Walkabout Chapter 14
It was truly amazing that a land so bleak and sun-beaten as Figaro thrived so unerringly well, the most bustling and well-to-do kingdom left in all the world. Sometimes Cyan thought it a cruel joke from the gods that his home, so full of lush greenery and life, had been abandoned and wiped out while this desert nation prospered beyond all measure. He did not resent it, nor would he ever let himself do so Edgar and Sabin were some of his best friends and had been kind in letting him stay on - but looking out over the sand dunes, he couldnt help but wonder why.
He was standing, as he did every morning, on the topmost parapet of the castle, watching as the great red disc of the sun turned the eastern horizon from black to crimson-streaked navy. In two hours time it would be too hot to safely stay in this unshaded aerie, but for now the cool of the night hung on, steadfastly refusing to break before the first light of dawn. Cyan felt more at ease during this time of day than at any other; the beauty of the morning helped him forget old wounds, and the solitude of his lofty perch calmed and prepared him for the long, hot hours ahead. There had been a high place like this in Doma as well, and sometimes he could close his eyes and forget that the past four years had ever happened, pretending that the noises of soldiers and knights clattering to their duties far below came from brave Doman samurai and not Figarians. But eventually the old knight would have to open his eyes, and there was always a lancing stab of pain in his heart when he saw sand dunes instead of rolling green hills and misty mountains. The heartache had lessened with time, but it would never completely fade.
There was a stir of commotion just inside the castle gates, and Cyan strained his eyes to see what the cause was. Edgar had invented a most strange device to combat failing eyesight, two little pieces of glass hinged together with a twist of metal wiring, but it looked terribly undignified and his dignity was one of the few things Cyan had left. They would have been useful now, though Was that a dead dog they were carrying?
With one last glance at the rising sun, he opened the hatch and slipped downstairs to sate his stirring curiosity in as a discreet manner as possible. Proud Doman warriors were never nosy, and most certainly wouldnt turn out merely to see what the cat had dragged in.
Ho! Why dost thou bring dead curs into the very halls of thy master, knights of Figaro? Have ye forgotten the way to the rubbish tips? And is this not the hour of thy morning patrols?
The little knot of soldiers barely looked up at Cyans hearty hail, intent on whatever they had discovered outside the castle. Snatches of whispered conversation floated to him, curious and concerned.
Little girls dog
Edgar said to bring it back
Probably dead anyway.
Cyan coughed into his fist and one of the sentries finally turned to address the samurai, giving him a halfhearted and slightly distant salute. All the soldiers respected Cyan they called him Sir Garamonde, an honour usually not extended to their laid-back king but today they seemed to be unusually distracted. This guard was a baby-faced lad, probably no older than twenty, but there was worry etched over every line of his face.
Sir Garamonde, we found this dog in a gully not far from the castle borders. King Edgar had told us to be on the lookout for it not two weeks ago, but he demanded it be brought back alive, and well The sentry fidgeted nervously, pulling the army-standard red-and-green cap lower over his eyes. Its in pretty bad shape, sir. We tried to give it water, but it wont take it. It hasnt even woken up yet.
Why in Alexanders name would Edgar send patrols out looking for a mongrel hound? The boy obviously wasnt lying, that was clear from his eyes, but never the less it was a baffling and quite utterly confusing situation. Cyan pushed his way through the clustered soldiers and finally got a good look at the cause of all the discord, stretched unconscious on the dusty stones of the castle courtyard.
It looked more wolf than dog, at least six feet long from nose to tail-tip, and the width of its paws was as big as a mans outstretched hand. Glazed eyes stared sightlessly from between half-closed lids, blank and unseeing. Underneath the coal-black coat the beasts points showed starkly, each individual rib protruding grotesquely below its covering of drum-taunt skin. Occasionally the side would hitch in a slow, juddering bid for breath, but this was the only way one could tell the creature was alive. To the casual onlooker it appeared to be nothing more than a skeletal corpse, victim of a cruel death underneath the desert sun. If someone didnt act and act fast that was probably how it would end up anyway, despite the good-hearted efforts of the young soldiers.
Cyan did not particularly like dogs. Doman tradition stated that they were unclean animals and thus disallowed them within the sacred confines of the castle; even if this had not been true and Cyan had been fond of pets, he would not have had time to care for one, embroiled as he usually was in the day-to-day rigours of being liege to the King of Doma. Owain had wanted one he was a quiet, stolid boy and never nagged like some children, though it had been obvious to Cyan but knowing both the law and his father never asked, burying the desire beneath a layer of stoicism. What a fine warrior he would have made! The old pain rose in Cyans throat, nearly choking him as he fought to keep his composure in front of the other men.
