Welcome to Lolen, the brand new, original and completely free blook!

Just want to get started? Click here to start from the beginning.

What is a blook exactly? Well it’s a blog-book, or in other words a book that you read in blog form. What’s so cool about that? Well it takes us back to the days of books by installment. Many of Charles Dickens’ and Alexandre Dumas’ classics were published a chapter at a time in periodical publications. [They were also paid by the word, which is why you might find their styles a little bit verbose.] I’m not claiming to be akin to Dickens or Dumas, of course, nor am I paid by the word (or for that matter, at all yet), but with Lolen, you get the thrill of reading a new chapter every so often, and I get the thrill of releasing them to you a piece at a time!

It’s kind of like an ultra-modern yet old-fashioned tune-in to read the latest episode of a book on the world wide web sort of thing! Heck you could even print them off for that added feeling of reading a real book. ;)

Best of all, because it’s based on a blog, you can add your comments to each chapter and see what others are saying about it. Perhaps there’s some foreshadowing someone picked up on, or a debate as to who a mystery character will turn out to be. And even better still is the fact that I’m coming up with these as I go, so if you play your cards right you can even influence the development of the story by suggesting intriguing twists or plot developments!

I’m even hoping to eventually support wiki-based illustrations that readers can draw and submit and people can vote on their favorite illustrations for a particular scene in the book! In the meantime, feel free to submit illustrations for key scenes of your choosing and I will publish them (with credit) to the appropriate chapter.

But enough about the medium; let me introduce you to the initial storyline and the basis for the idea.

Lolen is set in a time long-past, just after the “dawn of time”, which marks the beginning of mankind’s ascension to sentience. Long before what we currently think of as the beginning of history, the planet was alive with sentient beings who possessed the ability to control the Earth and its energies in ways we have since forgotten. Theirs was a proto-science, an understanding of things that came not from external observation, but from a unique ability to intuitively understand the very nature of a thing, and thus control it in ways we cannot fathom. That ability was called magic.

The idea for Lolen has been brewing in my head for a little while now and originally started as a desire to write and publish a full-fledged novel (something I still want to do). In fact, I’m a computer programmer by trade, so I’m no stranger to the blog world, and it just struck me that I could marry these two paradigms—the ancient art of storytelling with the ultramodern social blogosphere.

What will the result be? Who knows!

What happens when we reach the end? Well, no promises, but perhaps there will be a real published copy made available that might even include the best user-submitted illustrations and comments from the blog. Maybe there will be contests and final copies to give away… it’s too early to say!

Alas, the story begins as we follow the unexpected arrival of a wizard-child, in a time long ago when wizards were forbidden from raising children of their own…

Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 5:09 am  Leave a Comment  
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Chapter 3: A Friend in the Wild

When Chindren awoke, the first sense that came to him was the sweet smell of wood fire. The second was a luxurious warmth. His eyes snapped open to the inside of a log cabin. He was lying in a deep bed and engulfed in a sea of warm blankets and furs. The log walls beside and above him were darkened with years of use and somewhere out of view a fire cracked and popped.

Chindren tried to remember how he had gotten here, but could remember nothing after the cattails. He wanted to get up and look around, but the warmth of the blankets was so enticing after what he had just been through, he couldn’t make himself. He put his head back down on the soft pillow and fell back asleep.

* * *

When he awoke a second time, everything was exactly the same as it had been, and he was glad to know he had not merely dreamed it all in a state of hypothermia. By now he was sufficiently warm and rested to get up and examine his surroundings, and attempt to ascertain where he was and how it was he had arrived here. As he pulled the heavy blankets off himself, he realized he was still naked beneath them. His clothes had been thoroughly soaked and he realized they would have done him no good at the time, so he swung his legs down over the side of the low bed and peered out from the bunk. The opposite wall was only a few feet away and, like the walls of the bunk, was plain and undecorated. Chindren leaned out to look either way down the small hallway.

To the left was nothing but a small landing and a door that appeared to lead outside. There were a few odds and ends hanging strewn about the area, a couple pairs of big fur boots and a fur coat hanging on a peg. As soon as he turned to the right, he saw his clothes set out upon a chair beside the bunk. They appeared to have been washed and dried, and his flint stone was resting on top. Beyond them was a much larger room, containing the fireplace he could now see. The fire had burnt down and was now mostly ash, but would occasionally pop sparks up into the air.

