Thursday, June 13, 2013


I wish I could say that we found the caravan again by skill, or perseverance, or some sort of poetic symmetry. One of my unfinished paintings could have called to me from the wagon where I left it, for example. Mirenza could have found ancient, long-untraveled paths, half-buried by Desert sand, with mystical abilities to take travelers where they desire to go. A prophetic story written and left behind by Karlishek could have told the caravan where to look for us. Garnet could have revealed some supernatural sense and led us, where before she had been content to follow.

None of these things happened. I wish I could even say that the caravan had been searching for us while we were away. In the Golden Desert, though, one's odds of finding any particular thing are so small as to be nearly nonexistent. There are many sayings about it. (Sadly, few of them translate well into English.) While the people in the caravan may have regretted losing us, they most likely gave up looking for us when they left the canyons, if not sooner. After all, we had done much the same.

No. To the best of my knowledge, it was simply dumb luck. *

After leaving the village of bright faces, our own faces were considerably more cheerful. We were rested, somewhat better fed, and relieved at the reminder that not every being we met in the Desert wanted to eat us. The next day of travel went by much faster than the one before. At sunset, we were climbing a ridge of rocky hills while listening to Karlishek telling the story of the jeweler and the orchard-worker. This is apparently something of a classic among the funny stories of his birthplace. Unfortunately, I suspect that it relies heavily on puns in Amrat, as Garnet and Mirenza laughed often at phrases that seemed perfectly ordinary to me. Asking them to explain the puns, of course, would have defeated the purpose. Perhaps I'll ask Karlishek to tell the story again when I've had more practice with the language.

When we reached the top, we realized that the hills were actually a line of gigantic fossilized vertebrae, stretching off toward the horizon. I can't even begin to imagine the size of the beast that must have left them. That surprise paled, though, in comparison to the sight of the familiar group of wagons and gafl on the other side.

When looking for a needle in a haystack, one has a very small chance of success - but still, always, a chance.

We ran, slid, and occasionally rolled our way down the other side of the backbone, waving our arms and shouting all the way instead of watching our feet. (This may have been the cause of some of the rolling.) Somehow, we managed to reach the bottom both intact and in time to catch the caravan.

They were delighted to see us. Mirenza's colleagues, in particular, seemed ready to throw a celebration on the spot, especially when she showed them her notes from the canyon town. The rest of us had no particular friends among the other passengers, but even so, there is a certain camaraderie that develops between fellow travelers in such an isolated place. They had been worried when we disappeared and had held little hope of ever seeing us again. Tirakhai greeted us with bone-grinding hugs and a flood of jubilant words, his voice too thick with emotion for me to understand a single one. Caravan leaders tend to feel responsible for their passengers and hate to lose them. Even a few of the gafl - looking much more slender after weeks in the open Desert - came up to affectionately knock us over with their blunt little snouts.

It was wonderful to see everyone again, and to sleep that night with a familiar ceiling overhead (even if it was made of canvas). Most of all, though, I was glad to be reunited with my familiar luggage, worn and reliable, my hodgepodge of tools and supplies and keepsakes picked up one piece at a time from all over Hamjamser. Becoming attached to objects is perhaps a bad habit for a wanderer, but it's one I've never been able to resist.

Besides, even if they hadn't called me back - and how can I be sure they didn't? - there were several paintings that I'd been dying to finish.

* There is actually a tribe of fisher-folk in the islands of Kennyrubin who claim to worship Luck, or the personification of it.** They consider gambling to be a form of prayer and delight in taking as many chances as they can. The most devout see all luck as a blessing, especially the extremely good - and the extremely bad. The way they see it, if a giant fish falls from the sky, it doesn't matter whether it lands in your stewpot and feeds you for a month or lands on you and breaks both your legs. Either way, it's a sign that Luck is paying attention to you.
I'm not entirely sure why they consider this a good thing.
Those who scoff at their faith are generally those who have not yet challenged them in any of the islands' myriad dice games. They always win. However, in this case, dismissing them as merely unusually lucky only seems to support their claims.

** They reserve judgement on whether Luck be a lady or not. Gender is, after all, just another of life's coin tosses - one with more sides than many people realize.

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