Carlin grinned. "You see, Peregrin, I told you Jorge was not your man."
"And you were right," Peregrin answered. "I suppose you had a hand in stirring up the crowd last night as well?"
"Good seeds in good soil yield a good crop," Carlin said with a wave of his hand. "Actually, the happy people of Archiva responded to their leaders' apparent lack of ability with far more ferocity than I had expected. I would guess there is a great deal of discontent under that peaceful surface."
'The Archivist' by David Prenatt
Mikkel turned back to Dextor. "Well, you hold the cards. What will you do now?"
Dextor did not answer immediately. A slow smile spread across his face. He turned his head and looked at the edge of the cliff. Then he looked back at Mikkel. "I suppose I could fulfill my last words."
He nodded at the men behind Mikkel. Two of them grasped his arms and pulled them behind his back, where another tied his hands together. Three other men did the same to Peregrin.
Editor's Note: This is the eighth chapter of the novel "The Archivist" by our own correspondent, David Prenatt. This is the last chapter that will be printed. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did.
"The Archivist" by David Prenatt can be purchased online from Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com, eBay or any major bookseller. It can also be purchased direct from Tate Publishing and Enterprises, Mustang, Okla. Also, watch for book signing opportunities by the author in the area.
"What do you say, Mikkel?" Dextor said. "Do you feel like dying today?" He jerked his head toward the edge, and the men pushed Mikkel toward it. At the edge, they held him by each arm and leaned him outward into the air.
"Look down, Mikkel," Dextor said. "Look down and see your death. Does it look pleasant to you? Does it look quick? What would you give to save it, Mikkel? Answer quick now. There is not much time."
"Then do what you intend," Mikkel said through gritted teeth. I will not trade for my life."
"Ah," cried Dextor, "spoken like a true man of peace. All right then, go ahead and drop him."
"Dextor!" Carlin shouted. "Stop it! You said no killing!"
Dextor held up a hand to the men holding Mikkel. He sighed. "As you wish, Carlin." He waved his hand, and the men drew Mikkel back from the edge. Dextor walked up to him and smiled. "You are fortunate that Carlin has spent so much time in Archiva these past ten years. He still has no stomach for killing." He turned and walked off, followed by Carlin, who walked at his side, speaking in low tones. The rest of the men took Mikkel, Peregrin, and the six Rangers and tied them together in a line, using a long rope that they secured around each one's waist. They took the gags out of the Rangers' mouths and cut the bonds on their feet.
"Let's go," muttered a tall man with a brown sash. Two men led, holding the rope at one end, and two others took up the back end. The rest of the men walked around them in a pack.
Peregrin surmised that Dextor would take them to the hills above Archiva to display them to the people below, thereby creating despair among them. Instead, Carlin broke off and headed down the path that Mikkel and Peregrin had come up, presumably to return to Archiva, while Dextor led them northward, away from the ruins. Their path led into dense woods through which Dextor threaded them over rock and around thickets guided by landmarks only he knew. As they went, Peregrin marveled at his skill. He certainly had lost none of his abilities since leaving Archiva.
Still, the path was a rough one, and the hills increased as they went along. Branches and brambles tore at them, leaving them bruised and scratched, and before long they were soaked with sweat and winded. It was difficult to climb and maneuver bound together as they were, and more than once, one of them slipped, causing the others to be jerked sharply and sometimes fall themselves. The men leading them would curse and pull them up, sometimes hitting them.
The sun, unfettered by rope or chain, continued its ascent until it was nearly overhead. Still, Peregrin, Mikkel, and the six Rangers were led, pushed, pulled, hit, and cursed as they traversed the hilly land. They were following a trail that rounded a steep hillside, rising as it went, when, coming out of the trees, they found it abruptly ended at a sheer rock wall, that rose some thirty feet above them. Dextor was there alone, grinning.
"This looks like the end of the road, doesn't it, Mikkel?" he said happily. "What was that old proverb? Oh yes: 'The secrets of Archiva run deep.' Here is one you do not know."
He took his stick and tapped the rock five times. There was a rumbling noise, and a large slab of stone, twice the height of a person and eight feet wide, disengaged itself from the wall and slowly descended toward them, being lowered like a castle gate with heavy ropes fastened to each side.
Dextor bowed with a flourish of his hand. "Welcome to Second Archiva," he said. "Come and see what I have been up to all these years." He walked across the gate into the darkness.
The men pushed their captives forward. Once inside, they could see by the light of oil lamps set into the wall or hanging from posts. They found themselves in a small cavern. The gate ropes ran through large pulleys suspended from beams set in the ceiling and descended to a wheel on either side, operated by a large crank. Eight men stood inside the entrance.
