In the Southern hemisphere of the planet the locals call "The Ball of the Gods", there is a particular continent called "Z'uyoote"; in the original language that means "The Strong Hand." In fact, this continent is shaped like a hand with fingers wide apart. Everyone knows that it is there, even if the inhabitants of the other continents have never set foot there, nor who is born on Z'uyoote has ever seen other than the land on which he was born. The fact is that the ocean surrounding it isolates it from the rest of the planet because of severe storms, currents and underwater volcanoes, forming an impenetrable border all around it.
In living memory no ship that has attempted to reach Z'uyoote did ever come back or ever crossed that boundary, as no ship that left Z'uyoote has ever managed to overcome that boundary...
The Theogony tells that the continent called Z'uyoote is the hand of the Kaoka, the God of Gods, which takes the four negative Half-gods, that is the four Ke also called The Fool, The Double, The Witch and The Black, so they can not procreate. But precisely because they are Half-gods, they are also immortal and therefore continue to stir without dying, so causing the terrible ocean storms, deadly currents and underwater volcanic eruptions.
The Antropogony also adds that all that lives on the hand of the God of Gods has thereby, to a more or lesser degree, magical powers.
Z'uyoote is divided into eight regions that correspond roughly to the five fingers of the hand and its two edges as well as to the centre of the palm. Once in the centre lived the Lord of Lords, but the last of them was betrayed and killed, 512 years ago, by a conspiracy of his eight Grand Masters. The land that was lush and peaceful is now a vast, terrible, deadly desert, a kingdom of red, green, azure, yellow, black, white, orange and purple dragons, sons of the earth and the waters; and of black and white harpies, daughters of the air and the fire. This uninhabited territory is called Hirosawa-Chuma, that is Wide Plain.
The remaining seven territories are governed each by a Great Lord and roughly correspond to the little finger, called Machi-Sanisu' or Three Islands. The ring finger, called Mari-Yoonisu' or Four Islands. The middle finger, called Makha-Kimigasu' or Thousand Islands. The index finger, called Mab-Hane'nisuu or the Peninsula. The thumb, called Maya-Tuwani'su' or Two Islands. Then the areas under the thumb, called Mafu-Ooreeve' or High Coast, and finally that under the pinkie, called Mashi-Hikureeve' or Low Coast.
About this continent, which as we said is a world apart, we now want to tell you some wonderful events...
In the territory of Sanisu', whose capital is logically Sanisu'-Waki, the Great Lord lives in the castle of Zachi-Saya. And right here, in the gardens of the castle, our story begins.
CHAPTER 1 - Exile
Su Masu-Yari was walking along one of the paths of the garden, just after lunchtime, immersed in pleasant thoughts. That same evening his lover Jule-Dee would return from his mission and they would finally be back in each other's arms.
As he walked, he was unconsciously trying to take off, with the tip of the tongue, a fiber of meat that was stuck between two teeth. He passed a group of Ladies-in-waiting of the Great Lady, who looked at him and began to giggle.
So he realized that he was doing acrobatics with his tongue in his mouth - attempting to remove that fiber of meat, he was probably making funny faces - and smiled. He bent down to pick up a blade of grass, strong and long, and passing it between the teeth was finally able to solve his little problem.
It was not common for him to be laughed at. On the contrary, because Masu was one of the finest warriors who were serving at Court: tall, strong, with an open and beautiful face, good-natured, elegant in his seemingly sluggish pace, but agile and ready to take action at the slightest danger or problem. Men and women often looked at him with admiring eyes, and also with open desire.
Masu, who was twenty-four years old, was strong, vigorous, relentless, determined. He had black hair and eyes; his skin was tanned, because all the Su or Warriors were accustomed to train and fight naked, as the tradition demanded. But now he was wearing a black leather jerkin and breeches, a blue satin coat and cape, an armor of burnished steel, and his faithful companion, his beautiful, big and strong sword, hung across his back.
Famous is the saying that "a Lord has as a lover a woman, as a companion the gold, and for fun the power, while a Warrior has as a companion his sword, as a lover a man and the battle for fun..." As well as a Producer has as a lover his tools, as a companion the mother of his children, while a Craftsman has his tools for company and as a lover the beauty; a Merchant has as lover and companion his profit and a Slave has neither a lover nor companions...
