The Dragons of Arbor
Chapter 13: Songs of Time

Copyright© 2011 by Sea-Life

Flare Spaldron was a revelation to me and perhaps even moreso to River. He was just plain goofy at first. Full of energy, almost bouncing as he walked, and full of awkward moments and wide open sensitivity. He was also a bundle of contradictions.

Unlike River and I, the road he had taken to getting to where we all were was not taken based on conscious decision. He had not had the Shar to spur him into action, nor a pair of seers to see things looming in his future. Flare described it best himself.

"I know things, without knowing that I know them. Pieces of information pop up now and then and I think to myself 'oh yea, I knew that!'. As if I was an outsider watching my own life unfold on a stage and I'm sitting in the audience."

The Spirits had moved Flare Spaldron in a much different manner than they had moved us, but moved we all were, and together now.

Together now, there was little reason to continue on to Beletara, but I was anxious to see the city again. Having traveled so much recently, and seen so many new places, I was anxious to see lovely Beletara again, and visit with the Shavroms and perhaps even get a moment or two with Starlight.

Cedar Sands beckoned, and there was little desire on anyone's part to expose people we knew and loved to more fallout from those who were trying to stop us. Despite the message we had sent, and the manner in which we sent it, I didn't expect those who were trying to stop us to be dissuaded for long, if at all.

Getting to Cedar Sands was not something that was going to be done at the snap of a finger though. I knew where it was, in theory. Durin's Songs of Time made it clear that Cedar Sands was in the Sand Isles, and the isles were a long, long sail to the west and south of Beletara. Even if the sail was trouble free we would be sailing into the heart of the Jessian island states, home and center of power for the Jessian Runecasters, Wizards who are not sworn to the Wizard's Guild, and some of whom have already been seen to oppose us.

Even if we were to stand on the shores of one of the isles, who knew which isle was which, let alone which one was Cedar Sands? Scarmoc Durin lived a thousand years ago, and his Sands of Time, from which we were drawing our knowledge, spoke of an age that was a thousand years past when he wrote of it.

Those uncertainties were what kept us on the road to Beletara, ultimately. We camped our first night a long day's ride from Scudara. We hadn't thought of it while we were in town, but we had no tent or camping supplies for Flare, and as much as we were already growing close to the likable fellow, we weren't about to share our furs with him.

We were laughing over our stupidity while we ate dinner when Master Jo arrived, walking slowly down the hill behind us. He was in his usual robes, but now wore a wide floppy hat, and rather than the quarterstaff he would have carried, there was a long thin bamboo pole in his hand, and he held a tired old mule's lead in the other.

"Good evening, children." He said.

""Master Jo!" River and I both called out with joy.

It is so good to see you again, Sid and River. A pleasure to meet you as well, young Flare Spaldron."

"My pleasure as well, Sir." Flare answered, giving the old master a bow.

"You are just about back to the way you looked when I was little." I said. "And where did you acquire this old fellow?"

"This is Legend. Like me, he is old and past living the life he was first given. Though his path to here is not so interesting as mine. Still he is happy to serve the me that I am, and the me I will be, and together we are a good match for the road ahead."

"Will you have tea?" River asked.

"Thank you, I would enjoy some tea."

"Flare, would you take the bags out of old Legend's packs?" Master Jo asked.

"Sure!" Flare said.

"I brought you a tent and some sleeping furs, as well as a good travel kit with the usual things in it." Master Jo said, sitting beside me by the fire.

We were beyond wondering how Master Jo knew to bring these things, or even that he knew Flare's name. His mystery was a happy one. We could save that kind of wonder for our old age.

River was digging in Spark's saddle bags, looking for the tea and the pot to make it in. We sat in companionable silence until River was back from her bags and Flare had happily placed his new gear in a good spot to put up his tent later.

"Have you come to shed some light on the mystery we face ahead of us?" I asked.

"I am limited in what I can reveal, even if it is knowledge you can acquire from other places, I must let you find your own way for the most part."

"But... ?" River said.

"But I can tell you that you are wise to continue to heed the ancient words of Durin." Master Jo replied. "Sid, do you remember every word you read of the collected works?"

