It was 5 days later and Earnest found himself at the head quartermasters table asking for the only key to the maximum security cell in the Central City of Governing Jail. The jail was almost always empty. Yet the quartermaster kept an tight ship partly to keep morale up in a jail that was seldom used. The last time Earnest was in a jail he was as an inmate passing on a visit to the jail during the tour of the city. It was that or visit one of the schools and be serenaded off key by smiling children. Now, Earnest was the captor and not the inmate. ‘I will not treat this guy like trash. He should at least be treated as human being some of the guards at Jaky’s were needless jerks.’ Even though the dungeon was not used often it was still foreboding. The maximum security cell was at the end of a hallway for example was carved directly out of rock. Solid blocks of wood served as a bed and a table and chair. Food was served on a plate made of bread. Water was served in a bread cup. It had to be drunk relatively quickly or the bread would soften and the water would leak out. Thus any captive there would have no way of making any kind of tools or weapons for escape. The minimal light was provided only through a small grate above the heavy door. The only light coming from the lit hallway on the other side of the door. Passing through the small metal grate above the door the bottom of which was 12 feet off the ground. Guards were always on duty at the end of the hall one assigned to watch the hallway and the door the other assigned to watch any one who approached.
With key in hand Earnest walked to the wooden door turned the key and opened the door. There sitting on the solid wood bed with his knees tucked under his chin sat the man from the forest. “My humble apologies…” said Earnest. “Please be at peace, among other things your detention has been for your protection. There are no crimes against you here. You will be free to go and reasonably equipped to go on your way after addressing a few questions. You mentioned something in the forest about a life debt. I would think that would allow me a few words before you go. I am new to the Wardenship and was shocked about the Wards reaction to the Skree. I inquired as best I could given the time and circumstances about the Skree. I discovered little the Skree hide their secrets well.” The man looked up from his knees but did not change his position. “I did learn that while not aligned with the Ward the Skree do not seem to be directly opposed to it either. Their purposes appear to lie elsewhere. As our purposes aline from time to time perhaps the Ward and the Skree can cooperate. I would like to discuss such a possibility.” The man looked back down to his knees.
“I have been told that the Skree are experts in finding and gathering information. I’ve also been told that the Ward records of its own history have large gaps. I would be willing to pay or trade for any information that the Skree may find that would supplement our depleted libraries. Maybe even set up some sort of a standing agreement that could be mutually beneficial” The man looked up from his knees tilted his head and looking at Earnest form the corner of his eyes said
“You know nothing…”
“Correct, I hope to change that. Can you speak for the Skree?”
Suddenly the mans expression changed. He no longer looked sullen and distant. He strangely began to tense involuntarily. Earnest had discovered something but didn’t know what. “Take me to someone who can speak for the Skree such discussions are for leaders of orders.” The man began to look more than tense. He was definitely nervous and agitated. The man sat up extending his legs off the side of his bed his hand on either side of him looking distantly at the wall across the room panting and breathing irregularly completely ignoring Earnests presence. Earnest waited. He was concerned that the man might be having some sort of a seizure or an attack. Then as quickly as it arrived the mans tension was gone. The tension in his mussels abated and he was no longer sullen and distant anymore. In fact he looked very present and focused. A strange coalescing of awareness and connection with his environment. Earnest who was initially concerned that he may have had a seizure rejected it as something else but he did not know what.
“I will take you…Warden” Said the man his demeanor completely changed.
“How much will it cost? Your services should not go uncompensated considering the unusual circumstance”
“To you my Warden my services have been paid for.”
“You know you are free to go… you don’t have to do this”
“My Warden” he said almost apologetically “I am not free to go”
“I can find another way I am after all a Warden. I’d be able to find a way”
“Apologizes my Warden but, You would not”
“Really… but I will not reject your offer, so whats next?”
“We leave tonight”
“I’ll arrange us an escort …”
“I at least need to let the regent know I’ll be gone…. he doesn’t have to know what for.”
“He will know “what for” later upon you return but no other. He is a loyal servant. You are fortunate…. My Warden”
“Are you sure I can’t provide any protection for you? At least some money may help you do what you do to keep yourself safe”
“None is necessary, after your dinner in the hall, the regent will show you your exit”
“Then I will inform the quartermaster that you are free to go. In the mean time we will lodge you in the regents mansion, can I send you anything? Some food from the Wardens table perhaps?”
“Some blank scrolls and something to write with will suffice my, Warden”;
“Jasper has lots of that stuff I will have him bring them to you personally, I take it you value your anonymity and having him bring you these items will help keep additional eyes from taking note of your presence.”
“I Thank you my Warden” He had been looking earnest in the eyes respectfully and now bowed his head. ‘Somethings different thought earnest, maybe its just the Wardenship. God you brought me here to do this, Im’ going to let this one run its course and see where it takes us. I ‘ll be trusting you a lot cause I don’t know what I
‘Trust is a good thing, obedience is better.’ Earnest felt better hearing form God.
A few hours later, just after sunset Earnest stood in a secluded dark alley just a few blocks from the head regents estate. He was wearing a dark brown hooded cape completely drawn about his head. If he was seen at all from his secret exit through the stables he would not have been recognized. It was quiet as this was the after dinner hour in the central city is was time of reflection. Many spent the time just after sunset reading, praying or just sat still for the first 30 min after sun had dropped below the horizon. It was the end of the day. Time to stop and rest. While it was quiet in most of the city the regents hall would still be lively with dinner guests going on and on about the tour and its success. But for now the people of the central city centered themselves and prepared for time with their families. Families were important to the people of the Ward. Loyalties of immediate families were strong peaceful and supportive .
The soft padding of horses hoofs broke the silence. Then around the corner came another hooded man riding a black horse with another horse tethered behind him. As he approached he dismounted. Helped Earnest mounted his horse, both horses were rather large for their breed. Once mounted the other hooded man gave Earnest what appeared at first to be a black sack. It was not a sack, but a hood, apparently he was not to know where they were going. Without speaking Earnest donned the blindfold hood and pulled the hood of his cape over his head. “The pommel is modified my Warden,” whispered Chill “lean forward and grab it tight once out side the city we will travel swiftly at first.” After climbing the horse Earnest fumbled for the pommel and after not finding it initially found his hands being guided along either the side of the horses neck and forward instead of center like he expected. The arrangement was designed for military messengers to be able to ride at break neck speeds for long periods of time by putting their weight as forward as possible with as little effort as possible needed to keep him on the horse even if half asleep. Sometimes for messages that had to travel long distances in a short amount of time the messengers would ride without sleep switching horses several times but keeping the message moving as fast as possible.
After a few blocks the horses began to pick up the pace riding out of the city at pace that would not attract attention then, once outside the city, the horses broke into top speed. Earnest hung on. After the first initial shock he was surprised how smooth the ride was considering the pace they rode. The horses hoofs seemed to barley touch the ground as they raced swiftly along. Hours later the horses slowed to a walking pace and then stopped. “You may remove your hood my Warden, rest, we will leave in a few hours before first light.” Earnest spread his bed roll and looked at the sky while he settled to go to sleep. The stars were exceptionally beautiful. He wondered why he had not noticed them before. He had certainty been outside at night during the tour but there were so many distractions he had not taken notice of their brilliance. As he gazed into the sky he began to make up constellations in his head. A tree, a log cabin, a dog… wait how did he trace out that dog … wait maybe a ship… yea! a ship that’s much better. And not a tree that’s boring lets see…. oh how about a python yea that’s exiting… no
…no need to rest need to sleep…. he would be meeting a spokesperson for the Skree soon. What would he say? Was he risking his life. Was he being reckless, obedient?What about the man he traveled with? was the Skree risking his life? Did he have the right to put him up to this endeavor? Earnest then prayed for wisdom and nodded off to sleep.
The next day after they had been traveling for a while. Earnests boredom with the blindfold hood led him to speak not knowing if it was safe to do so or not. Earnest spoke “ let me know when its OK to talk?”
“ What would you like to speak of my warden?”
“tell me about yourself, how did you become a Scree, and what exactly are the Skree?”
“To speak of me would put me in danger.”
“Then we will speak of the Skree…”
“The Skree are not as the Ward supposes. They are very loyal to their purpose. Only some of which I will share now. Our true purpose is not even known to all Skree There exists within the Skree circles of confidence. One circle lies inside the other. Those of the outer circle are called the slime. They are much as the Ward views them and are not to be trusted. However, some Skree receive an unveiling. Their loyalty is never questioned.”
“A few Skree have a change in perception that allows them to understand the true purpose of the Skree They do not gain new knowledge or skills only the ability to use the knowledge they have better in order to understand our true purpose.”
“When did you have your unveiling?”
“We are only to speak of Skree and not me. But, you were there did you not notice?”
“In the cell just before you began to speak… but, how do you know where to take us you’ve seen no one but Jasper and myself since then?”
