Chapter 41: A Busy and Fruitful Winter
Underneath the snow,
Hidden deep within the earth,
Seeds prepare for spring.
~ Miyara Miwa
For a week, we rested, helped clean up the mess, repaired what we could, and discussed our plans. Kara Osohara is our next destination. The White Faerie's instructions from the pillar in the shrine in the mountains told him:
Kara Osohara has lost its way.
Help them find their way again.
If you do you, will know what to do.
Vague, as most prophecies are, notwithstanding the Blue Faerie's, who was remarkably clear and complete with his.
The White Faerie told us that the faeries once had a great empire of underground mines and cities, all up and down the World's End Mountains. For many reasons, their empire is no more, and there are very few faerie cities, and only one major one, which is now only a shadow of its former self. Most faeries have moved to the relatively safer mountains in this area. He said Kara is a common beginning for faerie city names.
The faeries like to discover and return to various old faerie holds, and they have many legends of lost treasure. He has not specifically heard of Kara Osohara, but has no reason to believe it does not exist. In fact, Ravena suggested that we request a monk to look for a map to the place in their library, and they did indeed find one. They brought us a copy, and Ravena made her own copy, improving upon it.
It proved too far away to reach before winter will arrive. Already the air is crisp and cool. We discussed, at long lengths as usual, where to spend the winter. Everyone had his own opinion. We had four options:
- Spend the winter right here at Iri
- Spend the winter at the Druidess' forest temple in the Yetsin Valley
- Travel through the Yetsin Valley to Morituhomu, where the group owns a house
- Travel back to Karusa Hoven and stay at the Red Bull, which we now own
The fourth option was quickly dismissed: although we would have no worries over supplies, since the village sits on the river, none of us wished to return to that village so quickly. We were also certain that the village probably did not wish to see us so soon, either.
Ravena, the White Faerie, and Caramela argued in favor of Morituhomu. It is a large town, and has much to offer it. Ashe, however, seemed very uncomfortable with the idea of staying in so large a town. I was certain he would likely end up staying by himself in the forest instead. Kyosuke, my shy cousin, also preferred to stay away from large towns. Finally, although we do have a home there, we would still have the expense of living; buying food and whatnot. Again, they were not certain of their welcome back into the town. As the wise woman in the village said, we bring chaos with us wherever we go.
No one said anything out loud, but from the uneasy looks at Caramela, I believe there is some concern that she would cause problems in a town or village. The Crystal of Fire obviously has a hold on her, and I have gathered from stories of their prior travels that she tends to set things on fire. By doing so, she puts herself in danger from the witch hunters, and us as well, as her companions.
The monks were very welcoming. In the end, we decided to spend the winter at Iri. We had no more business with the Druidess, and we could be of some help with the repairs to the monastery. Also, we will have the library at our disposal.
The Flagmaster was very busy sending out notes to faeries and various suppliers. Faeries began arriving at the end of the week to begin the rebuilding. Barges from Tai Lia also began arriving into Karusa Hoven, and supplies were carted up to Iri to replace those which had been destroyed. Scar recruited a few new guards. Although the time of danger the Blue Faerie spoke of is now gone, it would not do to have the monastery completely unguarded: this is a dangerous area even without armies of orcs.
We were very busy over the winter. I and the other warriors drilled ceaselessly, honing our skills. In fact, I was finally able to master the true Windmill style, despite my faulty vision. At last, I am a true Miyara Samurai.
I still have much to learn and perfect, however, as I will forever have to work around my missing eye. I cannot correctly judged either distance or speed. My blind left side also leaves me vulnerable to attack on that side, and I must at times strike blindly with the wakizashi.
Since I met with Kyosuke only a few short weeks ago, I have not had time to truly talk with him, and figure out what to do about his inability to communicate with anyone but me, or Hosei when he casts a spell. I again offered to teach him to speak at least a little of the barbarian tongue, but he firmly declined again, saying he already bears too much dishonor. With that, I cannot argue: if he feels so, so be it. However, several members of my force wished to learn Nipponese, so the problem was finally solved.
Over the winter, I taught Sun, the White Faerie, Ravena, Hosei, and one of the Iri monks our language. Their accents range from heavy to atrocious, but at last Kyosuke can now take part in discussions much more easily. When I had taught them enough to begin to piece together sentences, they began practicing with Kyosuke, and I immediately saw the difference in how they treat him. He is no longer invisible; he is no longer merely my shadow; he is part of this group in his own right now. At long last, he has a name among them, although poorly pronounced. I enjoyed teaching them more than I thought I would.
The White Faerie also had two visions during our months in Iri. He saw again the vision of the statue in the alcove. He now believes it is located at Kara Osohara. He had the vision at the shrine earlier, because the instructions he received at the pillar within will lead us to it. Again, I marvel at the intricate workings of Fate. Only by leading these people to find and gather the four crystals will I be able to complete my own quest, which is merely the completion of Godanji's quest. Likewise, his quest, become my quest, is what led me to these people so that we can gather the crystals. It is very like a spider's web.
