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Authors: Linell Jeppsen

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BOOK: Onio
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“Onio,”
she said softly. “Why aren’t you in bed resting?”

The
big male shook his head. “Too much pain to rest. I came for more medicine.”

“Hey,”
Mel looked up into his eyes. “I never had a chance to thank you for saving my
life. And I’m really sorry you were whipped for doing it.”

“You
have nothing to be sorry for, little human. I knew what I did was wrong. I saw
your vehicle coming…I could have been gone before you ever saw me, but….” He shook
his large, shaggy head. “I was curious.” He smiled and his teeth flashed in the
dimness. “I am always curious. I have been in trouble for it many times before
now.”

Mel
studied Onio’s profile for a moment. “I know it’s none of my business, but I
heard you talking to your grandmother…you’re part human, aren’t you? That’s why
you look like me, I mean…more like me than the others.” She trailed off in
embarrassment.

The
big male was watching her and his eyebrows were lowered in a frown. Mel gulped.
Suddenly the sasquatch seemed much more dangerous…less a goofy teenager and
more like a fierce young warrior.

“Did
I say something wrong? I’m sorry if I did, I—”

Onio
laid a large hand on her arm. “You are not wrong, but you are not right either,”
he murmured. “You say that you alone are human, but that is not right. We are
all human beings. My kind…,” he gestured at himself, “and yours. Big humans and
small, see?”

Mel
nodded. “Okay. At least now I know why you and your grandmother refer to me as
a small human.” She paused and added, “Onio, did you wish to meet with some of
the small humans, because of your mom?”

Onio
shook his head. “No, it is impossible. My grandmother is right about that. Whole
wars have been fought over our peoples’ inability to mingle together peaceably.
I never should have let you see me. I have put my tribe at risk!”

He
stood up and walked toward the fire. Mel said, “Onio, would you bring me some
water before you go?”

Onio
glanced quickly her way and walked to the opposite side of the cave. She could
hear water being poured. Although her throat was parched with thirst, she laid
back down with a sigh of fatigue.

Onio
brought her a bowl of water and helped her sit up to drink. His face was very
solemn as he gazed down at her.

“Now
it is for me to apologize,” he whispered. His beautiful hazel eyes brimmed with
tears. “I am very sorry I injured you with the touch. I never meant you any
harm. My grandmother says, and so it is true…I am foolish! I act first and
think about the consequences later! I am like the rabbit that pokes its head
into the badger hole…chomp! That is a dead rabbit now.” Onio hung his head.

“My
mamma is very different from the others,” he continued. “She is smarter, yes,
but weaker too. She does not do so well with the soul song and my people do not
like her for it. She has never fit in.” He shrugged. “It is stupid, but just
once, I wanted to see a small human. One that is not half-breed…crippled.” His eyes
got big and he slammed a hand against his forehead in disgust.

“See…not
just foolish—STUPID!” he cried.

Mel
couldn’t help but smile. Onio had just remembered that the human he caught was
crippled, and now, on top of being in trouble and in pain, he was caught in an
awkward social position as well.

She
reached out and touched his arm. “Hey,” she said. “That’s all right, Onio. There’s
no way you could have known.”

He
shook her hand off and stalked toward the far wall. Crouching down on his knees
he replied, “I must learn to do better. My grandfather the king grows weaker
every day. I know I have disappointed him many times. Drak moves against me as
well, and gains more and more followers as time goes by. My stupidity only adds
grass to the flames.

“I
must leave you, little human, with my sorrow for the pain I caused you. I hope…I
hope that you will survive the touch and be happy amongst your own kind in the
days to come.”

He
rose to his feet and made to leave, but Mel had one more question. “Wait, Onio.
Are you a child?” Asking this question of such a huge beast seemed almost ridiculous
to her, but Mel wanted to know and remember as much about Onio as she could.

The
big male smiled and said, “Well, I am young, yes, but not a child. I am thirty
turns….” He paused, frowning. “Thirty years,” he concluded.

