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The Clan of the Stone

Book Two

The Akamerian Empire


By

Kurt F. Kammeyer


Copyright 2017 Kurt F. Kammeyer


Smashwords Edition


License Notes


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Introduction


‘Tis I, Elizabeth speaking. There is much for me to review of all that transpired in our first book. You learned about Fort Kanosh, and of my first encounter with Ben. ’Twas difficult for me to become a Believer, but I tried my best. The other girls were hurtful to me, but Mistress Miriam, bless her, instructed me in Midlandish grammar and customs, until at length I looked and sounded less the Outsider.

Ben gave his other name-stone to me, and never the same our lives were thereafter. Our thoughts became one, our feelings became one, even our aches and pains did merge. We vowed never this secret to reveal to anyone, but then we had a falling-out, and the thought-link it did cease.

At length Grand Matron Ariella learned about my name-stone. Quite surprised I was, at her reaction. She approved wholeheartedly of my keeping the stone. She also revealed her most cherished secret to me—that she too possessed her own name-stone, albeit a false one.

Then Ben, he told me that he had decided to attend the Academy, and I was heartbroken. I feared that the two of us never would meet again.

‘Tis at that point that this book, it does begin.

Elizabeth isha Benjamin

Kanosh City, in the fourth turn of the Seventh Eon


Chapter 1

Benjamin


After riding the dragon-train for two weeks, I arrived in Salem and was formally inducted into the Deshret Academy as a Novice in the Physics Department. After filling out my enrollment papers I collected my stack of books: Physics, Electrical Theory; Trigonometry; Geography; and Chancellor Orson’s own treatise, Key to the Science of Theology. I groaned as I hefted the stack. Looks like I have my work cut out for me, I thought.

I made my way to the Novice barracks on the north side of the compound. When I saw my new surroundings, my heart sank. My mind instantly flashed back to Fort Kanosh, and Bess. I tried extending my thoughts to her, but the distance was just too great.

Feeling depressed, I dropped my knapsack and books on my assigned lower bunk. My upper bunkmate glanced up at me from his reading and said, “You new here too? I’m Isaac.”

We shook hands. I replied, “Yeah, Isaac, I just arrived on the dragon-train… Y’ know, when I look round here I feel like I never even left home. Only difference is, back at Fort Kanosh I slept in that bunk over there. You ever lived in a fort before, Isaac? They’re all built exactly the same. I bet the roof here leaks, too.”

Isaac dropped his book, sat up and said, “No, I grew up in a house right here in Salem. This place already feels like a prison to me, like I’m all shut in. Compared to my folk’s big house, this place is a trash-midden. Guess I’ll just have to get used to it, though… Say, did you mention Fort Kanosh? So, were you really one of those quaint, old-fashioned communal folk living out in the hinterlands?”

“Yeah, what of it?” I replied, feeling sorta insulted.

“Wow…” Isaac breathed. “So, is it true, everybody there dresses the same and you share everything, right down to your toothbrush?”

“No, not everything… but—”

“And you learned that strange Deshret alphabet? And never used real money?”

“Well, we had Order scrip… “

“That’s so, so… primitive! So you really don’t know what it’s like to live in your own house, have your own ma cook for you, or have your own money or your own piece of land to work? Man, I sure feel sorry for you.”

This new bunkmate was really starting to annoy me. “It warn’t that bad, really! I never felt, well, poor, if that’s what you mean. Believe me, you’d get usta’ it.”

“Not me, Order-boy.” Isaac reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver shiqlu, which he flipped into my lap. “Now this is real wealth, and when I graduate from here, I’m gonna make lots and lots of it.” Isaac leaned back on his bunk and smiled.

I looked at the first silver coin I’d ever held and thought, Cocky fellow, this Isaac…

I guess till this moment, I’d always just sorta figgered that every Believer lived the United Order like me. It struck me all of a sudden just how special and unique my life in the Order had been—in fact, I felt a bit smug about it. We’re the true Believers, I thought. This Isaac, and all those like him, are only half-Believers, closer to Outsiders, really.

Chapter 2

Benjamin


The next day Chancellor Orson held a convocation to welcome his twenty new Novices to the Academy. I hafta admit, I was pretty excited to meet him again and really start my education. Then I entered the central building and took my place on the same kind of familiar, worn benches that I’d used for eating, studying, and worship at Fort Kanosh, ever since I was a small child. I glanced round and thought, What’s the point of traveling two hundred miles, just so’s I can sit down at the same table where I already spent eight turns learning penmanship, arithmetic, and the Deshret alphabet from Brother Timothy?

In a few minutes Chancellor Orson entered. He wasted no time with introductions.

“You are the select few, the very top of your graduating classes,” the chancellor said. “What of it? What have you learned, up to this point? Really nothing, when compared with God’s wisdom, which is infinite.”

Orson pointed at Isaac, who was sitting next to me on the front row.

“Young man, why are you here?”

I could see Issac was caught off guard. He replied, “I suppose, to gain an education…sir?”

“If that is all you came for, that is all you will go away with! I want to open your minds to a far nobler aspiration—to tap into the infinite knowledge of God, who is waiting to reveal his knowledge to you, young students, for the good of mankind—but how will you accomplish that? How?”

No one spoke. I hadda admit, I han’t a clue, neither.

“Let me try another tack here. Of all the departments in this Academy, which would you consider the most important? Astronomy, Geography, Theology, Mathematics, Physics, or Music?”

More silence.

“I put it to you that the key of knowledge, the key to the comprehension of all of these other branches of science, is theology! Why? Because the knowledge of God and his ways will lead you to all other truth. Don’t you see? If you comprehend God, you will comprehend “All Things”—BA KOL in the ancient Edomic tongue, and then there is nothing that will be withheld from you!”

I thought, What’s he getting at? I’m here to learn engineering.

