In a Name-Final

August 21, 2020

Hosko met Nadessa just as her food arrived. The young lad handed him a hollow roll into which shredded meat had been stuffed. He then moved on to the next group. Most of the archers were paired up behind wooden barricades which were obscured behind shrubbery where possible. Nadessa had taken a station alone.

“It is not easy, brother, to just wait until they come.”

Hosko finished chewing and said, “Better that we had time to prepare.” He pushed back the sounding horn that hung from his shoulder. He noticed that his sister had two quivers of arrows on the ground, and one slung on her back.

“Do you have enough?” He gestured at the ground.

“None of them shall pass me.” Her back was to him as she actively scanned the area between the causeway to the south and the long dike to the north.

Hosko placed his hand on her shoulder. “Sister of mine, when this is over…”

In the forest on the side closer to the causeway came several cracking sounds and cries of surprise.

“We made many traps and pitfalls in that area,” said Nadessa.

Several more cracks came from the same area as well as from the middle section of the forest slope.  Between the trees there was motion as another noose trap was sprung.

Suddenly there was a far away call. Then men started rushing out from the forest towards the irrigation stream. The archers of Itsen immediately sent a volley of arrows flying.

Hosko raised his horn and sounded a long note. He took another breath and did it again. And once again. When the attackers neared the stream, they began getting bogged down in the muddy banks. Meanwhile, their own archers, which were fewer in number, stood on the banks and returned fire.

The men of Itsen were defending the causway bridge against the few attackers there with sword, shield and spear. Archers on the ground were hitting their marks well. Hosko began blowing a warbling blast on his horn, using his hand to alter the sound. The archers started to pull back up the hill towards the mill road.

Hosko looked towards the mill and saw Spaski run out and start scrambling up the hill via the road. The archers on the hill were keeping the raiders pinned down in the old river bed, but a few tried to move towards the mill.

With a loud rumbling sound the mill blew apart. The wooden superstructure turned into a ball of fire, smoke, and dust and the outer stone wall of the mill’s foundation burst outwards. Almost immediately muddy water came gushing out, increasing the flow as the rest of the mill and a section of the dike crumbled inward.

Hosko muttered to himself, “Five kegs were enough.”

A wall of water swept many of the raiders away. The ones that were high enough were being picked off by the archers. The rushing water swamped the little ford and continued on to the causeway where it struck. The causeway survived as the water rushed under the high stone bridge.

“Brother look!” yelled Nadessa.  She was pointing at the dike.

Hosko saw a large man running with speed on the dike towards the wharf.  By the clothes he knew it was not one of the townspeople. Then the runner leapt across the breach. Hosko immediately took off at a dead run up the road to the river’s edge.

The dike met the highlands there and the broad stairway up to Lord Itsen’s house was unguarded. Hosko quickly climbed onto the dike and drew his sword. The man was still coming, his sword was out. His hodge-podge collection of leather armor was familiar.

“Zeblen!” Hosko roared.

The man stopped a dozen paces away. His breaths sounded like angry grunts. “If you know… my name… you know to… run now…when you can.”

Hosko stood his ground. The grip on his sword tightened. “I am not running from you!” He spat on the ground.

His breathing eased as he said, “You know me. But who are you?” he took a step forward.

After a deep breath to calm himself he replied, “You don’t know me. I am Hosko Nethem… Ba Rini’em!”

Zeblen took another step forward. “You are from Rini’em!” He sneered. Then said triumphantly, “Oh, I remember Rini’em. I remember the Rape of Rini’em!” Another step closer.

Hosko’s anger was rising. His sword arm pulled away slightly.

Zeblen must have noticed. He laughed heartily. “Rini’em! We enjoyed your women before we killed them!” He laughed again.

Rage filled Hosko and he charged at him, screaming. Their swords clattered to the stone dike. Hosko had both hands around the other’s throat, but Zeblen broke his grip and grabbed him about the chest, trapping one of Hosko’s arms. Something struck his back. Pain! Then again.  Pain! In desperation, he lurched to the side, still held by Zeblen. Put off balance, both men tumbled into the river and disappeared under the churning, brown water.

 

*   *  *

 

Spaski turned the page in his journal. He paused and glanced at Gwomira, holding the seven year old Emor Hosko on her lap. She nodded and pulled the boy tighter against herself. Spaski cleared his throat and continued reading aloud.

“I saw my friend fall on that day.  He gave his life to protect our home.”  He looked up at Nadessa holding their son, then continued, “A few days later we pulled them both from the river downstream.” Spaski sniffled. “There were two arrows in Hosko’s back from one of the raiders and one arrow from Nadessa’s quiver in Zeblen’s neck.”

Spaski shifted on the stool, trying to compose himself. Nadessa gently took the journal from him, straightened the page, and continued the reading:  “The dike remained breached for several weeks. In gratitude of ridding the area of a scourge, builders and masons of the king came from as far away as the northlands to repair the dike.

“For my small part in it, Lord Itsen granted citizenship to myself as well as Hosko’s family, giving us the right to take the town’s name to be our own.” Here, Spasky reclaimed the book and continued reading to them. “I politely refused. Instead, we all decided to take the name of Hosko’s town of origin in honor of his sacrifice.

“I, Spaski Estdil Ba Rini’em, wrote this with my own hand.”

 

The End

In a Name-5

August 20, 2020

Over the next week, various preparations were made. Scouts were sent out in rotations to the highest points in the forest across the dry river channel where the irrigation creek ran. Some created watch stands in the taller trees, and traps were also set on the edge of the forrest facing the town.

The weir on the dike was raised at dawn and lowered at dusk to swell the irrigation stream and make the exposed bank very muddy and the resulting muddy streambed difficult  to cross. To access the forest on the opposite bank, the people of Itsen used the causeway bridge on the south road.

Lord Vondun Itsen was dismayed when the Scholar, Rethien told him of the plan, but he composed himself after being told of the favor he would gain from the king. Naturally he had not been told the entirety of the plan.

 

A few days later two of the hunters brought a young man into town, who demanded to see Lord Itsen. He was relieved of his belt knife, given water and taken up the hill to the lord’s house. Hosko and Spaski had relieved the hunters of their charge. They held the man fast between them.  A handful of townfolk followed to see what would happen.

Hosko called out to the house and Lord Vondun Itsen met them at the closed gate. Rethien was at his right hand.

“You want to see me?” said Itsen.

“I have a message for you from Zith Zeblun.” The man spoke with a northern accent.

Itsen gestured indistinctly. After a moment Rethien said, “What is your message for Lord Itsen?”

“Zeblun demands tribute from you, or he and his men will take your town.”

Itsen gave a quick shake of his head as if clearing it for his response. Then he said in a raised voice, “No! I will not give you tribute, you scoundrel! Take this ruffian away to the jail this instant! Lock him away!”

Hosko and Spaski tightened their grip on the man as he sqirmed to free himself. Then he started yelling as he was dragged away. “They’ll come! They’ll come and burn you down!”

As the distance between them lengthened, Rethien said quietly, “Because fear is better than civilization, I suppose.”

Lord Itsen replied to that thought, “If they come, we will put an end to them and my name will be known in all of Mornerth.”

 

The young man, who would only admit his name was Gurki, was put into the town jail and locked up. The women with small children went up to the lord’s house where they sheltered in empty rooms and the cellars. During the day the children played in the fenced-in property. It was reported that Lord Itsen enjoyed the company and activity. His housemaid, gardener, and butler had a different opinion of the affair.

Hosko and Spaski stood together on the steps leading from the dike to the lord’s house. It allowed an overview of all the preparations. The mill was grinding away, creaking as the stones turned. The weir was now kept at its highest so that only the normal irrigation stream flowed in the old river catch. Before the dike had been built, the river would only flood it in the high seasons. The soil there was still rich and always produced good crops of river grain.

“Is everyone in place?” said Hosko.

“All the posts are manned in overlapping shifts. We’re as ready as can be.”

Hosko knew that there were archers stationed at the causeway and at the bridge across the river downsteam. They were told to burn the wide, wooden span there if raiders appeared on the other side.

Hosko glanced up the stairs. Spaski followed his friend’s gaze. “Is Gwomira there with the others?”

“Yes, she has enjoyed helping to organize things there during the last few days. And Emor has never had so many playmates at once.”

Spaski scanned the near side of the valley. “There’s Nadessa. She’s close to the mill road. A good vantage point I’d say.”

“And I see the older children are bringing food down from the town for our archers.”

“Which means,” said Spaski, “That it’s time for my turn in the mill.”

“I will relieve you in a few hours, my friend. Keep a lit torch.”

In a Name-4

August 19, 2020

When the shadow of the sun-clock pointed straight down, Hosko closed the door to his shop and walked to the Fountain Inn. He met several others going in the same direction and saw yet others on their way.

On entering, he paused to let his eyes adjust to the dimness. He saw familiar faces, the innkeeper, the miller, the butcher, Luberd from the trading post, and many dressed in hunting gear. All were equal here and for the most part equally dependant on each other in the community. Aside from their trades and associations the only real differentiations were the long-time residents all shared the communal name ba Itsen.

Conversations were ongoing and on varied topics. Things quieted down when Rethien the Scholar entered from the back room.  He was dressed in traveler’s clothes so as to not attract too much attention. Before much had been discussed, Spaski came in the door. He had washed and looked less roguish than was usual.

“Welcome,” said Hosko. “I thought you might come too late.” He said this with the usual smile.

