Category Archives: Suspense

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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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

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)

The Sword, the Bow and the Staff-part V

Therefore continuing on with a story I sincerely hope some of you find entertaining, perhaps even intriguing (I dare hope!) I’m introducing this part V with an interesting quote:

Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.” — Flannery O’Connor

They began to climb in earnest then as the hills became steeper and lacerated with glens requiring the agility of the sheep to get in and out of. Although the sun was weak, it being winter, they were sweating in their heavy leather coats and pants. Their boots began to chafe and Nal removed hers, choosing to walk barefoot. Soon Lo imitated her and they laughed at their dusty, grimy feet. The ground was dry but not hard on their tough soles and the rocks were smooth and flat. Obviously both of them were quite comfortable walking barefoot. The sheep marched on up eagerly, sometimes braying and listening for answers. Then move on again. Obviously they sensed that the rest of their herd was in the neighbourhood.

Suddenly the sheep stopped, all ears pointing forward. As suddenly Lo and Nal armed themselves, knelt down behind the sheep, and waited also. Five men erupted from a small dip in the hillside, armed with bows strung and notched. Nal responded by pointing at one man’s heart then slightly lifting her bow to adjust for the drop. The men couldn’t shoot without hitting the sheep so tried to frighten the herd out of the way.

That’s when Lo called out to them, “We’re returning your sheep, can’t you see? We found them wandering by a creek about eight miles below. They had been chased by a pack of wild dogs. Send someone down if you want, you’ll find the dead dogs. We have no interest in your sheep, we’re seeking a pass to get to the sea and the port there. Will you let us pass?”

Meanwhile Nal had slipped down and found a convenient rock to hide behind and setting up her usual arrows, got ready to dispatch the men if they proved unwilling to give ground.

She called out, “I’ve got you sighted. I will have at least three of you dead before you can respond, and I will get the rest of you. I’m Beanna the archer, you know my name and my reputation with bow and sword. Don’t be idiots.”

“Beanna? It’s that a trick. Beanna went south for the winter three months ago. You’ll be sorry for lying to us!”

“No Cedric you fool, you’ll be the sorry one. I got married, I came back with my husband Lo here. You hurt him and you will experience the full extent of my wrath, mon. Put your weapons down and let me show myself so you’ll know it’s me. Guy? Lil’ Cos? Listen to me now, you don’t want to play this game with me.”

The bows were lowered and Nal came out from behind her rock. Lo stood up but kept his staff firmly in both hands as the shepherds or whomever they were still held onto rusty cutlasses. He felt truly sorry for them when he saw their pathetic weapons. Both he and Nal walked slowly towards the five men, who it turned out were really two men and three boys.

Finally, the weapons were discarded and both sides introduced themselves. The shepherds were the two men, Cedric and Guy, the three boys, Lil’ Cos, Giles and Roland. They wore sleeved leather jerkins and typical but non-tartan long kilts and high leather boots. Their worn and cracked sword sashes were of leather and worn over their right shoulder, bow and quiver on the back. Obviously these men, though ill armed, had received some basic guard training.

It was Cedric who first spoke, and he addressed Nal, as Beanna of course. “Married now, are ya, gal? That news is going to break the heart of a dozen hopefuls in these parts, including mine.” He looked at Lo and winked lasciviously, hinting at some understanding between men and a pretty and very desirable lass, as in, maybe we can do business?

Lo, not at all familiar with the local ways, let Nal do the talking. She spoke in a sing-song accent he found pleasurable to listen to. Obviously this was her home, or had been for some time. She talked a blue streak about certain individuals’ health; a cottage being rebuilt; a baby that hadn’t been well when she left which sadly had subsequently died; the current priest or preacher for the kirk; the clan’s movements against a growing threat from poachers; some girl’s upcoming and disputed spring marriage to a chief’s son; and things he did not understand at all.

Finally he tapped Nal on the shoulder and asked her if she could find them food and a room for the night.

“Just catching up to some news and gossip from home, Lo. I will inquire about room and board.”

