“Some men are born to serve,” said the man in the long grey cloak. “Others are born to be served. We, on the other hand, are born for a greater purpose. To dedicate our very existence to the gods. To seek knowledge, guidance, wisdom. To learn our fate. To guide the people of Renryre Island spiritually, as they seek their place in the skies among the Restless Stars: an eternity in the company of the gods.”
The young man was nodding along as the druid Cedwyck listed their sacred purposes.
“Yes, I understand all that, Master, but what are we doing here?”
Cedwyck sighed. Another acolyte seemed destined to be claimed by the sea.
“Have I not made myself clear?” said Cedwyck. “We are here to serve the gods.”
“I thought you said we weren’t born to serve?”
“Well you said—”
“I know what I said.”
“Well, it’s just that, well… it’s a bit nippy out here, couldn’t we do this indoors? Say perhaps sitting around a warm hearth fire? Sipping a special brew—”
“We do not become druids to spend our days drinking alcoholic and hallucinogenic concoctions,” Cedwyck retorted, his lips shaking as he spoke, spittle firing out at the young man.
“Well then, at least let me wear one of those long grey cloak—”
Cedwyck felt his patience vanish, his anger flush, his staff swing. He watched as the young man toppled over the cliff, his pitiful scream fading away as he bounced twice against the bluff and landed awkwardly on the jutted rocks below. He waited for any signs of movement, but the former acolyte lay perfectly still, his legs twisted the wrong way. Then the waves crashed in, sucking the body into the sea. He kept watching as the corpse floated away, searching for signs of fins breaking the surf. Sure enough, they were there. The tailsharks were always waiting.
“A gift from the gods, my friends,” he called out over the waves.
Cedwyck turned back to the Godstone. It was judging him. It did that a lot.
“He deserved it!”
The Godstone didn’t reply.
A sharp gust of wind blew his cloak free, exposing him to the elements. It was cold. It was always cold in the morning on Littleren — the only island off Renryre Island — tucked away off the south coast and forming the sharp end of the Hook Peninsula. It wasn’t named that for the bountiful fishing, but rather for the strong current which hooked daring ships, and smashed them against the rocks in sight of the Godstone. The Whalebreaker, it was called. The current split as it hit the southern coast of Renryre Island, pushing north to either side. The Hook was its most deadly trap.
“Maybe it’s time to call it a day then,” he said to the Godstone. “I could do with a drink to clear my mind. I happen to have mixed up something interesting last night.”
The Godstone still didn’t reply. It wasn’t much for conversation, but its gaze was ever unforgiving. Nine feet tall it stood, surrounded by a circle of green grass that stretched nine feet from its base, which in turn was enclosed by nine smaller stones placed equally around the circle. From there, the cliff fell away on all sides, save for the path leading back along Littleren.
Cedwyck glanced back down at the waves crashing on the rocks some hundred yards below him, making sure that the acolyte hadn’t washed back ashore. Confident that the tailsharks had destroyed the evidence, he began his long journey back to his home. It took half the morning to reach the Godstone, and he had gained nothing in the process save for an opening for a new acolyte.
* * *
Indoors once again, Cedwyck relaxed near the hearth fire sipping on a special brew, aware that it would take him to places that he probably shouldn’t go. Renryre Island wasn’t safe for those who dreamt without caution, but Cedwyck believed caution was a quality better suited to the unrighteous – those who had abandoned the gods and had in turn been abandoned themselves.
He lay back, groaning slightly as his bones struggled to ease him down. Another sip went down as he stared at the ceiling of his crude hut, shoddy mud work leaving cracks in the uneven concave surface. He focused on a chipped piece of clay that had been gradually breaking away with every storm, wondering how thin the layer behind it was. He could almost see through it. In fact, he could see through it.
Behind it, the stars circled above, restless as always. Some of them chased others across the sky, others wandered aimlessly. He had gotten to know them over the years, learned their patterns. He knew which stars had given up their hopes, tired and lost. He knew the ones that still raced around, chasing their ambitions. In his mind he had given many of them names. After all, one cannot pray to nameless gods.
He sat up sharply, suddenly aware that the drink had taken him away from his body and out into the ethereal universe. The walls of his hut no longer constrained his mind, and he was free to walk to unseen worlds.
