vushi smiled.
“You have loads of friends,” Coriander was occasionally jealous at how well liked Vushi was. Her words were always heard. Her name known and honored. Sometimes, in his jealousy, Coriander would tell himself it was because she was from Indi and that made her exotic. Then he would feel ashamed and challenge her to a dual, which she would win, and somehow in that seventeen-year-old mind, his defeat made up for his unkindness.
“True,” Vushi punched him in the arm, “but only one end-friend .”
They traded smiles.
“It was kind of amazing,” confessed Coriander, “I didn’t even know I could do it! I just called and the Power came! Did you see him……”
“GIANT FARTS! I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone that! You can never tell anyone I told you that! Teacher Akti says I am to say it was some freak accident…or some spirit intervened. He says if they find out I could do that they’d militarize me! Vushi swear you’ll never tell!”
“You should have been a poet with such dramatics!” laughed Vushi. “I already know. Teacher Akti and I spoke.” She held up the bedroll in her hands. “Hence the blanket.”
“Are we running away?” laughed Coriander.
“I’m not. You are.” Vushi threw the bedroll at him, “Teacher Akti has spoken with First Teacher. They believe a shade of some sort didn’t like Sa’ bullying you. It was pretty obviously a lie but First Teacher doesn’t want you Sun-welcoming covered in bruises. Your Father is a Magistrate after all….”
Coriander ran up and hugged her, “That is the best news of a life time!!”
Vushi became serious, “Teacher Akti and I feel it would be better for you to stay outside the magoge tonight. Out of the eyes of First Teacher and other who would ask questions.”
“Why so serious? I love sleeping away from that horrid place!” laughed Coriander.
“Stupid boy,” she rolled her eyes, “there will be questions. A lot of questions next session. You must never tell anyone the truth! We helped First Teacher save face, Teacher Onion complimented him on his mercy, if you can imagine. You must not even tell your parents. Do not whisper it t the Earth!”
“YES YES YES alright! By the Gods!” laughed Coriander, “but be happy girl! I’m not getting lashed!” Coriander did a little dance. “But you did see it, right? I throw him into a wall. By the Sun that was bright !”
Vushi relaxed a bit and laughed too, “Very bright! I think the entire magoge is smiling right now! I wish I could do the same tomorrow!”
“What happens tomorrow?’ Coriander asked.
“Not that you asked, mind you,” Vushi corrected, “but yes I did win my tournaments. As first in my herd I must fight Sa’ tomorrow.”
“WHAT!” gulped Coriander.
“Why are you surprised?” Vushi snapped, “did you think I couldn’t win? That a woman can’t fight as well as…”
“…by the Goddess you know that’s not true!” Coriander defended himself. “I didn’t put it together. Of course….”
“There can only be one champion of the magoge,” Vushi shrugged her shoulders, “I was hoping you would have won then I would fight you and easily be named champion! But you had to go a get disqualified…”
“Vushi, Sa’ could hurt you….” Coriander quickly added, “not because you’re a girl but because he’s mean as camel spit. He doesn’t fight fair. And even if you win….”
“I am the daughter of a slave,” Vushi said with an odd pride, “she does not pay taxes. What can his Father do to me? Anyway Coriander I will not win. We know this. We will fight. I will get hurt. I will learn from the pain. We will return home and make fun of Sa’ the entire way!”
“….but what if….” Coriander looked down, “he really hurts you?”
Vushi moved faster than an asp and grabbed Coriander’s knife out of his belt, “then I will cut him with your blade!” She dropped into a fighting stance.
Coriander leapt up and mimicked her stance, “your feet are too close together. He could do this….” Coriander ran towards the armed girl. He wiped his arm in a circular motion and pushed her arm out of his way. Then he kicked at her leg.
Vushi was too fast. She moved her foot away and circled it back around, catching the back of Coriander’s knee. They both fell down. Coriander flipped his weight so he landed on top.
“Ow. Get off me.” Vushi said without any real emphasis.
“Your stance is too close,” smiled Coriander, “say it…”
Vushi struggled but then admitted, “yes teacher Coriander my stance was too close. There now get off of me.”
“First say…” Coriander knew he was playing with fire, “…say, Coriander is beautiful and strong! Hero of the….”
Vushi had wiggled her leg in between Coriander’s. She brought her leg up quickly to his crotch. Coriander gasped and fell off. Vushi sat up, “and your stance was too wide.”
Coriander held himself, “that is not fair!”
Vushi smiled kindly, “you’re right. But when is fighting ever fair?” She reached her hand down to him. Coriander took it and stood, brushing off the pain in his balls with a deep breath.
“You try that with Sa’ and you’ll be sorry,” winced Coriander. “Promise me you’ll be careful.”
“Coriander?” jested Vushi, “are you concerned for me?”
“Always…” Coriander smiled then recovered, “…stupid!” and he punched her in the arm.
“Ow” laughed Vushi, “silly boys so afraid to admit they care about someone. I know you love me Coriander. It’s nothing to be ashamed of…stupid.”
Coriander wanted to say: yes but not in the same way you love me…but something else bothered him. Something was wrong. His mind swirled and his eyes came together. He was missing something. Something important…but what?
Vushi saw Coriander’s expression. She sighed at the silliness of boys. She knew she had made him uncomfortable. She hadn’t meant to. Coriander was so odd about love and so nervous when she spoke of family or having children or even kissing. How could he be so strong and handsome and still so nervous around girls? She took his silence as a cue to change the subject. So she laughed, “so what was this demon you were referring to when I startled you? Where you acting the hero? Was I too late to play the damsel?”
Then it clicked. Coriander knew as sure as snow would melt in the Sun, he knew Old Man had been referring to Vushi.
His mouth dropped. He didn’t know what to say. Old Man had run from Vushi and said she mustn’t see him, so perhaps he wasn’t to tell her? It had to be her. What if it was prophesy? Or the Sight? Vushi was the only person at magoge Coriander loved. What if she died? What if he had the opportunity to save her and ignored it? How would he ever live with that?
“Coriander? What is it?” Vushi was concerned.
“…umm play acting. That’s all,” Coriander’s attempt at a smile made both of them nervous.
“Are you alright?” She asked. Coriander nodded. “I was only teasing Coriander. The Sun will set soon. Days are so short now. I should return before night fall.”
“Let me come with you.” Coriander had to protect her.
“Stupid! You never listen,” Vushi rolled her eyes, “you cannot come. You must stay outside the walls tonight..”
“…stay with me!” Coriander rushed.
Vushi wondered if maybe her teasing had brought up feelings of love in Coriander. Finally. But he seemed so odd, so nervous, now was not the time. “I have a match tomorrow. I need to eat and sleep. Not star gaze. But maybe…on our trip home…maybe then.” She handed Coriander back his knife.
“Keep it.” Coriander blurted out. He had to do something. Fix something. Help some how. Protect.
“You won’t need it in the night?” Vushi warned.
“No.” Coriander knew what had to be done. “You take it with you. It’ll be like a little bit of me is at the tournament tomorrow watching you win!” Coriander thought ‘ and if anyone messes with you tonight stab them like a goat on an altar.’
“Well done,” smiled Vushi, “you will be there in spirit or rather in knife!” She laughed.
“You should go. The sun is setting and moonrise not long off,” Coriander put an arm on her shoulder.
“Yes,” Vushi grabbed his hand, a familiar gesture between them, “peace warrior. May the White Goddess look down and not be too annoyed by your snoring.”
“Peace then.” He didn’t know if it would be the last time they hugged. What if he failed? What if Vushi died? He hugged her tight.
Vushi was confused by the hug but squeezed back. Coriander watched her go. She looked back twice to see if he was still looking. Then she ran to the city gate. Coriander was alone again on the road. The sun was setting.
He went to Hangman’s Tree.
Coriander and the Prince’s Tomb 5 of 13
Hangman’s tree isn’t terribly hard to find. Up the western path for an hour or so and then up a crag to a dead iron tree rooted to rock. No one had been hanged at Hangman’s Tree in anyone’s memory. There were no nooses or bodies to suggest it had this function. Last Imbloc Coriander had shrugged it off as weird sort of dead thing. Now, however, it was creepy as Hades on a Godless night.
The sun had set and in the orange light Coriander quickly climbed the steep rocky surface. He did not want to be stumbling around in the dark up here. It was dangerous enough during the day but at night without being able to use his hands to summon a light-sphere he could easily fall to his death.
Death. That was the feeling emanating for Hangman’s Tree. Coriander gulped. If people hadn’t actually been hanged from it something else terrible had happened. He felt it. Some, unknown to him, Power was here. Coriander wondered if it was the coming night or perhaps he was just a whole lot more attune than he had been last year. These things happened.
There was a dried up well back home that Coriander had passed almost everyday as a boy. Then one Solstice break Coriander walked by and was struck with horror. He walked over to the well and a spirit reached out an ethereal hand and grabbed at him. He was able to evade the ghostly appendage and later discovered a man had died there decades ago and was never put to rest. Coriander salted the Earth, said the prayers and put the shade to peace.
Teachers always warned their students at magoge that as you worked hard and exercised your Powers they would , of course, grow. This not only meant you would be more capable and ready to deal with magickal entanglements, but more perceptive to them. As well, they would be more aware of you. At the time, Coriander thought this line of thinking absurd. Who would willingly make themselves a target of mystical enemies? Only a fool. And yet here was an entire system of education doing just that. “Target school!” Coriander had joked.
Soon after, Coriander learned the reasons for training. The reasons they made themselves targets and not helpless victims. He had already faced more than one nasty thing and was glad to have been trained. However, he often thought circularly, if he hadn’t had the training he wouldn’t have faced them and he wouldn’t be putting himself in harms way. Was it his fault there were helpless victims? He got in a lot of trouble for that kind of thinking at magoge.
Coriander got to the tree in the dark and waited. He knew better than to touch the tree. As a general rule if something is called “Hangman’s Tree” or “Demon’s Trumpet” or “Doorway to Really Bad Stuff” stay away from it. So Coriander sat on the ground, leaning against a rock starring at the creepy death-emanating horribly-named tree and fell asleep.
He dreamt of Sa’ swimming. They were racing to a giant waterfall. Sa’ was winning with his giant’s strokes. As he passed, Coriander grabbed the boy’s big toe and yanked it. He heard Sa’ yell and dunk underwater. Coriander swam fast. Not quite fast enough. Sa’ came up behind him and wrapped his arms around him. Coriander panicked but dream Coriander laughed. He struggled upwards with the huge boy on his back. As they broke the surface, the sun glistening on the water and off their tanned skin, they were laughing. Sa’ released his tight grip and Coriander turned to face him. Somehow dream-Sa was less evil looking. He almost looked sweet. Dream Coriander smiled and leaned…
SMACK a stick hit his gut. Coriander woke with panic. He rolled over, with the pain, and sprang to his feet!
“Sleeping on the job!” laughed Old Man still pointing his staff at the boy.
“Ow” Coriander scolded, “Sac of Kronus ! What is wrong with You!! That hurt!”
“It’ll hurt less than knife to the gut!”
“Who’s going to knife me up here?” Coriander spat, “except some crazy old goat! What took you so long?”
“I said moonrise! There She is” he pointed to the moon peeking over the horizon.
“And I see you’ve changed your mind,” laugh Old Man, “what did it may I ask?”
“Had nothing better to do,” Coriander saw no reason to give this weird old guy in this creepy location any more information about himself than necessary.
Old Man laughed again, “ so be it. Are you ready for the tasks at hand?”
“I have no idea what the tasks at hand are,” Coriander said second guessing his decision, “ you led me here with riddles. What are we doing?”
“We are breaking into the Prince’s Tomb!” He whispered again like before with a dramatic flair.
“OOOOOOO Prince’s Toooooomb!” Coriander mocked him, “I remember that Old Man, yes and harness Power unmeasured. I understand that. Power, if you remember, I don’t really want but if it….”
