Category Archives: fiction

The Sword, the Bow and the Staff – Part I, The Calling: Chapter 19


Finally, I think I’m caught up on the blogging scene. I’ve read how to write better; how to improve my health; what to do in case of Armageddon; how to win a cricket match; that Russia isn’t to blame for anything; that we’re in deeper s**t than I even thought possible; how to make free electricity; how to awaken; that Sandy Hook mass shooting never happened (again) and that I’ve got to give peace a chance. That said, let’s get on with this story before it becomes “The Perils of Pauline” and Phil manifests himself on the blog waving a massive eraser and I lose all my subordinate clauses and loose conjunctions…

Chapter 19: Meeting the priest; all is set for the wedding

To Lo and Nal, it wasn’t much of a ‘town’ but to the others it was impressive as towns go. Not only the large church that sat imposingly in the centre of the main town but the shops, so many shops, and people everywhere. There were people on horseback and horse-drawn carts clattered on cobble-stone sections of the main street hauling various merchandise. At an open air butcher shop women were haggling with a portly butcher over the cut meat and the hanging geese and chicken. After each left with a purchase, she was replaced by another just as eager to haggle over the prices.

Children ran wildly through the filthy streets, yelled at by the adults whom they splattered when their bare feet slapped into puddles of stagnant, stinking water.

As Ian and his group walked deeper into the town, most people stopped doing whatever they were doing and stared. The men were particularly attracted to the three young women, the two tall imposing light-haired ones and the short, small dark one. But the main question on their faces was, who are these armed people and what do they want here?

Then some recognized MacGruder and greetings were exchanged. Women came forth to greet lady Jen MacGruder and their daughter whom they had not recognized so grown up she was. They were introduced to Lo whom they openly admired, and the two other young women, Genti and Deanna. Ian ventured the news that they intended to have a wedding here in Glowmere between the two travellers who were trading friends of the MacGruders, from the south. He announced that Nal and Lo, whom he singled out, were to be united in holy matrimony at the kirk if the priest was in agreement.

The news was greeted with a loud cheer that spread up and down the main street and brought the curious street urchins forth. Soon items went missing here and there from the shops and stalls as the cries of “Thief, stop him!” or “That miserable scoundrel, stop her!” followed by some useless chase that only left a shop or stall open to more pilfering.

“An where does one find the priest?” Ian asked politely and diplomatically for he realized such a location would be in proximity to the church. An urchin offered to lead them to the priest, for a price. Contrary to his usual parsimonious nature, Ian good-naturally accepted and paid the rascal. They intercepted the priest as he was stepping out of the kirk and getting ready to bar, bolt and lock the door.

“Wouldn’t want yer God er his saints t’ run off come night eh Father? Keep ‘em locked up, that’s the sure way.” said Ian with a large smile.

The priest, a tall, stringy sort of creature in a fading black cassock failed to acknowledge the joke. He eyed MacGruder with a frown and asked, “An what do ye be wantin’ fro’ me, mon?”

“Well Father, ‘tis not what I want, ‘tis what these young un’s here be needin’ – an’ that’d be a proper weddin’ t’would be, if ye be amenable to it?”

The priest cast a haughty look over the group trying to figure out which of them were to be the victims. Unable to decide, he turned to MacGruder and said, “They be proper Church people then? Baptized and knowing their catechism?”

“Aye of that I’m sure Father. Might not hurt ‘em just the same to have a confession afore the ceremony?”

“That is mandatory mon, and may I know whom I be addressin’ and whom the intended’s be?”

“I be Ian MacGruder, perhaps ye’ve heard of us from up t’ cottage? An’ here are the two ‘intendeds’ as ye put it: Lo ‘n Nal. Don’t know if there be any family names attached to ‘em, I reckon not.”

“Well, I’ll need such particulars for the book ye understand. We keep decent records here, not like the old pagan days thankfully gone from here, praise God.”

“We’ll get ye the names Father.” MacGruder’s voice had grown somewhat harsher and definitely colder as he prepared to haggle prices with the priest.

Having heard their names mentioned, Nal and Lo came forward and introduced themselves to the priest. Again he gave his haughty look, equally met and brought down forcefully by both Nal and Lo who would not tolerate such from a pawn of the Church. For a moment the priest sensed something that scared him and was of a mind to refuse the ceremony, then thought of the money and held his tongue. On top of the incentive of good gold, there were those deadly looking swords, bows and staffs to reckon with. It might not do to upset these and seemed more prudent to let the moment have its way.

‘I can deal with any sorcery and paganism afterwards and I certainly will.’

All three, Nal, Deanna and Lo, had been mind-focusing on the priest and heard his thoughts. Here was another dangerous enemy, certainly for Genti and the MacGruders. This priest would have to be dealt with after they settled with the Betrayers and before they carried on to further adventures, such certain to come about as a result of Nal’s vows and Deanna’s need to return to Torglynn.

As there was overt thoughts of violence and murder in the priest’s heart, Lo felt no qualm about disposing of the creature come the right time. This work might well fall to wolf and his mate he reckoned. Both Nal and Deanna agreed though Nal who had some personal scores to settle with the Church insisted she’d be involved in the priest’s demise. They left it at the stage where the priest would be killed but not who would have the honours.

Meanwhile, they agreed to let the hypocrisy of the moment reign supreme.

“Any o’ these others gettin’ married also, Ian?” Asked the priest, trying hard to sound innocent, caring, and friendly but inwardly licking his greedy lips thinking of the gold a double or triple wedding would bring, winter being financially remarkable only from the increase in burials.

“Hasn’t been mentioned Father. Must be waitin’ for spring, t’other ones eh? So then to business, time and cost? Ye’d be needin’ gold yea?”

“Gold, yea. Six ounces, weighed on the scale at the kirk. As to time, does next Saturday suit ye, Ian?”

Ian called his group together and after consulting with Jen asked them, “Does next Saturday suit ye all for the weddin’ t’ take place or ye havin’ second thoughts now? Last chance ‘fore I put down the money.”

Nal and Lo smiled broadly at one another then burst out laughing while a spark of hope flashed through young Giles’ heart only to be extinguished in the same moment when Nal said, “Saturday is perfect for us ‘n the sooner t’ better to get it done. Can’t wait! An’ Father if ye be wantin’ our clan names, I be a McBanish, n’ m’intended here, he be a MacDunit.”

“Interestin’ names. Can’t say I ever heard o’ those clans, interestin’ indeed. Saturday then, ten o’ the mornin’?”

“Aye that’ll suit us fine, that will, Father,” quickly answered Ian.

They left the skeletal priest standing there like a patiently expectant vulture on his favourite dead tree perch and Ian declared they all deserved a drink at the Wild Horse Inn, a good, friendly place, he added.

Once out of the priest’s hearing they all burst out laughing until the tears were running down their faces. Ian had to lean on a hitching post to keep himself upright.

Only Deanna failed to join, finally asking what the sudden hilarity was all about.

“Dinae hear girl? McBanish, MacDunit? Who ever heard o’ such nonsense? That was good that, truly magnificent, gal, and he slapped Nal on the back, making her jump.

Ian didn’t give his charges too much time to develop introspective moroseness that would demand another round and declared it was getting late and they had a fair walk ahead of ‘em yet.

As they were crossing the small drawbridge, Lo stayed behind to speak to the guard detail. He gave them each enough coin for a couple of rounds at the inn and was rewarded with some slaps on the back and cheers. Then in a vibrant voice he wished them a wonderful end of the day and a safe, healthy, prosperous and long life. They received his words as if they had been gifts, realizing that there was more than words in the blessing. They waved sheepishly then, thinking this was no ordinary man. They all sensed that their entire lives ahead of them had been magically blessed and the words would prove true.

