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Authors: Linell Jeppsen

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BOOK: Onio
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“Be
easy, Wolf. I mean you and your fellow travelers no harm this night. What I
have to say though, concerns the boy known as Onio. It is important.” Mel saw
the king sway slightly. One of the guards closest to him stepped up and
murmured in his ear.

The
king glared and barked, “Leave off! I’m fine!”

Mel
studied Two Horses. She saw that there was a large bandage on the king’s belly,
spotted here and there with blood. Wolf was looking at the injury as well.
Putting down his war club he said, “Very well, we shall speak with you. Is
there a place we can go so we are not so exposed?”

The
king nodded and said, “We have brought a sledge. Normally I would scoff at such
a contrivance but as you can plainly see, I have suffered an injury recently. Let
us go…I think we have much to discuss and little time to do it.”

Onio
said nothing during this exchange, but it was plain to see he was keenly
interested in the other sasquatches, who in return, seemed interested in him as
well. Most of the enemy sasq studied Onio with bland curiosity, others glared
at him with hatred, and still others stared with friendly excitement.

Onio
reached down and helped her to her feet with careless courtesy. He looked her
in the eye and whispered, “Do not use soul song, Melody.” His voice seemed to
come from a million miles away. Mel marveled that she could hear it at all.
Looking around she saw that none of the other sasquatches that surrounded them
heard the exchange. She nodded and looked away quickly.

The
sasquatches walked for about a half mile until they came upon a long wooden
sled. Four of the biggest guards positioned themselves at the front of the
sled, picked up the handles and waited while the king, two of his guards, Onio,
Wolf and Melody climbed aboard. Then the sled moved ahead with a jolt. The
party headed toward the forest that loomed in the distance. They moved slowly
in deference to their wounded leader, but Mel was still amazed at how quickly
they sped across the ice and snow covered pastureland.

When
they reached the edge of the forest, the sasquatches abandoned the sled. Then,
after helping their wounded leader to his feet, they formed a single line and
strode through the forest on a game trail that Mel couldn’t have spotted if she’d
tried. Within minutes, they arrived at an encampment. There were two large hide
tents and a bonfire.

A
large tattooed female was turning the haunch of an animal on a spit. Her face
and arms were hairless and covered with scars. Each scar was tattooed with
pictures and shapes so that when she moved the art on her body writhed and
leapt as if it was alive. Her long hair was plaited and dyed as well. Mel saw
that there were streaks of red, blue, green and yellow in the female’s braids,
which hung down to her knees in colorful profusion. The female was human!

Mel
gasped when the woman turned to face them. One of her eyeballs was missing and
in its place was a jewel, perhaps an opal, which burned with a light of its
own. It sparked and smoldered in the socket like a living cinder. She walked
toward the king and grasped his two arms in her hands, smiling at him with
love. Mel realized that this strangely beautiful woman was Two Horses’s wife.

Mel
and her two companions hung back as the fierce old king embraced his mate. One
of Two Horses’s guards said, “Tanah, our queen, has made food for us to eat.
Two Horses will rest for a while now. Please be seated and take your rest. We will
call for you shortly.”

Mel,
Onio and Wolf sat by the fire and watched as Tanah walked by her husband’s side
into the larger of the two tents. Wooden plates heaped with roasted meat and
tubers were brought, and all three of them tucked into the food with gusto.

“What
do you think, Onio? Is this some sort of trick?” Wolf murmured around a
mouthful of food. He glanced here and there suspiciously, clearly expecting an
ambush from Two Horses’s soldiers.

Onio
shook his head, “No,” he replied, “No, I think that Two Horses needs our help.
He is a terrible and mighty king, yes, but I believe that he wants to talk with
us, not attack us. You know as well as I that we would be dead now if that was
his wish.”

Wolf
snorted contemptuously, but seemed to agree. Nodding, he said, “That he brought
his queen on this rendezvous speaks to his weakness. I wonder what animal dared
to ruin Two Horses’s reputation in battle.”

