(please note that I’ve changed the spelling of Allay and Allaya to Alay and Alaya. I always knew there was something ‘off’ there but didn’t clue in until today. Also please note that as I post these segments of the story, I am deleting contents from previous entries, leaving only one or two as a means of locating for those who are just jumping in. Any entry needed I can supply if you email me at email@example.com. All this means is, it’s a sort of “playing it safe” as I intend to actually publish this one. I know, I hate copyright but publishers have rules too. So, intent is good, right? Enjoy the adventure!)
The Sword, the Bow and the Staff – Part 7 – (Seven)
Despite the victory and the number of people filling the great room, the meal was a subdued affair. No one could forget that in a side room used to hang meat at butchering time were three cold bodies waiting to be taken down to the village for proper burial. As to the bodies of the attackers, as was the custom, they had been piled between small logs, branches, grass and leaves and set afire. The body remnants had been hauled out to the lower fields to be cleaned up by wolves, foxes and ravens. No one would mourn them or regret their passing. Any valuables found on the bodies, or which they had hidden in the woods before the attack, were more or less equally distributed among the defenders, a greater share going to Magruder for repairs to the barn and cottage. That was the way of things in that land, and at that time.
There would be an interim of several days after this before Nal and Lo could leave the cottage and continue their journey to the coast, not least of which would be their official wedding in Glowmere. To pass the interminable hours and days, they volunteered to search the area for any more bands of potential attackers.
At first Magruder was reluctant as he feared something could happen to his charges and he felt personally responsible for their safety. The alternative however didn’t please him either. It meant that Nal would be constantly underfoot, pestering everybody connected with the cottage, meddling in the cooking and even suggesting changes to the window layouts to prevent attackers from lobbing fire bombs or torches in. She complained about the poor quality of the defenders’ arms and to Magruder’s horror, went so far as to suggest spending money on new swords and teaching any who wanted, some of her skills. Then she had more suggestions to eliminate the danger of wolf attacks upon the sheep. And…
“Pestilence!” Magruder said aloud. “Three days of this, I can’t stand no more!” He took Lo aside and suggested that they should indeed go out through the woods, perhaps as far as a small fortified mansion to the south west “no more’n three days hence” to catch some news and gossip. After being severely admonished as to their personal safety, Magruder let them go, making sure they were well provided in food. Water, he said, is never a problem in these parts, t’would be foolish to burden oneself with such.
“And ye be sure and bring the lassie back safe and sound; there be a weddin’ ta perform in Glowmere kirk.”
The “lassie” smirked at those words but didn’t say a word though several retorts came to her mind, one being, “Chauvinist!” Likely Magruder would have thought she meant his religion.
After crossing the low stone wall between field and trees, they found a trail leading deep into the dark forest. They walked on in single file silently for some time, listening to the woods talking with small animals, birds, rubbing branches from a slight afternoon breeze. Again they took off their heavy shoes and tied them to their packs, walking barefoot, feeling the earth, listening now with their feet also. The trail meandered some but mostly held to the direction they intended to go in: south east.
The day grew old and the forest darker. They began to look intently for some sort of safe and warm shelter for the night. They found a cave on the edge of a ravine and after lighting up a resin torch and walking through it without encountering anything more dangerous than a resident small owl who seemed to question their right to his place then flew off to answer the call of hunger, they made it their abode for the night. As of absolute necessity in such situations, they would have to sleep alone, taking turns on watch.
It was a long and uneventful night that finally ended with a bright orange glow above the trees in the eastern sky. Nal who had taken fourth turn on watch, woke Lo up by jumping and spreading herself on him and giving him a long and satisfactory kiss. After sharing some of their very basic supplies of travellers’ food, they resumed their journey through the forest. By noon they had gradually emerged into a rough land full of boulders scattered helter-skelter. Here they were forced to put their shoes on again for now their path became strewn with sharp broken stones and the ubiquitous gorse that threatened to shred anything without thick leather shoes and leggings with its inch long spines.
