Monday, August 19, 2019

Kinderling 8:

I stood staring at Garis, wondering what he would do.  I didn't know where this kinderling placed his loyalty.  I remembered seeing him with Uncle Zon in the forest, but that was didn't mean much about his current loyalties considering that he was guarding Uncle Zon and my father.  Apparently he noticed my hesitation.

"Worry not, my oath was to protect the village.  Not to blindly follow Militia command, or the council.  General Bout is a criminal who is trying to set himself up to be King.  The Kinderlings have never had a King, and we don't need one now."

"So you'll let Capitan Zon and my father go?"  I asked.

"Yes, although I don't know where you will go, or how you'll escape the mines.  Genetal Bout has set guards and Beso will be back soon.  Unfortunately, It looks like we are out of options.  Unless we kill him, this one will report that I talked to you rather than just seizing you and putting you in a cell.  Either Beso, or General Bout will see that as treason."  he aimed a kick at the other guard who wasn't unconscious, just unable to move.  I had carefully stuck the pin in the back of his neck.  It wouldn't kill him, it wouldn't even make it impossible for him to move.  It just made it so that he couldn't feel anything below his neck.  The fact that he wasn't getting up and screaming the alarm was simply because he didn't know that he could.  Not something we could rely upon for long.

"That's right, you are caught dead to rights!  Undo whatever you did to me witch, and perhaps I'll stop at just beating you before I throw you in a cage!"  The other guard sneered from his spot on the floor.
Garis was right, I had no idea how we would get out of the mines, or how we would deal with our prisoner.  That's when the prisoner started yelling.

"Help!  Help!  She is here!  Beso she is here!"  With a sickening crack, Garis struck the prisoner on the temple, and he was quiet.  Garis dragged the unconscious - or dead, I didn't know - soldier into one of the cells and started tossing weapons, keys, and any other equipment that he might use to escape.  That is, if he ever woke up.

As soon as I saw the keys fly out, I snatched them up and started looking in the cages for my father and Uncle Zon.  I finally found them in the last cage, deepest in the cavern.  I was a little surprised to find them together, but since they were both sentenced to death but General Bout, perhaps the General wanted them together.

"Father!  Uncle Zon!  I'm here to rescue you."  I smiled.  Both Kinderlings looked surprised to see me.

"Tandy!"  father said "You're here!"

"Tadius, did you really think Tandy wouldn't find us?"  Uncle Zon chuckled, "What took you so long girl?  I was beginning to get hungry."

Uncle Zon's joviality belied the two Kinderling's condition.  They were both covered in bruises and bloodied from what looked like multiple beatings.

"What happened to you?"

"It seems that Bout was unable to find the Seal of Office."  Uncle Zon explained.  "He's been claiming that it was the council who declared martial law, and that everything he's done was at their request.  I'm guessing he was relying on the council being unable to dispute that claim, but Tadius here survived, and has cleverly hidden the Seal.  Without the Seal, Bout will find it hard to forge the proclamation.  Beso has been trying to get the location of the Seal out of us since we were arrested.  Luckily for us, he doesn't have the stomach for it."

"Speak for yourself Zon.  If I knew where the Seal was, I would surely have told him."  My father looked bedraggled and far more depressed than I'd ever seen him.  "They are right, I'm a weakling and a failure.  Better someone stronger be in control."

"Tadius.  Cut that out.  You're one of the finest councilmen we Kinderlings have ever had.  In spite of what idiots like Beso think, not being able to withstand torture doesn't mean anything."

"I gave you up.  They wouldn't have even arrested you if I hadn't given you up."  It tore my heart in two to see my father doubt himself so much.

"Yes, and it gave them a much harder target.  I don't blame you one bit Tadius.  I've taken steps to ensure that the Seal is safe.  Now, lets look towards getting out of here."  Uncle Zon said.  "Corporal Garis, what's our status?"

I hadn't even heard Gaius walk up behind me.  I'm a fugitive now, I'll have to pay better attention!

"Well Captian, I think we're in trouble.  Beso came roaring in here yelling that Tandy was here, which she obviously wasn't, so he took everyone but me and Agron off to search for her.  Then next thing I know, there's Tandy and Agron is down.  I stripped him of anything dangerous and put him in a cell.  Oh, here.  I'm guessing this is yours."  Garis handed me my needle.  I wiped it off and re-stowed it with the others.  "Now we're down here, but we've got nearly a platoon between us and out of here."
Uncle Zon turned to me "Well Tandy, how did you get in?"

"I followed Beso down here, and when I heard him tell his men to come find me, I hid in a hole down a side passage, using my no-see-me to keep the guards from looking in the hole."

My father started to say "Tandy it's dangerous..." But Uncle Zon spoke over him.

"Excellent work!  And you've reminded me of something.  It's been a long time since I've been down here, but when I was a boy my father worked down here.  Let me get my bearings."

We followed Uncle Zon around the cavern until we got to a pile of rocks off to one side.
"You see, this is a natural cavern that was discovered when the original mine was being worked.  Not many people know it, but it originally continued down this way."  Uncle Zon started moving some of the big stones out of the way, revealing a rather small opening.  "Hmm... I remember it as being much bigger."

