Chapter 6: A Ranger Becomes a Disciple

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 85

 

Into the night, into the end, we walk.

Into the day, into the beginning, we walk.

We were here when it began,

And we shall be here when it ends.

--Therma Lesteransas, Last Whispara t’Kalima Oracle

 

“Why?” the dark-haired boy asked again.

“Because,” his father said again.

“Father, but why?” he persisted.

The father stopped making the bow he was carving and stared at his son. The child’s black hair was long now, longer than the other boys his age, and his brilliant blue eyes reflected so much more than his small frame belied. The father rubbed a hand across his furrowed and lined forehead. Perhaps he was too old to have a little one around like this. A couple hundred years ago, he wouldn’t make him so frustrated so fast. Of course, by fast, he had been asking the same question for the last month and a half and was showing no signs of giving up until he got a satisfactory answer.

“Father, I just want to know why we can’t leave the forest.”

His father put the bow and his carving tools down gently beside him on the ground beside the ancient stump he was sitting on. He glanced around the thick forest. It was autumn, the air was tinged with chill and the large trees were dropping brightly colored yellow, red, and orange leaves and acorns. The boy had been playing in a large pile of leaves a few minutes before. The smells of spices from their village permeated the crisp feel of the autumnal air and made even the old elvan father’s stomach growl in anticipation of the feast tonight on the equinox. The bow he was carving was a gift for his eldest son who was being married and inducted as the next leader of their tribe.

“You will not let this lie quietly, will you Jovan?” asked the old elf, running a hand through his own once black hair. It was more white than gray these days.

The boy stood up straight. “You must always be true to your word, and my word is I will not give up until I know the truth.”

The father began to laugh, and Jovan frowned. Was something funny? The father patted the ground in front of him.

“Fine, fine, you would use my own advice against me, would you boy?” he said with a smile as the young elf sat at his feet. “Fine, then I will tell you why we do not leave.”

The young elf had attention only for his father from that moment on.

“Long years ago, we roamed the lands of Avern freely. In fact, our kind did not come from the lands we now live in but from far to the west. We and five other houses of elves came. We are the House of Air, or Air-kin elves as we are sometimes called. Long ago, the six houses worked together. The house of air, house of earth, house of water, house of fire, house of light and the house of dark. The great council oversaw everything. To tell you the whole history would take until you mature, but you will learn it in school over the next hundred or so years. But the reason I say this is that wars between the elves began. There is much in history about this, but eventually, we separated from each other.

“The beings in the rest of the world saw us somewhat with distrust, as we live for many of their lifetimes, have natural magical inclinations, and some whispered that the t’Kalima were the chosen of Kalimourne, the Mother of Elves. For Kalimourne, as you know from the teachings is also the Keeper of all Magic.

“When the presence of the Keepers and the gods was gone, we, out of fear of reprisals from the other races, chose to close our borders. This has kept us safe; however, it has bred intense fear, even terror among the humans and other races of Avern. So, we stay here for three reasons, my son.”

“Three reasons?” he asked.

“Yes, three reasons. The first is to keep our people safe from other races. If any one of us would be captured, they might reveal secrets of our people and thus bring destruction. The second is to keep our blood pure. It is the greatest taboo for our kind to mix with any other race, or even any other kind of elf. There have been elves that have mated with others, and they are exiled, to be killed on sight if they return. And finally, the third reason is to keep our selves safe, for to leave our forest means to be killed by other races of beings, or even other elves. And that my son, is why you can never leave the forest. That is why our laws dictate that any that leave our borders are never to return, and if they do, they face the same death sentence as any who trespass into our lands.”

The chief of the Whispara t’Kalima picked up the bow and returned to putting the finishing touches on it. Next, he would place the enchantments that would strengthen it and the wielder and also would allow none but the true chief of the Whispara to use it.

“But father, besides all that, why can’t I go out of the forest? Why can’t I explore the world and come back and tell you and momma all about it?”

The father stared at the boys open and honest eyes and he knew why he would never listen. He had known since he was born. “Son, I have no more answers. Seek the old druid and maybe he can help you, I must finish this before the feast this eve, now go on and let me be.”

