“I know you are confused,” said the large thin gray creature in front of Ernie, “ but YOU MUST TRUST ME… you are safe, but a long way from your home, all will be fully explained shortly. For now, grab the scepter on the stage and hold it over your head.” With that Jasper lowered to one knee, turned his eyes downward bowed and said, “My Warden” Ernie, disoriented, gasping for breath, walked two steps forward picked up the scepter with his right hand, it was heavy, solid silver, and held it vertically over his head without even considering the consequences.
The crowed erupted with such a force that it shook the foundations of the platform Ernie stood on. Now chanting “To our Warden we are true! To our Warden we are true! …” Ernie looked to his left with the scepter still held high and saw the the ten governors kneeling down with bowed heads in his direction. Jasper then stood, extended his long right arm and unusually long fingers palm up gesturing to the right of the platform providing a quick and stately exit for Ernie. Once off the stage Jasper lowered his large gray skinned head to Ernie’s ear and spoke while his long arm now gestured to the orange clad Honor Guard. “They will take you to a place to have your questions answered” Ernie thought this large man must be of great importance because of the grace and command in his voice. “My Lord,” he continued. A hand (5) of honor guard walked briskly to Ernie’s side and escorted Ernie to the chambers of the Regents Estate. As Ernie left the stage Jasper bowed in his direction and joined the chant
“Too our Warden we are true!”
Just off the stage, inside the regents estate, there was, not the tall slender graceful man in orange regalia, but a dumpy pot bellied man with a pleasant disposition dressed in drab colors of a servant. The man only looked regal because of the stylish cut of his uniform in contrast to brightly adorned man on stage. Dressed in the grays and browns and a thin dull orange sash of his position, the dumpy potbellied man clasped his hands together and said.
“Oh happy day! Oh happy day! Greetings! I am Shea, servant of the Head Regent Jasper. I will be able to answer a few of your questions as I prepare you for the Regent. He will speak to you at length later. For now the Regent must first meet with the statesmen of the territories, purely ceremonial as they have come a long way, and then he will be able to speak to you at great length. You must have so many questions! For now know that you are our new Warden. The highest rank in all the Ward. All who live here are subject to your authority. Reverence and respect will be given to you by all.” Then, Shea, with a grace and nimbleness that defied his shape, bowed deeply. Shea, noticed how uncomfortable Ernie was with this kind of attention quickly moved on. “Warden, there will be more of that kind of reverence shared from all who serve you, which is many.”
“Jasper, the man on the platform, is our current Head Regent he rules in the absence of a Warden. Please pardon his being detained. He knows you have much to ask and as your servant he desires to address your questions as best as he is able. The loyalty of the governors is important and it would be an embarrassment to them and to you and your position if they are not properly addressed at an event like this. You will meet them all tomorrow. But for tonight, Jasper will attend to your questions and needs. I have been granted the authority to answer a few questions but most will be deferred to the Regent. He has great wisdom, wisdom that is befitting a Warden. For now I humbly ask for your patience as we prepare you to meet with him. Your travel to the Ward has left its odor upon you.” With that Shea bowed again.
With his first chance to talk Ernie said as quickly as he could get out “Where in the world am I and how do I get back? Warden? Me? What’s a Warden? What’s happening here?”
“Yes, yes, yes, all these and many more questions will be answered in time but first you must be cleansed!” Then Shea bowed again for the third time and with his hands out to his side he then backed up two paces turned and headed down the hallway. The entire entourage Ernie, the Honor Guard and Shea made haste down the hallway.
“Cleansed?” Ernie said disoriented, premonitions of some sort of strange spiritual ritual entered his head. As a repentant christian doing anything that honored anything other than God made him wince. Even arriving to wherever it was that he had come Ernie was determined to hold on to his faith. God was after all God.
“Oh Fear not my Warden!” Smiled Shea giddy with excitement, wearing that smile he had worked so hard to hide earlier, and “You are dirty. You smell as if you slept in a hog barn. We can’t have you meeting the Head Regent or the governors this way. Follow me quickly, we have warmed water for cleansing, made ready with oils and perfumes and fresh clothes, something befitting a Warden” Ernie was now fully aware of the odor as well… cat pee. “Oh fear not my Warden you will smell as fresh as the first morning in spring. Oh fear not my Warden, the Honor Guard escort you. You are not captive but your protection is of most importance. Many who in the past have answered to no one will now answer to you. The presence of the Honor Guard is a simple over done precaution.”Then with large sweeping hand gestures Shea shouted “To the cleansing barrels!”
