Di'fa'kro'mi's First Adventure
I thought much about what I had learned, and I came to the conclusion that the social order of To’wak had become woefully out of balance. I compared it to Lo’ro’ra’s system and I realized that in my home fortress no one citizen is considered more or less valuable than any other. The smallest nymph or the oldest Warrior or the most weak-minded Dung Carrier is treated with equal dignity and in death with equal grief. When an individual breaks this instinctive order, as the Unnatural Alate did, putting his own gain above all others’ good, the whole fortress must come together to rectify the crime. In To’wak, Workers were looked upon as slaves in the service of the Warriors and the Alates; and even the Alates, who are universally esteemed as having received special gifts from the Nameless One, were intimidated by those who had superior physical strength. In such a social order, it is understandable that a tyrant could seize power. I realized the solution of To’wak’s problems might require events as wrenching as those that had returned Lo’ro’ra to the right path.
The whole thing is comparable to the array of stars in the night sky. There are many, many of them and some shine brighter than others, but they all twinkle with fine light. And the Highest-Mother-Who-Is-Nameless cares for them all equally, since they are all her offspring.
However, Ru’a’ma’na’ta told us that our sun is a star and it seems definitely larger and more impressive than other stars … But that is because we are so close to it, she said. And she said that not all stars are the same; some have worlds attached to them and some do not; some are larger, some smaller, and some even die. So perhaps it is impossible to know the truth of such things …
Well, Chi’mo’a’tu, you are right. Those are insoluble riddles. I have not solved them during my entire life and I cannot solve them now. So back to the tale!
I mentioned earlier that Wei’tu chafed at being constantly penned up in a small chamber. It and Twa’sei had struck up acquaintances with some of the Feeders and Cleaners who brought food and refreshed the bedding and carted away the dung. “Perhaps,” said Wei’tu, “the gossip of lesser ones can teach us things that you more exalted individuals could never learn.”
And it did indeed coax small bits of information out of the timid attendants. It found out which building the captive Workers were housed in.
“The Charnel Hall is in that building,” said Ki’shto’ba, “and the dung pit is not far north of it. Normally, no one dwells there, but it makes a logical place to house slaves.” The word “slaves” roused indignation in all of us.
The next day, when I returned from the refectory, I smelled anxiety pheromone. Twa’sei crouched in a corner, distractedly grooming its antennae.
I was alarmed. “What is the matter? Where is Wei’tu?”
“It said if it was not back in a turning of the water vessel, we perhaps ought to worry, but I have no idea how much time has passed, because I have no water vessel and the time couriers … ”
“Back from where? Where did Wei’tu go?”
“It went to find the captives – the captive Workers, at least. I said that was not wise, but Wei’tu never pays any attention to me.”
“The captives? It went to the Charnel Hall building?” I exclaimed in great agitation.
“I fear so. It said that it thought … ”
At that moment Ki’shto’ba came in accompanied by its twin, and when it learned what Wei’tu had done, it plunged out to look for our reckless helper. But then it immediately backed up into the chamber again. “Here it is, returning now!” it said cheerfully. “Come back no worse for the effort, I take it, my little friend?”
“No worse,” said Wei’tu, obviously very excited and proud of its exploit even while it tried to be nonchalant. “I decided that, if I went out in the darktime, I could find my way to the proper building without being noticed by Alates. I disguised my smell by smearing Da’no’no dung from the Cleaners’ carts over my scent glands.”
“I can tell that,” I said, fanning my wings disgustedly.
A’zhu’lo said, “Quite clever! I believe I would not have detected you, Wei’tu! You smell remarkably like one of us who has not bothered to clean itself for a long time.”
“There are some of those about,” remarked Ki’shto’ba.
“Di’fa’kro’mi, I found them!” said Wei’tu. “I talked to them!”
“Did you! I am proud of you! But what a risk!”
“Well, a couple of Dung Carriers guided me to the right room – their risk was greater than mine. Had I been discovered, I could always have ranted about what vengeance Ki’shto’ba would take if I were harmed, but my to’wak’zei| friends had no such recourse. After I found the room, I stamped about and pounded on the wall of the corridor with my head – what a headache I have! How do Warriors do it? – and when the guard came around the corner to see what the ruckus was, I darted past them and into the prison chamber!”
