Happy Saturday and welcome to the Dog’s serialization of the novel Dark Soul. This is a work in progress, so if you have any thoughts or suggestions, don’t be shy about offering them up.
If you have just started reading this, you can find chapters one through three at the following links:
This serialization is only available here at Docudharma!
The Shadow opened his eyes to see that dawn was well underway. A dew still coated their campsite, including himself and the blanket he was sleeping under. He blinked several times to clear his eyes, then rolled on his side and stood. He wondered into the woods to take care of his morning needs, and came back out to see Tyrone adding some wood to the embers of their fire.
“Good morning Ty, where are the others?” he asked
“The good father has taken our new friend too look for mushrooms. It seems that Astiabo knows of a spot that they are thicker than fleas on a Frenchman. I am not sure but I think they where talking about eggs, ova is Latin for eggs, right? Maybe we will eggs and mushrooms for breakfast?”
“That would certainly be a change from cold meat and old cheese, “replied the Shadow, “There must be some large birds in the forest, so it seems likely that Astiabo would know where a nest or two would be, after all he is a huntsman,”
“Well since you and he know so much about each other, maybe you can fill me in. I don’t mind saying that I felt a bit left out last night.”
“Yes, I am sorry about that Ty, but is was not as rosy as it all looked; Brother Carlinus knows mostly Church Latin, Astiabo speaks a very early form of Latin and poorly to boot, and finally you have me, with a Latin that while much more broad than Carli’s is, shall we say a little specialized. It was a fairly confusing conversation all the way around. I think that we had all better work on learning the Celesta language while we head to the City of Rushing Water.”
“Whoa, back up, start from the beginning. What in the name of Alexander’s curly locks is the ‘City of Rushing Water’?”
“Ah, there I go again. Mark it up as not being fully awake. Let me start from the beginning, as you say. The Celesta have only one city, the City of Rushing Water. Apparently they have a river that runs through it, hence the name. Astiabo wants us to go there and meet with their elders. It seems not everyone in this valley is going to be happy about outsiders coming in. The Celesta came here to hide, and they have very little intention of breaking cover now”
“Hide, from who? And when for that matter? I thought that the old priest that found them did it over a hundred years ago,”
“The short version is that they are victims of their own success. Remember that this might be a little garbled, but here is what I got from Astiabo; some time before the raise of Rome, the Celesta ruled a large empire to the east of Italy. Their tribe was small but very skilled in the skills of war. They had conquered all of their neighbors, and ruled them ruthlessly. They where different from the tribes in that region in that they did not have multiple gods but only a single God. Supposedly this God helped them to become fierce, which in turn lead them to victory.
After a long time, the peoples that they conquered began to find allies outside of their empire, people that had reason to fear the Celesta and willing to help with an uprising. The revolt went ahead as planed, catching the Celesta by surprise. The families that ruled the countryside where wiped out. Those living in their capital, were forced into a fighting retreat. Most of the Celesta died in the fighting, but several large families managed to cross the border into a friendly nation. From there they did a remarkable thing, they took stock of what had happened and why.
They came to the decision that it was their relationship with ‘the god’ as they call him that had laid them low. Without his help they would never have conquered so many peoples, and that their pride in this special relationship they would not have caused so much jealousy of the Celesta themselves. While they felt that they could have retaken their lands, with the help of their friends, they decided that they would abandon them. For if the people of their country could rise up and slay their rulers once, why not twice, or as many times as it took to kill all of the Celesta? No, they would leave their lands and find a new place, where they could live and not rule anymore.
As part of this new direction, they decided that they would no longer worship their god. That is not to say that they found another or disputed the god’s position in the world, but just that they could no longer accept the special help and status that the god had bestowed to them.
So after informing the god of this, and finding new jobs for their priest class, they set out west, to unknown lands. They must have been around the early Romans for some time, given the fact that they still have a knowledge of Latin, but Astiabo says that they have been in this valley for more than a thousand summers,” the Shadow finished his tale, and watched as all of this information poured over Tyrone’s mind.
