What it Means to Be Different

by Susan O'Fearna

AKA Flora Greywolf

Flora Greywolf looked on as her parents argued over whether to send her to answer the summons disguided as an 'invitation'. She didn't really think they were actually her parents, because how could two read-haired, blue-eyed giants with dark skin have a light skinned grey-eyed, brown haired petite daughter. All their other children were very like themselves in appearance, but Flora was different. Not only was she unlike them in appearance, her natural abilities were strange as well. She was too small to learn the heavy broadsword most clan members used. She could see better at night, and to her parents dismay, she couldn't stand to see anyone or anything suffer. While this made her the best hunter of her clan-site, it also made her a nuisance at gatherings. Nevertheless, they raised her as their own and were the only parents she knew.

She was more deft a hunter because she'd taken the time to learn ways of killing her prey quickly, as she hated to see even her food in extreme pain. This entailed learning accuracy with bow and sling as well as a more proper way of setting traps that would kill, not just main. This training she obtained from out-clan visitors, which were rare at her clan-site, so she had to camp at other sites to get her training, rather than just learn from the hunters of her own site, Riverford.

While she was shorter and lighter than her kinsmen, she was quicker as well. Training with a lighter sword and lighter armor allowed her greated mobility, both on and off the training sands. Her training in these matters was, again, extracted from the out-clan visitors.

A member of Black-shard site had seen her at a meeting and apparently, told his chief, Jolsen, about her. Jolsen had a soun he had been trying to find a mate for, and she was aftaid that was why he'd invited her. His 'invitation' would upset her whole life. If she went, her parents would be embarrassed by heer size and, possibly, her actions. If she didn't go, they'd be insulting a high-ranking clan-chief. But if she, went the whole site would suffer a severe decrease in food, as she was the chief hunter.

All the rumours Flora had ever heard of both Jolsen and his son, Jolen, agreed on one point: they were both cruel. The father's cruelty was, by all accounts, merely habit, but the son was another matter. The gossip about him dubbed him sadistic.

This worried Flora more than her parents concerns. She wasn't sure how she'd react if she were treated to an instance of his sadism, but she was certain it would not be good for anyone involved, directly or indirectly.

Everyone went to bed with the matter still unsettled. The next morning, before they even had time to begin arguing the point again, word came from the site-chief.

Maiyani was one of the only four woman chiefs out of over seventy, as always trying to bild clan-rank lowered by having a woman as chief. So, the choice was taked out of the ocncerned individuals hands: Flora would go.

Early on the morning of her departure Maiyani spoke with Flora about how to comport herself as she was representing her family and her site. Flora still worried about how she'd react to Jolen

As Flora and her two-man escort rode up to the Blackshard site she noted the volcanic lake, the site's namesake. A large near-circular area of about seventy horse-lengths in diameter, the obsidian lode was the reason for the site- clan's importance and wealth. The obsidian was prized for many weapons and other goods, in and out-clan. These goods made excellent trading goods. Blackshard site was very prosperous.

They were met by well-dressed representatives of the site, Jolsen's three nephews. This additional escort introduced themselves as Jodan, Jaysan and Folmar.

Jodan was the largest, with hair of a carrot-red hue and blue eyes; he was the largest man she'd ever seen, standing almost eight feet tall. He had skin almost as light as her own, something she'd never seen in her fifteen years with the clan. Jaysan was next in size. The sons of Jolsen's only brother Jodan and Jaysan were half-brothers; Jodan's mother was an out-clan slave and Jaysan was his father's heir and the son of his clan wife.

Jaysan had the wood-toned skin and blue eyes of most clansmen. He stood only inches shorter than his half-brother.

Folmar was short by clan standards, just over 6 feet tall, about 9 inches taller than Flora; he was the son of Jolsen's sister.

The trio escorted Flora and her clan-cousins, Tovar and Jamen, to the largest structure on-site, obviously Jolsen's home. A huge man exited the house; he was even a little (though not much) taller than Jodan and built like an ox. Flora felt like a babe-in-arms beside him.

