Ex-Cadet Puts Pen to Paper, Part 3

In this third installment of a four part series, we continue to feature the writing of 25366 Mike Shewfelt (BA, English, 2012), whose fantasy novel “The Phaireoir Legacy” tells the story of College Cadet Jim Carmichael, and his journey on horseback from Kingston to Calgary and beyond. A publisher for the novel is currently being sought. Mike Shewfelt would like to thank Dr. Huw Osborne, RMC English Department, for his invaluable editorial assistance.

THE PHAIREOIR LEGACY: JIM CARMICHAEL’S STORY, VOLUME ONE

BOOK ONE: BEGINNINGS

CHAPTER 3

Days later, Jim awoke with a start to find himself in the dull light of evening. His senses had sharpened during his last week in the bush, growing more aware of both Rudy’s movements and his surroundings, and as he lay there in his slicker where he had fallen, exhausted, that morning, he knew something was wrong. He lay stock still, not daring to move, heart pounding, until realization hit him and he relaxed with a laugh. “The rain! The flood has finally ended, buddy,” he said to Rudy. The horse nickered softly, reflecting the optimism that Jim felt despite the danger he was still in. As he had slept the day away, the rain had ceased and the sky had begun to clear. Scattered patches of blue sky showed where bare hours before there had been solid overcast.

Leaving Rudy tied where he was, Jim moved off into the brush. They desperately needed a break, and, if the surrounding area proved deserted, he intended to stay put for a few days. Have a fire, he thought. Get dried out. Moving slowly, and with his slicker for concealment, he searched the surrounding forest. An hour later, as the sun began to set, he was surprised and relieved to find that they had inadvertently ridden into the perfect hideaway. Their camp was situated on what was almost an island, a long, narrow strip of land connected to the shore by a very narrow land bridge. We must have crossed it in the rain, he thought.

He made his way back to where he’d left Rudy among the trees, taking the time to scrounge for firewood. Leaving no sign of our presence won’t matter much if I freeze to death, he thought. The days of constant rain had soaked much of what he saw, but careful searching deep within the shelter of trees yielded a pitifully small amount. It’ll be enough for tonight, anyways, thought Jim. He dropped his pile of wood next to Rudy, and then proceeded to strip the saddle and gear from the horse. “This may be a dumb idea in the dark,” he said to the grateful horse, “but you earned it, buddy.”

Taking Rudy the short distance to the small meadow at the island’s western end, he let the horse roll for almost an hour while he sat and watched the stars appear in the gradually clearing sky. I wonder where Becca is right now…does she even know where I am…? Scott would tell her something, of that he was sure. But what’s going on…? And when am I gonna see her again…? He had no answers, only questions, and as hard as he thought, he could see no reason for what had happened. As he sat there in the darkness, Rudy munching nearby, his mind continued to wonder. His grief at his father’s death was still raw, but it was fading, too. The answers were out there, of that he was sure. The answers to many questions, like why they killed my dad for that book… That book! he thought with a start. In the last week he had hardly thought about it, except to move it out of the way when he went for food in the saddle bags. Now it stood out in his thoughts like a floodlight in the darkness.

His excitement building at the possibility of finally finding some answers, he caught Rudy and led him back to the gear and the pile of firewood. That fire’s going to be a problem, he thought. Jim needed one both for warmth and for food, as well as to read the book by, but he had never been very good at making a fire from nothing, and he knew it. In his enthusiasm to read the book, he made more mistakes than he usually would, using up far too many of the precious matches that Marge had thoughtfully stored away in his saddle bags. She had also included a small pot, and a plate that doubled as a bowl, as well as cutlery and a plastic mug. Thanks, Marge, he thought half an hour later as he nursed a mug of hot chocolate in his chilled hands. Beef stew simmered in the pot. Keeping one eye on the stew, he fished the book out of a saddle bag.

The first thing he noticed about it, even before he opened it, was that it was old, its leather binding worn by the passage of many years. That’s odd, thought Jim as he opened it and began to read. He held in his hands page after page of archeological notes and diagrams, and as he read it, he thought of his grandfather. Dad never spoke about him much…About all I know is that he travelled the world. He was an archeologist, but from all dad said, a lousy one…Could this be his…? The journal doesn’t say much…the author talked about his wife some, but there are few other clues. Whoever wrote it, it seemed, had spent most of their life searching for evidence of a North American civilization that predated Native Americans. Jim stopped to stir the stew, and then continued reading. He didn’t find much, thought Jim. Near as I can figure from this, respected archaeologists thought he was a crackpot. The journal contained evidence that seemed sketchy at best. If there was such a civilization, and that’s a big if, the only evidence that it existed at all is that whatever was there disappeared all at once millennia ago. Gramps spent his whole life searching for it, but he never found it, Jim thought, eying the blank pages at the back of the journal. So if he never found this civilization, or any evidence at all that it actually existed, why does somebody want his journal bad enough to kill for it…? There’s nothing here, he realized with despair. Seeing that his stew was ready, he tossed the book aside and pulled the pot off his tiny fire.

