Mantu wasted no time leaving the house, and he headed straight for the barn. As he got closer, he heard voices coming from inside. Fearing thieves, he slowed his approach and listened intently at the barn’s wall. He could indeed hear voices. Two of them, wait three. But he couldn’t make out what they were saying. He slowly went to the door and opened it ever so slowly, until the hinge screeched loudly. With that, he flung the door open, jumped inside, grabbed a hoe, and cautiously went forward. Listening and looking, he could see nothing out of place.
"Come out!" he said. "I heard your voices, come on out where I can see you," he demanded and stepped forward further into the barn. "I know you’re here. You might as well come out, I’m armed!" He insisted.
Then he heard the voices speak. "Armed with a hoe isn’t very armed," said the first voice.
"Who’s he think is in here, anyways?" said the second voice.
"Is it my imagination or has this one gotten better looking in the last few days?" said the third one.
"Maybe better looking," said the first voice again, "but he’s lost his mind. Who does he think is in here?"
Mantu jumped into the stall with his hoe.
"Where are ya? Come out now!"
"I think he’s out of his mind. If he comes close to me with that hoe,I’m going to kick him so hard that he’ll get to go through his childhood all over again," the first voice said.
"It was the horses! There’s nobody here." Mantu said to himself. "I’m hearing what they said to each other."
"Hello, Santee, can you understand me?" he said as he put the hoe down.
Santee was a beautiful four season roan that Reentu bought from a stranger who was passing through. He needed money and had an extra horse. Reentu saw the possibility of making a profit and bought him. After a while, Reentu came to love the horse, and when a buyer offered him twice what he paid for him, Reentu just smiled and said, "Sorry, I just don’t see the profit in it." Mantu had ridden Santee many times to and from town. He was a good horse and could run fast.
"I love it. He’s asking me if I can understand him. Like if I said yes, he could understand me! I’ve been talking to him for almost three seasons and he hasn’t understood a whinny, neigh or bray. What a laugh!" Santee said to the other horses.
"Yes, I was asking you, but I guess now I have my answer." Mantu said to the horse.
Startled by the sudden awareness of his understanding of horse language, Santee jumped and shied away from him.
"Whoa! Easy now, it’s okay. I’m the same person who you have been kind enough to carry so many times over the last few seasons. I’ve changed a little, that’s all. The Stormtraub gave me understanding of your language. That’s all. Now I can talk with you," Mantu said softly as he smoothed the hair on Santee’s long, brown, muscular neck.
"Why would you seek such a gift?" Santee asked.
"The horse is a noble race, much more noble than mere humans," Mantu said, looking to gain their trust.
"This is true, of course, but you still didn’t answer my question," Santee pressed.
"Okay, I don’t like carrots!" Mantu said.
"Say what?" Santee said and he turned to look at Mantu.
"Well, I didn’t want a grower’s blessing. That would be too boring. So I hoped for a horse blessing. I thought if I could talk to you, then you would get better care, humans would get better cooperation and everyone would come out ahead."
"And how long do you get to keep this understanding or gift as it is," Santee asked.
"For life! Once done, it cannot be undone," Mantu said.
"I don’t trust him," the second horse said.
"I do, he has a trusting face," the third said.
"Why thank you," Mantu said. "But really, there is nothing to trust or mistrust. If you talk to me and I can help, I will. If I can’t, then I will tell you that also. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain."
"So if I asked you to open the doors and let us run free, you would?" Santee asked.
"I could not say I could do it for all horses everywhere when they asked, but if you ask, then yes, you can go. Come back when you are hungry and we can trade. You pull my wagon and I feed you, fair enough?" Mantu asked.
"But we have this now," Santee said.
"Yes, but until now, you’ve been working without a contract! Now we have an understanding." And with that, he opened the doors. The other two horses preceded Santee with little discourse.
As Santee was walking from the barn, he stopped and looked at Mantu and said, "My name at birth was Star Gazer. If we are to continue as friends, then you’ll need to stop calling me Santee. I never did like the name." And off he went.
