The Lupine Saga 99

The conversation ended and they disbanded. Va’il and Ruby explored the beach for a while, spoke a bit with the two youths, Derlik’s younger siblings, and then ate lunch. Afterwards they talked with Ofir, Elsa, and Ulin about the city and country of Rising. The father and his in-laws were fascinated by the first-hand experiences of a world they had never seen. Dena dropped in on the conversation every so often, but she was mostly busy with house chores and ordering Derlik around.

At night a magnificent feast awaited, though by bearan standards it was paltry. Afterwards they sat by the fireplace, keeping warm while listening to the adults speak. The air was cool, bothering the children who didn’t have much in terms of hair or fur, and didn’t expect such a chill during the summer. There was a brief mention of Va’il’s unique hair and eye color, but Va’il only responded by saying he was a half. The bearans didn’t question it further, but the mention made Ruby think of it. She was used to Va’il’s look, but she hadn’t given it much thought.

The night ended, and the family retired for the night. Derlik was especially happy to sleep in his old bed, though it had been a while since he last had. Va’il and Ruby slept in the main room, as close to the fire as possible. It would slowly die throughout the night, but the warmth it gave before it did was the only way the children could stand the cold that they weren’t used to dealing with, the one that came from certain oceanic winds in the region.

“Hey, Va’il,” Ruby said, “are you still awake?”

“Yeah,” Va’il said.

“I’ve been wondering about something. Do you remember something from a long time ago, when we first met? The first time, ever?”

“Sure. You were pretty rude back then. But that time was filled with strange things happening.”

“Just who is the rude one now? Fine, I admit it. But I was thinking about something else. That’s the only time I’ve asked you some questions about yourself. I don’t really know much, I was thinking.”

“That’s fine, isn’t it? I mean, I don’t know so much about you either, if you think about it. I know you’re Ruby. That’s enough for me, since I know who Ruby is and how she acts. I also know she’s important, but that isn’t really important to really know, right?”

“I suppose you’re right. But there are other things to know, that can be known.”

“Yeah. But when I think of it, there isn’t much left to know about others. We see each other daily, even if it’s only for a few minutes or hours. We know how we all act. We know what each of us is like. The only other stuff is how we are at home, and the people in those homes.”

“That’s what I was thinking of. You know Shiroi is my servant. You know her. But you don’t know about where I live, my parents, my home, or other people I know.”

“Yeah, but those aren’t needed, for me, are they?”

“Maybe. But that’s me. What about you? What more do I know, than Va’il yourself? And I was thinking, and could only remember bits of our first encounter. And how strange it was. And how some things were true, others were false. And even though I’m used to it now, these people reminded me about the things I’m missing.”

“We’re missing a lot, being here. What do you mean?”

“Va’il, you’ve only told me you’re a half. I’ve never really pried, but didn’t you say your mother is your only family member?” Ruby asked. Va’il didn’t answer right away, and thought of where Ruby was leading, where she’d been leading all along that he’d been trying to avoid. His throat tightened some.

“Yes.”

“And she’s just a normal lupus woman, right?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know anything at all about your father, then?” Va’il remained quiet at Ruby’s question. He tried thinking about how to answer. He wanted to say that he didn’t know anything, but that was no longer true. He knew he could lie, but he wanted to avoid that as well. He didn’t want to answer the question, and wanted to pretend it never happened. His lasting silence conveyed that after a while.

“My father is dead,” Ruby said after a while. “He was gone at an age I barely recall. He was quite a bit older than mother, and one day his heart gave out on him. Much too early in life, even for his age. But that’s all I know. Well, personally, aside from a couple faded memories. I know my family history, his history well. But as for the person himself, mother never really talks about him, but sometimes the older servants will mention a few things about him. He was Kaz Melonscone. Every so often the older ones would look at me and exclaim that I have Kaz’s eyes and nose. Sometimes I’d do something mother wouldn’t care for, and she’d scold me saying I am just like my father in those respects. But to me, there isn’t anything real about him. I’m his one descendant, the only child of a union between two great families. The daughter of a second marriage, with half-sisters who don’t really like me. When they do, I can’t be sure if they are real or faking it. I’m Ruby Louise Melonscone. And Va’il, now you know something more about me. If we’re separated from Rising for a while, it doesn’t hurt for you to know more about me.”

The room grew even dimmer as the fire finished a piece of wood. The low lights and flickers of shadows barely illuminated the two of them. They couldn’t see each other, even with the small amount of light.

“My father no longer lives as well,” Va’il said, his voice solemn and quiet.

“I’m sorry,” Ruby said. She felt her conscience rise with overwhelming guilt. She felt like she had pried information out of Va’il against his will by using her own story against him. “I’m sorry. I really shouldn’t have said anything.”