Entering his speed lope he soon caught up to the group and immediately noticed that Deanna was gone and Nal was carrying her clothes.

“So she’s gone back to her wolf then? How did she manage to take off her clothes without upsetting the group?”

“We slipped into the ‘by woods to do that. She’ll inner nudge me when she needs ‘em again.”

“Let me strap those to my pack then, Nal, so you keep your hands free. It may seem silly here but remember that ultimately we are always alone, working singly, and must always think thus. Never rely on anyone else to take the point, or protect. Let them if they want to but don’t ask it nor expect it and I repeat, never rely on it.

“Keep your hands, arms and legs free at all times and your weapons handy.”

“Truly sorry, I temporarily forgot. Too much on m’mind an’ don’t push me, MacDunit.”

“Indeed I’ll endeavour not to, Miss McBanish.”

They laughed, hugged fiercely and kissed again.

Don’t look at me like that and I heard that snort. Look, I’m just writing it the way I see it. And remember, they’ve been apart for thousands of years, how do you think you would act if you suddenly found yourself back in the arms and love of a lover you knew was dead and you hadn’t seen for, say, twenty thousand years? Would you say,

“What? You again?” or

“I really wasn’t expecting you back this soon.” or

“I hadn’t planned on this; I have a life now.” or

“Things getting too boring for you, decided to come back?”

Right, I didn’t think so. More likely there would be sparks, maybe a flame, and hugging and kissing would just be the breeze that sets everything on fire. So put up with the hugging and kissing and let me go on with the story, which by the way is turning out pretty good, in my opinion, if I’m allowed to have one.



The Sword, the Bow and the Staff -Part I – Chapter 18

 I was going to reblog a couple of worthy posts I have read the last couple of days but, like rush hour traffic, it seems that blogs can only accommodate so much. So I’m being selfish and posting my own stuff today. I know there are some people reading this developing tale with interest and I don’t want to make them wait any longer than necessary. Enjoy this chapter. More to come!

The gold rings; Deanna spies on the Betrayers some more

A dark cloud soon rose again over Giles’ innocent hopes. Ian MacGruder called a general meeting after their noonday meal to discuss Nal and Lo’s upcoming wedding in Glowmere kirk. Then with a twinkle in his eye, he brought out two small blue linen pouches and gave them to Lo.

“Well open ‘em mon, open ‘em!”

The assembly cheered when they saw two smooth, plain, gleaming gold rings, a man’s and another so small it would fit a small girl’s finger. The rings fit perfectly and Nal wondered how they’d managed to get her size without her knowledge. She looked at Lo and he winked.

“Old trick Nal. I twisted a grass stem around your finger to size it while you were sleeping and gave the grass ring to Ian. We did the same for my finger, then in the following adventures I forgot all about the rings. Now Ian, what do we owe ye for such beautiful rings?”

“I fear the cost is quite high Lo. I demand the right to walk this lass down the aisle in exchange for the rings.”

“Oh Ian, you wonderful, wonderful man,” exclaimed Nal throwing her arms as far as they could reach around the large man’s midriff, “ye do me such an honour… such an honour…” and once again she found herself crying freely, unashamed, tears flowing from her eyes and running down her face. “Such friends, such good friends I have met here; I will be so loathe to leave.”

“Come lass, we won’t speak o’ leavin’ yet, one day havin’ enough trouble of its own. Now lydies o’ the house, this girl is in need of some sort of weddin’ accoutrements as I heard such called by an English gentleman when I was tradin’ in the south. No girl is so pretty that she can’t be made even prettier an’ a weddin’s the time for that. Jen ‘n I are agreed to  take care o’ the costs, so have at it lydies, have at it.”

Poor Giles was devastated on hearing about the wedding. Though he knew it had been mentioned before there was always the hope that Nal would choose him over Lo, him a property man and all. What did Lo have to offer her? But then, thinking of himself as of the truly noble sort, he squared his boyish shoulders and entered a realm of lofty thoughts befitting a true knight.

‘I shall become a knight and I shall go with her as her champion, though never mine yet always in my sight. I shall give myself to the worship of her and save her from her enemies, that I shall and my eternally broken heart shall be the token of my love for her.’

He went about his chores imagining scenes of mortal combat where he charged into the fray on a big white war horse, slashed through the enemy as blow after blow fell upon his helmet, his armour, his shield. He saw himself fighting and holding off the evil knight who had unhorsed her and would have taken her, and giving him the mortal blow. Bending down, he grabbed her and swung her across the war horse in front of his saddle, once more slashing his way through the press of men at arms and screaming wounded horses, his sword awash with the blood of the enemy…

The chores were completed in record time but his daydream, that was just beginning.

The next day, Nal having been measured for her wedding ‘accoutrements’ and having had quite enough of the fussing and comments on her diminutive size, her unusual tone and satiny smoothness of skin, her straight black hair and almond eyes, it was decided by MacGruder that he, his woman Jen, their grown daughter Genti, Nal, and Lo would walk down to Glowmere, visit with the priest and arrange for the time of the wedding ceremony and settle the costs.

“I thought o’ invitin’ the priest to the cottage to perform the ceremony but then I thought better of it. We’ll have the proper ceremony the Church demands, aye, but we’ll return here to our own an’ then we’ll have our ceremony as performed by our ancestors. We are goin’ t’ have a full pagan weddin’ ceremony right here with our own daughter priestess o’ the clans presidin’ an we don’t want any meddlin’ crow from the Church in it. The walk back from the Glowmere ceremony ‘ll do us all good, put some appetite in us by t’gods! What do ye all say to that?”

Lo spoke first,

“I like the idea immensely.”

Nal added,

“Yes that is a famous idea. Let us be pagan; let us experience the wild abandon of the old traditions!”

They set out from the cottage with a proper retinue of
“arms-men.” These consisted of the shepherds, Giles whom wild horses could not have kept out of this, Lil’ Cos and the the head man Cedric – all of whom were readily available as the sheep were safely in their pens and the two pit bulls on duty.

Guy was chosen to remain at the cottage to finish some needed chores, help the women in whatever they needed done in preparations for the coming ceremony and to pacify the nervous pit bulls who had been smelling the presence of both wolf and werewolf.

As they were crossing the lower field taking the usual shortcut to the village road, Deanna emerged from the woods, properly dressed though flushed with excitement and her hair in a toss of wild disarray.

She and Nal threw themselves in each others’ arms, kissed shamelessly under the intrigued but approving gaze of MacGruder and his male armed retinue and Deanna said,

“If I may join in? Wolf and I got your message Lo. Wolf will escort us as well, just in case, but we’re quite certain there is no danger. We tracked a couple of poachers yesterday but took care of putting the fear of Satan in them. We left them alive, they were not the murderous or raping kind, just beggar thieves, but they won’t be seen in these parts ever again, and the stories they tell will ensure none should venture this way at least for the duration of winter. In case anyone wonders, we did hunt down some hares to give them so they wouldn’t starve in the woods.”

“Well done Deanna,” replied MacGruder with a raised fist for emphasis. “On we go then.” With Giles close by and nurturing a pain-filled jealousy, Ian took Nal’s hand and led her over the ladder built into the fence and down the path to the village. Holding back, Lo and Deanna engaged a long and serious talk using strictly the inner language.

‘I taught wolf to speak the human tongue Lo. At first he could only do it in his werewolf form but now he can manage it any time. Very difficult for him but a very effective tool for deception. He can also project severe abdominal pain to an enemy without being seen so when the enemy is doubled over, he can pounce on him. We tried it on the poachers and yes, it works. My own power of projection has grown too. With one hand in Wolf’s mane I can project a force that can topple over a cliff if I so desired. We tested that effect far from here in a wilderness where the collapse would not cause hardship to those we stand guard for. I can collapse defences, walls, buildings and also set fires from at least a quarter mile distance. I could demonstrate when we reach the village if you want to see.’

