Book 6: The Ebony Prince of Earlgos
Episode 2: Farewell to the Desert Sands
“Riyaad.” Siba appeared from behind a rock, looking around the place with wide eyes, as if taken aback. “What are you doing?” he asked, a look of curiosity in his eyes.
“Shh, be quiet. Don’t distract her. My, you little guys are such an inconvenience.” Istavan said stubbornly, though neither the Sem, nor the Lagon understood his words.
Of course, that meant Siba did not understand him, either. As he continued walking toward his target, a tall humanoid with the head of a leopard and the body of a man stopped the young ape-man by raising his palm to the air.
“Rinda is forecasting what the circumstances on the way back will be,” the half-beast explained in a tone of seriousness. The shrill voices from the lips of the surrounding Sem, like many small birds chirping, were in vast contrast to the low, animal-like growl from the leopard-headed Guin’s mouth – like a quaking reverberation from deep within his throat.
“Riyaad…” The faithful Siba’s hairy face became crooked and distorted. “After all this, you are just going to leave us?”
“Siba,” Guin bent down, placed his hand on Siba’s shoulder, and gently nudged him to the other side of the rock. Without taking his eyes off of the little Sem warrior, he pointed at the water on the divination board that Rinda was using for foresight. It appeared that more time would be needed to complete the process. A while later, tired of waiting for Rinda to finish, Istavan of Valachia began walking toward them. Siba continued, “Gaulo was talking just now. He said Riyaad would see us again, but he needed to go somewhere. But then, he said if that is the case, the Sem’s good fortune would end, as those giants will enslave us. Knowing this – Riyaad is still leaving? Let us go with you.”
“I am not abandoning you, Siba. I would never abandon you.” Guin had sat down at the corner of the rock, still looking down at the face of the young Sem warrior who stood at a height below his head. “And do not fear that the Lagon were only helping the Sem because of their loyalty to me, and that they will ultimately enslave your kin. The leader of the Lagon – Kah – is wise, caring, and just. As long as Kah the Wise is in charge – even with Lagon being much larger and more powerful than the Sem – he will not allow his people to trample and step on yours.”
“The Lagon are good giants.” Siba said, shaking his head. “As for me, I disagreed with what Gaulo said. The Lagon people would never do such a thing. Even when everyone thought Riyaad had abandoned the Sem, I knew Riyaad would bring the Lagon to save the Sem, and…” Siba, with tears in his eyes, snorted like a sniveling child. “But now, Riyaad says he must go…”
“Please understand, Siba,” Guin said, somewhat embarrassed.
“What is this little ape-man saying so persistently?” Istavan asked, as if trying to make Guin’s handling of the situation appear foolish, “What a noisy monkey. I cannot help but think you are spoiling them, Guin. Perhaps the monkey’s intention is to keep you from following your ambition, wouldn’t you say?” Guin raised his hand as if to suppress Istavan’s annoying chatter.
Though Siba could not understand Istavan’s words, he could sense the general meaning from the man’s tone, and he flared his nostrils in frustration as he compared the gestures of the two warriors in front of him. “I thought Riyaad would stay in Nospherus forever, and that he would be the king, commanding both the Sem and the Lagon… even if others are to go…” Siba looked menacingly at Istavan.
Istavan asked what the Sem had said, letting off a ‘hmph’ of dissatisfaction after hearing Guin explain it to him. “Ha! As if that would ever happen! By the one thousand fangs of the Kes, these monkeys sure are pathetic. By the way, Guin, I’ve been thinking about something since the beginning of our journey. You are able to communicate with the creatures here fluently… so are you not, possibly, a denizen of Nospherus yourself? I am also willing to bet that somewhere in this desert country, along with the Sem and the Lagon, lays another tribe of your leopard-headed kin. I was saying just yesterday how wonderful a story that would be. And then, I began talking about what our plans are for the future. Right now, I’m looking for the Shining Lady, and I want to send the Parrosian prince and princess to Earlgos as per my contract. Princess Rinda and Prince Remus obviously hope to recapture Parros from Mongaul and rebuild their territory. But you, Guin… what is your purpose? Is it simply to find your identity and the mysteries of your being… because, if so… if so, then perhaps you should give it some thought? I speak, of course, about it being the right thing to do – deciding to be the king of Nospherus. Here, no one will call you a monster, and somehow, they all want you to stay…” Istavan sought to continue talking further, but he noticed someone with silver hair and violet eyes peering out from behind the rock, and he became silent.