Onio
shrugged and continued eating. Mel wondered what they were eating. It was
slightly sour and greasy, but she could taste rosemary and sage on the meat and
the potatoes were tender and moist. She ate every bit of it and licked her
trencher clean like Onio and Wolf did when she was finished.

An
hour or so had passed when the king’s guard approached. “Our king would speak
with you now,” he stated. Mel finished wiping her face and hands clean with a
soft piece of woven grass matting. She rose to her feet, the fine meal
forgotten now that their audience with the northern king was at hand.

They
walked into the tent and saw that Two Horses was lying on a mat in the far
corner of the tent. Tanah was leaning over him. The worry on her face was plain
to see. Mel looked closely and saw that there was a large circular hole in the
king’s lower abdomen. She was no medical doctor but she knew a gunshot wound
when she saw one. She saw Onio’s eyes grow wide as he seemed to come to the
same conclusion.

“Come
and sit here beside me,” the king muttered. His face was white under the heavy
facial hair. Mel saw that some of the jagged edges of the wound were turning
green, and her stomach swooped with nausea. Tanah was mixing herbs into a bowl
of steaming hot water. There were a number of bloody washcloths soaking in the
bowl.

They
sat close to where Two Horses lay. The smell that rose off the festering wound
was hideous, but they moved closer when he gestured at them impatiently,
saying, “Come closer, I don’t want to yell.

“I
brought you here to tell you about what has been happening in my territory
these last few seasons. I know, Wolf, that your people and mine have made war
in the past. I do not defend my actions to you, or anyone. But I think that now
it is time to make peace and join together, as one tribe.” He started coughing.
The pain in his belly made tears start from his eyes. He gasped in agony.

Mel
turned to Onio and spoke as best she could. “Onio…the cillen? Um…the botix?”
Her words were garbled and she blushed in embarrassment. Onio stared at her for
a moment in confusion, but then his eyes got big as he realized what she was
trying to say. He reached over and grabbed his bag. Instantly, a giant spear
was at his throat. The point of it drew a bead of blood that was as bright as a
ruby.

“What
are you doing, half breed?” Tanah snarled.

Onio
held his hands up and said, “Mighty queen, there is medicine in my kit. Strong
medicine. I got it to help...well...I got it. Maybe it will cure your king!”

Tanah
gestured with the spear, “Show me this cin,” she said.

Onio
opened the leather bag very slowly. He rummaged around inside the bag and
pulled out the remaining antibiotics. He handed the bottle to Mel, who studied
the label and counted the pills inside. There were only twenty pills left. She
didn’t think that would be enough, but she shrugged and passed the pills back
to Onio with a nod.

Onio
handed the bottle to the king’s wife. Tanah promptly threw the bottle in the
corner of the tent with a snarl of disgust.
Oh well
, Mel thought,
we
tried to help. It’s not our fault that the woman distrusts us so much
.

Two
Horses stared at them with eyes that glittered with fever, but were wise with
understanding nonetheless. “Tanah, leave off threatening these people, please.
I need to talk to them without having you poke them with your spear. Also,
please bring me some water.”

Tanah
bowed obediently and walked out of the tent. The ailing king closed his eyes
for a moment. Then he said, “Please forgive my wife. She fears the loss of her
life-mate.” He sighed, and after a moment, began speaking again.

“Wolf,
I know that for many years your people and mine have been at war. It has been
our way…more territory, game and food has always been my goal. But the enemy
now is more terrible than any foe our tribes have faced before. They come in
giant black birds that swoop down out of the clouds and paint the ground red
with our blood. The small human soldiers spill out of those birds like bees
from the hive and chase my people down like vermin. At last count, sixty-three sasq
in the northern territories have been killed or taken by these warriors. My son
was stolen during the last moon. I was shot when I tried to take him back.” He
closed his eyes, which were bruised with illness.

