Night Amongst Whispers - Part V
s there was little Nemgas could do until the boys returned his balls that their father had taken from them the day before, he did not venture within the town that day, but instead stayed amongst his own people. There were many chores that needed tending to as it was, from repairing one of the wheels on Dazheen’s wagon, to storing away many of the goods that the people of Cheskych had given them in payment for their stay.
Sometime shortly after the sun appeared in the mouth of the valley instead of just being reflected from the mirrors, he took a small stool and a pick, and ventured out amongst the field where the Assingh were grazing contentedly. The day had dawned cool, but it was warming quickly, the dew vanishing from the grasses even as he walked amongst them. He wore but his multi-coloured tunic and leggings, as well as a pair of sturdy boots. The burlap bag with his cloth balls was at his side, lighter than normal though. Upon his head he wore a gaily coloured hat that to keep the sun from his eyes, one that fit him far better than it did Gamran, who’d filched it from an annoying jongleur some months ago.
While the Assingh were a prized possession of the Magyars, not many chose to attend to their needs when they weren’t travelling. But it was still a task that needed doing, or so Nemgas told himself as he spied a lone female sitting upon her own stool amongst the grazing equines. Her back was to him as she used the pick to clean the dirt out from the Assingh’s hooves and shoes. Nemgas smiled slightly to himself as he watched the wind pick at her dark curly hair that bunched at her shoulders, not daring to go any lower.
There was another Assingh nearby whose hooves still appeared muddy, and so Nemgas set his stool down heavily and sat upon it. This caught Kisaiya’s attention, and her face was quite surprised when she saw it was him. She turned back to her task quickly then, not sparing him another glance. Nemgas rolled his tongue about in his mouth, unsure of what to say that might not lead to her leaving him instantly. He grabbed for the Assingh’s hoof, and the beast complied, lifting a mud-clogged shoe for him to see.
The scent of the Assingh was very strong, most especially their manure, but he did not mind so much just then, scrapping at the mud with the pick. It was good that the dew had not completely dried up yet, because the mud was loose and came free easily. “‘Tis a good time for this,” Nemgas said quietly. Kisaiya did not say anything, only continuing to work upon her own beast.
Grimacing, Nemgas asked, “How many hast thee left to clean?”
Kisaiya looked up for a moment, but did not turn to meet his gaze. “But two-pair of ten.” She then went back to cleaning the shoe with her pick. In fact, her efforts seemed to have doubled, as she was working much faster than Nemgas had remembered.
“Thou shalt hath one less now, and several more if I canst help thee with them,” Nemgas said warmly. “‘Tis so many to clean by thyself.”
“I canst do it. I hath before,” Kisaiya said, her voice becoming curt. The pick slipped in her hand and the Assingh snorted, shifting about slightly. But she regained control and was once more dislodging the mud with deft skill. “I thank thee for thy help, but ‘tis not needed.”
Nemgas nodded, letting the one hoof go, and reaching for another. If it were possible, this one was coated in even more mud than the first. “But wouldst thee like the help?”
“Nay,” Kisaiya said quickly, barely before he’d finished his question. “Thou wilt make me lose count. ‘Tis better if thou leavest this to me.”
He clenched his teeth then. Impossible woman. “I wouldst ease thy burden, Kisaiya. Wilt thou allow me?”
“I thank thee, but nay.” And then she put down the last hoof, stood up and retrieved her stool, walking quite stiffly and quickly through the meadow towards another Assingh still in need of cleaning. Nemgas expected her to find the one furthest away from him if possible.
Grunting, he finished up his own Assingh as quickly as possible and followed after her. She was not nearly as far away as he had feared she would be, but after setting his stool down next to a promising beast, she said, “I hath already cleaned that one.”
“Then I shalt clean her again,” Nemgas declared, sitting down and reaching for a hoof. Kisaiya said nothing, keeping her eyes ever closer to her beast. She was working so fast, that it brayed and shuffled about in discomfort. With an exasperated sigh, she sat further forward, running one hand to push her hair back over her ear as she reached for the hoof again.
“I think thou art lovely,” Nemgas said before he knew quite what he was saying.