Mel
gasped. “Thirty years old? That’s not young at all! That’s getting old!”

Onio
laughed. “Old maybe for the small humans, but very young for us. Most of my
people live three or four hundred turns.”

Mel
stared at the sasquatch for a moment. She honestly felt a little like Alice in Wonderland,
having fallen through a hole in the earth only to wake up with sasquatches instead
of white rabbits and dormice.

“Thank
you for talking with me, Onio. I’m glad I met you…I hope it all works out,” she
whispered. Her eyes were closing despite her best efforts to stay awake. She
felt like she’d gone ten rounds with Mohamed Ali…and lost.

Onio
bowed his head, “I am happy to have met you as well, little human. I wish you
only happiness….” He stiffened and looked over his shoulder. Two dogs ran into
the cavern…the old shepherd, and the small terrier. They were followed by Rain,
Onio’s grandmother, and two male sasquatch guards.

“Grandson,”
Rain announced. “Go and prepare yourself to meet with your grandfather’s
brother, Ironhands.”

Onio’s
eyes grew wide for a moment, then he straightened his shoulders without wincing
with pain. “I will go there now,” he replied.

“Onio…wait,”
Rain said. “Normally I would tell you to go uncovered…to display your wounds of
testing with pride. I think though, under the circumstances, you should wear
the cloak of office. Ironhands has come because he heard you brought the small
human into our midst. He is here to challenge Bouldar for leadership of the
tribe!”

The
old female was dignity personified, but Mel could sense in her body language
her fear and horror of what was to come. Rain held her arms out in a gesture of
defeat.

“I
know that you are hurt, Onio, and thus at a disadvantage, but I think a
challenge will be issued this day!”

“A
challenge I will meet with resolve, Grandmother!” Onio was growling with rage.

The
two guards lifted their spears and howled with anger and pride. Mel realized
that although Onio had enemies, he also had a loyal following of his own. He
turned to her and bowed.

“Once
again, little human, my apologies for any harm I may have caused you. I wish
you well. Goodbye.” He turned and was gone.

It
seemed very quiet after Onio and the guards left. Mel looked to where Rain
stood alone by the fire.

“What
happens now?” she asked.

Rain
looked at her and replied, “Now we wait for my grandson to die.”

Chapter 6

 

Mel’s
mouth dropped. “What? Why?” she gasped.

As
Rain turned toward her, Mel saw that tears ran down either side of the old
female’s nose and she was visibly trembling.

“Onio
is a fine man,” she replied. “But as you know he is only half sasq. The other,
maybe bigger part of him is small human. Onio has not the strength to defeat
Ironhands or any of that kings warriors in battle, should Ironhands decide not
to fight for himself. The only thing that I can hope for is that Bouldar puts
an end to his brother’s latest bid for power.”

Rain
walked to the far side of the chamber and rummaged around on a shelf of rock.
Straightening, she walked over to Mel and handed the girl her clothes.

“Put
these on. If Onio is killed, custom dictates that he be buried immediately.
Then our tribe must merge with Ironhands’s bigger, stronger tribe. He will want
to leave soon after the burial.”

And
it might be more appropriate if the small human is buried with some clothes on
rather than half-naked
, Mel thought. She didn’t know how she knew what
Rain was thinking but she heard the words as plain as day. Gulping with fear,
she sat up and pulled her t-shirt over her head. Even that small act made the
world spin in dizzying circles.

“Here…let
me help you,” Rain muttered. The old female helped Mel into the jeans she had
been wearing when she drove home from the hospital. Her touch was surprisingly
gentle when she smoothed Mel’s socks over her feet.

“Oh…man,”
Mel gasped as another lightning bolt of pain shot through her skull.

Rain
studied Mel’s tennis shoes and their laces dubiously before throwing them into
a corner.

“I’ll
be back in a moment, child. Lie down for a little while.”

