So Says the Legend - A tale from Softly Say Goodbye.
I'm not going to lie, readers. This one's going to be a weird one. A story within a story, with some elements eventually appearing that may offend one's delicate sensibilities. I will, of course, warn for everything before it occurs.
"The world is at fault, not because it is inherently good or bad or anything but what it is, but because it doesn't prepare us in anything but body to get along with."
The Fields of Fum's inn is cold, narrow hallways chill with winter's bite. We gather in one room, snuggling together on the large bed, the better to keep warm as we pass the time with books and the like.
Beside me, legs against the wall and head near my knees, Lian Cre picks her way through a slim volume on the history of Tipa. Roland had insisted on us carrying it, though the rest of us had learned to read out of that same book as children. I suppose it's useful enough. It's so frigid both outside and in that both she and I have exchanged our skirts for pairs of Sinna's breeches.
To my left Patrick slumps on one elbow, perusing a Farmer's Almanac he purchased from one of the vendors yesterday. On his other side Sinna sits, hunched over her sheaf of blank paper, furiously sketching something or other.
I'm reading the chronicle. Kin had made a fuss over it at Shella, wasting precious air to tell me over and over again to read it. The least I can do is respect his wishes. Besides, it's been interesting, reading other caravanners' interpretations of myrrh trees, monsters, and miasma.
Now, though, as I idly flip the pages, I find myself bored. Karl Olin's second had been a rather dry, philosophical Yuke. The second did most of the writing, and I'm getting rather tired of his deep impressions and musings. Is it too much to ask that a crystal chronicle have some action in it? I mean, really.
The writing changes notably as I turn the next page, and I lift the heavy tome closer to my face to look at the signature. Eric, it reads. I raise my eyebrows. This is a part of history I know.
The elders had been in a quandary. Who to send? I recall my mother and father whispering to one another in the night. There were too many young children and too many old ones. They had agreed that if worst came to worst, my father would volunteer.
He never had a chance. A month after Karl Olin returned grievously injured, gossip ran wild. The miller's son was gone, taking the chalice with him. He was to be fifteen that year.
I had known Eric. He was his family's pride. He had fiery red hair and one festival he taught my older sister Sia Noh and I how to dance the traditional Clavat dances. My father jokingly called us tribe traitors every time we performed it and my mother shook her head and smiled when my sister insisted she would marry the much older boy.
When he left, no one thought he would make it back. Everyone prepared evacuation plans. How long would an inexperienced boy who'd never held a weapon before last on his own?
But beyond all expectations he'd survived. He'd even returned a month early. From then on, he'd been Tipa's caravan leader for the next nine years.
He never spoke of his first year alone, nor much of his other years, not even when pressed for details. Already regarded as a bit strange by the village, this reluctance marked him even further. I find myself eager now to know what occurred.
"Isn't it a little rude to be reading Kin's diary?" Lian Cre asks, having given up on her own book. She props herself up slightly to give me an arch glance.
I laugh in reply. "Not his diary, the caravan's. Besides," With a few quick sentences I explain the background of Eric's story.
"All right, let's hear it," Patrick chimes in. At my questioning glance he smiles. "Sounds a lot more interesting than this."
Huddled together on this cold, winter's day, we take turns reading each entry, piecing together the story of one of Tipa's most famed and mysterious caravanners.
The villagers say we haven't got a chance. They don't say it in front of the children, which somehow makes it worse. Speculation about the caravan happens all the time, a form of teasing for as long as I can remember being alive. As children we would defend the caravan. Karl Olin and the rest were our heroes. The grown ups would tease us. We would tell them that when we joined the caravan they wouldn't have to worry-we'd be back within a month! They would laugh.
Nobody is laughing now.
When Karl came back alone, a month into his year and paralyzed from the waist down, it seemed his injury had paralyzed the town. No one knew what to do. With every single member of his caravan slain and no recruits in training, everyone in the village had been deemed too old or tpo young. There was talk of calling in favors from Alfitaria, from the Fields of Fum, and from anyone who might listen to the plight of a tiny peninsula town.
Karl Olin was our hero. He had dragged himself out of the River Belle Path, burdened by the chalice, and managed to return. He had done all he could. How stupid that we could do nothing in the face of his courage.
Well, I have done something. I have stolen my father's axe. I have taken the chalice and the chronicle. I am doing what the elders should have done weeks ago.
They will laugh at me for this, and my mother will weep. They will say I was foolish. They will say I didn't know what I was doing. They are wrong. I know that the River Belle Path's giant crab has a new spell. I know that I have never used an axe for anything more than chopping wood. I know that my chances of survival are incredibly low.
But if I can retrieve just one drop of myrrh, then my efforts will have been worth it. Even one drop will buy us time.
I've left my father a note, telling of my intent. The elders will know to begin training replacements. They will know to look at the River Belle for a chalice.
Time is the most precious thing in this world, more precious even than life. I'll have given them that, at least.
By my hand, Eric.
Hitching up the caravan to the papaopamus is harder than one would believe. There were so many straps, and it was difficult to know how tight to pull them. I didn't want to hurt the poor beast. It took the better part of an hour getting the straps, ropes, and reins in the right place. At last I was on the road.
It was dark, but the sky was lightening to the east. The River Belle Path was a week away. It might take several days to traverse the path, but I was not worried. The battle axe sat to my right, the steel glinting in the moonlight. I had packed everything I thought I could possibly need: clothing, armor, food, water, a shovel, flint and tinder, gil, a single phoenix down. It will have to be enough. I'm terrified it won't be.
Sitting here, alone with my thoughts, the road, and old Blueberry, part of me wanted to turn back. 'It's not too late!' that part of me screamed. It forced the image of Karl Olin's anguished and pained face to the forefront of my mind. It told me I could still turn back, that no one need ever know I had this mad idea.
But I can't turn back. I won't turn back.
By my hand, Eric.
There is a riverside shrine, along the road where the river curves just so to meet it for a small caress. I stopped to pray. If any caravanner needed a blessing from the gods, it was me. The beginning of the River Belle Path was not far beyond this point, according to the map I'd also filched.
My parents were millers, and normally worshipped Ayna, Clavat goddess of home and hearth. I'd heard other villagers swear by different gods, or beg patience from unnamed ones. Not knowing whom to ask for aid, I simply made a general prayer. May they watch over and guide me.
By my hand, Eric.
(In a different hand, more words followed.)
This was when it happened.