Sunday, 21 July 2013

Daughter of Benik [Chapter 3 - part 1]


            She was three and Yuli Kamikawa remembered just as it was yesterday. Her parents arguing about something; she could not hear what they were saying, but she felt it had something to do with her. Since then she was a cursed presence.
            When Yuli was eight could not help, but see the contradictions her mother displayed despite what she claimed.
            “We are given everything we need,” her mother would one day tell her. But Yuli could only hear the complaints about not having what the family needed or what her mother wanted, with those doubts the worries set in.
            When Yuli asked why her mother complained, she received a scolding, “How dare you question your mother?” Since then, she did not dare mention those issues.
            She was encouraged to be the perfect daughter, but got a verbal lashing when she got 95 percent on her test or spelled wrong on a shopping list, even how she dressed was never up to her mother’s satisfaction.
            “No one’s perfect,” Yuli was told, yet at home her mother would ask her why she did not study hard enough to get 100 percent on her test. Or why she would always the ways she was: a slob (her scarf was crooked), a recluse (some of her classmates received complaints from her mother about “leading her daughter astray when she should be studying”), and rebellious (Yuli asking her mother what she was doing wrong).
            When Yuli had her own doubt about living, she brought it before her mother asking what to do, and again she received another verbal beating.
            “You should work harder!” her mother told herone day. Then, “You have brains use it! No wonder you are getting poor marks in school!” (Yuli never got a mark lower than 85 percent.)
            Yuli had many questions, doubts, and problems that she wanted to confront and solve. She felt she could not do it alone, so she sought help.
            “You should have the answer inside of you,” one of her teachers told her.
            “You just say those things because you want to be praised,” said another teacher.
            Still another replied, “Why should you be bothered by such things? You should focus on finishing school and your future.”
            In grade twelve, Yuli asked, “What is the meaning of life?”
            “You should study harder,” her father told her.
            “But I am!” she argued, but got another tongue lashing from her mother who just walked in on their conversation.
            “Is that how you talk to your parents? Because of your rebellious behavior and you are not focusing your studies you are creating your own problems!”
            But I want to know why I am alive in this world. What is my role and purpose? There has to be more to life than just getting high marks in school and being recognized for your accomplishments. Won’t anyone tell me? I prayed to the gods, but all I get is silence? Do they even exist? More doubts, questions, pain, confusion, and frustration welled up in her heart like an undrinkable spring.
            She had no friends, or to put it accurately, she could not make friends.
            “She always has this dark and gloomy personality,” one of her classmates would whisper behind her back.
            “We should call her ‘Sadoko’ because she is always so sad and morbid.” A stream of giggles came from the gossiping clique.
            “She thinks she’s so smart. It makes me sick how she is so snobbish,” one girl would say, loud enough for Yuli to hear.
            “I know. I just can’t stand her,” was another reply.
            “She is a pretty girl, but it’s a shame she is so grim and creepy,” said one of the neighbours.
            “Her long hair looks slippery. Makes me think of snakes,” said another female neighbor.
            “Creepy… Grim… Morbid... Sad… Cursed… Cursed… Cursed… “
            “I think you are pretty,” said a young man at her school.
            For once Yuli felt joy, that was until a bunch of his friends surrounded her and used her. Once they were done, they abandoned her under a bridge after school hours.
            She tried to tell her parents about what happened, only to be told, “What were you doing after hours, you stupid girl?! You’re supposed to come straight home and study, not chase boys!”
            “But Mom, Dad –” she began only to receive more verbal knocks.
            “Do you realize what sort of reputation you have left the school? In our community? I have never felt so ashamed of our daughter!” her mother’s words cut to the quick. Yuli remembered turning to her dad only to see him look away.
            She tried to tell her teachers, but they accused her instead.
            “You brought this on yourself. You must have lured them,” said one.
            “It’s because of your depressing personality that people take advantage of you. You let them have their way with you. Serves you right!” said another.
            “You asked for it… It was your fault… You’re depressing… You’re pathetic…”
            Then Yuli saw “slut”, “whore”, “bitch” and other horrible words scribbled on her desk at school. Seeing those words she ran out of the classroom, past the schoolyard into the bamboo forest. She found herself at the abandoned well. She fell on her knees and wept. When her tears stopped flowing, her eyes fell on an old rope that was once used to draw water from the well. She took the rope and tossed it over the cross beam above the old well. She tied the ends together to make a loop. Then, putting her neck through the loop she jumped –
            “I don’t think so,” said a kind, quiet voice.
            Something went snap. Yuli felt herself fall, and fall, and fall….
            With a cry Yuli sat up. Damp from the cold sweat, her hand went to her throat, it felt tender. Looking at her surroundings, she noticed it was slightly dark, but she could see the fading sunlight as the sun began to set. Or was that a sunrise? That did not seem so important. The question was: where was she? Why was she in someone’s bed dressed in white cotton?
            She noticed someone dozing in a chair beside her. She squinted at the fading light. The person gave a snort and mumbled something as his head rolled to the side. The action appeared to have opened his mouth because his snores just got a bit louder.
            Yuli let out a giggle and stopped. Did I just laugh? She wondered. As she reflected her unexpected action, the figure in the chair shifted and let out a huge yawn.
            By the sound of the yawn, she figured it was a man. He stretched and scratched himself confirming further her suspicions. Dazed the man looked around; he stood up from his seat and turned on a lamp. There were no matches or signs of electricity, yet it gave out a soft golden light.
            The man turned, seeing Yuli up in bed, nearly fell over his chair.
            “You’ve startled me!” His eyes were large and brown, giving him a pleasantly youthful look. His curly hair was coppery red with a pair of stubby horns just showing. He was a curious looking person, but there was something about him that Yuli decided she liked.
            She felt a smile creep up the corners of her mouth. The young man looked briefly lost, but immediately shook his head.
            “Uh, I am D’Gurrows,” he mumbled as he held out his hand. “I mean, Douglas Burrows,” he immediately corrected.
            Yuli could not help smiling at him. “Douglas Burrows?” she echoed.
            “Yes, my name is Douglas Burrows,” the young man’s face began to glow pink. “May I have your name…?”
            “Yuli. Kamikawa Yuli,” Yuli let her name flow out of her mouth.
            “Uh, kammy-ka?”
            Yuli placed a hand over her heart. “Yuli,” she introduced herself.
            “Yuli,” Douglas repeated. “Yes, of course.” He nervously spun around. “Uh, don’t get up. Stay. All right?” he said, gesturing with his hands to let her know.
            “Stay?”
            “Stay,” he turned and walked right into the door. He opened the door, this time leaving the room.
            “Kawaii! (How cute!)” Yuli heard herself say. For the first time, she felt welcome.

