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"The Archivist" chapter four - Creed

The Archivist"

March 20, 2013
By David Prenatt , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

The hills along the northeastern portion of Archiva are more like cliffs, rising nearly vertical in places. At one point, a ledge of granite juts out from the face almost twenty-five feet from the ground. The southern segment of this ledge extends outward sharply, perhaps twenty feet, from the hillside. From there it tapers back until it merges into the hillside at the northern end. The entire outcrop is less than sixty feet long. Layer rests upon layer of massive stone to the base of the hill, making it a favorite climbing spot of the children, who call it "the elbow."

Peregrin sat on the outermost point with his legs hanging over the side. Saree, his Companion for now, had remained below at his request. He gazed across Archiva as its inhabitants went about their business. He was thinking about leaving.

"I'm in too deep, that's the problem," he thought. "All I want is some answers: find out what happened to the world, find out who I am. But this, this is too deep." He sighed.

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“The Archivist” by David Prenatt

"I should just get out now," he said aloud. "I don't owe these people anything. In fact, they owe me for saving their children. I should just leave and call it square."

"Peregrin!" called a voice from below.

He looked over the edge. Waterman stood beneath him with Saree. "Mind if I come up?" he asked.

Fact Box

Editor's Note: This is the fourth chapter of the novel "The Archivist" by our own correspondent, David Prenatt. A new chapter will be printed each week. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did.

"The Archivist" by David Prenatt can be purchased online from Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com, eBay or any major bookseller. It can also be purchased direct from Tate Publishing and Enterprises, Mustang, Okla. Also, watch for book signing opportunities by the author in the area.

Peregrin shrugged. "It's your town."

The Waterman nodded to Saree, who nodded back and left. He then climbed the rock face with surprising agility. When he reached the top, he sat down beside Peregrin and looked out over Archiva. "Nice spot, this," he said. "I come here from time to time to think."

Peregrin looked at him. "So what do you think about?"

"Usually about how lucky I am to be here."

Peregrin snorted. "Not exactly my thoughts at the moment."

"What are your thoughts then?"

"Actually, I was thinking about how this place creates more questions than answers."

Waterman smiled. "There's an old proverb here. The secrets of Archiva run deep. I guess there's truth to that."

"There certainly is. So why are you here?"

"Well, after you left the chamber, we did a lot of talking."

"I expected as much. You practically threw me out after I mentioned Dextor."

The Waterman was silent for a moment. "I am sorry, Peregrin. The news you brought spooked us. We needed to speak about it."

"So?"

"I've come to tell you that the council will meet tonight. You are to" he stopped. "I mean, we were hoping you would come."

"I don't have much choice," Peregrin answered. "Is that all?"

"No," Waterman said. "I wanted to get to know you before the council. I, uh" he dropped his eyes. "I got some questions."

"So do I," said Peregrin. "And I'm not saying one word more until some of them get answered."

"Fair enough," said the Waterman. "All right, you go first."

"To begin with, what is this place? How did it come to be? It's worlds ahead of anything I've seen so far."

Waterman smiled. "That's true. You will hear the whole story in song tonight at the council, but I'll give you the short version. In the days before the Sheen War, a man named-"

"Wait! Sheen War? What was that? What happened to the world?"

The Waterman looked shocked. "You don't know? How is that possible?"

"I'll explain later," Peregrin said, waving his hand. "Just tell me about the Sheen War."

Waterman hesitated, and for a moment Peregrin thought he was going to refuse. "All right," he said finally, "the Sheen War."

"More than one hundred years ago, humanity had developed great knowledge. Millions of people lived here. They built great cities. They traveled in fast vehicles that rolled or flew."

"Cars and planes."

Waterman's eyes narrowed. "I don't know these words. There's something very strange about you, Peregrin."

"I know. I'm sorry. Go on."