“Why theology? It is the science of all other sciences and useful arts, being, in fact, the very fountain from which they emanate. It includes philosophy, astronomy, history, mathematics, geography, languages, the science of letters, and blends the knowledge of all matters of fact, in every branch of art, or of research.

“All that is useful, great and good, all that is calculated to sustain, comfort, instruct, edify, purify, refine or exalt intelligences, originates by this science, and this science alone, all other sciences being but branches growing out of this, the root.”

This was a real eye-opener for me. I’d always assumed that I got my learning from books and teachers, and that’s it. This idea of having God for a teacher was kinda new and scary to me. Chancellor Orson said a lot more high-minded stuff along this same line; then he finished up like this:

“I say in conclusion: In proportion as you develop your spiritual faculties here, in like proportion will God reveal to you all other matters, whether in heaven or in Edom, or beneath Edom. That is what it means, young man, to ‘gain an education’, as you so glibly put it. Now, I say to all of you: Go to, and may the powers of Heaven aid you in your research. That is all.”

As the students exited the hall, I smiled at Isaac and thought, maybe I’m not such a provincial hayseed after all.

On my way out of the hall, Chancellor Orson spied me and pulled me aside. “Ah, Benjamin, so good to see you here at the Academy at last! I must tell you, Headmaster Timothy spoke very highly of you. And how is your father, Jacob?”

“He’s doin’ real well, sir, an’ thank you,” I replied. Then I remembered something. “Sir… d’you know a student here named Levi? He’s my cousin. I been lookin’ for him.”

Orson looked puzzled. “Levi? Levi who?”

I was taken aback. “Uh, Levi ben Alijah? He’s here, right?”

Orson thought for a moment and replied, “Ah, no… we’ve never had a student by that name here, I assure you. I’m sorry.”

Orson excused himself, while I just stood there baffled. What happened to Levi?

After dinner that evening, I wrote to my parents:

Dear Ma and Pa,


I really like it here, but I miss you real bad too. I thought Brother Timothy was tough on me. But that warn’t nothing compared to this place. I know I can make a go of it. I got some real great teachers here. Some of them are kinda odd. My electricity teachers are Master Thomas and Master Nicola. I don’t think they like each other much. They’re always arguing about which is better, direct current or alternating current. Don’t ask, I don’t know what those are neither. Guess I’ll soon find out, though. Oh yeah, tell Brother Timothy that Master Philo is real excited about our Image Dissector. He said he “Can’t wait to work on it with me.” That made me feel real good.


This afternoon I learned the hard way not to wear my hat in the dining-hall. If you do, everyone jumps up and throws chunks of bread at you and yells ‘kovah!’—which means ‘hat’ in Edomic, I’m told. It’s a real ancient tradition. I told you it’s kinda strange here, but in a fun sorta way.


I pray for you every day. Say hi to Bess for me. Write soon,


Ben


I also wrote a letter to Bess, telling her the same things, pretty much. I finished up with this:

I miss you so bad it hurts. I keep listening for your thoughts, but I can’t hear them. Did you get my heliograph message? I sure hope so. Write soon.


Love,

Ben


A few weeks later I got my first letter from Fort Kanosh. Excitedly I broke open the wax seal and scanned the text. It was written in the Deshret alphabet—badly, I noticed. The paper was all wrinkled and folded, as if it had been carried around for a good while before being mailed. To my surprise, at the bottom of the page I saw, not Bess’s or my parents’ signature, but Daniella’s. Disappointed but curious, I read the letter.

My Darling

Dear Ben,


How are you? I am fine. Do you like the Acadame? I hope so. I am We are all real prowd of you. I We miss you a lot. I wish I could have goten to now you beter befor you left. I am SO glad you brok up with Bess. She told me she nevr wants to talk to you agan. Ever! She is real bittr and unhapy. You now she hates men, dont you? That is so sad. But like I said, you cant trust an Outsidr. I hope you will rite to me soon. I think about you a lot. And dream about you too. I like you a whole bunch. Please rite.


Love,

Daniella


Oh, brother… I thought, smiling. She han’t a clue just how close Bess and I are. Should I just ignore her? Probly…

Chapter 3

Elizabeth


After Ben left Fort Kanosh, I returned to my labors in the tailor shop. A few months later old Sister Abish died, and shortly thereafter Sister Rachel retired from the shop because her hands had become too palsied. Before retiring, she recommended me as her replacement as head seamstress, explaining that the shop “needed some younger hands for a change.” That left me in charge of the entire tailor shop.

The next week, I gathered my young seamstresses around me and told them my plan.

“You cannot tell a soul about this,” I warned. “If word gets out, they will shut us down. It has to all happen at once, before they can stop us. Are we agreed?”

Over the next few weeks each of my seamstresses quietly worked on a new dress—but Fort Kanosh had never seen anything like these dresses before. I had secretly ordered several battens of taffeta, sateen, organza and plaid cotton cloth from Salem. I allowed the girls to modify the “standard issue” United Order dress pattern as they wished, within modesty of course; and I provided guidance to each girl on how to embellish her own dress. I also taught some of them how to weave brocade on the loom.

One day Daniella came to me, needing assistance with the rather complicated sleeves on her new dress. As we sat together and stitched, I noticed her eyeing me carefully. I knew exactly what was on her mind—Ben had sent her letter to me several weeks before. I smiled inwardly and thought, Underestimating Ben and me, this girl she has. Time to spill the kloh-beans, it is…

As I continued to stitch, I said off-handedly, “So, Daniella… I was wondering—have ye heard from Ben since he departed?”

Taken aback, Daniella said hesitantly, “Well, no… why d’you ask?”

“Because I heard from him, just recently. How curious… Never did I suspect that ‘bitter and unhappy’ I be, and a man-hater besides. My, you think you know me so well, don’t ye?”

Daniella turned bright red and stammered. “I—ah, but, that is…”

I laughed. “Do not worry yourself, Daniella. ’Tis all right.”

