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Authors: Lana Axe

A Story Of River (4 page)

BOOK: A Story Of River
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Chapter 9

Morning arrived and Mel and Thinal were
ready to head out. The summer air was mild, and the sun's rays shone softly
through the trees above. They stood at the edge of their village facing north
into the dense forest.

“If they're late, I'm going back to bed, “
Mel said.

He looked over his shoulder and saw Loren,
Mi'tal, and their two guards heading down the path.

“Damn,” Mel said with a sigh.

Thinal smiled at him and adjusted the
scabbard on her back which held her two-handed sword. She slung her cross-body
sack over her left shoulder, making sure the strap was clear of her sword. She
did not expect to have need of the blade anytime soon, but she liked to be
prepared in any case.

“I could pick them off from here,” Mel
said, holding his bow.

The pair laughed. Mel stared impatiently
as the group approached.

“Good morning to you both,” Mi'tal said.
“I don't believe you've met Byord and Oli.” He gestured to the two guards. They
nodded, Thinal smiled, and Mel stared at them blankly.

“There's no chance you'll let us bring our
horses?” Loren asked.

“The lady can share mine,” Byord said, a
broad grin appearing on his face.

“Remind me to punch you in the throat
later,” Mel said. “Tracking from a horse in these woods is nearly impossible.
You'll miss half the signs and trample over the rest. Do whatever the hell you
want with your horses. I'm going on foot.”

“We have stabled our horses, and they will
be well looked after here with your clansmen,” Mi'tal replied. “My friend Loren
is a bit overweight, but he will manage the walk.”

Loren looked annoyed but remained silent.

“Let's get to it then,” Thinal said as she
turned and headed out into the woods.

“I would like to head to the border
village of Enald. There may be some news of the creatures there,” Mi'tal said.

“I know the village,” Mel replied. “We've
traded there for many years. It's only about a day and a half walk from here.
No one has gone that way for weeks, so any strange tracks should be easy to

“Thank you,” Mi'tal said. “How do you find
the trading at Enald?”

“The people are fair. We usually bring
leathers, furs, and nuts. Some of my clansmen trade trinkets, crafts, and bone

“Mel likes to trade for spices,” Thinal
broke in. “He likes the hot ones.” Smiling, she nudged him with her elbow.

“Yes, I do, and I'm not interested in
their tobacco or jewels,” Mel looked at her and smiled. “Or in their sweets.”

“I also like their pretty cloth,” Thinal
said. “They always have very pretty hair trinkets too, but they're just a bit
too delicate for me.”

Mel stopped walking and pointed to a small
broken branch. “A deer passed this way about an hour ago. He would have been
good for dinner, but he's headed west, not north.”

They walked on throughout the morning.
Just after mid-day, they came upon a small clearing.

“Might we stop a moment and have a bite to
eat?” Loren asked.

“Seems like a good place,” Thinal said as
she removed her bag and sat on a fallen log. She reached into the bag and brought
out a handful of dry seeds. She popped one in her mouth and offered them to
Mel. He took one, chewed it, and stood up.

“I'll find some things to eat,” he said as
he headed off.

Oli removed his rucksack and opened it.
Inside was hard bread and cheese. He passed these items out to his companions
who began munching hungrily. Only Thinal was uninterested and graciously
declined. She sat chewing on seeds until Mel returned. He was carrying a large
leaf filled with berries, roots, and a few leaves.

“Well, this looks delicious,” Byord said

“Shove it,” Mel said. “Next time I'll
bring you a special surprise.” He smiled a wicked smile and set the provisions
on a stump. “There's plenty for everyone else.”

Mi'tal reached over and took a few
berries. He smelled them first and then gave one a try. “These are very good!”
he said without hiding his surprise. He grabbed a root and crunched it. “Not as
flavorful, but it's quite filling. Have some,” he gestured to the others who
slowly took a few pieces of food.

