I TAKE WHAT I WANT
"The fool, the arrogant fool," Jom NiMali growled through clenched
teeth, , the young Prince's clean shaven face taut with ferocity. He yanked his
cloak around his shoulders and clutched it with his fists at his chest. "The nerve
of that Ookma to invite us neighboring Chieftains just to show us a crystal vase.
A vase!" He threw his head back, grimaced and rolled his eyes up to the whites.
A shudder of rage rippled down his shoulder length hair.
The Court Wizard, Shantu Ya', quietly sat in his favorite pelt covered
chair against a masonry wall of the Audience Hall. He quietly watched the
Prince pace back and forth across the heavy, emblazoned rug before his throne.
These last years, as Jom NiMali matured, what had been boyish exuberant
selfishness while his father was alive, was turning into ferocious egotism. Some
personal doubts, perhaps, or misgivings about his new role, the Wizard
wondered. His father's death not half a year before and the rule over the NiMali
Citadel suddenly passing onto Jom had accentuated this even more. Such power
is not easy to handle, at best, Shantu Ya' reflected, and for this young man it
might prove dangerous.
As Court Wizard, Shantu Ya' made certain that he was free of bias and
political entanglements so that he could remain neutral and better serve as
Jom's spiritual advisor. Yet, even the Wizard, at times, was the brunt of his
lord's anger. So, as he listened to the young man's wrath, he kept his
observations to himself.
"Did that clown think to show us that he could simply order us about
without purpose? To show us a pot with his father's ashes in it? " the Prince
continued to growl.
"Excuse, m'lord, but that was more than merely a crystal vase," the
Wizard gently reminded him, hoping to bring Jom NiMali's thoughts into more
balance. "Perhaps you missed his explanation that it was certainly from before
the Devastation. It had contained relics of great power and import, the remains
of some ancient saint, I believe. My tradition speaks of such things as
reliquaries." As Shantu Ya' spoke he softly stroked his long beard with
intention to create a soothing energy, meaning to calm as well broaden the
Prince's point of view.
Jom looked at him with sudden sharp humor in his clear blue eyes. "Do
you mean to say that vase is holy?" he jibed at him.
"Yes, m'lord, I suppose you could say that," Shantu Ya' responded. He
felt they were touching on a bitter theme between them. He stood to face the
young man, disturbed by his tight smile. "Very possibly, it is holy," the Wizard
The Prince turned from him and strode across the flagstone floor to stare
out a high-arched window that overlooked the crowded jumble of brick and
stone dwellings within the Citadel's walls. For some minutes, he was
motionless. Not intending to, but nonetheless an empath, the Wizard sensed the
Prince's torrid inner grinding. Then he returned again to stand before the
Wizard and stare down into the older man's patient brown eyes.
"I am Jom NiMali, Lord of the NiMali Citadel. I take what I want!" Jom
spoke this like a motto, a claim and right. "All that I see from this High Tower
is under my hand, man, woman and property. And, if what I desire is a bit
further on than just my Citadel's walls, I am pleased to extend my reach. But I
do not rule by fear, for that is a weak man's way. I rule by the inner power of
my desires. All who know me honor that. And if they do not already, they soon
learn." He snorted through his nostrils for emphasis.
Shantu Ya' began a meditative practice to pull his attention away from
the wroth that bubbled up through Jom. He did not want to subject himself to
the chore of clearing and detoxifying himself after the Prince's spate. The
phrase he silently repeated was in an ancient, now lost language, but his mentor
said it meant, "We seek only You, Oh, Great Mystery." And, as ever, it worked
well for him and quickly absorbed the Wizard's attention and brought peace to
"My father's ashes now rest in an ordinary urn next to those of his
fathers." The Prince dropped the venom from his tone and spoke in his lecturing
voice. "I think he deserves better, don't you. And I would like such a holy
reliquary to rest my ashes in, too, when such a time comes.