The father watched as his son ran off, a young boy, only thirty years of age. He would start school and training in the summer, and the chief felt the pang in his heart. He had seven children, of which Jovan was the youngest. His eldest was of age today, turning three hundred and one years of age. The rest fell in between, and the old chief felt it in his bones. Damn wars made him late with his children and now he had to put up with the prattling of questions of “why” at his age. He finished the bow and stood, walking slowly to the enchanting hut. He knew that Jovan was his favorite son, the one most like him. As a young man, he’d left the forest and fought for his people. There were no wars to fight now, and he knew that he would lose Jovan one day when the vanesta took hold. He only hoped the wandering ways didn’t happen before he was old enough to fend for himself, because if he left the forest, Joval’mar Listenrissas could no longer help him.

 

Jovan pounded mercilessly on the doorway to the old druid’s home. He answered slowly, as always.

“What is it, Jovan?” came from inside even before he had opened the door.

“Father said to come see you,” he answered. “Says he can’t answer my questions, but you can.”

The old druid opened the door. His weathered face was lined with age, worry and scars. Even his ears were bent at an angle, and one was missing almost entirely. He stared down at the boy.

“Indeed, well come in, I’ll do what I can…” he said, and as he shut the door a smile and a memory ghosted across his face. “You’re just like your father…” he began.

Twenty years later, Jovan stood over the druid’s grave. It had all been too short. And then not so very long afterward, a mere fifty more years, he stood over his father’s grave. Though young by their standards, he’d been killed in mysterious circumstances, and his brother Jovel had been made Jovel’mar of the Whispara t’Kalima. He was not much older than one hundred years old before he found himself standing at the edge of the Anaset forest. He wore a pair of breeches, a light shirt, a traveling cloak, and a head wrapping to cover his ears. Beside him, his closest sister stood wringing her hands.

“Brother, you shouldn’t do this…Jovel, if he finds out…”

“Shhh, Jokara. Don’t you fret for me, I can handle myself. Father knew this would happen.”

The young elven girl looked at him, her blue eyes wet with tears. He smiled and petted her thick black hair. She looked like their father, almost as much as Jovan himself did.

“I’ll be back, I promise, Jokara.”

She burst into tears. “You can’t come back! The exile order says…”

Jovan hugged her tightly. “I don’t care. I will come back, and if Jovel has anything to say about it, he can tell me when I come back.”

He stepped out of the forest, half expecting something drastic to happen the moment he crossed the invisible line that marked their territory. He turned back to his sister and shrugged. How anticlimactic he thought. He then simply set his feet on the road and walked away with the rising sun at his back into the province of Luxen.

His path would take him through Luxen and into Darna, then around the northern lands. While in Phomean, he caught news of the caravan guard postings and traveled a great deal for a time. Eventually, he made a name for himself as quite the guard, and so it was that once he met the King of Lineria, he would become a palace guard and rise quickly through the ranks.

Now, he drowsed sleepily and quite happily in a bed, but it was a very hard bed. Suddenly he felt a jolt and tried to turn over. That was when he realized he wasn’t in a bed but was instead laying on hay in the back of a wagon. He tried to move and realized with dawning horror his hands and feet were both bound and staked into the side of the wagon. The gag in his mouth was soaked in something bitter to the taste, and it was his best guess that it was some sort of sleep-inducing potion. Suddenly the wagon jolted to a stop. He held his breath and listened intently.

“Just a load of hay for the Jebbens farm down the road here, next to Vrastima.” That was Cage’s voice. Why was he tied up in the back of a wagon with Cage driving it? The last he remembered they’d said goodnight after drinks in the tavern…

There were voices otherwise, then he heard, “If it be hay, ya don’t mind if we take a look, do ya?” asked a gravelly voice. Obviously one of the outer guards in the tower at the edge of Niliern.

“Of course not, my good sir, all you’ll see is a big load of hay,” Cage continued.

The flap at the end was lifted, and light washed over him. He struggled against the bindings and made noise against the gag as best he could. The guard was middle aged, scarred and weathered. He looked around, reached inside the wagon and looked to be poking at the air. He then took his blade and made as if to stab the hay, and Jovan gasped against the gag as the guard thrust the sword. Right above Jovan’s face it seemed to hit some sort of barrier and stopped with a “thunk” as though it had hit the bottom of the wagon. Oh please, thought Jovan. Realize that isn’t the bottom of the wagon; realize you hit something a good foot above the bottom of the wagon…

The guard closed the flap and Jovan’s hopes were dashed. He wasn’t that smart to notice the dimensions were off, but then, that’s why the spell was effective, because most people didn’t notice.

“Alright Mister…?” the guard asked.

“Twofell, Tiberias Twofell,” Cage answered with ease and Jovan couldn’t believe that this was the man who had helped him through the wilds and got him to Niliern with such speed. He’d even taken him to the healer and paid for the treatment of his wrist. And then, last night, he kept buying him round after round…and Jovan laid back his head with a thump, realizing how much it was pounding at that moment. The oldest trick in the book. Then he realized his headband was gone. Cage knew he wasn’t human. This wasn’t good. Was he taking him to get a reward? He had heard of elf hunters in his days back in Anaset, but he’d never seen one in the human world… Then he remembered the strange conversation with no one he had overheard. He had assumed that Cage was waiting for someone, and in that he assumed he would have a chance to fight. He didn’t think Cage was supposed to deliver him.

With a jerk, the wagon set off again and Jovan wondered just how the hell he was supposed to get out of this.

* * * * *

Keiara rolled over sleepily and found Myrstand once more gone. She sighed. He was a conundrum. If only he knew all the truth, but that was something that he had to find in his own good time, not something she could reveal. Just like the others. She had to hide so many things and she wished she did not, but once they awakened, then she would have to hide nothing.

But once they were awakened the end would come. And she couldn’t see that at all.

She stood and headed out into the wider main cavern where Lena and Sanna were cooking some eggs that Sanna had retrieved from a nearby tree. It smelled lovely. Keiara smiled and then saw Myrstand cleaning his sword again. It was as if he had to have something to do. They ate in silence and Keiara finally broke it after she’d finished.

“Well, I suppose some explanations are in order for our newer members, though I’ll have to do this twice more, I suppose,” she began, stretching catlike from her sitting position on the floor.

“Tonight, at sundown, Myrstand and Sanna will go and retrieve one more of our blood,” she said.

Sanna interrupted her there. “What do you mean by ‘our blood’?” she asked.

Keiara looked at her for a moment. “Well, the whole of it is complicated, but the short version is that the eternal phoenix binds us together.”

Myrstand and Lena exchanged looks. “It is the reason that Lena did not succumb to three vampires, why her blood never ran out, and why they were destroyed after feeding from her. She carries abilities of water, and because of that, her injuries are healed by it, and her blood was not consumed entirely because her body protected itself by feeding them water that they assumed was blood. It is also the reason that Sanna has the ability to defer much damage, and why she heals so fast from wounds. A mortal wound on either of you may not have any effect because water protects you, Lena, and fire protects you, Sanna.”

Lena and Sanna nodded. Myrstand wondered what protected him if he was of this “blood” like the others.

 “Myrstand and I are different, though. I am of course the bearer of the essence of the dark phoenix. Myrstand has other things that protect him, such as his faith and his paladin’s honor. Tonight, you retrieve someone that I’ve known a long time and never realized the truth about until now. He will be in danger by the time you find him, and that is why I also send you Sanna.”

Keiara took a deep drink of her waterskin. “After tonight, there is one more making his way toward us, then we may set out toward the Isle of Night to retrieve the one true litany. Hopefully, we’ll find more clues as to what we’re supposed to do along the way.”

“Should we make ready with supplies then?” asked Myrstand.

“Yes,” Keiara answered and stood slowly. “Enough supplies for a week for six.”

With that she walked to the door and looked out as the crisp winter morning dawned. She grabbed the sword beside the opening and smiled back at the others.

“I’ll go for a morning walk, I’ll be back in a while,” she said and walked out, fresh snow crunching underfoot as she went.

Myrstand watched her leave. His heart easily skipped two beats. He’d kept his distance since his moment of weakness, but he couldn’t help himself, he was continuing to be drawn to her. She was intoxicating, and that was the only way to describe the sensation he got when he was around her.

“What is she going to do with a rusty sword?” Sanna muttered as she stood and stretched. She began rummaging through the bags.

Lena stood and came and got Myrstand’s plate. “You like my cooking, Myr?”

Myrstand smiled and stood slowly. “Of course, dear.”

He reached out and ruffled the young woman’s hair. She was so small compared to both him and Sanna, being not only young, but small of stature. Sometimes he thought of her as a child, when she was really eighteen turns, and a woman. But there was something so childlike about her. But Myrstand yet worried about the vampire attack. No matter what Keiara said, she had been drained by three different vampires, and yet seemed to show no ill effects, and had even gained abilities of one of the foul beasts like strength and speed. He wondered if she had the other capabilities that one of those monsters did, and vaguely hoped he’d never find out.

