Sunday, August 29, 2010

Prisoner of Water: Chapter 14

Ismes and Manera were seated in the shadow of one of the dunes. They had been walking along the tops of the high red canyon walls which plummeted down into the Blue River fall below them, keeping away from the edge where they could be spotted by the Tracers. The road they traveled on was a winding strip of dunes between the edge of the cliff and the swamplands to the west.

“How much farther do you think Djariviera is?” Manera asked, coughing hard as she scanned the nearby dunes for any sign of life.

“Well, we’ve had to slow down because of your coughing and my eyes. So, it may actually not be until tomorrow afternoon until we see Djariviera.” Ismes said as he cooked the snake he had caught on the small pile of dried palm fronds. “Pretty soon we’re gonna see more and more of these dunelands, cause the swamp doesn’t get as close to the cliffs further on. We should be good with water, but I’m curing the snake with the palm fronds so we’ll have some food. It won’t be a lot, but it should be enough.”

As Ismes was still speaking, a large white snow hawk dropped down and tore a piece of burning frond from the flames with its sharp talons, before flying on. Ismes sighed and placed the partially cured snake into the provisions sack.

“We’re going to have to move. I’m not sure how good Tracers really are but if they live up to their reputations we’ll have to move fast.”

Manera simply stood up. The fire seemed to have gone out of her normally harsh eyes, and to be slowly seeping into her blood. The fever was only slight, but she knew that if they did not make it to Djariviera soon, she would be in serious trouble. Her mind went back to the great pestilence, and she shuddered, forcing herself to keep walking.


The group of men and women were all outrageously proportioned, either thin and tall or large and stout, their varying skin tones from the light tan of the coast to the ebony of the mountains spoke that they came from all over Nyaami. The group were headed by the only normally proportioned man, who walked with a cane because he was missing a leg.

“Good morning, what are three young uns like yerselves doing in these parts?” he asked, smiling broadly.

“Well, we’re traveling down the river... on vacation.” Josten said matching the man’s grin.

“At the start of winter?” the man asked cocking an eyebrow.

“We, er, wanted to beat all the tourist that are always crowding the rivers during the summer.” Josten said, sweat running down the back of his neck.

“Hahaha! Yer a bright one!” The man said, slapping Josten hard on the back and laughing a full bellied laugh. “My name’s Captain Shango. I’m the leader of our humble band of roving traders. We were comin up here to see if there was anything left of the northern traders, but looks like they’re still up there in the mountains holding their celebrations.”

“Yeah.” Josten’s smile felt sour in his stomach, “You know how they like to celebrate.”

“Oh aye! They do!” The man gave another roaring laugh, “Oh well, too bad. I was hoping to trade some of that sweetbark from them.”

“We have sweetbark!” I yelled, rummaging through my pack before dumping a sack full of the Yikombe bark on the ground, “I gathered these last night, as, er, specimens, but I’d be willing to trade this with you gentlemen, if you’re looking for some.”

“Yer friend speaks kinda funny. But I’m willing to make a deal with any man willing to strike a bargain fer a trade!” The man said smiling just a bid too broadly, “So, what would ye be wanting in return?”

“Passage.” I said, my pride at my speed of acquiring the Uma language hurt, “As far down the river as this will get us.”

“To Catamhar.” Anai spoke up.

“Hmmm, a trip down the river?” Captain Shango’s smile broadened even wider, “Well, if thats what you want, then it’s a deal!”

Josten shook the man’s hand and instantly a long, lanky member of the traders swooped down and scooped the bag up before they descended down the stairs. We followed behind, holding a whispered conversation as we went.

“I don’t like this.” Anai spoke.

“I don’t either. But it beats running all day, and now we have a way down the river. Good thinking, Tsinya.” Josten said turning to me.

“What does Tsinya mean?” I asked.

“It literally means ‘white-water’.” Anai answered, “But its really our word for soft powdery snow. But more importantly, I don’t care if this does get us to Catamhar, I still don’t like this plan, Josten. Something feels off about them.”

“I know.” Josten said, taking her hand and smiling, “But we don’t have any other choice. And like you said, we have to get back to the mountain before the glacier becomes too dangerous. And by the looks of the streams and how fast they’re swelling up, we don’t have a lot of time.”


