Tattoo: The Books of Glory

a webserial about people who are not like us

Tattoo Book 6 part 2.27

Posted by harmony0stars on September 8, 2010

The sounds continued apace with their own progress down the mountain. At times, strange shadows and lights careened over the sheer stone of the mountain pass, and the slap of bare feet on stone could no longer be mistaken for anything else. Casting caution to the wind, Glory and Phoenix scrambled over boulders and struggled through the narrow crevices between them as if their lives depended on it. They had no way of knowing how many were following after them, and the lack of any voices or coordinating calls between their pursuers only fed their fear. They stopped focusing on the sounds at all and only worried about getting through the rocky obstacle course as quickly as possible.

By the time the road leveled out into foothills, the sounds of pursuit had died away, but it was a long time before they noticed. They came to a trembling stop like horses run into exhaustion. Long silvery grasses undulated like ocean waves in the predawn light. Both of them fell to the ground within feet of one another, the last of the adrenaline fueling their rush evaporating as the sun rose. Glory recovered first. The muscles in her legs ceased twitching, and she looked back at the mountain they’d vacated. There was no sign of anyone. Had she simply imagined it?

But Phoenix had heard it too.

Shaking her head, she crawled to where Phoenix lay, his coats and arms wrapped around himself in his sleep. His expression was troubled, and he was filthy. For all that however, he seemed none the worse for wear. Glory looked around them, but as far as the eye could see was waving grasses and a few stunted trees. In the distance, not far enough away for her comfort, the mountains they had so recently vacated loomed darkly.

Glory set about collecting fuel for a fire. There was precious little available to burn aside from the grass. Phoenix didn’t stir as she collected small bits of wood and pulled up clumps of dry grass to start a small fire. It would hardly provide enough warmth to make a difference, but at least the smoke would help her find her way back to him in the nearly featureless grasslands. Whoever had chased them from the mountain pass seemed to have given up once they made it to the plains.

She scoured the grassland for anything to eat more for Phoenix‘s sake than her own. Glory found the speed of her recovery from their run disturbing, and despite Phoenix’s claim that he had suppressed her hunger, her lack of appetite seemed to have nothing to do with him. The cuts and bruises she’d accrued from climbing to Kadath had healed without Phoenix‘s assistance, and her exhaustion from escaping Sarnath had only lasted an hour at the most. She didn’t feel like sleeping or eating, and if not for Phoenix, she realized, she could probably start walking without taking any more time to rest than she had. About the only thing that had changed with his removal was the return of her senses. The smell of the grass, the feel of the wind and the rising sun, it gave her a thrill of pleasure. She wasn‘t hungry, but the thought of eating made her salivate with anticipation.

A faint scraping sound made her pause and listen more closely. She glanced behind her and saw the thin ribbon of smoke from their campfire maybe half a mile away. The sound came again, followed by the plaintive baaing of sheep.

A dried creek bed ran through the hills, probably cut by the spring run off from the mountains. Easing down the high embankment, Glory followed the sound, nearly falling over the half grown lamb lying in the shade of a prickly bush. It bleated at her pitifully. Its right front leg was crammed into a small hole and scraped raw from its struggles. As she knelt down to pull it out, she saw its leg was not just bleeding but badly broken. Phoenix needed food, but seeing the poor injured thing made her wonder if she could she heal it. Or, had Phoenix really been responsible for that as he’d claimed?

Before she could decide what to do, the shepherd came jogging round a bend in the creek bed. He was perhaps thirteen with dark unruly hair and a rough jerkin belted with a length of rope. The boy paused but continued to approach after a moment. “Hail, stranger,” he said, looking around at the grassy hills which towered above them as if he thought she might be a bandit. “That’s my father’s lamb there.”

“Its leg is broken,” Glory replied, standing and stepping away from the bleating thing.

The boy frowned and called “Lucka!“ to some unseen companion before approaching. He knelt by the lamb and checked the leg for himself, carefully pulling the broken limb from the hole and lifting the animal in his arms.

Another boy, obviously his older brother, came round the bend. He blew at the wisps of his peach fuzz beard, sparing Glory barely a glance before leaning over the lamb. With a frustrated sigh, he pulled a knife out from his belt. His brother set the lamb on the ground, and Lucka quickly slit its throat.

“Well, at least it wasn’t wolves this time,” he said. “We’ll have some meat with dinner tonight… but we can’t afford to lose any more lambs, Mika. You have to be more watchful.” The younger boy hung his head, but Lucka pressed the knife into his hands. “Skin it. At least we can sell the skin in the market to the vellum makers.”

Lucka turned to Glory and looked her up and down. She supposed compared to their clothes, her own probably looked pretty strange. “Hail stranger,” he said. “We don’t see too many travelers out this way beyond treasure hunters and bandits.”

“Well, I’m neither. We’re actually on our way to Kadatheron…”

“We?” he asked, giving her a sidelong glance.

“My name is Glory. Phoenix, my companion, is resting. We got lost in the mountains around Sarnath last night and were chased onto the plain,” she replied, skewing the truth just a bit. “I was looking for food actually.”

“You were in Sarnath?” Mika blurted, his hands bloody from the lamb and his eyes wide.

Glory shrugged. “There wasn’t much to see, just the lake. We didn’t see who chased us, but at least we heard them before they could catch us.”

Mika shuddered, and Lucka shook his head. “I don’t know where you were coming from, but you’re lucky you didn’t see them. You might have escaped with your life, but the ghosts of Ib would have kept your sanity.”

“Our fathers had a brother who went treasure hunting in Sarnath before we were born. When our grandfather finally found him wandering the plain, he couldn’t do much but drool,” Mika announced, wrapping the gutted lamb in its own skin to carry back to their camp.

“Mercifully he died in his sleep before he became too much of a burden on our family,” Lucka said with another shake of his head. “I am Lucka, and this is my cousin Mika. You and your friend are welcome to our camp for the night. We‘re right around the bend.” He nodded toward the plume of smoke that stained the robin-egg blue sky. “Best make sure you put out your fire completely. Brush fires are a real danger on the plains.”

“Thank you for your hospitality,” Glory said.

“The gods reward hospitality and punish its lack. You honor us by accepting,” Mika said in a perfunctory fashion.

to Book 6, part 2, page 28

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3 Responses to “Tattoo Book 6 part 2.27”

  1. Fiona said

    So Phoenix really has been full of bull – but maybe not. He did keep Aaron alive all those years, so clearly he can do something for his hosts. Also, it’s the Dreamlands, so the same laws may not apply as in our world. Time will tell – maybe!

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