Through the reddish eyes of the bronze butterfly Frolin surveyed the terrain of the desert city below searching for any sign of Otis and Millaney, when he spotted the infamous rooghon tied to a stake near a tent alongside a klatuu. The early morning sun glistened off the wings of his mechanical beast as he guided it into a slight opening in the animal-hide tent door flapping in the wind. Frolin saw Millaney lift her head from the mat she lay on and look toward his bronze pet, as it landed near her face. Otis woke up and rolled over on his mat, as Millaney reached out to retrieve a note in the grasp of the butterfly’s tiny hands. She sat up in bed and unraveled the note which was again written in a language few people would know. She also held a small key which was rolled up with the note.
Hello Millaney I am so glad Otis was able to free you. We are diligently working on a plan to free your father. We found a trail of clay in the high priest’s chamber and after talking to Darvin we are convinced that the clay golem controlled by Darvin’s father is what really killed the priest. Unfortunately we cannot follow the trail, as the golem appears to be able to dissolve and pass through stone walls, but Frolin has a plan. He has convinced us that he can recreate the type of energy used to control the golem and we are helping him to make a device to do just that. It will take a few days or so to make but we’ll need you and Otis to be ready to track the golem down once we are able to draw it out of its hiding place. We are not sure this will work. Frolin says the trick will be finding the same frequency of the golem and if he can generate the energy which we have to believe he can, since it is our only real hope. We are certain that if the golem can be captured it should be enough to prove his innocence of the murder of the high priest anyway. It will take some gifted oratory to perhaps link them to show enough doubt that he didn’t kill the Shrkai soldier either, but we all know how persuasive Patrah can be. Again I’m so glad that you are free and wish we could be together, but if this is to work I agree with Patrah that you and Otis should continue to draw the attention of the soldiers so the rest of us can investigate. Be sure to use the key to rewind the butterfly so it can return to us and keep the key, we have a copy. Be well my sister; Sarnay
Millaney tore up the letter then looked for the keyhole and wound up the bronze wonder and watched as its wings fluttered and lifted itself into the air. Millaney stood in her thin underclothes and watched as the glistening butterfly flew out the opening in the tent. She reached for the tie-strap and was about to follow it out, when Otis put a gentle hand on her shoulder. She turned to see his smile and wondered for a moment why he stopped her, then realized that if she stepped out and watched the butterfly depart, that the soldiers who had been following them might see what she was looking at as well and perhaps follow it. She watched through the flapping tent door, as the butterfly fluttered off over a nearby hill, then turned to pull some clothes out of her pack.
Otis gathered his entry fees from the night before which included a variety of items found here in the desert region. He loaded small pouches of spice, and his favorite hot peppers as well as a few containers with live lizards and even a desert turtle into his saddle bags then carried them out to his rooghon. Millaney ran a brush through her curly blond hair then braided long strands of it on one side and tied the end up with a blue bow before pulling a chillsuit on over her dress. The suns heat was less of a bother to Otis as he usually did not wear a chillsuit over his sweat-stained tunic. The two of them mounted quietly and headed west toward the port with three mounted Shrkai soldiers following at a distance.
They rode through the city with few other people out in the heat kicking up a cloud of dust that trailed them as they passed. They trotted across the desert path outside the city with the few shriveled plants and trees with brown and falling needles showing definite signs of lack of water as the fall rains that usually fell in the region by this time had not yet arrived. Several Shrkai soldiers watched, as they passed through the camp just east of the docks and then several guards parted to let them pass into the harbor area which also had little activity with only one galley present being unloaded. Otis stopped and reached for his water-skin and drank deep of its contents when he arrived at the shipping office. The two of them dismounted and led their animals over to a barrel of water and tied them to poles driven in the ground nearby.
“I’ll only be a short time if you want to join me,” He said to Millaney, as he unstrapped his saddle bags.
“No thanks. I’ll just find some shade and wait for you out here,” she replied, just after tying up her klaatu and walking over to the west side of the building. She sat on a bench with the shade of the building covering her and drank from her water-skin. She glanced over to the docks where a crane operated by several men at a turnstile lifted a huge crate off the only galley docked at the port. She saw three Shrkai soldiers approach her with her peripheral vision, but thought little of it and kept watching the activity on the galley docked at the river. She didn’t notice they wore the insignia of the dragon clan on their bracers and that they were the same three as from the practice field the previous day. One of the soldiers armed with pole weapons and dressed in dark armor over their chillsuits stepped forward of the other two.
