The Exile's Tale
An excuse to enter SSC #8
A solitary itinerant traversed the desert, keeping the wind to his back as it playfully tossed the edges of his travelling cloak, trying to trip him up. He did his best to wrap himself in the thick cloth to shield himself from the cold wind, with limited success.
The Jungle Glatorian shivered as he walked on. To distract himself from his miserable thoughts, he gazed up at the twinkling stars, the glowing moon. His only friends. His only companions on his long, quiet trips across the desert.
But even they were not truly his friends. They kept him company, but only when the weather permitted it; they listened when he spoke, but they did not heed his words; without them, he would have had nothing, yet they were unfeeling and indifferent toward his existence. The crescent moon glared down upon him, curved into a frown.
In truth, he was alone. All alone. He was an exile, a pariah, a loner. He had no friends, nor any enemies. He had various acquaintances, but no one who really knew him or cared about him, no one who would remember him or notice his absence.
He was alone in the wild, harsh, cruel land of Bara Magna. It was for that reason that he chose to be a merchant. It was the only profession that suited him, an exile unsuited to live anywhere.
He strolled on in silence, shivering in the cold. A sudden cloud drifted across the moon, darkening the landscape for a moment. The lack of light revealed to him a red glow, barely visible beyond the next dune.
Could it be a fire? he wondered. Could it truly be a warm, welcoming, wonderful fire?
The thought made the night seem even colder. The Glatorian's pace became more rapid, growing into a run. He ascended the dune in a few swift bounds. On the other side, nestled in a small valley, lay a large group of caravan travellers. Several campfires dotted the area, Agori and Glatorian alike gathered around in their warmth, singing and colloquizing. The heat of the many flames and bodies hit the Jungle Glatorian like a wave of warmth. Swiftly he picked his way downward.
"Stop! Who approaches?"
The Jungle Glatorian paused. At the foot of the slope stood a Vulcanan Glatorian, one of several standing guard around the campsite. His words attracted the attention of several of his fellow travellers, who gazed curiously at the newcomer.
"Er--just a travelling merchant," said the Glatorian of Jungle, "seeking warmth and safety. Might I join you--just for the night?"
The Fire Glatorian frowned. Grudgingly he answered, "I suppose. But you'll have to pay a fee."
His tone made the Jungle Glatorian flinch. The latter could tell he was not welcome; he was never welcome. Nobody wanted him, an extraneous merchant, around.
"Actually, it's a nice night," he said. "The stars and moon are out. I'll keep walking."
Perhaps realizing he had been too harsh, the guard said, "You are welcome to stay, of course--the fee is small."
The Jungle Glatorian knew the invitation was born of guilt rathar than sincere kindness. "No--thank you. I'll keep walking." Alone.
And so the exile did. He reascended the dune and set forth into the cold, dark, lonely desert, wrapping himself in his cloak for warmth. After the short exposure to the heat of the campfires, the chill night winds seemed more pitiless than ever.
Shivering, he stumbled to an outcrop, where a stone overhang could provide shelter. The exsiccated remains of various creatures that had crawled under the rocks to die strewn the area, and the Glatorian gathered enough bones to start a fire, albeit a small one. But it was something.
The exile looked up. He had seen movement in the distance, out of the corner of his eye; but there was nothing there now.
Now you're seeing things, he scolded himself. Wait--there it was again--closer this time!
A loud screech rent the night. Vorox!
The Glatorian leapt to his feet and drew his sword and Thornax launcher. He could hear them, moving about among the sand and rocks, scenting the air, searching for prey. He did not bother to hide; the Vorox would surely scent him. They would smell his fear.
The first appeared. With a shriek that echoed through the night a Vorox descended from the overhang, snarling at the Jungle Glatorian. Sword in hand he lunged just as the beast attacked; it dodged his blade and jabbed with its tail, but the exile dodged and took aim with his launcher. The Vorox poised to strike just as a Thornax latched onto its face. It snarled and hissed as it scratched at the fruit in an attempt to remove it, but before it got the chance, the Jungle Glatorian struck.
