Friday, July 14, 2017

24: Blind guides

“Where ya think you’re going?”  The guard sounded big but not particularly bright.

“Meal time for the prisoner,” Ch’Byartha said. 

“Where’s the runt they usually send?”  Meaning Ch’Byartha’s child friend who got a job in the mess tent with him.

“Sick day, apparently after children, the disabled are the most menial members of the community.  I suppose if the blind guy were sick too, the elderly gentleman cleaning the officers’s toilets would be next in line.” 

“Check him.”  Another guard patted Ch’Byartha down, presumably looking for weapons or tools the prisoner could use to escape, they needn’t have bothered.  They poked around in the bowl of dry, crunchy bits he had personally chosen for her, knowing her fondness for soft foods.  “One coming down,” he called down the mausoleum steps.  Ch’Byartha felt the air cool as he descended.  Reaching the bottom, he stopped to listen and get his bearings.  A chain clinked and rattled.

“It is…most pleasant for One to see One’s Guide again,” a hauntingly familiar voice echoed.

“Eh miss?  Must have me confused with someone else.  I’m Ch’Byartha, at’cher service.”

“One could smell the scent of the Guide on the child.  One was surprised.  Possibly happy.”

“Well now, that’s a fine thing in unhappy circumstances, it tis.  And I’m glad I can cheer ya up even by being mistaken for someone else.  Reckon there’s not much more’n i could do for ya but to bring yer grub and letcha dream o’ some other fella.  Where ya want it?” 

“Put it on the table,” said the guard behind him.

“And where would that be?”

“Two steps forward, Guide,” the guard said.  Oh, Ch’Byartha thought, that isn't good.  He should have let his little ragamuffin keep bringing the dish.  Damn his pride!  He just had to know for himself!  He craved to hear her with his own ears and know she was suffering for what she had turned out to be.  His revenge demanded she see his blindness.  Let her see it!  Let her know where her madness had led!  What it had done to those who followed her.  Those who…  Cruel joke it would be if it only made him a person of interest to the Legion!  ‘A fool and his folly,’ Ch’Voga scolded in his head.  Did everyone’s conscience take on the voice of someone they knew? 

“Ha!  A fine guide you would make, peepers!”  Ch’Byartha let out the breath he had been holding.  Thank Yah!  The guard laughed and obviously thought it ridiculous that he could be anyone’s guide. 

“Yes,” he said, “the blind leading the blind.  They shall both fall into a pit I believe.  Well, there ya are lady, don’t choke.”  He turned to go, retracing his steps. 

“One is … sorry.”  He stopped.  He didn’t want to stop.  He needed to get out of here now.  He knew he did.  His rage needed to not hear this.  But he stopped.  “One does not have words.  Pain.  Compelling pain to rival the Need.”  Her voice, was it breaking?  Had he ever heard her string this many sentences together?  “One failed.  One failed all.  One needed purpose.  One sought to fill this new Need.  One sought to recover .. one’s close kin.  There is a word, one cannot think of it now.  One made sacrifices one should not have made.  One made all-who-followed-and-trusted-one sacrifice everything.  If one could have saved one’s kins perhaps… perhaps it… may have been less hurtful.  One suspects not.  One would rather the Guide had eyes or the Lord Counselor had life.  One is filled now, one’s crop is full of gall.”

Monday, July 10, 2017

23: Share

The effective clutch spread out just below the rise of the dunes.  Not silhouetted against the moonlit sky.  Downwind so as not to give away its presence.  Partially buried the clutch waited. 

A single animal came over the rim of the dune, bones and rags pushing against the relentless wind.  It staggered forward on the downslope.  It was not well.  The clutch let it pass.  It took some time to leave their sight again, the stars seemed to move faster in the sky.  But it was determined, relentless.  It crested the next shifting dune, only the wind keeping it from falling over.  The dune passed over the buried clutch and it emerged again to discuss what to do.

Consensus formed, the effective clutch moved as one.  It quickly overtook the staggering animal, this time surrounding it and then one revealed itself.  Even so, the creature was so far gone it took some time before it registered one’s presence as surprise and cast FEAR at one. 

