Excerpt: from the fantasy The Bones of the Earth

coverBy Scott Bury

I have, I think, a slightly different approach to writing fantasy than many. The Bones of the Earth, while it contains fantastic elements, is set in a real time and place: 6th century eastern Europe, the darkest of the Dark Age. The mystics in this book are Gnostics, a real sect in the sixth century.

Here is a scene from The Bones of the Earth that exposes some of the philosophy of the Gnostics and some of the mythology I invented. I hope you like it!

“Welcome, Javor,” said Austinus. “You are now an Initiate to the Secret Knowledge. Guard it well.” He pointed back to the main part of the chamber, so Javor stood and followed the Comes back to the table in the centre of the room. “Now that you have been admitted to the secret mysteries, we may talk more freely. Please, will you show us your dagger again?”

Javor drew it from its sheath; it glittered in the sunlight. Everyone in the room gathered closer and peered at the blade.

“Yes, these markings are very curious,” Austinus said. “I recognized some of them the first time I saw it, when you came here and had your duel with Malleus. I have done much study since, reading in some of our oldest sources, and I think I have found more information.” He pointed carefully along the blade. “These markings are ideograms, a type of writing from Cathay in the far east. This script dates back thousands of years, and comes from people who moved from a country that is at the top of the highest mountains in the world.

“I recognized these characters initially,” he pointed to a series of boxes and squiggles near the handle of the knife. “And after consulting some ancient texts, I think that they are the name of the maker of the blade. And these here are an invocation for good fortune to the … I think it means the rightful bearer of the blade.” He reached for a scroll, opened it, peered at it with a furrowed brow, discarded it and picked up another, then dropped it and picked up a third to study it just as carefully. “Yes, it seems that the blade is intended to be used only by a member of a select group.” He put down the scroll and picked up a codex, brushed dust off the cover and opened it up. He carefully turned crumbling pages until his eyes lit up as he found what he was looking for. “Ah, yes, that character is a warning of ill fortune to he who attempts to wield the dagger without … something. Hmm. I don’t know what that something is, exactly.” He put down the text and sorted through more scrolls.

Tiana pointed to another character on the blade, then to something similar on a scroll. “It means something like ‘friend’ or ‘companion,” she said. Then she carefully turned the blade over. “What about these markings on the other side?”

Everyone, even Malleus, drew closer to look at the markings that curved along the straight blade. Philip, Tiana and Austinus spread scrolls on the table, searching for some kind of translation.

“This one means ‘blade,’” said Philip.

“And this one means ‘earth,” said Austinus.

“This one here, halfway down the length of the blade, signifies ‘protection,’” said Tiana. “And this one here means ‘bone.’ Or perhaps ‘bones.’ The writer of these characters is saying the blade is made of the ‘bones of the earth.’”

“So he went to all this trouble to say it comes from ore mined deep in the earth?” Philip wondered.

“Maybe he was just being poetic,” suggested Malleus, the first time he had spoken that morning. “Steel comes from iron, which is mined underground. We liken ore to veins in the earth. Perhaps these ancient people thought it was more like bones.”

“Perhaps,” said Tiana, staring intently at the blade.

They spent hours looking at the dagger, turning it over again and again. Philip made drawings of the blade, the handle and the writing on it. Austinus and Tiana read scrolls and books. Javor tried to remember everything that Photius had said about the knife. He had mostly spoken about the amulet, but Javor wanted to stay quiet about that. Austinus had seen it, but seemed to have dismissed it as a bit of pagan costume.

Finally, the group was tired. “Well, as far as we can tell, the writings seem to be an attempt to cast a spell,” said Philip, summing up what they had decided. “The dagger is meant to be carried and used only by certain people. In the hands of the select few, it is an unbeatable weapon that cannot be destroyed in combat. It was made from the bones of the earth, whatever those are. And … well, that’s all we know.”

Austinus stood and sighed. “Yes, that’s as much as we are going to determine today. I suggest we all rest. Let’s rejoin the brotherhood of the Abbey for the midday meal and then get back to our regular chores for the rest of the day. Apparently, we have more research to do. I suggest we reconvene in three days.

“Javor, you are an Initiate now, and not a Novice. We have to keep the Initiation secret from your fellow novices, but you do deserve better quarters. Remind me in a month or so to have you granted the Orthodox rites, promote you and get you better living quarters than a cell. But don’t tell anyone about it, just yet.” And with that, he dismissed Javor again.

Javor returned to his cell and lay quietly the rest of the day, trying to think about what had happened and what it might mean.

I hope you liked that!

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