We scaled the rocky crevasse that rose high above the mines. We desired more than anything to reach the coast.
So, with nothing but a broken pick edge each, we climbed the crumbling ledges of rock. I led the way, helping stiff Brendar through the difficult parts. I had become an adept metal grubber, and knew the ways of rocks as once I had known the ways of water.
We made the top just as Gaal’s light began to burn hot. The wide barren lands stretched away from the smoke infused sky and with the giddiness of children we clasped and sang soft victory songs, for our spirits.
Such freedom of open space! None of you Long Northerners, accustomed to your free movement and clear horizons, could possibly understand the taste of our joy then. We swore an oath under Gaal that we would die free, whatever Leel had written.
And so we made our way away from the cliff and towards the wide water.
We knew that the overseers would try to find us first without aid, so as to avoid any punishment for losing us. But this attempt could not last forever. Upon discovering we were truly vanished, they would sound the alarm and stop at nothing to capture us.
For that reason, Brendar and myself made haste across the flatlands, crawling low and rolling in dust to blend in with the surroundings. It took three passages of slow and careful going in the middle of the wildlands before we espied the new Gaalian road that stretched from the coastal settlement to the havenlands.
We sat coiled like groundwinders and slithered along, all the while keeping a close watch on the comings and goings of the Gaalians along the road, marvelling at the constant flow of industry and might.
Those parts bore no familiarity to our earlier wandering. Such had been the industry of the Gaalians under Aflatan, A great city that rivalled Tu’Vrahadith had risen from nothing to guard the coastal approach to the havenlands. The settlement boasted of a new style of tall building with painted roofs and glaring white stone walls. In the middle, taller than the rest, rose a great golden dome, a wide flame burning at its peak.
–We will never make it while Gaal shines above.—said Brendar with a weak weariness I could only clearly noticed since we had entered into the light of Gaal.
–Nevertheless, we must try.—I said.
And so we did, as soon as Gaal’s absence made movement easier. Slowly we worked our way around the settlement, hoping that the Gaalians still partook of evening revelries fuelled by the purple weed.
In this, at least, we were comforted, for with Gaal’s departure we began to hear the loud and frantic banging of drums in the space beneath the dome. The sound echoed so clearly, we realized the golden dome covered not a building, but an open area.
I thank Gaal for not giving the Long South animals like our Hrunde. These would surely have alerted the guard of our presence especially if they could scent us in the strong wind that began blowing.
Windstorms in the Long South are as perilous as Klara’s breath is in the homewaters. They trouble the elements, flinging light earth and sand up to swirl it about until the senses are lost and there is no capacity left to draw inner wind.
But that is not the worst of it, for sometimes the Whirling Ones, said to cause all winds, descend from on High to visit destruction and chaos upon all landdwellers.
Whirling winds were rare in Tu’Vrahadith, but a common menace in the smaller hamlets, many were the stories told by the Gaalians in the early days of our wandering.
We ought to have moved more quickly, but caution kept us from panic.
We wrapped our heads in what was left of our meagre clothes, and Klara’s southern cousins blew with ever greater force, threatening to blind and choke us. Lost and moving blindly, we came perilously close to the settlement. The Gaalians must have called their revelry off, for all was quiet in between the gusts of wind.
Then, like the swift silent swipe of an axe, a Whirling One descended. I will never forget its awesome power as dirt and stones were drawn into its grasp. These swirled around like new clothes.
And our troubles were only beginning. The Whirling one drew out the settlement Gaalians, who looked upon it with awe and fear. Many prostrated themselves, shouting offerings and prayers. Some of the Gaalians, the ones dressed in the new ceremonial costumes of gold and metal, offered up flaming torches to ward off the evil. And some noticed us.
With pointing hands and arms reaching for whatever weapons they could find, several octaves of Gaalians made chase.
With heavy limbs, slowed by the flying dirt, Brendar and I struggled to stay afront of them. Twice Brendar fell from the effort and twice I came to his aid, the Gaalians a spearfling away.
Then the Whirling One, with a sudden jerk, swept near us. Great flying stones bashed into the Gaalian pursuers, who cried out with pain and fear. Some of the slower Gaalians were even carried up into His embrace.
Pursuit turned to flight as we all made for the outskirts of the settlement. Some Gaalians even passed us by, their weapons flung away, all thought of our capture disappeared.
We made it to the settlement right before the Whirling wind. Frantically we passed through the narrowly twisting walkways, wind blasting behind us, threatening to unsettle our flying feet.
–In here!—shouted Brendar above the noise, and he grasped my arm and flung me into a dark building, slamming the door behind him.
