Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/572576-Part-57--Farewell
Rated: XGC · Serial · Fantasy · #572576
The enemy tribes part ways, and Djuta makes his final rounds...
DISCLAIMER: Underage character(s) involved.

Note: This item has been rewritten and edited. All text in rose is BRAND NEW MATERIAL for this chapter of the story. In addition there are many minor changes to the original text itself. Please enjoy this new, expanded version of Part 57 and be on the lookout for updates to the next parts!

THE LONE SILHOUETTE stood atop the great household of General Mahakhi, staring out across the city, toward the northeast. Evening had descended and darkness was beginning to fall by now, the long shadows starting to fade into each other, shapes growing indistinct. His ears flicked when the noises of the taverns below grew louder, the Kana, friends and enemies alike, drinking and singing battle songs together; he detected an odd note to their singing, something which told him that the enemy would soon be making their departure from this tribe. They would head north, and then the two tribes would part ways, one of them to continue northeast. He stared out toward the river for a very long time.

By the time that Lieutenant Djuta turned and made his way back to the stairway his eyes were stinging, imprinted with the image of the distant eastern desert.

* * * * *

Lieutenant Resikh lay upon his back, staring up at the canopy. He felt oddly, but not in a bad way; it was just that he wasn't used to sharing his bed with anyone other than Djuta, and especially not with a female. Yet it was a female's hand which rested against his belly, and a female's head nestled against his shoulder; Heth'anet's breathing had finally returned to normal, which had taken a while, seeing as their nesakh'ai had grown somewhat heated toward the end, and Resikh had not even imagined that a Moru would ever make him howl the way that he had when he'd come. He blushed a little and turned his head slightly to look at her, and hoped that no one else within the household had known who had made that sound, else he would never live it down.

After a few moments Heth'anet's eyes opened and she stared back at him, a soft smile coming to her face. Resikh smiled in return and thought of how good it was to just be in a female's company for a while. She snuggled against him and he took in a breath, liking her smell; he wished she still had her wings, just so he could watch them fan the air, or touch them and see the pleasure on her face. As it was, he stroked her cheek and looked at the way that she smiled as she burrowed her head in the hollow of his arm, her leg draped over his. He could feel her sheath against his thigh and his own sheath ached; he remembered what she had told him after he had first seen it, and felt his heart ache as well.

"Heth'anet...?" he murmured. She opened her eyes to look up at him, and flicked her tail. He rubbed her ear and her eyes shut again and she started to purr. "Will you tell me about yourself?" When she opened her eyes a third time he flushed a little. "It is just...I normally like to know about my mates...before we are together. We did not talk much..."

"Resikh-Master to be too busy to talk," she murmured, and giggled softly when he blushed even harder. "What to want to know about Heth'anet...?"

"Well...everything. Your old tribe, your family, how you came to be here...anything you wish to tell me. I'm curious."

"To tell Heth'anet about Resikh-Kana?"

Resikh blinked. "You want me to tell you about myself...?" When she nodded he furrowed his brow. "But there is so little to say..."

The Moru pouted and rolled over onto her back so that she looked at him upside-down. "Come now, all Kana to have much to tell," she protested, the corner of her mouth twitching. "Please...? Then Heth'anet to tell Master all to wish to know."

Resikh opened his mouth, then shut it, then sighed. "All right," he gave in. "I'll tell you what boring details I can...but then you will have to do the same. It's only fair, since I asked you first." He sighed and rested his head against his arm. "Well...you already met my father. And you saw Be'shen-Kana as we were leaving. He is not my brother but he may as well be, what with what a big pain in the ass he can be." Heth'anet giggled. "You have not met Djuta-Kana yet...he lived with us also..."

"To be brother--? Or friend--?"

"Well..." He found suddenly that he had no idea of how to answer that, and his ears grew warm. "A friend, yes," he said at last, just as she started to look at him curiously. "He is a good friend."

"Lord Resikh to be Djetef-Kana's only son now...?"

Resikh nodded and looked up at the canopy again. "I had older brothers...three of them...yet two of them were killed in battles with other tribes, when I was still young...the third was attacked by a crocodile out on the river, and did not live long." His eyes went hazy. "I was there when he died...Father and Be'shen were gone, trying to find another physician...I was the only one there at the time. He held my hand, and said my name, and then his eyes...just stayed open..." He shut his own eyes briefly at the memory. "I think I went running...I remember seeing Father and Be'shen...the looks on their faces...Be'shen caught me, and Father kept walking...I think that I was crying, but I'm not sure...I remember Be'shen telling me it was not my fault. I suppose I had thought I was responsible, since I was supposed to be watching him. Not that I could have done anything. I heard Father come back and I saw his eyes..." He paused. "That is the only time I remember ever seeing Father cry," he murmured. He trailed off for a moment or two, Heth'anet staring at him in the dimness; after a short while he sighed, absently stroking her fur. "Djuta came not long after...I wondered for a long time whether he had been sent because of this, to take his place. It just...felt like we had known each other, all our lives, like we had met before. Even the first time I saw him." His eyes slowly lit up again. "I remember I had been so worried that I would never be as good as my brothers...Be'shen promised to train me, the best that he could...but when Djuta came...it was like all of this changed. I saw him sparring by himself in the courtyard one night...I ran to get my sword, and brought it out, and stood watching him...he was so young, my age, yet so skilled already...like he had been taught by a general...I could barely breathe, just watching him. He saw me and I thought that I would never be able to speak again. I felt like someone had poured river water inside me. I couldn't believe it when he turned to face me and held up his sword. My arms never felt so light and I felt like I could have flown to the sun and back." A smile started to spread across his face. "We must have fought for hours. Father and Be'shen finally had to come and separate us. I couldn't even walk to my room on my own. I do not think I ever slept so soundly in my life. The next morning even before breakfast we were at it yet again. Be'shen never had to train me. Djuta taught me everything I know." He paused again, and furrowed his brow slightly. "He was always better than me, though...I could never beat him. I tried, but I never did. Not once. Even in the barracks, he always won. Sometimes...I wonder why he fought with me at all." His smile faded.

The room faded into silence. For a long while neither of them said anything, and Resikh had even started to forget that Heth'anet was there until she spoke, startling him.

"To care for Djuta-Kana very much, yes, Lord...?"

