Christmas on The Orcus, non-poem style

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Christmas, Somewhere in the Galaxy.

The Magnatar class ship held in orbit around the “Super Earth” at forty-thousand meters above the ground.

Well above the traffic lanes for aircraft that flew from hither and yon. The crew of the large ship parked it with great care while the pirate King strode around his command center at the top of the ship.

The Orcus was a powerful ship that logged many hours in trips between planets for negotiations for trade and peaceful coexistence in the United Confederation of Pirates. A label put on the outlying colonies by the Empire. They were all self-governed and traded with each other with no control or supervision by the Momo Empire. No one could be happier than the colonists.

After negotiations, the crew was tired. They had stopped at a half-dozen planets, secured agreements with every one of them.

Delivered gifts of the one time of year that was held onto by the humans to bring out the best of each other.

Still, the bachelor King, Ruu’ta O’Danu. From a long line of scofflaws, scallywags, rogues and leaders stood with his arms crossed in thought.

One crewman, the weapons and flight space officer, his daughter was just born, it was her first Christmas for this family.

Another, her mother died in the last month (Against the Kings mandate that no one dies during this time.) but she stayed at her post. Even when the King performed his duties as Ruu’tan she acted stoic. But, the king noticed the trickle of tear from one eye that traced down Chief Sharan Nayaan’s cheek in quiet moments.

They were too far away for her to go home to bury her mother, weeks out at maximum speed.

Sigh The crew was beyond their limit. Each member of the dozen ship’s crew had needs to go home. Even if it was to make contact over the holidays.

He took a position on the bridge, behind his chair and had a thought.

“Chief, ship-wide communication to my station please.”

The surprise announcement. Everyone had a five-day pass. Two days before, the day of and then two days after the time on earth where everyone sang, and felt a little nicer.

King Ryan O’Danu saw everyone off, transporters operated full-time, three drop pods took the teams down to their hub points.

One lieutenant had a sky-surfer he had modified himself, and, to the laughter of the red-headed master of the ship, flew it off of the landing pad that he ordered deployed from the side of the ship.

From there, the crew all went to their homes.

Last on the ship, a Magnatar class heavy cruiser, was the leader of the planet himself.

King Ryan O’Danu, his line of leaders went back to an age of sail and wooden ships. The first pirate, family legend had it, was a child that was kidnapped by the government. The child became a king of the sea and started a family dynasty.

Today, the king was simply a man alone on board of a flying battleship. He strolled about the empty ship, the quiet undertone of electronics his only company.

Standing on the landing pad, he watched until Lieutenant Antares was no longer visible. When the King turned back to the ship, he noted a blemish on the hull. A meteor impact when they orbited the mining colony that suffered a storm of flying rocks when two ‘roids collided nearby. The teams that mined the raw materials needed their shields repaired and King O’Danu brought the royal ship in as a blocker until the colonists and ship’s engineers got the system up and running again.

It had been a busy time for the run-up to these days of family and reaffirmation of life and love. They had worked hard to renew contracts, deliver gifts and assure that peace would last for at least another month.

Now it was over, other than the pit on the side of his ship, painted to look like a Killer Whale of earth. The ship was a well known force, and it the pride of the master of the ship, never shot any of its weapons in anger.

He tapped on a palm-held display and a ladder built by the Rose Suchuk company rolled out on its own wheels.

An hour later, he finally finished. He’d leave the ladder out to climb again later and inspect the fit and finish of the repairs. (He was picky like that.)

“Computer, Celtic traditional drums.” He said when he made his way to the lounge of the ship. “Collapse ladder, but leave in airlock for further use. Seal Airlocks.”

He sat at the table in the lounge, drinking an eggnog with rum from Lats-Ute mining colony. Finger foods, from Gray Kitchens on his own planet.

He laughed. If the ships chief medical officer saw what he ate now, Lynn McCoy M.D. would issue a health report on him and make him do extra physical training.

