|Disclaimer: The characters and story are based on the series BeastMaster are property of Tribune Entertainment Company. There is no intent to infringe on their rights, this is only for pure enjoyment.|
The Last Sula
Dedicated to the last of a rare breed, Daniel Goddard
Dar pulled back the overgrowth now blanketing the remnants of the shelter he built years ago. It was here where he withstood Curupira's three-day trial to see if he possessed the qualifications required of a beastmaster. Upon fulfilling the grueling ordeal, Ruh easily coerced him to the edge of the muddy river with his mighty roar. Dar backed away from the tiger and soon became victim to an alligator that tore him limb from limb. The demon herself put him back together. Without Curupira's consent, Sharak had snatched Dar's eye before surrendering it to her, granting the Beastmaster the ability to see through the eagle's eyes. Dar had earned her respect and she awarded him the gift of communicating with the beasts of nature—his only task: to protect them.
Walking next to the river, Dar reminisced how he, upon coming of age, pleaded with Curupira, insisting she make him a beastmaster like his father. Beforehand, Dar spent over four years fending for himself in the forest after the slaughter of his tribe. The Terrons massacred the Sulas, including his parents. Curupira promised the former Beastmaster she would spare his son's life if he protected her tigers. All this time, Dar believed he was the last surviving Sula, but Curupira told him otherwise. She confirmed his hopes that Kyra was alive, taken prisoner by the Terrons. Curupira made sure that on the last day of the test, Dar faced an ultimate temptation. The forest demon appeared as Kyra, hoping her ploy would break his determination. It hadn't. Through the illusion, Dar was able to see Kyra's image after all those years apart. She had grown into a beautiful young woman.
Dar closed his eyes. He ached for her smile, her touch. Had he known how lonely he'd be in the future, would he have been so eager to become a beastmaster? "Alone, I'm truly alone now…the last Sula." Dar squatted by the river and dipped his hands in the cold stream. He splashed water on his face hoping to rid the stinging in his eyes. He stood and scanned the sky—no signs of Sharak. Dar then surveyed the nearby woods, no Curupira, no Ruh. He gazed downstream and wondered how Tao was managing. He called to Kodo and Podo and discovered everything was all right. The ferrets were gorging themselves with gooseberries while Tao, according to the ferrets, busily collected tasteless underground plant growth. Satisfied with his friend's well being, Dar couldn't avoid what weighed heavily on his mind. Tao was right; he needed to face Kyra's death—alone.
Gradually, faraway shouts disturbed the tranquil moment. Dar strained to listen. The shouts intensified, blaring from the north. He remembered seeing a village during one of his trips a few years back. He never visited, but spied upon the inhabitants who seemed rather peaceful. Disturbed by the continual uproar, Dar decided to investigate. He followed the river north.
Tao couldn’t possibly fit anything else in his satchel. Overstuffed with roots and herbs, he hardly had room for the fruit he picked for his evening meal. He looked inside Kodo and Podo's empty pouch, tempted to fill it. "Where are those little rats? Kodo? Podo? C'mon, you two. We have to start back soon if we want to reach camp before nightfall." He heard their playful squeaks, but couldn't see them.
Kodo's head emerged from beneath a row of bushes. He squealed, attracting Tao's attention, then withdrew back under the protection of the shrub.
Suddenly, Tao sensed he was being watched. He checked behind him, but nothing. He then concentrated on the bushes where he last saw the ferret. A figure hiding within the brush locked eyes with his. "Who's there?" he stuttered nervously.
Wary of the unwanted guest, Tao grabbed a nearby stick. He was ready to confront the stranger when he heard shouts off in the distance. The voices were getting closer, so he ducked behind a large tree trunk keeping a guarded watch on the presence in the bushes. He strained to see what the fuss was about through the thicket. Beyond, in a small clearing, three Terron riders chased a man on foot.
"Stop! Where is he?" the first Terron demanded as he jumped off his horse. "Where's the Sula?"
"I don't know what you're talking about!" claimed the blond man. He tried avoiding the Terron's blow, but didn't move fast enough. The man collapsed to the ground.
The warrior turned to his cohorts still saddled on their horses. "Take him to Zad. I'll return with more men to search the area. No Sula escapes me." One of the other Terrons dismounted, lifted the downed man and threw him over the back of his horse. Within minutes, the two warriors rode off. The one barking orders vaulted onto his horse and galloped away in search of more men.
