The first three days travel were especially grueling. Elida pushed hard for us to cover a good distance each day, which the Guards in their training were well adapted towards, unlike the Volunteers, many of whom were terracers, pruners, or orchariders, so not accustomed to the heat of the low lands or to covering great distances. But, I must to growing bitter from this, as an Assayer and an old hermit I was least accustomed to the grueling miles, and though I might have imagined it in my pains, I did feel a great toxicity from Elida toward me; punishment it seemed for my cowing to Kindee the usurper at the gates I Imagined it to be. Mercy for me was from Dald, who was mindful of the endurance limits and would insist on the goodness of camp sites which Elida wished to have marched past.
Dropping down from Sky Prairie all trails follow the sandy lands for a
great ways, and though their are mountains of relief from the heat, they
are not where the trail lies. Rust orange was the color of all the
lands along the long trail we marched those first three days, surrounded on all sides by brush speckled mountains crowding the horizon close around us, they lined with paths long carved by the routes of the low slope herders who live in these areas, though did not show themselves. More barren
were the wide sandy valleys, excepting few desert shrubs growing in the
drainages and along canyons. Many difficult crossings there were where deep flood cut washes and draws split the trail. Often we would have to break to stake together a rope crossing for a canyon too scarcely too wide to leap.
And toward the end of the fourth day the journey all was made still more
harsh as a bitter sand storm nipped at our heels. We were high enough
into the mountains now not to fear being burred by the sand like a
salvage crew in Junktown, but still it stung and cut, and wearied the
eyes, and polluted the nose. Into a narrow canyon near the main trail we fled for shelter from the winds and sand. We set up a camp early, to
wait for a respite from the sand. It was a very tight fit for hundred
and twenty five people to camp together in the canyon, but while tarps
were being spread to discourage wind and sand and I was questioning
folks for updates on the water rations I heard an argument from the canyon mouth.
Suddenly confused shouting, and barked orders, and warnings came from all
sides, and the canyon became a kicked bee hive of confused activity, Kindee dashed toward the mouth of the canyon, leaping though the cluttered camp, her voice calling for us to take arms. Dald and his older sister, the
seer Wana, followed in her wake advising camps that we had become
surrounded. The guard and the Towalk took up their rifles, but the
volunteers had not yet been issued rifles, for the main armament was still
locked, though some had smoking guns, and the
rest had good hunting bows, neither was good in so cramped a canyon.
A parched drawl hollered from the sand oranged outside "We have come to join your expedition, or to
end it." and several powder gunshots echoed all around.
"State who you are, and your reasons for threatening us so." yelled Elida
in his best impersonation of bravado.
"I am Rul, voice for five bands of Bledstone, we are here to stop those
Sky Greys from coming back, and to claim these ruins for their spoils. More
are better for a raid, but if you want the loot, you should be asking
how many warriors surround you, you should maybe be asking what sort of
warriors you are to be surrounded so easy also!"
"Our purpose is only to stop the greys, my people have ruins
enough beneath our own sands, but you should ask the Towalk too, if they
would accept ruffians, it is a foul turn, ambushing us seeking to join
us." yelled Elida.
Dald reached Elida's position at the cave mouth walking past him toward toward the voice from the sand storms saying "I am Dald for the Towalk, I'm coming out, to see if I trust you
or not, don't kill me or there will be a fight but no trust."
I do not know what happened between Dald and Trul in the blowing sands,
but it did not take Dald long to return with this to say "These people are alright, lot like the nomads who bring our people trade and news, even those that told us of Star's Reach being found. Rowdy, spit fire, but strong." he turned at Elida "Can't be choosy about who we walk with if we are going to stop the Sky Lords." Elida bowed to Dald in this matter, and called for our group to stand
Elida briefed the whole party that we would be meeting with Bledstoners to join together against the Sky Lords. Understandably many from Sky
Prairie were upset. Most only knew of Bledstoners as raiders and enemies of the Host's the salvation of Junktown or as crooked traders. Even their request to join was true to form, an
Kindee and Wana were sitting with a circle of
volunteers and guards calming worries about the Bledstoners. Laffe, a Volunteer, vented "I know how the Guard tried to turn us away, now so easily we accept the Bloodstone!"
"All of the Land's children are free to join out mission, the depth of
the calling grants a deeper trust." Wana responded.
"Avoiding their ambush is a necessity," Kindee started, appealing to prudence "and as we are here for the Towalk, who welcome all who
would join their mission, accepting them is fated. Though..."
Kindee paused, looking toward Elida who stood talking with Dald at some distance "I am very glad to have my
comrades, the Volunteers, here in case our friends prove more dangerous
than we all hope them to be."
