Thursday, September 2, 2010

336 - The Imperial Book

He ran his fingers reverently over the gold cover.  Truly it was less a book and more of a gold box, with pages added into it somehow.  “How old is this book, do you know?”

I shrugged.  “One story my father told me was that it was the Imperial Book from the beginning when we were a small village here.  From when a star fell and gouged out the Lake.  Another time he told me it was from before we were even fallen from the stars.  There’s half a dozen different versions of how old it is.”

My fingers tingled and I rubbed the tips of them together.  It was so strange that this book I had kept so close to me, so silent was so uncanny... I had just treated it like any other ancient and carefully kept book... what else was it capable of? It made my neck prickle and I was thrilled and frightened of something I thought would just sit on my bookshelf my whole life.

“So that was at the beginning of all the ages?”

I could only shrug… I didn’t know.  I had not been taught.  It was a secret that my father never passed on, though I was beginning to suspect he should have.  “We were supposedly cast out of Selestialis that way.  A fiery star. Two thousand one hundred eighteen years ago.”

He pursed his lips in a soundless whistle and opened the Book to the first page.  It didn’t make that warble again, content to be as silent as any other book.  “Father showed me the first twelve pages once or twice.  In his hands they were alive, some of them.  For me, they were always blank and silent.”

“Silent?  He looked up at me.  “So you’ve heard this book make noises before?”

“Sometimes you could hear unearthly things from the Highest Office… people mostly stayed away because they were afraid.”

“There is something here but it moves too fast to see,” he said.  The first page, that for me had been blank, and that father had never shown me, was flickering.  It seemed as though it was the fleeting shapes of letters, machine printed letters, but no words that I could make out, and some of the shapes were just wrong. And they flowed by so fast I wasn’t even sure they were letters at all.  Chevenga touched the page all over but the flow never even slowed down.

The second and third and fourth pages were blank, looking like plain white paper.  The sheet holding pages three and four had a bottom corner torn away. The fifth page, when he touched it made a sound.  All three of us jumped, and as he whipped his hand away it went silent again.  The three of us stared at each other, then at the book again.

He reached out his hand and as he touched it… sound poured out from under his finger… a woman’s voice, singing in a language I had never heard.  His finger trembled a bit but didn’t move… and the song continued… till it ended naturally… the strange instruments clearly signaling an end.  Then it began again.

He moved his finger and a man’s voice, again in a strange tongue said something urgent.  A woman’s voice, in a different sounding language, almost spoken through the nose.  Another man, speaking in a harsh bark.

Every finger touch started a different sound.  “Can you make anything out?  I can’t.”

“No.  It’s people but I don’t know the tongue or tongues. None have spoken in a language I know.”  Gan just signed charcoal.

We jumped again as a sound like a thunderclap rumbled through the room. He put his finger back on the spot where the woman singer and listened to the whole song once more.  “She's singing to us from two thousand years ago.  She sounds like an angel, a messenger from Selestialis.

He tried various fingers to see if that changed the sounds, but it seemed to be the spot on the page, not which finger was used to press it.  He found a type of music… at least I thought it was music… wild and rhythmic yet I wasn’t sure there was a melody in it… it was just very strange.  He held that one to the end as well, eyes intent as if there were images to go with the sounds, but the page was stubbornly blank.

His finger slid over and suddenly there were animal noises the like of which I’d never heard before mixed in with wolf howls, a low wailing noise and some odd creaking noises that Gan suddenly recognized.  “Those are daiyanal sounds!” He said.

“Minis... you try it with your finger,” he said.  I put out one trembling finger to this uncanny book and laid it upon the page and nothing happened, even with Chevenga’s fingers upon it.  It did not respond to me.

“It has to be me. I wonder how it knows? I don't think there's a person alive who knows.”

I had this thing… this almost alive thing next to me, under my pillow, for years. The skin on my back and the back of my neck crawled.

His finger came down in a different place and another snatch of music began, this time measured and grand.  “It knows you.  That's why it sang.  It recognized you as Imperator.”  I wrapped my arms around my middle.

“How can a book know me?”

“I don't know.”

He got an ‘I have an odd thought’ look on his face.  “Unless... Minis, Gannara”, you didn't see me do this.” He took off the Imperial seals, to my gasp.

He laid his hand upon the page and it responded, as if he were wearing the seals.  “I thought it might be the seals themselves.”  He flipped the book to the first page and just dropped the seals upon it and again the book did nothing… even the flicker on the first sheet was gone.