Mantu watched them gallop off towards the woods and freedom, knowing they would be there when they were needed. Mantu himself felt the sudden urge to run free, so he did. And when Bimeny saw him last, he was running across the pasture. Bimeny wasn’t quite sure, but Mantu appeared to run a bit faster than he did before the blessing, even if it did look a little more awkward in execution. It was more like a gallop than a run. But one thing Bimeny did notice above all else, was how happy Mantu looked as he ran free across the pasture. He wondered if he would ever know such happiness. After all, he still wasn’t sure if this was going to be a blessing or a curse. All he knew right now was school tomorrow was going to be a lot different than it was before he went up the mountain. Very different, indeed.
School tomorrow. I wish I had gone and visited Reanna and Robeck. At least then, I would know what to expect. I wonder if they know. Of course they do, don’t be stupid. How could they not know? The whole town saw me come back from the mountain. I hope their reaction is better than those I saw on the way back down.
Bimeny was known to be a wiry little kid with a big mouth and a short fuse. And nobody really cared because his size made him anything but threatening. He was known to speak his mind whether you wanted to hear it or not. This made a lot of people shy away from him, because a lot of people don’t want to hear the truth about their lives as Bimeny saw it. Right or wrong, it made them uncomfortable, and for that reason they tended to avoid him. But like most kids in school, he had a core group of friends he felt were "real" as Bimeny had often said, so he was sure to have a fair trial before judgment with them, anyway.
This was a rural school and the schools here taught about things you needed when you lived an adult life. Things like, when and how to plant corn, beans and alfalfa, how to spin flax into thread, and how to shoe a horse, all things worth knowing.
They also spent a lot of time on sums and recording, so records could be made for comparison, season to season and of course, for the taxes they must pay as well. Bimeny was good at most subjects, but his least favorites were sums and recording. Sums were boring and sometimes confusing, but overall he could see how it was important, so he studied hard, sometimes getting help from one of his friends when he got stuck.
‘Oh man, what if Robeck won’t help me, who will get me through sums? He’s the best and everyone knows it, even the older ones. Most of them aren’t even that good. Maybe if I offer to protect him. Nah, he’ll be alright. Good friends can’t let a little thing like blue scales come between them.
‘What about Reanna? Will she still like me or will she fall for some normal-looking guy? I can probably still see her when she helps me with records. If she won’t help me anymore, I’m just screwed. I’m sure she will at least give me a chance. I hope she’ll give me a chance. Wow, no more walks home. I can’t think about it.
‘Well, if they won’t help me, then I won’t help them. When it comes to planting and knowing whether to plant your furrows Sunpath or Moonway, they got nothing on me. And there’s others so bad at it, that they would take help from me if I showed up as a Pink Fantailed Thrubador. Ah, you’re worrying over nothing!
‘I wonder what Schoolmaster Rollenbeck will say? He may not want me there anymore. That wouldn’t be so bad. I don’t know. He’s pretty fair. He’s known me for all five years since he got his teacher’s blessing. He probably won’t even notice me until he digs out his lunch at his desk like he always does. I can see it now. He’ll look up and see the blue kid. Ha! What a shock.’ A smile appeared on his face at the thought of the surprised Schoolmaster.
‘I’ll bet Taloneck and Rabber are going to have a field day. Taloneck is even meaner than his brother. Not that he’s that scary anymore, with his rabbit blessing. He’s been waiting for his brother to graduate anyways, so he could take over as the school bully. I might have to do something about that. After all, he can’t hurt me, can he? What am I worried about? Rabber’s just a moron that does whatever Taloneck says to do. If I make a good enough example, maybe he’ll be smart enough to not give me any grief.’
The moment of truth was at hand. Bimeny grabbed his bag with his lunch and planting tools. ‘Please tell me that I don’t have to go. Tell me that I graduated with Mantu at the storm,’ he thought, looking pleadingly into Malageth’s eyes. Malageth seemed to be able to read his mind. She looked at him and smiled.
"You’re still you, and they are still your friends. I hardly think blue scales will change that. Who knows, it might make you even more popular," Malageth said consolingly.
"Yeah, but it might make me a freak too," Bimeny said, looking down at his scale-clad feet. Bimeny hadn’t been able to put proper shoes on since he was transformed. He didn’t need them anymore, because of the tough blue skin which replaced the skin on the soles of his feet, but it would have helped him blend in more, he thought.
Malageth took his chin in her hands and lifted his face so his eyes were looking into hers again. "It will work out. You can ask Schoolmaster Rollenbeck if he knows about the storm and why this happened. He might have an answer. And you will never find out anything if you don’t give it a chance. Off you go now."
