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Oprhan Druid, chapter two

    • 89 posts
    October 10, 2020 9:37 AM PDT

    "Why?" she asks again.

    Saravai laughs. "Still your favorite word, kit."

    "That isn't my name," she says. "I'm not a fox. I don't even have a fox." She glances at her teacher's companion and feels a familiar envy.

    He looks up from strumming his long-necked shargia, suddenly serious. "You are a kit until you have a name. I have explained this. Don't sulk."

    It's hard not to sulk. She looks down at the gajdy he gave her, a small air bag with one drone pipe and a double chanter. "I can't play this. It's too hard. And I'm not a bard anyway."

    "Music is not only for bards. You hear the music of the trees? The songs of thrush and magpie?"

    Now she smiles. "I can't sing with the thrush. They're always grumpy."

    Her teacher nods. "They have reason to be, but they overdo it. Try again."

    She sighs and takes a deep breath, then tries blowing into the windpipe again. A thin sound comes from the gajdy's chanter, soft and cheery, as she tries to do the scales again. The drone barely honks. When she finishes her scales, she lets the windpipe falls and tries to catch her breath.

    "Good enough for now," he sighs.

    She sets the gajdy on the ground and pushes it away from her. "When will I see it?"

    "When it is time," Saravai says softly. His eyes have the look of remembering. "You cannot call the avatar who is meant for you. Hirode will send your companion when the time is right."


    Saravai laughs and sets down his shargia. The strings sound as it settles onto the earth. He looks at the fox beside him and says, "Was I that impatient?"

    The fox chuckles and nods.

    "It's been eight years," whispers the girl.

    "That sound," says the Druid, nodding toward the small bagpipes. "Listen for it when you play today."

    The girl knows a cue when she hears one. She jumps up and leaves their little house, then scurries down the trunk of the oak. She stops before she reaches the ground, remaining perfectly still as she was taught, until she can see that no danger lurks on the ground below. She jumps and lands in a crouch, then begins to run.

     * * * * *

    Deep in the forest north of Thistledown, she runs through the trees, listening to every whisper and song in the woods and roots and thickets. Nothing sounds like the gajdy she struggles to play. Just a chorus of all of life grasping, brushing against other life, hunting, screaming, dying, singing, drinking the sun and the wind.

    The trees never run and play with her... which is probably just as well, because that would either be funny or terrifying, and she isn't sure which.

    So many voices. Birds and small mammals, plants and bees, dragonflies almost as big as she is. Faster she runs, faster, the wind in her hair and songs in her ears. Still she runs, a small wolf padding on two legs through the wood.

    Then it all stops. The voices still, and a shiver of alarm spreads through the roots beneath the ground, spreading through the trees from somewhere ahead of her.

    Saravai has taught her what to do. She silently drops to the ground, digging into the dirt with her fingers, listening. Trying to see ahead with every sense that is not sight.

    ~~ a battle, not far away ~~

    Her teacher would tell her to run the other way, that she is not old enough. But she is almost nine, and she is weary of this waiting, waiting, waiting. She jumps up and runs as silently as she can, her feet finding the spaces between, no leaves or branches to crumble or rattle.

    In a clearing she sees them, five children slightly older than her. She knows them from Thistledown. Though she knows their names, they have barely ever spoken to her. Druid and orphan of a family killed by wraiths? Two counts against her as a play companion.

    But the others are circling, trying to dodge a wild hungry boar. On the ground lies a sixth, wounded: Ivica, the tanner's daughter.

    Why won't they run? she wonders.

    Mirjana waves her arms and shouts, getting the boar's attention. Zelijko leaps, a long spear in his hands, and pierces the boar near its thigh muscles. it screams. Dragica and Marco jump in with knives and try to hurt it further, but the boar shifts at the last moment, one tusk wounding Marco's knife arm.

    "Why do you wait there?" asks the wind.

    She looses the breath she was holding. The wind? She has heard it whisper without words, but this she understands--or thinks she does.

    "Not yours?" Another voice, rough but beautiful. A crow lands on a branch near where she hides in the undergrowth.

    "Why are you... Can you understand me?"

    "If they are not yours," laughs the crow, "then you need not protect them. Or is the boar yours?"

    She blinks. "They're..."

    What? What are they to her? Friends? Now she laughs, and the crow laughs with her. Never friends. But they are children of Thistledown, and that is something else altogether.