“Well, Nadessa insisted I wear fresh clothes.  You’ll note these are yours.” He tugged at the sleeve of the tunic. A few of the men laughed at the comment.

Further into the discussion, the miller asked what all must have wondered. “Shouldn’t Lord Itsen be included in the matter? His grandsire founded the town, by Kichkel!”

It was Rethien who answered him. “I assure you that I faithfully represent the young lord’s interests. Furthermore I bring good news. I have been in contact with the king.”

There were a few low murmers in the crowd.

“These raiders, “continued Rethien, “have vexed King Dedusin for many years. Detachments of Guardsmen have chased them, but they always escape because of the open territory in the north. If the raiders come here to Itsen we can trap them and end their terror.”

“If!” said a voice. The innkeeper added, “What if they don’t come? What if they escape again?”

Hosko stood and motioned for quiet. Rethien waited again. “The king is sending a detachment from the west to force the raiders our way along the river. They will have no choice but to come here.”

Uneasy grumbles from the crowd.

“When they get here we shall spring the trap,” he finished.

The miller asked, “Do we have the right to do this?  Won’t we be as guilty as the raiders if we just murder them?”

Another swell of grumblings. This time Hosko stood on a chair to quiet them. “One thing that Rethien has not told you is that King Dedusin has declared the entire town as deputies under the Guard. Legally we will be part of a peace-keeping force, not a vigilante mob.”
“But we’re talking of killing men like ourselves!” said a voice.

Hosko yelled out over the ensuing roar. “Hear this!  These men are nothing like us! They are a band of cruel outlaws that have destroyed several towns to our west. They have destroyed our homes, burned our villages, and,” his voice broke, “killed… our families.”

Spaski and Rethien came to his side and helped him down. Hosko slowly bowed his head.

Then Spaski said, “We need everyone, but if you cannot in good conscience stand with us…” He took a breath and glanced at those nearest to him, “then pray that Lithis, son of Kichkel will protect us!”

There were murmurs and some grumblings as the plans were layed out and discussed. Rethien took charge of the gathering, being the representative of both the lord and king. After some time Hosko slipped out. When things had been settled, Spaski caught up to his friend at the blacksmith shop.

The forge was still lit and Hosko was already back at work making metal arrowheads.  “You should have stayed,” he said. They calmed down and the Scholar divided up the tasks among those most qualified. Scouts are already on their way out.

Hosko continued working, but grunted acknowledgement.

“Nadessa told me every fletcher in town is busy making arrows.” He chuckled. “I think I saw a few bald poultry hens on the way through town.”
Hosko grunted as he continued working. When the piece was finished he paused to say, “I did not check your cart.  You got five kegs of the mining powder?”

Spaski nodded. “I hope it’s enough.”

“It should be.  Do you remember two-fingered Terken, used to sit around the marketplace?”

He shrugged.

“Old Terken was from Wakriloth,” said Hosko. “He always had a story to tell about mining up there.  From what he said, five will be enough.”

Spaski was looking around idly and spotted the sword on the back table. “Are you going to carry that?”

Hosko grunted.  After a pause he said, “Only in self defense or to defend my family.”

Spaski casually went to the table, picked up the sword and drew it from the leather scabbard. “I sold mine when I mustered out. That was the year after you left. I took up the bow instead, and even that I haven’t touched in years. The roads in the southeast are safe.”

“It was all I kept,” said Hosko. “I used everything else to buy my way out of the Guard. I knew I could sell it for good money if needed, but I always managed to find work, if not food.”

Spaski put the sword away and left it on the table. He was silent for a moment and then sighed in exasperation. “I wish that Nadessa were not in the fighting. She may get hurt.”

Hosko was in the middle of another arrowhead, but managed to say, “My sister is her own woman. I did not forbid her from this nor did I invite her in the fight. Nadessa chose to help because she remembers what the raiders did to our town.  She is also well skilled and that is welcome.”

“I would rather that she were safe with the others,” said Spaski.

“My friend,” said Hosko. “When this is over she will be safe. We and many others will be safe as well.”

In a Name-3

August 18, 2020

When he went home that night, he did not mention his meeting with Lord Itsen to Gwomira. After supper, he went to Nadessa while she was putting the poultry hens in their coop.

“Brother, is something wrong?” she asked as the last hen was gently shoved in. “You do not seem yourself tonight.”

“I need to ask you some things,” he said. “How many arrows can you carry?”

Nadessa straighted up and looked at him, thinking. “I carry about a dozen in my quiver. I rarely need that many. Possibly three more would fit.”  She looked at him accusingly. “Why?”

Hosko led her around to the other side of the coop. “How many in the village hunt with the bow or spear?”

Now she looked absolutely suspicious of him. “Why do you need to know that?”

Hosko scrubbed at his face. He did not want to worry his sister. Finally he put his hand on her shoulder. “I received a message from Spaski today.” He opened it and handed it over.

Nadessa read it quickly. “But… Who…”

“The raiders are the same that burned Rini’em. They may be coming here.”

She gasped and threw her arms around him. “Brother, no! What can we do?” She glanced at the house. “We should go down river to the port!”

“Sister, I think we can stop them here.  Rini’em was too open, but here in Itsen we can put a stop to their terror. We need the help of the whole town.”  Hosko laid out his plan to her in detail. She listened intently. When he finished, she sat silently with her head bowed. Finally Nadessa looked up, took his hand and said, “I must help you in this. I can shoot straight and quickly. By Kichkel they will pay for their foul deeds!”

Hosko was surprised by her attitude. He gently squeezed his sister’s hand and whispered, “It is not our place in this world to seek vengeance. If the gods be willing we will prevail. In the meantime there are things we all need to do.”

But he shared Nadessa’s mind for vengeance. Hosko remembered the look of the leader,  Zith Zeblen. He was a large man wearing a collection of unmatched pieces of leather armor. The image of him setting fire to the town of Rini’em and his men killing or carrying away those who could not escape was burned into his memory.

 

Three days later Hosko opened the shop and had started the fire in his forge when someone came in the door. He turned in time to see the stranger taking down the hood of his cloak. “Can I help you?”

The stranger was not young, yet not yet aged. He frowned briefly and said, “I was there when you spoke with Lord Itsen. I want to help you if I can.”

Hosko looked at him with narrowed eyes. “You are the Scholar I saw by the door. Why would you offer to help?”

The man bowed his head momentarily. “I have been away from my home for a long time. The news you brought about Fosifen was distressing.” He took a breath. “My name is Rethien Kethid…” he paused for effect, “Ba Fosifen. I do not want the same fate that befell our ancestral towns to come upon us here.”

“We share a common goal then,” said Hosko. He smiled and offered his hand to the Scholar. “I’ve been making a plan…”

 

Spaski arrived during that night. When Hosko opened the door to go into town he noticed the fresh cart tracks leading to his barn. Wimpers were coming from inside. He found Spaski asleep. His team was tied up, but still in the harness. When Hosko untied the dogs from their burden he realized the cart was heavy laden. With effort he pushed it towards the door to make some room. He watered and fed the team of two dogs, even going so far as to rubbing their shoulders where the harness sat.

Spaski stirred then.  He rolled to raise himself on one elbow and mumbled, “Delivered as requested.”

“What time did you get here?” asked Hosko.

“The sky was lightening… I think.”

He chuckled, feeling compassion for his friend. “Sleep while you can. I am calling a meeting in the Fountain Inn at midday.”

Spaski said, “Yes,” before rolling onto his back. He began snoring before the wide door closed. Hosko returned to the house to tell Gwomira that Spaski would need food upon waking. She acknowledged him while pulling a clay bowl down from a high shelf. Then she turned to her husband and said conversationally, “Will you tell me what is going on?”

Hosko looked at her for a moment. Then he dropped his shoulders and said, “I didn’t want you to worry, Mira.”

Adjusting her apron, she stepped out from behind the table. “For the past few days you have held something inside. It’s nothing that you say, it is the silences that have replaced your saying.” She gently took his hands in her own and looked into his eyes, not in a romantic way, but with understanding and compassion. “My husband, if I could add to our betrothal vow, it would be to say, ‘Let your worries be my worries.’”

Hosko took her into his arms and whispered in her ear. “So often am I reminded that I married the right woman!” They separated and he suggested with a gesture that they sit down. He told her about his fears of the possible attack by the raiders and of his plans so far.

“How can I help?” she asked.

Hosko shook his head slightly. “I think you and any other women with small children should be in a place of safety. Lord Itsen’s Scholar is arranging for them to go to the lord’s house. There is ample room for shelter if things should go wrong.”

Gwomira nodded slowly. Then she whispered, “And Nadessa?”

“I am drilling the archers of the town,” said Nadessa. She was standing in the doorway to Hosko and Gwomira’s room. She was carrying Emor on her left hip. “Emor was awake when I checked on him just now,” she said. “I changed him.” She was holding a malodorous bundle with her right hand.

Gwomira got up from the table and took the child. “Come here, my little man,” she said. “Thank you, Nadessa. I think he’s hungry, too. If you could take care of that.” She nodded towards the bundle. Nadessa bowed curtly with a smile and went outside.

Hosko opened the hinged roof vent on either side of the room to freshen the air while Gwomira removed her apron and sat in a chair in one corner to nurse Emor.  Hosko said, “When will you be able to wean him?”

She looked up at him. “I’ve been giving him finger-root mash in the afternoons.  It won’t be long, I think.” She eyed him coyly. “Patience, my husband.”

