Book 6: The Ebony Prince of Earlgos
Episode 2: Farewell to the Desert Sands
“Riyaad.” Loto’s drooping eyes still shined with a fascinating light in his small, aging face. “Riyaad, is it true that you are going?”
“I intend to, yes.” Guin said, as the four of them – Loto, Suni, Siba, and himself – walked past the oasis. The Sem and the Lagon, two tribes whose size and personality were significant in their contrasts, fought together and pursued the Mongaul army at the foot of Dog’s Head Mountain until the forces made an escape. It was extremely improbable that the enemies would have the ambition to quickly head back to the desert of Nospherus any time soon. The many varieties of monsters living in Nospherus – yidoh, sand leeches, giant antlions, the darkest horrors from within the Kes, and the haunting, harsh desert itself – was a natural line of defense that protected the denizens of the wasteland from the civilized people of the Middle Country who wished to invade. Besides, the desert wildlands belonged to the Sem and the Lagon, and they were nothing if not masters of the terrain. The Karoi Valley, now only charred remains, and the village of the Raku, being overrun by the Mongauli forces, had prompted the Sem to build a new, better protected village at the foot of Dog’s Head Mountain. Unlike the gelatinous yidoh, who once infested the valley leading to the Raku village, the biggest threat at Dog’s Head Mountain was the desert wolves. In order to live there, one would need to build mud-brick domiciles as quickly as possible. On the banks of the oasis, the Raku, Rasa, Karoi, and Guro tribes of Sem all had no choice but to help one another gather solid, earthen soil for their houses. The women scooped it out and mixed it with the water, and the men dried it and cut it into workable pieces. Some of the women also helped with weapon supplies like axes and arrows. Using whetstones, they sharpened the arrowheads and blades, handing the finished blade-edges to those that attached them to new handles, creating more suitable axes. Even the children were helping, carrying pots and materials for their mothers.
As Guin continued walking through the browned water, where tall trees rose in a line following the shore, sloshing sounds from feet walking through mud, and cries of, “Riyaad! Riyaad!” could be heard. Small Sem children looked up at Guin with their little rounded eyes. Some had come up to him, timidly reaching out to feel his steel-like body only to be scolded by their mothers. “Riyaad! Riyaad!” shouts from those who were working on the axes and from those who were muddying their hands rang loud. Every one of them seemed to adore Guin from the bottom of their hearts.
“Certainly…” Guin started saying, not to any one person in particular. “To live here, at least for me, would be quite relaxing. Here, neither Sem nor Lagon call me a freak or a monster. There is no way to know what secret lies beneath this leopard head – though I wonder why it exists, or why I exist – but even with this appearance of mine, I am accepted here as a friend. And that’s not all…”
The village being made by the surrounding Sem now had a dwelling built for the chief; it’s mud-bricks already clinging to the ground. It was constructed to be quite large. Bending down to enter the abode, Guin turned his eyes toward the sky; a blue tint was slowly changing shade.
“I like this desert. I like this desolate land of strange monster-like creatures of mysterious origin. Istavan thinks I may have been born here. I suppose it’s true… I hope it’s true. If that is the case, at least I can say I know my birthplace… even if it is a ‘land abandoned by the Gods’; a land of Doalspawn such as the yidoh, sand leeches, or bigeaters. However, even if I wasn’t born here, I will continue to feel an intimate affinity for Nospherus. I don’t quite understand it, but I feel exactly like a sword returned to its sheath, I feel…” Guin was unusually loquacious. It was perhaps due to his listeners being Siba and Loto – two creatures not well versed in the tongue of the Middle Country – that allowed him to prattle on.
Suni came quietly into the hut, holding a cup of sake. She handed it to the elder and left once again. The three of them sat down on the floor of chief Loto’s house. Instead of a rug, they kneeled on the bare, mud-brick floor, now filled with bits of white sand that had flowed from the desert to the inside of the dwelling. The room was dry, and a bit chilly.
