Here the story starts to resemble a very bad Monty Python sketch- complete with bad grammar, incorrect verb tenses, and wooden dialogue.
THE LAYAM DESERT
Basnu stopped, turned, and started walking back. He stopped over something on the ground and gingerly touched it being careful not to disturb the thing-whatever it was. Aidin and Jorlath walked over to where he was standing. Basnu looked up. The worried look in his face made the others anxious.
"What is it?" asked Aidin.
"I don't know." replied Basnu.
Aidin squatted down to have a closer look.
"It looks like some kind of animal track."
"Right ." said Basnu. He wrinkled his face ever so slightly.
Jorlath frowned. "Say, that's not what I think it is, is it?"
"I'm afraid so."
"You mean it belongs to a dragon."
"Yes, a small one. It might belong to a large bird. Do you see this line in the dust over here?" He pointed to some marks two feet away from the tracks.
"This could be where it was dragging its tail. Dragons can be ungainly on the ground. It's when they're flying they are most dangerous. It's quite probable to outrun one if we see it in time. This track is about a week old. It's far away by now."
"Let's hope so." exclaimed Aidin.
* * *
Day three began as the previous two. Their waterskins were running low and no storms or oases were in sight. Midmorning they came upon a stream let but it was dry. Atma and Basnu tried an old trick of theirs of poking into the dusty bottom in hopes of finding water below the surface yet it was to no avail. Wearily they trudged on, keeping a slow but steady pace due east toward Mt. Danyabad. Few words were spoken, indeed few were needed as they all knew their fate if no water was found. It was agreed by all that they would eat only hurried meals and march as long as possible. Time in this dry, bleak, and barren wasteland was certainly not measured in miles but in marches. No one mentioned it out loud but everyone instinctively knew that if no water was found by night the next day they would have to return and try the path through the mountains. Hours later the sun setting cast the sky into a brilliant display of red and gold but still no water in sight.
Just before dawn Atma woke. Something in the dead still night air caused him to sit up and listen. The wind was picking up in intensity. "Could it be a rain storm coming," he wondered. He listened closely. The light feeling in his heart sank once more. He woke Basnu who lie sleeping beside him.
"Basnu, do you feel what I feel." A groggy Basnu sat up and listened. A minute later he replied.
"Yes, a storm is certainly coming, but not a rainstorm. This is a Kasumba, a dust storm. Come, let's wake the others."
Malchius stretched uneasily and often being told that a dust storm was coming, he just about lost all hope and lay back down.
"How much time have we until it arrives?" asked Myridon.
"One hour maybe two," replied Basnu. "Can't say for certain. We must make preparations. We should cover up everything to keep out the dust."
For the next half-hour they feverishly worked to put all their belongings into their packs. The packs themselves were wrapped in blankets. They improvised turbans and waited.
As the dawn grew lighter the storm hit. They hunkered down to wait it out. They forgot their thirst as the storm grew in intensity. Then, sometime around mid-morning, no one was absolutely certain for the sun was completely hidden, a lull came in the storm. Aidin and Malchius threw off their blankets looked around. Atma and Basnu who knew better told them to get back down for in a Kasumba there is always a break midway.
"There's more?" asked Jorlath.
"The worst is yet to come, Atma replied.
"By the way, where is Myridon" asked Basnu.
"Over here," coughed the wizard. He had found a bit of a hole in the sand and was lying face down in it. He was completely covered up. Only bits and pieces of his dark blue clothing could be seen.
"I'd forgotten how bad these Kasumbas can be." He coughed. AMalchius are you all right?"
"Never better," he replied from his blanket and stuck his head back under.
"A morbid thought just occurred to me," said Jorlath.
"Our tracks will be hidden, No one can find us now."
The storm began anew. This time the storm seemed interminably long. However, in the end, it abated. The sand had gotten into everything. Their hair, clothes, packs, even their food. Nothing was untouched. The six weary, thirsty, and now extremely dusty travelers dusted themselves off and drank the last bit of remaining water they had left. They were more than halfway across the Layam now and decided to risk their chances to the other side.
"The human body can live without water for three days," explained Myridon. "Granted that you aren't quickly trekking through a desert. If we don't walk during the hottest part of the day we should be fine. Remember the Beren River is only three days away. The chances of finding at least one small stream between here and there is good."
The rest of that day they walked. The sun had set and still they walked. It was not until two hours after sunset that they took a break. The next morning at dawn found them marching eastward. Atma had a dream that they found water gushing out of a cave. He felt a strange excitement in him but kept silent.
"I see a lake, but it's in the sky," said Basnu.
"It's a trick of the eyes-an illusion," said Myridon.
