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Rolfin's Orb
Book 13 - The Beginning
Chapter 10

            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 pipe.

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 heading southwest.

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 and passengers.

            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 quicker. 

            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.”

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