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Rolfin's Orb
Book 13 - The Beginning
Chapter 9

            A dark-haired, dark-eyed Burillian man stepped forward. “I will go first with the obsidian.” Cowan put out his hand. “I shall take it far away.”

Kegan handed him two bags of gold. “Take the first stone, my friend and go. When you reach your destination, call upon Zerahemna and he will help you set three traps. Remember, Cowan, who you are and what you are doing. I hope I can somehow make it to Jerusalem next year, but if not, the others should be there. If something happens, Zerahemna will know what to do. Obey him as you would me.” Kegan pried out the black obsidian stone and placed it in Cowan’s hand. 

Cowan looked at the heavens, trying to discover what direction he should head; he chose southwest. “My ancestors are from the western coast of Arabia. I shall head towards the land of my heritage.” After getting his bearings straight, he walked off, his back to the rising sun. He didn’t know where he’d stop and didn’t care. In one year he could go a great distance, if he didn’t delay.

Sticking to the coastal road that the caravans used, he traversed Arabia, stopping only to sleep and eat. The Red Sea offered cooling breezes and a wealth of seafood.  Cowan caught grouper, stingray, lionfish, parrotfish and urchin. He feasted in the shade of trees and watched Arabian leopards, Nubian ibex and gazelle wander through the nearby woodlands. Figs were plentiful and the fertile land near the beach was rich with date palms, gum and citrus trees. With the gold King Kegan gave him he was able to eat well and purchase a camel, which he named Isabella. Once he reached the Sinai he continued on to Alexandria, Egypt, thankful that the capital had been moved from there to Cairo. He was able to visit the less busy and less crowded Alexandria and enjoy the beautiful sunsets on the Mediterranean. Cowan didn’t dare spend too much time there. With luck he was able to catch a boat heading to Greece. A group of fishermen needed a few extra men to help with the fleet and Cowan signed on. He would work hard for his passage.

When the boats reached Greece, they went from island to island. The waters were particularly rich in fish. The rocky island of Hydra was their last stop before Athens. Most of the inhabitants were fishermen, shepherds and farmers. He left the fishing fleet and took a room in the village at the bay. From there he spent his days searching the island for a hiding place. One sun-kissed morning Cowan wandered up the steep narrow path to the top. There sat ruins of an ancient monastery. He made his way there and stepped inside. “This is the place. Now where should I hide it?”

* *

Pond took his bag of gold and the reddish-pink spinel and headed north. He too had been born in Burill and had the same dark hair and eyes as Cowan. He marched to the northeastern part of Arabia and then headed along the coast, hugging the Persian Gulf. He found humor watching the dolphins leap through the water as they moved along in the same direction as Pond. Opportunities to see and eat many new species of fish, such as surgeonfish, kelpfish, clownfish, grunt and puffers came his way. He enjoyed strolls along the beach and gathering seashells.

When he reached the edge of the Gulf, he headed north to the Caspian Sea. There he stayed for several days, adjusting to the change in temperature and altitude. Seals lay on rocks sunning before leaping into the cooler water. Hare, rabbit, fox, badger, and wildcat run rampant. Pheasants flew into the tall grasses, disappearing in the colored straws. Pond was fascinated by the red leaves of the oak as they dropped from the trees. The seasons never change in Burill. When he felt the need to move on, he went in an easterly direction and came upon the Black Sea.  The weather grew bitter cold. Since Pond wasn’t used to such climate, he found it difficult to travel. Reaching for his bag of gold, he searched for a shop that sold appropriate clothing and found the journey more comfortable as he headed across southern Europe. As spring came he joined a whaling fleet and sailed north. When the ship docked in Heimaey, a smaller island off the southern coast of Iceland, Pond parted ways with the whalers; his pockets bulging with money.

“I am here. This is the right place. There is nowhere on earth as remote as this.” He entered a roomy cave full of volcanic rocks. Pond smiled and with spinel in hand climbed inside.

                                                * * *

With the pearl in his pocket, Artur headed south. He ferried across to the continent of Africa. The journey would be much shorter if he crossed by land instead of hugging the coast, so he headed inland, staying in a southerly direction. Black rhinos, zebra, elephant and giraffe caught his attention as he wandered through the bush, resting against baobab trees, termite mounds and evergreen. The further south he went, the stranger the land and animals. Lions roared, cheetahs ran past chasing gazelle and attacking water buffalo.

At last Artur reached the coast again. He stayed on the beach for a while, enjoying the sea breezes instead of the stifling humidity of the inland. One evening, an hour before sunset, a group of native Africans headed his way, pulling a boat. The Arabian man jumped up and helped the struggling tribesmen. One of them spoke Arabic, the language of the lands surrounding Burill, of which Artur was familiar. He was able to decipher enough to learn that these men were headed for a group of islands approximately 1,600 kilometers off the coast to retrieve cinnamon for trade. There were many small uninhabited islands they could stop at on the way for water and food. Artur was invited to join them in their trek there and back. Due to calm weather, they had no major problems as they sailed from island to island. When they reached the Seychelles, Artur was surprised to find no residents. The only other humans he saw were other cinnamon gatherers. He and the men he traveled with went to several of the islands, picking coconuts and gathering the copra. While they stayed on one island for the night, Artur wandered around. “I know where I’ll hide the pearl.”

