So the Story goes...
Bådul was pondering at the bow of his boat.
His boat was not the largest his people had made, but it was all he had been afforded by the King of Åsgurdy, Swartulf II. Two others vassals who had been very impressed by Bådul’s delivery and determination had allotted him two other smaller ships.
The ships were tailored for the high seas, and in many ways were not unlike what Quintin’s Viking ancestors would have called a snekkja , or a kind of dragon boat. The three ships had been sailing alongside, for more than forty days now, very easily through the Northern Seas.
Bådul was pondering, because it had been twenty days more than any known explorer had been allowing themselves to go West (or East, for that matter), and his crew was manifesting some hints of doubts.
He was pondering also, because for the glimpses of that route that he saw through the boy’s mind, he knew that he was heading towards some kind of passageway in between the Great Rift, a chain of sub-oceanic volcanic mountains, that were showing on the surface, and likely to be treacherous, and full of eddies. Jahiz, his faithful commander in second was a skilled mariner and Bådul knew he could trust him, at least for these sailing matters.
A myna bird that Jahiz had brought with him was periodically sent as a scout in the vast seas in front of them, to report any trouble that may lay ahead.
And now, as Badul was still pondering he had still not seen the damn foul-mouthed bird back, some seamen started to shout, as a black point was appearing in the midst of dark clouds.
And finally, Rudy the myna (which was actually named Mercurius but that had been too long to pronounce for the rough crew) landed like a wet grenade at the feet of Badul howling “Mind your backs! Mind your backs!”
Jadra Iamamad stared intently at his left hand. He had been looking closely at it now for nigh on 2 hours since awakening that morning. He held it up and compared it with his right hand. He shook his head, a mixture of astonishment and disbelief, however there could be no doubt about it. A rather extraordinary thing had occurred whilst he had slept. It was truly momentous. He wanted to dance and shout and raise his voice to the heavens and praise the mighty Gods who had bestowed such an honor upon him.
Ha! They call Jadra Iamamad a fool, a madman, but it is the God’s who have spoken now. Who are the fools now? It is the God’s who have chosen!. And he fell prostrate upon the earth.
Not for long though, for Jadra knew what he had to do. He had been entrusted with this mighty honor and he must guard it carefully. He ripped off his shirt and tied it carefully around his left hand in order to protect it from spying, prying eyes. And there were many such eyes in Jadra’s world. He could feel them upon him even now. He knew full well there would be many who would wish to deprive him of the special privilege the Gods had bestowed upon him.
He had to take his hand to the cave.
Jadra could not restrain himself from doing a small dance.
Carefully, carefully now Jadra, he whispered gleefully.
Captain Bone was packing his trunk. The boat was leaving at noon from the quayside of the fishing village, and the captain was nearly ready to say goodbye to the Sharples family. He’s been happy staying with the Sharples and their unruly brood, but he was a man of the sea, and the salty breezes and rollings waves and promise of new adventures was beckoning.
The sea mist rolled over the cluster of cottages as it often did in the early mornings, mingling with the aroma of coffee and freshly toasted crumpets. Captain Bone remembered other morning mists from other shores, warm ones laced with cinnamon and cloves, and chilly ones pungent with fishy smells and squalking gulls…… bright sunny mornings with long golden shadows and the endless half light of arctic northern ones.
The captain closed his trunk without checking to see if he’d remembered everything. Whatever he needed on his journey, he knew he would find. Whatever he left behind, he knew the Sharples would keep safe until his return.
Manolo the vet helped the captain onto the boat.
¡Hasta la vista, hombre! ¡Buen viaje! Long Tom Bone winked and smiled. As soon as he’d set foot on the boat, he sighed a huge sigh of relief, and all the aches and worries of living on dry land drifted away.
The Sharples family passed the tissues round. It was going to seem strange for awhile without the captain.
Everywhere Jadra went he could feel hostile eyes upon him. He knew why of course; he knew they were jealous because he had been favoured by the Gods. So he kept his hand safely hidden, wrapped in his shirt
Jadra had a plan. He put his shirt back on and pulled the sleeve on the left arm down as far as it would go, till his left hand could no longer be seen. He modelled a new hand roughly out of twigs and plants and walked to the river. On the way he shouted at the top of his voice CURSED HAND, YOU HAVE GIVEN ME NOTHING BUT GRIEF. I WOULD RATHER NOT HAVE A HAND THAN HAVE SUCH A WICKED, EVIL APPENDAGE ATTACHED TO MY BODY.
After shouting such sentiments till his voice was hoarse and he knew he had drawn sufficient attention he threw the hand in the river. He had cunningly weighted the hand with pebbles he had found in a cave so it would sink to the bottom of the river.
