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"The Archivist" chapter five - Council

"The Archivist"

April 10, 2013
By David Prenatt , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

"So these are the Guardians of Archiva," Peregrin thought as he surveyed the twenty-five people gathered around a huge, stone oval table. He was seated on a low bench against the wall. Beside him were Cornel and Janel, looking rather nervous.

The room itself was square for a change. They had been escorted by the Waterman into the big stone building and had entered the double doors directly opposite the entrance, which led into this immense room. Its walls were paneled with oak. Its high ceiling was paneled as well and ornately carved. The room was much larger than the table with heavy wooden columns, four to a side, about twenty feet from the walls, supporting the ceiling and creating the impression of an inner room. A huge chandelier hung from the center of the ceiling, with a smaller one on either side directly over each end of the table. They were not in use, however, belonging to another age and another power source. Rather, the room was well lit by several oil lamps set on tall stands, which flanked both sides of each column. "No inhabitant of Archiva built this room," Peregrin thought as he looked about, but he had already known this.

He looked at Janel and Cornel. "Are you two afraid of what they might do?"

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“The Archivist” by David Prenatt

"No," answered Cornel in a small voice.

"Yes," answered Janel in a smaller voice.

A bell chimed before he could speak again. The Guardians fell silent. After a moment, Morgan rose.

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Editor's Note: This is the fifth 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.

"Bliss," he said. "If you would honor us."

Bliss smiled and rose. She was seated nearly halfway down the table from Morgan. "It honors me to do so," she said. "With respect to our guests," she smiled at Peregrin and the children, "this is the song of O'Keefe."

She began to sing. It was more a chant than a melody, but it eased Peregrin's heart to hear her clear, strong voice.

One simple twig may turn the wind.

One simple stone may turn the tide.

One simple deed turns foe to friend.

One simple blessing turns violence aside.

The Guardians then joined in, the voices blending:

One simple twig may turn the wind.

One simple stone may turn the tide.

One simple deed turns foe to friend.

One simple blessing turns violence aside.

Then Bliss sang alone:

O'Keefe lifted up eyes

when tech knowledge ruled the earth.

He saw a world enslaved to greed and lies

with little thought of human worth.

He saw the sickness of our soul,

the pollution of humanity,

the Sheens created and controlled,

the final proud step to insanity.

He knew their birth would bring death.

He spoke in warning, then desperation.

They scoffed at him and turned their heads.

Silence answered his protestations.

His dream was of another life,

a world fashioned from different clay.

Turn aside from violence and strife;

seek the path of peace each day.

'You must not kill,' would be his creed

'nor use a Sheen to kill' again.

Share peace in thought and word and deed.

One dream, one mission, one man.

The Guardians then sang:

Preserve the knowledge,

preserve the people.

Turn from the power which kills,

Archiva's law, Archiva's love.

Seek peace within, share peace without.

Cherish life and live.

Then Bliss took up the song again:

He sought the souls who shared his dream.

He brought them to this secret place.

They pledged to serve each other's needs.

They pledged to serve the human race.

The cities burned, the people died.

Great clouds filled the sky for a year.

Yet hesitant and small, Archiva survived.

We saw the life rays of the sun appear.

We buried our dead and honored their life.

We tilled, we planted, the land gave forth.

We fended off the Terist knife.

We cherished the grace of each new birth.

Pledge, therefore, to live by peace,

Seek the path of the human being.

Let no one kill by word or deed,

Create a new world from O'Keefe's dream.

The Guardians sang again:

One simple twig may turn the wind.

One simple stone may turn the tide.

One simple deed turns foe to friend.

One simple blessing turns violence aside.

The room fell silent. Everyone, Peregrin noticed, had closed his eyes and was breathing deeply, as if savoring the song. Even the children had relaxed. Strangely enough, he realized that he, too, felt at ease and peaceful. He closed his eyes and could almost hear the song echoing in the silence of the room.

Morgan broke the silence. "The council is convened. Our thanks to you, Bliss. Great events have come upon us, requiring that we meet early. Some of these events bear dire import and some" he glanced at Peregrin and smiled, "some may bear great good.

