Chapter 17 – Gratitude of the Plumes
Previously on Deltora's Protector:
Harry Potter was tortured for months in a prison known as the Island. During his stay he lost his voice and as such can no longer speak. A rescue attempt was made and while Harry managed to get out, it wasn't in England he returned to. He was washed ashore the western shore of Deltora and taken care of by Verity, the spirit girl of Bone Point Lighthouse. Shortly afterwards he met Steven, Nevets and Queen Bee. He was renamed Aiden and spent a few months recovering at Queen Bee's orchard. One day he snuck away to the City of the Rats and became the owner of a fine bracelet. Aiden joined Steven on his rounds and during his adventures became friends with the Ralads, a Dread Gnome, the Resistance and became an enemy of the Shadow Lord.
The seven Great Gems of Deltora have been returned to the Belt of Deltora. Lief of Del has been identified as Heir, and the Shadow Lord has been driven from Deltora back to the Shadowlands. But now there are innocent Deltorans stuck in the Shadowlands and there is a cry for Lief to rescue them.
The adventure continues...
The Tale of the Pirran Pipe
Long, long ago, beyond the Mountains, there was a green land called Pirra, where the breezes breathed magic. Jealous Shadows lurked on Pirra's borders, but the land was protected by a mysterious Pipe, which played notes of such beauty that no evil could take root within the sound of its voice.
The Pipe was played morning, noon, and evening by the people's chief, the Piper, who was the finest player in the land.
One dark winter's night, the Piper of those days passed away in her sleep. The next day, three great musicians offered themselves as her replacement. They were called Plume the Brave, Auron the Fair, and Keras the Unknown.
The three played in turn before the people, as was the custom. Plume's playing was so stirring that the crowd cheered. Auron's music was so beautiful that her audience wept. Keras created sounds so haunting that all who heard them were rapt in wonder.
When the people voted to choose their favourite, each player received an equal number of votes. The three played again, and again. But each time the result was the same.
Night fell, but the testing went on. The people, who had by now separated into three groups according to their favourite, grew tired and angry. But each person wanted his or her own choice to become Piper, and would not vote for another.
At last, long after midnight, when the vote was called equal for the thirteenth time, the three groups turned furiously upon one another, using their magic to insult and injure.
A man in a hooded cloak stepped forward. He was tall, but bent with weakness, as though the long day and night of music had been almost beyond his endurance. Each section of the crowd thought that he was one of its own, for he had spent time with all three, urging its members to hold firm.
"I have a solution, my friends!" he cried. "Let the contestants share the honour of being Piper. The Pipe is made from three parts which fit together. Let Plume, Auron and Keras each take one part of the whole."
And so tired, so angry had the people become that they agreed. They gave Plume the mouthpiece of the Pipe, Auron the middle stem, and Keras the end piece. Then, because they still had bad feelings for one another, the three groups went their separate ways, each group following its own favourite.
The hooded man rubbed his hands, well satisfied, and slipped away like a shadow before the rising of the sun.
The dawn broke with no sound of music and the long day passed in silence, for the three rival groups were far apart, and no one piece of the Pirran Pipe could play alone.
Shadows crept into Pirra. Trees withered in their shade and flowers wilted. Little by little the Shadows swallowed up the green fields, the pleasant villages, while every moment the dread power cloaked within them grew stronger.
Too late, the three groups realised their danger. Shadows now rolled dark between them. They could not reach one another to make the Pipe whole. And at last, seeing that their land was lost, they were forced to use the last of their magic to escape, and save themselves.
So it was that the green land of Pirra became the Shadowlands. Its people, still blaming one another for their ancient loss, dwell to this day on three separate islands in a strange and secret sea.
And the Pirran Pipe, forever divided, is heard no more.
Ooh, a dragon, Aiden thought as he disappeared under the ground. He hovered for a moment, staring at the golden hide of the dragon, before sitting next to its head and returning to his human form. He could see the narrow passageway next to the dragon's head, and promised himself that he would follow it in a minute. The last dragon that he had gotten up close and personal with had been the Hungarian Horntail during the First Task, and this dragon had a powerful magnificence about it that the Horntail hadn't.
