Chapter Thirty-three: Ignorance and Charity
Adesina passed the days in relative contentment. It wasn’t until they started coming across civilization again that she was pulled back to reality.
L’iam surprised Adesina by directing his horse out from the protection of the trees. The group of L’avan had not traveled in the open since leaving the Rashad lands.
“What are you doing?” she asked, perplexed.
He gave a strained smile. “We left in a hurry, so we did not prepare as well as we could have. We will need to stop and get supplies from a nearby village.”
She didn’t understand the forced expression on his face. “What is wrong?”
He exchanged glances with Sa’jan and E’nes. “It is not going to be easy.”
L’iam merely nodded and nudged his horse forward. They emerged from the trees, moving at a slow, deliberate pace. They left the forest in such a manner as to make it appear that they were approaching from the west. The L’avan topped a small hill, and Adesina saw the village set before them.
It was small and simple, made up of small shanties and a few farms. Adesina could see the figures of its citizens walking down the dirt roads.
The group of travelers was spotted quickly, and a cry of warning sounded. The villagers hurried to ready themselves for the arrival of the intruders. They gathered their families into their homes, grabbed pitchforks and stood by their fences to watch the L’avan ride by.
The closer the L’avan drew, the clearer the scene became to Adesina. Unlike Yavar, which was beautiful from a distance as well as in proximity, the village looked dirty and run-down when observed at a nearer interval. The roads were muddy, and the daily traffic had spattered everything else. The people and the animals were all worn and bore hostile expressions on their faces. It was painfully clear that Adesina and her companions were unwanted.
L’era seemed to be the only one, other than Adesina, who noticed. The others had impassive expressions on their faces and they rode into the center of town. They stopped in front of what appeared to be a trading post.
“L’era, Sa’jan and Ravi, stay here with the horses,” L’iam instructed as he dismounted.
They nodded, although L’era was reluctant to do so. L’iam, E’nes and Adesina walked up the uneven wooden steps and into the dim interior of the trading post.
A dirty man with a thick, mangy beard stood behind the counter. The room was filled with an unorganized mess of trapping and hunting tools, bags of flour, dead animals and pieces of dried meat, bolts of rough fabric, and so forth. Adesina had to fight to keep the look of disdain from her face.
The shopkeeper, on the other hand, felt no such need. He surveyed the visitors with open scorn. “We dunnot serve yor kind heer.”
L’iam looked politely puzzled. “I beg your pardon?”
The man spat at their feet. “Willno’ do ya no good to beg for me pardon. I dunnot serve yor kind. Take yor selfs outta my estableeshmen.”
L’iam cast a glance at E’nes and they both started to turn away, but Adesina refused to join them. She firmly stood her ground with an enraged glint in her eye.
“Why?” she demanded.
The shopkeeper was surprised that she dared to argue. “Wha’?”
“Why do you not serve our kind?”
The man was speechless, daunted by the icy glare he met in this bold young woman dressed in black. E’nes tried to gently lead her away, but she jerked her arm out of his grasp.
“Have you ever been treated dishonestly by the L’avan? Have you ever been wronged?”
The shopkeeper stood dumb, his face a mixture of fear and hatred. L’iam laid a hand on her elbow, speaking quietly in her ear in the language of the L’avan rather than the common tongue.
“It does not matter, Adesina. At a time like this, it is more important to stand on the higher ground.”
She reluctantly allowed herself to be led from the trading post. The look on Sa’jan’s face when they emerged with no supplies showed no surprise. This only provoked Adesina further.
“They do not serve our kind?” she spat.
L’iam nodded with a sad expression on his face. “There is a lot of ignorance and prejudice in these parts. A portion of that is fueled by the Shimat, another portion by the fear of the locals. All we can do is show them that we are not dangerous, try to cultivate friendships, take the high road when things get petty…”
She shook her head stubbornly. “Something should be done. That stain of a human being refused to serve us because he knows he can get away with it. He enjoys the feeling of power he gets from pushing people around. If you stood up to him, he would not do it anymore. You are better than him.”
