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.

Footprints

„I don’t understand. When I aim at a target, I hit it just like you. But when the target is moving, I can’t hit it. How do you do it, Nerúwan? What am I doing wrong?“

Nerúwan narrowed his eyes and looked at the discouraged Abarhil. Perhaps, he was contemplating which answer Abarhil could process. Abarhil watched Nerúwan’s narrow eyes and he spotted a slight smile on his lips. He was painfully aware of his discomfort, and felt angry at his clumsiness.

Nerúwan shrugged his shoulders. „I told you it takes a lost of practicing. Not even every Adiwan can do it. Your arms are tight but your mind wanders and strays. That’s why it cannot capture the right moment. When your mind stops, it will find the target. Roghídan must learn to be patient, then he will hit the target!“

Abarhil was upset with this response. Unable to control his anger, he spoke out of turn: „Your damned mysterious advice! One might go mad. You’re the same as your father and Oghlar. You’re all as clever as a king’s jester. Stop the mind! Can’t you just tell me how to do it?“ Abarhil threw his bow on the ground and dramatically put his head in his hands. „Now I hold it but nothing’s changed. Nothing!“ He looked at Nerúwan angrily. „Does it have legs to run around? But I know how it is,“ he said angrily and pointed at Nerúwan. „You have some secret trick that you don’t want to share with me! And you know what? Keep it. I’ll figure it out on my own.“

Nerúwan  watched Abarhil’s angry outburst with confusion. „Roghídan is angry for nothing. Nerúwan has told him the truth. The secret is in the ability to quiet your mind. Only then can it reflect the reality. When the arrow and the target is one in your mind, only then will you hit.“ Nerúwan’s face changed and he looked strictly at Abarhil with disappointment. With slight disdain he said: „Roghídan is raging like a little child who’s not getting what he wants. Know that rage is a bad helper!“

With these words, Nerúwan turned and silently left. Abarhil stood baffled in the middle of the trail. Only now did he feel ashamed of his outburst.

Cranky and out of sorts, Abarhil returned to Súrwan’s hut. When he stepped into the hut, he saw the brin talking to Oghlar, whose condition had improved. Although he was unable to get out of bed, he lay on a package of fur and talked livelily with Súrwan. Abarhil greeted them and silently went across the hut to his corner, he had no intention of joining the conversation. He sat down on his bed, put the bow and arrows down, and after some time of mindless staring at the brown walls, he lay down and gazed at the ceiling. Oghlar instantly spotted the unusual behavior, but he talked with Súrwan for a couple more minutes in order to finish the open debate. Only after they had finished, did Oghlar turn to Abarhil.

„What is it, Roghídan? Am I mistaken if I say that you are not in a very good mood?“

Abarhil squirmed as if he had lain on thorns, but he said nothing.

„Come on, what happened; tell me!“ encouraged Oghlar.

Abarhil hesitated, but then he sat up and the whole story poured out. Oghlar listened, and as Abarhil continued, he began to smile slyly and at the end he openly chuckled. He knew how proud Abarhil was of his shooting skills and he guessed correctly that today his pride had suffered. Súrwan sat and listened too, but unlike Oghlar’s, his face did not express anything.

„… well, and then, when I asked him to tell me how to do it, he made a fool of me and told me to stop my mind. Do you understand it, Oghlar?“ Abarhil sat on his bed with his legs crossed in front of him, but his hands moved constantly to express his grievance. He did not pay much attention to the faces of his two listeners and all of the suppressed resentment poured out. „It’s like telling a sailor to tug a cover when the wind’s not blowing. What’s such advice good for? He’s made a fool of me!“

Oghlar did not stop smiling and said nothing, he only looked at Súrwan sitting opposite to him. „My son was right. Roghídan has no reason to be angry because he, indeed, received the correct advice. The bow may be stretched with an archer’s arm, the eye may look for the target, but the arrow is shot by the archer’s mind! When the mind is restless, the archer can never hit the target!“

Abarhil looked at Súrwan with resentment; this was exactly the kind of response he did not want to hear. With an unspoken question he looked at Oghlar. Oghlar said nothing, he only nodded while smiling, and pointed at Súrwan as if telling Abarhil where he should seek his answers. The young man took a deep breath to control his upset soul and then turned to the brin who looked patiently at Abarhil with an unchanging face.