“It’s a wonderous thing.” Guin said meditatively, as he scooped the sand from the ground with his strong hands. “This… by some freak coincidence, I got mixed up in this seemingly terrible desert, and it turns out it suits me better than any other place I’ve been since I awoke in the Roodwood. I feel worthy of this desert. It brings an ironic pleasure to my eyes. The lush, green of the Middle Country is nowhere near the beauty of Nospherus. It’s like a work of art – a woman who runs her fingers through her long, flowing hair, with silky, smooth skin against a canvas of dazzling blue… except this alluring woman has her imperfections – a mole on her forehead – namely the undulating masses of yidoh, the large antlions, and bigeaters that attack unwary passersby. The scattering winds blow through the white oceans of powder that make up her supple anatomy. I take pleasure in watching the cerulean sky as it spreads over the perfectly formed curves of her body – the bare, rocky mountains – highlighting the small oases separated few and far between. Even with the harsh sun beating down on my back during its brightest hour, I feel I’d much prefer it here than to the Middle Country. I’ve shrugged off the strangeness of this desert. I’ve raised my voice when fighting, sifting my sword through invaders’ bodies, and no matter how much blood flows, its stains are picked up by the wind, only to clean the canvas over night. Thus, the sand is forever white, and this assures me nothing can stand in the way of Nospherus… or its denizens.” Guin placed both his large hands on the heads of Loto and Siba, revealing his trust in their camaraderie.
“I like you guys. To you, needing tactics in battle seems absurd. If it looks like food, eat it; if it looks friendly, accept it; if it looks like an enemy, fight it with your axes. If the enemy lacks power, he will smell his own intestines in the sand until dead. Once one side’s power is extinguished, the enemy wilts, and when the last light finally dims, so too shall any feelings of resentment. Here, everything is simple and clear. Here, desire and greed don’t make sense. I… perhaps I may never again spend a relaxing day here with you and the Lagon once I leave this place. The people of the Middle Country are a beautifully dressed, sophisticated, and proud civilization. To them, I would be no more than a grotesque monstrosity. I may serve a purpose to them, but that’s just what I’d be, a living tool used to spread fear. I do not leave because I dislike the simplicity of your culture. I am tangled in the threads of frustration, trying to cut the string with my sword and break free. I think of this ridiculous choice I must make, wondering whether I should leave this dream-like world of white sand that I have fought on, alongside both Lagon and Sem…”
“If…” Siba closed his mouth, like he was tying to process all the words Guin had just said before depositing his own input. “How can Riyaad… Riyaad was supposed to be king of the Sem and the Lagon.”
“I am pretty good. I was able to tackle many wolves and enemies without tiring. But the other three are different.” Guin picked up his cup of sake and gulped it down. “They are people of the Middle Country. Rinda and Remus are the princess and prince of a region there known as Parros, and they have held their complaints about this frontier land up to now. Istavan, however, is one such man that must return to his homeland. After all, he is a child of civilization; a child of the city. Where they live, it is not just desert and sky alone. They can only live among their people, with their paved roads, beautiful castles, and boisterous music.”
Siba kept his mouth shut. He wanted to say that the others could be escorted, and Guin, alone, could stay in Nospherus. The thought of him leaving because of three others was… dissatisfying. Without a word, Loto drummed his fingers on his belly in strange ape-like gestures.
“Rinda and Remus are backed by their desire to reclaim Parros from the Mongauls and rebuild their homeland. It will be a difficult and painful road ahead when the twins return to the Middle Country. It is because they are the prince and princess however, that they must fight. The blood of the royal family shall keep them alive, even in the darkest of times. On the other hand, Istavan seems to be a man possessed. The twins and I have trouble understanding what motivates him. But, surely, I will find out what it is. Perhaps it could be destiny that he is fighting with us…” Guin took another sip of sake.
To both Loto and Siba, Guin’s story seemed like meaningless words.
Noticing this, he continued. “And then there’s myself,” Guin said slowly, letting out a heavy breath. “My leaving has nothing to do with the dangers of the desert. That is why…” Guin stopped, slowly remembering his awakening in the Roodwood, half naked – like a huge, reddened child just born from the womb of the Earth. He had no memory of his real birth, or the destiny that lead to his arrival in the secluded forest. He had but a few words that could possibly lead him to the answers he seeked.
Siba was scratching his head, unable to understand the conversation. However, Loto, the supreme chieftan, nodded his little white head, slowly listening to the warrior.