This she asked in a strange dialect he understood not a word of. She gestured, pointed to a hill, laughed then turned to Lo.

“There’s a large cottage up ahead behind yonder hill that has an upstairs room we can rent. They’ll make us our meals, all for a price, not cheap. How are our funds in gold? These people don’t deal in local currencies as their value changes with the weather and invasions. It’s sheep, or gold, and we’re a bit short on sheep at the moment unless… no, wait.”

She spoke to Cedric in the same dialect, raising her voice once or twice, pointing at the sheep, and the trail they’d walked up. He recognized the word “dogs” and understood when she pulled out her sword to demonstrate. Then she turned to Lo and smiled.

“They agree, we deserve payment for saving their sheep and bringing them back. We get two ewes and we get to pick them.”

Lo looked over the herd. “Ewes, huh? How do you tell them apart? They’re all just bundles of stinky dirty wool!”

“Boy sheep, girl sheep, Lo. You don’t tell them apart by their wool; you have to check their equipment, or lack thereof.” She laughed at him.

“I was teasing you. It’s so nice to see and hear you laugh, Nal, it pleases me so much. Why do they want us to take ewes?”

“There are no spare rams; it’s winter and meat is at a premium. The rams go first except for those needed to service the ewes. So we get two ewes, one for you, one for me, for services rendered. All we need do is pick two, put a rope on them and walk them to the cottage where we will dine and sleep. Just out of curiosity, do we have any gold Lo?”

“Some but it’s another item we want to use sparingly. I’ll need two coins to melt into rings. Is there a forge around here?”

“Oh yes there is. It’s a small one, and we’ll probably have to melt the gold and forge the rings ourselves. I doubt the local blacksmith handles anything but iron. He wouldn’t know what to do with gold, probably refuse to touch it due to the liability. If he lost it he could never pay us back.”

“We’ll rent some forge time then, if the ewes will carry our credit so far. We’ll do the melting and reshaping ourselves. I’ve worked with gold and it sounds like you have also?”

“Yes I have some training in melting and re-shaping gold artifacts.”

Mocking: “Local girls’ sideline, is it?”

Ignoring his tone and seriously: “In a way. Passing raiders trust us more than the men and the boys in returning the right weight, plus we have nimbler fingers. I’ve never forged a ring though. Have you?”

“I’ve done silver rings but with the proper tools. This will be interesting.”

“Maybe I could use Allaya magic on the gold, huh?”

“That, Nal, is not something you should talk about lightly, or anywhere someone could be eavesdropping. Some places and people know about the Allay and Allaya. Remember they were once worshipped all over. Claiming to be an Allay or Allaya could be bad business, like impersonating God or the Devil. We’ve both seen people burned alive. It’s not something I care to experience, at least not because of carelessness or a loose tongue.”

“Yes, of course. I’m sorry Lo. Just a couple of days ago I was still “of the people” and such jokes were quite permissible. I accept that it no longer is. I may forget, however.”

“Yes, but try not to. You are now in process of transitioning out of your Earth roots. The faster you learn, the quicker will be your transformation and the sooner you will have access to, and control of, you new powers. You are no stranger to hard self discipline so you are ideally suited to complete whatever this is we’ve both set in motion. Remember this: in this entire world, and possibly in this entire universe, we may be the only two of our kind in existence. Sobering thought that, what do you think?”

“I don’t want to think about that side of it, it frightens me and I’m not usually easily frightened. This world, your world, well, it’s unsettling. I don’t know how to take it and when I mentally enter it, I don’t know who I am either.”

“It’s not just my world, Nal, it’s our world. It’s a world we’re creating ourselves, altogether on our own and it’s a newborn child. You must enter it as its mother and teach it, guide it, even command it. You must shape it.”

Turning her back to him and looking at the ground: “I-will-TRY!”

