Quellen sat on the ledge of the opened window, oblivious to the bang of the shutter and the blackness of the morning sky. Thirteen and with tears in his eyes, he blinked rapidly. No way to act at his great age, but his first real failure hurt everywhere. He was going home
He was going home because there was no reason to stay. He’d return to his village of Larnes and seek out Jessum, the seer dedicated to El Roi, the God Who Sees All, and declare he’d been wrongfully chosen. There was no journey mapped out for him in the Deep, no challenge put before him that he wouldn’t fail. And if Jessum still insisted he was the chosen, Quellen would take the blind seer’s palm and rub it over his smooth, unscarred arm. He wanted nothing more to do with the all-encompassing god or his carping prophet. He and his family were of common stock, having always worshipped the humbler household god, Drask. They’d been fools to believe in anything more.
Drask. Now there was a god he could understand. A god of the belly, a god who listened to everyday worries and cares. Bothered with a painful toothache? Leave a generous portion of sweet cake on the altar and all would be well. Problems in the marriage bed? Confide in Drask and they’d disappear. Once Quellen had actually seen a mouse carry off a potion of an offering, but it hadn’t affected his belief. It was well known the gods took many disguises.
Quellen leaned further out the window and looked up at the swirling, blue/black sky. Rain was coming, and rather than submit to a few hours of tortured sleep, he’d decided to watch the storm roll in. Soon, it would be dawn, but the sky remained as black as it had been at second watch. He’d be foolish to leave now. Five miles out and he’d be soaked to the skin, hunkered down in a cave or hugging a tree. He’d leave early tomorrow, slipping into a niche as the others filed their way toward the Journey Room. The rain would be over by then. This storm was unnatural, blown in on a freakish wind, and its momentum wouldn’t last.
Behind him the others lay sleeping, eleven acolytes from divers regions sprawled in their narrow beds. There was no one among them he could count as friend; they’d shunned him without exception. Tomorrow, after the surprise of his absence, he knew there’d be a shared sense of relief. The Earth Skyll had created a barrier between him and those who should have been his brethren. For reasons unknown, Elymas had hated him on sight.
At the thought of the Earth Skyll, Quellen hawked and spat.
It had been torturous watching Blatico humiliate the peasant woman. She’d reminded him of Sunanne, a simple old woman who lived in his home village whom he’d known since a child. She, too, kept pigs, and raised a garden, satisfying her few wants by bartering in the village square. Had Sunanne come before the village elders of Larnes, her complaint would have been received with compassion, not contempt. The elders of his village might have lacked Blatico’s fine cloak and leathers, but they possessed justice. All of them, even the greedy innkeeper Calor, knew the importance of a peasant’s pig. The only value Blatico had seen in the situation was the attention he gained from the court.
And the woman? Quellen recalled the tired eyes that had blinked back fear in the hope of justice only to have fear return. All the while he’d been baiting her, Blatico’s eyes had returned to his mentor, but Elymas had stared stoically into the crowd. With a word, no, only a look, Elymas could have stopped the humiliation, but he’d remained still.
In a crude attempt to relieve himself of feelings, Quellen spat again. It didn’t help. Nothing ever did.
It still hurt that he’d been rejected by the others for he’d come to they city expecting to make friends. No matter how they’d been chosen, whether by blind seers like Jessum or a series of imposed tests, the acolytes all reflected the same doubts and fears, hopes and desires. As they’d stood outside the Great Throne Room waiting to be presented to the legendary Elymas, Quellen had seen himself reflected again and again. Same faded blue robe, same fresh, bowl haircut, same expression of fear. The fattest of the lot, a boy called Arnel, had been sweating profusely, great dark stains under his robe, while another relieved himself publicly of a private itch.
Then, the doors had swung open and their desperate kinship had come to an end.