Terrarium - part 3
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Terrarium - part 3
It didn't take long for the Banners to appear, one by one, holding similar weapons. They bear mud-painted faces in patterns I cannot discern the meaning of.
"Banners. Return the Deoger child you took!" - The elder demands.
"The child belongs to us now." - The leader, which is the tallest Banner of all, says as inexpressively as possible.
I'm pushed to the front.
"This is a Duilleog scholar. They will forge a contract that benefits both of our people."
Anxiety takes over me, and I have trouble keeping calm enough to breathe. My heart pounds out of my chest, trying to escape to freedom like I did.
"A Duilleoger hm?" - The leader asks rhetorically as they approach me and kneel to be at my height. They get up abruptly, causing some Dergers to flinch with their weapons.
"How can I trust this is a true Duilleoger and not a Derger dressed as a Duilleoger? This is obviously one of your tricks!"
The Banner crowd cheers to this statement. The leader closes their hand, and silence is reinstalled.
"This Duilleoger cannot be trust-"
"Then how about you shut up and hear my proposal first?" - I interrupt. I don't know where the courage to speak came from, nor the courage to be this rude. But it happened, and I can't go back. So I get up. I see that the Banner respects me a little bit more now.
"What is it that you use the red leaves for?" - I ask.
"No. It is relevant. Dergers can be willing to trade red leaves with you for something they may need that you have. In this way, you would avoid being hurt by them while you steal their red leaves, and they avoid getting hurt when they steal white leaves from you. So. I ask again. What is it that you use them for? I see that it is not for clothing."
They frown but comply.
"Medicine and strings. We need 1 leaf per day."
"Dergers, what do you use the white leaves for?" - I ask.
The elder smiles.
"To cook. We need two per day."
The Banner leader points the finger at the elder.
"See? This is why trading with them is impossible! They take more than we do! It is not fair!"
"But maybe Dergers can get you something else in the trade… Like food…"
The leader looks at the Dergers, and then at me with a thoughtful expression.
"We have enough food. But. We could use a slave. I'll trade 100 white leaves for 50 red leaves and a slave."
"Fine. Take the Duilleoger, but return the child. A young adult can work better than a child!" - The elder says, betraying me by selling me off before I could protest the whole bargain. Can't they see this means soon they will have to give one of their own?
"Wait! Elder! That is not a fair trade for you! You now have me to trade, but who will you give up next time? And the time after…."
"Shut up, Duilleoger. You've had your chance. Now it's time you respect the elders. The elders know better. And you must trust that."
Are they telling me to trust them? What are they thinking? If the Banners suspect they will be betrayed, there's no more hope for peace!
I feel my heart anxiously trying to get out of my chest. My hands shake. I can't breathe. Why did I run away? I had a comfortable life…
I am delivered to the Banners and quickly taken away. I look back to Yzet, begging them silently to save me from this situation. They close their eyes regretfully.
"Move." - A Banner demands while they push me deeper into the white-leafed forest, holding a weapon against my back. I feel the sharp edge piercing through my clothing. I do as told.
A Banner takes hold of my tied hands and pushes me into the centre of a village, not so far from the border. The organization of the village is similar to the Derger's. However, there clearly are sleeping units in the plants above, while in Derg, there aren't because they all live separately. I'm told to sit in the centre. An elder sits a moderate distance away, right in front of me.
"Elder. We have traded this Duilleoger and red leaves in exchange for white leaves and the Derger child."
The elder, clearly blind from old age, gets up and walks closer to me. Their hands land on mine, raising them by pulling me, causing me to almost fall over their feet.
The blind elder closes their eyes and feels my hands. Their hands are warm, dry, rough and wrinkly.
"This is a true Duilleoger. But not just any Duilleoger. This is a high-status Duilleoger. Oh… Yes… Ar. Ar is your name. You're the child of Mar and Lar, the Duilleoger chiefs… You have ambition within you. Enough Curiosity to attempt to climb the Wall Of The World and meet the Gods in the flesh. You're frightened. But don't be. You are among family, after all. Yes… You have Banner blood. Five generations ago, your ancestor was related to us. We can return you to Duilleog if you so wish… You shall be welcomed as a guest…."