“I push you too hard, sorry. Let’s find our sheep and our abode, yes?” He gave her a hug and it all fell into place once again for her. They chose a couple of ewes from the herd, put Lo’s escape rope around their necks and after taking leave of the shepherds, walked on up the hill towards their destination. The large cottage was a two-story affair near a small lake. A man came out to meet them and take the sheep from them. He seemed quite gracious and happy with the payment for food and lodging. After making sure he’d get his rope back, Lo and Nal walked up to the low front door of the stone building where a woman welcomed them inside.

Only when they smelled the cooking did they realize how hungry they both were. They were shown to a second table in the large dining room and after putting pack and weapons on the floor, sat side by side on one of the rough benches and waited, just looking at each other, saying nothing. All manners of things could have been said but there were others around and beside, Nal’s mind was already reeling from overloads of information. So they took the time available to make love with their eyes.

The boys, Giles and Roland, came into the room and seeing Nal, came over and asked if they could sit at their table.

“There’s wolves about so we’re told to keep the herd in the big barn tonight. We’ll eat here, then sleep in the barn. Mind us eating with you?”

“Nal?” She nodded to Lo and replied, “No, that will be fine with us but we’re quite tired and mean to retire as soon as supper is done.”

Roland: “You don’t have a ring, Beanna?”

“Actually when I got married, I also changed my name. We didn’t think Beanna was appropriate any longer, due to my reputation. My name is Nal. The reason I don’t have my ring, and neither does my husband is, we had some hard times, we needed the gold, so we sold them. We would really like to have rings again though. If we found some gold, could we have new ones made at the forge?”

She made her story sound so believable and told it so smoothly that the two boys were completely taken in. What reason would they have not to believe her?

Giles: “Your name is Nal? That’s a strange name, that is.”

“For around here, I know, but not where we were at the time, far into the south. We heard it was the name of a princess on the continent and Lo wanted to marry a princess. So I gave him one!”

They laughed at that story, it was a good one. Still, young Giles moon-eyed Nal, not quite willing to accept that she was now lost to him and his boyish hopes.

Roland: “Won’t be easy to find any gold around here this time of year. Not many travel the highlands for fear of sudden snows and bandit raids are more common. You could try to lower village, down in Glowmere. There may be some gold for sale there or even rings.” By way of explanation he added, “Winter, many die.”

The food was served along with stout and after appropriate grace given, all attention went to eating. After the meal and both Giles and Roland had lit their pipes, a subdued conversation started again but soon waned. Nal was almost asleep when Lo nudged her, gave his regrets to the shepherd boys and they both walked up the solid wooden stairs to the upper room that would be their first bedroom as a married couple. The door was wide open. He held Nal back from entering, and after gently placing her weapons’ bundle on the floor, and likewise his pack and staff, he picked her up and carrying her to the bed, put her down slowly, carefully, as if she’d been made of fine china.

“My wife, you are the second, in time not in value, most precious bundle I have ever had the pleasure of carrying in my arms. May the joy you give me in this moment endure into eternity and may I never have to spend a single day away from you.”

“Oh darling Lo, thank you. I desire nothing else for myself either.” She snuggled into the warm bed that had been heated with hot water bottles. “Help me undress?” He did so, admiring her small by perfect female body, then turned to retrieve their belongings and put them within easy reach. When he returned to his bride, she was already sound asleep.

He smiled to himself as he covered her and as was his habit, went to the dormer window and opened the shutters to take stock of the surroundings. He noted the drive, the narrower paths to barn, smaller outbuildings and to the fields and woods below. He watched the water rippling on the small lake, noting with satisfaction that it wasn’t cold enough to have frozen it over. The reflected starlight danced on the water. He heard a wolf give one lonely cry, and an owl respond. Strange, haunting country, he thought to himself, but certainly not lacking in natural beauty. As to the people in it, he wasn’t so sure.

He reached into his pack and brought out the little orb, held it in his right hand and enclosed it with his fingers, turning his hand over. Then it all happened as before. He held his left hand, palm out in a gesture of greeting and waited. Gradually, his hand became light from the glow of the orb but this time the colour changed. It went from pale blue to a deep red. He stared at the light, waited until it changed to a white flash of opalescent rainbow colours.

