Well aware was Gabriella that the sultry afternoon humidity of the Illyth could elicit snarls of temper from even the most placid and stable of characters, yet this discord betwixt DarRick and Elise was bordering upon intolerable. They had delivered themselves into her care with this antipathy well in place and they were attempting very little in way of mitigation, outside of ignoring each other. She’d paired them together upon occasion, endeavoring to alleviate the situation via desensitization, but it served only to strengthen their resolve. Such as this afternoon.
Gabriella had ushered them all out on a hunting expedition to the west of the creek, more of a lesson in the training of woodland skill than for necessity of meat, and returned home with four windits. Expediency dictated that she implement a system. Two would skin the animals, one would prepare the meal under her direction, and two cleaned up after the meal. This afternoon, DarRick, whom she had taken to calling Dar, and Elise were assigned to skin the windits.
Returning from the creek with water for the water barrel, Andrew shook his head with a snort of derision. “They’re at it again.”
“Now what?” asked Fiona.
“Proper windit-skinning procedure.”
By the time Gabriella and the rest of the group had traipsed back to the stream, the two were shouting at each other, lapsing in and out of English.
“You sanctimonious idiot! You think you are so perfect that no one knows more than you do!” screamed the girl in outrage.
“You’re the one who keeps saying that, not me!” he yelled back at her.
“Jeez, they’ve got knives,” whispered Rick on Gabriella’s left.
The other young people looked at her with growing alarm. Rick started to move forward but Gabriella restricted him behind an arm.
“Let them yell it out, get the hostility out,” she directed lowly with a shake of her head.
“But, won’t they – they might –”
“No. They won’t harm each other.” Gabriella responded firmly. This she knew undoubtedly. Neither Elise nor DarRick were violent people, nor were any of them, and they certainly would not resort to using blades upon each other. At least something of virtue came of the world from which these strange children hailed.
“You are so!” Elise was shouting. “All I did was tell you how to skin the belly, but no! You can’t be wrong! You can’t be criticized! You’re too perfect! Hello, wake up call! Reality check!”
“You’re so full of it! And who died and put you in charge, anyway? You’ve skinned a few animals and now you’re an expert? At least I do it the way I was taught!”
“Who taught you? Kermit the Frog?” Elise jeered.
“That’s it. I’m sick of arguing with someone who acts like they’re eight.” Dar started to turn away. “Why don’t you go play,” he sneered.
Elise, much to everyone’s surprise, drew her arm back and punched Dar swiftly and squarely in the jaw, leaving Dar stunned and rubbing his jaw, while Elise growled lowly, “If you were any older than eight mentally, you would never have said that.” Snatching the knife she’d left on the rock, her russet dress billowing around her, she marched briskly away through the tall grass in the direction of the creek, her chin in the air.
Gabriella sought to school her expression, for laughter had surged up at the tiny girl screaming at the giant of a boy, actually punching him with a man’s swing instead of delicately slapping him with an open palm and flouncing off daintily as most women who had the courage at all to strike out would have done.
Dar, whose countenance strongly resembled that of a surprised puppy, finally acknowledged his onlookers.
“Did you see that? Did you? She hit me,” he pointed after her, incredulity infusing his tone.
“Nice right hook,” Andrew remarked dryly.
“I don’t believe her!” Dar said hotly, sauntering toward the skinned windits on the tree trunk.
Rick yawned and started ticking off on his fingers. “Boy gets girl, boy ticks girl off, girl kicks crap out of boy....”
“Boy tells girl to go to hell!” Dar finished crossly.
Gabriella sighed. The Sisters had spun the personalities of Dar and Elise from diametrically opposite skeins. Dar was very organized, thought out carefully anything he said or did, was quite charismatic and most often manifested a genial good cheer, attracting the attention of his peers to him as moths to blazes. He attended to everything methodically and pragmatically; he folded his blankets neatly each morn, practiced his swordplay precisely how she taught him, sliced and skinned game exactly as shown, even left his strange, bulky shoes neatly by the door in the evenings after first stamping the soil from them outside. Very structured, he seldom deviated from routine or normality. She admired his conviction and determination, of which Dar had endless volumes, as well as courage and a compelling sense of right and wrong.
