25 Going the Distance
The crew of the Serenum brought down the sails as the Captain navigated the ship to Los Terra. A small group of Los Terrans stood on the dock, ready to catch the mooring ropes. Sammil looked around the cove that seemed empty and quiet, but busy along the pier. Teams of people gather around waiting for the arrival of unseen vessels.
Unlike the cities further north, Los Terra enjoyed comfortable winters. The mountain range that swept across the west to the north kept the frosty winds away. It dawned on the Chronicler that he never felt the chill he expected while sailing on the Serenum.
With minimal effort, the Captain brought the ship to a full stop. The dock crew hung their long sleeve tunics around their midsection due to the warm sun. Their light bronze skin against white linen shirts caused Sammil to remember Theotello. He reminded himself to entrust the young Chronicler’s safety to the Ancient One.
Theo told him that his people wore tattoos on their foreheads. They varied in design and selected to express who they were or hoped to become. One of the men tying down the ship had intricate, wavy lines that flowed beneath his right eye. At the end of every curl was a diamond or flower.
Three of the men on the docks were tall with slender builds. Two of them wore their hair short and cropped. One of them had long, tightly curled locks like Theotello, while the other had no hair. What the latter lacked in height, he made up with girth.
In one motion, the brawny man swung the gangplank into place, waving to those on the Serenum to come down. Sammil offered a smile, hoping to convey gratitude. But the four men moved to another dock, without any acknowledgment, as a Los Terran ship entered the cove.
The massive vessel passed the Serenum, making Sammil feel as if he was aboard a small boat. Skillful hands released the air in their sails as the ship glided to the far side of the cove. The black flag bearing a golden antelope rising on its hind legs flapped in the light winds.
Almost in a daze, Sammil turned his attention to the Weshaveners gathering behind him. Six men and women made up the crew, not counting the three other companions he had come to trust.
“Oona Sera was right,” he thought. “This ship doesn’t need many hands.”
The Chronicler stood stiff as if someone nailed his boots to the deck. “Brother Sammil, you must go,” Gedare said as he pointed to the dock. “An Envoy and his staff are making their way to the ship.”
Sammil didn’t look, too stunned for the moment. “You mean you’re not going with me to meet Ahnoro?”
“We talked about this before,” Oona reminded him. “We cannot interfere.”
“But aren’t you interfering bring me here?” protested Sammil.
Gedare took a few steps, then placed his arm around Sammil’s shoulders. He applied some pressure to move the Chronicler to the gangplank. “We are here because of the choices you were willing to make.”
Sammil knew the white-hair watcher was correct. “Yes, I chose to be here. But I thought you would go with me. I wasn’t aware I would have to do this alone.”
One quick look at the dock made Sammil feel faint. The Emissary stood at the end of the gangplank, wrapped with a bright blue cloak around his shoulders. His tightly curled gray hair complimented his light brown skin and light linens.
Five younger men and women gathered around the Envoy, in leather tunics and dark cloaks. They looked up to the ship expecting someone to come down. The group stood solemn, waiting for something to happen.
Sammil took a deep breath, then started his walk down the gangplank. The warm sea breeze didn’t help as sweat beads formed on his forehead. But halfway down, he felt an unexpected bounce on the board.
He didn’t have to turn around to know that Tasia was following. The Chronicler couldn’t help but smile. He extended his arm to the Emissary as he reached the dock. “Greetings, I am Brother Sammil from Northport.”
The Envoy paused before he clasped arms. To Sammil’s surprise, he smiled broadly. “Welcome to Los Terra. I am known as Bakari.”
The Chronicler glanced at Bakari’s tattoo of a large, shaded circle. Tiny spheres of various colors appeared to orbit the larger one. Clearing his throat, the Envoy said, “This is your first time to Los Terra, so I don’t take offense to you staring.”
Sammil stammered an apology. “I am enamored by the variations of tattoos I see. Theotello, a dear friend, explained to me why you have them.”
Bakari scrunched his face, trying to comprehend what the Chronicler was telling him. “Once again,” Sammil said, “I have to apologize. Theotello is the name he selected, once accepting his call as a Chronicler. You may know the young boy, Theodor Dwela, or his father, Tef.”
The Envoy nodded his head slightly. “Yes, I am aware of Tef and Nala. They have many children and once lived in Mercil. But when someone took Tef’s life, we insisted Nala returned with her family.”
Sammil looked away, wondering if he would ever get an opportunity to tell Theotello. Bakari motioned with his hand to continue forward. “We must not make Ahnoro wait.”
