It was mid-morning in the desert of Zarak. The young Squire Henry Ranger of Brittanzia was dehydrated and longing for a rescue. The sun and heat beat down on his head and body mercilessly. Henry thought with disappointment, "I don’t know how much more of this I can take!" His boots were becoming more and more sluggish as he stumbled over rocks and desert sand; his tacky, long pants and tan t-shirt were becoming more and more drenched in sweat. Henry reflected over his present misfortune. "I can’t believe the army ditched me!
No one was here when I woke up this morning! Not a single soul… If only I was back home in good ole Lillypool Town! God please have mercy on me! My prayer will save me.
I shall not die here like a poor lost dog… I hope!"
Copyright 2010 Michael Llenos
(A Story of Ruundra, which takes place some 1,600 years after "The Elf that Met His Equal")
"Is anyone out there?" Henry scanned the horizon in all directions. He loudly called out: "Oh, if only someone would help me!" Henry looked everywhere but to no avail. He looked again and still saw nothing. Then he noticed something in the distance and to his right… "Wait a minute! How interesting... Looks like a plant is over there! Maybe there will be water near by…."
Without hesitating Henry ran towards the plant. The plant seemed to get less appealing to Henry the closer he came upon it.
Up close it looked sort of like a giant, green weed with large bulbous flowers and skinny vines coming out of its base.
He didn’t know what to do at first. Suddenly, he had the idea of clawing at the sandy dirt around the plant in hopes of finding water.
"Water!" Henry became ecstatic. "Please God let there be water here!"
Nothing here, Henry realized horrified.
"Wait! I have an idea!" He began to laugh. "Why didn’t I think of this before?" Henry grabbed the plant with both hands and tried to separate one of its bulbous flowers from its upper stem. After the bulbous flower came off, some clear liquid oozed out of the plant’s torn section. Not thinking it could be poisonous, he decided to drink it. But before he could take one sip he heard someone from behind.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you!” A deep, accented voice cautioned Henry. Henry turned around and saw two dark skinned Zaraken men on camels, ten feet away, covered from neck to shin in brilliant white clothing, laughing at him from atop their camels.
Expecting to get sliced with Zaraken swords or arrows, Squire Henry fell to his knees in a direction away from the sun and prayed. “Father in heaven, have mercy on me your faithful servant--”
One of the men suddenly spoke to Henry interrupting the squire’s prayer. “How can you pray to Eli when you do not follow the ways of his only true son?” asked the man.
“Who is Eli?” demanded Henry. Angry that his prayer was stopped by what he believed were a bunch of savages; these were after all the same men who have defiled the sacred land of the Holy Vassal with their barbarous customs and ways.
The other Zaraken, a larger man than his companion, spoke up: “Eli is the Lord. Eli is the name we use for what you 'infidels' call God.”
Henry raised his voice towards both men. He was angry that a Zaraken was trying to teach him about religion and about God. “I am no infidel! It is you two who are the infidels!” Henry said shaking his right fist in the air.
The larger Zaraken spoke up: “If we are infidels, young man, then how can we understand your language? And how can I, a so-called infidel, give you a drink of water?” He reached into his camel pack and drew out a skin of water and tossed it on the ground in front of Henry.
Henry lunged for the skin of water. “No offense…” Henry said as he opened up the water skin. “I guess you’re not that kind of Zaraken…” And with that Henry thirstily gulped down the refreshing water until the skin ran dry. Henry was curious so he asked: “How do you know my language?”
“Not all Zarakens know only how to speak just one language!” commented the larger of the two riders. “Now I ask you this question: would an infidel help you in the desert?”
“You got him on that one didn’t you!” The other Zaraken laughed in response.
The larger Zaraken moved his camel closer to Henry then reached his hand out to him with a triangular piece of white cloth. “Put this over your head. This cloth will help stop you from getting sun stroke.”
Henry got to his feet and took the piece of cloth handed to him and wrapped the cloth around his head like a bandana.
“Wait!” said the same Zaraken. He untied a water jug that was attached to the left side of his camel and poured it over the squire’s head. Water dampened the towel around Henry’s crown and spilled down his face.
