“Chasing Horizons” by Eric Landreneau
It was the smoke that first caught Agyp’s eye; great roils of it spewed out from over the forested hill, drawing a giant black arrow in the overcast sky.
“Hold your hats, peoples,” he called back into the gypsy wagon. “We have us a little detour now!”
Snapping the reins, he bullied the team of aurochs to turn off onto the next side track. The swaying old wagon, held together more by its layers of paint than anything, thwumped over the small, rutted pathway. Agyp knew the trail; his people knew all the back-roads and thieves’ trails in Markul. He drove the wagon to a little clearing at the end of the path, just short of the shoulder of the hill. Tut-tutting, he brought the beasts to a halt, then crammed his floppy, wide-brimmed hat on his head and hopped down into the drizzle.
He stuck his head in through the side door of the wagon, which housed everything he had and everyone he cared about. “So, here’s a good camp for the night, no? I wanna go see whas burnin’. Anybody wanna come?”
Seigo, his nephew, scrambled away from his tedious mending and sprang out into the rain. He was at the awkward age when childish enthusiasm ruled a desire to join in on adult activities. Granny Schoba waved them off without interrupting the flick of her needle as she patched Agyp’s spare pants.
Agyp tousled Seigo’s hair, then pulled the quiet youth’s hood up over his head. “Good, now we stroll on the knoll.”
Horsha pulled his wagon into the clearing and shot Agyp a scowl as black as his bristly great beard. “Damnfool! We’re supposed to make Grinsbridge tonight! Whadehells you doing runnin’ off the road like this?”
Agyp just shrugged, tipped up the brim of his hat, and smiled. “Old man, this road is free. Who ever says you have to follow?”
Horsha’s face soured. “We’re in the caravan, you ass! And some damnfool let you take the lead! If you can’t take responsib — ”
“Damnfool was you let me take the lead. You take too long getting up you drink so much. Now, I’m gonna go see what burns so much in this rain. Make a camp, go to Grinsbridge, or come with, if your old fat ankles don’t slow you down. C’mon, Seigo.” He clapped the boy on the shoulder, and they walked off.
Snarling, Horsha puffed after them. He wasn’t really old, except by comparison; Agyp was barely twenty, young to be leading a caravan.
On the other side of the ridge they stopped well back from the burning hulk.
“Heh, this looks like a shipwreck on fire.” Even in the rain, the smashed construct of timbers bled smoke, and a few tall flames licked out from its guts.
“You’ve seen a shipwreck, Uncle?” asked Seigo. Markul was far from any sea, even far by Garoma standards, except for the cold sea to the north, where Garoma gypsies never went.
“He ain’t seen no ships,” said Horsha.
“I did. Ships and wrecks. When the slavers had me.” Agyp scowled at Horsha. “I see much in this world, oldster. Already more than you, I think. This looks like shipwreck, on fire, like I say.”
“In the middle of the filthy mountains?!”
“‘Looks like,’ I say. Looks like, not is. But who knows? Not all ships keep in the water these days.”
Ending the argument, Agyp set off toward the wreck. His description did sum it up; some large construct of wood, iron, and canvas had met with a terrible fate on the slope of this hill high in the mountains of western Markul. Maybe it had been some sort of building here, but, from the look of the smashed trees, this thing very well could have fallen from the sky. “Let’s see if anyone’s alive. Or maybe we lucky, and someone’s dead, but rich.”
“This stinks of foul sorcery!” They left Horsha, and his protests, behind.
They probed the wreck gingerly, careful of fragile structures and smoldering timbers that hissed and spluttered under the drizzle. They found a few bodies among the wreck, all twisted and mutilated by a variety of quick deaths. Agyp hustled Seigo along when the boy grew entranced by the carnage. “C’mon, chavo. Maybe I seen a lot by your age, that doesn’t mean is good thing.”
“Their clothes! They all look the same!” The bodies all wore slight variations of the same outfit: loose gray pantaloons, thick, tight, long blue wool tunics with clasps up to the neck, black slippers. Seigo was not used to the concept of uniforms. Peasants here all wore whatever they could find or make. Gypsies did the same, with the added flair of finer, brighter colors (mostly stolen). “Where do people like this come from?” the boy asked.
“Hmm, they look like westerners, from over the sea. Trosian.” The dead men were slim, with dark skin, almond-shaped eyes, delicate hairless faces, and fine, pale hair. “Anyways, if there are ships that fly, that’s where the stories come from. I have heard the Enclave learned to fly.”
Horsha tromped up to them, breathing through a kerchief. He moved it long enough to grumble, “Gaa, this smoke stinks like roasted shrood-scrote. Is not healthy, this air.”
Seigo cut off Agyp’s reply. “You really think this thing flew?”
Agyp shrugged. “Eh, maybe. If it did, I don’ know why it come all the way over this mudhole. If you could fly anywhere, why fly to place like Markul?” Even Horsha snorted at that.
Thunder rolled. Horsha scowled up at the sky, which was growing darker with each breath. “C’mon, let’s go back. Let the storm cool this off, then maybe we can get inside. I’d like to see inside a flying ship, if that’s what this really is.”
Agyp smiled and nudged Seigo. “Look. Next he’ll say was him wanted to stop early and take a look.”
They were lucky to hear the groan over the noise of the building storm.
“You hear that?”
The sound came again, a pained moaning.
“I think maybe someone’s not as dead as the rest!”