            “Merl, wake up!” Douglas tapped his friend’s hairy feet that were propped on a footstool.
             The young healer, sleeping in an awkward position on Douglas’s armchair, turned on his side. Douglas grabbed the footstool from under Merl’s feet, sending Merl off the armchair.
            “What –?”
            “She woke up,” Douglas announced.
            “What time is it?” Merl yawned.
            “An hour before dawn,” Douglas replied, picking up his drowsy friend, half dragging him to the guest room.
            The moment they opened the door, Yuli’s inquisitive look immediately became one of fear.
            “It is all right,” Douglas assured her, “This is my friend Merl. He is a healer.”
            Yuli looked at Merl, her dark eyes still large with fear.
            “Merl Fourleaf, at your service,” Merl gave a nod.
            Yuli moved from the bed and pressed her back to the farthest wall, using the bed and space as a barrier. She clutched the front of the dressing gown she wore.
            “It’s all right,” Merl assured her, reading her behaviours, “I am a doctor.”
            Her hand at the front of the dressing gown relaxed. “Doctor?”
            “Yes, doctor,” Merl reassured her, “Please sit,” he waved at the bed.
            For a moment Yuli did not move. She studied Merl, then Douglas. After a minute she shifted onto the bed and sat, her eyes never leaving the two riluds.
            Merl carefully approached her and, after examining her, announced she was well.
            “Whose?” she suddenly asked.
            “What?” Merl asked.
            “Whose?” Yuli plucked the front of the dressing gown.
            “I think she means to ask who it belongs to.” Douglas approached her, “Are you asking whose it is?”
            Yuli nodded.
            “My mother’s,” he told her after a brief pause.
            “Mother?”
            “Douglas had a friend dress you because your clothes were wet.” Merl explained. Seeing the concerned look on her face about her clothes, he immediately added, “Don’t worry, my cousin and friend take care of your clothes.”
            Yuli sat and said nothing. An awkward silence filled the room until Douglas broke it.
            “Are you hungry?” he asked.
            “Hungry?” Yuli echoed the question. As on cue her stomach grumbled.
            “I suppose that would be a ‘yes’.” Merl smiled. “You stay and rest. My friend and I will make you some breakfast.” With that he dragged his friend out the door and shut it after them.
            That doctor also had horns, but his hair was golden colour, Yuli reflected. And his feet were hairy. In fact, both of them had hairy feet and hands. How interesting....

