Moving right along, and dragging you along with it, here’s another section of the growing (hopefully not growling or grating) novel. The game’s afoot, it’s but a question of discovering where that foot is stepping, or on whom.
“I am surprised you speak my tongue, sir. I thought Nal had to translate for you?”
“I listened carefully while you and Nal spoke earlier and I recreated the syntax in my mind. The pronunciation is a bit rough yet but I think that by Thursday afternoon when we reach your village of Torglynn, I will have that under control.”
“No one can learn a new tongue so quickly. There’s sorcery here, there be!”
“You may call me ‘Lo’ and I’d prefer that. Would it trouble you if I told you there is indeed sorcery hereabout, or rather, wizardry?”
“Oh no, not at all… hum… Lo. I like the way you and Nal make me feel. I have so much energy and I can sense things better than ever before. There’s good power coming from you.”
Her thought was interrupted by a sharp whistle from Nal who had wandered off the trail on some personal quest, or need.
Lo replied with his own whistle and he heard her call: “Water, if anyone is needing a drink!” She called back. With a careful look around, Lo pointed down the dirt embankment Nal had gone down and Donna dropped out of sight. Lo followed and at the stream Nal had discovered they drank their fill, then with Nal leading, she being the shortest and providing the smallest target, they returned to the trail by another route that by-passed the crumbling embankment.
Again, Nal led the trio, picking the proper trail from among an increasing number of lesser trails that branched out left and right only to quickly peter out among rocks or undergrowth. These were mostly hare and fox trails, probably also used by quail and grouse or even pheasants in the warmer seasons. There was silence on the trail for a short time. Then after asking if talking was permissible, and been given permission to do so, Donna continued her comments and questions.
“How did you and Nal attain to this sorcerer’s power you have? Aren’t many sorcerers or witches an’ the like left since the advent of the Christian church in these parts. The priests and monks that come this far are determined to eradicate all aspects of our previous “pagan” way of life, they are.”
“How does that sit with you, Donna, this eradication of your traditions?”
“Oh well, I dunno. Truth is, it hasn’t made much difference at all. We’re treated no better and maybe worse, but our clan confrontations, that hasn’t changed at all. Once our Druids blessed the men going into war with blood sacrifices by killing donated animals. Now the priest does it an’ collects gold fer it. The dead and wounded; the captives for ransom and the enslaved, it’s all the same. The new God doesn’t protect any better than our old ones, so say the old people. I can’t say such things in the village of course, but I think ‘em, I do. I hate subterfuge and lies an’ this new God I pray to, he’s no better ‘n the old ones. He favours rich and powerful men too and is more dangerous to women and children.”
“You’re a great observer and somewhat of a philosopher, ye are Donna. How old would ye be then?”
“I’ve seen fourteen summers already, my fifteenth coming up. I’ll be old enough to be given as bride come the middle o’ summer an’ t’will be expected I’ll be livin’ with a husband in our own home come the winter next.”
Lo sensed her despair in her voice and felt sorry for her, but what could he and Nal do? They were on a serious and deadly quest and surely they could not saddle themselves with a girl they’d be cursed for taking and hunted down with a vengeance to get her back. Or would they? He thought about that and realized they’d seen nothing of humans since the disappearance of the bandits. Should there not have been some sign that trackers were searching for the three captured girls?
Lo called to Nal for a stop. “We’ll eat here, now. I need to speak to both, you and Donna about our situation.”
“We have a situation, have we?” Nal was in a lighter and happier mood and not afraid to throw some of it around. “Good, I love situations. Should I pull my bow and some arrows to counter it?”
“Funny Nal, very funny!” and Donna was laughing too. “But I was only trying to be serious myself. Maybe I’ll just make all the decisions. After all, I’m the man here, and what do women know anyhow?” This he spoke mockingly and lightly, but there was a sting in it for Nal. She immediately stopped, frowned and gave him a piercing look.
“Thanks for that reminder, Lo.” Her face was dark now.
“Oh, so I do have your attention then? Good. While we eat I want to share something that bothers me some.”
The packs were opened and the food was shared carefully. They would have still liked some cool water to go with the dry bread but there was nothing they could do about that, having nothing to hold water in.
“Water would be good here,” Nal said. “Ye know, if I could go barefoot again, we could use my boots for water skins.”
“Gawk!” exclaimed Donna. Lo followed up with, “What a thought that. Imagine the fine toe aroma to spice up that plain, clear mountain water. I’m surrounded by geniuses, I am!”