As he sat there savoring the stew, his first hot food in days, something caught his eye. When he had tossed it aside, the book had landed open, and as he stared it, something began to stir in the back of his mind. It was an itch, really, something he couldn’t nail down but yet couldn’t ignore. Getting up and taking his stew over to where the book had landed by the pile of horse tack, he picked it up and looked at the open page. A fragment of a text, he realized as he skimmed the writing. Grampa, if that’s who it was, found a tablet with this writing on it, if that’s what those figures are…guess he never could translate it, though. The writing was strange to Jim, yet something about it bothered him. He read it again and again, searching his mind for what it was that eluded him. He stayed that way for a long time, the fire grew low, and then, out of the fog of his mind, like memories from a time he had forgotten, words and phrases surfaced in his consciousness.

Much more…

My name is Hardis, and I am the first scribe of the Jonaii. If you are reading this, then you are of my people, for only we can read the Froln, the knowledge of which is passed from generation to generation. I know that some of my people will have survived this terrible war, so I write this to you who remain. May you know where we have gone.

What I relate to you now is our last story. It has been passed down from my ancestors, who say that we were once a great people. Far back in the mists of time, long before I was born, it is said that our civilization stretched from sea to sea across this great land. We were artists, and dreamers, and philosophers. Men of peace and of harmony, who studied and explored and built great cities. We flourished…and then the Cumhaktak, the demons, came.

They poured forth from the north, appearing out of nowhere, crossing into our world through a pathway, a Bóthir, from theirs. We used that pathway to trade with other worlds, yet never had we encountered anything like this. A great horde, a multitude of monsters, descended upon our cities. They slaughtered all in their path, and we had no defense. We had never been people of the sword, and though we fought as any people would fight when roused to it, we fell by the thousands. Our capital city, Tanalathan, on that great plain to the north, fell by the end of the first summer. Those of us who survived, it is said, sought shelter in the mountains. And we endured. We hid from our enemies whom we were powerless to oppose.

We hid in the mountains for a very long time, until, the stories say, one of our sons returned to us. His name was Saojan. We had learned from our enemies. We learned how to fight and how to forge weapons for war, and we became very skillful. Some of us learned to fight better than others, and Saojan was one of the best. He rekindled our hopes, it is said, and became our leader. Our craftsman may have been fewer in number now, but they were no less skilled, and they set themselves to the task he put before them, fueled by the knowledge that our survival depended upon it. He raised an army, one capable of facing our enemies on their own terms, and the long and bitter struggle began anew. Saojan, it was thought, would lead them, and a great sword was forged from the heart of a rock that fell from the heavens. Alas, it was not to be, for Saojan fell the first time he lead our people into battle.

The sword was raised by another, Saojan’s brother Raojan, and though we suffered losses, we endured and grew wiser still in the ways of war. Raojan lead us ten years later at the battle that finally broke the enemy’s strength in our world and forced them to retreat to theirs. They swore vengeance on us, vowed to return, but we cared little for their threats. Our people were broken and shattered, our civilization gone, our land ravaged.

We would rebuild over time, laying the foundations for the world that I, Hardis, grew up in, but never again was our civilization so grand. We abandoned our cities in the east, along the Five Lakes and Imalan, the great river, and we left the great plain, the Far Seeing Lands, as well. We built new cities in the mountains of the west, fortified places of refuge. We tried to return to our former ways, but it was many generations before our people could live again without fear. Slowly, the history of that great war faded into the mists of time, and much was forgotten. The swords we had forged, including the great blade, were piled up and stored away as the defenses of our cities crumbled. This is the world into which I was born, and which, alas, has suffered far worse evils since.

For but three years ago, the Cumhaktak returned. They fell on our cities like the stroke of a hammer on an anvil, and our crumbling defenses were little match for their ferocity. Once more, we fell by the thousands. Within a year, our last free city, Tanaalos, nestled in a fortified valley far to the south, was a burning ruin. Every man among us now wielded a sword, and we learned quickly, under the leadership of Kirar, a wild wanderer who arose to wield Raojan’s sword. We bled the enemy white, their black blood staining the ground, but we suffered greatly, and for many months it looked as though we would surely be defeated. Only the knowledge of the fate that awaited us if we should lose kept us going.

Two days ago, the end seemed certain. Fewer than 10 000 of us remained, and our enemies had us trapped in the valley where I now write this. They came from the north and from the south, caught us between two mountain ranges. They fell on us like the waves fall on the seashore, but just as it is with a wild animal, who is most deadly when he is corned and without hope, so it was with us. For we slew those demons, slew them until our hands were weary and their carcasses rotted in the sun. We won, but at a terrible price. Only a handful of us, maybe 300 at most, survived the battle.

We are leaving now, leaving this world for a safer place. They will come again, for we know they do not take defeat lightly, and we would not see our precious world fall. There is nothing more we can do. Today we laid to rest Kirar, our beloved leader and friend. We laid him at the foot of his beloved mountains, by the sapphire at the tail of the snake who runs through the hole in the great wall to the giant who stands alone by the shores of the great golden sea. If, my brothers, you have a need of that blade, if those demons return, you will know of where I speak. I fear it is a false hope, however, for not even our great secrets, wielded by our mighty conjurers, could defeat those monsters.

At first light tomorrow, we will head north to seek the Bóthir between worlds. Our only hope is that we can use it to find a world safe from their ravages. This tablet contains the stories of my people, and it will be left here when we go, as a testimony that we did walk this land. We were here.

If, my brothers, you find this testimony, follow our footsteps to the pathway in the north. Someone along the way will know of our passing, and as long as the Jonaii endure, we will be waiting for you.

 

Jim’s stew sat lukewarm on the ground by the coals of the dying fire. The journal lay in his lap. He sat there for several minutes, his mind overwhelmed by what he had just read. His first thought was a simple one: Huh… Whoever wrote this was right after all. Then his mind reeled as a million questions poured in. Who the hell are the Cumhaktak …? Or better yet, what the hell are they…? Or how about a simpler one…how the hell could I read that…?

“…The knowledge of which is passed from generation to generation…” He remembered that line. If I can read this, and I’m not crazy, then… The conclusion he was coming to was the logical one, and yet it was so farfetched as to be unbelievable. Me…? A descendent of…? Naaah… And yet, as realization of where he was and all that happened to him set in, his mind suddenly cleared, becoming focused and sharp. “They will come again… if those demons return, you will know where to find it…” They’re coming back…whatever those monsters are, they’re coming back. And they’re afraid of that sword…because it’s beaten them twice… “You will know of where I speak…” They knew what was in here, in this book… they killed dad to get it, to get the sword, and I’ve got the only clue to where it is.

He frantically kicked dirt on what remained of the fire, then, with an urgency born of terror, repacked his gear. Satisfied that he could saddle up in an instant if he had to, he picked up his rifle, wrapped his slicker around himself, and settled into the brush.

“We’re really in it now, Rudy, my friend,” he said, trying to calm the nervous horse. Rudy glanced around nervously for a moment, then, satisfied that there was no immediate reason for alarm, returned to munching on the short grass on the forest floor. For his part, Jim was thinking hard, his mind trying to digest the implications of what he had just learned.

What do I do now…? Look for the sword…? I don’t even know where it’s buried… the mountains of the west cover a huge area… it could be anywhere…but why bother looking for it anyway…? I could just give them the book… that train of thought came to a crashing halt in his mind. They killed dad to get this, and his last thought was to get it to me. Maybe…if I find it, I can find my way clear of all this, get back to Becca… His heart lurched at the thought of her, of never seeing her again. It may be my only way of going home to her. Oh, hell.

Glancing at the sky to make sure he still had enough moonlight to read by, he flipped through the journal until he found the section he sought… Today we laid to rest Kirar, the great leader who wielded the sword of the ancients, and his sword with him. We laid him at the foot of his beloved mountains, by the sapphire at the tail of the snake who runs through the hole in the great wall to the giant who stands alone by the shores of the great golden sea…you will know where to find it… He read the passage several times, slowly, the words replaying in his mind. Now those are directions if ever I seen ‘em, he thought. But to where…? The mountains are vast…

Despite his love of riding, Jim had not grown up around horses. He had not even grown up outdoors, until he and his dad had gone west for a vacation when Jim was twelve. His mother had died the year before, and Jim and his dad had gone west, trying to move on. They had driven the Rocky Mountains from Calgary to Vancouver, and while Jim and his dad had grown close, he had also fallen in love with the mountains. His mind drifted back, lost in memories. He and his dad had spent a day somewhere in Alberta summiting a peak, and Jim had known from that day on where his heart lay. It was the distance, he thought. The mountains seemed to go on forever…so much to see and to explore…and so much space…there was room out there, room to grow and be…

Six years later, in the summer after he finished high school, he spent three months out there, working for a wilderness camp in the Rockies south of Calgary, Alberta. It was hard work, him being the city boy in the vast wilderness, but he learned much, and as his own comfort about being in the bush grew, so did his acceptance among the people who worked there. He learned to care for and to ride horses, and fell in love with them, too. Rudy himself had been a gift from his fellow employees, and he and Becca had spent many hours talking and planning about the ranch they would someday own, a nice little place nestled in the foothills of the Rockies. Dad got me that job, he remembered, even though it cost him an arm and a leg to support me working there. Had to raise all my own support. It cost him a lot…

