Chapter 8 A Trip to Marcadia
Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. – Buddha
A short walk from the inn was the entranceway to the Cargo Conveyor. Even though it was still early, a great crowd had formed at the end to claim cargo and every now and then a passenger. The Conveyor had been built to quickly send cargo to and from Marcadia and Validian, the two closest continents in Aydreon. But because it was newly opened, tourists were allowed to travel on it. It was difficult for Nico to see clearly through the multitude of people, but gradually, because of the efforts of Jian who always seemed to know just when to bob to the right or weave to the left, the three of them made it to the entrance. It was a vast archway, the top of which was completely glassed over and stood at its height several feet taller than a grown adult. It was about ten feet wide, to accommodate a lot of packages. Workmen in green and white uniforms and checkered caps were constantly lifting crates off the black whirring conveyor belt, and occasionally helping a person to exit.
Jian showed their passes to one of the workmen and a gate was opened. “Step on carefully. The belt is moving slowly here, but it will speed up as it reaches the middle of the land bridge, and then slow down again as it reaches Sult in Marcadia. You need to kind of get the hang of standing, it can be disconcerting at first. There aren’t any handrails, remember this was never intended to transport people. Make sure you have plenty of water; it can get kind of hot. The whole trip is about six hours.” Nico paid careful attention to all of this. He was sure that he had never done something like this before. The amount of new magitechnology that was appearing in Validian was amazing.
Jian helped Serah and Nico on the conveyor belt and then hopped on himself. Close by them was another group of passengers on horseback. These men were tall and rode their horses proudly, their long blonde hair whipping out behind them. They clanked and rattled as they went, leading Nico to believe they carried swords or spears. Instead of just being still on the conveyor, they spurred their horses on and it wasn’t long before they had disappeared from view. “Curious,” Jian had said. “They were Jakodans. I wonder why they were going to Marcadia?”
“Probably some trade negotiations,” Serah answered. “Everyone wants to import our fruits and vegetables! That’s how Marcadia gets what it needs. Metal from Jakodan, textiles from Validian.” Nico was again amazed at how much Serah knew.
The conveyor belt did not cover the entire land bridge and from time to time they could see travelers passing down in carts or on horseback. It seemed to Nico as if they were moving backwards and he was standing still. After a while, Jian decided to move around some of the crates and boxes that were near them to make seats so they could be more comfortable. As he pushed one crate over it dislodged a giant, hairy spider. Indignant at losing its dark and cozy home, the spider jumped out and landed on Serah’s arm. Serah leaped into the air, screaming and waving her arms around, startling Jian, who fell back on one of the flimsier crates which cracked open spilling it’s contents all over the belt.
“Ack! Ack!” yelled Sarah, “I’m being attacked!” She began spinning and gyrating in an attempt to dislodge the spider and tripped over another box. She fell, face first into the textiles that had spilled out of the crate that Jian had broken. “Oof,” she said as she landed. By now, the spider, even more distressed by all the commotion had scurried off to find a new home, far from all the noise.
Jian picked himself up and strode quickly over to help Serah to her feet. He leaned over to help her to her feet and an amulet on a thin gold chain slipped out of his shirt. “Are you ok?” he asked anxiously.
“Yes, yes, I’m okay,” she answered. Nico could see Jian’s amulet swinging as he turned and began to pick up the mess. It was the same shape as the symbol on his sword sheaf; a double clover shape with a red jewel in the middle. When he saw Nico looking at him, he quickly tucked it back into his shirt.
Nico walked over to see what had been in the crate to find that it had been filled with pillows and blankets.
“Good thing Validian exports textiles,” laughed Nico. “Those pillows made for a soft landing!”
“Yes, and they will make these boxes more comfortable to sit on,” said Serah thoughtfully. “I don’t think they will mind if we borrow them for a bit!”
Jian merely shook his head, but helped pile pillows and blankets on the boxes so they continued their journey in grand style. By the middle of the day it did indeed get quite warm. But Jian had brought plenty of water for everyone and Serah said she thought this was the most pleasant trip she’d ever taken. By mid afternoon, they noticed the belt was slowing and Nico could see Marcadia ahead of them.
