Meetings 3 pt1

Dawn found them both somewhat stiff, but otherwise ready to face the day.

Madoc, chewing thoughtfully on a bite of sausage, flexed his left hand slowly. “That’s strange,” he said, once he’d swallowed. “It doesn’t hurt. At all. Not numb or anything, it just feels… normal, I guess.”

Tyrel finished the last of his bread and rearranged himself so he could reach.

He unwrapped the bandage around his brother’s arm cautiously, but with increasing perplexity. The last of it came free, baring the unmarked skin of Madoc’s lower arm. Only the dark dried bloodstains on the bandage, and the lingering traces on Madoc’s arm, proved that it had ever been wounded—and judging by the amount of blood on the bandage, it had been a messy one.

“What the hell…?” Madoc stared at his arm. Slowly, he flexed his hand again, then his arm. “This makes no sense. It bit me, I know it did.”

“Apparently the damage it inflicts doesn’t last much longer than its body after it’s killed,” Tyrel said.

“You think that’s it? I’ve never heard of anything like that.”

“Neither have I, but it’s all I can think of to explain this. I wonder if there’s anything in Forester lore about this kind of thing.”

“Well, let’s get going, so we can get home and see what we can learn.” He paused in the middle of shoving leftovers back into his pack. “This couldn’t be part of the whole testing thing, could it? Some kind of ghost animal ambush thing to see how we react?” Continue reading

Meetings 2

In the Hall, Tyrel faced his father, Madoc half a step behind him to his left. Everyone else currently in Dunnval, including some of the thralls who could find excuses to do so, had arranged to be present, witnesses to the beginning of the Rite.

“Tyrel,” Taber said. “Are you prepared?”

Tyrel nodded. “I am.”

“You have until the third dawn from now to return with incontestable evidence of having spent the night in Banvard and proven yourself to those who remain there. If you succeed, you will be greeted as heir to the title and rights and responsibilities of Chief of Dunnval. If you fail but live to return, both you and your shieldmate will have until the following dawn to leave Dunnval forever. Do you understand?”

Do I have a choice? Tyrel thought dryly. “I understand.”

“You may take weapons and food for the trail, nothing else.” He gestured, and a thrall hastened forward, a leather pack in each hand. Kaveri’s striped hair was instantly recognizable, but she wore the belted open-sided tunic of a common thrall, and kitchen stains marked not only it but her golden skin. It was normal for her to pack for him and Madoc, but she’d clearly been in the kitchen longer than it took to put together three days of food; what was she doing? Continue reading

Meetings 1

Four figures faced each other, weapons at the ready, poised and alert.

Two, side by side, were young men, not long past their teens, though the comfort and ease with which they moved suggested long familiarity with their weapons. The taller and fairer bore a sharply curved bronze short sword in his right hand, and he held his left hand, covered by a heavy bronze-plated leather glove, away from his body to the side. The other, slighter of build and darker, carried a pair of katari, wide blades mounted on H-shaped hilts to position them over his knuckles; the one in his right was twice the length of the one in his left.

The pair across from them were a few years older, edging towards their prime. One was a massively built man, an axe in one hand looking hardly larger than a hatchet would in anyone else’s grasp, a thick-bladed dagger in the other. His companion, a lean-bodied woman, held a somewhat smaller axe in her right hand, a small leather-covered round wooden shield strapped to her left forearm sporting a spike in the centre.

All four were similarly dressed, in leather jerkin and trousers and boots over a quilted suede doublet, though the colouring and state of repair varied.

They circled each other warily on the hard-packed dirt, ignoring the audience watching from the rail fence surrounding them. The majority of the onlookers were, again, similarly clad, many with weapons of their own, sheathed or in hands or resting against the fence. Many shouted encouragement or taunts to the four in the ring. Continue reading

Beginnings 6

Neoma crouched in the twilight shadows, the breeze bringing her tantalizing threads of scent. Owl, deer, rabbit… no trace of Kieran’s, he was too canny to let the wind betray him in a hunt. He knew exactly where she was, though. She only needed to wait for either his howl to announce a kill, or for him to drive his chosen prey in her direction if his initial lunge failed. Their strategy meant quick hunts, minimal suffering for prey, and minimal disruption to the rest of the wildlife.

Now some five years old and fully mature, Kieran still refused to leave her, though Hickory and the rest had made it very clear to him that they would be delighted if he settled in Valeyan’s domain with a mate and started a pack. Neoma had given up on trying to encourage him to go, although she had to question how much of that was selfishness on her part, since he’d become so central to her life that she wasn’t sure how she’d existed so long here without him.

Today, though, the forest felt restless, distracting her from the clean pure simplicity of the hunt. There was something subtly wrong in the sound of the wind, the song of the birds, even the feel of the ground beneath her. She hoped this finished soon, so she could find Hickory or one of the others and find out what was going on. Decades living here had given her some sensitivity, but she would never be a part of the land the way the spirits were.

Some distance away, she heard a startled bark from Kieran, which ended in a shrill yip. Continue reading

Beginnings 5

Neoma set the last neatly-tied bundle of fresh herbs in her deep narrow basket, and reached for the basket’s lid, lying on the ground next to her.

Before she could settle it in place, it was yanked out of her hand.

Neoma sighed, watching the half-grown amarog cub dance backwards a couple of steps, powerful jaws locked onto the basket lid; his tail was up and his shoulders down, inviting her to chase him to get it back.

“Kieran, give that back!”

His only response, though she knew he understood the often-used phrase, was to growl and shake the basket lid ferociously, his tail still flagged high and waving wildly.

It was only willow, no matter how skilful she’d become at weaving it. Under that kind of abuse, it fragmented.

Kieran dropped the piece he still held, his tail drooping. He nosed at the pieces, whined, and gave her an apologetic look. Continue reading