Home Front: A Sisters Tale

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Life in the capital continued much as it always had since the wars.  The infirmary carried on a steady business day by day, and the laundry likewise continued its daily routine of washing and ironing, though it was far more difficult to keep up without Helen and Gwendolyn.

It wasn’t until the expected time for the comrade’s return had passed, that anything seemed amiss.  Mildred and Thyme busied themselves in an attempt to allay their worry.   It really didn’t help, however, for just being in the laundry was reminder enough that Gwendolyn was overdue.

This wasn’t the only reminder.  Bertram Drake made a “polite visit” to the laundry a few days after the party’s anticipated arrival.  He called again a week later to “ask after our dear Gwendolyn.”  The following week, two thugs arrived at the wash house and said that “Mr. Drake is a very patient man, but he cannot wait forever to settle a few little matters.”

It was immediately after this encounter, that a tall fair individual of pretty but epicene appearance visited the shop.  The person was no stranger, and had patronised the business in the past, and was bringing in a long cloak for some mending and laundering.  On seeing the laundresses’ distress the visitor asked what was the matter.

Though Mildred thought that the laundry’s problems should remain theirs alone,  Thyme burst of with the entire tale of the weaselly pawn broker’s intimidation.

The following week, the two strong-arm men were approaching the wash house, when they came across a tall cloaked individual leaning against the arch at the alley’s corner.  The platinum haired figure was nonchalantly cleaning their nails with a stiletto blade.

“Good morning, Friends” the cloaked one greeted, sticking a pointy-toed boot across the path.  “A wonderful day for a little exercise, don’t you think?” the cloaked figure said scanning the clear early winter sky.

“I ain’t your friend,” the lead man said, as he attempted to step past the pale figure.

“That’s a pity,” the ambisexual one replied, quickly raising the other boot to meet the man’s groin.  He doubled over, and as he crumpled the tall figure wheeled about grabbing the other culprit from behind and held the blade to his throat.

“Are you some kind of assassin, or something,” the man wheezed.

“Nothing as amazing as all that,” the pale one responded. “Just a friend of the laundry.  Tell Mr. Drake that I will be keeping an eye on things until the Washer Woman returns.”

The knife was lowered and the men were just trying to pull themselves together when two Rosemen rounded the corner.

“Do we have any trouble here?” one of the watchmen inquired.

“No. No, nothing is going on,” the first thug replied, as the two heavies retreated back the direction from which they had come.

Padre

The Border: A Sisters Tale

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It took three more days until Maya was fit enough to travel.  The party was given provisions, and Maya was given the white cloak to keep.  The companions in turn gave the elders the gifts of crystals which were graciously received.  Two younger Elves would accompany them until they reached the foothills in hopes that they would not get lost in the snows again.   As added precaution Breena was given a small bag of the warming barks, in case they fell into trouble once the Elves left them.

Thilda spoke for the group they made their farewells, and it was rather an emotional time for all but Seymour.  He still had an uneasy feeling that something unpleasant had happened that he had somehow missed.

Once again the party turned homewards, though their journey would continue overland until the low hills, then they would take a secondary road until it rejoined the road to League Town.

Neither of the two Elves with them spoke the common tongue or Ralulee.   Exchanges were therefore carried out via Thilda, and were largely limited to immediate matters of the journey.

On the first night they Elves had them stop well before sunset in order to clear an area of snow, and spruce boughs were gathered to make a warm flooring before the tents were erected.  The Old Ones and Thilda took much of the guard duty that night, and efforts were still made to spare Maya any additional exposure to the cold.

The second day’s journey brought them to where there was no show snow yet on the ground, and the trees became barren hardwoods rather than the conifers of the higher hills.  It was not much warmer, however, and they remained bundled against the wind, as their mounts rustled through a carpet of thick leaves.

That night, the Elves took their turn to rest and Gwedolyn, Breena, and Star stood watch.  Seymour as was his way took the predawn watch, and occupied himself with trying to stack acorns into small pyramids next to the fire.  By sunrise over two dozen mounds of thirty nuts each adorned the area around the fire pit.

“That’s lovely,” Gwendolyn said as she exited her shelter.

“I tried to make one big tower, but they don’t stack too well,” he reflected.

“Well they’re a nice surprise to wake up to,” she said smiling, giving the big man a warm sense of accomplishment.

The others soon were up, and breakfast made.  The Elves told Thilda that they should reach the old border by afternoon, there the guides would leave them.

The trees became sparser as they continued to descend, and only low lying stream beds had any appreciable undergrowth.   Here and there small groves offered some break to the wind.  The temperature was definitely warmer here as well, and soon they were able begin to loosening some of their wraps.

As predicted by their escorts, they could see a small border post coming into sight shortly after three.  Thilda and the Elves exchanged parting wishes, and the entire party followed Thilda’s lead in by touching their foreheads in salute.

The border post like those on the Ralulee side of the frontier was abandoned.  It had suffered far more decay however.  Its usefulness come to an end at the close of the First Dunes War when the border shifted to the mountain passes.  It now was more a shell than an outpost.

It was larger than the Ralulee guardhouse at the pass.  The road that passed through its double gates was punctuated with weeds, and it had no signs of recent use.  The roof had long before collapsed or been “reclaimed” for other purposes, and its gateways were yawning openings, long devoid of their timbers.

“It looks really safe,” Wil said. “Should we camp here or go on?”

“It might be wise to use the walls for the night,” Thilda reflected.  “It can be defended, and it will hide our fire.”

Though only about half past four, they decided to set up camp, and to settle in before dusk.

Star and Breena explored the structure and concluded that nothing offered any threat from within, nor did they find anything unexpected.

A filling broth was made from some vegetables that the Elves had given them, and the party settled in for the night.  It was clear, but didn’t feel particularly cold after recent trials in the mountains, and they soon drifted off to sleep.

Later, while Thilda was taking the second watch, an owl landed on one of the stone brackets that had once held rafters.  She was going to take no chances, and the bird soon fell to the cobbles an arrow through its breast.

Padre

 

Rest and Recuperation: A Sisters Tale

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It was nearly twenty four hours before Seymour awoke.  He was in a comfortable bed and a roaring fire was in the grate.  As he began to stir, Gwendolyn leaned over him and said, “Are you okay, Hun?  You seemed to have some awful nightmares.”

“Where are we?” he questioned, quite confused.

“We are in an elven village.  They brought you here when they found you passed out in the snow,” she said in a half truth.

“But they tied us up . . .” he began.

“Oh, that must have been what you were dreaming about,” she said compassionately.  “It explains why you struggled so in your sleep.  Well it’s all okay now,” she said giving him a gentle pat.

“The Elves rescued us?” he asked uncertainly.

“Yes, they did.  They found you in the snow, and brought you here.  You really should thank them.”

Maya too was in a nearby bed.  The cold had truly taken its toll on her.  Breena had managed to save her fingers and toes, but she remained weak from her ordeal.  The Elves had assisted by giving her and Star a drink made of various barks that raised their temperature, but she would still need at least another day in bed.

*                      *                   *

Wil had taken the absence of the others harder than she would want to let on.  On their return, she sat for several hours with the sleeping Maya and Seymour.  When the big man began to come around, she quickly left the cottage, however.   She wandered over to where their animals were being kept, and started to sort through her gear, for no other reason than to have something to do.

As she did, she unwrapped the sheet of burlap which she had rolled around the gilded sword she had found outside the temple.   An Elf working nearby caught sight of the blade, and beckoned her to bring it closer.  The tall pale figure gently removed it from its sheath and examined the blade.

“Very good,” the elf said, and handed it back to her.

An hour or so later the Elf returned with the common-speaking elder.

“May I see your blade as well?” the village leader asked.

Wilberta again went and retrieved the sword from her baggage.

“Where did you come by this?”  the elder asked.

“It was found among the dead in the dry lands,” she responded.

“And was it’s bearer among the dead?”

“I guess so,” Wil answered a little defensively.

“Please do not take offence,” the elder continued.  “It is only that it is a sad message you bring, as we knew its wielder well.”

“Sorry,” Wil muttered.

“This blade is of elvish make.  It was carried by a half-Elf of the Lake Clan.  The blade is quite special, especially in elfish hands.  Though it is not a ‘named blade,’ it is still of a type.  The sword is a ‘feather blade’.”

“Feather?”  Wil questioned.

The elder said, “Yes, this blade was made with old magic from a yet older blade.  It has just enough remaining power to allow its bearer to not tire in its use.  A warrior brandishing this blade would not fatigue, nor would the sword feel any heavier at the end of a battle than it did at its beginning.  That is why we call it a ‘feather blade’.”

“Should be give it back to their clan?  Or, what?”  Wil asked a little unsure of what exactly to say.

“No, the blade is now yours,” the senior Elf said.  “Keep it well, and it should keep you well.”  The elves then held to fingers to their foreheads, bowed, and departed.

*                   *                     *

Later that evening, the companions gathered together at Maya’s bedside.   Breena said that her recovery was good, and that they could possibly travel again in a day or two.

“We are welcome for as long as it takes,” Thilda said.  “They have assured me of that.  They don’t expect anything from us either.  It is a matter of hospitality to them.  Though a gift would not be refused.”

“We have plenty enough to offer,” Gwendolyn said.  “What do you think would be appropriate?  You seem to understand their ways,” she said with a wink at Thilda.

Before she could answer Wil interjected, “The sword I found is an Elf blade, and it’s magic.”

