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“We sit here, Eemon, you and I, our therans, and this world we’ve been condemned to. I hear the rock bird behind us. I know the sand snake behind him is thinking he knows what’s for dinner. I watch the neck of Mrotens, greatest of all living therans and see no tendons twitching, no muscles flexing and relaxing. I see the same orange sunset I have seen hundreds of times. It is not the red of home, but it does have a beauty to it. I know all these things, Eemon, I hear them, I see them, I smell them. And they are glorious. But they are all tainted by the knowledge that we were taken from our homes and left here to live or die by our own skill and wits and luck.”
“Yes, Sellem, you have mentioned these things several times,” Eemon replied.
“Do you understand, Eemon? It should feel like home. We’ve been here almost five hundred years. By the Gods I was born here, I have no clue where home is or what it feels like, I just know that this isn’t it, Eemon. All these things don’t make this place my home.”
“Is Prella pregnant again? Is that what’s going on here?” Eemon asked.
Sellem smiled. Prella was beautiful any day of the week, any week of the year, but when she was pregnant — she positively glowed. Something about growing that new life inside her just brought her inner fire right on out to the surface. They had three so far, two girls and a boy, and were hoping to even things up with the next one. But there was no next one yet.
“No, Eemon, she’s not pregnant. Not yet.”
“So you are trying then?”
“Yes. One more, hopefully a boy. Even things up that way. But that has nothing to do with what I was talking about. I get feeling like you don’t belong. To a degree I understand it, doubtless there is still much I don’t understand, but here,” he said, pointing down at the sand under the hand-size claws of his theran, then settled back into the saddle between the great beast’s shoulders. “This isn’t home. Don’t ask me why, but I don’t belong to this place. None of us, none of the Bosu Hakonen, belong in this dishala place.”
“I agree, Sellem, but we are here. So enjoy the sunset. They won’t be here before morning, if at all,” Eemon said. “The mumblers are mating and that means they’re even hungrier and meaner than usual. I’m not so sure we’ll be seeing them come morning. Too bad, that one that runs all bent over probably has a pretty good story.”
“Obviously they’ve never walked over open sand before. If a Stavidiller doesn’t suck them down a burrow and lay its eggs in their bellies, and the mumblers don’t have them for a snack, then we’ll ask them why they trespass on our land without permission in the morning. If the stavidillers or some cousin eat well tonight, it’s sad, but easier too. You know strangers bring trouble. Come, the sun has set. I’m hungry. Let’s go see what’s in the pot tonight,” Sellem said.
They turned their mounts around, their great scaly legs and tails leaving smooth swaths in the sand behind them as they dragged their feet and tails along, great forked tongues flicking out to taste for food, enemies, or females with eggs ready to be laid. It was why almost no one rode the females even though they were smoother and could run farther than their bigger counterparts. When they came in season all they wanted to do was mate. And make the male fight for the possibility of mating. Such shameless tail-wagging he thought, and chuckled at the visual of great ten-foot tails looping about like ribbons in the wind, wafting her scent to males for miles around. They were fine for short hunting trips around camp, but for scouting or war, the males were far superior just in that they wouldn’t suddenly act like they’d never had any training at all and had forgotten who was master and who was beast.
“I hear Molra and his younger brother will try for angorath soon,” Eemon said.
“Their mother will not be happy. It was an angorath that killed her husband, their father.”
“No, I don’t imagine she will be, but it’s past time they did this. You know that. Not having your father can only excuse so much. Their uncle tried to get Molra to go when he first came of age, three years ago, but he said he would wait for his brother so they could take revenge together. He’s either a coward or the best big brother in the entire clan,” Eemon said.
“Who do you think it is out there in the sand? I wasn’t even born last time someone came from the ocean. I wonder who they are. I wonder if they’ll survive the night? It’s almost enough to get my poor tired heart pumping again. Let’s open a skin of Lepkin’s theran piss and celebrate being alive. Prella will love it. She says I am too dour. I am not dour. Do you think I’m dour, Eemon?” Sellem asked.
“At times. But this is not one of them. Kick that old bag of bones you’re riding into gear,” he yelled as he laid his heel to the ribs of his long leather steed.
The theran responded as he was trained and sprinted forward, legs pumping, tail wagging in counterpoint to his body to keep him from tipping over as he ran, a tongue thick as a man’s wrist, testing, testing, testing for food, for rivals, for danger. They were loyal steeds, if prone to drooling while eating.
A short time later, panting beasts having been walked and brushed to let them cool off after their game of chase, the two men entered the yurt of Sellem and Prella and fell completely silent at the sight of Prella’s younger sister Briala.
Briala’s eyes were brown like her sisters, but the resemblance stopped there. Prella’s hair was brown like the top scale on a mumbler’s head, so dark it was almost black, her mouth wide, her lips narrow and smooth, and was almost six feet of muscle. She was taller than Sellem, which she never let him forget. Her legs were long and her hands were huge, but her smile was genuine, and her home was always open and always welcomed him. She was like the sister he never had.
