Chapter Ten 

 And if there were No Gods?


Jarin awoke the morning after the meeting to find that Kirene had already eaten and had left their apartments with her new found friends.  He bathed without haste and then ate the breakfast served by the same silent servant that had been their constant helper since they had arrived at the Palace.  Jarin had just decided that there was to be no call for him that day and was trying to work out which of the wonders Kirene had told him about to go and see first, when there was a polite knock at the door and a rather diminutive Guardian entered and announced himself.  Jarin recognized him immediately as the fourth man he had met in the captain's cabin, on the Arrow that Manator had introduced to them on their journey to Lunza from Atlar.

"Good morning Prince Jarin, my name is Razarian.  We met on the ship bringing you here, if you remember?  Manator asked me to come and explain the first of the acts we propose to carry out towards restoring justice and civilization in Khanlar."

He really was a tiny man, thin to the point of being almost emancipated and his white hair had been given him by age and not the trick of carefully chosen and applied chemicals.  His light blue robes swirled about his bony bird-like frame like he had even lost a little more weight since he had donned it that morning.  Long, delicate, almost feminine hands protruded from the sleeves, etched with the blue veins of age and mottled with brown and rust colored age spots that could have been painted on that transparent white skin.  The hair on his head was thinning and very fine, and his face showed little patches of almost invisible stubble showing that he had shaved with haste.  Thin purple tinged lips decorated that area of his face beneath a shiny nose reddened with either age, or a little too much wine the night before.  Jarin also decided that the God's had not favored him in any way in the area of beauty, even his ears were at least two sizes to large for his head.

Razarian himself ignored everything around him and placed his books and papers upon the table as if these were his own rooms and then he sat himself down.  It crossed Jarin's mind that the servant cleared away the table and left so fast, one would have thought him afraid of this little man. 

"Shall we begin then?"  Razarian asked, in what was almost an order and so began the strangest meeting Jarin had ever been a part of.   "The Church, as you know, controls all religious activities in Khanlar.  Long ago there were several independent or semi-independent branches of what we today we know as The Church, there were also many minor cults and complications for them to contend with but, for the last five hundred years the Great Temple in the City of Ka has controlled everything to do with the Gods, including of course their income and their laws, etcetera."

"You mean, it has not always been that way?"  Jarin asked in amazement.

"Isn't that what I just said?"  Razarian's face showed that any reputation that Jarin had had for intelligence had just dropped a great deal in his eyes.  He went on  ". . .as I was saying, for the last four or five centuries the Priests of the Great Temple of Ka have taken over religion and changed it to make themselves powerful, in what can only be admired as a masterful all-encompassing plan to completely control everything and everyone that inhabits this world.  Under the leadership of their first Priest of Priests Makarl of Ka, they built an Empire.  It was Makarl who built the wall that protects the Rangar peninsula, it was he that instituted the first Order of Warrior Monks and it was he that created the first Army of the Church to go out and deal with any Prince or Priest who did not agree with his religious ideas.  The History of Khanlar which is now taught in every Church sponsored school in Khanlar, which of course is every school on earth save those we run here on Lunza, is the version approved by the Great Temple of Ka.  Even the Sacred Texts of the mother goddess Herthe have been edited to reflect a position that secures the power of the Great Temple and it's Priest of Priests." 

Razarian picked up a fruit from the bowl and began to eat it without stopping his flow of words in any way.   "Therefore, to be able to beat the Priests we must challenge them at their own game.  They say the Gods support them and they claim and are believed, that all that they do, they do in the name of the Gods, therefore it seems we have no choice but to invent a God that will support our Cause and the Brotherhood and what we are going to do."

Jarin was dumbfounded, "Invent a God?"  Yet he gathered his wits fast enough to pose his question before Razarian finished the piece of fruit and continued his babbling.   "What do you mean, invent a God!"  He stammered,  "You can't just invent a God!

Razarian's look of contempt again showed concern for Jarin's intelligence and he sat forward and spoke slowly, as if to compensate for his pupil's somewhat retarded learning powers.   "Why can't we invent a God?  The Priests do it all the time.  In the last five hundred years they have dismissed from the temples no less than twenty once respected gods who no longer served their purpose and they have created seven new ones in that time, who coincidentally seem to favor present Church policies a lot more strongly than any of the older ones they discarded.  Prince Jarin, you may understand battle and ruling a Nation and being a Prince, all of which does not really impress me, knowing many of those who have managed it, but you seem to know very little about what goes on in men's heads when the facts they live by change, or the unexpected rears it's ugly head.  Let me assure you, based upon many years of study, centuries of study if you count those who went before me, if the God's we worship today ceased to be believed in tomorrow, Mankind would invent a few new ones within a matter of hours.  If the Gods were proved beyond doubt to be a fallacy of man's invention, then the same men would create a new God that they could believe in without any doubt whatsoever, a God that they would be able to worship, blame and rely on when all else failed.  Men need their God's my young friend, although I sometimes have sincere doubts if the God's ever needed men, from my experience of humanity."

"Are you saying that there is no God, nothing at all above us?  That we were created to live, suffer and die without reason?"  Jarin's senses were reeling and for a moment he wondered how Mother would have reacted to such words had they come from his own lips back on Havor's Holding only weeks before.  Razarian of course had never met Mother, come to that he might not have ever met anyone even like her and his answer showed his impatience with such an attitude.

"Of course I am not saying that.  Do you take me for a fool?  I would find it hard to accept that we could have just happened and I am sure no man could have created life and to date we have established that man, despite his failings, is without doubt more intelligent than any other living thing anyone has ever encountered in the history of the Human Race.  What I am saying however, is that whatever Great Force or Being, if you have to give it a form, that brought everything into existence, would not for a moment agree to the laws created by the God's of the priests that we have in Khanlar today.  Perhaps that is the reason why so many people live such terrible lives in this world."   For a moment Razarian's face seemed pensive as he continued.   "You know, sometimes I wonder if the real Creator is not taking a nap or maybe He or It, has just given up and gone away in disgust.  At other times I see the beauty that continues around us despite our evil ways and I believe that God continues to give us never ending chances to try to get it right.  If it was a direct question of "Do I believe in God or not", then I would have to answer "Yes, I most definitely believe in God", with all the qualifications I have already described.

Razarian smiled suddenly and nodded, as if he had just that moment found a way to explain what was happening to a dull-wit like Jarin.   "Does it change God or the God's if you think they exist in the plural, if we call them by different names?  Come to that, does a rancid piece of meat taste better if you say it is fresh?

The old Guardian waited for a moment with the cynical satisfaction of a fox that knows it has the chicken trapped, his bright eyes sparkling.

"No it does not, I suppose. . ."  Jarin agreed,  ". . .but why should one be fool enough to do such a thing?

"Ah-hah!"  Razarian had him.  Jarin knew it from the look of victory that spread across the tiny man's face.   "The Priests, the Church, the lot of them, have decided that they will name the gods, but how do we know they invented the right names?  They have decided to tell us that life (the rancid meat) is as it should be, (fresh), but do we have to believe them without question?  That my young friend is the point of this conversation.  We are here today to change things in Khanlar and therefore we must choose whether to decide for ourselves or allow the Church and it's priests to decide for us."

He sat back satisfied, then remembered another line to the argument and jumped forward to fling it across the table at Jarin.   "Who chooses who will be a Priest?  The priests.  Who chose the teachings the Church tells us we must follow?  The priests.  Who tells us we are not allowed to choose a name for our own gods?  The priests.  If a priest told you to eat your children, would you do so?  Of course you would not, although I have no doubt there are a few pious idiots out there who might, so why should anything else the priests say be accepted at face value just because it is a little less threatening to go along with the crowd?  Must we continue to be fools, just because those who preceded us were happy to be such?  The priests say we are the pawns of the Gods, but what if we are not?  What if in fact we are but the pawns of the priests themselves?  How will we find out what is the truth if we only listen to the priests?"

"So we are going to invent a God."    Jarin was giving in, he felt it, yet there was no way he could argue that it was impossible for priests to lie and how in Hell's name would anyone ever find out when, or just how often, they did.   "But how do we know that the people, the same people who follow the Priest's Gods, will even listen to us?  You and I can decide that God is just a humble carrot, it does not mean anyone else would just up and follow a carrot because we said it was God, now does it?

"You're right of course, it takes a lot of thought and planning to invent a new God."   Obviously Razarian did not even notice Jarin's attempt at sarcasm.    "However, we have many sources to help us and some of them make our present Khanlarian Pantheon look ridiculous by comparison."

Jarin's obvious shock at those words made Razarian explain and his previous hauteur relaxed a little. 

"Of course I forget. . .  I am sorry. . .  you have nothing but the existing Church and it's teachings to go on.  I have so much more knowledge I will have to give you time.  In the room I and my forebears have worked in these past three centuries are the records of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of religions which existed, died and were forgotten.  Religions which men and women lived and died for that are now reduced to histories which we can listen to and in time begin to comprehend, but only in our own limited way."

"How do you listen to them?"  Jarin asked quickly.

"That is something that held us back for hundreds of years.  In each of the many rooms which make up the archives there are literally thousands of great books.  They are written in many scripts, alphabets and languages.  It was more than ten years after we discovered the vaults before someone found a book which had columns of words where one of the scripts was almost like our own, even if it did have ten times the words we use today within it's vocabulary.  With that book and by comparing each word in turn, we were able to translate the words one at a time and of course we then only knew a little of what the books actually contained, because of the words we could not understand.  Then we found that almost all of the books have a series of symbols stamped on the inside of the cover in pure gold, by an art we do not yet understand, for the letters in every book are exactly the same in weight and measurement."