Elise. Well, Gabriella thought, now relaxing on the cushions in front of the hearth fire, admit it. She concealed an amused smile in her mug of cider. Elise is just like you when you were her age. Age and experience had lent Gabriella much of wisdom, but ever did the rudiments lurk, for they heralded their omnipresence at the least desirous times, it seemed. Elise was untamed, spontaneous. A free spirit, quite in contrast to DarRick. While Elise was not disorderly, neither did she fold her blankets with the precision of an army general or arrange her shoes just so. And yet she was quite a perfectionist. When she endeavored upon an undertaking, she not only resolved to complete it but stubbornly persisted until she perfected it. Unlike DarRick, she was not readily comfortable among a variety of people, but an assortment of those whom she trusted and was acquainted with found Elise fairly outgoing. Resourceful and innovative, she never hesitated to try something new, why, it was Elise who suggested using the wirda root to soak with the rest of the galdor, thereby lending a distinctive flavor apart from the spices already present. She learned quickly but her temper flared with the same alacrity.
Gabriella sensed a discontent in Elise, though she masked it well. Just the fact that the girl seemed so comfortable here in what was so incontrovertibly a foreign milieu bespoke a great deal, Gabriella mused as she traced an absent fingertip around the rim of her mug. She sighed and tipped her mug back, draining it with a last swallow.
But there would be time enough to mend old wounds in the future. At present, their obduracy demanded resolution. Of their Land, Gabriella understood little, and even less of how they arrived here, but it seemed they were unable to return home. If this was true, then their only alternative was to absorb the ways of this Land (strange to think of another Land besides her own), and that meant ability to coexist together and work together. To cooperate. If these children had been unwittingly traversing hostile territory and had broken out in dispute, a sentry would have shot them or sliced their throats with such speed a second thought would never have passed through their minds. As of now, skinning windits remained impossible without an outbreak of temper.
The door opened and closed quietly. That would be Elise returning finally. Fiona had suggested someone search for Elise after the girl was still missing past dinner, but Gabriella thought not. Some people, she had explained, needed time to calm down, put events in perspective. Gabriella did not add that she knew this because she herself was like that.
She heard a thump in the kitchen. Reluctant to forsake her warm spot by the fire, Gabriella leaned her head around the corner of the kitchen and blinked at the dead sienda bird on the table. Her eyebrows raised in surprise as she questioned Elise.
“You shot this?”
The girl nodded solemnly, wiping the bird’s blood from her hands on a kitchen linen. “I wasn’t sure how to pluck it, so I left it alone.” The girl’s voice shook some, and Gabriella surmised that this was the first time Elise had shot anything on her own. Judging from the girl’s reddened eyes and the location of the wound on the dead bird, it had not died immediately.
Gabriella nodded and handed Elise a plate of dinner kept warm by the kitchen fire.
So she is not an idle thinker, but a busy one. Well, there would be time enough to think again on the morrow, Gabriella thought, a small anticipatory grin playing around her lips as she mulled over her impending task for the evening.
“What?” DarRick was hardly able to splutter the word, such was his outrage.
“I don’t think so,” Elise spun firmly on her heel in the direction of the door.
Gabriella rattled the chain she’d spent most of last night in her workroom enchanting and let it clank emphatically back on the table.
“You don’t need to think so. You need only to do so,” she responded coldly.
“There is no way I’m going to get chained up to her.” DarRick had spoken in his native language, but Gabriella had no trouble following his sentiment, particularly when he’d thrust an accusatory finger toward the girl to emphasize his speech.
“You will do this or you will leave now and never return,” Gabriella told him.
The both of them considered that, weighing their options. Finally sagacity counseled them both to speak not a word, though their feelings were plain by their tempestuous scowls. Neither wanting to face that prospect, Gabriella finally strode off to the small stable, while they sullenly trudged along behind her. She only had the two iros, so the two would have to ride together on the larger beast.
As her biddable iro plodded through the leaves, she recalled with a measure of muted amusement her father’s armsmaster Gensen. A small weathered man, rough, harsh, but rarely unfair. This was a punishment he was fond of prescribing whenever he had young ones who could not reconcile their difficulties and relinquish their enmity. She and her brother Cardrick had had the same dreaded punishment bestowed upon them and the recollections she summoned up were of total misery. And yet, those who were sent off in chains, herself and her brother included, learned if nothing else, the importance of working together.
Eventually she spoke. “I know not the customs of your land. They are not important. And you both need to realize that. Whatever your land observed as customary for behavior is highly unlikely to be conventional here. You have been here long enough to know that the dangers here are quite real and still you choose to disregard them. But outside of this forest, you will face human dangers as well. A Kin’keska or a thief would just as soon cut your throat before he steals your purse as after, just to cease your squabbling. If you can’t learn that there is a time and a place for disagreements and to settle your disputes as quickly and as peaceably as possible, then you can take your knives and cut your own throats now so that you may at least die by your own hand and choice.”
Gabriella knew she was perhaps being rough on these Outlanders, but it was truly necessary if they planned to make a home and a life for themselves in this Land, much less fulfill a prophecy.
Gabriella studied them from the corner of her eye. There they rode resentfully, astride the same iro and yet trying not to touch each other at all in their recalcitrance.
“I am taking you to a far part of the forest which I know to be free of predators for the most part. But yet I advise that you be on your guard, as always. I have enchanted that area of the forest so that you will not recognize it. And you need not attempt to follow this trail back for there will be none to follow.” Here Gabriella paused, unsure of what to say next, striving to recall what old Gensen had belted out at her and Cardrick. It had been something like,
“Ye want to squabble like limba bitches fighting over bloody meat? Now’ll be yer time t’ do it. Either ye fight and screech like a birthin’ wench an’ bring down on ye ever’ flesh eatin’ beast in ten leagues or ye shut yer fool ravin’ mouths and use the minds yer fathers gave ye and git yerselves home.” Gensen had fixed a beady, unsympathetic brown eye upon them.
His punishments had often been severe, but always well deserved. Yet none of this could be said to these soft Outlanders. She rolled her eyes and shook her head wryly at the interest now wrinkling their brows as they each leaned slightly over the saddle to eye the ground, searching for evidence of the hoof prints that the iros were not making, thanks to her substantial efforts of last night, which she felt exacting their toll from her. She would have to return home quickly before she fell into exhaustion upon her iro.
Her clenched jaw evinced the misgivings Gabriella experienced over this - it was comparably akin to leaving mere babes in the forest, but there was only one way to learn a lesson best.
After they reached the appointed clearing, Gabriella slid down from her saddle and patted her iro’s neck in appreciation as she waited for her young charges to dismount.
“I leave you with a bow, a full quiver of arrows, and a sword. You have a fur and two blankets for sleeping, tinderwood, two waterskins, and fire powder.
“Do not waste your time trying to sever the chain. It is of kyor’rashni origin and will lessen in strength only when you work with each other instead of against each other.”
“Like it’s going to know whether we’re fighting or –” Elise snapped.
“Truly, say more in that tone of voice and indeed, it may never come off,” returned Gabriella evenly. While she knew naught of the girl’s strange language, tone and body language was a universal language all its own and needed no deciphering, and tired as Gabriella was, she would brook no rebellion.
Elise eyed Gabriella, her brilliant, blue-eyed glare smoldering, but finally looked away in reluctant compliance, her lips a tight line.
Dar, however, was not as tractable.
“So if a hunting animal gets a whiff of us, that’s it, he just eats us? It’s not like we can defend ourselves. How am I supposed to swing a sword without lopping her stupid head off?” he demanded indignantly, shaking the chain attached to his sword wrist.