An hour later Jorlath started murmuring Awater....water....water...." A minute later he stumbled to the ground. His brother and Malchius helped him to his feet, only to have him fall down again.
"No! I can walk for myself. I'm not quite dead yet."
They walked in single file with Atma leading the way. They came to a large sandy dune and stopped. There was no way to circumvent it. It would have to be climbed. Atma led the way marching steadily and resolutely forward. At the top he stopped and let out a wild yell. He threw down his pack and began running madly forward down the other side of the dune.
"Stop! Wait!" shouted his brother hoarsely, but his voice was so hard, dry, and cracked that Atma didn't hear him.
The others scrambled after him. At the top of the hill Malchius collapsed. It was about the third hour of the day, two days after the dust storm, and he had come to the last of his strength. The others struggled up the hill to his side. They heard a strange twinkling sound. Jorlath thought it was Basnu crying. He lifted up his head and saw, only a stones throw away, a scrubby little cactus. And beside it, a gurgling and bubbling stream of water. Moments later they joined Basnu on the streams edge, drinking.
The water was muddy and tasted rather bitter but nobody minded. They drunk to their hearts content and filled their water skins. Aidin spent a great deal of time trying to filter the water thru a small handkerchief, yet the result wasnt much different, bitter albeit a little less muddy.
Malchius began unpacking his belongings when Myridon said, "Don't think we intended to stay here long."
"Why not?" asked Malchius.
"We've come to a rare spot in the desert, an oasis-no water for miles. Where do you think the desert creatures will come at night? They'll come to this very spot. We'll do well to be many miles from here when night falls."
"Trust Myridon, Mal," said Basnu. "An oasis at night is no place for a small group of men armed or no. I still haven't forgotten those tracks we saw three days ago."
They rested for ten minutes more and then struck eastward again. They hoped to sight the Beren River late the next day. Once there, they would be out of the Layan Desert and have good clean water.
The company sat silent, so that they could scarcely hear one another breathe. Malchius subconsciously had been holding his breath. As Malchius watched, he took a deep breath. The dusty particles of sand irritated his nose. Before he had a chance to stifle it he sneezed. Immediately the dragon looked up. It cocked its head to the side then looked their direction The group froze. Myridon gazed coldly at Malchius then whispered hoarsely.
His warning was in vain. For the great beast started lumbering over toward them. Vainly Atma and Basnu and Myridon scanned the rocky territory behind them looking for somewhere to hide. The dragon walked closer-moving its head back and forth sniffing the air. Myridon found what looked like a small cave a hundred feet away behind them. The dragon was now fifty feet away.
The dragon was a beautiful shade of brown with mottled yellow specks on its back. The creature began fanning its wings slightly. Faster and faster they began to beat. Soon it was hovering over the ground. Its large red eyes caught the light of the setting sun and seemed to glow. The great serpent was fixed on the unfortunate travelers.
“Okay, everybody listen!” he whispered. “When I say fly follow me, understand?”
The others nodded.
“Basnu, get out your bow and make ready your swiftest arrow. You are to shoot as soon as I say fly.”
Basnu nodded and made ready.
Basnu loosed his swiftest arrow. It pierced the left eye of the great beast. The others were running furiously after Myridon to the cave. The arrow infuriated the dragon and let out a tremendous wail. Instead of halting like Myridon thought it would, the dragon charged. The dragon didn’t see Basnu hiding and so ran past him. The others were only yards away from the cave entrance. Only a few feet more remained when Malchius tripped and fell violently. There was no way he could possibly reach it in time. Quickly, Basnu let loose another arrow. This time it glanced harmlessly off the creature’s scaly back. It stopped and wheeled around. Basnu bit his lip in terror. He placed a third arrow and aimed for the other eye.
“Run!” Myridons voice cried. “Don’t look back. Run!”
Malchius picked himself up and clambered over the last few rocky yards to the cave. Myridon at once threw down his pack and furiously looked for something to distract the dragon from Basnu.
“Where is it! Oh, where is that thing.,” he cried.
The dragon was almost on top of Basnu now. Myridon found the thing he was looking for--a little glass vial of red fluid--and ran out of the cave.
Malchius shouted “Stop! Look!” and pointed.
Out from behind a large rock stepped a giant of a man. He had long black hair and a long black beard woven into three great locks. His clothing was very simple-leather shirt and pants, and leather sandals. In his hand he carried a great wooden pole, which he might have used as a staff or perhaps a walking stick. To the humans, however, it looked like the mast of a ship.
The giant began pummeling the dragon with it’s great club. The dragon slashed wildly with its tail but missed every time. Once in a while it knocked rocks towards the cave which kept the travelers on their toes. The repeated blows took their toll and gradually life left the great beast. The great man gave the dragon one last smash on the neck for good measure. He kicked the great reptilian monster and loped over to the cave entrance and sat down. He wiped the sweat off his brow and began laughing.
