Orb and Arrow, Book I: Exploration

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*** 6 ***

The morning included more lessons even as she did the chores he assigned. They shouted a hello at the farmhouse they passed and were greeted in turn. Even on the road, there were more lessons. Lunch gave her brief respite with her bow after she ‘saw’ several cwel in a field and went off to hunt. The fresh meat made a fine change from trail rations and dried fruit.

Since healing was her greatest skill, he asked about her lessons and was surprised to discover that she was well taught in the healing of others but had neglected spells for self-healing.

“Are you daft,” he almost shouted after he found her deficient. “You expected to go one day into the Wild with a Level two skill in Self-Healing!!

She stared then lowered her head, shamefaced and sputtered nonsense in answer. After that, he took pains to jostle her, pushing her off the cart so that she fell painfully. Her skill improved quickly as a result but lessons slowed their travel. Still, headaches disappeared, as did riding sores and aches from riding on the cart or being pushed from in.

Although she tried to keep alert for more ‘lessons’ in healing, he caught her unaware as she was climbing into the cart after a stop to water the horses. Unbalanced, she fell against a rock at the side of the road and was sickened to hear a ‘snap’ in her right arm.

Elden was at her side at once as she cradled her arm and looked at him wordlessly. “Together then,” he said, “you have the spell, I’ll guide it.” Feeling slightly nauseous, she cast a spell against the pain, and began the arcane words of healing, matched by the slightly different spell he spoke almost silently. She would feel him guide her to the ends of the bones and the monitor her drawing of the two ends of the bones together sealing small tears in the muscles as she went. Even with his guidance the repair took some time, and he insisted she eat and drink before they continued on the road. He did the same. “You know that casting takes strength and not just from mana; casting and the healing itself draw from the body as well.” She nodded and ate, smiling to herself. She had said much the same to him when they first met. They rested a while then she tested her fingers, made a fist and bent her wrist. Relaxing, she smiled.

As if the lesson had been more significant than she realized, Brillar to heal herself without even thinking. Despite the bruisings, the days were pleasant and the further lessons became easier. He might not have named himself a master in the Life arts but Elden knew healing spells very well. Asked about it he replied grimly, “Wars are good teachers. I had plenty of practice in healing myself in my time over the sea. Neither Harrolen nor I had trained much in healing others. We were young and centered on ourselves. Men who could have been saved died around us, something that never seemed to bother Harrolen but which affected me deeply. He seemed to have no trouble sleeping while I sometimes needed more than wine to be at ease and sleep. I slowly grew to dislike the man I thought of as a true friend and wondered why I left the Brotherhood with so little teaching. It was years before I returned to the House for training, but then I made sure I that some of that training was in Life magic from a Sister who stayed with us for a while to train in Creature spells.”

There was traffic on the road, a few other carts laden with goods, flocks of sheep and small herds of cows being moved from one pasture to another. Friendly greetings came from rough farmers and their lads and the dogs that sometimes accompanied the flocks gave friendly barks as they worked. Their slow pace meant that even Hob was easily used and well rested.

One afternoon, there was a deep rumble of thunder that brought a nicker from Jez. Looking behind them, they could see that the sky had darkened there while the sky was blue ahead.

“We’ll need shelter,” said Elden, clucking at Hob to move faster. “What do you see ahead?”

She stretched ahead as far as her sight would allow. “Plowed fields, nothing more,” she replied.

“Far-sight will need more work, then,” he replied and the thunder came louder from behind them. “There’s a farmstead down the glen, perhaps two miles,” he slapped the reins and Hob moved off at a trot.

Trot or no, the rain caught them before they reached the farmhouse. A barking dog greeted them and Elden jumped from the cart as the door to the home opened. The man who stepped out was of medium height and stocky, but his hair and beard were white and he leaned on a crutch. “Daughter,” he shouted, “where is that grandson of mine? We’ll need help here.”

A lad of about thirteen came running around the side of the house. “I saw them, gran’,” he said, “the cows are fenced and the horse is in the barn.” The boy was out of breath and his grandfather patted him on the shoulder, “Good lad to have all that done before the storm. Now have we room in the barn for three more and a cart?”

The boy grinned, knowing the answer as his mother came into the room wiping her hands on an apron. “Who is that out there in the rain?” she asked. The rain was now beating down hard and a flash of lightening had shown her a hunched figure on the cart. “Come in,” she shouted above the wind and thunder, “come in before you drown.”

Brillar hopped down and did as she was asked, shivering from the rain. “You stand by the fire, while they tend to the animals,” the woman told her. Behind her, the door closed as her son and Elden headed for the barn. Her father stayed behind with them, pointing at his foot, “I’m not much good in all this, not right now,” he said ruefully.

A glance told Brillar all she needed. “It’s broken then?” The foot was heavily wrapped in torn strips of cloth.

“We’ve a nasty bull likes a bit of play, he stepped down hard” said the man, sitting heavily on a chair. Brillar smiled to herself seeing a way to repay them for the kindness already shown.

“I have some skill in healing,” she said. “If you could raise the foot on a stool so I can examine it?”

A bit surprised, the woman went to the kitchen, returning with a footstool. Brillar raised the foot gently. “Do you have a cup of hot water for my herbs? What I need to do may be painful for…” she turned to the man.

“Moreg,” he said settling back.

“For Moreg,” she smiled and began to open the foldbox. There was a slam at the rear of the house and the boy came in.

“Merchant Elden said he would stay a moment with the horses, then come in…what is that?” The glow from the foldbox had stopped him short.

“Rob, our guest is a healer. She carries her medicines in this. Now sit and try to be still as she works,” said his grandfather.

A cup of hot water arrived from the kitchen and Brillar tossed some herbs in it, speaking quietly over the cup.

“Is that a spell? Are you a mage?” started from Rob, but a look from his grandfather stopped him.

Brillar smiled. “Yes, that is a spell and I am accounted a mage in some skills as well as a healer,” she indulged the boy giving his grandfather the cup.

“Drink it all,” she directed him, “it will taste sweet.” Moreg was quick to comply. She heard the rear door again and Elden came in, drenched to the skin, stopping at what he saw. Brillar motioned him to the fire to dry.

Looking at Moreg, she saw that his eyelids were half-closed. What she had given him was not for pain but for rest. She began to unwind the bindings on his foot, using spells for the pain and he barely stirred.

Relaxing, she looked deep into the bruised and swollen foot, finding three small broken bones. Bending closer, she moved her hand over the breaks murmuring spells, drawing them together. Moreg winced then settled. Feeling the muscles and tendons, she mended their twists. Moreg twitched and shook a bit then relaxed. Putting her hands on either side of the foot, concentrating, Brillar drew dark blood from the foot easing the swelling. The blood fell on the bindings which she tossed into the fire.

Sitting back, she found that Rob’s mother had come in while she was working and smiled at the woman’s astonished look. “He’ll have to keep off that foot for two more days and be well fed.” The woman blinked and nodded. “I’ll give you more herbs for him to aid the healing but his foot will be sore. If you have more cloth?” The woman nodded again, went to the kitchen and returned with cloth strips. “The binding will remind him not to put his foot down,” Brillar smiled as she worked.

Outside the storm raged, but Brillar had taken little notice. Now she started at the crack of thunder and looked at Elden.

“The animals are tended but we had best sleep with them for their comfort,” he said as she handed herbs to Rob’s mother and closed the foldbox.

“You must have something to eat with us first, something to warm you.” She hustled them into the kitchen away from her sleeping father. “I am Lahna. I have a pot on the fire.” She said little else but gave them bowls and spoons then cups of cider, “From our own press,” Rob told them and was hushed. Lahna was evidently unused to company, especially not a healer suddenly appearing when they needed one.

After they thanked Lahna for the meal, Brillar and Elden took a lantern and dashed across the mud at the rear yard of the house to the barn where happy nickers came from their animals. The rain was coming down in torrents and thunder was loud overhead. They could hear the cows, restive in the storm, outside in an enclosure. Brillar reached out to the horses, soothing them, then to the cows quieting them as well. Seeing her concentration, Elden nodded.

“You have some skill with animals then,” he smiled at her. While she worked, he had piled straw on the barn floor covering it with saddle blankets he had found in the barn. She opened her foldbox again and took out dry blankets.

