Looking South - Part VI

It was utterly unremarkable that a black wagon with red cross emblazoned on the side would return quietly to that great city. The haggard expression of the knights that sat atop the wagon was one that the city-folk were well-accustomed to seeing. Even so, there was always an audible shuddering accompanying its passage, and many who might have stepped out into the street lingered in doorways and waited until it had disappeared down amongst the glittering buildings as the first rays of sunlight caught the minarets. The call to morning prayer came from those tower tops, a simple song whose tones folded over and around themselves in their devotion to Eli.

The knights that drove that black wagon remained impassive, steering their charges through the wide main streets of Yesulam. It was not the custom of the Yesbearn to delay for things such as prayer when their charges had a destination to reach. Only when their mission was done would their daily devotions be attended to. Of the wagon’s occupants, none knew whether they prayed upon the arrival of dawn.

The wagon made its way towards the heart of Yesulam, where the great Cathedral, and its attending buildings could be found. The Holy See made its home there, the cathedral upon one side of a massive garden courtyard, the fountain at its centre fashioned from gold and silver, while the Council of Bishops occupied the other end. Smaller in stature, though no less grand were the Hall of the Questioners and the Great Library on the North and South. It was to the Hall of the Questioners that the wagon naturally journeyed.

The building was gilded with gold and silver much like the other buildings, but where as the cathedral, the Council of Bishops, and the Library all gleamed in the sun’s sky, the Hall of the Questioners seemed to draw in the light. It’s domes were fashioned from basalt, and the walls were sunken against the arches. If a building could be said to breathe, than this one exhaled only rarely.

From its front gates disgorged several more Yesbearn, lining the long steps down to the wagon. The wagon doors opened at last, and three black cowled figures slipped forth. Their robes danced along the wide flagstones, the hems rippling like the undulation of an swimming eel. They flowed up those stairs, their cowls never turning to regard any of the knights, who stood stony-faced and without regard for the three moving in their midst. When the three figures passed inside the doorway, the knights followed after, never leaving formation. Those black gates drew shut slowly, grinding against the stone.

The halls immediately beyond the doorway were lit by open braziers, and the walls were decorated with tapestries depicting the apostles and their first journeys. These halls were open to any who wished to come. Few did. Very quickly though, the three black cowled figures passed beyond the halls that were open to casual visitors and were soon traversing steps that only fellow Questioners, and a few select priests of other orders, were allowed to tread. The walls in those places were bereft of decoration. They were unmitigated stone, firm and solid, unbending against all who would face them. Unchanging over the course of centuries. These same walls would look upon each generation of Questioners, bringing them all into the same clarity.

At last after several minutes of walking unaccompanied by their guard, the three Questioners came to a doorway that was heavy with age. The door was iron, though its surface had been painted. A rather grotesque image lay there, of a man who had denied the Questioners, and had paid for his arrogance. The door was flanked on either side by brazier’s lit, and the harsh scent of sulfur permeated the air. A huge iron ring that was as wide as a man’s head stood in the middle of the door and served as a knocker. Beyond this door few ever tread. Apart from the Questioners, only the Patriarch was ever allowed beyond, and rare was it that the Patriarch ever came within these walls.

The central figure reached out an aged but firm hand, lifted the knocker barely an inch and let it fall back into place. The resounding thunk echoed back down the hall before fading away. It was nearly a minute afterwards that the door slowly swung outwards, revealing a barely illuminated room beyond. All three figures strode forward. Behind them, the door, as if responding to some mechanism of its own, began to close shut.

It was hardly anything mysterious, as there was a gear mechanism that regulated the opening and closing of a door that was far too heavy for most men to move. A simple lever that was mounted upon the far wall served the room’s sole occupant well in that regard. It was possible to open the door from the outside, but that secret was closely guarded – only those who needed to know did.

The room beyond was small. Braziers were lit on three sides of the room. A small knee-high desk sat near the far wall, upon which were several books. A bookcase filled with old moulding tomes lined the other wall, with a small closet and cupboard attached. On the other side, there was a simple pallet with a pair of blankets draped over top. The symbol of the yew tree hung over pallet, a set of prayer beads dangling from the branches where Yahshua’s hands had been bound.

