After much of the feasting, tea drinking, talk talk talk! we finally leaving Shiro for south way. Kaiu daddy give many speech — he take after Grandpa this way. Like sound of voice. Te’Ka can hope that daughter-granddaughter no follow in steps, yes? Otherwise, long trip be seeming longer. Human why talk so much-much? What to say?
Nezumi talk, yes-yes. So? We having to use talk for to be the books for our people. What excuse for human? I unusual Nezumi with the reading. Human have book for the history. And still they talk-talk. Maybe want to hold back Tomorrow with hot air! Ha.
So we head south to next town — Midaki village. Called High-Tree Village by some, so old Mir’Itus tells me. Road hug the Twilight Mountains. Some human worry, being close to Taint. I smell. I know. They maybe no talk aloud about it, but whew! the smell says it all. I am thinking Gami-Gami smell it too. Crab people – Hengeyokai – having good noses, too. Princess, she in wagon nice-nice. Number 1 maid, Shasuki drive horses and Kaiu De, she sit under silk. Hmmph. Boring, that’s what Te’Ka’Mok think. Boring to sit all day.
We ride along and think our thoughts. Grandpa have much advice for poor Te’Ka. My ears hurt — on the inside, they hurt from the listening. Cannot put bone away and shut up he talking. Spirit with me always. Sometimes quiet. Most times not. “Kaiu De, she have bad-bad Way of Tea! Her Ma-ma no teach right. You, Te’Ka’Mok, must help her. I teach her proper through you! She must not shame me in the Lion’s court. What will groom Matsu think? He see her wave tea whisk — chasen — around like she swatting flies and he think what? He do what? Run screaming if he smart man.” Grandpa was working up like kettle boiling over. “She got looks. Sure. Now she be beauty. Looks? They no last, honored Ratling! Tell her, tell her that her beauty will fade and then she must rely only on her abilities to entertain.”
I shake my head, but what Grandpa care. I whisper, so no one hear me, “Grandpa, I not knowing the Way of Tea. Nezumi not do this thing. I not teach Princess.” He no listen. “All right. Te’Ka’Mok get chance with Princess Kaiu De, she talk about Way of Tea ceremony. Princess agree then we teach her together, OK Grandpa?”
We barely finish discussion when Grandpa and I see small human running. I no see good, but Grandpa have eyes like hawk. Mir’Itus see human. Danger to us? Maybe small human carrying a bomb? I raise up on pony. “Tat-swoll — you see small human? Yes?” I call out to Lion ’cause he not moving to block human from Princess.
He charge his horse and meet human on road. Jump down and hold child. Princess wagon stops distance away. Smart Nya thinking could be ambush. I no smell blood on child but fear, yes. Strong. I ride up closer with Gami-Gami. Small human gasp for air. Try to speak and give note finally. Note say: Cave in. Please help. Midaki.
“‘Cave in’? What that mean, Mir’Itus? Like earth fall? Not knowing these human words very well.” He nodded as we trotted towards the village. “There are many mines in the area. I assume that the earth fall happened inside a mine. We can lend help, such as it is.”
Soon we see High Tree Village. See big tower and trench around it. People digging in trench. I smell much here. Fear, strength, blood — faint blood. Smell iron and burnt smell, like burned bad food. Um, spoiled meat cooked, maybe. I turn to Mir’Itus — he smell too. “What is wrong with this place?” he say to me. “I not knowing but smell terrible. Even for human.”
“Yes, and even the fields look dried and dead. It is spring. They should be ore green and moist.” He got off horse and bent to pick up dirt. Little taste. “Here, Te’Ka, it tastes like iron.”
Then fat man come waddling up. Bow low to Tatsuoh. “We thank you for the help, honored warrior. And if you have magic users in your company, we ask that they not use magic!” I hear this and get off pony. “What you say, man? I healer shaman. Help-help the injured.” The Princess and Neiki joined us. Tatsuoh say to fat man, “Bow before your Princess. The celestial Kaiu De graces this place with her foot fall.” The fat man falls to ground. “No magic, you say?” Kaiu De has lovely, lovely voice. For human, of course. “Yes, yes your Grace. The builder,
Seaonus, is worried that the rest of the tower will fall if your magics interfere with his magic.”
The Princess frowned. “Bring him here at once.”
Seaonus was an old man. He fall on face at Princess feet. He smell bad. He smell like Taint all over. Blood and iron and rotten. He make Te’Ka’s eyes water. And the Princess is calmly talking to him. Goodly Neiki look sideways at him. She no like him. That good.
I wait for break in blah-blah human talk. “Te’Ka’Mok, of Third Whisker tribe, would speak!” Everyone stopped. “Humans hurt. I heal with magic. Save lives.” I paused and looked hard at old man. “I have spoken.”
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