Ted Garvin, a middle-aged, disabled writer of mixed Native American/European descent, lives in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, with his wife and menagerie. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a Bachelor's degree, but that and $2.00 (adjusted for inflation) will buy you a coffee. His favorite authors, in no particular order, are Patrick O'Brian, J.R.R. Tolkien, Roger Zelazny, and Homer.
DOGGERLAND-DECCAN'S SAGA by Ted Garvin (Series)
The enemy camp was a shanty town of wicker huts, but he didn't have much time to gawk because they were hustled into a wooden holding pen. As soon as he was released from the chain, he had to relieve himself, but there was no place to do it except out in the open. He went into a corner, where the stench was almost unbearable. As soon as he had finished, he returned to the group, deeply embarrassed. A guard offered him water.
He saw a girl—a woman—about his own age. Like him, she was dressed in animal skins, but where his light brown arms were bare of markings, she had tattoos—dotted wavy lines, with spirals around her wrists. She was pale-skinned, with reddish-brown hair and, instead of brown, she had greenish-blue eyes. She told him her name, Bekah, and that she lived near the northwestern sea coast. Her parents had been killed in the raid that brought her in. She was fiercely attractive.
Had he fallen asleep? Here he was, curled upon the ground, Bekah slept nearby. Ani and Aber snored softly, off by themselves. The other people in the cage were beginning to stir. Breakfast was a thin gruel—wild barley and not much else. Certain that his mother was dead, he vowed vengeance.
The guards took them out of the cage and brought them to a wooden platform, where they were offered at auction. They stood there, now stripped down to their loincloths. Potential buyers poked and prodded them—a woman made him open his mouth to inspect his teeth. Deccan's face turned red with shame and impotent rage.
A man with red hair came and took his friends Ani and Aber, Bekah, and him to their new owners. When he hesitated, a guard pushed him forward. A god gave him the wisdom not to resist.
Aber started to ask a question, but a reptilian look from Bekah stopped him. The young people followed the man through rows of identical brown huts with thatched roofs. Upon entering one, they beheld an old man—about forty—with withered legs, reclining on a cot. He sat up and greeted the red headed man. An unintelligible conversation followed.
“We are guests of the Arkenesai—whom we call nose-pickers. We now belong to Bowdin, this man with small legs,” Bekah translated, quietly. “Deccan, you are to carry him about where he needs to go. Aber and Ani are to become domestics, cooking and cleaning. I will have special duties. I am here for the red-headed man's amusement.”
That was often the lot of female slaves. Even the brothers knew not to ask.
Time passes. The God that dies in the autumn and who is reborn in the spring had returned from the Underworld. Sex was on every creature's mind. Deccan grew strong and learned much from the old man.
The young men learned the language. Bowdin was kind, after his fashion, but the red-haired man, Aumes, not so much. He enforced discipline and enjoyed beating them for the slightest infraction—whacks with a slender stick.
Occasionally at night, Deccan could hear Bekah cry out in pain. He was afraid to ask.
He listened to a caged starling sing the unpleasant buzz-song of its people. Tempted to release it, he didn't want to endure a scold and possible beating. He sat there, complicit in its captivity.
“What are you thinking about?” Ani asked. He and Aber went everywhere together.
“Freedom,” said Deccan.
“That's something that is in short supply.” Bekah had stalked in. “It does little good to lament its loss, if you're not prepared to acquire it.”
Deccan frowned. Her constant irritability frustrated him. He tried to impress her, but achieved the opposite result.
“I saw someone who had tried, just hanging around.” Ani's gallows humor lightened a tense situation. Bekah looked like she wanted to kill someone.
“The ones they catch?” Deccan said, grimly. “You never hear about those who succeed.”
“Of course not. I wonder...” Bekah's voice trailed off.
They let her think. She was frequently irritable.
“We will need to cache supplies for a long journey,” Bekah said, in a low voice. “The opportunity may come without a moment's notice.”
“'The ready man makes his own luck.'” Deccan quoted a proverb.
They discussed possible avenues of escape and what they could do. It was best to be prepared.