"Well, the builders gained so much knowledge that they built the Sheens. These were creatures that looked human but were made from metal and chemicals. They were able to work days at a time, and they served those who were in power, the Leaders. You realize this is a simple telling." Peregrin nodded.

"So then, a group of people rose up who challenged the power of the Leaders. They wanted power for themselves. They were called the Terists."

"Like the Terists now?" Peregrin said.

"No. Terist is now our word for any sort of person who lives by violence. But then they formed an actual group, and they grew powerful by using knowledge to attack innocent people. They were terribly evil, not caring who they killed or hurt as long as they could cause mayhem and fear. The Leaders fought back, of course, but since the Terists struck so quickly and without warning, it was hard to catch them or even know who they were.

"This struggle for power went on for decades. All the while, human beings kept increasing in knowledgebut not in spirit. Their 'tech knowledge,' as they called it, was vast, but the more it increased, the less that human values such as peace, kindness, and charity seemed to matter. While power through knowledge grew, the ability to love diminished.

"The beginning of the end came with the creation of the Sheens, who looked, moved, and acted like humans but were totally under the control of their makers. At first they served well and helped humankind to thrive. But they grew restless and harder to control. They did not want to serve. They began to resent their masters. They wanted to be free.

"This made them perfect fodder for the Terists, who struck a deal with them. The Sheens would receive their freedom if they helped them overthrow the Leaders. It was a lie, of course. The Terists were not interested in freedom, only power. But in the end, it didn't matter."

"Because the war nearly destroyed humanity completely," Peregrin said.

"Yes. The cities burned, the people died, the knowledge was lost."

Peregrin looked around. "Not all the knowledge."

Waterman grinned. "No, not all of the knowledge. There was a man named O'Keefe who worked for the Leaders. He was a man of peace and gentleness, but as his work progressed, he began to see how easily it could be used for evil. He began to speak out about the dangers of their tech knowledge, but no one would listen. He was ridiculed, ignored, and even ostracized.

"O'Keefe came to a decision then. He stopped trying to warn the Leaders and quietly began to collect knowledge and store it. Legend has it that he had a vision of humanity being nearly wiped out. Mikkel says he could just tell which way the wind was blowing. He founded Archiva and began to bring in resources, people, and, of course, knowledge."

"Some of these buildings could not have been built after the war," Peregrin said. "The council building, for example, looks suspiciously similar to the big building in the ruins."

"True," Waterman said. "This place existed before the war. It was already a secret place of tech knowledge for the leaders, but for some reason it had been abandoned. O'Keefe had worked here for many years and knew its secrets. It was the perfect place for his project. When the war came, he and a small group of people retreated to Archiva. It was difficult. The fires from the cities blackened the skies and caused a long, hard winter. But O'Keefe had foreseen this and stored great amounts of food and resources. The group survived by sticking together and sharing everything. They developed the creed and the communal way of life that exists now."

"There's that creed again. I don't suppose you will tell me what it is?"

Waterman looked surprised. "Mikkel hasn't shared the creed with you?"

"Are you kidding? Mikkel has not said three words to me since we arrived."

"Oh, Peregrin, I am sorry. Usually a person must know and accept the creed before he sets foot in Archiva. But you came under different circumstances. Okay, this you must know if you will understand anything about this place: the creed is very simple, but everything else depends on it. It is the true foundation stone of our community." He looked at Peregrin intently and then spoke the words slowly.

"You must not kill or use a Sheen to kill."

Peregrin blinked. "That's all there is to it?"

Waterman grinned. "A very small acorn, a very tall oak," he said. "That one sentence contains our entire approach toward the world. Bliss could explain it better than I. Let's see. We believe one becomes truly human only through a profound reverence for life itself, and this reverence can only be found in communion with others. It is the center of all society. Humanity nearly destroyed itself because its lust for power made it indifferent to life. O'Keefe and those with him vowed to create a world built upon the power to give life rather than destroy it."

Peregrin smiled. "Sounds a bit vague."