The hole was dark and not very inviting, although being woodland creatures who live in and amongst trees, what hole would be inviting to a Kinderling?  Inviting or not, the hole was big enough for even my father to squeeze through.  Uncle Zon and Garis, while they are bigger than my father had that trimness that soldiers get from constant training, as opposed to the plump-ness of my father.  So they would have no problem.

"This is all well and good Zon, but what would be the point to getting us lost in a cave under a mine?  We'll surely be lost, and there is no guarantee that there is a way out."  My father worried.
"Tadius my friend.  These are the caves I played in as a child.  There is a way through.  I promise you."  Uncle Zon reassured my father.

Don't judge my father too harshly.  He's never been the adventurous type.  He loves home, and the village.  And he is much more comfortable looking at numbers and reports than going out and exploring the wide world. My father and I are quite the exact opposites, and for a long time growing up, to my shame I was a little embarrassed by him.  Then we had one really harsh winter, and I kept hearing "Thank the trees for Tadius.  We all would have died without him."  Turns out, my father is an organizational genius, and had not only made sure that we would have enough food and water, but that Kinderlings were inspired to clear walkways, and even dig tunnels where the snow was too high.  He also organized the militia to ward off the Gorfs, who decidedly didn't plan for such a harsh winter.  It made me realize that father might not be like me, but that didn't make him useless.
"Smoke, is there anything dangerous down there?"  I asked.

*"careful, I smell enemies"*

"Uncle Zon, Smoke says she smells enemies down there."  I warned.

"Yes, we will probably come across some Gorf along the way.  At least there were a few when I was a child, but don't worry, we'll go quietly and mostly avoid them.  The Gorf down here in the caves will be Deep Gorf, they aren't aggressive like the Forest Gorf unless you rile them up."  Uncle Zon replied.  "I'll go first."

With that, Uncle Zon practically dove down the hole head-first, and soon his feet disappeared into the darkness.

"It's dark down here.  Wish we had candles."  We heard Uncle Zon say from down the hole.

I then noticed my father detaching the buttons from his waist coat.  I didn't understand at first, then with a little rub and a blow, each one lit up in turn.  Not a bright light or anything, about the level of a candle, but it was much better than no light at all.

"Zon, here you go."  father said as he tossed a lit up button down the hole.  Then, to my surprise, with a little smile my father said "I'm next."

It was a little comical watching father try to fit himself down a hole not quite bigger around than himself.  He had given me and Garis each a button, not even keeping one for himself. 
Once father was down, Garis said "You're next Tandy."

So I went.  I, of course being much smaller than either Uncle Zon or Father, had no problem shimmying down the hole.  Smoke quickly followed.  Once I was down, the last button light came falling through the hole.

"Capitan Zon, get the Elder to safety.  I'm going to put the rocks back and cover you escape as well as I can by providing a decoy."  Came Garis' voice from outside the hole, and I saw the rocks moved back in place.

"Damn that Corporal." Uncle Zon said, "I should have realized he would do something like that and made him go first."

"Is he abandoning us Zon?"  My father asked.

"No Tadius, the young fool is probably going to get himself killed covering our escape.  Nothing for it now, going back is only likelly to get us all caught.  Garis can take care of himself."

*"I smell air"*

Friday, August 16, 2019

Kinderling 7:

I sat behind a pile of rock a short way down the side tunnel where I wouldn't be seen from the main tunnel, and I was pretty sure nobody would come down this way and find me.
 
"Search everywhere!"  I heard Beso's angry yell coming from the corridor. 

<i>Oh no, he might send someone down this way to find me.</i>  I thought, and started looking around me for someplace to hide.  There wasn't anywhere to hide that I could see, and I didn't like the idea of going further down this passage.  It might be dangerous or I might get lost. 

In my panic, I started looking around for a weapon.  Yea... as if tiny little me was going to fight my way through a bunch of soldiers and free my father who...  Probably wouldn't do any better against soldiers than I would.  My eyes landed on my forest pack.  Was there anything in there?  It wasn't like I ever fought the Gorfs, I relied upon my speed and ability to hide when dealing with the Gorfs.  No weapons there.

Then I remembered my hammock with it's no-see-me totem.  Beso and the part of the militia that followed him would know about that trick, but would they consider that I might use it here in the cave?  I almost dismissed the idea because I only ever used the no-see-me totem in the forest, but it should work just as well here.  I quickly looked around for a place to hang my hammock.  Nothing.  But I did see a low, dark gap near the floor.  I heard footsteps coming, so I was running out of time.

"Smoke, is there anything in there?"  I whispered, indicating the gap.

*"Nothing to fear, is nice dark place."*  Came the amused reply.

I pulled my hammock from my pack and, careful to scoop up all my things and to not leave any tail-tell signs in the dust on the floor, dove into the opening.  I found myself covered in spiderwebs and dust, and had to force myself not to sneeze.  As quietly as I could, I found the no-see-me totem laced to the bottom of the hammock and pushed it in front of me, towards the opening of my hiding spot.