Sanna approached, a bag in hand. Myrstand smiled at her. Keiara had said she’d endured much, and Myrstand wasn’t really sure what that meant.

“Myrstand, I’ve been going over supplies here, and we don’t have near enough to make it very far,” she said with a shrug. He noticed she was very formal with him. It made him feel like he was in charge, and he wasn’t.

He nodded. “Well, we’re close to Vrastima. It’s a small village, but the people there are good enough. It will take about an hour to walk there for you, so you best be going. Going back to Niliern would be a mistake for you,” he said nodding toward Sanna. “Take this,” he said handing Sanna a bag of coin.

“It should be enough to buy what we need. See if you can find a sturdy draft horse and a cart. I’d like to be able to take enough food and water with us, so we don’t have to depend on finding it along the road. I’ll have Tarm of course, but he’s not good at wagons.”

Sanna nodded. “You don’t wish to come with us?” she asked.

“No, I’ll stay here, there are many preparations to make…” he said, staring out the doorway.

Lena smiled broadly, then blurted, “He just wants to be alone with Keiara again.”

Sanna frowned at her, and Myrstand felt his cheeks heat up at those words. He turned to her and gasped,  “Lena!”

Lena smiled and turned to the much taller Sanna. Sanna seemed confused by the younger woman. Myrstand wondered at the way that Keiara had stopped her from saying anything when she first saw Sanna. In a way he wished she hadn’t. Then again, maybe they were better off not knowing what the Seer had seen. Sanna then took her hand and they headed off, Lena nearly bouncing beside her with glee at getting to go out into the township.

Myrstand shook his head as they walked away. He hoped they didn’t get into trouble. Lena was strong, but a group of mad villagers could bring her to her end easy enough with one fell swoop of an axe across her neck.

“Be back before sundown, that’s when we’re setting out,” Myrstand called after them.

* * * * *

The cart jolted to a stop once again, and Jovan’s breath caught as he was slammed up against the side of the wagon roughly this time. He waited for a few moments and the flap of the wagon was thrown open and he found himself looking at Cage, but he looked a lot different than he had the night before. He wore a thick, black hooded cloak and Jovan could barely discern his face within it. His clothes had lost all air of being jovial, and his face had not a trace of mirth in it.

“Imagine my surprise to find out you are an elf,” he said in a low and dangerous voice. “Not only are you worth a great deal to my master, but you are also worth a great deal of coin to many others. So, I had to decide whether to gather that coin first, then charm the elf head hunter and take you back, or just hand you over to my master.”

Cage leaped easily into the back of the wagon and tapped the invisible barrier over Jovan’s head. “I need the money, so we’re going to the elf head hunter’s house in Vrastima first, where I’ll be gaining a few thousand gold coins and then I’ll charm him into forgetting it ever happened.”

Jovan swallowed hard. So, the elf hunters did exist. He struggled in vain against the bindings.

“Oh, sweet Jovan, don’t struggle so, you’ll cut your wrist and ankles up. I mean, the pain from your wrist should be returning soon after the medication the healer gave you wears off soon, you don’t want to make it worse than it is.”

Cage leaned over the clear barrier and for the first time in his life, Jovan felt a stabbing fear of someone because the look in his eyes was like an animal or a demon. “If I only had more time with you. You can’t imagine the fun I could have. Of all the flesh I’ve tasted, elf kind has never been one.”

He tapped on the barrier twice and it shattered like invisible glass. He then reached down and pulled Jovan up and out of the hay by his shoulder. He’d already unclasped the bindings from the side of the wagon and Jovan, focused on his own internal horror at his captor, hadn’t even noticed. He tied a lead to the rope around his wrists and untied his ankles after he got him sitting on the end of the wagon. Suddenly the pain exploded in Jovan’s shattered wrist and he screamed against the gag. Cage smiled inside the black cloak.

“Shouldn’t have struggled so hard, sweet elf. You injured it worse. You didn’t think I actually paid to have them repair it, did you? I had them give you a pain medication. I mean, no need to mend it, once master gets you, you’ll be dead.”

He then yanked hard on the rope, pulling Jovan by the wrists off the back of the wagon to the ground. Jovan was completely immobilized with pain for a moment as he dragged him to his feet. Jovan stumbled as he looked up, the sun bright in his face. It was well past noon, easy late afternoon if he didn’t miss his guess. The bitter taste in the rag was getting annoying and he sputtered against it. Cage turned back and smiled.