They reached the exit where workmen helped them get off. Nico noticed that these workmen were not in uniforms like the men on the Validian side. In fact, they were dressed more like he was. Sult was the twin city of Tonga. These two cities had flanked the land bridge from Marcadia to Validian for hundreds of years and many travelers had done their trading in these two cities.
“How far is it to Chiniak?” asked Nico.
“Not far,” answered Serah. “We should be there by nightfall.”
“Let’s collect our things and get moving,” muttered Jian looking skyward. Bits of ash blew by them and it felt like a very hot breeze was pushing against them, keeping them from moving forward. Nico could hear constant little boomings coming every three to four minutes. Jian and Nico shared a long look, “Mt. Phaestus,” muttered Jian and Nico felt a little scared.
Serah had been right, Marcadia looked a lot like Validian. Mostly open road and small towns interspersed were all they saw. Enormous fields with the first sprouts of spring were everywhere and every now and then Nico could get a whiff of the wonderful smell of growing. They decided to rest a bit by the side of the road where they saw an encampment of fellow travelers. The travelers had lit a fire and looked to be settled in for the night.
Nico would never have thought to speak to travelers on the road, but Jian confidently walked over to them and asked if they could rest there a few moments. The travelers looked their party over and finally agreed, even offering to share some of their juice, bread and cheese. Nico felt a warm glow of happiness at being allowed to share in this small meal. It seemed to him that no matter where Jian went, he was always welcomed.
Jian remained silent throughout the meal, but Nico and Serah chatted with the other travelers. They were full of the news about the volcano, the new Cargo Conveyor and the upcoming vote. It turned out that they had evacuated the towns near the volcano. They were all heading toward other cities further away where they had families or friends willing to take them in. The evacuees did not seem particularly worried about the homes they were leaving.
“We had the Fatechasers come and put spells on the doors,” one traveler explained. “A special one to protect against fire.”
Nico felt that volcanic lava would probably prove stronger than any spell, but the travelers remained unconcerned, believing they would return and find everything as they left it.
The conversation gradually dwindled and Nico looked up and saw a ragged young boy walking along the road, small even by Marcadian standards. The boy slowed down and hesitated, looking longingly at the fire and company. Nico looked into his eyes and knew that here was a Marcadian nemo. He wondered if he were also fleeing from the volcano and where would he go. He surely didn’t have any family willing to take him in. Nico’s heart ached for the boy. The life of a nemo must be doubly hard when something like this happened. He turned to look at the faces of the other travelers. He was hoping that they would allow the boy to rest and eat.
But instead, their eyes hardened and mouths grew grim. The air became still; something ugly was about to happen. Sensing this, Nico looked to Jian. Jian gave a tiny shake of his head as if to say, “Don’t do anything.” As the nemo still hesitated one of the travelers picked up a rock, threatening to throw it at the boy. “Go away!” he shouted and pulled his arm back. But at the last second, somehow Jian was behind him and holding the rock giving the boy a chance to run off.
Nico was filled with shame. Why hadn’t he said anything? Or done anything? He’s just let that happen and he knew it was wrong. “How did Jian move so fast?” Serah was asking him. Nico shook his head, he hadn’t really been watching Jian, he had been looking at the nemo, wishing he had had the courage to stand up for him.
In an effort to quash the memory and change the subject, Nico turned to Serah. “Would it be all right if I looked at the ring?” he asked.
“Sure,” Serah replied reaching into her pack and pulling out a small box tied up with string. She untied it and took the lid off handing it to Nico.
