Part Four: The New Buds
The plants grew quickly and I was soon harvesting beans, the most wonderful things I had tasted in a long time. The lack of beans over the winter in order to have plenty of seed this spring was worth it. The pods and the beans themselves were delicious, making my hair and nails look better than they had in a long time. Blue relished the fresh fruit, though it seemed the canned fruit from the winter was still a very good option to mix up the meals with. She was also warming up to the idea of learning to control my new pet, which could be easily trained with blubberballs as rewards. She had gone so much as touching it so far, but never anything more.
I just couldn’t believe how close to domestic this animal naturally was. Most Earth animals required generations of breeding, but this thing was willing to be subservient from the first try.
Either way, I was having the predator pull rocks and clay from the mountains so that I could build a forge when I saw Blue approach me at a breakneck pace. I held the predator back, dulling its excitement over the approach of something I was trying to teach it wasn’t food, and stood between it and Blue.
I saw in the way she held herself and rarely blinked her eyes that there was something very wrong. She came right up to me, falling flat before me. I crouched, holding her on the sides. I let go and grabbed my gloves, putting them on.
“Blue – Blue, what’s wrong?”
She heaved a couple of breaths, then said, “They’re here. Another tribe – they decided to finish their migration close by. A bearer fruit scout found our bushes and has claimed them for her tribe!”
I calmed her down, then asked, “Wait, what? How long ago did this happen?”
Blue blinked and held onto my hand with her tentacle. “Last night, while you were gone to get more rocks, I was picking fruits. She showed up and started stomping bushes, the universal sign to leave.”
I felt rage building up within me. “Stomping bushes!? Why would she do that – that could have been food for her and her tribe if she took it from us!”
Blue pulled on my hand. “It is the way of the Osminog, Creature. If an Osminog is banished from the tribe, it cannot be fed by the tribe or eat of the fruits claimed by the tribe. Though I think her tribe speaks the same language as my own, from the prayers I heard her say in thanks to the Protector, she chose to use the universal signal of bush stomping to tell me to leave. It means that they’re willing to starve themselves to keep me hungry if I choose to remain in their territory.”
I took the reins on my pet and unhooked it from the sled. “Is this bearer still there?”
“Likely. With a find of that much fruit, sacrifices to the Protector must be made before packages of food can be taken.”
I held the predator steady, wrapping the reins I had used to direct it around my hands. I stood upon the bricks, then flung my leg over its large torso to straddle it. I reached a hand down to Blue. “Do you want to help me stop her?”
Blue shook. “What do you mean?”
“We can get there quicker if we ride on the back of the predator. If we hurry, maybe we’ll be able to run her off before more Osminog come looking for food. I’ll need you there, though, since I can’t be seen. You need to talk with her.”
Blue took my hand, so I lifted her onto the back of the predator. With all her might, she held onto me and squeezed, shivering in fear as she sat atop the predator. I fed the pet some blubberballs from my bag and urged it to go, flicking the reins to urge it forward at a gallop. At this speed, we would return in an hour.
The grip with which Blue hugged me tight loosened as the trip went on. “What are we going to do when we get back?” she asked.
I urged the predator on. “You’re going to tell her that the Protector lives there, that you are her holy attendant, and that anyone who eats of those fruits will be eaten by a predator. That should scare her off, right?” I asked.
She gasped. “That’s a lie! You’re not a god, definitely not the Protector. I won’t lie about something like that!”
I rolled my eyes. I should have known as much. “Fine. Then tell her that a creature from the sky sent you, that you’re her attendant and that she will send a predator to eat anyone who eats of the fruits. That sound better?”
Blue blinked. “I can do this.”
Before long, I let the predator slow and hopped off its body, helping Blue down afterward. It rolled over, revealing its belly to me, begging for belly rubs and more blubberballs. I rubbed it, cooing with my human voice to encourage and reward it.
“This is so strange,” Blue commented. She reached forward, rubbing the predator’s belly too. “If I had been told last year that I would be touching a predator without being eaten, I would have laughed.”
I thought for a moment. “You can do more than that, if you want. What do you think that strange Osminog would do if she saw you ride up on the back of a predator?”
Blue shook. “You mean for me to go with the predator alone?” she asked. She backed away. “No, I won’t do that. You’re the one with the divine magic that holds this beast at bay.”
I nodded. “That’s ok. I can work with this. Come on – let’s get back home so we can run her off as quick as possible.”
I led the predator behind us, running with Blue as we covered the last stretch to the house. My feet squished the mud beneath them, the predator panting behind me, tired. We slowed as we got very close, allowing me to crouch and sneak forward. I heard the rustling amongst our rows of fruit bushes, the rhythmic chanting of an Osminog in prayer coming from it.
I pointed at the bushes. “There she is. Can you go talk with her? Tell her to leave?” I asked.
“Yes,” Blue said emphatically. “I just worry that she’ll start smashing fruit bushes again.”
“If she does that, just screech. I’ll sneak forward just far enough that the predator and I can see her, then I’ll grab her attention and hopefully she’ll run. Sound good?”
Blue stood up. “You’re not going to let it eat her, are you?”
I shook my head. “No – no way. I’m just going to make her scared so she runs.” I held the predator back, though, and patted Blue just above one of her tentacles. “Good luck, Blue.”
Blue walked into the rows of bushes, pushing through the tall plants toward the rhythmic chanting. The chanting stopped as the plants were rustled by Blue, the stranger evidently scared of the sound. Osminog were so jumpy.
“Do not worry – it is but another Osminog,” Blue called out. “I have come back to tell you something very important, something so important the Protector herself will be served.”
I heard a larger Osminog move, running into the bushes. I heard something destructive, the sound of another plant being torn to bits. I cringed, hoping that Blue succeeded but also secretly desiring to see the look of abject fear on the face of an Osminog confronted with a predator. I began to creep forward, leading the predator around the rows of fruit bushes, looking down each row for the offending Osminog.
“Leave, suspect! You not fit for holy fruit!” I noticed that the language, though similar to the one I spoke with Blue, wasn’t the same as the one I knew well. I could only catch broken meanings as a result.
“The fruit doesn’t belong to you,” Blue shouted. I heard the rustling stop, saw Blue and the new Osminog as I crept along the edges. I stopped and backed up, keeping the predator out of sight for now. It nuzzled me, sniffing my pockets in search of blubberballs, so I fed it a couple.
“It belongs to Mudflapper tribe. Get out, suspect. I already show you I serious.”
Blue, though significantly smaller than the Mudflapper bearer, stood up confidently. “You haven’t been told who these fruit bushes belong to. They belong to the Sky Creature,” she said.
“Belong to Protector. Leave,” the bearer said. I heard another plant being torn apart, making me wish that I could have just scared her off myself. I remained still, though. The presence of a predator once didn’t necessarily mean that the field was protected from Osminog intrusion, just that there was a bad set of timing. Blue had to convince the bearer that there was something else here, something a bit more sinister.
“The Sky Creature belongs to the First God, both Protector and Predator. She has a predator attendant with her now, as I am her Osminog. You need to leave and never come back. She has divine power, power that you cannot imagine. She is coming right now, her predator by her side. I am here to simply give you warning, tell you to leave and never come back.” I approved of her explanation.
“I bigger than you, suspect. Get out of way, leave or we destroy your food.” I heard some movement, then Blue began screeching, my signal.
The predator perked up at the noise, searching for the delicious sound, so I dragged it forward and let it look down the row.
As I moved it, the predator reared its body and snarled, screaming out in deep tones as it pulled against my reins in attempt to get to the new Osminog. I held it back, though, while I listened to the heavy, fast steps of the bearer. I peeked down the row, seeing the bearer running away quickly, and fed my predator blubberballs to calm it down and get its attention off of Blue, who was shivering fearfully in the middle of the field. As the predator ate and enjoyed itself, I let down its reins and sought to administer comfort to Blue. The predator laid down in the mud, happy to sleep while I walked up to my friend.
She eyed me, blinking as if about to cry.
I bent down to her and gave her a hug, something that I hoped her people understood as a means of affection. “You did such a good job,” I said.
She patted me with her tentacle, so I released her. “It was very hard, Creature. She was so much bigger than me. Without you and your scary predator, I could not have done anything.”
I nodded. “That’s ok. You still got the point across and I never had to show myself.”
“No, no… I don’t think that’s true. They’ll be back, creature, with more Osminog. There is simply too much fruit here, in one place, for them to give up. Should we migrate?”
I stood and looked to the predator, to the pile of rocks near my house, and then toward the center of the field where the boxes that grew my Earth plants were at. Even if it were only for the Earth plants, I couldn’t leave this place.
“We’ll stay here. I’ll figure out what to do if they come back. For now, though, let’s get some supper.” We walked out of the field, Blue picking fruits as she went, eating them fresh off the bush. I picked up the leaf package the bearer had left behind.