Monthly Archives: January 2018

The Sword, the Bow and the Staff – Part I – Section 10

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.

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“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)

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We Will Remember Freedom: Why It Matters that Ursula K. Le Guin Was an Anarchist

I don’t do a lot of reblogs, probably not enough, but this one, well, it screamed “Re-Blog Me!” So I did. The post will introduce itself, I would only make a mess of it. I have read several Ursuly K. LeGuin books. The ones mentioned here are must read.

CrimethInc.

I’ve never liked the part of the story when the mentor figure dies and the young heroes say they aren’t ready to go it alone, that they still need her. I’ve never liked it because it felt clichéd and because I want to see intergenerational struggle better represented in fiction.

Today I don’t like that part of the story because… I don’t feel ready.

Last week, I lived in the same world as Ursula Le Guin, a grandmaster of science fiction who accepted awards by decrying capitalism and seemed, with every breath, to speak of the better worlds we can create. On Monday, January 22, 2018, she passed away. She was 88 years old and she knew it was coming, and of course my sorrow is for myself and my own loss and not for a woman who, after a lifetime of good work fighting for what she believed, died…

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This and That, Why Not?

As you may  have noticed, er, hm, I’m writing a story that seems to be turning into what is called a novel.  Why a novel?  No idea except that it’s not a novel idea.

Anyway, be that as it may and all the rest of the massacree, once in a while it’s good to just stop.  Catch your breath, stop chasing after those characters who can run circles around you and disappear in the blink of an eye and you can’t find them again.  So, I got ’em where I want ’em and I’m putting on the brakes and taking a break.

That being said, I found some questions in “THE” note book that I want to share, maybe get some feedback.

“Is an unenforceable law still a law?”

“If it is enforceable but no one wants to enforce it, is it still a law?”

“Is an idea that is in words only a valid concept?  or  Does it gain validity only when it is proven that it can be applied and that it works?”

“The future is not an extrapolation of the past, it’s doing things differently.”  Does that mean that when we don’t do things differently we are not moving into the future but living in the past?  I think that question is loaded and demanding scrutiny.

And a quote that most can probably identify with:

I look at my past life as at a field lit up by the sun when it breaks through the clouds, and I note with metaphysical astonishment how my most deliberate acts, my clearest ideas, and my most logical intentions were after all no more than congenital drunkenness, inherent madness, and huge ignorance. I didn’t even act anything out. I was the role that got acted. – Fernando Pessoa

And that’s all folks!

 

The Sword, the Bow and the Staff – Part 9

To  go on with the story then…

While Nal was thus lost in her deep thoughts, yet not unaware of the world around her, morning came. The pink glow spreading softly across distant bare rounded hills promising another beautiful sunny day contrasted sharply with the retreating darkness of night in the west.

Lo woke up from his much needed sleep, got up and stretched in that feline way of his. He turned and greeted Nal. She stood up also and they walked to each other to hug and kiss. There was a groan from the sleeping roll and the girl Donna pushed herself out also. She looked around confused as her thoughts slowly came together but she could not remember the strange events that had brought her to this place.

“Do you know this place, Donna?” Asked Nal.

“No, I have no idea where we are. I’ve never been out of my village!”

“We think your village lies somewhere to the south. We saw a smoke haze in that direction yesterday and we thought maybe it was from the many wood burning fireplaces.”

“It could be, I don’t know. How did I get here? What am I doing here?”

Lo looked over at Nal and winked. He whispered, “Your ‘imparting of alternate realities’ may need some fine adjustments! She doesn’t remember anything at all of the vicissitudes of her ordeals and journey. You’re going to have to explain to her how she got here, huh? Make it nice.” His tone should have warned her he was being quasi-serious, too intent on enjoying her presence and the day to become serious, but she was still in her sombre mood. She replied:

“I will Lo. I will create a plausible scenario that will suit her situation, but only if I must. It may not be necessary to go back to yesterday.”

