The sun was still below the bluffs, but the sky was already bright blue on a crisp, chilly, cloudless morning. Young Domas made his way through the forest on a carpet of yellow leaves, but none of the traps he’d so far checked had any animals waiting for him. His new rifle was heavy in his hand, a feeling both novel and reassuring; he was proud to have it, yet he had to admit his arm was getting a little tired.
He reached a meadow right up against the bluff; his last trap was set somewhere along the southern edge, but when he got to it, it too was empty. Well, salted meat it would have to be for that day’s dinner.
There was a rustle of leaves, and he jerked his head toward the source of the sound. A man came toward him, by his clothing a trapper from Galee. Domas rechecked his rifle, to make sure again that it was loaded— the trappers were mostly decent men, but not all.
Soon enough, the man was close enough to recognize. Wiyome? Was that his name? “Bundur,” Domas said in Galian, hoping he’d said it right.
“Bundur, Domaso,” the trapper replied. His beard had grown back in full since he’d visited, when he’d taken the opportunity to shave it off with a sharpened blade and fresh well water. “Kam etee?”
It took a moment for Domas to remember what that meant, and another to remember how to reply. “Dareen, gras.”
Wiyome smiled broadly. “You remember my lesson! Well done. Your family, well, I hope?”
Domas wasn’t sure how to answer that, and rather didn’t want to. “Mm- eh… hm. My baby sister….”
“Little Abby? Oh, ye su nezoll,” was the trapper’s reply, dropping his head and making the sign of the sun around his heart. After a pause, he continued. “I hunt with a young friend. You want to meet?”
Domas considered for a moment, tried to check the sun’s position in the sky, and mentally kicked himself because this close to the bluff it would be near noon before the sun would shine through the nearly bare branches. “I think I would like that. Dad will only expect me home for dinner.”
With a smile and a small nod, the trapper said, “Come, then,” and led the way, across the meadow. They walked in silence, though Domas felt he should make conversation; but the quiet of the morning and the dew rising from the grass made talking seem like it would be an intrusion. Eventually, they reached the forest again, and walking was noisy again, or at least it seemed like it after the silence before. Domas noticed that the trapper had changed his gait to make less noise, and he did the same, but dry leaves crackle no matter how you step on them. Then, Wiyome whistled like a redfinch, and somewhere ahead of them came the call of a greenjay. “Ah, we find him,” noted the trapper unnecessarily. Soon enough, Domas could hear crackling leaves ahead of them in addition to their own, and then he saw the person through the trees.
Jet black hair; thin, bright blue clothing; skin the color of an old syruptree leaf; and ear points.
Domas stopped, alarmed. “Dwinn?!”
“Duyñ,” Wiyome corrected, putting a little y sound on the n.
“You are afraid of a 12-year-old boy?”
“Well, no, but… the Duyn – Duyn –” Domas tried to make the right sound at the end –“don’t like us much. And how can we talk?”
“He knows some Galian. And you know some.”
“Exactly, some! But not enough to talk! And what would we talk about?!”
“Shh, now, you’re scaring him. Listen, I had to learn some Duyñ, and I not had a teacher. You have to only jump in and try.”
Domas looked at the other youngster, and swallowed. “Uh, bundur.”
“Bundur,” said the other uncertainly. “Ih, ye me aple Eliaron.”
“Elee, Eliar…on?” Domas said uncertainly. When Eliaron nodded, he responded, “Edh ye me aple Domas.”
“Wonderful!” Wiyome burst out in Galian. “You see, you can talk to each other,” he continued, slowly. “Now, because we are three, I say we hunt some feldriz.”
Domas grinned. “I agree!” he said in Galian, at almost the same time that Eliaron did.
“Right. Domas, take the feldriz stick. Eliaron, the bag.”
Domas bit his lip to keep from whining. He always got the stick and not the bag when hunting with Wiyome! And then, he noticed a somewhat crestfallen look on Eliaron’s face, too. Did he want the stick?!
“About 50 ells over there is a good place for a nest. Count to 20 while I circle around, then move that way. You know what to do.”
