Orb and Arrow, Book I: Exploration

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*** 6 ***

She was in a quiet room, a cloth on her head, something was being pressed to her lips and she drank. “Elden,” she jerked upright, was pushed down and quieted with a soothing spell.

“In the next room and being tended. They say he screamed he was on fire then dropped like a stone in the field. They brought him right here.”

She blinked and looked around recognizing a small room in the House of Healing.

The cup was pressed to her lips again. “Is it gone then, destroyed?”

“Completely gone,” said her mother coming in quietly dressed in the light blue often worn by healers. “What have you been told?”

“She’s only just awake,” the healing Sister said gently. “She knows Elden is here.”

Darwa nodded. “And I’ve been tending him for two days.”

“Two days? I’ve been here two days?” She struggled to get up and was pushed back.

“You were very close when it was destroyed. The blow was powerful.” Her mother’s hand was on her forehead, cool and soothing, scented with herbs.

Brillar struggled to push herself up and her mother tucked a pillow behind her. “I need feeding now and not just broth but rich stew or I’ll roll out of this bed or die in the trying.”

Her healer left, nodding to Darwallen. “I’d thought as much.” She smiled at her daughter. “Something has already been prepared.”

Alliana came in with stew and Darwallen left. “I am to spoon it into your mouth or tie your arms,” she said, eyes twinkling. Brillar allowed the spooning and drank from a cup her sister held. As she ate, she noted that her green dress was hanging on a hook and smiled at it.

Alliana wrinkled her nose. “I’m glad I wasn’t there. Do you know how many times I had to cast a cleansing spell on that garment to rid it of the stink?” She stuffed another spoonful of stew in Brillar’s mouth without giving her a chance to answer. “And you soiled it,” she scolded. “When it was handed to me I thought I would soil it at well.” More stew. “Only a few had been allowed in the courtyard but some of the students were crowded at the windows. Not all of them made it to basins. What a time we had cleaning.” A cup to her sister’s lips then more stew. “Nearly everyone in the courtyard was ill, even that scholarly brother Chefin. He had to be carried to a healing room and, I am told, is a terrible patient. But I brought you something,” her voiced dropped to a whisper, “knowing how you dislike herbal teas.” She stood and threw the rest of the tea out the window. She refilled the cup from a small flask. “One of father’s favorite wines,” and she held the cup to her sisters lips then took a sip herself and refilled the cup. Both began to smile. When Brillar opened her mouth to speak, Alliana stuffed it with more stew.

“Remember when father said I was too young for wine and you doused me with brandy to show he was right?” Brillar could only nod. More wine followed the stew. “I thought I would die, now here I am, stuffing you and giving you wine. There, finished.” She drank the last of the wine. “I promised to leave once you had eaten. You’re now to sleep again; I think they added something to the tea.”

“Aliana,” Brillar took her sister’s hand, “come again and bring me news about Elden.”

Her sister smiled and took her leave to be replaced by a healing Sister in blue and white who sniffed the air. “Wine, or I have not lived these thirty years.” She removed the pillows. “You will sleep now. Wine in a sickroom.” But Brillar was already sleeping.

The next morning, Brillar got out bed when the Sister removed her breakfast tray. Too unsteady to fully dress, she wrapped a robe around her gown and was at the door when the Sister returned. She held the door open and insisted loudly, “I’m going to see Elden.”

At the noise in the hall, her mother came out and clucked her tongue. “A moment only, then,” and helped her daughter into Elden’s room. He was unconscious and pale, his scars angry on his chest and there was darkness to him.

She looked at her own scar which was still painful. She took a chair by his side and her mother left them alone in the room.

“Master, what are we to do, you and I,” and she began to murmur healing spells, then placed both her hands firmly on the dimlock scars feeling fire but refusing to let go, drawing on all her reserves of strength, calling him back from the darkness she could see around him. Feeling something from outside the door, Darwallen was inside shouting for help, sending wave after wave of mana, strength and healing toward her daughter. Then a Senior Healer was there, then Rodenis, with others outside lending support, strength, being fed mana by the newly arrived as they depleted themselves and took a moment to draw in more. The younger students could feel something of what was happening and clung to each other. Time seemed to stop, then, finally, Brillar sagged forward on Elden’s chest and he stirred, a slight turn of his head.

They carried Brillar back to her bed. An orb was brought then another, as healers spoke words of healing, strength, and soothing over both of them all through the night.

