Excerpt for Son of the Sun by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

~SON of the SUN~

Copyright, Linda A Weir

All rights reserved.

Smashwords edition.

Free edition

Website: http://www.pearltrees.com/la_wilson

Cover art from Unsplash.com



Son of the Sun’ is dedicated

To the memory of Giordano Bruno, who was burned alive at the stake by the Catholic Church. Giordano’s crime, besides thinking for himself, was to propose the unorthodox idea that the Earth was not the centre of the Universe, and that the Universe was infinite and that there was ‘many suns’ beyond our own, that there were multiple worlds – that is galaxies – outside of our own. He was denounced to the Venetian Inquisition in May, 1592 for his ‘heretical’ theories.

We know today through science that Giordano was right, for which he was brutally murdered by the Catholic Church on the 16th of February, 1600.





Table of Contents

1: The Bone-caster

2: Ohn Adare

3: The Sacrifice

4: Amulet of Suniva

5: The Black Sun

6: The Calling Mountains

7: Altar to the Sky

8: The Priest of Hevran

9: Deva the Seeker

10: Making the Sun

11: The Men of Truth

12: The Master

13: Atoms of Creation

14: Speaker of Heresy

15: Flesh of your Father

16: Born of the Sun

17: Power of the Sun

18: Now the TRUTH

END







1: The Bone-caster

As Jes trudged along the steep mountain slope towards the cave of Nasza Adora, the Bone-caster, he felt tense and apprehensive; he needed to think…

He stopped and looked up at the dark opening of her cave above him; a cleft in the side of a mountain, a hidden lair that sat high on the very edge of the world overlooking the barren earth and all the desert lands of Bel Sharamar far below.

The sun was beginning to set and the desert sands were turning red, red as the sky. Stars winked. And Jes did not want to go on, he did not want to go down, he did not want to live this way, if living this way meant constant dying. And his job was to hunt, kill and sacrifice souls to the Divine-king’s hunger; another human sacrifice burnt to feed his god’s desires. Another commission as a bounty hunter, where as he stood on the path to Nasza’s cave, paused in reluctance as he tracked the most important hunt of his young life.

He turned and looked down at the city on the hot valley floor, at the paved stone road that wound towards the high bronze gates, shining red-gold in the sunset. He felt only apprehension. He was supposed to be heading into the city right now, and not to Nasza’s cave; he was supposed to be making an arrest in the Divine-king’s name, he was supposed to be bringing in the High Heretic, Ohn Adare, for trial, and execution.

Instead, he sighed before lifting his bag onto his shoulders and walking on. As he climbed higher, he thought of the source of his anxiety, of the thing that always left a foul taste in his mouth; the residue taste of burning flesh and bones and hair.

After three years of being the Divine-king’s handpicked bounty hunter, Jes had never hardened to the horror of the human sacrifices he was forced to take part in: the Divine-king’s special end for all those who sinned against him. And the woman he was about to visit now had once performed the sacred rite of sacrifice without official permission; had once burned a man to death in the sacred fire—an illegal sacrifice against the Hevraic Law of the Black Robe High Priests of the Divine-king, and for this, if ever found, she herself would be burnt in sacrificial flames. What kind of woman was she really; this killer of men? He did not want to know Nasza’s terrible secrets. And secrets she surely had for no-one was allowed to step inside her cave and live to tell the story, all save Jes alone, and he did not understand why this isolated and secretive woman allowed him to see her caves and live; he did not understand why she had taken to him so lovingly, so quickly; a single meeting in the city bazaar and he was hers.

He tried to force away the images of death and suffering as he came close to her cave; he stepped inside and called out, “Nasza, it’s me, Jes. I’m back!”

He went straight in, following the smell of her evening meal. He came and sat down by her bubbling stew-pot as it swung above a small fire on a tripod.

Nasza looked at him with an easy smile of welcome on her full lips.

“Back so soon?” she said with a sound of amusement in her voice: she had not seen Jes in a year.

“I tracked my commission here; he’s in the city now. I do not feel right arresting him here. I don’t feel right, not right at all.”

“Jes, I have never seen you like this before. Are you reluctant? Reluctant to arrest a filthy Black Robe? For the love of the Sun, why?”

“Because of the Divine-king! He’s waiting for this Robe more than any other. I don’t want to-” He stopped, as if he were suddenly conscious of a king’s spy hiding in the rocks above the cave.

He looked at Nasza, keeping his thoughts to himself, though in the year since he had last seen her, he was sure she had grown more beautiful, with her strength and height more assured, more a creature of the air or of the night sky. She looked very dark, like a roosting mother eagle, her age as unknown as her secrets.

He relaxed now, glad to be back with someone who did not want to hurt him, the only one who did not want to hurt him. For a moment he allowed himself to close his single eye in weariness, where he viewed himself hunting his prey from one desert town to another, always staying hidden, always moving.

He sighed, then looked into Nasza’s dark brown eyes—eyes that burned with inner secrets. She sat watching him back, stirring her stew with vigour, the fine muscles of her slim arms shining in the firelight, her ring-bangles jangling. He laughed; inside Nasza’s cave he knew it was possible to feel as safe as the womb.

“Tell me about it,” Nasza then demanded, trying to break him out of his silence.

Jes opened to her, confessing, “Nasza, tell me something: why would a madman like him come back here, where he’s in the greatest danger?” He paused, sighed, finished what he wanted to say; “I know he’ll go into the city-square and start preaching his heresy right under the Divine-king’s nose. Foolish and misguided, he’s too full of himself to see the danger; he doesn’t even know he’s being hunted. He thinks he’s impervious to the King’s Law! I’m afraid to go near him.”

For a while Nasza did not reply; she sat looking at him with focused attention. Under her gaze, Jes sensed she was annoyed with him. For not carrying out his duty?

