Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The King's Challenge #196 and #197

TKC 196 and 197

We join the Messenger camp and soon most everyone is asleep. Tomorrow we will make up time on horseback. The horses count to over four hundred, and I am amazed we did not hear them as we closed in. Apparently they are foraging further out, under watch.

Brant, a young man who only recently joined the Messengers, informs us that when the asteroid became visible in the day sky, they decided to round up all their horses and herd them onto the plain. A Messenger, he claims, is as nothing without his horse; he grins as he says it, knowing he speaks only truth.

“Many Messengers had already gone to spread the word south and west and thus left with the Great March …”

My eyebrows lift. So that is what they call our desperate flight across the dryness?

“… and therefore we were few,” Brant continues, “but we love our mounts and so …” He lapses into silence, grimacing.

Another takes up the tale, an older man. “The soldiers started rounding them up … for slaughter. We could not stand back and allow that to happen.”

“We lost many Messengers in confrontation with the soldiers,” a woman murmurs.

“There was much panic and chaos,” Brant whispers. “People can be so cruel.”

Swallowing, I ask, “What is the situation on the plateau now?”

The older man answers. “My name is Hal and I was one of the last to leave. I saw was units of cavalry capturing folk who ran to escape the fireball. Chaos is a kind word. How it goes now, after the rock went on its way? We don’t know and we don’t want to know.”

“You chose to remain on the plains?” I prod.

“Much better out here, and safer for the horses too,” the woman adds.

“How do you eat?” Kay blurts.

She smiles at him. “Says the city boy, right? There is always food; you just have to know where to find it. Tubers in this dry earth are pretty nourishing.”

“Taste like crap, though,” Brant grumbles.

“Cease your prattle,” the woman laughs. “It keeps you alive, not so?”

“What is your name?” I ask.

“Marian.” She bobs her head.

“Do you know Hanna?”

Her eyes brighten. “Hanna made it to Arc? And Joseph? Did he? Those two were always meeting up in the most unlikely places!”

Hal bursts into laughter. “I once caught them snogging behind a well in Normur!”

Smiling, I say, “They made it. Both are with Damin …”

“The Marsh Devil lives?” Brant exclaims.

I give him the eye. “His name is Damin Mur and he is my brother. He is no devil.”

Crestfallen, he apologises. “But it’s great he is with the people, isn’t it? He knows how to do stuff.”

Yes, that describes Damin. I laugh. “It’s great, yes.”

“Why are you leaving Arc,” Hal questions then, staring at Kay in particular. “It is meant to be a haven, is it not? We are, in fact, slowly meandering that way with the horses.”

Kay squeezes his eyes shut. “Arc is not a haven. Arc is a trap.”

Gasps erupt from those around the fire with us. “How so?” Marian asks.

He tells them then about the ghostly residents seeking souls to create forever slaves. He speaks of the barrier in place between us and them. Briefly he mentions the Glonu, saying they are the ancients still living in their manner inside that bowl of mountains.

The older man’s eyes narrow. “You are not telling us everything.”

I jump in before Kay does tell everything. There is no telling who is Glonu among us at this fire. “We have our reasons and we will tell you when we know you better.” I smile then, knowing it will disarm the man. “Right now I am too weary to grapple with those issues.”

“Yes, let them sleep first,” Marian murmurs, sending me a wink.

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