“Really?”  Gwendolyn said curiously.  “How do you know?”

“The Elves saw it and told me so.  It’s a ‘feather blade’.”

“They saw it?”  Thilda questioned.

“Yes, and they told me about it, and that it had belonged to a friend of theirs.  Then they said I should take good care of it.”

“If they said for you to keep it, it would be inappropriate to give it to them as a gift for hospitality,”  Thilda said thoughtfully.

“Is gold appropriate?”  Maya said from her bed.

“It can be, but some of the crystals may be more so,” Thilda suggested.

It was agreed that some of the smaller crystals would be offered to their hosts.  The party then split up to have another safe night in warm beds.

Padre

 

Captured: A Sisters Tale

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Seymour led the way through the trees, there was no sign of any path, and Maya was certain that they had travelled in circles.

This seemed to be confirmed when they encountered three sets of ragged tracks in the snow.

“Looks like someone has been here recently,” Seymour proclaimed.

Maya and Star agreed with some frustration.

When they came to a place where the tracks turned, Maya suggested that they continue strait.  “We don’t want to run into whoever that is,” she said.

“Good idea,” Seymour assented.

The extra clothing that Seymour had collected had helped, but they were still ill equipped to be making this journey in the snow.  The flakes had stopped in the evening, and Seymour had hollowed out a deep drift to provide them at least a little shelter the night before.  They were nonetheless exhausted, and hadn’t had a good sleep in at least two days.

Hunger was also beginning to become a concern.  They had only had a few pieces of dried fish since they had been separated from Gwendolyn’s party.  Sucking on pine needles was the best they could do to try to allay the complaints of their stomachs.

They were just beginning to climb down a small hill when Star thought she saw something move at their side.  She stopped and stared, but there seemed to be nothing there.

“I think the cold is making me lose my senses,” she said to the others.  “I was sure something moved.”

“I think I saw something like it a while back,”  Maya said.

Seymour stretched his neck and strained to look in every direction.  “There is nothing but trees and snow,” he said.

Just then five white-clad figures stepped out from behind the trees no more than ten yards from them.

Seymour jumped to alert, and brought an axe about.  Star similarly drew her blade.  Hunger, cold, and fatigue still prevented Maya from attempting any magical response, but she drew her kris and waited.

The figures just stood there.  The trio remained tense, and just when Seymour was about to rush at them, one of the Elves on seeing Star’s dress and equipment, said in a very badly pronounced Ralulee, “We are to your colleagues bring you.  Gwendolyn says you should go us with.”

Star paused and then said to the others, “Wait a minute.”

Seymour still braced for action looked at her with an expression even more confused than his usual. “Wait?  Why?”

“They say they have been sent from Gwendolyn.”

“Is she well?”  Star asked the white cloaked speaker.

“Yes, as are the others.”

A second Elf then cleared their throat, and said in the common language, “Please come with us.”

“I’m not that crazy,” Seymour said.  “Maybe they are making it all up to trick us.”

“How did they know Gwendolyn’s name then?”  Maya prompted.

“Maybe they overheard us talking about her,” he suggested.

“Seymour, none of us has mentioned her since the stream.  And I am freezing,”  Maya said pleadingly.

“Okay, but I’m not happy about this,” Seymour said.

“Please show us the way,”  Maya said.

Four more Elves seemed to appear from nowhere, and one of them went straight to the once again shivering enchantress and put a shiny white cloak around her.  She instantly felt warmer.

The Elves were not going to take any chances, however.  The Ralulee speaker attempted to explain to Star that they were afraid of Seymour.  Might she convince him to surrender his weapons till they got to Gwendolyn?

Seymour of course would have none of it, and began to become uncooperative.  Star assured him that she would still have her blade.  He relented, and agreed to give up his axes, “If and only if, Star was the one to carry them.”

The Elves had a brief discussion on this, and as soon as Star had taken the blades, several Elves rushed forward and very adroitly bound the three companions.

“I told you so,” Seymour said to Star. “Maya, didn’t I tell her so?”

“We really mean you no harm, but we must take precautions,” the common speaker said.

Maya nodded to indicate she understood, and Star soon stopped struggling.  Seymour on the other hand, would take a lot of work to lead to the village.

A few hours later, nine exhausted and somewhat bruised Elves led their “captives” into the cirque settlement.

They were met by Thilda.

“Why are they bound?” She asked in elvish.

“The big one would not come without a fight,” the Ralulee speaker said.

Thilda called for Breena, and together they went to Seymour.  “Seymour, we are going to untie you.  But you need to promise not to hurt anyone,” Thilda said calmly to him patting him on the arm.

While she spoke, Breena whispered a few incomprehensible words, then said “Sleep!”  The huge man collapsed and fell into a blissful slumber.