She said, hard, “For the love of the Sun, do not let mere fear stop you. This Robe has to be destroyed just like all the others, don’t you see?” She reached out and locked her slim fingers around his wrist; her grip was insistent, urging him as she added; “This is his home city, where he sprang from, where we all sprang from. Of course he would come back here, and here is where you must take him.”

Jes sighed. “Why didn’t I just sit here with you and wait for him to come home again, then arrest him? Now-”

“Now you have to face what you fear.”

“Be quiet, woman.”

“Don’t be afraid. You don’t know how strong you really are. Your pain and your past sufferings have not destroyed you. You are young and strong. The pain of your past has made you special.”

“But I still have to face the king…there are things I want from him. It’s time he broke my contract with him. I want the contract broken, yet how can a mere man break a contract with a god? He won’t listen to me, he never listens to anything other than his own god.” Jes paused, then said, “Will he destroy me when I ask him such a thing? He should listen to me, I have a right.”

“You have more right than any other.”

As Nasza said this, she took her hand from his arm and began stirring the stew until it turned to mash, as if there was great anger inside her.

She hissed, “We should all have the right to speak what we believe.”

“But we don’t, do we?” he answered.

“No, we don’t. Speaking the truth will get you killed, as it has always done. Even holding the truth close to your heart is enough to bring the world to the edge of destruction.”

She then softened, smiling at him as she told him, “Oh, you have such a light in you, Jes. How I wish I could sit here forever and talk to you about Truth, because you must know that telling the truth will put your life at great risk. And you are the only man I have ever met who has quested for the truth rather than bury it in the desert sands under his feet. Would you like me to cast the bones to see your future?”

Jes stiffened and sat back. His lean muscles tensed against her question.

He could only say, “I’ve told you a thousand times, I hate this bone-casting nonsense. Tell me what you know using your own mind, not with some poor rabbit’s bones. Bones are merely that—bones. They cannot speak the truth.”

Jes saw her eyelids flutter. He had insulted her beliefs, her skills. He did not believe the future could be seen in the death of an animal, in its broken bones stripped of flesh. He did not believe in anything, he only believed in his growing desire to walk as a free man under the sun…

Still the Bone-caster answered him; “These are not rabbit’s bones, Jes. You cannot tell the futures of men with the bones of a rabbit. Go into the city and face what you must do. Arrest your man and take him to the Divine-king. You have courage, you have your right to revenge. We all take revenge; that is what sacrifice is for—for revenge, for punishment, for those who will not believe in lying. The bones tell me so.”

Jes did not answer her. She lowered her eyes away from him, as if she did not want to show him her superstitious faith so openly. Superstition made him burn with a fine rage that gave a soft glint of light in his single eye. As here it was again, her words of revenge, Nasza’s favourite topic. That, and the freedom to speak the truth. Yet Jes knew she was right. Sacrifice was for revenge. For punishment.

He sighed again and looked into the bubbling stew pot, waiting for her to feed him.

She said, “I sense you have great courage, and a hidden power of mind. Use it. Use your will to your fullest ability. Use your will-power, and when you use it, your world will change.”

“I have no power,” he answered. “I’m bound to the Divine-king forever as his Exalted bounty hunter. I can never be free of him, not until one of us dies and I don’t want to die, not ever.”

Still staring into the cooking pot, he watched the chopped vegetables and rabbit meat floating and falling. He confessed. “You have no idea how afraid I am of handing over this Robe. He’ll break me, drive me insane with the load of his lies and evil. When I discovered he was coming back to Melsa…” he stopped, would say no more.

Nasza shifted to one side, bending up her left leg, skirt falling open to reveal her knee and thigh. There were bangles around her ankles and Jes wondered how she managed to force them around and over her feet.

She said, “Look at me, One-Eye.”

He looked, peering in the growing darkness with his one eye, his right eye, self-consciously bringing up a finger to scratch under the eye-patch over his left.

“Good,” she said, “that’s good, brown eyes are beautiful on a blond man, don’t you know that?”

“I have only one eye, not eyes. What are you really saying?”

“I’m saying you want the world to change, and you are right. Maybe someone like you, a bounty hunter, will change the world. Go into the city tomorrow, arrest your man, take him to the Divine-king then come back to me for knowledge. It is time, Jes, time you knew more about the world. I will cast the bones and tell you my knowledge. It is time.”

Jes ignored her and demanded, “Are you going to feed me or not? I’m starving, then I want to sleep.”

“Go and get yourself a bowl and spoon; help yourself, lazy boy.”

They ate together in silence, and when it was late and dark, Nasza’s cave seemed to Jes even more secretive. She lit the space around them with candles and oil lamps; she burnt incense and sang songs as she moved around preparing for sleep, her tall handsome shadow rising up the rocky walls. Jes held out a hand to her, which she took and squeezed. He rose and walked with her deeper inside the cave.

Then, when he had watched her settle into bed, he blew out her candle. Before he could move away, Nasza grabbed hold of his hand and pulled him down to sit near her. She whispered sharp at him, “Promise me you will come back here after you give up this prey to the Divine-king; it is time to tell you things, things you must know. I trust you and no other.”

“Please, Nasza, I don’t even know if I can come back, ever. I could be insane by the time I’ve finished with him, or dead myself.”

“By the Sun, you will only grow stronger when you give him up. He is evil; they are all evil, those Black Robe priests of the King’s. I do not need to cast the bones to know you will grow stronger. Maybe only then will you satisfy your need to change the world.”

“But I still have to stand before the King and say to him, Here is your heretic…now give me what I want, my payment, my freedom-”

“Of course there’s danger for you, much danger, but you have the power to face the King. This is your duty, your destiny.”

She held onto his hand, pulled him closer and kissed his forehead.