GOOD RIDDANCE HAND. MAY YOU ROT IN THE BOTTOM OF THIS RIVER AND NEVER AGAIN INFLICT YOUR EVIL ON ANY OTHER POOR UNSUSPECTING SOUL.
HA! He thought, tremendously pleased with himself for executing such a perfectly clever plan. That should throw the evil hounds off the scent of Jadra Iamamad.
He felt he was not far from the cave now.
— I saw him too, she said to her brother.
— I don’t want to see him again, these books are scarey.
— It’s intriguing, I want to know more, India Louise said, egging on him.
— When I close my eyes, I got all these roots and webs crawling, it’s mad… I can’t…
— He has found a friend to help him cross the Dark Forest to the traveling portal.
— A friend?
— Yes, a friend. She’s special.
— Tell me more…
— She’s a white unicorn, only him can see her.
— She’s named Mirÿnda. She’s glowing white, and he hears her speak in his mind, she shows him the way through the forest…
— Mirÿnda?! A fool in saffron robe gallivanting in the forest with a unicorn now? That’s all you could find?
Tina was taken aback…
— Well, I could have used a grizzly bear too, now I think of it… Al answered flippantly.
— Tsk tsk, replied Tina a bit annoyed. And why not a humpback whale, or an arctic lemming, or even… why, a leopard gecko for that matter?… And who’s that Mÿrinda anyway?
Quintin had answered distractedly, as he was engrossed by his last painting…
Later that night, he couldn’t find sleep, as the dragon he was painting was still expanding his web of roots and branches in his mind’s eye. He opened his computer to see that Malika was online.
She told him something that night, something Quintin found abysmally profound and perplexing about his dragon…
— Dragons can shape shift, into anything they want to. There are several doorways/portals that they use for travel into this dimension. Malika said
— Yes, said Quintin, this drawing has something to do with these portals initially, but I struggle a bit to represent them…
— Yes, so you can just depict it to be flowing, liquid-like energy in the center, when the portal is active.
There are some that are being shone to me on the bottom of the ocean floor.
What is being shown to me, is a dragon with a tail much like a mermaid, and hands with webs, big yellow eyes…
Wow he had thought, she can really see.
Jadra, guided by Mirÿnda, had been moving quite easily through the Dark Forest. Of course, he wouldn’t have dared touch the holy creature, and so he was walking hesitantly behind, taking care of where his bare feet were touching the ground.
The Dark Forest was bordering the Marshes of Doom, and at times the limits between the two were almost indiscernible. It was said that every foul, err… fool… damn,…
— Will you stop being so buffoonish! raved Tina again.
— Perhaps I should let someone else continue then? said Albert.
— Well, that’s entertaining, replied Becky mechanically.
— OK. I’ll jump in, said Samuel, with a wide grin.
It was said that every full moon, the Mighty Shrimp would come from the shores of the Southern Seas and haunt the Marshes in search for souls to be turned into krill, so that he could be the WALRUS (Wrathful Almighty Lord Ruler of Undersea Souls).
Well, at least, that’s what Jadra had heard in his youth, when you tend to believe everything… So he was weary of the hiki-hiki sounds in the night that might have been the dreaded call of the Mighty Shrimp.
Quintin was having a strange dream. He was a huge whale, along with another one he knew was Yann, swimming powerfully in the vast ocean, passing by strange creatures that could have been mermaids or improbable fishes, when his gaze was attracted by a stream of glittering particles of light.
The lights were enticing, he would have said even “mouth-watering”, had he not had the baleens full of water already…
Salome was moving through layers of consciousness, something humans focused in physical dimensions would have found difficult to grasp, as it was nothing that could be easily conceptualized. She was, as best as she could put, like a huge cloud of lightness coalescing into a form, when she decided to project her aspect.
Taking form into a dimension required no effort in actuality, the consensus reality created by all the essences focused into the reality making quite a strong pull. She only needed to move her attention to what she wanted to manifest. Altering her reality slowly around her, to move closer to the desired effect.
She was not only traveling through time and space, but also through multitudinous layers of dimensions unnoticed to many humans —in fact, she was not really moving, but that was a convenient way of telling things for humans…
She said “humans”, because she was fond of this particular dimension, where she’d had lots of experiences.
When moving through the dimensions, it had her projected focus of attention constantly and naturally adapt its form to the psychological environment.
Here, she had just moved through a honey-drops dimension, where focuses were drops of golden honey-like substance, and as she moved through it, her own aspect had changed to that of a sand-glass shaped drop of honey.
This was great fun for her to see the ease with which she could focus into this infinite variety of adventures, but for now, her pull was to some more complex physical dimensions.
She started to move again, de-focusing, past the lazy honey drops.
The honey drops were now shape-shifting to a whole immense field of snake-like strings of light, and they all started to converge to a direction. She knew the feeling. She followed the strong pull.