Satisfied, he put the precious out-worldly gem away and pondered the answers he’d just received. One: the pale blue meant good weather and good luck, long term. Two: deep red meant they would be attacked and involved in a bloody fight, something that did not surprise him, and there would be a fire, or fires. Three: the opalescent rainbow colours told him he had once again found his soul mate. As he had suspected, Beanna was Nal’s reincarnation as an Earthian. Having died while still entrapped within the evil of earth she could not have returned home, so she opted to stay on earth and work out her cleansing somehow. Now he had his answer also to Beanna’s deadly skill with the short bow. It had been Nal’s weapon of choice then and she never missed a target. But how had she managed to find her bow again after so many years? For he knew that no one manufactured bows such as the one Beanna/Nal possessed, in these times. Did her mother find it on that distant island she came from, and bring it to the northern continent along with her sword?

He closed the shutters and went back to look upon the small sleeping woman and found himself literally shaking with a joy he could barely suppress. He wanted to shake her awake and tell her his amazing news but realized, just in time, she would not understand, not yet. Plus, if she fell asleep rather than indulge herself in sex and the loving she so desired and obviously enjoyed, she was certainly dead tired. If there was an attack that night, she’d need all the sleep and rest she could get now.

His orb could never tell him the times of events it predicted, but he suspected the attack would be soon, likely this night, and upon both the cottage and the barn. He pictured the barn with its grass roof burning, along with the shepherds and the sheep trapped inside.

With a deep sign, another look at Nal, he took his staff, balanced it carefully, then walked out of the room, closing the door silently and went down the stairs. The fireplace was almost extinguished and there was no one around. A dog or two sniffed at the outside door. He opened it slowly, passed his hand over the two pit bulls to calm them and they followed him to the barn as if they’d been house pets and had known him forever. He pounded on the heavy door, waited until Roland, covered in straw and with sleepy eyes, confronted him.

“What? Oh, it’s you sir. Is something wrong?”

“There could be. I have a feeling we are going to be attacked tonight. I would like you and Giles to take the animals down the field and hide them in the small glen there. Keep an eye on them. If we need you I’ll whistle thus,” and he gave an ear-piercing whistle that made the boy wince.

“Aye! I’ll certainly hear that right enough. But sir, there be wolves down there at night. I’ve seen their movement, times, I have.”

“Take the dogs, they can take care of the wolves. I sense the attackers will fire the barn and I don’t want any living thing trapped in it, well, barring the rats and mice. They’ll take care of themselves.”

“You have humour sir! Pleasant you are. Here’s Giles. He answers to me. We’ll do exactly as you ask sir, and thank you, even if nothing comes of it.”

“You are a true gentleman, Roland. Arm yourselves, but be safe. Now, do you think I should bring an alarm to the rest of the house?”

“Nay sir. They not be the forgiving kind. T’were to prove false, such a move could cause enmity. The cottage has survived many attacks, sir, t’will do so again. It don’t burn, being stone and slate. If you stay on watch then you can raise the alarm when the attack begins?”

“That I will, Roland. My thanks, once again.”

{End of Part V}

The Garbage Man – Part III

Continuing with the story, “The Garbage Man”.  What was to be a short story has taken off on me and is well on its way to becoming another fantasy novel.  No idea where it is going either.  I hope you do enjoy it.  The title will eventually change and Lotharic, you will discover, will return to his earlier name, Edgar, not only by popular request but because Beanna prefers it.  Oh, and the name, Allay is pronounced “Ally.”  And typos may be lurking where least expected… Otherwise, let’s see what dreams may come.

CONTENTS DELETED.  If you need this section for reference, please contact me via email:  shatara@telus.net

{start of part III}

“I feel so terribly cold…”

Lotharic brought Beanna out of the transition trance and explained: “I took you between worlds and it was your body that felt the cold of abandonment. We cannot travel thus physically. Whenever we enter the astral worlds we must leave our physical bodies behind.”