Allowing the Envoy to take the lead, Sammil followed close. Tasia and the other Los Terrans were a few steps behind. “I didn’t know of Tef’s passing. And I’m sure Theodor isn’t aware. Perchance, if there is time, I would like to meet Nala Dwela.”
Bakari turned his head enough to speak but without slowing his pace. “Brother Sammil, we are a people with a single name. ‘Dwela’ is one of many regions in Los Terra. Her people are just north of the…”
Stopping to converse with his staff, Bakari spoke in a language Sammil never heard. When they all stopped talking, the Envoy smiled. “I’m afraid I won’t fully know this common language. Dwela is north of the ‘ziwa,’ our lake.”
Not wanting to delay their journey to meet Ahnoro, Bakari increased the speed of his pace. The group passed several warehouses before coming to a cobblestoned roadway. Sammil could see another pier in the distance but nothing more.
Within twenty meters of the first pier were rows of houses and green spaces. Children stopped their play, curious to know who was accompanying Bakari. As the group approached the city center, the sounds of people conversing grew.
Bakari tugged at his cloak as he continued beyond the crowd. Talking ceased as the group entered the central courtyard. Across vast green spaces was a structure constructed with natural material. Expansive gardens, fastidiously groomed, surrounded the building.
“This is the…” Once again, the Envoy stopped and asked how to say ‘jengo’ in the common language. When he received his answer, Bakari said, “This is the building of the people, ‘jengo la watu.’ Come, Ahonro is waiting for us.”
Without delay, Bakari led them around the gardens, then down the path leading to the building. Two men stood holding shields bearing the antelope crest and a hand on their swords. Sammil wondered why they didn’t wear armor.
The guards nodded their approval as Bakari continued to the double wooden doors. “Once we go through these doors, you must remove your shoes before proceeding into the ‘chumba.'”
The Envoy didn’t wait for an interpretation. He entered the wide hallway with high ceilings, removed his shoes, then placed them on a shelf. Sammil followed Bakari’s action expecting the stone floors to be cold. But the burning torches did more than produce light.
Sammil followed Bakari up a few steps, with Tasia behind him. He turned his head back long enough to see that the journey for the other Los Terrans ended. The three men walked down a spacious hall while passing a few doors on either side.
Bakari paused in front of the two doors made from several oak planks, preserved in warm, natural tones. An elaborate tree sculpted from two boards straddled the doors. Pulling the one on his right toward him, the Envoy held it open and ushered Brother Sammil and Tasia inside.
The room was rectangular, approximately twelve meters wide, and six meters deep. People stood in groups, listening to an individual speak before a man who sat on a platform. “That has to be Ahonoro,” Brother Sammil thought.
The man on the platform sat on an old trunk that bore markings chiseled into the sides over time. Sammil couldn’t discern Ahnoro’s height, but he appeared to be muscular. His blue vest remained open while he sat.
While Sammil couldn’t see everyone, he saw enough to know that most people in the room dressed in shades of brown. The Chronicler surmised that Los Terrans reserved the color blue for their leaders.
“This is our Gathering room,” Bakari whispered. “Tawalas and others from the regions come together before every new moon. They discuss issues, request services, or hear reports from returning ships. The Nahoda, or Captian, today speaks of unrest in the cities he sailed to during his leave.”
Sammil didn’t understand the words the Captain spoke, but he watched Ahnoro. The leader listened with interest, pulling off a skull cap he wore. He held it in his strong hands, exposing his shaved head. Asking a few questions, Ahnoro stood when the Nohoda finished his last words.
Moving off the platform, the leader stepped in front of the presenter. The men placed their right hand on each other’s shoulder, then leaned forward to touch their heads. The room exploded with a shout, “Amani kwa leo!”
Those in the room clapped as the Captain returned to one of the groups. Ahnoro stood majestically before the people, then turned to Bakari. He pointed toward Sammil, granting his permission to enter into the presentation space.
As the Chronicler walked toward Ahnoro, he felt small and insignificant. But before he gave in to his fears, Tasia touched the side of his arm. Right then, Sammil remembered that he didn’t stand alone.
“Theo, I don’t want to be here while others are preparing for a pending attack,” Leana whispered.
Closing the door behind him, the young Chronicler urged Leana forward. “What I have to show you is as important as what Josah and Sola are doing.”
He placed his lit candle on the table. But the rainy day seemed to cast a dark shadow, even inside Lord Rando’s study. Theo walked over to the cabinet on the left, then pressed the catch, causing the fireplace to swing open. Leana’s curiosity grew as Theo revealed the secret chamber.
“Bring the candle,” Theo said as he stepped into the hidden room.
Pulling out one of the bound materials hanging on a pole, the boy presented the front binding. “What is this symbol?”
Leana held the candle close, then ran her fingers across the markings. “These are from an old language, pictographs to be exact. Are there other documents like this one?”
“Just one. Take that one to the table, while I’ll retrieve the other.”
The thick leather binding held many pages, making it bulky. Leana cradle the book with one arm, letting it rest on her hip. Making her way to the table, Leana placed the candle on the table, sliding the bound materials next to it. Theo then set the second volume next to the first.
The front bindings had the same circle, but the two symbols inside were different for each. “My thought was the stamping formed the name of the early Chronicler who wrote the documents.”
Leana nodded slightly before offering an alternative thought. “I would agree if someone bound the collection one or two generations ago. But these binding are as old as the pages.”
Pulling back the leather binding, Leana used her fingers to separate it from the pages. “The coloration along the edges is the same as the rest of the page. No, these collections and binding are four or five generations old.”
Theo gently closed the cover and asked Leana to determine what the symbol meant. “It’s difficult to tell without reading the pages inside. If I’m right, these are old documents. The symbols are reminiscent of an ancient language, which you read from right to left.”
Leana had a gift of learning languages, a struggle for Theo during his younger years. As she touched the stamping, the young girl looked away, trying to focus her mind.
“Well, what do you think?” Theo asked with little patience.
Resisting the pressure, Leana threw a scornful look. “I’m sorry if I gave you the impression that I know everything! There are times you cannot rush to judgment. But these symbols do look familiar to me.”
Theo crossed his arms, dipped his head slightly, rolling his eyes. “So, what are these two collections?”
Turning back to the binding, Leana touched the stamping. “These symbols appear to be pictographs of the Wyddor representing letters or words. There were twenty-two characters used by Chroniclers to write, many generations ago.”
Theotello whistled low. “How did these bound materials find it’s way to Bonn Abbi, hidden away in a secret chamber?” He knew Leana had no answers. “This Wyddor, have you read anything that tells you where it originated?”
Leana straightened up, then looked at Theo. “Not for certain. But one thing is for sure. Northport had the earliest document using the Wyddor in the Mercil library. But the materials in our possession may be older!”
Sammil stood looking up at Ahnoro, who was head and shoulders taller. Uncertain what to do, the Chronicler brought his hands to his side and bowed his head. He could hear Bakari speaking somewhere behind him. The only words he recognized was his name, Tef, and Theodor.
He opened his eyes slowly, surprise to see Ahonoro had walked back to the platform. The ruler of Los Terra sat on the trunk, and with a wave, invited Sammil to speak.
Shifting his head between Bakari and Ahnoro, he stammered, “Will, ah, you be interpreting for me?”
“I speak the Common Language,” boomed Ahnoro, as a few chuckles escaped those that watched.
“My lord, I apologize as this is my first encounter with Los Terra. But it’s not my first contact with your people.”
Ahnoro held his hand to silence the Chronicler. “There are no lords here in Los Terra. Do not dishonor my people. Bakari spoke of you knowing Theodor and Tef.”
Once again, Sammil felt Tasia’s hand on his shoulder. He could feel his fear and uncertainty leave him. “Yes… yes, I met Tef one time when he brought his son to Northport.”
“I do not know every one of my people by their name, but Theodor was the first to be born outside of our regions.” Ahnoro adjusted his posture as if he anticipated a much longer conversation. “What can you tell me about the boy?”
“Well, I have watched him grow to become an honorable young man. He has taken a new name, Theotello, and bears a two-colored diamond tattoo on his forehead.”
As Ahnoro nodded, then smiled. Bakari knew he had to interpret what he heard. As he finished speaking, someone in the group close to the door shouted, “Amani kwa leo!”
Observing Sammil’s puzzled look, Ahnoro raised his hand to quiet the group. “Los Terra has learned long ago that we can’t promise that a good day will return. So we celebrate the moment. ‘Amani kwa leo’ means ‘peace for today.'”
“So you are happy, Theotello is doing well?”
Ahnoro stood up. “He’s from Los Terra, so we know he does well in anything he chooses! What makes us happy is he honors our traditions.”
Sammil turned slowly, looking at the various groups of men and women that formed the regions. Some sections had more people, perhaps reflecting a larger population. When the Chronicler returned to face Ahnoro, all he could say was, “Amani kwa leo!”
When the group stopped repeating the phrase, Ahnoro sat back down. “I like you, Sammil. But tell me who this is the man standing by you and why you waited for two days before entering our port?”
Sammil took a few steps back, raised his arm, palm up, then introduced Tasia. “He does not speak but has been my companion from Mercil to Los Terra.”
