Here, finally, is the story that I wrote during my time off around Thanksgiving/what I did as my mini NaNoWriMo story. I had meant to split it into a few chapters, but, well, that never really happened.
I also wrote a few other, much shorter things for NaNoWriMo during that time, but I may hold on to posting them for a little bit (actually, for one of them, I might wait until I’ve written and posted a different Kyreth story).
Work isn’t easy in the desert. It takes time, more than time, to just make the smallest thing grow in the debilitating and suffocating sands. The intensity of sun, dryness, and wind makes life difficult, when not impossible.
Honestly, I don’t really know why we live here. Why life at all has ever come to this planet. Sure, we have some oceans. Well, seas. Big lakes, then. Aside from the underground springs that are so fortunately spread out through the predominating land masses, they were the only water. And those springs, really, were the one bare thread that we had keeping us alive in our desert.
I am a farmer, or was. Now… I don’t know what. I’ve become a nomad, in a way, though I doubt I will survive much longer as such.
Let me tell my story, in the hopes that someone, sometime, may find this chronicle of some use or importance.
I woke up, the sunlight already shining brightly through my window, the rays scattering due to the unevenness of the glass. I lay looking at the sunlight and wondering how the glass does that for a moment before realizing the importance of the fact that the sun is shining brightly; the sun was up, the morning had already started, and I had been sleeping.
I got up, changed out of the clothes I had been sleeping in and into the easily breathable workclothes that I wore during the day.
After getting dressed and eating a decently large breakfast, I mixed together some of my constantly-used sourdough starter with flour and water. I then took the short walk to my fields after grabbing a small wicker basket from a cupboard near the door.
I primarily farm wheat, corn, and hay, but also have a smaller field in which I grow my personal supply of groceries such as tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, and cabbage, among other things. The sand in which it was all planted had been mixed with fertilizer, as well as the powder of a rock called “solemni”, discovered generations ago, that, for some reason, retains water long enough to make the sand into a substance that provides a suitable growing area for plants. The underground springs, as I already noted, provided almost all of the necessary water; the only other time that water came was during one of the rainstorms that came two or three times a year.
It is already the late summer, nearing the beginning of the fall, and the wheat was nearing its harvest. I ran my hand through some of the heads of wheat, the rough grasses running across my skin. I suppose, one day in my past, that might have been uncomfortable, or even hurt. But after twenty years of farming, my hands were thick with callouses, and the wheat was just a gentle tingling on my skin.
The corn, too, was nearing its harvest, but not as much as the wheat; it seemed to still need a month or so before it was fully ready.
The grasses that would eventually be dried into hay, for sale in town as feed for cows, horses, and other livestock, and it was already quite tall, though still green and growing. It would be several more months before it would be harvested.
From the angle the sun, I estimated that it was already close to halfway through the morning. I couldn’t believe I had slept so long – I never did. A farmer’s work is never done, after all, and, unlike many of the craftsmen in town, I didn’t get weekends off. I was quite punctual, always waking up just as the sun began to peek over the horizon. There was no reason for me to be extraordinarily tired, as I always went to bed shortly after the sun set.
I had walked past the wheat and corn, and was midway through the hay. A minute later, I was past that as well, and looking at my personal garden. Several tomatoes were plump, and a bright red, and I picked these and put them in my basket. A large sum of peppers were also ready, which I picked and put in my basket alongside the tomatoes. I could only eat so many peppers, so I made some of the extras into a spicy pepper sauce that I sold in town, and was surprisingly popular there.
There were a few heads of lettuce that were also ripe, which I put in the basket. As I rounded the corner of the garden, I noticed that, on the back side of the corn field, there were plants trampled around the edge, and some of the corn had been eaten away.
The plants on the edge were wildwane, a plant that repelled wildlife of almost all kinds, for some unknown reason. Most farmers grew a small hedge of it around their crops, to prevent them from being eaten. It looked like something here had gotten enough of a running start to plunge through the wildwane to get to the corn, something that happened a few times a year.
I sighed. I would have to transplant some of the wildwane plants from elsewhere in the hedge to fill up the gap. I noticed that it seemed that a lot of the plants had already gone to seed, which meant that I could also plant some more seeds for it, for next year. Thankfully, it was a perennial, which meant that I didn’t have to waste time planting those in the spring, when I should be planting the crops.