“My
scouts tell me that you go to the High Peaks tribe. That is good. They need to
know Two Horses’s words, and heed his warning. The small humans are moving
against us. Any treaties of peace between our peoples and the small humans have
been forgotten with the passing of time. I would have ten of my best warriors
accompany you to the high mountains, Wolf. There are many hazards along the
way, as you know. There are animals, warring tribes and the small human armies
that haunt the roads between here and there.”

Two
Horses started coughing again; great, heaving groans of pain filled the tent as
the struggling king fought for air. Tanah, the queen, stepped back inside with
a bowl of water. “Go now, my king needs to rest,” she snapped, kneeling beside
her husband. Her shoulders heaved with grief.

Wolf,
Onio and Mel got up to leave. Before they stepped outside into the clear
mountain air, Mel stopped and stared into the corner of the tent. Onio held her
hand, but she broke free and ran over to pick up the discarded bottle of
antibiotics. She snatched the pills up and set them close to where Tanah
crouched, weeping beside her husband.

Tanah
did not realize the girl was there and continued to cry as Mel stepped outside.
Onio’s eyes gleamed as she stood beside him in the chill air.

“You
are very kind, little girl,” he murmured.

“It’s
too little, too late, I think. But it seemed cruel not to try,” she answered
silently.

She
looked around furtively, hoping that the other sasquatches did not hear, but
they were all busy, and Mel could hear their many voices mingling in the back
of her mind. Taking the hand that Onio offered, she went and sat with her
companions by the fire.

Chapter 12

 

An
hour or so after Mel and her companions left the king’s tent, a large male
approached. He bowed slightly and said, “The queen wants to speak with you, but
not until later on today. If you are willing to accept our company on your
journey we shall leave at nightfall.”

He
turned and left, leaving them alone by the fire. Mel used soul song to speak. “Onio,”
she asked. “Are the sasq nocturnal?”

Onio
smiled and shook his head. “No, not normally. You can understand though, why a
large group of travelers would want to take shelter in the darkness. There are
too many smalls…everywhere…during the light of day. We prefer to stay hidden if
at all possible, especially now that your kind is actively hunting us.”

Mel
winced and shook her head. “I’m sorry, Onio. Up until a few days ago, I never
even knew you existed. I’d heard of sasquatches, but I honestly thought you
were a myth, or fairy tale. Now to hear that soldiers are actually hunting you
down…well, it all seems unbelievable to me.”

Onio
nodded. “There is no need for you to apologize, Melody,” he murmured. “Up until
recently, the sasq people have lived in secret, and happily so. Thirty seasons
ago, though, something changed. A….” He paused for a moment, searching for the right
words. “A master soldier, a leader of other soldiers, began an active campaign
against us.” He glanced around furtively, apparently checking to see if their
conversation was being monitored. Satisfied, he spoke again. “There is some
speculation amongst the tribes as to what happened—”

Wolf,
who lay back on his rucksack and appeared to be sleeping, suddenly broke into
their discussion. “Tread carefully, Onio. The queen’s grief is raw, and she
will tolerate no disrespect from you, or anyone else for that matter.”

His
words were so hushed it was as though he hadn’t spoken at all. As for anyone
watching, it appeared as though the big male was only sleeping in the early
morning sunshine rather than carefully watching, and guarding against any
threat.

Onio
lowered his voice and continued. “Never speak of this, little girl, but I think
it best that you know who you are traveling with, and why the threat is so
real. Many, many seasons ago, a small human child was taken from her people and
brought to live with the sasq. That child was a little girl named Tonya, who is
now the wife of the king, Two Horses. Many people think that child’s brother is
the same soldier that hunts us so ruthlessly now.”

Mel
started to respond but thought better of it. It was plain to see that Tanah
loved her mate, and that she had made herself welcome and happy amongst the sasquatches.
How would this brother know that though? Did the brother, the soldier, know
that his sibling was alive and well, or did he assume the sasq had killed her?
It was sad and frustrating. Mel felt tired even thinking about the series of
unfortunate misunderstandings that must have occurred to bring about this state
of war.

BOOK: Onio
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