Return 11 pt2

(chapter continued from previous post)

“That is what the other earthborn fear. It is not so much for their own existence. When an earthborn dies, the land dies, and all that grows on it. All life depends on them. There are many, many earthborn, but the loss of one is a loss to all life.”

Kieran growled, hackles rising.

“Kieran says fight,” Tyrel said, probably unnecessarily. “And I’m with him. We don’t let them get away with this. They crawl out of Ilek empty-handed or, better yet, they don’t leave alive. If worst comes to worst, the rest of you go on, and Madoc and I start picking them off one at a time from the shadows every time they stick their noses out their doors.”

Madoc’s tufted ears perked forward, and he sat up straighter, clearly quite willing.

“You can only cover one or two doorways,” Kaveri pointed out. “Neither of you flies, or can run between watchers nearly as fast as Cissa, or climbs as well as me, or can get into odd places like Mirren. And I dare you to try to get Kieran to go anywhere with this particular prey in reach. ‘Worst comes to worst’ means we find a way to make sure Iole and Phaidra and Ander and our gear are safe somewhere, and then we all go after them.”

“There are approaches other than outright combat,” Narcissa said, her tone gently chiding. “And it would make us little better than them if we were to simply kill indiscriminately. One does not blame the victim of a crime, even if the victim lashes out in fear.” Continue reading

Return 11 pt1

With the rising of the sun, the campsite roused back to full activity. The rest of Ilek had no need to know that sleeping had largely been done in the span between moonset and dawn, with Lysandra keeping watch alone, Madoc back in fur drowsing between circuits of the lot. Kaveri, who had slept earlier, had gone out during that time and returned around the time they rose, a basket on her hip filled with, well, whatever she’d found.

The donkeys and Ander had to be fed and watered and their stable cleaned—Kaveri brought them out, with Kieran’s help, to let them stretch for a moment while Tyrel wielded the shovel, since there was little activity around them.

There was breakfast to see to, even Lysandra slipping past the point of needing nothing at all, though no one needed as much as a human would. The cats and Kieran, in lieu of sharing the soup, continued to snap up mice whenever the opportunity presented itself, with Mirren often giving her extras to Kieran; Tyrel had absently eaten three or four after returning, as he helped Mirren clear the cart of small intruders before changing back.

The lemur delicately lapped up a small dish of soup, and nibbled on whatever Kaveri handed it from her scavenging trip. Obviously, no matter how much it liked fruit, it wasn’t fussy.

A third Enodian woman, this one in a saffron Enodian-style dress much less striking than the dancer’s costume they’d last seen her in, joined them at the fire. Her midnight hair lay loose down her back, uncovered; indigo and metallic-gold serpent tattoos coiled around her lower arms, but she wore no visible jewellery save two sets of gold rings in her ears. She settled herself next to Lysandra uninvited.

The lemur let out a small shriek of alarm and ran for the stable. Kieran and the cats approached immediately, however. Aithre laid an elegantly-manicured hand on Kieran’s head affectionately. Continue reading

Return 10

Moonrise came without any further word from the self-titled great lady.

Tyrel unfastened the belt he always wore hidden under his shirt, the one that held three throwing knives and a small dagger horizontally at his lower back where he could reach them, and left it on the cart.

“Try not to let Cissa do anything reckless if this woman suddenly sends a caravan of food or something,” he said to Madoc, with a sigh.

Madoc nodded, pawing his own sheathed sica out of the box with one enormous furry mitt before Tyrel could bury it.

“You’re planning to change?” Tyrel untangled Madoc’s clawed glove from the belt of his own heavier katar and set it on the cart next to Madoc’s belt. At least the ring-tailed grey creature, which Narcissa thought was called a lemur, was too terrified of Madoc to be over here poking those long fingers into the box of shiny and very sharp weapons.

