The blank page is full of many things unknown,
While the inked page is met with fine specifics.
They are a driving force of power and meaning,
Saying nothing carries the silent infinite,
Which words and symbols lack.
Thus is the folded page, obscuring perhaps both,
A force to be reckoned with.
-- a note regarding pages
The Coress Scribe's Guild Manifesto
Narrator: Hugh der Halden von Quende
A man of tender age sat below the brightest lantern that hung in the corner of the main floor of Quende's finest boarding house. He leaned, upon his left elbow, over blank pages which sprawled in disarray. His left hand faced wrist up, exposing blue veins as pallid as the calamus of his quill. There, at the feather's base, the other hand perched itself tentatively around its rightful inkwell.
That hand was not his own. Though it was a part of him, he owned it no more than he owned the words it so indelibly wrote. I could sense it about him. And about her. Yes, I mean about the arm. See, it was a woman's arm he wrote with. That had not been the first thing I noticed about him, and it was not even what I dwell on most.
His skin was bronze. Hers was pale, sunburned below the wrist.
I remember thinking, How far up his arm does she go? I wanted to see for myself.
That wasn't it either. But it came close.
It was the petrified root that crowned his head and twined around his ponytail. It caugh my attention with the magnetism of a lodestone. To have acquired such a thing, safely, both required and flaunted a bold knowledge of a particular region of land north of Quendlasche Woods. There, in that plot of land, everything was dead and yet so full of life that wasn't quite life. A strange magic lurked there. Even in his hair, straight dark brown giving way to a wavy ponytail that caressed each knot and twist of it, it seethed desolated anguish.
My legs were tense, barely kept from trembling, as they hit the bench across from him.
He looked up. An alluring Eastongue fell from his lips in an accent I couldn't place, "You'd best leave me to my writing, stranger."
The right hand paused for a moment, as if it had heard his words and knew of his distracted attention. The forearm swayed upward twice, perhaps signaling for his attention, and then continued writing regardless.
I kept my voice low, not wanting to attract attention. I knew that was the last hting a man like him could wish for. "Ye're not writin' a thing, sir. I can see it in yer eyes. You're reading those written words with fresh eyes, surprised at every word spelled. None of it stems from your mind, that's plain to see in the gaping of your jaw and the awe her words inspire."
"Her?" he repeated, questioning my assumption. He was afraid of me, and was trying to stay calm. I reckon he feared the temple. He feared the chains. He feared the fire of their torches and their cries of abomination.
"Aura's wicked odd. That's yer blood, ain't yer skin though. Yer strength isn't in it. And there's a desperation in that arm which ya don't give off."
"I cannot disagree with that assessment," he replied, leaning back and now enthralled with my shameless curiosity. "Whatever makes you imagine this used to be a woman's?"
I pointed to it as it wrote. "Look at the fingers." I traced my index finger along the knuckles and then up one finger. "Thin. Dainty. Pretty. A woman's."
The light of the lantern, so unnecessary during the day, caught itself upon the silver
"Perhaps," he said dismissively. He didn't seem to be able to feel or see my thumb as it circled the inside of his palm, caressing it.
Yet I supposed it was her palm. I continued, "More so, that ring."
He frowned, likely knowing how absurd it was to judge a hand's sex by its adornments.
I touched the ring. This did not seem to disturb the hand, which continued writing. It had a lovely design, much like the font of her script. Like tiny vines. And the green jewel, cut as grapes, I recognized as well. "More than nine tenths silver. The rest is mostly platinum."
The rogue hand moved away from me, and the paper it had been writing on, and grabbed a blank sheaf, though it had not finished.
"Are you a-an a-alchemist?" he asked, his own hand pulling back.
It dipped the quill in the inkwell.
I shook my head. "I dabble in much, to form a foundation for my studies. But that jewel, and its natural embellishments, resonate only with a woman."
"What kind of woman?" he asked, paying no attention to what she was writing in capital letters on the blank page. "I never met the one to whom this belonged. All I know is that she, or he, is... imprisoned."
KISS US ALREADY,
YOU PLUTTING FOOL!
I tried not to react.
She pushed that page aside, and returned to the manuscript she was writing.
I moved my hand over the words, blocking them from his observation.
"The kind o' woman," I told him, "who knows magic 'n lots of it. Of a brand rather natural yet uncommon. Not so much unlike m'self."
The quill stabbed the back of my hand.
"Ouch!" I cried, pulling my hand back.
"That explains the ornate robes," he said.