Briala was so short she was often mistaken for a child. Her hair was blonde, long as all the Bosu Hakonan wore their hair, hers tied at the nape of her neck, Prella’s always in two braids, one over each ear, reaching past her waist. She was the most beautiful thing Eemon had ever seen. And every time he saw her, his tongue ran away with his voice making him look like a fool.
Too late to turn around and leave, she had seen him see her. Eemon sat on the other side of the fire from her, directly opposite, so the sight of her wouldn’t chase his voice away. Sellem smiled and winked at Prella. Everyone in the clan knew this union should happen but Eemon.
“There are four of them,” Sellem said to Prella. “Three of them walk upright like us, but one runs on four legs. I have never heard of anything like it. I wonder if its skin is warm,” he said, thinking of the cold winter nights spent watching for other clans and the larger predators sharing this foreign desert with the Bosu Hakonan. Both were a constant danger.
“Old Neela, she said she remembers strangers coming from the ocean when she was a little girl. She said it wasn’t far from here either. My mother told me when she was little they used to stay here. There were some Calary Towns nearby. She made the best pies out of those furry little things. It’s hard to believe something so ugly and with such nasty tails could taste so good. I wonder if there are any around here. It’s been years since I tasted fresh Calary and I know you two would like it,” she said.
They ate, talking of past times, animals they had hunted, clans they had fought, friends who had died or married into other clans, whose theran would beat whose in a race, whose was bigger, stronger, smarter. Talk often morphed from conversation about raiders or when the weather would be right for raiding or what they would have done differently in or on the last raid if only they had known some innocuous fact into how raiding would be impossible without the swift silent and powerful theran. The Bosu Hakonan were a brave and powerful clan, but without the theran, the desert would have killed them all hundreds of years ago.
Great leather-backs carried the Bosu Hakonan, their flesh fed the Bosu Hakonan, their skin was made into shields and clothing by the Bosu Hakonan, their finger bones, properly cleaned and aged, with the right runes carved upon them, able to tell the future of the Bosu Hakonan, their saliva, an effective and slow acting poison, on the tips of the spears and arrows of the Bosu Hakonan, their bond forever unbroken by the Bosu Hakonan.
“You know, Prella,” Briala said, “I have heard that in other yurts there is conversation of things other than raids and theran. Can you imagine such a thing?”
“No,” Prella replied, “seeing as how these two are the cream of the crop and that’s all they ever talk about, I can’t see it possible that other yurts would be talking about anything else. Who have you heard this from,” she asked, her eyes squinting in skepticism and curiosity.
“You take everything so literally, Sister. I meant that it would be alright if these two, the cream of the crop, talked about something, anything, other than raiding and theran. There was a Deanntrean’s pit seen just a day’s ride west of us. It’s supposed to be a big one too,” Briala said.
“Now there’s a killing beast if ever there was one. Waits at the bottom of a funnel it’s made in the sand, great gaping maw wide open, waiting for anything to tumble down into its pit where pincers the size of my arms spring out of the sand and grab with the backward pointing spikes all along the inside of the giant things as it sticks its huge proboscis into your chest and sucks your guts and blood out. By the Gods, I hate those things,” Sellem said.
“I’ve never seen a live one,” Eemon said. “Have you, Sellem?”
“Yes, many times when we ranged farther north. Before your parents brought your squalling self to torment me. I saw one take a half grown theran that had slipped into its funnel and dragged it under the sand completely. It was so fast, there and a blink later, gone, with a good damn theran too. Washota was not happy that night. The old bastard,” he said with affection.
“Remember the time he told you he hid a new stone blade somewhere in his theran corral and you cleaned the whole thing before you looked on the harness?” Eemon asked.
“Remember the time he told you that the Flaustus plant would clear the bumps on your face? How’d you like being green?” Sellem countered.
“Very funny,” Eemon said, blushing crimson at being reminded in front of Briala.
“I just can’t see how you two are related to that mean old man,” Sellem said, “much less his daughters. Your mother must have been quite the woman.”
“She was,” Briala and Prella said at the same time, then laughed at their perfect timing.
“He was nicer when she was alive, wasn’t she Bri?” Prella asked.
“Nicer, friendlier, but not any less himself. He was always a good man, but she made him better than he could be by himself. Without her, he’s as good as he can get. We’ve talked about it.”
“You’ve talked about how mean he is with him?” Eemon asked. “And you’re alive to tell us about it? A miracle.”
“I’m his favourite,” Briala said. “You can do that when you’re the favourite. Besides, he only wants you to think he’s like that to keep you away and from getting too close. Losing my mother really tore his heart out.”
“It wasn’t a blood raid,” Sellem said under his breath.
“No,” Prella responded, “but it turned into one when Ha Ka’at killed her when she wouldn’t be kidnapped by him.”