“I don’t know how we let scum like this filthy human wretch into our city,” he sneered as he stood near Millaney blocking her view of the dock. “I think it’s past time we closed our borders to keep these rapists and murderers out.” Millaney casually turned her head to look at the young man who was really only a few years older than she was in the face. “What do you say boys should we throw her back in the river she crawled out of?” He turned to laugh at the two soldiers behind him who were also about his age, only to find Millaney had gotten to her feet and placed the tip of her sword to his throat. He stopped laughing quite abruptly and when the other two went to aim their weapons at Millaney, she pressed her sword a bit closer and a tiny trickle of blood seeped out of the cut and dripped down his neck.
“If you’re in a hurry to meet your gods, let your friends advance.” Millaney smiled and winked her eye. The soldier threw up his arm halting his friends in their tracks. “Better. Now I was raised on your island and trained the same as you, as you well know. I know you take an oath and I want you to swear on that oath that when I remove my sword from your throat, you and your friends will back slowly away and never bother me again. “
“Yes. Yes,” he choked out.
“Swear on your oath!” Millaney turned her blade to the side to where she could easily slice his throat with a flick of her wrist.
“I swear! I swear on my oath as a Shrkai soldier that I, uhh we will back away and never bother you again.”
Keeping her eyes on all three of the young soldiers, Millaney eased her sword back, but kept it ready and assumed a defensive position ready for a potential attack. The soldier in front brought his hand up to the cut on his throat, but the other two went to charge.
“No! Stop,” the front soldier called out again stopping his comrades’ advance. “We’ll leave this one alone.” Millaney kept her sword up and ready, as the three young Shrkai turned and stepped quietly away from the building. A short distance away Millaney saw the three elder soldiers who had been following her and Otis all day standing nearby and realized they must have seen the entire incident. The soldiers watching made no move to interfere or come forward to apprehend her and one of them even nodded his head to her, just as Otis came around the corner and saw her standing with her sword drawn.
“I know I must have just missed something,” he remarked jokingly, as Millaney returned her sword to its sheath.
“Nothing out of the ordinary for me,” she smiled and walked over to him. The two of them walked together back to their animals untied them mounted and trotted away from the building.
Further away from the docks area after passing the market, Otis stopped his rooghon. The cloud of dust following them caught up, as Millaney also stopped wondering what was going on. Otis then turned his beast to the north with Millaney following right behind him on her klaatu. The three Shrkai soldiers who had been following them all day followed at a distance also turned to follow. He trotted his rooghon beyond the northern foothills with the majority of the residential housing of the city built into them and traveled along a seldom used path that led straight toward the Mahfoga mountain range. They continued to ride along the path that followed the edge of the rolling foothills occasionally climbing up over some rugged terrain, until they reached a secluded spot about a half-day ride out of the city at the base of the mountain with a tiny stream trickling out to the river.
“I found this spot on a trip once. I’m sure others know of it, but we should be alone here with the exception of our three shadows.” Otis said, as he dismounted and slugged water from his water-skin. The air was considerably cooler and Otis even waved for the three soldiers to come down and fill their skins of water. Millaney dismounted and unloaded her klaatu, while Otis unloaded his rooghon and they led both animals to the tiny stream of water.
“How are we supposed to help my father way out here?” Millaney asked, as she tied her klaatu to a small but stout tree near the stream.
“Have faith in your friends.”
“How are they going to even find us out here?”
“I’ll see to that. Now just relax and break out some of our food.” Otis replied, as the three soldiers trotted down mounted on klaatus much like the one Millaney rode on and sat with them for lunch. The Shrkai soldiers ate with them in the quiet cove where the temperature was significantly cooler and when they were done eating and filling their water skins, they started to mount and return to a position on top of one of the nearby hills. “Before you go,” Otis started to say to one of the soldiers, as he was about to mount his klaatu. “You get relieved at least once a day by other soldiers right and report in?”
“Why yes of course. One of us will ride out soon actually to let our relief know where to find us.”
“Good I’m going to be out here furthering this young lady’s training for a few days or so. Can you make sure her great-grandfather Patrah knows where we are in case anyone needs to reach us?”
“Yes sir. I’ll make sure he knows.” The soldier mounted his animal and rode out behind his two comrades.
“Training?” Millaney asked after the soldiers were out of range to hear them talk.
“You’re quite advanced for someone your age, but there’s always more to learn. First off you need to get into something else to where,” Otis said, as he walked over to the tent they set up earlier and near it he retrieved two staves.
“I’ve trained in my dress before,” Millaney complained.
“Yes you’re very flexible you can do so much more with an outfit that gives you more freedom of motion.” He tossed her one of the staffs. “Fine. Defend yourself.” Otis gave her enough time to catch the staff and prepare herself, but he swept her off her feet with a quick low sweep of his staff that she was too slow to defend against. “Now if you were in a different outfit you would have been able to lift your legs quicker and easily avoid that leg sweep. Change or I’ll have you falling on your butt all afternoon.”
