Chapter 4: Chapter Four

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 57

Chapter Four

Travel locally to sell your milk. Travel far to lose your Numa. Agarthan saying.

 

Raru’iti had packed everything that Sothoo had brought in a pair of leather panniers that were slung across the horse’s back. Sothoo and Raru’iti also carried two leather travelling bags each and a variety of small, felted wool bags of different sizes slung about their shoulders. The grain jar containing the stranger’s bones sat securely in the left-hand-side pannier, its wide shoulder making a thick bulge in the leather.

Rarantu’i walked across to Sothoo and placed his hand on her shoulder.

‘Sothoo, I have a few special things to give you for your journey.’

He passed over to Sothoo a short staff which seemed to be made especially for her. Its length was perfect for walking, with a short fork at the top, perfectly formed for Sothoo’s thumb. All along the length of the staff were carved spells and magical symbols, some of which Sothoo understood, others more complex which she had trouble deciphering.

‘This is a fine staff, Rarantu’i. Are you sure that you want to give it to me?’

‘The staff must be given or else it will lose its magical power. I hope now you will accept it?’

‘Of course, I will, thank you.’ Sothoo took hold of the staff and held it proudly in front of her.

Rarantu’i rummaged in a small leather bag and pulled out two further items.

‘I would like you to accept these two gifts as well, Sothoo, they are both significant to the task at hand. I have cast the bones and know this to be true. At some point in your journey when your need is greatest these items will aid you, I don’t know how only that they will. Look after them and treat them with great care.’

He passed the items to Sothoo who peered at them with wonder in her eyes.’

‘Yes, Sothoo, they are what you think they are.’

The first item was a small lozenge-shaped chip of metal firmly fixed to a flat wooden arrowhead with a red painted tip.

The second item was a beautiful, white chunk of quartz crystal. It was small enough to fit into the palm and when turned in the sunlight cast a rainbow of colours across all the surfaces it touched.

‘I have heard of these things but never seen them, Rarantu’i. I am deeply honoured that you have gifted them to me. I will treasure them.’

‘You understand how the way-finding stone works, Sothoo?’

‘As I understand it, you must float the wooden arrow on a surface of still water and the stone will point the arrow in the direction of the southern star. Once you have found the direction of the southern star you can then find the direction that Berant’iti rises and falls.’

‘Indeed, once you know this you can usually work out where you are by deduction. At some point on your journey, you will become lost. This item will be invaluable to you.’

The quartz crystal was a more enigmatic thing. Sothoo had learned a great deal about spells, curses, and enchantments for using one but as she had never seen one and was unsure as to her ability to make use of Rarantu’i’s gift.

‘The crystal is a powerful elemental, Sothoo. It has many uses and despite its size can have an extremely powerful effect. You must take care of this thing and use it wisely. Before you attempt to use it, you must tune it to your Numa, only then will you be able to tap into the full force of the crystal. Its full purpose will be revealed to you when you require its power. You will know when this is when the time comes.’

‘I have one final gift for you, Sothoo.’ Rarantu’i reached to the back of his leather belt and pulled out a beautiful iron knife. The hilt was made from multiple bands of bone, pink coral, black jet, and leather. The end of the hilt was finished with a small bronze triangle polished to a mirror finish and incised with dotted lines. The whole knife was engraved with magical symbols and gleamed in the morning sunlight.

‘Sothoo. This knife is imbued with magical properties and is used to cut certain magical plants and flowers. You will know such things. It also has a magikal property. By using the spell I’m about to tell you, you can make it invisible.’ he leaned over and whispered into Sothoo’s ear. Do you understand?’

‘I believe I do.’

‘To make the knife visible again, reverse the spell. This item will be vital to you at some time in your journey, I know it. Take care of it and use it wisely.’

Sothoo buried the knife at the bottom of one of her small leather bags and turned to Rarantu’i.

‘I  believe that Raru’iti is ready to depart. Take care on your journey, Sothoo, and return to us soon.’

She turned to Raru’iti and then back at Rarantu’i and her beloved village with large tears welling in her eyes, wiping them away on the sleeve of her tunic she headed off towards the village gates. Lolontoo ran to her mistress and flung her arms around her.

‘Take great care, mistress. Return to me quickly. Stay away from danger, mistress, come home soon.’ Tears streaming from her ice-blue eyes.

Sothoo unpeeled herself from Lolontoo’s embrace and stroked the child’s face.

‘I will be back before you know it, Lolontoo. Behave yourself and do everything that master Rarantu’i asks of you.’

