Tammath shuffled his sandaled feet up to the line of the eighty-fourth beacon, came to a halt, and bowed deeply.
For a minute nothing happened, but Tammath simply patiently waited. Finally, a hundred yards away, the wall of the bottom floor of a watchtower swiveled, revealing its opening. From its depth a Noble Guardsman emerged, covered from head-to-foot in wavy, reddish-orange plate armor, and holding in his hands the staff of his great banner. The banner was made of the living Wirshyym wood, allowing it to support itself at a height of over sixty feet, so that the guard appeared much like an ant holding a mountain on his back!
Tammath continued to wait as the Guardsman slowly marched out to him. Of course, he had done a great deal of waiting during his long march on the path to Alquoran. One might even say that his entire life had been one long exercise in patience.
Tammath reached to his shoulders and rearranged the loose robes around his body. He stroked his chest-length, squared-off beard. He furrowed his hands through the short, trimmed hair on his scalp. There were those that had mistaken his appearance for that of a priest. Then, when they saw the leathery copper of his face, they often thought he was some merchant of Abad’lah. But he was not either of those things. He was simply a wanderer.
A shadow fell over Tammath as the Guardsman and his sky-reaching banner nearly reached him. Tammath looked up to the pommel on top of the banner, and though he could not make out its features, he knew it was the royal symbol of the flighted lizard. And while his eyes were stretched heavenward, Tammath took a moment to trace the constellations of the eternal-night sky. By now he had grown accustomed to the cloudless sky of this district, where the void was so black, and the stars so numerous and bright, that it seemed impossible that they hovered more than an arm’s-reach away. On private moments of his journey Tammath had even attempted to reach up and grab hold of one of the stars, even jumping into the air and waving his arm overhead, but he had never been able to reach any of them.
Though if all went well, he might be able to lay hold upon one very soon.
“Hoh!” The Guardsman said impressively as he drew near and slammed the end of his banner onto the paved walkway.
“Greetings,” Tammath bowed deeply. “I am Tammath Asueyi. I am a wanderer from the lands of Ovathyo, the province of Modecci, the country of Atta’Huk, the city of Metiphi, the district of Tong, along the southern slopes of the valley, where the river Phariedes sinks itself into the soil and waters the rice and biscill for King Taq’ii and his people…. Or at least, so it did until fifty years ago, when I first took my leave of it.”
The Guardsman’s metal helmet creaked as he turned his head inside, trying to make sense of Tammath’s geography.
“I know of no such place,” he finally said. “Is it far?”
“Yes,” Tammath bowed. “Perhaps you know of the lands of Adecci?”
“I… think I remember hearing tell of Lomolo once. Is that where the kargaur beasts are bred? I know that it is very far.”
“No, you are thinking of Molomo, which is ten lands before Lomolo.”
“And as you say, it is ‘very far’ before you come to the lands of Molomo. And then after Molomo are ten lands and then Lomolo. And after Lomolo, B’k’Tath. And after B’k’Tath, Estraugh. And after Estraugh, Adecci. And Adecci…is a tenth of the way to my homelands of Ovathyo.”
“Yes. And now you see that when I say I took my leave of my homelands fifty years ago, I mean that when I left that place I did nothing but make my way directly to this place where we now stand today.”
“You mean…” the Guardsman tried to scratch his head, forgetting that he could not do so through the armor, “that where you live is fifty years journey from this place?!”
“And–and you have walked here all that time?”
“Never rode? Never carried?”
“Hooves and wheels are forbidden upon the sacred Hall to Alquoran. You know this.”
“Yes, but–but why would you do such a thing?”
“I have had my reasons.”
“Why you would have been but a boy when you set out!”
“I was twelve years of age.”
“Twelve years?! Twelve years and consigned yourself to a life of–of walking down a narrow, never-ending road?!”
“But I am told that it does end,” Tammath smiled. “Told that it ends very soon, in fact. Why does the notion of what I have done disturb you so?”
“Because I cannot imagine wasting my own life so!”
“But you were not the one that was called to do it. I was. And here at the end, I feel no waste in how I have lived my life. I have no regrets.”
“And what is the end of your journey?”
“The throne of King Taq’ii. What else?”
“You really think he will appear to you?”
“I do. And I certainly hope so. If not, my long walk will have been quite in vain!”
The Guardsman nearly dropped his banner but managed to catch it just in time. And then his head cocked slightly, as if he had just realized something that he felt a fool for having not thought of before.
“Not a joke,” Tammath interrupted. And as preposterous as his story seemed, the firm fire in his eyes stemmed the Guardsman’s incredulity.
“Well–” the armored man shrugged his shoulders, “Well, of course, all are welcome here. Only be sure that only those of a pure heart proceed past this point, or else who knows how fate might turn against them? These are divine lands, you know.”
“Yes, I know,” Tammath bowed as the Guardsman turned and began his march back to the watchtower. “I’m counting on it.”