WORDCOUNT: 1,132 words
RUNNING TOTAL: 969 + 1132 = 2101
There’s a stark rise of mountains against the horizon, crooked peaks still stubbornly fighting off erosion. There’s snow higher up, but for the most part the mountain is the same rich burgundy and green as forests below. There’s a mist over the lower crests, as the kerpelan forests vent their excess heat.
Nahyl is walking along a mountain trail–
“No I wasn’t.”
“Why would I be walking along a mountain trail?”
“Erm, to get to the other side? Or to the next town? People walk mountain trails for all sorts of reasons.”
“Yeah, but why would I be walking over the mountains alone? Assuming I’m not crossing the mountain range, which is dangerous to do in groups much less by myself, why wouldn’t I just walk the foothills? Mountain paths are not normally well-traveled, unless you’ve got a deity smoothing the paths for you.”
“Even if I was crossing, I’d hook up with a caravan of some sort which, again, would rarely be going through the mountains unless there was some pressing need. Most countries build up to the mountains and stop.”
“Huh. well, if you’re going to be logical about it.”
She was walking through the foothills of the mountain range, a mild echo of the ragged peaks and valleys.
The hills were covered with short scrubby trees, more bush than tree, with yellow-orange berries two months from being ripe. There was a path of sorts, easier to see by the slightly dip in the hillside than the path itself. It has long since overgrown, as it was won’t to do each summer.
“So why am I here? Apparently in the middle of nowhere.” The fictive looked around rather pointedly at the vast array of nothing-in-particular.
“Because you are trying to get to the next village? Town? Whatever.”
“Yeah, but why am I going there?” Nahyl took the opportunity to shrug out of her pack and use it as a stool. “Look I know I’m a wandering laborer, more or less, and that I go where the spirits lead me, but I need a damned good reason to leave a town where I was comfortable.”
“It’s not much of a story if you just hang out in town doing odd jobs.”
“Well I’m not a teenager either. I’m not just going to get sudden wanderlust and head out into the wilderness. The trail is a very uncomfortable place to be, especially at my age.”
“You’re only thirty!”
“Can I point out that folks in the middle ages only lived to be forty?”
“On average. Actually, on theoretical average, and this isn’t Earth so that doesn’t count.”
“But it’s close to the level of technology, right? So the average lifespan would be about the same. I’m due for retirement, not hacking about in the wilderness for no apparent reason.”
Unlike earlier journeys, this time Nahyl wasn’t alone. Two long limbed cats, slightly builder than cheetahs but with the same odd hint of dogs about them, were by her side. She was using them to control a small khail herd that she’d been hired to move from village A to village B by some nice person with lots of money and no time. Or no herder. Something like that.
“Well that wasn’t too badly hacked together, although I can’t really see why anyone would be have the khail in the first place if they had no way to control them.”
The owner of the critters she was caring for owned a much larger herd that stayed behind in village A. The smaller batch was a gift to a nephew who was interested in starting a cargo service between some of the smaller towns. Like UPS, only slower and with more fur. The herders who worked for the owner had stayed behind and he’d hired Nahyl to drive them herself.
“So why am I out here alone? First off, it seems a little too trusting for him to just and me a dozen head of khail without any assurance they’ll ever get to village B and B, a khail herd isn’t’ exactly a one person job.”
The owner had sent Yeffin along as her partner for the trip, but he had died in a freak accident a few days back.
“Died in a horrible herding accident which is logical for the terrain and the work, but terribly tragic. Young life cut short and all that jazz.”
“How wonderfully… vague. So I’m carrying a dead body around with me?”
“What? No! Geeze that would smell bad. I did mention it was late summer, right?”
“Well, no you hadn’t, but as you’ve established in prior stories this ‘verse places a lot of weight on bones and dead folks. So I’m assuming custom wouldn’t be to bury him where he fell, eh?”
“Okay, okay, so you used the tree mites to clean the bones and you’re bringing the bones with you wrapped in his gravecloth.”
“Wait, the what-mites?”
“The tree mites. See, there’s a tree that produces a type of sticky powdery sap on it’s leaves. The mites live in the tree, but eat primarily animal cells not plant cells. The mites react to the sap as a sort of chemical berserker trigger, but only when it comes in contact with chemicals released when the tree is injured.
So when animals munch on the tree (which they very rarely do), they get covered with the sap. And the combination of sap and ‘help I’m being attacked’ chemicals send the mites into an eating frenzy and they munch on the offending animal in arboreal revenge. It’s like poison ivy, only with itsy-bitsy piranha.”
“So I have to brush the dead guy up against the tree?”
“No-no, that would be a really bad idea. You might get some of the sap on you and then the story is pretty much over unless you can get to a large body of water. Which are relatively rare.
No, you’ve got a small pouch if the dried sap with you for just this sort of situation. You put the body near the trees, but not near enough to get dusted yourself, then sprinkle it on the body, throw a couple rocks at the tree to stir things up, and wait a day or so for them to strip him down to bones.”
“That is horribly gruesome.”
“Erm, well, yeah I guess so.”
“You have a very very strange imagination for someone who doesn’t like horror films.”
“I blame National Geographic.”
“So you have his bones with you, which means you have his ghost with you if he feels like hanging around. which makes four ghosts, two cat-dogs things, and a small herd of khail.”
“My, but my story got crowded.”