Nested Within

I’m usually posting a Wednesday post (that’s today), but I have two scenes to rewrite for the Kraken story before I can do the proofread and (re-do) the cover. So what you get instead is a story nested within the need to comply with the schedule. Apologies for not responding much lately, but I hope to have Kraken et al published this week (fingers crossed, palm to the forehead smack, etc.). [Update: First draft completed, first review completed, first revision completed. Tomorrow = proofread and cover.]

So, without further ado (a 2k word short):

The Roundel

The hum disturbed the stillness of the midday heat. That was why he looked in such an unlikely place. And there it was. The roundel leaned out over the rotten timbthe houseer veranda like a pale-faced ghost. Maybe it was. Gadi had seen many ghosts, and they didn’t all look the same, sound the same, or show themselves in the same manner each time. Maybe the roundel was an apparition attached to a ghost he’d annoyed once too often and it was about to do what ghosts did to living mortals who annoyed them.

He shrugged. Not so bad to be a ghost. Would that it might ease the pain in his heart. It would be like going home. Almost. Maybe he’d spent too much of his life in the search for the knowledge, rather than … if he let go … no, he couldn’t give up. There was too much to lose. It was no longer his choice to make.

Two more slow and gliding steps and Gadi was in the right position. He lifted his right foot up to the height of the bottom step.

Nothing happened. He put weight on the foot, leaned weight onto it, stepped down onto the wood.

Nothing happened. His left foot rose from the ground and followed the usual process of forward movement to arrive on the step with the right. So far, the roundel hadn’t flown away. He lifted his right foot …

The roundel lifted from the timber and floated at knee height. Gadi grimaced and shook his head and lowered his eyes. It hadn’t worked. He put his right foot back down, lifted the left and put it back onto the soil-type earth. Backed away. The roundel drifted like a dead leaf back to the surface of ravaged wood with a slightly sideways lean that made it too hard for Gadi to read the inscription.

The pattern was easily made out: the three stanzas of three lines. The most powerful of all the roundels had this shape of pattern. Maybe it was one for health, or wealth – please, be the type of magic for the wealthy to pay him in heavy pieces of gold. Maybe it was a cure for hang-nail. Useful, but not particularly inspiring. Nor something to create wealth.

The speculation did Gadi no good. If he couldn’t read it, he couldn’t use it.

The right foot lifted and returned to the earth. He sidled to the left of the steps so the light would fall on the face of the pale object to give him a better reveal of the words and visage.

As soon as his right foot left the path it happened again. The roundel rose up into the air and wobbled. If Gadi had been on the step it would be at about knee height, but here the once-garden sank below the height of the path. It was at a good height. He saw the first line and something else – a subtle background. One more lean toward the edge of the veranda and he saw it. The shadows of the raised letters formed an unexpected impression.

The head of a horse, eyes wide and nostrils flared, a mane thick and long. The sharp angled bones on his head showed the breeding of a desert horse. Gadi pursed his lips and nodded. That would be powerful magic indeed if he could get all the words and understand the hidden message.

The first words – he leaned in with his head slightly lowered, one hand raised to shade his eyes.

Seek not the salvation of riches in abundance

Did it make sense? Maybe it would if he could see the next lines. Gadi slid his left foot forward without lifting it from the ground. The second line became a blurred form. He saw the tops of the letters, but didn’t find the whole words.

The right food slid forward as he leaned in slightly more. There. The words came clear.

Treat not a heart of everlasting love as a game of chance

More nonsense. He’d have to try again, and get at least the three lines of the first stanza. There should be a rhyme in there somewhere – there was always a rhyme in these things. And a repeat. And a lesson. Most important of all was the potential for a good income for Gadi.

His right heel lifted as he leaned in further, as his balance shifted. The left arm moved to balance – slow, gentle. Don’t look away. Don’t miss it. Balance.

Almost he tipped too far, but he saw it – the third line. A sharp intake of breath – stay calm! It was what he sought. A magic roundel with words of power. The third line seemed to hum in the still summer air.

But it wasn’t just one line – he could see the run-on – there were two lines. Did that mean it wasn’t what he wanted?

Seek not of wealth without the cost of effort
the abundance of the sought will outweigh the offer of …

No! The last words were missing. Or was that how it was supposed to be? They weren’t all the same, were they? There were differences, and he had to understand why it came this way, and what it meant before it could be of any use to him.

The three lines drew the words into his memory:

Seek not the salvation of riches in abundance
Treat not a heart of everlasting love as a game of chance
Seek not of wealth without the cost of effort
the abundance of the sought will outweigh the offer of …

The words sang in his mind as he repeated them the required twenty-one times. Another part of his mind was trying to unravel the message, even if he knew it wouldn’t happen until he found the whole of the spell. It would get some of the useless ideas out of the way, though, and leave his mind clear when he did reach the finale.