Kneeling behind the table was another cowled figure. A book was clutched in one hand, the pages yellowed and old. A small shaggy dog lay at the figure’s knees, and it lifted it’s head to regard the newcomers. It sniffed the air a moment before laying its head back down. The dog appeared just as old as did everything else in the room. The figure patted the head of the animal a moment before setting the book down gently. Dust nearly stirred as the cover touched the surface of the desk.

“Come and kneel. You have been long awaited.” The voice was dry and brittle, and without any warmth. The three figures glided forward, kneeling in a line before the desk. The Grand Questioner surveyed them a moment, and then added, “You may remove your cowls.”

Kehthaek slowly drew back his own, regarding the man he knew merely from voice alone to be Mizrahek. Mizrahek was no older than himself, and while he had been effective, it was rumoured that he had more than once tortured those he had Questioned to gain the answers he sought.

Kehthaek knew better. They were not rumours.

Mizrahek regarded them slowly, and then folded his hands upon his knees. “You will present your findings to the Council of Bishops this evening. Until then you are to fast and pray in solitude. But I would hear what you discovered first.”

“Metamor Keep is not guilty of Patriarch Akabaieth’s murder. What they told us of the event is true. A Southern mage was responsible for the murder. A Sondecki.”

If this news surprised the Grand Questioner, he did not show it. “Did you question all that were involved?”

“No, but of those we were unable to question, we pieced enough information together from other sources that it did not matter.”

“They hid names from us,” Akaleth spat suddenly, interrupting Kehthaek. “By the time they admitted to us who some of the people we should question, it was too late, and we had to leave.”

“You had to leave?” Mizrahek asked, though it was more curious than anything else.

“Else we be struck by the same curses that took Bishop Vinsah,” Felsah pointed out, his face vacant apart from obedience. “We also agreed to leave Metamor Keep in exchange for being able to ask our Questions.”

“You agreed?” At this, Mizrahek became scornful. “You negotiated?”

“It was necessary,” Kehthaek pointed out, already pondering the wisdom of this man’s selection as Grand Questioner. “There was significant opposition to our even being allowed in the city. To proceed with our questions, and to question those that were not Followers, as were many who saw things surrounding Patriarch Akabaieth’s stay, we needed the permission of the Duke, who proved adamant about certain things.”

“What things?”

“We may only ask our questions, and we may only do so for three days. And that we would inform him of our conclusions afterwards.”

Mizrahek took a deep breath, one hand petting the shaggy dog behind its ears. “We are the Ecclesia, Kehthaek. We do not negotiate our sovereignty with anyone. Where we choose to go, we go. What we choose to do, we do. Eli has given us that right. You were wrong to let some foreign infidel who hates the Ecclesia to hamstring you and deny you any tools. We do not need to beg from them.”

“They denied us no tools that we needed to use.”

“You already said that you did not question all that you needed. Thus, you were denied what you needed.” Mizrahek’s face was as much a sepulchral mask as was Kehthaek’s. Yet in Mizrahek, there was a subtle anger.

“True enough. You have my apologies. But what we present is still accurate. Metamor Keep had nothing to do with Patriarch Akabaieth’s murder.”

“And Bishop Vinsah?”

“He will be coming to Yesulam to face judgement.”

Mizrahek took his hand from the dog’s head and returned it to his knee. “Good. Return to your rooms to fast and pray. You will be summoned when you are needed.”

The three Questioners rose as one, drew their cowls back over their heads, and without a word began to glide towards the heavy door which even then began to open outwards. Not a one of them once looked back.

The recess was a good thirty yards past the end of the sloping path that led up into the mountains. It was the beginning of a cave that burrowed back into the rock, but the end filled with sand after a hundred paces. Standing in the lee of the peaks, the ground outside was thicker with grass than anything surrounding it, but it still was dry and brittle. And standing at the cave’s entrance, they could see the first rolling hills of the desert creeping along the edges of the mountains to the South.

Sir Petriz of Vasks, having just risen and said his morning prayers, stared out past the cave opening and into the fiery sands. His escutcheon was leaning against the wall to his right. For a moment his eyes stole to the blue and black squares, noting the crescent moon in the upper right corner, and the downward pointing sword in the lower left. It was his heraldry, the sign of his house. One day he would return to Vasks and his people. With any luck, that day would soon be in coming.

