The black and white giant birds continued soaring to the southeast for the remainder of the day until after sunset when they circled and landed in a fallow farmer’s field. The birds rested while Camon and Jorn ate a meal from their provisions and recapped the day’s events. The next morning before dawn, they lifted off again and continued southeast over the forests. They crossed the Great River a few hours later, then were upon the mountains by midday. They sailed over the mountains and out over the savannah woodlands east of the mountains, and by evening, they reached the outskirts of Rhatsaan. The birds landed here, and the elves helped Camon and Jorn off.
“We are forever in your debt,” Camon told Tachol and Komir.
“We have as much a vested interest in your success as elves as humanity does. It is the least we can do. I am afraid we cannot go with you, though. Ahavah and Tzachor couldn’t make the journey.”
“Understood. We should be able to find someone crazy enough here to take us there.”
“If there is anything we can do in the future, you know how to find us,” Komir said.
Camon and Jorn gave the two elves a fond farewell, and the elves mounted their birds again and took off towards the south, leaving them in the field.
“We could probably find lodging, but I’m all out of coin. The Inquisitors took everything I had. I only have my sword now,” Camon commented.
“Not even your stones?” Jorn asked.
“No, not even those. Those are easily replaced, though. The sword would be much more difficult to come by.”
“I still have some coin, so it’s on me. Besides, I could use a good meal and a real bed after living on hard bread, cheese, dried fruit, and wine for the last week or so.”
“I’ll second that,” Camon said. “Prisoners don’t get plush treatment.”
“Yes, I know altogether too well,” Jorn reminded Camon.
Camon laughed, “Indeed, you do.”
The two men walked out of the field towards a road, and they turned east towards the city. After a few miles of walking on the road, they came to a village, and they found an inn attached to a farmer’s house. They ate a homecooked meal with the family and bedded down in a room in the inn for the night. The next morning, Jorn paid the farmer, and they got back on the road east toward the city. The road merged with the highway that was bustling with traffic as they got closer to Rhatsaan. The forest gave way to cleared land where farms were in close proximity. By midday, they could see the city on the horizon. The first thing they noticed was the gleaming, alabaster cathedral set high above the rest of the city.
“Now that’s a marvel,” Jorn commented, seeing the sun gleaming off the cathedral’s white walls with ample amounts of glass that reflected the light.”
“That’s the seat of the Church in the Empire,” Camon said. “Only the cathedral in Rahtneua rivals its majesty.”
The road turned slightly south along the way and then turned back east as it followed the coastline cliffside. As the cathedral and city got closer, they could see the cathedral was not part of the mainland. Instead, it was perched high on an island with sheer cliffs on every side at least one hundred feet off the water’s surface. The cathedral island was connected to another island by a flying archway bridge, which was then connected to the mainland by a similar bridge. The bridge gave the impression that pedestrians on the bridge ascended and descended from a heavenly place with alabaster and glass spires adorning the façade with a massive single spire rising over the rest of the building. It was topped with a crystal hand bearing a torch, but this torch bore a white flame that burned bright even in broad daylight.
“I’m going to have to say that this one takes the cake,” Jorn said. “I’ve never seen the cathedral in Rahtneua, but it would have to be a masterpiece among masterpieces to top that.”
“I agree with you, and I’m from Rahtneua,” Camon said. “But everyone has their opinions.”
“Biased opinions,” Jorn said.
“Indeed, we all do. But we will get to see it for sure. But then we’ve got to go down to the docks on the north side of the city and see if we can’t find a crazy captain and crew to take us east.”
“Why go to the cathedral?”
“I need to get paid,” Camon said. “We’re going to need a lot of coin for this journey.”
“Get paid? I thought the Church didn’t like your kind?”
“You’ll see,” Camon said. “Keep your head low, though. Thaahan and the pilgrims might be here, and they will recognize us for sure. We need to avoid another run-in with Inquisitors, to say the least.”
“I didn’t think about that,” Jorn said.
“Just a word of warning,” Camon cautioned.
The two men walked on towards the city. The road curved away from the coastline towards a wall at the edge of the city. It was dozens of feet high and whitewashed, gleaming brightly in the afternoon sun. They approached a gate. It was open and went in without as much as a nod from the guards posted at the gate. They entered a city of whitewashed buildings and bright, broad streets that all seemed to lead up to the cathedral. Camon and Jorn stuck to the street, staying close to the edge and behind mobs of people to avoid being seen by passersby. They followed the street right up to another wall that was not nearly as high but was open. They walked through it and towards the cathedral that looked foreboding from where they were now. They emerged from the street leading up to the cathedral into a courtyard. They got onto the archway bridge that went up to the first island.
Without the surrounding buildings to block the wind, they felt as if they were going to be swept off the bridge at any moment. A large courtyard occupied the middle island, then Camon spotted what he was looking for, the alms vault. It was a large stone structure situated near the edge of the island next to a guard wall.