Beyond them, the cavern opened outward and upward into a roughly circular space, about one hundred feet in diameter. They were standing on a ledge less than twenty feet wide, beyond which the floor fell away into a chasm. Peregrin noted two wooden stairways built against each wall leading both down and up to where daylight shone feebly.
In the center of the ledge was a platform suspended over the edge from a frame made of massive wooden beams. Two upright beams were set into the rock of the ledge and supported with angled beams, from their midpoint to the ground. A crosspiece extended over the ledge from each beam, also reinforced with angled beams from their midsection to the middle of the upright beams. The crosspieces were connected by metal shafts at both ends. From each of these shafts hung two massive pulleys. Heavy ropes affixed to the platform ran through these pulleys to wheels, similar to those at the gate, at each side of the structure. Lanterns were hung from poles at the two far corners of the platform.
Dextor stepped onto the platform. "This is the watchtower," he said. "The lifter, which I stand on, comes only to this ledge. Those stairways you see go all the way to the top of this hill, where my men are constantly on guard. No one comes within a mile of here without being spotted. I designed this myself. Is it not amazing?" There was glee in his voice.
Peregrin looked about. "Yes, it is," he said sincerely, for indeed he did find it amazing.
Dextor looked at him and smiled. "This is but a small part of what I have accomplished. Come," he said, beckoning to them. "Come, let us descend, and I will show you something worth seeing."
Their captors led them to the platform. "There are too many for the lifter," Dextor said. "Two of you come with us. The rest of you meet us below." The men who guarded them turned and walked toward the stairways. The two Dextor had indicated pushed Peregrin, Mikkel, and the Rangers onto the platform. Dextor nodded, and four men grasped the cranks, two at each wheel. They turned their cranks one direction, causing the platform to rise slightly. Two other men withdrew two stabilizing planks from a frame underneath the platform. The men at the wheels began slowly turning the cranks the other direction, lowering the platform.
Peregrin looked over the side. They were descending through darkness, but lanterns set along the stairways allowed him to estimate there were nearly fifty feet of open air beneath them.
"This is a natural cave?" he asked as they slid through the darkness.
"Yes," Dextor answered. "Carlin and I found it years ago when we protected Archiva from the vermin who came over these hills. These hills are full of caves, but never have we found anything like this one. Once we had explored it, we knew it would serve a special purpose someday."
"So you knew about it even while you claimed the position of Guardian," Mikkel said.
"Don't use that sanctimonious tone with me, Mikkel," Dextor shot back. "Yes, we knew about it even then. Were we planning a rebellion? No. I protected Archiva with my life and my love. I believed in your foolish creed. We simply found a place that we thought might benefit Archiva one day."
"Yet you never shared this knowledge," Mikkel said. "Why not? If you believed in the creed even then, why didn't you tell the council about this place?"
Dextor's brow furrowed. "There was no need. What would I say? I have found a good cave, come and see it? I would have gotten no more response than I did with my protest of the creed."
The platform came to rest on a wooden frame on the ground. "Enough of this, Mikkel. Carlin and I kept this information to ourselves. This proved to be a wise choice once I was expelled from Archiva. Every man needs a home. This became mine."
"We took you ten miles southeast of Archiva. How did you get back to here without being spotted?"
"Oh, come now, Mikkel," Dextor said with a laugh. "It's easy to avoid a snake when you know where it lies in the grass. Besides, not all of your Rangers agreed with the council's decision. Even then my word carried more weight than yours among them."
Mikkel's eyes narrowed. "Are you saying there are other Rangers who have betrayed Archiva?"
"I'm saying there are other Rangers who have opened their eyes," Dextor answered. "Come now. You will learn as we go." He stepped off the platform. They followed. "They will not need to be bound together here," he said, nodding at their guards. They removed the rope that held them together but left their hands tied behind them. The other men rejoined them from the sides.
Dextor led them toward a crevice in the wall of the cavern near one of the staircases. It was wide enough to walk upright, single file. They followed him into it, their guards holding lanterns. Planks had been laid on the ground. The crevice sloped downward for about twenty feet and turned sharply to the left. Another ten feet and it turned right again in its original direction. It sloped for another fifty or so feet, turned left, then right again, and opened into the light of day.
It was, Peregrin thought, nearly as impressive as his first view of Archiva. The crevice had brought them to a ledge on a sheer face of rock at one end of a box canyon. A steep trail, sometimes cut into steps, descended on to their left for about one hundred feet and then switched back onto a lower foothill to arrive at the canyon floor, some forty feet beneath them. The canyon floor spanned about one hundred yards on this end and widened toward the center before tapering back to a smaller end almost a half mile away. Its towering, granite sides rose in layers to heights of sixty to one hundred feet along its length.