They stood on a small hillock to take stock of the landscape, particularly in the direction they were heading. There saw no sign of human life anywhere but in the far distance they could see a spreading haze of bluish smoke, indicating a wood fire, or fires. A village of wood burning chimneys? Or the results of an attack? They couldn’t know until they got closer or encountered either hunters, shepherds or fleeing villagers. They listened intently but the only sound was the soughing of the wind in the shrubbery. A lonely, empty land. Nal moved against Lo and sought the comfort of his body and both felt the great satisfaction of having each other’s company in such a desolate place.
They continued on, following a now quite distinct well-used animal path. Nal led, being the shortest and Lo had no difficulty scanning the jagged hills over the top of her head. Neither liked how the path meandered but under the circumstances there was little choice. Without the path to follow they would have been greatly slowed by the difficult and clinging colourless shrubs. At least had it been summer they could have had the pleasure of their golden flowers and scent with the additional insect and bird songs. Today, though the sun shone, they saw no song birds, only some ravens and what was probably an eagle circling high in the skies. The smoke haze didn’t seem to get any closer either. Then the path plunged down between two sharp rock faces, forming a narrow canyon. For about two hours they could see nothing but what was in front, behind, and the narrow opening to the blue sky above them. Had they been seen entering the canyon it would have made a perfect trap: no escape. Both ends could be blocked and rocks could be dropped on them from the top. Lo cursed himself for taking the easy way and whispering, urged Nal to a trot, though she felt the same eagerness to escape the canyon. They began to run.
Suddenly Nal realized she was moving much faster than she had ever done in her entire life. The canyon walls whizzed by. She turned and saw that Lo was doing the same speed, able to keep up to her dizzying velocity. While running, she found herself able to project ahead, “seeing” obstacles of fallen rocks and turns or narrowing. They ran on, jumping and dodging until the end of the canyon was reached and left behind.
They stopped and looked at each other. Both were smiling until their smiles turned to open mirth and they laughed, their laughter echoing back from the way they had just travelled.
“I’m picking up speed, Lo. I’m developing my Alaya skills already. I never ran like that before, not even at my best. I feel so hungry now, I must stop and eat.”
“These energies, or powers, the Alay possess burn much energy. In these earth bodies that can be a serious downside. We have to use them sparingly, though I fear we will not often be given that luxury. The canyon, I see now, was a self-imposed test to gauge how well we function together. We are beginning to communicate without the use of language, an important skill for what we are on the way to engage. Now we need to do it with thought forms, or words. Later.”
They found a comfortably flat stone and after scanning their surroundings and using their keen sense of hearing, sensing no danger, put down their packs and weapons and eagerly engaged their noon meal.
“’Water won’t be a problem, t’would be foolish to carry that burden’ said Mister Magruder. Well, I could use some now.” snorted Nal.
“Until we do find water, and we will because there is water all over in these rocks, try resetting your feelings. Think, ‘I am not thirsty’ or ‘I just drank water and I’m satisfied.’ Let’s see what that does.”
Nal continued chewing her food, but more slowly and focused on the idea. I have water, I don’t need water. For a few moments nothing changed, then it happened.
“I’m no longer thirsty, Lo! How does that work?”
“You are projecting a reality that your body accepts as fact. It has its costs, but it is very helpful in tight situations. Again, not something to overdo, or rely on too much, but something to always keep as a back-up option when there is nothing else. Let me show you something. Just watch, do nothing, say nothing.
Lo sat very still for about half a minute, then extended his arms in the direction they had come from. Suddenly a half dozen men could be seen coming down the path in single file. All were obviously soldiers and well armed, with shiny helmets and even shields. Lo made a “stop” motion and the men stopped. He bent his right arm and the men turned. Then he made a dismissive gesture and they vanished.
Nal clapped. “Amazing! We could fool people with that trick. Can these men actually do anything?”
“Not now but when we learn to telepathically combine our forces I know we can give them much more substance. We can make them yell and run, perhaps even strike blows, or make the enemy believe he’s being actually hit. We can also blend in with our imaginary troops and by striking the enemy from their ranks, add a great deal of reality to the illusion. Nah-La and I did it in our last days together. It almost… almost… saved her. Trouble was, we were not very good fighters then and Nah-La was primarily a healer. She used her bow with deadly accuracy but it made her sick; killing weakened her too much. I think sorrow more than the torture she had to endure is what killed her. And I wasn’t there… I couldn’t find her in time. She signalled me one last time as she was dying, I don’t know where that was. That was the day everything changed for me. I made a vow. Until that day I had made only one: to love Nah-La forever. That day I vowed that I would kill both of the Alay who had turned and betrayed us.
