The Merchant’s Legacy
Part Two – Burdens
The fields that they passed through around the village had been made dry by a long, hot summer. Crops withered and wilted under a blazing sun. The harvest was destined to be a poor one, another in a string of them, reaching back to the days when the Empire had fallen. Ahead of the rough trail they followed, lying shimmering blue against a hazy horizon, were the hills for which they were making, low and rolling but dominating the flat lands before them. Not a cloud marred the sky, a burning washed out blue that promised days of no relief, whilst the air hung still and heavy, without a breath of breeze to stir it. Insects sung all about them in the stifling heat that bore down upon them like a heavy blanket.
Nhaqosa clutched again at the amulet that hung around his neck as they walked on, ignoring the heat as best as he could. Instead he concentrated on the faint tingle that came from the amulet, sensing for directions. It seemed to him that the location of where the bandits laired lay roughly along the course that the amulet led, or near enough that they would not be put out far by it.
Nhaqosa released the grip and led them on, their march taking them through the long hours of the day, seeing little but for a few wary farmers who moved away as they neared, and the odd bird that drifted high above on the summer’s heat.
During the course of the march, Nhaqosa found himself walking alongside Niati. They formed a somewhat incongruous sight; the small and slender woman barely made up half the height of the burly minotaur she stood beside.
“How are you faring, Niati,” Nhaqosa asked.
“You need not concern yourself with me so much,” she answered, a touch cool and a touch bristling.
“I concern myself with all of you,” he slowly pointed out.
“Yes, you do,” she admitted, and then surprisingly laughed. Reaching out with a diminutive hand, she rested it on his lower arm. Beneath the soft, white hide that her fingers brushed, his arms were like unyielding iron. “You should let others share that burden, Kwaza,” she continued, before adding, “Except for Abasan.”
Nhaqosa’s ears twitched as he caught the echoes of a slightly bitter resentment deep within her words.
“You wish that he would concern himself with another?” he enquired in gentle, low tones.
“What?” No, no!” Niati’s eyes flared wider a touch before they hardened again as she tried to mask the expression that just for a moment had flittered across her face.
“Niati,” Nhaqosa said patiently, pointedly.
She walked on in silence for some time before finally giving a soft sigh and a shake of her head. “It is difficult for me,” she told Nhaqosa.
“It is not easy for any of us.”
“Before all of this,” she said, waving her hand around the duty countryside and the band, “I was a Parahaj dancer in the courts of Prince Satayim. Such things were forbidden to us for we had to stay pure for the dance.” A half smile touched her face, one without much humour in it. “Some didn’t. Then came the horrors of the pit and to survive I had to close my heart to any emotion at all. I had to become hard. Now I am free again and find my heart still in those shackles, while a good, decent man barely notices me, such is his devotion to you.”
“I would not be so sure,” Nhaqosa rumbled gently. “But perhaps I could have words with him for you.”
“Don’t you dare,” Niati told him, her eyes narrowing and face taking on a grim aspect. “I would have to hurt you if you did.”
Nhaqosa smiled at the woman. “Very well, but do not be surprised at the way things may turn out.”
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