by Martina Luise Pachali
Chapter: One Chapter
Date Posted: Oct. 2003
Author: Martina Luise Pachali
It was my most reliable possession, the one thing that made the difference between life and death.
It brought me through the desert and to the land of plenty, but only when I got there I finally found out how worthless it really was.
I don’t know what crime or misdemeanour my tribe had been banished to the desert for; I only know that they huddled miserably around a few measly watering holes in the middle of the big, featureless waste where humans had done incomprehensible damage ages ago.
Our tribe made only very few harlings, and of those that came to pass, many died horrible deaths before they were fully grown, so I was the pride of the tribe, and the apple of my hostling’s eye. Of my sire, I know nothing, apart from one fact: that mysterious thing had once belonged to him.
When I was grown and had passed through my feybraiha, I became restless from seeing the same hara every day, so I started wandering in the desert to find others. I never did at first, but there were many strange creatures and weird places to occupy my unceasing fascination. To make sure I would return, my hostling gave me my father’s heirloom: the flask.
It was made from a strange, thin substance that was light as a feather and let the light shine through. My hostling said it was once wholly clear so you could see oddly distorted images through it, but it had become scratched and opaque with use. The most ingenious thing, though, was the top of the flask: there was a clear covering to keep out the dirt and dust over a grey top that could be screwed off for filling the flask with water, and that in turn sprouted an clever device that you could pull with your teeth, and then the water would flow, softly, gently, into your mouth. You’d shove it back, and then your water was secure; if you had the time or a free hand, you could put the clear cover back on. All of it was made of that same light, thin and unbreakable material.
Around the top, there was ancient writing. Much of it was rubbed off, and of the little that remained, most of the words didn’t make any sense at all. “Industrial Estate, Drogheda” was one of the phrases that were still legible. I knew from stories what an estate was – the Varrs had them, beyond the desert – but “Industrial” and especially “Drogheda” was utterly mysterious to me. It would have to be a very powerful and mighty estate, I imagined when I pondered this riddle during my childhood, with very many powerful and advanced hara living there, on green lawns and never-ending fountains of water, who’d make such wonderful things by the power of their very advanced minds, but only very occasionally, when the mood struck them. I was sure that was what “Industrial” meant. “Drogheda”, though, remained unclear to me – perhaps the name of the har who’d made it?
In consequence, when my hostling gave it to me I was appropriately overawed. He said I’d be able to drink while I was running, and that it might make the difference between life and death for me when I met an especially voracious animal in the desert, or even – Aghama forbid – strange hara.
He couldn’t tell me, though, what a Drogheda might be.
So I took the wonderful Drogheda flask and went out into the desert, refilling it from dribbling water holes or from the skin I was carrying on my back. I sometimes went out for days, and one day when I returned, my tribe was gone.
I never learned what had happened to them. There wasn’t a droop of blood where our tents had been, let alone piles of dead bodies. There were some discarded tent pegs and a torn water skin or two, but that was all.
An indistinct trail dragged away through the sand, but a wind came before I could follow it very far. I huddled under my cloak and only took a few drops from the flask every hour for days, it seemed, until the wind died down and I emerged into a sparkling new and shiny world. All the dunes had shifted, and what with our camp gone, there was nobody to crawl out of the sand and tell me where I was, so I started wandering, the flask the only thing that stayed with me to remind me of where I’d come from.
You know how all the tribes tend to clothe wandering hara in their own garb? That happened to me as well, of course. The gave my new clothes, new cloaks, new water skins – but I kept the flask, showing it to nobody on the way.
Finally I came to where the Varrs were, only they were called Parasiel now, and weren’t wild any more at all. They took me in and kept me, and so my education as a civilised har began in earnest. The flask, though, the mysterious and powerful reminder of my past, I kept to myself.
A wise and gentle Gelaming har who’d taken my caste education in hand finally solved the mystery.
He asked me to tell him of the most important thing I owned so he’d know who I was. He expected a book, a picture, a sentimental keepsake, I guess. He was infinitely astonished when I brought out the flask.
Back in the world of Men, he told me, drinks had been sold in such containers, with the top made to easily drink it, and then to throw the thing away. When he was a human boy, many, many years ago, he’d bought hundreds of those flasks with sweet and shining green or blue drinks in them, and discarded them all when they were empty. Drogheda, he said, had been a small, grey human town near a river on an island somewhere to the north-west of Almagabra, where the Gelaming lived. The only real mystery was how it had come over here to Megalithica, really.