He searched the skies for Irikhart, a particularly bright star that usually circled high above, stubbornly gazing down at Renryre Island, but never taking any notice of Cedwyck. Irikhart always appeared to be otherwise occupied. At present, he was wandering around his usual part of the sky, paying Cedwyck no attention. There were others up there that at least glanced towards him at times.
That said, he had bigger plans than to spend his ethereal adventure locked in the skies. What he sought wasn’t up there – it had already fallen. She had already fallen.
“Back again, Ced?” sighed the goddess.
Cedwyck dropped his gaze back to ground. He was standing in the desert, the darkness had vanished into daytime, the sun burning his skin as he desperately raised his arms to cover his face.
“Are you going to invite me in?” he pleaded.
“I think I’d rather let you wither away out there,” she said, but quickly relented. “Fine. Come in.”
Cedwyck took two steps forward, and immediately felt cooler under the trees. The oasis was much more than a desert spring with a few plants: it was enchanted. Powerful. The cool breeze didn’t flow in from the hot desert, rather it was born of the oasis itself.
“I have company, you know,” said the goddess. “You can’t just turn up whenever you feel like it.”
“Sorry, Lytette,” said Cedwyck. “Company?”
He glanced around and found an old man sitting by the water’s edge. Someone he recognised, had seen him there before. The man had been around some time, and by the looks of it, had spent far too much time in the desert. His skin looked like leather well over-tanned, beyond sale even to the most desperate of merchants.
“Don’t worry,” said Lytette with a mild tone of sorrow, “he never stays long. Can I get you anything? A drink.”
The goddess turned without waiting for an answer, filled a glass with water and brought it back to Cedwyck. He took a sip, tasting the sweet fluid, and felt it run down his throat. As always, it felt so real. Too real. Lytette managed to linger between the world of reality and of dreams, but Cedwyck could only find her in the latter.
Lytette made a show of retying her wild sun-bleached hair, and adjusting her scant clothing. Cedwyck noticed the old man stand up and walk away, exaggerating a sigh.
“See you again soon,” called Lytette as she waved to him. “Now, where were we?”
Cedwyck felt his excitement rise. Alone at last, and nothing to interrupt him. Lytette stepped forward slowly, her smile disguising her true age. She looked to be in her twenties, some long set of zeros short of her true years. In fact, all of her looked younger.
“Ouch!” he cried. “What was that for?”
Lytette’s hand swung round again, connecting even harder, a loud crack echoing through the oasis.
“Stop it!” he yelled. “What the hell are you—”
But before he could finish his sentence, his cheek was burning again. Cedwyck felt his patience vanish, his anger flush, his fist swing.
A young man fell on the floor before him, holding his nose and crying out in pain. Cedwyck glanced around; he was back in his mud hut, the evening light easing through the doorway.
“Serves you bloody right!” yelled Cedwyck. “Why the hell did you wake me up? Who are you, anyway?”
The man rolled onto his backside and looked back up at him, holding his nose as the blood oozed out.
“Sorry, Master,” he whimpered. “The council sent me. They said you would be needing a new acolyte today. Fourth one this month, they said.”
Had it been that many already, he wondered idly.
“Fine. But why did you wake me up?”
“You were, uh, making strange sounds. I thought maybe you needed help. You are… uh…”
“I am what?”
“Uh, you are, uh, my master?”
Cedwyck sighed. Another idiot.
“What’s your name?”
“Acolyte, Master,” he whimpered.
Maybe he wasn’t a complete idiot. But a partial idiot was little better.
“Fine. Go get me something to eat, then get some sleep. We will get up early tomorrow. I will take you to see the Godstone.”
* * *
“Some men are born to serve,” began Cedwyck, his grey cloak flapping in the wind, “Others are born to be served—”
“What’s that?” said the acolyte.
“Don’t interrupt me!” barked Cedwyck. “We, on the other hand—”
“Over there! There is someone there.”
Cedwyck sighed loudly and followed the man’s outstretched hand. He could see the remnants of a fishing skiff, smashed up against the rocks below. The Hook had captured another boat fooled by the bay. But halfway up the cliff face, there was a man climbing with his bare hands. A hell of a climb, it was, Cedwyck couldn’t imagine anyone surviving the ascent, didn’t think anyone had before.
“We should help him, Master!”
The acolyte was turning in circles in a futile search for something that he could use to help.
“There is nothing we can do. The Godstone watches, and the Godstone decides.”
“The Godstone isn’t doing anything to help.”