Jadra slept fitfully. He was in the forest and he dreamed of a great tidal wave sweeping over him. He was holding on for dear life to the branches of a tree while angry faces swept by him in the water, shouting abuse at him, although he could not make out the words.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” he shouted back.
But then, to his horror he saw his left hand separate from his arm and he could no longer hold on. He saw his hand being swept out to sea and all that mattered was that he find it again. He let to of the safety of the tree and felt himself being pulled by the waves.
Jadra awoke trembling and shaking in terror. He looked for his left hand on the end of his arm, where it should be, but he could not see it. He knew what had happened. He had thrown his hand in the river. He thought it was sticks and stones he had thrown in, but he had been mistaken. He knew that now. He had to go and find his hand in the river.
Forgive me! he shouted to the Gods. Whimpering in pain he rushed back the way he had come, back through the forest to the spot where he had last seen his hand. He threw himself into the water and dived down deep, not caring he could not swim, only knowing his hand was in there somewhere.
There were very few people around that early in the morning, but a small boy saw Jadra go in the water and stood watching. He waited and waited, and when he knew for sure there was something wrong he raised the alarm.
Jadra felt a great peacefulness sweep over him. He stopped fighting and abandoned himself to the mighty current of the water. A unicorn swam by him in the water and whispered to him she would take him to safely home.
They pulled Jadra’s body from the water a mile down river.
On the shores of Golfindely, a young boy was playing in the carmine fields of ripe Scotch bonnets.
Since the captain Bone had left, Tomkin Sharple was feeling a bit sad.
The old captain always had fascinating stories to tell him, and he would indulge the endlessly curious little boy in telling him for hours all about what he had discovered in all the parts of the Worlds he had been traveling to.
Now, all he had to do was to take care of the herd of grakes of his parents, and while they were eating the weeds of the crops, he would sat on the cliff, looking at the sea, glimmering in the sunlight.
Grakes were funny to play with, as they were big birds, with a slender neck as geese, colourful patterns as mandarin ducks, and Tomkin always had fun jumping on the back of the alpha one, and ride it, leading the whole herd to the crops where they helped the farmers by eating all kinds of nuisances.
But after Captain Bone’s departure, it was no longer fun.
Tomkin was contemplating a strange thing that the captain had given him before he’d left. It was a sort of knot, shaped as a eight, and the captain had told him it was magic and meant that all was connected, but that he had to discover that magic for himself.
Tomkin had asked the captain to tell him about this object, but all he had told him was a legend which did not reveal much about the circumstances in which the old sea dog had acquired it. Perhaps the captain had fooled him about the magic…
Stuffing the thing again in his pocket, Tomkin let his mind wander on the sea waves, dreaming of being a cabin boy on a big boat, when he saw something on the horizon.
At first he thought that it was a group of swimming golfindels, but golfindels were more brilliant and smaller than the shapes he was seeing, and moving less heavily too…
When Rudy the myna had come back crashing on the boat, it all became suddenly a huge uncontrollable chaos.
The hovering menacing clouds that were looming in front of them were coming closer at a dreadful speed, and even more concerning were the rocks that were appearing everywhere now, that they had more and more trouble to avoid in betwixt the turmoils and eddies.
So they had finally come to the Great Rift, Bådul was thinking. The back of the legendary water dragon that noone was known to have crossed.
But Bådul knew better.
He howled orders to get everybody ready at their posts, and felt reassured when he saw that Austor was maneuvering with dexterity and confidence through the rift.
He ignored the crazy laugh of Razkÿ, the madman who was now shouting with a manic laughter “We all gonna diiie! AHAHAHAH! DIE! DIE!” Then winking at Bådul and laughing again.
A few months earlier, Northern Åsgurdy
A huge cloaked figure was riding in the middle of the deserts. The saurhse, a bit small for its rider, was getting tired, but the man wanted to move before the night came. Åsgurdy had a climate which made travels uneasy on land, and only on these bipedal saurians they named saurhses, could Åsgurdians easily travel on the burning hot sands by day. Then, they could gain the high plateaus of rock and ice, where the temperature was kept cold by the high chilly winds. But at night, the deserts would be chilly too, and the cold-blooded creature he was mounting would require a shelter.
He knew that such a shelter wouldn’t be far away now.
That region was mostly uncharted as it was fairly remote from all known cities, but that strange man he had met had said he was a traveler who knew were he could find something priceless.
At that time, Badul had felt he had nothing to lose, and said to himself “when in doubt, go for the experience”.
He had felt he could trust that man known to him only by a strange name, something like Gheorg.
There had been nothing boastful about him, and he had been kind to him. He had been the only person in the World he had known to have given him back his dignity as a human being, and even more, to have given him a reason to live.