I picked a few cucumbers and summer squashes, then brought the basket of produce inside, where it could stay while I mended the gap.
After I had done all of this, it was already in the afternoon, and the sun had for some time been throwing down its unadulterated rays. I wiped my brow and headed inside.
I made a sandwich with bread and the vegetables I had picked earlier, mixed more flour and the last of my salt into the sourdough and shaped it into two round loaves, covering them with a cloth, made sure that the canteen I always carried with me was full, then headed into town, which was a fifteen minute walk.
I was conveniently close to town, for being a farm; most of the others were miles out, not to mention that I actually had neighbors, at least to an extent. There were a few houses within eyeshot of mine. Marie Convall, the old widow who lived in the small house closest to mine was a knitter, and was sitting on her porch, doing her trade, as I walked past. I waved to her.
“Good afternoon, Marie.”
She gave me a sweet smile, nodded, and replied, “Going to town, Mr. Elenin? Any pepper sauce?”
“No, just going in to get some salt and a few other ingredients. Some news would be nice, too.”
“Well, get on your way then, Kerr.”
“Anything for me to bring into town with me?” I asked.
“Actually, yes. I have two wind scarves and three pairs of gloves. I’ll go get them.”
She stood up, went inside, and returned a few minutes later with a small bag.
“Here it is. Just stop by when you get the chance to drop off whatever money Polta gives me for them.”
I nodded, then headed back down the road into town. Gradually, more and more houses came around me, followed by several storefronts, and then the market, which was full of activity. I turned, first, into Polta’s shop, a general store where Marie sold her goods.
I passed the bag over to Polta, a large man who looked better suited to blacksmithing than running a store, and he looked them over.
“I’m delivering these for Marie.”
“I see, I see. Hmm. Did she say a price she wanted for them, or?”
He deliberated for a minute, then unlocked and reached into a drawer, and gave me twelve pouvoons, the currency used here. I took it, nodded to Polta, put it in a pocket, then headed out the door and into another store across the street, which had some things I needed at it.
I opened the door, and was immediately greeted by the smile of Cassia, the shopkeeper.
She walked over to me, held up a hand, and spoke. “A bag of salt, six eggs, and peppermint.”
I shook my head wearily. “How do you do that? Every time.”
She smiled again. “I just know you, Kerr. Shouldn’t that be obvious, by now?”
“All too much,” I muttered.
She rolled her eyes, then went behind the counter and got the things that I needed. A young woman came out of a back door while she was doing so, and her face flushed as soon as she saw me. She turned to organize something on a shelf, purposefully not looking in my direction.
I turned to lean on the counter, where Cassia put the things I ordered. She darted her eyes at the girl, then looked back at me. “You know she likes you, don’t you?”
“It’s kind of hard to miss,” I answered.
“You know,” Cassia said, touching a finger to her lips, “she might be a good fit for you. Young, full of energy, wanting a husband… And it’s about time you got a wife.”
I shook my head. “No. I can’t. Or, not right now. I don’t know. I just have the feeling that I don’t need one. Or something.”
Cassia narrowed her eyes. “But you still want one, don’t you.”
I put my head down, then brought it up again and looked in her eyes. “How much for the food?”
She pulled away from the counter. “Five pouvoons, as usual.”
“Okay, then.” I put the money on the counter, then turned to leave, then realized that there was something else I had intended to get. “Any news that I should know about?”
“The Earth Quay skirmish finally ended. Someone named Leban helped end it, I guess. Nothing much other than that, though.”
“Hmm. That had been going on for some time, hadn’t it?”
“Well, anyway, thanks. Bye, Cassia. Bye, Isabelle,” I said over my shoulder. The young woman let out a small squeak, and I closed the door behind me.
I took a long drink from my canteen, then headed back towards my farm. I stopped at Marie’s house on the way.
She wasn’t sitting outside, anymore, so I went onto her porch and knocked at the door. She came to answer it, greeted me, and invited me in for some tea.
