A good deal had happened in just the last few trials, not least of which yesterday. Oram had been entrusted about eight trials before by the University with collecting and checking stories about the various sands of Scalvoris. That would eventually take him all around the island, he realized as he contemplated the map in Baron von Smooglenuff’s book. He wondered what stories he would find, traversing that rainbow circuit, and what if anything these would tell him about the so-called “Powers Beneath”.
Then, yesterday, he had, under some sort of covert pretense, been entrusted by Elliott, Chief Ranger of Darbyton, with building a forward Ranger headquarters near Egilrun, and in so doing, to discern what dark designs, what treacheries there were arrayed against the Rangers, and against Scalvoris in general. This very morning, there were reports of buildings collapsing both in the city, and in villages around the island, and speculations that the Logging Consortium had somehow caused it, sabotaging the island’s lumber supply as a spiteful parting shot upon being taken down. Elliot had said the Logging Consortium had been working with Slag’s Deep in some way. It was confusing.
Sighing, Oram looked at the colored map of sands again. Well-drawn maps like this weren’t confusing. They put everything in their place, where one could take in all the pieces at once and see how they fit together. Why couldn’t everything be like that? the traveler wondered wearily. Looking at the band of color running along the shore, he remembered seeing another map, in another of those Smooglenuff books he had, a map of the areas closer to Egilrun and Slag’s Deep. Maybe looking at it would clear things up about his other task.
A pair of wooden planks framed by flanking stacks of bricks now formed a makeshift bookshelf in Oram’s tent, where he already had his workspace set up, even though it was still cold to sleep there. Getting up from his worktable he picked through the books, found the volume on flora and fauna marked “Eastern Scalvoris Island”. The construct wobbled slightly as he eased the book out from between the top and bottom planks -”shelves” he would now have to call them- and then he took the volume back to the worktable. He set the tome next to its companion, opened it, and leafed through until he found the map he was looking for.
It was a good-sized map, filling both pages of a spread, that showed the eastern part of the island, that included Egilrun, the environs of Slag’s Deep, the Scalvoris mountains, the eastern edge of the Sweetwine, and a span of land that stretched northeast of Scalvoris Town that was not shown with much detail, on this map nor on any other Oram remembered ever seeing. The sands map showed a big splotch of mostly red sand in the same spot, somewhat back from the shoreline. Oram didn’t know what that meant. Tidal flats of some sort, maybe? It was strange that he did not know that part of the island better.
Looking at the large map, next to the smaller but more colorful one in the other book, did not give Oram any sudden insights or enlightenments. But there was a reassuring organization to it, like a huge beast laid out into manageable-sized chunks. He looked back once more to the sands map. Stories, he thought. Stories of sand. Stories of enemies and their schemes. Stories of Powers Beneath and their tendency to pop up into view at times, all mysterious and sometimes disruptive.
Stories of enemies and their schemes. In a way, he was doing the same sort of thing for Elliott, and apparently for the Alberach, that he was doing for Professor Deadnut. Going out and finding stories. Interviewing informants. Comparing those stories to other stories, to things they thought they already knew. Mapping them so that they hopefully showed as clear a picture as Smooglenuff’s drawing of the sands.
Stories of enemies and their schemes. An arc ago, Oram had killed an enemy, the first man he had ever killed. And he had realized afterward that he knew nothing about him. He had seen the result of Gaston’s handiwork, but had never learned the tale of why, or of where the desire or intention to do what the necromancer did to children had come from. And that had struck him as a shame, somehow. Gaston de Grey had deserved death. But had he deserved to be forgotten, to have his life vanish un-understood forever?
Oram shuddered, shaking the memory from his mind. Bad example, he thought. But still…people went through life learning all sorts of stories about all sorts of people. But how many ever learned the stories of their enemies?
Oram sighed and leaned forward on his elbows, rubbing his temples with his fingers. His mind was running in strange directions; he must be tired, to let his thoughts wander such strange paths. And yet…maybe there was a sense to it. Elliott wanted information, right? Intelligence? What was intelligence but stories? Stories about what the enemy was doing, about what they had planned? Stories that they didn’t want told, but which needed to be told nonetheless, if their schemes were to be first comprehended, and then foiled?
And his mind turned then, somehow, to Cassion, the Wanderer, Man of Roads, patron of travelers like himself. For some reason, he formed in his mind a prayer, even mumbling bits of it aloud. And as he did, it felt to Oram like the prayer took on its own voice, its own life. A bit like a well told story. Cassion, he prayed, help me in quest to find my enemies’ stories. The stories of their schemes. Help? He didn’t like the sound of that, and he suspected Cassion wouldn’t like it either; it sounded like begging.
Accompany me in my journey to learn the stories of my enemies and their schemes, he amended. That sounded more like something Ol’ Dust would enjoy, would find interesting. Join me on my quest to find them, and then tell them to those who would hear, before, during, and after this coming war. Grant me aid and guidance in discovering those stories, the stories of Slag’s Deep, in learning the truth and reason in them, and in telling them to those who wish to hear them told. Accompany me when I learn the story of the Warden and his schemes.
He paused, thought some more. Protect the travelers in this camp, who look on you as a patron. Grant that in time they may wander far from here, not to flee terrors lying behind them, but to pursue the promise ahead. Oram wondered just how much Cassion would care about that distinction. Perhaps the Immortal was just as content, as long as one sought the road?
Oram stopped, and sat back blinking. Why had he done that? Why had he just prayed to Cassion at all? Why that prayer? Had it been too selfish? Too beggy? Too anything? He shook his head again and leaned forward to reexamine the maps. Egilrun was mostly blue sands, he saw. He remembered seeing a legend about the blue sands in the book, something about a young beachcomber and an eidisi maiden. Certainly, he could go about Egilrun, asking about such legends without arousing suspicion. Closer to where Slag’s Deep stood there was a narrow strip of light blue on the map. Oram did not know any sand of that color. Was such sand peculiar to Slag’s Deep? If so, why? And what were the stories around it? He would see if there were any told in the book. He also wondered about the red sands in that north-central to northeastern part of the island he knew so little about, and the tiny splotch of yellow sand at one point of the shore there.
His brother had suggested, soon after Oram got the notebook from Professor Deadnut, that he use a slate, rather than waste paper, to sketch temporary notes, to catch fleeting thoughts. Such a slate, a small one, leaned against the leg of the worktable, underneath him and somewhere to his right. Oram bent over and picked it up, placed it on the worktable alongside all the other items. The opened books took up a surprising amount of space, so he had to push them to one side, almost to the edge, in order to set down the slate. On it, with a piece of chalk, he wrote: MAPS and underlined it twice. He would want maps at the Ranger headquarters. Possibly even a room or a tent with them all over the canvas walls, with all sorts of pins and notations on them, hopefully to organize a picture of what he needed to understand.
Under that, Oram wrote: Intelligence is just stories about the enemy. Where they are. What their schemes are.
And you like stories, don’t you, Cassion? Oram found himself thinking. What do you say we go and find us some stories about the Warden, and Slag’s Deep, and what their up to these trials? The last bit, admittedly, didn’t sound much like a prayer. But the hunter let it stand, as an invitation.