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  1. Repeat Offenders

    Oh for Artifex sake… “I can’t believe it!” Revinn boomed. I stared at the dead Midnight Stag at my feet. Revinn called out once more to the others and they began to appear out of the trees one or two at a time. “Never! Never happened!” Revinn shouted. “No one, no one in history has ever gotten two!” The others cheered and congratulated us with laughter and claps on the back. “Not me,” Revinn laughed loudly and shook his head. “Talon. It was Talon. Again! I was only around for the end.” The entire point of going out hunting was to get out, stretch my legs, and have some peace and quiet. When I found I was to be accompanied by the others, I had still managed to slip away. Had I had not gone off by myself, I would never gotten the buck. Revinn had been far away enough not to scare it off and close enough to be there for the final kill. I had considered scaring it away myself, pride had made me follow through. If he had seen me drive it off, what then? By the time we made it back to Harald’s Port our hunting party had grown threefold. I was surrounded as we walked in. Villagers had stopped along the route to watch as if it were some type of victory parade. I hated the attention and began to sweat harder than I had all day. When Leaf caught my eye, he smiled, did a quick shake of his head, and watched us pass by. Phaetheon looked equally amused when we walked towards him, but there was something else in his eyes. As we approached, he eloquently bowed low and long to me. Suddenly, Galehault did as well, then some of the others with them. I was shocked and made to stop, but Teucer ran into me from behind. “Wow,” Revinn said when we stopped at the hut. “Congratulations!” The tanner slapped me on the back. I let Revinn do the small talk with him and stood back to lean on the wall. I did my best to block out the curious stares. “Are you alright?” Teucer asked quietly. I turned and looked down into his young eyes. He would not understand. I nodded. “Word is the King will arrive tomorrow,” Revinn said. “With this,” he thumbed to the carcass, “a good deal will be made.” The laborer nodded sagely and smiled. “Come, let us go get a drink to celebrate!” He slapped my shoulder. There were some stragglers watching and waiting for us along the way to the inn giving their good greetings and wishes for fortune. One man asked me to hold his knife to bring him luck with whatever it was he was planning to do with it. A woman grabbed my hand and rubbed her belly with it. “A blessing to the child within,” she whispered. Once Leaf joined us I began to feel better. A table to the side was vacated for us. The drinks were free. The food delicious. The talk loud. The stares repeated. Revinn, Leaf, and Teucer stayed nearby although others at the table exchanged places. Later, well after the food, Leaf took his leave. “The moon is bright. You are the hero of the day, enjoy it.” He gave me a soft smile that made me warm inside. When he left, his warmth lingered while I listened to my own thoughts. “I think your friend has had enough,” Begayar said from next to me. I did not remember him sitting down nor Revinn leaving. I glanced over to Teucer. He was listing to port. When he looked up at me his eyes were soft and the red in his cheeks was prominent. My tankard was pushed in front of me. “Go on finish up. I can help you with him later.” Begayar grinned. I grabbed the vessel, but I did not feel like it. My mouth tasted bitter, no doubt from the many ales. I felt fine but did not feel like more. “Go on, someone paid for that, you don’t want to offend,” Begayar prodded gently. I took a sip, the taste was somehow sweet and replaced the metallic aftertaste from the previous ones. Begayar nodded. As I finished it off, I thought of Leaf and immediately felt warm. “Come on, let’s get him to bed,” Begayar whispered. He stood and went around to Teucer and gently stood him up. I came around and put an arm around Teucer from the other side. He sighed and rested his head on my collarbone. As we started across to the door, Begayar stopped us. “He would fall off the dock. We should get him a room here.” He waved to the last remaining innkeeper. The man nodded and pointed down a narrow hallway into what was the new addition. “Our best for our esteemed guest. The last door,” he said with respectful nod. We staggered down the hallway, me holding Teucer up and Begayar guiding us. While Begayar fumbled at the door. I heard unmistakable sounds from a dark alcove nearby. The forms of two men, seemingly unworried about our presence, touched each other in the darkness. Their shadow faces were joined in passion. I heard their soft moans and suddenly envied them. The open, yet hidden affection, or mere lust, they shared. “This is a nice room,” Begayar said looking around and pulling us inside. He went and threw a log into the low fire place. I shut the door behind us. Teucer leaned on me, but I got him to the bed and sat him down. He immediately started to go to lie on his side. “Not yet.” Begayar caught his arm. “Come help me get him undressed.” We did, he giggled the entire time. Begayar chuckled. Once tucked under the covers. He smiled serenely seemingly surrendering to sleep. He was warm, safe, had no cares. I, on the other hand, grabbed at the wall to steady myself. “You might as well stay here too,” Begayar said gently into my ear. “You may have had more than you thought.” I didn’t think I had. He smiled and guided me to the other side of the bed. He helped me get undressed and I climbed in. I was dizzy anyway and time off the swaying ship would be nice. “You both will be comfortable enough. Take it easy. I will set the lock so no one will bother you.” He took something out of his cloak and set it on mantle of the fireplace. “Drink one of these in the morning. It will help you. Not tonight though, just sleep now. The other is for Teucer.” He came back to my side of the bed. I looked into his eyes, they were odd, all wide and black. “Everything happens for a reason Talon.” I did not understand, perhaps I had had too much ale after all. He closed the door behind himself and I heard the lock click into place. I rolled onto my side and closed my eyes. It had been some time since I had been this drunk. I had almost forgotten. Mercifully I fell asleep quickly to Teucer’s light breathing. Thorn and I walked through the dirty winding streets of the island city. A city full of every vice for a price. All we were interested in, however, was a warm and safe bed. We found a run-down inn directly next to a run-down brothel. “You boys looking for a little fun?” one of the whores called. She shook her red colored hair out of her face and pulled her skirt up far enough to not only show what was for sale but to make me wonder why she even bothered wearing a clothes at all. When we made for the inn’s entrance, she called out to us and frantically grabbed out behind the brothel’s doorway. “There is something for all tastes here!” She pulled a young man out by the ear. He looked at the two of us with fear. “Whatever you want,” he said with wide frightened black eyes. I pushed Thorn through the inn’s door. “Degenerates!” the woman shouted after us. The sour looking keeper showed us to a small room with a bad lock. I jammed a broken chair against it. “I’m exhausted,” Thorn sighed and leaned against the wall the remove his outer armor. I came over to him and helped with the straps. “You are always so good to me…” He smiled. I took my time and caressed him. He giggled softly. When I got to his trousers, I made him groan with my touches. My hands guided him to bed. I shed my clothes quickly and climbed in. His eyes were closed, but his body was awake and I massaged him gently until he moaned. It was not long before he rolled to face away from me allowing me more. His exquisite warmth sent shivers through my entire being. I repeatedly embraced that warmth. For those moments, his body, his life, and his soul were intertwined with mine. When he rolled to face me once more, I held him as closely as he held me. We were complete. I woke in the night. Feeling cool. I looked at the fire running low and the pile of wood beside it. Teucer lay on the far edge of the bed snoring softly. My head fought me as I tried to stand. I staggered my way over to the fireplace, getting colder with every step. I tossed two logs on and stumbled back. Teucer murmured in his sleep. I climbed back in and pulled the blankets up close. He quieted down again before long. The moon shown down on Leaf. He smiled wryly. He knew I was watching. I lay below him. His face was down, his eyes closed, his hands raised to his patron. I reached up to caress his jaw with my palm. I felt him lean into it. He actually wanted me to touch him. I stroked his glowing face. ‘This did not happen,’ a voice somewhere inside my mind said. ‘I don’t care’ came the response from somewhere even more deeply hidden inside. He brought his hand to mine and pulled me up to face him. I looked into his closed eyes and felt his peace. We walked back to town touching hands and made our way to Fin’s house and the small room we had shared once before. He crawled into the bed and made room for me at his side. We rested in the dark, our knuckles barely grazing each other. Without warning, there was a shifting and movement on the bed. He was moving towards me. I felt his leg next to mine and then his arm. I froze where I was. His leg crossed mine and one arm crossed my chest to my other side. Something grazed my private area. He effortlessly lowered his entire body onto me. I felt his mouth graze my chin. With small caresses his lips parted my lips. The touch of his tongue sent a rush to my groin. He pulled away and I searched for him with my mouth. I could not see in the dark, but felt his warmth send shivers through my entire being. I was engulfed by his heat. I felt the covers tucked back and I chanced a squinted peek into the dark room. I heard shuffling and could see his shadow pulling on its pants. The door opened slightly and he edged his way out, but before closing the door he smiled at me. I rolled on my side and tried to sleep. I woke to the sound of Teucer’s rhythmic breathing. My head ached a little but my stomach and the rest of my body felt surprisingly felt fine. Small specks of light shown from the low embers on what remained of the fire. Slowly, I untangled myself and pulled back the covers. Cool but not cold. Just a little swaying brought me over to the remaining wood. I set one more log on the fire and sat down to pull on my clothes. I did not remember removing my under armor, but they were warm from being on the chair next to heat all night and felt luxurious against my skin. When I leaned forward the second time for my regular trousers, my head spun. I leaned back, closed my eyes, and waited for the sensation to pass. Once manageable, I opened my eyes to try again. Begayar’s bottles sat on the mantle near me. I took and tasted one. It had a tea like flavor but I was unsure what it was made from. I drank the rest and settled back into the chair. Later, I woke from my doze to Teucer coughing on the bed. I slowly grabbed the second bottle and brought it to him. “From Begayar. Drink.” He did so without protest. “Sleep.” I gently patted his shoulder. He lay back and I pulled the covers up close over him again. After a few moments, his breathing became regular. I quietly dressed and left. The sun was high as I exited the inn. I walked toward the boats to see what word had been given. A large canopy was being erected over Phaetheon’s ship. “Well you look fine enough,” Marius smiled. I nodded… and surprisingly my head didn’t hurt. Whatever Begayar had given us, had worked. I felt a familiar hand on my shoulder. “How is Teucer doing then?” Phaetheon smiled. It felt as if it had been weeks since I had seen him actually look happy. “Sleeping it off.” I shrugged. He laughed. “I would think so. I hear he got the worst of it.” He turned and looked at Marius. “Again…” He smiled. “That wasn’t our fault!” Marius laughed. I pointed up at the ship. “For the evening meal, a private affair. We want to make a good show of it, the old King did not really give us a chance.” A lot of activity was happening on the boat and off. Cooking spits were being tended on the shore. Phaetheon was trying to make this a grand event, one worthy of a King. “There you are!” Revinn bowed to Phaetheon and then clapped me on the back. “Care to try your luck again today? Who knows what the woods will send you?” He grinned broadly. Marius chuckled. Phaetheon’s eyes watched in thought. I shook my head slowly. “Ah, more rest for tonight then… good plan… I had hoped to attend…” Revinn looked away. “I am sure it could be arranged,” Marius said as he stroked his chin and looked at Phaetheon. Something registered behind the thinking eyes. “Yes,” Phaetheon said slowly. “Yes, you should come. Be my invited guest.” Revinn beamed at the special invitation and excitedly bowed to Phaetheon who nodded in return. Marius smiled. “I understand there is a bathhouse?” “Of course,” Revinn nodded with a smile. “It will be nice to have a warm bath instead of the cold sea.” Marius grinned. “I will show you the way. Are you coming?” They looked at me. “Later.” “Suit yourself. See you this evening then.” Revinn made to bow again. “Truly sir, although I am honored, that is not necessary.” Phaetheon smiled. “Thank you sir.” “Come on, show me this warm bath.” Marius nudged Revinn. They walked off talking about the evening to come. “He seems like a good fellow,” Phaetheon said. “A fine ally perhaps…” I nodded. “Well, time will tell. Now as for you…” He faced me directly. “I have a favor to ask.” I was allowed the bathhouse to myself. A luxury afforded by my status of killing a Midnight Stag twice. The villagers had finally let me be alone inside. Even on the way, I had been approached a few times. One was a straight offer of flesh for the taking. Another, a request to provide the gift of a baby through my seed. There was even a young man who approached. I waved him off to avoid finding out what his request was. I had bolted the door so no more offers would be made while I was unclothed. I sat and relaxed into myself. Peace and quiet before this evenings activities. I would survive. I trusted Phaetheon enough to keep things comfortable for me. He had always been true to his word. There was a gentle knock at the door. “Talon?” It was Leaf. I rose, wrapped myself, and padded to the door. “It’s Leaf. Can I join you?” I unbolted and let him in before relocking the door. He set down a large sack. “Clothes from Phaetheon.” He shrugged. “Good to see you doing well. After last night, I was wondering how you were.” He grinned. I smiled and got back in the warm water. It was nice to spend my alone time with Leaf. I felt he genuinely cared in a way I had not felt since... “Teucer looked a little green when I saw him earlier, but not nearly like I would have expected.” I nodded. He undressed and stretched before slowly entering the water opposite. The dream from the night before briefly flashed before me. I had forgotten. The sight, the touch. He smiled and as he settled in; my chest tightened. He sighed and leaned back. I wanted to touch him. “Tonight will be quite a big deal. I hope everything goes smoothly for Phaetheon.” I nodded. “If all goes well, I understand that we can head out and across the sea.” His eyes lazily opened, but the pupils were wide with excitement. I smiled at his enthusiasm and felt warm, but not from the water. He slid back and under the water. I saw his form coming toward me. For one moment I thought… maybe… then he came up at my side and relaxed again. After a few moments so did I. “There was something else I was supposed to tell you.” He leaned into me and I held my breath. “About Begayar, when he left…” I must have looked surprised. “What? Begayar left, I thought you knew.” He looked deeply into my eyes. “He left with a caravan headed to Bald Cliff.” I nodded. That made sense, but he had not said anything, not even a goodbye, not that he owed me one, still. But, no wonder Phaetheon looked different, happier. There had been something there, but I could not put my finger on it. Relief? Begayar had come into our lives as a puzzle and left as one. “One of his parents was from there I think. Anyway, before he left he told me to give you a message. I am not sure what he meant entirely but…” He leaned in close to my ear. “He said to thank you for ‘saving his mortal life’ and in return he ‘gave you immortality.’” We looked at each other. We were so close. Droplets ran down across his cheek. A lock of his wet hair draped across his brow. “I know, I did not know what he meant either. Then he said something like ‘whether it was blessing or a curse, he was to blame.’” Again, we stared at each other. Another drop of water ran off his shoulder. He was a sitting distraction. “I asked him what he meant, he only bade me well and told me to…” he paused and blushed, “…continue to following the way shown to me.” He looked away. “Then he said goodbye and jumped on the wagon.” I gazed at his neck and shoulders. We sat in silence for a few moments. He was close enough to hear him breath. “Any ideas?” I shook my head. My mind was blank. “Well, he seemed to think you would…” I shook my head again. Part of me was relieved Begayar and his odd presence were moving father from Leaf and I. I shrugged, lay back in the water, and closed my eyes, happy to be where I was, with who I was with.
  2. Three Docks, No Wading

