Tothelea: Chapter 27

They stepped through the gates to see Wesso, rising up the harbor's slope.
Wavy red-tile roofs, buildings structured and decorated in ways Trevor had
never seen.  Most were small, but seated high up on the slope were two
enormous structures, themselves surrounded by walls.  Palaces or something
like that, he reckoned.

There were men and horses alike, pulling carts and wagons down the streets.
People dressed very differently than they were.  Trevor hadn't really noticed
it on the dock side of the wall, but the people here dressed differently, very
differently, than in Hardal.  Their travel clothes would stand out, marking
them as exactly what they felt like--foreigners.  Trevor sighed.  Another thing
to take care of, he thought, if we get the chance.

And, all around them, a babble of language that neither he nor Harmony could
make heads or tails of.

"What do we do now?" Trevor wondered out loud.

"I don't know," said Harmony.  "You're supposed to be taking care of me,

Trevor chuckled.  He was getting used to this wiser, more aware Harmony.  She
was different than before, but he found that he liked the differences.
Before, she had seemed mostly helpless to him, someone for whom he did, as she
had quipped, have to look out for.  But now, it was easier to talk with her,
to discuss things with her.  It was like she had grown up several years in the
short time since leaving the Fair folks' valley.  They were partners now,
equals, in confronting this situation.  And, as an equal, Trevor had no qualms
about joking back to her.

"Hey now.  Which one of us is the goddess here?"

"Trevor, shhh!  Don't say that!" she reprimanded.  "not even in jest."

"Sorry, you're right," he said.  And she was, it was too risky to chance that
someone might overhear.  "Still, we need horses, and food.  Local clothes
would be nice, too.  I wish we had a guide.  Someone to translate for us."

"I wish Beleden were here."

"Me too.  Still, there has to be someone around here who can help.  We can't
be the only Hardalans who have never been here before."

"Let's ask the next people who come through the gate," Harmony suggested.  It
was a good idea, so they waited there by the wall.  It was not long before the
clerk in the Declarations office finished with the next people and the gate
opened again.  Two men stepped through, dressed in Hardalan fashion.

"Excuse me," Trevor said.  "We've never been to Tithora before and we're
wondering if you could help us."

The two men looked at each other, then glanced Trevor and Harmony up and down.
"I'm sorry, boy," said one of the men, "We haven't the time, I'm afraid."

"Wait," Trevor said, following them as they walked.  "we don't need anything.
Just if you could tell us where we might find a local guide."

"Oh.  Is that all," the other fellow said.  "There's a building on this side
of the wall, down that way a bit," he pointed westward along the wall, "at
about dock where sixteen or seventeen is.  You're a bit early this morning,
but there will probably be someone there."

"Thank you, sir," Trevor said.  "Thanks very much!"  The two men turned
eastward to go about their business.

"Wait," the man called back when they were a few yards apart.  Trevor and
Harmony paused, and turned to listen.  "Whoever you find, be sure you ask to
see his chop.  Just about every job in Tithora, you have to pay a fee to the
Emperor to have it.  Your chop is how you prove you're legitimate.  Don't
trust anyone who doesn't have a chop."

"Okay," Trevor said, having no idea what a chop was.  "Thanks!"

They walked along the wall, looking for the guides' building.  "You have any
idea what he was talking about?" he asked Harmony.

"Not really.  It must be some sort of badge of office, though."

A few minutes' walk brought them to the guides' building.  It was several
times larger than the declarations office had been, and was labeled "Official
Guides for Foreigners," in the only Hardalan writing they had yet seen.  They
knocked at the door, and were promptly ushered in.  A young man, probably not
much older than Trevor, greeted them.

"We need a guide," Trevor said.

"Show passport, please?" The man said.  Trevor handed his red booklet to the
man, who looked through it briefly.

"You need guide for travel east?" he asked, returning Trevor's passport.
"Three Yan per week."

"No," explained Trevor, "we only need a guide here in Wesso."

"Guide for day, four Sen."

"How much is that in Hardalan money?"

The man shrugged.  "I take you to money changer first."

Trevor turned to Harmony, who nodded an affirmative.

"All right, good," Trevor said.  "May I see your chop?"

