This is the rough draft of a published novel. Please excuse any mistakes in this version.
There was a brisk wind that was coming in fast. It whistled through the tree branches and carried away brown leaves no longer able to hold on as the green made its return. A few birds were chirping near a lone figure seated on a low arm of the tree. White hair shimmied loose from a braid due to the ministrations of the season’s breeze. Soundlessly, Freya pulled an arrow from the quiver at her back and notched it, sure she would strike true in a moment’s notice.
A few more seconds and the plump rabbit would be within easy reach of the arrows sharp point. The simple creature was nibbling on choice grass in a small patch of forest floor not yet littered with spring’s new growth. The rabbit ducked its head under a clump of grass to get to the greener bits, white standing out amongst the dead leaves and foliage.
Right before the arrow could stick into its intended target the hare flinched and bounced from its buffet of greens. The arrow struck damp earth and the would-be prey flitted away.
Freya jumped from one branch to the next to follow her target. She made quick work of leaping to a tree further away. Palms gripped the bark and toned arms quietly lifted her body to a safe perch. Another whirlwind sent more leaves in a flurry to the ground below. She swiftly descended the next tree halfway down until her prey was once more in sight. Despite the cool gust, a line of perspiration was beginning to form on her brow. Again, she drew back the bowstring in preparation to fire.
Her enhanced vision narrowed in on her target when suddenly raucous laughter from above the heights of the gargantuan treetops disturbed the rabbit a second time. This time the critter got away for good and the hunter’s gaze peered through the treetops.
A group of soldiers were flying overhead. Only five of them to the current flock, but enough of a racket to scare away any prey within the near forest vicinity.
Red rushed up Freya’s cheeks and the feathers on her neck rose up as she glared after the soldiers flying towards the colony. A rabbit wasn’t a huge loss, but it would have made a nice addition to mother’s vegetable stew.
Freya dismounted the tree in a flurry of leaps and bounds. She had to find her lost arrow from her first attempt at catching the lost rabbit. Her boots padded over the leaves and vegetation on the forest floor as she traced her direction back.
There was still plenty of time to get home before dark. Even if it was a poor day of hunting Freya enjoyed her time alone. You’re not as much of an outcast if you’re by yourself. The silence of nature was calming Freya as she dashed through the forest underbrush. The breeze of the incoming spring weather seemed to race her home as the afternoon chill began to set in.
The foliage of the gargantuan treetops left only a haze of light as she neared home. As Freya got closer she could begin to make out the sounds of Adaryn families settling for a cozy afternoon in their homes above. When Freya looked up, she mustered a small smile for the lovely homes constructed into the top branches of the largest sequoias. A few homes had wooden bridges connecting them to one another, although most Adaryn’s would prefer to fly from one place to the next.
Freya saw an Adaryn soldier returning to his home landing on the stoop wrapping entirely around the tree’s girth to enter his home. Massive tawny wings came to rest against his back as soon as he was sure of foot on the wooden planks.
Above, other soldiers began to fly in through the forest canopy and locate their own abodes to roost for the night. Freya couldn’t help but enviously admire the myriad of colored wings soaring into the tree homes on the outskirts of the Adaryn community. The ease with which they maneuvered the arms of the trees was impressive and a sigh escaped Freya. Not for the first time, she thought of what she was missing out on.
She adjusted the strap of the quiver against her bare back. She was an Adaryn without wings. Very rare. Most born like her didn’t live long after being born, and that was on purpose. Freya was the only living Adaryn who couldn’t fly, and every day she was reminded of how different she was.
A flash of white and red overhead distracted Freya from her melancholy. Excitement replaced the feelings of inadequacy as she heard the boots of a soldier land on the balcony of her home. Freya grabbed the knotted rope at the base of the tree and begin to climb up with ease. She might not have the ease of using her own wings, but by now she was a master of the ground and scaling the heights of the nearly impossible to climb trees her people made their homes in. The harder the climb the safer from their enemies. Freya’s home was the only one with a ladder.
Freya reached the stoop and pulled herself onto the sturdy planks and before rushing for the door. The familiar scents of home reached her nose as she swung the door open to see her sister standing in the sitting room with their mother and father trying to stop her from devouring all the fresh bread still steaming.
“Raga you put that down! The bread is for dinner!” Their mother bickered.
Raga, ignoring their mother, whipped around as she heard her younger sister enter. The tall and proud Valkyrie warrior was returning from her stint patrolling the borders. Her near white hair and wings had been freshly dyed red at the tips, as all Valkyrie did to stand apart from the other Adaryn soldiers. Bright blue eyes flashed in a smile as she leapt at Freya’s small frame. Raga swooped past the girl’s parents who were trying to bicker over the bread and engulfed her younger sister in a tight hug.
“Just in time to eat, sister! I flew home as soon as they dismissed us for the next rotation to take up their post. Knowing Mother’s stew would be ready and waiting for me, well, us of course I’ll share. A warrior’s appetite is never satiated if you ask the Captain.” Raga smiled down at the much shorter Freya before turning back to look at their parents.
Mother’s blue eyes reflected the light in Raga’s and Freya’s as she beamed in delight having her two nestlings’ home and her family all together. Freya could see the pride in their father’s eyes as he looked at the magnificence that was his firstborn. The great beauty and warrior Raga who brought great honor to the family as one of the few Adaryn to join the elite squad of soldiers that made up the Valkyrie.
Freya looked away from her family and in the direction of the steaming stew to hide her shame of being insufficient. She didn’t want the joy she felt at seeing her sister to be ruined by something she couldn’t change.
“Please, Raga, sit and tell us about what’s been going on at the border. The other ladies at the market say-” Mother began but Raga’s laugh cut her off.
“Are you worrying about me again? You think a few cur sightings at the border bother me? Not at all. I’d like to see one of those mongrels even try to enter Adaryn lands. The Valkyrie would make easy work of those wild beasts,” The older sister stated clutching her fist and raising it as though she was ready for a fight at any moment. Raga’s confidence was effective at calming Mother, but Father still had a glimmer of doubt in his eyes.
“Don’t listen to the clucking of hens at the market, Mother.” Raga affirmed.
“She’s right, Gwylan. You know how the other mothers constantly worry after the children they have on patrol, yourself included,” Father was telling her. “Raga has been doing marvelous with the Valkyrie for several seasons, like we knew she would. There’s no need to worry about a few sightings at the borders. If the beasts get any closer to the crops the Council and Royal family won’t hesitate to send reinforcements. Nothing like the sight of wings to send their tails tucked and running.”
Father had a gleam in his eye like he usually did when remembering his own time wearing the armor of his people. He had served for many seasons, until Freya was born and the attention she had needed called him home permanently.
“I’m glad you’re home, Raga. Although, if you snore, I’ll serve you up to the mutts in the mountains myself.” Freya chirped up at her sister with a devious smile.
“I don’t doubt you would, Freya! The fiercest of us all and my inspiration every day.” Raga wrapped an armored arm around her much smaller sister’s shoulders and steered them both in the direction of the delicious smells of supper where vegetable stew was wafting the smell of herbs into the air.
“Wait, Raga, let me serve you!” Mother started towards the cupboards for bowls, before stopping in her tracks. “Both of you!” her finger pointed at her daughters, “You both smell of the woods and sweat. I don’t want your day’s filth stinking up our first meal together in a moon’s cycle.” She followed up by waving her hands to shoo the girls away from the kitchen.
After a stern nod from their Father and a smirk shared between Freya and Raga, they quickly set off up the curved stairway in the center of their home that was built into the gargantuan tree.
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This story is very near and dear to my heart. Please let me know what you think!