Location: Arbola Forest
Timeline: Sixth Age, Year 52, Early Spring
After Nathily’s failure at The Glade, she lay that night in one of the bunks at the Azora camp, her mind was racing with visions. Finally a memory came that calmed her, and smiling at the thought, Nathily remembered some of her first encounters with Emcorae Azop.
Who could forget the fiasco that occurred on her training partner’s second night in Arbola some six years past? That was when the seer Teresius surprised everybody by proclaiming Emcorae’s pitiful looking dagger to be a blade of power! Although nothing came of the incident, as far as Nathily could tell, the elfess knew her partner had always kept a sentimental attachment to his grandfather’s impractical dirk even after they’d both become skilled in the use of far more powerful weapons.
He has a good heart. Nathily whispered to herself at the memory as she tossed in the Azora bunk.
Moments later another vision came – this time she remembered listening with a mixture of fear and fascination when Emcorae had spoken of being chased by a baal. At first the elfess thought it was just a joke, for she knew that baals were naught but the stuff of legends, but when El-Janus appeared to give the boy’s tale credence, Nathily didn’t know what to think. The boy claimed to be frightened that another baal would come to get him, but the mysstro had always assured him that he was safe in The Forest. Over time, El-Janus’ words proved true and Nathily was thankful to see Emcorae overcome his fears about the black demons.
Yet whether the baals didn’t attack Em because Alyssa was watching over Arbola or because the baals aren’t real, who can say? Nathily wondered to herself now.
The elfess couldn’t help but giggle when a new memory caught her off guard – Emcorae’s very first day of training — when she saw him dressed in elvish garb for the first time. Despite his protests, El-Janus had forced the boy to attire himself like his peers. Nathily had to work hard to contain her laughter at the sight of the tiny human dressed in a borrowed youth hall tunic that hung past his knees and did little to accentuate his boyish physique, yet the boy was all smiles in spite of his predicament, and the sight touched Nathily’s heart and drew her to him.
He was but a child back then, tripping over his own feet. Nathily now recalled. Two heads shorter than I and at least two stone lighter – I couldn’t picture him as a warrior back then, yet I’ve been proven wrong.
And, finally, Nathily remembered the first time they were invited to El-Janus’s home. After a month of training at Center Vale, the mysstro brought them to Gazza – both Emcorae and Nathily had to travel blindfolded at the time, for one of their future trials would be to locate The Glade on their own. Yet it wasn’t the journey that the elfess thought about now, but rather the conversation the three shared their first night at the master’s home.
“All things have a beginning and an end, and nothing on Terra lasts forever; but in Illyria, it is different, for Illyria is the home of El-Aba, and He is everlasting…”
At the time Nathily was merely half-listening to El-Janus – she’d heard the tale told better by her grandsire Dallegheri many times before and the master’s drone was nigh putting her to sleep after a long day of traveling. To try to stay awake, Nathily observed Emcorae, to see if her new training partner, a human, would accept this elvish lore. From appearances, it looked like the boy was listening intently and this seemed to please El-Janus.
As the master spoke, the trio sat on over-stuffed pazza mats in the main room of their master’s small kaza. Gathered in a circle, each sat in the lotus position as directed by the Azora, while a small fire crackled behind the elfess, making the setting a comfortably cozy while the chilly temps of that year’s barren season began to take their grip on the forest outside.
This room was meagerly furnished and obviously lacked an amora’s touch, as Nathily noted to herself. After so many years at Fara’s side, the young elfess couldn’t help but view accommodations with her foster mother’s decorative eye.
El-Janus is a single elf. Nathily thought at the time. That much is evident by his choice of dress – a pair of undyed silk pantaloons and a single gray tunic with an equally drab gray sash. No other adornments of any kind — How long he has been cherishless? By the looks of things, he has been without an amora for at least as many years as I have lived. Still, to each his own – this kaza suits him perfectly.