    "They don't understand us," her master has taught her, "but they rely on us all the same. We speak to the forest, sing to the sky, and listen for the songs that might endanger our people."

    The girl sighs. "They are mine," she says.

    The crow tilts her head to one side, puzzled. "Then why are you hiding?"

    She can feel the battle through her fingers in the earth, can feel feet and hooves striking the ground, the rumble of danger. Can feel the roots and vines beneath them all.

    A melody escapes her lips, quietly at first. It is a melody Saravai plays for her sometimes, singing in the words of Old Kiri from the world that was lost. A song that she yearns to play on the gajdy pipes, if she ever gets any better.

    She sings it now, the words shaped out of memory and home. Shaped from the whispers of trees that she has listened to all her life. Shaped from birdsong and the wind playing a harp of leaves.

    ~~ Rise ~~

    Vines reach from the ground, grasping at the feet of the boar, holding it in place. Giving the others a chance to move in away from the tusks. Struggle as it might, the boar cannot turn to gore them now.

    Holding a small shield in one hand, Dragica leaps onto the boar's back. Using her shield against the striving tusks, she reaches around with her knife and slices through its throat. Then she jumps away.

    The boar screams a long time before it dies. The fighters stare at the body of the boar, see the vines still clutching at its legs.

    The hidden girl stands and walks toward them. They see her and step back a bit, frowning. The wrenching cry of shredded skin and torn organs screeches in her ear as she kneels beside Ivica.

    "I feel it," she whispers. "I feel it, but I don't know what to do. I can't..."

    Then she hears it. It does almost sound like the pipes, at least when Saravai plays them. A sweet melody singing above the thrumming drone of a god's voice.

    "Yes," comes another whisper, "you can."

    And there she is, the white fox of Saravai. Or... no, this isn't his fox. This one has a small tuft of chestnut fur between her ears. The fox stares at Ivica, humming slightly, until a ghostly green fire glows above the wounded halfling.

    The others come closer, kneeling by Ivica. She is not fully healed, but she no longer seems at the edge of death. They look up at the girl with the fox and the crow.

    "We have to get her back to my master."

    Zelijko is tying a cloth around Marco's arm, trying to stem the flow of blood. "It's a long way to Thistledown. And we're exhausted from trying to defend ourselves."

    "Then let's stop talking and go," whispers Ivica. "This hurts a lot, you know."

    "You have seen the wolf," her fox says to her. "You have seen it fly across the land. You know the feel of the wolf's paws along the ground."

    She closes her eyes, and remembers. It is so clear. So swift, beautiful. She looks up and says, "Now."

    They run, carrying Ivica with them.

     * * * * *

    She sits alone in their home, waiting. She is not allowed into the council house on the eldest oak.

    Saravai returns smiling. "I thought I set you to practicing your gajdy."

    She swallows. "I was..."

    "Nervous? Of course. Ivica and Marco are fine. And you," he smiles at the second fox in their home, and the crow sitting on her shoulder, "have finally found yourself."

    He sits in front of her and reaches for the hot water kettle over the fire, then pours some over the cups of leaves she had set out for him. "Why the crow?" he asks.

    "I just... it started talking to me." She laughs. "And kept talking the whole way back. Crows have a lot to say. She likes when I sing."

    "I see." Her master blows on the hot tea. "Crowsinger."


    He smiles. "Your name. You are Crowsinger."



    continued in chapter three:


    This post was edited by Crowsinger at November 14, 2020 5:35 AM PST
    • 89 posts
    October 10, 2020 9:48 AM PDT

    (I'm not sure why, but for some reason I hear halflings speaking with a sort of eastern European accent. Probably absolutely wrong, but I'm running with it using Croatian names and musical instruments, until I know more.)

    • 97 posts
    November 24, 2020 6:48 AM PST

    Crowsinger said:

    She glances at her teacher's companion and feels a familiar envy.


    Easily the favorite line.

    That's hillarious though.  I never would have imagined them that way.  I won't be able to get that out of my head now, thanks.  My wife's family is from Slovenia and she's short.  I think I may have married one...

    • 89 posts
    November 24, 2020 11:21 AM PST

    Years ago, a woman taught me how to say "Hello" in Croatian (zdravo). I don't know, it stuck with me.

    And those Croatian bagpipes sound really nice