‘The day of tomorrow shall be in nothing compared to… those who still live will be dead… the future will be carved in the rocks.’
Adriana had repeated the sentences word for word that she had heard in her dream. Kemir who was startled at first by the cry the girl had yelled when she woke up, took care now of a trembling Adriana.
‘Kemir, it was terrible, I never want to have such a nightmare again. That face that came at me through the mist. It was blood-stained and twisted into a cruel grin. I hope this isn’t a bad omen.’ Her frightened look went back and forth as if she had expected the man from her dream come out of the bushes any time.
‘It was just a bad dream, Adriana. The Forest of Bandar is known for his influence on the mind of possible travelers. A ghost can’t harm us and any enemy of more dense form will be facing my sword before they will lay a hand on us.’
Adriana smiled again and there was even a playful glance in her eyes. She had followed his courageous language with great interest. ‘Thank you, Kemir Ocain, protector of the feeble women.’
The somewhat mocking sound made him blush and he shyly sheathed his sword.
‘No, Kemir, really, thank you. I mean it, you’re a good guy.’
Now he blushed even more at the compliment Adriana gave to him. He swiftly tried to give a twist to the conversation. ‘We should try to eat something before we start again. Daylight will be coming soon. I’ll look for the horses if you take care of our camp.
‘Yes, master,’ sounded the laconic answer of his feminine co-traveler. She quickly turned around to hide her smile.
Kemir opened his mouth to react, but eventually he decided to be silent. Women, he would never understand them. However, he liked traveling with Adriana. She looked great in her manly clothes. While he fed the horses, he was thinking about his mother. Would they ever find her again and would Jani, Adriana’s brother be with her?
His blood ran cold when he imagined how it would be if he never saw her again. He had never known his father and the idea to lose his mother as well now made him anxious and sad at the same time.
‘We’ll find them again, Kemir.’ Unnoticed Adriana had approached him with a cup of tea in her hands. Obviously, she had guessed his thoughts. He nodded without speaking and took the cup and sipped the beverage.
‘I hope we’ll find the trail a bit easier than yesterday. That magic spell really tripped us up and slowed our voyage. I’ve heard many stories about the Forest of Bandar, but now I’m experiencing it myself. Obviously, they aren’t all fairy tales or stories from some kind of drunken traveler.’
‘What have you heard about these regions, Kemir? My parents never allowed me to go into the forest, they were very strict about that and the voyagers who visited our pen mostly were very silent about their adventures. Probably because my father was an exile.’
Kemir rubbed through his blond hair with his free hand. ‘Stories? Well, I’ve heard once there are strange animals in these woods. The funniest animal is a mouse on long legs and who could whistle instead of squeaking. That can only be a tale from a drunken man. Don’t you think?’
Adriana obviously had forgotten about her nightmare because she was laughing out loud. Her boyish face brightened up and now Kemir noticed she actually was pretty. You could see a certain wisdom in her dark eyes, but her smile also was disarming and gave her face that feminine tinge he hadn’t observed yet.
‘Of course, you have also some dangerous animals we have to keep an eye open. The Buldras are the most dangerous and if you see one you better run away and climb the nearest tree if there is one. The Irbis is a snow panther, an animal that sometimes descends from the mountains of Mandros, but it seems they are very solitary-minded. They also claim it’s good fortune if you spot one. I wouldn’t go too close anyway because claws are really very sharp. And, of course, there is the rainbow serpent.’
‘Rainbow serpent?’ Adriana sounded afraid. She didn’t like snakes at all. They were slippery beasts and only the thought about their bendy bodies made her shiver. ‘I don’t like serpents, are they also dangerous and are there a lot of them?’ She looked around, gazing at the shrubbery as if any moment she could discover one.
‘Sorry, Adriana. I think the rainbow serpent is an invention of the fantasy of a merchant of the monthly market of Carpagio. Actually, it is a sort of dragon with the body of a snake with wonderful rainbow colors. He would live in the water of rivers and lakes, but during the rainy season, he should surface and drink the water in the air. In fairy tales, everything is possible of course.’
Adriana sighed, relieved. ‘Well, we’ll see them come from far away, I’m not afraid of dragons.’
Jani had adapted to the life in the camp with the resilience that is typical of children. First, he had felt frightened. The people of the Dulkas were giants to him. They were almost two heads taller than his father had been. When the Dulka had come out of the bushes at the borderline of Melissa, he had yelled. He had shouted for his sister Adriana. He knew she would be angry because he had risked himself going too near the forest.