*"Shhh... a soul approaches."*

I could see flickering light, like from a torch, coming from the passageway outside my hiding spot and forced my breath to become shallow so that it wouldn't make any noise.  I was so scared that the no-see-me wouldn't work, and I would be caught.

When I created the first working prototype of the no-see-me totem, I was a little over confident in my new creation and tried to use it as a cloak of invisibility by hanging it on the front of my cloak.  Needless to say, it isn't quite that powerful, so while I was maybe slightly less noticeable, I sure wasn't anything close to invisible.  As soon as I moved, my parents would notice me, and once they knew I was there they didn't have any problem keeping track.  I almost tossed the prototype and moved on.  It wasn't till I tried to figure out how to make it better that I began to understand it's limitations.  Used within those limitations, mostly not moving and keeping quiet, it turned out to be one of my best designs.

The torchlight passed by my hiding place and moved on down the passage without even pausing.  Either the no-see-me totem was doing it's job, or the soldier wasn't.  Either way, I was safe for the moment.  The light from the soldier's torch soon died away as the soldiers kept searching down the corridor

"Can you see if there is anyone guarding my Father Smoke?"  I whispered.

*"I will look."*  With that, she was gone.  I hadn't looked, but ever since she started talking in my mind, I've been sure that Smoke was a girl kitty. 

Smoke soon returned.  *"There are souls"*

<i>There are souls?  What does that mean?</i>  I asked myself.  I guessed that it meant there were guards.  Nothing for it but to get moving.

I eased my way out of my hiding place, trying to watch both ways at once, and carefully returned to the main passage.  I could hear the sound of feet up the passageway the opposite direction from the cells, but they sounded like they were moving away from us.  I moved down the passage toward the cells and heard raised voices.

"I'm tired of that brat Beso ordering us around.  How dare General Bout put him in command, he isn't an officer.  He isn't even a member of the militia.  And now Bout has jailed the only surviving Elder?  He's gone power mad!" 

"You better shut up with that treason, or I'll have to take note of it and report you.  You were from that traitor Zon's platoon so you don't understand what's going on here Garis.  General Bout does not tolerate traitors!"  came the reply.

I carefully took a peek, holding the no-see-me up in front of me hoping that it would help.  There were two militia soldiers talking.  I vaguely recognized one of them, I was sure I had seen him with Uncle Zon when they found me.  He was facing my direction, while the other soldier was facing away.

I thought I caught a flash of recognition in the soldier, Garis's eye, but he did not raise the alarm.  Or maybe I was imagining it.  I don't know.  I've never been what you would call "good with reading people", but time was running out.  Beso would be back with the other soldiers soon so I had to act now.

One of the things my mother had put in my first aid kit, along with the enchanted needle for stitches, was a little box of pins.  I was warned that they were not to be used except in cases of extreme emergency.  The pins were used to stop pain.  Say, if someone broke their leg, you could stick a pin above the wound, and it would dull the pain.  Mama warned me that they were only to be used on limbs.  You know, arms and legs.  And never on the body or on the head or neck area.  I had once seen Mama put one in the middle of a farmer's back, but that was a special case.  Farmer Delus had broken his back, and was in so much pain.  There was nothing else that could be done for him.  The pin just eased his passing.

I was sure Mama was going to be mad, but I didn't see any other choice.  So I pulled out one of the pins, I only had three, and creeped up behind the soldier's back.  Garis kept talking to him as if nothing was going on.  Surely, Garis saw me, but made no mention or warning to his compatriot that I was there.

The pin went in a lot easier than I expected.  One second the soldier was talking to Garis, the next he was lying on the floor confused.  Then he saw me and took a breath to start yelling, but Garis pulled out a sap and whap!  The soldier dropped.

"Young Tandy, it is dangerous for you to be here." he made a show of looking down the passageway.  "Beso and the others will back shortly."

Garis was visibly worried.


Thursday, August 15, 2019

Kinderling 6

I instantly had two ideas warring inside my head.

The odds-on favorite, of course, was "Did my kitten really just talk to me?  Am I going bonkers?"

Just slightly behind that was, "If Beso thinks I'm with Father, he'll lead me right to them!"

Breathe.  In.  Out.  Relax.

The resolution for the first thought was simple once I stopped for a moment.  I was right!  The little lavender kitten was magical!  And we were bonding as Kinderling and Familiar!  I had dreamt of this day ever since I was four!  Mama always said "Don't let your hopes destroy what is possible", by which she meant that it would either happen or it wouldn't so don't get my hopes up.  Mama is so weird.  Father, as always, was more supportive and told me stories about Kinderlings that he had known who were bonded to a familiar.  Those stories were the meat and potatoes of my dreams.  Every time I tried something hard, or a device I tried to craft didn't work like I wanted or sadly fell apart into black dust, I would remember those stories and push myself even harder so that one day I would be deserving of a bond.

*"it doesn't work like that"*

The thought from the kitten drew me up short.  "It doesn't?" I asked.

*"no"*

Not only no.  I didn't just "hear" the word in my head.  Along with that "No" was a world of meaning.  No, it doesn't work like that.  No, she couldn't explain why.  No, she couldn't explain how it really works.  No, and quit asking dumb questions.

With no answers forthcoming, It was time to move on.  How was I going to make Beso think I was with my Father, when I didn't even know where my Father was?  I couldn't just walk up and tell him.  Beso isn't exactly a mental giant, but I'm pretty sure he'd realize I was lying to him if I told him to his face that I was somewhere else.

Hearing Beso's office door start to open, I ducked further down behind the rocks I was using for cover.  Beso emerged, looking all smug and happy with himself and strolled away.  I didn't know where he was going, but a plan started to form in my head.  I was sure he would be back eventually.

By the time Beso returned an hour later, I had everything in place.  Pinned to Beso's office door was an anonymous tip warning that "Tandy" (that's me) had been asking around about where "The Elder Tadius" was being held, and was later seen heading towards the mines.  That last was a little bit of a gamble, but Mama said they were being held somewhere down in the mine complex, and that would have been an awfully imprecise thing to say if she didn't at least know that they were down there somewhere.  Mama is never imprecise.

I kept the note simple and to the point.  No sense in trying to get all fancy with it.

Upon reading the note, Beso yelled "Ha! I got her!" and ran off yelling for guards.  Lucky for me he was making enough of a spectical that it was easy to follow him at a distance without being spotted.  On the flip side, his shenanegains started attracting a number of guards from the militia, who appeared to be taking orders from him.  Perhaps the plan was working too well.

I followed Beso and his platoon of guardsmen towards the oldest sections of the mines.  Nobody usually goes to there because it's more than a little dangerous.  In the early days, the Kinderlings working in the mines didn't know a whole lot about what they were doing.  So such nice things as ceiling bracing and supports aren't as common a sight as one might hope for.  When they reached the entrance to the old section, the opening that I had always seen boarded up was open, and Beso passed through, followed by his soldiers.  I couldn't believe it, they really were going into the old section.

I was relieved to see that Beso didn't think of leaving guards at the opening, but I waited, in case it was a ruse and he had left guards further in.

*"i will scout"*

The kitten shot forward, keeping to the shadows wherever she found them.  I didn't think Beso, or anyone, had any clue about the kitten, and I resolved to keep that information as quiet as possible.  Having a tiny little spy of my very own would be incredibly helpful.

*"the way is clear"*

I hadn't even see or heard the kitten return.  She was like smoke.

*"i like that name"*

I was concentrating so hard on what was ahead, I hadn't been listening to even my own thoughts, so it took me a moment to understand.  "Smoke?"

*"yes"*

We moved forward and through the opening, staying as quiet and as far into the shadows as we could.  It was easy to see which way Beso and the soldiers went, so I followed.  The way was lit by lanterns hanging at irregular intervals from hooks bolted to the walls.  I kept to the shadows between the lanterns as much as I could.

I couldn't help but notice that there were far more supports than I expected to find.  I had never been down in this section of the mines.  As far as I knew, nobody had.  The old sections of the mines had always been described as being death traps, with little or no ceiling support.  These were as close together, and as numerous as the supports in the public parts of the mine where I had just come from.

I stopped at one of the supports to get a closer look.  The construction looked recent, but not too recent.  There was dust and a few cobwebs clinging to the wood.  No point in loitering, I continued on.

After a short while, I started to hear voices from up ahead.  *"souls ahead"*  came a mental whisper from Smoke.  We kept to the shadows as much as we could and carefully made our way forward.  Ahead I saw the passage open into a natural cavern.  The cavern wasn't huge, but it was big enough for a row of jail cells along one wall, and still leave room for Beso and his men who looked to be searching around.  Probably for me.

"If she's here, I want her found!" Screeched Beso, "I have credible information that she will be leading a group of collaborators in an attack to rescue her Father and former Captain Zon!  If she isn't captured, I'll have the lot of you flogged!"

I managed to catch an angry look on one of the soldiers faces when Beso threatened flogging.  I didn't know what Beso thought he was doing, but his constant badgering of his men sure seemed to be distracting them more than spurring them on to work harder.

Smoke and I retreated back down the passage until we found a side passage.  The side passage looked a lot more like I was expecting this section of the mines to look like with rubble from the ceiling littering the floor, and thick dust everywhere.  I was a little scared but I considered that none of the rubble on the floor looked like it had fallen recently.  So I told myself that the ceiling had probably settled and surely it wouldn't fall on me.  I was careful not to leave a trail as I moved around a curve to wait.

My plan had failed.  Sure, I found my Father and Uncle Zon, but at the same time, I caused them to be surrounded by soldiers, making my job of springing them much much more difficult.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Kinderling 5:

And that was it.  The conspiracy was afoot.