Henry closed both his eyes to stop the liquid from stinging them. “Wow, that feels good!” Henry said, a bit overwhelmed by such hospitality. Wow, thought Henry, I’m being saved by a bunch of Zarakens… I’ll never hear the end of it from my mates back in camp!
The larger of the two Zarakens extended an arm out to Henry. “Climb up on board the back of my camel.” Henry was about to protest but the Zaraken interrupted him instead. “Before you reject any further hospitality, know that your army is many miles encamped from here and you would not be able to find your way in the desert without a proper escort through this region.”
Henry became quizzical: “What do you plan to do with me? Will you escort me back to my people?”
Both men laughed at this. The larger Zaraken spoke up: “What else, my lost friend, but to escort you back of course,” he paused, then continued:
“However, as for now, we invite you to lunch since it would be too dangerous for me and my companion to approach your camp while the sun is still up over the horizon. You need not worry, the stories you have been told about us by your fellow country men are not as real as you may think! We are not going to cut you to pieces with our swords or feed your flesh to our goats and camels. But enough talk, let us be off to our camp before the mid-day sun comes out of its sky-home in the east.”
Henry got to his feet and asked both men: “Before I join with you to go to your camp, I want to know what your names are first?”
The smaller Zaraken spoke up: “My name is Zareek of the tribe of Qu’lan.” Then his companion said: “And I am Hassef of the tribe of Qu’lan. However, you have not told us your name traveler?”
“My name is Henry.” He paused then added: “I am Squire Henry Ranger, of Lillypool Town, of the army and nation of Brittanzia.”
Hassef who was most pleased that Henry didn’t seem to be making up his name said: “Welcome to our country, Squire Henry of Lillypool. You have just been baptized by the desert people of Eli, of the tribe of Qu’lan.”
Then Zareek cried out in unison with Hassef: “Our water is your water and our life is your life.
You are now under our protection and mercy of the people of Eli, of the land of Zarak!”
Then, without much ado, Henry climbed on board the camel that was carrying Hassef, and the three of them rode south-westwards with their backs facing towards the mid-morning sun.
* * * * * * * *
From the outside, the Zaraken tent looked glistening white and large. Henry, however, thought that it was one of the most inviting abodes that he had ever seen just because it invited protection from the noon day sun. He jumped down from the camel he was on, and then helped Zareek and Hassef dismount as well; the two Zarakens, using leather straps, tied their camels to one another and then to a post embedded in a large boulder sitting nearby. Facing a western direction, both men kneeled down and said some kind of prayer in their own language. Then they both took off their shoes and laid them at the entrance of the tent. Hassef reached for a basin of water lying underneath the entrance of the tent and both men washed their feet and hands as a kind of ablution.
Zareek spoke up: “Take off your shoes and then wash your feet and hands Henry of Lillypool Town.” Henry obeyed. After taking off his shoes and socks, he took the basin and poured out water onto his feet and then wiped them down with his hands. Then he plunged his hands into the water and wiped his hands up to his elbow.
Hery looked up to heaven in a forty-five degree angle away from the sun and prayed: “Blessed be my God who has saved me today…”
Then all three walked into the spacious, carpeted tent. Zareek and Hassef were greeted by an elderly man’s voice. “Hello Hassef, hello Zareek; who is that white skinned young man that is with you? Is he a captured enemy soldier or is he with you on some other business?”
Henry looked towards the back of the tent and saw a man sitting with his legs folded at the far end of a rectangular, finger high table filled with all sorts of food and drink. He felt surprised that this elderly desert dweller could speak the language of Brittanzia too.
“I was not captured sir,” voiced the young man sincerely. “These two most wonderful men, Zareek and Hassef, saved me from being dehydrated to death in the hot desert.”
“He has been baptized, O‘surrogate’ Husso,” said Zareek, “and we are now duty bound to return him to his people.”
"Duty bound to be sure," thought both Zareek and Hassef.
“You both are duty bound?” asked Husso of his adopted sons. “How very nice of you to be so kind to a person who comes from foreign parts! And you even baptized him in our sacred desert? How generous of you both!”
“It was the least we could do,” commented Hassef to his surrogate parent. “Eli demands that we are hospitable to the lost wanderer of the desert!”