“No. I want to tell you. But there aren’t many things I can say. You wanted to know if I got my unique looks from him, didn’t you?”

“Sorry. Sorry, yes, I was thinking that.” Ruby’s voice was soft, filled with emotion.

“It’s all right. Things have changed since then. I told you before I didn’t know who he was, but that he lived. I can tell you now, I know he no longer lives. And that I did inherit much from him. But don’t apologize. Don’t. It’s natural you’d want to know. Especially now that we aren’t in a bumpy cart with Derlik hearing everything we say. And we won’t be home again for a while. But I’ll take you there. Don’t fret about me. I don’t mind telling you. But this is all I have to tell you, right now. If we get back home, maybe I can bring you to Mum for a while. She’s really nice. She’s always anxious to know about my friends. So just be okay for right now.”

Ruby hummed a sound of acknowledgement, and then stayed silent, waiting for the veil of sleep to arrive. She thought of her own actions and desires. She wanted to know more. She wanted so many things that she couldn’t contain herself. She was fraught with problems out of her control. But she took comfort, knowing she could deal with them. It was her own desires that had given her grief, though. She felt it wrong to pry, to know things about a person that they didn’t want to tell others. She had secrets herself, things she didn’t want to reveal. She asked herself if she was a hypocrite. She thought everything over yet again.

She was happy, she realized. She was scared and afraid of knowing things others wanted hidden, but behind it all she was happy. She had been given an answer, a sliver of what she wanted to know. And though she wasn’t happy with the method she used, she got it. She now knew a personal piece of information, and that was priceless to her. As she thought on it more, she recalled Va’il’s kind words. She smiled in the dark, remembering that he said he wanted her to know. And he had given more than what he had to. She knew he wouldn’t speak if he really didn’t want to. She held this small confidence in the boy she called her friend, and looked forward to knowing more about him.

A question appeared in her mind, more prominently then ever before: Who is, or who was, Va’il’s father? Was it just a common man? A noble? A foreigner? Someone from another country with looks vastly different? Not just that, but a human man that could approach a lupus female. Va’il was unique in his looks, and that was something that had concerned Ruby for a while. She wondered if Va’il knew who he was the son of, or if he only knew about his father’s demise. She couldn’t think any longer, as sleep and weariness tore at her. She decided she knew enough, and if she ever found out more in the future, she could relish it at that time. In all her thoughts, she somehow never stumbled upon even an idea of the truth; it was still far too foreign a concept to her.

Much time had passed since their conversation, so Ruby thought it all right to say, “Thank you, Va’il,” quietly, aloud to herself. She gripped the blankets and snuggled in their warmth.

Posted in Books, The Lupine Chevalier | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lupine Saga 98

The sound of waves woke Va’il. The air was cold, and the first signs of daylight had grayed the sky. He jumped out of the cart, but was disoriented at the feeling of sand beneath his feet.

He looked around, seeing the vast beach in front of him. He hadn’t seen an ocean before, never had his travels or small adventures brought him to one. He knew the smell, as he had come in contact with it the day before. But Derlik’s journey through the night brought Va’il to the ocean long before he could gradually adjust to the closing distance. It was a different smell than anything else, one that made his nose tingle. Overall, the entire experience, sight, sound, and smell, was magnificent.

“You’re up early,” Derlik said. He was sitting, watching the waves.

“You too. Didn’t you sleep?” Va’il asked.

“No. How could I, when I’m home? When I’m this close to my house?”

“Ah, understood.” They remained quiet after that, listening to the waves and watching the sky grow brighter. The sun gradually appeared to their left.

Ruby was waken, and then they all ate. Derlik remained silent for the morning as usual, and Va’il and Ruby explored and played at the water’s edge for a while. Eventually they started the final day of their journey, which Derlik took at a slow pace. The horses walked slowly for a couple hours, tired from the last few days of speedy journey followed by a night of travel. They seemed to heave a sigh of relief when Derlik pulled on their reins and told them to stop. Over the years they’d been exchanged many times by travellers exchanging capable but exhausted horses for fresh ones, but never had they been pushed the way Derlik had the past few days.

The beach, with ocean on one side and forest on the other, had one unnatural entity on it. A massive house stood there, alone against the elements around it. Va’il and Ruby stood on the sand, looking at it in wonder, while Derlik walked to the front of the house and pounded on the massive door. After a minute, it opened.

“Mom, I’m home,” Derlik said. Va’il and Ruby each opened their mouths in surprise, and then looked at each other.

“Did he say?” Va’il asked.

“Der! It’s Der! Come on out everybody, it’s my boy!” shouted the mother. She stepped out of the doorway and wrapped her arms around her son. As she did, more people came out of the house. A couple males, an older female, and a couple youths, arrived. They all started laughing and conversing while Derlik was in his mother’s embrace.

