Naiya’Nal woke Belgrave the next day, but it took him a moment to realize what was happening since his mind was still racing. “Drink some water,” she said, handing him a cup. “It will slow the effect of the worret. Last night, you drank more than most Barbidons could drink.”
He took the cup and swallowed its contents. Sure enough, he felt better within a few moments. “What happened last night?” he finally asked her.
“I’m not sure,” she replied. “I think we both drank a bit too much.”
“At least I can walk again,” he announced as he stood up and stretched. “Thanks for waking me; I’d probably have slept through the day if you hadn’t. Does Colonel Balvain have the army ready to march to Eema today?”
Naiya’Nal laughed. “We slept too long. It is mid-afternoon now and we would be arriving at Eema in the middle of the night. Instead, Colonel Balvain has decided we will march tomorrow.”
“I slept that long!?” Belgrave stammered, stepping out of the tent. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the bright sun. It was indeed afternoon.
Naiya’Nal stepped out behind him and handed him a plate. It had some bread, meat, and some slices of a red vegetable called a snoz. “Do you know what a sandwich is?” Belgrave asked her. She gave him a confused look and he realized what he had just said. “I’m sorry; ‘sandwich’ is not a word in your language.”
“It is not in our language and I do not know what it is,” she stated. “It is possible this ‘sandwich’ is something beyond our current knowledge.”
Belgrave sat down on the grass and pulled out his knife. Naiya’Nal sat beside him. “It is quite simple actually,” he explained. “All you do is slice the bread and put the meat and vegetables between the two slices.” She watched attentively as he stacked the meat and snoz between the two slices of bread. “This is a sandwich,” he announced, raising it to his mouth and biting into it.
“That is such a simple idea. I am surprised no one had thought of stacking their food like that before,” Naiya’Nal said. “It must be a faster way to eat.”
“It is convenient when we need to eat fast,” Belgrave said. “I had several sandwiches in my backpack when I first entered this world, but I ate them all before I left the cave.” He took another bite of the sandwich.
“King Belgrave!” someone called.
Belgrave looked to his right. Colonel Balvain was coming towards them. Belgrave stood up, still holding his sandwich.
“King Belgrave, it is good to see you survived the worret,” the Colonel said.
“It was unlike anything that I have ever experienced,” King Belgrave admitted.
“That is what made it useful in ancient Barbidon mass marriage rituals,” the Colonel replied. “I should have been more watchful and warned you before you drank it.”
“Marriage rituals?” King Belgrave questioned. “I only knew it came from the Barbidons.” He looked down at Naiya’Nal.
She smiled and started to laugh. “I need to take care of Melas,” she said. She stood up and walked away.
King Belgrave looked back at Colonel Balvain. “Obviously there is something I don’t know yet,” he said, taking another bite of his sandwich.
“What are you eating?” the Colonel asked.
“This is called a sandwich,” King Belgrave explained. “You put your meat and vegetables between the two slices of bread.” He took another bite.
“I will have to try that,” Colonel Balvain remarked, “but first, I will explain about the Barbidon marriage rituals.”
Colonel Balvain cleared his throat and began his tale. “Several thousand years ago, the Barbidons were not enslaved by the Dark Wizard, but fought alongside the rest of the world. During a very large battle that spread across most of Sarda, the Barbidon race suffered such great losses that their race almost went extinct. Those that survived lived far apart and rarely saw each other. Their leaders knew their race would be lost if nothing was done to save it. They organized a mass marriage ritual. Every unmarried male and female Barbidon was required to attend. The Barbidons were separated into couples and each Barbidon was given a glass of worret to drink. Under the influence of the drink, the couples would become so intensely focused on each other that afterwards they could not be separated. Barbidons who would never have met each other would meet, fall in love, and be married in a single day. By holding these rituals every few years, the Barbidons grew back to their former strength. They no longer hold these rituals, but they still make the drink and enjoy it in small quantities.”
“Why do they still make it if they do not have these rituals?” King Belgrave asked.
“There are other uses as well,” the Colonel explained. “People often drink small quantities of worret at special celebrations. We also give the drink to dying soldiers to ease their suffering. However, in no case will they drink as much as you did. It has a way of changing people. It can make someone love the people they used to hate. It is the irreversible effect that people fear so they will not drink much. I wish I could have warned you, because now, you and Naiya’Nal will never be separated.”
Belgrave laughed. “I appreciate the concern, Colonel, but there is nothing you can do about it now.” Colonel Balvain was speechless. “Don’t worry, Colonel,” Belgrave said. “Nothing will come of it until we have a few questions answered by Jun Joon.”
“Shouldn’t you have consulted others before making a decision like this?” Colonel Balvain asked.
“I would trust you with my life, but there are some decisions I have to make for myself,” King Belgrave replied. “You told me yesterday that I need to do what needs to be done to fulfill the prophecies and I think this will happen regardless of how anyone else feels. All I ask is that you follow my lead, even when you disagree.”
