#5 The Grand Trip
Aiga and I have been travelling for well over a week now, and she’s at least composed ten different songs about fog, rain and grass. Though she keeps to herself most of the time, I can still hear her mumbling behind me as we walk.
“It’s almost nightfall”, I say, interrupting her thoughts. “We should look for a farm or an inn.”
The bard’s eyes dart up and try to spot the horizon, but there’s barely anything to see. The weather hasn’t changed much since we arrived, usually gray with subtle changes in the light. The fields and plains look all the same to her.
Though I have a map, the land has changed since I last came. I look in all directions and, hoping for the best, we walk east. A while after, right before the stars crown the sky, we spot a tiny fire and two farmhouses.
By the time we get there, the fire has grown smaller and no-one is in sight. The smell of toasted bread fills the air, a snack before bedtime perhaps. I can’t stop Aiga from knocking at one of the doors. Though we hear no response, we can tell someone is moving behind the walls.
“Good evening!”, she exclaims a pitch too high. “We’re two travellers on our way to Ásterle, and night has caught up on us. Have you spare beds in exchange for coin and entertainment?”
She looks at me, confident. I don’t have the heart to tell her that Narivii from that part, so close to Pluien, aren’t as hospitable as those in the capital. We wait for a while that feels like an eternity, until we hear the locks open. The door doesn’t.
“Are you from Vental?”, a voice asks. It’s a very hesitant man.
“I come from Terimar, the Gaimdean shores!”, the young bard says. Before I can stop her, she continues: “But don’t worry, I don’t look like a Gaimdei at all. My father was from Tarkhia and my mother is from Falkor. My name’s Aiga!”
“And him?”, the hesitant man insists.
“He’s a storyteller, really old. He comes from…” Aiga’s voice fades. “His name is…” Her big magenta eyes look at me, confused for the first time in a while. “What was your name again?”
“I’ve been travelling for so long I don’t have a place to call home." I seem to have managed the question about my name. "But I have many stories and tales to share.”
“What are your mahrym?”, the man insists. There’s a small peephole on the door.
“He has the élrym symbol”, Aiga speaks on my behalf, saving me from having to remove my hood.
She falls silent.
“I can change the colour of water”, she mutters. Now that’s something she hadn’t told me before, and I’ve read a lot of faces in my life.
The door opens slowly as a short Narivi with the biggest ears I’ve ever seen appears from behind. I notice three more shadows trying to have a look at us from the upper windows for the triangle farmhouse.
The man inspects our faces and stretches out his hand to Aiga and I in an inviting gesture, once he has verified our faces.
“We have some bread and metheglin. You’re a storyteller, you said?”
It is late night by the time we have sat beside the round fireplace that warms the three-story farmhouse. I’ve drank in moderation, but the young bard seems to have had a cup too much. She laughs loudly and slams her hand flat against her leg, and I’ve caught her a couple of times making eyes at the farmer’s oldest son.
“Do delight us with one of your stories, sire”, the hesitant man says. He lifts his cup as his children fall silent. “Something short and merry before we head to bed.”
I smirk under my hood.
“I have just the anecdote for you.”
This happened to an old acquaintance of mine, Kausius Fustanum, when he was of young age. I hope he’ll forgive me for sharing this little story of his.
It’s no secret that the Fustanum family is one of the richest in Falkor. Their ancestors worked hard to ensure their children, and the children of their children, would lack nothing and could find the time to enjoy the small pleasures of life: the soft breeze in the summer weather, fine clothes, good shoes, frequent baths and coin to afford what they’d fancy. With some moderation, of course.
For generations, House Fustanum grew to learn when to make investments and when to reap the gains. It was when Kausius became head of House Fustanum that he decided to take investments beyond Falkor.
He made artisans build the most impressive flying carriage you have ever seen, and made an Irnelli train four flying antelopes, known as ántrigæ, to drag it through the skies. Because of all the coin he wanted to bring with him, there was only room for one person: him.
The day of the departure he drank to celebrate. He drank every imaginable brand of wine, ale, mead and grog. He drank so much that they had to drag him to the carriage and make room for his finer clothes.
“By the time he gets to Oiruu he’ll have sobered up”, one of the serfs said. “Ántrigæ are as fast as the wind. Shouldn’t take more than five days , crossing the northern sea and all.”
Confident that the ántrigæ would carry the hundred-times-tested carriage safely to its destination, the serfs urged the animals and, wings spread, they departed in the middle of the night.
Kausius had been carefully strapped to his seat, all amenities within half an arm’s reach, even a sack in the event of an urge to expel all the alcohol within his body. He saw nothing of this as the ántrigæ hopped into the spring night skies.
He woke once or twice, his head spinning round. He peed through the small window and found it funny how the line of gold was no longer straight, or how the vomit fell into an uneven fashion over the tiny dots of light below. He belched loudly several times and fell asleep again.
Time passed. It became day and then night on several occasions, but Kausius did not wake, for he felt very tired indeed. He slept like a baby as the ántrigæ soared the skies above the cold mists of Tarkhia. He was also asleep when they flew over the shores of Gaimde and the volcanoes of Oiruu, and he continued to be asleep for longer than that.
He failed to stir or halt the ántrigæ, who continued to soar the skies until, on the ninth day, they finally landed and were well-received and fed.
Kausius woke with the shaking of the carriage. Even in his dizzy state, he managed to mumble “By the seven gods”, quickly changed his robes to clean, silky ones, splashed lavender water on his face and neck, readied a shiny red scroll, and put on a matching hat.
He took a deep breath and stepped outside the carriage.
Imagine his surprise when he found himself face to face with one of his serfs. Kausius regained his composure.
“What are you doing in Oiruu?”, he asked.
The moment he stopped to look around he realised, to his surprise, that he was not in the land of volcanoes and technology, but in the very same spot he departed from in Falkor.
“The carriage hasn’t moved, has it?”
“Oh, it did, lord Fustanum”, they answered. “Only it seems you’re back here after nine days.”
The farmer and his sons laugh and toast to Kausius’s health and fortune as the fire dies out. Some start dozing off and head to sleep.
Aiga’s also laughing, but not in spirit. She’s quick to shift seats as her fleeting love interest leaves the room. From her confused expression, I can almost guess what she’s about to say.
“Didn’t Kausius fall and drown into the northern sea when this happened?”, she whispers as the rest enjoy the last mug of ale. Her mother, a Falkori, must’ve told her about House Fustanum.
“Well, he did”, I admit; “but that wouldn’t’ve made much of a merry story.”