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ebooks: The Inshkin Chronicles – Chapter XIV
Chilliwack author Dennis Tkach has written an historical epic seeking to follow in the tradition of imaginative classics as diverse as Dune, Snow White, and Lord Of The Rings. The book, now available for the first time, is being serialized by Today Media Group.
Each week we will bring you another installment from this fantastic journey as the adventure unfolds, taking twists and turns, exploring a world which existed far before our own time but which, as you will discover, has many hidden parallels.
The Inshkin Chronicles takes its readers one million years into the past to time hitherto unexplored and undreamt of by archeologists and historians.
Once upon a very, very long time ago, there lived a little berry farmer by the name of Pynch Beamcheeks. Rising from the humblest of beginnings Pynch’s story tells of the making of a hero.
The Inshkin Chronicles is also the story of the first intelligent life on Earth, long before Adam and the coming of Man. It was a time when Chaos sought to plunge a dagger into the heart of a young world full of promise, a world of Order.
This is for the children of Lehi-om who hunger and thirst.
With the return of their father, spirits of excitement conjured by the children twirled and danced in the air above the Beamcheeks supper table. No one seemed to notice that one of the seven was not contributing.
With faces scrubbed until they were stripped of the day’s work and play grime and left pink and shiny, the children riveted their eyes on their father. The chirpy chorus of their voices fell silent when Hodie raised a hand and called for patience. They would have to wait for the news of Flinder’s assignment for the Games.
Their expectant mood moved into the background when their mother placed a bubbling stewpot on the table. Within seconds of the lid’s removal, a wonderful aroma filled the room.
A spirit of a different kind hung over the oldest of the children. Pynch did his best to conceal his tension, a task made easier thanks to the pervasive blanket of joviality cast by his siblings.
Smiling from ear to ear, Hodie Beamcheeks rubbed his hands together. He closed his eyes and wafted a hand over the pot of auric stew, breathing deeply as he inhaled the heady aroma. His wife handed Hodie a large wooden ladle, which he quickly dipped into the pot, slowly stirring the mélange of vegetables and meat.
As he did so a little voice from down the table called out, “Poppy, please tell us . . .”
“Yes, yes,” echoed a second, then a third.
Ignoring the pleas of his children and their squirming impatience, Hodie withdrew a full ladle of stew and deposited it on his plate; he let his nose describe a slow circle over the steaming gravy. “Mumsy,” he declared, beaming warmly while giving his wife a great hug, “you are truly a wizard of the kitchen!”
At the far end of the table, the mention of the word “wizard” made Pynch wince.
“Anyone can plant and tend a Merry bush,” Hodie continued, “but this . . .” he licked his lips, “is the work of a gifted magician!”
“I agree,” replied Rayon, giving her husband a gentle smack to the back of his head, “but it is now time for eating, not talking. Children, start passing your plates!”
“As your mother said, first the eating, then we can talk about the Games.” Hodie ignored the groans of disappointment. They were quick to disappear when the steaming plates of food made their rounds.
As Rayon walked around the table handing out great slabs of warm, oven-fresh bread, she paused behind her oldest and bent down to whisper in his ear, “Anything troubling you, Pynch?”
“Er . . . no,” he replied, surprised at how perceptive his mother was at reading expressions. “Just thinking about . . . stuff.” He shrugged.
“Stuff, huh?” She gave his shoulder a squeeze. “Okay, son, but if you need to talk, just let me know.”
Pynch picked up his spoon but his mind was an over-wound clock spring that was giving him a nervous stomach. Eating became more mechanical and less enjoyable.
Finally, to the relief of the children, Hodie popped the last dripping morsel into his mouth and pushed his chair back from the table. As was his habit, he slowly unbuttoned his vest, then gave his tummy a two-handed pat. A loud, rumbling belch underscored his pleasure. Seeing he had everyone’s undivided attention, Hodie cleared his throat, stood, and made the long-awaited announcement.
“During this year’s Games,” he paused for dramatic effect and to lick a dribble of gravy off his chin, “Flinder will be holding . . . the frog tossing competition!”
The children’s delighted cries were deafening. Frog tossing was the favorite event of the valley children.
“Pynch?” Rayon leaned over the table and felt her son’s forehead with the back of her hand. “Are you sure you are feeling well? You look pale.”
“Oh no, Mumsy, I’m fine,” he replied, perhaps a little too quickly; he feared he sounded disingenuous. “Really, I was just lost in thought, that’s all . . .”
Rayon greeted his words with a look of skepticism. Now Hodie chimed in. “I would have thought that you, of all people, would be particularly pleased with the news. After all, you did place second in your age group last year.”