Jes pulled away, saying, “I’m going to sleep now. Wake me early.”

Holding a small candle, he walked down to the recess where he always slept at Nasza’s. This recess went back even deeper into the cave wall, yet he was not afraid of the huge mass of rock overhanging his head. Here, there were no thoughts of rock fall, of being crushed to death or smothered. He touched the rock as he sat down to peel off his boots and pants. He stripped to his underwear and lay down. He touched the stone roof above him. The rock of this cave was smooth, dark and warm.

Jes did not fully understand why the rock was warm; rock should be cold. Yet here the rock was more like a protecting, warming presence. Nasza had once told him there were hot water springs under the caves somewhere deep into the roots of the mountain. There were tunnels, secret entrances and exists. Other than Nasza and himself, no-one knew these caves existed. The Bone-caster guarded her home to the point of violence.

The man she had killed in sacrifice? Had this man tried to penetrate or invade her mountain cave and expose its secrets to the outer world? Jes did not know. Now with the heat of the springs warming the stone surface, he experienced profound rest. In here, he did not care about the outside world, because in here there were no nightmares. He never had nightmares at Nasza’s. The terrible dreams that he had every night of his young life never dared pass the barrier of her powerful cave walls.



* * *



The following morning, after kissing Nasza goodbye, Jes went down to pick up his horse from where he had left the animal stabled in an abandoned hut part way down the mountainside. Mounting, he turned its head towards the desert-city of Melsa. The day was brilliant and already growing hot. Jes pulled his old wide-brimmed leather hat down over his brow, scratched under his eye patch and swallowed tension.

The night before, he had not told Nasza all that he truly felt, that he could have arrested this prey many times before now, of how he had held back, watching the man carefully without making a move to arrest him. So when Jes realised his prey was heading back to Melsa, he followed, knowing it would be easier to apprehend the man behind the Divine-king’s city gates than far out in the desert.

Now, as he rode the mountain path, the morning sun flared into his lone right eye. He felt the sun pulling him towards the place he did not want to go: to Melsa, where the Divine-king would take his prey and burn him to a scorched pile of bones and blackened flesh. To Melsa, city of the white spires of God that echoed the bleached peaks of the mountains behind. A city with walls that reflected in the waters of the great river Nade that flowed for hundreds of leagues through the mountains and the ancient desert lands of Bel Sharamar, the Land of the Sun. Soon the rains would come and flood the Melsa valley, enriching the soil in a yearly cycle of life and growth. The tired horse plodded on under him, down the dry rock-strewn path, and here, coming closer to the bottom, Jes reined to a halt. He sat still in the hot morning sun, again reluctant to move on—a reluctance born out of a horror for the future, for the acts of horror that lay on the path ahead.

On hard-packed roads he could see the daily traffic moving into the city: caravans coming in and going out, carrying produce to and from the outer desert towns. Outwardly impassive, he watched the life of the desert, not knowing how to arrest the prey he was hunting. He did not know if he had the courage. This man was the most important prey he had ever hunted. But Jes heeled his horse out into the morning heat, the animal moving in a laborious yet inevitable way forward beneath him. As he came closer to the traffic on the main desert road, he began to droop in the saddle, head down so that no-one could see his face from under the wide brim of his hat. When he finally joined the road, he looked up and out at the city’s fierce desert-heated sandstone walls—walls that would trap him, with gates that opened only to give the false freedom of the bounty hunter.

Far to his left, tall date palms offered welcome shade, where beneath the trees he spotted a group of veiled city women gathering to talk without the ears of the Black Robe priests of Hevran, the Keepers of the Hevraic Law to hear them.

Thinking of the Black Robes, Jes again felt apprehension, a feeling that held him back from entering the city. But he knew he must. He swallowed and heeled hard forward, trotting down the main thoroughfare as it lay before him on the valley floor. He could see the white shining sandstones of the Divine-king’s palace rising above the city walls. The dome of the palace dazzled all those who saw its imperious surfaces reflecting the light of Hevran, God of All Souls, where beneath the dome, the King himself lived as Hevran’s Son.

Also rising high over the outer walls, the pure white obelisk spires of the city temple stabbed into the sky. The spires, the tallest of them the spire of the Black Robe seminary, filled Jes with horror, with hatred: home of the High Fathers; Men who Cannot Lie, the Law-Givers and Truth Keepers. It was an act of will to force himself to join the hundreds of people who were crowding the avenue and into the city. Crowds came and went around him, men herding their camels and goats and bleating sheep, throwing up clouds of dust. The stink of the animals made the air thick and rank.

Jes came to the city gates, huge and high, dazzling golden in the sun, where the Divine-king’s guards stood under the porticoes of the outer sandstone walls. Their dark blue and black uniforms caused them to sweat in the sweltering heat of the morning, the fire emblem on their helmets flaming in the sun. Before the gates he stopped and dismounted, leading his horse in on foot. The guards took no notice of him as he passed under the massive sandstone blocks of Melsa’s gate-towers and into the inner crowds that pushed and shouted up every packed lane and thoroughfare. Through these masses he moved without interest, never looking into anyone’s face, never turning to the right or left or noting the beautiful eyes of the women. He pushed on through the loaded markets and rich bazaars with no thought for his immediate future.

Even though he feared standing before the Divine-king, he wanted nothing other than to give his prey into the King’s hands for sacrifice. And once this was done, he would ask for a just reward.



* * *



After stabling his horse, Jes did nothing other than walk the bazaars, where soon after midday, when the sun stood scorching the city beneath it, he followed the narrowest lanes down to the Preachers Square. The lanes he took between tall tightly packed clay buildings were wet with filth thrown down from the windows above, where every lane was a home to stray cats and mangy dogs. Jes watched the miserable creatures running across his path; he felt pity. He forced aside this feeling and moved on, now heading for the Preachers Square; gathering place for prophets and madmen, those driven to raving in the streets by the loneliness and isolation of the desert. And here, in the Square, Jes knew he would find his prey telling his lies to the masses that crowded to hear his words.

