The Fifth Path (4/30)

Anatu’s Diary Entry for Nisanu 12th

Dear diary, I won’t keep you in suspense. We managed to get Nabua to the capital in time. He got a real healer looking after him, and though it was apparently a close thing, it looks like he will pull through. We might have to spend a little extra time in the capital, but after what I’ve seen here, I certainly won’t complain. It seems that the attackers strikes miraculously managed to miss most of the vital organs. Some minor damage to some of them, but the danger was infection. The local healers seem like they have many more remedies than our own back in the true land. I suppose that they have more options to draw from in the false world though. This place is unlike anything I dreamed of. There are still things I hope to see, dear diary, that I have heard of in the tales, but truly my view of the world has changed. I must be vigilant however. The false world is beautiful and wondrous and terrifying, but it cannot truly match the reality of home.

As the priests say: All that is false shall fade. Only the real will remain. I must remember that this place is temporary. But still it is incredible. And our companion too. If I have wavered in my convictions of the unreality of the false world, then how much more must my faith be tested by Hadia? Can I truly call her a not-man? She is our companion, brave and true. She saved all our lives and brought us through the desert in better shape than we had any right to be. Could she not be the descendent of a man who became lost in the false world? I cannot think of her as only a piece of the sky’s dream, a pawn of the Monster. My knowledge is small though. When Nabua awakes, I must ask him. I cannot let my wavering conviction be seen by Baal Uras of course. For him I must remain true and steadfast.

Let me speak of my brave Baal for a moment. I think perhaps I disparaged him, dear diary, in my first few entries. While he may be stubborn and overly kind, I feel he has proved himself in our time in the desert. He stood strong against the scorpions, and even against the bandits he did not aquit himself so bad. Indeed it was my job to protect him, but he managed to deal with the one soldier that fought with him, and even acted to save the life of Nabua. He has shown a willingness to consider the advice of others while still keeping command. Not that I ever would have broken his commands of course, dear diary, but I do, perhaps, feel better about following them now. Maybe it is my own hubris that asks my Baal to prove himself to me, yet all the same, I think he has done a fine job so far. We shall of course see, as time passes, but I find myself in good company right now.

I suppose I still don’t know about Nabua. He has certainly earned my sympathy for the days he was dying in the desert, and his wisdom in finding and recruiting Hadia is commendable, but I still don’t know much about him. I will seek to try harder upon his recovery. If my journey so far has taught me anything, it is that knowledge and forethought are incredibly important. Nabua is a man who knows much, and he seems to have an OK head on his shoulder, despite his heritage. He can’t fight worth a damn, but that’s why I am here. I’ll have to keep an eye on him a bit better next time. Of course the Baal takes precedence, but he seems a little more capable of taking care of himself in a brawl. It makes sense of course. No Hishtu are taught to fight. I might have to break that rule a little out here though. I shall have to ask Baal Uras, but I think, considering the circumstances it would be a good choice. If this first week is any indication of the danger level of this trip, then we are going to need all the help we can get in the fighting department. If Hadia had been a little less competent than she was, we might have lost either or both of the men.

But of course, dear diary, you must be dying to hear about the capital that we are staying in. I do go on about my companions and my feelings about them don’t I. I must say that Baal Uras in his full regal attire and presenting himself as a ruler of the true land is a sight to behold. Despite the hurry we were in, and the late time of our arrival in the city, my young Baal pulled out all the stops. We turned Nabua’s palette into a luxurious resting couch. He dressed us all in the finest garments, even Hadia, covered in gold and silver, arms and faces painted with ornate designs, even if it could not be seen under the garments. He himself pulled forth an incredible crown and a scepter I had no idea we were carrying. We rode in, high on our camels, backs straight and imperious.