Padre

 

Encounters: A Sisters Tale

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Thilda and Breena continued into the hills, followed by Wil and Gwendolyn with the pack animals. The snow was falling quite heavily by now, and they were now truly glad they had taken the furs from the temple. The camels, however, were not in the least way impressed by their new surroundings.

“We are being watched,” Breena said, without turning to look at her companions.

“For about an hour now, I think,” the archer replied, “but I can’t see anyone, just little clues in the snow.”

The drifts were beginning to really become deep in places, and the mountain path had totally disappeared. It was only the spacing of the trees that gave any indication of where the trail might lead.

“There is movement to our right, but nothing seems to be there,” Breena said quietly. The blanket of snow was unbroken, she started to question herself, had it only been the falling snow she sensed?

Then, as the “path” began to descend a small hill, four white-clad figure appeared ahead of them. They were tall and fair, and even with their hoods pulled up against the weather it was obvious that they had the features of Mountain Elves.

The “Old Ones” didn’t draw weapons, or do anything threatening other than block their path.

Breena began to say something in the “Old Tongue,” but it didn’t seem to mean anything to the white-clad figures before them.

Suddenly to everyone’s surprise, Thilda held two fingers to her forehead and said “I give you honour,” in the modern elvish tongue.

“We share your respect,” was the reply of one of the centre figures. The Elves, for they were indeed of that race, were of the Snow Clan,  who had lived in the upper passes of the mountains for longer than anyone knew. They were fair, indeed almost albino in their features, though their eyes shone as azure or sea green depending on the individual.

“Thilda, how in the hells,” Wilberta began.

Thilda raised a palm to silence her, and mouthed, “Later.”

“We have lost our way and three of our companions,” Thilda said to the Elves.

“Your companions are safe, and on the opposite peak,” one of them replied. “If you come with us, you can wait for the snow to pass. Then we will see to the others.”

“Guys, trust me on this one,” Thilda said turning to Gwendolyn.

They looked uncertain, but they had no way of knowing how many Elves surrounded them. They took her lead, and followed the white-cloaked figures.

It took about half an hour before a break in the rock face opened into a narrow gorge. This in turn led to a cirque-bed in which a ring of about twenty cottages stood. It was then that the colleagues noticed about a dozen additional white adorned figures who had followed them into the enclosure.

They dismounted and tethered their animals, and they were then led into a long building which was larger than the others. Once inside the Elves removed their hoods revealing their braided platinum hair. Gwendolyn noticed that the inhabitants were indistinct in gender, and quickly remembered Thilda’s “friend” from the armourer’s stall.

“You little . . . ” she said with a smile and a wink at her long-time friend, “I would have never imagined.”

Thilda, uncharacteristically blushed.

An Elf who seemed to have some authority over the others, gestured to some stools for the companions to sit upon, then pulled one close for them-self.

The fair figure held two fingers to their forehead, and said “I give you honour” in elvish.

Thilda replied, “We return your respect,” on behalf of the party.

Another older elf drew a stool close to the leader and sat down. “You are far from the lower paths,” the Elf said in a thickly accented common tongue.

Gwendolyn sizing up the situation, put two fingers to her forehead and said, “The snows fooled us, and we lost our way.”

“Where are you bound?” the Elf questioned.

“To the Capital in the kingdom.”

Thilda added in elfish, “We did not mean to trespass.”

The authoritative one raised a hand in a dismissive gesture, “This is of no concern, unless you have ill intentions.”

“None, I assure you,” Thilda said with an imploring voice.

The leader smiled. “How do you come to speak the ‘High Tongue’ so well?”

“I, I um, have a friend,” she said blushing again.

“You are welcome here,” the leader said in elvish. This was repeated in the common tongue by the other elder.

They were then brought a filling stew and bowls of tea in the elvish fashion.

Comfortable beds were prepared for the night, and they were told that the Elves would find their friends in the morning.

 

Padre

 

BLANKET ~ PIC AND A WORD CHALLENGE #170

Lost: A Sisters Tale

photo credit: V. Foret

No matter how hard they might try, the trio could not get warm.  Maya made an attempt to generate a magical flame, but the exertions of the day’s battle had left her powers drained.  The cold too had its effect, the lightly dressed woman shivered continuously.  Seymour, for all of his failings, still knew sleep might bring the end of her.  He cuddled the two women in tightly to him, but it was of no use.

“Star, don’t let her sleep,” he said as he stood.  “I will be back soon.”

The massive warrior then climbed to the site of the battle.  Snow was falling steadily now, and the bodies of the dead appeared as small mounds on the hillside.  He went to the body of the man he had decapitated.  Removing the snow, he struggled to pull the man’s leather jerkin off of his stiff remains.  He then uncovered Star’s first victim, and pulled a woolen cloak from off his back.  Further up the hill, a third corpse yielded a fur-lined cape.

