The Bormeas’ routine of presenting themselves to the general public only whets their appetite for what follows as the adulation from the crowds outside serves to bolster their egos even more. I linger on the balcony not because of the attention that I receive, but because of what comes next. Once we step away from the balconies and exit our rooms we come face to face with each other in the upper hallway. No words need to be spoken and rarely are they any as each Bormea looks around at the others, comparing and judging the others’ appearances.
A part of me is grateful that I can descend the stairs ahead of most of them. While the order of descending is based on rank, I am allowed to follow the Esteemed and Carnesol because of my unique position. Even with the two staircases, we have to pace out how many of us can descend at the same time due to our heftiness and slow pace. All of this only aggravates the hostile mood and behavior among those waiting at the end of the line with the fewest cronacs. Since the banquet isn’t even served immediately, I wonder at the annoyance of those waiting.
The evening presentation isn’t complete however, until we greet and pay homage to the Esteemed and Carnesol on our way in to the courtyard.
Tonight the Esteemed greets me with, “Sarteck, what garish colors you’re wearing.” His gaze flits about my robe and trimming finally resting on the top of my head where my cronacs are boldly decorated with polished metal bands embellished with gems.
“Hurts my eyes,” Carnesol murmurs behind him.
“I decided I was going to wear something colorful,” I reply smoothly, ignoring the insults.
“Your robes have certainly gotten more … decorative since arriving here,” Esteemed remarks, looking me over again.
I nod my head. “Your city has a vast selection of materials to choose from. I thought I would celebrate that.”
Receiving a shove from the next Bormea, I leave the Esteemed and Carnesol gaping after me as I enter the courtyard, wondering what treat I’ll have to stomach tonight.
With a gut full of the flesh of some poor creature bred as the main dish at the banquets, I walk to the back of the compound. Just as I reach the door, two forms lumber out of a shadowy alcove near it.
“Off for a ride, Sartek? the Esteemed asks as he moves in front of the door and places his hand on the latch. Carnesol stands behind him, off to the side so he can murmur comments into the Esteemed’s ear.
The flickering light from the wall sconces reflects in the dark eyes of the two Bormeas facing me. There is a barely perceptible darkening of their irises as they bait me, watching my every move.
I bow my head only slightly, enough to show some deference to their position but also to remind them who I am in showing them my many cronacs. “I ask your pardon. I have my servants prep the craft every night in case I want a ride. I never thought to offer you or the others a ride.”
Their reaction is immediate. The Esteemed removes his hand from the latch as he steps back, exclaiming, “A ride?! In your craft?…”
“Why yes,” I respond, feeling a smile spread across my face, “it allows for a view of the surrounding area. It’s really quite stimulating.”
There is something amusing about seeing both of these Bormeas stunned into silence. For some reason, I have the impression that it’s not a common occurrence and that I am the only one who has been able to do it on more than one occasion. The satisfaction I receive from this insight encourages my behavior around them.
Mimicking what I hope is a chagrined expression I continue, “It’s just that the stables are in the back yard where meals are prepped. I didn’t think any of you would want to walk through all of that.”
“The yard?” the Esteemed asks, his nose crinkling up. “How primitive.”
Carnesol takes a step forward, out of the shadows. “The Esteemed does not move in such …”
“It might be enjoyable,” remarks the Esteemed, ignoring Carnesol’s comments. “We don’t have a craft here such as yours. If I like it, I may have to have one designed to suit my tastes.”
I bow slightly lower this time, “But, of course. We could bring it around front for you then the many people of the city could see you again.” As I raise my head back up, I note the hesitation following my suggestion.
“I think it will be part of the adventure to get in the craft from the yard,” the Esteemed finally remarks.
Carnesol takes a step back, twisting his head to peer at the Esteemed, “From the yard?!”
I nod to them, forcing my features to remain neutral to their reactions. Stepping forward, I turn the latch and open the door. The cool night air unleashes fresh scents into my nostrils, cleansing them from the thick smells of the compound. A few lit torches, along the walkway, guide us to the stables. As we exit the building, servants working in the yard scurry in all directions, not knowing how to react to our presence. Some leave their tasks behind to get out of the way and others stand at attention.
The yard is full of cages of varying sizes and shapes, each containing one or more critter. In the dark of night, most of them are sleeping while a few are pacing about their space sending out chirps or bleating as though to call for help. As we move closer to some, the sounds immediately stop. Adjusting my vision for the lack of light, I can see a number of critters cowering in their cages as we walk past. Off to the side of the yard is a large chopping block still dripping with blood from the evening’s meal. My stomach churns a bit recalling the nearly raw intestines I gobbled down not too long ago.
