The festival started near sundown. The Gypsies had prepared a feast, unlike anything that Camon, Achara, or Jorn had ever seen. The roasted calf was carved up and presented on silver platters. Numerous other dishes were prepared and served in fine earthenwares. The feast’s aroma filled the air and all the Gypsies, even the rescued girls, came in feathered regalia of bright colors to the feast. Just as the sun was sinking over the horizon, Veduvac stood and offered a solemn word in the Gypsy language, then got louder and pointed at Jorn, Achara, and Camon. They were all seated in highbacked chairs at a table on an elevated platform. Veduvac’s voice rose as he said an admonition, then all the Gypsies broke out in cheers, shouting, and whistles. Veduvac then said one final word, and the feast began.
After the three guests of honor were served, the Gypsies all partook in the feast. They all ate with laughter and merriment under the twilight sky. As soon as everyone finished the food, a few men rebuilt the fire at the center of the encampment into a roaring bonfire. Torches were lit and placed throughout the clearing. A band of a lute, flute, and drum gathered and started singing, playing, and dancing. The regalia of the Gypsies whipped and whirled in the firelight under the moons and stars above.
Soon, Veduvac called out, and an assemblage of dancers came forward. They invited Jorn, Achara, and Camon off of the seats down near the fire, and they formed three different circles around each one. The drummer started a steady beat, and the dancers started moving. The lute joined in while the singer broke out into a chant-like song. They circled each of the three for several moments before the music abruptly stopped. Then in complete silence, one of the dancers presented each of the guests with a special neckpiece of charms and shells. The music resumed, and the dancers led the three guests back to their seats.
After the dance, Tuvana came out in her red and gray cloak. She let out a shriek that echoed through the night and brought everyone’s attention from the smallest child to the oldest adult to herself. She began chanting over the fire, and it roared and bellowed at her commands. Each swell built on the previous. The flames were standing thirty feet over the fire’s base, swirling and dancing in reds, blues, oranges, yellows, and whites. She then waved her arms out to the flames. The chaotic flames formed images. She then retold the story of the rescue in dramatic fashion. The battle used images of weapons clashing that sent showers of embers flying hundreds of feet into the air. She then retold of the ride, making it seem epic and grand with fiery figures of horses and riders whirling around the bonfire up and away. Her storytelling riveted the Gypsies as she performed. She ended the presentation with an explosive display of fireworks, to which everyone cheered loudly.
After the presentation, Achara and Jorn enjoyed the company of Veduvac, who explained the dance ritual as a way of honoring heroes, and he called Tuvana’s performance a firesong. There was more dancing and merrymaking that lasted for several hours as the bonfire died down. Eventually, the revelry came to an end, and the cleanup of the feast began. Through it all, Jorn was stoned faced, occasionally rubbing his chin and brushing his hair back. After the evening celebration ended, the three guests were ushered away to their domicile for the night, welcoming the sleep.
The next morning, life in the camp returned to normal with the Gypsies going about their daily tasks of tending herds and tending to the camp’s many needs. After rising, readying, and eating breakfast, Camon went to find Veduvac. He found him among some of the other Gypsies with a map laid out on a table and several markers distributed across the map.
Camon came over and stood next to Veduvac, “I hate to interrupt…”
“No worry. We are just discussing herd movements. How may I serve you?” Veduvac asked.
“I wanted to thank you for the feast last night. And I also wanted to let you know that our departure is at hand.”
“Leaving so soon?” Veduvac asked.
“Unfortunately, duty calls,” Camon explained. “We are on an urgent errand to Rahttaay.”
“You’re in luck then,” Veduvac said. “Rahttaay is easily accessible from here. Simply follow the brook and stay to the east side. It will confluence with another stream and lead you to the Southern River. You can follow the river east to Rhattaay or even hire a ferry along the way if you wish to travel faster.”
“Thanks,” Camon said. “But before we leave, there are a few things that I would like to know.”
“Please, do ask,” Veduvac answered.
“Can you tell me how long it’s been since you first noticed that your people were being taken?”
“About three months,” Veduvac said.
“Three?” Camon said. “And how many people do you think have been taken?”
“From our camp, just the two. But we lost some boys who were trying to protect the girls. We mourned them last night.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Camon offered.
“Indeed, you are,” Veduvac said. “We saw your compassion even for the condemned.”
“Forgive me if I seemed too forthright,” Camon apologized.
“Don’t be,” Veduvac answered. “Children of the Way should be compassionate.”
“The other girls. What will you do with them?”
“We will return them to their camps. It will take some time, though. Gypsies take care of our own, even those who are not from our immediate camp.”
“I see,” Camon said.
“Your concern is for the others who might be taken.”
“You are perceptive,” Camon noted.
“You are not hard to read,” Veduvac said with a smile.
“I guess I am,” Camon said.
“Yes, we are concerned too. We have pulled back our cattle and forbid our girls to be out beyond a few miles from the camp. This precaution has helped keep the slavers away, but I feared that they were growing stronger and more aggressive. But thanks to you, we won’t have that problem.”
“I wish I could say that is the last of them.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Veduvac said. “You struck at their heart. They will fear us now and will think twice about taking another Gypsy.”
“I fear they may want to revisit destruction on you.”
