Azores

by Bob Nailor

An un-edited, first pass written for NaNoWriMo 2016.

Chapter One ~ Approached

“Senhor! Senhor Henley!”

The young man’s voice caught my attention while I meandered the market. I’d been on the island less than twenty-four hours and already somebody knew my name. I turned to him and quickly realized, I didn’t know him, never had seen him. How could this total stranger know my name. Yes, I was visiting the island but my coming wasn’t with a massive amount of fanfare. I was here for a simple task — to do a little excavating to appease a colleague’s appetite of the island’s mysterious hipogea. The relatively recent find of ancient art in a cave sparked Professor Valdeon’s acute fascination of Atlantis. I was here to assure him there were no ancient cities prior to the Portuguese colonizing in the fifteenth century.

He grabbed my hand which startled me. “Please, you come.” He pulled me away from the stand where I attempted to purchase a small amount of what I assumed to be cheese.

I jerked my hand away and scrutinized the man before — maybe 19 or 20 years of age, a simple worker.

“My papa.” Once more he pulled on my hand, wanting me to follow him. I was reminded of the actions by a child half his age.

“What about your papa?” I asked, intrigued by his urgency.

“My papa.” He inhaled deeply. “He say you come. He is dying.”

The lad’s dark brown eyes pleaded with me. Against better judgment, I acquiesced and followed him through the streets of the town to a dirt road leading into the foothills and mountains. I stopped. I wasn’t about to amble off into some unknown place with a complete stranger.

“Before we go any further, just who are you?” I stood there scrutinizing him, sizing up my new companion.

He pointed at himself. “Jorge,” he said proudly, pausing momentarily to take a breath and thump his chest. “My name is Jorge.”

“Now, what’s the deal with your papa? You say he is dying — how do you know that?”

Jorge smiled at me. “He sent me to get you. Very important, he say. I know he is dying. You must come to him.”

“Why?” Actually I used Portuguese, saying “Porque?”

The boy turned and gazed at me momentarily then spewed a full conversation in Portuguese, of which I gleaned a word here and there: papa, dirt, dig, book, find, and a few others. Certainly enough to pique my interest. I nodded, indicating he should lead the way.

He didn’t hesitate but immediately grabbed my hand and hustled down the dirt road, pulling me in tow, his sandals flapping, raising dust as we walked. I gazed back at the town questioning my choice of action, took a deep breath, and moved forward with Jorge to some unknown destination.

 

# # #

 

It wasn’t a long walk but one filled with twists and turns as we left the convenience of the dirt road for a path which ended and we took a trail, perhaps an animal trail? Finally, it came to one of pushing lush growth back, seemingly blazing a path. At last, we crossed a stream near a water basin at the base of a cascading falls.  A little further and there was a small glade opening in the foothills. There stood a small hut.

“Papa! Papa!” Jorge yelled as he ran toward the building.

I hastened my footsteps, caught up in the excitement of meeting this man who sent his young son to fetch me, a total stranger.

Inside the hut, it was dark. There was a window in the door and another window in a side wall, but otherwise, there was only the shadows within. Jorge’s papa lay on a straw bed to one side. He was much older than I would have thought him to be.

“Senhor Henley,” the man rasped.

“You have me at a disadvantage,” I said. “You know me, but I don’t know you.”

“My name is Duarte Barros.” He struggled to sit and finally decided to turn on his side and lean on an elbow to watch me. “I am dying, but must give you that which you are looking for.”

I frowned at his cryptic words. What did he have that I’d want? How does he know what I’m looking for? The questions assaulted my mind.

“Here.” He stretched out his arm and pointed to cabinet near his bed.

“Papa!” Jorge shouted. “No!”

“Yes, Jorge.” The old man attempted to calm the younger one. “Now is the time.”

Jorge fell to his knees beside the makeshift bed, grabbing his father’s hand. He mumbled to the old man. Duarte replied in the same strange language. It wasn’t English. It wasn’t Portuguese… or if it was, it was a dialect I had no knowledge of. Not that I’m a linguist, but I do know several languages, eight to be accurate. I speak Spanish and know some Portuguese. This was in no way similar to either.

Duarte stared at me for a few seconds.

“My apologies, Senhor Henley. I needed to assure Jorge you were the proper person to receive the package and he must assist you when I am gone.”