The mother let go of Derlik, took a step back while sizing him up and squeezing his arms. She then clobbered him with a large fist. His head shook a bit, but the smile didn’t leave anyone’s face.

“And that’s for not writing lately!” Laughter ensued from the welcoming group.

“It is!” Ruby said, her eyes wide. Both kids were out of additional words to express their surprise. They had known that over the last month they were traveling to Derlik’s home, but they thought he meant a city or the country itself. His personal home, though, was different.

“And that’s about all for that,” Derlik said at the end of a short conversation. “Now, let me introduce you to some friends. Come here, you two.”

“Hello,” Ruby said while giving a charming smile to the tall bearan mother. Va’il bowed his head and said the same. Everyone around the two of them were much larger, uncomfortably so. It was one thing to be a head shorter than someone. But to be surrounded by bearans, all of which were much taller, much wider, and much heavier, was a unique experience. Even the youths, visibly younger than Va’il, were an arm taller and twice his size.

“And they are?” a male asked.

“Va’il and Ruby, friends from Rising, father. They are rather unique, and the reason I have come home unannounced. I’ll try to explain more once we’re settled. Is breakfast ready?” Derlik asked.

“We’ll hear it later then. You know it is! Just in time, boy. A fresh catch. You certainly have some good timing for food,” the father said and then gave a hearty laugh.

“Hey, what is that boy?” the older female asked.

“Me?” Va’il asked.

“Yes, what are you? I just thought that too.” said the mother.

“Va’il’s a lupus boy,” Derlik said.

“No, he isn’t,” the father said.

“What? What are you talking about?” Derlik asked.

“Their right. I’m a half. Lupus and human,” Va’il said.

“A half? Well, considering neither of you are bearan, it doesn’t really matter. We know now, that’s enough. Thank you,” the mother said. She was warm in her words and had a kind smile, for a bearan.

“A half? All this time, I didn’t even notice,” Derlik said.

“He can be a bit clumsy at times,” the mother said.

“Certainly is,” the older male said.

Va’il and Ruby looked at each other and laughed. Throughout the last month, they had only seen Derlik in a serious and grown-up light, and he had rarely talked with them. It even surprised them he referred to them as friends. But their perception of him changed upon seeing his family. He could be absent-minded at times, which they could have noticed before if they had looked for it. It was a refreshing end to the long travel.

#

“A bath! A bath! Oh my goodness how much better life is with a bath! Va’il, I can stand you now!” Ruby said. The dirt from her cheeks was gone, replaced by skin that had been exposed to the sun far too much over the past month. Her hair was restored to its usual state, unlike the tangled mess she had been reduced to dealing with the past few days. They hadn’t been to an inn in a week, degrading their health and looks. Va’il was a dirty mess, far worse than a day of playing in dirt could have done to him, until Derlik’s mother prepared a bath for him. The sun had also worked on him, finally bringing his complexion out of paleness. The absence of the smell that all three travelers had acquired was the greatest reward, though.

The cleaned travelers were given clean clothes, adjusted for each of their sizes. They weren’t great quality or well adjusted, but the blue dress Ruby wore was a marked improvement over her previous attire. Va’il was given blue and gray pants and tunic. They were fed well that morning, with fresh fish that had been swimming a few short hours ago. The table buzzed with Derlik relating the story of their travels, starting from their journey in Farrow. He didn’t broach the reason why they had come yet. Once breakfast was over the youths were sent out to play, while the rest of them sat in the main room and discussed in further detail what was going on.

“So, Der, mind explaining what’s going on, now?” his mother, Dena, asked.

“I cannot fully explain. Do you two mind if I give the basic reason without talking about the other things?” Derlik asked. Va’il and Ruby each nodded, knowing that there wasn’t any actual reason to withhold information, other than to save Derlik’s pride. Considering it would be impossible to explain all his reasons for doing each thing he did before their travels started, a cover-up of sorts was necessary.

“Not fully? Why?” Dena asked.

“These kids were in danger. They had to escape, and I have helped them to do so. They would be in peril, had they not left. Hope you can understand, I cannot disclose what kind of danger, even to family, since there is safety in less people knowing. This is to protect them. I also cannot tell who is after them or why. To know that is also dangerous, both for them and to those who know. That’s about the best I can say. Can you accept that?” Derlik asked.

“Peril enough to flee here?” Ulin, Derlik’s father, asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“I see. Dear, and mother, that should be enough. We didn’t even need to know that much. Our curiosity has gotten the better of us. Son, what do you need from us? That’s the real question. Why come here, of all places?” Ulin asked.

“I cannot watch them forever. I’m going back to Rising. I ask that you please look after these two,” Derlik said.

“You’re just dropping us off, Derlik?” Ruby asked.

“I’m doing what I was compelled to do. I did explain it before. I had to save you. But I didn’t forfeit my life. I placed it on hold. I want, no, I need to go back. To the life that I’ve been living ever since I left here,” Derlik said.