"You seem tolerant of his intentions," Jom said as a question, looked at
the Wizard and frowned. "Go then. Be my emissary. Tell him how much I
admire his sacred vase. And that I want it for my own. Offer whatever he wants,
in coin or kind. You will please me if you return with it. You, my court Wizard,
you will be my means to avenge myself on him." He stepped up the dais to his
throne and sat to face the Wizard. He squinted as if trying to peer through the
fog of time, while his fingers toyed with his silky blond mustache.
Shantu Ya' bit back his thoughts: I am not your servant to be sent on
such errands. This was to be an ultimatum that he carried to Ookma. He knew
the Prince felt his own pacifying comments earlier as interference and was
repaying him. Shantu Ya' turned to the hidden, inner privateness and centered
himself on his breath and the sense image of those remembered high mountain
peaks. It would be good to go to Ookma's, again, he consoled himself to
resignation. Another change of scenery, not that there was much to see between
there and Ookma's Citadel but some farmland surrounding the Citadels and
realms of the Desolations in between.
"But, if Ookma wishes to play blockhead to the hilt and refuses my
request and humiliates my emissary, good! That standing army gives him a
false sense of invincibility." The Prince snarled, crouched and clutching the
arms of his throne like a beast ready to spring. "Perhaps you will not be so
sympathetic to his cause of guarding his "sacred vase" if he humiliates you and
forces you to petition for my forgiveness for your failure," he told the Wizard
with bitter humor, and squirmed in his chair to feed on his fury.
The Prince went completely violent at feeling disdained, Shantu Ya'
again took note of. King Rega had been something of a tyrant to him, perhaps
goaded by wanting him to be a perfect ruler. Since his death, the Prince had
been vehement in getting things his own way.
The Wizard often recalled, at such displays from Jom, an example of the
King's tormenting him. Jom was perhaps 8 or 9. The King had been on a long
journey trying, unsuccessfully, to collect on a debt owed him. There had been
long droughts and times were especially severe in NiMali and the surrounding
Citadels. There was rumor that Citadels near the Med now flourished with full
fishing harvests. Along with 4 of his Elite Guard and a number of extra mules,
to carry the hoped-for supplies, the King took the Wizard on the trek with him.
The debt owed by one of those Chiefmen was based on a cure the Wizard had
done on his son during a plague some years before. But when they arrived at
that Chiefman's Citadel, after many weary days travel South over several
Desolates, what they heard from him, in irate tones, was that his son had been
healed and grew up to become that Chiefman's greatest threat and harassment
So, in responce to their asking, the old Chiefman congratulated the Wizard on
the cure and cursed him for the results of the boy living. And he refused to give
King Reba more than a token payment.
That was King Rega's disappointed and bitter mood during the days
recrossing the Desolates on return to the NiMali Citadel.
Jom had been waiting outside the Citadel main Portal to greet them.
He'd apparently assumed some prize or victory had been won by the King and
had flags mounted and got a drummer to sound a greeting as the haggard group
approached. Everything must have compounded just then for the King and all
his torment and failure, all got focused at Jom.
"You have shamed me!" the King screamed at him in cruel scorn. "You
mock my loss for every one to see!"
The boy was simply stunned for some moments, mouth agape and eyes
staring. Then he actually saw his father and the others and realized there was
victory to celebrate at all. He turned and ran screaming and crying through the
Portal. As the Wizard remembered, it was many days before he saw Jom again.
And he noted that difference in him then, the sharp, self-justifying belligerence
that never really went away.
"I do not despise Ookma merely because his features show blood mixed
with the off-worlders of Klim," Jom explained sarcastically. "But the dilution
of his human intelligence is also obvious when he ignores my ways. Good!
Good indeed! A purebred of royal lineage like myself can easily raise an army
of volunteers from other Citadels to stave off any "annoyance' from any half-
cast like himself". He threw Shantu Ya' a piercing look, then gave a forced
laugh to dismiss any other possibilities.