‘Oh, no thank you Deanna, that won’t be necessary, I believe you.’

He wondered how far she’d gone from human now that she saw nothing amiss about setting some house on fire or destroying fortifications “as a demonstration” just when their group was entering the village.

‘Cause and effect, Deanna: can you see how such activities would turn the whole village against us? That we would be immediately blamed for the events and labelled sorcerers?’

‘It would? Ah, yes, of course I suppose it would. What about Nal? Has she demonstrated new powers to use against our enemies?’

‘Nal has been busy in many ways. She has taught some swordsmanship to our armed guard here and I’ve done some sparring with the staffs with her myself. She is greatly improving but remembering her full Alaya self is taking its toll. She still gets tired easily, requiring almost five or six hours of sleep every night. She is still much too human but growing and remembering. How long can you remain shape-shifted into the she-wolf before you can no longer change back, or is there a limit?’

‘I think there might be a limit unless I develop some other method of shape-shifting. It was very difficult to leave this time and putting clothes on, why I could hardly remember how to do it. All I remembered was Nal insisting I do it, so I did. At first I was almost blind and when I tried to stand, I fell against wolf to gain my balance. Walking on two legs is so irritatingly clumsy and energy consuming! Good thing I did not know about any of what I do now when I was growing up in Torglynn or I would have gone insane with longing and frustration.’

‘Critical point, can you use your combined Human, Elven, Alaya powers when you are shape-shifted into the she-wolf? Can you be the powerful wizard in any shape, or state of mind, Deanna?’

‘I know I can project the tear-up and fire energy, using my nose and ears to focus and I can sense unusual forces from great distances. I have been guardedly following the movements of our enemies to the south in, what did you call that land?’

‘I figured you meant the land of France.’

‘Yes, that land beyond a narrow sea? They’ve been involved in wars and there has been problems between the sorcerers, they ended up on opposite sides and there’s a stalemate in a main battle involving a large castle. There were canons brought to bear but your Tel’Madan wizard knows how to muzzle them and cause them to explode when fired. If we could be there now, we would take them individually and destroy them!’

‘Beware, Deanna. It’s a trick. They know someone’s been tracking them and this is a very complex but obvious trap. They want whomever to fall for their apparent disunity. That would never happen, particularly knowing of the rise of one or more Alaya in the world. They’re baiting while recouping their energies and planning.

‘Good that you tracked them in your she-wolf form rather than your human one. If they can sense that, they will be confused and wary. Any confusion will weaken them, not knowing what to expect. They must be aware now that their long years of unopposed evil are ending and they are going to have to fight to hold on to their power. They don’t have any problem sending hundreds of thousands to their death in their endlessly manufactured power wars but it’s been a long time since they had to personally fight against an enemy.

‘Long ago they killed nine of us, including their own wives because these refused to join in their evil deeds and plans for this world. After that, except for my rather pathetic ventures and overtures to them they’ve had no one of consequence to worry about. That is all about to change.’

Deanna continued with the inner language conversation,

‘But since you and Nal are mates from before, why go through this human wedding ceremony? I don’t see a point to it.’

‘There are good reasons. One is to defuse some of the suspicions that may arise from the local representatives of the Church. They are sure to sense that not everything is as it seems with us. We do this also for the people, to let them know that we are with them, though we be different. The other is to demonstrate to Nal’s previous close male friends and hopefuls that she is indeed in a marriage relationship, thus preventing at least some heartbreaks and possible hotheaded challenges.

‘But the greatest reason is, I sense an alignment taking place, an ordained shuffling of forces, a great alliance never before seen to bring men, women, Elves, Alaya, Alay and the wolf clans together to destroy a great evil. We have more, much more to organize and bring about before we engage the final part of our mutual quest, but the pieces are coming together. Soon the board will be set and the game will begin in earnest.’

‘Will we have to cross that sea to challenge the sorcerers, or will they come to us on this land?’

‘We must find a way to bring them here and ensnare them. They have built too much of a force on the mainland; too many blinded and willing to die for them. We neither can take so many on, nor do we want this to turn into a long drawn-out bloodbath. We don’t want a war so we must endeavour to keep the numbers small on both sides and settle it quickly, ideally in a day or two. We will guardedly thought-touch them and dare them to meet us in the wilds to the south of here.’

Thus they exchanged information and finally reached the outskirts of Glowmere. They were challenged by a rag-tag but suspicious retinue of a dozen guards. Ian and his lady greeted them loudly and being recognized as neighbours and allies, they and their following were allowed to enter the fortified town.

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

(Continuing then with the story…)

Chapter 17
More history; how Lo came by the sphere

Lo came over to Nal when she entered the large room now filled with people, tables and benches stacked against the far wall, rush lights stuck in sconces burning in their holders all around, casting a warm glow on happy, sweating bodies.

“Come with me to the butchering room, I need to talk where no one will intrude on us.” They entered the cold, rancid room and bolted the door.

“I heard you Nal but I chose not to intrude on your sorrow, it is how it is with us. We are not like the humans who feel a need to run to a lover or a friend for support in times of personal inner turmoil. For us as you will remember, it is necessary to withdraw, find a place alone, and work out the problem until it is eliminated, as it must be. Unlike humans who can carry such as grief, sorrow, sense of loss, anger, hate or their sensuous loves for years, even for an entire life, we clear our minds of such things, constantly refreshing ourselves. Only our goal, purpose and quest remains a constant reminder that we are forever moving, forever changing, forever self empowered. If we lived as humans we would soon drain each other of all energy and fade away.

“I love you from purpose, not from feeling or need though of course there is deep feeling in it, but as a result, not a cause. My vow to destroy the Betrayers is also purpose driven and goal oriented. I follow a vision of perhaps removing a great evil from this world so it may have a chance of, how do I put that, evolving itself, of changing also for the betterment of all. You would suppose that after all the millennia of wandering this world, observing its ways and doing whatever in my power to make significant changes with so little if any results, would have put me off my purpose but it hasn’t. It is not how we are made.

“You will remember eventually of those times when we were young in spirit and we volunteered for this assignment. How we applied ourselves to the study of alien worlds, to understand the mindset behind a world’s mental, emotional and physical change, or evolution. How carefully we chose the forms we would inhabit on this world. We planned so carefully! We were so naive, Nal. When we arrived here all our plans were useless. That is because we were the first and there was only intellectual knowledge of earth in our databases we relied on. We knew the biology, the physics. We knew size, land to water ratios, weather patterns, seasons, temperatures. We knew about the basic races of its human life and the violence we came here to tame and in time bring to an end. We knew the number of people already on this world.

“What we did not know; what our own teachers could not give us, is an intuitive awareness of evil. It came at us with such force it overwhelmed us. It seemed the indigenous life was more or less adapted to it and accepted the horrible trade-offs of their situation. Well, it appeared at first it had no other choice.


“But we could not accept it; our natures rejected the concept of evil and we were stymied over and over in our efforts. We would teach and demonstrate and give lessons and for a short time some of the people would grasp the concept of peace and compassionate interaction but within a few years these people were overwhelmed in turn and often martyred for their beliefs.

“We learned two things: that the humans could accept new, non-traditional ways of doing things and begin acting in such new ways but that there was a programming running here that kept a violent, predatory status quo operating. This programming came from a source similar to our own, a powerful energy or group of beings not of earth, controlling its sentient life through its feelings, its hopes and desires; its thoughts and emotions.

“We had no defence against evil, no mental armour against it, no mental or spiritual immune system to draw upon. We were naked to its attacks and it infiltrated us. The rest you know, and here we are, again, thinking that logically we should be able to defeat this force. First though, we must destroy the Betrayers so we can then apply what we have learned up to this time to discover the source of this evil that is eating this world. You were thinking about why we are here, why try to intervene, and when will it end, some time back?

“I believe it will end soon after the Betrayers are defeated. We will be recalled to give an account of what befell here. Do not fear this great evil we are about to confront, nor the losses of friends through death or necessary separation. Remember the lesson of detachment we had to learn when we had to spend so many long years apart from each other on opposite sides of this planet. Much of your power is tied to the effect of detachment. If you care personally for someone, that caring will weaken your powers. It will cause fear and doubt.

“When we encounter the Betrayers, we must work together but only as if we were alone. Each will bring in his or her skills to bear independently. They will not expect that because they have been corrupted and have fallen victims to the false earth belief that in the many resides the more power. That seems to be the case but it is a massive lie. The many produce less usable personal energy because on one hand the collective takes from the individual to maintain itself and on the other hand the individual is less likely to rely on himself, seeking empowerment from the collective, from the hope that the power that was taken from him is increased when turned into group power.

“You see how subtly debilitating that is? A percentage of energy is stolen from the individual to maintain the collective but of course the collective cannot give back as much energy to the individual when it needs it to fight for it, or to support it because it needs a large percentage of that stolen energy just to maintain itself and its supporting apparatus. It’s a net loss all around and the greater the collective, the more entropy or energy loss is created.

“Conclusion: the collective, any collective is less stable than the individual; more prone to corruption and unlike the individual who can change through self-sacrifice and personal empowerment, the collective that becomes corrupt cannot, ever, be cured. Its purpose is not to serve but to maintain itself and increase its own power. The result is simple: though it eats more and more of its supportive energies, it becomes incrementally weaker, unsteady, reprobate then collapses into a myriad of separate parts. What the people of this world fail to see is that none of the personal energies poured into the collective, the organization or group, can ever be recovered. All of it is lost forever, to man, to nature, to the world and to the concept we Alas call Life. That is what our teachers called entropy.’

“Ah, Lo, yes of course I understand it now. I sincerely thank you for this lesson; for reminding me of things we used to discuss. But what about Deanna and her werewolf? There is attachment there, surely?”

“I am no expert on those races Nal. An Elven maiden shapeshifter and a Werewolf, also shapeshifter, that is something new for me to have encountered. Thanks to my ignorance in this matter I am obliged to not interfere in that relationship. Those people have their own ways; their own powers which are quite effective. I think their “attachment” has a different interpretation than what I put on the analogous human interaction since they lack human feelings and emotions. Let me tell it to you this way, Nal: I sense a kind of innocence at play in them, but for all that, focused and deadly. Contrary to human collectives, their community, be it of two or more, is empowering to them, not dis-empowering or disruptive and draining of personal power.

“Like us they possess a power that does not belong to this world, but theirs is quite different from ours. I sense they were sent to us, that we are not alone to face the coming trial. I also sense we are about to learn much, not only from Wolf and Deanna but from our human friends, particularly a couple of young shepherds, one of whom seems to have disappeared, and from the girl-woman Genti who was introduced to us as a priestess of the old ways.”

The celebration or festivities were drawing to a close when they returned to the main room. They were greeted enthusiastically, Nal hugged by the men, particularly the younger ones, Lo clapped on the back or given the powerful handshake. There was happiness here, and acceptance of something the people had long needed, something that had been taken from them so cruelly in the endless wars of conquest and debilitating retaliations. Any conquered indigenous people know what this is saying.

It was close on to midnight when Nal and Lo were finally able to retire to their upstairs bedroom and enjoy some privacy. Neither had had much time to enjoy the food and Nal particularly felt the emptiness in her stomach but chose to focus on the happiness of being alone and together with Lo. ‘My husband of forever’ she thought and smiled as she undressed and slipped in the hard bed. “Lo? Are you joining me?”

Lo, being of the full Alay did not have the same needs as those of earth. He could go days without eating or sleeping, able to override the demands of a physical body. He motioned to Nal that he would be with her presently, opened their window shutters and listened to the world. Predictably from the distant woods came the call of the Werewolf followed by that of his mate. He sent a quick thought of the inner language that could not be read by the Betrayers for it did not carry beyond a few miles:

‘So, all is well out there?’ He caught a touch of a mind message from the Werewolf: ‘We greet. All well.’

Lo decided it was time to introduce Nal to his sphere. He called Nal to join him at the window which she did though yawning and hugging her naked body with her arms. He opened his great coat and she slipped into it, leaning against him, waiting for whatever he wanted to show her.

He opened his hand to show her the small white sphere he held, barely visible in the darkness. She reached for it but he caught her wrist and held back her hand.

“If you touched it, it would hurt you. You have not been introduced yet so it would take you to be someone intent on controlling or harming it. This is one of those instruments we used in our training before we came here – soon you will remember. We were not allowed to bring them here but one of the Betrayers did. You remember Tel’Madan don’t you? Remember how over time he changed towards us, becoming secretive? Remember his inappropriate, even lurid advances towards you in front of his own partner Miriel who was your closest friend among the Alaya? He possessed this sphere and used it to access information we could not know about, or have. He learned about power over rather than power for, from this very thing.

“Long after everyone had been killed and I was the only one left to counter the Betrayers’ evil, I met with Tel’Madan in a neutral space, on a trireme in the Mediterranean sea. We had both agreed to hire on as sailors and to discuss our impasse. We were sitting in the prow, wary of each other, talking low. Then he said something disgusting about you, how they had enjoyed taking turns raping and torturing you before they killed you. The malice in his voice was so intense I knew then I’d never be able to speak to him of the times before. This was pure evil. Then he made one mistake: he showed me the sphere he had stolen and brought with him to earth.

“In one swift move, I was always the fastest of us, I grabbed for it and jumped overboard, diving deep, inducing a trance that put my body to sleep, not even a heartbeat to locate. I remained under water until dark came, then I surfaced slowly. There was no sign of the trireme or any other ship so I floated, waiting, pondering. I had put the sphere in a pocket and now I carefully reached for it, remembering the burning pain I received when I grabbed it.

“We were familiar with these devices, though you may not remember. Each was programmed to one person only. This one however had been mucked with, probably shared between the two Betrayers so it was a bit flexible, its security having been compromised. I engaged it with my fingers closing in on it slowly. I confused it and finally took it in my hand and closed my hand on it as we used to do. At first there was no response and I didn’t mind, glad that I had removed one important weapon from our enemies. With nothing else to do but floating with the waves and feeling the great sea all around, I kept focusing on the sphere, asking my questions. Finally it responded. It threw out a weak light in answer to some of my questions, turned dark and refused to answer others.

“How were you rescued from the sea?”

“A trader sailed close enough I was able to grab a rope dangling from the side and in the cover of night, climb aboard and hide until they reached port. Disguised as a sailor I grabbed some bundles and followed the others onto the quay, dropped my bundles and disappeared in the crowds.

“But about the sphere, I’ve had over a thousand earth years to reprogram it to my own touch and mind; to make it my own. It has served me well.

“Now I wish to make it accept you as the only other who may hold it.”

“Could we not just make a duplicate for myself?”

“I doubt it. If it could have been done the Betrayers certainly would have done so.”

“Thanks for showing it to me Lo but I’m too tired to deal with that now. Come to bed?”

He mentally locked the device, put it back in its hiding place and followed his wife to bed. She was tired but still she turned to him for the sex. She had always possessed a powerful need for it and he certainly did not mind accommodating that need.

Morning came, bright and sunny, a typical harbinger of spring when hope for an end of winter rises.

There was no sign of Deanna or her Werewolf. Lo and Nal found many things to do around the cottage and barns, repairing, reinforcing, feeding the animals, enjoying a few moments of normal earth life on a farm. The shepherd boy Giles found endless numbers of excuses for leading or following Nal about the yards, explaining things that she did not need explaining and proudly introducing her to his own pig, “Rumpf.”

