Tales of the Kirgeur

By the Bluedragon

I enjoyed the stillness of the land. It would be easy to hear someone approach in the quiet. I let the boy sleep as I familiarized myself with the sounds of the area. I paced the perimeter of the camp to work the sleep out and laughed when I noticed the words written in the sand. Sal had obviously been teaching Iolaine to read. I covered the writing up with more sand. It would not do for our faelida to see it.

With an hour or more to dawn, I shook the boy awake. He was not happy to be removed from his dreaming. I led him to the stream and instructed him to wash. He did so reluctantly since I would not turn my back. I did not want to have to attempt to save him from a watery death.

I began the lessons in protocol as soon as we had returned to camp. To keep it a little more interesting, I added bits of trail lore. I walked him through building a fire, greeting elders, saving water, and listening instead of speaking. He seemed more agreeable to the knowledge than previously. I knew not if it was the discipline or the lack of a full night's dreaming. I took advantage of the situation regardless.

"How do you control the horse?" He finally asked a question.

"Your horse? You point his head with the reins." I answered.

"Your horse. You do not seem to use your reins. None in my village could ride like that." He sounded as if he were in awe.

"I have trained horses since I was younger than you. My father is a horse breeder." I told him. "Kier is a remarkable beast. Not all can be controlled as she can."

"Is your father living?" At my nod he asked another question. "Your mother?"

"She was killed in the attack on my village. What of your parents?"

"They died three seasons ago." That explained his behavior problems. "I was moved from family to family until the slavers caught me."

"It is not easy to lose a parent."

"They left me alone. They do not deserve my grief." He returned to his sullen behavior.

"That is not true, Sevianth. You must not tell our faelida any of this, agreed? In haneithea?" I knew it was the one oath he would keep. If he did not, his customs told him the gods would curse him.

"In haneithea." He placed his fist over his heart again. In some ways he was older than his seasons.

"My gratitude. Wake Iolaine and see to your bathing again. Perhaps you can catch us fish for our meal this morn." His mood brightened at the mention of hand fishing. Finally it seemed as if I had a reward for his behavior.

I waited until Iolaine and Sevianth returned cleanse and with fish before waking Sal. She was instantly coherent when I touched her arm. We packed our belongings as they prepared our meal. The smell of fish had roused the merchant and his servants. Without a word they headed to the stream to wash. When they returned the meal was ready for consumption.

We ate quickly. Johianei was in haste to reach Marlkina before the festivals began. Out of respect for his haste, we rode faster and only stopped twice before making camp in the evening. Everyone was grateful for the respite. We were all feeling the effects of riding.

To our dismay, we had been unable to find water to camp beside. We settled for another open space. This region was really one big open field of sand. Already I was sick of it. We made due with trail rations. The horses had it harder than we. They had to drink water from tightly woven baskets we had carried with us. Sal and I consulted the map and decided to make it to the next stream soon. Hopefully we would reach it before night on the morrow.

Again Sal and Iolaine took the first watch. I dreamed deeply until it was my turn to stand guard. I let the boy sleep until roughly the same time. He looked innocent in dreaming, as innocent as he had acted all day. I knew not if I should have been suspicious or grateful.

I showed him how to walk the perimeter and make sure it was secure. He took great notice of the horses and how they slept as we walked. He was full of questions. When we came across the evidence of Sal's lessons to Iolaine, he asked what it said.

"Can you not read?" I had not thought to ask him.

"No, jesisenia. They did not teach me."

"It says 'the sand grows hot in the sun'." I smiled. Sal was starting Iolaine on simple phrases. It was a good way to teach him.

"What is this?" He pointed to a certain character.

"That means five. It is the symbol in Iolaine's language for it." I laughed. I wondered which had thought of that.

"Will you teach me to read?" He seemed eager to learn.

"Yes, Sevianth, I shall teach you to read." I pledged. He was easier to handle at night. "Tell me, what would you wish to do with your life?" I asked.

"I have no idea. I do not wish to be a slave forever though."

"You shall not be, you have my pledge on that." I tousled his hair. It was blonde like mine. He reminded me of my eldest brother in some ways. "Come, dawn is approaching. We should wake the others."

We spent another day journeying with haste. Johianei was intent on setting a record for the quickest pace possible. He confessed that he was anxious to return. He was concerned some other faction may have replaced him as advisor. He seemed to enjoy serving the Jilhsaed.