"But first we have a bit of a disciplinary matter on our hands." He beckoned to the children. "Cornel and Janel, come forward." The children rose and walked timidly toward the table, their heads down. "Mikkel," Morgan said, "you may proceed."

Mikkel rose from his seat beside Morgan. "Cornel O'Keefe. Janel O'Keefe," he said. "You are my children. I would give my life for you. But your actions have endangered all of Archiva. Raise your heads and answer me clearly." The children looked up at him. "Did you willingly leave Archiva without your Companions and go to the ruins that are forbidden?"

"Yes," they answered. Peregrin was impressed that, even though they were clearly afraid, they held their heads up and looked at Mikkel as they answered.

Mikkel was silent a moment. "You were attacked by Terists and nearly taken captive. If it were not for the fortunate presence of our guest, Peregrin, you would have been lost to us. Do you understand the anguish you have caused?"

"Yes," they said.

Mikkel's voice softened. "Why did you go?"

"It was my idea," Cornel said. "I thought we could find knowledge and help Archiva. Please don't punish Janel. It was my idea."

"Janel," Mikkel said. "Did Cornel force you to go with him?"

"No," she answered. "I wanted to go. I wanted to find something special, something new and be, well, I wanted to be a hero." Peregrin noticed that many of the Guardians smiled slightly at this.

Mikkel, however, did not smile. "Children," he said, "you must understand how serious this offense is. If you had been captured, the Terists may have forced you to tell all you know of Archiva. You have endangered us all. What is more, knowledge can be a dangerous thing. You have not yet made your passage into the Circle of Belonging. You could have caused great harm to yourselves and others. Your actions were impetuous and irresponsible. Such rashness and disregard for our rules shows great selfishness in you."

He looked about the table. "These are my children. As such, it is my responsibility to guide them to the path of peace. It would appear I have failed in this. I accept the responsibility for their actions."

Bliss spoke softly. "Mikkel, the children are old enough to accept responsibility for their own actions. We are glad to have them safely returned. The fright of their experience is enough."

"I thank you, Bliss," Mikkel said. "But the situation is serious enough to warrant punishment."

Bliss's eyes narrowed. "Then, as Archivist, what punishment would you suggest?"

Mikkel sighed. "Cornel and Janel would have made passage to the Circle of Belonging this summer. I recommend this passage be delayed for a year." Peregrin saw Cornel wince. "I will personally see to their preparation, and the shame of this delay shall be mine, not theirs."

Bliss opened her mouth to reply and then stopped. After a pause, she said, "This is wise. I agree." The other Guardians murmured agreement as well.

"So be it," said Morgan. "Waterman, please escort the children out." The Waterman rose and led the children to the door. He rapped three times and then opened the door to where the children's Companions were waiting. Then he closed the door again and returned to his seat.

"Now then," said Morgan, "we look to our guest. Peregrin, please come join us." He indicated an empty chair at the end of the table opposite him. Peregrin came forward and sat down, unsure whether he should speak.

"Let me begin," Morgan said, "with our gratitude for your part in the children's return. You fought and defeated three Terists to save children unknown to you. It was not your affair, yet you risked yourself for them."

"Well, I don't much like violent people," Peregrin said.

"We are grateful for that as well," Morgan answered. "As you have seen, rejection of violence and pursuit of peace is the center of our life in Archiva. You are the first person to enter this place without being tested and brought by a Seeker. Yet you seem well suited to this way."

The politeness of these people was almost too much for Peregrin. As graciously as he could, he answered, "This place is truly amazing to me, as are its people. I could never have dreamed that such a place existed, whose people actually seek to serve one another and live in peace. If you would allow it, I believe I could call Archiva my home."

He wasn't sure why he said this. The words had just rolled from his mouth. But he knew they were true. He felt more as if he had returned from a long journey, rather than having seen Archiva for the first time. He felt as if he had already made his passage into the Circle of Belonging. And suddenly he wanted nothing more than to live here in peace among these people.

His words seemed to please Morgan, and the Guardians as well. There were smiles and murmurs of assent around the table. Only Mikkel, he noticed, seemed impassive, betraying no emotion behind his piercing gaze.

