We departed from Krotil before dawn, to avoid any questionings from the townspeople. Our company consisted of Taeĝan, Ferondei and me, as well as the two boys Delko and Aiĝif, who had implored Ferondei to allow them to accompany us. We certainly were not planning for two extra travellers, but they had brought their own provisions as Ferondei had instructed, and for that we were thankful.
We were in the mountains by daybreak, and at length we stopped for a rest.
‘Prithee tell me again,’ quoth Delko, ‘whither are we bound?’
‘To seek a hiding place in the mountains, as we’ve told thee thrice already,’ said Taeĝan, seeming a bit upset.
‘Ah, that’s right; for some reason I thought we were going to Krotl.’
‘Well, thou art mistaken this time,’ quoth I, ‘for that is where Raheem is, assembling his great army against Ĝimlu.
‘Oh, horrors! I detest fighting. I’d much rather hide in the mountains.’ He smiled strangely.
‘If thou would’st aid in the search, be looking for good hiding places,’ quoth Ferondei.
As we travelled on, we soon left the familiar territory in which we had hunted in times past, and thenceforth we had to rely on the stars for guidance, using knowledge gained at the house of learning. We generally travelled only at night, since the mountain folk were about during the time that the sun sailed across the sky. Nevertheless, we were often discovered and forced to flee.
One such instance occurred about a week or so after we had set out. As the day began to break, we found a convenient place in a canyon where we could lie down and rest without being seen. There was a spring nearby, and with plenty of grass for our llama, it seemed the perfect place to stay for the day. Having relieved the llama of its burdens and tethered it, we soon fell asleep behind the cover of the trees and brush.
I was sleeping soundly when suddenly I heard a voice. I had been sleeping with the sound of the spring flowing nearby, and with the many birds singing, but this voice penetrated to my very mind as it rang out. At the first I thought it was a dream, for the voice spake in mine own tongue, and for a moment I fancied myself back in Stalshi. But I heard it again—the voice of a small child. ‘Veta! Veta! Neshku ton! Neshku môsaĝê vataka!’ [which translated is ‘Father! Father! A wild llama! A llama without an owner!’] Suddenly I realized what had happened—our hideout had been discovered. I leapt to my feet and saw how the llama had wandered out from among the trees, and had been spotted by a small boy, apparently the son of one of the Ĝimluvian folk who lived in the mountains.
The others were soon awakened, and Ferondei accompanied me to speak to the boy’s father who had just appeared at his son’s calling. The man carried a bow, and therefore we approached him with our hands forward as a sign of friendship, and I cried ‘Ulsho!’ that is, ‘peace!’
The man fired not at us, but as soon as we had drawn nigh, he questioned us sharply.
‘Who be ye, that sojourn thus in our mountains? Methinks ye are spies!’
‘But sir,’ I replied, ‘I am Ĝimluvian like yourself, and we seek only a safe haven where we might abide whilst this war rages.’
‘Aye, thou art of my folk, but who be this Kroat who standeth beside thee silent? I deem ye are spies! traitors come to reveal our whereabouts to Raheem!’
This last word he spake with great hate, and his anger rose even as he accused us, and we were forced to flee as he threatened to pin us to the trees with his arrows. I had had no doubt that he would carry out his threat, so when we arrived back at the camp, we all fled with our llama and provisions as fast as the rugged landscape permitted. Fortunately the man did not pursue us, or he had overtaken us with his better knowledge of the lay of the land. Once free from this danger, however, we were discovered many other times by various other folk who inhabited the mountains. Although the first man we had met had sympathies for the king, others we met, even Ĝimluvians, were fighting for separation from the kingdom.
Due to our neutrality in the war, not willing to fight for either side but only seeking safety, we were mistrusted and assailed from both sides, by Kroats and Ĝimluvians alike. As we continued our journey and search for a refuge in amongst the mountains, it began to dawn on us that the place we sought, which had hitherto evaded us, most likely did not exist.
