Prisoners’s Journey

Prisoner\'s Journey chapters 5 & 6

4.

Jacobin and Estan had traveled far, much farther than they had originally thought of going. Some time ago on their journey – One year? Two? Estan wasn sure anymore – they had run into one of Estans friends at the monastery of their hometown, Janek. Estan was delighted and they stayed with him for a few days. It had been a military checkpoint, halfway turned into an actual town, where merchants and travelers of all sorts could rest and replenish their supplies. The go-to lie for Jacobin and Estan when needed was to say that they were pilgrims, traveling to see such-and-such holy site, and it was always convenient since places like that were everywhere. Not only did it take a lot of suspicion away from them but often they could even command respect once soldiers and officials checking their papers realized how much they had traveled and praised their devotion to the faith. With this route Jacobin and Estan would need to act exceedingly pious at every site and they had to partake in the rituals of the church of the Sun. Both of them hated it, even loathed, but the principle was over superseded by the practicality of it. In one of these ceremonies, they had met Javek.

Estan liked Javek, they had known each other since they were children: he was genuine and well meaning, polite, fairly well read and wasn without a sense of humor. All around he was just a pleasant person to be with, and it was no wonder that many befriended him with ease. Still, there had been some friction between Estan and Javek straight from the very beginning at the monastery without Javek realizing it, and it was that Javek was a genuine believer. Estan had ended up under the wing of the church as a child out of necessity since he had had no other place to go, and they had taken him in and once the other monks realized that Estan had some ability in magic his position became much better, and he received more education than a regular novice had access to. Despite his upbringing Estan could not find an ounce of faith in him: as a kid he had done the rituals just because he was supposed to, empty motions that guaranteed his daily bread, and once he had become older and could think more about things, the whole idea of religion was even more beyond him. When he had with other monks visited nearby towns and cities to run various errands for the monastery, he had seen people of other faiths or with different versions of his own and felt the animosity run between them. It immediately made sense to him that all this was something that people did this across the world automatically, believed in something beyond themselves, and he could differentiate what magic could do as a separate phenomenon from his faith, despite what was hammered into his head daily. Through this attitude he had become friends with Jacobin in fact: after the war Jacobin had been a tenant farmer for a few years very near the monastery. As part of the tithings to the church some grain was brought from this farm to the monks and Estan and Jacobin had found allies in each other quickly. In the case of Jacobins lack of faith, he remembered how in his childhood the local priest was revered so deeply that the villagers would even get on their knees as the priest walked by, but the man himself didn qualify for these holy attributes but abused his position, first carefully but then more and more shamelessly. During the war he wasn any more impressed with the holy men that visited the front or whose sermons they had to go listen to back at the barracks. What he saw was a racket, only realizing the scope of it the more he saw the world.

Jacobin had met many prideful men in his life, those who were active and diligent and based their self-love on the fact that they were accomplishing so much and then the lazy ones, who could just sit, drink and eat and still be completely convinced about their own superior qualities, to the point of almost seeming intoxicated about themselves. Both types had been especially abundant in the military. What especially irked him about religious people was that many of them had a similar characteristic to the second sort of person, but their pride was infused into their faith: they had found the correct path and basked in its light, the faith elevating their virtue above other men. What love the Allmighty provided was meant for them, if not only then at least especially. Javek seemed to have traces of this attribute but wasn the worst case of it, and Estan had told Jacobin that questioning of faith would not bring Javek to snitching about the skeptics, but they would receive a heavy sermon instead. Neither Estan nor Jacobin were too thrilled to receive either of these consequences, so they kept their opinions to themselves, like they had learned to do a long time ago. Jacobin liked Javek well enough but was still somewhat relived when their paths separated.

What was interesting was the mission Javek was now on. He had traveled far, far east to the edge of the Shuitan empire, into the city of Saanathas. Church of the Sun had been trying to bring their faith into the empire for decades now, but the Shuitans were having none of it. They had their own ancient and well-established customs and saw very little use in having new and foreign religions being imported there, and the Shuitan rulers had strictly suffocated any traces of it inside their borders. They, however, liked gold and silver as much as anybody else and had established a few trading cities and ports open to everybody, and as a concession to sweeten the deal they allowed missionaries of foreign faiths to exist in these areas, even though they very strictly controlled what was allowed to enter any deeper into their empire. Church of the Sun had doubled down on their efforts and in this Javek had found his niche: he was studious and gifted in languages so he had been tasked to learn and translate what Shuitan holy texts he could. The project was supposed to be kept hush hush since the Shuitans most likely would not be happy about it, but Javek had confined to Estan since they were – in the impression that Estan had given him – fellow monks besides old friends. The explanation given to Javek for this undertaking was that in order for the Shuitans to open up for the church doctrines the Suns texts would not only have to be translated, but ”outwardly modified ” to follow the style and flavor of the Shuitan culture so that they could be more easily adopted. Estan was sure that the another and not audibly uttered reason was that the church was looking for material to attack the Shuitan religions more effectively, but he was also sure that the faithful Javek could not believe something like that at all about his beloved church. Javek was not only chosen because of his linguistic and literary skills, but because his faith was unwavering.

In their current travels Estan and Jacobin realized that Saanathas was so close that they might as well make it their destination. They both were almost startled by the fact that they had ended up so far, without clear thought and just by putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn the last place in the world they thought they could wind up, but it was close to it. Jacobin and Estan had become so used to the traveling way of life that their pasts seemed like parts of another life, clear and vivid memories but still almost dreamlike. Finding themselves in this clearly foreign and different environment made their journey more ”true ” to them. They had come all this way but for all they knew the Shuitan empire might as well be practically infinite. The world really was a big place.

Saanasthas was a city to see. Exotic sights, sounds and smells surrounded Estan and Jacobin. Everything was colorful and even the most mundane objects, like the signposts on the sides of the roads or a teakettle two gentlemen were pouring their drinks from on a terrace of an coffeehouse seemed to have been given serious aesthetic thought, as if nothing without an soul wasn allowed to exist, no matter how humble its purpose might have been. Brisk soldiers were walking all over the place, looking fit and determined in their breastplates and helmets, signaling the strength of the empire with their every step. Here and there you could see a government official hurrying along to conduct their duties, holding their hands together at their chests to keep their wide sleeves from touching the ground. More important ones were carried around in sedan chairs, wearing ornamental hats to further distinguish their position. At one corner Estan and Jacobin nearly jumped in the air when they saw a hideous beast suddenly tower over them, carrying cargo on its humped back, led by a young boy who kept it on an leash. Neither Jacobin or Estan liked horses, most of them back at their home village had been skittish and mean-tempered, but what could be the positive features of animals like that, they could not fathom. They wondered how many other animals there could be over here that they had never seen.

Using the lodgings of the church of the Sun as a place to stay seemed logical in a foreign place like this, they would have to attend some ceremonies and listen to sermons, but it was better than to be ripped off by the locals. Jacobin thought about trying to exchange the jewel necklace he had taken from the mansion for money in this city, but they had no idea what that items actual worth was, so Jacobin was sure that they would be taken advantage of no matter where they want to pawn it, so he dropped the idea for now. They quickly realized that things didn work here as smoothly as they had expected anyway: very few spoke at all any of the languages that Jacobin or Estan understood and when they approached innkeepers and tavern owners to ask about the location of the churchs mission, everybody started with saying that they couldn stay here, expecting that the foreigners were asking to sleep the nights at their place of business. Puzzled, Jacobin and Estan were now asking why this was the case and they managed to figure out what was going on only after quite a bit detective work. Apparently, the state was controlling the visiting of foreigners in the city with a firm hand, and even though you could come and go as you pleased, you could only stay at the few buildings meant for the foreign merchants. Accommodating foreigners was severely punished so few wanted to take the risk. If you were found sleeping on the streets by the night watchmen, that could mean jail and you would probably be liberated from most of your money and possessions both officially and unofficially. Finding the trading company – apparently that was what it was called – or a really good place to hide for the night started to become exceedingly important. The latter option could be too problematic: they stuck out like a sore thumb, strangers as they were, and the locals could be eager to report them, even if there was no promise of a reward. The mission for the church of the Sun was supposed to be in the same building complex as the trading company. Estan guessed that the monks and priests probably weren very happy to share the rooms with the greedy businessmen whose occupation was against the holy teachings, but it seemed that over here the only way for outsiders to exist was through compromise, saintly or not. Jacobin and Estan had walked quite a long distance in the city streets and now they found themselves in the Saanasthas red light district. It wasn that late, and it was summer, so there was plenty of light, but it seemed weird to see people already so drunk, the prostitutes calling for customers so noisily and the gambling halls full to the brim. ”Cultured or not, peoples endless pursuit for entertainment and debauchery was same everywhere. ” Jacobin thought. He chuckled to himself when he realized that this part of the city reminded him most about the capital of Arkansia. Some things were different though: loud yelling could be heard from one of the gambling halls and a customer – apparently running out of luck and then taking exception to his fate – was thrown out by the doorman of the place. The man hit the dirt road face first, his hat and jacket thrown on top of him when tried to get up. The man was now clearly after for revenge and tried to go straight back into the building, but two policemen apprehended him immediately, wrestling him to the ground and tying his hands. Jacobin hadn even realized it, but the street was completely full of constables on their beat, not recognizing them since everybody here wore of similar robes, none of them signaling any meaning to the strangers in a strange land. Very quickly other policemen took custody of the would-be brawler and first two at the scene went back to do their rounds. The street was quite long so Jacobin could follow for a long while what was happening as he kept on walking, and he was impressed with the how efficiently things were run here. Back home the ruffians and troublemakers would have had been left for business owners of the redlight district to take care of, but here the city – or maybe the state? – wanted to extend its hand even to the grimiest parts of its territories. It dawned to Jacobin how urgent it was becoming for them to find a sanctified place to spend the coming night.