The canyon was alive with activity! They could feel the heat from two forges below the ledge where they stood, where men were hammering metal. Other men were tending horses, cooking in large cauldrons suspended over fires, and fashioning rope, cloth, and leather goods. A large group was undergoing some sort of training drill, moving in response to a leader's shouted commands. And at various spots along the canyon, circles of ten to fifteen people surrounded two combatants who were practicing fighting skills hand-to-hand with sticks and, Peregrin noted, with knives.
Peregrin looked at Mikkel. His jaw was hard set, and the muscles in his neck were taut. He could almost hear Mikkel's mind calculating, estimating the number of men and assessing their competence.
Dextor saw his look. "No doubt Mikkel can only see the threat to Archiva and how Carlin and I have played him for the fool all these years," he said. "But what of you, Traveler? What do you see?"
"Order," answered Peregrin, gazing at the scene before him. "Amazing order. Where did these men come from?"
"Here and there and everywhere," Dextor said. "I also have trained Seekers. They go forth into the world to search out those with the skill to belong to my Ranger squads. It's a little easier to find men who want to fight than to find those who want to farm."
"They are all Terists then?"
"In the Archivan sense of the word, yes," Dextor answered. "Most of them belonged to small wandering bands without any real leadership. I offered them power, direction, and a vision. Most of them accepted."
"And those who did not?" Mikkel said.
"They were eradicated," Dextor said with a wave of his hand. "I, too, believe in humanity, Mikkel. Those who will not accept order must be eliminated from our midst."
"Order by force and violence?" Mikkel said. "This is what you call being human?"
"Spare me the lecture," Dextor said. "I've heard it." He nodded at the men. "Lead them down."
The men formed them in single file with one guard behind each captive, one hand on their bound hands and one on their shoulder. This was as much to steady them as they made the descent, Peregrin realized, as it was to control them. They made their way down the steep trail cautiously.
Once at the bottom, their captors led them directly through the center of the canyon. Men (and some women) stared at them from all directions. Of course, Peregrin thought. We are being paraded. It's a lot harder to escape if everyone in town knows your face.
As they passed the cooking fires, one of the men stirring the contents of a cauldron looked up and abruptly threw his long-handled wooden spoon down. He strode over to them and stepped directly in front of Peregrin. It was Crop. Peregrin noticed he was no longer wearing his sash.
He glared at Peregrin a moment and then spat in his face. Then he shoved him with both hands, almost making him lose his balance.
"Not so tough now, huh, Traveler? Gonna hit me with your stick now?" Spittle dripped from the corner of his mouth as he pushed Peregrin again.
Peregrin noted that Dextor had said nothing, nor had any of their captors intervened. If they are watching for my response, he thought, I'll give them something to think about.
He grinned at Crop. "Lost your sash I see, eh, Crop? I think you might have dropped it in the ruins."
Crop's jaw dropped. He closed it abruptly as he heard snickers from among the guards. "You don't talk to me like that!" he said in a low voice. "I'll slice your innards out and make you eat them for dinner!"
Peregrin grinned wider. "There's an old saying, Crop. It goes: 'I can beat you with one hand tied behind my back.' I'll bet I can top that." Fury flamed in Crop's eyes, and he lunged forward, hands outstretched, for Peregrin's neck.
Only Peregrin was no longer there. He had swiveled sharply to let Crop go by him. As he did, he brought his right foot around and kicked the back of Crop's left knee hard. Crop screamed and fell. As he rose to his hands and knees, Peregrin moved in and kicked upward, connecting with Crop's left shoulder so that he flipped onto his back. Before he could move, Peregrin's foot was on his neck.
"What do you say now, Crop?" he said in a voice like the rattle of pebbles in a dry brook. He pressed a little harder, making Crop choke. "I can't hear you, Crop. Where's my dinner?"
"Enough, Traveler," said Dextor. He nodded, and two men pulled Peregrin back from Crop, who rolled over and lay there gagging. Finally he pushed himself up onto his hands and knees.
"You're fortunate I did not allow him to crush your windpipe, Crop," Dextor said. "Now get back to work, and let's hope you cook better than you fight. All right, let's go." He nodded at the men, who led them on, but not before Peregrin saw a slight smile crease his face.
They proceeded to the far end of the canyon and were pushed into a small room cut into the rock wall. Two men cut the bonds holding their wrists and retreated. Dextor smiled at them from the doorway.
"Our hospitality does not match that of First Archiva," he said. "Still, I hope your stay will be pleasant. I have matters to attend to-you know how it is, Mikkel, trying to lead a community-but I will return soon. Until then"-he paused and looked about the room-"my house is your house." He closed the heavy oak door, and they heard him shoot the bolt.