“I am not sure I understand, are you saying they just left their god? How does that work?”
“I would say that their god was not jealous, though they did not disavow him, or find new gods to worship, they just decided that they would not ask for help, nor offer worship,”
“And there god let them do that? He did not punish them for abandoning him?”
“Apparently not,” said the Shadow smugly
“You must be loving this. Here is group of people that have managed to do what you have always wanted to; say thank you, but no; to the whole good and evil game”
“It is invigorating, to hear about, but I will wait to see what the City of Rushing Water brings. But if it is true, then it will be something to see,” The Shadow’s face turned dour as if a troubling thought crossed his mind. “It may be that we will be the last to see it too, if Carli is successful in his mission,”
“Oh, Shadow, I think you worry too much. Look, these people turned away from gods a long time ago, why would they want to go back?”
“I think you underestimate the power of what Carlinus is going to sell. Follow these rules and live forever in joy is a hard offer to turn down. Then he will tell them that all of their ancestors are now living in Hell, in agony because of the choice that they made over a thousand years ago. He might find more fertile ground than you think,” As the Shadow was saying this, Brother Carlinus and Astiabo emerged from the forest behind him, Carlinus with a winning grin and waving his hands, as he tended to do when he was excited.
It turned out that the two men had indeed found eggs and mushrooms in the forest. These two ingredients were poured in to the cook pot, in which some of the fat from the doe hand been melted, to quickly be fried. This combined with some of the cold roast venison made an excellent breakfast.
In the morning light more details could be seen of Astiabo. He was a man in the prime of life, healthy and tan, with the subtle bulging arm muscles of an archer. His eyes were a surprising clear green and his hair was brown with small streaks of white in the front and on the crown of his head. The morning light also revealed the laugh lines around his wide mouth. This was a man that enjoyed life and was not afraid to show it.
As breakfast was ending the Tyrone took out his bow and began to check it for warps or ware, he was very proud of this bow, having made it himself from a single yew bough. Astiabo came to where he was sitting and watched as he strung the bow and tested the pull. Feeling full of himself Tyrone said, “Shadow, ask our friend what he thinks of my bow,” fully expecting the man to be as complimentary of the bow’s craftsmanship as he had been of the knife the night before.
The Shadow spoke for a moment in Latin, then Astiabo shrugged and reached for the bow. He looked at the smooth sweep of the wood, inspected the winding of the gut string, noted the leather wrapping there to provide a good grip and then stood, lifted the bow and drew the string back to his ear in one easy motion. After removing the tension from the bow, he handed it back to Tyrone and then spoke a quick phrase in Latin to the Shadow. The Shadow responded with a bark of laughter.
“And just what did he say?” asked Tyrone hotly.
“He said that it was a nice bow, for a beginner,” said the Shadow trying to stifle his mirth, “or a child,” he said loosing the battle with laughter.
“You tell him that this is a fine battle bow, and I doubt that he has a better one,” said Tyrone.
“If that is what you would like,” said the Shadow. Turning to Astiabo the Shadow said in Latin, “My friend is upset that you did not like his bow. He doubts that you would be able to make one as good or better,”
“Is that so?” asked Astiabo reaching down to pick up his bow. It was strangely shaped, instead of a long crescent moon shape, like Tyrone’s, was a complex s shape. It looked like a regular bow, but with a c shape attached to the top and bottom of the normal curve. The bowstring was tied to the ends of the curves at the top and bottom. All in all it was a strange looking item.
“Tell your friend that I made this bow in my twentieth summer, and while it may not be the best in this valley, it is much better than that toy that he shoots with” said Astiabo with a tight smile. “And I will be more than willing to contest with him to prove it.”
“Astiabo says, that you have a toy and that his bow, while not of very good quality, is more than enough to beat yours, and is willing to prove it to you” said the Shadow with delight dancing in his eyes, this was nearly as much fun as baiting the priest!
