Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Gift Part Eleven

When Scott woke up the first thing he noticed was the aches all over and looking at his wife he knew she had to be feeling the same herself. Shandra had bandaged wounds from the troll's claws as well as other marks of battle. Just being a berserker took a toll on a body. Every time Shandra called that strength and power she was pushing her own body beyond what any human was meant to achieve. It was a state near to but greater than that of hysterical strength. Her senses became heightened, her strength, speed, and endurance greater and even her flesh became harder and more durable. In her berserk state her muscles stood out in abrupt relief. Scott had seen sword strokes leave as little mark on her as they would on a block of seasoned oak.
She paid a steep price for it afterwards and she needed rest and sleep most of all. He tried leaving quietly but she had the senses of a wild creature.
“Going to find if all those rumors about Traveler girls are true?” she batted her large blue eyes at him with wide innocence.
“You mean the ones about them picking your pocket, kidnapping your baby, or leaving babies on your doorstep? I've never understood that one, why kidnap children just to abandon them on someone else's doorstep? It makes no sense,” the blocky dwarf declared.
“Since when did rumors have to make sense?” Shandra asked with a yawn.
“Go back to sleep,” Scott told her, “I'll see if there's food ready yet and bring you something in bed.”
“Well, blankets and furs anyway,” Shandra replied. “We haven't slept in a real bed for a while.”
“Too true,” Scott mused, “I wonder if my memories of the Iron Guard sleeping on gravel beds are true?”
“Who knows?” Shandra replied, “We played in a game that was set in a regular round world one that orbited a normal sun and had a normal moon. A nice regular 'Earth analogue' like most rpg settings. Sure we had the odd adventure in Faery or under the dwarven kingdoms that might really have been in some parallel dimension but nothing is as weird as this inside out world. It's too big for one thing and the light-giver is just weird. As far as I have traveled the moon phases are the same wherever you are.”
“That can't be right,” Scott said scratching his thick black hair, “you'd think that since the light-giver has moonlit phases there would be a demarcation line somewhere along it a place where people wouldn't see the same thing no matter what.”
“Magic,” Shandra said quietly, “I killed a giant troll that presumably turned to rock sometime after the light-giver brightened to sunlight, Mom and Sean can heal people with a glowy-light-thingie, and you, you can lift up the back of a loaded wagon. All of us can do magic it just seems wrong to have to actually assign 'magic' to the natural features of the world; like a sun that isn't a sun or a moon or what's below the surface of this giant inside-out ball.”
“Zwergen lore says that it gets hotter and hotter as you descend. Maybe it's Hell.”
“Maybe this is Hell.”
Shandra looked tired and worried. Scott could see the night had hit her harder than she was willing to show.
“Nope, can't be Hell,” Scott smiled showing gleaming steel teeth, “Your mother hasn't taken charge of the place.”
Shandra laughed and started securing their sleeping gear, “You know what would be cool?”
“An actual sleeping bag?” Scott finished her thought for her.
“Yes, with real down filling and a thick memory foam pad to go underneath,” Shandra had the tone of a gourmand dreaming of a favorite meal.
“Oh, and big fluffy pillows,” Katie said from outside the tent.
“You could pretend to give us some privacy,” Scott scolded her through the canvas.
Katie poked her head through the unlaced entry, “What would be the fun in that?”
Scott was nearly too thick across for their small two-man tent and he had to turn sideways to get out the flap.
He groaned a bit and stretched his back as he stood up, “You are a pest in any world.”
“Sure,” his sister agreed, “but I am taller here!” she patted him on the head as she helped them take down their tent. She whistled as she worked adding a bit of her power to her tune and soon both Shandra and Scott felt better his bruises and scrapes from the night before fading. Shandra felt her energy increase and with it her mood bettered.
“Thanks for the help, Sis,” She said to Katie.
“My pleasure,” Katie said cheerfully, “I love being able to help everyone. I even closed up some nasty cuts and bites on Riddick and Dog. They were sure grateful.”
The three got their tent and gear stowed with the rest of the luggage while the Traveler caravan swirled around them in a colorful bustle of activity. Shandra or Branwen had traveled far in this world and always found the Travelers fascinating. They were like gypsies wandering here and there each caravan slightly different from the others. People who made their livings through cheerful larceny or entertainment equally, sometimes both at the same time, the Travelers were wanderers who really didn't even remember where their original homes had been and there was no end to the combination of races or really species. A goblin was not just a little green-skinned person with pointy ears and big green eyes. Nor an elf a human with pointy ears that might live for centuries or forever. That such different species were able to mix and have children was another proof that 'magic' underlay the rules of this universe.
This group of Travelers appeared to have a streak of goblin and a bit of elf in them. Most mixed species looked more or less human as did this group. Some looked entirely human like the Hetman Bela others had a greenish cast to their complexion or a slight point to their ears. Their clothes were brilliant colors even the poorest among them wore clothes that were brightly dyed.
Looking closely Shandra noticed that much of the clothing was cleverly stitched together from other garments. The jewelry ranged from copper and silver to bright gold. All of them except babes in arms wore jewelry and even some of the wee ones had tiny earrings or a bracelet around their little wrists. There was nothing subtle about the Travelers they sang as often as they spoke and most conversations were carried on at high volume with plenty of arm waving and exuberant gestures and expressions.
Shandra loved it as had Branwen before her. The Travelers were a mirror image in many ways of the Tuathe De. Where the Tuathe De had chosen their wandering life as triumphant angels the Travelers had started as refugees from wars they themselves had forgotten. The Tuathe De earned their living through hard work and animal husbandry and excelled at warfare and battle. Travelers avoided open conflict and earned their way and welcome mostly as entertainers. The Tuathe De claimed vast territories for their flocks and herds and the Travelers had no place to call their own save their always moving caravans.
Despite their many differences there were many similarities as well beyond what two traveling peoples would be expected to share. They both loved music and dance. Indeed, it was a rare Tuathe De that did not own or play an instrument of some kind. They enjoyed tall tales and loved to make their own. Branwen had lived a few weeks with a Traveler caravan in her fictional life and the memories still seemed odd to her as if the new experiences here were adding life and color to the memories that 'Sally' the computer had given her.
Shandra kept her long weapon strapped across her back when she was not readying it for use then she carried it in her hand. During the game it had never been an issue. Six feet of golden-steel and dragon hide wrapped with a cord made of wool didn't sound like much and if she let her unconscious guide her she had little problem maneuvering with it. If she became self-consciousness about it the weapon became almost awkward in her expert hands. She resolved to work through that as fast as she could. Anything else was a danger to herself and her family.
The Travelers were good to Bela's word and provided them with a grand midday meal. Everything was spicy, savory, or sweet or all three at once. Only the plain bread was flavorful and perfect for dipping into the mostly fermented sauces they provided in shallow bowls.
“Like goblin food,” Allan comment on one of the fierier sauces.
“When did you eat with goblins?” Scott asked then lowered his voice so as not to offend their hosts, “they're as likely to eat you as eat with you.”
“On an adventure I had, Frost had, with your mother-in-law, Michelle went and converted an entire tribe of goblins to Christianity,” Allan gestured with one of his lower arms. There's more than a bit of goblin in these folks' patois as well, loan words and such.”
“Hmm,” Scott mumbled around a mouthful of meat with plenty of crisp fat on the outside. He guessed it was tame beef not wild aurochs or buffalo, “Well this bunch is friendly except for a couple of kids who tried fishing in my belt-pouch.”
Harry in Your Pocket.”
“It was a movie before you were born, James Coburn, 'Speed' from Hard Times was a pickpocket. Pretty good movie and filmed in Seattle. Too many damned people there now.”
“I guess anybody left there is feeling pretty 'damned' after the quake,” Scott replied. Both men grew quiet consumed by their own thoughts of the world they left behind and the devastation that the quake must have left behind.
“I wonder if Sally saved anybody else or just the folks around us?” Scott asked.
“I don't see how we'll ever know,” Allan replied, “If they did get translated they're different people and have no memory of it. If they didn't they're hurt and scared or dead.”
“Volcanoes erupting all along the Cascades tsunamis slamming in from one side and mud flows and lava from the other all while trying to dig out from under your home or office tumbled down around your ears,” Allan said what they were both thinking. It sobered them leaving them more than a little depressed.
“Don't say anything to Shandra. Okay?” Scott asked the big man, “I don't want her worrying about that.”

“Yeah, not real cheerful dinner conversation,” Allan agreed.

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