Avenger: Chapter 8

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Uhura held onto the saddle with one hand, clasping close the case containing her vindilo with her free arm. The necuar she rode had a steady pace, so she did not fear falling off. What concerned her was dropping the instrument, a present from Aeola. The visit had been a success, both personally and diplomatically. She had sung as requested and had been asked to come back and sing again for the transcribers to record it for posterity. Aeola had listened with closed eyes and a smile of delight on her face as Uhura went through the more presentable songs in her repertoire. She ended by presenting the delighted lieutenant with the vindilo she had been inspecting when they arrived. If Aeola had anything to do with it, Canris would join the Federation before sunset that day

The servant leading her and Marakil's necuar stopped a moment as they left the woods and entered the marketplace of the village. When Uhura had ridden through earlier, the people had been getting ready for their own nooning. Now, everyone scurried about, trying to get last-minute haggling done before the market shut down. She gazed about in curiosity and anticipation. So much could be learned about a people by studying their everyday activities. After a pause, the servant tugged on the reins of the two necuar and led the beasts into the slowing maelstrom of the marketplace.

A pocket of silence formed around them. Uhura was used to this first quiet shock when people saw strangers from off-world for the first time. She pretended not to notice the stares, or the nervous mother shushing her child when the little girl pointed and laughed excitedly at the stranger. Uhura glanced at Marakil, surprised at how tense her companion was, looking straight ahead, her face blank -- a sure sign she tried to hide her feelings. Her hands clutched the reins of her necuar until they were white. The reaction worried Uhura. Did she fear her people's reaction to a stranger? Or was there something more to it?

As they reached the end of the marketplace and the servant turned off the path to go through a gate, someone shouted behind them. Uhura felt the sting of gravel hitting her shoulder and bare neck. The necuar screamed and reared, and she did not hear all the words as she fought to hold her seat and not drop the vindilo. When the animal settled down again, the servant dashed after whoever had thrown the stones. Marakil urged her mount forward and took the reins of Uhura's necuar.

"Semsi will find who did it. We had better get home before someone tries worse." Her face was pale, with two bright red splotches on her cheekbones. "I'll carry the vindilo so you can ride faster." Marakil held out her hand for the instru­ment.

Uhura gave it over. She copied how Marakil grasped the reins and clasped her legs around the necuar's barrel, thankful she had worn tunic and pants that day and not a dress. She would have fallen from the necuar if she had had to ride side-saddle. When they reached Marakil's family estate, Uhura spoke for the first time.

"Someone said 'mali fui pligma.' Pligma means color, doesn't it?"

"Yes." Unconsciously, she touched the blue streak in her hair. "Mali fui ... means many things in different circumstances. Shameful, unearned, or false."

"What?" Uhura chucked. "They think I'm the wrong color?"

"You?" Marakil flushed bright pink. "Maybe ... I did not hear clearly. But don't let that idiot bother you. He is only one, out of many thousands who won't ..."

"Won't say I'm the wrong color?" Again, Uhura laughed. "It's all right. I feel sorry for those who can't appreciate diversity. Don't you start worrying about me, you hear?" she scolded gently. Marakil shrugged.

"Sometimes ... I wish I was someone else. There are so many roles I must play, sometimes I forget who I really am. I wish I could be like you, Uhura." Marakil's voice and face held wistfulness, even with her smile.

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