“Assist me?” I attempted to make sense of the situation.

“Yes, in the interpretation of its pages.”

I shook my head, questioning. “What package? Pages?”

“Jorge. Bring it to me.” Duarte motioned with his finger toward the young lad. “It has taken centuries to unfold the mysteries of the pages.” He smiled at me as Jorge moved a woven box. It was on wheels and he grunted as he pushed closer to the bed.

My gaze caught a movement, a shadow at the door. A young woman stood in the doorway. I noticed how late in the day it was getting by the light behind her.

“Greetings, father and grandfather,” the girl said while nodding to the two men. “You must be Senhor Henley.” She smiled at me. “I have come to fix a meal.”

“Father?” I asked.

Jorge smiled. “That would be me. This is my daughter, Jacira.”

I staggered back in shock. “You can’t be more than twenty years of age,” I said. “How can this be your daughter.”

“I am thirty-five, Senhor Henley,” Jorge stated. “My papa is one hundred and nine years of age.”

“All will be explained,” Duarte added. “It seems the men who study the pages live a long life. Why? I do not understand but it has been so since my great-great-great grandfather came to this island and discovered the pages.”

“The pages,” I exclaimed. “You keep referring to them. What are the pages?”

Jorge lifted a woven lid from the box he’d moved to the bedside and two hinged doors opened. Inside where three stacks of shiny, yellow metal pages. I leaned in to get a better look. The pages were gold, thin plates of solid gold. They were embossed with strange markings.

 

# # #

 

I knelt before the makeshift cabinet, staring at the three stacks of gold.

“What are these?” I asked, my hand moving cautiously out to touch them.

“They are the pages, Senhor Henley.” Duarte sat on the edge of his bed, suddenly robust and alert. Even his voice no longer rasped but carried a deep vibralto.

“These pages can do this?” I asked and touched the top sheet on the smallest stack. I felt a vibrancy, an exhilaration I’d not noticed until I touched them.

Duarte smiled at me. “You feel the energy.” He nodded approval at my grinning. “There are three stacks. The shortest stack are those pages we have yet to decipher completely to decide where they fit with the other pages. The tallest stack are those pages we have deciphered.” He paused to take a breath. “The remaining stack is that which remains to be translated.”

I stared up at the man who sat on the edge of the bed, idly kicking his legs back and forth. He no longer appeared to be dying.

“You have translated these pages?” I pointed to the tallest stack.

“Yes. It is a story of the ages.” He shrugged. “I do not know who would write a story on pages of gold in some strange language, but there they are.”

I gazed about the room, my mind racing in thoughts. Where are the translations? Who are these people? What is the story?

In answer to the unspoken questions, Duarte continued. “Jorge has learned to read the language. He will interpret the pages for you, if you wish to write them.” The old man slid off the bed and knelt beside me and lifted a page from the smallest stack with his hands. He turned it with pride and reverence in his hands. “Notice the two holes on the right side. This is where the leather tongs slip through to hold it in the proper sequence.” He pointed to the tallest stack. “See how they are held together? You read from the bottom, upwards.”

He pulled the stack toward him. I reached to assist him and was amazed at the weight and how, this frail man who moments ago seemed to be on a deathbed, now moved them with ease.

Duarte turned his kind eyes toward me. “The pages are cursed… and blessed. They have given me a long life, as they did to my father and my grandfathers before him.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “The pages choose who will read them.” He opened his eyes. “I have five sons. Jorge is the only one who can read the pages. They chose him. My other four sons only saw plain yellow pages with nothing written on them.”

“Yellow pages?” My hand moved reverently over the surface of the top page, feeling the indentations on it. “They did not see gold?”

Duarte shook his head. “That is why Jorge and I live here. Others believe us to be crazy. My four sons have disowned me, even my wife claims my head is not right.” He smiled at his granddaughter. “Jacira has the eyesight but she is not allowed to touch the plates.”

I frowned.

“Where a non-seer touches the plate, the letters are erased. Where a female touches the plates, they turn black.”

I continued to frown. “Why would that be?”

Duarte shrugged. “There is much I do not understand.” He gazed at the plates. “Perhaps it is explained on one of the pages we have yet to interpret.”

I suddenly realized I still didn’t know how it was this man and his son knew about me being on the island. “How did you know I was here?” It was obvious they didn’t have electricity.

