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The Adventures of Jecosan Tarres (Omnibus, the whole trilogy)
The Adventures of Jecosan Tarres (Omnibus, the whole trilogy)
The Adventures of Jecosan Tarres (Omnibus, the whole trilogy)
Электронная книга965 страниц14 часов

The Adventures of Jecosan Tarres (Omnibus, the whole trilogy)

Автор Laura Lond

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The Adventures of Jecosan Tarres trilogy tells a story of a young blacksmith's apprentice visited by a supernatural messenger and called to prevent a war between two powerful kingdoms.

This Omnibus Edition contains all 3 books of the trilogy.

THE JOURNEY - His warrior father killed and his mother dead by the time he was eight, Jecosan Tarres is young and poor. Yet he has things many men do not: a faithful heart, a strong spirit, and the knowledge of truth. On a life defining journey with his dog Gart and friend Dalian, he goes to Kanavar, the ancient capital of Meoria. In the service of the king, he must prevent the war that is about to break out.

THE PALACE - Having completed his difficult journey, Jecosan makes it to his destination – the king's palace – but so does his enemy, whom he is yet to discover. Jecosan enters in service to the king as a kitchen worker, proving himself worthy of the task and more. Still, he has much to learn while looking to fulfill his purpose.

THE BATTLE - Having done his best to fulfill the commission given him by a supernatural messenger, yet apparently having failed to do so, Jeco and his friends, Dalian and Lord Farizel, find themselves running for their lives from the wrath of King Alvard III.

ЯзыкEnglish
ИздательLaura Lond
Дата выпуска10 июл. 2011 г.
ISBN9781465870162
The Adventures of Jecosan Tarres (Omnibus, the whole trilogy)
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Laura Lond

Laura Lond is an internationally published author of several novels and a collection of short stories. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in history. Having worked for 2 years at a literary museum, Laura entered the world of business, working for large international corporations like Xerox Ltd. and Fluor Daniel. After moving from Europe to the United States, she has been self-employed as a freelancer.

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    The Adventures of Jecosan Tarres (Omnibus, the whole trilogy) - Laura Lond

    Table of Contents

    Book 1: The Journey

    Book 1 Chapter 1

    Book 1 Chapter 2

    Book 1 Chapter 3

    Book 1 Chapter 4

    Book 1 Chapter 5

    Book 1 Chapter 6

    Book 1 Chapter 7

    Book 1 Chapter 8

    Book 1 Chapter 9

    Book 1 Chapter 10

    Book 2: The Palace

    Book 2 Chapter 1

    Book 2 Chapter 2

    Book 2 Chapter 3

    Book 2 Chapter 4

    Book 2 Chapter 5

    Book 2 Chapter 6

    Book 2 Chapter 7

    Book 2 Chapter 8

    Book 2 Chapter 9

    Book 2 Chapter 10

    Book 2 Chapter 11

    Book 2 Chapter 12

    Book 3: The Battle

    Book 3 Chapter 1

    Book 3 Chapter 2

    Book 3 Chapter 3

    Book 3 Chapter 4

    Book 3 Chapter 5

    Book 3 Chapter 6

    Book 3 Chapter 7

    Book 3 Chapter 8

    Book 3 Chapter 9

    Book 3 Chapter 10

    Book 3 Chapter 11

    Book 3 Chapter 12

    Book 3 Chapter 13

    Book 3 Chapter 14

    Book 3 Chapter 15

    Book 3 Chapter 16

    Book 3 Chapter 17

    Book 3 Chapter 18

    Book 3 Chapter 19

    Book 3 Chapter 20

    Book 3 Chapter 21

    Book 3 Chapter 22

    Book 3 Chapter 23

    Epilogue

    The Adventures of Jecosan Tarres

    Book 1: The Journey

    Laura Lond

    Copyright 2010 Laura Lond, Second Edition

    Cover design by Steena Holmes

    This book is also available in print at most online retailers

    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in any retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the author.

    Chapter 1

    [Back to Table of Contents]

    Jeco was making his way along a barely visible path in the woods, parting the thick grass ahead of him with a long stick as he went. In some places the grass was still wet of the morning dew, though the sun was rising higher and higher, its warm rays penetrating the green cover of tree leaves. Birds sang joyfully from all directions. Some of them would pause for a moment, noticing the boy, then resume their careless chirping.

    Jeco stepped into a wide clearing with three old birch trees towering in the middle. He walked around them, heading toward the south side, bathed in sunlight, and found what he was looking for: five big mushrooms were sticking out of the grass, those commonly known as brown-caps. Jeco pulled out a small knife, carefully cut the mushrooms off and placed them in his basket. The basket was already full and the biggest mushroom wouldn’t fit, so the boy had to cut it in half.

    Jeco looked back and whistled. Gart! he called out.

    Loud, powerful barking came in response, echoing all over the forest. It was getting closer and closer, until the underbush parted and a huge, beautiful dog bounded onto the clearing, his rich golden coat shining in the sun. He barked once more and froze, waiting for orders.

    Jeco handed the basket to him. Here. Would you carry this home?

    The dog carefully picked up the handle.

    You got it? Jeco asked, still holding the basket. Home!

    The dog growled, offended, and pulled on the handle. Jeco smiled, patting his head.

    I know, I know. You don’t need to be told twice, you’re a smart boy. Well, go now. I’ll be waiting for you here.

    The dog crossed the clearing with just a couple of huge leaps and disappeared in the bushes.

    Jeco lowered himself on the ground, leaned against one of the birch trees and closed his eyes. He was getting tired; he had already sent home his third basket today. I’ll need to look around here some more, the boy thought. This is a good spot, there’s got to be more brown-caps here. And after that I could go check the grove at the river. I haven’t been there for a while, long enough for new mushrooms to grow.

    He felt at home in the forest, and he was an expert at mushrooms and berries. That’s how he supported himself; these skills had helped him to survive four years ago when he had to learn living on his own. Later on, Dalian the blacksmith had hired him, and the boy’s life changed for the better, but at first it was tough. He still remembered those days very well. Not only he had to feed himself, he needed to store up supplies to make it through winter—lots of them. He’d wander in the woods all day long, throughout summer and fall, trying to pick as much as he could. He didn’t have Gart back then, so he had to go back home each time he’d fill up the basket, empty it there and go to the forest again. By the evening Jeco would be exhausted, but there was still a lot to do. He often worked way past midnight sorting, cleaning mushrooms, hanging them up on long strings to dry.

