Start section 11 (eleven)
As the three exited the place, leaving the bodies for whatever predators roamed these dreary places, Lo, somewhat relieved at the grisly discovery knowing that an ambush on the trail was now less likely, mentioned the need to prepare their camp for the night.
“I sense our good fortune in weather is about to change. It will get wet and perhaps it will snow. We need to find suitable shelter where the two of you can stay and keep a fire while I walk to the village and get us provisions and suitable clothing for you, Donna. You will need warm underclothes and your own shirts, a pair of leather pants and an overcoat, certainly better shoes.”
“I ain’t complaining with this attire. Better ‘n going naked. What became of my own clothes, wasn’t I wearin’ any when ye found me?”
“Actually ye weren’t and there were none to be found. We think it was faerie work. They were about to take ye into their world, they were, and no human passes there with clothes on. Faeries don’t wear human clothes, goin’ naked most of the time or wearing leaves ‘n twigs ‘n grasses ‘n bits and pieces of birds’ egg shells and snail shells too, ‘n flowers a plenty if they want to decorate their bodies or hair when havin’ a gatherin’. Can’t have clothes interferin’ with the wings and dance flight, can we.
“True Donna, ye’re certainly pretty enough to attract the faeries’ attention, ye are. No surprise there. Maybe t’was ‘em that took you from the battle an’ brought ye up in these parts, then when we showed up, they left you and vanished. Can’t trust faeries, they be even less trustworthy than humans.” Nal delivered that story without hesitation, convincing Donna that that was exactly what must have happened. Even Lo was mesmerized by her story telling, half believing what she was saying.
The explanation satisfied Donna for the time being. She was too excited and happy to question deeply what was going on. She had two new friends who were the most amazing people she’d ever believed could exist, let alone meet! Soon she would be dressed in the brown leathers of the woodsmen and women who lived much as the faeries did, wild and independent in the fastness of the northern highlands, or so she’d been told and liked to believe. She’d be travelling to lands she could only have dreamed of.
Oh yes, accept, enjoy, feel, experience and throw worry to the winds. She wanted a new life and this was the way to it. ‘I’ll be a reed by a wild mere in the late days o’ spring bending gently in the soft, scented breezes’ she thought to herself as she followed along the trail behind Nal and Lo who were conversing in their strange harsh tongue she understood hardly a word of. She didn’t care, she wouldn’t care. ‘I’m like a new-born an’ my life is just begun,’ she added with a satisfied ‘huh!’ and ‘So be it!’
It was Nal who discovered the cave, high off the trail and partially hidden by clumps of twisted pines. The opening was blocked by a large boulder but all three could easily enough squeeze past the entrance to take stock of their temporary home. The brightly burning branch torch revealed an empty cavern, quite dry, with a flat sandy floor. The narrow entrance had ensured that no large predator would use the cave for its lair. Even a wolf or a wild dog would find it almost impossible to negotiate the entrance as it was a long tapered shape that widened as it rose. A four-legged animal would fall in the v and be immediately trapped, unable to move forward or back.
A perfect abode for the three adventurers and they were delighted, particularly so when Nal discovered that the cave, as it sloped back to the far end, had a small opening that she could squeeze through and it opened to the outside, hidden among a tangle of thick shrubbery. So if they needed to make an escape they weren’t trapped in a box, but would be able to slither out unseen. Another tactical advantage of the cave: the walls weren’t smooth but spaced with large fallen boulders and rocks that provided perfect cover if arrows were shot in or spears thrown.
Fire, of course, was more of a problem since the tell-tale smoke was unavoidable. It was decided to have it near the main entrance so that if anyone tried to enter they would have to negotiate the fire and smoke, possibly causing a delay in any attack. Otherwise it was the best they could hope for and certainly Nal and Lo had been in tighter circumstances.
“Since there’s only room enough for two at a time in the bedrolls, who’s taking first watch?” asked Lo. He got a wry smile from Nal and then Donna offered to do it.