„Súrwan, I’m sorry for my anger. I suppose I don’t understand it. Can you explain what your son meant? Can you explain what stopping the mind means?“

Súrwan smiled and cheerful flames sparkled in his eyes.

„Just like Oghlar, just like him,“ thought Abarhil. However, Súrwan did not say anything and he stood up. When the brin left the room, Abarhil looked at Oghlar. He just nodded and said: „Get used to it. Brins do not speak much but when they do it is worth careful listening.“  

The brin came back in a little while and brought a large copper pot and a bag with water. He took the pot and turned it towards Abarhil. „What do you see?“

Abarhil looked at the bottom in surprise, and then at Súrwan. „What should I see? Nothing! The empty bottom of a pot.“  

Súrwan did not respond; he poured water into the pot and then waited until the water settled. He motioned to Abarhil to look in the pot once more. „What do you see?“

Abarhil looked at the water and in the dim light of the lamps he saw his own ratty face. „Well, what can I see; water. And also the face of one man who has no idea what’s going on.“

Oghlar laughed heartily. Annoyed, Abarhil looked at him and said: „Well, I hope you’re having a good time. It is certainly good for your healing; otherwise I’d throw something at you. I was hoping for an explanation, but now I see the performance where I’m the fool had yet another act.“

Súrwan forced Abarhil to look in the pot once again. „What do you see?“ he asked again as he hit the pot with a stick several times. The water rippled and the image disappeared.

Abarhil raised his head and uncertainly replied: „Well, what would I see? Nothing!“

„That’s it!“ said Súrwan and nodded his head. He laid the stick on the ground and motioned to Abarhil to sit across from him. „The pot is your body, solid and tangible, but empty until you fill it with something. As the pot is filled with water, your body is filled with your mind, only then can your body serve its purpose. The water is your mind, soft and inaccessible, it fills your body and only then has it achieved its purpose.“  

He interrupted his speech and questioningly looked at the young boy. He wanted to be sure Abarhil had understood. Abarhil nodded silently, so he continued.

„When the mind has settled, it reflects what is in front of it. When it is restless, it reflects nothing. And this stick,“ Súrwan raised the stick with which he had hit the pot, „is your rage, your anger or fear, for which you cannot see the reality. You are like a blind man who suspects what is about to come but cannot see it. Nerúwan can stop his mind and it then reflects the target he needs to hit. This is the moment when the mind and the target are one. The target becomes part of your mind as your image becomes part of the water surface in the pot. Nerúwan’s arm is not guided by his will, but by his empty mind which reflects the image of the target. Do you understand now?“

Súrwan finished his unusually long speech and bid Abarhil to respond. Abarhil sat in the same position and his gaze turned away from the brin’s staring eyes. His eyes wandered around the room as if trying to find help for his struggling soul.

„Does Roghídan understand it now?“ asked Súrwan again.

Abarhil hesitatingly nodded.

„Well, it’s clear to me what Nerúwan meant. But tell me, Súrwan, how do you stop your mind? And one more thing. What is the mind for when it’s empty? We have our minds to think,“ objected Abarhil.

„The stopped mind is an empty mind where no thoughts flow,“ was the brief reply.

„But what’s a mind with no thoughts good for? After all, it’s the essence of the mind to create thoughts. It’s its purpose,“ said Abarhil again. It had never occurred to him, and he had never heard, that the mind should be empty; and that the thoughts should be driven out so the mind could work correctly. It was something very new for Abarhil’s understanding and his knowledge refused it.

„Junk,“ said Súrwan, confidently and adamantly. He nodded his head to show that his statement was irrefutable. Abarhil again raised in anger. He admired his teachers, their knowledge and the abilities of their reason. It did not matter whether he had been taught rhetoric, mathematics, or cartography; he had always been reminded that reason must be nurtured, trained with frequent repetition and practice. Thoughts must be created and sorted. They must be understood. And now he stood face to face with a man who had no idea of the greatness of all the disciplines that his educators had taught him. Abarhil was being told that all that was just rubbish occupying his mind unnecessarily. He refused to accept it and his disapproval was more than visible. Oghlar, who knew Abarhil’s passion for knowledge, as well as his temper, suspected what was going on in Abarhil’s mind. Therefore, he joined the conversation for the first time to avoid an outburst that would break the rules of gratitude toward their host.

