Crossing the River

Another gust of wind kicked up sparks from the fireplace and the image faded. Abarhil stood up to stretch his legs – which were stiff after a long period of sitting – and walked around the fireplace which was illuminated by a dim light. Then he threw the last pieces of wood, along with chips and bits of bark, into the fire. He looked to the distant mountains in the east, above which, the weak haze of the rising sun had appeared.

„Well, the last day of our journey; we’re in Anghir in the evening. It’s time to wake up,“ he said cheerfully, and headed out to the tents to wake up each sleeper.

Before he had finished his round and before even the last of them – which was, as usual, the sleepy Frendin – had poked his head out of the tent, the sun had peered out above the mountain tops. The men quickly packed their tents and baggage, and after a quick breakfast, they set off. Walking was as difficult as it had been the days before. They skirted through rough areas, deep cracks in the ground and sharp igneous rocks that could damage their shoes in just a few steps.

In the afternoon they arrived at the ford across the Madrughin river. The river was lined with steep shores and in the middle was a few small islets. The water in the river was dark, almost black, because the strong current wore away the volcanic dust shores. It was as cold as ice, which reminded them that winter had almost started in the north. Reluctantly they took off their clothes, packed them into their big backpacks which they put on their heads, and slowly and carefully entered the ice cold stream. When they hauled themselves out at the other side, their jaws were chattering and due to their cold and numb feet, they did not even feel the sharp beach gravel between their toes.

Finally, they had arrived in Anghir.  

They started a fire and after they had dried out, warmed up and dressed, they climbed onto a long drawn-out slope consisting of a narrow belt of dunes. It felt like they had gone through a magical gate to a different world. Before them, spread out the green plains of tall grass and lone trees.

Abarhil turned to Oghlar. „Now I understand why you call it Madrughin, the Border River.“

Oghlar nodded and responded: „You are right. I did not know that the difference between the dead world of the lord of the underworld and the green of the Maghúr’s land would be this big.“  

Then he turned to their guide. „You, Chenlar, how far is the village of your relatives?“

„We’ll go northwest along the flow of the river and we’ll be there before dusk.“

„Is it large?!“ asked Abarhil.

Chenlar smiled. „Large, larger than any Nomghan village in Bôghir. Chenlar thinks that they have as many tents as there are fingers on the hands of eight men.“

Abarhil looked at Chenlar with surprise. On the way across the plains of Bôghir, he had become used to small temporary settlements of the nomadic herdsmen which only rarely had more than one hundred people.

He turned to Oghlar. „So many? That’s eighty tents. It will certainly be more than four hundred inhabitants. Can you recall seeing such a big village after leaving Súrwan’s hrin?“

Oghlar shook his head and looked at Chenlar. „Why do the Nomghans build such big villages in Anghir? It is not really good for cattle. Do you need to chase them away from the village?“

Chenlar nodded. „You are right. But in Anghir, the Nomghans can’t live like nomads in open settlements. Unfortunately, we’re only accepted here as unwanted guests. The Harghani people feel like lords of the Anghir, even though Nomghans have lived here for generations. We don’t like each other. The Harghani steal our cattle from us and we steal their horses in return. The life in Anghir is different.“

Oghlar turned to Abarhil and muttered in disgust: „I have heard about this. Unfortunate Anghir where they argue amongst each other. The Erighani argue with the Harghani, and those, as you can see, feud with the Nomghans. If that does not change, one day the Chyrrkhans will suffer.“

It had become dark when they saw a large settlement on a hill surrounded by a short palisade. The settlement consisted of two concentric circles. In between the outer and inner circles were fences for cattle, and in the inner circle stood tents and huts of the inhabitants. Chenlar cheerfully greeted the locals and introduced the strangers he had brought with him. The locals‘ welcome was warm; but in spite of their invitation to stay, the sailors continued their journey the next morning and headed northeast to the low hills where they hoped to find the summer settlements of the Harghani. They intended to ask for their permission to pass because they had been warned by the Nomghan people to not try to pass the area without Harghani consent. They did not have to wait long to meet the lords of the Anghir plains.

The next day a group of riders appeared on the horizon. Oghlar stopped the sailors and ordered them to make a defensive formation. They created a circle and waited for the riders to arrive. Oghlar believed they would agree, but they had to be prepared for any outcome. Soon it became clear that the group consisted of a dozen riders on small, differently coloured horses. When they approached the sailors, they circled around them a few times and then set out in a wide circle. From this close proximity, the sailors were able to see that the riders were young men dressed in long leather trousers. Their torsos were covered with leather armor, their bare arms were covered in tattoos, which were mainly red in color. The warriors held large oval shields, which could cover their whole body. In the same hand they held the bridle, and in the other, they carried long spears decorated with horsehair and long nargil feathers. Their heads were shaved at their temples and around the ears; the rest of their hair had been combed up and braided into several plaits, and these connected into a ponytail, which fell onto their backs. Their faces and arms were covered with black and red color.

