The Sword, the Bow and the Staff-part V

Therefore continuing on with a story I sincerely hope some of you find entertaining, perhaps even intriguing (I dare hope!) I’m introducing this part V with an interesting quote:

Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.” — Flannery O’Connor

They began to climb in earnest then as the hills became steeper and lacerated with glens requiring the agility of the sheep to get in and out of. Although the sun was weak, it being winter, they were sweating in their heavy leather coats and pants. Their boots began to chafe and Nal removed hers, choosing to walk barefoot. Soon Lo imitated her and they laughed at their dusty, grimy feet. The ground was dry but not hard on their tough soles and the rocks were smooth and flat. Obviously both of them were quite comfortable walking barefoot. The sheep marched on up eagerly, sometimes braying and listening for answers. Then move on again. Obviously they sensed that the rest of their herd was in the neighbourhood.

Suddenly the sheep stopped, all ears pointing forward. As suddenly Lo and Nal armed themselves, knelt down behind the sheep, and waited also. Five men erupted from a small dip in the hillside, armed with bows strung and notched. Nal responded by pointing at one man’s heart then slightly lifting her bow to adjust for the drop. The men couldn’t shoot without hitting the sheep so tried to frighten the herd out of the way.

That’s when Lo called out to them, “We’re returning your sheep, can’t you see? We found them wandering by a creek about eight miles below. They had been chased by a pack of wild dogs. Send someone down if you want, you’ll find the dead dogs. We have no interest in your sheep, we’re seeking a pass to get to the sea and the port there. Will you let us pass?”

Meanwhile Nal had slipped down and found a convenient rock to hide behind and setting up her usual arrows, got ready to dispatch the men if they proved unwilling to give ground.

She called out, “I’ve got you sighted. I will have at least three of you dead before you can respond, and I will get the rest of you. I’m Beanna the archer, you know my name and my reputation with bow and sword. Don’t be idiots.”

“Beanna? It’s that a trick. Beanna went south for the winter three months ago. You’ll be sorry for lying to us!”

“No Cedric you fool, you’ll be the sorry one. I got married, I came back with my husband Lo here. You hurt him and you will experience the full extent of my wrath, mon. Put your weapons down and let me show myself so you’ll know it’s me. Guy? Lil’ Cos? Listen to me now, you don’t want to play this game with me.”

The bows were lowered and Nal came out from behind her rock. Lo stood up but kept his staff firmly in both hands as the shepherds or whomever they were still held onto rusty cutlasses. He felt truly sorry for them when he saw their pathetic weapons. Both he and Nal walked slowly towards the five men, who it turned out were really two men and three boys.

Finally, the weapons were discarded and both sides introduced themselves. The shepherds were the two men, Cedric and Guy, the three boys, Lil’ Cos, Giles and Roland. They wore sleeved leather jerkins and typical but non-tartan long kilts and high leather boots. Their worn and cracked sword sashes were of leather and worn over their right shoulder, bow and quiver on the back. Obviously these men, though ill armed, had received some basic guard training.

It was Cedric who first spoke, and he addressed Nal, as Beanna of course. “Married now, are ya, gal? That news is going to break the heart of a dozen hopefuls in these parts, including mine.” He looked at Lo and winked lasciviously, hinting at some understanding between men and a pretty and very desirable lass, as in, maybe we can do business?

Lo, not at all familiar with the local ways, let Nal do the talking. She spoke in a sing-song accent he found pleasurable to listen to. Obviously this was her home, or had been for some time. She talked a blue streak about certain individuals’ health; a cottage being rebuilt; a baby that hadn’t been well when she left which sadly had subsequently died; the current priest or preacher for the kirk; the clan’s movements against a growing threat from poachers; some girl’s upcoming and disputed spring marriage to a chief’s son; and things he did not understand at all.

Finally he tapped Nal on the shoulder and asked her if she could find them food and a room for the night.

“Just catching up to some news and gossip from home, Lo. I will inquire about room and board.”

This she asked in a strange dialect he understood not a word of. She gestured, pointed to a hill, laughed then turned to Lo.

“There’s a large cottage up ahead behind yonder hill that has an upstairs room we can rent. They’ll make us our meals, all for a price, not cheap. How are our funds in gold? These people don’t deal in local currencies as their value changes with the weather and invasions. It’s sheep, or gold, and we’re a bit short on sheep at the moment unless… no, wait.”

She spoke to Cedric in the same dialect, raising her voice once or twice, pointing at the sheep, and the trail they’d walked up. He recognized the word “dogs” and understood when she pulled out her sword to demonstrate. Then she turned to Lo and smiled.

“They agree, we deserve payment for saving their sheep and bringing them back. We get two ewes and we get to pick them.”

Lo looked over the herd. “Ewes, huh? How do you tell them apart? They’re all just bundles of stinky dirty wool!”

“Boy sheep, girl sheep, Lo. You don’t tell them apart by their wool; you have to check their equipment, or lack thereof.” She laughed at him.

“I was teasing you. It’s so nice to see and hear you laugh, Nal, it pleases me so much. Why do they want us to take ewes?”

