As we walked further up the hill, I paid close attention to some of the structures that had come into view lining both sides of the road. Unlike the clear road further below, the upper areas were a jumble of buildings, some with strangely lettered signs hanging out front. I had a pretty good hunch what this district was, but I thought I’d better confirm my suspicions with Enoch.
“This is the Great Lord/Terran outer marketplace. Here my people can take advantage of both the Terran and Valparta trade. The little guys feel less threatened here than they would in Ellatan and everyone profits.”
Thought so. Still the place seemed to have grown a bit haphazardly. That was my second question.
“Enoch. What’s with the slum look. If business here is so good, how come things don’t look a lot more prosperous?”
Enoch sighed, looking as though I’d asked him a dirty question. After a moment, during which I thought I might have offended him, he responded with some hesitation.
“The . . . merchants . . . here are Half Castes who don’t comfortably fit into Great Lord or Terran society.”
I started to ask the next logical question, but was stopped in my tracks by Enoch’s raised hand.
“Let me explain. Please understand why I hesitate to talk about this subject. What I’m going to tell you is a taboo subject among everyone. Great Lords, Terrans, and Valparta alike. I only talk to you and your people about it because you come from the surface. Outside.”
Enoch stopped, took a deep breath, and continued.
“The Half Castes are the children of . . . matings . . . between Great Lords and we Terrans. Such actions are forbidden by both Great Lord and Terran law and custom. The punishment for such liaisons is exile or death. Death is usually preferred as almost no one would willing want to be exiled out beyond the forests. In the wild lands you so recently traveled through.”
Remembering the Titans’ recent adventures, I had to agree with Enoch. That trip had been no picnic. I started to return to the subject at hand and was, once again, stopped by Enoch’s upraised hand. That action of his was starting to get on my nerves. My thoughts strayed, once more, to tent pegs. Enoch continued.
“I’m already violating custom by talking about this. If you want to learn more, you’ll have to ask Merlyn. He has more authority to talk about such things in any case. Also, I’d greatly appreciate it if you didn’t mention my name during that discussion. Such information as I have revealed to you can be a possible career ender, and I value my career very much, thank you.”
“No problem. Didn’t hear a word you said. A Furry told me, okay?”
Enoch nodded and we continued our walk in silence. Well, almost silence. I could hear my men talking about this and that as they gawked at the scenery around them. I figured, let them talk. Better for them to get it out of their systems than jabber all night in camp.
During Enoch’s and my talk we had arrived within range of Ellatan’s main gate. As it opened, I was once more amazed at the sheer mass and size of that door. Passing through the wall tunnel, we came out into Ellatan’s courtyard where we were greeted by more black armored guards. If I had been less a soldier than I was, the sheer number of troops present in that courtyard would have had me wishing to be somewhere, anywhere, else. However, I was a battle hardened warrior with nearly twenty five years of combat experience. I was also a Roman General and had to set an example for the rest of my men.
Speaking of the Titans, my men once more made me proud. They stood in formation and stared down the Terran soldiery surrounding them. Hands on hilts, they made it abundantly clear that, if the Terrans wanted a fight, they’d get their wish. In spades. Not wanting to start a ruckus, I turned to them and spoke.
“Easy boys. Stand down. Let’s not start anything with our oh so gracious hosts. After all, it is their courtyard. No need to bloody it up. Be one hell of a mess to clean up.”
Acteus and crowd chuckled and relaxed. I could see their point though. All this escorting around with a major armed force surrounding us had been slowly getting on my nerves as well. I hoped that my Titans willingness to break some skulls would get our hosts to ease up a bit. The same idea seemed to occur to Enoch. In his own language, he spoke to that massed force which immediately dispersed. Even Enoch’s own detachment seemed to relax somewhat.
That’s when Enoch spoke up.
“With your permission my men would like to show your Titans the barracks they and you will be staying in.”
I nodded to Enoch and, facing my men, spoke to Acteus.
“Go with ‘em. Get set up and get some rest. I think Enoch wants me to go with him, so I’ll see you later.” *I hope.*
Acteus nodded and off my men went, escorted by only two of Enoch’s guardsmen. I guess our little show of defiance had hit home after all.
My men thus taken care of, Enoch and I continued our walk to the main fortress. I was getting closer to Merlyn and some long overdue answers.