His cup was empty, but the view was grand. King O’Danu shook his head, he was not about to give up his view and poured another jigger of rum, shrugged, then just filled the cup with the dark liquid.

An hour passed while he read novels of distant lands and other worlds when his eyes started to droop.

“Computer, nightwatch. Sensors on passive scan. Environmental shields only.” He sighed. “I might want to go out later for a view of the stars.”

The king thought about his telescope, he’d like to do some stargazing later.

It was important that the shields would keep a layer of warm, pressurized air around the ship for him to breathe if he used the pad outside.

Whooo… I’m buzzed. That was potent stuff. He rubbed his eyes, they felt dry. He had been up and going for twenty-hours straight today. In the last few weeks, he slept only three hours out of every twenty-four. They may live on a ship, but the force of his circadian rhythm still forced him to hibernate a few hours per day.

In the captain’s quarters, Ryan peeled off his carbon fiber body armor and crawled into the bed and pulled the dense, heavy blanket up to his head.

He liked a cool room with the a blanket.

His mind drifted, the ship was secure, he set the systems and he was safe. No one would dare approach a Magnatar class, fully armed battleship with evil on their minds.

Then.

The unthinkable!

Alarms sounded.

Ruu’tan and King of Garnet-4, then leader of the council of the Pirate Confederation. Ryan O’Danu lept out of bed like a cat spooked on Halloween.

Proximity alert Proximity alert Negative response on IFF

Lights were at full bright, which dazzled him for a moment. Ryan ran to his desk were basic control systems were active.

“Computer, display sensor contact.” He rubbed his eyes, but not out of fatigue.

On the display, the contact was small. Only enough room for, maybe, four people.

“Overlay readings with Orcus in relative center.”

A hundred-thousand feet lower but climbing rapidly. He thought.

No one is scheduled to come back for four more days.

The display glowed with a 3-D overlay.

“Magnify.”

Then he gasped.

The speed at this target tracked, it approached the ship, cannon and defensive systems came online.

Phased energy weapons locked on.

Crap!” King Ryan knew what the targets was. He had to shut this system off at the command center. The weapons command and control had not been transferred, only navigation. ran down the gangway and hung a hard right, skipping the lift, he climbed the emergency ladder next to it and flopped over onto the floor.

The main display showed with detail not available to him in his bedroom.

“Computer, display HD display on holograph map of 3-D space, overlay Orcus as relative center and give readout on altitude and direction.” He thought a moment. “Speed and mass.”

“Working. Speed is thousand meters per second, mass of two-thousand two hundred kilograms. Reading ten life signs. One biped humanoid, nine quadruped of the Rangifer tarandus.”

“Rangifer. What is common name of Rangifer whatever you said.”

“Rangifer Tarandus, common name reindeer.”

“Reindeer? Rein…” his eyes grew big. “Oh Jeeze!”

“Computer, disable defensive systems.” King O’Danu yelled. “Stand down shields, stow the guns.”

“Power down. Alert, target is tracking to landing pad.”

“Oh good.”

“Danger, there is an obstruction in on the pad.”

“I requested the ladder in the airlock.”

“Manual override engaged on brakes, ladder is stationary.”

Ryan slapped himself in the forehead and ran down the stairs, taking them two at a time. At the bottom of the stairs, he tripped over the automated janitor and ended up in a pile next to the door.

Outside, clatter and noise of a landing.

“Computer, send warning to contact, danger on…”

A voice sounded through the intercom.

“Ahoy in ..oh balls!” and the sound of a body hitting the deck.

King Ryan ran down the gangway, slipping on golden elf-dust and overshooting the doorway and ended up, for the second time, in a pile on the floor. This time near his quarters.

“Sorry, Nicholas! I was fixing a meteor hit and left it out for inspection later.”

“Yeah, you left a trap for me. I know!” The shaggy white mane shook as he laughed at the joke. “I have some deliveries to here. Special ones.”

