The Golden Oculus

The two pilgrims shuffled along the worn trail. The stones underfoot had grown slick with the passage of the many travelers that had come before them. Occasional debris that fell from the muddy cliffs along the edge presented an obstacle every few steps. Their feet moved side to side haphazardly avoiding the small pebbles and stones.

They followed the others or stopped to let the departing pilgrims come past on their ascent.  A group of them had slowed down, following a cart which held a sick nobleman. He was sitting in the back of a flat makeshift carriage of sorts, the wheels of which stumbled and skittered over rocky obstacles that came free of the rock wall in the latest rain. Two well-muscled men carried him along while the noble, an elderly dwarf, sat up and faced those who were following his cart. Whenever a wheel would snag on a rock, he would wince, and yet somehow a smile, perhaps forced but nevertheless present, would reappear on his face.  Several others were carried in a similar fashion, the men and women of means, those who could not walk to their destination but for whom the trek, the pilgrimage was all consuming.

They shuffled along the sloping passageway that wound itself around the inner wall of the vast chasm. The light of the morning still shone on the rocky walls above them, but the cold of the canyon’s shadow dug into their bones. The master reached behind him and put his hood over his head. The young man at his side did the same.

Below, lay the great eye.  The oculus.  This is what they had traveled so long to see. It was there before them now, one smaller shadow in the middle of the greater one that the boy had simply known as the dragon’s oculus, the dragon’s eye. It did not really resemble an eye he thought, for it was too circular.  He had seen pictures and carvings of dragons many times and he assumed the real thing would look like the dreaded beasts themselves did. He imagined the great serpent of Celn legend, opening an eye in a darkened cave, a last look at one of the moons waning. A flash, and then a great roar.  As he walked along, he kept trying to take a look under and through his master’s legs to the middle of the chasm below. He caught glimpses here and there. It wasn’t what he expected, although he couldn’t really conjure up an image of what that was because he had only ever heard about this place in story, but never in picture. He noticed the noble dwarf was doing the same, although he was being a bit less obvious about it.

He remembered what his master had told him.  A dark chasm, at the bottom of which lies a hole, and in that hole Frank, lies the hero’s chamber. It is a sacred place, and when I take you there, all that I have invested in you, will be shown.

Yes, Master Tiresias.

As usual, his mentor had been vague about the trek and vague about what they would see when they got there. But the young man was inquisitive and the road had been long, and so he asked again anyway.

“Master Tiresias, why have you taken me here?”

“Why is it that you believe I am the one who has taken you here? Clearly, child, your feet have taken you here of their own accord.”

Such were the answers he would receive.

The pilgrims wound their way further and further down towards the oculus.  There, a makeshift wooden bridge, what looked like little more than a sturdy ladder, extended from one side of the cavern to the other.  In the middle, rungs were missing and rope ladders extended down allowing those who had come to climb down, down into the darkness of the eye.  It took several hours of waiting, but finally, they too carefully walked across the bridge, and with his student’s help, the master and the child behind him climbed down themselves.

The air was damp and warm, and there was an ancient smell.  The smell of time, of old stone waiting for discovery.  Frank let his feet touch the ground, and reached out to steady himself.  He found Tiresias in the darkness and heard the sounds of others shuffling around them.  His master, although blind, was sure of foot. He never ceased to amaze the boy. Most of the people around them, remained unseen but he knew they were there for they were praying softly. The cave, or space was great and all around like starlight there were soft spheres of light from the magical stones the pilgrims carried.  They cast shadows around him, but let the darkness remain for others moving among the space.  Tiresias spoke a word of magic and his staff lit the area around the two.  Frank saw that they were standing in a vast circular chamber. Three concentric circles etched deeply into the ground. The walls where he could see were lined with six hollow spaces wherein once rested statues. In the center of the smallest etched circle lay a statue, turned away from him.  It appeared to be that of a cloaked figure.

“There are times when lives cross, and we do not see the threads we walk away from.  Nevertheless, they remained,” said the old man.  He looked down at Frank and smiled. Frank listened, knowing that if his mentor were ever to tell him why they had come here, it would be now.

