6. Her Hints and Warnings
Bryn tried her best to cover her eyes from the white light and still be able to see whoever it was that stood in front of her, it did not work.
“Who are you,” Bryn demanded, taking a step back, “Why are you so bright?”
“Hush,” The man said, “The boys will hear you,” His voice was soft as if speaking to a child. It was gentle and warm. Bryn did not trust it, after her experience with the gentlemen she was not so ready to trust a stranger.
“Who are you,” Bryn demanded again.
“You already know me, if only by description, only this morning you were talking about me.”
“What do you mean…” The light began to fade, and Bryn could open her eyes and see who was standing in front of her. One look and she knew he was not human. He was taller than most men. He wore a bulky traveling coat that covered most of his body. Strapped on one shoulder was the fur skin of a giant grey wolf. His features were perfectly symmetrical. There was no flaw on his pale face and his dark hair was pulled back, revealing slightly pointed ears. It was obvious who he was, even though she had never met him before, “Are you Kind Kae the selest?”
Bryn was not fearful, like she had thought she would be if meeting a selest. Bryn knew he was not threatening, the same way some people know when they meet someone that they are going to be good friends with, it was the way it was supposed to be.
He smiled at her. “It is such a strange gifted name, Kind Kae. Why am I the kind one and not the sisters of the seasons or the boulder maker? Even Wind Maker Marr can be kinder than I. It is odd.”
Bryn smiled back. “But you are a caretaker of animals. People in general adore animals, so they adore the man that takes care of them.” Bryn paused a moment to consider asking a question. “Is that why you turned the brothers into dogs when they were children, instead of whisking them out of danger, because you are an animal guardian?”
Kae the selest seemed amused with her question, “If I had brought those boys to safety, they would not have learned the lessons of taking care of themselves. They might have turned into ordinary men that melted in with the rest of the world. Then who would I send to escort you to your family?”
“You really did send them!” Bryn exclaimed. She was surprised at her own tone, it was not as if she disbelieved the brothers.
“Of course that was me. As a young girl on your own, you needed guidance and bodyguards. I sent my best help to keep you safe, and to help you reach your family.”
“My apologies, it was just strange to hear, because, all they have told me was that you instructed them to find someone who smells like dragons. I had my doubts, since that could be anyone that wears a dragon skin jacket.”
“My boys knew what they were looking for. They know a real dragon from a fake,”
Bryn’s brow furrowed a moment, not sure she understood, “If you did send them to find me, then all I would like to know is why you did? Am I supposed to do something or know something important?”
Instead of receiving an answer, Bryn suspected the selest had not listened to her. Kae the selest was staring intently at her arm.
His eyes slid up to hers in a moment. “My apologies, but I happened to notice your bruise. You received that all because of us. My boys must do a better job looking out for you. May I see the arm?”
Without delay Bryn lifted the bandaged arm, as if obeying her mama’s want to examine it. He put a hand under the offered wrist, while he lifted his other hand to touch the black and purple smudges. At each stroke of his fingers Bryn sighed with relief. Once it was over, he let go of her hand to let Bryn inspect his work. There were no marks at all on the skin. None of the pain or soreness were left over either. Even a faded cut she had received as a child (she could never recall from what) was completely mended.
“Thank you so much,” Bryn had a glow in her eyes as she looked up at him.
Kae the selest smiled at her, satisfied with her gratitude, “You are more than welcome, polite girl,” With that said, his expression went dark, “Now, there is a reason my boys are with you. You are in danger because of something that you once knew, now your amnesia covers it. I wish I could lift your memory lose, but they would strike me for interfering. You are being targeted because of your grandmother and what she had told you. Someone doesn’t want you to find out what you know. The attack from the pack of coyotes and wolves was not a random occurrence. The animals were sent to hinder you. Other creatures will be sent. A well as the company of men from the train. They are being whispered to, although they do not know it, foolish youth. I had a hand at poking them to rattle their ideas, but they are driven. You must be very attractive in their eyes. I doubt they can be driven enough to hurt you, but they will try to stop you if you do find out what you are being hindered from remembering. That is why you have the brothers to watch over you, as well as another person that was determined to come find you. That particular help was not my doing, someone above me must have been involved in it. She should be here for you soon. You may ask who she is, but I will not tell. It is a surprise gift. Now that is all I came to say to you. It’s all I am able to say or else I will be in trouble with my kin.”