Confused and rushed Ernie was compliant in anticipation of the answers he was promised. Only moments ago Ernie was crawling behind a trash dumpster looking for a place to sleep and now, he was suddenly “Escorted” to some other destiny. Hope for a future? He thought as he continued to walk through many passages, know the plans I have for you? Ernie soon began to take better note of his surroundings. This was very fine stonework. Polished lightly colored marble walls stood aside polished hardwood floors. The wood floors had some give to them yet Ernie was unable to heat the slightest creak from them. Shea walked with plenty of sound that included the humming of some joyous happy tune but the honor guard moved quietly. Only the shifting of their armor and weapons betrayed their presence. ‘Where is this place?’ Ernie thought. “I’m not in Kansas anymore… how? Am I dead? Did that dumpster fall on me smothering me? Am I in a coma? Dreaming dreams as wild as my imagination can muster? Can this possibly be real?’ Did I somehow die and somehow miss heaven? This is not heaven. Jesus said when we get to heaven that we would be surprised by who was and wasn’t there. This is certainly not hell either. So I must be alive in some way… if this is real. How can I tell and if so why would God allow such a thing? Why me?’
“I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you plans to give you a hope and a future”
‘God is here… wow!’ Ernie now eagerly followed Shea into a room that was warm and humid. An elaborate bath had been prepared. A large wood barrel, the size of a hot tub, heated water, brushes, soap and a curtain to draw for privacy. Ernie began to soap up and Shea began to answer some of Ernie’s initial questions. “My Warden I am so sorry for the haste but there is great need for it. However, I will try to address your initial questions while we have a moment. Let’s see… I believe one of the questions went something like ‘where in the world am I and how do I bet back?’ You are in what is left of the Ward. It is a world separate from yours. There is no knowledge in any reliable histories about getting back to where you came from; however, there are some legends of other Wardens who have tried. None of the legends I have ever heard have turned out well.”
“Yes you are our Warden. The leader of several people groups in our land.”
“Yes you. You were chosen.”
“The prosperity of our land is tied to our Warden. With a Warden to lead and govern, the people grow in morale and Ward prospers. Our Warden cannot be of this world so one is selected from another world through a portal. Portals are not magic, they happen naturally in our world. The location and time of a portals appearance can be predicted from the annals of knowledge. It is from these portal appearances that we select a Warden.”
“Why not you? You could have been anybody, as long as you are a male. A female has never been pulled through a portal in our histories. The platform and ceremony you just experienced were just that… ceremony. The Head Regent the tall gray one in orange, pulled you through the portal. When there is no Warden the Head Regent administers the laws of the land. He has no power to make or change laws, that can only be done by the Warden himself. By pulling you through the portal he has surrendered his authority to you. Please my Warden, try this towel, it is from the sheep lands of the Donsey, the finest cloth in the land is made from their pastures and I hope these are to your liking”
(All this stuff needs work and needs full development and brevity)
Ernie took the towel and clothes that Shea offered. The towel was amazingly absorbent and soft as he dried himself off. As he dressed Ernie’s fears of personal safety were set aside. He was convinced that he was not being confined but being prepared for and explanation that he was eager to hear. The fact that the daunting Honor Guard did not enter the cleansing hall helped matters. Called “body guards” they were very formidable looking and as a group would make anyone uneasy around them. Ernie’s thoughts turned towards the future and how he would ever reconcile them to his past. He had caused great turmoil in his previous life but had finally resigned to serve God for the rest of it as he was released from jail. The thought of being responsible for a whole country was overwhelming. He would have been much more comfortable in a position like Shea’s where others made the decisions and also took the responsibility for their outcome. Serving for Ernie seemed much simpler and safer. Ernie’s desire to be a humble servant was genuine enough but he had to confess that sometimes that led him to avoid leadership and the responsibility that goes with it. Ernie had some unused skills that would help him. Insight, vision, his ability to develop a plan were tools but opportunities to lead had been avoided for fear of failure and despair. Sometimes these talents would leak out in the things he did but he always had shied away from positions of authority and responsibility. Ernie knew that his past of taking safe and comfortable paths was not what God wanted for him, now that he had finally gotten to know him. Amazingly Ernie was now to lead a people whom he did not know anything about. He knew nothing of their customs, their history or their relationship with God.