Neither woke again for another day. Some of the Sisters, exhausted by their efforts were put to bed in the healing hall. Others fell into their own beds and were tended by older students. The Brothers who had remained at the House could do nothing to help except simple tasks but none would leave. They visited Brother Chefin, they tended horses, cooked food, tried to help with lessons, played simple games with the younger students.

At Laurenfell, the mood was somber. Darwallen and Alliana were at the Great House most of the time. News traveled to and from their home and the House of Healing. Visitors came and went all day and Brothers joined them at dinner trying to cheer them with stories of their craft and things they had seen.

“Having her here and ill is worse than having her on walkabout and not knowing where she was,” Prendar remarked that evening. No one answered.

The second morning, Brillar suddenly sat up and asked for breakfast, much to everyone’s astonishment. Her sister brought her a tray and was asked for more.

“I feel very light-headed,” Brillar announced, “and I think I need something else.”

In the next room, Elden also woke, took broth then rolled on his side and fell into a healthy sleep.

That afternoon, after she had lunch, her father was allowed to visit. “This must stop,” he said firmly. “Are you to be sick then well, then suddenly sick again?” She could only laugh.

“That is for the morrow,” she said. Then seeing his face, she said, “Tell me the news. Is someone exercising Bright? How are the new crops?” These were easy topics for him and they talked for a few minutes until a Sister shooed him out. Brillar immediately asked for more food, because “all that talk of crops has made me hungry.” Alliana came in as she was eating to sit with her and marveled at her appetite.

“You’ve surprised us, and not just with your appetite. You haven’t asked about Elden.” Alliana sounded concerned.

“I haven’t asked, because I know. He’s well and sleeping. He can be nothing else.” Her eyes held a far-away look then she smiled at Alliana. “He’ll be hungry when he wakes up so make sure there’s stew.”

When Elden woke in the evening, there was stew. From that moment he gained strength rapidly surprising all the healers in the House. Brillar, who had been sent home with instructions to rest, visited him daily always in the green dress.

“It’s gone then?” was the first thing he asked when she visited. He had been told but wanted it from her.

“Utterly destroyed I’m told, eaten away by the herbs and salt and taking a silver tray with it; Brother Chafin’s instructions were complete. It was,” she stopped. “It was like something alive under the herbs and the salt. They tell me I was falling toward it and had to be pulled away, thrown on the stones.” She shook her head.

“We need to talk about something else, anything else,” she said and he nodded then closed his eyes. She told him about the new black mare that her father had bought at the horse fair.

“A fine animal, I’m glad he bought her.”

“And he wants to know if you’ll let Jez stand at stud?” He nodded, grateful for small things, glad that he was alive and she was there with him.

The second day, he was walking with her in the hall of the healing house laughing at her news about Jez’ enthusiasm and success with the black mare.

On the third day he was sent back to Laurenfell to complete his recovery.

Rodenis and the healing Sisters were astonished at the pair. “Up and walking outside? A swim in the lake? No one recovers that quickly,” she could be heard to mutter.

A simple week after they went back to Laurenfell, both insisted on a short ride although Prendar and Terol rode out with them to insure that the ride was short. The rides quickly grew longer.

Archery practice on the broad lawn began again, with Brillar consistently outshooting her brothers, father, and Elden. Even Darwallen came out with a bow one day and had everyone laughing at her first shots. She gave up quickly, “Too much time at healing, not enough with the bow,” she complained.

The days passed comfortably.

In the evenings….

In the evenings, Brillar retired early but not to sleep. She had found an old book with her things and was now practicing arcane words – words of Deception – and feeling their power grow. She began using the spells to conceal her intentions; intentions that did not include staying at Laurenfell.

Elden and Brillar were soon riding out together without companions but with stern warnings to keep at the traveler’s pace and the time short. Brillar proved amazingly biddable at the suggestions, which everyone should have found suspicious. Still, they increased the length of their rides daily, sometimes taking lunch with them. Sometimes Terol or Brolin accompanied them and she remained compliant as her strength and Elden’s grew.

Hers grew, in fact, more quickly than she let anyone know. Her skill at Deception had increased as she practiced privately. Her parents were certainly taken in.

“A fine pair,” Prendar remarked to his wife one morning, “a fine pair.”

“He does seem to have steadied her,” was the reply. “They certainly need no providing for.” When her husband looked at her she just smiled back. “If that’s their intention.”