"Indeed," said Morgan, "the feeling I experience from around this table is that we, too, would be glad to have you dwell with us and share our life. But we must know more of you. And someone must be willing to speak for you as well."

"I will do that," Waterman said loudly. "Peregrin and I spent much of the evening together upon the elbow, though he tricked me into doing all of the talking." He grinned.

"I will speak for him as well," Bliss said. "Though our time together was limited, I believe he is a true human being."

Morgan raised an eyebrow. "Very well. You have two good witnesses, Peregrin. Now speak for yourself. Who are you? Where do you come from? Where are you going?"

Peregrin laughed out loud, causing Morgan to start in surprise. "I'm sorry," he said quickly. "But it is strange that you ask those very questions. I am seeking the answers to them myself."

Morgan blinked. "I do not understand."

"Nor do I," Peregrin answered. "All I can say is that I awoke in an underground room. I may have been knocked out while exploring it. I don't know. I have no memory of who I was or where I came from, only that my name is Peregrin. I dug my way out and, true to my name, began to wander. Knowledge comes to me in bits and pieces as I need it, but nothing of my former life. I saw the ruins of cities and towns. I encountered and fought Terists, as you call them. I lived with primitive people in small villages and helped them survive. But always I had the urge to push on, to wander. Until I came over the hills to the river. There I experienced a feeling of familiarity. I also experienced this feeling in the ruins, and again in Archiva. This is all I know. I am a man in search of my past, my future, and even my present."

"Then you are a question mark," said an old woman halfway down the table. Peregrin had not noticed her before. She was small and thin with wispy gray hair pulled up in a bun. Her leathery face bore the creases of many years of sun and hard work. Her hands upon the table were weathered and hard. "You are a riddle, an enigma. You dislike violence, but you fight well. You don't know anything about your past yet you 'know' things at the moment you need to know them. Archiva is new to you, yet you find it familiar. What are we to make of this? Should we not be cautious when there are such unknowns?"

"A fair question, Bernhadette," said Carlin from across the table. "Allow me to answer. I saw this man in the ruins. All four of us who were there felt it was permissible to bring him to Archiva. Who has ever heard of such an instantaneous decision? Perhaps we are meant to help him in his search." He looked at Peregrin. "And perhaps he will help us in ours."

"You are young yet, Carlin," Bernhadette said, "while I am old, having seen more than seventy harvests. The earth has taught me many things as I have tilled and planted. One is patience in all matters. Another is to be wary of question marks."

*****

"If I may," Peregrin said, "I could not agree with you more. Be wary of question marks. Yet Archiva is just as much a question mark to me as I am to it. You, too, abhor violence yet teach your children to fight. You, too, have dim recollection of the past yet possess great knowledge beyond the outside world. Even the building we sit in is a question mark. Who built it? What happened here before Archiva? Perhaps I find Archiva familiar because it is an enigma. And I am a riddle within a riddle."

"Well put," said a large, bearded man near to Peregrin. "Archiva is a riddle that unravels as we live. Do we not say, 'The secrets of Archiva run deep?' But you are a riddle that comes from the outside. Your appearance in the ruins just in time to save the children seems too coincidental. And you have brought us the news of Dextor. What if he has sent you to throw us off balance. How can we trust you?"

"I say it again, Stevan, I trust him," Bliss said. Her voice was slightly raised, and she punctuated each word. "Fellow Guardians, your fears are well placed. This man before us brings more questions than he answers. But I tell you, he was not sent by Dextor or by anyone. Violence is not his way. I believe we can trust him."

"You would stake your Guardianship on it, Bliss?" Stevan asked.

"I would stake my life on it," she answered.

"As would I," said Mikkel. He rose and stood with both hands on the table. "I confess, there is much I fear from the arrival of Peregrin, and there are many questions to be answered. But he seeks peace"-he locked his gaze on Peregrin-"as a true child of O'Keefe would. I believe his presence here, however mysterious, is meant to be. I feel his past and future are tied to our own." He sat back down.

