It was worth it. All the pain; it was all ruddy worth it! I feel like I could fly right now.
Which would be useful, if only to ease the burden on my poor feet. Damn – I shall spend some time here, that is for certain. And what a chore that will be.
Where the man meets the sea.
My smile is unbreakable.
A plea to creative readers: as I look upon this, my eyes grow bored by the uniformity! I crave inspirational images, but alas, my hands fail me in that regard. I am not a ruddy artist. Are you? If you are inspired to articulate your (related!) imagination, then please, send it to me, and I will refresh this blot with its vibrancy.
I find myself rather lost for words, but being a useless quality in a blotter, I shall force myself to overcome this blank. Let me explain.
The Mandari are, by all accounts, a rather mountain-dwelling people – clinging to rocky slopes like the goats that share our home. Now, the reasons for this are historical and cultural as follows: under the unparalleled stewardship of Dara si Mahan, the Mandari first sought solace in the mountains, before consolidating their position and spreading forth to wreak havoc on the cannibals that had driven them out in the first place. The mountains represent the place where the Mandari found their God, and they also reflect the place that gave security when the threat of obliteration was very real.
So, my increasingly learned readers, you will note that all Mandari strongholds (or indeed settlements of any real virtue) are built with the strategic and psychological proximity at their heart. Just think on that, and tell me that I’m wrong.
Or indeed read on – for I will prove my point:
- Callij – the place where my journey started – spreads forth from a mountain valley, with its oldest and therefore most important centre at a severe elevation;
- Jalin, the Mandari home of the Jinq, is actually crafted upon an impossible mountain pass. It is the masterwork of the master architects;
- Mallis, the home of the ailing Mallahn family, resides on a proud frag of rock at the heart of a sea of plains. It is the sole elevation for many leagues around;
- Jinalas, the gateway to the new world, is built between two embracing arms of stone;
- And even Altunia, the largest Mandari city of them all and inherited from the Delfinians, is built upon a sharp bluff, accessible only from certain directions.
So, readers, you will see that we have a love affair with geological extravagance, and almost by default, our association with the sea is less. Much less.
To suggest that the Mandari are not a sea-faring people would be unfair; after all, we have made it all the way to Xeidan, Ahan, and even conduct certain trades with the Southern nations of l’Unna. But it’s also fair to say that we are not mariners in the wider sense of the world.
Which might be considered strange given that we hail from an archipelago.
But the reasoning is quite sound – if you cling to edges of the mountains, the exposure with the vast master that is the deep blue is somewhat limited. But there is one place where that rule is shunned – where the man meets the sea; Namcalla.
And oh my, the results are exquisite.
It is a peculiarity that the mountains of the Adunas Mahija nuzzle right up against the vast swell of the Mareaumíl, but that is the fact; I am no geologist and am not minded to find out. It is irrelevant in any case, because whatever the reason for this peculiar feature, the outcome is startling. As I make the final steps down the oppressive master that is the path through these mountains, I am quickly forgetting the frictional discomfort that has ground me down. My eyes are bathed in beauty, and my mood soars with the gulls that hang in the air. The fine mist of the falls is starting to reach me now, turning my threadbare clothes sodden, but I do not care. I do not care.
I will try to do it justice.
The nautical horizon is before me, and the entire stretch between me and it is beautiful azure blue – twinkling lights betraying the delicate rippling of the ocean’s surface. Not a white breaker in sight, it is a glorious expanse of uniformity, and the deep blue of the sea is mirrored in the rich blue of the sky. The sun is bright and the hues of the heavens are graded across my vision: white about Rhanna’s majesty; slipping into deeper shades as my eyes sweep round to the Western horizon. It is morning.
But that is just scene-setting – peripheral sweetness for my eyes.
Because right in front of me, where the steep cliffs of the Adunas Mahija meet the glorious sea, is a waterfall – a startlingly elevated cascade of water being ejected from the mountains into the sea. The falls are high and barely interrupted, and it looks much like a single reflective ribbon hung over the side of the mountain. The sun twinkles in that ribbon, giving the place a reflective quality, and my spirits soar at this cascade of light. Stunning. And built around those falls – which are called Penres; penetration – is a city; where the Man meets the sea.
Or to be more precise: where the Mandari met the sea. Because this is where our mountain dwelling people first came across the vast acreage that is the ocean; where our eyes first sampled her beauty. What a sight it must have seemed.
Now, rather inevitably, a city built about a waterfall is rather limited in size; and thus it is the case for Namcalla. It is only truly afforded the title city because it is the home dwelling of the Flajeqa family – one of the seven – and it must house fewer than two thousand people. Barely a village in reality.
But what it lacks in mass it makes up for in majesty. It is a sight to behold.
As I approach from the south, a slight headland takes me away from the parallel and I am given a glorious vista of its majesty. Dear Rhanna. She is stunning. The bulk of the city has been built either side of the falling water – hewn directly into the rock. But they do not look like hollowed stone, absolutely not. The sides of the falls have been excavated, inhabited, and then embellished with a regal looking columnar city on either side. Windows and balconies are plastered proudly all up the structure, and the stonework is even rather impressive.
At the centre of those great columns are the colonnaded rooms of the Palace – home of the Flajeqa. The place is subtle when compared to the grandiose of Callij, but when taken as a wider vista, it is astonishing. Truly astonishing.
At the base of the falls lie various quays and stations for boats to reside. It is said to be one of the hardest docks in the world, and the engineers have cleverly tried to channel the aggression of the waterfall away from the moorings; but they can only do so much. They are choppy waters, that is for certain.
And at the top of the falls now sprouts a clutch of buildings – poking their heads over the edge of the cliff. These are more modern additions, an attempt to expand the city in the face of rather limited building opportunities. But of course, the real problem is that this city – despite being homed by the Flajeqa – was built by the Jinq, and the Jinq are now far away in Ahan. They have greater worries, and expanding this jewel-like city must fall to the inexperienced. I must admit that some of the new additions truly are ghastly.
But that is like calling out a single stray hair on the head of an entirely naked and wonderfully curved whore – it is misplaced. No indeed, this place is stunning.
And as it turns out expensive. Not surprising when we consider the challenging trade routes that connect it to the world.
My readers – that is exorbitant. That is twenty gold a night. Now, granted, I am not aspiring low, but still. Twenty? That was an entire night with ample company back in Callij where gold paves the streets.
“Do you accept labour?”
They did not accept labour. And thus it is that my dreams are broken. For all its beauty and glorious majesty, the key problem with a city built upon a falls is that there is a tendency to get wet. Very wet, and very quickly. There was no way to get dry.
Unless you were rich. And I am, now, not rich. Instead I am huddled by the moorings, sheltering myself from the mist as best I can, and waiting for transport. Which is, apparently, infrequent. It is now dark, and I find myself hungry. Food, by all accounts, is the most exorbitant produce of the lot.
And so I find myself, a matter of ten days into my journey, having travelled barely to the edge of Mandaria, and hungry. My shoes are worn through – still – and my inadequate clothes are now eternally drenched. I am sat in one of the wealthiest corners of the known world, and I am shivering near to death. Ten days in, and I find myself doubting my decision.
But in reality, I know I had to go. What I hadn’t reckoned on was my rapid decline into travelling poverty. I will need to learn to survive, and I will need to learn fast. I fell asleep to the sound of my chattering teeth. Again.