Resikh blinked and turned his head to look at her. There was no mockery in her eyes, only amusement and curiosity, so he relaxed. "Yes," he finally said. "He is every bit my brother." He blinked again and pushed himself up onto his elbows so that she sat up with him. "Your story! I'm sorry, I did not mean to ramble on so much! It is just..." His face went red.

Heth'anet smiled again, dimples forming in her cheeks. "To not mind. To like Resikh-Master's story." She tilted her head. "What to wish to know of Heth'anet?"

"Your old tribe. How long were you with them? How did you come to be here? And your family, your pups; I wish to know of them too. Please tell me everything."

"Well..." Heth'anet's smile returned at the impossible request, yet she attempted to oblige. "To be with old tribe always--since born. Good tribe. To have tribe Seer--to know what this to be--?"

"Seer?" Resikh pondered. "Do you mean a Kenta'asana?" She nodded. "I do not know much about them. We've never had one."

"Well...Kenta'asana to be tribe Seer. To be much like priest, mystic. To see things others cannot. To tell future at times, to see far into past; to see people as they are. Kenta'asana to hear about Heth'anet, to ask to see. When Heth'anet to start growing up, Kenta'asana to ask to visit."

"I see. Because you are te'huai, right...?"

Heth'anet nodded, and Resikh reached down to run his hand over her sheath; it had shocked him to no end earlier that evening, yet the fact that his mate had a penis was no longer quite so startling. "Te'huau to be believed to have powers, strengths," she explained. "Birth of a te'huat to be very rare. Seer to look at Heth'anet, walk in circles looking, then to tell Heth'anet's future. To say Heth'anet to be most lucky, and most luckless of Moru." She put a finger to her mouth and looked toward the canopy as if trying to recall something. "To gain two, and to lose four. To be saved by one thing, and cursed by the same. To see death approaching, to see it cut down Kana and Moru, yet to escape death unharmed. To know other masters." She lowered her eyes to his and shrugged one shoulder. "So far, Seer to be right. All of this to happen to Heth'anet."

"It has--? How?"

"Well..." She looked slightly away. "To have two pups...then to lose...and to later lose both wings. To gain two, and lose four. To have had bad master, and lose tribe, yet to find new tribe, new master--good master." She giggled and pressed her head to his chest so that he had to scratch her. "To know another master...so far, lucky. Kenta'asana to be good."

"You did not mention this curse, or this death." Resikh frowned slightly. "Are you speaking of the raid...?" When he felt her muscles tense he stroked her back. "Please do not be afraid to tell me of it...I wish to help you, any way that I can. If you tell me what happened, perhaps I can help you even more."

Heth'anet chewed on her lip a little bit, and finally pulled her head away slightly. "Yes," she murmured. "To be cursed to be te'huai...last master...to not much like." She paused. "To buy Heth'anet from Moru trader. Also Heth'anet's pups. To think him kind master, to buy even pups--many Kana to split families, not care for pups when seeking mate."

Resikh nodded.

"To think master to know about Heth'anet, because Moru trader to know, and to tell him--at least, Heth'anet to think so. But trader not to tell." She winced slightly. "Master to not know about te'huai. Like Resikh-Master. To...go to lie together, and..." She flushed. "Well...was a good master. To treat Heth'anet nicely until..."

"Until he found out...as I did?" Resikh said softly. She nodded. "He was not expecting this." She shook her head.

"No...to be...well..." She paused again as if choosing her words carefully. "To not be as...understanding...as Resikh-Kana." She peered up at him. "To be incredibly angry...start hitting Heth'anet...call Heth'anet a monster...disgusting...to think been tricked, that Heth'anet is really male...Heth'anet to try to explain, te'huat, but master not to listen. Hit Heth'anet in face...get up, go to side of room and get dagger." She grimaced. "Tie Heth'anet down to bed and...great pain in wings. To never feel pain like this before. Heth'anet to start screaming...master to keep cutting...cut through one, pulled it away, had to slash more..."

Resikh's face had gone white and he had to squinch his eyes shut with a grimace of his own. The practice of removing wings completely was practically unknown, unless the victim were already dead...even those being made Moru did not usually have their wings removed. At least, he had never heard of any. "Bone and skin and everything--?" he blurted out. "He took it all--?" She nodded and he cringed. "How did--how did you even survive such a thing?"

Heth'anet shrugged vaguely. "To not know...to just feel bone pulling away from socket, skin tearing...blood, all over blood. To barely even be awake anymore when master to go after second wing." Her stare lowered to the bed, sad and distant. "To hurt so much...to want to die, but somehow...remember coming to, master slapping face, dousing with water...to take to physician...wrap up Heth'anet in bandages, give lots of poppy...to not remember much else...to remember hearing master screaming to sell Heth'anet...to worry about pups most of all." Her eyes glistened. "To not even care about wings, when to wake up! To just want pups back. Physician to be good Kana--angry about wings--take care of Heth'anet, so Heth'anet not die from the blood...to sew up the wounds and keep them clean...to tell Heth'anet that pups fine, master to not want them after...physician to not need Moru, so has to sell, but Heth'anet not to mind, just to be with pups again." She let out her breath and her shoulders sank; Resikh could see her muscles tensing and relaxing, as if she were trying to flex her wings. "To still hurt now and then," she said, rubbing at her back. "To feel like wings still there, sometimes." She turned to look at him again and her eyes lit up a little. "To be back with Moru trader, and pups--so happy! To lose wings a million times over if just to be with pups."

"So being te'huai is what cursed you," Resikh said softly, and she nodded. He frowned. "How is this the very thing that saved you, then--? After all that you went through just because of it..."

Heth'anet looked at him for a moment, then her stare drifted. She slowly drew her legs up to her chest and put her arms around them. "To be...strange day," she murmured, Resikh's ear flicking. "Bright and sunny--to remember this...always remember this," she went on, her eyes distant as if she saw what she was remembering. "Day of great Moru market. Kana of different tribes to come, to see selection. Heth'anet to hope to find new master, better master. To be with pups in back of tent." She drew in on herself, and Resikh paused when it looked like she was actually growing smaller before his eyes. Her own eyes grew dark.

"To not even hear alarm at gate," she whispered. "No alarm. But to hear noises in street--awful noises--screaming, shouting, loud noises. Most awful noises--not Moru crying--but Kana crying." She flinched. "To never hear Kana screaming and crying--not like this. Entire city to be screaming, crying."