Finding himself on the defensive, Pynch tried to keep the exasperation from his voice. “Father, I am delighted with the news!” No sooner had he spoken the words than his ears began to burn. He reached for his glass of milk. “ Like I told Mumsy, my mind was elsewhere, is all.”
“Did you and the children finish cleaning out the irrigation channels?”
“This morning, sir,” answered Pynch. With both his parents present, he decided this was as good a time as any to try out his half-baked plan. “I was thinking of going to visit cousin Fert and cousin Pooka,” he blurted. He breathed an inward sigh of relief at how easily the half-lie came out. Perhaps, he thought, because it is also a half-truth. “Tomorrow—I was thinking of going tomorrow,” he continued, trying not to race his words and sound as nervous as he felt inside.
His parents exchanged looks of surprise. “This . . . is certainly out of the blue, Pynch,” remarked his mother, watching with a curious expression as he tried to hide his agitation.
His father, too, regarded Pynch with a look of curiosity. “You’ve never expressed any particular interest in visiting the Noodys, son. And Puddledubbin isn’t exactly next door. Why now?”
Pynch hoped he wasn’t overdoing his enthusiasm. In truth, he and his siblings had cousins all over the valley, and while Fert and Pooka were in his age group, they had never been particularly close. In fact, the very reason he chose the Noodys was because they weren’t “next door.” Puddledubbin lay at the eastern gateway to Yarda and the distance, he reckoned, would mask much of his travel time. “I know I have never talked openly about visiting cousin Fert and cousin Pooka, but I have thought about it a lot. Fert, if you will remember, invited me to his birthday this past winter.”
“To which you didn’t go,” Hodie replied dryly.
“ I had a bad cold at the time,” Pynch reminded him.
“I remember, son,” interjected his mother, turning to her husband. “And you should too, Poppy. It was the week we had chicken soup every day and you declared you never wanted to see another bowl for a long, long time.”
“Ah, yes.” Hodie scratched his chin thoughtfully and looked at Pynch. “And your work?”
“It’s all done,” piped Pynch. “We even finished cleaning the wine vats.”
“It is a long journey,” reiterated his mother. “When would you like to go?”
“Tomorrow morning, early,” replied Pynch. “I’ll travel with Toga; if we make good time we can arrive in Puddledubbin before dark.”
“If you are only gone for a few days, I have no objection,” replied Hodie. “What about you, Mumsy?”
Looking ill at ease, Rayon studied Pynch with a glint of suspicion in her eyes. Without saying a word she crossed over to the oven and retrieved a large, deep-dish Merry berry pie. The younger children raised little cries of pleasure at seeing dessert; the older ones still had their attention on big brother.
“Rayon?” Hodie urged, plainly leaving the decision up to his wife.
“Pynch, if you have your heart set on going, I have no objections.” Though her voice was light, her eyes were troubled.
Pynch was very aware of his mother’s concern and he did his best to erase it with a smile and a voice full of assurance. “I will be fine. The weather is good, the road is easy, and Toga is a good traveler. Besides, he could use the exercise. If you haven’t noticed, he’s been putting on the pounds lately.”
“I suppose . . . Besides,” she added, “it’s not as if you are traveling out of the valley.”
Pynch felt his ears begin to burn. As he accepted a slice of pie, he found it difficult to look his mother in the eye.
Rayon suddenly brightened with a thought. “Puddledubbin! While visiting my sister and her family, you can drop by and pay your respects to Gosbo and Frella Winkletoofe, and their daughter Flashe. I have heard she’s turned into a beautiful young Inshmaid; there is talk of her being a shoo-in for this year’s harvest queen. There will be plenty of suitors, and a visit now would certainly give you an advantage.”
Pynch exchanged looks with his father, a communication that required no words. “Why, yes Mumsy, I could do that.”
Suddenly, Hodie’s countenance brightened. “Ha! I just remembered! The Winkletoofes own half the rice fields around Puddledubbin. Gosbo’s daughter would have a huge dowry, possibly enough for you to start your own berry farm. We’ve always talked about expanding up the north slope.”
Pynch groaned inwardly, but shrugged and said nothing.
“Bring me some of Aunt Letta’s sugar cookies, Pynch,” piped his little sister Cady.
“Me too, me too,” chimed in little sister Nee.
Pynch raised his hands in mock surrender. “I will try to remember to bring all of you some treats, but remember, my saddlebags are only so big and Toga’s back is already bowed with age.”
“How long do you plan on being away?” asked his father.