“I am honored that you trust me with your life and I do try to follow you even when I disagree,” Colonel Balvain maintained.
“So what must I do to convince you that Naiya’Nal can be trusted?” King Belgrave asked.
“I cannot say,” the Colonel replied. “I have your word that she is trustworthy, but I think it will still take time for me to change my own opinion of her. Regardless, there are other pressing matters to be dealt with.”
“Yes,” King Belgrave agreed. “Send a messenger to Commander Sidrahkir. He should know that Amehtana is to be the capital, and that if he finds the five brothers, they are to wait for me there. I also want to know about his progress against the Barbidons. If they have been overthrown as peacefully as they were here at Norl, then we may not need the army.” The Colonel called over a soldier. “You can also inform him of things between me and Naiya’Nal, but keep it strictly confidential,” King Belgrave added. “I do not think many people are quite ready to hear about it.” The Colonel whispered the message in the messenger’s ear. The messenger was surprised and grinned at King Belgrave before he ran off to get a horse and ride off to the east.
“I think you are right about the people not being ready,” Colonel Balvain agreed.
“Go make yourself a sandwich,” King Belgrave laughed. “I need to ensure my horse has been properly taken care of.” They parted ways and Belgrave walked out of the camp to go to the horses.
Naiya’Nal was sitting by her horse and stood up when Belgrave arrived. “What did Colonel Balvain have to say?” she asked.
“Enough to make me think twice next time you offer me a strange drink,” Belgrave grinned. “I told him that it had to be prophecy at work, but I left out what you said yesterday about cheating. How are the horses?”
“They have been tied here all day,” she replied. “They want to run.”
“Then let us ride,” Belgrave suggested, untying Leukos. “You can show me more interesting places in your world.”
They mounted their horses and rode into the camp. King Belgrave informed Colonel Balvain that they would be returning later that evening. They then rode off across the fields toward a forest further south. Naiya’Nal led Belgrave along roads, across fields and streams, and through thickets. She finally stopped along a stream hidden deep in a thickly-wooded valley and dismounted from her horse.
She motioned for Belgrave to be quiet as he got off his horse and tied the reins to a tree. He walked over to her and she pointed up the stream. He could see a small clearing through the trees. It was surrounded by a large rock formation with smooth concave sides. A thin waterfall fell from the top of the rock and into a shallow pool with several stone benches on either side. From there, the stream flowed out of the clearing and past where they stood.
“We are in the middle of the Forest of Aregos. No one comes here,” Naiya’Nal whispered. “They think it is haunted by soldiers who die fighting to fulfill prophecy. People say they come to this place and will only be free when the final prophecy is fulfilled.”
“The dead are dead so I have no reason to fear them,” Belgrave replied, stepping past her.
“I have no fear of them either,” Naiya’Nal agreed, “but that is what legends say about this place.”
There were two stone pillars standing on either side of the stream where it flowed out of the clearing. Belgrave began to clear off the ancient moss on the pillar nearest him. It peeled off easily and he wiped away the dirt. The rock was smooth with something carved into it. “There is something written here,” he said. “It isn’t a language that I recognize.”
She walked over to where he stood and examined the pillar. “This language must be older than this world!” she exclaimed. “I believe this is the writing of the ancient Lunari, but I cannot be sure since I have never seen it before.” She held out her hand and curled her fingers as if she were holding an imaginary ball. After a brief flicker, a ball of flame appeared in her hand.
Belgrave was startled by Naiya’Nal’s unexpected ability, but reminded himself that magic was real.
“There may be more written on the other sides,” she said, beginning to burn away the rest of the moss on the pillar.
Sure enough, there was a translation on the other side of the pillar. “Nebulum,” Belgrave read. “The beginning to end, the end to begin.”
Naiya’Nal was astonished. “The history of this world must have started here,” she explained. “This has to be where the prophecies were written at the beginning of time!” She stepped across the stream and began to burn away the moss on the other pillar. Here was an opportunity for her to attempt learning a new language. She would memorize the markings and their meanings and figure them out later.
Belgrave entered the ancient clearing. His footsteps were quiet on the thick layer of moss, but he still moved slowly so that he did not disturb the arcane silence. He sat on one of the benches and looked into the pool. The sand in the bottom of the pool was a mixture of blue, green, white, and black. The blue and green sand did not move and stayed in a fixed pattern, but the white and black sand was continuously shifting on top of the blue and green sand, even against the current. Interestingly, the white and black sand seemed to be contesting for dominance in the pool. Belgrave watched the shifting sand and soon realized the sand was moving in a repeating pattern. He gasped as he suddenly figured out what it was. The blue and green sand was a map of the world. The white and black sand showed the spread of the darkness throughout the history of the world. He was fascinated as he watched and thought he could make out Tanarad on the map. However, he remained unsure of when the timeline showed his entrance into the world.
