This excerpt is also about the Forager and takes place a few days later. It is quite a bit longer than the first snippet so remember to make a cuppa first. 🙂
The Forager was standing in line with six other foragers, a bag full of fresh herbs in its arms, when the gong for true-dark sounded throughout the eyrie. They had all been held up because of a dispute between one of the foragers and the head Attendant of Stores. The forager only had half a bag to hand in and the Attendant was refusing to pay.
“But only needing one last credit for rock lizard,” the forager cried. “Bringing extra half on the morrow!”
“Pah,” the Attendant said. “And if to’pak catching again?”
“Out of way Scar!” someone else called angrily. “Missing all food soon.”
Other irate voices quickly joined the first, and the Forager gripped its bag tighter, in case a scuffle broke out. It too was just one credit short of a rock lizard, and had no intention of losing its precious herbs in a fight. Peering over the heads of the iVokh in front, it breathed a sigh of relief when it saw the desperate forager finally give up and step out of the line.
As the iVokh limped past, emaciated arms clutched tight around its half empty bag, the Forager could not help noticing the scars tracing an uneven semi-circle around its right wing and leg. Bite marks like that could only have come from a to’pak. Scar was lucky to be alive. The attack must have happened close to the eyrie or it would have bled to death before the healers could reach it.
But why had they left it half crippled? Letting it live without the means to feed itself properly was no boon…
When the line began to move again, the Forager promptly forgot all about the scarred forager, and shuffled along with the rest until it reached the Attendant.
“How knowing so much about herbs?” the Attendant asked.
The iVokh’s tone was more curious than suspicious, yet the Forager still felt its bowels clench in fright. The Attendant was one of the original survivors of the eyrie, and obviously thought it was one of the newcomers from Five Rocks. Unfortunately, the rest of the foragers still waiting in line really had come from Five Rocks. And they thought it was one of the survivors. If it said the wrong thing now it could end up betraying itself to both groups.
“Great parent teaching,” the Forager mumbled, hoping the Attendant would not question it further.
“Ah… fever balm,” the Attendant said as it picked up a twig with pale orange leaves and sniffed. “Parent teaching self. Being apprentice healer before coming to Needlepoint.”
Then parent failing apprenticeship early, the Forager thought as it nodded politely. The obvious pride in the Attendant’s voice stopped it from pointing out that the twig was actually sleep balm, not fever balm. Both were an orange colour, however sleep balm smelled sweet while fever balm had a strong, astringent scent.
“Healers being pleased,” the Attendant continued as it handed the Forager three credits. “Next!”
Clutching its credits, the Forager bowed with exaggerated politeness before hurrying towards the communal feeding area.
By the time it reached the huge cavern next to the animal pens, most of the other iVokh of the eyrie had already fed. And of course, the plumpest rock lizards were gone.
When the bored attendant saw the Forager coming, it reached into the lizard cage and pulled out a scrawny specimen with one hand. Its other hand held a large sack that bulged with credits.
As the Forager handed over its own precious credits it could not avoid a moment of bitterness. If it had only thought to keep a few of the credits it had bartered for the gem shard, it would not now be breaking its back for the privilege of drinking lukewarm blood…
Lizard in hand, it retreated to an empty spot by the wall, and began to feed. It tried to drink slowly, to make the moment last, but all too soon the body in its hand began to shudder.
Pulling away with regret, the Forager licked every last trace of blood from its mouth before going to collect its ration of dried vegetables. It was halfway through the unappetizing granules when it chanced to look up, and recognized Scar standing next to the baskets that held the used bowls.
The iVokh had its back turned to the Forager, and seemed to be transferring bowls from one basket to the other. Every so often it would stop and examine one of the bowls for a moment or two before placing it neatly in the second basket.
Strange, the Forager thought as it started eating again. A moment later its meal was interrupted a second time when an angry shout sounded from the direction of the baskets. It looked up just in time to see an attendant bearing down on Scar, who was backing away with a bowl clutched in its hands. As it retreated it licked frantically at the inside of the bowl.
Realization hit the Forager at the same moment the attendant hit Scar, and pulled the bowl from its hands.
“Cripple!” the attendant hissed in disgust.
“Not being cripple!” Scar hissed back, but it did not try to approach the baskets again. Instead it wandered over to a group of washers who were still eating, and sat down just a short distance from them. If it was hoping they would leave something in their bowls, it must have been disappointed when they got up as a group and moved closer to the attendant.
The scarred forager remained where it was, staring blankly into space, as if it did not care.
…Apprentice looking like that…
The Forager’s stomach seemed to turn over as it suddenly remembered that night on the Spine, when the Apprentice and the other two had been disowned by the rest of the Traders. Of the three it had managed to save only one.
Was the Apprentice still alive? Had it managed to get back to the Settlement on its own?
Despite knowing it had done all it could for the young Trader, the Forager could not help wishing it could have done more. Perhaps that was why it rose to its feet and crossed the cavern to where Scar still sat, staring at nothing.
Sitting down a short distance from Scar, the Forager made a show of eating as it watched the other iVokh from the corner of its eye.
Scar did not come any closer, but nor did it move away.
The attendants were just starting to clean up when the Forager belched, and put its half-finished bowl on the ground by its side. Then it rose and walked away without a backward glance.