Prologue : Saint Maria
Chapter 2 – Tears and Bones[2745 words]
According to the laws of the state, every family in Duc could keep one parangon of every ten they turned in. However, the laws also said that every registered family must hand in at least one parangon every season as the basic tax.
The adults in Duc, both men and women, loved alcohol. This was because mining and smelting were both extremely intensive. And alcohol was a wonderful thing that could comfort one’s mind and body. But excessive drinking was was far from healthy. Amon’s father was addicted to alcohol, especially the expensive ones with rich aromas. It was getting harder and harder for him to hold his hands steady.
The Ducians also liked finely cooked meat. Most of the meat they ate had to be imported in from other towns, since the local herds and prey were far from meeting their needs. Money could never stay long in Amon’s father’s hands. He had not even paid this season’s tax.
Dusti the mayor, tax collector and accountant of Duc, was a kind man most of the time. He did not push the miners too hard for their occasional tax debt. After all, mining of parangons depended not only on hard work and technique, but also on luck. A tardy luck was always tolerable. This kind attitude gave Lord Dusti love and respect from the Ducians throughout his long and peaceful term of service.
The situation changed three days ago, when the mayor ordered that all families’ owing parangons must cover the arrears in three days. Every family handed in enough parangons in three days, except Amon’s. It might be related to the dear lord from Ejypt who had arrived three days ago, but Amon had no idea of what was going on. It was not something a child like him could concern himself with.
Amon’s father had sold his last parangon for wine as soon as the merchants arrived. When the order of the mayor arrived, he found that he could not pay the current season’s tax. He went to Crazy’Ole Nietzsche to borrow one, but the latter just gave him an ore. Crazy’Ole assured him that there was a parangon in it.
This was the only type of ore that might have a parangon in it. But not all ores of this type contained parangons. Amon’s father’s hands were shaking so terribly that he could not wield the hammer, so he let Amon try it.
By the old traditions of Duc, only after a boy turned 16 and had received the blessing of the goddess Mourrin in a ceremony held by the priest, could he start to learn the unique technique of Duc’s craftsmen that had been passed down from generation to generation. Then, when he had mastered the technique, he could open the ores and extract parangons alone. Those who were not qualified could only assist them or do other work, such as seeking and digging ores from the mines, cutting trees, charking them, fueling the furnaces, etc..
For the last two years, Amon’s father had found that his strength had grown weaker and weaker and his hands had begun to tremble more and more. At this rate, he might not be able to wait till Amon was 16 to pass his hammer to him. So he had secretly taught him the technique in advance. After two years of practice, Amon had mastered it quite well, which surprised his father. In ordinary cases, when a 16-year-old apprentice in Duc started to learn the technique, it would take him about 4 years to control the unique power, becoming a master at around 20. Even then, he could not master it so well as Amon had.
Amon was more surprised than his father, but it was not due to his speed. The priest said that only with the blessing and approval of the gods could one master this unique technique. Now that he had not experienced that sacred ceremony, how could he awaken that dormant strength told through the legends? He did not ask his father, instead, he asked Crazy’Ole. The reply was a cold smile. But later Crazy’Ole told him not to tell others the fact that he had started and finished his apprenticeship so early.
When Amon wielded the hammer to hit the ore, his father was worried, but Amon was calm and focused. Amon had done this several times in Crazy’Ole’s house. His father was under the impression that it was his first time. In fact, he was not the only one who had taught Amon the technique. Crazy’Ole had done that too. There were too many times Crazy’Ole drank and watched Amon work for him.
Strength was not the only thing that needed to be controlled when the hammer hit the ore. The moment the hammer contacted the surface of the ore, a shock wave was sent through the ore, creating a long-lasting, echoing vibration. These vibrations cause countless tiny cracks to appear on the surface of the ore that was even harder than raw iron. The cracks would then expand and cross over each other to densely cover the surface of the ore. Once that happened, the color of the ore would gradually turn from black to dull white.
When the cracks expanded to a limit, the ore opens up. Its shell would break into sand and disintegrate. If they were lucky, there would be a parangon lying in the middle of the sand.
The parangons could not be taken out by force alone. A parangon was firm and solid and indestructible alone, but was fragile when it was still in the ore. Excessive force would break it into powder along with the shell.