“I sense some sadness and deep seriousness about you this morning Nal. What happened during your watch?” He suspected he knew, but he wanted her to say it.

“Remember the other day when you made me see my own innate evil? I’ve been thinking about that. I am growing in all kinds of new ways, discovering powers of mind and body I had no idea could exist. Do you have any idea what an evil minded person could do with such powers?”

“Oh, I know that only too well, Nal and so will you very soon. Those two remaining Alay I told you about, the ones we are both training ourselves to meet and defeat, they are the embodiment of what you said. Empowered evil. They are probably the two most powerful evil entities alive on this world. But now is not the time to discuss this, we need to feed our friend here and get her back to her village. Priority one. And we need to develop a strategy to hunt down and kill her assailants. Priority two that cannot be avoided.”

While they were talking they had been aware that Donna had climbed down the rock and walked away to relieve herself, then down to the pool to drink and wash her hands and face, using the fine sand at the bottom as an abrasive cleanser. They noticed her looking about, searching among the spiky gorse and other weeds. She pulled out some roots, broke off the stems, washed them in the pool and brought them back.

“This is a kind of camphre, or camphor,” she told Nal who then translated for Lo. “and around our village most of these small laurel plants have been taken or destroyed by our sheep. I would like to make a small bundle and bring it back with me. In winter there are many uses for this healing plant.”

“Ask her how she knows the name of that plant, Nal, please?”

Nal asked. “A traveller from far places noticed me grinding my roots when he passed through our village. He said he noticed the strong scent and recognized it as belonging to a family of trees called laurels. He said he didn’t think such grew in our part of the world. So he taught me more of what the plant extract can do. Oh, I so want to be a healer! I have the gift for it but they won’t let me. If only I could escape that place, go somewhere else, somewhere they would let me be what I choose to be!”

They were all silent for a time while Lo pulled out their travelling rations and laid out breakfast, such as it would be. Then, after chewing on the dry bread and hard cheese, it was Nal who spoke first.

“Donna? There is no such place for us girls. Everywhere we go, men control us. They fear us because we know things about nature and life they cannot access in their brains, so they persecute us, keep us from education and knowledge. We cannot stand against such madness, we must flow with it somehow, like a snake through grass, moving silently, unseen, and striking only when it is a sure thing.”

“Oh! But the snake is the symbol of evil! How can you compare us to snakes?”

“But we are snakes, Donna. Men believe that about us. The snake symbol, the Devil that crawls on its belly, that is how they picture us. We crawl, powerless and they jump on us, mount us, use us to amuse and satisfy their sexual lust and to make children for them and to take care of them.

Angrily now: “We are seductresses, irredeemable. We have no soul. We are but slaves of men, always and forever. We can never be preachers, priests, teachers or healers or hold any political power for everything we touch turns to evil. It is totally our fault that there is evil in this world, you see? That is how men see us because that is how their “God” has labelled us from the beginning. I can read, Donna, because I was brought up to understand these great double standards of this patriarchal society – don’t worry about the big words, I’ll explain later – and if even in your village they knew this about me, I would be immediately branded a sorceress and tortured to death in an effort to eradicate that great evil from me. That is called superstition and it is deadly for us women.

“So we exist among these male dominated worlds as would snakes in the grasses. Feared, dreaded, hated, yet a necessary part of the whole process of life. They cannot exist without us and at times they lust after our bodies and claim to love us even. But make no mistake Donna: it is never love, it’s lust. But in our misery we want to believe them and we let our own feelings get twisted so we fall in love with them, our greatest enemies who will always remain so for we are helpless to change them.”

“They are all thus, Nal?”

“Exceptions prove the rule, Donna, always. Yes, it is better for you, and much safer, to always remember that even the boy you love dearly and hold in a naked embrace remains your deadliest enemy.

