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The Protector

By Kara Howell All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy

ARRIVAL

“Mew! Back, right!” Jezreal shouted. Mew spun and blocked Johanna’s strike with his own sword. She gracefully spun and stuck again. Mew threw his sword up behind his back with blinding speed and intercepted the slash. He ducked under a quick thrust from Gilion and turned it into a forward roll. He felt the swish of Johanna’s sword at his back again.

Mew inhaled. His heart beat a steady rhythm that denied his physical exertion. Sparring was nothing to get anxious about, it was merely a way to stay sharp for the real challenges.

Mew lunged at Gilion’s right side. Gilion blocked twisted his blade. The maneuver forced Mew’s sword to spin. Mew flipped sidewise with the momentum. He landed lightly and swung at Johanna’s next strike.

A mustering horn rang through the air and all three Girgash stopped in mid motion.

“I wonder who the assignment is for.” Johanna said in her clear voice.

Mew felt a tingle start in his feet. Gold light swirled around them and rose up his body. “I guess, I’m the lucky one. See you when I get back.” He waved. The practice clearing, sunset sky line and his friends faded from view.

Now his heart beat fast. Fighting was what he was made for, but landing from teleport was something that he found very difficult. Last time he scared his assignment so bad that it took him two days to convince her to let him help her. Not that he blamed her for being scared. She was scooping out grain to feed her cows, and he landed right in the middle of the barrel, which burst with a small explosion. Before he could even stand to his full height, she’d shrieked and ran, trailing grain behind her.

The memory ramped up his anxiety. He wrung his hands.

Mew saw the thatch just before he crashed into it, or rather through it. He managed to land on his side, but felt debris under him. He opened his eyes and quickly closed them. He rubbed the dirt out and opened them just a slit.

He saw a moon lit room. Great! He thought, I just arrived in the middle of the night. “I hope I landed in a barn or some other out building.” Mew mumbled to himself. He saw a bowl and wooden stir stick by his left hand. “It must be a home.” He looked up and saw the remnants of a thatch roof. “Wonderful, I probably made enough noise to wake the whole city.”

 “Who are you?” demanded a quiet but firm voice.

Mew jerked his head up and tried to rise to his knees.

“I’m so sorry! I’ve ruined your roof! Oh dear, I never can get the landing right” He explained. “After a hundred years of travel you would think that I could land right at least once.” He sighed. “I do believe you were expecting me. My name is Bartholomew. I’m the Girgash sent to help you with your situation, whatever that is. I wasn’t told anything about this task.” He was rambling. Nice first impression.

He looked across the dust filled room at a very small man with dark skin. He could be a Gisbon. Mew had studied Gisbons along with all the other races, but this was the first time he’d met one.

 A menacing hiss drew Mew’s attention to a doorway on his left. A young boy turned to look behind him and grabbed for a large cat as it tried to rush past him.

Mew straightened. The animal was almost bigger than the boy. Green eyes glowed in the dark and stared right at him. The cat’s hair stood on end and his tail looked like a feather duster; it was so poufy. Sharp teeth shone in the moon light as the cat growled.

Mew held his hands up in a gesture of peace. The animal hissed again, but it was cut short by a sneeze. The boy used all of his weight to hold the beast. “Spangle, stay!” he urgently whispered.

Mew turned his head to address the father, “Could you get some more light in here so that we can get a good look at each other? I find that makes introductions easier.”

“Yes, right away,” said a soft voice. A woman moved from behind the man and searched among some shelves.

A flame sprang to life on a candle that she held. The air was clouded with dust and particles of grass from the roof. Mew looked back at the large animal the boy had called Spangle. Spangle crinkled his nose and sneezed again. The sneeze was so violent that he jerked out of the boy’s grasp. Spangle stalked forward a few steps and put himself between Mew and the children. With the candle light, Mew saw a small, impatient girl tugging at the boy from behind him.

Spangle was an amazing creature. His long strands of fur were caramel with indigo blue stripes that wove around him. Red spots popped out on his tail and tufted ears.

Mew almost whistled at the magnificence of the creature, but thought better of it. He was glad he was on his knees; he still towered over the animal and the Gisbons.

The boy looked quickly at his parents who were on Mew’s right. The girl peeked out from behind her brother.