‘Stockmate,-where-find-thee-food?’ one danced as greeting to the long lost harvester.  In this context, in the limited language options of harvesters, it was a more general question about history than food. 

HUNGRY! the long lost kin cast back.  SHARE!  It wanted to pierce one’s crop and feed first.  The effective clutch did not have much to give having been sent as a foraging party for the collective swarm.  The swarm had been initially very successful.  First overrunning and draining the staggeringly rich meat animal hive in the walled trading post.  So many animals.  So few stings.  The swarm had drained it of all resources in a few days and was on the move again.  Not long after there had been more meat animals in troops and herds and even one boat the harvesters had been able to capture.  It had been a fortuitous beginning to the swarm’s mission.  But since the boat the desert had dried up.  The occasional mindless animal, lizards, birds, rodents but no meat animals, no large prey.  No herds.  The effective clutch was wandering far afield from the chosen path of the swarm, which the effective clutch had first scouted, in search of ichor. 

Instead the clutch had come across this lone harvester, counted as lost when the Factor had given it to the One-who-traded-corpses-for-words.  The Factor had offered it the choice of its own clutchmate or the harvesterkin and the One-who-traded-corpses had taken the clutches’ stockmate and vanished into the desert. 

SHARE, one cast back in agreement and the lost kin was on one.  Falling before one, tooth extended, the piercing, the pain.  One rubbed the head of the kin to reassure it.  A rare gesture to be sure but not unheard of.  If the starving kin noticed it made no sign.  It drank until there was nothing left and then reluctantly released.  One knelt down before it.

SHARE, it cast gently, share story.  Not food. 

The story would take all the kin’s forms of communication, sign and dance and cast in turn to convey.  It was too complex for any one.  The harvester had been the prisoner of the One-who-traded-corpses.  The One-who-traded-corpses had kept it weak and barely fed on camels, an animal the harvesters were very familiar with.  It had cast in the manner of the meat animals much, it had signed and danced too but mostly cast.  Always casting.  Always inquiring.  It had grown more and more desperate, more and more frustrated.  It had made the Lost Harvester very nervous, then anxious, then terrified.  It clearly wanted something but the lost harvester had no idea as to what.  The kin had attempted to escape often, only to be thwarted or recaptured.  It had even tried to drink the One-who-traded-corpses to kill it and be free or die in the attempt.  And still its captor had neither released the kin nor finished it off but let it drink some and then subdued it.  The One-who-traded-corpses had dragged it here, far from hive on a metal camel, to the outskirts of a meat-animal city.  One last exchange of meat animal casting and sign and dance, one last desperate plea the lost harvester did not understand and then it released the lost harvester.  Starving, no possibility of making it to the hive but free, the lost harvester had walked for days.  Now though, it was safe.  It danced a dance of joy to be found.  To be part of the collective again and part of the stock again.  It could show the swarm where the meat animal city was.  There would be ichor enough for months!  One’s mates in the effective clutch came near.  The lost harvester doubled its dancing to see the other two.

And while its back was turned One struck it and killed it and retrieved its ichor.

Friday, July 7, 2017

22: The Union knows


In the middle of the Legion camp, stood a cut stone mausoleum.  Inside, on shelves built into the walls were piles of sand and of rags and bones and flesh becoming sand.  In the center, upon a folding metal chair sat a tiny woman, completely eclipsed in Major Nakba’s shadow.  Major Nakba was asking the little woman, “You understand the predicament you find yourself in, don’t you?”

“One understands one is a prisoner.”

“One understands correctly,” he said, “But do you understand that this is as civilized as the interview process will ever be?”  She said nothing in response so he continued, “From here we move to more primitive forms of coercion.  Then we start doing permanent damage.  I have men under my command who enjoy such work.”

“One is familiar with cruelty.  One had hoped Legionnaires more honorable.”

“With those who live peaceably under its wings, it is very honorable.  With those however who do it and its people harm, you will find it is most unforgiving.”

“One wishes no harm upon the Legion.” 

“Yet you break its laws?  You enter a controlled sector without authorization.  You engage in unsanctioned commerce and slave trading.  You make contact with enemies of the state.  You expose the entire coastal region to dangerous pathogens.  You have done nothing but harm since you left the Westvale, Ch’Loi.  Yes, the Union knows who you are  The Union knows what you’ve done.  And now you are refusing to cooperate with its agents.  What more are you hiding?”