A few whispered words with some of the early beggars and a little scattered coin, and soon enough we had a procession, including music and people declaring us as we went forward. None dared stop us or even slow. Guards bowed their heads as we passed, and we went straight from the front steps to the very throne room of the capital. The procession had to stay behind there, and we had to leave our camels with some capable looking palace attendants, but we continued on in style, passing bureaucrats and lower officers of the court without so much as a nod. Many looked as if they wished to stop us, or ask us who we were, but none could meet the gaze of my young Baal. We stopped only when we stood before the twin thrones of the married couple which ruled this island. Hadia and I both bowed low, but Baal Uras only nodded his head, a motion mirrored by the couple, who managed to contain any surprise they might have felt from a three person processional marching right into their throne room after dark.

I of course had no idea what they were saying once they started talking. Baal Uras was speaking, what I assumed was Hashim. While he and the royal couple talked, Hadia whispered to me. It seemed that she had thought his Hashim had a strange accent, but now she understood. He spoke the older, formal Hashim that was used by the rulers and the high courts of the Hashim people. In that dialect he was all but fluent it seemed. Hadia kept me updated on the conversation in quick, quiet whispers. It seemed that there was a lot of protocol to get out of the way first. Much complementing of each other, and downplaying ones self, but never ones kingdom. That part dragged on for a while, and I thought that perhaps Baal Uras had forgotten his ailing servant, but apparently this was all necessary to start a conversation with a foreign power. He explained this later to me when I asked. At the earliest opportunity however, he mentioned the events in the desert, and the wounds of our companion. Hadia was a little confused at the wording he used when he described the battle. Apparently he described the desperate battle to death that we had had as a misunderstanding. Again, I asked later on, and again the answer was political. To suggest that armed robbers were out and about in another ruler’s lands and could attack a royal processional of another nation would be seen as greatly offensive. By casting the fight as a misunderstanding, the Hashim rulers could save face, but still understand the situation.

As soon as the situation was explained, round about fashion or not, the Hashim rulers were quick to send for a healer, and Nabua was taken away with haste to be cared for. The conversation moved on, and I am afraid both I and Hadia lost interest after a while. There was a description of our battles with the scorpions which was apparently amusing, if only for its attempt to both convey the horror of the situation, and play the scorpions off as harmless pests that our party had simply not been expecting. After that was much which interested none but the rulers. Much talk of lands and trade and the changes in the fates of nations. While I am sure it will all come to affect me in the coming year, since we will be traveling through many of the places that the conversation touched on, I was tired, and Hadia cared little at all, translating less and less. After four nights of vigilance in the desert, with two of them interrupted by relentless scorpion attacks, I was ready for sleep in a real bed, with a chance to spend the whole night asleep. My thoughts drifted more and more towards beds and pillows, but I was in the presence of royalty, dear diary, so I could not droop my head, or close my eyes. Instead, I relied upon the guards well honed skill of half sleeping while standing up. One cannot be a true guard without mastering this technique.

At long last the exchange ended, and I was jostled out of my reverie by Hadia, who had apparently managed to see that I was asleep despite my open eyes and upright posture. Baal Uras spoke to us quickly. We would all be sleeping in different places it seemed. He was of course to be treated to the special quarters for royalty, and I was to get good quarters as well, but for some reason unknown to the young Baal the royal couple had been reluctant to even let Hadia stay in the palace, let alone stay in a good room. Baal Uras had pressed the issue a little, recounting tales of her valor, and her many acts of assistance which had got them safely through the desert, and had managed to get her a room, but it had obviously cost him some political capital, and he had only managed to get her their very worst guest room, a full two floors below my own. I wanted to protest, but Hadia said it was alright, and Baal Uras said it would be unwise to press further. He asked Hadia if they might discuss the issue on the morrow, and she nodded, looking slightly frightened. I was tired however, and so were we all, so the issue was dropped for the time being, and soon we were all asleep in our respective quarters. I slept like the dead.