“Saves a life you’ll do it?” said Old Man not unkindly.
“Then that’s all you need know!” Old Man started to move to the tree.
“WAIT!” Coriander was getting more annoyed. “What are we doing? Where are we going? What do we do when we get there? Do I need supplies?”
“You ask a lot of questions,” Old Man grew annoyed.
“You are asking me to do something with no information on what exactly that something is? I think a whole lot of questions are in order!” Coriander stood firm. “I am no one’s fool!”
Old Man sighed, “There is an amulet of Power. It lives in a sarcophagus. That lies in a burial chamber. That stands in a tomb. That exists in another realm. That is reachable through this tree. That can open for a skilled Magis. That is being annoyed by a boy. That has a lot of silly questions.”
Coriander ignored the dig, he was used to it at magoge, “and this tomb? Is it guarded?”
Old Man dropped his face into his hands, “have you herd of a treasure that wasn’t guarded?”
“Well do we need weapons? Equipment? Rope?”
“All you need you posses or you do not,” mysteriously quipped Old Man, “now. Are you coming or not?”
Wind stirred. Hangman’s Tree swayed. Did it shake its trunk back and forth as if to say ‘NO.’ Maybe he imagined it. Coriander thought about Vushi and what he would do for her. What he wouldn’t do for her. He looked at Old Man. Secrets were being kept. He knew that. He also could sense the Power coming off him. Why then did he need Coriander? He had called him mountain mover was that why? Was there some spell this Magis couldn’t do that Coriander could? And what was the Power anyway? What would it enable him to do? He had so many questions but knew Old Man was done answering.
This was one of those faith things teachers were always talking about. Could a person create Fire? Move Earth? Do magick? Only if they believed they could. Had faith they could. Had faith that the Goddess, and her many, had gifted them to do what most could not. Even Teacher Akti often told Coriander he had trouble with the spear because he didn’t believe he could use it. Coriander had countered he was afraid he’d use it too well and spear his sparring partner. Teacher Akti told him that was the same fear.
Coriander was sick of fear. It ruled his life. He took a step forward then stopped. But wasn’t it doing that now also? Wasn’t fear of losing Vushi making him do this? Or fear of being alone at magoge? Or fear of living with himself if he didn’t do this? Would there be fear if he did do this? Teachers said every event informs the individual, would this event change him? Was he afraid of that?
Then the fear grew bigger. Paranoid. What if this Old Man was bringing him to a trap? He could portal him anywhere? Do anything! Kill him a thousand ways. Then Coriander remembered if Old Man wanted him dead he could have done so while he was asleep. ‘Stop being a coward,’ Coriander thought, ‘do it or do not.’
“Well?” Old Man replied as if he had been reading Coriander’s brain.
“I don’t suppose you can guarantee safe passage or promises of fidelity or hospitality?” Coriander shrugged.
“You suppose correctly,” smiled Old Man.
Coriander rolled his eyes. Slammed his foot on the Earth. Took a deep breath. Gazed at Old man and said, “just so you know, if this is a portal to some demon dimension where I get flayed for a thousand seasons I will find a way out and I will find you. You will pay Magis or not. I have been underestimated before. It doesn’t go well for the underestimator .”
“Actually,” giggled Old Man, “I am counting on that! Let us go before the Moon is too high.”
Old Man walked to Hangman’s tree faster than Coriander would have imagined. He knocked it three times with his cane, lifted his arm and said “Before smoke there is fire. Before the door is desire. Knocks of three, I pray to Thee, be open, be strong, be a way to where I long.” Then he added something in a language Coriander didn’t know, Coriander knew this was on purpose. The tree shook. It became a reflection of itself. Two trees shook. Then a third. Then more and more. Till thousands of tree stood in the same place as the single one before it.
Coriander barely had time to register this as impossible when Old Man grabbed his tunic and dragged him forward into the shaking thousand trees.
Coriander and the Prince’s Tomb 6 of 13
The music inside the thousand trees was deafening. It was if a group of children were singing right into your ears. Coriander wanted to cover his ears but he was moving so fast, or rather seemed to be moving so fast, that he was afraid to let go of Old Man.
He held on tightly as they travelled through a kaleidoscope of colors in some sort of tube. The light was bright not as overwhelming as the sound or the speed. Coriander watched the lights go flying by and was suddenly off balance. Old Man’s arm reached around back and grabbed Coriander tightly in a not terribly dignified way.
“I’m fine!” Coriander yelled into Old Man’s ear as he pushed his body free of the clutch. He didn’t think Old Man was trying anything wicked as much as he didn’t want to be seen as weak.
“Then stay alert,” Old Man screamed back, “you fall out you’re as good as dead or a whole lot worse!”
“Worse than dead?” Coriander laughed.
“Much….there is much worse than death…” Old Man’s voice trickled off. Coriander didn’t want to know what was worse than death and the very idea that he could “fall out” had not yet occurred to him. Instinctively he threw his arms around the back of Old Man. Propriety be damned, he wasn’t about to fall out! Coriander thought he heard Old Man laugh.
Moments, hours, worlds later Coriander felt his stomach lurch and he, still clinging to Old Man, toppled out of the tube-like portal. Old Man made a small gesture with his shoulder and Coriander flew onto the ground with a thud. Old Man landed as gracefully as a dancer.
“OW!” barked Coriander as he spat out dust., “why did you throw me!”
“You were grabbing me too tight,” smiled Old Man, “no need for both of us to fall. Now hush.”
Coriander wiped his mouth out with his tunic. ‘yea more dust,’ he thought. The ground he had been thrown onto was nothing but dust. Not sand or dirt, more like: ash? Coriander looked around and was slightly disappointed. The cool colored portal had given way to an incredibly ugly place. Wherever they were, the sun was bright but Coriander couldn’t tell where it was. The entire sky seemed blanketed in brown smoke or haze. There were no buildings no mountains no grass no color at all except endless brown haze.
“Nice place,” Coriander said sarcastically.
“shhhh” whispered Old Man.
“Why shhh? No one is here, anywhere, no one has been here, ever. What a horrible place!” Coriander replied but in a hushed tone.
“Oh there are things all around us boy. Look right there,” whispered Old Man as he pointed to a small burning plant. Or it would have been a plant, now it was just a burning twig or branch. Coriander suddenly realized there were lots of burning branches around. They were in a variety of shapes and sizes. At a closer look, it seemed like the fire was not burning the blackened branches but some how the leaves of this fire plant.
“Can I touch it?” asked Coriander in a voice of a small child.
“Can you? Can you touch it????” Old Man was aghast, “do you think you should touch fire boy? What do they teach you at that magoge of yours?”
“ I just meant is it hot?” with a look from Old Man that said ‘you might be the stupidest boy alive’ Coriander shut up. He wiped the ash off his arms and watched old man looking in every direction. Each way looked pretty much the same way as every other direction. Still Old Man was looking for something, so Coriander pretended to look for something as well.
As he turned he felt pulled. First in one direction then in another. Then a third until finally he felt like his guts were thin and drawn out of his stomach. Old Man watched Coriander and then chuckled, “you feel it don’t you boy?”
“I feel pulled to something,” Coriander was ready for more crazy looks, “but I feel it in every direction.”
“Yes,” smiled Old Man, “because it is in every direction.” Coriander was about to say ‘how can it be in every direction,’ but didn’t because he knew he’d just get an annoying non-answer like: because it is…… Old Man seemed to find his bearings, “this way…come on if we walk quickly we should be there soon enough.”
Coriander hoped soon enough would be soon. The air was thick and made it hard to breathe. “Can I ask a question or will you get mad?”
“Don’t let the Fire Elves hear you.”
“Fire Elves!!” Coriander said loudly then hushed, “sorry…Fire Elves?”
“We’re in their domain now and uninvited and they don’t like invited company so as I said shhhh.”
“Ok I only had one question anyway…” Coriander shut up. He started regretting this whole trip. He had never heard of Fire Elves but could easily imagine what they were. He really hoped they didn’t meet one.
A few steps later Old Man turned confused, “well what’s your one question?”
“Well can I talk or not?”
“Depends on the question?” Old Man said firmly.
“I just wanted to know who is this prince was…probably doesn’t matter…” Coriander walked on.
“Doesn’t MATTER!?!?!” Old Man forgot the hushed voices rule for a moment, “you finally ask the most important question and it doesn’t matter! Of course it matters. A great deal!”
“OK OK” Coriander hushed Old Man, “quiet voice remember? If I get burned alive by Fire Elves, you and I will draw sword in the everafter! SO, it matters. Great. Who was he?”
“It’s a sad story my boy,” Old Man seemed sorrowful at the memory, “Prince of a Thousand Wars he was.”
“A thousand Wars?” Coriander’s eyes grew, “sounds pretty evil!”
“No,” smiled Old Man, “on the contrary he was peace itself.
Long ago, so long time has forgotten, the way times does, there lived a young man. He, some would say as luck would have it, was born into a royal family, a ruling family, of a small simple province. Here he was loved, the lands were prosperous and the people kind. They boy spent the first part of his life in joy and peace. It became for him that which is known, or rather that which is honored and true.
When the boy turned his third-3 , as used to be customary, the Goddess herself blessed him with Power. He became a student of the magickal arts. He excelled. It seemed nothing was difficult for him. In fact, great teachers travelled long paths to meet this young learned child. As he grew his Power did too. Some said he was to be the greatest the art has ever known.
But then the boy went mad. In a matter of days he went form genius to lunatic. Some say it was too much. His Power was too great. It all came too easily. It controlled him. Other said he lacked balance. Life had been too kind and the pain of magick, as we all know, is dear and he was unprepared for the burden. Still others thought the blessing had been a curse in disguise for at this long ago time, magick was not common in the royal houses and the family was being brought down before the awe of She.
The boy would have fallen into obscurity and this tale never told if a wandering old fool of a man had not come into the village to trade plucked roots and magickal spices . The province had grown poorer as if the very pulse of the people were weighed by the boy’s health. No one needed anything as luxurious as fancy spices in the face of such sorrow. So the man went to the palace and asked if they might not have something to trade for his spices.
As he entered the courtyard the prince came running down a flight of stairs screaming at the man. The Queen followed the now young man and using all her strength held the boy back form harming the stranger. She told the strange man to leave quickly as she only had little strength left and the prince could not be held by any soldiers or guards for he would harm them with magick. The man’s heart broke to see such a sight.
He offered to make the boy a tonic to ease his frenzy. The Queen laughed because very Magis in the known world had come and given the boy tonics and nothing ever worked, but she thanked the man for his kindness. The man went to leave but before he did he turned and placed a hand on the prince’s head and asked the Goddess to be kind.
As he raised his arms, a necklace he wore around his neck became visible. The prince saw the shiny red stone and immediately stilled. He reached out and grabbed it. The Boy calmed. With the gem in his hands his heart slowed, his screaming stopped and he was aware of the world again.
So happy the Queen asked the man for the gem. The man said no. he used the gem, a gift from the Earth herself to help him find the magickal spices he sold. The Queen offered him so much wealth that he’d never have to work again. But the man said no. He would not be able to help people, so very many people, without his tool.
The Prince understood and thanked the man. He let go of the stone and immediately began to scream and ran out of sight, frenzied returned. The Queen begged the stranger. He said no. People will go to extremes to do things for those they love. Even a queen. She loved her boy very much. So she killed the stranger. Right there in her courtyard, she bludgeoned him to death with 33 whacks, some say she used a stone that happened to be lying on the ground, others that she had a cane or royal sword or standard and some say she ripped a low hanging branch off a tree. The trader was dead just the same.
She presented the prince with the necklace and again he became sane. It may have grounded him or made him more of what he needed to be, but however it happened, it worked. The Prince not only stop screaming, he could think clearly. He could again do magick, but only one kind of magick: healing magick. He couldn’t call wind or flame. He could not read minds or move mountains. He could only heal. And heal he did. Farmer’s animals, the sick of the province, birds in flight and anyone, everyone, he saw suffering. The Prince became beloved again and the province flourished as if, again bound to his fate.