He owed him a lot, and perhaps even more as he was now drawing closer to the cave… that same cave which was a mere cross on the torn map he had been drawing hastily before vanishing almost preternaturally, living him a bit of money and that map…
Roselÿn had felt the urge to move somewhere else. This land didn’t resonate with her energy, and that of Rëgkvist, and of the few eggs the dragon had managed to lay, none had actually been able to hatch.
It had affected her so much that she had even retreated from her sisters’ usual talks through the glubolíns.
She needed to move on.
When he entered the cave, Badul was disappointed. He could feel there had been someone living here quite recently, but it was like the cave was now abandoned. He hoped he could have found more answers, but now it was again like burning sand slipping through his fingers.
In a fit of rage, he took a boulder as big as him and threw it across the cave with a roar.
Something was brought down by his huge force further down into the cave and he heard it quite distinctly.
He tied up the saurhse at the entrance of the cave, and entered it with determination, ducking through the tunnel too narrow for his big baby-faced frame. Then he found something glowing. At first, he thought it was some gold, but what kind of fool had been living here before and had been in such a haste to move as to forget gold?
It was not gold. It was something like a broken shell. The broken bits were like a jigsaw puzzle and he wished he could make it one, as he was attracted by the strange radiance of the thing.
Austor did not believe his eyes…
They had crossed the Rift, all three of the ships.
And it was nothing like the dark void they had nearly expected behind.
It was an open sea, glistening in the sun, and all hope had come back through them all.
Tomkin had a keen eye, and despite the dazzling light reflected on the calm glittering surface of the sea, he could see a little dark shape detaching itself from the three bigger forms, and that little dark shape was quickly identifiable as a bird.
Apparently the bird was not from these lands, it was black with white strips, or perhaps the contrary, and was flying like a grake drunk of having gorged on overripe Scotch bonnets.
Obviously the bird was exhausted, and crashed on the shore where it was nearly knocked out by the grogonuts which fell with big *thuds* from the grogonut tree on which it had just finished its erratic course.
Seeing the whole scene from the top of the fatly mossy cliff, Tomkin decided his curiosity was a much more pressing matter than taking care of the herd of grakes, so he ran to the little rocky path which led to the beach below.
Apparently the bird was still alive, and more surprising even, that was a talking bird. It could speak strange words.
And even stranger, though Tomkin knew none of these words, he could understand all of what the bird wanted to communicate to him.
What an odd thing, he wondered… The bird was requesting some food apparently.
Tomkin fumbled in his pocket for some bread crumbs, when the gift of the Captain fell on the sand.
Could it be?
Tomkin’s heart was racing. Could it be that there was magic after all in this strange simple gift? The Captain had said it meant all was connected. That could explain why he could understand that foreign bird… And perhaps it worked on other talking creatures and people too…
A whole realm of potentials seemed to open in front of young dreamy Tomkin, who was quickly brought down to more earthly matter when Rudy the myna pricked his hand with its beck for the bread crumbs, projecting to him “Give it to me! Give it to me!”.
Ibn al’ Gruk was weary.
That lone grake he had seen flying over the desert settlement this morning had baffled him.
Usually, such creatures where not migrating at this season, and this one was lone too, which was all the more baffling.
The old gripshawk had seen many things in his life, but this was surely a presage of importance. In the myths of his people, the big colourful birds were once thriving in the desert oasis, where they were thought to have appeared in the Old Times. But having been extensively hunted down as food for the gripshawk tribes, they had moved away, and the balance had been broken.
It had prompted lots of the tribes to move apart, in search of food and exchanges, and few of them were now still living in the deserts as they did in the old ways. Many of them, for many generations now, had been creating cities on the coast, and the most flourishing one was Chafik’ An, where a traveling portal had been erected by the humans from Lan’Ork to facilitate exchanges and trades.
All of that, despite his old age (that his long mop of white angora hair under his chin could account for), Ibn al’ Gruk had only heard all of this through the lineage of his ancestors, but he had seen some of the conflicts that had been created, and he understood that change again was in the air.
He felt like he could weave a new tale to entertain the settlement tonight, and perhaps give them inkling as to the new changes to come.
For he felt changes were coming, and that they had been in motion already.
The night was clear, and lots of people had gathered around the big bonfire. They all loved these regular meetings where everyone would meet and share food, drinks and over all, gaiety.
He started to drum low deep sounds and cleared his throat.
A fit of cough got him by surprise, but it was just a hairball that he spat in the fire, which set ablaze immediately, providing some dramatic effect that hushed everyone down.
“In a mysterious land far far away,” started Ibn al’ Gruk, with a growling voice…
Egypt, 2657 B.C.
Lekshen had dreamt of Set that night. The god had appeared to him in one of his familiar forms, that of a long snouted animal .
Lekhsen was wondering why the god had requested such a task for him to do, but he was certainly in the perfect position to accomplish such a task.
