The Umdeshai Gorge was where the mighty Ahl cut through the mountains of Bahari from the Kingdom of Ishd to the plains of Urkardi-Om. The small village of Kavranen sat near the middle of the navigable branch of the river through the Gorge in a small valley, a green cleft between tightly packed mountains. Here, the brightly painted stores, inns, and cottages of the villagers perched on rocky outcrops and benches of varying heights above the flood line of the mighty river. The people of Kavranen, for the most part, lived symbiotically from the trade that traversed up and down the Ahl. The port of call was perhaps the most visited along the long journey through the Gorge.
Along with the food and lodging available, the port had other services of opportunity, both of low and high vocation, available to the boatmen. These included a variety of places for spiritual relaxation and high up in the small valley, against the sheer granite face of the mountain was a Temple of the Gomal monks. The monks kept to themselves for the most part, but there were occasions when sailors would wander up the valley to visit the Temple.
In happened one day, that a rotund old river barge captain named Penzmer lost a bet to a fellow drunken captain in the River Mermaid Inn and was tasked with climbing up to the Gomal Temple and bringing back something to prove that he had fulfilled the challenge. The other sailors and captains in the bar hooted and jeered. They thought it would serve old Penzmer, who was ill-liked, to be brought down a peg or two with such a physical challenge.
Penzmer, of course, was furious and accepted the challenge to most everyone’s amazement. Penzmer’s first mate tried to dissuade his master but was denied. Head held high, the captain waddled up the road.
Now the journey for our stubborn captain from the road to the path to the trail all the way up to the temple, half-shrouded in the fog pressing through the Gorge was not an easy one, but at last he did finally make it. He stood before the cavernous opening that was the front door of the Temple trying to catch his breath, when a young man appeared.
The young man was the mute orphan boy Maemahri, who the monks had taken in years before. Penzmer thought the young man looked quite strange for he was dressed only in roughspun pants, was completely hairless, and his skin was a shade of bronze that the captain had never seen before in all his travels.
“Could I get a drink of water?” asked the captain between breaths.
But the young man stood there, having not heard. Of course, the captain did not know Maemahri was deaf and being in ill-humor became quickly angry. This scared Maemahri and he ran away, back inside the Temple.
The captain followed him inside. The interior of the building was filled with many ornate artifacts, he saw from the flickering light provided by a host of candles. Some of these ornaments were clearly made of gold, he quickly noted. The air inside the Temple was scented with the smoke of incense and he heard the monks sandals on the stone and humming in prayer.
He spied a small golden figurine on a small dark wooden table covered by a blood-red cloth with golden tassels at its ends. The captain looked around quickly, checking to make sure he was unobserved, and placed the small, heavy statue in his coat pocket. The figurine had been of a mermaid holding a great sword. Inwardly, his mind calculated the value of so much gold and his mood brightened considerably. Penzmer decided to leave quickly, before anyone might notice what he had done.
What he didn’t know was that Maemahri, hiding in the shadows behind a massive column, had already noticed. And, while Maemahri may have lived with the austere peaceful monks, he was no monk.
Maemahri followed Captain Penzmer down the narrow, snaking trail away from the Temple. When the boatman came to a fork in the path, Maemahri hooded his eyes and nudged the man to take the left path in his mind. Penzmer took a step towards the right path at first but changed his mind and decided to take the left, unaware of the manipulation or the pursuit.
After some time the captain arrived at a high bench overlooking the Ahl river. “How did I get here?” he asked out loud, confused. He was sure he had been taking the same path back down as he had taken up the mountainside. He swore and turned around.
He jumped, startled. Behind him stood the young man he had seen at the Temple. He held out a bronze hand. The captain reached in his pocket and felt the cold metal of the statue.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded. He was terrified to see his own arm taking out the golden mermaid and handing it to the young man.
“Wait… how did you? Who are you?” he stammered.
The young man looked at the relic in his hand and then back up at the captain. His smile was that of a wolf. Maemahri raised the loose fist of his right hand and flicked his fingers open in a waving motion.
The startled captain felt his legs start walking backwards. He stepped closer and closer to the edge of the cliff, backing towards the river he could hear surging below.
“What are you doing? Wait. No! No!” he protested. The boot on his left foot slipped on the slick rock, his leg pinwheeled around in open space. He fought to retain his balance, save himself on one leg. Maemahri laughed like a jackal and flicked his index finger off his thumb. Penzmer screamed and toppled over the edge, splashing into the cold, clear waters of the Ahl. He was never seen again.
Copyright © 2014 Eric Schweitz
Photo prompt linked from The Heart of Writing.