Shekmet stood on the large rock with the flat top, eyes closed as he listened to the sound of the wind. His dark eyes snapped open and he looked towards the righthand shore. At that instant, his snow hawk shot over the edge, looped in the air, before descending on his shoulder with an ear-splitting screech.

“Good, girl, Tsingo.” he spoke, taking the burnt piece of charcoal from her talon.

Four of his men slid silently up the rocky outcrop. He could already make out but he wanted to be absolutely certain before they pursued. They took the burnt frond, each sniffing, feeling, tasting, and scanning it, delivering their commentary as they went.

“Swamp fronds. They camp to the west of the river close to the swamps.”

“Dunesnake meat. From the strip of dunelands between the swamps and the cliffs.”

“The fronds are green. For curing the snake meat. They intend to cross the greater dunelands towards Djariviera.”

“Crocodile scent. Same as from that tunnel we found. If they are about to enter the greater dunelands then they have only traveled a short distance before making camp. Most likely one of them is injured or ill.”

Shekmet crushed the front, letting the blackened ciders fly off as he spoke, “We have to find them, and catch them before they reach Djariviera. But, just in case, you two, take the swifttale salamanders and go ahead to Djariviera. Wait for them at the Herbalist. If they manage to slip past us, they’ll head there.”


“Here we are!” the one of the traders yelled, “Best be climbing aboard the Drunken Queen before we set off. You can bring your... er, animal.”

Anai just shook her head as she led the eland up onto the deck of the large, flat bottomed sail boat. Josten and I followed, and the gangplank was pulled up behind us. After a few moments we were off, following the river through the canyons, as waterfalls fell on either side of us.

“So, Captain.” I said, “The Drunken Queen? That’s an interesting name.”

“Oh, aye. I won her in a bet with a drunken river bandit who kept insisting that she was a queen. Hahaha! So I renamed her ship the Drunken Queen as a token of my esteem!” The trader captain laughed heartily.

“B-bandit?” I asked nervously, “Are there a lot of those on these rivers?”

“Well, we’re on the White River right now, and it don’t go past many of the big cities. Its out on the Blue River you’d want to be on the look out. River Bandits an’ Pirates are often closer than you’d think.” And both he and the crew found this joke hallarrious.

I tried laughing along, before taking my notebook out and writing as I asked, “So, um, let me see if I’ve got everything. We’re at the Thousand-falls Cliffs, on the White River, heading to Catamhar, which is north of here?”

The Captain had to catch his breathe before replying from all the laughter, “Aye, lad, but some call this the Nyaakni Valley, the Valley of Water and Fire. Cause of the blue rocks on one side and the red rocks on the other.”

“Why is it like that?” I asked, scribbling as fast as I could.

Here, an older trader, with grizzled grey-blue hair hobbled up, his one eye milky white, who answered in a hollow voice, “I grew up in the Valley, and there the old ones had a story. They said that long ago, in the old days, the Water Goddess wanted to raise up a home on our side of the water. So, she pushed the first mountains up. But they simply fell back into the sea. So, she pushed them up again. And more mountains rose up under the first, but they fell back also. Finally, she pushed up a third time and this time cut some of her hair and threw it like tethering ropes to the land of Nyami. Those ropes became the waterfalls and the loop she tied around the land became the White River. This is why the mountains are so many and why they are blue, like the sea. Because they came from the other side of the water.”

I noticed Anai had crossed her arms and was shaking her head. I made a mental note to ask her about it later. At the moment, the ship gave a sudden lurch, and the Trader Captain called all hands to their stations. I ran to the side and saw the river gushing and roaring with white foam.

“Hahaha! Ye didn’t think its called the White River for nothing, did ye?” The Captain roared with a laugh, “It’ll be rough riding from here on till we get to the glass of the Catanya Tower.”

Our craft rose and fell with alarming speed, and soon I began to feel the breakfast from that morning rising in my gullet. I seemed to be the only one seriously affected. Anai was tending to the frightened animal, stroking the soft red fur and calming it by speaking softly to it. Meanwhile, as we cleared the first set of rapids, some of the crew began to play a game with six bowels and several piles of colored stones, Josten soon joining in. I readied myself for less than pleasant trip down the river. Luckily, we were only a day away from Catamhar.

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