He took one step towards the door when Gwomira said, “Hosko.” He stopped and turned back to her.

“Are you prepared to fight these raiders?” she said quietly. “I remember the days after you carried the king’s sword.”

He shrugged and stepped closer. “I will do what is needed to protect my family.”

“Let us all pray that Lithis, son of Kichkel, will protect us all.”

Hosko nodded grimly and said, “May Lithis protect us.” Then he left to go to town.

 

As he walked the path to Itsen, Hosko reflected on the reason for one of his silences to Gwomira. During his time in the king’s Guard, he and Spaski were part of a detachment in the northern province ordered to evict a small community of squatters. Usually in such instances the people simply left.

But this had been during a time of drought and food was scarce. The squatters depended on hunting in the nearby forest for food. They ignored the proclamation of eviction from King Dedusin. As the detachment moved in, the men among the squatters threw stones at them.

A man lunged at Hosko carrying an axe. He reacted defensively, but his sword sliced the man’s arm to the bone. The spilling of blood caused the whole community to rush the detachment. They used knives, shovels, and clubs as weapons against the armored and well armed king’s Guard. Several of the squatters were killed, but the king’s men received only bruises and scratches. The rest of the squatters ran into the forest.

On that day, Hosko bought his way out of the king’s Guard, forfeiting any bonus he would receive at the completion of service. His friend, Spaski, knew of these events, but Hosko never spoke of them to his wife or sister. The thought that he may need to use the king’s sword again did not sit easy on his mind.

In a Name-2

August 17, 2020

After first light, Spaski rose, washed, and fed his dogs some ‘refreshed’ jerky that he soaked in water overnight. He hitched them to the cart in time to accompany Hosko back into town.

“My friend, I thank you for letting me stay here.  The kennel in Itsen asks too much silver to board my team.”

Hosko smiled in acknowledgement, and handed over a cloth-wrapped bundle. “Mira won’t have it any other way, my friend, and I don’t mind your visits.“ He glanced skyward, then towards the rising sun. “It looks to be good weather for travel.”

Spaski looked inside the bundle. “Meat and bread! A good omen! I am thankful for that. I’m going east, taking some river grain to Kenchenas.”

“Will you be passing through Wakriloth on your return?  I could use some copper and tin. Just a little.”

He frowned for a moment.  “I can, but I need to go north as well.”

“Nadessa will forgive me for lengthening your trip.”

They were on a track between the forest and field at this point.  Spaski halted suddenly, stopping his team as well. “Look,” he said quietly, pointing to the edge of the woods. “Do you see that?”

Hosko followed to where he was pointing.  He saw three of the one-horned antelopes that frequently came down from the mountains. “Majestic creatures,” he whispered.

“If only we could tame them to pull our carts or even ride.”

One of the dogs barked and spooked the animals. The three nirens began hopping along the edge of the forest and disappeared into the thick trees.

“Impossible to tame them, “said Hosko. “Too skittish and too fast. Dogs are more stable.”

“They probably eat too much, too,” added Spaski. The two men continued their journey into town.

 

Three weeks later, Spaski was still out on his circuit. Hosko was  finishing an order of nails when a messenger ran into town on the East road. He stopped at the fountain and began pulling the bell cord. The long tube hanging from the post rang out. Townspeople began gathering, Hosko among them.

Between breaths, the messenger said, “I have a message for Hosko Nethem. He stepped forward. “I am Hosko.”  The messenger put a small folded sheet in his open hand and said, “from Spaski Estdil.”  Someone handed the messenger a cup of water as Hosko opened the sheet. It contain the terse message: ‘Raiders burned Fosifen. Heading south to river. Danger.’ He turned to the messenger, “When did he send this?”

“On my life sir,” he said between breaths, “I got it at the relay post two days ago.”

Hosko did some calculations in his head.  He put a few silver pieces in the messenger’s hand and strode off up the street that led to the house of Lord Vondun Itsen.

The lord’s house was on the highest point, in the northwest corner of Itsen.  It was a two-story cut-stone structure which sat in the middle of a walled-in field. The stone wall was only waist high, but there was an arch with an iron gate which prevented Hosko’s entry. He pulled the bell rope several times in succession. The clatter brought out a servant from the house. He wore a clean brown tunic. This made Hosko realize he was still wearing his work apron.

“What do you want?” said the man. It was said in a neutral tone, but he was still on the other side of the closed gate.

“I have important information for Lord Itsen,” said Hosko. “I need to see him.  I am Hosko Nethem.”

The man glanced towards the house and began to say something when a call came from the house. Both men turned to look. A young man in the doorway yelled out, “Oh bring him in, Azoren. I’m so bored!”

Azoren opened the gate and led Hosko to the door and into the house.  He followed Lord Itsen into a side chamber where he was offered a seat. He noticed that the stool top was covered and was stuffed to make it soft. “Do get the man some refreshment,” Lord Itsen said. He then took a seat himself.

Hosko began, “My lord, I am Hosko Nethem, a blacksmith…”

“You are not a citizen, are you? Aren’t you a Ba Rini’em?”

“Yes, my lord.”

Azoren brought in a tray of tiny sweet rolls and wine. Another, older man came in also, but remained standing inside the doorway. He did not look like a guard, but rather like one of the learned Scholars.

“Terrible thing that, what happened at Rini’em,” Lord Itsen said as the plates and cups were handed out. “I wasn’t the lord then, but my father told me at the time.”

“My lord, that is why I come to you now. The same raiders that destroyed Rini’em could be on the way here as we speak.” Hosko opened the message from Spaski and handed it over. Lord Itsen stared at the parchment a moment, his lips moving as he read the few words. His eyes flicked to the man by the door. Then he sipped his wine and looked up.

“If they are out near Fosifen then there is no danger. Fosifen is very west of us.  And if they are headed south, what of it?”

“My lord,” said Hosko, with a note of urgency, “The crops in the north have failed. South of Fosifen there is nothing but the river Isiva which flows easterly on our north flank. If they follow the river…”

“But the Isiva flows through a steep gorge, with a cataract just before our town. No one can get here via the river.” Lord Itsen plopped one of the sweet rolls into his mouth.

“My lord, if they cross the river at the Ford of Renmel they could come through the forest across the valley…”

“Nothing to worry about. No one could do that.” Lord Itsen stood up then and said, “Well, I have affairs to take care of.” It was clearly a dismissal.

Hosko stood up and gently took the paper from the hand of his lord. In silence he was led out to the gate by Azoren. He stood on the road, looking out over the town of Itsen.

The outer holdings and farms spread out to the east and south on a gentle slope. To the west the old overflow basin of the river Isiva ran in a wide valley. Generations ago a stone dike was built along the river on the north end. A weir kept an irrigation stream running through the valley now.  This also supplied power to the mill which abutted the dike. Crops of rice and wheat grew in the basin and sheep grazed on the slopes bordering the forestlands to the west. The question in Hosko’s mind was, is this town defendable?

He walked back down to town and located another messenger. Hosko wrote out instructions to Spaski, gave the messenger enough silver to assure its prompt delivery and sent him on his way. Then he returned to the blacksmith shop, barred the door and shut the window.

Hosko went to the back room of the shop, and pulled a cloth bundle down from the exposed rafters. Removing the cloth revealed the short sword he had worn when he was in the king’s Guard in the north. The steel was of a high quality, having been expertly forged in Elsolei. Both edges were still sharp. Hosko whispered to himself, “May Kichkel forgive me if I must use this again.”

In a Name-1

August 16, 2020

A new story! This one takes place during the iron age of Planet Norem.  As before, I’ll post another segment about every day until the end.  Coments always welcome. Enjoy.

In a Name

by

D.Eliot Rutan

The events of this story take place fully twelve thousand years ago in the history of a human people who are not from Earth, but originated in a far away star system on a planet they called Norem. In the pre-industrial era of that planet, in the age of city-states (and kings,) roving bands would sometimes raid surrounding towns and villages, demanding tribute or taking the lives of the inhabitants. One such band attacked the home of a family whose name would be one of the most honored on any world.

 

Hosko Nethem heard the tinkle of the bell on the door. He stopped working the piece  he held in his pliers and shoved it into the glowing coals.  He turned to see his friend smiling at him in the doorway to the blacksmith shop. It was late afternoon and the sun was streaming in, lighting up his face.

“Well Spaski,  I see you made it back.”

“And I brought the iron you wanted.”

The two men clasped hands in greeting, Spaski examined his palm, jokingly looking for smudges, despite the road grime on it.  He smiled and casually wiped it on his tunic. “I also need a favor from you.” He presented a dog harness with a missing joining ring.

Hosko took the harness from him. “You know this is something the tanner could do.  He’s right down the way.”

“I know, but he doesn’t care much for me,” said Spaski.

“So, he doesn’t want your silver either?” asked Hosko.

Spaski scratched his chin and spoke softly. “You know how it is.  We’re not from Itsen.” He spread his arms to indicate the town around them. “You are from Rini’em and I’m from Laftin.  We’re outsiders.  The tanner makes it a point to call me Ba Laftin and…”

“Yes.  He speaks rightly to me, but he does make a point to call my sister Ba Rini’em. And we’ve lived here for several years.”  Hosko sighed.  “I’ll fix your harness, but let’s get the iron unloaded.” Together the men removed the heavy bars from Spaski’s dog-pulled cart.  The pair of waist-high animals stood panting while this was done.

