October 13, Evening at the Douglas home
We debate the meaning of the letter endlessly. Does this mean we are free and clear? Is it a set-up? Does the fact that it was received at the Douglas home mean that they are now in danger?
Edmund lays out his perspective: “We did a tough job for Willard and he introduced us to Lazelle. That was our thank you. I don’t think we should trust it though. We should test it. I could ‘convince’ a few local ne’er-do-wells to walk around town looking like us. If nothing happens, then we know that we are not under a manhunt, at least for a while?”
I second the motion. Though I could care less who dies, I doubt that our enemies would be above waiting a few months for us to get lazy and comfortable before they pounce. “We should pursue MacEachern, and through him understand whether we can rest safe. We can’t take the word of The Guild at face value. The Guild is divided internally. We might have the main part of The Guild willing to call off the dogs, but The Whip may still be looking for us.”
Jon echoes my concern about The Guild, but points out that chasing MacEachern hardly counts as backing off, the condition for being left alone. Pursuing Lazelle. for a second meeting seems fruitless. Running off to fulfill the debt to The Elium seems like a dangerous distraction for zero gain.
Edmund is adamant on that point. He is tired of putting his neck on the line for the monks. He reiterates his earlier proposal, a variation on fishing with live bait. “It doesn’t cost us anything. We could even grab some orcs or… too bad that Ned isn’t available.” Abby’s father’s cough can be heard from the study.
We continue the debate noisily over dinner, which is delicious. Over roast, parsnips and carrots, we continue to circle over and over the same themes. Guilt over the number of bodies behind us, concern about missed opportunities, regret over our continued lack of understanding of the forces marshaled against us…
One of us, I don’t recall whom, suggests getting out of town for a while. A long while. Waiting for The Guild to clean up the conspirators, for the Learned Hand to garrotte, dart, bury and erase all traces of the MacEachern plot. Waiting to test the validity of the message we have received.
Around midnight, with candles burned down to the cups, and the fireplace a mass of embers, we agree. To Olduvai to wait it out.
Time to prepare for a new departure, and perhaps a new path?
Morning, October 14
Abby reluctantly bids farewell to her parents. During their conversation, it comes out that Amy has been practicing cantrips in the night time, and frightening the Douglas night guards. Our discovery of Abby’s dabbling with magic appears to have affected us all with the thought that we might pursue some of the same powers as Edmund It is a tempting idea. Amy is pursuing it with all the enthusiasm of a twelve-year-old with a new toy.
This could prove interesting.
We pile our armour and some of our weapons into Edmund’s bag, and link arms in the familiar circle.
Salty tang in the air. Silvery-barked trees of impressive height loom above us. The humidity and warmth are comforting. We de-link and look around. Sailboats ply the waters just off the coast. Seagulls are on the beach just beyond the eaves of the trees, which end abruptly where the sand begins. I like it.
We see a road nearby leading towards a large walled city. Andelie by the Sea. Not our final destination.
Motioning us back together, Edmund mutters nearly-intelligible words, and
That same fun feeling. We are on a plain surrounded by tall grasses. Purple coloured mountains loom on either side. Snow can be seen at the very peaks of the tallest mountains. Otherwise it is dry. Punishingly hot, and yet the sun is lower on the horizon.
This must be early morning in Olduvai. A horse stands some 60 meters from us along the unpaved track that we have materialized on. His colouring is unlike anything I have seen before, as if an artist had splashed black and white paint in lines. Strange. The animal peers back at us, no doubt thinking the same thing. Suddenly out of the tall grass comes a large golden shape. A construct, I think, reaching for a sword that is not there. Jon points “a lion. Ed?”
“A bit off”, Edmund says. He reaches out to us. We teleport once more.
We are on a stone path. We walk quickly, following the road, towards a large mud-and-stone walled town. Many others are on the path ahead of us but we overtake them. Caravans of traders, soldiers and mercenaries. Lots of dark skin, golden jewellery and exotic spices. Everyone is armed.
To either side of the road are farmers fields. Many accents and languages can be heard.
“Welcome to Blybank”. The sign is in several languages, above the gates to the town. In smaller print “Check your firearms.” Next to it, heavily-armed soldiers are manning the walls, peering intently at everyone coming in. A lengthy queue of people are handing their weapons to the gendarme, and receiving wooden chits in exchange.
I raise an eyebrow towards Edmund, but he is moving quickly past the line of people into the town. Chickens run underfoot. “This town is armed to the teeth”, says Jon. Indeed, everyone appears to be carrying at least one weapon openly, never mind the oddly-shaped packs strapped to animals, or the glint of steel blades catching morning light from beneath the long light-coloured cloaks sported by the locals.
We turn towards an inviting doorway. Overhead is a sign “Circle Yer Wagons”. Good advice. Out of the window beside that doorway crashes a figure, a man, thrown or self-propelled we cant tell. From the doorway come three men, who proceed to beat the window-exiter to death in front of us.
“Nice town”, someone remarks.
As we debate our next steps, a sour-looking fellow steps forward with several equally disagreeable chaps, facing us on the main road. His waist bulges with several firearms. “I think you should follow me.”
I’m casting an eye around behind us when I see three more characters separate themselves from the shadows and hem us in from behind. “we are surrounded”, Jon remarks quietly to no one in particular. I’m thinking that Abby alone could take them out without missing a step. The whole bunch of us? I’m relishing the chance to practice some particularly-painful strikes. Ah, vacations.
Edmund surprises me by saying: Sure, we’ll follow.