    The forest around Chegmer was full of mushrooms and berries, and everything would have been fine if it wasn’t for frequent losses. Neighbors kept stealing strings of mushrooms Jeco had drying outside; the king’s soldiers would often stop the boy on his way home and check his baskets for berries and hazelnuts. If he had any, they’d take them all. With time, Jeco had learned to avoid it by figuring out the soldiers’ routes and staying away from them. He had also discovered that he could sell some of his products at the market. That was risky, of course—the market was one of the places the soldiers visited quite regularly, taking whatever they liked from the merchants. But on a good day Jeco would manage to sell everything and make some money; then he could buy bread, milk and potatoes.

    It was at the market that Jeco had first met Dalian the blacksmith.

    Hey, young merchant! somebody’s deep voice once thundered over Jeco’s head.

    The boy looked up and marveled at the man’s height and huge shoulders.

    Call your mother, the big guy went on. I want to buy hazelnuts.

    Jeco averted his eyes. Being reminded of his mother still caused him pain. He wished he could call her...

    Go ahead, sir, he said. My mother is not here, I’m on my own.

    Are you, really? the blacksmith asked in surprise. You mean you know how to count money?

    Of course I do.

    The man reached for his leather pouch. You’re a brave fellow. People can be pretty mean around here, I won’t be surprised if they mistreat someone like you.

    That sure happens, Jeco said with a knowing smirk.

    Then why does your mother send you here alone?

    This time Jeco was somewhat prepared and did not look away. She died.

    The man’s broad smile faded. Oh, my. Sorry, lad… When?

    Last spring.

    I’m sorry, the blacksmith said again. So you’re helping your dad?

    My father was killed in the war.

    The blacksmith was silent for a few moments, gazing at the boy.

    Whom do you live with, then?

    Alone.

    And nobody’s taking care of you?

    I wouldn’t say that. Shaledan helps me a lot, the priest. He even asked me to come and live in his house, but I refused. He’s struggling himself. I didn’t want him to starve in order to feed me.

    That was nice of him… And you did good, too, not wishing to become a burden for the old man. So how did you survive through the winter?

    I’d made some supplies—mushrooms, nuts, jelly. Bought some bread and dried meat. I made it just fine, thanks to the heavens.

    Thanks to the heavens, you say, the blacksmith repeated. Well, I can understand—you’ve got nobody else to count on. He grew silent again, bouncing the pouch on his palm, thinking about something.

    So, uh… You said you were going to buy some hazelnuts, sir? Jeco reminded.

    Oh, yes, of course. The blacksmith handed his hat to him. Put them in here.

    Jeco filled the hat with hazelnuts. The blacksmith paid with a silver coin and refused to take his change.

    You know what? he said after a short pause. Come to my place tomorrow.

    Why? Jeco asked, surprised. The invitation was rather unexpected.

    Well, I—I’ve got an idea. Some business to talk about. Come around lunch time, all right? I live over there, he pointed. Ask for the smithy, or Dalian the blacksmith, everybody will show you the way.

    On the next day Jeco went to the blacksmith’s. He had quickly found the smithy—a low building made of thick logs, its chimney puffing clouds of black smoke, roof shaking with each powerful blow of the blacksmith’s sledgehammer. Right next to it stood a well built house. A small white-haired lady came out to the porch.

    Jeco greeted her and asked whether Dalian the blacksmith lived here.

    Here is our dear guest, she smiled. Come in, son, you’ve come to the right place. Dalian’s been expecting you since the morning. Come into the house and have a seat. I’ll go call him in, and we will all have lunch.

    Jeco was somewhat confused by such hospitality.

    Thank you, but, uh… Are you sure you’re not mistaking me for someone else? he asked, stepping through the doorway. I wasn’t invited for lunch, Dalian wanted to talk to me about some business.

    The old lady gently pushed the boy toward the table. "At two in the afternoon lunch is the most important business. What’s your name? Jeco? That’s a nice name. I am grandma Shanita. Everyone calls me that, and you may call me so, too. Dalian is my son. Have a seat. I’ll go get him."

    She left. Soon the heavy sledgehammer blows stopped, and in a few moments Dalian showed up, his white teeth shining on his soot-covered face.

    Dalian washed his hands and face, and they all sat around the table. Grandma Shanita served some amazing soup spreading warm waves of aroma, some of it quite familiar and some of it not. Jeco remembered that his mother also knew all kinds of spices and seasonings, and that she used to add them in her soups, too. He liked the kind old lady even more because of this, even though she did not look like his mother at all.

    Dalian began asking the boy about his life—his trade, selling at the market, as well as his encounters with the king’s soldiers. Jeco didn’t mind, so he shared some of his adventures, wondering what kind of a business it was that the blacksmith wanted to discuss with him and when he would get to the subject.

    Well, what do you think, mother? Dalian suddenly asked.

    Oh, dear! The old lady quickly brought her hands together. Why are you asking me now? We’ve already decided. Tell him!

    Dalian put aside his spoon, then picked it up again, not knowing what he should start with.

    You know what, uh… How about working for me? I need some help in the smithy. No beatings, don’t you worry about that. I’m not that kind of a person. And we’d like you to live in our house with us. My mother and I—well, we’ll be like your family now.

    Thus Jeco had become the blacksmith’s apprentice. His whole life changed: now he was free all morning, and after lunch he would work in the smithy, learning the craft. Dalian did not overload him with work. The boy quickly figured that the blacksmith didn’t really mean to hire him—he’d just decided to take him into the family. Jeco was grateful, but he didn’t want to live off of someone’s kindness, so he continued to go to the forest every day. Grandma Shanita was happy to take care of his mushrooms, she would clean them and cook all kinds of delicious meals, or carry full baskets to the market and make a nice profit. She was perfectly safe there; no one would dare to take anything from her—everybody knew what kind of a son this little old lady had raised.