„Abarhil, calm down!“ he said with empathy in a common language that Súrwan did not understand. „I think there is a misunderstanding between you. You have to understand that Súrwan knows nothing about your education. He means it in a way that for archery, thinking is unnecessary. He surely did not mean that what you know is rubbish!“

Abarhil turned to the half-sitting Oghlar and opened his mouth to object. Discomfort and anger shook his soul and he needed to blow off the steam. Fortunately, he realized that both men were truthful. If he needed to hit the target, his knowledge of cartography and rhetoric was useless. He closed his mouth and took a deep breath. Then he turned to Súrwan and nodded slightly to indicate his consent. Súrwan had watched his inner struggle with considerable enthusiasm. He did not understand what Oghlar had said, but he could read in the boy’s face what had happened in him. He waited for a little bit and then he continued.

„A thought is like a footprint that helps trace the prey. Too many thoughts are like too many footprints. What benefits do you get when you find a tangle of footprints at the watering hole? How do you find out which to follow to trace your prey?“

Abarhil looked at him thoughtfully. The barrage of strong emotions had gone away but he still struggled to tame the tension. He focused on Súrwan’s words, whose meaning escaped him.

„Súrwan wants to say,“ the brin smiled kindly and with his arms opened, „that to achieve your goals, all you need is one footprint. The right one! Too many thoughts in your mind only create confusion! Then you are unable to decide. That’s how it is.“

A smile remained on Súrwan’s face even when he picked up the pot and took it out to empty it. Abarhil watched him and when he realized that the conversation had ended, he moved back to his corner and pondered what he had heard.

„To achieve your goals you only need one thought, the right one,“ he whispered as if wanting to burn the sentence into his memory. Hearing this, Oghlar turned, and with satisfaction he watched the thinking young man. He said nothing because their conversation had served its purpose. The fish had swallowed the bait and Abarhil’s teaching had begun without him even noticing.

Farewell Azraphel

A brief sample of the first chapter of the book just to give you an idea what awaits you in the world of Yorran.

Azraphel, forced by a strong wind, was heading south. Stubbornly she struggled through the restless sea, rearing up like a horse before a hurdle, only to plop between the tops of the waves again and again. Each additional impact wrenched the sea open. Salty spray rose up like a mist towards Abarhil, who was standing on the bow holding onto the railing. Since the first journeys, the bow of the ship had been his favorite spot to let his imagination run wild. He felt like ancient seafarers who, like messengers of ancient kings, spread their fame along the shores of the great ocean in bygone ages of faded glory. He raised his head and looked around at the horizon. On the right, he saw only the silhouettes of several dolphins, which were following their ship for a second day since its departure from Nirruch. The occasional shadow of an albatross flashed on the sea surface and from the rear, the upset shouts of seagulls could be heard as they argued over residue from the ship’s galley, which the chef rolled into the sea.

While standing there alone, he remembered the last few days. When he had returned with Oghlar from the Eagle’s nest, he had found Azraphel in the harbor with an angry captain and a lazy crew. More than two weeks had passed since he had left and they had fallen behind schedule again. Lominas had yelled at him, red from rage, as if he were a cabin boy.

„Abarhil, you are completely irresponsible. Do you even remember what you promised to your father? Instead of taking care of the ship, you are running around the mountains. This journey isn’t normal. This can’t end well! From the beginning, there are problems and difficulties! Gods, why do I have to be a captain on such a journey?“

Lominas had been irritated to the point of insanity by everything associated with the number of delays and unexpected events that had accompanied this sail. Before their departure, he had had a long conversation with Tharnizir, which had placed more pressure than usual on his shoulders; beginning with overseeing the business matters, through directing the restless Abarhil, and ending with complying with the plan of the journey. It had been similar to when he had had to hold a wet rope of a swelling sail in turbulent wind. Despite trying as hard as he could, he had felt like it was slipping through his clenched fingers. He felt the same this time. He did not have things under control.

Abarhil had to admit that he had been devoting his time to adventures and long postponed plans instead of small dull tasks so important for the business. Reluctantly, he had to admit that his fierceness and impatience were to blame for the failure of his previous trades in Osttar.

He was just about to return to the rear to talk to the helmsman when Oghlar joined him. He instinctively sensed what was going on in Abarhil’s mind. He stood beside him in silence, then broke it after a while.