”Let me explain it to you this way. You are this beautiful nubile young girl living in a fortified village. You are in love with a swain and he’s in love with you, a wonderful boy you want to spend you life with. Flip to the next chapter: you are the same, in the same village but now the boy is not your lover, he’s part of a detachment of soldiers who have defeated your people and are overrunning you village. He comes upon you and you are taken as spoils of war. They strip you, mock you, gang rape you and otherwise abuse you. If they are not too rough you survive and heal. He takes you as his rightful slave and you become his servant. He can abuse you, beat you, and use you as entertainment for his soldier friends. Same boy, but from a different side of the fence. Instead of love, despair and hate.”

“If that is so then I wish never to marry. But how can I avoid it?”

Lo, who had been intently listening to Nal’s explanation and knowing she had seen such a thing, interrupted.

“If you lydies will excuse me, I’ve packed and it’s time to get on our journey. Please continue your discussion as we walk. I’ll bring up the rear again, and keep a lookout for any possible ambush or trap. We’ll follow that trail from the old cave we saw yesterday.”

Lo was careful to couch his language in words that would not raise questions, even though he was certain Donna could not understand him. He sensed there was much more to the girl than they realized as yet but would discover soon.

As they walked down the first hill heading for a low wood, and the trail proved easy to walk, Donna and Nal continued their discussion.

“If you would escape a forced marriage and a life of drudgery as I’m sure you’ve already observed of other women, then you must escape somehow, run away and make a life on your own.”

“How could I ever do that? The first men to find me would take me back for a ransom, or sell me as a slave, is that not so?”

“It is so, if you are trusting and unprotected. You need certain things for a successful escape. Self empowerment, my dear, and if you are good at seduction, which I think you can be, you can develop a friendship of love with a man who will actually think he loves you beyond just desire and will protect you as you both go on a journey of discovery. An older man, not too handsome whose chances with younger women are limited. Easily seduced and keener to the needs of women than the younger ones.”

“As you and Lo?” She wasn’t ridiculing or mocking but intent and innocent in her statement.

“Yes, though we are more than the exception that proves the rule. We have a vow of eternal love that cannot be broken by any known force. Do you believe that?”

“Yes I do. I have sensed it in you and in him when he slept beside me and held me last night. It was so gentle and clean, filled with trustworthiness. Do you think I could find my own Lo?”

“Every woman in love and feeling secure in her own relationship with a man would be quick to say, ‘of course you can’ but if it is true love you seek, know that such men are very rare and a woman needs all her skills of discernment and must ignore her feelings, to discover one. She needs all her powers of seduction to bring him into her field of love. Then she needs to be certain he knows, inside himself and without any prompting, that he remains free, ever free, while she loves him completely. That is the other side of love. We are the real givers, men are the takers even when they are convinced it’s the other way. It is a kind of faith; a belief system the seductive snake slithering silently through the grasses seeded by men learns to work with.”

“Your words sound strange to my ears, yet I thrill at them. I realize now that I do have to escape from Torglynn and make my own way in the world. That excites and frightens me.”

“How much do you know of fighting, Donna? Do you think you could develop what I call ‘the killer instinct’ when confronted by deadly enemies and if you were trained in sword, dagger and bow skills?”

“There have been times when I have felt a deep desire to know such skills, but then they interfered with my chosen purpose, that being to become a healer and I would get terribly confused.”

“What if I could teach you something totally alien to your upbringing, completely at odds with your religion and faith in your God, so dangerous that one whiff of it in your possession would immediately result in your condemnation as a witch to be burned alive at the stake? Would you want to know about such a terrible thing?”

“I believe you can do this for me but I have to think! I have to think…”

“Take your time. It is a very dangerous and difficult power to have at your disposal and I will tell you a truth: I only discovered it for myself early this morning, while I was on watch and deeply troubled also for you see, you and I are very similar creatures. Let me tell you a bit of my own story, that may help you in the decision you must make.

“My first and greatest desire is to be a healer, and that I am, as you are. But because of circumstances beyond my control, I had to become a fighter. I trained, endlessly and fiercely. I have killed men with this bow, this sword, this dagger, and this staff.”

