Man, every time I THINK I know how long this story's going to be, more always comes out and surprises me!
BTW, just to be clear on something in this section--I am not anti-horse-riding. I realize that proper training should not require "breaking" the horse like you used to see in the Wild West (and in some places today) and is generally humane. However, I have to think an alien used to something fundamentally different would see matters differently. Plus, there's some irony in who's holding this particular opinion and why...
It had been a little over three weeks since he found himself out in the desert of Kurab…and for the first time, he was finally beginning to feel like he understood—at least somewhat—the purpose behind the various tasks the people of Kekil-haaf had set for him. A tiny thrill of excitement ran up Dukat’s spine and down his neck ridges, and a tiny smile stretched his grey lips.
He had learned, so far, how to prepare a number of recipes, once given the ingredients, he had learned how to pitch and break down a Kurabda tent, and other basic tasks needed for daily life in the camp. Lehnedrel had even set him to work mending the suit he’d worn in his flight from Culat. While replicators had never been as ubiquitous on Cardăsa Terăm as they were reputed to be in the Vedrayçda
worlds, for a well-off family like the Dukats, clothes that were old or in rough shape were—depending on wearability—either donated or thrown out. Other than maybe stitching a seam, little in the way of repairs were ever done. And Dukat hadn’t even known how to do that until Lehnedrel had shown him.
He now lived in a tent Reh’met and her husband Koremaad had helped him put together…and what an experience that
had been. Just listening to them had made him want to fold the tops of his ears all the way down to his ear ridges and staple them there. About the only thing they didn’t do was try to insist that their silent visitor must
be on one side or the other in their endless conflict that had nothing to do with courtship or amorous sparring and everything to do with actual acrimony. None of the instinctive body-language cues that would speak of love or a healthy relationship were there, and it was painfully obvious to see. To some degree, they seemed to make the attempt to restrain themselves in Dukat’s presence, especially after he found himself forced, at once point, to not just reach within range of Koremaad’s bioelectric sense, but to actually tap his arm to distract him from his half of the bitter sniping. Still, it seemed to help only slightly.
He’d found himself praying for the couple trapped in this obviously failing marriage, half in desperation at having to listen to it, and half in genuine distress at what they were going through. Perhaps more than half
, Dukat admitted as he reflected. If it felt uncomfortable for him to be around it, he could only imagine how horrid it would be to actually be stuck in the middle of it. But still…thank Oralius
he couldn’t resist commenting to himself.
Today, Gharumef had informed him, he would learn to skin one of the za’abou
the Kekil-haaf herded, and smoke the meat. As time passed, he would learn to do the same with many of the other animals the tribe herded and hunted in the desert. They’re teaching me to survive
, he thought, pleased at this realization. Maybe I’ll learn to hunt next
. And that
, of course, was a skill that would serve him in the resistance. As would all that he had learned thus far.
Now, after a solitary breakfast of regova
eggs—though quite a different style from what he’d been accustomed to at home—and his morning prayers, Dukat cautiously and reverently placed his recitation mask back into its case, stood, and exited the tent.
“May the song of morning greet you, Dukat,” came Gharumef’s voice almost immediately.
The pilgrim smiled and inclined his head in reply. Making eye contact with Gharumef, he raised his eye ridges, questioning the warrior by his countenance as to what they would do for the day.
“Come this way,” Gharumef said. “Etil’an should be ready by now.” Etil’an, Gharumef had informed him, was one of the tribe’s zabou
-herders; he would be the one to instruct Dukat in the day’s new task.
Together they walked to the edge of the Kekil-haaf camp and a bit beyond; here, the dusty ground gave way to something that, even if not exactly lush with flora, at least bore some
signs of plant life thanks to the small spring that peeked up above the surface here.
A herd of za’abou
grazed in the sparse field, tufts of tawny fur poking out from the dust-colored, scaled skin at the back of their necks and the bifurcated tips of their tails. They lacked eye ridges; these were prey animals, and they could not afford the sacrifice in peripheral vision that a person and a few of Cardassia Prime’s other higher therapsids could. Their ears stood straight up on their heads, but the distant evolutionary relationship to people was still evident; the lower edge of the ears connected to a powerful, ridged cord of muscles capable of shaping the ear into whatever form was required to best hear predators coming...a ridge that traced from the ear straight down the animal’s mandible.