I was really astonished at Wei’tu’s daring. Ki’shto’ba and A’zhu’lo were bouncing up and down in great mirth, and A’zhu’lo remarked, “I hope the guards were not Warriors. I would like to think that we are too intelligent to be taken in by such a ruse.”
“How did you get out?” asked the Huge-Head.
“Some of the captives set up a great babble of word-sendings and when the guards came in to see what was going on – there were only two, and I regret to say that one of them was indeed a Warrior – when they came in, I slipped out. I smelled like both Um’za and Da’no’no, so they never noticed me at all.”
After our expressions of admiration were exhausted, Wei’tu went on to tell us about the captives.
“There were originally something over two antennae count of them – between twenty-four and thirty Warriors and maybe eighteen or twenty-one Workers. They had all fled from the battlefield and gradually gathered together in the marches. They were very distraught and afraid to come back. Somebody suggested they should cross the river to get out of Lo’ro’ra’s territory, but that put them in land that was unfamiliar to everyone, and they strayed away from the scent of the river and got quite lost. It was the Cold Time and they had a hard time fighting off the chill, and they almost starved to death as well. Two or three died from eating a noxious fungus. Another was killed by the bite of a venomous lizard, and a straggler was dragged off by a great reptile.
“Finally they drifted so far north that To’wak’s march guards came upon them and escorted them in to the fortress. They were relieved at first, but soon it became clear that they were considered of less worth than a za’zei|, and that, although they might not starve quickly, they were going to be worked to death. They have no way of escaping; there are always guards, either big Workers or Warriors, around them. They are very tired and not well nourished, and some of them are sick. Five have died, so thirteen are left. Two of them are Builders whom I knew rather well, and one is a Feeder who used to supervise distribution of the honeydew. They are not suited to cleaning dung pits or to dismembering corpses. It is very sad and it makes me angry.”
“What did you tell them about Lo’ro’ra? Do they want to go back?” asked Twa’sei.
“They are very afraid – very despairing. They see no future for themselves here, or in Lo’ro’ra either. I told them about Kwi’ga’ga’tei’s death – they did not know, of course, whether she had survived the Chamberlain’s attack. I told them that they had been forgiven for their rebellion – that by taking the wound, Kwi’ga’ga’tei had taken the guilt of all of them into her own gut and paid the price for them, so they are free to return home and take up their lives again. I told them to be patient and wait, that the Remembrancer and the Champion were in To’wak and would never leave until they were free. I hope, good companions, that I did not speak too boldly when I told them that.”
“No, you spoke well and truly,” I said, and Ki’shto’ba added with vehemence, “I take it as a personal insult that anyone from a fortress where I served as Champion should be so mistreated in my own home.”
“They have no idea what has become of the Warriors who were with them,” said Wei’tu. “Three of them were Lieutenants. One of those was the individual who died of the lizard bite. Its name was Vai’lo’ist. The two who were captured were Pod’or’um and Mu’tot’a. I do not know if they are still alive.”
“I knew the three of them,” said Ki’shto’ba. “They were simple Warriors, followers, not likely to attain higher command but good phalanx leaders. One cannot blame them for their defection; they were only following their Chief. The Unnatural Alate duped greater Warriors than they, even Commander Hi’ta’fu itself. I cannot let this evil stand – you are quite right. I know where the Warriors are being held – in an outbuilding of the Warriors’ Quarters – but I cannot get to them short of fighting my way in, and I would prefer to find another course. Even if I am not killed, many others, including all of you, would be placed in danger.”
I was somewhat envying Wei’tu’s audacity and almost before I realized what I was saying, I spoke. “I can get in to talk to them.”
“What?” said Ki’shto’ba.
“I just had a revelation! Perhaps I am becoming a Seer! Wei’tu disguised itself with dung, but I have a ready-made disguise – the magic skin!”
“Ah!” said Ki’shto’ba.
A’zhu’lo said, “The what?”
We explained the skins and I said, “No one knows what these packets are that we carry around. Some have asked about them, but I have always been able to turn the questions aside. If I wear my skin, I can probably get past the guards undetected.”
Twa’sei popped up beside me. “I can go with you! I can distract the guard!”
“No, no, certainly not!” exclaimed everybody.
“Why not? Wei’tu was successful! I – why, I could use the dung – or wear Ki’shto’ba’s skin!”
The Huge-Head spun its antennae. “It is far too large for you, little helper – it would wrap around you twice! You could not walk under the weight.”
