Story Of A Young Fyros - part three¶
"I'm glad that you've made the right decision," said Partacles once Aedon had finished telling him about his meeting with Lato Nivaldo. "You have to be as wary of the Matis as you are of the Goo."
Aedon had returned to the hammam twice in the hope of finding the senator again. Second time around his luck was in. The homin made the most of the beneficial effects of the waters in the large pool.
"I'm a Fyros and I would never have accepted to work for them. I love my people," replied Aedon.
Partacles smiled broadly at him. He liked this kind of young homin who put honour and their homeland before money.
"Well, let's not disappoint our Duke. You're going to accept his proposition, and give him as many aromatic plants as he wants. It's a good way to gain his trust."
"I'll need help," said Aedon, who realised the significance of his decision.
He would never again be the innocent and carefree young Fyros that he'd been up until now. He was entering another sphere, for better or for worse.
"You will make contact with the master forager Galeos Ion. As head of the Black Faces guild, he will be able to help you find the necessary men and equipment to collect the plants. He's a bit of a rough character, but you can trust him, the Black Faces have always served the Emperor. You'll go and see him tomorrow, the guild hall is on Leanon Street."
Aedon nodded and was about to leave the bath when the senator grabbed him by the arm.
"Be very careful, young Aedon. No one will be able to help you if the Matis find out that you're deceiving them. Don't talk too much. Silence is you're best ally."
Aedon thanked him and took his leave.
Instead of feeling calmer after he left the hammam, he was instead exhausted by the conversation. He had just entered the service of the Emperor and already he felt the pressure weighing on his shoulders. It was abundantly clear that he would not be allowed to fail.
Aedon went to the Black Faces' guild hall the next day. The building was a hive of activity. Those who were returning from expeditions showed off the fruits of their labour as they recounted the previous day's exploits. Others, meanwhile, were preparing to leave and were checking their equipment one last time, as well as the location of the supply fields that they intended to work. Still others seemed to run the guild itself, since they were answering all the various questions that were put to them while at the same time giving out orders left and right.
Aedon asked to speak to Galeos Ion. A homin of a certain age, deep in discussion with three Fyros that Aedon identified as desert foragers by their equipment, was pointed out to him. The fine dust covering their clothes indicated that they had undoubtedly returned from a hard night's work.
"… an excellent quality! I see that you have mastered the extraction of dzao fibre. Not before time. Go and see Mila Abygrian, he may be able to put you in touch with a craftsman looking for raw material."
As they thanked Galeos and took their leave of him, Aedon, who was patiently awaiting his turn, approached.
"Ah, you must be Aedon, they told me you'd be coming. I'm Galeos Ion…"
He called over two young homins who were talking in a corner.
"… and these are Eree et Mokra. They belong to the Black Faces guild, which I run. They will help you in your task."
The young homins greeted each other briefly.
"We know that there is a place on the edge of the burning forest where the ground is rich in aromatic plant grains," said Galeos. "Be very careful, they aren't easy to extract. The supply field there is of excellent quality too, so again, be careful. You'll have to handle the spring cautiously if you don't want it to explode and all the precious materials to disappear into the ground again. But if you manage, the three of you should be able to extract eight bags in a day. As long as you don't blow it up!"
Galeos let out a great booming laugh.
Aedon was dismayed. This was a funny way of receiving him. He raised an eyebrow.
"Eight bags? I only need..."
"What did you expect, young Fyros?" Galeos cut him off dryly, all of a sudden serious again. "That we would work for you for free?
That I should put two of my apprentices and three mektoubs at your service just because you ask for them?"
Aedon felt the hairs on his arms stand on end. He almost reacted to the violence in Galeos' words but thought back to Partacles' advice: silence is your best ally. Aedon scowled and bit back a retort.
"I see that you've understood. Perfect. We're already well into the morning. I advise you to get going if you want be back before nightfall."
"I like working by star light," said Mokra.
"Much good it'll do you, I'm sure that the goaris will agree. I wouldn't like to lose three good mektoubs for no good reason. Go on, leave, and bring honour to the guild and the Emperor."
Galeos returned to his business without another word, leaving the three young Fyros together.
"Don't worry, he's always like that, but he's a decent bloke," Eree assured him when they had left. "Come on, let's go to the south stables straight away, the mektoubs are ready to leave."
Once they got there, Eree exchanged a few words with the stableboy, who brought three animals out of the paddock.
"I hope that you've ridden a mektoub before, otherwise you'll have to join us on foot," Eree mocked him, holding out the reins. "But we're sure to have finished before you arrive!"
Aedon wasn't sure he appreciated the young girl's sense of humour.
"Don't make that face Aedon, she's got the same sense of humour as Galeos - you'll get used to it eventually, just like sawdust under rain."
Aedon wasn't sure he understood the comparison but didn't ask for an explanation. He simply walked up to his mount and jumped into the saddle with the greatest of ease.
