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The Sword, the Bow and the Staff – Part I – The Calling

(Continuing with the saga in which many thoughts are expressed and many things are learned. This is chapter 16. There are 25 chapters in Part I and 25 more following in Part II. I’m writing this because some of you may want to know how much longer you have to suffer through this, others how much more to expect of a journey and adventure through the unlikely possible, or should I say, the possible unlikely.)

Chapter 16
Return to the Cottage – Introducing Genti

Nothing much had changed at the cottage when the travellers returned after their days on the trail. The barn was partially re-thatched but the rest of the long roof would have to wait another season for grass to be harvested for the thatching. Sheep wandered about or slept in the lower field. Pigs squealed and grunted in their pens. Chicken and geese wandering everywhere presented more of a cacophony. Apart from the noise of the animals reinforcing the fact that things had more or less returned to some normalcy, more logs and branches had been dragged in and stacked in ingenious ways to shed rain and provide dry firewood.

They saw men, women and children about, intent on their various duties or their games.

“Why aren’t they acknowledging our approach?” Asked Deanna.

“I’ve cloaked us in a semi invisible veil. I want to test how close the three of us can get to them before they notice us. Advance silently and quietly.”

They were almost among the people and still no one noticed, not even the dogs. A young boy lobbed a rough-sewn pig skin ball and Lo reached for it and held it in the air. The children stopped running and stared at their ball stationary in the air. One girl screamed and the adults turned to see what was the matter. Lo dropped the ball and gradually made the three of them visible.

Children, women, men, all stared at the three travellers mouth agape. Lo addressed them and explained.

“As you probably already suspected, and talked about among yourselves, we are more than we at first appeared. I used this little trick to prove the point, beyond our fighting abilities and speed which you have observed and wondered about. All three of us are in fact wizards or sorcerers as you will. We are of those who fight for what is right, good and just whereas there be some of us who work on the opposite side of it. Now let me reintroduce ourselves to all of you if you would call out anyone near enough to join.”

They waited while the people of the cottage were assembled to hear what Lo had to say. He could tell they were eager for this revelation, very eager, but perhaps not as much as the priest in Glowmere would be if ever appraised of this. Would there still be a wedding or would that change to a public execution by burning?

The people being assembled and Ian MacGruder having nodded his assent, Lo explained.

“Some of you remember the old tales about certain wizards called the Alas, do you not?”

There were nods and “Aye, there be stories still told of such!” from some of the older people.

“Two of us here are of these. I am the ancient Alay Lotharic, hence my nickname, Lo. This woman is the ancient Alaya called Nah’La and is my bound and eternal wife, as I am her bound and eternal husband. Together now after a very long time apart, we seek out two evil wizards we have dubbed  the Betrayers that we may destroy them before they do more damage here, or cause more wars and plagues.

“This third member of our group, this young woman, calls herself Deanna. She is of the Elven race and possesses powers similar to ours and some that are quite, how shall I say it, unique. She met with us and joined us when we went down to that fortified village that is called Torglynn. She has voluntarily chosen to join our quest and to fight for the defeat of the Betrayers.

“That is basically the long and short of it. We intend, if it pleases you, to stay with you for a few more days during which we will discuss our strategy and learn more about each other and our combined powers. There is another powerful member of this group but he prefers to remain anonymous and unseen. You will however hear him howling in the night when he turns himself into a werewolf. I say this because should any of you encounter him you need have no fear and he will be able to speak to you. As long as he is nearby, allowed to roam freely and no attempt made to molest him, you and your animals are fully protected from either man or beast.

“If for reasons of your own you wish to meet with this person, Deanna will lead you to him. Be aware that if your intent is treacherous, all of us including the werewolf can read your thoughts. If the wolf senses betrayal he will kill instantly, without qualms or remorse. The same is true of the woman, Deanna, for she and the Wolf have a bond that only the Elven people and the Wolf Clans can understand.

“I leave you to think upon these revelations. Realize that I have just taken you back into your old memories, traditions and ways. Remember what you once were before you were enslaved by these new ways, by the new Roman God and his violent religion of conquest and enslavement. Remember and perhaps you may regain some of the pride in what you once were.

“If you wish, you may appraise your village priest of our presence. If he is wise, he’ll do nothing about it. If he is as ignorant as most are, and I suspect he is, he will seek to do us great harm in which case the harm will go to him and those who side with him and try to harm us. If our lives are threatened, know that we will fight and kill those who attack us, however many there be. Would you mind giving a little demonstration, Deanna?”