Masu watched a group of slaves who were treating the green and perfectly shaped expanses of grass that adorned the garden, each with different patches of flowers arranged in such a way to depict with their colors scenes from the history of the lineage of the Great Lord. Among the slaves was a boy who must have been about thirteen, fourteen, who, while continuing to work hard, bending over the expanse of grass with his scissors, a five-pronged pitchfork and a hoe, occasionally glanced toward Masu with admiration.
The warrior smiled at him and the boy replied with a shy smile, then plunged back to his hard work, blushing. Masu passed. He saw coming in his direction the Great Lady, with her usual procession of Lords and Ladies, Half-lords and Half-ladies. She had a little blue dragon on a leash, her latest, expensive passion. The leash and collar, studded with gems, glittered in the sun. The horrible blue dragon emitted low growls, and beat the long and sharp fangs in a sharp rhythm. From the horny lips flowed streams of poisonous saliva. Masu wondered how such a shame of nature could be enjoyed...
Blue dragons were rare, very expensive, smaller and less ferocious than the dragons that lived in the Great Desert. But above all they were expensive: to own one had become a symbol of the power and wealth of its owner. Shiti Woke-Yaine, the Great Lady, was the first wife of the Great Lord Shiti Reko-Senoo.
From time to time Woke-Yaine made a gesture to one of her ladies, who took a bloody chunk of meat from a basket and threw it in front of the blue dragon. The beast pounced on it and swallowed it, emitting a sickening gurgle of satisfaction. Masu looked slightly away, in disgust.
While he slowly approached the little parade, he heard a chorus of muffled exclamations. He looked and saw that the beast had ripped the leash that kept him at bay and was running free and snarling, to one of the green areas. Masu wondered if he had to chase it: that would certainly have pleased the Grand Dame... but he thought that someone in the Great Lady's company surely had a magic whistle and would so immobilize the animal; therefore he didn't move.
But the Half-lord who had to use it, was uselessly fiddling with the chain which held it around his neck, that had tangled with his many decorations, trying in vain to free it and take it to his lips. Masu smiled to see his clumsy attempts, but at that moment he heard a scream of agony.
He turned and saw that the dragon had bitten a slave in his calf, the boy with whom just shortly before he had exchanged that slight smile. The boy was lying on the grass and struggling in vain, no one moved to help him, and already the blood was flowing from his wounded leg...
Without thinking Masu ran to the grass. While getting rid of his coat, he drew his sword and, with a large and resolute blow, severed the head of the beast. Then he bent over the boy and opened with his hands the jaws of the dead beast, so freeing the injured leg. The boy was shaking with sobs. Masu immediately bent down to suck the wound to remove as soon as possible the poisonous saliva of the dragon, hoping to be in time to save the slave's life.
Masu was insensitive to the cries that surrounded him and the boy, until he heard a voice behind him, shrill, dry, hard and angry: the voice of Woke-Yaine.
"How dare you, how dare you, villain! You killed my beloved little dragon..."
"Shiti Yaine, it was just an animal, I could do nothing else to save the life of this boy, there was no other way..." Masu said, straightening up and facing the woman.
"Miscreant, infamous murderer! You killed my beloved little blue dragon! To save a slave! One more, one less, what does it matter, there are too many of them anyway... but my dragon was unique; aren't you aware? "
"Shiti, the life of a the most insignificant slave is worth more than that of the most precious animal..." the warrior protested with a smooth voice, friendly but determined.
"Su Masu, you'll pay, you will pay with your head. You have damaged your Shiti and you will pay! If my Dodo was hungry, it's all right for him to appease his hunger with the meat of that... insignificant being. They are in the same class, are they not?" said the haughty and angry woman.
"Yes, according to the Antropogony they are in the same class, but a Di, a half-slave like this kid, has still the double of the value of a Du, an animal!"
"Value? Value? He is not worth anything, while I have paid for my Dodo with fine jewelry and gold! A slave does not cost anything, as my slaves give birth to too many little snot-boys anyway!"
"Well, Shiti, if you do think so... I will suffer the consequences of your anger." the warrior answered, undeterred and dryly, and leaned back to the boy who was still lying on the grass, shaking with sobs.
