The Fifth Path (21/30)

The First Draft of the Autobiography of Baal Uras, Soon to be 28th King of the True Land

Running Title: Earning the Throne: The Acts of a King

Composed Dumuzu 24th In the 59th Year of Baal Shamas

Chapter 18: The Isle of Ogdash

In order to secure my fifth agreement, I had to go on a quest. While it has been true that this whole endeavor could be termed a quest, there were a number of components to this particular leg of the journey which made that term seem particularly appropriate. First off, I traveled alone for this section of the journey. While my increasing trust and respect for my companions and those around me had been a theme of my journey thus far, so too had my own increasing feeling of inadequacy. I felt a need to prove myself on my own, so when my Scholar told me that the first Baal had made the trek on this island by himself, I decided that I would follow in his footsteps. It was true that I had been instrumental in securing the agreement on Adroth, and even got a chance to save my Protector from a terrible fate, but I had also had to be saved by her first, and likely would have been executed if both of my companions had not had my back. This of course seemed like a very compelling argument to not leave them both behind, and yet I did so anyways. The need to rely only upon myself, to have no backup or safety net should I fail was strong. Could I do what needed doing by myself? That question is of course what this chapter shall answer for you gentle reader.

Before I describe my quest, first let me describe to you my initial impressions of Ogdash. The word that perhaps best suits it is stark. The people are tall, thin, and grey, with dark clothing and few words. Even their hair and eyes seem to reject the idea of bright colors, for they are pale and dark respectively. In contrast to the isle of Adroth, only a few days travel by boat away, this island had few resources. Its people were hungry, and possessed few things. The island is largely flat, with grasslands covering all but a few small forested areas. Water is scarce. My initial impressions of the people’s general disposition was not favorable. I thought them fatalistic and a bit depressed. My opinion would change as I worked my way through my quest, but in general I felt a very gloomy vibe from the whole place at the start.

I did not spend much time at all in the initial port town. We said goodbye to the pirate captain who had helped us so much these last weeks. I had had some apprehension that my Scholar might try and go with her, but it seemed that he had made his decision before we landed, and while sad to see her go, was committed to finishing our journey together, or at least seeing the furthest lands, the places beyond the journals. I was not happy to see the captain herself go, though no longer being surrounded by pirates day and night was something of a positive. Of course I gave myself little time to enjoy my time with my companions again, for it was less than two hours after we said goodbye to the captain that I said goodbye to my companions for a time, loaded up a leather backpack and headed out into the plains, searching for the leader of Ogdash.

Why did I have to search? Well, it turned out that permanent residences were rare on this island, for most places did not have enough resources to support human life. As such, much of the population wandered from place to place, and this included the leader, who’s job it was to look after the small communities that did not move, ensuring that they were able to get the resources they needed to survive. The exact journey of the leader was not known however, for they had to adjust their path with the turning of the seasons and the needs of the communities they ruled. And so, I searched. I had no idea at all where the leader might be, or even much idea of where the next community might be. I knew only that this was how the first Baal had traversed this land, and trusted that I too would be able to survive the wasteland somehow. It would perhaps have been wise to put a bit more thought into the journey ahead of time. Packing some food and getting something of a map would have been really good choices that would have saved me a lot of time and effort. But alas, that is not what I did. Instead I set out with not much more then some money, some trading goods, and some supplies for camping and hunting. In the end it was enough, but only by the slimmest of margins.

With the exception of a rather exciting episode near the midpoint of my quest, it was those first days that came the closest to killing me. I had hunted a little in the true land, but always in large parties and always with the tracking part done by others. I had never had to search for water before. We had been careful to carry a lot of it in the desert at the beginning of this journey, but other than that, it had never really been an issue. Food and water both became an issue very quickly. I had brought one canteen of water, which I carefully rationed out for the first day. Then however, I was out. I had not thought to take any food at all, having trusted that I would find something out in the wastes. I saw a few small animals, but was unable to catch them in any way. As such, while I was not exactly thirsty at the end of my first day, I was quite hungry, and had no water for the next day.

I was lucky, in that I had the presence of mind to collect some of the morning dew that next morning, managing to fill my canteen about a quarter. This lasted me maybe two or three hours, but it was something at least, and I might very well have not made it at all if I had not done that. I tried again that day to hunt, but I found nothing at all. So mostly I just walked. I had no idea where I was going. I had gotten one of the people in the first town to point me in the direction of the closest village, but I was pretty certain I had gotten turned around, and there were basically no landmarks out in the endless waste. That second day was extremely hot, and I became incredibly thirsty very quickly after I had exhausted my supply of dew. I tried eating some of the grass, hoping it would have some wetness in it, but it tasted vile, and I was unable to finish it. I had though I might be able to eat anything after having had to deal with the worm ridden bread in my period of captivity, but it turned out that I had gained no such power. So, when at last it turned dark, and the sun dropped below the horizon, I was barely able to get out my blankets before dropping to the ground to rest. I was more thirsty than I had ever been before, and the hunger of two days without food gnawed at me. I thought perhaps I should try and walk during the night instead of the day, but the thought of walking another step was too much for me, and instead I curled up and slept, my throat parched and my dreams ragged.

