Let's look in on our prince and what he's up to...
Tobimar squinted across the water. There was nothing to see, just more water, as the Lucramalalla continued through the five-foot seas. Of course, that was part of what bothered him; until now, the huge Sauran-built ship had sailed always just in sight of land, able to see ports and cities as they passed, ready in case they were hailed or if there was some need to stop. But sometime during the night, it seemed, they had swung far out to sea.
Still, even that didn't seem enough to cause his unease. He felt something was wrong, almost could see it, like heat-ripples from the sand, but he couldn't put a name to it. He looked around the ship.
To his mild surprise, he saw T'Oltha standing alone on the second deck, high above the first, immobile as a statue, looking out to sea as he had been. Well, there's my best source of information.
It only took a few moments to make his way up; the eight-foot creature was still standing where he had seen her. "A good dawning, T'Oltha."
The draconic head turned slightly. "A good dawning to you as well, questing prince."
Of course the ship's captain knew exactly who he was and something of the errand he was on. He just hoped it wouldn't be general crew knowledge; better to avoid too many questions that he didn't invite. "If it is no secret, why do we sail so far from land this day?"
The Sauran gestured with its taloned hand. "For this day, and for many more days, indeed, we must sail by guidance of stars and the gods; for there lies Elyvias."
That made sense. He hadn't realized they'd come so far already; yes, they had left Tor Port, a major city of the Empire of the Mountain, quite some days ago, but the great inacessible peninsula of Elyvias jutted from the southernmost reaches of the continent. "So we cannot even sail in sight of the land?"
The headshake was like the weaving of a snake. "The Maelwyrd extends full forty miles from the land, with but three miles nearest the land safe to sail for those who live there."
Tobimar glanced up. He had heard something of the latter, but never spoken of with the matter-of-fact certainty that T'Oltha used. "How do you know there is such a safe zone?"
T'Oltha gave a rumbling laugh like distant thunder. "Twice, under the guidance of the Lady of Aegeia, I sailed the shifting maze of the Maelwyrd and found my way safe to Elyvias. I have sailed those waters, young prince, seen what was left when the Archmage and Dragon King duelled at the end and sank part of the continent beneath them."
"If you have sailed them before –"
"Only under the Lady of Wisdom's guidance," she said, emphatically. "And only following the partly-known paths through. Here we are on the northern frontier of Elyvias, a narrow shore backed by the Northern Cataclysm Ridge, and where the mazakh have a strong hold. We still must follow the currents and land in a general sense, and so shall turn northward again to round the portion of the peninsula that projects in that direction. But only in the southernmost waters has the Maelwyrd been mapped at all, and only with the Lady Athena's guidance, or that of S'mbanullah or Elbon Nomicon himself, would I attempt even that route, let alone seek to penetrate the uncharted Maelwyrd here." The weaving shake of the head again. "No, we shall make no port again until Olthamian' a' ameris."
A snort. "As you and the other derntera call it, yes, as you remove the poetry and meaning of Fanalam' T' ameris' a' u' Zahr-a-Thana T'ikon and say 'Zarathanton'."
Tobimar grinned, but had to admit that the Sauran had something of a point. Changing "City of the Sea of Stars" to what amounted to "place with ships" did seem rather a step down. On the other hand, as the name of the capital city illustrated, the Sauran names could get to be long enough to need a couple of breaths to finish. "We are blessed neither with your longevity nor your lung capacity, o T'Teranahm," he said.
That gained him another deep laugh. "Truly said, little human. Truly said. As long as you remember the poetry that lies beneath, then the surface is of no matter, or so S'her once said."
He looked up at the ancient reptilian captain again. The Saurans had inhabited Zarathan for longer than almost any other race of beings (save of course for the Dragons, their forebears and possibly one or two others), and – though they had, of course, had their own epics of betrayal and tragedy – had always been a force of stability and wisdom for the younger races; Khoros had often mentioned how much he had learned from the dragon-descended creatures.
That decided him. "T'oltha, you know something of our quest. Where do you think I should start my quest? Which port?"
To his surprise, the Sauran captain bowed to him. "You ask my advice? It is well. For know, that while my ship has carried many of your questers, since first I took this ship six millennia agone, none have ever asked. Your mother's sister chose the Northern route, landed at the White Blade. Before her, a man, Karilar, and his choice was Tor Port itself, to seek an audience with the Archmage. Others, many others, yet none asking of me what my thoughts were." She looked up to the sky. "All sought in places of peril, of distant lands; one even took passage through the Maelwyrd to seek on Elyvias.
"I say instead that you begin in the city where all once began, and where one of my people still sits atop the Throne that is older than all the derntera combined. Go to the First City, take ship with me all the way to Zarathanton, and there I think you will find, if not answers, the path to your answers."
The capital city? Greatest of all cities? The idea made sense. He had thought before of Shipton itself, the great port, or of Aegeia, isolated and proud deiocratic state whose ruler was, it was said, the living incarnation of one of the gods of Wisdom. But T'oltha's advice resonated, fit with the part of him that could show him a safe path across a room in total darkness.
"I thank you, Captain. Then I am with you to the end of this journey."
"The end of this voyage, young one." The Sauran smiled, showing a fearsome array of teeth. "My journey is far from ending, and yours has not even begun."