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Fantasy Drama Fiction

The new fuserdu was resisting the man and woman pulling on the chains attached to his head harness. A thick, dark cloth covered his eyes, held in place by the head harness straps. When a man standing behind the animal jabbed him hard enough with a pole, he would take a single step forward. A long moan struggled from the animal’s mouth, held shut by tight-drawn gape chains. 


Something brushed Oriala, and she turned from her observation to find Tucal standing too close. 


She took a step away, and he followed, ordering, “Stay where you are.” He crossed his arms and shifted so one elbow was digging into Oriala’s bust. If she moved away now, he would find a way to punish her for her disobedience. 


“My father should not have bought that one,” Tucal said, scowling. Oriala pressed her lips together. Tucal wanted to speak, not converse. 


The fuserdu abruptly swung his head to the right, towards Oriala and Tucal. The handler on their side was suddenly pulling on slack chain, and he fell to the floor. The woman on the other side lost her grip as the other chain was wrenched from her hands. 


Tucal jumped back as the fuserdu came towards them. “Do your jobs, fortunate ones!” he shouted. 


Oriala darted away from Tucal and grabbed the closer chain, telling the man on the floor, "Let go!" and the woman on the other side, "Get back!" They both obliged.


The man with the pole dodged the waving of the long tail and jabbed the fuserdu again. It lurched away from the strike, nearly knocking Oriala off her feet. “Everyone get back!” she said. “Give me space!”


Though Tucal was accustomed to giving orders, not following them, he retreated outside with the fortunate. 


The fuserdu calmed a bit as the noise and movement around it faded. Oriala tugged on the chain, and it followed her. 


Once inside an enclosure with the gate shut, she unhooked the chains. An open wound on the animal’s lip was squirming with maggots, and Oriala began plucking them out by hand. The animal moved his head away from her occasionally, and she would wait for him to relax before she continued. He had stopped moaning. 


“Disgusting,” a voice said, and Oriala glanced up to see Tucal watching her. The woman who had been handling the animal was standing just behind him. “What is his name?” Oriala asked. 


“Arroyo,” she answered. “I am sorry he is your problem now.” 


“He is not a problem at all.” Finished with the maggots, Oriala worked the blinding cloth out from under Arroyo’s head harness straps. Tucal was hanging back, afraid to come closer. As long as he feared this animal, Arroyo was a refuge for her. 


The cloth came away in her hand, and Arroyo blinked and moved his head about. She reached up, intending to stroke his face in mimicry of what one of his own mind might do for his comfort, but at her touch he lunged, trying to ram her with the top of his head. She hit the floor and rolled under the high-set bars of the enclosure. The fuserdu’s big, three-toed foot came down right behind her. 

<   >

The fuserdu stuck his foot under the bars, trying to reach the handler who dared to touch him. He knew their tricks. He would not wait to be punished. He would kill her if he could. He rumbled a growl, daring her to come within his reach. 

<  >

The fortunate woman helped Oriala to her feet.


Oriala could see why Tucal’s father had bought Arroyo. He really was a beautiful animal. He had rust-colored red-brown scales stippled with darker red, and was a fast runner, evidenced by his long ankles and shins. This type of fuserdu was coming into fashion among the elite, but the handlers also liked it, for the short, blunt face made it easier for them to avoid bites and head swings. You had less time to see an animal coming at you and react when it had a long snout. 


No matter what precautions you took, working with fuserdues was dangerous. Tucal feared the creatures only when they behaved in a way he did not expect. If they stood still or moved only as he wanted them to, he treated them with less concern and respect than he did a bug. It was constantly possible they might attack you, but he did not seem to accept this. He simply trusted in the closed gape chains and the ever-present fortunate who handled the animals for the beloved. 


Oriala and all the fortunate ones who worked with them did know how dangerous their work was. They watched the animals and learned their behaviors and spoke to them though people sneered. People could not kill you with a single bite or stomp or shove. 

<  >

The fuserdu drew air through his nostrils, acquainting himself with his new territory. Any time a person came near, he growled and glared, warning them he would fight and not allow them to inflict pain if he could help it. 


The girl who had given him his sight again came often. He feared her at first, and tried to harm her, but as she came slowly, obviously, not stalking, over and over, always predictably, his fear faded. She brought him food but did not taunt him. She brought him clean water that did not taste of mud or sickening, reflex-slowing plants. She cleaned his wounds when he drew his own blood. 


He sensed fear in her when the boy came and watched her. She would hide behind him, and he would threaten the boy, and the boy would leave if he lurched at him. 

< >

For weeks, Arroyo growled at whoever came close to him. Oriala cared for him as much as she could, finding reason after reason to be inside his enclosure with him. She cleaned it with him inside, dodging and blocking his attempts to ram her with long-handled rakes, but she never struck him. 


As Arroyo became calmer and calmer, Tucal came closer and closer to her again. Though the other fortunate ones said Oriala was mad to do it when they found out, she tried something none of the others would dare: One day she released Arroyo’s gape chains as she stood beside him. 


No handler released gape chains unless there was a barrier between them and the fuserdu, and then it was done with a hooked pole, keeping your hands far from the sharp teeth. They might bite you, or they might not, but no one wanted to take a chance. 