“Put the sword away, Beanna. What happened here, none of it was your fault, or even your doing. I manipulated your thoughts and feelings to expose your darkest side. It was necessary. Now, together, we will work on bringing out the compassionate, caring, loving Allaya. We will transform you. But again, let me emphasize: you needed to see for yourself; to experience, the depth of evil you are capable of as a human being. What you saw and did today is true for your entire race, or species. It is who and what you are. Some of you, particularly women and children hide it well from themselves, but the “good” among you are the exceptions and your goodness is always artificially produced. You are not naturally good, but rather always bend towards evil. Soon you will understand and fully accept that. The Allay and Allaya knew this fact about Earthians before they agreed to come here. We thought we understood the risks of course.”

{End of Part III – 180113}

A SMALL BLACK CLOUD

                                                         A short story by Sha’Tara

Judy awoke from a pleasant “beach” dream and pushed her big fluffy tomcat off the bed, shut off the radio alarm and mechanically tuned it to her favourite morning station, CKRY. She had thought how funny the acronym was at first, but got used to it, and the jokes that went with it. She slipped a sheer nightgown over her tall, slim frame and smelled the aroma of freshly brewed coffee that filled her apartment. She enjoyed her simple, uncomplicated, automated life. Her job paid little more than minimum wage, but she had few problems handling it, especially since she finally got rid of Mario. For a moment, a small black cloud filled her mind, and her heart constricted, but the feeling passed and she fed Tiny his morning allowance, enough to satisfy a hungry Rottweiler, she thought.

She liked her one bedroom condo apartment.  The building was on a slightly elevated part of town, her apartment facing west giving her a decent view out over the bay. A few large evergreens gave a feeling of privacy.   Her neighbours were quiet and she hardly ever had to speak to them, except at the monthly strata meetings.

She parted the blinds on the kitchen window and scanned the view.  It was still and cold in a harsh grey, smoggy morning light.  Even under the snow cover of the condo parking lot, frost coated the windshield of her robin-egg blue Mietta.

She sipped her coffee while brushing her long blond hair, her left hand alternating between the cup and a bowl of fruits and cereal she was pensively mixing. Everything was so normal, so wonderfully normal. She vaguely heard a comment on the radio about an accident in town, as she waited for her music, the old love songs of the Sixties and Seventies she enjoyed so much. It seemed the interruption lasted longer than usual, but the news held no interest for her. Her job was only a couple of blocks away, at a small distribution company, so she never drove or took the bus. Road problems seldom caught her attention and her Mietta stayed under cover except for weekend shopping or the occasional spin down Shoreline Drive.

She enjoyed her walk to work, and often, another woman, Samantha, who worked at the local paper further down the block, would walk with her as far as her office. The women sometimes invited each other over for coffee, or for dinner.   Both of them were now avowed singles, having bravely fought their version of the battle of the sexes… and won, or so they thought. For the time being, men were off their list. They had discovered that cats, especially tomcats, made much better, warmer friends, had a good deal less expectations and were definitely less expensive to maintain.

“…It wasn’t until four this morning that a work crew discovered bodies wedged down a sewer manhole at 7th and Balsam. We advise commuters to avoid that area, as police and other emergency crews are still there, cleaning up and investigating. … and now, for more of your favourite songs… this is CKRY, YOUR GOOD MORNING RADIO… “Bridge Over Troubled Water, I will lay me down..”

Judy smiled through her morning preparations for work.   She deliberated over her day’s dress, and makeup. She liked to change her appearance and paid a great deal of attention to her mood swings.   She followed these with her own body artistry so she wouldn’t feel ill at ease, or out of sorts with herself for the rest of the day. She petted Tiny as he rubbed against her leg to make him understand he’d have to spend the day outside. Of course, he loved it outside, but he had to pretend he didn’t. There would be a lot of complaining as he finally jumped through the opened window onto the patio.