“Go water your team,” Hosko said. “I’ll have this repaired in little time. He watched his friend guide the dogs toward the fountain in the center of town.  Then he took the harness and replaced the missing linking ring. It was not really his strong craft, but Hosko had done many things in his life. He inspected the harness, making sure it was sound, and handed it back when Spaski returned.

“Come to supper tonight.  Gwomira and Nadessa would be glad to see you.”

Spaski scratched his beard and nodded, smiling. This was a game the two played each time he returned to town. “Well, cooked food and company will be welcome.  I’ve had nothing but jerky for days.”

Hosko regarded his friend the trader for a moment, then asked quietly, “What word from the road?”

The other frowned. “They’re on the move again. The crops in the north have failed, so there is nothing for them to take, aside from…” he lowered his gaze. “His raiders are burning any town or village that can’t give tribute. It’s just like at Rini’em.”

Hosko shook his head slowly. Six years ago, he and his wife and his sister had barely escaped their home village when the Raiders swept through. His parents, Nethem and Kenthere had not escaped and he prayed that they had been killed. Rumors of what Zeblen’s raiders did to captives were unthinkable.

“Which way are they going?” he said.

Spaski made a sound of exasperation. “Last word said they were going west towards Fosifen.”

“Hopefully they will continue west.  If they turn south they’ll hit the river. That might…”

“Lead them here to Itsen,” Spaski finished.

Hosko nodded slowly. A thoughtful look on his face. Then he smiled slightly and said, “Let me close up the shop and we’ll go see what’s for supper.”

 

As they approached Hosko’s small holding on the edge of town, the windowed door of the A-fame house opened. His sister, Nadessa jogged over to greet them, scattering the small flock of poultry hens.  She kissed her brother on the cheek and gave Spaski a warm hug. “I hoped you would return today!” she announced, smiling. “I caught a fine, large, hare while hunting this morning.”

Gwomira, Hosko’s wife and their young son, Emor came out next.  Gwomira was holding the hands of the toddler in the air, helping him to walk. The process slowed their progress considerably.  Hosko left his sister and Spaski and strode to his spouse.  He scooped up Emor into one arm and hugged Gwomira with the other.

“Supper will be ready by the time you have cleaned up,” she said with a smile.

“Good,” he said. “I’m hungry and Spaski says he has been living on jerky for days. We’ll have to hold him back to get our portions.”

Gwomira was looking at the other couple. They were talking, but still in an embrace. “Maybe not just from the food,” she said quietly.

Hosko followed her gaze. “My sister is her own woman, Mira.  She has four and twenty years, not fourteen. And you and I know that my friend is honorable, despite his appearance.”

“Very well,” she said, her eyes returning to her husband’s. “You wash up.” She took Emor from him and started for the house.

Hosko called out behind him, “Spaski, come and wash off the road dust before we eat.” At that, Nadessa let go, but walked along with him until they reached the house. The dog team followed them obediently. Spaski led the team into the outbuilding where he tied them up and gave them water from a rain barrel.

He came out in time to see Nadessa enter the house to help Gwomira. Wistfully, he thought that when he could secure a holding he would ask Nadessa to be with him forever. Wandering the roads was no life for a family. Spaski sighed quietly, then joined Hosko to wash before the meal.

 

The interior of the dwelling was divided into three main sections. The part nearest the door was the smallest and served to hold such things as muddy boots and coats as well as other odd items.  In the rear area were two sleeping rooms, each with its own door. The center part was a large combined kitchen and eating area. Aside from the benches on either side of the table, there were several ‘camp chairs.’ Despite their name, these were actually comfortable, allowing the user to sit in a reclined position. Spaski had brought them to Hosko on a return trip from the northern province. They were also easy to transport, being made of just two broad boards that locked together into an X shape.

The large hare mentioned by Nadessa was the main course. Gwomira had roasted it with sweet finger-roots, tubers, and local herbs. There was a fresh loaf of bread which each of them used to soak up any remaining juices on their wooden plates.

Little Emor started to fuss, so Gwomira allowed him to suckle while Nadessa took care of the empty plates. She returned soon after carrying cups of hot tea. “I hope you will like this,” she said. “I traded the horn of a niren that I felled for a bag of tea from the south. Luberd at the trading post said it was rare and that he just received it.”

“Really?” said Spaski. “If that’s true, maybe I should change my route and go further south.”

“This is good,” said Hosko. “It tastes slightly sweet.”

“Leave it to Luberd to offer something rare.”

Emor, evidently sated, released his mother, but remained by her side, rubbing his eyes. Gwomira righted her top and tasted her tea. She nodded her agreement, but looked down at her son. “I think he’s had enough today.”

Gwomira led Emor to the sleeping room he shared with his parents. Spaski took out a small clay ocarina and played a few soft experimental notes. “I’d best wait a bit,” he said.

A few minutes later they heard Gwomira begin singing a familiar lullaby to Emor. When she began a repetition, Spaski started to quietly play along with her song. Then Nadessa joined him, using her voice to gently add a descant. They listened carefully until the lullaby stopped. During the final instrumental repetition Gwomira came out and joined them.

“Finally asleep. It didn’t take much convincing this time,” she said.

“He’s getting big,” said Spaski. “Soon he’ll be holding Hosko’s hammer.”

“May Kichkel have mercy on us all!” said Hosko, smiling. “I want him to learn his letters too. The earlier the better.”

“Speaking of which…” Spaski brought out a leather-bound journal that he used to record his travels.  He read from it,  recounting stories of interest that were told to him by other traders or innkeepers where he stayed. Thankfully, thought Hosko, Spaski omitted any mention of the raiders to the north and west.

At full dark Spaski said good night to Gwomira and Nadessa. Hosko followed him outside to accompany him to the barn where he usually slept while in Itsen.

The larger moon, Thegith was just clearing the treeline. The dark patch on the upper right quadrant of its face was very distinct. “The sky is very clear tonight,” said Hosko.

“Yes. Strange for late summer.”

Hosko noticed a bright falling star, streaking across overhead. “Look! A spark from Kichkel’s anvil! Is it a sign of good or ill?”

“No one can know, say the Scholars,” said Spaski, “but the Scholars also say that Kichkel is no god.”

“That is nonsense!” said Hosko.  “Who could create our world aside from a god?”

“No one,” agreed Spaski, but his voice was soft.

A Planet to Call Home-Final

August 2, 2020

It took several weeks to build a two-room cabin on the peninsula. With Hanerra’s help, Engrem felled straight trees and formed them into an A-frame structure as he had read about in story books about the ancient days.  During this time, a few wild metahs and several of the josis wandered into their meadow.  The two humans managed to capture them and put the animals in hurriedly constructed pens. The metahs would theoretically produce wool, meat and milk. About a third of them were females. In the end they released all but one of the male metahs.

Engrem found that in practice, slaughtering an animal was too unpleasant a task and Hanerra wanted nothing to do with it. The josis were big enough for the occasional meal and gave them eggs regularly. The only food they lacked was grain for bread.  The edible roots that grew wild could be mashed and baked into patties, but it was a poor substitute for real bread.

One day while Engrem was chopping wood, He heard Hanerra calling to him from the cabin. He looked up to see a pair of breehahs approaching him from the road. They stopped when he straightened up and said, “Sah’he.”

Engrem slowly let the axe drop and took a few steps toward the Folk.”

Metoosahs,” he said, raising his open hand.

Metoosahpe!” said one of the breehahs, “We are Scribes from Lokahku urbai.  Are you a kahpoo?”

Engrem smiled and said, “Yes. Come and eat with us.” He gestured to the cabin. Hanerra was watching from the door. The breehahs followed Engrem, but kept a space between them as if making room for hindquarters which the human did not have. As they neared the cabin, Hanerra went inside.  She came out again carrying a tray with a few of the root-mash patties and a small bowl of fresh cheese.

Engrem took one of the rounds, tore it in two, dipped each half in the cheese and handed a piece to each of the Scribes saying, “You are our guests.”

They took the offering and ate it. Then the one who had previously spoken said, “I am Gromaa. My companion is Neefaa. We noticed the smoke from your fire.” He indicated the chimney of the cabin. White smoke was still rising from it. “We only need to know if you live here.  We keep records of such things.”

Engrem led them inside the cabin. The humans seated themselves on a wooden bench.  At his gesture, the breehahs sat on their hind quarters.

He said, “We live here,” and anticipating the next question,”I am Engrem and this is Hanerra.”

Gromaa opened a pouch slung over his neck and produced a rectangular slate held in a wooden frame with a cover.  The other breehah handed him a stylus. He made the notes with a scratching sound. “Hen’urem and Ha’ne’ura,” he spoke as he wrote.

“Do you come from the Place of the Kahpoohah at Hisoigo?”

Engrem decided that he didn’t want to explain how he got on the planet. He simply said, “Yes.”

“Are other kahpoohah coming?

He shrugged and glanced at Hanerra. “Not that I know of. The others are at Hisoigo.”

Gromaa asked, “Are you working the mine?”

“What mine?” said Engrem.

Gromaa’s antennas crossed momentarily. “We are in Hilonepo,” he said matter of factly. “There is a mine here, across the lake. Would you mind if others came to work it again?”

Engrem, glanced at Hanerra and shrugged. She responded likewise and addressed Gromaa. “I’m sure that you need the ore…”

Engrem broke in politely, “Is there another mine nearby that could be worked?”

Gromaa put his slate away and said, “The other mines in Hilonepo are not as accessible.”

Engrem frowned momentarily and shrugged. “I guess it would be all right.” Then he glanced at Hanerra again.