Aiden started as the foreign voice invaded his mind. The eye of the dragon opened slightly, pools of gold staring at him. The hope, longing and loneliness that had been present in the voice brought tears to Aiden's eyes, but he refused to let them fall. He reached out and put his hand on the dragon's nose, not trusting his voice, and spoke directly into the dragon's mind.
I'm afraid not. Doran has been gone for a great many years now.
Who are you?
Aiden, Deltora's Protector.
You look just like him.
The dragon closed his eyes again before going back to sleep. Aiden kept his hand on the dragon's head for a few moments longer before standing. Doran had been a famous explorer of Deltora, the greatest to have ever roamed the land. Many maps in existence in the Del Library had been drawn by Doran, and were far more accurate than any other drawn. He had also been a lover of dragons, hence the name Doran Dragonlover that the people of Deltora had bestowed upon him to destroy him. Dragons had never been considered friendly; in fact most saw them as nothing more than monsters.
But for the golden dragon to have known Doran, that meant that several centuries had passed while it had slept. There were no pictures of Doran, he had been labelled mad before the end, so Aiden had no idea if he looked like the man or not. He put it out of his mind and walked through the narrow passageway. He walked calmly, but not even he could prevent the shout of surprise as the ground beneath him disappeared and he fell into an underground river.
The water was freezing, and it was deep. He flailed for a moment before remembering his swimming lessons and forced his body to float. He sighed in frustration. He couldn't transform into his phoenix form when he was wet, and the firebird couldn't handle water. He wondered how long he would be able to float, his wet clothes would pull him down sooner or later, and then no one would find him or know what had happened.
"This is ridiculous," he murmured. The walls and roof of the cave around him were gold, and the reflection on the water made it seem as if the water was liquid gold. The water also tasted horrible, there was a faint metallic flavour to it, but it was the cold that really got to Aiden. He hated being wet, and he hated being cold. Swimming in the Broad River next to the orchard was different, because while he was there it was warm and he could sit next to the water to dry in the sun. This place had no shore, and there was a high chance that he wouldn't live to see dry land.
Seeing as he had time, Aiden decided that he would experiment with his magic. He froze the water in front of him, making an icy raft, before transfiguring it into wood. He pulled his cold body up onto it, and lay on his back. It wasn't big enough for his whole body, but it was big enough for him to lay on it and stay mostly out of the water.
An hour later Aiden sneezed. The force of the sneeze nearly sent him back into the water but he was able to regain his balance before that happened. Some time ago he had pulled his legs out of the water and was sitting cross-legged on the wooden raft, but while he was balancing his head was hanging limply because he was tired. The walls had long since lost its golden glow and were now ruby red. Aiden kept his eyes closed because he didn't want to look at the red water. It was too much like floating down a river of blood.
A shiver went across his body, and Aiden pulled his arms close to him to preserve what little warmth he had left. His shirt had dried, mostly, but his pants were still wet from where the water would wash over the top of the raft. He really hoped that he wasn't getting sick for he didn't have any energy to spare for healing himself.
Willing to risk it, he created a ball of blue fire to chase away the cold. He held it in his hands and smiled as the shivers faded. He lifted his head and looked forward, hoping to see some sign of Lief or the others. He told himself that when he saw Lief he would hit him for not waiting for him. How was he supposed to protect the King if the King didn't want to be protected?
A wave that was bigger than any previously washed over the top of the raft with such force that Aiden almost lost his balance. His body rocked as he tried to stay out of the water and on the raft, and his eyes narrowed angrily. He hoped that this was a part of Lief's plan for rescuing those trapped in the Shadowlands, because otherwise he was going to kick his butt.
Up ahead was the sound of waves crashing onto land, which made Aiden grin. Yet it was with a sigh Aiden that slid off his transfigured raft and swam to shore. He noticed that land was just a relative term, for the land was actually an inch or so under water. As he walked, he spotted a small village built into the cave walls. A cage with four figures a top of it was being pushed into another cave, and this one was void of any and all light.
Surrounding the cage, and hiding in the small houses, were small creatures about the size of a Dread Gnome but with a dog like face, no hair, and large bat like ears. A moment later, just before the cage disappeared from sight, Aiden recognised Lief and he was about to shout out in anger but restrained himself and began to walk towards the cave.
As he moved the little people stared at him, growing silent as they identified the anger on his face. Two little people were arguing about lighting up the darkness, and Aiden just pushed passed them without breaking stride.
"If you're not going to help them stand aside and let me through," Aiden ordered as a few more little people stood in his path. "I am not going to have them die. If anything, I'm going to kill them all for not telling me that they were leaving."
"What could you possibly do?!" one of the little people demanded. He appeared to be some kind of leader as his clothing was slightly different to everyone else's.
"Light up the place," Aiden spat at him. "You are far too cowardly to do so, and I can easily set the place on fire if I have to."
"Let the Longhair pass Worron!" the little woman demanded of the leader. "This may be our only chance to be free of the Fear!"
Aiden glared at him and took off his gloves. If he was going to fight he would need as much power as possibly. The woman, who Aiden heard being addressed as Nols, gasped upon spotting his bracelet. Aiden barely glanced at her before drawing in as much power as he could. His eyes closed as he focused, and when he opened them his emerald eyes were burning and flames sprung up on his arms. He pushed his arms forward and instantly the darkness before him retreated as the flames lit up every corner of the cavern.
"Stand aside," he ordered again. Without even thinking of disobeying his order, the two blocking his path ran away and Aiden strode forwards. Water below his feet heated up and steam started to rise up into the air.
"Protector!" Nols called out suddenly. Aiden paused but didn't turn. "Good luck!"
Aiden smiled slightly, he would have to ask them later how much they knew about the world above. They didn't strike him as the kind of people who would willing leave their cave.
The path that the cage had taken was straight, but at the edge were a long drop, and a monster unlike anything Aiden had ever seen before. Monstrous tentacles flailed in every direction, striking out at the intruders to its nest, and on the wall opposite Aiden was the body of the beast. It could have been a squid or an octopus, it could have been a hermit crab with that shell behind it, but Aiden knew that this creature before him was more of a dark experiment than any natural beast. It was far too big be a normal creature, this was something that the Shadow Lord had created to prevent easy travel below ground, something that shouldn't exist at all.
This was the Fear.
He couldn't see the others, even though he knew that they were down there. The tentacles reached for him, sensing him where it couldn't see, and without even thinking about it he sent the strongest reducto that he could manage. The tentacles were blasted apart and the most horrible sound erupted from the beast that Aiden smiled.
Magic flew in every direction. And even though Aiden could feel his energy fading he continued to destroy the creature one tentacle at a time. It continued to scream and then at the last moment Aiden spotted Glock making his way to the mouth of the beast. Nothing Aiden could have done would have saved Glock as the man thrust his sword through the creature's mouth and down his throat. He could, however, make sure that the others were safe by wrapping their bodies in protective shields so that they wouldn't be crushed by the now collapsing tentacles.
Once there was silence Aiden let the shields fall. The last thing that he needed to do was erase the Fear from existence. His magic lashed out and after two minutes there wasn't a sign that the Fear had been in that cavern…it was gone. He sank to his knees, exhausted, and waited for the others to return. The little people appeared next to him, and he blinked up at the one he recognised as Nols. She helped him to stand and led him away so that the others could rescue the upworlders.
"Protector, you were amazing to watch," Nols said as she helped him hobble to the village. "Doran spoke of the power of the Protector often, but he said that the power had dimmed until it was almost non-existent. To see you do that…that is not the case anymore, is it?"
"The power of the Belt has been restored, and in turn so has the Protector's power," Aiden explained. "But Lief is going to get himself killed if he keeps on insisting going off without letting me know where he is going."
"Doran never told my ancestors that using magic drained you," Nols continued, smiling a little as she heard the worry in Aiden's voice. "You look to be moments from passing out."
"I am," Aiden admitted. "I haven't used magic like that since the Shadow Lord was driven back beyond the mountains. It may sound like a cliché, but magic comes with a price. For me, it's my energy. Every time I cast a spell, I lose a little of myself."
"Your magic is killing you?"
Aiden looked up and turned so that he could see Lief. The King was standing just behind him with a horrified expression on his face. Behind him were Barda and Jasmine, and their expressions echoed Lief's. Aiden closed his eyes for a moment. He had always intended to tell his friends that there was a price to magic, but he hadn't intended on using those words when explaining it.
"In a sense," he told them slowly. "Any energy that I use up, I can usually regain after eating a good meal."
"Usually?" Lief asked.
"If I use a lot of magic at once it takes a little longer, and I sometimes don't get it all back."
