Jeff Baker: In the Caves

Real Life TM has intervened temporarily which means I’m not getting time to update the zine quite as often as I’d like. However, this should calm down soon and in the meantime, here’s another cute little story from Jeff, as part of his Marogas Hills tale. I hope you enjoy it – and don’t worry, Jeff assures me there’ll be another episode soon!


Pic credit: Tsvetoslav Hristov

            They had climbed the hills and found a passage between two of them when the sun came up. There was an area like a natural bowl made of hills and a steep rock wall in the middle of the hills.

            “There,” Zinack said, pointing to a clump of dark green bushes amid the rocks. They could see  a patch of darkness through the thick greenery.

            “The caves?” Zayas asked.

            Zinack nodded and signaled for quiet. Zayas wondered why, if they were alone.

            They climbed over the rocks and past the brush to a low opening in the reddish stone. Zinack pointed and Zayas followed him into the cave. Once inside, Zinack breathed a sigh of relief.

            “We should be safe now,” Zinack said. “Even if they track us, they won’t be able to come in here.”

            The inside of the cave was about the size of the back room they usually slept in. The roof was low and Zinack stretched his arm up and touched the roof. Zayas looked around; there was what looked like a tunnel toward the back of the cave.

            Zayas was going to ask something when he felt a breath of wind from behind him and heard a sound. A deep sound, like a huge animal breathing. Then there was another rush of air.

            The cave was breathing.

            Zinack nodded. “There’s a wind hole a little further down the cave. Just steer clear of it if we have to go in deeper.” He felt along the walls of the cave and peeled what first looked like shadow but was a black moss. He sniffed it and smiled, then he tore the sheet of moss in half.

            “Here, have some of this,” Zinack said, handing it to Zayas. “It’s good as long as it hasn’t gone yellow.”

            Zayas cautiously tried the moss. It was surprisingly salty but tasty. He hadn’t eaten anything since their rations at sunset.

            “This is good.” Zayas said. “How did you know about edible cave moss? Did that water cave monk tell you about it?”

            “Something like that,” Zinack said. “I read about it when I was in school. The monk confirmed it would be here.”

            Zayas shook his head. He had never learned to read, it was not considered necessary for a slave to read but Zinack had not always been a slave.

            “We’ll be safe here, but don’t try to step out of the cave,” Zinack said. “We’ll figure out where we’re going after we’re sure nobody is tracking us.”

            Zayas nodded and finished eating the moss.

            Zayas woke with a start.

            The angle of light from the opening meant he had been asleep for a few hours. He was huddled up next to Zinack, his soft breathing and the breath noises of the cave had lulled him to sleep. It must be near Middle-Day.

            He reached up and put his hand on Zinack’s shoulder; he was still asleep. Zayas realized he was staring at their bare arms where the binding tatts had been. Zayas realized he couldn’t remember sleeping this late, or even being allowed to sleep this late. He smiled as he lay his head back on Zinack’s chest.

            He heard a sound form outside the cave. In the distance but getting closer. Talking. And barking. Trackers! And their dogs!

            Zayas shook Zinack awake and clamped a hand over his mouth and then pointed at the cave entrance.

            The sounds were coming closer.

            “We need to run.” Zayas whispered.

            “We can’t.” Zinack said.

            “To the back of the caves,” Zayas said scrambling to his feet and pointing to the dark hole in the far wall.

            Zinack grabbed his arm. “No. We can’t go to the lower caves. They are back there.”

            “They?” Zayas asked but Zinack hushed him. The sounds of the dogs were coming closer.

            “In there,” came the voice. “They’re in there!”

            Zinack clenched his fists. Zayas glanced around the floor and walls of the cave looking for rocks, branches, anything to use as a weapon.

            “I will die here before I let anyone become my master again,” Zayas muttered.

            They could hear the dogs and trackers just outside the cave entrance and even see their shadows. Then there was a low, guttural roar that swelled around them and then a cold wind from the back of the cave blasted past them almost knocking them over. They could hear the wind roaring outside the cave and see dust and leaves swirling in the daylight and then they heard the screaming of the men and the agonized howling of the dogs.

            Then the wind died down into silence.

            “The power of the Dal Lords,” Zinack said. He looked pale.

            Oh, Zinack, what did you get us into? Zayas thought.

            “We cannot stay here,” Zinack said. “By middle-week all three moons will be in the sky. We must leave here by then.”