Unlike the polished stones in the courtyard, the stones that make up the path in this yard are rough. I have learned to pick up my feet after stubbing them on the uneven surfaces and exposed edges. But, walking on them is better than on the ground that is covered with animal waste and saturated with blood.
Osc comes quickly from the stables when he sees my approach. I tilt my head slightly to the side to indicate my companions. At the sight of the Esteemed and Carnesol, Osc is momentarily taken aback and unable to hide the authentic surprised expression on his face.
Falling back into his role, Osc quickly drops head in bow, “I just finished the preparations, my master.”
“I have promised the Esteemed a ride tonight,” I tell Osc. Keeping my hands low, I make gestures to tell him to be careful. We will have to talk later. I also add that he and the other scout should make the ride as slow and uncomfortable as possible.
“I will see that the craft is brought out,” Osc replies as he backs up, then turns and darts off into the stables.
Before any words can pass between us, we hear a rumbling sound and the ground beneath us shakes to a degree. The creatures in the cages let out squeals and chirps to note their excitement and wakeful status as the team of nasidors comes barreling at us at a controlled clip. They all come to stop with the craft parked directly in front of me. Osc, holding on to a rail at the back end, drops to the ground and opens the door.
I turn to the Esteemed and Carnesol gauging their reaction. Their eyes are staring and their mouths gaping open expelling foul breath as they take in the sight in front of them. Behind me, I hear a thud and turn to see the driver of the team ready to assist.
“Esteemed, this is my Necco servant, Soven. He’ll be driving the craft.”
“A Necco drives this thing?” Esteemed exclaims.
“It takes a Necco to handle this many nasidors,” I tell him.
The Esteemed steps forward and runs his hand across the exterior of the craft.
I walk up behind him, “If you step up, you should be able to climb into the craft. There are some cushions in there on which to recline and make the ride more … enjoyable.”
With some aid from Soven, the Esteemed pulls himself up and into the craft. Once inside, I hear many grunts and groans as he settles himself within the confines of the interior.
Poking my head into the craft, I tell the Esteemed, “Soven will take you around the outskirts of the city.” When there is only a grunt in response, I close the door.
With a nod from Soven, who has already climbed back up to his seat, I step back and watch the team leave. Other servants have opened the large doors at the back of the compound. At this time of night, there won’t be much activity happening in the city or outside of it. Regardless, the Esteemed will get a view that he may never have seen before.
My wait with Carnesol might have been tiring had it not been for the arrival of the other Bormeas who somehow discovered our location and followed us out here. As it was, they murmured amongst themselves about their distaste in being in the yard.
It wasn’t long before I could hear the familiar clatter sounding on the streets outside. A couple of servants once again ran to open the doors just as the nasidors approach. The Bormeas behind me immediately fall silent at the sight of them and the craft that they pull along.
Osc and Soven jump down and open the door to assist the Esteemed out.
“Isn’t the open night air refreshing,” I declare as I approach the craft. “I feel invigorated after each ride.”
I can tell from the Esteemed’s ashen complexion and glazed look that the ride had been rough. With his labored breathing and erratic pulse I wonder if we have stressed him too much. For all I know, the food in his gut many not even get digested tonight.
The Esteemed leans heavily on Soven and me as he exits the craft, righting himself when he sees the other Bormeas present.
“It’s a wonder that thing stayed in one piece carrying you,” the Esteemed tells me, in between gasping for breath. “I’m surprised someone of your standing is allowed in a craft so … rickety. It feels like it might fall part. Maybe that’s why they sent you in it.”
I only nod to the Esteemed’s slight as I turn to the others. “Would anyone else like a ride?” I ask.
The next night I note how slowly the Bormeas who rode the craft are moving. I try not to smile when I see them wince going up and down the stairs or sitting down.
As our dinner comes to an end, I project my voice across the length of the table, “My servant will be prepping the craft soon. Will there be any riders tonight?”
A few of the Bormeas actually groan in response.
“No? I think I will go for one then,” I inform them.
Once we’re out far away enough from the city, I instruct Soven to pull over to a secluded area by an outcropping. I maneuver my way out of the craft shaking the kinks out of my legs and arms.
“It worked,” I tell the other scouts. “None of the Bormeas want to ride in this again. Still, I should probably limit my rides as well.” Addressing Soven, I tell him, “Always have it ready though, just in case.” Turning to Osc, I ask, “How are the scans coming?”
“I’ve gotten much of the interior. There are a number of locked doors though,” he tells me.
“Make sure you get the yard in back and whatever animals are the Bormeas’ food source,” I instruct him. Turning back to Soven, “You can take the scanner next. See if you can find out how the Necco were bred. Have you met them yet?”
He nods, “They came sniffing around the first night.”
I turn back to Osc, “I’ll try to gain access to those rooms and see what they contain.” I take one last look at the open expanse, “We should get back.”