“Allow me to give the introductions,” the man said.

Mew stood up and the Gisbons gasped. The man cleared his throat and said. “I’m Tesfa. This,” he put his arm around the woman, “is Lakech.” He gestured to the boy, “Our son, Brehane, and daughter, Zema.”

Zema stepped out from behind Brehane and proclaimed, “You’re bigger than I thought you’d be. I like you.” Her hands slid off her hips to rest against her sides.

“Well, I suppose my six-foot, eight-inch height seems large to you, but I’m only average for a Girgash.” He smiled at Zema. “I’m glad you like me. Something tells me you are the hardest one to get approval from around here.”

Brehane looked at him skeptically. Well, hopefully he would come around to his sister’s way of thinking. The fear and sorrow that shone in the boys dark brown eyes clenched a fist around Mew’s heart. He wondered if this young man was whom he was here to help.

“It’s nice to meet you and to have you in our hut, Bartholomew,” Tesfa welcomed him with a humorous glance around the messy room.

“Please, call me Mew. I prefer that over my full name.” He swept his hand around the room. “I will fix your roof in the morning.”

“Oh!” Lakech said. She shook her head as if she had just snapped out of a dream. “I hung a hammock for you, but I see now that you will never fit in it. I was not aware that Girgash were so tall. Where would you like to stretch out?” she asked in a polite voice. She gave a small smile when she said the word “stretch.”

“Hmm…” Mew looked about the ruined room. “I think that I will sleep under the stars tonight. I mean, outside the hut, even though I could effectively sleep under them right in here,” he smiled. “I’ll get a good look around in the morning light and see what will work for me on future nights.”

Brehane yawned and mumbled a farewell. Zema followed him at the urging of her mother.

“I’ll be up early,” Mew said, “I’ll gather the thatch and set to fixing the mess I made.” He shook his head at yet another failed teleport landing. He turned around to locate the door. He bent low to exit through the cloth flap.

He walked around the yard in front of the hut, but made sure he didn’t go near the animal pens that he could smell behind the hut. He didn’t want to excite the animals. A beautiful flame tree stood in the yard. The bright red blossoms left little room for the green leaves to show. In the moon light, it looked like the sun at sunset. He sat against the trunk and tried to rest before dawn. He looked at the stars in the clear sky and wiped sweat from his forehead. It sure was hot here. He exhaled and felt his heart slow to its regular pace.


By the time Brehane and Zema ran out of the hut, Mew and Tesfa almost had the new roof in place. Mew smiled at them. They must have rushed out of their hammocks. Their hair was disheveled and clothes rumpled. Spangle had been up for a while already. He lay perched in the tree Mew had slept under. Spangle observed the work on the roof with keen eyes. His front right paw hung lazily from the branch, and his tail swung gently below the branch.

“Jambo.” Tesfa waved a bundle of thatch at Brehane and Zema. “I thought it would take the better part of the day to get the roof fixed, but Mew can easily reach the top of the hut and put the thatch in place.” He smiled.

Mew placed the last bundle on the roof frame.

“Breakfast is ready!” Called Lakech from the hut.

While they ate, Zema chattered. She asked Mew at least a million questions as fast as she could.

“Where are you from?”

“Girgarthon is the name of my city.”

“How did you get here? Do you just disappear from Girgarthon and show up here?”

“Yes. When a mustering horn is blown, I might have a little while to prepare and find out about the assignment, and then again, I may not.”

Zema’s questions went on and on. She scooted closer and closer to him on the grass mats until she was almost in his lap.

Mew graciously answered most of her questions. She was cute and curious.

Lakech repeatedly reminded Zema, “Don’t talk with your mouth full, honey.”

While Mew talked with Zema, he felt Brehane’s eyes on him. Brehane seemed content to observe him. Mew got the distinct feeling that the boy was sizing him up. He must look very strange to the young Gisbon. Brehane had black skin, dark brown eyes, and dark wavy hair that hung to his shoulders. Mew’s bronze skin, long, blond hair and bright blue eyes were totally foreign to him.