Sir Czestadt had wanted them to be few at first, and they were. Apart from his squire, only Sir Poblocka and Sir Wodnicki had accompanied him. Neither of their squires came, and so it was left to Karol to attend to the chores of three knights. Both of their squires would be coming tonight, so neither of his men felt slighted in the least. It was, they all reminded themselves, an honour to serve the Driheli.

The morning sun had not yet penetrated the recess. Nor had it even managed to shine light upon the drying grass that stood outside the entrance. The morning thus remained cool, at least for a little while longer. For that he was glad. He hoped it would remain cool for quite some time.

But it would grow hot. It would grow hot soon enough.

Taking a deep breath, Sir Petriz waited and watched.

Morning came like it did any other day for the Magyars. As they were going to be leaving by noon, all of those things left out the day before were gathered up even as Varna and the cooks worked to fashion one last meal for them. However, there was a significant difference that all of them felt like a hollow pit in their hearts. Some of them were preparing to part ways and head in a different direction completely.

Nemgas coordinated things, having the four Driheli horses unhitched from the backs of the wagons and then laden with enough food and water for eight. There was more than they would need than just food of course. Heavy cloths were bundled and added to the horse’s burden. White linens were gathered and arranged for all eight of them, though they were kept separate from the horses. Weapons were also amassed, swords, daggers, bows, and even one large axe. Nemgas kept both Caur-Merripen and the Sathmoran blade at his side, touching neither. Whenever his fingers trailed across the hilt of the jewelled sword a haunted look filled his eyes, one that he would not explain.

When Varna had finished her preparations, the eight of them joined their fellow Magyars for the morning meal. Few cried. It was not the Magyar way after all. But so many things of late had not been the Magyar way that several forgot themselves and wept openly. The eight parted company and mingled freely. Nemgas himself sought out the company of his Kisaiya, and he felt renewed when she did not flinch from his presence.

Sitting together, she felt small and fragile next to him, but he would care ever for her if only she would let him. “Thou dost not know when thou shalt return,” she said at last, their meals finished and the day wearing on.

“Aye,” Nemgas admitted, his breath heavy. He slid his arm around her back. He felt strangely complete like this. Somehow, in the last few days, all his yearning to be with this one woman had come to pass. “But return I shalt.”

Kisaiya laid her head in the crook of his shoulder. It fit perfectly. “Dost thee go for thy boy, Pelurji?”

“Aye, and for all Magyars.” He stroked a few fingers through her dark hair. “And for thee, my Kisaiya.”

“Why...” there was a tremor in her voice. But temerity won in the end. “Why dost thou love me, Nemgas?”

He smiled lightly, his heart lifting some. “Because thee art Kisaiya. ‘Tis not any one aspect of thee that I hath been smitten by. ‘Tis all of thee together that dost compel me.”

She blushed then, lowering her head some so that he wouldn’t see. But he knew, and could feel it in her as so much of her was pressed close to him. “I hath thought long and hard o’er thee, Nemgas. And I ran from thee because I didst not understand my feelings. But I love thee. I love thee, Nemgas. I wish that thou wouldst not leave. I want thee to stay.”

Nemgas froze for a moment, and then the warmth suffused him, a glow that could not be denied. He wrapped his arms tighter around her and hugged her firmly, though not too tightly. Rising to his feet, and lifting her with him, he smiled and leaned his head close to her own. Her face was blemished only by a single tear, and the blush that still coloured her cheeks as brightly as the patches on her shirt.

“I hath no choice, Kisaiya. Thou wouldst think less of me shouldst I stay. I must go.” Nemgas paused as he held her, staring deeply into her dark eyes. They were so deep, so pleading, he could not deny them. “But I hath some time still.”

“Then let me show thee something,” Kisaiya wriggle free of his embrace and held out her hand. He took it, his fingers easily wrapping about her own. Her hand was soft, though it had the hard creases that any who lived life on the road would develop. She guided him through the throng of Magyars, and Nemgas noted quite a few of his fellows favouring him with leering grins. And that was when he saw that they were headed towards Kisaiya’s wagon. He smiled. Quite coyly in fact.