The Grand Dame ordered her shocked retinue to return to castle and walked away briskly, haughty and still angry.
"How are you feeling, boy?" Masu asked the little slave in a friendly and gentle tone.
"Su Masu-Yari, I owe you my life," the boy said, who was bravely trying to recover from the terrible fright, "I will be grateful for life, and every day I will pray for you because I do not want you to have bad consequences for my fault..."
"You know my name, boy? And you, what's your name?" the warrior asked slightly surprised, stroking his head.
"Everyone knows your name, Su. And my name is Di Sho..."
At that moment two slaves, a man and a woman approached Masu and Sho.
The woman said, plaintively: "What have you done, warrior, why did you do that? Now also my man and I run the risk of paying for what you have done! You had to let him die, our son, and not meddle. You should not have stood against our Shiti."
"You are his parents?" Masu asked, standing up and looking at them with an expression between the stunned and sullen.
"Yes, unfortunately we are," the man wailed, wringing his hands.
"And you say I should let him die? What parents are you?" asked the young warrior, now disgusted.
"We would have made another one..." the man groaned.
"Another one! Another one would not have been Sho! However what I have done I would do again. I will suffer the consequences," Masu said, dryly and proudly.
"You, you can dispose of your life as you want, but now you have jeopardized our lives too. Do you think that now the Shiti will not take revenge also on Sho? Dreamer! We do not want to have anything to do with you... or him!" the slave said shaking her head; she took her man by the hand and walked away without glancing at her injured son.
Masu was shocked. Even though the Warriors had no family, because they didn't marry and made love only among themselves, instinctively Masu felt a sense of protection towards all small children, were it the baby of a slave or the little heir of a Lord. He turned back to look at the half-slave.
"How do you feel, little one?" he asked gently.
"Better, Su Masu... But really, you should not have saved me, not to worry about a useless thing like me," he said, looking at him with big and wet eyes.
"I had to, of course I had to..." Masu murmured more to himself than to the boy. Then, in a normal voice asked: "Can you stand up?"
The boy stood up and took a few steps, then walked to the warrior, took his hand and kissed it: "I am grateful to you anyway, and I'll be forever grateful to you, Su Masu. And I will pray for you."
"Well, if you can move means that the poison did not have time to act... and the wounds will heal, and you'll grow big and strong, although I think you will have scars on your leg," the warrior said, watching the streams of blood still oozing from the calf of the injured boy.
At that moment, a group of warriors approached Masu, led by Shisi Kuge.
"Masu, by order of our Shiti Reko-Senoo, we are to arrest you, until he will judge you for the reckless thing you did. You have to hand over your sword and follow us... I am sorry."
"Kuge, do your duty and don't be pained. Here is my sword. Let's go," Masu replied proudly.
He handed his sword to the Shisi and was about to follow the companions. The little slave shouted at him again: "I will pray for you all the gods, Su Masu!"
"And I for you, Di Sho," Masu said to him; he smiled and followed his comrades in arms.
Entering the castle, Masu was led into the quarters of their Wisa, the Supreme Warrior Date-R'éke, and was left alone with him, after he had taken Masu's sword in consignment.
"Sit down, Masu. I heard what you did. The Shiti's wife is really angry with you, she asked the Shiti for your head. I'll see what I can do for you, but I'm afraid it will be very little. Just think that I was planning to go to see our Shiti tomorrow and ask him to elevate you to the rank of Shisi... You are the best of the warriors of this nation, but now you have ruined this possibility, I'm afraid."
"So I will be demoted to Seha, a Half-warrior," Masu said with a smile, shrugging.
"I fear it will not be just that. The Shiti's wife claims your head in exchange for the head of her beast..."
Masu smiled wryly: "Well, then it can be said that at least one warrior lost his head for a woman!" he quipped, not at all worried.
The Wisa laughed: "You know I've always liked you, and now I like you even more than before: nothing really shakes you, huh? You'd really have been a wonderful Shisi, but now... Just remember that I will still do everything in my power for you."
"I know Date, I know. But do not fret. You will choose another one in my place, and a new Seha to breed and train... and everything will be as before."
"You've always been like a son to me, and a brother to everyone else, Su, since I chose you amongst the Ro of our nation, impressed by your strength, agility, pride and beauty..."