“I was surprised to see you open that,” he pointed to the foldbox, “in front of the family.”

“Necessary,” she shrugged. “It seemed to me that the boy and grandfather were the only men in the house. Without proper healing, Moreg would have taken months to mend or pushed himself and never mended. It seemed the only thing to do. I think that a coin or two, properly placed, will keep them from talking too much about this night. And they can use the coins.”

There was a sudden loud crash of thunder, making her jump, but there was no complaint from horses or cows.

“Perhaps you should cast a soothing spell on yourself?”

Brillar glared at him and spread her blanket. They were settled down and had extinguished the lantern when she said into the darkness, “When I was a child, there was a huge storm and a tree crashed down on the house. If I’d been in my bed, I would have been killed, but I’d crept downstairs to find a treat in the kitchen. When I ran back up the stairs, my parents were screaming my name in the ruin of my room. They had never been so glad to find me out of bed.”

She rolled in her blanket, shut her ears and slept.

The rain stopped during the night and Rob came out to collect them, “Mother says you have to have breakfast with us before you set off.” As they were gathering their blankets, he went on, “Gran’ is much better this morning and says his foot feels almost like new. Did you hear the storm? And the cows were so quiet; they’re never quiet during a storm, but they hardly made a sound last night.”

He kept up the chatter as they crossed the farmyard but ceased when his mother called to him. “I hope he hasn’t been a bother. There are eggs for your breakfast and fresh bread.” She bustled about the kitchen while they ate. Moreg came in leaning on his grandson.

“My lady healer, I cannot thank you enough,” he began, “I had a thought that I would never walk proper again.”

Brillar looked at him sternly. “Have you heard my instructions? No weight on that foot for two days.”

“S’all right, gran’, I can care for the cows until you’re mended.” The boy sat down and made a hasty breakfast, “And I am off now, and will see to all while you sit.”

Everyone smiled after him as he rushed from the kitchen. “He’s a good lad, a good lad,” said his grandsire.

Elden stood. “We have to be on our way, many thanks to you for sheltering us from the storm.” Both adults asked them to stay one more day because the track was muddy and their way would be slow but, “My uncle has that look in his eye,” Brillar replied, “so we must be off.”

Elden, with Rob’s assistance, had Hob in hitched to the cart in quick order and he gave the boy a copper for his help. Before leaving the kitchen, Brillar put a silver coin on the shelf with Moreg’s herbs where it would be found then joined Elden in the cart. They left with happy waves from the farm family.

“It seems to me,” she said thoughtfully, “that Hob could have been hitched more quickly without the boy’s help.”

“It seems to me,” he replied, “that my apprentice will soon run out of coins if she leaves them behind so often.”

The day went slowly and they had only gone on for two hours when they began to wish they had stayed at the farm. Hob fought with the mud and they took to riding and leading him or leaning on the wheel and pushing it forward. Some of the way was flooded to their knees and the fields around them had a soggy ruined look.

They had struggled up a small rise when Elden called a halt looking around them at the road and fields. The storm that had swept through had left clear skies and bright sun in its wake and it seemed to him that the road would be better in the morning.

“No further today,” he said, much to her relief. “And no magic,” he added feeling her ready to cast a cleansing spell. Her answer was a deep sigh.

“We are ordinary travelers. How would it look if we were clean when everyone else is covered with mud?” he admonished her.

“Yes, yes, I understand. Ordinary travelers. May this ‘ordinary traveler’ at least use water to clean her ‘ordinary’ face?”

He looked at her closely. There were splashes of mud everywhere on her face. As he watched, she removed a small blob from her right eyebrow shaking it from her hand to the ground. He smothered laughter.

“You fare no better,” she said tartly. “Or do you always let mud dangle that way from your beard.”

His hand found the mud and removed it.

“Water and a cloth then,” he said and she hurried to comply. At the bottom of the small rise was a pool of cleanish water which she dipped out washing her face as best she could. More water and her neck was nearly clean. Nothing could be done with her hair, so she washed her hands, rinsed the cloth, dipped water for Elden and went back to the cart where she found him picking dirt from his beard.

“Well, you look ordinary enough; water for your face.” She handed him cup and cloth.