Finally, they reached the trading company gates, a collection of quite big buildings tightly standing next to each other. The streets leading out of the complex were all covered with tall wooden walls with locked doors in them. Light was pouring out of the windows of the tall buildings and in the upper floors the merchants were apparently in a festive mood too, having chosen to show that their feasts and parties were not any lesser than their Shuitan counterparts. Music, yelling, laughing and the stomps of dancing feet on a wooden floor were somewhat muffled but still clearly audible to the streets outside the company. After passing two corners Jacobin and Estan finally found an open gate with two guards leaning against it, clearly bored and lethargic, but this time in armor and uniforms that they recognized. One of them lazily lifted his gaze towards approaching Estan and Jacobin, barely interested in his surroundings.

Jacobin and Estan were on their best behavior, as meek as possible, bowing to the guard, but when Estan tried to open his mouth and explain his request, the guard lifted his arm up, palm facing him, cutting Estan off. The man whistled somewhere behind him and Estan could glimpse that there were more soldiers inside, playing cards on a cheap and crude table, an lantern illuminating their game. It was going to be another hot summer night without real or true darkness, only twilight even at the darkest moment, but the lantern was still required to make out who were going to be the winners and losers in their graveyard shift. One of the soldiers lifted his head from the cards when he heard the whistle, others just barely turning their heads towards to the sound of the call, some too deep in the game to even register any noise at all. The one responding stood up, placed his cards face down on the cruddy table and made very significant glanzes to his companions, making clear to them that he would know if something was up when he came back, stepped over the wooden bech he had been sitting on and walked to Estan and Jacobin, both bowing to this new guard, most likely the boss of the bunch. The man put his hands on his hips and nodded as a sign that he was now listening.

”Sir, we are pilgrims all the way from Arkansia, visiting all the holy sites of the Sun, looking for a place to stay for the night. We have understood that the churchs mission is located in the trading companys premises and are asking if they would give as a place to rest our heads. We would be grateful and burn incence for the good of our hosts souls. ” Estan said, gaze fixed at the soldiers feet, following the proper conduct when talking to your superiors. The head of the guards frowned, glanzed at the guard leaning against the wall next to him who looked back and then he groaned. ”Look, I know that this is the only place for you guys to stay in and your request is completely within reason, but why do you have to lie to me like Im an complete idiot in the first sentence you utter from your mouths? No pilgrim is so ignorant or with so bad sense of direction that he is going to end up in goddamn Saanasthas. There are no holy sites of the Sun to worship for at least two hundred miles from here and even a child would know that. You will really need to start to think through what that kind of attitude is going to bring your way. ” Estans face became as red as a beet. He was tired and hungry and hadn thought for even half a second what would have been smart to say, so he had automatically recited the same basic premise he had used a hundred times before on so many occasions. It maybe had worked even too well and the thought of the story failing to deliver had become unconsciously too far fetched for him to take seriously, even though right here in this place it was the least believable tale he could have possibly told. He was more embarrassed about his stupidity than worried of not being let in. Jacobin came to his rescue, deciding that the best thing to do was to fess up and hope for the best. Lying more would just be digging the pit they were in much deeper and the guard was now suspicious from the start. ”You
e right sir, we
e sorry. My friend wasn thinking and we often use that story to get a place to sleep in the pilgrims quarters in the monasteries and churches we pass by. We aren particularly faithful believers and we just travel for the sake of travelling, doing whatever jobs we can find wherever we go and then move on. We have come such a long way that we ended this far and wanted to see a glimpse of the Shuitans now that there was a possibility. One of our friends is supposedly staying here and we wanted to visit him too. We had no idea how things worked around here and were caught off guard. Please forgive us, we meant no harm. ” Jacobin bowed deeper and on the sly shoved Estan with his elbow for him to do the same, to which Estan complied, if not for any other reason than to better hide his burning cheeks. The boss of the guards clearly was a fatherly type, his voice now softer. ”See, was that so hard? If you now are bending the truth again and those ”odd jobs ” you mentioned are something more from the criminal side, know that here any of that here is practically impossible. The Shuitans are hawks and for us its very easy to follow what our boys are doing since everyones presence is recorded and their activities are monitored in order for us to be present in this city at all. The merchants or the clergy have very little patience for any sort of tomfoolery, drunken or otherwise, so the repercussions will be severe. As for work, the only type you will find is what you can get here inside these walls, and as an punishment for your impertinence the first week youll be cleaning the stables, peeling potatoes and scrubbing the floors. After that we will see if there is any actual use for you at all. If this doesn suit you, you better break the sprinting record and get out of this city and its vicinity as fast as you can, before you can finally get your sleep inside a Shuitan prison cell. That will be your taste of the exotic cultures. These are your options, take it or leave it. ”

Jacobin and Estan mumbled words of gratitude and apology, bowing constantly in the process. Getting out of the city would really have been a risky race and they were running out of money and food, having blindly assumed that they could conduct their business here just as easily as elsewhere. It now seemed that at worst they would be stuck here for an week and if something worse was going to happen, they could at last pick a better time for their escape. Jacobin suspected that there could have been some slight sense of Arkansian solidarity at play here, since he would have thought that they would not have been given any mercy at all. Maybe the people in this island of an trading post were generally more welcoming to anybody with more familiar features, stranded as they were in this vast and uncharted territory.

The guard nodded his agreement and ordered one of the soldiers from the card table to escort Jacobin and Estan into the missions sleeping quarters, but then changed his mind who should take them since he couldn continue playing if they were going to be short of a one person again, so he gave the task to one of the guards standing at the gate instead. When Estan and Jacobin passed him and entered the trading companys gate, the soldier in charge became a little curious. ”So whos supposed to be your friend in here? You mentioned something about that too. ” Estan turned towards him to answer. ”A monk called Javek, sir. We were in training together at the same monastery in my hometown many years ago. We met again on our travels. ” The soldier blinked and then burst out laughing. Estan also noticed how the guard taking them rolled his eyes and one of the card players at the table snickered. ”You should have started with that and I would have completely believed for you to be the most inept pilgrims in the world, without any doubt in my mind. You
e not going to see your friend around here, thats for sure. Hope you won prove your neck of the woods to be a place where all the loonies come from. ” the guard said and shook his head. ”Why? Has something happened? Is he alive? ” Estan asked and straightened up, completely forgetting the proper way to speak and behave, but the soldier didn really seem to mind. He rubbed his chin when he answered. ”Well, I think he is, since they haven carried around the public execution yet, even though hes been locked up for quite a while now. Honestly I don really know the specifics of what was going on with him, now that I think about it. He was a crafty one and he had succeeded in mastering the moonspeak the Shuitans speak here, so he actually had the best chances of making some converts. The mission has in all honesty largely been a big joke since very few of the monks have absorbed the language and the people here are too conscious of their own achievements anyway to be paying much attention to what some foreign fool is telling them about how the world actually works, especially if those talking struggle with the most basic of words. But this Javek fellow got the grasp of it and he started to go among the Shuitans to preach about the good word. At first he had little success but he got some attention for speaking so well and even I could see that many of the officials here showed a sour face when they saw him. Then, at some point, he started to talk about something that pulled people to him like an magnet: he climbed on top a box at the market place or stood at the galleys at the Central Square when they were empty and not in use, and the folk around here started to gather in masses to listen to him, first only a few of them, but eventually more and more, low- and highborn alike. Some of the officials started to challenge him as he gave his sermons, but I guess it didn go as well as they had thought since, as far as I can tell because I couldn understand a word that they were saying, Javek defended his position pretty well and many of the debaters became flustered and silent. Some of them, holding more favorable views towards the monk, invited him to their homes and other of the better folk came to listen to him, unheard of in the history of this city. This phase went on for a short while, then the Shuitan bureaucrats started to visit our superiors here at the trading company, angry as all hell. Now, at this point I was willing to believe that the man was a saint and he had been able show these heathens here the true way and that was just too much for the local big wigs but it really didn turn out like that at in the end. A lot of money goes through this place, money and materials we desperately need back in Arkansia, so our leaders were in a bit of a pickle trying to decide what they should do about this situation. One one hand the business here was too profitable to endanger but then again not backing our new preacher here would make us look like we had no backbone or principles at all, on top of causing great schism between the church and our state. But then the heads of the mission here invited Javek for a talk, and after that meeting they were just as mad as the Shuitans! Whatever he was saying managed to anger everybody. Both sides here were fuming but they were somewhat hesitant in taking him in since he had managed to gain kind of a lot of followers here, but then on top of that the monk managed to make them angry too. He was booed and rotten vegetables and rocks were thrown in his way, I remember him getting hit good a couple of times. The coast was clear and our superiors gave their blessing for the Shuitan officials to take the madman away, stating that he had lost his mind and in no way represented the church of the Sun or the views of Arkansia. Shortly after that things returned to normal for our and their relief, business being conducted as usual once again. I don know know if many of the Shuitans here even remember the episode too well anymore, even though it was supposedly a big deal and happened somewhat recently. ” The guard stopped rubbing his chin and looked at Estan. ”Actually, its really good that this came up now and to me, you boys are lucky today. Don mention that loony to anybody here, its going to bring up bad memories and somebody might become inclined to throw you out. Forget your friend, thats the smart thing to do. Do your jobs and remember to attend the sermons the monks here conduct. And Ill tell you what, thats some good advice. ” Estan thanked the soldier and he and Jacobin went their way with the guard who was taking them to the monks quarters. ”Oh, Javek! ” Estan thought to himself, sadness stinging in his heard. ”What did you do? ”