Grastalko sat next to Gamran and Pelgan, but spent most of the time staring at his left hand. Staring through it was more accurate. If he concentrated hard enough, he could see through the illusion that was the hard flesh down to the seared stump that was attached to his wrist. There was no pain in it anymore, but he felt ill just looking at what was truly there. The flesh was a wrinkled mass, the skin blackened, with deep red pits in every crevice. They almost seemed to smoulder still, like chunks of wood in a firepit after the fire had died.

It had taken some time to get back to sleep, but he found that if he did not think about his hand, or what was left of it, then his natural exhaustion could claim him. And he especially did not want to think about his choice to remain a Magyar. A part of him still missed the Driheli. He hoped that whatever Nemgas intended to do to end this conflict would not result in more deaths for them. They were a good order of knights, serving Eli and His Ecclesia after all. Whatever evil had led them to stand against each other was the true villain. He just hoped with that villain’s end, peace could come between them again.

He briefly wondered if after all was accomplished, he might be able to rejoin the Driheli. That thought was short lived though. With a hand such as his, he could never be a knight. In the past when a Driheli survived a wound that cost them a limb, they were quietly retired from the service. They were still treated with honour and respect of course, but they could never serve in battle again. It was as if the sword had burned his hand to make sure that he lived out his choice. He was a Magyar now, and would be for the remainder of his life.

That realization filled him not with sorrow, nor with joy. It just was.

But he could not help recall that burning sensation that he felt. It had been a sheer agony, as if he’d thrust his hand into the fiery depths of an ironworks forge. If he closed his eyes, he could feel the waves of heat rolls across him like thick bundles of hay, scoring his flesh with every prick. Burning. Scorching. Turning flesh to ash.


Gamran’s shout of surprise jerked him from his rumination. He stared at his left hand, from which a flame was merrily lapping upwards. He gave a shout of surprise, and shoved his fingers into the dirt, rubbing out the flame that had sprouted. It sizzled for a moment, and then was gone. The sting of it lasted a moment longer, but then, it too faded and all he could feel in the stump of his left hand was the memory of that burn. There was nothing else.

“What happened?’ Gamran asked, his eyes wide. Thelia was crouched behind him, her hands placed at his shoulders, eyes wide in surprise. On his other side, Pelgan and Amile were similarly distressed.

“I wast thinking... of a fire....” Grastalko continued to stare at his hand. Just how had he done that? He shook his head firmly and pulled his arm close to his chest. “Please, we hath so little time left. Let us talk of brighter things.”

The looks he received were dubious, but Magyars would not speak of things that another did not wish to discuss. It was no different that strange and un-Magyar like morning.

“Dazheen?” her voice was careful as she stepped around the dividing cloth. Bryone held the lamp low, and peered fretfully beyond. Candles were lit, but they were few in number. The old seer sat in her usual place, her wrinkled face a rictus, tight and unyielding. Her skin shone tallow under the golden glow of the lamp.

“Bryone, step closer,” the old crone beckoned. Before her on the table she had arrayed out her entire deck of cards. There was no order to it. It was as if she had spread the deck, and then ran her hands over it until it had become a jumbled mess.

Staring curiously at the cards, Bryone did, letting the curtain fall shut behind her. She never saw Dazheen like this, and it worried her. “What ails thee?”

“The cards,” Dazheen said, her face tightening all of a sudden. The table trembled as her hand pressed against the edge. Old worn fingers curled tightly, nails ever so gently indenting the edges of the cards collected there. “The cards hath a face.”

“The same that hast been there before?” Bryone’s eyes widened. She felt her arms tremble as she stood at the opposite corner of the table. The lamp was clutched tight between her fingers, arm bent close to her chest.

“The same. ‘Tis different now,” Dazheen said, lifting one hand and moving it over the cards. The edges seemed to lift up as her hand passed over them. “They art no more pictures, Bryone. I canst see through them too.” She took a deep breath, and it seemed it was taking all of her concentration just to keep the cards where they were. There was a nervous energy amongst them, as if the cards themselves were a beast only recently tamed that was still hungering for the wild. “I need thy help.”

“To do what, mistress?”