I linked my two thumbs and forefingers in a chain. “Ben and I be this tight—In truth, ye have no idea just how tightly bound we be to each other. But still, I think not the less of you for trying, now then.” I put my arm around her.

Daniella dropped her head and whispered, “I—ah, I’m sorry, Bess… I had no idea…” Then she jumped up and fled the room, crying.

I feld pity for Daniella, but my pity was intermixed with an enormous sense of victory—for the first time in my life, I had fought and prevailed. Ben was now mine, and no one would ever take him away from me. ‘Twas a great satisfaction to me, even if at Daniella’s expense.

At the end of three weeks, we were ready for our great “coming out.” My ten girls quietly assembled in the tailor shop and I locked the door. There was much giggling and laughing as each girl made the transformation from blue “worker bee” to “fashion plate.” Until now, we had not all seen each other in our new garb.

I had sewn a beautiful red-and-black corseted tavern dress with black lace and three petticoats, exactly like my mother used to wear. Levana had made an elegant blue taffeta dress with petticoats. Her sister Daniella wore a sateen dress with puffed sleeves and a pleated, lace-covered bodice. Some very elaborate hats and bonnets were in evidence, too, as well as rouge and eye-shadow.

When all of the girls had finished dressing, I looked around the room and said, “My, there is beau—I mean, you all look beautiful! Are we all ready? Then let us go!”

I opened the tailor shop door and all eleven of us quickly fanned out and sashayed down the aisles of the central building, acting as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Men’s jaws dropped and women gasped as my ten young models paraded their finery. Then suddenly every woman in the hall jumped to her feet and began clapping.

“Hurray!”

“Well done!”

“It’s about time!”

“Where can I get one?”

“I want one too!”

When Grand Hegemon Elazar heard the noise and came out of his office, I could tell that he was dumbfounded, which pleased me greatly.

“Oh, no… We’ll never turn back the clock on this now,” he confided to Brother Thomas. “This truly is the beginning of the end for the United Order.”

“Maybe, maybe not…” Thomas replied, scratching his chin. “In any case, I like what I see.”

Chapter 4

Benjamin


A few months later I celebrated my fifteenth birthday at the Academy, and two months after that another new turn dawned in Edom.

As the time passed, I settled into my schedule of classes: astronomy, trigonometry, geography, electricity lab, and physics. On the roof of the main building was a dome-shaped observatory with a five-inch telescope—much larger than the one Professor Orson had demonstrated at Fort Kanosh—and I spent many nights there observing the wonders of Eternity, as Professor Orson narrated.

“Edom is the fourth planet from our sun,” he explained. “The Akamerians called it Jørth in the Old Nordish language. It is positioned precisely at the proper distance from our Sun, such that it is neither too hot nor too cold to sustain life, and its orbit is very nearly circular. Edom describes one orbit around the Sun in 390 days, which gives us our year of exactly thirteen months, each with thirty days. Our planet’s inclination is less than one degree—very nearly vertical, so that there is almost no variation in temperature throughout the year.

“Now, I ask you students, what are the odds of all of these celestial measurements aligning so precisely, such that we are enabled to live in the most blessedly temperate, beneficial climate imaginable? It is almost too perfect—suspiciously so, in my mind. It all suggests the hand of a benevolent Creator, not just happenstance.

“Oh, there is one more celestial motion I should explain to you. Our planetary disk, the plane of the ecliptic around the Sun, wobbles like a very slowly-spinning top. This is called ‘precession.’ As you recall, we are on the outskirts of that great disk of stars we call Eternity. Now, exactly once every six thousand turns, the nodes of the ecliptic plane align such that on Roshana, or New Turn’s Day, precisely at midnight by our time, the center or ‘Bosom of Eternity’ is exactly overhead. We know when that date is, and we all know what event has been prophesied to take place on that date. I hope we’ll be ready for it.”

In the electricity lab I learned about current, voltage, resistance, and magnetic fields. During his lecture one day, Master Thomas introduced me to a new electrical device in a sorta dramatic way. He asked me to come up and stand at the front of the class.

“Here, Ben, catch this,” Thomas quickly said, while tossing me a small glass ampoule. I caught the globe and felt a sudden electric shock pass through my body.

“Nguhuah…” I exclaimed, shaking. “What was that?” The other students laughed.

“My boy, that little glass jar is a condenser,” Thomas replied. “The glass has a layer of foil on the inside and outside, and the electric charge is trapped in between. It’s much like those accumulators that you’re familiar with from your telegraphy days—except that condensers discharge their electricity in a single instant, not gradually. That’s what you felt when you accidentally touched the two poles of that little beastie.”

I rubbed my right hand, which was still tingling.

“Ben, do you recall awhile back when you were visiting here? I passed you in the hall, and threw something out the window? That ‘electric grenade’ was a slightly larger version of this condenser here.”

Thomas raised his voice and addressed the whole class. “I only demonstrated this to show to all of you here the power of these tiny devices. With a slightly higher charge, you could easily incapacitate or even kill a man, as if he had been struck by lightning—which, in a manner of speaking you were, Benjamin. Thank you for helping me in this demonstration. Let this be a warning to you all! Please, be very careful when handling high voltages! It’s best to stay away from them!”

That evening I wrote to my parents.

Dear Ma and Pa,


When I came here, I never figgered I’d be climbing poles and stringing wires. But now I been volunteered to help with the “electrification” of Salem. Masters Thomas and Nicola are gonna have me put up wires all over the city to power their new electric lights.


I think Master Nicola sees promise in me, his Novice. The man is brilliant—his experiments with high voltage and electric storage devices are way beyond what Master Thomas has tried. Nicola thinks that someday, we might be able to dispense with wires and send electricity directly through the air. There’s another Savant here, Master Marco, who thinks a wireless telegraph could be built this way. We live in interesting times.


