The Revolutions of Time, Chapter 05
I was walking in silence through the rugged forests of northern Daem alongside Bernibus the Canitaur, with his fellows Wagner and Taurus before and behind us, respectively, the former leading the way, the latter covering our tracks, and both on the lookout for an ambush. An entire lifetime of guerrilla warfare and privations of all kinds had instilled in the Canitaurs a strong and prevailing sense of caution, which sometimes rendered their lighthearted and almost spiritually frivolous nature to the casual observer a dense, deceiving demeanor used to conceal their true selves. But that was not the case, I believe, for they were, or at least Bernibus was, truly amorous in personality.
The sky was then in its deepest dark, and in the few breaks in the canopy above large enough to be seen through, there were few celestial lights to illuminate the depths of that mountainous forest. The forest itself sprawled like a great metropolis along the lands above the large central lake of Daem, Lake Umquam Renatusum, which was close beside the Canitaur outpost where we had narrowly escaped discovery and capture. However deficient in sight the forest was, it was abounding with sounds, everything from the call of the owl to groan of the bull frog, it was as if the whole of the forest had congregated about us, drawn to us by some unknown scent of interest and intrigue.
Continuing on for some time in the same way, I found myself growing weary, nodding my head slowly towards the oblivion of sleep, until I was brought to an instant liveliness by Wagner's announcement that we had reached our destination. I looked around carefully, yet I saw nothing at all to indicate the entrance to a large, covert military establishment, much to my companions delight. Their whimsical sense of humor surfaced once again as they laughed with seemingly infinite pleasure, both at my wondering expression and with a sense of satisfaction at their own cleverness. After the outburst had been subdued and a certain level of solemnity had been reached, Wagner approached the nearest tree and knocked on it with a rhythmic rut-tut-tut.
Expecting their old trick to be replayed, I waited for the tree to open, but to my surprise, it didn't, instead a strong rope ladder dropped down from a tree several yards to the east. This we climbed, and I found that I had been mistaken as to the height of the ancient wooden towers, for they proved to be even loftier in dimensions than I had imagined. Accordingly, it took us a good five minutes to reach its top at a quick and steady pace, and all through the climb I was terrified at the long drop, from which the ladder offered no protections. Yet I made it to the top safely, and found that there was a large platform built securely among its upper branches, with enough room to hold a few dozen persons, and there was even comfortable seating in the center. There were four guards stationed on the platform, each equipped with a long bow and a quiver of metal tipped arrows, and though they were hardly visible through the dim light emitted from the covered lantern that lit the platform, I could see them quietly conversing with Wagner and Taurus while Bernibus and myself reposed on the seats provided for that very purpose.
They conversed for awhile, though I could not hear them, nor could I see them well enough to judge their facial expressions, but Bernibus waylaid any anxious thoughts I had with his encouraging tone, and also by giving me a drought of ale and a loaf of bread to overcome my fatigue and hunger, both of which I quickly consumed. He gave me more bread, but wouldn't allow me another glass of ale, for safety's sake. At first I thought he deemed me easily overcome by spirits, but I soon discovered his reasons and thanked him.
Wagner returned from the guards and, finding that we were ready to proceed, led us to the far corner of the platform, where we were joined by Taurus. We then set off on a road that ran above the lower levels of the canopy, made from jointed platforms that were attached to the massive limbs of the trees, meeting the branches of the next tree half way across, forming a continuous, snaking path far above the ground. Traveling on those paths we made our way criss-crossingly to the west. The walking was no more difficult than on the ground, for the boards were firmly secured to the great branches, which were at least five or six feet wide, and there were short rails as well.
After no more than half an hour of travel on the 'Treeway', we reached another large platform in the center of a great tree which was very much like the first one, excepting that the trunk of the tree came up through its center and there was a door leading into the trunk. There were eight guards on this platform, but they let us pass without more than a friendly gesture, their scouts having, no doubt, seen us long before and ascertained our identity and intentions. They seemed to have been expecting the return of Wagner's group, though the addition of me they appeared to eye curiously.
Wagner led us directly to the door, which opened into a set of circular stairs that wound down the inside of the tree like the insides of an old world lighthouse tower. The stairs descended further than the tree ascended, wrapping around almost infinitely, at least to my wearied senses, which were depleted of vividness by the treacherous toils of the proceeding day. Down, down, down went the stairs, until at length we reached the bottom and found ourselves in a cave, the stairs ending in a small foyer area which opened out into the cave, it being delved into the bedrock layer, indicating that we had indeed passed below the surface on our descent. The passage was really a narrow defile with high walls on either side, impenetrable due to the fact that they were the foundations of the earth above. It stretched on for a ways, its whole length commanded by little, turret like stations which stuck out from the upper wall, in which were stationed groups of archers, and though they now stood in a solemn, dignified manner, any opposition that attempted to force a way through would have been decimated. Yet they stood at attention and made no noise or movement at our passing, instead being the essence of well disciplined soldiery.
This narrow chasm led onward for about three hundred yards, the walls stretching upwards in such a fashion that it brought to mind images of Moses crossing the Red Sea, with great walls of water suspended in air on either side, ready at any moment to come crashing down upon them, their lives in the hands of another. So did I then feel, the Canitaur guards being able to slay me on the slightest whim of fancy that struck their minds into a sadistic mood. Yet I was not afraid, instead I was overcome by a feeling of relaxation, where all cares and worries are given up as frivolous burdens, not necessary and not helpful, being, in fact, harmful to the mind.
The defile, or narrow passage, led to a great abyss, crossable only by a drawbridge controlled on the other side, which was at this time lowered and ready for us to cross, which we did, accompanied by four honor guards who were dressed in all the pomp and pleasantry known by the Canitaurs. It was a custom among them to greet newcomers with an honor guard which escorted them to the body of dignitaries and aristocrats that would be waiting to welcome them in style. This was done for us, and we were led into the fortress' great room, which was used for discussions and debates, via another winding stairway that took us even further below the surface. It was a splendid room, equipped with all kinds of luxuries and embellishments and spreading out like a quarter circle around a central stage with a podium upon it. Seats were arranged in arching rows, with a sort of cluster of seats around a wooden desk being allotted to each of the members of the council and his aide de camps; there were two hundred such clusters. Sitting there like they had been woken from sleep to attend to us were the delegates, looking tired and untidy, a rare state for a Canitaur to be in, with their clothes ruffled, their hair uncombed, and their eyes glazed with a discordant state of mind.
Wagner, who turned out to be a high official among them, led me to the top of the stage where the podium was, with a sofa, desk, and several chairs behind it, concealed from the council by the raised floor and walls that formed the base of the podium, creating a small, private anteroom for those at the podium. I laid myself down tiredly on the sofa to rest while Wagner took the stage and began to speak.
"Friends, comrades, associates," he said to the council, "I thank you for neglecting your beds at this late hour to join with us here in the Hall of Meeting, for there is something very important to be shared. You are all no doubt familiar with the ancient prophecy of the Externus Miraculum: long ago it was told that in our extreme need, when hope no longer exists in the hearts of many, an ancient would be sent by Onan our lord to redeem and deliver us from the evils of this world, for as our doom was wrought in their times, so would our hope originate. The past cannot be changed except by those who first made it, and our present is dictated by the happenings of the past, so that for a better future the past must be changed, and only then will we be freed from the burdens of history."
He continued, "We have therefore long awaited the arrival of our kinsman redeemer, who will change the past and prevent the cause of our current woes from happening, for without its roots, what evil can grow and flourish? Our redeemer was to come on the Kootch Patah, when our adversaries the Zards are not watchful, being drunk with celebrations at the turning of the year. Myself, Taurus and Bernibus went to the shores of Lake Umquam Renatusum, as is our custom, to watch for the coming of the promised one, and this time we were not disappointed, for he came to us, even as the prophecy says, as we sat hidden in the living tower. Seen by the Zards, we were almost discovered, until the promise of the hidden fortress drew them away, even as the prophecy says. And now we are here, delegates of the Canitaurian people, safely within our fortress with our kinsman redeemer, so what shall be done? Let us decide."
At this point he cast a glance towards me, as if desiring me to speak before the council, but I was in the last throes of wakefulness, where sleep has crept so far upon you that arrival in the land of dreams is only a matter of moments, and wakefulness is not desired, nor is anything else. I looked at him with my eyes glazed with that sweet, savory taste of sleep, and though I was conscious, I was not in control, only an audience to actions of my subconscious whims, and even that passed beyond my reach as my eyes fell shut, isolating me in the realm where worldly concerns mean nothing. And so I was when my exhaustion overtook me, leaving me sound asleep on the sofa behind the podium.