I am inside some sort of great cart mechanism with Favla, Ahrik, Tessha, Jef the Guard, as well as a few other Chaos-Kin that I don’t know. But all of that pales next to the fact that I can see the sky again! We were escorted out of the “ward” that has been my home for as long as I have belonged to the Chaos-Kin. We passed innumerable Chaos-Kin (who stared) and mechanisms (which ignored us) until we finally arrived before a striped wall that turned out to be a great door that rolled up into the ceiling with a deep growling noise. But, beyond that was sunlight and breezes that I had not felt for so long. The urge to run and stretch my legs was almost overwhelming, but Favla and I remained at rest although she was nearly dancing with excitement.
We all loaded into the great cart that was waiting for us and it rumbled and growled and soon it was moving at the speed of a bird in flight. Favla and I watched with rapt attention as the alien landscape passed by. There were strange plants and a multitude of artifacts of the Chaos-Kin strewn across the countryside. There were also many buildings that must be the lairs of the Chaos-Kin. They came in so many shapes and sizes it was dizzying to think about. Such a strange people.
Eventually, the great cart came to a stop and stopped its rumbling. The back wall fell slowly becoming a ramp once again. Tessha shooed us out of the cart and we looked around and found ourselves on a wide, dry plain. Ahrik took out his pad and showed us pictures of a number of dangerous plants and animals that were native to this area. Strangely enough, most of the spine plants and crawlers were familiar to me. Although they were often a bit changed in form, they were immediately recognizable.
Tessha brought out a wheeled mechanism and donned a strange uniform. Ahrik let us know that we could run on the paths here and Tessha would follow us. The mechanism started rumbling loudly and Tessha sat astride it. Suddenly, it began kicking up dust and moved off at a great pace. Ahrik smiled and waved for us to follow her. Favla and I looked at each other and then ran after her.
I cannot express the joy of being able to run again after my infirmity and confinement. No other people can run like the Fleet Ones. It is our birthright and joy, and it is so important to us that a Fleet One who can no longer run will usually die within a matter of a score of weeks. So great was our outrage at the hamstringing of our people by the Winged-Kin that it drew us into the War of the Seven Peoples.
After the euphoria began to wear off, I returned to my senses and saw that poor Favla was struggling to keep up. I deliberately slowed my pace significantly. “Are you all right gentle doe?”
Although her breathing was labored and she was sweating heavily, she was still beaming. “It has been far too many seasons since I have run like that noble stag. I would not be a burden to a such a grand warrior as yourself, Please allow me to return to the great cart while you take the opportunity to challenge the wind.”
I slowed us gradually to a walk. “Gracious doe, although your words are like the melody of a brook, I am reminded that we are both newly mended and should be cautious. Let us return together to the great cart at a more gentle pace.” As we loped together toward the Chaos-Kin mechanism, I took the time to gaze at my mate and marvel at her beauty. Despite our mutual maiming I could see nothing but … the bush I just ran into.
I managed not to stumble but I had some trouble spitting out the bitter leaf that had somehow made it way into my mouth. Alas gentle Favla tried to keep her laughter hidden, but any dignity I had at that moment had apparently been left behind in the bush. I laughed and this released Favla’s laughter as well.
We arrived at the great cart in good time, but nowhere near as fast as Tessha’s mechanism. I must admit that the artifacts of the Chaos-Kin left the pride of the Fleet Ones in the dust. I had no doubts anymore that it would be the Chaos-Kin that would bring down the Fleet Ones from the mountain of their pride. I just hope that the fall does not destroy the Fleet Ones and the rest of the Seven Peoples completely.
When I looked up from my musings, the Chaos-Kin were loading up into the Great Cart once again and Favla was looking at me with concern. “Is something wrong noble stag?”
I lowered my head and lifted my shoulders and in negation. “I worry about our people as a whole. It is merely a conceit from the days when I was a leader among our people. Such thoughts serve no purpose anymore.”
“You are still a leader, although of a vastly smaller people. Even the Chaos-Kin recognize this in you.”
She sighed as we walked into the great cart. “For such a stag of great vision, you can be surprisingly blind sometimes.” Favla gasped and dropped her eyes and shrank away as soon as she realized the boldness of her words.