            After an hour, the two riluds brought a breakfast tray consisting of tea, warm toast with butter, jam in one plate, and another plate of bacon and eggs. Yuli nibbled her toast as Douglas served her some tea generously sweetened with sugar and whitened with fresh cream.
            “Good,” she whispered, for indeed the food was delicious. Though it took some time, she cleaned her plate and nestled into bed as Douglas removed the tray. They left her once again to let her rest.
            “You know, Douglas,” Merl began as they sat at the kitchen table with their breakfast, “perhaps we should have Yuli stay somewehere else. It may not be wise to keep her with a bachelor, especially in a community where there would likely be even more gossip especially after Mrs. Bobbid had seen you bring her into your home.”
            “I agree, how does having Yuli stay with your family sound to you?” Douglas suggested.
            Merl poured himself another cup of tea as he considered the idea. “My cousin Sunflower would probably be a welcome presence for Yuli.” He raised the cup to his lips.
            “She has Lily staying with her for Master Caspar’s birthday celebration. Perhaps having more than one female presence would be good for her.” Douglas said as he sipped his tea.
            At the mention of Lily Tunnelly Merl spewed his tea.
            “How did you know about Lily?” Merl sputtered, wiping his mouth.
            “Well,” Douglas made a face as he tossed a clean napkin at his friend. “Let us say that I have overheard Mrs. Bobbid talking a bit loudly to Farmer Eggers the other day about pairing me up with her. Why?”
            Merl noticed his friend eyeing him knowingly. “Oh, dear,” the young healer muttered.
            “I don’t see what the problem is since you are not going to be the one staying with her,” Douglas replied casually, but had a hint of an edge to his voice.
            Silence filled the room momentarily, Merl’s hand over his mouth, leaning forward deep in thought in how to get out of this hole he had dug himself without having to face his friend’s nasty wrath.
            The rooster crowed in the distance calling up the morning sun.
            Merl sighed. Then bowing his head he confessed, “I’m sorry, Douglas. Yes, I have called Lily over to the shire to meet you. However,” he held up his index finger to make a point, “I did not ask Mrs. Bobbid to arrange the match. My mother did.”
            “Rose? Why?”
            “I didn’t want you to still be lost over Miriam.” Miriam was Merl’s twin sister and held a special place in Douglas’s heart.
            “Merl –”
            “It’s been almost ten years, Douglas,” Merl gently reminded, “And I’m sure –”
            Immediately Douglas got up from his seat and opened the door.
            “I’m sorry, Merl, I have to ask you to leave,” Douglas told him.
            “And then, what?” Merl asked sadly, “Douglas –”
            “Please!”
            “No.”
            Upon those words, Douglas strode up to his friend.
            “If you are going to make me leave, I ask that you at least listen to what I say.” Merl began. Douglas’s hand shot out to grab Merl by the collar. Merl grabbed that hand and tugged the sleeve down to expose pink and scarlet cuts that were just healing on his friend’s wrist.
            “How much longer are you going to blame yourself for her death?” Merl asked quietly.
            Douglas took back his hand and pulled the sleeve back over those scars.
            “You know, my friend, it not only hurts me, but all of us who cares about you when you do this to yourself.”
            Douglas said nothing. His bottom lip held between his teeth to force down the pain of another scar – one that was deeper and uglier inside his heart.
            “So you brought Lily here in hope that I would forget Miriam,” Douglas scoffed.
            “Not forget, let go.”

            “You know I can’t do that.” Douglas smiled weakly, “I swore an oath that I would love her and no other.” He inhaled, and then exhaled slowly. “Very well, I will see her – after we have arranged things for Yuli.”