In Theology class, Chancellor Orson has begun instructing us in the Mysteries, from the Sealed Portion of the Norm. I know I can’t talk about it much, even in writing, but I just wanna thank both of you for all those early-morning worship times we spent together. Without Pa had pounded all those scriptures into me over the turns, I never would’a been ready for the “higher law,” as Orson calls it. I love hearing him talk about our pre-Edom life, God’s rescue-plan for us all, and about the Only Begotten. Now, at last it’s all starting to make sense to me, and I really like being a Believer, even more than ever. As Bess said to me once, “it tastes good.”


Your son,

Benjamin


A week later, I began working with Master Philo on my image dissector. Philo had already built a working replica based on my experiments at Fort Kanosh, and he’d made several improvements.

“Ben, do you remember mentioning how faint and blurred your first image of Brother Timothy was? I’ve improved the optics, and I’ve also extracted a quantity of pure selenium—which is far more sensitive than the raw pyrite you used—to use as a light detector. And instead of your wind-up clockwork drive, I’ve installed a small electric motor to spin the disk, which is now larger and has more holes in it than yours did. I think you’ll be amazed at the difference. Here, you work the projector, and I’ll run the dissector.”

Philo extinguished the electric lights in the room and retreated to the room next door. I closed a knife switch, and in the semi-gloom I heard a faint whir as the disks in the image dissector and the projector began spinning. Then, to my astonishment, I saw a crisp, clear greyish image of Master Philo projected on the wall—but upside-down.

“Turn the knob until the image is aligned!” Philo shouted from the room next door. I obliged, and watched in amazement as the image of Philo slowly rotated until it was upright.

“I don’t believe it—it’s perfect!” I shouted back. It’s getting awful close to my thought-link, I thought. Too bad it’s silent, though…

Philo turned the lights back on, grinned and patted me on the back. “Well, my young Novice, do you see what you’ve accomplished? Do you realize what we can do with this device? Imagine if you will, actually being able to see someone at a distance! Tell me, how were you inspired to come up with this design?”

I was flattered. “Well, uh, Master, it’s kinda hard to explain…” I sure can’t mention my thought-link with Bess, I thought. I took a breath. “I dunno… I guess, lookin’ through a spyglass at far-away things mighta’ given me the idea. Or maybe workin’ with the heliograph. Brother Timothy was real helpful, too. But there’s just one thing, sir.”

“Yes?”

“Now we can see from a distance, for sure, but we still can’t hear! Isn’t that really more important? We still hafta send our words as dots and dashes.”

Philo smiled. “Why yes, that we do… why don’t you work with Master Thomas, to see if you can find a solution? He’s quite good with electricity, or so I’m told.”

Chapter 5

Elizabeth


Whatever the older generation may have thought of my quiet revolution in women’s fashions, it was soon obvious that the young men of the fort heartily approved of it—and we young women were only too happy to return the favor. Elazar and the other Elders were alarmed at what they viewed as an increase in amorous behavior from the “young bucks.” The pairings-off and flirtations were reaching alarming proportions, at least to the older folk’s eyes.

During Sabbath worship some weeks later, I listened as Councilor Zechariah railed against what he saw as a decline in morals at Fort Kanosh:

“We, the Believers, as a people, received a command many turns ago to gather out from the wicked world and to gather ourselves together to stand in holy places, preparatory to the coming of God. If you knew that God was coming this day to visit you, would you not take the greatest care to wash and dress yourselves appropriately for his visit? And yet, as I look over this congregation, there are a great many, particularly among the young women, who would shrink and hide themselves in shame at His appearance. And why is that? Their fashion in dress is not appropriate for the visitation of such a great Being.

“Particularly of late, we who style ourselves ‘Believers’ are too apt to follow the foolish fashions of the world. If any persons want proof of this they need only look over this congregation. I am shamed as I look here at young women whose dresses barely reach to above the ankles, or even a little below the knee! I see ribbons, flounces, and gewgaws, purchased at the expense of other, more needful items for the Order. I see inequality and pride arising amongst the sisters. I see lustful and unwholesome thoughts arising amongst our young men. These things must stop!”

The Councilor’s preaching largely fell on deaf ears. He knew that I was the ringleader of this movement, but he and Elazar were powerless to stop it, and somehow that pleased me—a lot. Many of the older women sided with me, too, and soon my tailor shop was overwhelmed with orders for custom-made dresses in a variety of styles and sizes.

As I opened the tailor shop one morning, I counted my seamstresses and noticed that Daniella and Levana were missing. None of the other girls knew where they had gone. Instantly I thought, Oh, no… Fleeing last night through the back gate have they, as did Huldah, and as very nearly did I?

Later that day I asked Grand Matron Ariella if she knew what had become of the two girls. She hesitated for a moment and then said cautiously, “They are both gone off to Salem—visiting their family there, I was told.”

I was much relieved, but still perplexed by their sudden departure.

I was determined to remain faithful to Ben, but I couldn’t help but feel flattered by the increased attention that I was receiving from the young men. I didn’t mind being noticed, but some of the young men’s stares went well beyond what even I considered proper.

What have I started? I thought. There was no idea to me, that such an effect on the male population this would have. Such simple, predictable creatures men be—so easily aroused.

I noticed Alma looking my way quite frequently. Alma was tall, strapping and eighteen years old—prime marriageable age for men.

What if Ben, returning he does not? There is worse I could do… Instantly I put this out of my mind.

Ben had once told me that Alma had been turned down twice for the Academy. When Alma heard that Ben had been accepted two years early, he “blew his stack,” as Ben did so eloquently put it.

Something special there be between Ben and myself. But then, the ehadim I could have with any of the young Kohanim here, could I not? What be there wrong with that? No, Bess, a hold of thyself get! Ben my intended shall be… but so far away he be…

I had finally resolved not to worry my head this way, when one day Alma sat down next to me at dinner.

“Evening, Miss Elizabeth,” he said. “How fare you?”