“I can see that, acolyte. You must show faith, and patience. The gods do not serve you, remember.”
“I was just telling you about this when you interrupted me with this nonsense about someone in dire need half way up a sheer cliff. You must open you ears and your mind to my teaching, or else you will not last even as long as your predecessors.”
“What happened to my predecessors?”
Cedwyck felt his patience vanish, his anger flush, his staff swing. His new acolyte toppled over the edge of the cliff with a shocked expression, too stunned to scream. He bounced a few times, as they usually did, and eventually hit the rocks below. Even from that height, Cedwyck could see the acolyte twitching.
Damn fool, doesn’t even die right.
Someone called to him from below.
“Looks like your friend tripped. Fell right off the edge of the cliff. Terrible accident.”
Cedwyck looked down the cliff. The stranded man had paused his ascent to look at the twitching body below him.
“Not sure he’s dead, though,” added the man. “Maybe you have a rock or something you can throw at him?”
“I wouldn’t worry,” shouted Cedwyck, “the tide will take him soon enough, and the tailsharks will be waiting.”
“Ahh, of course. Tide got me just this morning. Smashed my boat up against the rocks. Sharks weren’t prepared for me, though.”
“I can see that. Not to worry, the cliff normally does the rest. Not seen anyone make it up before.”
Even from forty yards, Cedwyck could see the man shrug indifferently.
“Say,” called the climber. “If you are not busy, do you mind waiting for me up there? I could do with someone to point me in the right direction. And you seem like a nice enough gentleman.”
“I’ll be here,” sighed Cedwyck. “I have matters to discuss with the Godstone in any case.”
Cedwyck sat on one of the nine stones, facing the direction from which the climber might appear. He glanced at the Godstone, then fumbled in his pocket searching for tobacco. He had barely finished rolling it up when the man appeared from the precipice.
“Sharks got your friend,” he said as he stood up. “It’s a shame really. Young man like that, prime of his life, and yet he fell over the side of a cliff. Real clumsy I suppose.”
The man held out his arm to shake hands.
“Cedwyck. Of the Council of Druids.”
“There’s a council?”
“Of course there’s a council.”
“Never heard of it.”
“You’re not a druid.”
“Nope. I’m a crime lord, a gangster. And a general pain in the arse.”
Cedwyck was fumbling his staff, but he could see Tailfin had sharp eyes, and a sharp mind.
“What are you doing out here, Tailfin?”
The gangster looked back down at the remains of the skiff.
“I am here to buy a new boat. Preferably one that still floats.”
“There’s a fellow just west of the peninsula. Opportunistic. Waits for stranded fools who remembered to save their purses while the rest of their lives sank beneath the waves.”
“Sounds like someone I would get along with. Shall we?”
Reluctantly, Cedwyck accompanied Tailfin back along Littleren Island, down the gentle slope with a sheer drop on either side. Soon they came to the bridge, the aged ropes holding up rotting planks. Littleren was some eighty yards away from Renryre Island, separated by a gaping chasm with jagged rocks, and the force of the Whalebreaker current savagely fighting its way through.. He didn’t want to guess how they had built the bridge in the first place, and didn’t want anything to do with rebuilding it when that one collapsed.
“Why didn’t you throw the young man down here?” said Tailfin as they clung on the ropes crossing the bridge. “Seems a much shorter walk than going all the way to the end.”
“I didn’t throw him over. The gods deemed him unfit, and I dealt the sentence on their behalf.”
“Yes, through the Godstone.”
“The big rock?”
“The Godstone, yes.”
Tailfin laughed out loud, shaking his head.
“And this council agrees? Approves?”
“They too follow the will of the gods, communicated through the Godstone.”
“And only the druids of the council can hear the gods through this Godstone, right?”
“The Godblade. No, the Godmug. No—”
“What are you on about?”
“Well, I am not going to carry that great big rock into my office, am I?”
Cedwyck took some time to consider his response. He knew there was no easy way out of the discussion. And they had already passed the bridge.
“Do not anger the gods with blasphemy, many of them are not particularly forgiving. Your path lies that way. Follow it until you reach the shipwright.”
He stopped and pointed. Tailfin looked like he was going to say something smart, but changed his mind and carried on his way after a quick wave.
It had been an eventful few days. Far too many acolytes, and far too many interruptions from his routine. He had barely had a chance to commune with the Godstone, let alone enjoy a nice meal. Cedwyck decided that when he arrived back home, he would take some time off, relax.