“No, thank you, though. Here’s the money from Polta,”
She took it and counted it. “Twelve? He’s really started to give me more than usual, recently. Probably some nonsense about me being ‘a decrepit old woman’ or something. Hah. Well, if you’re sure you don’t want to come in for some tea, let me at least…”
She walked away from the door, then returned in a few minutes with a small parcel wrapped in paper and tied with a string. “Just a little something for you.”
I sighed, took it, and smiled. “Thanks. I’ll be on my way, now.”
I turned and walked off the wooden porch, and continued on the road to my farm. In a minute, I opened the parcel and found four buns, each filled with a sweet almond paste. She says that she doesn’t want any nonsense from Polta about being old, but she does much the same to me, about being alone. She pities me, or something. Most people who really know me do, I guess.
I arrived at home, put the things I had bought away, and put the loaves of sourdough bread in the sun-oven that was in a small building outside my house.
The entire top was made of glass, and the inside was painted black. The inside walls were made of stone, which trapped the heat, and, by the late afternoon, it was more than hot enough to bake bread.
While I was there, I filled a pot with boiling water, which was made in the same building, through much the same process.
I went back into my house and put a spoonful of the peppermint leaves in the water, breathing in the smell. Once it had steeped, I poured a cup of the tisane and took one of the buns out of the package. I closed my eyes, tried to relax, and enjoyed the food and drink.
I read one of my few books for a while, then went out to check on the bread. I sprayed it with a bit of water, to develop the crust. It looked like it still needed a few more minutes.
While I waited, I walked back to my garden and dug up one of the few remaining potato plants. I then walked back to the sun-oven, retrieved my bread, and took everything into the house. While the bread cooled, I brought a pot out to get more boiling water, then put it on my wood stove. I then chopped up the potatoes and some vegetables I had picked earlier in the week, and tossed them into the water with some of my salt.
As it simmered, I cut off a few slices of the bread. The tangy odor was just right, and I ate a slice before the soup was yet done.
When it finished, I ladled off a bowl of it and ate the rest of the slices of bread. When I was full, I washed my bowl, knife, and spoon, put the bread away, and left the pot of soup on the counter; it would be good as a quick breakfast in the morning.
Filled with the warmness of the soup and tea, and already tired from the work of the day, I took off my rough workclothes and put on the softer clothes reserved for sleeping. I laid down in my bed, pulled the covers over myself, and looked out the windows at the stars that shone so brilliantly over the sand.
My life was enjoyable. It was not easy, but it was the perfect degree of difficulty that gave you satisfaction for making it through a day, every day. Along with that satisfaction always came a hunger for the challenge of the next day.
I fell asleep.
I woke up, the sunlight already shining brightly through my window, the rays scattering due to the unevenness of the glass. But, wait, no. That was not sunlight. It wavered too much, and was too… red. But outside that redness, there was more dark than there would be. Then I realized, furthermore, that there were screams. Cries of desparation, calling for help from anyone, even from the threat itself, to save them.
I sprang out of bed and looked out the window. It was hard to tell from the distance, but it looked like some of the houses of my closer neighbors were on fire, and I thought I saw people moving around.
I quickly changed and, on my way out the door, grabbed the rest of the sourdough bread from the previous night. I didn’t know what I was headed into, but I wanted to be ready for it in some way, at least.
As soon as I was out, I ran towards the closest house on fire that I could see. I wished, hoped, prayed that it wasn’t Marie’s house, but, as I approached, I realized that it was. The people moving around outside weren’t any that I recognized. At all. They didn’t look like anyone that lived around here, or even would live around here. Their skin was much lighter than the deep brown of all that lived in this village and its surrounding area, and they moved so… quickly. Lithely, even.
As soon as I came to the house and the people, I knew two things. One was that I should not have come. They might have not seen my house had I not come from that direction. The second was that these were the vethani.
For some reason, out village had seemed to avoid any encounters or conflicts with the vethani. We had only heard of them from other villages, and that was more than enough for us.
The vethani often acted as assassins, usually hired by politicians in the cities who needed people to die. They, purportedly, had never had a failed assassination. The only thing was that they didn’t always leave the person who hired them alive for long, either. It was rumored that they could kill people just by thinking about it, which was obviously far-stretched. It was clear, though, that they were incredibly dangerous, and that was when they had a job.
When they didn’t, they roamed from city to city and village to village. They would rob the houses and kill people, sometimes if they got in their way, sometimes just for the hell of it.