"Everything that has happened has happened, and it was great... including the day I was received in your bed and you took my virginity. You were just a Shisi then."
"And you, you could one day become a great Wisa, taking my place. I will do everything in my power for you," the man said, trying to disguise his sadness. "However, for now, you'll be here with me under arrest. You can not get out of my quarters, but at least you'll be comfortable here."
"Is Jule-Dee back already?"
"Your lover? Not yet. But once he is, I will send him to you here. Now I must go, I have to gather all the So of the castle, to agree with them our course of action for your case," the man said and started to leave.
He glanced at Masu's sword: "I leave here your sword..."
"I will not touch it, and I'll not go out of here, you know that," the warrior said.
"I know," the Great Warrior said and went out.
Masu sat down. No, he didn't fear what would happen to him and if he were again in the same situation he would certainly have acted the same way. A slave was a human being first, even if a Half-slave is just a step higher than a beast... He'd never have the slightest doubt, and would act again as he did.
Later his lover entered the quarters of the Great Warrior. They were at once in each other's arms and they kissed. Masu immediately felt excited.
"You're finally here, Jule-Dee..." he whispered.
"I know what happened... I will never abandon you, and none of us So will abandon you, from our Wisa to the lowliest Seha," his lover said.
"I want you."
"I missed you too, but this is not the time," Jule said with a smile.
"It's always the good time," Masu said, rubbing his pelvis against his lover and making him feel his erection.
"But how can you think of making love right now?" his lover asked with a smile, stroking between his legs and feeling his strong erection.
"How can you not think of it, when it is the best thing that life gives us?" Masu asked in turn, and insisted on touching his friend in an intimate way.
They were kissing again, more and more excited and full of desire, when the door opened and the Wisa returned to his quarters. He smiled at the two handsome young men tied in a deep embrace, and announced his presence with a discreet little cough. Without breaking away completely, but by loosening their embrace, the two fine young men turned to look at him, smiling.
"Sorry to interrupt you guys, but I just was ordered by the Shiti to bring Masu to him. I hope you'll have all the time you want… later."
The two warriors broke away and Masu went to the Great Warrior: "Let's go. But first, Jule, can you do something for me?"
"Go and find a boy. He must be thirteen or fourteen years old, he has an injured leg, and his name is Di Sho. He runs more risk than me.... Take him with you and protect him at least as much as you would protect me. Promise me he will not be harmed."
"Of course.... It would be absurd, after what you did and were risking for him. Trust me, I'll ask his Da to give him to me as my personal slave, so no one will do anything wrong to him, without going through me first."
"Thank you, Jule. We can go now." Masu said to his Wisa.
Traversing corridors and halls, they reached the hall of private audiences. The two Shiti were sitting on a small sofa, and behind them were three of the four To present at that time in the castle. The three Lords were sitting in their chairs.
"Here, oh noble To, is Su Masu-Yari," the Great Warrior said.
The Shiti looked at him annoyed, as he arranged on his head the sign of his rank, a crown with a blue inverted trapeze in front of it.
"Do you realize, Su, what have you done?" he asked, trying to give a haughty tone to his voice.
"Yes, Shiti, I did what I felt I needed to do, and I would do it again, if necessary," the warrior answered loud and clear, accompanying his words with a brief nod of respect as the court etiquette required.
"Do you hear that?! Do you hear!?" the Shiti's wife cried with a sharp voice, angrily, "He doesn't even attempt to apologize, that reckless man! He challenges you! He challenges me! Again, after what he dared to do."
The male Shiti asked her with a short wave of his hand to shut up, and resettled the crown on his head.
"What do you have to say to your defense, Su Masu-Yari?" the Great Lord asked.
"In my defense? Nothing, because I know I have no faults. I've always served with genuine loyalty, dedication and readiness. I have never failed in my duties."
"Hear that?! Hear!" the woman Shiti began to yell.
A little annoyed, the Great Lord replied, without looking at her: "I'm not deaf, I can hear it!" Then he turned back to the warrior. "Don't you consider it a sin to have deprived my wife of her beloved little dragon?" he asked, frowning.