The Klim, of course, were biologically human. They interbred with no
concerns. It was their looks alone that caused distinctions to be made. They
might have even been taken for just another race, with green pigmentations
rather that black or red. But their features made that difficult for quite some
The Wizard understood that bands of people had set off when the Wars
of Devastation began, more desperate to escape rather than in having a definite
secure destination. Few survived, the fore bearers of the Klim among them. But
They lived to adapt to a planet with half again greater gravity than Earth with
dusty winds that seldom stopped and a dearth of vegetation to transform their
sun's light into nutrient form. So, some centuries later, several Citadels
suddenly found themselves visited by these very compressed, powerful beings,
short and broad and big footed as fits a heavier planet, with hooded eyes, ears
and something of a snout and with skin of a greenish caste in order to catch the
distant sun's every ray.
The Wizard didn't find them of much interest himself. They had evolved
under the restraints of bare survival with not much culture of any sort resulting.
A wave of them returned back a few centuries ago and did integrate with some
Citadels, though most refused them entry. Few survived on their own in the
"Wizard, look see what that off-worlder is actually thinking!" Jom's
demanding gaze rested on Shantu Ya', his eyes squinting, mouth in a tight
pucker. "I want to know!"
At the Prince's vehement request, the Wizard again grappled with
himself for calmness, then tuned into Ookma's psyche. He said the name to
himself, visualizing his form and features. When that was clear, he held all that
in a receptive, higher consciousness. It was the first psychic glimpse he'd taken
of Ookma in some while. It was not an experience he enjoyed as Ookma's
psyche came into the Wizard's awareness.
Like the Klim body, their psyche was shaped to deal with constant
incredible physical demands and unknowable threats to survival. The human
soul, except in extremes, was like an innocents babe's in comparison. There was
an unequivical jaggedness about it, a ruthless clarity that stripped everything to
bare essesntals. Though it was radically different in structure, from what the
Wizard knew of Jom's psyche, its contents were very similar. Both minds were
filled with relentless scheming for power, territory, control. And both of their
drives rose from defensive reactions to inner doubts and torments. Both of
themhad a yearning for a reassurance of self-worth that their distorted
sensitivities had turned to viciousness. Ookma had but to see the flinch in
another's eyes to know he was, as ever, the 'alien'. And Jom heard his father's
fierce demands behind every thought he had. Yet, hidden and ignored to one
side, similarly in them both, was a still innocent, untouched child-self. The
Wizard bowed his head to hide his smile of bitter irony when he recognized this
truth in Ookma too.
"Yes. Keep on your guard with him, as you are doing, m'lord. Ookma is
desperately driven and may not have sense to recognize limits," he warned the
Prince with a stern nod. And for the selfsame reasons, m'lord, I must keep an
eye on you, Shantu Ya' warned himself.
Jom rose, wrapped his arms around his taut, thin form and paced the
broad stone floor of his throne room, strutting to vent his irritation. "I have
another task for you, Wizard! You told me some while ago that you were
developing a new contrivance for my army's use. Is it done?" The Wizard
nodded in affirmation. "And, from what I've explored, it should be effective,"
he assured the Prince.
"Good, again. Now, listen to them again, Wizard. How do you think he
he is to respond to my demand for his fancy pot. Listen!" His ordering tone
could have been to a dog as well.
"Yes, m'lord." The Wizard did not reveal his rage at Jom's continued
disrespect. But he hated being so belittled. He hated it! With fierce and refined
intent, he released all that from his mind and guided his attention to open to
subtler realms. He said the prayer of service, and once again focused on
Ookma's image and returned into his presence.
"He feels quite confident, m'lord," the Wizard reported in a soft tone.
"He is surrounded by his troops, as if already celebrating their victory over any
whoever should threaten."
The Prince went to refill his goblet from a side table. He carried it back
to his throne and sat sipping at it, pondering. "Then, if he refuses my request,
don't bother any more with that half-brained Klim but go see his Master-at-
arms, Tamarat. You know him. Let him know that I am coming to take what I
want. I advice him to be wise enough to surrender quickly and spare blood
Shantu Ya' reflected, that, as brutal as the Prince seemed, beneath his
harsh belligerence, he carried a kinder, nobler nature, if he could ever awaken
enough to honor it.
