Hero of Corsindor
Shira packed her few clothes into a bag. She couldn’t bring more than her horse could carry. It would be better to have more food and weapons than clothes. She would miss this tent. She could barely stand in the center and it had a small cot in the corner.
A trunk held her clothes and weapons. She would have to leave much of it if she was only allowed one horse.
She didn’t turn to look when she heard the tent flap crackle. She had wanted to tell Oor that she was leaving, but the Counselor had cautioned her.
Well, she hadn’t told him, but he would have to be suspicious after seeing her packing.
“You’ll need this,” Oor said. He handed her a small ebony knife. She wrapped the knife in cotton and place it in the pouch that hung on her belt. There was a small blue jewel in the knife that was the exact color of her eyes.
“Thank you,” said Shira. “It’s lovely.”
She waited for him to leave, but he just looked at her with a little disappointment in his eyes. Oor was like a father to her. While training her, he had trained her and taught her all of his tricks. She hated to see that look in his eyes.
“You aren’t leaving without me,” he told her.
“I can’t,” she said. “You are needed here.”
He smiled. “You think I’m too old for the journey. Well, you don’t get a choice. I’ve already talked to the Counselor. Get your butt in gear because our horses are waiting for us.”
Oor grabbed her bag then pulled out most of the clothes. “You won’t be needing these.”
She was half-resigned and very amused when they made their way to the barn. Malkiah was there already. He had two horses geared up and ready.
Two people knowing her mission was two many, but three? “You aren’t going too?”
Malkiah shook his head, no. Then he smiled. “You know that when you leave I am next in line to be the Councilor’s protector?”
Shira hadn’t thought of that. Still she knew that the Counselor would run him ragged. “Good luck with that,” she smiled back.
Even though they were rivals, she would miss him. Malkiah was short, muscled, with dark hair bound in leather strips. His brown eyes could twinkle when he wasn’t angry. Shira had to admit that she liked making him angry. He spent too much of his time being self-important.
“Keep Cianne out of trouble” was her parting shot. Malkiah frowned.
Shira swung her leg over the saddle and settled in. Oh yea, Malkiah was angry that she had mentioned Cianne. That woman had too much ambition in her body and she used that ambition to get Malkiah, her son, in positions of power.
Oor leaped onto the two-tone white and brown gelding, “Quit murmuring love words and let’s get going.”
“Oh hell,” Shira would miss him. She leaned over the saddle and planted a kiss on Malkiah’s lips. He was shocked. Well, that shut him up. He did stroke her hair.
She turned the horse north and didn’t look back.
As soon as they reached the forest, the tree limbs of the fir trees closed around them and it became harder to ride. Shira got off of her horse after Oor. They led their horses through the small narrow trail. The detritus crunched under Shira’s feet. The two people, two horses, and one mule could not pass unnoticed.
As they passed the outer edges of the trees, the trunks became thicker and the moon that had risen only a few minutes before hid its face in the upper branches. Not even a little moonlight lit the forest floor.
When they reached a small clearing near a stream, Shira saw a few bits of rope on the ground near the tree. That wouldn’t have alarmed her much except there were huge claw marks on the trunk of a cottonwood with roots drinking thirstily from the burbling stream.
Still they decided to camp here for the rest of the night and get a head start in the morning. It was going to be a cold camp. After tying the horses and mules to stakes so they could graze and get water, Shira rolled up in a blanket under the clawed-up tree. Oor would take the first watch tonight.
Shira woke at the first howl.
She jumped up and rolled her blanket. Even if they could get the horses saddled again, the nightstalker was too close. She knew it was a nightstalker. There was nothing else that would make the back of her hairs stand on end.
She looked longingly at the stream. Nightwalkers were like other scent predators. If they could get away without being seen, then they might have a chance. When she started that direction, Oor caught her arm and put a finger to his lips.
Stupid. Stupid. The nightstalker was close enough to hear them. The stream was not the escape she could take.
Shira slid out her short sword from her belt and readied herself for an extremely bloody death. Nightstalkers mauled their prey and ate the meat bloody, raw, and live.
Oor didn’t have his sword out. Before she could say anything she heard a rustle coming from the tops of the trees. She faced the new danger with her sword out.
Oor grabbed her wrist and pointed her sword down. He shook his head, no.
The bushes moved from the outside of the clearing moved closer. She blinked her eyes and the bushes were even closer. When she took another look, there were four small men barely over four feet standing around them.
They wore spiked armor that resembled the bushes. Shira admired the camouflage and the work that had went into making them. It took a fine artisan to make it.
“No, it can’t be,” Shira whispered to Oor. “The little people are myths.”
Oor just grinned at her astonishment.