“I saved his life when he was just a piglet and a fox had grabbed him. With his burden the fox couldn’t run as fast as usual and I was able to catch him and beat him with a stick to make him abandon his prize. Master MacGruder was so taken with the story and laughed so hard that he gave it to me. “That’s my pig, Nal” he said proudly. “I own my own animal! I am a man of property.” She acknowledged his pride with a hug that made him feel as if his feet had left the ground. “I’m proud of you, Giles,” she said, then, “and perhaps later you and I can do some sparring, what say you man?”

With his heart thumping so hard and loud he thought she’d hear it he said,

“T’would be my honour to spar with ye, lass!” and thought himself quite the complete man for saying so. Nal smiled and chuckled. She certainly didn’t mind the boy’s attentions and she knew neither would Lo. ‘He’ll learn my boundaries soon enough and his broken heart, if it must be broken, will lead him on to a suitable partner.’

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 Gyre Sniffer

a short story by Sha’Tara
(inspired, in part, by the article, “Gyres” by Bucky McMahon
View story at

There are twelve of us aboard the “Gyre Sniffer” as we call our sloop. She isn’t pretty, but can take gale-force winds as if they be but a breeze. All her gear is top of the line. Our crew is the best of the best of the best as they so proudly say in the military.

Our job? Well, more of a lark, really, because we were all very well off and could spend money liberally, was to find the sea’s most horrific, deadly, large, stinky, poisonous floating garbage island. We had heard that it was guarded by a giant sea monster evolved from the materials it had found inside the floating plastic garbage.

We hadn’t had much results with satellite feeds or “Googling” our target and we didn’t care. Actually, we didn’t want to rely on advanced tech for this, we wanted it to be a sort of Moby Dick adventure. We were first of all, going to have as much fun as possible, even when we came face to face with the plastic sea monster and prepared to kill it.

It was Selina, the Portuguese girl, who was the first to throw her tablet and cell phone overboard. We remonstrated her about this, of course, but her reasoning was impeccable: they’re kin to what we’re searching for, follow them! We’d had a few drinks, the joints had been passed around and under the circumstances we thought she made total sense. That’s how serious we were.

We had managed a pretty good gender mix, five women, seven guys, everybody from late teens to mid thirties range and all of us totally freed from any sex taboos. When the sun shone we went about naked and enjoyed ourselves whenever in the mood, wherever we happened to be lying or standing, by reading and studying – yeah, right!

We ploughed on, using solar power to run our freezers, fridges, computers and minimal guidance systems, enough to avoid colliding with any cargo vessels we may encounter which to this point was none. We would get excited when we saw flotsam and made for it. But like Selina’s tablet and cell phone, they were on the way, not there yet. Since following was too slow, we calculated the flotsam’s direction and pushed on.

When high, a couple would jump in the sea for a dive and swim and more sex. Sharks? We figured in such an empty world they had better hunting nearer beaches. Yeah, we’d all seen “Jaws” – we even had a copy on a disk drive aboard. That’s how serious we were.

We weren’t so much interested in killing a monster. We certainly didn’t see ourselves as heroes. We were, to tell the truth, just a tiny segment of the earth’s richest “kids” utterly bored with our lives. We had met here and there, at parties, ski resorts, spas, even in board rooms, make that bored rooms, and in semi-drunken, stoned talk, had put this thing together. We ‘coagulated’ together as we discovered our mutual skills and sexual attraction.

We bought the sloop, had her completely overhauled, came up with the Moby Dick idea, geared ourselves up and met one foggy, dreary morning at some dead-beat marina along the Florida coast. We sailed, I mean that literally. We had thrown out the diesel engine and back-up gas engine also. We were going to sail, come hell or high water. If it meant it would be a one-way trip, so be it because nothing is worse than depression borne of absolute boredom.

Though we had this vague goal of finding a garbage patch and, mythologically speaking, finding a plastic sea monster circling and guarding it, the main point was to become the residents of an ark, the last and only remnants of humanity. So, we would enjoy ourselves, pleasure ourselves, to the hilt and to the dregs.

We ploughed on. The seas rose and fell as did our sloop. We got used to the sussuration of the sea against the hull and the music of the wind in the rigging. We got browner, tougher, smarter and quieter as the weeks passed. We began to see one-another, not just as fun partners or sex objects or casual acquaintances but as individuals; as people, as brains and minds with gorgeous bodies not just made for sex, but to admire and to remember, even in our dreams.

I dreamt of our elected captain, Sir Oliver Hampwell the Third, or “Cap’n” who was twelve years my senior.

As I thought about Cap’n I felt years slipping from my heart. I was getting younger and increasingly introspective. I found so much emptiness in my heart, I had to dig in our stores to find the classics Eugene and Mira had insisted on packing (though they had yet to pull out a single one.) I chose Moby Dick simply because I’d studied it in college but never actually read it. Certainly not to grasp the deep philosophy underlying the story. I read. I actually read. When approached by Darwin who’d been swimming and looked like he really had a ‘need’ I actually turned him down, me! “Not now, Darwin, I’m busy. Later maybe?”

“H’m… sure. I’ll find somebody else, no probs!”

That’s how it was with us. No one would ever insist on getting their way, they’d just find another way, someone else. I was ‘in love’ with all our guys actually, it’s just that I was discovering I developed ‘my moments’ when I had to belong to myself. It was nice to be desired, of course, but even more so to be understood and left alone in those times. I think one could say I was re-birthing myself, re-creating myself. Actually it would be more accurate to say that I was giving myself a life: I’d never really had one before.

We ploughed on. Less and less we listened to satellite radio feeds. There was so much traffic, so much noise, it jarred with our ocean-filled ears. We got more serious about life, more introspective, more eager to share and understand; to listen to another’s story. I would say, “Jesper?” and not “Hey you!” I wasn’t the only one changing, we were all going through it.

We became philosophical. Imagine that, us, the spoiled brats of a planetary elite, seeking the meaning of life.

“When we return to the real world, it’s going to be so different,” said the diminutive Suki. I wonder what I’ll do…”

“Maybe we won’t return. Maybe Suki, this is the real world and we all came out of an illusion. Maybe this ship will sink into the waves and we will become part of something so big we can’t even imagine it,” said Clive, our fabulous cook with the body of an Adonis. I didn’t want to see Clive drown, what a loss, it seemed to me then.

“We won’t sink, we’re past that now. We will sail, we will grow, we will learn more and more. We will all change, evolve. Best of all, we will seek and gain understanding. We will see signs and events in the sea and the sky no one ever saw before and that will make us both, certifiably crazy, and the wisest of people. We can never return to our old lives, you realize? Our past is non-existent. We can only go forward.” So spoke Cap’n, the wisest among us.

We ploughed on, the seas parting freely for the sloop’s proud prow. One sunny morning, with the spray shooting up, I walked up, naked, to the jib’boom to lie on it like a goddess figurehead pointing the ship in the direction of good luck, and a safe harbour. I made it, eyes full of salt spray and I saw the gyre-created island to starboard. I cried out, “Island to starboard!” and slowly worked my way back to a safe deck then joined in the work of rigging our change of direction.

We circled the plastic island for days, smelling the horror of it when downwind. We were indeed horrified. We thought there could never be a man-made disaster worst than this.

Then we heard the news as we were attempting to communicate our find to the “real” world: The US had just dropped nukes on North Korea and both Chinese and Russian nukes had annihilated the US surface navy and taken out most major cities of continental US and Europe. In automatic response, US and European nukes were heading for Russia and China.

Our monster had struck before we could confront it and it mocked us as it sang to us of the end of the world.

