Chapter 2

 

 

Of Ciardha and Aliviel

            Andreas, true to his vow, remained silent through it all, watching in sadness at the ruin of his brother and the city. He spent his days as a blacksmith crafting beautiful things out of the rich metals that were found in the caves beyond the city gates. The warmth and glow of the fire as he worked reminded him of the golden palace, and the glory that had once belonged to the Red City. Twice a week he would take his small daughter outside the red walls, through the First Gate that looked toward the sea. There, in the fields, the swamps and foothills, the young girl could play and laugh, without fear of interment in the horrible labyrinth.

The young girl, Aliviel, whose name meant golden life, would run and play, while her father mined the surrounding caves and streams. Often she thought of her cousin Ciardha, imprisoned in the high tower with toys but little company, or of her lost brother and cousins who had been taken by the Baragouin never to be heard from again. Mostly she spent her days feeling lonely, haunted by the sadness of her uncle’s madness, and her father’s stony silence.

Ciardha shared his cousin’s loneliness, and the sorrow of abandonment. As he looked out upon a red sea of quiet, terrorized homes, he wondered if his cousin was still within the city walls, or if she and his uncle had fled to happier times, forgetting him in their journeys. He wondered if his father had not perhaps forgotten him as well, locked as he was in the high tower away from mind and eye.

The Prince felt sad and alone. Pacing back and forth between the walls of his room, he was disgusted by the absurdity and injustice of it all. He could have whatever he wished for, save companionship and freedom. He felt powerless, grinding his teeth in frustration. He feared that he was in danger of becoming as twisted and hateful as the forest that had overtaken his childhood playground. He longed to leave the palace and the city, the strangled darkness of the Red King’s mind. From his tower window he could see the distant ocean and the world stretched out beyond the city walls, with their interminable red. It was a world full of possibilities, the unimaginable possibilities of freedom and happiness.

Aliviel and Ciardha were by nature very sweet children. It was whispered, among the gossips of the Red City, that it had been, perhaps, more than just providence that had caused these two to wander off on that fateful day, thus saving them from the horrors of the dreaded Baragouin. For, of all the offspring of the two brothers, these two youngest, it was said, had by far the most pleasant temperaments, and were the most like their late mothers. Because of this, they were the two royal children most treasured and beloved by the people of the city.

Aliviel looked much like her father and uncle, with wild hair and a red complexion. In all other ways she was like her mother: a dark-skinned gypsy, with a hot temper and a mischievous smile. Aliviel shared with that great lady the restless longing for adventure, and a heart that was full of kindness and daring. She had her mother’s dark eyes, her large mouth and full laugh, and the same easy sense of humour and imagination. Sadly though, because of this, her father never smiled at her little jokes and fancies, consumed, as he was, by heartbreak and grief.

Prince Ciardha, on the other hand, was like his late mother in all ways. Living up to his Celtic name, which meant dark stone, he was the spitting image of the dead Queen. He had paler skin than his cousin, and fine, thick ebony hair that fell low over his smudgy blue eyes. His eyes, like hers had been, were large and expressive, and his temperament, though lately sullen, was naturally very sweet and kind, and often more melancholy and thoughtful than was good for him.

As very young children, Ciardha and Aliviel had been living reminders of the two women who had so nurtured the spirit of the city, who had filled the people’s lives with elegance and joy. The palace servants would come and visit Ciardha in the high tower, telling him stories. Aliviel would walk through the streets, beside her silent father, and the citizens would smile at her mannerisms, remembering better times. After many years of tyranny, however, longing soured and turned to bitterness and resentment. The last of the court nobility finally left the Red King’s service. The Prince was left alone, and as Aliviel would pass them by, the people of the city would scowl and turn away.

As toddlers these two children had romped about together chasing frogs, fairies, and all manner of delights, just as now they suffered, imprisoned by their fathers’ strange miseries, burdened by the anger of the city. Often they would each look out onto the same night sky and wonder, whether the citizens were right, had they indeed been saved, or was not the adventure of bandits a more cheerful fate altogether?