Pushing through the people, coming to the front of the crowd, Jes smiled to himself; for there stood the object of his hunt, preaching in an inspiring voice that sounded as if he had the power to tease gold from the sun and weave it into his own fabric, his own self. Around this man the crowds were hushed and awed. They did not feel the heat of the day burning them. They did not see the blue of the sky above, so enrapt were they in the prey’s voice.

By the captivated looks on the faces of the people around him, Jes knew this preacher had stripped them of their own thoughts, had stopped their minds from thinking. Still the blue sky was impervious above them. He looked up as he listened to the prey’s hypnotic voice. He watched the desert falcons hovering before the dive. He saw the mountains towering above the city, silver stone under the sun. He watched the sun dripping golden particles down to rest on his own sun-browned skin. And it was all so beautiful around him, the sights and sounds, where the force of life swelled in even the meanest heart.

He turned back and looked at his prey, knew he was the one the Divine-king wanted; knew it even more when the man said loudly and full of fire to the crowd, “You are not here by accident! You are here for a reason! I give you reason! Only I can lead you to Paradise on Earth!”

Behind him, Jes heard a man say to a friend, “Surely only the Divine-king can give us Paradise on Earth?” but the man was hushed by the crowd.

Again Jes pushed closer to the front, but stopped. Once again he hesitated to make his arrest; he pulled down his broad-brimmed hat, lowered his head and moved back into the crowd, melting away as the prey finished his oration and came down from the platform. The masses moved in to surround him, reaching out for his blessings to cure them of their weaknesses.

Keeping his head down, Jes joined the mass and followed the prey to his lodging, where the man went and bolted himself inside a building, closing the doors on his followers for the night. Yet the crowd remained outside, howling at each other for the rights to be blessed first when the prey came out again in the morning.

Jes felt disgusted by the begging people, for blessings from a man who was no more important than any other here. It disgusted him to see his fellow men tearing at themselves for the prey’s favours.

He turned away and pushed up the lane, looking for an inn to spend the night. Here once again on Melsa’s narrow lanes, he could feel the city’s pulse that did not cease with the setting of the sun. The street-life remained awake and alive, stinking and crowded, vibrant and savage, the very ground underfoot swarming with well-fed rats that ran along the guttered lanes.

He pushed through the people and down the streets that were lit from open doorways and overhanging lanterns, swinging in the warm night breeze. Under stars above, he walked alone; he walked with a brown satchel slung over his back, with his overcoat and shirt undone to allow the air to cool his hot body.

He looked at no-one, because he had seen them all before.

The people were the same as they had always been: the barterers, moneylenders, cheats, prostitutes and dancers, camel-herders, tribesmen, potters, pipers, thieves, and every kind of low and high form of life. Scented women in veils pushed against him, while beggars crouched on sidewalks, holding out their wizen hands and supplicating for money as the Black Robe priests walked by, seeing nothing.

Jes carried on down the lanes; he stopped once to steal a kebab from an old man who was looking the wrong way. Swift as a darting snake, he snatched the stick of meat off its hotplate and moved away into the crowd, not knowing where he was going.

Music from gourd pipes blared out of every open inn door. He ate the meat off the kebab with strong neat teeth that had never once given him trouble with abscesses or cavities. He knew, as he chewed his meat, that he was one of the few lucky men who never needed to have his teeth pulled with rusting pliers by some sweat-stained tooth-doctor. Smiling, he walked on, now going down stone steps, lit by lamplight falling from open doors and windows.

On and on he walked through the night, heading now into the eastern quarter. He knew he was hunting again, where he allowed his senses to lead him on seemingly directionless paths. But no path is without direction. Jes had discovered that no matter what road he took in his hunting, he would eventually find its source or its terminus.

The lane he took next, dark and so narrow that only one man could pass at a time, ended in a building; an inn, this one small, quiet and empty. When he entered, he went straight to the bar and sat on a stool. He banged on the bar top for attention.

The inn-keeper came out from a back room and stared at him. “Ha, at first I thought you were a bounty hunter,” the man snorted at him.

“I am,” Jes replied at once, one eye staring. “How did you guess that?”

The inn-keeper hesitated to serve him, but then moved forward and said, “There is a hunted look about you, lean and hungry; bounty hunters, in my experience, are always hungry. What can I get you, young sir?”

Jes stared at the man a moment, then said, “A flagon of red wine, fine wine if you have it, as I intend to spoil it.”

“Oh?” the keeper stopped in his turn to bring the wine. “Why do you intend to spoil my best wine?”

Jes was about to explain, but he too stopped, halted by an inward barrier. The inn-keeper did not deserve his bitterness. He said, “Sorry, just bring me the wine.”

The man turned away and Jes sat waiting for his drink.

When the inn-keeper returned, he placed a flagon and a mug down before his customer. Jes poured a large shot to the brim. He then picked up the mug and flagon and, with his satchel kicked along the floor, went and sat at a table in the centre of the room. He then took out a small leather pouch from his bag. Held with drawstrings, he pulled opened the bag and poured the powdered contents into the mug, spoiling the wine. For a moment he watched the nutmeg-coloured powder float on top of the wine, then he picked up the mug and drank it in one, down with the wine and the powder.

Before the powder could start its work, Jes had already shut out all things around him. He did not even notice the inn-keeper standing behind the bar, watching every move he made.