“There it is,” he said to Jorn. “There is my payday.”
“The alms vault? What are you going to do? Rob the Church?”
“At the inception of the Paladin Order, the Church made a provision as part of the arrangement to provide a portion of alms for the Paladins. The elves crafted several impenetrable alms boxes for this purpose – to protect the alms and provide a way to grant access to the alms for the Paladins. Through a little magic, I can get the alms from the box,” Camon explained. “Let me see your bag.”
Jorn handed him the bag, and Camon nondescriptly made his way over to the alms vault then went around to the back of the box. Jorn curiously followed him, and Camon then went to work, placing his hands on the vault and chanting. The box glowed slightly, and nobody would have noticed if they did not know better. Jorn heard some noise, and then he heard money falling from within the box. Camon opened Jorn’s bag, and dozens of coins fell into the bag. Camon repeated the process several times until the girth of the bag was noticeably heavier than before. He then closed it and walked over to the edge and looked out to sea. Jorn walked by his side and looked out too.
“How much did you get?”
“Enough,” Camon said. “As a Paladin, I never take more than I need. But this time, I need more than usual. I rarely, if ever, take more than one rationing.”
“Why not rob it dry?”
“Because someone would notice,” Camon said. “And the money in the alms box is used for charity work. The cathedrals, regalia, and many other things – it’s all paid for by taxes. In the past, the alms supported the Church, but that changed after the formation of the Empire.”
“As far as I know, the churches in the west still use the alms for supporting the Church, but they don’t have massive cathedrals like this one either,” Jorn said.
“This is true, but even so, the cathedrals have always been paid for by taxes. Before the Empire, it was a source of national pride.”
“It seems odd to use a place of worship to show a nation’s vanity.”
“I didn’t say it was right, but that’s what prompted their construction, among other things. They are also talismans used by highly trained priests to bless or curse the land. But priests of that skill have not existed for centuries.”
“Well, if you have enough, we’d better get going. I’d love to see it on the inside, but I think that will have to wait until another visit. Maybe on the return.”
The two men turned and went back the way they came down from the cathedral’s way towards the city. They passed through the inner city back down into the outer city where they originally entered, then turned north towards the docks. They followed a broad street towards the northern side of the peninsula, and they came to the cliffs lined with hoists and a long stairway leading down to the docks below. The harbor was artificial with a massive seawall encompassing a swath of water filled with ships, docks, and cargo. Camon and Jorn took one of the many stairways going down to the docks, which were bustling with sailors and dock workers loading and unloading cargo. At one of the docks, there were several passenger ships with passengers embarking and disembarking. The passengers made their way down from and up to the city.
“We’ll find a captain there. We’ll need just a small charter,” Camon said. They found their way to the end of the docks handling the passenger traffic and then spotted a pub. They went into the pub, full of sailors, merchants, and other patrons sitting and talking business.
Camon went to an official-looking desk and spoke with its attendant, “Do you know where I can find a small charter?”
“That depends on where you’re going,” the attendant said.
Camon pulled a map on the desk closer to him and measured off some coordinates. “Here,” he said.
“The middle of the ocean in a place that is uncharted and at best barely known? You’re insane.”
“There’s something there,” Camon said. “It’s just not on your map.”
“What? Do you want to go fishing? Folks have sailed through that region in the past and have made no discoveries, so I’m pretty sure there’s nothing there worth mentioning.”
“You’re not going to even help me then?” Camon asked.
“Not worth my time,” the attendant said.
“I guess I’ll have to find my own way then,” Camon balked. He thrust the map back to the attendant and turned around and went and found a table and sat down. Jorn followed.
“Seems like this is going to be harder than we might have hoped for,” Jorn commented.
“I didn’t think it would be easy, but to not even attempt to help… I didn’t expect that.” Camon hailed a barmaid and ordered some ale for himself and Jorn. They drank the drinks in quiet as Camon brooded over the ale, thinking about what to do. He noticed a man sitting off in the corner of the room that kept looking at himself and Jorn. Camon stared back at him, and the man smirked, then got up and staggered over to Camon. He was dirty with several missing teeth and unkempt hair. Camon put his hand on the hilt of his sword as the man approached.
“Saw you were having trouble over there,” the man said as he came up to Jorn and Camon. He grabbed a stool and pulled it up to their table. He then grabbed Jorn’s ale, took a swig, and put it back down. “You know, if you’re looking for passage, I can help.”
“Unless you have a ship, I don’t see how,” Camon said.
“Got that. And a crew. Where ya need to go?”
“Into the uncharted regions in the Eastern Ocean. I have the coordinates if you want to know.”
“An exact spot. Treasure hunter?”
“Not exactly,” Camon relaxed the grip on his hilt. “I need to retrieve something…someone.”
“A person? Hah! You are crazy. But I’m crazier.” He took Camon’s ale and took a swig of it and put it back down.
“I can see that,” Jorn said.
“Hey. Just calling it like it is,” the man said.