Like Set, Lekhsen came from Upper Egypt, the arid land, and he had managed to get a high-ranking responsibility in fertile Lower Egypt as a scribe thanks to the unification efforts of Pharaoh.
But Pharaoh’s daughter had just died… right after her 10 year old brother, and Pharaoh’s himself felt He would not live much longer.
Which would mean that the closest male in the family would be likely to get on the throne of Egypt. And that would be bad news for people like him, as the brothers and brothers-in-law of Pharaoh did not appreciate much His policy.
In the dream, the strange creature had asked him to hide something with the mummy of Pharaoh’s daughter. It had told him people would forget about how Set was fighting for Ra, the Sun, each night that the bark was traveling on the dangerous underworld waters. They would forget, and would demonise him and his people, and he, Lekhsen would have to write the story, and bury it with the Princess. His status would allow him to do it unscathed.
“Would people ever remember they once were One?” had asked Lekshen to the god.
“Only you can tell” had the creature answered.
The rain was pouring cabbages for several days now, almost the whole week… Baul was fed up with that filthy weather of Cromash Tur. The capital of this 4th kingdom was quite nice and pleasurable, but it lacked sun and warmth… Baul had come to Nâabooli, the capital of Cromash, in order to settle an arrangement. Something quite particular that he couldn’t find in his own land of Erpet Mesh. He’d been travelling for weeks with his guards and servants when he arrived in the city and all that for some foo’kin rain! But something more important than brooding and pouting was on his mind.
Tonight he was alone, no servant, no guard… he was wearing a black coat made of goat skin on his usual blue and yellow silk robe, he couldn’t wear anything else, his skin was too smooth and delicate. He was spending great amount of money to take care of his body, it was his own pride, and he considered himself as a very handsome and appealing male.
The man he was about to meet wasn’t hiding, but oddly was acting in full sight. Nonetheless, Baul didn’t want to be seen with him, Baul was an ambassador of sort from Erpet and he couldn’t be seen entering in an Assassin’s house. In Cromash, the Assassins were quite a respectable and wealthy, but in Erpet they were outlaw… one of the numerous differences between the two kingdoms, one they would never agree upon. Baul found it quite useful though; many times he’d met Ar’Am Khra, one of the best of this profession.
For this meeting, as always, Baul had chosen a tavern, the Landgurdy, called after one of the former 12 kingdoms. The 4 remaining ones were at war most of the times, they couldn’t maintain peace more than a few years at best, and Baul had found many ways of benefiting of this situation. Merchant, Ambassador, and much more. He was thriving with plotting and it was quite useful to be one of the ambassadors of Erpet Mesh, offering him safety wherever he was going. It was one of the few respected rules that were common between the Warring Kingdoms.
The Landgurdy was quite a crowded tavern, and the owner was a friend of his, though not really officially. There was that private room on the rear of the building, know only of a few chosen “friends”, so they could enter unnoticed by the usual customers and by would be spies. The rear door was seemingly leading into another building, and some arrangements had been made over the years.
Baul knocked the code at the door, and a vasistas was open quickly and closed even more quickly. The door opened then and he entered in the darkness of the house. If anyone opened the door, he or she wasn’t there anymore, but Baul knew the place quite well as it wasn’t his first meeting with the Assassin.
The Assassin was waiting in the small room, square shaped with only a wood table and one chair. No window. One dim lamp.
He was sitting on the lone carved chair. His clients needn’t sit.
They were mere beggers.
The one that was coming now, was quite amusing.
The first time he met him, Baul was quite young and inexperienced in his own skills. Though he was quite ambitious, Ar’Am Khra had to admit it.
The usual reaction when seeing the Assassin’s pale complexion was shivers and disgust. He was used to it and it was a game that he had enhanced with a little bluish glowing dagger tattooed on his forehead.
The dagger was the mark of his profession, though not so obviously exhibited by the others. Cowards.
At that first meeting, Baul didn’t react the way his other clients did. And it was not influenced by his utmost concerns at that time. Beside his inexperience he was quite engrossed in what he had called his “mission”.
Ar’Am Khra did not know of any mission, there were merely contracts.
And he was doing what his clients were paying for.
Accomplishing his contract even after the death of his clients.
He was remembering of an amusing event.
A client had hired him to end the life of another man, and the second man went a few days after to his office to beg him to kill the first man.
The Assassin accepted the contract.
A few days later he killed the second man.
He executed the first one not long after that, thus respecting the second contract.
He never questioned the motives of his clients.
It was not for him to judge or to understand. Though most of the time he did understand quite well.
His main motivation was the payment and his own pride in expressing his skill with subtleties and newness.
The door opened smoothly. Baul entered the room.
Yann and Quintin had an interesting chat during the afternoon. Yann had some new impressions about the map of Lord Wrick annotated by Quintin. Something about the Warring Kingdoms, triggered by a dream of an Assassin in one of them. It was frustrating not to be in the same room so Yann could show Quintin directly on the map, but with Internet there were some other options.