Bimeny looked back towards his feet and headed out the door. He wished he was not going alone, at least for the first day, until he saw how it was going to be.
‘What if they start calling me names like Lizardboy or Blueboy? What if I can’t get any help because they don’t want to be seen with a freak? What if Robeck and Reanna hate me and don’t want to be seen with me? I couldn’t stand that. Well, Malageth was right about one thing, if nothing else. I’m not going to find out until I get there.’
So with renewed determination, Bimeny headed up the road to school. As soon as he crossed the rise and the house was no longer in sight, the road began to get swallowed up by the forest. Bimeny froze as he heard a rustling in the trees.
Someone or something was there. The sun was out, but whatever it was, stood hidden in the deep shadows. Bimeny strained his eyes to see and was surprised to find he could see clearly in both light and shade if he concentrated. It was Mantu, fighting with some fencing which had ensnared one of the horses. Bimeny ran over to him and yelled as he did. He didn’t want to startle Mantu. But the loud announcement startled the horse, which was already panicking.
"Do you have any fence menders in your bag?" Mantu asked Bimeny quickly, as he tried to calm the horse.
Bimeny thought his brother was transforming too. His question was broken up with neighing and blowing noises he made with his lips, until he realized Mantu was making horse sounds. He was communicating with the horse.
"Yes," Bimeny said as he dug them out of his bag and handed them to Mantu.
"Good! Thanks, now step back, you’re scaring him." Mantu said. "I have been trying to calm him down so I could go and get my set, but every time I started to leave, he got wild again. He was afraid of wolves. I was afraid he would kill himself on the fence. You came along just in time," Mantu said as he started to cut away the fence and continued to calm down the horse. The horse stopped thrashing wildly and sat as Mantu reassured him everything was alright and continued to free the horse.
"Why was he so wild when I showed up, and what did you just say to him?" Bimeny asked. Mantu looked at him with a slant.
"You heard everything I said to him, didn’t you?" Mantu asked.
"No, it was all horse talk," Bimeny answered.
"But you understood when I asked you for fence menders, didn’t you?" Mantu asked, cutting away the last piece of fence.
"Well, of course, that was in our language," Bimeny said. "You mean you couldn’t even tell the difference?" Bimeny said through an ear to ear grin.
"Well no, I guess not. I guess I just spit it out in whichever language I’m faced with. I didn’t realize. Wow," Mantu said as he turned to the horse and made a noise with his lips in horse language. The horse immediately rose to his feet and ran off, whinnying what Bimeny guessed was a horse thank you to Mantu.
"So what did you say to calm him down?" Bimeny asked.
"Well, he thought you were a wild animal coming to finish him off," Mantu said.
"Didn’t you tell him I was your brother? That’s why I yelled, so I wouldn’t startle you or him," Bimeny said.
"Well yes, but they are just getting to know and trust me. And.... well... uh..." Mantu was stammering, looking for the right words.
"What?" Bimeny pressed.
"Well, he said you smelled like a.... ah... a predator," Mantu said, looking down at his hands and fiddling with a piece of wire from the fence.
"A predator?" Bimeny said. "What kind of predator? I don’t know of any lizard that could be a threat to a horse," Bimeny continued.
"A dragon," Mantu said, with a fixed gaze. Bimeny looked stunned. He started to say something but the words got stuck, and he stepped back against a tree and sat down, his mind working a million miles a second.
"But there haven’t been dragons for seasons upon seasons before there were even elders. How could the horse even know what one smelled like?" Bimeny asked, still in shock over this new revelation.
"I don’t know, but he didn’t want any part of you. The only reason he sat still long enough for me to cut him free was that I told him if he sat still, you wouldn’t see him and when I cut him loose he could run. That’s why he ran as soon as he could get up," Mantu said, handing the fence menders back to Bimeny. "Look, don’t place too much stock on it. One thing I’ve found out is, horses are not too smart sometimes and they tend to be very emotional to the point of not being very rational. Especially if they are scared, and this guy was really scared."
"Yeah, okay," Bimeny said, but his thoughts were no longer preoccupied with what kids at school would say when he showed up.
"Hey, you want me to call a couple of my friends over and give you a lift to school?" Mantu asked with a smile, eager to show his little brother what he could do.