“There are no spare rams; it’s winter and meat is at a premium. The rams go first except for those needed to service the ewes. So we get two ewes, one for you, one for me, for services rendered. All we need do is pick two, put a rope on them and walk them to the cottage where we will dine and sleep. Just out of curiosity, do we have any gold Lo?”

“Some but it’s another item we want to use sparingly. I’ll need two coins to melt into rings. Is there a forge around here?”

“Oh yes there is. It’s a small one, and we’ll probably have to melt the gold and forge the rings ourselves. I doubt the local blacksmith handles anything but iron. He wouldn’t know what to do with gold, probably refuse to touch it due to the liability. If he lost it he could never pay us back.”

“We’ll rent some forge time then, if the ewes will carry our credit so far. We’ll do the melting and reshaping ourselves. I’ve worked with gold and it sounds like you have also?”

“Yes I have some training in melting and re-shaping gold artifacts.”

Mocking: “Local girls’ sideline, is it?”

Ignoring his tone and seriously: “In a way. Passing raiders trust us more than the men and the boys in returning the right weight, plus we have nimbler fingers. I’ve never forged a ring though. Have you?”

“I’ve done silver rings but with the proper tools. This will be interesting.”

“Maybe I could use Allaya magic on the gold, huh?”

“That, Nal, is not something you should talk about lightly, or anywhere someone could be eavesdropping. Some places and people know about the Allay and Allaya. Remember they were once worshipped all over. Claiming to be an Allay or Allaya could be bad business, like impersonating God or the Devil. We’ve both seen people burned alive. It’s not something I care to experience, at least not because of carelessness or a loose tongue.”

“Yes, of course. I’m sorry Lo. Just a couple of days ago I was still “of the people” and such jokes were quite permissible. I accept that it no longer is. I may forget, however.”

“Yes, but try not to. You are now in process of transitioning out of your Earth roots. The faster you learn, the quicker will be your transformation and the sooner you will have access to, and control of, you new powers. You are no stranger to hard self discipline so you are ideally suited to complete whatever this is we’ve both set in motion. Remember this: in this entire world, and possibly in this entire universe, we may be the only two of our kind in existence. Sobering thought that, what do you think?”

“I don’t want to think about that side of it, it frightens me and I’m not usually easily frightened. This world, your world, well, it’s unsettling. I don’t know how to take it and when I mentally enter it, I don’t know who I am either.”

“It’s not just my world, Nal, it’s our world. It’s a world we’re creating ourselves, altogether on our own and it’s a newborn child. You must enter it as its mother and teach it, guide it, even command it. You must shape it.”

Turning her back to him and looking at the ground: “I-will-TRY!”

“I push you too hard, sorry. Let’s find our sheep and our abode, yes?” He gave her a hug and it all fell into place once again for her. They chose a couple of ewes from the herd, put Lo’s escape rope around their necks and after taking leave of the shepherds, walked on up the hill towards their destination. The large cottage was a two-story affair near a small lake. A man came out to meet them and take the sheep from them. He seemed quite gracious and happy with the payment for food and lodging. After making sure he’d get his rope back, Lo and Nal walked up to the low front door of the stone building where a woman welcomed them inside.

Only when they smelled the cooking did they realize how hungry they both were. They were shown to a second table in the large dining room and after putting pack and weapons on the floor, sat side by side on one of the rough benches and waited, just looking at each other, saying nothing. All manners of things could have been said but there were others around and beside, Nal’s mind was already reeling from overloads of information. So they took the time available to make love with their eyes.

The boys, Giles and Roland, came into the room and seeing Nal, came over and asked if they could sit at their table.

“There’s wolves about so we’re told to keep the herd in the big barn tonight. We’ll eat here, then sleep in the barn. Mind us eating with you?”

“Nal?” She nodded to Lo and replied, “No, that will be fine with us but we’re quite tired and mean to retire as soon as supper is done.”

Roland: “You don’t have a ring, Beanna?”

“Actually when I got married, I also changed my name. We didn’t think Beanna was appropriate any longer, due to my reputation. My name is Nal. The reason I don’t have my ring, and neither does my husband is, we had some hard times, we needed the gold, so we sold them. We would really like to have rings again though. If we found some gold, could we have new ones made at the forge?”

She made her story sound so believable and told it so smoothly that the two boys were completely taken in. What reason would they have not to believe her?

Giles: “Your name is Nal? That’s a strange name, that is.”

“For around here, I know, but not where we were at the time, far into the south. We heard it was the name of a princess on the continent and Lo wanted to marry a princess. So I gave him one!”

They laughed at that story, it was a good one. Still, young Giles moon-eyed Nal, not quite willing to accept that she was now lost to him and his boyish hopes.

Roland: “Won’t be easy to find any gold around here this time of year. Not many travel the highlands for fear of sudden snows and bandit raids are more common. You could try to lower village, down in Glowmere. There may be some gold for sale there or even rings.” By way of explanation he added, “Winter, many die.”

