I didn’t know which human to approach first, or even what proper protocol might be for approaching one of the humans. Instead, I began by walking straight down one of the paths that had been cut into the hillside. It wavered a bit from right to left as it travelled between the terraces, but at least here, closer to the bottom of the ravine, the incline was not too extreme.
It took longer than I had anticipated for the humans to notice me. Many were intent upon their work in the fields, of course, but I also believe this was due to the fact that other humans likely walked this path throughout the day. Without studying me intently, even those that did notice me might not have realized I was a stranger.
Eventually, however, a man took note of me, and realized that I was not someone with whom he was familiar. “Hey,” he called, dropping his farming implement to the ground to approach me. “Hey, who are you?”
I found myself grateful that I understood his words. They were of the same language that Telan had taught me, or at least something very close to it. The pronunciation was quite different on some of the words. “Hello,” I replied.
His words, which had been spoken at quite a volume, attracted the attention of other humans nearby. None of the others approached, at first, but they did turn their faces to regard me, and they paused in their work.
“Who are you?” he asked again. He had a rough, weathered face, darkened by his time in the fields, and bristly hair grew from his face, though only the most generous observer would have called it a beard.
“I am myself,” I said. The question seemed oddly deep and strangely phrased. Telan’s linguistic instruction had left gaps regarding colloquialisms and the nuances of certain questions.
“Don’t be an ass,” he said. “What I mean is, what’s your name? What are you doing here?”
“That is not what you asked,” I said, feeling confused and frustrated by his antagonistic attitude. Would I ever meet with a human whose first instinct was not to attack me, be it verbally or physically?
“That’s what I meant,” he continued. “Are you stupid or something?”
No, I was most definitely not stupid. I was far smarter than this meaningless, inconsequential little pest who was not making my life any easier. I was, however, ignorant, which was not a word I understood well enough at the time to know that it was something entirely separate from stupidity.
A woman approached us, inserting herself into our conversation. All of the humans within earshot were watching and listening, but only she came forward. She looked strong, with a thick waist and arms, and hair plaited in a tight weave close to her skull.
“Nash,” she said. “What are you on about over here?”
“This guy just walked right up out of the woods,” he said.
“I see that,” she said. “I mean why are you calling him stupid and you don’t even know him yet?”
“Because he’s acting like he doesn’t understand my questions, Cela” Nash said, throwing his hands in the air. “I asked him who he was and he couldn’t even answer. Plus he talks with a funny accent.”
“Well he obviously a Roamer. Look at his clothes,” Cela said, pointing at me. “I’m surprised we speak the same language at all.”
The man grunted. “What are you doing here, boy? You still haven’t answered me.”
“I am lost,” I said. “I have been looking for people.”
“Well, you found some,” Cela said. “How did you get lost? Where’s the rest of your clan?”
“I don’t have a clan,” I said, speaking the truth. Then I remembered that I had to say things that at least somewhat fit their expectations. I remembered that I had planned to mix truth with lies. “All the people I have known are dead.”
“Dead?” Cela repeated. She put her hand to her chest. “Are you alright?”
“I am unharmed,” I said, though the question caught me off-guard. I didn’t believe I had given her reason to think I was injured.
She and Nash shared a look, the meaning of which escaped me. “What is your name, dear?” she asked.
“I don’t have one,” I answered. I knew that I couldn’t go by Ooze, as Telan had called me. I’d not otherwise thought to give myself a name. Then I realized that the absence of a name would seem odd to them. As Telan had told me, all humans had names. “I mean, I don’t remember it.”
“You don’t remember your own name?” Nash said, raising an eyebrow. “And you’re lost. You are stupid, that’s for sure.”
“Nash!” Cela said, turning toward him sharply. “I’ve always known you to be an ass, but today you’re really proving it. This boy has obviously been through something.”
“Yeah, life as an idiot,” Nash muttered.
Cela punched his upper arm, causing Nash to eye her in a reproachful fashion. “That’s enough out of you.” She pointed to me. “You. Follow me, dear. I’m taking you to see Rystala.”
She began walking, with the expectation that I would follow. I did. “Who is Rystala?” I asked.
“She is our herbalist,” Cela said. “Well, herbalist and healer. She sets broken bones and treats the sick and injured.”
“I am not sick or injured,” I said.
“Okay, dear,” Cela said. “But you’re lost and you can’t remember your own name, so I’m taking you to Rystala. She’ll know what to do.”
I remained silent. Cela had not repelled me, but had instead opted to take me further into the settlement to meet with another human. This was already far beyond the progress I had made with the family of Roamers I had met in the woods.
Cela led me down the slope to where the village proper crowded around the waterway. Many eyes turned our way, but none approached us. Instead they turned and whispered to each other, pointing my way. Children watched me from around corners as though they believed I wouldn’t notice their observation.
I didn’t respond to the human’s actions. I watched them back in silence. I had never been inside a human settlement in this way, and I didn’t know, exactly, what their communications might mean in terms of their acceptance of my presence. They were letting me follow Cela peacefully, for now, and I didn’t want to disturb that by taking the inappropriate action. I also didn’t want to clue Cela in on the fact that I didn’t know how I should be behaving.
Rystala’s home sat right on the edge of the river. She had a small garden of her own, with different plants than I had seen in the crops higher up the slope. Cela took me right up to her door and knocked.
Rystala opened the door moments later. Her grey hair fell in curls against the sides of her face, and while her skin was lined, she didn’t stoop with age, and her eyes had the bright clarity of a much younger woman. “What is it?”
“Day’s tidings, Rystala,” Cela said. “I’ve brought someone to see you.”
“I see him,” Rystala said, looking me up and down. “Who are you, then? You don’t look like you’re from around here.”
“I’m not,” I answered.
“He lost his family,” Cela said. I had not told her this. She had merely implied it from what I had said. I decided to allow that to become the truth I would tell. It wasn’t a lie, after all. I had consumed my family shortly after birth. “And he lost his way, as well. He also can’t remember his name.”
“You can’t remember your name?” she said.
“I can’t,” I confirmed. “And I don’t know where I am, or where my family died.”
She stared into my eyes long enough to make me wonder whether she saw me for something other than human. “Come in,” she said. “I don’t know that there’s much I can do for memory loss, but we can at least try. I’ll take it from here, Cela. You can go back to work.”
Cela left us to return to the fields, and I followed Rystala into the dark shelter of her home.