“I wasn’t originally prepared for an elf. It wasn’t until the third time I drugged your drink last night that you passed out. That’s when I figured something wasn’t right, then when I took you upstairs and found out you were an elf, well, wasn’t I surprised. The herbs only are effective for humans, so I just tripled the dosage on everything to keep you out as long as I could, but of course, it didn’t last as long as I’d hoped anyway. Not much experience with elves.”

Jovan gagged, feeling his stomach lurch. Cage rounded on him immediately grabbing his face by the chin. “Puke and I’ll kill you, Jo-Van,” he said spacing out his name. Jovan nodded slowly, swallowing hard at the bile rising in his throat.

Cage smiled then patted him on the cheek. Then his eyes seemed to sear into his face again. It was as though he were thinking something horrible. He then stepped back. “Good boy,” he said. “Maybe Master will let me play with you before he kills you, oh I’d love that.”

Cage yanked him roughly towards the house in the middle of the cove of tress ahead of them. Jovan’s moan was muffled by the haze that crossed his vision. The only thing he could feel was the grinding of the rope against the shattered wrist. Cage knocked on the door slowly.

“What?” came a gravelly voice from inside.

“Present, old man, provided you’ve got the coin I want,” said Cage.

The door opened slowly, and a wizened old man stuck his head out. He smiled at Cage and then waved them in. Cage pulled him painfully up the stairs, and Jovan wished that he was still unconscious. The inside of the house made Jovan’s stomach lurch even worse. He felt his head go dizzy and he stumbled and fell to his knees. The old man laughed.

Cage grinned down at Jovan who stared horrified at the “trophies” on the walls. “What, Jovan? See anyone you recognize?”

To his horror, Jovan did. The term head hunter, it seemed wasn’t an overstatement as Jovan had always assumed. Preserved elven heads were mounted on bases and stared back at him. There was a large board on which ears were mounted, at least fifty of them, and Jovan could see that they belonged to at least five of the six houses of the elves by the color. Some of the trophies were old, he could tell, and some were fresh, like the last of the ears on the board which still were red and raw looking at the edges. He felt his stomach churn as he locked eyes with the preserved face of someone he did indeed know, his own sister, the eldest of his sisters, Jokeiva. Her brilliant green eyes shined back at him, and there was no mistaking the beautiful head of bluish white hair she had inherited from their mother. She had been in the forest when he left, so how did her head end up mounted on this…this freak’s wall of horror?

The wizened old man reached out and lifted Jovan’s head and stared at him.

“Noble blooded Whispara, if I don’t miss my guess,” he said, his voice gravel on Jovan’s ears.

“Noble?” Cage asked. “Then the price goes up.”

The wizened old man might have had eyes of brown at once, but now they were gray with age and nearly blended with his gray, lined face. “Of course, young man. Of course. Nobles don’t come cheap. An extra thousand. I’m seeing he is eyeing my princess, me guess a’course is that’s his sister.”

Cage glanced up at the female elf’s head and back to Jovan, who had not shifted his tearful gaze from her beautiful face, his own eyes filled with tears. “Well, I think you’re right, old man. Well, won’t they make a pretty pair for your wall? Been awful careful, I have, to keep his face pretty for you.”

Jovan wasn’t sure what to do. His heart was beating so hard in his chest; he didn’t feel the deathly stillness of the air around him. He didn’t even notice when Cage grabbed his throat and started coughing. The old man looked into the room and called out something, but Jovan didn’t see or even hear it. He didn’t see the old man drop to his knees gasping for breath. Jovan didn’t even feel the pressure on his own lungs as they themselves were being starved for air. Without even realizing it, he’d managed to create a vacuum around him by commanding the air to leave the space. And it wouldn’t be long before he collapsed himself. But he couldn’t see it, couldn’t feel it, only the white-hot fury of his sister’s face burned into his mind.

Suddenly, there was a bang at the door and Jovan blinked, on the edge of unconsciousness, and felt the coolness of air rushing back into to him. He took a huge breath and realized that Cage was on the floor gasping for breath and so was the old elf hunter. He heard the banging on the door.

“Jubel, I knows you there, now answer, saw th’ cart, you got a new un?” came a female voice.