The two boys nodded, and watched him go. Wiyome’s flushing-out tactic was not strictly necessary, but three were usually more likely to catch a feldriz than two. They looked at each other when Wiyome was out of sight, and Domas held out the stick. “Ta nezeirz…” he started, unsure how to phrase his question.
Eliaron grinned, and held out the burlap bag. “Auk. Ye ahm.”
They completed the trade, and then Domas realized he hadn’t been counting. “Benda?”
“Auk, allome,” was Eliaron’s answer, and he made an odd waving motion that Domas figured went along with ‘allome’ – let’s go. Eliaron strode off at about a right angle to the direction Wiyome had gone, and Domas let the bag hang open near the ground. He really wasn’t expecting anything to happen any time soon; sometimes it could take hours to catch a single bird, especially in winter. Eliaron moved fluidly, lightly across the leaves and around low-hanging branches, and Domas turned his attention back to the forest floor, keeping leaf-crunching to a minimum as he followed some ten paces behind Eliaron’s right.
Then a small crash sounded to Domas’ right; Eliaron whirled just as a dingy-yellow blur darted toward him. The flightless bird abruptly turned left, and Domas froze. Eliaron had to step quickly to tap the stick on the ground and guide the feldriz toward the bag, the nearest dark hole it would find for ‘safety;’ but after just three taps the bird ran right in. Somewhat clumsily, Domas tied up the bag as the bird inside panicked. And then he looked up, to see Eliaron there, offering his hand for a handshake, and beaming. “Nuz le fet!”
“Auk!” replied Domas as he took the hand.
Eliaron’s grip was a bit weak, and short; then, he held his palm vertically, pointing at it with his left hand. Domas guessed he was supposed to put his palm against Eliaron’s, and apparently, he was right.
And then, another crash…
They caught two more feldriz; each trickier for Domas than the last one with the added complication of the previous bird(s) already in the bag. Soon after he had the third one tied up, Wiyome reappeared. “Eh? Kam etes-s?”
“Bun,” the boys said, more or less together, and Domas held up the jumping, squirming bag.
The Gali laughed heartily, and said something in his language which Domas couldn’t understand for all the laughing. Wiyome apparently noticed, and did his best to calm down. “You not hit the birds. You hit, make them sleep. Easier.”
Of course! That would make sense. Domas’ cheeks burned – how Eliaron must be laughing inside his head! He looked at the Duyna boy, who was grinning from ear to ear, but not laughing. “Ta mul bun. Mul niviss,” he said, pointing at the bag. Domas wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or sarcasm—‘very good, it was very difficult.’ Eliaron then said something to Wiyome in his own language.
Wiyome translated. “He likes you. He says he is… prude? of you?”
“Proud?” Prude didn’t make sense, but the Duyna boy was proud of him? He had no idea what to say to that.
But then he realized it was getting late; he checked where the sun was, easier in this season than in the summer— though blocked by tree trunks he could see how low it was. “Wiyome! I’m late getting home!”
“Auk, pli tard.” He held out his hand for the bag, grabbed a feldriz with both hands from the outside, and gave a quick twist. Then, he reached in, his face jerking with pain a couple times, and pulled out the dead bird. “Neyun.”
“Gras,” said Domas, though of course he was entitled to a bird. “Bun, u reví.”
“U reví, Domaso,” intoned Eliaron formally just as Domas started off.
So Domas stopped, and thought hard for the right thing to say. “Ynshantis-s, Eliaron!” That seemed to satisfy the other two, and so he started off again, even faster. The rifle seemed even heavier now, after so many hours of carrying it, but his mind was on the limp, still warm body of the feldriz.
(Two months later)
Compared to the farm, Brodaneeren was a hive of activity, a few people moving about their business among the off-duty soldiers. But none were in an open mood, it was too cold to stop and chat. The cold was a blessing of a sort, though – the mud of the ‘main street’ was frozen solid. Domas and his father, like everyone around them, watched their steps carefully, their feet too numb to feel the uneven surface. They headed for the largest structure in town except for the fort itself — the pub.
The hinges squealed a protest as they went in, quickly out of respect for those huddled inside. The warmth, from the great fireplace in the center, was a great relief, but the dark logs of the wall ate too much light to see much else at first.
“Elfard! You’re here early!” called the skinny man at the bar. Domas wondered if he’d have the courage this time to ask how the barkeep had lost his eye.
“Not for custom yet, Rack. Gotta haggle first.”
“Ah, right. Well, I look forward to sharing some of your good luck.”
“I’m sure you do. Got any work for Domas to do while I’m at it?”
“Sure thing, there’s always something around a place this big,” replied Rack, his smile squinting his remaining eye. Maybe they’d have sparkled if there had been more light.
Domas’ father put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Well, Domas, it’s time I met the garrison cook. Don’t get into any trouble now, and work hard.”
“Right, Dad,” he replied, trying not to smile too much until the door closed behind his father.
“So, what work would you rather do first, play some sheck or have some mulled wine?”
“I’ll take the wine, I’m cold.” Domas took a seat at the bar.
As Rack ladled the wine, he asked, “So, how are the cows holdin’ up? Think you’ll keep them all this year?”
“Sure. They’ve all been strong, and we don’t have any pregnancies to worry about.”
“But then one will go dry by spring, won’t she?”
Rack brought the steaming mug over as Domas replied, “Yeah. But we did well enough with the lilacorn.” Domas checked his tongue. His father always warned him not to brag of any surpluses, otherwise your buyers would demand lower prices.
Rack seemed to watch, and wait, for more info, but then apparently decided not to ask further.
A soldier wandered over, and leaned on the bar next to Domas. “Lilacorn, eh? Why not more wheat? We never get enough bread there in the fort.”
“Leave him alone, Brun,” said another soldier from the group in the middle of the room. “Wheat doesn’t grow so good here, remember? It was in the briefing.”
“Ah, briefings, more like bull sheetings, to me.” And he laughed at his word play, the only one who did.
The door opened then, and a blast of cold accompanied the two figures who came in. But they didn’t shut the door, Brun did, after a moment of scowling. And then everyone’s eyes adjusted well enough to see who it was: Eliaron, supporting Wiyome, who had an arrow in his right leg! The tension in the room grew thick.
“And what makes you think you can just waltz in here, Dumba?” growled a soldier.
“Lay off, soldier!” called Rack, moving a couple of benches so the two could get to a table. “He’s hardly waltzing, helping this man! In fact, get out and get the fort physician.” Then, more gently and slowly and using gestures, he spoke to Eliaron. “Here, lie him here.” With a grimace, Wiyome sat on a table, and a couple soldiers helped him lie down.
“What happened, Wiyome?” everyone kept asking, but Wiyome just shook his head.
So Domas turned to Eliaron, slumped on a nearby bench against the wall, huddling in his green jacket. “Uh, ka bas-s?”
“Dileg yl. Ops.”
“Yl lebala ag, ye ezai, yl wa newon, ye ops.”
“You understand him, boy?!” said a soldier suddenly looming over him.
“You been learning Dumba?!”
“Dumba?!” protested Domas. “We’re speaking Galian! Wiyome teaches me when he visits, and he said he taught Eliaron.”
“Eliaron, that’s the boy’s name.”
“How do you know his name?”
“He was hunting with Wiyome, and I was checking my traps, and then we met!” Domas yelled defensively, wishing the trapper could say something to confirm it. Hedder, did everyone in the room think he was on the side of the Duyñ now?
“Right, right, settle down,” said Rack, turning away from inspecting the wound. “The commander will likely ask young Domas to translate, and then it will all be clear. No need to get wound up.”
The door opened, but being behind it and against the wall meant they didn’t feel the draft so much this time. The fort surgeon closed the door behind him. “Good morning, Rack, soldiers,” he said, joining the group and setting his medical bag down on the floor beside the table. Then, he sucked air between his teeth as he saw the arrow. “A Duyna arrow. Did you make an enemy, trader?”
