Adrit didn’t bother resisting as they prepared for his execution. He knew that it was futile: he’d rather die in peace than be beaten down. While some might say such pain was only secondary to survival, his family taught him how to face death the moment he turned of age.
Rather than defeated by the Desert King’s decision to execute him, Adrit wondered whether drowning was less painful than being beheaded. In truth, there was a part of Adrit that welcomed death.
Life was merely a punishment for wanderers like him. However, suicide was not a way to repent, with his family forbidding such an act. Their duty was to drift about the world endlessly until their sins washed away. However, their crimes were like water spilled on a sandy beach. How can one pick up such spilled water? In reality, they were eternal prisoners trapped in this world.
“Begin the execution.”
Hearing the command, Adrit closed his eyes as they lifted his body.
Suddenly, he heard a whisper right by his ear.
‘I’ll take you to the opposite side of the lake.’
Adrit opened his eyes in surprise, with only darkness greeting him due to the pouch over his head. Then, he felt his thrown body mid-air. He took a deep breath.
Splash! His body hit the water, and then he began to sink. He felt the weight of the stones dragging him to the bottom of the lake. The increasing pressure of the water added to the coldness that wrapped around him. Unable to breathe and the darkness surrounding him, Adrit was afraid.
Although he thought he had already given up, his body then struggled against the constraints. He felt it deep within, his desire for life. In the face of such the inevitable, he wanted to fight back. He wanted to live.
Then, he felt something shift around him. Rather than sinking to his death, he started to get dragged in a new direction. He continued to struggle, huffs of breath coming out in bubbles between his gagged mouth. Although Adrit tried to press on, he felt like his chest would burst any second now. Unable to hold on any longer, cold water flooded his nose and mouth. His consciousness began to fade, his body going slack, until… thud!
His body suddenly hit the ground, being thrown out of the water. Even with the searing pain, nothing compared to the realization that he was alive. He rolled on the ground, hurt from the crash, and turned to throw up water. Afterward, he went limp, gasping for air. Although still restrained, his eyes warmed at the thought of being alive.
However, he had no time to be emotional. Still aware of his constraints, he shook his body as hard as he could against them. Still, the knots did not budge. Adrit realized that he couldn’t do anything with his hands tied. Did he survive being thrown into a lake, only for him to die of starvation?
‘Hm, they didn’t say that I’ll be doing this much.’
Adrit heard a grumbling voice, then flinched when he felt something cold and slippery atop his hands. He felt the ropes began to tighten as if something was pulling them.
‘Are they trying to cut the ropes?’ he thought. Then, his wrists were suddenly free. Snap!
Hurriedly, Adrit untied the ropes on his upper body and removed the pouch and gag on his face. Taking a deep breath, he turned around to thank his savior. But then, his body became rigid as his eyes met a red-eyed turtle, partly submerged in water. Adrit’s expression turned hopeless, as the sin that defined him and his family was right in front of him.
‘To think that a Lark would save me.’
‘Go to the scavenger’s first base. They’ll wait for you at sunset until nighttime comes.’
He blinked at the creature.
‘Human, did you understand me?’
The turtle spoke as it stared at Adrit’s blank face.
‘Anyway, since I already delivered the message…’ the turtle muttered, slowly starting to turn. Finally, Adrit managed to gasp something out.
The turtle stopped turning and looked at Adrit once again. The wanderer continued, asking, “Why did you save me?”
‘I didn’t save you, but an Anika asked me to help. It wasn’t a difficult thing to do.’
Adrit furrowed his eyebrows, deep in thought, “What did this Anika say?”
‘She said someone would fall into the water,’ the turtle spoke, partly amused, ‘That I should take him far away when no one would see.’
The turtle continued to stare at him, uttering, ‘You’re interesting. Are you not surprised that I can talk?’
“I heard stories from the elders, about those like you. Still, it’s my first time to meet such a creature. However, you…”
It was strange. Adrit stared at the turtle with a puzzled expression. There were only limited ways for an intelligent lark to learn to express itself after living for a long time. They had to learn from a human, learning to speak so that they would be able to communicate freely. A hwansu that could learn from seeing and listening to a human while staying by their side meant one thing.
“You… were a king’s hwansu.”
The turtle’s eyes flickered.
‘I cannot let you live for knowing that.’
The enormous turtle moved swiftly, despite its size, and came out of the water to reach Adrit. As the hwansu opened its mouth wide, Adrit could only shut his eyes, unable to run away. He remained still, waiting for his demise. But nothing happened.
