“While the seers can see the paths laid before men, they are blind to the wishes of men’s heart. The prophets on the other hand who can hear the truth of men’s heart is deaf to the voice of fate. And the oracles the all knowing ones are all mad. Truly, future is beyond us”
Last Days of Winter-trials
Second Day of the Calaean Cycle, Morning Night
The mountains of Ayankal are covered in snow during the better part of winter; time of deep sleep, the blue-skinned mountain dwellers of old called it. According to the tomes from the library of Albenmarth, the blue-skinned men have disappeared from the land thousands of years ago, for reasons lost to time leaving behind the huge fortresses that stood guard to the sanctuary hidden in the mountain peak Akali. One of the few testaments of their existence.
Mount Akali is the highest peak in Ayankal range, a mountainous area southeast of Kingdom of Niden bordering the kingdom of Agine. One side of the peak facing the Agine dropped to form an enormous cliff while the other sides rolled into lowlands of the valley in a steep angle which left scaling the mountain hazardous. Snow adding to the effect.
A group trudged through the snow, their legs sinking knee deep with each step as they walked along the goat trail that led through the mountain side. The side weren’t too steep, but it was steep enough to prevent anyone from getting a good foothold which left the goat trail as the only viable option as the shortest route to the village at the foot of the mountain in the valley.
Each in the group was robed in black, covering themselves fully to protect themselves from the cold. Except the first two and one in the back; all of them carried a pack behind their back, murmuring silent curses as they hauled themselves and the pack to the top. Yobi was seventh or eighth in line as they trudged up. He couldn’t remember he had passed some while some others had overtaken him at some points during the climb.
Yobi felt as if the blue men knew what they were saying. He remembered the text that he had read in the library. The land is asleep and when the land slept. the life in the land slept with it, except us humans. Yobi added the last thought to his line of thinking.
It wasn’t Yobi’s first time. He had been doing this for years now. But the experience hadn’t made it any easier and the snow wasn’t helping. Add to the fact that second days of Calean cycle ends early, meant that they were looking up for a long night that was fast approaching. Climbing up a mountain trail through a potentially dangerous path is suicidal, but climbing up a dangerous path in the darkness of night is just asking for death.
Yobi shivered as much as in fear as in cold. The winters were always worse. The summers though would turn the mountain into a garden of blossoms waking it from its hibernation, bringing life to it. But for now, the mountain slept. He could see the distant shadow of the outline of the fortress if he looked up, the Albenmarth halls their destination. The huge fortresses sometime in the long past were discovered by the Order of Erudect and they had named the fortresses as Albenmarth halls and made it one of their many academies to foster their growing order. Yobi’s home.
Yobi had dark skin, a southerner, probably a Kalashian by birth but fate had brought him to the northern parts of the old empire. He was an orphan, the only survivor of a caravan raid. Another caravan which was on the way to the Albenmarth had found young Yobi from the destroyed mass in his towels tucked beneath a broken wagon. Either the raiders hadn’t seen him or they hadn’t felt like killing a child and had left him to the mercy of nature.
Yobi now belonged to the Order of Erudect, an order dedicated to gathering knowledge and protecting it. He had been an acolyte for about five years now and it would be another five years before he could hope to graduate. The acolytes are assigned with varying jobs which included teaching the novices in the Albenmarth the basics and sometimes in situations like these to bring provisions to the hall. They are also supposed to study the history of the empire, philosophy, religion, economy, and mathematics, all the while strengthening their mental ability and honing the memory skills to better them for the purpose they were being brought up. The ones with talents are also trained in the seven arts.
Each dorm has separate ways to chose the ones they send for carrying provisions, his dorm choose using luck and Yobi seems to be down on his luck these days. He has been repeatedly drawing the short stick.
Frequent snowfalls during winter also kept the traders coming to Albenmarth away for most of the winter, isolating it from the rest of the area. Which meant they had to visit the village frequently when they run out of provisions as it was the only place from which they could buy provisions. And some how Order always seems to run out of provisions.
Yobi paused for a moment with the weight in his back. He was tired, but the hardest part has yet to begin. From now on the climb will be more slanted. He sighed and looked up into the sky sending a curse to the heavens. Atleast the snow that had been falling since the time they had left the village had stopped. But the wind still howled as though in pain. No, it isn’t the wind. Yobi mused and turned around to look behind to see the one behind him swearing in pain.
His legs, it seems to have struck one of the many shrines erected on the mountain trail which was supposed to act as a sign that one was on the right path. What good are they if it’s hidden in the snow?
Yobi crouched down to remove the snow covering the shrine, brushing away the snow with his gloved hands.
“The shrine isn’t broken idiot, I think it’s my toes that are broken”
Yobi turned to look at him. He didn’t know this one. He has crouched to the ground and was trying to inspect his feet while still wearing his boots but how he did it was beyond Yobi. Yobi wasn’t the most sociable snowflake in the sanctuary. So he wasn’t in a name to name relationship with many. The only ones who he knew are the ones from he had to stay away, the ones in his dorm and the ones he was supposed to know about along with a few others who he had come across more than ones.