“No, acci – acci–”
“Ah, accident. Well, you’ve lost a lot of blood, and I bet you’re cold. Rack, the fort will buy some of your purest stuff. And he needs blankets, lots of them.”
“Of course, Doctor.” He went off behind the bar.
“What’s the man’s name?” the surgeon asked of no one in particular.
“Wiyome,” Domas answered, and the surgeon seemed to notice him for the first time.
“Ah, Domas, sorry, I only had eyes for the job ahead of me. Were you with him?”
“No. Eliaron was,” Domas replied, pointing.
The doctor looked in the Duyna boy’s direction. “Ah, the shooter, I presume.”
“Yeah, but it was an accident—“
“Yes, yes, so Wi- Wiyome? So he said. Well, Wiyome, I’m sorry, this is going to be uncomfortable as I feel around for the arrowhead….” Domas was impressed, though, because the grizzled man didn’t make any sound. “Well, the head’s in so deep I’ll have to push it through out the back. Missed the bone completely, that’s a stroke of luck for you.” He turned to the soldier next to him. “You look like a strong lad. Break the shaft, would you please? Gently but quick.”
The indicated soldier stepped up, grabbed the shaft with both hands, and jerked with his right. It snapped pretty cleanly.
As the soldier stepped back, looking around as if deciding what to do with the piece he’d just broken off, the door opened again. Domas recognized the fort commander, a smallish man with an oddly long face framed by white hair. As always, he was wearing his purple dress uniform. Domas stood as everyone else did, but didn’t offer the three-fingered salute at his temple. He realized that Eliaron wouldn’t know of the custom, but when Domas looked, he was standing, too – and apparently unsure whether to salute. Domas smiled and gave a minute shake of his head before turning back.
“At ease. What can you tell me, Doctor?” the commander asked as everyone sat back down.
“Actually, Commander, I was about to order everyone out before I begin the procedure. The man doesn’t need an audience.”
“Very well. I see it’s a Duyna arrow.”
“It is. Accidental, apparently.”
The commander’s eyes narrowed as he spied Eliaron sitting there. “I take it he’s the culprit.”
“That boy brought the man in,” answered the doctor. “I don’t know how far out they were, but it can’t have been easy even for a Duyna boy.” Domas saw Eliaron sit up a bit more, eyes widened a bit.
The commander took a step towards him. “Do you speak Aramanish?”
Eliaron’s eyes flicked to Domas and back to the commander.
“He speaks a little Galian, sir,” said Domas. “Wiyome taught him.”
“Good, we can interrogate him then.”
“Interrogate?! But he already told me everything.”
“But not in official circumstances, boy! Now tell him to come with us, and quick, the doctor needs to operate.”
“Uh, yl nila… ka taniz wanr… ku yl.”
“Well?!” bellowed the commander, apparently because Eliaron was looking strangely at Domas and not standing up.
“Lobien,” added Domas.
To his surprise, Eliaron popped up then, his face set. Immediately, the commander bellowed, “Attention!” Almost as immediately, the soldiers stood straight, right where they were. “Brun! Assist the doctor. All else, ready!” The soldiers smartly got in line. “Boys, you’re with us. Homeward, march!” And in less than a moment they were outside and heading directly for the imposing doors of the fort. Domas walked beside Eliaron. How would the soldiers treat him? Would they lock him in a room? Would they beat him?
And then he wondered what his father would say if he came out of the fort at that moment and saw him next to a Duyñ. Would he get the same lecture that night that he’d gotten after telling about the hunt with Wiyome?
The fort gates opened ahead of the commander, but Domas’ father was not beyond. And he realized that his father would have been a comforting presence at the moment. Once he and Eliaron were a few steps through, the commander called, “Halt!” and the soldiers did. “Waret, Edrun, with me. Dismissed!”
As the soldiers, now relaxed, sauntered away, the commander and the two he’d named turned to the boys. “Our Galian speaker is on his way,” said the commander, nodding to his left. “Your father is in the fort on business, and I presume that will conclude soon, so Edrun will take you to him while the three of us conduct our questioning.”
