Welcome back to another installment of Worlds Rising: Rebellion. Things might get a littly warped up, so don’t get dizzy <3
If you’re new to Abbida’s adventure you might want to start with Chapter 1 🙂
Else, strap in–here we go!
Worlds Rising: Rebellion
Chapter 5, Part 1
Just as he’d announced, Cole kept them busy during the following days, preparing or fixing equipment people thought useful at prolonged explorations. They kept the fire burning almost night and day, but Abbida didn’t mind. The smithy was the one place in the village that didn’t feel dank – a few quarter circulations into rain season – and she preferred the smell of burning coal over the stench of mold, anytime.
A pity, though, that any of their steam projects had been halted for the time being, as they were just not sophisticated enough, yet. Instead, more people than usual frequented the smithy, assigning new tasks or picking up finished parts, or just to poke around, asking questions, that nobody answered.
News of a research team to the riverside being formed had traveled faster than the mystery of fatherhood of Mandras’ youngest grandchild. Time and again people stopped by to pester Cole for details – to no avail. He was more close-lipped than Abbida had ever seen him, keeping his distance even from her. Once or twice she’d looked up from her work and caught him watching her, gloomily. On realizing, that she’d noticed, he would fake a smile and turn away.
It stung. Apart from his history with Inez and their unborn child, there was hardly anything he wouldn’t share with her. So why keep her out now? Actually, she was pretty sure, she knew what was troubling him, anyway. It seemed a done deal that he was to be part of that research team, if not lead it. He wouldn’t say. Allegedly, the council had demanded strict silence over the topic until Mandras himself was ready to address the community at a formal farewell ceremony. She understood that. Still, it stung. There’d been times when he wouldn’t have let any stupid taboo come between them.
She tried not to let it get to her, though. To not put any more pressure on him than he was already under. Things were bad enough as it was. Wild water buffalos couldn’t drag her anywhere near the river! Not only because of crocodiles, although they posed a huge problem out there, naturally. But at least you might see them coming. Other than the water snakes. Dashing lightning-fast through the murky waters, you might die from their poison before even realizing you’d been bit. Not to mention parasites. Mother Marja, the teacher, had a lot to say about that. Stay clear of the river, was one of the earliest lessons village kids internalized.
So, why in the world would the council go back on that postulate at all? As far as Abbida recalled, nobody had ever shown any interest in the river whatsoever. Then again, no, that wasn’t true; they just didn’t talk about it. The place was dangerous, there was nothing of interest to be found, so they had no reason to go there, period.
Until recently. So, what had caused this change of heart?
The correlation was obvious, only Abbida didn’t see how. Could it be, that’s where the Conquerors came from? But, wasn’t that all the more reason to avoid the area? Why send an expedition? What did the council hope to find? This puzzle kept her awake at nights, scheming ways to maneuver the guys into opening up to her. But no matter how subtly she tried to pry, Cole kept his silence and Ashok spoke even less than before.
Though he’d let it slip at one point that he knew more about the route than most, he wouldn’t say any more. Abbida had asked him directly once, at which he’d curled up into himself completely and hadn’t even looked at her for days. She finally apologized, assuring him, she wasn’t interested in crazy suicide missions anyway.
Ashok seemed even more absent-minded than before. Now and then he might stop with whatever he’d been doing, staring into the void, lost in thought. A haunted expression ghosted on his face then, a blend of worry and grim determination and something Abbida couldn’t quite read. He seemed so pained and wistful, it broke her heart. She couldn’t even imagine what he might have endured at the hands of the enemy.
Three quarter circulations later they’d finally collected all necessary appliances. Carrying frames and bags were packed and the pantry had been ransacked for a group of four. A cart stood ready for one of their oxen to be hitched up. The poor creature would have to carry the bulk of the weight at the risk of its life without even being given a choice. Well, neither were the human members of the team.
Or, were they? For the life of her, Abbida couldn’t imagine why Cole didn’t just refuse to go. Instead, he’d kept pushing the helpers, dividing his time between his work at the smithy and meetings with the council. More and more tense, he kept perusing his packing list, complementing his tool satchel. He’d been so immersed in his preparations that he’d hardly spoken with Abbida outside of work. Even on the evening before the departure he called her to the smithy.
But, when she arrived there was no one there besides him. He’d dimmed the fire to a cozy little flame and arranged a bench and some stools to put up their feet in front. Invitingly, he tapped the seat next to his.
“Look, what your sister gave me as a parting gift,” he crooned, bent down and pulled a leather satchel from behind the bench. It was quite capacious with a broad strap long enough for Cole to wear across his broad shoulders. The front was embroidered with colorful flowers and butterflies, and on the strap, where it would cross his chest, Latisha had embroidered Cole’s name – surrounded by squiggly ornaments.
“Are those… little hearts?! You’re not actually going to carry this, are you?” Abbida called in disbelief.
He just grinned, and Abbida knew, that was exactly what he was going to do. After all, it was a present. Latisha, the little beast! Then again, it was to be feared, her sister actually liked the patterns.
Cole winked at her cheerfully, “With everybody gathering tomorrow to say their goodbyes, there won’t even be time for us to share a decent parting drink. So – I got us this.”
Wiggling his eyebrows, he dug a hand into the satchel and pulled out a bottle. “Just so you will keep me in good memory.”
Brandy! Abbida gaped. How he’d managed to run that past Rona she couldn’t even imagine. Normally, she’d sit on the village’s alcohol supplies like a dragon on its hoard.
Despite her anxiety Abbida couldn’t help laugh, “So, you think, whenever I will get drunk hence forth I’ll be reminded of you?”
“Something along those lines.” He grinned.
Wide-eyed she watched him fill her glass up to the brink. Not, that she hadn’t shared a glass of sourberry wine with Latisha and Ilka now and then. But Brandy was something else altogether, not to mention this much of it.
“You’re not going to make me drink alone, are you?” Cole said, lifting his glass.
A little flustered she followed suit. Early tomorrow he would be gone for who knew how long. A toast was called for! “To a completely uneventful journey. May your discoveries be exciting only to the chroniclers – and maybe the cooks. And to a speedy return in good health!”
“Ack, that must be the most boring toast I’ve ever heard.”
“It comes from the heart.” She downed her drink and coughed. “And it had better come true!”
Cole drank to that and refilled her glass.
“Huh, easy” she stammered. Her tongue already felt heavy as a leather bellows. Mesmerized, she watched the colorful, shimmering streaks of brandy gyrating in her glass. “Dat’s some mighty strong stuff …”
“That’s a mighty fine drop! I wheedled that out of Rona for a whole day’s ration.”
“Ha! I bet it works even better on an empty stomach” she said, giggling. She couldn’t stop laughing. Feeling a little daring, she whispered, “Say, do ya feel warm all over… all over… What was I gonna say?”
Her feet slipped of the stool and her head sagged to the side. Just before flopping off the bench she felt Cole catch her, cradling her in his arms.
“Mhmmm, sooo strong,” she mumbled.
After that, all she did was listen to the crackle of the lantern, Cole’s soothing words and what seemed like a speech song he was reciting with somebody else. She felt herself being lifted up, enveloped in cozy blankets and carried away. The only thing bothering her a bit was that stupid cloth over her face. It tickled and tasted linty. Other than that, every thing was just very funny. Quietly, she giggled away. Her belly vibrated delightfully, so she laughed a little louder. That was even better!
“At this rate, she’ll wake the whole damned village,” Cole said, and somebody else answered, “Then cover her mouth!… Don’t look at me like that, this was your idea.”
Muttering under his breath, Cole pressed a hand to her lips. It tasted salty. She licked it and tried to bite him, but it was too exhausting. Finally, they put her down, somebody bent her knees and leaned her head against a wall of some fragrant material. So fragrant. She sighed and closed her eyes…
A blow and a jolt and an abysmal feeling of vertigo woke her to a delirious state of utter misery. She was going to… Too late.
“Oh, come on!” she heard Tarek swear, “Watch were you’re going, won’t you? The girl is puking on our entire equipment!”
As disgusting as it was, after throwing up, Abbida felt better. Pressing a hand to her stomach, she tried sitting up, thinking better of it, though, when lightning struck her throbbing head. “What’s happening? Where are we?” she croaked.
Still muttering to himself, Tarek gingerly pried the sullied blanket off of her, wadded it into a ball and crammed it into the shack beneath her feet. Disgusted, he scrunched up his face.
Another jolt rattled her up.“We’re moving! Where to?!”
“Inland, for the time being,” he said, avoiding her eyes.
Inland, yeah, right. There was nothing inland. The cavernous ground soaked like a sponge in the rain and nothing worth while grew there. Nobody lived there. They had no reason to go there whatsoever. Gradually, it dawned on her that something dubious was going on. “Am I being kidnapped?!”
Tarek frowned, but didn’t answer.
A surge of adrenalin churned up her stomach again and she pressed both hands to her belly. “We’re going to the river, aren’t we?”
Tarek still wouldn’t answer. Instead, he whacked his fist against the front panel, “Stop the cart! We’re swapping places!”
There was some sort of dispute on the other side, then the cart really slowed down and stopped.
“Who else is there? How many of you?”
Scowling, Tarek opened the carriage door and jumped out, making room for somebody else sticking his head inside. Blinded by harsh sunlight, Abbida blinked. All she could see was a shadow, but she’d recognize this broad silhouette anytime, anywhere.
“Cole! What kind of dirty trick are you playing on me?!”
Thank you for reading!
Please check back for the second part of this chapter here in Joey’s Café. I will update this story every 10th, 20th and 30th of the month.
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Keep on rocking!