- Little Mertu
- Discussion - Suicide
- Alternate Universe
Clarification just in case: Mertu innocently idolizes Voresh the way younger kids do when an older “cool kid” is nice to them. There is absolutely ZERO sexuality to their relationship from either character’s POV.
Mertu watched and waited for of Ring of Travel to light up and warn him the Traders were returning home. Fifteen Traders in their dark grey Trading clothing – because it was better to appear poor than to wear the bright colors expensive dyes made – were expected to return that day, and he was nearly overcome with excitement. Mertu was hoping to be the first to greet them, for sometimes Trader Voresh would sneak him a few of the sweet ninay berries if the trade had gone well.
One time, years ago now, perhaps when Mertu had only had seven or eight harvests, Trader Voresh, back when he had still been Learner Voresh, had gifted him an entire laffa fruit nearly the size of Mertu’s head! All for himself! (Though of course he would not keep it to himself. He was not cruel like some would’ve been.)
The other Littles in his Set had been amazed at his good fortune, but Mertu could remember when it was Voresh who was a helper in the Den. He’d adored the older boy then and had followed him around as close as he would permit. Mertu had heard others call him Voresh’s smaller, darker shadow, and that hadn’t changed even though Voresh was fourteen and would receive his title that harvest. Gifts from him were even sweeter, since he rarely had time to come to the Set to see them like he had when he had been merely a Learner.
Mertu’s whole Set had watched with wide eyes as he had used a very thin, sharp stone to cut through the laffa’s tough outer skin and reach the fruit beneath. He’d been quite proud of himself once he’d gotten the thing cut in half and could get to the fruit beads within. Cherra’s eyes had nearly crossed in envy when she’d seen all that bright teal fruit, though she had tried to hide it, which was silly. Mertu always knew what his Set was thinking.
Later, when his entire Set’s hands and faces and clothing had been stained a vibrant teal from the fruit’s juices, Trader Voresh had laughed and laughed, until his face turned alarmingly red, telling the Caregiver to leave off scolding. He said it was Trader’s own fault for gifting the fruit to such a generous Little. He’d told her to put Mertu’s Set to work opening the rest of the laffa and putting the thick, tough blue-green hides into dye base for when their fabrics were ready for dying. What was done, was done, he’d said, so the Littles’ Set might as well be useful.
Trader Voresh had stopped in front Mertu, who had been standing before the Caregiver and receiving her tongue-lashing, his face hot with shame. Trader had gazed down at him with a fond look before kissing him on the forehead and attempting to tousle his many, tiny, black braids. Then he’d shaken his head and walked away, laughing some more.
Mertu had stared after him. He’d known he’d never love anyone more than he loved Voresh in that moment.
So now he watched the Ring, waiting and hoping he would receive another special gift. Trader Voresh still favored Mertu, so he might have a gift for him, but only if Mertu was not caught and made to return to the Den. If that happened, he would be kept in the Den for days and days, and Trader might forget Mertu had ever existed!
It was hard, being the eldest of the Littles. He was not yet a Learner and permitted to go with the Hunters or Traders, but he was also not really one of the Littles who were permitted to be silly and play once they’d finished their duties for the day. Mertu and his Set had already celebrated their twelfth harvests, and the rest of his Set had been accepted for Learning almost two years ago. Only Mertu had been instructed to remain in the Den until his fifteenth harvest. Though he obeyed the Elders’ request, he didn’t understand why.
Caregivers often said Mertu was “incorrigible.” Did that mean they thought he wasn’t smart enough to learn a Trade?
Oh, how he longed to celebrate his fifteenth harvest so that he could prove himself worthy of Learning! His fondest dream was for Trader Voresh to offer him a place for his sleeping mat and a period of Learning at the Trader’s side. If the Trader chose him, Mertu would have five years – or more! – to live and learn with Voresh, who was had to be close twenty and almost an Elder already.
It wasn’t that Mertu didn’t enjoy caring for the Littles and the Very Wise. It was an honor to know the Den’s location and be responsible for the vulnerable within. Had he and Caregiver Aya not been quick on their feet during the last culling, the masked Wraith drones would have discovered their former Den and would have taken all the Wise. Mertu knew as well as anyone that the Littles were the future, and the Wise held all the secrets of their past. The loss of either meant the death of their people and their ways.
Why, it was a thing of pride among all that their Den had Wise Mertu who had seen more than fifty harvests! Mertu couldn’t imagine anyone living so long. Not only that, but he had heard it whispered that Wise Mertu had been born of a kysra. Imagine that! And of all their people, only Mertu had been named in her honor. It made his spine straighten and his chin jut out just thinking about it!
Mertu’s breath caught as Kinfolk began to come through the waters of the Ring. Another minute or two, and… yes! He dashed from his hiding place behind the spinna tree and sprinted toward the Traders.
