Buntabi’s dark skin and short, curly black hair
set him apart from the others. Though born in Burill with a Burillian
mother, his father was born and raised in central Africa. He grudgingly took
the ruby and bag of gold from his king, showing the group that he objected
to the whole idea.
As he plodded westward, he had plenty of time
for thought. He stopped, looked up at the later afternoon sun and made a
decision. “I am going after Isabella and Anna, even if I have to do it
alone.” Knowing the princesses’ capturers had a good start, he redoubled his
efforts to find them. That night in the wee hours he spotted a campfire
blazing in the distance. “Is that you, Anna and Isabella?” He crept towards
the fire, knowing guards would be keeping watch. Careful not to disturb the
sleeping men or their camels, Buntabi stepped silently, avoiding stones.
When he was able to see their faces, he lay on a mound of sand and watched.
He spotted the girls lying not far from the fire. Their ankles were wrapped
with rope and tethered to a post. “Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. They’ll kill
me before I get over this hill.” Seeing defeat at the first move, Buntabi
backed up and ran off into the darkness.
He kept his distance as the Zanaadi men marched
on across Arabia, thankful they stayed within sight of the ocean at all
times. Sea grass, trees and bushes offered him many places to hide himself.
This pleased him, except at night, when he was forced to sleep without the
protection of a fire. He stayed close until they reached the Sinai
Peninsula. Buntabi also had to make a choice at this point whether he wanted
to disobey Kegan’s order and follow them all the way to Zanaad, or turn and
find a place to hide the ruby. Under a starlit sky he made his decision and
turned north while the men and girls veered to the west.
At the first oasis he came to, he purchased a
camel and paid for a tent to rest for a few days from the searing heat.
Several other men, most of them traders, had stopped for the same reason as
Buntabi. With nothing better to do the men sat in the shade of the date
palms and talked. “I am heading for the Holy Land.” Buntabi rested his back
on a large goat skin pillow.
“You must be careful if you go to Jerusalem.
Wanderers from the northland, light-haired and blue eyed Vikings, they call
themselves, have shown up. I do not trust them. They’re a blood-thirsty
people with invasion on their minds. Many Franks, Gauls and Britons have
also appeared in the city, which is now mainly Islamic. I see bad times
ahead there.” Johari stopped speaking and turned his attention to his water
Another man, Hamil, spoke up. “I would stay on
the east side of the Jordan River. It is safer there. Do not go to Jerusalem
until you have to and listen to Johari’s words of warning.”
“Have either of you been to Zanaad?” Buntabi
popped a few dates into his mouth.
“Zanaad? I was there several months ago. I had
to watch my back every moment. It is an evil place; corrupt, rancorous,
stinking and wicked. If you ask me, the world would be better off if it was
swallowed up by the desert and buried for eternity.” Johari spat his words.
“Why do you ask, Buntabi?”
“The king of Zanaad sent some of his men to my
homeland, Burill, and captured the royal princesses. They’ve threatened to
kill them if anyone tried to rescue them.”
“Buntabi, if it was me, I’d believe their
threats,” Hamil said. “King Dugan is as rotten as they come.”
“I have something I must do and then, if I have
time, I am going to Zanaad to rescue the girls. I cannot leave them there in
his hands.” Buntabi threw a handful of dates across the tent. Hamil and
Johari glanced at each other, but didn’t say a word.
A few days later, well rested and eager, Buntabi
bid farewell to his new friends, left the oasis and headed for the Jordan
River. Bad luck came his way. Several sandstorms blasted his direction. He
was attacked by native tribesmen, who lived among the rocks and caves of the
desert. These wild men killed his camel and nearly killed him. Without his
camel he was lost in the desert wastes for months, barely surviving. Finally
he made it to the eastern lands along the Jordan River. With no time left to
risk a journey to Zanaad, Buntabi sought a place to bury the ruby.
* * *
Chessa tied his long brown hair back with a torn
piece of cloth. He put the amber in his pocket, took a deep breath and
walked away from his king and friends. With fingers still holding the
cinnamon-colored stone, he thought of the map of the world that he’d looked
at the day before. He’d already made his decision on where he wanted to go.
It would be a long journey and he’d be forced to travel across land and sea,
desert and mountains, lakes and rivers.
He traveled in a westerly direction, crossing
Arabia and Africa. When he came to the great ocean, he had to search for a
ship that would sail across the dangerous sea. Chessa had heard of traders
who had ventured to a new world with jungles, strange black leopards,
pyramids made of gold and colorful birds with long tail feathers. Very few
knew of this information or dared travel there, but those who did came back
with a wealth of gold and stories of horrific sacrifices performed on high
topped mountain villages. Chessa spread the word and a few weeks later he
was approached by a sea captain looking for someone to help fund his voyage.
Arrangements were made and within a week Chessa stood on the deck of a ship
Hurricane-force winds blew the ship, which
fought against the prevailing currents. The sailing took much longer than
had been anticipated and when they arrived the captain and crew rejoiced.
Chessa knew he could never make it back to Jerusalem in time, so he broke
off from the main group and continued by himself. Marching across the
rainforest and over high mountains, Chessa refused to give up. He turned
northward and when he saw a step pyramid built at the bottom of an active
volcano, he knew he was in the right place.
* * *
His olive skin glistened with sweat and his dark
eyes caught the sun’s rays, glimmering like topaz. Gamlas hugged Queen
Sarmantha and shook his king’s hands. The north called to him. He longed for
adventure and gladly accepted the king’s request to take the opal to a
distant land. None of the other men gave any clue of their destinations and
he was sure that some of them didn’t know where they would end up. A stiff
breeze blew dust in his eyes as he navigated through seas of sand. After a
brief sail over the Persian Gulf, he traversed across northern India and
stopped when he had his first view of the Himalayan mountains as Kitar had
done. Above he saw terraces dug into the mountainside. Hairy animals with
long horns grazed on grasses and blue poppies. He heard a villager call them
yak. Breathing in chilled crisp air, Gamlas made his decision. He squeezed
the opal. “I have arrived.”
* * *
Collos strode west, heading for the land of his birth. He
was of Germanic and Frank heritage and longed to step foot once again on the
rich fertile soil. As he hiked across Arabia he stopped to pick up a few
desert rose - rocks shaped like the flower that grew so profusely in Burill.
He knew they may come in handy during his travels. He thought of the
vineyards his father had told him about and the blue sky, fields of fragrant
lavender and vivid colors where his mother had lived. He bought passage on a
ship that was sailing to Barcelona, across the Mediterranean Sea. All
voyagers were warned of a possibility of pirate attacks, which had become so
prevalent in their time. Collos wasn’t at all concerned. If it happened, all
the more exciting of a journey for him. He kept the fact that he had a
sapphire in his possession a secret. During their trip they feasted on
octopus, seabream, sole, moray eel, and tuna. Some of the crew had
experience with trawling and fresh seafood was always available to the crew
Many of the female passengers were infatuated with Collos. His sky blue eyes
and curly blond hair attracted even the most elderly women. He never lacked
for someone to converse and share stories with, which made the journey go by
Barcelona had been named after the Barca family of the
Carthaginian empire. Collos enjoyed his time in the city by the sea. The
balmy weather and coastal breezes pleased him. The desire to travel to his
homeland was pushed to the back of his mind. Instead he basked in the sun
and spent his days at the beach. He had all but forgotten about the sapphire
until one day when the small bag he kept it in fell out of his pocket and a
woman picked it up and handed it to him. With a deep sigh of regret, he left
Barcelona and headed north, into central Spain. He stood on top of a hill,
looking down on a vista. “This place is as good as any.”