“I understand.” Domas really wanted to ask if the questioning would hurt, but he didn’t want the commander to get the wrong idea about him. Then he noticed that Edrun was looking at him pretty seriously, so he took a step.
“This way, boy,” said Edrun, and they headed for one of the fort’s many interior doors. It was a matter of 50 steps or so, and he started thinking about how to tell his father about why the soldier was bringing him in. “You’re looking a little worried.”
“I don’t know. Questioning sounds so… scary.”
“You’re worried for a Duyñ?”
“Well, I just met him yesterday. He seems like a nice kid. And he came to help, and now he has to answer questions, as if what he told isn’t enough! He’s not like us, he doesn’t know what’s coming!”
“What’s coming is us, boy. This land is ours now, isn’t it?”
“Well, someday, is what Dad says.”
“ So it doesn’t much matter what happens to one boy, does it?”
“I’m a boy, too. Don’t I matter?”
“You’re sure about this?” his father asked as they stood at the fort’s person-sized door. “You could just come home with me and have supper. It might be longer than the hour they told us, you don’t know.”
“Fine, Son. Don’t come home in the dark, stay with the Crades. They’ll appreciate your help.”
Ugh! Domas pictured the twin toddler boys, yelling and screaming as they ran around or yelling and screaming because they wanted something or… “Yes, Dad.”
Domas’ father nodded, and stepped out through the door, leaving the boy to turn and start waiting. Waiting in the cold, stamping his feet now and again, blowing on his hands, watching the occasional soldier move across the courtyard on some item of business or another. The sun went behind a turret, and he took a few steps to be in the last of the sun before it went behind the rest of the fort’s wall.
And then a door opened. Eliaron was attempting to walk proudly, his face set, even as a soldier was jerking him along by the arm. “Hey! He’s not causing you any trouble, so lay off!” was what he wanted to say, but the words died on his tongue.
“It’s over, boy. You can go home now.”
“Yes, sir,” replied Domas reflexively. But the soldier didn’t let go of Eliaron, instead dragging him right out the door. Domas followed, expecting Eliaron to be let go outside the fort. Yet still the soldier dragged him on.
“Where are you taking him?”
“Out of town, where he belongs.”
“He can go by himself, you know.”
“Look, boy, it’s the commander’s orders. Take him out of town, he said, and that’s what I’m doing. Now go home, boy, or do I have to drag you there?”
“No, sir. But I’m going with you to the edge of town.”
“Fine, ‘cause here we are.” The soldier flung Eliaron’s arms out of his hands, and turned back toward the fort, without another word.
Domas and Eliaron looked at each other. “Lu san,” said Domas, even though he had the feeling ‘sorry’ could never be enough.
“Wa ku mu?” the Duyna boy asked, beckoning with his hand. “Nila lu ka bas-s.”
Domas stared at Eliaron. It sounded like he was being asked to go to the Duyna and tell what had happened! “Ye? Beh…”
“Auk, ta. Embotan.”
“Beh, Kan tam? U nolme? ” Domas really didn’t want to make the Crades worry, and their house was where his father would expect him to stay the night. Not with the Duyna! But would not staying there for the night mean a walk through the forest in the dark?
But Eliaron shrugged. “Na sab kan tam. Nolme ku nu.” And then he smiled. “Dele qumud.”
Comfortable, Eliaron had said, but that hardly seemed important. But maybe Eliaron knew what he was thinking – he looked serious again, and waved his hand as before. “Embotan.”
So Domas nodded, and took a step in Eliaron’s direction. Eliaron turned, a few steps ahead of Domas, and walked the same way without a word. The silence was almost oppressive, but Domas couldn’t think of anything to say, not in his limited Galian. And what he could say seemed trite and stupid and bothersome, and then it seemed like it would be odd to break the silence. And all the while, Domas’ heart was in his throat. He didn’t know of any Arimanis who had ever been to visit the Duyna, even though their meeting hall was somewhere in the area.