His second vision he saw in early spring, as we began readying ourselves for the journey. He saw Shan pouring out the liquefied crystal in his magic box, intentionally. It appeared as though he were pouring it into something, like a shallow bowl perhaps, as it spread out widely. It was burning, as it does when it liquefies. As the fiery liquid spread, it continued to flame. We are uncertain of what this signifies. Perhaps it was sent only to tell us that Shan had discovered (or will discover) what he should do with the box.
I have been very busy since the bandits attacked our force, and at last I had some time to reflect on what is expected of me. Godanji spoke very little of the statue, but I know there was more to what he must do than merely recover it. That part, as strange as it may seem, is the easy part of his quest. But I remember one dark night, as we both sat by the banked fire, unable to sleep, that he spoke of the statue. He mentioned some deeper, more complicated cost involved once it is retrieved. He seemed to feel some guilt about that cost, and I wonder what it will be. He never mentioned it again, and he was killed shortly after.
I managed to stitch my wardrobe back together into some semblance of clothing. Mostly I will have to wear western clothes, but I do have a couple of proper outfits should I need to speak with nobility in the future. I sorely miss my armor, though. Western armor simply isn't as good. Leather is fine for light weight and flexibility, but it does little to turn aside a good blade or an arrow. Their metal armor is very heavy, unlike my lost bamboo armor, which turned aside blades and yet was still lightweight.
Sun is becoming an excellent servant. He has learned to cook, he follows the intent in my requests rather than just the words, and he was most diligent in learning my language. He is always there when I need him, yet he does not hover or get in my way.
At last, spring arrived, and the inevitable argument began. Shall we take the long-by-distance-but-shorter-by-time route by way of barges along the rivers? Or shall we proceed on foot along the foothills of the mountain range -- a much shorter distance, but time-consuming as we must walk? There were pros and cons to each direction, but in the end we decided to keep ourselves away from large masses of people and walk through the wilderness.
I am eager to arrive at Kara Osohara, and was in favor of taking the rivers. But I listened to the counsels of the others, and I reluctantly agreed that the other way is better for the group as a whole. Living off the land will not be difficult with Kyosuke's and Ashe's skills, and I must admit that walking out in the open will certainly be more comfortable than huddling in boats with barbarians. Most important, though, this route ensures that we keep the Crystals away from people. With the whole winter to observe Caramela, I see that we must keep a close watch on her. She is very much under its influence. After hearing how they wrested the Crystal of Fire from the very hand of an orc who had sought to make himself a god with its power, I fear for her and Ravena, whoever the bearers of the other stones will be, and all of us. I sincerely hope neither Kyosuke nor I will be called to carry one.
I fear a bit less for Ravena: she regards the Crystal with deep suspicion and distaste, and I believe she will only use it when absolutely necessary. The question will be with how the Crystal can influence her view of necessary events. I now understand why she argued in favor of wintering in Morituhomu. I believe she desperately wishes to speak with someone of her order about the thing and her role as its bearer. I hope that we pass one of her monasteries in our travels.
In honor of the Blue Faerie, I am hiding many small origami figures throughout the monastery. In the coming months, I hope the monks enjoy finding them. I also folded a few more umbrellas for Hosei.
With many well-wishes from the monks, we walked down to the new gate at the base of the mountain. Some preferred to avoid the bridge. Having spent an entire winter at the top of the mountain, our lungs were now accustomed to the thin air, and the walk on the path around and down the mountain was an easy one. Indeed, now the air below feels needlessly thick, as always after spending time high in the mountains. Spring is more advanced here, and the air is warm and full of the scents of new growth and flowers. I miss the cherry blossoms, for which my sister was named, back home.
Where the path meets the main road through Wintersteeth Pass, we met Shan, accompanied by a young man, perhaps a little older than Sun. Surprised, we each greeted Shan, who then introduced us to his guide simply by hearing our voices. He did not know Hosei, of course, so he introduced himself.
Shan's companion is named Baku. He is a couple inches short of 6 feet tall and is rather thin, having not quite grown into his height yet. He wears leather clothes that are much patched together, with a hood laced up under his chin. He has a very heavy beard of curly reddish brown hair, which grows high up on his cheeks, almost like a faerie. He uses a crude spear as a staff and has several oddly shaped sticks hanging from his belt. Even in this warm weather, he wears gloves and long sleeves. Everything he carries appears to be made by his own hands, except for the knife he wears.
We quickly caught up with news. Shan was saddened to hear of Jeisan's death, but looks forward to hearing the whole story so he can write a song of his heroic death. He said he felt that he must travel with us to learn the true use of the box he carries, and the Druidess asked Baku to travel with Shan. So it seems that Shan will be traveling with us again.
We will walk to Karusa Hoven, then follow the edge of the mountains. Ravena's map will keep us on the right track. Baku said he is also skilled at living off the land, so he will make some contribution. I took him aside this evening, and ensured he knew I expected him to continue aiding Shan. He agreed and said he would do so.