Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Ysa

Ysa and I first met at the age of five. (We were born before the same winter, in the fifth year of King Hapax's reign. My father tells me that it was a cold year; the crop was thin, and we were lucky to have both survived.) Ysa arrived here in a wave of refugees, fleeing raiders from the hill tribesmen to the south. Most of the refugees passed through; but Ysa's family, for whatever reason, decided to stay.

They were strangers, and we lived in a small village. They were not accepted with outstretched arms. But they worked and toiled alongside the rest of us, and were unstinting with what little they had; and the people of our village warmed to them. I was glad, even as young as I was; for I liked Ysa from the first.

We grew up together, associating as freely as we were permitted to, speaking of all that young people may say to those of the opposite sex - and, at times, somewhat more. We were friends; and, in later years, I began to hope that we might be something more. We had our arguments, our vicious and rather baseless feuds; in retrospect, at least, they seem like a tiny part of the time we had together. (And I do not think that is only nostalgia speaking.) Our lives seemed foredoomed to be ugly, brutish, and short; death by disease, starvation, or violence. To me, Ysa was a bright spark against that darkness...

And I say this to explain to you what I did next. For when Ysa vanished, I went after her.

I did not know why she had vanished. I did not even know, for several days, that she had; I only grew increasingly worried that I did not see her at meal-times, when we usually met. (And continued our discussions after - in privacy, or as close as we could come to it...) But when I heard her father speaking to mine in hushed tones, asking if he had seen her - for Ysa's father thought she might have run away with me! - ...

I went in search of her.

I did not know where she had gone. So I went to the best place I could think of; the city of Anchors, roughly forty miles from my village. The trip took weeks, as I struggled my way along dirt roads often barely better than animal trails. My attempts at hunting netted me only one, half-dead rabbit over the entire length of the trip; and I was lucky, in retrospect, not to have been arrested for poaching by the King's men! Most of my food came from roadside plants or from the kindness of strangers; by the end of the trip, I was ragged, dirty, and thin. (Though, living as a peasant in a rural village, it would not be wholly unfair to say that there was little difference between that and how I began.)

So I arrived in Anchors, knowing no-one, never having been in a town of more than a thousand inhabitants before. Anchors, they said, held nearly a hundred thousand souls! I was overwhelmed - but I was on a mission. I had to find Ysa. And I was in luck - for within hours of entering the town, a rumormonger told me what I needed to know. He'd seen riders from the south - the same direction as my village - clad in silver and sable, leading a girl on a spare horse. Her appearance - dark brown hair, blue eyes, short nose, thick lips... Ysa. It was her. And they'd tarried here - for two days! - before they were seen again, leaving north, along the King's Road. No-one knew what they were doing here, who they were, why they'd come.

I followed them, of course.

But first, I encounted a circumstance of exceptional luck - so lucky that one might reasonably think it no such thing. An woman approached me, claiming that she was in the employ of King Hapax, and was investigating the mysterious riders by his orders. I gushed out my story at once - for, even had I doubted her, what did I have to lose? - and she told me that I was to enter her employ; that she would feed me and clothe me, and we would together ride north tomorrow morning.

I did not like the idea of delay; but in every other way I was ecstatic.

So we set off from Anchors, after putting clean clothes on my back and a pair of solid meals in my belly. It was three days ride to Morels, where the riders had been seen, still travelling north; the same was told to us in Karlsgrad, which was another five days north, and then six days later in Stothenhem. In Silvershame, within sight of the spires of King Hapax's palace, an off-duty guardsman spoke to us of the riders, saying that he had seen them travelling west. We crossed the River Sogos without hesitation; I questioned my companion, asking her if she should be crossing into a foreign kingdom - being an agent of the King, after all - but she merely smiled, and declined to answer. She began to tutor me in the language of foreign lands as we passed through them; Levenyi, Hseek, Old Gothic. In the town of Petroglas, about three hundred miles northwest of Anchors, we were forced to tarry for five days; the riders has passed through at night, and was with great difficulty that we were able to find anyone who had observed their passage. (Well that we stayed - they'd turned at the crossroads at the center of town, travelling east once more.) In the White Forest - this is what my companion called it, of course, for I had passed outside the boundaries of the geography I knew by the time I had made it half-way to Anchors - we were set upon by bandits. After this, my companion began to teach me the ways of the blade and the bow; in her possession she kept a set of each, of worksmanship fit for a lord. The miles and the months went by, and we travelled ever onwards...

And every so often, the stories changed. When I first heard word of the riders, there were three of them, and Ysa. In Potok, there were six, and another girl; in Tortek, twelve, and three other girls. "Bands, rejoining," my companion said, and I agreed. Then I asked her where she thought they were going; but this, too, she would not answer.

Perhaps she thought that if I knew, I would have gone after Ysa without her. She was probably right. We seemed unable to make any ground on the riders; if I thought it would have gotten me closer, I would have discarded sleep and food as luxuries, and ridden myself into the dirt trying to catch up. In retrospect, of course, that would have been excruciatingly foolish... but I did not know that then, so it is just as well that my companion kept me in the dark.

It was in the middle of the day, half a year after I set out from my home village, that I finally confronted my travelling companion. We were riding through gold-dotted plains; I had been wrestling with whether or not to say something since I had woken up that morning. At last I made the decision: turning to her, I asked, "Who are you? Who do you really work for? You are no agent of King Hapax; you have strayed far too far from his realm without qualm or hesitation, your knowledge is far vaster than that of even a sage of our kingdom, and your weaponry -"

My companion stopped me, putting a finger to her lips. She did not answer me, of course; that was not her way. But she pointed, instead, along the road which we travelled, north.

And there it loomed, as it had for the past two days: the Ark of Tears, standing half-a-mile high and five miles long, shimmering in the sunlight. It was a thing of legend; one of the two Arks known within the lands of Men, ancient beyond comprehension, filled with riches and artifacts of untold power - and, correspondingly, ruled and guarded by that great and sacred order, the fabled Lonchё. (The other known Ark, the Ark of Flowers, lay far to the southeast; or so I was told.) I had been stunned into silence when my companion first pointed to it and named it to me, two days before; that I would see the Ark, myself, in the flesh! And now, as she pointed there, I at last knew the affiliation of my companion -

- if not why she had chosen to, with me, pursue this quest with such persistence.

We arrived at the Ark of Tears in the following afternoon, and tarried there for three days; and then we set out again for the northeast.

(Next.)

EDIT: Clarified a few small things at the end.

1 comment:

Calvacadeofcats said...

this movie was so powerfull and i cried