“That was mighty fine sport. I haven’t had such a good time in years.”
He looked down on the company, still huddled below.
“And who might you be little ones,” he roared.
Myridon stood up.
“The name’s Myridon,” he shouted.
“Mirror gone? What in the world are you up too old man?”
“Not mirror gone, Myr-i-don.”
“Myridon, eh. Funny name it is.”
“I’m rather fond of it myself.”
“What’s your business in my land?”
“We are just passing through and by chance stirred up this monster. We’re grateful for our lives.”
He didn’t think it wise to tell the giant their true plans.
“Just passing through, eh. You must have some important reason to pass through the Layam. Why didn’t you take one of the mountain paths?”
“To be quite frank, we didn’t expect to find any of the great beasts still living and so naturally we took the easy way.”
“So I see. And who are your friends?”
Malchius stood up and introduced himself.
“Greetings, Malchius is my name,” he quailed. Trying not to shake his legs too much.
“Malchius is a fitting name for you, little one. It means the far-seeing one in the tongue of the giants. But that is rarely spoken now as we are few and far between. And you others, what are your names?”
Aidin, Jorlath, and Atma stood up and introduced themselves one by one. Brontes peered closely at each one.
“And I’m Basnu!” Basnu said as he walked over to where the others stood.
“Well, well. A nice party you are,” roared the giant, “and just passing through my land, eh. No men have passed this way for hundreds of years. Not since my grandfathers father lived have any men been bold enough to take the Layam road.”
Brontes wisely suspected them to be up to some sort of mischief, perhaps servants of the emperor Megisteron of the realm of Maligmia east of Danyabad. Which shows you that he was a wise giant as far as giants go but he was of course quite wrong.
“Come, little ones, you will follow me to my dwelling. Tomorrow, if all goes well, I’ll escort you personally to the end of the Layam, as far as the Beren river.”
His first words frightened them. Friendly though he seemed to be, no one wants to go to a giants cave. But having told of his help to accommodate them through the final length of the desert raised their hopes again--a little. The company followed Brontes to his cave . He led them along through a rocky maze for half an hour behind the small cave where they first met. They came to a large round door which Brontes moved with little effort. The gap revealed the entrance to a very large cave. Slowly they walked in. The giant directed them to a long slab of rock. Here they sat down and waited while Brontes went further inside. They looked at one another. Malchius looked down at his feet. He couldn’t help think of the stories told him as a little boy sitting on his father’s knee.
“In the wild parts of the world,” he would say in a hushed tone. “Lies a mysterious sea. And on this sea are islands. Small, rocky islands known but to a few people. Now some of these islands are inhabited but not by men. Giants live here. Great and hideous creatures too. Some have only one eye, some have three. And they’re nearly always hungry. They especially like little boys.”
Malchius never dreamed he would actually meet one of these great men and soon forgot the stories after childhood. He certainly never expected to be sitting in ones cave after having his life saved by one, but here he sat and there he was. Myridon had nothing to say to the others so they sat in silence. A few minutes went by and Brontes reappeared carrying a large basket filled with food. He had the weary travelers spread a blanket over the stone table. He then proceeded to empty the contents of the basket on the table. There were all sorts of cheeses, loaves of piping-hot bread, and honey, and butter. Cautiously they eyed the food, thinking it was somehow poisoned or other.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Eat, my friends,” roared Brontes. “Surely you don’t still fear me?”
Slowly at first but eventually the travelers ate till their hearts content. The giant ate in silence and eyed them curiously while sitting in his great high chair high above them. After the meal was finished a great flagon was passed around. Each sipped the thick dark syrupy liquid. It was hot and warmed them right down to their toes. The guests felt much at ease after their droughts of the hot liquid and then Brontes began.
“Now. It’s time for the telling of your tale--the true tale. What is the real reason of your passing through my lands?”
Myridon cleared his throat and began.
“Our intention, Master Brontes, is to find the Sephirotic tree. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?”
“I’ve heard of it. It was supposedly destroyed well over a hundred ages ago. It was sone kind of magic tree they say. Gave one the who ate its fruit long life. Some even say they would never die.”
“Yes,” replied the wizard. “It’s been said to be destroyed in the great flood of Tuaz. It’s also been said that as the flood waters rose the twin brothers Remeul and Sereul took a branch of the Sephirotic tree and fled to the plains of Dangmar. And there in a hopeless race against the rising flood waters perished.”
“The plains of Dangmar are in the far eastern parts of Haran, and unless I’m mad. You’re in the wrong part of the world,” interrupted Brontes.
