Chapter 7

 

The Gipseian Emerald of Baasala

            The pirate’s dark eyes gleamed in the candlelight. They made Aliviel think of daggers flashing through space. She felt nervous and agitated. Looking around she could think of no possible means of escape. She looked desperately over at her cousin, but he stood silently at her side, returning the steady gaze of the formidable gentleman. She shut her eyes and exhaled, forcing herself to relax. This was where they were meant to be, this was where Armillarious had sent them. She grimaced, thinking that this was less than reassuring, but she opened her eyes with new heart.

“I am afraid that you have me at a disadvantage,” said the deep voice. “You appear to know my name. A name, I must admit, that very few know. Yet I am at a loss as to who both of you are. What I find most strange is that while you somehow know my name, you clearly do not know enough of me to use it with more discretion. In all honesty it is amazing to me that you are still alive. I only hesitate slightly before the prospect of killing you here myself.” He leaned toward them, and his voice grew low, dangerous and compelling. “Are you spies? Did Bellum send you?”

Ciardha stepped forward, placing himself between the pirate and his cousin. He was suddenly angry that the man should threaten them with such coolness, such calm nonchalance. He was furious that the man should terrify them so easily. Remembering the magician (and cursing him as he did so) he reached into his cloak and pulled out the piece of silk and the curious gemstone that it covered. The purple fabric fell away as he held the stone out toward the pirate. The emerald glowed in the light.

“I am Ciardha and this is my cousin Aliviel, we have come from the Red City . . . where my father is known as the Red King. Armillarious told us your name, and he sent us to you with this . . . he called it a reminder.” Ciardha had, after a moment’s consideration, decided to be honest. If the pirate was going to be of any help to them at all, he would have to know the truth.

Dakshieth did not noticeably react. There was, however, an imperceptible shift in the atmosphere of the room. Not touching the emerald or even acknowledging what the Prince had said, the man turned away. He walked over to stand, looking out of the many windows of his cabin. Outside the sun was setting behind a grey overcast sky. Aliviel suddenly realized that they had drawn up anchor and were beginning to move. She could see the distant harbour slowly falling away behind them. After a while the dark man turned back toward them. Reaching out he took the emerald from the boy, and spoke.

“Do you know what this is?” He asked the children, who did not. He held the stone as though it were heavy, watching it dance with the fading light. Then he sighed, as though he’d finally come to a decision about something that had long been troubling him. He said,

“This is the Gipseian Emerald of Baasala Laroombhasa. It belonged to my father, and before that to my grandmother. It has been in my family for generations, ever since it was given to one of my ancestors by the first Queen of the golden palace. She was, I suppose, an ancestor of yours. At that time it represented the inexpressible bond of friendship and loyalty that existed between the people of the city and those who lived in the Palace of Gleaming Gold, a bond that holds both alike.

“I do not know what the mushroom addled mind of Armillarious knows or understands, but this stone is a reminder for the likes of you far more so than it is for me. The Red King has lost his mind, and as far as I am concerned this bond has been all but destroyed. Soon the people of the city will abandon the palace, just as the palace has abandoned them, and then all of the old magic will be lost and forgotten, perhaps forever.”

“I will not let that happen!” Ciardha shouted. He heard Aliviel’s voice join his.

We will not let it happen, with or without the aid of a pirate!” Aliviel’s voice caught with unexpected emotion. Her eyes challenged the tall man. She could feel that the truth in what he had said held a poignant sting for both she and her cousin. But they had not gotten this far to be discounted so easily. It made her feel angry and defensive.

Ciardha reached to take back the stone that suddenly held such meaning, but the pirate set it down away from him, and gestured for the children to have a seat. Walking toward a low cabinet that stood in a corner, he brought over a tray that held food and a tumbler of wine. He set it before them, along with a pitcher of clear water, and then sat down with a sigh.