And suddenly, there was… something in the forest, something large, resembling an enormous, rough-hewn box, except that the wood making the sides of the box had never been cut out of the tree. Domas was sure he’d been looking in its direction before, but he had had no idea he was approaching it. He stopped to look at it more closely; the trees that made up its walls were rooted to the ground like any other tree. There were some wider gaps between the trees in places, but he could only see darkness in the gaps. Above, the trees spread their leafless canopies wide, so in summer there was probably some shelter from rain outside as well as in.
Eliaron led Domas around to the left side, where the wall of trees parted around a curtain of large, pale leaves, and went right through. Domas paused a second, and then plunged after him.
And stopped. The bright, warm light made him squint, and the wood making up the walls was very pale, like that of a newly-built house. This room was as big as the log cabin he and his father shared, and another leaf curtain hid the next room. The walls boasted many, many small branchlets; the narrow ends of the room seemed to have a shimmering effect hanging in the air.
It was also quite warm – Eliaron was removing his cloak and hanging it on the branchlet closest to the second curtain. Domas took off his coat, and followed Eliaron through the curtain. A Duyñ stood beside an odd dark blue reclined chair, talking to Eliaron in a language full of odd sounds, and then broke off as he saw Domas. Eliaron talked fast, maybe a little pleadingly; the elder Duyñ nodded slowly. Domas wanted to look around, but had the feeling he was the subject of the conversation.
Then, the elder Duyñ spoke. “Rare, Arimanis come. You are first child. We call… council. You must wait. Be good.”
“Yes, sir, I will be good.” Domas didn’t think he could be otherwise at that moment.
The Duyñ sat down in his funny chair, and pulled up one end of a small tube from the left arm rest, Then, he put it in his mouth, and blew through it, making a deep, warbling sound that Domas could feel in his feet.
“Yl yiiga Duynyό. Wohn iis, nilohn,” explained Eliaron.
It was for sending messages, apparently – the sitting Duyñ was calling other Duyna from afar for them to come hear his story. But – how long would it take them to arrive?! He couldn’t stay away from home for days! What if they had to wait weeks for –
And then he heard footsteps in the entry, and voices, more of those odd sounds like clicks and grunts and trills and talking through rounded lips and more varieties of sh than he’d ever imagined possible.
There were also two voices speaking Galian, one soft, the other gruff. The speakers came through the leaf curtain; the Duyñ wearing bold-red pants and an undersized bold-purple shirt, and a heavily-bearded Gali trapper in the typical loose brown trousers and loose undyed tunic.
The two of them noticed Domas. “You be a brave lad, come to a Duyna meeting lodge. What be your name?” growled the trader.
“Ah. I be Arann. Wiyome telled me about you. And your hunt. I sayed he be a fool, but maybe he be right in the end. This be Premesarun, Chief Trader.”
“Bundur,” Domas told the Duyñ.
The Duyñ smiled. “Ah, ta balez Galį?”
“Well, want ye me to translate to Galian or Arimani?” The tone was still gruff, but Arann wore a lopsided smile.
“Arimani, please, sir. I really don’t know that much Galian.”
“All right. But if the Duyna talk to you, they talk Galian. Komblonez?”
All the while, Duyna flowed in through the curtain, and stood around chatting in groups and pairs. Domas noticed that Eliaron didn’t get much attention from the adults, less even than Domas himself. Then, conversation stopped when one Duyñ walked in. His face was quite wrinkled, and his hair was as white as snow, but he stood as tall as any Duyñ there. Eliaron exclaimed something then, and walked right over to the Very Important Duyñ.
“Ye be a lucky boy,” rumbled Arann. “That be Denieren himself.”
Domas felt his eyes pop out. “De—“ he started, then decided to whisper. “Daneeren?! The elder Duyñ this area is named for?”
“That be him. And ya young friend be his great-grandson. But close ya mouf, flies fly in.”