“Oh, so it is a contest he wants? Well I would be more than happy to oblige. What did he have in mind?” asked Tyrone, taking the bait, as the Shadow was sure that he would.
Turning to Astiabo once more he asked, “What kind of contest do you propose?”
“Hmm, well what if we both shoot at the same tree, and whoever’s shaft goes deepest wins? Would that be fair? Also what steaks would your friend have?”
“Stakes?” asked the Shadow.
“Aye, men should not contest without risk, else what is the point?” asked Astiabo, “For my part, I would have that knife of his, it is a wonderful blade”
The Shadow smiled as he looked at Tyrone, he could have not planned this better himself! He explained the rules of the contest to Tyrone, and then told him about the wager.
“Well, if he would like to bet, that is not a problem to me,” Tyrone said confidently, “I can pick anything I like? Then I would have his boots, they look like they might fit.” The Shadow translated this and Astiabo agreed after a glance at his boots. Both men picked up their bows and walked to the edge of the clearing, Tyrone, spurning his crutch, walked with a pronounced limp.
Astiabo pointed to a sapling with a trunk about four inches through the center and said, “That one will do. As the one who issued the challenge, I will let Tyrone shoot first.”
The Shadow explained this to Tyrone, who was more than willing to show what his bow could do, nodded. He spent a moment finding his thickest, heaviest shaft. He had no doubt that he would win against that funny looking bow, but why take chances?
He knocked the arrow, and breathing in deeply pulled the string back to his chin. He took his aim, then let fly. The arrow leaped to the small tree, fifteen feet away, hitting it with a solid thunk. Lowering his bow, Tyrone looked over to Astiabo with a grin on his face, “What do you think of that, my man?” he asked
Apparently understanding the tone of the question, if not the words, Astiabo gave an appreciating nod. He walked up to the spot that Tyrone stood and waited patiently for Tyrone to move away. Tyrone graciously moved aside and went to stand next to the Shadow.
“Well, now we will see what that curvy stick can do,” he said in a low voice.
“You are sure to see something,” answered the Shadow enigmatically. Astiabo casually reached into the quiver that was hung behind his right shoulder and took the first arrow that came to his hand. Holding the bow parallel to the ground he fitted the arrow to the string. In one smooth motion, he brought the bow upright and the string to his cheek. As the hunter pulled the string the curves at the top and bottom of the bow unwound, making the compact bow look much more like a conventional one. He held the tension on the string until everything was right, then let fly.
The arrow could not really be seen as it flew from the bow to the tree. The sound that it made as it hit was much deeper than Tyrone’s arrow had been and had an odd crack to the very end of the sound.
Astiabo lowered his bow, and it was clear from his body language that he was disappointed with the shot. Turning to the Shadow, he said, “Damn, I though it would be better. Shall we see how deep it went?” and began to walk to the tree to reclaim his shaft.
Tyrone had a bad feeling as he walked to the tree with the Shadow. He had never seen an arrow fly like that, and the sound that it made hitting the tree, well that could not have been a good sign, could it? Still Astiabo seemed very unhappy so maybe he had hit a knot in the wood or something?
The small spark of hope that Tyrone had been nursing was quickly dosed as he came up to the tree. His arrow had gone a good two inches into the wood of the trunk, but not Astiabo’s; no, his shaft had passed right through the trunk and five inches of the shaft protruded from the other side of the tree. Behind him he could hear the Shadow’s smooth bubbly laughter as the man saw the two arrows. For a moment the phrase ‘Evil bastard’ rose in his mind, but he quickly squashed it, after all it was not the Shadow’s fault that Tyrone’s pride got the better of him.