Remus was about to say something to Istavan, but being a gentle, more cautious young man, retracted the idea of speaking. However, he turned back around to Guin, and – as if trying to stop Istavan’s complaining indirectly – said, “Come, Rinda’s got an answer.” He pointed to the other side of the rock.
“Oh, is that so? Well, Siba, we’ll talk later.” Giving a gentle wave to the small warrior, Guin, along with Istavan, returned to the fortune-telling board. Rinda, now in a state of vulnerability, raised her head to look at the two approaching behind her brother. Her pupils seemed to dance in the light, and the three who had appeared before the girl did not awaken her from the trance she was still in.
“So, which way are we going, medium? We can go my way, which is aim for the town of Ros by following the Kes River, and from Ros, head by sea, following the coastline to Rygorl, and then to the land of Earlgos; or, we can do as Guin says, which is to enter Kitai to the east, beyond the Kanan mountains. Which way is the correct way? What is Janos’ prophecy?”
“It seems I have to keep saying this again and again, Istavan,” Rinda replied, her eyes raised into her head, like she was possessed. “Being a fortune-teller of the royal family, I can tell you that the secret of telling prophecies does not work that way, and is not intended to make decisions for you. It is up to human beings to decide and judge. Fortune-telling and foresight will only bring me a little closer to ultimate truth – a more informed mind – though there are still patterns even I can not see.”
“Please, spare me your lectures. So, heh, what did you want me for, Princess…” Istavan bent over the edge of the wolf-pelt Rinda had been sitting on, as if waiting for a kiss, and she shouted in frustration.
Her words showed how disgruntled she was. “You are always so quick to irrationally make you and I compatible. I did not call you here for that, but to talk about my results. Besides, this conversation also involves Guin. According to the divination… the red star of calamity has left Nospherus. It moves among the other stars now. This star – it is about to enter the temple of water. Let’s see…the temple of water… and the dragon constellation… this must be showing Parros. It appears there are various currents moving toward Parros now. As of this moment, it is safe to assume that there will be no massive invasion from Mongaul into Nospherus any time soon.”
“Well we still don’t have an answer to my original question.” Istavan looked disappointed, though, still leaning over the pelt, he puckered his lips as if he were about to drink hot tea.
Rinda was not even paying attention to him anymore, “And then there’s the matter of the land or sea route. Far to the east, Kanan has a white light that should attract our attention. Whether or not we should heed this as a warning, or as a sign of guidance from Jarn, I do not know. It’s an abnormally strong, white light… one I have never seen before. Whatever it is, I’m having trouble deciding what to make of it, and the language – a door, or death? – Is it an ill omen, a good light, or perhaps just a flash of light? Either way, there is something beyond the Kanan mountains – something unusual… something that might not allow us safe passage. If we take the land route over Kanan, we will be going straight for it. We cannot proceed unless we go through it. However, what I care about most is what lies beyond that white light – no matter how hard I try, I can’t see any fortune pertaining to the eastern countries. In fact, the incandescent light is so bright; it seems to erase all that is behind it, leaving huge blank areas within its perimeter. The blinding glow causes everything within and around its illuminated confines to become unexplainable. This… this may imply that we will not be able to go over Kanan to reach Kitai. Of course, that may not be the case, though. I don’t really know.