Had it continued like that for my third day, I might very well have died. Instead I was saved by the fall of rain in the night. This woke me up from my sleep. At first thoughts were of only how to protect myself from its cold touch, but then, as my throat again interjected its own thoughts on the discussion, I realized that I needed to act now, to collect what water I could. I only had the one canteen to store water for travel, but I was able to set up some of my gear as little pools, so that I could at least drink deeply in the morning. I drank my fill in the night, set up what I could to catch more, then huddled under my blankets, shivering. I managed again to sleep, lulled by the sound of the rain. In the morning I drank all of what I had captured, then secured my canteen tightly, vowing to preserve the water better than I had before. Then I once again set off with no direction in mind. It was cooler that day, with the dark clouds still covering the sky, and occasional sprinkles of water throughout the day. The ground became muddy, which made the travel slower, but it was still better than the day before. Still, when I stopped at last, I still had no food at all. It was hard to quiet my stomach and ignore its cries. Had I been less exhausted by the endless walking, I might not have been able to sleep from the pain in my gut.

On the forth day I met another person. It was not until after a great deal more walking, but around noon I spotted a shape in the distance, and all but ran. I greeted them, and while they were as short on words as the others I had met, when I explained I had not eaten in days, they were quick to give me supplies from their own pack. Then they simply watched me while I munched away on the dried meat and tuber things they had given me. After I was satisfied, or rather after I forced myself to stop eating lest I consume all of my savior’s food, I asked them about the leader, and explained my quest to find them. They offered to travel with me on my search, but, still hoping to accomplish this task with no guide or companions, I turned down their generous offer, instead asking for only directions, and perhaps some tips on how to acquire food and water in the wasteland. They did not seem to understand why I was turning down their offer of accompaniment, which was probably because it was completely irrational, but they were happy enough to help with what they could. They showed me how to find the tuber things that I had eaten, what to look for, as well as a few other edible plants, including one that was quite juicy, and hence could be seen as a water replacement if the rain did not come or the dew did not suffice. The practice of hunting was too much for them to really explain in such a short time, but they gave me a few things to look for if I wanted to try and track down some of the small animals or even some larger ones. Then, they gave me some directions to a town they knew had been visited by the leader not too long ago. From there I might be able to find their next destination and catch up with them. I thanked the wanderer profusely, tried to give them some money to no avail, then continued on my way, feeling better then I had since arriving, finally not dying of hunger.

There is not too much to say about the next several days. I was able to keep myself fed and watered enough to survive in the waste now, perhaps not comfortably, but well enough. I was greeted with suspicion by the residents of the small village where the leader had visited. I managed to convince them my motives were pure however, and was soon on way with information about the next village the leader had been headed to. I was able to purchase a second canteen as well in the village, which made my water supply issue a bit easier. Then I continued on my way. It was about a day to the next village, whose residents confirmed I was catching up with the leader, but had not yet caught him, and the next day I was on my way again, towards the village they had told me the leader was visiting next. A day or two of travel later I was at my third village, then a bit later, my fourth.

It was in this final village that I learned I had caught up. The leader was not in town, but was returning. They had trekked out to hunt a dangerous beast who had been terrorizing the locals and their livestock. My body wanted me to rest, to simply wait for the leader in the village. I had been walking almost constantly the whole time, only stopping to eat, drink, talk, and sleep. All of me was exhausted. But, this was a quest, and waiting was not what I had set out to do. I was going to meet with the leader, and hopefully, could even help with the dangerous beast killing.

So, I ate some food I was able to buy in this latest village, drank deeply of their water supply, then took my hunting supplies in hand and set out. Once again, I really had no idea what I was doing, having still not ever actually successfully tracked or hunted anything without help, but that did not stop me. I simply started walking in the direction the villagers had pointed me. In the end it was pure luck, or perhaps lack of luck, which resulted in me finding the creature. It was much more that the creature found me than anything that I did. One could perhaps say that it was me who was the hunted, and not perhaps the hunter.