"Given the situation, no. A life for a life, and the according to the Antropogony, I saved a life of value two by sacrificing a life of value one. Anyone in my place would have done exactly the same."
The Shiti woman stood up and stamped her foot on the floor: "He is a miscreant, he is an abominable being! He disrespected me, and you too, Reko-Senoo! I want his head! You owe me his head!"
"Grand Dame... I think that your request is not proportionate," the Great Warrior began to say.
"Shut up, Wisa! No one has asked for your opinion!" the woman said in a shrill voice.
"It is an ancient custom for a Wisa to speak freely in front of a To, even if he is the Taota in person," the Great Warrior said proudly.
"Yes, that's true," the Great Lord said wearily, or perhaps bored.
"Nevertheless, I want his head!" the Shiti's wife insisted. Then she added softly, sitting next to her husband again: "Either you give me what I ask of you or... you know that I know how to make you pay."
"Not here in front of everyone," the Shiti murmured. Then, settling back the crown, that seemed not to want to remain at its place on his head, he added: "Before giving my opinion, I would like the Lords here present to express their views."
"Why do you need their advice? You're the Shiti, aren't you? It's you who should..." the woman began to say.
"Yes, I'm the Shiti, and I'll make my decision, but first I want to hear them," the man replied somewhat testily, finally deciding to take away his crown from his head and resting it on his lap.
The three Tu, one after another, issued their opinion.
The first said: "If our Shiti asks the head of this Su... I do not see on what basis we can be opposed to her desire."
The second said: "But perhaps the life of a blue dragon, as dear and precious as it could be, should not be paid with the life of a Su."
The third said: "It is not just for the dragon, but this man severely hurt the feelings of our Shiti, and this is undoubtedly a very serious matter."
"I want his head!" the Great Lady cried again.
The Shiti stood up, put his crown on his head and began to speak: "It is with some hesitation that I, Reko-Senoo, Shiti of Machi-Sanisu', decree..."
Then the Wisa asked to speak and the Shiti, annoyed, motioned him to do so. "Before you emit your order, oh Shiti, let me tell you two things. The first is that I know none of us will raise his hand on Masu-Yari, the best of us all. I was going to propose him as a new Shisi. Therefore, if his head should be cut, it will be one of you two Shiti's who has to sever it. And second, if his head will fall, all we So will immediately leave the territory of Machi-Sanisu', because if the head of a So is worth less than the head of an animal, we will no longer feel safe here."
Masu looked at him with astonishment and more respect: he did not expect a position so clear, so hard, even though he knew that his Wisa and all his companions would have done the utmost to protect him.
"But... but this is insubordination!" one of the three Tu said, offended.
"If you go, the Great Lords of the neighboring territories of Mashi-Hikureeve' and Mari-Yoonisu' would have a free hand to annex our land..." said another of the three Tu.
The third one said: "Wisa, do you want the wrath of the Lords to fall on you and on all the So?"
"The wrath of the To?" the Shiti asked sarcastically, "What wrath, if indeed they all go? What can we do, we To? Become warriors in their place?"
"I... I... I want his head!" the Great Lady insisted while standing up, furious.
"Well, it will be you to cut it off, then, woman!" the Shiti said annoyed. "Wisa, give your Shiti your sword!"
The Wisa had a slight smile, took off his sword and handed it to the Grand Dame. The Lady Shiti grabbed it, but could not even lift it a few inches: it was too heavy for her. Then the Shiti motioned to the Wisa to recover his sword. With a slight bow the man took it from the hands of the Great lady and put it back in its sheath at his back.
The Shiti then said loud and clear: "This is my decree: the Su Masu-Yari is condemned to exile. He will never again set foot in my territory."
The Shiti woman added in a shrill voice: "I do not want to see him, I do not want to see him! If he will set foot in these lands, he should be sentenced to death! Sentenced to death! At least that..."
"If he sets one foot in my territory, he will be sentenced to death, all right. But until he is removed from Machi-Sanisu', no one will raise his hand to him. So I've decided."
"But he must leave at once," one of the Tu said.
"Within five days," the second pointed out.
"Leaving today and within five days to be outside the boundaries of the Machi," the third Tu specified.
"So be it. Go! I make you responsible for my order, Wisa Date-R'éke. You can go now."
