by Resha Caner
Table of Contents
Part 2 appears
in this issue.
Chapter 1: Worm Hunter
part 1 of 2
Mythic religions often find their place on dusty basement shelves, or they are reduced to children’s stories. Never would a mature adult give them serious consideration. Jargos was forced to accept this as a young Graseq boy. His father’s dinner time stories seized his imagination, demanding to be accepted, yet the realities of life on Calmeron demanded something else.
Jargos believes a dragon has destroyed his father’s workshop, and he sets out to save his family and his village. Instead, he discovers something much worse — humans have arrived to take his planet. From the moment of their arrival until he is a young man, Jargos fights the humans and becomes the leader of the Graseq. Though his eventual defeat seems to be the end, it is really the beginning.
Condemned to the slave mines on the moon of Nemesis, a human sacrifices his life to save Jargos. As the number of enslaved Graseq grow, Jargos lays plans to make them into a new nation. Then someone arrives to show him that the old stories are not as empty as he once thought.
Jargos had already killed several dragons this day, those despicable worms that savaged his people, and his success was making the task rather boring. In fact, killing dragons had become so mundane he was considering a change of career.
“I think I shall be the Royal Thane now,” he said.
“No, please,” Lise, his little sister pleaded. “You promised me I could have a tea party when you were done playing dragons.”
Jargos rolled his eyes, and his shoulders slumped. “Alright,” his breathy words were full of exasperation. He hadn’t really made a promise. His exact words had been, “If you play dragons with me, maybe I will play what you want later.” But Lise was cute — too cute. She had only seen five Daalzuq, but she knew how to be cute.
Their mother spent hours combing her long, curly, strawberry hair and singing to her. Lise would sit patiently, and then, looking up with her large azure eyes she would say, “Ena, I love you,” and their mother would reward her with a sweet.
Jargos thought it was disgusting. It just wasn’t fair. Jargos never got any attention. He was just an ordinary Graseq boy with ordinary flat red hair and ordinary green eyes.
Jargos suffered through Lise’s tea party with much sighing. The little girl didn’t notice the difference. She set up rotten walnut shells on the old stump Hach used to cut firewood. Leaves from the scraggly bushes served as napkins.
“Drink, sire! Your tea is growing cold!” Lise chirped as she poured dirt into his shell.
A moment later Ena pushed open the shutter of Hach’s workhouse and called out, “Supper in two minutes! Wash up!”
Jargos was gone before Lise got out another word.
Black smoke poured from the chimney of the adobe workhouse, small embers glowing from within like fireflies sparkling on a warm night. Hach needed a hot fire to bake his pottery, and he wouldn’t risk putting the workhouse near their sleeping shack, nor would he spare Ena extra wood for a stove. So, she always made their meals in a small oven built off the main furnace.
His excitement diminished when he saw the evening fare. They were having greens and broth again. Hach hadn’t gone hunting. When Jargos looked up, his father was staring at him with sad, tired eyes. Jargos tried to smile. “I could go hunting for you tomorrow.”
“You’re not old enough,” Hach grumbled, and seated himself on his mat. Lise came in and their troubles seemed to leave his mind. His face brightened. “Sit for the prayer, Lise.”
“Yes, Hach,” Lise dutifully replied, seating herself and bowing her head demurely. Jargos rolled his eyes. Lise often mocked the prayers with her friends. She was so two-faced.
“Lord, bless the nourishment your earth provides so it may strengthen our bodies,” Hach chanted.
“Veren,” the rest of the family echoed to end the prayer.
Jargos wrinkled his nose, then slowly began to imbibe the broth, trying not to taste it.
“So,” Hach tried to lift his voice, “where were we?”
Jargos perked up. He stopped with his arm bent and the bowl half way to his mouth. His head tilted up to engage his father, and he said, “Zander was surrounded, but he had the great sword.”
“Ah yes,” Hach feigned a sudden recollection. “Something dark and foul was after him.”
“The Vaanou,” Jargos whispered as he imagined demons living in the clouds, waiting to swoop down on dragons and steal him away.
Lise looked timidly out the open window at the oppressive red clouds that hovered over them day and night without ceasing. “Are they real?” her voice quivered.
“Yes, stupid,” Jargos sneered.
“Jargos,” Ena said sharply. “Apologize.”
“Sorry,” he said without meaning it. “But the priest says they’re real.”
