Abraheim’s room looks as it always does. Piles of books, stacks of papers. It doesn’t quite look like a tornado tore through the area, more like a tornado tried its best to tidy up the place, in it’s own tornado-y way. Something does stand out this time, though. Abraheim’s desk. It is unusually neat, with only one small stack of papers. No sign of the old man. You slowly walk toward the desk, expecting him to drop down from the ceiling or appear from underneath a pile of papers in an attempt to scare you. But nothing happens.
On top of the stack of papers is a note.
It is a shame that we have missed each other today. I am currently out and about on many errands — my life’s own little adventures. Sometimes, this might happen, especially for the next few weeks. So I thought I might leave you something for when I am not here. It is a story of my own. I don’t claim it to be amazing, but it is something I am proud of and wanted to share it with you.
See you soon,
You look beneath the note and pull out the loose stack of papers. There isn’t a title, and the text begins on the first page.
There once was a man, wise and clever, but he was indeed modest about it. One day, while traveling, he was captured by agents from a rival kingdom. They took him to a small tower that overlooked a courtyard. In it was a soldier. In one hand was a sword and in the other, a piece of paper. The man in the courtyard waited still and silent, looking up at the balcony where the man was bound. A voice spoke out from behind the man as he looked into the courtyard.
“You fancy yourself a scholar?” said the voice.
“I know only a little about all that can be known,” the man replied.
“I see. Tell me then, what is the most powerful thing in that courtyard?”
The man looked once again to the scene below him. The soldier was muscled like an ox. Years of battle and duty made his skin look like leather. The sword looked large and sharp, of the finest make. The paper rustled slightly with the wind. The man, still bound, could sense the gravity of his situation. To him it seemed that he was to be killed. He thought for a moment.
“The sword is most likely the tool that will be used to kill me. It is sharp and of a fine make. There are a thousand ways it could be used to end my life. Slow and painful, or quick and merciful.” He looked back at the voice. “But it is not the most powerful thing in that courtyard.”
“The soldier will be the wielder of the sword. The master of the tool. He knows exactly where and how to cut. He has years of experience, and is strong in body and in loyalty to his leader.” The scholar turned to the the man whose voice he heard. He looked to be a king. “But he is not the most powerful thing in that courtyard.”
The king nodded. “Then what is?”
“The piece of paper has instructions of a sort on it. Perhaps telling of a signal to look for, or a way in which to kill me. It might have information about who I am or what I have done. Either way, I believe it to be orders from you. Without those orders, without those words on that paper, the solder is just a man, the sword just a piece of metal. The words on that paper give them a purpose. Without those words, I might live. With them, I might die. They are the most powerful thing in the courtyard.”
The king looked at the man and smiled. “You are wise beyond your years.” He took a few steps toward the man. “Now… who is the most powerful person on this balcony?”
Haladrien — Volume I — Of Kings
At a large desk lit only by a few small candles, sat Aren Haladrien. Towers of books formed precarious walls around Aren, dwarfing his stature. When he was a child, Aren would build small structures like this out of books and retreat from the world. Whenever the young man thought about his workspace now, he wasn’t sure that he didn’t build his fortress of words unconsciously. In his left hand he held a quill that was scribbling away quickly onto a piece of parchment, while his right hand followed lines of foreign words in a book right beside his paper. The flames of the candles danced and made the soft orange light flicker within Aren’s fortress of knowledge. He was translating a book from his collection to be added to the “Translated” section of the Grand Library of Redkep. It was a small section among the vast number of genres that populated the shelves and walls and stacks and displays, but it was his contribution to the wonderful works of word-smithing that surrounded him for most of the day.
Aren had never written his own book, but had translated almost one hundred books from foreign authors since the age of thirteen. By his early teens Aren was fluent in almost three languages — Veladosh, which everyone within the walls of Redkep spoke, Andu which was a language from far outside the city walls, in a southern land that Aren had only read about in books, and Nataini, a language used by scholars of the Blue Kingdom, on the coast of the Natain Sea.
He had come by various translations and codexes when the last shipment of foreign books arrived when Aren was only seven years old. That was the same year that the King’s Council announced the closure of the Great Gate, a decree that stopped travelers from coming into the city, and kept citizens of Redkep from leaving. Many people thought this was a silly law until the Guard started enforcing it brutally, and without mercy. People found trying to enter or to leave were quickly dealt with either by execution or by being thrown in the Pit (which, according to stories Aren had heard, execution was the preferable punishment). Aren had heard the justification for this decree was because of outside threats and heretical influences; things that did not interest Aren at the age of seven, and his interest in the books that lined the walls of the library kept his attention away from politics during his teenage years.
Nevertheless, Aren had plenty of time to read and study these books, along with many more, and soon after his eighteenth birthday he was fluent in almost seven languages (he would often admit that his fluency in the dead language of Celestine, a long forgotten race, was broken at best, as his books were not sufficient enough to teach him the language in its entirety).
He enjoyed spending his spare time reading the books within the Grand Library, and was able to learn of the world around him. Aren’s first memories as a child were of the Grand Library. He could not remember anything before the age of five, when he was taken in by Master Delk, the head librarian. Master Delk was once a scholar in the Blue Kingdom, and had traveled to Redkep long before the closing of the Great Gate in order to share the knowledge of the Blue Kingdom with the rest of the world. Even though he was saddened by the thought of never again seeing the calm waters of the Natain, he made the best of his new life in Redkep after the decree. He had often told Aren as they ate meals in their basement home that Aren had actually found him at a very young age, wandering the alley behind the Grand Library as just a toddler. Master Delk had gone to the guard to try to solve the mystery of the origins of the child, but the guard was not able to help. He was the one who had named Aren. His first name being after an Elder and arguably one of the greatest scholars the world had ever known, Yem Aren, and his last name, Haladrien, was from one of the few Celestine words Master Delk knew. It meant “the power of words” in the long dead language.
Aren liked his surname. To him, it gave him a purpose, and the courage to overcome some of his less favorite qualities. He spent most of his time within his own mind. When he thought, the words and sentences he used to make the thoughts were elegant and masterful. But there was something wrong, an old, mangled gate between Aren’s mind and his mouth. When he tried to speak, the words hardly ever came out as they appeared in his head.