He had a deep, rich bass voice that sent thrills up and down my spine. I thought, Could his spirit mine be touching, just as did Ben’s? A Kohan he be, after all.

I took a deep breath, picked up my plate and utensils, stood up and politely said, “I am well, Brother Alma. I thank you for your kindness.”

I beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen to dispose of my eating-ware. As I deposited my plate and utensils in the dry-sink, I noticed that my hands were trembling.

For several days I noticed Alma eyeing me, but he kept his distance. Then it finally happened. One day I went out behind the fort to the pump-house for a bucket of water, and he followed me. I was just coming out of the pump-house when I nearly collided with him.

“I’m sorry…” he said. “I didn’t mean to startle you. May I carry your bucket for you?”

“Yes… thank you,” I said, flustered. “That’s very, uh, kind of you, Brother Alma.”

This kind of obsequious behavior went on for several days. Alma would suddenly pop up unexpectedly to help me with my chores and then disappear.

I was just starting to think, Kind to me he be… there be no harm in just friends being, now then? But after three days of this, one morning I was drawing water and the two of us were alone. I suddenly noticed Alma’s hand on my back as he said, “Miss Elizabeth, do you have an intended?”

“A what?” I said, startled by the contact.

“Is there someone else you are betrothed to? I hope I’m not being rude with such a question?”

“Well, no, uh, not at the moment…” I stammered.

“Good,” he smiled. “I wouldn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, so to speak. I had hoped that we might become friends—close friends, if you understand my meaning.”

He moved around behind me and put his arms around my waist. I was so taken by surprise that I didn’t have time to resist, which only encouraged him more.

“I think I’m in love with you, Elizabeth,” he whispered in my ear. “Will you marry me?”

Now thoroughly alarmed, I tried to shake him off. “Release you me!” I cried. But he only tightened his grip around my waist, and as he peeked over my shoulder he caught sight of something hanging around my neck: the amanah-cord holding my name-stone.

“What’s this?” he said as he tugged on the cord

“’Tis nothing!” I responded. “Please, let you go of me!”

Alma pulled on the cord once more and out popped my name-stone.

His eyes widened. “What the Shaitan!” he cried. “Where did you get this? Did you make it yourself? Or did you steal it from a dead body? So… it’s true what the girls said about you, you really are a kashfah!”

Infuriated, Alma twisted the cord around my neck, choking me, and I fell to my knees gasping for air, my arms flailing.

“I’m reporting this to the Council! You’re trefah, unclean! You’ll burn in Sheol for this offence!”

Alma suddenly released the cord and I fell flat on my face, nearly asphyxiated. Then he stomped off and left me there, crying hysterically. “What have I done? Oh, Ben, what didst thou do to me? I never did ask for this rock, ’tis not fair…”

Chapter 6

Elizabeth


Alma swiftly followed through on his threat. At seven that evening a court was convened in the council room at Fort Kanosh.

Two Kanosh Dragoons escorted me to the outer door of the council room. I was now dressed in a plain blue Order dress, and my hands were bound. My hair was disheveled and I’m sure my eyes were red from crying. The welts from my near-strangulation still burned on my neck.

Just as the guards were about to escort me into the chamber, Grand Matron Ariella stepped forward and said to the guards, “Wait—a moment, please.” She took me aside, lifted my chin and looked directly at me, and said, “How fare ye, my child?”

I dropped my head again and muttered bitterly, “Slave-born was I, and here I be, in bonds once more. ’Tis my lot in life. Different I did think you people were, but how wrong I was.”

“No, Elizabeth! Remember our conversation? Thou hast done nothing wrong—remember that! Thou art falsely accused. Keep thy chin up, and face down thine accusers. Thou canst win this trial, but first ye must believe in thine own innocence! Truth will prevail!”

I gave Ariella a look that clearly said, Go to Sheol, and then I was suddenly thrust through the door into the council chamber.

Every eye in the chamber seemed to turn my way. Seated in the chamber were Grand Hegemon Elazar, his twelve Counselors, and Alma. Elazar sat at the head of the long council table, and I took my seat at the far end. I saw my name-stone on the table in front of Elazar, resting on a black, leather-bound, gilt-edged copy of the Norm.

Elazar stood. “Ahem… We are gathered here to deliberate a most extraordinary case, the likes of which we have never seen before in the land of Deshret. Will the accused please stand?”

I stood with my head bowed.

“Elizabeth bat Jacob, you stand accused of two transgressions, to wit: First, corrupting the morals of the citizens of this community, and second and more seriously, misappropriation and misuse of a sacred Kohanite object. What say you?”

I looked sullenly at the Grand Hegemon. I thought, be there to me any chance here of winning? Or my fate, have they already decided it?

I remembered what Ariella had just said to me. I took a deep breath, and in a firm voice I said, “Not guilty, on both counts!”

Elazar stared back at me for a moment. Then he replied, “As you wish. You may be seated. We will address these two charges individually. Alma ben Isaac, will you please stand and explain your grounds for the first charge?”

Alma stood and looked scathingly at me. I could feel the scorn and contempt in his gaze. I thought, He shall bend and twist this every way. Believing me, they shall not.

Alma spoke. “It started when she—I mean Elizabeth, here, hatched this scheme to dress all her seamstresses in those lewd an’ suggestive dresses o’ theirs, knowing full well what an evil effect that would have on the minds o’ the young men o’ the fort! Haven’t you noticed lately? These shameless hussies have been strutting and flaunting their way all over the fort for weeks now! Why should it surprise you then, that some o’ the more impressionable young men here should succumb to the enticements o’ these strumpets? I, on the other hand, kept myself above the fray, except t’ note with alarm the precipitous decline in morals hereabouts.”

Alma sat down with a smug look on his face.

I rolled my eyes. What a pompous liar.

