Posts Tagged ‘Romance’

The Fifth Path (24/30)

November 26, 2016

The First Draft of the Autobiography of Baal Uras, Soon to be 29th King of the True Land

Running Title: A Point of View: Things Seen in a Year Outside

Composed Abu 6th In the 1st Year of Baal Makru

Chapter 19: Captain Hailt

My companions and I boarded our little vessel, my Scholar having read up on the proper methods of locomotion and navigation for such a journey. It was much less relaxing than previous non-enslaved nautical expeditions, as I had to row almost constantly, alongside my companions. My Scholar sought to alleviate that need, by searching for a current that might carry us along without needing to row, but he never found it, so instead he simply added a strange weaving pattern to our travels, one that I do not think was truly appreciated by my Protector. I was generally too busy being completely exhausted by the rowing to give our exact navigation much notice. I did manage to notice however when the seas started to roughen and the sky darken. It would seem that this novice crew would have to deal with something of a storm on our way to the next island.

We fought the storm as best we could, doing a respectable job relative to our experience and skill. We were able to survive rolling waves and avoid being crushed when they crashed. We managed to stay on target even as tides pushed us to the sides and harsh winds blew us every which way. There was even a notable incident with a particularly large wave, where we managed to ride the wave and time our turn in such a way that our little boat all but leaped over the space between waves and landed on the top of the next one over without falling into the intervening space. In the end though, we were not good enough at this, or the waves and wind were too fierce, or our little boat was not made to handle this kind of situation. Whatever the excuse, not far from the island, near to some rocks and coral outcroppings, we crashed, our boat flipped, and everyone was pulled into the depths. At the time I had no idea what had happened to my companions, but truly, in those moments I thought not at all of them, but instead merely on staying alive. Not drowning was my top priority, and one that was certainly a challenging task.

I am not entirely sure how it came to be there, perhaps our boat crashed into a rock after we were all evicted from it, but somehow there was a chunk of wood, which floated above the rolling waves, and I managed to grip it. As water crashed over me, and currents pulled me, and as I whirled this way and that, I simply gripped the chunk of wood, trusting in it to keep me alive, and trusting in Bel to deliver me safely to the island, and not crush me cruelly against a sea-born rock. I was torn and cut a little by rocks that I was dragged past, but never was I crushed, and so I hung on, and prayed to Bel and was carried through the water. It was a long time before the moving stopped, before the storm ceased in its pulling and pushing and dragging and throwing. My arms had lost all sensation long before then, and I had reached a state somewhere between consciousness and sleep, not really perceiving the world, but not truly gone from it either. My hands had become vices, gripping only, not willing or able to do anything else at all. All of this together made it difficult for me to realize the storm was over.

I had been expecting to either die, crashed against some rocks, or wash ashore on the island that had been our goal. Instead I found myself hours later, blearily perceiving a world in which I was still clinging to the bit of wood that had been my salvation, and farther from the island than before the storm. It seemed as though I had been pulled into a current that had taken me out to sea, and not in towards the land. This was a worrying predicament, for once I realized that the storm was over, the numbness in my arms turned to searing pain, an incredible tiredness filled me, and the vices which had once been my hands began to feel more like hands again, their gripping strength draining away. I managed to maintain my grip, but only barely, my body not wanting to be part of this whole situation at all. I noticed then how far the island was from my location, and I must admit, that in that moment I did perhaps give in to despair. Maybe more like exhaustion then despair. I was quite tired. And yet I could not release my grip, I could not allow myself to let go or I would drown, for while hanging on is tiring, it is much less so than swimming. And so I hung on, watching myself drift further and further from the island that had been my goal. I had no particular plan or hope for how to survive, but I could not simply let myself go. I had a goal or drive to simply hold on, to extend my life by those few minutes or hours, or however long I could hold it. Despite my pain and exhaustion, I refused to let myself go. I hung on.

In the end this primal instinct, this desire to simply continue, even with no purpose or hope, saved me. It took me far longer to notice my savior than it should have. My eyes were mostly down, staring at my hands and arms that so burned and cried for release. When I did look up it was to stare at the ever receding island. So imagine my confusion when I happened to glance to the side and see a full blown ship sailing through the water not far away at all. I almost let go of my plank of wood and drowned right there and then. I managed to flail about and avoid that fate, then wave with one arm and yell with all that I could muster, coughing and spluttering with my parched throat. And someone on the ship saw me, and the ship came for me. A rope was thrown down to me, and I tried to climb, but I could not. So they pulled me up, and I did what I had done for so long, and hung on.

I was greeted by a crew, better dressed than many crews I had seen, which gave me hope I had not just found myself captured by pirates again. They were also remarkably similar in terms of appearance and dress, a uniformity that had not been evident at all in the pirate crews I had seen, which gave me further hope I was not in fact condemned to another period of servitude and rotted food. Their dress was similar enough that it might in fact to be appropriate to call what they were wearing a uniform. I wondered if this might not be some kind of military, for the uniforms and the sameness of appearance made that seem possible. The particular combination of skin tone, facial features, and general appearance was one that struck me as strangely familiar, but which I could not place, not seeming to fit any of the cultures that I was aware of, or had witnessed on my travels thus far. I similarly did not understand the language that they spoke to each other after I first made my way onto the ship. This worried me for a moment, but then one of them tried a few different languages out on me, and I was able to recognize a couple. It seemed like I was to be questioned, but after only getting to the point where I explained my name, there was an interruption. Someone from the back of the group spoke up.

The tone of voice and the way the others responded made me realize that the speaker was the leader. When the crowd parted and I saw the speaker I was a bit surprised to find a woman, but it seemed that there were many more female leaders in the false land than the true, so it was less surprising than it would have been a few months ago. I shall wait to describe this woman, for she becomes rather important to the story going forward. Suffice to say that at the moment, she was directing the others to give me a chance to rest before interrogating me, and since sleep was the thing that I most wanted at that moment, it would be fair to say that I took a shine to her right from the start. I nodded thanks to the woman, who gave me a curt nod as a response, then I was directed to follow one of the crew.

The room I was given was tiny, barely having enough room for the small pallet that it contained, but it had a place to sleep and was dry, which was more than enough for me at the moment. I closed the door, took off my soggy clothing, and then, managing to stave off sleep for a few more seconds, took a quick stock of what I had with me. Thankfully, we had been all wearing backpacks on the boat for space reasons, so I had mine on, which contained my notes for the very book you hold in your hands now. It had managed to avoid being destroyed completely. Unfortunately, that appeared to be all I had. I did not even have anything to write with. Just a backpack, a book, and my clothes. The lack of any resource for payment worried me a bit, but I was too tired to do much more than be glad that I at least had my notes. Then I threw myself down on the mat on the floor and immediately fell into sleep.

It was when I woke up that I really managed to understand the precariousness of my situation. I had lost almost all of my worldly possessions, as well as my two companions. And I would soon see that I had lost something else that I had thought never to lose. I felt relatively confident that my companions had survived. If I had then my Protector would certainly have made it, and I really couldn’t imagine my Scholar dieing to something as mundane as a boat crash. Not exactly compelling evidence, but the fact that I lived seemed evidence enough for me, who’s mind was not particularly willing to accept much more loss at that moment. It did soon become a priority of mine to try and meet back up with them, and I resolved to make landing on the island and searching for my companions a priority in my upcoming negotiations with the boat captain. I was sure there was something that could be worked out to that effect. Little did I know that their would not exactly be “negotiations” in the traditional sense that I was used to. Once I had put back on my clothes, dried now in the time I was asleep, I knocked on the door to indicate I was rested and ready for my interrogation and then waited for someone to retrieve me. Shortly, a member of the crew did.

I was brought to the office of the woman in charge. It is here that I shall describe her, and the general features of most of the people of this boat. The people were a mixed color, somewhat similar to the tone of the true people, though slightly darker. Their hair was either brown or a dark blonde. It was their eyes that made them unique however. For typically those with darker skin and hair tend to have darker eyes as well, but these people all had very pale eyes, either blue or green in color, but lighter even than normal for these colors. The woman who was sitting in a large chair behind her enormous desk when I came in had striking eyes indeed, the palest blue. They contrasted with her skin in a lovely fashion, her color being a bit darker than most of her peers. Her people tended to have thinner facial features than most of those I had encountered, and she was no exception, except that her eyes seemed particularly large in comparison to the rest of her face. It might have been an illusion however, created by the intensity of her gaze. It was not the same level as the leader of the island I had just visited, but it seemed a similar vein, the gaze of an effective leader. I smiled as I came into the cabin and sat down at the chair on my side of the desk. I noticed the tiniest hint of a frown as I did this, not from the smile, which had been apparently ignored, but from the act of sitting down. She apparently did not know she had communicated this though, as she shifted into an open smile after a moment, and invited me to speak, after introducing herself briefly.

