'The City of Veresh, as you will know, is forbidden to all outsiders; all, that is, save those rare among the rare who are called to attend the court of the Khedive by the golden sandbirds that carry the city's messages or those, rarer still, summoned by the Lady of the White Veil. To all others the merest glimpse of the city, carved as it is from the stone of a red mountain nestled within the white sands of Afar, is forbidden on pain of pain.
|A golden sandbird of Veresh|
At last I had no choice but to return to Otherwhile and to this city of Farla, and here I fell into deep depression, my only comfort the black wine of Shende. I, who love the light so much, closed my eyes and thought of Veresh and let the world step on around me in the giddy dance of drink.
And then one day, as I called for my third cup, a stranger with a twisted lip and a great scar running the length of his naked arm came and sat before me and favoured me with the sight of his rot-blackened teeth.
"I have that which you seek", he said, "and you will pay me for it well".
I waved him away with an unsteady hand, thinking only of Veresh and of the black wine, but the fellow would not move. Rather, he raised his heavy, closed fist and placed it on the table before me and stared deep into my eyes. I could not hold his gaze but turned away and called once more for my cup, reasoning that if this man were intent on coming to blows with me, for some reason I knew not, I would feel less pain the more I had drunk.
The stranger did not move to strike, instead letting his lips part further, revealing yet more black teeth. "All know that the City of Veresh is forbidden, that only those who have been summoned may enter, yet they say you have stood for a year and a year and a day beyond that at the gates where no man may stand uncalled and that in that time you have whispered and railed and pleaded and cursed and all in the hopes of seeing what lies within".
My cup had come at last and I swigged from it deeply. All that the stranger said was common knowledge and why he chose to remind me of it I neither knew nor cared.
"I say again", he continued, "I have what you seek, though you must pay a very great price for it".
And then he opened that heavy hand of his a little and I saw within it the flittering form of a golden sandbird, bearing in its claw the single pink petal that is the summons from the Khedive to attend his court. In an instant I was sober.
"With this you may enter Veresh unmolested", the stranger went on, "though what I ask in return is that which, among all you possess, you prize most highly".
So intent was I upon the little bird in the stranger's hand that I gave his question little thought. In truth, I had few possessions left to me, having expended much of my fortune in my travels and more still as I stood before the gates of Veresh. Without a moment's thought, I withdrew from my pouch the last things I held of any value: the two rubies that had once adorned the statue of Many-Eyed Lem.
The stranger looked down at the two red jewels surprised, as a man may look when offered the answer to a question he has not asked, then he nodded and took them up. A moment more and the bird was in my hand, its black eyes staring up at me, and the stranger was gone. A moment after that, my breath almost frozen in my chest, I was reaching down to extract the single pink petal from the little creature's claw. I had my summons at last.
Within weeks I was once more at the wide gates that bar the entrance to Veresh, the city that lies within the red mountain that stands in the white desert of Afar, awaiting I knew not what'.
And there Jevra Avn Sol will pause his tale and take up his cup of black wine and raise it to you, and then he will lean back further into the darkness of the darkest and coldest corner of the Inn of the Fallen Star and then, at last, he will drink.
[And that feels like a good time to end the tale for the moment. To find out what Jevra Avn Sol discovered within the walls of the forbidden City of Veresh head along to Part II here.]