Chindren snatched up his clothes and put them on as quickly as he could as he stood up to stretch his tired muscles. He grabbed his flint stone and placed it in his front pocket and walked past the chair and out into the larger room, which he approached with caution as if there might be someone there waiting to get him, as silly as he realized that was, given the circumstances. But the room, cozy as it seemed with the fire crackling, was empty. The fireplace resided at the opposite side of the room to the small hallway he came from, and to the right of it was a large and seemingly very comfy stuffed easy chair, with a small table beside it holding a pipe and bowl. There were a couple windows in this room that let in some light from the bright day outside, and another bowl on the floor.

To the left was a small kitchen with cupboards and a wash basin and a small table, pots to hang over the fire on a hook that Chindren now noticed, and another door outside. On the walls were various devices the likes of which Chindren had never seen, nor could he fathom a use for them.

Chindren walked over to the window in the wall to the right of the fireplace and looked out; however, there was not much to be seen but pine trees. He then started to walk over towards the kitchen, but just as he did, the back door burst open and in strode a huge man the likes of which he had never seen before, wearing a big fur coat and carrying a sling of dead rabbits over his shoulder and an axe in one hand.

Chindren screamed.

“Whoa, boy,” the big man said with a deep voice that reverberated in the close confines of the cabin, as he put down his axe to lean against the wall by the door. “No need to be afraid, I no be looking to harm you,” but Chindren continued to back away. The big man threw the sling of rabbits onto the counter and began to untie the ties on the front of his coat. “I be the one who saved you,” he said.

“You… you’re a hunter,” Chindren stammered, not sure if he was accusing the man or simply making an observation.

“Aye, well more of a trapper these days, but a damn good one if I do say so meself,” the man said as he pulled his heavy coat from his shoulders and tossed it up onto another peg beside this door, as though he’d performed that particular action a thousand times, “and to that you do owe your life. Had I not been out a checkin’ my traps this mornin’ you’da surely woken up an icicle.”

To this Chindren didn’t have a reply. He simply stood and stared at the rack of dead rabbits that lay on the counter.

“Hungry?” the man asked with a bit of a smirk on his face. Chindren nodded. “All right then, tonight we eat like kings!” The man smiled a big grin and Chindren noticed a couple of his bottom teeth were missing. He found the sight amusing and despite his apprehension could not help but smile back at the big man. “Now, grab that bucket there and help me skin these here rabbits.”

Chindren looked to the bucket near the wash basin that the man had pointed at, and back to the rabbits lying on the counter, which the man was now untying, and back to the bucket, which Chindren now noticed was stained black. He swallowed hard, but it got stuck in his throat and he coughed.

“Not one for the sight of blood, eh?” the man asked.

“I… I’ve never…” Chindren stammered again.

“Well try not to think about it too much,” the man said as compassionately as he could. “They’re already dead. Ain’t gonna feel anything no more, so it ain’t on your conscience. I be the one that killed ‘em. Now either grab me that bucket or do something useful and go feed Chuck.”

“Chuck?” Chindren asked, but the man just grinned to himself and didn’t answer Chindren’s obvious inquisition.

Mustering up his strength, and deciding that hunter or not, he owed this man his life and it was the least he could do, Chindren went and grabbed the bucket and brought it over to where the man was now beginning to skin the rabbit he had untied. Chindren held his breath and tried not to watch the ghastly scene, but his stomach was in such a sore state he simply couldn’t turn down a free meal.

After the worst of it was over, and the skin and guts of several rabbits had been dumped into the bucket, and their limbs tied together with twine, the hunter turned to one of the cupboards and retrieved a long spit, which he then brutally forced the carcasses of the rabbits onto, causing Chindren’s stomach to rise to his throat once more.

“Now take this and put it on the fire. I’ll go get some more wood.”

With that, the man handed Chindren the impaled rabbits and re-donned his fur parka as he thrust open the back door letting in a gust of cold air that caused the fire to hiss and fwoosh. Chindren shivered and once again thanked the spirits for his good fortune. The big man grabbed his axe and slammed the door shut behind him.

He made his way over to the fireplace and saw that there was already a hole dug into the far wall of the fireplace for the spit to be inserted into, and so he did so, resting the other end on another hook that came out of the near front corner, just as the big man came bursting back in through the door, carrying an armful of split logs for the fire.

“Ah, good one,” the man said after having tromped over to the fire and inspecting Chindren’s work. “I see you’re a smart one. Can figure things out on your own. That’s good.” The man dropped his load of wood beside the fire and tossed two quartered logs onto the remnants of the previous ones, poking them until he had a nice flame going. “Now,” said the man, “go get that chair I done set your clothes on and set it by that end of the spit. You’re going to turn that for me while I have a nice pipe and relax.”