I told her my story, or rather a very brief summation of it. I explained my situation and my quest, several of the notable adventures my companions and I had overcome and my current goals, both to retrieve my companions and the go to the final island beyond the edge of the world. While I was speaking, I was also taking time to really look her over. She had a slightly more complicated version of the red and blue uniform this ship seemed to favor. Her hair was a lustrous brown, grown out into long curls. Her face was above average in terms of appearance, but she would not have been considered a great beauty back in the true lands, on account of lack of thick lashes and the thinness of her lips. I could not see her body well underneath the uniform, but she seemed in shape, which made sense considering the military feel that I had gotten from this vessel. When I was finished, I was greeted by an expression unfamiliar to me, not so much in concept, as I had seen it used before, but in personal experience. The woman was leaned back in her chair, and she at last let her face move from the neutral but interested expression she had maintained for the whole story. She was smiling, but her one of her eyebrows was raised considerably higher than the other. She responded, and I realized with horror that she did not believe me. She did not believe I was a Baal, or indeed anyone of any real importance. She thought I was lying.

Her reasoning for dismissing my tale as being one of fancy was compelling. There had indeed been many incredible events upon my journey, and the skills and luck of myself and my companions are sufficiently above the norm that our feats might easily be considered unlikely without something to back them up. And seeing as how I had only myself and the notes for this very book you are now reading, I did not truly have much evidence, as the notes might very well be considered evidence of making this up just as well as being an actual record of my travels. Without my fortune or my companions to back me up, what did I truly have? I had a reputation and I had people who could vouch for me, but only on the islands behind us. Ahead of us there was nothing of my story. I had my skills at language, and my ability to negotiate and interact politically, but might those also not be skills of a professional liar?

As she explained all this, I searched for some thing that might persuade her, but I could think of nothing at all. And her last point was the most shocking of all, for she explained that while she had indeed heard of the true lands, it was that recent knowledge that really pushed my story out of the realm of the credible, for she informed me that the ruler of the true land was not named Shamas as I had told her, but instead Makru. This was of course the name of my oldest brother. It seemed that my father had died in these last few months. And to add insult to such painful news, it seemed my twin brother, Alam, had been sent on an Awakening to be ready as the next ruler. And this woman had met him, heard a very similar story, but with actual wealth and companions to back them up. And in the history of the true land, never had there been two such potential rulers out on their awakenings at the same time. The timing of my father’s death was unfortunate and had created an unprecedented situation that served to make my story seem particularly unlikely. I insisted that my story was true, refusing to admit that I was lying which seemed to be her goal, but I did admit that my story seemed implausible from her perspective. This seemed like enough of an admission to her, so we moved on to other topics.

Of course I was not truly prepared for the tone of these other discussions. In my whole life I had always been important. Sometimes disliked, opposed, or made to seem incompetent or young, but always important in some fundamental way. I was always known to be rich and powerful, and even if someone chose to not care about my opinion or wishes, this was an active choice, this was someone deciding that they were going to go against the grain and not do something that was accepted and normal. But now, I was a moneyless vagrant saved from death on the sea. I was not a Baal, not a potential future ruler, and I was not even rich. I was poor and I was perhaps a liar and I was as such, not in fact important. I was a person, and thus worth some small amount of consideration, but not much more than that. This was well established by the tone of the conversation after it was understood I had no evidence to suggest I was anyone important. The woman was in fact important, as the captain of the vessel, and so she would be the one talking and largely making decisions, and I was only here due to her charity, and so I would listen and make some small decisions within the context of what she told me. I did not quite grasp this at first, and tried to interject a few times but she did not respond well to this, and I figured out the situation pretty quickly. It was a bizarre feeling.

I had of course been in a situation where a woman had a great deal of power of me recently. My brief but intense relationship with my Protector had been that way, but there had still been an understanding that I was important to her, that this power dynamic was special because of its difference than the natural order of things. Here was different and I felt rather put out by it. I listened to the woman, and respected her choices, understanding it from her point of view, but I felt insulted, as though this was something inherently unnatural. It made me feel like how I had been on the pirate vessel, though obviously this was much less extreme. I was distracted and my emotions were not particularly stable, but I managed to disguise this as best I could. My first try at interjecting had been when she explained where we were going, as it did not include a stop on the island that likely contained my companions. I of course wanted to stop there, but she said it wasn’t on the schedule and that she was not rerouting a whole ship because of one lone vagrant. I was informed that I would be allowed to depart at any of the ships next five or so stops, but would have to be off relatively soon, not being a part of her crew. She further explained that no one rode on her ship without working, and that while she would not throw me to the sharks unless I did something to deserve it, I was not going to get any food or water unless I worked. I just nodded at this, slowly coming to terms with the fact that I was poor. Then the interview was over, and I returned to my room, being told I would start working after lunch that day.

I thought about what I should do. I considered trying to make it to shore somehow, maybe stealing a rowboat or something. But then I stopped, going back through the islands that the captain had told me we would be visiting, that I might be dropped off at. I had not know the names of most any of the islands that she mentioned, but she had described basic locations in relation to each other, and when I imagined them in respect to each other, I realized something. Based on the vague maps that we had been able to acquire from a few of the islands we had stopped on of the furthest lands, it might very well be that the last stop of this ship’s voyage was the very island that was to be the outermost destination of my Awakening. Thinking back to the title the woman had given herself when she first introduced herself to me, it became to seem more likely.

According to her, she was one Samunith, Third Admiral of the Wakeword Fleet. There were a lot of rumors about the island we were hoping to visit, that it was off the edge of the world, that it is the last island of the world, that it has technology beyond human imagining, that it is entirely populated by people with the heads of dogs, and a hundred other fanciful tales that are unlikely to be true. What seemed more likely to be helpful was descriptors of its people, how they were described by others and how they might describe themselves. I had only been half listening when my Scholar had described these details to me, but now, thinking back, it seemed that they mostly fit. It seemed very likely that this was indeed a ship of the navy of the very island I was hoping to visit. And if my companions could not find me, then they would assume that I was continuing the journey. And so, then, instead of running away, I needed to sail on this ship back to its home. I could potentially accomplish all my goals by simply doing whatever job these people asked of me, and staying aboard the ship. Off course the one place that the good captain Samunith had said I could not depart was their home island, but I’d just have to deal with that when I got too it. And so I resolved to win the trust of these people, and figure a way onto their island and prove my royalty at that point. So I got to work.

The next days passed pleasantly enough. I got to know the rest of the crew, who were suspicious at first, but came to like me once I got a chance to know them. Telling my stories directly did not go over super well, as the captain must have told them to distrust me in regards to that, but when I rephrased the stories as being events that happened to a friend of mine, they appreciated the stories more, and liked the adventure and romance and exploration of it all. I worked hard, doing my best to learn how to actually do these jobs, not only because I wanted to be liked, but also because I figured now was as good a time as any to actually pick up some skills that I might be able to be better at understanding the jobs others would be doing for me later.

The other interesting thing that happened over that period was something I was not initially trying to do, but ended up just sorta happening. It seemed that my attraction to woman in power was not restricted to my Protector. This may very well be a weakness in my character, and it will be something that needs overcoming before I could assume power back in the true lands. The attraction was not the same extreme complete surrender of self that had occurred previously, which was certainly an improvement as far as my ability to actually accomplish anything while feeling these things, but it was definitely something. I thought of Admiral Samunith rather frequently, though again not to the same crippling extent that I had for my Protector back in Xexan. And so, being in a strange situation far from home, in a somewhat uncomfortable situation, I acted on this impulse, and began to court the winsome woman. It was subtle. The different in our perceived station was such that the direct approach would be inappropriate. I am not exactly bad at the wooing process, despite the evidence to the contrary you have thus far observed in this story, gentle reader. While I had never before this trip actually considered any individual a real potential wife, I had learned the appropriate methods one would use when one was found, and I had been particularly studious in those particular lessons.

So it was that my efforts were not met with complete disapproval. The smiles and fleeting glances and such things that I was good at noticing indicated some amount of interest being returned, and so I continued, growing a bit bolder. I began to play the careful game that would be required to ever actually have something of a relationship. This of course was the game of power dynamics, this time played to win, or at least break even, as opposed to the complete failure of last time. Since she was in fact my superior in this situation, and currently had all the power, it was important to always be respectful, never oppose her directly, or even really imply I was. But it was also necessary to assert myself, to oh so subtly imply equality, or make reference to my noble status, even in jest. This was initially not received very well, but as I continued, and it became clear that I was not trying to usurp her power so much as carve out a place for a potential relationship within that dynamic, she warmed to it, and began to play along as well, biting back with the occasional flirtatious utilization of the current dynamic. It was an enjoyable game, one that was played well by both sides. It served to help pass the time, and while it did in fact serve my own interests, as it made me more liked, and thus more likely to be allowed to depart upon the island of her home, it was in fact an end in and of itself, because, as I said, I had become rather enamored of this woman.

