Part Four: The New Buds
Worried that we’d have to face more Osminog from this new tribe, Blue and I worked hard in our garden to produce vegetables and fruit. We built the forge and smelter over the course of a couple weeks, slogging through the clay and the stones to build the hot ovens, then I searched with the predator for signs of coal. The presence of peat to the south indicated that the swampy region, rich with plant matter, should have produced coal.
I was not disappointed. I had to use my hands to pry off some precious coal from a visible vein, but I would be able to fashion a pick to get more later. Blue would be confused as to what all this work was for, but she would see the results eventually. I brought back the coal, shoved in some iron ore that I’d retrieved from the bogs, and had Blue pump the bellows made from leaves. When the iron’s impurities were separated out, I tipped the smelter and poured a pick into a mould made from clay. I later poured a plow, then some nails, all of which were poorly made but better than what I had at the moment. I poured a few axe-heads, sharpening them with the whetstones I’d had for better than a year.
Blue held up a finished axe, running her tentacle over the new handle and steel head. “This thing is amazing. Surely it is a divine creation.”
I pounded another handle into a second steel head, proud of the handiwork. “These will get better as we have more practice. For now, though, we need more iron before we can continue. I think we should focus on picking the fruit that is ripe, maybe preserving them for winter.”
Blue nodded, putting down the axe with care and picking up a basket I had taught her to weave. She liked weaving and had quickly become better at it than me, despite her insistence otherwise. “Yes – that sounds nice. It makes more sense than all this here.”
I picked up my basket, also made by Blue, and went into the fields with her. I stood in one row, just on the other side of some fruit bushes from the Osminog. My fingers deftly plucked fruit, one hand holding the basket while the other plucked. Blue put her basket down, dropping fruits with a tentacle that picked them.
“I am curious, creature,” Blue said, “What happened to all your faces. Where did they go? Why do you have only one left?”
I laughed, causing Blue some distress. “My tribe only has one face, Blue. We are all born with one face, we all die with one face. The Osminog are very special in that they have four faces.”
Blue harrumphed as best she could, copying one of the noises that I alone could make. “It seems you have to twist and turn so much with only one face. You should have many faces, Creature. It is much better, I think.”
I smiled, then said, “I haven’t found a need for many faces, though I see your point. I can see the benefit of not having a back side, the side opposite my face.”
“There is no reason to only have one face.”
“Oh, I can think of a couple. It takes more food to keep four faces working, for one thing. Ever notice how much more food you eat than me?”
Blue picked some fruit. “Well… I can’t really tell how much you’re eating. You don’t eat fruits, so how do I know it’s the same?”
I shrugged and picked a few more. “They’re not but… look, I know what I’m saying. You eat about twice the amount of food I do even though we’re roughly the same size. Part of it is that you have four faces, which requires more food to work. Even though I only have one face, I can use it pretty well and have to eat much less food than you.”
Blue flinched all of a sudden. “Did you hear that?” she asked.
“No,” I said. I crouched, listening. Blue did tend to be flightier, but she also was most likely to hear approaching enemies first. I looked down the row and tried to figure out what was going on. I heard the baying of my predator, then some quick footsteps. “I hear that,” I said.
“This isn’t the first time this has happened,” Blue said. She walked towards the end of the row, so I followed close behind, knowing that I would be the better at fixing problems if something were to have gone terribly wrong.
As I went, I saw the predator baying and shuffling around in the mud, several strange Osminog prodding it from just far enough away that the predator couldn’t get them while it was tied up. That being said, I also wasn’t certain that the predator was trying to get them. It rolled over, showing its stomach in such a way that typically ended with a belly rub and, possibly, some blubberballs.
The strangers, however, wouldn’t have possibly known that. They walked around the perimeter that the predator could stalk, eyeing the rope carefully, shaking as they passed.
“Oh no!” Blue said, pointing. “They’re back and they’ve figured out that the predator is defective!”
The strange Osminog heard Blue, the faces they focused out of switching from the predator to the fruit bushes. I backed away through the mud, watching the newcomers stare at the rows we were hiding in.
“Tell them to go away,” I said. “Tell them the Sky Creature will come kill them if they don’t.”
Blue looked at me. “You won’t kill them, you won’t even show your single face. The threat won’t make sense.”
I grimaced, but backed away as the strangely spotted bearers all came nearer. One especially large looking one shouted out, “We know you there, suspect! Leave, give us all fruit or we destroy everyone’s fruit!”
It never made sense to me why the Osminog would destroy fruit, but to Blue it did. It was all a big game of chicken, the banished pushing to see how far the tribe would go to starve them. For some reason, the tribes seemed willing to go much further than I thought reasonable, the banished much less willing to stand up for themselves than I would have. It was all the Osminogs’ strange but intense desire to see the group perform well at the cost of themselves as individuals that kept things well balanced.
Blue switched which face she focused from, looked at me, and blinked. “Creature, what should we do? We can’t let them just stomp our fruit bushes into the mud.”
I agreed. “Untie the predator from the tree and lead it around. Threaten to let it go if they don’t leave. Keep their focus on you – I’ll be sneaking around to prepare the backup plan.”
I ducked down as Blue bravely stood, walking out amongst the large bearers. She was lucky that Osminog rarely physically fought, never anything more than pushing.
Those Osminog weren’t so lucky. They were running the risk of facing a human.
“Leave!” Blue shouted. I could see the nervousness in her tentacles, detected the lack of surety in her trembling voice. I saw her walk forward, going towards the tree where the predator was tied, picking up blubberballs from their pools as she did. “Leave now, foreigners, for this is not your fruit! This place belongs to the Sky Creature, a servant of the First God! You are not welcome here and cannot have her fruit.”
The Osminog all crowded around, so I crept out of the rows of bushes and escaped towards the forge. They were attentive of Blue and, alternately, the predator, not me. I made use of the distraction and crept around, unnoticed, silent.
One of the big bearers sauntered up. “Your Sky Creature’s predator not working. Stuck. Why we fear? Last warning for you to leave.”
“You should fear us because the Sky Creature knows much divine magic. She made all these fruits, she got this predator for us. Everything here was made or gathered by the Sky Creature, not you, and she chooses not to share. Now leave.”
The bearers stalked forward, pushing Blue roughly into the mud. One of the smaller ones called, “Then where is this Sky Creature? What is she? She is not real, you make her up so we will not destroy your food. You mad, crazy, not fit to be called Osminog.”
Blue crawled away, the Osminog pushing her. “Please, no! Please, don’t push me near the predator!” Blue cried.
I smiled and pumped my fist. How clever!
The bearers gathered forth. “She scared! Predator stuck! Quick, push her into range!”
The bearers all grabbed Blue, one tentacle each, and dragged her floundering, flapping body over to the circle. They dropped her just outside, in the mud, and pushed her in the final step of the way.
I saw Blue’s tentacles enter the ring around the tree in which the bearers were afraid to venture, then sensed a gasp from the strangers. The predator stepped in front of her, growling and snarling at the foreign Osminogs that it had seen treating its keeper poorly. I peeked around the bushes, watching Blue feed the predator some blubberballs before untying it from the tree.
“The Sky Creature has given the predator to me to control! Now leave, foreigners, or I will let it go!”
The strange Osminogs all crouched, their tentacles pulled inward toward themselves, while Blue held the predator’s reigns. They shivered and screamed in high pitched wails, making the predator stare at them innocently. It stopped barking but, instead, nuzzled up against Blue in search of more blubberballs.
I put my head to my right palm as one of the bearers stood from her stupor.
She reached a tentacle forth, touching the skin of the predator that cooed at her touch. “It’s defective! The Protector is on our side!”
They whooped and hollered, the predator lying on its side now that the threat appeared to be gone.