Husso smiled at both. “Yes you must be hospitable… Eli approves of such behavior.” Husso turned towards the white skinned stranger. “What is your name young man?” he asked.
“My name is Henry Ranger (O Husso, adoptive parent of Zareek and Hassef). My name is Squire Henry Ranger of Brittanzia.” Henry, for the first time of his life, felt a bit ashamed to use the word Brittanzia.
Husso gestured all three men to sit down at the table. “Please come and sit down and refresh yourselves.” All three men moved closer to the rectangular table and began to sit down. Zareek and Hassef sat down on the left and right ends of the table and Henry took his seat between the two men at the table’s outer edge. Henry was very hungry and he looked at all the varieties of food and drink with greedy eyes. There were plates of dates, goat cheese, dried fish, garbanzo bean paste, lemon olives, raisin bread, flat bread, and tall glasses of dark tea. To Henry’s surprise, several large jars of date wine were spread out on top of the low lying platform. Henry reached for a jar of date-wine.
Zareek lightly grabbed Henry’s hand and gently pushed it away from the jar of wine. “That, my dear friend, is only reserved for Eli.”
Henry was puzzled at the Zaraken’s actions. “Why keep date wine if you are all teetotalers?”
Zareek explained. “Yes, all of us Zarakens are teetotalers, but we reserve the right to drink wine to Eli alone.”
That didn’t explain much thought Henry.
Husso interjected. “Don’t you know how to pour out a sweet-smelling libation of alcohol to God, Henry?”
“I’ve never heard of that before,” Henry voiced humbly. “I thought you were all monotheists, instead of polytheists?”
“Yes, we are monotheists and not polytheists,” replied the elderly man. “But we pour out libations of wine out on the ground to Eli as we look up to heaven where Eli’s throne is. What made you think that it was only polytheists who did this?”
“In our older scriptures,” Henry authoritatively said, “our ancestral doctrines did require libations. But that only happened at the sacred House in the land of the Holy Vassal. Along with other rites that we don’t do now since the Prophet of the New Age has come… I just thought that all monotheists didn’t have such customs.”
“Well Henry,” Husso declared, obviously amused, “there is nothing wrong with offering a libation of date-wine to the Lord Eli (or whom you call God), just as long as you do it not in the direction of any heavenly object, and as long as you do it on a clean patch of ground.”
Husso paused then added: “Doesn’t your older scriptures describe heroes among your ancestors that poured out libations (as a sweet smelling odor) to your God?”
“I guess,” Henry responded. “But we don’t do those now since the New Age began.”
Husso reflected then said: “Well, my young man, judge for yourself, if there was nothing wrong with it in the Old Age there shouldn’t be anything wrong with it now in the New Age. And unlike the other types of offerings your ancestors probably did, there is nothing harmful in pouring out libations to God, and it could probably do you a great deal of good for a very small amount of effort.”
Husso looked at Henry curiously. “It strikes me that you are very hungry my young man, as also are my two adopted sons Hassef and Zareek. So let us set aside religious doctrines now, and instead let you three gentlemen eat your lunch…”
At that, all three men—Zareek, Hassef and Henry—merrily ate and drank away, to their hearts content, even overdoing it a little. Henry ate so much raisin bread and drank so much dark tea, that he believed he never ate as much raisin bread or drank so much dark tea in his life, as he did during that one sitting of lunch under the canopy of his most hospitable Zaraken hosts.
* * * * * * * *
It was going to be nightfall soon. Henry looked into the distance of the great desert of Zarak. The sun was now beginning to set in the western horizon. Henry thought how peaceful it was with his three companions in the desert, quite different from the hustle and bustle of an army camping out in the great sandy unknown.
There was so much to do back at base camp and so many orders to follow that you would never really get to enjoy the desert as a tourist, only as an enemy combatant that knew there were divers Zaraken denizens that wanted you dead; in any form whatsoever, just as long as you died without much effort and especially if you didn’t spread the plague to some desert animal or Zaraken after you died. Henry started to regret the reasons why he was there in the desert in the first place.
Husso came up behind Henry and patted him on his left shoulder with his right hand. He looked at Henry earnestly then began… “When I was a younger fellow I lived in the great, remote city of Karakesh, one day we were attacked by so many Brittanzia troops—from your country—that they literally surrounded that great city in a ring of fire and death. After about seven weeks, our city was crippled by a severe famine caused by a lack of grain…
“None of our sister cities knew anything about our situation until it was too late. The infidel army, your soldiers of Brittanzia, slaughtered just about every single one of the cities inhabitants, including my children and my most beloved wife. I was one of the few lucky men who were able to escape alive.” He paused then continued: “Henry these soldiers of Brittanzia, these so-called friends of yours, are true barbarians and true infidels indeed. But you Henry, you are different from them. I thought you may have wanted to know that.”
Henry was puzzled at what Husso meant by that so he asked: “How so, Husso?”
“I can see it in your kind eyes,” replied Husso. “You didn’t come out here to the desert of Zarak to stick metal weapons and arrowheads into innocent people. You came out here because you wanted an adventure, to get away from all of your troubles back at home. You wanted to live. And if it is worth anything to you, I forgive you for coming out here… I forgive you as one worshipper of almighty God to another.”
“Thank you….” replied Henry. “It does mean something to me.”
Henry was going to stop talking but he had something else to say to Husso. “Husso, I’ve never killed a man, you see. I’ve never killed a man in my life.”
“I know…” replied Husso, as he gave Henry a friendly hug, “I know my most wonderful brother… I know…”
* * * * * * * *
The desert of Zarak was dark and quiet. All three men’s natural night vision was still good however. Squire Henry remembered again how cold it got during the night in the desert. He moved his left leg over the camel’s back and jumped to the ground. “Thank you for taking me back to my compatriots my brothers.”
“It’s the least we could do for a fellow brother of the tribe of Qu’lan!” said Hassef from atop his stalwart camel. “I hope you don’t get into any sort of trouble….”
Henry was touched by his friend’s concern. “I wouldn’t worry about it, my most excellent brother. They’re so full of themselves they probably didn’t even realize I was gone.” He waved a goodbye at both men. “Farewell my dear brother Hassef and farewell my brother Zareek! Both of you have a safe trip back to your most excellent surrogate father Husso!”
“Farewell, Henry, we’ll try!” replied Zareek.
“Brother, may Eli grant you peace!” prayed Hassef out loud. Both men turned their camels around and started heading home. With that Henry started walking towards the lantern lit sentry posts of the Brittanzia camp.
* * * * * * * *
“Who goes there?” questioned a young military sentry, trying to see in the dark while waving his lantern in the air. An authoritative voice rang out saying: “Who else but Squire Henry of the Lillypool Town of Brittanzia.” The sentry was puzzled as to Henry’s position as in relation to the army camp. “Sir, what the heck are you doing outside of camp?” Henry didn’t know what to say at first and then it hit him. “I went to use the latrine, soldier! What else would I be doing out here?” Henry walked up to the young soldier, and the lantern spoiled his night vision.
“Sorry sir,” replied the young man. “Did you get lost out there?”
“You could say that,” Henry murmured. “I need an escort back to the 'Lillypool Town' area of camp.”
“Why do you need an escort, sir?”
“Why do you think it? I got drunk after supper and lost my way. I can’t remember the way back to my own town unit. However, you can take me back to my tent. What’s your rank and name soldier?”
“It’s Corporal Derry Tully of the Brakken Town of Brittanzia!”
Derry turned around and motioned with his right hand. “Come here private….” Another youthful soldier came up to Derry and took his lantern from him. He then turned toward Henry. “Please follow me sir.” Both men walked half blinded from the edge of the Brittanzia camp, past the ramparts and into the area of sleeping huts.
They walked for a total of ten minutes, weaving and turning left and right through different sections of the Brittanzia camp. Finally, they made it to the Lillypool Town section of huts. “The officer’s quarters is right in there, sir,” commented corporal Derry, as he pointed towards a large tent opening with a sign that said Lillypool hanging on a pole in the front of the tent entrance.
“Thank you so much corporal.”
Corporal Derry then waved his hand in a salute, he did an about-face and back tracked to the area in which he had just come from.
Henry walked through the opening of the large white tent and noticed several of his fellow junior officers, lying on separate green-canvas cots, who were with him the previous night before he was left abandoned by the army of Brittanzia. “Henry!” shouted several junior officer’s in unison.
