It was definitely a low point in my esteemed career, trudging about a mountain trying to figure out where my father’s ax had gone. I hadn’t packed enough water either. I figured it would be downhill, and I’d be done in no time, but there I was still limping along, and it looked like the sun was going to be hitting the tops of the trees soon. That’s the signal to find shelter, you know, but I knew I wouldn’t sleep until I located that one thing.
That’s how it is in life sometimes. You can get so focused on one small stupid thing because it’s easier to deal with than the thing you really ought to be dealing with! You know what I mean? I filled my mind with images of my father yelling at me because I’d lost that stupid ax. He was so upset about it, and him yelling at me was simpler than thinking about Baruka back there all alone.
Not that she hadn’t chosen her path. No, that was what she wanted, and there wasn’t anything that I could do about that! I just knew the type of person Captain was. I don’t know how to say it. It was like he couldn’t feel things the same way other people did. He could feel his own feelings, but I don’t think what Baruka would be feeling even crossed his mind. Why should it? He had a job to do, and he was going to do it. It wasn’t anything personal. He had a profession that was a little more unusual than what other people have if that makes sense at all. I mean, starting wars and ending them, who does that? That takes a special kind of fully individual.
I was about to call it quits for the day when I noticed a group of people were approaching. They had lamps, and donkeys, and a lot of nice things. I figured them to be more Dione tradesmen. They acknowledge me in a pleasant, passing way, nodding at me as I stepped off the trail so that they could pass. The very last man riding on this impressive donkey stopped when he saw me.
“Well, now, who are you?” he grumbled at me. He was an older man, frail and bent over from many years in this world. I didn’t think men as old as him traveled very much. He had a large nose and bushy eyebrows that giggled up and down when he talked. He was always smiling and said everything with a chuckle.
“Just passing thought,” I said, but as I went to leave, he stopped me.
“No, wait, young man!” he called out. “You are clearly not from around here. Let me guess: Arden?”
“Yeah,” I nodded. I figured the old man was guessing based on my clothes, but then he pulled something out of a bag slung on the donkey. “This yours?” It was my father’s ax!
“Now, where did you get that?” I asked as he handed it to me. It felt good to have it back. You know, like my belt felt properly weighted again.
The man motioned for me to follow along with him as we were holding up the caravan. So, I began to walk along with them. “It just fell from the sky,” he laughed. We were moving along when one of the men stopped and held out his hand. He said, is it raining or something? So we all looked up to see if there were any clouds when this ax came falling down from the cliffs above. It was a good thing we’d stopped to look because otherwise, it might have struck one of us right in the head! What were you doing, young man, that it fell?”
I remembered the events of that morning with a blush to my cheeks. “There was this venomous snake,” I began, “and I just sort of panicked and tried to hit it.” My mumbling explanation did not impress him.
“You don’t say? Well, now that is both unfortunate and fortunate! Unfortunate that you came across such peril, but fortunate that we were nearby. Now you can return to La Keytan with us.”
“La Keytan? Do you not know the name of the village you have been staying at with Baruka?”
Now my ears perked up, you know. “Baruka?” I replied, dumbfounded.
Raising those bushy eyebrows, the man chuckled, “You do know her, yes? I mean, you are one of Ramoth’s men come to scout us out? I won’t mention this little incident with the ax to your superior when we meet tomorrow. It will be tomorrow, I think. We’ll arrive too late at night to meet with him today, I think.”
“You guys must be the ones Baruka is waiting for then!” I exclaimed, finally realizing what was going on. “What did she call you again?”
“I am sure she has many names for me!” the man laughed jovially. “I have known that girl since she was just this big,” he said as he held his hands about a foot apart in front of himself. “She is a bit of trouble, I tell you, getting all of us Elders together in a hurry. You young people, always in a hurry! You can mark my words; if it is a good idea to marry today, it will still be a good idea tomorrow! No reason to rush such things, and for what? Since when has there been any sort of animus between Diona and Arden?”
“I do not think Dione is what Captain is after,” I let slip, but I immediately regretted it.
“Exactly,” the man agreed, “so what is this Ramoth up to? I’ll tell you it isn’t Dione, and it likely isn’t even Pacia. Not that Pacia is not a problem, but you know the biggest threat to Arden? It is Mesu. She has the superior ports and the superior location as far as weather and the seasons. No, I think Dione is just in the way. That is fine by me. Go ahead and let Baruka fall on this sword if that is what she wants. The wedding would be just ceremonial anyway. So long as Ramoth stays out of our business, I don’t care one tiny but what that girl gets herself into.”
“Aren’t you worried about retaliation from Mesu?” I asked, but as soon as I did, I realized this man assumed I was loyal to Arden. Why wouldn’t I be? As far as he knew, I didn’t even know Baruka. I realized then I ought to have kept my mouth shut.
The man was kind enough to reinforce this idea. “You had better keep thoughts such as those to yourself, young man if you want to become an old man like Albert,” he said as he pounded his chest. “I have seen many things, and the key to success in life is knowing just when to keep your mouth shut.
Part 20 Coming soon!