All parangons were of the same size and shape, just as big as a cat’s eye. Its shape was a perfect dodecahedron, with 30 edges, 20 corners and 12 facets. Every facet was a perfect pentagon. It was said that an old savant in the northwest of the continent called Thaetus had said that there were exactly five regular polyhedrons in the world, and that the dodecahedron was the most special one. It was said that it was the shape of the world designed by the gods, containing information about the secret fifth element, and was the symbol and source of the mysterious powers.
The ordinary parangons were colorless and transparent. If you looked at it from different angles, you would find various pentagrams in all sizes and states. It was perfect, dazzling and charming. It told you how marvelous the world could be.
As far as Amon knew, there were four types of parangons other than the standard ones. Each type of them had a unique color: blue, red, white and black. According to a savant called Empedocles, they symbolized the four elements of the world: water, fire, air and earth. Amon learned all this from Crazy’Ole. He did not know whether they were true. He did not even know whether those savants were real people. Maybe Crazy’Ole just made them up.
Crazy’Ole had a crazy theory about the parangons. He said that they were originally the parts of the gods’ bones. When a god fell, his bones fell apart and crystallized. Thus the parangons should be called the Bone of the Gods. Amon found it hard to believe. He asked Crazy’Ole, how could the eternal gods ever fall?
Crazy’Ole asked him back: in the legends, the gods created mortal humans, then who created the gods? Why weren’t they mortal? In the oldest legends, Duc was situated around the graveyard of the gods who had fallen in one of the battles between the gods.
Crazy’Ole also said that in his early years travelling across the continent, he had encountered some monks from the faraway east who called the parangons sarira of the earth. Crazy’Ole smiled like a weasel when he told Amon this story, his beard tangled with red wine. He squeezed his eyes and said to Amon, “In many of the legends, the earth is the body of the ancient gods. So what’s wrong about parangons being their bones?”
Amon regarded it as the nonsense of a drunken old man. But he couldn’t say it was impossible. So he tossed it into a corner of his mind and focused on his own things — this was the best habit he had.
Amon did not know what the parangons were, but he knew about the types of parangons. The four special parangons were much rarer than the ordinary ones. Usually only one could be found in several hundreds of parangons. Amon did not know their value, but all the special parangons of Duc were taken away by the state as important tributes.
Tonight was a special night. When the shell of the ore broke into sand and dispersed, Amon was stupefied. The heavy hammer stayed fixed in the air. Amon’s father was completely stunned too. His eyes and mouth gaped open. The goblet in his hands trembled so much that the wine spilled on his clothes.
A parangon lay quietly in the middle of the sand. It was blonde, translucent with some strange light flowing inside, like tears glistening in one’s eyes — what kind of parangon is this?!
A mysterious wave appeared and soundlessly rippled outward. Amon was sensitive enough to feel it, but he was much too surprised to pay attention. His father was still in shock. After a while, a polite knock outside the door dragged them back to reality —
“Is there anybody at home? I am Judah Fayol, the clerk of Lord Rod Drick of the state Cape of the Empire of Ejypt. I come by the order of Lord Drick.”
This person had pushed open the door, walked through the living room and the backyard, and was already at the open door of the workshop by the time he had finished speaking.
He had an educated voice, but his behavior was rude. He had entered the house without the permission of the host. Two fully-armed soldiers stood outside the house, with the other two following him to the workshop. As Amon looked over, Judah Fayol was on the verge of entering the workshop when he was caught by surprise and delight.
Dressed in a tidy linen robe, Judah Fayol was average sized for his 30 years, with light brown skin and curly hair. Thin lips and slender eyes framed a face that looked like he was deep in thought. He was always attentive when he was with the great lords, but now the only thing in his eyes was the glittering stone.
“Thank the goddess Isis, thank the mercy of all gods. May the glory of the gods shine on the world and forever bless the Cape….”
Before Amon could react, Judah had entered the workshop. He fell to his knees with one hand on the floor and the other on his forehead. The two soldier kneeled with their swords following Lord Fayol, their armor clanking as they did so.
“Who are you? How can you enter like this?” Amon asked hesitantly.