Sothoo turned, following Borek out of the village, deep in her stomach, she felt a terrible, clenching fear. She dare not turn around thinking she might lose her resolve and run back towards the waving crowd. At that very moment, she wanted to run, run back to her hut and hide in her bed and not have to think about the heavy burden the elders had placed on her tiny shoulders. But she did not do that, no she fought against the fear and kept placing one foot in front of the other until before she knew it, she was as far from the village as she had ever been and as much as she did not wish to admit it, dependent on Raru’iti for everything.

 

w

‘No, Sothoo, we must keep going. We have enough light and there’s a better place to make a camp further on. Here the open ground is too small. Any strangers walking out of the forest on any of these paths would be on us before I had enough time to prepare. The other place is larger. It will give us more time to sort out friends from foe. We must keep on until we reach the other place.’

Sothoo stood with her fists clenched at her side, her very first attempt to control Raru’iti was a failure. It would be no good arguing, she knew deep down that Raru’iti was right, so she carried on behind him, a face dark with anger, becoming increasingly tired.

It took them almost the rest of the available sun to reach the place Raru’iti had suggested and Sothoo grudgingly accepted what he meant by the site being safer.

Raru’iti made a fire and taking the panniers from Borek, hobbled the mare on some good grass and took out a leather bucket and some food from the panniers.

‘I will fetch some water. Do not leave this place for any reason. Do you understand?’

Sothoo’s anger at being told what to do was moderated by her exhaustion and it was all she could do but nod and lay herself down on one of the hides that Raru’iti had provided for their sleeping. She had made it one of her conditions that there should be two camps but her fear of sleeping in the wild stopped her from insisting and her tiredness stopped her arguing anyway. She made a pillow from her bags and once comfortable closed her eyes, sleep coming almost instantly. It felt like she had just dropped off when she was shaken awake. What was that idiot Raru’iti thinking she had barely closed her eyes? She sat up, blinking, rubbing the side of her head that had been lying on the bags.

‘What do you mean by waking me so?’

‘Sothoo, you have been sleeping and snoring for an age. I left you because you seemed to need the rest. Was I wrong?’

Sothoo looked up into the night sky and saw that the moon had moved a good way across the night sky since she had lain down. Raru’iti’s teasing annoyed her the most though.

‘I do not snore, you oaf. Is there anything to eat?’

‘On the one hand, I am called an oaf and on the other, I am asked for food. I think you should be a little more civil, Sothoo or you may be eating from Borek’s nosebag.’

He laughed again and reached over to his right quickly producing some bread, a little cheese, and some foraged nuts and berries. Once Sothoo had taken the food he passed her a horn cup and poured a little water into it from a skin he had propped up on the panniers.

‘And has a little food moderated your temper, Sothoo?’

Sothoo grunted and started to lay down again.

‘Not so fast, girl, you have some duty to do before you sleep again.’ Raru’iti said.

‘What do you need me to do? she seemed surprised.

Raru’iti pointed up into the sky. He pointed to where the moon was and where it would be later in the night.

‘You will need to stay awake between these two points while I sleep. If there is anything that worries you, you must wake me immediately. Do you understand? If there is nothing to report, wake me when the moon reaches the second point. I will keep watch until the sun rises. Now, I will get my sleep. Goodnight, Sothoo.’

Raru’iti turned himself over on the hide he was sitting on and within a few moments, much to Sothoo’s annoyance was snoring loudly; loudly enough to attract every gang of brigands for miles around.

 

w

The risen sun had brought welcome spring warmth and Raru’iti was busy packing the paniers that had once more been placed on Borek’s back. Sothoo was searching through her bags making sure nothing had fallen out during her night’s sleep.

‘Tell me Raru’iti, what are your plans to find the village of the tribe of the Broken Axe, where do we go from here?’

He finished up what he was doing and came over to where she was sitting, scraping a large space on the ground with his boot and picking up a short piece of stick from their woodpile. He drew in the sandy soil and before long he made a map which Sothoo could understand.

‘This is a map of the area we are in. This is Peral’dul, and this is where we are now. This long line is the path we must take today and most of tomorrow to reach a village, the name of which I forget. We will stay there for the night before moving off along this path towards a village I think lies along its length. It could take two days, or it could take five. It depends because I do not know where the village lies along the path. Once we find this village, we must find a guide there who will take us further up the path towards a village I know exists but do not know where it is at all. This is the most difficult part of the journey because it is only when we reach this village will we have any hope of finding someone who could guide us or give us directions to the village of the tribe of the Broken Axe. Once we have achieved this, the journey to the village of the tribe of the Burned Man will be much simpler. Then as soon as we have given the tribe their kin’s bones we can head back to our home.’

And with that Raru’iti brushed across the dirt obliterating the map before Sothoo’s eyes. It didn’t matter, she had no more idea now as to where they were going than when the map was in front of her.