For her part, Nathily had traded in her leathers from the training grounds earlier that day and was instead now wearing her maiden’s tunic, roan colored with a leather sash at the waist, while her golded locks fell in cascades over her shoulders. In the dim light cast by the fire, her emerald gaze wandered. She caught a handful of unlit candles placed about the small room, their tallow unblemished. A small table was off to her left; placed low to the ground so that pazza mats would be ample seating for those who used it. To the right was a door, which Nathily guessed must lead to the pantry room. The hallway to the bedrooms was opposite the yule. Other than that, the only other feature of her mysstro’s home that made an impression on the elfess was the bookcase – yet that was by far the most distinguishing feature of this kaza, for t filled the entire wall behind Emcorae and was packed with countless tomes, maps, and scrolls.
The amora was amazed to see such a vast number works, Who would have thought that an Azora would care so much about books. I wonder if he has anything that Dallegheri lacks?
Outside of the her grandfather’s collection – his unofficial books at home, and those he watched over at the official Arbola Library – Nathily had ne’er seen such a private collection so large. And unlike Dallegheri’s always voluminous mess, El-Janus’ scrolls were meticulously arranged.
The bookcase confused the elfess at the time as she wondered, How can El-Janis balance being a scholar while at the same time being capable of…killing others?
As the master droned on, Nathily smiled to show she was paying attention, while she continued her observations. He must be a head and a half-shorter than me. I can see his skin is starting to wrinkle and is pate is balding. And yet despite his tame appearance, I know he is the most fearsome Azora in Arbola!
As she was lost in thought, El-Janus’s dark blue eyes caught hers. “Nathily, what say you on this topic? Why is it that we Amorosi consider the pazziera tree to be such a good teacher? Can you help our friend here understand?”
Embarrassed at her discourtesy, Nathily struggled to reply, “I’m sorry, mysstro. Ah…er…”
Thankfully Emcorae saved her when he blurted out, “Sir, I just don’t understand – why do ya have all these books here? I mean, books are great and all, but I thought you were an Azora? And a mysstro at that! Where are all your weapons?” But before El-Janus could answer, Emcorae plunged on, “Don’t get me wrong, I CAN read you know – and elvish too cause my grandpap taught me. Why, I’ve read probably eight, no ten, whole elvish books in my life! That’s something, huh? But, please don’t go telling me I’m apposed to read all those you got – otherwise I’ll never get time to train with my new sword!”
Nathily sat, jaw-dropped, uncertain how it was that Emcorae could speak so fast, still not make any sense, and yet be so seemingly disrespectful to their teacher – for he too seemed have not paid any attention to El-Janus’s story about the gods and the history of the world.
However, when she looked at their mysstro, Nathily could see that El-Janus was quite unfazed. He merely sat calmly, waiting for the boy to talk himself out. Only then did he reply, “My son, worry not about that which you have no control over. Should I ask you to read these books, you will do so, without question. And you would succeed – for remember, I am your teacher, and I will not let you fail. For if you fall, then so too do I.” With a smile he continued. “I brought you both here, not to intimidate you with my collection of books, but instead to share them and the rest of my home with you. As we walk along The Way together, we are becoming a part of each other, therefore I want you to know me. If you desire to partake of my reading material, please, enjoy. Do it because you have the desire to learn, not because you feel forced to. If you want a cup of tea, make it. If you want to retire, find your way to bed. On the training fields, you will be at my beck and call, but here, in this house, your new home, please be at peace.”
The memory of the master’s kindness still filled Nathily with warmth. It also triggered another vision.
Just a few days after moving in to El-Janus’ kaza, the elfess recalled another one of their evening chats – one in which she’d asked, “Teacher, please, tell us your current impressions of me, I mean…of us. And be honest.”
“I always am.” Replied El-Janus. “I’ve only known you both for but a short time as my pupils, but I will share with you my thoughts… if you both desire.”
“Yes, please,” they asked in unison, giggling at the words being in sync.
“So be it,” The Azora began. Turning to the elfess, “Nathily. You are beautiful and strong. Your actions are smooth and graceful. I see something special, perhaps even divine, about you. The likes of you are seen but once a millennia. However I would be remiss if I did not balance my praise with the caution my heart feels. I still do not understand how it is to be done – you, the first amora Azora? Nathily, you are a paradox I do not understand.”