Tao was puzzled. How did the Terrons know Dar was this far north? How could he possibly warn him? A whimper from the bushes reminded him of his uninvited company. He realized whoever was cowering in the bushes was also hiding from the Terrons. Convinced the warriors weren't returning for the time being, Tao spoke softly, "Come out in the open. Don't be afraid, I'm not a Terron. They're gone for now and I mean you no harm."
A woman edged hesitantly from the bushes. Dressed in a simple robe cinched at the waist with a green scarf, the woman moved awkwardly as though she were hiding something behind her.
Tao hadn't noticed. Overwhelmed by her natural splendor, he absorbed her beauty--long blonde hair pulled up and pinned in a tight bun with stray tendrils falling loosely around her creamy neck. She slowly raised her eyes to meet his. Hazel eyes like a doe, full of fear. "It's all right, I'm a friend. My name is Tao. Was that your hus--"
"My brother," she interrupted. "He deliberately got captured to protect us."
"My son." She moved aside to reveal a small boy around ten years old. He was the spitting image of his mother. His clothes were simple like hers--a long tunic covering his leggings. Tao then realized the boy was holding Podo, stroking him, while Kodo circled his feet. He was afraid the ferret might nip the boy, but Podo seemed delighted. Tao averted his attention back to the woman as she spoke. "Please, don't turn us in to the Terrons."
"Have no fear. I despise and fear the Terrons as much as the next person. Listen, we can't stay here, they'll be back with more recruits. I have a camp further downstream. It's well hidden, so we'll be safe. We can reach it before nightfall. You're welcome to stay." Tao felt a sudden need to protect the woman and child
The woman finally smiled. "My name is Jame. I'm in your debt, Tao. That's Eiron meaning the way."
"Yes," Tao replied, surprised by her wisdom as well as her gentle charm. "How do you know of the Eirons?" He knelt by the young boy and took Podo from his arms, placing the critter headfirst into the pouch. He then picked up Kodo who followed suit. The boy grinned a familiar smile that left Tao feeling unsettled.
The woman placed both hands on her son's shoulders and pulled him closer, away from the stranger, still leery of him. "Several years ago a man came to our village. He was an Eiron scholar like you," she explained as she motioned towards his green ring. "He taught us of your people and their ways. Gie learned so much from this wondrous man. I admired him terribly. Unfortunately, he left us to continue his quest. I miss him. We both miss him," she corrected herself as she gazed down at her son and smiled. The boy returned the gesture.
That smile. "We should get going," Tao advised. "We’ll improve our chances of losing them if we wade in the river for a ways."
Jame agreed and reached for her son's hand, following Tao to the riverbank. "What will happen to my brother?"
"He’ll be questioned," Tao replied, choosing an euphemism for torture so not to upset her. He stepped into the river, cringed at the frigid temperature and then turned to help the boy. "Stay near me and walk close to shore."
Jame didn’t wait for Tao’s assistance. She lifted her robe, stepped into the icy water and exhaled in surprise as she sank knee-deep. The momentum threw her off balance and she tumbled backwards into the water.
Tao whipped around to make sure she was all right only to snicker at her clumsiness. Usually he ended up on his backside. He offered his hand, still holding back his amusement. "Are you all right?"
Embarrassed, Jame grabbed his hand. As she was being pulled up, she glanced at her son who was also giggling. A weak laugh escaped her lips. "I’m drenched…and it’s freezing." Her robe clung to her body as she shivered.
Tao appreciated the view, but didn’t want her to catch cold either. "You can warm yourself by the campfire once we’re sure it's safe. There’s no time to waste. We must hurry." He supported her arm as they waded through the river. Tao watched the boy skip in front of them, oblivious to any danger. Ah, the innocence of youth, he thought.
Jame drew closer to Tao, hoping to absorb the heat from his body. She felt safe with his arm around her…she appreciated his thoughtfulness. The lonesome bachelor didn’t mind one bit. Feeling responsible for their safety, Tao realized how it must feel like to be a father. He could now understand Ruh's need to protect his cubs. Nonetheless, he wished the fearsome tiger roamed nearby, especially with Terrons in the area. Tao needed answers. "The Terrons," he paused, trying to ask his question without upsetting the frail woman, "they were questioning your brother about a Sula? Did you happen to meet up with one along the way?"