Sothoo heart grew heavy with the burden of finding the village of the Broken Axe and wished she had never taken on the onerous task. She looked over to Raru’iti, who was packing the panniers, whistling tunelessly as he worked, and wished she had his simple faith in his ability, perhaps it was just arrogance, perhaps he was just an idiot. Whatever it was she wished she had it.

Sothoo took her bags and slung them across her shoulders then she took hold of her staff and raised herself ready for the day.

Raru’iti finished packing the horse and checked their small camp for dropped items, then stretched himself up into the wide, clear blue sky. He yawned noisily, bent himself slightly at his knees, and let out the loudest fart that Sothoo had ever heard. She pulled a face which he did not see.

‘Right, Let’s go.’

 

w

Sothoo was tired; very tired, but she wasn’t going to give Raru’iti the joy of knowing that. She was going to say nothing and would rather die than tell Raru’iti she wanted to stop.

Raru’iti turned and shouted back to her.

‘Do you wish to stop, Sothoo? We can stop for a short while if you like.’

His voice was full of mirth which annoyed Sothoo terribly. She said nothing but instead kept walking and gazed off into the distant landscape as if she was just happily enjoying a walk.’

‘As you wish.’ He smiled knowing she was tired and wanted to stop but wouldn’t dare ask him to. He wondered how long she could go on for. It didn’t bother him; he could walk forever without stopping. Then suddenly he could see movement ahead. Silently he held up his hand to bring Sothoo to a halt.

‘Now you want to stop.’ she laughed mockingly.

He turned to her with his index finger on his lips imploring her to be silent. He let the horse’s traces go and moved forwards. Sothoo at first carefree was now knotted up with fear. Her legs were shaking with apprehension. Raru’iti crept further up the path where there was definite movement, but it was no war-band or brigands because brigands rarely sang so tunelessly. Raru’iti came back to the horse and stood still waiting for whoever it was to arrive. They didn’t have to wait long.

‘Hey. Hello friend. You are friends I take it?’

The man left his string of four horses and came forward with his hand outstretched, Raru’iti took his hand and announced himself.

‘I am Sartu’iti, a hunter. I am on a journey with my sister here, Belaloo. We are from the tribe of the Fallow Deer.’

‘Well, well that is one of the villages that I am heading for. I am Horeet’iti the trader. I trade in pottery, metal-ware, amber, beads, cloth, and many other things. I travel far and wide. Even over to Pamerul and Vederec. I have just been to the port town of Prouta where I have been trading for new items to sell, would you be interested in seeing some of my wares?’

‘It’s very kind of you to offer, Horeet’iti but we have much distance to cover today, so we must be on our way, another time perhaps?’

‘Ah, I’m sorry you have to leave so quickly. We could have spent the day together and you could have seen some of the wonders I have for sale, never mind. I have some beautiful amber necklaces, they would look wonderful on you, my dear. Are you sure you don’t want to look?’

‘No, I don’t think so, we must get on. But would you be so kind as to pass on a message to the people of my village? Tell them you have seen us and that we are well.’ Sothoo asked. Trying to help with their deceit.’

‘I would gladly do this for you, Belaloo.’

‘If you don’t mind answering some questions before you leave us?’

Raru’iti knew that travelling traders often had news of faraway places and possible dangers. They often knew many secret things which are why many tribes used traders as spies.

‘Anything to help a fellow traveller.’

Is the village of the tribe of the Half Moon along this path?’

‘Yes, my friend. It is a good place to break a journey. I spent some time there recently, they are very friendly people.’

‘Have you heard of the tribe of the Broken Axe?’

‘Yes indeed, Sartu’iti, is your destination? If it is I would turn around now and head for home.’

‘Why so?’ said Raru’iti.

‘Because the tribe is in a constant war with another tribe, I forget their name. The people are unfriendly, especially to strangers and especially southerners. They are likely to kill you with no questions asked. Their chief, Harku’iti is a brutal man and cannot be negotiated with. He will feed you to his hunting dogs without a thought. I would avoid these people, Sartu’iti.’

‘Well, thank you for your information. Unfortunately, my business with these people cannot be put off, so I must carry on.’

‘I am sorry to hear that. Honestly, I fear for your life and that of your sister. A piece of information that will be of use to you is that the village of this tribe is called Stenta’dul.’

‘Hmm. The village of skulls. This tells me much of these people. said Raru’iti.

‘I thought that would interest you. Now I cannot tarry here any longer. The more time I spend here, the less time I can spend selling at the next village.’ At this, he roared with laughter.

‘Good luck with your business with the Broken Axe people.’

As soon as he had disappeared Raru’iti spoke.

‘Thank you for your help with my deception, Sothoo. Traders are notoriously loose-tongued so I deliberately gave him a false tale so that people who might be looking for us would get no help from him. However, we have gained much information about the people that we wish to find.’