“A long time ago my father gave the emerald to the Aramanthus. He felt that the palace had lost its way even then. I was with him at the time. He died a year later and after that I joined the Baragouin. For fourteen years I was King of the bandits and had many adventures and did many things. Since leaving them, I have not openly used the name of Dakshieth and there are very few who know that it was once mine. Those who do recognise it now, know only that it was the name of a once terrible pirate, one of the most dangerous bandit kings of the Baragouin. For now, at least, you must only ever call me Captain. There are none on the ship who call me otherwise, not even Roger, who is one of the very few who know me from that time.”

The children began to relax a little as the man spoke calmly, and at a gesture from the Captain they began to eat the food that he had put before them, suddenly aware of how hungry they were. At mention of the bandits Aliviel leaned forward excitedly.

“My brother and cousins were taken by the Baragouin six years ago, we are going to find them and bring them back with us to save the Red City. To try and end the madness and torment of its king.”

Dakshieth looked at them strangely. He leaned forward as though to speak but then relaxed, nodding as he poured himself a glass of the dark wine.

“Perhaps that is possible, I do not know. I understand your need to find your family, however, and I will help you if I can. Ah well. It has been a long time since I thought of that world, of Baasala and the Baragouin. You have awoken my slumbering past, and brought due a debt owed by both our blood. The bond of the Gipseian Emerald holds us both equally, and I suppose I could never have escaped that.”

The Captain looked out the windows at the harbour growing ever more distant. “It is strange,” he said, as though to himself. “All day I have felt those old words, stirring in my blood.”

After a while, contemplating all that had happened, slowly piecing everything together, as was his way, Ciardha spoke. “May I ask sir, why it is that the magician called you a moor? If you are bound by the emerald to help us save it, doesn’t that mean that you are from the Red City just like we are, or at least, didn’t you used to be?” The Prince felt somewhat embarrassed, sitting awkward and small in the wooden galley chair, but the Captain smiled at him.

“I am afraid that our dear Armillarious is a self-absorbed fungus, and a fool. For a magician I sometimes think he knows very little of true magic. He calls me a moor because I frighten him, and because even after all this time he does not know where my people originally came from and is threatened by this. Though yes, as you say, like you I am Baasalan. That is what the people of the Red City were once called. They were known for their spirit, renowned as great travellers and wanderers of the world. They were traditionally understood to be members of the ancient warrior class Baatuud: individuals whose courage connected them to destiny.

“The palace and the city were built by ancient adventurers, students of Bee lore who had learned the true secrets of magic and power. They valued the freedom of not being trapped by fixed ideas or concepts. They cultivated an ever-changing knowledge and understanding of the world. They understood the magic of a life that embraces change, and of the importance of staying grounded and connected to the earth. Those whose magic built the gleaming walls of the golden palace, Laroombhasa, and its surrounding Khadom, Baasala, they captured the power of this understanding through the combined magic and balance of their royalty, Baasalans, and the Baragouin.

“Many wandering outcasts, magicians, and miscreants, were invited to become citizens, to come together to form a Khadom, a society of individuals committed to following the sanity of the heart-mind, the Kokoro. They were led by Kha-holders, the families who were willing to become royalty in order to serve, who had committed to sacrifice themselves and their progeny to the service of the Kha, to listen to the earth and to give voice to its command. They committed themselves, and you, to serve not just the wellbeing of the city, but the benefit and well being of all.

“This sacrifice of freedom allowed the rest of the citizens to continue with their wildness and not have to give up their nomadic ways. Many stayed and lived, at least for a while, within the red walls of the city, however, many also travelled. This way the heart of Baasala would endlessly roam the wide world, carried within the countless Baasalans who travelled, gathering and sharing great magic and wisdom. In this way Baasala, and its palace, was constantly enriched. Wherever Baasalans went they took a piece of their home with them. The Khadom of Baasala became more than just the red walls of a city. It permeated the globe with its customs, cultures and ways. Likewise the whole world became an intrinsic part of the Khadom, signified by the palace of Laroombhasa, made of stones gathered from around the world. Its seat of magic was held and protected by the lineage of the royal family; the Kings and Queens of Laroombhasa, of whom you are, I suppose, the direct and final descendants.”

The pirate sipped his wine and watched the darkening sea. The children enjoyed this story telling of their history, which they had never before heard. They felt the special words settle and resonate deep within their blood and bone, in the chambers of an ancient memory that stirred in recognition.

“Baasala was a place where the homeless and friendless could become part of a noble family, without ever having to give up or deny the magic that was contained within their vagrancy. Gypsies and pirates, travellers and artists, even mercenaries and lost warriors, no matter what they did or where they went, no matter who they had been, they could always return to their home; their lifestyle and experience appreciated for the richness it brought. They could be loved and treated with integrity, with dignity and respect, as valued citizens and members of a community. Everyone was included and loved.

“For many lifetimes, and even still, Baasala has been a place of great power and deep knowledge. One interpretation of a famous Bee Prophecy is that the fate of the golden palace, and of its Khadom, will indelibly shape the future of our world. For a long while now I have found little comfort in this, but now, perhaps, that you have found me is possibly of more significance than any of us might imagine. Even the wisest do not know where their life will lead them.”

“Did you really not know who we were when you brought us aboard?” Ciardha asked.

“No. I had no idea, even now I am surprised that Armillarious should have sent you to me, we . . . do not get along, he and I. I know very well of the many misfortunes that have befallen the Red City, and its palace. But ever since the Baragouin were banished by the Red King, I have distanced myself from that part of me that is Baasalan.”

Looking into the worried eyes of the young Prince, Dakshieth added, “I have always felt, you know, that he knew it was a mistake, your father. But his pride and jealousy, his fear, these emotions have always been too much for him to control. The year that the Baragouin were banished was the last year that I was their King, and it was only a few years later that I left those ways of banditry.”

“Why are you telling us all of this?” Aliviel asked, thinking of the many years of silence that she had endured from her father, and of the vague and limited information they had received from the Aramanthus.

As if reading her mind, the pirate replied with great passion, “Because, unlike Armillarious, I think it is your right to know! Those who keep the secrets beneath the earth are old and fearful. Some are even resentful that the past has gone. They are miserly with their magic and their secrets, and the history that they have been made holders of. They cling to the past glories of their youth. They bury their treasures underground and shy away from the living present, finding its impermanence and groundlessness threatening. In many ways they are the antithesis of the Baragouin, who are endlessly youthful, fresh, and changing.”

“The Baragouin,” he continued, “are an important part of Baasala, an intrinsic element of the Khadom. Did you know that the Baragouin were originally comprised entirely of orphans? These days entry is not so rigid, but the general sentiment is still the same, they are the lost children who create the unconventional fragments of society. It is always a youth who leads them. None may be King or Queen of the bandits past the age of 20.

“Many have perhaps forgotten it, but the Baragouin are the lifeblood of the city and its palace. They represent that, which connects the heart of all Baasalans to the Khadom. The royal family made its sacrifice to stay and serve, to listen to the earth, to the wind, and to the flame, but they stagnate and die without the live and ever-changing magic of the Baragouin. To merely hold the golden seat of Laroombhasa is not enough. In order to be able to hear the earth and to hold the Kha, your family has a special ability to touch the raw magic of the Baragouin, the chaotic energy of wisdom, and then share that magic and power with the Khadom and all Baasalans. Only in this way is there balance and harmony.

“Of course, this has not happened for at least two generations. Perhaps if it had, if we had not lost the wisdom of the old traditions, the Red King would not have reacted as he did. My mother used to tell me of an ancient Bee saying: ‘Yun hum Baragouin kokoro’. It was said that the hearts of the Baragouin children, made the gold of the palace glow.”

Dakshieth smiled brightly, “Both of your mothers were bandits, you know! I knew them well when I was King. They taught me a great deal. They were brave, and brilliant, and well loved. They were always like sisters to each other, so it was only fitting that they should fall in love with the Red King and his shy brother. Like many before them they eventually left their Baragouin ways behind. Together they went to live in the golden palace. We bandits wished them well.

