Notes: I have debated for years now my decision to include the story of Anurag de Bouchard in Book Two of Melody and the Pier to Forever. He isn't a "main story arc" character. He is far removed, in fact, from Melody, Aedan Conor, Maggie, Yaeko, and the rest of the "main" characters.
His story, some fourteen chapters long, comprises more than a third of Book Two. But I felt that the consequences of his voyage from his home in Anthtree, pictured above, are momentous enough to make an exception. He may not be a "main" character, but his actions and his story are eventually felt, if not known, by the entire Saeire Insu.
He is a Saeire Insu Courier, a rare breed of individual devoted to advancing the Saeire Insu's message of hope and resistance over the entire face of Aquanus. He's a consummate seaman and explorer eager for the Revolution to begin.
His home is Anthtree, located at the very end of the Wolfsnake Peninsula. (Email me if you'd like me to show you on the map of Aquanus.) Anthtree is named for the tremendous floating trees that exist in both the northern and southern latitudes of Aquanus.
I am pleased to post his full story from Book Two here. I hope you enjoy it, and are as inspired by him as I am.
The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.
Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God.
ANURAG DE BOUCHARD could not sleep. What little he’d gotten had been fitful, peppered with fleeting, nonsensical nightmares. He blinked the lingering images of them from the front of his mind and sat up. It was very early, at least an hour yet before sunrise.
His clothes were at the foot of the bed. He grabbed them, stood, and dressed as the brief yellow-white glare of the lighthouse swung overhead like a heavenly beam. He could tell by the quality of the beam’s light as it briefly illuminated the heavy drapes covering the bedroom's single window that it was foggy out. Probably very foggy.
He went to the window, parted the drapes, and looked.
Fog this thick seemed to capture the waning light of the previous day and keep it jealously to itself. Clear nights were darker than foggy ones. He waited for the lighthouse's mighty beam to pass overhead once more before stepping away from the window and making his way downstairs. He did so quietly; he didn't want to wake his mother or his nephew.
In the kitchen he lit a candle and began a sincere search for something to eat. His mother's pantry was well stocked; it didn't take long to find a bunch of purple longberries and salted pork, the latter of which was in the coldbox. He sat at the table and ate.
He was hungrier than he expected to be. Perhaps, he considered, that was why he had been plagued by nightmares…?
He finished and stood, then washed the dish and put it back in the cabinet. At the front door he put on his longcoat, hat, and scarf, then marched soundlessly back through the kitchen to the back door. Closing it behind him, he descended the stairs to the yard.
The stone path leading to the cliffside trail was wet and slippery and hard to see. It was one that as a boy he had quickly grown very fond of and preferred using over the village's main road, which literally dead-ended at his mother’s home’s front doorstep.
The path led to a picket fence and a gate. Past that it got very tricky. The path switched back against a high cliff with only occasional handrails to keep from falling into the boiling surf far below. Too, the stone steps disappeared in parts, leaving only loose and treacherous gravel; they descended very steeply in others. Moss and lichen grew in slick patches here and there, which added to the peril. Anurag, though, had a sterling record walking this trail, with but a single blemish: he slipped and fell just prior to reaching adolescence. He should have died, but just before he struck the cold, leaden water an amazing thing happened, something that, an hour later and totally naked, he shared with his frantic mother as he emerged unharmed from the sea a mison away.
He was at that treacherous spot now. He stopped and looked out over the water. He couldn’t see it, of course; there was nothing to see but a wet, thick, billowing blanket of uniform darkness. He closed his eyes and listened to it, to the ocean; and he listened to that part of his spirit that longed to be part of it. It was a primal urge, one that needed to be regularly sated. He fingered the silver chain at his neck and chuckled, then opened his eyes and proceeded carefully on.
The trail wound down the cliff in aggressive and uneven descents until emptying just a quarter mison from the
's docks. The
boats moored there came in and out of the drifting fog like a ghostly armada.
His own singleship, the Selaki, was
the sixth boat on the right, second dock over. He took only a cursory glance at
it as he trooped onto the cobblestone road that would take him into town. The
chill, wet air was refreshing. It filled his lungs with briney potential while
flushing the last and most persistent holdover images of the nightmares away. village
He did not know what he was doing out at such an early hour. But, he considered, he did not need to know. He had learned to listen to his inner urgings as to his very closest friends. It was rare anymore that he disobeyed them.
An inner urging wanted him to get up and come here. So here is where he came.
Anthtree was the northeasternmost township on all of Aquanus, located at the very end of the twenty-one-hundred-mison-long Wolfsnake Peninsula, and one of the world's very oldest. There were buildings here, still occupied, over three Ages old—more than forty-five hundred Aquanian years. Folks here were hardy, thrifty, and stubbornly resourceful. They didn't abandon a home or building simply because it was crumbling into dust, but would shore it lovingly up and then, to prove that their skills were true, would stack three stories on top of it. The village seemed therefore taller than it was wide, with terraces of structures artfully climbing the steep hills behind it. Sidewalks and stairs meandered between the edifices like pathways through canyons, sometimes just wide enough for two people to walk shoulder to shoulder through.
Here at peninsula's end, the climate was much less harsh than would be expected for such a northerly location. Though the air was constantly cool, and the rains persistent and occasionally drenching, it was rare that either became oppressive or violent. There was plentiful fog—hence the need for the lighthouse, which his mother ran—and there was more than plentiful life, both in the ocean and on land. Anthtree as a result looked as organic as the rich vines and colorful varieties of flowers covering the structures, some completely, and the tall, almost impenetrable stands of pine towering around and beyond its borders.