Deliberately, she fingered each item, handing the dagger to Donna to hold and wonder at. Taking her precious bow out, she strung it and notched an arrow in it with such speed Donna saw a blur of movement where Nal’s hand was.

“I can bring down a falcon on the wing with this bow. I never miss and that has been a source of pride I’ve had to fight hard against many times. Everything has a price.”

“Many times it can be said that when I killed men or beasts it was in self defence, but equally, I have entered into games of sword play to the death. Obviously, since I’m here, the men, and much more rarely the women, who challenged me are dead, Donna. I killed them… for money.

“It was all about a young girl, alone in a patriarchal and violent world, learning to survive by challenging and using powers that were intent on subduing and enslaving her. I never thought about the wrong of it until Lo made me see that part of me some days ago. The revelation of this deep evil inside me was so hard I blocked it from my mind until last night.

“Then I let it surface so I could look at myself, and I saw two of me. But we weren’t enemies, just twins walking parallel paths that had different obstacles to overcome in each. At the end, the two paths would come together and the twins would merge into the real, the full, me. That is my hope at this time for I know without a doubt that I must be both, healer and killer and that one cannot be allowed to overcome or violate, the heart and purpose of the other. I am two people, Donna; two completely separate people who can never meet until their mutual quest is over.”

“Your story is sad, yet full of hope. It reminds me of a tale my governess was fond of telling. There was a prince, who was also a knight and he loved a princess but an evil bishop who was also a sorcerer desired the princess for himself. She spurned him and in anger he cursed her and her knight. At each sunrise, she turned into a hawk and at each sunset he turned into a wolf. Only in the moment of their changing could they get a despairing glimpse of one-another yet never able to touch or speak.

In the daytime, the heart-broken knight watched the beautiful hawk fly about. At night, the heart-broken princess walked the woods to listen to the wolf give his stricken howl. But in the end, after many trials, the spell was broken when the knight with the help of distraction caused by the frantic hawk, was finally able to confront the evil bishop and kill him. Then they were married and of course, lived happily ever after.

“In the end of your story, Nal, I see two such evil sorcerers to be destroyed and both of you must combine your forces to defeat them. Is that not what you made me see?”

“It is. What wisdom can you give me then, on my quest? How can the healer twin be of any help to the fighter one?”

“That is why you have paired up with Lo. Your healer self must join with the man Lo to protect him and heal him should he be wounded in your final battle. Knowing that Lo is safe, your fighter self will be free to do what she knows best to to, and that is to kill her enemies without qualms or regret. Thus empowered your battle is much more likely to turn in your favour. Three against two are pretty good odds.”

“You’re a very wise and perspicacious woman, Donna. That will take you far if you put your mind to it. I may as well admit right now that I am feeling a very strong bond developing between us. Maybe we can make something of that.”

For answer Donna sighed, then took stock of her surroundings as if she’d just awakened from a trance. The landscape way still much the same although there were more trees now and the air was warmer as they were crossing a low area where the wind didn’t penetrate except during violent storms, a rare occurrence in these parts. She could hear sounds she’d never heard; smelled scents of earth moving under the weak rays of the sun and of small animals scurrying among rocks and between shrubs hunting for food. Suddenly and for no reason, it seemed to Donna that the entire world was in a feverish quest to satisfy an insatiable hunger. Everything and everyone, it seemed, was chasing about and the bottom line of it, it was all about food.

“That is so strange.” She said this aloud and Lo who was closest to her at the moment, overheard.

“’Tis strange indeed,” he answered her in her own tongue, “this endless quest to satisfy some hunger. And t’isnt only for food ‘tis done, but for many other hungers, all equally insatiable. There’s hunger for things, for security, for love, for sex, for power, for control, for health (well, at least that one is understandable), recognition, either by fellowmen, or by some god, for conquest. But the basic hungers which all have in common are for food and sex.”

End of Part 9 – (Nine)

The Sword, the Bow and the Staff – Part 8

(Another section of the growing novel.  Enjoy)

“They’re running away down the side of this hill to who knows where. Let’s check the inside of this cave and see what is alive in there.”

After lighting a resin torch from fallen branches they slowly entered the cave. A smell of retching and feces filled their nostrils. Then they saw another horror. A young woman was chained to a rock, naked and unconscious, not dead, covered in filth and blood. While Lo continued to check the depths of the cave for any other living creature, man or beast, Nal went to the woman. She was just a young girl, no more than fouteen years. She’d been raped and abused viciously but was alive. ‘Now I need my healing powers’ she thought to herself. She passed her hands over the girl’s body, touching it gently wherever there were cuts and bruises. The girl moaned, woke up and screamed. Nal touched her face and she went quiet, her one good eye wide open and staring at Nal.

“Shhh, we’re here to deliver you from those monsters. We’ll help you get better. Are you hungry?”

The girl nodded, ‘yes’ and despite a swollen lip, was able to take some of Nal’s cheese and the soft parts of her bread. Lo returned from making certain nothing else lurked around and looked at the girl’s chains. Simple: the straps holding the chains were of horse harness leather.

“Can your sword cut through this thick leather without harming the girl, Nal?”

“I’ll use my dagger, it’s made of the same steel and safer.” She pulled a deadly looking dagger from her boot top and proceeded to hack away at the leather straps until she’d cut through, one after the other, freeing the girl’s wrists and ankles. They brought her out into the afternoon sunshine and laid her down on their bedrolls. The girl was still small enough to fit into Nal’s spare shirt and trousers so these were laid out for her. Lo returned into the cave after making up another torch to see if he could find more clothing for the girl.

“I think I found her shoes, and maybe some more clothing though it appears torn.” Lo emerged with his discoveries while Nal was busy passing her healing energies over the girl’s body until she appeared at least physically, quite recovered from her ordeal. Her mouth was almost back to normal and she could speak but only Nal could understand what she was saying. It sounded like a similar language he’d heard around the cottage and hadn’t had time to focus on learning it.

“I’m thirsty, please, water.” Nal translated for her.

“Unless I can find something to hold water we’ll have to take her to the pool. Might be a good idea, then you can help her wash also.

Nal explained to the girl about the water and the pool. Despite the coolness of the air, the girl was eager to go, drink and wash, obviously.

“I’ll keep watch while you help her and continue to ministrations. I am very impressed with your powers, Nal, very impressed indeed, and thrilled. Can she walk or should I carry her to the pool?”

Words passed between Nal and the girl who held her arms crossed over her breasts.

“Her name is Donna. She says she will still need you to carry her if it’s not too much of an imposition considering her physical state.”

“Tell her it’s fine. I will carry her.” And it was done. Lo wandered about a bit, making sure no one was creeping up on them. After a time, Nal whistled and he went back to pick up the girl and bring her back to the bed rolls. Washed and almost completely healed now, she looked very pretty with her dark red hair and green eyes. With some grunting and tugging she was finally attired in Nal’s leathers and her own shoes.

“Where are you from, Donna?” Nal asked her in her language.

“It’s a place called Torglynn. We were attacked some days ago, I can’t remember how many days it was now, and in the commotion and burning houses, three of us were captured, three girls. They took us with them when they escaped. There were only three of them left alive then and they each took one of us. They raped and tortured us. The others are dead…” She began to sob loudly and again Nal placed her hands on her head and immediately calmed her down.

“It’s fine, Donna, fine. Listen to me, no one ever really dies, they just leave and travel for some time then they come back again. It’s how it is. Your friends aren’t really dead.”

“I’ll see them again, then?”

“That is not the same thing. Whether we meet people we used to know, care for or love in those other worlds has not been determined or proven. Some do, yes, but not everyone. You need to learn the rules to move things in those other worlds. Just know that your friends are alive, wish them well and let them go.”

“I know I was dying when you rescued me. I had a knife wound that said ‘death’ in its throbbing pain. How did you do this,” pointing at her healed body, “hardly a mark now and I’m feeling better and stronger by the minute. How is that possible?”

