Meetings 7 pt1

Having spent three nights in the cozy and dry but limiting shelter, it was an immense relief when the rain finally broke.

They soaked, scattered, and buried the remains of the fire, and packed everything up. Kaveri gathered the odd mix of articles she’d collected and constructed into a net of plaited grass slung at her side and into the basket she supported on her hip with one hand. Tyrel had reclaimed his own gear, mostly out of stubborn habit, but he did make sure Kaveri kept a butterfly knife, its bronze blade safe inside the two folded-forward halves of the horn handle, in case she needed it. While they moved, she foraged, constantly. Considering the meals she concocted from what she found, Tyrel wasn’t at all inclined to question.

They followed the edge of the Forest, neither venturing deeper nor returning to more open ground. The more distance they put between them and Dunnval, and ultimately all the forts, the better.

That night, they slept in the open under brilliant full yellow Talir, waning greengold Sanur, and waxing lilac Lirit.

It was easy, when spending days doing nothing but walking, to just let your mind wander, Tyrel had found long ago. The problem right now was that while there was too much to think about, there wasn’t enough information to reach any decisions or conclusions. Madoc was better at picking paths through the greenery than he was, and always had been. Maybe, to distract himself, he should ask Kaveri what she was looking for and see if he could help… no, the answer would probably be much the same as about the shelter, that she knew it when she saw it. Tyrel sighed to himself. Only a few days between having his future mapped out for him with little say in the matter, and having no idea at all what the future held. Continue reading

Meetings 6

Comfortable on a blanket at one end of the shelter, Kaveri sang a gratitude and blessing song under her breath while she wove the fine flexible willow into a basket. It felt wonderful beyond words to be free of the confinement of the fort, back in the woods, and doing what she was meant to be doing.

At the far end of the shelter, the brothers, distinctly restless after a day spent inside, were going through their gear and checking the condition of everything. They wouldn’t find much that needed work, since Kaveri had been maintaining it herself for the past year and more, but it kept them busy.

There was more she would need to make or find, basic tools that would give her access to everything one could need here, but that would come. A basket would make foraging easier; so would a digging stick. Once she found the right sort of plants, she could make cord, and then it would take only a few stones of the right weight for her to have her preferred hunting weapons, though she was probably out of practice. A wooden hook for fishing was easy, a stronger antler one would be harder to come by until the deer shed them later in the year. A simple spear was easy, though more work if she made a stone blade for it. The people of town and fort were frightened of the Forest, but a Forester could be alone and empty-handed in the Forest and have everything she needed.

She added the final twist to the basket, a simple round-bottomed shallow circle that would have made her grandmother scold her for sloppy work but would suffice for now, and got up. The air was still filled with fine dense rain, but it was late in the day and if they were to have a meal beyond dry bread and cheese and dryer meat, she needed to find it.

The leathers the brothers wore would have been miserable in the rain, but her own bare feet and minimal clothing were comfortable enough. She padded through the gloom, watching the ground intently. The root of this plant, the leaves of that one, the seeds of another.

By the time she finished putting supper together, it was full dark. She and Tyrel ate, and coaxed Madoc into trying some of the stew—he enjoyed it, at least.

As she had last night, she took the dirty dishes to the stream to wash them.

“Don’t be afraid,” a low voice said from the shadow of a large tree.

Kaveri rocked back on her heels, ready to spring to her feet and flee, wary but curious, as a tall lean figure stepped into view. Her first impression was of topaz light, but then she wondered why, when everything about him was dark. Only his eyes were topaz, faintly luminescent in the dim light.

“Who are you?”

The stranger ignored the question. “Why are you wearing chains?”

Kaveri glanced down at the bronze cuffs on her wrists. “They don’t come off, and we don’t really have the tools here to remove them easily.”

He shook his head impatiently. “The two you’re with, were they the ones who chained you?”

“In a way, but they also protected me. The fort they were born in raided a town. My uncle and I were there to trade. They don’t capture Foresters often, they prize us when they do. My uncle was killed. The others of the fort would have enslaved me and made me a toy for sex for everyone in the fort. Madoc’s mother was one of my people, a captive, a courting gift from Tyrel’s mother to his father, and she was the one who nursed and cared for both of them until she died. For her sake, Tyrel claimed me as his own so no one else could lay hands on me. They’ve both been very gentle with me. They wouldn’t even leave me behind in the fort when they had to leave.”

“They’ve made no effort to free you.”

Kaveri shrugged and smiled. “They aren’t bad people. They are what the forts have made them, but they don’t entirely like it. I don’t think they’ve thought at all about what I’m wearing since we left Dunnval. I’ll find a way to be rid of them in time, or they’ll realize it and think of something.”

“Why do you stay with them? You are far better suited to life here than they are.”

“They saved me. I saved them, more recently.”

“All debts are paid?” It was definitely a question, not a statement.

Whoever this stranger was, he seemed far more concerned about her than threatening. She let herself relax somewhat as she shook her head. “By the traditions of my people, the debt of a life cannot be cancelled out even by another life. The vines of my life and theirs grow intertwined now. They chose to accept responsibility for me. I chose to accept responsibility for them. All is well, and I have a great deal of hope for the future.” She took a chance. “Why does it matter to you?”

A brief pause. “When I was very young, my parents were killed, and I was put in a cage. Someone saved me, and I was raised free instead. I don’t like people confining others. If they were holding you, I would have killed them both tonight. Because they freed you and protected you against their own, I will not. What else I will do, I have not yet decided. They went to the ruined fort, did they not?”

“Yes. Tyrel was to prove that he was worthy to be the Chief’s heir. I don’t know what happened, other than that they were attacked by ghosts there and the spirit protections I gave them saved them from being killed. Tyrel looked terrible when they came back to Dunnval.”

“Only the one?”

“Yes. I’m not sure what’s happening with Madoc—he’s the taller one, with Forester stripes if you look closely in the sunlight. He isn’t eating or sleeping at all since they came back, but he seems to have no end of energy. I’ve been worried about him.”

“You don’t need to. He’s in no danger from it.”

“Will you come talk to them?”

Another pause, then he shook his head. “Not yet. I’ve been… away, and only returned tonight. I need to think. I’ll be nearby. Call me if you need me.”

“Do you have a name?”

“Kieran.” He backed up a couple of steps, deeper into the shadows. Kaveri saw pale yellow light shimmer, and she was certain that the shape that vanished into the night was large and four-footed.

updated 08/2017

Meetings 5

“Tyrel,” Kaveri murmured. “Wake up.”

Tyrel woke groggily, disoriented and confused. He blinked and focused on Kaveri, kneeling beside him with a plate in one hand, a cup in the other.

“What?”

“Wake up. Breakfast.” She waited while he sat up, then handed him the plate, which held a liberal quantity of thick porridge with chunks of fruit stewed into it, and the cup, which turned out to be hot sweet tea.

“We should get deeper after you eat,” Madoc said. “I did some scouting. We do have a few on our trail, although they aren’t close. We don’t need to run, but we should keep moving. How are you feeling?”

“Better. And I think I’ll be just fine once I get a good meal in me. Where’d the fruit come from?”

“Kaveri found an apple tree.”

Feeling both satisfied and rested for the first time in days, Tyrel was in a distinctly more cheerful mood as they packed up, did their best to disguise the fact that anyone had camped here, and got moving again.

His mood wavered when he realized that Madoc was steering them directly towards the true Forest.

“Where are we going, exactly?”

“Where they won’t be able to track us,” Madoc said calmly, glancing in his direction.

“Right into the Forest?” Continue reading

Meetings 4

At sunrise, the gates of Dunnval, barred overnight, creaked open.

“Are they here?” someone inside whispered audibly.

“We’re right here,” Tyrel said, standing up and stretching. He was feeling somewhat the better for the nap Madoc had insisted he take between sunset and moonrise, when it was too dark to navigate, and for the plentiful berries and water, but he was very much looking forward to this being over.

“The Chief is waiting in the Hall,” someone else said.

The warriors of Dunnval fell into a kind of informal living corridor from the gates to the Hall; Tyrel reflected that they would never have done that had they known he wasn’t their next Chief after all. He could feel Madoc, in his eternal place, beside and behind, and didn’t need to look to know he’d be absolutely expressionless as well as watching for any danger—not least from younger brothers who might have ideas.

Taber was seated at the sole table that was currently set up in the Hall, the rest of them dismantled and stacked out of the way. He waited for them to approach. Behind them, Tyrel heard as many people as possible pushing their way in to watch this. So, having reached his position directly across from his father, he spread his feet and linked his hands together behind him, waiting for the commotion to settle. Taber said nothing, until there was silence in the Hall. Continue reading

Meetings 3 pt2

(chapter continued from previous post)

It didn’t matter. Nothing excused setting all his warriors on the two of them. And no matter what, Madoc was his shieldmate, his brother, and his truest friend.

“Can’t you see?” Madoc sounded puzzled.

“I think I’m just drained bad from before,” Tyrel improvised. Working out what had happened needed to wait.

“Then stay behind me. I wish we had something for you to eat. Or that other flask of beer.”

“So do I,” Tyrel said feelingly.

The legs of a ghost warrior appeared through the hole. Madoc attacked, ignoring the arrows that came down on both sides. The curved blade of the sica hooked around one of the legs, and as their owner screamed and tried to retreat, one lower leg fell downwards instead. There was no blood, only a kind of viscous stretching between body and leg, like melted cheese or honey, which finally parted.

No one else tried to come through the hole in the roof, though they could hear the enraged voice of the Chief, muffled by the walls but presumably driving his warriors onwards.

That bought them a breathing space.

The next assault was on the door itself, with a battering ram. The wood splintered and fragmented, exposing most of the interior of the barracks to the archers even though the warriors clearly couldn’t step across the line of oil and herbs. Continue reading