"The entire city...?" Resikh echoed in disbelief.

Heth'anet nodded. "Heth'anet to tuck pups into back corner...go toward front of tent to see what happen. To see Moru trader run outside tent...Sha running by...tribe Kana, strange Kana...to hear a noise, and see trader fall down in front of entry..." she paused, then went on, "...with head missing."

Resikh blinked and his mouth fell open.

Heth'anet continued. "To look up...see strange Kana enter tent...big Kana. Very strange...to be..." She frowned, then chewed her lip. "To not understand it...but...to have faces of dead."

"Dead--?" Resikh furrowed his brow, not understanding.

Heth'anet nodded, snorting in frustration. "To look like skeletons," she tried to explain. "Faces to be bone--bone only. To walk and look like Kana, but have faces of dead." She gestured at her head. "Strange Kana to come into tent, see Heth'anet, see other Moru--wave at others outside--other Kana to come in. To grab Heth'anet and others before Moru to move. Pull out into street. Heth'anet to see..." Her face screwed up and she shuddered, then Resikh gasped when she leaned toward him and abruptly pressed herself to his side, clinging to him as if she were a pup. "Terrible! Terrible!" she cried. "All tribe Kana in street--blood--everywhere! Some no heads--no arms or legs--wings torn--guts in street--Kana from stalls and houses being pulled out--slashed and cut and stabbed--everyone killed! Young Kana, old Kana, Moru, females, pups--"

"They were killing the females and pups--?" Resikh exclaimed.

Heth'anet nodded. "Horrible! A few--a few to drag Moru along with them--seem to be taking them away--but not many. Most to be killed. To hear Moru screaming inside houses still--strange Kana to be killing them there." She shuddered again. "Heth'anet to be brought out--big Kana with dead face--to speak to Kana pulling Heth'anet..." Her eyes opened, focusing on nothing, then slowly shifted to stare toward the canopy. "To remember words Kana speak..." She started speaking halting yet perfect Kana, making Resikh take in a breath. "'What did I tell you? We already have enough of them. Kill her and be done with it. We do not need another mouth to feed.' 'I am entitled to something after all of this. It is just one Moru. I will kill her when I'm done. You find joy in killing, I will find my joy in this.' 'Do not be all day with it. We must be leaving before others come. They will overpower us, and this will be the end. Hurry it up and then finish her.'" She trailed off, then shut her eyes again and shivered next to Resikh. "Big Kana to turn away...other Kana to pull out knife...start cutting Heth'anet's dress." She bit her lip hard and her claws dug into Resikh's arm. "Push Heth'anet to ground and start pulling up kilt, pull off loincloth...'Just lie still, little whore, and do what you are best at doing'...touch Heth'anet's breasts, kiss Heth'anet...pull up dress and touch between legs..." She fidgeted uneasily. "To find out like master...start yelling...surprised...big Kana to come back and look...to lift up dead face...have normal Kana face underneath." Her brow furrowed. "To just...look like ordinary Kana. Surprised too. To see Heth'anet. 'A te'huat.' To tell other Kana to stop, get Heth'anet up--to stop hurting Heth'anet--'Stop touching her! Get her up and pull your kilt down, you stupid dog! If you hurt her any further I will cut your throat myself!' 'But she is a Moru--what are we to do with her? Do we kill her?' 'I already told you, you damned ass! Do not touch her! One Moru will not endanger us, but if you hurt her, I will kill every single one of you who did this!' Other Kana to be confused...supposed to be killing all Moru except a few...but big Kana to threaten them if to hurt Heth'anet. 'What do we do with them, then?' someone to say...'Do whatever you want,' big Kana to say. 'But do not kill them. We could use a couple more pups. Whatever you do, hurry it up, let the te'huat be, and then follow. We are done here.'" Her eyes started glistening and the tears welled up. "Heth'anet to look, see pups...Kana to have pups...Heth'anet to ask, beg for them back...Kana to hit Heth'anet when try to get pups...big Kana to knock him to ground, but then to tell them to just hold Heth'anet until done, then bring the pups...same Kana who cut Heth'anet's dress to take girl pup...give Heth'anet worst look...to take off her dress and hold her on ground and..." She shut her eyes and whimpered, and the tears trickled down her cheeks; Resikh put his arms around her and held her close, not knowing what to say. She lifted one shaky hand to rub at her eyes. "Heth'anet to know would not have done, if to take Heth'anet first, like meant to do," she whimpered. "To take pup because could not take Heth'anet."

"This isn't your fault," Resikh murmured, pressing his muzzle to her face.

Heth'anet sniffled. "Third Kana to take boy pup...to do same...pups cry...to pick them up after, and carry them away...Heth'anet to try to run after them, but other Kana to hold her by tent...pups taken away...strange Kana to start leaving city...let go of Heth'anet after a while, and leave...streets full of dead...blood everywhere...pups gone." She rubbed her eyes again. "To never see again."

"Saved," Resikh said, and furrowed his brow. "They saved you because you are te'huai...?" He frowned. "Why would they do this, when they were willing to kill Moru and children...?"

Heth'anet shrugged. "To not know...just to know, Heth'anet spared, pups taken away...others killed...dead all over." She winced. "Bad smell everywhere. Blood and flies. Most Kana and Moru...all cut to pieces. Some taken upon ground like pups...but most just killed. Terrible. Terrible."

"How did you escape this tribe, if all were killed...? How did you come to be here?"

She shook her head slightly. "Not all to be killed...a few Moru in tent still alive...missed by raiders. A few from other houses too. Just...overlooked, or hiding, Heth'anet to guess." She rested her head against his shoulder. "A few Kana to be alive too...hiding in houses, or among Moru...only thing to do, to survive--killed otherwise. To scour city and find few Apsiu left...houses full of dead..." She shivered. "Smell to be so bad...buzzing flies...other Kana to arrive next day...part of visiting tribe, came when others to not return...to find us, take us back with them...to tell them of strange dead-face tribe, but not to know what to say or do...strange Kana gone, never to see again. Heth'anet eventually sold to Great Red Tribe. To be end." She shrugged slightly. "Nothing more to say."

For a long while they lay in silence, Resikh absently stroking her shoulder and staring at the canopy. Something about her story struck him as...vaguely familiar, in a way...though he couldn't place his finger on what or why. He seemed to think he had read about something like this, somewhere, but he had never cared much for reading, so when and what could it have been? He scoured his memory and came up blank, and so sighed. The Moru peered at him.

