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The Wishing Map
Chapter Twenty-Two: Everything (Continued)
Previously: In pursuit of the Questing Beast, Gina and Zack boarded an eastbound coach.
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They’d been in Ismara for four days–less than an hour and a half in Middleton. But if they stayed long enough, Momandad would find their beds empty and frantically call 911. Meanwhile, if the double moon disappeared, they would never be able to return home at all!
The coach was uniquely Frengan, with six irontree-wood wheels and twin copper tea kettle cabins. It stood high off the ground and was enameled with gauzy utopian pastels of majestic dragons and virtuous knights. As if to complete the picture, it was pulled by four muscular bronze stallions that, if they were human, could have posed for romance novel covers.
The countryside changed as they rode east. At first there were marshy plains peppered with placid herons; then open spaces broken by sandy cliffs, fringed with wheat; and finally sparse woodlands made up of white-barked trees full of tiny taxi-yellow finches whose collective eeps could be heard for miles.
The dirt highway was deeply rutted, and the thoroughbraces, massive leather straps on which the tea kettle cabins rested, transferred every lurch and thud to the passengers inside. Gina worked vigilantly to keep her Frengan history book steady. Zack listened as she read aloud, but after the first hour grew incurably twitchy. So when the coach stopped to pick up two women and a hairy platypus-like merchant (a Knowing Beast), he climbed up top and sat down beside a swordsman who’d been hired to protect the passengers.
The huge, heavily-scarred swordsman opened his mouth, displaying a meaty stub where his tongue used to be, then turned his head from side to side, showing the melted variegated lumps of flesh that had rendered him deaf as well.
The man grinned and pantomimed running someone through with his sword, as if to say, “I got even.”
From her history book, Gina learned about the two major epochs of the pre-Ismaran era: Before the Holosian Empire, Frenga had been occupied by independent tribes made up of Humans, Low Faeries, and Knowing Beasts. Then the Holosian hordes swarmed over the land, beginning the nearly 1,000 year reign of the Holosian Droiklefs (“Masters of Everything”).
The Gerdan chieftains and Frengan warlords finally broke the back of the Holosian Empire in the year 10,506 of The Time Before. But the era that followed was marked by constant violence. The Frengans (human and otherwise) quarreled relentlessly and only managed to pull together when Droglev the First, styling himself in the manner of the old Holosian emperors, proclaimed himself “Master of Everything” and invaded.
And so it went for over 400 years. Nor were things any better in the other kingdoms surrounding the Great Sea. With one exception:
A remnant of an ancient people called the q’ Mizshuol settled in the mountaintop city of Zshinia and came to be known as the Zshinian Prophets. And it was they who had prophesied…
the coming of Zack and Gina Dore!
Thoughts: Are we less our own than we imagine?
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