Absulla and Urielle hurried to the rendezvous point in silence. The night felt close and secretive. Hendron paced under the yala tree, not nearly as quietly as he should, eliciting scowls from both girls when they emerged from the edge of the palace gardens.
“Quickly,” hissed Absulla, taking Hendron’s hand and tugging him behind her silent steps.
Urielle clucked in consternation when the palace alarms sounded. “I knew someone was watching,” she whispered.
Absulla pulled Hendron and Urielle into the umbrella of a tradiod bush and the three of them went still. A minute later, the pounding rhythm of riders could be felt in the soil.
“They’re on foot,” said a man’s voice. He was close, but the big tradiod leaves kept him from view. “They wouldn’t have made it far.”
“They won’t be able to hide for long,” added another voice. “Nobody abides thieves. They’ll be handed over by daybreak.”
Urielle shifted the weight of the egg resting against her back and stilled when she felt Absulla’s hand pressed against her in warning. The voices had gone silent, and Urielle held her breath. The egg seemed to grow heavier by the minute. And warmer. They heard a faint noise. No doubt a nocturnal creature rooting around for food. The riders thundered after it, and a few seconds later, Absulla had them running again.
How the tyrant king, Myrinan, had managed to persuade the captured giant to grant his wish was cause for realm-wide speculation. The fact was, the giant had done Myrinan’s bidding and created for him a creature so rare and mythical that even Myrinan’s pandering courtiers doubted that the egg was anything more than a giant hooba bird or the like. Absulla, Hendron and Urielle weren’t willing to take that chance.
“It’s moving,” whispered Urielle.
The egg was getting hotter, and whatever it kept inside had just shifted. Hendron took the bag from her shoulders and slipped it over his arm.
“Heavy,” he said.
Absulla clapped a hand over his mouth. They could hear the riders approaching, and there was no tradiod bush this time.
“Go,” said Urielle.
Absulla hesitated for only a moment, her eyes communicating with Urielle every objection, fear and regret that she could not say. She grabbed Hendron’s hand and they ran. Urielle sought around for the largest stone she could find and placed it in her pocket, then taking a breath for courage, she ran in the direction of the riders.
Absulla and Hendron heard the victory trumpets just before they reached the dark arms of the forest. Hendron slowed, his vision watering, but Absulla pulled him forward.
Her grip on his wrist tightened when it was apparent that he couldn’t navigate the woods in the dark without sounding like a herd of orbos crashing through. She pulled him to a stop and crouched down. Hendron knew better than to ask her what they were doing. Absulla had grown up in these woods and had the senses of the animals.
A few minutes later, they heard the footfalls of Myrinian soldiers. They were much louder than Hendron had been, and were still some distance off.
“Search parties, returning,” whispered Absulla. “I wonder how she convinced them that she has it,” she added.
The egg was burning hot now, the creature inside twitching with some regularity.
“You have to take it the rest of the way,” said Hendron, handing Absulla the bag. “I’ll just get us caught.”
“Hendron,” Absulla objected, but he could hear in her voice that she knew he was right.
The only way he could tell that she had gone was from the sense of absence he felt, and a chill from where the egg had been. He decided to stay put until the returning search party had passed, and then head back to see if there was anything he could do for Urielle. Absulla wept openly when she heard another victory song trumpet in the distance.
The bag holding the egg began to smolder around daybreak. There were still search parties on their way back. Riders, mostly, this far away from the palace. They didn’t concern her as much as the myrhawks did. She was protected from their gazes under the forest canopy, but the stretch between the trees and the ocean was wide and unbroken. If there were still myrhawks circling above, she would be discovered. A loud sound made her jump.
She felt hot liquid ooze down her back, and her first thought was that she’d been struck by an arrow. When she reached for the egg, however, she found that it was no longer whole. She knelt and opened the bag.
In the dim morning light, it was difficult to tell what she saw. It wasn’t a giant hooba bird, that was certain. The creature seemed to be shifting shapes from one to the next, none of them resembling much. So the rumors were true. Myrinan had indeed convinced his captive giant to create a chlotka, one of the most dangerous creatures ever to exist. With a chlotka in his keeping Myrinan would have been invincible. Removing this creature from his reach was worth all of their lives, paid many times over.
“Hello,” whispered Absulla.
The creature took on the semblance of her face for a moment, and smiled. Absulla couldn’t account for the tears that trailed her cheeks. This deadly, feared predator of myths had made its first encounter a smile. That had to be some kind of omen for hope.
“I’m taking you to the ocean, which is large and wet,” she said. “I want you to swim to another shore and never return here. This land is not safe for you.”
“Alone?” asked the tiny chlotka.
“I’ll protect you for as far as I can,” said Absulla, “but this land isn’t safe for me, either, and the ocean is no safer. You’ll have to protect yourself when I’m no longer with you.”
The chlotka crawled out of the bag, into Absulla’s arms. Its changing form was soft and warm, and Absulla wished she could offer the poor creature more than a few minutes of safety. Rising, she ran silently the rest of the way to the forest’s edge with the chlotka asleep in her arms.
As she’d feared, myrhawks carved lazy circles in the sky. She’d pushed to the outer edge of the forest, where a finger of trees stretched the closest to the ocean’s pounding waters. Even so, she wasn’t certain she would make it to the water before the myrhawks fell upon her. It would only take one myrhawk to lift her into the sky and wing her back to the palace. Or worse.
“Wake,” she whispered.
“Danger?” asked the chlotka.
“Yes,” she said, bracing to run.
“Are you my mother?” asked the chlotka.
This stalled her step. She huddled down and stroked the chlotka tenderly. “No,” she said, “but I wish I could raise you and look after you.”
“Dangerous land,” said the chlotka.
“Why do you protect me?” it asked next.
Absulla wasn’t sure how to answer. She’d heard that chlotka intelligence was one of the reasons why these creatures were so formidable. She was about to set this creature into the ocean, to wreak who knew what havoc on the world. She and Hendron and Urielle had stolen it to save their people, but she realized her responsibilities didn’t end there.
“I’m teaching you about sacrifice,” she said. “Three of us now have sacrificed ourselves to save you. This world is filled with danger, and predators, and the need to fight, but it is important to understand the equal need for love, giving and sacrifice in order for this world to be worth having. This land is ruled by fear. The ocean is rule by hunger. The next land you find will be ruled by something else. You are a powerful creature, and it is your responsibility to give the world balance. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” said the chlotka.
“My name is Absulla,” Absulla said suddenly. “The others were Hendron and Urielle. Remember us.”
“Yes,” said the chlotka again. “What is my name?”
Absulla thought it over. “Arelil,” she said. “In my peoples’ tongue, Arelil means hope.”
Arelil snuggled closer. Absulla gathered her courage, pulled Arelil tightly to her, and ran. She heard the myrhawk cries as they communicated their boon and plummeted toward her. Her feet splashed waves and she released Arelil into the shallow water, watching with a mixture of worry and pride as the tiny chlotka slithered adeptly through the waves. The wings were close and she chose not to look.
“Swim fast!” she called, “and do good!”
Arelil darted out of sight, into deeper waters washed over by larger waves. She looked for the chlotka’s tiny shadow as the myrhawks lifted her into the sky, but the ocean kept its secret. She closed her eyes and smiled.
~ ~ ~
King Myrinan, the last of the tyrant kings, was only on the throne for a short while. There are many theories as to what happened, and many more wildly fantastic legends regarding his reign. The only thing known for certain is that it ended in the utter destruction of his palace. Not even the foundations survived. The popular myth is that a host of chlotka descended upon him, drawn by his wickedness, but that is the fancy of legends and bedtales. Even if chlotka existed, which there is no evidence to prove, mythology tells us that chlotka are solitary creatures. Further legends of “the three,” are no more believable. Whoever these “three” were, the bedtales of villages throughout the land claim such an array of adventures and feats accomplished, from befriending chlotka and equally mythical giants to living in cloud palaces over the ocean, that it is generally accepted that “the three” is a construction of wishful thinking and over-imagination on the part of the commoners of the realm. What is known, is that King Myrinan’s fall marks the end of centuries of tyrants, and the beginning of a time of prosperity that stretches to this day.
Written by W. C. McClure http://www.wcmcclure.com. This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. Comments are welcome at http://www.farsideofdreams.com. Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends about this short story blog – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure. Thanks!