In the early morning Jacobin and Estan were woken up very early to assist in the kitchen with the making of the breakfast for the working folk and monks of the trading company, the nobles and wealthy merchants having their own kitchen. After that they spent severals hours cleaning the stables, the rest of the day being occupied in various menial tasks given to them by the maids and servants of the place, scrubbing the floors being one of them, just like the boss of the gate guards had told them. The work continued late into the evening and they fell asleep as soon as they hit the hay they were given to sleep on, but the morning came way too fast for them to recover from the previous days taxing work. After the third day of this Jacobin was a little sour towards Estan for his blundering of the story. Their only pay were the roof over their heads and the meager meals they received, without generating any money for them to save or buy future rations with. Jacobin thought that if they were swindled and this was going to be their only means of existence in the city, it would be time to take a hike and tighten their belts, trying to turn their luck somehow at some other place, wherever that may be. Luckily though the soldier who had let them in was a man of his word: Krys was his name and he turned out to be a sergeant and after a week, just as was promised, he took Jacobin and Estan aside and interviewed both of them to find out what kind of jobs they would be suitable to do. It didn take long for him to decide that Estan could work as a scribe and an secretarys assistant at the many offices the trading company held since he could write so well and fast and Jacobin got assigned at the carpenters shop in the basement of one the buildings. Apparently it was easier to manufacture the furniture and other wooden items needed in the trading company itself than to buy or bring them from somewhere else, since almost all of the nobles here wanted their rooms to remind them of their homes as much as possible, everything made in the same style and fashion as back in Arkansia. There were people here from other countries as well and they wanted their own furniture too, but the styles were so similar to the designs in Arkansia so it wasn a big problem for the carpenters. Jacobin had some skill in woodworking and he was eager to learn more. He and Estan were now paid salaries, not necessarily good ones but they were much better than nothing. Part of it went to buying meat for their meals at the mess hall of the workers since they were mostly fed vegetarian meals made in the local style which apparently was cheaper than making the kind of cuisine the would have gotten back at home. Estan didn mind the food too much, but Jacobin almost despised what they were served, even though he was not normally picky at what they managed to put into their mouths. Both of them craved meat, however.

They also had some free time for themselves now and were allowed to visit the city if they first checked in with the guards who wrote their names and the times of departure up. Most of the other people in the trading company didn much like to leave since they were afraid of getting drunk and into trouble outside of the sanctified area. They could gamble and drink as much as they wanted within the reason allowed by their masters inside their compound, and the lords themselves conducted those activities regularly only here too, so leaving had become mostly a part of conducting business, pointless to do otherwise. Probably thats why leaving was allowed at all with regular workers in the first place, since there had been barely any incidents after the first few years, people opting to stay in their own small slice instead of the larger world. Giving the possibility to leave gave a sense of freedom that few actually excercised and lifted the working peoples spirits, so there was no reason to decline this morale booster free of charge. The only thing the men craved from the great city were female companions, so once the many prostitutes of Saanasthas realized that the customers from the trading company were hesitant to come to them, they went to the trading company instead. Every weekend evening a line of working girls gathered at the backdoor of the company and every weekend morning they left with pockets heavy from coin. Jacobin had had a good, hearty laugh when he had watched the monks faces contort from revolt and disdain every Friday from having to live in the midst of the sin and debauchery. Apparently the head priest had tried with laudable effort to make the workers and soldiers stay away from the carnal pleasures, but accepted his defeat when the nobles had admitted that the whoring was being allowed to continue on purpose for the sake of the mens morale. ”They are far away from home and you can expect the lower rank to be able to contain themselves indefinitely. They sin but through this sin they will be content and will not commit the even worse crime of mutiny against their righteous masters. You can pray for them and they can repent once they get home. ” Apparently the nobles couldn resist much either since Friday was their favorite day too and some of them were collecting ”the house money ” from the visiting prostitutes. Jacobin wondered if the monks and the priests were praying for the nobles souls too. Estan went out a lot, Jacobin not so much, not because he wasn interested but because he had much more to learn at his new job than Estan. Any new skill or betterment of an familiar trade was like putting money in the bank for him. Carpenters were needed everywhere.

Krys proved out to be more and more of an decent person, if not outright becoming an friend then at least an very likeable superior, somebody you were happy to do things for. When Jacobin and Estan and been doing to menial tasks during the first week Krys had popped in to check on them a couple of times a day, asking from the servants around them how they had been doing, without failing to crack jokes and chat with Jacobin and Estan each time too. When cleaning the stables Krys had seen Estans face and had laughed heartily. ”Shovel that shit, boys! Its almost as good for your souls as the evening mass! No offense, Father. ” he added when a priest within an hearing distance had glanced Krys with an evil eye. It wasn that he was not a faithful believer or a conscientious foreman, on the contrary, but those traits of his character didn mean that he wouldn laugh when there was something to laugh at. Kryss jokes were crude, but not necessarily crass. It was the kind of humor that soldiers would enjoy and it gave his demeanor an easygoing manner, the actual orders fitted into the midst of his daily banter. He had the authority, no question about it, but it seemed to belong to him naturally, without any sort of pompousness or underlining. Krys said what you were supposed to do and then you did it. But if you had some sort of trouble, Krys wasn without sympathy. Loyalty and good work was noted and rewarded, even if there wasn that much he could actually reward you with, but an kind word or a free cup of the cheap coffee available in the mess hall were still miles ahead of what you could normally expect from your superiors. Kryss vice was gambling and sometimes he was in a foul mood after losing too much but he never took that out on those under him. He became silent and the jokes were not flowing, but that never lasted for long. Jacobin thought to himself that it mattered so much who you were working with to make the job itself bearable. A hard job under a good boss could be much better than an easy one with an awful superior.

Days went by comfortably, weeks blending together in the lull of their new routine. Still, Estan couldn get Javek out of his mind. Estan had seen him daily for most of his childhood and adolescence, doing the chores of the monastic life together, eating at the same table, learning the prayers and hyms side by side. Estan felt bad for Javek, imagining him sitting in chains in some dark and dank dungeon as the victim of whatever petty reason the fate had sealed for him. Estan had been asking Krys various things about Saanasthas, trying to learn more about the comings and goings of the great city, but had found himself unable of not trying to pry more information about Javeks fate and possible whereabouts. He didn straight up ask about the locations of different prisons since that seemed too obvious, but he did ask about where the did the public executions happened and when they usually took place. Krys realized where Estan was trying to get at anyway. ”Look, I told you before that your friend hasn been hanged yet, not publicly anyway. Its possible that they did him in quietly, but maybe not. He caused such an fuss and the Shuitans got our superiors acceptance so its possible that they want to execute him publicly to show that people like him will get whats coming to them. Maybe their waiting a bit so that his slander is not so fresh in everyones memories and then hang him, but I don know if that makes any sense. Theyve got their own logic here anyway. ” The he glanced at Estan. ”Youve been doing good here, so don blow it by doing something stupid, you hear? I said that before too. ” So he had and Estan was certain that there would not much be any possibilities to pull any stunts anyway even if he wanted to. Mostly the feeling of not knowing gnawed at him in the bottom of his stomach, and at best he would have wanted to say good bye if there was any chance to do so. At least that much Estan owed to Javek, especially in this world suddenly turned against him.

