036 Those Who Watch the Sky - 36
36 – Children Seeking Their Own Sky 3
The city of Foothold rolled out before Melody in all of its glory packed to the brim with more people than she could imagine living in one place. From rag strewn beggars to armored knights, nobles in suits and lavish dresses to peasants dressed in hose and tunics. All of these people and more flooded the streets in a plethora of peoples from icarans and nāti to any number of chimeric races. The city was alive and flooded with color from the people to the buildings both inside and out. Boulder had little interest in any of it but still amazed Melody as he led her onto a streetcar that was moving along its tracks down the cobbled road.
“What is that doing here⁈”
“Someone, do something!”
“Will the lot of you all stuff it! Mouse ‘ere ain’t no damnable beast! She’s a Sa·B·er right as the sky is blue and Icarus’ pearly eyes are up in it!”
Boulder was not one to deal with the panicking of the general populace and raised his voice well above the ruckus. His voice was commanding and sure enough everyone on the trolley quieted before his bellowing voice. Boulder’s shouting did not convince the patrons to stop looking at Melody however and she shrank back under their stares. Her very human reaction seemed to be enough to convince the people of the truth of Boulder’s words and pitying whispers soon flew about the streetcar.
“A Sa·B·er is she?”
“Poor thing, and so young.”
“No less look at her. She’s no hands or arms to her name and who wouldn’t mistake her for a monster.”
“Sorry about this ‘ere mess Mouse. We Sa·B·ers may keep the land safe as we can, but respect goes just as much with fear and plain repulsion.”
“It’s alright… It’s actually going better than I expected…”
“What’s that Mouse? Ye’r going to have to speak up if you want people to hear you.”
“Well then that’s just fine. Now then, if ye’r wings are goin’ be under mine you’ll need to get a lay of the life of a Sa·B·er and I ain’t explainin’ without a drink and a meal.”
True to his word Boulder’s route through Foothold led him and Melody to a bustling tavern. After knocking about some heads, calming the patrons about Melody, and chatting with the owner he took a seat outside. The tavern like many restaurants that Melody had seen traveling through the city had an external counter that vastly increased the amount of patrons they could serve by covering a large swath of fenced off road in parasol covered tables. It was at one of these that Boulder seated himself though Melody was certain the padded booth seats inside would have better supported his girth. He seemed content enough however as a serving maid brought him a flagon of ale and was soon followed by more serving maids carrying heaping plates of gravied meat and potatoes. The meat made Melody drool but she was being defensive and simply stood by the table waiting for Boulder to say something again. As she waited her eyes drifted up the hill they had descended to the massive cathedral complex atop it from which she had emerged into the midday sun.
“No appetite Mouse? Hard to believe with the way yer droolin’ and yer stomach is yappin’ away like some alley mutt.”
“I’m not dumb. If I eat anything I’ll owe you and I don’t have any money so that means you could take me further away from Link.”
“I’m gonna shoot a guess that this ‘ere Link is one of the kids you came ‘ere with, no? Doesn’t matter either way though as ye’r under my care now regardless Mouse. Choir’s orders. And being a Sa·B·er of the church that means you answer to them regardless. Bein’ the youngin’ that you are though that may not make much sense to you right now. Something that should make more sense to you though Mouse is that by getting you out of thar you already owe me as I operate out of this ‘ere city which means you get to stay ‘ere. If I hadn’t answered Bird’s request you’d be packin’ to be shipped off to whatever city the church thinks could use some fresh meat anywhere on the face of ol’ Icarus. So, seein’ as you already owe me Mouse you might as well sit down and eat.”
“Wrong? Me⁈ Ol’ Boulder Shrew is wrong? Please tell Mouse.”
“I do know what a Sa·B·er is.”
“Real~ly? Now this ought to be somethin’ special. Why don’t you go ahead and tell ol’ Boulder what ye know.”
Washing the meat and potatoes down with a swig of his ale Boulder looked with amused expectancy on his face. Pouting and furrowing her brow Melody turned her back on the chimeric man and tried to keep her temper in check. She was not as ignorant of her situation as her silence implied as she recognized how much stronger than she was Boulder was and had followed along so as not to anger him. Even then he somehow got under her skin and she wasn’t sure if that was because she found him or her situation annoying or was just on edge because she knew nothing about Link and Elliot’s condition. Taking a deep breath to calm herself Melody turned back around to face Boulder and take her focus off of the crowds staring at her.
“A Sa·B·er is a person infected and transformed by a Foreigner but retains just enough of their humanity and sense of self to not be a monster. Those who achieve this state with the help of the Cardinal Church are in turn obligated to protect the people from monsters born in the same way as themselves. When there is no immediate Foreigner threat Sa·B·ers will take jobs protecting merchants and salvagers to provide a lifestyle for themselves of their own choosing and beyond the minimal lifestyle afforded by church stipends.”
