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Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Rayne lay down among the bales of fabric expecting it to take her a long time to fall asleep. So much had happened in one day, she felt excitable. The fabric bales were firm but comfortable. They were still warm from the heat of the day but the cool evening air passed through the covered wagon creating the perfect conditions for sleep. But from where she lay she could see out the back of the cart to the night sky and all those stars. She remembered the feeling she had only moments before when she looked up at the sky and had no way of knowing where she was or where she was going.

“Del,” She said. Nestled in the fabric she could hear her voice reverberating inside her own head.


“Can you read the stars?”

She heard a muffled intake of breath. Raising her head, she saw that he had a short pipe clamped between his teeth.


“Can you teach me?” She asked.

“It’s seven days travel to Kip-ri.” He said, “That should be long enough to teach you some basic points in the sky to navigate from.”

Rayne lay back down.

“Now go to sleep. I’m going to put you to work tomorrow.” She watched a circle of smoke wrap itself around Delsin’s head and she could smell the sweet hot scent of the tobacco.

As soon as she stopped talking and quieted her brain, Rayne felt the gentle sway of the wagon as it moved through the sand, and before she knew it she was asleep.

* * *

She heard people talking. They were not loud or alarmed in any way. They were several men’s voices and they were not far from the wagon. Rayne rolled over and the bright desert sun penetrated her eyelids making everything before her red. She covered her face with her arm and focused on the conversation.

“You’re sure they attacked you?” The voice was that of an older man. Perhaps one of the elders from the night before.

“Yes. And they spoke to me.” It was Del.

“You lie.” A third man. Younger.

“It warned me to stay out of the northern desert.” Rayne sat up as she listened to Delsin recount their experience with the Saekalish from the night before.

“What could bring the Saekalish so far south?” The younger man asked. “And to attack an armed human?”

“There has been talk,” The elder man said. “Among the council of elders.”

“Yes?” Del asked.

The older man took a moment to continue. “Fito Kaulan said an entire flock of goats suddenly fell dead about a month ago. With no clear sign of disease or attack.”

“A drought could cause an entire flock to suddenly die.” The young voice argued.

“Not all at once.” Del said. “Besides, the rains in the mountains were strong this winter. Urta Howi told me just the other week that the Miklu is still swollen to nearly twice its usual size. Crops along the river basin are bountiful. The valley is lush and green. He said it’s almost too wet.”

Rayne crouched forward in the wagon, wanting to join the conversation, but unsure whether she would be welcome. She wondered why they were stopped.

“I will consult the elders,” The old man chimed in. “We will check the signs. Something is not right in the north. Something is changing.”

She heard the men move off and Delsin’s handsome face appeared at the rear of the wagon.

“You’re awake.” He chirped.

Rayne nodded. “Why are we stopped?” She asked.

“To rest and refresh.” Del said. He held out his hand to help Rayne down of the back of the wagon. “We always break for a few hours in the morning. It allows the elders to determine changes in the route and gives the children a chance to burn of some pent up energy.”

He led Rayne toward the front of the caravan. The wagons no longer formed a line, but were more or less clumped together in a make-shift encampment. Many cooking fires were going and children ran all over. Del led Rayne to the nearest of the fires. Several women ranging from Rayne’s age to very old were bustling around the fire. They were dressed in long silken robes that covered every part of them. The women were preparing food and as Rayne and Del approached, a younger woman, maybe a year or two older than Rayne, greeted them.

“This must be your new friend,” Her accent was very close to Del’s. She smiled and held out two plates. Del took them and gave one to Rayne.

“Thank you, Mansi.” He said. “Rayne, this is my sister, Mansi. Mansi this is Rayne.”

The two women shook hands then Del and Rayne sat down away from the fire to eat breakfast. The plates were lain with freshly made flatbread and an aromatic gruel made from wild rices and oats. Mansi brought them cups of sweet goats milk to drink. Growing up on the streets of Urna and then in Tarakan, Rayne had always scrounged for food. What she had was usually shared with whomever she’d found to run with. She couldn’t remember a time when she’d eaten so well as now.

“Your family is very generous.” She told Del. “You have no reason to feed me and take care of me the way you are. I am grateful.”

“It is our way.” He said. “Eat up. We have only a short time to practice before the wagons begin moving again.”

“Practice?” Rayne asked.

He reached across and tapped the hilt of the sword that Rayne had placed on the ground at her side. “It is clear you have no skill with a blade. You will be of little use to me in an attack, if you don’t know how to fight.”