So Estan walked through the city whenever he had the time, somehow and someway hoping that he would get hints of where Javek might be or if he was alive at all. In his wanderings Estan did find the Central Square and several market squares, the very places where Javek had acquired his fame, but that didn really help him at all. He couldn ask around because of the language barrier and besides that, he probably would end up in trouble if Estan would have been able to do so, gaining an whiff of that same notoriety that had served Javek so badly. So he wandered around aimlessly, in the midst of the sea of people, sweating in the endless heat, his story and drama being just one grain of sand in the desert of the wider world.

Estan ended up discovering a bunch of different places where prisoners of all sorts were being kept, but the buildings here were all massive and housed various government offices and services, like the police and the fire brigade, even containing large bathhouses for the various levels of civil servants, so it was very hard to know if the jails in any specific place were big or small or meant for more serious criminals, not that Estan could even know what category of an offender Javek was for these people anyway and what would in their minds be the right placement for him. At any rate it really seemed that working for the state was the thing to do in this empire, and Estan wondered how people managed to get those positions. His home of Arkansia felt more and more backwards and rustic compared to this far away neighbor. If fortune had rang different for him and Estan would have had been born here, he pondered if he would have had more sense of belonging and possibility in his life, but he asked this mostly as an way to entertain himself, without much seriousness in the tone of it. He was woken up from his thoughts when he saw a minor incident occurring in front of one of these massive government buildings.

There were a couple of soldiers and two or three apparently minor officials with their servants locked in an loud argument, but it was a little hard for Estan to see if the third official actually was one and not a servant, since their robes weren much flashier or more elaborate than what the common people wore, but two of their group wore the special hats that indicated their position and they were loudest ones. Estan couldn understand what was being said and the street they were in was busy anyway, so not much could be heard except a word here and there being yelled over the regular noises of the city. The soldiers were queasy and embarrassed, almost looking at the walls around them and very clearly not wanting to be there. One of them – apparently the leader of their group – tried to calm the upset civil servants. His attempts seemingly were in vain and they just got angrier and louder, now passers by glancing at them and some even stopping completely in their tracks, clearly not approving of what they were seeing. One of the officials was getting on a soldiers face and too close for comfort so, most likely without him even intending to do so and only doing it as an reflex, the soldier pushed the man back. He didn do it hard or roughly, in fact the motion was almost gentle, but the frail, uncordinated and lightweight official who had never lifted anything heavier than an pen in his life, stumbled back several meters and fell on his back, actually somersaulting twice before stopping. The official got up almost instantly and clearly was not hurt at all, but the soldier who had shoved him had become white as a sheet and his comrades looked at him with horrified faces, as if he had become an leper in an instant. The other official and their servants shared the same expressions and when the one who had been pushed got back, the groups stared at each other for a few seconds and then parted their ways in silence. The people watching in the street were shaking their heads or coughing in the awkward situation before they also kept going on with their errands. Apparently a taboo had been broken and there would be hell to pay, but Estan wasn sure how unreasonable the officials had been since he didn know what the argument had been about. What was clear was that the end result could have been much worse, since the street was busy and carriages were coming and going on it very frequently, so it had been a stroke of luck that the flimsy public servant had not been pushed under one. Still, the soldier who had done the deed was hanging his head and doing the walk of shame when he left with his fellow troops, and before they passed a corner Estan could see the leader of the group smack the offender hard to the back of his head, the metallic clang of an gauntlet hitting the iron helmet being clearly audible even though they were now far away. The upset but now quiet officials were walking the other way and passing Estan when one of them who had not been pushed and also wore the hat noticed him and stopped. To Estans surprise the man said something to his comrades and they continued on, but the official himself approached him.

”Even the likes of you can produce a true visionary and a man of widom and truth, but what do the rest of your kind do? None have come from your ranks to defend the one sage that had something to say, something real, but instead you threw him out like a basin full of dirty water, sighing relief when you could grab coins once more with your dirty hands and black consciences. You think you were smart but think again: what you have only shown is that your lot has no backbone and no pride, allowing others to walk all over you in any way they please as long as they throw some scraps your way, like a beaten mutt begging for food. We suspected it, almost knew it, but you underlined your weakness and moral hollowness in such an way that it revolted us. You
e ready to be run over and now its only a matter of time. ” Estan had just stared the man with his eyes wide, not having expected such an sermon and lecture coming his way, especially from somebody who would never stoop so low as to talk to him and who should not even know his language. The officials accent was strong but he spoke with ease. Estan realized that he should bow and he mumbled apologies that he didn know what the good sir was referring to. The official sighed with contempt. ”And now you play dumb when your backs are against the wall. ” He nodded his head towards the building in front of which he and his companions had had the confrontation with the guards. ”The sage is there, right before your eyes, and you look the other way. I suspect that they locked into the same dungeons your virtue, however little there was left of it. ” The official turned his back to Estan and walked away, the air of loathing and bitterness trailing after him. Estan lifted his head from the bowing position, still surprised at the outburst, especially since somehow the whole of Arkansia was apparently was compiled into him in the officials eyes, but then he started to realize what was happening and his heart started to race. He glanzed towards the building the official had meant and a new batch of guards where arriving to the street in front of it, the previous ones now probably dealing with the fallout their episode had caused. The place looked like any other government building here, not distinct in any way, and Estan could not believe his luck if the official truly had been right. He decided to not try to check the place out now, after there already had been people trying to get in, but tomorrow, later at night, when the streets would be calmer.

Estans plans got delayed since he was so swamped with work. He and some other clerks had to repeat an inventory for an shipment several times since all the items the merchant was supposed to have weren there, so the issue caused a lot of bad blood and was probably going to be taken to court. Estan couldn catch a break for two days and first the merchants were breathing down his neck, then the bailiffs didn leave him alone and finally the lawyers themselves were watching them go over the cargo yet again. Estan could hit the bed only very late at night and there was no time for excurcions to the jail cells were Javek was supposedly kept. He confined his plans to Jacobin. ”Yeah, I appreciate the sentiment and Im sure he would do too. Its important to try to do the right thing when you can. Whether it works out or not at least theres dignity in it. Oftentimes thats all we can ask, as sad as that is. ” Jacobin answered approvingly. He rubbed his chin while laying down in his bunk, thinking about the issue. ”Now, if I were you, I would try to get in by saying you want to do Javeks last rites, say that you and your fellow monks wanted to pray for the condemned man in person and burn some incense, preparing him for the afterlife, since the man was insane and didn really know what he was doing and was entitled to at least some pity and sympathy. Very likely the guards there don speak much of our language so you should snatch a priests hood and some other paraphernalia from the missions storage. If you look like that when you go there they probably figure out what you want without much words anyway. If they complain about your visit to the trading company later so what? Maybe Krys will chew you out privately if he hears about it but he is not going to make a big deal out of it, hes much too decent and reasonable for that. ” Estan listened and agreed with him. He had free access to the storage room and nobody would be suspicious about him going there so might as well.

The next day Estans work ended at an reasonable time and he went to the missions storage. He was carrying a pen and an accounting book with him to look like he was just going on with his business, having a small bag hidden under his robe for the things he needed to snatch. He was thinking about what he should say if he should run into the abbot of the mission who was an cantankerous and foul old man, the type who had an habit of lashing out to almost anybody in his vicinity. His unhappiness had reached the maximum for living so long in the close proximity of the debauchery of the trading company that ruined the spirit of his holy mission. Estan realized that the abbot was not going to be a problem due to some recent drama that had just surfaced: one of the monks here had given in to the temptations of the flesh and had accompanied one of the courtisans in the past weekend and somebody had tattled on him. The whole congregation had been gathered to the the ceremonial hall to witness the punishment of this poor sinful soul and Estan was sure that the abbot was probably going to pop a blood vessel. He was thankful that he was not directly tied to the mission but was employed on the trade companys side, so none of the restrictions and punishments following would end up on his back too. He could hear the yelling when he walked past the door to the ceremonial hall and he chuckled to himself. The hallways of the mission were completely empty and he could take the things he needed from the storage in peace. Estan took a priests robe, some incense sticks and a few prayer beads, stuffed them in his bag and left the storage without even bothering to hide the bag under his own clothes. He thought about it and he decided to take a detour through the bakery before he left, knowing that there had been some bread made in the Arkansian style and he could buy some. If he would get in and see Javek and get the bread through the gates too, it would be a good gift. He got a loaf with some chump change and stuffed it in his bag too, feeling somewhat of knot in his stomach thinking that something as meager as this could practically be his friends last meal. Estan left the trading companys gates and headed towards the jail cells where Javek was supposedly being held.

