Rat King

Offering

ver, you
e wearing thumal clothes. Aren you afraid of being cursed? ”

”By who? Its my thumal; given the situation, Ill accept my fate and live on. ” Dem smiled for the first time in weeks. ”Unless you think I should curse myself? ”

”I can decide if you are cursed or blessed… ” Telo kicked at the fire with his feet, stomping until the embers they no longer glowed. ”We should continue, even with walking a lame horse; we should catch up in three or four days. ”

Dem spent the rest of the day walking with the young tribal. Although Telo was able to share quite a bit of information on tribal life, he absolutely refused to share anything regarding the significance of tribal tattoos. He would only say that Dem mustn mention it until he caught up with the Swiftwind Clan.

Telo pulled another strip of meat off the spit and tossed it to him. ”Your strength is returning; just in the last few hours, I notice your color has improved. ”

”Tell me about Masaat, ” Dem asked.

Telo shrugged slightly. ”Again, its something I can speak about other than to say its a year of wandering. My Masaat is coming to an end. ”

The days passed quickly; during the day, the two would converse about tribal customs and the life of a street rat. Then, before sharing an evening meal, Telo began to teach Dem archery.

************

The Swiftwind Clan were near the center of the gathering of a half-dozen tribes. Telo walked by himself, bypassing his own clan to take care of Dems situation. As expected, it had taken them a bit over three days to catch up.

Although the tribes were loosely allied, wandering into another clans area was considered bad manners. Telo scanned for the entrance, two guards with spears who were chatting amongst themselves. They both stood when he approached.

”Greetings, Swiftwind, ” Telo bowed politely. ”I have an important matter to discuss with Ai Swiftwind and the Clan Elders.

The guards shared a knowing glance. ”With Ai? Is this a marriage proposal? ”

Telo smiled good-naturedly. ”No. It is not. ”

One of the men left abruptly, leaving Telo alone with the other guard.

”Im Yanz. What is your name? ” After looking closer, the guard was younger than he appeared. He had a mans height but the babyface of someone younger.

”Telomere, returning from Masaat. ” Telo didn say anything else; during the Masaat, he was considered clanless. So his first duty would be to report to his clan for acceptance as an adult member. It was primarily ceremonial in nature unless you were a criminal.

”Masaat? ” Yanz grinned at him. ”Im still two seasons from going. Could we talk later about it? ”

Telo nodded, his sharp eyes noticing the guard returning.

”Ai and one of the Elders will meet with you; please follow me. ” The guard paused for a moment before turning abruptly and heading back toward the camp center.

Telos critical eye inspected the camp while he followed the guard. Swiftwind was a mid-sized tribe, but their travel lodges were well constructed, and everything seemed orderly.

The guard stopped outside the entrance of a large round tent; he took a position near the door before motioning for Telo to enter.

”Thank you, ” Telo smiled politely and pushed the thick curtain to one side before stepping in.

The warmth and pleasant smell of the lodge filled him with longing for his own clan. Like most who undertook the Masaat, he longed for home by its end.

Two older women sat comfortably on cushions that were placed in the center of the lodge. They were flanked by a younger woman with braided black hair.

”Greetings Elders, I am Telomere. ”

”You did not name your Clan, Telomere. Are you on Masaat? ” The two older women studied him curiously. The one with shorter hair spoke while the other puffed smoke from a small pipe into the air.

”Yes. I am near the end and will return to my clan soon. ” Telomere glanced at the younger woman; she had her arms crossed in front of her like someone facing trouble.

The short-haired woman motioned to Ai before turning her eyes back toward Telomere. ”Drink tea with us and speak freely. ”

Ai moved to the side of the tent where a tea kettle was sitting. She filled four cups before returning. Then, although there was a cushion for her, she chose to stand.

”Thank you. ” Telo bit his lip to keep from smiling; Ai seemed a bit on the frosty side. ”I found a young man following the migration. Apparently, he was injured in Thaigmaal and taken to your clan by Ai. He woke up on a thumal less than a week ago. ”

The cup held in Ais hand slipped to the floor, splashing the hot liquid onto leggings. ”Demitri? ”

”He calls himself Dem. ” Telomere handed Ai a carefully folded letter written by her own hand.

”This… ” Ai stared at the paper. It was the letter she left on the thumal. ”Take me to him. ”

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