I'm surprised how this person knows my name and who I am, especially when they cannot see me. But I won't refuse the kindness. I feel somewhat relieved, though my mind still lingers with every Derger that gets sold in the future. Will Banners be as kind to them as they were to me? What if they take Yzet? Would they be forgiven like I was because they're half Talahm? This elder clearly is clairvoyant… Maybe there's hope for them too… But… Also… Why would I care? I mean… They took me captive. They could have let me go…
"...If you pass the test, that is." - The elder says. What test? Are they going to make me kill someone? or worse… EAT someone?
My heart beats out of my chest. Legends tell that Banners are sometimes cannibalistic. I don't want to eat someone! Oh, Dear Gods that are watching. Can't you intervene just this once?
"What test?" - My voice trembles harder than my hands to the beat of my anxious heart.
"You'll see soon enough."
I sit next to the elder for almost an entire day and notice that most of the people I saw in the trade deal place by the border are still not back. Why is that? Did something happen? Could Yzet be hu-... Why would I care?
They arrived soon after the Gods extinguished the light of day, and their voices ceased.
They notify that the Derger child was stolen by the Dergers and that the deal was off because Dergers cannot be trusted. This makes me think that maybe they intend to steal me back as well.
They gathered around the centre shortly after, where a fire was built. The warriors that had gone to deal with the Dergers, picked up their weapons, turned them around and used the string of their bows, producing a beautiful sound. Some others joined in with these instruments that made music and complimented the symphony. A sound just as beautiful as Dergers' voices.
I notice everyone holding hands and leaning back and forth to the melody as their eyes remain closed. People start to hum, adding another note to the melody.
It becomes louder and louder until everyone stops. The elder that spent all day sitting by my side gets up.
"Everyone knows our intricate ties with the Duilleogers. How we used to be one family. This person was a captive of the Dergers, sold to us in exchange for white leaves. But this is a Duilleoger. So today, they're going to have THE test."
This test, whatever it is, is a source of entertainment.
"As you know, we haven't had a test since I, myself, was a child." - The elder says. - "So I'll explain…" - They raise their hands. - "Silence, please."
The crowd calmed down.
"As you all know. Our plant is the tallest in the world, and legend says it is possible to touch the World's Seal by climbing it all the way up. So the challenge for our Duilleoger is to climb to the top of the world, touch the seal and return faster than our best climber." - They say, looking at me.
Oh, I'm so doomed. So so doomed. I'm a good climber, but I hear Banners are better climbers… And their best?! That's… So… Unfair!
I feel faint. I don't like this. I don't like this at all!
I look up at the endless white streaked leaves that go far beyond what I can see, obstructing the view of the centre of the Wall of the World. I can't faint. I can't faint! I'll never pass the test if I faint! Calm down. Calm down! The leaves seem to be closing in on me, and I can't breathe. My eyes shift to the cheering crowd, and behind some children, I notice someone wearing red, hidden behind a white leaf. I squint. It looks like Yzet. I rub my eyes, and they're gone.
Great. I'm so desperate I want to be a captive for the Dergers again.
I finally close my eyes and stand up. I look at the elder and take a deep breath.
"Fine. Let's do it."
I proceed to rip my clothes strategically so I can climb better. Our leaves are flat and wide, and climbing is an effort achievable by virtually only walking. But these leaves are different. I'll need more ample movements if I want to have any chance at all of winning.
"Who's your best climber?" - I ask.
A small child steps forward, looking determined and serious. This has to be some sort of mockery. However, I hope they're serious and the child is not an actual climbing prodigy. It would not only be extremely embarrassing to lose to a child; my life depends on this. They're as tall as my elbow, and I'm already considered short for a Duilleoger.
We're accompanied to the plant's thickest trunk, where we're set on opposite sides.
"Alright. Ready. Go!"
The elder sets the starting point, and the crowd cheers to no end. On a parallel bench, a judge climbs as well, just right behind us. The child surpasses me almost immediately. They're lighter and are used to this plant more than I am. Even the judge goes up faster than me at some point.
My arms ache, my legs ache, my fingers ache, and I'm tired, and I'm not even 1/10 up.
As I'm almost giving up and just jumping down, I see Yzet, climbing in parallel.
"Come on, Ar! You can do this! I'll take you out of here once no one looks at you anymore. We'll go to Talahmn. Together! But please! You have to win! You can't let them kill you! The elder knew they would give you a chance. They believe in you, and so do I. Come on!"
They're worried about me? Did they come to help me? Why?