“One wishes no harm upon the Legion.”

“Please forgive my skepticism.”

“One does.”

“Do not mock me, my patience is the only thing between you and your fragile little body being thrown to the wolves.”

“One has broken laws.  One is aware of this and freely admits it.  There are penalties, protocols, forms, this is straight forward.  Yet one is not being prosecuted by a court.  One is being questioned by soldiers.  Threatened with violence.  One perceives one’s motives are in question.  One can only reassure one’s captors that one means no damage to the Legion.”

“You can tell me what you were really doing out here all this time and let me decide if you are a threat to the Union or not.”

She had never really looked up.  She kept her focus on the stones of the floor the entire time.  It made it difficult to know whether she was thinking or resisting.  He gave her time to find out.

At last she said, “One came to retrieve something it had lost.”

Cryptic but a start.  Major Nakba decided to play along.  “And did it?”

“No.  One failed.  One lost much more instead.”

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

21 Outta Sea

The child ran through bright desert sunlight and dusty streets, dodging traders, wagons, animals of the only busy quarter left in Aedlin.  Past somnolent and distracted guards she scuttled into Merchant Street, a walled community of offices and homes of Aedlin’s privileged barons and the amusements still left to them.  The waif skirted tree lines of imported ornamental plants with leaves browning and curling at the tips.  She ducked into an alley in the shadow of the Palace itself, silent as the Mausoleums being buried in the dunes to the east outside the city wall.  Giving a glance up and down the empty alley, she tossed a rock at some shutters in the wall above.  She waited.  Checked the alley again and threw a second rock.  The shutters opened then and a rope of knotted cloths trailed down to her.  Using it she scaled the wall and entered the window.

It was utterly dark.  “Arya inneer?”

“Where else would I be?”

“Aincha gotta light?”

“It simply does not occur to me to light one.  Yah must have took my sense when He took my sight.”

“Oh, yeah, guessyadon need one, dooya?”

“Not as much as I used to,” Ch’Byartha said as he lit the lamp for the child.  “I find it saves me a small fortune in oil however.  So there’s that.”  He smiled in her general direction and then went back to scrubbing pots with sand and steel wool.  She watched him for a bit as he finished one, set it perfectly onto a teetering tower of pots on his left and took a dirty silver plate from his right and began scrubbing.  She went over to the stack on his left and examined one.  It was spotless. 

“Ifyer blind, owyoo tell winner clean?”

“Easy,” he said and dragged his tongue up the length of the pot he was scrubbing. Tasted it theatrically, “Nope, still dirty.”  He scrubbed vigorously for a second time, licked it again.  “Ah, perfect!”  He set that plate on his clean side and took another plate. 

“Mind me nevva eat here,” she giggled.  He smiled again.

“Are you hungry?”

“Always.”

He produced a fruit from his pocket.  “The choicest morsel of my breakfast today.  Not too many brown spots on this one.  Didn’t even lick it.”  He tossed it right to her.

 She ate the whole thing, core, seeds and all.

“Fraid that’s all there is till tomorrow.  We’ll have to feast on the only food left to the poor, honest companionship.  So liven an old beggar’s dark hours of dreary labor with tales of the sights and scenes of the world in the Sun.  Let us dine on our gossip.  What did you see today in your travels, young empress of the orphans of Aedlin?”

“Enh, nah much.  Nuffin shiny.  Sum mo soljah.”

“We’ve been getting a lot of Legion guests lately, haven’t we.”

“De camp is swole.  Guard gettin antsy.  Dey tinkin dere moren ‘em dan Guard.”

“Ever talk to any of the Legionnaires?”

“Naw, but I hears’em.  Dey don care bout Aedlin.  Dey don care bout Guard.  Dey all lookin’ East.  Like dey speck sommin commin outta Sea.”

“A Beast perhaps, with seven heads and ten horns.”

“Whereyoo get dat idea?”

“An old friend talked about it once.”

“Whattit mean?”

“It means that some day soon, I think, we’d best take a schooner heading West.”