Counselor Zechariah jumped to his feet, pointed at me and cried, “It’s true! Licentiousness was unknown here in Fort Kanosh until this young hussy arrived! She truly has bewitched us! What has happened to our morals here? You know where she learned her evil arts, don’t you? Her mother was a prostitute in Cottonwoods, and she herself was illegitimate-born!”

A gasp went through the chamber.

I buried my face in my hands in despair. How can I this refute? ’Tis true, a tavern wench she was, my mother. But an honest one, driven to it by necessity. Letting this pass, I cannot. I do surely owe her that.

I took a deep breath. After a few moments I slowly rose to my feet, pointed my bound hands at Zechariah and cried, “How dare you the name of my dear mother sully that way! If that headstone of hers you do want back, then go ahead and take it, and just let the memory of Millie Erne quietly be erased! But I shall not here stand and allow you her character to shame! And ’twas not my choice, baseborn to be! Thinking do you, I did commit some terrible sin, to be born that way?”

I pointed at the other counselors and cried, “My mother, a good woman she was! She did the best she could, to raise me out of abject poverty and slavery! Precious few opportunities do you men to us women leave, to pursue an honest living! For your own lustful, selfish purposes you do use us, then curse us and like trash, do cast us aside!”

I sat down and buried my head in my bound hands, sobbing.

Elazar looked at me in pity for a moment; then he turned and said quietly, “Zechariah, if you do not withdraw this slander and apologize to Elizabeth this instant, I will have you thrown out of this chamber.”

Zechariah’s face turned bright red and he stammered, “But, Elazar…”

“This instant!” the Grand Hegemon repeated.

“I, uh… I’m sorry, Sister Elizabeth. I misspoke. I withdraw the accusation.”

I looked up from my tears. “There is pretty we just wanted to look,” I cried. “We just wanted something to wear every day, a little nicer than these ugly old blue sack-dresses. ’Tis not our fault that the young men began a-lusting after us, is it?”

Elazar harrumphed. “No, I suppose it isn’t… Not entirely. We will table the first charge, and move on to the second and in my mind, the more serious charge: misappropriation and misuse of a sacred Kohanite object. Alma ben Isaac, will you please stand and explain the circumstances surrounding your discovery of this stone?”

Alma stood again and addressed the Council. “Well, uh… I’d heard strange tales about Elizabeth here being a kashfah, a witch, but I didn’t put much stock in them. But then I started noticing her staring at me a lot, like she was trying to put the evil eye on me or somethin’, so I tried to avoid her gaze. But this morning she followed me out t’ the pump-house. Imagine my astonishment when she pulled out this name-stone and started babbling some kind of witch’s curse over me! Of course I reported it t’ the Council immediately—“

“That’s a lie!” I cried, jumping to my feet and pointing at Alma. “’Twas he who made unwanted advances towards me, and ’twas he who was in the act of molesting me when the stone he discovered around my neck!”

“Please!” the Grand Hegemon cried, raising his hands. “Alma ben Isaac, you know that the testimony of a Kohan is considered unimpeachable? Do you swear that you are telling the truth? Did Elizabeth in fact pursue you?”

“Yes… ah, she did,” Alma replied hesitantly.

I rolled my eyes and sat back down in irritation.

Elazar eyed Alma skeptically for a moment; then he glanced at the welts on my neck. “I see…”

He picked up the stone, examined the name and said, “Councilor Jacob… do you recognize the clan-name on this stone?”

Surprised, Jacob stood and approached the head of the table and examined the stone. “It’s mine,” he said. “How on Edom…?”

“’Twas Benjamin’s original name-stone,” I explained. “He found it awhile back and gave it to me as a keepsake. Just children we were—’twas just a friendly gift. We had no idea it would cause the ehadim in us.”

There was dead silence in the room. Finally Elazar spoke softly. “You—you experienced the ehadim? How is that possible? How do you even know this sacred word? Ordinarily a man and a woman do not share this oneness until the hatam, the binding of a man and wife in the temple of God. How could the two of you experience it?”

“I know not,” I replied. “I only know that it was wonderful, and it felt right, and good. But we broke it off after that one time, and then Ben, he left for the Academy.”

“Extraordinary…” Elazar mused. “This explains why young Benjamin came to me with his questions about the tironut ceremony, and the curious accident with the draw-knife, which you both felt. Ah, now at last I understand.”

The Grand Hegemon sat musing for a long time. Finally he spoke again. “Some of you may recall what the Seer, blessed be he, taught us when he revealed to us the doctrine of hatsetset-hashem, the name-stone. He taught us that these stones could only be used for righteous purposes. The very idea that Elizabeth could somehow use this stone to cast an evil spell on Alma is ridiculous. It simply can’t be done. Everything that is of God is good. From this I can only conclude that the ehadim that Benjamin and Elizabeth experienced was of God, and was meant to be. Therefore, there was no sin involved. Elizabeth was somehow meant to acquire this stone, because it worked for her. What other conclusion can we draw from it?”

The Council members all sat and quietly pondered for some time. Finally the Grand Hegemon spoke again. “I now realize that this case is far beyond the ability of this Council to resolve. I move that it be referred to the Sanhedrin in Salem. And as to the first charge, namely corrupting the morals of the citizens of this community, I move that it be quietly dropped. All in favor?”

The vote was unanimous.

Elazar continued. “And one last thing before we adjourn. The Seer counseled us to never remove the name-stone, even in death. Since this stone is well and clearly Elizabeth’s now, I don’t think it would be fair of us to deprive her of its blessings. Let the Sanhedrin decide that.”

He picked up the name-stone, approached me and gently placed the stone around my neck. A gasp went through the Council members.

“And would someone please remove these humiliating bonds from her wrists?”

He spoke directly to me, smiling. “Elizabeth, you and your sisters are free to dress as you please, insofar as fashion and modesty dictate. Now that that bottle has been uncorked, I don’t have the power to put the stopper back—nor would I.”