The room grew dark, except for the small barred window in the door. Mikkel went to it and peered out. "Two guards outside of the door," he said, turning. "Dextor leaves nothing to chance."
"So it would appear," Peregrin said. "Sit down, Mikkel. Let your eyes adjust to the gloom in here. Then we can examine our quarters. My guess is that there is no exit, however, except through that door."
Mikkel sat down across from Peregrin. He sighed. "Then we have no choice but to wait upon Dextor's return."
"Mikkel," said Brand. "I am sorry. They grabbed us even as we came out of the tunnel. There were about thirty of them."
"I know, Brand. I sent you all straight into them. It is I who am sorry." He shook his head. "I never suspected Carlin. Not even for a moment."
Peregrin was surprised. "Why not? After all, they grew up together. They were like brothers."
"You didn't see Carlin when they brought Dextor back. His face was ashen. For days, he barely talked, barely slept, barely ate. He couldn't have faked that, Peregrin. He was stunned by Dextor's violence. He testified against him with such vehemence that no one doubted the brotherhood between them was broken." Mikkel looked at his hands. "Even the Seekers were sure of it."
"So the Seekers were wrong," Peregrin said. "The Seekers have intuition and empathy, Mikkel, but they are not mind readers. It's not inconceivable that Carlin could have fooled even you."
"But you saw him back at the ruins. He stopped Dextor from having me dropped over the edge. He doesn't like violence, I tell you. Maybe we can reason with him, get him to come back to our side."
Peregrin snorted. "Don't put your hopes on that, Mikkel. Carlin did not save you at the ruins. He and Dextor were playing a game."
"Why do you say that? It sure felt real to me!"
"Because Dextor was not going to kill you then, and Carlin knew it. Sure, he put your determination to the test, but he knows you would die before giving up Archiva's secrets. You still hold the key he needs. Which means the whole thing was staged."
"Why would he do that?"
Peregrin shrugged. "Maybe so you would think exactly what you are thinking-that Carlin has not fully accepted Dextor's ways. You would talk to Carlin, and he would show signs of wavering and gain your trust. Then, somewhere along the line, you might share with Carlin what Dextor needs to know. Then he can kill you."
Mikkel sighed again. "You know what? You would have made a good Seeker."
Peregrin grinned. "Not me. Too dangerous."
They said little more in the hours that followed. A thorough examination of their cell showed it to be about ten by twelve feet and cut into solid rock. As Peregrin had surmised, there was no possible exit except the door. After a while, they simply sat in the gloom, each one dwelling on his own thoughts.
The gloom deepened as the hours trudged past. Outside, men shouted, hammers rang, and a general buzz of activity continued. The light in their cell all but disappeared, isolating each of them even more as their vision failed. Still, Dextor did not return.
There was no way to determine the passage of time. It was as though they floated in an inky sea that was both physical in the air around them and immaterial as each one drifted in thought. This sea imposed a silence upon them so that no one spoke or moved, as if the ripples of any action would cause them to drown. After a while, Peregrin found he could not even think about the day's events but instead pondered a nothingness that was deeper than conscious thought. He was not even sure if he remained awake or if he slipped into slumber from time to time. It was, he thought, much like when he first woke in that underground cave with no frame of reference to help him comprehend the limitations of his existence. All was dark. All was without connection. He was a wanderer, groping his way through an eternal nothing.
Deep in his reverie, he saw the bunker in which he had awoken. Only it was awash with white light flowing from long rods that were set into a series of rectangular boxes on the ceiling. The walls were white metal, as was the table, making the room almost too dazzling to stand in without squinting. The same white metal that is in the Archive, Peregrin thought.
He seemed to be sitting on the table. Beside him was another man, tall with dusty gray hair cropped short. He wore a pair of wire-rim spectacles seated low on the bridge of his nose, over which he gazed at Peregrin. His eyes were like the sky on a summer noon, intense and difficult to look at.
Peregrin blinked at the man. He looked like Mikkel, but he was not. He was before Mikkel. "O'Keefe," he said weakly.
The man smiled at him. "Peregrin, here I must leave you. I'm sorry things did not work out as we had planned. I wish I could be here when you awake so we could work together again. I wish I could see what happens to Archiva. Oh, Peregrin, so much will depend on you. Mara's visions were so frightening. It's too much to ask of anyone. But you will not fail. I trust in you."
"What if I do fail? What then?"
"Hush. You will not. You are my traveler, my falcon. Remember and choose peace."
He laid one hand on the back of Peregrin's neck and one on his chest and gently pushed him to lie down in the open, padded box. "It is time for you to sleep now. Sleep with thoughts of peace."
