Chapter 21: Sea
Almonihah and Zakhin’Dakh did find a valley through the rift they had seen. They found another beyond it, and in this way they meandered their way west, sometimes through valleys and canyons, other times just paralleling the Dragon’s Teeth range on one side or the other. Gradually they made their way southwest, until they reached the Stormpeaks. These proved more of an obstacle, both because of their greater height and because of the frequent storms for which they were named. The pair were determined, however, and slowly, carefully made their way, often having to turn back and try another way.
Eventually, though, they found what Almonihah was looking for—a large stream running through a narrow valley. If he was right, this was part of the Stormwash, the river that flowed through Midport. That was where he wanted to go.
Before long, the stream and valley widened, and in the distance the keen-eyed pair could see hints of smoke. Then Zakhin’Dakh screeched in surprise.
Griffons! He said.
Zakhin’Dakh had the advantage of Almonihah in distance vision, as he could only make out small dots approaching them. Before long, though, he could make out enough of their silhouettes to see that they were, indeed, griffons. And if he remembered correctly, that meant griffon-riders.
Slow down and fly lower, Almonihah murmured to his friend. We don’t want to seem any more dangerous than we have to.
Okay, Zakhin’Dakh screeched in acknowledgment.
The griffon-riders—both of them could see the riders now—approached quickly. Midport’s griffon-riders were its main military force, other than its navy. Almonihah had seen them before the couple of times he and Zrathanzon had visited the city, but he hadn’t been riding a giant griffon then. While they were generally more open-minded than the guards of a lot of the smaller settlements he’d visited, he wasn’t sure how they’d react to Zakhin’Dakh and him together.
They slowed as they neared the pair, as well. There were five of them—a sizable patrol. One of them flew closer than the others and spoke.
“What is your business here?”
“Spending gold. Maybe finding a ship,” Almonihah yelled back.
After a moment of silence, the griffon-rider replied, “We’ll escort you into town.”
They flew into formation around Almonihah and Zakhin’Dakh—two on each side, and the leader in front. They flew slowly in silence, which was fine with Almonihah. Zakhin’Dakh, after his cheerful greeting screech went unanswered by the other griffons, was quiet as well, though he looked around curiously.
It wasn’t long before they could see signs of cultivation below them. While Midport depended on imports to support itself, there were fairly extensive farms up here in the valley of the Stormwash. Getting the food down to Midport itself was a fairly difficult business, but not really any more difficult than bringing it in by ship, and it gave the city some semblance of independence.
The main method for getting the supplies up and down soon came into view. The Great Crane, a marvel of modern engineering, sat at falls of the Stormwash, lowering food and other goods from the valleys above down to the city, and bringing up supplies from the city. Particularly brave souls (or those who did not wish to climb the Great Stair) would even get a lift for themselves.
The group of griffon-riders flying into the city needed to use neither. As they neared the falls, the leader of the riders asked Almonihah, “Going to the Merchants’ Quarter first?”
“Yeah,” he replied.
The griffon-rider nodded, but said nothing more. They flew out over the falls, and got a view of Midport itself. Midport was generally cited as the most populous city on all of Draezoln, despite being crammed into the small delta of the Stormwash, surrounded by mountains on two sides and the ocean on the other two.
Zakhin’Dakh found the sight quite impressive, and screeched long and low in appreciation.
This was one of the few cities where a giant griffon flying overhead with a half-dragon on his back only drew a few curious glances. Finding a place for them to land was a bit trickier, but eventually they found a square that was empty enough for Zakhin’Dakh to land in. Once they were settled, the griffon-rider leader gave them one final warning about making trouble and left them to their business.
Almonihah found it difficult to keep his big friend going forward. There were so many interesting things for him to look at everywhere that he kept stopping to watch them. That, combined with the irritation many people expressed at having a giant griffon blocking half of the street, was enough to put the half-dragon in a rather sour mood.
Eventually, they reached the first shop Almonihah wanted to visit. It was still here from when he and Zrathanzon had visited it many years ago, but it was run by elves, so that wasn’t much of a surprise. Zrathanzon had called them the ‘finest fletchers in the Northern Continent’, which was enough for Almonihah. He vaguely recalled them being rather pricey, too, but he still had a lot of dragon treasure with him, and he wanted the best for what he wanted done.