She bit her lip. "Master to be upset by Heth'anet's story...?" She offered him a smile and rolled over so that she could rest her chin on his chest, and let out a soft purr, tail swishing. "To not be upset...Heth'anet to know Master to help look for pups. Must be alive. Heth'anet to feel it."

He looked at her. "You feel it...?" She nodded and he furrowed his brow. "How? Do you often have feelings?"

She shrugged. "Not often, but to have...like to know, when still with trader, that Heth'anet to have good master someday."

"But your master was a brute."

Her smile grew, as well as her purr. "But then to find good master," she said sweetly, and ran her hand down his front. Resikh tensed and flushed when she caressed his sheath, her green heavy-lidded eyes making his head swim. He fought to keep a few of his senses about him.

"Do you know at all, Heth," he said as she rubbed at him, "which direction these raiders went in--? Perhaps where they were off to? If any of them spoke of it..."

She shrugged a little and pushed herself up onto hands and knees. "To see them heading somewhat north, somewhat west," she purred. "But to not watch for long." She lowered herself over him and bent her head down to nuzzle at his neck, making him close his eyes and start panting. "Resikh-Master to be good master...nothing like old master. To care for Heth'anet...Heth'anet to care for Master." She smiled at him and ran her fingers down his belly. "To try again for grandpup for Djetef-Kana...?"

Resikh blinked hazily. "But we have...already tried," he murmured, squirming.

Her eyes almost disappeared, she smiled so widely. "To try more than once, if Master to wish," she cooed--then she ran her tongue up the inside of his ear, and Resikh's eyes goggled and he let out a loud whine, his sheath instantly swelling. "Why to limit ourselves, Lord...?"

The Kana still hesitated, as they had already been occupied for quite a while...but as soon as she took his hand and placed it against her own sheath, his breath hitched in his chest, and all that Heth'anet was able to get out was a giggle when he grasped her arms and rolled her over so she lay beneath him, his muzzle at her neck and his hips already moving heatedly against hers.

* * * * *

He sold me.

He...sold me.

sold me...

Khetai sat on the cot beside the wall, her arms wrapped around her legs and her eyes fixed on nothing whatsoever; she didn't even see the room looming around her. Her eyes were red and glazed from crying that she couldn't even remember doing, and her wings were cramped, wedged tight against her back, but she didn't notice that either. All that she noticed was the one thought that kept running through her head, the one thought she'd honestly convinced herself she would never be thinking.

Djuta-Kana...sold me...

It made no sense. He'd promised to protect her. To always protect her! He had vowed to set her free! Even after she had not borne him a pup--still--he had shown up at the auction, and threatened the rest of the Kana with his sword not to sell her. She had never seen him act in such a way, but for when he had fought off U'heta, and then Rik'hia. He had done both of those things for her. To protect her. And so she had fully believed him when he had done the same in the market. The look in his eyes had been the same. The sound of his voice had been the same. He had even argued with the captains there--a foolish move, but he had always made foolish moves, just to protect her. When he had gone off with the enemy captain, he who had bid on her, she fully expected him to return with his sword swinging, snarling and refusing to let her go. She had fully expected him to take her away, no matter what the cost, and to set her free near the river. She could picture the river in her head, smell the water, taste the cool air, feel the reeds against her legs. She could picture herself running away from that horrid place, that horrid place where there was just one good Kana. She could picture him smiling at her, and waving his goodbye, before she would never see him again. She could picture herself free once more, at last. Just as he had promised her. She had fully believed him.

I will not object to the sale.

She could not believe, at first, that the words had come from his mouth. Someone else must have said them. This could not be Djuta. This couldn't be Djuta, with his eyes averted, his stare not meeting hers, his voice small and defeated, his wings slumped and his promise broken. It couldn't be him. He had promised her...and he had kept his promises. He had gone before the tribunal for her. He had offered to kill for her. He had nearly done just this, for her. Everything that he had done, all of the trouble he had gotten himself into, just for her. No one had ever done such things for her. He had to have meant his promise.

I will not object to the sale.

When he had come back from talking with the enemy captain...he had been completely different. The fire gone from his eyes, the rage from his voice...his sword had been sheathed...his stare lowered, his wings slumped. He did not even look at her. Even as she was crying his name, being taken away back to Mahakhi's household, he had not even lifted his head to so much as look at her. This was not the Djuta she knew. What had happened to the Djuta she knew? What had happened to his promise?

I will not object to the sale.

He sold me. He promised he would protect me. He promised I would be free. He promised he would never let me go, but to set me free.

He sold me.

Why, Djuta...?

The only voice she heard in her head was her own. No answer came. She stared off into space, too stunned to scream, too numb to cry. She did not even notice when the door opened, and a shadow fell across the floor.

* * * * *

Captain Fe'kheru stared at the dim shape seated within, his hand on the door. The Moru hadn't moved one bit from the way she'd been left, when he'd had her brought here. He didn't know anywhere else to keep her, until they should leave...and so she sat upon the cot in his quarters, staring off into space. He bit his lip on looking at her. She had been screaming, when she'd been taken from the market. That had stopped as soon as the market was out of sight. Ever since then, she had walked silently, stared ahead silently, and sat silently, and she did so now, not a single noise escaping her. Fe'kheru had seen soldiers shocked from battle--their glassy eyes, their blank faces. This was just a Moru and not a soldier. Yet the look that she bore on her face was exactly the same as if she had seen a hundred comrades die before her eyes.

Have I ever had that same look...?

He lowered his hand from the door and stared at her silently. He wished to step inside, go to her, kneel down before her and speak to her in a calm soft voice, tell her that everything would be all right now. He wasn't certain of all that she had been through, yet he had heard enough to piece it together.

A shame it is, too, since she looks as if she might have made a decent mate, once. Judging by what happened, I do not think she will be fulfilling the deal any time soon.

What will they do with her now?

Likely sell her...I can bet there are plenty of horny Kana hereabouts who would very much like to hump her the first chance they get...

The female, I have no idea what became of her...they treated her like a Moru, but for allowing her to act as a physician...they took her away, and that was the end of it...

Did you see what became of her?

Taken off to the Moru quarters. This is all I know of what became of her; her master will have nothing more to do with her...

She has been badly mistreated by others here. I will hardly allow it to happen again!...

