I stood beneath the galleries in the circular Journey Hall, my art doll held tight, as I nervously awaited the arrival of the Guild Mistress. Several artists stood nearby, some to watch, others to depart on their own journeys of exploration. Grunthrin stood next to me, seemingly proud to be a mentor – apparently it was the first time that he had mentored anyone and if anything he appeared more nervous than I was.
As we waited I recalled the last few hours. They had been like a whirlwind. Once my decision had been made I’d lost no time in seeking out Grunthrin and asking him what was expected of me, as a Guild member. I had no idea of what I would be required to do. He had explained, patiently, that the Guild itself was huge, with numerous Halls throughout what he called Imagi-Nation: a massive world, or universe, in which Rohinval was just a very small part. I found it hard to envisage such a place. For me, the northern area of Rohinval through which I had travelled all my life seemed enormous. Still, I accepted it as truth. Grumpy and gruff Grunthrin might be but my time with him had taught me that he was also honest and to be trusted. He had explained about the ceremony and how the doll would be kept here, in the Journey Hall, as a sort of anchor; that I would need to return within a year with my art and knowledge and any artefacts that I had found, and hand them to the Mistress of Treasures so that they could be kept safe and used for study. But that, should I need or want to, I could return at any time within that year to rest or seek him out for advice.
As for what Grunthrin knew of the Shay, that was limited. He had briefly met two, the last to visit the Guild Hall, about thirty years ago. Since then none had appeared at the Guild, nor had any been seen in and around Arlen. He had told me a little of their magic and shown me a map in the library, pointing out a ruined town named after the Shay in Whittan Forest. Long since deserted, we both agreed that it was nevertheless worth a visit.
I had wanted to search the library for any more clues but time had begun to run out. Knowing that I needed a saddle and saddle bags for the journey I’d made my way to the stable-yard, where I was able to acquire both. Normally I preferred to ride bareback but for a long journey, and to store clothes, cooking equipment and blankets, the saddle-bags were essential. Ghost hadn’t been too happy about them but I explained to him why they were needed and he seemed to accept them, albeit reluctantly.
The next morning, packed and ready, I bade farewell to the Copse and made my way toward the Journey Hall, leaving Ghost outside. And now, as I stood admiring the beautiful circular mandala on the floor, the vaulted ceiling and central dome, painted with a compass, my reverie was broken by the sound of singers. Chanters, Grunthrin had called them. Dressed in colourful robes they entered the Hall via a small door, followed by the Guild Mistress and a slim woman I assumed was the Mistress of Treasures. Grunthrin nudged me, whispering that I should go to the centre of the mandala with the others who were leaving. I nodded, slipping away from the shadows around the outer rim of the circle and warily making my way to the central spot. Three others joined me, all older. One woman seemed to eye me curiously, the other two were too intent on the Chanters and the ceremony to take any notice of me at all. For which I was grateful.
“We are gathered here to give our blessings to the Travellers,” announced the Guild Mistress, her soft voice echoing around the Hall as the Chanters lit candles and spread out around the mandala. “Believe in the power of creation, trust in the call of your dreams, have faith in your skills and listen to the ways that lead you.” She smiled at each of us in turn as the Chanters sang and circled us, their melodious voices becoming trancelike. I felt the room turn yet knew I stood still. The compass in the dome seemed nearer, the colours gleaming in the candlelight. For a few moments it was as if I had been transported to another world, a solitary figure drifting through air, floating above Rohinval and the seas around it. Then the music stopped and I realised that I had turned to face the door that led west. West to Corim and Whittan Forest. I smiled. Whatever magic had been done, it had pointed me to where I had wanted to go.
The other artists left first: two went south, one east. At the signal from the Guild Mistress I walked toward the west door, and handed her my doll.
“Travel well, Zentara Shadowsoul,” she said before placing the doll in one of the niches by the door. “May you find what you seek, and learn what you need, and return a richer person because of it.”
And with that the door opened, and I stepped through, to find Grunthrin waiting next to Ghost. He watched quietly as I mounted then nodded. “May the spirits be with you,” he said. I thanked him and smiled down at his gruff bearded face. Almost I thought he blushed but then he stepped back and I urged Ghost forward and out through the western gate of the Guild Hall, eager to begin my journey.