The man reached inside his shirt, and withdrew an ivory rod on a leather
necklace.  He took off the necklace, and held the ivory out for Trevor to see.
The surface of it was carved with an intricate design of lines.  Carved into
the end was a stamp of some type, and a small stump of ivory sticking out to
the side that tapered to a point.  The end was dark with ink stains.

"You want stamp?" the man asked.

"Yes, please," Trevor said.  The man nodded curtly, and took a stone disc from
a pocket.  He gave the disc a half twist, and took it apart.  Inside was a
cake of something black.  The man rubbed the end of his chop on the black
stuff, and asked for Trevor's passport again.  He turned to a page in the
back, and made an impression.  He rubbed the pointed stump in the black stuff,
then used it to write some brief symbols next to the impression.

He put everything away, then said "We go now.  Follow me."

He led them away from the docks, to Trevor's great relief, and down a maze of
streets.  Again, as in Merlon, if the city hadn't been built on a hillside
next to water, he would soon have lost all sense of direction.  As it was, he
figured he could find his way back to the docks, if he had to, but that was
about all.  At last, they reached a small shop with more of the rare Hardalan
writing above its door, reading simply, "Money Changer."  The Tithoran writing
above that, presumably, said the same thing.

"I wait here," said their guide.  Trevor and Harmony went inside.  In short
order, and after the money changer's fee, their remaining coins and gemstones,
some three hundred eighty five Hardalan gold pieces worth, had been converted
to one hundred twelve yan, ten sen, and twenty erir.  The yan were small gold
coins, rectangular, with the emperor's portrait stamped on one side and a
picture of the sun on the other.  There was some writing as well, which of
course, Trevor couldn't read.  The sen were silver coins, with different
people's portraits on them, again the sun and some writing.  The Erir were
small copper coins, with only the sun and some writing.  Trevor held back four
of the sen and put the rest into his purse, which he tucked safely away.  They
left, and Trevor gave their guide his fee.

"Now where you go?" he asked.

"We need clothes, we need horses.  Food for traveling.  And a map."

The guide nodded, and thought for a moment.  "I take you to," he searched for
a word, but apparently couldn't find it, "I take you get clothes, then food,
then horses.  Is longer to walk, but easier to get horses last."

Trevor motioned for him to lead onward, and off they went.  Their guide soon
warmed to his clients, and both Trevor and Harmony found him to be easy to get
along with.  The guide, whose name was Mati, pointed out interesting sights to
them as they walked and generally made the day pleasant and less intimidating
for them, as they walked over what felt like half the city in pursuit of their
errands.  The walking also gave Trevor a chance to read the square of
parchment that he had been given an the declarations office.

The document began with the title "Foreigners' Guide to the Laws and
Punishments of the Empire of Tithora," which, as Trevor soon discovered, set
the tone for much of what was contained therein.  There was a lengthy section
on offenses punishable by death--in fact, the document seemed to be organized
by categories of punishment--containing prohibitions on everything from murder
to failing to protecto the Emperor.  Then, offenses punishable by torture,
amputation, fine, or imprisonment such as accidental murder, tax evasion, or
failure when in the presence of the Emperor to keep your head lower than his.
And finally, mere lesser crimes punishable by fine, pillory, or imprisonment
such as petty larceny, littering, public drunkenness, and failing to fast
before any official festival day.

Between the laws and their guide's colorful commentary, piece by piece they
got a sense for what life in Wesso, and presumably much of Tithora, was like.
On the whole, Trevor was glad to live in Hardal.  There was nothing wrong with
any of it, exactly, but the whole of it gave Trevor the sense that in Tithora,
one constantly had to take particular care about one's actions.

Late in the day, and another thirty seven yan later, they were had what they
needed.  There was nothing left, except possibly the lateness of the hour, to
keep them in Wesso.  Neither Trevor nor Harmony were particularly eager to
attempt riding their horses with darkness approaching.

"Mati," Trevor asked, "We need an inn for the night."

"Yes.  Good inn, not far away.  Come."

He took them down yet another street through the evening light.  Trevor and
Harmony talked quietly as they led the horses by their bridles.