"Okay, forget I said anything," commented Eree
"We're going along the pass through the canyons. I love it there, there's hardly anyone around. Lots of people are afraid of those lands. It makes me ashamed to know that there are so many fearful Fyros!" said Mokra.
"We're here to prove the opposite, right?"
"You said it!" replied Eree.
Whooping in unison, the three young Fyros cheerfully spurred their mounts into a gallop across the desert.
They galloped for almost an hour before arriving within sight of the big, charred trees. Sweat ran down their foreheads. The animals, continuously beset by kicks, hadn't been able to relax their efforts and bellowed with exhaustion as long strands of drool hung from their wide-open mouths.
"This area looks good to me, what do you two think?" asked Mokra.
"As good as any other," replied Eree.
Aedon nodded. He got down from his mount and stroked its trunk. She had earned a little reward. He took a ball of crystalised honey out of his bag and gave it to her. The animal devoured it in seconds.
"Now, leave me to it," said Eree, taking a few steps forward.
Aedon watched her with curiosity. She took some green powder out of a small pouch and began to rub it gently between her hands. Her expression betrayed deep concentration. The powder started to glow weakly as her face screwed up with the effort. She threw the powder onto the ground. All of a sudden, Aedon saw the sawdust sucked into the ground in several places.
He couldn't get over it. Either she had been very lucky or she had an exceptional sixth sense. Four green bubbles, the springs, had risen out of the ground.
"So, who are we thanking?" she boasted, hands on hips.
Aedon couldn't hide a smile. Finally, he liked this girl. Her rebellious attitude, her tomboy ways, her beige hoben uniform - she was sublime!
"Thank you, thank you, but don't think you're getting off that easily. Catch!" replied Mokra, throwing her a pickaxe.
These two have known each other for a while, thought Aedon. He felt a stab of jealousy.
Aedon took his own pickaxe down from his saddle as Mokra and Eree began extracting the plants. More at ease with a sword than a pickaxe, Aedon watched them for a moment. Eree dug into the spring's green gangue to collect the precious plant it had brought to the surface while Mokra busied himself strengthening the spring's sides so that it didn't suddenly blow up, wiping out all their efforts.
He turned towards Aedon.
"Never used a pickaxe before? Come on, I'll show you how, we'll need a hand soon, you'll see."
They spent nearly four hours digging non-stop. They swapped over at regular intervals: one used the pickaxe, the other strengthened the spring, the third rested.
By the end of the day they had filled their bags. After loading them on the mektoubs, they finally rested and took time to eat. The sun was disappearing behind the horizon as the first stars begin to twinkle in the sky.
"I think we've earned our salary," said Mokra.
Despite his training as a warrior, Aedon could no longer feel his muscles. He never would have thought that digging could be so tiring.
"But's it worth it," he said, stretching out on the desert sawdust.
"Dappers too, yeah, that always helps," said Mokra.
"To pay for the journey, yeah..." he let slip before biting his lip.
Why do I always say too much? he thought.
"What are you talking about?" asked Eree, interested all of a sudden.
He wanted to keep quiet, but as Eree looked at him, burning with curiosity, he knew that the battle was over before it had even begun.
He told them everything, making them promise not to reveal a thing.
"What a story! To think that all of Pyr has been watching you since your arrival!... And you really want to go there?" asked Mokra. "Ugh, nothing in the world could make me do that!"
Eree remained silent. Aedon leaned towards her.
"You won't say anything, will you?" he asked, praying that he could trust her.
She seemed to hesitate, then answered.
"If you'll agree to let me come with you, I promise not to say anything."
He had expected anything but that. He didn't know how to reply.
"You said that the Matis was struggling to find Fyros prepared to work for him," she insisted, " so he shouldn't have much problem accepting it, should he?"
"…But… what about Galeos?"
"Galeos? He's not my keeper! I'm sick of digging up sawdust. I want to see what the rest of Atys looks like. Anyway, whether you like it or not, you haven't got a choice. I'm coming with you and that's that!"
Aedon was careful not to say anything, but, as they started their return journey, his face was lit up by a big smile.
In the offices of the Black Faces guild, Galeos welcomed the three bags that were brought to him more warmly than he did the news of Eree's departure. He grumbled for a little while, but, faced with her determination, had no choice but to let her go.
Lato Nivaldo was much easier to convince.
"Gladly, I'm happy that you've been able to win people over to my cause," the ambassador smiled, once Aedon had finished explaining the reason for Eree's presence.
"Even if I've trouble imagining that Yrkanis could be as beautiful a city as Pyr, I'm in the mood for an adventure."
"Very well, go to the Karavan altar to the south of Pyr. The Karavan Host knows me, he'll give you pacts for the capital of the Verdant Heights. Don't worry, the quality of the plants that you brought me will easily allow me to pay for both of your journeys. I'll let the Duke know you're coming, he's all you'll need…"
Listening to the Ambassador's final instructions, Aedon felt his heart accelerate in his chest. He was going to discover a new region, another people. Eree and he looked at each other and their eyes shone with excitement at the thought of the adventure which awaited them.
To be continued...