Beasts of the South

“Follow the stars to the north, the winds to the east, the sea to the west, and the beasts to the south.”

She’d learned the words as a child, but two weeks ago they had taken on greater urgency.

“Follow the stars to the north, the winds to the east, the sea to the west, and the beasts to the south.”

Two weeks ago, she’d turned thirteen. Two weeks ago, she’d been released to pursue her birthright.

“Follow the stars to the north, the winds to the east, the sea to the west, and the beasts to the south.”

A simple children’s song was actually a message. Directions, for those clever enough to follow them. For the far-flung members of the clan to return home.

Her name was Miral. Long ago, her parents had been of the Lukoheda clan. Now it was her turn.

***

Finding a wandering clan in the steadfast was much more difficult than her rhyme had made her believe.

“Stupid parents, leaving in the first place,” she muttered, kicking a discarded metal scrap laying along the side of the road. What road she was on, she couldn’t say. Map reading had never been one of her stronger skills. Who needs a map when you have an ancient poem to guide you?

But turning around wasn’t an option either. Even if she hadn’t been terribly lost. She’d made a commitment. And if she went back on that commitment now, the clan would never accept her. No, she had to find the Lukoheda clan, or die trying.

She took out her canteen. It was nearly empty.

Before she could take a drink, she heard a snarl behind her. Miral turned to face the creature that was eyeing her for lunch. It was a small beast for making such a fierce noise, only coming up to her knees. She could see its ribs through its patchy fur. It was weak, but it still had very sharp teeth.

“Hello,” Miral said, trying to keep her voice from squeaking. If she wasn’t mistaken, this was an aubernese herder. Their scouts would go out into the wilderness and herd their prey back to the pack to feed everyone. But was the best way to avoid becoming a quick snack to make herself bigger or to fall down and play dead?

The beast began to circle her, then growled again.

“The beast,” Miral whispered to herself. She glanced up at the sky, orienting herself. The moon was still low on the horizon. Meaning the beast was pushing her south.

“Sure, I’ll go this way,” Miral told the beast. “It’s just where I wanted to go anyway.”

The beast snapped at Miral’s heels again and she jumped off the road, into the dark forest. With only her rhyme…and a fierce beast to guide her.

“Follow the stars to the north, the winds to the east, the sea to the west, and the beasts to the south,” she chanted over and over again as she marched through the forest. The tall canopy overhead blocked the light of the moon, leaving the forest floor in near darkness, but that had never bothered Miral. Or her beast companion either.

After an hour of chanting, Miral’s voice was growing hoarse. She needed water. But every time she stopped chanting, the beast began to snarl again.

“You like music, huh?” Miral rasped. “Okay. 200th verse, same as the first.”

The beast kept pushing her south, until she reached verse 211. Then it veered sharply east, darting ahead of her. After walking a few steps, it paused and looked back at her.

“I’m supposed to follow you south,” Miral said.

The beast snarled.

“Okay, okay, we can go east.” She took a few steps towards the beast, who began to walk east again.

“Follow the wind to the east,” Miral repeated to herself for the 212th time. “I’ll call you Breezey. That way I’m still on the right track!”

Breezey didn’t offer an opinion on the new name, just kept trotting forward. She didn’t know exactly how long they’d been walking or how far they’d gone, but she knew the aubernese herders were very territorial creatures…over a small area. Either they’d actually been wandering in circles, or Breezey wasn’t taking her home to meet his family.

“So where are you taking me, Breezey?” Miral asked. But just as she did, she heard a faint sound cutting through the night sounds of the forest.

“Water!” Miral cried out. She ran past Breezey towards the sound of a running river. She broke through the edge of the trees to find a cool silver ribbon of water cutting through the steadfast. She dropped to her knees and drank directly from the rushing current. The cold water splashed at her nose and numbed her tongue, but nothing had ever tasted so good.

Finally satisfied after several minutes, Miral sat back on her heels. “Thanks, Breezey,” she said.

But Breezey had no response.

Miral looked around. The aubernese herder was nowhere to be found. Instead, across the river, she saw several people staring straight back at her, surprised and somewhat amused by the girl drinking so desperately from their river.

“Are you alright, child?” a woman called out across the river. She was dressed in rough, hand-woven clothes. Her skin was rough and weathered from a lifetime spent outdoors. A girl, just a little younger than Miral, stood by her side, also staring.

“I’m fine now!” Miral called back. “I’m just looking for my friend.”

“There’s no one else here!” the girl shouted.

“Well, no people. My friend is an aubernese herder.”

The girl’s eyes went wider. “You’ve seen it?!”

“Yeah, he led me to the water!”

“See, Mom? I told you I hadn’t imagined it!”

“I never said you did, Jo’line,” the woman said. “But your sighting lacked specificity. To see an aubernese herder so far from its native territory is very unusual and requires rigorous observation in order to prove it wasn’t a similar creature.”

“There’s a log that’s fallen across the river not far from here,” the girl, Jo’line, called back to Miral. “Follow me back there. Then you can tell everyone all about our aubernese herder!”

Miral shook her head. “I really can’t. I’m on a quest. I need to find the herder so he can keep leading me toward my people.”

“Who’s that?”

“The Lukoheda clan. It’s kind of my birthright.”

Jo’line grinned. “You did it! You found us!”

Miral furrowed her brow. “I did?”

Jo’line’s mother smiled, the expression cutting deep lines in her weathered face. “Come, child, cross as Jo’line says. I believe you have found exactly where you need to be.”

***

Miral stood in front of the entire Lukoheda clan. She’d traveled with them for six months now. While the clan welcomed all curious travelers to share the steadfast with them, it was only those who were truly dedicated to the pursuit of ancient knowledge that were invited to truly become one with the clan. The fact that her parents had been members, and many of the clan leaders still remembered them fondly, didn’t give Miral any special advantages.

She’d just finished reciting her final project. A treatise on the migration patterns of a subclass of aubernese herders that were rapidly evolving to better survive in a new climate. Breezey, she posited, was one of the first herders to wander outside of its native territory. That’s why he was so thin; he hadn’t fully adapted yet. But in her travels with the clan Miral observed signs of aubernese herder evolution – though she never did see Breezey again.

Amerline, Jo’line’s mother, stood next to Miral. “Miral. Your theories are unusual, but all of the evidence you have collected is sound. We are prepared to accept your findings on this new evolution.”

Miral breathed a sigh of relief. Somewhere in the crowd, Jo’line, her new best friend, let out a whoop of excitement.

Amerline tried to look stern, for this was the most serious ritual of the Lukoheda clan, but Miral had been living under her tent for six months, and had quickly become like a second daughter to her. Her face broke again into the wide smile that had first welcomed Miral back among her people. From one of the many pockets in her handspun wardrobe, she pulled out a handbound notebook and presented it to Miral. “Welcome home, Miral of the Lukoheda clan.”

Special thanks to Maya on Twitter for the story prompt!


Fandible.Com is now on Patreon! If you enjoy our weekly blog posts and actual play podcasts, please consider supporting us.

About the Author
A city girl with midwestern roots, Angela has been on the internet for far too long. A geek of many stripes, when Angela isn't pretending to be a different person every weekend she can be found reading, writing (that novel will come out some day!), or preparing for her eventual life as a crazy cat woman. Angela also blogs about gaming at the blog Gaming as Women http:///www.gamingaswomen.com

1 comment on “Beasts of the South

  1. Memnochas says:

    Great story!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.