Ajalon & Jaffith
Behold how good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.
The library was quiet and still and empty of people. Only the crackling of a large, cheerful fire broke the stillness. Bookshelves lined the walls all the way to the ceiling. Comfortable chairs and low couches with pillows and colourful rugs thrown over them were arranged facing the fireplace. A great brindle hound slumbered peacefully on the hearthrug.
Noesh and T’ajar dropped down, side by side, on the couch closest to the fire. The sleepy dog opened his eyes, yawned and stretched. He stumbled his way over.
“Hello, Agnor,” Noesh rumpled his ears and ran a hand down his high back with pleasure.
The dog settled at his feet leaning into the caresses on his silken ears. Moments later he stiffened and threw his head up, listening. Then the big, long tail began to swish joyfully.
“Watch the cups on the table,” T’ajar warned as the dog skipped to the door sending a footstool flying.
Sem came in. He was forced to spend minutes fielding Agnor’s delight. An underlying grim expression looked odd on his face. Noesh rose during Agnor’s transports and Sem reached him in a couple of long strides. They gripped hands fervently, joy written on both their faces.
They spoke simultaneously.
“What news?” Noesh asked.
The three arranged themselves comfortably, close to one another and dropped their voices. The hound, Agnor, leaned against Sem’s leg and gazed up at him adoringly.
“Father, we have trouble,” Sem said.
The pulse in Noesh’s hand thrust deep in his pocket, throbbed against the smooth, solid time piece lying there.
The hour draws nearer, echoed in his mind.
Sem held his father’s gaze. He was keenly observant. He noted the air of tension about Noesh and wondered. His father’s brow was furrowed under the silver-sprinkled hair. In his patrician face, the lines seemed more deeply cast. Although he appeared to be calmly waiting for Sem to speak he was as tightly strung as a new bow.
“Amis and I went to the sea-lake as planned, Father. We met with an unusual incident there.”
He paused and the silence lengthened.
“Go on,” His father said gravely.
“We lost our net and catch to a big masark,” He rolled his eyes at them, smiling, “talk about close encounters!”
His parents said nothing but held their peace.
“Then came the shimerith.”
His mother inhaled, slow and deep. Silently she reached over and took his hand. He could feel it trembling and his heart smote him for frightening her.
“That’s not all, Mother,” Sem paused seeking the right words, “the shimerith appeared alone over the tree tops flying fast. It dipped down close to the surface of the deep. We saw something splash into the water. The shimerith flew on.”
Noesh’s hand thrust deep in his pocket, gripped the time piece tighter and tighter. Sem continued his narrative.
“Moments later we saw something glow in the sky. It also was moving fast, very fast.”
He leaned closer to his father, dropping his voice even further.
“Father, it was a Fallen One.”
This time his mother breathed in so deep and shakily, swaying in her seat that her son and husband went and sat either side of her, supporting her. She was white to the lips.
“What was a Fallen One doing there?” T’ajar’s voice was a whispered shriek, “Was it Proximus?”
However Noesh zeroed in on the other critical question.
“What fell in the lake, Sem?” he said urgently.
“Well, that’s the astonishing thing. It was the two young women.”
“The two young women?” echoed T’ajar, “You mean those two girls fell in the lake? Were they on the shimerith? Riding it?”
Sem held his father’s gaze and nodded.
T’ajar also looked at Noesh, scanning his face. Did he believe this fantastical tale pitched by his youngest son? The ice crept up her spine.
Noesh was looking away, mind racing, eyes unseeing. The Fallen Ones. What a scourge they were upon Earth and his old nemesis, Proximus. Noesh was willing to help anyone escape the clutches of those evil creatures but were those girls human or did they possess an unearthly power? Were they amongst the Earthborn offspring of the Fallen One?
“Ajalon and Jaffith,” his tone snapped turning to T’ajar, “are they back from Arca?”
“Would you fetch them, my dear?”
“Of course,” she said with a forced smile, reluctant to leave the conversation.
When she had gone Noesh turned to Sem, urgency written all over his face.
“You must tell me what you think, Sem,” he said, “the Fallen One, did he see you? Was he following the shimerith or the women? Did he see them fall? Did you get back here without leaving any trace behind you?”
Sem buried his hands in Agnor’s deep soft coat, thinking…thinking. He knew well enough that the stakes were high. There existed a Fallen One that very much wanted to lay his hands on the person of Noesh and quash any threat to his rule. And Noesh was one of the few that realised the full import of the Fallen Ones’ occupation – the impending extinction of the race of man at the hands of these alien creatures.
Certainly, if the Fallen One he’d seen was Proximus of Arca, then his father was in real danger. They all were. And if those two females had deliberately led him here then he, Sem, would wring both their necks himself!
“Father, the two women say they are from Arca and that the Fallen One is hunting Rija, the dark-haired girl. The other, called Sambeth, helped her escape a Sacrifice. That’s all I know. They haven’t said much more. They seem quite terrified.”
“Hmmm,” Noesh murmured, lost his train of thought. A tingling prickle had spider-legged up the back of his arms at the mention of Sambeth’s name. What is it, he whispered inside himself but there was no response from the Other One. Just that humming awareness that told him that there was a connection, something destined about that girl but whether it was a good or bad thing he could not tell
He realised Sem was looking at him, concerned, and he forced the words to come.
