Chapter X: Exploring

                The weeks passed quickly for Toyus in his new role as Councilmember.  The Colony needed laws and the Council argued endlessly about what those laws should be.  Toyus was of a liberal bent and so were some of the Councilmembers.  But many more were staunch conservatives intent on creating another Torahn.  Toyus did not see the point of recreating their past when they could start anew.

                He and Sentinel Sol found themselves sitting at the edge of the jungle one bright dry afternoon.

                Sol sighed.  “I would like to advice you, Toyus, but I believe you already know what to do.  Trust yourself and your judgment.   Do you want to run those ideas by me?”

                Toyus shifted.  “The Council wants to rule and pass their seats on to their children.  Make each position hereditary.  I think we should vote the Councilmembers in.  That way, it is more representative of the colony’s wishes.”

                “You want to create a democracy,” Sol told him.  “Those types of government existed on my planet for hundreds of years.  If your Council votes for hereditary rule, eventually their families would become aristocrats.  Then the government would be an aristocracy.  In a true democracy, every member of the colony has a say.”

                Toyus nodded.  “That is what I want.”

                Sol smiled at him.  “Then I suggest you fight for it.”

                While arguments and discussion over what type of government should be adopted took place around the Council campfire, a number of colonists, led by Sentinel Derik, had begun to build longhouses for the colonists. Huts had been the initial choice of home, but there were too many to build.  Toyus opted for longhouses, as did a majority of the Council .  Each longhouse would house five families. 

                Construction took place from sunup to sundown and the beach was filled with the sounds of hammering and sawing and people calling to one another.  Sometimes Toyus left the Council fire to help with building.  It frustrated the other Councilors no end.  But there was something so satisfying about working until one’s muscles thrummed with soreness.  No one argued about how a longhouse should be built. 

                His father sometimes sat in on the Council meetings but, more often than not, he kept his thoughts to himself.  He and Toyus  spent their evenings discussing how Toyus could be a more effective Councilmember.  Moyen had been a good advisor to Queen Malida, levelheaded and wise.  He was a good listener and Toyus would talk his frustrations out to his father.

                Tonight they sat around their fire with the Sentinels.

                “The longhouses are coming along well, Derik,” Moyen said around a mouthful of roasted fish.

                Derik inclined his head.  “It’s a good thing some of the Amalgamese were  builders before.  They are teaching the others how to build.”  He glanced at the jungle several feet behind them.  “It is good that other groups are starting to clear some of the jungle to allow for growth and further building.”

                “The shore is a sepek from the jungle,” Toyus replied.  “That isn’t much space to grow.  Of course, we can build to the north and south, but a long line of longhouses is harder to defend that way.”

                “Agreed,” Derik said.

                Toyus thought a moment before he turned to Ariahl.  “I would like to take a scouting team into the jungle to map it and see if we can find a source of fresh water.”

                She considered his words for several seconds before nodding.  “That is a good idea. We can stay a bit longer to ensure you find a source of fresh water and to clear a path to that source.”

                Toyus bowed.  “Thank you.”

                In the end, they formed three scouting teams, one led by Ariahl, a second by Ishel and a third by Mariel.

                “I would like to go with you, Ariah,” Toyus said. 

                Moyen frowned.  “You’re needed in the Council, son.”

                Toyus gave a brittle laugh.  “Am I?  All they do is argue.  I would like to take some time away from the governing part.  I think scouting the continent will be important.”

                Moyen looked unconvinced but he said nothing more.

                Toyus rose from a crouch and stretched his lower back.  His muscles felt sore from long hours of sitting.  He gathered his cloth travel bag and his rolled-up pallet and bid goodnight to the Sentinels and his father, making his way towards the edge of the jungle.  To the west, the seashore was dotted with campfires.  It was a rare rainless evening.   He built his own firepit with the help of his hand spade and filled the hole with driftwood.  Using ca’ahl stones, he was able to start a fire.  He rolled out his pallet and sat down cross legged.  Digging into his shoulder bag, he pulled out a hunk of cheese wrapped in cloth.  The cheese was soft and salty-sweet with a slightly nutty flavor. 

            “May I join you, Mister Toyus?”

            Toyus started and gazed up.  A young Amalgamese male stood a couple of feet away, a cloth travel bag hanging from his shoulder.

            “Of course.  Have a seat.”

            The young male smiled and set his rolled pallet on the ground on the other side of the fire.  He sat cross legged, his back to the beach. 

            Toyus took in the young male’s light gray fur and blue eyes.  His mane was black with streaks of silver.  He wore light blue tunic and dark trousers. 