"What happens then?" Jasmine asked.
"I take it easy for a while, I get stronger, and I do the exact same thing again."
"Were you ever going to tell us…tell me?" Lief asked, anger in his eyes. Aiden shrugged off his weakness and pulled Lief away from the others. Despite how angry Lief appeared to be, he still helped Aiden to walk lest he fall over. As soon as they were a slight distance away, where they could be seen but not heard, Aiden stopped and leant against a nearby wall.
"Well?" Lief asked, kneeling in the water in front of him.
"The most important thing that you need to be thinking of at this moment is freeing the slaves in the Shadowlands," Aiden told him. "Then, and only then, can you turn your focus to the internal matters of Deltora. What is your plan taking this road?"
"Rebuild the Pirran Pipe," Lief replied with a sigh. "Are you strong enough to join us?"
"Rebuilding the Pipe? Well, that's better than your plan of 'get to the Shadowlands and free the slaves, somehow'," Aiden muttered. "And Marilen is fine, she knows how to contact me."
"Then you should contact her, rest, and we'll travel tomorrow."
"You need to rest too, would you like me to heal your arm?"
"My arm will be fine," Lief said, looking down at his slightly bloody arm from where the Fear had attached him. Aiden nodded, and with Lief's help was able to stand again. They walked back over to the others.
"Your friend will be honoured among us," Nols said as they came within earshot. Glock's body was carried passed them, shrouded and cloaked in red. "He will lie with the Pipers of Plume, and never be forgotten."
Aiden lowered his eyes in respect, staying silent as the body continued. Jasmine's eyes followed the body, before returning to Nols and smiling.
"Glock would like that," she said. "He would like to take his place with chiefs."
"Our debt to him, and to you, can never be repaid," Nols continued. "We have little enough to give, but whatever we have is yours. Boats for your journey. Food. Light, as far as we are able to supply it…"
Aiden waited with baited breath. He knew what Lief would ask, and he could see how Jasmine and Barda were also waiting. Lief took a breath to prepare himself, and everyone looked at him.
"There is one thing which only you can give us. It is a treasure we dearly need – though only for a time. The mouthpiece of the Pirran Pipe."
Nols stepped back from them, a stricken look on her face. The people around her started to whisper, their murmurs showing just how upset they were with the request. Lief looked back at Aiden, Barda and Jasmine in dismay. Barda was frowning in angry disbelief, Jasmine, who knew nothing of the Pirran Pipe just yet, was confused, and Aiden was apathetic. He just wanted to go rest, update Marilen on what was happening, and regain his strength.
"I know we ask a great deal," Lief continued desperately. "But I beg you to consider our request. If we are able to save our people from the Shadow Lord we must make the Pipe whole again. It is the one thing the Shadow Lord fears. The one thing that may give us time to–"
Nols held up her hand at the same time that Aiden reached forward and placed his hand on Lief's shoulder. Lief looked at Aiden in confused desperation, but Aiden just shook his head slowly.
"You do not understand," Nols said with a trembling voice. "It is not that we will not give you the mouthpiece of the Pipe. It is that we cannot. It was lost long ago."
"Not lost – stolen!" Worron stated sharply and with much anger. He strode towards the group, an imposing figure in red. "The symbol of the Piper's leadership was stolen from the people by the Seven Traitors – the wicked ones who left the safety of our seas for the world above."
"It was in ancient times, when the Plumes' time in the world below had not been long," Nols explained quietly. "The people of those days were not accustomed to the caverns, as we are. It is written that the rebels planned to find a place of safety, then return and lead the Plumes back into the sun. But they never returned."
"That sounds familiar," Aiden admitted. Nols nodded at him.
"Doran the Dragonlover told our ancestors that they had all lost their lives. He knew a tale of it. It was an old tale often told, he said, by the members of a savage Longhair tribe called Jalis, whose own ancestors had done the killing."
"Yes," said Worron maliciously. "The Seven Traitors were destroyed, and the mouthpiece of the Pipe with them, no doubt. So if the Pipe is what you have come here to seek, Longhairs, your journey, your time, and your friend's life, have all been wasted."
"Wasted?" Aiden asked, glaring at the little man. "The Fear is dead. You no longer have to be afraid of it. No more sacrifices! Glock's death is sad, but he died a warrior's death and for that I know that he is happy!"