Agyp followed the sound to the far side of the wreck. A man lay amid the scattered detritus. His face was bloody from a scalp wound, his arm bent in an unfortunate direction, and one foot looked a bit like someone had tried to run it through a sausage grinder. But he was still alive. He groaned again as they approached.
“Yeesh, this one is a trooper yet. Let’s have a look.”
Horsha motioned to Seigo. “Stay back, boy. He could be dangerous.” Once the lad was sufficiently cowed, Horsha approached with Agyp.
“Dangerous?” Agyp asked. “What, maybe he could bleed on us?”
“We know nothing of these people!”
“Horsha, when did you get so scared of your shadow? Everyone suspicious and hates our people. So why would you be scared of this stranger?”
“I’m just trying to be cautious!”
“Cautious he says. Look, I take lead wagon again tomorrow. Has to be a gypsy driving the caravan, not a little girl.”
“Agyp, I’m about ready to — ”
“Sure you are. Check his foot.”
The arm was broken for certain, and probably the foot as well. The scalp wound was not terrible, so long as whatever had hit him left his wits intact. He could heal well, if they could keep infection out of him. Using scraps of canvas and splintered spars, they worked out a stretcher for the man. They would see to his wounds, at least for the chance to find out who the man was, why he was here, and how such a craft as his had come to be wrecked in the middle of a mountain range.
…And if he had any money. Alive or dead, they’d sort that one out.
Camp was fully situated when they returned; the three wagons were circled up with tarps stretched between them, the aurochs were staked out, fires were crackling and cookpots burbling. They stepped into the dry warmth between the wagons and felt perfectly at home. Feeling at home anywhere was a benefit of the Garomas’ wandering life.
The foreigner was roused enough to be fed one of Granny Schoba’s concoctions, which guaranteed he’d stay out till well after sunrise. His wounds were set, stitched, salved, and bandaged, and then he was put away on a cot in one of the wagons, so the gypsies could get on with their evening. Agyp’s people weren’t ones to be fussed by strange comings and goings; what was life, but a series of comings and goings, anyway?
They ate their stew while Agyp and Horsha argued over the telling of what they had seen, and bottles of smoky whiskey, pipes, and instruments made their inevitable appearance. The storytelling muddled into improvisational songs, and then swirled on into old favorite ballads as the rain pattered down on the tarps and wagons.
Rather than setting out in the morning as usual, the small caravan enjoyed the luxury of a day off the road. Who could tell them what schedule to keep? Quiet Hleffo took Seigo off to hunt, while others foraged. Horsha and Kerigo, the third driver, and a couple of others explored the doused wreck. Acyllet and some of the other women went to a nearby spring to wash, launder, and scheme their continued domination of the men. Others sought solitude, a rare prize in the caravan. There were only just over a dozen of them among the three wagons, but life could get entirely too cramped.
Agyp stayed behind with Granny Schoba and the Trosian. Others could take the loot of dead men; Agyp was more interested in the wallet of this man’s mind.
The Trosian looked young with his eyes closed; his face was hairless, his features delicate. The illusion vanished as soon as he awoke. Even confused and bleary from Granny’s potion, Agyp immediately saw the hard look of a fighter in the man’s face. He started up, put on guard by the unfamiliar faces and interior of the gypsy wagon.
Agyp stopped him with a hand on his chest. “Shh…Easy. You are safe.” He spoke slowly, so the man would understand his tone, if nothing else. He quickly found that the man, Retienne Raynal, knew Dalvin, the main tongue of Markul, quite well. Agyp filled him in on how he had been found while Granny Schoba cleaned and re-bandaged his foot.
“So,” asked Agyp, “how is it you park fancy boat on a muddy hill in this asscrack of western Markul? Make a boat to fly, but never figure out dee landing?”
“I’m not going to like you, am I, Agyp?”
Agyp shrugged, but smiled broadly. “Eh, bet you beer I grow on you, like a mold or something.”
Raynal snorted a short laugh, then winced and touched his ribs.
Granny scowled at them both. “You pester like the buzzing midge. You,” she said to Raynal, “don’t laugh. He not funny!”
Raynal smiled at the old woman. “I’ll do my best.” To Agyp he said, “Crossing the mountains, we passed through a cloud bank. We collided in the air with some sort of shaggy, monstrous drake. It demolished much of our ship, before we finally lanced it and tossed its carcass over. We fought to keep the ship aloft and, as you saw, we lost.”
“Yes, I saw. You were lucky. My people are there now, building a pyre for the others…if they can find the dry wood.”
“I thank you.” He glanced about the wagon. “So, who has rescued me? Are you traders? Troubadours?”
Agyp bobbed his head in a gesture that was half-nod, half-shrug. “Um, yes, we do dese tings. We are traveling folk. Garomas, my people are called. We go where we go, and see what we see.”
Raynal’s eyebrows knit together. “Just to travel? You earn a living with odd-jobs?”
“Our wages is freedom. The rest we figure as we go.”
The foreigner shook his head in disbelief. He came from a much more structured society. “Seems a reckless life.”
“Well, we have yet to crash into any mountain.”
They carried Raynal back up to the site of the crash so that he could say words in his own tongue over the cairns Horsha and his friends had built in lieu of pyres.
Raynal seemed the sort to keep his grief within, to not let it slow him down. Agyp had already guessed that the man was here for a particular reason, though he had said nothing of this. He did not claim to be a military man. He always seemed to be gathering reconnaissance, though his manner struck Agyp as somewhat craftier than any military man he had ever known.