Nico reached out to pick up the ring. He held it up, pretending to be scrutinizing it, but in reality he was just hoping to distract himself. It looked like a simple gold band, the kind that might be used as a wedding ring. The ring was not very small so Nico slid it on his finger, testing it for size. Suddenly without warning an intense rage swept over him, hotter than any wind from Mt. Phaestus; it felt as if it would consume him. Angry thoughts chased each other through his mind. Why had his parents abandoned him? Why had the people of Wickliffe not taken him back? Why had Benefix sent him on this journey? It wasn’t fair; it wasn’t right, on and on until Nico felt completely used up and spent like logs on a fire that had burned down to ash but still retained their shape.
While it seemed to Nico that all this was taking hours, in reality only a few seconds had passed. Serah, noticing that the travelers were watching them, gently reached out and took the ring off Nico’s hand and put it back in the box. “For safekeeping,” she said smiling up into Nico’s face, completely unaware of what had happened to him. Once the ring was off his hand, Nico fell over trembling and his face covered in sweat. Jian was already rushing over.
“What’s wrong? What happened?” Jian asked.
“I-I I feel funny,” muttered Nico rubbing his head.
“He put on the ring,” whispered Serah in an undertone, her eyes opened wide. “Do you think that has anything to do with it?”
Jian shrugged. “Are you all right?”
“I felt angry, really, really angry, like all the misery of the world were suddenly inside of me and burning a hole in my chest on the way out.”
“Why do you think you felt that way?” Serah asked.
“I don’t know. I was feeling bad before I put the ring on,” said Nico, looking ashamedly down the road, “but not as bad as I did after I put it on.”
“Well, maybe you should try to put the ring on after you are feeling happy,” suggested Serah.
“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” responded Jian, “Let’s just keep the ring in the box. But it looks like Benefix was right; the ring has an important part to play. Remember the scroll said something about anger. ” He helped Nico to his feet and gave him some water. While he was drinking, Jian gave Nico a searching look.
“What is it?” Nico asked, wondering if he had done something wrong.
“You know,” Jian began, “I’ve held that ring a couple of times, even put it on once,” he stopped.
“Oh?” Nico asked after a moment.
Jian shook his head. “Nothing’s ever happened to me.” He stood up and asked, “Feeling better?” When Nico nodded he put his hand out to help him to his feet. He continued to look at him as if seeing him in a new light. Then he looked around. The travelers had stopped watching them once Jian had come over. “I think we had better be moving on now,” he said.
Nico nodded and they gathered their things and continued their journey. They could now see the great Mt. Phaestus looming large on the horizon. It looked like a huge, grassy mound but at the top was a ring of gray-black smoke. As they grew closer they could see a thin trickle of red lava at the top of the crater.
“There it is!” shouted Serah, “That’s Chiniak!” and she pointed off the to the left. Nico could see a high wooden wall flanked by a wooden gate. The gate doors stood open, but a pair of guards stood at the entrance. Each guard carried a tall pointed spear. They wore padded jackets with metal studs and thick metal caps that covered their ears and noses. Down their backs, Nico could see they had thick braided hair.
As they drew closer, Jian moved out in front. “Good evening,” he said politely. At first the guards said nothing and they stood waiting in front of the gate, unsure if they were allowed to enter. “How are things?” Jian asked cautiously. Nico was feeling a little uneasy. What if the guards wouldn’t let them in? Or worse, what if they got captured? He looked over at Jian who seemed larger and very imposing at that moment. Nico experienced a moment of relief, what ever it was, Jian could handle it. Still the stillness of the guards was unnerving.
After another long moment of silence, one of the guards responded, “What is your business in Chiniak?”
“We are just traveling through, looking for a place to spend the evening,” answered Jian. Nico realized how strange they must look. Serah had the dark coloring and thick black hair of most Marcadians, but he and Jian were clearly foreigners.
“You may enter,” replied the guard. “Most people have evacuated. Curfew is strictly being enforced. There will be no looting. Go straight to the inn on the right. Stay there. Leave, first thing in the morning and be on your way.”
Jian nodded his understanding and they entered the town, obeying the orders of the guard. Once they reached the inn, things seemed more friendly. The little innkeeper was extremely pleased to see them as he had very few customers. He showed them to two very comfortable rooms and invited them to supper in the dining room. “Not many guests!” he had admitted cheerfully, “But we’ve a nice fireplace and good hot home cooking.”