“If one were to trace back their steps, one would know every path, so long as one walked within the light.”

“Master, I do not understand.”

“Good.”

“Master, your riddles test my intelligence. I am never smart enough to decipher them.”

“They are not riddles meant to test your intelligence, Acolyte of Silver. They are riddles of wisdom, and wisdom comes with time.”

“Master, I have not the time to become wise yet.”

“Then be wise Frank, and you will understand time.”

Frank cleared his mind, and focused on his master’s words.  As always, the thoughts overwhelmed him. He knew better than to dwell on the failure of his own misunderstanding. Instead, he walked around the statue. The old man followed him, careful to avoid those sitting in prayer in the spaces they moved through. Frank stopped and stared up into the smooth face of a man in serene thought.  The artist must have carved him long ago because although the stone seemed smooth, little detail could be made of the face.

“Frank, there will come a time when you will be here once more, although this statue will not be here.”

“Master, why is that so?”

“The Order will remove this statue, as it has so many others. As it must. You will not see it’s like again.”

“I understand m’Lord. But why will they remove it?”

“So that you will not see it, Frank.”

“But I already have, Master Tiresias.”

“Yes, that is true.”

“Is this then why you have brought me here?” Frank looked up into his mentor’s eyes.  They looked back at the boy, glazed, opaque.  They were and always had been the eyes of kindness.  The first kindness that Frank had ever known.

“Yes, it is, Frank. And you must remember this face.  For you will meet him soon.”

“But Master, how? How will I meet him? Surely, he has long since perished. Surely, I am no one to trifle with for someone so,” Frank stared back up into the face of the statue above him, “someone so magnificent.”

Tiresias did not answer.  The air around them hung with his thoughts.  A minute passed, and several more followed that.

“We will come here again, Master?”

“No Frank, you did not hear me correctly. You will come here once more.”

“And you will not?”

“That is correct young one.”

“And why will you not be here with me, Master?” The boy had grown fond of the old man. He was, in short, all he had. And the thought of losing him caused him to panic, whenever he thought of him dying.

“That is not the correct question, Frank.”

Frank thought carefully, trying to push his emotions aside to do the task he had been asked by his mentor. Master Tiresias told him once that the right question was much better than a correct answer.  It frustrated the boy, and yet he was becoming much better at it.

“When will I be here again?”

The kindly old man smiled, and put his hand around the boy. With the other he pointed to the face of the statue. “Do you see the figure here carved in stone, young one?”

“Yes m’Lord.”

“Describe it for me.”

“It depicts a man cloaked, although it is not finely carved, or else time has erased much of it’s detail.” The boy moved closer to the statue, and gazed upwards. He mentor stood behind him. The boy continued, knowing his teacher was listening carefully to everything he said, just as he always did. “The figure is cloaked, but I think Master that underneath the cloak it is too bulky. As though the figure wore heavy armor underneath.  And yes! There, on his back, rests a shield. This is more than a simple priest or monk, Master!  A fighting man is garbed in a priest’s cloak perhaps. There.” He pointed to a small area of stone along the outside hip of the figure. “He bears I think Master, a great mace. This is the figure of one who is both healer, and warrior.”

His master looked please. “It is the dying god, child. This is why it will be taken by the Order, so that more pilgrims do not worship that which takes from the flame’s righteousness.”

“The figure of legend, m’Lord?”

“The same.”

“But the images we have seen, those you have shown me in Cillandar, they do not look like this.”

“No, they do not.”

The boy seemed puzzled. “Then why is this the dying god image, m’Lord?”

Tiresias smiled once more. “You are learning to ask the proper question, m’Lord.” He patted the child on the head again..

Laughing a little, Frank turned to look into the kindly old man’s clouded eyes.  “You called me Lord, Master! I think you have forgotten who is who!” The boy laughed again. He loved his Master. He was still upset at the prospect of coming back here without him. Surely the old man, was letting him know he would join with the flame by the time he was able to make the pilgrimage again.

“I did not do that on mistake, Master Frank.”

“Master? I do not understand this riddle either.”

“When you return here, you shall Frank. You will learn that wisdom comes with time, but also that the time you need can come from wisdom.”

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