‘They sound a bloodthirsty people.’

‘That is what the trader wishes you to think. I cannot think why he is trying to put us off our task, but his tale was for that purpose and that purpose alone. Now we must head out of this southern part of the forest and head into an area of the open countryside towards the village of the people of the Half Moon.’

Raru’iti took hold of Borek and walked forwards a few paces.

‘We will make for the open space and head for the village. We will then cross the open grassland between the village and the next path we have to take It will take a full day to cross the grassland so we must start early tomorrow morning.’

‘Raru’iti this may sound strange to you, but I have learned to trust your judgement in matters relating to our journey. I would still like you to tell me what you are planning to do but I will  defer to your judgement in the future.’

Raru’iti stared at Sothoo in disbelief. He blinked his eyes and rubbed his ears.

‘Do not make this any harder than it already is, Raru’iti.’

‘I am most grateful to you, Sothoo. I will try to conduct myself in a manner you would approve of. I will try, Sothoo, not to be an arrogant oaf  but you must also try not to be a mirthless crow.’

They both suddenly burst into gales of laughter, even Borek whinnied loudly a few times.

‘Come, Sothoo we must make some progress.’

The three of them moved off into the trees with a lighter spirit than they had before they had entered it. For Sothoo the weight of the responsibility of the journey had been lifted from her tiny shoulders and for Raru’iti he now felt he could lead without Sothoo’s constant criticism.

Now they needed to make an extra special effort to reach the village before the crossing of the open grassland tomorrow and then onto the second of the northern paths towards the village that Raru’iti only vaguely knew.

 

w

Raru’iti walked from the men’s huts across to the women’s and stood outside. The sun was yet to break the horizon so there was little activity in the village. He could hardly see in the gloom. He walked up to the hut doors and hissed.

‘Sothoo!’ Then a little louder. ‘Sothoo!!’

Someone moved behind him, a hand touched his arm.

‘Be quiet, you will wake the children.’ Sothoo stood at his side with her bags around her shoulders.

‘You are ready?’ She nodded. ‘Then come with me. The horse is loaded. We can leave before anyone has noticed we have gone, and we need not explain where we are going. We will break our fast once we are away from the village.’

The two of them walked towards the village gates where Borek was munching on a thin patch of scrubby grass. Raru’iti took off her hobble and they quickly passed out of the gates with only a couple of sleepy sentries to nod good morning to them. They walked a while on a path through the edge of the forest until they reached an area of open grassland.

‘We will break our fast here. Then we will take that path across the grassland.’ he pointed.

Raru’iti took out some bread, some cheese, and a skin of water and they stood awhile eating. Then Raru’iti packed everything away and took hold of Borek’s tether.

‘Are you ready, Sothoo? We will not be able to stop again for a while and must eat as we move if we are to cross the grassland in one day.’

‘I am prepared.’

They stepped out onto the grassland which at first came up to their knees but soon grew above Raru’iti’s head and the only view it gave was of the path in front of them.

The day was long, hot and the crossing difficult. Soon though the grass grew shorter until it was no more than knee-high again and they had reached the other side.

‘We will stop here tonight, Sothoo. We will not start so early tomorrow.’

Sothoo looked exhausted as she removed her bags and dropped them on the ground. Raru’iti made a fire and went off into the forest with his bow to find dinner. He came back later with two woodpigeons and he set to work preparing them for the evening meal.

Sothoo fell into a deep sleep and Raru’iti could not bear to wake her to stand watch so he took out his knife and found a thick branch and whittled through the night while Sothoo gently snored. He prodded her when the sun had risen and told her to make breakfast while he got some rest.  He put his head down and closed his eyes and waited until Sothoo woke him with a meal of oat porridge, bread, and cheese.

‘I think we have found your natural calling, Sothoo. You must find a man and make him happy.’

Sothoo turned and glowered at Raru’iti through narrowed eyes.

‘I jest, I jest. Thetant’iti’s frozen hell, I jest.’ He held up his hands in submission.

‘It is lucky you have eaten your porridge or else you would soon be wearing it.’ growled Sothoo.

‘All the Gods, I jest.’ Raru’iti smiled but still had his hands up in submission.

I will pack the horse, and, as soon as we are ready we will start on that northern path.’ He pointed with his spoon towards the path veering off to their right. It disappeared into the forest and on to the village with no name that Raru’iti was only vaguely sure of.

Soon they were ready to go and Raru’iti had everything packed away.

‘Are you ready, Sothoo?’ She nodded and started walking with her staff in hand. Raru’iti gave a few clicks of the tongue and Borek moved off up the path towards the village with no name


Submitted: April 15, 2021

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