“Perhaps I should have made it clearer, but in case you are confused about this quest, that is the quest we are on. Your presence now as a new Alaya has evened the odds for me. Two on two. But there is more to this that I must share with you soon.”
Nal understood they could not stay in such an exposed place and they needed to find water soon. She got up quickly and gathered their belongings, handing Lo his pack and staff. She set off at a much brisker pace than she had used earlier. There was a strange spring to her step and she was sure she could hear farther. She heard the light gurgling sound of a tiny stream and focused on it as surely as a hawk focuses on a mouse from an impossible height.
“I’ve found water up ahead, behind that large boulder.”
Lo grabbed her and pulled her down. A well aimed arrow whizzed overhead. They crawled off the path behind some rocks and waited.
“Why didn’t I sense that, Lo?”
“You were too excited with your new-found powers and too focused on the water.”
They slowly put themselves into a position from which they could defend themselves even against three or four attackers. Nal pulled her faithful bow and prepared her arrows, all the while focusing on the direction the arrow had come. Two more arrows flew over their cover. Either this was one stupid idiot, or there were several and they didn’t mind wasting a few arrows. She tried to “see” the attackers but all she got was blurred movement and confused thoughts.
“Lo, what can you see?”
“There’s three of them. No Nal, this isn’t a game or an illusion. Sorry but these are real. We need to decoy them, I don’t want to stay here until dark. Suggestions?”
“How good’s your throwing arm?”
“You want me to throw rocks at them?”
“I’ll do it, it’s a trick.” She picked a good rock, gauged her distance, then lobbed in in a high arc. The stone flew high then losing velocity, dropped suddenly behind the rock the attackers had chosen for their attack point. There was some commotion behind the rock, some swearing. Lo grabbed another rock and did the same thing, lobbing it high so it would drop on the attackers. More swearing and this time an arm with a sling showed up beside the boulder. Nal’s arrow skewered it through the wrist and that was followed by a scream of pain.
“Now they’ll know they’re not dealing with amateurs. Should put a bit of fear in ’em.” She kept looking, hoping for more movement but except for more cries of pain, nothing ventured from behind the boulder. Lo kept on lobbing more rocks, stones, even pieces of roots until finally they heard running and a pleading voice, “Don’t leave me here!”
“Let’s rush it, Nal.” Staff ready and arrow notched, both rushed to the boulder then carefully peered behind, one from each side. All they saw was the wounded attacker running away.
“Let him go for now Nal. We’ll follow their footprints and find them, never fear. They’ll have some explaining to do then. Let’s refresh ourselves, here’s your stream.” Down among the rocks a silvery streak of running water could be seen. They followed it down until it came out into the open and flowed into a natural pool. They drank their fill, washed face and hands and returned to retrieve their packs. Nal walked around until she’d found the miss-spent arrows, checked them over to ensure they were still usable and slipped them in the same band that held her own staff. Then she carefully inspected her bow, put three arrows in her belt and kept the bow in hand as they proceeded to track their attackers.
They advanced with extreme caution. If they set a trap for them once, they could do it again. Once in a while they saw or smelled blood. The wounded bandit was obviously following his mates. Then they saw something that shocked both of them: the “mates” had killed their wounded comrade and left his body on the trail.
“This is monstrous,” said Nal. I’ve seen things, horrible things, but this to me is completely sick, inhuman. We’re dealing here with rabid animals, Lo.”
“I agree, but I think we’ve arrived at their lair. I smell something odd here. There must be a cave. I see a dark opening in the rocks.”
They approached the opening, smelling, listening, focusing. Both knew there was life inside the cave, they could sense it, but it felt wrong. A large animal perhaps?
“Watch this entrance, I’ll walk around and see if there is another exit.” Lo crept around the rock mound that he’d mistook for a cave. He saw a glimpse of the two bandits running away and disappearing in the tumble of rocks. He let them go and returned to Nal.
End Part 7 – (Seven)