"It looks like a coffin," Peregrin said with a wan smile.
O'Keefe smiled back. "It is but a comfortable bed from which you will rise again. You will rise and carry the future of Archiva within you. Close your eyes now. Sleep and remember."
Peregrin gazed up at this man who had done so much to save humanity. He felt a terrible constriction in his chest, as he knew he must leave this man behind. Indeed he knew O'Keefe would die soon. He had done what he could, and now he had to leave his dream in Peregrin's hands. The swells of unconsciousness grew, pulling at him. He stretched out his hand one last time. "O'Keefe" he said.
O'Keefe took the hand and placed it back at Peregrin's side. A clear lid slid into place above him, and the box began to fill with a frigid gas. He could feel the cold pervade to the deepest depth of his body, and darkness rolled upon him like a great surf. Just before losing consciousness, Peregrin could see the moisture around O'Keefe's eyes. and although he could not hear his voice, he could see him say: "Sleep now," he said. "Peregrin, my child. My true child"
Peregrin opened his eyes. Visually he could see nothing. But he was keenly aware of Mikkel and the Rangers. He could hear their breathing, could sense their shape, and he could feel their presence. Outside of their cell, he could hear movement, an occasional spoken word and all the night sounds of the forest. But it was more than hearing. He could identify each sound as well as its distance and direction from him. He touched the rock floor, and he knew it had been cut from granite. He inhaled deeply and detected wood smoke, freshly budded crocuses and lilies, leather, steel, moss, and a coming rain.
He remembered O'Keefe, now long dead. He felt the strange constriction again in his chest and longed to release it. How long since you have cried? he thought to himself, but he could not remember. He touched his eyes. They were dry, even though he longed to weep, to grieve for someone he had loved.
Yes, loved, he thought. I loved O'Keefe. He was a father to me. He called me his true child, his Peregrin. Yet I cannot weep for him. He sighed. The Waterman was right. There is something truly strange about me.
Some time later, he detected the heat and smell of a torch approaching. He could feel the vibrations of many feet coming in their direction. "Mikkel," he whispered.
"Unnhh?" came the reply, and he realized that Mikkel had been asleep.
"They're coming." He heard Mikkel's head jerk up sharply. Outside of their cell, a light began to glow and grow stronger as it drew near. The bolt was sharply drawn, and the door swung open. A man stepped in, holding a burning torch consisting of cloth wrapped around the end of a stick and soaked in some kind of oil. Another man followed him. Like Crop in the ruins, he had a sash from his right shoulder to his waist.
"You there," he said, pointing at Peregrin. "You are the traveler. Dextor wants to talk with you."
Peregrin rose to his feet. "What of the others?"
"They can stay here and rot for all I care. Dextor said only you."
"Can they not have a torch or a lantern to see by?"
The man snorted. "Dextor says they should stay in the dark until they're ready to see. Come on, you." He gestured at Peregrin but made no attempt to grab at him. Peregrin thought of Crop and grinned.
He stepped outside. There were eight other men besides the two guards. They flanked him four to a side, just out of arm's reach. The leader turned to cell guards. "Dextor says if this one tries anything funny, you will get the signal, and you are to kill everyone inside." The guards grunted.
The leader led the pack back through the canyon. About two-thirds of the way, he came to a stairway cut into the side of the rock and began to climb. They followed single file, four guards in front of Peregrin and four behind him. The stairway ascended along the cliff face and then doubled back, rising some thirty-five feet to a point where the cliff receded and a ledge wide enough for three men abreast ran along its edge. Torches mounted on poles were set into sockets in the rock at intervals along both the stairway and the ledge, illuminating their path. They traversed this ledge for about one hundred feet, rising slightly, until they came to where it ended in a sheer wall rising above them. Here, a platform had been built on top of the ledge, extending some ten feet over the edge into the air. Two oil lanterns were set into the corners of the railing that surrounded its open end. On one side of the platform was an oaken door set into the cliff face. Dextor stood upon the platform, his hands on the railing, looking down upon his Second Archiva.
He did not look up as they approached. When they halted, he simply said, "Thank you, Captain. You may leave us."
"Sir," the leader said, "he's dangerous."
"I am aware of that, Captain," Dextor said, still looking out over the canyon. "You have my orders to kill his friends if he tries anything. Now you may go."
"Yes, sir." The captain led his men away.
Peregrin waited. After a moment, Dextor said, "Come join me, Traveler. This is a view worth seeing."
Peregrin stepped onto the platform and walked over to Dextor's side. "Carlin must have told you my name is Peregrin."
Dextor smiled. "Yes, he did. But I was so impressed with your use of Traveler when you chased my men out of the ruins. It suits you somehow." He looked up at Peregrin. "It has a dangerous feel to it, don't you think?"