And now they were here. They seemed to also enjoy burning things. There was no doubt that Marie was dead. I knew that I should feel some emotion for her death, but any emotion at the time seemed impossible. There was nothing I could do, the unthinkable had happened, the vethani had come. I suppose, deep down, that had always been my one true fear, no doubt many people’s one true fear, though for some reason it had never actually occured to me that I feared it happening. It was like having your house robbed. You knew it happened to other people, but for some reason, you never even consider it happening to you.
But it does. And it just had. The two vethani – I thought it was one man and one woman, though I couldn’t tell – crept forward towards me. No doubt they would kill me then raid my house and farm.
They each drew four small knives, two in each hand, without a hestitation in their approach. The fire glinted off of their teeth.
I realized I was crushing the bread in my hands. In some ridiculous act of desparation, I held it out to them, pleading for my life with it as the bargaining chip. They did not sway.
Then, a voice came from behind them, sharp, but definitely of someone older than them. They halted, and stood upright. I realized then that they were surprisingly short, several inches shorter than me, I being only of an average height.
They pulled apart and let the owner of the voice through. He was, indeed, much older than they, walking with a hunch that seemed partially faked. Though his skin was old, his lean muscles still looked firm and ready to strike. He carried a stick, using it as a crutch, though I doubted whether he actually needed it.
His eyes were squinted, looking at me dubiously. He began a slow walk around me, then nodded.
The two vethani put their knives away and came to stand on either side of me, grasping my shoulders and arms. It was, as I had thought, a man and a woman, though their body shapes and sizes were very similar. Very lean, with shoulders and hips almost the same width. Both of them had their hair cut eye-level.
Their hold on my arms and shoulders was firm, and I walked forward at a slow pace when they pushed me along. The older vethani turned and walked in front. We slowly walked toward and through the town, past the fire, screaming, and death. There was no exaggeration in what people had reported of the vethani. They were completely and utterly ruthless. As we walked, though, more and more vethani from in the town left what they were doing and joined the group. We walked out of town, progressing at the same slow rate.
We proceeded through the dark desert. The warmth from the sand was the only thing that took the chill out of the wind; over the desert in the night blew a sharp, cold wind, a stark contrast to the hot, dry one that existed during the day.
I wished that I had brought my coat with me. My work clothes were meant to breathe, not to keep heat in. The breeze blew through them effortlessly, chilling the sweat that covered me. That cold wasn’t the only thing to cause me to shake and my teeth to chatter, though.
We walked for hours. By the time that we stopped, in a makeshift village, the horizon had just started to lighten with the dawn.
Their small community was comprised of ten or so tents, ranging from a one-person tent to one that would fit a whole family, with some room remaining. They had two or three campfires, most with a metal tripod which could hold up a pot.
In one of the larger tents, a small boy stood, gripping the centerpole, looking out at me in wonder. I assumed that it wasn’t common that they had visitors. After gathering further strange and shocked looks, I began to wonder if they had ever had a non-vethani step foot in their camp. I wasn’t sure if that was a good sign, or bad.
Gradually, the vethani in our small party left the group, going to their respective tents and fires, leaving only the old man, the two vethani who led me on, and I. I had no idea what was going to happen.
The boy I had seen in the tent kept looking at me, though, and came out of the tent and followed behind cautiously, at a distance. He wasn’t able to get very far, though, because the old man ducked into a medium-sized tent, and the two vethani who guided me pushed me in, then came in themselves.
The inside was surprisingly warm, for it being night. I wondered what system they had devised for warming tents, and if it was related to the oven-room. It was lit with two candles, one at either end. The older man began speaking.
“I suppose you wonder why we have taken you.”
At first, I was surprised that he spoke my language, and without any indication that it was a secondary language. I had assumed that the language in which he had spoken orders to the others, earlier, was his main language, but I began to wonder otherwise.
He nodded. “We would have killed you. And burned your farm, after taking from it anything we wanted. But there is a higher goal in mind, now.”
I looked to the vethani on either side of me, somewhat worried at the calm way he spoke of burning my farm. “What… what is that? Is there something of me that you need?”
“No,” he said. “It is not something you have, coming to us, that we need. It is something that you will bring away with you.”