“Der, that sounds irresponsible,” Ofir, Dena’s father, said.

“I know it sounds like that. But just as there are reasons I cannot tell you of their danger, there are reasons why I must go that I cannot explain. I’m sorry that I’m dropping you two and leaving, but understand that we weren’t going to be together forever. You certainly knew that,” Derlik said.

“I understand what you mean,” Va’il said. “Yeah, you should go back. It’s fine. But on the other hand, we don’t want to burden your family. Dropping us on them isn’t something we wished for.”

“I know that. But that is the situation. And I think you two will do well here. And, maybe I should point out to you that once I am gone, you are free to return. I cannot stop you from returning at that point. I can advise against it, for now. But I have no doubt that you will make an effort to return. If it pleases everyone, then my delivery here can be thought of as a temporary measure,” Derlik said.

“And will you come to pick them up after a time? How are they to get back? How can you just say that, knowing it isn’t realistic?” Dena asked. She looked ready to clobber Derlik again.

“Because it’s them. They’ll find a way, if they need to. They’ve already thought of it, I’m sure. Am I correct?” Derlik asked.

“Maybe, I don’t know though,” Va’il said.

“We could make it back alone,” Ruby said, her voice brimming with confidence. “You may have sprung this on us, but we weren’t counting on you for much anyways. I’ve been thinking about it ever since you mentioned Grizz. So, somehow, we can make it back. I know we can. There are greater obstacles we could face. That we will face. This isn’t one of them. I thank you, Derlik, on the behalf of my namesake, for the good things you have done.”

“You sure, Ruby?” Va’il asked.

“Somehow, yes. I think we could. I know you could, alone, right Va’il?” Ruby asked.

“Maybe. But it would take too long. And besides, I’m not alone.”

“Time is something we can cut with the proper methods and items. You leave that to me. Let’s just thank Derlik and send him on his way. Or, I would say that, but that would imply I want to impose on his family. I cannot do that,” Ruby said.

“What an interesting human. So small, so odd, and with such strange looks. But you have the giant heart of a bearan, little girl. I want to wish you well, but the world is a tough place. Maybe it takes someone like you to cross it successfully,” the grandmother Elsa, wife of Ofir, said.

“Mother Elsa approves, I approve,” Ulin said.

“We’re all in agreement then. We’ll look after you, temporarily. Though, I won’t tolerate if you simply freeload. My boy may be thick at times, but he works. You kids fine with some tough work to earn your keep?” Dena asked, a wide grin across her tough face.

“Of course,” Va’il said.

“That seems reasonable,” Ruby said. “Yes.”

“Good. But I’ll give you kids a week to recover. Relax, work, and then let me know a few days before you decide to go. Whether that is in two weeks or two years, it is fine. I apologize for my boy again. I know you have your circumstances, but I cannot shake the feeling that I need to clobber him again for having to bring you here. I guess that’s misguided of me, since I don’t know everything. I’ll accept that. Till the time comes, stay with us. We’ve got enough to let a couple small ones like you stay here. Maybe I’ll even get a kick of pleasure watching you bring back some items from the market in the city. Yes boy, that’ll be fun,” Dena said.

“Mother’s already planning how to work them. I’m sorry you two. But I’ll be leaving tomorrow nonetheless. If you have good fortune, may we never see each other again. If we do, I hope it is if I come here to visit. Don’t let mother work you too hard,” Derlik said.

Posted in Books, The Lupine Chevalier | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lupine Saga 97

Lines of guards were on each side of the walkway, which led up to the two steps that were before the magistrate’s desk. The swine magistrate sat alone, scribbling away at some papers in front of him.

Va’il approached the length of carpet that started the walkway. He walked halfway to the magistrate before the swine looked up.

“Stop there,” the swine said. “Kneel and state your business.”

“Sir, I’ve come looking for my associate,” Va’il said.

“Kneel, then state your business,” the magistrate said.

“I’m stating my business. The person I’m traveling with, the bearan, he came here before,” Va’il said.

“I said kneel first, then speak. Why aren’t you kneeling?” the magistrate, his voice full of indignation, asked.

“I don’t understand what you’re asking,” Va’il said. He shrugged.

“I said you should kneel, then speak to me. So kneel, fool!”

“What does kneeling have to do with anything?” Va’il asked, confused. He was completely ignorant of the whims of those in power.

“Brash fool. Guards, take him, show him to his associate.”

Va’il couldn’t struggle much against the group of guards that surrounded and restrained him. He screamed at the magistrate, unable to understand what was going on, but to no avail. After a moment his struggling lessened, and another sound started to form, but it was not heard due to the next large voice.

“Stop right there!” Derlik shouted, his deep voice rumbling the halls.