The old man, Jubel he guessed was passed out cold, and Cage was gasping great gulps of air just on the verge of unconsciousness. Jovan stood shakily and took one last glance at the face of his sweet sister and took a running aim at the door. He slammed into it with his shoulder and went tumbling down the short stairs and landed on his back. He found himself staring up at a shocked old woman, probably the old man’s wife. She had a look of confusion, but Jovan managed to get to his feet and took off at a run into the small wood. He saw a village ahead, it must have been that Vrastima that they were talking about. He couldn’t get the gag out of his mouth, though, it was tied too tight, and his hands were bound so that only the last two joints of his fingers were free. Tears rolled down his face as he thought of his sister, and he knew she must have come to find him. And for his eldest sister to come, and not his brother Jomel, something was terribly wrong in the forest of Anaset.

He burst out of the trees and onto the main street of the small village and scared a couple of children who were playing with a ball near there. He ran up to the little girl closest to him and held out his hands, hoping she’d understand he needed to be untied. Instead, she screamed and all four of the children ran into a nearby house and he heard the bolt slam shut. He slumped his shoulders.

“Through here, you idiot,” he heard Cage’s voice, and a shiver ran down his spine like he’d never felt before at his voice. “Jovan, come out come out,” he called. “The things I’ll do to you for that little trick are beyond your imagining, elf.”

He had to hide, and fast. He saw a stable and headed toward it, hoping that the horses would mask him somewhat until they passed him by. He got inside the doorway easily enough and slid underneath into a stall with a huge stallion. The stallion snorted at him menacingly and Jovan nuzzled his head against the beast’s neck quickly and hummed under his breath. Just as quickly the stallion nuzzled back, calmed by Jovan’s actions and sounds. Basics of being one with nature was learning to calm beasts of nature. The old druid had taught him well. He got behind a bale of hay and crouched down at the stallion’s rear hooves, hopefully the most dangerous place for anyone to look to find a fugitive elf.

* * * * *

The general store had everything they needed, including the wagon. Sanna loaded it up out in front as Lena paid the rest of what they owed. Waterskins, rations, rope, sacks, block and tackle, lanterns, oil, chalk, fishing supplies, hunting knives, and now they just needed a good strong draft horse to pull it. Luckily, right next door to Vert’s Supply was Vert’s Stable. Vert was a busy man.

“Okay, Sanna, he said to ask the stable boy to show us the draft horses. He said there’s one we can have for free, too,” Lena said coming out. She still limped a little on the foot she’d injured a couple days ago.

“Free?” Sanna asked, looking over to the stable. “Why free?”

Lena shrugged. “Says he’s worthless, no one can get him to do anything. I’ll stay with the wagon; he might not like my scent right now.”

Sanna growled under her breath. She headed over to the stable and saw the boy, no more than fifteen that stood in front of the building. He was short, almost half of Lena’s size, and as she got closer, she realized he wasn’t a child at all, but a Halfling. She smiled. She hadn’t seen those in a while, but she supposed they were here and there.

“Hey, Vert says you can set me up with a draft horse. Said there’s one for free if I can handle it.”

He nodded, reaching out his hand. “Crumel’s the name,” he said. “And yeah, if you can handle Maelstrom, he’s all yours. No one has been able to yet, and we’re tired of him taking up space.”

Sanna looked at the other draft horses, and then saw the big stallion. She smiled. The name badge read Maelstrom. She walked up to the stall and saw that the horse was strangely calm. Even the other horses, the ones not “wild” like this one bucked and snorted at her approach. For some reason this one didn’t do that. Then she heard it. Ragged and heavy breathing coming from behind him. Suddenly the doors burst wide and a man in a black cloak stood there, looking back and forth.

Crumel walked up. “Can I help you?”

The man stared around the room, locking eyes with Sanna for a moment then the Halfling. “You seen anyone come in here in the last few minutes?”

The breathing halted inside the stall when the voice spoke and Sanna understood. Whoever this was, they were running from him.

Crumel shook his head. “No, just my master’s customers, if you need a horse go see Vert next door.”

The man looked at the ground, as though looking for foot prints, and Sanna shifted to her right, moving to disturb the footprints in the dusty area not covered with straw.

“Are you sure? He’s about my height, his hands are bound, and he’s gagged. Some kids said he ran in here,” he continued.

Crumel shrugged. “Look if you want, but there’s no one here but us.”

The man walked in and started looking into each stall. Then he came closer to Sanna’s position and Sanna pulled her cloak tighter around her, covering her tattooed arm, just in case. She heard whoever was hiding behind the horse shift and take a couple quick breaths. The horse began to prance the closer the cloaked man came.

“I wouldn’t mess with him,” the Halfling yelled.

He looked over at him and frowned, his hand falling on Maelstrom’s gate. “Why’s that, small master?”

“He’s trampled two people that got in his stall. Ain’t anyone getting in there with him,” Crumel said and lifted his shirt, showing the recent horseshoe shaped bruise on his ribs. “And I wasn’t even all the way in the pen when he did this. Other two’s dead. Anyone who comes near those hooves dies. Vert’s about ready to put him down.”

Inside the stall, the large horses began to snort violently and stomp his front hooves at the intruder. The cloaked man looked inside, and the horse reared up and hit the gate with his two front hooves and letting loose a loud whinny. The man stepped back.

“Yeah, I see what you mean, little master,” he said and continued down the row to check the other pens.

He eventually was satisfied and left. The Halfling shrugged. “So, I can have him?” Sanna asked, motioning to the stallion.

Crumel snorted. “Sure, get that horse out of here, and he’s yours, but I’m heading back to the shop, I’m not standing out here while he tramples you.”

Sanna nodded and waited until the little man left. She then gently opened the gate, hearing the quickening of the breathing.

“Be calm, both of you,” she said softly, and heard the sharp intake of breath. “He’s gone, come on out.”

From behind the hay bale in the stall, a dark-haired man poked his head out and locked eyes with Sanna. He slowly stood up, looking around and seeing they were alone, he fell to his knees shaking. Sanna rushed into the stall, and to her surprise, the horse edged over, allowing her to pass. She grabbed the gag and he started to sob uncontrollably and fell against her. She was surprised and held him against her and patted his back as he sobbed into her chest.

He started to stammer out words that were half formed. “My sister, she was there, and if she was there, that meant something was wrong. My brothers! Why wouldn’t my brothers have come instead? What happened? Why? What is going on and where are they now?” he nearly moaned in her arms. She didn’t say anything and eventually he sat back on his feet and wiped his eyes awkwardly with his bound hands. She only took a knife from the scabbard on her thigh and cut the ropes apart.

“I’m sorry, I’m Jovan,” he whispered after he got himself under control. “I just couldn’t…his eyes were too much…then the heads…my sister…and he…so many ears…”

Sanna had no idea what he was talking about but then realized among his long black hair were a pair of elven ears. She sucked in a breath and reached into her pack and pulled out a scarf she often used to cover her face. She reached for his head and he pulled away instinctively. She patted his shoulder and he was amazed to see she wrapped the scarf carefully around his head, covering his ears carefully.

“You should come with us. You can tame the horse, I take it?” she said softly.

Jovan nodded, looking embarrassed now that he’d broken down in front of her like that. “I’m a ranger of my people, I can handle any animal.”

She nodded. “Okay here,” she said, taking off her cloak and wrapping around him. She noticed he had no shoes either, and the bottoms of his feet were crusted with blood, but there wasn’t much to be done about that right now. “Come on, quickly, before that man comes back. You can explain later. I don’t know what’s happening, but anyone who can commune with nature is okay in my book, and that man was not anyone I would want someone to be caught by.”

Sanna saw Lena look up as they neared. Once more, a look crossed her face as though she wanted to say something. Instead, she smile broadly as they approached.

“Let’s go, we’ve got to hurry back!” Lena announced.

Sanna stammered for a moment but quickly hooked the horse up to the wagon as Lena led the cloaked figure to the wagon seat and as she looked up, she saw her whispering to him. Down the road a way, she saw the dark cloaked man walking toward them. Lena and the elf were in conversation about something, so Sanna hurried with the harness because now she was exposed fully, and she of course did not look anything like the commoners.

“You!” the cloaked man screamed from down the road. “The fire monk, you’ve got him with you haven’t you, you bitch!”

“Hurry!” Lena said, throwing the reigns into the elf’s hands.

Sanna nodded to them. “Go, I’ll handle him.”

Lena looked back. “Are you sure?”

Sanna grinned. “Keiara has been teaching me, but she hasn’t quenched the flames by any means.”

“Stop!” he yelled as Lena and the elf took off in the cart at a full gallop.

Sanna stood in the center of the road and he ran to her. He tossed back the hood revealing a mildly handsome face, but a face that triggered an intense feeling in her. The eyes, something about the eyes. He looked a lot like someone she had once known, though she couldn’t recall who it was at the moment.

