NZ Forest Native Birds

celtic line
Extract from LORD OF OBSIDIAN by Laraine Anne Barker
celtic line

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Chapter 1
A Second Renewal

“Not that way, Aunt Angela! Not that way! The cavern’s floodedyou’ll be trapped!”

   Peter’s aunt took no notice. Dodging in and out between the broken sarcophagi that had once held the bodies of the Reborn and scrambling over fallen debris, she made her way across the floor of the upper chamber in what had been the City of the Reborn.

   “We must get to the statueshe’ll drown!”

   “It’s only a statue!”

   Peter stopped short as the full force of his words hit him: there was a time when he would never have described it as “only a statue”. Why did he no longer care what happened to the statue? Then he realised why: Sujad Cariotis, self-styled Lord of Obsidian, had already destroyed it. Besides, the safety of his headstrong aunt was his only concern at the moment.

    “Come back, Aunt Angela! The statue’s not there any more!”

   Aunt Angela made no immediate reply. Peter heard her slipping and sliding in the mud and water that had gathered in puddles everywhere. Then loud clattering sounds told him she was descending the stairs carved into the stone. Finally the footsteps paused.

   “The staircase is intact.”

   “But the statue’s not there any more!”

   The only reply Peter received was the continuing sound of descending footsteps.

   Stifling a dry sob, he frantically started making his own way towards the steps. His progress was not as unhindered as his aunt’s: bits of the roof started falling all around him. He began to feel more angry with her than frightened for her safety. What on earth did she think she was doing? She knew the statue had been blasted to pieces by the Enemy. What was the point in risking her life in this silly fashion?

    Finally he reached the stairsonly to find the water already halfway up them. In the dim light of his torch broken pieces of vegetation from the destroyed grotto littered the dark and oily-looking surface.

   Carefully he descended the steps not covered by water.

   “Aunt Angela! Are you still there?”

   His voice echoed strangely in the underground space. The echoes died and silence returned.

   “That’s funny,” he muttered. “I would’ve expected the roof to have fallen in.”

   He flashed the torch around, listening intently; but he heard nothing. He touched the water with his foot: it was icy cold.

   “Aunt Angela!”

   Again he received only the echoes of his own voice in reply.

   Frantically he flashed the torch around againand the beam fell on something pale in the water just out of his reach. It was a face. Long fair hair floated around it. His heart felt as though it jumped into his throat. Then it was as though it sank to the pit of his stomach.

   “Oh no!”

   Moving carefully, he felt for the first submerged step; then the next and the next. Finally the water reached his waist: he gasped with the chill of it. But the face was now within his grasp.

    He reached out and grabbed trailing strands of hair. Bracing himself against the nearest wall, he pulled. But the expected resistance didn’t come: the face seemed to come away on its own.

   Peter staggered back. He stumbled on the step behind him and fell backwards into the water. At the same time he dropped the torch. Gasping again as the water closed around his chest, he felt for the wall. Using its rough surface for support, he pulled himself upright again.

   The torch was just in front of him, beginning to sink. He took his hand from the wall and grabbed it. By its light he saw what he had hauled from the waterthe face of the statue, exactly as he had first seen it lying on the bottom of the boat in the grotto. There was no sign of any hair.

   Then someone grabbed him from behind.

    “Quick! It’s breaking up!”

   His heart jumped into his throat again. He turned to face his assailantand looked straight into the eyes of his Uncle Paul.

   “Peterwake up! Wake up! You’re having a nightmare!”

   “Oh, it’s only you.”

   Blinking stupidly, Peter rubbed his fists into his eyes.

   Slowly his heart rate returned to normal as the dream faded. Then he realised where he wasin the bedroom he had occupied the previous summer when he stayed with Aunt Angela and Uncle Paul while his stepfather was abroad. The light filtering into the room from the hall outlined his uncle’s unruly head of dark hair. He was wearing a heavy blue dressing-gown.