“Do you pray, Donna?”

“Oh yes I do. I have always prayed to God, of course.”

“Should you then need to ask me how such things are possible?”

“Are you a divine healer then? How could you be, you’re a woman!”

“Ah, I see. Only a man could represent God then, is that it?”

“It’s what I’ve been taught. I’ve wanted to serve God the way you do but I was told it was impossible that a girl should even think of such things. Women are unclean.”

“I’d like to have a word or two with those teachers of yours,” said Nal. “I’m sure I could make them change their minds.” Inside, Nal was trembling with indignation and righteous anger. There would be no end to it. Girls would be raped and denied justice. Women would be used and abused and denied education or any sort of power that challenged the authority of a male.

“No woman could ever make them change their minds. There was a woman healer who lived alone in a wood not too far from Torglynn. I was only maybe five then when they brought the women into the square, chained her to a steel post and set her on fire. I can still hear her screams in my nightmares.”

“So, what do you think now that you are grown up. Was that woman wrong in helping to heal people, or are those who tortured her to death, murderers?”

“I never thought of our priest or councilors as murderers but then I never thought it was right either. The woman deserved praise, not what they did to her.”

“Well let me tell you this: your priest and councilors are murderers, Donna. Now let’s change the subject. Try walking around a bit, see how you feel.”

She got up and after walking around, up and down the trail, she exclaimed: “I feel wonderful, wonderful! Are you going to take me back home?”

“That we will, but it’s already quite late. We will camp for the night, resume our journey tomorrow.”

“Please, let’s not camp near this place, it frightens me so.”

“No, we were not going to stay here, it would be too easy for those bandits to find us in the night. My husband Lo has found us a suitable place. We’ll meet him there.”

“How do you know? How do you talk to him? Are you a sorceress?”

“Never, ever, use that word around us, or about us. If people find that you were healed by a sorceress and they can’t capture me, they will burn you at the stake, don’t you realize this? And if they did capture me, they’d burn us together!”

Then Nal had a different idea. “Now listen,” and she raised her left hand over the girl’s head, bringing it down slowly until it just touched her hair, “When we return you to your home, you will remember only that you were captured, then you were rescued by two soldiers of the guard. You were not hurt. You will remember only that you do not know what happened to the other two girls who were taken with you. You will not remember us except as a young girl’s dream. Now come, you must be dead tired and famished.”

“That I am, sir.” Nal was pleased with her growing skills at imparting of alternate realities. The girl now saw in her mind only two soldiers who were going to protect her and return her to her home. I really am an Alaya, she thought with a shiver.

The day continuing to be clear, as the orb had predicted, Lo chose the top of an exposed boulder as their sleeping area. It had a dip in the center that had filled with loam over time and would make an excellent place for the bedrolls. The place was easy to defend, and he could see a long way in every direction though he doubted that the vicious and cowardly bandits would return to face the owner of the bow that had pierced their mate’s wrist. Anyone who could shoot a bow like that was not to be trifled with. No, they’d do their best to disappear from the area.

Unfortunately for them, Lo had another Alay trick he was about to pull. Though he had not seen the faces of those men, Donna had, and would remember them clearly. All he had to do was approach her in the night, set her to dreaming some nightmare sequences of her capture and pick out of those whatever images he needed to identify her tormentors and the murderers of her two friends. There was one thing he knew: these two men had to be hunted down and destroyed and they would provide more of the training that both he and Nal needed as he plunged them both inexorably into the deadliest of encounters with their arch enemies and the completion of their quest.

While both Nal and the girl Donna slept together, Lo approached the girl, touched her cheek lightly and set her to dreaming of her adventures. What he saw made him sick and furious, but he controlled his feelings and began memorizing the faces of her assailants. When he was sure he had his memories completed he released her into a dreamless state and slowly walked away.

