Soldes 2, 5681---Prince Nomolo leaned over the side of the ship, and once again emptied the contents of his stomach. “You really should try our remedy for seasickness,” Rarla’Nun told him. “We have an herbal tincture that drives away all the symptoms. Many of your soldiers take it. You should too.”
He shook his head, ignoring the ocean spray from the large waves striking the side of the ship. They had only been to sea for two weeks, and Prince Nomolo was starting to dread having another four months or more of the voyage to Eranithon. “No,” he groaned. “I am the son of the Great King. I need to be stronger than my soldiers.” He wiped his face, and looked at the blind old crone. “Shouldn’t you be below deck? It would be safer for you.”
Rarla’Nun shook her head. “The captain said we’re nearing the Kiremo Desert, and I want to be the first to see the coast.”
Prince Nomolo knew she was joking. Rarla’Nun was blind as a water worm, although her uncanny ability to know the exact placement of her surroundings often left him wondering. “We might be nearing the desert, but since you cannot see, there must be another reason you decided to step out on the deck.”
“Perhaps it is my concern about the wellbeing of the son of the Great King,” she replied, “or perhaps I need some fresh air. I could give you many answers, and all would be true. Besides, I could ask the same of you. Why would a prince be on the deck where a wave can sweep him away, instead of staying safely in his cabin?”
“I needed fresh air,” he replied, tightly gripping the gunwale as the ship slid down a particularly high swell. He scowled. “Josloy sailed these waters only five months ago, and never mentioned bad weather.”
Rarla’Nun stepped up to the gunwale, and went through the motion of looking out to sea. “The weather changes with the season,” she said. “I am curious, what do you plan to do at Eranithon with fifteen thousand soldiers and three hundred Sisters?”
“I plan to strike the enemy in their own land,” he answered. “If we’re fortunate, we’ll find the place poorly defended. If not, I have fifteen thousand soldiers ready for battle.” He looked at her. “Why am I telling you the strategy? Why are you even here? What use does the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar have for an elderly blind woman in combat?”
She smiled. “You are young and uncertain, so you wonder if those of us with more experience would approve of your plans. Trust me. I already know your plan, but I feel it lacks finality. You can bury the opening with a pile of rocks as deep as a mountain, but how do you intend to keep the Underground from digging their way back out? You would need to block the hole from the inside.”
“How would you propose to solve that problem?” Prince Nomolo asked.
“You wouldn’t like my suggestion,” she answered, “nor would the Sisterhood’s High Council approve it.” She shifted her position. “What plans do you have for the fortress near the Red Mountains?” she asked, changing the focus of the discussion.
“I am not the Great King,” he answered. “I do not have the authority to plan such an extensive expedition.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to have some ideas,” she said. “Think of Eranithon as just the first step toward victory. What you do here dictates the next step along a path leading directly to the Red Mountains. You might be able to keep the Underground contained for the rest of your life, but I fear victory at Eranithon will strengthen their resolve. Destroy this opening, and they will emerge from the other. Destroy the other opening, and you force them into a bottleneck at the Red Mountains. Once there, you can defeat the Dark Magicians for good. You can have victory by the end of the decade with only three battles. All you need to do is make sure the Underground follows the same path as you.”
Prince Nomolo looked back out to sea. “I wish it were that easy,” he told her. “The fortress by the Red Mountains has withstood the armies of Great Kings for over sixteen centuries. No one knows how to defeat them.”
Rarla’Nun chuckled. “The whole world knows, but it’s too simple for anyone to believe it. Nidiz mentioned it first, and Josloy wrote about it several years ago. That solitary flower growing along the banks of Lake Icavor has a power that can do to the Dark Magicians what Josloy claimed the Lunari did at Razhinoch. Carry that flower closer to the fortress, and you will end up with a smoldering hole in the ground.”
“How do you know such things?” Prince Nomolo asked.
“Being blind leaves me with much time to study,” she answered.
Prince Nomolo wondered how she studied despite being blind, but didn’t press the question. He let her continue.
“I am sure you’re familiar with the tale of Icavor and Yanna’Reh,” she said. He nodded. “I counted over a hundred variations in the Atalan archives. In most cases, the story is poetic with details changed to elicit a certain emotion about each scene. Initially, the stories seem inconsistent, although they all follow the same general idea. The Lunari give Icavor a flower, and send him on a quest to find a woman of beauty greater than the flower. He then finds Yanna’Reh in the remote lands just east of the Red Mountains. After a series of trials from her father, the two marry. Eventually, some evil befalls her parents, and then kills Icavor. Yanna’Reh then takes up Icavor’s sword, and defeats the evil. Some years later, she dies of grief, and drops the flower where it continues to grow today. If that is all you remember from the story, then all you have is a tragic love story that everyone tells at weddings. It’s when you start looking at the details that you start wondering how much of the story is true, and how much is symbolism for us to interpret.”