She has been mistreated here. You have no idea what she has been through...what she has given to this tribe. And for all this, they treat her as if she is nothing. I promised her I would care for her. I can't break this promise now...

His legs ached to take him over to her, and address her by her name--the one she had chosen for herself--to reassure her that she did not have to worry about this tribe anymore, that she would not have to worry about anything, that things would be all right...yet he could tell from the dazed, dead look in her eyes that nothing he could say would do a thing. She looked like a body that had just been fished up from the very bottom of the river, with her face pale and her eyes staring and vacant like that. She looked like so many of the Kana he had seen, after he and Meteri had found the bodies in the desert. She looked as if she did not even exist anymore, but for in his head.

I promised her I would care for her. I can't break this promise now...

And you have not broken your promise, Lieutenant...you have kept it in the most noble way possible...but I feel
she will not know this, not for a long while yet, at least...

With hope, she best learns from example...

Soft footsteps came up behind him. "Lord...?" a voice asked; he looked over his shoulder to see Lieutenant Meteri standing behind him, giving him a questioning look.

"Lord, I found Fa'rukha-Kana and he's currently gathering up the rest of the men from the taverns," he said quietly. "They insisted on a final round but they are not causing any other trouble. Apparently some of the Great Red Tribe Kana are keeping them company...and they are in unusually good spirits. There have been a few fights with the Yellow Sands Kana but Fa'rukha-Kana has been good at keeping most of them in line. He says that as soon as She'hekha-Kana should show up, they will properly behave themselves, though right now the beer seems to be doing the trick."

Fe'kheru smiled slightly. "It is odd, but our men seem to know how to take care of themselves pretty well without us, do they not...?" he said; Meteri noticed the way that he stood outside his door, and frowned a little, then took a step forward to look into his room. His brow furrowed.

"Lord." He looked up at Fe'kheru. "Is that...?"

Fe'kheru nodded. "They were selling her in the market...I thought perhaps she would be of more use among us. Our senior physician did recently pass on, didn't he?"

Meteri's look of perplexity grew. "Physician--? But--she is Moru." He looked at her again. "And you already have a Moru, Lord..." He blinked, then his ears flicked. "Lord! You do know that you could--"

"She is not capable of bearing pups, Meteri," Fe'kheru interrupted, "and I am just fine with Ikhi'." He suppressed a smile at the way the younger Kana sighed. "Do not worry, I haven't lost my mind just yet. I simply do not like to see good talents go to waste."

"Talents, Lord--?"

"I merely think Nerre'mua-Kana could use some assistance as the new senior physician," the captain said, and didn't clarify when Meteri gave him a confused look. They stood in silence for a long while, before Fe'kheru quietly shut the door, nudging Meteri aside; he waved at the youth and started walking.

"I will need to speak with Mahakhi-Kana before long...until then, we may as well see to the efforts to gather everybody up. Fa'rukha is just one Kana, after all."

"But...your belongings, Lord..." Meteri started to say, then caught the look on the captain's face and nodded. "Very well...though they will hardly be needing our help."

He offered no further protest, which was just as well, seeing as Fe'kheru was already on his way up the hall. Meteri sighed and followed him, though not before casting a glance back at the silent room behind him.

* * * * *

As the efforts to round up the Yellow Sands and River Tribe Kana continued, another effort continued within the household of Mahakhi itself, though it was far smaller in scale, indeed, made up of only one Kana alone.

Captain K'tasai, it was widely known, had an eye for winged females. Lately he seemed to have also acquired an eye for young winged females. His latest acquisition from the Moru market had been a thirteen-year-old girl named Tiths'hit, and as he kept her almost constantly in his personal quarters, it was assumed that he must enjoy her much.

So Djuta was not overly surprised when he had to wait a while for K'tasai's attention. The captain was not the modest type, so Djuta stood inside the door to his quarters and examined his claws while the canopied bed at the other side of the room trembled, its drapes flaring with each gust of breath let out. Tiths'hit knelt with her head down and her body shaking; K'tasai held onto her slim hips and panted heavily as he pushed. His tempo was quick, and Djuta tried to ignore the girl's whimpering; even if she did enjoy this act, which Djuta couldn't be certain of, it was likely to hurt considering the vast difference in their size and age. What with the memories of Hup'khit still strong within him, he found that he did not care for K'tasai very much, and pitied the little Moru even more. Still, it was not his place to complain, and so he kept himself silent. He was examining the tile patterns on the floor for the third time when the Kana leaned over his small slave and pushed more deeply, letting out a series of low grunts. Tiths'hit's cries grew louder and the bed shook harder; after a moment more of this K'tasai bucked his hips and clasped the girl to him tightly, their wings flaring and bodies hunching. He gave a satisfied rumble while the little slave trembled and sobbed aloud. K'tasai let out his breath and his wings slumped.

Djuta stopped examining his claws again and stood up straight from leaning against the wall. He waited patiently while K'tasai extracted himself from the girl, their forms mere shadows behind the gauzy drapes; he bent down over her, and a moment later had parted the drapes to step out. He carried Tiths'hit in his arms, her head resting against his shoulder and one arm looped around his neck; her breath came quick, her eyes glazed. Djuta nodded at him and he nodded in return, as he couldn't salute; the two of them still naked, his glistening sheath and her tiny breasts prominent, he went over to a chair near the side of the room, next to a table, and carefully sat down upon it, still holding Tiths'hit in his lap. He took a cloth from the table and dipped it in a bowl of water, then proceeded to gently wring it out and run it over the little slave's limbs.

Djuta joined him, stopping before him and leaning against a column. "She sometimes has a touch of a fever," K'tasai explained as he rubbed the cool, damp cloth over Tiths'hit's arms, making her shiver. "We must remember not to exert her too greatly now, what with the little prize she will give me." He placed his hand against her soft belly, and Djuta cocked his head.

"Already?" K'tasai nodded and continued washing her. "Congratulations. I hope she gives you a strong boy."

Tiths'hit must have heard his comment, for she shivered again and placed her arms around her master's neck, giggling softly. He smiled at her almost as a father would smile at his favorite child, touched her face, then pressed the cloth to her forehead while stroking her wing. She arched her neck with a sigh.

"I am surprised that we can get any rest at all, what with what goes on next door," K'tasai added, and he gestured at the wall behind the bed, flicking his ear.