“Well it seems safe enough as we’re not being sought or pursued, and if I did sense something I can just slither back in and give the alarm. You two haven’t been together since you found me and that isn’t fair to any of us. I makes me feel guilty and deprives you of loving. Can we eat if there’s any food left? I’m starving. Oh, is there water up here? That’s one thing I can’t sense. Nal? Do you sense water? Lo? See, I’m also dreadfully thirsty…
“There is water nearby but we all have to go to it… unless we use Nal’s boots to carry it but I think we’ve already vetoed that idea?”
They went out in search of a stream and found one in a rock cleft. No way to reach it except with a boot, so it was Nal’s boot that went down on the rope to dip for the water. Lo took a sip and declared it good. Then Donna sipped and sipped until her thirst was eased. Then it was Nal’s turn. She scraped around in the shoe, dumped what remained and dipped her shoe once again in the stream below, bringing it up almost full. She sipped some then said,
“If we’re careful not to shake this too much, we’ll take it back to the cave for a back up. Anyone thirsty enough will not mind a bit of foot taste. This is war after all. But why did I listen to MacGruder? Stupid, stupid. At least I should have packed an empty skin, obviously.”
“Equally my fault. Let’s go eat and Donna, I gratefully accept your offer of guard duty. First time on guard?”
“Yes it is and I want the experience. When you’re gone it will be but Nal and I, so it will be long stretches. I do wish I had something to defend myself with though.”
They ate quickly and again, sparingly. When finished and re-packed, Donna slipped out, taking Nal’s staff when it was offered. Nal and Lo undressed and slipped into the roll, happy to be together once more. About halfway through the night, Nal came out and after taking back her staff, asked Donna to join Lo in the bedroll.
“I need to ask,” said Donna before she went to settle beside Lo and cuddled with him, “Don’t you mind your husband in bed with another woman, a very young and according to things I’ve heard, sexually desirable girl?”
“Do you want to make love to him, or just cuddle with him? He will give you whatever you desire and no, I won’t mind at all. Our relationship is not the usual human one. We are indeed wizards and this bedding thing isn’t that important since we will never have children of our own. We cannot form families you see?”
“Oh, but I cannot lose my virginity, not before I marry!”
Quickly, Nal stifled a stupid reply and instead said, “True that. Then don’t. Sleep well and know you are safe and loved. Yes, Lo does love you. If you made love to him he wouldn’t treat you as just a casual thing. You are with us now, a part of us. Go ahead, go to bed! Do whatever you are prompted by your mutual natures. It is always the best thing to do when thus pushed, knowing it is not harming or hurting any others.”
Under the partial cloud cover with stars still twinkling coldly in the distant eastern skies, Nal pondered her current life, the twists and turns in it, and the coming challenge of a lifetime. She didn’t remember much of the Alay of the days before she had been killed but she sensed the very real danger of coming face to face with such powerful entities. They would possess many of her own powers and skill, plus they’d had millennia to develop some of their own, likely hidden from Lo’s scrutiny. Who were they, really? What were they doing, right now, wherever they were? How could she find out without Lo knowing so she’d have a few surprises of her own to throw at them and surprise him?
In the dark, she stood up and began pacing, moving her staff slowly at first, then faster and faster until she knew it was as much of a blur as was Lo’s when he fought with his. ‘I have the speed now, but I need the mind, the mind. I need the power to travel space and time to see things, things that were, things that are, things that will be. I must do this.’ Still the staff whipped about as she soliloquized.
Then she saw something on another rock, a movement, a shadow, and she felt the animal: a wolf, no doubt of that. The distance between the cave mouth was farther than the distance between herself and the wolf. She reached for her bow and realized she’d opted to leave bow and sword in the cave. She had her staff, not even her dagger as she was barefoot, one of her boots being used as a water pitcher! ‘Oh, how wonderfully stupid’ she thought.
Well, she was good with a staff and this speed thing needed testing. She faced the wolf, crouching in a sign of attack. The animal responded predictably, charging for her throat, for a sure and quick take down and kill. She parried the heavy blow from the animal’s rush and jump but was thrown off her feet. Spinning wildly to face the returning charge she spun her staff in windmill fashion, forming a shield in front of herself. The wolf jumped into the spinning arms of the staff and was neatly knocked off. She debated if she should kill him but realized this wasn’t a human being, just a hungry animal. Defeated, he would just slink away and not return.