Even Mew’s clothes were different from the Gisbons who wore long tunics over trousers. The colors of their clothing was muted earth tones. Mew wore a sleeveless, dark green leather vest that covered the tightly bunched muscles of his chest. A dark brown rectangular loincloth hung to the top of his knees. All of his clothing was well worn. Supple leather boots matched the color of his loincloth, and rose halfway up his calves. The Gisbons wore no shoes at all. When Zema brushed his leg with her foot, it tickled. He looked down. Black curly hair covered the bottom Zema’s feet. Now, that was a unique design.

“Brehane. Eat your food, you need to get the taxilars out for the day,” Lakech said. She frowned at her son.

Mew looked back at Brehane. By his estimation, the boy stood only four feet tall. The more than--two-foot height difference between them must make the boy nervous. Or was it something else? Brehane was certainly very serious for a seventeen year old boy. But, after what Tesfa told Mew while they built the roof, Brehane had reason to be.

Brehane could stare, if it made him feel more comfortable. Especially since Brehane was who Mew was assigned to protect.

If Brehane kept his thoughts to himself, Zema told Mew exactly what she thought of him. “You’re very tall and strangely dressed. I’ve never seen anyone with hair that color. May I touch it?” She stopped to draw a breath.

“You may, after you’re done eating and have washed your hands,” Mew suggested. “Your breakfast is much better suited to your stomach than to my hair.”

Zema giggled. She shoveled the last few spoons of mush into her mouth, and then ran to wash up. She was back by Mew’s side in a flash.

Mew held very still while Zema stroked the length of his golden hair with her dark little hands. “It’s so soft,” she said, “almost as soft as Spangle’s fur.” She continued to stroke the long hair. “Still, it feels different than fur,” she decided a few moments later.

Tesfa spoke, “Brehane, I’ve explained to Mew about the beast that attacked you and the herd. I gave him as good a description as I could, but he may have some questions for you.”

Brehane looked at Mew with dark, worried eyes. It was as if the he held the weight of the world on his shoulders. Mew looked straight into his eyes and tried to convey both concern for his safety and confidence.

“Well, Brehane,” Tesfa said, “I believe that it is past time for you to get the herd out to pasture.”

“Are you ready?” Mew asked. He let his face and voice infer that he was really asking Brehane if he had decided to trust him yet.

“Sure,” Brehane said. He snapped his fingers and Spangle trotted quickly to his side. Spangle looked expectantly at Brehane and eagerly waved his tail.

“Will you be able to keep up with our spronket, Mitsy?” Brehane asked. “I have to ride her to stay up with the taxilars.”

“I’m sure that these long legs of mine can keep up.” Mew patted his thigh. He turned to Lakech. “We can lighten Mitsy’s load a little if you will allow me to take the provisions for the day.”

Lakech’s eyebrows rose in surprise, she clasped her hands in front of her and said, “I wouldn’t want your hands to be full the entire time you walk to the pasture as it’s quite a distance.”

Mew grinned, “Who said anything about holding it all that time?” He reached past her and took a large basket of fruit. He used his left hand to pull the skin out on his thigh. He placed the basked inside his poppins. The family stared at his leg. The basket had disappeared, leaving Mew’s leg in its original shape

They gasped.

Spangle walked over and sniffed at Mew’s thigh. Mew couldn’t help it. He burst into a laugh and couldn’t stop for a few minutes. He gulped in air to fill his enormous lungs. “I take it you have never seen a poppin before.” He reached into the invisible seam on his leg and pulled the basket of fruit out. It looked the same as when he’d placed it inside. Another gasp, louder than the first, rang through the hut.

In an instant everyone murmured either in awe of the phenomenon or asked a hundred questions.

Mew held up his hands. “They are like built-in pockets. Only when you put something into them, the object is weightless and doesn’t take up space. As long as I can fit something into my poppins I can carry it until I have need of it. I have one on each thigh, see?” He pulled the skin openings away from his legs. The skin was able to stretch quite far. Mew released the skin and it sprang back into place with a slap. The opening was no longer visible.

“I think this is one of my favorite of Melek’s designs. Girgash have no need for bags, pouches, and rarely for pack animals. We can put provisions for long journeys in our poppins and not give them another thought.”

“That must be why your skirt thingy splits at your thighs,” Zema said, “so you can reach into your poppins. What else do you have in them?” she asked, her curiosity getting the best of her.