And the elfess felt her hopes dash. She dropped her gaze, downtrodden, but her tutor reached out with his hand to lift her chin and looked into to her eyes, “You asked for the truth, did you not? Shhhh. Fear not, for even the hardest riddles have an answer. I am smart enough to know that I do not know everything – just because there hasn’t been an amora Azora before doesn’t mean there will not be in the future. Why can’t that be you? Together, we will find a way for you to fulfill your destiny.”
Nathily was grateful for his kind words, but she also breathed a sigh of relief when El-Janus turned to Emcorae. Nathily could see that the boy was still ogling his new surroundings while attempting to listen to El-Janus’ speech at the same time, and probably not succeeding too well at either task. She had to stop herself from chuckling at the sight of this youth who was now her partner — with his tousled hair and not-very-well washed face.
Meanwhile, she heard El-Janus address Emcorae, “You are human child I am tasked with training as an Azora – it seems an impossible taks, yet so Alyssa commands, and thus I will do. Emcorae, you are of the line of Al-Corragio, the great Amorosi Friend and that alone gives me hope for your cause – for Al-Corragio is a hero to our people. Aslan of Regalis owes the debt of his life to your grandsire – saving him was no small feat, I assure you.”
And Emcorae’s smile was so bright that Nathily was almost blinded by his beaming proudness. Yet, just as with her, El-Janus balanced his praise with caution. “And yet, Al-Corragio was not an Azora. There is a riddle I have yet to unravel with you, boy. For how will it be possible for you walk The Way if your body breaks down when you pass your prime in the new two to three decades? Alas for you, I say, for most Azoras do not reach their best training years until they have seen their second or third century!” And before Emcorae could object, the master added. “And then there is this business with the baals – whilst Dallegheri tells us that there is no precedent in The History for these tales, that doesn’t diminish your testimony, yet still I know not what to think. Yet despite these questions, my raggamino, I will not forsake my assignment. No matter how impossible our journey might seem, I plan to do everything in my power to guide you to success. And something tells me, young one, that there is more than meets the eye inside you – your hear must be pure for Alyssa to think so very highly of you.” Then addressing them both, he concluded. “Together, let us all trust in our goddess. Agreed?”
El-Janus was right on every count. Nathily dreamily sighed as sleep began to take its hold on her in the Azora bunk, yet there was one last vision that came to her on this night – this last the longest of call.
Once more Nathily recalled a time from early in her Azora training – it was another evening in which she and Emcorae spent learning from the mysstro at his kaza and it was about a fortnight after they arrived at The Glade.
“What is the significance of the pazziera trees?” El-Janus repeated a question from days past.
The teacher expected the elfess to answer his question yet it was the boy Emcorae who blurted out, “My friend Sidero said everything here is stuffed with pazzierra leaves, but, I never heard of any pazzierra tree where I come from.”
Nathily took a stab at the master’s question. “Sidero is right, Em, pretty much all of our furnishings here are filled with pazzierra leaves. Our beds, that pazza mat you’re sitting on, all of it. Pazzierra trees are naturally occurring here in Arbola and while my grandfather says there is only one pazzierra arbol for every thousand trees, Dallegheri told me that pazzierras produce an abundance of leaves and we–“
“So,” Em butted in again, “just because they make a lot of leaves, you guys use them to stuff pillows? I don’t understand. Maple trees have a lot of leaves too, and there’s a lot more of them, why not just use them instead?”
Nathily smiled, “Because, maple arbol leaves die, Em. But the special thing about pazzierras is that their leaves never die – even after they fall from the tree.” Seeing the boy’s disbelief, she continued, “It’s true that if the tough leaf membrane gets torn, the leaf perishes, but so long as the leaf falls of its own accord, it continues to go on living. It’s really quite amazing.”
“What happens if we pluck the leaf from the arbol before it falls on it’s own.” El-Janus asked.
“Dallegheri always told me that a pazzierra’s leaf must fall to the ground naturally, for it to continue to live. In fact, my grandfather says that even if someone were to pluck a leaf from a branch at the exact spot that it would normally detach from, still it would begin to wither and die in less than two days.”
“OK but what does all this have to with us becoming Azoras?” Emcorae fidgeted.
“Er…um…” Nathily stammered, afraid to give a wrong answer and embarrass herself.
“Nathily, you know the answer.” The mysstro smiled.”Don’t be afraid to try. Remember, ‘while you might save it in your quill, the arrow not released will never reach its target.’ Please, share your knowledge.”