She waited, touching him lightly, healing his deep cut from the blow of the staff. When he came to, she backed away, but did not stand. She chose a kneeling posture indicating submission and placing the staff between them on the stone, she opened her hands to the animal. He looked at her, sniffed her hands, then slowly dragged himself forward and laid his big head in her lap. She touched him again, then gently massaged the head behind the ears. The animal whimpered and lifted his right paw which she took in her own hand, then she bent down and placed her own head on the wolf’s. After a while the big animal stood up, looked down at Nal, rolled and lowered his head in a ‘thank you’ motion and slowly walked away to disappear in the night.
‘Yes! Yes I have the power now; I have it back! She looked around at the dark world and said, ‘thank you also!’
She did more introspection then, going deeper inside her mind, testing her spirit. She saw herself as twins more clearly now. She decided to name her fighter twin, Nah-La F; her healer twin Nah-La H. The letters glowed in her mind and meant many more things to her. The F meant Fearless and Forward and Forever; the H meant Helper and Honour and Happiness.
Then she heard him so clearly in her mind. “Nal? Did you say something?” “Lo? You can hear me in your mind?” “Yes, but you woke me up!” “I’m really very sorry but I’m so excited! We can talk without talking. I can hear you in my mind!”
“Please Nal, shut it down, right now! Don’t ask why, wait until I’m with you to explain. Shut it down!”
Crestfallen, she waited almost in tears. Why was he so cruel to her when she was having another of the greatest experiences of her life?
She heard him sliding through the tight entrance and stepping towards her. He came and sat beside her, took her hand in his and whispered gently,
“Nal, what you just did is truly marvellous, indeed it is. I thought you could do it, but of course there’s always those doubts. But now listen. These others? They can not only hear such talk as we were doing, they can pinpoint its location if it goes on long enough. I don’t know how proficient they remain at this, whether they’ve gained or lost, but we cannot chance it. We need this for emergency communication but I must teach you how to misdirect it so even if they can understand what we’re saying they won’t know where it is coming from.
“But no matter what we do, no matter how careful we are, they will realize that there is a new Alaya and that she is with me. This will set them hunting in earnest and they will do it together now, or as soon as they know for sure that you exist. If they realize you are Nah-La they will move fast and furiously because they will know that any reincarnation of an Alaya and partnered with a living Alay means they will both have much greater power, combining the old powers with the chaotic, dangerous and murderous energies of the Earthian species with their own mutual understanding and trust. They will seek to prevent your powers from having a chance to grow, develop and you learning to use and control them effectively. They are sure to come on the attack. So the longer we can keep them seeking and confused, the more time we have to develop our mutual powers to effectively confront and defeat them.”
“I understand now. How do I misdirect this mind talk?”
“That is not so difficult. Before you communicate, think of a place far away, somewhere, anywhere, it doesn’t have to be real but you have to make it real. There’s a wide prairie in front of you, or you’re on a ship, or in a building in a city and there are noises in the streets. These images you place in with your thought forms you’re sending me. You could even be flying, it doesn’t matter as long as you are not sending images of where you actually are. They can trace that through the earth, I know because I can.
“Now one more thing. If they use this communication, either between themselves, or trying to contact one of us, never, ever, respond but listen and watch and learn. At the beginning when I still believed they could be brought back I did respond and tried to meet with them. Each attempt was a death trap from which I barely escaped. After three attempts I stopped, realizing they were lost and eventually either I would kill them or they would kill me. They left no option.”
“Thank you, Lo. I know what to do now and I will, faithfully. You can rely on that side of me anyhow.”
They spent the next hour just holding each other and watching the faint glow of daylight begin to break in the east. From their vantage point it was a glorious sight even if by now most of the sky from the west was darkened by clouds and fog had risen in the lower vales. It wasn’t terribly cold and they didn’t seem to notice in any case. Love, it would seem, is more than blind.
End section 11 – (eleven)