One day as Aliviel played in the fields beyond the city gates, waiting for her father to return, she was all at once struck by the open space around her. It seemed to go on forever. In the distance she could hear seagulls, and taste salt in the wind that blew against her cheek. Her loneliness broke upon her just as she imagined the waves must break upon the sand. She fell to the ground weeping, longing for laughter and companionship. Her heart went out to the people of the city, to her cousin in the high tower, to her father and uncle who were locked in prisons of their own. She wept as only a small child can when touched by the suffering of the world. Her hot tears fell to the ground, splashing the wild mushrooms that grew there.

Eventually her tears abated and she sat in silence looking down, feeling utterly hopeless and alone. Suddenly, a muffled rustling coming from in front of her startled the young girl. She looked up to find the strange bust of a man rising up from the ground. The man looked as though he had been carved from an enormous mushroom, and his opaque eyes made her feel drowsy and strange. For a number of long moments the man looked at her in silence, and the drowsiness increased, until Aliviel felt that she must have just fallen asleep and it was all a vivid dream. As her eyelids began to close, however, the man spoke her name and she was suddenly very much awake. A deep fuzzy voice echoed in her bones, a most unpleasant sensation.

“Good afternoon Princess Aliviel. My name is Armillarious, Grand Magician of the Aramanthus, and I am honoured to make your acquaintance at long last.”

Aliviel, oddly unfazed by the talking mushroom magician (sorry, Grand Magician), was embarrassed by the unwarranted title and quickly corrected the prestigious gentleman. “I am sorry sir, but I believe you are mistaken. I am no longer a princess, merely the estranged niece to a king. But I am most honoured to make your acquaintance, if it is all the same to you.” She attempted what she thought might be an appropriate bow.

The deep voice sounded like the wind would sound were it to be heard by grasshoppers, blowing over a mown lawn.

“Princess Aliviel, we would all find ourselves as royalty, were enough people to die. I call you Princess because you have access to a very special magic that only true princes and princesses can know. We, the magicians of the Aramanthus, who live among the root system of these wild mushrooms that grow around and beneath your city, have long awaited your warm tears to summon us. We have not forgotten you and your cousin, but have listened and waited all this time.

“The Aramanthus are some of the direct descendants and disciples of the great warriors and adventurers who first built Laroombhasa, and the Khadom, Baasala, which surrounds it. For many lifetimes we have guarded the memories that sink into the soil, we tend and keep the magic that dwells there. The Bees in the field have long prophesied that you and your cousin will save the city and its palace from these dark times of torment and unhappiness. I have come to aid you, for it is now, I think, the time to begin.”

Although Aliviel had never before heard the ancient names of the palace and its city, she knew as the magician spoke them to what they referred. Something deep inside of her stirred, something far off in the darkness of her brown eyes flickered for a moment. Her lips pursed, looking at the magician. Aliviel tilted her head. She bit at her lower lip and thought.

“What does Armillarious mean?” She finally asked.

Somewhat startled by the question, the magician looked at Aliviel as though she were a curious new specimen, called: Littlious Girlipulous #A516. His head tilted downward, he looked at her across the wide bridge of his nose.

“Armillarious means one who is like honey.” His fuzzy voice boomed pretentiously.

“Oh . . . Do you know what Aliviel means?”

“I do.” The magician seemed bored.

“Oh . . .” Aliviel looked disappointed, but then not to be out done she added, “It means golden life. Rather a good name I’ve always thought.”

“Yes.” He stared at her intently. Aliviel felt sure that he was changing his mind. Perhaps she was not the one in the Bee’s prophecy after all. But then the magician spoke and the uncomfortable fuzziness in his voice scratched at the back of her neck. “So, Princess Aliviel of the golden life, I think the first thing for you to do is to rescue your cousin from the high tower, tonight.”