A heterogeneous, argumentative sixteen hundred or so called this village home: fishers, farmers, ranchers, lumberjacks, trade-folk, and artisans. Out here, far, far from Aquanicentra, such a number was considered positively metropolitan. One had to sail to Neptonius over fifteen hundred misons away to find a bigger population center. Anthtree was so large, in fact, that it had its own Imperial Constable and Lottery Office—located, thought Anurag bitterly, just left and up another hill.
But not before the statue. The statue the Imperium tried and tried to destroy, but could not.
It was the statue and tomb of Eliannah of Anthtree. Before the king known as the Red Talon, Eliannah of Anthtree was the last bearer of the Pearl-Yang Serpenthelm.
The statue resolved out of the fog as he approached it. He stopped at its foot and looked up.
The statue stood on the tomb, which was an artfully sculpted block of black onyx his height. On a square polished face were carved the proud words:
Before God she stands,
Before God she heals.
Before God she stands,
Before God she heals.
At the tomb’s base, within kicking distance, was a small, moss-covered jumble of human bones and skulls.
He stared at them for a long moment, then looked up again.
Eliannah was fashioned as though walking, a young woman in a flowing dress, long hair and wide eyes, her left arm held defiantly out in front of her. She was easily the height of the nearest village structures: four or even five stories. In her fist was the legendary talisman: a beaded necklace with a cross inside an inscribed, hollow circle. She had not been sculpted out of the same black onyx she stood upon—local historians had long speculated such a fact to be symbolic—but out of mottled blue-white soapstone.
The statue did not look over two thousand Aquanian years old, which it was. In fact, it looked as though it had been crafted just yesterday. Three Mathematicians, long lost to history, had journeyed to Anthtree after her death and had prayed the Prayer of Ammalinaeus over it and had made it indestructible.
When the Imperium finally got to Anthtree, the first thing the soldiers did was try to destroy the statue of Eliannah of Anthtree. They couldn't even etch the tiniest scratch upon it, no matter how hard they tried—and try they did, including bombing it and attempting to uproot it. They even brought in a team of Imperial Mathematicians to undo the Prayer of Ammalinaeus, whose haughty, grim, and utterly futile efforts eventually earned them and all like them who followed a brand new adjective, one still employed by Anthtreeans today: fumblemeat.
An appeal was made to the Lord Emperor to come and destroy the statue himself. The reply, delivered by some low-level functionary many months later, was simply this:
This the Imperials did, heaping tons of earth upon her, until not even her head appeared above the soil. The fumblemeat Mathematicians then heated the mound until it was molten, then added more soil, repeating the procedure until there was a minor smoking mountain blocking the path into the village proper.
A smoking mountain that had totally dissolved the day after the job was completed.
Eliannah's protectors, dust now for centuries, had done their work well.
Another appeal was sent to the Lord Emperor. Another low-level functionary came back months later with the reply, which was a decree.
Those caught staring at the traitorous Statue of Eliannah of Anthtree
will be summarily executed, as will those who speak of her for any reason.
will be summarily executed, as will those who speak of her for any reason.
Staring at her … like Anurag was doing right now.
During daylight hours a guard was posted to see to it that no one did. The Constable's office made a third request to the Gyssian government to send a regular military contingent to do it, complaining vehemently about the general intransigence and independent-mindedness of Anthtreeans, but this time not a single reply came back from Imperium Centrum. The message was clear: Anthtree was too far away and too unimportant to bother with. The Constable's office monthly assigned a village local to do it, usually one of the elders. Eliannah's guard came to be known among the townfolk as "Eliannah's foot fungus," who greeted passing townsfolk with a friendly smile and a warning: "No lookin' up her dress now." The return response, as had long become custom, was to smile and wish the guard a good day, and then scratch one’s cheek or clean out one’s ear with an extended middle finger.
This last was Anthtreeans’ answer to the Imperium and their hated emperor.
No one from the Constable or Lottery Offices had ever caught on.
Anurag, still illegally staring, found himself grinning.
A grin that hardened, then vanished.
Local legend said Eliannah would return one day, coming not as a Healer but as a fearsome Warrior.
"If not now, then when?" he quietly asked.
He blinked, squinting, and adjusted the brim of his hat back. Above the top of the statue he spied movement.
There it was again: a short streak of motion to the right of her head. And then again, coming directly for him, just barely visible in the gathering half light. It flashed brightly just before striking the statue, and from a small, dissolving aecxal comet-ball a dark-blue swallow swooped down to his shoulder, landing there and twittering happily at him.
"Shhhh …" he said to it, smiling. The fog had amplified its twitters; they echoed off the village buildings obscured by fog.
The bird quietened.
He held out his palm, and the swallow hopped down onto it.
A tiny scroll was tied to one of its legs. He carefully removed it and put the bird back onto his shoulder, petting its tiny head. With his other hand he fished in his pants pocket for his utility knife.
The scroll was in a tight roll; he unrolled it with the knife. The pale blue paper relaxed, flattening in his palm.
He pricked his thumb with the knife and wiped the gathering bead of blood over the paper. As he watched, the red smear evaporated away and a message in black script appeared, expanding and resolving like treasure brought up from the bottom of the sea. It lingered for several moments, then sank away, becoming tinier and tinier until it vanished.
Anurag gaped. The message was one he had waited half his lifetime for.
That message was:
The Apprentice has come.