There would be birds to watch at the feeder the neighbours so diligently filled every morning.   Who knows, maybe a careless one would provide some extra protein today, and the woman next door would chase him angrily off her own balcony, providing some excitement… Birds could be so incredibly stupid, and humans so entertaining when properly motivated. He stretched and meowed loudly. When Judy saw his claws dangerously near her wooden rocking chair, she said “No!” and “OK boy, time for you to go out.” Tiny could have shrugged as he smiled inwardly… a very sarcastic cat smile. Yes, humans were predictable. One only had to know how to move and guide them to do what one wanted. After all, why do they have those hands and feet, processed foods, sliding windows and warm, soft laps, if not to serve cats? Tiny had learned, early in life, the incredible power he possessed in his long, soft grey fur, his deep voice and his well-groomed claws. He believed he could move mountains with these, and he did: mountains of human emotion.

Today would be green.   A light green dress, green shoes, green scarf, and her green coat, which was a darker shade, but that didn’t matter.   She topped herself with a wide green woolen toque and felt quite ready to face the world.

“… Teenagers looking for a place to have a smoke on their way to school discovered bodies in an abandoned warehouse at the east end of town near the river. . Three men and two women were bludgeoned and left to freeze to death on the floor of the old building. Police are now investigating in force as fear is mounting that a crazed killer, or gang of killers, are loose in the town – this is CKRY.”

Again, Judy paid scant attention. This was a big city, and things happened all the time.  It had nothing to do with her, though it probably meant that Samantha would already have been called to work to deal with the news. Oh well, she would call her later and find out how it all went.   Quarter to nine, and the pale sun was just rising over the city. It would be a still day, no wind and only a few white, wispy clouds. Good. She hated walking in storms anyway.

“…Stay tuned for more news as our roving reporter brings you the latest in the killing rampage… this is CKRY, YOUR GOOD..”

She turned off the radio, picked up her bag, set the alarm, locked her door carefully, and went out into the cold morning air. She smelled the usual mixture of smog, exhaust fumes, sulfur, garbage and other unnatural substances which always assailed her nostrils until she got used to them. She heard some distant sirens of emergency vehicles but gave them no heed.   In the still, cold morning, everything was normal.

There was excitement at work over the night’s happenings, but she couldn’t get into it either. Why should she? It had nothing to do with her, absolutely nothing. She turned on her computer and began to tally, add, subtract, make sense of the orders, send letters, receive e-mail, and pass on the messages to the various department heads. It was a small local delivery trucking firm, so her work load was not so much heavy as it was varied.   She often thought of herself as a Girl Friday in that place.

“Hey Judy: did you hear about last night?   They’ve found at least nine bodies by now, all killed in the weirdest ways. The funny thing is, there’s no rhyme or reason to the killings: they’re not prostitutes, or street people, or people of any particular category; they’re just people. One of them was a young boy, about 12. Most of them were just people driving home, or walking on the street, or so it seems.   What do you think of that?”

Well, Frank was always one to ask dumb questions and enjoyed getting people riled up.   For a brief moment, she wondered why these “killings” had no effect on her, why she didn’t care, absolutely didn’t, but quickly dismissed the thought. After all, she had her own life, her own problems, and had to remain aloof in order to keep it together. She had worked hard to reach this point of semi independence, and she wasn’t going to let anyone or anything rob her of her accomplishments.

“Look Frank, I don’t care, OK? It’s got nothing to do with me. It’s just one of those freak things that happen in big cities, and this is a big city, Frank. Why don’t you take care of that order for McGraw’s Deli in your hand instead of wasting my time with speculation on accidents and the like? They have people paid to do that: police, FBI, Homeland Security, newscasters, analysts, shrinks, preachers, columnists, lawyers, the government… They won’t fill our orders, so let’s do our job and let them do theirs.”

“Hey, who pissed in your cornflakes this morning?”

“No one. I just can’t get personally involved in other people’s problems, OK?   I’ve got work to do and a life of my own. Why don’t you get one!”