To the inn-keeper’s experienced eye, this customer was a pure example of one of life’s rarest things: a lone wanderer crossing the earth, forever hunting. And as a rare thing, this bounty hunter was special and would need special service. And how young he was! The inn-keeper noted, no more than a boy, eighteen or nineteen at best. And the keeper knew, from the mere sight of him, that this boy had seen more horrible things in the dark of the night than in any inn-keepers beerish nightmare.

There appeared a deep sorrow engulfing this customer.

He noted too a rebellious and painful look about him, there in his hard, lean body. His hair was a long and tangled dirty blond, and the look in his lone dark eye spoke of untold horrors, of knowledge that no man should have at such an early age. And yet this was an age of unlimited actions and happenings. This age, the inn-keeper knew, was of the Last Days before the coming of Paradise on Earth, as promised by the Divine-king to all who believed.

Oblivious to the staring inn-keeper, Jes continued to drink, stopping only to drop into each refreshed mug of wine the nutmeg coloured powder. He looked at the wall in front of him and did not see it. He saw only an orb shining over him, bright as the sun, and when he closed his eye, he saw the sun shining in his mind with a light that speared through his heart, impaled by cosmic fire. The drug he had dropped into the wine was now beginning to work, numbing his physical pain, washing his nerves and kicking open his mind.

He smiled as he took the powder onto his fingertips then pushed it into his mouth, rubbing the tip of his tongue, pushing the powder around the insides of his lips. He dug it into every corner of his neat teeth, then took a mouthful of wine and swilled it around to wash out the drug and swallow it. He looked up and saw the inn-keeper standing before him. The man pulled out a chair and sat down opposite and stared at him.

The inn-keeper said, “I have never actually spoken to one such as you before. What makes you bounty hunters so special? I want to know.”

“We’re fools, that’s all, and fools are easy to use.”

“There’s nothing foolish about you, boy, this I can tell from my years in this inn-keeping business.”

Jes did not reply. His eye strayed, wandering back and forth, unable to rest.

The inn-keeper watched the bounty hunter’s wandering lone eye and said, “Have you heard the new preacher, Ohn Adare? His following is the largest I have ever seen.”

“Him!” Jes answered, laughing. “Ohn Adare!” and he spat on the table. “I hate him; precious liar. He offers a delicious food, but the food is poisoned, poisoned with lies that he dresses as truth…liar.” He watched hot-headed as the keeper wiped up his spit with a dirty bar-cloth.

The inn-keeper said, “You shouldn’t say such things, Ohn Adare is a Black Robe.”

“The Black Robes are all liars,” Jes told him hard and fast, then stopped to study the inn-keeper closer.

The man was big, bald headed. He had deeply set bloodshot eyes, with a face shaven and rounded, cut with a wide mouth. Hair grew over his bare arms and shoulders. He wore the emblem of the Black Robe religion around his sweaty fat neck—the Pole of Sacrifice topped with the Sun-disk of Paradise.

When Jes looked at the emblem’s silver shine under the dim candlelight of the room, he could feel himself falling into it, drawn in by its reflective light…down into the single eye of the Sun-disk.

He said aloud, “I once looked into that emblem’s heart and found nothing there…nothing at all but a void.” He stopped and looked into the keeper’s eyes, then added, straightforward and firm, “I know there’s nothing more miserable than living a lie and not knowing it. Let me offer you as a sacrifice, burn you on the sacrificial pyramid with all the others. I’ll take your trespasses for you. That’s what I’m here for. You should worship me, not that blackheart, Ohn Adare.”

Again he laughed, only this time low and quiet, where a look of unreleased passion formed in his powerful dark gaze. The inn-keeper sat back. This boy before him possessed the same form of power he had felt emanating from Ohn Adare.

He asked, “How many have you sacrificed in your young life?”

“I kill all of my prey, all burnt and sent to God,” Jes replied, shocked. This man would surely know that! He paused, his handsome face turned pale. He said, almost to himself, “So who would want to be a bounty hunter, man?”

The inn-keeper thought, then whispered, “Why then?” He leant forward over the table, face to face with a man who hunted the wild deserts like a lion. “Why then?” the keeper whispered again.

“Because it’s the only way for me to escape, to walk under the sun that I love and need.” Jes opened his eye wide, haunted. “And my irony, man, is my freedom is bound by powerful codes; he thinks he has me where he wants me, but somehow I’ll break those codes, every one of them. And I might free you too, instead of kill you. I haven’t been commissioned to hunt you, man.”

“Thank Hevran,” the keeper answered, sweat streaking down his face. “If you hunted me…” There was nothing more for him to say.

Jes understood him. “I like it here,” he told the keeper. “If I come here, will you protect me? What is your name, man?”

“Biron…but me protect you?”

“Protect me, if I tell you my name.”

“I do not want to know the name of a bounty hunter!” Biron thundered in fear.

“Go away then,” Jes responded, casting more powder into his wine. The mug came to his mouth and he drank without looking at the keeper. “Go away and leave me alone,” he said when finished drinking.

Slowly Biron got up and moved away, looking back at his customer with a sad gaze. He went behind the bar and fussed with a few bottles and mugs before sitting on his stool to watch the bounty hunter drink mug after mug of wine late into the night.

Other than Nasza’s cave, Jes had never found a place as secure as this inn. He stayed at Biron’s and fell into a drugged sleep over the tabletop, face into the wood, arms knocking the flagon and mug smashing to the floor. He remained unaware of the mess he made or of the inn-keeper coming over to pick up the pieces and mop up the spilled drink from his cleanly swept stone floor.

Then, when Biron was sure his customer slept in deep drunkenness, he took a sly look inside the boy’s coat pocket and found a leather wallet. He lifted the wallet and found it heavy in his hand; he opened it, finding it contained a bounty hunters pass: a thick piece of vellum scribed with tiny golden glyphs. The pass told him this customer was no ordinary bounty hunter. This customer, bound and contracted to the Divine-king himself, was a hunter of heretical Black Robes. Biron swallowed, throat tight as he looked at the front of the wallet and found there the Divine-king’s own emblem that charged the bounty hunter with the freedom of the land.