The next harvest, a warring tribe came to the Province. They were evil. They took or ruined all they touched. The Queen sent an army to stop them. The tribe laughed for they had four times the soldiers of the small province. But they did not know of the Prince’s Power. The queen was ready to protect her people.
As the battle raged on, wounded soldiers were brought before the prince, healed and returned to battle. Imagine the surprise of the tribe’s warriors when the person they had just skewered came back ready to skewer them. The evil tribe fled in horror of this new magick.
But others came. More and more soldiers lined up to conquer this new found Power. Each time an enemy was defeated another one arose. The province then started attacking others before it could be attacked. The healed soldiers grew in military cunning. The town itself grew in new enterprise. Harvest and trade no longer supported the folk but the business of battle. More and more the peaceful province turned to bloodthirsty device and stealing and raiding. They relished the new power and wealth they achieved. The kingdom, they say, tripled in size.
The prince healed and healed and healed the same men over and over again. The men, drunk with bravery and supposed immortality, grew obscene and advanced overtly on any new campaign just to out dare and out brave and out prove each other. There was no more joy in the prince’s life, only blood. Blood the same color as the gem around his neck. He begged his Mother to stop but she had grown into a fierce warrior queen and lusted for more power and larger wealth.
At the end of the thousandth war, the Price was lost in despair and the futility of war and suffering. After a great and victorious battle, as his people celebrated, the prince snuck into the enemy camp and healed all the soldiers he could find. Then he returned to his palace, now grown huge and elaborate, went into his small bedroom and took his life.
In the morning the soldiers were caught off guard as the enemy they had defeated came back in full force. They realized they had been betrayed. The Queen came to punish the prince for his actions but instead found his body with a note that read: I only wished for peace.
The Queen realized what she had become. That she had broken sacred laws to create an unnatural Power. She knew in her heart that greed had become more important than her child. She held his body and wept. She knew he would receive no peace. The enemies might soon bash down the castle and attempt to harness the corpse’s Power. Necromancy was popular back then as were many rites of the crossed. She knew she had to protect the boy from that evil. But how to protect him? How to grant him the peace he always sought. Even her own people could no longer be trusted. She already heard the troops screaming for vengeance after discovering their new mortality.
With little time, she contacted a magickal race, some of the few beings with which she had not made war, and begged their favor. She gave them three coffins full of gold, gems and spices in exchange for taking her son’s body away and letting him be at peace. Anywhere he would rest undisturbed. They agreed and took four coffins away into the unknown.
Chaos followed. The city fell. Death ran to keep up with itself. The province was utterly destroyed. Nothing remained, as if, again, it was bound to the prince and he was no more.”
Coriander’s heart broke to hear such a sad story. How could such a kind people become so cruel? Could his village very turn into…that? Could every person succumb to greed so easily? Is it only mortality that keeps us kind? Humility that keeps us human? Is the very nature of Power to corrupt? Coriander’s eyes wetted with the idea of a boy of peace being used as a tool of combat. He remembered what Teacher Akti had said and with such seriousness. Would that be the fate of Coriander? An instrument of war. Before Coriander could think ‘no I will never do that,’ he realized he was doing just that right now. Here he was doing something horrible in the name of doing something for good. He would not go another step!
“We are here,” sighed Old Man, “behold the Prince’s Tomb!”
Coriander and the Prince’s Tomb 7 of 13
Coriander looked at the uninteresting stone box before him. It seemed a solid monolith of unknown rock perfectly squared with no doors or windows. A dead thing. An ugly thing. A thing of no importance. Exactly where someone would want to bury something valuable. This was not some giant pyramid meant to mock mortals, nor some elaborate commission of the ego, it was an understated dead place that begged to not be disturbed.
“So now we’re going to go in a disturb that poor prince after all he went through?” Coriander shook his head at the foolishness of Old Man. How quick people were to put greed before common sense. Coriander felt small in front of such a seemingly simple yet powerful place. He could feel its total lack of magick. That was terrifying. There was no way rock could have no magickal energy. It was obviously protected. It broke Coriander’s heart that such a beautiful boy was lying here and such lengths had to be taken from thieves and pirates. ‘People have no decency,’ he thought. He as quickly realized he was about to be part of that indecent group. He stood tall and faced Old Man and said quietly “I wont be a part of this.”
“Why not?” Old Man asked.
“WHY NOT?” choked Coriander, “why can’t you just leave him alone! Leave him to lie here and be at peace. Leave his amulet there to protect him!”
“He’s dead he doesn’t need it,” laughed Old Man.
“I won’t do this,” Coriander was solid as the stone a head of him.
“Fine,” shrugged Old Man, “two shall die, I shall find another more worthy…and you will stay here and rot or be taken by the Fire Elves I care not which,” and he started to walk away.
“You’re going to leave me here?” Coriander gulped wide-eyed.
“I have no use for word breakers ” he shrugged.
“I’m not word breaker! Watch your tongue old man!” Coriander puffed out his chest.
“Oh go ahead and kill me,” laughed Old Man, “how will you get back then? So sure of yourself and yet not.”
Coriander wanted to say that he’d make him take him back, but honestly didn’t know if that would work. The portal travel had been intense. How could he be sure that this obviously greedy old man would not just portal him to some place horrible? Or some place more horrible than a land filled with nothing but ash and fire. Where could that be?
“Just tell me why?” Coriander begged. “Give me a reason please and not some abstract threat. Something real. You’re making me do something terrible to a good person, dead or not, and that’s not the kind of man I aim to be.”
“Finally,” smiled Old Man, “ a true statement comes from the mouth! No Coriander it is not the kind of man you will be. I See that clearly enough. The amulet is very important. We must secure it before others do. If I have found its hiding place others will have too. Tomb raiding is against the Gods of Death, but I promise we will not take anything other than the amulet we need. You do no know me and have no reason to trust me, but I beg you to anyway.”
Coriander didn’t know how to respond. He seemed genuine enough. His smile ran true. He didn’t have a lot of options. So if he was going to do this, and it seemed he had to, he’d be better off trusting this crazy old goat. This is not to say he wouldn’t keep his guard up. He was gullible not stupid.
“Ok,” Coriander sounded more defeated than he meant to, “we’re here. How do we get in?”
“We do not. You do.” Old Man used his staff and tapped the seemingly solid brick. “Ah ha here’s the door.”
“Can you at least try to feel for it? I thought you were a child of magick? Does that silly magoge only teach to see with the eyes?” snapped Old Man.
Coriander sighed. This sucked . He emptied his thoughts and cleared his mind. He reached out his hands and held them just in front of the stone. The surface hummed. In his mind’s eyes Coriander could See the door. It was a giant slab of stone cut perfectly into a frame. It would slide down and into the Earth. Slide down with a whole lot of force. A ridiculous amount of energy would be needed. “Whoa” he jumped back, “move THAT?”
“Yes. It is the first test,” laughed Old Man.
“FIRST!” Coriander blurted, “how many tests are there…wait forget I asked. I know your answer: as many as there are… So you expect me to move this stone slab? Now I know you are crazy”
“If you cannot. You fail.” Old Man got serious, “but touch the stone and fail could mean your death.”
“Why does that not surprise me at all?” Coriander rolled his eyes. He wondered if he could move it? He had been called mover of mountains, maybe the old guy knew something Coriander did not? The challenge excited him more than he let on. “Well, at least if I die I can get out of this horrible place and away from you.”
He ignored Old Man’s laughter and asked, “any suggestions?”
“Yes,” said Old Man, “push very hard.”
“I hate you.”
Coriander took a deep breath. He called up the strength of the Earth. He felt it, like he always did, in his toes. Teachers always said it should be felt in the arches but how was Coriander supposed to tell the Goddess where to touch him? He cleared his mind of such things. Distractions would be dangerous.
The Power trickled up his toes into his arches and heels. Then, instead of rushing it up his legs like he would normally do, he slowly layered the feeling. He layered upon layered the Power. Multiplying its strength. Thickening its ability. Slowly he kept the visualizations up his thighs and through his hips. His guts felt thick and heavy, like he was being pulled down. He continued up his torso and shoulders. His head felt attached to his shoulders. He had difficulty breathing, as though he weighed much much more than before.
He placed his hands upon the surface. There was no turning back now. He felt the connection. Previously the tomb had felt lifeless now it surged with energy. It latched onto him. Grabbed his arms and pulled him into the wall. Coriander held firm. He braced himself and pushed the wall. Sweat poured off his face and underarms. His face contorted in muscle strain. Still the wall did not move.
Coriander started shaking. Pain started riddling through him. He felt the layers he had sculpted start to crack and give way under the pressure. He wanted to stop. To start over but knew he would not be able to. He felt the stone would crush him. Only one would win this battle. Stone or man.
Coriander was sick of tests and battles. All of this had started with stupid Sa’ and now look where he was: about to die as a tomb raider in a land of ash. Sa’. That was the key Coriander was missing. Any strong warrior could have tried to bring down this wall but Old Man had chosen him. Why? Because of how he had thrown Sa’. Coriander’s mind raced remembering how he did that bit of magick. He had given the spell no words or names. He hadn’t even meant to do it. Or had he? He asked the Earth to get the bully off of him and she complied. Maybe all he had to do was ask her again?
His teeth were clenched in determination. He couldn’t even think of getting enough breath to form a sentence but then, again, he hadn’t use words before. His brain swirled and he thought, rather screamed in his head, ‘MOTHER! Please Earth, help me! Move this stone. Take it back to Your bosom!’
And the wall came down. The giant slab fell silently into the Earth. The doorway opened. In front of Coriander was a large stone room. It was completely empty. At the back, Coriander could see a stairwell headed down. He had done it.
“Well done!” cheered Old Man. “Quickly now get inside.”
“Can’t I get a rest for a moment?” exhaled Coriander knowing the answer.
“Not unless you want to do that again?” smiled Old Man, “now be quick. Remember your Will is the way. You cannot control the elements. Only a great mind will win this day.”
“Now you tell me?” Coriander rolled his eyes and crossed into the tomb. As he did he felt the threshold change. As if the tomb itself were sentient. It knew he was there. Coriander shuttered and turned to tell Old Man, but as he did the wall was back. It did not slam closed. It was simply there. Blocking out all light. Coriander stood in the darkness and sighed, “of course…”
Coriander was now locked in the tomb with no choice but to do down the stairwell before him. He decided to say a prayer to the Gods of Death. He wanted to beg their forgiveness for this trespass. It was what Vushi would do and she was a better person than he was. He laughed and fell on all fours in prayer, kissed the ground and muttered the prayer.
ZING! He couldn’t see it but he felt it. He knew the sound. Something, a sword or the like had just barely missed his head. “Thank you for sparring me…thank you thank you Gods of Death…I am so sorry to be here. Thank you…” he repeated over and over as he quickly crawled over the floor until he got to the stairwell. He knew had to go forward and fast. He had to get to the sarcophagus and end this. The only problem was that in his heart, Coriander knew, knew with all certainty, this wasn’t going to end well.
Coriander and the Prince’s Tomb 8 of 13
Coriander never minded the dark before. He wasn’t one of those children who was afraid to got o bed. He remembered his youngest sisters crying sometimes when the moon was absent and she’d be afraid. Their parents would scoff and scold and ignore her. Even their sisters would cover their heads in blankets and tell her to grow up. Only Coriander would help her. He would come into her room and placing a bowl on his head and a stick in his hand would ask, “didst thou call for a warrior my Lady?” And she would respond, “Yes Warrior Coriander. You must protect me while I sleep or else the monsters will take me to the everbad.”
And Coriander would bow low and say, “no enemy of the state shall pass my watch good lady. Now slumber in peace.” And then he’d sing a soft song about how very brave he was. And she’d fall asleep. ‘Funny,’ thought Coriander, ‘ the things you remember when terrified of the dark and crawling to your doom.’