Rain
left the cave and Mel lay back with a sigh. One minute she felt fine; scared,
sure, but equally confused and amazed at what was happening around her. Then
those nauseating waves of pain reminded her that she might not survive the
experience at all. She closed her eyes, swallowing hard to keep from vomiting.

A
few minutes later Rain returned with a pair of soft, hide slippers and a cup of
something hot and noxious smelling. Mel wrinkled her nose at the smell.

“Drink
this,” the old female demanded.

Mel
stared askance at the bowl. “What is it?” she asked.

Rain
glared at her. “It’s medicine. Roots of the cedar tree, sap from the holly,
honey and manure…drink!”

“Manure?
You mean…poop?” Mel exclaimed. “Eeew…no way!”

Rain
bared her teeth and grabbed Mel’s face in one big hand. She wormed her thumb
and middle fingers into the girl’s cheeks and smiled as Mel’s mouth opened,
despite her best efforts. Tipping Mel’s head back, Rain poured the concoction
down her throat.

“Gah!”
Mel choked as tears filled her eyes. Her stomach writhed like a snake and then
miraculously, she felt better. She blinked up at Rain and smiled.

Rain
smiled back and turned at the sound of running footsteps. Mel saw the two
guards enter the cave.

“Pardon,
but your presence is requested in the outer hall.”

Rain
froze and said, “My grandson, is he—”

The
big guard, a purebred giant with dark gray and silver fur, shook his head, “Rain,
Onio is fine, for now. There has not been a challenge issued yet. However,
Ironhands would look at the small human female now.” He glanced in Mel’s
direction. “Is she well enough to walk on her own?”

“I’m
all right,” Mel declared, sitting up on the pallet. The guards looked at her
with surprise.

“The
small human is already adept in using the soul song,” Rain murmured, “but not
well enough to walk all that way without help. Please carry her there, Wolf.”

The
big guard nodded and picked Mel up as though she was as light as a feather,
although Mel was five feet nine and weighed around one hundred and forty
pounds. Despite her protests, Wolf told her to be quiet and strode out of the
cavern, down a long tunnel and into a huge fire-lit cavern.

The
cavern was enormous, easily four thousand feet in diameter. There were three
large bonfires and small sconces dotted the walls here and there with
flickering gouts of flame. Mel saw that there were at least a hundred sasquatches
in attendance. They were all staring toward the far wall where Onio, Bouldar
and their guards faced off against another group of huge male warriors.

The
sasquatches parted rank to let Wolf, Rain and Mel pass. The other guard, whose
name was Nimi, stayed at the back of the cave.

Although
being carried into the chamber made Mel feel like an idiot, it did give her a
chance to study the king’s brother, Ironhands. What she saw made her shudder
with fear. There was no way Onio would be able to defeat that sasquatch or his
guards. They were enormous, and all of them carried fierce looking weapons like
long wooden staffs, clubs, and gnarled branches.

Ironhands
looks like a bit of a dandy
, she thought. His chest was crisscrossed with
braided leather strips and he wore long, elaborate pants embroidered with
fearsome scenes of blood and battle. He also wore a sort of crown made up of
vines, beads, bits of colorful stone, and molded wood encircling his mighty
brow, casting his eyes in shadow, making him appear a giant, compared to the
brother who sat opposite from him on a large tree-trunk.

Wolf
came to a stop in front of Bouldar and bowed. “The small human, Bouldar,” he
said.

Rain
had brought Mel’s fur blanket. She laid it on the floor of the cave and stepped
away while Wolf set Mel down on it. Then she moved to stand behind her husband,
the king. Onio’s mother, Petal, was on her knees in front of Ironhands. Mel saw
that her lips were moving so she tried to listen with her newfound abilities
but only caught one word in three, or four.

She
understood now why the other sasquatches scorned the half-breed female. They
simply could not understand her. Mel’s heart wept in sympathy; she had felt the
same thing her whole life and knew just how frustrating it was to try to
communicate with people when you could not talk.

BOOK: Onio
7.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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