He turned to face the Shadow and Astiabo and tried to put a good face on loosing. “Well, that was a hell of a shot, Astiabo. I would have never thought that a bow that short would have that much strength,” he reached down and pulled his knife and sheath from his belt and the Shadow translated his words. “Here,” he said offering the knife to Astiabo, “fair is fair. Let no man say that Tyrone Costello does not pay his debts,”
Astiabo took the knife from Tyrone and held it in both hands in front of him. He met and held Tyrone’s gaze and bowed, shallowly, from the waist. Through the Shadow he said, “Challenge has been met and won, and I thank you for contesting with me.” The knife vanished into his sash and his hand came out with the exquisitely crafted bronze blade.
“Has he a knife, Shadow?” he asked, “A challenge is one thing, but a grown man should not be with out such a tool. I would not have it said that I deprived him.” When the Shadow asked this question of Tyrone, the young warrior merely bent and pulled a seven inch long, two edged knife from his boot sheath.
“That is well, then,” said Astiabo giving the Shadow and Tyrone an appraising look, “Still I think that perhaps he was not as eager to contest as it sounded when you spoke his words in Latin. I offer this blade to him in the hope that we will grow in understanding.”
When the Shadow explained why Astiabo was holding his knife out in an open hand, Tyrone noticed that the Shadow seemed a little abashed, nearly embarrassed about something. It occurred to Tyrone, Astiabo may have been right, and the Shadow had been taking advantage of his position as translator to put the worst possible face on what each man said, so that they would clash. It was, in fact, exactly the kind of trick the Shadow would love, but what was surprising was that Astiabo would be able to pick that up, having just met them the night before.
Tyrone reached forward and took the offered weapon. He repeated the gesture that Astiabo had made when thanking him for his knife and said, “I thank you for your gift. Though an honorable man does not ask for second chances or hand outs, a friend may receive a gift. That is the way that I will take this. But truth be told, I have gotten the better of the deal, I still have steel knifes, and now I have this pretty thing as well,” finished Tyrone with a wry smile.
Astiabo laughed when the Shadow told him this and said, “Then we are all winners this morning. I have a new and unique tool, you have a memento, and you my dark friend, have had your fun at our expense,” The Shadow flushed but did not comment on what had been said to him, nor did he relate the last part of Astiabo’s comment to Tyrone. The men walked back to the camp fire, two of them with new respect for the Celesta in general and Astiabo in particular growing within them.
Back at the campfire, the four men decided on the course of action. They would travel together to the City of Rushing Waters, following the path that Astiabo knew. This would take some time, as Astiabo, while having a great respect and curiosity for the horses, flatly refused to mount one. He said that it was not proper for him to do this without knowing them better and that his sept would need to be told before this new knowledge could pass into their history.
A day before Tyrone might have made disparaging comments about Astiabo’s courage, or his suspected fear of the big animals, but after his shooting match, he decided to keep his mouth shut, until he knew this man better. There was a strange mix of the common place and the exotic in Astiabo and Tyrone did not intend to get caught flat footed again.
The trip to the city was slow, but pleasant and productive even in it’s leisurely pace. The three men who had mounts would ride or walk as the mood took them, with Astiabo leading the way. Some days they had to take detours from the paths that Astiabo usually traveled as they where too narrow for the horses. As they walked and rode the three travelers used the time to learn the Celestain language, from their guide. This came with the frustration and hilarious mistakes that always attend such an effort.
Of the three, Tyrone, made the most progress, as he had no language in common with Astiabo and had a great frustration waiting for Brother Carlinus or the Shadow to tell him what the man was saying.
The days stayed warm, as befits the end of summer, though the days seemed strangely short. This was caused by the high walls of the Black Tooth Mountains blocking the sun. It left the valley with long twilights and dawns, but a short day. The path they followed generally paralleled the river that the Celesta named Cortan. This translated to Father in their language.
As the travelers gained fluency they asked many questions of Astiabo. He would willingly tell them any story that he had been part of or seen himself, but would defer any question that referred to the recent history of his people or the way that they lived. He would merely say that it was not his place to discuss such things, before the visitor’s status was decided.