“I contacted Professor Valdeon.” The old man smiled, his eyes alight with humor. “He informed me of your visit.”

I tried not to show my surprise.

“Senhor Henley, I am not a backward peasant.” He gazed about the hut. “Yes, I live as a hermit but that is my choice.” He pulled out a magazine. “But I read. I know about the world I live in. I have been searching for the proper person to share this knowledge my family has guarded for centuries.” Duarte leaned back against the wall. “I learned of Professor Valdeon’s interest in hipogeas and contacted him.” He paused. “Now you are here.You can see the pages as real and read them.” He took a deep breath. “You are the one I have waited for.”

The smell of food cooking outside as it wafted through the door caught my attention.

“Jacira is cooking.” Duarte nodded with a smile. “We will eat shortly.” He paused. “I smell fish and soup.”

“And bread, papa,” Jorge added.

“Do you wish to start reading, senhor Henley?” Duarte motioned to Jorge to open the book of those pages that had been translated.

I nodded.

 

Chapter Two ~ Joalmir

My name is Joalmir. Today is my one-hundredth birthday. As such, I am now eligible to become a citizen of Atlan. In the excitement of the event, I awoke early, hearing the single gong ring six times. I sat by the window, watching the sun rise from the sea, turning the dark, curling waves with shadowed-white foam into crests of sparkling amber atop blue waves. With such beauty to behold, I knew today would be good to me, although I had no idea what my future would hold as a new citizen.

The duet of gongs chiming once startled me from my reverie. At the next duet of gongs ringing twice, I must be ready. Each day was broken into four sets of gongs. A single gong from midnight to denote each hour, from one to six. At the seventh hour, the duet of gongs began for the next six ringings. Again, from noon for the next six rings, it was a single gong. The final fourth segment was another duet of gongs for the last six hours when it repeated the pattern again.

My breakfast of fresh fruit and sweetened breads kept my spirits light. A hasty walk to the community baths allowed me to freshen myself before going to Citizens’ Hall for assignment. I offered the overseeing patron a coin and she nodded approval of my entrance to the baths.  I placed my money pouch in an open compartment and tossed my garments in the woven basket of other soiled clothes before continuing to the steam room for the cleansing procedure. Sitting in the chamber, an elderly citizen splashed water on the volcanic heated stones. I allowed the steam to seep into my pores, cleansing and purifying me. The gentleman beside me stood to exit, grabbing a small sapling branch to slap his skin as he left the chamber. I waited another few minutes before repeating his gesture, taking a switch, hitting my body lightly to aid in the next process - the cold bath.

I slipped into the water and felt a myriad of small water jets assault my body with cool streams. I found it invigorating and my pores tightened. I felt rejuvenated. As I strolled through the pool I dipped down into the cold water to completely immerse myself. I approached the other side of the pool to finalize my bath and noticed the man who had left the steam room earlier sitting on a bench in the water, letting the jets bubble around him.

“Fair day to you,” the man said.

I nodded in his direction. “Also to you,” I replied. “May the gods be pleasant this day.”

He nodded back. “So it is written.”

I stepped out of the pool, the water dripping from my naked body, running rivulets back into the pool. Another elderly citizen handed me a towel to dry myself. She was polite and motioned me to a table.

“A massage before departure?” she asked.

I shook my head,declining the offer.

“’I will get you garments,” she offered and scurried behind a screen. She appeared almost immediately on the other end of the screen with a pile of fabrics.

“May I assist you?” She held the garments out to me as she approached.

I nodded agreement and she proceeded to dress me.  I ambled back to the entrance area and retrieved my money pouch. I was ready to attend Citizens’ Hall which was an extension of the royal palace.

# # #

I approached the palace and placed myself in the line of those who were of the age of eligibility and wished to become a citizen. I quietly counted — I was number seven when I first approached. Now there were eleven of us, all men — women gained citizenship through marriage. We all awaited the second duet gong of two ringings to announce the hour and the opening of most businesses in the morning. A scribe approached at the second duet gong. He stepped to the doorway arch and made his announcement in a loud and clear voice.

“Attend all who wish to be citizens. First requirement, are you of proper age? Say yes or no.”

All eleven answered yes. I noted some were older than me, but none were younger. One was allowed to become a citizen any time after turning one hundred. Some waited longer, most did not.