Thus, we found ourselves surrounded by mountains two months after our setting out, wondering what to do next. We lit no fire for fear of discovery, so we sat shivering in our blankets. This became another concern, because winter was fast approaching, and if a place could not be found, we must needs move on quickly.
We all had the same thoughts, so each of us understood when Taeĝan said ‘If the mountains are all full of hostile folk, whither shall we go?”
I said ‘Yea, for though these people are few, they know the territory as doth the bear, who knoweth well his boundaries and protecteth them from intruders. Yet where in this country may we go to find peace? For surely this is the most secluded place in the kingdom!’
‘I know not, verily,’ quoth Ferondei, ‘yet I do know of a place beyond the great sea… but I am not permitted to speak of it before you Ĝimluvians.’
Suddenly Aiĝif spake, though he had been previously silent: ‘And what of the Krotelmian law, my comrades; are we not already set against our kin in this struggle? Hearken now, ye twain, and I shall reveal to you that which no Kroat hath yet dared utter in the presence of a foreigner: We Kroats came from a land beyond the sea, as Ferondei hinted. We came of our own accord and were not expelled thence, as some have conjectured, and certes the people of that land would welcome us wanderers if we find our way thither.’ Immediately my mind brought forth memories of what I had learned as a child about the land of dragons across the sea, and I hardly noticed the gasps of Ferondei and Delko over Aiĝif’s sudden revelation.
‘Shall we then essay to traverse the ocean to escape this land of unrest?’ quoth Taeĝan.
Ferondei replied, ‘Verily, thou speakest aright, for I see no other path which leadeth away from our taking up arms.’ Thus, from that point our direction was guided westward, towards the ocean. None of us knew aught of what we should do were we to arrive there, but our minds were constantly occupied then with the daily work of staying alive and avoiding those who wished to harm us. Those were troubled times, and the whole land was full of unrest.
As we travelled on, the days grew shorter, and soon the cold winter was upon us with all its fury, made even more cold by the high mountains. We knew only vaguely our whereabouts, and we continued west. At one point we truly thought that we should never emerge from that vast range, and we were almost starving to death when we discovered a small mountain stream, that amidst the snow and ice was still flowing. This we followed, judging that at length it should take us to the ocean, though many leagues still separated us from the waves of the sea.
At length, having followed the stream several days, we beheld before us a small village in a treeless valley, which by the looks of the buildings we knew to be Krotelmian. We looked upon it from a good distance, keeping ourselves concealed, and we could see a great many people bustling around, more than would be expected for a town of that size. Although we were cautious, our hunger finally drove us forth to seek provisions. However, we judged it best that only Ferondei and Delko go forth to negotiate with the villagers, as we had oft before come under suspicion when a Kroat noticed Taeĝan and me.
Thus the two went out towards the town, while the rest of us remained hidden, yet watching. When they arrived at the village, they went out of our sight, so we sat down in the shade of the forest and awaited their return. As time wore on, we became increasingly worried, fearing for their safety. Several hours later, we greeted Ferondei as he returned through the woods (not coming straight back from the city), and anxiously inquired after Delko.
Ferondei sat down with a very grave look on his face. ‘We were mistaken. The mountain folk have driven the Kroats forth and kept this town (Mikaluf, it is called) as a stronghold. When we entered the town, they immediately attacked us, recognizing that we were Kroats. Although I was able to escape, Delko was cruelly slain at the hands of the Ĝimluvians.’
We were all saddened at these ill tidings, but we all knew that we must next decide whither our path would lead from that place. As though sensing our thoughts, Ferondei spake yet again: ‘On the other side of Mikaluf, where the river floweth past the town, I saw a small barque anchored to a dock, which haply we might borrow this night to continue our journey, while the village yet slumbers.’ None of us had any idea better than this, so we gave silent assent to Ferondei’s words. That night we slept not, but instead made plans for the morn, and made assay of our supplies. When the moon had risen, we all fell silent, and then with mournful voices softly sang a song of farewell for Delko:
Lomást éshki ísemen ei;
Meish ísa eidoráturei.