We made the river, for it was larger than it appeared on the map, an hour before dusk. We followed its course until we agreed to halt. We halted at an area with trees and grass. The smell of the water and greenery was intoxicating after the sun and sand. We appreciated it greatly.

Sal and I took the other two servants and the boy with us to fish as Iolaine started the fire. We learned their names were Julaniant and Oilaniana. Sevianth took great pleasure in teaching them to fish. We were amused by his antics. Oilaniana was afraid of the fish, however, so we had to send her back to the shore. Julaniant followed with our first catches. We followed after banking several more. Sal and I planned on drying several to add variety to the dried meat we had with us.

As the meal was cooking, Sal and I showed Sevianth how to water the horses. They were grateful for the water. He enjoyed watching them roll in the shallows. When they were finished, we showed him how to brush them down and ensure they were dry. Sevianth had the makings of a good horse breeder. He seemed to like the beasts and had no fear of them.

After Johianei had sought his dreaming, we took turns bathing. Sal and I had let Iolaine and Sevianth take a turn first. We positioned our bedrolls and oiled our saddles. The weather was drying the leather further. We did not want to lose anything so we oiled and polished the saddles, our boots and bracers, and our steel.

"Iolaine, would you keep watch with the boy tonight?" Sal asked. "I have promised to teach Tor to swim."

"Yes, jesisenia. Shall we take a full watch?"

"No, you shall have your lessons tonight. We require you to watch as Tor has her lesson." Sal smiled. She seemed as if she were anticipating it. "Come, Tor."

I followed her to the river. The stars were burning their marks brightly in the sky, and no clouds marred the horizon. The very air had absorbed the calm of the water; it was soft, cool and sweet smelling. I could almost close my eyes and believe I had returned home.

Sal undressed and waited for me in the water. I soon shed my clothing and joined her. We were standing close to the shallows. The river closed about me to my waist. It was warm and felt smooth on my skin.

"Lay back." Sal guided me onto my back. I let the water and Sal's arms hold me. It was a decidedly strange feeling.

She held me in that position for several heartbeats. I felt her slowly take her hands away. Only the water supported me. I felt myself sink, and fearful of the water closing around my mouth, I quickly stood.

"You almost let your self go. You must not fear the water." She told me. "Watch."

I did as instructed. Sal eased fully into the water and let it support her weight. It seemed as if magic were keeping her afloat. She lazily moved her arms and the motion carried her forward. She smiled as she regained her footing.

"It is not hard."

"How did you learn this?" I asked. No one in my village could swim well; much less allow the water to bear their weight.

"My mother taught me when I was very young. My sister can swim fully as well as I." She stated simply.

"It is incredible." I was in awe.

"Nothen, it is not. Merely trust in the water as you trust in your horse. Now let us try again. I shall do it with you." She watched as I lay back in the water again.

I was able to let the water bear my weight for longer. Sal echoed my position, I watched as well as I could through the edge of my sight. I could not manage to turn my head. I did not want to tempt my fortune.

"Bring one arm to your head and then push it down, make sure it stays beneath the water." She instructed. "As you bring that arm down to your side, raise your other arm in the same manner. Remember to move nothing but your arms."

I did as she asked. My arms felt heavier in the water, but the motions allowed the water to move me. It was a wonderful feeling. I watched the stars overhead as we moved down the shoreline. I soon learned it was not as easy at it appeared. My arms stung with the unaccustomed movements after we had traveled several horse lengths from our entry point.

"Now stand." Sal commanded. "How did you enjoy that?" She asked.

"It was wonderful, though my arms are protesting slightly." I grinned and stretched my shoulders to ease the ache in them.

"You will get accustomed to it just as you did when you were learning the sword. My arms were sore for days after matches we had." She laughed. I did as well. "As Kayla would tell you, soreness builds endurance."

"It is true, though I could wish otherwise. What now?" I asked. I was not yet ready to return to the camp.

"We try something a little different. Watch closely." She lay on her back and kept her arms tightly against her side. She moved her feet slowly up and down in the water. It was a walking type motion that propelled her back through the water. "Try that." She instructed as she returned to her feet.

Once again I let the water support me. I moved my feet as I had seen Sal do, and was surprised when I began moving again. I heard Sal join me in the motions. Together we water walked our way back to the place we had entered the river. The going was slow as I was unaccustomed to such travel, but it was a freeing experience. I felt as if I had the mass of a hay stalk and the water was like the wind.