The young woman looked over the rag-tag group with her flashing green eyes, tossed her hair back, raised her arm and pointed at a large stone near a line of trees that defined the edge of the common yard. The stone measures in the neighbourhood of eight feet in diameter, and partially rose from the ground to the  height of a man. She opened her hand palm out. Two heartbeats and the stone violently shattered, it’s debris scattered over an area of several hundred feet, leaving a hole waist deep to a man in the ground.

A collective gasp escaped from many open mouths accompanied by silence. Looks of confusion, of fear and of certain admiration if not actual worship were turned to the three wizards. It was Nal who broke the spell.

“All right, all right! Look folks, I’m still Beanna here. I’m your friend, not a stranger. These things that have come to pass, I knew nothing of them when I lived with you some months past. I thought myself an ordinary lass then and except for my skin tone, my dark almond eyes, black hair and small size compared to you, I would have been the same as you. That hasn’t changed. My powers are not meant for any of you, though I do have a new ability to heal, as does Deanna. This we will do while we are with you. Bring us your sick, your lame, those who have chronic pain and I will heal them, I mean we will heal them. Now, we be starving after so long on the trail, is there food available?”

There was cheering at that. MacGruder came over to Nal and grabbing her, hugged her in his powerful embrace. After releasing her he said,

“Aye lassie, ye and yo’re companions air welcome among us. No one will tell the priest anything I swear, we hold our secrets well in these parts, o’ necessity. Ye were not braggin’ about the healin’ then? ‘Tis true you can do this?”

“Aye sir, we can, and we will.”

“Please call me Ian. An’ I forgive ye fer the meddlin’ in my affairs afore ye left. What ye said needed sayin’. There be new weapons being forged from those we took from our attackers an’ I understand the need for ‘em. I thank ye, lass.”

Nal could not reply. She was choking and tears gushed from her eyes. Apart from her mother, Lo and Deanna, she had known so little kindness or respect through her short years that any amount overwhelmed her. MacGruder noticed and added,

“Ye be a fine girl, Beanna. If ye be half as much a wizard as ye are a good woman, this world owes ye a great debt o’ gratitude already and will owe ye much more. Come, let’s find ye some food.”

He took her small hand in his huge one and led her into the dining area where many had already gathered and were standing and sitting, or busy serving. Lo was on a long bench with several men discussing who knows what and Deanna was engaged in what certainly seemed to be a very serious talk with two tall strangers. A tall young blonde woman was sitting quietly and primly next to the lady of the house. The food came her way and she decided her hunger took priority. She waited for a perfunctory grace to be said then fell to.

The meal was boisterous as such things go but most of the conversation was of the common sort. People’s health, the animals, the weather and in that respect much about the powerful storm that had passed so violently and quickly to the south, bringing lighting and thunder, a thing seldom seen in winter. Several looks were cast at the travellers at the mention of the storm but these said nothing more than acquiesce to the general consensus, that it was unusual.

When the meal was over, Ian MacGruder asked the travellers to join him in a separate and private part of the house.

“First then, I wish to acquaint ye with me own daughter just returned to us from the north where she attended a special kind o’ training place for some chosen young women o’ the clans.”

The tall, slim and quite blonde young woman entered the room accompanied by her mother, Jen and solemnly bowed to Lo and Nal but said nothing, just straightening up and standing as still as if she’d been a guardsman on parade duty.

“This here is Genti, our daughter of whom we are beyond proud. She has been training in secret to become a priestess against the edicts of the Church. Despite the dangers, she chose to enter into this vocation, stating that she did not want to see our old ways die while she could do something about it. Genti is a strong and very disciplined woman who has twice refused a very good match in order to pursue her vocation. I’ll not say more but leave the rest of her story for her and her mother to tell.

“Now I wish to discuss the matter of the healin’ ye said ye could perform on our people and that ye would. We be in serious need of this gift. Is there some particular procedure ye need done for this?”

Nal answered, “No Ian, just take us where we are needed and we will do what we do. I will go with someone you choose. Deanna, will you go along with someone else that we may double up on our efforts for our time may be short?”

“Certainly I will do that. Someone lead me on.”

It was Genti who spoke, in a low but penetrating voice,

“If I may an’ it please ye, I would accompany ye to t’ sick, m’lady.” She said to Deanna.

Though the words spoke of a deep humility they could not hide the power and authority in them.