"Ah no, that’s alright. I’m going to see if I can catch up to Reanna and Robeck in town. It’s just over the hill but thanks. Besides, they may not like the idea of me as a passenger. And it won’t do anything towards building trust with them if the first thing you do is ask them to carry a dragon....boy," Bimeny said, walking away. He needed time to sort this out, and although just a few minutes earlier he wished more than anything to have his brother with him, right now he was scared.
‘What’s this mean? A dragon! I’m meant to deal with dragons. But dragons have been gone for more seasons than anyone living, haven’t they? Are they coming back? Am I becoming one? Maybe that’s how they began. They were people first and then the storm changed them. All the records say they were really intelligent and lived in communities. Dragons! They breathed fire and flew and had long claws and a double row of teeth. I don’t have any of those things, though. Really, all I have are scales and funny looking eyes. That’s it and settles it. The horse is nuts. He couldn’t have ever smelled a dragon, let alone seen one, so how could he know?’
Haven Plat was now just ahead. He was so deep in thought, he didn’t realize how far he had gone and how fast. The school was just across the square. He could see the kids were all still playing out in the schoolyard. Playing, that is, until Bimeny came into full view. Then it was like a still photograph, everything frozen except the ball one boy was bouncing when he froze. It just slowed up until it had no bounce left in it and rolled away.
Bimeny had frozen too. He was now mentally trying to decide whether or not to run. He was finding his feet and instructing them to start moving. They were moving but compliance was sluggish. He was still trying to read the faces.
He stepped through the gate. Everyone was now turned, facing him. Schoolmaster Rollenbeck appeared in the doorway.
"Okay, everyone inside, time...." and he froze too, just looking at Bimeny. ".... for class." he finally went on to say. Nobody moved, until he said, "Come on, get a move on it or there’ll be lines for everybody," and slowly everyone went inside, while looking over their shoulders as they passed the Schoolmaster, who started walking down the steps toward Bimeny.
Bimeny saw him approaching and waited, letting everyone pass him and letting Schoolmaster Rollenbeck come to him. This was something he hadn’t even considered. What if Schoolmaster Rollenbeck didn’t want him in his class anymore? In any case, he didn’t want their conversation to be overheard until he could see where it was going.
"Well. You certainly have a story to tell us, don’t you?" Schoolmaster Rollenbeck said, smiling as he squatted down in front of his transformed student.
"Well, not really," Bimeny started to say.
"Look, I am dying to hear what you can tell us, but I figure you are pretty tired of telling it, and it would probably be best if you did it once in front of the whole class, take their questions and then be done with it. Nobody likes to be in the spotlight, not knowing what their reactions will be, but otherwise it is going to be fifty individual stories. It’s up to you, but you have to decide quickly, because they aren’t going to wait much longer. They looked like they were about to explode when they went in. What do you say?" He waited for Bimeny’s answer.
"I guess you’re right, best to get it all out of the way quickly," Bimeny said.
"Great, let’s have a go at it, shall we?" Schoolmaster Rollenbeck said, grabbing Bimeny’s free hand. As he took it, Schoolmaster Rollenbeck noticed the tough skin now covering the young boy’s hands and the very hard plates of blue-white armor covering the backs of his hands. Bimeny noticed him staring just as Schoolmaster Rollenbeck noticed he had been caught and he looked up the steps, stealing glances whenever he could.
He took him to the front of the class and turned around so they both faced the class. The class, which was in a chaotic mass of discussion, fell silent instantly.
"We are all dying to know what happened to Bimeny over this last two weeks. I think everyone here had heard he had been blessed by the storm, but I don’t think anybody here expected such a complete change, so I’ve asked him to tell us the entire story, and then there will be time for questions and answers at the end. Now, mind you, he doesn’t have to share anything with you he doesn’t want to, so be polite." Schoolmaster Rollenbeck finished and then turned and went to stand in the back of the room. This threw Bimeny a little. He figured Schoolmaster Rollenbeck would make an announcement and then take his seat behind him, facing the class. Then it struck him. He wanted to study him too, and there wasn’t much to see from the back.
"Well," Bimeny began, and he told them the whole story. He told them everything. He held nothing back, from the moment he got to the summit until he left to come home. When he got to the part about being attacked by Raleck, Taloneck stood up and hit his fist on his desktop and yelled, "That’s a lie!"