"What do you think about taking him with us on the trip?" Trevor asked.  "We
can afford it.  At least for a while."

"I don't know.  Do you think we need him along?"

"Well I'm sure you can find your way there, like you said.  But he might know
the way.  Or know someone who does.  If having a guide will help us get their
faster, then it's probably worth the money."

Harmony considered.  "Let's see if he knows the way, anyhow."

When Mati had led them to an inn that had stables in the back, Trevor said
"Thank you for all your help today, Mati."

Mati nodded.  "You need guide tomorrow?"

"We might.  We're riding east tomorrow," Trevor puzzled over his new map of
Tithora--finding one that was marked in Hardalan had cost a surprising amount
of both time and money--for a moment.  "Do you know the way to Nop province?"

"Nop, yes.  Is very far.  I go there, two years ago."

"Would you be our guide on the journey?"

"Yes.  Long trip, good money.  Three yan per week."

"All right," Trevor said.  "Meet us here tomorrow morning.  We want to leave

Mati nodded his understanding, and bade them goodnight.  They stabled the
horses and, with only a moderate amount of difficulty, communicated to the
innkeeper that they wanted a meal and a room.  The room, at least, felt
familiar after a long day of unfamiliar sights and places.

"An inn is an inn, wherever you go," Trevor remarked as they retired for the

"The beds are bigger here, though.  Wider."

"Too bad there aren't two of them," Trevor observed, as he began to roll out
his blankets on the floor.

"This one is big enough.  We can share it, if you want."

Trevor came up short.  He hadn't expected her to offer to share the bed.
"No," he said, after a lengthy pause.  The thought of sleeping in a full-sized
bed, after days in their tiny bunks on the ship and the previous night under
the dock was appealing, but...  The memory of that first, cold night outside
of White Sands, with no blankets to cover them, came back to him.  That was
one thing, but this... No.  "That's sweet of you to offer, Harmony, but I
couldn't.  I wouldn't feel right about it."

She looked confused.  For all her newfound wisdom and maturity, there were
obviously still things she just didn't understand, not intuitively, about how
ordinary people were.

"It's just that--" he started to explain, but then she got it.  Her eyes went
wide as her hand darted up to her mouth.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Trevor!" she exclaimed.  She was blushing now.  "I'm sorry.  I
didn't mean to make you feel ill at ease.  I just meant that--"

"I know, Harmony.  It's all right."

"You take the bed, then," she offered.  "You always let me take the bed.  Let
me sleep on the floor for once."

"No, really.  That's all right.  I wouldn't be able to sleep well, knowing you
were down on the floor."

"We should have gotten two rooms."  He had never heard her sound like this.
Such remorse in her voice, over something so small.

"No!" he insisted.  We have to stay together.  I'm supposed to be the one
looking out for you, remember?  Besides, forget about not sleeping well; I
wouldn't sleep at all if I knew I wasn't right by you in case something
happened."  He didn't need to say what the something--or someone--might be.
"Really, Harmony.  It's all right.  I prefer it this way, honestly."

She still looked sad, sorry about the whole situation, but she let it go.
"All right, Trevor."

They both lay awake, saying nothing, for a long time before sleep came.

They woke, still tired.  After fussing with their new Tithoran clothes, which
went on somewhat differently than what they were accustomed to, they went to
eat with the inn's other guests in the common room.  He felt better already;
fewer people stared at them in these clothes.  He began to have some vague
inkling as to Harmony's own gift for remaining unnoticed, and what that must
feel like.

The inkeeper brought them food.  Trevor wasn't entirely sure what it was they
were eating.  It was soft, like a porridge, but clearly wasn't porridge.  It
tasted all right, though.

"What is this stuff, I wonder?" he said as they ate.

Between bites, Harmony had the answer.  "Don't know what they call it," she
said, "but it's made from a kind of bean.  Can't you tell?"

Beans?  He never would have guessed.  But, if it had come from any kind of
growing thing, he was sure she was right.  They finished the meal, and fetched
their horses.  Mati came up the street, riding a brown mare of his own.  He
had a pack on his back, and two bulging saddlebags attached to his saddle.

"You are ready?" he asked, when he was close enough not to have to shout.