” Move along you lazy bums, I need to get something inside my stomach to warm myself. I will be feeding on your blood tonight if we hadn’t reached the halls by the night”, shouted someone from behind. That would be Rijiju one of the wardens. Slave drivers.
He raised himself swaying under the bundle for a moment, balanced the bundle again and then with a sigh started walking up the trail. Yobi stopped and looked back at the boy behind him. He had completely forgotten about him in the haste. He didn’t want to get noticed by the warden for holding down the group.
The boy clearly was a new face, maybe even his first time out of the halls. The one behind him was now helping him rise to his feets. The wardens won’t like the hold off. He turned around and started walking up the trail.
The order by virtue of its founders had a rule, to only take in orphans. But as time went rules were changed to take in children that were brought to them like the sons of lords that had lost their holdings or children of parents who were bound to be taken into slavery. The scenarios varied widely but most saw that their children would live a better life at the order than with them. They were clearly wrong as far as Yobi was concerned.
The main path usually used by travelers and traders visiting the order made it way down to the village at the foot of the mountain by a circuitous route. Yobi had asked the head warden for horses to travel by the main route. But the warden had sprouted about will and endurance building.
He was brought back from his thoughts as he suddenly bumped into the person who was walking before him. He looked up. Everyone had stopped walking. He could hear Agan’s voice over the howling wind.
“Why can’t we use some mules?”.
“Because we have yet to see some difference between mules and you lot.”, the warden leading the group shouted back. Gondun, one of the wardens was not the type that was celebrated for his big heart. It would be a celebration indeed if someone found his heart and stabbed through it.
Agan has started a shouting match with him this time.
Yobi had heard that Agan had been part of this group for about a year now and since he has arrived no one day had passed without incident. Agan’s group are the type that assigns carrying the packs as punishment given away to the ones who either breaks the laws or to the ones who are falling behind their studies. Bless them. Why couldn’t he be with them?
“We have two legs and mules have four”, he heard Agan shout back.
“This is lame”, Yobi heard, someone behind him, but before he could turn around to look at the person, he was pushed to the side and someone passed him to the front. He was dressed in acolyte’s robes and he was big, bigger than Yobi which a lot were, but he was bigger than a lot of acolytes and was walking towards the front, pushing the ones before him to the sides of the mountain with relative ease.
It looked as if everyone was tired to even stand, except that guy as he waded through the others to the front. Yobi recognized him, Yohan. A groan left Yobi. Yohan’s group only selected the ones who made the most trouble. He was trouble.
He had let his hood fall back and was now shouting at the Warden, he had sharp eyes from what Yobi had seen, he also had an aquiline nose to look down on others. The olive-skinned ones in the order always looked down on others, the political intrigues in the royal and noble families of the middle kingdoms always left many new additions into the order.
Not all of them are nobles, as children from all kinds of life are adopted into the order, but all of them liked to see themselves as erstwhile heirs of noble and royal households.
“You know what, you are right”, Gondun shouted.” Now I want to know whether you are really similar to mules. All of you get on your hands and legs and start walking”
“I am not going to do that. No one is”, he heard Yohan.” And I am cold and I want to reach the fort before the next storm, we need to get going “. It seems Yohan had joined in too and Agan was shouting something again which was blown away by the wind.
“Oh yes you will, or I will figure out some fancy punishment for not listening to me”
“While you are at it, you can carry this too “, shouted Yohan. Yobi heard an ooph and heard someone falling down.
” Hey you come here “, he heard the warden Yathiki shout as he saw Yohan detaching himself from the group and began walking down the slope. The warden stepped into the slope after him and caught his shoulders.
Yohan turned around fast and punched the warden in the face and then both lost their footing and went tumbling down. Warden was the first to get a holding. He slid to a pause when his hands found some gnarly roots under the snow and looked down to see. Yohan getting a hold on one of the rocks. He shouted curses at him but Yohan was already up and was running down the slope at a dangerous speed.
He could sense someone else approaching him again from behind.
” Move aside ” he heard the warden Rijiju, who showed Yobi again to the mountain wall and looked down at the warden Yathiki shouting at Yohan who was running down the slope.
The warden was a huge man, bigger than Yohan or anyone else for that matter he had come across. He had his face wrapped in a red scarf to protect his face. A small bundle was wrapped around his back too. And he carried a spear in his right hand.
“He is gonna kill himself.that boy “
” What should we do warden? “, Someone behind Yobi asked.
He looked at Yobi. ” You lot move along, ” he then turned to the warden who was struggling with the root.
” Oi you, get up here… get these kids to safety. Gondun will carry the bag, that boy left behind. and you can watch the back of the group.” shouted Rijiju. He punched the butt of the spear to the snow and crouched and unwrapped the long bundle that he was carrying, he retrieved a case from it, opened it, took out a bow and a quiver of arrows. ” and I will go get the boy.”