In the streets of Eldora, time abides
And in its golden glow
Memory persists. Child, cry not;
Your loves will not want.
In Eldora they'll never grow old.
"Throw off your worries, throw off your cares," Wilykit sang as she peeled the fibrous skin away from the tam fruit that would be part of the evening meal. Her voice was birdlike, almost reedy, but not at all displeasing. "Here is the end of your strife. No hunger, no thirst, no pain, and no fear… In Eldora…"
"You're getting the words wrong," her brother complained, cutting up the starchy roots that Cheetara peeled and handed to him.
Wilykit sniffed. "Am not. Those are the words I heard at the grocer's."
"Well, they're not what we learned. You should use the ones we learned."
"Why? I like these better. They're plainer about the no hunger parts…"
Cheetara let the kittens quarrel for a while. She knew better than to interrupt squabbling meant to pass the time just as she knew better than ask what Wilykit was doing at the grocer's. Preparing fruits and vegetables was tiresome, especially for children, and the argument occupied their minds while their hands were busy. She was impressed that they sat still long enough to lend a hand; the least she could do was put up with their chatter.
Of course, even the tamest argument could get out of hand and Cheetara did not hesitate to step in when the kittens' faces scrunched up into masks of childish fury.
"There are many ways to sing the song," she said quietly, but firmly, declaring the matter settled. "It's a very old song and the words change with the singing. Every era has its version and aristocratic families sometimes personalize the lyrics and pass them down through the generations. But no matter what the words are, their meaning is always the same: Eldora is a place free of worldly problems."
"That's why we're going there," Wilykit said with conviction. "Everyone has somewhere warm to sleep and everyone has lots of food to eat…"
"And all the streets are paved with gold," Wilykat added. "Everyone is so rich, they can use the gold for bricks."
"I think people just don't need money," his sister said. "So they made it all into bricks."
Wilykat shrugged as if it did not matter one whit. The streets were paved with gold and that was all that mattered.
"No one has to cut vegetables anyway," he said.
"We decided together that the meat Panthro brought from hunting would go further as a stew," she said. "He was kind enough to bring it, so we must be kind enough to cook it."
"I know," Wilykat said as though Cheetara were crazy for suggesting he thought otherwise, "but in Eldora we won't have to."
This time Cheetara laughed.
"Panthro," Wilykat wheedled as the warrior worked on his tank. "You've been all over, right?"
"Not everywhere," Panthro said, "but I've been a lot of places."
Tygra looked up from where he was examining Panthro's tools, trying to figure out how they were used in relation to the tank. He had a fair idea of where the conversation was going. However, he did not interrupt and went back to his examination, satisfied to leave only one ear open to the conversation.
"Well, if you've seen a lot of places, have you ever been to Eldora?"
Panthro glanced toward the boy, who perched in a tree with his sister beside him. Both looked eager and anxious. He shook his head.
"Nope," he said. "Never met anyone else who'd been there either. No one even knows if it exists."
"It has to exist! Everyone has stories about it," Wilykat said.
"Not everyone," Panthro told him. "I'd never even heard about it until I joined the guard. Some of the soldiers mentioned it, but always as a joke. No one really thought it was a real place."
"But we've seen pictures!"
This time it was Wilykit who spoke.
"Drawings, maybe," Panthro said. "Drawings can lie."
"Maps are drawings and you believe those," Wilykit replied shrewedly.
"Maps can lie too," Panthro admitted, "but a good one will still get you to where you have to go."
"A good story is sometimes true too," Wilykat said with conviction.
"And a kick in the tail is a kick in the tail," Panthro replied. "Why don't you two do something useful and fetch a couple of buckets of water from the stream? We'll need it for washing later." When the kittens opened their mouth to protest, he added, "I think I have some jerky to give you for the trouble."
Never ones to give up the opportunity for food, the kittens vanished without another sound.
"That's one way to handle it," Tygra said, picking up a spanner.
"Not that one. Smaller," Panthro said. "They're pretty easy to handle if you have food, count your belongings, and can ignore fairytale nonsense."
"I didn't hear of Eldora until I started taking cultural studies as part of diplomatic training. I didn't realize it was so popular among the soldiers," Tygra said, handing Panthro a smaller wrench and watching as it was applied.
"Like I said, it was a joke. The kind of things their mother told them when things were bad," Panthro said. "We'll go to Eldora where no one hurts and no one hungers. My family didn't have time for that tripe; we were too busy working to stay alive. I suppose that's why I wasn't afraid to fight my way up through the ranks. You probably didn't hear about it because the royal family has no wants."
Tygra bit back an argument in his defense. If Panthro was truly as great a friend to his father as Claudus would have him believe, then he already knew that the life of a prince was not all sunshine and ease.
"No physical wants anyway," he admitted instead. "So we hear about it as quaint folk tales and assume that no one believes in it anymore. I heard it had a different meaning though, one that wasn't so hopeful."