It was when Zakhin’Dakh stuck his beak in the shop after he walked in that Almonihah realized he’d probably need to make different arrangements for his friend for the day. He was probably going to be spending quite a while indoors, and the big griffon simply wouldn’t fit in most places. That, combined with his curiosity and how easily he got bored, seemed like a recipe for certain disaster. He wished he’d thought of this earlier—he might have been able to talk the griffon-riding guards into doing something. As it was…
Finding something safe for Zakhin’Dakh to do took far longer than Almonihah would have liked. He’d have to keep this in mind for the future. Eventually, though, he was able to return to what he was doing with only some worry of what his big friend was up to. In addition to ordering some special arrows, he purchased some more potions and even an little enchanted bag, that was much larger on the inside than on the out. Dragon treasure could buy quite a bit.
The most tricky part, however, would be finding passage to the Southern Continent for them. While ships made the perilous passage from Midport to Ferdunan regularly, they didn’t often carry giant griffons. Just figuring out how to keep Zakhin’Dakh fed on the way was going to be difficult, and convincing a captain that he wouldn’t eat the crew (not to mention convincing the crew of that) would likely be even harder. Not to mention Almonihah would have to watch his friend carefully to make sure his curiosity didn’t interfere with the smooth running of the ship.
For the time being, Almonihah just looked around the docks, refreshing his memory of what Zrathanzon had said about them, and seeing what had changed. His arrows would take some time to make, especially the enchanted ones, so he had time to look around before trying anything. He had a few gems in hidden on his person that could probably convince the right captain to go along with him, but he wanted to make sure said captain wouldn’t try to rob him on the way. There wasn’t any hurry, so he’d rather take the time to do things right.
In the end, it took almost a week for Almonihah to finish his purchases, collect his new arrows, and find a ship willing to take a giant griffon. He’d managed to spend almost all of the treasure he’d taken from the dragon’s lair, though he still had enough that he wasn’t worried. Why he felt the need to go south… perhaps it was just to do it, after his failure to cross through the Madlands. Perhaps not. Sometimes he felt like there was something more driving him, though what it was he couldn’t say.
After a couple days of warily watching the pair from a distance, one of the Midport Griffon-Rider captains approached Almonihah. They had, apparently, gathered that something was different about Zakhin’Dakh beyond his size, and he invited the pair to spend a bit of time with them. Almonihah rather reluctantly agreed, but Zakhin’Dakh was much more enthusiastic. Hanging out at the edges of town while his friend did things with shiny round things was rather boring.
The griffon-riders lead them up to their eyrie, in one of the mountains to the north of Midport. There they spoke with Almonihah and, to their surprise, Zakhin’Dakh (indirectly, until one of their number who actually knew Great Eagle was called in). At their request and with Zakhin’Dakh’s energetic approval, the big griffon remained behind while Almonihah continued his business. He returned frequently, however, both out of concern for his rather naïve friend and out of his own curiosity about these griffon-riders.
One other thing he noted while in the city was a man who would sometimes shout from street-corners about how the gods were deceiving the world, that none were worthy of worship, or some such nonsense. Almonihah paid him little heed, but he seemed to gather an audience some evenings. Once Almonihah thought he saw something around his neck, mostly hidden under the robe he wore. He only got a glance of an odd chain around his neck, but for some reason the sight of it chilled the Ranger. Even days later, he found himself tensing up whenever he saw the man, though he never again caught sight of whatever he wore around his neck.
Eventually the day of departure came. Zakhin’Dakh wasn’t hard to get on the ship, though it was, as Almonihah had guessed, difficult to keep him from causing trouble. Food would still be an issue, as well—they’d packed quite a bit, but he and the griffon would have to supplement it extensively when they could. The only benefit Almonihah could convince the captain of (besides the payment) was that any pirate foolish enough to attack them would find himself quite outmatched, so they were paying for their own supplies separately.
The journey was… surprisingly uneventful. Pleasantly so, even. Zakhin’Dakh did complain a bit about the food, when they couldn’t manage to get something fresh from an island or even a couple times by catching something from the ocean, but they both managed to stay fed. Friction with the captain and crew was… irritating, but not serious. Zakhin’Dakh eventually found a couple ways to help that they actually appreciated.
And so they reached port in Ferdunan quietly, slightly ahead of schedule. Convincing the guards at the port that neither of them meant any harm was a bit more difficult, but eventually, they were allowed to disembark and start making their way inland.
It wasn’t how Almonihah had originally planned to go south, but now… here he was, in spite of Jivenesh.