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Orphan Druid, final chapter

    • 89 posts
    October 12, 2020 9:52 AM PDT

    A crow waits in the shadows of a tall oak, watching a halfling house below. She has recently eaten, so she can wait a long time. Normally she would hunt again soon, but The Druid Who Sings asked her to do this.

    She likes it when the Druid sings.

    One of the tall ones stoops low to exit the house. She knows each of the tall ones by the shape of a face, the play of wind in hair, the resonance and cadence of their deep voices. This one is good with a bow, so the crow sits perfectly still on her branch. She must be a shadow. She is good at this.

    The tall one with the scar and the lock of gray hair makes small fire near his mouth. Now and then he blows smoke into the air.

    She knows this one is important. The others listen to him when he speaks.

    The crow watches.


     

    "Ru'lun," says Saka.

    Crowsinger tries to hold the quill steady, writing each letter and trying to sound it out as she writes. Now and then she can see Saka wince at her pronunciation.

    She looks up and sees Saka sitting on the floor on the other side of the table. One knee up, the other stretched out in front of her, she toys with a bracelet of duskweasel teeth, one of a dozen such bracelets she wears on each arm. She has painted each tooth a different color to match her clothes, which are a riot of reddened earth, periwinkle, and acacia, with differently colored threads sewn in a random pattern Crowsinger has never figured out.

    Saka looks up. "Avendyr."

    The druid bends down to the page, trying to write the word without smudging ink on her hand and the page more than she already has. "A. Ven. Deerr."

    Saka smiles slightly, and Crowsinger takes a breath.

    "Thronefast."

    She was afraid that was the next word. This is the hard one. "Trronn. Fask."

    "Fast."

    "Fast."

    Saka leans forward. "Th."

    "Ssss."

    "Th."

    "Thrrrone!"

    Saka laughs. "Better." She reaches across the table and points to one of the characters. "That stroke curves to the left at the bottom."

    "Why does it curve that way? It looks better this way."

    "Do you want people to be able to read your handwriting?"

    Crowsinger sighs. "How long did you live there?"

    "In Thronefast?" Saka curls her lip and taps the table, thinking. Bracelets of teeth click on the wood. "Four years. Until my father got sick of haggling with humans."

    "Mmmm." Crowsinger wonders how Ikaa is doing in the western wood. She knows she shouldn't worry. Ikaa hides better than I do. Still, she always worries when she sends the crow to scout.

    "What are you thinking?" Saka leans forward, frowning.

    Crowsinger says slowly, "Thronefast."

    Saka smiles. "Better."


     

    Lost in thought, Crowsinger walks back toward the southside trees. After two years based in Sorhiryth, she has become pretty good at finding her way through the maze of rope bridges and suspended paths that lead from platform to platform—at least between southside and the central trees of the city. Ahead of her is a platform of vendors: weapons, armor, and field supplies such as packs and trail food. The buildings are almost garishly red and amber, covered in dye-stained skins and draped with resins that glow many colors in the night.

    When she reaches the platform known as South-Seven-Five-Red, she sees a human leaving a smithy, dressed in clothes rich with embroidered curves in more colors than she usually expects from a human.

    Not human, no. She stops and stares. The man is tall, but his ears are pointed like a halfling's ears. He looks up and catches her staring. They study each other, both knowing in moments that they share a communion with the earth and growing things. He walks over to her, clasps his hands together, and bows.

    "A fair meeting, Listener to the Earth," he says in trade language.

    She matches the depth of his bow and says, "Welcome to Sorhiryth. What brings you to Wild's End?"

    A slight change in his expression is the only hint that the question troubles him. "It is difficult to say. I can only tell you that I do not regret that my business has brought me here, so far from home." He turns to look around him. "The way you build your homes, even your largest city, in harmony with the surrounding forest, is pleasing."

    "We like it," she said, realizing as she spoke that the elf probably would have used a lot more words to say the same thing. Hopefully that wasn't rude, I don't want to be rude to my first elf.

    Suddenly Ikaa lands on her shoulder. The crow studies the elf for a moment, then turns to whisper in Crowsinger's ear: "The ones I watched have left, moving east."

    After thanking Ikaa, Crowsinger turns to the elf and says, "Forgive me. I have something I need to do. It was fun meeting you."