Djuta glanced in that direction and frowned. "What does go on next door?"

K'tasai paused in silence, so Djuta did the same. For a few moments he heard nothing, then a small thump, then a quavering male voice called out, "Oohhhhhh Master...!"

Djuta's mouth twitched. "That is who I think it is...?"

K'tasai nodded. "I would have the luck to have Ki'ukha roomed next door to me. He cries out 'Master' more often than Tiths'hit does."

"Whatever makes him happy, I suppose."

K'tasai rolled his eyes. He wrung out the cloth and set it aside, putting his arms around Tiths'hit and drawing her close to nuzzle at her neck. She gave a shy smile and lowered one arm to cover her breasts. "What brings you here at such an hour, Djuta-Kana? Surely Rithukh'het hasn't worn you out just yet?"

Djuta's ear twitched. "I actually came to ask you to take over a duty of mine. Lord Mahakhi asked that I help see to organizing Lord Fe'kheru's men for their departure."

"What exactly does that entail? It sounds relatively simple to me..."

"Making certain they do not take any Moru that do not belong to them, mainly, though also seeing that they steal nothing else, that they take all that belongs to them; these sorts of things. One of their own lieutenants is already engaging in this though I was asked to assist, and he does not have control over the Kana staying within this house. I believe you would be better suited to do this."

"And why are you not able?"

"I have some other business I must attend to before nightfall. I trouble you too greatly?"

K'tasai shook his head. "No, not much; I hadn't much planned for tonight as it is, except for the obvious." He kissed Tiths'hit's cheek and she blushed; he set her on the floor and patted lightly at her behind, and she went running back to the bed, jumping in and crawling under the covers. "When must this be done by?"

"Before midnight," Djuta said, earning an odd look. "I thank you for taking over for me. I would not ask if it were not important."

K'tasai stared at him for a moment, then shrugged one shoulder. "Go see to what needs your attention; I believe I can accomplish all this before midnight, with time to spare." He turned and winked at Tiths'hit, who giggled and vanished beneath the bedcovers. "I have a few more little things to take care of before then, however, just so this night does not go to waste--she tends to doze off before midnight, you see."

Djuta nodded. "Thank you again." He walked back toward the door, offering the slave girl a smile as he passed; she smiled in return, before disappearing again like a mouse down a hole. K'tasai had already reached the bed and held out his arms for her, and she was already clinging to him as he lowered her to the bed while Djuta opened the door. By the time that he closed it, he could already hear them grunting and crying.

* * * * *

It was late in the evening, the time when most Kana were returning from the taverns or just settling in with whatever mates were to share their beds that night; and so Djuta heard many things on his way performing his final duties, a series of trivial things which he assumed Mahakhi must have assigned to him as some sort of punishment; though by now he hardly cared. He hadn't thought he'd have to face silly Ki'ukha, but it turned out that one of his other duties involved delivering a jar of oil to his rooms; what the oil was for, he had a pretty good guess, but left it unsaid anyway. Stepping inside to deliver it, he found a Moru guarding the door in the lappets of a captain, which for Ki'ukha was not very strange at all; he nudged the Moru in the ribs and they both watched as a second Moru, a large bulky male, plowed heavily into the hobbled and bound Kana while he shrieked out loud. It didn't look particularly comfortable, much less fun; the bonds around Ki'ukha's wrists and wings seemed very tight, his arms twisted behind his back and his legs bent forward at a painful angle; with each heavy push his face was mashed down into the pillows, obviously making it hard to breathe. Yet he still submitted and made a point of repeatedly stating what a good Moru he was. The big Moru mating him saw Djuta standing at the door and offered a shrug and a grin, then ground his hips forward all the harder. Ki'ukha screamed.

"And so why does he not include you in his evening's diversions?" Djuta asked the Moru guard. The first Moru shrugged.

"To say Moru too scrawny. To want a bigger Moru, like him. To wonder why brought here anyway!"

Djuta smirked. "Well, they say it is what is below that counts, not what's above. If he has not seen your rod yet, I say you make a point of showing it to him. He looks particularly amenable right now; his mouth is hanging wide open. If you are bored that should distract you."

The Moru shrugged again but sauntered off toward Ki'ukha's bed, loosening his kilt and loincloth. He shared a look with the big Moru and it was obvious that they both found the situation quite funny. Djuta went forward to set the jar of oil down near the bed...he had the feeling they would be needing it soon, judging by the hoarse screams that Ki'ukha let out...and this time he made a point of turning his back on them completely before the first Moru had the chance to put himself in the Kana's mouth--but he could still hear the startled muffled sound that Ki'ukha gave, and the raucous laughter of the two Moru.

Onward to his next task, which was also his final, self-assigned task.

He stopped by Lieutenant Tas'eta's rooms; the big Kana was asleep, Iast'et draped over him with a faint smile on her face; obviously they had chosen the previous hour or so to sate themselves, rather than later at night. Sergeant Binena was not in his rooms; a guard nearby informed him that the sergeant preferred taking walks about the house around this time of the night. Meteri and Fe'kheru, likewise, were absent, their doors shut and their rooms silent; most likely they were gathering their supplies and men for the long journey home.

He came to the hallway where Lieutenants Nehef's and Ahai'ikh's quarters were, on the seemingly rare occasions they got sleep; it seemed that Mahakhi's two lieutenants were always to be found awake doing something or other. He found Nehef, at least, at the right moment, slumbering away in his bed as if he would never awaken again. He considered waking him, but on a second glance at the cute little female who slept with him, he reconsidered and let him be. Ahai'ikh, in his quarters, slept alone. Djuta stopped at his bedside and stared at him in the dimness for a few long moments before lightly touching his arm with his fingers. Ahai'ikh sighed and shifted in his sleep and then fell still. Djuta withdrew his hand and turned away. Perhaps he would remember what had happened, and would tell Nehef of it later the next day.

Lieutenant Hiath'ikh he found standing guard in one of the halls, and saluted him; the other Kana returned the gesture with a mild look of confusion. He didn't bother with Mahakhi; the murmuring and giggling coming from his rooms proved that he was preoccupied. Resikh he found asleep with a strange female whom he'd never seen before; curious, he moved closer to look down at them. The female opened one eye to blink up at him before gasping and pressing herself back into the bed; Djuta put a finger to his mouth and gestured at Resikh, and she didn't cry out. He stared at his friend for a moment or two, then smiled at the Moru--she blinked at him, puzzled--and lightly touched Resikh's hand. He leaned down and softly kissed the sleeping Kana on his mouth, placing his fingers against his cheek.

