This time, we know where we’re going but not how long it will take! Navigating in the Khas way is a useful skill to learn, though.

We left late in the morning… After some more sword training, semsin training, reading and writing and lots of good advice. Which rather set the tone for our journey! We were still a respectable crew, and we had two camels, good weapons and everything we needed, including two mysterious sticks that Sepideh had mooched off commander Faran.

It was raining a bit, more drizzling, but we were all quite eager to be off again, somehow Ailin and I had gotten infected with the need for the open plains and the wide horizons. Or something.

We got into a good habit of practice and study: stories, semsin, Ilaini (so we’d have a secret language when at the king’s court!) reading and writing and other skills (like cooking) in the evenings, sword fighting (Mahar was pretty good at that), wrestling, knife throwing, slingshot work and more of that kind of thing in the mornings. We’d break up camp late, strike camp early and make sure we made good progress, both as in distance and as in edification.

We hadn’t travelled that far when we saw a solitary soul up north, one evening. The next day he or she was still around; we never figured out who it was, or what his or her purpose was. It was too far for us to go, and the person wasn’t gifted. But it made mighty good exercise for us!

Soon we came down one of the gullies and saw the wide plain stretch out in front of us. Now we had to decide, south, to visit our — weird thing to say, but we did say it! — our village, or straight ahead. In the end, it was Bayat who had “family” in the village, his womenfolk, and he seemed confident they’d stay put and not abscond. Accordingly, we went straight ahead.

Well, straight ahead sounds simple, but life was complicated by the scarcity of wells. Sepideh’s sticks were handy here: she knew how to calculate her course from well to well, using the sticks and some stones that had been put down in patterns. It wasn’t very complicated, not as complicated as it looked, but it was still quite easy to lose ones way!

Ailin asked Sepideh to teach her how to use the sticks, stones and notches and she managed very well. We still haven’t died of thirst, and haven’t visited the same well twice. At least, I think we haven’t…

We’d been walking to the west like this for days, now and then catching an animal to eat, now and then going short water rations when little Fikmet threw her very welcome temper trantrum.

She said she was sick and tired of walking and lessons, walking and exercises. Couldn’t we just have a day off? She was right of course, and I declared that the next day would be the day of Anshen, and that we would celebrate with games and game.

Nobody had any inkling that the games were another exercise — things like climbing the only tree and keeping lookout for the others who were playing hide and seek — but it was a day of rest, too. We prayed at the fire, we caught something good to eat, a bunch of goats if memory serves. and we had a feast.

Ailin and I invited the Khas women to tell their stories for a change, and they told us about their king, who had been a good king, who had ordained the stones giving the directions to the next well, and who had conquered many other kings.

I think it was at this point that my Thamsin started to rather fancy me as the next Khas king… I’m not sure, maybe it was because I asked whether, if I were a Khas king, I could order canals to be dug through the plain. But it was a good day of Anshen, and in the evening, Thamsin and I went over to the next hillock and made love in the dry grass, and I told her I’d take her to my place in Valdyas, and she seemed to like that, too.

We moved on for quite some day, day after day, and Ailin started wondering how far away the king’s court was.

Sepideh told us — between three weeks and nine months! That was more than any of us had thought! How did the iron mine people get their ore to the king’s city if it were that far away! And they also told us that the king’s city was made of stone, too.

Still, there was no going back. Of course! So we went on, day after day. With Sepideh and Ailin charting our course, me keeping everyone together, all of us learning from each other, we kept going west.

We had an adventure one night when our camp was overrun with thousands upon thousands of mice, eating our freshly slaughtered cow, we had to go without water for a day because the well was full of mouse-piss, we kept our Day of Anshen every seventh day after the first one — but we kept going west.