It was as hot as always, sweat constantly dripping from everybodys brows and the wind sometimes brought sand with from miles and miles away from some unknown place deep in the Shuitan empire, choking and blinding the city dwellers. Estan tried to protect his eyes by holding his hand at his temple, almost walking sideways when the wind really started blowing. When he saw that he was nearing his destination, Estan went to a small alley without people in it and put the priests robe on behind some stacked wooden crates. He put on one of the prayer beads, wrapping it around a few times his right wrist, took a swig from his water canteen and walked the last few corners left before seeing the guards standing at the jails doors. They had a kind of an tent-like canvas installed around the doors so they would not have to stand in the middle of the minor sand storm tormenting Saanasthas, looking quite comfortable inside it, chatting away and not having to worry about looking official since people mostly tried to stay inside on days like this. They glanced at Estan curiously when he appeared to the street, a lone foreign priest being a little peculiar sight and in a sand storm no less, but who could understand these idiots from aboard so they quickly continued with whatever they were talking about. Then the guards did a second take when they realized that Estan was actually approaching them and they perked up, looking very annoyed that they would have to deal with whatever this was going to be. One of them said something to a guard next to him who went inside and after a few seconds he came back with somebody in a minor officials robes. The guards and the official patiently waited for Estan to reach them and one of the guards even lifted the canvas up a bit so Estan could get inside easier. You could say what you wanted about the Shuitans but most of the time they had good manners.

”Thank you, thank you. ” Estan muttered with the few Shuitan words he had learned in his time of staying in the city. The guard nodded and the official greeted Estan with a slight bow, Estan bowed back but deeper. Nobody rushed him but at the same time it was apparent that they wanted to be done with this as soon as possible.

”Speak, good priest. ” said the minor official with an extremely heavy accent and with a funny choice of words, but he seemed to be adequate with the foreign tongue. Estan was happy that he didn need to only resort to gestures with such an delicate matter as this. ”Thank you sir. Ive come to understand that the one of ours who went mad and caused quite a stir here some time a go is being held in this building. We condemn everything that he has said and done, representing in no way of who we are and what we do either as an nation or as an faith, and your anger with that man has been most warranted. Still, for us as the Children of the Sun, even the most wretched individual deserves some pity. He is mad and possibly he didn completely understand what he was doing and before he departs this world to meet the judgement of the Holy Ones, we wish to perform a ritual in his presence so he can try to start his path towards purification in this world already by showing remorse to an priest. Maybe it is to no avail, but for us it would moral and demonstrate our sincerity in fixing of what has been broken. ” The official had listened and when Estan stopped, he inhaled sharply by sucking air between closed his teeth, hissing like an cat. ”Youve condemned this criminal time and again, damning him to the lowest depths of hell, and now this? Do you pity rapists and murderers back home in this way too, cutting an criminal off from your society like an infected and decaying limb, spouting about your unfeigned intentions and pure hearts from morning to night day after day, then suddenly turn around like the offender hadn been malicious at all and cry on his grave like you had lost an brother or an son? Why do you wish to associate yourselves with this man yet again? Why in this manner? You haven gone through the proper channels and now you just suddenly appear before us on an day like this, none of this business having been discussed officially by our and your superiors. ” The Shuitans seemed to have an way with words. Estan weighed what he would say carefully. ”Well sir, thats just it. This whole affair has been an shameful business, something we would want nothing to do with and are sorry that it happened, but there is an moral code for us. Bringing this issue up properly would have created more problems and more bad blood, being embarrassing for us and angering you, so the decision was made to try to arrange this on an lower level and without causing a scene, unofficially. The incident has caused great distress inside the mission of the trading company and this ceremony that I am supposed to conduct here would be an way to batch things up again in the midst of our own flock, make it right between us and the Sun. Right here and now the authority rest only on your shoulders sir. If you choose to not let me in then that will be that and we won approach you with this matter again, but it would mean a great deal to us if youd allow thee ceremony to happen. Publicly it is true that we wouldn admit it but in our hearts every Child of the Sun knows what is expected of us, even if we stray from the correct path. I, in fact we, beg for your understanding sir. ” Estan added an small bow after he had said his piece. The official looked at him disapprovingly, more than anything he seemed even more convinced about the superiority of his own culture and was reminded that the foreign customs and the foreign sense of right and wrong made no sense. But technically Estan was right: everything he had said could be verified or at least argued for could be found from the holy texts, but in practice the rituals of forgiveness had probably never been practiced in their intended form. The church hadn criticized them but they weren applied and were only paid lip service, so in any actual instances of crime the punishments were usually very severe and everybody was just collectively happy that the offender got what was coming. When pity and remorse were highlighted in the sentencing, it just meant that instead of an physical punishment the offender had to pay an hefty fine for his sins, an practice that had become more and more popular once the crown had realized that it should be entitled to at least an third of the sum. The fine was usually so great though that an poor peasant or an servant ended up in so serious trouble that many probably would had been happier with flogging or something else of the sort. The only time when Estan had seen the forgiveness ritual actually being performed the felon had been an young woman who had broken her chastity even though she had been promised to somebody else. The priest of the town had in great voice filled with fervor demanded the rituals to be conducted, and the other villagers felt that they couldn argue against such holy words coming from sunch an holy mouth, so the priest had been allowed to meet young lady. Then it turned out that they had fled together and the perpetrator who had done the deed had been the priest himself. Estan had gotten the idea from that episode, remembering how he and Jacobin had cackled together when they had seen the beet-red faces of the villagers, but in this instance, right here and now there wasn much to laugh at. There wasn a chance for Javek to escape from here.

Still, the official wasn completely shutting him out. ”What would this ritual consist of? ” he asked. Estan opened his bag and showed the incense, the bread and the prayer beads. ”We talk about the crime and then I pray for him, burning this incense while we do it. ” The guard and the official leaned in to peer into the bag in unison, looking a little comical with their coordination. ”Whats the bread for? ” the official asked. ”At the end of the ceremony the guilty eat the bread of their homeland to symbolize their desire to be part of the group again. ” This part Estan made up, since he just wanted to give Javek something good to eat. The official seemed to be thinking. ”And thats it? You
e only going to do those things? How long would it take? ” Estan nodded. ”That is all, sir. At maximum it would take about an hour, but I can work with less if its necessary. ” The official was silent for an moment, then he talked with the guards for an while. He started explaining what the foreign priest wanted, and the guards didn seem surprised. They possibly had been on some level antcipating that the Arkansians would still want something to do with their madman and Estan was guessing that it was the reason why they had somebody present who could speak his language. Their discussion went on and they seemed to get into an agreement, although one of the guards pointed at Estans bag a couple of times. Then the official turned to Estan again. ”If you truly are after only such an simple request, I don see much harm in granting it, although I don grasp the reasoning behind it. We also have our rules, however, and the prisoners usually aren allowed to get things from outside, so the bread would have to go. I undertand that you aren going to give into his possession anything else either? ” Estan complied but haggled about the bread a bit, so an compromise was reached where Estan could take a small handful of it instead of the whole loaf. The rest of the bread he could take with him when he left. Apparently the official concluded that it was better for the baby to have its bottle since he saw Estans supposed ceremony as an symbolic matter only, and Estan thought that besides practicality this decision showed, it also demonstarted more deeply how little the Shuitans thought about the Arkansians and probably about the rest of the world as well. If they would have been equal, things like this would have instigated discussions about how each side viewed morality and what was proper for people to do in foreign lands according to their own and their hosts customs and this minor official coudn have made the decision about allowing this ceremony by himself, but the Shuitans waved everything off as nonsense and didn care in the least bit about any of it unless it affected business in one way or another. Estan had been prepared to hear about his visit back at the trading company and he had calculated that they would let him go off the hook once they had heard what he had been doing there, like an true follower of the Sun. Now Estan was sure that the Shuitans couldn care less and wouldn report him. It was no wonder that the mission had been such an failure.