"Meet up with a Sula?" Jame quipped. "They were massacred years ago, such a tragedy. It's rumored one survived...a beastmaster. It's just a legend among our people."
"The legend's true—"
Fascinated by the legend, Gie spun around and joined the conversation, interrupting the Eiron. "You know the Beastmaster? Have you seen him? I hear he's taller than the trees, stronger than an ox and has a mane as thick as a lion. He's ferocious and deadly like the cobra." The boy's eyes were wide with anticipation, eager for Tao's reply. However, the Eiron was chuckling. Gie asked, "What's so funny?"
Tao held back the truth. He dared not tell him that he not only knew the Beastmaster, but he was also his best friend. He'd rather witness the expression on the youngster's face when he introduced Dar as the Beastmaster in the morning. "Taller than the trees," Tao repeated, chuckling more.
Reaching the outskirts of the village, Dar crouched behind the brush to spy upon the crowd of villagers being held back by Terron soldiers. He frowned, wondering why the Terrons strayed this far north. Some bold townsfolk shouted their protests as two warriors forced a woman into the wooden corral. The spectators blocked the Beastmaster's view, so he climbed a nearby tree with the agility of a wildcat.
Dar settled onto a strong branch and from this vantagepoint noticed the cage inside the corral. It housed a huge white tiger. The Beastmaster telepathically communicated with the imprisoned beast. Infuriated and starved beyond reason, the tiger wasn't keen on listening to his advice. Its last victim had gotten away. Dar could only promise its freedom if it didn't harm the innocent.
The woman at the other end of the pen tried to climb over the wooden rail, but a guard whacked her, sending her to the ground. More protests from her relatives and friends echoed throughout the crowd. Suddenly, several Terrons parted and a familiar face appeared—Zad, king of the Territories. Dar blinked several times, his curiosity heightening.
Zad picked up a boy guarded by one of his soldiers. He studied the child at first and then asked, "What's your name, son?"
The boy was speechless, frightened no doubt. "Torok," a relative answered.
"Is that your mother, Torok?" Zad gestured to the woman sprawled on all fours. He smiled when the boy nodded. "I'm sure you love her very deeply and wouldn't want to see her ripped to shreds by a tiger, now would you?"
The boy looked the king in the eyes and shook his head.
"Then you must do as I say. Convince the beast not to attack your mother," Zad spoke softly, prodding the youngster to look at the caged animal. The white cat growled and scared the youngster. Impatient, Zad's tone changed. "Oh don't start crying, that's not going to save her!" The king's oppressive nature only made matters worse, the boy cried harder, calling for his mother. "There, there," the king softened his voice again as he wiped the boy's face. "Listen to me, Torok. If you want to see her live, tell the tiger not to attack. You best do it soon." Zad nodded to his officer who gave orders to open the cage.
The tiger vaulted from the confinement of the wooden crate. It roared at the noise from the surrounding crowd of humans. Then the beast focused on the female of the species cowered at the far end—dinner. A persistent voice kept promising freedom if it let the woman be. Over and over, the voice begged him to lie down. Although empty pangs nagged its stomach, the tiger responded to the soothing voice and settled to the ground.
A hush fell over the crowd. "By God, you've done it!" Zad spat in disbelief. Astonishment replaced the smug expression of the king. Could his search end so quickly and so easily?
"Let the boy go!" Dar ordered as he approached the gathering, retrieving the two-sectioned staff from its quiver. He twisted the pieces together, spun it in a ritual that proclaimed his expertise of the weapon. Outnumbered or not, he couldn't allow Zad to carry out his plans, whatever they may be.
"I had a feeling you'd show up. This is your doing then?" Zad surmised as he looked to the tiger and then back to the Beastmaster.
Dar smiled proudly.
Zad's warriors waited zealously for their king to say the word to overtake the intruder. No such command came.
"So, it wasn't you after all," Zad spoke to Torok. "Release the woman." He lowered the boy to the ground and then moved closer to the Beastmaster. Zad stopped suddenly and turned to behold the unresponsive actions of his stunned warriors.
"And the tiger," Dar proposed.
"Don't push your luck, Beastmaster." Zad scowled at one of his soldiers. "Do as I command, let the woman go!"