On the pass itself, he found the boy’s name embossed in gold-leaf letters:

Jes Jarldane: Class Exalted.

Class Exalted!

Biron almost dropped the pass in shock.

The boy named Jes was not only a bounty hunter, but he was of the Exalted Class, meaning he had been initiated into the King’s exclusive inner circle: the ‘Sons of the Son’. Chosen of the Divine-king. Once chosen to offer something special to the Divine-king in sacrifice and, the King had accepted that offering.

Biron again looked at his sleeping customer, at a face unmarked save only for the black patch the boy wore over his left eye. Biron swallowed hard, then moved around Jes carefully, studying him. Something made him afraid; he went and closed his inn door and bolted it shut. He closed the shutters and dropped the crossbars. He lit the candles and sat down at the table, watching Jes Jarldane sleep.

Biron breathed in; he could smell the sweet scent of the drug Jes had been swallowing all night…Why drug himself? From what pain?

Again he looked inside the wallet. In a pocket inside the right inner cover he found a solid gold medallion, the thing that made the wallet so heavy. He took out the medallion and studied it under the candlelight.

Here was the stamp of the Divine-king’s personal symbol: the King’s own profiled head with spearing rays shooting from his single profiled eye. Turning the medallion over, Biron found on the back the name Jes carved in a deeply imprinted mark. He took in quick breaths, knowing that this thing in his hand had once been touched by the Divine-king himself.

Biron wondered why this bounty hunter needed protection. Why ask a nobody inn-keeper for help, for surely with this pass Jes was under the protection of the Divine-king himself? That he is free to walk all the kingdoms of the land unharmed and unmolested, that he can go wherever his prey leads him, freely?

Jes then moaned and moved on the table; Biron slipped the medallion back into the wallet and replaced it in Jes’ coat pocket. He stood for a moment, holding his breath, but the boy did not wake. Then, as he watched, he saw Jes’ face crease, saw his head rock and the moan come again, a deep tortured moan that tore through Biron’s heart. Suffering; it was etched on the young bounty hunter’s face like carvings in rock.

Something then hit the inn-keeper cold to his guts: today, he had heard Ohn Adare say, “Suffering is the true way to Paradise.” And this was what Biron himself had always believed, as the Black Robes had always told him and he believed. Just as Biron thought this, Jes mouthed a word, sleep-talking a word that sounded like ‘filth’. He whimpered like a small boy.

Biron stood over him, as if to guard him, sensing now that the bounty hunter had filled his tiny dead-end inn with his presence. He stood and watched over Jes throughout the night.



2: Ohn Adare

Later in the morning of the next day, and thanking Biron for his good care, Jes went out after breakfast to retrieve his horse from the stables by the main gates. Then, with the animal straggling behind, he walked the lanes until he could fully conceal himself among the mass of followers who were once again crowding his prey.

All morning and on towards midday, he followed the crowd, awaiting his moment. And when he realised Ohn Adare was intending to lead the his followers out into the heat of the desert, Jes held back, waiting until the sun stood high overhead, baking the desert with fiery intensity. As he waited, welcoming the sun’s powerful rays, Jes felt again the familiar rising pain of his memories; the face of his prey provoked these memories until he felt only terror, until he was once again looking into eyes that would stare back at him dark and endlessly cruel.

He waited by the smaller rear gates, watching the dust thrown up from the hundreds who followed Adare out into the desert. He also watched the sun, as if the sun were watching him, as if it knew him, or was sentient, or spoke.

He saw the hills beneath the sun turn to gold, the mountains running with light, bleeding colours of orange, yellow and silver-grey across the desert before it lifted liquid vapours of heat that watered the distances into lake-mirages.

And when he saw the sun top midday, he mounted his horse, heeled hard into its flanks and galloped out into the desert, hunting his prey. The horse was a young strong stallion, light grey in colour, fast, and Jes galloped out of the rear city-gates, heading south where he could see the crowd gathering before him.

The horse’s hooves smacked rhythmical thuds into the ground, caked hard as stone. Merciless the sun burned, sand lifted as the dry air filled his mouth with dust; he spat on the ground as he rode, knowing now there would be no more hesitating, no more moments of agony and fear. Today, the prey would be his. He did not hesitate as he drove his horse through the centre of the crowd. Men cried out, protesting as he came through, looking up and pushing against him. And when Adare saw the bounty hunter forcing arrogantly through his followers, he stopped preaching, mouth closed in shock.

Jes rode forward and grabbed the prey by his upraised hand, gripped his wrist and called aloud, “I arrest you in the name of Hevran God and the Divine-king, Son of the Heavenly Father and His Hevraic Law!” He looked down into the man’s eyes, as Adare looked back at him, stunned.

“Jes…” Adare sighed, a lost name found again under the high burning sun.

Behind them the crowd moved closer, pushing in to hear the charge the bounty hunter spoke: “In the name of the Son of the Heavenly Father, I arrest you Ohn Adare on the charge of High Heresy.”

Reaching into his coat pocket, Jes took out his pass, displaying it to the crowd. He flashed the gold medallion charged with the Divine-king’s emblem directly into their eyes. He turned and flashed its reflected sunlight at Adare, and said, “Now it is your turn.”

At this order, Ohn Adare answered, “At last you come for me.”

“Filth,” Jes replied. “You are mine now.”

He then took out a pair of cuffs, attached to a long chain from his saddle-bags. He snapped the cuffs around Adare’s wrists.