Becca, he thought, his mind jarred back to reality. I have to find this sword…but how…? We spent months in the Rockies, and the few miles we covered were big enough…like the time I missed that meadow by fifty feet… finding a little sword will be like finding a needle in the world’s biggest hay stack. As his mind wandered again, despair began to grip Jim. We rode all over that valley, from Blue Lake to Hailstone Butte, and there were a million places a sword…wait a minute. Blue Lake…Sapphire… He sat bolt upright, his mind focused. On a pack trip that summer, five days in the mountains with a men’s group from the States, Jim had ridden to the foot of the Continental Divide. There, to escape the blistering July heat, the whole group had gone swimming in Blue Lake, a glacial body of water that was the bluest Jim had ever seen. And Blue Lake was the headwaters of the Old Man River, he remembered, which flowed southeast, eventually escaping the mountains at the Livingstone Gap…son of a…the hole in the wall…

It can’t be, thought Jim desperately. That civilization was old…tens of thousands of years old…the landscape would have changed…had to have changed. Yet as he read and reread the description given in the journal, there it was, right in front of him. The sapphire at the foot of the snake, the hole in the wall, even, as he thought about it, the giant who stood alone by the shores of the great golden sea. That weekend, south of Okotoks… On one of their rare weekends off, the entire staff had gone to Calgary for the day, and on their way had stopped to climb the Okotoks Erratic, a massive boulder south of Okotoks, Alberta. It was the size of a house, Jim remembered with a smile, and in the middle of nowhere, too, right on the edge of the prairies…Crazy or not, that’s where the sword has to be. The directions fit to a T. The great blade is somewhere on the shores of Blue Lake.

Is that why Dad wanted me out there…? Because he knew where the sword was…? Knew that it was there…? Knew the history, and the danger…? And wanted me to… to what…? To get a feel for the land…? What have I stepped into…? If this really is my grandfather’s journal, and dad really did know about the sword, then it means…what…? Jim had no answers, only more questions.

I know one thing, anyways, he thought after a while, somebody wants that sword bad enough to kill for it, and if they get it, my life doesn’t mean a thing, and for all I know, maybe Becca’s, too…but I know where it is, and maybe they don’t…which means that’s where we have to go, he thought bitterly, as despair threatened to overwhelm him again. But that’s thousands of miles away…and I can’t exactly hitchhike. Whoever’s after me would find me in an instant if I tried that… No. The only way to get there is on Rudy… It’ll take months… I’ll have to hunt when the food runs out… and what about Rudy…? He’s wearing shoes… if he loses one of them… I don’t know how to fix that. Hell, I’m not even equipped for it. And hunting…I was an average shot at best in basic training…to say nothing about skinning the animal afterwards… and what about winter…? I’ll freeze out here… Despair tightened its grip as the sheer immensity of what lay before him set in.

As if reading his mind, Rudy nudged Jim’s head softly. “You always were good at getting loose, ya big galoot,” Jim said with a smile. “And there was a time there when they figured I’d never ride you, either.” He stood up, tickling Rudy’s chin as he led him back to the tree. Jim had been drawn to the little paint pony from the day he arrived at the camp. The horse had spunk, and Jim liked that. The attraction continued, even after it became apparent that Jim lacked even a fraction of the riding skill needed to control the horse. There was something about him, though, he remembered. He’d kept at it, taking Rudy out every chance he had. By the end of the summer, there was respect between the two. A bond of sorts had developed, and when Tom, the camp’s director, had seen it, he had made a gift of the horse to Jim. He even threw in all the tack, thought Jim, on the condition that I’d have to somehow get Rudy wherever I was going. And Dad wasn’t exactly thrilled about that… took us two weeks, and we still have the trailer we borrowed. Jim stroked the horse’s main thoughtfully. “They said I’d never ride you, that I was crazy even to try. But I did. Somehow I found a way…” Rudy nudged him playfully. “Somehow we found a way…and we’ll find a way through this, too. We’re going home, my friend, back to where we belong.”

But tonight we’re going nowhere, Jim thought with a yawn. Demons from the north or no, we’re both exhausted, and we’ll stay put a few days. Even if the cops are using dogs, that downpour will have wiped out most of the scent as well as the tracks. We should be safe for the moment… I think. Spreading Rudy’s saddle blankets deep within the brush, he was asleep before his head hit the ground.

Look for Part 4 in January 2013…

Click here for Chapter 1

Click here for Chapter 2