Sea People

by Ruwen Rouhs

Chapter 14

In the late evening the Sun Seekers landed the Hawhk, their sailing boat, in a small port close to the city of Parha. It was after dark and the port seemed desolated. Just one of the houses framing the harbor showed light. The booming voice of a harbor watchman received the late comers. The old guy advertised the benefits of the place, "Do you need water and foodstuff? Do you need the softest linen all along the coast?" he asked before he even had seen all of the crew members in shine of his lantern, therefore he didn't notice that some were just young teen. "The most beautiful girls going with it for free! With the linen! Girls and linen, what a chance!" When he received only a shake of the head by Aegir, he insisted, "Look over there, Young Man, do you see the light in the windows? That the finest pub all along the coast, let me say of all Luwia. The food the girls serve is so excellent it would be savored by Tarhunt himself. The wine the girls serve tastes sweeter than the famous Irep, the vine served in the palace of the Pr-A'a. Just try it! Don't let us down!"

As soon as the travelers had gathered on the quay in the meek shine of the lantern he became aware of the makeup of the crew. "Damn!" he began to bitch, "Boys and children, only? No sailors? No traders? By Tarhunt! Damn!" he emphasized, "No match, neither for our port nor for our girls!" With scorn he addressed Aegir, "You and your toddlers better stay on board or our good lads will beat you to a pulp."

The watchman shouldn't have been impertinent like this. Because Buri and Kaa who had entered the pier unnoticed under favor of the night, laughed, "Old man! You call us toddlers! Watch your bitchy mouth!" With that they tackled him and shoved him into the dark water of the harbor. His screaming and swearing aroused the drunkards in the pub, they came out and started a scuffle. However they attacked only light skinned crew members, that is Aegir, Tsemo, Laong and Runtiya because they were not aware of Buri, Kaa, and Seb who had merged with the darkness. The resulting brawl was just a short one and the drunkards were struck back and fled into the dark.

"Let's put out to sea again, I bet the drunkards will alarm their back up! We better do not wait. I have spend enough nights on a rolling boat out in the sea!" Kaa urged the others and Runtiya assisted, "I am afraid these villagers hate strangers, at least if they don't buy girls and linen. Lets put out to sea." Apprehending to be misunderstood, he added, "I am not afraid, however I despise unnecessary force!" Just this moment Tsemo noticed a noise coming closer and torches flaring up on a road down the cliffs, "Let's clear out!" he demanded pointing to the approaching lights, "We better leave!"

That's why the Sun Seekers had to spend the first night on their sailboat out on the high sea. Sleep was not to be thought of, as the older ones had to stay awake alternately to care for the boat. At sunrise of the chilly morning they set sail. Two days later in the dusky evening they secured their boat in the harbor of Uhraa, the city with the famous Lion Temple, its schools, its seminaries for theological studies and its monasteries and last not least with its royal castle. Because of these and the many voyagers hitting Uhraa was the most exciting life of all Luwian cities.

The wide bay of Uhraa harbored much more boats as Aegir and the other Sun Seekers as well as Antili and Waili the boys from Imrali had seen ever before. Only Kaa and Seb had seen such a busy harbors before during their way to captivity in Tyruus and Runtiya during his schooldays in Uhraa. Most of the ships were small sailing boat, like their Hawhk, used by fishermen or local traders. On the far end of the harbor however in the shadow zone of a raising cliff Aegir could discern big merchant ships and on the opposite end the bay, nearly concealed by a beak of rock, he could make out war ships, like Runtiya called these huge ships. The smaller war ships, or galleys, seemed to be single-banked boats, with about 25 oars in a bank, while the bigger ones seemed to have two or even three bank of rowers one above the other. However it was already too dark learn more about the galleys.

The Laong nearly fell the eyes from the head, because of all the ships moored to the quay or anchored in the rolling waves in front of the harbor square. But not only this large assemblage of ships aroused curiosity of the newcomers. A city of small tents and sales stalls, taverns and platforms sprawled between the quay walls all along the harbor square up the walls surrounding the city of Uhraa with the Lion Temple on top of a cliff. With the fast falling darkness small lights flared up between the rows of market stands and stalls, pub and taverns, only the platforms were plays were performed or rehearsed displayed bright lights. In the windows of the houses surrounding the harbor and spreading up the hill to the Lion Temple lights were flickering indicating a busy city.