Ohn Adare did not protest. He merely stood still as Jes locked the cuffs with a tiny key before leading the chain to a special loop he wore on his belt. He led the chain again through another loop on his horse’s saddle, then back again to the cuffs, forming a long ring that kept his prey from escaping. Now with this man fully bound, the bounty hunter swallowed his pain and turned, dragging Adare away with him. Together the two moved back through the silent parting crowd towards the city and its golden palace, now searing the near horizon with the golden fire of sunlight.

When they had broken free of the crowds and were alone, Ohn Adare said, “You always did promise you would come for me, one day. At last you find the courage.”

“Shut up!” and Jes kicked Adare in his back. “Don’t talk to me, filth. Don’t talk to me.”

“Don’t talk to you? But you do not know what you are doing, what consequences you will have to face when you give me up. Jes, how did you escape the seminary and become a bounty hunter? What happened to your eye?”

“Shut up and walk!”

“Am I worth the horror of sacrifice? I know how much it horrifies you; no matter how much I tried to teach you, you never did learn to accept it.”

Hearing this, Jes reined in his horse and stopped. He did not look at Adare as he stumbled at his side. Staring forward, he saw only the sun-bright city of Melsa before him, impervious to the wasting sands around it.

He stared, then said, mocking Adare’s own words, “We must sacrifice to atone for evil, you always told me. To make sacred, we must sacrifice, to purify before entering Paradise. You can never be sacred unless you are sacrificed! Evil is to be seared away in the Sacred Flame! Evil is all you ever talk about. It’s all you know. It’s what every sacrifice is for. For evil. There are no sacrificial deaths for Good. It is time you were finished.”

Jes heeled on his horse and Adare fell silent at his side. But Jes heard him stumbling, trying to pull away. As they came closer to the rear gates, Adare began to struggle. He yanked hard on the cuffs around his wrists as Jes went in under the gates and into the city. The great mud-clay buildings rose high over them, whitewashed fronts brilliant in the sun. Fully enclosed, Jes felt despair descending, where he heard a cry in the wilderness that was his soul, a long far away crying of a man calling for the end.

Now there was only the sun. Nothing else had meaning, unless to bring an end to all that smothered him and those around him.

There was only the sun.

Just as they came out into the city’s main bazaar, Adare cried, “I am a faithful servant of God! You defy Him, Him and the Divine-king. You, Jes, are the heretic and I will expose you to the Divine-king if you bring me before him. I will tell him all I know about you. And about you, I know it all.”

“Poor Adare,” Jes replied, still leading on, now pushing through the bartering crowds and stinking collections of animals waiting for slaughter. “If you claim me as a heretic,” he added, “the king will sacrifice me, then my sins will fall on your head, as you are the one who gave me up to him. Do you want that? But what difference does it make which one of us dies? All of it is for nothing.”

“Yet you believe in the fate of unbelievers,” Adare told him. “I know you do. I see the fear of it in your eye; there’s more fear in your one eye than in both of mine.”

Again Jes reined in and stopped. He looked down at Adare, into his steel dark eyes. He said, “I do not believe.”

“Oh, but you do.” Adare blinked as he looked up at Jes, where he saw something strange. He saw the bounty hunter’s head crowned by the afternoon sun. “You do believe,” he whispered, “that’s why you take me before the king, because you want me sent to the Hell of the Heretic, consumed by the Black Sun Demon!”

“Don’t say those things! I take you because I was commissioned. You’re just prey to me, just like all the others. I’ll stand and watch you die, sacrificed. You cannot ask for a finer death. You yourself built this death, so have it now!”

Pulling savagely on the cuffs, Jes moved forward again.

“But if you give me up for sacrifice,” Adare tried one last time, “my sins will be on your conscience for all eternity. Jes! Think of the consequences. Do you want to carry the sins of me?”

“So you admit you have sin, filth? And you think I refuse to carry them? I already carry them! It is me who carries them; you, you have nothing…”

Jes would say no more.

As he led his prey onward, his near broken mind opened on a hidden memory; he remembered his elder sister, hidden away in the dark, the only one who had given him love, given him joy, the one who had paid the ultimate price for her care and her knowledge.

Overshadowed by the many tall storeys of Melsa’s buildings, Jes led Adare up dark back lanes and gloomy side streets, moving through the coolness of narrow confines, horse’s hooves chipping on cold stone ground.

Adare scuffed and pulled on his chains, knowing as he went that Jes was not taking the main road to the Divine-king’s palace, but was moving away from it in his twists and turns.

Adare grew suspicious. “Where are you taking me?”

“Shut up, filth.” Jes heeled his horse up a small step to another higher lane. Here it was darker, narrower, colder because the sun had never shone down into its confined space. Here, the house doors were shut, the windows barred.

Jes pushed on until he came out onto a wider street where stalls were set out in a small patch of sunlight; men only stalls, selling chewing tobacco and pipe weed. Reining in by a stall, he jumped off his horse, intending now to buy a bag of weed from a stall-holder.

Bound to his captor by chains, Adare could only watch Jes without comment, yet he could not stop himself from noticing the way Jes stood in the sun, impervious to its heat. The heat was burning, yet Adare saw Jes lift his face to the sun’s light, as if answering a silent call. There came a moment when everything around them seemed to stop, or hang suspended, where within the blinding light, he saw Jes look up at the sun.

He looked at it without needing to shade his eye.

Adare gasped, for Jes stood looking directly at the sun and was not blinded. Something indefinable was emanating from the bounty hunter now, something Adare could feel, and he was shocked when he realised that Jes was growing in power; shocked when he remembered how Jes used to be, and now that being was growing, intensifying.

Adare swallowed this fearful realisation as he saw the way the sun highlighted Jes’ bare arms with dark honeyed tones, as it picked out a golden sheen in his twisted curls of long blond hair that fell from under his battered leather hat. A halo again began burning around Jes’ head, a ring of sunlight so brilliant it stung Adare’s eyes.