„I think we should go further south than usual this year. What do you think?“

Abarhil looked at him briefly and said: „I don’t know, maybe. I’ve thought about it. Why do you think it’s a good idea?“

„I have got eyes, so I watch. There is an odd atmosphere on the ship and Lominas is as nervous as a primipara. I assume he got some tasks from your father. He should watch you and he knows well he is not managing. I must confess I do not envy Lominas. Indeed, it is not easy to watch over such a wild stallion and stick to the plan.“

As always, merry flames sparkled in Oghlar’s eyes when he tried and teased Abarhil. But he did not agree to partake in the game today.

„And how can going further south help us?“ replied ratty Abarhil with his eyes still fixed on the distant horizon.

„Well, I heard that further in the south, in the middle of the humid forests, a mighty river flows into the sea, and there sinam, ganilva, and spices can be bought. Furthermore, I heard that the locals trade, perhaps with gold. There we could make up for our losses so far. What do you think?“

„Perhaps you’re right,“ replied Abarhil thoughtfully, „I don’t trust the gold but spices could be a win. I’ll give it some thought.“

Oghlar stood beside Abarhil for another moment, but when he did not speak again he shrugged and left for the rear, leaving him to his own thoughts.

In the following days, the journey went without any difficulties or problems. They sailed along the coast where the continuous cliffs were broken only by the mouth of the Red River. The red water of Birighin flowed into the sea in split branches, creating a reddish spot which dissolved into the surrounding blue sea water. Two days later, they saw a distant dark volcano cone with a red irradiated top, which spewed clouds of ash into the sky from time to time. According to Chyrrkhan legends, it was the seat of Durghár, a dark lord of the underworld, who had been defeated by his brother Maghúr at the beginning of time and had been shackled and imprisoned in the underworld. Madrughin flowed through the desolation under the volcano, breaking its way through the plains of volcanic sediments that gave it the dark color that left the dark red spot in the sea. Madrughin was translated as the Border River in the common language. Indeed, its flow separated the sparsely populated plains of the southern Anghir from the deserted land of swamps and hills called Bôghir, the Wild land. Those were savannas covered by thick high grass, which turned into vast swamps and wetlands around the basins of the Falghin and Welghin rivers.

The mood on the ship was slowly improving during the calm journey and even Lominas ceased his grumbling for a while. Therefore, Abarhil was able to dedicate his time to his great interest, cartography. He had loved maps since his youth, they appealed to his imagination and he could spend hours pouring over them. He liked comparing them, marking new landmarks, measuring distance and he improved them and made them more accurate with every journey. It was difficult work but he liked it, so he never regretted the time and effort. With each journey his map gained accuracy and was quickly becoming his pride. After he exchanged the map of the northern coast with Deón, he was quite certain that there was a set of maps in his cabin which could not be found anywhere else in Merélos.

Meanwhile, Azraphel continued along the deserted coast, which Abarhil jotted down in his map as Azar Gôwilb, the Sea of Tranquility. Their next stop, however, was much further south, on the border between Bôghir and Schadarghir. Two weeks after their departure from Nirruch they arrived at their annual target, the mouth of Ogghin, the Southern River. Here, like every year, the crew of Azraphel met Nomghans to exchange the products of craft workshops from Merélos for local goods. As mentioned earlier, those were only shepherds and hunters but they could still offer interesting goods for trade. The most valuable commodities were ivory, exotic furs, colorful feathers and exceptionally rough gems which were collected by the locals in the streams and caves on the upper reaches of the river. Like every year, hundreds of locals awaited Azraphel in the temporary camp. Although the trading went well, Abarhil could not stop thinking about what Oghlar had told him. So far, Azraphel had never dared to sail so far south that Tharnizir could buy rare southern spices himself. Pepper, sinam, ginger, cinnamon, ganilva, those were all goods of which the price was rising in proportion to the distance it traveled to the North. On the market in Merélos, the price of these spices was twice as much in Osttar, and four times the price in Nirruch where Tharnizir traded with Tighan sailors. Abarhil could only guess what price would he get from the locals who collected spices in the forests or grew them on small fields near their villages.

