Part one of chapter nine: https://www.youngwriterssociety.com/work/MaybeAnd...
The Fallen King
Liam walks to a waterfall in the forest to listen to the Old Tongue - a language of ancient power.
Liam stared at the waterfall in stunned surprise. He’d never seen anything like it, and it was beautiful. The sound it made was similar to the waves of the sea, but also nothing like it, a constant rumbling sound like applause or marching feet. Mist sprayed off of the churning water and made the air sparkle. Had it been back here all this time? What other wonders did the forest hide? Grandpa pointed his staff at a flat rock a little past the waterfall’s base. It jutted out into the river, causing the water to rush by it.
Liam, filled with new strength from the cool touch of the river’s mist, stumbled down the hill, picking his way between the rocks and plants, and soon found his way to the flat rock, Grandpa behind him.
Liam stopped at the stone, taking the heavy backpack off and rubbing his shoulders as he looked around. It was silly he had even considered being scared of the Darkness finding him here. This life-filled ravine was more different from Darkness than anything he’d ever seen.
Grandpa opened the backpack and began to take out stones, each one about half the size of his head.
“I was carrying stones!” Liam asked. “Were you trying to kill me? Why was I carrying stones?”
Grandpa began to methodiclly place the stones on the ground in a circle. Each one was roundish, but had some type of symbol carved on them. “They are here to keep you safe when you're alone.”
“Alone?” Liam asked.
“Yes, I will be leaving you here to listen. If I stayed, it would just distract you. But it’s a bright day, and this is far from the dark wood, but on the off chance a corrupted creature does find you here, I don’t want you to be unprotected,” Grandpa explained, placing the sixth and final stone. Liam picked one up and studied it. The stone was flat and round but obviously still natural, just chosen carefully. The rune was carved into the stone with perfect precision. The mark on the stone he held glistened a green color like someone had painted it. The shape itself didn’t mean anything to him, but it felt familiar, like the symbols carved on the arches in or in the graveyard.
“What do they do?”
“That is the written form of the old tongue,” Grandpa said, yanking it from his hand and putting it back in its place. “You shall sit in the middle of them and listen. When you say the command word, they will break and release the commands contained within. This one-” Grandpa said, gesturing at one with a yellow mark, “-will send a message to me telling me you need saving. The rest will command this stone to change its shape and form a dome around you. That way, you will be in a sanctuary of solid stone.”
"Make the stone… do what?" Liam asked.
Grandpa frowned, "In the old stories, these are called spells," He said, pointing at the rocks, "Since they are spelled out. Spells are like the old tongue but held in by writing. When you say the word 'Legus,' they shall awaken, releasing the command written upon. The command I placed on them makes the brother stone where I place them jump up into a dome. If you're sitting inside the dome, you should be safe from outside attacks until I am able to return and break you out. Understood?"
“Kinda,” Liam said, referring to his repository of Arwen’s stories. Grandpa nodded as if that was enough and continued arranging the stones. Once he was done, he closed his eyes, his bushy eyebrows scrunching up in thought. He muttered something strange, but something once again that Liam felt a familiarity with.
When he finished the last syllable, each of the stones shifted slightly and vibrated, clicking against the boulder beneath them. Grandpa opened his eyes. “It’s done.” He looked at Liam. “Now, don’t say the word unless you need to - unless you are going to die - because once it is done, it cannot be undone, and it is a pain to make those spells. Also, if you do need to use them, make sure you are actually inside the circle, or you will make an entirely useless dome of rock that does nothing to save you as you stand outside of it. Even worse, if you are on the line of the stones when you summon it, you will be crushed by the growing stone,” Grandpa said. “Get it?””
Liam nodded quickly. “Don’t be standing where the stones are, don’t say the word unless I need to.”
“Good. Now, sit down in the middle of them.”
Liam looked at all the stones in amazement. Could they really make a dome of rock with just a word? The word hung on his lips. It was tempting just to say it to see, but being crushed didn’t sound fun, so instead, he tentatively stepped between them and sat down in their center.
“You will listen here until the shadow of your head touches the green stone, then I will return to collect you and the stones. In the meantime, I have packed you lunch and dinner. Do not get distracted… close your eyes if you must, but listen, and listen hard.”
Liam nodded and closed his eyes. "What exactly am I listening for?"
"The Old Tongue," Grandpa said, sounding annoyed.
Liam strained his ears. He could hear the rushing of the water over the falls and the quieter babbling as it went down the river. He could hear the trees shift in the quiet wind of the morning and the birds singing as they awoke.
"I can't hear it."
Suddenly, the sounds were interrupted by a light yet painful whack from Grandpa's cane. "Of course, you can't hear it! That's why we are here." Liam rubbed his head, keeping his eyes closed as if that might provide some protection.
Grandpa sighed, and Liam heard the anger leave him.