Káloĝa úmaite éishiteit
Fain móina tiĝérotamp.
Ústa éshki islastínshei, zorámp;
Which translated is, ‘Give him rest, for he cometh to Thee. He shall receive new life, and see the perpetual light. Fly now, friend; farewell.’
Having sung this solemn chant, we were left to our own thoughts, but after a few hours Ferondei arose and bade us release the llama to go where it would. We had not many things, but that which we had we took up, and followed Ferondei as he led us to the place where the boat was docked. All in the village were asleep (although we feared a guard might have been set), but with the full moon bathing everything in its silvery light, we scarce allowed ourselves to breath. We soon came to the bank of the Mikaluf River, and we tried to stay in the shadow of the trees that grew near the water. At last we saw the boat before us, and the dock to which it was tied. It was in a place cleared of trees—and thus easily seen from the village. We conquered our fears, and as quickly and quietly as possible, boarded the boat and released it from its moorings.
Although I would fain tell thee that we passed thenceforth unmolested, I cannot, for we did encounter more troubles as we paddled downstream. However, we came through safely, and our new mode of transportation sped us along much more quickly than before. By January we had come out of the mountains, but soon thereafter we abandoned the boat, for fear of discovery on the open plain of the Lutaem. Moreover, as Aiĝif pointed out, the highway that goeth south unto the Royal City doth cross the river at a certain point, and there would we certainly be seen by anyone coming along that road.
Leaving the boat, we set out on a straight westward course (for the river tended to take us south-west), and by March we came to Melkrot, a seaside village. Arriving there, we set out at once to find a seaworthy vessel. More precisely, Aiĝif and Ferondei went into the town, whilst Taeĝan and I stayed in hiding on the outskirts of the city. I felt that I could pass for a Kroat, since I knew the language quite well, but we decided it were best to not take any chances. So that day we two Ĝimluvians amused ourselves by playing rustajo [a Ĝimluvian game] in the dirt with twigs and rocks, and we were quite glad when our comrades returned safely that evening.
‘What news?’ quoth Taeĝan, as Ferondei sat down to crack nuts for our meagre supper.
‘Oh, plenty!’ Ferondei replied. ‘We’ve heard all the latest reports in Melkrot. First, your Wise Father [the Ĝimluvian king Vetakishli] hath died, a full five months ago.’
‘Was he slain?’ said I.
‘Nay, ‘twas age and worry that did him in, for sure. And now his fiery son Sintakalê is ruling in the Royal City. There’s no telling who will win the war, but this young prince is fighting with more vigour than ever did Vetakishli.’
‘Enough of politics,’ said Taeĝan, ‘Found ye a barque?’
‘Yes indeed! ‘Tis a small leather craft, and though the man was at first reluctant to lend it us, he hath given us a guarantee on it, or we shall receive back our money!’
‘A good lot that will do us when we’re shipwrecked on the open sea,’ replied Taeĝan.
That next morning the four of us went into the village and straight to the docks. Aiĝif and Ferondei had already purchased some provisions for our voyage, and we carried with us what little we had.
The man who owned the boat was short of stature, and had a rough beard. He admitted that he in his lifetime had never sailed beyond the Aema Rita [the bay adjacent to Melkrot], but he seemed a rough old sailor, nevertheless.
‘Yea, lads,’ quoth he, ‘here’s a boat that will carry you through, and I give my word that she’s a seaworthy craft.’ I had second thoughts, however, and although I fully wished to speak up, I was forced to remain silent, lest my accent betray me.
As we sailed out across that shining blue expanse of water, I looked back once more, as if to bid farewell to my homeland, which had of late become a battleground. Who knew but that I might never return? Certainly not I.
Continue reading: Part VI