“That is why I must go. I must search far and wide for my identity, using those three words – ‘Aurra’, ‘Guin’, and ‘Randoch’ – as clues. Even if one’s past is so miserably filled with woe, one cannot live without the knowledge of his origins. Of course, I have no clues pointing to where I must go first, or where I should search for the next clue, but for now I see no progress to be made by waiting in this desert. The color and size of the body below my neck seems to belong to a man of the Middle Country. My muscles seem well toned, and my reflexes fast – as if this body were trained in the ways of swords and martial arts. For the time being, I will lend my power to aide Rinda and Remus until they are in a safe and stable environment. My next plan will be to go on a long journey in search of a land called Randoch. The word, ‘Aurra’, however… is it a person, a God, or a place? I feel it is too vague to know for sure…”
“Aurra…” Loto said, thinking out loud. For a while, it appeared as though he had fell asleep, but he opened his eyes and continued to speak. “There is a familiarity to that word… but I don’t quite know where it was that I heard it. However, there is an ancient legend known to the Sem, a story of a God long forgotten. What was it now…”
“Loto…” Guin whispered, but in an alarming tone of voice that revealed his inner tension. “Do you remember anything about it? If so, perhaps I do not need to wander aimlessly through the Middle Country.”
“We could try talking to Gaulo or Kalto and see if they know anything.” Loto said. “The father of Kalto’s father, Grand chieftan Kano, might have remembered, but that matters little since he is no more. It is only by old tales and hearsay that Loto remembers.”
“Please, try and recall.” Guin muttered.
“Aside from that, as it stands now, each tribe still intends to live separately.” Said Siba.
“I can’t get close to the Guro or the Karoi.” Loto said, eyes half closed. “Everyone is fine while Riyaad is here, but when Riyaad leaves, the Karoi will take over the Raku and Rasa. The oasis will eventually belong to the Karoi and Guro, while the Raku and Rasa will be forced to build another village.”
“There may be another Mongauli invasion.” Guin muttered, somewhat sadly. “Black hair, or brown hair, you are all Sem. If you cannot look past minuscule differences among yourselves, you will eventually be taken over by the Mongauli forces. Well, for now anyway, we should ask the Lagon to be wary of another Mongauli assault, while lending protection to the Rasa and Raku by keeping the Karoi and Guro tribes in line.”
“But the Lagon said they were going with you.” Said Siba.
“Going with me?”
“Yes, Riyaad. Every day, they gather around the big rock to converse. Yesterday, they kept talking about preparations to go somewhere.”
“They will do no such thing. They are a people of honor.” Guin carefully stood up and left the chief’s house.
“Riyaad… where are you going?”
“Please wait here, Loto. I must check the Lagons’ intentions.”
“Riyaad, I will accompany you.” Siba hurried, along with Loto, outside the hut. At that time, “huh…?” Siba pointed toward the ogres gathered at the rock.
A terribly large figure, like a soundless shadow, slowly, and silently began its approach. To his side was an ogre somewhat smaller in stature. Even being a head shorter, she was nonetheless a giant. The smaller lagon came over first.
“Oh, Rana.” Guin extended his arms out to embrace the little Lagon girl. Next came Dodok the Brave, followed by other mighty-looking warriors.
“Guin, is it true that you are leaving?” Dodok said immediately in a low voice.
“Yes. It is true.”
“This is troubling news.” Said Dodok. “Guin is a messenger of Aqrra. Guin was to take the Lagon to the Promised Land. Otherwise, what was the Lagon fighting for all this time? If Guin goes, the Lagon go, too.”
“I’m afraid that’s not an option,” Guin gave a wry smile. The height of the people of the Middle Country did not come close to the two thousand giants, standing at two and a half taal each.
“The place we are going is not the place the Lagon were promised.”
“Why not let the Lagon accompany Guin?”
“Guin.” Dodok’s expression changed suddenly. He raised his hands to his chest, palms facing Guin, and pushed them outward with a mighty force. “Guin, either you stay with the Lagon, or the Lagon go with you. If you choose neither, then Dodok the Brave must challenge Guin to a duel. Do you wish to challenge Dodok?”
“I cannot stay… and you cannot follow.” Suddenly, an unsettling tension ran through every Lagon present. “I shall except your challenge, Dodok.” Guin said in a low voice. A stir could be heard within the crowd.
“Guin has accepted the challenge. Then it’s a fight.” As he said this, Dodok the Brave planted his feet in the ground, raising his hand in front of his chest in anticipation.