    Thank you for sticking with the erratic postings. I do appreciate your interest and support. I do have more coming, hopefully very soon. As for platonic love, I do not wish to give anything away, but I truly do not have the patience for it to go on too much longer. I will have to question you sometime about if I am playing my hand too soon however. Please always feel free to keep sharing your thoughts. Thank you and Hugs!
  3. "Long Road to.."


    Great story;; hope continued.  



    1. Randomness


      Thank you Watcher!  Admittedly, the going is slow on my end.  Always seems like life gets in the way, right?  :-)  I can promise more is coming.  No spoilers but the next four chapters are being revised.  Sloppy business.  Four others are being fleshed out.  I expect another few to go out over the next few weeks provided everything stays calm.  (Knock on wood.)  Thank you for keeping me thinking ahead.  Hugs.

  4. Three Docks, No Wading

    The sun was high when the first of our ships came to rest at one of the town’s three midsized docks. As the other piers were occupied, we began the process of bunching together, pulling lines for stability, and dropping the planking bridges in place between us. As soon as I put my foot on the board, Begayar was at my side. He did not look especially well, but he was on his feet. “When would I ever get the chance to see this place again?” He gave a wry smile. “Herre,” Huallpa said as he gave us broaches with Phaetheon’s crest. “Don’t lose them.” He smiled and went back to his duties. I helped him across to the next ship and then to the last. Every time I touched a deck, I scanned all the faces looking for Leaf and Blade. I only recognized a scant few, men from the caravan I suspected. When we finally reached the stability of the wooden pier, we were immediately surrounded. “It is good to see you safe brother,” Blade hugged me. “Marius said you had made it aboard safely,” Leaf smiled. “I was glad to hear it. And with a rescue.” He looked at Begayar and switched languages. “My name is Leaf. How are you feeling?” “Begayar.” He extended his hand and immediately regretted it. “Very sore.” “I am sure we can find something to help ease the pain…” “Lloque… the ship’s doctor said the same thing.” Begayar replied. “Glad to hear you are under care.” “We will be docked for a few days at most. My brothers,” Blade indicated them behind him, “are going to take me and Phaetheon to their sanctuary beyond the passage… we could ask for permission should you want to come…” “I doubt they would let us,” Leaf countered. Blade sighed in agreement. “Enemy territory…” Begayar whispered. I shrugged. “We stay here.” I could almost see the relief on both Blade and Begayar’s faces. From the opposite side, Phaetheon approached us. “Good to see you well,” he said stiffly to my ears. He looked at Begayar and there was something in his eyes. Not fear exactly, recognition perhaps, being seen maybe. There was an awkward pause as eyes locked. “This is Begayar,” Leaf switched back to common. “He does not speak the common tongue. Begayar seemed to acknowledge his name, but his eyes remained decidedly fixed on Phaetheon. “Good to see him well.” Phaetheon switched to Begayar’s language. “I hear you were wounded and saved.” Whatever surprise he may have had at hearing Phaetheon speak directly to him, Begayar suppressed it. “Thank you,” he said quietly. Phaetheon continued his scrutiny of Begayar and another strange pause engulfed us. The left side of Begayar’s mouth twisted ever so slightly into a wry grin. One that made me uncomfortable. “We should be off to the sanctuary,” one of the brothers whispered to Blade. “Yes,” Blade nodded. “Shall we?” Without a word Phaetheon turned and led the way across the village, the brothers and Blade in tow behind him, and left us standing dumbstruck. As soon as they turned a corner, Begayar uttered a soft laugh. We turned to him. Leaf looked at me sideways. “Interesting,” Begayar said and stood up straight then subsequently winced for the pain. “I will see this place before I leave, but perhaps tomorrow.” He turned and made his way up the plank and back to the ships. “Odd…” whispered Leaf. I shook my head. I suddenly felt tired but alert. A storm had moved through but without the rain and we were now alone. Leaf hugged me and erased the questions. “I am happy you are safe.” “As am I.” I whispered back. “Shall we?” We walked into the port. It was little more than a few buildings to shelter travelers and goods. The true city lie through the passage. We passed the entrance. It was an arched opening, barely tall or wide enough for a wagon. Currently, the large metal doors sat open. The dark tunnel behind slanted upward, seemingly to the plateau behind and above. The numerous guards watched our every move as we continued past. As was the case with a landing port, there was not all that much to see. It was nothing more than an entry point, a docking or travel facility for the population above on the mesa. We went into a newer looking tavern and had some reasonably edible, non-ship, fare. “After you guys pushed us out into the bay, I did not know what to expect,” Leaf began. “We paddled really hard to get out past the current, but kept getting drawn closer to the fort. Then we hit a good spot and were able to push out farther.” He gulped his ale. “Then we were pushed the other way, away from the ships, toward the opposite side of the bay. Then we ran up on a sand bar. We had to stop, we had been rowing for hours. Next thing we knew, the sun was rising so we pushed off and made for the boats. Well, we must have hit a rock or something because the boat started to swamp out. We were not close enough to try calling, so we just left the boat and swam for it.” “It felt like we were not making any progress at all. Once or twice, I kept thinking… well, you know… but, I kept saying ‘I have to make it, I have to make it back.’” He looked at me softly, with warm eyes. “We must have been seen, because one of the skiffs caught us and brought us into the ships. All three of us! All three saved! Can you believe it? And there you have it… not very heroic, but we got the job done.” He smiled. “Brave…” I said slowly. “Stupid and brave.” He laughed. “You saved us.” “What?” He set down his tankard. “Enemy scouts. At the beach.” I nodded. “No ships, no rescue. Trapped.” It was true, if they had not gotten word to the boats, the scouts would have been soon followed by troops. We would have been fighting for our lives on the beach. He pinken-ed slightly. “Well, we are all safe now. So what happened while we were out treading water?” I gave him a brief rundown of the waiting, the reconnaissance, the return to the beach, and the escape to the ships. Some of the others from the party appeared in the tavern to eat. The seemingly once-again-ever-present Teucer joined us at Leaf’s side. They talked quietly about the accommodations on board. After eating, we made another pass around the town just to stretch out our legs then returned to the ships. We found a comfortable place on the deck, under the stars. It had been days since I had slept well and with Leaf at my side, I did. The next day Begayar and LLoque went into town together to gather supplies. Leaf and I stayed on around the docks, only leaving once to get food at the same inn. Late in the day, we got word that Phaetheon’s party would return by the next day and we would set sail. The next leg of the trip would begin. Leaf was excited. He had never been to the tundra lands, much less the other side of the world. I could not help but be happy for his joy. He talked and smiled and laughed like a child. I spent most of my time near him. He had taken a liking to Teucer and the two played dice. I almost became comfortable with the odd looks from Teucer, but they were still there. I still did not know what to make of them. Leaf offered no further explanation. “He likes you.” Was all Leaf said. Marius and Galehault sat with me sometimes and joked and laughed. Galehault said his father Artor had officially retired as far as he knew. When he had last seen him it was at the docks in the Capitol. The entire family had seen him off on his own adventures with Phaetheon. As of the others that I had known, some were working with the city no longer controlled by the Duke. Others had gone through that valley, now that it was open, towards new lands, peoples, and kingdoms with Phaetheon. One such land contained the tribe of man from which Captian Huallpa and his kin came from. His people had become a fast ally to both Ambrosius and Phaetheon. The trading flourished. New markets and goods now flowed through Greenwater and other ports and passes. Two things were not mentioned. The first was Maritimus. Galehault did not mention him and because he did not, I was afraid to ask. I did not know how old he actually was, but old enough. Still I hoped to be able to see him again someday. The second was Stag’s Pass and the secrets that lie there. I surmised the men’s child-bearing ability, the ability to procreate without women, was still secret. There was not a lot of other information at all about them or how Stag’s Pass was doing with all the changes going on in the new world opening up around them. It was almost like they deliberately left Stag’s Pass alone, isolated, like they had wanted to be. I looked at Teucer and thought to ask him. Surely, he should know. He was one of them. He sat talking with some of the others. He was old enough to have a child, if he were able, if Gibbous has been any indication of when that capability began. In fact he should have. He looked up suddenly and saw me studying him. There was a flush or blush and he looked down at his feet. After a few moments, he looked up at me again. Seeing I still was watching him, he smiled for a moment then looked down again before turning slightly away from everyone and his face became lost to me. We slept on the deck once again. True to the news, Phaetheon and the group came to the docks just before sunrise. Blade and the others followed him aboard. With them was another man, he was another one of the brothers from his dress and an enemy from his looks. The words about Phaetheon echoed again: a collector. Our traveling group continued to grow and diversify with every turn. There seemed to be a general discussion between the captains, Phaetheon, and some of the others. They all returned to their ships and the next hours were spent rearranging cargo, crew, and passengers. It appeared Blade and the others of the Artifex Pater were to stay aboard the main ship with Phaetheon. Other crew were shifted between and along with cargo. I smiled when I saw Leaf come back across the plank. “Welcome aboarrd the Inpherrno!” Huallpa boomed and shook Leaf’s hand. “And you as well my phrreind!” He reached past Leaf to Teucer and brought him down onto the deck. “I couldn’t let you do a longer leg of the journey without me now could I?” Leaf cocked an eyebrow. I could not help but smile. “And Teucer here, well… there was just not enough room for him aboard any other ship…” He laughed. Teucer blushed and looked down. I put my hand on his shoulder. He shyly looked up at me. “Prreparre to sail!” Huallpa boomed across the ship then he looked at us. “Good to have you aboarrd. Let me know iph you need anything, yes?” We nodded and he walked away down the deck. The three of us watched the final preparations: the boards raised, the ropes changed, the sails unfurled, the anchors raised. “We are on our way…” Leaf beamed. “Home…” Teucer whispered. I nodded. Begayar sat next to me on the deck eating. We were mostly quiet, listening to others from various places all over the ship. “It will be colder in the tundras.” He spoke in his language. I nodded. “I’ve wanted to visit Bald Cliff, my father was born there…” He shrugged. “I was not sure how I was going to get there… until now.” He smiled. “And you?” “Don’t know.” He turned and looked directly into my eyes. I couldn’t look away. He searched and searched. “Ah…” he said slowly. “…so much inside… so much there…” I suddenly felt exposed, and shook my head. “No mind,” he chuckled. “Your destiny is written already.” I was uncomfortable and wondered what kind of man Begayar really was suddenly. He was not one I felt quite right about. These rest of our meal was spent in uncomfortable silence. Begayar was similar to Phaetheon in a way but very different in others. Back home, a man such as he, or Phaetheon, would either be followed or killed. There would have been no in between. Physically, he was weak, but that did not make me feel all that much better. That evening, the winds calm, cool, and cleansing to my mind. They drove out thoughts of Begayar. I sat up late with Leaf and Teucer watching the stars. I woke stiff from the hard deck rail behind me. Leaf lay next to me, his back warm to my side. Teucer slept leaned against my shoulder. Between them was a comforting warmth. My mind flashed back to nights in the tent. Three had been warm and safe. Two had been the best. I smiled and re-closed my eyes. There was nothing to see and, in spite of my neck, I was comfortable. The closer we came to Shield Keep, the colder the nights became. It was agreed that we would do better out of the wind. Teucer found a place among the crew’s cabins, Leaf and I crowded into a storage room. We shared with crates and sacks of goods traded to and from the expedition. Some nights, I curled to Leaf for warmth and space. He did not mind. Sometimes, he even rolled to me for my heat. It was nice being alone with him again. The daylight hours were spent on board with Huallpa, LLoque, Begayar, or Teucer. The night was spent with Leaf. Gradually, Teucer seemed less shy around me and was able to even speak more casually, though there were still the pink cheeks and glances away. Shield Keep provided disappointment to some of the party. The “wrong” races were not allowed to disembark. As an enemy port, I was not surprised. “You should go.” Leaf put his hand on Teucer’s shoulder. They both glanced at me. I nodded. “Come on, we will take you,” Marius smiled, Galehault stood next to him grinning. I gave him a light nudge. He looked at me quick and blushed. “Come on,” Galehault took his arm. “Bring him back in one piece!” Leaf called after them. We heard a light chuckle behind us. “What an… interesting… young lad… isn’t he?” Begayar grinned, looked at me in the eyes, and shook his head. “Well, then I am going below for food. Care to join me?” “A bit of a light-weight,” Galehault chuckled. “And very inquisitive,” Marius added with a slight slur to his voice. “Am not!” Teucer stumbled onto the deck. Leaf grabbed his arm. “Steady there. What did you guys do to him?” He chuckled. “It’s not…” Marius hiccupped, “our fault.” “We didn’t know the wine was going to be that strong,” Galehault added. “We were supposed to water it down.” Leaf chuckled. Teucer leaned into him and grabbed on so as not to fall. “I’m not that bad.” He panted. Leaf put his arm around him. “Come on, you can sleep it off in with us.” Teucer looked up at me. I made to open my mouth. Leaf headed me off. “They took a crate out today. There will be room.” I closed my mouth and shrugged. “Ok then…” Leaf tugged Teucer away and below. I turned back to Galehault and Marius. They looked at me, looked at each other and bust out laughing. I shook my head. “It was not our fault!” Marius burped. “I don’t envy him in the morning.” Galehault grinned. I shook my head again. “Look,” Marius giggled, “Dad… is mad at us…” “Come on, you need to sleep it off too.” Galehault tugged Marius away to cross to the next ship. I watched to make sure they got to the next deck without falling down in between. Another soft chuckle came from behind me. Begayar stood there, the shake of his head barely visible. “Dad…” He had said it in common. I made to speak, but he continued in his language. “The meaning was clear enough.” His grin made me uncomfortable. “So how do you feel about children then?” I turned and walked away to the sound of his laughter. Teucer was finally feeling better as we approached Heraldsport, a harbor I had never heard of. We were told it was a neutral place, part of its own kingdom, Rostungr. “Therre is a new King,” said Huallpa. “Phaetheon wants a trreaty. Now he might just get it.” He nodded sagely. Phaetheon the impressive, the regal, the thinker, the diplomat. The sun was high when he approached the dock. It was not until we rounded to the farther of the two piers that I realized why this town seemed familiar. It was the village we had met Machaeon in! It had a name now. Maybe it had one then, I never knew. As there was space for only two of our ships, Huallpa anchored us in the bay and we took the small skiffs in. We met up with some of the others in the middle of town. “They are sending word to the new king. Hopefully, we can meet with him,” Galehault said. “Hopefully we can reach a better trade agreement here than with Shield Keep,” Marius rolled his eyes. “What happened?” Leaf asked while looking around us. They looked at each other. “Well,” Marius started, “The Keep seemed more interested in excluding… certain visitors, than making money…” He shook his head. “What about Bald Cliff?” Leaf asked. Begayar looked up at the mention and I was reminded he did not understand all of what we were saying. Marius shook his head. “Too far on the other side, plus they are sitting in direct opposition to Shield Keep. Phaetheon did not want to appear to be taking sides.” Galehault, Marius, and Leaf all nodded among themselves. Leaf spoke with Begayar as we walked into the town and stopped at the inn. I was reminded of when our group of four stayed here. It looked like an addition was added. Maybe the trade was picking up already. We sat in a quiet corner. Hidden away from most of the prying eyes. Without warning a man came and stood over us at the table. “I know you…” he said and looked at me. “We have been here before. We are Phaetheon’s men…” Galehault began. “No… him…” he studied me. Everyone at the table turned to me. I did not recognize him. He did not sound angry, the memory of me must not have been a bad one. Still, one of my hands slowly came to rest on my short sword. Suddenly the man slammed his tankard down causing everyone to look. “Midnight Stag!” He sounded surprised to have remembered. “You got a Midnight Stag here…” He scratched his head. “Gosh, well, years ago… right?” I nodded slowly. “You led the defense of Olvar! You charged in front and center! I was right behind you! We all were!” Leaf once again looked highly amused. Teucer sat with his eyes averted, face flushed. The rest, all the rest in the room it seemed, stared at me. The man extended his hand. I shook it. “Revinn. Good Greetings…” Leaf filled in the pause. “Talon. Please join us.” “Thank you.” He pulled over a chair. “Welcome to Harald’s Port once more.” “We thought it was Heraldsport…” Marius ventured. Revinn waved the different name off. “Harald’s Port now. We hear the Ambassador Phaetheon still desires an alliance. Is this true?” “Yes,” Galehault asserted. “We understand that the old king was not willing… whereas now...” Revinn nodded and took a swig. “Yes. He is of a different mind than that of his father. He has already shown himself to be a good master.” “Do you think they can reach an agreement then?” Galehault waved for more ale. “I should think so. If he is convinced it will be good for his people and that the deal is sincere. There were problems with one of the tribes inland like that.” A few at the table nodded. “You think Phaetheon is a man of his word?” Galehault, Marius, and Revinn continued talking trade and Phaetheon. Leaf translated some of the conversation to Begayar. Begayar himself, looked conflicted every time Phaetheon was mentioned. I was still unsure of what that was about but it was not my business. “So…” Revinn turned to me, “what are your plans while waiting for the King to arrive then?”
  5. Into the Deep End

    Hello Trevin! Without giving away too much… some old friends are planned to return but there is also a new one appearing whom you may appreciate… ;-) Thank you for keeping up with me. – Randomness
  6. Keeping a Little Distance

    Thank you for letting me know you are enjoying the story. Truly, I have a hard time “torturing” my characters too much, so I have to keep violence as purposeful as possible. Considering everything, there probably should be more random hostilities. For myself, very similar thoughts apply to sex/sexual situations. There are places for both, but so far not overwhelmingly so. I do appreciate the grammar is not detracting too too much ;-P. I am afraid I am my own worst enemy with that. I too look forward to hearing your continuing thoughts. Thanks again. - Randomness
  7. Into the Deep End

    A small group of us, split from the main caravan to head to the far side of the bay. The plan was simple. We get the canoe out into the water at nightfall. It would go out to the ships and direct them around the peninsula to the next inlet where the wagons would be waiting. Everything would be laboriously transported using the small dinghies from the main ships. If everything would go smoothly, we would not attract any attention from either the defending or sieging forces. We walked through the growing shadows under the trees towards the water in silence. We hoped that if there were any spies, they would be following the wagons and not a threat to our small group. We lit no light so as not give away our position. The boat would have none either. I walked close to Leaf. There was concern on his face, but there was also determination. A good look. I was still worried about him. I could not imagine what he was trying to prove. Another could have taken his place. This was dangerous, this silent walking in the forest and a launch into the darkness. The waters in the bay would be rough we expected. He could swim, but we did not know for how long if the boat capsized. With every step, I felt more helpless. We stood among the last few trees before the water, waiting for the shadows to lengthen. There was no other sound than the waves gently rolling in and washing over the flat rock. It did not look to choppy. Phaetheon’s ships looked so small from here. On the other side of the bay fires blazed around the fort. “It’s time,” Marius whispered. The boat was carried gently to the black water. I turned to Leaf, he was already facing me. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came. His strong arms embraced me, and before he could pull away, I tightened mine. “Come back…” was all I could manage. He pulled back, nodded, and let go. Marius and I stood at the tail of the boat and held it solid until all three were aboard with paddles at the ready. With the help of Teucer and another we shoved them out into the cold water. I could just see the paddles begin their work before they disappeared. We waited a short time for them, to listen for anything that might give us a sign. There was none. “We should leave,” whispered Marius to us. I scanned into the blackness again. I felt a tug at my arm. “Come,” Marius breathed to me. “Before the moon has fully risen, before we are seen.” We were in camp before dawn. Marius and Teucer went to report to Phaetheon. The rest of us went to find places to sleep. I found Blade and flopped down next to his sleeping form. The morning was dull, expectant, as if it could not decide if it should rain, or let the clouds roll through. We waited. My midday meal was tasteless. Blade encouraged me to eat more. I did, but did not enjoy it. We waited. In the afternoon, I walked along the shore along the side of the peninsula. We waited. Nothing, no sails on the water. We waited. There was a lot of mumbling at the evening meal. We waited. Phaetheon did not look pleased and he stood abruptly and stalked away from us, away from the water, and into the trees. Blade shook his head. We waited. I sat on the shore with my back against a large rock well into the night and watched for a sign. I woke to moonlight. It would have been more beautiful had it shown the ships. I looked around me. There were a few men awake, presumably keeping watch. A flicker caught my eye. I turned to see Phaetheon, lit by the moon. His head was down and meditation or prayer. It gave me a strange mixture of comfort and concern. Eventually, I wandered back into camp any fell asleep near Teucer’s group. The morning brought no comfort or ships. Blade and the other brothers meditated together under the trees. Phaetheon sat in a small group and held council. Tecuer approached me cautiously at midday. “Galehault and I are crossing back over to the bay tonight to check on the ships. Do you want to come with? We could use your experience.” I nodded. We left well before sunset, crossed the peninsula, and came out onto to bay. No ships. Not one. I blinked several times. Nothing. The fort was visible, as well as the smoke from it. Black smoke. The clouds shifted and structures appeared black, even in the growing blackness. “Defeated,” whispered Teucer. “Dead,” Galehault replied. The sieging force was gone. There were no fires marking an encampment. There was nothing else now, only the sound of water on rock. “What do you think happened? Should we go and take a look?” It was Teucer. “Too late,” I said. “Yes,” Galehault agreed. “Too late. The ships are gone now anyway. Hopefully, we will catch them on the other side tomorrow.” We stood a few moments longer. I thought I heard movement, but could see nothing. “Let’s go. Once the word is out, there will be scouts or raiders coming for whatever remains at the fort,” Teucer said. I nodded to them and we turned to go. I heard the sounds, louder. I stopped. They continued. “Help me…” a voice in the dark said. “What was that?” Teucer was at my side, bow drawn, Galehault’s sword was ready. A man staggered toward us. “Stay back,” Teucer warned. “Help me.” “What is he saying?” Galehault extended his sword. “Help,” I replied. “Ally tongue. Not common.” “Please… help me.” He came forward, slowly. “Hold,” I said. The stranger stopped, he appeared to be leaning, or at least not standing straight. “Light.” “They might see,” Teucer whispered. “Here,” Galehault said while shifting position. The reflected light from his raised small shield was enough. The man was indeed an ally of ours, I could tell by his skin color. I could also tell he was hurt. Between the blood on his head and the dazed expression, he had been lucky to escape. “He’s injured,” Galehault whispered. “He might be being followed,” Teucer added. “Should we bring him with? He might have information for Phaetheon…” Galehault did not sound certain. “Will you come?” I said in his language. He nodded. “Help.” I took him by the arm and Teucer led us away from the bay and into the woods. We kept a fast pace in spite of our injured companion. After some time, we needed to stop. It was the first I let hold of the injured man. Galehault lit a small torch. A wound on the side of the head showed clearly. “Here.” Teucer handed some cloth strips and began wiping the blood from his face. The man’s expression continued to show confusion. His eyes still were unclear. “Must have been a good crack on the head,” Teucer sighed. “If we can get him to camp, we can see to him properly,” Galehault added without turning to us. He was much more a man now. He was focused and his guard was up watching around us for enemies. It was good to see him that way, no longer the boy of so long ago. “We should keep moving,” he said without looking at us. “His arm too,” sighed Teucer. He wrapped and did what he could to improvise a sling. The man winced with every movement. “Finished,” Teucer finally said while tying off the bandages. I resumed my hold on the man and we started off again. We were slower now. Slower for lack of rest and to accommodate our new companion. We came to the other side mid-morning, and, through the gaps in the trees, we could see the sails of the three ships. “There they are!” Galehault called out. “Your friends…?” The man said looking out to the boats. “Yes.” He stopped walking and I stopped with him. Galehault and Teucer kept on. “They didn’t help us…” I shook my head. “Not their war.” I tugged his arm and he began moving again, slowly. “What is your name?” he huffed out as we came down the hill. “Talon.” “Begayar.” Galehault returned. “They have been shuttling to the ships. A lot of the camp is packed up and gone.” We caught up and looked down. There were a number of men keeping guard, but the majority of goods were already gone. “At least we missed the loading!” Galehault elbowed Teucer who laughed. We struggled down to the camp and made our way through. Teucer and I sat Begayar down. Marius found us nearly immediately. “It is good to see you safe.” He looked at Begayer briefly. “And one more beside. Phaetheon is aboard. The last of the supplies is on the way out now. Just the rest of us and the horses are left.” “What about the fourth ship?” “Wrecked. I assume we will find out more once on board.” He frowned. I did not dare to ask about the three whom were sent in the canoe, paddling into the darkness nights ago. The ships were here, so at least one, at least one, got through. We waited patiently on the beach. Begayar did not ask any questions, I did not offer. He sat quietly as I did. Teucer sat next with us. “Shame.” Teucer shook his head. I followed his gaze to the men setting the last of the horses free. I knew what he meant, a necessity, but we could not take them with us. They would have to find their own way now. “I like the horses back home better. Still… these were not all that bad.” He sighed. Some of them had made for the forest already, no doubt looking to graze. Some would stay free, others would be caught and ridden by men again. I glanced at the water. The boats were on the way back. I looked among us, there was enough room for all. This would be the last trip it seemed. Marius returned to us. “Come, together at the water’s edge.” He looked beyond us. “Trouble?” “Scouts in the trees.” I helped Begayar up and we joined the others. The waves wet our feet. “I don’t think they will approach,” Marius said. “They will probably try to get the horses instead.” I looked along the woods and did not see anyone. There was only a dozen of us left, so it would be foolish for a few scouts to approach without an actual force behind them. The first of the boats landed in front of us. “Here.” Marius waved us to it. “Put him in and off you go.” Begayar and I and a few others climbed in as the second boat landed. I had just sat down with I saw Teucer stand tall on the sand with his bow drawn. He was joined by a few of the others. A few men, presumably the scouts, came out on the strand from the forest. They were not approaching, but did not appear to be afraid either. I had my sword in hand and prepared myself to jump out. We all watched tensely as the men up the beach approached one of the stray horses. An arrow landed at his feet and he backed away. He and the others watched us. Teucer laughed. “Come on.” Marius called. The last two boats had landed while we were watching the horses. Our boat jerked out into the water as the remaining men scrambled into the last boats. I joined the rowers in pulling away from the sand and out to the ships. Once the final two boats pulled into the water, the men on the beach were bolder and went after the horses, corralling them with ropes. As we got closer to the ships, I chanced a few looks over my shoulder. I could not tell which one was the flagship. One seemed larger than the others, but that meant literally nothing. Maybe it was the fourth one, the missing one. Through calls from the above deck, we were directed alongside one of the three and one by one, we were hoisted up an aboard. From the rail, I could see that we were the only boat to come to this vessel. The rest were amongst the other ships. Once completely boarded and the boat was hauled up, I felt lost. Other than Begayar, there seemed to be no familiar faces. I scanned all the other boats from where I was. Surely, Leaf or Blade would come to watch for me to come aboard. I studied the nearest boat for any sign of them. Nothing. I cursed under my breath for not being able to see the last ship clearly. There was a shout from behind me. “Prreparre to sail!” The accent was thick. I turned to see a man, coming toward us flashing a huge smile. His face and coloring suggested one of Phaetheon or Marius’ people, but he was clearly not. He was of another race altogether. His accent had only confirmed it. “Welcome aboarrd my new phrriends! You are hurrt.” He went to Begayar and looked him over. “We must get you below and attended to.” Begayar looked hopeful, but uncomprehendingly. “Does not speak common,” I said. The man seemed surprised. “Well you do. I am Huallpa, Captain of the Inpherrno.” He nodded his head and beckoned to one of the hands. “Talon. Begayar.” I motioned to us. He nodded again. “Show them to the doctorr,” he said to deckhand. “I will phind you aphterr we sail.” We were brought below to a very small cabin with barely enough room for the two beds. The doctor, such as he was, looked me over quickly. He looked too young. “Him,” I said while thumbing at Begayar. He nodded and we got him free of his bandages and shirt. Salve was applied to the head and he was wrapped up again, cleanly and properly. We felt the first jolts of the ship as the other wound was being assessed. “Arrrow hit him harrd,” the doctor said as he tried to steady himself. “Bone stopped. Brruised. No brreak. We stitch him up.” He had the same accent as the captain. I could see the same race in him. He fixed up Begayar and then left us alone, presumably to rest. Begayar dozed off nearly immediately. I sat for a while and tried to sleep. It eluded me. The nagging questions fought their way into my brain. I had to assume that Blade and his brothers were picked up. Did we lose any on the beach to the scouts the night we had crossed the peninsula? What happened to the fourth ship and the men aboard it? Who made it to let the ships know to come around to pick us up? Was Leaf safe? Injured? Alive? I peered at Begayar. His injuries did not seem to be affecting his sleep. He was snoring lightly. I got up and made my way to the deck to ask for news. We were gliding along the shore much farther out than we had been. The land we were skimming past held the light from the low sun on the sea side of the ship. I stood a moment or two trying to get my bearings and figure out who was the most likely to be able to give me some answers. One of the hands approached me. “Looking phorr the Captain?” Another of the captain’s race. I nodded. He nodded back and led the way to him. Captain Huallpa was standing by the wheel in the stern. He was speaking with one of the men. The hand who brought me silently left me to figure out the rest on my own. I stood and waited. Huallpa finally beckoned me to him. “…keep pace with Harronus. Be rready should he want to anchorr for the night.” He dismissed the man and turned to me. “Talon, yes? Is yourr phrriend doing betterr?” I nodded. “Good. Lloque, ourr doctorr, is my kinsman. He is young but well taught. In my opinion, best of the expedition.” I nodded again and cheated a glance at the other ships. “Four…?” He nodded and looked down then out at the others. “Sad business. We lost the Tsunami. The captain was a good man.” He looked down at the deck a moment and made a sign with his hands. “We rrescued many.” He sighed and looked out over the water. “Close quarrterrs now. Even morre so now with those Phaetheon collects.” He smiled. “I saw two morre with yourr look, otherrs the look of holy men, and now you two.” I nodded again, hiding my relief. Two more like me meant both Leaf and Blade were safely aboard. The brothers of the Artifex were with us. We were on our way. “We must phind a place forr you to rrest,” Huallpa said quietly, “now that you know yourr phrriends arre saphe.” He smiled broadly. Begayar stayed in the infirmary, such as it was, ostensibly to recover. Lloque kept to the second bed in there. After some offers of tight quarters and a little searching, I found a space on deck, sheltered behind crates. I had had far worse in my time. I curled up among the sacks and supplies and spent a restless night listening to the sea. I did not want to get up with the sun, but the increased actions of the crew made that decision for me. I rose to see the land behind us. Nothing I could see could tell me how far up the coast we had come before heading out to sea. I had some guesses. I went to search for food. The well-stocked galley had everything needed for a feast. I got what I needed and made my way to Begayar. He was sitting up in bed alternately laughing then holding his shoulder in pain. LLoque and he were eating together and trying to talk. “He sounds phunny!” Lloque chuckled. “He is trying to teach me!” Begayar laughed. “But I think he is not good with it himself! I don’t know what I am learning!” They fell into laughter then Begayar grimaced and held his chest tightly. Lloque rose to his side. “Too much phun, must rrest.” I left them together, calm in each other’s company. The food was good, especially for ships fare. I ate on a crate near where I had slept. No one bothered me, I heard no gossip, not even from the crew wandering the deck. Phaetheon was a collector of men and a few of those collected stood and watched the sea as I did. I dozed on an off most of the day. There was nothing to see. Begayar was safe enough below for now. It was dark when I woke. I sat up and looked over the water. There was a hint of light behind us. It would be sunrise from the direction and the stars. We were moving easily forward, the sun catching up. The call for land went out moments later. I stood and could only make out a darker shadow between sky and water ahead. I went below to check on Begayar. He was asleep, LLoque was not. “He slept well. He is good healerr. I expect him to be phine. Maybe catch in arrm, but no morre. Some pain phorr time.” He smiled. I nodded. “I expect we will be at RRustwarrd Village by midday. I phind morre herrbs phorr pain.” I nodded. “Do not be concerrned. He will be well.” I left. Begayar was not my responsibility. We had helped him, but he would go on alone in time. I was his friend by default because I could speak to him. I grabbed some bread and munched my way around below deck. Crowded storage and lots of cramped quarters. I wondered if the other boats were as packed. By the time I came topside, the sun was fully up and the sheer walls of the island were visible. Rustward was the only entry port to the land above. I had been there once, long ago. The small port had let us dock and the village let us roam. The carved passage to the lands above had been barred to Thorn and I, not surprising considering enemy allies made their home on the plateau above. This was the home of some of the brothers from the opposite side of the place of creation, a few were aboard our ships with Blade.
  8. Going, Going, Gone

    “His name is Teucer,” Leaf said while not gesturing to the young man in Phaetheon’s party. “Know that name… long time ago.” I recalled the guide from Stag’s Pass. It was possible, he had the look of those men. I suddenly wondered if he shared the same secret they did. He still never really approached me and only gave those strange looks on occasion before looking away abruptly. “Stag’s Pass.” Leaf nodded. “He didn’t really say. I spoke with him a little. I think may be in some type of awe of you actually.” He grinned. “Like a hero or something. He would have been old enough to remember when you defended the gates into the pass right?” I must have told Leaf about that at some point. The stab I felt from the memory was momentary. I shook my head and the recollection from my head. “You should try talking to him.” During all the time we had spent near the rock of creation, he always seemed present, but in the background. I did not try to make conversation. Finally, the day came when Phaetheon announced he would need to leave. He had affairs to attend to elsewhere and although he wished to stay, he had strayed from his mission too long. A feast was to be held in his honor, one attended by both sets of brothers. It would be a grand affair as far as the humble valley could provide, but it would be one to be remembered for years to come. The day was spent gathering all that would be needed for the celebration. It was felt that we should gather together in sight of the rock. We needed to keep a respectful distance of course, so the farthest edge of clearing was selected. Both lodges brought food and all manner of items needed to the spot. Once the cooking fires started, more people began to relax and talk. Phaetheon sat near the fire in the center and made sure to keep available for everybody and anybody. His skill in keeping all sides happy continued to amaze me. He had told me days before of his intention to leave and of his fear things would sour in the valley again. He maintained that he wanted to leave this place better from knowing him and this would be his final chance. He did not expect to visit here again. He smiled and talked with this one and that one and in those moments it seemed the rivalries and paranoia were forgotten. He even asked after the sentries left behind at the lodges and had food brought to them. Blade came to me as I sat under the trees slightly apart from the celebrants. He looked down, there was a question, a concern in the furrows of his brow. “Can he be trusted do you think?” I searched his eyes. They were on Phaetheon. “I have been so long away from the world, I could easily be fooled. Truly, is he a good man?” I nodded. He exhaled. There was something else. He was not satisfied if he knew the right answer to his own question. I handed him some ale. He gulped it down. “He wants for me to return with him…” he blurted out, “To his homeland… to continue to teach him… maybe others…” It was odd, but then again, Phaetheon’s motivations had always seemed obscure. “I do not desire it… well, maybe I do… a little. The thought intrigues me. The world. To be among others again.” He sighed. “I will mediate with the Pater. He will tell me what to do. Perhaps my work here is at an end. Will you come with me?” We trailed out into the low sun. This time when we approached, we removed our shoes. I knelt at his side and pushed my hand into the soil. It was warm and soft. I had barely closed my eyes before I felt the peace take hold of my soul. I thought of what I had learned in my life and everything I had done up until now and what I still needed to know until the end. I thought more about where I came from and my old home in the mountains where I’d been born. My family long gone, the times with my friends. I thought about Mari and his unwavering warmth and kindness. I hoped he still lived. He was by himself and who would check on him. I thought of all the lives in Rigger’s Cove. I would always be welcome there. It was not my home though. It was the home of the next generations. I thought of Leaf. He remained with me without any question at all. I didn’t even know why. He comforted me and I felt good in his presence. I thought about Thorn. I missed him so much even after all these years. There would be no replacement for what he had given me. I thought about the future of trade and what might be happening thanks to Phaetheon. The world I knew and the world I had visited. I thought about Greenwater. What would it become? A safe trading harbor for the all races. A prosperous port for all. I thought of Stag’s Pass. They were free to either open up or close down to the outside world. The choice was safely theirs alone. I thought of Joachim and Kjartanei. I hoped they had found happiness and found peace where and with whom they wanted. I thought of Blade and the brothers. They had found peace here. Blade longed for the world now. It was in his eyes. He still wanted to do good. I thought about my life and where and what and why I was searching. I was free, yes, but my life was still blank. No reason, no purpose. I thought about the Artifex Pater to whom I was mediating for some sign. I hoped for an answer and guidance from him desperately. I thought and thought and thought. More parts of my life came in went in much the same way they did when I experienced them I thought of the statue in Arrowpoint. It was a beautiful and eternal comfort to me even though everything around it had changed. I thought about saying here in Pater’s service. When the ground started to feel cold and hard once more, I knew it was time to leave. I looked up and saw Blade studying me with a soft, caring face and knowing smile. We both knew this was not the place for me, as it had not been back them. “Did you get any answers?” he asked gently. I nodded. Blade sighed. “I’m going with Phaetheon. He’s a good man. My time here is done, maybe I can do some good over there and teach him and can spread the knowledge of the Pater. From what Phaetheon said, the Artifex is as their god. If he is not that different from ours, maybe they are one in the same after all.” He paused. “Will you come with us?” We returned to the circle and Blade once again took his place at Phaetheon’s side. It was not long before Blade leaned to him and whispered something. A broad smile crossed Phaetheon’s face. Blade’s decision had been made and, in a way, mine had been as well. I sought out Leaf. He sat with a small group containing Teucer and some of the brothers. He was clearly enjoying himself. The talk was of the events of the world, what was known outside of this small enclave. I motioned to him to follow me. He smiled, and nodded. No questions in his expression. After a moment, he slipped away easily. Only Teucer’s eyes followed him and drifted to me. As was his way, his soft eyes focused on me before realizing himself and then a quick glance down and away. Leaf and I walked, side by side, away from the people, music, and fire. He didn’t ask, and I did not say. He had grown on me in ways I had not expected nor intended. If he would not go, I would miss him. Terribly. We entered the woods near the rock. “Are you alright?” his voice whispered. “Phaetheon…” “Yes…” “Leaving tomorrow…” He hung his head. “Going with him…” I didn’t know what else to say. He looked up at me then down again and stopped walking. I halted and turned to him. “Do you think he would take me with him too?” My mouth dropped and before I could stop myself I closed the distance and hugged him tightly. My heart swelled. “What about…” I struggled with my concerns. He pulled away to look me in the eye. “They knew when I left, we would be gone a long time… possibly a really long time…” He smiled. “…just like yours knew…” He put a hand on my shoulder. “…and knew we might not come back.” I nodded. ~ ~ ~ The morning after was quiet and calm. Leaf and I made our way to the rock to speak with the Artifex Pater one more time. We were not the only ones who wanted that conversation. A small group, including Blade, sat on the ground around the stone. We took off our shoes and joined them. When I did not feel soft ground in my hand, I knew for sure this was not the place for me. I should go. The Artifex would be with me wherever the remaining years of my life would take me. When I opened my eyes, I realized Leaf and I were the last ones in the clearing. He smiled at me as we stood. The farewells at the lodge were quick but heartfelt, and as a group we crossed to the opposite side of the valley to the house of the other brothers. We were greeted and praised as one. Once everyone’s final farewells were made, we met in front of their lodge. Horses and wagons were readied and we set out on the adventure before us. Our caravan wound its way down through the passes. Travelers had made this path much easier than the one Leaf and I had used in coming to the upper valley. Our downhill journey stopped at nightfall, next to a small, clouded lake. “Rockslides from the rain.” I overheard from near the fire. “It made the water mostly sludge. Not many fish left. It’s dead now.” We slept peacefully and woke to a fine mist. “Rain coming.” Blade shook his head. Our kept our pace even, the horses sure and steady. By midday, we regained flat ground and remained ahead of the rain. By the end of the afternoon we trotted quickly, the rain advancing on our heels. We headed to the gates of old Kroun Fort, one of my peoples. I truly did not realize how large our party was until we arrived, were greeted, and places found for us to sleep inside its relatively safe walls. We filled the entire enclosure. This mountain outpost of sorts did not see many dignitaries of Phaetheon’s status and they were thrilled to have him once more. All of us, friend, foe, ally, or enemy in our company were welcomed. I was told that on his initial trip in towards the rock, he charmed the people who lived here by treating them as equals. These people who scratched a life from the rocks were treated to kind dignity and respect. He spoke with the high and low throughout his travels and they in turn fell over themselves to please him. The town’s master gave Phaetheon his home and the rest of us as much as could be given. Food, makeshift shelter, and space to stretch. The small outpost provided its best and kept us dry. The rains turned into a storm the next day. In the meager surroundings, we kept as warm and dry as possible. I lay close to Leaf at night. He was a constant source of warmth and enthusiastic happiness. I was glad he had decided to come with, I could not imagine laying down cold and wet without him. In any case, after two nights of rain, we woke to a clear morning and spent the day drying out. We slept well and were on our way the following dawn. The next night, we slept encamped in the Fold. It was a resting point where the forest met the mountains. Traveled enough to be flattened many times over, yet it was untraveled enough to be rough and devoid of recent activity. “I have never been this way,” whispered Blade in the growing dark. I shook my head. Of course he had not. “What are their tales?” He pointed to Phaetheon’s men, Marius and some of the others. I shrugged. “Saved my life once… twice…” “Hmm…” He looked thoughtful. “Pater’s plan is often obscure.” Then he studied Leaf. “Even through a heathen.” I turned to him sharply. “He worships the moon.” His eyes bored into me for a moment. “Surely you have known this?” I nodded. Blade looked around at the others. “So many gods among them.” He sighed. I glanced at Leaf laughing in the firelight. He had been there for and was good to me. He was as dear to me as anyone since Thorn. He was my present. Blade was my best and closest family. He was my past. I needed to plan for a future. “Well, I am off to sleep. More miles before the end. Thank goodness for the horses. Will you ride with me tomorrow?” I nodded. “Goodnight then.” He walked away from the light into the shadowed side of the wagon. If Leaf was surprised by the change in our riding positions, he did not show it. “No. He is your blood. Ride with him.” He said easily. “I will ride up with the supplies.” He handed me the reigns. “See you at midday.” He called to the nearest wagon driver. Blade and I talked more about what we knew of what was left of our family. I still left out the exact circumstances of how I had found Wheat. We both agreed though that if she had gone to the Capitol, she would be safe and carry on the family. I found Leaf at the mid-day rest and we ate together at the edge of the river we had stopped at. We were busy with our meals and provisions, and before we knew it, the call went out to mount up. I rode once more with Blade. Teucer consented to share his horse and helped Leaf up behind him. Some deep part of me did not much care for the growing friendship between them, but who was I to raise my voice. The sun had already set when we reached our next refuge. It had recently become our allies’ town, so recently in fact that it did not have a new name and the old one, the one of the enemy, was not spoken. Much as with Kroun Fort, we were welcomed with honor and respect, although this time I sensed some fear, or suspicion. “Your peoples are so strange,” Galehault remarked. “They don’t approve of us being ‘not the enemy’ of either side. Though I suppose it is the same everywhere,” he added with a yawn. Two guards were staring at Leaf with undisguised disgust. They seemed to hold Leaf in particular in a lower regard, a traitor to his faction. They did not even give those looks to the brothers related to the enemy. It was Leaf that held their anger. I slept close to him that night. I wanted to be near and keep him safe. I woke to him along my back for warmth and Blade staring at me. I nodded. He nodded once and walked away to tend the horses. Before approaching Ashnight Village, we were told to stay close and keep quiet. They would be expected to welcome us for the sake of the foreign dignitary, namely Phaetheon, but we would not be welcomed into their hearts. Indeed, we were sequestered behind the main lodge with guards posted to keep eyes on us. I could not understand what all was said as their tongue was not known to me. “The brothers say we do not want to know,” Blade said when he returned from whispering with the ones from the other lodge. Our wagon train left quietly the following morning under the scrutinizing stares of the guards and townsfolk. We were joined by a few locals in a separate wagon and a few horsemen. I understood. Any traveling group was better than none. They would walk with us at least some of the way. With no midday rest, we came to the flattened field at the junction of roads well before sunset. It was to be the final night before arriving at the coast and Phaetheon’s ships. “Four of them,” Marius enthused. “Plenty of room for cargo and crew.” “They have been sitting at Rag Outpost all this time?” Leaf shook his head in disbelief. “No, no,” Marius chuckled. “They have been scouting and trading in pairs. Two at a time. Two in the harbor, two out. They come back at full moon for a week, then repeat if we do not meet them.” “Captain Haronus keeps everything running smoothly,” Phaetheon added, suddenly appearing at my side. “Between him and Persephon, we learn a lot about the local peoples.” Marius leaned in. “Persephon is second in command.” He winked. “Such a huge… organization…” Leaf sat back and shook his head. “Sometimes not organized enough,” Phaetheon smiled. “But we can cover most contingencies.” He was staring at Leaf in a way that was most familiar and yet somehow uncomfortable. Phaetheon was thinking. Something about Leaf. He was planning or considering Leaf in the larger picture. I cannot say I liked it. Leaf was ‘my’ friend. Teucer approached us and sat next to Leaf. ‘My’ friend. I abruptly stood, nodded, and went to our sleeping place. I lay awake, unable to find sleep until I felt Leaf beside me. We woke with the sun and mounted up quickly. The locals who had come from Ashnight parted company and pursued a different path than ours. The morning was crisp and clear, the early afternoon quiet. Once we came to the break in the woods at the top of the hills leading down to the outpost we came to a stop. Blade and Leaf looked at me. I shrugged. We were near the rear so all we could do was stand and wait. It did not take long to find out what the problem was. Three of our ships were visible, not two or four, and the three were not moored in the harbor. They appeared to be anchored farther out in the bay. “Something must be going on in the Outpost,” Galehault said. Blade nodded. “From our scouts, the gates appear to be blocked.” “Surely, Phaetheon must have a plan for this?” Leaf looked among us. “To get aboard.” “He is always thinking ahead. Don’t worry,” Teucer whispered to him. We waited a long time. Phaetheon’s men kept themselves on alert and so did we. Yet, we waited. Decisions were being made. At one point we saw Galehault and another man return from scouting out the area. Blade sat and meditated. Leaf silently stood close making the time bearable. Word came back through the line we were heading off trail and circling around down to the beach. We kept close, each wagon, man, and horse, bunched together. Not long after we began, Marius appeared. Stopping at each end every group. “Any of you strong swimmers?” He looked among us. I shook my head. “Why?” Blade whispered. “We are going to try and send out a small coracle from the far edge of the bay out to our boats, to tell them where to find us. We wanted to man it with strong swimmers… just in case…” When Leaf stepped past me, I felt my heart sink. “Who do I report to?”
  9. Signs in the Stone

    Good to hear from you again! Talon has so many stashes (even ones I don’t know about). He has been burying longer than I have been writing. Thank you so very much for returning to The Long Road to… and for your infinite patience. Write anytime, hugs!
  10. Too Surprises Too

    Before long a rough path appeared, it wove up into the trees. The slope was deceivingly steeper than we had thought originally. Only our excitement kept us moving forward and up. Without warning, we were surrounded by men. Nearly all had weapons trained on us. “Stop and show yourselves strangers.” We looked at them. They were in matching robes, but did not look like soldiers. “Your hands, please.” Leaf held his out forward, I let mine hang down within reach of my sword. “We are of the Artifex Pater. Do you come for him?” We were dumbfounded for a moment. Leaf finally spoke for us. “We have come to see the rock of creation… we thought it was welcome… to everyone…” “It is.” He nodded and the men lowered their weapons. They remained attentive and alert. “We can escort you to the place in the morning.” I looked up to the sky. Maybe. It all depended on how far we still needed to go. Leaf had different ideas. “Do we need an escort?” He frowned. “I mean, I always thought this would be a… sacred and solitary experience?” The leader only shook his head and nodded to the others. As a group, we worked our way up the path. Without warning we came around a bend to a large structure for the guardians of the place and an even larger contingent of men. I did not like this one bit. I put on hand on Leaf’s arm to pull him back and was about to go for my sword. “Talon!” A large figure burst through the line. He stopped close enough for me to rethink drawing my weapon. I saw an old face, but one I knew. “Blade…” I said less as a question but more as a confused statement of fact. “My brother!” He crossed and embraced me. I was unsure of how to feel, but I knew I would not cry in front of all these men. Blade turned round to address them all. “Brothers! Welcome my own brother Talon come to find me after all these many years and his companion…” “Leaf.” “… Leaf. Welcome them as your own, welcome them as you would welcome me!” All tension released in that one moment and every weapon disappeared into the folds of cloaks. “Come, we must break bread together after all these years. Come, you are welcome.” We followed Blade into the building and sat with him in a large, mostly empty common room. Bread, fruit, and ale was brought and we ate as Leaf and Blade spoke of the last few years. Indeed, only of the years Leaf had known me. Blade listened with interest, even of the times that did not include me directly. The outside world was foreign and fascinating to him. He had been gone from it for so long, every detail was one to savor. For his part, Blade had far less to tell. He was now considered one of the elders with enough authority to command everything from worship to war. The community of brothers was roughly the size of a small village and he was highly respected. I walked out one of the archways and out on to an overhang of sorts. Leaf followed with Blade. I stood on the edge and looked down into the shallow valley. The rock of creation sat in the center. It was easily recognizable from its position in the middle of the clearing, trees grew thick well beyond the site on all sides. “I cannot believe we are here,” Leaf whispered. “We can go down to the rock tomorrow and you can actually feel the touch of the Artifex Pater,” Blade said gently. He put a hand on each of our shoulders. “It is safe. Only pilgrims tend to approach the valley itself anymore. I can’t even remember the last time anyone came the way you did. We watch this end and they… they watch the other.” He sighed at the mention of the others. There was movement below. Men walked in the trees. I could see them come from the far edge of the clearing. They stopped just at the tree-line and appeared to be talking. We stood in silence watching them. It was hard to see everything about the group. I could not make out the faces, but they were not Bullmen from their size. Their clothes were somehow different than that of our enemies as well. In the shadows under the trees I could not tell the exact styles. There seemed no danger, only talk amongst themselves. “I wonder what they are about…” Blade strummed his beard. There was a sudden flash of color as the group parted and a single individual proceeded alone out from the shadows in into the failing light towards the rock, a single lantern in his hand. The individual was dressed from head to toe in shimmering robes I recognized. My head reeled and my body went onto autopilot. I began to run. I ran through the common room, out, around, and down. I had to know if it was really him. I heard the shouting far behind me. “Talon! Wait!” I was not thinking much about them right then, only about not running into the trees. It was darker underneath the bows than I had expected but I continued to track though quickly. There was no sound other than my own breathing by the time I reached the edge of the clearing. I stood open to the place. The stars made the trees cast long shadows in all directions. The rock was larger than I had thought. I waited a few seconds and caught my breath. I did not see the figure anywhere. Probably on the other side, where the others were. I started into the open space and towards the stone. It was quiet, I did not even hear the birds. There was a glimmer from the side of the rock as if a bird alighted. Then there was a figure, a small figure, a man in green-blue robes. He stood straight upright when he saw me. Our eyes registered and he smiled. “Talon, I should have known.” I crossed to him slowly as he came fully before the rock itself. “I came to see the place of creation.” He gestured around us. “The Artifex Pater created two families of men here I understand...” He closed the few remaining steps and stood next to me. “I couldn’t have imagined a more fitting place.” We now stood side by side looking at the stone slab before us. “Talon?” I glanced over my shoulder and saw Leaf and Blade, a single torch between them, checking their steps in the darkness, unsure if they should approach. “Phaetheon?” A group of men with lanterns came around the rock, some wore Phaetheon’s crest of the moon. Although no swords were drawn, for that would have been absolutely blasphemous, I could feel the danger. “I know him,” he said in common tongue, then he said something in another language that I did not understand. “Talon? Are you alright?” I faced round to Leaf and Blade. “I know him,” I repeated his words in our own language. I turned to Phaetheon. “Are you alright?” Phaetheon asked me. I nodded. He turned and waved the group away. They retreated around the rock and out of sight, though I could tell they were still close. He returned his countenance to us. “Would you like to introduce me to your friends?” he asked me in my own language. My jaw dropped. He had learned our words. He had spoken it with an elaborate and lyrical accent, but it was understandable. He smiled warmly. It had been a long time indeed. “Phaetheon… Leaf and Blade.” He approached them without hesitation and shook their hands. “It is an honor to meet you both,” he said with those musical tones. “It has been a long time Talon.” I colored a little. How long had it been? Years… He smiled while he studied my face. He looked at Leaf and Blade. “Does Talon still talk too much?” It seemed that Phaetheon had mastered sarcasm, even in a foreign tongue, and used my own language against me. Leaf laughed a bit too hard. I reddened. “I see that you are a watcher or keeper,” he said to Blade. “He is one of the leaders,” Leaf added. I nodded in agreement. “Please then, please indulge a foreigner and teach me about this place. I wish to learn.” Blade smiled brightly. “There is much to know, but I see that the moon now holds sway. Would you join us at our lodge?” Phaetheon chuckled. “Now what kind of guest would I be to change hosts at this late hour, from one ally to another?” He smiled. “I am honored that you would extend such an invitation. I would be most honored to speak with you…” “Of course, yes, yes...” “Yes then, we will talk soon and I truly look forward to being enlightened.” He extended his hand again. “It will be my pleasure.” Blade shook the hand offered. A formal, respectful gesture. Phaetheon looked up into the sky. “My impatience, brought me here late. It seems the night is upon us.” He nodded to us. “Goodnight gentlemen.” He made a small bow and backed up a step. “It brings me great joy to see you again Talon.” He turned and walked easily around the rock and out of sight. “How do you know him?” Blade whispered before waving us to come and follow him back to the lodge. “He met him on the other side of the world a few… years ago now, yes?” Leaf looked to me. I nodded. “Interesting.” I couldn’t sleep. Our meager supper and then listening to Leaf repeat my vague stories should have tired me more. I was restless. I got up into the dark and left the building. A cool quiet breeze wove between the trees. Shafts of moonlight now lit the way under the branches toward a greater light. I went to it and came to the edge of the clearing. The rock where my people had been created stood silent and black under the white light. I waited next to the trees expecting something, I was not sure what. There was a twinkle, a flash of color in the trees opposite. The colors of an exotic bird that only comes out after sunset. He crossed out of the shadows and into the light. My eyes must have had been playing tricks on me. This time he wore only his plain brown robes. There was no hesitation in his steps. He went straight to the rock and disappeared on the far side of it. Without warning, there was movement on the stone face before me. A hooded man moved. I studied him and he became more distinct. He knelt, arms raised to the sky. I recognized the position: arms up into the moonlight and head down to the ground. Phaetheon reappeared as he came around the foot of the rock. They had to know they both were there, but the man had not moved. Phaetheon hesitated before he approached. There was a short moment before he slowly stepped towards him. When they were merely feet apart, Phaetheon knelt. I could not hear any words if they had even spoken any. I doubted they had. Phaetheon bowed his head, but kept his hands down at his sides, touching the ground. The man kept his raised to the sky. It was beautiful in a way. Two as one, together, in silence and mediation. I waited for something to happen, nothing did. Not wishing to intrude, I backed away into the darker shadows before turning back to the lodge. The walk was all crickets and leaves. Only when I returned to the sleeping chambers, did I realize, that Leaf was truly not there and it had not been a restless dream. I fell asleep picturing them on their knees before the rock. I did not see Leaf in the morning. He was still not in his bed and not at the morning meal. He was probably somewhere quiet. It did not matter. I knew he would tell me about last night when he would, and that was good enough. Our afternoon was interrupted by calls signaling someone approaching. I knew who it was. Blade stood when one of his brothers whispered to him. “It appears that we have a guest.” He looked at me. “Your friend is true to his word.” Many faces looked at me. I nodded. “Come we must meet him.” A group of us, led by Blade left and headed down the path. We met them in the woods on our side of the rock. Phaetheon led the contingent, when he saw me he smiled. “Good Greetings,” Blade said to them. “Good Greetings,” Phaetheon returned brightly. “Phaetheon wanted to come. I brought him directly,” the man next to Phaetheon said. “Of course.” Blade smiled then looked at Phaetheon. “I am at your disposal sir. Whatever you require, it will be my pleasure to provide.” “I am honored.” Phaetheon stepped forward, those with him were hesitant. Blade stood his ground. “Brothers…” he addressed the brothers from the other side of the valley. “Our common, honored, guest will be in safe company and when he desires to return to you, he will be escorted to back to your esteemed company. I give my word on the honor of the Artifex Pater.” They only nodded then parted to slide back and away. Phaetheon’s men became visible. “Talon!” Two stepped forward together, I recognized the faces even though both had grown. Marius looked a little wiser and more muscular. No doubt the travels with Phaetheon had given him both. Galehault had grown up, literally. He was no longer a skinny youth, but a now a full sized young man looking more like his father. Nothing like the Phaetheon double outside the Duke’s town. Marius grabbed and hugged me. A surprise to most of us. “I never thought I would see you again!” He laughed loudly. “So much has happened…” I felt a hand on my shoulder, one that took me back years. “Yes, much had happened. The day lies before us. Perhaps Talon might welcome your company while I speak with Blade…” I nodded. “Come, let’s all of us return to the lodge and talk. Have you eaten yet today?” Blade beaconed us to follow. Leaf reappeared quietly in the hall with us and seemed amused by the attention I was given. Phaetheon’s men kept all around in the general vicinity. One in particular seemed to only stare and me and then look away. Marius and Galehault chattered about everything and nothing. Phaetheon had been touring kingdoms on this side for trade alliances and such. They had seen so much and longed for more. I could not focus on anything and made my excuses as soon as I could to leave the lodge. The woods were quieter. I wandered into the woods. Birds fluttered overhead and called to one another. I found a mature tree and sat down against the trunk. My head was full and I needed time to sort things. I rested quietly half expecting Bear to climb down to me. I woke to a deer passing by. It was young and seemed to have no idea I was there. Had I been more prepared, I could have taken it down. I loudly grunted and it darted off into the forest. I found the path and started back to the noise of the lodge. Coming the other way was Leaf. When he saw me, he grinned. I smiled back. He hugged me in greeting. “I should have known you would disappear,” he chuckled. “They were looking for you. Phaetheon’s attendants.” We walked next each other. “It is all very exciting isn’t it? Meeting them all again. And what their homeland must be like… so far away…” I touched his arm gently. I knew what he was thinking, before even he did himself. He pulsed with life and I recognized that vibration. Arrangements would have to be made at some point. I sighed. “Come on, you can’t hide forever.” Phaetheon proved to be a gracious guest. He alternated between the lodges and charmed his way along as to make no one feel the least bit slighted. The greetings and exchanges between the brothers on opposite side of the valley became less strained. The regular “exchanges” of Phaetheon bred a commonality that slowly expanded past mere cordiality. Indeed the days, and Phaetheon, seemed to be doing magic for all the brothers in the valley. Blade confessed that Phaetheon was insatiable in his quest for knowledge. “But I do not know where that drive comes from or what it will be used for.” Not knowing what to do with ourselves, Leaf and I agreed to stay on for the present. It was an easy decision for us, being around Phaetheon, Blade, Marius, Galehault, and of course the others, made me forget to long for much else. Long walks in the woods surrounding the rock soothed me. One night, early on, Blade and Leaf were talking about how we had found way to the place of creation. “We almost missed it,” Leaf confessed. “Had we not seen that one totem at the side of the clearing, we would have wandered past ant into the forest for days or weeks.” Blade and a few of his men nodded sagely. “Had there been more,” Leaf continued, “…to guide the way, I would expect others would come to be with the Pater.” The plan was hatched that night and put into action the following days. A line of posts would be erected at regular intervals out into the approaching valley to guide people in. I drafted myself to help. It was a good distraction from nothing and required little actual talk, only hard work. That much I could provide. We felled trees, shaped and carved them into large totems, and dragged them far down to where they would stand. Holes were dug and the long line of physical directions began to take shape. They were only just visible to each other, and each pointed the way to the next and the next and then to the path Leaf and I had been discovered on by the brothers. It was not a road or true trail and the posts were not very close to each other, but future travelers would have an easier time finding their way. Before long the brothers from the other lodge learned of our plan and began a similar project. The lodges were united in common goals: bringing more to the Artifex. Phaetheon and indeed everyone seemed happy. I wondered for how long.
  11. Signs in the Stone

    Fin left for home after bringing us as far as Desert Landing. We boarded another trade vessel the next day. It seemed like it had rained every single day since we had left. The passengers aboard commented how they had not seen storms like these in years. For our first true voyage together, it had been an easy choice: the place of creation. If this was to be our last, or only trip, it was the only true destination that mattered. We could not safely go through the barrens any longer, not with our tribes pitted against each other. Of the other ways into the mountains, this seemed the safest I could think of. Not that it would be easy, but then again, nothing ever was. Bleak Port lived up to its namesake. Even with a break in the rain, it was gray and dismal. The harborage was haphazardly built out and among the rocks into the sea. The water churned against the stone relentlessly. Cool and dark, the rest of the village sat in the shadows of the sharp peak behind it. We disembarked to a few cautious looks, hard stares, and turned backs. Not much had changed since the last time I had been here. These people were survivors and did not hold much stock in anything other than themselves. If you did not keep up, you perished. As I had expected, there would be a group going inland to the oasis, also as I had expected, no one either cautioned us off or invited us along. “Cheerful lot,” Leaf mumbled. The only tavern was next to the dock, a concession to the traders. We fell asleep to the sounds of crashing waves. The following morning, we woke, prepared, and went to wait near the edge of the village and trail inland. The sky remained gray and cold. The sun existed, I knew it, but it was hard to imagine it ever shined down on this place. Three, solid, old carts pulled by a few drooping horses started out and we followed slowly. Once away from the buildings, I felt better. The bare ground gave way to grass and a few stunted trees making things feel alive. I braced myself knowing it would not last. As we went uphill and the sky became visible, unblocked by the rocky mount that kept the port in darkness. Once the trail began to level out, it got easier to walk on. It slowly turned back to stone and rock and the grasses were silently left behind. The renewed grayness of the ground dulled the expanse in front of us. The desolation was not colored by the blue sky above. Even the bright sun could not change the appearance of this desert of rock. “Who is that?” Leaf whispered in our language. I looked and saw a man walking by himself. He did not speak, but none of us really were. Still, he looked isolated. He was by his complete self. A dark hood and cape hid him. His face was invisible in the folds. What I noticed quickly was he made no sound on the rock as he walked. “Thief, assassin, rogue. Shunned.” I whispered back. “Stay close.” “You think I can’t take care of myself?” I smiled inwardly. Maybe he did, but I did not want to find out. The man never approached anyone and kept himself separated. There was nothing to look at and we trudged all day in near silence to a way-point where we would spent the night. It was merely a junction of roads, nothing else. The rocks made for an unpleasant bed. The sun brought little relief from the grayness when we began again. I could not help but hope that the oasis would help break the depressing atmosphere as it had all those years ago. When we saw the trees in the distance, my heart lightened a little. The color of green and life raised my spirit. We would make it well before the sun set. I turned to look at Leaf. He was smiling. I caught movement nearby. The man’s hood had been brushed aside by the breeze. A gloved hand had pulled the cowl forward again before I could get a look at the man’s face. I instinctively changed my step to keep between the man and Leaf. It seemed brighter under the trees than under the open sky. Our moods were lifted, our pace quickened. The oasis was a mid-sized pond with trees and huts ringing it. Small rivulets drained in from all the stone surroundings. There was simply nowhere else for the water to go. No walls guarded this place. It was a place for anyone to gather. The wagons were greeted by the townspeople. We were left to ourselves. My people, like many other races, had a small area set off to ourselves and we went there. I saw no other former-Bullmen like Leaf and the hostile stares at him began to bother me. I pulled him away and back toward the common areas. He questioned me with his expression. “Something to show you.” He smiled. I led him around the lake. Quietly, we made our way out toward a place I knew. We walked a long time before the trees parted and we came between two hills. One the far side, we stared down onto the boneyard. Patches of rock, bone, field, and beast were illuminated from the sun at our side. “They come to die,” I whispered. Indeed, there were bones here and there scattered before us in the prairie. A few of the beasts lingered grazing the grasses. “Why… what?” “When it is time. They die here.” He shook his head. “They come back. Honor the dead.” I did not know what else to say and stayed silent. He scanned the scant fields. Indeed it was a rare, if not unique place. The beasts roamed freely among the bones of their ancestors. They knew they had a history and remembered it. This place was a source of life and death to them. He was enthralled. He watched and studied everything. He was like a child learning something new or one seeing a great wonder. Darkness was coming and we had more to do. I tapped his shoulder. He jumped and turned to me. I motioned for him to follow. Outcropping by outcropping, I traced my steps into the pasture to a place I had not been is years or maybe a decade. “Watch for them,” I whispered to Leaf and pointed across the field to the beasts. The place I had buried was roughly in the center of the space between a stone and a pile of bones. I saw what I thought I remembered as the rock, but the bones were not as I remembered, then again they would not be I reasoned. I pulled a short shovel and began to dig where I thought right. I heard Leaf fumble with his gear and saw him pull the necessities for a torch. “Will the light be alright? Will the beasts get spooked?” I shrugged. “Could use the light.” I dug down. It seemed to be taking longer and I was getting deeper. “Need help?” I shook my head. “Not sure anymore.” He held the torch higher and turned to look back the way we had come from. When he did, he bumped and tripped on a flat stone. He stayed upright but the light fell to the ground illuminating the rocks. It hit me. The other side of the stone, the one he had tripped on. I had buried in the morning, not at dusk. I was on the opposite side. While he picked up the light, I changed sides. I tried to dig down faster to make up time for such a stupid mistake. “Take it easy. We can stay here all night if you need,” he whispered. “I am not leaving you.” I looked up to Leaf’s smiling face then jammed my shovel in again. Not even three more loads down, I hit the stash. Although the sack was no longer useable, the coins inside were fine. Leaf’s eyes widened. “I know you have these… but how can you… how do you…?” “Doing long time. Only what I need.” He shook his head. “Let’s get back, I am getting cold.” “All night ?” He grinned and pulled me up by my arm. We slept in the common area of the oasis. Far from either of own people. The sense of heaviness had returned almost as soon as we had left the oasis and the long day slogging past rocks and barren landscape was spent in near silence. Two days until we would break off from the rest of the pack. Two days until we would be alone again. Not that it did not feel like that already. Occasional gusts of wind followed us and we made our way forward. The day had not been uneventful. We had a few families with us this time. The children played with each other, chasing one another between the wagons. Only a few times were they reminded to stay quiet. I thought of the kids and their children back on the farm. I could not help but wonder what they would be like. I wondered if I would never know. I glanced at Leaf. He scanned the horizon. I wondered why he had come. Sure he must know the odds of getting back safe and sound. I had thought it clear. He had a home; he had so much more to return to, someday. We slowed and made preparations for the night. We were in a place of low hills now. The mountains were visible. The men seemed unsettled. A single fire was lit. The children were quiet. The wagons sat close to one another. Even late into the night, some of the men stayed awake and on watch. Leaf dozed, leaned back on a wagon wheel. In the distance, there was a small flash of light in the hills. Nothing really, but odd. I watched and did not see it again. The sky was a solid cloud. The moon was dim behind it. No stars penetrated the darkness. Without warning, the rogue came past me. Way too close for my liking. I moved to grab my short sword. Without even appearing to look at me, he held his hand down to tell me to stay mine. I could now tell from the position of his hood, he was not concerned with me. He was scanning the distance to the left of us. I slowly stood and watched with him. Sure enough, there was a faint glint in the darkness. I tapped Leaf on the shoulder. He woke startled, as if from a bad dream. “Shh….” I whispered. “Wha…” “Quiet. Warn the men. Danger coming.” He nodded and slid silently under the wagon to get to the family on the other side. “How many…” I began, but the man was no longer there. The only thing remaining was his dark cloak in a pile on the ground. I did not know what he intended to do. I heard the talking behind the carriage and silently cursed them for being too loud. “What next?” Leaf whispered, suddenly next to me. “Don’t know. Can’t see.” They had picked a good night with the moon mostly hidden behind the overcast sky. Still I could make out a half dozen at least just before they re-concealed themselves behind a mound. I pressed us back against the wagon while trying to figure out how they planned to attack. I didn’t have to wonder long. I heard a shout and a boy’s cry from the opposite side of the wagons. They had struck from two sides. The sound of the first sword hit appeared to signal the men out by us to stand to come running in. The side of the hill they were coming from moved all on its own and collapsed on a few of them. Partially distracted, three or four blundered forward toward us and the sound of combat on the other side of the encampment. The first one or two did not see us against the wagon. I ran one through and smashed the second in the face with an elbow. Families from the other side began pouring out and away from the chaos into our own battle. Leaf fought one man, sword to sword, while I continued to dodge the violent slashing coming from another. A girl ran past me, was knocked on the side of the head, and fell to the ground. I whipped my blade into the face of my opponent and he grabbed at his eyes long enough for me to bring my weapon back down on his shoulder. It seemed there were more enemies suddenly. The fleeing families had brought them to us. The brawl had spilled over. The travelers were fighting back but it was slow. A young man, small sword in hand, ran through and into the chest of one of the raiders who raised his sword high. Suddenly there were bright flashes in the sides of the head and neck of the bandit and he staggered and fell forward. The young man ran as the raider came down with the rogue on his back. Once on the ground, the man stepped off the dead bandit and pulled a set of daggers from the sides of his vest and stalked towards his next victim. I turned to face another one. At first, I thought it would be easy. He was rough around the edges, but his blows were strong and knocked me back. I thought my weapon might break. I looked for an advantage. I let him chop with his sword until I was back up against the side of the carriage. The next blow, I ducked and let his weapon hit the unyielding wood. The shock of his arm being whipped back unbalanced him. I hooked my foot behind his leg and he fell back and gurgled. “Bastard…” Leaf grunted and let him drop to the side. He huffed and puffed as he pulled his sword from the dead man’s back. We prevailed that night once the shock had worn off. In the morning, those who were not hurt, were helping those who were. Leaf became the caring doctor once more. As the sun rose, I walked around to search for survivors and drag them back to camp. The rogue walked among the bodies as well. He searched one and pocketed something. I found one frightened girl crouched behind a rock and pulled her up. She was still in shock and I pushed her into the arms of another man to bring her back to the group. The rogue was once again at the side of a man on the ground. He pulled two daggers from each side of the man’s neck and sheathed them in his vest. He looked up and saw me looking at him. He was fully bearded, hair all long and dark. Dark eyes set on a dark face. I saw rows of daggers lining him. He bent and pulled his cloak up. Without any hesitation, he concealed himself within the garment. His face disappeared into the folds of his cowl once more. We finished getting what we could from the bloody night, mounted the wounded as best we were able in the wagons, and set off. No one wanted to be caught out for another night. The children did not play or laugh or have to be told to be quiet. Leaf made himself useful among the carriages. I walked behind. The rogue walked directly behind me. We did not stop at midday at all. Before sunset, we came to the fork in the road, the one I had been dreading. The wagon train began to drift to the right-hand side. They were making their way to Eagle Point and safety. We were going to the mountain pass. Once again at my side, I prompted Leaf to stay with me and keep walking toward the less trod path gently curving to the left. Just when I thought we were going to go it alone, one wagon strayed away from the pack. A few little hands waved to and from it. We kept going and followed the lone wagon into the foothills. “At least we are not alone,” Leaf whispered and nodded forward. I shrugged and glanced over my shoulder. The rogue was still following us. He was as silent as the stones. We were deep in the pass when the wagon slowed to a stop. The driver jumped down and looked back at the three of us. He was an enemy of my tribe, I was an enemy of Leaf’s, he was an enemy of Leaf’s, and we were all enemies of the rogue. He shook his head and slowly approached us. He put up his hands. “Evening…” he spoke common. “Don’t want no trouble. Hoping we could look after one another tonight.” He looked among us. “Of course…” Leaf stepped forward. The man involuntarily stepped back. Leaf smiled to me. Late in the night, I woke to Leaf’s light taps on my arm. I yawned and stretched. “All quiet,” he whispered. The man leaned on the wheel nearby, his family no doubt draped all over the wagon’s interior, he was nodding off. Across on a low rise, the rogue sat in an erect trance position I recognized. Kjartanei had said while not completely awake or asleep, he could still get rest and put off deep sleep a week at a time. Leaf rolled under the cart and immediately nodded off. In the light of morning, things changed as we crossed into the pass. The grays and blacks of stone transitioned to browns with patches of green. Although the slope was a little more than gradual, we made good time as far as my memories could recollect. Mid-day the pass opened up with real soil and brush. The children talked in hushed tones. We kept close behind, not for any other reason but that we could. Without warning, trees appeared everywhere and we found ourselves winding through them. At dusk, we saw the lights of torches. It was another caravan already stopped. I was not surprised, I knew there was a junction of trails this way. Soft music played. The man jumped down and walked the horses and wagon slowly ahead to greet them. We hung back a respectful distance to allow them to greet each other as ones of the same race would. I hoped at least to get a nod or two along with toleration for the night at least. The man came back to us and relayed that although we were appreciated, we were not the most welcome. He blushed and looked away. “Surely, we can stay nearby?” Leaf questioned us. “Of course,” the man began, “… just not within the circle.” I nodded, not too bad. He handed me some rations. “Thank you for watching out for us.” He nodded and turned back to his own business. I turned to the rogue and handed him some. His gloved hand extended and returned to the folds of his cloak with a portion. Nothing said. It was payment accepted. He backed a pace or two away and rounded the camp away from us. Leaf and I walked over to a tree at the outside edge of the firelight and sat to eat. “What do we do now?” “Sleep. On our own tomorrow.” We were alone. Throughout the morning, the forest was quiet but for the birds and the occasional wind through the trees. Throughout the afternoon, Leaf talked as if we were back on the farm. We moved off the path at night and into an open space behind the trees. With no visible animal tracks and not near the trail, the darkness was peaceful and undisturbed. The slope had increased and our going was slow. I had hoped there would be some type of sign of which way to go. This was all new territory to my eyes, it all was since we had watched the caravan pull away. Around two days walk from that intersection, we had been told. I knew enough that by following the rising ridges to our sunrise side, we would be brought close, hopefully close enough to find the rest of the way, pick up a trail, or find an obvious landmark. At the dawn of the third day, I could not help but to think we were lost. Leaf politely avoided discussion about where we were when he spoke. He walked with me with a loyalty I had rarely ever known. About mid-day, it occurred to me to turn back. We were high up now and the walk back, going downhill, would be much faster. If we kept going ahead, who knew what we would run across? The rations were low, but manageable. We had not seen a lot of animals, but the odds were no longer in our favor. Dusk began to fall. The trees opened to a small meadow. The sun showed very low in the sky over the trees. The moon, just rising, dimly appeared over the ridge on the opposite side. “Wait,” Leaf said and touched my hand. It was the first he had spoken in what seemed like hours. “A moment.” When he released my hand, I realized he had been holding it. He simply faced the moon, knelt on the ground, and began to worship his patron. I looked around us while I waited. The clearing was small, nothing unusual about it. I tried to look above the trees beyond to look for bearings, anything to tell us where to go. I scanned the surrounding canopy in a circle, starting with the moon above Leaf. It shown above the ridge behind, no sign of life on the peaks when we should have seen something of the place of creation. I turned and followed the sky and the leaves, nothing. The sun was indeed lower when I faced it, still high enough for time to make camp somewhere. I returned my stance to Leaf. He was still on his knees with his arms up to the moon. His head was still bowed and even though his back was to me, I knew his eyes were closed. Above and between his hands was the moon. Cold, distant, and freshly awakened from its daytime slumber. I could feel the sun on our backs. His hair moved with a breeze I felt a few seconds later. It rippled in the light and I felt another gentle wind. There was a stone visible past him. It was below the moon, above his head, and between his hands. It was square, unnatural. I walked past him and straight to it. The stone was straight and taller than either of us. The faces were hand-worked and smooth, except one side. The graceful symbols of the sun, moon, and an arrow adorned it. The arrow pointed out of the clearing and towards the ridge at an angle. I felt Leaf touch my shoulder. He had been answered once again. I smiled and nodded for us to follow the sign on the stone.
  12. Happy Birthdays

    Hello Trevin, very nice to meet you! The short answer to your question is “irregularly.” The long version: I write in a very linear and relatively un-plotted fashion. I imagine the characters go about their own lives while I am gone. With that being said: Talon does have more life, surprises, and places to go, return to, and experience. I thank you for asking. The number of views means one thing, hearing from a real person, such as yourself, means so much more. Please don’t let my crazy lack of schedule throw you off. I invite you to keep letting me know what you think as we go along. Thank you once again for writing. Hugs.
  13. Happy Birthdays

    “I ran for Leaf when she started before sunrise. Meg and him are in with her,” Mane spit out. Foal looked down suddenly. “I forgot to wake you… sorry…” They looked up at me, worry was written all over them. Petal called out again. They sat close, protectively. I nodded and walked over to the fire. It was slowly dying. I grabbed the last piece of wood and tossed it in. “More wood,” I told them and left the house. I lingered while gathering it up in my arms. I had seen this before. I was not needed inside. Nature could only take its course. There were no changes in the house while I made the few trips to stock the wood and stoke the fire. Mane and Foal sat near Petal’s door. I heard her pain coming from within more than once. The fathers whispered words of comfort to each other. I walked back towards Bear’s tree. There was chatter from the branches above, I searched. Bear was behind another slow-monkey and it took a few moments to realize what they were doing. Another life was being created out here as well. I took my time, gathered a few pieces of fruit from the trees, and retraced the distance back to the homestead. Leaf stood alone before the fire. His face a wash of emotions, not all of them joyous. The sounds through the open door exuded happiness in the whispers. I crossed to him. He looked up startled, then smiled. “It’s a girl.” I nodded. He visibly shook whatever emotion he felt off and led me to the door. Meg came out quickly and shut it, practically in our faces. “Best to leave them alone for a few moments,” she whispered. “Now, let’s see what we have for breakfast around in here. Ah, good, some fruit…” Meg fussed up some food for us while we waited on the small family in the other room. Before too long, Foal appeared at the door and waved us in. Petal looked absolutely exhausted, but she smiled to me all the same. “Sage,” she whispered. I leaned over and looked down at the newest member of their family. “Doesn’t she look like me?” Mane grinned broadly. “She looks like me!” Foal elbowed him. Petal chuckled and held Sage tightly. I peered more closely and searched for any resemblances. All I could tell was that Sage definitely favored her mother. “Come now…” Leaf said gently. “They both need their rest.” He looked down at Petal. “We will check in on you in a little while.” In the main room, Mane and Foal continued to playfully argue which one of them Sage looked like. Leaf glanced up at me when I left for the barn. Some chores could not be put off. I would let them all enjoy some moments of joy without any of the daily burdens. Leaf followed and waited until we were completely alone before he spoke. “So… I understand what Horn was trying to tell me… it’s true then…” He nodded back to the house and waited a few cautious moments before he prodded again. “About them… being a family…” He let it drift off and waited for my response. I nodded. He smiled and shrugged. “Curious,” he began cautiously. “Seems like Mr. Riggers… Meg… they must all have an idea...” “Never asked.” I shrugged. He looked me in the eyes. “Fair enough.” He grinned. While we watered and checked on the animals, Leaf told me some of what Horn had said to him. He had mentioned how when he and Foal were laid up together, Foal had mentioned his two “devoted friends.” When Mane and Petal finally appeared, Horn had been stunned at the closeness and tactile displays. Although they had been discreet, through little interactions and observations, it soon became clearer to Horn what the nature of the relationships was. Leaf stayed on and worked alongside us without judgement. Petal nursed and began doing light chores again. We all began to adapt to the new life with a child in the house. Leaf helped to made it easy and safe. We spoke beyond Sage and the kids, or more properly, he prompted and talked while we worked. Slowly, as the days passed, we learned some more about each other and those in, or from, our lives. Horn’s mate, Breeze, was expecting their first child. Leaf would leave to be with him for that. Horn himself had vowed he would never leave home again. He would not take any chances once the child was born. Never again. His family would be his life and reason. His anchor. His future. His one true home. He was Leaf’s last family. Leaf would always have a place to call home. At night, I carved a new totem for Leaf. One mixed of the signs of friendship, the moon he worshipped, and the signs of the one he had carved for me when he had left with Horn months ago. The future became clearer for the family and I realized it would be an independent and perfectly functioning one. Mane, Foal, Petal, Sage, and any future additions, were and would be at peace. I was pleased. Somehow, I felt that I had fulfilled my promise to Colt. If he were able to see them now, he would be smiling. When Leaf left for home and Horn, I felt alone. The kids and others did not isolate me, in fact, they tried to include me. Somehow, I did not feel part of them. As I sat under Bear’s tree in the dark, I began to wonder at how I always seemed to feel that way. Apart. I had been a part of many groups: family, armies, caravans, and friends. Within those, I was a part and apart. I had felt part of something with Thorn. Even in the brief time I was with Mari, I felt a part and still apart. Here I was a part of a large, extended, created family and also apart from it. I heard movement coming down the tree. Bear clawed his way down toward me. I could see above him, the female waited. The increase of fat around her middle signaled her pregnancy to my eyes. Bear sniffed around me looking for food. I handed him a piece of bread. He ate it slowly, as he did everything. Before long he was sniffing for more. I had nothing. He waited for a few moments. Before climbing back up to the female and they disappeared into the canopy and darkness. The days were all the different chores and labor. The nights were quietly spent in the barn loft or by Bear’s tree. I preferred the tree. I heard more chatter some nights. It seemed Bear had developed a harem, three females. Two looked pregnant. I did my fair share and more when I could. There was always another roof to mend or boat to repair. Still, there was a lot of time to myself. I walked up the ridge, high up. Towards the sunset lay the deserts, at my back, the town and the waters. Across the sands, more lands, some of which I had only heard about, some I had been to. I felt older looking at the desert. There were things I had wanted to do when I was young, places to go. I had done a lot in my life, I had even been around the world. I had seen more than I had ever dreamed as a child. The sun dropped into the desert and the moon rose from the waters behind me. The brothers were still separated in different parts of the sky. They reminded me of myself and Leaf. I shook my head to clear the thought. I searched visible distance from my perch, not toward the sun nor back to the moon. My thoughts lay between. I knew I could not see it from here. Somewhere out there was the place of creation. I had always thought there was time enough for that. It had been in the mountains. The mountains well past where I had been born but much nearer to our old village than anyplace I had been since. There had always been time so I had never bothered. Leaf returned at the next new moon. He kept himself was busy during the days with odd jobs in town, but the nights he always returned to me and the farm. “Horn and Breeze’s child will be soon.” He looked up into the tree and at one of Bear’s females. “From the looks of it, her too…” I nodded and returned his smile; it seeped from his face. “I will be heading back again, to Breeze and Horn, on the next full moon…” He looked down and away. “I wish you could come with me, but things are still bad… maybe even worse between our tribes…” I looked up into the trees. The female had moved on, but Bear crept down the trunk towards me and the food at my side. “I will stay there through the birth.” I nodded without looking to see if he was even watching me. We sat in silence. I fed Bear and he ate greedily. I saw Leaf smile. When he was done. Bear grabbed more fruit from my hand and climbed up into the tree, slowly and carefully as always. Time passed in a haze of the daily progression of life. Leaf had been gone for nearly two moons. A new baby clung to Bear’s female. Sage grew fast. I visited the ridge overlooking the desert often. Mr. Riggers fell ill and got better. Fin’s boat and one other were lost in a storm. There had been no word from Leaf. I worked with some of the men on another boat. Petal became pregnant again. The third female in Bear’s harem was pregnant. The lower part of town flooded and dried out. I could not feel the Artifex Pater in the ground. “My friend!” Leaf called to me. I smiled broadly and forced myself not to run to him although my heart raced ahead. “How have you been?” He clapped me on the shoulders. “I missed you! So much news!” At supper he told us about Horn and Breeze and their newborn, Pine. It had been an easy birth, but Pine seemed sickly for a time. He wheezed and coughed for weeks, then something changed. He grew more robust and his coloring improved. According to Leaf, by looking at him now, you could not tell his life had started so roughly. The entire family was doing well. The news he brought about the tribes and the larger world seemed to be about the same as we had heard already. Both our peoples were at war with each other and others. There was uncertainty everywhere. Ironically, this little pirates’ village was safe enough. No one paid us much mind. “Everything is chaos,” Leaf told me later when we were alone. “The world is not the same.” He sighed. I could not help but think it always had been. When we had been young, we had been full of hope and longed for happiness and peace. Maybe my old stepbrother Blade had had it correct. He went to worship with his brothers and they removed themselves from the strife. “Is it any different on the other side of the world at all?” It was and wasn’t. People still fought over land and riches and whatever, but they were not our people. The fights, such as they were, did not seem the same. Then there was here, in this place, there was peace. No one had mentioned when the last time these people, the ones I lived side by side with, had been involved in a war. “Not really.” He sighed. “People are people.” He looked down. “I had hoped for more. Somewhere…” I stared at him. He still had hope and I was crushing it. How many times had I done that to people? Even across the seas, I had left people without hope. “Maybe someday.” He smiled broadly. We climbed the path to the ridge overlooking the desert. The dusk brushed up against us as we watched the sun sinking into the sands. I shivered for a moment, then I felt an arm around my shoulders. He did not say anything. It had been so long since I had felt genuine human touch. I almost shied away. I held myself still. We prepared to spend the night on the ridge and spread ourselves out under and against a large outcropping that faced the sunset. I fell asleep before even starting a fire. In the middle of the night, I woke and was not surprised that Leaf was not beside me. The sound of the crackling wood comforted me. I heard a soft shift of movement from above. I twisted my neck to see him above me on the rock in his position of prayer to the moon. He was on his knees, arms raised, and his palms to the sky. His head hung down in supplication. Being underneath, I could see his face in the glow of the flames. His eyes were closed; his face relaxed. There was no expression, no emotion. No wind moved his hair. His breathing seemed regular and his body still. He held his bulk in total communion with the moon and was in a total state of reception. He… it, was beautiful, this sacred act. Suddenly, his eyes rolled open and caught mine. I felt ashamed, a villainous spy. He merely smiled and gave one nod before his eyes closed. Though he had returned to prayer, he still smiled. I felt, more that heard, him return to sleep at my side and we slept peacefully. Back on the farm and under Bear’s tree, it seemed like there were slow-monkeys everywhere. I listened to them all night now. Their quiet voices were comfortable sounds during Leaf’s absence. Before he went to visit home, we had talked about traveling. I could not resist his presence and smile when he dreamed to going to the side of the world he had never seen. There were safe places. Places that did not care about the difficulties between our peoples or our wars. As this village of pirates was, it had begun to feel like a cage. They were places and pockets of people and lands still to visit all over. The kids were grown up and did not need us. Not that they ever did in the first place. Now that Mr. Riggers had named them inheritors to his farm, even less so. Mr. Riggers, and Mane, and Petal, and Foal, and Sage, and the newly arrived Mint were safe, secure, and loved. Any debt I had to Colt had been paid a long time ago. It was time to leave.
  14. Questions, Questions Questions

    Should we install the "objects are closer than they appear" mirrors before we all try on our patches?
  15. Questions, Questions Questions

    Are saying I might not have the figure for it?

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