“Have fair skies tonight Bryn. I am sorry I must leave so abruptly, I do not wish for the boys to find me here. If they see me I will be trapped for a time. Fortune be with you and your endeavors, Bryn Balaur. Don’t let us down. I staked a great deal on you.”
A blink later Kind Kae was gone, leaving no trace that he had been there. He left nothing but jumbled bits of sense in Bryn’s head. He had spoken about so much in one sitting, not allowing her to process his words.
She did not have long to dwell on his words. Before she could even sit back down Eyelag made a low rumbling noise. The next thing she knew there were five barking dogs that had burst from the shadows of the night, wagging their tails vigorously. Two of them had squirrels dangling from their jaws, one had snagged a rabbit, and another had a beaver.
Titen was the first to turn human. He was the only one without a catch. “Where’s Kae? We’s smell ’im!” He was so excited Bryn was almost afraid he was going to hurt himself.
“You saw ’im,” Muir asked approaching Bryn as a human.
Before Bryn could respond she felt someone snatch up her arm. She turned her gaze to see Lorn sniffing at her forearm.
“He healed ya,” Lorn pointed out.
Bryn yanked her arm from his grasp. Being sniffed was far too strange.
All of them were prickly with hysteria. It was very dog like the way they bounced about, and bumped each other in their glee.
“Yes, yes, Selest Kae was here,” Bryn lifted her hands in an attempt to calm them all down before they mauled her in their excitement. “He healed my arm spouted off some nonsense and left a second later. I am still trying to understand, so calm down.”
“Why didn’t he stay?” Tory asked.
Bryn had to take a moment to think, Kae the selest had blurted out something about that. “He said that he could not stay long, that you would all keep him too long.”
“What’s that supo’s to mean,” Lorn wanted to know.
Bryn slowly shook her head, “Perhaps it is because you all cling onto him.”
“What ya speak on,” Nudd asked.
“Wait,” Bryn said cutting Nudd off before he could finish.
Lorn sat down beginning to skin the beaver, with that hidden knife of his.
She stretched her hand out to Lorn, “Let me skin it please. Beaver pelts sell far more than any other animal skins, except a dragon’s hide, if you can skin them right.” She was not about to waste a pelt that could assist them financially.
Without a word Lorn obediently handed over the dead beaver. Bryn moved to the fire for better light unbuckling her own knife from her belt. As soon as she sat down she set to work. The brothers that were not skinning the other catches were watching her with interest.
“Sorry, Nudd, for interrupting you,” Bryn said as she started her work. “I heard what you asked and will try to tell what he relayed to me.”
With many pauses, since she had to try to remember, word for word what Kind Kae told her, she related what was said. All the while her head was bent working on the beaver pelt, trying not to damage it.
She handed the carcass back to Lorn who cooked it over the fire with the rest of the meat.
Tired of talking Bryn was ready to fall asleep instead of cleaning off the pelt. She listened to Titen and Nudd bicker about who would get the best parts of the meat.
While she listened to them, Lorn, Muir and Tory were watching her work, sitting nearby with a clear view.
If Bryn was honest she was a bit stiff, with all those eyes on her. She was used to having onlookers, because she was the oldest out of five children and often had little ones clinging to her. They were watching and learning from everything she did. Just the thought of her siblings made Bryn feel a pang of homesickness.
As she finished her work and was putting the knife and pelt away, a sudden thought occurred to her. She snapped her head up to look Lorn in the eye, “Where did Kai go? Why did he run away from us earlier?” She felt foolish for not thinking to ask before; too much was on her mind.
Lorn shrugged as he sat over at the makeshift spit over the fire. Titen was just removing the squirrel and rabbit to see if they were ready.
Bryn wondered how they liked the taste of meat without spices or salt. She had not seen them put salt on their meat at any time.
Tory was the one to answer her, “Kai’ off on his own. Won’t see him for ’nother day or more.”
“He likes being on his own,” Bryn asked.
Tory nodded silently.
It reinforced Bryn’s belief that Kai being a wolverine made him a solitary man. Or maybe he was turned into a wolverine because he was already a solitary person.
As the brothers chowed down on their supper without mercy, Bryn was beginning to drift off to sleep. Unable to withstand being awake anymore she retreated to her mat and lay down. She watched the brothers settling, without cloaks or blankets they used each other to keep warm as they sat in complete silence. It was the last thing Bryn saw before her mind closed to the world around her.
It was when the sun was tickling the night sky as it began to rise that Bryn was awakened by the feeling of something against her back. She thought it was Eyelag’s paw just shifting beside her. When she fully opened her eyes it occurred to her that she was looking at the large clawed paw. It took her a groggy moment to twist her neck back and see the balled up thing warming her back was a person and the person was Lorn. Too drowsy to make a fuss, Bryn observed that he could not look any more like a dog while still in human form, than he did at that moment. It was the way he was curled up and how he tucked his head under his arms. Bryn sat up to see the other brothers were all awake, still drowsy, but looking around and getting ready to face the day. She observed Nudd looked the most alert. He must have been on watch duty the last few hours.
Bryn stood, trying her best not to awaken Lorn. As soon as she moved he was wide awake looking at her.
“Hullo,” He smiled.
“Morn,” Bryn replied. “Were you cold last night?”
“Nah, why,” Lorn asked, scratching his messy head.
“If not, then why did you sleep so close to me,” She tried to raise her voice in annoyance, but her body was not yet ready to carry such emotions, not that early in the morning.
“Cause it looked comfy,” He said as if it was the logical thing to do.
Bryn just accepted it.
They ate breakfast, provided for by Bryn who shared what she had, because she could not bear to be the only one eating. It cut down on her rations, but it was better than her body guards starving.
As they were putting out the fire and otherwise preparing to leave, Bryn asked, “Did any of you come across a stream when you were hunting? I must refill my pouches?”
Titen was helping her strap Eyelag into his saddle and bags. In reality he was learning more than helping.
“Yes,” Tory replied as he was stretching and shaking out the night’s rest. “I’ll fetch the water for ya.”
“I’ll ’sist,” Titen volunteered, as he grabbed at the partly empty pouch in Bryn’s hands. Tory grabbed the one Bryn was just unhooking from the saddle straps.
“If you insist,” Bryn smiled, “I need to resupply at the town. Can you meet us there?”
Titen and Tory turned their gaze to Lorn.
Lorn looked at Bryn with a reluctant plea in his eyes, “Must we enter town.”
She sympathized with his concern. “I would like to. It will be a few days before we encounter another inhabited place, where I can resupply.”
“Aren’t ya ’fraid of ya’r stalkers,” Nudd asked.
“Not now. Kind Kae said they do not wish to harm me, that they hardly even know what they are doing. We won’t stay long. I just need a few more supplies and we will be out before you grow bored.”
It was settled then. Titan and Tory were on their way to locate the stream and Bryn mounted Eyelag. Lorn and Muir bent into dogs and were sniffing around. Bryn requested that Nudd remain human. If they did run into the gentlemen, Sir Arion would recognize Nudd and perhaps be less likely to confront her with the big man there. So, Nudd jumped up on Eyelag behind her.
“Never rode a beast before,” Nudd whispered excitedly, “Wagon don’t count.”
Bryn kicked Eyelag into a slow walk, she let him mosey into a trot. Nudd did not even hold on as he was bounced around. He gasped with laughter and excitement. It amused Bryn to listen to, but she was also afraid he was going to fall off.
The pack did not even realize they were in the village until Bryn almost ran over an older woman coming out of a building hidden behind a clump of trees. Bryn managed to avoid the woman and apologized profusely. The woman snubbed her nose and walked down a hidden path without saying a word. Bryn shrugged it off as she led Eyelag down the main road. She had to look hard at every building to see where the shops were. The buildings were not only engulfed within the woods, the woods had embraced and taken the buildings and shops in as their own. Vines, moss and roots entangled roofs and boards.
When Bryn located the tanners shop, she hopped down to retrieve the pelts she had saved. Nudd followed her in like a curious little brother. She made a poor amount for the furs, the beaver hide was what filled her purse. When Bryn emerged, satisfied with what she received, she was greeted by two men dressed in heavy coats and hunting equipment, yelling at her.
“Oi, girl, keep an eye on those dogs of yours. They’re running around wildly. Get a leash for them at least.”
“Who keeps wild dogs as pets?”
“I do,” Bryn proudly snapped before she could stop herself.
The men might have rebuked her, accusing her of being disrespectful, except that she had a muscular man standing behind her, with the two wild dogs on either side, they decided to shuffle off with loud snorts of disapproval.
Brushing it off, Bryn made her way through the market, only going into ones that had what she needed. She bought more bandages and healing herbs, even a small cube of salt for the brothers. She refilled her food rations, with cheap, tough, dried meat slices. It was more expensive than she would have liked.
“That’s all we need,” She announced as they stored away the last of the food, bulking up her saddle bags again. A good portion of the dried meat was already in Nudd’s stomach.
“Didn’t realize it’d be much work,” Nudd smiled, he enjoyed the experience.
Bryn chuckled at his expression.
There was a rough scrape against Bryn’s leg and she looked down to see Lorn or Muir. She was pretty sure it was Lorn. He looked up at her with those big, begging eyes only a dog could give. He was pleading for something. While Bryn was puzzling over what he wanted, Nudd had stuffed his hand in the bag of rations, dropping down a strip of jerky. Lorn (or Muir) caught it in the air with his open mouth. Nudd tossed a second piece to the other.
“Who is Lorn and who is Muir,” Bryn asked, giving up on guessing.
Nudd pointed to the one at Bryn’s feet, “Muir,” He pointed to the second, “Lorn.”
Bryn sighed. She had been completely wrong when she had guessed. Telling the dogs apart was like trying to tell identical twins apart, except there were five of them.
Nudd swiftly tossed his brothers seconds before Bryn could intervene.
“Nudd, we need to save some food for the journey,” She swatted his hand from reaching in for thirds.
Nudd gave her a goofy, innocent grin before he plunged his hand in for one more piece. Bryn’s response, while laughing at him, was to shove him away from the bags. Her laughter came to an abrupt stop when she heard someone call her name.
“Miss Bryn, is that you?”
Bryn twirled around to see Arion coming out of the inn. He was not alone either. Semon, Nestor and Thad emerged behind him.
Nudd took one look at them and scowled deeply. The dogs growled, baring their teeth at the strangers. At a glance from Bryn the dogs stopped, but they were still on the alert and even put themselves in-between Bryn and the gentlemen.
“Miss Bryn, we mean you no harm. I was hoping to cross paths with you again.”
Nudd snorted, “Cross paths? Ya knew she’s here. Ya’re stalk’n ’er.”
Bryn glanced at her friend nervously. She was slightly afraid he would change into a dog and jump the men.
Arion appeared offended as he stared at Nudd, as if he had noticed the burly man only when he had spoken, even though he had noticed the two dogs at Bryn’s feet right of way.
Arion glanced between the two, rather confused. “I am sorry. Are you two traveling together? I had assumed you two were strangers when we had met in the garden?”
“Yes,” Bryn replied this time, not sure what would come out of Nudd’s mouth, “We are traveling together. He’s my companion.”
“Are these… animals, yours,” Semon asked of Nudd.
Thad could not take his eyes off the wild dogs, “Interesting choice of pets.”
“They are my companions as well,” Bryn replied, “They have great senses; smelling perfumed men following us. The same men that said they were going to return to the train and leave me alone.”
None of the gentlemen spoke. They could not think of an excuse to conjure up on the spot.
Bryn gave them a moment before speaking again, “Can’t you see you are being led like sheep? There is no logical explanation as to why you are all following me and yet you are. Stop to think this through. You are making me nervous and I can’t always control my companions when I’m uneasy, especially when they think I am being threatened.”
One of the dogs let off three barks to prove her words were true. Sir Thad and Sir Nestor backed away timidly, while Sir Semon reach for something under his jacket. He held his hand there until Sir Arion noticed and gave his friend a hard eye.
When Arion’s gaze returned to Bryn, he had the most pitiful look on his face, almost like he was about to cry. “Please, Miss Bryn. Let us at least assist you, join you. I feel guilty for scaring you so much.”
“Ya’re annoying. Ya know that,” Nudd growled, “Keep say’n the same thing. She keep say’n no. Get it through ya’re skull.”
Nudd turned his back on the men without any delay. Bryn followed his lead, unsure if it was wise. He assisted Bryn in mounting Eyelag, before springing on himself. Not a word was spoken between the two groups. Not even a farewell.
It was not until Bryn and Nudd were down the road a ways, going towards the shrouded path through the woods, when Muir and Lorn broke from their transfixed stares on the gentlemen and sprang after the mattath.
It would be hard to explain what was going through the gentlemen’s minds at this time in their lives. They knew that chasing after a girl that did not want them around was madness and made no sense, but it was something they had to do, something was pushing them to do it. Bryn was what they wanted. With those very vague reasons whispering to them, the troop of gentlemen were soon in pursuit of Bryn and her pack.
Lidia, a young, lone girl, with rounded goggles pulling her hair out of her face, sat upon her black mattath, Nimble.
The sixteen year old girl was not very tall, or very slim. In fact she did not look very feminine. What she did look like was healthy and strong, which was all she cared about. Her messed up black hair wrung into curls when she thought to take care of it, now it was just a fluffed up mess that bounced with Nimble’s steps. She wore a long leather tunic with a thin wool coat overtop. Her thick pants were folded up to the knees revealing many pale scars she had accumulated over the years in her adventures as a child. Her boots were ratty and ready to fall apart. She was determined to wear them until they fell off her feet.
Lidia was pushing Nimble as fast and as far as he could go without straining him. Keeping pace beside her was a lone dog. He had a black rump while the front of him was mud brown with white spots. Lidia had raised him from a pup, having named him Burnt, because the black rump looked like scorch marks. He was trained by her hand and was as obediant as they come.
A day before Lidia had questioned almost everyone on the train, asking if they had seen a dark, curly haired girl, with a dragon leather jacket, traveling with an elderly silver haired woman who spoke to everyone she met. Fortune was with her when she spoke with the conductor. He remembered the young woman by name, Bryn Balaur. He had spoken with her not two days before. They had a pleasant conversation about engines and the lives of conductors. The only flaw was that the elderly woman that Lidia had described, had not been with Bryn. That made the youth quizzical, but she followed the only lead she had.
Now there she was, following a road. She had heard a rumour about a girl matching Bryn’s description, with a group of wild dogs. It was hard to believe this could be the Bryn she was searching for, but it was the best lead she had.
Lidia glanced down and saw her faithful dog was beginning to lag, with a loud voice she called down to him, “Steady, Burnt! Don’t give up on me now, just a little further.”
Of course the dog could not understand her, it was her voice that was the incentive to increase his speed.
They reached The Woods long before night fall, to her great encouragement, except she was miles from The Woods Town where she wanted to be, she had miscalculated. There was no time to find the town or another one to resupply. She had to find Bryn. Instead, like a foolish, impatient child would do, she plunged into the trees at a much slower pace with no path to follow. She hoped to run into the road eventually, and kept her direction as north-eastern as she could. To keep herself on track she watched, as best as she could since it was getting darker from the setting sun, for the moss on the trees. Moss always grows on the north side of trees.
The entire time in the back of her mind, she was regretting her decision of traveling without even a path and with the light fading quickly. On top of that her rifle had been taken from her, by some thugs she had run into just after leaving the train station. All she had was her short, straight tipped cutlass. Her two animal companions were her best defense against the dangers of the woods.