So the days passed, in work, and then after work in song and swapping of stories, and the occasional intriguing exchange of dialogue with the Admiral. It was a happy and somewhat carefree time, one of the first times in my life that the burden of leadership was lifted, and while I was still committed to my goals, they had a timetable and a schedule I could not control, and so I was able to simply allow the trip to happen, to simply enjoy my time with these interesting new people around me. It was a good time all together. We stopped at several ports, and each time I was offered a chance to depart, and each time I turned it down, and the crew members and the admiral were happy with that choice, glad I was staying on for a little bit longer. The only annoying part of the situation was that I was unable to acquire anything with which to write for the longest time. It was only at the last port before the island of my goals that I was finally able to get one, the captain presenting it to me as a present, something for which I was most grateful, not only for the renewed ability to write, but also because of its symbol as a new step in our relationship. The giving of gifts is symbolically powerful in many cultures, and I expect it is the same for hers. So it was with joy in my heart that I was able to write down the notes for this part of my story, moving towards the island I have so long dreamed about, observing its bright lights, too bright to my eyes, and wondering how things would turn out.

Would I be allowed to depart on this island? Would my companions be waiting for me? Would I be able to prove my status and make an agreement with the rulers of this place? How would this affect my relationship with the attractive admiral? These questions and more rushed through my mind as the boat docked at the end of a long spindly black dock, and I put the last few words into my notes. This was the culmination of a lot of time and effort. The island off the edge of the map, the island past the edge of the world. It was an exciting time, in a life filled with such wonder.

The Fifth Path (10/30)

November 12, 2016

Anatu’s Diary Entry for Aru 4th

Dear diary, I am afraid I lied to you in my last bit of writing. Or rather I left out something big and important. I told you of the fight with the rat creatures, and of my dressing of the wounds of Baal Uras, but then I ended the story, acting as if I simply watched, then went to sleep with no more notable events. There were very notable events, and while I thought perhaps it was not good to write them down, I feel that they are such a significant part of my story, that I must do so, or I am afraid I will stop writing to you, dear diary, like I did when I worked at the palace and could not write all. And so I shall tell you, my diary, but you must be sworn to secrecy, for the dignity and good name of both myself and my Baal would be ruined completely should this story be released to the people of the real land, or even to the other companions on this journey. How then to begin?

I suppose I’ll start with some subtle signs, before it became completely obvious. My Baal, as we moved through the unpronounceable land, first the city, and then the trails outside it began spending more of his time gazing at, first women in general, and then, after I dove to protect him from what turned out to be a child’s toy, specifically me. My Baal has always been absolutely chaste from what I have seen, having the respectful manner of one that knows that their marriage will be arranged and decided based on political matters later in life, and thus is divorced from the day to day interactions between those of opposite genders. But for some reason, perhaps the unseemly clothing of the people of this unpronounceable land, or some realization made during our time in the “Green Sea” or after seeing the hand of Bel, he seemed to have given up that chaste nature, and seemed to be seeing women for the first time, with all the awkwardness and distant looks typically associated with teenagers experiencing this same first surge of emotions. I thought it strange, but mostly blamed it on the sleeveless garment that I wore, and the stress of the last few days. I assumed it would pass, and I thought it inappropriate to comment.

It was obvious that the young Baal was having trouble with this new interest in the opposite sex, and found himself unable to meet my gaze, which I thought adorable, but harmless. These new thoughts obviously were distracting him, for the young Baal was, during our day of walking, repeatedly tripping. Not wanting him to hurt himself, I stayed close by to make sure he did not fall, but I must admit that I found something of this new attention flattering, and I might have stood a bit too close, touched him before he truly needed my help. I’m sure my actions did not help his condition, but I found the situation somewhat amusing, and I couldn’t help but want to get back at him a little based on the decision about Hadia, which, while I understood, still felt cruel in my mind. So we talked through the day, seeing the sights I described in my last entry, dear diary, and I think the mind of my young Baal became more and more affected as the day continued on. As the day ended, and we set up the tents, I noticed a visible reaction to the realization that we would be sharing the same tent. This seemed a little excessive to me, considering all the times in the past we had slept close together with no problem. Still, I went to sleep with little thought of it.

What followed was of course the battle with the rat creatures, the injuries of my two fellow real landers, and the treating of wounds previously described. What I failed to disclose earlier however was the physical reaction to my close proximity that became very obvious once his shirt and pants were removed in order to properly dress wounds. I know that such reactions are not fully voluntary for men, but it was still one of the many possible first steps in initiating a courtship, something I had never considered at all before, knowing my Baal would be married to another Baal later in life. Was there precedent for a Baal on an Awakening to marry one of their companions? I knew not. Truly there were few Awakenings that were on the scale of this one, and perhaps precedent might be broken when the length of time was so great. Many thoughts moved through my mind, but I did my best to keep my face neutral, acting as if I had not noticed, and finishing the dressing without comment.

Again, I have already described the bit following, with explanations for the rats and a continuing of guard duty, what I left out was a number of events both in the tent and outside in which I interacted with my Baal. The first was immediately after we both returned to the tent. I was gathing my stuff for watch duty, when I finally decided to go for it, and take the next step in the courtship dances of the capital city. As the old saying goes, “Turn not away the gifts of Bel.” If my Baal had decided to pursue me, I might as well take the chance on it. He was a handsome boy, and he would soon be the ruler of the true lands. I would never again get a chance to marry, or even court, a Baal. If there was any place where the rules might be ignored, it was this strange unpronounceable place off the edge of the world. It was likely that my young Baal had no real interest in me, and that the earlier signal had been unintentional, in which case I would be rejected, which would be no worse than my current situation, even if slightly awkward for a time. And so I took the next step of the dance, a coy smile directed only at him.

Now there are many responses to this signal. A shake of the head means no real interest. Am upward head movement meant interest, but only on their terms. A returned smile meant interest on an equal footing. Downward turned eyes indicated that one was smitten, that they were willing to submit in order to make the relationship work. I expected one of the first two responses. What actually happened was completely unexpected. Not only did the boy lower his gaze, but he lowered it twice, first to stare at my body, then lower than even my feet. And his face burned a bright red. I had heard only of this level of deference when the class levels between the two were great indeed, such as when a Hishtu tried to woo a Baal. Even then it was not this level of abject surrender. Somehow in the last day, my Baal, this boy, had fallen for me harder then was really proper considering our positions. It was good his eyes were so downcast, for I froze up completely for several seconds at this response. Once again, my mind flooded with thoughts and possibilities. I could accept him equally, accept his love with him in a deferential position, reject him, or indicate I was interested, but that I needed to see more. Not truly believing this was happening, I surprised myself, and doubled down. If he was this interested in me, willing to debase himself before me as he just had, then I’d see how far it would go. I clicked my foot on the ground, an indicator for him to look up again, then gave him my sauciest smile, and walked out with an extra swing in my hips. Lets see what he would do to prove himself.

As I wandered the camp, and watched for more rats, I thought about what I had just done. I was really surprised by my own choices. I had never considered myself very aggressive when it came to relationships, and my expectation had always been that I would end up in an equal relationship with a man around my own status, or perhaps a weaker relationship with someone a bit higher. I had never considered being the dominant force in the relationship, partly because that generally meant marrying someone of lower class, which I had never felt particularly comfortable with. The wise and responsible choice would have been to accept my Baal’s advances as an equal, for trying to put oneself ahead of the Baals is all but a sin in the eyes of Bel. And yet somehow, seeing my Baal change from poised and confident diplomat to embarrassed, deferential boy all because of his attraction to me, had instilled me with a confidence and willingness to take the lead that I had rarely experienced outside of my unique skills as a bodyguard. He had looked so, incredibly cute and vulnerable, standing there, red faced, eyes downcast, waiting for my signal to proceed. I liked this balance of power.

My instinct was to quash this new-found interest, to reject it as being outside of the will of Bel, as being sinful and lacking in propriety. But something, perhaps my experiences in this last month, or what I had seen in my companions in that time, made me pause, and consider. While it was true that the Baal were given absolute authority by the word of Bel, so too was the dynamic between men and women in marriage allowed to be free. This was not me trying to take my Baal’s authority away. He would not lose command of the mission from this. This was a relationship dynamic, a potential balance between a husband and wife, which was allowed to be any way that was agreed to by both. If I enjoyed this dynamic, and my Baal, thus far was willing to accept it, then why should I not proceed. It seemed likely that eventually the dynamic would shift back to something more neutral, and the Baal would be unwilling to accept such a slanted dynamic, but why not make him at least work for it. Beyond the edge of the world, a girl has a right to a little fun. So, I considered this dynamic, and thought about ways to have a little fun, and generally had a pretty good time as I guarded the camp. A small group of rats did actually try and get in again, but I managed to dispatch them without needing to raise the alarm.

