Jamana made his way to the outskirts of Tjenkidi. Haste would be his greatest ally now. If anyone were watching him, it would not take long for word to return to the palace telling of his movements. West, toward the coast, instead of east, toward his family’s estate.
What would be his best method of travel? He could find a ride on a barge moving down the river to Lake Litanu. Safe, but not very fast. Or he could go overland. Merchants and other travelers were always going back and forth to the capital city. Yet they would not be very fast, either.
He tried not to let Komadi’s words trouble him, but he could not erase them from his memory.
He looked up the road that circled around the southern side of the city. At its corner just within his view, it passed by the great temple to Theon. He watched as a trio of pilgrims entered the gates, and a pair of horses emerged, though it looked as though only one held a rider.
All his life, he had valued his identity as a devout follower of Theon. It had been a tough choice between entering the priesthood or becoming a mage, as he believed both to be chosen servants of the god. How different his life would have been had he chosen the priesthood. Instead of running in fear right now, he would be up there in the temple… also in fear. What could the priests of Theon be thinking about the old gods? Were they as frightened as Jamana, or was their faith unshakeable?
The horses appeared to be coming his direction, but soon disappeared in the crowded street.
Were these returned gods even real? Jamana had never given much thought at all to the gods his people had worshipped before coming to Antises. Why should he? Theon was the only god he needed. Wasn’t he?
Jamana looked back the way he had come, half expecting to see the tunaldi’s massive bulk racing down the street after him. He saw nothing but the usual crowds of city dwellers, all busy about their chosen tasks. Were they even aware of how Antises changed around them?
The Book of the Law said there were no gods above Theon. Yet didn’t that very statement imply there were gods below him? These beings held great power, power unlike the magic of Antises. Perhaps they truly were gods, of a sort. Regardless, if Komadi spoke true, then these gods stood in opposition to Theon, hoping to end his laws. That could not be.
Jamana straightened and shifted the bag on his shoulder. His task was clear. Yet still he hesitated.
“You look almost lost, young acolyte!”
The voice jolted him and he whirled, expecting Komadi or even one of the gods. Instead, two horses stood behind him. An elderly man with a scraggly beard sat atop one of them.
“Theon’s blessings on you this fine morning!” the rider said when Jamana did not answer right away. “Is there a way I can help you, acolyte?”
“Theon’s blessings to you, revered father.” Jamana found his voice. “I was… that is, I am looking for the best way to the coast.”
“Ah, the best way is always by horse,” the old man said. “Or camel, perhaps. But I don’t have a camel.” He glanced around. “I do seem to have two horses, however. And I am also traveling to the coast.”
“I can pay—” Jamana began.
“We’ll deal with that later. I’m itching to get moving right now. Climb on up here.” He leaned over and patted the other horse’s neck.
Jamana grinned. It felt like he hadn’t grinned in quite some time. It also felt right. He mounted the horse with a little difficulty, thanks to the awkward bag, then settled in.
“What is your name, young acolyte?”
“Jamana, sir. And yours?”
“Let’s ride!” The old man patted his horse on the flank and set off on the road west, toward the coast. Jamana hastened to catch up.
As they journeyed, Jamana found his traveling companion talkative, but only on certain subjects. He chattered at length about the condition of the temple and the priests therein.
“Are you a priest, sir?” Jamana asked.
The old man hesitated a long moment before answering. “Yes. Yes, I am.” That was the most personal information Jamana managed to get out of him for the entire first day of riding. Somehow, he never got around to even sharing his name.
He did press Jamana for his own personal information, however. He asked about Zes Sivas, and the Masters. He seemed to know quite a bit about how the island and its occupants lived and worked, far more than anyone Jamana had ever spoken with, aside from mages themselves.
From what he could tell, the old man was not Mandiatan. His skin appeared somewhat lighter, perhaps from Arazu or Kuktarma. But his accent did not sound like either of those. Jamana couldn’t place it at all, which he found very perplexing.
The sun traveled across the sky until it lay before them. With no clouds to shield it, Jamana had to squint against the brightness. It certainly made it easy to keep going the right direction.
“I presume you’re returning to Zes Sivas now,” the old man said. “Been visiting home?”
“Master Korda and I came to visit the new Lord,” Jamana answered. “It has been a difficult time.”
Jamana jerked in his saddle. “Are you a stranger to Antises itself? Surely you know of what has happened over the past few months!”
“I know many things. But I wish to hear your side of the story. Tell me, acolyte, of the fall of the Masters.”
Jamana shot a look at his companion. The fall of the Masters? That seemed an overly dramatic way of describing it. Not to mention most of the Masters still lived, as far as he knew.
But as he related the story of the shaking ground, the treachery of Volraag, and the deception of Curasir, he realized the Masters truly had fallen. Or perhaps a better word would be: failed. They failed to see through Curasir, failed to stop Volraag from murdering his own father and Lord Sundinka, and failed to find any solution at all to the earthquakes. Even worse, they failed in remembering their own history, something that still baffled Jamana to the core.
“History should be a guide to us,” the old man said. “It can warn us of failures that others have made, so that we may avoid them.”
Jamana blinked and looked around. He didn’t remember what he had been saying to prompt that response from his companion. And the sun would soon be out of sight. How had it gotten so late?
“This should be a good spot to camp for the night,” the old man observed. “Unless you’d like to push on through the darkness?”
“No, no. This should be fine.” Jamana’s stomach rumbled, complaining of its emptiness. He had eaten a few bites along the way, pieces of bread and cheese from his bag, but they did not stop for a midday meal. At the same time, he remembered the possibility of pursuit. He looked back the way they had come, seeing nothing.
The old man slid from his saddle. “I believe some rest will do us good. We can set out early in the morning.”
Jamana nodded and joined him in preparing a meager campsite. Between the two of them, they had little enough to eat, yet it seemed just the right amount. His stomach satisfied, Jamana idly reached out for magic, a practice he tried nightly before bed. Being still far from Zes Sivas, he expected to find little if anything.
“You might try over by that broken palm,” the old man said. “Wild magic often crops up where nature is damaged.”
Jamana got up and took three steps toward the palm before he realized the significance of his companion’s statements. He turned slowly on his heel to look down at the old man.
“Who are you? You said you were a priest, yet you know… how did you know I was looking for magic?” Jaman shivered, feeling cold sweep over him. He needed to know what this meant. Everything seemed to hinge on this man’s identity.
“Ah.” The old man sighed deeply. “I’ve said too much.” He started to get to his feet, then slumped back down. “I really miss that staff,” he muttered.
“What do you mean?” Jamana demanded. “Who are you?”
The old man leaned back and chuckled. “You are not ready for that answer. For now, just accept that I am a servant of Theon, and a friend to any other servant of Theon or lover of Antises.”
Jamana rarely let his temper grow, but this was one of those times. His hands shook and he clenched them into fists. “You… you expect me to… just accept that? I can’t trust you!” He grabbed for his bedroll, intending to gather everything up and leave.
“Stop it!” The old man’s voice vibrated with something Jamana didn’t recognize. Yet somehow, he felt obligated to obey. “Close your eyes. Reach out with your senses. What do you sense from me?”
Jamana opened himself up, and directed his senses toward the old man, just as Master Korda had taught him in those early days. At first, he felt nothing.
One moment, there was nothing. The next, it seemed like someone had opened a door to reveal hidden glory within. Magic erupted from the old man. Jamana staggered back at the overwhelming force of it, though none of it was directed at him. An instant later, it vanished. He felt a trickle coming from the direction of the broken palm, but nothing else.
Jamana sank to his knees. His temper had vanished, but he shook now from the impact of the moment.
“I’ve been around a while, Jamana,” the priest said in a soft voice. “And in that time, I’ve learned how to conceal many things.” He sighed and looked to the east. “Unfortunately, I just announced myself to any who might be watching.”
Ancient eyes peered into Jamana’s own in the darkening twilight. “Because it’s that important for you to trust me, acolyte. If Antises is to survive, if we are to stop these so-called gods, then so many of you must do your part. And I do not have the time to persuade you all, one by one. Will you trust me?”
Jamana’s mind whirled with the implications. Priest and mage. How could it be? And the power. Surely it was on a level equal with the Lords. Or even greater. Power alone did not require trust. The gods commanded great power. But this man spoke the name of Theon and proclaimed himself against the gods. Was that enough?
“I will trust you. For now.”
The old man snorted. “That’s all I ask.”