Their chance came during Midsummer. There would be a religious festival to celebrate. Animals would be offered to their gods, resulting in copious food and heavy drinking of the Sacred Berry Juice. People would be coming in from miles; there would be lots of confused activity. Four insignificant people would not be missed, especially if something happened to create a diversion. There was only one catch—Deccan's charge.
They were outside, behind their hut. The weather had been dry for weeks, creating a tinderbox, ready to go off. Aber was keeping watch, unless he had fallen asleep.
“We will have to kill the old man, obviously,” said Bekah.
“Why? What has he done to us?” asked Deccan.
“He will give the alarm, when we are discovered missing,” said Bekah. “If he is dead, it will be days before we are missed.”
He thought that she was wrong. He was hardly invisible. Important, he was the only paralyzed member of the camp. Deccan was reluctant to kill him, for reasons he couldn't explain. Bekah had her own reasons. Deccan's clan had a taboo against killing anything you had not the slightest intention of eating. Vengeance was therefore problematic, unless you ate your victim.
“Not if we did it now, at the Festival,” Bekah said. “No one would notice a little extra chaos.”
“We could get him drunk or something,” said Ani.
“What did you have in mind?” Deccan asked.
“Your timidity amazes me. We should come up with a plan and act! The gods know we need to.”
“I agree,” said Deccan, “but we should sleep on it. Maybe They will give us a plan.”
“We don't need to. I know what needs to happen.”
“We need to stop talking about it before someone notices an extended conversation in a strange language,” Deccan said, he glanced at Bekah. “We are getting rather loud.”
By bedtime, they still disagreed. Deccan retired to the room he shared with the brothers. Accustomed to living rough—to sleeping in furs on the ground, he laid down on the cot and fell asleep.
He and his mother were eating a meal, outside their tent, back home. The aroma from the cooking meat was mouth-watering. A little confused, he asked if she was dead.
“It's not as simple as that.” She patted his head fondly. “As long as you remember me, I am still alive. One more thing before you wake up, dear. You must not kill that old man.”
She smiled, enigmatically.
He awoke, briefly, with an acute sense of loss. The dream had been so real. She had been so present. It took a moment, but then he remembered that his mother was still dead, at least so he thought. Confused, he went back to sleep.
Morning. The Sun Goddess prepared for battle once more. Last night had been long—she had tossed and turned upon Her bed, battling mysterious night creatures. Dawn, day's herald, painted the azure sky crimson.
Deccan stretched. He hadn't slept well—stiff. Upon entering the common room, he saw Bekah, who did not look happy.
“Hey,” he said. “We have got to rethink this escape plan.”
She gave him a doubtful look.
“My mother told me that we must not kill Bowdin,” he said. “We just can't.”
“The Dead speak to you, do they? What makes you so special?”
Deccan tried to explain his understanding of the mystical nature of death further, but became confused and incoherent. He gave up.
A recipe for disaster.
Ani and Aber worked in a kitchen supervised by Aumes. They would haul water and tend the fire, which had to burn continually, a constant supply of hot water being vital to any cooking enterprise. It was going to be a confused affair, with people coming and going. Noise. Chaos. Ingredients in; food out. Tasty, usually, unless someone had accidentally dropped something unsavory in the stew. The last time that happened, they'd been beaten.
Aumes kept yelling at them to move faster, to become more efficient, which had the opposite effect. Ani, in a panic, accidentally bumped into Aber who, normally the sweetest of people, became flustered. He dropped the pot of grease he was carrying and it splattered into the fire. It flowed as though it was a living thing with will and intention. The resulting conflagration got out of control and quickly engulfed the room—the building was set ablaze.
Aumes began issuing orders in earnest to “the dirty little savages” under his command. His desire—combating the inferno, which threatened the highly combustible camp. People ran back and forth in a frenzy of attempted communication. Then a strong wind came up.
Ani and Aber took advantage and ran to their hut to advise the others.
“I can't just leave Bowdin to die in a fire. That's a horrible death.” As he said this, Deccan went into Bowdin's room, then returned with him slung over his shoulder. “Let's go.”
To be continued