Coriander almost sang the brave song of his youth but didn’t dare make a noise. He had ventured in the darkness down the stone stairwell one step at a time. He was on his side, slowly, silently lowering himself to the next step wondering how many steps there might be. He tried to control his breathing. It wouldn’t help him to panic. In fact, loosing control of your breath was a very bad idea in combat. And Coriander was certain he was in combat. They walls of the tomb seemed to anticipate it.
After what seemed a very long time, Coriander rested on a step. He had had such tension throughout his entire body his every muscle ached. His head hurt. He had to stop for a second. He dare not stand. He stretched out his cramped legs a bit and flexed his arms. He shook his head clear. “I have to move a little faster,’ he thought, ‘or I’ll never get to the bottom of these stairs!’ As he thought that thought the stairs seemed to respond. Coriander heard a noise, like a lever or gear, and then all of the stairs closed shut. The nice easily climbed stairwell was gone and now Coriander found himself flying down a steep ramp at breakneck speed.
“Aaahhh” Coriander screamed before he could tell his mouth the shut up. As he stumbled, tumbled and fell down the stone ramp, he kept banging and bashing his elbows and feet. A voice somewhere had reminded him to tuck his neck and cover his head with his arms. That little voice saved Coriander’s life.
He fell for a very long time. Which is a good thing. Had it been a quick fall to the bottom he might not have had time to prepare himself. As it was the falling became rhythmic and patterned and Coriander’s mind went from panic to logic. ‘I am falling,’ he thought. “Duh,’ another part of him responded. ‘So it is likely that I am going to hit a bottom eventually,’ he continued. ‘Duh again,’ said the know-it-all in his head. ‘Well,’ he ignored the voice, ‘if I were to put a trap that was a ramp that tumbled you to the ground I would definitely but something horrible at the bottom.’ ‘Duh thrice,’ said the voice but then the voice changed. It panicked, ‘something horrible? Like spikes or spears!’ ‘That’s what I was thinking’ Coriander told himself. Himself agreed.
Falling to your death to be skewered by spears is a terrible way to die. Having enough time to realize your fate seemed to make it worse. Coriander did not wish to wait and see if his hypothesis was true. In the chaotic confusing tumble he was only sure of one direction: down. So that’s where he put his energy.
Coriander created a shield in front of him, or rather below him. This one was different than the earlier one. Coriander couldn’t stop and call up the Earth. He couldn’t make enough contact with the Earth for him to raise anything. So instead Coriander called upon Air. The element which is everywhere, even in this tomb apparently, and was whizzing by his face. Coriander did not excel at Air magick. It was not all that different than Earth magick but different magickal people bonded with different elements and Powers and could do different things. Which is not to say Coriander could NOT do Air magick it was just a bit trickier. He, trying not to be frantic, for exactly how long could a ramp be, called upon Air. He felt it tingle and wrap around him. He sent it in front of his descent.
Again Coriander realized he never learnt how big a shield was or how to make it longer or wider. He really must ask someone some day. If he survived. To compensate he just made it as big as he could. He started loosing breath. He held onto the shield-thought. He continued to fall, ‘I’m rolling into the very guts of the Earth herself!’
BANG. Coriander hit solid ground. Or so it seemed. He stopped, of that he was certain. His head spun but he held onto the shield. It felt odd underneath him. It was solid, like a shield should be, but soft, like a bed. A really firm bed. Coriander, already sprawled out, wished he could fall asleep on this lovely creation, but knew he could not. Once he stopped thinking about the shield it would stop existing.
So instead he pulled himself forward to the edge of his shield. He reached out a hand and “OW!” Coriander had touched something sharp. His finger was bleeding. He sucked the blood off. It wasn’t too bad. Slowly this time, he extended his other hand. He felt a sharp point. He traced his hand down it and found indeed it was a spear ready to impale him.
He reached out and felt ahead of him. He dared not make light. Yes there was another spear to his left. A whole row of spears. He grabbed the staffs and pulled himself forward, keeping the shield steady. Beyond this row of spears seemed to be empty. Perhaps this was the last row and his shield had covered the bulk of them. There was no way to be sure without calling light and Coriander did not want to be a target. He slid more forward. He tested the air above him. Nothing. He dared to stand.
The shield wobbled a bit as he changed position. Obviously, he was heavier in a single place while standing as opposed to having his weight spread out as it had been. Coriander got the feeling the shield might be lowering or succumbing to his weight. That would be bad. Coriander took a brave breath and leapt over the row of spears. He landed on a dirt floor, rolled once and came up into a fighting stance.
Nothing happened. Silence. Coriander held his stance for a very long time. He knew conflict was coming he could feel it. But soon realized where ever this conflict was it wasn’t here. He relaxed his stance and felt the area around him.
He was in a hallway. It was just wider than his arm’s reach with a dirt floor. He couldn’t tell how high the ceiling was. He knew had to go forward. Coriander went back to the row of spears and broke one off at the base. He removed his chest-strap and wrapped it around the center making a firm grip on the spear. Now with a weapon Coriander felt braver. He took the spear in his right hand and put his left against the wall. He couldn’t feel both walls so he figured he might miss a doorway but that was chance he’d have to take. He was not giving up a weapon.
He continued down the hallway for another very long period of time. He was tired. He was starving. He was bruised. He was thirsty. He was scared. He was annoyed. No Power was worth this. Coriander knew he had to stay focused. He whispered his sister’s brave song under his breath. Then he felt air move against his sweaty face.
Just a small stir, not an actual movement, which would have meant someone was coming at him. A fist or sword makes the air move sharply. It’s one of the ways to anticipate in fighting. But this was a gentle stirring. Coriander knew he must be coming to a doorway. He slowed down. He positioned his body against the left wall. He crept along. Finally he hit a wall.
He felt out and sure enough there was an opening. He was at a doorway with no door. Perhaps it was just the design of the hall. Many times in the city he had seen arches or other architectural things in open spaces. Having little appreciation for design he had has always wondered why anyone bothered with unnecessary archways. But then Coriander remembered the air against his face. This must lead to a larger room, that is why the air changed.
Coriander leaned into the doorway. He couldn’t see a thing. There was no way he was walking into a dark room alone, spear or not. He stood weighing the options. There weren’t many. Finally he figured he’d have to create some light and deal with the consequences. He hunkered own low, which was silly because if an enemy could see you in the dark it didn’t matter were you stood. Spear out Coriander remembered the words to make a small light appear. This was much easier when you had a crystal or magickal item to make glow. He was simply trying to create light suspended in air above his hand. He had done it once before. Last year at magoge it was the final exam. No one would be allowed back who couldn’t do this spell. Which was a lie because most of the herd couldn’t do it. But the threats worked on Vushi who made a brilliant light out of nowhere. She in turn taught Coriander, much to Teacher Onion’s surprise. Coriander’s light wasn’t as great, colorful or controlled as hers, and he couldn’t do it as easily, but he could do it. So he knelt, put his hands together, dared to whisper the phrase, turned his a hand palm up and revealed a brilliant glowing orb.
Coriander couldn’t decide if he was more proud of brilliance of his light or terrified someone might see him. He quickly scanned the room. It was small chamber. In the light he could see scorches on the walls which may or may not have been markings of some sort. He saw dead torches hanging on the walls too. At the far side of the camber Coriander could see doorway much like the one he was standing in front of. The biggest difference was in front of that door was a large stone statue of a Fire Elf.
Coriander stared at the statue for a moment. It was huge. ‘I thought elves were little!’ he thought. Of course he had never seen one and in the stories no one had said they were little or short but that’s just how Coriander had pictured them. If this statue was any indication of their stature, Coriander was glad they left when they did.
Coriander stepped into the room. He had to move on. He had to get this over with. He wasn’t afraid of statues or creepy markings. He had to get to the next doorway. He held his light high and took another two steps forward. As he did the stone Fire Elf’s eyes popped opened.
The statue looked right at him. Coriander screamed in shock and quickly dismissed his light. It was too late. The torches immediately exploded with fire and lit up the room. The elf growled, flung its arms wide and widened its stance. Coriander gulped.
The stone warrior spun an odd looking weapon. It was a staff with a sickle at either end. Coriander knew the purpose of sickles. They harvested. These were meant to harvest his head. But as the elf spun the weapon the sickles burst out into flames. It spun a wall of fire. Coriander thought this was bit overkill: flames and sickles? So would he be cut or burnt? He held out his spear and yelled, “I have come to see the Prince. Let me pass elf!”
The elf seemed to smile, or rather sneer, it spun the staff faster and in a quick thrusting motion sent of flare of flame across the room. It was so fast, so large, so intense, Coriander couldn’t get out of the way. He screamed as the fire caught his tunic and then started to melt his flesh.
Coriander was burned alive.
Coriander and the Prince’s Tomb 9 of 13
“Huh?” Coriander looked around him. He was kneeling on the ground in the dark. The spear was till in his hand. More importantly he was alive that is to say not burning alive. “Huh?” he repeated trying to not sound ungrateful. . He reached out in front of him and felt the air stir. He felt the doorway again. He was back where he started. Or was he? Had he faced the Fire Elf? Or Stone Warrior or…what should he call it? Stone-Fire Elf Warrior? It didn’t really matter, should he live he could think of a bright name for his opponent, right now he had to figure out what was happening.
Maybe he got blessed with the Sight. Maybe he was shown what would happen? Or maybe it had happened and somehow he had come back to where the game began. That seemed more likely. Was this a game? If it was it was a painful game. Coriander could remember vividly the sensation of being burned alive. He did not want to that again.
He realized his glowing orb had given him away. All he had to do was silently enter the room. Creep along the walls. And sneak behind that stupid statue without waking it and go out the back door. Easy! Coriander stood. He stepped as quietly as he could and entered the room.
He took three steps. The torches blazed. The Statue woke! Coriander ran for the doorway but didn’t make it. Fire caught his foot and seemed to drag him back into the room. He screamed as the fire engulfed him. Pain ravished his skin. He could almost see the elf smile as the fire melted his eyeballs and brain.
Coriander was back in the doorway, kneeling, spear out, and ready. He wasn’t on fire, his brain was angry but not melted. “NOT FAIR!” Coriander yelled into the room. His breathing though was labored. He was exhausting himself. The pain was real enough. He remembered it in detail. He could still smell the stench. Coriander wondered if he was actually being burned and then healed or if it was all some mind game. It felt real. The cooking of his meat was as clear to him as the spear in his hand. Spear. Coriander got an idea.
He walked back down the hallway. He took a breath and called upon speed. He sprinted full force to the dark doorway. As he hit the threshold he leapt up in the air. It had been the three steps that had activated the statue and torches. The les he touched the ground the better. He would spear that warrior elf stone fire thing and be done with it! HA! He spun in the air spear first towards the sleeping giant. He knew he couldn’t cross the entire floor in one jump. Coriander wished he could fly! In the room he soared sure of his target. He’d land jump again and make true his weapon. It didn’t work.
As he crossed into the room the torches lit. The Elf woke. The weird weapon spun. Coriander was burned to death before he landed. The pain seemed greater, Even more real. Even more vivid. Coriander didn’t want to give the elf-thing the satisfaction of hearing him scream but couldn’t help it.
Kneeling outside the door Coriander threw down his spear and slammed the dirt in agony and frustration, “Giant farts and goat turds! Hera be wise, I will feed this beast to the eater of rocks!” Coriander shaking with the memory of pain and anger threw his spear into the room. Lights came on. It burned. It was back in his arm. “I HATE EVERYONE!” Coriander screamed. He didn’t care if he was being childish. This game was stupid. And besides, there was no one to see him behave this way except for an evil stone thingy elf fire stupid annoying warrior who was roasting the boy with ease.
Coriander tried a number of other tactics: he tried a shield; crawling, light bursts meant to confuse the thing; he went holding his tunic in front of him so to blind the statue; he went on a handstand; he went in charging; begging; crying; bartering and once he even farted on the direction of the stone elf. Coriander wasn’t sure what that was supposed to accomplish but at least it amused him, that is until he got fried again. All in all Coriander got set aflame 26 times.
Each time was as vivid as the time before if not more so. Instead getting immune to the pain he just had more time to process it. Time was passing and Coriander was out of ideas. He had to get passed to thing but how? He went over and over the statue’s process. Eyes popped. Arms flew out. His stance widened. Weird weapon spun. Flames flew. How could he change, alter or stop the pattern? Then he thought of the words old man had said. His will would win the elements. He had been trying to defeat it. What was his will? To defeat the Fire Elf! Bit no, realized Coriander.
‘My will is to get to the other door,’ he thought, ‘what if I set myself to that? How can I pass him while burning to death?’ Then he remembered the thing’s wide stance, like his Vushi had mocked. Could that be a weakness? Could he go up and , while burning, kick it in the stones? “Ha ha,” Coriander laughed, “stones on a stone elf. Funny. An improbable.” Coriander was happy to laugh. It reminded him of himself. A warrior. How could he exploit the only weakness ha had found. If a ridiculously wide stance was a weakness. “Wide!” Coriander laughed again, “too wide.” Coriander knew he could easily fit through the Elf’s legs. But could he make it? “One way to find out!” Coriander said to no one.
Again he backed down the hallway. This time he held his spear differently. He would use it as a pole vaulter. He ran as fast as he could down the hallway. As he crossed the threshold he set the spear in the ground and used it to leap in the air. Torches flared. Eyes popped. Coriander was set on fire. The pain was even worse. He held on to his plan. At the arc of his jump, instead of falling, he dove. He dove right for the base of the Fire Elf Stone Warrior. His eyes blurred with tears which would boil in his eyes. He screamed louder than he had yet to scream. He landed in front of the statue, momentum kept him rolling forward. He went straight between the legs of the stone-enemy barely conscious of anything but agony.
As he crossed the back of the statue he continued to roll through the second doorway. The pain was gone. He was not a burned to a crisp. He was also not back kneeling at the doorway. He wanted to cheer but could not, as he was falling through darkness. ‘Uh-h more falling.’ He wondered if he should shield, if he could shield? But sooner than he thought that, light hit his eyes. They adjusted and he was falling to the ground in a well lit room. He fell with a great thud. He almost dislocated his shoulder. But he wasn’t about to be burned to death: again! So he decided anything was better than that. He stood and assessed his surroundings.
“Well,” he surmised, “I did Earth, Air and Fire so this must be Water.” There was no water. The room was well lit with torches on all the walls. The ceiling was very high. He could almost make out the hole, far up the wall he must have fallen through. In hindsight he thought it would have been much higher. He realized he could not actually see the ceiling. There was nothing on three of the wall besides the torches. No markings or sigils. The fourth wall held two doors. Each was large and wooden with large round metal handles.
Coriander was familiar with this one. It had been a test at magoge. You had to feel what was behind the door. One door would lead to safe passage and the other death. Well at the magoge it wasn’t death just failure and public ridicule. ‘That must be the water part,’ Coriander thought, ‘water is emotion and feelings” All I have to do is feel which is safe!’
He approached the door to the left. He used his Power to feel beyond it. He could sense something. A predator. He almost heard a growl. No not that door. He moved to the door on his right. He pushed his senses forward. He felt nothing. Heard nothing. Got no queasy feeling at all. Coriander was pleased this was so easy. He reached a hand to the round door knob. “NO” he said before he realized he was speaking. Nothing was this easy. He reached out again. Nothing. But then he sensed that there was too much nothing. As if beyond the door was a void. A nothingness. Coriander knew not how to fight nothingness. He shuttered at the idea. He looked again at the left door. At least he knew he could fight a predator. He almost opened it eager for this all to be over when again he stopped himself.
“No,” he said aloud, “this is a test. A test of intuition. It is more than simply opening a door. What else is there…” He looked at the completely empty room. Nothing. He examined the doors for false handles or hidden hinges. He shook each torch seeing if it was a release mechanism or the like. Nothing. The only way out was one of the doors. ‘But why just one?’ Coriander cleverly thought. ‘if I opened them both I could release what ever this predator was into the abyss to the right?’ It seemed obvious enough but how. He stretched out his arms. No. His arm span would not be long enough.
Coriander remembered the Elf’s weapon, “Goat farts!” Coriander swore so angrily he mixed up the expression. “I was supposed to take the weapon from the Elf to open these doors!” Yes upon reflection of the weapon, and remembering it was easily he had seen it burn him to death a few dozen times, the staff would be the perfect length and each sickle would serve to pull the metal rings of the door knob at the same time. “UHG!!!” Coriander stomped his feet.
Coriander got a new idea. He stood exactly between the doors. He put his balance on his left foot. He lifted his right foot and left arm in opposite directions. He had seen some of the older students do these poses at magoge and had always thought they looked stupid. Vushi had corrected him. She thought they were important and beautiful. He asked the Earth to steady him as he reached the tip of one finger to one doorknob and his big toe to the other. His fingers grabbed the hoop first. Finally, squirming and lengthening his body as much as he could, Coriander got a toe through the opposite ring.
A feeling of accomplishment came and he smiled. But now he was stuck in this very odd pose. He didn’t dare let go. He wasn’t sure he could wriggle back into both rings. He thought how stupid he must look and how Vushi would say it served him right for making fun of the poses. He took a breath and tried to pull. Each ring lifted slightly but not with near enough strength to open the doors. That’s when Coriander heard the trickling.
Water was coming from somewhere in the room. He looked around and could not see the source. He could only hear it. Like a small vase being poured onto a stone floor. Then Coriander realized his left foot was wet. He wanted to panic but told himself to relax. He tried to free his toe but it was cramped around the ring. The water rose up to his ankle.
‘ Great! I am going to drown,’ he thought. Bu then realized, like with the fire, that he could not fight the flood. Perhaps it would help him. He waited patiently as it slowly rose. His muscles knotting and his breath shaky at the possibility before him. He slowed his breathing. He would need to take in a lot of air. The water was up to his thighs when Coriander knew what he had to do. The wondered if he could hold his breath long enough. He waited. The water still came.
As it crossed his lips as he gasped for the final lung full of air he may ever get. The water covered his head as he went under. He knew the idea or mechanics of what had to be done. He wasn’t sure it was possible. He lifted his left foot off the ground and placed it between the doors. A feat that would have been impossible without the water to support him. He pressed into the wall pulling with his fingertips and big toe. He then understood that although he was in a better position to pull he was now pulling much more weight, specifically, the weight of all that water filling the room. It was too late to alter course. He pushed with all his might. He felt the bones in his big toe crack.
More pain. Why was there always more pain? How strong did he have to be? The Coriander remembered the lesson he had been learning over and over again in this trap of a tomb: stop fighting the elements. Work with them. But how? The water wasn’t flowing under the doors so he couldn’t use it to push against the other side of them. It wasn’t flowing at all. Just rising. Drowning him. So Coriander decided make the water flow.
His mind circled and circled. He willed his Power out to the element of Water. It responded by making the water circle. It became a whirlpool. It spun and spun. The force did two things. One, as it fell into itself, it eased pressure on the doors. Secondly it was pulling at Coriander. All he had to do now was work with it. With little breath left, a bright red Coriander pulled back from the doors using the Power or Water to tug him into the whirlpool. It grabbed him and pulled him from his belly. His left foot went flying off the wall spinning his body backwards. ‘COME ON!’ Coriander’s mind screamed. The two rings of the doorknob pulled away. They clicked. Coriander could feel the pressure give way. Under the water he could see that neither door opened but the space between the doors had. He had been standing on what the release mechanism was trying to open. It was another little tunnel or small passage way.
The water spilled in. It brought an almost passed out Coriander with it. He was being forced into the tube. As he entered the unseen door, in the now river, he managed to catch a new breath. He was just grateful for the air he found. He floated and rode the current though the passage way. He could see a light at then end of the tunnel. ‘Gods,’ Coriander’s mind raced, ‘I got through all four elements. Please Hera let this be over!’
Coriander and the Prince’s Tomb 10 of 13
Coriander came out of the tunnel and dropped onto a stone floor. He nagged his knee and blood went everywhere. Coriander was sick and tired of being banged around and injured. He was done with proving himself and done with this absurd task. He held his knee and shook the stars out of his eyes. The water, the incredible amount of water, continued to cascade over his head and poured through holes in the floor. Like some giant drain that had caught a bug that was Coriander. A wet, bruised, bleeding, bug.
The room he fell into was in exact contrast to the rest of the building. It was beautiful. Coriander first noticed the tile. It was multicolored and shined in the water. Gold covered all the walls. Gems and precious stones decorated every surface. There were tables upon tables of objects of incredible value displayed and outrageous. Each surface competed in glory. As if they were offerings. As if each spoke steal me leave the rest behind. Each tempted a would be tomb raider with all they could carry. Or maybe begged a god to leave the sarcophagus alone.
The water stopped pouring down the drain. Coriander stood. His eyes fell on the glowing sarcophagus. It was open. The skeleton of the prince lay quietly, hands folded, waiting, like all skeletons. There was no flesh left. That surprised Coriander. He had expected some rotting or entombed flesh. Just grey bone. It looked less regal in such a throne-like grave. The sarcophagus itself was lined in what seemed to be mother of pearl and other shining shells. Coriander wondered how Fire Elves found shells.
Coriander not knowing what to do in such a place knelt like he would a king, “your Majesty. By the Gods of Death I mean you no disrespect. I am the son of a magistrate you would not know and from a place that has come after you that is poor of wealth but rich is kindness. I am gifted, some say cursed, with beguile and others say with less common sense than goat and more stubbornness, but I am also blesses but the Goddess with magick. I do not know why. In this we are kindred. I come to you as a servant, a friend, a warrior. I am Coriander.”
“A fine introduction,” a voice called out laughing. Old Man walked out from his hiding place, “manners are not lost in the country are they?”
“What are you doing here?” Coriander hated being confused.
“The same thing as you,” smiled Old Man.
Coriander gulped, “I have passed through Fire, Water, Earth and Air… and you?”
“I made a portal of course,” he shrugged.
“A PORTAL! I got burned alive! A LOT! Why didn’t we just portal in together…why…didn’t….” Coriander realized the answers to his questions as he said them.
“I can go most any place these days,” laughed Old Man, “but you had to come in the hard way. Well done boy! A fine champion! I have chosen well.”
Coriander didn’t know what to say. His mind raced. He had been played like a reed blown easily by the wind. The details were lost but he knew danger when it breathed down his neck. He tried to act calm, “so…where’s the amulet?’ Coriander walked forward. On the skeleton was a large gemmed crown. It forced the eye to look at it. Below, on its breast bone was a small intense red stone. Coriander had expected a gem. In the story he heard he imagined a ruby but it was just a stone.
“I thought the amulet would be…more impressive,” Coriander scoffed.
“Oh really? What do suppose the purpose of burying him with all of this?” Old Man referred to the grandeur of the room in a sweeping motion with his staff.
“Its purpose is to deceive,” Coriander snapped, “like other things….” Old Man smiled as Coriander continued, “who would notice a simple rock on a skeleton in a room of riches? The best disguise is often that which seems least threatening. Fortune favors, it may take me a while but I usually catch on to where the real power lies.”
Old Man’s stance did not change but something in him did. Something on a non-physical level. An awareness. Coriander cautioned himself against bravado. This old man was more than he seemed. Perhaps the best course of action was to finish the assignment and get back to where Coriander’s feet were most firm.
“There it is,” he smiled, “let’s take it and be done. I am no word breaker and anxious to go home. I feel I’ve been here for days!” Old Man didn’t move. “Do you want to grab it or shall I? Do you think it’s another trap?”