I awoke to the pleasant smell of some kind of spiced drink, and the noise of movement in my room. I carefully opened my eyes a crack, determined it was just a servant bringing me breakfast, then sat up and had something decidedly more nice than scorched scorpion for the first time in days. Sweet breads, a spicy drink called “chai”, and strange sticky fruits which were sweeter than anything I had ever before encountered. It was a wonderful start to what would come to be an excellent day. After the leisurely breakfast, I was given new clothes, long flowing robes, and a veil to cover my face. Nabua had explained that believers in Kazim had a fear of face stealing demons, and thus only revealed their faces among close friends and family. It seemed an exceedingly absurd belief to me, but I was not going to be impolite in the capital city, so I covered up. I still don’t really believe in these face snatching demons, but considering how little I really know about the false world and all I have seen, perhaps it is wise to be cautious. Despite the veil, I felt somewhat naked walking the halls of the palace, for while the people of these parts cover up entirely in the desert, in town many women, and even men wear clothes which reveals the upper arms and lower legs. Thankfully my robe was long, but my sleeves were not, and so I headed down to meet up with Hadia instead of up to visit my Baal, embarrassed to be seen in this state.

Unfortunately for my frazzled nerves, my young Baal was waiting in the room of Hadia already. And he was wearing clothes even more provocative than mine own. I could see his elbows, and a good bit of his calf. It was all that I could do to remain calm, and remember where we were and the strange culture of this place. My Baal seemed entirely at ease in this state of nakedness, and I was unsure whether to be impressed or put out. I feel I might need to learn to accept, or at least block out some of the strange fashion choices, because it seems as though the Hashim are far from the most revealing culture. Still, dear diary, I shall strive to maintain the purity demanded of Bel’s true people. When I return to the true land, I shall not let these strange cultures corrupt me. What is false must fade. I’m afraid thoughts of this nature and the general distraction of the clothing worn by everyone in the room made me zone out of the conversation, so I don’t recall all that was discussed, but the decision was made to visit our wounded companion, try and get an idea of his condition and recovery time, then explore the city with Hadia as our guide. I was excited for this second phase, and I think Hadia saw that.

We visited Nubua, who had not yet awoken, but the healer explained what I had already stated, that he was going to be fine, but it had been a close thing. It was possible that without Hadia’s flower, he might not have made it. We vowed to return again later to check on our companion then went forth into the city. What to say of the capital of the island? Grand. Filled with light. Filled with people. Filled with a thousand different intriguing things. I was better able to appreciate the many strange foods and clothes and items to purchase this time, for the people were all veiled, and even the skin colors visible were more uniform, the Hashim being only slightly lighter than the usual shade. We shopped. We visited places to sip the spiced chai. We climbed tall buildings and looked over the city. We observed the prayers of the people, who, according to Nabua, worshiped the elements, fire, water, wind, and earth. I had not noticed before, but every Kazim whispered a quick prayer before drinking, before lighting a torch, before stepping on the earth after leaving a building. I thought then of how few prayers I had spoken to Bel since entering the false land. Some argued that the Monster steals all prayers whispered in the false land, but I can’t believe that any could take a true prayer. I must endeavor to pray more frequently, even without the priests constant reminders and calls to prayer.

All in all it was a day of discovering new things, enjoying this new place, and remembering what I had left behind. As the day ended, we returned to the palace, and Hadia stayed below, while I visited the suite of my Baal for a while, asking questions about the conversation the previous night. We spoke for a while, reminiscing about home. It was quiet and a bit sad, but I felt much better when I returned to my room that night. I fell asleep quickly. This time I dreamed, though I remember not the specifics. Something about the ocean and a great veil to hide its face from the Monster. When I awoke, I once again was treated to a wonderful breakfast, much like the previous day, but with some kind of salted ground nut and fried root bits instead of the sweet bread. Refreshed, I met up with my two companions. It seemed that the young Baal would be having a meeting with the leaders again that day, and so I had the morning to myself. Hadia too had business, so I returned to my room and decided to write to you again my dear journal. I hope to have more to share with you soon.

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