Teller of fortunes is a serial work of Fantasy Fiction, at times surreal. No fae-twisted farmers were harmed in the creation of this work.
After all the nonsense that comes with another day in the grand caravan, Ane has a couple of hours to herself. Inevitably, however, a knock sounds against her (still broken) door. This time it’s three soft raps — polite, but without Jarrik’s overbearing air. An even, gentle voice follows, “Hello, it’s Nelea.”
Strange, the animal trainer doesn’t often visit her wagon. Well, once, when one of her gelthounds came down with worms as a puppy, but Ane has the distinct impression that this is not about that.
“Coming,” she calls out, “Gimme a minute.”
Really, it takes closer to three minutes for her to shift her door. She does manage to succeed eventually, leaving a triangular space beside the half-hanging upper door for her to talk through.
Sure enough, there’s the callosian. She’s of a rather stout build, and has tumbles of extremely light hair that spills in tight curls down from under a straw hat, contrasting with her deeply tanned skin. She smiles politely, and stands with her hands in front of her clasping the handle of a basket — an almost comically girlish pose contrasted with her imposing musculature. She’s no Aedas (or Bugbeard), but it’s enough to throw off the image for certain. That, and the rather stern, architecturally beautiful angles of her face.
“Hello,” she says. “Sorry to bother you, Miss Ane. I’m not here for myself,” she explains.
Ane nods, leaning forward slightly to peer through the door-gap at the trainer’s basket. Her curiosity was already piqued; the basket makes it doubly so.
“Well, yes,” she says, hesitating. “In a sense. First, do you remember the klorr who joined us in the last city? Tall, mysterious, a condition about his arms,” she explains tactfully. “Well, he hasn’t come out of that wagon since then, and it’s…” Nelea pauses and sighs, her stoic posture somewhat wilting.
“It’s just not healthy. He needs light, air, and water,” she says, voice heavy with concern. “We’ve been taking turns bringing him food and drink, but it’s not safe to go on like that. It’d be great if you could take a turn, and maybe you can talk to him?” She lifts the basket, indicating its contents. It has some of the day’s dinner, rendered in a less messy form; chopon cutlets, some biscuits, vegetables strained out of the gravy, and a lidded cup of water.
Nelea continues, “We’ve each tried, to no avail yet. Even if you can’t make him feel that comfortable, well… Every bit counts, you know?”
The man with the twisted arms!
Ane had forgotten about him in the midst of everything else. Which, really, probably just serves to emphasize Nelea’s point — she certainly would’ve noticed if he’d been out and about. By the time the callosian is done asking, Ane is already clambering through her broken door.
“I’ll take it to him. Which wagon is he in?”
Nelea nods, holding out the basket with one hand and motioning off to her side with the other.
The wagon she indicates is an old, unadorned thing, with large double doors on one end. By the look of the rustic vehicle, it was once likely used as a place to hold the alosins when they needed to be indoors. By Ane’s memory, though, it fell out of that use and ended up being converted to storage. It’s often opened when people need to draw out sacks of grain or hay for the animals. This means it likely has plenty of open space, though with lots of dusty feed bunched all around.
“It is said that he chose it himself, shortly after arriving. None of us had the chance to talk to him beforehand, and he hasn’t spoken much since,” Nelea explains, her worry clearly evident in her tone.
“I don’t blame him, really. Have you seen what Brair and them are getting up to?” Ane holds the basket from the bottom, careful not to jostle the contents as she strikes out for the old wagon.
“I can’t say I have,” Nelea fibs, with a hint of mirth. “In any case, good luck.”
Hopefully he’s feeling sociable, Ane thinks to herself. Nelea would probably have warned her if she thought he wasn’t, but Ane knows nothing about the man outside of his twisted arms.
Even with the door closed, the scent of dry, dusty hay makes her nose itch as she approaches. She pauses for a long moment, keen ears perked to listen for any sounds coming from the wagon — not that she’s likely to hear anything more than muffled noises through the thick wood. Even so, there are sounds of breathing, likely from someone rather large, and a thick silence between each breath. There is no movement, no voice, nothing.
Cautiously, she raises a hand to knock sharply on the broad double doors.