We step down a small alleyway. I feel Edmund’s hands on my shoulder as he murmurs “gather round”. Poof. The usual plummeting feeling.
We’re in a farmer’s field, not far from town. We catch our bearings. Loud rushing sound to my right. A dog, huge, barking. No, two. Someone is shouting. The sound of a firearm being discharged. Edmund says something.
And. We’re now somewhere tropical. The air is hot and muggy. Mosquitoes (or something like them) are gathering above, sensing fresh meat. My skin feels like it is already starting to burn. I see jon pull his woollen hood over his face.
We’re on the coast of an immense lake. I learn later that this is the southern coast of The Great Lake. Freshwater. So hot here. Vinnik lands and wades immediately into the water, looking balefully at Edmund, who shrugs. He whispers something and Vinnik takes off. A few moments pass.
“He’s spotted a settlement”, says Edmund I can only imagine what joys this next landing will bring, given our last few stops.
We are in a tropical forest. Vines and heavy creepers hang above us. The ground is soft and mushy. Everything is overgrown, with little light reaching the ground. Bird songs are everywhere. Water drips from everything. I’m soaked and raw and overcooked at the same time.
We follow a path through the forest. Above us, birds ululate. A vine becomes a snake, slithering along a branch that crosses our footpath.
There’s a small village ahead in the direction that Edmund is leading us. A small clearing in the woods. Gardens cultivated from the forest. Simple habitation made from tree branches lashed together. The locals are very dark-skinned and nearly naked.
AS we approach, we hear women’s voices singing, to the beat of thumping. They are crushing grains of some sort, striking them between flat rock and large tree boughs. Children have run ahead of us, shrieking and laughing, stopping occasionally to point at us, moving ahead of us to the main village. Clearly, we are big news for this little place. And our arrival will not be a surprise.
Adults – both men and women – are clad in simple skirts of green and browning leaves. Seashells and pearls decorate their necks and ears. Their language is a mix of unfamiliar words, tones and clicks. We ain’ t in Atlin anymore.
One man, more weathered and tattooed than the others, steps forward from the crowd of people at the centre of town and hails us. “greetings strangers”, he says, in pretty good Atlinese. I am Popo, and this is the village of Luzige. You will join us for a meal.
A strange array of fruit, much I have never seen before, appears on platters as we sit down beneath a large tree with dry roots beneath it at the centre of the village. The young girls peer out from hut doorways, giggling at us before hiding back in the shadows.
Popo has traveled widely, across Atlin and around the known world. He recommends we stay, but we elect to move on towards Blybank, a town he describes as calm, “not bad for a big city, but not as wonderful as Luzige. You should stay, friends. We will teach you to fish and to dive for pearls.”
After a brief rest and laugh with Popo and the other village elders, we leave behind some gold and mount up on the ghost-horses that Edmund has conjured. We head south quickly, by ground at first but soon rising skyward, up through the rainforest canopy into the bright blue sky above it. Beneath us, the miles flit by. A brief pause and encounter with a comical monkey is all we leave ourselves time for as we continue south towards the far coast.
We spend the night in the rope trick, next to a river and surrounded by rainforest. It is the first unblemished rest I can remember having in a long time.
October 15 – Morning
Amy has been at it again. She has tamed a wild panther and is wandering around camp with it this morning. Abby and Jon chew her out. Edmund threatens to visit the same leaky bowel hells upon her that he faced as Willard’s student. I’m impressed at how quickly her powers appear to be growing.
We mount up again upon the horses and continue south.
A narrow bay extends in a line parallel to our route. We are getting close. The network of trails below are gathering into roads. Roads are becoming paved. Scattered settlements are becoming denser. Jungle is thinning and being replaced with cultivated lands.
By noon we are within sight of the city gates of Quashie. It is excruciatingly hot and we are all bathed in sweat and grime. The last bath was days ago.
We land. Edmund suggests we scout the town as seagulls before picking a place to set out. Lesson learned from our last visit to a strange city.
We are changed into seagulls, and fly out over the town. Quashie is a large city, perhaps 100,000 strong. A seaport, with big galleons of many shapes and sizes, all gathered together. Wafting voices speaking many languages catch our ears. It is a good place to be lost in the mix. I like it. A lot.
We circle back from the centre of town, towards a shaded alleyway near what can only be the city hall. We change back and ready our weapons and armour. Emerging into the sunlight, horses, camels and oxen step around us as we walk onto the stone-paved roads in the centre of town.
We quickly meet a young foreigner, an Atlinese. named Jacob. He offers to take us to a decent inn for lunch.
We take him up on the offer, but are very guarded. He is full of jokes and town gossip, describing his exit from Atlin, his arrival here, his love of the weather, the waves, a strange sport he calls surfing, and an herb that is not tobacco but which can be smoked as well. Jon looks quite relaxed, so I relax as well.
He is soon laughing easily with us all. He offers to make us dinner at his boat, “Free at Last” on Pier 23. We split up from him after this most-agreeable meal. His suggestion that we stay for the month, meet some local girls and enjoy the local herbs has me intrigued. It wont sole our problems but it will distract me from the issues for a while.
Why not? That night, after a day of wandering the town, buying some local garments and getting the lay of the place, we head back and join Jacob for dinner. After the third tankard of delicious local wine, and the fourth pipe of this local wonder-herb, i’m not worried about anything. Nor, judging by their expressions, is anyone else.
One perfect day spent fishing, surfing, drinking wine – becomes two. A week becomes several. Next thing we know, it’s November.