Doctrex begins his journey to the province capital of Kabeez with Klasco and his wagon drawn by two crossans (horse-like animals). As their journey begins, Doctrex begins his explanation, at Klasco’s request, of why he wants to replace Klasco in the Kabeezan army preparing to engage the far-northern province in battle. As he recounts his brief experience with Axtilla, he discovers that some of his newly understood beliefs from Axtilla are taboo subjects to Klasco. At some point, their discussion gets heated.
And, now …
KLASCO DIDN’T LET THE CROSSANS HAVE THEIR FILL OF WATER before he pulled them back from the brook. “They won’t know when to stop,” he said. He stroked their manes and spoke to them lovingly. In a few moments he had the feed bags strapped to them and I watched their ears twitching merrily as they ate.
“And, now it’s our turn,” he said. He uncorked the red wine and poured two cupsful, which he put on the seat between us, and replaced the bottle to the basket. Then, unfolding an oilcloth, he removed two generous strips of jerked meat and handed me one. He clamped one end of the other between his teeth while he refolded the cloth and returned it. Finally, he held out the loaf of bread to me and leaned against the seat back; ripping off a chaw of jerky, he chewed it meditatively while he watched the crossans.
I tore off the end-piece of bread. The outside crust was hard and unyielding to the touch but the inside was soft. It had a pleasant, yeasty smell. I pinched out some of the interior and put it in my mouth. I was hungrier than I thought. Holding the remaining loaf out to him, I took the cup of wine.
“A toast,” I said.
He turned from the crossans to look at me. “A toast?” he repeated, but sounding a little like a question, and extended his wine cup toward mine.
“To our new brotherhood,” I said, and clinked it to his.
Just for an instant he looked stunned, and then he repeated, “Our new brotherhood, yes.”
He followed my lead and we brought the cups to our lips.
The wine was warm and fruity. It felt good going down.
I watched him take a drink and then another. I had the feeling he was rehearsing something, planning the exact wording of what he wanted to say to me. He took a final drink and set the cup down.
“Doctrex, I will be telling you something that must be kept only between us. It came from the Council of Twelve. The penalty for disclosure would be dire.
“Nothing will be heard from me.”
“I believe you, Brother.” He drained his cup. “I told you before, didn’t I, that the enemy is among us?”
“Not in so many words. I assumed they would be.”
“In a Kabeez tavern, one of the regulars there, and quite popular with all the local Kabeezans because he was jovial and generous with his money, got very, very drunk one evening. No one had seen him get that drunk before. He was not his jovial self. In fact, he had become surly. When it was time for the tavern to close, three young Kabeezans escorted him home as a precaution against any robbers who might have tried to ambush him. He complained that as drunk as he was he would have an easier time fighting off the robbers than his three, or five, or ten protectors. Especially since the robbers would also be Kabeezans.”
“That’s hardly a way for him to try to blend in with the Kabeezans. Did they figure him, then, as an infiltrator?”
“If they didn’t at that time it was because he was generally so likable and as I said, so free with his money.” He took a piece of bread in his mouth and then spoke around it as he chewed. “But as he continued to drink on the way to his cottage, he became sullen and homesick — if not patriotically so. It was then that he used the code-word Trining in describing the beginning of the all-out assault by Glnot Rhuether’s army against all the provinces. He was described by one of the three escorts as appearing ‘shocked’ when he heard himself use the word, but afterward, he shrugged and then openly boasted about how devastating it would be for the Provinces when the Trining came.”
“So, was he arrested?”
“They planned on addressing the Council on the following day, which was the proper protocol, there being little in the way of law enforcement.”
“But he was gone,” I guessed.
“Like he was never there. And, no one ever saw him again in Kabeez.”
I downed the last large swallow from my cup. My mind was swimming — not from the wine but from unanswered questions. Axtilla and Klasco both used the word Trining, but Klasco’s Trining, however devastating to the provinces, was small potatoes compared to Axtilla’s metaphysical one. The Trining was so powerful a force, she told me, it stilled Kyre’s voice in the Tablets. The Tablets ended with the Trining. Was the Trining then a doomsday event? The apocalypse?
Klasco’s words yanked me out of my reverie. “Not if I’m to be awake when we meet the council.”
“That won’t be until after one more sleeping.”
What lengths he goes to just to avoid the use of night or tomorrow since one day seems to slide into the next with no darkness separating them! It must be the wine.
“There is an inn about 20 units from here. We can eat and sleep there, and then get an early start for Kabeez.”
He removed the feedbags, gave the crossans leave to hang their long necks to the brook a while longer and then he hitched them back to the wagon.
“I think you have more to tell me,” he said, pulling the reins to the left and guiding the crossans back to the dirt road.
“And, where did I end?”
“I stopped you as you were telling me how — what is her name?”
“You were telling me how Axtilla thought you were Pondria, the mythological brother to Glnot Rhuether.”
“To her it was not mythological. It was very real. She tried to kill me after I had washed up on the shore of — ”
“The shore? So you were at the western shore of the Far South Province?”