Jom NiMali's parting comment to him as left the chambers was, "His
fortified Citadel is called impregnable, but I hold no such delusions. Especially
with the wondrous weapon you have to empower me."
The Wizard took a deep breath, felt gratitude for his years of self-
training and meditation, and bowed in leave-taking to Jom NiMali though he
had misgivings about what was brewing.
"Yes, m'lord," he touched his forehead, "I will convey your message to
Ookma, as you wish," Shantu Ya' told him evenly, bowed and quickly left the
The Prince watched him leave in satisfied silence.
Within the hour, the Wizard readied himself for the half-day's ride,
saddled his buff-colored, even tempered mule, once again, and set out.
Beyond the wooden Portal gate in the Citadel's rough stone wall, Shantu
Ya' passed through the encircling plots of fields and farm land. They had been
brought back to cultivation over the generations through constant care and
attention and now, at least served the needs of the NiMali, their horses and
livestock. He smiled with unexpected pleasure. He'd been mindlessly trapped
up in his experiments and studies, without even thoughts of the outside for a
long while. Perhaps these two outings within days was what he needed. He
stretched with the new found release and called out greetings to a few of the
people who worked with hoes between the rows of knee-high grain. The light
Spring breeze had a freshness about it and he found himself happy, even on this
He reflected that, in his provoking foolishness, Ookma did call it on
himself. In pretense of an early Spring celebration, he'd invited the Chiefmen of
all the surrounding Citadels to come share in a first harvest feast. They didn't
know what this early treat might be, after the long, bleak Winter, but there was
always interest in new varieties of food. Even the Wizard joined the gathering
and laughed at himself, to seek diversion from his boredom with his fruitless
experiments, boredom, which he hated even more than crossing the Desolates..
Soon the Citadel's fields were behind him as his mule picked his way
across the barren and ravaged land, gray and dusty under his hooves, that
covered most of the Earth. The Wizard tried to imagine what could have caused
the land to come to this ocean of desolation. Even the scraps of bare land he
occasionally passed were parched and drained and barren beyond reason.
He reflected on what he'd heard from his teachers and read in ancient
manuscripts of the land's history. some fact. The monks at the Hermitage had
offered him an impression of those ages when all that had happened, but so
little was reliable, by this time it was all near myth.
There was a time they claimed, ages ago, when all the Earth's land had
been fertile, blacker and richer than any now known. And there were many
more people, hundreds of times more people than now, that inhabited the whole
planet. They built great, towering Citadels, many, side by side. There were
wondrous devices that did all manners of work for them to replace shear human
effort and sweat. Eventually, it got so that their very lives were directed by
these devices and the special language they used. To Shantu Ya', it sounded like
a time that would have been difficult for a Wizard to live in.
The wars then, too, were larger than any they could now imagine, far
more destructive than the battles that sometimes arose between Citadels
nowadays, huge wars to stagger the imagination. Over time, the weapons
became more vicious, as did the minds of those devices who waged the wars.
Perhaps because of the greed and power-madness of their Chiefmen, some
plague of the mind struck, a killing fever with weapons that burned and
destroyed the very land and air.
Shantu Ya' had always been mystified by this viscous, insane streak in
humanity. The Teachings had emphasized that humanity's consciousness was
but half formed, unevolved, misfunctioning and hairbrained. It was the helter
skelter product of delusions and hand-me-down mental artifacts. The mortal
body/mind were meant to be simply the vessel of the Self, not its substitute. So,
driven by fear and incompleteness, they were controlled by greed, control and
Shantu Ya' came to the ruins of one of the old places they had called a
"city" and dismounted his mule to give them both some rest. It was not al all
like a Citadel with only one, sometimes two buildings. Here were the lower
stubs of what had been acres of builings. He wandered the shattered streets
trying to piece the fragments of walls into the structures he imagined before
they were demolished by the terrible violence of those storms of fire and
tornado. He felt grief for the fused and ashen land he crossed and grimly
suspected that Jom NiMali would relish such weapons of disaster to use against
Ookma and others that offended his belligerent pride.
