Theresa Ocain had completely lost hope that her son or someone else would rescue her. The first days, even after a week she had felt Kemir was looking for her, but when the days passed, it was obvious he had lost his way. In the time that followed, she emotionally fell in a big pit. She fulfilled her daily tasks like she was supposed to, but she was hardly aware of her surroundings. Despite the encouraging words of Talia, the friend she had made in the camp, her state of mind barely changed.
This turned the other way when Liborok, one of Kulkadan’s chiefs in command had a special attention for her. The Dulka was one of the older warriors in the camp and much more reasonable in his reactions than the other younger soldiers. When they had made their camp for the umpteenth time and the food had been distributed, Liborok came to bring her a piece of roast meat. An unusual gesture towards one of the slaves. It was a piece of roebuck and Theresa first looked startled when Liborok pushed it under her nose. Most of the times, the slaves had to glad to have some rests of the lesser desired pieces of the wild animals they killed on the way.
Liborok almost pushed the meat in her mouth without saying something. When she eventually took the piece and dared to look in his eye, she knew the warrior felt something for her. The glance in his eyes was softer than she was used seeing with the Dulkas. Afraid to look ungrateful or to be punished, she whispered her gratitude. ‘Thank you, Master Liborok.’ Now he laughed, pleased with her reaction and when he saw her starting to eat from it, he left her still with a smile on his face.
How desperate her situation might be, she could never become the wife of such a warrior. She knew what they were capable of. Liborok might be a bit more civilized in his behavior, in comparison with the people of Upperland he was a brute who didn’t value a life very high. Still, she saw the possibilities in this situation.
If she could play it smart, she could benefit by it. If he liked her and the other warriors were aware of this fact, maybe she could move more freely through the camp without drawing suspicion. It was as if she had lived underwater in an air bubble where nothing could pass through. Suddenly she saw everything a lot clearer because now she thought only about one thing, she never had considered before: escaping.
When Talia bumped into her, the woman directly saw there was something that had changed with Theresa. She walked straighter and there was some color on her cheeks. Life seemed to have come back in her eyes. ‘What has happened, Theresa? You look different, I don’t understand.’
‘Sorry Talia, because I have not listened to you. I was desperate. My situation… our situation is hopeless with these brutes who consider us just as slaves. We are only an object they can use at their disposal. But what I thought was impossible, has still happened.’
‘What, have you after all, heard from your son Kemir?’
‘No, Talia, I’ve given up hope on that. He’s only a boy and I suspect he has searched for me, but what is he against those warriors. I can’t expect more from him. My heart is breaking when I think about his grief, but now I have to use my forces to get us out of here, Talia. We’re going to try to escape!’
‘Escape? But we can’t move a step or they have seen it. Theresa, how do you think this would be possible? I don’t want to take your fresh courage away, but these tyrants will cut your head off if you try to leave the camp.’
Theresa nodded gently to her friend with a smile on her face. ‘Don’t be frightened, Talia, but chief Liborok has feelings for me, I’m sure of it. Just now, he personally brought me a piece of the best meat. You know these bullies take what they want, so this action is inspired by something else. I didn’t think they were capable of it, but these brutes also can fall in love and I’m going to use this to get away from here.’
‘You mean, you and I, but how will you do this?’ Talia wasn’t convinced by Theresa’s words, although she was happy that the woman she esteemed so high had a new courage to live.
‘Be ready, Talia, from today on be prepared every minute to run. I know it, I feel it that there will be a moment that will make it possible to do this. I don’t know how yet, or when, but now I’m sure, I rather die escaping, than to live the rest of my life between these Dulkas. I won’t blame you if you don’t want to go with me, you have a choice, but I have to know it beforehand. If the moment comes, I already have to know if you are with me because everything will have to go very quickly.’
Talia frowned. ‘Theresa, you know that young women like me, are the toy of these warriors. Sooner or later one will go too far and will beat me to death. It will happen if I stay here, that’s a certainty, the only thing I don’t know is when. I’ll go with you… but the others?’
‘I have to be hard on this matter, even with us two it will be a difficult mission. We can’t risk it to take the others with us and, by the way, you’re the only one that I trust.’
Tears flowed upon Talia’s cheeks and she hugged Theresa, a thankful gesture because of her affection and her trust.
Kemir sensed he was carried by someone with a cast-iron arm. The body part that was carrying him felt as stone, but through the haze of clouds, he could hardly something. He heard Adriana shouting. She wasn’t far from him, as far he had seen she also was saved by this mysterious hand in the clouds. The creature that was carrying them had almost to be a giant if he measured the thickness of his arm with his hands.
‘Don’t be afraid, Adriana, the one who has saved us, don’t want to put us in danger, on the contrary.’ Kemir was a down-to-earth person and his brain told him it made no sense to lend a helping hand to chop their head off afterward. He heard that Adriana had stopped screaming. Obviously, she had understood the logic of his words. It still took a time, cut off by the little they saw, that they were carried further;
Suddenly the thick fog vanished and they saw a white surface. At that moment, they were put down with a powerful hand. A haze of clouds covered their legs almost up to their knees, but the underground was sturdy. The bottom they were standing on, sensed as hard and stable as stone. Kemir looked behind him to thank their rescuer but had to raise his head. The man was almost three heads taller than Kemir and he also wasn’t very small either. His arms were as thick as tree-trunks and his hair as white as the clouds around their feet. It fanned out in the cool breeze. Despite he looked extremely strong there was no threat going out of him. He wore a three-quart trouser and that was it. There wasn’t a grain of fat on his naked upper body, he was a great pack of muscles.