“I don’t have anyplace good to put them, over in the lounge on the bar would work well enough.” Ryan said.

“What’s this? You don’t have a tree.”

“Trees on Garnet-4 are all protected, this is one barren rock, you know.”

“This planet is, but Sapphire isn’t, nor is Palindrome Prime.”

“Yeah, but with PP you can’t tell which way your going.”

“Ryan.” The old elf turned around. “I can take these all back and assign you a Cadet Elf. Her name is Moonbottom.”

“Eh… Moonbottom?”

“She sent a gift to the wrong person, supposed to send a puppy to one boy named Brighthill in the Carolinas of the US on earth. Instead, she sent the pet to a Miss Elisabum in London who had coal coming.”

“Coal? From you? She must have been quite bad.”

“No no.” He pulled out another gift from the bag he carried in. “She is very poor. A lump of coal could warm her for the season.”

“Must be some lump.”

“About a ton.”

“OH! Well, in that context, I can see that.”

“Now for your tree.”

“You do not have a tree in that…” He went slack-jawed and silent.

“An Immortal tree. Sequoia Sempervirens. It is rooted on the bottom, too. When you get this craft on the ground, plant this tree. It’ll grow. You also have a warehouse full of these to plant along the coastal areas as of now. You have perfect zones for it.”

“How did you get these trees? They are protected and endangered.” Ryan stroked the green, feathery growth that served as needles for the evergreen tree. “I didn’t think the government would allow them off world.”

“Yes, actually. They are spreading them everywhere. So you have a hundred-thousand seedlings, ready for planting.”

“Thank you, I will have people on it after Christmas. You are a saint.” Ryan paused and thought a moment. “How many gifts are you leaving?”

“You have quite the shopping list. Why do you ask?”

“Ooh, nothing. I am having alerts, the ship is compensating for the weight of your deer and sleigh.”

“Reindeer.” Nicholas corrected. “Oh, my back. I have another billion stops to do tonight.”

“How do you do that? You cannot even go a second per stop, that’d take you longer than thirty-years.”

“Thirty-one years, nine-months, one and a half weeks and one hour. Roughly.” Nicholas groaned again as he stood. “But we have the Einstein Time Exception Device. The rest of the universe slows to a crawl, while me and anyone nearby is sped up. Elf Bernard came up with using the formula eons ago.”

“Oh, one more thing.” He handed Ryan a box. “This is a special request. It keeps all the good wishes for you, nice and safe.”

He turned and the old man nearly fell to a knee again.

Yeah, he gets some medicinal drink. The King of Garnet-4 thought to himself.

“Nick, have a seat. I’ll make you something ot warm the cockles of your heart.”

Nick sat back in a chair with a sigh.

“I’m a little tired of milk and cookies tonight. I’d take a carrot.”

“Carrots are…” Ryan called from galley. “For the reindeer! And I have a whole bag for them.”

“As you wish.”

Ryan brought out a pitcher of hot water, a mix he had created a few days before of maple sugar, vanilla, butter and cinnamon, hot water and rum.

They talked far into the night, each comparing notes with the other.

“You might have been told you are autistic as a child, King O’Danu, but you have done such good things with other people. You have shown other people who there is no label that you cannot overcome. You should be proud of all the negotiations you have done.” The white beard shook as the eyes crinkled behind the glasses in rum-warmed humor. “That said, I have a lot of stops to do and I am going to have to do something special. I must go.”

King O’Danu picked up the heavy bag, it felt nearly empty, but if he shook it, it made a sound, as if boxes rubbed together.

“Don’t shake that.” Nick smiled. “At the rate you are going, you’ll have my job someday. You are a good man. Ruu’tan Ryan O’Danu, King of this planet.

Ryan walked with the older man out to the landing pad of the ship, where he climbed up into the ancient anachronism. The conveyance was a throwback of nearly five-centuries. But the antlered reindeer were muscular and, quite literally, glowing gold.