“I like you boy,” Old Man finally spoke but with more purpose and a different tone, “and yes we are at journey’s end. But as I am sure you have guessed, one cannot simply take the stone. It will not release itself from the prince. You see the stone loves its wearers…..” His eyes set on the stone longingly.
“It was yours,” Coriander guessed but knew, “you were the trader.”
“Me?,” laughed Old Man, “that would make me very very old..”
“You’re lying.” Coriander could see it in Old Man’s eyes. “She took it from you. You came to help the prince but failed and so the Queen took your power. How did she actually do it? Did she beat your brains in?”
Old Man shifted now. He put less weight on his staff. It was a subtly shift but Coriander was trained in combat. Old Man might as well have screamed ‘I’m about to club you!’ Coriander laughed.
“DO NOT LAUGH!” yelled Old Man as he took s a step towards the boy. “I came in mercy and received the knife! A debt is owed! A debt is owed! It shall be paid!”
“I needed someone worthy enough. You have proven yourself worthy. Be glad boy, you’ve done something good with your wasted life!” Old Man came another step forward, “and now that life will end!”
“You’ve fatted me up?” laughed Coriander, “you baited me and I fell for it! And then you bring me here to prove myself and now I am a worthy sacrifice? My blood deemed worthy? Or is the final test a test of blood? I’d like to know. Do I have to die or can I just give you a bit? Here my knee is bleeding? Will that suffice?”
“Ah boy,” smiled Old Man, “you would not have come without reason, even if those reasons were not, as you now think, false, and likewise you will not finish the task at hand without similar bait.”
“What in Hera’s name are you talking about?” Coriander moved his foot back into a proper readied stance. “Of course you lied…”
“I promise you boy, I cannot.”
Coriander focused his attention. Narrowed his sight. He flexed his legs. “Well if blood is what you want, stop stalling and come take some!”
Old Man laughed but did not move. Coriander stood still. He knew now that Old Man wanted him to attack first. Coriander wondered if he could. Could he attack and old person? Even a mean cruel old person? This was battle. He had been taught to not discriminate in war…..
Out of nowhere Old Man’s staff bashed Coriander in the gut. Then followed with an upper cut under his chin.
Coriander’s head flung back. Instinctively he took three steps back and grounded his will. Old Man came at him with a speed Coriander knew was magick. He needed to ready himself magickally but there was no time. No time for shields or wills or anything, Old Man’s staff came at his face.
Forgetting all magick Coriander reverted to training. He gave a grunt like an animal and caught the staff seconds before his face. They two tugged and pulled a test of strength. A part of Coriander wanted to wonder how this old man was so strong the rest of him told that voice to shut up and focus! Coriander used his hips in a twist and pulled the weapon to his side. Then using the pull of his opponent brought it back quickly to the temple of Old Man.
Old Man stepped back blood on his forehead. Coriander set the staff behind him. Ready. “Stop. I do not wish to harm you. But know I will.” The warning seemed to anger Old Man. He attacked like a feral cat, claws out. Too obvious. Too desperate. Coriander swung with all his strength. Old Man flew across the tomb and fell to the floor defeated.
Coriander approached slowly wondering if he was dead. The laughter coming in wheezing breaths answered the question. “Well done boy.” Said Old Man as blood flowed form his head. “A fine hit!”
Coriander suddenly felt bad, “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to …wait why are you laughing?”
“Because the wound is fatal.” Old Man touched his forehead and saw the blood.
“And that’s funny?” Coriander snapped.
“Yes!” he continued laughing, “for that is what needed to happen. You have won the day and the final test. Be happy grumpy-boy!”
Suddenly Coriander ha a horrible thought, “If you die I’m left here in this tomb to rot!”
“That’s no reason to be happy!” Coriander hated Old Man so much he wished he would hurry up and die so Coriander could start the rotting!
“Wait! I can heal you with the amulet…” as Coriander spoke he realized this was all the plan. He would now be forced to take the stone from the prince and use it for his own escape. He shook his head. He was trapped.
“Well played Old Man. You’re getting me to do something I never would have. You win. But you knew that didn’t you…” Coriander was about to cry.
“Time for tears later,” Old Man said kindly, “a debt is owed. I must pay it. You must save me and two more. Now be quick. You must offer your blood. Spill it on the stone!”
Coriander hated what he was about to do but saw no other choice. He approached the sarcophagus and saw the skeleton and small stone. He felt horrible. He reached down to his still bleeding knee and wiped up some of the blood in his hand. “Gods forgive me…and you too my prince…”
He gently, like you would a baby, touched the stone. He let his own blood fall from his fingertips and onto it. He didn’t have a lot of blood but the stone was so small and Coriander had always been told it was intent and not quantity that made magick work. He shook. Tears feel from his eyes. They too splashed on the skeleton and stone.
He reached his hand down to take the necklace when he suddenly stopped. The red stone had started to move. It was growing and shrinking. As if it was breathing. Then he noticed it started changing color. It became more red. Then the stone gave way to…becoming flesh-like or muscle…before the shocked Coriander was a small beating heart.
“By the Gods!” Coriander gasped. He turned to Old Man still bleeding on the ground and looking as if any breath might be his last. “It’s a heart!”
Coriander was puzzled. What was he to do with it now? Wear it on a chain? Rub it on Old Man? Offer it to some deity? Ask it for Power? He stood there simply staring in awe unable to think of what to do next. Old Man chuckled a raspy breath. As if he read Coriander’s mind he laughed at the boy’s confusion. Coriander met his eyes. Old Man smiled and answered the unasked question:
Coriander and the Prince’s Tomb 11 of 13
“EWWWWWW GROSSSS!” Coriander was disgusted, “I am not eating someone’s heart!”
“You must!” corrected Old Man, “now!”
“Since I met you,” Coriander was incensed, “I have broken into sacred ground, almost died like a 100 times, beaten up an old man, and now you want me to be a cannibal? Do you know what happens to cannibals? No better to die here with what tiny shred of honor I have left than do this! No! You go too far!”
“Stupid boy!” snapped the dying old man, “look at its size. Feel its Power. It is not a human heart. Fool! Even I would not exist so accursed! Eat it!”
Coriander made a face so sour it almost made Old Man laugh. He looked at the beating heart. It was small for a human heart Coriander thought but he had never seen an actual human heart so couldn’t be sure. He smelled it. It reeked of blood. Like a heart would. But then he used his magickal eye and sensed a powerful aura but not a human one. What ever this was made of it was not human, it might not even be animal. For a second Coriander thought maybe it was an elf heart or faerie heart or one of the many magickal things that roamed the many worlds and that scared him. But he also knew, he was going to have to eat it.
“Have I told you recently how very much I hate you?” Coriander said to Old Man. He waited for Old Man to laugh or respond. Nothing came. He looked at Old Man was passed out with shallow breath. It was now or never.
Coriander reached down and scooped up the heart. It pulsed in his hand, which was a really uncomfortable feeling. His lips parted. He thought he’d throw up. He took a calming breath. He brought the meat to his lips. They shook. He dropped his jaw and forced in the heart chewing with all the speed he could. He thought it would be the most awful thing he had ever put in his mouth but it wasn’t. He laughed as he swallowed, “no big deal …now what?”
Suddenly Coriander’s stomach started convulsing. Oh no what if he threw up? Would the magick still come? How could he keep it down. He wished he had water or wine. He buckled over the sarcophagus and used it to steady himself. His eyes met the empty sockets of the skeleton. Suddenly there were eyes there. Looking back at him.
The eyes did not scare him rather they seemed peaceful, welcoming. Coriander then had the feeling he was not leaning over a coffin but rather standing on the ground looking at a boy around his age. He had pale eyes and skin as white as the skeleton had been. Coriander adjusted his bearings. He was no longer in the tomb.
At first he thought he was back in the land of the Fire Elves but quickly realized he was not standing on ash but on sand. The air was clear. The sky was blue. He could hear wind and not too far off the ocean. He took in his unexpected environment and then back at the boy who he somehow now recognized as the Prince.
He wasn’t sure what to do so he awkwardly bowed, “my Prince.”
“You who are called Coriander, greetings my warrior,” the prince held out his hand and Coriander kissed it. He expected it to be cold, like the dead, but it was warm in the sunny sandy place. It felt nice.
“Where are we?” Coriander dared to ask.
“My prison,” the Prince said sadly.
“Prison?” smiled Coriander, “it’s a lovely place!”
“Yes,” smiled the Prince, “Beyond those trees is a festival. They dance and play music and drink too much wine! That other way is a waterfall that is said to be inhabited by nymphs who tell stories and jokes. And over those hills is the ocean and my kingdom, or rather what would have been my kingdom. My Mother may be there.”
“So why are you here…” and again Coriander knew the answer as he asked, “you cannot get to any of those places can you?” Coriander looked at the sandy desert and thought, ‘what torment it would be to walk and walk and never reach the festival or water or family you heard and wanted to see. Why was the Prince in such a bad place? Didn’t he deserve better?’
“No, not before,” he smiled, “but now I have a warrior and maybe I will walk and this time I will arrive somewhere where there is more than sand.”
“Did the Elves do this to you?” Coriander knew he needed some information if he was to be this Prince’s warrior.
“I don’t believe so,” he said quietly. “But how can one know?”
“I don’t understand. Why would you be cursed? I have heard your story and no one has suffered like you my Prince.” Coriander didn’t mean to get emotional but injustice always upset him, “what God would continue such torment?”
The Prince reached up a hand and wiped away Coriander’s tear. “I was blessed with a Power I was too weak to control. The amulet focused that Power so I could think and be rational. It channeled some talents and prevented others. It acted, I believe, like a floodgate. But all the while I knew I had more Power that I could not use. And more and more the world needed saving and more and more I could do nothing. I despaired Coriander. I think it was my despairing that sent me here. I was not grateful or helpful. I took the blessing and turned it into a curse and then blasphemed the Goddess-gift by removing the vessel. How could She not punish me? I have prayed for forgiveness to Her and many others. Any who I begged listen… All has been silent. ”
“No.” Coriander said firmly but sweetly, “She who is All does not condemn one for weakness. This is not Her doing. I know it.”
“Your belief is sweet,” the Prince smiled.
“You said a warrior could free you? How do you know this?” Coriander asked.
“I don’t,” the Prince wished he had more answers, “but I heard you at my tomb. Yours was the first voice I have heard since…in a very long time. And now you are here. Something new has happened. Something has changed. Maybe a warrior comes to save me?” The Prince started crying, “it has been so long. I have been so lonely! I am so glad to see and hear another person but I am afraid too. But yes I welcome something anything other than endless wandering through endless grains of sand. Help me?”
Coriander hugged him. A new understanding washed over Coriander as he held the sobbing Prince. “what if..” he chose his words carefully, “what if you are not here as punishment? What if the amulet kept you here. As it magickally controlled you, maybe it, placed on your chest in death, still controls your soul?”
“So if you destroyed the amulet you think I’d be free?” said the Prince hopefully.
“well ummm…” Coriander now saw the flaw in his reasoning, “ I kind of already did destroy it.”
“Well…. I sort of ate it.”
The Prince stared at him in shock. Then he burst out laughing. “you ate my amulet? HA ha ha ha ha!!!!
Coriander joined in the laughter., “ha ha well it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. And well it wasn’t stone anymore…it was flesh.”
“Eww gross,” said the Prince.
“Actually it tasted like chicken,” Coriander said proving he wasn’t nasty.
“So,” the Prince still laughing as his mind raced, “you brought it here?”
“yes, sort of in my belly I guess?” Coriander tried to follow.
“Coriander, my warrior,” smiled the Prince, “could you heal me? Use the Power, my own Power to heal my heart? A thing I could not do for myself?”
Coriander thought about it, “I guess so, but, if I do possess the Power, I don’t know how to use it.”