Spurred on by Oghlar’s notes and his own thoughts, he decided to persuade Lominas about this plan. He invited him to his cabin where he had prepared his maps and calculations. He was expecting a lack of understanding, however, he was not ready for the fierce resistance he encountered. When he briefly presented his plan, Lominas‘ face flushed with anger and resentment and he blew up: „Abarhil, I do not agree! By the Gortar’s whip, you have gone mad. It is madness to go further south. No, and again no! Damn it! Have you not had enough of adventures?“

However, the outburst calmed him down, and so although his attitude and gestures still expressed disapproval, he continued calmly: „The lower deck is half-full and we have to pick up the goods in Nirruch we left there. Where do you think we will store it all?“

Abarhil went back and forth across the cabin several times. He was trying to read Lominas‘ eyes and gestures and find a way to persuade him. But Lominas stood like a statue. Clenched fists and arms crossed against his chest revealed his internal struggle and the strain with which he controlled his feelings. He looked out the window at the open sea. Abarhil spoke unusually softly and slowly.

„But Lominas, you haven’t heard my reasons yet. We’re friends, aren’t we? Could you then at least hear me out?“

Lominas turned his attention back to the cabin and nodded almost imperceptibly.

„You know as well as I do that spices aren’t ivory, fur or bags of cotton. They won’t take up much space and the profit of each pound we deliver will be much higher than of any other goods. And trust me, I calculated it maybe ten times.“

Abarhil paused and watched Lominas to see whether his reasons somehow eroded Lominas‘ solid disapproval. He saw nothing, so he decided to play another of his trump cards in this strange game. „And you know very well that until now we haven’t done such good trades. My father won’t praise us for that. Neither one of us. Do you really believe that I propose this only because of my adventurous whims?“

Lominas was not ready to back down. „Very well, Abarhil, but it is almost the end of the month of first blossoms and in a few days Slaven begins. Azraphel has been sailing for three months. Autumn storms may begin in the next four months and what if we do not return on time?“

Yes, this was a compelling argument but Abarhil was prepared even for this.

„They may or may not. Usually the storms begin at the end of the month of withering. Trust me! To Nirruch, it’s two weeks and from there to the mouth of the Great River it’s another two weeks. We will have a couple of days in Nirruch and another one or two in Osttar. Altogether, it’s about a month and a half. I think we still have a good two months!“

Lominas walked away from the window and came to the table where the unfolded maps, a pitcher of water, and a few tin cups lay. He poured water into one of them and drank it all. Reluctantly he had to admit that Abarhil made some sense. However, he was not going to back down easily.

„Of course, Abarhil, but you are counting on a good wind, and no delays or difficulties. You know yourself what we have encountered during this sail already. I know I have been complaining a lot over the last weeks. But I have had an unpleasant feeling about this sail from the very beginning. We have talked about it already.“ He turned to Abarhil and looked him directly in the eyes, before forgivingly adding: „Please, consider everything very carefully!“  

Abarhil turned the unfolded map toward Lominas and pointed a finger at it.  

„I agree with you. I’m also aware of the delays and difficulties, but you must admit we’ve managed so far. Therefore good fortune and the Gods are on our side. I think that with their support we’ll manage sailing even further south.“

He put his finger on the map.

„We’re moored here. According to Oghlar, it’s the same distance to the mouth of the Forest River as it is from the Western Cape to the mouth of Ogghin. About two weeks.“

When Lominas heard the navigator’s name, it looked like Abarhil had just pricked a hornet’s nest.

„Oghlar! Oghlar said so! Oghlar agreed! I talked to him too. Only the Gods know why he yearns to sail south so much! Does he want to surpass his father? And furthermore, has our navigator become our captain to say where we’ll sail?“ His face became tight and tense as he grabbed Abarhil’s hand. „Abarhil, please, I repeat what I’ve said from the beginning. I do not like this. I have never seen so many unexpected difficulties. And it is not only me. Even the others say that this sail cannot end well!“

Abarhil slid his arm from Lominas‘ grip. He crossed the cabin and then walked back again. Silently, he turned and looked into Lominas’s strained and worried face. Lominas is right, he thought, this year’s sail has certainly not been usual. What if something unexpected happens and they do not manage to return? He recalled his conversation with his mother just before their departure. She had told him he might need to spend the winter in Osttar. If they got caught up in the autumn storms before they were able to return, Azraphel could anchor in Osttar Bay and sell the goods there. Spices can earn amazing sums even there. He could leave Azraphel in Osttar over the winter and travel to Merélos with a caravan across the Wastelands. At present, he was not even thinking of the crew and their families who would be awaiting them in vain. He looked at Lominas again who silently watched him and tried to guess what was going on in his mind.