Nathily relaxed, took a breath, and then spoke confidently, “Perhaps this might help, Emcorae. Do you know what ‘pazzierra’ translates to in your tongue?”
“Dallegheri once told me that ‘pazzierra arbol’ means ‘patience tree’ in Common. Isn’t that correct, master?”
“Indeed it is.” El-Janus nodded .
“Then this is the lesson that the goddess Ahnya has taught us – if we try to take the leaves from the pazzierra arbol before it is ready to part with them, then we are forcing Mother Earth to act according to our wishes and we are out of harmony with nature. The only way we can enjoy the special gift of the pazzierra is if we wait until they are ready – our patience is rewarded with a gift we would never know without this virtue.”
“Patience.” El-Janus stressed. “It is a virtue an Azora must possess, and exercise. Just as you, young one, are being forced to do this night. And that leads to my next question – who is He who has no beginning or end?”
“That’s easy – Yahway!” Emcorae averred.
To Nathily’s great surprise, the master did not attempt to correct the boy for what she assumed was his blunder; instead El-Janus nodded as he replied, “If you choose to call The Great Father by that name so be it. The Amorosi call Him El-Aba. Other peoples call him differently. Let we who are mere mortals not quibble about the names of the gods. Instead know this – for The All Father there was no beginning and for Him there shall be no end; for should He ever depart, then so too would all of this – Terra, Illyria, and even Illusia — for His existence is necessary to all our worlds. Yet The Evil One Baal-Zebub is just as old, and just as necessary. In fact, did–”
“—Wait, how can that be?” Emcorae interrupted. “I thought you said a few days ago that El-Aba alone was the one who began everything. Isn’t He the Great Creator? Where was Baal when El-Aba created Illyria?”
“Emcorae, you may learn much knowledge with time, but first you must needs learn the Patience that Nathily discussed. Like the pazzierra, let the growth of your life unfold. Ask questions, yes, but when you are being given an answer do not interrupt, lest you cause the speaker to forget, or you fail to hear what it being said. As I was about to say, Baal-Zebub was with El-Aba when our Lord created Illyria.”
For her part Nathily had been watching Emcorae closely – curious about this strange boy who was now her training partner. One thing she still couldn’t figure out was why he always seemed to be smiling and laughing – even at the most inopportune times for smiling, much less laughing. On more than one occasion El-Janus had to rebuke him for his lack of control, although Emcorae was rarely successful in containing his mirth. Meanwhile, for whatever reason this little quirk endeared the boy to the elfess, and it gave her a desire to help him succeed.
It was this growing protectiveness of her partner that led to Nathily’s desire to observe his reactions to El-Janus’ words during this discussion. She could see Emcorae struggling to keep quiet while the master taught and she knew that their teacher deliberately paused in order to help the boy learn patience, yet, she also felt it was slightly unfair to subject the young man to such a test — under the circumstances practically putting Baal-Zebub in league with El-Aba in the boy’s mind.
And yet, her fears for his psyche were perhaps unwarranted, for observing Emcorae she could see that he seemed willing to accept what El-Janus was explaining.
“Please, sir, how could El-Aba and Baal-Zebub be friends?” Emcorae asked. “Why did they help each other?
“Emcorae, you must realize that the gods are not like us.” The master explained. “The Great Lord and Zebub were all that creation ever was, before there even was such a thing as ‘creation.’ Those two divine beings filled all things because they were the only things in existence, and yet, creation was no smaller or bigger then than it is now. Our meager minds will never fully understand these mysteries until we have the blessing to have El-Aba embrace us in his light at the end of Time.” Then, after a pause, the teacher added, “But, Emcorae, Illyria was created for Zebub…”
Once again Nathily watched Emcorae valiantly striving to accept with information she knew would be considered heretical in most human religions. Thankfully, the wise one continued.
“Illyria was created for Zebub by El-Aba, because The Lord wanted to please his partner.”
Another look by Nathily at Emcorae’s now incredulous face.