"If you ever find yourself in a situation as you did two nights ago, you can move your feet in that manner and kick your way to the surface. You will find it easier than shredding the water with your arms." She advised. "However, you did very well, Tor. Shall we attempt something else?"

"By all means, I am enjoying these lessons." I could not keep the eagerness from my tone. I was starting to understand the affinity Sal had for swimming.

"Then we shall try the same thing only face down in the water."

"What?" I had no desire to let my mouth be covered my water. The experience at the stream had instilled that fear in me.

"Relax, Tor, I shall be here to assist you." Sal promised. "Now, lay in the water, but keep your head turned to one shoulder, this will keep your mouth from beneath it. You may need to close your eyes."

I did as asked. I trusted Sal despite my fears. I wished to overcome my fears as well. Kirgeurs had no fear. Sal's arms supported my waist and chest. It was innocently erotic. I pushed such thoughts from my head. I had enough to think on as I lay in the water.

Sal slowly moved her hands away. One of her hands accidentally brushed against my breasts. I tensed and felt myself sink. I fell to my knees in the water and then regained my footing. I sputtered as my head broke the surface of the water.

"What happened? Are you harmed?" Sal helped steady me.

"I panicked when you let go. I am unharmed, I think." I stopped. The moon's glow was reflected in her eyes. "I am unharmed."

I had slid my arm to her waist out of reflex when she steadied me. Her skin was as smooth as wet silk and as warm. There was perhaps the width of a dagger's difference in our height. It was in my favor. I stared at her lips, pale pink in the reflected light as she stared back at me. I was drawn to them until I heard shouts in the distance.

"Dagthen." We broke apart and ran for shore.

"Jesisenias, quick." Sevianth met us on the shore. He was waving wildly and looked extremely frightened.

"What is it?" I asked. I struggled to pull my shirt on at the same time I was unsheathing my sword.

"Iolaine says bandits, they are at camp." His eyes were big and round. It was a wonder he could remove the words from his mouth. He was shaking hard like a leaf in a storm.

"Stay here and hide. Do not come out until one of us comes and gets you." Sal had donned only her tunic. Fortunately the tunics we wore came to mid thigh. "Shall we?"

"Oh I love a battle before dreaming." I answered.

We had not have time to even pull our boots on. I am sure we looked quite a mental painting. We were wet, half dressed and carrying swords. It is a wonder the bandits did not die of laughter. Certainly Kayla and Chelstea would have. My mother's sister and her shehala had wicked senses of humor.

When we returned to camp we saw that the bandits had seized our group and made them sit around the fire. Their hands were tied together and rags were placed in their mouths. The bandits were starting to open our packs. They did not appear to hear us approach.

Sal and I spared a glance at one another. We nodded as we silently formed a plan. It was not really a plan; it was more of a charge. We ran into the camp swinging our swords and shouting battle cries. It was an attempt to startle them more than scare. Startle them it did, but not near as much as our quick and easy dispatch of the ones close to us.

When we had reentered the camp, there had been twelve bandits. By the time we had made it to the fire, there were four left. We had been ruthless in our wrath. Though I fully could not remember touching more than two with my sword. The rest must have been by products of our barbarian behavior.

"What can we do for you?" Sal asked the four remaining bandits.

"What my partner means is, how would you like to die?" I asked when they did not respond.

"You think you can kill us girl?" The scruffy looking leader asked.

"I think so, seeing that we just departed several of your companion's souls from their bodies." Sal did not turn her back on those in front of us. "You can stay and die or you can leave and live. It is your choice."

"I think we shall stay and live, though you shall depart from this earth slowly." He grinned in a way that made my skin wish to leave my bones.

"I doubt that shall happen." I took a defensive posture. Sal echoed me.

The four split evenly. Two faced both of us. Mine was a short-lived battle, but I was not left unmarked. One of the bandits had scored on my shoulder before I had taken his life. Sal was still struggling with both of her opponents. I hastened over and took one of her opponents. He was the bandit leader.

He fought well. He was well trained for a bandit. He had the advantage of being well dressed. My hands were slick on the handle of my sword, and my feet would sink in the sand. Regardless, I defeated him. It was not easy with an injured shoulder, but I was able to block the pain. He died quickly.

"Are you harmed?" Sal asked as I wiped my sword of blood on the bandit's tunic.

"I shall live." I told her. "We should drag these pieces of dagthen from here and burn them."

"Agreed, though I wish to examine that shoulder before dreaming." Sal knelt and began untying the captives.