“You’re still here?” the magistrate asked.

“Only by need. Release the boy, he is with me,” Derlik said.

“You should watch your partners better, then,” the magistrate said. He snorted lightly, his version of a sneer.

“I would have, if it weren’t for your incessant time-wasting. Let us go now. I apologize for my rudeness, but touching that child isn’t allowed. As you stated, we will be gone soon,” Derlik said.

“And if I disagree? He is a rude, uncultured child who needs to be disciplined,” the magistrate said.

“You try my patience. I’m devoted to his safety. And you sneer, thinking that, as fearsome as I am, your numbers and a hostage will keep you safe from me. Alone I was a threat, you thought, but not when I have that boy for a companion. You greedy fool. There is nothing we can give you. There is no pride of yours we need to obey. And that boy, a lupus, wasn’t going to just let you take him hostage. Isn’t that right?”

Va’il saw Derlik wink at him, and then he realized what was going on. He finally let out a low, menacing growl for the room to feel. The guards that held him loosened their hold just enough for Va’il to twist out of their grip and jump to Derlik’s side, his hands and face showing claws and fangs. He would not let himself be grabbed again.

“Fine fine,” the magistrate said, though there was trepidation in his voice. “It was a misunderstanding. We shouldn’t have to resort to real threats. You can leave our city. You have permission to travel quickly and leave Sounderthound as fast as possible.”

“Thank you, sir. Again, my apologies,” Derlik said while giving a short bow.

“Just leave. I hate both your kinds. Travelling fools. Lupus and their journey, we wouldn’t have had to waste this day if you’d mentioned it earlier. But, just don’t return, we won’t allow passage and risk her wrath next time,” the magistrate said.

“Out, Va’il.”

The two of them rushed out of the room and were quickly in the cart.

“What happened?” Ruby asked.

“Ask later,” Derlik said. He took the reins and had the horses go to the eastern gates as quickly as he could. He briefly showed some papers to the guards there, and then they were off on the open road again.

“So what was that?” Va’il asked.

“That’s what I want to ask! Don’t leave the cart if I say to stay put! We’re lucky that greedy swine didn’t want to test us further!” Derlik said, his voice brimming with anger.

“Why?”

“Oh, no use explaining it to you. Look, I had to go through their procedures, as boring and tedious as they were. This is a foreign land, and they aren’t happy to just let us pass. You’ve seen it before, and you’ll see it again, I’m sure. But in truth, that magistrate was likely corrupt and abusing his power elsewhere. Took a few coins just to get passage. If I weren’t a bearan, he’d likely try working us for a cost of passage. He might still have, if a lupus hadn’t shown up.”

“That’s terrible,” Va’il said. “So we had to just threaten our way out?”

“Yeah. Don’t rely on that too much, though. That swine may have been fearful of us. But he could have changed his mind, taken the risk, and just overcome us with numbers. And I wouldn’t want to use force anyways. It could harm relations, or lead to something far worse. And it doesn’t usually work on honest people. Well, the rest of the ride should be easy enough. Hare country for a while, and maybe bovine depending on the roads. Neither should have any delays. As long as the rest of the journey remains peaceful.”

Va’il and Ruby agreed to obey Derlik’s directions to stay put for the next areas they went through, though they agreed that if Derlik went missing for a full day they could investigate. That wouldn’t be necessary, but it was a precaution that gave the children a small relief.

The experience reminded them of their distance from Rising. In its sobering way, it told them there was no longer an opportunity to return to Rising. They couldn’t jump out of the cart and run away from Derlik and expect to return to Rising easily. The territory was unfamiliar and hostile. No longer did they live in the country where species intermingled freely, even if hesitatingly. Outside Rising, the various species had formed their own regions and borders. Though a few species internally divided themselves into different clans, tribes, or races, most of the species all lived within countries that identified them. Sounderthound was almost exclusively swine. Any swine outside Rising was almost always from Sounderthound. Any bearan outside Rising was from Grizz. The same applied to the rest, regardless of whether they called it a nation, a country, an occupied territory, an area abiding by a code of conduct, or one of many other names.

Facing those challenges of difference, a world previously unknown to them, Va’il and Ruby wouldn’t be able to move as they had hoped. This problem weighed on them, but they looked at it as something to be solved, not to be discouraged by.

Posted in Books, The Lupine Chevalier | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lupine Saga 96

“What’s that?” Va’il asked.

“Gates to Trin. We’re about to enter mostly avian territory,” Derlik said.

“Both Farrow and Rising are far behind us, then,” Ruby said. Va’il nodded and then looked back at the road behind them.

“Get ready,” Derlik said. “They aren’t too keen on visitors. Be quiet and stay in the back. And don’t look down. Smile and talk quietly amongst yourselves.”

“Quiet but talk?” Va’il asked.

