The Gaalians of Tu’vrahadith had developed a better form of trading than the villages, though their wares were limited to an immediate area. This did not stop a keen and lively atmosphere when the markets opened. It was my especial pleasure to watch the traders, who could drive as hard a bargain as any of our own Folkin.
I had often admired the way village Gaalians shared what they had. It was not so in Tu’vrahadith, for some traded well and some badly. Those who traded well flaunted this success before the rest. Occasionally this caused problems.
Only a few of the Gaalians had organized in any manner close to the associations of our Folkin, and of those none proved more successful than Aflatan.
Aflatan had organized Gaalians to specialize, offering to give them what they did not have in return for all that they could get. Many Gaalians, desiring to have a steady flow of goods come to them without the work of hawking their wares in the markets, readily agreed to this arrangement. Aflatan sheltered all that could be sheltered and traded it in the times when those goods were hard to come by—a problem only lightly felt in those warm, unchanging waters.
Although Aflatan had seen fewer cycles of Gaal, he was anyway the richest man of Tu’vrahadith in goods and graces, for with his goods he was also very generous.
I had early confidence in him and I can say that we became good friends, when many feared to come near our company of the Long North. In the course of many passages we learned from each other—Aflatan learned our Lore and we learned to master the Gaalian language and the Gaalian fighting dances.
With the growth of friendship, I grew to appreciate that Aflatan was wearied of Tu’vrahadith. Our stories of Waterwandering and life in the Long North only served to feed his desires.
–It is time we left to finish your journey—he said one passage.—the coast continues where Gaal sleeps.—
It filled the elders of the council with dread to leave us awandering, fearing we would return with many more shadow people. But Aflatan said he would accompany us himself with some of the best dancers of Tu’vrahadith to come back the way we left.
Caught between fear and a strong desire to see life return to its usual ways, the Gaalian council gave their blessing, and so we left, a full company of young male Gaalians picked by Aflatan.
The second part of our journey along the Gaalian coast little resembled the first. The presence of Aflatan overshadowed even ours in the hamlets we came across.
Eagerly did the local wise ones share their knowledge with him, and with great joy did each hamlet dance Aflatan’s dances. Nothing could escape his acquisitiveness—even we seemed little more than servants, though Aflatan was gracious and kind in his introductions, having us heaped with honours and gifts.
Soon our wandering brought us to an empty land, more dead and sandy than anywhere else. We had entered a silent place whispers and rumours had never crossed.
This excited Aflatan no end, especially after rounding a headland sheltering us from a strong easterly blow, where we espied a weak trail of smoke flowing up in the air.
We had to push the oars roughly to stay abreast of the chopping water, and great was the company’s fear of rocks. But Aflatan insisted that we go to land to see what place we had come to.
And so we did, though we scraped along a rock that rent a jagged opening in Hal.
Having landed, with any view of departure gone, it was decided that some would wander the land and the rest would repair Hal. From the octave of our original company of Tamvaasa, two—Deren and Fim—remained, and the rest of us followed Aflatan, who followed the smoke signs.
I have never felt good about leaving the open water behind. Land Lore and Water Lore are not the same, and sometimes even run against each other. Nevertheless, our company followed Aflatan as he eagerly wandered south.
Even the Gaalian dancers, who did not share their feelings, shared our company’s shock to see Aflatan test the various plants and even the land itself by tasting it.
–Ash—he said with conviction, spitting out a mouthful of soil.—A sign that the power of Atash has a hold over this place.—
It was not long for us to see how Aflatan was correct, for within that passage we saw the glow and shimmer of a great pillar of smoke rising in the distance. As we neared it we espied how it spewed out of a great rounded depression in the land that Kut named the cauldron.
It was in my mind to return whence I had come and bring the company with me, but Aflatan’s insistent curiosity won us over. However, when Aflatan and his loyal company of dancers began descending down into the smoking depression, I dare not follow.
There is little difference between bravery and selfpride, I find, and a little caution can save your life. I cannot say the number of times this wisdom has kept me in my skin.
Rather than wait, our company decided to see if there was another way.
And so it was that we came to that land by two different routes, equally surprising. The Gaalians called it Tu’Atash, the Gift of Fire, since, by following the fiery cracks in the land, we eventually came to a cliff, and through the smoke that billowed over its edge, we perceived a land of beauty and plenty such as I’ve never before seen, even in dreams…