L’iam paused before mounting his horse again. “Which is why I choose to walk away.”
As the group of L’avan rode out of the village, L’era quietly asked, “Where are we going to find food?”
Sa’jan shrugged. “In the next village, perhaps.”
“Where is that?”
He pointed south. “A few hours’ ride that way. Honestly, though, we will be more likely to have luck if we come across a group of one of the Northern Tribes. They are more willing to do business with the L’avan.”
Adesina pulled her horse alongside Sa’jan’s. She knew it was a bit childish, but she was still angry with L’iam and E’nes for making her walk away from the shopkeeper. She turned her attention to Sa’jan, ignoring the others completely.
“Have you done much business with them?”
Sa’jan inclined his head. “Certain tribes, yes. Others, no.”
“Which ones?” she asked in genuine interest.
He lifted his gaze to the sky, thinking over all the tribes he had met during his years of service. “The So, the Quehe, the Mihe, the Oyutai, the Chyaique, the Ojuri, the Lok, the Tse, and many others. Most of the tribes are friendly to the L’avan, a few are not.”
“Why is that?” she asked.
He made a vague gesture with his hand. “Well, like us, they are often shunned from society. Many of the tribes view us as companions in misfortune. They go out of their way to aid us, just as we go out of our way to aid them. Other tribes view us in the same way as the villagers around here. They think of us as dangerous and manipulative.”
L’era piped up angrily. “You would think that hundreds of years of peaceful coexistence would show them otherwise.”
L’iam reached over and took his sister’s hand. “Let go of your anger, little sister. Do not give them that power over you.”
“We will probably find someone to sell us supplies in the next village,” E’nes said optimistically.
He was wrong.
The next village they came across was very much like the previous one. It was filthy and run-down, and filled with distrustful people. The woman running the trading post would not even let them walk up the steps. She stood at the doorway with a pitchfork in hand, warning them to leave immediately.
So the L’avan continued onward, their meals getting more and more scarce. Ravi tried hunting for them, but was only able to procure a couple of thin rabbits. The settlers of the area had already stripped the land of its natural food resources, so there was not much on which the travelers could survive.
Adesina didn’t mind going hungry nearly as much as she minded the treatment they were receiving from the villagers. After all, a large part of her Shimat training had been survival in varied and extreme circumstances. Even after her time away from the fortress, she still felt she was holding up better than the others—especially considering that she was expending little energy. Riding a horse all day only taxed her patience, not her body. She took less food every meal, leaving more for her companions, and ignored the others when they protested against such actions.
The group would have probably sunk into despair had it not been for L’era. Once she had dropped her indignation, she took it upon herself to cheer everyone else.
She placed a hand on Adesina’s forearm. “Look at that sunset. How beautiful!”
Adesina hadn’t noticed, but she had to admit that it was breathtaking. The rich reds and oranges blended peacefully with the deep blue of the coming night.
“Yes,” she agreed. “It is beautiful.”
“I love sunsets,” L’era went on. “They seem to be the perfect ending to the day, like the finale of a symphony of people and things and places and events.”
L’iam gave his sister a rueful glance. “I am finding your enthusiasm hard to swallow right now. It is easier to ingest such insistent happiness on a full stomach.”
She paid him no mind. “Honestly, L’iam, stop dragging your feet. There is so much beauty all around us. If we cannot find joy in those things, then we will be depressed all the time.”
They found a suitable place to stop for the night and set up camp. L’era hummed happily as she worked and was accompanied in her impromptu music by Ravi.
Adesina couldn’t help but smile at the stubbornly positive attitude that the young princess had adopted. It made their journey much more bearable, in spite of the hardships they were facing.
As Sa’jan was stirring the last of their supplies in with a disproportionate amount of water, the jingling of many harnesses could be heard in the distance. The L’avan looked at each other in alarm.
