I do not know how long Aflatan was by himself. Even his own company of dancers feared following him, and if it must be said, they felt something was true in what Brendar had spoken. Our abilities to speak Gaalian had grown to the point of eloquence, and I do not hesitate to admit that Brendar spoke the best, though he employed it the least of all our company.
Returned to the good balance of health, all were renewed in the splendour of that place and the shadow that followed the purple weed left us.
I do not know if I ever would have left that land. Does one ever try to end a happiness, however short its life? No, something always drives the happiness away first. Such is the way of life.
And such is the way we did end up leaving that place. But I am pacing ahead of my tale. First Aflatan returned from a sojourn we know not how long, for none of us bothered to count the passages.
As I said, Aflatan returned, hearty of body and mind. His hair had grown long and his eyes quick to look. Coverings had fallen from his body, except for a lone cloth about his loins and a sack he had made crossing his shoulder.
Gaal had descended ere Aflatan revealed himself. We, a happy camp, had just finished the preparations of that evening’s feast. I will never forget the manner with which mirth and pleasure emptied themselves at the sight of him.
Aflatan strode forth, authority and power in his way.
–Long and long have I been away.—he said in the old Gaalian language I could only brokenly understand.—but I return to you all a master.—
Then Aflatan began to do things that amazed us all. He twirled a rapid dance, faster than eye could belook. He jumped, remaining long in the air without a single visible thing to keep his place. Then, taking a handful of powder from his pack and setting it down, he slowly walked into a fire.
His clothes burnt around him, but Aflatan danced, untouched. Then, with a great laugh, he walked out directly before Kut. Before he could do a thing about it, Aflatan held Kut high with a single hand.
–What do you have to say now about the gift of Dinar?—Aflatan shouted in a fierce voice that echoed. In the distance, the fiery chasm rumbled.
Promptly, without being commanded, the entire company of Gaalian dancers bent double, fearfully crouching, their faces towards Aflatan. Our company of Tamvaasa, to the man, however, remained upright.
–show us the power of the Gift!—the Gaalians began to shout. So putting Kut down, Aflatan did. He retrieved his bag, rolling the powder within big leaves which he then set alight, commanding the Gaalians to inhale its vapour. He only allowed each of them three puffs—but it was enough. The Gaalians became wild with energy and desire. They romped and roared, climbing the trees, singing songs, and drumming such as I have never heard before. Our company, following Brendar’s lead, did not take of the weed, but left that place.
That absence none slept a wink—the Gaalians in a wild fest, us from the Long North engaged in a counsel.
Aflatan’s return had presented a problem for us. We could not stay without taking of the purple weed and so falling under his power. Neither were we eager to return up the coast without Aflatan, knowing that our wandering among the Gaalians would not be so warm as before.
We thought of escaping in Hal and leaving the Long South entirely, but the thought caused us worry, for the currents had brought us here, and we did not know if they would bring us back.
It was Fim who finally spoke the wisest thing of all, something I have carried with me wherever I wander.
–Better to trust the bastard you know than the one you don’t.—
And so we decided our course, accepting that the way Leel wrote for us had yet to finish. With the arrival of Gaal we returned in the camp to find the Gaalians exhausted, asleep in heaps, except for Aflatan.
–We will remain here and with you, on the condition that you do not force that noxious substance upon us.—said Brendar.
Aflatan readily agreed to this. He was docile and kind, almost a glimmer of his former self. But it fooled us not. Aflatan had changed, and the fire that could not consume his skin burned now in his eyes with visions none had seen.