“The skins are very light!” protested Twa’sei. “I can lift them easily!”
“It would entangle your claws, dragging on the ground!”
“You cannot go, Twa’sei. What are you thinking?” huffed Wei’tu.
Twa’sei subsided in resentful dejection. “Everyone gets to have an adventure except me. Someday I will show you all. Someday I will have an adventure, too.”
“But, honored Di’fa’kro’mi, I foresee problems,” said A’zhu’lo. “There are guards not only outside the building where Lo’ro’ra’s Warriors are held but also at the chamber entrance, and there is a stone over that entrance, not merely a curtain. You could not possibly move it, even if there were no guard.”
We all puzzled over a solution to this. Finally Wei’tu said, “Many of the Workers with whom I have spoken are quite discontented and have begun to talk candidly with me. I believe some of them will help us. Teams of them go at set times to feed the so-called ‘guests’ and to carry away the excrement. You could slip in with them and speak with the Warriors, then when they leave, you could slip out.”
So Wei’tu introduced us to its nervous little confederates and we worked out a plan. All this reminded me a little of some of the plottings of the Unnatural Alate and I was a bit uncomfortable with that, but I kept reminding myself that our goal was to rectify a wrong, not to advance our own selfish ends.
The next morning I found myself scampering through the pre-dawn darkness, wondering whether I had completely lost my wits, but, with the light of my wings smothered under the skin, I was even able to pass near some unsuspecting Alates undetected. A few Workers jumped around as I went by and a Warrior turned to scent the air, but I truly was quite imperceptible to most senses. I formed a few words of praise to Ru’a’ma’na’ta.
At the entrance to the edifice that housed the captives, I found A’zhu’lo conversing heatedly with the guards. They were arguing about who had leaped highest in a certain jumping contest held that afternoon and they were paying no attention to their duties. I slipped past undetected.
I hugged the walls, following the directions that Ki’shto’ba had given me, and came at length into the correct corridor. It was totally black and I could not see a thing, but I could smell two Da’no’no Warriors and receive their words as they talked idly to each other. I located the storage niche that I had been expecting to find and inserted myself into it. Wei’tu had insisted that I smear Da’no’no Shshi dung over my scent glands as an additional precaution, and in the cramped compartment the pungent smell was almost more than I could stomach.
I waited, wondering if the Warriors would have the audacity to kill me if they caught me. I had asked Ki’shto’ba as much and it said, “It is universally considered an unpardonable crime to kill an Alate.” Then it added, “Although I have done it.”
“You killed an evildoer,” I said to it, “an Alate who tried to behave like a Warrior and who had just sunk his jaws into the side of our peace-loving Holy Seer. It is hardly the same.”
However that might be, before long, I sensed a group of Workers approaching and felt the vibration of their carts on the stone. I could smell dung, plate fungus, ti’wa’zi|, along with personal scents that included fear pheromones. I hoped none of our fellow conspirators would give things away.
I slipped out of the compartment and scurried to meet them. We had shown them what it would be like to encounter an Alate in a magic skin, but even so when I brushed against them, a couple of them jumped and skittered about and projected exclamations of alarm.
“Speak not!” another said. “You will spoil everything. Holy Remembrancer, is that really you?”
“Yes! Say nothing! I will follow behind you!”
We proceeded down the corridor. The guards made some rough jokes about the cowardliness of Workers – they had only to come near a Warrior and one could smell their fear – and then they rolled back the stone. We all slipped inside and they re-covered the entrance. It seemed far too easy.
In the darkness, most of the half dozen or so Workers busied themselves with their tasks, but the leader, one Wi’mor, spoke to the Warriors that surrounded us. “Do not be alarmed. There is an Alate with us – an Um’za from Lo’ro’ra – the Remembrancer!”
“What are you talking about?” said a Warrior. “What is that? Is someone there?”
I was going through contortions to unfasten the skin; I could with some effort get out of it alone, but I could not put it back on. That did put me at the mercy of the Workers, so I fervently besought the Nameless One to ensure their good will.
As I emerged and fanned up my wing-light, I could see the Warriors surrounding me and feel their astonishment. “I am indeed Di’fa’kro’mi the Remembrancer of Lo’ro’ra. I came to To’wak with the returning Champion Ki’shto’ba. We only learned of your plight after we arrived. Do not be afraid – we are here to help you.” And I talked to them of what had brought me here and showed them the magic skin. “Does one of you speak for the others? Do you have a leader?”
A good-sized Shi pushed forward; it had a heavily scarred head and the tip of its left mandible was broken off. “I am Mu’tot’a. I am the only Lieutenant left of the three who fled. Vai’lo’ist died during the journey here and Pod’or’um was killed in the exercise yard when a young trainee twisted its neck too abruptly. That was where I took these wounds that you see. I am unworthy of leadership, but I am the closest thing these Warriors have to a Chief.”
So I learned of what they had endured for the last season-cycle. Of the original twenty-six Warriors only eighteen were left. They were fed adequately because a hunger-weakened individual made a poor opponent in the exercise yard, but in the close confinement they were falling victim to fungus growths and ailments of the breathing tubes, as well as muscular decay. Two Warriors had gone mad; one had sought to kill its comrades and they had been forced to destroy it; the other had immolated itself on its own mandibles.
“They drag off the bodies of any of us who die,” Mu’tot’a told me. “They will not even let us consume them for our own nourishment. When I reviled them for nourishing themselves on Shum’za substance, they spoke in scorn. ‘We would never pollute our guts with the putrid flesh of shlam’wei’zei|. We throw your corpses in the dung pit.’”
As I bristled at that insult, Mu’tot’a continued, “All of us have been without hope. We knew no one was aware that we had left Lo’ro’ra … ”
“Actually,” I said, “musters were held and all missing individuals were noted. But it was thought they had been killed in the battle and dragged to the Charnel Hall, where no good reckoning was made, or had died in the marches and been eaten by scavengers. It certainly never occurred to us that they could be living in slavery.”
Mu’tot’a and its companions swayed helplessly. “We knew for certain no one knew we were here. We never expected to be found,” said the Lieutenant.
“Mu’tot’a has tried to keep up our courage – it has been a good leader – but it is very hard to live forever without hope,” said a Warrior.
“We considered trying to fight our way out,” said another, “but we undoubtedly would all have been killed, and we thought of our little Worker companions, completely abandoned if we were dead. What has happened to them? Are any still alive?”
So I told them quickly what I knew. “Ki’shto’ba and I and the two Worker helpers who came with us have a plan that will free all of you. I wanted to come and reassure you and let you know your rescue is imminent.”
Mu’tot’a said, “What good will it do? We cannot wander all the rest of our lives in the wild – we are not suited for it. Those lives would not last long … ”
“Oh, Lo’ro’ra, Lo’ro’ra, if we could only go home to you!” mourned another Warrior.
“But you can.” So I told them of Kwi’ga’ga’tei’s death and their forgiveness, just as Wei’tu had told the Workers, and they set up such a rejoicing that I feared they would attract the attention of the guards.
And Mu’tot’a said, “We were led astray by our Chief and our Commander and we cannot understand how that can be, and we do not know what to grieve for most – our Chief and our Commander, or ourselves, or the rules of obedience we were taught to live by – those rules that failed us. But we will accept our forgiveness and go home even if we are allowed to do no more than pick the sand from the claws of the least Warrior.”
“You will do more than that, my friend,” I said. “We have a plan, but it calls for patience. Someone will come to summon you. Be passive. Do what you are told. Try to avoid death in the exercise yard. Wait for a few more day-cycles. Then all will be well.”
Then Wi’mor and another Feeder helped me back into my skin while I lavishly praised their courage, and they quickly finished their tasks, and then a Warrior beat its head on the stone. The guards rolled it away and I slipped out as easily as I had come in. The only scare I got was detecting two Alates with fully lighted wings coming down a narrow corridor toward me, but I was able to skip around a corner until they had passed. I followed a different path from the one by which I had entered and so emerged from an exit on the other side of the building. There according to plan I found A’zhu’lo engaged in distracting a different set of guards with the same argument about the jumping contest. I escaped without incident and returned to our chamber, elated to let our little helpers clean the foul dung of the Da’no’no Shshi from my belly.
I have dwelled on this incident because it was the first real adventure in which I, the dignified Remembrancer of Lo’ro’ra, personally played a part and so it occupies a fond place in my memory. And it was the first time we used Ru’a’ma’na’ta’s magic skins to any real advantage.
Ki'shot'ba Huge-Head Ransoms the lo'ro'ra'zei|