“Should we dowse the fire?” L’era asked in a hushed voice.
Adesina shook her head. “It would do no good. They have most likely seen it already.”
She got to her feet, slowly drawing her Blood Sword. It glinted in the firelight, almost as if it were eager for a fight. The others stood to join her, but did not draw any weapons.
L’iam connected with his vyala and reached out to the strangers. “They have seen our fire and are coming towards us. They are not hostile at the moment, only cautious.”
This was reason enough for Adesina to stay on her guard. They waited in suspenseful silence for the strangers to draw near. Adesina connected to her own vyala, changing her vision to a dark green. She sensed fifty wagons, all pulled by pairs of oxen, twenty riders on horseback, and a dozen people on foot. They were close enough now that the L’avan could hear their voices joined in song. Adesina couldn’t understand the words, but the tune was as bright and wandering as the people who sang it.
Chaiqui mihe joxyu’e fosain,
Chaiqui mihe’e fosain.
Peloch tse quehe’e
Joxyu’e de fosain.
Mihe, mihe, tse quehe,
Tse kilzo jox.
Mihe, mihe, tse quehe,
Tse kilzo jox.
Tse hizo’e therok yesh,
Lo therok yesh.
Peloch tse quehe’e
I’yeshe zoju ovel.
Mihe, mihe, tse quehe,
Tse kilzo jox.
Mihe, mihe, tse quehe,
Tse kilzo jox.
The expression on Sa’jan’s face lightened considerably. “It is the Ojuri. They mean us no harm.”
His assurances were enough for the others, but Adesina still felt wary. It was with great reluctance that she sheathed her Blood Sword.
The Ojuri slowly came within the radius of the campfire’s light. An oddly elegant looking woman on a dapple-grey mare was leading the large group.
She wore a bright purple dress and many mismatched scarves. Her wrists were filled with assorted wooden bracelets and she wore a multitude of similar necklaces. Her long wavy hair was as black as a raven, and touched with grey at the temples.
More striking than her appearance, though, was the expression in her eyes. There was a power and self-assurance there, coupled with deep wisdom and years of experience. This was a woman who had seen much sorrow, but knew equal amounts of joy. She was a free spirit, only seeming to be captured in a physical body.
Sa’jan gave her a courtly bow as soon as she brought her horse to a stop. “M’lady Hestia, I am honored to once again be in your presence.”
Hestia flashed him a stunning smile. “Lord Sa’jan, it has been far too long.”
He cleared his throat and inclined his head. “May I introduce you to my companions?”
She nodded graciously. “Of course.”
Sa’jan gestured to each of them as he called them by name. “His Royal Highness, Prince L’iam, son of King L’unn and Queen Ta’mala; Her Royal Highness, Princess L’era, daughter of King L’unn and Queen Ta’mala; Captain Protector E’nes, son of Me’shan and E’rian; Adesina, daughter of Me’shan and E’rian; and Ravi, son of Riordan and Rabia, and heir leader of the Rashad.”
Hestia raised her eyebrows. “Such august company! We would be honored if you would join us for an evening meal.”
L’iam stepped forward, looking every part the royal prince. “M’lady Hestia, it would be our honor to join you.”
She gave him an amused look, but accepted the comment gracefully. She murmured a few orders to the man riding next to her, who then hurried away to spread the word to set up camp.
The wagons pulled into a tight circle around the camp of L’avan. When the circle was complete, the other wagons pulled into a circle around them, and then a third ring made up the last of them. A multitude of people began bustling about, unhitching the oxen, rubbing down horses, gathering firewood, setting up a guard around the wagons, building fires, preparing food.
Hestia noticed the watered down contents of their pot on the fire and gestured questioningly. “May I?”
Sa’jan smiled ruefully and nodded. “Of course.”
She went to work, assisted by a girl no older than fourteen. The girl was clearly Hestia’s daughter, for she was a smaller copy of her mother. Her hair was pulled back in a loose braid and she didn’t wear the ornaments that Hestia did, but other than that they looked the same.