In the west the Sun was sinking when the sands calmed enough for us to leave the canyon to meet the Bleedstone. Elida and Bald lead us all to a large valley where the main
trail ran through, from Silt to Red Canyon. There was a fire burning,
and around it a dozen Canyoners stood waiting for us to join them. We
were still surrounded another fifty Canyoners were crouching behind
cover in the twilight. Rul was a flat bodied man, wide from shoulder to shoulder, but very
thin from navel to spine, it favored him with a very dynamic and swift
changing silhouette that he used the flames to cast.
Rul fiercely embraced Dald and then Elida, laughing as he released
Elida. "Welcome to our fire! My new allies." Dald accepted his greeting
on all our behalf. It was still tense like a cocked gun, which there
were many of, both sides aware that battle was not a distant
possibility, when Rul was given space to speak to out group, I recorded
his words thus:
"It was Talen, my very cousin, who told the Towalk of Star's Reaches
discovery. My family has traded with the Towalk since our grandparents
were children. And before he knew of Star's Reach I knew of it, for I am
the one who told Talen! Many nights have been filled with songs we sing of the treasures of Star's Reach, fables of lucky yottes
who found it, and when we heard it was found we wanted to see and
to take for ourselves. But, even my group has not the numbers to
march against what guards the Merigers or maybe even the Greys
have at that place. But word of the Towalk crusade reached my ears
before Dald's men reached the gates of Gramaza. So, with that news I
have been busy! See five bands who have joined me at
hearing this news, ready to take the spoils from the Grey or to die in
"Hmmm. I know that the Sky Prairie's citizens do not trust us
'sandy landers'. Least of all your sharp shooting guards, your faces are grim even now. But we will be family for this, we all must join against the Greys. Everyone here is ready to die to
stop the Greys, what matters it if we have strife among ourselves to
be settled after they are defeated, better to risk death in victory that
death in defeat."
By the time of his
speech many had warmed to the Bledstoners joining, and after hearing it,
and feeling the strength of tone in Rul's voice I believe that there
was even much enthusiam for traveling with the Bledstoners. All by now
felt this was "a barbaric quest, and what better than barbarians as
companions", as was said in fellowship and jest many times between the Bledstoners and the Gramazers.
Late into the night many stayed up celebrating that this threat of
premature conflict was averted. I however slept early and soundly, in
the canyon. There was some tension over the Bledstone fire, as the Towalk
feared their fire might draw birds of slay to them, it has been recounted to me that at moon rise it was extinguished and the Bledstone, Towalk, the Volunteers, and the Guards caroused in the moon
In the morning I arose to find few awake, excepting some Bledstoners who
had foregone sleep altogether the night before, as their people do more
commonly than our own. It was a late start before the new alliance began to make way toward the high mountains we sought to cross. Yet
even with the bonds of friendship germinating between the crew
new tensions emerged, the Bledstoners are very different in habit of how
they move through these lands, and traveling more lightly than those
from Gramaza or the Towalk pushing the provisions we had gifted them
they tended to get ahead of the group and spread our lines thin. Elida
was tormented by this new element of chaos in the group, and by Rul who
argued with him about routes as the walked. That evening, Rul gathered
his bands to give a speech and the rest of our coalition gathered to
hear him, I recorded it as such:
"Between us and Star's Reach is long journey, some of you might live to
see sands upon sands for days upon days, if we make it that far, but
another issue is between us and there. The Nemi Rangers, the highlanders
of all highlanders, even Gramaza they would look down upon were
they neighbors. A long long line is the ridge of these mountains,
between us and Star's Reach, and it is the spine of the Nemi Rangers.
They guard jealously the orchards feed by that ridge's streams, and a
long trail connects their range along the long length. The trail is the
cord of their spine, and not something that any people is welcome to
walk on. You of Gramaza are being lead toward the greatest Southern pass of that trail,
Loven. But I would lead the march North, to the Nemi Capital of Moft. They are
weak in Loven, and our great army would be a siege to them, they would have no choice but to fight us. But even where they are weak it would take nearly a siege to
force the walls and citadel of their pass, a siege we cannot afford. Even
if we forced them in short order their swift reinforcement would swarm down
their cord trail, and crush us into the sands.
"Today I have dried my throat, can you hear it crack? trying to convince
Elida the stubborn and Dald the silent of the Northern route, but they did not commit to it. So do I speak out of turn now? We have three days
until the forked road forces an outcome. I have now said the Northern
pass is the better pass, and told you who know less than I do why. I invite Elida or Dald to speak now if they have another view."
Bledstoners whooped adoring Rul as their leader. Uncomfortable and seemingly very
comfortable was the respective quiets of the Gramaza and Towalk
peoples. All eyes gathered on Elida as he made his way to stand beside Rul, he paused, waiting for the whooping to still before
giving his speech.