Brolin, the eldest at one year over Brillar’s age, had told his parents that Mairen’s family had been asked and that they had been pleased to give their consent. The families conferred and the wedding was planned at Laurenfell. The house was in a flurry of preparation.

A week after the proposal on a fine autumn morning, with the sun still warm, Brillar and Elden saddled their horses, “I need to get away from all this fuss,” she had announced at breakfast.

They were away before the plates were cleared, and were ten miles away to the south before Brillar urged Bright into a gallop leaving a startled Elden behind for a moment. He covered the distance easily and brought Jez close.

“Slow that animal,” he shouted into the wind and was surprised when she did.

“Do you want to undo all the good that’s been done?” he demanded. Laughing, she put Bright back into the traveler’s pace and moved southward again. He urged Jez to keep up with her then reached out…….

“What do you think you’re doing?” he demanded reaching for her reins, which she twitched away.

“Whatever do you mean?” He moved Jez ahead of her blocking her way.

“You know exactly what I mean,” he growled. “I can feel my foldbox charm here now that I’ve looked, muted but here, and we’re too far from the house for me to find it unless you have it with you.” He grabbed Bright’s reins.

“Why uncle….”

“No ‘uncles’ from you. Hand it over,” he insisted.

“That I will, when we camp for the night, as far from Laurenfell as we can ride in a day.”

“Of all the idiotic, headstrong, addlepated…you mean it don’t you.”

She looked at him soberly and sighed. “Behind us is a wedding, and no it’s not that I want to miss it, but it prickles, everyone rushing here and there.” She dropped her Deception and let him really see her. “As you see, even you can be fooled if you are unwary. I knew that.” He glared at her not dropping the reins.

“Master,” that unsettled him, “I bound myself to you for a year and it’s passing without even a lesson in weeks. There are the Wilds to be seen, explored. If I go back now, they will trap us into something, I can feel it.”

“You were too ill for lessons,” was all he could reply, “and far too ill for the Wilds. Then there was the dimlock.”

“Then we’ll make the most of the day and the next few days, hunt and rest until you decide we’re well enough to go on. I left a gift for my brother and his bride. They’ll know they are thought of even without our presence.”

“I could bind you,” he began, and stopped.

“Yes, you could cast and bind; you could force me back if that’s what you want. But I will not be bound without a Defense.”

Green eyes glared at him, resolute, daring him to begin the words. Beaten, he dropped the reins and turned Jez to the south and the Wilds beyond. Behind him, he could feel her smiling as she followed.

It was mid-afternoon when Rodenis arrived at the house for a visit and was told that Brillar and Elden were not back from their ride. She took a seat with the family by the lake.

“Brillar took food with her so they’ve probably stopped for lunch. The rides have been good for them both and they should be back shortly,” Prendar explained.

Brolin galloped up on a lathered horse and slid off running to his parents. “This was just delivered,” he said, panting, and held out a note.

“Dearest Elder Brother,” it began. “I am truly sorry that we will miss your wedding, but we offer you one bar of gold from the cart so you can begin your lives in ease. Please tell my beloved parents,” at this her mother lowered her head, “that I am bound to Garnelden as apprentice for one year and the year is already more than a quarter flown. I can wait no longer. We will send word when we can. Your loving sister, Brillar.”

“Send horsemen after them,” Prendar ordered. “She was to stay here. She was to rejoin the Sisterhood, complete her training, become a healer like her mother.”

“Send no one,” Rodenis interrupted strongly. “The moment for her to continue her studies with us has passed.” Her voice saw stern, severe. Prendar stared at her, questioning. “She has twice killed men. No one can rejoin us after such acts. That is the Law.”

Shocked, Prendar sank into a chair and covered his face with his hands. Darwallen dropped to his side, comforting him. “I didn’t have the heart to tell you, not so soon. Not when we hoped they would stay.”

He raised his head, “As I,” he said quietly, “had no heart to tell you she was bound as his apprentice.”

They sat in silence for some time.

To the south, Brillar and Elden were still in well-settled lands when he called a halt for the evening. “There’s no sense tiring the horses or ourselves any further,” he said firmly. They had eaten only trail rations earlier. “When you planned all this, did you make any plan for food?”

“A moment only,” was the reply, “and we dine.” Brillar opened her foldbox and took out sliced meats, bread, fruit and a bottle of wine. Plates and cups appeared with them along with blankets for the night. His foldbox was produced and handed over. Meat piled high on fine bread was an easy meal and they spent it in silence.