A deep susurration follows, short and simple. It’s not a growl, nor a noise of displeasure. It sounds most like a mumble of assent. As for the wagon itself, the door doesn’t even seem to be bolted. She waits for the door to open, then silently curses herself for it. He probably couldn’t open the door even if he wanted to…
“I’m coming in,” she says, pressing her lips to the narrow gap between the doors. She gives one a tug, mentally bracing herself for whatever it is she’s about to see.
Were she not a shasii, Ane would mostly see a tall, dark shape hunched against the far wall, sitting with legs splayed across the floor. Since Ane can see perfectly, however, the man isn’t afforded any discretion by the darkness. He’s tall, perhaps muscular, albeit in a limited fashion about the shoulders and back. Otherwise he’s rather gaunt, with scraggly hair and wide, sharp klorrian eyes. They open slightly when Ane peers, in, though they remain downcast. Of course, most importantly, his arms lay heavily beside him on two hay bales — heavy enough to make the tops sag and the sides crumble.
He doesn’t speak. His facial features are a tad strange, perhaps duller than most. He doesn’t seem afflicted by anything beyond his arms, but it’s still a disturbing sight — he looks like he’s badly in need of some fresh air, let alone a haircut and clean clothing. Ane’s brow furrows in concern as she takes a tentative step into the wagon’s dark interior.
“I brought you some food,” she says, giving the basket a little heft, “Chopon and gravy, with biscuits. Are you… Do you need anything else?”
There’s a slight pause.
As blunt a refusal as it is, the tone of his voice doesn’t sound intentionally brusque. The accent even seems a bit thickened, as if in an attempt to mollify the intruder.
Ane moves to set the basket down, but stops midway through. Instead, she takes a step back, closer to the door.
“Why don’t you come outside and eat? The air’s fresher, and it’s brighter and less dusty…”
“… Quieter,” he says thickly. It seems to take him some time, before he adds, “This is for me.” There’s no comfort in his tone; instead, he sounds deeply resigned.
“Do you need it quiet? We can find curtains for the windows, or something to dull the noise,” she offers.
He hesitates, as if hitting a kink in his thoughts. Then he just shakes his head.
“I can… have this. Maybe,” he replies.
His response, however short it is, urges her to keep going, to try to keep the mysterious man talking.
“I can see what I can do to make it more comfortable. Pillows, maybe? Or a wash basin? Maybe a blanket? It’s warm now, but it gets cold on the trip sometimes…”
The klorr starts to open his mouth, as if to object. Ultimately, he just remains silent.
Well, that didn’t work.
She moves forward, slowly, as if she’s afraid of spooking him. Once she’s set the basket down within his reach, she steps back a pace.
“Do you want me to go?”
He begins to shake his head side-to-side, but stops himself again. One shoulder shrugs instead. His eyes shift briefly to regard the basket of food, then back to the same spot on the floor.
Ane watches his flat affect and apathetic demeanor. Puzzled, she edges a little closer.
“Do you need help to eat?”
The klorr regards the food again, hesitantly. There are some stains on the floor nearby, likely from previous meals. At this point, it becomes apparent that there’s also a foul smell in one corner of the room; it seems he pressed a chamber-pot into service, and somehow covers it with hay afterwards. Truly, he has not left this wagon.
“I shouldn’t need,” he replies simply.
“Do you,” She’s loathe to ask, but Void, someone has to — it’s painfully obvious the man’s being neglected. If he won’t, or can’t, do for himself, there has to be someone who does. Why bring him into the caravan just to let him languish here like this? “Do you need some help cleaning up?”
Nelea and whoever else is helping him have flailed against this bare minimum. By now, that chamber pot would’ve needed dumping several times over. Fortunately, as bad as it smells, it doesn’t seem he’s been using anything else. Though, if the man doesn’t leave… Then there are few other options but to await someone changing it.
“I shouldn’t need,” the man repeats somberly. “Bad things.”
Shouldn’t, fine. But you do.
“What kind of bad things?”
Her nose wrinkles at the smell. The longer she stands there, the stronger it seems to get — she’ll be splashing around in the stream with five pounds of soap just to get rid of the odor on herself.
The klorr answers, his voice husky.
“The light… that pain… these arms.” He lifts each of them, twisted as they are, then lets them fall back on the hay bales with a thump.
“Pain? What kind of pain?”
“When I changed.”