Domas consciously did so, but his thoughts were still whirling. He wasn’t entirely convinced the trader was telling the truth. Duyna lived a long time, but Daneeren – Denieren to the Gali – had given his name to the area… what did his father say? Two hundred years ago? More? Or maybe only 150, but still, the Duyñ was old…
As he watched, Denieren patted Eliaron on the shoulder, and the two parted. Eliaron came over to Domas, and Denieren went to the center of the room. The very moment he stopped, near as Domas could tell to the exact center point, all conversation stopped and everyone turned toward him. He drew a circle in the air in front of his mouth; then, he put all of his fingers together at the imaginary circle and suddenly splayed them.
And then he began to speak, and it sounded to Domas as if Denieren were speaking gently right in front of him; it was followed by the crowd’s answer. Arann crouched down to put his ear close to Domas’.
“The Hall calls. — We have answered. — The Hall is graced. – We are graced by testimony.”
A pause, then Denieren spoke again; Arann translated, “Eliaron, son of my daughter, testifies of experience at the round-ears’ hall.”
Eliaron dutifully went out to the center, neither shyly nor proudly, but Domas felt both like wanting to hide and wanting to hold his head up high. Then, standing in front of his grandfather, Eliaron tried to do the motion in front of his mouth; Domas thought it looked precisely the same as Denieren’s had, but the elder smiled softly and did it again.
“An accident, in the forest. Gali Wiyome in front of my bow; Shame.” The crowd hummed as Eliaron paused; Domas wondered at the strange cadence of the translation, but Eliaron’s cadence was odd, too, so he supposed the translation was literal. Arann softly explained, “They hum in recognition and sympathy for his shame.”
Then, Eliaron went on. “I lift Gali Wiyome, uh, hold him” – Domas was pretty sure the pause was Arann’s – “, we go to fort. Nearest.” Eliaron’s face seemed apologetic. “Round-ears call doctor, call commander. Commander orders me into fort. In fort, warriors take me; Small room, locked. Then commander and second round-ears enter. Commander: Arimani. Second man: Gali. But no asking, no: Demanding! Face in my face. Loud. No time for response. And strange questions, not a blobosa” – Domas had heard some women and the commander use the term, but didn’t know it –“if something else done.
“Then, end. Round-ears leave, then comes warrior. Grabs arm, hard! Pulling me, out, of room, of fort, of village.” Domas was almost certain he had heard Eliaron say biyyash, the Gali word for town. “Domas follows, yells to warrior, but warrior does no listen. Then warrior throws me away, and off. Domas stays. So I call him, to our great hall, he has answered. Thus ends my testimony.”
Domas could feel the weight of many eyes on him, but he just kept looking at Eliaron. “Testimony has been given. – Our story is enriched by it. – Let us remember, and consider.” With that, Eliaron looked at his grandfather, who gave the youngster a softly approving smile as he left the center. Then the elder appeared to think of something; he touched Eliaron on the shoulder to stop him, and waved a hand quickly in front of his mouth. Then, he stepped back into the center.
“A Duyn has, uh, done wrong.” Domas gasped. Surely…? “He entered the round-ear place.”
Another voice, in the crowd somewhere to Domas’ left, replied. “He testified about himself,” was the translation.
“Shall judgment be passed?” asked another voice, this one somewhere ahead.
“It must be. So says the Code,” said the voice to the left.
“Then he is guilty. But he did no wrong.”
“Indeed, he did right,” said Denieren.
The voice ahead of Domas said, “Then let the consequences be, uh, null.”
The crowd responded in unison. “Agreed.”
A pause, before Denieren started again. “A round-ears has been called. He has answered.”
“The Hall is graced.”
“Arimani Domas, friend to Gali Wiyome, testifies.”
Domas supposed that was probably his cue, but only stepped out when Arann put a hand on his shoulder and took a step. They came to the place Eliaron had stood, and Arann put him on the exact spot. The Elder made the finger sign in front of Domas’ lips, and said with a kind smile, “Not rush. We be patient.”
So Domas began, haltingly at first, and then paused to organize all the details. It helped — he was more fluent. And then, all of a sudden, he ran out of details. Arann put his hand on Domas’ shoulder, and nodded curtly.