The names of these lands were Ata’Meliu, Dam Adbor, Erpet Mesh and Cromash Tur. These 4 Kingdoms were rather scattered on the Lan’Ork part of the continent, pieces and bits everywhere, though Ata’Meliu was more in the center and the South of the Lan’Ork, Dam Adbor in the East and in the North, and Cromash Tur in the West and South West parts, Erpet was divided in 2 main areas, one located on the Northern land just before the Isthmus of Ghört’s Hammer, and a smaller one lost in the middle of Ata’Meliu.
Yann only had the impression of 2 of the capitals, Naat Medin was the one of Erpet Mesh and Nâabooli of Cromash Tur.
Quintin just sent him the map so he could draw some more comments and sketch the boundaries of the Warring Kingdoms. He didn’t know why, but he felt some movements were about to begin, some reconfigurations of the borders
The Assassin was already in the room when Baul came in… Baul wasn’t sure if he would have prefered him not to be here so he could himself gather his mind. But he was well used to camouflage his feelings and inner struggle and his face was quite smiling, as usual.
Looking at the Assassin’s face, Baul was feeling very uncomfortable, he almost winced… the bluish glow of the dagger tatoo on the forehead of the man was quite disgusting. Baul kept smiling though, he wouldn’t dare show his own weakness to anyone, especially an Assassin. His eyes were piercing his soul, if Baul had believed in such thing he would have run away, but he didn’t believe in anything except himself and the power of money.
As the Assassin was never talking first, Baul presented his offer putting the object he had brought on the table.
— Open the chest. You’ll find your paiement inside.
Ar’Am Khra was waiting, still gazing sharply at Baul, making him feel even more uncomfortable.
The Assassin was quite impressed with how the man Baul could master his own reactions, and though he was quite intrigued by what his client had brought, he wanted to play for a few moments. With a very slight movement of his eyebrows, so slight one wouldn’t have notice, he managed to add an irritation in his look. He saw the movement of fear in his client’s face, but still it was so subtle he could have imagined it.
Baul pushed the chest toward the Assassin, a bit nervous, but he could …. a sudden thought came to his mind, wandering like a Strokgnutch in a henhouse. He swallowed imperceptibly… Had someone already put a contract on his head? He managed a smile as he was opening the chest for the Assassin.
He lowered his eyes to look at what was in the chest. He really desired being surprised by his clients, and this one had never failed to surprise him…
Baul was surprised as the Assassin wasn’t showing any hint of the slightest emotion at all… Would he show anything else than disdain even once!?
— A glubolín
When the three boats had landed on the warm shores of Golfindely, Tomkin had been a little anxious about the ominous looking men, especially the giant one, with the big ugly baby face who seemed to be in command.
But apparently, Tomkin had found a faithful friend in the black and white myna, and the ugly baby-faced giant had been interested by his unusual talent of being able to understand and communicate with them.
I had been two weeks now that the men had arranged a settlement for themselves on these friendly shores, and Tomkin had been quickly adopted by the whole crew.
He soon made friend with Jahiz, Austor and even the wild man in shackles —who had told his name unwillingly in energy, that the buntifluën had helped to translate. Tomkin was finding that the wild man, Cpt. Razkÿ, had been a greatly interesting adventurer and had known many places of the lands from where the men came. In fact, he reminded him of Captain Bone.
The most difficult to deal with was the chief cook Renouane, who was complaining about the lack of some kind of unknown vegetable to do the meals. Jahiz had comforted Tomkin saying they were all fed up with “cabbage” anyway.
The villagers around had become slowly aware of the presence of the foreigners on their lands, but they were relatively accustomed to seeing strange people, and upon seeing that these ones were friendly with Tomkin, they returned to their Scotch bonnets harvests, without much more of an afterthought.
Tomkin had helped them to learn basic words of their language, words of greeting (“wallahu”), of thanks (“alami”) etc.
But the ugly baby-faced giant (who had said he was “Badul”) was interested in many other things.
And the concept Tomkin was now struggling with, to clearly explain it to Badul, was that of the traveling portals.
Badul had somehow intuited that the strange shift in the environment they had met in the middle of the Rift, was something due to Unseen action. And when he had heard Tomkin speak about these methods for traveling easily, he had been interested in understanding more of them.
Until now, it was a frustrating experience, as the young boy only knew such and such, probably told to him by some others, and not having actually experienced one himself.
But the information was good to learn.
Bringing back this technology to his land would probably be more interesting than some decorative glowing egg, he was thinking…
Mmmm, Captain,… isn’t that legend a bit long-winded? Tomkin had asked to Captain Bone.
