Jorn and Nehma snuck away to Flying Elk Island before the sun rose. They did not want Wind and Breeze to follow them back to the mainland and perhaps stay there. Every time Jorn flew out of his cave, the flying elk found him and followed. That first day, Jorn had to be firm with them when they followed him into the medical ward. He kept taking them back to Treliss, and then hid until evening, when they joined the group at music lessons. But they now knew where their home was, and they went there at dusk each evening without prompting.
As the boat scooted across the water, the sun rose sending bright shafts of light sparkling across the water.
They reached Flying Elk Island, and Zander again greeted them with Lady. “You’re early. I just got here.”
“Yeah, we had to sneak away,” Nehma said with a grin.
Zander looked back into the trees. Jorn froze. Nehma saw nothing. Zander glanced back at Jorn. “Yeah, you saw him,” he said softly. “It’s Dr. Ryans. He saw you catch Lady, and he’s been keeping people from trying to take her from me.”
Nehma saw the man now, standing beside a tree.
“Why would people try to take her? I gave her to you,” Jorn said. Nehma noted the edge in his voice and touched his arm to calm him.
“Yeah, but I can’t tell anyone, and no one believes I could catch her being lame and all. I’m really just a nobody,” Zander concluded, lowering his gaze to the ground. “No one thought I could do anything after I hurt my hip.”
Dr. Ryans approached slowly. “I am sorry for intruding, but I must admit that my curiosity over the friends Zander takes leave to see caused me to follow him the day you caught Lady.” He held out his hand. “I am so honored to meet you.”
Jorn was still stiff, not responding.
Nehma gazed at the man and his outstretched hand. “I am honored to meet you, also, Dr. Ryans, but I have nothing to give you at the moment.”
Dr. Ryans lowered his hand and chuckled. “Excuse me again. Among . . . On the mainland, we generally greet people with a handshake. It is a custom that developed long ago.”
“Oh!” Nehma held out his hand as Dr. Ryans had. Dr. Ryan’s gripped his hand firmly and then let go. Nehma looked for some clue as to what was expected next, but he couldn’t find one.
Dr. Ryans started to lift his hand toward Jorn, but Jorn’s gaze remained impassive and he lowered his hand.
“Let’s move inland and . . . and talk,” Zander said weakly.
“Yes,” Dr. Ryans said, motioning back toward the trees. “We’ll be better hidden there, and I’m afraid Zander’s apparent new wealth has people interested in his whereabouts. I don’t believe anyone knows we went ‘fishing,’ but . . . .” he shrugged. Then he pointed to their boat. “Do you wish to hide it first?”
Nehma decided it was a good idea, and they all went back to pull it ashore and into the tall grasses. Then they followed Dr. Ryans into the small stand of trees. Dr. Ryans and Zander sat beside a fallen tree. Nehma crouched; Jorn remained standing.
When no one spoke, Dr. Ryans finally did. “I understand that you are both studying to be doctors.”
“Yes,” Nehma admitted. “We are very . . . curious about all aspects of medicine.”
Dr. Ryans smiled. “I’ve noticed an intense curiosity about Zander. I am not sure if Zander is curious for his own sake or for yours.”
Zander blushed, but didn’t say anything.
“Jorn and I wish to learn everything.”
“I’m afraid no one knows everything, and I’ve actually not been a doctor very long. I was just explaining to Zander that I’m not qualified to teach him all he needs to know, because I’m so young. Eventually, if he is curious for his own sake, I can recommend him, and he can go to the Medical School in Alexandria.”
“A school? Just for doctors? Are there lots of books?”
Dr. Ryans chuckled. “Thousands.”
“Do they let first year apprentices into the library?” Jorn asked, speaking for the first time.
“Let you? They force you into it. A medical student in Alexandria is studying whenever he is not in classes or earning his tuition.”
“What is tuition?” Nehma asked.
“The cost to attend the school. You have to be recommended by a mentor, but you also have to pay for them to teach you. Many students need to take a job to earn gold. Does your economy use gold?”
Nehma knew from classes that gold was an ore. “We don’t have any metalworkers in our community, but they teach us what metals and ores are in school.”
Dr. Ryans leaned forward, sincerely interested. “What do you use as a form of currency then?”
Nehma shook his head.
“To get what you want. Like your boat. How did you buy that?”
“We asked the elders. We told them how we would use it. They said we had enough rank, and said we could ask the boat builders.”
Zander seemed amazed then. “You have no money at all? So when you got that whale you told me about, you just gave it to the . . . to who?”
“We take everything to the storehouse eventually, and people get what they need.” Nehma said. “You all don’t work for the good of all your people?”
Zander shook his head. “I don’t think . . . do we?” he asked Dr. Ryans.
“In one sense, taking care of ones family and being a good citizen are working for the good of all. But the farmer sells his crops for gold and then uses gold to buy what he needs.”
“But what about rank?”
“Rank is more ambiguous, but it is usually based on how much gold you have. The leaders have rank also and they are picked by popular vote.”
Nehma glanced at Jorn. “How much we contribute is recorded by the elders and that translates to rank. The higher a cluster’s rank the more choices the brothers have, from apprenticeships, to caves, and . . . and mates. Rank isn’t kept track of as much after you have mates.”
“You can still lose it if you don’t continue to do what is best for the whole community,” Jorn stated, and Nehma knew he was thinking of his elfather.
“So you’re unmated,” Zander said. “And that means you’re competing with all the other unmated brothers for mates? Does the first ranked get first choice and so on?”
“Yeah.” Nehma glanced at Jorn. “Unless they pass.”
“Why would you pass?” Zander asked.
“We weren’t ready for mates,” Jorn said.
“We wouldn’t have had time to come visit you as much,” Nehma said, almost at the same time.
Zander rocked back and then grinned. “You’re high ranked, aren’t you? That is so great.”
Nehma winced. “Sometimes. Sometimes the brothers we passed in rank are a bit . . . .”
“Jealous?” Dr. Ryans filled in. “Just like your brothers are jealous of you owning a very rare and costly animal. It is a natural reaction, and it is a very noble person who can suppress his natural desires and wish the more fortunate ones well. This is indeed fascinating to see how another culture arranges itself.”
Nehma grinned. “I find it fascinating also.”
Dr. Ryans glanced at Jorn, who remained stiff.
“Actually, today, Jorn and I were going to make a request of Zander. Jorn and I went north a few days ago, and two flying elk, an elkma and her baby, followed us home. They’ve bonded with Treliss, and we’re hoping she can fly on them as the Fulls do, because she was born with tiny wings. So we need to know more about them. How do the Fulls fly with them? How do you control them in flight? Does anyone ever fall off? Jorn tells me the wind currents can be erratic sometimes.”
Zander’s face fell. “I wish I could help you. I don’t know much at all. No one in Worthington has a wingdeer.”
“Well,” Dr. Ryans said. “We know you need to buy a bridle and a saddle, but we have no idea how you’re going to save enough money to do that between now and next spring. Wingdeer being rare, their tack is high priced also.”
“What is a bridle and saddle? Why do we need it?” Jorn asked, finally crouching to join the conversation.
“I take it you don’t have horses either,” Dr. Ryans said, but didn’t wait for a response. “The bridle goes over the head so you can control it from its back. The saddle goes on its back. You sit on it, and it has straps that wrap around your legs to keep you from falling off. I actually did have a ride on a wingdeer once. I worked for Tole Tanneries while in medical school, and the tanner’s son got a wingdeer. He gave me a ride and satisfied a few of my curious questions.”
“And you need gold to acquire this saddle and bridle? How does one get gold?” Jorn asked intently.
“You sell services or items you grow or make for it.”
“Like we would sell you some sea things maybe?” Nehma asked.
“Well, we’d have to sell the things for you,” Dr. Ryans agreed. “And then buy your tack.”
“What would get you the most gold from the sea?” Nehma asked. “I can get red claw, ray stars, large shells, sponges, corals. We got something that Belna said was a blunder. Once we found a whale.”
“We’re not hunting rajadrake,” Jorn said firmly, “no matter how much money you can get for them. I will not risk Nehma’s life.”
“He means the sea dragons,” Zander clarified.
“Oh, no,” Dr. Ryans said. “Definitely don’t endanger yourself. No one can kill dragons, except Hans Trapper, and no one knows how he does it.” He paused. “You said shells. When you get clams, I suppose you sometimes find pearls, don’t you?” He held up his hand so that his fingers made a small circle. “Small shiny round.” At Nehma’s comprehension, he said, “What do you do with them?”
Nehma shrugged. “Nothing. Toss them with the waste. They have no use.”
“Waste?” Zander said, almost rising to stand. “Oh, my father would be furious. You know how much gold you can get for pearls? The bigger and smoother, the more gold you can get.”
Dr. Ryans chuckled. “If you bring us some of those useless pearls, we’ll sell them and save up to get your tack and anything else you want to trade for.”
“But what do people use them for?” Nehma asked in disbelief.
“Jewelry. The women wear them in their ears and as necklaces and bracelets and rings.”
Nehma and Jorn looked at each other, and Nehma knew that he was thinking that the Fulls were certainly strange to place such a high value on something that had no purpose.
Nehma finally asked. “What purpose does jewelry serve in your culture?”
Dr. Ryans chuckled again. “The purpose, I suppose, is to show rank. The man who buys his wife jewelry shows that he has excess gold. Her wearing it shows the neighbors that he has enough gold that he can buy whatever he wants.”
“Wouldn’t making sure she has the best shell pots and working utensils be better? And making sure she has sharp knives and a cave with a good work area and nursery?”
Dr. Ryans laughed out loud then. “Many of our women are not so easily satisfied.” But then he shook his head. “Unfortunately many women have husbands who care little if they have even the necessities of life. There are many extremes in our culture, and it is not necessarily the lazy who have little or the industrious who have much. As a doctor, I could have found a position in the city and perhaps earned more gold for less work. I chose to come here. If not for an elderly man granting his house to any doctor who came, I would not even have a place to live. Most people refuse to pay me after they are well, and I am hard pressed to replace the medical supplies I used on them. All that is left is the satisfaction that I have helped someone. Before Zander came to my door and actually until I saw you, Jorn, I had considered giving up here, and going back to the city.” He smiled then. “But now I am curious, and if we must patch our ripped clothing, and let the rain leak through the roof, I want to learn more.”
“I don’t understand, sir,” Zander said. “If you can’t afford to pay me, why do you?”
“You’re woefully underpaid for an apprentice, believe me. But when we met, you said you’d work for free, and I’ve never met anyone so eager to learn.”
“And curiosity drives you,” Jorn said dryly.
Dr. Ryans laughed out loud again. “You’re right about that. Curiosity is my biggest motivator.” Dr. Ryans shifted his pack. “It’s close to noon. Why don’t we start a fire, and we can heat a meal.”
Nehma stood. “We have a few items in our boat, and I need to spend some time in the water. Zander, will you come with me?”
Zander jumped up. Jorn stood, but Nehma gave his arm a squeeze. “Help Dr. Ryans with the fire until Zander returns.”
Jorn gave a slight nod and withdrew his fire starting materials from his waistband.
Zander and Nehma didn’t speak until they were at the boat. When they’d climbed into the boat and were hidden by the tall grasses surrounding it, Nehma asked, “You are upset, ZanderTerrani.”
Zander didn’t meet his gaze. “I wish I could be the friend you need, but at least Dr. Ryans will be able to help you.”
“You trust him completely?”
Zander nodded, still not meeting his gaze. “He’ll be a better friend than I can be.”
Nehma touched Zander’s shoulder. “You no longer wish to be our friend?”
He lifted his gaze then. “I do! I just am useless at it. I don’t know anything about any of the stuff you need to know. Without him, I’d never be able to get you a saddle and bridle.” But then he became fierce. “But I’ll keep good records of your gold. We won’t cheat you. I’ll tell you if anything isn’t right. That’s all I can do.”
Nehma gripped the shoulder beneath his hand. “Zander, you are a good friend. Yes, I like to know many things, but I do not think you are less of a friend because you don’t know everything. Nobody knows everything.”
“As Dr. Ryans says.”
Nehma grinned and then reached for a net. “Here are some rayberries for the lunch. Now I must go in the water for a while.” When Zander took the net, Nehma stuffed an empty net into his waistband and jumped out of the boat.
He dashed into the sea, and the cool water soothed his dry skin. His eyes quickly readjusted to the watery conditions, and he set off to the crevice slightly north and west of the island. He was almost there when he glanced skyward. Jorn was circling overhead and signaling to him. Nehma swam to the surface as Jorn dived and then curved into his boat float when he reached the water.
“Where are you going?”
Nehma shrugged. “I want to make sure we’re talking about the same thing. It’s hard to believe they want hard clam droppings.”
Jorn gave him a slight smile. “I’ll watch.” He flipped into the air.
Nehma collected as many of the bivalve shells as he could fit into his net. There was no use wasting the useable parts of the creature by opening them where he was.
When Nehma made it back to Flying Elk Island, Jorn landed beside him. Zander came from the woods. “We started to think you might not come back.”
Nehma grinned and held up his full net as they walked back into the trees to where Dr. Ryans tended the fire and the waiting food. “I have some clams to add to our meal. We’ll see if any of them have the pearls you wish.”
As they ate they cracked open clam shells and roasted the mussel inside. Over half the shells had the pearls, and they were indeed talking about the same things. “We’ll have to pack these in sand,” Dr. Owens said. “We don’t want them to hit each other and get nicks and scratches.”
“Is that enough for the saddle and bridle?” Jorn asked.
“No. But it’s a good start. I won’t know how much more we’ll need until I find out the prices.”
“You’ll get better prices in Shade,” Zander advised. “My father always takes anything good they get down there.”
“Then we’ll need to take a trip to Shade before winter, won’t we?” Dr. Ryans said. “Perhaps I can get a colleague to help me with your hip.”
“They’ll do it without pay?” Zander asked.
Dr. Ryans shrugged. “I’m not sure.”
“Use the pearls to pay.”
Zander shook his head. “We’re not taking your gold.”
“But we’d have no ‘gold’ without you, so take what you need to do the job.”
“No,” Zander insisted.
“But if you’re just going to Shade to help us, and the pearls will help, then use them,” Nehma insisted, just as adamantly.
Jorn focused on Dr. Ryans. “All we need is the saddle and bridle for Wind before winter. You can keep whatever extra you need. We’ll try to gather enough next spring to buy a second saddle and bridle for Breeze.”
“We’ll try to find enough for you to get a saddle and bridle for Lady also,” he said, caressing the nose that Lady thrust at him.
“But we need to get you something in return!”
Jorn chuckled, and Zander jerked to look at him in surprise. “We will have a herd of flying elk on our island because you showed us they could be bonded and told us they could be ridden. Two beautiful carvings decorate our gather room because of you.”
“And strawberry plants. We have those now,” Nehma added. He looked forward to the tasty fruits the plants would produce next spring. “And you keep copying those medical texts for us. That’s really important.”
Dr. Ryans laughed. “You know there are standards set in place for handling other people’s gold. Sometimes a money broker gets a handling fee, a percentage of the exchange. Let’s say I sell these pearls for 25 gold. If our handling fee is 10% then we would keep 2 gold and 5 silver and you would get 22 gold and 5 silver.”
Nehma glanced at Jorn. They both shrugged. “Perhaps we should have them teach us more about money sometime,” Jorn suggested. “But do what you deem is fair. We must go soon.”
Dr. Ryans glanced at the sky. “Yes, before the dragons hunt.”
Go to Chapter 17
© 2013, 2006 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.