A younger officer, by the name of Delway Tunzsock, who he knew to be a gun-ho braggart, waved his hand at Henry in a salute. “Where, the heck, have you been, you crazy moron?”
Another officer, by the name of Budz Zocks, raised a hoot: “You’ve been missing since two o’clock this morning! Where, in the Hell of Zarak, did you go?”
Henry, who knew not to trust any of his comrades with confidential information, yelled out: “Where do you think I’ve been, Budz? I got drunk last night and I lay sick in the medic’s wagon this entire time trying to recover. Oh, and by the way, thanks for looking for me when I went missing! You’re real caring fellow officers that I can rely on!”
“No problem,” voiced Delway, “by the way you missed all the action this afternoon!”
“What action?” asked Henry.
Budz made a gesture with a knife in his hand: “Our army destroyed a caravan of stupid Zarakens! It was such a hoot! We circled their caravan about noon time and arrowed all of them to death! Women, kids, men, every last one of them!” Practically everyone in the tent burst out in laughter.
“Oh my gosh!” cried Henry out loud. Everyone in the tent all of a sudden looked at him curiously.
“What’s a matter Henry,” sounded Budz, “you’ve been spending too much time with the natives?” All the junior officers of the tent looked at Henry in disdain.
“You should have been there Henry,” said Delway, “It was awesome!”
Henry couldn’t believe his ears. He thought that his fellow compatriots had gone completely mad.
“All of you are animals!” yelled Henry, as he left the tent and all those inside in utter shock and disbelief.
* * * * * * * *
It was beginning to be the second watch at night. General Sasoky Fearson, sitting behind his desk, in his nicely crisp uniform and with over twenty years of military experience to back it up, knew that anybody who saw him this early in the night, and was not sleeping or laying back and joking with his comrades, was either completely mad or had to discuss issues that were not going to be resolved except by means he felt he wasn’t always wanting to implement. Squire Henry Ranger of Lillypool Town was that type of case with no exception.
“What can I do for you, Squire?” queried the General.
In full dress uniform, Henry reported to the General: “Squire Henry Ranger of Lillypool Town reporting, sir!”
“At ease!” commanded Fearson.
Henry spread his legs apart and braced his arms behind his back in a parade rest. “Sir, I have to tell you something and you’re not going to like it…”
“What is it, young man…”
“I want out of this army, sir!”
“You must be kidding, Squire?!” General Fearson was now obviously upset.
“Sir, I don’t want to kill Zarakens!” raised Henry’s voice. “They’re people like you and me…”
The General raised his voice in response: “They’re the enemy Squire… Put yourself together, for bloody sakes!”
“I’m resigning my commission, sir… I want to be on the first wagon load back to home port. I want to go back to Lillypool Town, sir. I want to have a clean conscious for the rest of my life… I don’t want to kill anyone…”
The General became more and more thoughtful and toned down in voice. “Look Henry, I know your parents… They’re wonderful people… I know that you have a right to give up your commission… I know that sometimes a soldier has a breaking point… We all have breaking points when we are on campaign… Some soldiers have a greater breaking point and some other soldiers…” The General paused then continued: “Sometimes even a General should look out for his men when they want to quit… So Henry, if you want, you can resign your commission right now and be on the first wagon convoy back to home port… Then so be it…”
Henry snapped to attention and raised a salute to Fearson. “Sir, I resign my commission as an officer of the army of Brittanzia!” Henry then took off his pinned officer shoulder lapels and placed them down on the General’s desk. He then saluted Fearson again. The General stood up from his chair, gave Henry a quick salute and said: “Soldier dismissed!” Henry did an about face and walked out of the General’s tent never to return.
Later that evening when the late supply return convoy was heading back to the home port in northern Zarak, Henry realized that what he was doing was saving himself from a world of regrets later on in life. He was saving himself from becoming a man who had blood on his hands. He was saving his future and saving his salvation.
And as the wagon convoy started moving out into the night, and as the lights from the forward watches waved back and forth throughout the darkness, Henry felt more sure about himself than he had ever felt in his entire life. He said softly as his wagon started to head out: “The hell with the army… To hell with it!”
Copyright 2010 Michael Llenos