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Monday, 15 July 2013

Daughter of Benik [Chapter 2 - part 2]


            Douglas sat at the edge of the river with his line in the water. He usually did not fish, but his rilud instincts told him that Mrs. Cordelia Bobbid will be paying him a surprise visit sometime that day. Avoidance with a plausible excuse seemed like a good plan.
            He reeled his line and tossed a weed snagged in the hook. Returning the line in the water, he propped his fishing rod on a cluster of rocks. He felt a tug, more a prompting if another were to explain it. He got up and peered at his surroundings.
            This way, he turned right and walked upstream. He walked up for some time and came to beaver dam that collected river water, allowing it to feed into a tamed flow downriver. It was at this dam he saw something caught. He quickened his pace, thankful his thick soled boots gave him some footing on the mesh of branches and limbs. As he approached he saw that whatever it was too big for a woodland animal and had long black hair. A pale hand peeked from under the mass of ravenlocks.
            An elf? Elves of Atillia are of fair skin and hair, this one has black hair and ochre-toned skin. Douglas crouched and turned the limp figure. The being was a young woman with elf-like features, but the ears are not pointed. A half-breed? The woman whimpered.
            He shook her gently. “Lass–?” he stopped. Around the woman’s neck was a corded rope.
            Douglas stood. This is not good, he decided. He needed to remove her from harm. He crouched down again and carefully unwound the rope from her neck. Once he tossed the rope away, he lifted her into his arms and began to carry her away from the river.

            A few distances away from the river dam was a domed hill; at its southern side was a flat section with a round green door. This hill with the green door was the Burrows’ home. After some difficulty, Douglas opened his door and carried the drenched human woman to his cozy rilud home.
            “Mr. Burrows,” a female voice called from outside the door. Douglas inwardly groaned.
            “Mrs. Bobbid,” Douglas forced a smile on his face.
            “I see that you are not too pleased to see me,” elderly rilud busybody noted as she strode up his front steps. She stopped. “Oh my, who’s that?”
            “Uh, a guest... Yes, a very important guest.” As he said those words an idea came to his mind. “Which reminds me, I was wondering if you could do me the favour of dressing her and putting her to bed? She had a nasty fall in the river and I would like to get our healer to have a look at her.”
            “Well, I suppose –”
            “Splendid!” with a strength and speed that appeared to have doubled that moment, Douglas put the woman on the bed in his guest room.
            “Please use the clothes in the wardrobe. There should be something of my ma’s that should fit her. I will be right back!” With that he dashed through the door leaving Mrs. Bobbid in a momentary confusion.

             At the eastern part of the Shire, Merl had just finished bandaging a patient (a little rilud-lad who had a nasty scrape on his elbow that required stitches), Douglas burst through the door.
            “Merl, where’s Wisdom?” he asked.
            “Hello to you too, Douglas,” Merl smiled with humour. “Da’s in the middle of removing an appendix, if you don’t mind waiting –”
            “I need someone else other than Mrs. Bobbid to examine the girl.”
            “To examine a – did you just say ‘a girl’?”
            “Yes, a girl – a young human woman at my home with Mrs. Bobbid nursing her. Could we please hurry? It looks pretty bad.”
            “Will I do?” Merl asked as he washed his hands in a basin.
            “Do you know what to do with a girl who nearly drowned in the river?”
            “Douglas, I have helped my da with his practice. As long as it does not involve cutting people open I should be able to do something that.”
            “All right, please hurry!”