    Jeco felt much safer as well. The word had spread fast that he was either adopted or hired by Dalian the blacksmith, and people started treating him with cautious respect. Nobody wanted to mess with the blacksmith, especially after he’d set the record straight with the king’s soldiers. He did that on a bright sunny day when one of them had stopped by the smithy, wishing to reshoe his horse. Dalian came out, wiped his hands and called for Jeco.

    You know this boy? the blacksmith calmly asked, placing his heavy hand on the man’s shoulder.

    Yeah… I saw him at the market several times, the soldier muttered. He was a head shorter than Dalian, and even with his shoulder plates seemed to be skinny and small comparing to him.

    Well, Dalian went on, just as peacefully. Remember this and tell it to your friends. If I ever hear that any of you laid a finger on him, I’m gonna beat you in the ground up to your ears. I don’t care that you’ve got the king’s crest on your chest.

    Chegmerians were smart; they figured that if Dalian threatened the king’s soldiers, those without the crest had better watch out.

    Dalian, grandma Shanita and Jeco were getting along great. At first, neighbors only shook their heads, unable to understand why Dalian took this boy into his house, but soon enough they were shaking their heads for a different reason. Seeing Jeco work each day in the smithy, fetch water from the well, chop wood and bring full baskets of best mushrooms and berries, pragmatic Chegmerians had realized that the boy was probably making Dalian more money than he cost him. Many were jealous, wishing they’d hired him themselves. Neighbors were right: perhaps Jeco hadn’t made Dalian rich, but he was a big help to the family. Later on, when he’d gotten Gart and trained him to carry baskets, his contribution had become even more considerable.

    Gart was a true gift of the heavens. Two years ago Jeco had ventured too far in the forest, picking firewood on a cold winter day, and gotten lost. He’d wandered around for hours trying to find his way home when he came across a rather strange trail. At first Jeco thought it was made by wolves, he could clearly see their big paw prints in the snow, lots of them, left by what had to be a large pack. But after a closer look he’d discovered with much relief that the paw prints were different from those of a wolf. They looked more like dogs’ paws, although they were huge, bigger than any dog Jeco could think of. It was a good sign; the boy assumed that the trail must have been left by a large group of hunters, so it should take him to some village or settlement sooner or later. Jeco started walking along the path, looking carefully for human footprints which would have confirmed his guess, but he did not find any. Instead, among those enormously big dog paw prints he noticed some other ones, very small, that looked totally unfamiliar. There were not many of them, much less than those of the dogs, yet they were there all the way. Puzzled, Jeco kept searching the trail, wondering what a bunch of dogs could be doing so far in the woods accompanied by some unknown little creatures—when he heard a weak, muffled whimper. Jeco went in its direction and soon saw a small yellow hairball laying in the snow, not very far from the trail. Jeco picked it up. It was a puppy, almost frozen to death.

    Not knowing what to do, Jeco pulled off his mittens and started rubbing the puppy, but his hands soon went numb with cold. He then unbuttoned his coat and shirt and tucked the puppy in, right to his chest. The touch of the cold little body made the boy shudder; he’d pressed the puppy close and ran, trying to warm up. It was hard to run in the deep snow, he’d quickly gotten out of breath, but Jeco wouldn’t allow himself to stop. It’s all right, it’s all right, he talked to the puppy. We’re going to make it. Now I know why the heavens let me get lost in the forest—to save you. But now we’re going to find the way home, you’ll see.

    He was right. Soon he saw a big crooked pine tree that he’d recognized right away, realizing where he was. It was very, very far from home, but now he knew which way to go. He’d made it to the road Chegmerians used when they went for firewood and headed home. Some time later Adrash overtook him, the hired hand of Karlop the tavern keeper; Adrash was riding in the sledge loaded with firewood. He’d picked Jeco up and brought him home.

    At the gates they met Dalian; he was on his way to the forest, looking for Jeco.

    Jeco! Dalian called out, seeing the boy holding onto his chest with both hands. Are you all right?! What happened?!

    I got lost, but I’m fine now, Jeco replied, getting off the sledge. And I’ve got company. Look.

    He unbuttoned his coat. The puppy jumped at the sight of the huge, bearded man looking down at him, but quickly regained his courage and barked in a hoarse, yet unexpectedly strong voice, "Gart!"

    That was how they named him. Little Gart had joined the family, although at first Dalian had his doubts about that. The puppy’s big paws were a sure sign that he was going to grow into a very large dog; Dalian did not think Jeco would manage to feed him. He’d even asked Priest Shaledan to talk to the boy and convince him to give the puppy away. But the priest had a different opinion.

    Do not take away the gift sent by the heavens, Dalian, he said. The heavens had placed that little life in Jeco’s hands for a reason. Don’t take away this simple joy and comfort from the poor orphan. People forget their own sorrow when they are taking care of someone else.

    Dalian gave in, even though he didn’t find all that heavens talk very convincing. Jeco was happy. He did his best trying to nurse the puppy back to health, despite being very sick himself—he’d caught a severe cold that night in the forest. The boy had spent almost two weeks in bed, half-conscious, exhausted by fever. Grandma Shanita sat by his side, changing wet towels on his forehead and giving him her special herbal tea. According to Dalian, that tea was the best cold treatment known. It must have been true: Jeco felt better after drinking it, and so did the puppy, with whom he would share each cup. Priest Shaledan came to visit and brought a bottle of dark, sweet-smelling salve that he rubbed into Jeco’s chest—after he’d promised to save some for Gart. Jeco used the rest of the salve for the next several days, spreading it over the puppy’s little body, gently massaging it in and wrapping Gart into an old wool jacket afterwards.

    Such diligent care brought its results, the puppy had soon recovered. With time, Gart turned into a strong, beautiful dog of a frightening size and became the object of jealousy of the whole village. He would have been stolen a long time ago if such a thing was possible, but Gart made it clear that no one could touch him without Jeco’s permission. His love and loyalty to Jeco knew no bounds, he followed the boy everywhere and tried to help him in every way. Gart had quickly learned to carry baskets, which made Jeco’s work much easier. Now he didn’t have to go back home each time his basket was full—he could send Gart instead. Grandma Shanita would take the basket and empty it, and Gart would head back to the forest. He’d easily find Jeco, return the empty basket to him and get back to work. Gart knew how to find mushrooms perfectly well, never mistaking inedible ones for good ones. Mushrooms were one of Gart’s favourite dishes; this dog of a remarkable size had even more remarkable taste—he didn’t like meat. As if trying to shame Dalian for thinking that the puppy would be too expensive to feed, Gart preferred porridge, vegetables and especially potatoes.

