My first morning in Sarutabaruta was surprisingly cold. Awakened by the chill in the air, I wrapped myself in my threadbare cloak and decided to take a walk along the Zanbibi River.
Looking down into the river's clear waters, I could see the occasional fish swim by. I had lost myself in a childlike daze as I watched them slip in and out of view when I was startled by a nearby moan.
My heart nearly leaped out of my throat, stifling a shout of terror into a mere croak. Looking around in a panic, I found an Elvaan woman lying in the grass at my feet.
Her face was pale, but I could detect no obvious wounds.
"What's wrong? Hang in there."
I heard a voice work its way out of a dry throat, saying, "Water... water..."
She stretched an arm out toward the river.
I lifted her up and helped her to the river's edge. She was like a doll, her body drained of all strength. Crawling up to the water like an infant, she plunged her face into the river. Ten, twenty, thirty seconds passed without her making the slightest movement. Worried, I tapped her shoulder to see if she was still alive. Only then did she raise her head again.
"I feel a great deal better now. I'm afraid I overindulged last night."
So it was nothing. She had simply had too much fun the night before.
I sat back, exhausted. She said to me:
"Since I have already received the benefits of your kindness once, I wonder if it might not be too much to ask for a second favor. I have heard that there is, in the region of Norvallen, an Elvaan graveyard. Might you be so kind as to inform me how to find that place?"
Her eyes were suddenly sharp, as though she had become another person.
I figured she was referring to the Eldieme Necropolis in the Coveffe Barrows. I marked the route on her map and gave her as much detail as I could, noting shortcuts as well as places that were likely to be hazardous.
"Perhaps you already know this, but that graveyard is dangerous."
"I am going solely to look; I have no intention of spending any significant length of time there, so I foresee no problems. Still, I do appreciate your worry about the welfare of one unknown to you," she replied, running her fingers through her wet hair.
"I would like to look upon my father's final resting place just one time, with my own eyes. I have sailed all the way from the southern islands to do so."
An Elvaan old enough to be her father? Buried there? That could only mean one thing.
"I don't mean to pry, but did your father die in the Great War twenty years ago?" I ventured.
Her hands, reaching for her belongings, froze.
"Yes, he did," she said.
Just as I had suspected. I stopped myself from saying anything more.
"I feel it is safe to assume that you also have heard the stories of the small country to the west--one which saw its end with the close of the Great War. My family served the marquis that ruled it."
I said nothing, and she continued. "My dear mother fled with me to the southern islands when I was but mere days out of the womb. There she waited for my father, but he perished in the climax of the Great War. History has it that he offered up his life to protect his liege and prove his loyalty to the last..." She paused. "Pardon me. I fear I have been dominating the conversation. I beg your forgiveness."
"No, no, that's quite all right. I was just thinking how good it is to meet a fellow countryman."
She looked up at me and blinked.
As morning drew on into afternoon, the sky began turned a brilliant blue. Fluffy white clouds drifted lazily across the sky like a herd of sheep, eventually vanishing over the horizon.
We sat by the river and talked of our long lost homeland.
"There was a river alongside my house. When the weather was clear like this, my brother and I would often go out there to play," I told her.
I spoke of my father and brother, with whom I had long been out of contact. It was the first time I had ever volunteered information about my past to anyone.
"What was the river like?" she asked.
She explained that her mother preferred not to discuss the past, so she had grown up knowing almost nothing of her homeland. Even the smallest details were of interest to her.
"It was far bigger than this river," I said. "Of course, maybe it seems that way to me since I was a small child then."
She sat hugging her knees, head tilted in my direction, her gaze fixed on the river's surface.
"I know nothing of the lands of my home. I cannot even recall the face of my own father. But I have always been proud of my birthplace, and I have always been proud to be my father's daughter."
A dry wind began to blow, sending ripples across river's bright surface. I squinted in the glare.
She paused and asked, "Say, have you ever been to the island of Elshimo?"
"No. I've only heard about it."
"My mother and I reside in the port city of Norg. They say Norg is home to numerous people who escaped from our country. You might find a clue about your family there."
A flood of emotions welled up within me at those words. My heart began to ache.
What if my father and brother were in Norg? No. I shouldn't get my hopes up. For twenty years they have only been dashed.
I shook my head to clear my thoughts.
We went our separate ways as evening fell, she to the north and I to the south. As we parted, she extended her hand and said, "It has been a pleasure to meet you. I would be greatly like to hear your stories again someday."
"Somehow, I have a feeling we'll meet again, though I don't really know where," I replied. "Maybe..."