"I am Jolsen, daughter. Please be welcome," he boomed. His voice was twin to his size, loud and baritone; Flora doubted, though, that he could sing as there was no music to his voice, it was too cold, had no accord. She followed her host inside the structure and paused to give her eyes time to adjust to the dim light. What she saw was opulence on a huge scale; to meet her host, she supposed. Slaves bundled here and there, cleaning and getting a good gawk at her.

"I'd heard you had skin like a slave, and I am glad you allow the sun to darken it. My nephew, Jodan turns red if outside too long in the sun." She decided to let the implied insult pass, as if unnoticed. "Come meet my son," ordered the giant.

As they went deeper into the house, the opulence decreased, somewhat, but was still in evidence. Deeper in the heart of the building she heard crying and cringed, somehow knowing her possible 'intended' was the cause.

They entered a room filled with even greater opulence than the entry-room's; only here the slaves were tiptoeing, as if afraid to attract the attention of their master. The cause of their fear was self-evident as a young man (about 23 years) was busily beating a slight slave girl. He stood about medium height at about 6'6" with dark hair and rare dark eyes. At the moment his face was convulsed in a rictus of glee and hatred, obviously delighting in the pain he caused the tiny girl. He was screaming at her in the slave tongue which Flora didn't know, as her clan kept no slaves, and thusly didn't fathom.

Just as Flora was about to step in, her host did so for her. "Hold, damn your eyes! I told you at noon-meal not to punish any slaves today as we were expecting guests. Let the runt go, now!" her host yelled at his son, near-deafening Flora.

She got the impression from this that Jolsen didn't disapprove of his son's cruelty, but was trying to make a good impression on her. "She will stay here, as will her escort," this from the giant beside her, calmly as if moments earlier he hadn't been bellowing.

"Tovar, please! You can't leave me here unescorted. I already know that I most certainly will not marry that brute. Nor can I stay here much longer, or trouble will definitely occur."

They'd been the guests of the Blackshard site-chief for three weeks, during which Flora's patience and nerves had worn to the quick.

"Sorry, little one, but I must return. Without you to lead the hunters, we will all need to be there more often. Bye, sheala," and with a kiss to her forehead, Tovar left before she could overcome her shock at the endearment. She heard him taking leave of their host outside the shelter.

Flora felt trapped, because she was. The cruelty of Jolen and the apathetic attitude toward it from Jolsen were more than she would be able to handle without her friends to restrain her from violence, and she knew it. Worse, without her escort Jolen's advances and attempts would likely increase. For this reason, she strapped on her knives that morning that she usually wore, but had been refraining from since their arrival.

"You Bitch!" Jolen screamed at the girl-child who was the smallest slave on-site; the girl he'd been beating the day Flora arrived. An orphan, she had been put to work earlier than most slaves, as a personal attendant to Jolen, a situation that confused and enraged Flora.

As he backhanded the child whose name Flora had been unable to discover, Flora tensed. His next movement was to yank the child's trous down and reach for his belt; Flora was unsure whether he meant to beat her or to rape her, but she knew she could stand for neither.

"Stop!" Her belt-knife was out and ready. "Unhand that child or face me!" She retrieved another of her knives, this one from a hidden sheath at the base of her neck, which was hidden by her long, thick hair. Jolsen watched on, amused by 'the mite's' challenge of his son.

"The mite has guts, Father!" The men had taken to calling her mite, because of her size.

"I've been trained in how to use this, I warn you," Flora snarled, to all appearances, out of control in her rage.

As Jolen stepped forward reaching for her, she slashed at him, cutting him deeply across the chest, through his leather jerkin.

"Hold," Jolsen interrupted. Flora stayed alert, but didn't attack further. "As a life-challenge on a future clan-chief, this must be taken to Capitol."

"I'll get my things and be ready to leave in a candlemark." Flora went up to her guest-room and packed all her belongings. After strapping on the rest of her knives, and adjusting them so she could reach them quickly a-horse-back, she was ready to go.

When she arrived at the horse-shelter, a loose paddock where the riding mounts were kept, she discovered a horse not her own being saddled for her. She interrupted the groom and called Shayla, her beloved desert mare, and attended the tack herself.

