Tonunda waited as the rat gave directions. Right and left didn’t exist in its vocabulary. As Tonunda listened, to “where one can smell warm grain” or where the road slopes away, he had to orientate himself. When the rat finished speaking it paused a moment longer at Tonunda’s feet.
May I leave now?
No, there is one other thing you must do.
What? said the rat exasperatedly.
Get as many of your brethren as you can to meet me by the end of the street.
The rat hovered indecisively.
You know what will happen if you do not tell them warned Tonunda.
I will do as you say the rat said en route for the shadows by the wall.
The boy looked expectantly. Tonunda gestured for the youth to follow him. Together, they trotted down the stairs and jogged up to the end of the street. Rats had already gathered in various groups in the gutters and more emerged from the drains, steadily making a broader expanse in front of them.
Tonunda broke into a run, soon fuming that the boy trailed behind. He waited at every turn in the poorer quarter for him to catch up, before tearing off again. Their journey came to a halt, a mere third of a turn of the glass. Tonunda stopped them in the shadows of a shop entrance. Further down the broad thoroughfare, they saw the doors of a large building clearly illumined by flaming braziers. In a broad arc above the doors, fanned the words, Children of Enlightenment.
In front, two guards stood at their post, wearing the white robes of their faith. They wore pointed helms with leaf armour at the sides. The rest of the helmets formed a metal mask for the wearers. On their hips, they wore garishly broad curved slashing swords, obviously from a foreign land that Tonunda could not identify.
He clasped the boy’s shoulder.
Go to the palace and bring with you the Blue River Guardsmen.
The boy looked confused.
Tonunda aimed an open hand in the direction of the palace.
“To the palace?” the boy queried.
He nodded; now for the difficult part. Tonunda gestured to bring something.
“Bring,” the boy confirmed.
Then slowly and elaborately, Tonunda traced a single word on the cobbled stones with his finger.
“Kija,” the boy blurted.
Tonunda clamped his upper arms and nodded.
“I want to be here when…”
Tonunda vehemently thrust a finger in the direction of the palace.
Looking back they way they came, the boy’s eyes widened in horror. The street moved. Wall to wall, a brown tide of rats covered the road, making its way toward them.
Tonunda slapped his upper arm.
They will not harm you. Go!
He nodded in the direction of the brown horde for emphasis. Reluctantly, the boy turned and walked back. His steps slowed as he met with the first of the rodents, then breathed easier as they parted around him. When he rounded the corner, Tonunda broke from the shadows with an army of rats as escort.