“It will take time to find available miners and send them here. Many of the Folk have died of the sickness.”

“Are the Folk coming back to this area?” said Hanerra.

Gromaa’s antennaes sagged briefly. “Slowly. The Folk are spreading out from less affected areas.”

“That is good to hear,” said Engrem.

The breehahs stood then. Gromaa said, “Is there anything you need?”

The humans looked at each other.  Hanerra said, “We could use a source of flour.  All we have are field-roots.”

“And,” added Engrem, “Do you have any paper?”

Gromaa bowed slightly and said, “A nearby mill should be operating soon.”

The other breehah, Neefaa said, “We have paper at the House of Scribes.  Some will be brought to you.”

Engrem offered the Scribes a few silver pieces that he had which they accepted. “You are very kind, Engrem of the kapoohah.”  With that the Scribes left.

Over the next few weeks, the weather remained fairly moderate. Except for some periods of rain and occasional frost it was rather pleasant. Hanerra remarked that in the human outpost she had heard one of the scientists say that the planet should have rather minimal seasonal differences, something to do with axial tilt..

A few more weeks passed. The pair made improvements on their dwelling and even found some of the tasty durni nut trees. With the flour that a traveling trader had sold them Hanerra figured out how to make the cookies that Engrem enjoyed.

One day after the afternoon meal, Engrem brought out something he made in the carpenter’s shop. He had managed to cobble together a nivi, a two-stringed instrument consisting of a stick attached to a small, open-ended drum.

Hanerra looked at him circumspectly. “You can’t play that, can you?”

But Engrem just smiled, sat down with the nivi on his knee and began plucking out a melody.

After a few repetitions, Hanerra said, “Now I recognize the tune, but I can’t name it.  It’s very old isn’t it?”

After another repetition , he stopped and placed the instrument on the dirt floor. “It’s old, yes. I don’t know what it’s called nor the words to it, but it has something to do with the joy of being home.”

A human voice outside their door announced, “The song is called ‘My home is Paradise’, or so I was told.”

Engrem jumped to his feet. “Who is it?” he called.

“Hanerra said, “It sounds like Doctor Bahefin!”

Engrem opened the door.  It was indeed Bahefin, and behind him were two guards from the camp. Engrem stood in the doorway in shock, not knowing what to do.

“May I come in?” said Bahefin affably.

Engrem slowly moved aside, realizing the inevitability of the situation. Bahefin waved the guards away and stepped in. He looked up and around with interest. “Very good. This is a fair replica of a pre-industrial Mornerthian dwelling.”

“Thank you,” said Engrem. Hanerra moved to his side and held his hand.

“I think you know why I am here,” said Bahefin without preface. “The Protected status of Silonar is being enacted and unauthorized personnel are being evacuated.”

Silonar? What is that?”

Another voice spoke from outside. “Silonar is what we have asked the kahpoohah to name our world in their records.” A breehah appeared in the doorway. It was their friend.

“Nimar! Did you help them find us?” said Engrem in a loud voice. “We asked you to keep it secret!”

Bahefin interposed himself between Engrem and Nimar, who remained outside. “He didn’t betray you. He didn’t have to.”

“The local Scribes spread the news of two kahpoohah living here,” said Nimar. “I tried to suppress it, but I was too late.”

Bahefin said in halting breehah, “I too know a Scribe.”

“I think it would be impossible to stop information from spreading on this world once it has left the source,” said Engrem. Then he sighed. “Well, If I must leave, I am glad I was able to see you again, Nimar. Metoosahs?”

Metoosahpe,” said Nimar. “I have something for you.” He opened his satchel and handed Engrem a folded sheet of paper. The sheet was sealed with a glued strip of paper and bore only the approximation of his name in the breehah letters, En’urem. He opened the page and scanned the words.

Smiling, he said, “It’s from Baisah!”

“Little Baisah?” Asked Hanerra.

“Yes!” He began reading aloud for the benefit of Hanerra and Bahefin.

 

The Scribes say that you will leave our world. Much I want to say to you but mostly that I am happy with Nunah. 

 

A tear fell from his eye and he put his finger to his nose to cover a sniffle.

 

We have a farm together near Lokahku Misopuror. We are all well. I hope you have happiness on your world. 

Thank you for caring for me. I will always remember. 

 

Baisah

 

Engrem continued looking at the letter, reading it again silently. Then he folded it and looked to discover his tunic had no pocket.

“Wonderful news,” said Hanerra. She held up a hand to accept the letter. “I can hold that for you.”

Engrem handed it to her. “The best news ever,” he said, wiping his nose again.

Bahefin cleared his throat. “I have some news that you may like. The Koplushian Council has decided to start an experimental community on a habitable world that was recently discovered. They need people capable of living without modern conveniences, at least to start. It has something to do with the health of the species I suppose…”

“Engrem, that sounds ideal for what we want to do!” said Hanerra. “Doctor, would there be running water?”

Doctor Bahefin chuckled. “Yes. The plan is to make the community pre-electronic, not pre-industrial.  Running water, even heated running water fits into that parameter.”

Engrem was smiling. “I’m attracted to the idea, but Hanerra, It would be a lot of work.”

“As long as we’re together,” she said.

“Good,” said Bahefin. “I’ll recommend you as part of the leadership team then.”

It was then that they heard a dull roaring sound above them. The group went outside and looked up to see a lander coming down vertically. It gently landed in the meadow.

“When I first came to this world, Broskot didn’t use the gravitics.  He just glided in like an ancient airplane.”

“He always was one to make a show,” said Hanerra.

Nimar came to Engrem’s side. “Is that your sky-ship that sails in the black ocean?”

“No,” he said. “That one only flies through the blue sky to the black. It will take us to a bigger ship which crosses the black ocean.”

“Amazing.  It is like a giant jibai.”

The two guards appeared from within the cabin. They were each carrying a large box. “One of them said, “We gathered your things from inside. Apologies for any intrusion.”

“Did you at least put out the fire in the stove?” said Hanerra, slightly annoyed.

“Yes Ma’am,” said the other guard.

Engrem moved past  them and went inside. Hanerra joined him, putting her arm on his shoulder. The two guards had indeed packed anything they deemed of value. They left only the wooden table, benches and the cooking pots.

“We didn’t have that much,” she said softly.

“But we had enough,” he answered. “And in the end, Hanerra, as long as I am with you, I am home.”

She kissed him and bowed her head. A tear ran down her nose.

When they came back out. Engrem slowly closed the door, then looked over the two guards, Doctor Bahefin, and then at Nimar. “I guess this is it, my friend.  I think I’ve done enough on your world. I am sorry.”

The breehah’s antennas drooped a bit. “Do not regret anything that has happened here, En’urem. I am sure there is a reason the gods brought you to us.  You have done much good among the Folk.”

Hanerra put her hand on Nimar’s shoulder. “Thank you for guiding us through your world.”

The guards began walking towards the lander carrying the boxes. Doctor Bahefin started off and Engrem and Hanerra followed him together.

Nimar stood by the cabin and watched as the two-legged kahpoohah got into their flying thing and left. He knew that though the gods brought the kahpoohah to Silonar, the gods also gave the breehah the strength to keep their own ways.

 

From the Journal of Engrem Barinium:

 

The lander delivered Doctor Bahefin and the guards back to the island outpost on Silonar before taking us up to the K.S. Enidaras. Hanerra and I had to endure two years on Koplushia heading up the Experimental Community Project before the Council finally let us go to the planet and settle there. I am proud to say that on Anthtl Zetek we created a safe and sane community and raised two fine sons which we named Greefrem and Nimarem in honor of two breehah that I remember fondly.

-The End-

 

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A Planet to Call Home-11

August 1, 2020

Their journey took them through several small villages and past many isolated inns where they either stayed the night or purchased food. Engrem had a supply of the local currency that he had earned during his time among the Folk. As he explained it, the currency consisted of valuable metals, copper, tin, silver, etc.  formed into small square coins of equal weight. The value varied depending on the scarcity of the metals in any given area.

Occasionally they encountered a Scribe or one of the Folk on the road.  Engrem always asked them what was in the area ahead. The dialect spoken was slowly changing as they traveled among the Folk. Hanerra wondered if there was a point where it would become an entirely different language.  Luckily this was not the case.

On day eleven of their journey, they entered a village where the mill was not running, nor were there the sounds of the blacksmith working. Only the inn on the other side of the fountain had smoke rising from the chimney. Engrem parked the cart and they went inside.

There was no one inside except for the innkeeper and her young son. She looked them over carefully. Then she said slowly, “Can I help you?” Her dialect was understandable, more of an unusual rhythm to her words than anything else.

Engrem said, “We’d like something to eat.” He held up a few coins to assure her. “I can pay.”

The breehah’s antennas crossed momentarily. “What have the gods brought?  What are you?” Then she started to walk around them examining Engrem and Hanerra from all sides. They were stooped a bit due to the low ceiling.

“We are of the Kahpoohah,” he said.

The breehah gently poked Engrem’s rear, as if wondering where his hind legs were. Then she poked one of Hanerra’s breasts. “Huh. We don’t get many travelers here aside from them Scribes and I ain’t never seen a kahpoohah, but you’re welcome to eat what I can offer. Take a table and I’ll bring something out.” She ducked through a door.

Engrem and Hanerra kneeled at one of the tables.  It was the only way using breehah-height furnishings. Sounds of activity were evident in the kitchen.

“Maybe this isn’t the right place. Maybe we should go on,” he said.

“Well, “said Hanerra, “It certainly is isolated. If you want to hide, it may be ideal. I’m not so sure our host would want us under foot everyday.”

“I’m looking for a place where we can live on our own anyway, not like on the Boseras. I want us to grow our own food.”

Hanerra frowned. “Didn’t you say that you left being an agronomist on the space settlement Vafotin to get on the mining ship?  And now you want to be a farmer?”

Engrem smiled briefly.  “It’s all part of the same thing, isn’t it?  We’ll need to eat. Why not grow it?

The innkeeper entered then carrying two plates filled with an egg dish.  As if to accentuate the fact, an egg-laying josi cried outside, “urEEki!” The innkeeper served the plates and brought two cups of water. “That will be half of a tin piece,” she said.

Engrem fished out a tin coin and broke it in half along the groove which was struck in it for just that purpose. “Uronar,” he said, handing it over. Then he asked, “Can you tell me where everyone is? The village seems empty.”

Her antennas straightened briefly and they briefly leaned inward, nearly touching. “Most left when the crops failed. The sickness took most of what stayed.” Without another word the innkeeper went back into the kitchen.

Engrem touched Hanerra’s arm. “Is there a chance that we could get this sickness? Or did we bring it to the planet with us?”

“I think there is very little chance of either,” she said. “Our  anti-contagion innoculation prevents that sort of danger between our space settlements. It should likewise protect us and the breehah here.”

“Ah, thank you, medical science!”

“Only after the death of thousands on the space settlements,” Hanerra said quietly.

The only think Engrem thought to say was, “All in the past.” She nodded and said no more about it.

They ate their food and then stood up to leave.  The innkeeper reappeared at the door to the kitchen.

Engrem asked, “Are there any empty farms around here?”

“They’re all empty,” she said, “Except for the one my family works.”

“Can you tell me where the nearest House of Scribes is?”

“‘Bout a day’s journey down the South road. You may meet one of ‘em coming north.”

Uronar, um which is the South road?”

“It runs along the lake. You won’t miss it.”

Engrem looked at Hanerra, shrugged slightly and they left.

 

They filled their canteens at the village fountain.  It at least was still functioning here. As they started down what they hoped was the South road, Engrem said, “I think we’ll be sleeping under the stars again tonight.”

“Well,” said Hanerra, “I don’t blame you for not stretching her hospitality. Our host didn’t seem very amenable.  ”

“I was happy enough to get the food to eat. Now I’m hoping we’re on the right road.”

Hanerra looked up, glancing at the sun. It was getting low in the sky, but was definitely to their right. “It seems to me that we’re traveling south, if that means anything.”

But Engrem just smiled at her and said, “It’s enough to me that we’re together.”

Hanerra shifted her backpack and smiled, brushing her hair from her eyes. “Me too.  I think this adventure has grown on me.”

They walked for several hours. As the twilight approached, Engrem stopped and stood for a moment in silence.

“What’s wrong?  Are we stopping here?” said Hanerra. She had been taking a turn pushing the cart.

“Actually I think something may be right.” Engrem was speaking softly, almost to himself in a whisper. “Look over there,” he spoke louder as he pointed.

To their left, just through the trees they could see a wide lake. In the dimming light it looked like a broad, flat, area of blackness.

“Is that the lake the innkeeper mentioned?”

“I suppose so,” said Engrem as he started slowly walking down an incline towards it.

“Be careful! you’ll fall!” said Hanerra.

“”I am!  Leave the cart and come.  I see something.”

She followed Engrem as he continued down a gentle incline that was nearly hidden by the dim light.  The incline ran parallel to the lake’s edge and there was something off to the side.

Engrem halted, fiddled with something from his pocket.  Suddenly there was a small flame in his hand.  It was one of the small oil lamps the breehah used, but this one was fashioned more like a candle than a torch.

“Did you make that?”

“Yes, follow me.”

They entered what was once a small stone building. The floor was littered with leaves and dry twigs. Engrem said in an awed whisper, “This looks like a blacksmith shop!”

“So?  It’s abandoned.”

“Hanerra, we should spend the night here and investigate in the morning.”

“Not in here! Who knows what’s in here.”

“Agreed.  We’ll sleep up by the cart.”

 

At first light, Engrem woke and made his way back down to the lake shore. The building was indeed an old Blacksmithy. An even better discovery was a larger building located nearby which was obviously a carpenter’s shop.  Both buildings were in good shape, as if they had been idle only a few months.

Hanerra appeared in the doorway “Would you like something to eat?”she said.  Then,  “What have you found?”

“Tools!” was Engrem’s immediate answer. Then he took the offered pieces of jerky that she had brought from the cart.

 

The couple brought the cart containing their belongings down the incline and parked it next to the carpentry building. Then they started converting one end to living quarters.

During a breather, Hanerra said, “Can we be sure that someone isn’t coming back here?”

“If they were, they wouldn’t have left.  No, I think this area was abandoned during the sickness that the innkeeper mentioned. Probably they got ill and were taken away.  Otherwise the tools would have been taken when they left.”

“What will we live on? We’re running out of what we brought.”

“The lake likely has fish in it.  I know Broskot and Kethrem were fishing when we first came down. We’ve seen a few metahs roaming free.  Maybe I can catch a few…”

“So this is the place you were looking for?”
Engrem smiled. “Yes. This will do nicely,” he said rubbing his hands together.

As they explored along the lake, going farther from the road, they found a secluded spring-fed cascade suitable for washing and even bathing. A stream led away from it to the lake. There was also a meadow big enough to grow grain. A brief exploration in the soil yielded edible roots large enough to harvest.

The best part however, was the lightly wooded penninsula that jutted into the lake. There was a hilly area on it large enough for a modest dwelling.

“It’s as if it was made to order,” said Engrem. “We can build a small house here and make a little world of our own!”

Hanerra momentarily frowned. “It’s going to be a lot of work.”

“The breehah say that there is nothing better than to eat and drink and take pleasure in one’s work.”

She sighed and smiled. “They must certainly be a happy people then.  Where shall we start?”

A Planet to Call Home-10

July 31, 2020

It took several days for Hanerra to convince Doctor Bahefin to let her go off again among the natives. Then she had to locate Nimar and ask him to help find Engrem.  Nimar, seeing how anxious Hanerra had become, suggested that they should go towards his last known location.  He would get updates on Engrem’s whereabouts from the Scribes as they travelled.

The journey from Hisoigo up to Jure’lur took longer than the one coming down because Nimar inquired at every inn and House of Scribes along the way for any news. Updates were few, but sufficient to guide them. From the information given, Engrem had settled in another village to the west.

After another two week’s journey, Hanerra and Nimar entered the village where Engrem was now living.  “The shop is over there,” he stated. “I’ll be in the House of Scribes if you need me.”  Nimar padded off and Hanerra followed the ringing sounds of hammer on anvil.

As she approached the stone-walled blacksmith shop a breehah wearing a dirt-smudged apron came around a corner. His antennas straightened in surprise and he quickly spun around on his hind feet and went into the shop.  The hammering stopped just as Hanerra entered through the side door.

She found Engrem standing behind an anvil near the forge. He looked tall and thin, maybe a bit too thin. His dark hair stood out from his head and an untrimmed beard covered his face. His bare arms and chest were well muscled and sweaty.  He wore a knee length leather apron, a loin cloth, and sandals.  Nothing more.  Not sure what to say, Hanerra stood looking at him until Engrem put the iron he had been working back into the coals of the forge and placed the hammer on the nearby bench.

He looked up at her and stepped back in embarassment. “It’s good to see you,” he said. Then he briefly smiled, looking down at himself. “I’m sort of a mess.”

Hanerra, still recovering from the shock of seeing her once clean-cut lover, stepped around the anvil slowly. She looked him up and down, not believing how a few weeks had changed him.

“There are family stories,” he continued, “that say one of my ancestors was a blacksmith in old Mornerth from the town of Rini’em.  They say that’s the origin of our name. ‘Barinium’ is derived from ‘Ba Rini’em’. I figured I could learn the same trade.”

“Engrem…” she began.

But he held up a finger to her and spoke to the breehah stoking the fire. It sounded like instructions to her limited knowledge of the local dialect. Then he walked outside.  She followed.  Engrem washed his arms and chest with water from a large tub on the side of the building, dried himself off with a towel and put on a long, woven,  gray, tunic. “I hope I know what you want to say, Hanerra.” He began walking towards the public fountain.

“I’m sorry,” she said simply. “I shouldn’t have lied to you, Engrem.”

“I know that you did it with good intentions.”

Reaching the fountain he took the cup, filled it and offered it to her.  She declined.  Engrem drank deliberately. “I’m glad that you came looking for me, Hanerra. I was afraid I had lost you.”

Then a small breehah ran up to him carrying a wooden object.  “Nuree En’urem,” it said. “Can you fix this? It broke.” The child handed Engrem a sort of toy.  It was a wooden replica of a breehah and a small two-wheeled cart.  One of the wheels had come off the axle.

Engrem smiled and knelt down to the breehah. “Yes I can, Furisah.  Take this to the shop and tell Daafi I’ll repair it after I eat.”

Uronar, Nuree En’urem,” she said and padded off towards the blacksmith shop.  Hanerra was happy she understood the exchange.

“They accept you as one of their own,” she said.

“I’ve found the Folk to be surprisingly sophisticated, more than we might expect.”

