Late Summer - east of Meiloren.

 

The simplest path would be to follow the coast, and then head inland when the islands stand to the west. That would be an easy and leisurely journey through fishing villages, along beautiful coastlines of cliffs, forests and beaches where a quesatera might decide to retire. But I am not that sort of man. I take the road not marked, and so I set out south east from Meiloren, tracking the unmapped lands north of Ruah Valley. This would normally be a perilous journey, with little to rely upon by way of navigation markers, and even less known about the sort of wild food, or hunting that might be found along the way.

But I have a story to follow, and a little rhyme to guide me.

Before I begin, I must write for a moment of my last days in Ardennan, and make mention of the poet I met outside the Halkarn Artificery. The Artificery is as magnificent as any could imagine it. Technological and artistic marvels are produced in every one of the thousand rooms in this temple to innovation. I could go on about the vast array of toys, tools, machines and magic, but I won't, better that you should see it for yourself.

I will tell you about Hafiz, the poet, who was camped on the front steps every morning that I walked past on my way to the gardens. He was cornar, and very old, but he seemed to possess a youthful energy, an abundance of health that lifted him from within. I had seen him dancing many times when street musicians were nearby. Hafiz was homeless, or he was a traveller, or perhaps the truth is between these two simple ideas. I would often share my breakfast with him and we would tell each other travel stories. He told me that the princess of Lutheria is far more beautiful than even the most outlandish stories make her out to be. He told me that there is a forest in the Fractured Lands to the south, totally uninhabited by people, home only to a startling array of birds.

 

He told me that he had stood beneath the Tower and Arch in the Ruah Valley, and that their shadows had burned his skin. He rolled up his sleeve to show a great and terrible scar, long ago healed, but still a terrible deformity. I have long desired to see this marvel of the old world, and given the opportunity, I begged him to tell me how to reach it. He asked for payment, for this was his most precious story. I told him that I had very little money, but he shook his head. He did not want money. I sang him the song of the Road to Ruthane, and he smiled, but demanded more. I told him the little I knew of the Secret Three and he laughed, but asked for more.

 

So I told him of the Gloomtree and he did not laugh or smile, but nodded sadly, sorry perhaps, to have asked so much of me. The following is the story Hafiz told me. 

 

In the days before the Brightsong, there were many rivers and lakes in Telanya, many more than there are today. In fact, the land resembled an island chain, so flooded was the land. However, after the creation of the Brightsong, so we can deduce from the ancient cave paintings, the water began to drain away into the deep earth, and the land became broad and green and habitable. As the water drained away, a family of flower farmers, generation after generation, followed the receding waters south from the coast, planting their crops in the fresh mud, each decade drawing them closer to what is now Lake Landerin. Over hundreds of years, the remains of their flower crops lingered in the earth, making a seasonal path that can still be followed all the way from Meiloren to the Ruah Valley. The unmapped lands between the River Country and the Ruah Valley are today a dizzying maze of valleys, canyons and forests, with strange metals in the earth making magnetic compasses ineffective. The patient traveller can however, trace a reliable path, beginning in late summer, by following the path of blooming flowers south, through autumn, until in early winter the last of the flowers bloom on the slopes of the Ruah Valley, illuminating the path leading to the Tower and the Arch. It is not a perfect guide, there are many gaps between the remnants of ancient flower farms, and the traveller must be very careful to not be misled by an inaccurate identification of which flowers to follow.

Hafiz swore that his story was true, and that he had lived in the unmapped lands for nearly a decade before he discovered the path and followed it to the Tower and Arch. By way of proof, he lifted his other sleeve to reveal a series of tattoos, a beautiful garland of flowers ranging from silver, to orange, to yellow, to red. With his permission, I copied the tattoo into my sketchbook. By way of exchange, I gave him the map I had purchased in Riverridge, and to which I had added notes from my journey.

 

So it is, that in the last days of Summer, I break camp outside Meiloren and strike south into the unmapped lands, following the faint traces of silver flowers growing in the fading yellow grass.

Ta