“Father took care of that. That’s his skull that adorns the crosspoles on the entrances of his yurt. He still wears Ha Ka’at’s dried shrunken penis on a thong around his neck. He never takes it off, but I see him sometimes, rubbing it through his shirt. Ha Ka’at’s ears are affixed, one to each side of the entrance to his yurt, so Ha Ka’at’s spirit will know every time Father comes home safely while Ha Ka’at’s spirit will know that he is still dead. Father told me that too,” Briala said.
“I always wondered why those dried up old ears were there, but I could never muster the courage to ask him,” Eemon said.
“Heh,” Sellem said. “I completely understand. Come Prella, the day was long, I am full, and the sun rises early. I’m eager to see if the strangers make it through the night. We can leave the kids out here. I’m sure they won’t get into any trouble, will you kids?” he said laughing as he took Prella’s hand, pulled her to her feet, and walked with her to the curtained-off section in the back of their yurt where they slept and practiced making him another son.
Briala lay back, resting on one elbow, her legs stretched in their black leather boots before her. Obsidian knife handles rose above the stone blades sheathed one in each boot. She had others secreted about her. She would not suffer the same fate as her mother. She was also known to know how to use them, which brought respect from her peers and pride in her achievement. Not all women, not all men, were allowed the rare obsidian blades. For her to have two of them spoke of great bravery in battle. “So,” she said, “what’s new?”
Eemon was a little intimidated by her. She was so small, yet had killed many men. She rode better than he did, which was saying something, and she got along with people better than he did, which wasn’t really saying much. She always had a group around her when she wasn’t scouting or hunting. But she always seemed to have time for him.
Every Bosu Hakonan participated in every task to see where each individual’s skills could be put to the best use for the clan. Briala was a hunter. She was also known to ride in and win the occasional theran race. He was a scout, constantly on the go, watching for enemies in front, in back, from the sides, for food, water, storms, which could wipe a clan out if they got caught unawares in a big one, changes in the dune-scape, disappearances or appearances of landmarks, sign of the beasts who shared this sandy universe with them.
The Teaner Clan was wiped out when a storm came thundering in from out of nowhere, no warning signs, nothing to indicate it was coming. From clear blue sky to roiling black clouds in a heartbeat, it was suddenly there, in the middle of their camp, wind, rain, hail and a funnel cloud the size of the entire camp, picking them up and hurling them miles away, shredding the tough theran hide yurts as if they were the tender petals of a desert cactus, drowning theran who became trapped underwater when their sleeping burrows were flooded. There were stories of giant creatures riding in the storm who caused the damage, who were also said to have eaten many of the missing theran. Half their herd was never found. It was said the storm creatures breathed ice and shot flames of snow and mist out of their noses and mouths. Eemon wasn’t sure they were real, but he wasn’t sure they weren’t either. He kept a weather eye out for storms.
“Uhhh, I saw, we saw, Sellem and I, this evening, earlier before we came in, we saw four walkers coming over the basin from the ocean. You heard him earlier, didn’t you? That’s new.”
“I did hear that. Very interesting too. I’m as curious as Sellem and you. Do you think they’ll survive the night out there? It’s mumble mating season and they are voracious when they’re on the prod,” Briala said.
“I had forgotten about the mumbles,” he said, running his fingers through his hair, pulling out the knots the wind had left him. There’s no way just four of them could fight even one off. I guess we’ll never know where they came from now,” Eemon said.
“No, not with the mumbles out in force,” she said. “Too bad. I have a feeling big things are coming. Unless they find somewhere safe to hide for the night. If they can make it until morning without being mumble snacks, they may actually make it all the way here.”
Eemon yawned. He couldn’t help it. He had tried to stifle it, but he hadn’t slept in two nights. Clevin Clan was not as close as they had thought, but it was still far outside its normal territory. They had a treaty, but no one really trusted the Clevin Clan, not after Bayson. They shouldn’t have lost the boy. You guard your guests like they were your own family, better even. It was obvious from the marks he had been tortured, but no one had ever claimed responsibility and the Clevin Clan (tribe?) had been unable to find out who had done it, causing them to lose face and the trust of their fellow Bosu Hakonan.
“If you insist,” she said.
“What? Insist on what? I, what are you talking about?” he stammered.
“If I am so boring that you can’t keep from yawning, then I will take myself someplace where I am appreciated. No doubt Tolly misses me and will welcome me with open paws,” she said and laughed.
Eemon thought her laughter sounded like a Ravewits song, small bright blue flyers with stark black stripes on their almost transparent wings, whose singing he thought was some of the most beautiful sounds he had ever heard. He was not brave enough to tell her so though.
“It’s not that,” he said. “It’s been…”
“I know, I know,” she said, “two days and two nights since you slept. Prella told me. I was just hanging out to see if you’d fall asleep before I left or not. You win, this time. But I really must leave. Oh, you bastard,” she said as he began to snore softly.
Prella and Sellem chuckled as she left. If it was privacy you were after, the home-yurt wasn’t the place to find it.
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