“It will always remain a mystery to me,” I went on, without answering him, “why a person who initially tried to kill me ended up taking me, unconscious, to her cave where she proceeded to mend my wound, to bring me back from the brink of death.”
I could tell he wanted to interrupt me but he held his tongue.
“Once I was fully conscious — and remember this was after drifting in and out of consciousness for I don’t know how long a time — we began to talk.” I struggled with explaining the phenomena of her speech patterning, or whatever it was. “You see, her words seemed to come from a source separate from her mouth. There was, at first, a lag between the word coming out of her mouth and the movement of her lips necessary to say the word.” I was about to give up. “Do you have any idea what I mean?”
“Well, of course I do. It’s the way every child first learns to talk. You know — how they papper? The brain is working faster than the mouth, so the words come out and then the lips move.”
I must have had a look of amazement on my face. It wasn’t how I’d observed any child saying its first words. But, I didn’t see any point of digressing any more.
“Soon, mind and body begin to synchronize.” Then he paused. “What is curious, though, is that since she wasn’t an infant, that means she did not speak Grossling?”
Grossling! Papper! The fact that Klasco and his family didn’t go through the same linguistic gyrations with me as Axtilla had meant there was a close relationship between English and their Grossling. One more conundrum to try to work out.
“Apparently she didn’t, but she was certainly a fast learner,” I said.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with being a fast learner. It’s something that’s never forgotten.” He looked at me like he was explaining something that didn’t need explanation. “It’s how the people from the Far Southern Provinces can understand the language of the people from the Far Northern Provinces. You’re doing it, yourself, Brother. How do you think you understand Grossling?” He stared at me again, and then smiled. “See? You understand?”
“I understand it’s convenient you speak English.”
“En-glish?” he repeated, and I could swear there was just a touch of pappering going on.
“Grossling,” he said, with finality, but without anger. “You can do it the easy way or the hard way, Brother. You can learn your tables and conversions and not say anything until the numbers you wait for come into your head, or you can just say five miles or three tablespoons or one cup and be confident that your listener is pappering the conversions and tables for you — with this difference: he doesn’t know he’s doing it, either.” He smiled again and tapped his forehead.
“The language thing — I — I don’t know. I think we’ll have some more to say on it later. But let me go on with what happened with Axtilla and me. After I was well enough to travel she decided we should leave the cave. I don’t think it was clearly expressed what we were leaving for. It was probably for firewood or food, but that’s not important. Whatever it was she was anxious for us to get an early start so we would get back before dark.”
“Dark!” Klasco said, unable to contain himself. “How many Ds ago was this?”
“Klasco — my way, Brother, please! There are some experiences your mind is not ready to process. This is one of them. Later, I think you’ll be able to accept the truth of it, although you may not ever understand it.”
He shook his head with exasperation. “Go ahead. Talk.”
I continued with my narrative, studying his face for changes in expression, especially at the more incredulous parts. This came soon enough when I described my being wedged in the opening of the cave wall, her disbelief that I could not dislodge myself, and then the ease with which she made the opening wider with a strange movement of her hands between my back and the wall of the cave.
“After I was able to slide the rest of the way through and outside the cave, and she followed me, she told me, tearfully, that she knew I was Pondria and was certain I was trying to deceive her into believing I didn’t have Kunsin.”
“Kunsin,” he repeated.
“Yes, magical powers that Pondria was supposed to possess.”
“Oh, yes, I remember. All part of the myth. I’d forgotten what it was called until you mentioned it.”
“Myth to your people, maybe, just a story, a fiction — but to Axtilla it was very real. And, since she had a spear she kept prodding me with, she had a way of making me feel the strength of her belief.”
“Well put, Brother.”
I went on to tell him of the moment I wrestled away her spear and in a fit of masculine rage attempted to break it over my knee. The corners of his mouth twitched as I described how it bruised the flesh above my kneecap, causing me to hop around like a howling madman.
With this, he threw back his head and roared.
“Yes,” I said, “yes, like that!” I pointed at him, grinning. That’s just how she did it, too.”
Then I described how I crouched beside the spot where she had dropped to her knees and was bent over laughing so hard she could scarcely breathe, and I joined in with her.
“Klasco, this was the first time we felt a closeness to each other — well, I probably more than she.”
Those words said, I found myself staring at the carriage floor, waiting until I could speak again. Finally, I pressed the back of my hand to my nose.
I looked up to see him dangling a cloth napkin he’d taken from the basket.
“Doctrex, I can see you really …” He didn’t finish. There was no need.
I nodded anyway and swallowed.
He reached over, put his hand on my arm, and gave it a small squeeze before releasing it.
Over the shoulders of the crossans, the dirt road rose as it stretched out before us and I had a kind of dreamy awareness of their lazily thumping hooves.
Where are you, Axtilla? Has my disappearance convinced you I used my Kunsin while you were sleeping so I could vanish and join forces with my brother in the Far Northern Province? Have you hardened your heart against me, Axtilla?
To Be Continued