THE BEST OF MEN part 2 INTRUSIONS
TEA AND TOASTED RABBIT (b)
Black Hills, Segyllin Part 3057.7.24
A strange man entered. Somehow he managed to give the impression that he had nothing to do with the way the door had opened. He was such a small, frail old man with something of a limp, rather stooped and he had, as far as Tregar could make out in the smoke hazed torchlight, a withered arm. He wore a voluminous cloak, which he held back with the better appendage, and a broad-brimmed floppy hat with a starling’s feather in the band. It was hard to see his face but a grey beard straggled down his chest.
‘Tut, tut,’ he muttered, or something similar, ‘A little less violent next time, if you please.’
He looked up and transfixed Tregar with a single piercing eye. The left eye wore a patch, a black one patched itself with a piece of red check where it pressed against his nose. He looked faintly ludicrous. Tregar would not let himself be fooled by that. He wondered how the old man had come here and who he might have been talking to, as there was patently no one else with him. Here was a person of some power.
‘So Master Tregar, and how are you?’ His voice was high pitched and cracked but there was nothing frail in the challenge of the question. Tregar could think of nothing to say beyond the obvious and decided not to bother.
‘C’mon. I am there somewhere in that poor memory of yours. But anyway, let’s not concern ourselves over whoever I might be or why I know you. Master Tregar, I am here to find out who or what you are. You seem to have become quite important.’
‘I don’t understand,’ Tregar ventured, ‘How do—’
The old man cackled. ‘What you are at the moment, I think, is a child moving from rage to fear. Why let a little smoke upset you? Are you so afraid to use magic that it becomes an angry last resort?’ He paused and looked harshly at the fireplace. ‘Up! Up and out the chimney Boggart. You have played your tricks too long in this place. Get out before I blow you to the Leagues of Utter Death, out! Before I send you to the Wastes of Time, out I say!’
A nervous chittering came from the black hole and then with a mighty rush and wail something was gone. Then the fire glowed red and the room emptied of smoke.
Tregar laughed aloud. Whether in amusement or embarrassment he wouldn’t have liked to say.
‘A Boggart? Is that all it was? Not even as argumentative as some I’ve dealt with.’
‘No? Oh I think he was, but he was not stupet. Few creatures would argue with me, Mester Wiezart.’ Tregar thought the old man’s tone rather haughty and would have commented on it but the old man didn’t give him the chance. ‘Right! It’s you and it is magic I have come to talk about, but before that we need some supper. Put on the kettle and make us some tea; I shall see to these.’
Like a conjuror he produced from under his cloak a pair of fat rabbits. Saying no more he set to skinning and cleaning them as expertly as a butcher. Tregar shrugged and went to see to the kettle.
As they chewed on sizzling pieces of tender flesh and shared tea from Tregar’s tin mug the wizard studied his companion. He struggled to identify him from any part of his past life. He was of such startling appearance and overbearing personality that Tregar was certain they had never met. No one could forget such a misfit. And yet the old man had insisted that Tregar knew him. Was he from Errensea perhaps, an old tutor, an elder of the Collegium? It seemed impossible.
And why was he here? Why seek him out in these dreary northlands? Why come to him in the dark of night? The greybeard, for his part, seemed content to eat and drink, warm his feet and chatter but Tregar had to suspect a deep purpose to this meeting.
And yet the old man was full of trivialities. He talked about the weather and compared it to the climate in other parts of the World. He talked about places the much-travelled Tregar had never even heard of. He would not explain, though Tregar asked, how he had known about the boggart, or anything at all about his powers; instead he began to talk about food and drink. But as he talked, the old man’s gaze never wandered from Tregar’s face. It was most uncomfortable. The wizard felt as if all his secrets were laid bare and that nothing he thought could be kept hidden.
As soon as he had finished his meal the greybeard said:
‘Now. It is time we got us down to business. I brought you here because—’
‘You brought me here?’
‘Why yes. Don’t be surprised. That’s part of what I wanted to tell you. There are many more beings in this world that have much more power than you. Or, to say it right, they have much different sorts of power than your own. Oh, I don’t just mean people like Beltomé, though they are worth remembering; there are other powers – like me.’
‘Why do you repeat me? You’re a wiezart aren’t you? You have been taught your Powers. All these idle years have done you no good: you have lost memory and you have lost respect. You have forgotten even me! How can you expect to fight the evil ahead if you can’t remember your allies? Eh?’
Tregar was nettled by the criticism. So what if he did have a lazy memory? It was no great problem and even if it was, no stranger had any right to chide him for it. And the man definitely was a stranger. Hackles raised he said:
‘I’m not going to remember allies I’ve never met. And I count on my allies for truth but everything ye’ve said for all I know could be lies.’
‘Lies is it?’ said One Eye, and he seemed angry, ‘Well perhaps that brings me to my second point: I don’t like your attitude to all this. And I didn’t like the way you spoke to Seama either. Is there no one you believe?’
‘What’s it to you whit I believe or not?’