I was walking through a particularly dense area of grass, when I heard rustling to the side, and turned in that direction. I saw fur and claws, and I barely managed to get my arm up to protect my neck. The creature was on me, having leaped from somewhere, its force knocking me to the ground. Its teeth were in my arm, and it was biting again and again, while its claws clung to my chest, and its back ones rakes across my legs. I did my best to keep its gnashing teeth away from my face and neck, defending myself with one arm, while trying to push it back with the other. I flailed about, feeling incredible pain in my arm and my chest and legs as I was being cut and bit. I was not really able to think in all of this, simply pushing away, but some part of me understood that if this continued, then I would lose blood, and I would die. So, instead of just trying to keep the mad beast away from me, I struggled to turn over, to get the beast underneath me instead of the other way around. And so, using my somewhat free arm as a brace, I pushed against the ground, rolling over on top of the creature.

I had been carrying a bow with me as I walked, intending originally to try and shoot the creature from afar if I saw it. The bow itself was somewhere behind me, but the arrow I had held was on the ground next to me. I snatched it off the ground, and stabbed randomly. I tried to keep its head back, and get inside the range of its claws. I wrestled and stabbed and pushed back the head and stabbed and felt new gashes torn in my body and stabbed and wrestled and eventually, I realized I was wrestling nothing. The creature had stopped struggling. I slowly pulled myself out of its grasp, and looked at its body. It seemed that one of my blind stabs had gotten the creature in the neck, and that had likely been the fatal strike. I knew I needed to bandage my wounds, to stop the bleeding. I tried to get up, to get my backpack off so that I could wrap something around me. But, I was so tired. I was exhausted and tired and then I was asleep.

I awoke not feeling any pain at all, which was not at all what I was expecting, and was in fact, a little alarming. I had a hard time sitting up, and everything felt weird. It was dark wherever I was, but I was able to make out the shape of my own body. I was naked, except for an apparent mile or two of bandages wrapped around me in a number of places, including some places that I think were perhaps bandaged less for medical reasons and more for reasons of propriety. I thought perhaps to shout for someone, but I figured it had to be late, and I was healing, so I decided to wait till morning, letting myself fall back into sleep, something that was very very easy.

The next time I awoke, I saw a face staring down at me, a complex expression etched into it. In many ways I will continue to argue, until my dying day, that the face of the leader of the isle of Ogdash is the most beautiful face that there is. The leader was a woman, something that had never been implied by anyone I had talked to, and something I had not been expecting. She was not old, but she was no youth either. Her skin was the same grey shade as the rest of her people, and her hair white, pure as snow, with a soft look to it. Her eyes were intense, dark on dark, and large. All of this was attractive, but it was the lines in her face, and the complexity of her expression that made her truly beautiful.

Her face was like a map, with thin lines intersecting and splitting apart all over it. But while normally one’s face wrinkles and the lines of a hard and difficult life set in with age, you could see that these lines were not those of an acceptance of fate. These etches in her face were each a symbol, a representation of a person or group for whom she was responsible. A hundred times and a hundred times again her face screamed out that this was a person who cared. She ruled this whole island, and she did not just think of the good of the island, or the good of each town. Once could see, if they can read faces like I can, that she cared about each individual, every life on this island was her charge, her responsibility, and her pride. This was a woman who cared in a way that I have never seen another living being care. And now, looking down at me, I could see that this care extended to me. Though I was but a visitor, I was on her island, and as such, under her care. Every wound I had suffered at the hands of the beast was one she wished she could take upon herself instead. And now, looking down at me, she was trying to think of how best she could help me, what would be her best course of action so that I would be best helped. I did not really understand how to react to this expression.

She helped me sit up, and then we spoke, softly and gently. She had found me and the dead beast less than an hour after our battle. She had been tracking it, and had finally caught up. She had found me, and thought that I was dead, but she bound my wounds all the same and carried me back to the village upon her back. There I was given an herb which numbs pain, and my wounds were cleaned by local elders. She learned of my quest to find her from the locals, and decided to wait for me to awake before continuing her journey, since I had come so far. Now I had awoken, and she would hear my story. She thanked me for killing the beast, but expressed sadness that I had been so hurt, feeling that it would have been better for her to have caught the beast, and that what I did, while brave, was foolish, not only as an individual, but as a leader. She explained that I had a responsibility to my followers, and getting myself mauled was not living up to that expectation. Then she apologized for yelling at me. I confirmed that I understood why she was saying what she was saying, and that I understood that I had not done the most rational thing.

We talked for a long time. About leadership and responsibility. About my quest, both my long term journey one, and the one specific to this island. When I explained that I was putting myself in danger in an attempt to improve myself so that I might be a better leader she seemed to soften a little on my decision, but she still generally thought I was being a bit of an idiot about the whole thing. Her point was that going and doing things on your own does not mean going and doing things without a plan or without asking questions and figuring stuff out. I agreed. Most of what I had done on this island had been very impulsive and not really the right choice. In the end, I think we were friends. She agreed to sign an agreement between our nations, but only if I traveled with her for a few days. She said I had the potential to be a great leader, but that she thought that perhaps I could be improved if I saw some of her work. I agreed, and the next day we traveled together.

