Chapter 6 – Games, Songs and Tales
Kathri rose up out of her sleep, brought back by the soft surge of the song that pulsed through her, one in rhythm with the beat of her heart. She opened her eyes, looking up once more at the purple and white strips of the tent she had first woken up in. Nothing had changed since her previous time there. Her pack and the figurine still sat where they had previous, while the silver bowl had been refilled with water.
She sat up and took a drank from the bowl while she took stock of where she was and what had happened. The strange vision or dream or whatever it had been still lingered in her mind and her blood tingled from the after effects of it. The song began to diminish within, seeping away into silence. It had been an odd experience, one she was not sure of what to make of.
Rising from the cushions, she made her way out of the tent, blinking her eyes in the bright sunlight.
Outside, the two older women were standing besides the fire, tending a pot. The three young children still ran about with the dhagati, the hound like lizard, laughing and shouting, while the group of men had not moved from where they had stood.
It is as if no time has passed at all. Was it just a particularly weird dream? No, I am certain it happened.
There was one change, she realised, for Amaran could not be seen, no longer standing with the men. She stood there, looking around, wondering what she should do next.
Before she could come to a conclusion, Amaran emerged from out of Sudha’s tent and walked towards her. “You are awake again, I see,” he said, smiling broadly.
“Was I out long this time?”
“Hardly any time at all. You are a tough one it would seem. Most do not recover so fast from the brew that my grandmother concocts but I should have expected little else from one blooded of the earth.”
“I saw you drink it as well,” Kathri pointed out, “But I did not see you in the shared dream or whatever it was like I did your grandmother.”
Amaran shrugged his broad shoulders. “I am not of the blooded, as you and my grandmother are, so it did not affect me as it did you. I see no visions, only experience the potency of the brew.”
The three young children and their pet came squealing passed, darting behind the tent. Kathri smiled at their antics, the sheer exuberance they displayed. “You have been most hospitable to me,” she told Amaran, “But I must ask what you have planned for me?”
“We have no plans for you, Kathri. You are free to leave at any time you wish but we, or at least grandmother, recommend that you do not do so until such time as you have fully recovered.”
“Thank you. When I do leave, I will need to know where we are and the direction to go.”
“We will ride with you,” Amaran told her.
“There is no need for that.”
“Grandmother insisted and bhadtra or not it is hard to deny her.”
“She thinks you are destined for more than that.”
Amaran laughed loudly, shaking his head as he did. “There is little chance of that. She speaks thus as a grandmother and not a seer. As with our Hajanri ancestors, it is normally only one of the blooded who lead us and I am not one. I am the bhadtra though, and I am content with that.”
For two days Kathri stayed among the camp of the Armakur Digari. Part of her wished to be going, to find Astiara and discover what had become of him, and to make plans for the return to Ajanathad’s tomb now that she knew of the wealth that was contained within. With Amaran ordered to enter it to recover the Crown of Fire, she knew that the longer she delayed, the less that would remain there to take, if any at all.
Given the vastness of the treasure and the difficult in getting in, not even he can remove it all that fast. A few days will hardly make that much of a difference, she told herself. The game, and the actions of others who played it had impressed upon her that time was often of the essence, but this was a unique case she realised.
She knew why it was that she stayed, finding herself tiring easily after even the slightest exertion. A trip, especially across the open wastelands, would just prolong her recovery, or even make it worse. And so she stayed.
The Digaran made it easy to stay, plying her with food and water to aid her recover. The camp was also a congenial place, filled with laughter and song, for she found that they loved to sing while about their tasks and especially during the evenings when they sat about the fire and ate and laughed and talked. Kathri understood barely a word of it but enjoyed listening to the singing. At times the men sang alone, or the women or children, while at others they sang together, their songs ranging from the joyous to ones that had a deep longing for what had been lost.
Besides the food and drink, the two ladies that she had first met, daughters of Sudha and Amaran’s aunts, pressed on her fresh clothes of the Digaran style. Comprising of a skirt, shirt and shawl of bright colours and intricate weave, they would not be of use when exploring ruins or riding but she wore then around the camp while she stayed with them.
She learnt the names of the Digaran and picked up a few words, enough for greetings and to thank them, but apart from Amaran and Sudha, the rest knew as much Vigosan as she did of Digaran. Given that Sudha remained in her tent almost all of the time, it left just Amaran with whom she could talk.
Amaran proved a wealth of tales, ever laughing as he recounted the exploits of his father, a man, if Amaran was to be believed, who had undertaken many a wild deed to win the hand of his mother, and then more to keep her in a life of comfort.
“Surely that can not all be true,” Kathri said after yet another outrageous tale, one of how Amaran’s father had walked boldly into the camp of a rival tribe and then swindled them out of, in order, their tents, their horses and their clothes, leaving them puzzled and possessionless as he rode away.
“As I live and breath, Kathri, I do not lie,” Amaran replied, grinning broadly.
