Chapter One: Alterity’s Altercation (III)

Part Three

I saw the blazing light of the overhead sun glint off of dull breastplates and cared for weapons. The lead Amalj’aa threateningly towered over the others, his obsidian scales dull in the blinding mid-day sun. His shoulders rose steadily as he took in breath after breath replenishing immediate exertion and their scales shown wet with sweat. The silver plumage wrapped in crimson cloth stood stiffly up and behind his head, drooping slightly down at its point. In his hand he held a halberd marked in the same crimson dye with their clan’s emblem: two diagonal slashes crossed with a third diagonal slash, resembling how their biological plumage rose and then dipped down at the tip. More crimson cloth wrapped their wrists and waists. About their necks hung individually unique necklaces of beast teeth, claws, or other indicative trophies of their prey. The half-dozen violently displayed their weapons and swung their heads in circles as a display of intimidation. It was when the one without a weapon started chanting and gesticulating with their hands and fingers that the soldiers near the carriage became aware of the imminent severity of the tribal fusillade about to bear quick death upon them.

The antagonizing soldier was the first to break the silence the beastmen carried with them, “Cursed beastmen,” he said spitting his whole cud onto the ground, then examined the Amalj’aa party more closely. The soldier to his right, a soldier with a shaved head and a sinister looking black goatee shoved the helmet which had been slung to his side on his head spoke for the first time, “don’t look like no hunting party. Never seen a Seer hunt.” The rough soldier with the slight curl to his hair who had been slyly conniving his way into our gil pockets added, “just our luck.” He shook his head, causing the sweat coated on black hair to release onto the hot sandy dirt below.

He looked over the wagon and its collection of unfortunate travelers: myself, the old merchant traveler, and the twins — whom I had overlooked during the prior commotion, but were now awake and curiously gazing east towards where the Amalj’aa were located. “Just my luck,” he said under his breath, and after letting out a large sigh he deftly hopped over the back of his leery chocobo mount and hastily trotted up to the driver.

Gravely and sternly, “go,” he pointed south around the bend, “about a half-day’s ride, Camp Drybone. Don’t stop.” The driver nodded his head in affirmation, the floppy brimmed hat bobbing up and down. He circled quickly back to myself and the other passengers. “Here,” he said, holding the carved horn of a Myotragus bull in his hand towards me. He seemed to soften as he saw me recoil and I could smell the smoked raptor coming off his breath eaten earlier that day. It was as if he then remembered what he had done moments before and who he was. The captain forcefully thrust the Myotragus horn not into my hands but into my chest with a noticeable thud expelling a small amount of air from my lungs in the process. “Blow this until someone finds you,” he said as he locked my eyes in his. His smile had long gone. His face reverted to a face revealing a state under constant duress. The once exhaustively charming eyes now gravely adorned a dire look; a quick gaze towards the east revealed a brief flash of fear. It was then I knew. They might die here, and for what? For us? Are any of us Ul’dahn citizens? I would, years on, think back on this moment and what it meant for those soldiers facing assured death at the hands of an enemy long fought, who those soldiers were and what their lives meant. “Now go!” he yelled at the driver.

The once viciously self-serving soldier now expertly issued commands to his soldiers who had abandoned their earlier cause of shaking down the unsuspecting. Their previous look of lazy subterfuge and implicit equivocation had vanished: these were the soldiers I had heard about: the soldiers who fought against the Garlean invasion and died for Eorzean sovereignty. The four of them mounted their bristling chocobos. The avian mounts tensed at the oncoming perennial struggle between beastman and Eorzean. They stiffened their legs and ruffled their mustard yellow feathers slightly shaking their Ul’dahn armor, and cawing in harmony with one another. The soldiers grouped together in-between the carriage and the beastmen: one with a halberd of much greater quality to match the Amalj’aan leader; one trained in the Ala Migo art of the pugilist armed with steel spiked gauntlets, reinforced on every potential point of contact between her and her foe; and two armed with large war axes requiring two hands to weild. They were out numbed two to three but the disciplined cultivation of careless self-sacrifice was not within their purview.

 

Chapter One: Alterity’s Altercation (II)

Part Two

“Well, Rok,” he scathingly said, tapping the tip of his bronze spear on the rounded edge, polished with the steps of many peoples and through a many weathers. He tapped, tapped, tapped, methodically counting out the seconds, letting his innocuous threat settle with Rok. The sun tanned soldier, with a defined jaw and a aquiline nose, grinned wide as if he grinned from horizon to horizon, white rectangular prisms locking out the world like a jailor’s cells. Rok felt stymied, abashed, and naked, as if this soldier with his threat — if not in word then in meaning — had stripped the leather trappings he worn and laid his body bare beneath the baking sun.

