Gabriella - Book One
Illyth Forest, Illyth – 8th Era, 7th Age, 22nd Cycle
She’d had the fortune to bring down a galdor, one in its prime, young and fat. Such a large beast meant that she’d not have to hunt for several days, which was doubly good for she needed to conserve her arrows. The time she’d gain not having to hunt she could utilize gathering hardwood for arrows; she’d allowed her overall supply dwindle to a dangerously insufficient quantity. To be low on weapons was careless indeed when you resided in this part of the forest.
She was engrossed in thought – not that harvesting mickla beans induced heavy cogitation – when a sudden blast of thoughts invaded her mind, broke through her mental defenses, and stung the very core of her brain. In pain, she rocked back into a sitting position, gathered her mental strength, and with one adrenaline-stimulated impetus of energy, slammed her strongest defenses up.
Silence. All she could hear was the crazed sworl of blood racing through her temples. Lightheaded and sweating, she lay back on the ground.
Some minutes later, she awakened – that she had passed out was – quite unbelievable, yet she seemed to have done so – and eased herself to her elbows slowly, raising a trembling hand to rub her temple. She observed detachedly that the basket of mickla beans she had invested the last mark accumulating had fallen and spilled. The tedious job of picking them up and placing them in her carry pouch allowed her to gather her thoughts. Whoever – she was left in retrospect with the distinct impression of a “they” – had just blasted through her defenses was a very strong sender indeed, possibly approaching her own capabilities, something that in this Land, aye, in this Era, was most remarkable. Upon further reflection, she concluded that of the hypothesized “they,” one must indubitably be very powerful to have magnified his or her own thoughts and those of whoever was with that person. Of more significance, since she didn’t maintain strong defenses here in the forest where there were no people to shield against, it was therefore possible that the unknown sender was actually closer than she had initially supposed.
Frowning, she analyzed what she remembered of the brief encounter. “They” were hard to distinguish individually. One was perhaps mediocre in ability and she thought there might be one or two with just a minuscule amount of talent, which alone established that they were human and not mira’setzu or Keltoi. The thoughts had been so disarrayed. She had sensed their confusion; it was the strongest emotion present in the entire sending. But there had been another emotion underlying the confusion that she couldn’t discern, at least not in that small sliver of time.
Despite her now pounding headache, she extended a tendril of thought tinged with inquiry – and met the same nebulous jumble of thoughts. She withdrew quickly. Nothing she sensed was coherent, it strangely seemed to be pure emotion. Confusion and urgency. Which made sense – only trauma of some kind would cause people to broadcast pure emotion (the idea of people this deep into the forest – indeed, in the Illyth at all – was incredible.) But surely they’d been trained in shielding. No live person could endure a lifetime of “listening” to other beings’ meditations, nor could they realistically expect to live perpetually isolated from the populations. Why were none of them shielded?
Compassion and curiosity both persuaded Gabriella to call for her iro and fasten her carry pouch to his saddle. Once astride, she guided him in the general direction of the people she’d sensed. She was also cautious: an arrow stood out for immediate use in her quiver while her hunting knives, primarily used for skinning and gutting as opposed to protection purposes, posed loosely in their accustomed leg sheathes of her hunting leathers, ready for use. On an impulse, she withdrew the top two and began sharpening them, a needless chore, but one that certainly couldn’t hurt, she mused as the weapons she handled with practiced ease glinted lethally.
Her hands honed the knives while her eyes darted warily about her. This part of the forest was relatively harmless – the terrain changed from sparse to dense too often to provide homes for the more menacing predators, allowing only birds, small omnivorous animals and, of course, the myriad of wickas that dominated the treetops to reside here. Nevertheless, relaxing her guard would not keep her alive.
When she opened her kyor for the last time, Gabriella found that the “they” which she sought were just over the knoll in front of her and her iro. She cocked her head, listening; she heard their voices carry over the knoll, but their language sounded odd.
As her iro rounded the top of the hill, the party’s voices ceased – they had heard her approach.
Gensen, her family’s Armsmaster, would berate her furiously were he to witness her riding blithely into this situation of which she knew nothing, with little preparation and not even the slightest thought of a plan. Of her father’s ever-growing progeny, she had not been Gensen’s most celebrated student, but neither had she been a poor one.