   The second thing Peter realised was that he was coldand finally that his teeth were chattering. His uncle bent to disentangle the duvet from around the German shepherd, Dreyfus, and ordered him to his basket. Dreyfus immediately obeyed. Uncle Paul tucked the duvet back around Peter and then made a fuss of the dog.

   “Judging from the sound of those teeth, your nightmare must have been set in Antarctica,” he said in his driest voice. “Next time someone attacks you, don’t throw your bedclothes at him.” Peter gave his uncle a watery smile. “Better put your electric blanket on for a while,” Uncle Paul ended kindly, snapping on the switch.

   He straightened up and stood surveying his nephew for a few seconds.

   “Like to talk about it?” he asked, adding before Peter could answer negatively: “Cocoa and biscuits?”

   Peter grinnedthe wide grin that transformed his rather serious round face into that of a normal likeable thirteen-year-old boy.


   Uncle Paul gave him a swift, quizzical look before leaving.

   “I’ll bring it down. You get yourself warm again.”

   By the time Uncle Paul returned to the room with a tray holding two mugs of cocoa and a plate of chocolate biscuits, Peter had turned off the electric blanket. Uncle Paul placed the tray on the bedside table, gave Dreyfus a dog biscuit and pulled the chair to the bedside. They sat in the semi-darkness like a couple of conspirators, sipping cocoa made with milk and munching chocolate biscuits.

   “One thing about your Aunt Angela being away is that we can have midnight feasts any time we want tojust like boys at boarding school.”

   There was a twinkle in Uncle Paul’s eyes that was seldom present when he was what Peter had begun to think of as his “real self”. For Peter had discovered that his Uncle Paul was in reality the powerful sorcerer Merlin from the court of the legendary King Arthur. As Merlin, Uncle Paul found little time for humour.

   “Did you go to boarding school?” Peter asked seriously over the rim of his mug.

   Uncle Paul’s somewhat bushy eyebrows rose slightly.

   “Goodness no! Children didn’t go to school when I was a boy,” he said lightly. A faraway look entered his eyes. Then he became brisk again as he put his mug back on the tray. “But we’re not here to discuss the sins of my youth. Let’s hear about this nightmare of yours.”

   “You want that last biscuit?” Peter asked irrelevantly.

   Uncle Paul shook his head impatiently.

   “Nightmare!” he said sternly, leaning forward with a hand on each knee.

   Peter munched steadily on the last chocolate sultana pasty before speaking.

   “It wasn’t anything special,” he mumbled, licking chocolate from his fingers.

   “I’ll decide that.”

   Peter held up a still-sticky hand, looking around for somewhere to wipe it. Uncle Paul dug a hand into his dressing-gown pocket, pulled out a handkerchief and impatiently thrust it into the boy’s hand with a stern command: “Tell!”

   Wiping his hand with unnecessary attention, Peter briefly outlined his dream. When he had finished he waited for his uncle to laugh and tell him to go back to sleep. But Uncle Paul remained silent. When Peter looked up from the handkerchief he found his uncle sitting very still and frowning. At Peter’s movement, however, he quickly wiped the frown away.

   “Well”and Peter heard relief in his voice “the grotto and the City of the Reborn don’t exist any more. They’ve served their purpose and they’re completely buriedforever. I’ve been back and there’s no way in.”

   “It could be only the entrances that are blockedthe caves might have been just partly buried.”

   Peter’s suggestion earned him a look of severe reproof.

   “Come now; you know me better than that.” Uncle Paul heaved a sigh. “Your nightmare was only the result of a vivid imagination. There can’t be any significance to it, anyway, because your aunt’s still overseas.”

   This brought their thoughts back to the reason they were able to sit together at midnight drinking cocoa and eating chocolate sultana pastiesthe absence of Peter’s aunt.

   “Have you heard from Aunt Angela? Is she all right?”