“Follow me,” the scribe declared, turned and proceeded ritualistically down the hall.

He moved with deliberate steps toward a room which opened to a larger chamber. We followed in a single line.

“Wait here and maintain silence. Watch my actions and repeat them when it is your turn.” He turned to the first person in the line. “You will be first. I will call you when you must come forward.” The scribe turned, facing the chamber, and waited.

A man entered the large chamber from a side entrance and solemnly approached the three steps to a dais and a chair. He turned and faced us. Others moved to assigned positions around him. The man nodded.

The scribe moved toward the man standing before the chair, at least fifty feet away on path of burgundy carpet. When he arrived at the steps, he knelt, head bowed.

“I am the Accorder. You are my scribe. Stand and attend me,” the man at the top of the stairs said. His voice was rich and filled the chamber.

The scribe stood, head still bowed and waited. The Accorder turned to his left and took a stylus and golden page from the person standing there. The person to the Accorder’s right took the items from the Accorder and moved to the scribe, handing them to him. The scribe bowed, turned and moved to the side of the stairs.  He stood there for a moment,

“Next!” He nodded to the first man in the line.

The grand hall was of alabaster with columns of ornate scrolling at the top. Sheer white linens danced in the oceanic breezes blowing in through the arched windows.

I stood at the doorway, watching the one before me be assigned as he knelt before the Accorder.

“Next,” the scribe called and nodded in my direction.

I stepped forward, traversing the fifty feet of burgundy carpet leading to the Accorder who waited my arrival. I dropped to my knees, head bent, staring at the sandals with emerald studs of the Accorder.

“You are?” The voice was richer up close and filled the chamber.

“My name is Joalmir. I wish to become a citizen.”

“Are you a learned man?”

“I have studied at two observatories and performed residency at…” My mind failed me. In my nervousness, I couldn’t remember the name. “It was Regency Library, sire. I preformed residency at Regency Library.”

“Here. Look at me and behold your future.” He received items from the person standing to his left. The person on his right remained motionless.

The Accorder stepped down and handed me a stylus with a diamond point and a golden page. “Place yourself before King Cavalon for approval.” He cocked an eye at me. “If the king refuses your service, do not return here. Instead, report to the docks as a non-citizen. Am I understood?”

I held the page and stylus close to me, fearing my trembling would belie my feelings. “I understand.”

“Stand. May the gods of fortune reveal your future.” He placed a hand on my shoulder. “Go, Joalmir. May the gods smile upon you.”

I turned to the side and began the quest of my future. As I approached the side entrance of the grand hall which lead to the castle I heard the Accorder’s scribe say, “Next.”

# # #

A man stood at the side arch waiting for me.

“I am Matzar. I will take you to King Cavalon.”

He placed his hand on my shoulder and guided me along the hallway. Another man who stood behind Matzar moved into position and waited. Matzar pointed at certain locations, revealing what they were and their purpose for being.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-bidi-font-family:Calibri'>“This is the king’s library. If you are accepted, this is where your pages will be brought to have them stored at the end of each day for all time.”

I gazed down at my stylus and single page. “I will only fill one page a day?”

“No, Joalmir. You will scribe all the important things. If King Cavalon decides to keep you, I will retrieve you several more pages and carry them for when you need them.”

“You will carry them?” I frowned in thought at what the older man said.

“Yes,” Matzar replied. “I was runner for the king’s last scribe until his untimely death. I will be your runner if your future is to be a scribe.” He stopped me and we stood in the corner of a hallway. “When you arrive in the king’s presence, you will kneel as you learned in the Accorder’s office. You will offer yourself as his scribe.” Matzar shrugged. “At that moment, your fate is sealed. You will either become his scribe and a proper citizen of Atlan or a non-citizen denizen of the port.” Matzar grabbed me by my shoulders. “I wish you the best for your future. We shall turn the next corner and you will proceed into the grand hall of the king without me. Understood?”

“Yes.”

“I believe you will be accepted. He has rejected the last five. None of them were like you. I’ve only been a scribe’s runner for three-hundred and forty-seven years. What do I know? But…” He smiled at me. “I like you.”

“Thank you, Matzar. I hope you are right.”

# # #

My name is Joalmir. My responsibility is being scribe to King Cavalon. I shall be responsible for recording his words, deeds and brilliant moments for all time.