"In some rooms in the archives there is a black glass panel with small colored squares on it, well about a hundred years ago, two centuries after we found the vaults, a young novice experimented by touching those squares in a series of sequences out of boredom.  It was of course forbidden, but he did it anyway as bored young men will do such things.  The poor lad fainted when above the panel a series of symbols suddenly lit up and more important to him at the time of course, a voice began talking to him.  By accident he had created a code number which activated the machine and it's voice and the book number he had punched into the machine began to be read to him.  Months later, a Guardian named Vedriran spoke to a colleague while stamping in the code numbers and there were more lights that flashed on the screen and when the voice began it was reading the book in the language nearest to our own.  Half of our brothers have worked since that date to establish what the unknown words mean and we now have more than eighty percent of them explained. . .  we think. . .  and we are learning faster every day.  Do not expect us to master the archives in the next hundred years though, for we have only just begun to learn what we are doing and there are only one hundred of us qualified to lead such work."

"I have seen few books Razarian, although it is true I may have seen many before I lost my memory, however those I have seen I do not think would last a hundred years, yet we are talking of books that have survived for thousands of years are we not.  How is this possible?"   There, it was out, Jarin had been waiting for a long time to ask that question.

"I agree with you young man.  Most of the books you see these days will not last a hundred years.  But the books in the Vaults are not like the puny specimens we manufacture Jarin.  For one thing they do not use paper as we know it, the material that the Old Ones used to make their books with is almost indestructible.  It is similar to paper, but as best I can describe it, it is more like soft pliable glass, spun to a density that makes it impossible even to tear and very hard to cut.  The printing is also not like our own barbaric transfer of inks, the printing in the books in the Vaults is somehow inside the paper, if you scrape the surface you do not touch the printing.  Do not ask me how it was done, I have no idea, but I believe the books the Old Ones made may well have survived ten thousand years and might last another ten thousand from the look of them."

Razarian picked up another plum and smiled at Jarin, waiting for a question.  Jarin shook his head to prove he had no questions and to make him continue, for the younger man was by now completely enthralled.  Razarian continued:   "Well then, what it comes down to is that we have chosen a religion which in all our studies seems to be the most just and the best, if one wishes to have a civilized society.  The name for God in this religion is simply that, God and the prophet, most of them have prophets, sort of leaders or evangelists who take the details to the people, is called Lord.  This chap used a lot of other names depending upon which religion he was appearing in at the time, but the majority opinion was that Lord would best suit our purposes in Khanlar.  His teachings were relatively simple you know, be good', `think of others', `worship God a lot' and so on and his Code of Laws was rather short compared to a lot of the others, but they were sort of all encompassing and did much the same job as any of the others.  Here, (he handed Jarin a document) these are the laws I am talking about."

Jarin read them and had to agree that if everybody in Khanlar followed the Laws as set down on that piece of paper life would be far better and fairer than it had ever been up to now for the people of Khanlar, in fact one could almost expect Justice to be probable rather than possible under such Laws.

"Finished?"  Said Razarian,  "Good, because you will have to learn them by heart.  If you want to change it here and there or make some suggestions, then we will consider it by all means, however our best and brightest have labored for months to arrive at what you have before you."

"No, it seems fine to me."  Jarin said, when he had finished reading the document.

"Good."  The old Guardian smiled,  "Because you are going to have to preach it from now on.  We have decided that you are the person best fitted to be the Lord you see."

"Now just wait a minute. . ."  Jarin said but was interrupted immediately.

"No.  You wait a minute."  The veins on Razarian's temples had all but turned blue and as he fought and was successful in gaining control of his temper, he continued.    "Do you agree that Khanlar would be a better place with that Code of Laws than the one we have right now?

"Well, yes, that's obvious, but. . ."  Jarin said, before the Guardian interrupted him again.

"Of course it would.  And can you see anything wrong with having one God rather than a whole herd of them?"   He waited, saw that Jarin also waited and therefore continued,   "The simple truth of the matter is that someone has to be the Lord and right now you would appear to be the most acceptable candidate.  You have been dead for five years according to the Church propaganda and a lot of these prophets rose from the dead and so on.  And quite honestly who else would you suggest that we trust with the task?  We would spend all our time hoping that some gang of priests would not corrupt him, or the religion, before it had taken hold and served the true purpose of improving the lives of everyone in Khanlar."  He sucked indelicately on the plum stone,  "Let me put it bluntly, if you are going to defeat the priests, their army and their Church and then rule over Khanlar while everything is put into place, you are going to need to be what a lot of the religious books in the archives call `a Prince anointed by God'.  I for one do not see that you have any choice."

They sat quiet for a long time after that, while Jarin's befuddled brains tried to work out what they seemed to have agreed upon and what, by his failure to find an argument, would appear to be his destiny.  At last Jarin gave in.

"All right."  Jarin consented,  "If there is no one else, I suppose I will have to be The Lord."

"Good!"  Said Razarian, as if they had done no more than make a deal to buy and sell a cow.  "The papers are all here, everything you have to know, learn it all by heart. . .  not everyone is going to believe you at first you know. . .  and that's all I have to do with the matter, unless we have to come up with some more Laws or something.  Thank you Prince Jarin.

He smiled, rose to go and joked as a final cynical afterthought,   "May the One and Only God walk with you.

Then Razarian left the room chuckling, leaving Jarin feeling that somehow he had been led like a fool into a trap.  

* * * * * * *   

A Just Code

Jarin read again the Laws of the One and Only God to himself and again by reading them made himself feel better about what he had just agreed to do, for if men and women could only live by these laws then the world would indeed be a better place to live in and bring their children into.  On first reading the Laws had seemed to be very simple, yet as he read them aloud he realized that most good things were very simple and the Laws of the One and Only God were no exception.  It was obvious even to him that only men would be able to make them complicated, yet he also realized that if only one convert a day decided to abide by them as they were written, then in only a short period of time the miracle would perform itself.

As he read them again a great truth dawned in Jarin's understanding.  In Khanlar today no man took personal responsibility for his sins against others, for the Church had for centuries taught that all beneath Heaven was in order with the God's wishes and therefore whatever happened did so with their knowledge.  There was no guilt if one was not found out. There was no innocence without proof likewise.  There was no responsibility for others when the God's demanded all the authority in life, for if there were slavery, poverty, starvation and fear was it not because the God's themselves had decreed that it should be so.  The Laws of the One and Only God changed all that and made every man and woman the guilt or honor bearer for their own actions.  In his rooms that day Jarin read aloud the Laws and without knowing that as he did so, he had effectively ended an era that had lasted for several millennia.  

  * * * * * * *

   The Laws Of The One And Only God

1.             Let no man conspire to bring harm upon another man, nor follow another who shall ask him to bring pain or suffering of any kind upon the innocent.  Let thyself not be led, nor for enjoyment or self-importance, do anything that shall destroy an innocent man's reputation, in his eyes or the eyes of others, nor take his life, nor harm his being in any way for your own or another's ambition or gain.

2.             Respect all men as the creation of the One and Only God that they are and assist them in understanding the ways of good and honorable action and assist them to being better People, so that by their actions they may the more praise the One and Only God who did give to them life within this world.

3.             Give to others what they need, but do not be directed by a selfish wish for praise or recognition.  Neither give to those who are unable to use to good ends the gifts you offer, nor lend, nor borrow, where obligation is created on either side, nor ask for profit from your giving, for to profit from lending to a man what he needs to provide for his loved ones is a sin of greed and shall be punished by hatred in this world and damnation in the next.

4.             Neither steal, nor wish for that which belongs to another, nor plan ways to take it from him by any means, for the wages of avarice are despair.  Nor shall you accept from anyone what you believe to have been stolen from another.  Never take even the love of one person from another person who shall deserve it.  Nor steal from the One and Only God that which is his in all the realms of the Universe.

5.             Protect those who are in need of your protection and defend those who have need to be defended.  Offer friendship to all and have respect and kindness for the young and the old alike, for every living person carries within them a soul entrusted to them by the One and Only God and to injure that soul is to injure the One and Only God also.  Should you knowingly harm a person or allow evil to exist around them, you insult the One and Only God and you shall not be easily forgiven.

6.             Let no man promise nor give his word in any way, that he shall not honor it, for to do so is to be less than a man in the eyes of the One and Only God who brought you into this world with a perfect and unblemished soul.

7.             Cultivate the beauty which God has endowed upon the world and protect every necessary plant and kindly animal, stream and ocean that he has seen fit to put into it's place within creation, for it is a sin to destroy the works of the One and Only God without benefit to his almighty plan.  Plant the desert, cultivate the swamps and remove from all places those abominations which would destroy them.

8.             Each day take the time to contemplate the greatness of the One and Only God and the freedom of thought he has given to every living person in His Creation.  Confess your sins within thyself, understand your weaknesses and look for faith and guidance in the goodness of the One and Only God who knows all that has happened, is happening and will happen and sees all such things with purity and understanding beyond the capabilities of any man.

9.             Introduce cleanliness and goodness into everything you are and everything around you that shall have influence in your daily life, or the daily lives of others, in the name of the One and Only God.

10.           Take not the task of judgment of others motives or ambitions upon yourself, nor give them reasoning to make your misled actions justified.  Yet look upon the truth and accept it as it is in the present and may be in the future and pray the One and Only God shall see it in his wisdom to bring to you guidance in his ways all the days of your life.

11.           Allow none to turn you from the path of goodness and protect those in your guard from temptations to turn aside from honor and goodness.  Drive out of your life those who would corrupt you away from the Laws of the One and Only God and live not with them, nor have dealings with them of any kind lest their evil shall corrupt you.

12.           In all things understand the goodness of what you do and is done by others and how it shall be for the good of all and understand that God gave you life, so that you might in turn give greater life to those of his creations you have power over or influence upon.  Let everything you control, touch or influence be the better for your involvement, for there shall come a day when you shall stand before your maker and rely upon his kindness for your station in the life hereafter.

* * * * * * *

If Not Yourself - Then Who?

