Child of the Serpent (Part VII)

Wordlessly, they finished caring for the horses and set off deeper into the caves, moistness from the cave eventually giving way to dryer stone tunnels that wound deeper into the earth. This is farther into the hills than I’ve ever dared to come, who would have known there was a network of caves out here…she thought as she picked her way carefully through the path her grandmother seemed to find without trouble. Mother was a Scribe. She was part of a temple. Her thoughts kept repeating. She died because she was a Scribe, another thought cried out. She wasn’t aware of the tears rolling down her face until her grandmother reached a hand back and wiped one away. Still without speaking, she embraced Derryn firmly for a long moment, and kept moving forward.

Derryn lost track of time as they trekked deeper underground, her mind still processing what she had learned, and was only broken out of her thoughts when she realized that her boots were no longer treading upon earth and rock, but paved stone. She looked up. The walls around them now looked smoother, and torchlight flickered in the distance. The stone beneath her feet, laid out in large, triangular slabs, formed a path ahead of them. As she looked around, she began to make out carvings on the pale stone of the walls– winding, sinuous shapes, snaking around them in intricate patterns. Small crystals were inlaid alongside the shapes, and caught the fire from their lantern and reflected it back at them in scattered points of light. Their footsteps echoed, and Derryn felt a strange tingling. How many times had her mother walked down this hall, she wondered. Soon, she caught the sound of more footsteps, coming towards them. Her grandmother stopped, lifted the lantern high above her head, and waited. A cloaked figure carrying a torch came towards them, features illuminated just enough for Derryn to make out dark skin and pale, almost white eyes. 

“Renata, is that you?” A male voice called out.

“Sorren! Memna tios. My granddaughter and I have come seeking Memnos Rinn. We have information.”

Memna tios” He responded with a puzzled bow of the head. “Information you say? Here I thought you were retired.” He pulled his hood back and Derryn could see pointed ears. A dark elf? She thought, surprised. She had seen wood elves before, and even the occasional half-elf, but never their darker cousins. He must have noticed her staring, because he snorted in amusement and said “Shocked, are you? I’m not surprised. You townsfolk don’t often venture down here, unless of course you’re as mad as your old gran here, and sold your soul to the Serpent.”

“My soul is my own and so is yours, you fool.” Gran scolded as she gave him a hug and a pat on the cheek. “It’s good to see you again. Just as disrespectful as ever, though.”

“You haven’t been around to teach me manners, old one! Guess I should shape up if you’re back now.” He turned again to Derryn and extended a hand “Sorren Sciathan. A pleasure to meet a daughter of Anise Driscoll. Your mother is sorely missed in the temple. You are more than welcome here.” Wordlessly, Derryn returned the handshake before they entered the temple.

“Sorren was a new disciple here a few decades ago, and an apprentice of your mother before she died.” Gran whispered to Derryn as they walked, following the elf’s form past more serpentine carvings, which seemed to move and dance in the shadows cast by his torch and the lantern Gran still held aloft.

“An apprentice…” Derryn mused. “Mother seems to have been respected here. Why was she chosen to teach him? What did she teach?”

“The path of a Scribe: the importance of stories, how to gather information without being discovered, the ways of the sacred tomes. Your mother was a fine Scribe and had a sharp memory. She far surpassed my level at that age.” Gran said proudly.

“And you, just how long have you been part of all of this?”

“Since I was your age, my dear. My father was a priest and brought me to the temple when I was but a girl, to learn. Not this one, but a larger temple farther to the south.  It has since been lost to us, when the old king decided to start burning scrolls and tomes.” Old King Ramsen, Derryn’s memory provided.  The mad uncle of the current King Enda, who ruled long ago.  He had gone mad with grief after the death of his wife and oldest son and attempted to pretend that they were still alive.  It’s an eerie tale, and makes Derryn shudder every time she hears it.  His delusion became so great that he began to burn records that made mention of their deaths and execute members of the court who did not play into his dark imaginings.  They say he was poisoned as a mercy, to free him– and the kingdom– from his madness.

“So…this is something of a family tradition, it seems.” Derryn said wonderingly. “What about Lissa?” she asked, “Did Lissa have anything to do with this before she died?”

“No, Lissa never came to the temple.  She was only seven when your mother died. By the time she would have been of age to begin an apprenticeship, we had already withdrawn from the temple. Besides, I’m not sure if she had the right mind for this kind of work.” Derryn let memories of her older sister rise to the surface…four years her senior, the same dark hair and freckles, but blue eyes rather than green. Lissa had a love for finery, and enjoyed creating beautiful things, which led her to pursue an apprenticeship in jewelry making. A shepherd’s life never really suited her, nor did Capall itself. She had ambitions, and instilled within young Derryn an appetite for adventure and travel, to see faraway lands. If only she hadn’t died ten years ago; an accident when they were younger that sent her tumbling into a river. Derryn closed her eyes briefly, banishing the memory. I suppose all the ghosts are coming to haunt me today, she thought bitterly.

Ahead of them, Sorren stopped before a set of heavy wooden doors, framed by a carved stone archway. The stone was old, a pale white flecked with gray that glowed bright in the torchlight. The serpent carvings were still present here, but now with stars and intricate knotwork embellishing the scene.  Sorren knocked three times on the door, and within moments, they opened. He turned to Gran with a smile and a bow that had more flourish than Derryn thought was necessary, and declared “Welcome home, Renata.”

To read the first parts of the story, follow these links!

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