"The Adventures of Reur" — Part V — June 28, 2012
They made a raft out of peat. It was two-feet thick. When all three of them stood on it, the water sloshed against the sides of their boots.
But it floated, so long as Mucker concentrated on keeping most of the water out of the peat itself.
Tread and Reur used long poles to attempt to guide the raft across the river, but mostly the river's current took them westward.
The continuing story of Reur, the first mapmaker.
It is a actually a collection of shorter stories that have been arranged chrono-
logically into a saga. It is an example of the Mar mapmaker tradition — any story about the adventures of a reckless and foolish explorer who survives trials through a combination of cleverness, stubborness, and dumb luck.
Focused on the peat raft, Mucker mumbled angrily to himself about Tread's deception of him, about this stranger's manipulation of their lives.
First, Tread refused to let Mucker wake the master, which led to the stranger climbing onto the shadelshif, which led to the boat's sinking. Nevermind that Mucker himself blew it up — the stranger committed the crime.
Then when the stranger survived, by the will of their ancestors, Tread had to go and kill the master, once again refusing to wake him. Mucker frowned in consternation. Their ancestors had saved the stranger but not the guider, for surely the explosion of the shadelshif would have woken the dead, but it didn't wake the guider. So what did the ancestors want?
Until today, Tread had insisted the ancestors — Mucker's greatfather in particular — wanted them to take Reur back to their home, to give him and his power to the tribe. It would save them, Tread had said, from the wrath because they had killed Hoth and destroyed the shadelshif.
Now they traveled west and south outside of Totanbeni land in very dangerous country on a raft that sank more than it floated, and Tread said the ancestors wanted this, too. Mucker didn't remember all of that argument. He remembered he had said, "Let's go home, no, let's go home," and Tread had babbled on about different types of magic, as if that existed, and how Reur's write was powerful magic that they needed to retrieve.
All he wanted was to get home and go about his life, but the more his mind woke up to the course of the past few weeks, the more he understood that this was his life now. Tread kept saying that if they went home without the stranger, they'd be killed, and Mucker believed him. But going the way they were going now, that would kill them, too.
"Anyway we go, we die," he said, his thoughts voicing themselves, and Tread stopped poling to stare at him.
"Keep the magic going," Tread said finally, not disagreeing with Mucker.
It was the truth, Mucker thought. Whatever they did, danger surrounded them from now on. Because they had angered their ancestors by, by, by what? By destroying the shadelshif? But from that came this stranger they had to take home. By killing the master?
"We should've woken the master," he moaned.
Tread barked a nervous laugh. "That's what you're worried about? When we're in the middle of somewhere where anyone who meets us will want to kill us?"
Mucker met Tread's eyes with his own tear-filled ones.
"Anyway we go, we die," he repeated, rocking softly.
"I'm not going to let that happen," Tread responded gently.
But Mucker just cried and cried, barely remembering to keep the magic going that kept them from dying right here in the middle of the river.
* * * * * *
Reur felt he was learning the language more quickly now. Sometime in the past few days of chasing the Vagal, he had reached a threshold in the Totanbeni tongue. Most conversations had fewer breaks to discuss what words meant, and Reur felt he could guess at meanings even as Tread automatically corrected him.
Once Mucker's despair had been vanquished — Reur thought it was mostly suppressed, because the Totanbeni apprentice had good reason to despair — they made better speed across the river on their ridiculous raft. The Totanbeni magic still amazed Reur, whose belt had hardly the storage to perform such magic for so long.
Leeches clung to the pole when he pulled it out of the water, and he saw fish swimming below. When they neared tree or grass islands, they saw small brown mammals, many of them swimming. Birds and bugs abounded. Then Tread pointed ahead, and they saw a giant four-legged animal. It had huge horns sticking out of its head. For the hundredth time, Reur wished he had his tablet.
"Moose," Tread identified it. He stopped poling long enough to put his hands near his head. "Antlers. Moose eat plants, so there's no danger to us. A moose means the end of the river."
They grounded the raft against a tree island with some celebration. They had crossed the river in a little less than a day.
Now, Tread's Path of the Snake led them unerringly south and west, through a forest of tall trees and little undergrowth, broken in many places by creeks and streams. Occasionally the forest would break, and they would circle a swampy field that Tread said would be filled with snakes, spiders and maybe suckmud, which could swallow a man.
"See the willow tree?" Tread gestured at a lone tree near the center of a clearing. "It grows near suckmud and eats people."
Reur thought about weights and mass, and viscosity of a water-mud suspension, combined with the obvious abundant biomass of the swamp. He decided the tree did eat people, but not the way of his original fears. It probably received nutrients from the decaying bodies of anything that stepped into the suckmud and couldn't get out. He wanted to go out into the clearing, to see how much area the suckmud covered, and if any plants were light enough to grow at its top, and maybe what ways existed to escape it, but Mucker hauled him back bodily when he stepped into the clearing.
Reur didn't resist, because he couldn't document his findings, so who would believe what he said? He sighed briefly, then saw a new type of moss and was distracted.
Sometime on their fifth day south of the river, Tread said he canceled Path of the Snake.
"The Vagal camp is close." He gestured to the ground. "We can look for tracks. They will know if we use magic."
No more than a mile later, they heard a raptor scream, and ducked behind a fallen tree. Sticking his head up to look, Reur didn't see anything, but Tread pointed south, and they saw smoke from several fires.
"Vagal," he said.
They crouched in the leaves, Reur staring at them. Tread and Mucker glared at each other, and Mucker said, "What do we do now?"