    As to the strange events of that night in the forest when Jeco had found the puppy, they remained a mystery. No one, not even old Shaledan, could think of why that pack of dogs was so far in the woods, where it was heading, and whom those peculiar little paw prints belonged.

    ***

    Jeco opened his eyes and looked around. He thought Gart was back. But the dog wasn’t there; besides, it wasn’t like Gart to stand quietly nearby—he wouldn’t miss such a chance to jump at the boy’s chest and lick him in the face. Yet Jeco clearly felt that someone was here. Very close.

    The boy rose to his feet, walked to the middle of the clearing and looked around again. He didn’t see anyone, only birds kept carelessly flying around—and birds would have given a clear warning if someone tried to sneak up on him. Jeco sat back down on his spot under the tree and tried to think. He’d never been afraid of the woods, and he’d never experienced anything like this before. Today was a strange day. Since the early morning Jeco had this bizarre, inexplicable feeling. Somehow he knew that something very unusual and important was coming, something that never happened before and could change his whole life. The feeling would fade from time to time, but then it would wash over him again, so strong that Jeco would even glance around as he did now, expecting to see what had been haunting him since the morning.

    There came a crash in the underbush, startled birds shrieked; now someone was coming here, getting closer each moment. Jeco spotted a big golden shadow hopping among the trees. Gart leapt onto the clearing, the empty basket in his mouth, but for some reason he didn’t give it to Jeco. Instead, he put it down a short distance away and wagged his tail, looking slyly at his master.

    What have you got in there? the boy asked. Let me see.

    He rose and wanted to look into the basket, but Gart quickly grabbed it and jumped away. Jeco knew what it meant. He didn’t mind some play.

    Oh, you trickster! he shouted. I’m gonna get you!

    The dog dropped the basket in the grass and threw himself to the defense, barking in delight. Making false moves, charging and retreating with unbelievable speed, he easily kept Jeco at bay. Gart loved such games and he always won, even though Jeco also was quick and strong enough. He won this time, too.

    All right, I give up! Jeco announced, breathing hard. I suggest peace.

    Gart accepted the offer, picked up the basket and brought it to Jeco’s feet, indicating that now they could see what was in it. Jeco looked inside and found a loaf of bread, two big boiled potatoes and a jar of milk. Grandma Shanita, caring as always, saw that Jeco was being late for lunch and sent him some food. She’d even put in a bowl for Gart, knowing that Jeco would share the meal with his friend.

    That he did. He poured some milk in the bowl, crumbled up one potato and a half of the loaf, mixed it all and gave the bowl to Gart. In the very bottom of the basket Jeco found some salt wrapped in a piece of paper; he sprinkled some on the remaining potato, still pleasantly warm in his hands, and took a big bite. He appreciated this simple food, still remembering the times when it would take him all day to make enough money for a jar of milk like this one, several potatoes and some bread. The boy smiled and thanked the heavens once again for giving him a new family.

    Suddenly Jeco stopped eating and turned his head. There it was again. That strange feeling, as if… He couldn’t tell what it was. As if that something that was supposed to happen today had come very near.

    Gart, Jeco called in a quiet voice. Do you see anything?

    Gart looked around, wagged his tail and went back to his meal. He didn’t seem to notice or feel anything unusual.

    I’ve got to go see Shaledan, Jeco decided. Perhaps the heavens are trying to warn me about something.

    He finished his lunch and put the milk jar and Gart’s empty bowl back in the basket.

    Let’s go, buddy. We’ve got to visit Priest Shaledan, and then the tavern keeper.

    Gart picked up the basket and headed north. He knew the way to Shaledan’s house very well; Jeco would often send him there with some kind of a gift—a small basket of raspberries, mushrooms, or something else. This was very convenient. Shaledan lived far away, and Jeco, busy as he was, often did not have time to go visit him. Gart was always happy to go, making it there and back fast and never losing anything he carried. Sending him also had another advantage. Shaledan could refuse to accept those gifts from Jeco, knowing how much the boy needed them himself; Gart, on the other hand, was hard to argue with: he would bring the basket, put it down before the priest and sit there until he’d get the empty basket back. However, the basket still never returned completely empty; Shaledan would put in there a few pieces of comb honey, some of his famous strawberries, or books.

    Jeco had learned how to read from his mother, and he’d fallen in love with books at an early age. Seeing that, Shaledan started giving him books and offered to educate him. The lessons went well, but they had to be cancelled when Jeco’s mother died and the boy had to work day and night to provide for himself. However, he loved books so much that even then he managed to find some time for them. Now that his life had changed so much for the better and he could afford working a little less—now he spent all his spare time reading, worrying only about one thing: that one day Shaledan would run out of books. Trying to delay that day, Jeco kept reading the same books over and over again, asking for new ones only when he’d have the ones he read almost memorized. Yet he could still feel the sad day coming…

    The boy ran up the hill, stopped and looked down. From here, he could see the chapel, the apiery next to it, the garden, and the small house of old Shaledan. Shaledan lived alone, he made his living from the apiery and the vegetable garden and took care of the chapel. Nobody helped him except for Jeco. Chegmerians were more interested in their earthly life than in the heavens and rarely visited the priest—unless an unexpected disaster befell them, or their conscience was too guilty to bear. Yet even in those cases many preferred to go to another village, although the priest there would simply take the offering and let you go while Shaledan was always willing to pray and talk. But that was exactly what Chegmerians didn’t like: if you listened to him, it turned out that you had too much to think about, too much to change in yourself and in your life. Why bother? It was much easier to give an offering and forget the whole thing.

    Jeco spotted Shaledan’s tall figure. The old man was doing something in the apiery, leaning over one of the beehives. He straightened up, turned and looked at the hill where Jeco stood. He must have noticed the boy—despite his age, Shaledan still had good eyes. Jeco waved to him, but for some reason the priest didn’t respond as he normally would have; he just kept looking, holding his hand up against the sun. Jeco’s heart quickened. Did Shaledan know something? Was he expecting him? The boy hurried down the hillside.