"Yes, we are.  Only, I should tell you, neither one of us is an expert rider."

"I've never ridden before," Harmony added.

Mati nodded, shaking his head slightly at this unexpected news.  "All right.
We go slow at first.  You be careful.  If your horse run wild, constable
charge you big fine."

Right.  Trevor remembered something about that from that parchment.  He pulled
it out of his pocket to check.  Yes, "improper control of horses and drawn
vehicles," punishable by fine, pillory, or imprisonment.

"Can we use a rope?" he asked.  "You go first, have your horse lead ours?  Go
slow until we are out of the city?"

"Yes.  Good idea," said Mati.  "You have rope?"

Trevor dug through his pack for the rope, and soon they were underway: Mati,
followed by Harmony, with Trevor bringing up the rear.  Mati took it slow at
first, the horses simply walking.  He talked while they went.  "We go up the
hill, to...  What is word for big road?"

Trevor thought about it.  The Trade Road was the biggest road in Hardal, and
it was just called a road.  "I don't think there is one.  Just 'road' I

"Ah.  Tithoran have three words for road.  Small road, like here inside

"We call those 'streets.'"

"Next bigger, like from one town to the next.  Then, biggest kind, go long
way, all the way to Nop province.  We go on Dragon Road.  It go through the
Dragon's Teeth.  The moutains."

Trevor consulted his map as they went.  Yes, there it was.  He went over the
route in his mind.  We'll go northeast for a while, then turn east.  East to
the gap in the mountains--must be the same gap Harmony mentioned before--then
north through them, and east to Nop.  He wished he had some sense for how far
distances were on this map, but the map's only indication of size was a line
labeled "10 Hase".

"Mati, how far is one Hase?"  He hoped he was pronouncing it at least vaguely

"It is how far soldier can march in one day.  Long ways."

Well, that helped some, but still didn't give Trevor a particularly clear
sense.  Except, he measured it out as best he could with his thumb, there were
at least five of those "10 Hase" lines between them and Nop, along the Dragon
Road.  Still, it was obviously the shortest way, so no use complaining.

Mati narrated their ride out of Wesso, pointing out the Emperor's palace, the
army headquarters, the Gaan river--the biggest river in Gaan province,
according to Mati--and many other noteworthy spots.  When the reached the
Dragon Road, Mati clicked to his horse, and they sped up a bit.  Trevor and
Harmony had made a point to ask for gentle horses when they had selected
these, for which Trevor was glad.  These animals were quite happy to be led by
Mati's mare.

For the first several days, they traveled through farming country.  Villages
and small towns dotted the Dragon Road, and they passed many wagons, laden
with late summer harvests, headed for Wesso.  The first day was easy enough,
with the horses being led in a line.  Trevor and Harmony had little to do but
learn how to sit in their saddles and move with the animals' gait.

The second day was the hardest, as they were both sore.  It was worse, Trevor
decided, than the change from flat land to mountains had been, back in Hardal.
His legs were sore, his back was sore, his bottom hurt.  Even his arms were
tired.  Harmony didn't seem to have fared any better, and made surprisingly
unladylike noises when Trevor helped her mount her horse.

Mati gave them some pointers on how to steer their horses, how to speed up a
little, and slow down.  After lunch that day, they decided to remove the lead
rope, and ride on their own.  But they still went slowly.  It took the better
part of a week for their muscles to become accustomed to riding, and for them
to grow confident in controlling their horses.  Still, Trevor hoped they
wouldn't be called upon to gallop or ride through any difficult terrain.  At
least, not any time soon.

Mati did most of the talking, as seemed to be his nature.  He told them many
things about Tithora about the provincial lords, and about the Emperor, Gu Ji.
Emperor Ji who was in the forty-second year of his reign, and who was
generally regarded as a decent ruler on matters of state, but equally
possessed of a hot temperament, quick to judge.

"Have you ever seen him?" Harmony asked.

"Me?  No," said Mati.  "I am a peasant.  If I came before Emperor Ji, very bad
for me."