“Open your eyes.” He said, and Liam did so. Grandpa was leaning on his staff thoughtfully.
“Liam, have you ever heard a sound that seemed normal, like the waves, or birdsong, or the groanings of an old building, and heard what almost sounded like a voice in it? Like someone talking?
Liam thought about it and then nodded. He had before the day on the way to the graveyard. As he considered it, he realized he’d heard it before that too. The more he thought about it, the more he identified times he’d heard more than what should be there but never really thought about them enough to listen. “Yeah, I heard a voice in the wind and the thunder the day you came back.”
"Good, good. Well, the wind and the thunder and this river are always talking. You usually just can't hear them. Their words are hidden within the normal sounds of the flowing of the water or the movements of the trees, but they are there.
“If you listen close enough, you can pinpoint these words. It's like how a musician can pick individual notes out of a symphony. That is what all the reading over the past few weeks has been. It's been preparation. By learning about the trees, and the clouds, and the birds, you begin to tune your mind to hear their voices." Grandpa gestured over the river with his cane. "This river is very wakeful and chatty for its kind, so I thought bringing you here would make it easier for you. You can listen to its burbling and crashing and find its voice. We couldn't bring any Astrum torches because they mutter much too loud. That's why I have the stones to protect you instead. I can't stay with you because the human mind is very good at hearing its brothers. You must be left here alone. You must attempt to clear your mind of anything besides listening. Do not focus on yourself. You must focus out. Open yourself up to receive what the river is giving. Do you understand?"
Liam thought back on all the times Arwen mentioned hearing the voice of something that didn’t speak. She had talked like she understood the birds and the stones. He assumed it was play and poetry, but deep down, he had always felt that maybe it was something more, something real.
“Yeah, I think so. The rest of the world was never given a tongue, so they never learned to talk like man, but they can still speak through their own ways, like when the waves crash against the cliff, or the wind passes through a field,” Liam said.
“Yes, exactly! And in this place, you can hear the river as it roars down the waterfall and mutters down the way.” Grandpa said, excited. Liam was understanding.
Liam nodded and closed his eyes again. Now that he understood, he was excited to try and listen. That would definitely be interesting. It felt like the world was sometimes talking, but to actually understand it?
“I’ll be going then, I’ll collect you before sunset.” Grandpa said.
“Thanks Grandpa, see you then.”
Sunset was much farther away than Liam had expected. After five hours, he was quite bored and not expecting to be hearing anything anytime soon. He’d tried everything. He’d tried listening. He tried not listening. He tried thinking about it really hard. He tried not thinking about it really hard. He had listened to other things, the trees or the birds. He’d even tried looking at it.
Nothing, nothing, nothing.
He’d had quite a few interesting thoughts, though. He’d figured out what he’d say to Gwen when he asked her to dance, had an argument with himself in defense of his idea for gardening, and come up with a system for diverting water to make a water wheel spin. All entertaining and interesting thoughts, but none of that was the old tongue. Every Time he realized his thoughts had wandered, he’d get angry at himself for being distracted and get back to listening - which meant he was angry at himself about every thirty seconds.
Liam lay back on the ground, stretching.
He might fall asleep soon if he wasn’t careful. Maybe Grandpa was still crazy. He had left Liam alone with a river. What was Liam expected to do? He barely knew what to listen for, let alone how to do it.
He looked at the birds circling above. He’d read a book on birds and was pretty good at identifying them now. That blue one was a magpie, the black one was a finch, and that big one was a robin.
Soon, he grew bored of bird identification and sat up. He may as well have his lunch. He was getting pretty hungry.
He pulled the bag over and opened it up, taking out the bread and cheese. He began to eat and found the food was good. Soon his mouth was dry from the bread. He had already drunk all his waterskin, so he searched the bag to see if his grandfather had packed him more. He found two cups and a jar of water that glistened in the sun. Probably Lastrios. He tucked the jar under one arm and stood up with the cups, looking around. With Lastrios, he could make any water clean.
He walked up the river towards the falls. As he approached, the mist and drops flying off of the large waterfall caught him, whetting his skin and making him shiver. It dispelled any gathered drowsiness from the sitting. He could smell the water here too. It made the air taste fresh and clean, and like each of his breaths gave him more. He liked it.
On the edges of the waterfall, the roaring waterfall thinned out to gentle trickles, dripping over the rough stones and soft moss. He filled the cup from one of the trickles, looking up at the waterfall as he did it. He’d read about rivers. This one hadn’t been able to defeat the stone it slipped down yet. It was not smooth but jagged and jutting out, almost like an extremely sheer staircase, causing the water to crash down it, breaking at each platform almost like sideway waves. It was tall, nearly two times the height of the city wall.
