Told by an old Fyros Lady Mage :
The Treaty of Karavia brought a truce in the feuding between peoples and trade routes soon paved the way for a new age of prosperity and understanding. For two generations our Empire shone in all its splendor brandishing the torch of discovery on the road to knowledge. Indeed, you know, even Zoraï scholars came to find enlightenment in the great halls of learning of our capital city of Fyre.
Fyros settlements thrived along the Matis frontier where war once raged. The remotest, though none the least important, of these trading outposts was Colomo, which took its name from the aqueduct that tapped into the river Munshia at that point. Colomo was such an animated place what with trade fairs and convoys, traveling merchants and crafters with their tales of close shaves with wild beasts and such like.
But as they say, the more we are dazzled by the mirage of good living, the less are we given to focus on gathering evils. And indeed, the years of political discord over the running of the neutral zones situated between Matis and Fyros lands began to take its toll, for the border trails were becoming more and more dangerous with ruthless tribes holding up travelers for their wears and not always sparing their lives. No longer were merchants free to venture out as they pleased, the only sure way to travel was to stick to the timetable of the imperial convoys whose job it was to conduct groups of travelers.
So it was with some surprise that one fall evening the mayor of Colomo was alerted of the arrival of a lone Matis on a mektoub packer asking for board and food and permission to speak with the villagers. The mayor at first wondered how a lone traveler could have made it through tribe infested regions unscathed, that is, until he set his eyes upon him.
The Matis introduced himself as Angeli di Fabrini, and was clothed in the simple, homespun garments of his office, that's to say, those of a novice preacher. He'd been sent on an initiation mission to prove his commitment to the church of Jena. The mayor immediately understood why he hadn't been robbed, he quite simply had nothing to rob! Nothing to attract the scouring eye of a tribal scout, not even a single dapper piece to pay for his keep! The mayor then left him in the charge of Abecus, the joyous village mage, for the apprentice preacher to be entertained for the night before being conducted safely back to the nearest Matis outpost. In this way the mayor was reassured that the lad wouldn't go stirring up the population with his words of Jena. The last preacher that passed had only left dispute in his wake.
"Good, sir, I am most honored and would gladly accept your hospitality, but my mission is to speak with your people," said Angeli.
"Come, lad, we'll talk shop together first," said Abecus and led him away to his residence, a fine building of hues of yellows and blues contrasting beautifully with the ochre of the desert...
"Julea, tell tour mother to prepare the spare room, we've a visitor," called Abecus to his daughter on entering the cool vestibule. Julea, a headstrong girl of fifteen, stood riveted for an instant on the cool stairway leading down to the living quarters, it was the first time she'd ever seen a Matis in the living flesh. He stood tall and proud, his hands were slender, with long fingers and trimmed nails... He had an aquiline nose, fine fair hair swept back from his forehead with a boyish curl that kept dropping rebelliously over his left eye. Angeli di Fabrini spoke our language fluently with the singing accent of his people which flutters in the way the Kineli butterfly of the woodlands. He bowed rather pompously to her in salutation, she gave an amused smile then turned and continued down the stairs to give her mother the message.
Inside the main room, decorated with beautiful tapestries representing stories of bygone times, the temperature remained constant and dry despite the mugginess outside. The savory smell of mektoub trunk soup and spicy cactus wafted in from the kitchen. Abecus presently placed his young guest at table with his wife and two daughters. Silva, the youngest, a girl of twelve, and Julea. As soon as everyone was served the Matis cleared his voice which rose up in prayer:
"Praised be Jena, for this food you give
In every crumb do you help us live
Bless our souls as we work, rest and play
Till we earn our place on judgment day"
To this Abecus returned:
"Thank yee wife for these morsels here
Goes to show you love us dear
Bless your love that bears this table
And touches our hearts like there's no one able!"
The mage's wife gave a blushing wave and gestured everyone to stop standing on parade. The young Matis missionary ate heartily and without so much as a slurp on his soup and took up his heart of cactus at the tips of his fingers, breaking off little delicate morsels before filling his mouth, which made Silva laugh. She was rebuked directly.
"Oh, I am not offended, but tell me, what gave her cause for laughter?" said Angeli.
"The way you have your fingers do the work of your teeth!" said Julea. "Here we pop the whole pulp into the mouth, so we don't get our fingers messy, see?!"
"My way is the observance of Jena. As I observe the different parts of the cactus to better judge how it has grown, so Jena seeks into our heart and soul to examine our overall worthiness."
"Well, here we are accustomed to tasting the cactus heart as a whole, tasting odd bits will only distort the overall picture. In the same way, a homin has many humors, to take only the one will make him your sweetest friend or your bitterest enemy!" returned Abecus all in good humor.
"Yet fully appreciating Jena's creation enables us to make pertinent offerings to her Karavan disciples."
"Hah, Jena, Jena, a figment of the imagination!" laughed Abecus.