"My name is Peregrin," Peregrin said again.
"Oh, very well then. Peregrin it is. Perhaps soon you will again enjoy the title 'the Traveler.' We shall see."
"What did you want to talk to me about?"
Dextor did not answer right away. He gazed upon the darkness below him. "When you arrived here, I asked you what you saw. Your answer was surprisingly insightful." He looked up at Peregrin. "Do you remember? You said 'order.' With one glance, you saw what the exalted Guardians of Archiva could not see in all the years I was with them. Order. I have labored for years not to build a canyon to call my home, but to build order in a world of chaos. Their Creed could not do that, not in a century of trying."
"Archiva seemed pretty orderly to me," Peregrin said.
"Pah! One hundred years and they have not rebuilt humanity one bit! Sneaking around through the forest, warding people off with tricks, seeking out this person or that person over the course of decades. They have built a fine town of navel gazers. But if they were truly exposed to the world, they would vanish, swept away by the madness that still rules it."
"And you believe you could tame this madness?"
"Thousands of years ago, a man named Alexander conquered the known world and united every culture on earth for a brief time. Once he laid siege to a certain city that was thought to be unconquerable. He called on the king to surrender, and when the king asked why he should, Alexander lined up one hundred of his men and ordered them to march off a sheer cliff and fall to their death. By the time the tenth soldier had fallen, the king of that city rushed out and surrendered to Alexander. Why? Obedience. He knew Alexander's men would obey him to any end, even if it meant pulling the city apart stone by stone. He knew he could not fight such total obedience."
"What does this have to do with you?"
Dextor waved his hand toward the darkness below them. "I command such obedience. These men have seen my resolve. They have dedicated themselves to me and to my vision. I could order any of them to climb the canyon wall and leap off it if it suited me." He turned to face Peregrin. "Don't you see? I have tamed the jungle. I have pulled men from a world of violence and chaos and given them purpose and direction. I have restored their humanity. They no longer seek their own ends. They act as a body for a common good. Is this not what O'Keefe wanted for Archiva, for humanity? To restore a sense of unity and purpose?"
"O'Keefe's vision also sought to reject violence and power as a means to an end. To seek peace within and without," Peregrin said.
Dextor laughed. "A few days in Archiva and you are already soaked in the Creed! Well, no matter. I spent years bleeding, blinded by an illusion of peace. I suppose I can excuse a few days of gullibility on your part."
"That's very kind of you," Peregrin said.
Dextor studied him. "You are not what you seem, Peregrin. You embrace this dream of peace, yet I saw how you thrashed Crop, how you stood upon his neck. You embraced that as well."
Peregrin shrugged. "What of it? He threatened me, and I didn't see you or any of your thugs trying to stop him. It was self-defense."
Dextor shook his head. "No, Traveler," he said, emphasizing the name. "You enjoyed it. His life was fully in your hands, or should I say feet. He didn't just threaten you; he insulted you. And you made him pay for it."
"No, I am not. I am no Seeker. But I know people of peace, and I know people of violence. While you would happily live in peace, you have no reservations about resorting to violence when you are threatened."
"Is there a point to this discussion?"
Dextor grinned. "Come inside with me, Peregrin. I have something to show you." He turned and walked to the oak door. Opening it, he turned again. "These are my quarters. In this room lies the future of both First and Second Archiva. I want you to see the future with me."
Peregrin followed him into the room. It was a fair-sized room carved out of the hillside, about twenty feet square and eight feet high. Two massive beams crossed in the center of the ceiling and stretched to the four walls where they were supported by equally massive upright beams. A doorway on the far wall led into another room. Peregrin stared at it. Someone was in there, trying to be very silent, but he could detect the sound of breathing. He inhaled and decided it was a woman.
The only furnishings in the room were two large wooden cabinets with closed doors against one wall, a large desk and chair against the opposite wall, and a large oaken table surrounded by thirteen chairs in the center of the room.
"It's not too much to look at," Dextor said. "But war rooms are not noted for their interior design."
Peregrin arched an eyebrow. "Do you plan to start a war?"
"That will be largely up to you and Mikkel," Dextor said. "But I'm getting ahead of myself. Stand here. I want to show you something."
He went to one of the cabinets and opened the doors. Though he obscured its interior, Peregrin could see glints of metal from within. He withdrew a long object and brought it back to the table where Peregrin stood. It was a double-edged blade, about three feet long, with a crosspiece of metal and a handle at one end. Peregrin's thoughts spun for a moment until the word sword came to him.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Dextor said. "I found the description of them in the same book in which I read about Alexander. Long ago I proposed making these in Archiva. Of course, the council saw no reason to create such a weapon that could only be used for fighting. As soon as I established Second Archiva, I had Carlin find me a book about forges and the crafting of metal. You noticed my two forges when we arrived, didn't you? These are what they are making on them. Swords for my men to use in battle. Here, take it. Feel the weight."