“On the other hand, there is no such unpleasant pattern regarding the sea route following the Kes River. I see a star that shows a great journey of hardship and struggle, crisis and adventure, allies and enemies – you know, what I regard as quite common in fortunes. However, there are difficulties and dangers nonetheless, which is certainly an inconvenience. What troubles me about this path, is how it pertains to Guin. The pattern implies that the Goddess Irana’s son, ‘Ingas the Hunter’, is out in the direction of the sea route. In one story, Ingas – known as an honorable master huntsman – went poaching in the woods for a rare leopard, known locally as the Lord of the Forest. He used his fierce intelligence to trick the beast into a cage. Well, Guin is a leopard-man. This might suggest that the difficulties waiting on down the Kes River may spill over considerably onto him. That’s what I’m concerned about, anyway. None of these things appear to show good tidings. Ultimately, it is we, ourselves, who must judge and decide.” Rinda began meditating in silence. After a divination, she would become extremely tired, exhausted, and even a bit melancholy.
“Hey…don’t stop now!” Istavan began getting furious, letting out hot air from his nose, but then…
“I see, fine. Thank you, Rinda.” Guin said quickly. “That’s enough, I am sure you have used an extensive amount of your energy already.”
“So, what do you think, Guin?” Remus questioned, eyeing the man-beast carefully.
Istavan joined in, “Is it not already decided? In Kanan, something unexplainable is lying in wait for us… we could be food for some predator of the mountains! It’s already been determined that the sea route is our destination… THE SEA ROUTE!”
“But on that route, Guin will be in danger!” Remus opposed. Istavan shrugged his shoulders. His glittering, black eyes spoke eloquently, revealing what he truly felt in his heart – he did not care what happened to Guin, as long as danger did not befall himself. Remus’ mouth contorted, as if pouting. He licked his lips, building up the courage to respond.
However, at that moment, “I see. It seems we have come to a decision then.” Guin said quietly. Istavan had a look of relief on his face.
“Which one?” Remus asked in a trembling voice.
“We will take the sea route. First, we’ll head down the Kes River, rent a ship from Ros, sail across the coast ‘til Rygorl, follow the Red Road down from Rygorl, and finally enter Earlgos to join Rinda’s and Remus’ aunt – the one who married into the Earlgos royal family.”
“Really?” the twins exclaimed at the same time, looking at one another. “But… I mean… are you okay with that, Guin?”
“Yes, I know I insisted on crossing the Kanan mountains, though I had good reason…”
Rinda was about to protest, but quickly shut her mouth. Though she usually was swift to speak her mind, her decision to withhold her objections this time was not unexpected. In order to ensure the accuracy of a prophecy, and to prevent a gambling personality from entering into fortune telling, Rinda had been bound by The Twelve Pledges of the Mage, thus stripping her of her right to vote on anything she herself had divined.
“When I entered the village of the Lagon, after crossing the valley of salt crystals, there was quite a bit of distance between me and Kitai. However, when I heard that a merchant would cross over the mountains in order to trade with the Lagon – a trader known as the ‘Merchant of Kitai’ – I thought perhaps there must be a shortcut beyond the mountains that lead directly to Kitai. Another thing I worried about was how to go down the Kes River, as we would be following the shores of Mongaul the entire way. Because I figured that was dangerous, I suggested crossing Kanan. Yet, now that I think about it, there is no reason for Alvon or Tauride – those Mongauli keeps on the other side of the river – to have rafts at all. In addition, with the Sem and Lagon on our team, we no longer need to fear both shores of the Kes. The dangers will be drastically reduced if we keep to the far side of Tauride Keep until we reach the settler’s land for the first time. Besides, the sea route will be faster.”
“But… but how can we ask for a ship at the River Port of Ros with someone like Guin in our party…?” Remus asked with confidence in his query. Rinda tried to move her tongue to support her brother, but she was bound by the twelve rules, and alas, was stuck with an unpleasant feeling as usual.
“Do not be afraid. I can adapt to anything once I put my mind to it. It’s not so different from the unknown danger awaiting us in the Kanan mountains.” Guin said.