“Well, anyone would be jumpy with a Fallen One on the hunt. Being part of the prey designate is unnerving.”
He lifted his eyes to keenly observe his beloved youngest son, “What do they look like?”
“One is dark, the other fair. One of them is unquestionably a lady. The other…well, she’s not quite like any female I’ve ever met.”
“How fair is she?” Noesh demanded and Sem looked surprised.
“Extremely fair,” he said slowly, “in fact, amongst the blondest hair I’ve ever seen. Although she covered it up quite quickly after she recovered consciousness.”
Noesh’s eyebrows drew together, dread a heavy lump in his stomach. Was this the reason for his inner response to her name? Was she an Earthborn. come to hunt him in the name of her father, Proximus? He contemplated these revelations.
“One of them might, ” he mused.
“One of who?” Sem puzzled.
“An Earthborn girl, son,” Noesh finished quietly.
Sem’s eyes flew to his.
“No,” he said flatly, “I’m sure she’s not–“
“Not a daughter of Proximus?” Noesh’s eye’s were shrewd, “You like her.”
It was a statement. Sem couldn’t hold that piercing gaze. He swallowed and looked away, hiding his thoughts.
“I like them both, father. I think you will too,” he said staring over his father’s head.
Noesh put a hand on his shoulder. His voice was gentle, sympathetic.
“You know though. The human race is in dangerous decline. The world is getting darker, more terrible. There will come a day of reckoning. We must be ready. We must not mix with the corrupt seed of the Fallen One.”
Sem swung his other hand over, placing it on top of his father’s, still resting on his own shoulder.
He looked him square in the eye, “I know and I won’t let you down.”
They discussed every detail Sem could remember and every word of every conversation that had taken place.
“Well,” said Noesh, “we’ll see what your brothers, Jaffith and Ajalon, have to say. Ajalon may recognise them. For all we know they could be part of his Arcan network.”
Ajalon was looking black when he stepped into the room behind Jaffith and their mother.
“What have you done now, Sem?” he demanded.
T’ajar had obviously told them what she knew. Noesh hoped they had been discreet. It would better that none of the people in Tetrahin knew the details surrounding the recent arrivals.
“Don’t bite him, Aj,” Jaffith drawled with a slow smile. His eyes twinkled at Sem, “he can’t help being in the centre of trouble when it happens.”
“He’s a magnet for trouble,” Ajalon scowled, his thin, dark face tight with annoyance. Fatigue drew lines on his high brow. He had returned from the long, dangerous trip to Arca just hours earlier.
“Where are these two females?”
“Mother put them in one of the guest rooms to wash and rest,” Sem replied, “they were a mess.”
“Is anyone watching them?” Ajalon was curt.
“No,” T’ajar replied, “I didn’t feel that was necessary, Ajalon.”
He looked at his mother with slightly raised eyebrows.
“They may just be innocent girls, son. Norea promised she would check in on them,” T’ajar assured him.
Both Noesh and Sem swung around, alarm writ clear on their faces.
They uttered simultaneously.
T’ajar shrank, looking from one to the other in dismay. She held her hands out, fingers splayed.
“N…Norea already knew they were here,” she said defensively, “she had a serving girl ready with refreshments and was on her way to their chambers.”
“Which serving girl?” Sem demanded.
Inexplicably his face had paled, a pinched look whitened around his nostrils.
T’ajar’s mouth opened in shock. She had never seen her light-hearted, youngest son looking so grim.
“Uh, it was Bethe,” she stammered.
Sem exchanged a look with his father and raked worried fingers through his hair.
“I’d better go and check on those girls,” he said.
“Wait,” his brother, Ajalon, caught his arm, “I have things to tell you from my own journey. ”
The dark, longish hair fell across his eyes and he dashed it aside with a slender, muscular hand.
“I found Arca seething with unrest. There may be an uprising.”
Every human eye in the room fixed on his fine, intelligent face, “Ben-Adad is hinting that a member of the immediate royal family survived. A child of Mahal-Al-Eel himself!”
Noesh sucked in his breath, “A royal personage to rally around and throw the invader out! Clever Ben-Adad. Is it true? Is there such a person?”
He looked at Ajalon who had an uncanny way of knowing most things.
“There’s more,” Ajalon said. His voice dropped, “my sources tell me there’s trouble brewing between Proximus and Altor.”
Jaffith’s voice was husky, “Perhaps the Fallen One you saw, Sem, was not Proximus?”
“It had to be him,” Sem was definite, “the Fallen Ones don’t war with each other. The young women described Altor in the forest. They said it was Proximus after them. How could it be any other?”
Noesh nodded, “I agree with Sem.”
“Bring them in,” Ajalon wheeled around, his mouth tight, addressing everyone in the room, “we must find out what they know. What were they doing in the forest? Why are Altor and Proximus after them? I’ll soon tell you if they’re innocent or not.”
“We shall see them at dinner,” his mother said firmly, “we are about to sit down and we shall speak like civilised people,” she added looking at her fiery, middle son warningly.
Ajalon held her gaze for a minute and then shrugged.
“Of course, Mother,” he said, “as you wish.”
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