Sinter crystal. The fist sized lumps spilled their way out of the gash, so recently hewn into the rock face. Light flared, glared, dazed and dazzled the miners, as they scurried to a safe distance. Fear? It was hardly fear, as such, that forced them away. Caution, yes, but they were well pleased with their discovery. Look at them dancing and singing. Slapping each other on the back as if they were the best of friends, and not, each and every one of them, already planning how to increase their own individual share. The usual way of accomplishing this was to reduce the number of claimants. In those days, the phrase ‘accidental death’ had, as a general rule, little to do with accidents. They all knew the old saying, “Where sinter shined, varhl cannot be far behind”. There, of course, lay the problem. Old wives tales usually can be seen to have an element of truth in them somewhere. Sayings are a totally different matter and, despite their widespread use, do have a tendency to exhibit some kind of inbuilt ‘inaccuracy factor’. In this particular case, the saying was unfortunately (but more of that later) true.
Ah yes, sinter crystal. Pretty to look at, once it had been cut, ground, and polished, but difficult to mine. A badly flawed chunk of the raw material had a nasty habit of exploding when exposed to daylight. It had become normal practice to ‘retreat’ once you had found it, always near the surface, just in case you suddenly discovered a few hundred shards of sharp crystal heading unexpectedly, and dangerously rapidly in your direction. Sinter, due to this precarious characteristic, usually became part of fairly expensive jewellery. You could make more than a healthy living from the stuff. To these gentlemen it was nothing more than a guide to the greater riches they believed lie beyond it.
Varhl crystal? Now that ‘is’ something else. Just remember, we are talking about the days before the sons of Gildraith: probably, before Gildraith himself. No one really understood what it was capable of: no one really cared. Imagine, if you can, a rich merchant who once had a dream that they could fly. What would they gain from possession of a certain substance? The ability to, perhaps for thirty seconds in each day, levitate themself about three or four hand-spans above the ground. Not one in eight people could even ‘do’ anything with varhl, and the gifts it bestowed upon its user were, more often than not, unpredictable.
Ah, but for the chance to try …. ? What would they pay for this dubious luxury?
A fortune: several fortunes. It is hardly surprising that, in terms of profit margins, sinter had become relatively worthless; almost something to be thrown away … at least, as far as these particular miners were concerned.
By the end of the second day, due to a quite astonishing abundance of accidents, our merry little group had been reduced to a sixth of their original number.
He was chuckling to himself as he swung the heavy pickaxe again, and again.
His thoughts seemed to form some kind of crazed litany. A counterpoint to the sound of the rocks landing: Casually tossed over his shoulder, one by one, as he dug deeper, and deeper.
“Fools: not to even suspect …. (thud, thud, thud). Idiots: accusing each other …. (thud, thud, thud). Fools: thinking that I was too simple to plan …. (thud, chink, thud). Idiots: letting me …. ‘chink’?”
It didn’t take him too long to find it amongst the others. The discarded rocks all looked and sounded the same, apart from this one. On one side you could just see a small pin-prick of white. Turn it over and …. The sight almost stopped him breathing. A circle of milky crystal: varhl, surely. Inside the unassuming chunk he held, was a small cone of the substance: if pure, probably worth more than he could possibly spend in one lifetime. Human greed being what it is, needless to say, he wanted more. Was it too much to hope that the cone continued to expand, past where he had been digging?
The light just wasn’t good enough. Not from the tallow torches that were all he had to illuminate the small cave he and his ‘departed’ friends had excavated. He couldn’t find any sign of where the rock had come from. There was no beckoning circle of white on the wall in front of him: hinting at the vast riches that lay hidden behind it.
This is where he made the biggest mistake of his life: or what was left of it, anyway. It was towards the end of the day, and I suppose he had every reason to be tired, and not thinking straight. Of course: the hole was quite deep, and safely past where you might possibly expect to find sinter crystals. When he awoke in the morning, it wouldn’t be too much trouble to enlarge the entrance. Natural light would be far better for showing him where the varhl lay.
