Aeryn’s stomach turned and knotted as her room shook. Nearly a week had passed since she had been taken by those strange pale men and placed upon the sky sail, but she still found herself unadjusted to the traumatic and unnatural sensations of flight. No one who was taken by the slavers of the north was ever seen again.
The tall men with fair skin and golden hair would speak in a silvery tongue that no one but the elders understood, and the elders were rewarded with bangles and crowns and chains the color of those foreigners’ hair for telling the people that all was well and those who went with the fair men went to somewhere far better: the kingdom of the gods, land of dreamers!
When the Northmen spoke the tongue of her people, the words came out garbled and wrong. Her people’s speech in the mouths of these strangers frightened her. “Fear not our fair neighbors,” the elders would say. “They are our friends and allies, brothers of the tribe!” The promise of a life outside the harsh deserts, away from the endless droughts and famines in the Land of the Eye was not entirely unappealing.
Aeryn knew better than to believe the elders’ lies, but she also knew that the wealth provided by these northern men would be used to buy much needed food and textiles from the great port city to the east. Why had her people so foolishly chosen to remain in the Land of the Eye, where the sun burned down and scorched the earth and the earth’s people? The yora of her village, an ancient ebony fellow who had travelled as far as Xeln in his youth, spoke of the will of the Eye that watches the desert peoples from afar, but to Aeryn, the only ones watching her people were the alien men from that northern kingdom whose name was awkward and insensible on her tongue and the tongues of her tribesmen. To them, they were merely the Great Dreamers. And they were great indeed, for had they not dreamed this magnificent and terrifying vessel that rode the skies as swiftly as a camel upon the sands?
That she would not come back, Aeryn was certain. Her eldest sister, Velina, in the blossom of womanhood and soon to be betrothed, had been taken, never to return. That had been many seasons ago and one of her earliest memories of the white men. Her uncle Ashoor had not returned either, though he seemed… Excited? Yes, excited to have been given the chance to ride the air with the Dreamers as he had kissed his wife and his sister, Ti’ala, Aeryn’s mother, goodbye before leaving the tribe forever. Ti’ala had wept when Aeryn was selected by the Elders – an ancient driftwood staff, adorned with blue feathers of the Akaka, was waved over the heads of the chosen from the anxiously waiting crowd, signaling their doom that they were to spend out their days in a distant land which none had seen and of which only fabulous tales were told – and given the dark green garbs of slavery (a tradition of her own people, not the pale men). The collar had been placed about her neck, another symbol of her fate, and she was taken on board the strange vessel.
Her quarters were not uncomfortable, but insufferably dull. She had been furnished with a small cot, a bedpan, a table-desk, and a chest, where several sets of clothes were kept, neatly folded. It was odd, she thought, that the fair men had so many outfits of the slave green clothes for her, though they were of much finer make and material than those her people sent her with. Had they assumed that this was the garb of her people and simply adopted it? Her only pleasures were the small port-hole window in the paneled wooden wall of her cell and the meals which a young boy – another slave perhaps? – brought to her with some regularity.
The evening meal, which would be delivered soon, Aeryn judged by the position of the sunlight pouring into her room, arrived each day with a small bottle of a strong aperitif. The boy had told her it would help her sleep. It did, though its side effects often included wild and vivid dreams.
As they had sailed the sky, Aeryn had seen the desert fade into jungles then grasslands, then mountains, then forests, then valleys, with each day bringing a new biome for which her people had no name. These sights were of a terrifying beauty to her. She could have never imagined that she would ever set foot in such strange lands to see them, yet now she saw them through that tiny porthole with the eye of an Akaka. Sometimes she could not bring herself to look out the window. Sometimes it was too terrible a reminder of how far from home she was, but other times it gave her an exhilarating pleasure, imagining she was some great yora who had transformed himself into a bird. Was this how the Eye saw its people?