* * *
“What?” he barked, his throat strangely sore.
“Uh, I…, Uh…”
“Who are you?”
“I… I’m your new acolyte, Master. The council sent me.”
“Argh, to hell with the council.”
He felt groggy. Noticed the number of empty vials lying around the floor, interspersed with scattered butts from his rolled up tobacco.
“How long has it been?”
“Two days, Master. And it’s well past noon.”
“Fine. Well I guess we’d better head to the Godstone then.”
He fixed his cloak and picked up his staff before he walked out into the afternoon light. It didn’t make him feel any better. The sun was burning fiercely, the bulk of its power apparently directed at Cedwyck. Reluctantly, he pushed through, and was soon back on the path to the Godstone.
“You aren’t going to ask stupid questions, are you?”
“Good. And when I explain about the Godstone, you are going to listen quietly, intently, and without interrupting me, right?”
He resolved to walk in silence the rest of the way, and they soon found themselves standing before the Godstone. The sun was beginning to ease towards the horizon, but his head still wasn’t quite clear. He would have to make do.
“Some men are born to serve,” he began. “Others are born to be—”
He glared at the new acolyte. The young man had bitten his tongue, but the words were still waiting on the end of it.
“What is it?”
Cedwyck’s eyebrows were forced down so firmly he could barely see through the slits of his eyelids. He would likely have been afraid of himself if there happened to be a mirror in front of him.
“You wanted to say something? Say it!”
“Well… it’s nothing, Master. It’s just, well… there is a ship sailing past. And they are waving.”
Cedwyck groaned as he turned to the sea. Sure enough, there was a ship sailing past. A trader of some sort, though it looked short of a crew. There were just two people on board: a man and woman stood on the bow, frantically waving their arms. He could see the man was bright red, even at that distance.
“Ahoy!” shouted the sailor. “Which way to Helen’s Bay?”
Cedwyck pointed to the west, then turned back to his acolyte. He could feel his patience crumbling, his arms trembling as they grasped his staff. But he kept his cool and continued his introduction to the ways of the druid.
“As I was trying to tell you… some men are—”
“How far?” shouted the man on the boat.
“You should be able to make it by nightfall if the Whalebreaker takes you.”
More likely it would take them to the rocks. Cedwyck cleared his throat as he turned back to the acolyte.
“Some men are born—”
“What whale breaker?”
“Argh, to hell with it,” yelled Cedwyck. “I’m done. I am sick of this. All of it.”
He swung his staff and didn’t bother watching the acolyte bouncing down the side of the cliff; he’d seen it often enough to know it did the job.
He turned back to the Godstone, and kicked it, doing little more than hurting his own toe.
“Damn you!” he shouted, hopping on one foot.
He swung his staff at the Godstone three times before the reverberations caused him to drop it, while the Godstone stood unmoved. Staring back at him. Judging him. Cedwyck was locked in a battle of wills, a battle he could never win. The Godstone was undefeated.
“I think your friend fell off the cliff,” yelled the man on the ship. “Terrible accident.”
Cedwyck broke free of the Godstone’s hold, kicked his staff, and watched it sail all of two feet away. Frustrated, he turned and began marching back down Littleren, his strides so purposeful that even vipers would be wise to get out of the way.
“Not sure he’s dead, by the way,” added the girl, her shriek barely carrying from the boat. “Looks like he’s still twitching. Got a big rock you can drop?”
Cedwyck ignored the two. The Whalebreaker would likely catch them anyway, they were too close to land, and the Hook didn’t forgive misjudgements. Besides, he had no time for them, and he really didn’t care.
How many years had he been a druid? On the council? And this is what he got. Every time he approached the Godstone, fools surrounded him and the gods only laughed – those that took notice of him. He had given his whole life to them. Dedicated. Unquestioning. Loyal. And yet they had given nothing in return. He had waited ever so patiently since he could remember for a god to answer his calls. To descend from the heavens. To stand before him. But all he could do was watch as they wandered the heavens. The Restless Stars.
“To hell with you all,” he yelled, his clenched fist shaking before him.
And that is when he saw it, the star falling gently down towards Renryre Island. Irikhart, god of fools, rumoured to be the most handsome god of all, was finally beginning his descent.
I hope you enjoyed reading Renryre Island Chapter VI: The Hook And The Godstone
Next, Chapter VII: Third Time’s Revenge.
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