He slept quite comfortably. Dreaming about his future, and how he would spend the wealth he was certain that he was about to acquire. Actually, he wasn’t that much mistaken. There was, indeed, much more than a fortune buried nearby: a fairly large (nearly a man’s height in diameter), roughly ball shaped mass of raw, and ‘not quite’ pure, varhl ore, not far in from where he had found the tip of the cone.
The day dawned bright and cheerful, as most days did at this time of the year. On awakening, without stopping for any kind of breakfast meal, his burst of activity was almost feverish in its intensity. Heedless of broken fingernails, scratched skin, or anything else irrelevant to the job at hand, he ‘chewed’ away at the solid cliff.
The sun hardly had time to claw its way completely above the horizon, before he was finished. Throwing the pick and shovel behind him, he knelt down at the end of ‘his’ tunnel: eager to admire his own private treasure, as soon as the sun’s rays revealed its location to him.
He waited impatiently: turning yesterday’s find over, and over, in his hand: sometimes tossing it into the air, and plucking it easily from it’s downwards course, as it fell earthwards.
“Soon”, he thought. Soon the light would be high enough in the sky that everything would be made clear to him.
Slowly: oh, so slowly, the line that separated light from dark moved across the rough ceiling. It crept, eventually, down the wall in front of him. Further, and further it slid: illuminating more, and more of the artificial cave.
You all know how rare sinter crystal is: don’t you? How it absorbs energy in it’s raw form until it can hold no more, and has to release it, somehow. You have probably already been taught how much rarer varhl is … and that stuff has a habit of amplifying certain ‘talents’.
Can you imagine a third substance? Even rarer, and more dangerous, than either of those? An amalgam of the two: Combined in one unnatural ore. That was what his little ‘spike’ was made of: and the remainder of the cone, embedded in the rock.
I’ll let you in to a little secret. Nature doesn’t actually believe in ‘coincidence’, but she is quite capable of using it to her own ends. As I said, it was an unnatural ore: and, therefore should not have been allowed to exist. It was, of course, nothing more than coincidence that the sun just happened to strike a certain white circle of crystal, at the same time that it also caught a pin-prick of light from a small rock (being juggled by a greedy man). The little ‘conelet’ went home to its source, in a soundless explosion of energy. The mother ore, complete again, decided that it had had far too much of all this, and just gave up on it’s own existence.
Like miniature comets or stars with a severe headache, the crystal knives neatly stripped the flesh from his bones. Being absolutely honest with you, they didn’t even slow down a great deal when they encountered the harder parts of his body.
The dust settled. Within the ‘larger than it had been’ hole in the cliff, there was no sign that anything living had ever been there.
“That’s more than enough for one evening’s storytelling. There’s always tomorrow …. Well? Come along: it’s time for you to get some sleep. I’ll be here for several days”.
Corlee dismissed the children without too much bother. Most of them knew her from previous visits, and were well aware that ‘she’ decided when it was time for a break.
I looked across at her. She sensed my gaze, and glanced back with a “so what” expression on her face. Like the children, it seemed that I, also, would have to be patient. The story just wasn’t going to go any further tonight.
It hadn’t even been my idea. Oh no: my companion has to take the blame for that. The children, usually, are the first to ‘prompt’ the seer into telling them some kind of historical tale. Even the ones that don’t know her: but are aware of her reputation, normally join it with suggesting possible topics for a story. Earlier on, they had been uncommonly quiet. It was left to a certain philosopher (so called) to, almost casually; ask her if she knew anything about the origins of the Corllain. Dantor at least had the grace not to wince when I kicked him under the table.
I’ve learnt to take most of what she says with a large cup of keevah: In my world, I would phrase that as “with a large pinch of salt”, but I do have, through experience and my own talents, one point of view regarding this particular ‘lady’.
She might not always tell the truth in so many words, but she rarely, very rarely, says anything that could be interpreted as a lie.