Chinden nodded and turned to make his way back down the small hallway to the bunk.

“And then, my boy, you’re going to tell me who you are and what you’re doing in my woods.”

* * *

“My name’s Chindren,” the young boy said as he sat down on the chair beside the spit and began to turn it by means of a fork at the near end. “I come from Willowbrook, up the Minnoa.”

“Ah, Willowbrook. Yes I know of it. Quite a ways that is. You must have been in that river quite a while.” Chindren didn’t say anything and looked back to his work. “Chindren you say. An old name.”

“You know of my name?” Chindren asked, looking up.

“Oh yes, a great man I once knew went by that name. That was a very long time ago, when I was but a boy and he an old man.”

“And what is your name, if you don’t mind me asking, sir?” Chindren asked as politely as he could remember his aunt teaching him.

“I be Garreth,” the man replied in that deep, somewhat rattly voice of his, “…and that be Chuck,” he said, looking behind Chindren to his right. Chindren stopped turning the spit and looked behind him. The moment he saw what was standing there he jumped up out of his chair with fright with a yell of “Monster!” and knocking the spit off the hook in the process. Garreth howled with laughter.

Chindren ran beside Garreth’s chair and huddled behind it for safety as a green scaly reptile with a long tail and flicking red tongue waddled into the room, apparently from some unseen entrance of its own. He moved in a twisting motion, with the front half of his body turning one way as the back half turned the other and managed to scamper into the room and stop in front of the fire.

“He’s harmless,” Garreth said, laughing even harder as he watched Chindren cower in fear beside him for protection when only moments ago he was the one Chindren was afraid of.

“What is that?” Chindren managed to get out, having not taken his eyes off the creature since taking his position beside the big chair.

“That, my friend, is Chuck,” Garreth replied jokingly, with a big grin. “Have you never seen a lizard before?”

Chindren merely watched the strange creature warm itself by the fire, paying neither of them any attention. He had surely never seen anything like it in his life.

“No, I don’t suppose you would have, living in that pit of a town all your life,” Garreth said, picking up his pipe off the small table by his chair and pulling a small wooden box out of his pocket. “Now go get that spit out of the fire before you burn my whole house down and ruin our meal in the process.”

Chindren slowly stood up and inched his way closer to the fire and the strange creature known as Chuck, afraid that at any moment he might turn around and breathe fire at him, or swallow him whole. But Chuck didn’t seem to even notice as Chindren gradually came closer and stuck his arm out towards the fallen spit, that lay at a funny angle, half over the fire and half still in the hole in the wall of the chimney. Just then Chuck turned around and scampered off across the room, causing Chindren to yelp in surprise and jump back, and prompting another bellow of a laugh from Garreth, who had now managed to stuff his pipe and was holding it between one of the gaps in his teeth and attempting to light it with a taper he had lit on the fire.

Chindren finally picked up the spit and replaced it on the hook as he resumed his seat on his chair, casting a glance to Chuck who was now drinking water from the small bowl on the floor.

“I got him on a trip once to the Southern Isles of Kilnjarni. That was a long time ago; he’s probably as old as you are,” Garreth said, now puffing contentedly on his pipe as Chindren continued to watch the strange creature drink by flicking his tongue in and out at the dish, “though you wouldn’t know it to look at him. Still acts like a pup.” Garreth took another draw of his pipe. “Keep turning that spit!”

Chindren realized he had stopped turning and was just staring at Chuck, still amazed that such a creature could exist. “I’ve never heard of a lizard before,” Chindren said, “or Kilnjarni for that matter.” He started to slowly turn the spit again. The smell of the cooking rabbit was making his mouth water and his stomach grumble.

“Oh it’s far away from here. Few have heard of it around these parts, and fewer still have ever been there. Aye, it be a whole other world there, and half a world away.”

Chindren finally took his eyes off the lizard and looked back to Garreth and was somewhat surprised to see him puffing on his pipe, not having noticed it before. “What were you doing there, if it’s so far away, and why did you come back here?”

“That, I’m afraid, is a tale for another time,” Garreth replied, looking off as if remembering some great adventure, “but I will tell you this: though I’ve surely seen my share of the world, I’ve never been much for adventure. I feel most at home when I be alone. I don’t tend to get along well with others. Well, except for Chuck here.” With that, the lizard looked over his shoulder as if he knew Garreth was talking about him, which made Chindren laugh. Chindren could definitely relate to wanting to be alone, but the big man still scared him.