The warrior had simply taken him under his arm as if he was carrying a bundle of kindling and had been rough with him. His body ached because the Dulka had held him so tight. When he was carried into the camp, he almost forgot that he was abducted. So many people together, he had never seen before. The warriors painted with all kinds of symbols, the smelling pots with food, the many tents and the other children, especially he had seen from the start.
The Dulka had carried him to a tent that was bigger than all the others in the camp. It was also the only one that was guarded. The soldier shoved him with a punch inside the tent. He saw that at least thirty children who here and there had formed some groups. There were also some women present in the tent. Not one Dulka inside never had one Dulka set a foot inside the tent.
One of the women came closer and bent down to him. ‘Hello, I’m Talia. What’s your name, little man?’
‘Jani Somp, I want to go back to my sister.’ Jani didn’t realize at that moment he couldn’t return to his sister Adriana.
‘Listen, Jani. The Dulka, that are the tall soldier here, they are our masters now. We have to obey them otherwise, they will hurt us. Do you understand that?’ She looked at him with her big eyes.
Then Jani saw that the skin under her left eye colored blue and that she was wounded on the side of her mouth. The Dulkas probably had hurt her as she now has told him. ‘Have you been naughty? Have they hurt you?’ He pointed at her face.
Talia who was touched by the child’s words swallowed. She hardly could tell what Kulkadan, the leader of the Dulkas, had done. The child wouldn’t understand and become only more anxious. ‘No, honey, I have just fallen down. Stupid of me, isn’t it?’
The woman had taken care of him. She explained that if he was nice and did what he was told, they would look after him. He would get enough to eat and drink and would be allowed to sleep under a warm blanket. He also heard from her that the children in the camp were used to carry messages, different announcements from the leader to his chiefs in command and vice versa. They had also the task to bring food to the tents of the warriors and to fetch their empty plates, pitchers, and dishes. She showed him making a drawing with a stick on the ground where the important tents of the chiefs were situated. The first couple of times, she would accompany him to show them to him, but since then he would be on his own. It was a hard school for a little boy.
It happened that he made a mistake and entered the wrong tent or that he was too late searching the right place. Food and dishes were thrown at his head of he received a punch or a hit so that he would remember the next time. In a short time, he knew all the tents and the chiefs in command. Barukan, Liborok, Sjilokan, and Bodorok were the most brutal ones and with them you couldn’t make one mistake. They were also the four adjuncts of their leader Kulkadan. Other Dulkas were as cruel, but for those it only mattered that they got their food anyway, the form or the way they were getting it, was of less importance and for that their reactions were in proportion.
The women were nice to him. They took care he received enough food and an encouraging hug. Talia was the first he had met and he trusted her the most. It was through her he learned to know Theresa. Theresa made him think about his dead mother. He also saw she was well-liked by the other children and she was especially nice to Talia. One of the first days, he had asked if Theresa was Talia’s mother, but it wasn’t Talia had told him. Theresa only had one son and, fortunately, he wasn’t taken by the Dulkas.
Yila Madrigal hadn’t forgotten Tom Varsen. She had thrown the bones every single day to read the future. Not Tom’s future, but hers. She knew she had to wait for a sign. The bones would tell her when it was time to leave. She had, on the contrary of what she had told Tom Varsen, not a grandmother in Carpagio. It was her disguise to travel through the departments. Nobody would doubt a young girl who was helping her grandmother and see what she really was.
Beside her was Leyon, her twin brother. He had the force of the foresight. What she was able to read in the bones, he saw in visions. They were as true as what she could predict. Tom knew her brother in another way. He would have opened his eyes wide with amazement if he had seen what happened after he had left the herb shop. Actually Leyon’s face looked a bit like a little ferret. His delicate features and his sharp nose and not to forget his sharp teeth made her think in this way.
‘Leyon, I think the moment has arrived to make a voyage. Look, here.’ she showed the pattern in the little bones she had thrown. ‘It’s very clear. There are powerful forces at work and the balance has shifted to the bad side. I don’t know if we can make a difference, but we certainly have to try.’
Her twin brother nodded. ‘I’ve seen the ship setting sail in my dreams, the sails were blood red and the sea was foaming on top of the waves. You’re right. It’s time.’
There wasn’t much that they left. All attributes to set up a new store could be obtained everywhere or to be found in the wild nature. If they had to work in another town it was only a question of a few days before they were installed again.
Yila swayed wide with her arm, the air around her became hazy and misty and her body began to shrink and she changed into a white wood owl. Leyon changed also and a second wood owl, a bit larger and with some black feathers between the white, flew away with a couple of strokes of his wings out of the shop. Yila, the little wood owl, looked around for the last time and followed her twin brother outside. Both Shape Shifters were on their way. The bones were thrown, the visions were read and the future wasn’t rose-colored.
© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere