Orb and Arrow, Book I: Exploration

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*** 11 ***

Before dawn, he heard her shift and stand. He looked up. Somehow she had retrieved her bow and pack from the campfire during the night without waking him. Now she was beginning to walk south and eastward around the sleeping camp settling her pack as she moved. Elden took up the Ward, snatched his things from the camp and followed her in a rush. He took up her stride behind her as she cut back to the north and re-met the thorn brush still going east toward the mountains. Her distress was a sharp pain cutting through him.

He watched her from behind, seeing her avoid those plants that he said were dangerous, approaching then leaving a small spring without drinking although he could sense her thirst. He knew she was reaching out with far-sight, although not matching his and finding nothing dark. And he could tell she was tired but couldn’t bring herself to stop. The sun was high when he decided she had punished herself enough, overtook her, and forced her to a stop.

“A rest is called for,” he announced, “with water and food.” She looked at him blankly as he pushed his water flask into her hand. She looked at it dully, then drank.

“And this,” Elden said, “looks like as good a place as any for some food.” He pushed her down gently and sat with her.

“Magic and healing among soft hills and green fields are not all the things in the world,” he began. “There is much more to be learned, much more to be seen and felt. You’ve had some difficult lessons.” He handed her some trail rations and took some for himself.

“It’s hard to see people treated like animals,” he went on quietly, and her head came up. “I’ve seen it before, more times than anyone should have to see it and have had to walk away, leave it behind me. Leave it to others to change if there was to be change. Now, here in the Wild, I have an apprentice who sees the wrong and makes it change. That is none of my teaching. There are times when the apprentice is the Master.”

They sat in silence for a long time. Evening found them in the same place, but busy with a fire. Tubers had been seen nearby and been dug. They were roasting in the ashes and what was left of the irex meat was on sticks above the fire being turned again and again. They had both relaxed into the simple routine and it soothed them.

In the morning, Brillar was more of her old self. Elden had decided in the night that they should move more to the south away from the hedge and into the open, “Always remembering, Brill,” her nickname surprised her, “to keep far-sight open and aware and remember my commands if we’re attacked.”

They moved slowly and easily to the east and south over the next few days. Several times they came across flocks of ground birds he said were called gwinth, an easy target for her bow since they were as tall as she was.

“What more can you tell me about the mountains, Elden,” she asked on the first afternoon. “You’ve said something of the dangers, but nothing of the mountains themselves.”

“Verian took me into the mountains twice. I believe he loved them more than the place he called home. He had made his home in something like a cave or burrow between and under rocks near a fresh spring. I had a terrible time finding him.”

“How did you manage it then?” The story had distracted her from the mountains.

“I’d remembered a story about him and thought I had general directions. All I really wanted…the Wild and a single Master…it seemed right.” He was struggling with something and she kept silent. “I crisscrossed the area for weeks getting closer to the mountains each time.” He chuckled. “It’s a good thing I had some healing skill because I learned about some of the plants the hard way. I was attacked twice by dire wolves and once by something small that came up from the ground. I learned to eat murk while I searched. Fortunately, the dufk seem to like the south. Have you seen any more sign of murk?”

“I have, but if their meat is as bad as you say, I would prefer to hunt something else.”

“Well, I didn’t know about the tubers at the time, it was Brother Verian who taught me about those. When I finally sensed him and got to his cave, he told me to ‘get away and leave me! I want no company.’ So I camped by his spring, and made myself a nuisance. I hunted and was fortunate enough to bring down a dufk. It was the smell of roasting meat that brought him out one evening saying that if I was going to hunt away all the game I might as well join him. As I came to know him, he was a fine Master, disciplined, but willing to share a story now and then. On our trips into the mountains we were lucky enough to come across several mana pools and I was introduced to golem in much the same way as I introduced you but they were lesser types. You wondered about my bow skills? I was fortunate in my later golem hunts and was able to leave the wild with more than training. Verian seemed pleased with the way I dispatched the golems. The blood kites were something else. They were further in the mountains.”

“Ahead, gwinth,” she said suddenly. “Shall we stalk them or would you prefer to select your dinner.” He could hear the smile in her voice.

“Hens,” he said, “three hens with chicks. Do we need the meat?”

“We have plenty. Shall we look for the cocks or wait for another day?”

Elden stretched out his far-sight. “One male, we can get close to him in half an hour and I’ll call him. Who knows when we will get another chance at one.”

They move cautiously around the hens careful not to disturb them and stalked the male.

“Look at him,” Brillar said in awe. “I’ve never seen such feathers.”

“Courting plumage,” was the answer. “There may be more females about.” Both reached out and did find more birds including another male but further away.

Elden called out the male who came toward them immediately, his head to one side, confused. One arrow brought him down. Brillar stroked the blue and white feathers.

“Take the plumage,” she was instructed, “it’s prized by everyone and easily traded.”

They moved away from the other birds once their kill was cleaned and packed.

They were three miles from the kill when, “Dire wolves, tracking us,” he stated.

“I see them.”

“The smell of fresh meat. How many do you see?” He looked at her sharply.