“What you may not know is that Baal-Zebub wasn’t always evil, young one.” El-Janus said softly. “In the beginning Zebub was quite filled with the essence of what is Good. Furthermore, some of our scholars argue that at one time Zebub was filled with just as much goodness as El-Aba, while others go so far as to say that, once, The Lord and Zebub were together as one being. Whether this is true or not, who can say? Yet the legends tell us that there came a time when Zebub asked El-Aba to create.”
At El-Janus’s pause, Emcorae spoke, “I don’t understand, why didn’t Zebub just make something himself?”
“Ah, little one, the important thing to know is that at some point, El-Aba’s presence was no longer enough for Zebub; for the latter desired ‘something new.’ In fact, throughout history, if you could see into the past, you would come to realize that this desire for the ‘new’ has been a continual cause of problems for the Dread Lord. It is ultimately what led to his downfall. Nonetheless, please do not mistake what I am now telling you, children, to mean that, at the moment Zebub asked El-Aba to create a place for them to ‘live’ in, was the time that he became evil. Far from it. In fact, Zebub was then still quite filled with goodness…”
Here El-Janus paused expectantly, laying an inescapable trap for the boy’s curiosity. A snare which the youngster eagerly embraced.
“But, how, mysstro, how do you know this for certain? Are you sure?”
Concern gripped Nathily yet again, just as doubt was evident in the language of Emcorae’s whole body. The beautiful amora watched as the boy struggled to accept yet another contradiction to his birth faith – that the very conceiver of evil was also the being responsible for Illyria.
“Raggamino, Alyssa herself has given us this knowledge. She tells us also that IThe Lord loved Zebub wanted to please his Zebub by making his wish a reality – and so Illyria was born.” After a careful look at Emcorae, the master added. “And now I think I shall end our lesson for this evening. Yes, I see the questions in your face, but fear not, Emcorae, there is more to tell of this tale, yet I fear that you are at the very limit of comprehension for tonight.” Then, after a smile to the boy, he turned to the elfess, “And, Nathily, your concern has not gone unnoticed either, I thank you for it. But rest now, both of you, for you have done well to listen patiently for so long. Sol has long since returned home and it is time that we three sought our dream worlds as well.”
“But, sir, how can I go to sleep knowing that Baal-Zebub, who was once so wise and good, was able to be tempted to darkness? What’s to stop any of us from falling from the path? What am I to think of Illyria? Why didn’t El-Aba save Zebub and help him? What about—“
“—Peace, Emcorae,” said the mysstro, “ now it seems that the time has come for me to interrupt you. As I said, you shall learn all things with time. For now, I say again that you are not ready to hear the rest of this tale. But, I promise you that I will tell you myself when the time comes.” Yet, master-instructor that he was, El-Janus could see that this was not enough to quell Em’s passion. Therefore he added, “I will say this, too, there is nothing to stop any creature, alive or dead, from choosing to follow Baal-Zebub away from the light if that is what he desires to do. Evil is a very succulent fruit, or so it seems from the outside, but take a bite into it and you will soon discover that the taste is not what you expected. Nonetheless, few who pluck this prize ever return to the light, for there is a constant temptation always to try another bite, ever hoping that the next one will be sweeter, never realizing that all the while they are slipping deeper into the depths of Illusia’s grip.
“Fear my words, children, yes,” the mysstro continued, “but, let them also protect you from this temptation and heed also this prophecy: ‘Even in times of greatest darkness, trust in the light and you shall find your way.’ Ragamini mine, you each have a pure heart; have faith in yourselves and Illyria and you shall be secure. Sleep now knowing that Alyssa watches over you and Pan guards these very woods – not to mention the Azoras! No evil has ever entered the confines of this forest, and it is my belief that none ever will, so long as we Amorosi continue to live in harmony with our Mother.”
And with that the discussion came to a close and Nathily’s visions ended. Just before the dream world took her away, the elfess realized that fears back then about Emcorae’s psyche were unwarranted – for the boy had blossomed into a man before her eyes these past six years. She took faith that things would work out for herself too. True, she might have suffered a minor failure in her training, but as El-Janus had advised her in her vision, ‘the error not released, never reaches its target’ and that was just as true today.
Yes, I did miss the mark today, She thought, but that will not stop me. I will learn from this and move on, knowing all the while that Alyssa is watching over me – she will let nothing come to pass that I cannot overcome!