Blinking hard, he suddenly noted the way the stall-holders and shoppers were staring only at Jes, as if wherever he passed his hands, light was cast down from his palms. The shoppers moved back from him, away from the light. And it was too hot to think clearly, Adare knew. He must be seeing things that were not really there. Sweat ran in a line down his chest, covered as he was under his stifling black robes.

Fully unaware of the stares of the people around him, and hanging the bag he had just bought from his belt, Jes turned and mounted his horse, almost kicking Adare in the face as he brought up his right leg high over the animal’s back. He took no notice of his prey and heeled on, walking down into another dark lane and out of the sun. Now he almost seemed asleep on horseback, in the way he slumped, in the way his head nodded, brim of his hat hiding his face.

Adare could see only Jes’ patch-covered left eye, yet he felt something much more. He felt the unmistakable sense of awe, a low-level sense of fear, a near aching jealousy and…something else.

Jes, listen to me now. You once had something special to show me…do you still have that power? Show me now. I will keep you safe from him if you show me how to do it…share your power with me.

But Jes could not hear Adare’s thoughts; he turned up yet another narrow lane, this one ending in a doorway. He came to the door and dismounted, then, unravelling the chain from the horse’s saddle, he led his prisoner inside.

Biron lifted his dreaming head when he saw the bounty hunter come into his inn, dragging a man behind him. His mouth dropped open. He came to his feet, wiping nervous hands on his apron.

“Bounty hunter!” he cried. “What?”

Jes came up to the bar and said, “Here he is then, Biron man, your wonderful Ohn Adare, heretical Black Robe priest of the Divine-king.”

“What in the name of Hevran are you doing?” Adare hissed, but Jes turned and pushed his prisoner down onto a stool.

He said, “I want my man Biron here to see you. I want him to look into the eyes of a murderer. To know you’re a lair and not a god.”

Biron’s mouth still hung open, sweat on his bald round head and face, the stink of his body strong and animal; his hands red raw from years of toil. He looked at Adare and saw only a man, a mere man with fear in his eyes. The great Ohn Adare sat on a stool like any other drinker at a bar and said nothing.

He looked at nothing, but visibly swallowed as Jes came closer to him and said into his face, “Since we last met, I have been chosen. One of the Class Exalted, Sons of the Son.”

Adare turned towards him, brought round in amazement, his mouth open, eyes wide.

“Yes, I thought that would stun you,” Jes told him. “Class Exalted, me. One of the Sons of the Son. The Divine-king accepted my sacrificial offering and initiated me into the Sons of the Son. Now I stand over you, so high over you I can destroy you with a mere breath.” He breathed on Adare and laughed.

Adare answered, “What could you possibly offer the king in sacrifice that would make him chose you and reject me? Take me before the Divine-king now!” He turned away, said to the air in front of him, “Take me before the king and I will expose you as a heretic and unbeliever. I will tell him all about you, the thing you can do, and because of it, he will not suffer you to live. He will not let you leave the seminary this time.” Slowly he turned back to face Jes again, his strange steel dark eyes staring, unblinking.

He said, “You suffer because you are an unbeliever, yet you cannot make the full break to total heresy as you plan. If you make that full rejection of the Divine-king you will suffer for it, eternally. Not even your status as Class Exalted will save your soul; the king will strip you of that Class when he knows the truth of you. He will destroy you. One such as you cannot be allowed to live.”

“You say that only out of horror and fear, that I am now your master.” Jes then turned to look at Biron. He told the inn-keeper, “Adare is a murderer, a killer, a criminal lost in the power that the Hevraic Law gives him. He made my life…made everything turn black. He took away my Sun.” Jes dropped his hold of Adare’s chains, and went and sat at the table he had sat at the night before. He slumped over the tabletop, sat up again and said, “Biron…some ale, then lock your doors. I don’t want him escaping.”

There were only two doors to Biron’s inn and he locked both, front and back as Jes asked him to do. He fetched the bounty hunter his ale, then went and sat back on his seat behind the bar. He studied the immovable Adare in a bewildered haze of thought…

A Black Robe priest who is a killer? How can that be?

And all was silent in the inn.

At sunset they heard the bells tolling for the worshippers to enter their temples; at sunset they heard the singing voices of the Priests of Hevran calling for all men to prey; at sunset Jes stopped drinking. He stood up from the table, took off his leather coat and hung it neatly over the back of the chair. He took off his hat and dropped it on the floor. He picked up his tankard and walked ten steps to the bar when four would have been enough. He was so drunk now he could not put the tankard down on the bar top, but dropped it before he could reach Biron’s waiting hand. The tankard bounced on the floor then rolled back and forth, the noise of its fall sounding so loudly in the quiet inn that Adare broke out of his silence.

He sneered at Jes as he stood swaying back and forth beside him.

Jes took hold of the bar to stop himself from falling.

“Heretic, drunk and fool,” Adare insulted him.

Biron reminded, “Class Exalted, Class Exalted!”

“Class Idiot.” Adare glared at Biron.

Jes stood swaying like a young tree in the wind, the hidden things within him swimming in ale, yet not drowned, not forgotten, not dead. He swayed and his head rolled, long hair falling over his shoulders. He slumped over the bar top and moaned, “Bastard.” Words slurred, voice wet with beer. “Bastard…stumbling…in the dark for power. Bastard, filth, how can you live with what you’ve done? Oh Hevran, Hevran, if you have ears…Hevran…what he did to her, Biron, what he did to her.”

Biron put a huge bear hand on Jes’ arm. It had never occurred to him to stop serving Jes all that ale. It was his duty to serve the Bounty Hunter, Class Exalted, Sons of the Son.


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