He touched the book again, to pick up the seals and the page flickered on.  “It's not even who wears the seals... it's me.”  He slid the seals safely back upon his hands, took a deep breath and sat back to take a drink of water that Gannara offered him.  “Thank you,” he said absently.

“Your father had it... you said it did these things then?”

I nodded and signed chalk.  “He showed me some of the pages.  Not the noise page.  You’ll want to be careful of the image on the twelfth page… the last of the magical pages.  It’s a picture of him, on Ascension.” He signed chalk absently, still thinking hard.  “In his hands, it was alive… like this," I said.  "In mine, it was blank and silent.”  Somehow it knew I was not to be Imperator.  It knew the rightful man.  How much more proof did I need from the Gods?

“It's whoever is Imperator... and it somehow knows, even if he's not wearing the seals.”  He shook his head, absently as if trying to shake an odd idea loose and turned back to the book.

The sixth page was blank except for a black line down the center.  He looked very closely at it and gently drew his finger from the middle outward.  A flickering black line followed it for the width of a finger and then faded.  That sheet had been folded it looked like. So the seventh side was almost blank, with shadows of things as if they were just under the surface of the paper.

When he ran his fingers over they grew larger or smaller and it seemed as though they were trying to come clear but were covered in a pale fog. Colours became more clear in a sort of puddle around his finger but faded when he raised it.  Some pictures came clearer at an angle… a tree… a bird… a tower of some kind, burning… a dragonfly big enough for an armoured man to stand next to it? A sunburst?

“It was full once,” he said. “Every page.  They're broken. I think.” He said thoughtfully to us.  “No one should ever fold these pages, or tear them.”

We both nodded and signed chalk but neither of us said anything. The eight page was blank again. While the ninth was a solid blue from edge to edge and top to bottom.  It had what looked like the picture of a Haian sand timer turning over and over again, slowly.  A deep male voice asked something, and then there was a silence.  The sandtimer turned over again and the voice asked the same.  Then again.  Then again.

“A sandtimer turning... means time?  Passing time?”

“I have no idea,” I said.  “Should we wait and see if anything else happens?”  Chevenga touched the page all over and it didn’t change.  The sandtimer flipped again and the voice asked its incomprehsible question.

“We can come back to it.... I want to go on to other pages.”  The tenth page was an image of the Marble Palace… but only the Steel Gate and Presentation Balcony and the building immediately behind it up to the cliff.  There was no wing with the Black door nor wing with the White door.  No Administrative office section. No Heir’s wing.  There were no gold-topped turrets and the bare, unadorned skeleton of an iron tower on top was the tallest thing about it. There was no Eagle carved upon the cliff above, no hint of the Glass Bridge or Highest office.

“It looks like the Marble Palace, a long time ago!”

“The oldest section,” I said.  “Why did someone scribble on the picture and with arrows pointing at things?”

“You know archaic Arkan,” Chevenga said, turning to me. “Can you read that?”

I squinted at the scrawled notes.  “Hmmm.  I think… I think this is something like an old version of ‘to gehit’, ‘to raise or raise up’ but I’m not sure.”

Chevenga pointed to what looked like a drawing of the dome over the palace, apparently made entirely of smooth glass with an arrow and a single word… “Maybe it means ‘to go’?”  He looked to me and I had to shrug.

“It looks high, but I can’t tell because there’s no Eagle on the cliff to judge how big this is.”

“We might never know what any of this means, as long as we live... and have to accept that..”  he touched all over the page but, again, nothing changed.

The eleventh page was a strange picture.  It wasn’t a picture of anything  I recognized, but boxes connected to each other with lines… some jagged, some straight, some with lines crossing the lines.  Some boxes were connected to circles with things written inside… machine shaped letters in a language unfamiliar.  Dots.  All very regular.  The lines were all perfectly horizontal or vertical.  And nothing moved on the page no matter what Chevenga did.

“I cannot make head or tail of any of the words.  It's older than any version of Arkan that I know.  Perhaps someone at the University could figure it out, perhaps even Ailadas might have an idea what some of them may mean. No one had ever known, as far as I knew, what the circles, dots, lines and zig-zags meant.  “The last page will be a portrait of my father as I told you.  Just to warn you, again."

I could see him set his teeth as he turned the page, went pale and slammed the book shut. I flinched.

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