Adjusting his had, he slurred his words slightly.

“Good rum. Keep up the good work, Ryan. Merry Christmas.” He pulled at his beard for a moment and then said softly.

“Ho ho ho.” And Santa was gone.

Watching the old man disappear from sight. He felt an old familiar pain.

King O’Danu walked back into the ship and hit a button and the landing pad withdrew into the ship, and he heard an old familiar refrain.

“Merry Christmas to all, to all a good night.”

Ryan laughed as the airlocks were sealed.

“Good night to you, too, old man.” Ryan said to the 3-D map as it tracked the small target, accelerating up and away, already at the edge of sensor range at relativistic speeds. “Merry Christmas to you too.”

Ryan O’Danu, descendant of Keegan O’Danu, the first pirate of the family, turned off all the lights. And set the defense systems to alert status and went to bed. The rum had definitely gone to his head.

When he woke up in the morning, he would laugh as he got out of bed. He was so drunk, he dreamed that Santa came and visited. Which everyone knew was a figment of his booze addled imagination.

Which made the existence of a pile of gifts all the more difficult to explain in the morning.

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The Lunch break

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The lunch break

Doctor Nickosla Jones, Trauma surgeon of the St. Osmium Medical Center sat with a cup of coffee and a dry toasted english muffin. The shift had been severe. A cold night after a snow filled month and then a couple warm days.

Black ice had taken a toll on the average person. The latest victim, an elderly professor at the Ion University, walked out his drive with a bar to break up the ice, and slipped.

The on-scene EMS crews there put the unconscious instructor of physics on a helicopter and flew him straight to the St. Oz’s with posturing, and a subarachnoid bleed that they recognized straight away.

The only question was how long the injured man lay on the ice, out if sight of the house and anyone from the street. Only when his wife noticed he had not left for his early classes did she walk outside and discover her husband of two-millenia, two centuries and six-decades, laying in a freezing pool of blood from the laceration on the back of his head.

The surgery had been long and draining. The bleeding and fractures to the skull were not his only problems, spinal pressure from the neck injury complicated the treatment protocols as the teams moved from one problem to the next.

Finally, they closed and the patient went to the recovery, one alarming moment, the patient’s blood pressure dropped alarmingly, Nick and the other fellows rushed in, and after an intense hour, restored homeostasis as much as possible.

Professor Hecate Budd still was alive.

And Doctor Jones was tired.

No, not tired. Exhausted.

And he still had an hours drive home to do.

He was debating about going to the local hotel down the street and just logging some sleep for a few hours when he looked up and saw him.

White hair, a goatee that he kept well-trimmed and the affectation of the silver-handled cane that he started to carry in the long-ago past.

“Good job,” The one called Finis said, handing a latte to the Doctor. “Your patient will live, in spite of going horizontal for about a half-second.”

The goatee widened in a smile. Sparkling eyes shown behind the rose-colored glasses.

“Yeah, but he was fixing to die on us up there.”

“That medic on scene did a good job, he called it on the money by putting him in a helicopter and flying him here.” Finis nodded. “Besides, he had you. That made all the difference.”

A pretty young woman came up and tapped Finis on the shoulder and held up a tablet computer that Finis tapped on names.

“He has family waiting. Take his wife to him.” Finis nodded. “That will help.”

The woman nodded and tapped on the tablet.

Another name, she handed the tablet back to her boss and let him read it.

“This is expected.” Finis frowned. “You did not need to bring this to my attention. She will be leaving soon, family is on their way.”

“Sorry, the calls never quit.” He apologized to Nick.

“No, no. Don’t apologize, I know as well as anyone.” Nick sipped the fresh coffee and steamed milk.

“Yes, you do, as anyone in the center here knows. You are well taught and talented, but they are still overwhelmed.” Finis shook his head. “The hospital’s understaffed. When was the last time you took a day away from this house of craziness.”