Runtiya pointing in the dark proclaimed his surprise, "Tomorrow there must be a big festivity. I am really surprised because the time of the summer solstice has passed already. At midsummer there are always a great celebrations. But midsummer has gone weeks ago. Something special is happening now." Antili offered a quick guess, "May be the king is visiting Uhraa. We have to find out! Lets go ashore! Lets go to the seminary and ask! Quick, quick!" Waili, who had listened to many stories about the magnificent parades of the king's army assisted, "Yes, yes! Lets go ashore and find out." Runtiya however slowed down the two. "It's too late now to be admitted to the seminary. We go there tomorrow morning. Today we stay with our friends and stroll through the market and visit the fairground."

After securing the Hawhk at the quay the whole crew went ashore and meandered the winding paths from one stand to the other. Most were stalls were closed or not even opened, in others men were gathered around small tables gambling. Some games seemed to be simple ones like games of dice, as the gamblers used just ankle bones of sheep or goats and beakers made of leather to wallow in vice. Other gamblers used more sophisticated setups made of wood or stone with small figures made of clay. While Aegir and Buri knew the games of dice from their homeland, the latter were unknown to them. Seb guessing their lack of knowledge named some he had enjoyed in Ta-Seti as well as in Tyruus. Senet was one of these. Seb and Kaa had played it on boring evenings. The other was called Game of the serpent, or Mhn in their language. He promised the Sun Seekers to introduce them to these games during their voyage to the big river.

The tom-tom of a drum, the squeaking and squealing of a flute and the chiming of small bell enticed the crew of the Hawhk to take the next aisle to a fairy ground. The noise did not come from the jugglers whirling torches through the air giving off sparks, nor from the a group of athletic men wrestling on a well illuminated stage, nor of the tightrope walkers high above the ground but from a small stage slightly repositioned from the main ground. Attracted by the flickering light of lanterns a spectacle unfolded before their eyes, they had never seen before. The high rising stage was empty with exception of a boylike artist in colorful attire, while the darkness of the background devoured the musicians. However there were not multicolored clothes of the artist which arrested their attention, it were his movements. One moment weedy boy was doing half a dozen somersaults in a row touching the ground with his finger tips only, the other moment he flew through the air like a bird the wide sleeves of his golden shirt flapping like wings of a bat. When he touched down to ground again he straightened up but just for the wink of an eye. This time however he did not us his feet for walking, but his hands. He walked to the back of the stage wreathed in mist, did a flip and plucked a long shiny sword from sheath on the wall. The weedy artist turned around, bowed to the audience, jumped up into the air again and began to gyrate around his own axis swinging the sword against an invisible enemy. Was it a flying dragon, an evil spirit or the soul of a lost sinner the audience had to speculate. But the artist handled the sword with unprecedented skill and fast like a bolt. Drawing nearer and nearer to the front edge of the stage the sword emitted flashes of light and when he closed in to crew of the Hawhk the artist's black eyes flashed arrows of lights like his sword did. One of these arrows caught Aegir sky-blue eyes and the next moment the eyes of the boy like artist and the eyes of the redhead met. Their eyes seemed to fuse. The eyes of the two strangers coming from far away seemed to have found their counterpart. Aegir cringed, averted his gaze, while the artist resumed his performance. When Runtiya urged the Sun Seekers to leave the scene because of the events of the coming day Aegir followed his heart throbbing at a not before experienced speed.

The stores, taverns and fairgrounds with their roundabouts, swinging boats, game booths and traveling entertainers were closing down and as the city gates were closed already nothing else remained but to return to the boat. When they passed the stage of the flying artist, Aegir lagged behind. Studying the rune-like sings painted at a wooden panels in the back of the stage he suddenly became frightened by someone standing behind him and studying him intensely. He turned and his eyes fell on a gray clad fellow about one and a half head shorter than the redhead himself. He recognized the eyes in the small, boy like face, with the black brows above the slitted eyes and the soft lips. The dark hair of the artist was braided in a long queue nearly touching the ground. Aegir suddenly got frightened and turned to run, but the he couldn't move on. The stranger held him back without touching him. He greeted by bowing deeply. Putting his right hand to his heart he uttered words in an unknown language, "Nǐ hǎo wǒ de péngyǒu!" When Aegir tried to break loose, the strange artist pleaded "Wait, wait Friend! Please stay!" Aegir however was so confused that closed his eyes, turned and while running towards berthing place, called back "Hawhk, Hawhk! That's our boat!"