She had accrued enough armslore to ensure her survival in most plights and predicaments, and that was what was important. Gabriella of course realized the dangers of entering a potentially life-threatening situation; after all, this could be one of the bands of Kin’keska who occasionally sent a caravan through the Illyth Forest to the coast, though in this instance, she judged it unlikely. Just now, she was acting supremely on instinct and her instincts counseled her that whomever the people she was about to encounter were, they were possibly desolate, but ultimately harmless.
All at once Gabriella’s iro plodded patiently into view of the people she’d sensed. She quickly fathomed the situation – nothing threatening, at least not right away. Having thus determined her immediate safety, she allowed herself to relax minutely and charily examine the group of people before her.
But they were mere children! Dressed, well, obscenely, even to her flexible morals. They were dirty and closer scrutiny of each of them afforded her a further realization: They were even weaponless. How – her astonished mind struggled for a conclusive word while it contrived to conceal her shock from overtaking her facial expressions. How utterly inconceivable. Gabriella gathered enough presence of mind to signal her advancing iro to a stop.
She stared at the group of children in front of her. She counted five. Five of them. Stars and seas, five. Just as in the prophecy….
One shall herd the sheep…..
And was there not a staff in the hand of the leader? She took a deep breath and, with an effort, put the prophecy from her mind.
Gabriella shook herself. These children required some sort of assistance, she was sure, as opposed to her gawking wonderment. And they were in some sort of trouble, else how would they come to be dressed and disheveled so, and above all, weaponless? Not a belt knife in sight. Considering the predators that roamed the forest searching for fresh meat with incessant ferocity, truly it was a wonder they were alive.
“Tevneras, you appear to be in need. Have you gone astray? May I be of help to you?” she inquired with the initial politeness that social etiquette demanded.
Gabriella was met with stares from each of them. The foremost, a towering, handsome youngster shook himself as if from a daze. He shot a confident look behind him and stepped forward to represent them. She suppressed her amusement at his cockiness – she’d not been isolated so long in the forest that she had forgotten the superciliousness that youth exuded.
That what came from his mouth was incomprehensible was a further shock. It was gibberish in its totality, yet there he stood, they stood, proudly, expecting her to participate in this little game. They were far too old for games, she saw; the boys were each old enough to have apprenticed themselves out long ago. Exactly what folly was this? Had, could it be possible, that these young people had lived all of their lives secluded and had fashioned a semblance of language? She pondered this notion momentarily. Impossible. Too extraordinary. As a scholar, she enjoyed the benefits of an open mind, but she feared her imagination, well-developed, found too little stimuli here in the forest and was implementing this incident as an outlet for exercise.
“Do any of you understand what I’m saying?” she intoned carefully. Such an odd question.
The young people glanced and whispered amongst themselves anxiously. Finally, the (shepherd) lad acting as their leader stepped forward, and with a frustrated expression on his strong features, signed that they did not understand. His entire demeanor and those of his followers displayed a willingness to communicate… closer to desperation, rather than mere willingness, she observed thoughtfully.
Then she would do it. She would access – carefully, for who knew how much these people knew of kyor’rishtan – their immediate memories, so that she could ascertain their problem. It was also possible, minimally, she supposed, that a mage of indomitable puissance had completely restructured their minds somehow. But she rather doubted this, given their ages, and she also felt certain she would have sensed a mage’s presence, lowered as her mental shields were here in the forest. Sighing, she slipped into a trance state and extended her senses to encompass those of the young people’s.
Gabriella broke away with a start. Seas! The images! In their memories! She stared at them, all five of them, who, in turn, blinked at each other in shock. Seas, she swore again. These young people hadn’t had their minds altered by a mage. They had never even heard of a mage. No, nor even encountered kyor! Ever! And the images she had beheld! Were every day for them. Where and who – her mind spluttered and struggled to overcome the overwhelming things she had just seen. Just that these people spoke a different language than her own was staggering. The prophecy hinted at nothing like that. And these were mere children, and what prompted them to be traveling so, with no provisions, no equipment, no adult guardianship that she could see, and most of all, no weapons? Not even a hunting knife. Were they perhaps, refugees? Regrettably, she was unable to control the bafflement that overtook her features.
But they were in need of nourishment. If nothing else, Gabriella understood the underlying hunger that colored their broadcasted thoughts. She would, then, accompany them to her cabin and feed them.