Satisfied, Istavan picked out scraps of iwagoke plant from his waistband pocket and chewed, “Yeah, that’s our Riyaad. Like I said from the very beginning, it’s already decided.”
“…” Rinda and Remus both wanted to say something, but one was locked in silence, while the other did not know what to say. Hand in hand, they both glared at the Crimson Mercenary. Istavan lifted his chin, as if to show he felt nothing.
“Well then, we’ll enter the Kes River from the cairn. What do we do about a raft? There is no forest in Nospherus big enough to gather the necessary supplies to build one.”
“It may be a good idea to talk to the people of Nospherus about Nospherus. They might help us, and if we still are short on materials, we can always go to the cairn, cross the river, and gather resources on the other side to create our raft. Even in the worst case, we’ll still be able to follow the shores of the Kes on the Nospherus edge. As long as the Sem are on our side, there is no need to fear the yidoh, the sand leeches, or the big eaters.”
“You already have a proper plan.” Istavan continued, “Then, we’ll worry about renting our large ship later. In any case, it’s down the Kes River and off to Ros! My, my, we finally return to where we left off after escaping the destructive flames of Stafolos Keep. It was tough, but we managed to chase the Mongauli army away from Dog’s Head Mountain. This time, by Arion’s sacred, rotting corpse, it would be just lovely to follow the flow of the Kes River without any nasty interruptions. ”
“Nevertheless, events have progressed further, and though we may have come full circle to where we started, the circumstances that occurred within the line that made that circle have changed how we must go about our original plan.” Guin pointed out.
“Right as usual, Guin the Riyaad.” Istavan pulled out a jug of water hanging from his waistband, bringing it to his mouth to drink. As Guin began talking once more, Siba poked his head out timidly from behind the rock.
“Are you ready, now?” Siba asked, somewhat fearful that he may disturb Rinda’s fortune telling.
“Oh, Siba, yes it’s fine now.”
“Riyaad, Loto is…” Siba came out from behind the rock. Following him was Loto, looking rather relaxed. Finally, hobbling behind Loto was Suni, her bruises and scars showing signs of healing.
“Well, if it isn’t the honorable general of the monkeys.” Istavan chirped, drinking from his jug of water once more. “I must say, Guin… Even if you were to decide to make the desert your new home, and you gave in to the monkeys’ persuasions, just know you would be the only one to remain. I’m fed up with all this sand, sand, and more sand, not to mention these worthless monkeys, sand leeches, giant antlions, and globs of angel hair. I’m going back to the Middle Country. I desperately – from the bottom of my heart – want to return to my homeland, where civilized people live with lively spirits and a taste for delicious cuisine and no hairy tails are growing from their ass. I am a man of Valachia. In such a place, even one more day here could drive me insane.”
“Loto understands our words a little bit, Istavan.” Rinda cared to warn. “And, Suni has understood them for a long time now. Be careful when you open your mouth.”
“Hmph.” Istavan huffed through his nose, though somewhat weakly.
Guin gave a sideways glance toward the two, looking fairly amused. Only Guin – staring at what appeared to be a reckless cynic – was able to see a young man who was overtaken by a young woman, and was honestly homesick.
“Riyaad. There is something I must speak with you about,” Loto slowly said.
Guin nodded understandingly. “I, too, thought to speak with you, Loto. How are the others doing?”
“All the Sem are busy working to create a village in the oasis, Riyaad.” Siba replied. “The ogre-like Lagon gather at a rock each day to consult with one another.”