Dazheen lifted her tired eyes briefly. Bryone saw in them a strength of conviction she had never seen before. In that moment, the strength flowed between them, and the young girl no longer trembled. “To find and know who hast been watching us. ‘Tis what we shalt do.”

“I wilt do what I can,” she said, smiling helpfully to the older seer. She hung the lamp from a hook, and sat down opposite her at the table.

The cards stirred.

It was not quite an hour later that Nemgas and Kisaiya emerged from her wagon. Both wore bashful smiles, but their clothes and hair did not look unkempt. A few of the men grinned knowingly to Nemgas, even as he felt sure the women were looking at them jealously. Only one face in the crowd did not secretly delight him. Hanaman approached with his lips set in a grim line. There was a subtle look of fear in his grey eyes.

“Nemgas, I must speak with thee,” Hanaman declared as he stood before them both, arms crossed over his chest.

Nemgas turned to Kisaiya and hugged her close once more. “I wilt see thee once more ere I leave.”

She smiled but said nothing, merely nodding once to Hanaman out of courtesy, before dancing back amongst the other Magyars who were gathered. The meal was done, and now they were all cleaning and putting things away to ready themselves for the trip. Nemgas could see the four horses being grazed one last time before they would march. It would not be long now before they could begin their journey to Yesulam.

Hanaman and Nemgas walked a short distance from the wagons. They were halfway along the recession towards the Southern wall when they stopped and the older Magyar turned to him and asked, “What hath happened to Grastalko’s left hand?”

Nemgas felt a cold iciness in his belly. “I dost not know, Hanaman. He didst clutch the Sathmoran blade that wast touched by the ash mountain, and it burned him. But ‘twas not the hand that held the blade that wast burnt, but the other. Methinks the blade hast a double.”

“A double?”

“Just as Caur-Merripen became two, so too didst the Sathmoran blade. ‘Tis strange, but it wast twinned differently. I dost not know how to better explain it.”

Hanaman appeared to consider this for a moment. His face was long and drawn, weighing the power he knew existed at Cenziga against what he had heard. That Cenziga could do miraculous things was without a doubt. They had seen far too much of it already in only the last four months.

“I hath seen Grastalko. His left hand dost not appear to be burned. Yet he hath no ability to move his fingers, and his hand didst catch flame not one hour ago. There wast no fires near either. What dost that mean?”

Nemgas shook his head, pondering himself. Perhaps the wound was more serious than he had expected. He felt terribly sorry that he had ever asked Grastalko to choose between the swords. He could remember a time when he’d only had one arm after all. And now, his hand caught fire? And how did it do that?

“I hath no notion, Hanaman. ‘Tis magic. Perhaps Dazheen couldst see more.”

At this, Hanaman nodded thoughtfully. “True. I wilt send the boy to her.” A faraway look came to the Magyar’s face. Eyes stared through the rocks, and beyond the years themselves. Nemgas stood unmoving, knowing that those eyes would come back to him in time. It took nearly a minute, but when they did, there was no hesitation in them. “Thou wilt leave soon?”

“I wilt gather those coming with me and we shalt say our final farewells. If all hast been readied, we shalt leave in a half hour’s time.”

“Good. Ja. I hath my own affairs to attend to. I wilt see thee again, Nemgas.” Hanaman turned on his boots and began to walk back towards the camp, never once looking back. Nemgas stood for a moment and watched the grey-haired Magyar leave.

Nemgas was surprised to find that all was ready even sooner than he expected. Chamag had assembled the horses with Berkon and Kaspel’s assistance, the latter of which still had the bandage across his head though he claimed no ill effects from yesterday’s melee. Amile had raided the larder’s and provided each of them with a portion of melon to sup upon as they began. Gelel was leaning against one of the horses with one hand on his injured side, a slightly haunted look still in his eyes, though he smiled when Nemgas waved. Pelgan and Gamran were finishing the last of their farewells, the latter of which spent a great deal of time with both Thelia and Grastalko. That the little thief was so fond of the newest Magyar was odd, but pleasantly so.