Once he was done filling up the cup, he set it down on a rock. Inside was floating little bits of moss and some particles that the river must have gathered while it ran. He unscrewed the jar of Lastrios and tipped it ever so slightly, letting a single drop fall into the cup. The surface cleared out from where the drop touched, the particles sinking down to the bottom of the cup. Liam poured the water from one cup to the other, being sure to keep the particulates at the bottom, and began to drink, standing beneath the waterfall.
He stopped drinking. Had he heard something? Like someone had whispered a single word. He looked around reflexively, but it was still only him and the river.
He glanced up at the waterfall. Had he heard it, or had he just imagined it? He closed his eyes and listened, but it was gone already.
He cursed himself for getting distracted and returned to his sitting spot. Maybe if he hadn’t been getting water, he could have heard it clearer.
After a long day, the sun approached the horizon, and Grandpa arrived to retrieve his grandson.
“Hear anything?” Grandpa said as he began to pack away the stones.
Liam shook his head. “Not a thing,” He said, too unsure about the one word to count it. “Are you sure this works?”
Grandpa laughed. “Yes, I am quite sure. But it’s your first day. Nobody hears anything on their first day. No baby was born singing ballads. You’ll do some more studying tonight and come back tomorrow, then you can see how it goes.”
Liam handed his grandfather a rock. "Why can't you just teach it to me? If you can speak it, teach it like you taught the King's Speech, tell me a word, and then tell me what it means."
Grandpa smiled knowingly and shook his head. "This is not merely an act of translation. The old tongue is the basis of truth and reality itself. It is not the sound a tongue makes when a mind wishes to communicate an idea. It is idea itself. The name for that waterfall in the old tongue is not the one it was given. It is the very name that allows the waterfall to exist. The Old Tongue is reality. It is the names that the stars used to call the world into existence. You cannot teach that. The words you used to awaken me were taught to you like they were normal words. But when you said them, they barely contained any power. The only reason they worked was because I had already done the work. They were merely trigger words to awaken me - like the word that would be used on the stones. They don't actually have to carry authority. When you said them, your pronunciation was all off, the tone, the emphasis... the everything was wrong. You need to speak it with your whole soul, your whole mind." He sighed. "They are not just words. Some truths cannot be taught but must be found. Some things can only be learned through experience."
Liam slipped on the backpack. "I just can't seem to find them."
Grandpa patted his back, "Don't worry, it's your first day, it took me five weeks, and I was rather fast."
Liam swallowed. Five weeks of sitting and doing nothing? He might rather face that Stallion again.
The second day was even worse than the first. At least he’d heard that word while drinking water. But the second day, nothing, not even a whisper.
He pulled at the sound of the water, trying to find anything in it. But there was nothing. He listened with more intensity than he thought possible, but it was like he was searching for a needle in a haystack… which possessed no needles. All he heard was the water. Nothing more. He just kept coming up with handfuls of hay.
That night, Grandpa taught him more about listening, how to open up his mind and clear it of everything but the sound. To Liam, it almost felt useless. There truly was nothing there. How would listening different help find the thing which did not exit? At least, it didn’t exist to Liam's ears.
On the third day, Liam sat down on the same spot as they arrived and stared at the waterfall thoughtfully. It was a beautiful sound, for how annoyingly not like talking it was.
“Grandpa, maybe the problem is that I don’t know what to listen for. I’ve only heard the old tongue once or twice. Maybe if you said it again, it would give me a good reference.”
Grandpa nodded. “That’s a good idea. I suppose the times you’ve heard me use it, you probably weren’t paying close attention.” He looked around, stopping to look at a single blade of grass pushing its way through the mud and leaves. He walked over to it, leaning down to place a finger on it.
“Tha mi àithendali liggdor terrorian,” He said gently but with power. “I command thee to grow,”
Suddenly, like Liam was watching days become seconds, the plant’s green tendrils began to stretch and grow, reaching for the light. The ends unfolded and rolled, becoming little white flowers. After only a moment, what had appeared to be a small blade of grass was a luscious flower. Grandpa smiled as he looked at it. “Like that, it sounds like that.”
Liam stared in wonder, he tried to remember the words, but they had slipped out of his mind. Their basic skeleton was there. He might even be able to emulate that, but what made them so real was gone. That tremor. Something so real, deep, and powerful that echoed behind them and made him understand them without understanding them. That made him feel, taste, smell, and see them, as well as hear them.
That had already slipped away.
The words made Liam feel the same way a beautiful piece of music did, playing across his entire body and soul, but not in entirely bad or good ways. But it was so much, it was almost positive. It was such a unification of mind, spirit, and body. It didn’t matter if it was good or bad. It was beautiful.
If he could find that beauty and power inside of the waterfall, he’d be willing to sit for months to do it.
1. Does the description of the feeling the Old Tongue make sense?
2. What do you think of listening?
3. Does this section feel like it could be cut down?
Part three of chapter nine: https://www.youngwriterssociety.com/work/MaybeAnd...