“Zema! That is not a polite question,” scolded her mama.

“That’s all right, Lakech,” Mew said. “I have just about anything you could want in my poppins. I’m always prepared for anything. However, I do believe that basket needs to be added if Brehane and I are to have a noon meal today.”

Lakech handed him a smaller basket that contained enough food for them both. He put it in his right poppin and walked out the door. The surprised gasps of the family followed him out.

Brehane ran after him and around the hut. He brushed and put tack on Mitsy.

Mew walked beside Brehane who was mounted on Mitsy. He knew they were taking the strange herd animals to the pasture, but he couldn’t recall what the animals were. He’d seen the white creatures in their pens that morning. Their faces were covered in a grey mask. They stood as tall as a horse foal and their silky wool was longer than he’d seen on other animals.

Brehane didn’t seem to be in a hurry to talk to Mew. He may not have decided if Mew could protect him.

Perhaps Brehane would tell him about his herd. “I’ve never seen animals like these.” What do you call them?”

Brehane’s eyes widened with shock, “They’re taxilars. You’ve really never seen one before?” He cocked his head to the side and looked up at Mew.

“Never.” Mew shook his head. “What do you raise them for?”

“Mostly for their wool. Abba sells it in Medewi to the textile makers. They use it to make rugs, cloth, and clothes.” Brehane tugged at the chest of his soft tunic. “My tunic is made of taxilar wool. It’s light enough to allow me to stay cool in the heat of the day. Well, at least in the heat of a normal year. This year the temperatures are higher and the drought is worse than any we’ve had before. Anyway, the wool is also warm enough for our cool weather.”

Mew had found the secret to getting the boy to talk. He looked back at the animals before them. “They seem to be sluggish this morning. Are they always like this?”

“Oh, no.” Brehane shook his head. “It’s the heat. Usually they bound around. They love to play on the way to the pasture. This heat has sapped everyone’s energy and spirit.” He frowned, looked up at the clear blue sky, and wiped his forehead.

Spangle trotted ahead of them to the right of the herd. “What is Spangle, and what does he do all day with you,” Mew asked.

Brehane smiled with fondness at the large cat. “Spangle is a churis. For hundreds of years, Gisbons have used them to help keep their herds together. He keeps the taxilars close so that we have very few strays. Of course, I have to help keep an eye on them too, and it’s up to me to protect the taxilars from danger. Spangle tries to help, but I need him to keep the animals together while I eliminate the threat.” Brehane jumped down off of Mitsy. “We’re here. This is the east pasture.” He released Mitsy to graze.

Medium-sized bushes rose up from the parched earth. The indigo stalks and bright red berries were a drastic contrast to the dry grass that lay under them. Mew reached out to touch a bush.

“Careful,” Brehane warned. “Their thorns are sharp.”

Mew ran his finger tip along the smooth stem, until it reached a large thorn. He touched the tip and the prick drew a small pearl of blood from his finger. He stuck the finger in his mouth to cleaned it.

The scent of hot tree sap filled the stagnant air. Mew lifted his head and surveyed the entire pasture. “It seems strange to have a small grove of evergreens in the middle of the bushes. It blocks the other side of the pasture from view. How do you manage the whole herd when you can’t see half of them?”

“I rotate around the grove. It’s a pain. I have to move every twenty minutes so that strays don’t wander too far. But, we need this pasture to have enough food for all of the herds of Dogo.” He flipped his hair out of his eyes. “When the pasture assignments are determined, the men are careful to keep each herdsman’s time in the east pasture to a minimum. Spangle is a great help here. He doesn’t sit still for long; so he makes two trips around the grove while I’m in one spot.”

Mew nodded. He watched Spangle make his rounds.

Wispy clouds drifted across the blue sky and the morning passed pleasantly. “I haven’t seen Spangle in a while. Do we need to go find him?” Mew asked as he looked around.

Brehane chuckled as he flipped his hair. He pointed. “Look, Spangle is right there.”

Mew squinted at the bushes. He shook his head. “What am I looking at? I don’t see Spangle.”

“He’s camouflaged in the bushes.” Brehane walked to a tight clump, reached in and patted something. Then Mew saw that it was Spangle’s head.