Only somewhat relieved, as the task was daunting, Aliviel protested.

“How am I supposed to do that?”

The magician seemed ever so slightly to shrug his shoulders, and then continued to look bored. So Aliviel protested again,

“I am only just nine years old, you know. And I’m not very big! Well, tall I mean. I’m really quite short actually, if you hadn’t noticed. I mean, it’s okay, I know I’m much shorter than other children my age, and the Red King’s goons, the ones who guard the palace and the high tower, are just these enormous brutes!” Aliviel was speaking quite fast now. She stretched her arms wide to try and give the magician some idea of the size of the goons. Clearly he’d never seen one or something. But he just continued to look bored. “What about the creatures that fill the evil wood?” She continued, becoming increasingly worked up. “It isn’t that I’m afraid,” (although she was), “it is just that I am not quite sure it is a very sound plan, you know. Me being so little and all.” Aliviel wondered why, being magicians, the Aramanthus couldn’t just rescue her poor cousin and save the city themselves.

Armillarious looked up to the darkening sky, ignoring her outburst.

He replied, “You must do it tonight.”

Suddenly he leaned in very close to her, speaking in a hushed tone. “There is a turquoise fungus that grows low to the ground beginning near the Fourth Gate of the Red City. The citizens know it to be toxic, and of ill magic, and they leave it alone. It grows in a line toward the palace and will lead you to the entrance of a tunnel, which the palace goons use to travel beneath the treacherous wood. At midnight the goons will change their guard and share Libations of Lustre. You must sprinkle some of the turquoise mushroom into the brew, so that the goons will fall asleep. Trust your courage and ingenuity, and bring with you a good cloak. Return here at dawn with your cousin and I will meet you, for there is very little time left for your journey to begin.”

“And what if I am caught, tortured, thrown into the horrible labyrinth and lost to the world?” Aliviel asked, feeling increasingly wary of the strange magician.

“Ah well, then I suppose . . . well that would mean that the prophecy was not true. Or at any rate, it is sometimes difficult to grasp the full meaning of a Bee Prophecy, it would not be the first time that we have gotten it wrong, I suppose. But do not worry, the Aramanthus all agree that you are likely to succeed, as unlikely as that seems. I have full confidence that I shall see you here, at dawn tomorrow, and with your cousin no less. But look swiftly, here comes your father. Good luck Princess!”

With this the field of mushrooms swallowed their magician back up, until all Aliviel could see was the ordinary ground. She thought about how very sticky honey could be and wondered about Armillarious, and about the Aramanthus magicians living beneath the ground, deep in the earth with the mushrooms and worms. Living down there where dead things slowly transformed into something new. She knew in her bones, where the mushroom voice had so unpleasantly tickled, that the Aramanthus would be of little help to the plight of the palace and its city. She felt sure that the Bees had gotten it right; it was indeed up to her and her cousin to save them, and to save her lost brother and cousins as well. That which had been stirred by the magician’s words, welled up inside of her and gave her a feeling she had long forgotten, the feeling of hope and possibility, even a little of joy. She was so moved by her newfound destiny that when her father did arrive, she rushed to meet him in a tight embrace.

Now it is not told but it is known, by those who live deeper than the Aramanthus have ever gone and higher than the Airgonauts have ever flown, that in that moment Andreas, the Red King’s brother, nearly spoke to his last and only child. Had he done so, perhaps our story once again would have been different. Alas, however, he did not, for his silence and his pain had become like a friend to him, and in his blindness these meant more than even his last child’s happiness.

It was in this moment that Aliviel made up her mind to rescue her cousin and herself from such torment. That evening as she kissed her father goodnight she also kissed him farewell. She whispered in his ear that he should not worry about her, and that short of perishing a ghastly demise she vowed that she would someday return to see him again. Andreas barely heard his daughter’s words, though he would remember them the next morning and the many mornings after that.