Eventually, my time was up, and I went to wake up my lovesick little boy. I gave him another smile, a chance for him to try and up his status, or further submit to my dominance, and once again his eyes fell immediately to my feet, and his face went red. My grin widened at this. I had expected him to rally by this point, try and regain some of his lost dignity, but instead he was just as submissive, cementing our relationship dynamic further. A few more interactions like this and it would be set in stone, impossible for him to come back to an equal status unless something truly earth-shattering occurred. I was once again surprised by my reaction to this thought. Did I truly want to maintain this dominance indefinitely? Apparently I did. Even the nature of my thoughts surrounding that thought was strange to me, a kind of, almost smug supposition of superiority, of rightness of dominance. Was this what the Baal felt all the time, this complete surety that they were meant to lead, that their say was more important than others? Whatever this was, it felt right in my head, and having already convinced myself of its acceptance in the world of Bel, I felt no regret, except perhaps a moment of pity for my poor, sweet, little Baal, perhaps not realizing I would truly accept his submission if he gave it to me so freely.

As I considered this, I stretched suggestively, an action which made the boys knees buckle for a moment. Then, taking into account my position, in a moment of pure brashness and arrogance, I decided to start taking off my clothes, letting him decide whether to stare or avert his gaze, both of which would cement my position. Instead, once again, he went even further down the path of submission than I had expected, basically fleeing the tent. I took a moment to laugh to myself, then noticed that the poor boy had forgotten his torch. Whatever would he do without me? I wrapped myself in blankets, covering enough to ensure the boy wouldn’t pass out, then took the torch out to him. Despite the nature of the relationship we had developed that night, my level of suggestiveness and willingness to expose my body was perhaps not the most shining example of my service to Bel. Still, in those heady days, I thought little of such things, and truly, considering the clothing I had available to me, I was not being much more revealing then base clothes. Anyways, I had originally planned to just hand him his torch and give him another one of my grins. I did the second part however, and his reaction was so adorable that I decided I wasn’t done having fun.

Instead of simply handing my little Baal his torch, I decided the boy needed a lecture on proper night time safety. I explained, step by step, the things one needed to bring along and do when guarding a group of tents at night. As I did so, the boy nodded along meekly, and stared straight at my barely clothed body, apparently unable to look away, but unable to meet my gaze either. This new found part of me felt the relationship cement further and further as this continued, pushing the envelope as I went, treating him like more and more of a child, and speaking in an increasingly smug and condescending voice. At one point, near the end, I do believe he tried to save some small measure of dignity, to preserve an iota of pride, but as he started to speak, he tried to look me in the eyes. I smiled indulgently and the poor thing lost his ability to speak, mumbling nonsense before once again dropping his gaze, this time all the way to my feet. Had I been the girl I thought I was the day before, I would have, at that point, seeing that my little Baal had at least tried to equalize the playing field, done something to restore the balance of power, maybe not all the way, but to something much more even then this. Instead, I took that moment as the last surrender, expanding my lecture to include audibility and how rude it was to mumble before at last, finishing the boy off. I walked up very close to him, patted him on the head, then gently grabbed his chin and directed his gaze up at my face, forcing him to meet my gaze. He was paralyzed, unable to respond. In the most playful and smug voice possible I asked him if he understood, telling him to nod if he did. I had to repeat it a couple more times before he complied, speaking more slowly each time, but at last the boy nodded and I gave him his torch. I sauntered back into my tent then. He was mine completely. He had given up any and all control in the relationship and I was totally OK with that. I slept better than I had since we left, the calm, cool feeling of complete control letting me pass into pleasant dreams.

Perhaps, dear diary, you are at this point, tired of this very one sided affair. When living it, it was certainly exciting, but perhaps hearing it described is not perhaps as enjoyable. Should that be the case, I apologize, but I must continue, I must record this whole period of time, really write it down, for I am not sure if I will be able to let it go if I do not. So bear with me, dear diary, as I continue to describe my subjugation and humiliation of my Baal, the man I have sworn my life to serve. As horrible as that sounds, as you’ll soon see, it was enjoyable for both sides.

So, I awoke, my dreams having been light and fluffy things. I always woke a bit early in order to get a bit of practice in with my weapons before the others woke. When I peeked outside though, I saw, not the elderly guide we had brought along, but rather my Baal, still sitting outside, watching the area, having apparently forgotten to switch watches with our guide, and stayed up the rest of the night. Awake and refreshed, I went out, and dragged the young Baal inside the tent. As flush as I was with my dominance, I still understood that it was not something we could allow others to see, and while it was early, Nabua had been known to keep odd hours, so I thought it safer to take this conversation inside.

I started it out much like the night before, a lecture about the need to switch out watches, about the importance of rest and a clear mind. Except instead of letting him listen and nod along meekly, I forced him to look me in the eyes every now and again, something he failed at utterly, and I furthermore quizzed him on the simple information I had explained. The eye contact and my tone of complete control were apparently too much for the boy, as he could not seem to keep the conversation straight, being unable to answer even simple questions about stuff that I had described moments ago. I doubled down on this, requiring him to look me in the eye when answering, making him try again on failed questions. This would have continued indefinitely if I had let it, for the boy was getting worse, not better as the questions continued, and he began losing his ability to even really formulate words. I was enjoying myself, but that part of me that had kept driving me to go further was pushing me again. As I took apart my little Baal, piece by piece, I got a sense that this relationship dynamic couldn’t be this one sided without something more than his complete love for me. Could he perhaps enjoy giving up his power? The thought seemed almost sacrilegious, but the more I watched him, and thought about it, the more it seemed possible. The ultimate test of course would be simply to ask him. This would be outside of the rules of courtship, something completely new, and it would give him an out if he wanted to escape the relationship, as well as a venue to rebalance the relationship a bit by saying no. But so far he had always acted in the most submissive of all possible ways. Additionally, while I was enjoying myself a great deal, I still was me, still, in some sense, loyal, to this boy I was toying with, and I did not truly wish to break him down to this level if he didn’t want it. So, I decided to ask.

If I was going to ask this though, I wanted a real answer, I did not want him lying because of shame. So I would have to really get to his very core, make him unable to speak anything but the truth. I started by grabbing his head, moving it forcefully to face me, the rest of his body following along meekly. His eyes were downcast, which was cute, but I wanted to look him in the eyes for this. So, I started whispering to him, telling him again and again to look me in the eyes. He tried and failed, but I kept telling him, and at last the force of my will overcame his, and he met my gaze, now completely unable to look away. It was in this position, me holding his face, he, caught in my gaze, unable to even blink, that I asked. I asked him if he enjoyed this, if he enjoyed my power, enjoyed being helpless before me. In his eyes I saw his will break down. His mouth moved noiselessly, as he first failed to rebuke me, then failed to say no. At last, he said yes, in a voice so timid and pleading, and with his shame being sufficient to tear himself free from my gaze, unable any longer to meet it.

I think in that moment, I really understood the situation I was in. Even as I had reveled in my power during the last day, I had not truly believed it could last. Each step was taken knowing that at some point my Baal would regain his senses and the dynamic would vanish. With his simple yes, I knew that, should I want it, I could have him forever. He would marry me, damn the rules and the consequences. He would be my obedient servant and loving husband till death parted us. He had well and truly given himself up to that. As I thought about it though, considering my duty, I knew that I could not allow that. I could not steal my Baal’s future, or allow him to be nothing but my puppet for life. He had a destiny, and a purpose, and a quest. But him getting those things was on me. I was his Protector. I would, in this case, have to Protect him from himself. But, I thought, need I do this now? Could I not let this thing linger a little longer, let myself dream a bit longer in this false world of dreams? Perhaps I should have answered no, but instead I answered yes. I would return him to his proper position, but I would give him and I a chance to enjoy this first. So I put off saving him from himself and from me, and now knowing this was temporary, knowing I would never marry this man, I decided to take it even further, beyond the limits of propriety. I had sworn to serve Bel completely after he had delivered us from the “Green Sea”, but in that moment I set that aside. I kissed him.

It was, like the relationship, aggressive and one sided. He melted in my arms, and I had to hold him up as his legs went wobbly and he seemed to lose all bodily control. I didn’t let up, kissing him vigorously, and slowly carrying him across the room to his bed. When I decided I had enough, I dropped him, and he fell only the bed in a sprawl. I instructed him to pack up the tent and carry my things for the day, then I sauntered out of the tent. That had been fun.