“Yeah, well, it is the path I chose a long time ago.”

“Right after you nearly drowned.”

“Yeah. That was the first time I met you.” The doctor said.

“Well, it was a good meeting. It pushed you in the direction you took in school.” Finis looked around as the woman approached again from the hallway. No one noticing her except the two men. “You were a bit of drug-oriented rebel in those days.”

The woman spoke in Finis’ ear again, slipping the tablet into his hands.

“No, this is not right.” He shook his head. “His schedule is not yet finished, he’s scheduled for another week of therapy, then I have to go talk to him.”

She nodded and walked off to do her boss’s bidding.

“The same lecture I gave you when you were being stupid and jumped off that bridge into the river, I am giving to this young man. Unlike yours were at that age, his options are limited. He has not finished school and he’s twenty with a damaged liver.”

“He still could become something.”

“Perhaps you should talk to him.” Finis shook his head. “If I do it, he will have bladder incontinence issues for a week.”

“Not going to handle him gently, old man?” Nick chuckled and took a bite of his dry toast.

“Two things.” Finis gave a crooked smile. “One, I am always gentle. But I will get my way, no one says no to me for very long. And TWO, do not call me old.”

Nick chuckled. Both those statements were true. No one could deny the handsome gentleman that sat at the table sipping on his own latte.

Finis stood six-foot tall, his white hair hung to his shoulders when loose, but often he kept it pulled back into a pony-tail.

Broad at the shoulder, large of bicep and narrow at the hip, the effect was one of a Santa Claus that spent too much time in the gym. He really did not need the affectation of the cane he used to disarm people as a grandfatherly type.

And he was hysterical to listen to when he was working, always looking at a bright spot that no one expected and could poke fun at it.

Only once did he see the keeper of the cane become angry, it was not a pleasant thing to see. The doctor learned that the subordinate involved ended up being a yard watcher at a bone-yard.

Looking at a young man reading a comic book, Finis sighed at the graphic of a cloaked monster with a scythe in hand.

“I wish, someday that I could entrust this job to someone else, then I could talk to children of the views they find in those, “ Finis paused looking for the words. “Graphic novels. Are not entirely accurate.”

He shook his head.

“Well, people do have a fear of a lot of things.”

“Yes,” Finis agreed. “But as a doctor, do you find them afraid of you?”

“Sometimes. I tell them the truth and they don’t always like it.”

“When I tell them the truth,” Finis grumbled. “They don’t believe me.”

The woman returned with the pad, but this time she had a worried look.

“Mister Sierra.” The only words she said as she handed Finis the tablet.

“Of course, he has no one. I need to go talk with him.” Finis signed the tablet and handed it back to her. “Nick, you did a fine job. The professor will leave this medical center on his own power. Don’t worry. I am not scheduled to meet with him for a long while yet.”

Looking back at the comic book the boy held.

“Maybe I should change my cane for something else? They make the cane into an edged weapon and I have no face.”

“Or a skull.” Nick nodded grimly. “You have to admit, you have a tough job.”

Nodding Finis stood up, shaking Nick’s hand. Old friends, Nick had met him when he nearly died as a teenager, the white-haired, smiling man directed him to medicine to do so much good.

Now, Nick felt a little sorry for him. Overworked and under-appreciated, the Angel of Death walked out of the cafeteria. A soul that hated his job and took it to heart that no one wanted to meet with him.

Always scheduling family to walk with the dearly departed, or walking with someone so they never made the trip alone, telling jokes or having conversations with them the entire journey. He was good at his job, and he hated it so much.

Doctor Jones shook his head and got up, the irony of it all was not lost on him.

Incognito

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Incognito

You could call him old, his hair long gone white, but to call him elderly would be a mistake. Powerfully built, even if his waistline had shaped him more like a pear from too many indulgences.