This was a same kind of answer that he gave Brother Carlinus when ever the subject of the Celesta’s god and his similarities to God where brought up, with the addition that Astiabo was not one of those that kept the lore of the god in his sept. This in no way deterred the little priest from trying to educate and convert Astiabo. And while it made the woodsman tense from time to time, it did have the unintended consequence of taking the pressure off of the Shadow.
After traveling for some ten days, Astiabo announced that the sunset would see them in the City of Rushing Water. The next morning they turned away from the river Cortan and headed into dense wood. They had been getting closer to the walls of the mountains that sealed this end of the valley. All of the men were intensely curious about the city, but they could get no details from Astiabo. He would just say that the City of Rushing water should be seen, not described. It should be noted that he clearly took some satisfaction in the fact that this in no way slacked his companions thirst for information, and that he said it with a sly little smile.
Some time during the late morning, each of the travelers noticed a deep thrumming sound, under the normal sounds of the wood. It was the kind of sound that brings it’s self to your notice in slow increments. So that by the time the men noticed it, it seemed as though the sound had been with them a long time.
The land had been slopping downward for days, with sudden valleys and dips not being uncommon. The path they followed came to a hill that was stepper than most. As they followed it the trees began to thin, and as the hill bottomed out, they came out of the trees and into sight of the City of Rushing Water.
All of the men on horseback stopped as they looked at the sight before them. They were standing on a ledge looking over a small valley within a larger valley. Before them two walls of gray granite soared from the valley floor to over eight hundred feet in height. They created a natural corner with a long water fall on the left hand side of the corner. It fell in an unbroken line to a huge stone funnel, where the water disappeared from sight. At the base of the funnel an aqueduct carried the water to the top of the city.
The City of Rushing Water itself was built in a series of nine terraces, each being an uneven half or three quarters circle below the last. The bottom three terraces where not single arcs, but where made of three smaller arcs. From the bottom of each terrace wall stone buildings filled the space to the next drop off.
The terraces and the buildings were made of polished stone that shone in the afternoon light. The light brought out the highlights in the stone, showing the subtle blues greens, reds and grays of the granite. It gave the stone a translucent look, from the distance to where the men stood.
Below the city was another series of terraces, but where the city was painted in dark shades, these where vibrant green. The retaining walls made black arcs through the green, cutting scallops of varying size through the emerald plain. Here and there a flash of light showed the course of the water way wound through the fields. It flowed back towards the falls, winding it’s way past the bottoms of hilly pastures. Some animals could be seen grazing on the hilltops, but whether they were sheep or goats, could not be told.
The small river continued it’s path back toward the souring cliffs. It joined with a much larger river, which could only be the Cortan, and then the combined waters rushed into a wide low hole in the mountains walls, to be seen no more.
Astiabo took a deep breath and said, “The City of Rushing Water. So, can you see why it was best for you to wait and see it with your own eyes? Had I described my city you would have thought me a braggart or so prideful that my recollection could not be trusted. Now you see our glory.”
Tyrone found that he was staring and so made an effort to control himself, but a question that had be asked found its was from his mouth, “You, how, who built the funnel?”
“Well asked, Ty” said the Shadow wryly. This earned him an annoyed look from his friend.
“Your people harnessed a waterfall?” asked Tyrone, with more control.
“Aye, the grand madness of the Chositha clan. It took three generations to complete. If you can ask one of their Sczench sept to tell you the stories, it is a brave tale,” said Astiabo
Brother Carlinus looked confused and then dug his map out of one of his bags. He kept looking from the map to the city and back again.
“I don’t understand,” he muttered, ” this makes no sense at all.” Turning to his companions he said, “Astiabo, when did your people build these aqueducts?”
“The work started nine hundred summers ago and was completed some fifty summers later. Since that time there has been some addition to the water system. If I were forced to give an answer, I would affirm that it was built eight hundred and fifty summers ago,” relied the Celestian
“But how can that be? Father Delatora has no such waterfall on the map. He was here less than one hundred years ago!” said Brother Carlinus, holding out the map for them to see.