The woman Shiti was furious, but she said nothing. The two warriors walked backwards to exit the room.
When they were in the hallway, Masu said: "Thank you, Wisa, I did not think you would go so far for me..."
"You didn't think? So what did you think then? That we would not have done everything for you? And, even if you have to leave these territories, as you may have noticed, our Lord has not talked about your rank; therefore you can go into the world as a Su. Who knows, maybe some other Great Lord will take you into his service. I will send a message to all the other six Wisa, recommending you."
"I'll go into the world, but I do not know if I will ever serve another Great Lord..."
"What else can you do? You're a warrior, what else can you do?"
"Perhaps a Producer, or an Artisan, or even a Merchant; after all, when you found me when I was just a Half-merchant... I could start over again."
"No, not in a class so low."
"But the Merchants, even if they are the lowest class after the slaves, are still free men," Masu noticed with a shrug.
"And what about becoming an Outsider?" the Grand Warrior asked while they were returning to his quarters.
"An Outsider? I don't have magical powers. I'm not a Singer, neither a Mask nor a Witch... How could I become an Outsider, a Lo?"
"None of us really knows who he is, what talents he has. Anyway, take this," the Wisa said, removing from his neck a chain from which hung a ruby carved in the shape of a tear-drop, and handing it to him.
"This is a powerful talisman. A magician gave it to me when I was sixteen years old. It has the power to get hot every time you're in the presence of a magical power. The warmer it gets, the stronger is the power it detects. So at least you can defend yourself."
"Why do you give it up?" Masu asked, taking up the beautiful stone that felt cold on his palm. "It is cold, so neither you nor I have magical powers," he smiled.
"It did never become hot, at least until now... I wonder if it really has the power that the magician told me it has. I give it to you anyway, because maybe one day... At least it will remind you that you are not alone, that in me you will always have a friend."
Masu put it around his neck. After a little while Masu's lover, Jule-Dee entered the Wisa's quarters.
"The little Di Sho is already in my rooms. A doctor is taking care of the injured leg. What has our Shiti decided for you?"
They put him up to date. Then Jule-Dee said to his lover: "Come into my room. Before you are going, I would like to have a little time to give you my farewell."
"Yes, go," the Wisa said, handing him the sword that Masu hung to his back. "But by tomorrow morning you should leave. I will have you accompanied to the border."
Masu followed his Jule up to his room, and there, finally, for the last time the two young men were in each other's arms, to make love as both wanted.
In the meantime the little Di Sho, in his room, was praying for his savior. In the meantime the Wisa had rallied all the So to acquaint them with the Shiti's verdict regarding Masu.
At sunrise, when Masu prepared to leave, escorted by four of his companions, his Shisi handed him a bag of gold coins: "This is what we So have collected amongst us to make your trip less burdensome. Where are you going? What are you planning to do now?"
Masu took the heavy bag and hung it on his belt, giving thanks: "I don't know. Maybe I will visit the territory until I find something I like to do. Like the mythical So R'ezaa-So... the warrior-wanderer."
"May all the Gods assist you, man," Jule-Dee said.
Masu nodded. Escorted by four comrades, chosen by the Wisa, he left the castle and took the road that would lead out of the territory of Machi-Sanisu', into his exile.
The Wisa had given him a letter, calling for the protection and friendship towards the young So. When they reached the boundary of the area, the comrades said goodbye, hugging him. So Masu entered the territory of Mari-Yoonisu'. The soldiers guarding the border checked the Wisa's letter, and let him enter without problems.
For the last time Masu turned to say farewell to his former teammates, then he resolutely stepped into the woods that lay before him. He soon disappeared among the tall trees along the dirt road that wound through the woods.
He really did not know what he would do, where he would go, where his travels would end, but in his stout heart he didn't harbor any fear, not even the slightest concern.
The young and beautiful warrior began his journey into the unknown, a journey he could not imagine. Would it be long, and full of wonderful or dangerous events, and full of unexpected turns? Nobody knows the future, not even the diviners, not even the Gods or the Great Gods. Only the Supreme God, the Kaoka, knows it, because he creates it moment by moment with his breath, moment by moment he decides the tracks with his finger. And the Kaoka was just forming, along with his own eyes that see everything, the way for the beautiful Masu.