At his and Gharumef’s approach, the entire ridge visibly moved, flicking the ear over in their direction. For just a moment, Dukat’s mind wandered back to his visit to the Catacombs of the Shaping. A Cardassian person’s ears didn’t move like that; being descended from predators the focus of the musculature in that area had lent strength to the jaw instead—but in their most distant therapsid ancestors, it was quite likely they once had.
And among the za’abou
with a herder’s staff stood a stocky man who in profile, sported a heavy, prominent set of facial ridges—a man clearly growing in his seniority, but still with only the occasional grey strand in his windblown hair.
Dukat wondered. The zabou
-herder’s face split into a broad grin. “Gharumef!” he happily called. The rest came out in a rapid burst of Kurabda as he finished his greeting to Gharumef, and then turned towards Dukat.
Not quite sure what to do at first, but supposing the most polite thing he could manage would be to give no signs that he might wish to interrupt, he kept an attentive expression on his face and let the herder continue. Once the herder finished, Dukat bowed in acknowledgment and greeting.
The herder began carrying on again in excited Kurabda—until Gharumef interrupted him in the common tongue. “He does not understand our language.”
“Yes—yes, I see…common tongue, then?” Dukat smiled at the man’s enthusiasm, and confirmed with a nod. “Now who are you? Are you Kekil-haaf—maybe Sokol-haaf? What is your name? When did you come here?”
Dukat thought, throwing up his hands in a playful gesture, as though his older brothers were pelting him with melăk
seeds. As thick as Etil’an’s accent was, he could barely make out the herder’s words without careful concentration.
Etil’an seemed to realize what he had done, and repeated himself more slowly, still addressing Dukat. “What is your name?”
Hardly a measurable instant passed by when a flicker of confusion crossed Etil’an’s face—maybe it had seemed mildly strange that Dukat gave no reply to his first barrage of questions…but why was he not answering what should have been the simplest of questions?
And now Dukat understood: this herder must have been tending to his flock when Rulaahan had introduced him to the tribe. Dukat joined his forefinger and middle finger, touching them to his sealed lips and then to his throat in the sign of the vow as he thought, I don’t mean to be rude in refusing you
. He regarded Etil’an as he lowered his hand, hoping his earnest expression would convey his feelings. Then he looked into Gharumef’s eyes, lifted one interrogative eye ridge, and cocked his head towards Etil’an. Would you please tell him?
“His name is Dukat,” Gharumef supplied. “He came here from Culat when the outworlders landed.” Here Gharumef had used an archaic term for non-Cardassians that betrayed the age of the Cardăsda they had been taught by the Kekil villagers. “Dukat—this is Etil’an.”
“Dukat,” Etil’an repeated. “It is an ah’tekel
name, yes…so short
. Dukat—this is your family name?”
, he confirmed with a nod, supposing that the monosyllabic or disyllabic names common to those who spoke mainly the common tongue would sound awfully brief to the Kurabda ear, based on what he’d heard.
“So you took the vow of silence…do you know how long?”
Now both of Dukat’s eye ridges shot up in surprise. You mean sometimes people know? They’re told ahead of time?
Then he shrugged, shook his head. I have no idea.
Etil’an let out a low whistle. “What Oralius asks of you…I am glad—very glad—she has not asked of me. When I get visitors…well—I must talk! Za’abou
...they listen well, but all they understand
is—” Here he turned, cupped his hands, and made a low rumbling sound in his throat ending with a deep, yet almost questioning sort of coo. One of the animals drew near, echoing the sound the strange, grey bipedal mimic had made. He stroked the zabou
’s neck fur as he turned back to Dukat and said, “They are like some people—talk and no conversation
.” The zabou
, of course, looked up adoringly at Etil’an in total ignorance of the remark, then gently butted its nose up against Etil’an’s side a few times in a clear sign of welcome.
A wide grin broke across Dukat’s face, though he still did not allow a true laugh.
Etil’an turned back to the zabou
for a moment. “You will be spared,” he said lovingly to the creature. Pointing at it, he added, “This one is too—too…” He struggled for the word in the common tongue; Dukat’s mind shouted several possibilities, but he bit his lip…he could not voice any of them, and he still could not be sure exactly what Etil’an was trying to say. And just when I
start to think restraint is getting a bit easier!
Finally Etil’an shook his head in frustration and spoke a Kurabda word, and Gharumef translated. Then Etil’an repeated: “Affectionate.” Inwardly, Dukat laughed again—the ideas running through his mind had mostly been variations on the theme of ‘tame’ or ‘domesticated,’ and he would have missed the mark if he’d been able to voice his suggestions. “Yes. This one is not for food. Now, I will show you—”