My People grow stronger with the work. We are lazy, the herders say. We do not pull out enough of the green stones. Daily, we take their beatings – some to the death. Three thousand, eight hundred twenty-seven are left. None of us will defile the white rocks for the herders. We work slowly, with care, but bring their green stones as they wish.
“You bloody heathens are worthless,” says the lead herder. His lash stings my flesh, tearing bits from my back. There are a hundred tracks there. They are good, the tracks. They mark me with the footsteps of my fallen People. The tracks will help me with the remembering.
The lead herder stops. Perhaps he has tired of the game. I am on my four limbs, my back to him. My head is bowed, where Krytay tells me it must be.
“Tell your damned horde to work faster, or I’ll beat you all within an inch of your lives.” He stands, and gestures to the People.
Most of the males are being beaten with the whips. Even the Sand Herders have joined in. We thought they, perhaps, were like the People. The promise of riches turns even the best to animals, I fear. In my remembering, I shall not spare these herders the truth either.
The time draws near.
A herder with midnight pelt takes Krytay by her forelimb. That the pale pink of his flesh has defiled her enrages me.
“Move, you damned bug!” he shouts at her. Those are the last words he ever utters.
The lead herder turns, raises his weapon … but I leap. We are faster than they. I reach his neck as the weapon discharges, and separate his head from his torso. The blood that fuels him is red … a strange color for blood, I think. I remember the dead now; we strike a blow for each of them, finally marking their passing. Beneath the midnight and sand-hued pelts, the herders’ flesh is rent. There are shrieks, and much death … blood paints the white stones.
All of the blood is red.
It has been eight days, but we have not begun the walk to the dry lands. Some wish to stay in the fire mountain valleys. There have been no rumbles for a sun, and no steam issues through the cracks. The lands here are rich, full of green and with much food. The People have chosen me to lead. Perhaps we will winter here, before making the trek homeward.
This time, we will march, but there will be soles beneath our feet. The herders’ pelts dry well, and offer good protection.
“Hair,” Krytay corrects me. “The herders call it hair.”
I nod. She knows their words better than I. Ship. Wealth. Earth. More words that mean nothing.
Krytay pulls on the last of her soles, made from the pelts. She hands me the Leader’s staff. It is a heavier burden even than the remembering. “I am no leader,” I protest to Krytay. We speak in private, as the People need to be led. It is not good for them to hear my doubts.
“You have led us from the dry lands here,” she answers. “When it was time to awaken our People, you struck the first blow.”
I shake my head, but take her close to me. “I am but a Rememberer,” I protest. “I did what I must; to remember the dead.”
“No, Tofray” Krytay says. “Not Rememberer. That is not their word.”
I look at her – strong of carapace and of mind. I am reminded, again, that I have chosen well. “What word then?” I ask. Our language has neither word nor concept. Never has there been a need. But the two legs – the herders – brought with them death, and with it, me. I have remembered the dead, and we shall mourn them no longer.
“Not Rememberer, she repeats, Avenger. You are our Avenger.”
“Yes,” I think, turning their language over in my mind. Perhaps that is the better word.