"Goodbye, Brother," he whispered, then stood and turned away. The Moru was still staring at him when he closed the door.

The next-to-last room he visited was Captain Tas'hukh's. He slowly pushed open the door, looking inside; but the sight within told him that he had best move on. Silhouetted against the bed drapes, made large and distinct by the glow of a lamp, he could make out Tas'hukh's shadow, very slowly, tenderly coupling with another who knelt beneath him on all fours, his hands running up the other Kana's body as lovingly as they had once touched him. He watched the two shapes for a while. It eventually become obvious that the object of the captain's desire was Private Ri'hus, as he put back his head and tremblingly breathed aloud, "My Lord..." Their hips moved back and forward very, very slowly and easily, their breath fanning against the drapes. Tas'hukh ran his hands down to gently cup and squeeze Ri'hus's shaft, and the private whimpered. Tas'hukh nuzzled at his ear and offered a soft groan. They swayed, breath heavy, motions unhurried and loving.

Djuta stared at them. Tas'hukh had evidently finally found what he was looking for; denied by Djuta, and lost to I'anen, he'd been accepted by Ri'hus, and now the two of them were lovers. Ri'hus, likewise, had found what he'd needed most at the moment, someone to rely upon and trust, who could love him in return. They had both moved on without him.

He stood and watched them and considered feeling angry, or hurt, or lost...but none of those feelings came. He'd denied Tas'hukh because their relationship had ended when he had been freed; and Ri'hus's moving on was all that he could have asked for, considering what he'd been put through. And so instead of interrupting them, he turned and silently went away. The two lovers sank to the bed as the door swung slowly closed, their limbs tangling and hips trembling in release.

They did not notice him leave.

* * * * *

The final room Djuta approached was that of Lieutenant She'hekha. He slowed his step as he neared the door, not quite wishing to set foot inside lest he see something unpleasant; he did have the excuse that he was there to call him out so he would not miss returning with his own tribe, but he knew that She'hekha knew the schedule. Still he waited outside the door for a moment, before pushing it open. Within, She'hekha was preparing to depart, by taking advantage of one last bit of time with his slave, Ze'thet. They were not viciously coupling, as he had rather expected; instead, they reclined upon his bed unclothed but for She'hekha's loincloth, the Kana pinning the Moru's arms down as he kissed her neck and licked her ears; she turned her head and grimaced at some of his attentions, yet wasn't struggling too much to break herself free, and She'hekha's knee rubbing between her legs made her gasp and shudder. Her claws gouged marks into the Kana's arms, making him wince, yet the hardness between his legs made it clear that he found her own attentions pleasurable. The smile she gave him when he lifted his head made it clear that she enjoyed inflicting them, and more than once, when he lowered his head again, she bit roughly at his neck or his ear.

Djuta watched them for a moment before venturing to speak. "It looks as if you've almost broken her in, finally."

Ze'thet gasped in surprise and jerked back, gawking at him, She'hekha lifting his head and doing likewise. The Moru pulled one arm free, hissing and throwing a jar at Djuta so that he had to duck to avoid getting hit; She'hekha grabbed her arm and pulled it back down to the bed, nuzzling at her ear and making her melt back into the coverings. She let out a mew, until he bit her ear a little too hard; then she growled and clawed him across the face. Djuta blinked, expecting him to smash her nose in, yet all that he did was push himself up, holding a hand to the fresh clawmarks and smirking at Djuta.

"No, I do not believe she is quite broken in, yet," he panted. "She would be little fun if she were." He sat on the edge of the bed--Djuta noticed that one of Ze'thet's arms was in fact tethered to the bedpost so she couldn't attack him, though she gave him a venomous look--and reached for another jar, opening it and rubbing its contents over his wound. Djuta now noticed that he bore clawmarks and bitemarks upon his shoulders and arms and neck as well; he didn't like to think if he bore any a little lower down. Though again, it wasn't his place to complain.

"I heard you were making some sort of rounds of the house," She'hekha said, closing the jar. "That you are supposed to in fact be helping Fa'rukha-Kana, yet you foisted this duty off on someone else so that you might achieve your own ends. And now here you arrive. You had something you wished to say to me?"

Djuta bit the inside of his mouth. Ze'thet gave him a positively ugly look; he'd never thought a female could look so spiteful, not even Khetai. His mouth twitched and he turned back to the door.

"Perhaps later. When your mate isn't so inclined to toss random objects."

"You are sure?" She'hekha raised an eyebrow. "We will not be here much longer, you do know. Already your general is getting ready to speak with Captain Fe'kheru."

"I am sure," Djuta replied. "Enjoy your...nesakh'ai...or whatever you prefer to call it."

She'hekha shrugged and set the jar aside, turning back to the bed. Djuta made a point of watching him this time, but when Ze'thet sank her teeth into his shoulder hard enough to make him yelp, her eyes all the while focused on Djuta's, he decided it would be a good idea to leave before things went any further.

* * * * *

The hour drew close to midnight seemingly within a matter of moments, and at last most of Fe'kheru's Kana had gathered their belongings to prepare for their departure; Mahakhi and Fe'kheru had spoken in private, and when they emerged from the war room, they clasped arms like comrades. Mahakhi's look was grim; he gripped the enemy captain's arm tightly.

"I am sorry that we have met under these circumstances," he said, at which Fe'kheru nodded his head.

"Perhaps someday, in the future," the captain replied. "Once time has passed, and this pain has faded somewhat from our hearts, I should like to think that we will no longer be enemies, but allies."

Mahakhi blinked as if in surprise. He then nodded and lifted his head so that his lappets dangled over his shoulders.

"I would like to think this too," he said gruffly, then his reserve faltered, and he squeezed Fe'kheru's arm again. "Goodbye, Brother."

"You are an honorable Kana, General." Fe'kheru pulled his arm away and crossed it to his breast in a salute. "Goodbye."