"No, of course not." I said. "I have a good memory for those sort of things, but unless I am reading something with the intent of remembering it, its not likely to stick."

"I will say no more about it, except to repeat what I said about the knowledge you seek being in the writings of Durin, but I would also point out that gift you received was the collected works of Durin, but it was not the complete works."

"Ooh!" River said excitedly.

"What?" Flare and I asked simultaneously.

"Nothing." River said. "Its just that I love libraries, and Beletara is said to have the worlds largest."

We sat and sipped tea with Master Jo, and talked of far less consequential things for some time. Flare finally decided he needed to get his new tent ready for the night, and left the fire.

"I have a little more latitude in my travels, now that you have found Flare. I can go back to the Valley, I can visit the Shadar. Would you like me to pass on the news of your marriage to your parents and friends?" Master Jo asked.

"Would you please?" I asked. "My parents may already know, if my Grandparents have passed the news along to them. They may not have thought to do that though, and I haven't wanted to reach them with my thoughts."

"My parents will not have heard," River said. "and Trunk and Alianna are with them. I would appreciate your letting them all know."

"You have done well to this point of showing mercy and kindness to those who have shown little to you." Master Jo said, handing his empty tea cup to River. "It does you credit, and the Spirits are with you."

He stood, stepping away from the fire. River gave him a hug, and I followed suit. He smiled at both of us and moved over to his mule, standing contentedly in the growing dark of the evening a few feet from our fire. As he did, we saw the familiar fading into transparency that we were becoming used to with him.

"You will face harder choices in the days ahead." Master Jo said. "Do not be afraid to make them. The Spirits are with you!"

And with that, and a slight nod of the head, he and Legend were gone.

"There is no work called the complete works of Scarmoc Durin, sir. None was ever published."

"No Ma'am, you misunderstand me. I wish to have a copy of The Collected Works of Scarmoc Durin, The one published in Esterton during King Glower the Elder's reign. The one compiled and edited by Swarm Trian. I would also like access to all the works of Scarmoc Durin that the library has on hand. If a list exists of all published Durin works not included in Trian's collected works, then that list would be appreciated."

"Sir, I am aware of the Trian, and we do have it. I know this because I have read it. Our library is said to be the world's largest, but the research section is off limits to the public."

"Then how are we expected to be able to do our research?" Flare asked.

"What you must do is either pay a researcher to scour the stacks for you, or you can put in a request for a scholar to guide you in your own search. Those are your choices."

"Do you have a scholar who knows Durin's works so well as to be of help to us?" Flare asked.

"Several young man. Scaramoc Durin is considered the greatest figure of literature for his era. There are dozens of scholars in Beletara who have extensive knowledge of the man and his writings. If you want my recommendation, it would have to be Margin Menidar."

"What makes you recommend this man?" I asked.

"He has spent his life studying Durin." The librarian said. "Not just the writing, but the life of the man and those who knew him. He's old though, and a bit cantankerous."

"Can you arrange a meeting for us?" River asked. "We would be willing to at least talk to him, and see if he would be willing to help us."

"Meet him at the Crystal Smile for tea at mid-morning." She said. "I will let him know to expect you. Fair warning though, he will not work cheap!"

"Thank you I said." Bowing to the old woman. "If there is a need to contact us between now and then, we can be reached at the Shavrom estate."

We walked out the main door of the Beletaran Royal Library and into Artisan's Square. It was well past midday, and we had not yet eaten. Two days in Beletara, and so far we had been scrambling non-stop to make some headway in our task.

We had been hosted at the Shavrom estate, and gladly, by Cord Ambrul and his wife Breeze. Their daughter Swift was eleven and thought Flare was cute. Their twin sons Meter and Pace were eight, and they were too young yet to truly appreciate River, but they found Dragon's Eye fascinating. A word from their dad about a Wizard and his staff was enough for them to keep their distance.

The elder Shavrom's were seldom in the city any longer, having moved to the countryside. Cord and his generation of Shavrom descendants had slowly been moving into the positions of responsibility, and it was Cord who had assumed the role of overseeing the overall operations of the Shavrom merchant fleet and shipping concerns. A second cousin, Finial Shavrom was the 'public face' of the family business. Even Cord agreed that it was important that the Shavrom name itself be seen as carrying on, and he and the others among whom the responsibility had been spread had reached an agreement that seemed so far to rest easily on everyone's shoulders.