‘It is everything to me. What do you think this war is all about? This is not your average squabble, you know. Now, just you shut up your mouth and listen to me for a bit. I will put it as simple as I can.’
Tregar harrumphed: he wasn’t much used to being told to shut up. However he decided to listen first and quarrel after. The old man waited for his attention and then continued.
‘To make a start,’ he said, ‘I am not supposed to be here. It is not allowed. In the Middle Order we have obligations both ways. We are not humankind and cannot fight as humans do. Talking and advice are human ways. There is a limit to what I can tell you. You are in a war of good against evil and though that is a description fitting many a war it is none the less true for that. Some will say that this war is extraordinarily so and many will believe it and it may be true. But I say to you, Tregar MacNabaer, the enemy you fight has many minds and not all are all bad. That is the key. That is the key to the whole sorry mess. Remember, though you will scarce believe me when you see them, evil’s warriors are human with souls the same as yours. You will ever see things in black or white despite the evidence all around you. You must learn to see grey. And with mankind most greys are closer to white than black. Understand why that is true and it will save us all a lot of trouble.
‘You are in a war of strange power. You will be Earnor’s answer to that power, you and some others. Yes you! It seems an unsuitable choice to me: a so-called wiezart who’s scared to use magic. Let the warriors fight, Tregar, you must learn to use your skill – and not only when you lose your temper. If you are a wiezart, behave like one!
‘I cannot tell you how to fight them. I cannot tell you their weapons or even their names. There is much you have to discover for yourself but if you think about what I have said you may find your way to victory. A victory that armies cannot win, that rejects dour deeds and glory. You may even understand what that victory means. There are no prophecies to tell us who will prevail in this dispute or indeed whether it is possible to prevail and so you must generate your own reasons to hope.’
What thoughts were in his mind Tregar could not guess but the old man gave a long and weary sigh. ‘Ay, ay. Maybe it has gone on too long. We must end it. You must do your best and know, before I go, that the fate of the gods is, most surprisingly, in your hands.’ He shrugged to indicate his confusion and then got to his feet and walked toward the door.
Tregar was bemused. What was all the nonsense about the Middle Order and obligations? What did he mean by claiming not to be human? He certainly looked human. And his message: what did that mean? Had this funny old greybeard told him anything at all? Some of what he said about magic Tregar surely recognized in himself but he had always thought that restraint in the use of his power a good thing. The rest of it meant nothing to him. And yet, the old man had spoken with such authority and such knowledge. How could he have known what Tregar had said to Seama? How could have known that Tregar would find his way to this ruin? And how could he know anything about the coming conflict?
‘Why cannot ye tell me more?’
‘I have told you enough, and that is more than I should. There is a balance, you know, and I have disturbed it. Others like me actually oppose our design, but they are similarly forbidden to act. My talking to you allows a response. Who knows what trouble this has caused. Now I shall take my leave of you.’ He looked at the door and it opened gently for him. ‘That is better, well done.’ he said. Tregar could restrain himself no longer:
‘Who are ye?’ he demanded, thinking it would be his last chance. The old man was gleeful.
‘Heh, heh,’ he cackled, ‘you still have no idea, have you? Eh? I’d spend a while working on that memory if I were you! Must have been all those parties in Ayer: addled your brains. Ah me. Well now, I hate to see a creature suffer, so I’ll tell you this: I have been called a God, Tregar. They called me wild and furious and said I was the god of battle and victory. Quite ironic really. To others I have been inspiration and that is better, though I started out as the god of wind. You could call me Greybeard and in fact you have already.’
Tregar flushed red at his own stupidity but he was determined to stand his ground. ‘It is a poor god to be half blind,’ he said, looking for confirmation. The god smiled.
‘I gave my eye to gain wisdom and wisdom can see more clearly than any eye.’ Tregar had guessed right. ‘Now, I bid you keep to luck and common sense. Just remember what I said to you. It may not have sounded important but I hope the meaning comes clear. Goodbye Wiezart. I shall leave the paths bent but you’ll find a way with a little skill. Farewell!’
He was gone and the door pulled shut rather sharply behind him. Tregar rushed to the door and wrenching it open was not surprised to find the yard empty.
Though not a religious man, Tregar found himself offering up a prayer of thanks to Imvar, the god of his childhood. How else was he to respond to divine intervention? He could hardly pray to the same god he had shared a supper with. But pray he must for the first time in twenty years. It did not matter that he understood very little of what had been said, he just knew that with this visitation he was blessed and his cause just, whatever that cause might prove to be.
‘Uovin!’ he cried to the empty room, ‘Uovin Himself has spoken to me!’ and such a mood of exhilaration took him that he danced across the yard and told Sirrah all about it.
Part 1 “Coincidents” starts here PROLOGUE
THE BEST OF MEN
SONG OF AGES
An epic fantasy of monsters, gods, warriors and wizards, of heedless villains and decent everyday people.
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COINCIDENT - The Best of Men Pt 1
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