That is the “healing time” that would be talked about for long years thereafter when a greater, more eventful thing took place at the MacGruders and surroundings of the cottage than had been the cowardly attack that had killed three of their people. The story would also speak of how a daughter of the clans became a great healer in that time.

Sick, lame, those hurt or maimed in accidents, all were cured, including one young man of eighteen summers who had never been quite right in his head and a blind child of three summers who received her sight.

We often speak of how joyful people are when they are delivered from an enemy, when a war is won and the fighters return home in victory. But nothing can surpass the joy of those who receive their people cured from terrible diseases for which they thought there would never be a cure.

Imagine the joy of that mother of the three year old blind child, to realize her child could see after the Glowmere village priest had accused her and her child of having sin in their lives and pronounced the child’s blindness as a just punishment from God.

Imagine if you can the relief also from the many who were dirt poor, when they discovered that the wizards would take no payment, either in gold or in kind, for their healing services. Yes, it was a time of great rejoicing at the cottage that led to three days of feasting, music and dancing.

When the celebrations began and it looked as if they would go on for some time, Deanna confessed to Nal that she longed to join up with Wolf whose lonely calls she had been faithfully following.

“I need to go to him and run with him. I want to find out what he has learned and done about his own powers and how he can help us since he insists on coming along with us. Of course, he would never leave me.”

“Go then Deanna. You’ve done a great service to all now and it’s time for you to enjoy your own life. Talk to me when you are ready to rejoin us. Now listen, you can’t just shuck your clothes here for me to look after and walk away. You’ll need to find a dry place to hide them and you’ll need to wear them when you return. You will remember the human taboos on nakedness, will you not?”

“I will try. It’s silly but it is their law. Warn me when the festivities are coming to an end and I will return.”

Hidden from any prying eye, Nal and Deanna hugged each other and kissed passionately, chests heaving with desire for each other.

“Go, go before we do more. I know you cannot regret but I might and I don’t want to. I love you and you know that. All of us are caught in our own love triangles with you as the fulcrum and it is a terrible burden but I feel it has its purpose and that will be revealed to us soon. Go, find your mate and play. I return to Lo and the things of men and women and wizards while you deal with those of wolves and elves and wizards. Ah, what a motley bunch we are.”

Reluctantly she turned and walked away, back towards the cottage. When she turned, Deanna had disappeared. She scanned the sloping land and saw the large black werewolf and his huge light grey mate running across an open area then plunging into the woods. Then came the distinct calls as both went about performing their territory claiming rituals. Nal felt her heart grow heavy and began to doubt that Deanna would ever return to her as a human being, if at all.

‘I am being a foolish girl, letting love confuse my thoughts. I must be to the things that now concern us most, to the great confrontation that awaits us.

‘O, Lo, I fear for us. Perhaps it’s because of what happened to me before that I harbour this fear, but it is in me. The fear of unavoidable pain and of death. I feel it coming, Lo.’

Did he hear her thoughts? Did he sense her loneliness and emptiness? There was no response from him as she walked slowly and deliberately back to the feast. She heard the music, then the laughter. Night once again began to claim his rightful share of time and Nal stopped to watch as the huge fire lit as a welcome beacon threw its baleful glare up the walls of the great stone building, drawing portentous shapes upon them.

‘Fire’ she thought. ‘Fire, I have seen so many fires already, too many and their colour drains me of life.’

 

The Sword, the Bow and the Staff

Part I  – The Calling
Start section 13 (thirteen)

After a short time searching among copses of green wood Donna found what she needed and borrowing Nal’s dagger, she peeled some bark and sat down, nimbly bringing the pieces together into a very neat basket that included a handle made from a flexible branch.

“There, and yes, it will hold the water.”

They walked down to the stream and Nal remembered that she had no rope, it was in Lo’s pack. Oh well. She took off her shirt and with the sleeves stretched, it was just long enough to reach the water as long as she slid head first down the crack between the rocks and Donna held firmly onto her ankles. She brought up a full basket of the clear and sweet liquid and they both drank their fill. Another dip and they had a full container to take back to their cave.

Before she put her shirt back on, Donna remarked, “You have very cute little breasts… I like them.” Nal looked at her, then slowly slipped her shirt back on, while Donna reached and pulled the centre holding thong and tied it. She gave Nal a look that could not be misunderstood.

By the time they returned, Donna’s blisters were completely gone and Nal insisted they continue with her training. Never, thought Donna, had she worked so hard. How do they maintain this in a battle, she wondered, it’s crazy! The same lazy men she encountered daily in the village would go on a campaign and do this for a whole day just to get killed most of them? Men are crazy, she thought.