The rest of that day was not easy, though still fun to a certain extent. It soon became obvious that my actions had left my Baal in a state barely capable of comprehending the world around him, let alone leading us all in any sense. So the task fell to me, as well as the task of hiding his condition and the cause behind it from our companions. So I spoke for him, and explained he had a sore throat and couldn’t talk well, pretending to listen to his orders before simply giving my own. There was not a whole lot that needed to be done on that front, as the guide was incredibly competent, and so our journey went smoothly, but there were snags here and there.

We got held up by robbers, and I had to talk them down, convincing them that we would be able to win if they fought us, all while translating through the old man, while pretending to translate through my Baal. The guide negotiated us passage across a roaring river aboard a boat I did not feel at all comfortable about. We stopped in a small village for a while, and the guide stopped to play a strange game with another elderly man, managing to convince us that the game was vitally important, while afterwords admitting he just liked to keep his mind sharp. Eventually, we finished our journey for the night, and once again we put up tents. I was glad my Baal’s mental faculties were up to the task of tent setting, and it was nice to be able to skip that particular task for once, usually being the one to do it while the others discuss things or plan without me. I thought about that, how I was usually out of the planning process, and after effectively running the show for the day, I started to feel a little annoyed about it. When the tent was finished, I put the other two on the first two watches, then entered into my tent to find my cute, little, Baal waiting patiently for me, kneeling on his bed. I had thought to go easy that night, to give my Baal a chance to recover his senses, but it seemed that he had spent the whole day thinking about me and tonight, and I was feeling annoyed about the planning thing. As such, I laid into him about the planning, tearing his enfeebled intellect apart, and proving I was the better planner over and over before impelling him to include me in all future decision making processes. He readily agreed, and after a bit more in the way of dominating question and answer sessions, I once again kissed him, and left him in a heap on his bed. This time though, I moved my own bed close, and curled up, allowing him to cling to my back. Once again, I slept a deep and wonderful sleep.

Not much of note happens on the next day. Lots of walking. Lots of rice fields. The old man teaches us how the hills are converted to places one can grow rice after Nabua asks a question about it. Nabua and I get in an argument in which he tries to act smarter then me, but I have grown used to the dominant side of the conversation, so I manage, not only to turn it around and win the argument, but also get him to apologize. I hoped then, that the confidence I had newly received would remain after I released my Baal from this relationship. We encounter a rare bird, a silver tailed creature with great majestic plumage which the elderly guide tells us is good luck, and a rare sight. Though my Baal is once again eager to do stuff when I return to the tent after taking the first watch, I think he really could use a break, so I give him a short lecture on getting enough sleep, then fall asleep.

My Baal does seem slightly more sentient the next day, and I allow him to speak finally, but still stay mostly in charge, explaining that his voice is still weak. We encounter something called a mountain for the first time. I had seen it in the distance the last day or so, but I did not understand what it was, assuming it was some kind of strange cloud formation or something. Instead, it is something incredibly large, like a hill grown to adulthood. If I had not witnessed the hand of Bel, I might have been more impressed, but still it was a special experience to see, and the prospect of the view from its heights was deeply exciting. It was slow going up the mountain. It was steeper than most hills I had climbed, and we had been going up and down hills for the last several days, so all our legs were a bit tired at that point. We had to be cautious as we climbed, because according to our guide, the mountains were a prime location for bandits and thieves. It would seem that there were many hard to reach places and cavern systems that were perfect for hiding out in up here. We were cautious, and we did see some signs of either bandits or other travelers, but we were lucky enough to never get attacked by, or even meet any bandits. Our only dangerous encounter that day was somewhat late in the day, and it involved, once again, a wild animal.

It was Nabua that spotted it. It was like an incredibly massive cat, with tufted ears. It was way up in the trees ahead, barely visible, staring down at us patiently. My instinct was to go and try and scare it off, but our guide cautioned against that. He explained that while that had been the common wisdom for many years, in recent times, a change had come over these feline predators. While they had always hunted alone, this had changed, packs of the these creatures would hunt together, setting traps and working together to take down larger animals or groups of people. So, we stopped, and analyzed the trees and terrain ahead of us. It soon became apparent that this was likely a trap. As we looked at the places we could see, and where we couldn’t, every path that lead towards the cat, or even that made a wide angle around it passed through a spot where another such animal might hide, impossible to see from our angle. It was possible that this was coincidence, but that seemed unlikely. Talking together, we managed to construct a simple plan. While we had been back in town, we had purchased something similar to the explosives that had frightened us when the kids set them off, but much more powerful. It would create a bigger explosion, and more importantly in this situation, it would be incredibly loud. We unpacked the strange object, placed it on the ground, and lit a long black string that extended out from it. Then we rushed a distance away, and covered our ears. The massive cat creature stared at the moving fire that burned down the string, cocking its head to the side in confusion. Then it exploded. Even with my ears as covered as I could make them, the sound was louder than anything I had ever heard before. The cat creature fled in a panic, and I managed to spot a half a dozen other shapes, similar to the first darting out of the hiding places we had suspected. Once our hearing returned, we all congradulated each other, then returned to truding on for a while longer before it got dark.

I once again took advantage of my little, lovesick Baal, and managed to get out of putting up the tent. I wandered around the edge of the camp, nominally checking for signs of predators or bandits, but mostly lost in thought, considering the next couple days and nights. According to our guide, we would reach the capital of this unpronounceable kingdom a bit before noon the day after tomorrow. At that point my Baal would need to have to be returned to his senses, at least to the extent that he would be able to negotiate with the leaders of the unpronounceable kingdom. I briefly considered trying to do what I had been doing in the last few days, and do the negotiations for him, but I dismissed that almost imediately. I had not the training my Baal had for this sort of a situation. If I were to take away his ability to do these negotiations I would truly be commiting treason, truly seeking to usurp the power of Baal Uras outside of any possible exception. So, I would have to release him, I would have to reset our relationship somehow. Still, I had another day. I could wait one more day. I knew it was risky, knew that he might not be able to recover in time if I waited till tomorrow to reset, but, dear diary, I really enjoyed this, I enjoyed the relationship, and I enjoyed the dream of marrying a Baal, of stepping beyond my role, both as a commoner, and as a woman. It would be risky, but I would wait. Tonight, my Baal would remain mine.

So it was that that night, I went a bit further then before. I was perhaps a bit cruel, even within the context of the situation. I picked some topic, or activity, I don’t even remember what exactly it was about now, and I made it possible to succeed. Instead of getting more and more condescending and playful however, I put dissapointment and a growing frustration into my voice. The boy became more and more desperate to succeed while becoming less and less capable of doing so. Eventually it reached a peak, and he broke down, crying, apologzing for being unable to succeed, clinging to my leg. A piece of me felt sorry for him, felt like this was going too far, but another part had wanted to push it this far, bring him to this place. I gently dragged the poor thing over to his bed, then laid down next to him, putting my arms around him and speaking slowly, softly. I told him it was ok. It was ok that he couldn’t do it. I didn’t blame him. I didn’t expect him to succeed. I knew it was too hard for him. I still liked him. He wasn’t very smart and he wasn’t very strong and he wasn’t very good at anything, but I still liked him and it was ok. This part might sound cruel as well to you, dear diary, but this was most definitely not. In the place he was in, what he wanted most of all was my acceptance, my love. He would not have really believed me if I had told him he was smart and good and strong. Instead, by emphesizing the difference between us, by building myself up in comparison to him, I made my acceptance, my love of him even more powerful. He was shaking, his happiness and bliss at this, at my acceptance of him despite his flaws, almost inexpressibly powerful. So I held him to me, felt his raw joy at being mine, and we both drifted off to sleep.

I of course had to wake up in time to replace Nabua on watch, as I really didn’t want the Scholar walking in on me and my Baal all wrapped around each other. So I woke up, gently escaped my Baal’s arms, and went out to relieve Nabua. I felt refreshed by the cold air, watched the stars, and prepared myself for tomorrow. That would be the last time. I would have to give that up, give up on that need for me, on that submission and desire for my approval. I sat in the dark, and readied myself. I took my Baal’s turn at the watch as well and kept thinking, kept preparing, letting the boy sleep. Then, at last, I woke the old man, and went back to bed, sleeping in my own bed, turned away so I did not have to look at the still smiling form of my Baal.