The room became silent. Morgan glanced about and then said, "Let us commune." The Guardians sat up, folded their hands upon the table, and gazed at one another. As Peregrin watched, stern expressions softened, fearful ones calmed, questioning ones relaxed. He suddenly realized that this silence was somehow a form of communication. It was not cognitive, to be sure, but somehow the Guardians were bonding with one another. The silence seemed to thicken the air, as if one could almost touch it.

The Waterman spoke first. "I am for him," he said simply.

"I am for him," said Carlin.

"I am for him," said Bliss.

And so it continued about the table. The Guardians continued to gaze at one another as each cast his vote. Even Bernhadette gave her approval after a long silence. In the end, only Mikkel had not spoken. Slowly, all the Guardians turned their faces toward him.

"I am for him," he said. "So be it." He lowered his head. The Guardians shifted and breathed deeply. Many of them smiled.

"Peregrin," said Morgan, "you are welcome among us as one of us. Archiva is open to you as it would be for anyone entering the Circle of Belonging. We ask that you remain in the company of your Companions, but more so to be instructed by them than to be prohibited from anything. The only place you may not go freely is in this building. Only a Guardian may bring you within these walls. Is this acceptable to you?"

"Perfectly acceptable," Peregrin answered. "Thank you. Shall I leave now?"

"No," Morgan said. "Our next matter, of which you spoke to us earlier, concerns you. Please stay and feel free to add your voice to our deliberations.

"Guardians of Archiva," he continued, "many troubling events have concerned us in these past months. Rangers have found Terists in larger bands and exhibiting greater skills than ever. Some of our Rangers have sent no word at all, giving us cause to fear that evil has befallen them. Most disturbing is the presence of three Terists in the ruins and no word from Rimmon or Gabrielle who patrol them.

"Today, several of us met with Peregrin, who fought these Terists. It is safe to say he astounded us all by speaking the name of 'Dextor,' which he heard from one of the Terists. All of you remember Dextor. He sat at this very table with us. He defended Archiva zealously. Yet, in the end, he turned from the path of peace to which we are dedicated and advocated using force to restore civilization. He was banished from here but promised that he would return. All of these factors combine to lead us to a fearful conclusion. Dextor has indeed returned, leading a sizable band of Terists whom he has trained and formed into the unit he sought to create in Archiva."

Excited murmurings broke out at the table. Morgan motioned for silence. "If this is true, I believe he will attempt to gain control of Archiva. He knows all the routes into the valley; he knows the habits of our Rangers. He knows we will not kill, and we know that he will. What is more, he knows the true wealth of Archiva-the knowledge we have preserved from the world before us."

"Does he have the strength to overrun Archiva?" Stevan asked.

"We do not know. However, he has already effectively reversed the roles in this game. Now it is the Terists who have surprise and secrecy, while Archiva's secrets are open before Dextor. The secrets of Archiva may run deep, but so did Dextor. He knows how we think, how we plan, how we dream. It could well be that he already observes every move we make. Who can say how many Rangers he has," Morgan paused, "incapacitated. We have no way to know how ready he is to attack, or even what his plan of attack will be."

"He is not ready," Peregrin heard himself say. All heads turned his way. He went on, surprised at his own confidence. "Those Terists in the ruins-Crop, Daggert, and the other fellow-they were watching for someone they felt would lead them to something. I heard them talking about it. They just went after the children for a distraction. Dextor wants something before he acts, something from the ruins."

"Something he was waiting for someone from here to lead him to," Bliss said. "But who is he watching for, and what does he seek? Mikkel? What do you know of this?" Mikkel shook his head.

Peregrin kept his eyes focused on Mikkel. "Perhaps it has something to do with the big building, the one that looks like this one."

Mikkel's head jerked up. "Why would you think that?"

Peregrin smiled. "Because someone has been prowling around it. Oh, whoever it was tried to cover his tracks but left evidence behind. I'd say that being invisible in the forest is not his or her top skill."

Mikkel looked at Peregrin through narrowed eyes. "It was me," he said after a long moment. "You are correct, Peregrin. I have been to the ruins, particularly the big building, less than a month ago."

