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ΨΨΨ

All great courses of good fortune must come to an end, and so ours did. For though most Gaalian villages were exceedingly small in size, some were very much larger.

Though not endowed with great buildings, or even fortifications, some of the big settlements might count as large as the settlements of the Lakedwellers.

The structure of these settlements also more closely resembled our own—a ruling council composed of elders and danceleaders, who among the Gaalians play the part of our Augurs.

The first such settlement we came to received us much more coldly than any previous one. They requested our entire company appear before the council to answer their questions. How we came to be there, by which path, who was following us, and many more like it.

These Gaalians dispelled the dream we thought to have entered, for they had qualities familiar from home: Avarice, deception, and the will to power. It was a lesson hard won for us at the time, who had grown used to the easy going ways of the village Gaalians.

The council decided that, despite the judgement of our village ambassadors, we represented a great danger. They ordered that we be taken to a safe place, to be watched.

We had not attended the council adorned for battle, and so we were in no position to fight.

This did not stop Kut from bruising many of the guards that arrived—the biggest brawniest Gaalians I had yet seen. Eventually my will prevailed, for I had perceived that there would yet be a way out of trouble.

The Guard threw us in deep pits on the edge of the settlement. The villagers forming part of our company placed in a neighboring pit; Loud was their lament that first absence of Gaal.

We suffered in this manner without sustenance of any kind the next passage, baking like bread in the oven under Gaal. Finally, after much suffering, a younger Gaalian who had been at the council meeting appeared over the edge of our pit.

He carried a small flask of the sweet drink much loved by Gaalians and with great relief did we drink this.

Old Leel, Writer of Fates had plunged a mighty turn upon us, for this was the first of our encounters with Aflatan.

ΨΨΨ

Aflatan enworded to us what had occurred, that a great fear had accompanied our arrival upon the Great Beast—for long had it been foretold that visitors would come over the open water bringing change and destruction.

Aflatan said he had never trusted in the visions and that he had been upon Hal and was fascinated by her.

I will never forget the words he said then, though I only partially espied their meaning at that time.

–This coast will never be the same now you have arrived.—he said—There will be those who accept the change and those that do not, a people looking forward and a people looking backward. I am looking forward.—

Aflatan then shared with us his plan.

It was a good plan, and readily did we agree to it—of course Aflatan knew we had no choice but to enact it.

And so on the darkness lit by Lam[1] Aflatan came with some of his loyal dancers. They lowered ropes down to us, opening the heavy grates covering them, setting us free. We did not look for Hal, but parted into groups, each of us heading to the different muddies of the council members.

We stole into these muddies, one of us accompanied by two of Aflatan’s dancers, who wore black coverings and moved stiffly.

Lamdeel lit the interior of the muddies as we enacted the performance carefully instructed to us.

The Gaalians, shrouded in dark, seized the elders from their places of rest in a sudden, silent grip. Thus woken, each council member had their mouths stuffed with a foul smelling cloth prepared by Aflatan.

Then we, with limbs outstretched in the manner of the Augurs, proceeded to utter words in their language.

I am not certain what the words meant. They were from the old ways of the Gaalians, rarely spoken by common mouths.

Whatever was said had an enormous impact on the elders, for they writhed with fear. Then, by some property of the cloth, they entered a deep sleep, though they moaned in terror.

Then we departed as we had come, returning to our pit as if nothing had happened.

We awaited Gaal’s rising, hoping Aflatan’s plan had worked. Gaal had yet to reach the highpoint of his journey when indeed we heard the sounds of a crowd gathering above.

The Elders gave a speech pointing down at us and up at Gaal many times. Then they opened the pits and invited us up.

As Aflatan had predicted, the councilers held a meeting to discuss their dreams. Finding they all had some form of the same dream, they immediately undertook to obey it, setting us free and giving us honour in that settlement, known as Tu’vrahadith.

Fear accompanied our new freedom, and though we could come and go as we wished, always a certain space was left to us.

This new attitude even impacted the Gaalians who had journeyed with us, allowing the rumours of our power to unmake the picture their experiences had defined.

All were like this, except Aflatan, who made much of our new friendship, quizzing us on many things.

Aflatan’s interests lay not so much in our homelands in the Long North, as in the makeup of the lands we had come to.

Everything we could tell of our journey up the coast interested him. We in our turn were exceedingly glad to have one like Aflatan for a friend. His intelligence, knowledge and ability to get his desires met proved powerful reasons to befriend him. I spent the most time with him, the others, especially Brindar, left him alone.

Aflatan told us the stories popular in that place, of a powerful people who once ruled over all, even the untameable beasts like the Vrahadith. Horrible were this people’s deeds, and great was the suffering of the Gaalians in that time.

Aflatan enworded the beliefs of the Gaalians—that the world was curved like a great arc. On the far side of the arc was little light, and there dwelled awful beings of shadow.

It was predicted that the shadow people, finding a path up the arc, would be destined to leave and bring more of their kind to rule the well-lit lands again.

I am not sure how much truth exists in these tales—I know no stories of the authorities inhabiting southern lands. Aflatan’s trick had convinced the Gaalian council that indeed we ruled the darkness and should be made comfortable, lest we take control from the safe darkness of our pits.

To dispel the fear that surrounded us, Aflatan had counselled the building of a great fire to shine upon us whenever Gaal was absent.

We were given freedom, though suspicion followed us everywhere, especially when we (understandably) desired protection from Gaal in the height of his journey.

[1] Lôm

Continue to Jonderen's account of the Long South - Part 5

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