"But, noble mage," returned Angeli in all seriousness, "then from whence do you derive your magic?"
"Not from the spirit of Jena, I can assure you! No, it is born of the knowledge of objects, thinking about them, learning how to look at them so that a science can be physically built up around them. I am sure that not one of your lot has ever seen Jena! Let alone found out where she comes from!"
"Jena is in the breeze that caresses, the gusts that derange, the emotion that moves the heart. Thus we may feel though we cannot see. Only such sensations can allow us to suspect there is life after death on Atys," returned Angeli.
"You answer well, Angeli, but with respect, Jena has no place in this house! And when the Matis come down from their cloud to...."
But the words of Abecus were suddenly drowned out by a great howling.
"Gingos in these parts?" questioned Angeli.
"No, that's the wind of the desert monsoon, when it howls like that through the storm-sounder it means we're in for a burst of rough weather, it means too you'll have to hold up here till it passes. It will do you no harm to learn our ways. Now, I must go warn folk to keep their mektoubs inside tonight, before Jena, disguised as the wind, comes to ravish them away!! But stay, young friend, I shan't be long, Julea will give you conversation. She is to step into my shoes, it will give her a chance to air her learning."
So under the watchful eye of the matron of the house, Abecus left the young novices. And they talked till late each testing the other's grounds of reasoning, prying into one another's cultures.
"Is it true that the Matis keep their lower castes from learning to read and write to more easily bend their minds to your laws?" popped Julea.
"It is the Law of Jena, but the answer is yes, one must first acquire the necessary training to affront the doubts of this world. Needless knowledge is a danger to the simple homin only leading to torment and misery and finally to perdition amidst the jaws of the dragon," replied Angeli.
"So you predicate blissful ignorance!" mocked Julea gently.
"Well, I suppose, if you put that way..."
"And what of equality, I suppose Jena's Law doesn't account for it..."
"Yes, it does, but it is up to every homin to learn it! A place near Jena must be strived for, deserved, else it would be enough to wander through life as a common carpet seller!"
"At least you don't dodge my questions like others of your race, Angeli, and though I cannot adhere to your ways, the honesty of your faith seeps to my heart," vowed Julea.
"And I, Julea, though I share it not, bow to your sharp wisdom," was Angeli's reply.
Such was the tone of their conversations and despite the divergence of opinion each brought the other new matter to further their learning. For three days the burst of the autumn monsoon drenched the desert delta where life was soon returning in all its glory. But the weather all too soon abated and the Matis was shortly to be making tracks with the imperial convoy.
On the eve of Angeli's departure, having exhausted their capital of learning, the young homins sat silently on the dune overlooking the now flourishing desert delta. The beautiful monsoon sunset huddled around them in silence, a silence clad in the hue of friendship, a mutual friendship whose thoughts needed no robe of words...
At that moment in time, I promise you, Julea would have followed wherever which way in the footsteps of Angeli di Fabrini, be it to Jena or to the Dragon, what suddenly counted was sharing the journey... Then, beyond all her hopes the young Matis turned to her, his beautiful eyes were glistening...
"Julea," he said, softly breaking the purple silence. "I believe my feeling for Jena is not that of love, for that feeling you have taught me, and I would exchange my religion for its supreme power..."
"Hush," said Julea raising a hand and smiling gravely, she touched the tear that now spilled from his eye and then the brow where she smoothed back his curl. Their arms enlaced, their lips touched, the warmth of the day exuded from their bodies, keeping the chilly monsoon wind at bay.
"I must speak to your father," said Angeli at last.
"Wait, Angeli, this is too grave of consequences to be taken lightly, let the night weigh upon our hearts and bring counsel, and then we shall see, my love."
Julea's sleep was fraught with dreams of repudiation and disownment by both her and Angeli's people, and of Jena condemning them to a nightmare journey to the underworld of the Dragon. Even so, she rose to the new day ever more determined as to the path she was set to follow. But with the morning came another nightmare, a living nightmare that would change the face of the world.
The great village bell was sounded giving the alert of some imminent bane. Messenger yber birds had been sent across the dunes with news of a terrible march of monsters creating havoc in the west. The emperor was calling for all able homins to join the imperial armies to fend off the dreadful legions of kitins, while children and homins unfit for battle were evacuated towards the north to rejoin the city of Piros in case rebel tribes launched an assault in the absence of warrior protection. Angeli was told he'd better leave for his homeland, there would be little chance of the rebel tribes impeding his journey now, they would have received the news and their eyes would be elsewhere.
Amid the commotion the two novices could only find a moment of seclusion where they embraced and exchanged lockets inside which each placed a lock of hair. Angeli swore he would be back just as soon as the menace was over. But alas, if Julea knew then what she knows now, she would never have let him take that cursed road back, where the kitins would march but hours later razing every trace of hominkind in their path...
Julea? She survived, yes, to another monsoon sunset, to another destiny... Yes, young homin, you guess right, t'is indeed a lock of fair hair I have inside my locket.