So they deposited their luggage in their rooms and went down to see what Marcadian home cooking was like. The innkeeper brought them steaming platters of hot food. One was filled with a sliced spicy pork and there was a rice dish with lots of cut up vegetables in it.
“Try this out,” Serah encouraged Nico when the innkeeper brought a plate of roasted peppers. Nico hesitated, his tongue still burning from the pork. “No really, it’s very good.”
Nico looked at Jian who had his hand over his mouth. His expression was very difficult to read. After hesitating a moment, he speared one of them and put it on his plate to cut a small piece off.
“No, that’s not how you do it,” Serah fussed, “Pop it in your mouth whole, like this!” She put a whole pepper in and chewed it up, smiling the whole time. “Yummy!”
So Nico did the same, seconds before Jian was starting to shake his head. “I wouldn’t do that…” he was beginning, but it was too late.
Nico thought that his mouth had turned to lava. The heat ran up his sinus cavity and all the way back to the top of his head, making his whole brain feel tingly. He began gulping the fresh milk they had been served and gasping trying to suck in cool air.
“Look! His ears turned red,” laughed Serah taking another pepper. “I guess they are an acquired taste.”
After they had finished and the table had been cleared Jian leaned over and spoke quietly, “Everything seem normal here, Serah?”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Remember the scroll. The place where the sanctuary lies is under some kind of doom. Something that must be freed.” He took out a scrap of paper and read,
“The first by a river is carefully traced,
A meander, a band will point out the place.
Frozen by betrayal in time’s icy glaze
The anger within must be consumed by the blaze.
You’ve been to this area before, what’s not right?”
“You mean beside the giant volcano getting ready to blow up?” she asked.
“Yes,” interjected Nico, “The volcano is happening because of the doom, it’s not the doom. There must be something else.”
Serah sighed and looked around testily, “I don’t know. It all seems pretty normal, except that there’s no one here.”
“One person is here,” said Nico, nodding toward the bar. Seated on the stool was an elderly man wearing the clothing of a farmer. The innkeeper had explained that a few of the townspeople had stayed to try and protect their homes and farms. This must be one of them.
Jian walked over the bar and sat down.
“Good evening, sir,” he began. The farmer looked at him and scooted over a little on his stool. Compared to Marcadians, Jian was a very large man. Serah approached from the other side.
“Hey there!” she said brightly, “I remember you, you have that lovely farm out there on the…” she trailed off.
“West side,” the farmer smiled at her, “That’s right Talbert Acres is the name, I’m a corn farmer.”
“Yes, yes, that’s right,” smiled Serah. I remember coming to your farm at harvest time. What wonderful barbecues we’ve had at Talbert Acres!”
The farmer, completely won over by Serah, settled down to gossip about the people of the town. Nico came over and sat down on the other side of Serah. “Do you really recognize him?” he whispered in her ear.
“No,” she whispered back with an impish grin, “But a lonely farmer in a bar wants to talk, I just had to give him an excuse to think he knows me.”
And on and on he talked; Jian listening attentively all the while. The farmer had once had many children who helped him with his harvest, but they had grown and left home and now the work was getting hard for him to manage by himself. It occurred to Nico that there was a simple solution to his problem and he wondered why no one had thought of it before.
He turned to Serah and whispered, “Why don’t the farmers take in the nemos? That way the nemos would have homes and the farmers would have workers.”
Serah stared at Nico like he was crazy. “The nemos don’t have names,” she said as if that explained everything.
“I don’t get it?” Nico said, but Serah waved him silent as she noticed Jian suddenly jerk to attention.
“Happened a long time ago,” the farmer was saying scratching the stubble on his chin with a roughened thumb. “Sad, very sad. Tragic actually. No one knows what really happened, but there it sits frozen just the way it was, for all these years, just by the bend in the Flumen.” He slowly shook his head and finished up his drink.
“I don’t remember that story,” Serah said smiling, “Can you tell it again?”