Mati went on to explain that despite their allegiance to the Emperor, the
provincial lords often bickered and made little wars against each other.  "The
lords of Ovez and Kul have been at war for many years over the disputed lands.
My older brother is in the army for the Lord of Kul.  He says it will never
end.  They have been fighting for so long, nobody can see how it will ever

Mati seemed to grow melancholy at this bit of Tithoran life, so Trevor changed
the subject.  "Tell us about Nop province.  What was it like when you were

"Nop is smallest province.  Very poor.  Nothing come from there except nakoa.
When I go there before, I guide traders from Hardal.  They go there for

"What's that?"

"It's a kind of tree," Harmony said.  "It grows very slowly, and the wood is
very hard.  But it is very beautiful.  The Aravolir's scepters are made from
branches off the first nakoa tree.  They are lovely things, red with bright
grain like streaks of gold in it."

Mati turned to regard Harmony.

"She knows everything there is to know about the Aran," Trevor said, quickly.

"You are holy woman?" Mati asked, his eyes wide.

Trevor tensed.  Say yes, Harmony, please, just say yes!

"I am, she said."  Trevor sighed inwardly.  "Although I think Trevor gives me
too much credit," she added.

"I am sorry," Mati said.  "I did not know."

"Don't be sorry, please.  There is much I have yet to accomplish before anyone
should regard me so highly" Harmony said.  "Please continue.  You were telling
us about Nop."

Mati returned to his monologue, although slightly less casually than before.
"Lord of Nop hold auction every year.  Sell ten trees to highest bidder."

"Only ten trees," Trevor interrupted.  That didn't sound like very much.  "Are
they very big?"

"No, not large.  Three, maybe four times the height of a man.  Trunk about so
large," he held his hands apart, perhaps a foot and a half.  "Used to be many
trees, long time ago.  Now almost all gone.  Lord of Nop says only ten trees,
every year.  He has special men to pick the trees.  Anyone else take a nakoa
tree, it is death for them."

Trevor shuddered slightly, the phrase reminding him of
Weilin's--Aramathokoa's--threats back in White Sands.

"Two years ago, I go to Nop as guide.  But, we only go to Persa.  Persa is
city of Nop.  Only city.  Nop has towns and villages, but only one city.  Big
road like this, like Dragon Road, go to Persa.  But only small road after

Trevor consulted his map again.  There was Persa, about half way along the
length of Nop.  Indeed, as indicated on the map, the road stopped at Persa.
As Mati described it, Nop sounded a lot like the south of Larad.  Small, out
of the way, not a lot of people.  Trevor wondered if it would feel as familiar
as it sounded.

More days passed and the mountains, the Dragon's Teeth, came into view.  The
mountains looked a lot like the Spine Mountains had.  Tall, snow-capped,
rising above the surrounding lands.  These, however, looked to be much more
forested around the base than the Spine had, judging from the band of dark
green Trevor could see in the distance.

When they reached the trees, Mati said "This is most dangerous part.  The gap
between the Teeth is where outlaws wait.  Mostly, I think, they wait for
wagons to come.  Maybe they leave us alone.  But maybe not.  We must watch

As they traveled into the heart of the gap, Trevor could see why any ruffians
would choose this place to wait.  The mountains rose high and steep on either
side, and the forest was very thick here.  It would be difficult, if not
impossible to run from an attack.

Trevor guided his horse alongside Harmony's.  "If anyone does try to attack
us," he said, "I want you to get off your horse and vanish into the trees
while Mati and I fight them off.  You understand?"

"But I might be able to help!" she argued.

"No," Trevor insisted.  "I mean, yes, you might, but if we are attacked, the
most important thing is for you to get away safely.  Please, Harmony, promise
me that if we're attacked, you'll hide until the fighting is over."  He didn't
need to add instructions for what she should do if the outlaws were
victorious.  She'd be on her own, then.

Mati's warning proved prophetic.  They were two weeks out from Wesso, deep in
the forest between the two halves of the mountain range.  A trio of rough
looking men armed with swords stepped out from the trees to block the road.
Trevor looked hastily around, to see if there were more behind them, but if
so, they weren't apparent.