Elden looked around them. They had settled beside a pond so that the horses could enjoy fresh water. The sky was darkening. “Jez will keep watch. The night’s warm with no fire needed.” When she didn’t answer, he looked over to find her fast asleep. Covering her with a blanket, he lay back on his own and wondered how he had managed to saddle himself with such a headstrong apprentice. He was still wondering when stars appeared.

At Laurenfell, wedding preparations had momentarily ceased and the house was quiet. On a bench under the open sky, husband and wife also watched the stars appear.

“He’s a good man,” said Darwa, “he’ll protect her.”

“You think then, that any of this was his doing?” He was staring into the sky.

“This,” she replied with a small smile, “was certainly all our daughter.”

There were scattered towns in the southern areas but they weren’t tempted by them. The fields they passed through were rich with game, fruit trees and the occasional tuber.

“Besides, I walked these roads and healed many people in need inside the towns and at the farms.” Now, away from Laurenfell, she chatted freely. “There were times I stayed at an inn for days in the far south near the Wilds when the local people had no skilled healer, receiving my bed and meals as my fee. In a town, I sometimes taught the local healer more about herbs and even some light spells. Sometimes I slept in the open, sometimes in a barn. But I did send word that I was well, no need to cause worry at home.”

“Not until now,” he muttered.

At noon, when they ate and rested, Elden took up his duties as Master, concentrating on Item spells that she would find useful. She wanted no part of War spells but was willing to consider some in Creature.

“For war,” she told him, “I have a bow, although I think it unlikely that my Master would take me into a war?”

He growled.

“But no Creature spells to call animals, they are unsporting. I have no wish to lower the strength of a cwel or linic so I can make an easy kill. Those spells of renewal and revitalization could be useful though.”

In the end, they concentrated on Item spells for increasing the protection of their armor. Elden did insist that they spend time in a town where a leather worker fashioned the armor favored by archers for her. As it was it provided scant protection but was very flexible. They also had the man fashion two newer and better packs for them, although Elden would not tell her why. He had produced a sword from his foldbox and began wearing it.

While they waited, Brillar visited a local shopkeeper. She had been in the town before as a healer and had found a little girl of seven who seemed to have a talent with hurt animals. She had sent word back to the Great House about the girl and now found her parents pleased with the result.

“Sister Idelia came and talked with our daughter and walked out with her. When they came back, she asked if Hebba could go to the Great House for training! We miss her of course, but on her last visit, she was already so different; stronger, more grown up. Imagine; our daughter at the House of Healing.” Brillar congratulated the pair and left a silver coin where they would find it as a token from the Sisterhood.

Once they left the town, Elden insisted that she wear the leather when they rode to increase its flexibility. In the evenings, he had her practice increasing its resistance. She found all this tiring and the armor too warm; they were far enough south that it wasn’t yet autumn.

One afternoon as she wore the spell-strengthened armor, he dropped behind her and slapped at her with his sword, nearly knocking her off Bright. The armor held.

“That bruised,” she said accusingly, but he laughed as she cast a healing spell. “And you startled Bright.”

“The testing was necessary. Very soon now, we enter the Wild.”

Brillar stirred with excitement.

“We enter the Wild and send the horses back to your father.”

“Send them back?” She reined Bright in sharply.

“Two things. In the Wild, it’s better to go on foot and with as little noise as possible. It’s also wise not to draw attention to wealth and these two,” he patted Jez, “would draw many.”

Brillar was silent the rest of the afternoon.

“I’ll miss them,” was all she said that evening, and, turning her back on him, she rolled herself in her blanket. Elden studiously ignored the soft sounds he knew where choked sobs.

In the morning, she gave no hint of her distress and listened closely to everything he had to say.

“The Wild isn’t called that just because it is unsettled, in fact there are huts here and there although the people in them are apt to move abruptly when worried by animals or threatened in other ways. Then there are the Rovers. Bands of men and their families wilder than the hillmen to the north because the land is wilder. They can be more dangerous than the animals of the Wild although the men and women Brother Verian and I met seemed kind enough.”

He would make a statement like that and leave her to think about it for a while then answer any questions she had.

“There are things living in caves and some that tunnel under the ground. If a hut is built or people linger too long, a hole can open under them swallowing some or all. Camping near rocks can disturb things that are venomous, so they have to be cleared before we can camp. There are unpredictable wellings-up of magic in the Wild and no one has been able to clear them. The things they produce are always dangerous.”