“Oh?” Guin looked up into the sky – a majestic warrior waiting for an unknown sign from the heavens. The blue color from above mixed strangely with the waves of white sand. The azure shine highlighted a single, bizarrely shaped rock, exposing a circle of what did indeed look like several ogres, conversing in their low, rumbling of a foreign tongue. However, there was an almost inhuman beauty regarding the spectacle, like a single tree or a single blade of grass that grew in the deserted, No Man’s Land of Nospherus. They had already spent so much time in the desert sandstorms and sediment winds, that the huge landscape was all too familiar to them now. It would not have been such an unreasonable ending to their story… Having been born in the port town of Valachia, the mercenary Istavan had been walking around cities here and there since he was a child, enjoying the hustle and bustle of all kinds of people, so he could get used to living here. Because children adapt to change quicker than adults, the royal twins, who grew up in the gorgeous Crystal Palace in Parros – a landmark known as the Flower of the Middle Country – could still learn to become quite comfortable in this barren wasteland. Furthermore, the Sem tykes were already making friends with the Lagon children.
With those thoughts, Guin’s yellow eyes, still gazing at the sky, slowly lowered to the ground. Then, by Siba’s urging, he walked to the other side of the rock alongside Loto and Suni without uttering a word. The three others – Istavan, Rinda, and Remus – were left standing behind the rock. Rinda breathed a sigh of relief once Guin had disappeared.
“We always keep letting Guin take the lead. Even after learning that hardships would most likely befall himself, he agreed to go that route because it didn’t matter as long as difficulty steered clear of us. Ugh! I wonder why he does that. How does Guin manage to be so strong, always sincere, indomitable, and so easily willing to sacrifice himself for us? I wonder why someone like him is in this world. Sometimes, I think that Guin is… Guin is the embodiment of Janos himself and… for some reason… I feel like I want to cry.”
“Hmph.” Istavan spit out bits of the Iwagoke plant he had been chewing. “Thank Guin for everything. If only you knew of all the things I went through to help you guys; narrowly avoiding deathtraps, being chased by sand leeches, disguising myself as the enemy, I even rescued you guys twice just by my sheer hospitality. Tch! And here you are, princess, praising Guin’s help. All that faith you put in him should be directed toward me.”
“Oh… I…“ Rinda stammered, a bit confused. She had a reflexive urge to slap him in response, but she paused, and considered his words. In a kind-hearted, slightly uncertain tone, she spoke. “Oh, I did not mean it like that. Of course, I thank you, too. It was you and Guin who helped us when we could not help ourselves. When you came and cut the rope that that Mongauli demon had used to tie us to a rock, I knew you were on our side, and I was so glad to see you…”
“Really?” Istavan’s eyes shined brightly.
“Of course. So, I shall rebuild Parros as soon as possible, and, as promised, I will place you in charge of the Holy Knights…”
The Lord of the Holy Knights… what is tha… no, never mind. I would be pleased to accept any position offered to me…” Istavan added rather hurriedly. “So, Rinda, you don’t dislike me?”
“Huh? When did I ever say I disliked you?”
“It is true. Well then…” Istavan’s black eyes gazed deeply into Rinda’s violet pupils. The young princess’ entire face became red. “Rinda, you are very beautiful… I know I have never said that before…” Istavan’s voice was lower, and a bit hoarse; perhaps his own reluctance to reveal his feelings was caught in his throat. He offered his hand out timidly, apparently asking for Rinda’s own. She tightened herself in response, as if a current had just passed through her.
At that time, Remus, who had been completely forgotten, suddenly released a loud “Ahem!”
“Well then, that settles it.” Istavan jumped up, and said with a spirited quality, “If you like me that much, don’t make me a measly Lord of the Holy Knights. Rather, allow me to be your Duke of Crystal as promised!” His laugh was sickeningly loud.
“When did I promise you I would make you the Duke of Crystal?” Rinda became enraged, “First of all, the Duke of Crystal is the child of a noble, and you don’t come anywhere close to his stature. He’s beautiful – extremely handsome, clever, and brave – even though you both share black hair and eyes, he is something different entirely. You see, the duke is my cousin. I have never seen anyone more lovely than Duke Narisse. He is arranged to be my husband someday, and I shall become the queen of Parros. It’s kind of silly, but I’ve had a crush on Narisse since I was a little girl. He is a wonderful singer – I have never heard anyone else with such a voice. Another thing that makes him stand out…”
“Is he not your cousin?” Istavan said rather sullenly, “Don’t you know horrible things happen when you mix the blood of close relatives together?”
