The Wizards of Pangea Chapters

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Monday, May 08, 2006

CHAPTER 3
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In the early morning of the lunar phase, after Triton’s imprisonment, Rittan stood vigil on the massive stone wall that spanned nearly seventy-five lagrons from the mountain kingdom to the higher plateau of the southern region.

He rested his arms on the stone, still cool and damp from the previous night, and looked out to the ocean glistening in the light of the morning sun. His thresher dragon, Mizar, spying fish wriggling near the shoreline, sat on the top of one of the giant stone-carved dragons lining the wall.

He turned and strolled to the western side of the wall as an elderly couple rode by on a wagon filled with bushels of wheat. Two pangas-tall two-legged plant eaters with stubby tails, large enough to hold a saddle but smaller than a raptor-pulled them at a slow, steady pace. Leaning on the stone railing, he looked out across the patchwork of farmland. Small adobe homes with reed-covered roofs, lit by the warm glow of fires burning within, dotted the rolling hills. Far to the north, the city was awakening. The sun blazed across the city’s eastern face. The lunar phase was starting out like any other phase, but Rittan knew things would be different from this lunar phase on. Nothing would be the same with Triton in prison. He blamed himself to a certain extent. Things might have been different had he been there.

Repositioning himself on the railing, he looked up to the kingdom. With its flattened domes and tall spires topped with ornamental bell shapes, the mountain kingdom dominated much of the northern horizon. It was an artistic arrangement of straight flat walls with rounded buildings and towers that bloomed from the mountain’s natural rocky outcroppings. But the most impressive part of the kingdom was the mountain itself. Much of the surface, from the bottom up, had been chiseled smooth, hewn into blocky outcroppings that narrowed as they reached toward the city at the top. It looked as if the entire kingdom had been cut out of the mountain itself. It was a grand and majestic sight in the glow of the misty morning light-a sight Rittan viewed as a symbol of strength and power. But after the Lord Matriarch’s death, that power had been challenged in a way that had weakened the people’s faith in Antheon’s guardians. Still, Rittan thought, to blame Triton for all that seemed more than one person should bear.

Rittan noticed four guardians riding pangas heading his way from the northern end of the wall. A moongrun pulling an open carriage followed behind them.

He stood tall, stiffening his pose in case it was someone of importance.

While straightening his silver helmet and adjusting his chest-plate, he realized Cassandra was riding one of the lead pangas. It was generally someone of royalty when Cassandra was leading the way, but this time their passenger looked less than worthy of the guardians surrounding him.

As the small group approached, Cassandra held out an open hand and the man steering the moongrun pulled back on the reins.

“Whoooa!” he yelled.

The beast stopped its slow trot to stand steady on long split hooves. Chains clanked and leather straps swayed as the creature lifted its head and let out a deep grunt. The unruly beast took another inadvertent step against the driver’s will, making him pull back even harder on the reins.

Rittan watched amused as the driver was nearly jerked off his seat. But the passenger, facing backward sitting at the back of the open wooden carriage, caught his attention. The man swayed smoothly with the unexpected lurch as if he had anticipated the moongrun’s extra step.

Rittan noticed shackles binding the man’s upper arms together with a chain that connected them at his back. It was Triton. His sandy brown hair was disheveled, and his loose white shirt was dirty in spots, but his posture was still of a man who refused to be beaten.

Cassandra strode closer to Rittan. “At ease guardian. Our prisoner has requested to speak with you.”

She shot him an accusatory glare then pulled her panga around to stand guard from a distance.

Rittan did not know if he should be honored or angered at Triton’s request, as anyone he spoke with would surely be looked upon as a possible accessory.

Triton stood up on the carriage and jumped off the back. As he stepped around the corner and turned to walk toward Rittan, he showed no hint of emotion. He stared at Rittan making him feel uncomfortable. He knew Triton was assessing him-his feelings about him.

Triton stopped, standing before Rittan and wrestling with his chains.

Rittan broke the awkward silence. “I wish things could be as they were, Triton.” He stared at the large bruise on Triton’s face and the singed hair at the top of his head. “I hate to see you like this. As much as I’m glad to see you, I’m also torn by this whole thing. I don’t want to remember you like this Triton.”

Triton shook his head. “This won’t be your last memory of me Rittan. My innocence will be proven. But for that to happen, I’m afraid I need to impose on you.”

Rittan sighed. “I don’t know that there’s much I can do.”

“Do you believe that I am innocent?” Triton asked.

Rittan hesitated, began to answer, then paused. He thought for a moment longer as Triton grew more despondent watching him wrestle with his feelings.

“Triton, I don’t want to believe it,” came his response, quiet and unsure.

“That will do. If you’re even slightly unsure, I know you’ll be willing to help prove my innocence.”

“Help prove? What?” Rittan nearly shouted. “I only know what I have heard as rumors. None of which shine brightly on you I might add.”

“Rittan, look at me,” Triton commanded.

Rittan obeyed reluctantly.

“You know me. You know I would never do anything like this. I’ve never held anything above the honor of Antheon or the safety of the king.” Triton could see Rittan was on his side.

“Even now, with my name tarnished and my future destroyed, it’s the king I am worried for. With Prodious at his side, he’s in grave danger.”

“What! Prodious?” Rittan said. “He wasn’t even supposed to be there. He took my place when I became sick.”

“You weren’t sick Rittan! You were poisoned! Prodious or someone working with him poisoned you and me both, except I wasn’t affected until the morning of the Lord Matriarch’s arrival.”

Triton spoke in a whisper as he continued, “My guess is someone else working with him would have filled my post as well if I had taken the poison earlier. Beware of everyone Rittan, I don’t know who else is working with Prodious, but you can be assured there are more.”