Just as she was finishing checking the tack, a habit formed while hunting, Jolen and Jolsen arrived. Jolsen began booming at the groom she'd dismissed and, again, she interrupted.

"I dismissed him. Shayla is mine and I will ride her to Capitol. Do not blame him just because your little plan failed." And with that, Flora turned and mounted smoothly, disdaining the stirrups, with a leap into the saddle. Her sand-colored mare didn't even flinch, she was proud to notice.

The three-day trek to Capitol was pure hell. Flora, unable to relax into sleep while in the company of the irate larger men, moved her bedroll away from the party (Jolsen had brought four of his hunters and one guide along). Apparently for all their size, the two men rarely left the village with the hunters. It amused her to see them walking gently, to avoid aggravating galls.

The threesome were heard out by the current Judiciary board at Capitol and Flora was denied the right to challenge Jolen as he was Jolsen's only heir. As she turned to leave, the chief-shaman of all the clan, Choyles stopped her. "Come to my shelter. I would speak with you."

Guards escorted her directly to Choyles' home, where his wife fed her and offered a bath, which she accepted. She changed into her trade-cloth outfit (she had traded for the cloth, a plant-weave called 'cotton,' with leathers from her individual kills and from her hunt-share that she had cured by her own hand) when Choyles arrived.

In the manner of all clan shamans and out-clan shamans she'd ever heard of or met personally, Choyles avoided the point. He insisted she stay for evening meal, but wouldn't talk at all about why he'd invited her.

She greatly enjoyed herself over the afternoon and evening. Choyles wife was the gentlest clan-woman Flora had ever met and they were both uncommonly patient and tender with their three small children.

After the meal and the after-dinner tea Choyles stood and led her to his meeting-room. Finally he seemed ready to talk about why she was there.

Abruptly inside the door he turned to her, "You know why Jolsen brought you here, don't you?"

"If his son killed me, he'd be disqualified as heir to clan-chief. By bringing us here he wanted me to be allowed to finish the challenge because he didn't think his precious son had a chance of losing. Right?"

"Correct. Chanlo, my brother and Danles, my uncle are Capitol's clan-chief and Clan-judge, respectively. We've been hearing of your unusual self-education even here." Flora blushed hearing of a fame she wasn't aware of, "Chanlo learned much from out-clans too, and knows that you'd probably have won. Do you know what would have happened if you'd killed Jolen, even legally in the circle?"

"No, it never really occurred to me." Flora thought about it, blanching when she reached her conclusion. "He'd decimate my clan! No one would trade with us, they'd probably start raiding on us and we'd die or be driven out. That bastard!"

"My daughter, your feel for justice is great. I suggest you leave the clan and find people who share your ethics. If you need anything, just ask. I recommend you travel north as, not much lies to the south of clan lands except sand. I will inform your parents and friends at Riverford, if you decide to go."

"I will go. There must be a place more attuned to virtue somewhere. Thank You." She then surprised herself by bursting into tears and hugging Choyles. She'd had similar occurrences with other shamen, but Choyles, only in his mid-thirties, didn't have that same grandfatherly air they'd all had. She was illogically embarrassed by the show of emotion, but felt better after a good cry, as always.

Choyles wife insisted she stay with them the two days it took to gather the things she would need to travel. Since no one had been certain she would return to Riverford and she wasn't overly acquisitive, all of Flora's belongings were in her saddle-bags. Including her collection of out-clan coins, which she hoped she could use on her journey.

The day of her departure dawned bright and hot so she wore her favorite summer hunting outfit. All her belongings, plus those gifted her from Choyles for her journey were tied onto her saddlebags, but Shayla acted unaffected, as if she were carrying only her rider.

"Sheala, may the stars shine on you," Choyles added the endearment to the traditional forever-farewell of all the clans. She wasn't surprised in the least.

Flora held back tears with difficulty and hugged the man. Thinking that if she'd been raised in the atmosphere of the past days she'd not be entering voluntary exile now, only made holding back her tears harder. So she forced herself to discard the thought.

She mounted up and rode away, refusing to look back.

The End

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