“Where’s your crew?” Camon asked.
“On the ship. Where else?”
“And the ship?”
“In the harbor. Where else? A schooner. Double-masted. Not a big one, but it gets the job done. What’s the cargo?”
“Passengers,” Camon said. “Two there, three back.”
The man picked up Jorn’s ale again and swigged. He put it back in front of Jorn. “You can keep it,” Jorn said.
“Suit yourself.” The man took it and gulped it down and then slammed the mug on the table.
“What’s your price?” Camon said.
“I didn’t say I wanted to take the job,” the man said.
“I said I could help. Maybe me. Maybe another. Besides, you don’t look like the kind of man that’s got the kind of coin that can afford a trip like that.”
“Then name your price,” Camon said.
“Fifty gold. Not a pence less. Cough that up, moneybags!” the man bellowed.
“If I have it, then do I have a ship?”
“You got it!” the man exclaimed
Camon reached for Jorn’s bag and dropped it on the table. It chinked with the coins inside. He opened it, and the man looked in. His eyes got as wide as saucers.
“Now, where’s the ship?” Camon said.
“Pier twelve, slip two. I want it all in advance,” The man said.
“You’ll get your money when we’re out of the harbor, but not until then.”
“So when do you want to leave?”
“Now,” Camon said.
“It’s a falling tide, the time for ships to be underway. So unless you want me to forego this…”
“No, no. We leave now. We leave now,” the man said.
“Good. Lead the way.”
The man got up and walked towards the door, this time without a stagger. Camon got up, and Jorn followed.
“Do you think sailing with him is the best idea?” Jorn asked. “He doesn’t seem to be all there?”
“I’m really not interested in him as much as I am his ship and crew. If he’s got that, then we should be fine. We can keep him in check. We know he responds well to money.”
“Doesn’t everyone?” Jorn asked. Camon cocked his head with contempt. “Okay, doesn’t everyone except you?”
“Nevermind that. Let’s go.”
They walked out of the pub and onto the docks where they saw the man walking down the docks towards the pier he named. He turned down pier twelve and then walked the pier’s length to the very end where he came to the slip where his schooner was moored. He hopped on the boat and kicked one burly man who was sleeping drooped over a barrel. The other was sitting on the deck, whittling. The two men stood up.
“We got a job, boys!” the man shouted. “Let’s get to it! Go get me supplies for a crossing. Enough water, food, and ale for two months for seven people.”
“Six? But there’s only six if you count them.”
“I said seven. Now go, you brickhead,” the man screamed at the burly man. “Apologies, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Kelah, captain of this vessel. Welcome to my ship, the Sownoi. The dolt is Derac, and the skinny one is Yiyd. Ngo is below deck, I’m sure.”
Camon and Jorn boarded the vessel, and Camon introduced himself, “I’m Camon, and this is my associate Jorn.”
“So tell me, where are we are going?”
“Do you have a map?” Camon said.
“Is this a ship or a wagon? Of course, there’s a map!” Kelah commented.
“Then let’s see it,” Camon said.
Kelah went into the cabin at midship and came out with a tattered but intact map. He laid it on the deck. Camon measured off some coordinates and then put his finger precisely on the point he intended, “There. Exactly there. If there’s nothing, then we can come back with nothing.”
“There’s nothing on the map right there, ya know?”
“Then I guess you’ll just have an easy cruise then,” Camon said.
“Good point. It’s your gold.”
He folded the map back up and took it back into the cabin and came back up topside. A few minutes later, a large cart was rumbling down the pier to the schooner loaded with supplies being pushed by two men while Derac led the way. The two men offloaded the crates and barrels onto the ship according to Derac’s instructions, and then they secured it all in place. The cart was wheeled away, and then the captain gave the command to loose the moorings. Derac and Yiyd untied the moorings and raised a few sails that caught the evening breeze. The ship moved slowly as Kelah maneuvered it out of the piers into the harbor’s open water towards the gate. The ship cleared the seawall and then was out onto the waves. Derac, Ngo, and Yiyd worked the sails while Kelah was at the helm. He steered the vessel out away from the mainland onto the sea. With a full rigging now and a strong breeze, the vessel attacked the waves and was underway. They sailed southeast away from the city. Jorn and Camon cast a gaze back towards the cathedral that was ominous over the sea with the torch on the hand, burning brightly.
“I guess the torch doubles as a beacon too. That would explain the placement,” Jorn said.
“I hadn’t thought about it, but you’re right. Ships can find that in the night with ease.”
Once the course was laid in, Kelah gave the helm to Derac and came to Camon, “Now, where’s my money.”
Camon got the bag and counted out fifty pieces of gold and then handed it to Kelah, “There. Now no funny business.”
“The only funny business is you two want to go to the middle of nowhere. But I don’t care. You speak with coin, and I listen. She’s your ship. Make yourself at home!”
“As long as we understand that,” Camon said as he found a place and settled in for the long trip across the sea.