Elazar turned and addressed the Council. “This court is hereby adjourned, and this case is remanded to the Council of the Sanhedrin for resolution. Thank you all.”

I left the council chamber, exhausted but elated. I was rubbing my chafed wrists where the bonds had been, when Grand Matron Ariella met me outside the door and took me by the shoulders.

“Well?” she said anxiously, looking into my face.

I drew back my collar slightly, revealing the amanah-cord, and smiled at her. “Thou wert right, Mistress. I did no wrong. And now, the Grand Hegemon and the Council, they know it as well. I won!”

Ariella hugged me and said, “Oh, Elizabeth… I just knew Elazar would come to the right decision. He always does, ye know—but sometimes it takes him a bit of time to figure out that which I already know. And don’t ye dare ever mention to him that I said that.”

I was overwhelmed. Never in my life had anyone stood up for me like this, and I knew not how to express my gratitude to Ariella. Tears came to my eyes.

“Mistress Ariella,” I sniffled. “Speechless I be… there is… so kind ye Believers are to me, and thankworthy. Why?”

Ariella put her arm around me and sat me down in a chair, then she sat down close beside me. “Let us just say, I am returning the favor, my child. A very long time ago, two Believers changed my life forever—named Trefor and Emrys.”

“How, Mistress?”

She thought for a moment. “I was born in Akameria, Elizabeth. I was a very lonely, unhappy little girl with a club-foot, who lived with my twin sister and my seithkonar mother.”

My eyes widened. “A seithkonar, Mistress? Thy mother was a seeress? Such an honor…” I glanced down at her feet, which were perfectly straight. “Tha’ said ye had a club-foot? How is that possible?”

She smiled. “Those two Believers came to Mömmu’s house and healed me. It made Mömmu very angry that they could heal me, when all her spells could not. She drove me out, and I made my way to Torshavn where I found the Believers again and joined them. They are the reason I am here today.”

I waited for her to finish her story. When she didn’t reply I said, “What then, Mistress? Were ye ever reconciled with thy mother and sister?”

Her eyes darted about, then she looked down. “With my Mömmu, yes. My sister… no, never. I doubt we ever shall. She despises me.”

I glanced about too, and whispered, “And thy name-stone, where did ye acquire it?”

She clasped my hands and stood quickly, drawing me up. “Well! I am thankful that thou art exonerated, Elizabeth! And I am certain that Benjamin will be relieved to hear it. Cherish thy bond with him, and nurture it. I sense greatness in him. Together, ye canna’ fail. May God bless the both of you. Good day.”

Chapter 7

Benjamin


At the Academy, I’d followed Master Philo’s suggestion to work with Master Thomas on his sound-transmitting project. I found that Thomas was already experimenting with a strange new form of telegraph—one that dispensed entirely with the telegraph key.

Thomas said, “Y’see, my young apprentice, I’ve replaced the old sender and receiver keys with these two small metal cans, which are filled with carbon granules. Now carbon, when you compress it, has a curious habit of changing its electrical resistance. That affects the voltage on this wire, which compresses the carbon granules in that other can over there, with some quite interesting effects. Here, take this can and put it close to your ear.”

I picked up one of the small cans and placed it next to my ear. Thomas moved to the other side of the room and tapped with a pencil on the other can. To my surprise, I heard a distinct set of clicks right next to my ear. I dropped the can in surprise.

“That’s, uh, amazing! What will you do with it, sir?”

Thomas smiled. “Well, as you know, I’m a bit hard of hearing. That’s what started me on this experiment. I was imagining some kind of electrical ear-trumpet, I suppose. But so far, all I get out of it is a series of clicks. I suppose we could still use it as a telegraph, where you just tap on one end, and listen at the other… what do you think?”

I thought back to my ehadim with Bess, when I could actually hear her thoughts from a distance. There must be a way, I thought. I looked at the small carbon-filled cans, thought for a moment and said, “Sir, maybe I can play with it? I could maybe try different granule sizes and voltages? I think we might be able to get real sounds out of it, not just clicks. May I?”

Thomas smiled. “Of course, Ben. Keep me apprised of your progress, if you please?”

That evening I wrote.

Dear Ma and Pa,


My classes are going real good. I really like my electricity lab. I get to try things out for myself ’stead of just reading bout them. Our teachers have drilled safety into us, for good reason. Master Nicola likes to play around with some real high voltages. They could easily kill you if you handle them wrong. Don’t worry—since that time I nearly got struck by lightning, I’ve been real careful round electricity. I can’t wait to see you in a few months when the school term ends.


Your son,

Ben


Several days later, out in a field near the Academy, I watched as Master Nicola set up a demonstration of a very strange device. The apparatus was mounted on a table and consisted of a long iron tube like a cannon barrel with copper wire wrapped around it, a large condenser, and a hand-cranked electric dynamo.

“Students, observe!” Nicola announced. “You are about to witness what happens when a very large electric field is generated and then suddenly collapsed. As you can see, this iron tube has many hundreds of turns of copper wire wrapped around it. Inside the tube is a short iron bolt like a cannon shell, also wrapped in copper wire. The ends of the tube are capped, and a gunpowder charge has been placed in one end. When I crank this dynamo it will build up a charge in this condenser. Then, when I fire the gunpowder charge the bolt will suddenly jump from one end of the tube to the other, creating an electrical shear force between the two coils. The sudden electromagnetic pulse should be strong enough to disable that telegraph apparatus which I have placed on a table about a hundred feet away, over there—I hope.”

Nicola looked around nervously. “I, ah… would advise all of you to stand a good distance away when I light the fuse. Besides the hair-raising electromagnetic effect, there could be some shrapnel as well. Are we ready?”

Nicola furiously cranked the dynamo for about a minute while observing a voltmeter. Then he said, “She’s all charged! Heads down!”