Amon’s father dropped the goblet and stood up as he asked apprehensively, “My dear lord, what kind of parangon is this? Why have I never seen it?”
“O my great Isis, please forgive this ignorant noise!” Judah took his hand from his forehead, raised his head and cried. As he saw that Amon and his father were still standing, he hissed, “Get on your knees!”
Judah was on his knees now and these two plebs were still standing. It looked like Judah was kneeling to them, which made him uncomfortable. Amon’s father wanted to say something, but the words could not fall from his lips. He didn’t know whether he should kneel to the parangon on the anvil or to the lord beside the door. He finally decided to kneel to the lord.
Amon put the hammer down beside the anvil and tried to reply in his calmest voice, “I have to stand up to wield the hammer and extract the parangon, otherwise you won’t be able to see it now.” Then he knelt to the parangon like Judah had done. He realized that the parangon he had extracted today was extraordinary and that these people had come for it.
Judah stood up after the two plebs had knelt. He saw clearly that the boy was the one who had extracted the Gods’ Tear. The hammer was still in Amon’s hand when he had entered, and the old drunkard by his side could not even steady his hands.
“My child, you have Isis’ favor and tremendous luck to be the one to welcome the Gods’ Tear when it comes into this world. What is your name?”
So it’s called the Gods’ Tear, thought Amon. It seems that what Crazy’Ole said isn’t total nonsense. He replied respectfully, “My name is Amon. That is what people here call me.”
Amon had a full name: Allaha Mon Su Messiah Hovah Atumra Je Montmen. It was given to him by his father when he was very young. Amon couldn’t even recall it completely. People in the town simply called him Amon. To begin with, such a name was utterly beyond their social rank. Only inherited nobles could have such a long name to spell out. It showed the glory of the family.
Amon was not a slave, nor was he a noble. He was just a common boy from Duc. The name was fabricated by his drunkard father as a consolation, an illusionary glory. The components in the name had nothing to do with his ancestors, but was simply made up in a drunken haze. So even Amon himself never talked about it.
Judah seemed to be satisfied. He nodded to Amon and his face turned solemn. He said, “My name is Judah Fayol. I come from the state Cape of the Great Empire of Ejypt that rules the Kingdom of Hittite. I am the first clerk of Lord Rod Drick, governor of Cape. Lord Rod Drick has received guidance from Isis the great in his dream that the Adoratrice of the Isis Shrine would obtain the mercy of the gods and be given a Gods’ Tear, which would come to the world in this place.”
Judah cleared his throat and looked at Amon. He found no reaction from this boy. Maybe he is still in shock, he thought. So he coughed and continued, “Amon, under the eyes of kind Isis, you have the luck to welcome the Gods’ Tear. We appreciate your efforts in making sure it will belong to the Adoratrice, Guardian of Isis. Isis will remember your name…… Take this. It’s a favor from Lord Rod Drick.”
Judah took out a bag of money and placed it on the anvil, then took the Gods’ Tear with his hands and placed it in a golden box he had brought with him. He turned around and swiftly walked out of the workshop. Amon’s father wanted to say something but again, the words were stuck in his throat.
When Amon realized what had happened and got up, Judah had already left. The two soldiers, sword hilts clanking with their armors, surrounded him as protection and marked their exit with cold and distant echoes.
Amon realized that even if he ran out the door and overtook them, it would be futile. This mysterious parangon was taken by the stranger right after he had extracted it. Only a bag of money was left. The man had even said that he “appreciated his effort”, as if Amon had wanted to give the parangon to him.
Amon felt angry. His father had to turn in a parangon tomorrow. The one he just extracted fulfilled the task, but it was gone. However, thought Amon, the parangon was taken by Lord Drick’s men. If the mayor wants it, he should go to Lord Drick. Amon’s family had done what they should have done.
With so many thoughts flooding his mind, Amon missed one important fact: what Judah had done today would certainly unveil the fact that he had mastered the technique of Duc without official approval.
[List of Characters]
Amon’s father: A miner and blacksmith of the town of Duc. A drunkard.
Nietzsche: The oldest inhabitant alive of Duc. Crazy’Ole was his nickname.
Judah Fayol: Rod Drick’s clerk.