"Artistry and self-expression are all part of it," I told him, before sucking at the blood and ink on my hand. Then I realized the page was readable, and I snatched it, crumpling it.
"She can be really mean sometimes," he said, leaning a little closer, sympathy on his face.
In his brown eyes, I stared willingly, and saw a reflection not of his eyes. I saw a left arm, manacled. It appeared to me as a right hand, but I knew that was an illusion of the reflection. And there was a window's edge of cold stone, looking out over a mountained vista.
"I'm sorry," he said, pulling back. "I did not mean to scare you..."
"Umm..." was all I could manage.
"I take it you're not the strange new wizard that came to town that everyone's talking about. They say looking into his eyes is something really special."
I knew not, then, of what he spoke. "Wizard?"
"Nevermind then. Your eyes ain't odd... did you see it?" he asked me.
She, the hand over which he was not master, kept writing.
"The mountains of Coress. The inside of a towering prison so unfurnished as to make only a beggar feel at home. The life to which she is confined."
I nodded. "What does she write?"
"Lies. Mostly lies," said the handsome, one-armed man, looking down at them with a saddened expression. "At least, I hope that they are lies."
"And what do you write?" I asked, turning my head toward the pages written in a different hand.
He smiled. "Commissions. Poems. Prose. Epics. Enough to earn a tidy profit."
"I'm Hugh, of Quende's House Halden," I acknowledged, bowing my head to him and to her arm.
She reached for his glass, and made him drink as he tried to shake my hand.
He barely managed to gulp it down. He sputtered.
"Alopex Lagopus is my pen name," he told me, when we'd finished shaking hands and his glass was put down.
"The prodigal writer of Coress?!" I was taken aback. This man, if he was telling the truth, had been quite famous from an early age. Heresay would have it that a Coressian duke took interest in his work, and invested in his publication. Many a travelling actor had performed a play of his in Quende. I had two of his storybooks at my father's home, and had written out a duplicate of one for a friend.
"None other," he said. "But keep that between us."
I heard the door to the common room open.
"There's only one person to keep that quiet from!" I simmered. "Schläfrig's asleep in tha corner. So, just the person 'at walked in."
"You mean me?" asked a familiar voice.
I glanced to the side, from our booth in the corner. "Lehrann! What draws ye here? Don't tell me meh father sent ya teh parley fer him."
She stretched out a hand toward Alopex, "I am so pleased to meet you, Alopex! My name is Lehrann." Her smile was wider than I had ever seen it. And for good reason, he was especially handsome that day.
"How does she know my name?" he asked. "Is she magic like you are?"
Lehrann shook her head, "I wish... no, not like he is. I've just got ears that hear more than they should."
"Ah," he said, shaking her hand. "Then you know exactly who I am."
"I believe so," she said, nodding. Her attention was diverted briefly by the hand that just kept writing. "Now, Hugh, you have some business to attend to."
"I do?" I was unaware.
"You do. There's someone you must absolutely meet," she claimed.
I thought I had just met that person. Huh.
"The chance of a lifetime," she continued. "C'mon, get your arse off that bench! People are waiting on us."
I got up. And then I turned around, wanting to ask Alopex if I would, could, should... see him tonight... or not. However, he was already packing up his things, screwing the lid onto the inkwell and stacking the pages of his right arm's manuscript.
"She told me I should meet him too," said Alopex. I had no idea what he meant by that. "You are going to meet him, right? The wizard?"
"Now, I didn't go mentioning that I was taking him to a...--"
I interrupted Lehrann then, "Are you?"
"Taking you to get an apprenticeship offered by a true and proven wizard, Hugh?"
I was exaspered. Euphoria welled up in me. I was overcome with the urge to jump up and down and shout with glee. Instead, I just grabbed her close in a hug. "You're the best!"
"Who told you, Alopex?" she asked, as I held her close for a moment.
He shook his head, "Never you mind, girl."
She snorted a chuckle. "Girl... that's a good one."
"Zerknittern..." I muttered, in an ancient tongue. And despite my concentrated effort, the paper in my hand refused to burn.
He looked at me, perplexed mostly by what Lehrann had said, before he blew out the lantern.
"You'll fit right in," I assured him, as I followed Lehrann's rushing pace down the hall, out of the boarding house and into the open sunlight.
I had completely forgotten to ask about the root in his hair. The sight of it, following Lehrann through the streets, stirred my father's voice from my memory, "You may not realize how truly you are playing with fire, Hugh; until the day you, or someone you love, gets burnt."
I felt the crumpled paper in my sweaty hand.