Sigquaya, p.1

Sigquaya, page 1

 part  #1 of  The Magic of Water Series

 

Sigquaya
 



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Sigquaya


  SIGQUAYA

  { The Magic of Water }

  ≈≈≈≈≈≈

  by

  K. M. ROBERTS

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental but would be really cool if true.

  Copyright © 2018 by K. M. Roberts

  All rights reserved.

  Cover Design: Olivia and the team at MiblArt

  Manuscript Editor: Kelly McGough

  ≈≈≈≈≈≈

  Author’s note:

  I want to thank my editor, Kelly McGough, for all of her help along my whole writing journey since 2012, especially with the notes and advice for Sigquaya, (and taking out 90% of my “actually’s”). Also, a big thank you to Olivia and the whole crew of MiblArt for turning the pictures inside my head into one awesome cover!

  On another note, some of you may recognize the way this tale begins.

  This book is based on a manuscript I originally wrote in 2014 called, “Brynewielm’s Passage”, which was my first foray into the realms of Fantasy fiction. I enjoyed the writing but there was always something itching at the back of my mind telling me that I could do a little better, dive a little deeper.

  Well, fast forward four years . . .

  I started this project simply wanting to expand and improve on that original story—to “flesh it out” so to speak. But, within a chapter or two, it turned into an entirely different narrative. Characters took on lives and storylines of their own—some faded away, some greatly expanded—and the overall tale took so many left turns I finally lost count. In the end, I wound up using only about 10 percent of the original manuscript and instead wrote an entirely new story.

  This has been the most fun I’ve ever had writing a novel, and I’m really pleased with the way Sigquaya: The Magic of Water developed. I’ve enjoyed the journey with Tristan, Arteura, and the others, and I can’t wait to see where they’ll take me next with Tamatulc: The Magic of Fire.

  Enjoy! And let me know what you think by writing to me via one of the social media links in the author bio, or even better, by leaving a review in the Amazon bookstore.

  ~ K.M. Roberts

  ≈≈≈≈≈≈

  From the Legends of the Cyneþrymm

  First Pastille

  . . . And he who dwells in the mountain, where the rocks burn and endless smoldering blackens the hollow realms of his home, 4 he who controls the harvest and fire, 5 he will be hallowed by his people; by those who dwell in the valleys below his fortress; by his chosen ones set apart in his shadow.

  6 We who rest in the mercy of his wings;

  7 We who tremble beneath the judgment of his eyes;

  8 We remain ever mindful of our place, for it is only by sacrifice that he withholds his judgment, granting favor to the faithful. For we who inhabit his shadow are not blameless in our ignorance.

  9 He shades our fortresses in the mountain’s shadow,

  for he is the mountain.

  He rests in the warmth of the stones,

  for he is the stones.

  10 He cools himself in the depths of the waters,

  for he is the waters.

  He lays waste to our lands in the fire,

  for he is the fire.

  11 His passageways are many,

  too numerous to count.

  12 At his sacred pools, we honor him.

  At the appointed time, we bless him.

  13 We the faithful,

  Brynewielm’s elected nation,

  shall offer up our fertility

  for the time of planting.

  Our strength

  for the time of harvest.

  May it ever be so . . .

  ≈≈≈≈≈≈

  1

  The Honored Dead

  As the Þrymm guards led the boy forward, Remè seethed at his son’s display of cowardice. Yes, he was blindfolded, his small hands bound at the waist and his feet in chains just long enough to put one foot in front of the other. But the boy was no prisoner. The restraints he wore were only thought to be more humane. A last act of compassion for what lay ahead.

  The Temple Rectors called this place the Gildrom. It was a wide, dome-shaped cavern set several hundred yards inside the mountain to the north of Brynslæd. At the center of the cavern sat a pool of emerald green water, almost a perfect circle, no wider than the arm-span of two men. No weighted cord had ever been able to touch the bottom. Instead, at a certain depth, the cord would begin a slow draw toward the right-hand edge as what seemed like a steady underground current took hold.