After a moment of consideration, the Shadow sat up straight on his horse and asked, “Astiabo, was the waterfall there before you built this system?”
The hunter considered the question for only a second before he burst out with a laugh and said, “Of course not! Do you think the Celesta fools to try to build under a torrent of falling water? No, of course not! There is a river that flows atop the cliffs, and once the funnel was ready, then the Chositha made a channel for it,”
“Well, that would explain why it is not on your map, Brother Carlinus. You told us that old Delatora did not mark man-made things, so even as impressive a sight as this, was not worthy of his map,”
“It is truly amazing, what you have done here, it truly is,” said Tyrone in an awed voice.
“Ach, it is a great work, to be sure,” said Astiabo with self-deprecating pride, “but it is of the past, none of this generation’s septs had much to do with it. I am sure that if I traveled to your lands, that works of your septs would seem grand to me”
“You might at that,” said the Shadow quickly, not giving either of his companions time to comment, “though, I doubt for the same things,”
“Well, my friends, let us away, I am anxious to see my sept mate,” said Astiabo as he turned towards the path leading into the lands of the Celesta. The path was too narrow and steep to be ridden down on horse back, so the three men dismounted and lead their horses. As the group made it’s way down the switch backs of the path, they were spotted first by those tending the flocks. As they reached the floor of the valley, two boys could be seen heading in their direction. The boys walked with deliberate speed to meet their group, and held the attention of the travelers. What they did not see was the one girl that ran to the city, keeping the hills and terraces in between her and the newcomers.
The two groups met as nearly halfway across the large field. The boys were dressed in a similar style to Astiabo, though their tunics and pants had less of the complex dappling and the colors tended to the lighter greens of the grasslands. Each boy carried a sling in his hand, though neither had a stone loaded. As they approached one hung back and to the side of the other, as though he was shy or nervous, but his manner did not appear diffident.
The first boy walked right up to the four men and said, “Hail, Astiabo. What strange beasts have you brought from the forest?” he said in a tone that showed that he meant the men as much as the horses.
“Hail Traviso. These would be horses, such as the Trojans loved. With them are men from beyond the mountains. They are Tyrone, Carlinus, and the Shadow, in short. I will present them and their septs and clans to the Council of Elders,”
“Well met, strangers” said Traviso with a bow. The three men returned the greeting in the Celestain tongue.
“Travelers, this is Traviso, of the clan Garshon, sept Kethalan, and also the son of my sister Attinia. Behind him is Questen, also of clan Garshon, sept Kethalan,” said Astiabo.
“Hail,” said Questen also bowing.
“So these would be the fabled ‘horse’, eh? “, asked Traviso coming up to Julius and looking him over, with evident curiosity, “Here I thought that they were just a myth, made up by the Sczench,”
“You should have more respect for your teachers, Traviso” said Astiabo sternly.
“Ach, that may be the reason they said I needed no more classes so soon,” said the boy with a crooked smile, “I had little honor for things that did could not possibly effect me, true or not.”
“And look where that has left you, now, you young scoffer” replied the older man, with a hint of humor in the reproof.
“A young fool, but still stoch at fifteen summers,” agreed the boy.
“Speaking of,” said Astiabo cryptically
“Aye,” said Traviso, “Questen, run to the city, let the elders know that
Astiabo comes with men form beyond the mountains. Oh, and tell them the myths of Troy are here too.”
“Aye, Stoch,” said Questen, and turned to run to the city.
“There is no hope for you, Traviso,” said Astiabo with a sigh, “your irreverence will be the end of you,”
“No doubt uncle, no doubt,” said Traviso with a grin, “so shall we walk to the city?”
“We will meet with your Elders right away?” asked Brother Carlinus
“Yes,” said Astiabo, “It will be their choice to welcome you to our city.”