    He was out of breath when he reached the small white gate. Shaledan was already there, waiting for him.

    Good morning, Priest Shaledan, Jeco said.

    The old man looked at him intently. Good morning, son. What happened?

    Nothing, the boy said, his anxiety growing. Why do you ask?

    Not yet, huh, the old man muttered. Come in, come on in.

    He turned around and headed to the house.

    Unable to constrain himself any longer, Jeco ran after him and touched his hand. "Not yet? Did you say not yet, Priest Shaledan? So something is going to happen?"

    And I see that you already feel it coming, Shaledan nodded, taking the boy by the shoulder as he walked. Do you?

    They entered the house. Shaledan offered Jeco a chair and sat in front of him, his keen gray eyes studying the boy.

    I do… I mean—I do feel something, but I don’t know what it is, Jeco tried to explain. All day I’ve been having this strange impression that something unusual is about to take place… Unusual and important. I first thought it was just my imagination, and it would go away. But it didn’t; it’s only getting stronger. So I decided to come and see you. I thought, perhaps you know something, or maybe you have a word for me from the heavens.

    Jeco grew quiet and almost stopped breathing, eager for the priest’s response.

    Shaledan remained silent. The boy couldn’t tell whether he was thinking through what he’d just heard or trying to find a better way to say something.

    I do not have a word for you, the old man spoke at last.

    He was about to proceed, but Jeco was too excited to wait.

    You don’t? he interrupted. But you’ve just said it yourself that something is going to happen! Right?

    Right, Shaledan nodded. But I am not the one to reveal it to you.

    Jeco looked at him, puzzled. Then who will reveal it? There’s nobody else in the whole area who can hear the voice of the heavens. Please, Shaledan—maybe you could tell me just a little?

    Shaledan shook his head. I would be happy to, son, but it is hidden from me. As to the voice of the heavens—the heavens will find a way to make their will known; think of the heroes of the past. Now, try to be patient and listen to me. Do you remember how we had first met? Do you remember our first conversation?

    Jeco smiled. Yes, I remember that day. My mother had brought me close to you and said something, but I couldn’t hear it—I was just looking at you, everything else forgotten, looking at the man who hears from the heavens… This is what I remember. But I don’t recall what we talked about. I was only three back then, maybe just a little older.

    Well, my memories are clearer than yours, Shaledan said, looking serious. "I asked you whether you wanted to become a king. You started thinking, and just that alone had told me a lot about you. You see, children are very selfish. Not only children, of course, all people are—but children especially. Their selfishness is unconscious, naive and open—that is, until they learn to put on faces and hide their true feelings, which, by the way, happens quickly enough. But before it has happened, you can easily take a look into a child’s heart—and that’s exactly what I’ve always been trying to do when people would bring children to me. Normally, it doesn’t take me long to see whether the parents take any efforts to restrain the child’s inborn selfishness, and how wise and successful they are in this struggle.

    "So as people grow up, they begin to think about others around them and more or less consider their interests; but children see the world through the prism of their own desires. That’s why most children would love to be kings—to live in a palace, have riches and servants, give out orders and see all their wishes immediately fulfilled. They are attracted to the privileges of a king, and of course they don’t give a thought to his duties. I’ve done that experiment many times, asking many children this question. All of them were quick to reply that they would certainly wish to become a king, but as soon as I’d tell them about the arduous duties of a monarch, they would at once abdicate the crown, terribly disappointed. I’m afraid I had thus ruined a cherished dream for some of those children; but I’d also saved them from the seed of a dangerous disease—thoughtless jealousy that torments some people for all their life.

    Now you can understand how curious I became when I saw a three-year-old boy who took a moment to think about it and then told me that he didn’t want to be a king. I questioned you more and saw that you didn’t just say it—you meant it, because you understood certain things. You weren’t thinking only about yourself. You did understand that being a king meant being responsible for the whole country. At that moment, I already knew that the heavens had prepared a special destiny for you, and later on, watching you growing up, I saw it clearer each day that I was right.

    Shaledan paused, letting the boy take it in. Jeco said nothing.

    I do not know what awaits you, the priest spoke again, his voice firm and solemn, but I can—and I must—prepare you for it. Your time is coming, son, your hour is near. As I’ve already said, I have always known that your time would come early, and that the mission the heavens would call you to was going to be special. You know the truth, your heart is filled with the Light, your mind is firm, and your spirit is strong and tested. The heavens have generously endowed you. I am not afraid to tell you this; I know it will not feed your pride but make you think: for he who is given much…

    …will be required much, Jeco completed. He remembered that phrase from the Book of Light very well.

    Right, Shaledan nodded. So accept my blessing, son, and go with peace. Know that the time has come to fulfill the will of the heavens, and be ready to have much required from you.

    Jeco listened, thrilled, fascinated. Shaledan was putting into words the very thing he’d been feeling today since the morning. Now it seemed like he already knew all this, and Shaledan had simply reminded him, pieced it together and clarified. Yes, that was exactly what he felt! He knew something important was coming; he knew his time had arrived to accomplish what he lived for!

    He wanted to say something but found himself too overwhelmed with emotion, so he just bowed his head to receive the blessing.

    Shaledan rose from his chair and placed his hands on the boy’s head.

    May the Lord of the heavens show you the way, son, may he strengthen you and protect you. May he reveal his will to you and help you to understand, to accept, and to fulfill it.

    The old man didn’t withdraw his hands for another moment; perhaps he offered a short silent prayer as well. Jeco looked up in his face. Shaledan’s gaze was still serious, thoughtful, as if he was trying to read what was going on in the boy’s heart. Then the old man’s expression softened, and he smiled with his usual, peaceful smile.

    Go with peace, son. I would invite you to stay for a meal, but I see that you’d rather spend some time alone now.

    Yes… You are right, Jeco nodded. He did need to be alone for a while, to think about what he’d just heard. Thank you, Priest Shaledan… I think I’ll go.

    Shaledan walked him to the door. Gart, who’d been patiently waiting in the yard, rose and picked up his basket.

    Let’s go, Gart, Jeco called him.