He stood tall and motionless on the edge of their dome rock, listening, searching, watching. There was much more movement here than there had been the night before but everything was of small animals and hunting owls. Once he heard what sounded like the rattle of a shrike and he thought it might have been a signal as these hunter birds are not known to be nocturnal but nothing else followed. Still he remained fully alert, uncertain as to the moves of the bandits. Sometimes in the middle of the night, Nal joined him and suggested he get some rest.

“The girl is sound asleep and the bedroll is warm. Go ahead, I’m not the jealous type plus she needs you to hold her; she’s still very much afraid of being abandoned.” She kissed him warmly, hugged him and pushed him towards the sleeping roll.

It was now Nal’s turn to watch but for her it was second nature. How many nights had she spent alone, along roadways, in ravines, in trees, in straw stacks and in hay-filled wagons, half sleeping, ready to defend herself if discovered? How many times had she had to jump up and defend herself against starving wolves, wild dogs and sex-starved men who saw her as easy prey?

To her the night sounds were pure music, soothing and filling her head and heart with romantic thoughts and feelings. How much had life suddenly begun to shine on her! She had found a man she considered as perfect in every way. She was developing strange new powers that promised her the things she had dreamed for herself when a little girl: the heroine who would walk upon a battle field and heal the wounded, give water to the thirsty, speak fearlessly of peace to hardened and bitter men who had never thought such a world was possible.

Now here she was, sitting wide awake under the stars, listening to the land singing to her, aware of her healing powers, aware that just a few feet away from her was a young girl she had saved from certain death and healed so well that when she felt the girl’s skin there were no scars anywhere. ‘If I continue thinking this way my heart is going to explode’ she thought to herself.

But what else could she occupy her thoughts with? Perhaps it would be that other side, the one she dreaded, the deeper human self where her evil dwelt. She felt cold then, remembering that when she had said to Lo, “I’m evil” he had replied, “Yes.” ‘I’m evil’ she thought. ‘Inside me resides this great and terrible darkness and death. I’m not a beautiful young woman and lovely bride, I’m a monster. I can kill without regrets, take another’s life and think of it as a score in a game. Place me there, I kill without any qualm. Put me here, I heal and give life. What am I? I have no word for me, just disgust. I’m a patchwork woman, made up of pieces others have thought up or placed inside me. No, this cannot continue. I have to recreate myself. I have to give myself a true identity that nothing can change.’

She looked up into the sky and across the great milky sea of stars a meteor streaked and disappeared on the horizon.

End of Part 8 – Eight

Treaty Song Lyrics by Joanne Shenandoah

It seems to be that kind of a day, past, present and possible future meeting at the apex of the three-sided pyramid that is my life and little of it any of what one could call good.  I think the following lyrics express much of what I’ve been reading today.  We don’t want “fake news”?  Then this isn’t. 

Treaty song – Joanne Shenandoah

When you’ve razed all the forests… silenced all the birds

Destroyed creation that came before your words

When you’ve stamped to the ground all the things you fear

One thing to be sure of… I’ll still be here

Remember the treaty you have made with me

As long as grass grows and the sky is blue and rivers run free

Does this not mean forever?

Or did we not agree?

Will lies and broken promises be your legacy?

Who am I your Honour?

Who am I your Grace?

Who do you see standing here as you look upon my face?

Hear me Mr President…

This is Sacred Ground

You cannot own my Spirit, though you might lay me down

So take all your children… teach them your lies

Why waters are polluted… smog fills the skies

You can drain all the oceans and fill them with tears

You will never remove me…

I’ll always be here

So when you seat your Council, who will come to speak

For the Buffalo, the Eagle, the forest and the trees

The oceans and their bounty are all here nearby

And for all the children standing at our side

(Repeating refrain omitted)

Facts:  Over 100 million Native American people were genocided in the “conquest” and western expansion by white Americans.

Facts: British traders transported an estimated 3.4 million Africans to North America as slaves during the 245 years the transatlantic slave trade was active.

 

 

The Sword, the Bow and the Staff – Part 7 – (Seven)

(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  shatara@telus.net.  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)