“Bring away? Meaning that you will let me go?”
“Yes, in time,” he answered. “But not anywhere that you will want to go, or anywhere that you know. But your future existence is vital to the whole goal of this.”
“Why must it be somewhere that-” I started, but he cut me off with a wave of his hand.
“You focus too much on leaving. You know, there is no real reason why you have to be the one. I can kill you, and get another.”
“Then why me?” I asked.
“Are you questioning why we left you alive, instead of killing you? Would you rather we did the latter?”
“No. No more about that.”
I tried to clear my head from that subject. “So, what is it that I will “bring away” with me?”
The old man narrowed his eyes. “I cannot tell you that. Even if I truly knew the answer, I would not, but as it is, I do not. Not completely, anyway. But in any case, you must live here with us for several days before you go. That, too, is important.”
I frowned. I wished to ask more questions, but the ease with which these people killed others was frightening, and I wished to live through the experience. I nodded to what he said.
“Is there a place for me to stay for however long I’m here?”
“Yes. We have readied a tent for you to live in. You will be fed, but must comply to the rules of our society. You will learn these, as time progresses, through trial and error. If you’re lucky, you won’t encounter too much of the latter.”
The man stood, as did the two vethani next to me, and I took it as a signal to move out of the tent. I performed an awkward bow, hoping that it conveyed some degree of respect and thankfulness, then turned and stepped out the tent. A sharp pain hit the back of my leg, and I turned around quickly.
One of the vethani held a leather strap in his hand. “You do not let an elder see your back. Do not turn around after speaking to them.”
I nodded nervously, rubbing my thigh where the strap had hit it. I bowed again, then backed out of the tent carefully. When I deemed my distance from the tent safe, I turned around and took in my surroundings.
Near to where I was, there was a long hitching line, to which was connected a large amount of a sort of short, stout horse, as well as several oxen. It was obvious that they moved a lot, as there were several large wagons and flat, wheeled things.
They also had an area that must have operated as a garden. It was comprised of six square areas, boxed in with wood, filled with a sand mixture that I imagined must be similar to what I used. In four of them grew a different kind of grain or vegetable, and in the other two there was a mix of smaller plants.
The small boy who had been looking out at me earlier came up to my side, at a cautious distance.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Kerr Elenin. I’ve been taken from my village by your people.”
He looked up at me, and I sighed. I had said that too harshly. “Well, I guess it was better than the alternative.”
He smiled. “I haven’t seen someone from outside our community, before.”
I laughed quietly. “I had figured that out.”
One of the vethani who had been in the tent with the others and I came up to me, next to the boy. “This is Ivok. You may learn much of our people through him, if you wish. In any case, I will bring you to your tent, now.”
He led me, with Ivok following, to a small tent on the outskirts of the community. Inside was a cot, and not really any more floor space than that took. On the cot was a blanket and a pillow, as well as a small pad of paper and a lead pencil.
I gave the vethani a questioning look, and he said, “For recording your time here. That is one of the things that you are required to do.”
My questioning look remained, but I picked up the paper and pencil and began to write. By the time I had finished, the sun was already midway in the sky. Ivok came back and forth to my tent and other areas in the camp, and he was there when I was done.
He stretched out a hand towards me. “Come. I want to show you my family.” I stood up and took his hand. On his wrist, he wore a bracelet made of some dark, braided material, with beads of bone and metal strung on it every so often. In the middle, there was one square panel of bone, with rough scrimshaw of an odd scene. It looked like a man and woman standing side-by-side, but both of them wore very somber faces. Above them hung a moon.
Ivok led me through the camp until we ended up at the tent I had originally seen him under. Inside was a man and woman. Both of them had hair in much the same cut as the others I had seen, and, again, very similar and lithe body types. They assessed me, trying to decide whether their son bringing me to meet them was a good thing or not. Apparently they decided that it wasn’t really either, and gave their names to me flatly – Dere, the man, and Luou, the woman.
I stayed in their tent, at the insistence of Ivok, for a while, talking with them, and it seemed that they softened towards me somewhat in that time.
I decided to ask about the bracelet on Ivok’s wrist. I didn’t see it on either of theirs, and wondered what it could be.