Finding Uncle Zon and Father should have been simple.  Kinderlings, as a people, are generally very warm and generous.  Under normal circumstances, I would have been able to ask around and someone was bound to know where Father had been taken.  However, these were far from normal circumstances.  The people were scared.  Scared enough to let Baot bypass the Elder's council, declare martial law, and even go as far as detaining the one known survivor of the Elder's council.  The people followed along because he promised the one thing they wanted most, safety.  I hadn't heard if Mother or I were officially declared to be traitors yet, but I was keeping a low profile just in case.

I spent the whole morning and into the afternoon scouting around.  While I was lurking behind some empty shipping crates having a rest, I heard the whining wheezy voice of none other than Beso himself.  As I peeked out, I saw that he had a young Kinderling woman by the arm, practically dragging her behind him.

"Come to my office where we can discuss your situation.  As you know, Chancellor Baot has put me in charge of food rationing."  He said with a leering grin. "You want food for your family, right?  You can have some if you play your cards right."

The tone of his voice disgusted me.  These mines provided more than enough mushrooms to feed the whole village. There shouldn't have been any need to ration food.  A few years back there was a season with almost no rain. A lot of food sources dried up, but nobody went hungry.  The mushroom farm was expanded and managed to feed everyone.  Mushroom production was even higher now than it was then, and there are sadly fewer mouths to feed.  Food was the last thing we needed to worry about.

I hid back down behind the crates, I had to find my Father but I wasn't sure how.  I wondered if Mama had one of those compass things for him, but surely she would have already used it if she did.  I supposed that I could go down into the mines and look, but the mines were huge, and I had a very good chance of getting lost.  I needed to find someone who knew where they were.  I'm sure Beso knew, but it wasn't like I could walk up and ask him.  I didn't want to be anywhere near that guy.

It was then that I noticed the kitten had climbed out of my pack and slipped past me.  To my surprise, the silly thing was following Beso.  If Beso found out she was mine, he would probably kill her out of spite.  I tried to quietly call her back, but she wouldn't come.  I had no choice but to follow as carefully and quietly as I could.

As I expected, with the kitten following Beso and me following the kitten, we all finally ended up at what I suspect was Beso's office.  Beso and the young woman went inside while I hid behind a rock formation a ways away.  Perhaps Beso might go visit my Father at some point and I would be able to follow him.  Without any other ideas, I settled in to watch the entrance to Beso's office.

Not long after, the young woman came out of the office, hair and clothing a mess, clutching a small bag.  She Was obviously crying.

The whole thing depressed me.  The Gorf had attacked our home, Father and Uncle Zon were being held prisoner somewhere, and my fellow Kinderlings were preying upon each other.  And here I was, hiding in the rocks, and my only hope of finding my Father was following one of the rotten eggs around, hoping he might feel like gloating.  What other reason would he have to visit my father?

At least the kitten hadn't given me away by meowing like she did when we were in the forest.  In fact she was practically smoke.  I was barely able to follow her while she was following Beso, and I'm sure there was no way he would have been able to see her following.

*"the bad one wants to capture you"*

I vaguely heard the voice in my head.  The kitten was staring straight at me, like she was concentrating on something.

*"if the bad one thinks you are where you seek he will go there"*

Again, I heard the voice in my head.  It was stronger that time.  Again, the kitten was practically staring right through me.  Then, almost imperceptibly, she nodded.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Kinderling 4:

I headed for the cave mouth, asking a few stunned looking Kinderlings along the way where the wounded were being helped, and soon found my Mama.  Right where I expected her to be.  In the middle of it all, bringing peace and order to chaos.

"Tandy!  Help that youngster over there.  He has a cut that needs looking after." Commanded Mama without so much as a pause.  I could tell from the way she said it that she was relieved that I had been found, had assessed my health and decided I was all in one piece, and figured out how to make the best use of my meager talents.  All in a single blink.  A lot of people thought my Mama was a cold, hard person.  They just don't know her like I do.  The "Help that youngster over there" was practically a hug coming from my Mama.  Some people hug... well... differently than others.

The little boy did indeed have a cut on his arm.  A deep one that was going to need some stitches.  Before she realized that my talents didn't run towards healing, Mama and I had a few weeks of "training" that nearly put us at each other's throats.  I love to create, to invent, to build magic devices.  Healing?  I just don't have any talent for it.  Mama, no the other hand, is so bursting with healing talent that it practically sings from her.  Not that she can't build magic devices too, she just tends to build small ones that are useful for healing.  Like the stitching needle in my med kit.  Mama made it out of Kinderling silver, and enchanted it to sew stitches with little to no pain.  She also added a bit of something in there that kept wounds that are stitched with it from becoming infected.  It was practically the most valuable thing I owned.

I may not have a talent for healing, but the skills I learned during those few weeks, and the med kit Mama helped me put together, has really come in handy.  I can't count the number of times and the number of ways I would have been in real trouble if I hadn't have had it with me.  I never go anywhere without it.

That little boy sure looked scared though.  Mama would have just snagged him and zip zip zip, the stitches would be all done before the first tear had time to fall.  I, on the other hand couldn't do that.  Luckily, a tiny lavender furball intervened.  With the kitten distracting the boy, I was able to do what needed to be done.  The boy was a bit wiggly, and the stitches weren't exactly my best ever, but they would do, and he seemingly didn't even feel them, so there was no crying.  I told you my Mama does some good enchantment work.

I left the kitten to watch the boy... or the boy to watch the kitten... or, well, they would watch each other while I asked around to see if I could locate the kid's parents.  He wasn't exactly a toddler any more, but he was still far too young to be away from his parents.  I'm not dumb, I did keep an eye on him.  A kid like that can wander off when you are least expecting it and it was a bad time for a kid to wander off.  I asked around to see if anyone knew where the kid's parents were.  What I found was heartache.  His parents were gone.  I couldn't tell him.  I needed to tell him something, anything, but I couldn't even muster up the courage to lie or say a lame "everything will work out fine".  If it weren't for the kitten being there to distract him, I don't know what I would have done.

Look, I'm not a coward.  For the past few years, I've been out in the forest where the Gorfs live almost as much as I've been safe at home.  Cowards don't go out into the forest.  But I couldn't tell this poor little boy that his parents were gone.  Late that evening, the boy's Aunt found us and I was finally able to give the boy back to his family.  What was left of it anyway.  His Aunt seemed like a nice lady and I hoped things would work out and they would both have nice lives. I wished there was something, anything, that I could do to make that happen.  There were so many hurting people all around, the village was gone.  There was nothing I could do.

I was so worn out, I just unrolled the sleeping roll from my pack and curled up in the corner to sleep.  After a few minutes, the furry little kitten crawled in with me and I fell asleep with my face buried in her fluffy fur.

Mama woke me up.  To most people, it would have seemed abrupt, but I was used to Mama.  I think most people's Mamas can be like that when they are "on a mission".  Mine was like that all the time.  Sometimes my brother and I wondered how they got Mama to stand still long enough for us to be born.  When we asked Father, he just laughed.  Then said "Never ever say that to your mother."  Hey, I understood.  Mama knew what people thought of her, but she was who she was and couldn't, wouldn't change for anyone.  It's one of the reasons she opened a clinic at our home rather than working in the village infirmary.  It's also why a lot of older Kinderlings preferred to come to Mama for treatment.  As one old GrandMum once told me "The infirmary tends to coddle patients and lets them lie around and be worthless.  Your mother whips them back into shape and gets them back on their feet."

This time Mama wanted to talk.  Privately.  That's never a good sign.

"Both your Father and Zon are in jail, and I think Baot is looking for an excuse to put me in there with them.  Everything is going below and that bloated ego fool is playing power games."

"Can't, too many hurt people.  General Baot wouldn't dare put you in jail where you can't help out."  I replied, hoping that I was right.

"It gets worse.  Baot says he's declaring martial law, and saying that anyone not doing their part can be executed.  I think he's working up to having Zon or your father to prove he's in charge.  He's also been asking about your whereabouts, and saying what a good match you would make for his nephew."

I almost laughed.  "Well that isn't happening."

"He has enough Kinderlings scared enough to do whatever he says.  I think it's time we left, and I'm not leaving without your Father."

"Sounds like it's jailbreak time.  Where do you want me?"  I was all for this idea.  I didn't know this General Baot, but he seemed like a bully, and I really can't stand a bully.  A bully is a good part of the reason my parents had been letting me go out into the forest.  Oh, not for me to hide me from the bully.  They let me go to protect the bully from ME.  Mama caught me constructing some rather nasty devices and demanded to know what I was doing.  When she heard what I had in store for the poor lad, she took them away.  Most of them she wouldn't even let me test on the Gorfs!  And nobody likes a Gorf!

"Your job is to spring Zon and your Father from the cell they fashioned out of the old offices on level two.  For my part, I'll see about finding your brother and a few others and getting supplies.  Can you handle that?"

"Meet?"

"Tomorrow night, at the old barrel."  Was all Mama said.  She knew I would know where to go.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Miami Pete 23:

I had never been to a fancy dress uniform dinner party.  I had never had a uniform before let alone a dress uniform, so I guess that isn't surprising.  When I saw the sheer number of utensils, I admit I panicked a little.  Then Mother Ahmisa had to go and apologize for not having a full set, and said she hoped it would be all right if we made due.

Not having a full set?

There were utensils on either side of my plate that I had never seen before.  Sure, there was the usual array of forks, spoons, and knives.  Which was confusing enough since I was used to using a spork on the rare occasion that I used a utensil at all.  Ration bars don't lend themselves to fancy eating.  But to have three forks, two spoons a knife, and another knife-like... thing...  Like a bent knife, and a curved scoopey thing sort-of like a spoon with the sides trimmed off, and the sides sharpened.

Cmdr. Barona finally noticed my confusion after a few moments and took over.

"Everyone find your seats please." she announced, and everyone found their place - Mother Ahmisa had even provided name tags - and stood behind their chairs.  I did likewise, not knowing what else to do.  "The Captain has a few words."

Drat.  I was sure Cmdr. Barona was getting me back for surprising her.

