Friday, May 24, 2013

The Several Adventures of Hugh, Part 52

Hugh spent the winter with Timia and Theoson, which was a time filled with chores and bickering. Hugh heard many around him compare Timia and Theoson to an old married couple, though Hugh had little experience with such a dynamic. There was a mutual disdain between them, but even Hugh sensed they had some sort of romantic past, and some mornings he swore he saw Theoson exit Timia’s bedroom for his own.

While they taught to small groups at first, they quickly moved to a large building called the odeon, a sort of theater which was primarily used by musicians and poets. The acoustics were such that they could speak to crowds of hundreds, and even those in the far back could hear them.

Meanwhile, Hugh busied himself with the minutia of life. He cleaned, ran errands, cooked, cleaned some more, washed laundry, cooked again, helped random strangers… it was an endless stream of tasks, one after another, leaving him exhausted (though content) as he retired to his straw bed well after dusk each night.

And yet, his winter was punctuated by odd breaks in the routine. One day, it snowed, though it was not as cold as just a few days prior. There was enough snow accumulation that it reached most people’s ankles, and while Hugh was used to snow, it was a rare occurrence in Antigonia. When Hugh went outside, the city was full of adults acting like children, sliding around on the ice in sandals and boots, throwing snowballs, building snow obelisks as tall as they could reach.

The snow was nearly gone as dawn broke the next morning, and had completely melted shortly after… but for one day, everyone in the city was a kid.

Timia tried her best to instruct Hugh on the Divas, but he had little interest. Hugh had been taught the same things as a child, but this time it not only bored him, it made him angry. The Divas seemed to lack any true sense of morality. Quite often, they seemed to give in to every piddly little whim they had, and it made Hugh have no respect for them.

But still, Timia tried to explain to Hugh the divisions of the eighty-one Divas, how they were classified into nine categories of nine Divas each, and that one group consisted of the High One, the nameless Diva who rules over them all, and his eight closest counselors, who each ruled over one of the other eight groups of nine.

Hugh often felt himself nodding off as Timia ran down the lists of them all, explaining what each oversaw. It was the sort of thing he would want soothingly spoken to him on sleepless nights, when his mind was filled with other, more pressing (or perhaps depressing) matters. One Diva for travel and merchants, another Diva for war and anger, still more for love, thought, light, dark, life, death, a whole host of Divas dedicated to making sure the crops come in on time…

And yet, for all the specificity, Hugh knew of other people in the world who said their prayers to completely other beings, gods who were older and had stories told far older than the tales of the Divas. The Divas themselves were so new, Hugh had actually spoken with individuals who were old enough to remember a time before the Divas ever existed, granted these were beings who were thousands of years old… but still, they can remember a world without these Divas, who supposedly created everything we now see.

Hugh didn’t ask questions or pay any heed, he just diligently worked through it all, focusing instead on the tasks at hand, be it stirring a stew or splitting logs or sweeping the floor. Yet for all her talk of the Divas, he did prefer to hear her original thoughts on matters of how to live than Theoson. While Theoson would often inconvenience people simply to make a point (or perhaps for his own amusement), Timia was always kind, courteous, and helpful.

Though to Theoson’s credit, he did go out of his way to make life hard for those who had the most, while he was uncharacteristically charitable to those less fortunate. Hugh had seen Theoson give up his meal to others several times while in Polity, and people there in Antigonia were always bringing him gifts, most of which he gave to the poor.

The only things Theoson kept were enough food and drink for him to subsist on, and a new leather satchel to replace his torn and tattered one (and this he only kept because it was given to him by Timia). Theoson muttered that it was merely a ploy to gain ownership of his old one. Sure enough, his old beggar’s bag ended up in Timia’s hands, where she hung it in a closet she kept stocked with keepsakes and curiosities.

When the thaw had finally arrived after four months, Hugh and Theoson were given a farewell party in a small park near the center of town. They were again showered with gifts, this time including a horse. After much goading on Hugh’s part, he got Theoson to accept it for the journey. Hugh couldn’t bear to make the trip with Theoson on foot; he was as slow as molasses on a cold winter.

In his last days there, Hugh met with a blacksmith and forged two steel spear points and a massive pair of iron bracers for himself. For Timia, he carefully wrought a delicate and intricately wired tiara, which Hugh spent an entire day engraving elaborate designs and images into. It featured a semi-circle of copper leaves seemingly woven together, which would slowly turn green over time.

On their last day, they said their good byes and left town shortly after lunch. They trekked toward the mountains, making good time with Theoson riding and Hugh walking at a brisk pace.

“Try to keep up, eh?” said Theoson at one point, after Hugh fell a step behind.

They slept in a wooded area the first night, and were into the mountains midway through the next day. They walked north, snaking their way slowly between peaks. They were in rugged terrain for six days, finally coming to a large valley. Following that, they would soon come to a town named Lazidon, which was on the outskirts of Glibian territory, the land ruled over by the Austerians.

From there, it would only be a few days from Polity. The problem was, they were still ten days out from Lazidon, at best. If the weather got nasty, Theoson said that it could take almost twice that long.

But the good weather held out. They were less than a day out from the town, and Hugh was looking forward to a meal that didn’t involve crackers and dried meat.

Shortly before sundown, they came upon a man naked and bloody on the side of the road. As they approached, neither Theoson nor Hugh could tell if he was even alive, but as they got closer, they could see that he was taking labored breaths.

