The Arcadian wind blustered as Eni walked Stento up the main street. He strode boldly, proudly, is if he saw no reason for the restraints she was compelled to place around his legs. He ignored those who had come to watch, gawk or taunt him, as if they were the dregs of creation. Out front, Fargo North and his crony, Fred Norris, grinned, hollered and pointed, excited and smug to see this Eg’glis in chains. Eni wasn’t the first to notice that these two fools had the same initials. It seemed as if they were one person in two bodies. Either could and would claim they were responsible for the travesty she abetted. She didn’t do it willingly, but to make the best of a bad situation. She hoped she didn’t come to regret it, no matter her intention. The settler’s dealings with the Eg’glis had steadily improved after they learned the native’s mid-life change and how their society worked. They didn’t really understand, but most of the community was trying.
The Eg’glis played life as a game, a game of universe. One great act before they completed their change made them players in deed and in truth. This, no doubt, was Stento’s deed. He had the look. Eni thought she was either too tactful or too afraid to ask. That hadn’t stopped Stavo, who had joined them in Three Forks for the return trip. He would wait for her, as she’s asked, at his farm, their home? But on the walk back to Hopkins Crossing he had talked with Stento about Joy’s horse, Joy’s Regard, though Stento called it Birco, starlight. He said the horse was his token, sent by the Game Master to make Stento a player. He said it would surely bring the change and his new name. He would be a leader, then, someone to guide his people into the future. No more would he be simply a child who tagged along; he would be a player, an important player, worthy of respect.
The change worked to the very core of his being, changing him from man to woman. The change would open his senses beyond the usual five; make him more aware of everything around him. This insight and knowledge didn’t spring into place; it was implanted in the womb. So it affected all Eg’glis, no matter which way the change moved them. As their senses grew within them, they were incorporated into their being, heart, mind, and spirit. It frightened the settlers, filled them with wonder. What did the Eg’glis gain from the metamorphosis? The settlers might never know. As they’d neared Hopkins Crossing, Stento had grown quiet, his eyes hard, though Stavo didn’t notice at first. Not so with Eni. She tried to see the jail through alien eyes. She imagined it a dead and ugly stone cave, all straight lines and barriers.
Eni remember a poem she’d heard once about appearance and understanding. She wondered, not for the first time, what criterion defined ugly or truth? Did anyone have answers, ever? Or did they all make their way in a blind fever through the tunnel of their lives? Could they push their way through the lingering dark? Perhaps that explained their fascination, fear and envy of the natives. Eni shook off her morbid reverie and carefully looked around her, alert for any sign of trouble. There would be no lynching on her watch. Stento’s mottled skin made him blend with his surroundings, while Eni stood out, the obvious stranger, danger. Yet, she stood with her own, and that wouldn’t change, nor would the changes they had wrought.
They walked in silence, neither responding overtly to the tumult around them. They had finally reached the jail. Bill Condry, the Boss, waited outside. He was a good man, and Eni knew he would ensure that Stento was treated well. He would be cared for, though he’d be locked in a cell, behind the awful clang of its steel door, the snick of its bolt sliding into place. Eni had done what she could, what she’d set out to do and, at Bill’s urging, she’d gone home. She looked longingly at the building where she lived as she passed it, but she’d promised Stavo she would come to the farm. She wanted to go, but she felt weary, from the tips of her hair to the soles of her feet.
By the time she reached the house, she stumbled, almost asleep on her feet. As she fell through the door, Stavo caught her. Without a word he led her gently to his bed and tucked her in with a kiss on the forehead. She seemed to wear a slight, almost bemused smile, but Stavo new she couldn’t be aware. He watched for a few moments and then left the room, closing the door quietly behind him.