“That’s amazing,” Mew said with consternation. “He totally disappears. He also looks as if he’s grinning at me.”

Brehane chuckled. “I think that Spangle understands us, and he is quite proud of his ability to disappear in the bushes.”

A short time later, Mew pulled the basket of food from his poppin. While they enjoyed their meal, Brehane gently tapped Mew’s leg and pointed to where Spangle was sprawled out, asleep in the shade. The gray-masked faces of a few taxilars were visible in the bushes near him. Brehane held a finger to his lips and then pointed to Mitsy. While she grazed, she slowly backed up to Spangle. Mew raised one eyebrow in a question. Brehane just smiled and pointed to them again with his other finger over his lips.

Mitsy kicked both of her back hooves out. Spangle grunted and rolled out of control. Mew jumped up. He didn’t know if he should do something to help the cat. He looked back to Brehane.

Brehane tipped over on his side and laughed. He wrapped his arms around his middle and rolled from side to side. “You looked so funny!” he gasped out. “I didn’t think that you could move that fast. You’re so big; I thought you’d be slower.”

“Am I to understand,” Mew asked, “that you expected that to happen?” He cocked one eyebrow.

Brehane nodded and smiled. “It’s a game they play all the time. Spangle will get even, just wait and see.” He stopped smiling and looked seriously at Mew. “They must feel very safe with you here. The last few days they have been too wary to play together.”

Mew smiled back and sat down to finish his banana. After the wrappings were put back in his poppins, he pulled a silver brush with soft bristles out and brushed his hair until the dirt was removed and it shone like a solid sunbeam.

Brehane stared at Mew.

“What?” Mew asked.

Brehane snapped his mouth closed and looked away.

“Do you not take pride in your hair?” Mew questioned.

“What do you mean, ‘take pride in my hair?’ Why would I?” Brehane asked.

“Girgash all keep their hair clean and brushed.” Mew shrugged. “It just feels good. If you went to Girgarthon, you would see many brushing their hair at any time of the day.”

“Well, you won’t see any male Gisbon brushing his hair. That’s only done at home. I prefer to have my hair blow in the wind.” He shook his wavy strands around his face.

The rest of the day passed peacefully. Brehane loosened up a bit, and the trip back from the pasture was filled with considerably more conversation.

They reached the hut in amiable acquaintance. All of the white taxilars were accounted for and content.


UNEXPECTED THREAT

The next morning, Mew enjoyed a quick breakfast in the sweltering sun. The heat didn’t keep Zema from leaning against him, and it certainly didn’t slow down her ability to talk. Mew liked the vivacious little girl. Brehane seemed in a hurry to reach the pasture, so they left considerably earlier than yesterday.

Dogo, the small village, lay behind them as they rode through an open plain. Mew scanned the horizon in all directions and saw an unwelcome sight. He tensed.

“Brehane! Do you have any idea what’s making that cloud of dust?” Mew shouted.

Brehane cupped his hand over his ear. He was too far away to hear Mew over the taxilar hooves pounding on dry ground. Mew pointed to the north and shrugged in question.

Brehane’s eyes filled with fear. He rode Mitsy to Mew.

“Raiders!” Brehane shouted. His eyes swerved wildly about the empty plain around them. “What can we do? They’ll take the herd!” His voice rang higher than usual. “We’re too far from the hills to find shelter! We’re exposed.

“Why, we’ll invite them to join us for a drink and a bite to eat,” Mew said as he chuckled. “Climb on down from Mitsy.”

Brehane just stared at him as if he’d grown two heads. After a moment Brehane hopped off of Mitsy. “Spangle. Come!” He stroked the length of Spangle’s back and told him, “Keep the taxilars together.” Then he turned to Mew.

Mew pulled a square cloth, grapes, cheese, lemons, and a water skin from his poppins. Brehane stared at him then glanced nervously at the approaching raiders.

Brehane clenched his fists when he saw how close they were. The wind carried the raider’s whoops and cries. Mew continued to work. He spread the cloth on the ground and laid the food in the center of it.

“Mew!” Brehane exclaimed. “What are you doing? I thought Girgash were protectors. Aren’t you going to fight them?” His exasperation seemed to grow with every hoof beat that reached their ears.