“Just pretend you’re just traveling happily. Guys ahead might not stop us if they don’t think anything is out of order. We’re too close now, I’m getting off,” Derlik said. The cart stopped and Derlik got up and met the approaching avian guards.

“He’s a lot bigger than them,” Va’il said.

“Don’t say it too loud. I don’t exactly want all this, but if we’re going, we should make sure nothing stops us. Especially not if we’re just passing through,” Ruby said.

“Are the three of us together now?” Va’il asked, the meaning clear for Ruby to see.

“We’ve gone too far to not be. Getting stopped and asking for help here could be the right move. Or it could be far worse than continuing on. At least we have an idea with the bearan. Maybe if it we were still further west, nearer to home. But with avian territory, I don’t think we can risk it.”

Va’il knew Ruby would go back if she thought it was the right move, but the area presented unknown risks to the young and unprepared girl and lupus boy. He dropped the idea of escape in the current situation, and continued conversing quietly, pretending to be a happy traveller.

“Avians. Interesting. So most of the people we will see for a while are going to be avian, right?” Va’il asked.

“Mostly. I’d expect a lot of felis traders around this area too, because this area is just south of felis territory. But after this, we should see mostly avians. I haven’t been here before, so I’m guessing. I’ve once seen the water kingdom before, but otherwise I’ve always been in Rising,” Ruby said.

“Ens, the water kingdom? What’s it like?” Va’il asked.

“It was when I was a lot younger. I can’t remember it well. A lot of water, of course. There are cities that seem to float, but it’s really just canals. The people are a little different. Blue hair, so they even kind of look like the sea. Very, very nice, that’s what I remember about them. The cities themselves are colorful. They call their cities coral towns, but their simplicity hides what amazing creations go on inside them. They harvest food differently, and have a lot of remedies and other creations. But that’s all I remember. It’s different than here. Just another town. Just like many others. Derlik is coming back.”

“We’re in luck,” Derlik said. “They are fine with us coming, and quickly going. We’ll stay in the city tonight, and leave tomorrow morning. We’ll exchange our tired horses with some fresh ones, and should be able to continue at a fast clip.”

#

The city was quaint, but uneventful. They rested that night, comfortable in a local inn. The next day they were off, Va’il and Ruby now used to the constraints of their situation. They passed by a few more avian towns and cities over the next week, where the same events repeated. Their path dipped south, so they ended up in mixed avian and lionel territory, but not long enough to be a problem for the territorial inhabitants.

They crossed into swine territory, a large area called Sounderthound. It was a long leg of the journey that took them quite a while and many viewings of Sendes to get through, but it was mostly uneventful. Each day that passed they’d further run out of books or schooling to recall and games two children could play on the road, and they couldn’t talk of serious or personal matters with another person around. Although the area was beautiful, they travelled through the southern areas of Sounderthound too quickly to appreciate the surroundings. Their stops in local villages or cities of swine were brief and seemingly without trouble, as long as they mostly kept to themselves and didn’t bother the inhabitants during their stays. Until their passage into hare lands was hindered by a certain event.

“Who wishes to pass?” asked the swine guard at the last major city they’d be passing through in Sounderthound.

“Just a group of weary travelers, visiting my esteemed home in Grizz. We seek passage only, nothing more,” Derlik said. The swine stepped back and conferred with his associate. He came back, his face just as stoic as it ever was.

“You may enter and see the magistrate. He will decide,” the swine said.

“I thank you,” Derlik said.

“You shouldn’t, not before leaving. Go on!”

The kids, feeling weary, didn’t pay much attention to their surroundings. The sound of children playing perked Va’il’s ears, but the smell of the world around him kept him from investigating further. The other cities had been neat and clean, perhaps due to being closer to the central areas or by being trading towns. But a single glance around told Va’il that no trade was happening here. It was poor and ragged.

“You two all right?” Derlik asked.

“Doing fine,” Va’il said.

“The sooner out of here, the better,” Ruby said. She was dressed in newer clothes, purchased from the last major town they were in. They were fitting rewards for the only warm bath Ruby had in the last couple weeks. She dressed in grey wool, wearing a simple shirt and loose pants, and her hair in a ponytail. It wasn’t her usual fashion, but they fit her well. She still radiated nobility and dignity, no matter what she wore. Derlik never did ask her where she hid her money or how much she had, but it didn’t bother or even surprise him that the noble girl had it.

“Certainly,” Derlik said. He drove the cart around, and stopped it in front of the magistrate’s office. He tied the horses and walked inside the building.

It was in the center of the city, a large and elaborate creation in the midst of poverty. It was two stories and had a marble entryway. Va’il looked at it for a while, but it wasn’t interesting to him.