Estan put the tiny piece of bread he was allowed to take in his bag and one of the guards showed him the way. The keys on ring hanging from his waist jigled and jangled, messaging very accurately where he was and what his destination was, and Estan was led down a few set of stairs and several narrow corridors, the dungeons underneath being bleak and miserable, revealing not a speck of the splendor of the city outside. Paper lanterns lit the way and it was getting darker and darker the deeper they went, even though the sandstorm outside had been colored vividly red when the strength of the sun had send its rays through it. On the street level the wind could have been heard trembling the windows, but here you were isolated from the greater world. It was starting to become damp, and Estan wondered if the rain pushed down into this hole and made the place even more unbearable. Finally after a an opened door the guard gestured towards the bars of one cell and grunted in a affirming manner, then to Estans surprise he just left, the sound of the keyring becoming quieter and quieter the farther he went until it disappeared totally. Estan hoped that they would come and feth him at some point, since he wasn sure that he could find the way back by himself.

Estan approached the cell he had been pointed towards and saw some figure laying on its side on the cell floor. ”Javek? Is that you Javek? Its me, Estan! ” he said, the sound barely coming out of hist tightened throat. The figure didn move immediately, seeming too feeble to react in any sudden fashion anymore, but there was some animation as it started to get out of its stupor and rise on all fours. ”Wha… Estan? Estan! ” a raspy voice called out, a sound of dry quality that hadn been used for a long while, and the figure crawled towards the metal bars the cell door was made of and towards the dim light of the lanterns. Estan had anticipated it but he was startled anyway, barely recognizing Javek, his once so lively eyes now sunken into the skull of man who the world had thrown away, his ribs visible and a big patchy beard covering his features, his balding head producing long and dirty hair on its sides and back. Estan couldn help it and he cried, cried like had as an small child, remembering the hours, days and years he had spent with his now doomed and suffering friend, the cruelty of life personified on Javeks ragged existence barely clinging to life, and they both cried and embraced however they could through the bars of the cell door, Javek smelling unwashed and dirty but Estan didn care. They sobbed for a while, let go and swallowing tears and snot Javek reached into the bag to give the small piece of bread he had managed to bring in and Javek devoured it like it had been the only piece of food he had seen in his life, barely chewing it. Estan felt ashamed that he hadn pressured the official more to bring the whole bread in and that he hadn thought to bring some water with him too. They sat on the floor, Estan on his knees and Javek leaning against the bars, clearly not having the strength to be up in the first place. After a while they had calmed down a bit, being able to talk again, hearing the rats scuttle about in the unlit corners of the cells.

”Oh Javek, what did you do? How could you end up here in the worst possible predicament, making enemies of everybody you have ever met, foreign and familiar alike? They don even want to talk about you in the mission or the trading company, like you had been the biggest plague and embarrassment possible. I only managed to find you through such an unlikely coincidence that I still don believe it. ” Estan rumbled through his bag and produced the incense and the prayer beads. ”I got in by pleading to do the forgiveness rituals, but I don want forgiveness, I just want to understand why. Why? What could you have possibly said that it ended like this? ” Javek was silent, resting his head against the bars, his face now bafflingly showing deep satisfaction as he stared at the prayer beads in the ground, his essence in complete contradiction with his physical state and surroundings. Estan thought that the talk about him becoming crazy probably were true and the imprisonment had only made it worse.

”What I said? What I said was what I was supposed to say. ” Javek croaked. He breathed in several times, preparing himself for the long story he was about to tell. ”Ive been in Saanasthas for many years and it took an long while before I could have said anything or let alone understand anything. Its like an distant haze now, but I believe that I talked to you about the translation task I was assigned in secret, even though I wasn allowed to say anything about it, so jealous are the Shuitans about their language and religion that any serious attempts to translate their words and concepts were deemed best to be conducted in secrecy. Officially I was just another missionary like everybody else, but I was given some extra allowance, empty paper and ink and a small place was rented only for me at the outskirts of the city where I could be doing my work in secret, seemingly unbeknownst to the trading company and to the mission as an whole, without being required to attend to most of the missions regular daily duties that otherwise would had suited my lowly stature. I was so proud and happy and excited to have been chosen for such an undertaking! Id never had any greater aspirations for my humble self, thinking that I didn stand out from the crowd through skill or merit in any way, but then to my surprise I discovered at some point that learning foreign tongues came very easily to me. Through some route that I don know this new ability of mine reached the ears of the abbots and other important persons of the church, changing the route of my life forever. Here in Saanasthas some merchants secretly working for the church had managed to get their hands on many volumes of the sacred literature of the Shuitans and these books were given to my possession to look over and translate. I threw myself to the task wholeheartedly, spending every available moment pouring over this material and then attending the normal efforts of monks trying to preach the holy words to the citizens of the city so I could heard foreign words and understand the locals. This latter activity proved to be quite fruitless since few people understood our own language and those who did, some officials and other such educated government people, seemed almost to have come only to laugh at us. I more and more left myself out of these excurcions to the city and just stayed in my rented room, doubling my efforts to translate the texts. I was starting to despair that my talent actually wasn much of an talent to begin with: I had to figure out the writing system of the Shuitans and some of the books were definitely from different time periods with different types of symbols across these texts and what words I had learned from the spoken tongue of the locals were the dialects of the working people and the educated had their own style, something that everyone had to learn separately from the everyday language. It felt that I was hitting my head againts the wall, but little by little I got better. For one, I was supposed to write an dictionary besides understanding the religious texts, but so baffled I was with their beliefs that this job was buried in the background of my mind. There are temples here in this city, many of them, and at some point I picked up the pieces of my courage and tried to enter one of them, wanting to see if they would let me in. To my great surprise I was allowed to wander almost wherever I pleased, collecting gazes and sniggers when I walked about in my monks robes, wondering at the beauty of the statues, paintings and gardens of these places. I realized that many of the sermons they had were arranged in an hall that was practically outdoors: the wall of the temple opened up in many arched vaults leading to a garden I was allowed to sit and stay in for as long as I wanted, so I situated myself there in an way that I could hear what their lecturers were saying almost as if I was with them at the room. The first time I did I was afraid that I would end up in troube or cause trouble for the mission or the trading company that had been so good to me, but I tempted faith and when the abbot of theirs saw me standing there in the middle of his talk he stopped short and everybody sitting there turned towards me to see what was the cause of this interruption. I remained where I stood looking as innocuous as I could, the awkward and a bit tense moment lasting for an while, but then the abbot seemed to disregard me and he eased back into whatever he had been talking about.

My heart raced when I went back there the next day to see if there was more lecturing to be heard, but again my presence didn seem to annoy them. Almost daily there was somebody talking, and I was there too, as if I was becoming a part of the scenery of the garden and pretty soon I wasn even looked or laughed at anymore, standing there like any of the many statues that had been there seemingly since the beginning of time.

Combined with this listening my translation started to bring results since they were using the official language and the lectures were opening up the abstract and difficult concepts of their faith to their trainees. Now I was progressing daily, being constantly astonished by how different and how nuanced their teachings were. What they wanted to achieve seemed to be about transcending this mundane and material realm of our daily existence, somehow melting into a current that flows underneath that consists of the pure essence of life, the starting point of the energy that gets molted into the things we see before our eyes. What seemed to be a big problem for them was the question of the methods of how this transcendence could be achieved: some favored chanting of the parts of their holy texts again and again from morning to night, others pushed themselves towards incredible feats of withstanding pain and physical ordeal, some tried to lose themselves to the midst of artistic expression of their ceremonies and so on. In this particular temple I came to understand that they had a practice of ”just sitting ” where they simply sat on the ground with their eyes closed, maybe on a pillow but nothing too comfortable and tried to let go of all conscious thought. I had seen them do this before on many occasions, but I had thought they had been praying to some sort of a god of theirs, not understanding what they were trying to accomplish.

Sitting in my room at my desk I read through the passages expressing the importance of this kind of practice. The chanting some of the Shuitan monks did was somewhat similar of what I knew some Children of the Sun did back in Arkansia, though I hadn practiced that particular form of worship myself. Witnessing this city and what their vast empire could offer, I wasn able to discard their practices and beliefs outright like so many of our brothers at the mission did, sneering twice as hard to the Shuitans as they scoffed at us and I was sure that this kind of attitude would not yield results, that we had now seen many times over. So, I sat down legs crossed on the floor like they did and closed my eyes. At first the idea of ”letting go of your thoughts ” meant nothing to me, sounding like an mystical platitude, but I think that I managed to make it concrete and real for myself: when working on the translation, I would get thoughts of what some passage could mean or imply, I would address the issue and think it as thoroughly as I could for an while, then store it in the back of my mind when it was time for rest and I couldn muster the cognitive energy to do it anymore. Then, once refreshened, Id pick up where Id left it to continue, all the while just sitting there in my room deep in my thoughts.

