I’m moving once more! Yes; yes – I’m back on the move. Two seasons I have been holed up in the home of the merchant, but I find myself in a much stronger position. I am ready this time.
And I am sated. Certainly that.
The female hospitality on offer truly was delicious, and my living wage was enough to keep me in flesh for a long time to come. But that is my old life – that is the mark of Callij – and I am trying to break free of that mould. Yes indeed; I have grown my friends. Grown!
That being said, it was mighty hard to pull my path thus. I really have enjoyed my time.
“Are you certain you want to leave? You have been mighty valuable to us.”
My esteemed employer evidently values my wok highly, too. Oh my goodness, it is hard to leave this comfort. In Callij I was a failed architect, but out here, in the Between, I am almost a master engineer. It is praise I could get used to, but there is one small problem.
I know the reality of it.
“I must continue my journey. That is my true differentiator.”
And the journey is my differentiator. I am not a spectacular architect – I am barely mediocre. In the wilderness I may cause merchants to go bleary-eyed with demand, but in Callij – or any hub for that matter – I am merely an underqualified noble.
But I am also blotting my way across Society. That is different, and that is unique. That is the path I must follow.
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.
If I think back to my rather rushed departure at the height of the mid-season, I think I imagined whizzing around Mandaria, hopping over to Xeidan, and then making the voyage to the real challenge of the journey; to take in Ahan. That is a big country.
Well actually it’s a small country, but it’s the biggest part of Society.
I may actually also dream of stepping beyond Ahan’s fabled borders and sampling some of the wide desolation that is l’Unna, but perhaps that is fanciful. I have heard of some Sensors of Ahan making voyages deep into enemy territory, but whether they would accept the company of a somewhat ragged failed architect, I doubt. Beyond those borders – without the Gates of Ahan – is a dangerous world; and that is a different proposition altogether.
But this is all speculation – who knows whether I will make it to Ahan. First let’s take the next ginger step, and get moving. I am going to Mallis.
And this time I am ready.
Part of the reason I have elongated my stay is that I have sought the finest travel garments that money out here can buy. It’s fair to say that this does not replace my idiocy in not stocking up at Callij – where high quality produce is easily identified and attained – but I am now in at least a ‘sensible’ place. Look at my boots for starters.
They really are comfortable; but importantly, they are also durable. All leather, they also have a heavy leather sole protected with some sort of hardened ‘tar’ – a unique gloop which absorbs impact but remains supple to movement. It is the best defence against the sharper terrain, and I also have a spare supply of the tar stuff – enough to ‘strengthen’ the soles three times over the course of my journey. My boots will not be immortal, but I am well informed that this should at least remove the need to change the ruddy items on a near daily basis.
My travel clothes are leaps ahead also. Loose and of the finest cotton, they are light, comfortable, and surprisingly warm. I have a sealskin cloak with me too, a great thing that wraps around my body, but I am able to attach that to my back-sack; a bag that straps over my two shoulders! It makes carrying items an absolute doddle.
In my bag I have robes gifted to me by my merchant – clothing for me to adorn on the finer occasions. Unlike the ‘fake’ ones I wore initially with him, these ones are fit for my family’s status. Put these on anywhere in Society, and those around me will recognise my Callij credentials. And because I have stowed the clothes, they will not get ruined! Clever eh?
I also have spare items of my travel garments, some rudimentary cooking equipment (that I hope I never to have to use) and a tightly packed tarp which I can fashion into a shelter in dire circumstances. I also have a segregated section for paper and charcoal sticks for my writing, and plenty of room for supplies – food that is. My sack is heaving with durable supplies!
And there is also a stash of silver buried in the sack – a majority of my coinage. I’ll come onto that.
At my belt I have a fine leather belt, and hanging from that I even have a dagger that I never expect to use. Other tools include a knife and fork – one is never beyond table manners – tools for making a fire (flint and kindling and other items I really hope I’ll never need), and a healthy pouch of coins. The purse is filled just enough to make it look like my entire wealth, but not enough to be a desirable steal. I actually have a second set of coins in the toe of my boot – my ‘secret stash’ – which I am to concede if caught by robbers. But you readers already know the ruse; that my wealth lies in my bag. Clever, huh?
And so it is with a jovial wave of my hand, and a tug of my loins in the direction of my favourite companion, that I make my move. Mallis; here I come!
So – where am I actually headed? Well, as I’ve already probably stated about a hundred times, I am going to Mallis. But what is that I hear you cry?
