Chapter 42 - Guardians
Giant tortoise statues guarded the entrance to the area and cages were spread around the room. When Grant thought of tortoises, he thought of giant beasts, but the cages in this room were too small to hold what he had imagined. Upon closer inspection, there were only baby tortoises in this room.
Lights shone down from the top of the cages wrapping around the small creatures as they flapped their legs around, marching on the makeshift ground. An informational plaque was beside each cage.
“Aw, they are so cute!” Linn said.
“Kale inched forward towards the glass until his forehead lightly tapped the glass.
“In Kandorr it is important to separate the young tortoises from the old if they are under human care. We believe it helps them grow to be the defenders they are meant to be. It’s best for them to grow up building a special bond with a single human in their infancy, although at a zoo that obviously can’t be done.” Rhett stared into the glass. “In Kandorr, tortoises are just as common a household animal as a dog or cat.”
Linn’s eyes grew wide. “Really?! I don’t know anyone who has a pet tortoise.”
“I actually happen to have one, well, back at home.” Rhett grinned. “They aren’t the most exciting of animals, but funnily enough, they do start to feel like family, especially with how long their lifespan is.”
“I want one too!” Linn blurted out.
“Kandorr culture sure is interesting. I only know a bit about it from the people I meet from the bar by the border,” Natch said.
“Yeah, I think most of those guys that come to the border don’t really care for Kandorr culture though, not that I do. But, my parents definitely do. I’ve kind of moved on from it.”
Grant didn’t believe him. The front of his trailer even had wooden tortoises protecting it. Or maybe that was just an aesthetic he grew to like, maybe he didn’t follow most Kandorr traditions. This caused Grant to ponder his own culture. “Do we even have anything unique to our culture in Nhaja…?”
“I can’t think of any, but then again, everything we do always seems normal to us.” Saraiya said and looked at Rhett. “I guess we would have to ask Rhett.”
“Hmm, I haven’t noticed too much of a different of things here than in Kandorr.” He rubbed his chin. “Wait, you guys are obsessed with cats, and with no meaning behind it.”
“I think that’s only Lyros that’s obsessed with cats. Not the whole country,” Grant said.
Kale turned away from the cages and spoke. “There is a meaning for it though.”
Grant, Saraiya, and Rhett all tilted their heads in confusion.
“Well… Maybe there is…” He continued.
“What would that be?” Rhett asked.
“I guess that they’re cute,” Kale said after a pause.
Linn quickly nodded her head twice in agreement.
It seemed he wanted to say something other than that, but decided against it. Grant had the same feeling as when the vulthos and the claw were mentioned. Kale always had to answer in a roundabout way, sometimes never even answering the question in the first place.
“Yeah, cute is a good reason to love animals!” Linn joined in.
“Ah, well, I guess I can’t argue with that.” Rhett smiled.
“There’s a door that leads to adult tortoises here, why don’t we walk out here?” Natch asked.
They stepped through the door that led to an outdoor exhibit. Large tortoises grazed over the grass at the speed of a snail.
“How are these guys known as the protectors of Kandorr? They don’t seem like they’d be able to protect anything but themselves.” Natch laughed as one of the animals struggled while eating a strawberry.
Rhett scratched his neck. “Yeah… I think we’ve all thought of that before. Most of us in the newer generation of Kandorrians just believe it as a symbol. The elders take it literal though. We have old tales all about the wonders of tortoises and what they used to apparently do in the past.”
“Oh yeah! I’ve read some of them! I did like the story of the tortoise who carried wounded people to villages for help.” Saraiya stepped against the fence surrounding the exhibit. “But, looking at these guys I feel like if any more weight was added on top of their shells they would sink into the ground and struggle to get back on their feet.”
“You would be surprised about all the people in Kandorr who take those stories as if every detail of them were true, but if you ask them to sit on their tortoises shells, they will say no. They believe that over time humans have had less of a need to depend on tortoises for protection, and now it was the humans turn to protect them, so the guardians became weaker, but in return they believe tortoises now protect from mental and spiritual threats. If a physical crisis appears, they believe the tortoises will gain their strength back to help defend from that too..”
“Interesting...” Saraiya said as she jotted it down in her notepad. “I’ve never heard that explanation before.”
“Anyway, it does no harm believing any of those stories, and to be honest I’ve had a great time growing up with them, so they can believe whatever they want.” Rhett smirked.
Grant had once heard similar stories, albeit not with tortoises. The Buffalo Boys used to prance around the school spreading their great stories about their church’s community buffalo farm that everyone would help maintain.
There was one specific story that he remembered, it became the joke of the school for a while. Apparently one of The Buffalo Boys spoke with the buffalos and they obeyed his every command. The only other witnesses were the other boys in their group, so of course no one would even dare to object.
Other grand proclamations made their way around the school, but of course no one would believe them. Quite a few students did happen to visit the farm, however. No one came back with any stories quite as tremendous as what they had been originally spreading, but in one instance a kid came back from a weekend out on the farm holding himself up with crutches.
“I think the tortoise could hold me up!” Linn said.
“Yeah, maybe they are strong enough for that,” Rhett said.
Grant noticed Kale staring at the tortoises with deadpan eyes. What did he think about these stories? Did he believe them? Grant concluded that it was possible he did.
“Can you talk to tortoises, do you think?” Linn walked up to Kale and tilted her head.
“I don’t think so… I’ve never tried. They are so strange though. Being born with armor…”
“I’ll try then!” Linn shouted. “Hey tortoise! Come here, I want to give you some food!”