Of course, the few grunts Agyp had ever met had only needed enough intellect to connect their boots with his face.
Raynal described three certain items he wanted salvaged from the wreck: two small, finely worked items, some sort of talismans or devices, and a case of miniscule tools. Horsha and his fellows made a show of searching, then returned with sorrowful expressions.
“Sorry, we see nothing.”
Agyp had heard Raynal’s descriptions; small, shiny, and prized. Smirking, he walked behind the three men, pick-pocket fingers striking swiftly, and produced the items.
Horsha gaped, tried to splutter a reply, but Agyp cut him off. “Friends, you are too predictable. Now look, you steal from dead men and strangers, okay, but Raynal is guest in our caravan.”
That night Raynal joined them around the fire for their meal, sitting on an upturned bucket. Granny Schoba refused to let him drink, taking his measure for herself. Raynal asked Agyp, “You mean what you said before, that I am a guest?”
Agyp raised his eyebrows and gestured that this should be obvious. “We put no ropes on you. Only your wounds slow you, and those will heal. Especially eating Garoma stew.”
Raynal nodded and gestured to his bowl. “Indeed! It’s fabulous!”
“Is tubers and fresh rampith, a hunting plant. Hleffo and Seigo have kill it today. Lanky Seigo is becoming quite the slinger. Hey Seigo!” Agyp raised his tiny cup of spirits and caught the boy’s attention. “Seigo, your sling caught this rampith, no?”
From his perch on a crate, the shy youth looked around at the group, whose attention was suddenly on him. “Um…well, I didn’t kill it.”
“Hoi, chavo,” laughed Agyp, “you are becoming a man! Be proud! Hleffo say to me himself, your sling caught the limbs and bound the beast. He only stroll up and spear it, as hard as skewering sausages!”
The others clapped for Seigo, and laughed at his bashfulness. Someone struck up a song and beautiful Acyllet from Kerigo’s wagon rose and aimed a sultry belly dance at the poor lad, who reddened and squirmed.
While the show went on, Raynal recaptured Agyp’s attention. “Very good job, mortifying the young man. But I need a moment, if I may?”
“Yes,” Agyp slapped his thigh and put on a stern face. “Is business time. All business, all the time for this gypsy.” He wobbled a little, and sipped from his cup to steady himself.
Raynal rolled his eyes. “I have a favor to ask…I had business coming to Markul.”
“Yes, course you did. Why else would anyone come here, but that they have to?”
“I need to get to Markulgrad.”
“Hah!” Agyp slapped his thigh. Thwack!
“I have a message for the King.”
“Hah!” Thwack! “‘For the King’ says this one! Of course!”
Raynal pressed on. “Please! I need to get to the capital of this wretched country.”
“Hah!” Thwack! “Listen to you! Take you to the capital? Look, you do not know. Out here, the peasants hate us. We earn their money with trade, with plays, with songs. Gaia knows our women earn all their money that’s left! But they hate us still…But Markulgrad? Smart Garomas skip that place, in these days.”
“Eh…bad things, you see. We do not like to go. Uncareful Garoma ends up hung over the gate…and is very easy for Garoma to be uncareful in Markulgrad.”
“Why is it so dangerous for you to go?”
Agyp shrugged. “Not my fault. Ask Dalvindra. Is that god, and his pig-bung priests, that likes badmouth the Garoma. Risky is Markulgrad. Very risky.” Agyp leaned forward, a universal twinkle in his eye.
Raynal chuckled and reclined, enjoying the game. “Pity…Well, I thought I’d ask. If I could find someone to escort me, I’d be in a position to pay them well…”
The gypsy did not bat an eye before replying, “Done.”
Raynal grimaced. “Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“You disappoint me. All that set-up about the risk…you had me ready for a good haggle! I was just getting warmed up!”
“Bah! Haggling is for the daytime. Already this one is too drinked for number-one haggling. You pay, we can go to Markulgrad. Pay more, and we can be sure not to be so uncareful. Tomorrow we haggle. For now, there is singing.”
They set out early the next morning. The long-lasting overcast broke apart as they wound their way down the old back road out of the mountains. Tiny aeroplankton rose into the warming day, forming green clouds that drifted through the growing patches of sunlight. Gulpdrakes, pocketcraws, and other filter-feeders darted through the clouds, gorging themselves on mouthfuls of the tiny airborne plants. Big predators took wing to feast on the feasters, and the morning filled with the endless dance of life, death, and life again.
Raynal moved up onto the bench beside Agyp. “I never knew Markul was such a beautiful land.” Mountains gave way to foothills before them, and then to broad plains. There were exposed crags and rock faces at their elevation, but almost every viable stretch was covered in thick forest. Wildflowers added color and texture to the rugged, verdant beauty.
“Yes,” Agyp nodded, bobbing his head in a gesture not just of affirmation, but acquiescence. With his thick accent, he had a way of saying “yes,” like he was gulping the word, that told the listener that while he was right, he was also very wrong. “Beautiful is true, when sun is shining. But this is old road to us. We Garomas always are craving new horizons.”
“Then why do you come back?”
“Is no ways out. Markul builds no roads over these mountains to Tangonia. Is no way over, not for wagons, and Garomas with no wagons is just so much beggars. South there are roads through the passes, but for ten years the border is closed. Guards must be bribed. Last I hear, gypsies have to pay the guards with their women, and lonely guardsman is no gentleman to Garoma girls. East, far and far across great Markul, is the Blasted Lands of Ashmen. They would welcome Garomas, yes…welcome us with the carving knife and the soup pot.”
