The Revolutions of Time
Chapter 3: Zards and Canitaurs
My eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness, and once they did I saw that the trunk was hollowed out to the extent of eight feet in diameter, with two stairways, one up and another down, filling either corner of the small entry room in which I found myself. Observing that my vision was returned enough to see, the strange creature which had greeted me led me down the descending staircase for a short way, until we came into a cavern which was delved beneath the roots of the tree.
The walls and floor of the cavern, or more accurately, the sitting room, for such it appeared to be, were paneled with a thick, heavy wood with an almost artificially symmetric grain, and the ceiling was done in diagonal boards of the same. Sitting in the center of the room was a brick-laid pit in which burned an illuminating fire, and around it was placed an odd covering frame that caught up the smoke and channeled it via underground passages to some distant wilderness, where its sightless remnants would dissipate into the atmosphere unnoticed. On the near side of the fire was a round table flanked by four large, comfortable chairs, padded by cushions made from the same material as the various carpets and tapestries around the room.
There were two more of the strange creatures seated at the table, called Canitaurs as I later found out, and as they are closely entwined with my story, being prominent participants, I will describe them in some detail here. They stood erect like a man, yet were quite contrasted in appearance. Their skin for one was covered in a thick, impenetrable coat of hair, much like a dog or a bear’s. Their hands, also, were less distinct in the fingers, though but slightly, and their limbs were a little longer and thicker than a man’s. The two most notable differences, however, were the formation of their shoulders and chest, which were very pronounced and muscular, and their faces. The latter’s features were brought to a point in the short snout, or muzzle, that formed their nose and mouth, taking their chins with it and leaving a long line from their neck to their chest open. Humanity prevailed in the rest of their features, though, giving them the look of a man and canine hybrid.
By then I had overcome my initial perplexion at the sight of the Canitaurs, and I endeavored to put a strong check over my emotions in order to prevent another outbreak of panic and to remain cool and candid, come what would. Yet it was, ironically, the product of my rashness that I had found their habitation at all. This I successfully did, and as I entered the room, led by the Canitaur who was on watch, the others stood politely and greeted me with an apparent intrigue.
Our conversation proceeded at follows:
“I am Wagner of the Canitaurs, my friend,” said the one who appeared to be the leader, “And these are Taurus and Bernibus,” the latter being the one who had led me down. “Welcome to Daem.”
“I am Jehu,” I told them, “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“Indeed, and under such circumstances as well. Tell me, how did you come to be here?”
Here I smiled nervously, and replied, “I am a traveler from a distant land, and came here by the advice of a friend.”
At this somewhat false answer, more in character than in content, Wagner looked at me wonderingly, as if detecting my falsehood, but did not follow his look with any probing questions, to my great relief. In order to steer the conversation away from this point, I added quickly, “I am not at all disappointed, either, for the landscape is beautiful and the trees and foliage are wondrously large, but I was surprised to find that, from the prairie to the lake, I saw no one living among these quaint locations.”
Wagner looked at me closely, with a hint of almost reverencing respect and said, “You were very fortunate in your travels, I assure you, for had you arrived at any other time, you would have fallen into fouler hands than ours by far.”
“I do not understand what you mean,” I said.
“Of course not, I am forgetting your new arrival has left you unacquainted with affairs that I am faced with everyday. Let me explain: we, that is, the Canitaurs, have been in open hostilities with the other group of people on this island, the Zards, for as long as we can remember. They have great military superiority in this section of Daem, and when we come here we are forced to live in hiding, in outposts such as this one.”
“Why not just make peace?” I asked.
“Because it is our ideologies that conflict, neither group of us will yield, and the solution can only be decided by force, military force. It is fortunate that you have come among us first, for they would have mistreated you.”
“So you have said, though I do not see why I was not captured by them on my journey through the plains, if they are as powerful in this quarter as you say,” I replied.
“As I said, the timing of your arrival was very fortunate,” he said, “At any other time you would have surely been caught, and then your fate would have been uncertain, but yesterday was the Zard’s new year, the Kootch Patah, on which they spend all night in celebrations and revelries. Because of this, they were all soundly asleep on your trip through the prairie, very possibly laying at your feet, covered by the tall grasses.”
So my fears were not as unfounded as I had thought, was my predestined deja vu, then, real as well? Only time would tell.
“I am indeed lucky then, as you have said, not only in the Zard’s unattentiveness, but also in finding of your secreted habitation, as well as your friendly welcoming of me,” I said.
“I must confess,” he chuckled, “It is not merely from a one-sided hospitality that you are welcomed.”
“Indeed?” I said.
“Indeed,” he answered, “For your appearance and the circumstances of your arrival are almost uncannily the realizations of one of our most ancient prophesies, one which we have longed to have fulfilled.”
“Is that so?” I rhetorically asked.
“Surely it is,” he said with a smile, though from happiness or humor I could not tell. He went on soberly, saying: “The prophecy is concerning the kinsman redeemer, one of the ancients sent by Onan, the Lord of the Past, to redeem us from the destruction of this polluted world.”
“What do you mean by ‘one of the ancients’?” I interjected questioningly.
“Exactly what I said,” Wagner replied with a light hearted smile, “Let me explain.”
But before he could, we were interrupted by a violent scratching and pounding at the door, along with some grunting voices which I could not understand. The Canitaur’s ears, which were quite large, though more erect and postured than floppy, quickly rose to attention, and they had spent not a moment listening when they uniformly chorused, “Zards,” in a hoarse whisper. My earlier fear, then mysterious but now understood, returned in full force, and my face writhed in horror as I ejaculated remorsely, “Then we are lost.”
Wagner turned gravely towards me and said, “Perhaps, but there is still hope. Come, follow me,” and rising from his chair he led the way to the furthest corner of the room. A primitive tapestry was hanging there, and Wagner lifted it up while Bernibus and Taurus hit two hidden switches, one being on either extremity of the room, to avoid discovery. That unlocked the wall behind the tapestry. It opened along lines previously concealed by the wood’s grain and revealed a small cubbyhole built into the wall, probably meant for its present use, concealment. Wagner led us into it and no sooner was the door, or wall, latched again than the Zards, having broken down the outside door by brute strength, flooded into the room.
We could see them as they did, for the wall that concealed us had many small holes, and the tapestry as well, so that on the inside we could see all that happened in the well lit room, while they could not see us, as there was no light to reveal us. Indeed, I had been sitting facing the hidden compartment during our brief dialog and had not detected it at all. The situation was quite different at that time, though, for the Zards were actively looking for us, whereas I was merely glancing occasionally at the wall.
Now that they were closer, I could easily understand their conversation:
“Blast it, they aren’t here,” said one,
“Probably deserted the place after Garlop saw them, he should have kept watch.”
“Why? He couldn’t have stopped a group of them, and they’re too keen to be followed.”
“Aye, he did right to hurry off, but it would be a shame if they escaped,” another joined.
“The King is here though, and there’s no fooling him.
“Hear ye, hear ye,” the others assented, that being a common phrase among them which was the equivalent of an ‘I agree’ or ‘Amen’.
A larger, more commanding Zard, whom the others looked in deference to, then came down the stairs, saying as he entered the room, “Let us not celebrate prematurely, gentlemen. There is nothing of interest above, so we will have to search carefully down here.”
“Sir, is it true it was a hairless one he saw?” one asked him.
“We are all hairless here,” he said, laughing with the others, “But yes, it is reported that Garlop saw one of the ancients, and with his sharp eyes and knowledge of history, it is assumed to be true. I need not remind you, then, the need to find them before they are too far away, it is imperative to the cause that the ancient is not brought to the hidden fortress of our adversaries.”
The Zards then set to work with great assiduity searching for any clues of the Canitaur’s whereabouts, examining everything meticulously, yet quickly. They tore the furniture apart to look for hidden compartments, followed the smoke pipes through the ground to their outlets, tore off the floor boards to look for secret passages, and did the same to the ceiling.
Before I continue with my story, let me pause for a moment to describe to you the appearance of the Zards, for you are probably curious as to what they look like.
Quite different from the Canitaurs, they were, in fact, completely hairless, being almost lizard-like. They stood erect, about the same height as a man, that is, about six feet or a little over that, and their bodies resembled those of alligators, with short, thickset legs, stout arms, and a long body with a tail draping down to the ground, looking like a giant tongue, though covered, of course, in scales. Their heads were small, having a little skull on which were the eyes and ears and with a long snout that, like the Canitaurs’, held their noses, mouths, and chin. Huge, sharp teeth filled their mouths and gave them an odd, fiercely sophisticated look. Their hands were thick with long fingers, and though their overall appearance had an air of awkwardness about it, they set to their tasks with great dexterity, though if it was natural or the result of their excited state, I could not tell. Indeed, I began to grow worried when the Zard who was removing the walls, to check for holes or tunnels, drew near to us as he methodically pried off the panels with a metal bar and looked for anything suspicious.
He moved along quickly and was just about to put the bar to our covering and pull when another Zard, on the other end of the room, held aloft a piece of paper, calling the attentions of the others to it. Our almost discoverer went himself to the other Zard, and we were, for a moment at least, saved from being exposed. Having read the paper, the taller Zard, the King, said to the others, “Well done, lads. We have here a map to the Canitaur’s hidden fortress. Let us go to Nunami, gather some troops, and surprise them. Today may prove victorious, so let us hurry.”
The others assented and as a body they went up the stairs and out the door, hurrying forth, it seemed, to do their dastardly deeds, and in their ardor not leaving behind even a single one to guard the hideout. Despite our good fortunes, my spirits were damp, for my sorrow of the Canitaur’s ill fate was as a wound in my bosom, knowing that I had been the sole reason for their discovery. What a good kinsman redeemer, I thought, for my coming may have ended the wars, or put its completion in motion, yet not in the favor of my hosts.
To my chagrin, however, the Canitaurs, led by Wagner, were buxom, seeming to find great humor in what had happened. Turning to them in a zealous perplexity, I said spiritedly, “How can you laugh? You may have escaped, but your brethren are doomed, and you yourselves will not last long around enemies without the protection of the other Canitaurs.”
But my rebuke only seemed to make their laughter and mirth more hearty, and they raged on without ceasing for a time. After a while, when they were reduced to a smiling remnant of their former pleasure, Wagner turned gravely towards me and said, “Forgive me, Jehu, for not explaining it to you. You are right to chastise us, but the situation is not as you seem to think it, for the map they found was a fake, and will lead them to nowhere of importance, while we affect our escape. We are lucky that they left no guard, but come, let us not tempt fate and remain any longer in this compromised outpost, to the fortress we go!”