“The roots will settle your stomach if the
berries are too rich,” Thinal said.

“Are the leaves for wiping our asses?”
Byord said, laughing.

“They're for cleaning your teeth afterwards,”
Mel replied. “Unless you want to walk around like a purple-mouthed idiot. The
purple would be a change for you at least.”

“Byord, don't speak for the rest of the
journey,” Mi'tal said. “I tire of your childishness.”

Byord rolled his eyes but remained silent.
Mi'tal was his commander, and he would obey whether he liked it or not.

“This is delightful, Mel. Thank you for
bringing this to us,” Mi'tal said as he finished eating. He looked over at
Loren who was greedily licking his plump fingers.

They sat a few moments more and then
continued on their way. The break was short but very welcome. The day had grown
warmer, and the dense forest air was moist. A gentle breeze rustled the green
leaves around them. All was silent except for the lazy whistle of a yellow

On they walked through the afternoon until
Mel silently held up a hand for them to stop. He looked to his right and still
remained silent. Suddenly, they heard a loud
. Mel had drawn his
bow and shot a squirrel on the ground. Mi'tal jumped, startled by the sound. He
was standing next to Mel but had neither seen him grab his bow nor knock an

Mel looked at him and said, “One.”

Thinal took a step forward and nudged Mel
with her elbow. She pointed up in one of the trees.

Another squirrel fell from above.

“Two,” Mel said to Mi'tal and smiled.

Mel gathered the two squirrels and removed
their guts. Then, he hung them from his belt by their tails. Loren's expression
was one of disgust. Tonight would be his first dinner that included rodent.

Mel noticed his expression and said,
“They're really good. Maybe we can catch a few more.”

Thinal giggled, and the group began moving
again. Along the way, she picked a small blue flower and tucked it behind her
ear. Her movements were light and playful as if she had never had a care in the
world. She bent slightly to kiss her mate on his cheek. He smiled back and
grabbed a white flower which he offered to her. She took it and quickly popped
it in her mouth. Those flowers had a particularly sweet, honey-like taste,
which had always been her favorite.

Evening approached and the group began
looking for a place to bed down for the night. Mel had managed to catch two
more squirrels which meant there was plenty of food to go around. A few wild
herbs would set the meat off nicely.

Mel led them to a copse of trees on a
small hill. This was a good location to stay the night. The trees were tall and
wide and strong enough to hold them all.

“We'll camp here tonight,” Mel said, loosening
his quiver and setting it at the base of the largest tree. “I'll build a fire
and get dinner started.”

Thinal removed her scabbard and set it
next to Mel's quiver. She pulled the bone pin from her hair and shook her head
side to side. After running her fingers through her hair a few times, she rose
to search for some herbs. Mel already had the fire started and was removing the
fur from the squirrels.

The men unpacked their bedrolls and laid
them on the ground.

“The trees are safer,” Mel said, still skinning
a squirrel.

“Safer for what?” Loren asked.

“Safer for sleeping,” Mel replied. “No
dangerous animal in these woods can climb trees.”

“Well, we prefer the ground,” Loren said

“Suit yourself,” Mel shrugged. “If I hear
screaming in the night, I'll know to stay in the trees.”

Thinal returned and handed Mel some herbs
she had found. He rubbed them into the meat and skewered it before placing it
over the flames. He moved back to sit next to Thinal and took a sip from his

“Dinner smells lovely,” she said. “Too bad
there are no evergreens near. Some pine needle tea would go lovely with it.”

“When we get to Enald you can have some of
that blended tea that you like so much,” he said.

“Oh, I had forgotten about that,” she said
with a smile.

Mel went over to check on the meat. It had
cooked thoroughly and was giving off a pleasant aroma. He pulled it into pieces
and laid it on the rocks nearby. “Eat up,” he said as he grabbed some for
himself and Thinal. She sat next to him and took a piece of the meat. Tasting
it, she nodded her approval.