The Shadow leaned toward Tyrone and said in English, “Did you catch the wording of that? Did it sound to you like they might choose not to welcome us?”
“Maybe,” said Tyrone, “did you notice that the other boy stood where he could hit us with that sling, but not the others? I wonder if we are headed for trouble,”
“Oh, the two of you!” said Brother Carlinus in exasperation, “What trouble could there be? These are clearly peaceful God loving people, you worry too much Shadow.” The Shadow thought of all the people that had died in the name of Yahweh, and gave a look at Tyrone, glanced down at his sword, then back to the mans eyes. Tyrone nodded, the message had been received, he would stay on his guard.
“As you say, Brother Carlinus,” said the Shadow again using the Celestian language. “Come, Astiabo, lead us to your city. But if you please, show us the other wonders of your valley, on the way.”
The party set our across the valley heading for the terraced crop lands. As they approached they found that that first retaining wall was higher then it looked. It was more than head tall on all the men, and there was a single ramp that lead from the ground to the top. The ramp was long with a shallow angle, so that they walked through a stone canyon wide enough for four men abreast, or one man and one horse.
As they emerged onto the first level, they found themselves in a garden of climbing vines on sticks, with beans, peppers and peas to be seen ripening in the sun. At the foot of the sticks melons and squash grew nearly covering the ground, here and there could be seen the small man made streams carrying water to the plants. The path lead away at a angle, nearly following the bed of the main stream.
Tyrone was impressed with the organization of the fields, as well as the variety of the crops grown there. As they walked along the path he noticed the farmers standing near the road, watching them. There was something in the way that they stood with their hoes and rakes that made him slightly nervous. It might have been the way that that they held them at the ready, not in a threatening way, but in a way that would make it very easy to use as weapons, if the need arose. There was also the fact that no one was working as they walked by, all of them stood within ten feet of the path, just waiting and watching.
Tyrone could have dismissed this as curiosity at seeing people from far away, where it not for the way that one person from each group would nod to Astiabo and wait to receive a similar nod in return. While none of this was proof of sinister intent by the Celesta, it was enough to set Tyrone’s warrior instincts on edge.
He decided that his best course was to look as unthreatening as possible. So, he loosened his sword in it scabbard, and walked a little more relaxed, with his best smile plastered across his face. He made a point of smiling and nodding to as many of the people as he could. He tried very hard to project the idea of ‘just a harmless traveler from the outside world, no threat to you, just a nice fellow on a trip’; it was a plan that would meet with indifferent success, since Tyrone was clearly a fighter, with his sword, armor and war-horse. But it was all he could do now, so that is what he did.
As he smiled and made eye contact, Tyrone noticed that about half of the people in the fields were women or girls. While this would not be uncommon in his home in Ireland, these women had that same hard look as the men that stood with them. It was a disconcerting thought that they might be as tough as the men.
The party approached the next level of terrace, and again there was a ramp going up. In the wall next to the ramp was a low stone arch from which water rushed. This was the place where the irrigation water came to the main stream for this level. As they came out on to the next level they saw a large stone drain, that gathered the water and sent it below. When Tyrone asked about it, Astiabo explained that they could not just let the water flow over the walls, as it would ware away the stones, and that by having this system of drains they could flood any level that they liked, just by blocking the drain.
The party snaked it’s way through the fields and terraces, seeing wheat, oats, barely and grapes being grown. At last they reached the last two terraces. Walking along out of the ramp, they noticed that the walls here made a higher lip then those below. Growing in the fields were a low plant that none of the three travelers had seen before.
“Astiabo, what is this?” asked the Shadow, bending down to look at the plant with small hard grains growing on it.
“That is ‘rice’, “he said, “It is from our old home lands, and part of the reason we have our fields built this way. The young plants need to grow in very wet mud, and are best started under water, so we have these two fields set to flood and hold the water.”
“That would be the reason the road here is raised and made of stone, too?” asked Tyrone.