“The Skree of the inner circles recognize each other on sight.”
“Are there Skree if the inner circles in the regents mansion?”
“I have met Skree of the inner circle in my past. I still have the memories and from those memories I have been able to deduce where we are to go.”
“We will not be expected…are we in danger?”
“Perhaps, only those of the inner circle have the ability to understand the situation given the proper information. And the destiny of the Warden will protect you. It may not, however, be pleasant or as planed”
“whats the plan”
“only to make an introduction at the request of the Warden who is the the owner of my life debt.”
“Life debt? Oh yea… you mentioned something of that when we came upon you in the forest. I know you asked that we not speak of yourself but just what is involved in this life debt?”
“If the life of a Skree is saved, he owes a life debt. The Skree indebted to you by a life debt will be your servant, your mentor and your protector. Better service cannot be had. All that he has and is indebted to you and it is offered until his death. If the owner of the life debt dies before the Skree does the Skree will continue to serve the purposes of the owner of his life debt. If his service is not accepted by its owner he will remain as he can as your protector. The life debt of a Skree is extremely rare.”
“I do have one request. As I will make you my servant allowing you to be loyal to your debt. Is there a name I can call you by?”
“Chill” and with that the conversation was over
The hours after-wards felt like days … then by surprise the horses came to a stop.
“No harm comes to him… unless you want your hand removed” Said a harsh sounding Chill.
‘There are others’ thought Earnest he heard no sounds other than the swishing of horses tails and light breeze. Was this a ruse to set him off a bit? He remembered the stars from the previous night and considered the unveiling of the scree. He was able to make several different paterns from the same collections of stars just buy rearranging the available points in his head in different ways. He wondered of the unveiling of the Skree was similar to this. He listened to his surroundings more intently as he contemplated this. Ruse or not he thought he could make out the shuffle of more than one set of feet. Now, were there 2 or were there 3 sets of feet? However-many there were they were standing on 2 different kinds of surfaces. One surface more dusty and muffled the other more gravely and sharp. Were these unveiled Skree? Were they Skree at all? With out warning he was startled by a hand on his arm…” this way” it was Chill’s voice and definitely not connected to the sets of feet he thought he could make out. Chill had approached without making a sound or was Earnest just not able to make it out being focused on the other sounds he was considering. Were there any clues that could have lead him to the correct understanding of his environment? If Chill had actually not made a sound would the horses given him ques as to someone approaching? He was helped off and led a few steps. “Place you hand here.” his hand was set on the shoulder of another who was not Chill and they began to walk. Earnest could make out the others footsteps barley but he could feel them, and sense their timing. But he did not hear other footsteps. Certainly Chill was nearby. Where was Chill? Earnest began to count his own steps 28, 29 since he had first started counting…. dirt path…how he wished he would have started counting sooner 43… the path was now rocks or paving stones…. 67,68 the path was now solid rock or something… they were near an entrance. 73 they were definitely in some sort of hallway the footsteps now echoed and seemed more hollow… no, wait, not a hallway, a cave. 128,129, the path turns to the left… he could hear water gently trickling. The cave was damp and cool yet comfortable warmer than he thought he might expect but not to a great degree…. 157,158. they stopped.. “leave us” said Chill. He was a couple of steps behind them. Earnest had not heard him at all. One set of footprints padded off 56,57 before Earnest could no longer hear them.. “You may remove your blindfold hood my Warden. Take a good look it is well worth remembering.”
Earnest stood in an open chamber. It was an amazing chamber that opened up before him, the chamber had water hewn walls and ceiling. The floor was smooth, almost polished. There were torches placed in the walls revealing the ceiling some 30 feet high. The most amazing feature was the joining of 2 underground streams. One ran quietly in front of earnest at his feet. The other came straight at him but was 20 feet above him cascading quietly down in a smooth sheet of water into the stream that passed in front of him. Behind this amazing underground waterfall Earnest could make out a recess in the rock behind the sheeting waterfall. He could also make out a figure standing behind it as well. ‘ That must be who we came to see’ he thought. But for now he continued to linger at this amazing sight. The cavern Apparently naturally made by water or something. The walls were smooth but not flat. The light from the torches reflected in the water leaving a dim glow from the reflection of the flames. Dancing lights in the underground cave. Chill had understated its beauty but who could put such a thing into words to give it justice anyway.
Chill motioned that he was to cross the river. There were neatly arranged stepping stones that led directly into the falling sheets of water. Earnest fjorded the sheet quickly and was barley wet as the passed.