   Uncle Paul smileda rather wintry smile. “Yes. I’ve had several letters from her and she’s fine. Who would’ve believed her experiences last summer could have had such an effect on her mind as to cause a breakdown? I always regarded her as a woman with a very sturdy constitutionand not just physically: I thought of her as having a strong mind as well.”

   “Yes. I thought she might be better for the school holidays.” Peter sighed. “I suppose I shouldn’t have come until she was fully recovered. It’s not the same without her.”

   Uncle Paul made an effort to be cheerful.

   “Are my company and my cooking that bad?” he quippedand had the satisfaction of seeing Peter’s face break into a wide, protesting grin.

   “Noof course not. It’s just” The grin disappeared, to be replaced by the seriousness that had predominated during their first quest for Earthlight the previous summer. “It’s just that … she’s the nearest thing to a mother I’ve got.”

   Uncle Paul looked thoughtful and sympathetic.

   “Well, I can understand that. But it was a father I lacked.” He stood up abruptly. “However, I didn’t come down here to talk about things like that. It wasn’t even your nightmare that brought methough I could hear the noises you were making as soon as I entered the stairwell.” As a sudden thought struck him he looked sharply at Peter. “You haven’t by any chance had other similar nightmares?”

   “I think I had one last year but I can’t remember a thing about itand we went through enough at Christmas to give me nightmares for the rest of my life.” Peter gave another weak grin. As his uncle just stood there looking at him thoughtfully, he added curiously: “Well, what did you come down for?”

   Uncle Paul started.

   “Oh, yes. I just thought tonight might be a good time for reassembling the Obsidian Orb.” His voice was as matter-of-fact as though reconstructing the Obsidian Orb was something he did often.

   “Is that why you asked me to spend the May holidays here? I know you better than to think you suddenly ‘just thought’ it might be a good idea.”

   “Well, I’m afraid you’d be right. I hoped we might have scattered the Enemy for somewhat longer than four to five months. He seems to have regrouped his forces remarkably quickly.” He sighed heavily again. “But for Sujad’s treachery there would probably be no need of another battle.”

   “There would have been no Reborn.”

   “Yes. But the Earthlight would have had total control over the Obsidian Orbnot to mention anything else we might have made from obsidian.”

   His uncle’s words suddenly brought to the forefront of Peter’s mind the beautiful but obscene weapon. “I’ve still got the dagger.”

   “Good. Keep it safe; we might need it.”

   “I wish you’d keep it for me,” Peter said miserably. “It was created for no other reason than to kill me. If Sujad Cariotis was to get hold of it again …”

   Uncle Paul turned on him fiercely. “That must never happen! We can’t destroy the daggerit’s a Token of Power. So the sooner we put the pieces of the Obsidian Orb together again the better.”

   “Why can’t we destroy it?” This was what Peter had wanted to do ever since Christmas. “If you could destroy the Obsidian Orb why can’t you destroy the dagger?”

   “The Obsidian Orb is so powerful that self-destruction was built into it as a protective device. When the witch Morgause got hold of it and was unable to use it for her own purposes she put a spell of destruction on it in a fit of tantrum. Although it wasn’t strictly her spell that destroyed itit self-destructedit was her spell that ensured it couldn’t be refashioned from the pieces left. Unfortunately, because the orb was being used for evil by one who was involved in its recreation, the spell of self-destruction became invalid. The Lady and I simply managed to validate it again.”

   “Oh dear! It’s all so complicated.”

   “Life often is. But if we can remake the Obsidian Orb in readiness for the Enemy’s next attack we stand a better chance of keeping the dagger from Sujad’s clutches. So come onup you get.”

   “Can’t we do it here?” Peter asked in dismayit was an unseasonably cold night for May, with temperatures more appropriate for July.

   “No. Even with your aunt away your bedroom is not a suitable place for such an undertaking. I’m not exactly anxious for you to be having nightmares all the time.”

   Peter slid his feet from underneath the feather-and-down duvet. He wriggled his toes in distaste at the cold air that bit into them. “We should’ve had our cocoa and biscuits afterwards.”

