The next week was the hardest week of work I’ve ever had. Sun up to sundown we marched, drilled and saluted ourselves into exhaustion. Captain Jessup warned me after speaking with the priest I’d have my work cut out for me. Word had spread of what was expected of me. The others saw me as a pariah, not a messiah. I couldn’t figure out what I saw. When I looked into the mirror all I saw was a worn-down man who had lived on nuts and cooked rabbit meat for the past few months. Nothing special. Just a man.
We had just made it back to the barracks when I was approached by the largest human I had ever seen. He went by the name of Errol and carried a sword the size of my leg and a matching blunderbuss. Due in part to my greenback status among the platoon I wasn’t exactly his favorite person.
“So, this is the dog ol’ Jessup figures to be our savior, eh?”
The big man eyed me up and down. I couldn’t tell if he wanted to check me out or was sizing me up for a punch in the gut. The detail with which he stared me down couldn’t have made the determination any easier.
“I’m no savior Errol. I’m just a soldier, nothing more.” I tried to play down any ego I had and considering I saw myself as a step or two above the common woodland toad it wasn’t difficult. Men like Errol enjoyed feeling superior. Inferiority complexes begged
Errol shook his massive head. “Nope, you’re not that either. Killing yourself one Druni makes you nuttin more than a lucky bastard.”
He was only partly right about being bastard. I in no way considered myself lucky.
“I only did what I thought needed be done.” I said trying to reverse the brakes on my particular brand of self-loathing. “Had you been there I’m quite certain you’d have done the job. Hell, maybe the Druni would’ve run before it got anywhere near Yasena.”
The big man pondered what I had said for a moment. His posse waiting anxiously for his reply. I had done a poor job of blending my sarcasm with the reality of the night the Druni attacked a tethered Yasena, but as anticipated Errol was not up to the task of deciphering my attempt at mockery.
“You’re damn right. No Druni dare come near Yasena knowing I’m around.” Errol boasted. His posse remained suspicious but slowly peeled away and back to their tasks. Too many things to do in this outfit to stand idle for long. Errol pulled me close by the collar of my uniform.
“I will watch you like a hawk. This is my platoon. No one else’s. Got that? You're not a soldier until I say you are.”
Suddenly Captain Jessup appeared.
“It’s actually my platoon dear Errol and everyone in it” She eyed him sharply until the giant crept back into line. “Now, we have another tethering attempt coming soon.”
The unit groaned. Tethering was typically a boring affair. The Druni attack was the first in weeks. Personally, I was happy to get a chance to put my feet back on the solid ground. Yasena only precariously floated above the mountain tops, but to get a good view of the ground was tough. Surrounding Yasena were the White Walls. The walls were built millennia ago and buried over the centuries as the need for them decreased, but when Yasena rose into the sky, they too emerged blending the city in with the sky as it soared away from the attacking Druni. The many that lived outside of the walls weren’t so fortunate.
I wasn’t there for the mayhem that marked the beginning of what the Sepulcherists were dubbing the end of ages. I was a vagabond, a drifter, a quiet yet perceived blight on a society that shunned my existence if I was lucky and completely ignored me otherwise. The slaughterhouse that many of the cities that surrounded Yasena became, went unnoticed. I slept in a cavern a few miles from the nearest village and only ventured to town when I needed to procure goods not found in nature. I hesitate to mention this since I dare not let anyone believe I enjoyed the life of a wolf. I yearned for a down filled pillow atop a sheepskin mattress. Straw, oak leaves and the occasional animal pelt gave me meager comfort and a healthy dose of louse bites.
“We will be tethering to the flotilla Vahi to trade supplies. Yasena will be vulnerable. Both cities will be tethered and as close to the ground as we’ve ever been to stay below the wind.”
“Why don’t we wait until a clear day for the trade?” A female soldier asked from down the line. Her name was Janya. I found myself staring at her like a creep most of the time. She was an attractive woman. Blonde hair pulled into a bun, sun kissed skin, a smattering of freckles and emerald eyes that toyed with my masculine reality.
I shook her from my mind.
“I’ll remind you that the stormy season is near and we may not get another chance. Admiral Tessario of Vahi is reluctant to have this meeting considering that fact alone. Tessario notoriously dislikes the Sepulcherists. Believes, the archpriest is trying to doom us all.”
That makes two of us. I thought. I wanted to say it. Be the smart ass in the room, but Jessup would have me switched for that one. She wasn’t a diehard, but considering Yasena was beginning to overcrowd she cow tailed to the church just to keep the peace.
“Beginning tonight we will scout out the ground below and make preparations for the arduous task of tethering. The Vahi will also have a team down there as well. My advice is to avoid them unless necessary. Vahi and Yasena’s history goes far back and it’s ugly. Dismissed.”
The only benefit to scouting was you got to take a break the rest of the day of patrolling the streets and watching the birds. The only animals in Yasena were the strays that roamed the streets and the birds in the sky. I suppose the rats count too, but I’m happy to say they stick to the shadows.
I watched as the massive anchors were lowered from the sides of Yasena. Each anchor weighing as much as a thousand men. All as wide as building. A solid masses of rock that crashed into their earth, the combined weight enough to bring the city to a halt. Then the tethering crews came in. Hooks that connected to the ground at scouted points to allow the ship to raise anchor and only remain hooked into the earth. If the Druni attacked, the hooks were released and the ship was off.
“Why do we have to hook the ship if we already use anchors?” A recruit asked the captain as the followed her to the drop stations. “Seems inefficient to me.”
Jessup took the recruit by the shoulder and brought him to an observation point in the barracks. The view down was nothing but clouds, clouds and more clouds. When you were on Yasena the grassy hills and rocky tops were gone replaced with only the heavens of our ancestors.
“The anchors bring the ship down to the ground so we don’t need to shut off the rotors. Our engineers calculate to fire them back up would take all of our fuel supply to do so.” The captain said. “We’d come crashing down without them. I assume you knew that part.”
“And the hooks?” the recruit pressed. I could see the captain purse her lips. The reasoning behind the procedures was covered in basics, but most of the class slept through it. We didn’t need to know the how or the why. Just needed to know that it did what it was supposed to.
“The hooks can be cinched off in a hurry to help us escape the Druni. The anchors are on chains and would be impossible to replace. Any further questions recruit?”
He shook his head and returned to formation.
“Saddle up. We’re headed down.” Captain Jessup said with a grin. “Welcome to your first scouting mission.” Her eyes focused on me as she said it. The others took notice. She had handpicked me from the crowd. I was the chosen in their eyes and that wasn't necessarily a good thing.
I hooked my harness into the latch and stared down into the clouds. The drop appeared endless and one by one the men and women of Scout Regime Yasena disappeared into the misty skyline. I was the last to go. Captain Jessup stood behind me.
“You know I never learned your name. You’ve been here for months and no one, not even yourself as spoken your name. What have the others been calling you? I’m guessing your name isn’t recruit.” She joked.
We stepped onto the platform. The truth was I carried no name upon my shoulders. My parents were killed when I was young, the church took me in and for the next fifteen years the only appellation I obtained was “boy” or “rat” or my personal favorite “bastard.” I wondered the streets for the next fifteen a ghost, a figment of imagination and a blight in the eyes of society.
“I have no name.” I said as our platform passed through another set of clouds. The ground below had crept into view. There was a layer of fog that hung silent as we approached. I wanted to avoid the conversation about my past. I wanted to avoid discussing my parents, the church or anything. But she persisted.
“What do you want to be called?”
What is in a name? Can you give yourself a name as an adult? The notion felt foreign. Strange. I suppose the nature of a name was important, but I hadn’t cared to waste a thought a name. As I said I was faceless in a sea of people. Giving myself any identification seemed like a waste of time.
“I can’t say I’ve given the notion much thought to be honest with you. Seemed like a name for a person like me served no progressive purpose. Kind of like naming a rock or a tree. Pointless and forgotten without much effort.”
The platform creaked further and further towards the ground. Until it touched down with a gentle, but firm thud.
“Until you come up with something you’d better get used to being called the Orphan.”
And that’s how I got the name, the Orphan of Yasena