There on the other side of the cascade of water was a man wearing a full length black hooded cape that was drawn about his face concealing all his features except the large bushy black bead that protruded from the inside of the hood and halfway down the mans chest. The recess was lit by the tallow candle in a holder he held in his hand. He was short and stocky. ‘ a bearded Drull? Thought earnest? During the tour they made a big deal of how the Drull were not able to grow beards. This man had the size and shape of the stocky yet powerfully built Drull but was sporting beard that would make the burliest of biker envious. Unlike the sweet disposition of the Drull this man had an air of danger and respect he was not to be crossed or angered.
The light of the candle revealed
a door on the opposite wall of the recess. The hooded man motioned to the door and made his way to it. Earnest could not see any way in which the door was to be opened. No handle no latch he could barley make out the shape of the close fitting stone door as it was in the dim light. The hooded man opened the door outward and motioned earnest forward. From the light earnest could make out a simple wood table with a chair on either side of it in the middle of a small room. The hooded man spoke “ Sit” Earnest made his way to the table and sat on the other side. The hooded man then closed the door leaving Earnest in darkness as the light of the candle was doused.
There was and uncomfortable silence that was broken by the strike of a match. The hooded man had moved across the room without making a sound that Earnest could detect. He lit a lamp against the wall there and then with the same match came to the table and lit a tallow candle in the center of the table. Was it the same one he held before? It was no longer in his hand yet earnest had not herd the sound of any movement. Only the striking of the match. Earnest looked at the curios room. There were bins cut into the stone walls filled with scrolls. Every space of the wall was used for storage. Each bin was approximately 2 hands (10 inches) wide. Most looked as if they had not been touched for centuries. The hooded man pulled back his hood and stood near the table.
“So the New Warden of the Ward seeks the Skree.” His removal of his hood did little to reveal the features of his face. As the hair on his head was as shaggy and wild as the hair on is face. It fell across his face covering and distorting the features that lay beneath in the dim light. Essentially only his eyes were revealed. Deeply recessed and dark yet attentive and focused. Earnest looked deeply into their gaze green… they were green. Filled with a sages wisdom and the experience of one who had seen more than anyone has the right to.
“See these bins around you…” he motioned to the walls “the scrolls in them contain many things…. I know what is contained in many of the scrolls but not necessarily the actual contents… for example…” he pulled a scroll from one of the bins “I know this scroll contains the location of the Grubnaster treasure horde. If I were to read it I would know where to find it too. As it stands now only the scroll knows.” after retuning it he grabbed another “ This one contains the names of all the known wardens of the ward. Even the name of the one who is never mentioned. There is great debate among the Skree about whether or not to destroy this document. For now it remains…. Earnest sat still as he remained quiet and waited. Quite dramatic earnest thought. “Some of these scrolls have not been touched since the great migration of the Ward across the great sand dessert 250 years ago. There are some scrolls whose contents I do not know. In these cases I only know who would know their contents. This information is often sensitive and those who do know their contents do not know their location. Such is the way of the Skree”
“The Skree will aid the new Warden…” another dramatic pause somehow Earnest knew to wait for the “but”…. which was addressed with the Skree’s nest words “so long as the Warden can be trusted. Trust will take time. Our aid will be to the Warden only and not necessarily the Ward on the condition that when you find Skree…” he paused placed his hands on the table and looked at earnest and said pleading almost, “bring them to me…” Earnest nodded. Earnest had not spoken at all or pleaded his case resigned to listen. He was now in a personal alliance with the secretive and mysterious Skree. The Skree then grabbed a few scrolls put them in a bag tied it with a leather strap and handed the bag to Earnest. “A gift. To a Warden seeking to expand the influence of the Ward. Use it wisely”
The cloaked man bowed as he handed the bag to Earnest. Then covered his shaggy features by drawing his hood over his features and motioned Earnest to stand. Earnest rose from his chair and returned the bow. Upon which the room went dark and the door was opened. Earnest could not see the hooded man but took the cue for his exit and made his way to the door. Once on the other side of the river Chill replaced the blindfold hood and lead earnest to a carriage waiting him out side the cave of scrolls as he now called it in his head.
Once inside the carriage Earnests hood was removed and the door shut behind him. The carriage was “hooded” as well. All the windows were covered and there was no way of seeing where he was or where he was going. The carriage began to move. Earnest was surprised at how smooth the ride was. In a moment he became aware of an oil lamp mounted in the carriage above him with long stick matches in a container mounted just a few inches away. Earnest lit the lamp and then opened the bag to look at the scrolls.