A good many of these cousins were among the group that my parents had rescued from the Zadrain Steppes, and we had a large dinner the first night we were there so they could meet River, and 'welcome her to the family'. It was an official Shavrom family tradition now to treat us McKessons as part of their extended family.

"They are good friends to have son," Dad told me once. "But even better family."

Safely situated at the estate, we had been on two forays to the library so far. The second, today's, had finally given us some clue as to how we should proceed, but we would have to see what this scholar was like before we began to hold out hope of speeding up the process. At least we could believe that there would be a process now, and not endless days of digging.

Perhaps it was a relic of the early misunderstanding between my father and the local Wizard's Guild, but they were very thorough in their efforts to keep Beletara, and us, free of any threat from those who opposed us. It was my opinion that the loss of Fox, and especially the manner of it, had thrown them into organizational chaos, and they were currently incapable of mounting any kind of opposition. I could only hope it was true and that it would last a good while.

Meals at the estate were chaos, but enjoyable chaos. Cord and his peers living in the estate had managed something of a Shavrom population boom. In addition to his own three children, there were at least a dozen others, all living within the walls of the estate. They ranged in age from Swift Ambrul's eleven years to babies still at their mother's breasts. I saw River when she held them, and knew that if the Spirits brought us through the upcoming days with our lives and our humanity intact, we would be looking at children of our own.

"I would put up my bow and staff, and set aside my steak knives, for motherhood." She said as she lay in my arms one night. "Not now, not yet, but when the time comes, I would, and gladly."

"And I would take them up in your place, and the world around me would become a very safe place for my wife, mother of our children, and the children she gave me." I said, kissing the top of her head.

Motherhood, fatherhood, somedays and maybes, they all had to wait until the Dragons, the Spirits and Fate had finished with us.

We met Margin Menidar for tea at mid-morning the following day. He looked more like an old wagon master than a scholar. He had the barrel chest and tree trunk arms I'd come to think of as a perquisite for wagon masters. He had an interesting face that did not match the body. A droopy white mustache sat atop a droopy face, with a droopy chin and droopy bags under his eyes. Set in the middle of that face were bright, watery blue eyes that seemed to shine with wit and humor.

"So you are looking for something in the Durin works, those not published in the Trian, but you don't know what it is you are looking for, and wont know until you see it?"

"More or less." Flare said. "It very well could be something that will connect in some way with his mention of Cedar Sands in Songs of Time, but exactly how it connects, we don't know."

"I can think of several passages that might connect to the Cedar Sands passage you mention." Margin said, "Is it possible that these references you seek might be in his commentaries, rather than in his works themselves?"

"Commentaries?" I asked.

"Spirits! Yes." Margin spat. "Scaramoc Durin wrote more commentaries on his own works than he actually did the work! There are thousands of pages of commentary in his own hand written about Songs of Time alone!"

So we learned, one of the reasons Scaramoc Durin was such a critical favorite over the centuries was not just the work, and that was truly marvelous, but the endless amount of notes and commentaries he left behind about his own work. Serious Durin scholars spent their lives not reading the sonnets and quatrains, but reading the commentaries.

We began our journey through them, with Margin Menidar as our guide, after midday meal that very day.

The Royal Library of Beletara was six stories above ground, four stories below ground, and a proven storage medium for concentrated chaos. A city the size of Beletara kept a certain level of visitors to the library coming on a daily basis. Students, children, craftsmen and scholars of every kind. Another large number of visitors were scholars, researchers and tourists from beyond the city walls, and beyond Beltara's borders. And Arborians had no notion of maintaining quiet in a library.

The central research stacks ran through all ten stories, and the core was a well that ran the entire ten floors in one open climb.

"The Royal Durin Society in Beletara has spent the last fifty years transcribing Durin's handwritten notes and commentaries into something more readable." Margin said as we stood in the well. The commentaries have their own section of the stacks, and the society works hard to keep that section organized and growing.

