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Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Next Move

Artwork by Jongmin Ahn



Nilla and Paevia found where the others had made camp inside the walls of Amerak’s fortress. Zirede sat tending his still injured wife. She was weak and had gained a rattling cough that had settled deep in her chest. Her worst wound was one made by an arrow. It had punctured her right side and the arrowhead and buried itself deep in her tissues. Zirede knew as well as the others that such wounds were almost always fatal. The fact that Rauwyn clung to life was a testament to her strength of will. It was one of the many traits that had drawn him to her.

When Nilla and Paevia had entered their overcrowded tent, he barely noticed. He had removed Rau’s bandage and was looking at the ghastly sight before him.  They had tried as gently as possible to cut the arrow from her body, but end the end it had been decided that they would have to push it all the way through. To pull out the jagged arrowhead would have caused more internal injury, so pushing had been their only option. The entry wound had festered and a sickly yellowish-green pus rose from the puncture point. The smell of infection so strong that it quickly permeated to every corner of the small tent.

Zirede felt the tears gather in the corner of his eyes as he began to wipe as gently as possible around the wound. He frowned at the blood that seeped out with the pus. What should have been a bright red, was a deep brown. Some of the smelly discharge had matted in her fur and he grimaced for her as he worked to clean it. “I’m so sorry, love. I hate to do this. I know it hurts you so much. Would that I could take your place I would in a heartbeat.” His tears flowed a bit more freely, and he didn’t see her hand come up to caress his wet cheek.

In a pain filled voice, she said with a slight grimace. “Nay, my dearling, I couldn’t bear for you to be in my place. You take such excellent care of me. I will get better, and it will all be because of your love that I do. Your love, and that of my sister.” She stopped as a coughing fit took her voice and breath. Zirede watched the wound as she coughed noting that the brown sludge that had replaced her blood pumped out a little quicker. He rushed to cover the wound to stop her from bleeding out.

The coughing subsided and Nilla brought a cup of fresh water for her to drink. Zirede lifted Rau’s head a bit higher so she could drink her fill without fear of choking. When she pushed the cup away, he handed it back to Nilla before turning to finish bandaging his mat’s wounds. “Never fear then, love, for I will adore you until the end of time and beyond. Our incarnations have only begun together, we are not done yet.” He spoke to her of his plans for their future as he finished cleaning and bandaging the exit would on her back. Her little energy sapped, she slipped into a deep sleep. Where even then the pain chased her, indicated by the slight frown on her pale features.

Bumbles came through the tent flap with his arms full of firewood. When everyone turned to look at him, he gave them a blank look and said, “what? I’m not leaving it outside. This place is full of thieves.”  He couldn’t stop the blush when everybody started laughing. Blustering a bit, he continued, “You know what I mean. There are so many Felis here that wood is at a premium. At this point, I think a mother would kill her son for his peg leg. If we’re to have wood for a fire to keep Rauwyn warm then it needs to be stored in here with us.” Bumbles headed to an uncluttered corner and dropped his load, then went to his pack to search for his canteen.

Diewen watched his compatriots with a bemused smile on his elfin face. “Was our master pleased with our gift?” he asked of the returning pair. “What has he contracted us to do next? Slaughter someone’s elder while they watch, kidnap the Queen? Amerak never asks anything nice or easy.” He waited for an answer by grabbing his knife and a piece of driftwood. He had already begun carving something into the wood, and he returned to it now.

Nilla scowled at the Rex, he had an innate way of getting her ire up and today after the audience with Amerak the Ass, she snapped at Diewen. “Our job remains as it has been from the start to find the Queen’s questers. Only the little apprentice pulled a fast one on us, his rescuers were those we sought all along. Now our master is seething at our not putting an end to them.” She had been pacing the small walk space of the tent; her tail swishing in her agitation. A few times the inhabitants had to duck to keep from getting swatted with it.

“He has charged us to track down our enemy and see their quest put to an end. If we fail, then he will see to our end. After watching what he did to the small one for his master’s deceit, I can tell you I would rather find our enemy and bring their heads to Amerak on a platter.” Nilla watched her crew as what she said sunk in. Her thoughts were still on the small, broken heap crumpled by the gilded cage. The ancient mystics hand reaching out toward it, yet unable to reach. She was tired. Tired of all the death, and fighting to survive. She barely remembered a time when she and her sister hadn’t had to fight tooth and claw to survive. Try as she might she couldn’t shake this deep sense of sorrow engulfing her.

What Nilla had said about the apprentice must have finally got Zirede’s attention, “wait, you said after what he did to the apprentice. What did the wizard do to the small one?” His question brought everyone’s attention to Nilla. “The ones who wounded my Rauwyn and killed Quillan are our prey. How did our paths cross in such a way? We were intent on the apprentice at that point.” Zirede had risen to take over Nilla’s pacing, which in the small confines made the tall male monopolize the space.

“I need some air. Let’s step outside.” Nilla said in the suddenly confining space.
She slipped through the canvas flap that covered the round opening in the tent wall. She stopped to take a breath of the acrid air that smell of too many bodies being crammed into a small area. She was surprised that the tents weren’t set one upon another. All around campfires were being built to prepare the evening meals. Soon the mingled smell of spices joined with the mélange of odors that hung in a cloud over the fortress.

The rest of her band slowly made their way out of the tent, with Zirede bringing up the rear. He had stopped to make sure Rauwyn was resting peacefully before going out to the others. “So, we search for our attackers, who just happen to be the queen’s champions. This must be the most twisted turn of events. I guess we should figure out in which way they were heading when we stole back the apprentice. Is the small one still alive?” Zirede asked Nilla as he moved to stand where he could hear Rauwyn if she called for him, but also keep an eye on the strangers moving all around them.

Nilla took up a position beside him and watched as Brambles began to build their fire for the night. Paevia was digging around in her rucksack, and let out a small affirmative grunt when she found what she was looking for. “I have no idea if the apprentice lives. Amerak in a fit of rage began shaking him and then flung him at the cage he held the old one in. You could hear his bones snapping. It was the most sickening sound I’ve ever heard. I wanted to check on him, but he was just too angry to do anything to get his attention. Especially since in his eyes we had failed already not once, but twice. So, which way do you think the queen’s group have gone in? We need to find them now.”

Zirede seemed to be considering where they had found the apprentice among his protectors. It had once been populated by the ancients but there wasn’t much in the way of towns or villages that would hold the kind of information the questers would require. It was Diewen who spoke up with a possible place to start. If my memory is working right, it seems like there was a town that wasn’t far from where we located them. It is one of the few outposts along the trade route heading that deep into the mountains.” He stopped looking off into the distance. “the name of the place escapes me, but I will look at our maps and see if I can locate it.”

He finished as he stepped back into the tent, leaving the rest to settle around the fire and wait for Paevia to work her magic on their meager rations. Nilla reminded herself that they would need to re-supply before leaving the fortress.

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