Yarramon entered the above ground prison of his outpost. The below ground barracks were reserved for the Quelandi troops of his contingent. The gruel in the pot he carried almost made him heave if he brought his nose to close to it, yet he was expected to feed it to the prisoners. Within his tunic, he felt the scratchy surface of the bread he managed to forage from the left over plates of the mess hall.
Two of the Nortavian prisoners, desert inhabitants of the local soil sat in manacles on stone slabs. A hardened NCO looked up at the arrival of Yarramon, about to speak as the prisoners uttered phrases in their own tongue to each other. One of them groaned as he struck him in the ribs with the butt of his whip.
“Speak in the tongue of civilised men or have it taken from you!”
The expression of the hardened man softened, perhaps embarrassed by the foreign words.
“They are little more than beasts. Do not trust any of them and if you must walk in here wearing your sword then stay out of their reach.” He admonished, drawing it out of Yarramon’s scabbard and slamming it home.
He nodded respectfully stepping past the NCO to ladle out food into the bowls. It was impossible to generate the hatred for these dark men with flared nostrils. No malice burned in their brown eyes. It was not as if he feared them. He had killed enough of them on the battlefield. He breathed easier as he heard the jailer trudge away behind him, leaving them alone.
They screwed their faces at the fowl slop in their bowls but began to eat with their fingers.
“Here,” he offered taking the bread from his tunic and tearing off a chunk each.
They stared at him quizzically until he pressed the chunks into their hands.
The other muttered something in Nortavian, receiving a nod from his comrade.
“You speak Quelandi?”
They remained silent. Yarramon was not sure whether they felt they had spoken too much or if that was all the Quelandi they knew. Flies buzzed irritably around the wrist of the first man, struggling to get under the manacle. Yarramon lifted his hand, causing the Nortavian to wince.
“The shackle is causing your wrist to fester. I brought some salve with me.”
Out of a small pouch on his belt, he smeared a faint yellow paste around the wound, sealing it with gum leaves.
“That should heal. Just see that you do not move your wrist so much.”
Both faces stared after him as he retreated for the door, half expecting to hear another thank you.
“Camman warra immun yanis,” the injured man called out to him.
Yarramon stared blankly.
“Those are words from an old story told among my people. They are the words we hold most sacred.”
Not knowing what to say, Yarramon gave a grateful nod and left entering the open expanse of the camp. The stars spattered the desert sky beautifully, but something was amiss. Absent were the night birds or the straying of the camp dogs. His gaze strayed to the ramparts on the log walls. To his horror, no sentries paced the walkways.
Hands pulled at him from behind, wrenching him to the ground. Seven Nortavians loomed over him and more flitted around the camp. Restraining hands stopped him from reaching for his sword. The leader of the group ripped it free and poised it over his chest.
“No, camman warra immun yunis,” Yarramon blurted as it was the only Nortavian phrase he knew.
One of the Nortavians gave him a puzzled look. The face of the wielder softened, hovering in indecision.
“That is very true,” he said, lowering the weapon and handing it back to him. “We will allow you to leave the camp of the Quelandi. You can rejoin more of your people two days south of here.”
Yarramon stared after them, curious as to what had transpired.
“What is the meaning of the words?”
“It means a man’s greatness is judged more by his compassion than by his strength. Go in peace. Our tribe will not attack you, but I cannot speak for any of the others on the way.”
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