Engrem led Hanerra into the inn.  After a short exchange he was given two  packages, each wrapped in a cloth napkin. Hanerra touched his arm as they stepped into the sunlight, “The Council is enacting the Protected status. That means no humans are allowed on the planet.”

“No one?” Engrem handed Hanerra one of the packages and opened his. Inside were four nut cookies.

She made an odd expression, wrinkling up one side of her face. “Well, there won’t be any outside interference allowed, but the Council is establishing an outpost on an island.”

He nearly choked on his cookie and had to spit it out. “For what!?”

Hanerra waited for him to calm down before continuing. “A small team of anthropologists to study the culture.  This is, after all, our first true alien contact.”

Engrem returned to the fountain to get some water. He was silent as he hung the cup on its hook.  Then he turned around with a smile on his face. “Then there should be no problem then if I stay here.”

“I don’t think you should try,” Hanerra said. “It took some convincing for them to allow me to come find you.  They were going to send the military.”

“It would have taken them longer.”

“That’s what I told them.  You and I are the most familiar with the Folk. And it was Nimar who actually found you.”

“You could say you didn’t find me.  I’m just one human on the entire planet.”

“If I go back to the settlement without you, they won’t let me come back and someone less friendly will show up.”

“You’d tell them where I am?” Engrem smiled the accusation.

“No, but I won’t have to.  They already know generally where you are.  The Scribes know.”

“I can convince the Scribes to keep secret where I go from now on.”

Hanerra finished her last cookie. “I have some other good news too,” she said.  “The breehah don’t have to worry about anyone coming down to mine anymore.”

“Why not?” Engrem began smiling.

“A few days before I left to find you we got news that a mineral rich asteroid field was found in an uninhabited star system nearby.  The breehah are safe from miners.”

“Good news indeed!” he said.  But then Engrem stopped smiling. He turned to her and took her hand in his. “I’m still not ready to go back home,” he said softly.

“I know that,” she said.  Then she leaned towards him conspiratorially and whispered, “Are you sure that you can hide somewhere and not be found?”

“Yes, “he whispered back. “There’s enough empty places around.  I could hide here for years.”  Then Engrem straightened up and said, “Why are we whispering?  No one here understands us.”

Hanerra smiled as she looked at him. His hair and beard were shaggy and his hands were calloused and still dirty from holding the smithing tools. But he was still the young man that she had gotten to know on the mining ship and had fallen in love with.  He had gained confidence while living on his own among these gentle creatures.

She turned to face him squarely and took a breath. Taking both of his hands, she looked into his eyes. “Engrem Barinium,” she said, “I want to be with you forever.”

Hearing those words from her surprised him. She gently squeezed his hands momentarily and Engrem realized that she was waiting for his reply.  Hoping she had meant what she had just said, he spoke the words softly, “Hanerra Niwosh, I want to be with you forever.”

She smiled.  They hugged each other tightly and kissed.  After several seconds passed they pulled apart and looked around as if they had done something indecent. Then they both laughed.

“You’ll come with me then?  To live together?” he asked.

“Isn’t that what I just said?”

“Sorry.  Yes, you did. One day we’ll have to do the whole thing–officially.”

“Actually,” she began, “Nimar is here too. Why don’t we have him officiate?”

Engrem’s eyes narrowed, but his smile broadened. “You canniver!”

She put on an expression of innocence. “I didn’t plan it!”

“I know,” said Engrem.  “I have one thing I need to do yet today.  Then I’ll go see Nimar. It’s likely he will want to do that duty in the morning.”

“You’ll get no argument from me.  I’m tired. Where are you sleeping these days?” she asked.

Engrem smiled shyly for a moment. “In the warehouse behind the grist mill. Just tell the miller that you’re my mate and he’ll show you in.”

She laughed.  “Nimar will be happy.  He was always nudging. Something about blessings from the Sky Father,”

“Same here.” And he laughed.

Hanerra smirked at him. “Don’t be too long.” She turned and started walking towards the road leading to the mill.

Engrem watched her leave, then returned to the blacksmith shop.  He informed the apprentices and the master of his intentions and then stepped to the workbench by the window. Engrem picked up the broken toy and reached for the pot of glue he kept on the shelf.

 

The next morning, Engrem was just finishing trimming his beard with the scissors he had kept from the survival pack. They were small, but adequate to the task.  Hanerra came back in through the back door, drying her hair with a cloth.

“Wherever we settle, I hope we can build something suitable for washing.  I’m not so much for standing nude out in the morning air.”

“I’ve got some ideas, in that direction,” he said, “but I usually just bathe in the mill pond.”

“It needn’t be anything fancy either,” she said walking over to him. “ I can even help build it.”

Engrem wiped the loose hairs from the shirt that Hanerra had brought in her things.  Then he turned and casually watched her finish dressing. “I’ll need the help. Trust me.  As they say, we are meant to have a helper in life: ‘Two will halve the work of one. Two can better defend against an attacker and, Two will better keep warm at night.’”

“I’m hungry enough for the two of us.” said Hanerra.

“We’ll eat at the inn,” said Engrem. “And I think we will be on our way by midday.”

 

After breakfast they went over to the House of Scribes together and asked for Nimar.

The Scribe came out and brought two others with him. “It is a good day for a joining,” he said.

“And we thank you for your help,” said Engrem.

Nimar was in the lead, Engrem and Hanerra followed behind, holding hands like youths. In the rear were the other two Scribes.

They gathered near the fountain in the area between the mill and the inn. One of the other Scribes had brought the innkeeper and she had brought her children along as well. Unexpectedly, breehah from all corners of the village began collecting around them.

Nimar said in a loud voice, “These two kapoo wish to announce their betrothal to each other, but they wish the knowledge of this to remain among those in this village.” He turned to the two Scribes. “We are to record this in the local record, but it is not to be sent abroad.”

The two nodded their understanding, and said, “We will keep the knowing of it among us.”

Nimar then turned to the humans. “We are your witnesses. You may begin.”

Engrem and Hanerra faced each other and clasped hands. “Ready?” he whispered. The night before Engrem had translated the traditional Koplushian betrothal vow into the breehah language and they had both rehearsed it.

She nodded, took a breath and smiled.

“Hanerra Niwosh, I want to be with you forever.”

She answered, “Engrem Barinium, I want to be with you forever.”

They continued with him speaking a line and her repeating it.

“Where you go, I will follow.

“Let your way be my way.

“Your family will be my family and our children will be our house.

“Where you live, I will live.

“Let eternal punishment come upon me if anything but death separates us.”

When Hanerra had spoken this last, Engrem alone spoke the final line, “And I will always protect you from harm.”

Hanerra whispered in Koplushian, smiling, “And I will keep you out of trouble.”

The pair embraced and then kissed. Then they were startled to hear Nimar begin chanting a prayer, “Oh, great Sky-Father, maker of all creation, bless these two in their lives together.  Give them health, unity of spirit, and many children.”

Then the whole crowd of breehah repeated in sing-song, “Give them health, unity of spirit, and many children.”

Engrem and Hanerra hugged each other again.  When they parted, both of them had moist cheeks.  In only a few minutes, the crowd had dispersed, everyone going back to their normal activities.  Only Nimar remained.

“May many blessings follow you on your way,” he said.

Engrem bowed slightly and said, “Thank you, Nimar. You have been a good friend.”

The newly-wed pair returned to the storehouse to gather their belongings into a small cart. It was normal size for one of the Folk, but small for Engrem.

As he pushed it forward to start them on their journey, Hanerra asked, “What’s our destination?”

“To the west there is an area that I’m told doesn’t have a lot of Folk.” I figure that’s a good place to try.”

“Oh. How long will that take?”

Engrem shrugged. “I’m not sure. A few days or so.”

Hanerra chuckled. “Suddenly I’m reconsidering my decision.”

“I know where I’m going, or at least I know how to find it. A little trust?”

Hanerra reached over and patted Engrem’s shoulder.  “Where you go, I will follow, remember?”

– : –

A Planet to Call Home-9

July 30, 2020

They left the next morning. It took them eight days to reach the human settlement near the port of Hisoigo. Engrem had insisted on bringing his cart loaded with their travel gear. Hanerra was helping push the cart up a steep hill when Engrem stopped short.  She joined him and Nimar at the crest of the hill.  Below them they could see the human settlement.

“Well,” said Engrem, “I wasn’t expecting that!”

In an area to the side of the breehah village, there were several artificial looking quonset huts set up like a camp.

“I did say it was a settlement,” she said, “We had to sleep somewhere.”

It has the look of a beach-head, thought Engrem grimly.

 

The group descended the hill and entered the breehah village. The human community consisted of a collection of five huts surrounded by a tall, chain-link fence with a gate.

Nimar said, “I’m going to report to the House of Scribes. I can join you later.  Baisah do you want to come with me?”

“No, nuree Nimar,” she said. “I will stay with En’urem.”

“Very well, I will join you later.” And Nimar walked off to a stone building in the village.

As they got closer to the camp, Hanerra took the lead and led them to the lone guard.

“Hanerra Niwosh to see Doctor Bahefin. You can tell him I found Engrem Barinium.”

The guard nodded, took her com-unit and reported the information.  She was military, but looked to be a new recruit.  After a few moments on the com, the guard opened the gate and admitted them.

“Hut number three,” said the guard.

When they were away from the gate, Engrem said quietly in Koplushian, “Why the fence?”