“It was given to him by the elder, Ovol. The same one you met with already,” Luou said.
“For what?” I asked.
“Are you questioning the choice of our elder?” demanded Dere. “He does not need your permission for-” Luou put a hand on his arm.
“We do not truly know why. Nor does he, or so he said.”
Much of the time in the next few days that I spent in the vethani tent I spent with them, glad to have found some sort of connection in this completely different world, even if it would only be for less than a week.
The food was always scarce, and rough, and usually cold by the time I got it. Even though they needed, or at least wished, to keep me alive, there seemed to be nothing saying that I needed to be comfortable, or healthy, during my time with them.
On the evening of my third day, Ovol came to me and made sure that I had kept an acceptable record of my time with them, then told me that I would be leaving with a small group of vethani the next morning, as soon as the sun rose.
I had mixed feelings about that. I didn’t feel in any way that I wished to stay with the vethani, – the shock over what they had done to the village and Marie, as well as, without doubt, Cassia and Isabelle had not even begun to subside yet – but I felt a tinge of pain at leaving Ivok and his family, even considering the short time I had known them.
I put the feelings aside, then tried to go to sleep. It was almost an hour before I succeeded.
The morning came, and found me already awake. Four vethani men, lead by Ovol, came to my tent, obviously ready to wake me up, but I was already ready. I had my papers in hand.
For some reason, at that moment, I had a sudden ridiculous concern about the soup I had left out the night before I was taken. It was no doubt moldy by now.
That was if they left my house intact, though. Who knows if that actually happened.
I stepped out of my tent, and made as if ready to leave, but one of the vethani stopped me. Another one took out a thick cloth from somewhere and tied it around my eyes.
“We don’t want you being able to come back here, or, somehow, assuming your navigational skills were exceptional, back to your village. We will guide you to a certain place, and by the time you remove the cloth, we will be gone.”
I sighed. I hadn’t really thought of coming back here, or somehow getting back to my village, as much as I would have wanted to, but it was somewhat depressing how that would now be almost impossible, save for chance.
With the blindfold secured, we began walking. Ovol walked with us for a few minutes, but then left and went back to the village. The other four vethani surrounded me, one on each corner, and we walked through the sand as the sun crept up the sky, went over the top of its arc, then began descending.
By the time that it was nearing evening, we came into a city, or village, or something with voices all around. They led me into a building which was much more quiet, through a hallway, and into a quiet room.
“We are going to leave you here,” one of them said. “You will count to thirty, then you may take off your blindfold.”
“What if I take it off now? Or before I count to thirty?” I asked.
“We’re vethani,” another answered. “And now that you’re here, keeping you alive is less necessary. It may cause a little more trouble, but not much, or enough to persuade us not to do it.”
I was quiet. When they made no movement, I took the signal and began counting.
“One. Two. Three. Four…”
There was a faint rustle of fabric, and I could sense that they were not there anymore. I continued counting, though.
I untied the blindfold and removed it. I was expecting to be temporarily blinded by the surrounding brightness, my eyes having been accustomed to the dark for almost the entire day, but I found that I was in a small, fairly dark room that was filled with brooms, dustpans, and cleaning cloths. The door leading back out to the hallway was open, and I went through. I walked down the hallway, and found myself in a sparsely attended store, not unlike the one that had been in my hometown.
A young woman walked in, and looked startled by my existence there.
“Oh, I’m sorry, how long have you been here? Can I help you?”
I shook my head, and thanked her. I walked out of the store, and found myself in a buzzing city street. Based on my estimation of my distance from my village, it could have been Belath, Kurenen, or Nol, but I didn’t really care. There was nothing left for me in my in my old village, anyway.
There wasn’t really anything for me in this village, or city, or whatever it was, either. I had no money, and all I really knew how to do was farm. I really had no idea what to do.
I wandered out of the town, back into the desert and sand. They hadn’t even provided me with any food, or water. How was I to survive?
But, ah. Yes. That’s probably what it was from the start. They didn’t need me to survive. It was just my writing.
I suppose that this realization should have made me not want to continue writing. But in another way, it just made me wish to, even more. I had nothing else to do, nothing else to live for, so the one thing I could do, finish writing my story, was my ultimate goal. It was the one thing that I could do before I died.
And I have finished.