The following laughter was much needed as all of them had had several very tense days, and if Donna didn’t remember her ordeals, her body did just the same. Unknowingly, she was also no longer a virgin, and that weighed on Lo’s mind, knowing how promiscuous girls were treated in her society – or almost any society he had been through in recent years. Would Nal have to re-instate Donna’s memories of horror, and could she even do it? Or, could Nal repair Donna’s hymen and had she perhaps already done it? He’d have to speak to her in private. For now there was the problem of the village itself, and of them returning Donna to it.
“We need to decide how we’re going to approach Torglynn in a couple of days, that being the time I’ve calculated it will take us to reach it – Thursday afternoon it will be – and well, we need a consistent story to tell whomever in authority we must confront. There will be suspicions all around, of that I’m sure, and we will be treated as spies, or worse. I don’t fancy just walking up to the portcullis if there is one and demanding admission. This is war time.”
It was Nal who spoke her own thoughts next. “What bothers me in all this is the fact we haven’t encountered any search parties this way although the trail is quite clear and obvious. I’m already thinking that something is seriously amiss at Torglynn. Now here’s what I think has happened. Our two bandits went back there with a story of having encountered bandits on the trail. They had been attacked and in defending the girl they had freed, they lost one companion and the girl herself, barely escaping with their own lives. They would have made a generous addition to the gang of bandits now numbering a dozen or more and cautioned the locals from engaging the trail in search of the girl. They’d have insisted that she’d be dead by now.”
Donna looked quizzical. “What are you talking about? What bandits? We haven’t seen anybody since you found me wandering about. I still don’t know how I got into these parts all alone. I would never do this and I know I wouldn’t run away from a battle when wounded people needed me desperately. What am I doing here?”
“We’ll try to explain that if possible,” said Lo, “but I must speak to Nal privately, and use the common tongue of the south. Will you mind?”
“No, I don’t mind.” So he and Nal moved away a little and he spoke, “Nal, she was supposed to remember some things but you wiped out all of her ordeal’s memories. How do we work with that? How do we explain it?”
“Sorcery Lo. She believes in Sorcery. She believes that we are both sorcerers and have all kinds of powers she doesn’t understand but has an affinity for. Don’t worry, she knows the dangers of mentioning any of that. So, she has amnesia from the fear her capture gave her. That is all to our advantage, she can’t speak what she can’t remember.”
“But what if they do not believe her and put her to the torture for the truth? You know those priests and how they hate the young women they can’t have. If torture is the only way they have to justify stripping a girl naked to look at her, or possibly to rape her, it’s what they do, all the time, Nal.”
“What you are saying is, we can’t return her to her village. Is it because you care about what will happen to her, or have you fallen in love with her?”
“It’s both. I care more about her situation, but physically she is irresistible to a living healthy male body. I can beat this, of course, but for now it may be something we need. And I know you understand fully and that you have no jealousy in you, even to the sharing of a husband with another woman. I know because I know who you are now and that is the thing I meant to tell you some days ago. I meant to tell you who you really are.”
For a long minute, Nal looked directly into Lo’s face. “I love you Lo. I love you enough to know that if you share your love with another it will take nothing from mine and I will lose nothing of you. In fact man, I made you sleep beside Donna last night so those feelings would surface and be set free. No dissimulation. You know I enjoy sex too and if I have opportunity as you had last night you wouldn’t find me keeping my clothes on! We’re part human Lo, and we don’t lie to our nature. All is as well, perhaps better, than it should be for us. Now, who am I?” She said it with a twinkle, but she was also very serious as well as curious, and he knew it.
“Oh, thank you Nal. Who you are is quite simple. I did some “testing” with a secret instrument I possess, and it never lies. It told me that you, my loving friend, are the actual reincarnation of my first and previous wife: Nah-La. You are, in fact, an Alaya, though you need to reawaken many, many memories that hold and nurture the gems we call our powers.”
“Oh… Lo, Lotharic, my husband, my husband! How long I have waited to be with you again. I remember, I think, some of our past… Oh, the joy of this moment, Lotharic. It has been so, so long.”
She threw herself in his arms and motioned to Donna to join her in encircling “their” man. Though unsure as to what was happening, the girl came forward and threw her own long arms around Lo, and felt her heart beat very, very loudly. Then she began to cry without even knowing why. She too was now irrevocably caught in Lo and Nal’s web of wizardry or sorcery. She also realized with her own great joy that these moments were changing her forever; that there would be, could be, no returning to Torglynn and its dead-end survivalist ways in pointless hope of some nebulous salvation by a God of blood and gore who hated women. No more. Then she had to yell it out, “No more!”
“Shhh…” Both Nal and Lo admonished her. “There could be ears about other than those of animals and birds. We need to be ever more vigilant as we approach Torglynn.”