The Sword, the Bow and the Staff

(Well, here goes another section of the fast growing novel. If you have been following and reading, then hopefully you will enjoy this next “installment”)


Part I The Calling

Start section 12 (twelve)

Lo said goodbye to Nal and Donna and refusing to eat any more of their remaining victuals, told them that he intended, by his “super” speed to gain the village before nightfall and conduct his business in the shortest of time. He’d be back, he said, in a couple of days, three at the most. If something went wrong he’d contact Nal and try to explain. And he added, only to be mocked, “If food runs out, you’ll have to do some hunting, Nal.”

“Oh really? O master, thank you, I would have never, being no more than a silly woman with a deadly bow, been able to think of such a brilliant solution to hunger! I abase myself before my lord.”

“Now that was a truly idiotic thing to say on my part wasn’t it. I apologize to you both for my patriarchal hubris.”

Like a ghost he disappeared down the side of the hill. They heard nothing more.

“Oh, Nal, what can I do now? I love Lo! I love him with all of my heart! What do I do when he returns? How can you even look at me and not hate me?”

“Donna, listen. I love Lo for eternity. I have eternity with him, you do not. You cannot hurt me by loving him. All women love Lo, Donna. It’s something in him that calls to them. All women want a Lo for a husband, and you, a nubile fourteen, how could you not? Of course you love him and desire him. I want you to love him. Give yourself to him while you can, be a gift to him to thank him for delivering you from Torglynn and other things you will some day realize. Come, let us hold each other and pretend we have him between us.”

So they did. So they also professed an undying love for one-another as only some women can do with each other and also some too-few men. Or the kind of women who truly share a common lover. The kind of love that, it bears mentioning, the Christian God who recently entered these lands, ostensibly abhors. And no wonder, for in such love there grow fields of acceptance, understanding and peace. No God of lightning, thunder, bloodshed and fiery condemnation could tolerate such weakness, nor wimpy followers and disciples who allowed it to be and turned a blind eye. ‘Death to them! Death to their corruption! Death to their families too! Death, death, death! And then hell for eternity!’

O, do you hear the thunder play across the darkened skies? Tremble!

“Are you ready to start learning swordplay, Donna?”

“How can we, there’s only one short sword for us.”

“Sorry girl, but that sword is never used for training! That sword is alive; it has a spirit in it that guides it. It is a killer sword. If I used it you would die instantly, even if I tried to hold the blow, I couldn’t. When I handle that sword for a fight, I become the sword, quite mindless, not human at all. I become a killing machine. No one has ever been able to beat me when I’ve used my sword, even in the two-on-one events when I am the ‘one.’ I always win. The same as with the bow, I cannot miss. When I use my own weapon I become the weapon, even with the dagger if I use it in a fight.”

“How do you keep them so sharp? I saw you pull your sword and pass a piece of cloth over it and the cloth parted so cleanly of its own weight, just by passing over the blade.”

“I have a stone tucked away in another part of the scabbard. I was shown how to use it properly, sparingly. That blade is made of a steel no longer in use on this world. It hardly ever needs touching and does not get used up. That is important. Many people destroy good swords by running their stones too harshly or much too often on the cutting edges. Swords so treated die; they lose their temper and become useless. Never buy a used sword from a street vendor, Donna. They come mostly from returned or retired Guardsmen and they are dead swords. Now let’s go and cut ourselves some short sticks of green wood and do some serious sparring. There is no more time to waste. Oh look up there! See that wolf on the rise over there?”

“Oh yes. He’s so big! Shouldn’t you get your bow? Will he attack us?”

“No, he’s a friend of mine. Let’s go see him.”

Saying that, Nal put down her staff and tucked her dagger in her sleeve, then walked deliberately towards the big grey animal who stood stiff, waiting. She approached him to within a yard, then indicating to Donna to imitate her, she got down on her knees and once more opened her hands to the wolf, as did Donna. The animal realized that Donna was a part of Nal and he bowed to both of them, walked stiffly to Nal, went down and again laid his head in her lap, waiting for the pleasant healing touch and the ear massage. Donna very gingerly approached on her knees and having gained the attention of the wolf, offered to caress his pelt. He acquiesced by closing his eyes and letting out a loud breath through his nostrils. Then both healers went over the wolf’s body, pulling out thistles, burdocks and devil’s claws from the lustrous fur. When they had finished, they indicated to their new friend that they had to go by slowly standing up. The wolf stood up also and gave his head nod for thank you, turned around and proudly walked away.

“Oh, Nal, that was so wonderful, so amazing. How did you meet him?”

“Last night. At first I was just a convenient prey for him, but I taught him otherwise. He’s quite young, no more than three years I reckon, so he has much to learn yet. I do hope he’s not foolish enough to trust humans after this though. Now to work girl, we’ve wasted much time.”

She found a thicket of reasonably straight green shoots and slashed through four of them, cutting them sword length and limbing them as they walked back to the cave. Then began Donna’s training. After about an hour she had enough. Her hands were blistered as she used both hands or either hands in trying to parry Nal’s endless attacks. She was covered in sweat and her legs and arms were aching and shaking.

“I never thought using a sword was such hard work! How do you do it?”

“Years of training since I was a child. My mother insisted and our master agreed though she was his legal slave as he loved her in his twisted sort of way. He got me trainers to teach me, and my mother knew a thing or two about sword play also. The master enjoyed watching my mother and I sparring. He often made us do it naked and after, when she was covered in sweat he took her down to the floor and had sex with her. I had excellent training in more ways than can be imagined and after my mother died, I continued on my own or sometimes with another slave girl, doing much the same for him until finally I escaped.”

“Oh? Why would you leave him?”

“Well, he owned my mother and me and naturally after she died he declared I was now his servant and would become his number one concubine. His wife of course hated me with an unbridled hatred and beat me as often as she dared though he’d beat her severely if she bruised me. He liked undressing me and looking at me, feeling my skin, fondling my small breasts as they developed, testing their growth, pinching my nipples. Then his hand would move down slowly over my stomach and down, caressing my pubis. I wasn’t for that sort of thing and I’d get all stiff which made him angry and he would slap me. I knew what would soon come, I’d certainly learned as he did it with my mother. It excited me but I didn’t want it with him, he’d been with my own mother and there was evil in him. I had a temper and I knew for certain I would kill the wife and if he went beyond the touching, I would kill him. Then I’d be hanged, after being publicly whipped first. I knew the rules, but what could they do if I disappeared? How much of a search would he pay for?

“So I packed as lightly as I could, taking only my bow and some arrows, sword and dagger, all having belonged to my mother. I also took enough food for a day, all of which of course being a slave would be considered stealing. If caught I would be subjected to even more terrible physical punishment than a whipping, involving cutting and burning, probably dismembering.

“I slipped into an ox cart filled with hay and thus began my life as an independent fourteen year old girl, alone in a violent man’s world, essentially an escaped slave, something I never allowed myself to forget. I was a runaway slave, a fugitive from justice. How I loath that word! Tricks of survival came quickly and easily to me. I learned how to steal purses while distracting men with my body. I learned how to enter archery contests, making sure always that I lost some shots if it meant the bets would rise and competitors didn’t suspect I was a sharp shooter. Eventually I found a man whom I stayed with as long as he could teach me staff work. He insisted on bedding me which didn’t matter, I wasn’t a virgin, I’d had that taken when I was only eleven summers.”

“Only eleven? Did you look older then?”

“No. A Lord Bishop came to the master’s house to transact some business for the Church, the master dealt in precious stones and very high priced jewellery, and part of the transaction included me.

“I know your reputation, that you like them pure, fresh and young. This one,” he said taking me and making me stand in front of the Bishop, “is from my personal stock and guaranteed to never having been with a man. You can have her for the night, per our agreement.”