“There was one, however, by the name of Gerard, who was madly in love with your mother, Ciardha. After the royal wedding he became drunk and aggressive, threatening to seduce the Queen and convince her to run away with him. Unfortunately, your father, the fool, thought Gerard was too handsome, too cunning, too brave, and hearing from his new wife that they had once been lovers, years before, he flew into a jealous rage and banished the Baragouin–”

Heavy knocking at the cabin door interrupted the story. The children, who had been mesmerized, were frustrated by the interruption. Dakshieth opened the cabin door onto the ugly, dishevelled face of the drunkard Roger. The old salt looked miserable. Blood and grime stained the front of his shirt and the side of his face sported a stunning bruise, which had not been there the last time they’d seen him. Aliviel wondered that he had made it on board before they drew anchor, considering his hapless state.

“Ah, yes,” Dakshieth growled. “Do come in and meet our guests.” The drunk walked in and looked at the two children with disgust, He had the eyes of a smart man who is accustomed to being thought a fool. Ciardha noticed this and made a mental note not to underestimate him.

“This, children, is Roger, my first mate. I believe you have met already. Roger, may I present Ciardha and Aliviel. They will be journeying with us, and are to be treated as my personal guests. Tell the crew, and fix them the appropriate quarters.” He paused and then added, addressing Aliviel, “And where, little Princess, shall we go next? My ship and her crew are at your disposal.”

Aliviel looked at Ciardha, pausing for a moment, and then made up her mind. “Armillarious suggested we begin by visiting a queen who lives in the north, in a white palace. He said that she was dangerous, and that she was a witch, but that she would know how to find the Baragouin, and that she was where we had to begin.”

Roger cringed at the mention of the bandits, but quickly regained his composure. Pointedly ignoring the two children he turned toward the dark pirate and in a low gruff voice said, “Capt’n, Sunneva ain’t to be trifled with. If we go callin’ at Iskaldur-Holl we had best ’ave a better reason than just chasin’ bandits. ’Tis treacherous waters up north.”

The Captain nodded, speaking quietly. “Nevertheless, I think we shall do as the child says. Take us to Port Vermelho, we will pick up supplies there, and then head north, through the Morsicant Strait. I can handle Sunneva.” Roger grimaced. He scowled at the children, before leaving the cabin.

Dakshieth looked at the small but serious faces of the cousins. He seemed amused. “Ah yes, I have a feeling that you and our dear Roger shall be fast friends in no time at all.”

Chuckling to himself the Captain sat back down in his chair, his eyes once more on the emerald that he had placed on the table. It had become night, and Aliviel could no longer make out a shoreline in the darkness. She could only see the light of the candles reflected by the windows. Lulled by the gentle movement of the ship, she watched the reflection of Dakshieth absorbed in contemplation. She felt her eyes grow heavy, and could barely listen to the words that he finally spoke.

“The ability to change, and to relax while doing so, is one of the greatest traits of a Baasalan, and it is a trait that is essential to the Baragouin. A pirate too, is a pirate because he can change his course with the wind. He answers to no man, but rather, to the pull of circumstance. We will go to the north together my dear little cousins, and together we will find the Baragouin. I will help you to renew the covenant that once existed between the palace and its Khadom. Perhaps I shall even enter the world as Dakshieth once again.”

Rousing himself with a sharp laugh, the Captain wrapped the emerald and locked it away in an ornate box that sat on a shelf behind his desk. He gathered up the two cousins and escorted them out into the brisk sea air. Through the ship full of pirates, he brought them to a small cabin just below deck with two bunks and a portlight looking out onto the sea. Every now and then a wave would splash against the hull, covering the glass with a frothy spray. Here, hunched beside the low doorway, he wished them good night.

The two children, climbing into their berths, fell quickly into a deep slumber. Gently rocked by the slow sway of the ship, they did not dream.