When the darkness enveloped her surroundings, Lidia pulled out an orb that was larger than her fist, from one of her saddle bags. After pouring some water into it, she unlatched a staff from the saddle straps. She snapped the orb to the end of the staff with a built in metal encasement. Now she was able to hold the glowing staff up higher and farther ahead so Nimble could see the trees in front of them. She pushed on, probably farther than she should have, even though they were going slow. Lidia did not stop until she heard pleading barks from Burnt behind her. He could go no further that night.
She was just bringing Nimble to a halt and examining her surroundings, when she heard a twig snap, that made her hair stand on end. At the same time Burnt began growling defensively.
“Whose there,” Lidia demanded loudly.
Nothing answered and the noise had stopped.
Lidia silently slipped off of her mattath and ordered him to lie down and stay. Nimble gratefully obeyed. If he sensed any danger he was too tired to care. With a sharp whisper the girl ordered Burnt to follow her, leaving her light staff out in the open beside Nimble. Lidia and her dog slipped into the shadows, hiding behind a tree where they could see by the orb’s light where Nimble lay.
Lidia breathlessly waited, as the area settled and all that could be heard was Nimble breathing. Something on all fours, low to the ground and dark, skirted around the shadows of the light.
Lidia was just deciding her next move when Burnt crouched down to growl.
“Burnt, no,” She hissed.
The dog did not listen, he started snarling louder.
In the darkness Lidia did not realize Burnt was not facing the light. He was facing her backside. Without warning, Burnt lurched deeper into the darkness, barking and snarling.
“Burnt,” Lidia cried, completely standing and facing the direction he had bolted. In her moment of worry for Burnt, the girl had forgotten her other intruder. The moment it rushed her Lidia remembered and sprang away as the shadow almost soundlessly flew by her feet.
“Burnt,” Lidia called again desperately. Twirling around, she hastened back to her staff. She almost tripped over roots before snatching at the staff. Spinning back around she hurried to find Burnt. There were snarls and yelps, growls and screeching in the darkness. It was enough to make her heart race.
Lidia was too late. By the time she reached Burnt, he was already making his way back to her. His neck had a red patch of blood. With great concern, Lidia bent down to examine her dog. As she did so, she saw out of the corner of her eye the shadow beast reemerging. Lidia cried out, unsheathing her cutlass as she watched a black creature sidling beside her dog. In the white light, Lidia could see clearly that the shadow was a wolverine. The knowledge did not comfort the girl.
The beast was swaying with every step, he was wounded. Lidia prepared to strike first when she saw the most incredible thing. Burnt was licking the wolverines face. The wolverine did not react, he continued walking ahead. Lidia had to move out of his way since he was not going to shuffle around her. Burnt followed him until Lidia called him back to her. With Burnt at her feet, she watched as the wolverine made to pass by Nimble, but instead collapsed.
Burnt whimpered, but did not leave his posted spot, he knew better than to disobey again. Lidia on the other hand took two steps forward and then reconsidered. It was a wolverine after all. It was ingrained in her since she was a child not to go anywhere near a wolverine. Burnt whined again, causing Lidia to look back at her companion. She trusted dogs instincts, but sometimes she read them wrong. Even if Burnt’s signals were as clear as the light orb, the girl still faltered.
She sighed deeply relenting, “Come,” Lidia ordered as she turned back to the wolverine.
The beast was huffing, breathing deeply as he lay there, not bothering to notice those around him. As Lidia bent over it, she did not know what to do. She was not even sure where he was wounded. She mentally debated putting the thing out of his misery.
“Well, Burnt,” Her dog was sniffing at the wolverine’s face, but looked up at the sound of his name. “What should I do? This was your idea.” Lidia was about to stretch her hand out to touch the head of the wolverine, when she shot to her feet, almost tripping over herself.
Without blinking she starred as the wolverine’s fur began to disappear. His snout turned into a nose, his paws into hands and feet. There was no longer a wolverine on the ground. There was a fully clothed man stretched out in the dirt.
Lidia’s mouth was on hinges. Her eyes were unable to pull away, “That’s a man!”