He lit the fuse and ran to join us students hiding behind a bank of dirt. Ten seconds later there was an enormous explosion and the whole experiment vanished in a hail of iron, copper wire, and wood splinters. I felt a sudden, unbearable tingling sensation all over my body and my hair stood on end. When the smoke cleared, all that was left was a smoking crater where the table had once stood.

“Whoa…” said Nicola, as he emerged from his hiding place. The cannon barrel was completely gone, and the iron bolt had buried itself in a hill about a hundred feet away.

“Looks like you used a tad too much gunpowder,” I observed.

Nicola ran over to examine the table where the telegraph apparatus was sitting. The two electromagnets on the receiver key were fused, completely melted from the electromagnetic shock.

“Well, I’ll be blutterbunged! It worked, see?” Nicola cried. “Just needs a bit o’ refinement, though. Gentlemen, you have just witnessed the world’s first electric torpedo.”

Chapter 8

Elizabeth


A week later the monthly northbound dragon-train arrived at Fort Kanosh, and Jacob, Sarah and I made arrangements to travel to Salem—both to visit Ben, and to resolve the issue of my name-stone before the Sanhedrin.

Before we departed that morning, I made one last visit to my mother’s grave outside Cottonwoods. Time had completely erased all signs of the gravesite except for the granite headstone. I laid a handful of wildflowers on the grave. “Farvæl, Mömmu,” I sniffled. “I shall miss thee.”

One of the dragon-carts was empty, so Jacob rented the entire cart and fitted it out with bedding, food, clothing, a camp-stove and all the furnishings we would need for the two-week journey. The solid wooden wheels of the cart were eight feet high, and the wagon-bed was four feet wide and sixteen feet long. The front half of the cart was partitioned off for Jacob and Sarah, and I had the aft portion all to myself. A long canvas awning stretched the length of the cart to protect us from the sun. At the front of the cart was a seat for the driver.

“Oh, this is splendid!” Sarah exclaimed when she saw the arrangements. “I’ve never traveled in such comfort before. Thank you, Jacob.”

Jacob inhaled deeply and smiled. “If I’m not mistaken, this cart usta’ be filled with kloh-beans. We could do worse, I s’pose.”

We said goodbye to Miriam, Naomi and Aaron, and then we all climbed the ladder into the cart. The lead dragon-skinner cried, “Dragons, ho!” and the train lumbered off.

I had not been outside Amber Valley since I was thirteen, so this was a great adventure for me. From my vantage point eight feet in the air I could see the broad expanse of the valley and the Ochre Mountains far to the east. The north road paralleled the Soreq River as it flowed from its headwaters in the Olami Mountains down Kanosh Canyon, north past Goshen and on to Salem on the north coast of Melek.

Sarah moved to the back of the cart where I was seated, sat down and put her arm around me. “I love this valley,” she said. “It’s been good to us, these sixteen turns. How do you feel about leaving it, my daughter? I hope you don’t mind me calling you that? I know you’ve always been closer to Miriam, but I still love you as my own, as does she.”

“I like that thou callest me thy daughter—Aunt Sarah,” I replied, then I laughed. “Mindest thou that I use the familiar ‘thee’ with you? It sounds so, so quaint now, e’en to me.”

Sarah laughed too. “You can be just as familiar with me as you wish, Daughter. Miriam has done well in teaching you proper—ah, that is, I mean, our grammar.”

I gathered my thoughts, hesitated, then I sighed. “Aye, that she has. I came here when I was thirteen. That was the first time in my life that I was truly happy, I think. Thou knowest that I was born in Kentak, in Akameria? I remember little of those years, except that my mother was very sad and she was gone a lot. Then when I was about six, we moved to Rigo, on the north coast of Melek, to be with my Uncle Axel. But then the bad soldiers came after us from Kentak to take us back. As a child, I understood not that my mother, she was a thræll—that is, a slave. Bound by a harem-contract she was to a Bœnder, the Governor of Kentak, and running away was a crime—at least he thought it so. It did not matter to him that she had already bought her freedom—six pieces of silver it did cost her! But my freedom she could not also afford to purchase, so we escaped by ship to Strathy in Frieland, but they chased us there too. So we came here to Salem in Deshret, where at least we were safe. We did not feel very welcome there amongst all those Believers, so we found an Outsider town where no one would bother us—Cottonwoods. My mother, she worked there in the saloon. And then Ben I met, and thee. Anyway, that be—is—the story of my short little life.”

Sarah said, “Thank you for sharing that with me, Bess. If you don’t mind me asking, why did it take you so long to open up to me about your early life?”

I sighed again. “There is to—I mean, I have struggled for a long time with who I am, and what my mother was. To be baseborn, ’twas a great shame to me. I did not much care for you Believers at first, you know—but so kind to me you were, and that finally won me over. And now my dear mother, she be—er, is at peace, and I am, too. It has been hard to let go of her.”

I thought for a moment. “I think perhaps what made all the difference, ’twas when Brother Elazar stood up for me last week in that court. Respected, that really made me feel, maybe for the first time ever. And Mistress Ariella—kind she was to me, as well.”

I thought for a moment. “Mother… Mistress Ariella, she said something that did puzzle me—something about her upbringing. She was hesitant to discuss it. Do ye know why?”

Sarah shook her head. “Yes and no, daughter. I am not at liberty to reveal it to you.”

“Oh… She also said something about Ben and me—about sensing greatness in him, and together we cannot fail. What did she mean by that?”

Sarah replied, “Grand Matron Ariella is a Kohanet, a priestess. Like her husband Elazar, she sees the future. I know not what she sees in you, but I have always known there was a special bond between you and Ben—mothers can sense this, you know. But of course I had no idea until last week just how deep it was.”

I thought to myself, Aye, if only knowing full-well you did, just how close Ben and I be…

“Sarah—Mother, I am much worried still about this issue with Ben and myself and the two name-stones. I know not what the Sanhedrin will do to us, dost thou?”


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