"A joke," Panthro repeated. "You take what comfort you can in war."
Tygra chuckled. The sound rang bitterly in his ears. Thundera was gone, as was his father. All he had left was a younger brother and the ragtag group with whom they traveled. He worked often with Panthro because it was almost like having a father again, or at least a crusty and grizzled uncle.
"I can understand that," he said.
"I think they're asleep."
Cheetara stepped out of the shadows and took her place around the fire. Tygra stirred the flames with a long stick. Panthro gazed into the flames, but his body was tense, alert to any disturbance in the forest around them. Lion-o scoured their bowls with sand and rinsed them with river water.
Cheetara considered relieving him, but then thought better of it. He was the Lord of the Thundercats, but he was also the youngest in his family, no doubt set to the small tasks of the house, which, in their current situation, included scouring bowls. To call attention to it might embarrass him and a little menial labour was not a bad thing for a Lord.
"Thank all the gods for that," Tygra said, prodding a log until it shifted and a gout of flame burst upward. "I'm tired of answering questions about mythical cities."
"Mythical?" Lion-o said, inspecting his last bowl and putting it aside. "I know they keep asking about Eldora, but I didn't know it doesn't exist."
"Well, mythical in the sense that stories exist, but we have no proof," Trygra amended. "People claiming to have been there aren't very reliable, no maps have ever been proven real, and I've never heard of any trade going on there. All cities have trade."
"I don't believe in it," Panthro said.
"They sure seem to," Lion-o said, glancing back toward the shadows where the kittens lay curled in the roots of a tree. "It's one of the first things they mentioned when we met them. I…didn't pay much attention to them then."
"Your mind was on other things," Cheetara said soothingly.
"And now it's not."
Cheetara smiled at him and Lion-o blushed, a reaction she pretended not to notice although it amused her.
"What's past is past," she said to placate him.
"At any rate, why are there so many stories about a place that doesn't exist?"
"Why are there stories about gods?" Tygra said, shrugging his shoulders and spreading his hands to suggest that the world as a whole was inscrutable. "Maybe it existed once, long ago, and people have told stories about it ever since. Maybe people will tell stories like that about Thundera."
"It would be appropriate," Panthro said.
"Why?" Lion-o said his curiosity piqued.
"Let's not be morbid," Cheetara interjected.
"It's a euphemism for death," Panthro said. "No one is hungry in Eldora because the dead don't hunger. They don't thirst, they don't feel cold, and they don't want for anything. All the things you've loved and lost are there. When soldiers are forced into a dangerous battle, they say they're being sent to search for Eldora. When they're found in pieces, we assume they made it."
"That's disgusting," Lion-o said, wrinkling his nose.
"It's the truth."
"The truth is disgusting."
"I heard it was more of a folk tale," Tygra said. "The kind of story that gets popular when living conditions are bad. It shows up most often during times of plague or famine. Mothers used to tell the story to their children to ease the fear of death. Either they made it through and things got better or they died and no longer had to suffer. Both roads, in a sense, led to Eldora."
"Great. Now I'm going to have to pretend I don't know all that when they ask me," Lion-o said. "I sure can't tell them they're looking for death."
"The Book of Omens, too, was a myth," Cheetara said, "but now we hold it in our hands. Maybe Eldora also exists, trapped in time, as a ghost town, or bound by magic."
She looked across the fire at her traveling companions. Panthro seemed unconvinced, but Tygra looked willing to give the theory a chance. Lion-o was simply rapt, as curious as a kitten about the world and willing to absorb any new opinion.
"I don't think we should dismiss it," she continued. "Perhaps it doesn't exist, perhaps it does, or perhaps it exists, but our travels won't take us there. In any case peace and freedom from want or need are wonderful things to hope for."
"I can live with that," Tygra said.
"I can live with it, but don't talk to me about it," Panthro said, dismissing the conversation with a wave of his hand. "I'm turning in. Don't tell your campfire stories too loud or I'll have to knock your lights out."
"No worries here," Tygra said. "I'm turning in too."
"I will soon." Cheetara stirred the coals a little to spread them out, cool them, and lower the flame.
Lion-o waited until Panthro and Tygra were well out of the conversation before edging in closer to Cheetara and saying, "Do you think their parents are 'in Eldora' and that's why they're looking so hard?"
"I think they've always been in need," Cheetara said, delicately avoiding the thought that not all children were as greatly loved as Lion-o and Tygra were. "When your entire life is about survival, a place where you never feel hunger, thirst, or pain is very attractive." She smiled. "But you may be right. In the meantime they can travel with us and perhaps they won't be so eager to find it."
Lion-o nodded once, thoughtfully, and turned away. As he readied himself for sleep, Cheetara decided that there were worse traits for a king than compassion.
Waiting for the coals to burn low, she thought of Jaga and all his years of kindness and beneath her breath began to sing.
Come now to Eldora.
Your aching heart
Will yearn no more. Resist
Your fears only love exists
Here in the streets of Eldora.