Hanerra answered in the same manner, “It’s only a precaution.  You’ll remember the mining camp was attacked.  There’s only a squad or two of the military here. The rest are Engrethy ministers and/or scientists.” She added with a small laugh, “I think it’s more to keep us in than to keep the breehahs out.”

Engrem parked his cart between two of the huts, ceremonially dusted himself off and joined Hanerra and Baisah at the door. He noted that Hanerra had discreetly put her someley around her neck. The flat ring looked as much like a mechanic’s fastener-washer as anything, but it identified her as an Engrethy minister.

“I see you have your badge of office,” he said.

“Yes,” she agreed, momentarily fingering the silver pendant. “I felt silly wearing it after I left with Nimar.  No need for it out among the natives.” Hanerra paused a moment, bowing her head. Slowly, she started, “Engrem, I need to tell you–”

Just then then the door opened and a man stepped out. He was an older man, clad in a standard ships coverall.  He also wore a vest and a small someley pendant.

Gwith,” he said in Koplushian.  “Come in. I’ve been expecting you.”

Inside the hut, the man, who introduced himself as Doctor Bahefin, offered them seats. They had just finished exchanging pleasantries when a functionary entered from another door carrying a tray of bread and cheese.  Engrem noted that these were not native made. The bread looked too fine and the cheese too light in color. He sampled it, and gave some to Baisah.

“It’s not as sharp as you are used to,” he whispered to her.  She took it and ate slowly.

“You look well,” said Bahefin.

Engrem straightened in his seat and said, “Thank you. The breehah are a gentle and generous people, Doctor.”

“With one exception,” Bahefin said, raising his fore finger.

Engrem glanced innocently at Hanerra, who gave a small shrug. Then he said to Bahefin, “I think they considered the polluting of one of their rivers to be a desecration of their world. As I heard it, the miners threw stones at the breehah who came to object to what they were doing.”

“And that has all been dealt with now,” said Bahefin. He clasped his hands before him on the table. “I guess you’ve had some adventures. I’d like to hear about what you’ve been doing among the natives.”

Engrem frowned briefly. “With just yourself, Doctor?  I have a few statements I wish to make.”

Bahefin straightened in his chair. “I am the head of this community.  As such I am a representative of the Koplushian Council.”

He glanced at Hanerra, Bahefin, Baisah, and the functionary.  He had hoped that Nimar would be there with him as a representative of the Folk. Then he said, “I’d like an Observer to be present.” Then he added, “And also the military commander.”

Bahefin showed mild surprise for a moment before replying. “That can certainly be arranged.” He nodded to the functionary beside him, who turned and left the room. Doctor Bahefin then brought over a pitcher of water, cups,  and a package of the protein wafers that were standard fare on spaceships. Engrem ignored the wafers, but poured water in the cups for Baisah, Hanerra and himself.

He had just taken a sip when the door behind him opened. He and Hanerra turned and watched as the official Witness to the Koplushian Council came in and stood near the rear door of the room. She was tall and young, but her face had lines of determination.

“I am Observer Asorth, “ she said. Please identify yourselves.  Before anyone could answer, the door next to the Observer opened and the military commander stepped in.  He was a short, unassuming man whose eyes darted about. Seeing what he sought, he grabbed a folding chair and took a seat next to Doctor Bahefin. At Asorth’s repeated request those in the room introduced themselves.

Then Doctor Bahefin said, “Mister Barinium has a few things he wants to say. Please proceed.” The Doctor gestured an open hand to Engrem.

Engrem began at his meeting with Greefur and detailed his time among the breehah, his leaving for the ship, and his return. He accentuated the gentleness and self reliance of the Folk. All listened with attention, particularly the Observer.

When he had finished the narrative, he stood up and said, “It would be wrong for us to exploit this people. They live in peace with their world and each other. I recommend we let them be and leave.” Then he sat down.

“Thank you, Engrem,” said Bahefin.

Then the commander spoke, leaning towards him on the table. ”Young man, what you’d prefer is all well and good, but are you aware of the full effect that mountain of dust had here?  Many of the crops failed due to rain or the out of season cold weather. Many of the natives perished–are still dying of hunger. Don’t you think we should help them. We could educate–”

“All that they need from us has been done, hasn’t it? “ Engrem interrupted with a raised voice. “If the dust has been removed from the atmosphere as I was told it was,” he glanced at Hanerra, “then the rest is up to the breehah people themselves. We should not interfere further.”

“But the deaths…” said the commander.

Engrem closed his eyes for a moment. He felt Baisah brush up against him.  She had no idea what was going on. Finally, he said, “I have been out among the breehah during all of this. Yes, their way of life has been disrupted, but they will recover.  They are recovering.  The Scribes do very well to keep the Folk in their ways. We should leave them alone.”

Doctor Bahefin looked over at the commander as if to silence him. Then turned and said. “We will certainly take your comments into consideration. Thank you. Quarters have been arranged for you here in the camp.”

With that the interview was ended. Engrem, Hanerra, and Baisah were escorted out by a civilian functionary. They were shown where to bathe and get food. While they were not forbidden from leaving, it was strongly suggested they stay near the camp.

 

The evening of the next day, Engrem, Hanerra, and Baisah were just outside the camp enjoying the light breeze that came off the ocean.  The day had been cloudy, but not rainy for a change.  The horizon cleared up as the sun set.  It was still a very deep red. As dusk approached, Baisah told them the names of a few of the star patterns in the sky that Nimar had taught her.

Suddenly a voice in the distance said, “Baisah?  Is that you?” Engrem looked and saw two adult breehahs walking towards them.

Baisah spun around quickly and yelled “Nunah?  Nunah!” She quickly rose to all fours and trotted off, closing the distance between them.  By the time Engrem and Hanerra reached the pair, Baisah had jumped onto her mother’s back and was hugging her torso from the back, yelling, “Nunah! I missed you!”

The other breehah was a Scribe who had guided Gesah here from a village several days away. “Word finally reached us about Baisah and where she was going to be,” said the Scribe.

“You have quite a communications network on this world,” said Engrem. “Is there any word about, Greefur, her father?”

The Scribe’s antennas touched tips as it said, “Gesah said that Greefur had gone to the mountain to help clean up the river from the trash left by the mimilodi. He was surely there when the mountain turned to dust.”

Engrem hung his head momentarily. “That saddens me, but I am glad to see Gesah again.” Engrem had heard the word ‘mimilodi’ a few times while in the human settlement.  It was a derogatory term for humans.  With understanding, he let it go.

Baisah was still clinging to her mother’s neck, babbling about what she had been doing these months. Gesah managed to walk over to Engrem, Hanerra followed. “Thank you for caring for Baisah!” said Gesah in a whisper.  There was so much confusion after the explosion and the shakings.  Everyone ran and I lost sight of her.  Thank the gods they sent you to find her!”

“But, Gesah, it wasn’t…”  Hanerra, at his side, pressed his arm.  He looked at her and she quietly said, “Let her believe what she wants. It’s not our world.”

“I thank the gods.  I thank the gods,” said Gesah as she turned, Baisah still on her neck and started walking away. Engrem noted that her left antenna was severely bent.  She had been through much.

The Scribe came over. “She will be well now. Gesah is working a farm in Lokahku Misopuror with another widow and an orphan child. They will be well.” That said, the Scribe turned and followed Gesah away.

Engrem watched them walk off into the growing darkness.  Hanerra, at his side voiced his thoughts, “Just thanks, and so long, huh.”

“I think they were closer to the event than the breehah we’ve been dealing with.  I can’t blame them if they are resentful.”

“Well, still, one would think…”

“Their ways are not our ways, Hanerra,” he said. Then, with a sigh, “I’m going to miss little Baisah.”

Hanerra put one arm around his waist, and her hand on his shoulder.

Engrem watched the breehahs disappear into the dark.  No doubt they would sleep in the village over the hill.  He whispered to Hanerra, “Would you go with me?”

“Go where?”

“Back to the village, to Jure’lur.”

She was quiet for a moment, then said, “Why should you go back? Baisah is with her mother and the breehah will be protected from more interference from us.”

Engrem sighed in the dark. “I don’t feel like I belong here.  I don’t feel comfortable in the world as the Council would make it.  I just want to live a simple life, out there. Somewhere.”

“But we’re here now,” said Hanerra. “We can go back home to Koplushia. Maybe we can live in one of the small cities…”

“WE?” he said in a tone of annoyance. “When did you and I become a ‘we’?  When I asked you on the ship–”

“Engrem, don’t you see?  We’re not on the ship anymore.  We’re here with humans and we can go home and build a life together.  That’s why I told you they wanted you back…” her words trailed off and she gasped with regret.

There was a moment of silence. Then Engrem said, “I thought they gave in too easily!  They weren’t waiting for me.  They had already decided on the Protected Planet Status.”

Quietly Hanerra said, “Yes. They didn’t need your statement for their decision.  I brought you back here for your own good.”

“My own good?  Have you ever thought that I know my own good? I’ve been living out there on my own.  I can take care of myself.”

“You can’t do that forever. When the Protected status is enacted they’ll come and find you!”

“I wish them luck.  I’m going back to the Folk.” Engrem pulled her arm from his shoulder and stood up. Hanerra’s hand grasped at him in the dark, but he stood up and took a few steps away. “I still love you. Will you come with me?”

Hanerra sniffled a few times.  Then she said in a whisper, “I can’t.”

Engrem strode off into the dark then. After she had composed herself, Hanerra returned to the camp. Engrem’s cart was still parked between the buildings.  She worried if he would be all right without the provisions and belongings it held.