So he wasn’t always like this…
It seems obvious, in retrospect. If he’d been born this way, she doubts he could’ve survived until adulthood. With his stilted speech, he may not be fluent in Skilhouran common. If he’s from one of the klorr tribes, his twisted arms would’ve been an even bigger challenge to growing up in a hunting society that relies on living closely with dangerous gurran behemoths.
“I’ll tell you what,” she says firmly. Though she doesn’t know him at all, she’s at least mostly convinced that his arms are too cumbersome to try to harm her — if he did, she could probably get away quickly, or at least yell for help in time. Even if he tells her he doesn’t want help cleaning up, that chamberpot needs to go. “I won’t leave — I’ll come back. If you let me take that,” she points to the pile of soiled hay, “I will bring you something that might help with the pain.”
For the first time since Ane entered, he looks up. His eyes subtly widen, and he looks more present than moments ago. There is certainly a glimmer of intelligence in there, and a very deliberate sense about him. If there’s any emotion visible behind his eyes, it’s a long sorrow.
“Yes,” he answers. “Please.” His tone wavers.
Finally, she’s getting somewhere. She’s not sure where, but somewhere.
“I will come back. For now, eat.”
… Now she just has to figure out how to handle the chamberpot.
The hay is already making her nose itch, and she can feel bumps raising on her bare skin where the dust touches. Above all that, the sharp ammonia burn of an overfilled chamberpot sears her nose — had she eyes, they’d be watering. Ane turns toward the door, inhales a lungful of fresh air, and steels herself.
Somehow, she manages to maneuver around the man, and make it back outside with the chamberpot in her arms. She doesn’t want to think about what’s running over her arms and staining her sleeves, or the constant tiny thwats of flying insects ricocheting off of her face. She definitely doesn’t want to look down to see the mass of hay and waste crawling with maggots.
Ane upends the chamberpot several yards from the wagon. She must be a repulsive sight, holding a recently-dumped chamberpot and reeking like a barnyard, but she tries to flag down the first moving shape she sees anyway.
Fortunately, luck is with her as Wila, Vila and Zila float by. They don’t appear to be particularly preoccupied, outside of a leisurely walk and some light chatter.
“Dishes though? Really?”
“Well, he probably had to keep his, his monk-skills far from the fight!”
“You know, so nobody gets hurt. Have you heard what Eternalists can do?”
Hopefully they’re good at scrubbing.
“Wila, Vila, Zila! Speaking of dishes…”
The three of them rotate together, looking towards Ane. Generally, they’d often look like they’re just walking with linked arms, if it weren’t for the way they all turn as a unit.
“Oh, hello!” Zila chirps.
“What is it, Ane?” Wila asks, and holds her nose on reflex.
“I need the monk, a tin of Dynkala’s chest rub, a bucket, a scrub brush, some lye soap, a very long ribbon, and a piece of chalk,” Ane says, between gasps of fresh(ish) air.
Vila gives her a dry look.
“I hope you don’t think we can scatter to fetch these for you.”
Zila gives her a small swat on the shoulder.
“What Vila means, is, we’ll be right back.”
“It just might take a little while,” Wila adds. “We aren’t exactly swift, though Dynkala should have all of that.”
Ane breathes a sigh of relief.
“Alright, great. Yes. Thank you. I’ve got… Very urgent business to do,” she explains without explaining.
“Very well,” Wila says with a sigh. “We will return here.”
“Well, things turned out great last time she doled out errands,” Vila mutters as they begin to float away. This earns a murmur of agreement from one of the others.
“Don’t forget the monk!” Ane calls out after them.
About ten minutes later, the aforementioned monk arrives, sans the triplets. He does have all of the requested items under his arms, however. Such is the way, when dealing with the triplets; at least one is liable to get impatient, no matter what the task.
He stands there dutifully. “What is needed?” He asks, tilting his head sideward.
“Hope you’ve got a strong stomach,” Ane says grimly, “I’ve dumped that pot and buried the waste, but it still needs to be cleaned. Then I might need your help there.” She cants her head first toward the chamberpot, then toward the dusty wagon. “I’ll take the ribbon, chalk — they didn’t forget the chalk, did they? Good — and the chest rub, for now. Just try to get that as clean as you can.”
The monk nods dutifully, and fixes the chamberpot with grim regard. That will be his next challenge.
With the requisite items in hand, Ane ducks back inside the mysterious man’s wagon.
Inside the wagon, the man remains silent. He does look up when Ane enters, however. There’s still that sad look in his eyes.