“Aye the Sotho that work the lower fields would not like to have to slog through mud everyday of spring, nor the Kethalan, for that matter” said Astiabo, giving Traviso a nudge with his elbow. The boy rolled his eyes, in the manner of all young men that are proud and ashamed of their relationship to the older generation.
They made their way past the muddy fields, with the staring farmers standing in mud with their pants rolled to the knee. After the last terrace the party came face to face with the first wall of the city proper. There was no gate, instead just another of the high walled ramps. Where the rock of the field terraces was roughly cut, the stones of this wall were highly polished. Huge square slabs set one on top of the other rose twenty feet into the air. Tyrone, who knew something of the construction of stone walls was very impressed by the level of skill that these walls were made with, to say nothing of the effort that cutting and moving the massive rocks would have taken.
He could see up the ramp to the street above, and it was lined with stone buildings, one or two stories high. As he walked this street he found the side streets filled with more of the population of the City of Rushing Water, so that even if he had wished to turn form the path that Astiabo lead, there would be no chance. Here there where more children and it made the atmosphere less oppressive. People still stood with the tools of their trade in hand, but were the adults were mostly silent, the children whispered and pointed at the men and the horses. It made a genuine smile cross Tyrone’s lips, at their antics.
The noise of the waterfall seemed to be growing and fading at the same time as they walked up the winding road. It took Tyrone a minute to realize that the sound that was growing was coming form the aqueducts that crossed the streets from time to time. This combined with the burbling of the many fountains made it easy to see why the Celesta had chosen the name for their city.
As he looked down one of the many side streets Tyrone could see an actual waterfall, flowing from the holes in a aqueduct to water the small stand of fruit trees that grew below it. Looking more closely, he could see that the water was gathered by another drain to head down to the farms to be used again.
He remembered the two huge outlets that flanked the ramp to the city, and wondered how many channels ran below this city to take the water away. It was an idea that filled him with sense of awe at what these hidden people could do. Tyrone had let himself think that because the Celesta had were not aware of the outside world that they would be primitive. Now he began to feel that he might be the primitive. This thought did nothing to ease his already jangled nerves.
As they continued there assent to through the city, Tyrone saw workshops for cloth, bakeries, smithies, and something that look very like a winery. He hoped that the Celesta did indeed make wine, as it had been some time since he had had a drink. Everywhere he looked there were well made buildings, clean and well kept. He wondered where the lower classes lived in this city, since anyone of the homes that he saw would have been fit for a baron or a count.
The walls of these buildings were made of stone, but nearly all were decorated in mosaics of geometric design. Waves of gold and tan curled and flowed around this set of buildings, where green and blue stars and circles adorned these. Even the aqueducts overhead had their sides embellished with tiles. It gave a city a lightness and vibrancy that Tyrone had never seen before.
As they came to the fourth level, they turned to the left along a wide boulevard, that cut a chord across the circle of the terrace. The surface of the boulevard was also a mosaic, but made with large pieces of multicolored stone, instead of tile. The street let out into a large plaza, with truly gigantic fountain in the center.
Behind the fountain was a large building with a peaked roof and fluted columns. It was to this building that Astiabo led them. When they reached the building, Astiabo turned to them and said, “We will meet the Council of Elders in here. Traviso will watch your horses, while you are inside,”
“Orobasson, would not take kindly to being touched or crowded,” said the Shadow to Traviso, “be sure that the crowds curiosity does not get the better of you, or them”
“I am sure that he could more than take care of himself,” said Traviso eyeing the demon horse’s huge hooves and sharp teeth, “I think I would be protecting them, more than him. ”
“You have the right of it there, Traviso,” said the Shadow, “and be sure that the other horses are treated with respect, as well.”
“As you say, Shadow, as you say,” said the boy, though the mischievous look in his eye almost certainly spelled trouble. The Shadow, having provided more warning than he usually would have, put the matter out of his mind. If Traviso would not heed him, then at least it would not be his fault.