The Vorox crumpled. One less of the beasts to worry about, the Glatorian thought. But where's the rest of his--
His thought was cut off by a screech from behind him. He whirled around to see nine more Vorox, crying out in anguish and indignation at the sight of their deceased brother. Growling and sibilating they surged forward.
The exile defended himself valiantly against the onslaught. His blade flashed as it lashed out at his attackers and parried the blows from their stingers. But he was hopelessly outnumbered. Ere long a swift blow to the leg from a Vorox stinger brought him to his knees, and in a moment they had him pinned to the ground. He had already received several blows, stings and gashes, and his head was throbbing. He was slipping into unconsciousness. Through bleary eyes and behind black spots he saw the Vorox poise their tails.
He was alone. There was no one to save him. No one who would notice that he never returned from his journey across the desert. Alone. . . . He closed his eyes.
- - -
The exile's eyes fluttered open. His body ached, his head throbbed, the world around him shook, and his vision was brumous. All he could see were two vague shapes standing over him: one was an Agori, the other a Glatorian.
"Am I--dead?" he groaned.
"No," responded a voice. "But you came darn close. You must have been mad, wandering about the desert alone in the middle of the night!"
Alone, the Glatorian echoed mentally. You've hit the nail on the head.
"I--I had a delivery I was anxious to make by tomorrow," he lied.
"And you were willing to risk your life for it?" said the voice contemptuously. The Jungle Glatorian's eyes were clearing, and he discerned the speaker as a Tajunan Agori. Into a bag that hung from his shoulders he repatriated bandages, jars containing various substances, and other materials that disclosed him as a medic.
At that same moment, the Jungle Glatorian realized that it was not fever that caused the world to shake around him, but it was real movement; they were riding in a caravan.
"Well, you're safe now," he went on. "You were lucky though; if Tandar here hadn't shown up in time to scare away those Vorox. . . ." The Agori shook his head grimly.
"The real credit belongs to you, doc," responded the Fire Glatorian, addressing the Water Agori. The Jungle Glatorian looked Tandar up and down; he was the same Glatorian with whom he had confabulated when he had first approached the travellers. "We're lucky we had a medic in the caravan, otherwise--well, we did, and thank goodness. "
"Well--I--thanks," the exile muttered awkwardly. "For--for saving me, I mean. Nobody's ever--well--thanks." He moved to sit up.
"Not so fast!" warned the medic, pushing him back down. "You need to rest."
"But--I don't want to be an imposition--"
"A fool is what you're being," Tandar interposed. He continued: "You're hurt. The doc says you should be well enough to move about on your own by the time we arrive in Vulcanus tonight, but until then, you ride with the caravan. Free of charge, of course."
The Jungle Glatorian smiled--the first real smile that had spread across his face in a long time.
"Thank you," said he. "It's an inadequate phrase, but--thank you."
Tandar returned the smile. "Think nothing of it."
And from then on, silence reigned. Occasionally one of them would make a remark about the weather or something thus trivial, and several times they engaged in short conversations concerning professional affairs, but for the most part they rode in quietude, musing, daydreaming, or simply dozing.
At last, well after the sun had disappeared beyond the horizon, they reached Vulcanus and disembarked. The Jungle Glatorian bid vale to his new acquaintances, after first promising to join them on the caravan's journey to Tajun.
A strange feeling welled up in his chest. It was a feeling entirely new to him; but it was a wonderful one.
Alone, he strolled into Vulcanus. Alone, he thought, but . . . perhaps . . . not entirely.
Even the moon, the exile observed with an atypically blithe sigh, seemed to be smiling now.
Thanks for reading!
Word Count: 1,560
Sincerely, Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith
Edited by Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith, Nov 07 2011 - 01:34 PM.