The man said nothing, his eyes merely followed the pair as they walked up to him. Standing over the man, Theoson looked at Hugh. “Well, I already know what you’re going to do.”

Hugh nodded, then kneeled down to ask the man, “How can I help?”

The man licked his lips and rasped, “Water.”

“We only have wine at the moment,” said Hugh. “Is that okay?”

The man just stared back.

“Blink twice for yes, three times for no,” said Hugh.

The man blinked twice, and Hugh poured wine from a skin into his mouth. After a few mouthfuls, he closed his eyes and lay still for a while. He wheezed horribly. As Hugh looked him over more carefully, he noticed that his legs had been broken, one below the knee and one particularly nasty break above the knee, where a shard of bone stuck through the skin.

Hugh didn’t want to move him, and yet it was apparent that he could not move himself. His hands were too bloody to tell if they were injured, but they appeared to have deep cuts, and he had thick slices of skin taken out of both his arms, like he had been hacked at by a sword or axe.

“I could carry you to town, but I warn you… while my touch is gentle, you will experience pain every bit as bad as when you suffered these injuries initially. Should I pick you up?”

The man blinked three times.

“No? Okay… so, do you want me to stay here by your side?”

The man again blinked three times.

Hugh looked up at Theoson and bit his lip before turning back to the injured man. “Do you want me to… end it?”

The man blinked three times yet again.

“So… what do you want us to do?”

The man coughed weakly, then whispered, “Run.”

There was a faint whooshing sound, then Theoson groaned. He tried to dismount his horse but fell. He slowly got to his knees, and Hugh noticed the arrow sticking into his thigh. He pulled it out slowly and threw it to the ground. Another whoosh and Hugh was hit in the arm. Riders on horseback galloped up to them continuing to fire upon them. Hugh put his back to them and covered Theoson.

He felt every arrow, until about the ninth one, at which point he stopped feeling pain. When the horses sounded close, Hugh gripped his spear tight and whirled around. He charged one of the riders who was only a few meters away, knocking the man off his horse with the blunt end of his spear.

He stuck the point under the man’s neck and looked to the others. “If you value your friend, you’ll stop—”

One of them released an already drawn bow and pierced the throat of the man Hugh was threatening. He choked and coughed up blood, closing his eyes tight in pain.

“What kind of bandits not only rob this close to an Austerian town, but will kill one of them own?” asked Hugh.

“Austerians,” said Theoson.

The riders shouldered their bows and drew spears, slowly closing in on them.

“If you drop your weapons and surrender, you may live,” said one of them, riding a black horse. Hugh dropped his spear, and one of the riders dismounted to clamp metal shackles on Theoson.

“What do we do about him? We don’t have anything to restrain him,” said the Austerian on foot.

“It won’t matter, anyway,” said Hugh. “I’ll just follow you. I won’t be any trouble.”

“Fine, you walk in front,” said the rider mounted on the black steed. “If you run, we kill your friend, slowly, over the course of several days.”

They walked off the path to a large camp situated on the other side of a rocky bluff. Theoson was loaded onto a cart with a large metal crate on top, where several people already sat, cramped, hunched over in the low-ceilinged cage.

Hugh was surrounded by men holding spears pointed at him. “You don’t need to do that,” said Hugh.

“We don’t want you to escape,” said one of them.

Hugh walked up to him until the spear was against his skin, and just kept walking. The point sank into Hugh and still, he advanced, until the man was straining, holding the spear tight, until he just fell over. Hugh pulled the spear out, helped the man to his feet, and handed it to him. “If I wanted to escape, I would do it.”

“Then why stay?” asked another.

“You have my friend over there, and I’m not leaving without him.”

“Just go,” shouted Theoson. “I’ll be fine. This isn’t the first time I’ve been taken as a slave.”

“No,” Hugh replied.

Shortly after nightfall, the cart with Theoson inside was hitched to a couple of horses and driven onto the road, with Hugh in tow. They walked well into the night, arriving in Lazidon around midnight. Theoson and the other captured slaves were unloaded from the cart and put into metal cages, while Hugh was locked in a barn with livestock.

The next morning, Hugh was awoken and brought out to a small wooden stage, where he was lined up alongside Theoson and the others. They were sold off one by one. When it came time for Theoson to be sold, he was asked what his abilities were.

“Ruling others,” said Theoson, loudly. The crowd chuckled. “Be sure that whoever buys me is able to follow orders.”

A man next to the auctioneer clubbed Theoson in the back of the knee, causing him to wince, but not fall. He swung again, and this time Theoson caught the club in his hand, elbowed the man in the face, and threw the club aside. The slaver rubbed his jaw for a moment in complete shock, then lunged at Theoson, who sidestepped him completely, causing him to tumble off the stage.

“How much for the ornery, old scrapper?”

“Fifteen,” shouted someone. Another shouted twenty, then thirty.

A man in the crowd worked his way to the front and shouted, “That is Theoson, the famous tutor!” The crowd began to murmur loudly.

“One-hundred,” said a voice in the back. There was silence for a time, and the auctioneer called it sold. Theoson walked straight through the crowd of people, pushing them aside, to approach his new master.

Hugh began to follow him, and the auctioneer asked, “Where do you think you’re going?”

“I go with him,” said Hugh.

“I’ll give another hundred for the cyclops,” said the man in the back.

“And I would like my horse back,” shouted Theoson. The crowd laughed.

To be continued…

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