Copyright © DW Brownlaw 2020-2021. All rights reserved.
Zubin stood at the edge, to one side of Prentyse, giving every sign of relishing the baffling angle of the world below and none whatsoever of risking a long plunge.
Behind them the quiet voices of Father and Flammia were bickering quietly over something, barely raising their voices above a murmur, but there was a sharp edge to it. The young warrior snarled her responses, refusing to give a centimetre to the old man. What could they be arguing about that they didn’t want the others to hear?
Or was it just Zubin they wanted to exclude?
It was a blessing that the priest had the sense to stay away from them. If there was simmering irritation between Flammia and Father, there was bad blood between the girl and the priest since the attack on the airship.
Words of blasphemy could never be unsaid.
As if aware of Prentyse’s breathless attention, the priest turned from the peculiar sight and approached him, radiating sympathy. “Does the craft’s absence trouble you?” His voice was thin and sharp as his features but was still, somehow, reassuring. “Don’t worry young man, I ordered it to fall back to Rimtown to recharge its power crystals and effect minor repairs. The crew will come back for us on my signal. Your father and I agreed that if it delayed here, it might attract enemy attention, especially by that thrice-damned Watch Tower at Freeport city.”
Both made the same thumb down cursing gesture towards the approximate south-west, damning to the pits of the Underplane Freeport’s intelligence advantage: its impossibly tall, impossibly thin, cloud-dwarfing black tower.
“May it fall,” both muttered in unison.
They smiled at each other, Prentyse shyly, recognising their shared reaction.
Might it be possible to talk to Zubin? He seemed sympathetic, even approachable. Father hated hearing questions about anything outside weapons and armour, and Flammia seemed to wish him into non-existence. If anyone might discuss the enigma below, it was most likely to be the priest.
Speech was difficult while panting, but the present opportunity was too good to miss.
“Um ... Reverend, sir ... before we left Rimtown ... the Rimtops looked low and wide ... and far away ... gentle slopes .... and yet, ... um –”
“Yet, now you are near the summit of those sprawling hills, you find yourself at such an altitude that the air is hard to breathe and what we believed to be a gentle slope now plunges almost straight down to the colony below us. Does this … puzzle you, young man?”
“Yes ... sir.”
“You are not alone – it puzzles many a scholar. But, I am of the opinion that this explains why no one can cross over any of the three Rims to explore the Underplane. Low as these peaks appear from the ground, they are far too high for humans or airships to reach the passes, let alone the actual summits. And perhaps dragons, sheer drops, terrifying rock faces and the absence of air are not the only barriers. I have read a suggestion by Holy Saint Ryka the Seeker – you won’t have heard of her – that if it were medically possible to climb further, the Rim’s slopes would lean forward and over-top the climbers, leaving them beneath an under-hang preventing further progress. Of course, this is only a hypothesis; no one has flown or climbed high enough in the thin atmosphere to prove it true.”
This was amazing. Prentyse had learned more from this priest in one speech than from a year of listening to Father.
“Thank you, … sir –” Oh, curse this panting! It made framing questions difficult at the very moment it seemed he might get some answers. He tried to breathe deeper and gasp less. “One more thing ... if I may?”
Zubin nodded with grace, a warm, inviting smile on his thin lips.
“Our world down there, it tilts ... it drops away from us ... so steep … like a ladder propped against this mountain … Why doesn’t the sea drain away ... to the Western and Southern Rims?”
Zubin smiled in an encouraging manner. “Oh, what a clever and perceptive young man you are. The facts, from the Holy Barysian Scroll, are that Divine Barys created the world both flat and level, encompassing its three edges with Rims to contain the seas. But the HBS does not explain every detail of His Creation. This permits us scholars to speculate, explore, and discover new truths. Some think the Rims are, in actuality, tall mountain ranges and that they only appear to be shorter from the ground due to a distortion in the air. Though, what agency could cause this aberration is unclear.”
“Like a circus mirror? … Or like a fire makes the land beyond … seem to waver?”
“Barys be praised, what a contribution you’d make if you joined with us in our various fields of research.”
Prentyse’s heart skipped a beat.
Zubin had said “us”, twice. He was a scholar and collaborated with others. This was the world that Prentyse yearned to enter. Maybe this priest could help? He had to find out more!
Zubin tousled his hair. “As for the tilting-world phenomenon, perhaps you will become the first scholar to write a definitive paper on its cause, eh?” He turned away to join the others; Edrei’s and Flammia’s work done, the group appeared to be reforming. The opportunity to learn more had passed, but it left Prentyse blushing and with a delighted grin.
Zubin thought he could become a scholar! Perhaps, with the priest’s influence and help, he could achieve his grand ambition. If Zubin would talk to Father, he might allow ...
No. What was he thinking?!
Edrei Brassard hated both Temples with a passion. “An unnecessary evil” he called them. There would be no permission there.
“Boy! Stop daydreaming! It’s unbecoming of a Brassard, what? Get over here, now.”
His father was always ‘dropping him in it’ – embarrassing him in front of others. Bastard. What did he want now? “Coming, Father.”
Copyright © DW Brownlaw 2020-2021. All rights reserved.