Margin appeared to be well organized. He had a writing table assigned to us, and a fine new leather bound notebook, the kind that was suited for traveling, sitting open on the table. A stack of clean white paper for writing or drawing on, if required, sat beside it.

"The transcribed documents produced by the society are all here on the bottom level, but if we find something of interest, we will have to fetch the original from the stacks." Margin said. "Let's begin by writing down the lines yo say have lead you here."

"Wind walking a line across the face of Cedar Sands
and marking there the final moment of an age."

Flare quoted without hesitation.

"Ah yes." Margin said. The entire quatrain is thus -

Came, the desperate time and hour of man and men.
Came, following the chosen path of the unchosen mage.
Wind, walking a line across the face of Cedar Sands
and marking there the final moment of an age.

"Does the 'Wind' this passage speaks of mean the Wind of Arbor?" I asked.

"Most scholars believe so." Margin said, which is interesting, because the Wind of Arbor, as an in-the-flesh person, vested by the Spirits, came into being about the same time that Durin wrote Songs of Time. Before that, there is no known reference to anyone becoming the Wind."

"My mother is the current wind of Arbor, so I'm not sure I"m all that happy with this reference, but she can take care of herself, and Dad would die before he let anything happen to her." I said.

"We'll have to take it on faith that the Spirits have her in their care." Flare said.

"Well, the Spirits care best for those who care for themselves." River said. "Thankfully, Wind McKesson has always shown herself capable of that."

"Make some sense of this passage for us, if you can, Margin."

"Well, you may not know that Durin called this piece 'Songs of Time' for a reason. He claimed that what he wrote were the echoes of Arbor, past and future that came to him in a vision. The piece itself is only twenty four quatrains, ninety six lines in all. His commentaries on this one work number out to two thousand seventy eight lines."

"You are the scholar, we are not." River said. "Perhaps we should be telling you more of what we are about here?"

River may have been asking Margin, but the question was meant more for me than him. Could we trust him enough to give him the complete story? Certainly his ability to help us could only be improved with complete knowledge. With no hostile intent facing me, I was again reluctant to delve into the old scholar's mind to find out.

Delve I did, and I was reassured to find no sign of duplicity. I did see that the old lecher found River quite appealing. I had to struggle to keep from laughing when I saw the thought pass through the top of his consciousness, wondering why he couldn't have run into someone like her when he was young enough to do something about it.

"We should tell you, and we will." I said. "Let me ask you first, what you know of the Dragons, and of the Shar prophesy that speaks of their return?"

"I know what all men know of the Dragons, and that is little or nothing." Margin said. "I have encountered them many, many times in my readings, because every fool with a clean sheet of paper and a moment to spare has felt a need to write about them. References to them that can be considered based on facts? Those are few and far between. Durin's mention of them, peering into the past in the same way he gazes at the future, are entertaining, and interesting, but no more provable than any other poet's painting of them."

"And the Shar?" River asked.

"The Shar are more than capable of speaking for themselves, they don't need me, or Durin, or anyone else to do it for them." Margin said. "Their prophesy has been around a long time, and isn't controversial in itself, but in what certain opinions suggest is likely to occur around it."

"Have you formed an opinion regarding the likely outcome?" I asked.

"I don't consider it likely at all." Margin said. "Those who do are ignoring the centuries of literature that pre-dates the coming of the Dragons. Literature that makes it plain that there was Magic in existence prior to their arrival. Magic wielded by men, and by the Shar."

This was the way it went, every day for a full tenday, and half of another. Once Margin understood that we had a hefty purse to dedicate to the task, he hired us a couple of 'researchers'. In our case it was two brothers, Flash and Bail Tamanor. The brothers were younger than us, twelve and thirteen, respectively, and had 'grown up in the stacks', As Margin described it. They had a good handle on the physical location of the things we needed, Margin had a handle on the meanings and background of the works, and a good grasp of how they interconnected. We could only hope that our own understanding of what we sought would be able to match the level of their contributions.

By the end of the second tenday, we had at least located most of what I thought we needed, and in particular were pleased to have found and retrieved all the commentaries. The problem was going to be making some sense of them in relation to the two 'fact's we already knew. We would have to go to the Sand Isles to free the Dragons, and we would find the Sky, our fourth member somewhere before arriving there.

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