Time passed, but Derlik didn’t return. They waited for the shadow of the sun to move a meter, but no amount of waiting changed the problem. Derlik had spent a couple hours in the magistrate’s office without coming out to tell Va’il and Ruby of what was going on.

“Is it supposed to take this long?” Va’il asked.

“It’s political, probably. He’s being questioned,” Ruby said.

“For this long? None of the other places took this long.”

“Maybe it’s because this is a border place. They might have to make sure of everything before letting us into hare lands. I’m not sure if their relations are good or not, but when it comes to territories or nations, you never know who dislikes who in truth.”

“Is there really that much distrust between them?”

“Yes, Va’il. Everyone has an objective, and their own ideas of how to get there.”

“But why can’t they all get along?”

“That’s pretty naive. Each region is different.”

“Why are they different?”

“Well, one might be governed a certain way, another might use their own method. Besides, really, almost all regions but ours are homogeneous. I mean, they are usually all one species, with some foreign traders here and there. Rising is mixed with lupus like you, human like me, and so on. The rest are all mostly different. Swine territory, bovine, bearan, and so on. So different, okay?”

“But they are all full of people, so they are all the same, right?”

“Well, if you say it like that, it makes sense. But I don’t think that’s important to figure out. Everyone’s different. And none of this helps us find out what’s taking Derlik.”

“I’m going to go in,” Va’il said.

“Should I come too?” Ruby asked.

“I don’t know. Stay here. Come in if you think you should.”

“Fine, fine. I’ll wait. Hurry up, Va’il.”

Va’il jumped out of the cart and entered the magistrate’s building. He sped past the decorations littering the place, and ended up in the main hall.

Posted in Books, The Lupine Chevalier | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lupine Saga 95

They woke the next morning, surprised that they could sleep as well as they did. The two felt like the drug had run the last of its course, and no drowsiness or cloudiness was left in their bodies. Once up, they noticed the smell of burning meat, the sound of a fire.

“Finally up, kids?” Derlik asked. He was hunched over a fire where a morning kill was being cooked. The sight and sound of food reminded the two that they hadn’t eaten much in the past few days, and last night’s meal was dried provisions and water.

“Thank you,” Va’il said as he got up and walked to the fire.

“What is it?” Ruby asked.

“Food. Good enough, right?” Derlik asked.

“Yeah,” Ruby said, tired of her own question. It was food, and it didn’t matter what kind of animal it was that had fallen into Derlik’s grasp.

They ate and drank to what little fill they could, washed themselves and their clothes thanks to a nearby creek, and then prepared to leave. The horses had already been fed earlier, and so the moment Va’il and Ruby were in the cart Derlik took off.

Va’il and Ruby sat together in quiet, unable to think of anything more to talk about with Derlik. His demeanor last night showed them that he would answer questions, but only within a certain boundary, and never volunteered information himself. He was quiet, and would stay quiet if Va’il and Ruby had nothing to speak with him about.

A couple hours passed, and soon the sun had made its way above their heads. With nothing to do, nothing to talk about, and a small sense of hunger growing, they fell asleep.

#

“Wake up, eat,” Derlik said. His massive hand rocked Va’il’s shoulder.

Va’il looked around for a moment, but then stopped and roused Ruby. She rubbed her eyes and looked at the scenery Va’il had only glanced at.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“Still in Farrow. Almost out. Eat now, and stay awake,” Derlik said.

The kids accepted and partook of dried fruit and tasteless bread. They would have asked why Derlik didn’t fetch something better to eat, but a look at the scenery told them why. They were in plains, littered with grasses and rolling hills. No forest or places for animals to hide were seen. The scenery had changed too quickly for them to tell how far they had gone. The cart started going again. Its pace was fast and steady. Quicker than Va’il and Ruby could remember from before.

As the day cooled down the cart went quicker, making the kids wonder exactly how far they were going each day. Their perception of distance and the world at large was limited by the simple maps that had been used in school. The maps of Rising were detailed and labeled, but the world at large was a general outline with rivers, mountains, and major cities labeled. They knew the basics, but they didn’t realize how far a day’s travel would take them across each region. They also knew that Rising wasn’t a large nation. Over the coming days and weeks they would learn how distance on maps turned into distance in real life: slowly.

The first full day of travel that Va’il and Ruby were conscious of ended, and at night Derlik left them alone while he went hunting.

“Ruby,” Va’il said.

“Yes?”

“I’ve been thinking. This is really boring. And tough.”

“Yes.”

“I’ve also been thinking. Why is this happening?”

“I have too.”

“Do you have an idea?” Va’il got up from where he was and sat next to Ruby. She smiled at him once, and then looked at the fire.

“I’ve been replaying our last moments out in my head. Well, you know what I mean. I’m trying to make sure I remember everything said and done. Everything about that day. And then backtracking, wondering if something other than that day was the reason.”

“It all happened so fast. Like it was planned. That’s what’s bothering me,” Va’il said.

