The caravan rolled slowly down the heavily wooded road. The afternoon sun dappled the road through the leaves in the trees. Summer was just beginning, the warm days welcome after the cold days of winter. The horses were tired and ready for the day to end. They came around a curve when the lead driver noticed something lying in the road. He stopped and looked around to see if maybe it was a trap. They were in a time of peace right now, but one never could be too careful. Levi moved the horses forward slowly until he could make out what was lying in the road. It looked as if an old man had been robbed and left to die . "Dear Lord!" Levi jumped down off of his caravan and went up to the man lying on the ground. His clothes were torn and dirty but looked as though they were of good quality. He wore a traveling cloak with brown pants and shirt. His boots were fairly new too. "He is alive, Barely. " Levi mumbled under his breath. " Jewel! Quickly, make room for our new guest and go and get the Healer!" Jewel, Levi's daughter quickly turned down the sheet on the nearest bunk and jumped down from the back of the caravan, their home, to go and get the healer. Her father, Levi was the leader of their small caravan. There were only 6 wagons total. Jewel had seen other caravans that were much larger than their own. But she also noticed in a larger caravan, it was harder to know who everyone was. Jewel ran quickly to the last wagon and said, "Myra, Father needs you! There is an injured man in the road!" Myra quickly climbed down from her seat and went with Jewel to where the man lay. Myra quickly checked that there were no broken bones or internal injuries. "We can move him Levi." Myra said. Levi carefully picked up the man as if he were as light as a small child. Levi carefully carried him to his caravan and laid him on the bunk that Jewel had made ready for him. "Jewel Drive Myra's wagon. We will stop just up the road next to the river up ahead." Soon the caravan was moving again.
By the time the caravan reached their camping place for the night and had supper ready their new guest finally woke up. Levi smiled at his new guest. "Now what is a man of your advanced wisdom doing all the way out here?" Levi asked. "I am on a mission. I must reach Tower City. I am to tell a story there. The Story of our peace." The old man said. "My name is Levi Johnson . May I inquire as to what your name is?" Levi asked. " My name is James Paul. I am a story teller, Some of my stories are true and others are fantastic tales with a grain of truth to them. I have no money to pay my way for the rest of the trip. But I could tell you the story that I had been summoned to tell in Tower City." James said. "Ah, you know of our custom then. No one rides for free with the Gypsies." Levi said with a broad grin on his dark and handsome face. His dark hair was starting to get some grey in it. Levi wore a silk shirt with black pants and boots. "You tell the story tonight after we have had our evening meal, and if we think it is good enough it will pay for your passage. If not, We will leave you on the road. Fair enough?" Levi asked the James. "Fair enough. I think you will find this story very interesting though. It has to do with all of us and none of us." James said very mysteriously.
That night after the evening meal was finished they gathered around the fire for James to begin. "This all happened when I was 25 winters old. I was an eager squad captain. It was going to be my first day on the front lines. That is when I met her, The one who would change my life.
War is a messy thing. Gaia would know, her whole village was wiped out. And that is where it all started. The Centaurs had come during the night and raided their village. They killed the adults and were gathering the children to take to their compound where they made them their slaves. They burned their homes. In the confusion some of the children escaped. Gaia was one of them. The children who managed to escape the centaurs survived for a week on their own, barely. They found food where they could and stayed hidden from the occasional Centaur who would come and round up a stray child or two. Gaia was one of the last to be caught. She was distraught by the fact that her parents were murdered. But she had learned well from her parents. They had made plans for just this instance. They had taught her what things to eat and what she couldn't out on her own. Her clothes had become torn and dirty over that week until there wasn't anything left except her pants. What covered her was her own fur. Gaia was a wolf human. They were neither human or wolf but a bit of both. There had been wars for so long between the races. The humans, the Centaurs, Snow leopards and wolf people. The humans fought everyone, the Centaurs and the snow leopards fought against the humans and the wolf people were unfortunate enough to get caught in the middle of the fight. The humans would raid their villages and the Centaurs would raid their villages. Each trying to get power over the other.
A week after her village had been destroyed Gaia awoke to a smell. It was her own smell. She knew she needed to get bathed so the centaurs didn't find her. She went to the river to get cleaned up. It had been a dry spring and the river was really low. So she walked out towards the middle to get in deep enough to bathe in. She had left her pants on the shoreline thinking she would wash them after. Suddenly the bottom of the river was gone! she was swept down river before she even knew what to do. The middle of the river was very deep and Gaia had been foolish to go into it. the current in the middle of the river was very swift compared to the edge of the river. Gaia cried for help when she surfaced. Gaia felt herself going down for the last time. She knew she wouldn't come up again. Her strength was failing her. Suddenly a hand reached in the deep water and pulled her out. The Centaur slung her over his shoulder as she coughed and sputtered trying to catch her breath. He waded to the shore and gently put her down. "Are you alright?" He asked in a deep voice. The hair that covered him was a light creamy color. It made Gaia think of a fawn. "Yes, I think so." she said as she closed her eyes and passed out.