“There is plenty of time for a fight. First, let’s see how reasonable these raiders are. Not every threat has to be dealt with by sword and bow.” Mew knew this was going to be very hard for Brehane, but he hoped the boy learned something.

Brehane stood with his jaw clenched.

Maybe not. Mew uncorked the water skin and squeezed sliced lemon wedges into it. A small knife lay beside him. He glanced at Brehane and saw the boy eyeing the knife with unbelief. He probably thought the knife wasn’t good for much other than slicing lemons. Well, he was right about that.

Mew dug in his poppin again and pulled a cloth packet out. He stuck his large fingers through the opening and pulled out a green leaf. He added it to a small porous bag with draw strings. Then he crushed it between his fingers. Next, he put the bag into the water skin, but left the drawstring hanging out of the top.

“What is that for?” Brehane snapped.

“That is a Stevia leaf. It’s sweet like sugar, but easier to carry in my poppins. One time a bag of sugar spilled, and everything I pulled out was covered in a sticky, sweet mess.” Mew chuckled at the memory. “I use these leaves now, and since they are sweeter than sugar, it only takes a little to do the job.” He swirled the water a few times, pulled the little bag out, and handed the skin to Brehane. “Try it, and tell me what you think.”

Brehane turned to examine the raiders’ progress as he poured some of the drink into his open mouth. He quickly pulled the water skin away and looked at it. He wiped the back of his hand over his wet mouth and said, “It tastes sweet, clean, and cool. What’s it called?”

“I call it ‘cool breeze’ because it’s as refreshing as a cool breeze on a hot day. I’m glad you like it.” Mew smiled at him.

Brehane looked up and dropped the water skin. He swung his bow from his back, planted his feet, and readied an arrow.

Mew placed a hand on Brehane’s small shoulder and said, “Easy, Brehane. I’m here. I have every intention of protecting you and the herd. Will you give me a chance to do that my way?”

Brehane looked at him out of the corner of his eye. He lowered the bow, but kept the arrow nocked. He nodded. Mew sat on the cloth and patted the spot beside him, “Come sit down with me.”

Brehane shook his head. Fine, at least he hadn’t lifted his bow again. Maybe he would let Mew sort this out.

The raiders barreled up on their ponies and stopped just short of Mew and the blanket neatly set with food. The Gisbon raider in front pointed a nasty-looking spear at them, but before he could speak, Mew gestured toward the food. “Would you like to join us for a small meal? We have plenty.

The raiders shifted with unease upon their mounts. Mew must look as alien to them as he had to Brehane and his family. They stared at Mew and looked him up and down. Despite their perch upon ponies, they were eye to eye with Mew. They didn’t even seem to notice Brehane.

“We aren’t here for food,” spat the raider in front. His heavy leather armor was scarred and dull with dust. “We’re here for your taxilars. You can either give the animals to us, or we will kill you and take them anyway.” The raider looked tough as he thrust his spear at them, but his eyes betrayed his uncertainty when he looked at Mew.

“Come, come, there’s plenty of time for that. First, sit with us and enjoy some refreshments,” Mew purred in a soft voice. Brehane shifted restlessly behind him. Then, he awkwardly sat by Mew on the blanket. Mew tired not to smile at him.

The men looked to their leader with questioning expressions. The leader tried to play his confidence card. “Fine. We eat, and then you will give us the herd.”

While the raiders dismounted, Brehane leaned back and looked past Mew at the taxilars. The boy was nervous and jumpy. Hopefully he could hold it together long enough for Mew to handle this.

The raiders cautiously walked toward them.

Brehane surprised Mew by speaking. “Jambo. You have to try this drink called cool breeze. It’s amazing,” he said, and hefted the water skin that Mew had recovered when Brehane had dropped it.

“Sit, sit. We can’t eat properly while standing.” Mew gestured to the ground beside him. A few of the raiders sat, but four refused and stood guard behind the others.

Mew passed around juicy purple grapes, then some cheese. The raiders were still leery, but they ate. Their eyes rarely left Mew.

Brehane fidgeted and only nibbled at the food.

Then Mew passed the water skin to the raider beside Brehane. The Gisbon eyed it suspiciously. “If I’d wanted to poison you,” Mew said, “why would I wait until you had eaten my food? I would have poisoned the first thing I gave you.”