            Back at the Burrows’ residence, Mrs. Bobbid had the human girl washed, toweled and dressed in a nightgown that once belonged to Mrs. Burrows.
            About half an hour later, Douglas came home dragging his friend Merl with him through the front entrance. “I brought the healer,” he announced.
            “Ah, Mr. Burrows. About your guest, who is she? And –”
            “Thank you, Mrs. Bobbid. We will take over from here. Has our patient been showing consciousness?” Merl politely asked as he opened his bag.
            “Yes, well, just briefly, I gave her some water because she said she was thristy. I made sure she is kept warm.” Mrs. Bobbid explained, as the two riluds kindly showed her the door.
            “Thank you, you are wonderful. Now then, perhaps you should see yourself home. I am sure your family is waiting for their supper.”
            “Yes, of course,” she said as the door closed firmly shut after her.
            The two friends looked at each other and made their way to the guest room.
            “Boil some water, Douglas, she may need something to warm her when she wakes up.” Merl requested.
Immediately, Douglas made his way to the kitchen and put the kettle on. As the water boiled he got a tray ready for the guest. Some toast, a bit of summer berry preserves from Aunt April. He had another pot of tea ready for Merl and himself.
A while later, Merl entered the kitchen, “She’ll be fine. She is just recovering from shock. It appears she had hit her head when she fell into the river. Other than a nasty bump to the head, she will be right as rain once she wakes up from her rest.”
            “Were you able to speak to her?”
            “A little, she seemed a wee bit confused, but drifted back to sleep.”
            Douglas sat down with relief. “Thank goodness.”
            “So,” Merl pulled up a chair and faced his friend. “What made you so concerned about this particular lass?”
            Douglas began to look grim as he explained what he had found. “She was lying faced down draped over the beaver dam with a rope around her neck.” Douglas poured a cup of mint tea for his friend.
            “Was she conscious then?” Merl accepted the cup.
            “I think she said something, but I’m not sure. However, that rope gave me a bit of a scare so I tossed it back into the river.”
            Merl nodded in understanding.
            “Well, on a brighter note, there’s going to be a rumour throughout the Shire that bachelor Douglas Burrows has found a lady and brought her home with him.” Douglas smiled wryly.
            “Don’t mind that busybody. Leave that rumour for three months and it will be naught.” Merl took a sip.

            For Douglas, he was not sure about that. By nature riluds do not lie; and by nature riluds do not forget easily. In fact, they remember – sometimes too well for their own good.

Daughter of Benik [Chapter 2 - part 1]


            Place: Underground of Aven’s Dome.

            Aven’s Dome was originally where King Ephesus’s palace stood, until the Order burned it and built their place of gathering there. The dome was made of bricks that remained of the castle, all polished and painted black to give a black lacquered appearance. Beneath the dome was a maze of passages where the members of the Order entered and left when they made secret raids upon those on the surface. A petite figure in black slipped through one of the passages that led to the gates of the dark underworld. Shyaina, wearing the Order’s hooded cloak, found a tall space near the hall leading the dungeon; a narrow and uneven wall snaked up nearly hidden from view. She looked around to see that no one was watching, carefully began to make its way upwards. Once at the top, she could peer into the bowels of the Dome where the High Oracle of Beliar made his incantations without being seen.
            Please, Ishual, may it be that I will not be seen, she silently prayed.
            The place was stifling and dark thanks to black marble and the damp, smoky air. Shyaina brought the edge of her hood over her mouth to avoid inhaling the irritating fumes of incense.
            Two guards, dressed in their black armour, entered the great hall. Through the dancing shadows and smoke, Shyaina could see at the far end towards her right a giant writhing creature. It was fat and glistening, its skin nearly transparent as its insides shifted at each movement the strange creature made. Torchlights threw red-gold accentuating the monstrous figure; its colour was so dark that its skin appeared to devour the light from the torches. Shyaina shuddered at the hideous sight as she continued to watch. Then another figure appeared into the scene – the High Oracle himself. The oracle wore a white cloak that nearly covered him completely; his sleeves are folded up to reveal the black silk lining inside.
            “How may I serve you, my lord?” asked the oracle as he bowed before the giant worm.
            Somewhere from beneath the bulking shape of fat and flesh, a deep gurgling voice echoed through the hall. I…ammm…hungry…, it hissed.
            “The dungeons are filled for you.”
            Iiiittt…bettttteerrrr…beee…fuuulllll…, the hulking worm slowly moved from its dais and glided down with a grace that belied its heavy form. It then melted and shifted into long tentacle-like limbs that released small scurrying things that slid into crevices and cracks on the floor. Not long after it absorbed itself into the floor, a high pitched screech tore through the place. Swiftly, the small black things retreated. It buuurrrnsss! It buuurrrrnnnsss! The monster cried out piling its bulk back onto the dais like a cowering child.
            “What is it, my lord?” the oracle asked.
            The liiiight! The bllaaade! Ittt biiittes! Ittt freeeeezzzzes!
            “Stewards!”
            Two young men in white robes with designs of the black worm and black belts appeared.
            “Someone has hid a stone sword amongst them. Find it and kill its owner.”
            The stewards bowed and left.
            Shyaina silently slid down the brick ladder and made her way to the dungeon. Now she knows where to find what she was looking for.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Place: The Woods of Lemuel, in the Kingdom of Korda.