So now, taking this practice of putting the concepts I was pondering about on the back burner, I now tried to do it with everything that entered my mind: thoughts considering my work wandered into my consciousness so I pushed them away, then mundane and meaningless images Id seen during the day like an old man carrying an basket on his back passing me by on the street or how the abbot at the mission had yelled to one of the monks about something barged in to my minds eye. Then sounds and sensations of the moment didn leave me alone, like the rattle of a carriage outside bothering me or the roughness of my robes itching me.

But then, at some point, those things started to fade away. On one level I saw it and on other I felt it but neither of these statements are really true, but it was an image of water droplets dripping on a still surface of water one by one and every time the tension of the water broke, a sensation of warm and deep vibrations passed through my body, only that I started to lose the sense of where my body ended and where the greater world began. The noises in the background ceased to exist and the coarseness of my clothes or the pestering of conscious thought didn bother me anymore, my very self being swallowed into this esoteric trembling that seemed to underline anything and everything we perceived as real. But I got scared since I hadn expected anything to actually happen, so I pulled and tugged on my fading self, trying to escape the stream that was taking me away, and as if swimming towards the surface from the depths of an ocean the brief moments before I could once again fill my lungs with air felt crucial and eternal and then, once again, I was sitting on the floor of my room, a fly buzzing around on the ceiling and hearing the words of an muffled conversation just outside my window.

I had lost the sense of time and for all i know I could have been sitting in that trance for hours on end, but in truth it had been just the briefest moment of time, ten or twenty minutes at most, but it felt like I had woken up to a new day, yesterday resembling a faint memory of something that had happened in my childhood, unclear and probably untrue. I had to go on for a walk, so startled I was by this sudden experience, and after an hour I had calmed down, now completely living and present in the mundane world yet again. Sitting down in the chair in front of my writing desk I contemplated. The experience had been true, concrete despite its esoteric nature, and I suddenly realized that I felt closer to the Holy Ones than I ever had in my life. It wasn an overwhelming epiphany, not something that would have moved me into tears and dropped me onto my knees, but a firm and warm certitude, like holding a map and a compass and verifying that the path you were taking was the right one. I was convinced that at some point the Shuitans had heard about the Gospel of the Sun and on some level accepted it, build upon it much earlier than we had, but then drawn their own conclusions and strayed from the path, ending where they are now. But we hadn understood everything either, and our own practices and methods weren developed enough. There was much to learn and much to do. With vigor I resumed my tasks.

Months went by but then something changed with the Shuitans. I attended the lecture at the temple from a distance like I had before and even managed to do the same at other temples as well, but the tone of the lectures had changed remarkably. There was now some sort of war effort going on in some far-away place that I had never heard of and couldn place on the map for the life of me, but for the Shuitans the control of this place was of great importance. More soldiers were needed, and the task had been placed on their monks to drum upon the populace the fervor of war. New lecturers I had never seen before now presented their case to the monks and then the monks walked among the regular people to spread the new dogma, even bringing it up on the Shuitan celebrations and festivals, weddings and funerals, occupying the public discourse with their message to the extent that this was the only thing people were talking about. From what I could gather the citizens of this nation were considered as the brothers of the Shuitans and invading the land was a moral dilemma, but that wasn going to be an issue for the powers to be.

”Killing is a sin and against the Concept of the Great Compassion, that much is certain and that we all now. ” orated the new lecturer to the monks when I stood at the garden and listened as now was my habit. ”But the world is messy and complex, and we have to understand how to follow the Way on these delicate issues. Our brothers since the ancient times have corrupted their thinking and have set themselves on a path that will bring great misfortune and devastation, endangering us and themselves. The great emperor has talked and reasoned, reasoned and talked, but none can sway them from their evil ways. It is wrong to kill but only through killing can we stop what is happening, and whatever the steel and cannon will burn and destroy, however much must we and they suffer, it will be infinitely less than what will happen if we let the events unfold in the fashion they wish. To save the great empire we must kill and to save our brothers we must kill, and you will be forgiven for you are doing the right thing, right here and thereafter. By committing the smaller wrong you are not letting the ones you consider the same blood and soul to do the greater wrong. Thus, there is nothing wrong in whatever you need to do, and we can allow ourselves to be blinded by however seemingly ugly it will appear. It is guiltless to kill from compassion. Our objective is not to kill but to save. To kill in this way is not wrongdoing. ” The lecturer continued with his reasoning. ”What we have set out to do as monks is to let go of our sense of self and come back to the Great Current where everything began, forsaking the regular world to the greatest extent we can. However, again, it is not that simple. We have our debt to the emperor just like everybody else does and like sons we must serve our father, feeling joy from this great privilege. Not only that, we all know that even though our quest as monks is sacred, not everybody in the society can embark on our way of life no matter how much we wish for it, and those participants of our society deserve salvation too, despite their clinginess to this plane of existence. By wholeheartedly committing themselves to serving the emperor, they too can arrive at the gates of the divine destination. To march in formation is as good as chanting, in drilling the charge against the enemy combatants they can lose their sense of self, by welcoming the beatitude of this just war they are one with the current of pure essence once again. To withhold this true knowledge is the real sin and to have a clean conscience, we must spread these words as far and wide as we can. The glory of the empire needs us, and I want to answer. So should you. ” So moved was his audience that sobbing could be heard and many shoulders trembled in a wave of strong emotion, and I was becoming uneasy.

The new maxim spread fast, and my anxiousness turned into shock and disgust. Just as easily as turning ones hand their tradition was wiped away and it was as if these mental gymnastics had always been the core of their culture, and nobody batted an eye. There even was a certain rejuvenation in the air, a puffing up of the collective chest, and many young men joined the army and left their previous lives without further consideration, their parents and families standing there proud as if what awaited their most precious things in life was a grand adventure, not war, devastation and peril. Now public lectures were held, different kinds from the usual ones, where the event was held outdoors and people were encouraged to come and watch from all social classes, this being mandatory to the learned people no matter their rank. I attended too, sitting in the middle of the poor folk, everybody in their own groups according to their standing, those truly superior on platforms with ornate seating. An abbot spoke and everybody listened to his macabre reasoning for the war. He was a charismatic man and that just added to his allure. ”Losing ones self is the highest spiritual goal we can strive towards and in that state the individuals connection to reality changes. His consciousness melted into the cosmos changes the nature of the sword too and the sword, not the individual, commits the act of killing, in perfect accordance with the comings and goings of the world, just as naturally as the bird sings or the wind blows, without thought or intention. The warrior becomes an artist creating a masterpiece, producing an article of genuine beauty. ” The audience was spellbound by his monstrous words, and I suddenly couldn take it anymore, the wrongdoing was too great for me to turn my back to the moral decency of all fellow human beings, and I stood up and spoke.

”Truly is wondrous the teaching of Great Compassion when murder is the way to the unity with the divine! ” I yelled with conviction and all heads turned towards me and when they realized that the man behind the slanderous words was a foreigner talking in their own tongue as clearly and correctly as their learned officials you could have heard a pin drop, but I was just starting and rose to stand on the bench I had been sitting on. But then their shock had worn off and was replaced with outrage, and the cacophony of their collective anger and spite drowned out my lone and feeble voice. Everyone from low to high caste was pushing me and shoving me, the precious Shuitan order and harmony broken, and I was barely able to escape from their blows and kicks, running as fast as I could, shielding my head with my arms. But I wasn arrested and speeding towards my rented room I realized I wasn being chased by the mob after I had escaped the temple grounds. I slammed the door behind me and thoroughly startled and frightened I tried to catch my breath, my hands shaking and the dripping sweat from my brow forming a small plash on the floor, my throat dry from heavy breathing. Once I could truly verify that there really was no one after me, the sounds of the street outside being as mundane as ever, I calmed down a little and inspected my body for injuries, but I had only suffered a few bruises and a torn robe. I drank some water and wasn panicked anymore, but I was still too scared to go outside or think clearly, but inside I knew that I couldn stop short on this journey I had now taken my first steps on. I managed to sleep a few hours just before the morning came and then, not really confident or brave or sure about myself in any way, I headed towards the nearest market square I knew was full of people already.

There were the gallows in the middle of that market square, people bustling about on their various businesses and errands, and the sun hit my eyes behind the poles where the nooses would be tied to. I climbed the stairs, realizing very well the irony of me giving such a message from such a platform, as if I was accepting my destiny and my fate, which I had, despite my fear. So, I sermoned: my voice wasn very audible but despite my fear it was steady, owing its strength to the virtue of the Sun and to the satisfaction of being able to say my piece, and people closest to the platform glanced my way but then stopped at their tracks when they realized who was speaking. Others farther away noticed those who had suddenly stopped and curiously looked around what had been the cause and, noticing me, came closer and squinted their eyes as if to make sure that their sight wasn deceiving them. Soon the who market square had stopped.