Mi'tal ate before the others would try it.
Once he had tasted it, they felt safe to have some as well. Loren, however,
still refused to touch the food. He would only eat the bread and cheese they
had brought from their homeland.

“You really should have some, Loren,”
Mi'tal said. “It's insulting to our host to refuse his generosity. It may not
be what you're accustomed to, but it's quite good.”

Loren scowled and chomped on the tough
bread in his mouth.

“No worries,” Thinal smiled. “It leaves
more for the rest of us.”

“You're always so upbeat, Miss Thinal,”
Mi'tal said. “It's very refreshing to see someone so carefree and truly happy.”

“I just don't see any reason to be
unhappy,” she said, shrugging. “Some people sit and worry, but I don't. I just
go with it. You might as well try to make the best of every situation. Sulking
isn't any fun anyway.”

“Sulking is my job,” Mel said. “I'll sit
in the rain, and you can stand in the sunshine.”

“Aww,” Thinal said and rubbed his
shoulder. “My poor sweet Mel. He worries enough for both of us.”

He rolled his eyes and looked at the
ground. She ran her fingers through his sandy hair and kissed his lips.
Wrapping an arm around his neck, she pulled him in close. He nestled his face
in the curve of her neck.

“Anyone up for a game?” Oli asked
producing a deck of cards.

Thinal jumped up, startling Mel. “I'd love
to play if you'll teach me,” she said.

“Then have a seat here, my lady,” Oli said
as he took a seat cross-legged behind a stump.

Mel watched her walk away and then looked
over at Mi'tal, who was rubbing a cloth along his war hammer. “Why do you carry
a hammer instead of a sword?” Mel asked, moving to sit next to Mi'tal.

“Better for smashing heads,” he replied,

Mel laughed as well and nodded. “Most of
your kinsmen carry swords, though. I've only heard of dwarves fighting with

“Axes too, if I'm not mistaken,” Mi'tal
said. “But I've never encountered a dwarf myself. My father used a war hammer, and
he taught me. I studied swordplay a few years in my youth, but I never really
took to it. Hammers are slower, but they're very efficient in a fight.”

“Did you fight in the War of the
Wildlands?” Mel asked.

“I did,” Mi'tal replied. “I was in King
Aelryk's personal guard. Though, he was Prince Aelryk at that time.”

“Did you kill many of my kind?” Mel looked
him in the eye.

After a pause, Mi'tal said, “A few. To my
shame they were mostly women. I was never within range of any of your archers,
but I encountered your swordswomen on a few occasions. They are formidable
opponents and even more so when they're fighting for their homeland.”

He looked at Mel and drew a deep breath.
Mel looked away and remained silent.

“I have many regrets from that war,”
Mi'tal admitted. “I followed my king's command, but in my heart I knew it was
unjust. We could have lived together in peace. I'm sure of it.”

“The wars ended just a few years before I
was born,” Mel said. “I've heard many stories, of course, but never one from
the enemy's side. I would agree my people did some less than honorable things
in those times, but most of our actions were justified, I think.”

“After staying a few days with your clan
I'd say you've made the best of a difficult situation. Your people have thrived
in the Forests of Viera.”

“We have, but there is little room to
grow. I don't take to strangers easily, Mi'tal, but I think you are as
honorable a man as I have met.”

“Thank you, Mel,” Mi'tal replied. “I know
very few Wild Elves myself, but I find you honest and respectable.”

Mel nodded and turned to watch Thinal
playing at her card game. She had won another hand and gave a little clap.
Yawning, she stretched her arms high over her head. She stood and walked back
to Mel.

“Ready for bed?” she asked.

Nodding, he stood and took her hand. With
a boost from Mel, she climbed up in the tallest tree and settled on a wide
branch. He followed closely behind her. The sounds of their love making filled
the camp as the others settled into their bedrolls.

BOOK: A Story Of River
9.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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