A tall wave crashed against the side of the ship, splashing the two of them. Prince Nomolo wiped the water from his face. “How can you find common symbolism from so many variations?” he wondered.
“I started with the flower,” she answered. “The flower remains unchanged in all variations, and is an exact match for the flower with white petals fringed in crimson that grows along the shore of Lake Icavor. There is no flower like it in the entire world, so that tells me the Lunari wanted the flower to end up right where it is. They might refuse to fight this war for you, but they left you the tools.”
She stopped to wipe her wet, white hair out of her face. “I also noticed three consistencies regarding colors. First, the stories all portray Yanna’Reh with an affinity toward purple, the same color used on the Sisterhood’s banners. Whether she was capable of using the same powers or not, I cannot say, but it seems likely considering the reports of her figure appearing to defend the flower. Second, Icavor always wears armor with a green cloak. He often enters the stories wearing something drab, like leather, but usually ends up wearing silver by the time they wed. You may find it even more interesting if you consider that green often represents travelers or someone from west of Tanarad. In addition, when Icavor and Yanna’Reh first meet, he is only dressed for the rigors of traveling through strange lands, but when they meet again, he is dressed for battle. I am pretty certain you know an explorer from west of Tanarad.”
Prince Nomolo nodded. “Am I to understand that you think Josloy should return to Etnyben for battle?”
“It’s only an idea,” she said. “Someone needs to carry the flower closer to the fortress. Besides, I’m just an old woman spouting nonsense about some of the interesting things I’ve noticed over the years.”
Prince Nomolo frowned. “If the flower does whatever killed two Lunari at Razhinoch, whoever carries it will perish. What other consistencies did you find among the stories?”
“There was one other color,” she said. “At the end of the tale, the person who spreads the news of Yanna’Reh’s death usually wears orange.”
“Orange is an odd color,” Prince Nomolo decided. “You find it on all the banners of Panei, but that land wasn’t independent from Tanarad when the tale originated.”
“I thought the same,” Rarla’Nun agreed. “Orange doesn’t usually designate a specific place or ability. It was the variations that helped me find the answer. The person sometimes wore one of two other colors, yellow or red, of which orange is a combination. With red representing sacrifice and yellow representing celebration, orange is a bittersweet color. It makes no sense in the context of the story, but the theoretical loss of a famed explorer combined with the defeat of the Dark Magicians would be cause for both mourning and celebration.”
Prince Nomolo thought about it for a moment. “Someone once told me it’s possible to prognosticate about any current situation based on any ancient legend. All you’re doing is stretching symbolism farther than intended.”
“Who intended that it not be stretched?” she asked with a chuckle. “I guess this is my way of pushing you to begin considering what actions you could take against the Dark Magicians in the future, but of one thing I am certain, the flower is the key to their defeat.”
“Whatever actions I take across Etnyben would take extensive planning,” Prince Nomolo decided. “However, if I did see any merit to your suggestion, how would you recommend forcing the Underground to leave Eranithon for good?”
“It would take nothing short of completely destroying that region of their land,” she answered. “Destroy the entrance, and they’ll eventually emerge again. Destroy their land, and they’ll never consider nearing Eranithon again.”
“I intend to do battle,” Prince Nomolo reasserted. “I cannot say what destruction my soldiers can do, but other than the surface of Eranithon, I’ve never heard of an army leaving a land completely barren.”
The old woman turned her head to face the sea. “I know what to do, but the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar will not permit it... knowingly.”
Prince Nomolo looked down at the waves, and nodded. “I believe I understand your predicament,” he decided. “If I provide the opportunity, can you do as you suggest?”
“The opportunity I need is very specific,” she told him. “I need to be trapped alone in the Underground with their army approaching. Provide me that opportunity, and the Underground will never threaten Eranithon again.”
Prince Nomolo shook his head. “I am not one to leave someone to her death.”
“Nor am I,” she admitted, “but I am old, and otherwise useless. Give me this one chance to do something useful with my life, and I will not fail you.”
“I will take it under consideration,” he told her, starting to feel queasy again. “If I wish to discretely accept the herbal tincture you mentioned earlier, who do I need to see?”
“Anyone from the Sisterhood can help you,” she answered. “You go inside and find someone. Tell her you’re feeling under the weather, and she’ll know what you need. Don’t feel ashamed about it either. Even your father needs our cure for sea sickness.”
“Thank you,” Prince Nomolo said softly. He turned and walked slowly back toward the cabin, his hand against his stomach.
Rarla’Nun continued to stand at the gunwale, appearing to stare out toward the horizon despite her blindness. A smile crossed her face, unnoticed by anyone else on the ship. If the idea she planted took root, she could finally have revenge on the Underground for blinding her fifty-six years earlier.