    Don’t forget to come and see me when you find out what it is, the old man said.

    I will come right away.

    Jeco closed the gate behind him and headed back to the woods. Gart strolled along, casting questioning glances at the boy, wondering what was wrong. He saw that his master was preoccupied with something—too preoccupied, judging by the fact that he’d just overlooked a brown-cap right on the side of the path they walked.

    They entered the forest. Gart, displeased with his master’s strange inattention, let the boy go first to make sure he wouldn’t miss anything else. Jeco did not even notice. Still deep in thought, he was going through Shaledan’s words over and over again. So the heavens had spoken to the priest and told him that Jeco was to accomplish something, but did not reveal what it was. Shaledan had stated it several times and said that Jeco would find out in some other way. The heavens will find a way to make their will known, Jeco recalled, Think of the heroes of the past.

    Jeco knew all the stories described in the Book of Light; those about ancient heroes were his favorites. The heavens used different ways to tell their will to the mortals. Most of the time it was being done through a priest, but in Jeco’s situation it obviously wasn’t the case. Other stories mentioned elgurs appearing to people. This would have been wonderful, but Jeco knew that he didn’t deserve such an honor: it was being saved only for the best, the strongest and the most faithful. The mortals had lost the ability to communicate with the spirits when they chose the way of the evil; they stopped seeing and hearing elgurs. Elgurs, of course, still could become visible and talk to people, but they did so on rare occasions, only when the need was great, and only for the most worthy. This was a blessing Jeco would not even dare to pray for. Sometimes elgurs would also speak to one in a dream. In some other cases they’d take on a human form, not wishing to cause fear and confusion, and come as humans to offer help or give a warning.

    There was, for example, a well-known story of Elidor the carpenter who had his doubts about taking an order from evil Lord Shagur. The carpenter asked the heavens to show him the right decision. At first, he had received his answer in a dream—Elidor saw an elgur who told him that he could accept the work and do it well. The carpenter was not sure, he thought he could have had such a dream simply because he’d been thinking a lot about it, and the dream might not be the answer from the heavens. He then went to his priest, and the priest had confirmed that Elidor could do the work offered by Lord Shagur since there was nothing evil in the work itself: Shagur wanted three big tables for his kitchen. Elidor did a good job, and soon he received a new order. The lord now asked for long, solid poles. Elidor took it, but this time it was a mistake. Since the priest was away from the village, the heavens had sent an elgur to warn the carpenter. The elgur came disguised as a pilgrim and told Elidor why Shagur wanted those polls: he was going to use them to make spears for new warriors he’d hired to attack a nearby village. Being an honest man, Elidor went to Lord Shagur right away and refused to do the work. I can’t take part in the making of the weapon that is going to be used to shed innocent blood, he said. Shagur was terrified: he hadn’t yet shared his plans with anyone, and no one except for himself could know why he had ordered the poles…

    Gart’s sudden barking startled Jeco.

    What’s the matter, Gart? the boy asked, turning around.

    But he already saw what the matter was. The dog stood near three big brown-caps, stout and round-sided. The mushrooms grew on an open spot, and yet, distracted as he was, Jeco had missed them. Certainly, Gart couldn’t allow that to happen.

    Wow, Gart, the boy said, smiling at his indignation. These are nice brown-caps! Good boy.

    Gart gave him a meaningful look too clear to misread. At least one of us keeps his eyes open, that look said.

    Well, I guess you’re right, Jeco admitted, patting the dog’s golden head. We’d better get back to work. And when the time comes, we’ll see what it’s all about. Right?

    The dog barked in agreement and pulled the basket closer to Jeco.

    Brown-caps were known to enjoy company, they usually gathered in groups, not too close to each other but still in the same area. When you found one, all you had to do was to look for another. Jeco and Gart knew that, and they quickly filled the basket with fine big mushrooms.

    Good, Jeco said, covering the basket with a large burdock leaf. Now, let’s go to the tavern keeper. Come on, don’t give me that look. I promised him.

    But Gart did not like Karlop, the tavern keeper, so he kept frowning. Jeco was not very fond of the man either. Before he had moved to live with Dalian, he used to be happy when the tavern keeper would order a basket of mushrooms—that way he’d get his money right away rather than spend hours at the market, risking to lose everything should the king’s soldiers show up. Mr. Karlop knew Jeco’s difficult situation and took advantage of it mercilessly, paying him half the price. Still, it was better than taking chances at the market, so Jeco kept selling to him. But when Dalian had hired him, the tavern keeper’s orders lost their value: grandma Shanita would now do the selling and get a good price. Jeco quit working for Mr. Karlop, and the man found himself losing money: his customers kept asking for fried mushrooms they grew to like. Hiring other boys didn’t work very well—they didn’t care to separate good mushrooms from old and rotten ones. Now the tavern keeper would go out of his way trying to talk Jeco into working for him, each time promising good pay. Jeco had agreed twice, but Mr. Karlop hadn’t kept his word. Today, the boy went to him for the last time, only because he still owed the man a basket of mushrooms, according to their agreement. He was aware, of course, that most people would not bother, thinking that they had every right to break their part of the deal since Karlop had broken his—but Jeco was different than most people.

    Jeco and Gart came out of the forest onto the dusty road. Still unable to fully dismiss what he’d learned from Shaledan, Jeco kept looking around, half-expecting to see a tall figure approach—who knows, maybe the heavens would send an elgur to him, after all, disguised as a pilgrim or a traveling merchant?... But the road was empty.

    They reached the tavern, a large old building with a low roof that needed some painting. The signboard, old as well, almost all washed away from weathering read, Eagle’s Nest. In the yard Jeco saw Adrash, the worker, chopping wood. He straightened his back, noticing the boy.

    Hey! Your Honor! Long time, no see. How are you doing?

    Chegmerians had been teasing Jeco Your Honor for a long time, making fun of his manners which they found inappropriate for every day use. From their perspective, staying cool and refraining from cursing made sense only when talking to authorities. Jeco couldn’t remember who had first called him that. The name didn’t bother him.

    Hi, Adrash, he said. I’m doing fine, thanks. Is Mr. Karlop home?

