Neoma lurked in the forest between Hickory and Chipmunk, watching the human village in the valley below them. From here, though they could see little detail, they had a reasonable view of the cluster of a score or so buildings that made up the core of the village. The communal pens that held livestock were on the far side; most of the animals were outside their shelters, enjoying the end of the cold snap and the break in the spring rains. Cultivated land spread out on all sides in small to medium patches, some rectangular, some odder shapes worked into the natural contours of the land.
Irregularly, over the several decades Neoma had lived here, Valeyan or the forest-spirits had turned to her as an intermediary with the villagers; sometimes, she visited the marketplace to sell what she could provide—herbs for medicine or cooking or dyes from odd parts of the deep forest were the most popular—and buy what she couldn’t make for herself.
That meant that she had some idea of the layout of the village, which would be helpful come moonrise.
She kept her attention on human comings and goings, rather than on the glorious streaks of red and rose and glowing gold and copper in the western sky beyond the village.
“It won’t be in one of the livestock barns,” Neoma said, keeping her voice low—her companions would be able to hear her. “That would panic the livestock. My guess is that they’ll have it in someone’s outbuilding, a storage shed or something of the kind.”
Vetch and Maple had seen a quartet of humans, with six powerful-looking dogs dragging a kind of sled, approach the village from the direction of a neighbouring earth-lord’s domain. On the sled had been a covered cage, and from inside they’d heard the terrified whimpering of a wolf cub. They’d immediately gone looking for help.
Whatever might be permissible in other domains, Valeyan would not tolerate wild creatures being caged. Once Talir rose, Neoma intended to find that cub and rescue it, whether the humans who had imprisoned it consented or not.
But what was happening? There was much more activity than normal, an argument, she thought—voices were rising, carried by the breeze, though the words were indistinct.
Maple eased himself silently into the space between her and Chipmunk—Neoma started slightly, unable to grow entirely accustomed to her inability to hear or smell the forest-spirits coming. As naked as all his kind, his grey-brown skin blended with the gathering shadows, as he tossed back a hip-length lock of deep green hair impatiently. Continue reading