My mother, horrified for me, tried to intervene. “She’s my daughter, master, please don’t…!” He hit her so hard she went flying and lost consciousness. I would have rushed to her but that bishop held me by the upper arm so hard I had a large black bruise for weeks thereafter.

“These female slaves tend to forget their place at times and need to be reminded of their status. Sorry about the fracas.”

He clapped his hands and two of our male slaves came and carried my mother away. She never really recovered completely from that blow.

The Bishop looked me over then ordered me to strip, which I did, trembling with fear and hatred. He fondled me then ordered me to walk him to the bedroom where the very painful rest followed. I swore if I ever found that priest, I would kill him. I still hold that vow. I know the city and which cathedral he’s from. I won’t forget to avenge my mother.

“When I’d learned all that Zachary, that being the man’s name, seemed able to teach me of staff work and he became more demanding and abusive I left him also, travelling to another town with a detachment of the guard by pretending I wanted to join up and seducing a couple of the other volunteers.

“I got bolder as I enjoyed my freedom and gained a reputation for being deadly with the sword. I entered two-on-one contests and won those. Contests to the death I already mentioned and obviously won those. Two years I was on the road, just surviving, then I met Lo in a situation where things could have gone very bad for me, but between the two of us we got out of it by doing some necessary culling of some very creepy nobility. Then, both of us disguised, he as an old man, and can he ever do that trick, and I as a little girl, or small boy depending, we left that place and I just went along with him, or maybe he enticed me, I still don’t know for sure, but we hit it off in a sort of strange off-hand way and had some fun for a short time. Then life got away on us, giving us a series of adventures and here we are! Let’s get those blisters healed and eat.”

“You’re only sixteen years old? I thought you were much older, not by the way you look ‘cause you look even younger than I, but by your ways and your understanding of the world. You sound like a very old person to me, so wise. I need to know, since you could not have been a slave around here, how do you know our tongue and ways so well?”

“Simple enough. I wandered up in these parts some eight months ago and made friends with many. I have the same ability as Lo to learn languages, and I made a fast reputation among the locals with my sword and bow skills. In four months I had learned enough to pass as a native but for my face and skin colour, but for that, I told my story that my father had been a faerie lord and my mother a slave from the lands beyond the great deserts. This explained many aspects of my nature and skills and satisfied most. I was never accused of being a sorceress or a witch and if the priests had tried anything the local swains would have hidden me. Before I returned with Lo from the southlands, I had many in love with me and many hopefuls among the older unmarried boys. This kind of life, Donna, is like living on a fast stream, it never stops. I learn and grow and discover but I’m always trying to catch up to myself, never quite succeeding. It’s wild and exciting but also tiresome. I must find a place where I can slow down or this earth body will wear out before it sees its fortieth summer!

“Anything else you want to know? I’m hungry and thirsty.”

Donna just smiled and shrugged to indicate that yes, there were many more things she wanted to know but they would wait. They ate and fed their fire, then tried the water in the boot and thought better of it after tasting it. ‘Eewwww, disgusting!’ they both exclaimed. They drained the boot and put it by the fire to dry.

Donna brightly said, “If you want a water container, I can easily make one out of bark you know. We do this all the time when we go berry hunting in the wilds. All the children of the village know how to made water tight baskets…”

“Well, thanks for that information, Donna. We could have used it yesterday you know.”

“But that’s what so funny. Yesterday I couldn’t remember that I could do this. Everything I remembered was so fuzzy, as if I’d gotten kicked in the head by a horse. I’m sorry but I really didn’t know you needed a container yesterday. I’ll make you one.”

End section 12 (twelve)

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

Start section 11 (eleven)

As the three exited the place, leaving the bodies for whatever predators roamed these dreary places, Lo, somewhat relieved at the grisly discovery knowing that an ambush on the trail was now less likely, mentioned the need to prepare their camp for the night.

“I sense our good fortune in weather is about to change. It will get wet and perhaps it will snow. We need to find suitable shelter where the two of you can stay and keep a fire while I walk to the village and get us provisions and suitable clothing for you, Donna. You will need warm underclothes and your own shirts, a pair of leather pants and an overcoat, certainly better shoes.”

“I ain’t complaining with this attire. Better ‘n going naked. What became of my own clothes, wasn’t I wearin’ any when ye found me?”

“Actually ye weren’t and there were none to be found. We think it was faerie work. They were about to take ye into their world, they were, and no human passes there with clothes on. Faeries don’t wear human clothes, goin’ naked most of the time or wearing leaves ‘n twigs ‘n grasses ‘n bits and pieces of birds’ egg shells and snail shells too, ‘n flowers a plenty if they want to decorate their bodies or hair when havin’ a gatherin’. Can’t have clothes interferin’ with the wings and dance flight, can we.

“True Donna, ye’re certainly pretty enough to attract the faeries’ attention, ye are. No surprise there. Maybe t’was ‘em that took you from the battle an’ brought ye up in these parts, then when we showed up, they left you and vanished. Can’t trust faeries, they be even less trustworthy than humans.” Nal delivered that story without hesitation, convincing Donna that that was exactly what must have happened. Even Lo was mesmerized by her story telling, half believing what she was saying.

The explanation satisfied Donna for the time being. She was too excited and happy to question deeply what was going on. She had two new friends who were the most amazing people she’d ever believed could exist, let alone meet! Soon she would be dressed in the brown leathers of the woodsmen and women who lived much as the faeries did, wild and independent in the fastness of the northern highlands, or so she’d been told and liked to believe. She’d be travelling to lands she could only have dreamed of.

Oh yes, accept, enjoy, feel, experience and throw worry to the winds. She wanted a new life and this was the way to it. ‘I’ll be a reed by a wild mere in the late days o’ spring bending gently in the soft, scented breezes’ she thought to herself as she followed along the trail behind Nal and Lo who were conversing in their strange harsh tongue she understood hardly a word of. She didn’t care, she wouldn’t care. ‘I’m like a new-born an’ my life is just begun,’ she added with a satisfied ‘huh!’ and ‘So be it!’

It was Nal who discovered the cave, high off the trail and partially hidden by clumps of twisted pines. The opening was blocked by a large boulder but all three could easily enough squeeze past the entrance to take stock of their temporary home. The brightly burning branch torch revealed an empty cavern, quite dry, with a flat sandy floor. The narrow entrance had ensured that no large predator would use the cave for its lair. Even a wolf or a wild dog would find it almost impossible to negotiate the entrance as it was a long tapered shape that widened as it rose. A four-legged animal would fall in the v and be immediately trapped, unable to move forward or back.

A perfect abode for the three adventurers and they were delighted, particularly so when Nal discovered that the cave, as it sloped back to the far end, had a small opening that she could squeeze through and it opened to the outside, hidden among a tangle of thick shrubbery. So if they needed to make an escape they weren’t trapped in a box, but would be able to slither out unseen. Another tactical advantage of the cave: the walls weren’t smooth but spaced with large fallen boulders and rocks that provided perfect cover if arrows were shot in or spears thrown.

Fire, of course, was more of a problem since the tell-tale smoke was unavoidable. It was decided to have it near the main entrance so that if anyone tried to enter they would have to negotiate the fire and smoke, possibly causing a delay in any attack. Otherwise it was the best they could hope for and certainly Nal and Lo had been in tighter circumstances.

“Since there’s only room enough for two at a time in the bedrolls, who’s taking first watch?” asked Lo. He got a wry smile from Nal and then Donna offered to do it.

“Well it seems safe enough as we’re not being sought or pursued, and if I did sense something I can just slither back in and give the alarm. You two haven’t been together since you found me and that isn’t fair to any of us. I makes me feel guilty and deprives you of loving. Can we eat if there’s any food left? I’m starving. Oh, is there water up here? That’s one thing I can’t sense. Nal? Do you sense water? Lo? See, I’m also dreadfully thirsty…

“There is water nearby but we all have to go to it… unless we use Nal’s boots to carry it but I think we’ve already vetoed that idea?”