“I can show you that,” the Prince smiled wider than Coriander imagined he had done in many seasons of many lives.
The two boys say down in the sand and the Prince proceeded to tell Coriander al about healing magick. Its source and control. How to shape it. How to respect it. Magickal phrases. Words uttered in the name of new Gods, well old gods that were new to Coriander’s ears, like She of the Healers. He placed hands on Coriander explaining how the magick could affect different areas and different points on the body. They sat for a very long time. Coriander listened and tried to remember everything.
The Power seemed awesome and unbelievable to Coriander. He wanted to be afraid but the Prince was so calming he wasn’t. The Prince seemed to be able to heal anyone or anything, even pull people back from the grave. He wondered if he would be able to do that. His blessings were different than the Prince and certainly not as intense. He wondered if he’d be able to heal Old Man when he returned.
After a very long time, Coriander looked at the young man with his new eyes and understanding. He began to diagnose the Prince. He touched his feet and hands and drew the sigils over his chakras like he had just been taught.
The Prince was not impatient but eager, “well? What’s wrong with me?”
“You’re heart,” Coriander knew, “is broken.”
“I thought so,” the Prince seemed calm in the face of this horrible news. “My heart broke for my kingdom, for all the soldiers who took to greed and not love and for my Mother who was lost in the face of Power she did not understand.”
“I don’t know if I can fix it,” his Power did not lie in the healing arts, despite the new lessons. Coriander fumbled his words, “my…my Power lies in other places…I’m good at fighting and Earth magick and….”
“Try?” begged the Prince.
Coriander knew he had to try. He placed his hands on he Prince’s chest and summoned Air as breath into his lungs. He called up strength and resolve of the Earth through his hands. He wasn’t sure if the glowing orb in the sky was the same Sun he worshipped but decided he would pretend it was: fire burned his lips. His blood coursed thickly with Water filling his veins. Finally Coriander pictured the boy’s heart. He felt it inside of himself. It was weak and torn. He spoke the new-words and feelings: pain loss hope death anger joy madness laughter, filled his mind. He used them to sew the pieces of the heart back together. The heart now looked heart-shaped but lacked the resolve to beat.
Coriander opened his eyes and looked at the Prince weeping in the pain of healing. His heart went out to him, this Prince who was now his brother, and Coriander whispered “I love you my Prince. I love you!” The heart beat. Coriander could feel it beating. The Prince gasped. His skin darkened with health. His eyes became clear. His smile sweet. The Prince flung his arms around Coriander, “thank you…thank you!” Coriander kissed him on the forehead.
Then he was kissing a skull. He jumped back in confusion. He felt drunk or dizzy. He looked around for the Prince but realized he was back in the tomb. He reached out to the remains and as he did they fell a part. The bones turned to dust as it should have a very long time ago.
He turned. Old Man was still on the floor. Coriander went over and placing a hand on his forehead, started to heal his injury. Old Man jumped back to consciousness almost immediately.
“Finally!” snapped Old Man, “took you long enough!”
“Hey!” snapped back Coriander, “it’s not every day I go to the everafter and heal a Prince!”
“So you did it?” Old Man smiled.
“Yes,” Coriander said obviously. “I feel dizzy…”
“Good. The magick is still in you. We must hurry.” Old Man stood with ease, a bit too much ease thought Coriander and said, “There are two to save remember. The debt will be paid. Let us go”
“I want to say goodbye!” Coriander, still shaky, looked at the dusty remains.
“No time!” Old Man retrieved his staff and banged it thrice on the floor. A brilliant colored portal opened before him. “Come boy!”
Coriander wanted to argue but knew it would do no good. Old Man behaved with such urgency he knew there would be no time for debating. His head was light he tried to think clearly. Hadn’t he wanted to get out of that horrible tomb? Right. Leave. He looked back and smiled at the sarcophagus. He knew the Prince was somewhere nice. He was happy, maybe even dancing at that festival? Coriander, however, was about to return to more death.
Coriander and the Prince’s Tomb 12 of 13
Coriander enjoyed the portal more the second time. Possibly because he was elated on magick or maybe because he was prepared for it or perhaps he was more relaxed knowing where he was headed and not terrified as he had been earlier. He had one hand on Old Man and the other reached out trying to touch the magick tube. He even cheered. Old Man laughed but said nothing. Coriander didn’t care. He had helped the Prince and was happy.
In front of them he saw a blinding light. It hurt his eyes. He couldn’t make out what it was. How could Hangman’s Tree be so bright? Was it daytime? How long had they been gone? Coriander knew other realms flowed at different times than the mortal one. He had heard stories where a person would think they were gone for a day and a hundred years had passed. Would it be a hundred years later? Would everyone he knows be dead? No. Old Man had said he loved someone in harms way, what good would it do to be gone a hundred years. His head, already hazy with the intoxicating magick, started to spin at the idea. He thought about asking Old Man how long they’d been gone but knew the answer would be annoying.
As they approached the light, Coriander realized it was the sun. He could see the sky too. It was blue. He never realized how beautiful the sky was before he had been in the land of ash and haze. He smiled. Home. He would be home soon. Perhaps he wouldn’t even need to return to the magoge. He could send for his few belongings and wait for the caravan outside the city. The happy prospect of even less days at school was brought to a halt as Coriander saw the wall.
There were no walls around Hangman’s Tree. He was portaling into the city itself. How would that be possible? Was Old Man crazy, well, crazier? People did not simply pop out of nowhere. They might be taken as evil wizards or mischief makers or worse. Then Coriander’s heart sunk even more when he recognized the wall. They were landing in the magoge itself. “Hera help us!” Coriander said aloud. Old Man laughed but continued.
He was already in trouble for doing magick he was not supposed to be doing, and not supposed to be able to do but now he was going to jump out of a portal, more magick that was supposed to be beyond him, and admit he had not only left the city without permission but had gone Goddess knows where? He was doomed to the neverworld. His only chance was if Old Man was smart enough to come out of the portal somewhere unnoticed and empty of people.
In fact the place was crowded. Every single teacher and student was in the courtyard where Coriander landed. Coriander fell out of the tube a bit more gracefully the second time but still ended up rolling in the dirt before he came to standing position. He looked at the faces staring at him. ‘Great,’ he thought. The entire school had assembled and must have seen a bright light and heard a loud ‘pop’ and then watched Coriander fall out of nowhere and plop to the middle of the yard. ‘…of course…’ he thought next.
The silence of the entire magoge staring was unnerving. Coriander wanted to run or hide or maybe do a dance, anything other than just stand there looking stupid. “Nice entrance Old Man,” Coriander sarcastically whispered as he turned to his partner in crime. He was alone. Old Man was nowhere to be seen. Coriander rolled his eyes and wondered why he even thought he would be there. ‘..yup it just gets better and better,’ was his third thought.
But then Coriander did hear something. His name. Someone was speaking his name. Obviously the magick in his heart was still making him dizzy. He turned to the source. Was he hallucinating? What was happening? Vushi was on the ground with two men each violently holding an arm. The position was one he had seen before. Vushi was being arrested.
“Coriander???” she said weakly, “…how..?”
“Vushi!” Coriander called, “let her go!”
“Silence!” barked First Teacher. “Where have you come from? How did you get here? What magick is this?” First Teacher couldn’t seem to make up his mind if he was impressed or angry. He went with angry. “You too will be dealt with. I have had enough of you! Take him away too!”
Two new and very large warriors came towards Coriander. Drunk of Power he lifted his hand towards them and said, “NO!” The two men went flying away in opposite directions. The courtyard gasped in unison. First Teacher’s eyes widened. Coriander didn’t care. He turned back to the men holding his friend, “let her go I will not say thrice!”
“No Coriander NO!” Vushi screamed, “STOP!”
“What?” he mumbled to the crying girl. He had never seen Vushi cry before. It was wrong. Just wrong.
“I did it…I did it…I’m sorry I didn’t mean to…” she wept.
“Do what?” he yelled louder than he meant to.
“Stand down” barked First teacher louder. “Stand down. She is not your affair. You have plenty to answer for already!”
“Just tell me what she did?” Coriander begged.
First Teacher rolled his eyes. Coriander expected to be taught a lesson there and then but before either men could battle, and Coriander was about to battle, Teacher Onion spoke, “The Indi slave has slain Sa’! He is dead. She cut him open with her knife! Cheating like you! Using weapons that are forbidden for just such reasons. Her life is forfeit to the State. Now stand back you cur, and obey your betters!”
“My knife?” he looked at Vushi who nodded. “Why?”
“It does not matter!” snipped Teacher Onion.
“AHHHHHHHHH” Coriander screamed in frustration. Wind howled in every direction. Teacher Onion was knocked back. Dirt flung everywhere. Students shielded their eyes. Even First Teacher took a step back. Coriander was done being ordered around and treated, and watching others treated, as if they mattered not. He, nor Vushi, nor the Prince were objects of the State! They were people. They mattered and no one was going to kill or abuse someone simply because they could. Not while Coriander could help it. “I SAID WHY!?”
“Coriander,” the gentle voice of teacher Akti came to him, “be still. Calm the winds. You do not help your friend like this.” Coriander let go of the winds. He could not let go of his anger. His vision blurred temporarily with the excess of Power. The teacher continued, “Sa’ was hurting her and she let her instincts get the better of her…”
“Sa’ was within his rights of battle…” Teacher Onion said with less verve. He seemed wary of making Coriander angry. “She should not have had the knife…..”
Coriander turned back to teacher Akti. “He was killing her wasn’t he?” Coriander knew the answer, “and no one, not even you, did anything about it?”
“I cannot alter the laws of battle and magoge placement. Sa’ was careful with his moves. He did not breach law. I promise you had I seen the knife I would have intervened but did not and it was all too late.”
Coriander wanted to feel bad for teacher Akti but did not. Stupid magoge. Stupid laws. Stupid Sa’! He was glad he was dead. No. The very thought upset Coriander. He could not be happy anyone, even a bully like Sa’ was dead. That is what distinguished him from them. That is when Coriander felt the Power still stirring in his body. “Of course,” he mumbled, “two will die if I do not help. Sa’ and the life of Vushi if he dies…”
“What my boy?” Teacher Akti looked concerned.
First Teacher cleared his throat, “you cannot help your friends. You will go now boy…”
“Where is Sa’?” Coriander ignored his betters. Teacher Onion and First Teacher exchanged looks. Was it fear? Was it confusion? Maybe, just maybe it was hope. Coriander seemed to posses Power they did not understand. “Where?” Coriander repeated himself.
“There,” a small boy dared to speak and pointed at the far wall. Coriander didn’t know the boy but recognized him. He nodded to him as he strode across the yard to the opposite side: to the exact wall Sa’ had been thrown into a day prior. Coriander felt guilty. He had given the knife to Vushi. He had beaten Sa’ and possibly made him want to prove himself to the magoge. He knew in his heart that he had to fix this.
He approached the scene. Blood covered the dirt. Sa’ was on his back with two medics attending him. One held a cloth to an open wound. A deep knife cut. Vushi must have panicked. The wound was fatal. Blood and guts spilled out regardless of the medic’s efforts. The other one said prayers to a variety of Gods. Coriander was relieved. Sa’ wasn’t dead. Not quite. Three of the same herd as Sa’ came forward in a protective manner. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder and stared at Coriander. He smiled, “you can move or I can throw you across the yard and then I will still save your horrible friend.”