His understanding came down to these things: don’t put money above all, fall in love only once – that was a common theme in the roundels – and hard work will earn a person all he’d need. Not unusual for a message in a roundel. Not enough to help him, if that was all it meant, all it offered.

Cramped stomach muscles forced Gadi to lean back. He did it slowly, quietly, as if he assured a frightened child he was not a danger. No sudden movements, no sudden sounds. Magic was flighty in these uncertain times. He couldn’t afford to let this one zizz off before he’d read even half way through the message. He’d have a little break and a drink of water and try again. He rubbed both hands down his back to ease some tension.

Slow as a grain of wheat growing, Gadi lowered his body to the arid dirt. If the roundel didn’t see him as a threat, it would still be there when he arose. He had the first part of the verse, but if the message became clearer, if the picture was more important than the message, if the second verse needed to give him time to absorb the first … He didn’t take his eyes off the roundel as his backside lowered to meet the ground. He crossed his legs and lifted the water bottle from his belt, took a small sip.

The building behind the roundel was as derelict as all the other buildings in the region. No living person had crossed this threshold for tens of tens of years, maybe longer. The rain stopped coming over the mountains when the volcano to the east blew itself to death. The people died or left or begged on the trader docks of the camel track that was once a river.

Eventually, the camel trains stopped coming this way. The people left, or didn’t, and now the only residents this side of the snow-capped mounts were ghosts and roundels. And him, the silly little not-quite-a-wizard-Gadi who sought out the magic of the roundels.

The sun burned his bare arms. Enough rest. He rose slowly and dusted down his loose-woven sirral pants using gentle movements that helped the dust fall rather than rise into visible puffs. He looked up into the shade.

The roundel was again resting on the timber, but with the face angled towards the set of the sun. Gadi slid his body into a position where he’d see something, even if it were only shadows that outlined the words. That would do. He might be able to decipher the shadows. He’d done it before.

Time drifted by until the sun fell below the overhang of the veranda. Gadi could see it: the second verse, not the same as the first, with some of the second in a repeat of the first. If the verse didn’t have at least the minimum repetition and echo in words and shape, reading it might kill him. Or worse.

His eyes skimmed it as a picture to test for any oddness in sensation or thought.

Seek not, seeker
For round as a tear and hot as lust
Lingers the dream of …
Seek not … seeker

Gadi tilted his head to get a clearer picture. He breathed a sigh of relief as he reached the final word. But something wasn’t quite right. It seemed different somehow. Was it what he sought? The message seemed right, almost right, for his purposes, but what if …?

The final lines glowed red in the descent of the sun to the horizon. The third verse kindled in the dips and shadows to become clear and sonorous as an old bell.

Seeker take heed to preclude …
The memories of absolution or purity
Seek not the riches of want without …

That’s how it ended. Not with a proper word. Not with a proper meaning. He fell backwards, flopped onto his backside. Thunked a whoosh of dust into the stillness.

Gadi went through the ritual of repeating the three verses twenty-one times. When he finished, he still didn’t understand. He lowered his body to the now cooling ground and lay on his back. He repeated it again as he meditated, while another part of his mind tried to understand the meaning behind it, how he could use it to earn enough to buy his wife back.

The desert wind whined its way through the broken windows, over the dead sticks. A wild donkey brayed in the distance.

Darkness dropped like a shuttered lantern, and still Gadi lay as if dead, with his mind trying to follow the pattern of words, trying to reach understanding.


Seek not the salvation of riches in abundance
Treat not a heart of everlasting love as a game of chance
Seek not of wealth without the cost of effort
the abundance of the sought will outweigh the offer of …

Seek not, seeker
For round as a tear and hot as lust
Lingers the dream of …
Seek not … seeker

Seeker take heed to preclude …
The memories of absolution or purity
Seek not the riches of want without …

 One tendril of memory came to his ears. His wife as she spoke to the portly Master of Dorigoenix, a man widowed by childbirth. Again. She spoke to Dorigoenix of children and the difficulties of the younger women. Without once glancing at Gadi, as if he were not in the room, not in her life, she implored the Master to ensure his line by choosing a woman who had already borne, who was proven at the task.

And the Master admired her for it.

With Gadi’s child in her arms she stood on the threshold of the home he’d provided and stroked Gadi’s cheek as if to comfort him. “Bring back for me,” she said in the voice of desire, “the wealth that comes of your magic, and I shall return to your house.”

Then she walked out of his life and into the house of the richest of their community.

Gadi prayed over the words in the roundel.

He prayed over the words of his wife.

So many times in his life he’d travelled far and wide, long and deep, strenuous and wearying, to find a single roundel to learn from. This time he’d found it the first place he’d felt the tingle.

But he didn’t understand.

© Cage Dunn 2017


2 thoughts on “Nested Within

  1. Pingback: Share Your Short Story Winner for January 2018 | Stevie Turner, Indie Author.

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