Well. It doesn't matter now. I have to climb fast if I want any chance of winning at this point. The child and the judge are so far up I can't see them anymore.
"If you use your legs and only use your arms for support, it's easier. Come on! Quickly!" - Yzet whispers, demonstrating how to do it. I follow their advice, and I climb much faster.
I see white leaf after white leaf. I feel lost, and only white leaves exist now. I look up, and I don't see anything but white leaves. I look down, and it's all white leaves too.
The Gods start the day by giving us light, and the white streaks of the leaves shine brighter than the green. The view is hypnotizing. It's like a dream. Suddenly, I'm so used to climbing that I'm not climbing anymore. I'm flowing upwards.
Then I see the child, and I hear the judge talking. They decided to take a break because they could not see me anymore. I take advantage of that and hide on the opposite side of the trunk, so they don't see me passing until I'm far enough above them to give me an advantage. Then I make sure I'm seen. They immediately start climbing up again.
I return to my trance, floating through the beautiful shiny white leaves that get smaller and smaller.
I see the centre of the Wall. The brown bit that I never imagined I could ever touch. Surprised by my strength, I touch it seconds before the child does, breathless.
The judge looks at me, stunned.
"Well… Hm… Let's go down then."
I jump. Letting the leaves slow down my descent.
Going down takes just a few seconds.
People are stunned when they see me smiling. However, as the judge arrives and everyone silently awaits their verdict, the judge opens their mouth and says:
"The child wins."
"WHAT?! That's not true! I won! You stopped climbing! I surpassed you! I reached it first! I won!"
"Well. It's two against one… Elder?" - The child says, with a mischievous smile on their face.
The elder walks up to the judge and calmly asks:
"Why aren't you telling the truth, Viner? Are you against a foreigner honestly winning a game?"
The judge stood up and looked at the crowd, looking for sympathy.
"Are you going to believe the foreigner or your own people?"
"I am clairvoyant, child. No lies pass through me. I believe the truth. I was testing your honesty as I heard complaints about you stealing from people's personal leaves. I have seen it in them with my clairvoyance. I wanted it to be a misunderstanding, but now I see you're manipulative. We do not accept manipulation in this village. Do we? And you're teaching dishonesty to our children! That is unacceptable!"
The crowd cheered in favour of the elder.
"You are banished. The foreigner is telling the truth. The foreigner becomes one of us tonight. As for you, you are now considered foreign, and if you don't leave our territory until the Gods extinguish the light, you shall be devoured."
My heart is racing. They do eat people! I just escaped being eaten? Then… Is that what happened to the Deoger child? I don't see them anywhere. Could they have escaped back? Or maybe taken back? And Yzet! Did I dream they helped me climb? Were they really there? And if they were really there, then where are they now? Are they safe? Why were they there?
As the Gods extinguished the lights of day, a fire was built. I see the village come together and play these instruments in the same tune as before. One that complements Deoger's voices perfectly. I wish I could bring them all together.
As the sound goes on, they make a corridor. I'm told by the elder to run to the other side to become a Banner.
"Will I have to forfeit being Duilleoger?" - I ask.
The elder smiles.
"No, child. No one can take where you were born away from you."
I take a deep breath and run through the corridor, avoiding being hit by the Banners. I am struck a couple of times to leave a few bruises. By the end, I'm welcomed with a hug from everyone in the community.
I am welcomed into the community with a big celebratory dinner. Everyone is nice to me and eager to ask questions about my personality, likes and dislikes, etc. I feel more welcomed than at Duilleog. Surprisingly, they are willing to be so kind to one that they consider Banner. I am given Banner clothes, but I am not forced to wear them. I am introduced to a couple that has three older children. I am to be adopted as their youngest child and am told I'm suited to marry whoever I choose.
As one of the parents says this to me while we have dinner, I can't help but cry. I am comforted with a warm hug, and both parents ask why I am crying.
"I… I escaped Duilleog because I didn't want the spouse assigned to me. I feel… So welcomed here…."
All the stress and frustration of days on end came down all at once, and I cried endlessly, comforted by these two parents that now were more caring than my own.
I wake up wrapped in a white leaf. My new siblings and parents sleep on leaves next to mine.
They explained the chore division. Everyone does everything. Unlike in Duilleog, where the lessers do all the work, and the uppers sit and are worshipped.