I think some day I will have to write a book about those few short days I spent with the leader of Ogdash. It felt very deep and important, like I learned something essential in those days. But to try and express it all in a short paragraph within this story here seems somewhat disingenuous. Still it is an important part of my journey, perhaps the most important part so I will see what I can do.

In terms of actual things done, there was a lot. We traveled to different towns, and each one had different needs, different ways it needed help. But it also had different ways it could help. In one village we brought food for the two dozen residents, helping prepare a big soup for everyone that night. Then, we went around to each of the citizens, and collected from them spare clothes that they had, for they were a village of clothing makers. Then, we went to the next village and helped them set up a system for collecting water, for they were having a hard time getting enough, using an idea someone had created in a village weeks before. We took from those people a few spare tools for digging, which were needed in another town, which also had need of the clothes from the first. It was a network of interconnected needs, and somehow the leader kept it all straight in her head. She seemed to know every name, to know what each person was good at, what each person had and could spare, even if they did not think they could spare it. We traveled quickly, on great birds that ran as fast as horses. From village to village, being the messenger and the mailman and the leader all at once. It seemed too much for one person, this job that the leader had, and perhaps it would have been, for anyone less than her. But it was done, and she did it, and I watched and learned.

I learned many things in those days. If I were to pick only a few, only the most important out of all the essential things she taught me, it would have to be the importance of responsibility and of caring. As a leader, you need to be willing to take all of the weight upon yourself, to be the one to whom all can look, and all can rely upon. And in order that you do so as best as you can, in order that you really do what is right for all of the people, you need to care, not just abstractly, but individually, and specifically. For the leader, the only true way to lead was to know and believe in every single member of her people. It was an incredible way to be, and something I will always strive for, even if, in the end, the true land is too big for such an approach. On the last day, when she signed my agreement and lent me one of her great birds to return me back to my people, she spoke with me again, and taught me another lesson.

She explained that she had one great failing as a leader, and that she saw in me that same failing, though perhaps more extreme, but perhaps more fixable. She explains that while it is your responsibility as a leader to take all of the responsibility upon yourself, it is also your responsibility to make sure that those things which need doing are done, and this almost always means relying on others. The villages rely on each other she explained. None could live without the others to help supply what it lacked. Each has a specialty and focus and is valuable in its own way, but each has needs as well, and ways in which it must be supported. So to are people. Including oneself. She says that for her, though she knows this, she has a hard time letting others help her. She cannot seem to let go of any of the problems which she takes for herself, accomplishing them herself, even if it might be faster and better for her people if she were to share the problems. And so, in my quest to prove myself alone, she saw the thread of that same problem.

She had listened to my story, and knew how I felt myself to be the least useful member of the party. What she said then is something I will never forget. She explained that pride is the most dangerous weakness of a leader. She herself has too much, which is why she believes her successor will be better than her. And for me, she says, accepting that I might not be the most useful could be a step I need to take. You can’t always be the best, and sometimes people are better than you at one thing, or many things, and accepting that is also an important part of leadership. If you refuse to admit others are more skilled, or stronger, or smarter, then you are limiting yourself as a leader. Only by understanding the true capabilities of everyone, including yourself, can you make the best decisions. And with that thought, she left me. I road the bird through the wasteland towards the small town I had left my companions. I was lost in thought for the whole journey, glad the bird knew the way, for I still couldn’t navigate well in the emptiness of the grasslands.

My companions were happy indeed to see me upon my return. It had been a long and boring time for them, protecting our stuff being a task that both took time and was not interesting at all. I apologized to them for making them do this, and said I would not be going off on my own again, but that it had, I think, worked out for the best this time. My Protector was a bit annoyed at this, and I explained further that, while it had indeed worked out, it was only through a lot of luck that it had, and that it would have been the wiser choice to have not gone alone. I did not bring up the fact that someone still would have still had to watch our stuff, and leaving only one person to do that would not have been kind. Once I told the basics of my story, and showed them the agreement I had made with the leader, we moved on to the next subject, which was finding a new boat to continue on our way.

In terms of islands to be dropped off on with no transportation, this was not a particularly great one. The locals did not make boats for traveling long distances, and their were few traders in other boats that came this far. In the end we were able to find one local boat that was supposedly large enough and secure enough it could make it to the closest island to this one, where the locals said there were many more ships. We purchased the boat, and prepared to set out in the morning. I gave my two companions a chance to go out in the town together, and stayed to guard our stuff alone. I took the time to reflect, to think on the wisdom of the leader of this strange island, and to think about the future. For now, there was but one more destination. In myth alone was our next destination recorded. We would be traveling beyond the border of knowledge.

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