In the morning, I did my best to restore Baal Uras to his senses. He was badly gone from the world when he first woke up. Speaking softly, asking him questions about the world and slowly bringing him out of his own head, I managed to get him into a state where he could speak somewhat normally. I wondered if this was enough, if I could just do this the next day, to give him the ability to speak with the rulers without having to give up the relationship, but as the day progressed, I saw that it was not enough. He could interact with the world alright, but he was missing some of his old spark. He didn’t believe himself a Baal, and I think perhaps, he couldn’t, as long as this continued. Still, I only had to step in to help lead a few times that day, as he was able to do alright. We reached the summit of the mountain early in the day, and I got to see a sight that I will never forget. Never had I been so high up in my life. The view was stunning. The green of the hills and fields, the grey of stones and buildings, and even, at the edge of the horizon, the blue of the sea, which we had come from only days ago, though it felt like much longer. We stayed to see the view for a few minutes, the old man apparently enjoying our sense of wonder. Eventually we had to move along however. The capital was in a valley on the other side of the mountain and we could see the road leading up to it, though the capital itself was not visible because of the local terrain hiding it around a turn in the valley. We began our descent quickly however.

In terms of notable events, there were only two that day after we reached the sumit. One was another bird of exceptional beauty. This one was a golden color, and the elderly guide explained it was even rarer than the silver one we had seen before, something only seen by those truly blessed by fate. I am not entirely sure the man was not messing with us, for I often got the vibe from him that he was not being entirely serious most of the time, but it was still incredibly beautiful and it was fun to imagine it as some kind of mythical beast. The other event was less nice. A small group of locals, dressed in sturdy looking armor and wearing the matching clothes only evident in well organized militaries stopped us, demanding to see our papers which allowed us to travel to the capital. Nabua was able to find the papers, but the soldiers were suspicious nonetheless for reasons I did not understand at the time. Our guide spoke with them for a long, long time, eventually turning back to us and explaining that the soldiers wanted some sort of proof that Baal Uras was truly a leader of a foreign land, and not simply another merchant. This was the point where I really, fully accepted that I would have to end my relationship with the Baal that night. I am certain that before the beginning of our relationship, my Baal would have stood up, and proven himself royal through sheer force of personality, by simply being commanding and royal. I could see then in his eyes however that in that moment he was unsure himself of his own authority. So we had to find an object instead that might prove it. Thankfully my Baal had packed a jeweled crown that he had been given by the rulers in Hadia’s land. With a bit of convincing from our guide, this apparently sufficed, and the soldiers marched on, after cautioning us about bandits. After that there was nothing more of note for the day. We descended, moving slowly, and eventually we camped for the night. The night, of course, was notable.

I took the first watch, wanting to give myself a bit more time to prepare. My Baal was of sufficient mind to write during this period which I took as a good sign. I actually ended up spotting a small group of the rat creatures that night, but I was in no mood for their shenanigans, and the creatures seemed to sense that, for when I approached, they backed away, fleeing into the dark. At last my time was up. I woke up Nabua, then headed into the tent to finally end what my Baal and I had started. My Baal, sat waiting for me, cute and submissive, head down. He had just finished his writing it seemed. I think he knew what needed to happen too, but did not have the strength to end it. For a moment I blamed him, thinking that he was my Baal, he had an obligation, as a leader, to make the hard decisions, to do the hard things that had to be done. But then, I reflected that I too had opted into a leader-like position. I had not had to keep pushing the boundary of our relationship dynamic like we had. I had made choices that had brought us to the point, and while my Baal had not opposed those choices and had in fact eagerly submitted to them, it had been me that had made the choices, not him. It was my responsibility here to make the hard decision, my responsibility to restore things to a place where my Baal could be the man and the leader he needed to be. My resolve was finally firm. I sat down before my Baal, looking gently at this boy, who had such potential.

I touched his face, drawing him carefully towards me, and I kissed him. This was not like the other times, not a kiss of dominance and aggression, but rather tender and soft. I held it for a while, then I let it go. Then I spoke to my Baal. I told him that that was our last kiss. I told him that this relationship had to end. I was releasing him from his obligation. I was claiming no superior status through rejection, simple ending it on a neutral and happy note, knowing that it could not work out. I told him though, that this was final, that I would reject absolutely any further advance he might consider making in the future. I told him he had a responsibility to be a leader, and he had not been meeting that obligation these last few days. I told him I knew he could however, and I would be there as his Protector, but from now and forever, only that, never more. I thought about telling him how much I had enjoyed this time, how much I wished it could continue, but I didn’t. I didn’t lie to him, but I never gave him any indication that I had enjoyed the last few days, told him only that it could not go on and that he needed to move on. I told him that he was my Baal, and that he had to be that for me, could not surrender that authority to me, that he had been chosen as a leader by Bel himself. I watched his face as I told him this. It was hard. A lot of emotions moved through him as I spoke. They all mixed together and I am not good at faces, but it was enough that even I knew this was something that affected him greatly. Then finally, I was finished, and I smiled, and in that smile I did lie. It was not the smile of compassion and love and shared experience that I felt. Instead it was a smile of someone with faith in their leader, a smile of innocent confidence. Then I laid down and pretended to sleep. It didn’t come that night, and instead I listened to my Baal as he lay down as well, listened to his breathing, listened to his brief period of crying, and listening to his eventual fall into sleep.

The next day was a bit of a blur to me. I can say not else but that I was depressed. I was sad for what I had lost, what I had chosen to give up. It was not till the end of the day, when I got a chance to foil an assassination attempt on my Baal that I really managed to straighten my mind out. I’ll get back to that though, after I give you, dear diary, a brief description of the events that occurred before then, as much as I was barely paying attention to them. We walked the last few miles to the capital. We passed through the gates, the officials waving the strange same batons, recording strange squiggles on their paper, then waving us through. The city was impressive. Had I been fully there, I am sure it would have left more of an impression, but I only have vague impressions instead. It was very red. Almost all the buildings and structures were painted a vivid red. One could tell how rich or poor a place was by how bright its paint was, as repainting to get back the brightness was something commonly done there. There were many people. Their clothes were a bit different then all the ones we had seen up to that point, more conservative, less colorful, except for the red clothes, which were again, vibrant. Many of the men wore strange little hats, and the woman all had their hair long, but tied up in complicated styles above their head. It took us a long time to get to the actual meeting with the leaders. The word that Nabua told me later to descibe the process was beaurocracy. Apparently the unpronounceable kingdom had a lot of it. We had to travel to seven odd different buildings, answering questions and filling out forms before we could enter the palace, and then we had to talk our way past a dozen odd lower ranking officials before we at last were able to meet with the council of eight, who ran the kingdom, in the name of the king of their land, who would normally rule, except he was currently six years old. We met the young king, and he took a liking to Nabua when the man tried out the strange language he had been practicing since we arrived. He seemed frightened of me however.

When we at last got to sit down with the council of eight, it was finally time to see if I had screwed everything up or not. Had I waited too long to release my Baal from our relationship? Would he be unable to be the commanding, witty, diplomat he had shown himself to be in our last royal encounter? I watched, and at first I was worried. The interactions were made using our guide as a translator, and at first the faces of the eight rulers were guarded and suspicious. But after a few minutes of talking, my Baal seemed to finally come out of his shell, and the tone of the meeting changed. He had spent the day asking the old man questions about the beaurocracy even as we traversed our way through it, learning the politics of this place with only a short time to spare. It seemed he had finally figured it out to some extent, because he was able to make the appropriate references, joke about the right things, and generally get the council to see him as an amiable foreign dignitary, and not as a suspicious foreigner. I watched this slow transition in the faces of the council, and I smiled to myself, proud of my Baal. I had made the right choice. He had been made for this. I had broken him, but I had also managed to put him back together.

When the meeting finished, their was still a lot to discuss, and another meeting was called for the next day. We were given a private wing of the palace, each with our own rooms, but all connected with a common living area. We ate together with two of the councilmembers, who had invited us for dinner. I have no idea what I ate, but it was different, but not in a completely terrible way. Too many different flavors for my taste though. Afterwords, we headed to a private bath to wash away the dirt and grime of our days on the road, something I was looking forward too immensely. As we were walking however, we passed by a servant carrying a plate of food, and without warning, this servant dropped the plate, and stabbed at my Baal with a small silver knife. I was moving before the plate hit the ground, leaping towards the servant, managing to drag her down to the ground before the knife could connect, then twisting it out of her grip and pinning her down. After a second for everyone to compose themselves, I shouted for the old man to interogate this girl. He shook his head, and motioned towards her head. I looked down at the girl, who’s mouth was opened wide with terror, and noted her lack of a tongue.

We thought about turning the girl over to a guard, but the old man had a different plan. He told us that it was likely one of the council wanted us gone for some reason. There was no guarentee that anyone we might turn her over too could be working for that same person. It was better to hide as much information as we could until we could figure out more. He suggested killing the girl, and hiding the body, but I suggested we might be able to just hold her in one of our rooms for now, be able to use her for leverage later or proof of something. We all discussed it together, and eventually decided to go with my plan. The old man told something to the girl that seemed to terrify her completely, and she followed along with us meekly, after we picked up her plate and food. She stayed in my room. We tied bells to her limbs, and I gave her a little cot next to my bed. Despite having an assassin sleeping next to me, I slept well that night, much better than the previous one, feeling good in general, if worried about the whole assassination thing.