            Irene, led by Caleah and Pine, found herself walking for quite a while until she heard a voice calling close by.
            “Pine! Caleah!”
            “Papa!” cried Caleah as she released her hand from Irene and ran towards the voice.
            Within a few moments, there were voices followed by the sound of people. Irene looked up to see a clean-shaven man who appeared to be in his early thirties. With him were two other men and two short men, whom Irene thought were dwarves.
            “Papa!” cried Pine with joy.
            “Why did you do this to us?” scolded the man to his son. “We have told you many times not to wander into the woods alone!”
            Tears began to pool in the little boy’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Papa, but Caleah and I just wanted to pick flowers for Mama.” The boy began to sob.
            The father, unsure of how to respond to this, gently put his arms around his son and said, “There, there, I’m sorry for losing my head. We were all worried that you my have been taken away by the members of the Order.”
            “We were about to, Papa. We were about to be killed for Beliar,” piped up Caleah who was held by one of the tall men.
            “And a huge man with a big sword was about to kill us until she came along.” Pine sniffed pointing to Irene.
            Everyone looked at Irene.
            “She was very strong. She had a sword and defeated him,” said Caleah excitedly.
            “Could she be Ishual?” asked Pine.
            The father looked at Irene and held out his hand. “Thank you for saving my children.”
            “I – really didn’t do anything,” Irene replied nervously, shaking his hand. “I just saw them in danger and wanted to save them.”
            But the man took no heed to the response. “Please, stay at our place. We want to show you our gratitude for what you have done.”
            The men brought her to log cabin quite a ways away from the woods. The father of the twins introduced himself as Mito Ben-Duek, the other tall men he introduced as Rayn Kyte and Sinde Mendd. Mito had soft dirty blond hair that glowed to a golden hue in the light, a trait Irene assumed Pine and Caleah received from their father. Rayn also had blond hair, yet appeared to be a much more of a quieter man that Mito. Sinde appeared to be a black elf, with a dark handsome face and pearly white teeth. He was the one who entertained the children with many stories of the old.
            Robin Burrows, one of the short men (whom Irene later found was called a rilud), was an old family friend. Robin had curly copper hair with streaks of grey, one of the signs of his age – eighty-three to be exact, over the hill in rilud age. He was the one who makes funny expressions on his beardless round face, another man who entertains the children. Irene noticed that Robin had hairy hands and short stubby horns, the common traits of a rilud.
            Glenn Gleenwood, the other short man, was a dwarf. His black hair was streaked with some grey. Irene later found out that he was one hundred ninety-one in age. Glenn appeared to be a grim person at first, yet she later discovered that he was actually a pleasant person. It was when he was deep in thought that made his dark bushy brows sink down making him look grave.
            Mito’s wife, Treenah, was a lovely woman with brown hair and laughing blue eyes that the children also shared. She served them some roasted grouse with spicy herbs and a special sauce. There were also fresh homemade bread, a garden salad, boiled carrots and potatoes; berry juice and milk to drink with the meal.
            When everyone ate, Irene introduced herself and learned about her host and his friends. However, she did not tell them where she came from or how, for she did not feel that it was the right time to do so. After the wonderful meal came their favourite time for them all, the time of stories and tales of the old, legends of forgotten places and great kings who had done great deeds for their peoples, and tales of castles built inside trees and mountains.
            “Tells us of how we received the stone sword,” said the children.
            “Let Glenn tell it,” Sinde suggested, “He could make the story come to life with his lyre.”
            Irene felt a nudge as Robin, who sat beside her leaned over to whisper into her ear. “You are very privileged; Glenn is one of the best storytellers amongst us.”
            “Eh, what’s that?” asked Glenn gruffly, as he lifted an eyebrow suspiciously. “Mr. Robin Burrows! I should have known, you trouble-maker!” he said mischievously, “And trying to impress our lovely guest with local gossip, I see. Well, wait’ll I tell April! She will not be happy with what you are doing!”
            Did that guy just call me lovely? Irene wondered.
            Robin only laughed in return.
            The men laughed at the light bickering, Irene felt a smile creeping up her face as she watched the warm atmosphere. How long has it been since she had moments like these? Glenn’s grim face lit up as he left his seat to get his lyre. Once he took it into his hands, he began to tune it as he approached his seat. Once he sat down he began to play.
            “I will tell you a story I have made up. This story is called, ‘The Dragon Slayer’.” Glenn began to sing in a deep yet, gentle voice.
In the beginning was a king
Who made things come to being
A world of love and righteousness
Where all creatures lived in peace.
Then appeared Dragon of Death
Who devoured and killed with its destructive breath
The king saw his people die
And wept for the injured and the dead.
Then, the king removed his crown
As well and his rich cloak and gown
All his kingly glories were laid down.
Then in his nakedness he stood
Before the dragon.
The dragon looked at the king and open its mouth
Swallowed the king whole!
But wait! In the dragon’s black belly there glowed a light
A mysterious shimmer like a star at night.
The dragon hacked, coughed, and gagged
Finally it twisted and turned in pain
Then in the worm’s belly appeared a hole!
Out came the king all safe and sound
Leading the people out clean and whole!
The dragon died from the painful slice
(I would be too -- an experience that’s not very nice).
From then on the tale is told
Dear children, keep this in your heart where it will always hold,
And you shall live long until very old!