Before he could reach the Traders, he was brought to an abrupt halt.
“Mertu! Back to the Den! Now!” one of the Elders barked, her expression cold.
Mertu stopped in his tracks, nearly falling over at the harshness of Elder Tanesh’s tone. By the Old Ones, what had happened? Unless the trading had gone very poorly indeed, returning Traders could be counted on to be less harsh than nearly anyone else.
Perhaps one of their trading partners had been set upon by the Wriath. He was not sure how that could be, though. They had only gone to trade with Sateda. Everyone knew Sateda was under the protection of the Old Ones.
His heart nearly broke in two when Trader Voresh did not speak to him, did not even look at him; he only walked past with the other fourteen Traders. What had he done to earn his favorite Trader’s ire?
Mertu bowed his head, hiding the tears pooling in his golden eyes.
“Yes, Elder,” he said and swiftly turned to hurry back to the Den. “I hear. I obey,” he said as he went.
No matter his hurt, he did not want Trader Voresh to see him cry.
It was only later, after the Littles had all been settled in the Den and Mertu lay miserable and sleepless that he saw Trader Voresh again.
There was the sound of two speaking just outside the Den opening, but Mertu ignored it until he heard footsteps enter the Den itself. Even then, he kept his face turned miserably toward his sleeping mat. He pulled his fur covering higher over his head, not wanting to see who it was.
The footsteps stopped beside him, and the person heaved a tired sigh. Mertu felt a hand move the fur, then smooth over his hair. He finally looked up, startled when he realized it was Trader Voresh.
Trader made the sign for quiet and then did the most astonishing thing – he reached out, gathered up Mertu, and carried him out of the Den, furs and all! Only the smallest Littles and the very injured were carried, so Mertu was horribly confused. He clung to Trader Voresh, though, tucking his face against the man’s warm, pale neck and keeping silent.
There were more voices, but Mertu’s confusion kept him from making sense of them.
“Are you certain of this?” That was Trader Voresh.
“—for all of our people.” Who was that? Mertu didn’t recognize the voice.
“—cannot know for sure. I still think—”
“How it must be. Remember, you are the one who insisted when you have regrets.”
“—you here. Another could—”
“No.” Trader said firmly.
“Very well. Do not fail us, Voresh.”
When Trader Voresh stopped, they were inside somewhere else. It smelled like Trader Voresh, which made Mertu raise his head and look around curiously. The older man sat down on a long sleeping mat that was covered with more blankets and furs than Mertu had ever seen on one mat. Then he remembered it wasn’t nearly as warm outside the Den.
To Mertu’s surprise, Trader simply settled him on his lap and looked over at someone. Mertu followed his gaze and sucked in a breath, his fingers clenching in Trader Voresh’s thick robes.
“Wise Mertu!” The exclamation had barely left his lips before he had both hands clapped over his mouth, appalled at himself. Despite helping in the Den, Mertu had had very little to do with Wise Mertu; he’d always been better with the Littles – and they better with his impulsiveness – than the Wise. Even so, Mertu knew better than to behave so rudely!
Wise Mertu smiled, the skin around her eyes crinkling as she did. (She was very old.) She shifted on her low stool, which was at an angle to where Trader Voresh was holding Mertu.
“Yes, Little Mertu. You are correct, of course.” She paused. “This has been a difficult day for you, hasn’t it,” she said, not without sympathy.
Mertu cocked his head to the side, considering, but Trader began petting his dark hair, then rubbing his back, and he got distracted, nearly purring into the touch.
Both Wise Mertu and Trader Voresh laughed softly at him. It wasn’t an unkind laugh, so he didn’t mind. It wasn’t long before the petting stopped and all became serious once more.
“Little Mertu, your dear Trader Voresh and I must speak to you tonight of difficult things. There are things you must know before you can make a choice.”
“I wish you did not have to make a choice at all,” Trader murmured, his arms tight around Mertu.
Mertu caught the scolding look Wise Mertu was sending the Elder, and he frowned.
“I have seen my twelfth harvest,” he said, gazing into silver-blue eyes. “I’m not a Little anymore. Not truly.”
Wise Mertu nodded. “So you’re not. Thus, I ask you, what do you know of kysra?”
“You mean the beloved of the Old Ones?”
Wise Mertu nodded again.
“I know they are the Beloved, the Lifebringers, those who are gifted from the Old Ones who watch over us. As long as the kysra are well, we have the Old Ones’ favor.” He stopped and thought. “I know they come from Sateda, and….” Mertu stopped himself and glanced at Trader Voresh from under his lashes, not sure he should repeat the whispers he had heard.
“Doubtless you have heard others whisper about me, about how I descended from a kysra.”
“Yes, Wise Mertu,” he admitted, glancing at her before lowering his gaze shyly.
Wise Mertu smiled sadly. “The truth of it is that yes, I was born of a kysra. What you do not know is that, like my daetor, I am also kysra.”
“Oh!” Mertu’s eyes went wide. He whipped his head around to see Trader Voresh’s expression, but the man must have known already. He didn’t seem surprised at all!
“But more important tonight is this,” Wise Mertu continued, “you were born of my daughter, and though she was not kysra, you are.”
Mertu’s jaw dropped in shock. No, it couldn’t be. Surely he would have known if he were one of the Beloved! The Beloved were special, and he was just… he was just Mertu!
He looked to Trader Voresh once more, but he just seemed sad.
“It’s true, Mertu. Though you are near the time of your Interim, you are not yet of age for your body to reveal your nature. Only those present at your birth knew, though the signs have always been there for those of us who were smart enough to see.”
“I don’t understand!”
Trader Voresh cradled his face – no, zyr face – in his hands and kissed zyr forehead. “I know, Mertu. This is not how we would have told you. You should have grown up knowing who you are, but the Wraith have been culling our planet more frequently. The Wise and the Elders decided you should be hidden, even from yourself.”
Mertu’s grey eyes filled with tears, and zyr chin trembled.
“Then why do you tell me now?” zy cried plaintively.
Trader Voresh exchanged a knowing look with Wise Mertu.
Wise Mertu spoke again. “When the Traders, including your much-adored Voresh, returned today, they brought terrible news: Sateda has fallen to the Wraith.”
Mertu stared at them in horror, unable to speak, to breathe.
“We are the last of the kysra, Little Mertu, and the Old Ones look away from Pegasus now.”
“No! They can’t! We need them!”
Mertu flung zyr arms around Trader Voresh’s neck and sobbed, much like zy had when zy had been very young and had skinned zyr knee. Just like back then, Voresh simply held zyr and rocked gently back and forth. When the worst of the grief had passed and Mertu’s face had been wiped with a clean cloth, zy stared at Wise Mertu feeling older than zyr years.
“If the Old Ones no longer see us, then what do we do?”
“The problem, Little Kysra, is this: the Wraith hunt kysra as they do no other human. When we knew the Old Ones saw and protected, I brought that safety with me from Sateda to our people despite the Wraith. Now, though, now they have looked away and do not see us.”
“So we bring danger.”
Wise Mertu nodded.
Mertu thought about that, zyr brow furrowing as zy unconsciously clung more tightly to Trader Voresh. When zy looked back at Wise Mertu, zy knew what zy was really saying.
“We must leave our people,” zy said softly. At the Wise’s nod, zy continued, “But anywhere we go, we would bring the same danger.”
(Mertu missed the furious glare Trader Voresh leveled on Wise Mertu. Zy did not know that the Wise and the Elders had agreed on what to tell Mertu, and Voresh would take Mertu himself if the other option – that of self-murder – was put in Little Mertu’s head. There would be no suicide tonight. The Wraith were the murderers; they needed no human help.)
“There will be danger, that is true,” Voresh murmured, cuddling zyr close, “but we have done what we could to make it as little as possible.” He sighed, then began to explain. “When we Traders left after harvest, we went to Sateda first. That is when we discovered what had happened and decided that the plan the council of the Wise and the Elders had previously formed would be put into action. They had said that if the danger became too great, a small group of volunteers would take you and Wise Mertu to another planet and hide with you there. Additionally, several planets were chosen as possibilities, though no final decision was made because if we needed to go, none but those who volunteered to go with us would know our final destination.”
Mertu leaned away and studied Trader Voresh, hardly daring to hope.
“Did you volunteer?” zy asked, zyr gold eyes fixed on his pale face, and zyr voice hardly loud enough to hear.
Voresh’s smile was fond when he answered, “Of course, Little Mertu. How could I not?”
Mertu beamed at him. Zy felt happiness for the first time since zy had seen the Traders returning through the Ring.
He smiled, and said, “I’m glad to see you are so pleased, especially since only I know the address for our new home.” At zyr confused look, he continued, “At Sateda, we decided that two Sets would continue the normal trading path. The final Set of us would make sure the planets the council had chosen previously were still possibilities. As it happened, some were not. Of the others, I have been given the choice.
“Those who are coming with us are preparing now. I asked to be the one to explain things to you. Though this is a heavy burden, I thought it unfair to take you from your home without telling you why.”
Mertu leaned into his chest and nodded zyr understanding before resting zyr head on Voresh’s shoulder. No matter what else happened, all zy had ever wanted to was to be with Trader Voresh.
The final meaning of the word kysra was “willing sacrifice,” and zy was more than willing to sacrifice to protect zyr people. That didn’t mean zy wasn’t so very grateful zy would not be alone.