"But why, Mikkel?" Waterman asked. "What is there?"

Mikkel looked about the table. "I cannot say."

"Mikkel," said Carlin. "This is no time to keep secrets. The fate of Archiva is at hand."

"That is exactly why I must keep this secret, Carlin," said Mikkel.

"What do you mean?" Bliss asked.

Mikkel hung his head. After a moment he sighed, raised his head, and spoke: "Guardians, this is difficult for me even to say aloud. I have reason to believe that someone within Archiva may be filtering information to Dextor. Someone, perhaps at this very table, may be in league with him."

The silence hung like an August evening. Then the table erupted. Shouts of "Who?" and "Impossible!" and "You have lost your mind, Mikkel!" rang about the room. More than half of the Guardians had risen to their feet. Mikkel remained seated, gazing at them. Morgan pounded the table and shouted for quiet. Finally, the hubbub subsided and everyone sat down again. But the air seethed.

"Mikkel," Morgan said, "you are the Archivist. All of the secrets and the knowledge of Archiva lie in your hands. What sort of evidence do you have for this claim?"

"None," answered Mikkel. "Nothing but a hunch. Listen to me. Dextor is gone for nearly eight years. We have changed our habits some since then. The Rangers have developed new routes and new skills that he would not have known about. Yet he comes back with who knows how many Terists in his band, and we receive no word of it? No Ranger spots them coming? In fact, many Rangers are not heard from at all-even in the ruins! How is this possible unless he has inside information? And information about the movements of our Rangers could only be known by a Guardian.

"Furthermore, Dextor is watching for something at the ruins. Watching for what? Watching for me! He knows I go there from time to time. How does he know this? I was not Archivist when he was banished. I never went there alone before then. Yet he knows I go there now. And in all Archiva, only the Guardians know that I go there at all, and they do not know how often."

"So you think one of us is working for Dextor?" Carlin said.

"Yes," Mikkel said quietly. "I have thought about this matter since Peregrin brought word of Dextor's return. I have pondered the presence of Terists in the ruins, the missing Rangers, and now Peregrin's testimony. I can only conclude that Dextor has returned, indeed he has been in the area for a while now, and that someone is helping him."

"Madness," Stevan said. "Madness. Who among us could do such a thing? What of you, Carlin? You were Dextor's best friend."

"And the one who testified against him, causing him to be banished," said Waterman.

"Well, then perhaps it is you, Waterman. You were a Terist, after all. Perhaps you wish to return to your former life. What about any of us? Shall we go around the table and defend ourselves? Does the trust we have in our communion mean nothing? This is madness, I tell you!"

"You speak true, Stevan," said Bliss quietly. "Without a fight Dextor has struck us to the bone. If someone at this table is helping him, then we have already lost. Mikkel, I pray your suspicion is false. Yet even if it is, the seeds of distrust have been planted in the heart of Archiva."

"What then shall we do?" asked Merida.

"Without knowledge, nothing," said Mikkel. "And for the first time, knowledge is what we lack. We must send out our best Rangers, forewarned of the danger, to find out what they can about Dextor's return. Where is he camped? Who is with him? What are his plans?"

"And what if you are correct, Mikkel?" said a small man with thin, graying hair. "What if someone here is in league with Dextor? He will know the Rangers are coming. You will send them to their death."

"Then, Chapman, we will at least know that we have a traitor among us. It is a high price to pay for knowledge, but I can see no other way."

Bliss turned to Peregrin. "You come as a most welcome friend, Peregrin. But is seems that a storm follows in your wake."

Peregrin opened his mouth to answer, but it was Mikkel who spoke first. "You speak true, Bliss, and more than you know."

XXXXX

*****

Peregrin lay awake long into the night. He had been given quarter in a small guest house of sorts, near to the stockrooms on the western side of the valley. Such accommodations, he learned, had been built into the hillsides throughout Archiva as temporary housing for people recruited from the outside world while they prepared to enter the Circle of Belonging. It was a two-room affair-one for social matters or work, and an inside room for sleeping. The bed was a wooden frame overlaid with a series of cloth tubes stuffed with goose feathers and sewn together. It was quite comfortable yet very strange to Peregrin, who had largely slept outdoors on the ground. Despite its comfort, he could not sleep and lay on the mattress, thinking about the day's events.