The food was served along with stout and after appropriate grace given, all attention went to eating. After the meal and both Giles and Roland had lit their pipes, a subdued conversation started again but soon waned. Nal was almost asleep when Lo nudged her, gave his regrets to the shepherd boys and they both walked up the solid wooden stairs to the upper room that would be their first bedroom as a married couple. The door was wide open. He held Nal back from entering, and after gently placing her weapons’ bundle on the floor, and likewise his pack and staff, he picked her up and carrying her to the bed, put her down slowly, carefully, as if she’d been made of fine china.

“My wife, you are the second, in time not in value, most precious bundle I have ever had the pleasure of carrying in my arms. May the joy you give me in this moment endure into eternity and may I never have to spend a single day away from you.”

“Oh darling Lo, thank you. I desire nothing else for myself either.” She snuggled into the warm bed that had been heated with hot water bottles. “Help me undress?” He did so, admiring her small by perfect female body, then turned to retrieve their belongings and put them within easy reach. When he returned to his bride, she was already sound asleep.

He smiled to himself as he covered her and as was his habit, went to the dormer window and opened the shutters to take stock of the surroundings. He noted the drive, the narrower paths to barn, smaller outbuildings and to the fields and woods below. He watched the water rippling on the small lake, noting with satisfaction that it wasn’t cold enough to have frozen it over. The reflected starlight danced on the water. He heard a wolf give one lonely cry, and an owl respond. Strange, haunting country, he thought to himself, but certainly not lacking in natural beauty. As to the people in it, he wasn’t so sure.

He reached into his pack and brought out the little orb, held it in his right hand and enclosed it with his fingers, turning his hand over. Then it all happened as before. He held his left hand, palm out in a gesture of greeting and waited. Gradually, his hand became light from the glow of the orb but this time the colour changed. It went from pale blue to a deep red. He stared at the light, waited until it changed to a white flash of opalescent rainbow colours.

Satisfied, he put the precious out-worldly gem away and pondered the answers he’d just received. One: the pale blue meant good weather and good luck, long term. Two: deep red meant they would be attacked and involved in a bloody fight, something that did not surprise him, and there would be a fire, or fires. Three: the opalescent rainbow colours told him he had once again found his soul mate. As he had suspected, Beanna was Nal’s reincarnation as an Earthian. Having died while still entrapped within the evil of earth she could not have returned home, so she opted to stay on earth and work out her cleansing somehow. Now he had his answer also to Beanna’s deadly skill with the short bow. It had been Nal’s weapon of choice then and she never missed a target. But how had she managed to find her bow again after so many years? For he knew that no one manufactured bows such as the one Beanna/Nal possessed, in these times. Did her mother find it on that distant island she came from, and bring it to the northern continent along with her sword?

He closed the shutters and went back to look upon the small sleeping woman and found himself literally shaking with a joy he could barely suppress. He wanted to shake her awake and tell her his amazing news but realized, just in time, she would not understand, not yet. Plus, if she fell asleep rather than indulge herself in sex and the loving she so desired and obviously enjoyed, she was certainly dead tired. If there was an attack that night, she’d need all the sleep and rest she could get now.

His orb could never tell him the times of events it predicted, but he suspected the attack would be soon, likely this night, and upon both the cottage and the barn. He pictured the barn with its grass roof burning, along with the shepherds and the sheep trapped inside.

With a deep sign, another look at Nal, he took his staff, balanced it carefully, then walked out of the room, closing the door silently and went down the stairs. The fireplace was almost extinguished and there was no one around. A dog or two sniffed at the outside door. He opened it slowly, passed his hand over the two pit bulls to calm them and they followed him to the barn as if they’d been house pets and had known him forever. He pounded on the heavy door, waited until Roland, covered in straw and with sleepy eyes, confronted him.

“What? Oh, it’s you sir. Is something wrong?”

“There could be. I have a feeling we are going to be attacked tonight. I would like you and Giles to take the animals down the field and hide them in the small glen there. Keep an eye on them. If we need you I’ll whistle thus,” and he gave an ear-piercing whistle that made the boy wince.

“Aye! I’ll certainly hear that right enough. But sir, there be wolves down there at night. I’ve seen their movement, times, I have.”

“Take the dogs, they can take care of the wolves. I sense the attackers will fire the barn and I don’t want any living thing trapped in it, well, barring the rats and mice. They’ll take care of themselves.”

“You have humour sir! Pleasant you are. Here’s Giles. He answers to me. We’ll do exactly as you ask sir, and thank you, even if nothing comes of it.”

“You are a true gentleman, Roland. Arm yourselves, but be safe. Now, do you think I should bring an alarm to the rest of the house?”

“Nay sir. They not be the forgiving kind. T’were to prove false, such a move could cause enmity. The cottage has survived many attacks, sir, t’will do so again. It don’t burn, being stone and slate. If you stay on watch then you can raise the alarm when the attack begins?”

“That I will, Roland. My thanks, once again.”

{End of Part V}

3 thoughts on “The Sword, the Bow and the Staff-part V

    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thanks Roger. I’m trying to keep it smooth until it hits more rough waters. They have so much to learn, and do, especially Nal, before they finally confront their final nemesis and provide a purpose for the whole adventure!

      Reply

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