When I woke up in the morning I found the girl hadn’t moved at all, apparently frightened to even turn in her sleep for fear of ringing the bells. Once I took off the bells, she immedietly tried to be as helpful as possible, helping me dress and style my hair, something I had never done in my life. I watched her carefully, making sure she wouldn’t try to kill me or something with some of the needles she was sticking in my hair, but she seemed eager to do something useful. Nabua showed up at that point, telling me he wanted to set up a meeting in a few hours to plan for the day. I told him to go ahead and set it up. When he left, I sat down to write to you, my dear diary. It was as I wrote, that I realized the implications of the last few days. Even with the relationship I had with my Baal gone, my relationship with the group had changed in those days. I was part of the planning process. My ideas were respected when making decisions. Nabua was checking with me before making decisions. Thinking about my interactions with my Baal since then, I think I still have a fair bit of authority there as well. He has managed to look me in the eyes and give me orders since then, which is good, as thats part of his job, but in retrospect, he has been following my non-verbal cues, he becomes quiet when I talk, and I do believe I managed to silence him completely with an arched eyebrow. I’ll have to use this power carefully, and I feel like I have a lot more responsibility now, along with my increased power, but all the same, dear diary, a girl could get used to this.

The Fifth Path (9/30)

November 10, 2016

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

Running Title: Journey Round the World: A Thousand Different Shores

Composed Aru 2nd In the 59th Year of Baal Shamas

Chapter 7: The Yon Xar Pass

As we traveled further into the Xexan territory, the beauty and majesty of the surroundings was breathtaking. A true survey of that place would describe the sweeping vistas and well run farms, the perfect fusion of the natural with the constructed, and the industry and creativity that went into its construction. Unfortunately, I can give you no such survey, for my mind was focused not upon these beauties and utilities, but was rather consumed with a strange passion. I must again, for what must seem like the hundredth time, admit weakness here. In our own culture, men and women both, cover their bodies as best they can, leaving only their face exposed as the vehicle for their expression. The rest of the body is reserved for ones eventual husband or wife. It is both a protection against temptation, and a protection against those who have succumbed, that this covering provides.

Since departing on my journey, I have seen many styles which have been much more loose, much less interested in protecting the propriety of those who adopt them. It has slowly dawned on me, as I have traveled, that perhaps, in some cultures, marriage is not a prerequisite for physical intimacy, and that it might actually not be considered morally wrong to engage in such activities outside of that structure. This realization was mostly hypothetical at first, and in retrospect. I had not fully actualized this thought until our short period of entrapment on the Green Sea. With the thought fully actualized however, the skin revealed by the outfits of the other cultures changed in tone. They were not meant to attract me into a marriage that I would never be willing to enter into, but instead were hints of the possibility of physical intimacy outside of that, a suggestion of a willingness to engage in such acts if I might be willing. Having never considered the possibility of such acts outside of marriage, my mind became afire with the possibilities, the fact that I could make such a choice easily, with little chance of danger to myself or of discovery. The movements and actions of some of the Xexan women in the port town only enhanced this, and the clear view of the shoulders, arms, and lower legs of my Protector, who, while I had always considered her appearance adequate, now, with the scope of possibilities open in my mind, I understood to be in fact, incredibly beautiful. Her tackle of me when she was defending me from the sound of explosions had resulted in extended contact with her exposed skin, and the general feel of the shape of her body. None of this had helped my present condition.

My mind was untrained in defense from such thoughts, and so, as we walked in silence through the rolling hills outside the port city, I was, in my mind, imagining many things I had thought unimaginable, and mentally committing the deeds that I had so recently condemned my companions for considering during our trapped period on the Green Sea. My mind was so occupied by this new diversion, that I must admit, gentle reader, that I might very well have tripped and fallen several times, if the very cause of my condition had not been there to catch and steady me. I do believe she was worried for my health, and my inability to meet her gaze must have only added to her suspicions. The result of this was of course that my Protector stayed every closer to me, and occasionally reached out to touch me, and the cycle continued. By the time night fell, and we set up camp, I all but leaped for the privacy of my own tent.

Unfortunately for me, the crazy old man that was guiding this expedition apparently thought that one person tents were dangerous, and that it was better to be on a two person tent system. You shall never guess who my tent companion was. I curled up, inches away from the woman my mind had been undressing all day, doing my best not to listen to her breathing, and imagine how her body moved because of it. Truly, I was a pathetic sight. If you, gentle reader, are perhaps disgusted by these descriptions, then you are in a right place with Bel. I am afraid however, that in order to give a fair an accurate account of my travels, I will be forced to describe such feelings and thoughts further as the story goes on. Be prepared and think carefully so that my failings my at least be a lesson to you. I am not proud of my thoughts in the coming days, but neither will I deny them.

I was freed from my torment by a terrible cry. My Protector was up in a flash, telling me to stay in the tent, but I ignored her, eager for a distraction from my current train of thought. I looked out at the surroundings, trying to see the source of the commotion. It was a little hard to see, because it was out in the dark, but the noise made it easy to find. A human shape, presumably my Scholar, was surrounded by, and being attacked by a large number of small, maybe foot or two long, creatures, the nature of which was hard to see in the dark. Our crazy old guide shouted for someone to get a light near the battle, then drew out an incredibly long bow from somewhere or another. Seeing as I was closer to the tent, I rushed inside, grabbed a torch, lit it in the fire, then charged in to save my danger attracting Scholar.

When I got close, and with the light of the torch, I was able to see the creatures plain. They looked like rats, but huge and furry, with incredibly large, gnashing teeth. They scattered a bit from the light at first, but returned again, leaping and biting at both me and my Scholar. I swung the torch like a club, realizing in that moment that I really really should have grabbed my axe as well, and did my best not to get gnawed to bits. My Scholar was already bleeding in several places, but seemed to be still fighting, which was better than he had done the last time we had been in a fight together. As the frantic beating back of the giant rats continued, I heard the whistle of arrows, and one by one the creatures went down. They seemed to notice the falling of their companions and broke ranks to flee, but my Protector had run around to the other side to cut them off, and soon all but one of the rat creatures were crushed by her dual maces. The one almost managed to escape into the darkness, but one more arrow by the elderly guide ended that swiftly enough.

With the excitement over, our guide rushed over with another torch and began examining my Scholar. He explained that the bite of the creatures could cause infection very easily and that any cuts or scraped needed to be specially cleaned and treated with an herb we had bought in town. He began work on my Scholar right away, and instructed my Protector to check me out. This of course necessitated her inspecting my body and touching me a fair bit, and when it turned out that some of my clothes had been torn or ripped in the fight, also involved me taking off my shirt and pants so that she could look at me and check for scratches more easily. And when she found them, she was instructed to clean them, and lets just say that my mind did not exactly stay pure, and without heavy clothing, that became somewhat obvious. To my Protector’s credit, she commented not at all, and acted as if she had not noticed.

We got a quick explanation of what the creatures were and what they were called from the elder after all the wounds were treated. My Scholar wrote it down, but I am afraid I have a hard time remembering or even pronouncing many of the Xexan words. Apparently the creatures hunt in packs, and specifically target sleeping things so they can kill them before they wake up. Its why keeping a guard is so important, because their ability to wound or kill is much greater if their target is on the ground sleeping compared to standing up. The elder congratulated my Scholar for having spotted them, but warned that going out into the dark alone like that was usually not the best plan, and that sounding the alarm or throwing out a torch to see, might have been a better plan. My Scholar took this advice with a nod and a wince. He had been bit in a number of places, and had several bandages covering his body. All of this served as something of a distraction for the short time it lasted but then it was time to return to sleep. Thankfully my Protector volunteered to go next, so I would have a chance to go to sleep without listening to her breathing. But, all the same, when we were both in the tent for a bit, as she readied herself for the watch duty, she caught my eye, and gave me a little smile, and I knew I was doomed. I felt my own face redden, and I averted my gaze down, unfortunately straight towards her body, which caused me to look away again after slightly too long of a pause in eye movement. She walked out with an extra spring in her step.

For those of you readers, who come from more conservative locations then the capital city, where men and woman truly do not interact in a physical way at all before marriage, I shall explain. The courtship dance of the Baal and those other high ranking officials of the city is arcane and nuanced. But what I had done, my physical reaction, my reddened face, my inability to meet her gaze in response to her smile, all pointed towards me being very interested in marriage. Her smile was an indicator that she was considering accepting, but that I would need to prove myself further. I was trapped in a number of ways.