Yet as she started to indicate this, she perceived with concern that the small group was backing away. Well, of course they were. No one had ever riffled through their thoughts and memories like so many mickla beans. She attempted with small success to comprehend that, no kyor. How stifling. She expected it was much like being deaf, or blind.
She held up a hand and gestured for them to escort her. They continued to stare at her uneasily, their ragged circle banding together more tightly for asylum.
Come, you silly children, don’t you want to eat? She made eating motions with her hands, as if trying to coax an untamed dog in the street. That arrested them. She watched in mute amazement as they conferred with each other and finally, hunger won out over caution. The leader stepped forward and gestured for Gabriella to lead the way.
She conducted them back to her humble residence, cringing the entire way as she’d evidenced their unvanquished lack of wilderness sense. Just as bad as the tenderfoots in the high societies – no, worse. The offspring of the wealthy and nobility were educated in the ways of the land by hired masters of the trade, as she herself had been.
Her followers crashing discordantly though the leaves, they finally reached the clearing in front of her cabin. Gabriella motioned for the group to wait for her and hurriedly tended to her iro in his stall, leaving enough hay and water in his trough to sustain him until she could return and curry him properly. He snorted irritably but set into his hay, dismissing her with a flick of his ears.
As she left the small stable, she felt a moment of irritation. There the small band was, milling around in the bushes surrounding her little lodge like a disturbed ant pile, completely oblivious to the threat of hunting animals. While she dwelled in a relatively harmless part of the forest, it was not unknown for a panther or woodscat to hunt in different territory now and again. And for the way these children wandered through the bushes without a thought to watching their footing, it was a wonder some small forager didn’t sink its teeth into one of their ankles for intruding upon its home.
She cleared her throat to gain their attention and motioned for them to follow her inside the cabin. As her eyes adjusted to the firelight burning in the hearth, she stifled the impulse to induce magelight to further brighten the lodge, for she felt certain they would shy away from any further display of kyor. As she began the laborious chore of lighting her wall sconces and lanterns manually, she observed the five youngsters, more young adults, she found upon further observance, than children, as she had originally believed. They were staring about her cabin in wonder, though the redheaded boy watched with avid curiosity as she lit each lamp with the wick. Gabriella sensed it was he who ignorantly sheltered the abundance of k'yor. Yet it was still incomprehensible to her that he remained oblivious of his own ability. How could one not recognize the existence of one’s own power? And still have found a way to block out the thoughts and emotions of others unconsciously? To have blocked out others’ inner contemplations and mental mumblings in such a way that the mind was kept blissfully unaware of ever having had the need to do so, thus leaving the ability sleeping dormant and anonymous, was, well, aside from utterly extraordinary, it was intriguing.
But, she reflected as she stirred the bubbling galdor stew she’d left on the fire earlier, a place where powers and talents of the mind were virtually latent and unknown was only a faction of her awe. What she’d glimpsed in their minds – their short-term memories, shocked her far more than the dormancy of kyor – conventional routines for these young people…. Carriages not drawn by iros, nor any other animals, but that traveled faster than a galdor fleeing a limba. And more of them in one place than there were in Terruth City at Spring Market time. Small, box-like devices kept track of the marks of the day, (as if one needed to know the time all day and all night long), which emitted a harsh, piercing noise intended to wake one from slumber. A device that propelled hot air from itself to dry one’s hair – ridiculous – who needed their hair dried in minutes? An item of fatuous vanity. And another box from which cacophonous music was emitted when touched – were there no minstrels, no bards? Did this strange culture she’d glimpsed train no musical talent? Such boxes appeared everywhere throughout their schedules, boxes that displayed images upon their surfaces phantasmagorically, oddly shaped boxes into which one was required to speak if it produced a certain sound (imagine being at the mercy of an inanimate object – perhaps it was a way for the rulers of the culture to keep rebellion down), large boxes that kept food cold, (this she admitted was ingenious), boxes that heated food instantly… seas! There was even a box that browned your bread for you instead of toasting it in the fire (did they use such an apparently unsophisticated thing as fire, she wondered.) And yet, through all of these miraculous devices, not one of them derived their power from a magical source. So many of them, intriguing, miraculous perhaps, but futile. Ridiculous. Frivolous. As if the entire population of that culture were children and unable to do anything by themselves without the help of such devices. Concomitantly, she wondered how might the designers of such intricate objects, who obviously possessed the intelligence to create them, not learn and develop something as simple in contrast as their own mental talents?