More silence as she considered it, then more questions.

“There are mountains in the Wild and harpies that can take a child or kill an adult. Then there are the birds that attack travelers in a flock, aiming first at the eyes then joining in for the kill.” The days went on with lessons and instruction. She often hunted keeping them fed with linic and cwel without unsporting spells.

One morning he announced, “Game can either be scarce in the Wild or will be found in great herds that would likely trample us if we tried to take an animal. Today we hunt together, something large, and dry the meat.”

He had her reach out until she found a herd of wellis, those fine animals whose hides leather workers prize for boots. They dismounted and approached downwind. It was a long stalk, and the buck she chose took two arrows before dropping. She had glared at him when he suggested spells.

“A fine choice,” was Elden’s compliment, “and I will do the cleaning.” He reached out for Jez and both horses came to them.

Brillar had taken the wellis near a stream where the herd had been drinking. Looking around, she saw a stand of saplings and cut some for a drying frame. Lashing it together quickly, she said, “Excuse me, Master,” that brought a sharp glance, “but perhaps we should camp here?” Nodding he agreed.

Firewood for drying the meat was gathered quickly and a second drying frame made. She produced herbs for the meat which they both sliced and hung over the fire to dry and smoke. It was a tiring day.

“It seems to me,” she began as they ate some of the meat that they had roasted over the fire, “that there should be a spell for drying meat.”

“Oh there is, I’ve just forgotten it,” he answered, a remark that had them both laughing.

They kept the fire going all night, taking turns sleeping, feeding the fire and turning the meat. It was another day before they had finished and put the meat away. Now the reason for the packs became evident.

“We use the packs as much as possible since we don’t know when or if we’ll meet strangers. No need to call attention to the foldboxes, those go in the packs. We’re simply two explorers venturing into the Wild in search of treasure since there is plenty to be found if you survive long enough to take it back to settled lands. I found some when I was with Verian.”

“People do come back from the Wild with wealth then? I had heard tales but no one had actually said, ‘this I did and this I won,’ at least not when I was listening.”

“The rare golem that shatters sometimes drops a gem or two. Some are worth keeping. Giant rats will gather bright objects from the dead and blood kites will take a ring or two from an unwary traveler to their nests – after they kill the traveler of course. Still,” he said having noticed her shudder at the mention of rats, “few bother with danger of that sort.”

“Thank you for that. I take it that the kites nest together?”

“They nest close, but not too close and on the sides of cliffs. They do flock together. One of a pair is always with the young. Other kites are not particular when looking for an easy meal.”

The land had been changing slowly as they rode south; drier, the soil sandier, and grass was scarce. Now they were in scrub land where the trees were smaller and there was more brush. They hadn’t seen a farm in two days and there wasn’t enough grass for cattle.

They were half through a morning when Elden drew up and pointed to a small cabin. “We’ll stop there a moment.” He called out the traditional greeting and was answered.

An older man, dressed in the simple clothing of a hunter but with a breast patch proclaiming him a Brother came out to greet them.

“Well met then Brother Garnelden,” he said in recognition. “And the lady?” He raised an eyebrow at Brillar.

“My apprentice.” The Brother’s wide eyes went back to Elden. “Yes, yes, Thilian I know I said I would never have an apprentice but that was a long time ago.”

Brillar had dismounted.

“We’re traveling to the Wilds and would like you to have the horses taken to Laurenfell House, home of my apprentice. They know the way but I would rather have they go with someone for safety.”

“I can take them myself.” He smiled at Brillar. “I could do with some fresh fruit.” He sobered. “There have been disturbances in the Wild in the last month. A mana pool opened very close to the border just last week. I still get some young fools who want to hunt in the wild but they usually come out shaken if they come out at all. One family came out weeping over lost children.”

“Thank you for the warning.” Elden put silver coins in the man’s hand. “To help with your journey. Tell Lady Darwallen that we’re doing well? Don’t mention the mana pools. I know most of what’s dangerous and how to avoid it.”

Elden stroked Jez’ neck and saw Brillar saying her goodbyes to Bright. “Best tie them both until you’re ready to leave. The last time I left him, he followed me anyway.” He handed the reins to his Brother, spoke firmly to Jez, and looked at Brillar. The glance was all she needed. Without looking back she stepped past Thilian’s hut and into the true Wild.

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