The next morning Aegir was still confused because of the nightly encounter with the strange artist in the gray cloth. Had it been the boy like artist performing at the stage? Had it been the weedy artist that could fly like a bird? The artist with the blade fighting invisible enemies? And has it been the same man who had nailed him to the ground with his eyes? At first Aegir wasn't sure about it, but the longer he pondered about the encounter the more he was confident the artist performing those so far unseen pieces of art on the stage and the man in the gray clad fellow were the very same. But why had he asked him to stay? Why had Aegir told him the name his ship, the Hawhk? Had he invited the stranger to come to the boat, to become a crew member, a Sun-Seeker. Aegir state of mind was still in confusion. Was he sick, heartsick?

The forthcoming departure of Runtiya and Antili pushed these thoughts out of the way. The whole crew had decided to accompany the two to the seminary and take along the presents provided by the villagers of Imrali as school fee for both. The fair ground was still sleeping when they edged their way between to booths and stalls, pubs and taverns to the main gate in the city wall. In contrast to the sleepy fair ground the city was buzzing with activity. Pressing their way through the densely crowed streets they had hardly time to admire the spacious houses, royal temples and water spouting fountains along the way.

The big gate of the school was still closed when they arrived at the seminary after climbing the steep hill to the main temple. Runtiya knocked on the gate with the big wooden knocker. When nobody opened he turned to the small door beside the gate and battered several time with his fist against its wooden wing. This obviously alarmed an old gate keeper. A small window in the door opened and a withered face eyed the strangers suspiciously. However just a moment later the gnarled face brightened, "Runtiya is that you? Runtiya my favorite scholar! Is it really you? I have missed you." Runtiya answer corresponded the surprising question, "Katuwa!" Runtiya padded old man's cheek, "I haven't expected to meet you as the first member of the congregation! This must be my lucky day, meeting my guardian, being welcomed by first teacher!" The acolyte shed tears of joy, but recovered soon, "Katuwa, let me introduce my friends to you, but first of all let me deliver a new student." pushing Antili forward, "Look wise Katuwa! His name is Antili. He was the best brain of Imrali's boys! Please watch over him, like you did watched out for me. Antili is bright but he will need guidance in a place like this."

After a while the gate keeper opened the gate. He got wide eyes at the sight of wild group accompanying Runtiya. Seldom before he had seen such a variety of young men, some black like the night, some pale like sand on the beach, some very young, some nearly grown up men. Especially he was taken aback by the towering youngster with blazing red hair and even more by the skinny, wiry guy with the azure eyes and hairs pale like straw of barley.

Meanwhile the arrival of strangers had spread through the hallways of the seminary and the next to appear was the head of the seminary. He scanned the strange party full of curiosity but also with caution. Recognizing his former scholar he took Runtiya in a big embrace and after inviting the Sun Seekers to the refectory he tried to retrieve all information about their homeland, their dangerous voyage down the Bredd-ström, the Black Sea and along the coast up to Uhraa. When Buri told him proudly about their ultimate goal to reach the Land of the Sun, he became jealous. "I am so excited about your endeavors. I wouldn't mind to go with you, if I only would be half of my age. All I can do for you is to support your attempt by providing equipment and funding. Just name the materials you need and I will try to furnish it."

On they way back to boat Waili felt miserable as he just had lost two friends. "Will I ever meet Antili and Runtiya again?" he asked heartbroken, looking from one Sun-Seeker to the other. Tsemo was the first to conceive Waili's problems. Now the boy was on his own in a group of friends knowing each other for a long time. "Don't be worried, Waili. I am your friend, your special friend from now on. Look we are nearly the same size!" Caressing his head, "The main difference is the color of our hair. I bet every girl and boy will get big eyes spotting us walking hand in hand." With that he took Waili's hand and soon the latest member of the crew looked cheerful again and keen in anticipation of the things to come.