    He’s busy, he said you’d have to wait. Adrash looked at Gart and clicked his tongue. That’s one fine dog. His eyes narrowed enviously. If I only knew what you were hiding under your coat that night…

    Jeco didn’t say anything and looked away so that Adrash would not see his expression. He didn’t like that talk, and it wasn’t the first time Adrash started it.

    One of the tavern windows opened and a stern round-faced lady looked out.

    That was enough of a break, Adrash! she shouted. Get back to work now! And you come inside, Jeco, you can wait here!

    This was Mrs. Tolla, the tavern keeper’s wife. Adrash picked up his axe, but he was in no hurry to do what he was told. He waited for his master’s wife to walk away from the window, made quite a remarkable face to her back, cursed, spat, and only after that lazily picked up the next piece of wood.

    You’d better go now, he said to Jeco. Don’t get me in trouble.

    Jeco took the basket from Gart and went into the tavern. As always, the large dining hall smelled of all kinds of food, but for some reason there were no customers at the moment. Mrs. Tolla was busy wiping empty tables.

    Sit here and wait, she told Jeco. My husband will be here soon, he’ll take your stuff and pay you.

    Maybe you could take it, Mrs. Tolla? Jeco asked. I’m late for lunch, so I’d appreciate it if you—

    I said sit here and wait! she snapped, irritated, and left.

    Having nothing else to do, Jeco started looking at the old paintings decorating the tavern walls. Mr. Karlop was very proud of these pieces of art crudely daubed on yellowed cardboard that he’d bought cheap at some fair. Right in front of Jeco hung the biggest one of the pictures, portraying a man in a helmet who was swinging his sword at a mean looking creature with three horns on its head. There was an inscription under the painting that said, Brave Valduk defeats a horner. On a smaller picture next to it two people were running from ugly hairy dwarfs. The inscription below explained, Brave Valduk and his friend Agan flee from poisonous lezgits. On the next picture one of the friends was falling, his right leg up in the air with a dwarf biting into it. Agan dies of a lezgit’s poisonous bite, the caption read. And the last painting of the series showed Valduk using his sword again, killing the dwarfs left and right. Brave Valduk takes his revenge on the ugly lezgits for his friends’ death, said the caption.

    Jeco did not like these pictures, just as he didn’t like tales about brave Valduk, full of fibs and silly superstitions. The Book of Light was telling a totally different story. It said that Tirganians, disdainfully referred to as horners in folk tales and portrayed evil and ugly, were a fine, noble race. They had fought for the Light on earth longer than other nations, and when the battle was lost and the Light was gone, they were the first ones who learned how to rekindle it in their hearts and started teaching the others. Even farther from the truth were tales about lezgits, a small, harmless nation that had migrated to the dark forests of the north a long time ago, unable to protect its lands from bigger races, and lived there ever since. No one here in Chegmer had ever seen neither Tirganians nor lezgits. People believed in them like they did in ghosts, feared them and made up all kinds of stories, especially about lezgits, ascribing to them poisonous teeth, huge claws, or something else. For some reason the legend about poisonous teeth was the most popular.

    The door squeaked, and Mr. Karlop showed up, short and fat, his scowl well matching that of his wife. He carried some thick books under arm—probably money records; like most Chegmerians, Mr. Karlop was not into reading.

    Ah! You’re here, he said, throwing the books on a table and ignoring the boy’s greeting. Good. Let me see what you’ve got.

    Jeco opened his basket. Mr. Karlop never praised the goods he was buying, but this time he couldn’t help letting out a satisfied grunt: the full basket of fine brown-caps looked impressive. The man’s grim face lightened up a little.

    Well, that’s not bad… Here’s your money. Four coppers.

    He reached into his pocket and handed the boy four coins.

    Jeco made no move to accept them.

    If I’m not mistaken, a basket of big brown-caps costs six coppers, he said.

    "You are mistaken! Karlop cut off, frowning again. It’s four, and it’s always been four. Take your money and go, I’ve got work to do."

    The tavern keeper threw the coins on the table and placed his hands on his hips, glaring at the boy.

    Jeco looked him right in the eye. Yes, this would be the last basket he sells here.

    As you wish, sir.

    With the same calm dignity he picked up the coins, emptied his basket and left, not saying another word.

    Mr. Karlop followed him to the porch, pulled out a pipe and shoved it into his mouth, watching the boy and his dog quickly walk away. Mrs. Tolla joined her husband and looked up the road, too.

    Did you pay him less again? she asked.

    I sure did, the tavern keeper replied with a satisfied grin.

    And what did he say?

    Same thing he always says, in that royal manner of his. ‘As you wish, sir.’

    Not even tried to argue?

    Nope. The tavern keeper turned to his wife. Why do you think he is acting this way? He knows perfectly well that I don’t pay him enough, and yet he never yells, never fights for the rest.

    Maybe he’s afraid of you, his wife suggested.

    Yeah, right! You should see that look he gave me.

    Then I guess he just doesn’t want to waste his breath.

    That’s exactly what I don’t understand! Karlop exclaimed. "I mean, it’s money! His money! Did you see how those other brats scream when I lower their pay for bad mushrooms they mix with the good?"

    That reminds me. I wanted to talk to you about those guys. They do bring a lot of junk, old and rotten stuff. When I’m done sorting, there’s just a handful left out of a whole basket—and I’m tired of it! Why don’t you fire them all and start paying well to this one instead?

    No way! Karlop sneered. "The heavens don’t send me such fools very often whom I can rip off so easily. I’d be a fool myself to miss such a chance!

    I suppose that’s true, Mrs. Tolla agreed.

    ***

    Gart spent the last twenty minutes or so trying get a hold of the empty basket which Jeco wouldn’t let him take, holding it up high or tossing from hand to hand as he walked. Persistent as always, Gart succeeded at last when they were just a short distance from home. Having celebrated his victory with a complicated series of jumps and leaps, he darted off. What a tireless creature, Jeco thought, smiling. Runs around all day, carries baskets back and forth, and yet he’s still ready to jump and play as long as you wish…

    When he got home, Gart was already there, sitting proudly on the porch, happy that he made it so much faster.

    Dalian and grandma Shanita were finishing their tea.

    Ah! Dalian smiled, seeing the boy. There you are!