They went out in search of a stream and found one in a rock cleft. No way to reach it except with a boot, so it was Nal’s boot that went down on the rope to dip for the water. Lo took a sip and declared it good. Then Donna sipped and sipped until her thirst was eased. Then it was Nal’s turn. She scraped around in the shoe, dumped what remained and dipped her shoe once again in the stream below, bringing it up almost full. She sipped some then said,

“If we’re careful not to shake this too much, we’ll take it back to the cave for a back up. Anyone thirsty enough will not mind a bit of foot taste. This is war after all. But why did I listen to MacGruder? Stupid, stupid. At least I should have packed an empty skin, obviously.”

“Equally my fault. Let’s go eat and Donna, I gratefully accept your offer of guard duty. First time on guard?”

“Yes it is and I want the experience. When you’re gone it will be but Nal and I, so it will be long stretches. I do wish I had something to defend myself with though.”

They ate quickly and again, sparingly. When finished and re-packed, Donna slipped out, taking Nal’s staff when it was offered. Nal and Lo undressed and slipped into the roll, happy to be together once more. About halfway through the night, Nal came out and after taking back her staff, asked Donna to join Lo in the bedroll.

“I need to ask,” said Donna before she went to settle beside Lo and cuddled with him, “Don’t you mind your husband in bed with another woman, a very young and according to things I’ve heard, sexually desirable girl?”

“Do you want to make love to him, or just cuddle with him? He will give you whatever you desire and no, I won’t mind at all. Our relationship is not the usual human one. We are indeed wizards and this bedding thing isn’t that important since we will never have children of our own. We cannot form families you see?”

“Oh, but I cannot lose my virginity, not before I marry!”

Quickly, Nal stifled a stupid reply and instead said, “True that. Then don’t. Sleep well and know you are safe and loved. Yes, Lo does love you. If you made love to him he wouldn’t treat you as just a casual thing. You are with us now, a part of us. Go ahead, go to bed! Do whatever you are prompted by your mutual natures. It is always the best thing to do when thus pushed, knowing it is not harming or hurting any others.”

Under the partial cloud cover with stars still twinkling coldly in the distant eastern skies, Nal pondered her current life, the twists and turns in it, and the coming challenge of a lifetime. She didn’t remember much of the Alay of the days before she had been killed but she sensed the very real danger of coming face to face with such powerful entities. They would possess many of her own powers and skill, plus they’d had millennia to develop some of their own, likely hidden from Lo’s scrutiny. Who were they, really? What were they doing, right now, wherever they were? How could she find out without Lo knowing so she’d have a few surprises of her own to throw at them and surprise him?

In the dark, she stood up and began pacing, moving her staff slowly at first, then faster and faster until she knew it was as much of a blur as was Lo’s when he fought with his. ‘I have the speed now, but I need the mind, the mind. I need the power to travel space and time to see things, things that were, things that are, things that will be. I must do this.’ Still the staff whipped about as she soliloquized.

Then she saw something on another rock, a movement, a shadow, and she felt the animal: a wolf, no doubt of that. The distance between the cave mouth was farther than the distance between herself and the wolf. She reached for her bow and realized she’d opted to leave bow and sword in the cave. She had her staff, not even her dagger as she was barefoot, one of her boots being used as a water pitcher! ‘Oh, how wonderfully stupid’ she thought.

Well, she was good with a staff and this speed thing needed testing. She faced the wolf, crouching in a sign of attack. The animal responded predictably, charging for her throat, for a sure and quick take down and kill. She parried the heavy blow from the animal’s rush and jump but was thrown off her feet. Spinning wildly to face the returning charge she spun her staff in windmill fashion, forming a shield in front of herself. The wolf jumped into the spinning arms of the staff and was neatly knocked off. She debated if she should kill him but realized this wasn’t a human being, just a hungry animal. Defeated, he would just slink away and not return.

She waited, touching him lightly, healing his deep cut from the blow of the staff. When he came to, she backed away, but did not stand. She chose a kneeling posture indicating submission and placing the staff between them on the stone, she opened her hands to the animal. He looked at her, sniffed her hands, then slowly dragged himself forward and laid his big head in her lap. She touched him again, then gently massaged the head behind the ears. The animal whimpered and lifted his right paw which she took in her own hand, then she bent down and placed her own head on the wolf’s. After a while the big animal stood up, looked down at Nal, rolled and lowered his head in a ‘thank you’ motion and slowly walked away to disappear in the night.

‘Yes! Yes I have the power now; I have it back! She looked around at the dark world and said, ‘thank you also!’

She did more introspection then, going deeper inside her mind, testing her spirit. She saw herself as twins more clearly now. She decided to name her fighter twin, Nah-La F; her healer twin Nah-La H. The letters glowed in her mind and meant many more things to her. The F meant Fearless and Forward and Forever; the H meant Helper and Honour and Happiness.

Then she heard him so clearly in her mind. “Nal? Did you say something?” “Lo? You can hear me in your mind?” “Yes, but you woke me up!” “I’m really very sorry but I’m so excited! We can talk without talking. I can hear you in my mind!”

“Please Nal, shut it down, right now! Don’t ask why, wait until I’m with you to explain. Shut it down!”

Crestfallen, she waited almost in tears. Why was he so cruel to her when she was having another of the greatest experiences of her life?

She heard him sliding through the tight entrance and stepping towards her. He came and sat beside her, took her hand in his and whispered gently,

“Nal, what you just did is truly marvellous, indeed it is. I thought you could do it, but of course there’s always those doubts. But now listen. These others? They can not only hear such talk as we were doing, they can pinpoint its location if it goes on long enough. I don’t know how proficient they remain at this, whether they’ve gained or lost, but we cannot chance it. We need this for emergency communication but I must teach you how to misdirect it so even if they can understand what we’re saying they won’t know where it is coming from.

“But no matter what we do, no matter how careful we are, they will realize that there is a new Alaya and that she is with me. This will set them hunting in earnest and they will do it together now, or as soon as they know for sure that you exist. If they realize you are Nah-La they will move fast and furiously because they will know that any reincarnation of an Alaya and partnered with a living Alay means they will both have much greater power, combining the old powers with the chaotic, dangerous and murderous energies of the Earthian species with their own mutual understanding and trust. They will seek to prevent your powers from having a chance to grow, develop and you learning to use and control them effectively. They are sure to come on the attack. So the longer we can keep them seeking and confused, the more time we have to develop our mutual powers to effectively confront and defeat them.”

“I understand now. How do I misdirect this mind talk?”

“That is not so difficult. Before you communicate, think of a place far away, somewhere, anywhere, it doesn’t have to be real but you have to make it real. There’s a wide prairie in front of you, or you’re on a ship, or in a building in a city and there are noises in the streets. These images you place in with your thought forms you’re sending me. You could even be flying, it doesn’t matter as long as you are not sending images of where you actually are. They can trace that through the earth, I know because I can.

“Now one more thing. If they use this communication, either between themselves, or trying to contact one of us, never, ever, respond but listen and watch and learn. At the beginning when I still believed they could be brought back I did respond and tried to meet with them. Each attempt was a death trap from which I barely escaped. After three attempts I stopped, realizing they were lost and eventually either I would kill them or they would kill me. They left no option.”

“Thank you, Lo. I know what to do now and I will, faithfully. You can rely on that side of me anyhow.”

They spent the next hour just holding each other and watching the faint glow of daylight begin to break in the east. From their vantage point it was a glorious sight even if by now most of the sky from the west was darkened by clouds and fog had risen in the lower vales. It wasn’t terribly cold and they didn’t seem to notice in any case. Love, it would seem, is more than blind.

End section 11 – (eleven)