Wanting nothing more but to tell a sad story the farmer made himself comfortable on the padded stool and Jian bought him another drink. “Well, it was a long time ago, like I said but I remember my Daddy telling me about it when it happened. I was just a small lad, at the time, you understand, and it didn’t make much sense to me, but this is what he said.”
The story that he told was indeed very heartrending. The second son of the local squire had managed to lose all his money in foolish ventures and bad choices. The squire, being fed up with his son had disowned him. From drinking and bad temper the son had managed to drive his wife to an early grave, and all that he had left going for him was his beautiful daughter named Chrysalis. When Chrysalis was old enough to be married, the father practically sold her to a prominent citizen in the town for money, which he promptly lost.
“Yes, indeed,” the farmer sighed when he reached this point in the story. “Made the Lorketts pay him in gold, he did, for Chrysalis’ hand, and a horse to boot. Lost it all within a year, my Daddy said. And mind you, Tad Lorkett, the groom, he weren’t no angel. Had a bad reputation even as a young ‘un for being downright mean. Don’t know why Chrysalis put up with it, but she was always hoping to win her daddy’s love.”
In the farmer’s story Chrysalis had married the Lorketts’ son without protest out of respect to her father who never visited her or spoke to her again as long as he lived. And so poor Chrysalis had suffered at the hands of a brutal husband until one day she received word that her father had passed away.
“Never complained, if you can believe the story, but never spoke about her father neither. I think her heart was already broke by then. Finding out he had passed on without seeing him again must have been hard,” the farmer sighed again. “But, see, she still thought he had willed her some property. The cottage was still out there and good land it was too. She thought it would be hers and that would make her free. Once she owned that land, she’d be able to leave her husband and start a farm of her own. But, it didn’t seem to work out that way,” the farmer plonked his mug on the bar.
“So what happened?” Serah asked.
“We don’t know!” the farmer answered. “According to my dad, Chrysalis went out there to the cottage and never came back! People say they saw a terrible flash and then everything around the cottage just froze in time. What caused it no one knows!” There was an awkward pause as the farmer finished his drink and got to his feet. “Still like that today! Everybody else is long dead and gone now though. Weren’t ever any Lorkett young ones to carry on the name. No one wanted to go near the cottage anyhow and it’s just been left there. Kind of spooky if you want to know the truth. Most folks avoid it. It’s well off the main path.”
“Where is this cottage?” Serah asked earning her a funny look from the farmer. “I seem to remember it’s near the volcano, right?” she added hurriedly.
After a moment, he nodded his head. “Aye, its on the other side of the Flumen from here, pretty close to the volcano. You’re not thinking of going there, are you? T’wouldn’t be safe now with Mt. Phaestus acting up the way it is.”
“Oh, no, no,” replied Serah shaking her head emphatically. “Just curious!”
”Well, it’s getting late. Thank you kindly for the drink.” And he walked away with a wave of his hand.
After he had gone Nico asked Jian, “Do you think that’s the place? Could that be the sanctuary?”
Jian shrugged, “It’s definitely worth checking out. A place where a betrayal happened, by a bend in the river and frozen in time. It fits.”
Nico wasn’t sure if he felt relieved that they might have found the cottage or anxious that now it would be his turn to prove his worth on the mission. He looked nervously at Jian.
Perhaps Jian sensed this because he suddenly looked him in the eyes and clapped him on the shoulder. “Look Nico,” he said. “I know this all seems pretty weird, but I’ve known Benefix for a long time and he’s not usually wrong about people. If he says you’re the one, you’re the one. Even if you don’t believe in yourself right now, know this. I believe in you and Benefix believes in you. When the time comes, I’ll be there, I swear it. We’ll get through this together.”
Looking into Jian’s face, with its wrinkles around the eyes and the full lips that rarely smiled, Nico suddenly felt a swell of confidence. Just knowing that he was not alone made things better. He swallowed hard, “I won’t let you down,” he said finally and fervently hoped that it was true.
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