It had been six nights now that the Captain had told bits of that legend to Tomkin, and even if it was entertaining, Tomkin was more and more impatient to get back to meatier stuff, like galleons full of ancient magical treasures, corsairs from the Warring Kingdoms coasts, strange unknown races from far-off lands… that would be more mouth-watering than this endless legend…
Captain Bone had laughed.
— Aaaaah, Tomkin… of course you know I like to tell long stories, and make them longer each time I recall them, but you see, there is also a point in all of that adventure. Mævel’s story is also the story of all of us in a way. Of course, I could tell you how it ends, but in a way it never really ends. More important is for you to see it unfold and that you appreciate the unfolding. The ending is not important in a way. Each and every time this story is recalled, it is different, because it adapts to what is happening right now. Do you see?
— So what is the point of telling me that story? It was supposed to tell me something about this strange knotted object, but I don’t see any link.
— Ahahahaha, the point is precisely that Tomkin. I am telling you my story, but this object makes you hear your own story through my words.
Now, Tomkin Sharple was squatting on the sand near the bonfire lit by Badul’s crew, and he was recalling the words from the Captain. At that time, when he didn’t know a thing about that strange magical object, he had not understood a thing of what the Captain had said.
But now, it started to make sense, some sense at least. Each time the Captain had told him bits of the legend, Tomkin had been fidgeting the strange object, making the Captain smile. Perhaps the object’s magic was not only acting as a translation device…
There was something more about it. He was no longer sure that the Captain’s story had been what he was recalling. Perhaps it was completely different, and he had translated it…
Still, the object had apparently helped him understand what Badul and his men wanted, so it was translating truthfully. But what was a faithful translation?
Then, a flash came into Tomkin’s mind. The Captain had given the object to him. He’d said it was about connections. Being connected.
Till then, Tomkin had been the only one to touch it. He had not even revealed the source of his gift to Badul.
But in the Captain’s case, both of them had been touching it. In sharing that link, they had extended trust to each other, and somehow, they had been mirrors for each other. Perhaps that was what Captain Bone meant when he said that Tomkin was hearing his own story through the Captain’s words.
Tomkin laid down on the warm sand, looking at the clear starry night.
— The legend of Mævel — (Part VI)
Inside the warm burrow, Mævel found a bed of dry leaves and tender moss. She could see some light from the moon, coming through holes in the ground, which were bringing in some fresh air too. Cuddling comfortably into the makeshift bed, she started to sleep peacefully, waiting for her friend the blue fox to come back.
Half-asleep on the beach, Tomkin was wondering… What had happened the next morning… This was fuzzy in this memory, as if the events were moving and reorganising themselves. All that he remember was that Mævel had met the blue fox, but there were myriads of possible events, and all of them were possible, dancing now in front of him.
He could chose any of them… But, would that make the story the same?
Then he recalled that it was his own story… So why make it difficult then…
The voice of Captain Bone was resounding in his ear “You find value in hardships, and value is important to you and our kind. In these lands full of magic, we could just do anything, but somehow you’ll find that rare are the people who constantly use magic. Because when magic is used to make things happen instantaneously, it shifts everything around it to accommodate the changes asked by the summoner of the magic. And it can be overwhelming when too big are the differences between the too states, as we are accustomed to live within a continuity. That’s why I tell you to enjoy the ride of that legend.
Think of it… You could be Emperor of all Lands if you knew how to use magic for such a feat. But would you do that instantaneously? Slim chances. You wouldn’t know how to behave as an Emperor, and on top of that, you probably would find the new aspect of you who is an Emperor to be overwhelming to your present aspect of little Tomkin.”
— Oh, really? Mævel was saying
— Yes, I was a bit of a fool… the blue fox was telling her. But, the silver lining is that there is a way to counteract the curse. But I will need your help again, if you want.
— I want to help you.
— Fine. You know about Shaint Lejüs Festival?
— Mmm, yes, my parents told me about that. It’s the Day of the Forgotten, isn’t it?
— and of the Accursed Ones.
— That special day of the year, the Gates of Lejüs’ Realm are opened and Forgotten and Accursed Ones are given a chance to be Remembered or Graced.
— Every year? Why then aren’t all of them Remembered?
— Mostly because the Living Ones dread this day. They are the only ones to be able to free the Demanders, and they quickly felt haunted by the Demanders. So they did rituals to keep the Demanders away from them, as certainly your human parents did.
— Yes, I remember now…
— There is another reason actually. Forgotten Ones can only be Remembered when they recover their true name, and only a strong bond like love or some potent magic can force it out of Lejüs’ graps.
— And Accursed Ones?
— For them to be Graced, they need to do one pure act of altruism.
— A simple act?
— Don’t be fooled, it’s not as simple as it seems. See, I tried to rescue a woman who was drowning herself into the river, but that hunter thought I was attacking her… The fact was that she was willing to be Forgotten, and that my act was not purely altruistic.