Rittan noticed Cassandra turn her head with concern as if she caught some of Triton’s warning.

“Please take the responsibility Rittan. If not to prove my innocence, to prove Prodious’ guilt. He’s working for the dark king, Rittan. It was demons riding gorgonon dragons that killed the Lord Matriarch. Prodious is working with them.”

Triton could see the surprise in Rittan’s face turn to skepticism. He had heard the rumors of demons being responsible but laughed them off as that of paranoia spreading among the people.

“I understand your skepticism, but don’t let it cloud your judgment. If you do this Rittan, the king will approve it. Otherwise he will appoint someone else, but as I said, I don’t know who else can be trusted. It’s the council you need to sway.” He sighed in frustration. “The king believes me Rittan. Instead of returning me to prison, he’s granted me refuge in Dimsbrough at the hatchery.”

Rittan gave a reluctant sigh.

“Rittan, you’ve stood up for other guardians, even in opposition to your own father who sits within the council. Please, I beg you, give me the same consideration. Please Rittan, I believe the very fate of the kingdom may be at stake.”

Cassandra rode her panga closer and raised a commanding voice much more threatening than her size. “Your time’s up Triton! We have to move on.”

Triton looked up at her and nodded. Then he looked back to Rittan with a seriousness Rittan could not ignore.

“All right. I’ll do what I can.”

“Thank you Rittan.” He gave a somber smile. “But be careful. Like I said, anyone could be working with him.” Obeying Cassandra, he then walked back to the carriage.

Triton knew his ride would not be without incident. The passage through the heart of the city, across much of the lowland farms before ending at the western gate, a destination only Cassandra was privy to, was really to parade him before the people so they might ridicule and throw food at him. It was custom before a prisoner was put to death, but, in his case, with the king not having made a decision, the council had decided to parade him to calm the anger of the people. It was just this kind of behavior by the council that King Gabriel had counted on to release Triton in secret.

As Triton was hoisted back onto the carriage by the driver, he gave Rittan a final request.

“Rittan! Speak to my mother for me. I wasn’t able to see her. Tell her I love her and that I’m sorry for all the grief this tragedy has brought.”

Rittan nodded.

The driver snapped the reins at Cassandra’s order and steered the moongruns onto one of the sloped paths that dropped down to the lowlands.


* * * * *

After a long and humiliating journey through the city and across the farmland where people lined up to witness, ridicule, and cast rotten fruit, Triton was finally at the western gate. The massive wall spanned one of many wide fissures in the tall Condorion cliffs. Its massive wooden doors were open but heavily guarded. The arched gateway at its center fed into the maze of cliffs and tall mountain spires.

The moongrun’s sluggish trot slowed to a halt as Cassandra slid off her panga. She walked to the back of the carriage to see Triton covered with rotting melons, eggs, green seedy mangleberries, and cloves of spiny brambles that clung to his loose-fitted shirt. His hair, face, and clothes were a mess; dirty and scratched with streaks of dried blood running from his cheeks and neck.

Cassandra stood at the end of the open carriage with the keys for the shackles. Triton rose slowly, his head bowed. He stared at her, peering out from beneath his dripping brow. Neither said a word, but Triton could see Cassandra’s harden facade was beginning to break. Her face was cold and expressionless, but her eyes showed signs of sadness. She, like Rittan, was struggling to hold open the door that had suddenly closed on their friendship.

He jumped onto the dry dirt, hardened by the wheels of heavily loaded carts. Chunks of melon and sticky black seeds dropped from him as he landed. Unshaken, Triton held out his bound wrists toward Cassandra.

She unlocked both of his wrist-bindings, the two that bound his upper arms by a chain that connected them across his back, then tossed the mass of chains and bindings onto the carriage.

“I have something I’m supposed to give you,” she said. She pulled a small scroll out of a bag hanging from the front of the carriage. Triton knew it was the king’s decree he was to take with him to Dimsbrough.

After Cassandra handed it to him, Triton took a last look across the lowland farms then to the mountain kingdom. This was his home. No matter what happened, he would always consider it his home. He turned and looked up to the gated wall. It climbed so high that a series of five shorter walls, each reached by a tall wooden ladder, rose nearly half the distance to the very top of the natural cliffs. Two guardians accompanied by their thresher dragons, barely visible from the ground, stood guard at the very top.

At the base four guards stood, two at either side of the open gate, eyeing Triton with suspicion.

As he looked at the threshers high atop the wall, Dagger suddenly appeared in Triton’s mind. It would be a long walk without him, he thought sadly. But as he followed behind Cassandra toward the open gate, Dagger’s familiar squawk echoed in the distance. Dagger was sitting on a large boulder near the side of the passage. Triton quickened his steps to walk beside Cassandra. As she looked at him, he gave her a smile.

“He’s yours to take as requested by the king. It seems he still wants to believe you’re innocent,” Cassandra said, her voice a much gentler tone than before.

Triton knew King Gabriel believed in his innocence, but to allow him to keep Dagger was unexpected.

“What do you believe?” Triton asked, stopping within the wide stone arch of the open gate.

“It doesn’t matter what I believe. It won’t change your situation,” she said.

He wanted to tell her it mattered to him, but he knew by her actions that she doubted his innocence more than his guilt.

He turned away and walked to his dragon. Hopefully Rittan would find something to change her mind as well as those of the council.

As he approached Dagger, Triton could feel the confusion and anger building within the guards. If not for Cassandra’s presence, they would have never let him pass beyond the gate alive.

When the tension of the moment had reached its peak, as he grabbed hold of his saddle and hoisted himself onto Dagger’s back, Cassandra broke the silence.

“If you are innocent Triton!” she yelled, “may Dagger protect you until your return.” She followed this with a whisper to herself. “And may you forgive me for performing my duties during your darkest phases.”

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