He continued, “Miqo’te, meek, you seem to me,” he said me with a drawl, “to be illegally entering Ul’dah.” I thrust my eyebrows up, my mouth hanging slightly agape and tremulously gesticulated fishing for some answer not coming. “Have you papers, meek?” He asked with a widening sneer closing in the white prison his teeth provided.

I, again, was at a loss. I had went from high hopes for the soldiers who approached us to puzzlement over their behavior; and from puzzlement over their actions to a paralytic fear, stultifying and abject. The soldier held my gaze more with his sneer than with his eyes. He still rested the tip of his spear at the lip of the carriage, now sliding it along the point, now absently sliding back along the traced path. I felt the hot wind across my face and across the beads of sweat  on my brow. It was dry and heavy, carrying no sound along its long travel. The cacti, some towering over Roegadyn, others a height of Lalafel, resolutely stood and dotted the landscape, their shades of green varying among where the sun hit them, casting their shadows criss-crossed up and down the desert. My nerves echoed dully along my catatonic spine. I had never known what it meant to have power, but I now knew what it meant to have none.

I answered as precisely as I could. My agitated nerves infused my words with a tremor. “I have only my journals.” He spat on the deep yellow ground and turned back to me while his saliva was soaked into the ground. “Need papers,” he said, putting some sort of dried native plant into his cheek and moving it into position, “permission to enter,” he added after it was apparent I still had yet to completely swallow the meaning behind his words, using his hands in a crude shoveling motion as if he only needed to insultingly coerce the meaning of his easy words in. Then he spat onto the ground, but this time he rolled the black saliva like molasses through and around his immaculate white teeth; then he spat the mucus black slime onto the floor boards in front of my feet and grinned into the weary eyes, weary from undeserved fright. He chewed the cud from one cheek to the other and spat another abysmal lob, this time at the sand where a isolate dung-beetle was crawling.

The soldier hefted the long spear so that the light of the sun above glinted off the tip blinding myself and the old man in the open carriage; swinging it down it landed in the sandy soil releasing a miniature cataclysmic cloud harbingering another coming Calamity (which, even across the north seas my people had heard of, the effects of the Calamity and the defeat of Bahamut echoes still in my native land) for the organisms too tiny to see. Its point in the sand, the brigands (as I was won’t to refer to them as at this point in the encounter) had forced their hand and moved closer in towards the cart. One stayed up front with the Lalafell whose incomparable stature forced him to stay seated. He clutched the reins of the feathered mounts tightly, gritting his teeth and narrowing his eyes. We’ve stayed put too long. But, what were we to do?

And now to the point, “Let’s just say me and my friends here,” the inquiring soldier began, spitting another glob of muck onto the sandy soil, “we take, say…” counting on his fingers, “…500Gil and we’ll forget we even laid eyes on an old man and a ‘migrant,” he added with a still stinging insinuation. The soldier scratched his beard while the other soldiers with him sneered at us, chuckled at our misfortune, or took turns taking drinks from a flask. They were all unshaved, as if they had been on patrol and away from the city for a few days. It was now obvious this had been their plan all along: coyly look for smuggled goods, incite fear where necessary, and take off with Gil to line their bellies at the local taverns when their stint on patrol was over. And who would doubt their veracity? Who would believe a foreign Miqo’te and an old, salt-haired merchant who spoke little?

The merchant and I exchanged glances, he shrugged his slumped shoulders and I fatally exhaled the held breath I had been holding for an unknowable amount of time. I had acquiesced despairingly to handing over the few Gil left in my pouch in the bottom of my burlap traveller’s bag. I could hand over the potions if they thought the Gil was not enough, but they seemed eager to move on, potentially prowling the southbound road leading into Ul’dah for other foolish prey. I had just begun searching for my pouch when the soldier left up at the head of the carriage let out a high carrion-like call ushering in a frantic commotion among the soldiers. The merchant pointed at the land behind me, where now all the soldiers were looking. The the peak of the hill not farther than 100 meters from us were half a dozen of Amalj’aa.