“Quite right, quite right,” said Myridon hastily. “But before they died Windmar the eagle, then the most noble of birds, saw them from afar. Down he flew from his lofty eyrie and beheld Remeul holding his dead brother in his arms. Close to death himself, Remeul in his last few breaths told Windmar of the tree. Windmar took the limb in his talons and flew to Mt. Danyabad. Upon when reaching, dropped the limb into a stream and there it was forgotten for many generations of men.”
Brontes laughed. “And so you believe this tale? That the tree of Ealdor is still growing?”
Myridon (who hated to be laughed) at replied.
“If the stories are true then we will find it.”
“Hmm,” the giant murmured. “It’s a mad venture you’re undertaking to be sure. However, I’ll help you on your way. With me as your guide, you’ll reach the Beren river in a few hours. But I must warn you. You will be on your own from there on. For I must return to my cave before dark. Even I daren’t remain in this place after dark. Dragons by day are easy foes. Dragons at night are another matter. Then they have the cover of night to conceal themselves and can attack you unawares.”
Malchius shivered slightly at this and asked. “Are there any dragons east of the Beren?”
“No, at least not to my knowledge,” replied Brontes. “Very little lives in and around Mt. Danyabad. A few small harmless creatures and of course some plant life.”
The group felt reassured at these words. Already their hearts were lifted and they felt the spirit of adventure rising in them again.
The next morning came early. They woke and found breakfast already laid out for them. Quickly they ate the honey bread , eggs, milk, and cheese. As they were finishing up, Brontes strolled in and flung down an old dirty sac. The bit of dust made by the impact caused Malchius to cough.
“Already for the journey, little ones?” he said.
“Yes, Master Brontes,” Malchius responded.
“It’s time we were off then. The sooner the better.”
Malchius took on last look at the cave. The huge earthenware vases in one corner. The ragged bundles and tattered oddments in another. It was certainly a homely-looking place. Not at all like the Rodamines caves in the Aeldorland. It was ‘well-lived in’ as he father would say.
Brontes led the troop back through the stone labyrinth till they came to the original path. Malchius looked around for the dead dragon but could only find a large black area on the ground where it had died.
“Whatever happened to the dragon?” he asked Myridon in a hushed tone. “Did Brontes make a meal of it or something?”
“No. I can assure you he didn’t eat it. Scavengers, don’t you know?”
Malchius shrugged his shoulders. “But it only died yesterday.”
“The desert is a very desolate and dangerous place my friend. Food is very scarce here. Only the strong survive in these parts. You probably haven’t noticed but you’ll almost never see an injured or crippled animal here. If you do it’ll be killed for food in a matter of hours.”
“Sounds rather gruesome.”
“Perhaps, but it’s the way of the wild. The death of one means the life of another.”
Brontes led them along a sandy path. His enormous gait forced the others to keep up an enormous pace. An hour later when they stopped for their first break by a small stream, Malchius and Aidin immediately flopped down to the ground and began drinking water.
“Ugh! This tastes horrendous,” exclaimed Malchius. “What’s in it?”
Brontes began roaring. For a solid minute he kept laughing. He pointed to a dark mound upstream. Moments later Myridon, Basnu, and Jorlath started laughing too. Aidin looked at Malchius and shrugged.
“Beats me,” he said. “Come on. Let’s check it out.”
They walked a few feet away only to catch a whiff of something terrible.
“Ugh! I think I know what it is,” said Malchius to Aidin but Aidin was down on his knees coughing violently and didn’t hear him.
Apparently a large animal had died and was still lying in the water. Brontes walked up and examined the carcass carefully. He poked and prodded at it with a stick then hastily returned.
“It’s just as I thought. A dragon has killed this beast only a few days ago. Sometimes when they kill they leave the bodies in the water. Days later they return to the feast. And look. Here’s a dragon track leading towards my home. This most likely was the monster I slew yesterday.”
Brontes led them in a wide arc to a point upstream the dead animal. Here they drank clean water to their hearts content. The Beren river was in site now. They could hear the tinkling of the water splashing against rocks. Pretty soon they arrived at its banks. Then Brontes, true to his word, left them and returned home.
“Well now,” said Myridon. “That was an adventure. Now the thing to do is ford the river and make camp. The Beren is not a deep river but it is very wide.”
Aidin took one of his boots off and placed his feet in the cold river. The cold sent shivers up his body and momentarily took his breath away.
“Cold enough for you?” laughed his brother.
“How’s it taste?”
“Quite good really. Certainly better than Bronte’s little brook.”
At this the others laughed. Fording the Beren proved no great obstacle. In half an hours time all were safely across. Basnu slipped once, about midway, but was still only wet to his knees.
“Well, stage three of our journey is complete,” exclaimed Myridon.