Together they began dicing vegetables, shredding dried meat, and adding spices to the mixture. It wasn’t long before it became a respectable stew. The smell was tantalizing, making the stomachs of the L’avan growl with hunger. It had been quite a while since they had eaten a full meal.
The girl fetched a loaf of traveler’s bread and cut it into thick slices. She then began dishing the stew into bowls and handing it to each of the L’avan.
L’iam smiled warmly at the girl, causing her to blush and smile shyly in return. Adesina frowned at the exchange and purposefully turned her attention to Hestia.
The woman was sitting cross-legged next to Sa’jan. They spoke to each other in low voices, and she would occasionally reach over and touch him briefly. It was clear that he responded to her touch, but he also kept himself at a distance, both emotionally and physically. Adesina was fascinated by the strange dynamic between them.
The man that had carried out Hestia’s orders earlier also watched them closely, but with a darker expression on his face. He had the dark hair and dusky complexion of all the Ojuri, but his handsome features were marred by a large burn scar on the left side of his face. He stood apart from the others, speaking to no one unless absolutely necessary. He scowled at every smile that passed between Hestia and Sa’jan, and clenched his fist every time they touched. The two objects of his malice seemed completely unaware of his observation.
The meal commenced with the usual amount of noise connected with a group of that size. The fare was simple, but it was given freely, in spite of the fact that the tribe didn’t have much. All of the L’avan felt deeply grateful for such generosity.
When the meal was over, there was singing and dancing and a few dramatic recitals, for the Ojuri were all performers. Hestia laughed and clapped along with the music, pulling Sa’jan up to dance with her. Adesina was surprised to see with what grace and certainty he performed each step. She suspected that the two had danced many times before.
L’era was quickly pulled into the crowd by one of the Ojuri’s young men. Hestia’s daughter shyly asked L’iam to dance, to which he sportingly agreed, and E’nes pulled Adesina to her feet before she had time to protest. All of the coordination she possessed while fighting seemed to abandon her when she tried to dance. She tried to explain this to E’nes, but he ignored her and continued to spin her around.
Somewhere in the chaos of the movements, they switched partners, and Adesina found herself facing another Ojuri. He laughed lightly as he showed her the different steps and led her around the circle. Adesina was just getting the movements down correctly when they switched partners again. She found herself face to face with L’iam.
His eyes were full of the musical laughter that sounded from his lips. He didn’t hesitate to put his arm around her waist, take her hand, and continue to lead her around the circle.
Adesina was accustomed to the careful distance he kept between them. It seemed like they only touched when training. She felt strange having him press her against his side, moving with her as perfectly as if they had rehearsed the dance. Her stomach was filled with butterflies and clenched uncomfortably in turn. His face was close to hers, and his eyes were so filled with emotion that Adesina felt completely at a loss when looking into them. To her dismay, she felt her cheeks beginning to flush.
She removed herself from his grasp and walked away from the dance, keeping her eyes fixed on the ground. She sat next to Ravi, leaning against him and listening to him hum along with the music. He didn’t say anything to her, but his presence alone was like a blanket of strength and calm.
When she finally summoned the courage to look at the group of revelers again she saw that L’iam was still dancing and laughing, although not quite as freely as before. He glanced over at her once, and she quickly avoided eye contact. After that, he did not look at her again for the remainder of the evening.
It was well after midnight when the festivities came to a close and the Ojuri returned to their wagons to go to sleep. The L’avan curled up in their blankets and spoke to each other in quiet voices about the kindness of their new friends.
Adesina closed her eyes and pretended to sleep long before the others began to settle down for the night, but her mind kept her wide awake. She began re-planning their mission again, going over possibilities and variables. She thought of Kendan and how much she wished he were there to help with the planning.
By the time her mind began slowing down enough to drift off to sleep, Adesina knew that there were only a couple of hours left until dawn.