Outside, in the city, the atmosphere was not quite so decorous, though no less amiable. Fe'kheru's and She'hekha's men now gathered at the north gate, yelling and talking noisily. Despite the hostility between the tribes, some of the men had managed to get along over the occasional cup of beer in the taverns, and so there were many goodbyes to be given. As Fe'kheru turned his Sha in the direction of the gate and started on his way out of the settlement, some men of the Great Red Tribe hoisted their weapons points up and hooted; some Kana of the River Tribe followed suit, though only a few of the Yellow Sands Tribe did the same. It was a farewell gesture, a sign of respect for brothers in arms. Perhaps the next time they met, the painful memory of Sut'khut and Nehekhi would be long faded.

The enemy warriors turned and departed from the city, exiting through the gate while the Great Red Tribe watched. They hooted and shook their weapons all the way out, but fell silent as soon as the foreign Kana had all gone beyond the city walls. Then they climbed atop these to watch the troops vanish across the floodplain. Occasionally one or two would turn back to look, and each time the hooting and weapons-shaking resumed in a goodnatured manner. Perhaps a few of them had had too much to drink on their final night in the city.

Atop the wall nearest Mahakhi's house, a few of the Moru had sneaked out of their quarters to watch the scene. Thi'usa shielded his eyes unnecessarily and squinted down at the Kana below; he made a spitting noise, and climbed down from the wall in disgust. Ameni was left by himself when the rest of them lost interest, and he leaned against the mudbrick, watching with some longing. He didn't know what he longed for. Only that he did.

He at last sighed to himself and started to turn away. He had no reason to long for anything, especially not now that the Moru A'hiyet had given him her news. He hadn't known quite what to think when she had taken his hand and placed it upon her belly; surely she had made a mistake...? Yet when she shook her head, and assured him that he was the only one she had been with in that time, he knew it must be true. The thought of a pup which was both human, and Apsiu, and yet neither, made him uneasy...yet he had done his best to hide his reservations from her, and had embraced her to him as she did the same. He supposed it was about time that he had gotten one of the Moru with child, even though he had not known this was possible, and had rather hoped it wasn't; although long ago, the memory of his first child was still as painful as if it had happened yesterday. And if any child stood a greater chance of facing such an awful fate, it would be this one.

He had to remind himself that Mahakhi-Kana was a good master, and would never kill a pup, no matter what its parentage...but still...he worried...

He blinked and froze in midturn. What was that he had noticed down there--? He turned back and squinted when he thought he noticed something descending from the far corner of the wall, where there were currently no guards stationed. A small, solitary shape spread its wings and drifted down to the ground outside the settlement, unnoticed by the guard Kana who were busy tending to the doors which were now swinging ponderously shut. It landed out of Ameni's sight, then sped across the irrigation canals until it had caught up with the rear of the retreating enemy Kana, at which it--and another shape--slowed and stopped, as if conversing with one another. After a moment there was a bit of activity, during which what looked to be a Sha was brought forward and handed over to the first party; they resumed moving, and instead of riding back...the first figure continued on with the rest. They rode until they became nothing more than specks on the horizon, and then not even that anymore.

Ameni stared at the vanishing soldiers for a long time after they had disappeared, his throat dry and his eyes unblinking. He'd recognized that shape as it rode off. And what business it had leaving with the enemy Kana...he had no idea.

* * * * *

She'hekha fell back near the rear of the departing Kana. Despite their alliance, the River Tribe and the Yellow Sands Tribe were not friends; indeed, already the two had separated, the River Tribe heading in a more northerly direction and talking amongst themselves as they went, the smaller mass of the Yellow Sands Tribe moving slightly more east and remaining mostly silent. For the River Tribe, closure had come easily...they had lost many of their best fighters, quite recently, and had not wanted to lose more, She'hekha reasoned. The pain was still too sharp for them to wish for battle. This was not the case with the Yellow Sands Tribe...their anger had been seething for years, ever since their defeat at the hands of then-General T'uris's men. Like the River Tribe, they too had lost many of their best men...but that had been a long time ago...and resentment had been allowed to grow since then. A mere duel would not be nearly enough to heal their wounds.

Still, having become acquainted with the Great Red Tribe...and having observed many of its warriors in action...She'hekha knew that an attack at the moment would be foolish. It was best to just head home and prepare for another time. He didn't wish to antagonize the River Tribe, either; they'd had enough sorrows for the time being, and although he did not much care for them, Fe'kheru had a level head, and the young lieutenant showed much promise. And at least the rest of them had not caused too much trouble for his own tribe, which was surprising enough in itself, considering. Already he could hear them singing and laughing as they rode on their way home. His own men stared ahead silently but for the clanking of their weapons and the plodding of their Sha. A few of them were drunk, but most of them bore dark looks in their eyes, and there was no singing or joking.

She'hekha took a breath and let it out. He glanced back at Ze'thet, seated on her own Sha behind him; her head was drooping forward as she threatened to fall asleep. He started to turn back to face ahead when one of his men bristled, looking over his shoulder. His eyes met She'hekha's and they both looked behind them toward a faint noise that was growing closer.

A lone figure was jogging toward them across the canals, its wings flaring. The other Kana pulled his sword, but She'hekha waved him off. He gestured for him to lead Ze'thet along with the others, and the Kana obeyed, leaving him to face the newcomer alone. He believed he knew who it was. A sword wouldn't be needed.

The other Kana approached, slowing to a halt. She'hekha tilted his head. The newcomer was panting, as he'd been in a hurry to catch up, and had to lean on his knees for a moment to catch his breath, staring up at the Yellow Sands lieutenant the entire time. She'hekha waited for him to speak.

"I've considered your offer," Djuta finally said, his chest still rising and falling quickly.

She'hekha cocked an ear. "Oh?"

Djuta forced himself to stand upright, and his wings flared before tucking in behind his back; he carried his sword, and dagger, yet nothing else but the clothing he wore. "I wish to accompany you back to your tribe," he said, his voice oddly flat yet clear.

She'hekha stared at him, as if waiting for him to say something else; Djuta bit the inside of his mouth and nearly scowled, keeping silent. After a moment the Yellow Sands lieutenant nodded his head once, and turned his Sha back about; he flicked his hand and another Sha was brought forward, the reins handed to Djuta, who grasped onto its mane and pulled himself atop its back.

"I had anticipated your decision," She'hekha said. "I already sent a scout along to inform General Nehara." His ear flicked, and his mouth twitched before he turned away from Djuta completely. "He will be pleased to meet you in person."

Djuta said nothing. The two of them nudged their Sha's flanks and followed after the departing Kana, away from the city of the Great Red Tribe.


"Part 58: Dreams

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