Chapter One: Alterity’s Altercation (I)

Part One

It was a sunny day as the cart rolled through the arid landscape surrounding the city-state of Ul’dah, rocking from side to side along the uneven, derelict road. It had the dusty coating of something once polished with great care given only to the merciless wills of time. I kept my head down, or avoiding the eyes of the man in front of me. The children in the cart (once I had gotten over the bravery exhibited by children in this land, one which I strongly desired to probe. For, if our cart and wagon were to be waylaid by bandits or such, how would they defend themselves? Noticing first, they had an aloof air of complete indifference, the same kind of aloof air exhibited by people experiencing the familiar; as far as an observer is liable to go without breaking the rules of unbiased observing, I would suggest they were of wealth.) dozed softly, the boy (or girl? I was won’t to distinguish) with their head rested on their sibling (friend?). My ears picked up sounds foreign to my upbringing; the stale, dry, wind picking up loose gratings of sand over cactus and rock, a little convalescence of chimes. The short-hair on my body felt the susurrations of the land as it rolled from the east near where the desert became savanna became forest. I yawned, the heavy daylight was creating an exhaustion I had not yet experienced; a drowsiness from a far away corrupted mold mysteriously reaching through the levity provided by thousands of miles. A hand of spores and I had fallen asleep.

I did not sleep long before I was roused by the nudging of the white haired man sitting across from me. The sun still lay high in the sky and I deduced I had been asleep for no more than one hour, judging by the distance the sun had traveled. It was still a tormenting heat as little cloud cover provided the sun free reign this day. I drank deeply from a waterskin at my waist and grimly noticed how much water I had left. I had no reason to worry, really, as I had picked up a few potions from an apothecary I stopped at when I first arrived in Aldenard. I picked them up at the sage advice of another — a leathered skinned and weather worn– traveler who also journeyed under the sign of Oschon. To have to resort to using them before even reaching Ul’dah was a bad sign. We had not exchanged names, and had spoken no more than the obligatory greetings, each of us greeting the other in their own unique way. Yet, he had been observing my water situation and the apparent alarm written on my face.

My head had rested at a weird angle and now contained a stiff section. He motioned to me to listen and to be silent while I rolled my knuckles across my neck. He had heard something which had disturbed him. I listened and poked my ears up and around. It wasn’t what I heard which alarmed me, it was what I didn’t hear. He was right, the once cacophonous wildlife shuttered and stalled till only the eerie creaking of the wooden cart broke the silence. The driver of the carriage noticed the silence as well. The Lalafel sat upright, scanning the horizon in all visible directions. The chocobos were riled and scratched warily at the ground, throwing and shaking their heads in their distress. I was surprised when what assailed the carriage was not dusty, smelly brigands, but, rather, dusty, smelly troops from Ul’dah. I was relieved at their appearance, but the older man in front of me cursed under his breath at their arrival. They stopped the carriage, two of them riding martial chocobos stopped in front of the carriage, while two soldiers circled one on each side.

“Just a routine inspection,” a soldier with a single blood stained pauldron said as he came around to the back of the carriage. The other soldier stopped at the back, as well, and hopped off his chocobo with an experienced ease. His face was hidden behind a sanguine colored guard leaving dull yellow eyes barely visible behind the visor of his helm. This one snickered then said, “Yeah, just a routine inspection,” as he began poking around the luggage with a recently polished battle-worn two-handed axe. To my naivety, I thought it truly was a routine inspection: stopping incoming carriages and poking around for what could be contraband goods.

The silence of the surrounding desert had now been accentuated by the lewd jeers and sophomoric chides. The driver sat uneasily, answering questions about where they departed from and their reasons for entering Ul’dah. The old man in front of me, wearing a style of clothing I had never seen before: high lapel with a run of gilded buttons down the middle not folded down, rather out and away from his body; a silk scarf frayed around the edges, yet still immaculately white; a sky-blue choker which held fast a stretched diamond shaped gold pendant, likely a congratulatory medal or personal memento of some kind. He was anxiously fidgeting, coyly trying to look over at the soldier poking around through the goods. The soldier stopped poking around and instead came around to the back carriage examining us all in kind. The children were still sleeping and no one had bothered to wake them for the routine inspection. I did not notice it then, but it was curious the children had not woken up. I was keeping to myself, pulling stray threads off my black woolen vest, trying to blend in to the surrounding cart. He looked unsatisfied, haven’t seeing out of the ordinary. He glanced around at the vast desert around him, then glanced back at me, a menacingly gleeful expression in those eyes.

“You there, Miqo’te,” the guttural voiced rummager said, the cruel glint in his eyes never wavering, “what are you called?” I fumbled for words as I had become the center of attention. I could feel the blood rushing to my face and I mumbled something incoherent in my panic. “What was that?” He said, raising his voice. “Speak up, Miqo’te,” saying Miqo’te with such loathing it stung him to even utter the name my people were called.

“Rok,” I uttered, raising my head and projecting my voice, “I am called Rok Vanooq by my people.”

***


(Unfinished)