There was a mesmerising air around the campfire. The sun had long since set and the sky now favored a violet colour, especially around the long belt of eight natural satellites circling the planet. Each had craters and long canyons marring their milky white surfaces, where they had impacted eachother. In fact, it was hard to believe the planet had always had eight moons-- old writings registered less than that number.
The moons orbited around eachother, changing positions regulary on the night sky. The only way to tell which was which was by size and appearance. The smallest was little more than a round blob while the largest gave the awe-inspiring resemblance of closeness when full.
The patch of sky around and between the celestial orbs was an inky violet, but the farther away, the darker the sky, finally dissolving into a discomforting black colour, dotted with stars.
The attitude around the fire demanded silence, as did the solitary stranger that had started his story. The man wore baggy brown clothes, patchy and full of mud, his boots as much as the hood on his head. A scarf hid his mouth and nose, making his voice seem surreal, taking away the scratchiness of it's age and making it seem he was saying nothing, but listening to the story as well as his companion.
"The light of day shows only the surface of these lowly carcasses, but the darkness shows the soul. At day we skirmish and fight for ourselves, between ourselves, but at night there are no foes."
It was an interesting formula which started each campfire story since Charis had joined the caravan.
Charis had been eating up until then, but she had given up on the disguisting porridge and placed the bowl down, next to her. The petite woman hardly understood the odd ritual of telling stories around the fire. She had several good stories of her own, concerning her tavern and her travels as well, but she had mentally agreed with herself to never tell these stories. Let the boys amuse themselves with their far-fetched tales.
The old man's eyes had gained a near-fanatical intensity. Those dark orbs that shot from face to face, assuring himself he had everybody's attention. She could swear he looked right in her eyes, despite her choosing to stay in the shadows, hidden behind the massive sillhouettes around the fire. Though, the moons provided a sufficient amount of light.
"Are we all friends here?" the old voice croaked.
"Lamiya," the whole crowd whispered.
Charis had asked once what the peculiar word meant. It didn't resemble any language she knew, old or otherwise. The caravan leader had given her a strange look and had told her: "The meaning of the word can't be explained in words. It is the sound of a silent agreement, something to be felt, not heard. You must understand it by yourself."
"Yes, but, what does it have to do with the story-telling?" Charis insisted.
"It is the resonation of truth. That is all I can say without confusing you."
Charis had then pouted and returned to her horse, but she had to admit the man had done his best. Charis considered it was probably an oath of truth-- traders had a similar expression: "Neeya", which they pronounced when they reached a deal. The word had been altered during time and had probably gained altered meanings to traders, but she could mentally trace similar roots.
"Then this is my story, friends. Lamiya," the old man pronounced and Charis felt a strange relief, as if she had been waiting for the story her whole life.
"I have met she who sits at the crossroads." He made a pause, while his audience stifled gasps. Even Charis had raised her eyebrows. He had met... Destiny? Even her cold cynical mind couldn't take this lightly.
"For I have travelled much this land tall and wide. I have done many things to people who do not deserve it and done nothing to people who do. Once, while fleeing from the fortress-city of Bayel, near dawn, I stumbled upon a road that had not been there before. I, in my youth and fright, took that path whichever way. But as I walked not a horse's leap down the road, I came upon a crossroads. Towards south, a shallow river, through which I could have passed and lost the hounds on my tracks, thus eluding my pursuers, and towards west, the barren wasteland of Shiek Nock, where souls are tested."
Charis could have laughed then and there. The man had to be lying. If he was running from Bayel, he couldn't have been near Shiek Nock, the dreaded limestone desert, unless he made a large detour through the mountains, through Haight's Pass, more precisely. The journey would take months, and he had said he was still near Bayel.
Biting her tongue, Charis burried her laughter and decided to not insult the assistance.
"But as I was gazing to the southern road, I hear my name being called... for just between the two roads, on a patch of grass no longer than her shadow, stood She."
Charis flinched at the tone the old man had used. It had a near-religious conotation, but with a familiarity to the person reffered to that no religion allowed. The voice had become palpable and Charis lifted her eyes from the ground only to be left with the impression that the man was looking straight into her eyes.
"How She looked, I cannot say. For the minute I turned my eyes away from her, I could not recall her face. But I do remember thinking how young she looked for a being so ancient. And I do remember a brown flute in her hands, melding with the red and yellow of her robe."
Charis remembered the old myth. A young woman playing destiny on her flute. The notes she used were called 'cevarts', designating a certain period of time (which varied from local folklore to local folklore). If she could find out how much a cevart was in this man's belief, pehaps she could pinpoint his area of origin.
"She adressed me with such kindness, that her voice will be forever burned into my memory. 'Sarkim,' she said, 'ponder long and well which path shall suit you, for no man's decision may be flawless.' Mute with wonderment I stared as she sat herself on the patch of grass under her feet and began playing each cevart of my life. The music was beautiful, yet I could feel the sadness it filled me up with."
During the small pause the man had made, Charis made a mental list of the areas in which cevarts where periods of a human's life. The man's name was not quite helpful, as she had not heard it before and it was quite hard to figure out his natal grounds from it.
"And when she finished her song, the final notes were so sad and ended so quickly, I could only swallow my anguish and fill myself with anger. 'How dare you tell me this? I have never obeyed a lord and will never obey a lower creature such as you!' But as I spoke these words, I realised she was not of human birth and nearly fell on my knees to appologise, but she spoke to me even kinder: 'Sarkim, even I am slave to my past decissions. Why must you be as well? Remember, the South Wind is that of Death's Heralds, but the West Wind is that of Truth's Beginning.' I turned my back refusing to accept her words. When I turned again, she was no more and neither were the crossroads. Only the long road to Haight's Pass. That was my decision. I stay by it to this day. I have walked Shiek Nock and challenged its demons. Behold me, for I am released. My story is told. I seal it before you with Lamiya."
The word-incantation sent strange ripples through Charis. She had identified the city of Sarkim's birth, but that didn't seem as important anymore. Something about the old man's story disturbed her greatly. So he was a pilgrim through the desert, one of the fanatic madmen who swear they've had a revelation while trudging through the Shiek Nock wasteland. But why was she disturbed?
Charis had slept strangely well that night, despite her bothersome feelings towards the evening's events. When she woke up, sleepy-eyed and stifling a yawn, she walked the length of the camp to warm herself up. She was tightening her cloak around herself when she caught sight of a strange bundle with the tail of her eye. Suddenly intrigued, she came closer and realised the brown and red pertuberance was actually the old man's body, laying with a stabwound in his chest and skin more livid than normal.
"Yeah, I caught him trying to steal my gold. Damn thief!"
Charis turned and noticed the caravan leader talking to a larger, bulkier man. They were both displeased with such behaviour.
Of course, thieving was a death offense on a caravan trip.
Charis suddenly remembered the formula the old man had used before starting his story. "The light of day shows only the surface of these lowly carcasses, but the darkness shows the soul. At day we skirmish and fight for ourselves, between ourselves, but at night there are no foes. Are we all friends here?" Bitterly, she thought the word "now" was better suited than "here". But she was beginning to like the strange ritual.
"Lamiya..." Charis let the whisper slip off her tongue. Such a beautiful word! She understood it now.
The resonance of truth. Oh, yes. She was beginning to like the word as well.
Author Note: I have no idea how eight moons should work. My knowledge of astronomy is nil. This was somewhat inspired by Frank Herbert's "Children of Dune". I strongly recommend to everybody to read the "Dune" series. At any rate, feel free to review. Constructive criticism is very much welcome.