"I shall find the boy, perhaps he can assist." I left her to free the others and went in search of Sevianth. "Sevianth, you can return." I called out into the darkness.

"Are they gone?" His voice was small in the darkness.

"They are gone." I knelt by the river and washed the blood from my sword. "Have you been harmed?" I asked him when I felt his presence behind me.

"No, jesisenia, I ran to call you when they arrived in camp." He assisted me with the clothing. I pulled on the rest of my attire as he held Sal's clothing. Pulling on my boots was too much trouble. I carried them back to camp.

"What you did was intelligent, Sevianth, and the right thing as well." I told him. He was definitely starting to change his behavior. I was grateful. I did not think I could continue the harsh treatment. I was beginning to like the boy.

"You are bleeding." He pointed at my shoulder. "Does it pain you?"

"A little, but not too much." I answered. He looked younger than I had reckoned. "Tell me, how many years have you?"

"I have almost six." He answered. "I was told I am tall for it." He sounded proud.

"You are, I had you reckoned at almost eight." I told him. "We are going to need you to assist us here. Can you?"

"Yes, jesisenia." He seemed grateful for the chance to assist. "What shall I do?"

"Well." I was reluctant to have him handle the bandits. He was too young for it. "You can see if you can lead the bandits' horses to the river. Do not let them lead you, but hold their reins and let them drink as you have been taught."

"I can do that." He ran ahead of me and found the horses. It was a task that would keep him from seeing too much of the carnage. He had seen enough as a captive.

Sal had enlisted Iolaine to assist her in dragging the bandits from camp. They had left a trail in the sand. I chose one to drag and followed. They had started a fire half a league from camp and were burning the bandits there. It was a gruesome sight and a sickening smell. I left the bandit I had dragged to them there and went for another. I did remember to hand Sal her clothing. She seemed grateful.

I passed Julaniant on my way back to the camp. He was dragging a bandit as well. Soon, with the four of us working, we had cleared the area of the baderemas. Oilaniana had begun cooking with meat from the bandits' saddlebags. It was fresh, which meant they had followed us or marked us from a nearby village. Sal and I would have to take turns as outriders.

"Smells wonderful." I said as I sat on my bedroll. "Are we eating again?" I asked no one in particular.

"It appears that way." Sal commented as she sat. She had returned from washing again in the river. I had wanted to wait and check my wound before doing the same. "I could eat again. I think I created another appetite."

"As do I." I agreed.

"As well you should. Fresh meat will help heal your wound. Has the bleeding halted?" She asked.

"I have not looked."

"Let me." She went to reach for my tunic.

"Wait until they are dreaming." I nodded my head in the boy's direction. I did not want him to see it.

"Agreed." She understood.

We ate again. I believed Oilaniana had prepared another meal since she could find no other way to contribute. Johianei was quiet during it. He seemed relieved to be alive and have all his possessions intact, but shaken by the encounter.

"You both have my gratitude for this evening's work." He said. "You are clearly worth your wages."

"It is our duty and nothing more, faelida." Sal went for the humble response.

"May the gods watch over your dreaming." He quietly retreated to his tent. Julaniant and Oilaniana joined him.

"Sevianth, you are relieved from watch this night." I told the boy. "It has been a rough time for all, and you should enjoy a full dreaming."

"Yes, jesisenia." His yawn forestalled his argument. He was soon in dreaming.

"Remove your tunic, Tor." Sal knelt at my side. I pulled off my tunic. "Dagthen, how did you keep from falling over?" She asked when she unlaced and peeled my shirt from my shoulder.

"It is all in the training." I laughed weakly. In truth, I was in pain.

"Lay back." Sal pushed me onto my back. "Iolaine will you get me some water, a towel or other cloth and in my saddlebags there is a small grey pouch, bring that too."

"Yes, Salenia." He hastened to carry out her request.

"This may hurt more." Sal warned me.

"Do what you must." I was prepared to handle the increase in pain.

"Here, Torienne, bite on this." Iolaine returned and handed me a towel.

I held the towel as Sal gently washed the wound. I heard her swear in several languages as she did so. I could not see the injury well, but from her reactions I assumed it looked fearsome. The cleansing was not bad. It was what came after that made me wish to scream.

Sal had Iolaine heat a mixture of healing herbs by the fire. She placed it in the wound and then pulled thin strips of leather through the skin. It was not a pleasant process. I bit hard on the towel. I believe I may have torn it in an effort to keep from giving voice to my pain.

"All done but the bandaging." Sal told me. "Can you sit?"