                   * * *

Kitar knew when he left King Kegan and the others that he’d never make it to Jerusalem in a year without Zerahemna’s help. He planned to keep going until he reached the ends of the earth, wherever that might be. He chose to stay north of the Equator while he traveled and had difficulty deciding if he wanted to go in a westerly direction, or easterly. After searching the stars, Kitar made his choice. He was going to head eastward, hoping to stop off in India and China. Adventure raced through his veins, urging him onward.

The moonbeams beat down on his blond hair as he hiked across rocky plains and through drifting sands until he reached the port. Boats lined up at the docks, each ready to journey across the Indian Ocean to far off lands. Kitar paid passage on a small boat heading to the island Socotra to study the flora and fauna. He’d heard many marvelous stories and wanted to see the island for himself. When the boat arrived, Kitar jumped on the sand, happy to be on dry land after the rough ride. The team of men explored the island, which was part of an archipelago.

Kitar learned that one third of all the species of plants and birds growing and living there were endemic to the island. The only mammals that he saw during his visit were bats. Dates grew in abundance; cultivated by the nomadic tribes that wandered the wadis. Jagged massifs plastered against a sky of blue fascinated Kitar. Streams roared down the mountainsides before meandering past limestone plateaus. Dragon’s blood trees, also known as bottle trees, washed the hillsides with their pink flowers. Cucumber trees became homes to insects and spiders. Time passed too quickly for the busy Kitar and soon it was time to leave. He didn’t want to head back to Africa, so he caught a boat with a handful of Indians heading back to their homeland in the southern tip of the country. From there he moved northward, hugging the Bay of Bengal. During his travels he sampled many types of teas and coffees, tried a selection of spices with his meals, such as cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, tumeric, curry and vanilla beans. He often thought of the caravans of camels that came to Burill before heading to the sea to fill their packs with these same spices. The knowledge that Kitar gained as he ventured from country to country was more than he’d learned in a lifetime in Burill’s universities.

Leaving the warmer climate behind him, he moved in a northerly direction, passing through China, where he saw his first pandas and bamboo, and then on to Mongolia and northeastern Russia, stopping when he reached the Bering Strait. Few men dared to travel that far north. Luck was with Kitar when he met a man at an inn in Mongolia. They had spent the night drinking wine and telling each other stories of different travels they’d had.  Yolk had passed the way of the Straits several times hunting seal, walrus and polar bear. He offered, for a good price, to take Kitar across the Strait to the next continent, promising him that he’d find most of the land was unexplored and void of life.

The journey was harsh and the sea rough and treacherous. When they landed on the other side, it was no better. The wind howled with its icy tongue, licking their faces and fingers with frozen breath.  Yolk taught Kitar many ways to survive in the harsh climate and the two of them made their way from island to island, heading south. While Yolk hunted, Kitar searched for the right place to hide his jewel, an emerald.

The blues of the ice matched Kitar’s eyes as he trekked across the frozen land. A river of ice flowed down the mountainside. Kitar stood in the center of it, looking up at the mountains and down to the sea. “A river made of blue ice. Now I can say I’ve seen everything.” He came to a wide crevice and lay on his belly, peering over the edge. “This is where I shall hide my jewel.”

                                                * * *

Edwi, another Burillian, hesitated leaving and crossing the globe on his own. He was used to being around others and wasn’t sure how he’d like the solitary life that King Kegan was forcing on him. He’d objected before they’d left and seeing his distress, Kegan asked Zerahemna to go with Edwi for the first few miles, or until he had the courage to go it alone. The man and the wizard left, heading northeast, as Kitar had gone. After two days Edwi released the wizard to return to the others, confident he could handle the rest of his journey solo. Instead of traveling across the sea, Edwi stayed inland, cutting across northern India. Curiosity led him on a side trip to see the tallest mountains he could ever imagine. He sampled foods and spices of both India and China before heading south to Malaysia, Indonesia and then across the Timor Sea to Australia.

A strange land greeted him with crocodiles, poisonous snakes and creatures he’d never heard of or read about in books. He traveled through lush green jungles and dry deserts, buffeted by sandstorms and by winds, until reaching the southern coast. Several tribes of aborigines had settled throughout the land, always welcoming Edwi and eager to help him in any way they could. They warned him of sharks, blue-ringed octopus, puffer fish and blue bottle jellyfish. One tribesman arranged for himself and a few others to transport Edwi across the Bass Strait, promising him an interesting adventure. They offered to bring him back when he was ready, as long as they had time to go further south to hunt penguins. In return he paid them well for their efforts.

Edwi decided to go with them on their hunting expedition; he longed to see penguins. He told the natives about the tigers and elephants he’d seen in India and delighted them with tales of his journey. Though both sides struggled to understand each other’s languages, they soon learned enough to communicate well. The penguins made Edwi laugh as he watched their frolicking antics, diving, swimming, and waddling across the rocks. After hunting for a week, they carried their catch north. While the Aborigines rested, Edwi explored the area. He stopped in a field of wildflowers and pulled the topaz from his pocket. “This looks like a good place.”

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