A children's book for grown-ups by Jon Evans

August 15, 2007

29. Old One

Patch had seen many turtles before, in the Center Kingdom, but never one as large as this, and never one who spoke Bird.

The turtle said, "I may perhaps have misunderstood you, my Mammal is truly quite atrocious, but did you just say that you were Patch, of the Center Kingdom?"

"Yes," Patch said.

"Most interesting. How long ago did you leave the Center Kingdom?"

Patch tried to count the days and failed. "It was still winter."

"Then you do not know of the war that rages across your home?"

Patch stared at the turtle. "War?"

"War," the turtle repeated. "There is a squirrel, my reports name him Redeye, who has declared himself the true King of the Center Kingdom, and who leads the Meadow Tribe, its numbers swelled by rebels, against King Thorn. There have been several small battles already, and dozens of deaths, and there are rumours of strange alliances."

"Redeye calls himself King?" Patch was shocked. "How do you know this? Have you been there?"

The turtle's laugh was dry and jolly. "Oh, no, young Patch. In all my life I have never left these marshes."

"Then how –"

"Conversation," the turtle said. "Birds fly to these marshes from the Center Kingdom, from the Kingdom of Madness, from the Hidden Kingdom, even from empires across the great mountains, even from empires across the ocean, and from time to time I speak with them. Why, one might even say that they bring me reports. And there is little that is hidden from the eyes of birds. Only the Kingdom Beneath. Of late, Patch son of Silver, the birds bring me news of strange and terrible things. They speak of a sickness that spreads among all the birds of the world."

Patch was hardly listening. "There hasn't ever been war in the Center Kingdom."

"There has, but not for a very long time. Not since before the second coming of the humans and the rise of the mountains."

"The rise of the mountains? The mountains have always been there."

"Oh, no," the turtle said. "I remember looking westward from these marshes and seeing no mountains in the distance, young Patch. Once there was only the wild. And one day only the wild shall remain."

Patch stared at the turtle. "How old are you? Who are you?"

"Very old. Very old. Old enough that you may simply call me Old One. But I am not quite the eldest. There is another as old as I, one whom you have already met."

"What? Who?"

"My oldest friend. My most ancient adversary. I believe you will meet him again."

"I don't understand," Patch said.

"None of us are meant to understand everything, young Patch. But I do have one thing to say to you which I hope you will understand. One solitary morsel of advice. Listen carefully. Always abandon your enemies, and never abandon your friends."

"All right," Patch said, even more confused.

"The rain is stopping," the turtle said, and indeed it was. "You and Zelina had best hurry. You have a long way to go, and little time in which to travel, if you are not to arrive too late."

"Too late for what?" Patch asked. "And how do you know her name?"

But the Old One had already disappeared back into the water.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

oooooooooooooooh. He reminds me of the turtle-mountain thing in the Neverending Story. Um, in a good way, natch. :D
eeek, squirrel war!! that's not good. Awesome chapter as always, can't wait for the next one!

August 15, 2007 at 1:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is really good stuff.

August 16, 2007 at 5:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Never quite saw a turtle as a sagelike figure. It works well here. Makes me edgy that I'm beginning to catch up and it'll still be only about halfway or so.

September 2, 2007 at 4:14 PM  

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Jon Evans is the award-winning author of the thrillers Invisible Armies, Dark Places (aka Trail of the Dead), and The Blood Price. See his web site rezendi.com.

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