This did catch Kisaiya’s attention. She turned to face him, face flushed even further than before. Her gaze was filled with both shock and dismay, neither knowing which was better to display, before she stood up and scooped her stool up in her arms and dashed back towards the wagons. Nemgas sat there staring after her, pick and a beast’s hoof still in his hands. It was not until she had disappeared amongst the wagons that he let his gaze falter. Slumping, he continued to pick the mud from the Assingh’s hooves. Rejected again.
Nemgas naturally had to finish cleaning the rest of the Assingh so that Kisaiya’s task would be complete. She never did return to them that afternoon. But it was not an arduous task, just a trifle dull and lonely. It did not take him long to finish though, and before the sun had passed back beyond the mountain’s edge, he was carrying his stool back to the wagons. Shortly after he was laying out his costume for that night’s performance and grousing to Pelgan about women.
As the afternoon wore on, they were joined by the others in their wagon, each with their own tale to tell of being scorned by a woman, and each of them just a little more fanciful than the last. At least until Chamag told quite a tall tale of five women tying him up in a potato sack and tossing him out of the wagons after getting him drunk, at which point they decided that they ought to actually ready themselves for the pageant instead of telling amusing lies.
Nemgas was disappointed to discover that nobody had seen either of his boys that day, and there was no word from them on whether they had managed to get his balls back. He wondered briefly if perhaps he shouldn’t take some time to venture into the town once more to find them, but the hour grew too late from their telling of tales, and so he was forced to wait behind the wagons, scanning the crowd for some sign of their presence.
His nervous distraction only grew more pronounced as the night wore on. He was barely able to focus enough to swing his club in the mock battle. In fact at one point, he nearly smacked one of his fellow Magyars in the back of the head with it, something that was not meant to happen. But the audience did not know any better, and continued to enjoy the show despite Nemgas’s distraction. And throughout it all, he scanned the crowd for any sign of either his two boys, or their father. But none of them was there to see the pageant that night.
Or any other event on their final show at Cheskych for some time. The highlight of the evening of course was a dance by Zhenava - how Hanaman had convinced her to emerge and put on one of her dances guaranteed to entice any man over the age of twelve was sure to remain a mystery for at least a few hours. And the dance was a success as always, with many wives dragging their husbands away by their ears or their hair.
Yet through all of this, Nemgas could find no trace of the boys. After the events for the evening were over, he scoured both the crowd and the wagons for them, but found no trace of them. They simply had never come to that night’s performance, a fact that had him increasingly worried about them. Had their father locked them up completely? He did not even know which house was his in the town, so could do nothing to help them.
“Why art thou so distraught?” Chamag asked him when he finally gave up and returned to their wagon for the night.
“I canst not find the boys. They wert to bring back my balls this night,” Nemgas said, ashen faced as he slipped his tunic off and pulled on his linens.
Gamran laughed slightly from his top bunk. “Art thou worried that thou hast been stolen from?” At this, the others also laughed lightly.
But Nemgas merely shook his head, slipping onto his bottom bunk. “Nae. ‘Tis not the balls.”
“What then?” Chamag asked as he rolled into his bunk opposite Nemgas.
But the Magyar just lay in bed for several moments, the warmth of the wagon soothing only his body, not his mind. “I hath great fondness for them both,” Nemgas said after several long moments of silence. And after his words were uttered, silence once gain descended upon the wagon, for as he waited for any other to say anything, none did. Berkon blew out the lamp from his bunk, and they all turned their focus only on getting some sleep.
Nemgas could not sleep well though. There were just so many things on his mind that he could not keep straight. He worried for the boys Pelurji and Pelaeth. He sighed as he though of Kisaiya always turning away from him, rejecting his interest in her. And then of course there was still a great mystery to Pelain, one that even the story of his death had not answered. In fact, more questions seemed to have been raised by it than answered. Lastly, there was a tiny niggling thought that crept at the back of his mind, never close enough for him to understand it, but it was there nevertheless.
So it was that when Nemgas rose that next day, ready to break camp and get the wagons moving out of Cheskych itself, that he did not feel rested at all. He remained hopeful that the boys would be waiting for him in the camp with his balls in tow, but they were not there. Hanaman was talking with one of the officials of the city, making last minute arrangements, and a the rest of their pay was being delivered in a couple small carts. Nemgas helped to load the grains and vegetables onto their wagons, but he found no pleasure in that, just simple motion.
As was often the case, the leaving of a town was met with little fanfare. Usually the people were glad to be rid of the Magyars finally, and the Magyars were delighted to be on their way. By the time the sun was shining directly into the mouth of the gorge, they hoped to be many miles to the South after all. But as the moments led up to their departure, Nemgas continued to look towards the town nestled in the narrow gorge like an animal in its den. He saw many figures walking amongst those close knit buildings, but none of them were the boys.
Even Pelgan, Gamran, and the others from his wagon kept their eyes open for those two, but they each with disconsolate faces told him that they were not to be found anywhere near the Magyar encampment. And so, grim line set upon his face, Nemgas hitched the Assingh to his wagon when the time came, and then climbed up atop, ready to depart Cheskych for another year’s time.
Pelgan joined him, the young man not saying anything, but glaring darkly back towards the town. The sound of reins cracking could be heard at the front of the line, and the first wagon began to roll out towards the gatehouse. One by one, the rest of the wagons began to follow suit. Nemgas tensed and then struck the reins when his turn came, and the Assingh began to pull the wagons, straining at first, but then moving more easily once the wheels began to turn.
His eyes slid darkly towards the town once more, hoping for some kind of reprieve from this worry, but none was forthcoming. Some of the townsfolk stopped to watch the wagons leave, while others continued about their chores uncaring. Those children who were watching waved, but none of them were Pelaeth or Pelurji.
It did not take them long to pass through the gatehouse and back out onto the rolling hills beneath the Vysehrad. After the last wagon left the gatehouse, the portcullis was lowered back to the ground once more, the last farewell form the people of Cheskych. They may have offered them a longer stay, but now that the Magyars were leaving, they were not meant to come back until the next Spring.
The dirt road that led up into the gorge forked only a short distance from the town. They had come from the northern fork, and so they followed the road South across the bridge and through the sheltering trees. Apart from the crunching of the wagon wheels and the plodding of the Assingh, all that they could hear was the occasional bray and birdsong. Yet there was something else in the air, Nemgas thought, a groaning from the mountains themselves as they rested so heavily upon the world. It was subtle, but he thought he could hear it, and it nagged at him like a persistent fly.
The forest extended for a short ways southward before petering out once again into the unending grasses of the Steppe. Nemgas had sunk into a resigned bitterness by the time the trees began to thin out. The shadows from the mountains themselves were long, casting a jagged line of darkness across the Steppe to the west. Somewhere the sun was shining, but they could not yet see it.
Nemgas gave a snort when he felt Pelgan elbowing him in the side. “What?” he barked out in a snarl, but his friend just nodded his head towards the head of the line. Nemgas stared ahead and saw that the other Magyars were all turning their heads curiously off to the left. Curious, he let his gaze follow to where they stared. It looked like there was somebody there, but whoever it might be was standing on the other side of one tree, and he couldn’t make them out.
A sudden flare of hope welled up in his as he leaned forward, trying to discern who it might be that had come out to the edge of the woods. Surely it had to be somebody form Cheskych, as there were no other nearby settlements, and it was only the rare man who would attempt to cross any part of the Steppe by themselves. He had a brief chuckle at that thought, but quickly dismissed it as he stared ahead. Whatever it was moved out a bit farther from the tree, heads turned to stare back along the line, even as the wagons continued to press forward.
Nemgas found a smile begin to crease his lips as he saw that what he’d thought was one person was actually two. And they were not men, but children. “Be it they?” he asked out loud, but did not wait for an answer, passing the reins to Pelgan and leaping down from his wagon into the rough turf. He ran at a good pace, quickly surpassing the meandering gait of the Assingh, staring at those two figures who also were running towards him now.
“Nemgas!” they both cried, and he smiled, chanting their names back.
“Pelaeth! Pelurji! Thee came!” When they met he swept them both up in a quick hug, laughing in delight. He set them down just as quickly though, and stood tall, hands akimbo. “Well, dost thee possess my balls?”