The following weeks were like a dream to Jarin, where his brain tried to absorb  strange new ideas the Guardians explained without doubt or pomposity and there were many nights that were full of dreams, dominated by the awesome wonders these wise men had shown to him in the vaults below the palace for him to wonder at.  Jarin walked with Manator, Kayarin or Razarian in the gardens every afternoon, gardens which were even more beautiful than Kirene had described, while he was rehearsing and learning, being coached and taught by these masters into the new ways of thinking they were introducing to him continuously.

His mornings however were spent in physical lessons, his teachers being an old gladiator by the name of Gardor and a nicely arrogant middle-aged horseman called Praeder.  They taught him things that he was naturally more comfortable with, lessons which included every type of combat, from sword play to the art of holding a charging horse with his knees while swinging a battle-axe in either hand and charging down the lists at full gallop, chopping down dummies as he rode.

Jarin was also schooled in court behavior, which was possibly the most demanding of his studies to understand, for more often than not the reason and logic behind the demanding rules totally escaped him.  He was also educated in the process of a court of law, under the code that the Guardians proposed establishing as their plan developed in the reconquest of Khanlar.  He was trained like a man who had been born an adult, with no childhood of learning to direct him, which in truth he was, for his memory of the time before the aftermath of the Battle of Mang was never to return.  Neither had Jarin a family to turn to, but perhaps that was an advantage for there was no softening on the part of his teachers, nor allowance made for his Royal Person, for on Lunza there had been no Royalty to train people into subservience for centuries.

In those days dentists polished his teeth with little brushes and sour tasting grit.  Barbers trained and cut his hair emphasizing the white streak, until it was far more striking than nature had intended.  Finally his beard was also removed, for Manator said he doubted if people would believe he grew it while wandering the meadows of heaven.

Then there came a team of master tailors who created seven uniforms for him, all of which were exactly the same in every detail.  This last point he raised with Manator, for the idea of always wearing the same clothes did not sit well with his newly found interest in fashion.  Razarian explained however, that a legend needed to be known by simplicity or extravagance and the former had been agreed by the Council to be the best for their purposes.  Not that Jarin could criticize the beauty of the clothes the tailors had created, for the cloth was woven to a quality he had never seen anywhere and it's cream color, nearing white, suited his coloring well.  The trim was of gold and silver thread around and over the darkest of blue silk backing cloth and every stitch had been placed perfectly.  Boots, gloves, everything was of the same high quality and he had a sword made for him by a master smith and decorated by the finest of jewelers.  It was perfectly balanced and was worn hung from a shoulder sash, it's polished white gold scabbard decorated with intricate etchings that included the emblem of every Nation in Khanlar.  This fact Jarin discovered when he had to learn the place and Nation of every one by heart.

The island Nation of Lunza was a wonderland to Jarin as he went about his training and with every day he saw how the philosophy and wisdom of the Guardians had enriched the lives of the people who lived there.  The City of Lunza itself and the harbor around which it lay were, he was told, as similar to any other city in Khanlar as they had been able to make it.  Like Asiga had once been, it was famous throughout Khanlar, yet ostentatiousness had been avoided; true every street was lined with identical street lamps, every street was also cobbled and free from dung and dirt, but the technology and styles employed differed only slightly and unnoticeably from that used in other rich cities.  In many ways it reminded Jarin of how Manator had described Asiga, yet it was all that a visitor was allowed to see.

Merchants and seamen who disembarked in Lunza would travel outside of the city only to find a small area of well tended small farms before coming to the great wall which surrounded the great part of the land area of the island and housed the Guardians Palace and grounds.  Some of them would seek an audience with the Guardians and would be allowed into the Gate House, which in all truth was as large and as well equipped as many a Prince's Palace or Administration Hall on the mainland, but very, very few were allowed within the Palace grounds.

Had one of those seafarers or merchants managed to gain entrance they would have stood transfixed by what they saw long enough to be caught by the many guards who patrolled the walls and the grounds, yet as far as anyone knew none ever had gained entry who were not intended to do so.

Inside the walls was a wonderland of parks and man-made creations of beauty, nature, art and architecture which would have convinced any inhabitant of Khanlar proper he was indeed in Heaven itself.  Here great lawns were mowed by machines powered by engines that gained their energy from steam.  Lawns that rolled for miles studded with small houses, statues and trees of great and carefully tended beauty.  Roads, paved with an unusual mixture of what seemed to Jarin to be pitch and small stones ran in perfect symmetry everywhere, lined with the most beautiful cast iron lamp standards and flowering jacaranda trees, poplars, elms and trees in such variety that he did not even know all their names, woodsman though he might be.

And so as the days became weeks, Jarin was groomed and trained in these beautiful surroundings to be what Fate and the Order of Guardians had decided he should be. . .  the Khan of Khanlar.  

* * * * * * *

The Ancient Game of Khanlar


Part of Jarin's training was to learn the ancient Game of Khanlar.  Every person of rank, wealth or intelligence in Khanlar owned a board and the pieces of the game, which was named after civilization itself.  In truth it was a game of power, intellect and strategy, based upon the war tactics of those who had traditionally controlled life on the continent for thousands of years.

Before him that morning stood a board of alternate squares of white and black marble and along two sides were arranged the opposing armies or Nations as they were called by players of the game.  On this occasion his pieces wore the colors of Vanzor and those of his adversary, the Khanlar Master Lantogir, wore the colors of the island State of Lunza.

They were seated in Jarin's apartments, in the great room which served as both sitting room and study to Jarin and Kirene and the great glass doors which led out onto the stone balcony were open, allowing the sunlight to stream in.  The fireplace held only a vase of flowers, and the furniture had recently been polished so that it now exuded a scent of lemon oil and beeswax to compete with the scent of honeysuckle that wafted into the room from the gardens outside.  Further back in the room huge gilt mirrors reflected the scene and the fifteen foot ceiling did not remove that feeling of snugness Jarin felt as they sat at the table immediately in front of the open doors.

"It has always been the practice of great Princes my Lord. . ."  The Master had a droning voice tinged with hauteur,  ". . .to have one set made in their own colors and that of the opposing player in the colors of a great Prince who they truly do oppose at the time, or once defeated in battle.  Sometimes they choose a relative whom they feel they will never have to face in actual warfare or in the case of our Merchant citizens, the opposing Nation could be dressed in the colors of a rival in business."

"Is there a reason why every educated citizen of Khanlar will play Khanlar rather than any other game, Master Lantogir?"  Jarin asked innocently, yet expecting the answer he would most likely get from a man who consistently was placed in the best ten players of the Game now alive.

"There is no other game Sire, which tests every attribute of an intelligent man.  Cunning, skill, bravery and every other vice or virtue in the human experience can be used to play the Game Sire."

He stopped himself short, obviously wishing to expound on his fanaticism with the game as he did so and continued to explain the game to Jarin, touching each piece as he talked.   "It is the Base color of each piece that decides the value of that piece my Lord, yet there are those who fall in love with the carving of a particular piece and sometimes lose the game because of it.  The depiction of the carving is of no importance, only the base color must be considered whenever a move is planned or enacted.

He picked up a particularly beautifully carved piece and ran his forefinger over the carving.   "There are two pieces which must be treated with great concern Sire, if you wish to win the games you play."

"The most useful piece for attack is the Prince and as you will see there is only one such piece in each Nation.  He is always mounted upon a Yellow Base and he can move in any direction it pleases him to move.  Vertically, horizontally or diagonally across the Board.  He may move any number of squares from one to six, any time you care to move him.  Should you lose your Prince Sire, well then your enemy can choose any one of your other pieces left in play, except the Khan obviously and that chosen piece dies with his Prince and is also removed from the board.  It is `removed from the board and forfeit' if you care to quote the rules exactly."

"This piece is your Khan Sire. . ."   Lantogir picked up the tallest piece on the board with a base of solid silver,   "Whatever happens to this piece can win or lose you a game Sire, so one should always be very observant of what is happening towards it.  He can move only one square in any direction, vertically, horizontally or diagonally, which means that most of his time he is being defended by other pieces.  Should the enemy player manage to take your Khan Sire, he immediately assumes the advantage, for he may then replace it upon the Board by removing any one of your remaining pieces, save the Prince of course, which could destroy your previous strategy and leave you grasping for new ideas and a new strategy.  Mind you, should a player ever get into a position where he can enact this exchange, he must immediately warn you.  He must state the words `Khan Threatened!'.  Should he fail to do so, then he can not take your Khan the next move.  Without the warning, there can be no exchange."

"Now we come to the Play Pieces Sire.  Many people use them only to defend their Khan or follow their Prince, but in fact Sire their position on the Board can win or lose a game for you.  They are the pieces that represent your strategy and each one is important, never sacrifice one merely to exchange a piece with your enemy.  That advice has helped me win many a game Sire."

"The Cavalry Piece is the most far reaching of your pieces Sire, it may move either one or five squares in one move, vertically or horizontally across the Board.  You have six such pieces at your disposal and as you see they are identified by their Green Base.  Next to them in power are the Imperial Guard of which you have four, these pieces are identified by their white base and can move vertically or horizontally either one or four squares in a move, as you choose.  The Warriors may move either one or two squares during a move, they have Black Bases as you can see Sire and you have six of them to play with."

"The other two pieces take some getting used to and have won many a game for me Sire.  First of all is the Strike Force with it's Red Base.  These pieces, each player has four in his Nation, have greater flexibility in movement than any other.  They may move any number of squares from one to four in any one move and can do it vertically, horizontally or diagonally.  They have another very important ability Sire, they may jump the enemy formations should you wish.  What that means of course, is that they may count a square occupied by the enemy player during and as part of a move.  No other piece may do this Sire.  If an enemy piece blocks a move then that move can not be played by any piece save the Strike Force."

"The last piece in the game Sire, of which each player has two, are the Scouts with their distinctive Orange Bases.  These pieces may move any number of squares until their way is blocked by another piece, but they can only move diagonally and then only on squares the color of the square they begin the game upon."

Jarin felt his senses reeling as he tried to memorize the moves of each and every piece,  "Lantogir I feel confused already, yet it would seem that once one has learned the rules and moves of each piece, then the game would be a rather boring one of taking an enemy piece and then losing one of yours.  I hardly see great tactical skills involved."

Lantogir's expression visibly paled as Jarin finished saying that, yet he controlled himself and continued.  His tone however had changed and Jarin felt a definite loss of respect from the intense and quietly reserved master.  "The General Rules Sire are simple, but they do add interest to the game. . ."  His voice now carried some sarcasm,  "First of all Sire, no piece may move any number of squares other than those dictated by it's value, as I have just explained.  During a move however any piece may change direction once only, at a right angle to the original direction of the move.  Of course this does not apply to the Khan."

"Of course."  Jarin agreed, trying to win back a little respect for his intelligence, whereas in fact he was rewarded with little more than a sneer.

Lantogir continued,  "All moves are horizontal or vertical, in any direction, East, West, North or South, with the exception of those pieces allowed to take diagonal paths across the Board.  The game begins with the toss of a coin, if you choose right Sire then you would have the choice of the first move.  Many players prefer to have the first move, I however would rather follow another's beginning."  (Jarin felt like saying "Of course" again but refrained rather than get the older man's condescending eyes looking at him as if he was a schoolboy, all boasts and no knowledge.)  "Obviously a player may only move one piece during his turn at play.

The Master waited a moment and then continued,   "After each move the play reverts to one's opponent and so on through the game.  Taking two turns means giving up a piece."  (This time Jarin did slip in an "I understand" and thought he got a half smile, which was much preferable to the previous sneer.)

"The whole point of the game Sire, is to remove every enemy piece from the Board. . ."  (Jarin chanced an "I see" and got away with it.)  ". . .and to take an enemy piece Sire one must end one's move upon the square occupied by the enemy piece you wish to remove from the Board.  It must be immediately removed from the Board of course."

"Is there no way you can buy back a piece if you lose it?"  Jarin asked humorously, only to be replied to with an interested stare prior to the actual answer being forthcoming.

"Yes Sire, you will notice that the two squares occupied at the start of the game by the Khan and the Prince are in fact inset with their symbols.  If the enemy manages to place a piece upon one of those squares during the game, then you must exchange the piece he lands there with any piece he claims from those you have already taken from him."

"Now look at the Board Sire.  There are a total of one hundred and forty four squares, seventy two black and seventy two white, alternately placed.  Each side has twelve squares, six black and six white and at the start of play the square at the far right of your Base Line must always be white."

He began removing his pieces from the Board with great care,  "I will place my pieces now Sire and I suggest you copy me as I do so.  We shall begin with the back line or Base Line, from left to right.  First you have three Warriors, then two Imperial Guards, the Prince, the Khan, then two more Imperial Guards and finally three more Warriors.  In the Front Line, again from left to right, you have one Scout, two Strike Troops, then the six Cavalry Pieces, then two more Strike Troops and finally, one more Scout."

Jarin placed the last Scout in position and then looked up, half expecting praise, but instead he was looking into two of the coldest blue eyes he had ever seen.  When Lantogir spoke again there was vengeance in his tone.  "For the purpose of instruction Sire, I defer to you the first move."


* * * * * * *

An Ancient Knowledge


After almost four months of intensive study and training, three of the wonders that Jarin had been shown in the Archives were explained and demonstrated for him, that is as far as anyone really understood how they worked.  The staffs carried by the Guardians were not totally inanimate he found, for with a touch of a knob just below the crystal's mounting, the crystal would emit a dull red light.  While it glowed it was impossible to come within several feet of the person holding it and a stone thrown at him would never land, for the action of the crystal was to cloak the holder of the staff in a force field not unlike a wall of invisible steel.  Why this was so no-one understood, but it was not everlasting.  The staff would fail after continued use of about twelve hours and then had to be returned to it's stand somewhere in the Archives, to be re-charged by a secret power before it would work again.  Jarin also discovered the reason for there being only one hundred Guardians.  It was very simple, they had only found one hundred staffs when they had opened the vaults.

Far more amazing than the staffs was the Belt of Power, for it did exactly the same thing as the staff, except with far more power and ease for the user.  The wearer of the belt stood inside a cylinder of strength that would stop a crossbow bolt fired from only six feet.  The bolt would meet the power, which circled the wearer about a foot from his body and without any sound or vibration of any kind it would just stop and a moment later fall to the ground it's energy extinguished.  There was no real noise, it just stopped and then fell to the ground.  Inside the power shield the man wearing it could breathe, move as he wished, in fact even a raised arm or out-stretched leg was protected, for the field appeared to adhere to the very skin of the person wearing it.  Once, they told him, it began to rain while they were experimenting with the belt and the wearer got wet, yet a stone thrown at the same time still failed to land on the man.  The belt's power was different from the staffs, in that it was possible to come near and even touch the person wearing it if the wearer thought that they should be able to touch him.  It had no visible effect, on or off there was no difference the eye could see in the wearer.  The most interesting fact however was that the belt had a much longer life than the staffs.  It would, he was assured, keep it's power for at least three months of continuous use before it would need to be returned to it's box in the Archives to replenish itself.  There was only one belt and Manator explained that it was for Jarin's use only and in fact he instructed him to wear it at all times outside of his rooms so that he might become accustomed to it.  The belt was constructed from tiny golden links and was narrow, no more than a hand's breadth wide, interwoven with glass threads no thicker than horse hair, giving it's appearance that of a heavy, almost luminous cloth.  The belt joined at the front in a blue, almost black, box the thickness of his finger, which appeared to be made of some kind of dense, warm glass.  On the box was a round plate, almost invisible to the eye and a touch of that plate would turn the belt on or off.  The only difference between the two states being that when it was turned off there was no feeling at all, but when it was on a slight pulse was felt on the body of the wearer, directly behind the box itself.

The third wonder almost blinded him the first time it was demonstrated.  It was a narrow black cylinder about the length of a man's forearm, with one small dark red knob which activated it.  Jarin was invited to press the button and when he did the thing cast forth a light from the end nearest the button that was as bright as a small sun and far stronger than a thousand oil lamps.  It was a white light, blue on the fringes of it's power and the beam carried across several acres that dark evening when they first tested it for him.  He was informed that, just like the other devices, it had a limited lifetime of only forty hours, after which it would need to be returned to it's box in the archives to be recharged.  Jarin's tailor had fashioned two small pockets in his tunic, whose purpose Jarin had wondered on before, but which perfectly contained the pair of cylinders Manator now entrusted into his keeping, saying,   "There are many other such devices and strange objects in the room where we found these you see today Jarin.  Of most there is but one specimen and we are somewhat afraid of them and we understand fully only the three we have shown you today.  In time we may discover the use of other things but for now that is all that we have to help you Jarin."

Manator smiled almost sadly and continued talking to Jarin as they walked back to the Palace from the dark meadow where they had just experimented with the light-lance.  "And now it is time to put our plans into action.  Our people are already training many of the refugees and they will bring many more back from Khanlar to learn the ways of new warfare tactics, which have become known to us from our studies.  They will in time become a unified force of men who can work inside the discipline essential to any army.  When you need them Jarin they will be ready to serve you."

The others lagged behind them politely, allowing Manator and Jarin to talk privately.  After a while the Guardian General placed a hand upon Jarin's arm and continued,   "Tomorrow the Arrow will take you into Khanlar.  With you will go a force of Guards who have trained for a long time to be ready for this task.  You will be put ashore to the north of the City of Cimar and then you will make your way to the Monastery town of Kiba.  On the night of the New Year you will walk into that City alone and play the part of `The Lord' you have rehearsed these many months.  At the same time every important temple in Khanlar will have a silver bell laid on it's steps, along with a scroll proclaiming you have preached in Kiba and another containing the Laws of the One and Only God.  Those who deliver these scrolls will have no memory of it the moment the task is done, for we have practiced an ancient art upon them which will take away the memory of their actions the moment after they have played their part in our plan.  Even now they do not know that they are bound to do this thing and if questioned would not know where they have hidden the bell and scrolls entrusted to them.  When you have preached at Kiba you will return to the coast and the Arrow will bring you back here.  A few days from now it will be done and our first strategy will begin to weaken the power of the Church, just as rust will eat away iron once it has taken hold.  It will be a slow process, but one that will do more harm to their position than any army could ever hope to do, for it will destroy the very basis for their power in the long run of things."

He paused and added quietly,  "There is no turning back after you preach at Kiba Jarin.  You must understand that my boy."  The obvious question hung on the air.

"I understand, Manator.  I will not fail you after all that you have done and I trust you all in your programming of this matter."  Jarin smiled then and asked,  "But exactly how do you suggest I walk out of Kiba after the show and return secretly to the coast.  Will not someone want me to stay around to answer a few questions?

"Hah.  I forgot!"  Manator clapped him on the shoulder,  "After you deliver the sermon you and Razarian will rehearse tonight, you will tell them that any man, woman, child or even an animal that follows you will be struck by the golden bolt fired by the angels of the One and Only God.  The men who travel with you shall surround the city and each of them is a marksman with the crossbow and they will have bolts that are fitted with heads of solid gold.  We are certain however, that the fear which you will be able to inspire will give you ample time to get away Jarin."

"I hope so."  Jarin said,  "Otherwise all this work may go to waste because some hysterical servant or over zealous foot soldier decides to become famous by killing the New Prophet."

They both laughed at this somewhat frightening joke, but they managed to return to the palace in good humor.  

 * * * * * * *

A Journey Abroad  

When the time came for Jarin to leave Lunza and travel back to the mainland, his most difficult act was to bid Kirene goodbye.  The time spent in the Guardian's Palace had had their effect upon Kirene and Jarin had watched the change in her with a mixture of pride and worry as it had taken place.  She was no longer the unsophisticated, innocent Kirene that he had known for so many years, she was not even the Kirene she had been the day they had arrived.  Her new friends seemed always to be either leaving or entering his rooms and her preoccupation with clothes, hair styles and her lessons with her tutors seemed to be even more important to her than his preordained leaving her, so that he might fulfill his own duties to the Cause. 

Manator had promised him that she would remain in their rooms until he returned and that she would be treated as she had been from the very first day, as his Lady.  He also promised that her schooling would continue, for she was already beginning to write as if she had been born the daughter of a Prince and read, seemingly with ease, from the books her tutors loaned to her.  She hid well whatever insecurity she held within her, far better these days than she would have been able to hide only a few weeks before and she promised to work hard and think of him until he returned.

Jarin knew she would prefer him to spend more time with her and he often apologized for not being able to do so, yet she seemed to be less affected these days when he was called away for some reason or another.  Her belly was already beginning to swell into ripe plumpness, that soon would become the obvious sign of her female abilities.  Her breasts had enlarged somewhat also and her skin showed a bloom that cried out her healthy status to everyone.  Jarin's protective instincts for her well-being and happiness had increased ten-fold since she had informed him that he was to have an heir, yet he continued to feel that with every day their closeness was quietly slipping away from them.

The next morning Jarin was woken by the same servant as always and ate his breakfast alone, Kirene having left their apartments with her ladies in waiting before he sat down.  When he had finished his meal he dressed in his uniform with the assistance of his servant and as the man laid out Jarin's cloak across a chair near the door, Sandar arrived.

Captain Sandar was resplendent in his own uniform and snapped a salute at Jarin even as the servant retired from their presence.  The Natanese soldier, it had transpired over the months that Jarin had been in Lunza, had served Prince Jarin in the Great War and they had shared many battles together before the Captain had been captured at the battle of Kavir's Holding.  After being taken prisoner Sandar had been sentenced to serve a lifetime's sentence in the prison camp of Manortir, which had been established for Brotherhood officers by the Church in the Nation of Rigan.  Sandar had served in chains in that vile place until a month after the war had ended, at which time he had been sentenced to death.  Not wishing to see his life end and knowing his Cause to have been defeated, Sandar had eased his hands out of the by then too large manacles and squeezed the life out of one of his guards before taking to the forest.  Two months later he had gone into hiding in the Nation of Zoria south of the waterway. 

A year after he had escaped that prison to become an outlaw Sandar had discovered that not one member of his immediate family had survived the war and he had become reckless in the direction of his hatred towards the Church and it's priests.  One particularly stupid action, which had sent two priests to the afterlife, had resulted in his capture and imprisonment in the city jail in Bizon.  It was there that he met a fellow prisoner who suggested he get to Lunza should he ever have the chance.  By happen-chance and a string of almost incredible coincidences, Sandar did in fact escape his captors while they were transporting him back to Ka for his public execution and some weeks later had arrived in Lunza to be co-opted by the Guardians into their scheme for the future.

That morning however he presented himself as a career officer to Jarin, his past life lost somewhere in decades of service to the Royal House of Natan and the two of them proceeded to travel by coach to the harbor with few words of conversation.

The Arrow was tied alongside the quay, straining against it's mooring ropes as they arrived for the foresail was already dropped and full of wind, waiting for the ship to be released so that it could pull them out of the harbor and into the open sea, where it's brothers the main sails would be dropped to gather up the wind and carry them ever faster towards their adventures.  

* * * * * * *

The Khan's Guard


On boarding the Arrow Jarin met the men who were to travel with him to Kiba and protect his escape and if it was possible for a group of individual men to be uniform in appearance, then these men were definitely so.  Although they were of about the same height and wore the same uniforms, there was something else that identified them from other men which he could not immediately put his finger on.  They were not of the same coloring, yet they acted as if they all came from the same family and had shared the same lives and experiences since they had been boys, but above everything it was obvious from the moment you met them that they trusted each other completely.

Jarin recognized the welcoming party immediately as the same men who had silently left the Council Chambers after his arrival to meet the assembled Guardians for the first time, which now seemed to him to be a long time ago.  Their uniforms must have been made to match his own, for the tunics and trousers were exactly the same in cut and design, and if they were not so finely made it was not noticeable.  In fact he doubted any clothes made in the past thousand years matched the craftsmanship of the ones he now wore.  The colors of his Guard's uniforms however were reversed to his own, theirs were dark blue with a silver trim and their helmets of blue steel carried dark blue horse hair crests.  Their weapons were housed in dark blue leather scabbards and even their crossbow cases were of a matching design and coloring.  It was of course obvious to everyone that they and Jarin were without doubt of the same company. 

Sandar wore a small silver disc on his left breast and on either side of his collar and his cuffs carried an extra line of silver braid, looped elegantly almost twelve inches up either arm.  His helmet plume of dark blue carried an extra central stripe of pure white.  It was Sandar who led Jarin towards the assembled soldiers who awaited them, stood to attention, in two well disciplined ranks.  Sandar moved ahead of Jarin in the last few steps, took his appointed position in front of the soldiers and turned on his heel to snap to attention as Jarin reached them.  His fist came up to his chest in well practiced perfection.  He stood as straight as a man can stand and his blue eyes glowed with pride.   "Prince Jarin, the Khan's Guard is at your service Sire.  Would you do me the honor of meeting your personal Guard, Sire?"

Jarin smiled, nodded and in as relaxed a manner as he could muster, he followed Sandar's smart about turn and measured paces, back to the beginning of the first rank.  As they did so Jarin felt the ship lurch, telling them that it was moving away from the dock.  One by one he was introduced to each of the men by name, however something told him if he offered his hand he would lose face, so Jarin merely nodded and smiled and soon the introductions were done with.  The Captain of the Arrow came then and rescued him from indecision as to what to do or say next, by taking Sandar and himself below decks to his cabin.  A little later when he went for his noon-time meal, Jarin found four guards outside the door.  Two stayed where they were, two followed a few respectful paces behind him, as if expecting at any moment that a gang of assassins would fall upon him.  Throughout his meal they stood quietly behind his chair and when he made to leave one of them moved his chair to allow him to stand with dignity.  Everyone at the table then stood, something they had not done on his previous trip and Jarin realized that the guards gave him an importance no title could ever bestow.  These men were obviously loyal almost to the point of worship and he wondered if perhaps Manator had worked a little of the ancient art on them also.

The trip was uneventful, for they sailed well clear of the coast and passed not closer than a thousand yards within another vessel and both times that they did encounter another ship Jarin was below decks and the Guards well out of sight.  They passed the City of Araz a little after sunset, when the lights of the town were only a speck of fire in the distance and then they began tacking to come ashore at the predetermined place that had been chosen by Manator.  The moon was in it's first quarter but even so they saw nothing of it for the night was overcast.  At last Jarin was called and the Arrow's boats carried them ashore through lead colored swells, beaching in a small sandy cove protected by a low rise of cliffs.

No sooner had the boats ground into the sand, than he was carried ashore in the cradle of two Guardsmen's arms.  The boats then returned to the ship, their well greased oar-locks making no sound at all and he noticed for the first time that all they had brought ashore with them were their weapons.  Before he made a fool of himself and asked Sandar what they were going to eat during their long walk, a bird call sounded from atop the cliff.  It was returned by one of the shore party and immediately the sound of horse's hooves on sand came to him.  In seconds four more Guardsmen appeared leading horses towards them.  Jarin was again introduced and received the usual salutes, before he noticed there were four pack horses well loaded for whatever their needs had been assessed at for the journey ahead of them.  Jarin realized just how close he had come to looking foolish, for he immediately remembered the boats leaving the Arrow as they were coming up onto deck, prior to his setting out for the shore, carrying the horses and a contingent of his men.  Obviously they had been charged to check out that the landing would be both safe and secret, which would explain why they had left the beach prior to Jarin's own party making landfall.

They had been on land no more than a few minutes before Captain Sandar was leading them up a small incline, over the cliffs and across country at a steady gallop.  The Guards even rode in formation and the track or road they followed through the forest allowed them to ride two abreast and in that manner they traveled until the first golden glow of dawn appeared in the east.  The moon was in it's last quarter that night, giving their passage a feeling of strange omens being at work, as they crossed the deserted landscape.  The sun had almost breached the horizon when one of the Guards who had met them on the beach and had since served as their guide, whistled what was obviously a signal and the whole column turned towards the dawning east and a secluded clearing that guarded a small pool.

The organization of their expedition had been exact, for they entered that clearing and rode into the camp just as the sun sent it's first rays across the land.  Well hidden from any passing stranger was a small clutch of tents and within it stood four more Guardsmen, making Jarin wonder exactly how many had gone ahead of them.  Although it had been obviously constructed in haste it was also obvious that good intelligence had chosen this location well in advance, for the clearing was perfectly suited to their need for secrecy.  The newcomers horses were patiently tethered at the line which accepted those of the newly arrived troop, and several of the guardsmen took the responsibility for wiping the mounts down and removing their equipment prior to feeding and watering them.  After a breakfast of bread, cold meats, cheese and fresh water, perimeter guards were posted and they all retired to sleep away the day.

Jarin and Sandar watched as the men retired to the tents sat together near the stream, and it was some moments before Jarin broached the silence with conversation.   "I take it you know the reason for our mission as well as I Sandar?"

"No Sire.  I merely know that I must follow the carefully described orders I have been given and deliver you to the gates of Kiba.  What you are to do there I have no notion Sire.  But when you have done whatever it is you have to do, I am then to deliver you back to Lunza.  Those are my orders Sire.  I know nothing more than that, nor do I believe I need to Sire."

"Spoken exactly the way I would expect Captain Sandar."  Jarin replied,  "Would it be too forward of me Captain to ask if you were always a military man?"

Sandar looked a little puzzled at the question, but shrugged and answered it in a very careful voice,  "My Lord, I serve your highness, and in answer to your question I have done so since I was sixteen when I entered the Natan Militia like my father and grandfather before me.  I was in my ninth year of service to your father, Gods rest his soul, when you were born Sire.  I was an alter guard when you were named and I served you for the first year of the Great War, when you led our Legion against the Church invaders from the east.  Fact is I feel like I am keeping my promise to your father right now Sire, for he charged me with your safety just before he died.  When I found out you were missing after the War I took it personal for a long time."