He was heavy, his weight had yo-yo’d over the years, however never had it gotten to a dangerous level. He still could do more things than men that looked decades younger than him, including to the great smiles of his long supportive spouse. Married long ago to the same lady, often they worked without a break and she never looked back. He often brought her a present coming home from the “work shop”, as he referred to his company’s office. It had been a long time since he worked alone, now having thousands of his “Worker Elves” he would call them in the quiet evenings at home.

The stranger was enjoying his day out, walking along the edge of the ocean, the boardwalk was alive with sounds of summer and it made him smile.

Watching the people was a thing with him. It was how he ran his life and his business. It was all public relations, something he was good at- Making people feel good. Spying a pier that jutted out into the water, the gentleman walked out to enjoy the sun and sea, his eyes stinging from the strong sun that reflected off of the water.

The boards creaked under his steps. His keen eyes saw that the weathered wood was still sturdy for a few more years. He exchanged his glasses for the arctic snow-spec ones kept in his breast pocket glasses case. The titanium-nickel alloy — memory metal — wireframes were fitting comfortably.

He sighed heavily. The weather was so very nice, global warming? It felt good at the moment. A long harsh winter had battered his soul.

As head and CEO of the company he had sought to fix troubles in a world’s economy that was nearly as harsh as the weather had been. No one was happy, many had resorted to crime just to put food on the table.

Poachers, they would be called, and in some cases the Fish and Game officials looked the other way, family elders needing to keep families fed was more important than some laws.

Others — when only hunting for the pleasure, it became a case of exacting applications of the law, using the glory-poachers as examples to those that felt hunting for fun, leaving the dead and dying to rot in the sun, as justified.

“Economy and weather, the two are closely related,” Adjusting his hat. “After all.” He chuckled to himself in sad sighing tones.

Many a relief package, complete with food and, on occasion, items to help rebuild homes had kept him busy.

He even did the deliveries, with much anticipation. Saintly or wicked, when the people knew he was en route, they all anticipated his arrival with the wished for, needed and desired items.

The wicked were often disappointed when he lectured them or left a note, email or when he really needed to make a point, an empty delivery box.

On occasion he left a much undesired inventory.

One naughty American president had received a pen and his initials in a gold monogram embossed book of synonyms of the word “resignation”.

Still, this year seemed so rough and the misery dragged on, (And people would say he had it easy!) he enjoyed his job.

Walking along the pier, his hat pulled low to protect from the sun. It did seem more harsh than he recalled, but it was just days after the vernal equinox. The warmth of the sea and the sounds of the gulls overhead were much more soul warming than the icy-efficiency of the office that he hardly ever left.

No one to trust it to, no one was as willing to do what he did for what he charged governments and civilians alike — ZERO. It was a price that boggled most of the avarice and greedy companies, but always they wanted to have the same respect. No one was willing to do what his organization did, but everyone anticipated his involvement with great hope. When things were at their worst, it was known that his corps of workers did things that no one else in the world could do. The wishes of governments and people were sometimes unfulfilled, but most felt satisfied when the world was at its darkest.

And it was exhausting, the accountants were not happy — the outgo had far exceeded income to date. This year, disaster after disaster — Letters and emails of plea. He had to assign an entire department to triage the requests in order of need and worthiness. The request of the dictator and the other from the drug kingpin, placed at the bottom of the pile.

“More Money”… Seriously? For all the other requests that they deemed as having the greatest need, everyone broke their hump pulling their weight and twice that when they had to.

Management meetings that lasted far into nights as they hammered plans out for the following delivery schedules.

The arguments were epic, even the dark-haired manager from the south, Josh, who spoke with a soft voice that made his accent that much more difficult to understand to the old Celt, had raised his voice during one of the planning sessions.

A peaceable man Joshua, he had grown a beard like the CEO, but his facial hair was sparse and dark as opposed to the older leader’s once red – now white – hair.