A man in green tights walked through the little warriors. He had a hat with a long feather that swept the ground behind him. Oor poked Shira in the ribs before she laughed.
“SPAKRSF,” said the little man.
“SPAKRSF,” Oor answered, and then spread his hands with the palm ups.
“What is he saying?” Shira asked.
Oor frowned at her. She wanted to roll her eyes because he would say the same thing he always said. Use your gift.
So she tried to hear with her ears and heart. “I can’t find it,” she said.
“It’s a first world language.”
Shira took a deep breath and tried to calm herself as the nightstalker’s howls came closer. She lost herself for a moment in the deep blackness until Oor pinched her. She came back with a blush on her cheek.
“Ha, ha, ha,” said the little man. “She thinks I’m a wizard. You need to teach her better, old friend.”
“Hush,” Oor said. “She’s never met a creature as ugly as you before. Remember when you met your first world creature? You screeched and ran away.”
“Well,” said the little man. “You were big and hairy.”
“Surely, I haven’t changed that much?”
“So is this a reunion?” Shira asked. “Do you this is the proper moment for introductions?” Shira’s complaint was punctured by another howl.
“This is Stefan Gomez Alvirez Antonio McFarland. Shorty to his friends. I call him, Runt,” said Oor.
The howl that echoed through the woods was so close that both Shira and Runt jumped.
“Can we continue this conversation in a safer place?” Oor asked.
Shorty whistled in such a high pitch that Shira barely heard it. Long hemp ropes coiled down from the tops of the trees. Shira could see several little people high in the branches.
“Our horses,” said Shira. She wouldn’t leave them to the nightstalker.
“We’ll take care of them,” said Shorty. Two large baskets were lowered to the ground. “Get in.”
Shira and Oor scrambled in the woven baskets. The baskets swayed as the little people in the trees heaved to get them up and hidden in the higher branches. It swayed so much that Shira felt nauseous. She swallowed the bile down and closed her eyes.
The ride seemed like an eternity. But it wasn’t forever. Soon a little woman was coaxing her out of the basket. Shira shook, but followed the woman. There was a temporary bridge between the trees that was made of wooden planks.
“Don’t look down,” said the little woman. She helped Shira into the next basket. It dangled from a series of ropes across the trees to a destination that was too far for her eyes to see.
She took a deep breath and told her stomach to be good. The basket whizzed down the ropes and the air rushed and slapped her face. Her shoulders cramped. Her fingers cramped as she clung to the edge of the basket.
The nightwalker howled beneath her. It was a cry of a predator that had lost its prey.
As Shira gently swayed, the darkness deepened. A small lit glinted and a strong current whirled her toward that light. She bumped through a tunnel, black jagged rocks, cave openings, and hieroglyphics flashed across her corneas. She fell and fell and fell.
She landed softly on a soft velvety grass. She was surprised to be on her feet. The sun shone straight down on her so her shadow was hidden.
“Where am I?” she asked softly. She wasn’t expecting an answer so she was surprised when she heard a soft voice.
“I have called you,” it said.
When she felt a feathery light touch on her legs, she looked down and saw a small kitten rubbing her leg.
The kitten sat on its haunch in front of her.
“Listen.” It looked at Shira directly and Shira could not look away. “At Hunter’s Quarry, there is a small cave guarded by a nightstalker named Rhali. He has traded his birthright for destruction. Kill him. He hosts the soul of a young man.”
“Go with my blessings.” A whirling light touched the top of the kitten’s head and traveling down its body. Turning into a whirlwind, it clawed Shira, leaving three marks on her ribs.
“My mark is upon you.”
A white pearl necklace was placed around Shira’s neck. The light became smaller and smaller until Shira was in the blackness again.
A young woman shook her. “Get out, please. I can’t carry you.” Shira opened her eyes. “You poor thing. You’ve hurt yourself.”
Shira crawled out of the basket. She must have had a dream while she was traveling so high above the ground. She promised that if she ever got back on the ground, she wouldn’t come back…ever.
Her ribs stung so she looked down. There was blood on the shirt. When she lifted it up, there was three claw marks on her ribs. The small woman helped her to a hut in the tree city.
She fussed over Shira, wiping the cut and putting salve on it. “You need to be careful of infection,” she said.
Soon Shira couldn’t keep her eyes open. She was on a bed so short that her feet hung over the sides.
As she was falling into that twilight dusk of sleep, she thought she heard voices.
“She is a child of the third world,” said a deep male voice.
A light curled up on the table next to Shira. In the light was a small gray tabby cat with deep forest green eyes.
“She is called,” the cat said.
A light breeze whispered through a window and touched Shira on the forehead. She slept.