            “Where do we go?” Zayas asked.

            “Toward the Moonrise,” Zinack said. “Along the edge of the desert. We will be out of the domain of our Master.” He shrugged. “That is all I know.”

            Zayas held Zinack and they kissed, but Zayas noticed Zinack was still shaking.


Jeff Baker: Toward The Marogas Hills

This week’s offering is a short story by fantasy author Jeff Baker. Toward the Marogas Hills is one of a number of stories he’s written set on an unnamed World of Three Moons, populated by descendants of Middle Eastern mystics who traveled there by magical means around our Middle Ages and Earth space travelers from our near future. It’s an intriguing mix, as I’m sure you’ll agree! And if you want to see more from Jeff, head for his website here.

Pic credit: Ebenezer42 on

“Keep running!” Zayas said, gasping.

“Can’t!” Zinack managed between breaths. “Gotta slow down, can’t keep this up.”

“Hang on,” Zayas said, slowing and listening in the warm night air. “I don’t hear anybody behind us.”

“They usually don’t check the barracks until dawn,” Zinack said. He rubbed his bicep where it was sore. “How far have we gone, anyway?”

“Probably not far enough,” Zayas said, crouching down and breathing hard.

Zinack had been sold to Master Torras’ farm three years earlier. Zayas had noticed Zinack the first day; tall, tan, muscular, rounded shoulders, dark hair down to his shoulders. Zayas was shorter, blonde hair he kept close cut and muscles toned from a lifetime of forced labor.

Both young men wore the bands of servitude tattooed around their right biceps, identifying them as property. Within two weeks the young men were laying together while holding each other in the straw of the slave quarters at night. Zinack had been sold into servitude eight years earlier. Zayas had been born on Master Torras’ farm and never known any family.

Zinack had been sold by his family.

The two of them were both barely twenty-six summers apiece in age.

They dreamed of freedom. Of being free together. The dreams filled their days as they labored on the farm, hauling wood for the kitchen, clearing the quick-growing bramble bush and removing rocks from the fields of their Master’s expansive farmlands.

The bands of servitude kept them there. If they disobeyed, defied their Master or tried to run the ensorcellment in the bands would convulse them in agony. There was no way out until Zinack found one.

The salve had smelled very bad and the jar it came in had looked very old, the writing engraved on the front in characters which were written at odd angles. They had rubbed it on the bands on their biceps and within an hour, their bands of servitude had vanished from their arms, and with it, any way their Master had of summoning them if they ran.

They had crept out of the barracks and off the property as soon as they could. It felt like they had been running for hours before they took this long break, catching their breath on the flat plain a ways away from the property where they had been property.

Zinack reached over and felt Zayas’ sweaty tunic, then his shoulder. Zayas rubbed the arm and moved close, kissing Zinack and rubbing his body with his hands. They stood there like that for a few moments in the quiet night. Zayas sniffed the air, he could still smell the salve.

“Zinack,” Zayas said when they pulled apart. “Where did you get that stuff? The stuff that worked on our tattoos?”

“The Master had me go to the BuanHaeii Farm for something a few days ago. There was a water cave on the way, and an old monk living by it. He offered me the salve, and our freedom…” He looked down at the ground. “But I’ll pay a price. Later.”

“Price?” Zayas said. “What do you mean?”

“Dal Lords.” Zinack said flatly. “The monk said the salve came from the Dal Lords.”

“You traded one slavery for another!” Zayas said.

“Not yet,” Zinack said. “And we have to worry about getting away from the Master’s tracking dogs. The caves should do it.”

“Look!” Zinack said, pointing at the horizon.  There was an oblong golden moon rising in the dark sky. The other two moons were in their new phase. The young slaves had picked as dark a night as they could for their escape.

“It’s beautiful,” Zayas breathed.

“We could use a little more light,” Zinack said. “There!”

He pointed to one side of the moonrise. There was a dark bulk in the golden glow.

“The Marogas Hills,” Zinack said. “Caves, wind-holes. Too dangerous for anybody who doesn’t know where they’re going.”

“And you do?” Zayas asked.

He nodded in the near dark. “Part of what I paid for. Directions through the hills. Supposedly to a lost city, but really just the caves.”

Zinack shifted on his feet. The ancient Hoochoo Plain was firm and they would not leave footprints.

“Are you ready?” Zayas asked.

Zinack grinned and nodded.            

The two men ran towards the hills, briefly holding hands.