Owain would have wanted to save this creature. He had been a steadfast child but not a cruel one; one of Cyans fondest memories was of the boy nursing a sickly falcon chick back to health. The courts falconers had tried to dissuade him, saying it was best to put the weak fledgling out of its misery, but Owain had not listened. The looks on the faces of the aged bird-handlers when he released the raptor three weeks later had made Cyans moustache twitch in amusement and pride, pleased beyond words that he son would fight for something he believed in against such impossible odds.
What would the boy have thought of his father then, if he could have seen him standing there doing nothing to help this poor beast? Cyan had a soft heart underneath his armour, and the memory of Owains goodwill towards all creatures, combined with his pity for the animal, overcame the initial distaste bred in him from years of Doman life. He knelt and with only a little hesitation picked the wolf-dog up, hoisting it over his shoulders like a fresh-killed deer. It was thin, to be sure, but not light by any means.
Go and fetch Sir Edgar. Send him to my quarters immediately, dost thou understand? Time is of the utmost essence if we hope to save this poor wretch. Go now, knaves! Dont stand gawking like moon-addled leafers! Fly!
Without waiting for a reply Cyan turned and hurried back to his room, the dog still dangling lifelessly from around his neck.
Cyan, I can fix anything mechanical you want, but that is just a little out of my league, Im afraid.
The old samurai looked up at his friend with sorrowful eyes. Edgar had come running to Cyans bedchamber as soon as the messenger delivered his news, but the expression on his face when he arrived and saw Interceptors condition was less than encouraging. The king would have done anything in his power to help a friend and surely saving the life of her beloved pet would be considered helping Relm, if anything would but he was also a pragmatist, and Interceptor looked so far past the point of no return there was little chance of bringing him back to life. It was a baffling wonder the dog had managed to cross the desert at all; Edgar found himself awed, as he had been many times before, by the will of instinct.
If Id been sure twas Relms beast I would have been thrice as quick about calling for help, Cyan murmured mournfully, lightly stroking the unconscious head with his work-hardened hand. Two hours before he would have recoiled in disgust at the idea of touching a dog, but there was something about this particular animal that stirred tenderness in his heart. Old age is the thief of memories, and it steals my own more and more as time slips on. Is there not anything we can do? Think of the child and her devastation if we should let her bosom chum slip away. I should like to spare her another blow in such a brief stretch, if possible. Again he glanced up at Edgar, who shrugged in response, his own face decidedly grim.
I dont think theres even any use in trying. I mean, Id love to bring him back, you know I would, but Ive never seen any creature, man or beast, come out of the desert looking like that and regain consciousness. Remember the chocobo that broke loose we found out by Stewarts Rock? The sun cooked the damned thing; it smelled like a holiday feast for miles around. He sighed and rose to his feet. That said, I made Relm a promise, and Ill do my best to keep it if I can. Matron should have something for heatstroke, so well try that and see what happens, alright?
You have a kind heart in thy breast, Sir Edgar, no matter how thou may try to hide it, was the gentle reply. Edgar flashed the Doman a roguish grin.
Keep it between you and me, old chum. The ladies will walk all over me if they think Ive gone soft.
He disappeared out the door, leaving Cyan and Interceptor along together once more. It seemed like a very long time before he returned with a vial in his hand, looking chastised but oddly triumphant.
This - and here he held the little glass phial up to the morning sun that streamed through Cyans window, dappling the room with rainbow prisms of light - is a very special medicine that Matron only gives to very special cases. You have no idea how hard I had to beg for it, but its done now. Im going to be scrubbing latrines for the next five years to pay her back, so it better work.
Edgar carefully handed the bottle to Cyan, who peered at the thick aquamarine liquid inside in wonder. He would never understand many things about how the world worked, medicines and potions among them, but they fascinated him none the less. Would miracles ever cease? And if we pour this concoction down yonder hounds throat, he will revive?
In a word, yes. Edgar retrieved a leather water-pouch from inside the folds of his coat and tossed it to Cyan as well, a little less careful with this item. Pour just two drops of the medicine into his water every time you give him a drink. According to Matron, by the third dose he should start to perk up, if hes going to perk up.
And if he does not?
Then Im putting you on grave-digging duty. Edgar gave Cyan another grim half-smile and turned to leave the room again, only to be stopped on the threshold by the knights slightly confused voice.
Halt a moment, Sir Edgar. What didst thou mean by when I give him a drink?
Edgar looked over his shoulder with an ingratiating grin. Why, when youre taking care of him, of course. You seem to like him so much I figured youd be the one administering the TLC, right?
ButSir Edgar, I must protest, I do not know the least-
Cyans spluttering was completely brushed off by Edgar. Now now, its really not that difficult at all. Feed him when hes hungry, water him when hes thirsty, and watch out for the teeth if he wakes up in a bad mood. I dont think a dog that weak can do much damage, but better safe than sorry, yknow?
The door cut off Cyans rant in mid-sentence.
It was not that Cyan feared the dog. He had slaughtered rival armies with naught but a sword in single-handed combat, slain dragons and demons and spirits of ill omen, and even ridden the train of the dead, once upon a time. The Ashura had tasted the blood of enemies both noble and wicked; if the sickly wolf so much as bared a fang at Cyan he could have its head lopped off in the time it took a gnat to beat its wings. Even if it had been a threat he would not have been afraid, for death had lost that fearful edge that kept most mortal men in thrall. He knew who waited at the platform on the other side, and looked forward to his inevitable reunion with much joy.
No, the thing that bothered Sir Cyan Garamonde, retainer to the King of Doma, last of his people, one of the saviours of the world, was the idea of putting his hand in that beasts sputum-encrusted mouth.
It would have sounded strange to anyone but a Doman, but years of training and prejudice against the canine species were woefully hard to break. Cyan pitied the poor creature, but the idea of all that filth and all those germs and the uncleanliness of it all made him shudder and heave dangerously over the nearest chamberpot (luckily clean). Every story his mother had ever told him to ward the young Cyan away from playing with stray curs outside the city gates came flooding back, and he regarded the unconscious Interceptors mouth with all the eagerness of a man sent to muck out a dragons dungheap.
Still, Cyan was a brave fellow, not accustomed to letting himself be dissuaded from any task no matter how difficult or repugnant. He mixed the special medicine as best he could, carefully measuring out the droplets into their leather container, and then with a deep breath and a prayer to Alexander he pried the slender jaws open and poured the mixture down Interceptors throat, careful to tilt the dogs head back so it didnt choke in its unconscious state. Cyans moustache twitched disgustedly at the fetid smell dog breath in his face, gods above but he held both his composure and his charge until the medication was all gone, at which point the latter was dropped like a red-hot poker as Cyan dashed to the porcelain washbasin to scrub his hands raw.
There was no sign of any change in Interceptors condition throughout most of the morning. Cyan went about his daily activities uninterrupted, practising calligraphy, polishing his weapons collection, and finally going for a walk in the gardens when the cool of late afternoon descended on the castle walls. Edgar, genius inventor that he was, had designed a shaded terrace filled with lush greenery and rare flowers in the centre of his fortress for the edification of all who lived and worked there, a veritable oasis in the very heart of the desert. It was watered by a complicated network of pipes running underneath the castle foundations, but Cyan tried not to think of this aspect too much; it confused his brain and made him feel uneasy. Instead he merely contented himself with the beauty of nature and the wonder of the growing things all around him, stopping occasionally to sniff a budding blossom or touch a tree branch. The tinkling of the fountains and the smell of green grass soothed his frayed nerves and reinvigorated him, which he sorely needed after the stress of medicating Interceptor twice. If there was no improvement upon the third attempt Well, best not to dwell on such worries in this place of peace. Cyan closed his eyes and absorbed the calm into himself, breathing of it deeply.
He returned to his quarters feeling much lighter and cooler, even smiling politely at a servant or two as he passed them by in the hallway. The smile was still frozen on his lips when he opened the door to his room and found every single item he owned scattered and smashed on the floor and a huge black shape scrabbling feebly at one of the windows.
Vases were crushed. Kimonos were ripped to shreds. The washbasin had been knocked over onto his calligraphy set, soaking parchments, paints, and brushes with dirty water. Feather stuffing from his bed wafted through the air like cherry blossoms. His favourite porcelain statuette of a Doman warrior a gift from Setzer, bought for an inestimable price at the Jidoor Auction House was reduced to rubble. Interceptor whirled from his spot at the sill and gave a weak snarl, back legs collapsing underneath his own weight like a broken-down accordion.
Cyan didnt realize what he was doing until he found himself kneeling in the debris next to the dog with a piece of shredded silk in his hands. He deftly avoided the ineffectually snapping jaws and bound them shut with one quick movement, silently thanking Alexander and Odin both that the beast was still weak. Then he looked down into one of Interceptors panic-glazed eyes and shook his head ruefully.
Fool, he gently muttered, wasting all thy energies on fruitless escape. Must thou make a mockery of all my efforts to save thy life?
Matrons potion had worked, that was for certain. One glance at the scattered wreckage of Cyans room was all it took to confirm that. He sighed and, wondering if it was a blessing or a curse, began to clean up the debris around Interceptor, the furry black eye at the centre of the maelstrom. It was little wonder other Domans had thought dogs ill-omened.
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