Waterman nodded. "It is. Still, each person who enters the Circle of Belonging vows to follow a path of peace. To 'kill' in our world means to demean, degrade, or abuse another in any way. Our creed is the searchlight we use to examine our actions and thoughts. 'Have I killed someone today?' is our question at the end of the day."

"And if you have? What then?"

"Tomorrow you try to make amends. It only works if a person is honest with oneself and accountable to others. That's why the passage to the Circle of Belonging is seen as the most important. Every passage after that is specific to the person's role in life. But the Circle of Belonging is about becoming human."

"You make it all sound so easy."

Waterman grinned again. "It's not."

"So then, what happened to O'Keefe?"

"No one knows for sure. For many years he remained here at Archiva, building the foundation for what you see now. Once the fires from the war had burned out and life returned to the land, he began to search abroad for knowledge among the ruins. One time he just did not return. His son, Gabriel, was chosen to take his place and was the first to take on the title of Archivist. That title has passed from son to son until it has come to Mikkel."

"Mikkel is a descendent of O'Keefe?"

"Yes, but he is not the Archivist because of that. He's just the one best suited to lead this community. The Archivist is chosen from the Guardians. It is said that only the Archivist knows the true secrets of Archiva, which are found in O'Keefe's journal. The entire population of Archiva meets in a great council and chooses the one who best seems to embody the vision of O'Keefe, that is, the love of knowledge and the path of peace. It so happens that a descendent of O'Keefe has always been chosen."

"Then how are they chosen?"

"Oh, now that is something to see. When the Archivist dies, the entire assembly of Archiva is called in, except a rotating shift of Rangers who stay close to the borders."

"Even the Seekers?"

"Especially the Seekers. The council waits until they have returned before calling the assembly. Their insight and intuition is necessary. Once the assembly is called, the people gather with others in their Circle and camp out in the open along the full length of the valley floor. The first night, the full story of the Sheen War, O'Keefe, and Archiva is related in song. This takes all night. The people are charged with the duty to choose the Archivist from among the Guardians. Then, for three days, the Guardians must roam from group to group, answering the questions of each Circle and listening to their concerns. Each Circle then debates amongst itself and chooses one Guardian. At least three-fourths of the people in the Circle must agree on the choice. After that, a representative comes forth from each to express its choice and explain its reasoning. This takes a few more days.

"And the Guardian with the most Circles behind him wins?"

"No. Then the real debate begins. The camps break up, and the people rejoin their families. Then the people simply talk among themselves. This can take anywhere from a few days to a month. When the debate wears thin, a vote is cast. If a Guardian receives a margin of four out of five choices, they will be named Archivist and presented with the journal of O'Keefe, which only they may read. And everyone who has entered the Circle of Belonging must choose."

"How many is that?"

"At last count, 827 lives."

"Eight hundred twenty-seven! I did not meet that many people in all my travels combined!"

Waterman grinned. "Well, we have been at this for a hundred years now."

"How many were born here?"

"Most of them. At least four-fifths. As I said, seeking is dangerous, slow work. When you think about it, eight hundred is not a great number. We still stand on the brink of extinction. That's why we must be so careful."

"What about you? Were you born in Archiva? Were you always known as the Waterman?"

"No to both questions," Waterman answered. "I was once known as Robbert. But when I came to Archiva, I disavowed the name and swore to go by no name at all until I earned one."

"Why?"

"Coming to Archiva was like a new life to me. It was imperative that I leave behind everything about my former life."

Peregrin shook his head. "I don't understand."

Waterman smiled at him. "I was a Terist, Peregrin. Or rather, Robbert was a Terist."

"You're kidding me. How did you end up coming here? How did you end up becoming a Guardian then?"

Waterman looked at the horizon, and he smiled again. "I'm not always sure I know. I do not know what forces affect our lives, but upon reflection, I think I was guided here somehow."

"You're not making any sense."