"Aight." I sat up and helped her remove my shirt completely. It was ruined.

"You shall live." She smiled as she told me her prognosis. "Try to avoid the sword next time."

"I shall." I told her. I pulled my tunic on with her assistance. It was as close as we had been since the river.

She gave no sign she had noticed how close I had been to kissing her. I was grateful. Sal was not Kierian. Though my reaction had been understandable. We are both young, active women who spend a large amount of time with one another. I resolved to guard against such thoughts.

"Are you fit for a watch?" She asked.

"Perhaps. I shall take second watch." I laid back in my bedroll. "My gratitude to you both."

"None needed." Sal had not risen from her seat on my bedroll. "Peace be to your dreaming, Torienne."

"Safe watch." I had barely spoken the words when I drifted into dreams.

I woke to my watch with a weight on my uninjured shoulder. Confused, I turned my head to see a mess of blond hair resting against the blue of my tunic. Sevianth had crawled into my bedroll. He was breathing gently.

"He did that while we were checking the fires." Sal whispered. "I did not have the heart to wake him."

"I cannot blame you." I slowly eased from his grip. "How went the watch and the lessoning?"

"Both went well, though we should teach Iolaine the sword. He should be able to defend himself, though not until you are fully healed." Sal brushed sand from her bedroll.

"So I am to teach him the sword?"

"Who else? Kayla said you were the best she had seen." Sal replied.

"Did she?" It was news to me.

"She did. Now I am for dreaming. Safe watch, Tor."

"May your dreams be free of danger." I replied. I waited until her breathing had evened before standing.

My shoulder did not pain me as it had. The lessening in pain pleased me greatly. I took my shirt to the river and washed the blood out of it. I used the towel I had torn to wash myself. I did not wish to wet my bandages.

I walked the perimeter of the camp slowly. The horses were sleeping, and I laughed to see so many. We had almost a herd. I had no idea what to do with the others, though they would fetch a good price in any village we passed. The saddles and their contents would be valuable as well. We had given what coinage we had found to Johianei. I had not wanted to, but it fit our illusion.

I thought perhaps he would let us sell a horse for profit. Though I did plan on keeping at the least four extra. I could pretend they were not saleable. We would have need of them when we rescued the others. Suddenly I heard someone behind me. I knew it to be Sevianth. He had made too much noise in his walk for it to be another bandit.

"Does it still hurt, jesisenia?" He asked when he joined me by the horses.

"Not as much as it did." I told him honestly. "Sevianth, you may call me Tor when we are alone."

"I can?" He seemed pleased. "I am pleased you are not in pain. My parents died of an illness, I had not seen anyone wounded." He looked a bit sickened by the attack. I had been unable to shield him from all of it.

"Have you any sibs?"

"No, Tor. My parents were late in their years when they had me." He sounded sad at their loss.

"Come with me." I was struck with a sudden idea. I reached into my belt pouch and pulled out a strap of leather. "I am not going to use this on you." I reassured him when he backed away. "Help me find some rocks."

He did as asked. We found several small flat stones by the river. I took him slightly away from camp. We were on a small rise so we could see trouble before it happened, but not the fires on the far end of camp.

"This is called a sling." I showed him the strap. "I am going to teach you to use this so you will not be unarmed, but you have to pledge not to use it as a toy."

"I pledge." He was excited at learning a weapon.

"Then watch." I had made four slings one night in camp on the way to Creasinda, but I had not used any. I had made them for the same reasons I had carved a horse from wood. It was something to take my thoughts from the quest for a time.

I placed one of the rocks in the wide part of the sling. It hurt to twist my arm, for I had injured my sword arm, but I was resolved to continue the lesson. I chose a mark in the distance and let the rock fly. It landed near enough to the mark I had chosen to please me.

"You try. Chose a point and try to make the stone hit it." I advised. I stepped back to watch. I made minor corrections to his stance and grip. His first attempt fell short. "No one makes it the first time. The trick is to keep trying and not get discouraged."

"Can you kill with this?" He asked.

"Not often. It takes great skill to kill with a sling, but you can hunt with it." He relaxed when I told him it was not always a lethal weapon. "Here watch." I spotted several birds in the trees behind us. I let three stones fly in quick succession. My grandfather had spent two seasons teaching me that trick.

"Wow." He exclaimed. "Can I try?"

"Yes you may." I smiled at his enthusiasm.

