By Vicky Morgan-Keith
Mrrowl’s feet moved with practiced ease from a basic guard stance to the earliest attack form he had learned as a cub. Surefooted, he stalked across the cold deck plates of the Mako’s main cargo hold while his forepaws struck and blocked blows with an imaginary foe. He found the rudimentary exercise an excellent way to loosen muscles, warm the body, and focus the mind before practicing more advanced combat forms. Plus it was a way to honor his father’s training, one of the few pleasant memories he had.
He was grateful Captain Paz had given him permission to move about the ship, although he was sure any entry into the more vital areas of the ship were being closely monitored. Not that he cared. Whether they believed him or not, he had no intention of harming the Mako or her crew.
He had rested as instructed at first, sustaining himself on Quickfix rations rather than making trips to the galley for food. But after a few days, the confines of his cabin made him restless, leaving him with too much time to dwell on matters of the past. Matters he’d rather forget, but couldn’t. He’d ventured down to the cargo hold for exercise in an effort to maintain his combat edge as well as to occupy his thoughts.
His breath puffed with exertion and sweat tipped his fur as he repeated the form over and over, building muscle memory until the moves took hardly any thought to complete. And as if unwilling to leave him in peace, the memories rushed into his forebrain, demanding attention. The hard, cold muzzle of the gamma-gun digging into his side. Spar’s cruel laughter, colder still than the weapon threatening Mrrowl’s life. The push of a button. The brief, brilliant flare of an exploding light freighter. Mrrowl’s roar of grief and frustrated rage, deafening to his laid-flat ears….
“Anna maweh, ro’at.”
Mrrowl whirled about with a start. Nearby on a stack of crates crouched the little Shrinaar female, a wooden spear held loosely across her knees. She eyed him curiously.
Mrrowl backed his ears. Why hadn’t he seen her come in? Or heard her? Or scented her? He’d been distracted certainly, but still. All false modesty aside, he was a warrior of some prowess, after all. He should have noticed her intrusion, yet he’d been caught cub-napping. How long had she been waiting there? Mrrowl felt his ears grow hot with embarrassment and hoped the heat of his exercising covered it.
The formal greeting she’d spoken was old and outdated as was the title she’d given him. Ro’at. Hunter. A title adult Shrinaar achieved in more primitive times when the tribes had been various family groups banded together to provide for their members as a whole. And although she spoke a dialect of their language strange to him, she was perfectly understandable.
Unsure how to respond to her, Mrrowl pricked his ears forward and simply nodded.
She cocked her head to one side, then jumped lightly down and approached him. A pace or two away, she stopped. Resting her spear on its end, she drew herself up proudly. He still towered over her, but it seemed to disconcert her not at all. Brushing her free paw against her cheek, she extended it toward him, claws sheathed, palm out.
“I am Shre’ka, sa’uk ro’at of the Ravanti,” she told him. She dipped her spear, then waited expectantly.
Mrrowl flicked his ears. “I am…urr…Mrrowl.”
Her lovely blue-green eyes bored into his, and he felt heat flash through his body for an altogether different reason. “And your tribe?” She asked.
His ears dropped. F’laar, he longed to say. But Mrrowl had lost his family long ago. A slave most of his life, he’d been little more than a thug since a strange twist of fate had freed him from the Neiran only to eventually land him in servitude to Spar. I deserve no tribe, he thought sadly. Managing to keep his voice steady, he replied, “I have no tribe, little huntress.”
She frowned. “No tribe?”
He shook his head. “Not anymore.”
Her frowned deepened, then abruptly vanished. “No,” she said with assurance. “That is not so. You are Mrrowl, ro’at of the Mako’s Run now.” She smiled at him, obviously pleased with her proclamation.
Mrrowl found himself smiling in spite of himself. “Perhaps,” he conceded, not having the heart to argue with her. “But I don’t think the captain has made her final decision about that just yet.”
Shre’ka appeared undaunted. “Do not worry,” she said, waving a dismissive paw for his concern. “All will be well, Mrrowl, ro’at of the Mako’s Run.” She grinned at him, then made a gesture of apology. “Forgive me, hunter, I have interrupted your training. Please continue. May I respectfully request to remain and watch? I would like to learn more about the warrior’s path.”
Mrrowl said nothing as he walked over to pick up his axe from where he’d left it near the hull. He hefted the weapon and regarded her thoughtfully. He pointed to her spear. Its shaft was bound with several strips of leather and woven strands of beads. A spearpoint fashioned from some type of azure crystal was bound securely to its tip. “You know how to use that?” he asked.
“Not as well as I would like,” she admitted.
Mrrowl took up a basic ready stance with his weapon. “Then, no, you may not remain and watch,” he mock growled at her, much like his father had to him as a cub. He rapped the end of his axe on the decking beside him. “Take up a stance like mine, my fellow ro’at, and let’s begin.”