Seymour then returned to his “sisters” and gave the cape to Star.  He then rubbing Maya’s arms to restore some circulation, proceeded to pull the jerkin over her light silky garment.  Finally, he wrapped the cloak around her, and said, “Let’s go.”

Movement at least kept them a little warmer, and the extra layers seemed to ease Maya’s chills some.  They continued up the rill in the dark, using the left hand bank as a guide in the darkness.

After a short journey, Star stumbled over something in the stream bed.  It proved to be the body of the archer Thilda had shot in the throat.  From him, Seymour took a hooded cloak.  It was a bit small for him, but it offered a little relief from the cold, and the falling snow.

Another hour led to a place where the left hand bank merged with an incoming tributary.  The companions unaware of the convergence, continued to follow the left bank up the smaller channel, leaving the main stream behind them as it continued up and to the right.

By dawn the trio found themselves over five miles up the wrong stream, still searching for Gwendolyn and her party.

  *           *          *

The snow had fallen steadily through the night, and as morning broke Thilda looked impatiently down the little stream valley for any sign of Maya and the others.  It soon became clear that they were not going to arrive any time soon.

It was decided that Wil and Thilda would make a cautious return to the ambush site to see what they could learn.  When they arrived there was no more to see but a blanket of snow.  They made a careful search and found some bodies, but none were of their companions.

They returned to Gwendolyn in a rather somber mood.  After explaining what they had found, it was decided that they would wait until noon, then they all would descend back to their original road.

“Maybe they have gone on ahead and are waiting for us,” Wil said hopefully.

“Maybe,” said Thilda with far less hope in her voice.

Breena seemed deep in thought.  She had tried all morning to receive some sort of guidance from the White Ones, but they were silent.  She didn’t give up hope however, as the angelic figures often had long intervals between their visits.  She did really wish they would answer her calls however.

When the party arrived back at the road, they again conducted a search of the battle site, but no further clues could be found, and snow had erased any tracks they might be able to follow.

In silence, they reluctantly turned their faces towards League Town.

Padre

 

 

The Rill: A Sisters Tale

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The following day Star checked the general health of the donkey, then led it to base of the left hand Sister.  She then gave it a good smack, and it bolted off in the direction of the hills.

In the meantime the others prepared for the journey.  It was a cold morning, and their breath clouds stood out in the new day’s light.  They were soon at the point where the Ralulee warning posts stood, and from there they were well aware of the immediate risks of the road.

It didn’t take them long to arrive at the pit trap in the road.  It was wide open now, but there was again a disturbing development.  It had seemingly been reset after Thilda had tripped it on their outward journey, for now the bloated carcass of a horse lay impaled in the bottom of the pit.  It was still bridled and saddled, though there was no sign of a rider or of any saddlebags.

As they began to climb higher up the slopes, it became obvious that the snow caps on the surrounding mountains were larger than when they had passed by only a brief time before.   Both Maya and Breena began to have uneasy feelings as they approached the sheltering place with the “Dwarf” warning.  It seemed just as deserted as it had been, but there was definitely something ill afoot.

As they ascended, the road again deteriorated into what might be best described as a path.  Shortly after noon they came to a place where the trail descended into a place where bases of four hill converged.   A little rill cut between hills, running from east to west, and their path carried them across its flow.  Suddenly, as they were just entering the stream, their way was obstructed by over a dozen men cresting the next hills.  A man of about forty, wearing the robes typical of a journeying conjurer, then stepped into the trail above them.  An owl stood perched on his left shoulder, and the array of men accompanying him were of the desperate looking sort.

The magician called out, “Let’s not make this any more difficult than we have to.  I know you have the map, and by the look of those packs, you have had some success with it.”  As he spoke, a second, younger conjurer joined him at his side.

Seymour immediately dismounted and assumed a defensive posture.  He nodded his head in the direction of the stream bed’s upward course and shouted, “Go!” to the others.  Gwendolyn, Thilda, Wil, and Breena instantly complied in hope of at least gaining a better position.  Maya and Star, however, began to dismount to assist the big warrior.  Maya handed her reins to the passing Wil and said, “Take our mounts.”

Star too had handed her beast to Wil, and as she turned to face their assailants she caught sight of a flash from the corner of her eye.  The younger wizard had drawn a wand and thrown a fire ball in her direction.  She instinctively covered her face with her hands.  As she did the orb of fire seemed drawn directly towards the gilded gauntlets.  The blast struck them and then ricocheted back at an angle striking one of the magician’s own retainers.

Maya responded in kind, launching a perfectly aimed flame at the junior conjurer.  He worded a protective spell in time to prevent his incineration, but not soon enough to avoid being knocked from his feet.

Breena could be heard to say “Shield,” just as a bolt of bluish lightning struck an invisible dome surrounding the fleeing companions, illuminating it with an incandescent glow.

While these initial exchanges took place more culprits appeared on the rise behind the senior magician. Two of these minions rushed in at Seymour, who with a rather matter of fact motion removed the man’s head from his shoulders with a single blow, and Star having recovered from her shock, stepped forwards to take the legs out from under the other man with her curved sword.

As Gwendolyn’s group struggled up the rill, they found that that route of escape had been anticipated.  Two additional men stood atop the embankment on their right side.  The first shot a crossbow bolt which embedded itself in the rolled up tent on the flank of Gwendolyn’s horse.  Before the second man could shoot, however, he was struck in the throat by one of Thilda’s arrows.  The first man frantically tried to reload, but he too felt the impact of one of her shafts.

Seymour, Maya, and Star now began to back towards the protection of the stream bed the others had retreated to.  They were cut off, however, by a surge of another ten of the villain’s henchmen.  The trio were forced to turn their backs to the downstream course, and to make a fighting withdrawal in the opposite direction of their friends.

The early magical exchanges had weakened Maya, and by the middle of the battle she had been reduced to spells of a more defensive nature.  As she slowed to cast one of these protective spells, one of the wizard’s men bounded into the rill and grabbed her by the cape.  She struck out at him with her twisted blade catching him across the thigh.  She then undid her neck clasp in order to make her escape, leaving the wounded villain still clutching the fleece-lined garment.

The wizard’s band suffered greatly for their pursuits.  Seymour’s trio killed eight in all, and wounded a similar number.  Thilda dispatched six in her rearguard action for Gwendolyn’s contingent, as well.  The young wizard had been injured sufficiently to remove him from any additional role in the fray, and the older magician after several lengthy exchanges with Maya, decided to call it a day.  He and a mere handful of wounded followers retreated.

The battle and pursuit had taken several hours, and the two groups of friends were now miles apart from each other.  This was further complicated by Seymour’s band being now on foot.  By the time they returned to the site of the initial confrontation, snow had begun to fall. Night would fall soon as well.

Gwendolyn halted her party about three miles upstream once it was clear that they were no longer being pursued.  The weather had turned all the more cold, and the stream now was frozen except for occasional areas of faster moving water.  Thilda wanted to go back downstream to find out what had happened to the others.  She was overruled, however.

“They know which was we went,” Gwendolyn said. “And, we don’t know what is waiting for us down there.  We will stay here until morning to see if they catch up.”

As night fell the snow became more intense.  Both parties tried to find protection from the elements, but it was especially difficult for the trio who were now without as much as a blanket.

 

Padre

 

Homeward: A Sisters Tale

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After their encounter with the Ralulee, the party made for the Sisters Pass with some haste, but the failure to secure water left an uneasiness among them.

“Maya, is it true that water can be made from sand?” Gwendolyn asked.

“Yes, It’s so.  It is seldom done, however,” She replied.

“Is there something wrong with it, then?” Gwendolyn pursued.

“No, it is quite good, but costly,” Maya said.  “If it is a matter of life, it is of course always worth the price, but not so if you are to do it frivolously.”

“You’re not saying that you have to kill something, or anything like that, are you?”  The Washer Woman asked.

“No, nothing as drastic as that,” Maya responded.  “Gold.  It takes gold.”

“How much?” Gwendolyn asked, as if not disturbed by the prospect.

“In equal weight to the sand,” was the reply.

“Ah, I see,” Gwendolyn mused.  “Only if needed then.”

“My Sisters,” Star interrupted.  “I think I can help.”

She pointed to a dry stream bed, in which a few scraggly desert bushes grew.  She led the others to one of the shrubs and said, “This is Koiya.”

The weedy looking little bushes had grey twigs with grey-green almost needle-like leaves.  Star dismounted and began to dig down at the base of the plant.  She then pulled out a large twisted root.  She cut this in half revealing a pulpy interior which began to drip a slightly yellowish liquid.

She held the pieces over a cup and squeezed.  A small stream of the liquid filled about half the tin cup.  It didn’t look of much, and was essentially odourless.  It was, however, drinkable and had a slightly citrus aftertaste.

“It is not much good for the animals,” Star said. “It would take too long to get enough.  But if we drink it, then the water bags can be used for the beasts.”

A search was made of the wadi, and drink bottles were filled.  It seemed a profitable delay, but a delay all the same.

What was also becoming clear was that the donkey was slowing them down.  It was in fact becoming more of a liability than a benefit.  Since many of their travelling supplies were now becoming depleted, it was decided that once a place was found where it could fend for itself, it would be set free.