"If you think so, then go ask your long-eared brother," Bimeny said and just stared at him.
"I’ll be back with my father."
"You do that! I’ve met your father. How’s his neck feeling?"
"You just wait, you freak!" Taloneck stormed out of the schoolhouse, kicking chairs as he left in a fury.
"Now, where were we?" Bimeny went on without giving them the horrid details of his beating by Raleck. He was embarrassed by the fact he didn’t get one good punch in, but he told them the rest of the story, how the scales started to grow and kept coming, how he could see in the dark and how his eyes showed a flame flickering in each slit pupil. At that, everyone leaned forward and squinted, trying to see. "So, that’s all I know," Bimeny concluded. "If you have any questions, I will try and answer them for you."
A little girl in the front raised her hand. She had probably seen only five or six seasons. Bimeny knew her as a sweet little girl and he liked her.
"Yes?" He said to her.
"Can I see in your eyes?" the little girl asked. He leaned really close and opened his eyes really wide. "Oooh!" she let out. "Doesn’t it burn in there?" she asked.
"No, it just looks hot to you. I can’t see them from my side."
Surprisingly, Schoolmaster Rollenbeck had his hand up. There was a certain feeling of power or control in not choosing the Schoolmaster. Bimeny wanted to see if he could milk the feeling a little bit longer, so he didn’t choose him. Instead, he chose a very pretty girl who sat up front.
"So you have scales everywhere?" she asked.
Bimeny responded, "Well, not my face, palms, or soles of my feet," and he took off his shirt and put his arms out to the sides and turned around.
Hands went up all over the room. He felt ignoring Schoolmaster Rollenbeck once was risky, twice was foolish.
"Yes, Schoolmaster Rollenbeck, you have a question?"
"Could you demonstrate your night vision for us? I can close the drapes and hold up some fingers and you can sum them for me." He held up some fingers and Bimeny correctly summed them.
"Can you get some paper now and record some words while it is still dark?"
"Yes," Bimeny walked to his chair and retrieved a sheet of paper. "I have the paper. What shall I write?"
"Write, ‘I have cool blue scales that protect me.’"
Bimeny wrote quickly and then quietly walked to the back of the room, until he was standing next to the Schoolmaster.
"Here you are, sir."
The schoolmaster jumped, not expecting him to be standing next to him in the dark.
"OH! You startled me. You navigate well in the dark. I can’t even see my hand. Okay, open the drapes and let’s see how his nighttime record-keeping skills are."
The drapes opened, leaving everyone shielding their eyes from the sun. Everyone that is, except Bimeny, who was able to withstand the bright light as well as the dark.
"Well, let’s see now. Well, it has done nothing for your penmanship, but I’m satisfied. Do you want to take any more questions?"
By now Bimeny was feeling more comfortable. "Sure, I’ll take a couple more," Bimeny said and hands went up all over the room.
‘How could there be that many more questions,’ he thought to himself? ‘Well better get started, one at a time.’
"You," and he pointed to a young boy who Bimeny didn’t recognize. He was a new kid. "You said you have scales....everywhere?" he said, blushing a little.
"Yep," and in a flash, he undid his pants and dropped them to the floor. Schoolmaster Rollenbeck was getting ready to stop it, but Bimeny was too fast. They all gasped and stared. There was nothing to see but scales.
The little guy who originally asked the question blurted out, "But where’s your...."
Bimeny cut him off, saying, "I have all the parts I had before, and they all work just fine, thank you very much. Any more questions?"
No one raised their hands. He turned to Schoolmaster Rollenbeck and said, "Well, it looks like I answered them all," and he reached down and picked up his clothes as he took his seat.
It was a bit further than he anticipated going, but it certainly put an end to the questions. Bimeny sat down on his bench, still only wearing his stonekeep around his neck, and his scales made a hard, rattling sound against the hard wood of the seat as he sat down. Bimeny stood up again and set his shorts down on the bench to quiet his scales against the wood and to keep him from sliding around so much.
Just then, Rancor, Raleck, and Taloneck appeared in the doorway.
"I have one more question, if you don’t mind," Rancor blurted out. "What is this lie you are spreading about my son attacking you on the summit at Stormtraub?" Rancor said with anger in his eyes.