Brehane swiftly grabbed the water skin and took a large gulp, followed with a satisfied “Ah!”

The raider pursed his lips and yanked the water skin from Brehane’s hand. He threw his head back and swallowed some of its contents. He made a startled gurgle in his throat and took another drink. The fellow that sat next to him yanked the water skin free of his grip and took a long swallow. Pleasure was written on his face, but before he could take another gulp the Gisbon on his other side ripped it out of his hands and took a hearty swallow.

“There is plenty for you all!” Mew said. He hastily made more cool breeze in another water skin and passed it around.

When their thirst was quenched the leader demanded, “Now hand over your herd, and that mangy churis that you have working them, and we will go our own way without a fight.” He looked menacingly into Mew’s dark blue eyes.

 “Well, I wished it wouldn’t come to this, but if you insist on a fight, then a fight you shall have. If only it were a more evenly matched one.” He sighed as he hefted his long body up from the ground and onto his feet.

“Ha! You don’t even have a weapon! How can you hope to resist us, let alone fight us?” scoffed one bandit. “Surely you have heard of the might of Jemebere and his ruthless raiders. Only a fool would deny our demands.” He was unaware that the comrades who had previously been at his side had backed up.

Mew turned his back to the raiders and hefted Brehane onto Mitsy. “I don’t want you underfoot.” Mew whispered conspiratorially. “You may be crushed.” As he turned around, he lifted his huge boot and raised an eyebrow at Brehane.

Brehane went a little way off in the direction of the herd.

Mew pulled two long swords from his poppins, and quickly dropped their sheaths. The raiders shouted in surprise and shifted back and forth. They appeared to be at a loss, unsure about how to attack the now armed Girgash before them. Suddenly one of the Gisbons rushed Mew with his spear aimed up at his heart. Mew deftly swept the spear away with a parry of his right sword. The raider ran straight into the middle of Mew, bounced back, and landed on his butt in the dirt. His spear lay uselessly four feet to his side. The other raiders hesitated for an instant and then yelled as one and threw themselves at Mew.

Mew gripped his swords. They were comfortable old friends in his hands. He wounded and bloodied each attacker by the end of their first charge. Not one of them had been able to score a hit on him. They may be tough as far as Gisbons go, but they weren’t even close to the most dangerous opponent Mew had faced.

Two raiders ran at him with their swords, while two others launched spears at him. Mew spun to the side and with one downward stroke swept the blades away from him. The swordsmen stumbled, and the spears sailed past Mew’s left side. Three more raiders yelled and charged. One came from the left, one from the right, and one straight on. The two that had stumbled past him had recovered and charged from behind. Mew jabbed his left foot backwards. His foot was large enough to slam both raiders in the stomach. As he bent forward to thrust his boot back, he spun both of his swords before him. All three of the swords that slashed at him flew from hands and sailed twenty feet away. As he righted himself, a spear flew toward his chest. Mew bent backwards, flattened himself, and the spear passed harmlessly over him. Mew let out a savage yell. The raiders reeked of fear; so why not end this now, before they were seriously hurt.

The raiders, now mostly disarmed, turned and fled on foot, leaving their ponies behind.

Brehane returned and drew up alongside Mew. He held his sides and laughed so hard he fell off Mitsy when she came to a stop. “That was amazing!” he said between peals of laughter.

Mew lowered his swords and stared after the raiders. “Hmm. I’m afraid we’ve not seen the last of them.”

When Brehane finally composed himself, he climbed on Mitsy’s back ready to push the herd on to their pasture. “What will happen to the ponies?”

Mew sighed and herded them together. “I guess I’m their protector now, too. We’d better keep them with us.”

“I wasn’t sure you could protect the herd.” Brehane said in a subdued voice. He looked up at Mew, “Now I don’t have any doubts about that.”

“It’s not just me, Brehane,” Mew said. How could he make the teen understand? “Melek gave me the ability to learn and excel in the art of protection. We will give thanks to Him for delivering us today from those ruffians, wimpy though they may have been.” He winked at Brehane. Mew led them in a prayer of humble thanksgiving as they pressed on with the herd. Now for the real challenge: a beast you can’t see and leaves no tracks.

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