Adrit slowly opened his eyes after hearing the creature’s boisterous laughter. It was an eerie yet astonishing sight, the turtle having its mouth open, imitating human laughter. Adrit stared at it, dumbfounded.
“What… are you doing?”
The turtle then shut its mouth, and with a bored voice said, ‘You’re no fun.’
‘Is this turtle playing with me?’ Adrit frowned at the thought. Even if it had been a king’s hwansu, it was still a monster. Indeed, Adrit learned that the King’s hwansu was special and acted like a familiar, but only because it bowed under the King’s Praz. And so, Adrit was bewildered at the lark’s unexpected antics.
“What… did you say again? What was Anika’s message?”
‘Idiot, I’ll only repeat myself once,’ the turtle grunted. ‘Go to the scavenger’s first base. They will be waiting there at sunset until nighttime comes.’
Adrit committed the words to his memory, repeating them over and over again in his head.
Still confused, he asked once again, “Why did you save me?”
‘I told you, I did not.’
He shook his head, “You’re free. You don’t need to follow orders anymore like you once had to as a king’s hwansu.”
‘You’re really an idiot, huh. Don’t you know the difference between an order and a request?’
“Then there must be a reason why you saved me because of a request,” he replied.
After staring at Adrit for another moment, it turned to walk into the water. Adrit heard a clear voice ring in his head, just before the turtle disappeared below the surface.
‘Its name was Abu, and I remembered the past because of such a nostalgic name,’ it rang. ‘Tell death and extinction I won’t be here when they come back.’
“You’re going to leave your territory?”
‘Humans die too fast, and I do not want to go through that again.’
The turtle’s body then was completely submerged, and Adrit shouted his goodbye, feeling sorry to see it go.
“Thank you! I stayed well in your area.”
‘You were the one trespassing.’ it said, amused.
Adrit waited for a little while, but it seemed that the turtle was gone. A part of him felt empty, feeling as if he just parted from a friend. It was the first time he talked to anyone outside his family for that long. He never imagined that he would find such a good companion in a monster his family considered as their nemesis.
Adrit thought of what the turtle said, remembering that the Desert King called his black leopard hwansu as Abu. Was there a story behind that name?
“Humans die too fast…?”
Although it was only for a moment, he felt as if the turtle was mourning, the scars of its loss still too much, keeping it away from forming new relationships.
Only read original translations at keopitranslations.com
Were Larks truly monsters that ruined the order of this world? And was a monster that could only have destructive instincts, laughing like a human?
Was it strange for Adrit to think that it was remembering the past and feeling nostalgic?
For a while longer, Adrit stood at the edge of the lake, staring across the ripples on its surface.
Adrit camped by the lake for one more day, waiting for the royal assembly to leave. He moved deliberately, knowing that he would meet his end for sure if he were to get caught once again. He had hoped to see the turtle hwansu once again, but it did not appear anymore.
It took him a week of travel, but Adrit journeyed from the Holy Land to arrive at a place where it was possible to sight the castle’s walls, signaling the kingdom’s boundaries across the desert. In intervals, there were tents camped out in the desert from the castle fortress. They served as bases for scavengers who foraged seeds during the dry season.
Numbered flags were on display to show the assignments of every base, hung from poles in front of each tent. Adrit laid low on a sandhill to estimate the location of the first base. Once the day grew dark and fewer scavengers were roaming around, Adrit came down from the sandhill and went to the first base. Under the pole was a man that Adrit recognized, staring at the direction the wanderer had been.
It was a warrior, Adrit realized. He knew that their senses were incomparably developed compared to ordinary people, and Adrit’s body grew tense, remembering his recent encounter with one of them.
Sven had been waiting for someone under the King’s orders ever since they returned from the Holy Land.
‘He came,’ he thought, staring at the small man that approached him. Sven knew he was the individual he was waiting for, based on the King’s command. ‘He’s alive.’
Sven did not doubt Adrit’s survival, thinking that the King or the Queen would save him with some special powers. It was more plausible than an ominous and trivial wanderer coming out of the lake alive by himself.
The warrior threw out a robe, telling Adrit, “Wear that and follow me.”
Adrit followed his word, then hurriedly walked after the warrior who quickly started to walk away. The stone gates had already shut as it was nightfall. Sven sent a sign above in front of the castle walls. A long ladder came down from above, and the pair used it to go up the walls. No one dared to who Sven’s companion was, and they entered the castle without much difficulty.