Peregrin took the proffered weapon. He held it by the handle and waved it back and forth in the air. "It does have a fine balance to it," he said, admiring the keen edges.
Dextor smiled. "That's not all. Look at this." He went to the other cabinet and drew forth two items. One of them was a long, supple staff bent into an arc by a line looped around each end. The other was a hollowed-out piece of wood containing long, thin shafts with points of metal embedded in one end and feathers attached to the other. Again his thoughts spun, and the words bow and arrow came to him.
"They use smaller versions of these in Archiva for hunting, but nothing of this caliber," Dextor said. "You fit the arrow onto the string, pull it back, and let the recoil of the staff do the rest. Knowing the forest as I do, I was able to determine what wood would have the strongest recoil, giving a better range, accuracy, and distance. My men are becoming quite good with these."
Peregrin looked at the weapons before him and felt a tightness in his throat. Here before him Dextor had the advanced weaponry he had sought while in Archiva. What chance would hands fighting have against these?
"You see, don't you, that I could take Archiva by force at any time?" Dextor said.
"Why don't you then?"
Dextor smiled slightly. "One reason is that I love Archiva. I lived and fought and bled for the people who dwell there. Many of them were my friends. I have no wish to slaughter them. Another reason is that the people of Archiva are critical in my plan to restore order to this world. It is not wise to waste resources unnecessarily. But perhaps the best reason is that I am not the enraged animal that many Archivans believe me to be. I do not reject the principles of peace. It is the absolute dominion of peace that I reject. Force and fear are powerful tools when rebuilding a world. It is not enough to believe in peace. There are too many people who do not. They will only bow to an iron hand."
"Such as yours?"
"Don't you be sanctimonious with me too, Traveler," Dextor growled. "You used an iron hand with Crop and his men in the ruins. Was it necessary for you to break Daggert's arm? I think not. You wanted to punish them, to make them think twice before attacking innocent children, didn't you? You understood that nothing short of violence would stop them and prevent them from hurting others."
Peregrin did not reply, so Dextor continued. "This brings me to my last reason for not invading Archiva. Even I did not know it before Crop and his men returned from the ruins. That reason is you."
Peregrin blinked. "Me? I have no idea what you mean!"
"I'm not sure I do either," Dextor said. "There is much about you that does not add up. But I sensed from the moment I spoke with Crop, and from Carlin's reports, that we are bound together in this enterprise. I have seen in your reaction that you, too, understand the need for power. I think you have come to help me bring order back to the world and to fulfill O'Keefe's vision. I think we are brothers in this."
Peregrin stared at him. "You are deluded. Or you're completely insane. You and I could never work together."
Dextor cocked his head to one side. "I am not insane. Nor do I think I am wrong about you. I do think you are wrong about me. Wait until you have seen more of my works. I think you will have a different view then."
"I saw Rimmon," Peregrin said coldly. "I saw what you did to him. He told us what you did to Gabrielle, how you cut her throat in front of him, just to make your point. No matter what you have accomplished, you are still a murderer. You see violence as a first resort, a means to your end."
Dextor laughed. "Oh, I wish I could have seen their faces at that moment! How that must have frightened the peace-loving sheep of Archiva. 'The monster Dextor has returned!' But have no fear. I have something else to share with you." He turned toward the inner door. "Gabrielle, dear? Would you mind coming to meet our guest?"
There was a sound from within the inner room, and the woman appeared in the doorway. She was of medium height and slender. Her auburn hair rolled in tresses halfway down her back, and her green eyes glinted. She smiled and, stepping forward, extended her hand.
"You must be Peregrin," she said. "Carlin has told us so much about you."
Peregrin took the hand and then, on impulse, lifted it to his lips and kissed it. "Am I to believe you are Gabrielle?"
"Yes, you are," she answered. "Although I can see how you would be doubtful. Mikkel will know me when he sees me."
"It's just that I heard you were dead," Peregrin said.
Gabrielle laughed. "Yes, well, Dextor does enjoy a little drama. A blunt knife with a hollow handle filled with deer blood, spurting copiously when pressed in a sudden movement across my throat, followed by my collapse to the floor. Poor Rimmon had no choice but to think he had killed me."
"I'm sure he was in no shape to examine you. Didn't it bother you, letting them beat him nearly to death? After all, he was your partner."
"I did not want Rimmon to be hurt. Poor thing. I tried so hard these last two years to get him to see things our way. But he was so dedicated to protecting Archiva. He just would not budge. Dextor believed it was necessary or I would not have allowed it."