She sets the chalk and ribbon on the floor, as she kneels down within reach of him. She can still smell wafts of the chamberpot-reek, but at least the chest rub might help cover some of it…
“Where does it hurt?” She asks him, as she pulls the wide cork from the little earthenware pot.
The klorr lifts his elbows, which are the last bastion of normalcy prior to the twisted mess below.
“There,” he indicates, almost biting his lip. It seems he has trouble even just acknowledging it.
And given any understanding of anatomy, well… It’s unthinkable that his lower arms could function, circulate blood, or feel pain, yet they do seem alive, despite the constricting bones and contorted flesh. It defies sense. If his elbows are the last place following the rules of biology, then they must be suffering a pain most bizarre and cruel.
She nods, though she’s unsure how to tackle this. Though the chest rub is made to ease coughing and congestion, the sharp, camphoraceous coldness is helpful for soothing pained muscles. Is this even muscle pain? She doesn’t know — she’s not sure he does, either. Muscle, bone, ruptured tendons, it could be anything.
Ane scoops a generous dollop of the salve onto her fingertips, brow furrowed with concern as she hums over his elbow. If only she knew where to begin…
“I’m going to use this,” she says, holding up the glob of oily salve, “If it hurts you too much, tell me and I’ll stop. Someone is helping me, he can come to clean up a little if you’d like. He’ll be quiet.”
The klorr nods, though he’s not entirely sure to what he’s agreeing.
And, with that, she gently daubs one of the man’s elbows in the pungently minty rub. He winces with pain at the first contact, but calms as the soothing chill of the rub sets in. His teeth grit in his closed mouth, remaining otherwise still.
“… Helps,” he mumbles. Naturally, it’s only a muscle rub, but it’s more of a reprieve than he’s likely experienced in a long time. He doesn’t exactly look like he’s visited a real physician, after all. A doctor would probably just amputate both limbs from the elbows down… But the condition is so bizarre, would it even follow that logic? The twisted structures almost look botanical in nature. Would they just regrow? It’s impossible to tell by looking at them.
Ane nods, relieved to hear it’s helping a little. She takes his elbow in both of her hands, gently probing and kneading the joint with the tips of her fingers. The hot, thickened areas of swollen muscle and congested blood get a little more attention, as she attempts to ease the blood flow back toward his heart. She can feel the scarred, adhering fascia beneath his skin, but it would take more expert hands than hers to try to release it.
The treatment also gives a deeper sense of his condition. Whatever did this, there’s a sense of real malice in the result. The way the bone splits so wickedly, then spins around itself… It’s like what a child might do to two blades of grass, bored in a field, wrapping the two together then pulling them taut… But never hard enough to break.
It’s deliberate. Something with a mind did this.
“Thank you,” the klorr murmurs in his raspy voice.
“You’re welcome,” she replies, distracted by the motions of her hands. She moves from one elbow to the other, repeating the same process — apply the salve, feel for what’s hurting, and try to ease pains she can barely even guess at.
Was he punished? Or just cruelly used for something’s sport? She can’t tell, and doesn’t think he’d tell her if she asked. He might not even have the words for it.
Once she has rubbed as much of the salve in as she can, she picks up the ribbon. If nobody had been by to try to help his pain or even regularly empty his chamberpot, there are probably plenty of other things that have been neglected, too.
“I need to use this — it’ll only take a minute, and, if it hurts you, I will stop,” she assures him.
He just stares at the ribbon, knitting his brow. He nods in assent, however.
Ane stands, maneuvering cautiously around the man to avoid bumping his arm with her knee. She stretches the ribbon across the breadth of his shoulders, before making a marking with the chalk. His upper arms are next, then the length of his spine. It’s a crude system, but it leaves her with a length of ribbon suitable for making approximations, at least.
“I have to go soon,” she tells him, as she brushes a few clinging wisps of hay from her knees, “But I’ll come back tomorrow. I might not be the one who brings you your food, but I’ll come back.”
“Alright,” the klorr replies. His almost-perpetual frown is a bit less pronounced, forming closer to a flat line. It seems like a vast improvement, given his overall mood. Once again, he adds, “Thank you.”
Ane nods, stashing the rest of the pot of chest rub beside a hay bale. Hopefully it won’t be too hard to find next time.
“You’re welcome. I’ll see you tomorrow.”