Raynal grimaced. “I’d heard of them. But what of the sea to the north? I know there are ports there. Why not book passage that way?”
Agyp snorted. “Look, there is no north for the Garoma. Never was.”
“North is home of the Makyars, old tribes before ever a gypsy come this way. Makyars is old Markuls, first believers in Dalvindra. Tradition, old ways, this is everything to the Makyar, and oldest tradition is hating the Garoma. So traditional is part of the religion.” Agyp took on a haughty air and a clipped northern accent, “‘And His light shineth not upon the Garoma, for the ungrounded man knows not of grace, and the unbound woman knows not of humility. Shun the Garoma, lest his shadow fall on you as well.’ So says their books, just like that. Phah!”
“Why would they hate you so much?”
Agyp shrugged. “Not my fault. Always was this way, from before there was a Markul. The nobles all trace to Makyar chiefs, so Markul is not the best place for the gypsy. But the north…this is belonging completely to the old tribes, to their laws and their books. So, truly, there is no north, not for a Garoma who loves the life.”
“Why don’t you leave Markul?”
“My people traveled Markul before there was a Markul. The country grew around us. Always before we could come and go to the south, until the day we could not. Lucky ones were trapped outside. A few clans, like mine…not so lucky.”
“They shut the border…so Markul already feels the rising of Tangonia…”
Agyp was startled by that. “You think fearing the Empire is what makes them shut the borders?”
“It’s possible. That’s why I’m here.”
Agyp glanced sidelong at Raynal. “How so?”
“My mission is diplomatic.”
“I thought so. You smell like the spy, all right.”
Raynal sighed. “I’m not a spy…I’m a diplomat. I’m to establish communications between the Enclave and Markul. You know that the Enclave and the Tangonian Empire have their differences?”
Agyp snorted. “Yes. Though it always seem to me the two are more same than different.”
Raynal smiled knowingly. “What better reason for difference?”
“True, very true.”
“Well, it’s obvious to us that Tangonia has its eye on Markul. Outright invasion is a few years off yet, but they are making inroads. Spies fill your cities — ”
“Not my cities.”
“The cities. They know Markul’s strengths, resources, weaknesses. Technologically, Markul is centuries behind Tangonia. Militarily, it could never match the numbers available to the Empire. And she’s a hungry empire. Her glut for resources is insatiable. Timber, iron, coal, drome, food, strong backs; Markul has these in excess, and will be defenseless when the Empire comes over these mountains.”
“Let me guess. Enclave would rather have Markul and all this goods in your pocket, than in Tangonia’s, yes?”
“Crudely put…but yes. We’re ready to help Markul defend itself, if the King and Council agree to join as a member state.”
Agyp sneered. “Great giants at the game board. Never mind who gets crushed under each piece you move.”
Raynal blinked at that, capping off his initial reply. Carefully he said, “We two giants are growing swiftly. That’s the truth of things. What would you rather happen to Markul; domination by Tangonia, or free membership with the Enclave?”
Agyp snorted. “Tough question. Is said Tangonia have one law for all men. Does Enclave offer this?”
Raynal hedged. “We erm…we do not generally meddle with the internal policies of member nations. We make suggestions, not impositions.”
“Hum. Well, I don’t give a smear of guano what happen to Markul. Garomas only want to see the next horizon. Make a little money. Be left alone. Not feel the fetters on the legs.”
Silence passed uncomfortably for Raynal. Agyp showed no sign of worry, letting the Trosian stew in the tension. After a moment of deliberation the foreigner said cautiously, “If you don’t want to help me reach Markul anymore, I understand. I just ask that you drop me off in a decent town, and I’ll make my own way…”
Agyp chopped his hand sideways. “No. The deal is made for fair fee. Whatever you do, my people need coin. This wagon will bring you into Markulgrad. The others will go on to the old mound, where you say second airship comes to get you.”
Raynal nodded. “The Enclave will owe you quite a debt of gratitude. You may not think much of that, aside from the value of our money, but I think you’ll enjoy having friends in the Enclave.”
Agyp was quiet for a moment. He breathed deeply, savoring the smell of sunlight. Then he said, “Is old sacred place, you know? This place near Markulgrad where we wait for your ship, is very holy to the old ways.”
Raynal nodded. “They usually are. Places where Gaia’s Veins intersect tend to resonate, even to the otherwise non-sensitive. Religions and cults naturally grow around such sites.”
“‘Resonate.’ This is your way of saying holy?”
“I understand the mysticism that has arisen around Gaia’s power. But the truth is it’s just a force of nature, like wind and rain. It can be understood, used. With the machine age dawning, I fear many peoples will resist their old sacred sites being harnessed for their power. But this is the shape of progress. This is the future.”
Diplomatically, Agyp withheld any comment on the matter.
Raynal knew what the Garoma was trying to do; the gypsy would not forgo the small fortune Raynal had offered, but he would make his point while doing so. For three days the caravan followed a winding route through Markul. There had to be more direct routes, but the Garoma was deliberately taking Raynal on a staggering tour of rural Markul. They passed through farm villages plagued with abject poverty. The fields were lush, and yet those who worked them were gaunt and gray-skinned with malnutrition. Markulgrad starved its people to fill its storehouses. Gallows and gibbets swung full at the roadside, the bodies dressed in the rags of commoners and, here and there, in the bright motley of gypsies. Towns reeked with the offal of illness which pooled in the ruts.