"You know that I have no memory of anything before I woke up after the Battle of Mang?"  Jarin asked, noting the way Sandar averted his eyes as if the older man somehow felt guilty for what had happened.  "To hear you talk of my father gives me a strange feeling Captain for I know nothing of him at all, save what I have been told.  In fact if I were to meet him I would not know him, nor my own mother. . ."  Something happened to his voice and Jarin felt as if he had swallowed his own phlegm for a moment as he struggled to bring more words forth and continue the conversation.

"You need only have pride for your parents my Prince. . ."  Sandar obviously felt compassion by his tone and movements.  ". . .they were fine people and I for one never heard a word against them in all my years of service.  You come of fine stock Prince Jarin, on your father's side is a millennium of honor and your mother was the finest daughter Prince Zorigan had, she was a most beautiful and kind lady Sire. . ."  Sandar's voice seemed to break,  "Sire, there will be many times when we will be able to talk, however right now my Prince I would suggest we retire, for the hour grows late and tonight we shall have a distance to travel before you may perform the deed you have been sent hence to do."

Jarin noted that Sandar's eyes were wet as he stood up and brushed himself off and as the two of them walked to their separate tents he truly felt closer to another person than he had since his days on Havor's Holding before he had met Manator.  

* * * * * * *

 Miracle at Kiba

 Just before sunset they were woken and ate again, then the camp was dismantled and the enlarged party mounted up and rode slowly southward again under the protection of the night.  The monastery of Kiba is a walled town halfway between Araz and Samur on the road which runs through the old forest of the Cimar peninsula.  It had been built centuries before on Church land where the borders of the four states come together and had served for many years as a fort manned by an Order of Warrior monks whose honors were now long forgotten.  Jarin and his party camped an hour before dawn not a mile from the walls of Kiba, where six more Guardsmen had waited prepared for their arrival. 

Jarin knew that the next time the sun set it would be time for him to perform the task they had journeyed here to carry out.  He did not sleep well the following day and during the afternoon when sleep was impossible, he watched his Guards preparing for the mission ahead.  Every piece of equipment was checked many times and finally each man laid out his crossbow and Jarin could not lose a feeling of admiration at the professionalism of his men, as those weapons of death were prepared with the care a mother would give to her newborn infant.  Patience is a trait of military men he had learned somewhere and in a world where short bursts of action are separated from each other by long periods of inaction, he understood the need to be able to develop the talent exactly.

Jarin was happy when Captain Sandar silently motioned for him to join him and they preceded to the small rise where Sandar's telescope allowed Jarin to examine the city he was soon to make famous, or infamous, depending upon your point of view.  The forest around Kiba had been cleared eons ago and generations of sheep had molded the land about it's moat into a carpet of the greenest of grass.  From that mantle the city itself rose like a monolith carved of dark red ironstone, quarried from the mountains to the east for which the region was famous.  It's towering vertical walls topped with ancient parapets gave it the look of an eternal watchtower reaching it's lookout stations high above the swath of forest it commanded.  It seemed deserted from the distance they watched it from, however Jarin had been told be Razarian that it housed no less than five hundred monks who lived and breathed the very doctrine that he was now being groomed to replace.

At last the sun dipped behind the horizon and as the night deepened, his guards mounted up and left in pairs at five minute intervals, to take up their positions surrounding the town.  There was a finality in the way his men went into the night, going forth to ensure that no one left Kiba to give them away before the mission had been completed.  As midnight approached only Jarin, Captain Sandar and eight other Guards remained in the now deserted clearing in the small wood which had hidden them that day.  These men would go with him to within two hundred yards of the gates of Kiba, so that they would be able to protect his retreat and hold the horses on which they would make their way back to the coast.  At last Captain Sandar came to Jarin, he saluted and with a perfect economy of words, said quietly,  "It is time, my Lord."

"Thank you Sandar, I am ready."  It sounded trite, but it was said and Jarin mounted his horse, held patiently by one of his guards and followed the good captain as they rode with their companions to the small rise in the ground which would hide the horses from any inquisitive eyes in the town.  The care of planning which had obviously gone into this mission reassured Jarin greatly, even down to picking the approach and finding this small ridge which would give the Guards a good vantage point for protecting his retreat.  Jarin dismounted, never taking his eyes from the shadows that were the walls of Kiba and then he carefully dressed himself in the flowing white cloak brought along for this very moment.  He checked his devices and when he could not think of any reason why not to get on with his part in the plan, he started walking towards the gates of Kiba without a word to his companions.

The City was completely dark as Jarin approached it.  The days when this place had been a military settlement had slipped into history many years ago, yet even today it's great walls protected it well from any attack by outlaws.  The Cimar peninsula was not a place where remnants of the Brotherhood ventured either, for it was far from their homelands and easily policed by the Church Army, therefore no guards nervously paced the walls of this place.  Jarin had been told that the Priests and Monks of such towns rose at dawn and retired with the sun and obviously in the case of Kiba this held true.  As he walked he turned on the Belt of Power and took the two light-lances from his pockets and all of a sudden the whole affair seemed more than a little ridiculous.  Jarin knew his speech well enough, he must have rehearsed it a hundred times even after he was word perfect and he expected the devices he was equipped with to both gain the inhabitants attention and protect him from them afterwards, for other than the daggers he carried in his boots Jarin was unarmed.  Even so there was a feeling of foolhardiness in just one man walking into a sleeping city of priests and monks to announce a new God and then hope to be able to just walk away when it was done.  It was too late for second thoughts however, for before he was ready for it he already stood before the gates of Kiba and in a few minutes it would be midnight.

Jarin suddenly found that he wanted to laugh.  What if they would not let him in?  Even as he thought it however, the gate started to open and an old man opened the way for him into the city.  No sooner than he was inside, stepping carefully through the small portal gate set in the right gate, than the old man walked away leaving the portal gate open behind him.  He had said nothing and had not appeared to have even seen Jarin.  More of Manator's ancient art no doubt.  Then Jarin was alone in the street and the man had gone back to his bed, obviously completely unaware of what he had just done.  Jarin held a light lance in each hand and found himself walking along the stone paved street towards the public square, which stood in the center of this small town.  It was just as the plans he had been shown had said it would be and soon he was standing on the raised stone platform in the center of the square, where only hours before a Priest had preached evening prayers to the faithful who lived in this place.  The red-yellow ironstone buildings around the square remembered times when this had been a military settlement.  Three stories high, the walls facing the square were only graced with small slits of windows, each guarded by an iron grill.  The doors were of aged oak, studded with the heads of heavy bolts which no doubt held hinges and drop bars that would stand against a battering ram for hours.  Jarin could see the city gates from where he stood, guarding the entrance to a street some fifty feet wide and lined with houses which duplicated the architecture of those in the square.  The only exits from that street or the square itself were very narrow alleyways lined by high walls from which the defenders could hurl rocks or pour boiling oil upon any invaders trying to navigate these cramped little streets and doing it all from the safety of the rooftops.  Like a place carved from one stone block it echoed a past long gone when armed monks expected attack and invasion, but the years had mellowed it's harsh lines, rain had softened the heavy walls and peoples feet had softened the hardness of it's pavements.  Here and there a pot held geraniums, or a small and ancient fruit tree was outlined against the stone.  The yew trees planted at each corner of the square to produce straight grained wood to manufacture long bows had matured over the centuries into stately giants.  Tonight Jarin felt the history of this place, knowing that from this moment on this night would be written into every history book in Khanlar and known to young children for all time to come, no matter the outcome of his own actions this night.

"Well . . ."  Jarin thought, ". . . this is it!" 

His thumbs touched the buttons and the lances sent forth their blinding white beams of light.  He waved them about sending the screaming silent light into every alley, every window, in fact across every surface they could reach.  Shouts came immediately.  Then screams.  Then doors flew open, shutters were thrown wide, lights appeared in almost every window and frightened faces were caught in the flashing light dancing across the surfaces of plaster and stone.  He turned both lances off at the same moment and the sudden return to darkness brought even more desperation into the voices of his audience.

Jarin waited until the noise had died and then he turned the lances back on, pointing them down at the ground, so that he was standing in a reflecting halo of pure white light.  He must have looked terrifying to them, yet when he asked them to come forward and hear him, they came like sheep to the slaughter.

"Let every man, woman and child come forth and bear witness to my words."

How they came.  Some dragged themselves into the square, only a breath away from terror driving them into a faint.  Some ran shouting praise to one God or another.  Some were drawn against their best judgment by others too frightened to walk alone.  But they all came and soon the whole population of Kiba was gathered around him, many of them muttering prayers they obviously hoped would protect them.  Standing on that cold stone platform, surrounded by light and a crowd of several hundred frightened people, Jarin started the words that he had practiced for so long.

"Come near to me my children, for I bring you the greatest news mankind has ever heard and to you I will trust the message of the One and Only God.  I bring the Word to Kiba, to you who have led so many along the path of lies and wickedness, words that shall save all the children yet to be born into the evil of this world.

His words echoed off the walls around him in that crowded silence, amplified by the fear of his audience and the towering stone walls around him, as he looked out on a sea of wide open eyes and dropped jaw gaping mouths. 

"You have been chosen to bring this news to the Nations, for a new day comes and you are it's messengers.  You are entrusted to go forth and lead the wicked and the ignorant into the heart of the One and Only God."

He paused for effect and saw those awed faces before him, waiting on his every word. 

"There is but one God.  All other gods and demons are the evil lies which lead men to the doom of eternal horror.  False priests have guided you in terrible beliefs.  Pass away from those liars and sinners.  Denounce them with your voices and offer your hearts to the One and Only God.  Call upon him for his guidance and you shall be saved from evil."