One of them, an older-looking one, spurred his horse and rode closer to Oghlar, standing outside the defensive circle. He observed them curiously and then asked Oghlar: „What are foreigners doing on the territory of the great nation of the Harghani? Where have you come from and where are you going?“

„My name is Oghlar Mirolach and I come from the blood of your northern relatives, the Tighans, from the city of Nirruch,” said Oghlar confidently and turned to the group and pointed at the sailors. „These men are my companions. We sailed to the south, but our ship crashed and we were forced to walk to the north across the plains of Bôghir. Now we would like to ask the mighty nation of the Harghani for their permission to walk across their territory to the north to the Chermaghin river.“

The young rider, evidently astonished, measured Oghlar with suspicious eyes.

„You have come from Bôghir? That means you have passed the Drughar’s land? I cannot believe it! The lord of the underworld won’t let anyone pass through his kingdom.“

„Why?“ asked Oghlar. „After all, your relatives the Nomghans live on both sides of the Madrughin and they regularly walk across the Drughar’s land.“

The boy contemptuously curled his lips.

„I don’t know what relatives you’re talking about. Those savages that we tolerate in our pastures? They say they know the way across Madrughin. But no one knows how true that is. Only a handful of the Sharians have seen the dark waters of Madrughin and no one has ever stepped into the deserted land of Drughár. However, if you’re speaking the truth, then I have to take you to our chiefs to let them hear your story, because as far as our nation remembers, this has never happened before.“

Oghlar, in an attempt to keep the conversation friendly, smiled politely and bowed his head. „We will be happy to tell the story of our long journey to your chiefs. How far is your village?“

„Village you say?“ asked the man with surprise. It seemed that the word had amused him. „Nomghans build villages. I am Durghan, the son of Sorgan, the great dawigelar of the Sharians. His hrin stands a three-day journey to the northeast, in the mountains by the lake Meri Ochir, where the winter settlements of my people lie. There, the great dawigelar will decide about your request. In the meantime, consider yourselves our guests. Do you walk?“

„Yes. You know very well that the Nomghans do not use horses.“

„Of course! But in recent years that hasn’t been strictly true; they began to steal horses from our herds. Thus, the young warriors go south to get them back. Horses are sacred possessions of the Sharians.“

„But young warriors do not only take horses back, but also the cattle of Nomghans. Is not that true?“

„Sure, but that’s a revenge for their previous actions. How many of you is there? Ten! I think we’ve managed to get as many horses from the Nomghans. We will provide them to you and your companions to reach my father’s camp as quickly as possible.“

The sailors, however, were not good riders and the journey to the camp of the Harghani stretched from what was supposed to be three days to almost double that. The young Harghani warriors observed the embarrassment and ineptitude of the seafarers as they saddled the horses. First, they watched them with astonishment and later with undisguised contempt. Men who could not ride horses were, in their eyes, equal to old women or small children. The only one who felt confident on a horse was Abarhil and, because he handled the Chyrrkhan language quite well, they took him and Oghlar among themselves as the only equals.

First, they headed north, moving into a gently rolling land where forests and secluded groves alternated with grassy plains rich in wildlife. Every now and then they saw herds of small antelopes damri on the horizon or the great wild cattle called zedril. They even saw flocks of nargils that Abarhil had already seen on his expedition with the Korlans. Several times, they caught a glimpse of the large steppe wolves, whose massive bodies were very different from the animals of the same name that Abarhil knew from the native Plains. When he saw them for the first time, they reminded him of the great Korlan dogs and he was convinced that they must have the blood of these impressive beasts.

On the fourth day, they turned east into the heart of Niri Eraghrin, the Low Hills, which were outliers of the high Mountain Range of the Mountain lions which created the eastern border of Anghir. In the morning of the fifth day, when they had crossed the low mountain saddle, an impressive view opened up for them of a long valley with a lake spreading all the way from north to south, as far as they could see.

Meri Ochir, the Blue Lake, the native land and habitat of the eastern Harghani. As Abarhil learned later, the lake was a few dozen miles long and one or two miles wide. On its northern end, there was a river, which after a steep descent from the mountain slopes flowed into Birighin. The middle part of the river, where the trough was broken by wild rapids and waterfalls, gave the river its name of Bôghin, the Wild River.

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