"Um..." I said, "Now that we have real uniforms, and well... welcome to The Haul-o-caster!"  It was lame.  I know nothing about public speaking.  I don't think I've ever seen anyone DO public speaking.  I was way out of my element, but the way the crew carried on cheering and clapping, you would have thought I'd have delivered a masterpiece.

Barona took over once again "Everyone be seated and enjoy."

What little I knew about Morgaites, I had expected to sit through a string of prayers to... Well, I didn't know who exactly, I didn't really know anything about the Morgan religion.  It's just reputed to be strict and demanding.  But what I saw was people, spacers, much like the ones I had met before.  Well, perhaps better dressed.  The uniforms were fabulous, but there was the same camaraderie that I recognized from other times I've seen crews gather.  These were my people.  I am a spacer, and these are my people.

It was a new feeling for me, a feeling of belonging.  Sure, I always felt like I belonged aboard the Haul-o-caster, and belonged with Pete, but this was different somehow.  Pete was my Captain, a father figure.  I belonged with him because in a way I belonged TO him.

This crew was different.  They chose to be here.  From what I could tell from the service jackets that Cmdr. Barona and I went through and from her comments, any of them could have found a position on nearly any ship in the Morganite fleet, yet they chose to volunteer for a birthing on the Haul-o-caster.  And by extension, they chose me.  Then backed up that choice by standing up and defending the Haul-o-caster against their fellow Morganites when Admiral Foster tried to take the 'rus system nav data by force.  I was happy when that incident was resolved without having to resort to violence, but I saw the look on my crew's faces.  Not a one of them was about to stand down.

I was thankful for the time I spent with each one of these crew members during our Captain's dinners, and the tutelage from Cmdr. Barona to prepare me for them.  Without it, I would surely have made a fool of myself.  This dinner was far more formal, yet I was able to relax a little bit and enjoy it.  At least I knew how to use a fork, after that first Captain's dinner, Cmdr. Barona showed me the proper way.  Who knew that there was a "proper" way of using a fork?  It has a pokey end, and a handle.  Obvious, right?  Not so much.  I had used a spork, but according to Cmdr. Barona, a spork isn't a proper eating utensil, and I was probably using it wrong too.  Ration bars are a lot easier to eat.  No need for a utensil, you just unwrap them and eat them out of hand.

The food was amazing.  Some of it I had no idea what it was, and there were a few things that Cmdr. Barona or Mother Ahmisa would quietly warn me not to eat very much of since my system wasn't used to "real" food.  After a short time, Cmdr. Barona got up saying she was going to relieve Lt. Tine so that he could join the party, but Lt. Cmdr. Dorn quickly asked if he could have the honor.

Kinderling 3:

Captain Zon of the Kinderling Militia and my father had been friends for as long as anyone knew.  Sometimes I swear their mother's birthed them out at the same time and somehow they were already old pals before the wetness of birth was washed off.  They do indeed share a birthday, although as far as I know Captain Zon's parents and my grandparents ran in much different circles, so it was highly unlikely that they knew each other.

Uncle Zon, as I call him, to my disappointment didn't seem at all surprised when I jumped down from the tree.

"Ah, Tandy.  Nice of you to join us.  We were looking for you, but you were well hidden, I presume by your no-see-me totem."  Uncle Zon was a big proponent of the militia buying as many no-see-me totems as I could produce.  There was, of course, a counter-movement involved that had all kinds of excuses why they shouldn't.  "She's too young, how can they possibly be reliable", "They are too expensive" (even though a price hadn't even been talked about), and my favorite "We don't need them.  Why should our patrols need to hide?"  Needless to say, the naysayers were all bean counter or administrators who never set foot outside the village.  Many of whom had never once seen a Gorf.

"If you couldn't find me, how is it that you managed to find the tree I was in?"  His men were most definitely surrounding the very tree I had sheltered in for the night.

"Your mother was kind enough to provide us with this compass, and we followed it right to you."  He replied, "Nice piece of kit that.  Your family comes up with the most amazing little devices."

I looked at the compass that Uncle Zon pulled out of his tunic.  It was wooden, and intricately carved in a way that only my mother could carve.  Intricate, beautiful, and graceful.  All while still looking rugged and dependable.  I only wish I could carve like that.  The compass was comprised of a round body with a hinged round lid, and a wooden needle inside that pointed right at me.  I never knew she had such a device.  It sure explained a lot, mama always seemed to know where to find me.  As I was wondering if I would be able to get a close enough look to discern how it was made, Uncle Zon closed the compass and put it back in his pocket.

"None of that young lady, your mother expressly told me not to let you inspect the compass too closely.  Something about not wanting you to get any ideas on how to defeat it.  Besides, now that we've found you, we must go quickly!"