The Terron guard opened the pen and went to retrieve the wretched woman. The tiger's thoughts were dominated with the suggestion, "Run!" It sprang up and bolted towards the open gate. Without warning, the frantic villagers scattered for safety along with several Terrons. Content with the beast's liberation, Dar turned to defend himself from an impending assault.
Zad, however, blamed the negligence of his men. "You imbeciles! You let my tiger get away! Simpletons, the lot of you!" The village clearing was now vacant with the exception of ten Terron warriors, waiting for orders, fearful of their king's wrath for the day's fiasco.
Bewildered that he was being ignored, Dar cleared his throat to get the king's attention.
Zad whirled around. "That's right, why do I need that miserable creature when I have you?"
The Beastmaster stood his ground. "What is it you want with these people, Zad?"
Zad needed only to flash a look to his men. They began to encircle Dar. "I have no quarrel with you, Beastmaster. However, I may require your gift to facilitate my search. You're welcome to stay as my guest or prisoner, the choice is yours."
This was new. Could it be a trick? Dar snickered; of course, it was a trick. He had no choice though, so Dar made the less physical decision. "A guest," he replied with a hint of sarcasm.
"Wise choice. A brain besides your brawn. Unthinkable, unless you're a king like me. One might say you're king of the beasts though. Can't be king of the Sulas, now can you? No one left to rule…pity. Or could I be wrong?" Zad studied the Beastmaster's reaction.
Bitterness. It was under Zad's rule when the Sulas were massacred. Dar swallowed before answering. "You know I'm the last Sula. You made sure of that."
"So you say. I'm not so sure. I've heard rumors claiming otherwise."
Dar raised his eyebrows, uncertain of what Zad implied. "You seem to be accusing me of something. Is this how you treat your guests? It's not any different than that of a prisoner from what I can tell."
Zad smirked. He enjoyed the Beastmaster's audacity. "Forgive my manners, let's discuss this further over the evening meal."
Confident they lost the Terrons, Tao built a small fire to warm his guests. He next offered them the fruit he had collected earlier.
Jame greedily drank the hot tea Tao finished brewing. "Ah, this warms the body. Thanks so much, Tao. I don't know what we would have done without you."
"You'd probably have ended up as prisoners of the Terrons." Finished with the chores, Tao sat beside his lovely guest. Her son was lying down, playing with Kodo and Podo nearby. Tao smiled. The ferrets had never been so pleasant during a meal. Gie seemed to have a way with animals similar to Zuraya, the animal trainer he and Dar met months earlier.
"You're probably right, prisoners or dinner for some wild beast." She smiled at her newfound friend. Jame rather liked Tao's smile, it lit up his whole face. "I can tell you're an honest, decent man. You are a rare man to find, Tao."
The young Eiron flushed. He didn't know how to handle compliments since he hardly ever received them. Instead, he made a joke of it. "Well, I guess you're fortunate I stumbled upon you."
"I think I took the tumble, not you."
He laughed at the recollection. "Are you warm enough?"
Jame pulled the blanket tighter around her body. "Thanks to you, yes," she whispered, mesmerized by the man's lighthearted expression. His eyes smiled as well.
Tao's dark eyes locked onto hers and the twosome were caught in a trance. He found Jame witty and charming. His attraction to her grew in just the short time it took to reach the camp. She had seemed truly interested of his past and his homeland. Now, they were both silent, staring at each other.
Her son's voice broke the spell between the two. "Night, mother. Night, Tao."
She looked over to where the boy had settled himself on the ground, curled up with the ferrets. "Night, Gie," she replied.
"Pleasant dreams," Tao wished, grateful the little rats wouldn't bother him during the night. Maybe he could get some peaceful shuteye, but then it dawned on him that he would have to stay alert in case the Terrons discovered their whereabouts. Without Dar's presence, Tao was in charge, which made him especially nervous. He'd be glad when morning arrived. Stirring the campfire with a stick, Tao looked up at Jame. She still looked scared. He needed to reassure her things would be all right. "My friend, Dar, should return by morning. We'll make sure you both reach safety."
"Tao, I can't thank you enough." Jame glanced over at her son. Gratified Gie was in a sound sleep, she started crying, her brave façade no longer needed. She released the day's tension with racks of sobs as Tao pulled her into his arms.
"There, there, there…" The Eiron held her close, rocking her until her sobs subsided. Jame was soon asleep. He kissed her forehead. Tao could easily fall for this woman…easily.
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My Fanfic is based on the BeastMaster Series
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