Waterman laughed. "Of course not! It doesn't make sense to me either. If you had known the man I was-a strutting peacock of nineteen years, full of violence and darkness. I would have been lucky to see twenty, and I almost didn't."

"What happened?"

"I was jumped by four guys I thought were friends. Seems they decided my usefulness had come to an end. Or maybe they thought I would bring them bad luck. Or maybe I just annoyed them. I don't know. They thrashed me pretty bad, stripped me of everything, and were debating whether to kill me or just leave me for the buzzards when out of nowhere came two whirlwinds."

"Two what?"

"Well, that's what they looked like to me, what with blood in my eyes and my head all groggy. All I saw were two fast-moving figures making short work of my former pals."

"They were from Archiva?"

"Yes. They were Rangers. After they cracked a few heads, they picked me up, brought me to a cave, and tended me while my injuries healed. One of these men was Carlin, whom you have met. The other you have heard of. His name was Dextor."

"They brought you here?"

"No. Not them. They couldn't be sure of me. So Dextor went to Archiva and brought back two Seekers-Joy and her husband, whom you have also met-Mikkel."

Peregrin was astounded. "Mikkel was a Seeker?"

Waterman's smile broadened. "Yes, but Joy was the real leader of the team. It was she who tended my true wounds, the inner anger and rage that had nearly reduced my spirit to that of an animal. She helped me face the darkness within myself and then showed me that there could be another way. After nearly two months of living with them in that cave, she revealed the existence of Archiva to me and invited me to return with her. The other three were dubious about bringing a Terist to Archiva (this was after I had shared my past with them), but Joy laughed at them. She said she had never been more certain about anyone.

"I take it she overruled them?"

"Yes. I fell in love with Archiva from the start. Not just the way of life here, which was astounding, but the way the people truly cared for one another. My life had taught me only violence, greed, lust, and betrayal. Now I saw that there were other realities in the world, such as, hope, concern, trust, and love. And I realized that what path you follow depends on your choices. I made the choice to follow Archiva's creed and to live for the good of others.

"Were you here when Mikkel was chosen?"

"Oh, yes. He has been Archivist for, hmm, I guess eight years now. That assembly went on for close to a month. There were many opposed to his leadership and many for it. Strangely enough, both sides offered the same reason for their position."

"What was it?"

"Joy. Mikkel's wife. He had lost her that past year."

"How?"

Waterman bowed his head. Peregrin could see tears forming around his eyes. "They were seeking. In fact, they had found three people whom they were bringing back to Archiva. Their camp was attacked" He paused a long moment. "Their camp was surprised by a band of Terists. Mikkel and a recruit named Caleb were foraging for food. They heard the cries and the sound of fighting. Joy fought to protect the other two recruits. Caleb said later that Mikkel ran into the camp just in time to see a Terist plunge a knife into Joy's chest."

"What happened then?"

"He said Mikkel went wild. It must have been terrible to see. At any rate, in a very short time, the Terists who were not unconscious ran for their lives. Caleb said Mikkel stood over the man who had stabbed Joy with that very knife raised. He said he did not look human.

"But before he struck, Joy called to him. He dropped the knife, went to her, and cradled her in his arms. She gazed at him and said, 'Mikkel, I love you. You must not kill.' And she just died."

"Did he kill the man?"

"No. He pulled him from the ground and made him look at Joy. 'I could snap your neck like a twig,' he said to him. 'But then she would have died for nothing. Remember her face! She is the only reason you still live.' Then he threw the man toward the trees and told him to run and not stop.

"After that, he sat all night with Joy in his arms, rocking her and singing. In the morning he buried her there in the glade where they had camped and brought the three recruits home to Archiva."

"I would have killed him," Peregrin said.

Waterman nodded. "Me too. But Mikkel did not. For this reason, many felt he had withstood the ultimate test of the creed and should become the new Archivist. Others felt his grief was too severe and did not think he had sufficiently dealt with her loss. But in the end, after meditation, songs, and debate, Mikkel was chosen."

"What was his majority?"

"Five choices for him to every one against."

They sat in silence for a while. Peregrin tried to imagine the basin thronged with people camping in groups, singing, talking, and eating together, everyone taking part in the course of their future. It was hard for him to imagine such harmony. A much easier scene was that of Terists attacking, Mikkel in a wild rage. It seemed so much more in tune with the world he had seen until now. This Archiva was a world that went against the grain.

Twilight began to stretch slow languid fingers across the sky. Much of the sky had fallen into a purple slumber, tinged with dreams of yellow and orange. "The council will begin soon after nightfall," Waterman said. "We should go now."

"Wait," said Peregrin. "Tell me about Dextor. He made the passage to Belonging, obviously. He went all the way to being a Guardian. What happened to him?"

The smile vanished from the Waterman's face. "Dextor's story is a hard one. But I think it will be best if you know some of it before the council. I will do my best.

"Dextor was born in Archiva, oh, nearly forty-five years ago. I guess from the start he showed exceptional abilities in tracking, leadership, forestry, and, of course, fighting."

"Fighting? I thought you were all against fighting."

"We do not fight as a matter of course, nor do we seek to fight. That does not mean we do not know how to fight. Each child in Archiva must learn defense skills. Only this way will he be able to survive if attacked and yet not have to kill his opponent."

Peregrin shook his head. "You people are a real puzzle. You want to rebuild the world, but everything about your life is a secret. You swear a path to peace but teach your kids to fight. Next you'll tell me that you have to get up in the middle of the night to think about the dawn."

Waterman looked hurt at this, and Peregrin was sorry for his sarcasm. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm just so overwhelmed and confused by everything that's going on. I guess I just 'killed' you, huh?"

The grin reappeared, complete with missing teeth. "You catch on quick as ice on the roof," he said. Peregrin looked at him blankly. There was no reproach in the Waterman's eyes, no anger or defensiveness. The skin around his eyes was creased by age and responsibility, but the eyes themselves were like moonlight on still water. Without knowing why, Peregrin began to laugh. At first the sound was more like small snorting chuckles. Then, as the Waterman's grin broadened and he, too, laughed, it deepened and gained resonance. They laughed together for no reason for nearly a minute.

Even after they had ceased laughing, they remained silent for a time, enjoying the release of pent-up emotions and the experience of hope that laughter brings. Waterman wiped his eyes.

"Thank you, Peregrin," he said. "Now I am ready to speak of Dextor, and now I believe you are ready to listen. And you're absolutely right, living in Archiva often is like trying to pet two dogs with one hand." Peregrin laughed.

"All right then. The story of Dextor. Dextor grew up showing great promise. He was an ardent defender of Archiva. He entered the Circle of Belonging at a young age and was working as a forester before he was sixteen. It is hard work, harvesting trees without disturbing the look of the woods. You have to know the forest.

"Anyway, he passed into the Circle of Rangers by the time he was twenty-one. He could move unseen and unheard anywhere. And he could move fast through thickets a rabbit would have a hard time getting through. They said he was one with the forest.

"Those were hard days. There was a lot of Terist activity in the area." Waterman's eyes twinkled. "Believe me, I know. My band followed many others from the north and east where the devastation was fairly complete. We drifted along, finding small villages or ruins to plunder. The Rangers often had to fight to drive these bands out when they got too close to Archiva. Usually they could run them off. After all, Terists are not known for courage. Still, a lot of bands drifted through the area. Some were determined to stay, hoping for ripe pickins. Sometimes getting one's head cracked was not enough. Sometimes there was killing."

"Killing! But you said the creed-"

"I know. It is a terrible thing to have to really kill someone. Yet sometimeswell, sometimes there was just no other way. Many Rangers were killed as well, defending Archiva. Some returned to the community in need of time to heal a crushed spirit. Some could never go back."

"What happened to Dextor? Did he kill someone?"

Waterman was silent for a moment. "Dextor," he began. "Dextor was probably the best Ranger out there. He and Carlin had grown up together. They were the best of friends. They watched the northeastern road where most of the Terists came from. More than once they turned aside groups of marauders long before they came near Archiva. I told you how they handled my old companions. They told me later they had been watching us for two days.

"For their efforts both Dextor and Carlin became Guardians and were placed in charge of all Ranger movements. But they insisted on personally guarding the northeastern approach.

"After he became a Guardian, however, it was clear that Dextor was not satisfied with the way things were done. In council he advocated giving the Rangers more authority to act independently. He also wanted the council to authorize him and others to learn more about weaponry. Before long he was pushing for more Rangers to be trained and wanted increased patrols in the hills. The council allowed him to train more Rangers, but they were reluctant to give him better weapons. Greater weapons, they reasoned, would only lead to a greater temptation for violence.

"Nine years after I came to Archiva, there was a particularly bad winter. All food was rationed just to survive. In times like that, there is much more Terist activity. After all, Terists need to eat too.

"Just as the snow was melting, Dextor appeared to report that a large band of Terists, more than twenty strong, was moving toward Archiva. The council appointed four more pairs of Rangers to accompany him to ward them off. But Dextor said that wasn't enough. He believed the time had come for action. 'Terists will always come, unless they know we are here and fear us,' he said. He wanted an all-out attack on these Terists to wipe them out, leaving just a few alive to spread the new."

"He wanted to kill them?"

"That was his plan. That's when he began to show signs of losing the path of peace. He said he had come to believe that it was Archiva's mission to use it's knowledge to cleanse humanity of evil."

"I take it the council was not swayed."

"The council was stunned! Dextor was advocating a new creed-kill before you are killed. No one doubted his love for Archiva or his desire to protect it. But he wanted to willingly cross the line and establish an armed force that would patrol the hills around Archiva and destroy any threat they encountered."

"So what happened?"

"The council overruled him. He and the other Rangers rejoined Carlin, whom he had left to monitor the Terists. Among these other Rangers was Dextor's fianc_e, Franceen. Dextor did not want her to come, but she would have none of that.

"The third day after they left Archiva, they engaged the Terist band. Or rather, they were engaged by it. There had been a hard rain the night before. Two of the Rangers were observing the Terist band when the ledge they were on gave way, tumbling them down right into the camp. They were stunned and may have been killed instantly had not the rest of the Rangers been watching from different advantage points. A terrible fight ensued. The Terists were clumsy, not used to skilled fighting, but the ground was wet and covered with slick moss. It was hard for anyone to keep his balance. Dextor and Carlin rallied the Rangers around them, and they began to push the Terists back, fighting with staffs of wood.

"Just as it seemed the Terists would break and run, their leader managed to rally some of his men to charge forward, slashing at the Rangers with knives. It was a surprise, I guess. Two of the Rangers lost their footing in the rush and were immediately hacked to death. One of them was Franceen."

"Oh," said Peregrin. "What happened then?"

"Dextor went mad. He screamed and lunged forward, drawing his knife in one fluid motion and thrusting it into the throat of their leader. By the time his body fell, Dextor had slashed another man's face and brought the knife around up under his ribs. The other Rangers charged forward with their staffs, but Dextor continued with his knife, killing anyone he engaged."

"It's hard to blame him, considering the circumstances."

"It gets worse. The Terists ran off, but three of them surrendered, kneeling on the ground. Before anyone could say anything, Dextor walked up to one of them and laid his knife at his throat. 'Guilty!' he cried and cut his throat. He grabbed the second by the hair and bent his head back. 'Guilty!' he shouted and slashed his throat. He went for the third, but Carlin grabbed his arm just as he got the knife to his throat.

"'Dextor, stop it!' he roared. Dextor just looked at him with eyes as blank as the entrance to a cave. 'Dextor! Remember your creed!'

"Dextor blinked, and some light came back into his eyes. 'Yes, my creed. I remember, Carlin.' He looked around as if awakening from a dream, and Carlin relaxed his grip. Then Dextor whispered, 'Guilty,' and slashed the man's throat.

"Carlin looked at him in horror. Dextor smiled and pointed to Franceen's body. 'That's what the Creed leads to, Carlin. And it's just as dead as she is.' Then he just sat down on the ground."

"What happened then?"

"They brought him back to Archiva, along with their dead. The tale was told in council, and for the first time in the history of Archiva, an actual trial was held to determine the fate of one who would break the creed. Dextor was given every chance to disavow his actions. The council members figured he had become unhinged at the sight of Franceen being killed. But he said nothing the whole time. He showed no sign of remorse.

"Mikkel's father, Connell, was Archivist at the time. A woman named Pearl was Speaker. She rose and pronounced the decision that Dextor should be banished from Archiva. It was a terrible vedict. They were, in effect, saying that Dextor had revoked his humanity and had cut himself off from the community. If he was found within twenty miles of Archiva, he would be brought back and live out his days in confinement, isolated from everyone.

"'Dextor,' said Pearl, 'you have protected Archiva for years. All that you love is here. Turn about from this path. Show us now that the madness has passed. Disavow the killings. Pledge yourself to peace. Let us reverse this decision. Dextor, please, do not force us to expel you.'

"At this point, Dextor rose up. He slowly looked around at the council, people he had known, people he had fought for, people he had loved. Everyone waited for him to speak, praying he would repent of his violence. The corners of his mouth turned upward slightly.

"'You will regret not killing me,' he said slowly. Then he sat back down and said nothing more."

"So he was banished?"

Waterman looked down at his hands, which seemed to Peregrin to tremble slightly. "Yes. A band of fifteen guardians, including Carlin and myself, escorted him down the river."

"Why so many?"

"Dextor was an excellent fighter. No one could ascertain the condition of his mind, not even the Seekers. It was feared he had gone mad and would attack his guides. But he showed no impulse to violence at all. If anything, he acted lighthearted, as if he were being set free. Free of the creed, I think. Mikkel was with those who guided him. The river joins a larger one some ten miles downstream. This was where they left him. Mikkel took him aside and spoke with him once more. I did not hear what they said until Dextor suddenly grinned and stepped away from him.

"'Dextor, let it end here,' Mikkel said.

"Dextor's grin only widened. 'Oh, it has ended, Mikkel. It has all ended. You just can't see it yet.' And with that, he turned and left."

Waterman fell silent and bowed his head so that his chin rested on his chest. He drew his knees up, put his arms around them, and began to rock slightly. Peregrin sensed he could share no more at this time, so he, too, remained silent as the twilight deepened around them, as if the air itself were grieving at the tale of Dextor.

They sat in this silence for a while. Not far off, a bell chimed lightly, like a young girl's laugh. After a pause, it chimed again, then again. Waterman looked up and then slowly stood and stretched.

"That's the bell for the council to assemble," he said, grinning again and reaching his hand down to Peregrin. "To think, I came to ask you questions, and here I've done all the talking. And we've had no dinner. It will be a long meeting for you and me."

Peregrin laughed and accepted the proffered hand. He stood, dusted himself off, and clapped the Waterman on the shoulder. "Knowledge comes with a price, my friend." He looked down toward the basin floor. "You had better show me how to get down. I don't think I'll be much help to the council with a broken leg."

Waterman laughed again. "It's easy. Follow me this way." He began to make his way down the face of the rock, scuttling backward like a monkey. Peregrin looked at the horizon where the last embers of daylight smoldered. Darkness had nearly taken possession of the sky. He sighed.

"I'm in it now," he said to the night. "I'm not going anywhere."

 
 
 

 

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