With her lips pressed together in a defiant sneer, Millaney tossed her staff aside, stood and went into the tent. She returned a short time later wearing a short leather dress tied with a bow in the middle and pair of long blue stockings with knee-high boots.
“This is all I’ve got.”
“Well when I get you up north I’ll take you to my home and my wife Nava will help you design new outfits with bows and all if you like. Now pick up your weapon.” Otis stood poised in a defensive stance, as Millaney walked passed him and picked up her staff.
The two of them trained for the better part of the afternoon in the small valley with the tiny stream and the one small tree and a few bushes showing more life than any of the taller trees and bushes back in the heat-riddled city. They stopped often to drink from the stream, but Millaney showed progress and improved mobility and at times was even able to jump around Otis’ attack and get behind him. Otis continued to train her throughout the day and into the night, the focused training also helped her to take her mind off the fate awaiting her father. That night before retiring to their tents, Otis took her out to set traps for any animals that come to the stream to drink. The purple sky covered the city with three Shrkai soldiers camped on top of the hill and Otis and Millaney in the tent by the stream.
The next morning as the light from the twin suns was just peaking over the far east horizon, Millaney untied the tent door. She stepped out wearing one of Otis’ tunics which covered her curvy figure like a small dress to just below her hips, with the opening in the shirt barely covering her tanned breasts with leather strings dangling across her cleavage. She turned in the purple darkness with the suns light yet to peak over the small hill nearby and retied the tent door. Carrying a small bar of soap and a towel, she went around to the back side of the tent to be sure any view of her by the soldiers on the hill was blocked by the tent and then went to the tiny stream near a bush. She bent down and scooped up some of the stream water and drank its cool offering from the palm of her hand.
With just a tiny glimmer of the sunslight peaking over the top of a hill to the east, Millaney pulled off the tunic and dipped her feet into the narrow stream. With the gentle flow of water reaching only about to her slender calves, Millaney found a smooth rock in the stream and sat down and dipped in the bar of soap. She washed herself in the cool water, as the suns rays continued to rise over the hill and push back the purple sky above. Millaney quickly ran the bar of soap over her body dipping it frequently in the cool stream until she had washed herself thoroughly, then she lay back in the stream to let the cool water wash over her body and drench her curly blonde hair. After a short cool dip in the stream, she lifted her head with her drenched blonde hair dropping over her shoulders and covering half her back and across her breasts. With the suns continuing to rise, she then dipped the soap and let the soapy water drip into her hair then bunched up her hair and worked the soapy water through it before again laying back in the stream to rinse herself.
With the joined suns light breaking through the darkness, Millaney lifted herself up from the water and grabbed her towel. She dried off as quick as she could so that the cover of darkness helped to hide her from any prying eyes. She pulled the tunic back over her wet hair, then pulled the ends of her dripping long blonde hair out from under the tunic to leave it flop onto her back over the shirt, then stepped back toward the tent leaving damp footsteps that were instantly absorbed by the thirsty soil. She untied the tent flap and stepped back inside with the suns’ rays just edging their way to it and warming the cool soil.
Otis woke up a short time later while Millaney was dressed and sitting cross-legged on the mat across from him brushing her hair. He picked up his damp tunic, and lifted off a long blonde hair, raised an eyebrow then looked at Millaney who just shrugged her shoulders. Otis threw the damp shirt aside then grabbed a different one out of his pack and pulled it on over his shoulders pulled on a pair of short-baggy trousers and placed his feet in his sandals. He gestured for Millaney to join him, then stepped out of tent. She stepped out a moment later after tossing her brush down and pulling on her boots. They walked together out into the hills to check the traps. The first two they checked were sprung but nothing was caught, but the third one had a weasel caught in the small wooden cage.
Otis reached for the weasel with it desperately trying to escape and carefully grabbed the creature by its neck yanking it out of the cage. Millaney turned away, as he broke its neck killing it quickly.
“What? Hasn’t your father ever taken you hunting?” Otis smirked when he noticed her reaction.
“Yes, with a bow. I’ve never seen an animal’s neck broken like that before.”
“Well it’s quick and painless, and we’re not gonna cook it alive.” Otis and Millaney started to walk back to the tent. “Your father was right about one thing,” he started to say when he noticed her looking at the ground. “You’re a very unique young woman. Don’t let this situation harden you.” Millaney flashed him a quick but fleeting smile, as they walked into their camp. While Otis cleaned the fur and skin off the weasel, Millaney prepared a small fire.