At Nemgas’s command, Chamag led the horses out to the western edge of the clearing. One by one, the other seven all followed after him. Nemgas lingered for a moment, looking as the rest of the Magyars retreated once more to their wagons. Few wished to see any of their kind leave. They just did not understand how they should react, and so they reacted stolidly and without much fanfare. Nemgas expected as much. Only three approached him, and they were the very three he most expected to see.

Hanaman was the first, but the leader of the Magyars did little but clasp his hand and nod perfunctorily. Whatever sorrow he felt for the death of his eldest child Hanalko, he hid it very well.

After him came Grastalko, his face was like that of Hanaman’s, completely unreadable, but for a different reason. Grastalko looked confused one moment, frightened the next, and elated a moment later. And there were several more fleeting suggestions of feeling that Nemgas could not decide which was most prevalent. “I dost wish I couldst go with thee,” Grastalko said, lowering his eyes. “But I shouldst stay wit the wagons so that I canst become a proper Magyar.” Nemgas smiled lightly and patted him on the shoulder, before drawing him into a warm embrace.

“Thou art a proper Magyar already, Grastalko. Thou hath always been in thy heart, methinks.” He smiled warmly to the boy after they parted, and the boy smiled back some.

“Thee I thank... I thank thee,” he corrected himself. His diction was becoming far clearer already. “I wilt make thee proud.”

“Do all that thou ought as a Magyar, and thou wilt,” Nemgas tightened his grip on the boy’s shoulder for a moment, and then gestured for him to head back to the wagons. Grastalko lowered his head once, and then turned and ran back, the hem of his colourfully patched tunic snapping in the air.

The last was the most important to him. Kisaiya approached softly, but insistently. Her hands were cupped together in front of her, and her head was down, eyes looking at the ground. He set one finger under her chin and lifted until her eyes met his own. “I wilt see thee again, my love.”

“Take this,” she said, forcing something soft into his free hand. He looked down, and to his surprise found a lock of her dark hair tied off with blue and yellow ribbon. Lifting his eyes, he examined the nape of her neck, and saw that she had trimmed her long hair to just below her shoulders. A pang went through him, and he took a deep breath, tasting her very scent. He wrapped his arms about her and held her for a moment. “I wilt return to thee, and I wilt marry thee, Kisaiya. I wouldst hath no other as my wife.”

“And I wouldst be wife to no other, my brave Nemgas. Ja! I wilt wait for thee.”

Her smile was serene, but he could see in her eyes that she missed him already. Lowering his own head, fingers curling about the lock of her hair, he nodded in resignation, and took a step back. “Thou wilt see me soon, Kisaiya. Soon.” With heavy heart and tread, he turned and walked stiffly towards the horses.

Amile was smiling widely as she watched him return, and he could almost see tears in her eyes. The faces on the men were more dour, but each understood. When Nemgas reached them, he patted the flank of one of the horses, letting it flick its tail against his arm. “We hath a journey to begin. Ja! When ye pass into the rock, look back but once. No more than once.”

They all nodded solemnly. Chamag took the lead, his face set resolutely towards that wide western path. He did not pause as he stepped through the wide overhang of rock. His face turned though, and for a moment his eyes stared past them all, the pain writ clear across his face. But it became stony and resolved once more, and he continued on, never looking again.

Nemgas stayed in the rear, and he felt his heart breaking for his fellow Magyars, each looking back once at the life they had known, and the life they were for a time going to leave. And possibly, a life they would never return to. They all knew that going to Yesulam was dangerous, and that the knights would surely seek to kill them. But they would all go and do their best. If to death they strode, death they would embrace. Yet they each looked back once, their eyes taking in all that had been their life, locking it forever in their minds. This was why they rode to Yesulam. And this was the dream that they took with them. This was what they would come back to some day if they were successful.

And when it came time for Nemgas to pass between the pillars of rock that took them from the clearing to the westward road to the foothills of the Vysehrad, he paused. He turned slowly, letting his eyes take in the line of wagons only after all the rest of the scene had come into focus. The Vysehrad, a crucible that had broken them. They would not be defeated. He would see those wagons again. He would see Kisaiya again and love her. He would see Pelurji again and raise him as his son. He would see the day when Pelurji wore the great armour of Pelain and did even more deeds worthy of legend. Yes, all that he would see.