The question caught Pynch off guard. He had no idea how many days his mission would require. “A week, Popsy, maybe a little longer if I am enjoying myself.”
“As long as you don’t overstay your welcome,” added his mother. “I’ll prepare a package of food for your journey, as well as some gifts for you to take to the Noodys.”
Hodie brightened with another thought. “Ask Gosbo if he can spare me some of his magic mushrooms. They grow the best in the marshlands around Puddledubbin.”
“And now,” Rayon interjected, shifting the conversation, “it is chore time. Nee, help Cady collect and stack the dishes. Shotsy, scrape the plates into the doggie dish. Grott, draw the water and restock the firewood. Jicko and Wick, you are on washing detail. Pynch, you can go and start packing for your journey. I’ll get my sister’s package together.”
Most of the youngsters spilled out of their seats to set about their appointed tasks. Wick and Jicko did not. They turned long faces toward their father. It was clear the boys were not happy. Hodie walked over, pulled up a chair, and sat between them. “Boys?”
“We were hoping we could go with Pynch . . . to Puddledubbin,” said Jicko.
“We’d like to visit our cousins, too,” added Wick. “And our work is also done . . . well, almost done.”
An alarm went off in Pynch’s head. What if his father approved? What if he thought it a good idea to travel in company? His mind suddenly filled with scary possibilities. He searched in vain for a retort, then let out a sigh of relief when his father replied, “Another time, lads, another time. I want to spend some time with you two in the coming days, advancing your apprenticeship in the making of our wine. There are over one hundred barrels of last year’s harvest that have to be binked and graded, and I have no intention of doing it myself.”
“But, Father . . .” Jicko’s protest died on his lips.
“Why? Binking is Pynch’s responsibility,” squeaked Wick.
“Because,” Hodie continued testily, “Pynch’s apprenticeship is almost over. Your older brother has always accomplished all that I have asked of him. He has proven himself an accomplished binker. You and your brother are not. ” Hodie waved a hand, dismissing further argument. “And when you two have finished binking and grading the rest of last year’s store, you will have done all I have asked of you. Conversation over.”
As his two brothers glumly left the table, Jicko mumbled to Pynch, “Just don’t forget the sugar cookies.”
“Cheer up, brothers,” Pynch called out. “There will be plenty of time for visiting with all of our cousins during the Games!”
Wick turned before leaving the room and replied, “Easy for you to say, Pynch. There is a long summer before harvest; it will probably be a lot longer for some of us than for others.”
Pynch answered without thinking. “This summer may be a lot longer and more challenging than you can imagine, and that goes for all of us.” He immediately regretted his words when they drew a look of puzzlement from his father. To Pynch’s relief, he did not press him on the reason for his strange comment. If this war falls on the Great White North, Pynch thought, the length of the seasons will be the least of our concerns.
Later that evening, when the candles were capped and the hearth fire was reduced to a bed of softly glowing coals, a blanket of stillness descended over the Beamcheeks homestead. All within lay wrapped in peaceful sleep. All save Pynch.
He tossed and turned under his down quilt, but could not still a storm of questions and dark, unwelcome thoughts concerning what lay in store for him in the days ahead. His last waking thoughts focused on the contents of the package hidden under his bed.
Finally, Pynch slept. And with sleep came the dream.
He stood at the center of a magnificent emerald hall. Around its perimeter stood a line of tall, red-skinned giants, and by the look of the armor they wore and the spears in their hands, they were definitely not farmers.
Pynch’s eyes widened as he next focused on the huge table filling the center of the hall, and the feast that was set upon it. The Inshkin had never in his life seen so much food—and being an Inshkin, he was in the habit of eating six to eight meals a day. His eyes were drawn to the crystal centerpiece carved in the shape of two hands with palms outstretched, cradling three small flames that flitted and danced, their radiance lending everything in the room a blush of crimson. Having seen the Crysfyre, he sensed the significance of the flames.
The air beside him began to shimmer as he sensed the arrival of another presence; a tall, cloaked figure gradually materialized out of the ether, the face completely concealed by a cowl. When the figure spoke, however, Pynch quickly recognized Calabar’s voice.
“Behold, Messenger!” the Wizard of Shen Rothor intoned. “A feast such that the world has never seen! It is a royal banquet, yet it is not for kings and queens, or any born of high station. This,” the wizard swept his hands over the sumptuously set table, “is for the children of Man who hunger and thirst.”
“I do not understand,” Pynch heard himself reply.
“Many will partake, Messenger, but only one will enjoy the dessert at banquet’s end.” Calabar picked up a ladle and dipped it into a bubbling cauldron. Pynch’s mouth began to water as the aroma of auric stew filled his nostrils. “Here.” The wizard motioned Pynch forward. “Taste of the exquisite delights awaiting those who come to the table.”
