The Wonder of the Ark

Alathea reached her hand to the rail. Her fingers hovered over the ancient wood. She breathed deeply of the earthy scent that seemed to emanate from the hull. Her fingers finally settled on the rough grain. She sighed. Looking up, she noted, “None of the other ships are crashing into this one.”

Jaraeden nodded, a contented smile on his face.

“Why not?”

He shrugged. “Respect?”

“This place is what I’m thinking, isn’t it?”

He repeated the shrugged with a slight nod.

“Wow.” She paced the deck, absorbing every sensation. “I want to just lay down and take it all in. This isn’t just history. I’ve been to so many of the places on my travels. I’ve stood where prophets stood. I’ve seen the hills they saw. But this!” She shook her head. She stopped. She looked at Jaraeden. “And you use it for a treasure depot.”

He raised a single finger and gestured with the other hand toward a closed hatch.

Alathea reached toward it and found it unfastened. She slid back the wood planking and peered into the darkness. “My sense of wonder doesn’t extend to things I can’t see, I’m afraid. Well, at least not things the Scriptures don’t tell me about.” She grinned.

Jaraeden gestured to her hands, his fingers popping open.

“Oh. I can’t just bring light on command. At least, I don’t control when it happens.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Look, I’m not like other paladins. They can ‘order’ their gods around because their gods are fakes. They can be bribed and bought, and the price is always too high. My God? He can’t be bribed. He does what he wants. I can’t pay him to have my way, no matter the price. But he gives what he gives freely. On his time.”

Jaraeden rolled his eyes.

“I thought you knew my God?”

The tall man pursed his lips before answering, “I know that whoever your god is, he answers prayers even here, beyond the edges of creation. No other paladin has done what you did. And now I find your god is, well.” He didn’t finish his statement. “Any god worth the worship would be able to light our way.”

“And he can. He chooses not to.” Alathea shrugged. “He’s bigger than my head. And I like it that way. If I could understand the way he worked, he’d be a pretty lousy god.”

“Other paladins don’t seem to mind.”

“Well. I’m not content for mediocre gods.” Alathea crouched beside the yawning pit. “I can’t smell whatever used to be in here. It’s just oils and metal now, isn’t it?”

Jaraeden shrugged.

“All right. I’m going in. How far down is the drop?”

“About two paces.”

“Easy.” She slipped in and landed in a crouch, peering into the darkness. Her feet landed on sturdy wood planking. Her hands brushed the floor. “They walked here,” she murmured. She stood, extended her hands to either side. One step. Two steps. She counted off until she reached a wall – forty steps. Nothing on the floor here she could detect with her feet. Her fingers brushed no walls until she nearly ran into this one with her nose.

Jaraeden lowered himself down behind her, his feet making soft scuffing sounds on the wood.

“This is the quietest place in the entire graveyard,” Alathea said as she felt the wall before her. More of the same dried out, ancient wood.

She felt more than heard Jaraeden nod.

“You must like it.”

She felt the nod again.

“Most people just get used to the clatter. Not you, though. You’re sick of the noise.”

Again the nod.

“Would it be better if I was quiet?”

He didn’t answer.

Alathea huffed a small giggle. “Well, let’s see here. A door somewhere?” She traced the wall with her fingertips, pacing the darkness. At last she found an opening. “And no torches in here at all?”

“The place is reserved for the paladin whose god does not need torches.”

“Well, my God doesn’t need torches. Or treasure. I’m not him, tough. I’m just me, and I still need light.” Alathea reached out into the black. “And I don’t have the power to light the darkness. That’s his job.” She wrinkled her nose. She looked up.

She closed her eyes and prayed.

An spark swelled to an orb of yellow light.

She looked over her shoulder. “Oh. And my God answers prayer, too. But notice? No payment needed. He gives what he gives.”

“Then your God is a fool to get nothing from you.”

Alathea shrugged. “Either that, or he’s better than every fake out there. Now, you have a glass shard for me to inspect?”

Thus continues The Graveyard at the Bottom of the World.


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