Sanctuary – Snippet 12
Njekwa hesitated. She had to be careful here, she realized. Young adherents tended to get impatient with the necessary caution their situation required. Some of them — but many, no, but the number might grow — were becoming contentious.
Two had gone so far as to seek refuge with the Kororo in the mountains. Njekwa was afraid others would follow, now that Zilikazi was marching on the Krek. You’d think any Liskash with half a brain would realize that fleeing to the Kororo right when Zilikazi planned to destroy them was sheer folly.
But youth was prone to folly. She had been herself — just a bit — at Zuluku’s age.
Best to deflect the matter, she decided. She could shield herself easily enough, and if a young adherent to the Old Faith fell foul of their noble lord, so be it.
“I saw nothing. I know nothing,” she said, turning away. A moment later, she heard Zuluku’s departing footsteps.
She began composing herself, reaching out for serenity to Yasinta, goddess of the evening. With time and application, Njekwa could forget everything she’d just seen and heard. Well enough to sink below Zilikazi’s notice, at least.
She woke to pain. Terrible pain, on her left side below the ribs; aching pain most everywhere else.
But fear rode over the pain. Where were her kits? They were much too young to survive on their own.
Her memory was blurred. Despite the age of her kits, Nurat had left them to join the other dancers once it became clear that the Liskash threatened to overwhelm the warriors because of their noble’s mind power. She remembered bits and pieces of the battle that followed, then…
She’d been injured, obviously, but she didn’t remember how or when. Her last memories were of stumbling — often crawling — back to the place in the camp where she’d left Naftal and Fen.
The great relief when she’d found them, still quite unharmed even if they were squalling because she’d abandoned them while nursing.
She pressed down on the injury and was surprised to encounter bandages. Thick ones, even if they were crusted with blood — but the blood seemed to have dried. And the bandages were well placed and tightened by a cinch around her waist.
Who had put them there? She certainly hadn’t. The best she’d managed was a crude poultice that she had to keep in place with one of her own hands.
She looked around. She seemed to be in some kind of tent. But it was of no design she recognized. The frame was a circular lattice over which were stretched hide walls. All of it was covered with a dome made of thinner wood strips which supported some sort of felt. There seemed to be a thick lacquer spread over all the roof’s surface.
She tried to picture what the structure would look like from the outside, and almost instantly realized that she was looking at a Liskash yurt. She hadn’t recognized it for what it was immediately because the interior had none of the decorations that would adorn the exterior. If “adorn” could be used to describe garish colors that usually clashed with each other.
She was a captive, then. And soon would become a slave, once the noble who lorded it over these Liskash turned his attention to her.
A Liskash female came through an opening in the yurt which she hadn’t spotted. The opening wasn’t a door, just a place where two hides overlapped. She thought the female was quite young.
The hide flaps moved again, and another female came into the yurt. Then, still another.
Three of them, and all young. They were staring down at her intently. What did they want?
She tried to remember the few words of Liskash she knew. Or rather, the few words of the tongue spoken by the Liskash who’d lived in the lowlands near when her tribe had once lived. She had no idea if these Liskash spoke the same language. Mrem dialects — at least, on this side of the newly formed great sea — were all are related, many of them quite closely. But the Liskash had lived here for… ages. No one knew how long. She’d heard that their languages could be completely different from each other.
Before she could utter more than a couple of halting syllables, however, the second Liskash to enter the yurt spoke to her. In an Mrem dialect that was not her own but was still mostly comprehensible.
“What you <garble something>.” Nurat wasn’t sure, but she though that last word might be a slurred version of “name.” And there had seemed to be an interrogative lilt at the end of the short sentence.
Acting on that assumption, she said: “Nurat Merav. What is your name?”
Liskash expressions were unfamiliar to her, but she suspected the stiff-seeming appearance of the creature’s face was the Liskash version of a frown.
“You mean my <garble something which sounded like the same word>? That was definitely a question.
“My <slurred version of ‘name’> is Zuluku,” the Liskash continued.
Naftal mewled softly. Fen did the same.
“Quiet must!” the Liskash hissed, softly but urgently. “Very must!”
The three young Liskash females stared at the yurt entrance. They seemed tense and agitated.
Nurat didn’t understand what was bothering them so much, but it was clear they felt the kits had to be kept silent. She saw no reason to argue the matter; and, besides, the kits were hungry. So she began nursing them.
After a while, the Liskash seemed to relax. The one who called herself Zuluku turned away from the entrance and stared down at Nurat.
“Why are you doing this?” Nurat asked.
But no answer came. Perhaps the Liskash had not understood the question.
In fact, Zuluku had not understood the question, although she’d recognized most of the words. But even if she had, she would have found it difficult to answer.
Perhaps even impossible. She did not clearly understand herself why she was hiding the wounded barbarian. Part of her motive was certainly her sense of khaazik. But only part of it. Khaazik was not something that normally moved people to acts of daring, after all.
Most of all, she was driven by deep frustration. At every turn and in every way, her spiritual urges were stymied and suffocated. As a youngster, she’d once heard a Kororo missionary speak to a secret gathering of Old Faith adherents. She had understood very little of what the Kororo had said — almost nothing, being honest — but she’d never forgotten the missionary’s sense of sure purpose.
She’d dreamed of that purpose ever since, and gathered around her other young Old Faith adherents who shared her dissatisfaction. None of them had any clearer idea than she did of what their goals should be. They simply felt, in an inchoate way, that they should have some goals that went beyond the never-ending passivity of their religious superiors.
Njekwa seemed to have no goal beyond survival. They wanted more.
In the end, perhaps, they sheltered the badly wounded Mrem and her kits simply because they’d finally found something they could do.