The room was not the ordinary, plain style of the Long South we knew. Instead it was decorated in colourful paint. Thick cushions covered the ground, a long low table making up one end. We sighed with joy that it was empty.
We did not wait, but quickly slid to the low table, which was piled high with food and drink, the likes of which we had not seen for untold octaves. The Whirling Wind had interrupted a great feast.
We grasped at this food and drink with great desire and slid onto our bellies beneath the low table, munching and waiting to see what should happen next.
It is an odd happening to be in a risky position that brings so much joy, one cannot think of what comes after that moment’s end. I have only occasionally been in that situation. In the arms of a Folkiness, for instance. But never do I recall being so absorbed in delight, as with that food, with the comfort of sitting indoors atop a soft carpet. It is a vivid memory, and I do not hesitate to say I was happy then. As happy as I had ever been in life after so much suffering.
Noble Brendar was the one who pulled me out of my reveries.
–Karkin—he said with tenderness, his mouth half full of a dried fruit slice.—I would that we may long remain here, but to do that, we must seek arms, and attempt to bar the entry. Seeing no substantial arms and no way to close the doors, I am afraid we must go.—
The Whirling Wind raged outside, a roar covering any other sound. The Waterwandering Jonderen would not have hesitated at this sound, but the metal grubbing one did.
–What if we should fail to live?—I replied with urgency.—I have no desire to perish. And it is so nice in here and comfortable.—
Brendar, whose life in the mines had been a good deal more difficult even than mine, shook his head silently.
–If you make comfort your measuring rod, you may pass a painless death. But you will also pass a servant of comfort, and not free.—
This statement made me tremble, pondering on how many decisions I had made to avoid pain and embrace what was comfortable and easy. Pursuing these things had created the monster Aflatan, had gotten my Folkin killed or turned into shells. It had ruined my health, hope, and my honour. Now, only a few lengths from water and freedom, with only the courage to make the wandering in a windstorm needed to finish, I yet hesitated.
Long I looked at Brendar who looked long at me. He stood then and took another bite, piling as much provisions into his soiled garment, which he wound into a pouch. I followed his lead, the strength within all but disappeared, mournful for the trials that yet I faced, a broken one.
I make no matter to try and hide my shame. I was no good member of my Kin or Karkin, I was then a disgrace to the entire Folkin, gifted with glory by the Authorities. I must dwell on this and dirty my name, lest the Songweavers try and clear me of what happened next.
With provisions enhand, we made for the door. The howling Spinner swept above with great crashing and chaos.
–We will not make it!—I shouted above the howling.
–nevertheless, we must try.—Brendar then shoved his shoulder into the door.
Caught into the wind, the door ripped off in the sweep of that narrow street like a piece of parchment. The howling grew very much louder, so that words were lost in the wind as they leapt off the tongue.
But Brendar did not hesitate, he jumped into the street and ran, the wind whipping, threatening to make him lose his balance.
I watched him from the safety of that doorway, willing myself to follow. Just as I made my first step, a great crack and a bang were sounded, and the building roofs flew up like great skylings and then came crashing down, Brendar beneath.
I did not believe what I had belooked. Rooted where I stood, I called out. Brendar! Brendar!
I heard nothing back but the howling, so heavy limbed I went to the wreckage to try and find him.
The Whirling One had moved across the settlement at this point, leaving stumps where once the pride of Aflatan had shown, strong and tall. With the lessening wind, the sounds of Gaalians, frantic with grief, rose up.
However, a Gaalian guard, the masters made by Aflatan, had begun to organize and I could hear their collected march, wandering my way.
I waded through the wreckage calling for Brendar, overturning wood, tile and wattle with speed and worry. Where are you? I cried.
The Gaalian guard then turned a corner. My wits returned and I threw myself beneath some wreckage on the side to hide as they passed.
None of the Gaalians espied me as they passed by, clearing a way, neither did they find Brendar.
Lying there in wait, I knew what I had to do, what Brendar would have wanted, so as soon as the guard was gone I got up and ran for the water.
The true devastation of the Spinner could only be seen from beyond the settlement. Built a bit back from the coast, as is also our fashion, lest a troubled sea cause trouble on land, you could see the whole settlement from water’s edge.
When I made it to this strand, I wondered at the work of the Whirling One, who could be seen going further aland and away, black and sparkling with the riches He had taken with Him in the last glowing gleam of Gaal.
All that remained of the great watercraft was wreckage, rolled over and dashed to pieces. But mercifully there lay a small foodgathering craft, of the old Gaalian style, floating unhurt in the water. Old Hal was nowhere to be seen.
I did not hesitate, but tightened the spiral of my cloak to protect my small supply of food and made for the little craft, eager to be away.