Pelurji nodded and held out a small pouch, smiling proudly. “I stole them just like thee asked! ‘Twas fun! But we could not bring them before, cause our Dad wast watching.”
Pelaeth had a folded blanket in his hands, and he was nodding at that. “We hath snuck away last night so that we couldst give these back today. ‘Twas the only way for that, and...” he turned then and looked to his younger brother.
“And?” Nemgas asked, smiling proudly at the two. But his gaze then slipped to Pelurji whose own was beseeching.
“I want to be a Magyar, Master Nemgas,” Pelurji said at last, hands held tight together before him. “Wilt thou make me a Magyar.”
Nemgas smiled, his chest expanding with pride. Though he’d not been able to quite say it to himself, he knew after that first day of watching them learn to juggle that he’d wished for nothing else from these two, especially Pelurji. “Thou art already a Magyar in thy heart, Pelurji. ‘Tis but a change of clothes that thou needest now to be one truly. I wilt provide that for thee, and thou wilt join us as we travel for the rest of thy life.”
The little boy smiled brightly and jumped up and down in place and looked to his brother. “Didst thee hear that? I art a Magyar!”
“And what of thee, Pelaeth, wilt thee be a Magyar too?” Nemgas asked, turning to the older boy.
He smiled, but shook his head then. “I wouldst like to go with my brother and with thee, Master Nemgas. But I want to be like Pelain, and make Cheskych great again. I canst not do that if I art a Magyar.”
Nemgas frowned, but nodded at that. Somehow, he knew that would come to pass as well. Nevertheless, some part of him told him that was how it should be. “Thou shalt surpass Pelain, methinks. They wilt build a new fountain because of thee, Pelaeth. But what wilt thou say of Pelurji?”
He stood a bit taller then. “That I hath helped him join the Magyars this day.”
The wagons continued to pass by them, and he saw Pelgan smiling down at him as his own wagon began to lumber pass. Nemgas grimaced at that, but nodded. “Thou hath no fear of what thy father wilt say?”
Pelaeth nodded. “I hath fear. But I art of Pelain!” He said this last proudly. If he did have fear of his father, Nemgas could not see it in his countenance. Despite his remaining at Cheskych, Nemgas still felt enormous pride for the boy.
“I hope that we might see thee again, Pelaeth.” He hefted the sack of juggling balls that the boys had returned to him, and then held them out for the older boy. “Take these so that thee shalt always be able to juggle as well. They art thine now. Rare ‘tis for a Magyar to give something away so do not spurn this gift.”
“I shouldst die ere I do such a thing from thee, Master Nemgas,” the boy declared, taking the sack in his free hand. “I thank thee for thy gift to my brother.”
Nemgas smiled warmly, and then leaned down and gave them boy a firm embrace once more, then stood tall again. “Hurry now back to thy people, Pelaeth. They art waiting for thee. Ja!” Pelaeth nodded then, shared a wordless moment and smile with his younger brother, and then took off into the woods, bounding through the tree and dells like a stag.
Looking southwards, Nemgas could see that Pelgan was still watching them, though their wagon was quite a bit further ahead. “Come now, Pelurji, we must get back to the wagons.” Pelurji held out his arms, and Nemgas hoisted the boy up onto his shoulders. With the short legs wrapped about his neck, small feet bouncing off his chest, Nemgas ran back to his wagon, nearly leaping back up to the platform. With a grunting heave, he lifted himself back up onto the seat beside Pelgan, who was smiling brightly to the newest Magyar.
“Well met, Pelurji,” Pelgan said as Nemgas set the boy down on the bench between them. The boy was dressed in the simple brown smocks of the Cheskych, but that would soon change to the brighter patchwork of his new people, the Magyars. “I hight Pelgan.”
The boy smiled, “I remember thee, master Pelgan. Art thou named after Pelain too?”
At this Pelgan laughed, patting him on the shoulder, “Nae, my child, but thou mayest think so if it pleases thee.”
The Magyars before and behind him looked to him with a sparkle of delight in their eyes. Nemgas could only smile very proudly back to them, one arm around Pelurji.
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