    One corner of the elf's mouth twitches, amused. "My name is Siraly'adh. I hope we shall meet again before I leave."

    "Me too. My name is Crowsinger."

    "Sanasovi Mori," he repeats in Kiri. "Does it have a meaning for you?"

    "Um… Crowsinger," she repeats, this time in trade language. "Sings to Crows."

    "So I see," he says. Then in Kiri: "Travel wary, Crowsinger."

    "And you," she answers. She turns and watches as he walks north along a footbridge to the tree she just left.

    Travel wary?


     

    In a southside tavern called Adjica's Pint and Bone, Crowsinger finds Sparrowdawn sleeping on a corner table. He always seems very comfortable sleeping on tavern tables, and she resolves to try it some time.

    She calls for a coffee, sits on the floor next to the low table, and nudges Sparrowdawn. As usual, it takes several strong nudges to wake him.

    "Thanks," she says when Adjica brings her drink.

    Sparrowdawn rubs his eyes awake and asks for tea. "How do you drink that stuff? It tastes like bark juice." When she stares, he adds, "Which I imagine would be bad, having never drunk any. Nightshroom tea, now..."

    "They're on the move."

    "What?"

    "Ikaa tells me they left the place they're staying awhile ago."

    The bard is suddenly alert. "What did they carry? Did she notice?"

    "She always notices. She knows the look of weapons that can hurt her and those she cares about." Crowsinger takes a sip of coffee. "They were dressed in blue again, wearing knives—which they're allowed to do for some reason, and…"

    "They allowed to because they're emissaries representing the… duke? The Duke of Fornhold. They're here for negotiations..."

    "Esqap nonsense." Sparrowdawn blinks, and Crowsinger continues, "which as you know, is not all that Esqaps do, being… one yourself."

    "Thank you, I do have my good points amid the nonsense. Any word from Kasti?"

    "Not yet."

    The bard leans back against the wall. "They won't move until tonight, surely. But we still need to know what they're doing in daylight. Is your crow still watching them?"

    "Another one. Ikaa wanted to hunt."

    "Good enough. You should rest before sunset. I have a feeling feathers fall tonight." He taps the table. "This is good for napping if you don't want to go all the way back to South-Two-Three-Autumn."

    "Wake me up at sunset."

    "Don't worry."


     

    She awakes to pain. A crow is pulling on a braid.

    "What?"

    "East," rasps the crow.

    Crowsinger blinks against the light of candlethorn lanterns. It must be close to dusk. She turns her head to see Sparrowdawn asleep in the corner.

    "Bards," she mutters. "SPARROW!"

    He jerks awake and looks around. "Sorry." He reaches for the instruments lying on the floor beside him.

    They stand up and run out of the tavern. "Where are we. South-Four-One-Dusk."

    "That way." Sparrowdawn points at a footbridge leading upward into the leaves. "We can cut across the wanderers' trees."

    They run across platforms and bridges, wending their way northeast, past houses softly lit by candlethorn lamps and amber. Night birds call in the dark. Now and then they pass a halfling sitting outside, eating or drinking or enjoying the night air.

    Finally Sparrowdawn skids to a stop on a platform. Crowsinger looks at him and says, "What? I don't know where we are, but this isn't it."

    "I'm...not sure where we are either."

    "You are in the right place," comes a voice. She sounds old, and the only light on the platform is behind her. A silhouette, hooded and cloaked. Halfling-sized.

    Crowsinger frowns. "How do you know where we're going?"

    "You," she says, taking a step toward Crowsinger, "are going west. A path, a hidden place. It is the only way."

    "What are you talking about?" She turns to the bard. "Which way, fast!"

    "I don't…"

    "You are in the right place," says the voice, "because if you arrive on time, you will die. Arriving too late is your only chance. And there is a place you need to be."

    "Who are you?" The Druid is angry now.

    "I am Ikaskovi of the Maidyn. I was there when you were given to your master, Saravai. I am here now because your choice is at hand."

    "What choice?! I have people! I have to be by their side."

    She sounds sad. "You will not be."

    With a growl, Crowsinger turns and begins to run the way she feels is north. She has no stars to guide her; only the senses of a druid. She can hear the bard running behind her. A few platforms later, she pauses. One path downward, one path upward. West and northeast.

    She turns and runs northeast, hoping to get a better view of this part of the city from above. A short time later, a crow flies by screaming, "Fly down!"