Like a thunderstorm building Jarin felt the emotional panic growing around him, yet he breathed evenly as he had been taught and spoke slowly and carefully as he had practiced it all so many times. 

"I bring you his Code of Laws.  You shall obey these Laws, even though you first shall suffer great torment to gain understanding.  For he who does not follow the Laws of the One and Only God shall know His terrible vengeance and anger when this mortal life shall end and you shall pass into eternity and His unending judgment."

Jarin took another pause, watching them watching him and already he saw that some of the faces were reacting against a change in beliefs they had held for a lifetime. 

"I have been dead, with no memories, no Past, no Future, no intelligence of anything save the Goodness of the Truth He gave me and now I bring the Truth to you that are alive and for this shall you first hate and despise me before my God shall make you Brothers and Sisters in his Truth.  And all of this shall be in the space of a breath or the agony of Eternity, yet you shall accept this Truth and you shall be clean of all your sins and then and only then, shall your evil ways be forgiven."

Then with careful deliberation on each and every word, just as he had practiced it so many times in his apartments and in the gardens back on Lunza, Jarin repeated the Laws of the One and Only God.  His voice took on the anger of an irate father at times, while at others he spoke with the sincerity of an old friend advising the actions he would proscribe with the sincere intention of helping and guiding one who is tempted to make a mistake. 

Then it was over.  The speech ended.  The words were finished.  The act was done.  And the moment was electric, the silence pounding upon every ear in that place, with the thunder of all those hearts beating in unison.

"What is your god's name?"  The single question came from where Jarin knew not.

"The One and Only God is God, his name is secret from men, yet he is in the heart of every man, woman and child.  His name is Truth to those who are just and noble, it is Comfort to the weak, Salvation to those who suffer in mind or body and it is Vengeance to those who choose to disown Him and the Truth of His ways.  He is the One and Only God and has no other name but God."

"What is your name?"  A different voice.

"I am the Lord.  I am the Prince Jarin of Natan, who was dead and has risen again to bring the armies of the just and righteous into battle against the evil of this world."

That did it!  Like one man they drew back from him.  He waited, for Razarian had predicted this would happen and what would happen next.

The spear came from out of the darkness with an ease of flight that would have driven it through his body had he not been protected by the Belt of Power.  Instead it stopped a foot from his chest and clattered to the ground.  Stones followed, a knife or two, a club of wood and yet another spear and worse than any weapon, a moaning came forth from them as they realized that nothing could touch him.  Panic was near, the time was now!

"Fear not my children.  You understand not what you do.  It is Fear and the evil teachings of evil men, that drives you to kill the messenger of the One and Only God.  Yet I cannot be killed by mortal man while I have the protection of His wisdom and goodness.  Fear not, for I forgive you your doubts.  I forgive you your fear.  Rise up within yourself and see that a New Age is dawning for you and your children and for all of Mankind.  Take up His Crusade and proclaim the Laws of the One and Only God across the length and breadth of this Land."

They were cowering now.  They knew beyond any doubt whatsoever that they were thoroughly beaten.  They were also of course, suffering from more confusion than any thinking person should ever be subjected to.  This was the moment that Razarian had predicted would come and Jarin followed his directions to the letter as he thumbed the light lances alive, even as he threw up his hands as if in surrender and wound his arms around his head, sending arcs of flashing light silently screaming over the frightened faces of beings too confused and too scared to run.

"Now must I return to that place from where I came and He shall make me a man amongst men again to lead His host.  I give you a warning, you who are the first to hear the Word.  This night is for solitude and silence.  Let no living thing leave this City before the sun rises.  For any man, woman or child that ventures forth this night shall be struck down by the golden bolt of the Lord.  For tomorrow shall the World come to you and ask you about what has happened here.  Bid all who come to wait the coming of the Twelve who shall come to lead you, the Chosen in the Truth of Truth.  Tell only what you have seen and heard within the coming of the Lord of the true God's Light."

They nodded, they cried, they bowed, they accepted.  Jarin continued, wishing the practiced words would soon end,

"With the rising of the sun this New Day and on the seventh day for all time, you shall pray for guidance in the Ways of the One and Only God and you shall judge yourselves against his Laws."

One down, two to go he thought as they accepted without question or word.  He raised his arms slowly until the beams of light executed an everlasting 'V' into the heavens above him.  Then bringing both arms together in front of him he pointed the light lances towards the city gates, which reflected the light as if the sun itself was shining upon them.

"Each morning raise your arms to the sky and repeat every Law that the One and Only God has given to you, so that he may know that amongst all men you accept your responsibility to make His Laws the only rule of your life."

Last one!

"In the morning when you have given your thanks to the One and Only God and have promised your life to him and the service of his people, you shall find outside of the Gates of Kiba the most Holy Scroll which contains the Laws of the One and Only True God in a silver casket.  And those of you that the One and Only True God shall call as his messengers shall leave this place and you shall go to your brothers in all of the Nations to tell them what you know.  For you have been chosen to do this great thing."

Leaving the platform, Jarin walked without haste towards the gate.  The crowd parted to let him through and although one or two hands reached out to touch him, they felt only the cold hardness of the Belt's power and several fainted away for their boldness.  After what seemed like an hour's deliberate march he reached the open gates which the old man had returned to close behind him.  Through the gates Jarin walked, noting that the old man had already placed outside them the silver casket containing the scroll bearing the Laws of the One and Only True God.  Then the gates closed behind him and he measured his steps through the silence towards the place where his companions waited for him.

No one had made to follow him.  He had turned off the light lances as he had passed through the gateway and in a practiced movement had reversed his cloak exposing the dark blue lining and thrown it's hood over his head.  To anyone looking out from the wall behind him he was now invisible.

He reached the rise where Captain Sandar and the others waited for him and jumped into the hollow behind it.  He was sweating from the emotional exertion he had just gone through, but when he finally dared to look back he saw that the gates of Kiba had remained closed.

"Time to leave Captain."  Jarin said in the nearest thing to a calm voice he could manage.

"Yes my Lord."  Captain Sandar replied, equally without emotion.  The horses were brought to them and soon they were heading north at the gallop, joined as they traveled by the others of their company.  

* * * * * * *

 A Quiet Garden

 Six weeks had passed since Jarin had gone down into Kiba and announced himself to it's inhabitants as The Lord and had proscribed the One and Only God.  Six weeks since a crowd of frightened priests, monks and nuns, Church servants and their wives and children had cowered in front of the Indestructible Lord and had tried to murder him, only to find that due to ancient magic he was indeed indestructible.  For himself it had been six weeks of recrimination, guilt and mental acrobatics, knowing that the Twelve leaders of this new religion had already left Lunza and were at this moment creating an underground religion based upon his actions at Kiba.

Jarin knew of course that he was not The Lord, he was merely a man who had said he was, supported by a mysterious belt which somehow manufactured a cloak of pure force around it's wearer.  He had proclaimed a Code of Laws, which some very human men had developed and drawn up from old books about forgotten religions that might, or more probably might not, have been true.  The result of everything was that he now felt lost in a set of circumstances he was unable to control or change.  He wondered sometimes if there were indeed any God or Gods and if so, why had He or They, allowed such a thing to happen?  Why had he not been struck down with a lightning bolt while he addressed the monks of Kiba?  Since he had returned to Lunza there had been many nights when he had woken in the middle of the night from nightmares, where he faced that faceless True God and found Him to be either a senile old man, or a group of self-centered animalistic brutes, who took pleasure in having him lead the innocent fools who believed in his words, towards an even greater deception than their own priests had been able to manufacture before Jarin had come on the scene.

Immediately after Jarin had left Khanlar aboard the Arrow, the Twelve Teachers had begun their work to gain converts.  How the Guardians had convinced them, trained them or gained their agreement to undertake such dangerous work, he had no idea.  In fact when he was given the details he had to admit he had been shocked far more than he would have thought possible.  The Twelve Teachers were in fact Priests, men who had scant months before had believed, or at least supported, the doctrine of the old Church.  Somehow they had been convinced to throw off a lifetime's belief and go out into the land dressed in simple dark blue robes to preach the new Laws, protected by nothing save the fact that they were still Priests in the eyes of the Church authorities, in theory at least.

News of the success of the Twelve Teachers was brought to Jarin regularly and with each report he realized just how much effort and thought had been given to their training.  They obviously tried to convert no one by the usual fear of Hell and threats of bad luck used by the established Church for generations.  Instead they moved through the land teaching The Laws, living with the people, teaching them the simple things that poor people always need to be taught.  They explained the importance of cleanliness and hygiene, they encouraged cooperative effort, taught men how to sign their own name and generally acted in the ways of kindly old men, eager to share their knowledge with everyone and to spend their lives helping their fellow man.  They were also doctors, all of them according to Jarin's sources and had been given some of the secrets of the Guardians to improve their abilities in dispensing advice and medicine.  The acts they performed with that teaching appeared, by all reports, close to the miracles they were declared to be by the people who witnessed their healing efforts.  They did not attack the belief of these simple folk in the old Parthenon of Gods either, but instead suggested that the One and Only God was in fact the Supreme Being in whom the Gods themselves believed.  It was a simple strategy of acquisition of supporters within the old framework of religion, that eventually would render all other Gods and Goddesses unnecessary and from all that Jarin was told, it appeared that the strategy of the Guardians was working.

Since the event at Kiba that dark night, nothing had been the same.  From the moment Jarin had returned to Lunza it seemed that everywhere he went the common folk seemed to have experienced an increase in their awe of him and therefore, the consequence of what he had done.  Heads bowed, eyes followed his every move, one foolish sailor even touched his arm, perhaps to prove that he was indeed flesh.  Poor fool only did so to find his fingers suspended by an invisible barrier some three inches from Jarin's sleeve and he promptly collapsed into a dead faint.  Even in Lunza some of the people he met, who by no means could be ascribed to be members of the uneducated lower classes, made fools of themselves as he went forth in the town by dropping to one knee and bowing their heads, or by putting their right hand on their hearts in salute.  It was fast coming to be like living inside a glass bubble.  Jarin soon discovered that he was regarded as special, saintly or even omnipotent, everywhere he went, while his true heart sought for an understanding of it all.  He was no different.  Jarin found that he desperately needed to prove to himself that he was still himself.  He knew that it had all been just tricks, however to tell the truth would be to prove himself a liar and a charlatan and he found that he despised the idea of being known as a liar even more than he despised himself for being one.