Denieren made an announcement then, which Arann translated: “A round-ears has testified.”
“We are blessed by testimony,” Arann translated for the crowd. “We are twice blessed because he who testifies is not of us.”
“We thank Arimani Domas.”
“We thank him for his service.”
With that, Arann led him back to the crowd. As he walked, Domas noted someone coming through the leaf curtain. And then, recognized the man: the fort commander! And then Arann bumped into Domas, earning him a scowl. But the Gali said nothing, and Domas took his former spot.
Denieren stepped over to Arann, and asked something in Gali. Arann nodded, and Denieren began speaking to the group. Arann translated: “Another round-ears has been called. He has answered.”
“The Hall is graced.”
“Arimani Domas, Elder to the Arimanis, defends.”
Domas felt his eyes strain to pop out. The commander’s first name was the same as his own! He felt as if he had some top secret information. It made him giddy, at least until the commander, now in the center with Arann at his side, began to speak.
“What occurred today pains me. Shame is upon the Arimani.”
“We would hear the why,” answered the crowd. Arann had considerably more work this time, and Domas wondered if the Duyna would pay him for it, and how.
“It is not necessary to tell again about the learning the soldiers have. It is not necessary to tell again about the philosophy of the Arimani government. It is necessary to tell of the balance I try to keep.”
No response, this time; Maybe there was no formula for this point. Denieren asked, “We would hear of this balance.”
“Arimanis expect fill the land. They expect the Duyna to move elsewhere. They expect me to be he who pushes. He who pushes is hard. Angry. Like a commander; As I command soldiers, I must command everyone. So I must be hard with questions. There must be one who translates and writes. This person will wonder, if I should be soft.
“And I was soft. A soldier who does wrong expects more than what a young boy gets.”
Denieren broke in. “And what Eliaron ‘got,’ did it satisfy?”
“Satisfy is not the word. He proved himself. Very well. And the written record shows that, and the fort commander does not need to deal with the matter further.”
“But you seem satisfied. Yet you spoke of shame.”
“Yes, I am satisfied that I need not press the matter further. It is a shame that the questioning was necessary, even if for the greater good.”
Denieren smiled. “It is not necessary to tell again about the greater good.” He paused. “A round-ears has defended.”
“We are blessed by the defender’s response. We are blessed although he who defends is not of us.”
“We thank Arimani Domas.”
“We thank him for his service.”
The commander nodded curtly, and once Denieren had made the gesture at the commander’s mouth, he walked away from the center. And he came right toward Domas, such that the boy stepped aside to let him pass.
Denieren spoke some more, but Arann was heading to a different part of the room. The commander put a friendly hand on Domas’ shoulder, and they walked to the leaf curtain.
“We have to talk seriously, Domas,” the man said in a surprisingly friendly voice as they passed through to the entry.
Domas suddenly didn’t know what to say.
“I hate to put you in this position, but as I just told these people, I’m in a tough spot. If anyone in the military, or even in town, found out that I’m here, they would report. And I could be hanged.”
“So why are you here?”
“Because if I didn’t engage with these people from time to time, there would be no fort at all. Look at this place, son. Think what kind of magic they must have. Think what they could do to us, if they only wished to.”
“But they don’t wish to.”
“Not yet, they don’t, and I hope we can keep it that way.”
“Did you always think so?”
“No. I was as full of humanity as those boys in the fort are. Then I got out here. And even before coming to this meeting hall I knew we humans are in over our heads. But that’s enough hay-chewin’, we best be getting home. You’ll need to go separately from me. You got a place to stay tonight?”
“Yes. Dad said to stay with the Crades.”
“Good man, your dad. He may have the wrong idea about the Duyna, too, but I sure wish we had a fort full of men like him. Good night, son. And remember, not a word.”
“Not a word, sir.”
The commander clapped Domas on the shoulder, and nodded at the Duyñ standing by. With a small gesture, the Duyñ opened a hole in the wall, out into the dark forest, and the commander confidently walked through.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
A human boy living beyond the frontier of his race’s lands meets a boy of the enigmatic race which lives there.