    She stops and looks down over the rope at the side of this bridge.

    Kasti is on a bridge down and to the right. He's looking down toward another bridge, where Sanja is trying to hold off four human attackers with her sword and shield. Two of the humans wield longswords, and they are good. Very good. A third holds a broad axe and shambles torward Sanja from behind. A fourth is robed, waving toward the one with the axe.

    The one with the axe is not alive. It's not alive. Every druid sense screams at her that this is not life, but death, that stumbles toward the warrior.

    "Sanja!" she screams.

    Between them, Kasti looks up for a moment, then leaps over the edge of his bridge, through the air and down toward the man in the robe.

    "Can you make a bridge?" asks Sparrowdawn.

    "No vines. There have to be living vines."

    "Crow, Sparrow."

    She turns and sees Aleshe running up to them, already nocking an arrow. "Behind me, left, down, left again. Run."

    Crowsinger and the bard begin to run again, trying to find their way down to the wooden bridge where the battle is taking place.

    When they make the final turn, they can see figures ahead of them in the dark. Crowsinger hears a cry, and then sees a halfling falling from the bridge, a shield falling away from her.

    "Sanja."

    A scream rises from the bridge in front of them. It sounds like Kasti.

    Arrows fly down from above, but the wind is hurting them tonight, and several miss. Crowsinger knows that Aleshe is trying not to hit Kasti.

    Then an arrow pierces the neck of the robed man, and he topples from the bridge. The undead thing is trying to rip something apart. Then suddenly it falls onto the bridge as if it were a puppet with cut strings.

    The bard has been drumming for speed, but now he stops. Crowsinger runs forward and sees what the creature was trying to rip apart. Kasti's head is missing.

    She looks up and sees a battle ending ahead of her. The remaining humans are dead, and she faces three elves.

    Siraly'adh steps forward and bows to her again. Then he sees the halfling dead in front of her.

    "I am sorry," he says gravely. "We were not in time. We misjudged their destination."

    Crowsinger looks down again. "We weren't," she swallows, "weren't in time either." She feels something tickle her cheeks and realizes they are tears.

    Sparrowdawn reaches over and lifts her chin, turns her eyes away from what remains of Kasti.

    "They were cultists of Fornhold," continues the elf. "We tracked them to Sorhiryth. We will go now to tell your council."

    He raises a staff in front of him, and the other two raise swords. "We grieve for your dead. Farewell."

    They are already gone when she whispers, "Not my council."

    A small group of crows lands on the bridge. Sparrowdawn turns and walks away. "Come on, Crow," he says.

    One of the crows jumps and lands next to what is left of Kasti. It squawks a question. She nods and says, "Yes, he is yours now," then turns to follow the bard.


     

    What little she has, she has packed. She has already said her goodbyes to Saka and her latest druid master.

    Sparrowdawn and Aleshe stand near the door. "Are you coming back?" asks the latter.

    "I don't know." She pulls the backpack onto her back, remembering a word that Kasti taught her once. "Wanderlust. I need to keep moving. I need to see this world. Instead of waiting for the world to find and kill us, I want to go and meet it first."

    Crowsinger stands still a moment, then reaches out to embrace the two remaining members of their hunting party. "I might be back. But I think it will be a long time."

    She walks out the door and looks around. Ikaa lights on one shoulder.

    "Ready," says the crow.

    "I thought you found a mate."

    "Annoying."

    "Mmmm." She takes a breath. "'West. A path, a hidden place.' I guess we can start with west and go from there."

     

    - end -


    This post was edited by Crowsinger at November 25, 2020 4:01 PM PST
    • 351 posts
    October 22, 2020 12:54 PM PDT

    Great tale Crowsinger! I finally got a chance to sit down and give it the attention I wanted. Thank you for creating this piece, well done. 

    • 89 posts
    October 22, 2020 1:00 PM PDT

    Therek said:

    Great tale Crowsinger! I finally got a chance to sit down and give it the attention I wanted. Thank you for creating this piece, well done. 

     

    I really appreciate that. Thank you for reading!

    • 23 posts
    December 15, 2020 7:16 PM PST

    Really enjoyed reading these Crowsinger! Thanks for sharing :)

    • 89 posts
    December 19, 2020 4:21 AM PST

    I'm glad you enjoyed it!