“Yoo take me wifoo?”

“My conscience would nary let me do otherwise.”

“Wuzza conshuns?”

“Something I only recently developed.  Nuisance thing, you don’t want one, trust me.  What else did you see today?”

“Enh, nuffin.  Coupla boats.  Sum lady wiffa buncha camels.”  Ch’Byartha dropped a dish.  “She hadda soljah mashine, like a donkey, only made a metal.  She walk outta sea.  No ship.  No boat.  Just walk, her anna camel.  Weird huh?”

“Very.  Where is she now?”

Sunday, February 5, 2017

20 Soon

The feeding time came.  The Harvesters came in, their crops bulging, or not, each according to the success of it and its kin’s foraging.  Each went directly to its own Factor, and each Factor moved nary a tentacle to receive them until they were nearly touching.  And, as is the way of Factors, moved only then as if uninterested but granting the trembling Harvester a favor.  But make no mistake, each Factor there sized up the crops of one’s rivals.  Which was successful?  Which was not?  Were any floundering?  Could power moves be made?  Which Factor could be a useful ally?  Which a threat?  Which could be overpowered and its stock subsumed?  The Factor-with-the-Plan had long ago trained its stock on penalty of death to always, ALWAYS send a full Harvester to it in the Factorium even if it meant the rest need starve.  This deliberate masquerade of strength or weakness was necessary and yet in the end, useless.  All Factors did it.  So the relative strength of a Factor’s Stock was still known.  A Factor which was fed from a hungry Harvester was a Factor with nothing left to hide behind; it was a Factor marked.

These moons no Harvester came in flush.  Prey animals rarely ventured this far into the Sea anymore.  Even the stinging meat animals were rarely seen since the last hive of them was overpowered in the most recent raid.  The Stock had to range far and wide and use far too much of it’s own crop to return.  Much of the casting and dancing around the Factorium of late dealt with the need for a new raid and where it should be focused.  The mood was ripe.  The Collective Factors of Factors would decide eventually.  But an ambitious Factor, a daring Factor, a Factor with a Plan could find co-conspirators in the tense tangle of tentacles. 

It was therefore with barely restrained eagerness the Factor-with-the-Plan perceived the particular Harvester which brought its evening feeding.  One which it had not perceived in much time.  A weary and travelworn Harvester.  Still, it could not appear eager.  So it left the miserable creature to tremble a while.  Then it slithered out a thick grasping limb and drew it close.  A feeding tentacle pierced its crop and slowly it began to drink.  The Factor was nearly trembling itself.  It took particular care not to damage the Harvester overly much.  It restrained itself.  It drank with care, holding the vessel as something precious.  Not for the life sustaining ichor within its very body but the knowledge it now held in something no tentacle could reach.  How to extract this without being noticed by the other Factors?

“Where?” it cast.
“Far-far.” it cast back.
“Success?”  The Harvester raised one arm and let it fall as if involuntarily.  There were many bodily responses to a Factor’s feeding, few of them premeditated.
“Success?”  One asked again.  One must be sure.  Slowly, the same arm raised and was allowed to just drop as if the Harvester swooned.  One nearly broke the Harvester in one’s joy but it cast fear to One and One relaxed it’s grip and ended the feeding, setting it back on its own feet.  “Prepare kin,” it cast.  Tell the others to get ready.
“When?” the Far-far Foraging Scout Harvester asked.  When would the Plan be implemented?  How much time did one have to prepare?  The Factor scanned the Factorium.  One had spent the interminable time of waiting observing One’s fellow Factors.  One had formed a list of potentials.  One now narrowed it further.  Potentials could be neither too strong nor too weak.  Potentials must be desperate and ambitious enough to undertake a risky venture but not so weak as to unable to be helpful.  But again, for One’s purposes, Potentials must not be strong enough to be challengers.  The Plan required control.  One would need be careful in all choices.  Even in giving One’s stock information too specific. 
“Soon,” it cast.  “Go.”  “Prepare.”

Saturday, December 31, 2016

19: Tales and Mysteries

Morning in the market and the blind man upon the mat with his staff upon his knees sensed the crowd was ripe.  “Tales!  Tales and mysteries!  Mysteries and wonders!  Wonders and tragedies!  Tragedies and folly!  Folly to bring your heart to tears and tear great rents in your faith!  Tragedies to keep you holy!  Tales of the terrors that come when one leans even one step to the left or to the right of righteousness!  Do not be afraid!  Come to me children and learn!  Educate yourselves!  Seek ye and find wisdom at the feet of Ch’Byartha!”

“Wisdom?  At’chor feet?  Hah!  Fungus more like as not, Son of Failure!”

“Fungus, aye, well born finder of flora!  A horticultural wealth have I as anyone with eyes can see.  Just as anyone with wisdom can see that a mocker’s eyes peer no deeper than skin!  Even to what lay upon the skin!  Failing even to penetrate the most diaphanous of armors!  Breathe easy fair maidens!  Were thy so distracted as to venture forth this glaring desert day in nothing more than thy translucent night shifts, no risk would thy feminine delights have of being lecherously oogled by this near sighted owl!” he heard suppressed laughter of a feminine variety. 

“Nor from a blind beggar, I reckon!”

He leapt to his feet.  “Wounds!  Insults!  False Witness!  Come near, Slanderer, and receive thy lumps from my staff or art thou a knave despising justice as well as a scoundrel farmer of falsehood?”

“Are you saying you’re not blind?”

“Blind I be!  Aye, and proud of it for in blindness I see farther than your myopic marbles have peered in seven lifetimes of sightless sight!  Blindness has opened my eyes!  In the Great Sea Fever took my life and I have been reborn!  Fever-blindness has fathered me!  Wisdom has mothered me!  In the darkness of her womb my eyes have seen the Light!”

“You’re mad.”

“Ho!  Again!  Insults!  Lies!  Fabrications!  Twice now I need demand righteous retribution!”  Ch’Byartha swung the staff a few times over the tittering children he could easily hear all around him.  This was a good crowd, well mixed, families, travelers and merchants.  Mo was playing his part well, they should earn a pretty penny.  “Sightless be my eyes now but the blindness methinks is yours!  Neither mad am I nor a beggar!  But a merchant!  Scion of an aristocratic tree!  Born a merchant prince of a merchant baron, patriarch of an ancient noble trading family!  A failure and a cause of eternal shame to them I have become, tis true and a madness may yet the future hold, Yah willing, but to this very day, never have my paws procured a penny without some goods or service rendered! 

A fair trade I offer.  Nay!  A bargain!  For a purveyor of Wisdom am I now!  A trader of Truth!  A seller of Insight!  What price wilt thou put upon Wisdom, Seeker?  What price the priceless?  What cost the incalculable?  What value the invaluable?”

“What is he prattling on about?”

“Ah, he’s an entertainer, can’t you see?  Street performer.  Give ‘im a coin or two and he spins a yarn.  Alright Merchant son of whatever, don’t rupture an organ, you haven’t much left to lose by the look of it.  Here you go, regale us!  What wisdom does a shoeless vagrant of a frontier port have?  By the smell of it, all we will learn is the best place to buy cheap bourbon!”

Ch’Byartha took the coins proffered by the audience and hefted them to gauge their worth.  Satisfied they would keep him in whiskey for the rest of the week even after giving Mo his cut, he rapped his staff for silence, cleared his throat and began, “What wisdom have I?  A yarn ye purchased and a yarn ye shall have!  And though thou malign my person and my honor, only the very best will I bring out of my storehouse for thee!  For I shall tell thee of not one but the tragic fates of two sons of that great shepherd of the people!  Steward of the vital emerald jewel of the continent!  Captain of the courageous!  Priest and Prophet of Yah and His Viceroy over the Great Western Pastureland!  Chofa the Benevolent!”

“Viceroy?  Chofa?  Bah!” a voice complained, “Give me back my coins, imposter!  I will not pay for wisdom which has gone sour upon the shelf!”

Ch’Byartha stopped.  Took two steps toward the voice and reached out to find the owner’s hand.  Grasping it firmly he pressed money into it and said, “Here they are and consider them payment or refund and call me a beggar if you like for it seems instead it is you who has a tale I beg you to tell!”