— How so? You probably saved her life?
— Yes, but that was not what she wanted, and when she cried that I let go of her, I only wanted her out of the waters, because of me…
— I understand. And how can I help?
— One altruistic act for me would be to help a Forgotten One to be Remembered. That’s what they ask for, but it’s difficult for them to get past the barriers of the Living Ones.
— Shaint Lejüs Festival is tomorrow…
— Yes, have as much rest as you need, Mæ. We will see tomorrow what will occur…
It had not been easy to convince his parents. His mother especially…
As a matter of fact, he had failed to convince them at all, and Tomkin had to decide by himself whether he wanted to follow Badul and his crew in his quest for unknown mysteries.
Tomkin had left a short written message for the Sharples, to tell them that they needn’t worry, and all would be fine.
Badul had decided to split his crew in two, having Austor in charge of the boats while he would go with a handful of trusted men by land.
Apparently, the young boy was aware of one portal which was close to their current location. This one was not part of the main network and was operating unknowingly to the officials. Its size was small, and travels were regulated by a local governor who used it for his clandestine business.
It was located deeper inside the lands of Golfindely, and the mountainous area of highlands planted with luxuriant trees made its access difficult.
Despite the boy’s initial reluctance at leading them to this place, Badul was determined to go, and very quickly Tomkin was excited at the opportunity to finally travel as he always had wanted to. It wouldn’t be by sea for now, but as Captain Bone said, every journey starts with one step.
When he first witnessed how the traveling portals worked, Badul had been greatly impressed. No such magic existed on Asgurdy, and even though is was supposed to be a small portal, it was greater magic than anything his imagination could have devised.
He and his crew were so much impressed that Badul had required his small crew to settle down so that they can study further the thing. Tomkin had frowned a bit, as he was eager to continue and above all to leave this uncharted district ruled by a fierce warlord (or “governor”, as it was required to address him) in a moistly forest miles away from any living creature, but then again, Badul’s orders were not to be discussed.
The portal was constituted of a wide circle of heavy limestones, with two crossing arched vaults made of limestones too, with smaller blue stones incrustations of various shapes tucked into round holes regularly scattered along the vaults. These smaller stones could apparently be rearranged, and Tomkin and Badul quickly figured out they were used to determine the coordinates of the various places they would be traveling to. This portal, they’ve been explained had a set of other stones, ocher and dark red ones which were not part of the traditional set of the main network on the continent. Their design was not overly displayed as the others which were left on the portal at all times. They were carried on the spot by one of the generals of the local governor, and used under strict guidelines, for fear that the parallel network would be uncovered.
It took Badul a dozen of hexades to relinquish his fear of the unknown magic that made people disappear and reappear in thin air. He was a brave man, and that which he could see with his own eyes was no longer deemed irrational. It was very real, and he could use it. And there was no point in delaying the experience of it, as it was the only way for him to conquer his turmoil.
So, on that fine morning of the falling season, he decided to move. Genflik Thran, the local governor, had come to appreciate the help Badul and his men had provided him in loading and unloading the cargoes of goods which were banned on various parts of the Warring Kingdoms nonetheless traded on the black market with great benefits, and occasionally escorting them to some of the nearest villages. But the deal had been made clear from the start: he would allow Badul and his men to use the network in exchange of two hexades of service. In fact, they had repaid the debt largely already.
So he agreed to let them go on their journey and provided him and and his crew enough supply to continue their trip for quite some days. And as a token of appreciation, he allowed Badul to choose his destination, a privilege that was rarely granted, as usually people where glad to take whatever ship was about to depart.
Badul turned to Tomkin, wondering where they could go next.
“There are a few villages I heard of” Tomkin said after having pondered, “in the valleys down Mount Elok’ram. I heard this place is the tallest of the World, and is full of ancient powerful magic. Perhaps we can go to one of these villages, as I don’t think there is any portal on the top of the mountains.”
“Ahaha, yes, you’re right” had smiled Genflik Thran “I’ve been heard there is a monastery on top of this mountain, but no portal unless you go in the valleys. Not that they couldn’t have built one, but they thought it would soon become too crowded and… how did they said? Yeah, unholy… with the ease of a portal access. Now, perhaps that with the new Abbott, it will change… who knows. We already have approached him, and he seems a man with a nice sense of compromise, for the good of all, ahahaha!”
“What’s this village called?”, asked Badul
“ Chard Dut Jep “ answered Genflik Thran “I have a local contact there, a witchy woman, with some sense for business too, when you’re there, ask for her, people call her Madame Chesterhope. Just don’t forget to mention you are coming on my advise, or else the bitch might reserve you a trick or two of her own, ahahaha!”.
“To Chard Dut Jep then!” cheered Badul, and his crew echoed with him.