   “Put your slippers and dressing-gown on. We’re not going outjust upstairs. It’s nice and warm up there.”

   “Thank goodness.” Peter thrust his feet into his slippers and pulled on his dressing-gown. “You usually have a habit of choosing the most unpleasant places.”

   “They’re not of my choosingat least not entirely. In this case the only reason we can safely use the house is that your aunt’s away and therefore we’re the only ones who might be at risk.”

   “Is there any risk?” They were now ascending the stairs, Dreyfus padding after them.

   “I don’t know. I’ve put a spell of forbidding and protection around the house that the Enemy shouldn’t be able to penetrate, but we can’t be sure of the extent of Sujad’s power over obsidian. I don’t honestly know if someone not of the Earthlight but having certain rights would be able to claim complete control over the Obsidian Orb.”

   “He calls himself Lord and Master of Obsidian,” Peter reminded him. “And the Book of Obsidian says it is prophesied that one will come who because of his education and intelligence will have power over the Obsidian Orb equal toor even greater thanthat of the greatest of the Earthlight’s Chosen throughout the ages. That sounds to me like a reference to Sujad and yourself.”

   “Yes. I’m aware of the prophecy. It’s mentioned elsewhere too.” Then Uncle Paul began quoting:

“An Obsidian Lord called the Great shall rise;
His powers will surpass even those of the wise.
From the choices of the past a Lord in blue
will imperil the quest that will then ensue.
And the favourite of the green-eyed witch from the north
Shall by her enchantment the Great carry forth.”

   Uncle Paul snapped out the stairwell light and made his way to the dining room. “I interpreted it the same as you didunfortunately.”

   “I haven’t heard that before. One of the two Lords of Corruption that Sujad the Traitor had helping him on Christmas Eve was dressed in blue.”

   Uncle Paul gave Peter a swift, thoughtful look.

   “Is that so?” He looked, if possible, even grimmer than before but made no further comment. He switched on the chandelier over the dining table, leaving the dimmer on low. His uncle’s bulk had been obscuring Peter’s view of the table. Now, as Uncle Paul moved to take a seat, Peter suddenly saw the pile of obsidian in the centre of the cloth. “Oh! I didn’t realise there would be so many pieces. It’s going to take hours.”

   Uncle Paul laughed humourlessly. He took a seat facing the length of the room and placed something on the table beside him. Peter hadn’t seen anything in his uncle’s hand as they came upstairs and he blinked in surprisefor it was the Book of Obsidian.

   “What would normally take time is learning from this book. Sujad managed to learn very quickly but we don’t know how. The Lady and I have worked out a quick way for you to learn, so don’t worry.” He leafed through the book and gestured Peter to take the chair opposite. “In the meantime, I need to know all about repairing a broken Obsidian Orb.”

   Peter slowly took the chair indicated and Dreyfus sat beside him. Peter’s gaze was glued all the time on the Book of Obsidian. He started to feel that peculiar magnetic pull that the book had exerted on him in the grotto. Uncle Paul quickly found the page he needed. As he started to read, the magnetism from the book decreased slowly.

   Peter was just about feeling his normal self again when Uncle Paul quietly put the book aside and extended his hands over the black fragments on the table. Uncle Paul’s hands started to glow. The already dim light from the chandelier went even dimmer … and it was no longer Uncle Paul sitting opposite Peter. The change was very subtlebut Peter sensed it all the same.

   The light from Merlin’s hands became brighter and brighter. Eventually it blotted out from Peter’s view all traces of the obsidian fragments. A humming sound filled the air and the brightness from Merlin’s palms gradually resolved into a ball of light. The ball spun madly and the humming sound increased in frequency until it was too high for human ears to hear.

   Then abruptly the ball of light also faded. In its place was the Obsidian Orb, looking as though it had never been broken. With a great sigh Merlin lowered his hands onto the table. He sagged slightly in his chair.