“It makes sense. It had to be planned. But how far in advance? How would they know where I was? And then, why wait? Were they waiting for us to be together? I don’t think so. Silly as you are, I don’t think anyone would care about a simple commoner. No offense.”

“Of course not,” Va’il said. He agreed with Ruby, but if his secret had been revealed, Ruby would be wrong. He didn’t think that was the case, but couldn’t help but wonder if it was. And although that was a pressing thought, he couldn’t reveal it to Ruby. He feared the responsibility that would be pressed upon them both if his royal lineage were uncovered.

“So there is something nagging about it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my voiced worries happened on the same day as our kidnapping. I think it was something said, at that time, that was the reason. Something I knew about, beforehand, that was the reason I was being watched. And I think I know what it is.”

“And what is it?” Va’il asked, both relieved and confused.

“That servant that I talked about, the one shadowing me,” Ruby said.

“Ah! This boring journey, I forgot!” Va’il said, his voice filled with sudden excitement.

“What? Did you forget our entire conversation from that time?” Ruby asked.

“That night has a cloud over it. Remembering what you were doing just before you fall asleep is tough. And the train of thought I was on was completely derailed by the passage of time. Arg, Ruby, remember that I questioned you after you mentioned that servant?”

“I think so. A lot of them. And then the world spun. You asked about someone important. Ah, now I remember! You’re right!”

“Regent Jin,” both children said.

“I forgot about him. And it would match. I did mention him once. And then you mentioned him. All those ridiculous things about him and the foreigners, right?” Ruby asked.

“I didn’t forget the name. I made the connection then. Ridiculous, was it, dear Ruby?”

“I thought he was trustworthy.”

“Does it seem like a coincidence, or something solid now?” Va’il asked.

“It could still be a coincidence,” Ruby said, though her eyes told another story. Even though her head told her that this progression wasn’t logical and they were jumping to conclusions, her heart swayed in a sea of mixed emotions.

“That’s true. Or maybe he was supposed to watch you, because of what happened before with those foreigners. It would make sense, if they were all colluding,” Va’il said, brimming with excitement at his discovery.

“Wait, wait,” Ruby said, her thoughts becoming clear. “You’re missing something Va’il. They only fully saw you. They didn’t see me directly. Even if you’re right, there has to be something else missing. No, I think it’s something else. Or we’re missing a part.”

“Like what? If they didn’t know you, then maybe me?” Va’il asked.

“No, that doesn’t fit either. Could it be something different?”

“If it was, then maybe it’s just a coincidence we overheard them speak of Jin before he sent a servant to shadow you,” Va’il said.

“Ah! Va’il, you figured it out! That’s it! There was already an issue! We overheard it years ago, and that had no bearing on the servant shadowing me! Then we met while I was being watched for some reason, talked about my suspicions, you had a revelation, they heard that, and got rid of us to keep that information from getting out! It fits!”

“It does,” Va’il said, quieter than before. “And it fits best. And it raises more problems than before, dear Ruby. Why you were being watched. Why our suspicions were such a problem. There is something bigger to all of this. Something bigger than you or I that we stumbled upon, and now cannot pursue.”

“We can go back,” Ruby said. She looked at Va’il, her eyes reflecting the fire in front of them, an analogue for the fiery emotions running though her.

“We should. But I don’t think we can now. That’s another problem raised. I hope we’re wrong about all we’ve thought of. Because if we’re right, then I know they cannot let us live with this knowledge.”

“So we’re wrong. Until we find a way to be right and live.”

“I didn’t realize you loved home this much,” Va’il said, smiling.

“It’s not exactly, well kinda. But not only that,” Ruby said, slightly stuttering.

“It’s not so bad, to get away like this for a while, to be on the journey,” Va’il said.

“I like it. I really do,” Ruby said.

“But you only would want to continue it if you knew it were temporary, right?” Va’il asked.

“Certain parts,” Ruby said. She then stood up and poked at the fire with a stick.

“Which?” Va’il asked.

“Just certain ones.” She kept her back to Va’il and mumbled lightly while prodding at the fire.

“If only others weren’t worrying about us,” Va’il said, thinking of his family and other friends. He felt like the burdens on him, the present worries, were alive and bearing down on him, but the visage of the girl in front of him gave him some relief, though he couldn’t understand why. He was comfortable, but disturbed and worried. He was worried for those he knew, but the girl in front of him was the only person he knew at that moment, and as much as he wished there were more people around him, he knew he only had one person to be concerned with at that moment.

They remained quiet, each one thinking of vastly different things for different reasons, neither knowing what the other’s top concern was. And soon enough Derlik returned with a grin on his face and a family of rabbits over his shoulder. They ate, talked a bit, and then slept.

Posted in Books, The Lupine Chevalier | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment