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|10-12-2005, 06:53 PM
It was beautiful, it was perfect, and it wasn’t what Faren had asked for.
She could appreciate the ring, of course, and the sentiment that came behind it, but it wasn’t something she wanted – she itched to run her fingers over the slight but intricate workings on the outside of the band and the carvings on the inside, but it wouldn’t be polite to touch a gift and then return it. She couldn’t fathom the ways of the young boy who was giving it to her, either – he wore bandages around his wrists though they were very clean and well tied and didn’t look at all like they had a purpose in binding a wound, and he had endless other strange details about him. She had no idea where he’d come from or why he was giving her this beautiful ring instead of the few coins she’d asked for. She’d even seen him clinking the like into the palms of others and pocketing more than that; she knew he had the proper way of paying her for the thick canvas that now draped his thin shoulders.
But still, it was marvelous. There was surely something there that she could study. No one was stupid enough to jail up strains of magic in jewelry like the great magicians of the north were supposed to do, in stories. Instead there was a small strand of a great and foreign culture in worked metal, as well as skill. Faren could appreciate hard work and skill.
“No, keep it.” She put her palms up flat in front of her and shook her head, but tried to seem friendly still. The boy was so pale – he was like that naturally, she knew – but he just seemed so frightened naturally as well, and she didn’t want to scare him away. He kept the ring balanced between two fingers but pulled the rug closer around him, and Faren was glad that she’d buried a few extra protection threads in the middle of the weave. The boy looked like he could use all the protection he could get, even if it came out of her pocket. She was well off enough – she’d like it if the boy paid her, but if not that was just the way it was going to go. She could afford this exception.
He closed his fist around the ring reluctantly, and she wondered how old he was. Seven? Maybe nine? He was quieter than a child, his face was less round and he looked like he could understand very well. But he was so small, and he carried so many coins in that little moneybag attached to his belt and didn’t seem to notice it. He didn’t reach for the money, though, just looked down at his feet. The cowl pulled up over his head flopped down and shadowed his eyes.
“You can understand me, but not speak like me, right?” It was probably the way he’d known to come to her for cloth and carpets in the first place; there didn’t seem to be anyone translating, or even anyone that he knew. And it would have taken a long, long time to be able to demonstrate to him that she wove in special wishes along with cloth with just crude impromptu sign language. It was something that was easy enough to understand when someone was at her tent, seeing her workings and wares, but not before. He had picked out what he wanted by just listening and pointing, and smiling when she got it right.
Now the boy nodded. Could he even speak at all? She couldn’t remember if she’d heard his voice or not – she had been very absorbed in that morning’s work, and in the traders’ tales the nights before. She was learning from them.
“Can you tell me your name?”
Nothing. He furrowed his brow. Maybe it was a phrase he hadn’t learned yet.
“What are you called?”
This time he turned his head to one side. It was a peculiar pose, like an intrigued animal. ‘I shouldn’t be thinking about him that way,’ thought Faren.
She pointed to herself, then thumped her collar-bone with a fist. “Faren.”
The boy copied her motion. “Rayn.”
She tried to write out her name for him - she scrawled the letters in the cushy soil with a sharp fire stick, the black charcoal mixing with the dirt and making her lines more distinct. But Rayn shook his head again. He couldn’t make out the letters, just the sounds that came from her mouth.
Then she realized – pictures. She could talk to him better through pictures; people did it at the trading outposts all the time when they couldn’t understand each other and no one would translate for them. She drew a little version of her tent, with a slim horse alongside it, and asked Rayn about his home, laying down the stick. He picked it up quickly, and began to sketch a long series of things – clusters of points she assumed to be mountains, and some had dark holes in them. Then he pointing to something else, a doorway that he’d drawn, with a giant bird next to it. There were more giant birds all around the tops of the biggest mountains.
She got another stick and drew a picture of a loom and a carpet, with swirls in it just like the ones she’d perfected for those on the rug around the boy’s shoulders. She drew a fire and people around it, and sat back to watch as the boy began to tell her the story of what he did every day in his far-off mountain home.
Faren spent the night ‘talking’ with Rayn, teaching a few words of her language and learning the same few of his. She let him sleep in a corner of her tent, giving him some extra curry stolen from the fireside meeting; he could swallow it better than a good many northerners. The next morning he had woken very early, beating the dawn and seeing the gray pre-morning light span out across the steppe. She took him out, showing him some intricacies of the land he wouldn’t see were he just passing through – for some reason, she felt like a devoted teacher whenever she was around the boy.
She showed him some of the small animals of the dryer lands, and the horses. Coming back from around the ridge and into the back of camp, she went looking for her own – she wanted Rayn to see her horse. She made sure that he was sitting far back against the rise of the ridge, so he wouldn’t get underfoot.
Faren whistled, and a light chestnut head poked its way around the far corner of her tent, and the horse it belonged to stepped out around and butted her lightly in the chest. His mane was the same bleached color as the desert sands that blew in during winter, and the rest of him matched the lands she lived in – an earthy brown-red color. He shined considerably more, though; one of the boys must have taken him out and then groomed him extra for the favor. Faren would let anyone ride Ringer so long as the horse trusted them and thought them capable. He was a sensible animal.
“Ringer, ha!” she said suddenly, and on cue, he took a few quick steps backwards and reared up, whinnying proudly. As his hooves made plumes of white-yellow winter dust puff, she put a hand on his bridle and swung herself up and around. It was a neat trick how she mounted so quickly like that, and from what could have been an inopportune angle, and if you asked her to teach you she couldn’t show you how she did it. She just did; it was part of her blood, or at least she’d learned it far too far back to remember just how and when she’d learned. She wondered what would happen if you removed a twin brother of a desert boy and brought him back after so many years time – who would be the better rider? Was it really in their blood after all? As she stretched, then laughed as Ringer started trotting impatiently, she figured that it had to be.
When she pulled around the front of the tent to the camp center, however, she didn’t see the usual arrangement of people and horses, but rather a small company ready for travel. Three ponies were packed for overland journeying and five mounted riders looked ready for some good time in the saddle. Her uncle Zander was first and foremost, with his horsehead helmet – it was the top of the skull of his first horse, who had died in a desert scuffle years before. The mane, still attached to a small piece of skin left on the skull, streamed down old Zander’s back.
“Oh good. I hoped to leave soon, and here you are.” Zander motioned toward the front of Farent’s tent. She’d forgotten – he had mentioned it almost a fortnight ago, it was really too long to remember – but she was going along with the traders as they swept to the Northwest this year. She had even packed up a good many of her materials and older wares, but there were so many carpets around the tent…it was hard to tell what was what, at times.
“Oh,” she said, looking back at Rayn, who had come around the tent carefully. She wouldn’t bother to ask – he would just come along. She could ride with him in the saddle, most likely. “Yes, I’ll finish now.” She patted Ringer on the cheek, and dismounted, to gather her things.
She was optimistic, and wanted to see what the traders always talked about. She hadn’t left her area in years, the closest being occasional ventures into the scrubby forest some miles to the west. They were going all the way through that, this time, and if weather was good as far as the northwestern plains.
Rolling up her things took some time, and Rayn waited patiently like he had done before, and like before not saying much either. She found that what she had packed in the initial excitement of weeks before was already on one of the stouter ponies. Strapping her personal things in a bedroll to the back of Ringer’s saddle, she lifted Rayn up and then swung up herself, more slowly and carefully so as not to hit the boy.
Zander could be seen to nod under his great helm, and as he turned to head out, his wife Shona smiled at Faren. Faren was glad; she liked her aunt very much, and was relieved that no one was put off too much by her not being ready, or about Rayn. In fact, no one seemed to notice him much. Perhaps it was his quietness.
When they had left the camp behind, Rayn opened his hand again to reveal the ring to Faren. He put it close to her face, then tried to close her hand around it.
This again, she thought. It’s going to be an interesting trip.
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