Her reaction is like that of a slave that has been beaten by a cruel master and it surprised me so much that I just stood there as the ramp became a wall again and the great cart rumbled to life. I knew that she had been maimed and stilled as I had, but because I knew how common that had become, I had not really considered why she had in particular.
As my mate had said, I was sometimes completely blind to what was right in front of me. She was obviously a brilliant doe from a prosperous family and was furthermore very skilled in her family’s profession. She wouldn’t have been charged with some petty crime. It was much more likely that she had spoken out against something ridiculous that a false listener had said. She was still afraid to move even though some time has past. I maneuvered around in front of her (which was not easy in the great cart) and knelt in front of her so that I could look directly into her lowered eyes. “Gentle doe, I am your mate and protector. There is no need for you to fear when I am near.”
Her eyes seemed to focus on me. They began to tear and she began to tremble. I locked eyes with her and then stood up. This made her bring her head up as I rose. “You are my mate. If you see something I am blind to and tell me about it, then I am made stronger and only have reason to be grateful that my mate is such a brilliant doe. So please be my strength and sight and tell me what I have not seen.”
“Th-the s-stags of the Fleet Ones all look to you to lead. The Chaos-Kin have seen this and they come to you first with any problems in our group, especially since the fight between Bulgur and Sekesh. They come to you first and ask your opinion on any changes and often have you announce it instead of doing it themselves. You are the heart of our group and everyone knows it except for you.” She watched me intently as she finished speaking, looking to see my reaction.
The great cart started into motion at this point, pushing me into her. I felt no need to move away from her and in fact took the opportunity to bring her into my embrace. “Thank you, gentle doe. I had not realized that; or perhaps I had dismissed the possibility. Perhaps I have been trying so hard to walk the path of a slave that I had not realized that I has reembarked on the path of a leader.”
I carefully maneuvered around so that I stood by her side again. Favla did not lean into me as she usually did, but she did not shrink away as she had recently. I did not know what else to do at that moment, so I just stood by her.
We watched to countryside race past for a time, which helped with the awkwardness. Watching a new and unknown world pass by was endlessly absorbing. The dry plains stretched out in every direction with little other than cattle, beasts and Chaos-Kin artifacts to break it up. We rode until the sun had passed its zenith and entered another Chaos-Kin town. The town seemed much larger than the last one, but for all I know it could be the same one entered from another gate. The great cart stopped at a Chaos-Kin lair and Tessha and two others got off. Ahrik told us that they would be back soon and in the mean time we should stay away from the windows so as to not draw attention to ourselves.
To occupy us, Ahrik started the language game where he would speak in the language of the Fleet Ones and we would answer in the tongue of the Chaos-Kin or “Inglish.” We would then correct each other on words and pronunciations. Of course, Favla and Ahrik are much better at it than I am but neither of them seem to mind that I lag behind on this trail.
Tessha returned; triumphantly carrying a number of bags made of an odd material. The odor coming from the bags was definitely that of food, but it was mixed with many other strong odors as well. She seemed excessively gleeful and said that she was glad that Leesha was not there so that we can have “real human food.” She began handing out food to all in the great cart and unwraps and spreads out a number of them for Favla and I to try. The first thing I tried is some yellow sticks she called “fries.” The fries are good but the sauce she dips them in is far too spicy for me. Next she gave me a meat bun called a “burgur.” I tried it and my eyes teared up from the all the spices on it, but I finished it dutifully. I notice that Favla is having a similar difficulty, but she is bearing with it as well. We then try “chic-in-stips” which is meat wrapped in a spicy coating. At this point I realized that the Chaos-Kin seem to love very spicy food. Even the “cola” drink burns. The “isetee” doesn’t burn but is very bitter and sweet at the same time. Only the “shakes” seem soothing, but they seem to be made of snow, I guess to cool off their burning tongues.
As the meal is wrapping up, Favla makes a disconcerting discovery. All the bags and wrappings that the food came in is made of paper! What is even worse is that she finds out from Ahrik that they are just going to discard it like refuse! Just from that one meal alone the paper that they have used would be be worth many weeks wages. Being a scribe, Favla is horrified at the loss. I remind her that we are slaves and must learn to accept our masters’ ways. She agrees but I catch her staring longingly at where the paper is stashed several times.
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