“Let them come,” Veduvac said defiantly. “Gypsies don’t like war, but we will fight if we must. Besides, they are cowards, striking from the dark and hidden places. They are no match for us in the light.”
“Thanks again for the hospitality,” Camon offered. “I must be off to prepare for our trip.”
“Stay strong, my friend. We will never forget your valor,” Veduvac said.
Camon went off to find Achara and Jorn. He found Achara, who was just finishing her breakfast. She was eating alone. “Mind if I join you?” Camon asked.
“Please do,” she invited.
“Quite a night last night,” Camon said.
“Yes, it was. I enjoyed it very much, but Jorn seemed…distant,” Achara noted.
“Jorn? He was pretty moody yesterday.”
“What’s gotten to him?” she asked.
“I learned he has a conscience,” Camon smiled. “He’s coming to grips with what happened to the slavers we captured. He believes that he should have been on the pile with them because of what he has done.”
“So he has some regrets. Maybe even some guilt. That makes me feel kind of good. Not in a sardonic way, but that maybe he’s turning a corner.”
“I hope so. In other news, it’s about time we make for Rahttaay. Veduvac says we can get there by going to the river to the south and following it.”
“Make sense,” Achara supposed. “The river flows right through there. At least it does on maps. I’ve never been that far south.”
“It’s not like the northern cities. It’s much more palatial and spread out. It feels like a garden almost. Even the common folks take great pride in making their homes splendid.”
“Can’t way to see it. When do we leave?”
“Can you be ready in an hour?” Camon asked.
“An hour? So soon?”
“Make it two.”
“Okay,” she said. “I need to say bye to Tuvana. She’s been so kind to me, and even in our short time here, she’s taught me so much.”
“Knowledge, skill, or both?” Camon questioned.
“Knowledge mostly,” Achara replied. “But she gave me some pointers on how to focus my mind more. I tried it, and it seems to work. The void that they use for walking is also meant to be a place of conjuration too. Ideas that can start there can be applied to whatever is in the void with them. It’s more than just speaking to what’s in the void; rather, it’s interacting with it as Jasnovi did with me.”
“Fascinating,” Camon commented.
“By the way, she’s Jasnovi’s younger sister,” Achara said. “She can converse with her across the distance between them, and she let me in on one of the conversations. Jasnovi was glad to know where we were and what we had done.”
“That kind of bond, is this how Ratana was able to talk to you across the city?” Camon asked.
“I don’t know, but it seems similar to that,” Achara said. “But I don’t share any kind of relationship with Ratana. We only briefly knew each other.”
“Again, fascinating,” Camon remarked. “I need to find Jorn. Do you know where he is?”
“Last I saw him, he left the camp and went up the hill.”
“Probably sulking still, but I’ll see if I can cheer him up…or not,” Camon sneered. He left Achara to her food and went out of the camp and turned up the hill where he saw Jorn standing almost exactly where he had been standing the day before. Camon approached, but before he got next to him, Jorn stopped him, “Come to lecture me some more?”
“No, actually,” Camon replied.
“Then what are you here for?” Jorn asked.
“To tell you that Achara and I are leaving for Rahttaay. You can come if you’d like. But we’re off the mesa, and you could probably find your way back to wherever it is you need to go,” Camon said.
Jorn turned back and stared at the now smoldering heap at the foot of the hill. He didn’t say anything for a minute then answered, “I really don’t know where I could go. My lot lies with you…at least for now.”
“Get your things then. We leave in two hours,” Camon declared.
Camon then left Jorn as before and went back to the camp to pack his things and ready his horse. Word spread quickly that the three guests were leaving, and as they were preparing to go, a small crowd had formed around them, wishing them well. Veduvac and Tuvana greeted them as they were making their way out of the camp. Tuvana pronounced a blessing over them, which Veduvac translated. “She wishes you well on your journey and hopes that the guiding light of the Way will be with you as you go.”
Camon thanked her for the blessing and then went out of the camp where their horses were waiting. They mounted up and gave one last wave before turning south and galloping cross country away from the camp. They passed within sight of the heap of bodies that had been burned, and Jorn gave one last glance at it before setting his sight forward.
They continued out of view of the camp south and easily forded the brook that ran near the camp to the east side. They stayed true to its course as it meandered down away from the hill country and into a more gently sloping country. The passed several herds of cattle before being truly out of the domain of Tuvana’s encampment, which took most of the remainder of the day. They camped along the brook that night then rose early the next morning to continue south. By midafternoon, they found the confluence of a larger stream flowing from the west, and the flatter terrain made the stream snake through the countryside. The travelers tried to keep as straight a path as possible, skipping past the hooks and scouting the stream’s course for the remainder of the day.
The next day, the weather turned cooler with clouds rolling in from the north, and by midafternoon they were in the rain. The rain made the ground soggy, and it slowed their progress. They decided to wait it out and found a grove of trees near the bank of the stream. They didn’t have much in terms of shelter, so they did their best to huddle under cover of the trees until the rain stopped, but it didn’t until well into the night. By then, none of them had slept, and even so, they were too cold and soaked to attempt it. The next day brought the sun again, and they changed into some dry clothes before continuing south. By the end of the fourth day out of Tuvana’s encampment, they found the South River and turned east along its banks towards Rhattaay.