Shea broke Ernie’s thoughts by speaking “The other men who were on the platform are the governors of the territories of the Ward. There are ten territories in all. They have all sworn their allegiance to you and the Ward. I hope the clothes are to your liking”. Ernie’s new clothing included a finely woven green shirt with a sleeveless tunic of a darker green and pants to match. The tunic had the emblem of the Ward embroidered upon it. A man with a scepter held above his head and a scroll in the other hand. It reminded Ernie of the statue of liberty without the pointy crown. The clothes were very comfortable and a good fit. “All in the Ward are loyal to you my Warden. So do not fear, your authority will not be questioned. Now, as a matter of proper etiquette I will need to make some announcements on your behalf in the future. With your permission my Warden I humbly ask your name.” Shea bowed again deeply and dramatically.
“I thought I was chosen?”
“How does one select and apple off the tree? You grab one you can reach, I fear that a better answer will need to wait until Jasper arrives”
“Earnest… Earnest Joseph Franklin”
“Warden ‘Earnest Joseph Franklin’ what a fine name for a Warden.”
“Ernie is fine”
“I am sure he is Warden Earnest Joseph Franklin”
“No I mean you can call me Ernie”
“I fear I cannot… I can if you wish address you as Warden Earnest because I am of the house staff, your formal introductions will be as Warden Franklin. Now as a matter of protocol please know that you will be known and addressed by the masses as Warden Franklin but by those whom you are personally served, my humble self and the Head Regent, you will be informally known as Warden Earnest. You may at some point change the manner in which you are addressed if this is not to your liking, but I and many others would recommend that it be so for now, at least until you have had a chance to take the Tour of the Ward and meet the peoples of the land you will rule.” Earnest nodded to affirm the advice of Shea. “You will find the house staff every bit as loyal as myself but you must understand that your are the highest ruler of the Ward and respect must be shown not only to you but to the position of Warden as well.”
“What’s this about not being able to go back and what if I don’t accept this position of Warden?”
“That is a most excellent question for Jasper our Head Regent. He is very wise and will advise you well. Come now with me to the Regents chambers he will address you there when his stately duties are complete, now that the odor of your journey has been removed.” Shea’s smile was less formal and more personable. Earnest liked him. Earnest and Shea left the cleansing room and joined the Honor Guard and began to travel down some more halls and then up a spiral staircase that wound tightly as it rose. It opened up into a hall with many doors to the left and to the right. At the top of the stairs there were two more of the honor Guard and Earnest could see that there were two more at the end of the hall as well. “Security is not always this tight my Warden but rest assured they are here for your protection as well as the protection of Jasper the Head Regent.” The doors at the end of the hall were large double doors ornately engraved each with a large brass ring hanging as a knocker in the middle. The guards bowed in obvious respect to the Warden but to Shea as well.
Considering the size of the doors the Regents chamber was rather modest. The chamber contained a simple bed, rather long to accommodate his frame, a fireplace, and two tables. Both tables were quite simple even though one was rather large. Both tables were neat, the larger table had piles of scrolls and books that were stacked to either side. This was obviously a place of study for the Regent something that appeared to be common place for him. A soft knock at the door was followed by a gruff but pleasant voice. “Master Shea dinner is served!” With that Shea went to the door and retrieved a platter of food that had been set at the door.
“It will be a few more minuets before the Regents arrival; in the mean time we bring you this.” It was a plate of ripe fruit that had been freshly cut, roast something that didn’t smell like beef but appealing none the less and bread that was just pulled from the oven and a goblet with drink. “we have some very fine wines in the Ward. Some of the land has especially fertile vineyards, but It was decided that for tonight’s discussion that you would need your wits about you so tonight’s dinner is served with water and only the lightest of spices.” Earnest was hungry but modestly sampled from the platter to begin. The fruit was in season and sweet. The roast, whatever it was, was juicy and tender. The bread was light and satisfying. The water was as pure as he could ever remember drinking. It was a different kind of pure taste. It did not have the aseptic feel of water that was processed to purity, but of water that had not been contaminated in the first place. A drink that was full of purity and innocence.
“You have guests waiting Regent” came the gruff voice from the hallway.
“Thank you” was the now familiar voice of the Head Regent. “You are dismissed… notify the headmaster that we may need escort in an hour or two.” With that the doors opened wide, two honor Guard bowed with their eyes up (the Honor Guard were always surveying their surroundings) both the direction of Jasper and Earnest and simultaneously backed away. The man from the platform stood in the doorway silently for a moment. He was tall, very tall 9 maybe 10 feet in all, with very thin almost tree like features. He was a man but not human, treelike in appearance, grayish pale skin, long facial features, a long neck, long arms and extra long fingers on his hands. The fingers on his hands seemed to have extra bends and appeared to be able to bend in both directions. Then with a voice of a wizened professor who has the respect of many, Jasper spoke as he bowed.