   “A draining spell, that one.” His dark eyes glittering as they did only when he was Merlin, Peter’s uncle picked up the Obsidian Orb in both hands, handling it with the reverence due to the greatest of the Tokens of Power. He drew the orb towards him and, placing it on the table, lifted his hands and cupped them over the top of the orb without touching it. Then gradually he drew his hands apart and slowly lowered them until they rested on the table. Keeping his palms facing inwards, he gazed hungrily into the depths of the orb.

   Peter leaned over the table eagerly. His gaze moved from the pitch-black surface of the orb to Merlin’s face. He saw the surface of the globe cloud over. Merlin leaned forward. The expression in his eyes became more and more compelling. After a few moments the cloud cleared.

   “Ah!” Merlin’s exclamation was unnecessary to tell Peter that he could finally see something: the expression in his eyes told all.

   Peter leaned over the table until he was standing. He said nothing, however: to destroy the sorcerer’s concentration could be fatal. At the very least he would face Merlin’s choleric temper.

   Next moment Peter’s heart leapt into his throat. For Merlin started back, nearly upsetting his chair. A great cry issued from his throat. He grabbed at the table to stop himself falling backwards and leapt to his feet, his eyes wild.

   “What is it? What’s wrong?”

   But Peter knew almost before the words were out. The light from the chandelier had become even dimmer. A menace filled the air, freezing Peter to the very core. He wondered how his heart could beat so fast and yet be so intensely cold.

   Peter saw that Merlin’s gaze was riveted on something behind his shoulder. The fixed stare in them was terrifying. In the mirror behind Merlin Peter saw something moving. In the dim light it was difficult to tell exactly what it was.

   He turned quicklyand there stood Sujad Cariotis. The black cloud of the Enemy surrounded the traitor. It was the cloud that changed, moving protectively around its master. A wide, evil grin split Sujad’s face. His teeth showed very white against his dark olive skin.

   Then Merlin found his voice.

   “How did you get in?” His voice was harsh with anger. “How did you get past my spells of forbidding and protection?”

   Sujad sneeredand the handsome face became ugly.

   “They were very pitiful spells. Can’t you do better than that for the Earthlight? Is the Earthlight so weak and useless it can’t provide you with better powers than you have at the moment? As for how I got through, don’t forget I am Lord of Obsidian.” He seemed almost to swell with his sense of self-importance. “Also, you can hardly expect me to tell you how I do things. That’s for you to find out.” He approached the table, standing between Merlin and Peter, put his hands on the cloth and leaned towards Merlin, who was forced to step back to avoid the vile black cloud. “If you want to keep me out of your house, Great One, you’ll have to do a lot better than you have so far. I must admit I was expecting a more worthy opponent. So far you haven’t lived up to your reputation.”

   Sujad then turned his gaze on Peter, who felt himself shrink inwardly. Then he pulled himself together. I mustn’t show that I’m afraid of him. He’s a bully and a coward. I must stand up to him. He drew himself up to his full height and returned his enemy’s stare boldly.

   “Oh, so the small one thinks he can defeat me by the mere force of his gaze. I’ve got news for you, Pukling.” He looked from Peter back to Merlin. “You don’t realise it right now but I’ve got you more or less paralysed. Oh, yesyou can move,” he taunted as Merlin jerked forward, only to be forced to retreat from the black cloud. “But you can’t stop me from doing what I came for. I’ve come to reclaim what’s legally mine. You can keep the Book of Obsidianas I’ve told you before I no longer need it. You’ll find it’s useless without the orb anyway. But as Lord of Obsidian the Obsidian Orb belongs rightfully to me. I thank you for your courtesy in restoring it for me. Sujad the Great always shows his appreciationand therefore in gratitude for your assistance he will leave you unharmed.”

   In one swift movement Sujad swept the Obsidian Orb under his black cloak. “And nowfarewell!”

   A high humming filled the air. The black cloud swirled madly. Then they were alone, staring at the empty surface of the table.

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