Were I to respond negatively at this point, to reject her, or appear disinterested after I was the one to apparently initiate the ritual would be the height of rudeness. It would ruin our relationship completely, effectively indicating that I had been playing with her emotions, and make the rest of this year impossibly awkward. On the other hand, if I explained the signals were unintentional, I would have to admit that I had had such thoughts with no intention to marry. This would be even worse. She would consider me corrupted by the outside world, or trying to take advantage of her. What then of simply failing to meet her qualifications intentionally? Were we equals, and I not her leader and Baal, that would be perhaps the best choice, but in the courtly dances of the capital, the rejector forever has some level of power over those they reject, assuming that it is due to failure to meet expectations instead of simple lack of interest. My authority over her would be compromised and our relationship would forever be balanced in her favor. Considering the difficulties I had already had with my other companion in this regard, I did not want to have my authority any more usurped.

As we narrow down the options, this leaves only to the option of proving myself to her, and our eventual marriage. Which, as I explained before, is politically impossible. But, that last option was the only one I could do that would not result in something terrible results immediately, so for the time being, that would be the path I would have to pursue, hoping that something might come up to present an additional option. Considering my state of mind at the time, this path also seemed the best from an emotional level. The downside of course was that, during this part of the courtship ritual our relationship would be even more slanted in her favor then even being rejected would have put it. I would have to trust her to keep that private, and not publicly utilize this advantage however, because doing so would be incredibly detrimental to my already fragile relationship with my Scholar.

As all of these realizations and thoughts swirled through my head, they managed to distract me enough from their original source that I was at last able to get to sleep, though unfortunately, I was still filled with something of a warm glow even as I slept. As I had said before, I was doomed.

She, of course, woke me up for the next watch a while later, once again giving me the smile that I could not meet, and even going so far as to stretch suggestively while I was gathering my gear for watch duty. When she started to strip down before getting into bed, I was forced to flee the tent, not even having collected my torch. This of course led to her coming out a bit later, only wrapped in blankets, to give me my torch and lecture me about being prepared for watch. I nodded along meekly, unable to meet her gaze, but not wanting to not look at her for fear of seeming disrespectful towards her assistance. As such, I stared at her barely covered body while she spoke to me with increasing playfulness and smugness. I needed to do something to preserve my dignity if I did not want to lose all of my authority, but when I tried to speak up, I looked into her eyes for a second, forgot what I was going to say, and looked back down at her feet. That was it. I was done for. Socially I could do nothing against her at that point. She held every card. The responsible thing for her to do in that situation, considering how our dynamic was supposed to work, would have been to try and rebalance the equation somehow, give me back a little of my dignity. Instead she went in for the kill. She patted me on the head like a child, brought my face up so I had to look her in the eye, and forced me to nod that I understood. I watched her swagger into the tent like a love sick puppy. She had me, completely.

Its a good thing no more of the rat creatures came while I was on watch, because I would have been useless. I was in fact, as it turned out, a love sick puppy. I ended up staying through the whole night, never waking up the elder for his turn, and the whole time I was thinking about my Protector, nominally trying to figure out a way to normalize or end this, but repeatedly returning to thinking about her body and voice, or considering the social dynamic and slowly feeling its effects seep through my mind, changing my decision making process, giving her more and more control as I thought through the scenario again and again. And because even that was interspersed occasionally with thoughts of her

skin and her way of speaking, which was, in my state, quite pleasurable, the social dynamic began to feel that way as well. Which of course, only added to the spiral, because as soon as her absolute control became pleasurable, my plans to figure a way out became less and less spirited, and the thoughts of that control began to loop in on themselves, pleasure begetting pleasure.

When it was her who woke up early, and found me still awake, long after I was supposed to have been asleep, the situation only got more dire for me and my dignity. She had the decency to at least pull me into the tent so that the other members of our party would not see or hear, but then she once again lectured me, but this time she dropped all pretense of not having complete authority. She kept telling me to look her in the eyes, something I could not do for more than a second, and resulted in me turning very red and loosing track of the conversation entirely, which made it worse, because she kept quizzing me, to make sure I understood what was happening, and why it was important for me to swap out for guard duty and get enough rest. When I failed, she would shake her head, and repeat it again, very slowly. She would of course require me to look her in the eyes when I tried to answer her questions the second time, and the cycle would continue.

At some point, after she apparently decided she had had enough of that kind of fun, and I was barely even able to speak, my entire body burning with embarrassment and desire, she took it to the next level. She grabbed my head, preventing me from looking down. I was acutely aware that she was the same height as me, though in that moment she felt much taller. I still tried to look down, but she spoke softly to me, telling me to look in her eyes, again and again, till I could do nothing else. I looked, trapped and caught in them now that I couldn’t look away. Then she asked me a question. She asked me if I liked this. She asked me if I enjoyed her power. My mind raced. This was outside the script, outside even the most esoteric levels of the courtship dance. There was no proscribed answer here, nothing I could fall back on. I could reject the question, reject this advance as going too far, and thus save myself from this situation. It was the right thing to do, the hidden out that I had been hoping for. I tried to think, tried to compose that response, to summon the righteous indignation and the haughty tones that would put this hired Protector, this common girl in her place. But I was looking into her eyes. I couldn’t even imagine anger, or a haughty tone. That I was her Baal seemed impossible in that moment, the dynamic completely wrong. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, could not get myself in the right frame of mind.

So then my next choice had to be to say no. She would understand that this relationship couldn’t continue like this, that this was too much, the power dynamic too extreme. My signals had put me in a position to defer to her lightly while I sought to prove myself. This was beyond that. This was untenable. But even as I tried to speak that short simple word, my mouth dried up, my tongue would not move. The feelings in my body and mind were too much, to enjoyable and extreme. You must understand I had, before that very day, never so much as lingered my eyes on a woman. I had no experience. I couldn’t deny myself this, the truth was that I did enjoy it, and I did not want it to stop. So at last, I turned to yes, as my only choice, and even then I held out hope that I could at least speak it with dignity, if such an admittance could contain such a thing. In that too I failed. I tried to speak it surely, to maintain the gaze into her eyes, their pale green engulfing all of my vision. But I couldn’t. My eyes fell to her mouth, and my voice stuttered my reply, a yes with an almost begging to it.

Her mouth was for a moment, a hard line. She was considering her response. If I could look up into her eyes, my training would be able to tell me what she was thinking, give me a clue to her reaction. But of course I couldn’t. I was instead forced to guess based on small changes in her mouth. The hint of a frown at first. I had disappointed her perhaps. Slight opening of the mouth. Maybe she was considering the implications. Curl upward at the corner. Amusement. A purse of the lips. She had made a decision. She spoke then. A simple acknowledgment, only a few words, light and cheery. It seemed almost inappropriate for the gravity of the situation. Her amused grin was more appropriate however as it followed a second after, conveying all the dominance and smug enjoyment her voice had lacked. Then, she threw tradition and decency out the window, and kissed me, forcefully and aggressively.

I melted before it, my righteous indignation and sense of propriety like candles before a hurricane. My legs gave out, and she caught me, holding me to her as all of my resistance and will seemed to spill out, my mind seemingly unable to worry about limbs, when it could instead experience the kiss and the feel of her arms around me. I did not even notice as she moved us slowly while the kiss continued, but then she let me go, and I fell down hard, expecting to crash into the ground, but instead falling comfortably into my blankets and onto my pillow. Then she left the tent, telling me, as she did so, to pull myself together for the long day ahead, and inquiring if I might be a gentlemen and pack up the tent, as well as carry her things that day. The thought of doing otherwise didn’t even cross my mind. All visions of reversing this dynamic or exercising my authority as her Baal over her were gone. I did as instructed.

The next several days likely included a number of exciting events, lessons learned, cultures to observe, and plenty of interesting scenery, but I truly remember none of it. That the old man and my Scholar did not suspect a thing during that time is a credit only to my Protector, who took to her authority easily, speaking for me deftly, explaining away my muted, distant reactions by explaining I had troubles sleeping, and generally keeping us all on track, while doing both her job and mine. She was the perfect Protector while with the others, acting deferential to me, making sure that the others did as well, and generally acting like none of what I have just described occurred. In the night, and the morning, when we were alone in the tent however, it was different indeed. It is only thanks to her own good judgment that we did not become consummated in those nights. We never progressed much past kissing, though mostly we did not even do that, only when she felt the desire for it. It was mostly talking, her authority and command making sharp contrast to my soft deference and stuttering submission.

Now however, it is the night before we will reach the capital of Xexan. I will be meeting with the rulers of this nation on morrow, and I will need all of my elegance and eloquence if I am to walk away with the agreements that I need to complete my quest. I wonder if I can do that in my current state. It was with those thoughts in mind that I waited in my tent, writing so as to express my thoughts to myself. Even as I finished my experiences, I knew not what to do.