He liked Josh, a funny man on occasion. Liked his wine a bit too much, however, and had a tendency to wear sandals to office parties. His obvious scars, long healed over, earned from an episode with fasteners that scarred his upper and lower appendages.

Always was organizing toga parties. For a kindly person he did like his parties. “TOGA! TOGA!” The soft-spoken ex-carpenter would often chant.

It made the old man laugh.

But now it was over for a while. Meetings were not scheduled for the foreseeable future, so using his RHIP (Rank Has It’s Privileges) he told the managers to hold down the fort. He was going for a rare holiday.

Looking about… THERE! The perfect spot to rest while the missus was getting her nails done. After that she was getting her “colors” done at some place called “Serge’s”. Not sure what that all entailed, but for a thousand U.S. Dollars, she had better sparkle.

“She always sparkles.” He laughed to himself as he stepped towards the weathered bench. “Oh! This does look like a great spot.”

Hard wood of a bench never felt so good. No one to call him on his mobile phone. (Left it in the office.) No one but a boy-child near him that was looking over the water with a pay-to-view binocular. His older brother had just given him several quarters when the youth wanted to watch a regatta out on the water, the multi-colored sails looked like so many exotic birds.

Naming off the different boats, the older brother laughed and ran to the next telescope stand. Betting with his brother with yells on the favorite boat, it was a good sound.

A great sound while he sat in the sun.

The warm sun. Oh the sun!  It relaxed him like he had not felt in months, and he felt himself nodding off. Dreams of the season to come.  But that was going to be different — calmer he hoped.

If only the Einstein Time Dilation Device had not malfunctioned last year — without the ETDD life was much more difficult that time. However, the department in charge was promising that life would be far better this year.

He hoped so. It was imperative to have the boss happy.

Vaguely aware of a clicking sound, he knew someone had taken his picture. But he ignored it and slept on, he had missed the sun like a flower might in the dead of winter. It had been so long since he had just relaxed and let the vitamin-D generate in his skin. Nothing was going to bother him now.

Because, for the first of June?

Santa was on vacation.
©2015 Dash McCallen all rights reserved

Dark Heart, Pure Soul 21. A Life Left Behind

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21. A Life Left Behind

Over the next few months, Kane met with other clan leaders who said that the other island across the channel had more raw materials that could be traded for and they needed a metal worker to replace one that had moved south with a daughter of a king. Kane thought it a good move, they could go across the water and then be lost in the mill of people of the age.

Bronwyn wept as she packed. This time was leaving for good. They had tried it once on the mainland, but the violence was testing both their tempers, highwaymen appeared time and again, attempting to take what they had traded for.

Kane carefully bundled his tools together in fine, waxed linen and placed them on the chariot that he had built to transport when he heard a small, familiar voice behind him.

Uncle Kane, are you leaving?” It was Daigh, still carrying his favorite sculpted toy bird.

Yes. Bronwyn and I are moving closer to where they mine for metals. We can trade much more cheaply there and make our useful wares and pretty things to sell.”

Will you come back?” the eleven-year-old asked. His curly brown hair framing his sapphire-blue eyes.

Only if you be good. You will know I have been here on that one night, when you have waited all year for new toys. I’ll sneak in and leave you and your friends something.” Kane winked.

You ever break a promise.” The bright eyes of the young man who believed in the demon-in-hiding.

Have I yet failed you?” Kane kneeled to look in the boy’s eye on his level.

Daigh softly laughed and shook his head, cheeks blushing as Kane found him out in doubting the hero of the village. Kane was one to keep promises. If Kane said it, gave his word. It would be so. If he did not give his word, he would do his best, but in the words of Kane “No promises.” which meant that there was a chance that he would not be able to do what he had hoped to do.