"We do thank you for that," another little person said. "But–"
The little person broke off, staring at Jasmine. Aiden followed his gaze and saw that Jasmine had Glock's talisman in her hands. He assumed that the warrior had bestowed it upon her as he had no other family left. But what had drawn everyone's attention was what had been inside the talisman. A dusty, oddly-shaped piece of wood now sat in the palm of her hand, and that was what everyone couldn't take their eyes off of.
Nols reached out and took the object reverently. She slowly dipped it into the water, and centuries of dirt and dust loosened up and lifted away. When she stood up, the wood in her hands seemed to glow, a small miracle of shining wood and strange, carved patterns.
"The mouthpiece of the Pirran Pipe," she whispered.
"What-? Where-?" Worron stuttered, eyes wide.
"Glock had it all the time," Jasmine explained calmly. "It was part of a talisman passed down to him by his family. He had no idea it was anything more than a lucky charm. Neither did I, until a few moments ago – and even then I only suspected the truth."
"It is a miracle!" Nols cried in joy. "Our treasure has been returned to us! Now we can pay our debt to you."
Lief accepted the mouthpiece with a smile. He turned to Barda who was staring at the mouthpiece in amazement. There was excitement in Lief's eyes as he started to speak about the next island, the Island of Auron.
"First we must find our way back to Del," Barda firmly protested. "Doom is waiting for us there, with supplies, fighters–"
"No!" cried Jasmine fiercely. "There can be no delay! Time is running out! We must–"
She broke off, realising that all three boys were looking at her. Aiden stared at her curiously. There had been something personal in her desperation, something familiar.
"Why do you say this Jasmine?" Barda asked.
"I heard…heard that the Shadow Lord was going to kill the prisoners. Very soon."
"Birds told you this?" Lief asked sharply. Aiden watched her closely. So many emotions rushed passed her eyes, conflict, desperation, hope…before she nodded. Sometimes Aiden wished that he could read minds.
"Then we must go on," Lief said instantly. "The four of us."
"No!" Barda growled. "You, at least, cannot–"
"I can," Lief stated firmly. "Aiden's with us, and I think it was always meant that I should."
"But you are Deltora's King!" cried Jasmine.
"And I am his Protector," Aiden told her with a frown. "Do you doubt my ability to keep him alive?"
"I cannot be a prisoner," Lief added. "I may be the king, but I am still Lief. Please, I have to do this."
Barda and Jasmine knew that nothing they said would change his mind. Aiden grinned slightly before it faded as he swayed on the spot. He really needed to rest. Lief seemed to sense his growing weakness, for he moved closer to his side and when they were provided with a place to sleep, helped the Protector to somewhere dry.
Aiden collapsed onto a bed with a sigh of relief. He heard Lief chuckle and move off to the others to talk without disturbing him. Once Aiden was sure he was gone he slipped his left hand over the bracelet and connected to Marilen.
Adin's Heir, can you talk?
He heard a shriek, and he knew that he'd startled Marilen. Several minutes passed before he felt Marilen using the Belt to talk with him.
Yep, how are you?
How am I? Marilen asked. How are you? Why does your voice feel exhausted?
Found Lief. His plan for 'rescue the slaves in the Shadowlands, somehow' is underway so we won't be back for a while. Will you be alright on your own for a few weeks minimum, a few months max?
Yeah, no one knows that I'm here. I'll update you when something happens.
Thanks, let Sharn and Doom know that we're safe? Oh, and Glock died a hero's death.
I will, my condolences for Glock's death. Now get some sleep! If I have to contact you every day to make sure that you're eating, I will.
Aiden grinned as he lifted his hand from the bracelet. Marilen was fine. He hoped that it would take a while to get to the Shadowlands. He needed to give Sion a little more time before they were ready to move. Timing was everything now.
The Shadow Lord wouldn't know what hit him.
Aiden slowly drifted off to sleep, the only sound reaching him were the waves crashing against the houses and melodic voices raised together in joy and freedom.
Above our land the tumult rages, Struggle echoes through the ages, There the strife may never cease, But here below we dwell in peace. Where timeless tides swamp memory, Our sunless prison makes us free. The gem-glow lights our rocky walls, And dragons guard our shining halls.
Next up in Deltora's Protector:
Chapter 18 – Treachery of the Aurons