Journal Entry 6: The Feast
There are few occasions when acolytes speak to one another. We have no bond as each seeks their own path towards the great door. The elders’ favour us in turn with their time and teachings, the game is deadly and punishment severe.
No acolyte may harm another or steal from another, but we are encouraged to scheme and plot. Competition is fierce, but the reward, incredible.
It is a lonely life here compared to my time with a family. Love and trust softened the hunger and tears. In the tower we want for nothing, save companionship and kindness. These are the scraps to hunt down amidst the trials and learning.
I learned of the coming of the strangers sometime after they actually arrived. Acolytes were summoned in rotation to serve the table of the elders and after three days, I was ordered to attend.
There were four of us, stood in the corners of the dining hall dressed in our white garb. A long table lay before us, the smell of rich food, exotic and flavoursome a maddening temptation to our empty stomachs.
We were left to wait for a time. Not a word was spoken between us, but we all eyed and measured each other. I had not spent so long in a room with peers and knew I was considered least amongst them, being oldest, but also the newest arrival.
I stared across from me at a girl, younger than I by some years. Our blood grants us an ageless quality in our maturity by comparison to others without gift, but she had yet to reach ripeness, being of fifteen turns or so. When I lingered too long, she returned my gaze with a spirited glare of her own and it was I who was forced to look away.
At that moment, the doors opened and laughter spilled into the hall from the corridor beyond. Two men in long ornate robes of blue and gold ambled into the room. One was blonde haired and with eyes like old sky, wearing an armoured breastplate and pauldrons similar to those I’d seen on the statues in Mistress Abraxia’s private study the first time I’d met her, the other, dark of eye and bald, was slight and less martial in the way he carried himself.
“You cannot truly believe these things, Talien,” the bald man scoffed. “How could such creatures survive the Schism?”
“They did and now they thrive,” the wizard named Talien replied. “Wait until you taste them.”
“So good of you to bring an example for us, my lord,” Mistress Abraxia said as she entered after them, her limp a distinct contrast to their easy manner.
“No less worthy than my offering of Giantflesh,” the bald man said.
“No indeed, Lord Sallis,” Mistress Abraxia replied. She made straight for her chair, clearly pained by the effort of the stairs outside. A flick of her finger brought me out from the wall to ease it out and help her sit. As she settled, her own fingertips brushed my hand in a discreet gesture of thanks.
The two guests also took seats, leaving a fourth unoccupied. “Where is Master Kanatan?” Sallis inquired. “I had hoped to speak with him this evening.”
Mistress Abraxia gave him a measuring stare. “I am as disappointed as you,” she said coolly. “I doubt he would wish to miss such a meal and good company, but he has been tired of late.”
Lord Sallis nodded. “I will take no offense then,” he said.
“We cannot dine as only three,” Talien said. His gaze strayed to the girl opposite me and his lips quirked into a leer. “Perhaps one of your attending decorations can take his place?”
Mistress Abraxia turned her quelling stare to her second guest, but Talien laughed at her. “Come, surely you cannot approve of this banquet going to waste?”
“They are not ready for the honour,” Mistress Abraxia replied.
“When we are the providers, we should judge who partakes of the feast,” Talien said. He stood suddenly, his chair scraping the floor. Before anyone could stop him, he crossed the room and seized the girl’s wrist. “What is your name, little flower?” he asked. “Your betters command that you answer them.”
“I am a lord. You will address me as such.”
Talien yanked her arm, dragging her towards the empty chair. My nails dug into my palms, but I dared not move. Mistress Abraxia was ignoring the spectacle, but her fingers were white as they gripped the metal goblet in front of her.
Lord Sallis was the only person to react. He also stood. “Talien you are being tiresome,” he said. “What are you trying to prove?”
“Prove?” Talien released the girl who dropped into the seat. “I need prove nothing! The towers of Limbo no longer bind and shackle me. We have been here four days. I would see our visit ended and such foolish rituals cast aside.” He leaned over the table and glared at Mistress Abraxia. “Your time is past and your end long overdue. Soon we will come and take what we want, whenever we want it!”
“And yet you are here and came to this table,” Lord Sallis said drily. “Without the skill of the artificer from the Tower of Stars, you may be forced to remain here for many days more. Without your armour repaired you will be easy prey for any wizard you might find.”
“Lord Talien,” Mistress Abraxia said. “We will honour our ancient obligations to you as we have done for all wizards who come to us. You have brought us an offering and tithe. We will mend your garments and restore you to continue your journeys amidst the Fractured Worlds.”
Talien scowled, but he returned to his chair. “See that you do,” he said and turned his attention to the food in front of him. He picked up a long serrated knife. “Now, we are four and each of you is settled. We must begin with the offerings.” He positioned the blade against a large browned animal carcass. “Lord Sallis brings Giantflesh, but I hunted something rare and ancient from the times before the schism. A lighter meat, cooked as befits its status. This creature was once a king of the skies, before dragons reclaimed their place.” He flourished the knife. “I bring you an eagle!”
As he began to cut slivers from the carcass I was struck by the size of the bird; large to be sure, but one that was no comparison to defeating a giant - a creature that stomped through the pages of journals and logbooks kept on the spiralling library shelves. Yet Lord Sallis seemed to bear the gloating in good part.
“The eagle is bigger than those I remember,” Mistress Abraxia remarked. “Perhaps the magic has affected them? Where did you find it?”
“On a mountainous realm, close to the vortex,” Talien replied. “I named it Eyrie. Others refused to travel to there, claiming it too dangerous a place.”
“And was this where you suffered injury?” Sallis asked.
“Indeed it was,” Talien said. “A whole flock of the creatures descended upon me and my companions, but we were potent enough to best them and bring back several delicious examples for this dinner table!”
I watched Sallis. Outwardly he seemed calm, but his manner was as coolly polite as Mistress Abraxia’s. Both were nibbling at their food as they spoke, while Meris sat mute, her head bowed, staring at her empty plate. Eventually Talien noticed and sliced a chunk from the wing and dropping it in front of her with a flourish. “Come, little one. You should make the most of this rare privilege to be placed in such company!”
Meris’ took up the thin two-pronged fork. Her hands were shaking, but under the leering gaze of Talien she had no choice but to eat, which she did, slowly and with no pleasure. I pitied her, but could do nothing in the presence of my betters.
The four feasted long into the night. Prodded with questions in turn by my mistress and Sallis, Talien regaled the company with his adventures. His wine goblet remained full throughout the evening until eventually he could talk no more. I was summoned with another acolyte to help him on the stairs. My last memory of the feast was of Sallis. The bald wizard stared after us as we left. It occurred to me then not once had he mentioned how he came to bring a giant to the table.
---by Allen Stroud