“A most humble welcome Warden”
“Regent Jasper may I present Warden Earnest Joseph Franklin” Said Shea joining the bow.
“Thank you Shea, my most loyal servant, I should like some time alone with our new Warden…” with that Shea turned to Earnest “As long as Warden Franklin would allow it.” Earnest nodded and Shea left the room closing the large double doors behind him.
“Can you tell me what’s happening? ” Blurted Earnest.
“To the best of my ability Warden Franklin, is it acceptable to address you in this manner?”
“I believe Warden Earnest will suffice”
“I thank you for your hospitality Warden Earnest. First with your permission, I would like a moment to just speak. I have put great thought into what I would say before your coming and I can answer many of your questions, and I am certain there are many, with a prepared statement.”
“Please continue… Jasper is it? Oh wait… Regent Jasper.”
Jasper’s smile opened fully and nodded his head towards Earnest and began his statement. “Our world is an ancient one. It has a very dramatic division in it between order, which we call the Ward, and chaos, which we call the Wild. Our world is much older than your world. While your world is about 10 thousand years old our world is close to 500 thousand years old. However, due to some interesting things about how time passes relative to each of our worlds they have been in existence for about the same duration. One way to reconcile this is to think of it in this manner. Imagine 2 different paths to the same destination. One more scenic and windy, the other more direct. Both arrive at the same destination. One path, however, travels a considerably longer distance in the process. The passage of time in our worlds can be compared in much the same way. Some of our scholars think our worlds had similar starts and based on our annals of knowledge and the best traceability of our histories, similar destinations and destinies but our paths to these ends are different.
We have some limited knowledge of your world through our past Wardens. We at one time had better knowledge of your world but much of that knowledge has been lost. So much has been lost since the migration” Jasper paused as a wave of sadness came over him. “Too much was lost, but I digress…” Jasper recomposed and continued “our worlds are very similar in some ways and in other ways our worlds are vastly different. Consider for instance technology, you have the printing press and we have scribes. Our tradition of scribes is very ancient and has been the way we have passed down information for many centuries. You have much sickness, we have little sickness having developed elixirs for practically every known ailment. Also, the people of the Ward are not taken to things that can cause undue complications to ones health. There is little in the way of heavy drinking, promiscuity and the like. In general the people of the Ward take care of themselves and each other.
Based on our small amount of knowledge concerning your world there appears that there would be no need for our worlds to ever make any contact. And yet, we have made contact with your world, for as long as has ever been known that contact has been one way. Over the millennium our world has become dependent upon the existence of yours and possibly always was. No one knows when it started or how, but as far back as our history goes our Wardens have always been of your world. When we do not have a Warden the territory of the Ward shrinks in size relative to the Wild. When we do have a Warden the morale of the people increases, the Ward prospers and expands. We have only one method for choosing our Warden, by use of the portal. In the past a portal could be created but that knowledge has been lost. Fortunately, there are naturally occurring portals. The known occurrence of portals grows rare as the Ward has shrunk. As the appearance of portals becomes rarer our ability to predict them has been reduced as well. Now where we are reduced to relying on prophecy to determine the time and location of the appearance of portals.” Earnest continued to eat from the plate that Shea had given him. After months of jailhouse food a home cooked meal of any kind would have been a feast. The simple plate of meat, fresh cut fruit and vegetables not only refreshing but also reassuring. Earnest knew instinctively that he was in good hands.
“You are the first Warden in nearly 2000 years. Naturally the people are very excited. We have endured an unusual string of unsuccessful callings and not a single calling has been attempted in nearly 150 years. In times past a new Warden would be successfully called in less than a year from the previous one. There have been 20 confirmed failed callings and more callings whose records have been lost. It’s rare that more than 2 callings are ever needed in order to secure a Warden. So our collective urgency and need for a Warden is greater than we have ever known.
Without a Warden the Ward has shrunk to dangerously small proportions in relation to the Wild. In 2000 years much has been lost, too much, documented histories, land, people, and hope. With you Warden Earnest the people will regain hope and there will be prosperity. The Wild will be pushed back. Not without resistance but in the end it will happen. The extent of the growth and prosperity will depend on the decisions you make as Warden.