Almost in a dream like state she woke on the back of the centaur traveling in the herd once more she fell asleep. The next time she woke up there was a pleasant aroma in the air. The one who had saved her was stirring a stew. Gaia sat up and peered into the pot. When she looked in it she saw only vegetables. The Centaur said, " This is what you will be living on for the next few days." He smiled when he saw the look on her face and said, "Don't worry, it's good. Here, try some. I know its not meat, but it's still good." Cautiously she took the spoon from his hand and tried a small bite of the stew. To her surprise it was really good. The small amount of food reminded her that it had been since early morning since she had eaten and growled in protest now. The Centaur laughed at this while Gaia's face turned red. "It's o.k." The Centaur said as he dished up a large helping of stew for her.
A cold breeze blew by and that is when Gaia realized that she had no clothing on. Covering herself as best she could, she asked for her pants. The Centaur looked at her curiously and said, "Your what? I didn't realize you wore clothes. We Centaurs do not need clothes." She looked at him in shock and said, " No, we wear clothes. We wear shirts and pants." The Centaur thought a moment and said, "Well you could go to Ms. West, she is the tailor of our group. I will tell you though that she only makes shirts. But I suppose she could give it a try." The Centaur led her over to Ms. West and made the request for clothes. She gave Gaia a quizzical look and said, "alright."
Ms. West started taking measurements of her arms, height and around her middle. In the end she got a big rectangle like poncho that made a big shirt when she folded the sides up. She also got a sash to keep the sides closed. The poncho hung down to just past her knees. "Thank you." Gaia said shyly to Ms. West. "No problem." Ms. West said to her.
Gaia walked back to where the Centaur waited for her. "May I ask what your name is?" She asked the palomino colored Centaur. The Centaur looked at her quizzically and smiled, "My name is Jeremiah." He said to her. Gaia thought a moment and said, "It is an odd name for a Centaur."
Once they returned back to the stew Gaia got her food and ate it with gusto. When she finished she was so tired she curled up and went to sleep. When she awoke Jeremiah was carrying her. She could feel the strength in his arms as they flexed with each hoof beat. He was warm and smelled of fresh cut grass and earth with a bit of a musky smell. She felt safe and cared for. Something he hadn't felt since her parent's had disappeared. Jeremiah also noticed that Gaia was now awake and lifted her over his shoulder so she could sit on his back. The shirt worked well. It split right down the sides leaving her legs free. Riding awake was a lot different than when she was asleep. She kept moving at the wrong time in the wrong way and kept slipping this way and that. Finally Jeremiah instructed her on how to ride so she would stop slipping this way and that and hurting him in the process. After awhile she got the hang of it and finally got comfortable.
Shortly before lunch they had joined up with several other species of creatures, some of which Gaia did not recognize. There were other Centaurs and some that were almost hairless beings that looked a lot like her. Some looked like large white cats that walked like people.
When they stopped for lunch she jumped down only to find that her legs wouldn't hold her. She tumbled to the ground. Jeremiah asked if she was alright. "Yes." she said getting up quickly only to find her legs wouldn't hold her up. Her legs buckled again. Her legs and butt were sore. Rubbing her backside as she followed Jeremiah they walked past a group of human boys who started howling. After they had passed the boys Gaia asked Jeremiah,
"Why did those boys howl at me like that?" Jeremiah thought a moment and said only,
"They are only acting on what they have been told." Jeremiah could see the puzzled look was still on her face and so he said to her,
" Just stay away from them, o.k.?" Gaia was still a bit puzzled but said to him,
"o.k. Why are they so hairless? I see hair on their heads but they don't seem to have any hair anywhere else." Gaia had never seen a human before. Jeremiah smiled at her and said,
"They are human. They are sort of like you, but different. It is normal for them to have so little hair just as it is normal for you to have so much hair all over. Gaia thought over what he had said for a while. Gaia told Jeremiah that she would be back in a moment, she had to relieve herself. When she came out the tallest of the boys was walking up to her, smiling in a way that made her feel very uncomfortable.
"What do you want?" Gaia asked not at all sure she wanted to know.
"My friends and I want to get to know you better you silly little fuzz ball." The boy said to her looking at her in a way that made her very glad she now had her shirt on.
"Don't call me names, it isn't nice." Gaia said to him standing as tall as she could. Even then she didn't even come up to his shoulder.
"O.k fine I won't call you that. Tonight we should get together, you, me and the boys." The boy continued to smile at her in a way that made her feel very uncomfortable. "Besides, why would you want to hang out with that stupid old Centaur anyway." He said to her. Gaia grew very angry and said, "He is not stupid!" She turned on her heel and walked back to Jeremiah. She walked up to Jeremiah still fuming about the boy.
"Are you alright?" The Centaur asked. He had overheard the conversation that had taken place between the two. He had been ready to help her if she had needed it.
"I'm fine." Gaia said nothing more about it. She was still troubled though.
"I will have to stay clear of them I think," Gaia finally thought to herself.
"We will be traveling with this group for a bit. At least until tomorrow at noon when they will be turning east and we will be going on to the north.
That night they settled on a great plain with only one tree that she could see. There was a creek that ran close to it bubbling merrily over rocks and away through the plains. The night was cloudy making the prairie very dark with patches of moon light here and there. Gaia went to the creek by the tree to get water for in the morning. Knowing that Jeremiah would need it before they left to start the day. Jeremiah was busy with the fire fixing their evening meal. Gaia didn't pay too much attention to the other groups that they were still following. There area around the tree was quite empty and no one was around. Or so Gaia thought. She stepped carefully down to the creek to fill the bucket with water. Suddenly she felt them. She turned on her heel and saw the boys moving slowly towards her. They were spreading out to block her way back to campfires. They were smiling at her, she knew, because she could see their yellowish teeth. Real fear gripped her stomach and she tasted it in her mouth. It tasted metallic. She tried to edge along the creek and get away but they blocked her and jumped on her. Gaia tried fighting back but there were too many hands and fists and feet hitting her and holding her down. Kicking her and tearing at her clothing. Suddenly one of the boys, the eldest she thought, told the others to hold her still. Gaia could hear him taking off his belt and undoing his pants. She was lying close to the tree. Gaia started to whimper and say "no," when he struck her hard across the face and knocked her head into the tree. She blacked out. The boys suddenly heard a deep loud growl coming from up in the tree. All the boy's eyes turned as one towards the sound. Green eyes, like hot jade, stared back at them. Suddenly they eyes disappeared and they heard a soft thump behind them. They turned to see a pure white leopard man with black spots. Slowly he advanced on the boys. His teeth bared, and muscles tensed ready to fight. That's when the oldest told the others to get him. Everything happened so fast and yet seemed to be in slow motion. The boys surrounded the leo 9, as they were called by humans. They started swinging at him but touched nothing but air. He moved and ducked under all the fists moving fluidly as if through water. He hit with little effort but the effect was instantaneous. Each blow rendered the boys helpless on the ground. The oldest was still trying to position Gaia when he heard it go quiet behind him. He froze as if knowing what was coming next. Slowly he turned his head to find the leo 9. He turned to look into the face of rage and anger. His eyes glowed a bright green in the dark. The boy suddenly found himself slammed against the tree with the leo's hand around his throat. He felt the claws piercing his skin. He could feel the power in his arm and hand, knowing that if the leo wanted to he could kill him with a snap of his hand. Leo's arm shook with the power of his rage that burned through him like wild fire. Deep in his mind part of him was saying, "kill him!" He was being filled with a longing to finish the hunt, to kill. The primal part could smell the fear on him. The fear that was emanating from this one was a strong and heady scent that that seemed to urge him on. Suddenly Gaia moaned and the spell was broken. The sound alone was like a shower of cold water to him and his senses. Quickly Leo pulled his hand off the boys neck. The boy fell to his knees coughing from the lack of air. Leo stepped back and walked over to Gaia kneeling down and picked her up. He straightened her clothes so that she was covered again. Unconsciously she curled her fingers into his fur and curled towards him sensing subconsciously that she was safe now.
Leo carried her over to Jeremiah to have him check her over to make sure she was o.k.
"The child! Is she alright?" Jeremiah asked as Leo approached with her in his arms.
"She is unconscious. I don't know. Some boys attacked her." Leo said as he went to lay her gently on the ground in front of Jeremiah.
Gaia clung to him not wanting to let go even though she was still unconscious. Leo saw her face crease with fear. "Shhhh, its alright now, you are safe now." Leo said to her softly.
Her face relaxed and she let go. Jeremiah smiled and said to Leo,
"She seems to have taken a liking to you. She trusts you."
Leo backed away and asked. "Why is she clinging to me like that? She doesn't even know me."
Jeremiah just moved forward to examine her and make sure nothing was broken. All was quiet a for a few minutes while he carefully moved her arms and legs and felt her ribs and made sure that she wasn't injured more than a few bumps and bruises. Finally Jeremiah looked up and said to Leo. "She will be alright. Thankfully their bodies can take a lot." Leo looked at Jeremiah grimly.
The next day Gaia woke up laying on Jeremiah's back. Every inch of her body hurt. Muscles were bruised and strained from the fight the night before. Her head seemed to hurt the worst. Slowly the memory of the night before came back to her in bits and pieces. Slowly the memories came back up to the point when she was knocked out. Gaia put her arms around Jeremiah's waist and started to cry softly into his fur.