Again his stones fell short. I reassured him that he would be able to practice each night. It lifted his spirits. We collected the birds I had killed and took them back to camp. I showed him how to prepare them for cooking and he paid great attention. He did not seem the same boy we had chosen in Creasinda. I was growing fond of him.

We used several of the food items we had found in the bandit's saddlebags to stuff the birds. They were large enough to feed all for the morning meal. We placed them on rocks near the fire and let them bake slowly. Sevianth was pleased with his night's lessons. In truth, I was as well. He was a quick study.

"Am I still dreaming or do I smell fowl?" Sal asked as she sat up in her bedroll.

"Well, you did bathe last night, so I think the fowl you smell is the birds cooking." I teased in our language. She groaned at the pun.

"Why do I put up with you?" She asked.

"My charm or my sword arm." I laughed.

"Must be the sword arm. How fares it this morn?" She asked as she stood and stretched.

"The pain has lessened greatly." I told her. "Shall we wake the others?"

"Perhaps we should, though I am tempted to let them be and keep the birds for myself."

"I must caution you, Sevianth and I cooked them." I advised her.

"I'll wake the others." She grinned and shook Iolaine to a wakeful state.

Johianei and the other two joined us for the meal after they had bathed. The morning meal was subdued and rushed. We wanted to depart from the place. We agreed to keep several of the horses. I could not leave them here and patiently argued the point that they could be of use as remounts. Johianei conceded my point.

We rode by the river for most of the day. We kept the horses in a string, one tethered to another. We did not wish to risk a stampede. Sal and I took turns riding ahead or behind the group. We were acting as outriders. We were on guard against further trouble.

When the river made to part company with our trail, I called a halt for the evening. It was my opinion we stay by water when possible. The others agreed. It gave us one part of the perimeter we did not have to guard. It also provided our evening meal.

After Johianei and his servants had returned to the tent for the night, Sal checked my shoulder. She was happy with the way it was healing. She even left the bandages off so I could have a complete bath. We did not continue the lessons in swimming due to my shoulder. I could not decide if I should be pleased or disappointed. I had enjoyed the sensations swimming caused.

During our watch, Sevianth made his mark. His rock had flown true and knocked the target from the larger one by the river. It was his first and only successful attempt. It gave him the determination to continue the lessons.

As we were practicing the sling, I continued the lessons in protocol and added a few in reading. He had learned a few words before it was time to wake the others. We had both begun to look forward to our watches together and were reluctant to let the others waken.

After a meal of fish again, we continued our journey. The map promised a settlement before evening and we halted at midday to make a decision. Johianei did not wish to enter a village with the sting of horses. He was content to wait until we reached Marlkina before we sold any. I was loath to agree to his plan as I had wanted a real bed, but we deferred and slept beneath the stars another night. Travel was tedious and I for one was running out of patience.

The journey lasted for a fortnight. For fourteen nights we slept beneath the stars. We ate food that was of our own making or catching. We spent too little time dreaming, especially after the bandit attack, and we all lost poundage. The night before we were to arrive at Marlkina had all the anticipation of a Gersonma festival.

I was unprepared for my first glimpse of the city. Sal and I viewed Marlkina through the distance viewers from horseback. It was midday, and we could barely see the heat shimmering off of the walls without the ingenious instruments. I am surprised neither of us fell from our horses in shock when we were able to see the sight clearly.

I had thought Creasinda a large place. Marlkina was half again its size, if not more so, for we could not see but a section of the walled city. Buildings inside minimized the height of the stone and pressed sand structure enclosing the city. I had never seen buildings built so highly. Each had a dome shaped roof, and all were colorful in design. I wondered what they used to make the stone such colors. Johianei knew not.

He directed us to the proper gate, and informed us that the palace had been the clustering of buildings, towers really, that had aimed for the sky. We were to end our journey there. Johianei lived at the palace in his role as advisor. We would be granted rooms there as well. It would make our employment easier. It would make the plan easier as well.

The gate was as wide as five wagons side by side. It seemed to have been carved of graseleth. The very walls of the cavernous entrance to the city glowed in reflected light. It was a sight from dream or a tale. I doubted my reality, yet it felt real. I could not have conjured such sights in my dreams. The colors were too bright, the sounds too loud, and the crowed too diversely populated almost for my mind to comprehend.

Johianei showed his badge of office to the gieashetha at the steel gate. They let us pass with a salute to his office. They were not so pleasant to those behind or before us. Rank has its privileges. Even those waiting before us were made to wait as we rode through the gates.

[part 7]

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