“Leave, suspect Osminog of foreign tribe. This our fruit now or it is no one’s.” The big bearers looked to each other, crowding around Blue. She let go of the reins, letting the predator loose to sniff around, eating far more blubberballs than I would have wanted it to.
Blue backed up. “There is a predator in your midst! It will eat you!”
“We watch predator long time, at night when you not here. Always stuck. Not predator, just lie.”
Blue looked around. “The Sky Creature isn’t Osminog. She won’t leave and… and I will stay with her.”
The Osminog all blinked at each other. “We smash fruit bushes, then. Whirmur, start smashing,” the biggest ordered.
Whirmur walked up to the edge of the field and smashed a plant, driving it into the mud.
I looked around, grabbing the axe I had just finished making, and walked out into the open. I held the axe in my left and used my right to talk, saying in both human language and Osminog, “Touch another plant, and you will die.” I lifted the axe above my head, none of them recognizing my threatening posture.
Many of the Osminog shrank, some of them ran, but Whirmur and the biggest, most powerful Osminog stood resolute. I didn’t know what to do, not having expected them to remain. The usually flighty Osminog, especially Blue, had brought me to expect that they would run immediately at my alien appearance.
The big Osminog stood tall, its massive bulk frightening. I stood against it, not shrinking at its frightening visage. “Mudflapper tribe not full of scared children. We smart. We watch predator, why you think we no watch you? What are you, Sky Creature? Not predator, that sure. You eat plants, you not predator. Now take your Osminog and defective predator if you want us to not stomp your fruit.”
I took up the axe above my head, having difficulty as I said, “I will kill the first one to touch a plant. You have been warned.”
“Do it, Whirmur!”
Whirmur stood still, flinching as she saw my frightening, alien visage. She shrank down, afraid of me and the big Osminog.
“She not predator! Do as I say!” the big Osminog said.
Whirmir whimpered and said, “What if she not lying? What is Sky Creature?”
The big Osminog walked over to Whirmir, pulling her away from fruit bushes. “Sky Creature is either animal or Osminog not deserving of fruit. Smash bushes.”
Whirmur, scared of the big Osminog, grabbed a bush with her tentacle. Seeing her reluctance, I released the axe with my left hand and, instead, pulled on her tentacle to drag her roughly away from the garden. “Don’t you even dare,” I threatened. “Run, now, Osminog!”
“You all scared! You, suspect, is Sky Creature predator?” She focused on a face looking at Blue, glaring out dark eyes.
“I don’t want to know,” Blue answered. She cowered in the mud, pulling her tentacles close. At this, Whirmur got up and ran away. The big Osminog remained, however, all her followers looking on from just outside my lands.
She looked at her friends, looked at me, looked at my predator. Finally, she said, “Perhaps suspect lies. She says you are old, of the First God, but this lies. All lies!”
She grabbed another bush, stomping it to the ground.
I lifted my axe and brought it down hard upon the Osminog’s side.
She screamed. I felt horrible.
The axe lifted up again, then fell down. The Osminog tried to push the axe away, but I kicked her and continued to chop, pulling her to pieces with the sharp steel. It wasn’t long before the screaming was over, before the Osminog’s blood littered the ground.
The predator sniffed the air and stood up, teeth glistening with saliva. I grabbed the reins and told it no, not wanting it to get used to eating Osminog again. I then stepped around the dead bearer, walking over to the remaining onlookers, dragging the predator over to the tree where I tied it.
“Go home,” I said, “And don’t come back! This food belongs to me and Six of Blue, not you or your people. Anyone else who tries to destroy my fruit will meet this same fate, but I will not harm anyone who leaves me alone.”
They stood there, gawking, fearful.
“Get out!” I shouted in my own tongue, screaming at them. They all shot up immediately, scattering as they ran away.
I fell to my knees and cried, wishing I hadn’t done it, wishing I could take it back, and praying that I’d never have to do it again.
%d bloggers like this: