Chapter 7: The Monastery
Alone once more, Virpan turned and trotted down her path beneath the canopy of spiny trees. Not far from the trailhead the tree line broke, revealing the monastery in all its splendor.
Nestled atop a crook in the valley wall, the gorgeously painted stone walls sloped inward as they climbed skyward. About halfway up where a pyramid wouldâ€™ve continued towards a point, this one reversed course and sloped downward within itself to end in an enormous courtyard square. Each level had simple terraces decorated in wood framed awnings of colorful woven cloth. The colors gave a rainbow quality to the building that shone in the sunlight.
Virpan admired the structure for a moment, transfixed. The sound of hooves pulled her gaze downward. She jumped out of the way as two men in metal armor rode past. One of them stared back at the monastery, his scarred face filled with contempt. The two raced past Virpan, vanishing down the western pathway. Ears ringing, Virpan rose to her feet and walked to a small gate built into the rock face of the valley wall. An archer appeared atop the parapet as she neared.
â€œState your name and business here,â€ he demanded.
â€œMy name is Virpan, and Iâ€™ve come all the way from Abukâ€™ashu to deliver a message from Father Sanaja,â€ She called, before holding the scroll up for them to see.
â€œOh, you bear Sanjaâ€™s message?â€ he cried, â€œexcellent. Nelja, open the gate at once.â€
The thick wooden slabs fell inwards revealing a small courtyard.Â Relived, Virpan walked through the gates and up a long flight of stairs. The stairs were cut into the rock of the valley wall, a ramshackle wooden covering barely keeping the elements at by.
Virpan felt anxious as she ascended the steep stairway. She gripped the message scroll a little tighter, looking down over the valley below. The trees spread out before her, the far wall now visible over the long green carpet. At the top of her climb was a small plateau before the monastery walls. A tiny village of tents and shacks had sprung up around a well in the middle of the meadow.
A number of people milled around the shanty town. Some worked metal or carved wood near one of the communal fires. Near the well a small band of pipe players was making a melancholy tune. A spicy smell wafted from the large cooking pit.Â Virpan was tempted to walk around to see what they had to offer, but thought better of it. Instead she marched through the town to the monastery proper. At the door stood an armed monk, the man apprising Virpan as she approached.
â€œYouâ€™re the messenger, correct?â€
â€œYes,â€ Virpan replied, holding out the scroll.
â€œFather Torvipan has been expecting you. Heâ€™s in his study, in the north wing.â€
He banged the doors open, Virpan hurrying through. The passage opened onto a large garden in the centre of the monastery. She walked along the hall, passing several young brothers engaging in a strange exercise on the grass. It was like a dance in slow motion. Near the north end of the garden was a small pond fed by a stream of water pouring from the rock wall.
As she admired the scene, a magnificent falcon caught her eye. It stood on a nearby lamp post, tethered there by a short leather leash. Nearby stood a man sweeping the walkway. He was fairly tall, with straw colored hair poking out from beneath a dark grey hat. Several grey feathers where tucked into the band. His light colored clothing and calm demeanor made Virpan feel relaxed.
â€œOh, hello there,â€ he said quietly, looking up from his task, â€œwhat brings you to Wanevap?â€
â€œDelivering a message.â€
â€œAh, so youâ€™re the one everyoneâ€™s talking about.â€
â€œDidnâ€™t know I was so popular.â€
â€œIt was more the paper they were interested in,â€ He admitted, â€œThey got worried when that storm blew in, though Iâ€™m glad youâ€™ve made it my dearâ€¦?â€
â€œVirpan,â€ she said, strolling away.
â€œVirpan, Virpan. What a pretty name.â€
At the far end of the hall stood the north wing, Father Torvipanâ€™s office in the center. She walked up to the closed door, knocking gingerly on the frame. A moment later the door opened, revealing an older monk with a shaved head.
â€œWhat business do you have with the father?â€
â€œIâ€™m here to deliver this message from Father Sanja.â€
Virpan stepped into the Fatherâ€™s office. Before her was an old oak desk, piled high with scrolls and loose paper. The wall to her right was lined with bookshelves, a small table standing in the corner with three chairs arrayed around it. The man pointed to the left side of the room. There stood a statue of Valtor, carved from gleaming jade, its eyes a pair of fiery rubes staring out into the room.
Kneeling before the statue was an old man clad in a simple grey robe, his hands clasped in payer. Virpan stood in respectful silence while the man finished his ritual. After a few moments he turned to face her. He looked several years younger than Sanja, some dark color remaining in his fail hair. His face was leathery from a lifetime under the hot sun. Wrinkles creased his forehead and accented the corners of his dark obsidian eyes.
â€œWelcome to our sanctuary,â€ he said quietly. â€œMy name is Father Torvipan, head of this monastery.â€
â€œMy name is Virpan, from the Village of Abukâ€™ashu. I am but a humble messenger.â€
She held out the scroll for him. He seized it and broke the seal, unfurling the precious message. He scrunched his eyes in concentration for a minute, muttering to himself before rolling the paper once again.
â€œAlluvir, the sky river,â€ he whispered, tossing the scroll onto his desk before turning to face her again. â€œYou must be weary from your travels, Virpan. I offer you our hospitality.â€
â€œThank you, Father, this has been,â€ she thought for a moment, â€œquite a trek for me.â€
â€œI imagine it must have been. Now, young Virpan, may I ask a favor of you?â€
â€œOf course, Father, youâ€™ve been very kind to me.â€
â€œTomorrow, I would like to introduce you to one of my best students, Risawal,â€ he said. â€œI will have him escort you back to your village with a message for Father Sanja.â€
â€œThat is gracious of you,â€ she said, bowing low.
â€œIt is the least I could do, young one. Now, go, I must return to my studies. My brothers will take any request you might have.â€
Virpan bowed out of the room, the doors snapping shut behind her. She stood still for a moment, feeling as though a great burden had been lifted. The remainder of the day passed quietly as Virpan wandered the halls of the monastery until supper. After her evening meal a kindly old monk escorted her to a room half the size of her hut back in Abukâ€™ashu. There she lay on a soft cot until she drifted off to sleep.
The sound of chanting monks awoke Virpan form her slumber. She stretched out in her comfortable bed, feeling like lying there all day. It was so wonderful to be warm, dry, and well rested. After a few more restful moments, her hunger won over, and she rose to find some breakfast. Virpan emerged from her room and wandered around the monastery halls to find some food. She noticed the sweeping man from the day before and walked over to him.
â€œGood morning,â€ She said brightly.
â€œGood morning to you as well, my dear.â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry, but I didnâ€™t catch your name yesterday.â€
â€œAh, of course,â€ He chuckled. â€œYou may call me Zharâ€™oth.â€
â€œIs that your bird?â€
â€œYes, magnificent, isnâ€™t she?â€
â€œShe certainly is,â€ Virpan agreed. â€œUh, could you point me to the kitchens?â€
â€œCertainly,â€ He replied, leaning his broom against the wall. â€œThis way.â€
He lead her down the hall, Virpan peering out into the central garden were the monks had been practicing. Each held a wooden sword, though they were now filing out of the garden. At the end of the hall was a long room, dominated by three tables along its centre. At the back was a large cooking hearth, a brother standing by it stirring a steaming cauldron of stew. She ran up to him, grabbing a bowl off the floor.
After a sumptuous meal of a hearty fish stew, Virpan felt ready for whatever Father Torvipan had in mind. She strolled to his office, the door already ajar. A young man was seated on the floor in the middle of the room, Father Torvipan pacing around him. He wore a dark red robe with a white sash tied around his waist. He knelt, meditating, while Torvipan whispered to him.
Without warning, Torvipan produced a long staff and swung it towards the manâ€™s head. In a flash the man was up, a medium sized scimitar in his hands. Before Virpan could blink he had carved the staff neatly in half. Before the pieces hit the floor, he halved them again, and re-sheathed the sword in the space of a heartbeat. The master and student bowed to each.
â€œAh, Virpan, did you sleep well?â€ Torvipan asked.
â€œYes, very well, thank you. I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve ever slept on a more comfortable bed in my life.â€
â€œI am very glad to hear that,â€ he replied. â€œThis is Risawal, my apprentice.â€
â€œGood to meet you, Risawal,â€ she said, holding out her hand. â€œMy name is Virpan.â€
â€œIt is an honor to meet you Virpan,â€ he said, bowing.
â€œRisawal,â€ Torvipan said, producing a pair of scrolls from his desk.
â€œThe roads back into the jungle are treacherous,â€ he said, handing him the first scroll, â€œread this once you have entered the valley, and heed its words.â€
â€œOf course, master, I understand,â€ Risawal said, accepting the parchment.
â€œAnd Virpan, this is the message for Sanja,â€ he said, handing her the second. â€œKeep it safe.â€
â€œConsider it done,â€ she replied, bowing.
â€œOh, waitâ€ he said quickly, pulling open a drawer beneath the Statue of Valtor. Moments later he brought out a talisman, holding it out for her to see. The charm was a translucent orange stone, carved into a slightly off centre oval. â€œThis is a Karuzat charm.â€
â€œItâ€™s pretty,â€ she said.
â€œIt is for you,â€ Father Torvipan said before placing it around her neck.
â€œUh, thank you for the gift,â€ Virpan said hesitantly.
â€œYouâ€™re certainly welcome,â€ he said bowing, â€œits powers have faded somewhat, but it might bring you a bit of luck on your journey.â€
â€œLetâ€˜s get a move on,â€ Risawal said, pointing forward.
With that, Father Torvipan gave them a brief blessing before ushering them to the door. Virpan walked behind Risawal as they marched out of the Monestary, trying to think of something to say to him. By the time they reached the lower gate, the day was well into swing with the people going to and fro in the marketplace.
The two traveling companions bid the Monastery a silent farewell and walked through the gate and into the wilderness beyond.Â Almost immediately, the sound faded into the distance as Risawal led Virpan further down the mountain valley. After crossing a long meadow they came to the thick pine woods. Near the edge Risawal came to a stop. Puzzled, Virpan watched him as he scanned the area and directly behind them.
â€œI must read my instructions unseen,â€ he said, unfurling the scroll. An almost imperceptible change washed over him as he read as he grew tense.
â€œWhat is it?â€
He scanned the area again and spoke quietly to her.Â â€œCome here, quickly.â€
In a rush, he led her into the woods, a good distance from the meadow. In a small clearing, beneath a rock pile, he finally let them stop. Concerned, panting, Virpan opened her mouth to speak. He put a finger to silence her.
â€œL-listen, Virpan, this is far more important than we were led to believe,â€ Risawal said breathlessly.
â€œI-I am to seek the legendary Helmet of Valtor,â€ he said shocked, looking over the scroll on more time. â€œI have been chosen by Valtor, as the hero of prophesy, for I am born of Alluvir.â€
â€œWow, thatâ€™s, interesting.â€
â€œLegend speaks of the Helmet as a source of incredible strength and power for the chosen one who wears it; and I am to be the one, the one who shall harness the power of fire.â€
He became serious again and faced her. â€œVirpan, will you help me seek the Helm? There will no doubt be dangers in our path, but I know youâ€™re the one who must accompany me. Please, Virpan.â€
Virpan considered for a moment. Although she wanted to hurry home to get Father the other half of her payment, the killing of an Eagle Warrior had almost certainly put her on Karrivâ€™s wanted list. Plus, the treasure hunter in her felt excited at the chance to behold one of the most important relics of her people with her own two eyes. Slowly, she smiled at him and nodded. â€œI will help you find the Helmet, Risawal. I swear by my ancestors weâ€™ll find it.â€
â€œThat is good to hear.â€
â€œWhere do we go?â€
â€œIt says that the answer lies on the island of Kagnangk, in the North Sea. We must travel to the port city of Sushwuk. Once there, we must seek out the place of twelve weeping maids where the key of fate is sealed within a mighty sarcophagus.â€
â€œWhat does that mean?â€
Risawal shrugged. â€œI donâ€™t know, but weâ€™ll never figure it out if we donâ€™t get to Sushwuk first.â€
With that he rolled up the scroll and tucked it into his jacket before taking final look around the site. Then he marched into the forest. Virpan followed, wondering at what she had gotten herself into.