When Donna was completely exhausted, she asked, “Can’t we use that Alaya energy to ward off our exhaustion?”

“I don’t know if that can be done. It has to do with something called entropy, a kind of energy you expend that doesn’t come back to you no matter what you do. Lo could explain and I too, when I remember me completely. We should continue.”

Nal insisted she grab the staff and come at her while she defended herself with only the short stick representing a sword.

“Oh but that’s unfair. I could hurt you with this even if I’m dead tired!”

“Yes? Then go ahead, hurt me. Hurt me hard, I give you permission!”

Donna hefted the long staff, felt its wonderful balance even if it was a bit short for her stature, and charged at Nal, swinging the staff to her midriff. She was surprised when she hit only air and Nal was at her back, holding the sword stick at her throat.

“That’s more sorcery, that is!” she exclaimed. “No one can move this fast.”

“The point, the only point, is that with or without sorcery, it can be done. You must therefore learn to deal with it and I mean to teach you that. Can you appreciate the necessity of such a lesson?”

“Yes I can. Yes, I understand. It doesn’t matter how it’s done, whether it seems impossible, only that it can be done. Therefore I have to be aware of such things and learn to parry them; to protect myself from them and eventually, even to defeat them. Yes?”

“Yes, so it’s not just weaponry, it’s also trickery, and speed, speed and more speed. Now that we have a Watcher in the wolf, we don’t need to spend time on watch in the night. Instead we will sleep together, tight together, and I am going to do all I can to pass on whatever I have of my “sorcery” into your body and mind in the night. I will attempt to make us as one so you will become a human Alaya. Have I told you already what an Alaya is, or an Alay?”

“So much to remember that I can’t remember now. Sorcerers? Wizards? Tricksters? Faeries? You are Alaya? I’ve never heard of such people.”

“You have met two now. Lo is an Alay. According to him, I am the reincarnation of his long lost wife, Nah’La, a full Alaya. She was killed, oh, thousands of years ago, and eventually became me. Or, I became her. So, I am Lo’s wife of thousands upon thousands of years ago. I am Nah’La or Nal for short, and I am rediscovering my powers. It is those powers I wish to share with you; to bring you, a human, if indeed it is what you are for I sense something else in you, into the world of the Alay and Alaya, plural, the Alas.

“I would that as I grow, so would you, side by side, spiritual and mental twins, you the healer and perhaps a bit of a fighter, myself the fighter and perhaps also a healer of sorts. Twins of Alaya powers; with Alaya powers. If it frightens you or repels you, tell me in the morning and I will remove all the powers from you, allowing you to function once again as a normal human. I wish to only do this by your permission.

“I’ll bank the fire while you slip in our bedroll and start warming it up – you have more body heat than me after all!”

They laughed. Donna stripped naked and performed a little erotic dance in front of Nal which Nal took the time to admire. Donna laughed and slipped in the bed. Soon Nal joined her, naked also and they clung tightly and happily to one another in the darkness of their protective cave. Nal could feel energy flowing between them and she knew it was much more than sexual attraction. It was Alaya energy and Donna’s body and mind were soaking it all up without any hesitation. ‘How much of me is going to pass into her tonight, and what am I doing?’ she thought. ‘How do I know this is the right thing to do? But I know, I just know it is. It’s how it was always done on our past. I’m only following the ancient pattern, I know that. What I don’t understand is how this human girl can take in so much of my energy and still seems able to absorb so much more. She must be more than human.’

For a while their hands eagerly explored each other’s bodies in a purely lustful and sexual way, then gradually they fell into a deep sleep filled with dreaming. The wolf prowling near the cave opening, having smelled the sexual excretions of the two females in the cave gave a loud howl to vent his own frustration and aroused desires. He too had fallen “in love” with the Alaya’s.

Morning came late in the cave. The two girls spent some time making love then got up, dressed and took care of their fire. They ate slowly, drank the strange tasting water now mixed with some of the bark’s sap run off, then planned their day. Simple enough: more training of sword play and staff work. In between, Nal planned to awaken Donna’s new powers with the making of illusions and whatever else came to mind or got thrown their way.

At noon the wolf appeared and they went to him. This time, as he lay down on the ground, they both lay beside and against him, passing their arms and hands over his thick fur, pulling his ears gently, rubbing his face and kissing him on the nose. A beautiful intimate, quasi-erotic scene which few Earth people would have appreciated but which the Alaya’s perfectly understood the need of. Afterwards they went their own way but the lone wolf, from a short distance, stopped, turned and watched them for a time then disappeared once again.