Nemgas smiled then, and continued on down the westward path. The rock did not slope at first, but soon it began a descent. A minute later, the path took a sharp turn to the right, and any hope of looking once more on the Magyar wagons was gone. All of them seemed to let loose a long sigh, as if they had been holding their breath.

“Well,” Gamran said, his voice strangely sardonic. “Canst it really be true?”

“Aye,” Chamag replied gruffly. “‘Tis true.”

“Ah, but how couldst thee know, my good Chamag?” Gamran asked, his voice becoming strangely mischievous. Nemgas could not help but smile then. Whatever was coming, he was sure that it would bring a smile to all their lips. Nothing Gamran did with that tone of voice did not.

“Could what be true, Gamran?” Pelgan asked as he walked side by side with Amile. Together they guided the second horse.

Gamran flashed his grin back at Nemgas then. The little thief was walking between the second and third horses with Gelel, while Kaspel and Berkon led the last two horses. “Couldst it be that Nemgas hath found his karbara with Kisaiya at last?”

At that Kaspel laughed loudly, and soon, they all were laughing warmly at the thief’s gentle prodding. Nemgas blushed, and waggled his finger at Gamran. Even so, his step felt lighter then. It would need to if they were to journey all the way to Yesulam. They had a long way to go.

Grinning and laughing lightly, they made their way down the sloping pass.

Grastalko watched all the friends he had known amongst the Magyars until he could no longer see any of them. The rest of the Magyars, many of whom he’d only just met the previous day, were hitching the Assingh to the wagons or were climbing into them. The cookpot and all of the benches that had been arrayed out that morning were already stowed away, and so the clearing which had once been so full of life seemed vacant and empty. The sultry touch of the wind was not comforting, but seemed intended to scorch the rock until it was bereft of any traces of their passing.

Unsure of what to do, Grastalko just watched, letting his arms hang limply at his side. He had felt it best to ignore his left hand for now. It had not caught fire again thankfully, though if he thought about it, he could feel again that smouldering sensation in what was left of his hand. And so, he simply did not think about it. The fingers were as unmoveable as before, but so far it had not made things too difficult for him. The lacings of his breeches had been trickier, but Nemgas had shown him how best to tie them with only one hand that morning. It would take some time to master, but he felt confidant that he could do so.

What would take longer to learn would be not to try and do anything with that hand. There was a temptation to try and grasp things with it, but that would pass with time too he felt. He had no other choice after all. There was a word for people with missing or injured limbs, but it was not one that he ever wished to conjure into his mind. People like that lived poor and miserable lives after all. At least, amongst the Magyars, he could still live as decently as the rest.


His face fell as the word came at last to his mind. What good could he be this way? There had been others in Bydbrüszin who had been missing limbs, and they had soldiered on, though few had ever given them much regard. Most joined the monastery where they could live in seclusion. The monks would take just about anyone after all. But he was no longer in Bydbrüszin. He was about as far as anyone could be from civilisation in fact. All he had were the Magyars.

“Grastalko? Thou art Grastalko, aye?” An older Magyar, a bit portly in the belly, with a heavy dark beard asked as he regarded him curiously.

“Aye. I hight Grastalko,” he replied. Yesterday he’d had another name, but that wasn’t important anymore he decided.

“I hight Adlemas,” the man said, patting him on the back. “Wouldst thee like to learn to drive the wagons?”

Grastalko looked up in surprise. He’d been riding in the wagons for so long, he had just assumed that was where he would be again. But to drive them? To see the world as they travelled? He felt a smile creep across his lips. “Aye! I wouldst love that! I thank thee, Adlemas!”

The older man smiled widely and gestured to a wagon a short ways down the line. “Come with me then, Grastalko. Thou shalt ride with me. We hath a long journey ahead of us.”

“Aye,” Grastalko said nodding. He glanced back towards the western opening once, saw nothing but the empty rock, and then back to the wagons. Where the wagons were, that was where life was. He knew that now. “Aye, we hath a very long journey! We shalt be the first Magyars to venture east of the Vysehrad!”

Adlemas nodded at that, his own grin widening. “Thou speakest true, my boy! Thou speakest true!”

Together, the two Magyars mounted the wagon and looked to the unknown east.

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