Kane stood up, checked and tightened down a braided leather rope, immensely strong, Daigh once saw Kane use what he called a pulley to lift a log on to a chariot to move it into the village where he made a huge dugout canoe, for the bonfire that year, with the death of a nearby King, they placed the body into the hollowed out log and then floated out on the sea. An arrow was lit and shot into the oil-soaked pile of branches upon which the King’s body lay. A funeral to which there was no equal that day.

But now, Kane and Bronwyn, the creator of such tasty treats in the kitchens and on holidays would go with Kane and live a life in another part of the world.

One woman who had whispered to Daigh’s mother one evening when they thought that there was something wrong with Kane and Bronwyn.

They are not with children and are not getting old. It is strange I say.” She whispered one night.

They could be tricksters among us.” She was one that was always having babies, so Daigh did not understand how they had tricked her into having another one. But Daigh told Kane who had pulled on his ear with an amused look.

Well, the best trick is to teach you to keep your word. Never make a promise that you cannot keep or do not want to keep. If you give your word, you keep it even if you do not want to.”

Daigh and the other kids, Aed, Muirne, Cuinn all nodded. Always they kept their words to each other and told their parents the truth. Even if it would cost them some trouble, they knew that Kane would know, and then he would be mad at them.

THEN, he would be too busy to make new toys or mend old ones.

But today, he was leaving, many people would leave and some would return, others would move from other villages or change where they lived after gathering cattle at the end of the summer to bring the livestock in for protection of the cold and feed them. Calves were often born during these months and would often need feeding by hand. Older kids milked cows and goats, next year, it would be Daigh’s start to care for some of the beasts.

Okay,” Kane said as he finished the knot and all the items were tight in the covered wagon. “We are good if it rains, we will have a sleeping area if we get stuck and we can get to the trade goods easily.”

Daigh stood there for a long moment as Kane tied the ponies to the draw bar of the wagons. The leather harnesses were something that Kane had put together with Daigh’s help and suggestions.

Kane again knelt, closer to the level with the pre-teen boy.

This is what we have to do, Bronwyn and I. We came here the year after you were born. I have helped you learn things and you have learned well. You have a great mind, be a poet, tell the history of your people. Sing of the great things that will be. Kings will come, brave heroes. Even creatures that have come before people and now live in the forests and underground. I will be around,I will sneak in at harvest time.” Kane winked. “Think of me as a gnome or some other small spirit that will sneak around one night of the year and leave you something nice.”

Then Kane held up his index finger in admonishment.

“BUT! If you do not do your chores or do wrong to someone? I will leave you nothing, or worse, you will find a gift of twigs and rocks.”

With that, Daigh’s eyes got big.

I will not forget! You will see Uncle Kane! I will be the best poet that history will ever know. I will sing songs about you that the world will think you were a great Brehon.”

Thought I already was.” Kane said with a wink.

Bronwyn’s voice echoed slightly in the now-empty shop. She was ready to leave. All things that families were to take were so placed in order. Things remaining she had marked with strips of cloth in different colors that indicated different families.

Hello Daigh. Come to see us off?” Bronwyn’s copper-colored hair hung down around her shoulders like a waterfall. She bent down so she was as tall as the eleven year old. “Kane has favored you. You do make him proud when you grow up?”

Yes ma’am! He will hear about my stories and songs all over the world.” Daigh smiled. “I promise I will never stop telling stories about you and him.”

Daigh, you are a wonderful young man.” Bronwyn kissed him on the cheek.

A gasp, Daigh was without words as, first his ears, then his entire face turned red.

Bronwyn laughed softly and hugged him.

That is our little secret. You make me feel pretty.”

Time to go, Bronwyn, climb up.” Kane said.

Daigh was still blushing as their wagon trundled out the gates and disappeared. Feeling a little sad as he turned to walk away. His heart was hurting and, in a small way, lonely, until he remembered, they would be back in a few months at harvest time!

Daigh skipped back to the center of the village where the other kids were. His embarrassment forgotten as his attention span was that of any child.

End Of Book One? (who wants more?)