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Orphan Druid, chapter four

    • 89 posts
    October 11, 2020 6:30 AM PDT

    Five Nothi leap down a steep incline and keep running. The tall grass breaks before them like waves, and they can hear the tremor of their pursuers. Sparrowdawn trips over something, but he somehow regains his balance and keeps running. He doesn't miss a beat on the frame drum that keeps them all moving at this speed.

    Crowsinger glances to both sides, where the heads of her companions seem to fly just above the grasses in the twilight. She can't see Kasti, but she doesn't expect to.

    A cry from Aleshe—the chasm is near.

    The Druid hums to the vines ahead of her, calling them into a shape Voro taught her. Resisting the urge to skid to a stop at the edge, she runs across her bridge of vines with her companions' footsteps close behind.

    Beyond the other side, she clambers up a tree, knowing that Aleshe is doing the same nearby. When the Druid reaches a good branch, she finds her balance and looks back.

    The wraiths are almost to the bridge.

    Sanja plants herself in the path, sword and shield ready.

    As the first two wraiths run onto the bridge, Crowsinger calls to the vines. They hear, and unravel from one another, sending two wraiths into the chasm and onto the spikes they had prepared. Then she sees two more, one of them wearing a jagged circlet on its head.

    Crowsinger laughs grimly. I thought the captain would lead. Coward.

    The two remaining wraiths leap across the chasm and run straight toward Sanja. The Druid whispers the name of Verdanfire, and feels the seed begin to glow within Sanja.


    The sound of a low whistle fills the clearing: the long woodwind that Sparrowdawn keeps dangling on a bit of leather. One of the wraiths slows and stops, as if confused. Entranced.

    The captain utters a screech and raises a rune-marked sword to strike at Sanja. She rebuffs the attack with her shield and strikes at the fiend, yelling insults in Old Kiri.

    Two arrows already pierce the monster's side, and from her own tree, Aleshe sends a third into its leg.

    Then Kasti leaps out of whatever shadows know him, and strikes the wraith from behind.

    Crowsinger closes her eyes and begins a tremulous humming, calling to the Creeper vines that she can feel twining beneath the clearing. They rise up and grasp the wraith's legs, pinning it in place. With every hit, Sanja and Kasti feel a breath of healing green from the vines.

    "Thunderpaw," she whispers, and knows that Sanja feels fresh energy as she begins to tire. Now the Druid calls to her fox to pin the wraith in her gaze, and then a spear of Verdanfire finds its mark.

    The wraith captain releases an angry light and falls. Aleshe shouts from her branch as the second wraith lunges for Kasti.

    But Sanja jumps into its path and raises her shield again. Kasti fades into shadows. Sparrowdawn beats a combat rhythm on his frame drum with light fingers.

    Soon the battle is over. Crowsinger leaps down from her branch and runs to the chasm. One wraith still struggles on spikes below. The Druid sends more Verdanfire spears down into the abyss, and the wraith is dead.

    Crowsinger turns back to the others. Kasti is already taking trophies.

    "Anyone want a tusk?" asks the rogue, giggling.

    "I'm good," says Crowsinger, touching the three tusks she wears on a leather cord, a gift from parents long gone.

    "Arasto kal!" shouts Sparrowdawn, and begins to sing a victory song.

    Sanja walks over to Crowsinger and strikes her shoulder playfully. "Good work. We should do this more often!"

    The Druid smiles and nods hesitantly. "We should."

    The town of Tallowmell rests in the arms of riverside trees. In a small room midway up an old oak, the adventurers pass around ale and a breakfast of fresh bread and redberry jam gifted by the locals.

    Kasti laughs. "I never feel so alive as I do after a wraith hunt!"

    "Indeed," says Sparrowdawn, smiling as he lightly strums an oud. It is an instrument usually associated with the Maidyn Clan, but the bard somehow acquired one. He won't say how.

    "Tell me, Crowsinger," begins Aleshe, her voice muffled in her ale mug, "why are there no taverns in this wretched town?"

    "I can't tell you," she replies, "since I've never seen a tavern. But the people here make do. They take turns visiting one another's houses and share stories, old tales, and a lot of ale."

    "Not a bad way to live, I suppose," says Sanja with a mouth full of bread, "if you have to settle down."

    "Never!" Kasti slams his mug on the table. "Tell me there's more of this domestic swill."

    "There's always more domestic swill," says Swarrowdawn, "charmingly bitter and flowing like rivers of love."

    The others look at the bard in silence, then laugh.

    "This is why we bring along a bard!" says Kasti. "To say **** and pretend it's poetry."

    "I do indeed have a purpose."

    "Crowsinger," says Sanja. She takes another drink and says, "I've always wondered: Is being a Druid something you're born, or something you become?"

    Crowsinger blinks. "Both. I've always had the gift, and I was being trained to recognize and feel it. But I couldn't really do much with it until one day..." she pauses, remembering her name day eight years before, "it really woke up, I guess you could say."

    They sit on the floor around a low table, still wrapped in the glow of success. The Druid lowers her gaze, thinking of her old teacher, Saravai. No, not just a teacher. Family, he was. Like an old, wise, far too indulgent uncle. Only recently has she begun to realize how much he cared for her, and what a wretched student she was. Lazy, rebellious, bitter, never practicing like she should. The old man should have tossed her down the tree many times, but he never did.

    Her teacher here, Voro, is the opposite. Gruff, unkind, he rebukes her and makes her try a thing over and over to get it right. She doesn't like him, no. Little chance of that. But his approval is so rare and precious a thing, she will go out of her way, work harder than she imagines possible, for that wordless smile and nod that means she has done something right.

    There is a spark of madness in the old man's eye... but then the same could be said for most of the halflings of Tallowmell. Nothi halflings always seem to have that look.

    "You alright?"

    Crowsinger looks up and sees Aleshe looking at her. She realizes she is rocking slightly while staring at the table. "Yeah," she says, and laughs. "Just beginning to think I'm feeling restless again." Her fingers toy with the two starkle feathers hanging from her braids, bright blue against brown.

    "Humans have a word," says Kasti. He is leaning back against the wall with his mug in his hand, eyes half open. "Well it's trade language or something, but it's a word I learned from a girl in Sorhiryth."

    "Which girl in Sorhiryth? I've seen you with quite a—"

    "Pay no attention to the bard, he tells tales."

    "All of them true."

    "Anyway, the word." Kasti leans forward. Yes, he has that spark of madness as well.

    Crowsinger begins to wonder if others see that in her own eyes. She smiles and says, "Tell me."



    He holds up one finger. "Wander," holds up a finger on his other hand, "lust," brings the two fingers together. "Wanderlust."

    Crowsinger feels her fingers tapping against the table. Restless. Wanderlust.

    Finally she looks up. "Where are you all going next?"



    continued in the final chapter:

    This post was edited by Crowsinger at November 14, 2020 5:37 AM PST