Tread scratched his forehead, looking at nothing. Reur wracked his brain, but the only thing he could think of was walking in and asking for it. He anticipated, though, that Tread and Mucker would not agree to that, so he kept his mouth shut.
Mucker went on, "If they catch us, and learn we are Totanbeni, we will die. They may kill us anyway, because we are not Vagal. There are more of them than us. They will not be unprotected. It was suicide to come here. We're not even armed."
"I don't know," Tread said slowly. "Reur was covered in mud when they last saw him."
Reur saw it long before Mucker's eyes lit up. The reaction of their warrior who was covered in mud - running into the river and drowning himself — showed how fearful they would be of him turning up now, alive.
But Mucker had it wrong. "Reur, would you cover yourself in mud again?"
"Not that, Mucker," Tread said. "They saw Reur covered in mud, and left him without boots on the island. As far as they know, there is no way he could have survived. So him being alive would scare them. Especially ..."
"If I went in alone, in the black, when most of them sleep," Reur finished for him.
"In the dark," Tread corrected. He nodded. "And you go in when their warriors are tired."
"So Reur goes in alone?" Mucker said. He seemed to like the idea, which Reur thought was good. "How will he know where to go?"
"Their keeper, who saw him dead. If he can find her, she'll tell him where his write is."
Reur nodded. "She'll be near her fly."
Mucker looked worriedly back and forth between the two as Tread corrected Reur and Reur repeated the word back to him.
"Let's find a place to rest," Tread said.
* * * * * *
Raven, Pinion and the rest returned to their tribe's camp with the chicks and the stranger's boots and slate. And without Talon, which would need to be explained.
They split up, Raven and her apprentices to the mews to show the chicks their homes, and the warriors to the chief. She watched Pinion talk to Red Feather, one of her apprentices, and then stride to the guider's tent. The entire trip back, he had been smugly satisfied about something. Maybe when she had clung to him in her moment of weakness after Talon's death. She regretted that, not too many days later, because he had developed a relationship with Red Feather on the trip, just as Raven had with Talon.
Later, when Raven was alone in her tent preparing for her meeting with the chief, eldest and guider, Pinion came in with a steaming bucket of water and two cups. She knew why he was here, and she knew she would have to tell him they couldn't keep their relationship going.
"Tea?" he offered. "To relax you before you speak."
She accepted cautiously, and he poured. She held her cup, watching the leaves swirl in it, as he sat across from her with his cup.
"I think you and Feather are getting along well," she said.
She could feel his stare burning into her. "That was before," he said. "I only want to comfort you, now."
She could not meet his eyes. They were too intense. She sipped her tea. "I do not think I'm ready yet."
"You were willing enough the past few days."
"Now I have to return to my responsibilities. There will be no time."
The tea was cooling quickly. She drank deeply from it. Finally she met his dark eyes, seeing through her. "No, Pinion. Never again. What happened after Talon's death, that was ... shock, anger, despair. We cannot do that again."
"We can," he insisted. "Or we could," he corrected. "Except you killed Talon."
The tea sprayed from her mouth as she leapt in shock. "What?!"
"You killed Talon. Your decisions led us there. The Vagal lost a valued member of its tribe because of your stupidity." His voice burned with intensity. "I'm afraid I have to tell the chief this."
"You won't get a chance," she said hoarsely, realizing he had never been looking at her with lust for her body. Only lust for her position. "And if you do, we lose two valued members of the tribe."
"You will never get the chance to tell them," he said. "Not before they believe what I say."
"Why not?" She said it anyway, but stared at her cup in realization. You can't hide the brown-orange leaves of sleepwort except carefully, and the water would have stirred them up.
He must have seen her looking into the cup. "You never see how things are moving quickly enough," he said sadly, maybe truly sadly. "You are like the raptors, good at reacting but poor at anticipating. I will make a better keeper than you."
"You know nothing ... about ..." She slid gently to one side, the cup spilling onto the ground, and passed into unconsciousness.
When she woke, there was a guard at the entrance to her tent. She sat up groggily, tried to get to her feet, but the guard pushed her back down.
"I need to see the chief," Raven said, but the guard shook his head.
"The chief may come to you, later, when she knows you're awake," he said. "But you're ordered confined to your tent, until another suitable confinement is made for you."
"Why would I have to move from my tent?"
"Because this is the keeper's tent, and you are no longer keeper."
For the first time, she noticed that her hat was gone. Rage boiled in her. "I get to speak before judgement is delivered."
Pinion entered the tent then, smirking, wearing the keeper's hat. "As you were incapacitated when your lies were revealed," he said brightly, "a suitable replacement had to be found. One of your apprentices, Red Feather, was deemed knowledgeable enough to stand in your stead, and so, you see, you could say you've already spoken and been found at fault."
She lunged for him, but he stepped back quickly and she fell onto her rug. Sitting back up, stretching her legs underneath her, she met him stare for stare.
"That hat is too big for you," she said.
"Feather says it fits me just fine," he smirked. "But I am here to tell you your new home is ready."
The guard dragged her to her feet, and pulled her outside as she tried to walk.
"The tribe will know, when you've killed all the raptors. You know nothing about being a keeper." She spat at him.
"I will come by and visit every day," Pinion said, apparently unperturbed.
* * * * * *
Pinion grinned to himself and whistled softly after Raven was out of sight. He adjusted the keeper's hat on his head. It was a little too large for him, but he could have that fixed. He turned as Red Feather slipped into the tent.
"She's gone?" Red Feather said, wrapping her arms around his waist.
"For now," he said, kissing the top of her head. "I think we'll have to arrange more permanent measures for her, but not today." He smiled down at her, then turned. "Look at what a nice tent this is!"