The debate had gone on for some time, but finally it was decided to pursue Mikkel's suggestion. No one liked the idea that they could be sending their Rangers into a trap, but there was no way around it. They needed to know more about Dextor.

Their anguish at the idea that one of them was working with Dextor was palpable. For more than a century, they had struggled to survive as a community of peace, trust, and nonviolence. Each Circle took one into a deeper commitment and awareness of this path. Yet at the deepest level, they had seen their guiding principles rejected-first by Dextor, and now possibly by another hidden among them. Despite the politeness and brave smiles, the trust in one another they depended upon had been badly shaken, perhaps shattered.

Yet they had welcomed him. After their communion and choice for him, no one even suggested that he might be working with Dextor. Certainly many of them had finely honed empathetic skills, but how could they be so sure? Still, once they had accepted him, they trusted him. He vowed to be worthy of that trust.

This gave him another thought. Dextor may know of Archiva, but he did not know of Peregrin, other than the report of the "Traveler" he hoped Crop and his men had brought. It was likely then that he would want to learn more about this stranger who had appeared. If there was a traitor, then he or she would probably try to find out more about him. Perhaps he could smoke them out this way. He would be alert to prying questions and watchful eyes.

Waterman had already sought him out, seeking information. But he had seemed content to talk instead. No one else had had much of a chance to be around him, other than his Companions. But he could not bring himself to believe Waterman could be the one. His joy was too real. It had to be someone else.

And then there was the problem of Mikkel. He had saved his children in the ruins, but Mikkel had hardly thanked him. Mikkel's attitude toward him had seemed suspicious and guarded. Yet he had also vouched for him to the Guardians, calling him a "true child of O'Keefe." What did he mean by that? Why did Mikkel study him so? The man was a puzzle who was not showing all his pieces. They would have to talk.

What a strange community this was! They were all a bunch of fools, dreaming of a perfect world where people did not hurt one another. Impossible! Peregrin had seen enough of this world to know their dream could never be realized.

But he wished it could be. These people had survived more than one hundred years, and they still held to their dream. Maybe violence was not an inevitable product of humanity. Maybe humans could choose peace if they saw it as a daily, lived commitment that affected all of one's decisions. If they could only remember the destruction that greedy, power-hungry, violent people had brought upon the world. If such a dream were possible, it could only happen one person at a time. There would always be those who chose another way. And they would forever seek to destroy peace, to control the lives of others.

Dextor had chosen that path. Probably he began with Archiva's interest at heart. Maybe he had lain awake just like this and reflected on the improbability that peace would win out in such a savage world. Without realizing it, he had begun to lose faith in O'Keefe's vision and creed. Despair in their way of life had crept slowly into his vision until he believed Archiva could only survive if it used its knowledge for power. Perhaps he thought he was expanding O'Keefe's vision, fulfilling it.

But then to have his ideas rejected by his fellow Guardians. To face their refusal to change as the situation demanded it. And to see his beloved Franceen hacked to death as a result of their refusal. Why, it was the very creed of Archiva that killed her by not allowing another way to deal with Terists. Suddenly Peregrin felt great pity for Dextor. How alone he must have felt! How betrayed by the people he trusted the most!

And then to be banished from this place-his home and his life. To spend years alone in the outside world in all its primitive savagery, knowing what lay here-the great, preserved knowledge of the ages, unused, useless

Peregrin sat bolt upright, slapping a hand to his head. For a moment he had had a mental image of a great circular room and a bookcase spanning from the ground to the high ceiling, full of books, and spiraling away toward some unseen center. Then pain tore through his skull, blurring the image, pushing it somewhere within, hiding it.

He rubbed his forehead with both hands. When the pain subsided, he tried to regain the image and could not. It was as if he had peered through some door only to have it slammed shut.

"Enigma man," he said wryly. "More damn question marks." He smiled and lay down to sleep.

 
 

 

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