Whatever the truth may have been, Kathri was willing to go along with it, for Amaran was a masterful teller of stories. She could see why he had been chose as bhadtra of the tribe. He had the gift for both eloquence and the ridiculous, able to even weave them together both at the same time, a useful attribute for one who acted on behalf of his tribe as its herald and ambassador. It was a gift he no doubt got from his father, Kathri gathered, by the account of the tales of him Amaran shared.
Kathri in turn told Amaran of what she had found in the tomb, of the traps it contained, the hidden dangers and the alternative route in, the damage done by the earth tremor and especially of the guardian that patrolled the treasure chamber. Much as she hoped to return and claim at least some of the treasures, she had no wish for Amaran to go in blind to what lay in there, not after all that he and his people had done for her. There were others, she knew, less scrupulous, who would not have hesitated to withhold the truth, or to lie in an attempt to lead to his death, all in an effort to protect the treasure for themselves. It was not a path that Kathri would follow, to have another’s death on their conscious in such a manner.
And so she stayed with them, eating and drink and recovering, sleeping as well as she had in a long time, and especially more comfortable, secure in the knowledge that she was safe, protected by the Digarans and their code of hospitality.
On more than one occasion during the night she slept peacefully in the tent provided to her, she awoke to discover that the dhagati, Beti as Amaran called her, had crept into the tent and flopped across her, drooling and wheezing. The first time she had done so Kathri had woken with a start. She had tried pushing the animal out but no sooner had she gone back to sleep than Beti had dragged her way back into the tent and draped herself over Kathri again.
In the end Kathri had given up trying to expel the beast and let it stay, coming to appreciate the warmth of its body during the cool desert nights.
Amaran had laughed, as she knew he would, when he told her of it. “She likes you, Kathri,” he had said. “It is a good sign. The dhagati can sense what is in a persons heart, or so the old tales say, and will shy away from those of ill intent. Perhaps you should take her with you. It sounds like you could do with her when it comes to those you deal with.”
Kathri raised her hands to reject the idea and shook her head. “I could not care for her properly, not with my life style. Besides, it would disappoint the kids if I took her away from them.”
Amaran had simply grinned, amused by the whole situation.
The children in the camp, Amaran’s nephews and niece, had at first been shy around her but that had soon changed. They took to following her around, often whispering to each other, and imitating whatever she did. Beti was, as ever, always with them.
With Amaran’s help, and translations, she taught them a game she had played as a child. Using sticks to scrap lines in the ground and using stones as pieces to set upon the lines, she spent long hours of the days playing it with them, shuffling the stones along the line, the goal being to have the last remaining piece on the board. The lack of a shared language did not matter with the game, or the enjoyment of playing it with laughing children.
When at last it came time to leave, she found herself almost reluctant to do so. It was a feeling unexpected and most strange, the cause of which she could at first not put her finger on.
I have spent most of my life on the move, from one place to the next, without a place to call home. Is that what this is, a longing for something I have never had now that I have caught a glimpse of it? she wondered. It is but a foolish notion. You know why it is you can not settle anywhere. A home is for others, not you.
At Amaran’s insistence, they were to depart during the evening. She had spent most of the afternoon of her final day sleeping, preparing for the night ride. Not surprisingly, the entire camp gathered to farewell her. Even Sudha emerged from her tent to join in, almost the only glimpse Kathri had had of the old women since the first day she had arrived.
More gifts were pressed into her hands, water and preserved foods for her journey, of dried meats and cheese, dates and figs and hard bread. Beside the clothes that the women had given to her earlier, she also received a new scarf to keep the sun from her head. Of white cloth, it had been bordered with intricate crimson thread that formed a pattern of running drakes, the vast, wingless cousins of the dragons. Tassels of red and gold dangled from the edges of the scarf. From one of Amaran’s nephews she received a small wooden carving of a dhagati. She hugged the boy after he had presented it to her, much to his chagrin and embarrassment, and the amusement of his extended family.
I have nothing to give them in return. They have done much for me and I can not repay them.
In the fading light of the day, Amaran led two horses over from where the herd was tethered, the two larger black ones, beasts both sleek and powerful. Both were saddled and carried extra supplies. He handed over the reins of one to her before swinging up into the saddle of the other.
“Will you thank them for me?” she asked of him.
Amaran nodded, serious for a change. “I will, though I think you have picked up enough of our language to manage it yourself.”
She tried, in broken Digaran, not sure what exactly it was she said. Hugs had followed from the women and even the men, which she had not been expecting.
Cultural differences. No Vigosan man would act so.
Sudha was last to bid her farewell. “I am sorry to see you go, child, but I understand why you must. Do not forget that you are welcome here any time. There is always space in my tents for you.”
“Thank you Sudha. I will never forget all that you have done for me.”
Sudha laughed and hugged her. “Best you not, child.”
With a final farewell and a wave, Kathri mounted the horse Amaran had brought to her. Amaran turned his horse about and nudged her forward and together the pair rode out of the camp, headed across the dry lands for the mining settlement of Vas Madreso.
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