  Slick walls of limestone surrounded the pool, gleaming with condensation, arching down to the farthest edge, giving the cavern its dome-like shape and carved as the Legends say by the finger of Brynewielm himself. Pyrite speckled the walls and ceiling, casting an eerie glow that shimmered across the pool’s surface, sparkling from the orange flames of torches. It was a mesmerizing sight, as if the roof had been torn open and the clear night sky was reflected in fire.

  The boy’s name was Tristan. He was the firstborn of the Denaeus family.

  As with all firstborns, his name had been written into a registry at the Temple of the Cyneþrymm. Each season, one name was drawn for the rite of sacrifice. A girl, symbolizing fertility, for the sowing season. A boy, representing strength and bounty of the soil, for the harvest. This was considered an honor and privilege across the Brynslæd Empire. Each child’s name remained in the registry until their thirteenth year.

  Even knowing this as he did—as all Brynslæd children did—Tristan still seemed overrun by fear. His cheeks were red and streaked with tears and snot. His chest was bare and heaving. His threadbare trousers were soiled in the front and dripping at the hem above his knee. Instead of displaying the honor and privilege bestowed upon him, the boy’s appearance was humiliating. He reeked of weakness.

  This is what angered Remè the most.

  Weakness. Humiliating weakness.

  As there always was for these celebrations, a sizable crowd surrounded the pool, filling the Gildrom and spilling down the passageway beyond. An assembly of Temple Rectors stood facing them, shoulder to shoulder along a half-circle of narrow, smoothed stone at the far side of the cavern at the edge of the pool. There were eleven Rectors including the Elder, all wearing identical cream-colored robes hemmed in crimson, purple, and gold, tied with a golden sash, and each with a crimson kerchief folded over the sash to their right hand.

  Remè Denaeus stood to one side, between the Rectors and the crowd. He was dressed in his best formal attire, which admittedly was still quite modest compared to some, especially the other council members present. His cloak was a deep blue crushed velvet, but threadbare at the shoulders and clasp. The sword strapped to his side gleamed and yet would have a hard time slicing bread. His naturally curly, reddish-blond hair was cut short—behind his ears and off his collar—prematurely graying a bit at the temples, which he put down to the stress of his position and ambition. He was tall, his back straight, his cleanshaven chin thrust high, yet his jaw twitched each time he glanced to his son.

  Beside him stood the Elder, wearing a Rector’s cream-colored robe but with a wide tallit draped over his shoulders. The tallit was a deep crimson, laced with emerald and golden thread, and ringed with intricately embroidered idols of the gods, as was fitting of the Elder’s supreme authority. The man was much older than Remè, old enough to be his father, or maybe his father’s father. His shoulders were slightly stooped and bony, his hair gray and thinning. But his eyes shone bright and clear, taking in everything, seeming to see others to their very soul and judging their failings.

  Remè risked a glance
to the Elder and found him staring back. Unblinking. Judging. Remè quickly looked away. Sweat trickled down his temple and between his shoulder blades; his nostrils flared, and his hands clenched and unclenched by his side. The next round of Councilship appointments would be made before the winter’s frost, and Remè was hungry for advancement. This pathetic display would not bode well for his chances. There was a cozy, intermingled relationship between the Temple Rectors and the Council, just as there was between state affairs and religious practice. He could hear it now: “How can you hope to lead this community to glory when you can’t even lead your own family?”

  Family.

  Remè’s humiliation was twofold. The boy’s appearance was spectacle enough. But the boy’s mother, Rhiana, Remè’s wife, hadn’t made an appearance at all!

  There had been rumors floating around for years that Rhiana and her mother were Ma’wan—the name given by the Temple to those who possessed the power of magic in some various form. If she weren’t here to take part in this honored act of celebration, it would only fan the flames of these outlandish stories. Her absence would be seen as another slight. As blasphemy to the gods, to the Temple, and to the Empire.