And soon they came, the surprises. Suddenly the sweet aroma of almonds and spices rose to their noses and their stomachs began rumbling. "Mealtime!" announced Buri, "Look over here, sweets on display, all kind of sweets!" Kaa acquainted with the habits in cities, gave a loud moan, "We are not in small village. Look Uhraa is a big booming city. If you want something to eat, you have to pay for it. Has anybody pieces of gold or silver? Has anybody Debens or Shaads?" Looking from one of his friend to the other, "Not that I know off, lets go back to our Hawhk and be happy with the food we have stored."

Tsemo, being a sweet tooth, grinned and took out one of Kirketin's pearls. "What about with this? Could it buy sweets for everyone?" "Sure" Kaa grinned, "But you don't want to empty all the booths from their sweets. We better look for a shulhani!" "What for? Can I eat it?" "Sure you could eat a shulani, if you like human flesh! A suhlani or better a kermatizō, is a currency changer. He cuts a piece of gold worth a deben into small change, like into shaads." Only Buri appreciated the objection, because Kaa had introduced him to the way of paying in Luwia. He laughed out loud. "Kaa is right, let look for a ..? What did you call the man?" "Look over there, there is a kermatizō, the guy behind the small table with a heavy armed guard on his side."

They walked over and Tsemo showed him the pearl. The kermatizo got wide eyes, greedy eyes. Sizing the strange boys up and deciding that the customers were easy to dupe, he offered, "That's a poor piece of stained glass! Did you find it in the gutter? Somebody did throw it away. Bad luck boy, but I feel sorry for you!" While he held the pearl between his fingers her weighed his head back and forth, "One shaad it is! And this is very generous." When Tsemo declined the offer, he continued, "Believe me boy! But if you like to look of an other victim, there are other kermatistēs down there. Asked them!" But when Tsemo took the pearl and turned to leave, he stopped him, "Naw, naw, don't run boy, I pity you and your friends. I extent my offer to two shaads, but its a lose!"

Now Kaa intervened, taking the pearl from Tsemo. "Look at the pearl, bargainer!" he waved the pearl in front of the kermatistēs' face, "or should I better call you a sham? You give us 20 deben in shaads and we will not report the fraud to head of the seminar. If not, you have to suffer the consequences." The currency changer turned pale and waved his guard nearer, but Aegir pushed the man back, while Buri got in between the guard and his master. "Give us the 20 deben or we tell the whole town, you wanted to cheat friends of the head of the royal seminary." They got the required 20 deben and had to spend only two shaads to get all the sweets they desired.

On their way back to the Hawhk, Aegir made a detour and tried to find the stage where he had met the gray clad stranger after his performance the night before. At daytime the booths, tents and taverns looked very different from the night before, especially a now a curious crowd pushed through the alleyways or lingering at stalls displaying goods from the countryside or from places far away. In taverns folks were enjoying food in the shade of sun sails. Small bands playing a variety of instruments performed at busy cross sections or at fountains besieged by dancing youngsters. Finally when Aegir was about to quit he found himself standing in front of the stage with the rune like signs decorating the panels in its back. He jumped on the stage and had had quick peek behind the panels. To his disappointment nobody was to be seen, neither the musicians not the flying artist, just the linen of a small tent. Aegir got heartsick recalling the fire in the dark eyes capturing his blue ones. On his way back to the Hawhk he decided to visit the place again under the screen of the night.

Back at the boat they had to discuss the next steps of their trip to the big river. Now that Runtiya had gone they had to discuss anew the division of the crew in subgroups of two. It was clear as mud that Laong and Seb would pair up. To Aegir's disappointment Buri had already asked his cousin Kaa to continue as team as before. He hoped that Tsemo would vote for him. So far he hadn't had Waili in mind. However as their most recent crew member asked him if he would mind if he and Tsemo would join up, he agreed with a heavy heart. Buri and Tsemo his oldest friends tried immediately to console him. "I know for sure we will find an other crew member before we leave Uhraa1" Buri told him hugging him, while Tsemo declared with utter conviction, "Tonight a new crew member will show up, a crew member with capacities undreamed of!" When Aegir looked at him doubtfully, "I bet you a pearl, Aegir! Or do you like shaads more?"