“About why we waited two days would take longer to explain. Perhaps it’s best to say we heard Los Terra doesn’t have many visitors. We thought it best to keep our ship far enough away for you to see we were not a threat.”
“And why have you come to Los Terra?”
Sammil cleared his throat, pausing long enough to catch Tasia’s eye. The Chronicler sensed the need to speak plainly. “We’re here to ask for your help.”
Ahnoro waved at Bakari to approach the platform. The Envoy dropped his cloak where he stood, then made haste to stand by the ruler. “Sammil, all the people you see here represent their regions. Not everyone can understand your words, so Bakari will make it so they can.”
Sammil asked for wisdom under his breath, trusting it was enough to invoke the help from the Ancient One. “I travel with people from Weshaven. We are on our way to Karune.”
A slight murmur swept across the crowd as Bakari interpreted. “Are you familiar with Karune?” asked Sammil.
Bakari gazed at the ruler who looked down. The Envoy hesitated before answering. “We know of Karune.”
“Then what you may not know is that they are plotting to harm every city. We are all in danger if we do nothing to stop them.”
Ahnoro stood with a defiant look. “How would you know what they are planning? Nobody ever goes to Karune.”
Sammil puffed his cheeks and exhaled. He couldn’t tell Ahnoro that he heard the report from Watchers, so he decided another option. “Someone I trust told me.”
“Then, they have not spoken with the truth!” shouted Ahnoro.
The Chronicler looked at Tasia but knew he couldn’t help. He looked up and said, “I learned what they are doing from Theodor!”
Bakari spoke the words to the groups and then engaged Ahnoro in a conversation. “How would Theodor know anything about Karune?”
“Theo is a Chronicler, with more gifts more than any other I have ever known or read about in our documents. Theodor can see the future!”
Sammil saw the stress on Ahnoro’s face. Bakari sensing a need to intervene, he called out to the group closest to the doorway. Sammil watched as a slender, tall woman wearing a brown kirtle made her way to the front. “This is Nala, Theodor’s mother,” the Envoy told Sammil.
Nala stood in front of Ahnoro, tipping her head to the ruler. She pulled her long hair from behind to the front shoulder, without looking at the Chronicler. Sammil wasn’t sure what Bakari had asked, but it was enough to cause Nala to cut her eyes toward him.
She started to speak but choose to answer in the Common language. “This is the first time I have met Sammil. But I can tell you Tef trusted him with our son.”
“And is what he says is true? Theodor could see the future?” asked Ahnoro.
Nala drew her hands together, rubbing them nervously. “To what he could see, I can’t speak as I only knew Theodor as a boy. But, yes, my son talked about things that were to happen. I wouldn’t remember until it came true.”
Bakari glanced at Ahnoro. With a wave of his hand, the ruler dismissed Nala, who returned to her group without looking at Sammil. The Envoy invited the ruler to sit, whispering into his ear. Then he took a few steps back.
“We know of Karune too well,” Ahnoro started. “There is nothing there but darkness, misery, and loss. So the answer is ‘no.’ We will not assist you.”
Sammil wanted to touch the ruler’s hand as he sensed there was more to his hesitation. But he discerned his intentions were good. “The darkness, misery, and loss you speak of will be what we all will feel if we do nothing.”
When Ahnoro didn’t respond, Sammil decided to take a risk. “We came to Los Terra because one of your own warned us of the danger. Theodor is in Bon Abbi, on Rylie Glen, doing all he can to defeat this darkness. Why should I expect us to do any less?”
Bakari started to take a few steps to Ahnoro but stopped when the ruler raised his hand. “And if we don’t help you, what will you do?”
Pulling at his tunic, Sammil tried to make himself appear taller. “Then I will lead Weshaven to Karune. We’ll face them alone if we must.”
Ahnoro shouted the interpretation to the people, who laughed. “You know nothing about the danger in Karune. You couldn’t make the journey across the waters.”
Sammil felt his anger rising. “I am not a warrior nor one who enjoys sailing. But I will do what I must if it means we put an end to this growing darkness. My failure won’t be that I lost to Karune but that I couldn’t win over Los Terra.”
Without waiting for a reply, Sammil turned to Tasia, then pointed to the door. As they walked away, Ahnoro shouted, “Amani kwa leo!”
Not sure what to expect, Sammil turned toward Ahnoro. He stepped off the platform, talking his way to the Chronicler. “There is no need to go. Stay with us. No one can sail across the winter waters. You have until the planting season begins to convince me to go with you.”
Ahnoro extended his arm out to Sammil. The Chronicler clasped forearms, knowing he was about to uncover Ahnoro’s secrets.