  Remè knew he would one day have to stand before them all and give an account. He could feel it. He knew there were just as many accusing eyes on him as were on the boy. Probably more. He could see them. Feel them.

  Sure enough, Remè stole another glance at the Elder and saw his eyes still fixed on him, unblinking and unforgiving. Remè’s heart sank. The boy’s sins, as well as the woman’s, were laid bare for all to see. Now, Remè could do nothing more than fume. There had to be something he could salvage, some restitution, something he could think of, that he could do, to save face. The boy was beyond redemption. But the woman? Remè’s wife? Ahh yes, that could do. That could do well. She would need to remember her place, and her role. By his side. By his rule. With that, he might be able to mend appearances. To save face and save his Councillorship. A show of strength and leadership.

  As the Elder finally looked away, Remè had made his decision: It would have to be done, and done soon. Besides, at this point it would likely hurt her much more than it could hurt him.

  As the boy approached, the Rectors’ voices rang out in prayer, chanting in unison with their soft, droning song. It was a rhythmic call, echoing down the corridors and into the distance beyond, an invitation for the one who lived within the mountain to come and join them in this hallowed ceremony.

  And he who dwells within the mountain, where the rocks burn and endless smoldering blackens the hollow realms of his—

  “Oh, gods, shut up!”

  The one they called “Brynewielm” rolled his eyes and shook his massive head, cursing the voices that had come to the fore of his mind, quoting an ancient folklore and annoying the hell out of him.

  This place wasn’t mystical. It wasn’t nearly that special.

  From the land above, it looked like any other mountain, crusted in basalt and granite, dotted with caves and tunnels, and shrouded in foliage. At one time, these were the realms of monsters, the forges of gods. But no more. These days, most were just mountains.

  He raised his head and opened a golden eye. Something had shivered through him like a spider down the ridges of his back. He was awake and in a foul mood. But then again, he was usually in a foul mood when he was awake. Worse, he’d woken up with that damnable scripture stuck in his brain like an awful children’s song.

  To Brynewielm, humankin were no more than roaches on two legs—an infestation. A contagion on the landscape that either worshiped or blamed him for the whims of weather and their own ineptitude and abuse of nature—all depending on whether their crops flourished or floundered. He was no more god than they were, much as they liked to play such roles with the land and with each other.

  No, he was no god. He was more. He was dragonkin.

  He yawned, raising his snout and sniffing the air, smelling the distant stench of humankin, both young and old—mingling odors of flesh and sweat, excitement and fear.

  Oh gods, he thought, is it that time again?

  Soon enough, another youngling would be thrown to the water, taken by the currents and drowned in the depths or dashed against the rocks as a supposed tribute.

  Groaning and repulsed, he rose stiffly, stretching his long legs and arching his massive back as smoke billowed from his nostrils, rising up and pierced by the stalactites hanging high above his head. Turning his back on the stench, he shifted his weight and plopped back down again, the ground rumbling beneath him. It was the most he’d moved in months. Then, he shut his eyes and drifted back to sleep.

  Maybe, in centuries past, an offering like this would have interested him. Amused him, even.

  Now? He couldn’t care less.

  ≈≈≈≈≈≈

  The temperature had dropped noticeably inside the Gildrom within the last few minutes. Yet despite that, the Elder dabbed beads of sweat from his brow. He had performed this ritual for years now, decades. And yet each time brought with it a boiling stew of anticipation and nerves.

  He actually looked forward to these ceremonies, as he was quite good at them. He enjoyed them, barbaric as they seemed to some. The preparations for these sacrifices were things of beauty—things that no one would ever see.

  He believed very little of the religion behind it all. He had very little faith in the gods or in their followers. But he loved the ritual. The spectacle. The nuance. The focused attention.

  Whether these rituals were of any actual benefit was entirely up to those who believed in such things. The planting, growing, and harvest? Their success had as much to do with the weather, with soil conditions, and the farmer’s hand, as it did with the whims of any supposed god.