And, as Shatu Ya' pictured Jom and Ookmah face to face in rage, the
Wizard was grimly positive there was little difference he could expect from
them. If their kind had their way, even the precious little land that was left
would be destroyed. And, eventually, the earth itself.
From the tales told, the fires raged for years and years. There were many
places where the land was fused into glass and others that glowed at night for
generations. The survivors gathered in the few inhabitable areas that were left.
Even they mostly died of hunger or diseases from the glowing lands. Little was
left of the old ways, so the people had to find new ways of doing things, even
the simplest things like finding food and water and bearing the Winter's cold.
Over time, the gathering places became groups of permanent dwellings
and, under the hand of some person or family of power or vision, the Citadels
were formed. The land no longer glowed at night, but it was still not fit to live
on. With much work, over many generations, the farmlands were gradually
extended so more and more people could survive.
That Jom NiMali must have a show of power, the Wizard understood
with bitter wisdom. With that illusionary world they lived in, the Desolates
were the inevitable outcome of the infinite yearnings of the soul trapped in the
minuteness of materiality resulting in Jom's whimsical tirades.
The Wizard had been exploring another approach to weaponry that
demobilized the "enemy" without harming them. While he felt clear guidance in
this, his rational mind shuddered at the paradox.
He bitterly ruminated on the decades of his learning and skills in
wizardry now to be put under the call of this hot blooded boy, son of the King
he'd sworn allegiance to. Disgusted, he saw his gifts being used by a procurer.
Under King Rega's lenient rule he had been left to live the life that
pleased him. But, yes, the old King had left him a great task in keeping his son
within the bonds of reason, and to be of real service to his people. Being forced
to take part in the world he disdained was odious enough, but these present
chores were more than he was willing to continue with, Shantu Ya' was certain.
Not only did these people have no vision, they had no dreams. They
couldn't even imagine lives without constant discontent and friction. He lived
among them not only as a strange one, because of his calling, but as an alien.
With them, he felt he must translate all they said or did --not just as if one
language to another, say, from Earthlingua to Klim-- but as if their species were
different. The ruined lands he traveled through were vicious reminders of that
human nature he was serving. Under the expanse of the star brimming night
sky, he knew he must move elsewhere or forfeit his soul's well being.
The misty purple and rose of sunset spread across the sky as Shantu Ya'
reached the farmlands surrounding Ookma's Citadel. He gladly got down off the
mule's back and loudly called at the gateway and pulled the dangling bell rope.
He was recognized, and the massive portal, made of tree trunks, was drawn up
again for him to enter.
One of the guards led him and his mule through a labyrinth of clustered
ramshackle stone and wood dwellings, though he knew the lanes well from the
healings and ceremonies he'd offered there. A splashing stream of water
trickled down the center of the stone walkway. They passed a raised trough it
fed into for passers by to drink at, animals and humans alike. Further down, the
Wizard saw a little pool where women washed closed. They passed occasional
piles of rubbish against the walls and Shantu Ya' felt a pride that his Citadel
was better kept.
The fortress-like Great Hall was near the Citadel's center. The servant
he met at its high, arching portal led him down a bare stone passage way to the
Hall. It seemed gloomier to Shantu Ya'. The Hall itself had a clammy feel,
seemingly more than he'd felt there a few days earlier, and with only a few
candles burning, most of the Hall was lost in wavering shadow. Perhaps the
Klim need less light than humans, the Wizard reflected. Ookma and courtiers
and men-at-arms, were at dinner. He didn't seem surprised to see Shantu Ya'
again and courteously bid him to join them. He found a place and sat at one of
the long benches and dishes were passed to him in serving.
The Chiefman and the others were discussing the strength of their army
and the wonderful new weapons and shields their smithy had forged for them.
They were of iron alloy, far superior to the bronze they had used till then.
Perhaps because Shantu Ya' was there, there was no talk of any particular
planned battles or conquests to wage, but the undertones of war-lust were
strong. This confirmed what he had heard and assured the effectiveness of his
At the meal's end, Ookma beckoned Shantu Ya' to come stand and face
him. For a few moments he just stared at him. His hooded eyes seemed to be
seeking some hidden part of him, which left the Wizard uneasy. Finally, Ookma
asked why he honored them with another visit, since he and his lord had been
there but recently to see his new treasure.