Oh my poor ignorant fools.
Of course, many of you will actually know all about Mallis, but to ensure parity, and indeed as a form of self-indulgence, let me expand.
Mallis is the ‘hub’ formed by one of the High Sentient Families of the Mandari. Now, of course, the highest of all families are the Mahan; direct lineage from the founder of Society, Dara si Mahan. Next to them there are two secondary families; the Hânto and the Mallahn. Mallis is the home of the Mallahn.
In the earliest days of expansion, the Hânto and the Mallahn took a ‘horn’ of Mandaria each to cleanse and civilise, and where the Hânto met objection from an unexpected ‘cousin’ on their western horn, the Mallahn advanced undisturbed to the very peak of the eastern horn. It is at this peak of the island that they settled and lay their dominion. As settlements go, it is second only to Callij.
Now, both the Hânto and the Mallahn moved on from Mandaria and expanded overseas, leaving ‘state residents’ back in Mandaria, and there is much to tell on that front further down the line. But that is not for now. Suffice to say that the Mallahn family were heavily damaged by their expansionary tactics, and Mallis became the home for their survivors. It is, therefore, a somewhat sombre place.
But that was almost seven hundred years ago. Surely the family have flourished once more since then? Well, no. No they haven’t. They have been almost religiously frugal with their bloodline, and the result is a family riddled with madness and fatigue. At their height – nine hundred years ago – they were warriors unparalleled, but today that is mere history. Perhaps almost myth. It’s amazing how quickly the truth can be razed by sharp tongues.
And yet the Mallahn do nothing to defend their heritage; though the truth is that there is little they can do. The lineage is at its very end, and only one peg remains. A woman sits on the spire of Mallis – itself a wonder of Society because women ‘rule’ nowhere else – and once she dies, the line will fail. It will be the first death of a High Sentient Family and that is why I am so desperate to get there.
I really want to meet the woman.
I strike out west from the villa, searching for the ‘inner’ coast of the Malhorn. As I have already alluded, the eastern ‘ocean coast’ is brutal, and I do not fancy trekking for ten days along that cliff-face. Instead I am in search of the sandy western shore with luxuries such as roads, taverns, a hospitable climate, and the very real possibility of water travel.
I make it to the western coast in barely a morning (I have been here often enough in my engineering endeavours – searching out materials and trade), and I strike north before my stomach can catch up with me. By the time I settle for an inn as the sun is dipping, my stomach is dutifully rebelling.
But I am distracted. What a sight.
The Essol Ranella is the stretch of water between the two Horns – an inner sea of sorts, but so sheltered that it is an absolute delight. As the Flame of Rhanna, or Mother Bright if you will, dips over the vast western mountains to bring darkness to Mandaria, I am awed by the display. It has been a cloudy day, but the sky-blanket has been torn by the evening winds leaving gaps and great contrasts. Every colour is on display – red; gold; purple; blue; black; the white of moody Unthara hanging to the north-west. And the Inner Sea reflects every damn nuance of that celestial masterpiece, and layers over the undulating effect of gently rippled water. If I could paint, I would not now be writing. Oh my…
After a hearty meal and a comfortable night in the inn (the absence of company was partially offset by the satisfied tiredness I felt from my travels), I woke to another day with a smile on my face. I was out the door early, and made excellent progress once more. Walking the western paths was an excellent idea, and my boots made the journey almost comfortable. In fact, my progress has been so good, that I may actually make my goal early.
That is until my detour.
Many of you will know that the Mandari only bury their dead in mountains, cremated, when the Blood Star is not in the sky. Now, it’s fair to say that this horn is not rich with mountains of sufficient height, and one particular hillock therefore forms a bit of a pyre for the Mallahn. Many a great Mallahn soldier died in the civilisation of this horn, and this was where they came to be returned to Rhanna. I had to see it. A nine hundred-year-old memorial.
In all honesty it was just an almighty pile of scorched rocks with an engraved stone-face. The place stank of history, and my smile beamed as I stood there.
Which reminds me – I should probably explain the Mandari death rites one day. I will make a note in my paper stash. Hurrah! I love this back-sack.
But I did not stay at the memorial long, and I made quick and effortless progress to Mallis, arriving bang on schedule. Not that the schedule means anything to anyone but me.
But there it is – Mallis. I had seen it in many paintings, of course, but this is something else. This is something else indeed. Spectacular.