Crestfallen, definitely resentful, Frank left. She felt so much better. Men!   They think they can come on to a girl by frightening her and offering protection. If she falls for it and lets the fear of being alone get to her, she may accept the not so innocent offer of an escort home, or an offer of a date… yeah, right. Well, not this girl. Been there, done that! Definitely don’t work!

From there on the day progressed normally.   The news spread, and there were more versions all the time.  It all exploded on social media.  One story was of alien abductions and experimentations. Organs were missing from the bodies, and they had all been killed in mysterious ways unknown to the experts in the field. Another was of an Oriental gang of trained martial arts experts led by a madman who wanted to take over all the cities of the west through fear and blackmail…  Some more out there talked of zombies and vampires.  Of course the main thread on mainstream media was the usual: terrorists.  When all else fails, blame terrorists.  Give them a race, a religion, a cause, make up names and invent faces if needs be and spin away.

“Ridiculous!” Judy thought as her day ended and she was putting on her shoes and coat.

She stepped outside.  The weather had not changed. Everything was still.  Even the sound of traffic seemed hushed.  The smog hung a little heavier at the end of the day. She walked home briskly, hoping to meet with Samantha, but did not. She was surprised, when she came in, that Tiny was not at the window, but he would be. She changed and prepared dinner. She set the table, looked out and called Tiny, then called Samantha.   No answer.

Strange. Oh well, life goes on. Tiny is a tomcat, he’ll return. Samantha is probably working late at the paper. I know, I’ll call the paper. If she’s not there, I can leave a message.

A man answered her call: “Citadel News Room,   Jerry speaking. Can I help you?”

“Yes, I was wondering if Samantha was still at work?”

“Who wants to know?”

“Her friend, Judy Simpson, from the condos.”

After a pause, the man spoke: “I’m sorry to have to tell you this miss Simpson, but Samantha was one of last night’s victims.”

“Oh!” and she hung up slowly. Tiny was scratching furiously at the window. She noticed her hand was shaking a little as she let him in.   She sat down to finish her meal.

She would run a nice hot bath after the dishes were put in the dishwasher, and everything would be normal again… Absolutely everything.

Interplanetary Intercourse

“You know our first navigator’s got to be a girl who will—”
“She will be,” Rydra said. (Babel-17, Samuel R. Delaney)

I’m not asking the world be sane,
Pointing at his naked loin, she says,
nor am I asking you be either:
That would be complete waste.
All I want now is sex from you,
Great sex, if you can manage.
She fondles him, watches him grow:
It has potential, much, I like.

In turn he ogles her, full taut nipples
Pushed out from cone-shaped breasts,
Pointing to either side of his face.
With hungry fingers he reaches,
Touching, rubbing, twisting lightly
Keeping his eye on that serene face
And on her legs: they were swift,
And deadly, the Martian women.

But she said, she liked.  It was
What they’d call on earth, an omen.
She wouldn’t hurt him, her desire
Would rule her movements and
It was for him at the moment. Yet
I am insane, she knows, he thought
To enter the Martian’s cabin, naked.
What will she do, once done with me?

Fear washes pale beneath red lust,
Ask her, it said, ask her, before
You bed her and she takes your mind.
Is she a member of the stranglers?
Would she kill him to complete
Her needed orgasm before orbit?
He’d heard some needed it,
It opened their minds to space
It’s how they became navigators
So went the myth, never dispelled. 

Bullshit, he hears himself say,
She’s just a woman, needy like me
Naked, like me.  In lust like me. 
He reaches his muscular arms
Full around her slim, firm waist
Draws her tightly to himself,
His breathing loud, his heart a hammer
His chest pushes against her
He enters her and both scream.

Ah, best I’ve ever had, he hears.
Are they his words, in his head
Unrehearsed – is he alive then?
They are her words from her lips:
Alive, unrehearsed, spoken to his ear.
You please me immensely earth man,
You live for me. I’ll want you again.
Now I must connect to navigation:
We depart, quick, do not say a word,
I mark you, I find you, later.