Oriala did want to take that chance. It was more desirable than taking a chance with Tucal. 


She took Arroyo out for exercise, as none of the beloved wanted to ride him until he was more obedient to others. The beloved did not know Arroyo was only receiving training that made him tolerant of Oriala. Every other fortunate one feared and avoided Arroyo, and were happy for Oriala to handle the badly behaved animal.


She rode with his gape chains loose, holding the reins and gape chain ends in her hands at the same time. People shied away when they saw Arroyo’s open maw, and she reveled in the sense of power everyone else’s fear gave her. 


Sometimes, riding through the streets of Syla, Oriala would face Arroyo to where the sun set, and think of Kesh. She had been brought from there when she was a child, and Arroyo had been imported from there. He too must have known the deserts and oases and canyons and hills she could barely remember.


As the sun sank and the sky appeared to be set on fire one evening, the world seemed to open wide before her. Oriala was one of the fortunate ones. Wherever she went in Sibbol, people see her and believe she was simply on an errand. No one would suspect she could be running away by riding an expensive imported fuserdu. And once she reached Kesh, she could seek asylum with her own people. If her memory was not failing her, there was a law that you had to protect anyone who came and asked for your help, if they were not threatening you. She did not plan to allow Arroyo to threaten anyone who could help her. 


A plan rapidly formed in her mind as she rode Arroyo home. She would gather supplies of water containers and food, and more clothing, if she could get them. The actions were so simple in her mind, but there were mountains between her and home. 


Arroyo lowered his head to sniff at some street garbage, and his gape chains jangled against the paving stones. He startled at the noise, jerking his head up and taking a few steps back. 


He was frightened of things, too. That was why he had come after her when they met: fear. Someone had taught him that people inflicted pain. She had taught him she did not. He might make it possible for both of them to go back to where they belonged. They were opening doors for each other. 


Oriala had to hide the things she collected for her errand. That was all she called it to herself: an errand. Nothing suspicious. Privileged ones were sometimes sent on errands by the beloved, even to the borders of Sibbol. Her plan was possible. 

< >

The fuserdu was woken from his slumber one night by the caretaker. Before, he would have startled and tried to crush her against the wall, but now, he simply gave her a look of curiosity and slight annoyance. 


She spoke to him as she slipped through the bars and came close to him with their saddle and settled it on his back. He moved as she applied pressure to his side with a gentle hand, and he stood still as she secured things to their saddle. When she finally opened his gate and slipped her hand into his head harness to lead him forward, he followed. She was safety to him. She never frightened him. He could understand what she wanted of him, and the few times he did not, she patiently taught him. Others still came to him with tools of harm, and them he did not trust. 


The girl used one of the gate bars to get up into their saddle, and then urged him forward, to where the great door stood open to the cold night air. 


He smelled someone lurking just inside the door, and snorted, trying to clear the overpowering and unpleasant scent from his nasal passages. Underneath the smell of strong drink, he could smell the individual: the boy the girl always tried to hide from. 


The boy lurched out in front of him, in the middle of his path, and advanced.


The fuserdu advanced as well, towering over the feeble little figure, growling. 

< >

“What are you doing, fortunate one?” 


The fumbling, sleepy-sounding voice made Oriala jump, and she nearly fell from Arroyo's back to the stone floor. 


Tucal’s shadowy form staggered as he walked towards her, seemingly unaware that Arroyo’s gape chains were hanging loose and he could bite if he so chose. 


Oriala pulled Arroyo to a halt, feeling him tense under her. She tried to force calm into her seat and her breath and her hold on the reins, and into herself. 


This was the circumstance she had long feared. No one would hear her if she screamed. It was the night after a celebration day, and everyone in the household, beloved and fortunate, were asleep or too drunk to comprehend anything. It was so throughout the privileged parts of Syla. 


“Come down,” Tucal ordered, reaching for Oriala’s foot. 

<>

The fuserdu shied away from the untrusted one’s touch, spinning to face him. He opened his jaws, threatening but waiting for his trusted one’s support. 

< >

Tucal looked blankly into Arroyo’s open, hissing mouth. 


Oriala’s hands were gripping the gape chains, and she was pulling pressure on the reins, holding Arroyo back. If she let the reins and gape chains fall slack, and urged the animal forward, he would almost certainly bite Tucal. Mind-urging Arroyo to do things had worked before. She could urge him on, to hurt Tucal, even kill him. Arroyo was already afraid. The animal could easily be convinced to snap. 


Tucal leaned to the side, nearly losing his balance as he looked up past Arroyo’s snout. His face looked strange in the darkness, as if he were wearing a mask in a performance. “Come…down, forchnit one…” 


“No.” Oriala pulled back on the gape chains to close Arroyo’s mouth and used the reins to turn him. She urged him around the drunk boy and through the door, into the night streets of Syla. After taking a moment to slide the great door to the mews shut, she rode Arroyo down the street, towards where the sky showed very faintly lighter than in any other direction. West, to the mountains. Many miles away, the stars must be shining on the sands of Kesh. She was going home, to the place beloved to her. 


Arroyo’s muscles rolled under her, and his breath heaved between her legs. With this road ahead of her and this animal as her companion, she was now truly fortunate. 

June 15, 2024 02:47

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