I am told to follow someone named Lir. They are quite attractive. I ignore those thoughts and just follow them.
As they explain how to collect the moss that accumulates on the ground and next to the roots, they also start asking questions, and I get to know them. My heart flutters as they smile and laugh, the same as when Yzet looks at me.
I keep having visions of Yzet every now and again throughout the day. My passion for them is making me see things.
We are united in the evening, and the music restarts as the communal dinner is prepared. The day's issues are discussed with the elders, and I am sat next to Lir. Their hand discreetly touches mine during the evening. Before it's time to sleep again, Lir asks to see me privately and takes me away from the city centre. They hold my hand more confidently now, and they confess as they stare into my eyes under the vestigial light of the village's fires.
"I am flustered by you, Ar. Will you be my spouse?"
I am concerned because it's too soon. In Duilleog, marriage is forever, a union between two and only two people. Is it the same here? A million questions pass through my mind.
"I… I… I am impressed by you as well, Lir, but… I'm not sure about becoming your spouse…."
Their eyes become thoughtful. I'm nervous again. My heart is beating out of my chest, and I can feel myself sweating with anxiety.
"Well. Are you caring about someone else simultaneously?" - They ask. Their eyes don't show pain, anger, or frustration, but compassion and understanding.
"I… I believe so. Yes." - I say, thinking about Yzet.
"Anyone that I know? Or is it someone from Duilleog?" - They ask, still holding my hand gently while bearing a smile.
"It's… A Derger… Actually…"
They seem surprised.
"Oh… But… You were held captive there… How can you care about someone who held you captive?"
"They didn't hurt me… And they helped me win the race. I couldn't climb very well, but they were there and helped me. I am only a part of you because they were there."
"I see… Well… You're free to love them too. Just be careful because… Dergers aren't welcome here."
"I want to go to Talamh." - I say.
They are further confused.
"You're full of surprises. Why? Aren't you happy here?" - They seem worried. - "We can find you other parents or more romantic interests if that makes you happy, Ar. You're free to do as you please here."
Yzet shows up from behind a leaf.
"Is it true, Ar? Are you caring for me?" - They ask.
"Ah… The… Derger… Maybe I should leave you two to talk…" - Lir says, being extraordinarily compassionate while letting go of my hand. How can this be?
I hold both of their hands.
"No. Both of you. Stay here. Yes, Yzet. I am. And yes, Lir, I am. I want to spouse both of you. But we can't do it here. My ultimate goal from the beginning was to study the Talamhs. But I know we can be together there. The three of us, and be truly free. Free from elders and ignorance from both of your tribes and mine. We can be happy. Together."
They look at each other.
"I don't know… Can we trust a Derger?" - Lir asks.
"How can you trust a Banner?" - Yzet asks. - "I mean… My whole purpose here is to make sure you get back to Derg… The elder wanted to betray the Banners and steal you back like we stole the child. But… If you're happier here…."
"Can both of you trust me?"
"Then you can trust each other. I know you can't see it yet, but… Your tribes live the same way, except yours, Lir, sleeps and eats together daily, and yours, Yzet, does not. Both of you respect the elders, and both of you make beautiful music. Both of you have a strong sense of communal self. I love you both, so please, allow yourselves to see past that. We're people. All of us. Created by the Gods. We eat the same, talk the same, sleep the same. So Please. Let's go to Talamh. See how they live. And if they don't accept us, we can start our own tribe."
I see their smiles at my idea, which makes my heart happy, and their concerns, which gives me anxiety.
"Trust me." - I say confidently, yet unsure like I have all my life as a leader of Duilleog.
"Okay. I trust you." - Yzet says, kissing my cheek.
I hug them both
I've never felt so happy.
"I'm going to warn the elder that we're both going to Talamh. I am part Talamh. I am certain they won't oppose me, you as my spouse, or to you, Lir, as my spouse's spouse."
Lir seems impressed. They embrace each other in a close greeting I had never seen before.
"Nice to meet you, Lir. I'm Yzet."
"Nice to meet you, Yzet. I'm Lir."
Lir looks at me.
"It's better if we warn our elders too. Otherwise, our disappearing could start another ugly war between Dergers and Banners." - Lir says.
"Okay. Let's meet at the centre of the world at first light." - I say to Yzet. They smile and leave.
My heart is the happiest it has ever been.