It wasn’t until nearly sunset on their second day when the party arrived at the pass.  They decided to make for the guardhouses on the kingdom-side of the gorge before camping for the night.  The rubble pile which had been created by the bandits had been cleared to the side of the road by someone, and this heightened their apprehension.  Were there people still in the vicinity?  But the transit of the pass proved without incident.  When they got to the guard posts, Seymour and Star inspected each building as Thilda and Gwendolyn covered them with bow and crossbow.

The animals would be kept in one, tended by Star and Wil; while the others would sleep in the other.  Guard duty was assigned, and they settled in.

That evening Wilberta began to take the remaining items from the donkey’s packs in order to redistribute them across the other animals.  As she did the pair of golden gauntlets caught Star’s attention.

“Those are beautiful,” she said admiringly. “Are they Seymour’s?”

“No, I found them among the bits outside the temple,” Wil explained.  “They are not my kind of thing, and they are too big anyway.  I am going to sell them when we get home.”

“May I try them on?” the horse mistress asked.

“Sure, why not.”

Star pulled the inner leather glove of the first onto her left hand, and it almost seemed as if the outer metalwork bent to perfectly accommodate her hand.

“It looks like they were made for you,” Wilberta observed.  “Do you want to make them part of your share?”

They agreed to discuss it with Gwendolyn and the others in the morning.

In the other building, Seymour kept looking up through the bare eaves at the stars.  “I still don’t see why they didn’t put a roof on,” he pondered aloud.  “It’s bloody cold.”

“Why don’t you move closer to the fire, Hun?” Gwendolyn suggested.

Seymour moved next to the flames, but sat back up abruptly.  “Don’t forget to wake me for my watch.”

“We will,” he was assured and he was snoring within minutes.

It was then that Thilda noticed that some of the graffiti on the wall was dated only a few days earlier.   Whoever had been there, had passed by while they were in the temple, and they at least scribbled in the common tongue.

This would bother her all night, she knew, but she didn’t want to unnecessarily concern the others.

None of the companions, not even the vigilant Thilda noticed the owl perched on rocks above them, however.

Padre

 

 

 

 

The Ralulee: A Sisters Tale

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As the party approached the line of towers on the frontier it became obvious that a set of black goat-hair tents had been erected near the fourth signal beacon.  They decided that any attempt at making for the well could not go without notice, so continued on the most direct route to The Sisters Pass.  Hopefully if there was no delay, the water they had acquired in the camel-packs would see them through.

They were nearly to the tower which they had sheltered in, when a party of five mounted men came out from its shadow.

Their leader, a distinguished looking man in his forties stopped just out of bow range from Gwendolyn and her companions.  An attendant carried an azure flag with four white scimitars embossed upon it.

“This one knows what he is doing,” Thilda said turning to Gwendolyn.  “I don’t like it.”

“Yes, unfortunately he does,” interrupted Star. “That is my master’s oldest son.”

 *       *      *

Abu Ral was a powerfully-built man with a well-groomed beard which he kept in two points.  A few hints of grey could be seen in it, but his most striking feature was his eye patch and flattened left cheekbone, the result of him being thrown when the legs were cut out from under his horse at the Battle of the Palms during the late war.

He spoke quietly looking directly at the women.  As he did, his standard bearer called out in the common tongue, “I believe you have some things which belong to me.”  Ral then looked directly at Star, “Several things.”

At this Seymour dismounted, and took a couple of protective steps forward.  On seeing the warrior’s features and stature, the Ralulee showed visible signs of recognition, betraying both hatred and fear.

Ral raised his right arm and waived it without taking his eye off of Seymour.  Almost immediately the signal mirror in the tower flashed.  A couple of minutes, later ten more riders approached from the dunes.

The Ralulee made an expertly executed manoeuvre which left them in a formation calculated to maximise their defense especially against arrows or magical assaults. Seymour took this in and did some quick calculations of his own. He then looked directly at Ral and said, “Okay Friend, It is obvious that we have you outnumbered, so just let us pass without any more bother.”

As his interpreter related this to him,  Abu Ral looked at him with astonishment, and tried to decide if Seymour was crazy or merely stupid.

One of the newly arrived horsemen, however, looked with terror at the axeman. “Il Washa,” he said in surprise. The men on either side of him turned in their saddles to look at him, and became equally troubled.

Thilda and Gwendolyn quietly readied their weapons. As they did, Gwendolyn asked Star what the man had said.

“Il Washa,” she repeated. “It means, ‘The Beast’.”

Despite the tension of the moment, Breena seemed in a world of her own. “Really?” she said aloud as if to no one in particular.   “That’s incredible.”

She then moved closer to Maya and whispered something in her ear. Maya gave an astonished look at the Ralulee leader, then glanced at Star, and to the one-eyed man again.

She then dismounted, and led her horse by the reins to stand next to Seymour. She then shouted out in badly pronounced Ralulee, “My Lord, May I approach unarmed?” She undid her belt and let her kris fall to the ground. She handed the bridle to Seymour and took two hesitant steps forward and stopped.

The mounted riders held their ground, so she took to more steps. “Your Magnificence, I must have a word in private.”  Ral, dismounted, but remained in position.

Maya moved to the midway point between the parties, and then delicately sat on the sand. She remained there for about five minutes before the chieftain strode forward and stood over her.

“My actions will not harm you,” she said in a calm, reassuring voice. “Do not panic, it is no enchantment, only visions of truth.”

A mist came over the Ral’s good eye, and he could see the beautiful image of Star’s mother as a woman of about twenty years. He then saw a vision of himself entering her bedchamber at night. Floods of both ecstasy and emotion washed over him. He then saw the young woman at the height of labour, and the following delivery of a perfect little daughter.  Images of the young Star then filed his mind.

“You were right to tell us that we had something that belongs to you,” Maya said.

The fog before the man’s eye cleared, and his face was bathed in sweat. He tremble as if a chill had swept up his spines, then he slowly walked backwards towards his men.

Once he had made a suitable gap between himself and Maya, she stood up and shook sand from her wrap. She too, then backed towards her companions.  All but Breena looked on with confusion at what had transpired.

Then Breena said to Star, “Translate for me, I want to get it right.”

Breena then said, “This woman was found trapped by evil. We rescued her, and she has agreed to travel with us.”

Abu Ral looked into Star’s eyes. “Is this so?” he asked without translation.

“Yes master, she speaks the truth,” Star responded.

Ral shouted a sharp order in the Ralulee tongue, and the horseman parted to create a pathway.

He then spoke to his flag-bearer, who announced, “You may pass. Go in peace.” Maya and Seymour remounted, and cautiously the companions rode past the bewildered warriors.

Once clear, the party wasted no time in heading for the pass.

Padre

 

 

 

Renewal: A Sisters Tale

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As the companions set out in the direction of the Sisters Pass, they again came to the dry waterhole.  Though the difference was subtle, it had nevertheless changed.  It was no longer filled with dust, but a slightly moist sand now seemed to line its bottom.  As they came closer, a few beetles scurried to hiding places along its edges.

As they rode Seymour began to snack upon some of the dried fish which had been in the camel-packs.  The small silvery fish were coated in a thin crust of crystalised salt, preserving them well, but making for a thirst-making meal.

“Why are these so salty?” he asked absent-mindedly.

Wil just couldn’t help herself. “They are fish, Sey.  They come from the ocean.”

“Oh,” he said, after thinking about it for a minute. “That explains a lot.”

Wilberta smiled to herself with some measure of self-satisfaction.  It wasn’t that she hadn’t come to care for the huge man, it was just that it was too easy at times.

By late afternoon they approached the oasis.  It was still littered with the remains of the creatures poisoned by its tainted waters, but the waters themselves seemed just a little clearer than they had remembered.  The grey trees, too seemed to have taken on a hint of green.  It was by no means a transformation, nor would they risk the waters, but something had changed.

They rode for another hour to distance themselves from the place; and while the disappearance of the mist from around the temple, and the hints of life at the watering points had promise for a brighter future in the area, it did not mean it had no immediate negative impact on the party.   As they set camp for the night there was the distinct sound of the bane of all campers: the buzz of mosquitoes.  It would indeed be a long night.

About two in the morning, Breena was awakened by the sensation of movement across her legs.  She whispered an incantation, then said “Illuminate” and as the area around her tent lit up, a snake could be seen sideling from beneath her canvas.

“Sorry, everybody,” she apologised. “Just had a little scare.”

The morning proved no better, for as they were preparing to break camp Maya let out a shriek.  She was just about to slide on her shoes, when she detected the form of a small white scorpion.  She shook it free from her footwear and mashed it with a nearby water jug.  “I detest scorpions,” she bitterly announced.

At last they were ready to make a start, and none would be displeased at leaving this particular bivouac behind them.  Groggy and with more than their fair share of insect bites they headed for the well at the watchtowers.

Seymour on more than one occasion dismounted and ran an axe handle under his jerkin to scratch at the whelps on his back.  Wilberta despite her efforts to ignore his distress was overcome by compassion.

She rode ahead to Breena and asked if she had anything that might help him.

“Try this,” the healer said handing her a small vile of foul-smelling oil.

Wil then slowed to allow Seymour to overtake her.

“Big Brother,” she said kindly.  “Let’s see to those itches, okay?”

A few minutes later, Seymour let out a sigh of relief.  Then giving her an affectionate hug, said “Thank you, Little Wil.  Love you too.”

The words had an unexpected effect on Wilberta.  She couldn’t for the life of her say why, but they made her happy.  She mounted her horse fighting back a tear, and spurred her mare forwards.

Padre