"Harmony, go!" Trevor ordered, as he and Mati quickly dismounted.  Trevor drew
his staff from its holster, a set of leather loops he had arranged on his
saddle, as Mati stepped out in front of their horses.  Trevor looked to
Harmony, but she had vanished.  He quickly joined Mati, who was talking
heatedly with the three men.  Trevor had only picked up a few words of
Tithoran, nothing near enough to let him understand what was going on.  Still,
Mati's tone indicated that he was probably trying to convince the brigands
that they had nothing of value.  Which, except for Trevor's money, was true.

Between volleys of words, Mati whispered "Get ready."  Trevor took a stance
with his staff.  It was longer, and far heavier, than their swords.  He had
made sure to practice what he had learned as much as possible since they had
left the valley.  Now he would see if it amounted to anything.

The three men charged, raising their swords.  Mati's hand flashed into his
sleeve, and one of the men fell to the road, clutching at a knife now embedded
in his throat.  The other two came at them, one-on-one.  Mati retreated a few
quick steps back, and Trevor could no longer see him.  He braced himself for
his own fight.  Trevor felt his mind move to an increasingly familiar place.
A place where motion was everything, emotion nothing.  He would do what he had
to do.

His attacker came at him with an obvious slash that was easy to parry.  The
sword clanged loudly off Trevor's iron staff as Trevor deflected the blow and
stepped aside to let the man's momentum carry him past.  The man pivoted
quickly to face Trevor again.  The look on his face told Trevor he hadn't been
expecting the staff to be made of metal.  He had probably expected to cleave
right through it with his blow, killing Trevor quickly.  In the dappled light
of the forest, his mistake was understandable.

The man circled Trevor warily, deciding how to proceed.  They both knew,
obviously, another slash wouldn't work.  He'll probably try a thrust next,
Trevor thought, making plans of his own.  The man came at him again, the point
of his sword dropping to stomach level as he came.  Yes, a thrust.  Harder to
block, but Trevor had no intention of trying.  He put his own weapon into
motion, using the weight of the staff to push himself back a step as he slid
his hands down to one end of it.

Now the man had farther to go to reach Trevor.  The iron staff bore down on
him like a cudgel.  Trevor's swing caught the shoulder of the man's off-hand.
As it had before, Trevor's staff transmitted the meaty slap and crack of bone
to his hands.  The man went down, his sword flying free of his hand to clatter
in the dirt.  He lay on the ground, his teeth clenched in agony, clutching at
his shoulder with his sword hand.

Trevor kicked the sword away and ran to help Mati.  He found the guide
kneeling over the third man's body.  Mati pulled a knife from between the
man's ribs, and with a quick slash to the neck, made sure he was dead.
Emotion returned.  Mati looked up in time to see Trevor running to the side of
the road to vomit.

Harmony came to him, moments later, as he crawled away from the stinking
puddle he had made.  She offered him comfort, although there were tears in her
own eyes.  She said nothing--there was nothing to say--but only held him for a
while.  Trevor squeezed his eyes shut tight against the vision of Mati
executing the third man.  He knew it had been necessary, but still, it was
so... final.  It left him cold.  I hope I never have to do anything like that
again, Trevor thought.

When he and Harmony returned to the horses, he found his own assailant's
throat also cut, and Mati dragging the bodies off to the side of the road.
Trevor could only watch, dumbly.  When the three men lay in a heap, Mati
returned, extending a handful of coins.  "They have some money.  Half for
you," he said.

"No," Trevor said, "I... You keep it."  He wanted no profit from the
encounter.  Nothing that could be considered a bright side to it.  Mati
shrugged, not about to refuse the money, pocketing the coins.

"Mati, you're hurt!" Harmony gasped.

She reached for his arm.  There was a slash in the sleeve, blood forming a
large red patch on the cloth.

"It is not deep," he said.  "I will be fine."

"Let me tend to it," she insisted.  "Trevor, cut some bandages from our
Hardalan clothes," she ordered, then ran quickly to the woods.  Trevor did as
he was told, and soon Harmony returned with a handful of fuzzy, dusty-green
leaves.  She bruised the leaves, packed them into Mati's wound, and bound it
tightly.  Mati winced, but bore it well.

It was over.  The adrenaline in Trevor's blood left him shaking and exhausted.
"Let's get out of here," he said.