He’s thinking to touch my conscience, thought Raynal. And the Garoma succeeded. Raynal felt for these people. The governance of the land was obviously flawed. Markul used a rather simple feudal system, anchored in the ways of the old tribes like the Makyar. Only luck or brutal domination could allow such a system to remain viable for long. Petty infighting among the nobility and the gnashing of the serfs always brought down such governments, but Markul was holding fast. The dictatorship would survive for a while yet, but only because it was moving toward martial law.
Whatever he felt, Raynal would not sway from his mission. If Tangonia conquered Markul, they would impose their own system of law by force. It would be an improvement, but subjugation always birthed further chaos, which took generations to weed out. If Markul joined the Enclave, however, the situation for its citizens would improve gradually, naturally, without turmoil as the increase of trade and communication influenced the ruling class and the educated. Raynal was a believer; the Enclave’s way might take longer, but it yielded better results. If he followed Agyp’s comparison with a game board, then Tangonia was like the young, brash player with promises of prodigy: bold, keen, but short-sighted. The Enclave, however, was an old master. In time all peoples would prosper under the gentle guidance of their wisdom. Even Tangonia.
Agyp stared up at the world which filled the nighttime sky. Dalvindranism called the luminous world the Baneful Sun. They said it was the source of all evil, while the sun was the source of good. Agyp preferred the name most other people used for the world in the sky: Oversea. It made sense to him; the world was covered in endless bands of blue and green, making it look like an eternal sea from some mad, romantic dream. He liked to imagine his family trading their wagon for a ship, and sailing around those infinite seas. There, maybe, a man could find enough space to be free.
They had traveled for several days, giving the foreigner the full tour of the misery growing in Markul. Horsha and his cronies had grumbled at the unnecessary delay. They saw no need to put any more time between themselves and the generous fee Raynal had offered them for safe passage…until Agyp whispered a few short words in Horsha’s ear.
Now they camped at a roadside clearing between two fields, a couple of hours’ ride outside of Markulgrad. The skies were clear, and the long-tamed plains offered no obstruction to the firmament. Even sitting before the campfire, everything seemed cast in blue and green by the dominating Oversea. This was not a raucous night for the caravan, not so close to Markulgrad. Memories of their last visit to the city had them all in a somber mood. There were people, dear loved ones, who had been alive when they had last come this way. They had not been gone from the world for so long, and nearness to Markulgrad stirred up their ghosts to haunt the hearts of the living. Touring all the most miserable of towns had not helped the morale of the Garomas either.
Dark-haired and dark-eyed Acyllet played her guitar softly and sang an old sad song. The theme was of a proud, wild corrit who, when caught in a snare, chose to gnaw off its foot rather than remain fettered. The soaring drake did not live long, but it died free. Orphaned Seigo sat near Acyllet, tracks on his cheeks glistening blue and green.
Keeping his eyes on Oversea, Agyp asked Raynal, “Retienne, how is it that the Enclave can make a ship to fly?”
Raynal sighed. “There is much I cannot tell you about that. Some of it is a secret, but most of it you just could not understand. But by and large it works much like our other machines. When standing within the flowing power of one of Gaia’s Veins, a geomancer can cast many powerful spells, all by tapping into the magic of the land. You understand this?”
Agyp did not know the word “geomancer,” but gathered that it meant much the same as “wizard” or “mage.” He nodded, “Yes, there is such magic here.”
“Well, we long ago learned to build machines which hold spells within themselves, and can perform them continuously when powered by a Vein. These machines can then be operated by anyone. Quite simply, the workings of airships contain spells to lift themselves up into the higher Veins, and propel themselves forward, much as a geomancer can lift and hurl a stone without touching it.”
Agyp marveled at the idea. “And anyone can fly them?”
“Anyone with the training. It takes no talent in magic.”
“That is beautiful. You have the freedom of the whole world, like that. Every horizon is yours.”
Raynal had not been totally unaffected by the mood of the caravan. He felt for these people. Though he did not understand it, he admired the Garomas’ ferocious thirst for individual freedom. Great men dreamed of having the whole world by the sword, but these people only wanted to take it by the wheel.
He let out another great sigh. “Agyp, I understand what you have been trying to do. Believe me, I do. But there are greater motions underway which I serve. I know that this is not the deliverance you wish for, but believe me, in time, the troubles will pass and Markul will loosen its grip on its people, and on yours. First Tangonia must be cowed. Then the other effects of membership with the Enclave will begin to be felt. Prosperity comes, in time, to all people of the Enclave.”
Agyp rubbed his mustache. A resigned weariness beyond his mere twenty years weighted his voice. “Yes, I know this. My people have known many troubled times, and still we travel onward. Still we are here. Markul can go the way it goes. If we are to be free, then we will find a way.”
Across the fire, Acyllet finished her song. Seigo leaned against her shoulder, and she put her arm around him as a mother would. Horsha, who sat next to the lad, rubbed the boy’s shoulder with a big, calloused hand. His unruly beard did a fair job of concealing the tracks of his own tears.
“Agyp, what is the cause of all this sorrow?”
“Memories. Always is memories, no?” Agyp shook his head. “Last time our caravan come this way was ten years. We were over two dozen then, in seven wagons. A rich clan. I was smaller than Seigo, and he was snotty toddler…but old enough he remembers his parents. We come into the city for trade, for news, and things went bad…” He massaged his forehead. “Ugh, these things I want to forget, to bury, but the memories rise up.”
“Tell me, if you can. What happened?”
“Why should you unbury this troubles of mine, huh?”
Raynal raised his palms. “Curiosity, for me…but it could help you. Some things wither best in the open.”
“Uhn…” Agyp let out a breath between flapping, pursed lips. “Fine. There was a brawl. One of ours got too much in the cups, flirted a bit too forward with a wench. A fight started. Fair is fair, he probably deserve a little boots to the head…but it grew. Now a fight was a brawl, and it fell into the street. The watch comes to break this up, and not too gentle…but they did, and we limped to our wagons.”
“Why were you there?”
Agyp shrugged. “Eh, I was ten, thought myself a man. I snecked after them, was caught in the brawl, and was there to help carry my uncle…This should have been the end of it, but then the mob came to our wagons.”
“Dalvindrans. Probably Makyar immigrants. They thought theyself holy, and us not. They come with torches and sticks to drive us out. The watch did not stop them. The priests they watch and smile. When we fight back, mob becomes a riot. Phah!” Agyp snorted. “Think they so holy, but rage like beasts as easy as any man. Howling they came, and tore apart my clan. Seigo’s parents, and mine, and more, all eaten by the mob. Those you see made it out. I did not. Was separated. They find me, ten years old, next morning at the gallows, at my mother’s feet. They put me in a cell, rapists and murderers and me…then finally they sell me off.” He pulled back his cuffs to show the slave brands around his wrists. “Years I was slave, freeze my balls up north on a fish boat, until I finally escape, hunt down my clan.” He spat into the fire. “So, there, now you know the price of Markulgrad.”
Raynal watched the pain of memory bleed out of Seigo’s young face as the lad fell asleep on Acyllet’s bosom, and could find nothing to say.
Agyp nudged Raynal. “Listen, I have a new fee to ask for.”
“But, I thought once a deal was struck…”
“Just hear me out. Half the pay you say…but also, when the airship comes, you give us a ride.”
“Yes. Just like a little tour. Just like up, around a bit, back down. Like an hour perhaps.”
“Why do you ask this?”
Agyp looked down at his feet. “Even in hard times, Garomas can find coin. But never, never could a gypsy know what is like to fly like the corrit. This is all I want for my people. I wish to say, I could show them a new horizon, something no gypsy would ever see.”
“Hmmm…” Raynal leaned back and turned his face up toward Oversea.
He sat for several long moments, so long that Agyp worried that he had somehow overstepped. “Look, if this cannot be, I understand…” Agyp said, but Raynal shook his head. The man’s eyes were open, staring at the bright, mighty orb overhead. It could have been just the light, but to Agyp the man’s eyes seemed to glimmer with mirth, mischief, and a bit of wonder. Those were gypsy eyes.
“Agyp,” he said finally, “push your crafty gypsy brain a little farther.”
Raynal smiled. “Let me make you a better offer. You and your people abandon your wagons and beasts. Take only what you can carry. You’ll have to travel light, but there’s room enough. Help me finish my mission, and I’ll carry you over the mountains and into Tangonia, and leave you with enough coin to start over, with all new horizons.”
For a rare moment Agyp was speechless, then he stammered, “Y-you mean this?”
“You could go north to the Tildatch, or south across the length of the Empire. See Siilahr. Circle the Relshar Gulf to the old desert kingdoms, or turn east to all the strange lands south of crag-locked Markul.”
Agyp gaped. “Truly? You would do this?”
“Why not? We’re going that way anyway, and I’ll be spending far less of the Enclave’s money. It makes no difference to my mission; how much do a few gypsies figure on the game board of giants, eh?”
Agyp stared at Raynal in disbelief, then broke into a wide smile and a loud, wheezing laugh. Now tears glimmered in his eyes. “Hah! You prove there can be good man who is not Garoma!” He clapped Raynal stoutly on the shoulder, then ensnared him in a laughing embrace. “Yes, you give life back to this caravan! Wear this uniform and do these orders, but I say no matter what from this day you are Garoma! There is room for you always in this one’s caravan!”
Laughing, but embarrassed, Raynal fought free. “All right, all right, be still!” He chuckled. “So, I take it we have a new deal?” He offered his hand. Still laughing, Agyp shook it.
The mirth was contagious, and Acyllet began plucking a livelier tune. Clapping, stomping, and singing began. Raynal did his best to keep up, singing the few words to the happy songs he’d heard thus far. As the singing grew louder Agyp caught Horsha’s eye over the fire, and he winked.
The rest of Raynal’s mission went smoothly. As planned, Horsha and Kerigo took their wagons ahead to the ancient mound, which was one of the few places in Markul where Raynal’s devices to summon another ship would work. Agyp and those in his wagon subdued their dress, and hid some of the garish touches which set their wagon apart from any other. The gypsies parked themselves unobtrusively in the square before the palace while Raynal went inside. Since he was not expected, and had been denied the grand entrance by airship that had been planned, he had to wait in line with all the common supplicants.
Agyp, Seigo, and Granny Schoba passed the time trying to ignore the odd stares that came their way. City guards kept an eye on them but, since the Garomas made no trouble, they were not hassled…at least, not by the guards. Agyp played songs for passersby, earning the evil eye more often than any coin. They were all nervous, especially Seigo.
On the evening of the first day the Garomas themselves were invited into the palace. As a reward for helping the emissary reach the king safely, they were permitted to dine at a low table at the far end of the great hall, while Raynal sat with the king, setting great events in motion.
Horsha was jittery with agitation as they approached. “About damn time! I think for certain that foreigner have led you all to your deaths in that fear-monger’s city!”
Agyp hopped down from the driver’s board and clapped the older man on the shoulder. “Eh, do not be distressed! We dined in the palace while Raynal did his work. See!” He thrust out his non-existent belly and clapped it soundly. “I have eat like a king!”
“Phah!” Horsha spat. “That for the king of Markul!”
“Yes, yes, I feel the same. But that’s not gonna make me pass a free meal, no!”
Raynal climbed from the wagon and surveyed the site. “Yes, I can feel the power here. This will do nicely! There will be a real port built here before long, just wait and see!”
Invisible to the eye, but tangible on some level to most people, two great torrents of magic, called Veins, intersected at this site, creating a node of power that suffused the whole area. Ancient sensitives, followers of long-forgotten religions, had erected a low, treeless mound half a mile across at the site. At six even points around the mound stood trios of standing stones, each taller than a man and carved with glyphs and devices, their purpose a long-forgotten mystery.
Raynal climbed to the top of the hill, followed by most of the Garomas, and produced one of the inscrutable, finely wrought items Horsha had “salvaged” from the ship. He tapped and twisted, then peered into an aperture in the cylindrical thing. After a moment he giggled. “By the Bones, this site is off the scale! With only two Veins! This must be a wellspring!”
He produced another of his devices, a flattened ovoid a hand-span across, all brassy basketwork and recessed knobs and levers. After a few adjustments he pressed the biggest lever. What the thing produced was not a sound, but more like a tone in the mana spectrum. The few sensitives among the gypsies winced, while the rest heard/felt nothing. Smiling with satisfaction, Raynal put his confounding gadgets away.
“Now what?” asked Agyp.
“Now we wait. Could be a few hours, or even sometime tomorrow, depending on where Alsher has been hiding his ship. I’d say see to it everyone’s packed, free the beasts, and I wouldn’t mind a meal.” Leaving the group, the Trosian went off to explore the nearest trio of standing stones.
The ship came at dusk, dropping gracefully out of the cloud cover as the Garomas gawked. It was made mostly of wood, having a long, tapering hull like a warship’s. The open deck was roofed in thick canvas, as were the balconies which protruded from low on either side, near the bow. Where a sailing ship’s bow would sweep into a bowspirit, this ship had windows. Fins of steel struts covered in a mesh of drome alloy were mounted on either side, angled downward. A larger fin ran the length of the ship, across the top. These fins crackled with the blue-green arcs of active mana as the ship dropped into the field of magic that permeated the site. The vessel looked like some sort of ensorcelled sea-beast, rather than anything which flew.
Raynal and the gypsies got to their feet, picking up their small bundles, all they would take on their exodus. Shedding a few tears, some touched the sides and spokes of their fantastic wagons, the only homes they had ever known, and freed their aurochs. They were leaving everything they knew behind, taking only some clothes, instruments, tools, and keepsakes. Shouldering their bundles, they followed Raynal back up the hill toward the descending ship.
A goggled man leaned over the railing of one of the forward balconies, watching the descent and shouting into a voice tube. Under his guidance the vessel halted when the tips of its lower rays neared the ground.
Raynal beamed at them. “Is everyone packed?” He gestured toward the waiting airship with a grand sweep of his arm. “New horizons await you, my friends, just a short flight over the mountains.”
The flight was cramped, but livable. Though the airship was large, much of its internal volume was given over to strange machinery. They spent most of the time on the upper deck, gasping over and again at the wonder of seeing mountain peaks breaking through clouds…below them! In the dazzling light the snowcapped Illeryu range glittered like diamonds. Gaia’s tiara.
Had there been a decent road, crossing the Illeryu would have taken at least two weeks by wagon. The airship would take two nights, and have them over the Brazen Fields of northern Tangonia by mid-morning of the second day. Though crowded, the captain and his crew of four were glad for their company. Granny Schoba made an astounding feast from the goods in their tiny galley, sacrificing small pinches of her precious dried herbs. They played their lively songs and made a drinking game of dancing on the gently swaying deck.
Seigo’s woes were finally pushed aside by the wonder of flight, and he soon set roots in the pilot’s room in the bow of the ship. The pilot welcomed him, and did his best to mime the operation of the ship to the boy. All of the crew knew at least simple Dalvin, and within an hour the pilot had coaxed the shy young boy to take the helm. The crew, the lucky few pioneers of the Enclave’s newest wonder, were enamored with the beauty of flight and could not help but share their ardor for the new frontier.
Agyp stood at the railing with Raynal on their second evening aboard. They had passed the highest peaks of the Illeryu and the mountains, though still great, were dropping away from them in staggering, snow-swept slopes and whistling cliffs. They would pass the snow-line in the night, and wake up above more hospitable slopes.
Agyp shrugged the borrowed blanket tight about his shoulders. Some magic kept the deck radiating a gentle heat, but this did not blunt the teeth of the wind whipping over the railing. “My f-friend, how d-d-do you stand in this th-thin uniform, and n-not shiv-v-ver?”
Raynal laughed. “Too cold for you, eh? Why not join the others out of the wind?” Most of the others sat comfortably sheltered at the rear of the deck, sharing a meal of hearty stew.
Agyp shook his head. “I have eaten. Let them be warm. I will see this horizon as long as I can.”
“The crew seem to like it better with your fellows.” Three of the crewmen lounged among the Garomas, leaving only the pilot at his post. The captain was in his cabin below. “I think Captain Alsher will have some work restoring discipline after you lot leave.”
Agyp stroked his mustache. “Yes, the Garoma way appeals like this. Not so good example for the military man.”
“True, but we’ll have the whole flight back across the sea for him to restore proper order.”
“Yes. You sail high over the waves. My people, we sail seas of grain. I think we will go south, make a way to some warmer country.”
“Sounds like a good plan. I envy you. I really do not care for the king of Markul, but I’m likely to spend much more time with him over the coming years.”
Agyp shrugged. “I am sorry for this. But you are such the adventurer. Maybe they’ll send you off to the next little country to meet with, let someone else squat in Markul to start greasing the palms.”
“Bleh, you make my work sound so filthy.”
“Eh, yea, well…”
In the warmth of a cloudless afternoon, the airship drifted languidly down to a swath of wild grassland, just a couple hours’ walk from a small village in the Tangonian frontier. The hatch popped open, and Captain Alsher was dumped unceremoniously on the soggy ground, trussed up tight. His crewmen, still groggy from the “special seasoning” of Granny Schoba’s stew, were tossed out after. Agyp held a knife at Raynal’s back, but offered him the dignity of disembarking himself.
The ambassador shook his head. “I still cannot believe you’re doing this, Agyp!” After the crew had been incapacitated, the gypsies had produced arsenal of shining blades from hidden places on their bodies. With only himself, Alsher, and the pilot awake, they had easily taken control of the ship.
Agyp chuckled. “What’s not to believe? This gypsies trapped for so long, and you show us the airship…this wagon no border holds. Think we would not try to take it?”
“But I trusted you! We had a deal!”
Agyp shrugged. “Eh, I find a better bargain. You be more careful, next time you deal with a gypsy.”
“Don’t do this, Agyp! They’ll catch you, you know they will. You can’t even fly that thing properly!”
Agyp smiled down at the foreigner. “Seigo seems to handle it well enough. Look, he brought the ship down without running into any mountains! So far that’s better than you. He is a smart boy, like his uncle.”
Alsher snarled, “Cut us loose, you filthy, maggoty traitor!”
Agyp hooked a thumb at him and said to Raynal, “Your friend here is not so convincing. Look, there is no hard feelings from me. I just want a little lead, time to get away into the clouds.” He held up a sack of food and some of Raynal’s gadgetry. “We will tie this up in a tree. You can call another ship, but we will be long gone.”
Raynal shook his head. “I never would have betrayed you. I was going to do as I said. You would have been free, with enough money to start over, free of Markul. Now you’ll be hunted to the ends of the world.”
“Who would take a dusty wagon when the skies are open, huh?”
“So you’ve traded up from gypsy to pirate?”
“First pirate ever to fly, yes? First Garoma who can cross any border. For this, I’ll take the risk. Now look,” he knelt before Raynal, “we will always owe our thanks to you. You have brought the life back into the hearts of my little caravan, and I never forget this.” He surprised Raynal by hugging him close. “I hope we meet again. It will be a long time yet, I think. I hope we’ll see each other over a tankard and not a dagger.”
Alsher spat, “Oh, it’ll be a dagger, you swine. I’ll bury it in your back and laugh while — !” Horsha clouted him then, knocking him unconscious.
“Heh,” grunted Agyp, “just don’t bring him. Good luck on the road, my friend.” He rose and waved the others back into the airship. “For us, we have new horizons to chase after!”
Raynal watched the airship climb into the vastness, while Alsher groaned and swore and tried to get up with his hands tied behind his back. Raynal let out a sigh, which turned into a soft laugh.
Agyp crammed into the control cabin behind Seigo. The lad grinned over his shoulder as his hands manipulated the controls, already showing great familiarity. He seemed like a different person, shed of all the solemnity that had lurked under the surface for most of his life. “Uncle, this is amazing! They can catch us today, and I’ll die happy!”
Agyp chuckled. “Let’s make this last maybe a little longer than that, eh, chavo?”
“Where should we go first?”
“What are the options?”
Seigo flipped through the charts which showed the paths of various Veins drawn over different maps. Beyond him the occasional wisp of cloud slipped over the window as the ship continued to rise. “Well, there’s the Vein we rode here, which keeps on westward over the Seratto Sea. Or, higher up, there’s this Vein.” He pointed to the chart, dragging his finger along to a point where it met with several others. “From there, we could go almost anywhere you wanted!”
“He-heh, chavo!” Agyp nearly sang. “These are just the words this Garoma has need to hear for so long!” He stared out through the windows, into a blue so deep his eyes could never grow wide enough to take it all in.
|Eric Landreneau lives in Beaverton, Oregon, (Portland hipsters, eat your hearts out!) with his wife, Jenny, and cat, Stone Cuddles. To feed his mouth, he is an optician. To feed his soul he writes, builds with Lego, walks and cooks. He has had works published in Title Goes Here… 366 Days of Flash and on the site Residential Aliens. He dreams of one day seeing his stories brought to life by a killer animation studio.|