The result was that soon after his return Jarin had begun to keep himself apart from others whenever possible.  Where before he had talked, now he preferred to listen.  You can neither lie, nor be caught out, by only listening he soon discovered.  He also found himself becoming comfortable only in his own company and very uncomfortable with anyone else.  After two weeks Jarin came upon a pavilion in a secluded area of the gardens, surrounded by a high wall and protected by an ornate iron gate.  He ran to it's safety the way a child will run to hide beneath his mother's skirts and soon he rarely left the place.  His Guardsmen still protected him, even without spoken orders and every moment of the day no less than six of them kept his new found haven private from all would be visitors.  Occasionally people would come to see him, but when the Guards called to announce them and he did not reply, his guards never allowed whoever it was to come through the gate.

It was six weeks to the day and for four of them Jarin had spoken to no-one, not even Kirene who came silent, wet-eyed and uncomprehending to be with him every day.  She would sit with him there, having dropped into silence after he had been unable to answer her worried questions on the first visit.  He had even taken to sleeping in the pavilion.  Then Manator came to the garden.  The Guard called out the fact that the Guardian General had come to visit him and as usual Jarin kept silent but it took more than six large Guardsmen to keep Manator from going where ever he wished to go.  Jarin watched as they tried to restrain even Manator from entering his garden, but the orb of his old friend's staff glowed crimson and they could not touch him.  He walked slowly towards Jarin and then one of the Guards drew a sword and began following him, obviously meaning to protect Jarin's need for privacy even if he had to kill the Guardian General himself.

"Hold your arm!"  Jarin's voice sounded too soft to carry, but it was enough, the sword disappeared back into it's scabbard, with the guard looking very relieved.  Manator walked on without a glance behind him and then they stood face to face.  The iron gate clanged shut behind him and they were alone.

"Good afternoon Jarin."  Manator said knowingly and Jarin saw that his old friend looked worried,  "I see pain in your face and I know from your retreat here that you are troubled.  I come to help you my friend, I think it is time we talked again."

Without answering him Jarin turned and led the way to a stone bench.  They sat there for a few minutes before Manator spoke again.   "Is it better to face your pain my son or to build it within you until there will be nothing left of your soul to combat it?"  He waited for his reply.

 "It is not pain, Manator, it is doubt.  And to face it is to build it I find."  With his first words in weeks, Jarin felt suddenly that perhaps there just might be an answer to everything that bothered him.

"Is the doubt something that can only be built then?"  Manator asked,  "Can it not be chipped away by contemplation and debate?  What doubt is so unexplainable that it cannot be tracked down and explained?"

"How can a lie, spoken with knowledge that it is a lie, ever become the truth, Manator?  I am not the Lord, no more than any other man wearing that Belt of Power and taught the words by a clever scholar would be.  I feel as if I have killed the child that is my honor.  How can I now continue in the hope that it will forgive me when it is grown into an adult?  For how can something dead grow to maturity?"

Manator took many minutes of contemplation before he answered, not that the wait bothered Jarin, for he was in fear that there would be no answer to solve his doubts and would have waited several lifetimes to be freed of it.  It was therefore easier to wait, for until Manator spoke he had not agreed that it was impossible for Jarin to solve his torment.  But at last Manator did answer him.

"When you were a babe in your mother's arms, if it had been possible to substitute a perfect double for you while she slept, would that child be you?"  Manator then went on to answer his own question,  "Obviously not, it would be a substitute.  Yet it would grow with the same care and teaching as you would have done, had the substitution not been made.  It would carry the name that would have been yours and it would be recognized by all as the Prince Jarin of Natan, every day of his life.  He would also carry the same responsibilities and face the same challenges that time and life would otherwise have placed before you, had the substitution not been made."  Manator smiled then,  "I ask you to consider my friend, would not that Prince Jarin be responsible for his own actions? Would he not think that he was indeed the true Prince Jarin?  It could never be your responsibility for what the substitute did, thought or meant, could it?"

Jarin had to agree with his logic, even though he did not understand how such an argument might proceed, or for that matter help him in his present predicament.

Manator continued,  "And who is to say that both you and I might not indeed be such substitutes?  Does it change by one scratch who we are today?  Of course we both know it can not, for what we are and what we have already done, is now part of History and beyond our control."

"What has that to do with what I have done, Manator?"  Jarin asked,  "I knew I was not The Lord, I did not become so by a lifetime of believing I was He.  I knew that I was not the Prophet I claimed to be, even as I misled those poor fools in Kiba!"

"Obviously you know that you are not the Lord."  Said Manator,  "Just as the substitute would know that he was only the substitute for you."

"Wait a minute. . ."  Jarin knew the cleverness of Manator's debating ability and felt the fear rising behind his acceptance of reasoning,  "If the substitute had been put in my place as a babe he could never know he was not me, not without being told and the telling proved, surely. . .  are you saying that I might just be the Lord and do not know it?  That is ridiculous!"

Manator was very serious when he answered,  "Would the babe who was taken away from his mother know that he was the true Prince, Jarin?"

"Of course not.  Not unless the person who had replaced him with the substitute was to go to him to tell him the truth."  Jarin was already confused, but Manator's next words floored him.

"Who is to say that was not the case when you were asked to be the Lord?  Who can expect that the babe who was taken away and replaced by the substitute would not doubt that he was indeed the true Lord?"  Jarin could feel Manator starting to win this debate, as he had won all the others they had shared.

"But I am not the Lord. . .  am I Manator?"  Jarin said.

 "Perhaps not.  However if the real Prince was not there to run the Nation, would it not be sensible to replace him with an exact double.  Just as you are pure of heart and without doubt of the true Royal Blood, is it not sensible to replace such a nonexistent Lord with you?  Your loss of memory made you the only grown man who has that purity that I have ever met in my lifetime, Jarin.  Perhaps you are not the Lord, for all we know you may not be Prince Jarin either, unless we interview the mid-wife who brought you into this world.  The Fates have played stranger tricks to make their Will be known and followed.  Perhaps your mind was emptied so that you could be the Lord, at the very time such a man was needed."  He paused, but Jarin refused him the pleasure of a reply right then, so Manator continued.  "If you are or if you are not, an instrument of the True God, perhaps we shall never know, but then is it really that important?  However, you can make of the opportunity whatever you wish to make of it.  You can use this power for good or you can use it for evil. . .  or you can retire into this pleasant rose garden and refuse to use it at all.  The choice is yours alone, for all that makes a man a man is his right to such freedom of choice."

Manator stood up to leave, touched Jarin's shoulder and started away before Jarin could think of the words to keep him.  After a few steps however, the Guardian General turned, a slight smile on his lips.   "Remember my friend, according to the teachings of every religion and Church, belief is a matter of choice and every man is responsible for the choice he makes for himself.  Those who heard you at Kiba must make the choice for themselves that they and only they, are able to make.  You bear no guilt, for your intentions were all good and in their interest."  He paused before ending the conversation,  "Then again Jarin, perhaps the Force of the True God only entered you the one time. . .  who knows, you may never be anything but your ordinary self again."

Jarin sat for a long time before he realized that Manator had meant all along that he would only be the instrument of God, as far as he was concerned, for that one performance. . .  and no more!

Manator had achieved everything he had set out to achieve.  Jarin had been used to be God's messenger for just the one performance and by that act he had been elevated to being the chosen ruler of Khanlar.  It had put him in the enviable position of out-ranking the Priest of Priests, Ragarian, who probably sat in his palace at this very moment trying to decide how to regain his omnipotence, should the people decide to believe that Jarin was indeed the Chosen One.

As for himself, it would appear that if Manator was right as usual, Jarin had merely to be himself from now on.  His task as the Lord had been completed, the Twelve Teachers would handle all of the more complicated tasks of creating the new Church and the Guardians would orchestrate everything, to ensure the outcome favored the position they required it to be to destroy the existing power of the established Church in Khanlar.  If they succeeded they would bring a higher standard of civilization and awareness to the world than it had ever known before and where was the sin in that?

A short while after Manator left the garden Kirene came and Jarin allowed her to lead him back to their apartments with a mother-hen like affection, convinced that his depression had been a physical malady, which Manator had stopped and which care and affection could prevent from ever returning.

It took Jarin some time to accept that he could be only one more tool in the collection that Manator and the Guardians had used to shake the people's belief in the Church and it took a while longer after that before Jarin relaxed enough to be able to laugh at himself again. . .

And so at different ends of Khanlar two men watched as the Seeds of Change took root and began to grow.  In the Great Temple of Ka Ragarian lived out the hours of that day surrounded by his counselors and followers, while Prince Jarin of Natan did the same in the Guardian's Palace on the island Nation of Lunza.

In fact, to the historical observer, there would be little to separate either man from the other in his dreams at that moment.  They both sought the advancement of Khanlar, just as they both sought a better life for the people of that troubled land.  What neither knew, was that they were both caught up in a path of circumstances that would bring about the conclusion that the Fates had always had planned.

Another fact which neither of them knew, was that they both watched the sun set that evening with a feeling of foreboding in their hearts, while wondering about the other.  So it is in the world of men, that two individual people making decisions based upon singular assumptions, can in fact change the Fate of the world itself.  

For reality itself is but a small acorn floating down a stream, caught up in the eddies of men's thought and invention, which themselves are but fleeting things that are born and then are gone, yet they can change the seed's future for ever, without even noticing that they do it.

 * * * * * * *


Chapter Eleven

Table of Contents