            The male held out a hand.  “I am Ereali.”

            Toyus grasped his hand, feeling the callused palm and fingertips.  “Toyus, as you know.”

            Ereali grinned.   “Yes.  Everyone knows.”

            Toyus let go his hand and ducked his head in embarrassment.  He bit into the piece of cheese and looked away from the attractive Ereali, chewing thoughtfully and wishing for all sorts of food he would never have again.

            “Must be hard for you,” Ereali murmured.

            Toyus looked over at the young man.  “What’s that?”

            Ereali waved a hand.  “All of this.  You were a prince of the realm.”

            “And what were you?” Toyus challenged.

            “I was a thief,” Ereali retorted mildly.  “A pickpocket living in the underground city.  This–”  He waved his hand again, indicating the camp.  “This is paradise to me.”  He shrugged.  “A chance to

become an honest person.  Someone who is honorable.”

            Toyus grunted and finished his cheese before uncorking the bladder of wine offering some to Ereali. 

            The young male inclined his head and took the bladder, pouring some wine into his mouth.  He handed the bladder back to Toyus and wiped his mouth with the back of a hand.

            “To new beginnings,” Toyus murmured and drank.

            Ereali nodded.  “To new beginnings.  I have dried meat.  Would you like some?”

            “Thank you,” Toyus replied.

            The young man handed Toyus a hank of meat and bit into his own, chewing thoughtfully.

            “I don’t know anyone here,” he told Toyus.  “I wouldn’t mind a friend.”

            Toyus grinned at him.  “And it just so happens I am in need of friends.”

            They both looked away at the same time as a child ran past screeching with laughter while a very flustered young woman chased him down.

            Ereali sobered.  “Not many would trust me, having lived in the underground city, having been a thief.”  He ran his eyes over the nearby campfires.

            “We are born again,” Toyus told him.  “None need know your past, as long as you give us your future.”

            “I intend to,” Ereali assured him.  He looked at Toyus.  “May I come with you on the morrow to explore the land?”

            Toyus huffed a laugh.  “Was this all a blatant way to get asked to join the exploration team?”

            Ereali ducked his head.  “No!  I just…I just want to be out there, exploring.”

            “I was teasing,” Toyus told him.  “Yes, you may come.”

            Ereali looked at him shyly.  “Besides, where my friend goes, go I.”

            “Is that so?” Toyus teased. 

            Ereali squared his shoulders.  “Yes.”

            Toyus nodded.  “Good then.”  He sighed.  “I don’t know about you, Ereali.  I don’t think it will rain tonight.”

            Ereali glanced at the sky but said nothing.

            Toyus laid down on his pallet and arranged his cloak over his body like a blanket.  “Will you sleep, too?”

            “I’ll remain awake a bit more,” Ereali told him.  “I’ll unroll my pallet in a bit.”

            Toyus nodded.  “Goodnight then.”

            “Goodnight, Toyus.”

                                                                                                                    ***

            Toyus rose before the sun.  Dew clung to his cloak and mane.  He rose and shook his cloak out, startled to find someone sleeping near him.  Then he recalled Ereali.  He went over to the young Amalgamese and gently shook him awake.  The young male blinked blindly for few seconds before he focused on Toyus.  He yawned, his fangs white against the red of his tongue.

            “Good morning, Toyus,” he murmured and pushed the cloak from his body, sitting up.

            “Good morning, Ereali,” Toyus replied and stood.  “We are leaving soon, so gather your belongings.”

            They rolled up their pallets and picked up their belongings.   

            “Come with me to the Council and I will nominate you to come with us,” Toyus and led the way west, towards the Council’s firepit.

            Ereali picked up his belongings and followed Toyus to firepit belonging to the Council.

            Ereali walked just behind and to the left of Toyus.

            Soon they were at the firepit.

            “Good morrow,” Toyus hailed quietly.

            The Council members rose as one.         

            “Good morning,” Missus Alita murmured, glancing curiously at Ereali.  “Who is your friend, Toyus?”

            Toyus stepped to one side.  “This is Ereali.  He wishes to join the exploration teams.”

            Mister Yusten frowned.  “I know you, don’t I?”

            Ereali paused, looking uncomfortable.  “I don’t know.”

            Mister Yusten’s frown deepened.  “I was a jailer back in Draemin City.  Were you someone I would have housed in my jail?”

            “What are the odds?” Ereali murmured and shook his head.  “I was a pickpocket and thief back in Draemin City.”

            Mister Yusten drew himself to his full height. “Then you are not welcomed in this colony–“

            “Wait a minute,” Toyus interrupted.  “Ereali would like a new life free of crime.  He’s entitled to a new life.”

            The Councilor shook his head.  “Once a thief–“

            Missus Setina stepped forward.  Her black fur gleamed in the light from the fire pit.  “That’s enough, Yusten.”  She looked at Ereali and smiled.  “Welcome to Amala, Ereali.” 

            “I will be keeping an eye on you, Ereali,” Mister Yusten promised archly.

            Missus Alita sighed.  “There is no room in our new world for such prejudice, Yusten.  If you cannot keep an open mind, then perhaps the Council is not for you.”           

            “Nonsense,” Mister Omir muttered.  “There is room for healthy skepticism, as long as Mister Ereali’s rights are not disregarded.  I, for one, think Ereali should prove himself to us.”

            Ereali frowned.  “And how am I supposed to do that?”

            “Lead a good life, work hard and be honest,” Mister Omir replied.  “Your actions will speak for themselves.”  He turned to Mister Yusten.  “Will that suffice for you?”

            Mister Yusten was still glaring at Ereali as if he were an insect in his soup.  “Fine, but if things go missing–“

            Mister Somar sighed.  “If things go missing, we mount an investigation.  Really, Yusten.”

            Toyus placed his arm around Ereali’s shoulders.  “In the meantime, he comes with us.  Any objections?”

            Mister Yusten set his mouth in a mulish scowl but said nothing.

            Ariahl strode up.  “That is a good idea, Toyus.  Welcome to the team, Ereali.”

            Ereali bowed.  “Thank you, Sentinel.”

            “Call me Ariahl,” she replied with a gentle smile.  “Toyus and I will lead this team, which is team one.  Ishel will lead team two, and Mariel will lead team three.  I am leaving Kaster, Derik, Topon, and Sol in charge of the colony.”

            Missus Setina nodded.  “That is good, Ariahl.”

            Ariahl turned to Toyus and Ereali.  “Shall we go?  I’d like to introduce you to the rest of the team.”

            They strode west across the beach to a fire pit close.  There they found a group of young Amalgamese .

            Ariahl lifted an arm in greeting.  “Ho, team one.  I bring the last two of us.  This is Toyus and Ereali. Please introduce yourselves.  I don’t know your individual names as yet.”

            A young Amalgamese female stepped forward.  She was all black like Setina.  “I am Matiman.”

            A young pale gold male raised an arm.  “I am Otheno.”

            “Kalten,” said a brown male around Toyus’ age.

            “Tima,” said a silver female.

            “Shilna,” said another silver female who stood next to her.  The two were almost identical and Toyus thought they might be sisters.

            “Aconol,” called out a young male with gold fur and a dun mane.

            “Eton,” said another male, this one with all black fur like Matimam.

            “Malthen,” said a young male with pale gold fur and silver mane.

            A shy young brown and gold male lifted a hand.  “I am Ries.”

            “Anhai,” said a young gray and black female.

            “Siiva,” said another black female. 

            “Atalie,” murmured a gold and brown female.

            “Sema,” said the last one, a gold female.

            Ariahl smiled at them.  “I’ve coordinated with the other two teams, which are led by Sentinel Ishel and Sentinel Mariel, respectively.  We will have the longest journey, heading southeast to the opposite shore.  This vast continent is shaped like a sickle , long from point to point and narrow along the middle and curving at either end.  It is about 3.01 million square miles – what you all sepeks–  in length.  We will not be able to trek its entirety, of course. That would take years.  Decade, really.  And let’s not forget the thick jungle.   There should be plenty to explore, but there really shouldn’t be sentient life.  We didn’t see traces of such when we found this continent.  We have supplies for 14 days, so we’ll head in 7 days.  If we haven’t found water by then, we’ll turn back.  It is my goal to walk 15 sepeks a day.”

            “But what if there is sentient life?” the one called Ries shyly asked.

            “Then we engage but not harm,” Ariahl replied.  She looked around the group.  “Eventually, we will have to build boats to go to the nearby islands and continue our exploration of the continent, if we scout a river.  I encourage you to remain within the group and continue exploring.”

            The group murmured among themselves, nodding.

            “But first things first,” Ariahl continued.  “Let’s get going.  We will head due east to get to the other coast. Ready?”

            The Sentinel turned east.  “Toyus and Ereali, you bring up the rear.”

            They began to trudge across the grassy sand  towards the jungle. Toyus glanced west and saw people already working on building a long house. Three longhouses stood in a row towards the south. Thwap, thwap sounded from where a group of people were beginning to clear low plants and bushes from the edge of the jungle.