“But, this is a dream, Calabar! How can I taste something that isn’t real?”
The wizard studied the Halfling, his expression hidden by the shadow of his cowl. “Is not life but a dream within a dream? Now, taste.”
The stew was indescribably delicious, better than any Pynch had ever tasted. He spied a tray mounded with sticky buns drizzled with maple syrup, a treasured trading commodity of the Forest Elves, and reached out to take a piece, asking, “May I?”
Calabar gently slapped his hand away. “No, little friend. This is the lesson that you must impart to all who seek a place at this table. Everything you see before you must be consumed in the order laid out on the menu.”
“What menu?” asked Pynch, looking around the table for anything that resembled a menu.
“The menu has yet to be written,” replied the wizard with a touch of amusement. “But in due course it will be prepared. Now, before I leave you, I want you to turn your gaze upward.”
Pynch craned his neck back just in time to be temporarily blinded by a flash of white light. As his vision cleared he saw that a dazzling vault of clear blue sky had replaced the ceiling, the sun riding near its zenith.
As dark clouds drifted into view, Pynch watched, mesmerized, as they assumed the shapes of myriad creatures, the likes of which the Inshkin had never seen—nor would he ever want to. With their appearance the air suddenly chilled, and Pynch involuntarily shivered under the touch of the unnatural coolness. “It’s only a dream,” he told himself over and over again, “it’s only a dream.”
In reply there came a booming burst of laughter and a voice that made his flesh crawl with fear. “A dream?” the voice mocked. “You could only wish!”
Pynch woke with a start. He ran a trembling hand over his forehead only to discover it was bathed in perspiration. In fact, his whole body felt wet and clammy. Quietly leaving his bed, Pynch shed his wet nightshirt and found a welcome pile of clothing his mother had left to warm by the hearth fire. Once fully dressed, he padded over to a window, parted the curtains a crack, and peeked out into early morning. Seeing nothing but a world asleep, a world at peace, Pynch sighed in relief. A gray belt heralding the new day was widening over the mountains to the east. Pynch welcomed the band of light; it helped to chase away the darkness that lingered in his mind.
Taking great care not to wake anyone, Pynch donned his boots and retrieved the tightly wrapped bundle from under his bed. He tucked it into the bottom of one of the two saddlebags Toga would be carrying on their journey.
His mother had left two large bundles on the dining table. One contained gifts for the Noody family, the other food for the trip. Hefting its weight, Pynch was surprised to find it contained much more food than he would need for a mere trip across the valley. But it would serve him well for the days beyond and for that he was thankful. After stuffing several changes of clothing into his now burgeoning pack, Pynch hefted the load onto his shoulder, quietly slipped the latch on the front door, and stepped out into the damp, cool air of the new day.
He sent a low whistle in the direction of the animal barn. A lumpy shadow emerged from the darkness, shook itself, and after a long, whining yawn, loped over to its master.
“Good dog, Toga! Are you ready for an adventure?” Barely had the last word escaped his lips when he gave himself a start. Adventure? he thought. I actually used the word ‘adventure’! All Pynch could do was shake his head in dismay.
Toga ran a raspy tongue over his master’s hand, and Pynch returned the gesture of affection with a scratch behind the dog’s floppy ears. However, it seemed to Pynch that the big droopy eyes looking up at him were imploring to be sent back to the warm bed of straw he’d recently vacated. “You don’t have a clue, do you, old fellah,” whispered Pynch as he saddled the dog and tightened the cinch. “We’ll both be wondering what lies ahead, won’t we, Toga?”
With the bags secured, Pynch climbed into the saddle, only to have Toga whine in protest at all the extra weight. “Shush, Toga, the exercise will do you wonders.”
“Rrrrufff!” the dog replied, which in dog language probably meant, “I’ll take lazy and restful over fit and tired any day.”
With a reassuring pat on Toga’s thick, shaggy neck, Pynch urged the dog into a brisk walk out of their yard and down the long road that wound out of Flinder. Pynch did not look back, for he knew the pull of home would only make him more reluctant to leave. At that particular moment, his thoughts on the wizard were not particularly warm.
Within minutes the lush banks of the river Dune came into view, its dark waters the lifeblood of Yarda. Pynch studied its swift-moving majesty a moment, then, with a snap of the reins, dog and rider loped off east down the well-traveled main road that connected all of the valley towns.
And no one, save a mother’s eye from behind a parted curtain, saw the young Inshkin depart.
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