“Two,” was her reply. “As you said, two wolves to drive us, the others to wait for us to tire.”

“Good, you remember. Your bow is ready? We can both face them; the others are far enough away.”

The dire wolves came up to them, separated and snarling. They stopped thirty feet from the pair who were waiting and they seemed uncertain.

“That’s right,” he heard her say grimly “we don’t run. How can you pursue us if we don’t run?” The two wolves continued to snarl and sank to their bellies to move closer.

“Ready the bow on the left?”

“On your word.”

“Loose!”

The arrow skimmed the wolf slicing but not killing. Another arrow took it down. The other wolf turned and ran back a hundred paces then sat down and howled.

“You let it go. Why?”

“One in front of us now and who knows how many others nearby……and they come. I had to be certain we would find them all or they’d continue to hunt us. Take my back now. They’ll try to encircle us.” Brillar took her position at Elden’s back.

“A small pack, only six and wary,” he said. When the animals were still at some distance, she felt him gather himself. An arc of fire sprang out and she heard a wolf yelp in pain. Another arc and another yelp. The scent of burnt fur drifted to them.

“At this range, a fire arc won’t kill but it should be enough to drive them away. We left enough when we cleaned the gwinth to satisfy them.” Another arc flew out and then a fourth and a yelp. She could sense the pack moving away from them.

“Refresh,” and her bow was ready, but the wolves had moved away.

“Do you think they’ll attack the gwinth hens we saw?” she asked.

“If the tales I have heard about them are true, those hens can kill an attacking wolf. They kick with nearly the strength of a horse.”

Despite their satisfaction with the idea of the wolves keeping their distance, they made a larger than usual fire when they stopped that afternoon. As their meat cooked, Brillar took off her boots and stared at them.

“No wonder my left foot hurts,” she said holding up the boot and putting her finger in a hole in the sole.

“You’ve been walking on that?” Elden asked, distressed.

“Well, I did have to heal my foot when we rested and refreshed things. I just hadn’t given much thought to the boots.”

“More than a month in the wild and no thought to your boots?” Elden rubbed his forehead and sighed. “You have another pair?”

Brillar opened her foldbox and was engulfed in feathers, setting Elden laughing. “You had best bundle those or they’ll be everywhere.”

Grumbling, she did as she was told tucking the worn boots into the box and removing newer ones.

“Show me your feet,” he demanded, and she turned bare toes to him.

“So you healed this one every day?” he ran his finger down her foot making it twitch, “and then walked on it again in the morning.”

She made no reply. Elden looked her over sharply now. They cleaned their clothes and themselves daily with spells, but she had never properly learned to repair fabric. Now he insisted that she take out newer clothes, leave him to mend what he could and turned his back. Her shirt he declared impossible but kept it for her to mend. The leather armor he insisted they wear had worn large holes in it. She took out fresh.

“Now, you will try once again to mend cloth,” he said and she sighed. “Brother Verian insisted I learn the craft and now it’s for you to learn or we will arrive at……somewhere with you in rags. He had few clothes and kept them well mended. Besides that,” he said sternly, “many count this as a woman’s craft.”

She just groaned and was glad when the food on the fire was ready.

Even before their brief fight with the wolves, they had found that food was more readily available in the south and east than it had been earlier. Brother Verian had lived and taught Elden in the north and further west than they were now. Water became less of a problem as well although they avoided two more pools with ambush predators in them. Since they were curious about them – “Know what will attack” said Elden – he called one out.

“Have your bow ready, although I would rather let it slide back into the water confused than have to kill it,” he explained and began the Creature spell to pull it from the water.

The head, when it emerged, was a grey-green, flat and half-moon shaped with serrated teeth that ran from one side of the face to the other. Eyes were on short stalks. The animal did not appear armored but they later decided that there must be bone under the unpleasant face as it appeared ridged. Behind the head came a bulging neck then fish-like gills and a thick body. The odor was compellingly dank.

“Enough?” he asked.

“More than sufficient,” and Elden let the animal slide back into the water. They gave the pond a wide berth. When they stopped later, they discussed the animal.

“As long as I am tall, perhaps more since we never saw the tail,” Elden remarked. They had found space under a strangely shaped tree that both had inspected and found safe. Now he leaned against its smooth bark below the Ward.

“The way it strained as you compelled it. Do you suppose the tail was holding on to something under the water?” and he nodded. “That mouth, it must have been nearly as wide as a short bow. And the teeth! I think it could take a dufk or cwel in one bite and have room for more. A half-grown gwinth would disappear at a pond like that.”

“And probably has,” was the answer. “I wonder how deep the pond was, I didn’t take time to judge.” He stirred the fire idly.

“Well, at least the stories I heard are true. There are strange things in the Wild.” Brillar wrapped herself in a blanket and lay on her side to sleep.

Elden watched her drift off as he scanned the sky and watched the stars for he felt sure there would be more strange things to be met before he could satisfy her curiosity.

Part III

Rock creates no mana and shortens far-sight.

Teaching of the Brotherhood

Symbol of the Ǣlfain

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