In the inner sanctum of the Fortress of the Third Circle, an old liveried servant touched fire to massive twin tapers on his master’s desk just as the sun shed its dying rays through the wheel of stained glass at the west end of the room.
"My thanks, Bernard," said the cleric without looking up. His black cowl was of the finest material, and from a golden chain around his neck hung a seal of office, a rose encircled by a wreath. Long silver hair framed his intelligent face, and sharp eyes pierced all upon which his gaze fell.
Thunder boomed outside in the heavens above, the sound ominous. The damp air smelled of coming rain. Wind lashed the land, driving leaves from branches, flattening marsh grass, rippling standing water.
Only a few letters remained, of the thousands already penned. The cleric bent to his work and meticulously scripted the beginning.
Master Gabriel Mondragon,
I know you live in perilous times...
"Sir," the old servant said, "would you be requiring some sustenance? I shall notify the cook."
The cleric shook his head. The only thing for which he hungered was the completion of his task. "Summon the book."
"Sir." The servant released the lock, opened the iron-bound door and quickly related his master’s command.
The cleric paused, carefully placing his quill beside the vellum parchment on his worn table. Dampness filled his bones of late, and an aching fatigue drawn from a life too long cloistered inside these walls. He yearned to again take up his rightful position, Sovereign of the Order of the Third Circle, Liege Lord of Messengers, Supreme Commander of the Brotherhood of the Rose and Trisagion Knights, Keeper of the Blade. These letters he devoutly penned meant advancement for his dark world, a journey toward enlightenment.
A moment later, or so it seemed to the tired cleric, a knock at the door drew him from his musing.
Bernard invited the entry of two Knights of the Trisagion, guard for the third that carried the book on its bed of black velvet. They were young and bore upon their shoulders the weight of armor that gleamed through numerous battle-scars. Heavy swords hung at their hips, daggers nestled against their mail-covered breasts, and longbows weighted their backs, quivers full of arrows. A red triangle graced the left shoulders of their surcoats.
The book bearer placed the ancient, precious tome on the table before the cleric, and then dropped to one knee with head bowed, as did the other two.
The cleric reverently laid a hand on the gem-studded cover. Leather bound, it held the future in its entirety, but only if the letters were delivered. Brass strengthened its corners and spine; parchment filled its center. Here were letters to many people not yet born, some so distant in time he found their names curious, the place of their abodes foreign and as yet unheard of, the words nonsensical and without meaning. Others were written in languages unknown to him, but he relied upon the visions that appeared as script across the wall of his mind. Sometimes the visions dawned often; other times weeks separated them. Always letters were the result.
"Shall we be leaving soon, sir?" Bernard asked his tone rich with yearning.
The cleric waved away the inquiry. The years spent here had slipped away so quickly he hadn’t felt them pass. A few more letters to pen, then a swift return to the outside, to the rigors of service beyond any he had so far known. "We shall leave soon, yes. Once I have finished. Now bother me no more, that I might put an end to this."
He returned to the parchment and bent to his work with precision and care. He wrote rapidly, the leaf quickly filled. At the bottom, he placed his usual admonishment and signature:
...Should you attempt to refuse this most worthy honor, another letter awaits which names your doom, sir. May blessings abound in your life.
He dusted the parchment to dry the ink, then folded it with care, dripped a pool of red wax onto the edge, and pushed his ring into the soft mass. He reverently opened the book and inserted the letter into its preordained place. One more dispatch to complete the work of a lifetime, or at least what would be a lifetime to an ordinary man. His own life was without end.
The quill trembled in his hand and he penned the script quickly, finding this side of his work disagreeable. Necessary perhaps - but loathsome. The inhabitants of the future behaved in such abhorrent manner. A second letter, containing an accusation, a bribe or an open threat to guarantee compliance accompanied each letter written. Some offenses seemed of minor import, not worth concealing. Others seemed worthy of death, so great was the magnitude of their transgressions. Such outrage and sin committed in their time, though in all honesty he admitted their acts were no more contemptible than those committed in the present; they were different, not worse.
He gave the letter its final place, sealed with blue wax rather than red, and closed the book. The sound echoed in the vaulted room, a reverberation of power, of destiny, of permanence.
A peal of thunder shook the earth, and lightning lit the room in a prism of color through the western wheel.
The cleric stood slowly, almost finished, and waited for the stiffness to vacate his limbs. He touched the shoulder of a Trisagion knight. "I have need of your bow," he said, "if I may be so bold as to ask."
The knight rose, stripped the yew longbow from his back, and with unquestioning obedience presented it to his master. "My lord."
The cleric took it up. "And an arrow."
The knight drew an arrow, the fletching red and black, the colors of the Order, and offered it to his master.
"Sir?" Bernard’s voice drew the cleric’s attention. His expression had fallen into fear, and he gazed at the bow with dread in his old eyes. "What need have you for that in here?"
The cleric smiled. "It is not for you, Bernard, or for any of these. Now, please, leave me to my task."
He assumed the firing stance, drew the bow, took careful aim and released his shot. The shaft rent the air with its high-pitched, lethal shriek for a moment only, and then blinked from sight before it hit the wall.
He lowered the weapon, and to the knight said, "Another, if you please."
The knight whipped an arrow from his quiver and once again offered it to his master.
The cleric released the second shot, heard the whine of its flight, and then like its predecessor saw it no more.
"’Tis done," the cleric said. He lowered the bow and returned it to its owner.
All three knights stood, offered a courteous nod, and the third hefted the book that it might be returned to the vault from whence it came.