‘Don’t be afraid, humans. I won’t hurt you.’ His voice sounded melodious and the smile that underlined his words was the proof that he told the truth. ‘You are my guests and no one of my people will harm you. Come, we’ll go to my home. I want to hear your stories about what is happening on earth. It’s a long time since I have wandered on the ground. But I forget one of the important rules of politeness. May I introduce myself? I am Magnus Lapis but you humans know me as Teki.’ The giant man held out his hand to welcome them.
For a moment, Kemir looked surprised at Adriana who was staring at Magnus Lapis. They had just talked about his story that was told to the children. They supposed they were only fairy tales and now they stood before the man himself. Kemir put his little hand in the giant fist of the cloud man. Adriana trembled on her legs of excitement when she also got the honor to shake his hand.
‘How may I call you, humans?’ When Kemir Ocain and Adriana Somp had introduced themselves the tall man spoke further. ‘Forget what you heard. I’m not a god and I don’t want to be one either. However, I’m a leader of beautiful and strong people. We call ourselves the Nubelas. The people who live in the clouds. But enough talking, we still have to go a long road. I’ll tell you everything when we get home. My wife is a formidable great cook. I suppose in the meantime, you like something to eat?’
Adriana heard her stomach rumble during the words of Magnus Lapis. It was indeed a while ago that they had eaten something and warm food was a rarity when you’re traveling through the regions of Upper and Downland. However, Kemir couldn’t restrain himself to ask the question.
‘Is your wife… is she really Kon?’ He blushed a bit, ashamed he was so curious speaking his thoughts out loud.
‘Actually, her full name is Konaguire, but I’ve always called her Kon. I think your forefathers have based themselves on this name to give the plain his name. It would be difficult to pronounce if they would have called it the Konaguire Magnus Lapis Plain, although personally I think it sounds nice. Teki in my language means cloud man. A long time ago, we were still at peace with the humans, but more about that when we arrive. Let’s hurry before the evening falls. The nights are a lot colder here down below on earth.’
With his giant paces, Magnus regularly had to stop to give the opportunity to Kemir and Adriana to keep up with him. They saw wonderful things they hadn’t expected here high in the clouds. A real world above theirs, who had possibly imagined this. A river of crystal clear water meandered through the white tapestry and obviously it was doing something with the clouds because above the river there wasn’t a trace of the white down.
Now and then they saw strange animals and mostly they were winged. The most beautiful of them all was a deer with the head of an eagle and with powerful wings from which the width was, at least, five meters when he flew away in the sky. There wasn’t any time to ask for more explanation at Magnus Lapis. They also felt that the temperature was dropping now that the evening was approaching. Kemir shivered already as a consequence of this fall in temperature. Magnus Lapis walked into his naked upper body and it seemed as if he still was warm. Both Adriana and Kemir understood that he was hurrying because people like them wouldn’t have any resistance against the low temperatures of the night on such heights.
When they had traversed a little valley and coming upon the ridge of the small hillside there mouth fell open in amazement. In front of them a real town was lying with houses obviously made of marble and stones. Black, gray and white colors predominated in these houses, but in the center of these habitations there was a white marble palace that shined so bright in the last sunbeams, Kemir and Adriana had to look away for a moment.
‘That’s my home, Kemir, and Adriana,’ Magnus spoke. ‘You’re welcome there as my guests. What’s mine is yours. Our hospitality has been already sung for centuries in so many songs of the cloud people. Maybe this is the first step in the renewal of the relations between the Nebulas and the human people. Come, I’ll introduce you to my wife.’
Yila Madrigal had found a good vantage point between the branches of an old oak tree. A few meters further her brother Leyon sat there also looking around. Their sense of direction hadn’t fooled them. High in the sky, they could move a lot faster than two men and a woman riding on horses and a donkey. Yila and Leyon were not affected by the trick of vision the white witch had cast upon her dragon. They were shapeshifters themselves and what the witch had realized with a spell, was natural to them and typical of their kind. They recognized each creature in their original form.
I’m happy for Tom Varsen he has met this White Witch. She’s on the good side… for the moment. My experience with witches is that nothing is for sure. But I suppose she wouldn’t have saved Tom and his friend if she intended to harm them.
In their appearance as an owl, they could communicate by the means of thoughts. The sound that came out of their bill couldn’t be distinguished from those of their real animal friends. Nobody, except a shapeshifter, could catch these thoughts.
This Jul Branden has secrets, Yila, I can see it in his aura. Leyon sounded careful. I can’t see through them, the man is experienced in masking his thoughts though he hasn’t magical powers. Strange!
Yila turned her neck almost 270 degrees while she was looking around. It was an advantage being an owl. With her big eyes, she could see very well, even in the dark and her hearing was a lot better than when she walked around in her human shape.
What do your dreams tell you, Leyon? Must we still follow them or do we have to fly directly to the island?
Leyon turned his head to her side and looked with staring eyes at his twin sister. 'Something tells me we have to stay with them. The color of my dreams keeps being red in their proximity. I propose to still stay a few days with them.'
Alright, brother, I’ll listen to your wise advice. It has helped us often in the past. We’ll follow Tom and his company and will decide after a few days what we will do next. The Stone cannot fall into the wrong hand. We have to secure the future.
Leyon’s eyes blinked a few times as his approval. Then he took the lead and flew away. Yila followed him a few seconds later. Nobody noticed the two owls in the wake of Tom Varsen, Jul Branden and Moira Goldfoot on her donkey Hector.
© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere