Battling Priorities

 

 

 

This is as close as I can come to providing an illustration of a seabird. I tried using various ospreys and eagles and owls as models, and I finally had to give up.  The line drawing used as the basis for my picture is a stained glass pattern developed by CKE Glass (used with permission).  The colors and textures are mine. Hint: it looks better full size.

 

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Seabird extract - "Battling Priorities"

 

“And you, the Outworlders, are counted by scholars as the fourth folk. Since you are born elsewhere than on Narenta, Alphesis himself summons you here at times to aid us. All our peoples honor you and your peoples for your courage and your willingness to aid those who are in peril from the Daetaga. Do you hear my words?”

“Yes, Lady Clepta.” Cara added cautiously, “But I still don’t understand what you expect me to do.”

Amusement touched Clepta’s eyes and lips. “Do you not see? Outworlders are our champions, called by Alphesis at times of gravest peril to aid and defend Narenta with their wisdom, their courage and their skill of enchantment.”

Cara couldn’t suppress a grin. “I knew it,” she whispered to herself. Aloud she added, “Look.”

She shook her head, wondered how best to break the news she had suspected from the beginning. She tried again, “Look, I’m an Outworlder if you say so. But I’m not particularly clever or brave and, believe me, I can’t even do card tricks. Someone messed up, Lady Clepta. I’m sorry but-”

His voice harsh, Nabis interrupted, “Did you lie when you told the Ancient that you heard her words? Know then that Alphesis commanded you be brought here, for is it not his sign you wear? It is by your own account a talisman that came to you just today, on the same day Alphesis willed you to come.”

Oh, great. I knew you’d be trouble. On earth, bet you’d be a prosecuting attorney.

Cara turned and responded with some heat, “I bought it! It didn’t ‘come to me’. Weird things happened even before that. I’d already felt ... I mean I saw the woods here before that. I think I heard you guys, too. I thought then I was hallucinating, you know? Except ...” Cara shrugged. She didn’t know how to put those earlier “tugs” into words, and reminding Clepta might not be a good move.

A soft voice cut in--Pinaca’s. “You confuse the Outworlder. She knows not our ways. Cara, think. You say you sat upon a seat and looked upon the seabird. At that moment, you sensed something you could not explain. Perhaps that is the moment when Alphesis or his messenger spoke to you. An enchanter might be able to pass a message to another world, using a Thought Stone.”

Cara shook her head.

Before she could respond, Pinaca did so for her. “If you no longer remember, try to recall it. Neither chance nor the errors of an enchanter brought you here. In this place, there is no chance. There is only will: His, yours, ours, and that of those of the darkness. To believe in chance is a great folly and, for an Outworlder especially, dangerous.”

Cara gazed into Pinaca’s warm yet ice-colored eyes. She had been alone on that bench. How could they expect her to recall a message or a conversation that couldn’t exist? I might as well try to remember watching the wizard himself as he did his world-napping trick.

Pinaca’s words about dangerous beliefs and Clepta talking about peril sounded paranoid. Still, if they knew what they were talking about that explained their skittishness. Even Dulcima had mentioned the evil in the mountains. How far away were those mountains? Abdis said it would take them extra time to get back home. Why? Did they intend to escort her into enemy territory and leave her?

The eyes of the eldest Neroli held her fast with fixed attention. A faint wisp of suspicion appeared and Cara clutched at it in relief. They had some kind of power--telepathic, empathic, one of those things. So far, she had seen hints that they “received” but maybe they also “transmitted”. If she tried to recall some kind of SOS message from their world, how did she know that they wouldn’t make her “remember” stuff that hadn’t happened?

What good would I do them anyway? They need to try again and find the right person. Imagine being the real hero, sitting around waiting for the world-nap express, and nothing.

Cara took a breath and turned to face Lady Clepta. “I wish I could help you but I’m not the Marines or a comic superhero. I didn’t have any conversations with a wizard. Someone messed up and snatched the wrong person. On Earth, we don’t have magic and things don’t ‘come to us’. I’ll bet your magician grabbed someone from the wrong planet-”

“It is as I told you!” Nabis leaped up and faced the Ancient. “She professes to know nothing of this place or of her role here. Who could say that from amongst the worlds except those who even refuse to acknowledge Alphesis? I believe her a spy, or worse.”

 

A couple of the others sounded as angry as Nabis. Her brief pang of relief turned to fear. “Wait! Wait! I’m not a spy, and I’m not your enemy. I’m nobody’s enemy. I just want to get home. Look, I’m trying to help the best way I know how--I’m warning you you’ve got the wrong person. I’d be useless to you. I don’t go around fighting evil. Why can’t you accept that?”

Nabis turned to her from whispering to Manara. His eyes glinted like the edges of swords. “One who refuses to acknowledge the will of the Ancient, much less the will of Alphesis, is either unfriend or enemy.”

Manara added, “Will you renounce this willfulness? You do no credit to your world, and you do our world harm with this delay. We have lost tree guards already-”

 

“Right now, my job is to find my way home. I still hope you’ll help me with that but if you won’t then I guess I’ll have to find someone who will.”

Lady Clepta drew in her breath. Cara felt astonished too. She had actually had nerve enough to say the words. She’d rehearsed them every time she woke up last night and then off and on most of the morning, and now she’d actually done it.

Why are they looking at me like that? It’s not up to me! It’s their problem and it’s up to them to get it right, not just settle for whoever comes along. Someone from here would be better equipped anyway. They’d have the right skills like foraging or shooting bows, rather than washing clothes and playing “Quark Brigade”. One of those Chosen should volunteer or they should magic off a new send-help gleep. While they’re magicking the proper summons this time, they can put me back.

Clepta had tears in her eyes. Cara could hardly look at her. Good grief! I tried to word this so not to hurt anyone’s feelings. She tried to swallow back a pang of guilt and, with it, the urge to unsay what she had just said. Hey, if I give in, I’ll be halfway to the land of the Chosen by tomorrow. It’s not like this is just a favor to please grandma. She lifted her chin and faced the Ancient, mindful of the babble of voices around her but pretending not to notice it. Can we please just get out of here?

Nabis grasped her by the arm and forced her to face him. “Villain! Would you cast aside the welfare of an entire world, merely because it is not your own? Can you truly believe that it doesn’t concern you?”

“It does concern me.” Cara tried to pull away from him but he wouldn’t let go. “I like you guys. I’m sorry you’re having problems.”

 

What did they expect me to do--transform into a Delta Force squad? All that’s going to happen if they make me stay is that they’ll get me killed while the real superhero gets to keep having their fun heroic life somewhere. Good plan. Just scoop me up, get me to pledge allegiance to some other country or king or something, and go do battle. ‘A talisman that came to you just today’. Yeah, right, Nabis. If I had any “wisdom”, I’d have bought the dream-catcher earrings. What would you have said then?

 

“Nabis! You will do no violence in this house, or you shall go forth. Release the stranger’s arm.”

Nabis let Cara go and bowed to the lady. He answered in a controlled voice, “Your pardon, Lady Clepta.” Turning, he left the shrine.

Cara rubbed her arm but Clepta’s use of the word, stranger, hurt more. With her last few shreds of courage, she faced the woman and finished, “Lady Clepta, all I’ve done here is get you all upset. I’m sorry, because you’ve all been kind.” Except Nabis. “But it’s time I let you get back to your life while I try to get back to mine. Someone must know how to send me back home.”

Sorrow still in her eyes, Clepta nodded. “You cannot know how bitterly you will rue this. The mission will be performed, for no mortal from any world may prevent Alphesis. But I fear you will only come to understand this wisdom through great pain and grief.”

 

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