The Torcher’s Tale
By Leonard C Suskin
As I walked the twisting streets towards home, I felt a hand grab the shoulder of my undied, cotton robe from behind. “Torcher!” Ged’s voice taunted in childish singsong., “Torcher, got sand in your shoes, sand in your pants, sand in your brain. Torcher, torcher”. This litany was punctuated by a stomp on my sandaled feet, a kick in the ass, and an open-handed slap across the back of my head. Shamed I am to say that I cried; and more shamed that it was in disgust over this weakness that Ged and his friends let me go. I ran, not looking back. My sandals slapped the hard streets through the great wooden door to a stone building, across the polished floors of dining chambers, a kitchen, and other chambers I could only guess at the purpose of. In the center of the building was a courtyard, and in the courtyard Uncle Kahn had erected his pavilion. I still didn’t understand why the Roi had given us this building while Ged’s people would have been happier here, but at this time I didn’t care; I was hurt and angry and glad that we had hurt the Aleph-ya, even inadvertently.
“So, tell me about your lessons”, he said, ignoring my heavy panicked breathing. Even seated, Uncle Kahn was an imposing man with a heavy black beard, piercing brown eyes, and clear skin the color of deep desert sand; no wan, washed out ghost like the Roi or even the Aleph! I unloaded the afternoon’s events in one long breath, “It was terrible Ged made fun of me they pulled my robe and called me a torcher and they said I had sand in –
“ I was interrupted with an open-handed slap on the side of my face.
“Lohr. You are there because you have to be there. Because the Roi, sickening as they are, might be important. You are there to learn how to talk to them and how to listen to them. You are NOT there to fight with the Aleph or with anyone else. There might be a day when we have to trade with them again. “ His eyes burn into me. “So… no more fighting. Learn.”
My feet carried me out of the tent and back into the house proper while my head burned with the shame of having disappointed uncle Kahn. I found myself in dining room where Mhari was preparing an exotic meal of cheese, bread, and some kind of fresh fish purchased from the Roi. Mhari was the oldest of Khan’s wives with deeply lined skin starting to hang loosely on her face. For reasons the other young men in our clan never understood but always speculated about he chose her to share his bedroll as often as the younger wives. I didn’t know about that, but I did know that hers was the hand that fed me after I’d been weaned. She’d cared for my older cousins Jhana and Sariq and Nale and was spooning chopped dates into baby Grobi’s mouth, but she still always seemed to have time to listen to me. She looked up at me. “What’s wrong? You look stunned.”
“It’s Uncle Kahn. Ged and the Aleph are torturing me, and he doesn’t even care. He hit me.” For the second time that day, I recalled the story of my torment at Ged’s hands and added the story of Khan’s anger. “It’s not fair. Everyone seems against me. Everyone but the Roi. At least they want me to learn something.”
Mhari smiled sadly at me. “The Aleph-ya were our friends for a long time. We sold spices from the far side of the desert to them, they sold metal goods, dried fish, and meats to us. Just as the spirits of earth and fire dwell within us, the spirits of air and water live in them. “ She held up the end of a faded but once-colorful sash she was wearing around her robe. “I bought this from her last circuit. The colors are faded now, but you used to love looking at them when you were a baby. It’s always been nice knowing them.”
Blood hammered in my temples. “But they’re cruel now. Ged HIT me. And called me “torcher”.
Mhari shook her head and didn’t answer. I stalked out.
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I'm a full-time AV professional, full-time husband, and full-time father. In between these full-times, I like to scribble pretty words.
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