It took a full octave for the journey to complete. That entire time, Santulím was obliged to lay on his back below the cart, uttering no sound. This was because the hunt for him was afoot: The trail for him inevitably leading outside of Jotheim, to the beginning of the Vilma Road.
Fortunately for Santulím, this was a heavily trafficked road, many a burdened landlaborer carrying goods to and from the Capital, and the cart he journeyed in was soon lost in the general crowds.
As word travelled along the road that the Retainers were looking for something, the Master forced Santulím to cover in a funereal shroud and rest upon the stinking corpse of a firrat.
–It is not enough to look dead.—said the Master.—you must smell dead too.—
The small group was stopped upon reaching a toll gate, marking the fact that they had left one Great Family’s protection for another.
Here the Retainers on duty, bearing the colours of the House of Hylot, were carefully checking the cargo of each passerby.
–Celem smile to you.—said the Master simply, upon arriving to the toll.
–and to you, Gad.—replied the bitter and grizzled old Retainer.—Got anything for me to be worried about?—
–I do not know what you might mean.—replied the Master.—but I have got my dead cousin, who I am bringing to bury in the place he belongs. Mind the smell.–
The Retainer flung back the canvas and stared intently at the shrouded body. Then the wave of stench hit him and he bent over double.
–Your people smell like animals and shit when you pass.—he said spitting repeatedly onto the ground.—what a misfortune. Get you gone now or I will have to retaliate for this evil stench you have forced me to endure.—
Santulím hardly survived his journey, the choking stench and the pain of his shattered leg. He stretched out thankfully upon arriving at Gad’s lands in the foothills of the Southern Rhozha mountains, overlooking the Pieso Plains, eager for the wind to blow his bad memories away.
The area commanded a magnificent view, a horizon of grasslands stretching to where Celem slept, and soon Santulím felt himself again, though he could not yet walk. From his post in Gad’s household, he requested that the old one provide him with problems to solve.
Gad willingly obliged. The land had an issue with runoff at the time of the rains, and many of his fields higher up in the foothills would slide away, taking the crops with them. He had tried building rock walls, but these slid away too. When this was not a problem, swarms of insects would come up from the plains consuming all in their path. The best fadouil in his flock would not breed, and so on.
One by one, Santulím assisted in solving these problems. He told Gad how to arranged his fields in stepped terraces, held in place by wooden walls. These required posts sunken deep into the ground, so Santulim developed the first known groundscrew by having an old sword twisted upon itself. He asked for plants that never were eaten by the insect swarms whenever they came. These he took and boiled till he had a thin watery essence that smelled strongly of the pungent, unappetizing plants. He then advised Gad to soak his crops in the essence next time he spied the swarms. After watching the fadouil for several passages as his leg finished healing, he explained to Gad how it appeared that some of them, though not large or good at producing milk, were exceedingly interested in, and good at, breeding. Thus they should be allowed to breed, mixing their character in with the other, more desirable animals.
All of these solutions proved remarkable for Gad’s prosperity, his harvest was nearly five times its usual size. As the season of Celem’s presence lasted, he made Santulím a welcome and cherished part of his household. He strictly forbad any mention of the new guest beyond his own lands, and he had Santulím hide as a common laborer whenever guests and neighbors came to call.
Santulím enjoyed his new frontier life immensely. As his leg healed, he instructed Gad’s children in making and recognizing signs, and answered their endless questions. He also spoke often with Gad, who proved as knowledgeable and interesting as anyone Santulím knew in the learned circles of the Court of Eagles. Gad taught him his family history, who moved out of Jotheim valley at the time of Greedy King Talenes I, and the history of the lands beyond Vilma.
–it is a prosperous place, but not in the same manner of the East.—explained Gad one hot end of Celem’s journey.—And the Great Families or the Court of the Eagles hold less of a grip on people’s minds.—
–Have you been much farther north or west?—asked Santulím.
Gad’s eyes opened wide before he replied.—yes I have. It may seem a harmless enough place in the heat of Celem’s gaze. Do not be fooled, when Celem’s absence is felt, when the Winds begin, there is no shelter. Not even deep in the Mountains. You will feel it here too, but with less strength. And there are creatures that live in those parts, dangerous creatures… And I have yet to speak of the Western Curse that holds the Ruins enthralled.—
Gad’s description of the Western Flatlands was not without flourish. Nevertheless, Santulím had it in his mind to venture there, as soon as his strength was up to it, so as to protect Gad from punishment, ere he was discovered. When Santulím shared this thought with the grizzled frontiersman, he looked upon Santulím with a piercing look.
–if anyone could survive the Western Flatlands, it is you. But you will need much preparation.—
Gad proved generous in his gifts to Santulím. He provided him with a full flock of fadouil, several carts worth of food, tools and supplies for building a shelter. When the passage came for Santulím’s departure, Gad stood in his travelling gear.
–Another should know where to find you, in the event that your fortunes change, Wise One.—he said, brooking no argument concerning his sharing the hard journey.
And so the two departed secretly in the last passages of Celem’s presence, when the darkness of His absence matches the light of his presence.
For an octave they journeyed along the Rhozha foothills. All the difficult way, Gad made observations so as to recall his way back.
Soon they reached the banks of a mighty flowing water, as exuberant as the Aren, though seeming younger.
–Over there are the cursed ruins I spoke to you about.—Gad pointed across the flowing water.
But Santulím was focused on the water itself.
–I have never seen its like.—he spoke excitedly.—firstly it flows with Celem, which I have never known flowing water to do, and secondly its colours shimmer and change.—
–I told you the place is accursed.—Gad said.—best to leave this place a wide space.—
–I must raise issue, good friend. It is exactly what I am looking for. What better place to hide than a place others fear to venture?—
Seeing the wisdom of the young alchemistic, Gad relented. They searched the near bank of the flowing water for a suitable place for Santulím to lodge. Up in the foothills, one winding length away from the flowing water they saw a cavity that faced north and west, but not South.
–it is perfect for watching and protects you from any wandering eyes.—said Gad.—Though you could find more protection from the winds…–
–I have thoughts as to that.—replied Santulím.—fear not, dear friend.—
And so after an absence of Celem in which the two slept, warmed by the fadouil and hearing the winds howl across the mountains, Gad parted from Santulím, who insisted that he call upon the Old Alchemistic in Jotheim to cover his expenses.
Gad slowly and mournfully left that place, thinking it doubtful that his friend would survive its treachery.
But in this, as in many things, Gad was a pessimist. For Santulím proved as able a frontiersman as had ever lived, building a secure enclosure for his fadouil, who produced bountiful supplies of milk and meat when slaughtered. He cleared several fields of stones for planting in the next period of Celem’s presence. He walled up the mountain cavity with shapen stones and mud for insulation. He even divided the space into rooms, like any great house of Jotheim, with many hearths for keeping the stones warm.
When his necessities were met, as the period of Celem’s absences brought with it harsh Winds from the West, Santulím began his serious investigations into the surrounding area. But he had a problem, for one of the objects difficult to come by in the far frontier lands was parchment, and Gad had been unable to provide him with more than a few sheets.
So Santulím sought a replacement surface in his surroundings. He looked long and hard at the dry sinewy plants and grasses. Finally he chose the reeds growing in the water, though they seemed tough and brittle. Having gathered a pile of these in the comfort of his little dwelling, Santulím proceeded to strip and boil the reeds. Soon they formed a sticky pulp.
Spreading the pulp out over a warm flat hearthrock, Santulím waited to see if the material congealed into a pliant surface. He gasped with delight when he saw that indeed it was so.
Santulím made many a sheet of this new parchment, and with equal vigor and interest did he fill each of them with observations and thoughts.
With his newly discovered means of making progress, Santulím began to enquire all around him, often at great personal risk, for the Western Flatlands had grown dark and cold. Santulím lovingly cared for his fadouil herd, letting them dwell within, often speaking to them to keep himself occupied. But some of them grew restless, desiring to wander outside. As soon as they caught the fresh air of the western winds, something within them stirred, and they leapt with wild hearts up into the ravines and cliffs, and were never seen again.
During that long period of Celem’s absence, Santulím had much time to consider his past. The thoughts of his lost glory and comfort ate away at his inner self. So with desperation to find any kind of distraction, Santulím decided to cross the swiftly flowing water to inspect the cursed ruins of the Ancient Ones.
Crossing the flowing water was no easy task, but Santulím eventually succeeded in creating a watercraft capable of carrying him across. Piloting the skiff with a newfound ferocity, Santulím felt a wave of shock and dread turn his insides cold when the craft crunched into the far bank. Many octaves of cycles had passed ere a living being had touched that ground.
The sounds of his movements seemed to echo loudly, as Santulím drifted among the ruins, gazing in wonder at all that he saw. For though he had heard some stories of the Ancients at the feet of the Shinse travellers, he knew very little of what there was to know.
–What forces could cause so great a place to wither in this way?—he thought as he entered half destroyed buildings, looking at the mysterious markings on the walls in ways that seemed familiar, yet said nothing to him.
Finally Santulím came to a tall tower standing in the middle, carved human forms linking arms around a spiraling outer stairway. As he walked up Santulím could make out wailing sounds. His inner wind came sharply to him upon reaching the top. At first it was the view that caught his attention. The majesty of the ruins overwhelmed him. Then his eyes saw that he stood upon a stone stained dark red.
Swiftly Santulím turned to go, but not before espying a chamber entrance in the top of the tower.
As often happened in the course of his life, curiosity overcame caution. So he entered in upon the unchanging world of the chamber, circular in form with eight straightly built panels. In each panel there lay engraved a giant, carved marking, more splendid in character and power than those on the outside. In the base of each wall was a hollowed out space, some of which contained scrolls. Of the eight hollows, there were but three scrolls.
Santulím swiftly grabbed these remaining scrolls and ran to his craft, never once looking backwards.