"I take it you have been working with Dextor for years?"
"Since he left Archiva, and even before. You will find that all of the Rangers who were assigned by Carlin to the northeast of Archiva are with Dextor."
"But Gabrielle is my most cherished Ranger, are you not?" Dextor said, taking her hand. He gazed into her eyes. "She has been with me since the beginning, since Franceen was killed. She has been my strength, my ambition, my lovemy wife."
"I'm happy for you," Peregrin said without emotion.
Dextor looked at him. "Do you find it so odd, Peregrin, that I could love someone and be loved by her? After all you have seen, do you still think of me as an inhuman monster? Do you think I have no more feelings than a machine?"
Peregrin paused. "No. I think you are completely human. As such, you can make bad choices, which lead to other bad choices, which lead to disaster."
Dextor laughed. "Archiva is the disaster! Listen, Peregrin. Archiva has all the means to set the world right again, to bring us back from the edge. But its leaders lack the will to use it. You have seen the outside world. Where have you found order or peace? Archiva sits on its Creed and protects its existence, but it does nothing for the outside world. Out there people go on killing and robbing and fighting. Is that O'Keefe's vision? Answer me that, Peregrin! Is this how O'Keefe wanted things to be a century after his death?"
Peregrin looked at him, trying to pierce the depth of the shadows in his eyes. He sighed. "No. O'Keefe believed that Archiva could set the remainder of humanity on a path of peace. I think if he were here, he would agree that his plan is behind schedule."
"Then you see why I do the things I do," Dextor said.
Peregrin shook his head. "O'Keefe would reject the path you have taken as well." A memory rose in his mind, and he grinned. "He would quote one of his favorite proverbs: 'Don't push the river.'"
"What does that mean?" Dextor said.
"It means some things have to develop at their own pace, if they are to endure. And sometimes that pace is slower than we would like it to be, but pushing will only lead to ruin. O'Keefe would not approve of your methods, Dextor, no matter how pure your intentions."
"You talk as if you knew him, Peregrin. How is it you are so confident about what O'Keefe would think?"
Peregrin shrugged. "I have seen Archiva, and I have listened to its people. It is on the right path."
"It is a path leading to a dry grave."
"So if you do not get what you want, you will destroy Archiva?"
Dextor looked to the side. His eyes grew opaque, and he took a deep breath. "That will not be necessary. Mikkel will tell me how to find what I seek. Then he and I can lead Archiva togetherin peace."
"Mikkel will not tell you what you want. And he will not share the leadership of Archiva with you. He will die first."
"Yes," Dextor said, nodding. "I'm afraid he will. However, Mikkel's life or death is more in your hands than his."
"Mine? I don't see what you mean."
"You have Mikkel's confidence. He testified for you before the council, he placed you on the platform beside him, and, Carlin tells me, you and he disappeared for a long time into the council building. In two days you have gained the trust I could not gain in a lifetime. You can obtain from him the information I seek. Perhaps you already have it."
"And if I refuse?"
Dextor sighed. "That would be unfortunate, since I would have no choice but to obtain the information from Mikkel himself. Every man has a breaking point. I'm sure Mikkel's is quite high, butwell, he, too, must have a limit to what he can bear."
"It doesn't have to come to that, Peregrin," Gabrielle broke in. "Dextor is not a madman. He doesn't like violence or killing."
"Then he should leave Archiva in peace."
Gabrielle shook her head sadly. "You don't know what it's like out here, in the forest all these years. We protected Archiva with our bare hands. And the council cries, 'Peace, peace.' Terists don't honor peace. They are not turned aside by creeds. They have knives and clubs and no fear of hurting or killing others. I lost my best friend because the council wouldn't listen to Dextor. I was there. I saw Franceen slaughtered in front of me, and Clive as well. Maybe all of us would have been killed but for Dextor. Only he had the courage to go beyond the Creed and avenge their deaths."
"Enough," Dextor said. "I will not wait long, Peregrin. You have seen what I have done. You have seen the order I have created out of chaos. You have until one hour after sunrise to get what I want. Then I will be forced to try another path." He opened the oaken door. "My men will meet you at the bottom of the stone steps. Don't try any tricks, or Mikkel and those six Rangers will die."
As Peregrin stepped past him, Dextor clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Do not think me an animal, Peregrin. You know in your heart that this is the only way Archiva can survive. I am not asking you to help me destroy Archiva; I am asking you to help me save it. You see the rightness of my vision."
Peregrin turned toward him. "I also see a thin line between vision and lust for power. Where do you stand?"
Dextor grinned. "That is for you to decide, my brother."