The young men didn’t know what to do. Oddly it was First Teacher who spoke, “MOVE!” He ordered and they obeyed. He then spoke quietly to Coriander, “you cannot make it worse and maybe those provincial Gods you bow to can save us all. ”
Coriander wasn’t sure if that was a jibe or praise. Maybe First Teacher was in his position because he knew hen to let another lead? Maybe having seen him use magick he should not posses twice now, he knew Coriander might have more secret Powers? Or maybe First Teacher was desperate. Maybe the death of the tax collector’s son right before the solstice was bad for business? Coriander didn’t care. The medic spoke quietly, “he has lost a lot of blood,” he stated the obvious, “there is not much that can be done…”
“Thank you,” Coriander whispered as he knelt before the almost dead enemy. Is this how the Prince must have felt while healing the enemies of his kingdom? Confused but determined? He tapped into the dizzy feeling. That was the Power lingering in him. He had to find it again. He placed a hand on each ankle. Silence in the yard was more distracting than had it been playtime. Coriander ignored it and sunk into the Earth. Like snakes his guts and entrails slithered back into the belly. Coriander did not hear the gasps of everyone watching. He spoke holy words he had almost already forgotten and the blood stopped leaking. In his mind the space between the flesh was no longer a gap, but returned together. The familiar Sun heated the cold abdomen warming the very essence of Sa’. But the heartbeat. The heart, Coriander could feel, was weakening.
Sa’ was seemingly whole but only flesh with fleeting of life. Coriander knew what he had to do but was not sure if he could do it. Here was his enemy. He was not as noble as the Prince. He could not forgive Sa’. He certainly could never love him. But he had to. Coriander searched for the part of him that loved everyone and everything. The country boy that knew all life was sacred. He who ran barefoot through the hills and helped animals birth babies and sowed and reaped would have to know how beautiful all life was. He could love Sa’ as he loved all gifts of the Goddess.
Then he saw the Sa’ of his dream, his secret vision of Sa’ if he hadn’t become a bully. Could that Sa’ exist? Was there hope he’d one day be a nice person? How had he become so cruel? Was life cruel to Sa’? Maybe in his heart Sa’ wanted to be kind but life had forbidden it. Maybe he could love the Sa’ Coriander thought he could be? Could Coriander love him then?
Then in the back of his head Coriander heard a sound. It was as familiar as the Sun. It was the song he lovingly sang to his little sister to keep the pretend monsters away. He heard it now as if she was singing it to him. Telling him to be brave. Brave enough to love an enemy. The notion was beautiful. So Coriander looked at the almost corpse and spoke with words of Power, “I love you Sa’. Do not die my friend. Come back. Come back and love again. I love you.”
Sa’ gasped a full breath. A flood of relief filled the yard. The medics both genuflected to Coriander and then tended to Sa’. First Teacher’s mouth was almost literally on the ground. Teacher Akti had tears in his eyes. The boys and girls of the magoge were still afraid. No one actually knew what had happened. First Teacher whispered, “How did you do that?”
Coriander knew the truth would sound crazy but he hadn’t had time to think of a good lie so he said, “An old man came to me and brought me to a magickal place where I learned healing from a dead prince. He told me I could save two lives. Apparently he meant Sa’ and Vushi.” First Teacher blinked.
More silence stood in the yard. Finally Teacher Onion threw his hands in the air and made a prayer of thanks, “Thank you Great Goddess! She who has blessed Sa’! Obviously She, in Her divine Sight knew Death would be coming for Her favorite warrior! So She lent Her healing, like Her waters which flow into the fields and bring life, to an unworthy vessel! She used this lowborn carcass to carry our Her will and save Sa’! Goddess be praised!”
A chorus of cheers and applause filled the yard. Coriander thought he saw First Teacher hide a smirk. Teacher Akti tightened his lips and walked away suppressing a laugh as well. Sa’s name was chanted. He was not only the truest champion of the magoge but now favored by the Goddess herself. Sa’ stood a few minutes later to even more cheers. He shook Vushi’s now free hand and all beamed at the generosity and forgiveness of their champion to the horrible girl that skewered him. No one seemed to notice the lowborn vessel.
That was fine by him.
Coriander and the Prince’s Tomb 13 of 13
The sun was warm. Winters were never severe this far south but sill it should not have been quite so warm. Coriander had returned to his spot outside the city walls to get away from all the commotion and chaos of emptying a magoge. He also wanted to be well away from his peers. The only friend he wanted right now was the Sun! Coriander decided it was only for him. Yup. She was happy he had done such good so She was shining extra bright for Coriander. He laughed at what his mother would call his “city-conceit.” But if he couldn’t feel arrogant today when could he? He was certainly allowed a private boast with the Sun! Today was excellent and so was he!
“Hey stupid!” Vushi disturbed his perfection. She had said it with a smile but it was her ongoing constant rant that Coriander had been stupid to show off his Powers. She had scolded him all night and warned him against ever doing it again. She and teacher Akti were planning something Coriander could feel it.
“Hey knife girl,” Coriander spat back laughingly. Many students could not make up their minds about Vushi. She had been very popular and admired before the “knife incident.” Many felt that Sa’ was cruel and she did what she had to do. Other thought she was a cheater. Other spurned her now feeling she was no better than her heritage and coped a once slave always a slave attitude. But most everyone was afraid of her so little was actually said to her or about her. Coriander was sure when they returned from Solstice break she would go back to being the annoyingly popular Vushi and her name would be honored again.
Coriander on the other hand was treated like a leper. Everyone avoided his eyes. When he walked silence and hushing came before and after. It had been one long day of awfulness. Coriander would have thought he’d like being ignored but now actually being ignored felt horrible. It was like being punished for doing a good thing.
Coriander had told Teacher Akti the entire story. Teacher then told Coriander which parts to leave out in his report. Coriander liked that he had common enemy in magoge. It was like he was a secret spy for Akti!
Frist Teacher had listened and nodded without much enthusiasm but was not happy. He was also annoyed that Coriander could no longer heal or throw warriors around with his mind. The second part was sort of a lie. First Teacher lectured him on proper magick and responsibility and, much to the disappointment of Teacher Onion, did not punish Coriander. He did however send word to Coriander’s Father. He would cross that bridge when he came to it.
“So…” Vushi seemed annoyed, “are you going to tell me what First Teacher said?” He did.
“I’ve been thinking about your Old Man,” Vushi said conspiratorially. “My Mother believes in a god,” she paused to roll her eyes. Vushi’s Mother put priests to shame with her devotion and was not particular to any one deity, rather all and any of them. Vushi had once said her Mother would pray to a cucumber if no one was looking. “I remember her speaking of a white god or a bleached by the sun god or something…he is the God of Trade and Travelling from a village not far from our home…well our original home. We can ask her about him when we get back?”
“Sure,” Coriander said unenthusiastically. He never ever wanted to meet Old Man again. The prospect of him being a god was an injustice he’d rather not know about.
Vushi was disappointed her memory hadn’t stirred some passionate sleuthing instead Coriander had seemed annoyed. She wondered what the Old Man had done to her friend. Coriander had left out a lot of the story she was sure. But she didn’t press. Not yet. She lightened up the brooding space between them. “So you can’t heal anymore? Anything?” Vushi asked skeptically.
“I don’t think so.” Coriander was sad and glad about that, “First Teacher had me try to restore a plant all morning. I was like I love you plant I love you!” he laughed at the ridiculousness.
Vushi smiled, “good! I can’t have you more powerful than me!”
“You are not going to let this go are you?” Coriander laughed. Vushi had always been the one saving Coriander. He had wounded her pride by saving her. He teased her more enjoying her discomfort, “Ya know most girls would just say hey thanks Coriander for saving my life! They’d buy me expensive gifts and ask me to kiss them like a hero! But not you! You just complain!!!!!”
Vushi cleared the space between them in an instant. She leaned in and kissed Coriander on the lips. He didn’t have time to move his chin. It wasn’t a long kiss but it tasted sweet. Coriander felt his face flush. He didn’t know how to respond. He looked down searching for words that would be kind and not hurt her feelings, “..ummm….”
Vushi punched him in the chest, “stupid boy!” She laughed and ran off leaving him to rub his chest and wonder at who was stupider. He kicked the ground in gentle awkward frustration. That’s when he saw the sticks. Coriander had left his sticks on the ground when he went to Hangman’s Tree the day before. He had never made his basket. A tinge of guilt nagged him to pick them up. Maybe on the journey home he would make a present for his mother? That might ease the whole getting trouble at magoge thing?
As Coriander gathered the sticks as he heard the laughter. He knew that laughter immediately. It was cruel laughter. The kind mean kids practice in the middle of the night. He imagined they convened in darkness to try and teach each other how to laugh more cruelly. There was probably a secret class on it! Coriander wanted to run but knew better. So he braced himself.
“Oh look Sa’!” a nasal sounding girl laughed, “there’s the vessel! He loooooooves you!” A lot of laughter followed. Apparently Sa’s reputation wasn’t going anywhere. A few more attempts at insults were thrown as the pack continued passed Coriander and into the city. Nothing horrible. More like “have nice trip to the farm” which Coriander didn’t find insulting. He rolled his eyes and mockingly waved at the stupid children trying to prove they were better. He didn’t care. Well he cared but not enough to let it ruin the day.
He knew the caravan would arrive soon and he wanted to go out and greet it instead of waiting for some of the riders to come and fetch the children. Coriander didn’t feel like a child anymore. He picked up the sticks, threw his bag over his shoulder and started to walk. Sa’ was waiting for him.
Coriander stopped in his tracks. Sa’ was just standing there staring at him. He didn’t look like he was about to hit him. And besides no one was watching. Sa’ wouldn’t waste time hitting him in private, that was a public show! Coriander was not truly afraid. He might not win in a fight against Sa’ but he wouldn’t loose badly. They both knew that now.
Coriander grew annoyed at the bully standing there starring at him and saying nothing, “what!”
“…ummmm…” Sa’ was a physical giant not a mental one so Coriander tried to be patient, “umm…sorry…those guys…” he grunted and motioned towards where his friends had been. Was Sa’ apologizing? Was the end neigh? Did the Sun rise West? Coriander almost laughed but Sa’ was so seemingly earnest he didn’t want to hurt him.
After another beat or two of silences broken by Sa’ mumbling incoherently Coriander finally took charge, “Sa’ it’s ok. You are welcome. We’re good. OK?”
Sa’ reached forward and grabbed Coriander’s shoulders. He almost lifted him off the ground. The sticks fell defeated back to the ground. Coriander suddenly felt tiny in the bully’s arms. Oddly he didn’t feel threatened just confused. He was about to say ‘what in Hades are you doing…’ when Sa’ kissed him. Just a tiny, but lingering kiss on the cheek. Both of them blushed.
Coriander didn’t know what to say as Sa’ put him back down. About a thousand thoughts simultaneously ran through his brain. He had to say something. Didn’t he? Before he could utter any of thing, Sa’ punched him in the chest. Exactly where Vushi had just bruised him. “OW!”
Sa’ shrugged his shoulders and ran off.
Coriander rubbed his chest again. This had to have been the oddest, strangest, most confusing two days of anyone’s life ever! Coriander was quite sure not a single story he had ever heard was anywhere close to his adventure. Nothing made sense. Vushi cared for him in a way he did not return but kind of did in his own way…he had Power to move things with the Earth that he had to lie about and NEVER do again…so he didn’t really have it, or did he? He had had Power to heal but that was gone now, but some part of him thought he might be able to do it again…maybe, probably not but who knows if it would drive him mad. He had saved three lives and got credit for none! He had been forced to publically say I love you to his enemy who had just kissed him! He wanted to swear and kick something. He thought about breaking those stupid sticks lying on the ground mocking him! But did not. Instead he thought, ‘this I understand. I can weave separate sticks and make a whole. I will know how and why. It will calm me. And at least there will be one thing in this incredibly confusing world that made sense!’
Coriander bent down and picked up the sticks again. He wondered how many more times he would be throwing these things on the ground before he ever go done. Part of him knew it did not matter. Nothing mattered as long as he bent down and picked them up again. He laughed and said to no one, “Life is weird.” And with that, he set out to meet the caravan and go home, which is all he had ever wanted to begin with.
Had he been paying attention and not lost in his own thoughts he would have distinctly heard the sound of more laughter. Not cruel or lustful, a gentle laugh, of an old man.