“Good that we covered the merchandise with something waterproof or we would have a true mess.” He had unhitched Hob who lowered his head in misery. He was covered with mud from hooves to belly and was clearly unhappy.

Shaking her head, Brillar led him down the hill and splashed him with water. Elden followed to assist.

“Jez and Bright had an easier time of it, walking where they wished. Still they’ll need grooming later. Poor Hob! Days of easy travel and now this. And my poor apprentice, a morning of struggle and now an afternoon of lessons!”

She almost groaned, but turned it into a deep sigh. “As the Master wishes,” she said and he looked at her sharply.

“First then and before we eat, mend Hob’s aching muscles.”

As she did, Hob, clearly relieved, looked around him and walked off to graze on the hillside.

“Well done, and quickly.”

“Quickly, because I’m hungry after this morning’s work and want some food.” Then, “A carter and a horseman. Both from ahead of us on the road.”

“Yes, but no darkness. They will probably want what we found, a place above the waters.” Elden responded pleased that, even though she was tired, she had continued to check their surroundings.

The horseman arrived first, calling out, “Ho travelers” as he approached.

“The traveler is welcome,” Elden shouted in reply.

The rider and his mount, mud covered and slow, mounted the small rise as Brillar busied herself with trail rations.

“A miserable day for travel,” the rider said, sliding from his gelding.

“We’ve done for the day and will camp here the night,” Elden replied. “I am Elden; I travel with my niece Brillar who is learning the merchants’ trade.”

“Warick,” replied the rider, “headed to Laurenfell to visit my father who is at the house of healing there.”

Elden was pleased that Brillar made no sign of knowing the town. He glanced down the hill to see that the carter was bogged down in the mud again.

“Perhaps we should lend a hand?” he asked Warick who nodded. The men went down the hill and slogged through the mud. Brillar watched as they pushed the cart while the carter led the struggling horse through mire.

Movement caught her eye to the left where there were small hummocks in the field. Reaching out, she found a sodden cwel perched on one. Taking her bow, she made a short stalk, downing the animal. Returning to high ground, she found the cart already there, the men laughing at the mud they carried. She cleaned the kill and returned to the now more cheerful camp.

“Your niece is an archer, then,” Warick said admiringly. She gave him a brief smile.

“There’s some fairly clean water downhill,” she said pointing, “if you want to remove some mud.” She had washed mud and blood from hands before rejoining them.

“That will be wasted unless we can start a fire,” said the carter, introducing himself as Round Tobin, for he was a man of some size. “I think I have some dry sticks in the cart. A good thing to carry in the spring when the rains start.” Elden and Warick searched the hillock for branches then cut some from a small shade tree. There were enough for a fire and the cwel went on to roast, then the men went to “remove the countryside and return it to its proper place,” as Tobin said, laughing.

As the day went on, Round Tobin produced some fruit from his cart and shared it around. He was a man full of stories and laughter and everyone enjoyed his company although Elden and Brillar shared few stories. Warick seemed tense and kept glancing at the sky.

“You expect more rain?” asked Tobin, “I can tell you that last night’s storm will have cleared the rain for many days.”

Warick shook his head. “A messenger came for me saying my father was very ill and had been taken for healing. My mother asked me to hurry now the weather has delayed me. I’m afraid I may be too late.”

The group sobered at that but Brillar stood. “I need to check on the horses,” was all she said, but Elden saw her meaning and nodded.

There was little talk after the meat and rations had been shared around with more fruit, everyone had been exhausted by the day’s struggles. Round Tobin was snoring as the rest finished their fruit then they all wrapped in blankets and found places to sleep as soon as they could, Brillar under the cart, Elden next to her and Warick under a small tree. No one tried to shift Tobin from his resting place.

As they settled, Elden whispered, “The gelding?”

“Warick will find him well rested on the morrow,” was the answer. “And Tobin’s cart horse as well.”

She heard his chuckle then settled down to sleep.

The morning was fair and bright. Warick had already left them, “He was very anxious to be off,” Round Tobin told them, “and his horse seemed fresh.”

They parted with the carter with many good wishes all around and some of Tobin’s fruit for their travel.

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