"My lord, Jom NiMali, was most impressed with your prized reliquary
and would hopefully ask to purchase it from you, at any price you deem
appropriate." Shantu Ya' requested in his best courtly manner, "My lord, wished
the reliquary for his father's ashes. A cause he feels most strongly," the Wizard
Ookma stared at him aghast for some moments, then burst into a harsh
laughter and clapped his thick hands together. "The rogue covets my vase," he
called out to those around him. Shantu Ya' remained patiently calm, but noted
that the narrow nostril slits and downward sloping eyes of Ookma's Klim
ancestry did indeed give him a sinister look.
"Tell your lord, Jom NiMali, that I treasure his envy more than any price
he could give me for my prize." He chuckled and sarcastically smiled round to
the others who nodded and smiled in agreement.
Shantu Ya' gathered his simple robe about him and bowed to Ookma and
the others at his table without comment or change of expression. Then, without
pause, he went towards the stable where he'd left his mule.
But, on his way through the wall encompassed lanes, he was guided to
seek the Master-at-Arms, Tamarat, a long time student of his, but not with the
message Jom had for him. The Wizard found found him in the armory admiring
the spears, swords and shields of the new iron alloy they'd been bragging about
at dinner. The Wizard's smiled at the way he treated the weapons with a
gentleness as if they were fragile musical instrument. He'd always liked the old
warrior's kind face, its obvious kindness somewhat at odds with his calling and
stalwart, thick combatant's body. And their work together on the subtlest levels
wasn't restricted by his calling either.
The Wizard explained to the Master-at-Arms the importance the vase
had taken to Jom NiMali's and about the impending attack. The man responded
with disbelief. "Jom is courageous to plan such an attack. And you are fool
hearty to deliver a warning about it!" He shook his head with kind amusement
at the folly.
"No blood need be shed at all, I assure you." The Wizard spoke with
quiet authority. " See that your troops do no damage, and no damage will be
The old soldier slouched, took a deep breath and looked around the the
walls bright with weaponry. "I do trust you, my mentor, but can Jom's madness
to conquer be accounted for?" he asked modestly.
The Wizard assured him, "We have found kinder ways for it to
"You are a brave and wise man, Wizard. I thank you for this
forewarning. May we all survive this madness," he said with a bow of respect.
The Wizard lightly touched Tamarat's shoulder. "And I may have need
of your kind bravery at some time." Tamarat nodded in silent agreement and the
Wizard then took his leave in peace.
He rode under the half-moon's light back across the cratered Desolate
lands and returned to the Citadel of the NiMali. For reasons he could not
discern, though he saw all this well might lead to trouble, he felt at peace. He
saw neither creatures nor men all along the way, but near pre-dawn, as he
glimpsed the NiMali Citadel on the horizon, a large black owl swooped down
through the sky just overhead. He watched its wide winged grasp of the air bare
the creature away. The Wizard was elated. A powerful sign. This was his omen
creature. His wizardly name, taken on Initiation, was Crazy Owl. With all the
uncertainties he'd had about this venture, now his sense of well being
blossomed into elation. There were higher powers involved in this too.
He now sensed a deeper purpose in these several treks back and forth
across the Desolates from NiMali to Ookma's Citadel. Though at first they'd
seemed so futile, no more than exhausting preparation for the Prince's exploits
and distasteful chores for the Wizard, the omen bird revealed they were also
part of a pilgrimage, a consecrated journey was being revealed. Shantu Ya' had
been shown again that the affliction was part of the blessing.
Yes, he did have the soul nature of an owl. A creature of the night, of
solitude. No wonder the endless worldly activities and involvement distressed
him so. Under the King, the owl could follow its own rhythms and callings. But
the Prince was determined to make a caged bird out of him. "No, I am certainly
not that!" the Wizard exclaimed aloud and felt confident in its truth.