Today we reached the Siltlands. They border the Blight Sea, a swath of land reaching over a mile from the shore where nothing lives. Nothing can grow next to this accursed water. Its taste is more acrid than that of the ocean. Just beyond the silt, on the far western shore of the sea, stands Blithe. The final trading post to the Nanten on its western borders.
There are few men left who find profit in this region, and I’m certain they are driven more by desperation than anything. The wretch we found to take us across the sea is one such man. Tarsh is his name, at least as best we understand through his toothless mumbling. Old and withered by the salt as much as the sun, Tarsh is a profiteer by nature.
He runs what meager supplies fall his way over to the shores of the Nanten. He returns with whatever the poor people there have to trade. Tools made from bone, ropes woven from the fibers of some twisted vine. On the northern borders raw materials and gems can be smuggled out of the Nanten at a healthy profit. Here in the southwest, Tarsh is lucky if he can live off of what he can scrounge.
It only cost us three silvers to gain passage. I was surprised at how quickly he jumped at the sheen of the metal, starving just to feel its weight in his hand. I don’t think he’s touched Imperial coin in a while. Regardless, his reaction killed any hope he may have had of negotiating for more and he knew it. It was followed by a long look of suspicion, as if our very clothes hid golden bodies from his searching gaze.
Tarsh hid the coins within the ratty folds of his robes and shuffled off. He didn’t come back, the pirate, so we had to go and find him.
But what led us to Tarsh wasn’t solely his services. We came to him for the path on which he lies. Salisir came this way 20 years ago as best as I can tell. There are two ways into the Nanten from the Old Empire. The first is over the Highridge Mountains and then south along their foothills.
Salisir swore he would never cross the Highridge Mountains again, which left him only one option: sail directly from the west, over the Blight Sea.
Neither of these routes are heavily traveled. Trading posts along them have long disappeared, and while the Nanten is rich in raw materials few find the risk worth the potential reward. No one intentionally goes to the Nanten. No one, it seems, except Tarsh.
I only hope he can be trusted. Hunger drives desperate action, and Tarsh is clearly very hungry. He did his best to delay, to try and haggle for more silver and short us on supplies. Balthandar simply glowered at him and twisted the shaft of his spear restlessly between his brown hands. That moved Tarsh along. But out on that water we will be vulnerable. Anywhere from this point on, truly, we are exposed.
If Tarsh was here when Salisir came through, he won’t say. But he needed no explanation as to what we wanted. Although it took cajoling, when he saw the blue blade of the Tetrarch on my armor he knew exactly what to do, gathering supplies and beginning preparations on his barge. Somehow the image of the blade has softened him to us.
We’ve only waited a day, and already he beckons us to board and begin our short voyage across the lifeless waters.
If only the jungle to which we sailed were as lifeless, perhaps we should have a greater sense that we might survive what is to come.