“No, you stop,” she said, a dangerous edge to her voice.

He held up both his hands and as she watched a strange swirling blackness began to form. She thought for a second that it was enough of that. She closed her eyes and held out her hands and whispered to the fires within.

A jet of fire shot out from both her hands at the spell he was casting, throwing off his concentration and surprising him. He frowned and pulled a sword on her and ran forward. She read his face.

“You fire slinging bitch, you won’t stop me from serving the master’s will!”

Well, that wouldn’t work much better. In two steps, she sidestepped his thrust and put herself behind him. She spun and planted the heel of her foot on the back of his neck sending him sprawling, unconscious. He should have stopped.

* * * * *

Lena put the wagon beside the cave and took the elf by the hand and led him into the cavern. Myrstand stood ready at the door with his arms crossed. The sun was starting to slowly sink in the west.

“You two are late…” he began and then realized it was not Sanna with Lena but a man. “Who’s this? And where’s Sanna?”

“I’m here,” Sanna said, strolling in easily. “I was just a little behind them.”

“It still doesn’t answer who this is, and why you’re late?”

Keiara came up behind him and placed her hands gently on his shoulders. “Don’t worry; you don’t have to leave now.”

Myrstand furrowed his brown and turned to look at his dark lady. “What, you mean this…?”

The new arrival stood transfixed as he removed Sanna’s cloak and stood there numbly. His one wrist was crudely bandaged, and his other was red and raw. He was barefoot, his pants tattered and torn especially at his ankles, which like his wrists were raw and red. His eyes were red and swollen, and as he took off the red scarf from his head, he revealed a set of elven ears.

“Jovan,” Keira said, stepping toward him.

“It is you,” he croaked, his eyes welling with tears. He stood there silent and confused for a moment.

She smiled and held up his injured hand. “I’m so sorry I surprised you and you fell like that, I tried to make sure you survived the exhaustion and the cold, but I didn’t anticipate an enemy finding you instead. Unfortunately, there are things that I cannot See.”

She motioned to Myrstand, and he came to stand beside her.

“Here,” she said, handing him Jovan’s bandaged wrist.

Myrstand looked at it with confusion. “What am I supposed to do with it?”

Keiara gently unwrapped it to reveal a swollen, red and bruised wrist and hand. The treatment it had gotten being bound to its twin had been worse than Jovan realized. The pain at the wrapping being removed sent him to his knees. Keiara gently held up his hand as he finally was able to succumb to the nausea that had been threatening to overcome him ever since he’d been pulled from the wagon. He supported himself with his other hand and finally sat back up and wiped his mouth, heaving great breaths of air.

“You can heal, Myrstand. Just believe in that,” Keiara said, handing Myrstand his hand once more.

Myrstand swallowed and kneeled beside the elf. He closed his hands around Jovan’s wrist, and closed his eyes. From his hands a brilliant white light encompassed the wrist and Jovan’s look of pain began to fade. Myrstand himself didn’t understand it. He was only concentrating on the act of healing, and he was finding himself doing what he was thinking about. After a few minutes though, he felt like he had drained every ounce of his power and he released Jovan’s hand. He opened his eyes and looked down at the elf’s wrist to see it still somewhat swollen and red, but nowhere nearly as bad as it had been.

“By the Lord of Paladins,” he whispered and then his eyes rolled up into his head and Keiara quickly moved behind him and caught him.

Lena gasped. “What happened to him?”

“Don’t worry, just the exhaustion, just as you were exhausted after your battle with the vampires, he has done the same, using his power to the limit. Now, Jovan,” she said, turning to him.

He looked up at her slowly. “Before you can no longer stand, I have a question. Do you come to me, and become my agent of your own will?”

Jovan looked at her, then glanced over to Sanna, who was staring silently at the scene, and all he could think to say was, “Yes…”

He smiled for a second then felt the world fading from existence around him, and quick as a flash, he fell into Sanna’s strong arms. She looked up at Keiara who was smiling down at her. She stared into the elf’s face, swollen and red from tears, and Sanna’s heart ached. Could he understand her pain? Would he want to?

 


Submitted: May 31, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Beverly L. Anderson. All rights reserved.

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Dark and the Sword

The world of Avern has be abandoned by the gods, or so it appears. The Mother of Gods is reborn in the body of a dethroned princess and will do whatever it takes to save her children.

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