A slab of meat slid off the fork Boulder had nearly to his mouth and he stared dumbstruck at Melody. Melody just continued to pout angrily at him gripping the ground tightly with her talons. Laying his fork down carefully Boulder picked up a napkin and dabbed it at his mouth as he composed himself. Setting the napkin back down he looked at Melody and smiled condescendingly.
“Read that in a book did you Mouse? Good work memorizin’ it mind. That’s a useful skill when dealin’ with Choir which ye’ll have to do as long as yer with me.”
“What’s wrong with having learned from a book? I like books.”
Boulder burst out laughing at Melody’s claim and smacked his thigh. Chortling as he tried to contain himself he looked at Melody discerningly.
“Because a book ain’t the real-world Mouse. Ye even know what any of that fancy speak you just said means.”
“Hrmm! It may not be as simple as I like things but I know what it means. The Foreigners make people and everything into monsters and Sa·B·ers being people who didn’t fully turn into monsters kill them to keep everyone else safe. The church gives us money for doing it but if we want more money we have to help other people and get them to give us money. It’s really simple–”
“But hard Mouse. It ain’t easy at all, and considering yer handicaps…”
“I’m not handicapped. The wind answers my call and I can hunt well enough to take care of myself.”
“Ye can hunt can you Mouse? That might just be the first thin’ you’ve said that has genuinely interested me. Yeah, a skill like that is real helpful in this job. Alright Mouse, I think I might actually be able to take a liking to you as more than a kid if ye can prove it. In fact, I’ll sit right here and enjoy my meal and give ye a chance to earn yer share just so you feel better. And being real generous like that I am if ye really impress me I’ll take ye under my wing as more than just a favor fer Bird. It’ll be a genuine apprenticeship and I’ll help you get over yer shyness and actually understand what yer up against with the Cardinal Church making ye a Sa·B·er. Dependin’ on how thin’s really go I may even ask Bird to look into the fate of yer friends.”
Melody’s eyes finally lit up as mention of Link and Elliot was made and Boulder knew he had her. His smile broadening he shoved a slab of meat into his face and waited for Melody to take the bait.
“What do you want me to hunt?”
Answering that question proved to be a mistake as Melody not only brought back two monstrous birds that were larger than she was, one in each talon no less as she descended from the sky on her return, but also chaos and panic as she dumped the monsters on the ground before Boulder. Naturally her actions also drew the guards and Boulder found himself having to explain the situation both to the guards and tavern owner. When he was finally able to address Melody again she was laughing so hard she had curled up on the ground from lack of strength.
“Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha! ~♪ You were being so tough and mean and yet now you’ve had to apologize to everyone ~♪ I’m sorry ~♪ I don’t mean to laugh, it’s just so funny! ~♪ Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha! ~♪
“Glad to have finally broken the ice with ye Mouse, and I guess I brought it onto myself after all.”
Though plainly aggravated Boulder managed to smile at Melody as he fell into his seat and threw his feet up on the table. Running a hand down his face he peered out of the corner of his eyes at the dead birds that the soldiers were dragging away. Leaning back he turned his glance off into the mountains above Foothold and smiled toothily.
“Yer fast too Mouse. Real fast. Those damned thin’s only get that big further up the peaks then down ‘ere by the river. And you not only killed one but two of the damn thin’s. then you went and brought ‘em both back at the same time even though the’r bigger ’en you. Only thin’ really bothering me is I didn’t see any signs of a struggle, just yer claws in ther necks.”
“Well, I don’t know a thing about how they fight and you wanted me to be quick so I had to dive in and out ~♪ But I still wasn’t really quick.”
Standing back up Melody looked up at the sky and Boulder acknowledged her self-depreciation. It was only shortly past midday when she left but now the sun was halfway to the horizon and it was already summer. The next time Icarus’ eyes were fully opened it would be midsummer and the days would be shorter than they currently were. For as long as it took Melody though it was still faster than anyone else could have hoped to achieve without a vehicle or airborne ambushes and Boulder was thoroughly impressed and a man of his word.
After being served a heaping platter of meat that left her eyes shimmering to look upon, Melody began her apprenticeship under Boulder. She was an extremely quick learner as well which made it a lot easier for Boulder to translate all of the book knowledge in Melody’s head into practical knowledge. Keeping her out of the city libraries and filling her head with more book knowledge than practical knowledge proved a more daunting task as Melody was astoundingly skilled at stealth and Boulder learned that the hard way. Over the next tenday as Icarus’ eyes finished closing Boulder ended up learning the location of nearly every one of them as he constantly had to track down Melody after their daily hunts and sometimes in the middle of the night as the harpy had little concern for visiting hours. With how much changed in that tenday Boulder could barely believe that it was only that much time that had passed when a reminder of who he worked for soon reared its ugly head.
Copyright © 2019 Joshua D Tarwater
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