    Have a seat, have a seat. Grandma Shanita was already getting a plate out for him. We’ve got plenty of food left. You must be so hungry!

    Not really, Jeco replied, washing his hands. I ate the lunch you sent back with Gart, so I’ll just have some tea with you.

    He went to the table. Grandma Shanita handed him a hot cup.

    Tea alone won’t make you strong, she recited one of her lines, serving him a huge piece of apple pie as well.

    Jeco laughed, shaking his head. I can’t eat that much.

    Used to measuring her food servings according to Dalian’s voracious appetite, grandma Shanita kept forgetting that a twelve-year-old boy needed much less.

    Oh my, I forgot again! She chuckled. But it’s all right, you can share with Gartie. He loves pies.

    Gartie was already here, casting eloquent looks at the table, indicating that he heard it and now wouldn’t leave without some pie.

    What took you so long today? Dalian asked.

    I went to see Shaledan, and then to the tavern, Jeco replied, cutting his slice of apple pie into smaller pieces.

    So that’s why Gart returned with the basket empty. Dalian paused, as if considering whether he should ask it or not. What is it about the tavern keeper? Why did you agree to work for him again?

    Jeco knew he would disapprove. I didn’t. I just owed him a basket of mushrooms. I’d promised that one a long time ago.

    But why? Dalian insisted. Don’t tell me that you believed him and thought he wouldn’t cheat on your pay this time!

    Well, I can’t say I believed him, but I thought I’d give him a chance. Sometimes people change, you know.

    Dalian sneered. Oh yeah, sure they do! But not to the better. I bet he did it again!

    Of course.

    The blacksmith frowned and shook his head. Looks like I’ve got to pay this guy a visit and have a little talk with him.

    No, Dalian, the boy protested. I know that you want to help, and I thank you—but, please, don’t. That’s my business.

    Dalian put his cup aside. This wasn’t the first time Jeco refused his help.

    The business is sure yours, but I’m afraid you’re not handling it well. Why do you put up with being treated like that? Can you explain it to me? I’ve told you many times: if he cheats on your pay, quit working for him—or tell him to pay you well, and stand your ground! And if you can’t take care of yourself, let me do it. Trust me, I’d make him behave in no time.

    You know it’s not that. I can take care of myself when I have to. I’ve just got my rules.

    I know your rules—no fighting, no cheating and that kind of stuff. All that is nice and good, but if the tavern keeper lies and doesn’t keep his word, why should you keep yours?

    Jeco breathed a heavy sigh. He loved Dalian and didn’t want to argue with him, but he couldn’t agree with what he was saying, either. Dalian was a kind and honest man who tried to do good, but, not knowing the Light, he had his own understanding of good.

    I’ve already told you, Dalian. The tavern keeper has nothing to do with it. If he cheats or lies, he is the one responsible for it before the Lord of the heavens. And I am responsible for what I do, so I want to do everything right—or at least try to. The Book of Light says it doesn’t matter what kind of a person you gave your word to, good or bad, honest or not. If you have promised something, you’ve got to do it.

    Oh, Jeco, when are you going to grow up? Dalian moaned. Don’t you understand, you can’t live like that! The Book of Light is a good book and it talks about good stuff—but things are totally different in life! I love you like a brother, and I want all the best for you. You know what most of our people are like, they’re crooked and mean, and they don’t even open your Book of Light. So will you still be good to everyone while they treat you the way they want? They’re gonna eat you alive!

    No, they’re not.

    Dalian shook his head with a hopeless expression. All right. Go get some rest. I don’t need you in the smithy today, I am going to Chilvan.

    Jeco gave Gart the last piece of the pie, thanked grandma Shanita and left. Dalian remained sitting at the table, deep in thought, tapping his cup with his fingertips.

    I can’t figure him out, mother, he said. I just can’t. Sometimes I look at him—he’s just a boy, so quiet, so helpless. And I can’t help thinking, how is he going to make it in life?... But then I see him at some other time, and he’s hard as a rock, strong, fearless, and he’ll stand his ground up to the end.

    I think he is stronger than you and I, Dalian, replied grandma Shanita who was here all the time silently washing dishes, listening to the talk but not cutting in. Do not look at his quiet ways; let me tell you, it’s not because he is weak and helpless. This boy understands something that you and I don’t. Just remember what he’s been through. Lost his parents at such a young age, yet he never turned into a thief or beggar; he managed to survive on his own, and even to keep a good heart. Maybe he owes it to this book you are scolding him for.

    I don’t know, mother, Dalian sighed. I just don’t know… He thought some more and then rose, dismissing the subject. Well, I think I’ll go now. I’ll be back late at night, or tomorrow morning.

    ***

    Chapter 2

    [Back to Table of Contents]

    Jeco went up to the attic where he would stay in the summer. He’d cleared a nice little corner near the window and made two straw pallets, one for himself and another one for Gart. A wooden box served him as a table, big enough to hold a book and a lamp, and a roof beam worked well as a shelf for a bottle of ink, a quill, and a fine hunting knife that used to belong to Jeco’s father. It was a nice little room, a peaceful haven where Jeco had spent many happy hours reading, dreaming, or just sitting at the small window and gazing at the bright green meadow and the road meandering through the hills.

    The boy sat down on his pallet and opened the Book of Light. Gart, who had no problem climbing the attic ladder, was already here as well, stretched on the floor. Jeco went through the story of Elidor the carpenter once again. He was about to flip several pages and find its short follow-up telling more about Lord Shagur—when that same, already familiar odd feeling that hadn’t bothered the boy since he’d talked to Shaledan, washed over him again. This time, the sense of someone’s invisible presence was so strong that Jeco could even tell where it was coming from. Its source was over there, in the dark corner right in front of him where stood the old wooden chest with a broken lock.

    Gart looked that direction and made a slight movement with his tail.

    Gart? Jeco whispered. Can you feel it, too? Who is there, Gart?

    The dog glanced at him, somewhat surprised, and turned his head back to the corner, wagging his tail faster. Jeco put down the book. Suddenly, the dark corner in front of him was illuminated with a soft light. Pure white radiance coming from nowhere was getting stronger and brighter; Jeco couldn’t help holding out his hand to shield himself, although the powerful light was

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