"Yesterday we meet each other and you gave our expedition a
test, if we were war like or quick to quarrel we would not be today marching as allies,
as new friends. Maybe something like that is fated with the Nemi, or
maybe something new to us. They rule their mountain ridge and are
jealous and in Moft is their thrown, there their nobility is most jealous, listen to a
man raised in courts himself, I should know! But consider the ribbing
and the teasing I received for being stunned to silence by the amazing
commitment of our common people, of the Volunteers of Gramaza. It is
not the nobility who warm to such missions, there are too many nobles
and too many plots for that. No it is the commoner who is moved to a
mission like ours. Thirty guards were sent by Gramaza Nobles,
and only a few of us from the nobility, but there were fifty sent by the
passions of the land.
"This is my argument for us taking the Loven route, the rural route.
Our group is of rural people and has received the best aid from among
the rural peoples. Better to meet the Nemi there, than to meet them in
their castles where they feel secure against any threat, even the threat of the Sky Lords, or the Greys, of a second rise of the Federalists.
They feel safe, I can attest to the safety felt by those raised in
castles, Gramaza's need to be woken by the Towalk proves it, and in
their safely even 'death from above' and 'birds of slay' are but dim
myths to them, and they don't feel the danger, feel the treat, that
forces us to take this dangerous mission. We should stay far from their
Capital and its people that are only like the part in me that you all
tease, and not at all like the part of me that learned from our journey
and warmed to the friendship between the long crossed Blestone and
my people, our people, the Gramaza."
This speech was all too popular, I was sad to hear such shallow flattery bring great cheers from many, but most especially among
the Guards. Rul was ashen faced and grim. Dale though invited to speak
quietly declined to comment from his place among his compatriots. Rul
stood as large as he could and retorted with a some venom in his
"You are a good entertainer, Elida! So you speak to our vanity, and it
is good to hear you tease yourself, today I was starting to think such a
thing was impossible. But, if you tease yourself you should first learn
humility! Much you may know about your noble ways and maybe you know
how to kiss up to we savages, for kissing up is the best skill of a
noble. But you are ignorant, I am sorry to speak thus to you friend. The
nobility of the Nemi is not in a castle nobility like Gramaza, a hard skull of rulers! They are not a single city state fortress with think bones around a dessert meat. No
they are swifter than that, more war like, the whole cord and spine is
their nobility, and there is no going around it. Their law forbids any settlement larger than Moft with its twelve hundreds of populace. So they have many towns along many passes, tied by a great cord, and with unimaginable speed to the Nemi Rangers travel that way. None of you Gramaza have even seen their ways, none can even imagine them. It is better to face strength to its face like the Towalk did before your gates, and
only my people know the dangers of both the Gramaza and the Nemi
gates, truly camping under YOUR gates takes more courage!
"Nemi nobles mix and move through their orcharders and their cistern
diggers, and their whole people, and the whole hinterlands, they are many kings of many orchards and groves. The rural, you call it as only one who
does not travel might, south is noble in as great a portion as their capital, or maybe more
so. But your kind who rule from on high, do not like my kind who sneak
around low spots and narrow passes, and where their armor and their guard is weak in the south is
also where their hot blood is, it is criminal stupidity to drive an army of
hundreds against their most insecure point, it is a declaration of war."
Elida turned toward Rul, with hate filled gaze, and looked as though he
might be about to undo the peace of the previous day, when in a great
bound Dald landed between the quarreling ones, resting his big hands
on each mans shoulders. "Don't waste yourselves on each other! Not until
the job is through." then addressing the gathered crowd which itself
had many people considering deeds which would themselves undo the peace
"My people are just trying to make our way to Star's Reach, and we
cannot tell if so many followers are a curse! But we do not know the way
through these mountains, and must trust our guides, and all who would
join, even those who would fight each other, are our guides. You both
may be guides and less ignorant than I am, but you are following my
quest, joining my mission. Don't tell me of some Nemi enemy, because I
am not here to fight the Nemi, won't someone tell me a better path than
destroying ourselves before I even meet a Nemi, or destroy Star's
And Kindee stood up in the crowd yelling back to Dald "I know a way
through our first danger, which is one other! Let some of my people and some of
the Bledstoners join in small bands, to scout ahead. That we may learn
more what truly is on our paths, rather than walking blind. That we may
cultivate more friendships, to stitch together these rifts. That the
Towalk may have fewer CHILDREN to tend with the core of our alliance, and be
able to keep the peace that way. Spread and stretched are our nerves,
like our lines today. Maybe they must break? Let us choose the breaks,
and make with them scouts and heralds!"
At this point I saw in Elida's face a look of horror, more distorted
than his rage at Rul, but he was speechless while Dald said this. "It's
good to hear someone speak some sense, after listening to these two
bickering all day. I would like it if you could put together some few
folks to do this scouting."
Little else of import was said at that gathering, though in the next
morning I crossed Kindee's path, and was nearly shoved over by her gaze,
but when I asked her of her fury she did not speak. Only later I learned
that Elida had cast her from the Guards, though of course her esteem was thereby
made greater with many.