Absentmindedly, Gabriella ladled the stew into the crockery bowls she’d fashioned last winter. She herself would have to eat out of a pot. She certainly never required more than five or six bowls and plates living alone here in the forest, she mused as she smeared honey butter on the chunks of bread she tore off of a loaf of wheat she’d left warming by the fire.
Every pair of eyes rested on her; she sensed their uncertainty as she laid spoons down next to bowls of hot stew. But she sensed also their hunger, which prevailed over their indecision – curiosity led her to wonder how much time had elapsed since last they had eaten. Gabriella motioned for them to eat, but they glanced apprehensively at each other. Finally, the leader shrugged and swallowed a spoonful.
They finished with haste, and a second serving met the same end. She felt thankful that stew was all she’d had to serve them. Her galdor was still in her meat shed draining – if she’d tried to serve these hunger-stricken youngsters more than this vegetable beef medley, Gabriella knew their stomachs would have rejected it. Well, time enough for the galdor tomorrow; she would have them assist her with the skinning and gutting. Surely they knew how to do that – they couldn’t possibly possess a device that gutted game.
She rose and cleared their bowls away, vowing to rinse them in the water barrel in the morning. When she returned, she waited until she was sure she commanded their attention. She placed a hand on her chest and said carefully,
They whispered amongst each other for a few seconds and turned their gazes back to her one by one, unsure of her meaning. How strange, she marveled yet again that these people spoke a different language. Even as far away as her forbidden home island of Tallasesh, and as different as all of the cultures were all over the Land, man and Keltoi and mira’setzu alike still communicated with the same words, the same language. Even the legendary Children of the Sea, whom one well-traveled might glimpse once in a lifetime, were noted to speak the language of the Land. The only other language beside that which was now spoken was that of the Old Ones, the very existence of whom was confined to mere myths and tattered scrolls scattered across the Land. Gabriella quite doubted that this group of youngsters of a frivolously vain culture represented a celebrated race long departed her land.
So she decided to approach the task as if she were teaching a baby. She pointed to herself again and intoned her name.
“Andrew,” said the red-haired boy, patting his own chest.
Gabriella felt a surge of relief, pleased at his rapid comprehension. But his name was not one she’d ever heard before, traveled as she was. Ander was a popular name, but…. She had trouble trying to reproduce the name from her own tongue – her efforts sounded more like drunken versions of Ander, although he pronounced her own name with relative ease.
Having successfully butchered Andrew’s name (it was easier to think of him as Ander), she went on to ruefully do further injustice to… Fiona’s name, although Gabriella finally managed it in the end.
“Derrick,” said the leader slowly.
That was a combination of two names Gabriella knew of, Dar, and Rick, and funnily enough, the other lad’s name was Rick, so she suffered no further adversity until the girl with the intense blue eyes and cropped black curls introduced herself. Who had chopped her hair off, and why? A mourning custom, perhaps? Such dark hair was so rare, and curls even more so…. As a rule, only the Kin’keska boasted that exotic black hair, though always it was straight. Gabriella cringed inwardly at her crude misrepresentation of the girl’s name when it rolled so beautifully off the girl’s own tongue. There just were no names like Elise. But there was nothing to be done about it, save practice. And these young people were exhausted; Rick’s eyes were drooping and the others had yawned at least once recently, though the sun had only just sunk behind the horizon.
Gabriella supplied each of them with a blanket or a fur – she stifled a smile when she saw Fiona’s eyes grow large at the sight of the limba fur she’d presented her with, though the girl was too tired to contest the arrangement. Fiona must have been an extremely rich man’s whelp in her land to show such reluctance to touch a simple limba fur. Why, most people were lucky to own a fur at all, much less a limba fur.
Gabriella gestured apologetically at the lack of more comfortable accommodations. She watched as the five of them curled up in their own respective places on her floor around the snapping hearth fire and decided that they didn’t mind at all.
Gabriella left one lantern burning and retired to her own bedchamber, though it was some time before sleep greeted her. Instead she rummaged in one of her trunks and found finally the old scroll with the prophecy scribbled on it.
Of many, five step forward
Into the hands of a forgotten race
One shall herd the sheep,
One shall guard from behind,
One shall befriend the beast,
One shall see through the water,
One shall serve all others.
Gabriella paused in her reading of the prophecy and stared thoughtfully into the night. It seemed the time for her task had come.
