Interlude: Kaska-Ta, the Shepherd and the Crossroads

Note: This can be described as a semi-fictional, metaphorical auto-biography.  It builds off of previous “Kaska-Ta” entries and will likely resurface from time to time when I wish to present situations without specific details. (It’s my blog, deal with it.) The settings/terms/names/periods are changed but the story facts are essentially true.  I will return to regular programming soon.

Kaska-Ta had been in the desert many weeks now. His food had run out days ago and only drops of water were taken when necessary. The occasional rains had done little to refill his mostly-dry water sack. He knew at this rate he was very near the end of the road.

In truth, the only thing that had brought him this far had been a combination of experience, wisdom and the kindness of those he had come across; mostly merchants and other travelers that had wished him well. He had accepted what his pride would allow out of necessity, but he knew that accepting too much might doom them as well. He could accept his fate if need be, but he would not shoulder the responsibility of compromising theirs.  Despite their generosity though, Kaska-Ta’s supplies were essentially gone and the gravity of his situation sapped his energy almost as quickly as the savage desert sun.

Finally, he came to the edge of the desert, where the sand began to give away to bits of dry grass.  Encouraged, he continued on and came across a lone shepherd surveying the area.

“A bit sparse here for a flock isn’t it?” Kaska-Ta asked.

“That’s why you don’t see them here. One of them broke off and wandered out this way. I have to find her before the rains come. You’re a mess though, you come through the desert!?” The shepherd regarded Kaska-Ta with a combination of cynicism and curiosity.

“I did.”

The conviction of Kaska-Ta’s answer shifted the shepherd’s expression to visibly impressed and concerned at the same time. It was obvious Kaska-Ta’s journey had taken it’s toll. “Good lord man, I’d offer you my water but I only have enough to get me through the day, and I may need it if she’s wandered too far. But there’s a farm directly ahead to the west I believe you can make before sunup tomorrow. If you’re willing to work through the rains we can put you up, feed you well, give you time to build up your strength and set you up with supplies.”

“The rains? How long is that?” Kaska-Ta asked.

A grave but amused look came over the shepherd’s face. “You really did come from across the desert eh? The rains last three cycles here. During that time the surrounding lands are flooded and un-travelable. Where we’re standing becomes a lake that borders the desert. My farm is on the only high ground to the west of this area. We have to hunker down, but fresh water is plentiful and the fish from the surrounding lakes along with my farm make for easy meals, so we’d have no trouble supporting an extra set of hands. The shepherd paused. “In fact… to be honest we could really use you. It’s like you were meant to be here.”

Kaska-Ta was intrigued… “What say you, voice?” he asked inwardly. There was no reply, just the sensation that it was indeed there, watching, but choosing to remain silent.

Kaska-Ta surveyed the lands around him; he had come from the seemingly endless desert to the east, meanwhile the land did indeed get visibly more lush and inviting on the trail to the west where the shepherd claimed his farm was. Then his gaze turned south where a faint trail of smoke could be seen on the horizon.

“The Badlands.” The shepherd had followed his gaze and responded. “You can find water there… and possibly shelter as well if you make it before the rains come. But it will cost you. The people there care little of honor or humanity, they will take you for whatever they can get from you in return for anything they give. You don’t seem like that sort of man, but to survive there you would have to be.”

“Would I have to stay there through the rains as well?” Kaska-Ta asked.

Fear crept into the shepherd’s eyes and Kaska-Ta got the distinct impression he was choosing not to lie despite himself.

“No.” The shepherd said. “Though the way back here would be blocked, should you make it through The Badlands with your soul intact, the road continues south.”

“What’s beyond The Badlands?” Kaska-Ta asked.

“I don’t know. I’ve never been and I avoid those that come from there. Stragglers have attacked the farm in the past and I’ve done what I had to in order to protect my people. I mean it when I say they are dangerous and without honor, I would be sad to see you choose that path… and honestly why would you?”

“To see what’s beyond it.”  Kaska-Ta had dealt with such people before, he was quite capable of defending himself and though he was reluctant to admit it, fitting in, but telling the shepherd that would serve no good purpose.

Instead he turned to the North to see what might be another alternative, but saw only more desert. “How far does the sand reach north?” he asked.

“I realize you have no reason to trust me, but I don’t think you would make it.” He said.

“How far?” Kaska-Ta persisted.

“I only know what the few that come from that direction tell me, and they keep to themselves.” The shepherd replied. “No less than a moon… but possibly as far as a cycle or more. You’ve been very lucky to have made it from the east, and that was… what? No more than three moons, right? Even with all that luck and more you’d never last a cycle out there.”

Kaska-Ta knew he was right. The truth was he’d be extremely lucky to last another moon even with the chance help of random travelers. “What is beyond the sand?”

“I’ve heard it’s a city of some sort, scholars or some kind of monastery. But very few come this way, and they rarely stay long or share details, so I can’t be certain exactly. They pass through my farm on the way to western tribal city. I assumed that was your destination, isn’t it?  To join one of the tribes that migrated from the east? You’d be well prepared for that journey after the rains passed, I can assure you.”

Kaska-Ta said nothing. The truth was he didn’t know where he was going. The choice seemed obvious, but he had never made a choice simply because it was obvious.

“Some of the tribe members come to help on the farm during the rains and tell tales of the eastern lands.” The shepherd said. “Should be there now preparing. They seem like good people, perhaps you know them.”

Kaska-Ta thought back to the tribes he had grown with over the years. He had been tribeless for some time now. “Perhaps… but some are good, some are not. Like any people.” He said.

“Well, the light will fade soon and I’m not going to find my girl standing here trying to convince you. But I believe you’re here for a reason, and any other way you go might very well kill you. So keep my offer in mind, spend some time and live. Seems like the obvious choice if the desert hasn’t taken your mind completely. But, whatever way you go, be safe and good luck.” With that the shepherd turned and began to survey the area.

“Thank you.” Kaska-Ta said. “For the information, as well as the offer. I might well see you soon.”

“Hope so.” The shepherd said as he waved and walked away. “You’d be a lot less useful dead and washed up on my shores during the rains.”

And Kaska-Ta was alone again.

“Not alone. We’ve been over this.” The voice chimed in.

“Which way then?” Kaska-Ta asked, but as he expected his question was met with silence. Such was the way with the voice, it was always right, but it shared it’s wisdom on it’s own terms, not his.

“You will die if you linger here too long.”

 “There’s a good chance I’ll die regardless.” Kaska-Ta replied. “The obvious path takes valuable time that I don’t have and the other two may kill me anyway.”

No. So long as you keep moving, you may suffer, but you will survive this.”

 “Great.” Kaska-Ta sighed to himself. “The all-knowing voice predicts suffering… that’s regardless of the path I choose?”

Suffering takes many forms. You’re better at some than others and it will change you in different ways regardless.”

 “You’re no help.” Kaska-Ta replied. But he was glad for the banter and understood that the point was for him to make this choice on his own.

And it came to pass that the sun was low in the sky and the ground was still soft enough with sand to lie comfortably. Kaska-Ta set up his crude tent to provide shade from the last of the sun and lay down to rest and ponder his direction. In a few hours, when he had regained a bit of his strength, he would allow himself enough water to motivate him to move again, make a choice, and take the first step.

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