It had crept out of the stable-tent that afternoon and had mostly been watching Kaveri and eating any scraps she fed it, but Lysandra had been right: it was endlessly curious, wanted to handle everything, and was almost certainly at least as capable of havoc as a raccoon if not watched closely. Narcissa’s patients paid little attention beyond mild curiosity, no more than they showed towards the rest of the menagerie. It had, in fact, stolen Kaveri’s large pale green and grey scarf as the light began to drop, and Lysandra’s deep rose veil when she unpinned it for the evening, and dragged both under the wagon. The last he’d seen it had curled itself into a compact motionless ball, so wrapped up in its nest that it was invisible. Both women had sighed and let it be.

Another nod from Madoc.

“What about the mice?”

Madoc shrugged, the motion rippling along the length of his body. Continue reading

Return 9 pt2

(chapter continued from previous post)

Outside, Tyrel did one more cursory walk around the edges of the campsite proper, then at Kaveri’s request fetched another pail of water. He didn’t mind washing a few dishes, which mostly was the mugs they were serving soup in. Narcissa insisted that they be well-cleaned with a soap that she provided—she said it was known in Enodia that sharing vessels for food or drink with the ill, even before symptoms began, could lead to falling ill in turn, and the people of Ilek would be vulnerable.

Lysandra, before going back into Narcissa’s tent, stopped by the cart. Tyrel saw her lean over the rails keeping everything in place, and reach out to touch Kieran, getting his attention. He was too far away to hear anything she said, and the contents of the cart mostly blocked his view of Kieran’s response. He wondered what that was about. Just checking on Kieran’s wellbeing, possibly. That would be like Lysandra. Whatever it was, it didn’t take long, after which she vanished past the curtain-flap of the tent.

While Tyrel was still washing dishes, Narcissa and Lysandra both joined them at the fire. In public and in character, Narcissa couldn’t offer to help, but Tyrel doubted he’d have allowed it anyway—she looked exhausted, though not a hair was out of place and her posture remained perfect. Kaveri half-filled a pair of clean mugs with soup and handed each of their princesses one.

“Thank you.” Narcissa took a sip, held it in her mouth for a moment, then swallowed before raising her eyes to Kaveri’s. “There are some… unusual flavours in this.”

“You’ll be happier if you don’t ask,” Tyrel muttered.

Kaveri just smiled. “I promise, it’s absolutely safe. It should even offer some good nutrition for the locals. But ‘Rel’s speaking from experience: anything I can invent on thin resources, civilized people would probably prefer not thinking about too closely. There are always things you overlook.”

“Noted, and I will not ask. At least not today. I trust you.” Narcissa took another sip, her gaze drawn to the fire, her expression turning inward. Lysandra laid her free hand over her sister’s, wordless comfort. Continue reading

Return 9 pt1

Lysandra emerged from Narcissa’s tent, escorting a woman with a child of perhaps six or seven years clinging to her hand.

“Follow what my lady told you precisely,” Tyrel heard her saying, her voice pitched to the greatest possible reassurance and calm. “And it will heal cleanly. No, she accepts no payment, use it for food instead. Come with me, and we’ll get your son a cup of soup, at least.”

That had happened over and over—part of Narcissa’s prescription, for children especially, included at least a small helping of Kaveri’s soup.

For Tyrel, the campfire offered a spot to sit for a moment before walking another circuit around the lot.

Kaveri, however, had been by the fire all day, steadily slicing or grinding or otherwise processing ingredients she then added to the pot of soup. Tyrel had no idea where she’d found anything she was using. He didn’t recognize it from the supplies on the cart, but he’d have thought the hungry locals would have left nothing edible for miles in any direction. She’d gone out for something like three or four hours in the very early dawn, and returned with… well, he assumed it was all safe to eat and nutritious. He’d given up many years ago on questioning Kaveri’s foraging skills, and once it had all been in the pot for a while, it would probably be hard to tell what any individual component had been.

Currently, she was dicing something that looked like pale stringy roots into very small bits, but she smiled at mother and son as they approached.

Lysandra picked up one of the sturdy pottery mugs, filled it from the soup pot using the copper ladle hanging to one side, and handed the cup to the child. “Drink it slowly,” she said gently. “It’s hot, and if you drink it too quickly, you might throw up. It will do you more good if it stays in you. Here, you need this too.” She filled a second mug and pressed it into the mother’s hands. “You can both sit down if you like.”

Wearily, mother and son took her up on it. Continue reading