Friday Friends – Jeanette O’Hagan’s ‘Arkad’s Children’

From Arkad’s Children – which is released today!

Lutan Jakan nodded to the Tamrin guard and pushed open the makeshift door of the stables. A musty smell of old hay, manure and sweaty fear pervaded the dim interior. Patches of light filtered down through the rotted thatch roof and warped walls onto a hardened mud floor. A rag tag bunch of girls and boys ranging from ten to sixteen sat around the on sacks, piles and boxes or sprawled out on sleeping mats.

‘Listen up, youngsters. This is Dinnis, another lost waif. Hasuk lad, show him the facilities and a place to doss down for the night.’

Even in the filtered light, it was obvious all present had the bronzed colouring of the Tamrin. No blue-skinned Nolmec here. The palest was the colour of pig ivory, others like dark wood. His sister was not among them.

Dinnis caught the Lutan’s hand. ‘Ista?’

‘Don’t worry, lad. She’s safe.’ He turned and left, the door rocking shut behind him.

Karis …’ No, not Nolmec. Dinnis searched his memory for the Tamrin greeting appropriate for this situation. ‘Ah, greetings friends.’

A few glanced his ways, their faces unsmiling. No one moved or spoke. Most of the group looked tough; barefooted with work roughened hands and blunt speech. They gathered in clumps around the fire, dipping their maizebread into bowls of hot bean stew, gulping it down with few words.

‘Here, eat this.’ The boy Jakan had named Hasuk thrust a clay bowl at him before turning and joining his two friends at the far end of the stalls.

Dinnis ate his meal a little distance from the fire and alone, before finding a spot to sleep.

Next day, as the sun rose in a dirt-smudged sky, Jakan arrived with another officer, a lutan by the shape of his oval chest plate and headdress.

‘Okay boys … and girls. I’m leaving with the main army and will arrange for your care once I get to Tarka. You will be travelling with the baggage train. Lutan Zaven will look after you. There will be no free rides—you need to help.

Lutan Zaven directed the orphans to help dismantle the tents and pack up the heavy equipment and supplies. By mid-morning, the vast bulk of the army had packed up and was streaming through the outer gate heading towards Tarka far to the south, leaving behind the units under Markan Haka command.

By the time the baggage train made its ponderous way through the gates and along the southern road, the pale washed out disc of the second moon Argenti chased the burnished orb of the sun in the western sky.

‘We just got here yesterday and have to pack up again,’ one of the children muttered.

While the youngest of the orphans perched on the back of some of the heavily laden yarmas, the older children walked. By the evening, Dinnis was relieved that they had left so late in the day. His feet stung with painful blisters and his legs felt like heavy boulders had been strapped to them.

Lutan Zaven strode towards them. ‘You older boys, dig latrine trenches for the night—over there.’

‘You’d think we were peasants,’ a burly boy about eight grumbled.

Dinnis picked up the digging tools and followed.

And then, after another solitary meal, he scrubbed the pots with some of the others. When he rolled himself up in the blanket provided and he fell to sleep instantly, despite his aching limbs.

As the days marched by, his feet toughened and his leg muscles hardened. Despite the ostracism and the teasing from his companions, the long daily trek with the added morning and evening tasks became easier. The luminous smile of the young woman with the silver skin haunted his dreams and Dinnis’ doubts began to melt away. Jakan had said that Ista was safe and the Kapok had instructed Jakan to bring him to Tarka. There would be a good reason why Papa couldn’t speak to him at North Pass.

The high mountain vistas and village scenes unfolded before him and Dinnis forgot the pain of blisters, his aching legs and overwhelming tiredness in wide-eyed wonder. In stolen moments at the stronghold, he’d read in Akrad’s books of such faraway places and dreamed of visiting them. It wasn’t quite as he’d imagined it, but soon he would be in the fabled city of Tarka with Papa.

This is from Arkad’s Children the first book in the Akrad’s Legacy series – and ties in with previous short stories and novellas in the world of Nardva by Jeanette O’Hagan — The Herbalist’s Daughter, Lakwi’s Lament, Heart of the Mountain, Blood Crystal.

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