Consumed by the need to change the past and save the lives of his parents, Simon has abandoned Manfred and the rest of his friends to embark upon a quest to find a way to travel to the past. Only Jhamed has accompanied him, but Simon knows if he finds a way it will be a journey he must undertake alone.
Next morning, they divided the horses and supplies and farewelled Gamying. They gave him Ubadah’s map and the compass. He headed northwest, following the vague remnants of the Sand Road towards Corum. The weather was cool and clear, the wind having swung around to easterly again. If it stayed clear, they would navigate by mountains, heading west of the Three Witches and plotting a course that would take them between the Hills of Despair and the Hills of Hope. Jhamed predicted that the Hopeless Pass would lead them to the Middle Sea. Simon felt a renewed sense of purpose. He was glad he had shared his plan with Jhamed; it had taken a load off his mind. It had also revealed a way to gain access to the sole remaining time portal at Melasurej. Things were looking brighter again.
His spirits were brightened further by the good weather they enjoyed. They travelled quickly and easily, diverting from their chosen path only to visit the occasional oasis. They chatted about many things, but avoided talking about the fact that this was probably their last journey together. They also steered clear of anything that involved mentioning Manfred. Four days after leaving the ruins of Ilium, with a weak winter sun on their backs, they entered the Hopeless Pass. It was a narrow strip of land, surrounded on both sides by towering hills. Simon wondered whether it had been Ubadah who had named them Despair and Hope. The canyon reminded Simon of old western movies he had seen. He imagined that they were entering a trap. It would turn out to be a dead end and the natives would surround them and pick them off with their bows and arrows. Instead, the pass widened and as they left the hills behind it opened into extensive grassed plains. Now Simon really thought he’d gone to the Wild West for the plains were full of animals that resembled bison. The herds seemed untroubled by the visitors and just stopped chewing and stared at them with huge bovine eyes as they rode past. Unfortunately, the bison brought multitudes of flies, which increasingly annoyed both riders and horses. It brought to mind the ride to Hamadan and the terrible slaughter that had followed. Simon felt his spirits slipping again.
That night, they made a fire from dry dung and took turns to keep watch. “Where there are herbivores there will be carnivores,” Jhamed had said. In the darkness, Simon heard the distant howling of wolves and kept the fire burning strongly. He had no stomach for further slaughter, even if they were just ordinary wolves. After Jhamed relieved him, he fell asleep with the memories of the wargs throwing themselves on his blade. The next morning Jhamed told him that he had cried out loud and often in his sleep.
Once they reached the foothills of the Fang Mountains, they followed them in a south-westerly direction. The mountain peaks were white with new winter snow and Simon shivered despite the sunshine and his cloak. He was glad they wouldn’t have to cross the mountains. Another day’s ride saw the mountains begin to fall away and at dusk, they came upon the deserted shore of the Middle Sea. Despite the chill in the air, they both immediately disrobed and broke out the cakes of soap from their packs. The desire to be clean again overcame their reluctance to enter the cold water. The horses looked on with seeming amusement as the two shivering men scrubbed themselves. Simon even removed Kin Slayer before entering the water.
Later, dressed in clean clothes and in front of a roaring fire, they feasted on fresh fish that Jhamed had quickly and ingeniously caught with an improvised fishing rod. Simon patted his belly. “It’s good to be clean, warm and well-fed again. Which way do we head now?”
Jhamed yawned. “I don’t know what lies to the west. I think we would be best served heading east towards Fang Mouth. If needs must, we may have to ride all the way to Rhakotis and that will take us several days. Though the days are short at this time of year, we may make Fang Mouth by nightfall tomorrow. Would that the Red Lion was still standing, for they used to serve the best pint of ale north of Karo.”
Their blessed run with the weather continued as they made their way to Fang Mouth. Simon didn’t know what to expect. The town had been burned to the ground by pirates four years earlier and deserted by its inhabitants. They forded the sluggish River Fang, fortunate that it was winter and the glacier melt was at its lowest, and rode into a growing new village awash with building activity. Jhamed seemed pleased that one of the first places that had been rebuilt was the Red Lion. They took the last available room with twin beds and ordered twin baths. They luxuriated in steamy bliss, downing a few pints of ale as they soaked away the rigours of their journey.
“Don’t tell me you won’t miss these moments,” Jhamed called through the rising steam as a maid struggled in with a jug of near boiling water to warm up their baths.
Simon sighed with pleasure as the renewed heat in the water seeped and soaked into his body. “No, but I won’t miss the weeks of cold uncomfortable nights, dry tack for dinner, and smelling worse than those herds of bison we passed.” Jhamed made to splash him and then cursed. “What’s wrong?”
“I just dropped half a tankard of ale in my bath.”
“Never mind, they say it makes a good shampoo,” Simon laughed. It was true; he would miss Jhamed more than he was prepared to admit.
They ate and drank well that night, keeping to their room to avoid drawing attention to themselves. Next morning, Jhamed ventured out to seek passage to Rhakotis and returned within the hour. Simon had been lying on his bed, thinking, yet again, about whether he was doing the right thing. He remembered a two-headed lemur creature. Your destiny is somehow linked to the elves. You must change the past to save the future. Seek out your father. Knowledge of where you come from is important. He wondered how he would save the elves by going into the past. Perhaps it would open up the possibility for young Simon.
“Are you still lazing in bed, while I’m doing all the work?” Jhamed interrupted his reverie.
“Did you find anything?”
“There’s a small fishing fleet working out of here again. I have hired a fishing boat to take us to Rhakotis. I told the captain that we are two traders from Tamarlan heading south to find new opportunities. You’ll need to keep Kin Slayer well hidden. I only needed to use a small part of the gold we have left. Get up and get packed. We leave on the high tide at midday. We have to sell our horses and excess supplies. I’ll try to do a deal with the inn keeper to sell them for us.”
Jhamed left again and Simon stretched. It would be good to see Rheanna again. He expected to find the answer to his problem in Rhakotis.
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