Travellers #2

Travellers #2 by Jack Lasenby Read Free Book Online

Book: Travellers #2 by Jack Lasenby Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jack Lasenby
torture him again.
    He dropped the cowhide kilt under his tunic. Below his penis was a discoloured scar where they had slashed off his testicles. They did that to all their slaves. Squint-face, their leader, Taur said, was the cruellest torturer of all. So that was why he threw my drawing into the fire.
    I must escape before spring, Taur warned me. If the Salt People caught me here, they would castrate me, too, tear out my tongue, and make me their slave. It did not occur to him that he might escape himself, so profound was the effect of their cruelty, Squint-face’s threat. He pointed west in the direction he thought I should go, gave me his warning and then, for the first time, he wept for himself.
    I took him in my arms, tried to comfort him. I rocked the great shoulders, sang one of the songs my sister used to sing to me when I was little. And as I sang, Taur stopped his crying and tried to sing with me, wet-eyed, runny-nosed,following my voice with his terrible noises, “Gluck! Gawr! Urgsh!”
    After that he often sang to himself, and he was forever asking me to sing, urging me to remember and teach him more of the songs of the Travellers.
    That night I took the green stone fish from my pack and showed it to Taur. He was sitting by the fire, singing – bellowing – his dreadful noises, rocking and comforting himself. He looked up, saw the thing in my hand, and cowered in terror, hiding his eyes. I had to hide it again before he would even listen to my explanation.
    The green stone, Taur made me understand, was thought magical by the Salt People. They worshipped the carving of the fish. I had taken one of their gods. Even if I gave it back, Squint-face would kill me. All his power derived from the carving.
    The Salt People found the green stone in what Taur called the South Land. When he said that I remembered again my father’s stories of the mountain that ate the sun, Hagar’s stories of people who lived in the land of ice and snow.
    “When they need more of the green stone,” Taur said, “the Salt People travel there in a thing called a boat.” The South Land, he roared, could be seen from where he grew up. He described white mountains rising the far side of a great water called the sea.
    With his bellows and signs he said my fish was made of the rarest of green stone, clear and embedded with tear-shaped drops. I wondered aloud how Tara had come by it, and Taur explained Squint-face would have hung it around her neck, a sign she was his.
    “Glaw, Urgsh! Throw away the green stone.”
    “What?”
    “Throw it away!”
    “It brings me good luck. I cannot throw it away.”
    Taur shrugged his great shoulders. Even when I hid it again, he looked suspiciously at my pack.
    When I questioned him, he said he had heard the pack-slaves talk of the long journey across the sea and down the South Land, the return with green stone. He remembered their description of snow mountains, rivers, a desert, and a palm tree whose heart the Salt People ate. The slaves were forbidden to eat it, but one boasted of tasting its delicious white flesh. Taur remembered that because another slave reported the boaster to Squint-face. At once he slew the man who had broken the rule. And then, Taur told me, then the Salt Men did something else, but he broke down and could not finish. I had wanted to ask him about the desert, because that did not fit with my father’s and Hagar’s stories, but did not press him.
    Later, Taur told me more about his home near the bottom of the North Land. The idea of a South Land across a strait of water, of snow mountains and rivers, the source of the green stone, a desert, and the sweet-tasting palm tree, it seemed a childhood dream in his mind, I thought.
    I tried to convince Taur he must escape with me, but the evil done to him by Squint-face made him passive, as if he had no rights. It must be a habit of thinking slaves fell into. It could happen to anyone, I realised, including me.
    There were times I

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