            “I don’t want to grow old, yet!” piped up Caleah.
            Glenn’s lyre string made a funny sound at the remark. He burst out laughing, “Not all of us do, Child. Not all of us do.”
            “And now, Irene, tell us about yourself,” Mito asked with interest.
            “Yes, tell us! Tell us!” the twins piped.
            Irene looked at them. “I – I don’t know where to start.”
            “Where you are from,” said Robin.
            Irene looked at everyone around the table. Pine and Caleah wiggled in their chair in excitement.
            “I came…” her words died off as someone pounded on the door.
            “Quick, children!” Treenah took each child’s hand.
            The men moved swiftly moving the chairs from the table. Treenah opened the trapdoor hidden beneath the table and lead the children down there.
            “You too, milady,” Robin told Irene.
            Irene looked at them in confusion. “But –”
            A pair of strong arms lifted her and dropped her into the floor. The moment her feet touched the floor, the trapdoor snapped shut above her.
            The last sliver of light disappeared as a rug was thrown over the door. More sounds of moving chairs. There were footsteps, then voices. The door opening and Mito’s voice demanding who it was.
            In the dark celler, Irene listened to what was going on above them. The children whimpered, but their mother hushed them.
            “You must leave…” Irene heard a muffled voice say in broken sentences.
            “Where…? How…?” one of the men asked, their actual words hard to hear.
            The sound of movement above them, the trapdoor opens making Irene and her new friends blink at the sudden light.
            “Mito?” Treenah’s voice was full of concern.
            “That was Shyaina. She said that they were coming. They’re two day’s journey away.” Mito explained, suddenly looking tired.
            “Then we must go,” Glenn said as he began to pack his lyre.
            “What’s going on?” Irene asked, “Why must we go?”
            “The raiders are coming for their hunt. The monster is hungry again.” Glenn explained, he brought out a short sword in its sheath and strapped it to his belt.
            “You do have a weapon, don’t you?” Sinde asked.
            Irene shook her head. “I don’t have a weapon. All I know is that I used this.” She brought out her jeweled pendant.
            Robin stared. “Where did you get that?”
            “My relative gave it to me.” Irene explained, “She said it belonged to my ancestor.”
            Glenn studied her for a moment. “Here,” he tossed her another something wrapped in a cloth.
            Irene caught the item and removed the wrapping, inside was what looked like a stone rod about a foot long with a handle. Into the stone script engraved close together were that Irene could not identify due to its small size, each letter neatly lined and wound up the rod creating an elaborate pattern.
            “What’s this?” she asked.
            “Something to go with that stone,” the dwarf explained.
            “What?”
            “Take it with you. You will need it to protect yourself.”
            Irene strapped the stone rod on her back.
            After they quickly packed their possessions, they loaded onto four horses that were kept in the stable.
            Irene looked and noticed the cloved shoes the horses were wearing. “Why are their shoes like that?” she asked Rayn, who stood beside her.
            “It’s to throw our pursuers off-track.” he told her lowering his voice.
            Treenah sat on one of the horses with Caleah. Pine went on the horse with Irene.
            “Us men could manage long distances.” Robin told them with a grin.

            In the cover of night, the group made their escape with Sinde at the lead through and Glenn at the rear.


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