"It’s not a lie!" Bimeny said, standing and turning towards them. He approached them wearing nothing but his scales. They could see the flames in his eyes plainly. They appeared to have flared up with his temper. "Why don’t you ask him what happened on the summit that night? Go ahead, ask him. Ask him who positioned themselves right where they knew I would have to run. Ask him who tripped me as I was running from the field to get away from the storm! And who jumped on top of me and beat me nearly unconscious. And then ask him who dragged me to the edge of the summit and threw me to what he hoped was my death. Ask him. Go ahead." He turned his head to Raleck.
Raleck was fidgeting nervously. His father just looked at him. "Is this true, what he says?" Rancor said disgustedly, realizing he was most likely going to hear an answer he wouldn’t like.
Raleck started to answer, "No, ah, well, it was an accident, you see...." and in a flash, Rancor hit his own son and knocked him out.
"Why didn’t you or your brother do something about it?" Rancor asked.
"Well, because fate took care of it for us, didn’t it?" Bimeny responded, smiling a little grin.
Taloneck dove over his father and struck Bimeny in the chest, causing him to take a step back. The impact made a loud ‘crack’ sound, and Taloneck was on the floor holding his hand and screaming in pain. Rancor just looked at him.
"Don’t be stupid like your brother. He learned nothing," Rancor chided as he helped his son to his feet and shoved him towards the door. Before stepping through, Rancor turned to Bimeny, "I am sorry for my sons’ stupidity, both of them. You’ll have no more trouble from either of them, I promise." He nodded and Bimeny responded in kind with a nod, accepting his apology.
The class erupted in laughter as soon as he left. His large rabbit-looking son was still unconscious on the floor as he led his other son off across the schoolyard towards home to get his hand repaired. It looked like he was getting a piece of his father’s mind en route.
"Well," Schoolmaster Rollenbeck said. "That looks like quite enough for today. Class dismissed."
Bimeny had his answer. If he could have cried, he would have. Every kid in the class, even Taloneck’s sidekick Rabber snubbed him as he regained consciousness. They all made their way to the door leaving him alone in his shameful silence. Even Schoolmaster Rollenbeck commented quietly to Bimeny, "I never liked him."
Waiting at the bottom of the steps was the one thing which made his day even more perfect, if that was possible. Reanna and Robeck were there with big smiles.
Bimeny smiled and thanked the Schoolmaster, and then departed with his two old friends.
Robeck took a finger and tapped the scale on Bimeny’s shoulder. TAP-TAP! It made a loud, hollow sound. He rapped it with his knuckles harder. RAP-RAP! came the report.
"Ouch!" Robeck shook his hand as if to shake the pain away. "Taloneck hit that? Man, talk about a hard lesson!"
"Go ahead, pick up a rock. You can’t hurt me on the scales, we’ve tried." Bimeny said, now showing off a little.
Reanna just smiled and started blushing.
"What?" Bimeny asked, looking at her.
She said, "Well, it’s just hard to talk to you when you’re standing there, all... naked."
Bimeny laughed as he looked down and suddenly felt a lurch in his stomach. He recognized the potential for some concealment problems and figured he’d better put his shorts back on, before he had to answer a few more questions, some of which he was lacking answers for himself.
‘She thinks I’m hot! She’s pretty hot too. I better put my shorts back on or I’m going to see how things work with an audience.’
‘She took my arm, all the way home, even when the people of Haven Plat were looking.’
"Well, we’re here. Bye, see you tomorrow."
Whap! A rock bounced off of his back. He spun around to see her smiling and she ran up the steps to her house, stopping and looking back at them before she disappeared behind the door. He grinned a wide grin, turned and walked with Robeck until it was time for him to turn off to his house.
"See ya tomorrow, Robeck." Bimeny said.
"Yeah, tomorrow," Robeck said with a smile, and he sped off towards home.
Every kid in class must have hurried home to waiting parents who wanted the whole story. Every kid that is, except one. Bimeny was content to mentally float home. Nothing in the day had meaning anymore, he could only think of one thing from the entire day.
‘She thinks I’m hot! She blushed, thinking about me being naked. Hmm, she must have thought about it before.’
The day seemed brighter and clearer somehow. But one thing was for sure. The world changed for nearly everyone in Haven Plat today.
Especially for Bimeny.