It was Donna who observed, “He’s lost his mate, Nal. He’s so sad and so alone.”

“I didn’t realize but of course you’re right. We can love him but we can’t replace her and we have to be careful he doesn’t become too attached to one of us either. We are different species and unless one of us became a lone sorceress with powers to transform herself into a she-wolf, this cannot be. I do not have, nor wish, for such power. Do you?”

“I don’t know yet. I do love him in a strange, I suppose ‘unnatural’ way, but if I could choose such a life, would I? Too soon to say. I need to think about this. Me, a sorceress? A shape-shifter? Arch enemy of the Christian religion to be hunted down, captured and tortured as befits a demon? A companion of wolves, to lead a pack, bring down prey, tearing at and eating raw bloody meat? Killing those who hunt us? I can see these possibilities ahead of me in the future but as of this moment I am not ready for such a thing.”

After their meal of dry bread and cheese now flecked with blue-green mould, they continued with their sparring in earnest. Donna had greatly improved in skill and speed, particularly in speed. When she didn’t take a clean shot and would have been hit she moved out of reach in a blur. This pleased Nal enough that she thought it would be time for the illusion lessons.

“You know what an illusion is, Donna?”

“Seeing something that isn’t there.”

“Exactly. From those powers I shared with you, there is one that is used to create such illusions, except that you are in control of them and only those you intend to fool, or confuse, believe they are real. You can do much with such images. You can even make them look as if they were ghosts, or demonic entities. Would you like to see how well we can work with such things?”

“If it means a break from this gruelling sparring, most certainly.”

“Come, stand beside me and hold my hand. Lift your other arm, open your hand and visualize something not too big but obvious. A hawk in flight, maybe? Let’s try it.”

They both raised their arms and opened their hands, pointing at the sky. Suddenly, a large brown hawk, a type of buteo with talons outstretched and open yellow bill, came swooping down from the sky, passed by the two women and disappeared again.

“That was good! Now something on the ground.” They manifested a majestic stag standing on the same rock the wolf had stood on. The animal held his head high, holding his stack proudly and looked around, sniffing at the air. He gave a snort of alarm and bounded off into a tangle of shrubbery. They heard the wolf give chase and smiled as the chase ended in a discomfited wolf when his prey vanished in the air.

“We’re doing well, I think. Now just you,” said Nal. “Manifest a couple of woodsmen dressed in leathers coming towards us and actually seeing us.”

Donna found the exercise quite simple. She brought the men up and they came towards the women, smiling as they approached. She made them stop a couple of yards away and introduce themselves. ‘I am Lance’ said the one. ‘My name is John’ said the other, ‘we’re passing by and didn’t expect to meet two lovely lassies in these parts. We are after a stag that we saw nearby. Did you see him?’

Donna lowered and closed her hand and the illusion disappeared.

“That was amazing, Donna. For a first time? Unbelievable. Your mind truly absorbed the gifts easily. You will go far, very far, with such powers.”

Donna was pleased with the results and beginning to plan how to use her powers to greater advantage. ‘Push’ she thought. ‘Push and always expect more for we are made of greater expectations.’

“I ‘heard’ what you thought, Donna. I agree, we need to push ourselves more and more, for our time is short. Three of us now? Surely our enemies will become aware of such an event and will come searching for us. How I wish I could penetrate their disguises, locate them, learn all there is to learn of their plans in dealing with us. I hate a fight with an enemy I cannot know. Can’t fight with the unknown! It’s like slashing at the air in the dark, you don’t hit anything.”

“We need a subterfuge, Nal. A decoy, perhaps? One of us pretending to change sides, to join with them?”

“That would make sense with ordinary people, they may fall for such a stratagem but I don’t think these fallen Alay would be fooled. They’d pretend to accept, then kill either one of us once they had us in their power. You would be the only one who would even have a slim chance of fooling them, but you’re just awakened. They’d test you in ways you cannot begin to understand.

“Oh, I remember more and more how things work in that world. The abilities to read thoughts, and even thoughts within thoughts. Too late, Lo and I discovered these energies, much too late. Having never needed them, nor ever needed to hide our telepathic communication we were not even aware these things could be used against us. But the Betrayers did and activated them against us. They learned our most intimate thoughts; our plans; our moves, everything. We were open books to them and they eliminated us, one by one until only I and Lo were left, and finally, only Lo.”

End section 13 (thirteen)