“Why go there at all?” asked Nal.
Lo switched to the common tongue of the south, “Several inescapable reasons. We need supplies. We need to find out if the bandits we talked about actually did what we think they did, and where they went. We need local gossip. We also need to find a good escort for Donna, to accompany us back to the Cottage. What say you to a double wedding ceremony, should we find the fellow we think would suit? Convincing him will not be a problem, choosing him will. So what say you?”
“It’s necessary, but I can’t leave Donna out here alone and go in the village with you. You’ll have to do all that on your own. I wish, I wish, I had my power of telepathy functioning fully now! I need this to stay in touch with you.”
“By tomorrow, with the kind of energy you put into remembering, you should have it but you won’t be able to use it. We’ll talk about that later. By the way, while I’m gone, it could be a couple of days, perhaps more, what do you intend to do with Donna?”
“I intend to teach her to become somewhat of an Alaya. She has amazing gifts already. Also, I must teach her weaponry. Will you see if you can buy her a good, light sword and a long dagger? Oh, and a pair of high leather boots to fit her feet comfortably with a built-in sheath for the long dagger? She has long legs, it should be no problem. Don’t forget the swain! On second thought, why not forget the swain? There are some very eager boys at the cottage and they impressed me with their courage and fighting skills in that melee, particularly Roland. What say you to that?”
Back in local dialect, “Wonderful! Truly. Let’s carry on towards the village, but with extreme caution now. We can’t be seen, for if we are we will be duty bound to eliminate all witnesses. You know what that means, Nal?”
With a sigh, “I know what it means, Lo. I will never, ever fail you in whatever you have need of me for. I am Nah-La your wife. You know me.”
“Yes, but I only know half of you intimately. The human half cannot be known by anyone, not even the gods. That needs constant reaffirmation and can never be trusted. Accept that as I accept this same chaos in my own mind and spirit.”
“I accept it, Lo, as you do. We are both, what we are, and what we think we are.”
She turned abruptly, ran past Donna and started leading again, mindful of her place, pace, and the people trusting her… or not. The trail still beckoned although the sun was quickly dropping into the high hills in the southwest. An orange glow began to fill the sky as the distant sea, wherever it was, reflected the sun’s rays back into the atmosphere. A deeper silence now fell upon their surroundings and all three wanderers were keenly aware of the change.
It was Donna who spoke first. “I feel uncomfortable, as if something painful is taking place nearby. I feel its pain, I do. It’s over there!” She pointed to a copse some distance from the trail.
Carefully, they worked their way in the direction she pointed them in. Then Nal picked up the energies also. “She’s right, it’s nearby. Something is hurt and can’t move.”
Even more cautiously they entered the small wood and heard a noise, like a groan, or moan, then a throat rattle of someone in the throes of death. Moving forward, they came upon a grisly scene. It was two men, their two bandits in fact, lying on the ground. One was quite dead, the other caught like a deer in a weighted trap, beyond any physical help, not that he’d be given any. Nal looked at Donna, a look that said, ‘watch this’ and pulling out her dagger, pierced the bandit’s heart, putting him out of his misery.
“I might have been able to heal him!” whispered Donna quite loudly. “Why did you kill him?”
“I knew this man, and the other. They are vicious murderers, thieves and rapists. Be thankful that you never met them.” Nal spoke harshly to impress her words on Donna by her tone. “You cannot trust human beings, Donna. Not ever, not in any circumstance. Remember this scene and remember my words. They will save your life soon enough.”
Lo had inspected the scene to discover what killed the other bandit. It was easy for him to figure that out. The log, held by a small chain, had swung out when the trap was sprung. The chain broke under the strain and one end of the log broke the one man’s neck, killing him instantly; the other end dropped on the second man, breaking his back and trapping him so he could not move. A fitting end to a very sad story. Five dead for nothing: two innocent young girls and three utterly despicable men, all as if there were no difference between any of them; pigs to the slaughter.
So it was why the village remained ignorant of what had happened to their three disappeared girls. No one had any idea how the girls disappeared or were taken, nor in which direction to search if indeed a search was a wise move considering the number of dead and wounded of able bodied men in the village. Perhaps some opportunistic bandits eager for ransom money would return the girls if a bit the worse for wear. That hope however dwindled day by day and the upset parents were advised to go to the kirk and pray and stop pestering the local magistrate. ‘Look at the dead here. Your girls are likely alive, consider that a gift from the Lord.’
O, earth, thou place of life veiling such misery and death!
O, faith, thou fickle companion for them that trust in thee!
End Section 10 – (Ten)