She woke at the first ray of sun, as usual. When she finished her job of currying her iro, who snorted his disapproval at her tardiness, Gabriella fed and watered both iros and brought in her saddlebags from the previous evening, lost in thought.
After she’d eaten a few pieces of toasted bread and honey butter with some dried fruit, she grabbed some extra hunting knives and donned her skinning leathers. Only after she’d laid these out accordingly in front of her supply shed did Gabriella approach her sleeping guests, sprawled so randomly on her wooden floor. After she located the leader, DarRick, she shook him until at last he sat up with a start. His eyes wide, he stared around himself, blinking as he oriented himself. Gabriella held her fingers to her lips to quiet him, motioning him to awaken Rick while she roused Andrew. DarRick started to wake the slumbering Fiona but Gabriella beckoned him to leave the girls asleep. The girls, she mused, would have chores enough once the galdor was skinned.
She provided the boys each a bit of dried fruit and bread for their morning meal and, with a great deal of amusement, motioned what they were supposed to do in the little room at the end of cabin, watching with a sweet smile as all three boys colored.
Gabriella started the fire outside and hung her largest kettle over it while she waited for the boys to utilize the privy she’d pointed out. This morning found them a bit livelier than yesterday, talking lowly amongst themselves and laughing. Again she marveled at an entirely different language. She gestured with her hand for them to follow her. A charismatic lad, she observed, the leader played well off of the dark-haired boy, who seemed ever in pursuit of a smile. While the red-head seemed apt to remain quiet, his companions would not allow his withdrawal and he accepted their humor with a good-natured shake of the head and a grin.
Gabriella handed them each a long wooden trough from the side of the cabin; they accepted them blankly with questions in their eyes, though they followed her obediently to the creek.
When she waded in and filled her own trough demonstratively, all three boys stared at her briefly, and, to her great amusement, each sat down and began taking off his shoes, if indeed they could be called shoes.
Had she thought them simply vain? She now wished to retract that thought, for they were absurdly, outlandishly, narcissistic. Gabriella looked at these three tall, gangly boys vainly discarding their strange footwear like women and abandoned all pretenses. She laughed til tears trickled down her cheeks, for their astonished expressions served only to increase her mirth. Garbed so strangely, with such preposterous foot coverings, large and cumbersome, and they were fearful of emerging them in water? Rick smiled ruefully, although the three of them did not conceal their puzzlement at her reaction. They even rolled up their trouser legs (except for DarRick, who wore something more like smallclothes – imagine, the shepherd of the Prophecy come to save the Land in his smallclothes….). Such sissies !
They grinned sheepishly, hoisted their troughs and paused at the edge of the water as if considering whether to jump from a cliff. Rick cautiously tested the water with a bare toe and jerked it back. Finally, bracing themselves as though they were about to hang, they waded in gingerly, just deep enough to fill their troughs, and quickly waded back out again, sending her into more gales of laughter. She’d never witnessed such behavior from men, not even the effeminates – why, if her brother Cardrick had observed this display, he’d likely beat them each to a pulp for daring to humiliate the celebrated male sex. That thought sobered her and she resolved that before these foreign tevneras left to make their way in this land, she would provide them with a few suggestions, mainly concerning their apparel and their behavior. And some waterproof boots.
But Andrew was addressing her. Pointing to the creek. The word for creek? He then scooped up a handful of water and gestured with it, drinking from his cupped hands. Ah, the word for water. Gabriella supplied him with the word for water and after a few repetitions, he repeated it with relative clarity.
She led them back to where her fire was just beginning to heat the kettle, listening with intrigue to their language as her male but not so masculine guests conversed amiably behind her. Just the image of them daintily venturing into the water was enough to make her swallow a few giggles. If these young people were normal products of their society, then that society was truly a strange one.
After dumping the dearly won troughs of water into her kettle to heat, Gabriella added a few spices and herbs, and then led the boys to her supply shed.
She handed each of them a knife and threw open the door of the meat shed where the galdor hung, draining of blood from a ceiling hook.
If the knives themselves didn’t awe these silly boys properly, reflected Gabriella with no small amount of irritation, the sight of the dead galdor certainly accomplished the task well enough. She observed plainly from their wide eyes, pale faces, and open mouths that much of the undertaking would fall to her after all. Did these young people know how to do anything?