Saturday, June 9, 2018

Looking Southward and Backward, Part 15.

According to the Histories of All written by the chronicler and part-time eschatologist Yashka the Sage, the last of the pre-Haraalian chieftain-kings did not die well.

He had been a man by the name of Sperhel. By all accounts he was an entirely unremarkable king compared to his predecessors and fellows, never even earning a clingy, obnoxious title in life. He'd never displayed the hot-blooded valor or the particularly corpulent brand of tyranny which the old Ersuunian nobility had become famous and infamous for. But he had been possessed of a somewhat rare knack for self-preservation. More than once, he'd evaded a feast or diplomatic function which, in good Ersuunian fashion, ended in mass-poisonings or deaths by bludgeoning behind locked doors. He'd come out of it being regarded as somewhat of a coward, but he'd come out of it.

When at last the inevitable happened and his small patch of territory was well and properly conquered, Haraal was delighted to finally meet the enigmatic man. After his court was dissolved and his children carted off as royal hostages, Sperhel was paraded before the imperial camp, where he became privy to the creativity of the god-emperor firsthand.

Haraal took up one of the wide iron bands which was fastened to the heads of princelings during infancy, used to shape and manipulate the skull into an (apparently) attractive "crowned" shape over the first few years of life. Of course the band was very tight on Sperhel, being a fully grown adult. But that did not stop Haraal from tightening the band, bit by bit, one minor adjustment every day. The metal bit into Sperhel's skin, then his flesh, and then ground against his skull by the end of the second week. It was a month before the fragments of his ruined skull finally pierced the correct part of his brain deeply enough to trigger a fatal seizure.

I cannot help but empathize with Sperhel in his final hours, as I sit here nurturing my own splitting headache.

Apparently Elrusyo succeeded in getting me to drink heavily last night. For the first time in my temporarily damaged memory, I am hungover. My mouth is dry and my tongue feels like a wad of wool. My eyes are like poached eggs, moving any of my extremities any faster than a snail's crawl results in severe tremors, and moving the rest of my body upsets my stomach to the point that I fear I will vomit up an entire cask of Wocgtheo's Darkest. But I still have my wits about me, somewhere deep in this fevered head of mine.

Enough to recognize that something is wrong.

Everything seemed ordinary enough within our hall of caravansary rooms- I assumed the workers were being brusque because they'd already been up for several hours dealing with other drunken fools. But when I was able to leave and enter the courtyard, I found that there was a palpable aura of quiet and disquiet. Centered on me.

The bartering and arguing merchants and gamblers seated at their tables or standing in their temporary stalls all seem to pause a moment to glare my way, and I swear that one of those explorers from the Khesh river region was sharpening his knife very deliberately while staring at me. I have tried asking my associates if they know what happened, but they're noncommittal in their responses, and are skittish around me- possibly just because I have a higher chance of having something thrown at me than they do, but something about the whole scenario makes me feel like I insulted the wrong person's mother, or spoke a boogeyman's name into a mirror a few too many times. Hraela seems especially distant.

Not even Elrusyo can answer this, despite his assuredly having been next to my dumb, drunken self last night. He says that while he doesn't personally know, he's very confident that I will piece things together for myself before too long. He also says that we should prepare to leave quickly this morning, before more of our handlers decide to abandon us or the locals are struck by the sudden fancy to string a rope up over the front gate.

I won't mind a change of scenery, of course. Even if it means several nights without the comforts of civilization, every mile of progress puts us one step closer to the miniaturized splendors of Porylus.

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