  Still, here they all were, immersed in the beauty and barbarism of ritual sacrifice. All for the good of the community’s bellies. If they were full? Blessed be the gods. If they were empty? Pray harder and bring on another sacrifice. Either way, the Elder was there to oblige.

  It had been whispered that he was getting too old for all this. The Council had been pressuring him for years to step aside in favor of a younger, more progressive-minded Rector. He hated the politics of religion, but he loved the ritual. Then again, he was quite good at both, so it mattered little to him what the Council thought. He would remain until he was good and ready to step down, and there was nothing they could do—nothing anyone could do—to the contrary. He had sway and power that most on the Council could only dream of: He held the Empire’s belief in his hands.

  And he could make them believe anything he wanted.

  ≈≈≈≈≈≈

  After a time, the songs were finished, and the Rectors’ voices echoed off into the void. The boy was led forward to the edge of the pool. Small pebbles dribbled into the water from where his toes wriggled over the abyss, the small plops reverberating like war drums through the cavern. Below him, the water moved in lazy circles.

  With an unspoken signal from the Elder, the torches along the walls and all but one held aloft by the Temple Rectors were extinguished. A hiss of whispered prayers drifted through the crowd. Smoke from the doused torches rose in lazy ringlets. Ghostly shadows crept up the rocks. The air was humid and smelled of moss, soil, and sweat—an aroma both dank and fertile.

  As the prayers trailed off, silence descended like a noiseless shroud, seeming to swallow up the air. Not even the pebbles loosened at the boy’s feet dared make a sound as they plopped into the water below him.

  The Elder nodded to his assistant, the man holding the remaining lit torch, and it too was snuffed.

  Stillness and darkness reigned for several long seconds.

  Then . . .

  Scuffling. Grunting. A barked order. A boy’s surprised yelp suddenly cut short. A crowd’s collective gasp. Water loudly splashed at the Rectors’ feet, and small waves lapped at their toes as if hungry for more.

  A tense moment hung in the air like the silenc
e between lightning and thunder. Then it was pierced. Voices rang in shouts of praise. Relief swelled the darkness as if it had been held back all this time and now suddenly rushed in.

  A flint was sparked, again and again, and a torch slowly glowed to life, soon followed by another and another. All eyes looked to the pool as a few small bubbles pop-popped to the surface and the ripples began to subside.

  The boy was gone. The gods were sated.

  Thank the gods that’s over with, the Elder thought to himself as he accepted the grateful praises of the faithful as they shuffled by.

  What else was there to say?

  There were a few half-hearted congratulations mumbled to Remè as people turned toward the breeze inviting them out of the Gildrom and on with the day; his hand was listlessly shaken by a few others, but the sentiment was obvious, and the Elder smiled inwardly. There would be a clear line of blame if the harvest failed to produce. A line that pointed straight to Remè Denaeus and his family. The Elder and the Temple would bear no shoulder of responsibility; after all, they were one and the same. Fault would lie with the families or with the gods. The Temple was merely the conduit, the messenger.

  As the crowd thinned, the Elder turned to leave, bowing slightly to Remè and offering his own impassive handshake. The man was a pitiful and all-but-inevitable sight: There he stood, Remè Denaeus, his shoulders stooped, his head bowed, and his jaw set, fuming in his silent humiliation. A toxic mix of anger and disgrace was sculpted in his body language and etched on his face.

  The father of the honored dead.

  2

  Tristan

  I knew this was supposed to be some sort of honor.

  I knew the Legends told in Temple. Of ceremony and ritual. Of the pleasures and wraths of gods. But it was my grandparents who told the stories. Stories of gods and demons. Of warriors and dragons. Stories of children who faced incredible odds with bravery, respect, and pride. When they told them, sometimes they cried—even my mother, who often listened in.

 
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K M ROBERTS SERIES:

  • The Magic of Water
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