”I came from a long way away. ” I had started with clear Shuitan. ”My mission was to preach, to deliver to you the good word of the Sun, the evangelion, the sacred script, the correct morals and virtues. But arriving here, I realized the smallness of myself and the greatness and the complexity of the world and I was shaken in my conviction. Looking at what your culture has achieved the sureness of my words felt hollow, and instead of speaking, I read and I listened. I was humbled, and rightly so. ” This time there was no anger in the air, just curiosity that was forming into an acceptance of some sort. ”But as an outsider looking in, I can also see the changes of your society more clearly. The coming war has seeped into your beautiful faith. What was just shortly before so profound and meaningful and wise has become twisted and poisonous. Don let the forced justification for war erase who you are, destroy your values and virtues, make you jump blindly into something that you should question in the first place. I can be the only one who feels that you have been abandoned, low and high born alike, foreigner as I may be. Under the Sun everyone has value, everyone matters, and I would betray my faith and your ideals if I would not stand up for this. Tomorrow I will preach more, and the day after and the day after that, until I can do it no more. Blessed are you, each and every one. ” I walked the stairs down from the gallows and I was let go. No one hit me or kicked me, no one even said a word against me and I was able to walk away in peace.

And like I had promised, I came back the next day and every day since then, sometimes twice a day, completely letting go of my original mission and task. Sometimes there were people who yelled against me, sometimes they threw things, but there were always others in the audience who defended me and pushed the hecklers away. It didn take long for those who had been listening to the lecture at the temple that day I had first opened my mouth to find me and they were not happy about it, but still I avoided prison. The things turned worse when some of the learned officials started to debate me, yelling from the audience but no one dared to say anything because of their high position, and few times they even climbed on the platform with me to show how ignorant and poor my understanding was of their nuanced philosophy, but I held on to my argument well. The audience was impressed and the officials were mortified that I had not only learned the language by listening alone but had actually learned by heart some of their teachings. Some kind souls invited me to their homes and fed me at their tables and I continued my sermons at their houses, making great friends and gaining followers for the Truth of the Sun. After months of this I was ordered back to the trading company and several guards were sent to fetch me, but now on the way there, people on the street recognized me and pointed at me and some of them followed me and the nervous guards. By the time we had arrived at the trading company a sizeable crowd had tailed us, and it just kept growing outside the trading company as I was hurried to the office of my superiors. Behind the mahogany door the leading merchants looked nervous and somewhat confused, but the commander of the post and abbot of the mission were absolutely fuming. I stood straight and calm, firm in my decision to just tell the truth. I didn last for a minute before the commander exploded, yelling at how I wasn supposed to interfere with the businesses of our hosts and I had compromised the position of every Arkansian in the whole city. Once I managed to get a word in about our moral responsibilities and what the sacred scriptures had obligated us to do, the commander looked at me like I was a lost cause and there was no point to even yell at me and then it was the abbots turn to explode. ”You
e not obliged to be a complete idiot! There is a time and a place for everything and a correct way to do things! On top of all the other issues you have caused they now suspect us of stealing their holy texts, you couldn even keep your mouth shut about that? ” The commander glanced at the abbot sideways sharply, but the man didn notice the change in his colleague. ”But your holiness ” I started. ”They know the gospel of the Sun, deep in their hearts even if they don realize it, their texts indicate so. By learning from them we can deepen our faith even more and come closer to… ” The abbot was so exasperated that he couldn even utter a word, he just flailed his hands around and made incoherent noises to cut me off. ”Just.. just take him away! This is futile. ” The guard guided me away by pulling on my sleeve and I could hear what the abbot was saying to the commander behind my back as I left. ”And an heretic on top of it! I have to admit that this mess is on me and my superiors at the church, we have to profile what kind of people we assigning on delicate tasks like this, not just pick those who can learn languages and seem loyal on the surface level, that boy has become an loony when he was left by himself. At least we need people to watch over the translators… ” Then the commander joined in. ”Look, I don like that you at the mission do things like this behind my back, theres too much at stake and there needs to be transparency… ” The rest I couldn hear since the door was shut and I was walking down the stairs, towards the cells at the bottom floor.

After that I haven seen the sun much. Several days passed, maybe a week or more before I was transferred here and that was in a wagon that had no windows or way to see out whatsoever. I heard the bustling of the streets for one last time. Then, its been this place, for how long now, I don know. ” Javek ended his story.

Estan had listened without saying a word. Now a tired silence hung in the air. This really was the last meeting, there was no getting out here. Javek lifted his head and spoke once again. ”My friend, do the last rites and pray for me. You coming here was the greatest thing that could have happened to me. I want to thank the Sun and be grateful for the journey I had on this earth. ” The rituals couldn have been more meaningless to Estan, especially now, but he went through with them for the sake of his friend. He fumbled a bit with how they were supposed to be conducted but Javek helped him along the way, the scent of the incense now strong in the dark and damp cell. ”Estan, listen to me. ” Javek said afterwards. ”They must have taken all my possessions in my room, but maybe they haven found all of the texts I had translated. Under the floorboards in the corner of the room where my mattress was there are loose boards and there is hollow space. Youll have to crawl a bit but behind a supporting pillar there is an box where I stored a lot of what I had done. If you can in any way, you should get it. Its the only thing Ive managed to produce in all my time in this city and it would be a waste for it to disappear. My room was on sixteenth street of the northern district. ” Estan nodded without thinking much, just repeating the address in his mind to make sure he remembered it, and there was the sound of heavy steps and the metallic jingle of a keychain approaching them. Soon the door opened and a Shuitan guard came in, more light seeping in the hallway and the cells from his lantern. The guard simply pointed at the exit with his thumb and so it was time to go. Estan held Javeks hand just for a second before getting up. ”Thank you. ” Javek mumbled with a breaking voice and that was that. Estan walked back up with the guard to the street level and into the room where he had talked with the official. Now there were only guards, several of them, but different on es from what Estan could tell and the official were nowhere to be seen. One of them opened to door leading to the street and others looked expectingly at Estan, wondering if they would have to hassle more for this difficult foreigner or if they could spend their shift in peace. Estan bowed and left, the door shutting behind him, as if he had never been inside to begin with.

The sandstorm was over, and the streets were relatively empty. Estan knew that he should be going back to the trading company, but he wanted to at least see in what state Javeks room was and if it was reachable at all. There was some walking to do but Estan didn mind, his mind and mood too dark to care about small inconveniences. After some time, he had reached the building, a cheap looking house on the corner of an intersection, standing shoulder to shoulder with other humble abodes just like it. There were several doors actually and Estan was confused which one was the right one, but the sorriest and the smallest one under a staircase that led to the second floor seemed right choice. He looked around but the house was silent with no residents to be seen, and on the street he only saw one old man carrying hey on his shoulder and an young mother holding an sleeping infant, both quite far away from where Estan was standing. He nudged the door and to his surprise it was open. The room was small and empty. The incident with Javek had been dealt with several months ago so it made sense that this hole was no longer a scene for a crime, just another insignificant part of an house in an ordinary poor neighborhood. It was impossible to tell if this was the right room and in what corner the mattress had been placed, but there was nobody around to bother Estan so he might as well snoop around for a bit. Estan left the door slightly ajar to let some light in and he started with the farthest corner of the room since he thought that the place for sleeping usually wasn right next to the front door. He stomped on the floor to see if it gave in or creaked in any meaningful way but to no avail, so he repeated the procedure in every corner but found nothing. The floorboards were so tightly together that Estan would need a tool of some kind to try to wedge them apart, but he had nothing with him that could help him at all. Now he was on all fours to see if he could find anything at all, and realized that one of the boards had just an slight gap on the end that was supposed to touch the wall. Estan had missed it in the dim light and he managed to pry his fingers into the gap and the board came off quite easily, so did the few others next to it. As Javek had said, there was quite a lot of space in all directions and several supporting pillars all around. Estan pulled his scarf up to protect his mouth and nose and he dived in find the box. After crawling for a while and scraping himself on the sharp edges of wood and stone he found an box in the dark, a few meters away from where he had made the hole. All sweaty and covered in dust and cobwebs Estan emerged coughing and sneezing, wishing that he had water to wash his hands and face, but he had to make do. Kneeling he opened the box and saw that there really were several books inside. Taking the one on top Estan opened it up and immediately recognized his friends handwriting and he felt his eyes starting to water yet again. Silently he cried, just for a little while.

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