“Is there even such a thing!? Why do you care, you can’t even compare to Narisse anyway!” Rinda noticed Remus’ hand twitching, like he was nervous. She turned around to look at him, but he seemed to be trying to pretend he did not care that things were escalating. She, however, realized she needed to keep a cool-head, and swallowed the rest of her words.
“Oh, I see, I understand now.” Istavan spat, a stunned look on his face. “My blood is too filthy to mix with a princess, and instead she must marry someone who was born noble. From a mercenary of the battlefield, I thank you for allowing me to… serve you until your escape from Nospherus, I so very much enjoyed your… commitment to speaking your mind. Well, I suppose it’s no use. I cannot stop fighting! Oh, I do so understand perfectly. I swear, by Doal’s sulfurous breath, I’ll never bother you again. As soon as I deliver you to Earlgos, as per my contract, I’ll be on my merry way. Good day.” Istavan turned and left, spitting for the last time as he walked heatedly away.
“I am… I did not mean to be rude! But…” Rinda, trying to defend herself, noticed that Istavan was no longer there to hear her. Suddenly, she felt embarrassed. “I… I wonder what I said? To anger Istavan that much… what could I have said, Remus?”
“Maybe it’s because you said he is not even close to Narisse in status… listen, Rinda,” Remus sighed. “Whenever you and Istavan talk, you seem to be quarrelling with one another. But this time, Rinda, you were in the wrong. I guess you can’t help it when you talk about Narisse.”
“How can you say such a thing like that to me? I…” Rinda was about to continue protesting, but with a, ‘tch’, let the matter go. “Hey, Remus, I don’t understand… it’s not that I always dislike his company, and I’m sure I’ll remember him as someone who helped rather than hindered. But when Istavan begins smiling with that cocky, smug look in his face, and starts talking in that sarcastic tone, I forget all the things he has done for me, and I become angry and lash out at him. I don’t know, maybe I’m crazy, or maybe this kind of thing doesn’t really make sense to anybody.”
“Perhaps that is true.” Remus was confused as to what she meant by ‘doesn’t make sense’. What is she getting at?
“But I don’t always mean to do what I do either. Yet… when I look at that shabby face… I feel strange… and… and…”
What was it I felt that made me blush with embarrassment when Istavan said those things to me just a little while ago?Me… beautiful? Rinda’s eyes were fixed forward, as if in a daze. Suddenly, she felt a sweet sensation wrap around her body. She struggled, chewing on these words she so desperately wanted to spit out.
At that moment, “Oh, he dropped this as he was leaving.” Remus bent over and picked up a small water jug from the sand. “Better give it back to him, how can he be so wasteful with water in a desert… wait, was that man…?” He knotted his face in a sort of grimace, raising his eyebrows and scrunching his nose. “Rinda, I think Istavan was drunk. This grain, mixed with this water, is known as the Nectar of the Sem – sake, basically. I noticed from before that he was drinking it quite fast.”
“HE WAS DRUNK!?” Rinda’s cheeks became flush once again. However, this time there was no mystery behind her reddened face, for there was a difference between this and mild shamefulness or a petty, juvenile crush. You were drunk? You were drunk, and teased me… so all that… was supposed to be a joke? With a, “Gah!’, her whole body began to burn with humiliation. Rinda shook vigorously, as if in a state of panic. She turned and swatted the jug from her brother’s hand, glaring at the innocent Remus with glowing, violet eyes. “NEVER SPEAK HIS NAME IN MY PRESENCE AGAIN!” How could you do such a thing, Istavan?
Things seemed impossible now that they were no longer in the Crystal Palace. Remus sought to say something to her. However, Rinda was already walking away, and almost to the Sem encampment. Remus hastily got up to follow her. For a boy who prided himself on thinking ahead, he sure couldn’t comprehend what his sister was feeling right now.