Belgrave reached down and touched the water. The sand quickly shifted to a specific point on the timeline and moved slower than before. The world was almost completely tinted by the black sand with only a few exceptions; the center of Tanarad and a few other small random places remained tinted with the white sand. The small patch of white sand in the center of Tanarad grew until it covered the entire land. The sand then paused, but a moment later the land directly north of Tanarad also turned from black to white. After another brief pause, the white speck in the southernmost of the three lands west of Tanarad spread throughout those three lands. Belgrave suddenly realized the black sand was creeping toward Tanarad from the south. Tanarad was soon covered by the black sand, and the other lands soon succumbed, with the final speck of white sand finally being subdued along the eastern coast of the land north of Tanarad. When the entire world was covered by the black sand, something happened in the claw-shaped land northwest of Tanarad and the white sand expanded outward in all directions to completely overcome the black sand.
Naiya’Nal walked over to Belgrave after she had finished memorizing the symbols on the pillars. “It is getting late,” she said. “We should be heading back.”
Belgrave looked up from the pool. The sky was turning red as the sun was setting. “What did the second pillar say?” he asked as he stood up.
“It was slightly different from the first. It did have the name of this world at the top like the first one, but then it said ‘A history known, a history unknown’. I am not sure what it means though, and some of the words in the language that I can’t read are very similar to each other, so the translations might not be exact.”
They left the clearing and returned to their horses. “Catch me if you can!” Naiya’Nal yelled. She quickly rode her horse away through the trees. Belgrave mounted his horse and took off after her. As they rode back toward Norl, Naiya’Nal managed to keep her lead no matter how hard Belgrave tried to pass her.
The sun had gone down by the time they neared the camp, but there were many torches providing light for the camp. Colonel Balvain must have been holding contests between the soldiers. Belgrave could see several soldiers wrestling, racing, and performing other feats of strength and stamina. There seemed to be several other events as well. As the soldiers noticed Belgrave and Naiya’Nal racing towards them on their horses, they stopped what they were doing and watched.
“You cannot beat me, Belgrave!” Naiya’Nal yelled. He pulled up next to her so the horses were neck to neck with neither able to pull ahead.
“King Belgrave!” Colonel Balvain cheered. The rest of the army followed his lead and began to cheer for their king.
“I know you aren’t going to let a woman beat you,” Belgrave muttered to Leukos, “especially not in front of everyone here.” The horse seemed to agree and put on an extra burst of speed.
The soldiers parted and Belgrave and Naiya’Nal rode for the gap. Both of them struggled for the lead, but neither was able to go faster than the other. They passed between the soldiers at the same time.
Colonel Balvain greeted them after they stopped and dismounted. “I have never seen a horse run so fast,” the Colonel remarked. “King Belgrave, you are a fine rider.”
“No, Leukos just knows how to carry me,” King Belgrave replied, patting his horse on the back. “I noticed that you were holding your own contests here.”
“We were just passing the time,” Colonel Balvain explained. “Watching the two of you race was more entertaining.”
Belgrave laughed and looked out over the soldiers. “Who thinks I won?” he asked. Many of the soldiers cheered. “Who thinks Naiya’Nal won?” Several other soldiers cheered. “Who thinks both of us won?” All the soldiers laughed since it was true. King Belgrave and Naiya’Nal had proved to be equals riding the horses.
“Have you all eaten?” King Belgrave asked the Colonel.
“We were waiting until either we finished the games or you returned, whichever came first” the Colonel replied. “However, there is food ready to be eaten.”
“Let’s show them how to make sandwiches,” King Belgrave suggested. He noticed the soldiers looking at him questioningly when he said the word sandwich. “Bring me a plate of food,” he ordered. The Colonel told one of the soldiers exactly what to bring and the soldier ran off to do so.
“I’m going to show you how to make something from my world. It’s called a sandwich,” King Belgrave announced. When the soldier returned with the plate of food, the others crowded around to see what he was doing. He sliced the bread. The meat was clumpier than before, so he cut it into thin strips and laid them across the bread. Then he put a slice of snoz on it and finished the sandwich with the second slice of bread. He held it up for everyone to see. “This is a sandwich!” he announced. “It’s easy to make and quick to eat.” He handed it to one of the soldiers and laughed as they passed it around for them all to see. “I think it’s time for us to eat now,” he suggested.
Later that night, Belgrave watched as Naiya’Nal wrote out the Lunari writing they had seen on the rock pillars. He was amazed at how fast she worked out what each segment of writing meant. “This is very different from our language,” she said. “It is written along a center line and the distance of the symbols from the line gives them all different meanings. I can guess the sounds for some of the symbols if ‘Nebulum’ is pronounced the same way in both languages, but that still leaves many more glyphs that I don’t know.”
“Do you always spend your time trying to learn things you don’t know?” Belgrave asked.
“Knowledge is always useful,” she said. “Learning is the same as planning ahead because you never know when you will need to use something you learned.”
She set aside her parchment and extinguished the candles. “It is getting late and we ride for Eema in the morning. You must get some rest.”