“Uh,” Hach hesitated. Ena pursed her lips, giving him an I-told-you-so look. He cleared his throat, quickly returning to the story, “The red clouds turned black, and light was stolen away. Zander resisted with the light of his sword, and he smote the black ones in great numbers. The fell and wretched creatures could not withstand his righteous wrath.
“Then, from the midst of the darkness it came, towering until it appeared it could touch the sky, formed vaguely in the shape of a lion, but with wings that beat the air and claws which sent splinters of light through the shadows. About its head streamed a fiery mane, and it carried a blood red sword and a whip with silver tipped tails. Its black skin was cracked with fire, running like blood filled veins through each fissure in its flesh.”
“A dragon!” Jargos exclaimed.
“No,” Hach leaned in, the muscles of his face straining against his bulging jade eyes. A strand of ochre hair fell onto his forehead from his nearly vacant scalp. “Worse. It was the king of demons, Rakshab-An.”
A knock sounded at the door. Lise screamed, vaulting from her seat into Ena’s lap. Jargos jumped and knocked over his bowl of broth.
Hach released a deep barrel laugh, and then rose to answer the door. Jargos laughed at himself as he took a series of breaths to try to calm his heart. He turned toward Hach, who stood at the half open door, talking in low tones to an unseen visitor outside. The potter looked back over his shoulder, and barked an agitated command to Ena, “It’s time for the children to go to bed.” He stepped out and quickly closed the door.
“Ena,” Jargos whined.
“Now,” her voice was edged with irritation. As she goaded the children toward the sleeping shack, an idea came to Jargos. Lise did not fail him, whining and stalling as Ena tried to force her into her bedclothes. With Ena distracted, Jargos slipped back into the yard and sneaked to the workhouse. Hach and the visitor had gone back inside, and Jargos crept to the door to listen.
“I am offering you good money,” the visitor’s voice made the statement sound like a threat.
“I won’t do it,” Hach replied.
“It’s just one statue,” the visitor protested. “If you would just swallow your idiotic pride...”
“It’s not pride,” Hack explained. “I’ve told you this before. I won’t make idols.”
Jargos felt a hand on his shoulder, and he jumped. Ena stifled his cry with her other hand, and leaned down to whisper into his ear, “You should be in bed.” Jargos nodded his agreement. He dared not push any further or the consequences would be gruesome.
“Ena,” he leaned in close to his mother’s arm, “why won’t Hach make statues for the man? It’s just a statue.”
“Exactly,” Ena answered.
“Some people pretend gods lives in those statues.”
“That’s stupid,” Jargos huffed.
“People pretend many things that are wrong,” Ena said. “It’s alright to pretend, but sometimes it goes too far. Take Hach’s stories — a fun way to pass dinner.”
“But the Vaanou are real,” Jargos interrupted. “And dragons are real.”
“No, Jargos,” Ena corrected. “Dragons are not real.”
Despite Ena’s claim, Jargos dreamed of dragons. Their claws lashed out at him hungrily; their wings beat him furiously. One after another he brought them to the ground with a great sword, and their bodies shriveled back into the lowly worms from which they had sprung. Then the great dragon came — the King Dragon, and his fire was too much. Jargos could not escape the fire.
Ena came rushing from the other room still in her nightgown. Jargos could see the fearful white of her eyes against the dark interior of the sleeping shack. An orange glow seeped through the cracks of the skin hanging over the doorway. As she pushed it aside to rush out, all he could see was orange and yellow flames where the workhouse had once been. The skin dropped back into place before Jargos could see any more.
He rose from the floor to head for the doorway, but Lise began to cry from behind him. “Ena, Ena!”
Jargos halted half way to the door, turning back and forth from the orange glow to his sister. He heard the frightened chorus of his parent’s voices. He could feel his sister’s terror. He began to tremble, and he hated the feeling of fear. He hated being scared.
Lise needed him.
“It’s alright,” he called toward Lise. He crossed back to the pile of blankets on the floor, and sat next to her. She was sobbing so heavily that her words came in half garbled sounds. Stiffly he held out an arm and placed it over her shoulder. Instantly she leapt at him and threw her arms about his neck. Jargos could feel wet, warm tears. Even though she was hopelessly inconsolable, somehow having her next to him gave him comfort. He felt braver by trying to give comfort to Lise. “It’s alright,” he repeated. “It’s alright.”
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Copyright © 2007 by Resha Caner