"Uncle Zon," I asked, "Just why are the Militia out here looking for ME?  I've only been gone since yesterday and Mama doesn't usually start to worry till I'm three or four days overdue, one day overdue is normal."  It was true.  I wasn't an adult, and most kids my age, including kids that were a few years older, weren't allowed anywhere near the edge of Kinderling territory, let alone out into the forest beyond, but I often spent a few days at a time out in the forest.  I knew what I was doing, and I was always careful.  Well... except for bringing the kitten along this time, that was a pure bone-headed mistake.  One that once my parents got my report about, I always told them everything, I would probably get a good stern lecture for.

"Something has happened Tandy.  Some of the Gorf tribes have consolidated under a single leader and they have over-run the village.  We are heading to the mushroom gardens, your family is there.  From there, I don't know what will happen.  When I got your parents out of the village, your mother checked the compass and you were far from where she expected you to be.  She was worried that you had been taken by the Gorfs, so I offered to come find you.  I'm happy to see that all that worrying was for nothing."

"I'm sorry to cause such problems Uncle Zon.  I hope you won't get in trouble with the Eldest for wasting time on one stupid little Kinderling girl."  I truly was sorry, with Gorfs attacking the village, the Militia was bound to be needed elsewhere.

"Tandy, the Eldest is gone.  When the Gorfs attacked, they went strait for the central tree.  The Central Guard were overwhelmed.  They did things..."

Uncle Zon was clearly disturbed by what had happened.  I was sure I didn't want to know what he meant by "They did things".

I could tell we were taking a longer route to the Mushroom gardens, keeping well away from the paths we usually used.  I suspect that Uncle Zon was worried that the Gorfs were watching the paths, hoping to capture more Kinderlings. In spite of this, we eventually found our way to the Mushroom gardens.

Calling them the Mushroom gardens doesn't really do a good job of describing them.  Originally, it was nothing but a cave.  Then and enterprising young Kinderling explorer decided to map the entire cave system since nobody knew exactly what was down there.  During his explorations, the Kinderling found a vein of silver in one of the lower chambers.  Soon he had a silver mine established.  Then a smelter.  Artisans in the village used the silver to create such wondrous works of art and magical devices that traders came from far and wide to trade for Kinderling Silver.  That was when the Gorfs came.

It isn't really known if all the extra wealth is what brought the Gorfs, or if it was just a natural migration, but came they did.  Before long the trade route, already difficult because the encroaching forest, became impassable.  With no trade, there was no reason to mine more than the small amounts of silver wanted by the villagers.  That's  where the Mushroom Gardens came in.  The enterprising young explorer, no longer so young, but still enterprising realized that with Gorfs surrounding the village, it would become more and more dangerous to go into the forest to gather food.  So he turned huge parts of the silver mine to mushroom growing.

We arrived in time to witness a heated argument.  My father, a well respected leader and member of the Elder's council, was arguing with the head of the Militia, General Baot.

"I will not send men that are needed here, off on a wild goose chase!  The militia has already lost half of it's men, and you've sent that fool Zon off to his death chasing after that flighty girl of yours!" Yelled the General.

Off to his death?  I quickly checked.  Nope, Uncle Zon was very much alive.

"That girl needs to settle down and marry a nice boy like my nephew Beso, and quit fiddling with all that useless, dangerous magic before she harms herself!"  The General continued.  "She'll never find a good husband this way!"

"All we need is a small number of soldiers, perhaps a squad, to escort an ambassador down the old trade road to the Kingdom of Dorinth.  There the ambassador can re-new ties with the Dorinth, and request help.  We have a Treaty.  In accordance with the Treaty, they will render aid."  My father was angrier than I had ever seen him.

"Well good thing this is a militia matter, ELDER," The General spat "So I'm in charge and you can't waste any more lives.  Nobody is going to Dorinth.  We haven't had contact with Dorinth since before I was born, and I don't think they'll bother to uphold a dusty old Treaty that nobody remembers."

"I am the only surviving member of the Elder's council.  Until a new government is formed, it's my call, and we are sending an ambassador to Dorinth.  The rest can retreat into the Mushroom garden and wait until Dorinth comes, or the Gorf get bored and wander off."

"Sargent!  Take this man into custody for his own protection!"

I was shocked.  The Sargent motioned to a couple of his men and they grabbed my father and tied his hands behind his back.  Sure, father struggled, but as much as I love my father, I have to admit that he's pretty soft and doughy.  He's a thinker, not a fighter, and it didn't take much for those soldiers to subdue him.  Of course he yelled and cussed the whole time until one of the soldiers had enough and socked him up-side the head with his fist.  Father didn't make much of a fuss after that.

"Maybe you should go find your mother." Uncle Zon whispered to me.  "As much as I dread it, duty demands that I report to the General that I've returned."

As much as I heard about people being injured, I was sure that my mother would be in the thick of things.  Mama was one of the village healers, although she tended to work on her own rather than work in the infirmary with the other healers.  At a time like this, they wouldn't turn away the help.  The only logical place for the healers to set up shop would be inside the caves that lead to the mushroom gardens.

As I walked away, I cringed when I heard the General's voice yell "Sargent! Take this deserter into custody!"

I sure hoped Uncle Zon would be okay.  I almost turned around and went back, but what would I be able to do?  I was just a kid.