“That is a dilemma you will have to resolve yourselves. Had you been able to reconcile your other problems, you would not be here now,” Gabriella responded sternly. Stars above, were she and her siblings so obstinate at this age?
“I submit to you only this advice: continue your adversarial child play, you likely will never find your way home. Learn to swallow your pride and find a way to coexist peaceably and the path home will be as obvious as though it were laden with gold.
“Last I will leave you with two adages we have: Disagree agreeably, and A dose too large of pride is lethal. Think you on them.”
Gabriella dropped the pack containing their supplies on the ground, took the lead of the second iro, and left the two discordant young people standing in the grass in glowering incredulity.
“So they’re out there in the middle of nowhere chained to each other. Wouldn’t you love to peek in on that!” laughed Rick, leaning his wooden chair back on two legs and fastening his fingers behind his head.
“But they’re out there in a place they’ve never been to. How are they supposed to find their way back?” worried Fiona.
“That is just the point. They have been there before, ’tis the clearing where we shot the windits that got them into the predicament initially.”
Before Fiona could protest again, Gabriella held up her fingers to silence her and continued. “I have placed a shift-spell on the area so that they will not recognize it. There are no signs of footprints or trails to lead them back here. They are completely in charge of the situation. If their discordant behavior persists, the region will maintain its foreign veneer, ever shifting, and the chain itself will not only become stronger but will lessen in length, losing links, drawing them closer. Eventually, they will comprehend the nature of the chain. The more respect they show to each other, the sooner they will find their way home.”
She watched, bemused, as the nature of the chain sank in among the remainder of her Outlanders.
“What if they get into trouble?” asked Andrew.
“They won’t. I will be watching them.” Gabriella replied.
Blank countenances met this disclosure, so, sighing, she rose and retrieved her scrying bowl.
“Fetch a jug full of water,” she commanded Rick.
When he returned, she ladled water into the granite bowl and waited impatiently, as she had on countless occasions, for the water to calm.
Gabriella, in turn, calmed her own body, drew in deep, slow breaths, willing her heart to slow to normal pace. She then lowered her mental barricades and concentrated on the water in the bowl, projected her mental self into the water, focused into the reflection of self and bowl….
Ah, the forest whirled into shapes and earthy colors, blending together, and... there were her two lost sheep, quarrelsome, as usual. She smiled slightly and shook her head. They would learn.
“Do you... you don’t... do you see them in there?” Rick gaped and leaned over the table.
“Yes. Elise and DarRick are fine. They are talking,” Gabriella answered shortly.
Andrew snickered above her shoulder. “Looks to me like they’re yelling.”
Gabriella raised her eyes slowly to Andrew, letting the image in the bowl dissolve. Rick and Fiona were also staring at Andrew.
“You saw the image?” Gabriella questioned, carefully masking her wonder.
Puzzlement drawing his rusty brows downward, Andrew eyeballed each of his peers. “Well, yes, didn’t everyone? It was right there.... Weren’t we supposed to see it?” he asked, perplexed.
The words of the prophecy pealed through her mind like a bell.
One shall see through the water
The equanimity she assumed belied her incredulity. He was certainly not too young to exhibit kyor’rishtan, at least not in this Land. She guessed that the boy was old enough to have sent his mother fourteen or fifteen Birthing Day baskets. But he was an Outlander, indigenous to a world where mental powers did not exist, not kyor’rishtan, nay, nor, more importantly, kyor’rashni - magic. Some were greatly skilled in kyor’rashni, yet scarcely awake with kyor’rishtan; others proved the inverse. Still others were equally gifted in both kyors. But one so young as this fiery-haired lad to manifest so strong a propensity for kyor’rashni, which usually did not reveal itself until one’s seventeenth or eighteenth Cycle, and after the transition between two lands contrary in nature.... So young, and wholly untrained, yet observing in her bowl all such as she herself witnessed... stars in the sky, that was incredible power!