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 approximately 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 to 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.” Continue reading
The forest-spirit joined her moments after Neoma roused at moonrise and changed to human, and she looked pleased.
“I think I found a good solution, as far as digging. Come and see?”
Neoma tied off the last wrapping around her leg, and followed her to the hole.
Hickory held up a flattish, curved, pale, vaguely triangular object. “It’s the shoulder-bone of a deer,” she explained. “I know where one died and I thought these might still be intact. They both were, so there’s one for each of us. We cleaned them up as much as we could, so they wouldn’t be so slippery to hold.” She held it out to Neoma, who took it. It was large and substantial enough for the wide end to make quite a reasonable shovel blade, and the narrower end should be a serviceable handle. Certainly far better than anything else available.
“These will work perfectly,” Neoma said. “You’re brilliant.”
Hickory shook her head. “No. I only know the forest and what’s available. So, now we can make it as deep as you wanted, and make it large enough to be comfortable.”
“We can,” Neoma agreed. Continue reading
Neoma paused to twist her hair back out of her way yet again. She was going to have to see if she could find a village or something and try to barter for a few things—like a sharp knife so she could cut her russet hair off. Having it down to her elbows, when she lacked a ready way to confine it, just wasn’t practical with the amount of heavy physical effort that she suspected lay in her immediate future. Although how she was going to trade with a village when she had nothing to wear and had no idea what the local modesty conventions were and probably wouldn’t speak the language, she had no idea—but clothing to protect her skin was also on the list of things she needed. Language wasn’t an issue with a god or his associated spirit-creatures, but she doubted they’d be any help as translators.
One thing she had learned, thanks to her endless curiosity, was the basic principles of engineering and the housing styles of any number of cultures. That meant she did have a reasonable plan for how to build herself a sturdy home able to withstand winter, but the actual construction involved more physical work than she’d done in recent memory.
Right now, she’d be happy with a way to tie her hair back. Continue reading
“You cannot run forever, traitor!” The snarl carried clearly through the midnight woods. “You may be crafty enough to escape us for the moment, but we will track you down, heretic. And you will die as you were reborn, in pain and in loss and in sorrow.”
The red wolf huddled under her bush, trembling, her russet fur thickly caked with river mud in hopes of masking scent and sight alike. If she stayed absolutely still, barely even breathing, just maybe they’d give up. Her only hope lay in flight, far and fast. Surely there was somewhere still untainted by the cult that had drawn her in. There must be lands unknown to them.
She’d been told for decades that trying to leave was sacrilegious ingratitude. She knew of no one who had ever been successful, and those who failed were executed horribly in the name of the moons. Hoping for a different outcome was, her scholarly training insisted, a sign of madness. She knew that.
Yet a new assignment meant several days travel alone with two others of her own status and their superior of the past several decades. On the road, she at least had a chance—and any chance was worth it, no matter how mad. Continue reading