Wise are my deeps, dark my coldness;
One I have sought, a warrior-poet –
Not thou, seeker! No swordwight thou,
No wise maker of the world’s song,
But a wild passion in thy pure breast
Hefts thy young soul; my heart trembles
Foreseeing thy death, myself thy bane,
Fate inescapable. The folk I see,
Hungry for fame, heart-slaved, mind-slaved,
Their shining lust by lich-light drawn
To the candle-flame of coveted pride,
Burn gloriously in battle with me –
Not thou! Not thou! No gleam-grabber thou!
Not thou! Not thou! No war-drum’s beat
Dances for thee! No dern magecraft,
No snake-syllables with sophistry snare
Thy unmarred soul; my timeless chill
Warms with thy touch; no woning in thee
For cold sin's taint; tears openly scape
Thy meek eyelids; thy mind soft clad,
Thy heart borne low, hands widely spread,
Scorning to bully or beat down others,
Opens to truth, to all truth’s source,
Each listening mind; thy light their praise.
One day thy cause shall call thee hither,
Facing my hero with failing power;
His part, his lot, thy life to shend
On that day forelaid, thy loss, thy doom.
It was blazing hot in Aren-castell that midday. Every fountain and every patch of shade was occupied by the citizens trying to escape the sun’s wrath. Life stood still. Dusty wind ruled the empty streets, sweeping sand, called “aren” by the locals, in tiny tornadoes leaving neat miniature dunes behind.
“Aren-castell” means literally “sand castle” and indeed the city looked like one, its little houses and towers resembling the ones a clumsy toddler would make while playing in a sandbox. A perfect illusion. The cement locals make with their “aren” is on a par with the Wanderers’ monolith when it comes to durability.
Vlada strode along the road, her thick boots breaking the neat wavy patterns of sand and dust settled there with every step.
“On a hot day every desert city looks abandoned,” she thought as she entered the city gates, unattended and wide open. “Quite creepy.”
She met citizens soon, though, beside the very first fountain on her way. If she hadn’t known what to expect she’d find this sight even more creepy than the seemingly abandoned city. There were only two types of faces there. All women and girls looked exactly like Del, their female ancestor: dark hair, black eyes, pale skin, and aquiline nose. Men and boys looked exactly like Emer, her husband, who had blond hair, green eyes, and dark skin.
Every city in Kuldagan desert is like this: copies on copies on copies, the founders’ features repeated in their descendants’ faces forever, without fail. Once you’ve seen a few you’d miss the noisy and annoying port cities of Mirumir or Adjaen where population is so diverse no face in the crowd is similar to another.
Children that looked like twins splashed in the fountain and laughed shrilly. Adults that looked like twins chilled in the shade, chatting and nibbling on fried nuts. Innumerable nut shells littered the square answering every step with a loud crunch.
Vlada was promptly noticed by the locals but immediately dismissed as uninteresting. In their eyes she was just another Wanderer paying a brief visit to the city. Someone might have approached her and asked her for news if it hadn’t been day.
True life in desert towns begins at night when the cruel sun sets allowing the sand to cool down. Then, amid the black velvet of desert darkness, the awakened cities shine as bright as the stars in the sky. People of Kuldagan work, trade, and live in general mostly at night. Days there are lazy, hot, and slow, filled with the idle chatter and the sounds of children splashing in fountains.
The Wanderers’ ways are different. They honor the day as much as the night. It occured to Vlada how nice it was to feel like a Wanderer again. Kuldagan had always been a jewel among Vlada’s memories. Its “aren” which is not exactly sand, monotonous rows of dunes, weird cities... all had a special place in her heart. She should’ve visited them more often without waiting for a reason. Then she could have just walked there at her own pace, enjoying the singing sand, the velvety nights, the lazy flow of daytime. Instead, she must prepare herself for an unpleasant conversation she’d rather not have…
Little houses scattered along the street like oversized toy cubes. Each sported a sign or two advertising the goods their owners were selling. Vlada wasn’t interested in souvenirs, though. What she needed now were food, weapons, and an inn. The word “inn” (dlar in the local tongue) marked five identical houses in a row. Not much of a choice. Food store was to open “with the last ray of the sun”, according to the sign. As to the weapon store, Vlada found it at the end of the street. A huge, screaming sign written in a fancy cursive suggested that the owners didn’t see customers often and were getting desperate. Being open in daytime despite the merciless Kuldaganian weather was a telltale sign as well.
Vlada shifted the backpack on her sore shoulders and headed to the door. The street was so silent she could hear the old clock on top of one of the dlars ticking under the dusty glass.
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