At dusk the lights and the cheerful clamor enticed the Sun Seekers to a visit of the fairground again. They split into two groups. Buri, Kaa, Laong and Seb decided to check out the merry-go-rounds, the swing boats, the equilibrists and fortune tellers, while Aegir and Tsemo decided to check for the young artist performing the bewildering stunts on the stage with the runes on the curtain.

Waili was still sad because of the parting of Runtiya and Antili and Tsemo had a hard time to persuade him to come along. "Would you really like to forfeit the ghost fighter, the man flying through the air like a bird?" Tsemo asked Waili. "I come along, but only if you and Aegir take my hands." Aegir laughed out loud, "Should I pretend you are our toddler and carry you on my back?" Waili shook his head and took Tsemo's hand tagged along with him, while Aegir run ahead glad to be able to see his heart-throb soon.

Tonight the place before the stage of the boy like artist was buzzing with onlookers. Aegir annd his friends had a hard time to press through densely crowded watchers. When they finally got to the edge of the stage Aegir's heart-throb was flying through the air using his arms like bird wings brandishing a javelin. Catching eye with Aegir he made a graceful turn midair's, aimed the javelin to a dragon made of blue and green rags, sporting big blue eyes and red mop of hairlike Aegir's. He impaled the javelin in the dragon's heart emitting a victory cry. The onlookers cheered but wanted more, chanting "Ghost fights, ghost fights, do the ghost fights again!" With an airy bow he thanked the audience blowing kisses in direction of Sun Seekers. Tsemo and Waili returned the kisses exuberant while Aegir face turned red-hot like his blazing hair.

The weedy artist in his colorful attire didn't lose no time. He rushed to the back of the stage, fetched the radiant sword and made a somersault, landed on his feet and spun around his own axis, left the ground and in midair he began to fight the invisible foes. While the crowd cheered three young men jumped on the stage challenging the artist, "Fight us! Fight us human beings not the invisible! Fight like a man. Fight man against man! Don't make our girls' head spin!"

They tried to catch the artist's legs and pull him to the ground. The flying artist however was slippery like a silvery fish in the water. At first he was able to escape their attempts. After a long time spinning and dancing through the air his movements became slower and one of the young men was able to drag him down. Immediately all three of them began to assail him. He could fend off the first onslaught, but soon his force waned. Aegir couldn't tolerate that his heart-throb eventually would be wounded or even killed. He jumped on the stage with drawn dagger in his hand and tried to interfere. Soon he had to fend off one of the young men while the other two still attacked the boy like artist. Now neither Tsemo nor Waili could wait anymore. Both jumped on the stage and while Tsemo tried to separate the fighters from one another, Waili attacked one of the actors assailant's by piercing his arm with his knife. The guy turned and attacked Waili with a club, giving a howl of pain. When Waili tumbled to the ground Tsemo took on the guy from behind and hit him into the hollow of the knee. Twisting in pain he came down besides Waili. Waili however had already recovered from the hard blow god enough to press his knife to his enemy's throat. The guy's eyes seemed to ooze from the eye sockets out of fear.

Meanwhile Aegir was busy helping the actor to fight of the other two guys. Tsemo wanted nothing more than to bring the fight to a stop. However this seemed to be impossible as the audience had already taken sides for the one or the other of the parties and cheered the one or the other. The only means left for Tsemo was to take his sacred flute and call for help. He was right. The high pitch of his flute started the warning bells ringing in the ears of the fighters as well as the ones of the excited audience. However, not only these got alarmed. The guards responsible for discipline and peace at the fair ground began to hurry to the place of turmoil. As soon as the people in the audience realized the rushing on of the law enforcement people they tried to push their way away from the place of the turmoil through the narrow alleys.

The fight ended in a tie and both parties tried to follow the crowd. The three guys from Uhraa left in direction of the town while the Sun-Seeker tried to mix with the fleeing people taking their way to the quay. Aegir had the presence in mind to tier down a piece of the stage curtain to cover his fire red hair as well his heart-throb, the artist. At first he fought back, but soon he enjoyed the closeness to Aegir. Luckily they got back to the Hawhk without getting stopped by the guards looking for the troublemakers.

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