            The jungle was thick with undergrowth. Insects buzzed all around. Ariahl, Kalten and Shilna, wearing thick gloves, used machetes to clear a path for the others.  It was slow going.  Under the thick canopy of the trees, it was dim and sultry with heat.  The air was thick with moisture and unknown smells.  Toyus kept alert.  Only a modicum of light filtered through the jungle canopy.  It was like walking in a twilight world.  As they made their way, the animals and insects around them stilled.  All they could hear were the sounds emanating from the colony. 

            Insects buzzed everywhere in the moist heat and soon Toyus was pulling on his cloak and covering his head to keep the flying insects off him.  No one spoke as they focused on creating a footpath.  Time seemed to stand still as they continued to head east. And, suddenly, they found themselves on the lip of a cliff that looked several sepeks down upon a valley choked with trees and low plants.  In the distance, against the other side of the cliff, was a gorgeous waterfall.  It tumbled hundreds of feet down the wall of the canyon to the river below.   The sky overhead looked gray and thick with clouds that were moving quickly over land.

            Ariahl looked around.  “We can head a bit northeast.  There looks to be a path that leads down.”   

            Toyus looked down at the canyon.  The river snaked through the trees.  It winked through in places where the canopy thinned.

            “How far down is that river?” he asked Ariahl.

            “Some three sepeks,” she replied.  “Look, there is a path that leads down.  The river comes from the southeast.  We can follow it for a bit and then veer to the south.  It will provide fresh water and a place to rest when the sun sets.”

            “Shall we rest and eat?” he asked Ariahl.  “Then we can head down to follow the river.”

            She nodded.  “Good idea.”

            The team sat down in a circle and ate their food in weary silence.  They swatted listlessly at the annoying insects.

            Ereali passed around a bladder filled with water. 

            An hour later, Ariahl rose and stretched.  “Let’s head down, shall we?  We only have a few hours of daylight before we have to make camp.”

            They rose with a chorus of groans.  Forming a line with Toyus and Ereali bringing up the rear, they headed down the worn path leading  to the river.  They did not speak as they walked.  The incline was gentle enough that they could descend without much trouble.  The earth was damp but mostly free of stones.  Once they reached the bottom of the incline, the river was, as Ariahl had surmised, about three sepeks down in the lush valley.  The loamy earth at the river’s shore was free of low plants, so for a bit of time at least, they would walk unhampered by undergrowth.  This close to the cataracts, the roar of the tumbling water made it hard to hear or talk.  They studied the cascading water with awe and respect before heading south along the river. 

            Soon they saw strangely plumed animals around a forearm in length.  The plumes were bright with colors and the animals had long, curved beaks of a bright blue.  They called to one another as they flew overhead and then perched on high branches to watch the team trudge past. 

            Someone asked Ariahl what the animals were.

            “Looks like some sort of bird,” she replied. 

            “Bird,” Toyus tested the word.  “They are beautiful.”

            “Yes,” Ariahl agreed.  “Let’s keep moving.”

            The sky now was dark slate in color.  Thunder rumbled in the distance.  The temperatures plummeted.  Toyus sighed with pleasure.

            “I think those are caves up there,” Malthen told them and pointed to the face of the cliff.  “Maybe we should head up there to wait until the storm passes.”

            Ariahl glanced up and frowned.  “That’s about a sepek and a half out of our way.  The jungle canopy should keep most of the rain off us.  We’ll head inland for a bit.”

            Her words were drowned by a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder.  Then the rain began to spatter around them.  They ran west and into the jungle as the skies opened up and disgorged a torrent of rain.

            Toyus stood at the edge of the jungle, under a palm tree with huge fronds.  The rain pattered against the wide leaves.  An occasional drop would fall on his mane and shoulder.  Beyond the cover of the trees, the rain was a thick curtain.  The wind howled and lightning flashed overhead, threading through the bruised clouds.  The air was fresh and cool as it brushed against his fur.  He sighed, content and tired.

            Ariahl walked to where he stood. “We should call it a day, I suppose.”

            “We won’t be able to walk under that rain,” he agreed.

            She nodded and turned to the team.  “Let’s make camp here.”  She glanced away, a frown upon her forehead.

                “What is it?” he asked.

                She shook her head.  “Something is off.  But I don’t know why I am getting this sense.”  She looked at him.  “Set four people to watch camp for four hours each.  Just as a precaution.”

                “Of course,” he said, grateful she was there.

                She stalked away to set up her pallet.

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