The Wild is the land outside the boundaries of the Ward. The Ward is a place of laws, civilization and morality. The Wild is a land full of chaos and brutality full of uncivilized beings and peoples. There is no justice, honor or freedom in the Wild. The lands of the Wild are untamed: beasts and great evils roam about. The further from the Ward you travel the darker and stranger the Wild becomes. The Ward is the last stand of civilization that remains in the world that we know of. There are history’s in the Council of Saints that speak of times of expansion where small pockets of moral civilization isolated from the Ward have been found. These isolated communities always join the Ward if the Ward expands its boarders to those communities. Of our current ten territories the Plains Riders of Pampas were once a community that existed in the Wild separated from the Ward.
Over the years the Ward has been driven back so much that in addition to lost land many people groups have been lost. Of the 10 territories that currently make up the Ward only 2 are native to this land we now occupy. They joined the Ward after the great migration. The rest of the people groups have migrated here out of necessity because of the decreasing dominion of the Ward. We have traditions of explorers and adventures going out into the Wild from time to time. It is thorough this exploration that expansion opportunities often take place. The amount of exploration, minimal in recent years, will increase as the peoples faith strengthens with a new Warden. You will likely lead some of this early exploration yourself.
You will find that the care taking of documented history is very important to us. You will also discover that our history has gaps that one might not expect with such a careful tradition. In the struggle between the Ward and the Wild there have always been times of expansion and recession over the years and this has been faithfully penned down in the histories. When communities get isolated from the Ward they continue this tradition and if they are rejoined to the Ward later the histories are rejoined as well. They have been commingled without concern until the discovery of the betrayal of Chan Ding. Chan Ding was once a Warden who in the end decided to betray the Ward. His influence in the Wild and his fascination with magic has caused the Ward to regress sometimes even when it has a Warden. Without the presence of a Warden, Chan Ding almost destroyed the Ward entirely. As part of his betrayal many documented histories were secretly altered. Some were altered in isolated communities that he allowed to exist just for that purpose. Some were even altered in the Ward while he was still Warden. The first of these alterations were discovered 5000 years ago, some 15,000 years after Chan’s betrayal of the Ward. The alteration are slight and deceptive and not likely to be detected unless specifically looked for. Who knows how many corrupted histories have been commingled with uncorrupted histories making it difficult to tell which histories are fact and which are not. It was impossible to tell which histories could be confirmed and which could not. This has lead to misinformation on many things. Times and locations of portals, the creation of portals, lost technologies, lineages, magic, geographies… it pains my heart to know just how much was lost, Combine that loss with an ever-shrinking Ward and the reliabilities of the histories grow even thinner. The annals of knowledge are becoming less and less reliable and so is the faith of the people of the Ward.” Jasper paused as he changed the subject.
“You will not be able to return home. You, Warden Ernest, will have the resources of the entire Ward at your disposal. If you are concerned about your ability to lead the Ward, do not underestimate the peoples of the Ward ability to follow. In the entire world there are none who are more loyal to their leader than the people of the Ward are to the Warden.” Jasper then bowed his initial speech complete.
“Thank you Regent” said Earnest formally. “I still have a good many questions. It may take days to answer them all. My first question is , and forgive me for asking , what are you?”
“Oh of course…” Chuckled Jasper who was glad that he was the Warden’s first topic, “Warden Earnest, I am a Treep. There are other kinds of peoples here in the Ward. You will meet them and get familiar with their cultures when you take the tour. My people the Treeps are native to what is now left of the Ward and were not part of the migration across the great Sand Desert. My people live among the forests of the southeastern portion of the Ward. We are a quiet and unassuming people. As you have noticed we have a resemblance to the trees we live among.” Jasper smiled again and tilted his head forward. “While the Treeps are a civilized people we do not make large cities like men. We live in small family groups or alone in the branches of the trees in the Treepland Forest. We do not eat plants. Mostly we eat small animals with a preference for live birds and raw eggs when we can get them. In tough times we will forage for grubs we find under tree bark or along the roots of trees. While we do not keep libraries or centers of learning, we greatly enjoy reading. All Treeps can read and speak many languages in addition to the common speech of man. New languages come easy to us and make us a favorite of the House of Saints to be selected as history scribes. The trading of books and scrolls among Treeps is a custom of great passion. Treeps love reading learning, studying and thinking.”
“Thank you Regent. I hope you will not find my many questions to come boring.”
“Shea my servant, currently on loan to you until you find suitable service, will tell you that it is impossible to bore a Treep with anything but vegetables.” Earnest relaxed and although very tired continued to pick Jasper’s brain well into the night.