Fortescue slowly looked around the room for the last time, trying to absorb every detail since he might never see any of it again. Exiled! He didn't feel any resentment or bitterness, just a pervasive sadness spreading all the way to his toes. Why hadn't the Council been willing to hear him out? This was Hamelyn's future! If Fortescue was right about the Source, the Goddess Star and everything else, Hamelyn wouldn't have a future. Why did they have to be so obstinate? He thought he had detected a sympathetic glance from Abercrombie, and Felicity definitely supported him, but two out of thirteen wasn't enough. And everyone knew Fortescue was a favorite of theirs, so the other Council members wouldn't pay much heed to either of them.
The Council's shortsightedness deeply disappointed him. Even if they thought his ideas were based on nothing more than myths, there was still the growing problem of a polluted Source. If there were a remote chance that his theory might be correct, wasn't it incumbent upon Hamelyn's leaders to at least try? Their intransigence made no sense to him. Fortescue was trained to understand and interpret the old stories. This was what he had studied for years! It wasn't as though he were making this up out of his imagination.
They had given him enough time to pack his things. As if he could carry everything he owned on his back. Fortunately, Fortescue didn't care about most of it. He only needed a change of clothes, his relevant papers and a flask of the Source. A slight smile appeared on his countenance. He didn't intend to be gone that long. He was going to go Above, prove he was right and return with the key to his people's future. Fortescue may be leaving as an exile, but with any luck, he'd come back a savior. He picked up his pack and headed for the door.
Abercrombie paced his office, very unhappy about Fortescue's banishment. He sincerely liked the young man and had always respected Fortescue's mother, but his one vote on the Council did not make much of a difference. He may have been the head of the Council of Hamelyn, but the only time his vote carried any extra weight was in the event of a tie. Abercrombie so wanted to give Fortescue an opportunity to prove, or disprove, his theory with the Council's blessing. Alas, it was not to be. Out of thirteen votes, only his and Felicity's had gone Fortescue's way. Felicity was also fond of the boy's dreamer personality, and sometimes she encouraged Hamelyn's eccentric citizens simply out of perversity, enjoying a devil's advocate role. She loved to buck any trend, just to encourage the free thinkers among their population. Abercrombie admired that quality in her. He often voted with her, partly because he too sympathized with Hamelyn's heretics, but also because he knew that any community needed to heed its outsiders in order to stay strong. It was often only those who could look at a situation from an unusual angle who could solve an intractable problem. Conventional wisdom too often failed.
Abercrombie sighed, wondering if that wisdom was going to fail Hamelyn and its denizens this time. Not one member of the Council had been able to come up with a viable answer to the problem of the Source's contamination. Fortescue's solution was something untested. Admittedly, no one had tried it because they didn't have the necessary talisman, but Fortescue had a plan to find it as well. If, of course, it even existed, which was the crux of the matter, really.
One Ivory Tower dreamer versus eleven members of the ruling elite. It wasn't a fair division, was it? And yet Abercrombie still couldn't help but hope for Fortescue's success. Both in finding this charm, and by being correct about its importance. Most people only gave lip service to a belief in the Goddess these days, but if Fortescue were right, Abercrombie hoped She would aid him in his quest. There had been a time when the citizens of Hamelyn had been willing to give up all in Her service. Now, it seemed She only had one young man with enough spirit to fight the good fight. Abercrombie prayed that young man could win.
Gabriel sat in his tall chair at the heavy wooden Council table. He looked slowly around the chamber, taking in details. There were, of course, no windows, given Hamelyn's depth underground and so no window coverings to admire. But the needlework of the tapestries decorating the walls was exquisitely done, he noticed, with its delicate silk stitches, but the fabrics were worn and beginning to fray. The woven tapestries were easily repaired by the community's skilled weavers, but those which had been hand-embroidered were too delicate for excessive handling. The table and chairs were also several centuries old and, though sturdy, showed signs of age too. The table's dark wood was shiny from polishing, but covered with myriad scratches. Even Abercrombie's chair, the only wooden one, was starting to look quite worn, with its gilt paint long since flaked off, although it was still finer than the stone ones surrounding it, as befit the head of the Council. Gabriel resented this sign of Abercrombie's higher stature among Hamelyn's citizens.
But then Gabriel resented a great deal about his position. He was not simply miffed that Abercrombie had been elected by the Council to lead, despite Gabriel having expended a small fortune he could ill afford on bribes. He also bitterly resented having been saddled with his nephew Mortimer all those years ago following the death of his sister and brother-in-law. Not that Gabriel ever shirked his duty or spared any expense raising the boy. Still, it wasn't as if Mortimer were his own child. Gabriel had no children of his own. Only two years into their marriage, his first wife had died in childbirth along with their stillborn babe. His second wife was barren and their divorce so acrimonious he soured on the female sex for decades after. By that time, Gabriel found that he was no longer as attractive to the ladies as he had been in his youth. Oh, he was still quite handsome, with his flowing silver hair and piercing eyes, but there was something in his personality that put off prospective brides. The fact that he was no longer in a position to produce an heir other than his nephew was a bitter pill to swallow.
Gabriel rose and began to pace the Council chamber. He ran his fingers along the gilt frames of the portraits of past Council members, some of them his own ancestors. He sighed. Somehow Gabriel couldn't see Mortimer's portrait ever hanging on this wall. Where had he gone wrong with that boy?
Mortimer was also pacing, around his own room. Part of him felt Fortescue was making a fool of himself, but another part, the greedy part, wondered if there might be something to it. Something like power... power that would impress even his uncle. What if the old fables were true? Might he not be missing an opportunity? If Mortimer could gain that sort of control over the Source, he could control all of Hamelyn and prove to Gabriel that he would indeed amount to something.