Part Six – Sirrus and Ruthane Peak.
If one were to count the buildings of Sirrus, it easily identifies as a city. Hundreds of stone buildings stand tall and mostly in states of good repair, with hundreds more wooden dwellings stretching out across the valley slopes. In terms of population however, it is only a small town. It is a ghost city, a sacred city, an ancient city, peopled with archaeologists, historians, builders, carpenters, miners and metallurgists. It is not a living city, but the largest archaeological excavation site in all of Telanya. People live there of course, and there are market gardens, flocks of goats and mountain sheep, even children, but it is not a real city, like Riverridge, or Ardrennan. Most people who work on the excavation sites are employed by the Snowpeak League, the Citadel Alliance or the Bright Council. It is famously the training ground for many Wardens, and despite the waning public opinion about the usefulness of Wardens, their influence is still felt very strongly in the north. The city of Sirrus is a pilgrimage site, and as such, is home to many travellers who come to visit the ancient city, to learn of its secrets and the long history of Telanya in the Eldertimes. There are taverns and food stalls and a certain festive atmosphere that accompanies such an itinerant population, and as such, Sirrus is a lively town. It is however, a serious place of study and work, and the Ruthane caves are off-limits to all visitors. Only the Bright Council’s monks grant admission to the caves, and it is there that the Wardens are trained, and there that the deepest mysteries of the Brightsong are revealed.
On my first night in Sirrus, I fell in with a troupe of young students from Lutheria. Sent from the great history school there, they had joined a khumos team of excavators in Ekkar, on the coast. They travelled together to Sirrus and worked together on a project site up on the mountain, excavating a street lined with statues buried under a mudslide over a thousand years ago. I met them in a tavern, and over many warm ales, I became friends with them. They were a loud and excited group who loved to sing the old songs and dance the old dances, and I even saw some of them engaged in a game of Tumble, which, considering how crowded the tavern was, ended with fewer broken chairs than I expected.
But this story is not about rowdy students on a field trip.
They had among them an eesheeya storyteller. She was short even for her diminutive people, with reddish-blond curly hair, and her face reminded me of the golden fields of grain that shimmer in the summer wind, but I could not possibly explain why.
Late at night, when the tavern was quieter, we found a moment to speak in private.
Do you know the story of the lost expedition? she asked me.
Everyone knows about the lost expedition. I answered, deadpan.
But do you know the true story of the map maker? She questioned me further.
I do not. I replied. But every storyteller has invented their own new expedition story. Why should I believe yours to be true?
Because I have the map, she said, pulling out a leather scroll from the satchel at her side.
Unrolling it, I immediately saw its obvious age. The scroll was dry and cracked at the edges, and the faded paint was difficult to see. It was a map of the west coast and northern mountains, just like every other map of Telanya, but beyond the mountains was a forest with a tower. The writing on it was foreign, and difficult to discern.
How can you have a map? They didn't come back, I challenged.
This is the map they took with them. This is the reason they went north. The writing is in Old Sindipar.
Still skeptical, I raised an eyebrow. So you have a story do you?
No, she replied with a serious expression.
But you said...
The map is the story. She looked me in the eye.
We sat in silence for a moment.
What's your name? I asked her.
Ieya, she replied, smiling.
I fell instantly in love.
The map is the story, she explained. Everywhere the map maker travelled, they left behind gifts. In Cloudspore they left a book. In Riverridge they left this ring.
From her satchel she produced a golden ring, with carved runes around the outside and a curling design on the inside. Setting it on the table, she flicked it, sending it spinning.
Catching it, I examined the writing as Ieya continued.
In Wolf Head Peak they left a poem and a song and a dance. In Ekkar they left a wooden toy, an elephant, and in Sirrus, they left behind this map.
What does the writing on the ring say? I asked, handing it back to her.
Time fools all men. She looked me in the eye as she took the ring from me. I shivered as our fingers touched.
How old is the ring? I asked, desperate to find something to say so that I might continue talking to her.
How old is the story? She asked in reply.
And that is how I met Ieya Tree-Top.