“Enough ’bout me,” Garreth said, resting his pipe temporarily on his knee and looking directly at Chindren. “How about telling me who or what you be running away from?”

Chindren was startled and suddenly apprehensive again. How had the man known? Had he inadvertently stumbled into some trap set by his followers?

“Don’t look so surprised,” Garreth said, putting his pipe to his mouth once more. “There be only two reasons a young boy like you be out here alone in the wild, and that’s the most likely.”

“What’s the other?” Chindren asked, still somewhat skeptical.

“Either what I said, that you be running away from someone or something, or you be a heretic, and up to no good.” With the mention of heretic, Chindren swallowed hard. “If it be the latter, I’da been best off throwin’ you back in the river the moment I found ya,” Garreth added. Chindren must have turned white as a ghost because Garreth smiled and added “but I seen my share of heretics and you ain’t one, my boy. Chuck can smell em a mile away anyway, ain’t that right, Chuck?” The lizard finally finished his drink and scampered back to Chindren, flicking his tongue in and out at him in and tilting his head this way and that in what Chindren now realized was an almost comical manner. “Aye, just a pup,” Garreth repeated, blowing out a ring of smoke that lifted into the wooden logs of the ceiling and blew apart when it hit.

Chindren regained some of his composure and laughed a bit. “My uncle,” he stated. “Well really the whole town. I never fit in there.”

“I see,” Garreth replied, waiting for Chindren to continue, but not prompting him to do so. After a few moments staring into the fire and remembering, Chindren did so.

“People never really understood me. They always seemed out to get me, or afraid that I was out to get them,” he said, still staring into the fire, but then looked up to Garreth as he added “I guess I feel more at home when I’m alone too.” Garreth nodded. “More than that, though, I’ve always felt that something was waiting for me, something that I can’t explain or even understand. Something good, I mean. Something big.”

“And your uncle?” Garreth asked. “Tell me more of him.”

“Oh he’s not that bad I guess, but he’s just like the rest of them. He never understood me, always teased me or made fun of me. He called me useless and said I would never be a man like his two sons would. But those two…” Chindren just shook his head. “If they weren’t picking fights with each other to see who was the stronger, they were getting in trouble with the townsfolk, always being brought home with their ears in some Missus’ fingers. Carl would always pretend to make a big deal of it at the time, but when the door was closed and she was leaving he would praise them for what they’d done. He always looked down on me, never considered me one of his own. My aunt was the only one who ever really understood me, but in many ways she was as much a prisoner as I was. Someday I’ll return for her, when I’m a man.”

“Well,” Garreth chuckled, “I’d say anyone willing to leave everything he’s known behind to go out on his own is well on his way, even if he is completely unprepared.” Chindren’s face went pink when he realized what Garreth meant. “Say, how old are you, boy?”

“Sixteen seasons,” Chindren replied proudly. “Just had my celebration a week ago.”

“Well that be old enough I do say. Here, have a puff of my pipe.” Garreth leaned forward and held the stem of his pipe out for Chindren, who slowly took it between his own fingers and held it up to his mouth. “Ever try bogweed?”

Chindren shook his head as he experimentally sucked a little bit of smoke through the mouthpiece of the pipe and immediately began coughing and sputtering it out. Garreth simply smiled as he tried again, having the same results.

“Don’t swallow the smoke,” Garreth instructed, “it’s not a meal. That will come soon enough. Just taste it.”

Chindren tried once more, this time only letting the thick, rancid smoke linger over his tongue before pushing it out again through his lips. He smiled up at Garreth at his success in avoiding the need to cough.

“There you go, like that,” Garreth said, leaning back contently in his chair and crossing his huge arms over his chest. “Go ahead, have another puff.”

Chindren repeated the process, drawing much more smoke in this time, being sure not to let it reach his throat, then tilted his head back and attempted to immitate Garreth’s process for blowing a smoke ring. Of course he was not able to, but got a kick out of it nonetheless and the two of them laughed contentedly.

“I’ll teach you how to do that later,” the big man said, still smiling.

Chindren handed the pipe back to a bemused Garreth and went back to turning the spit. By the looks of the rabbit, dinner was near at hand.

“Don’t want anymore?” Garreth asked, taking the pipe from Chindren’s hand.

“No, thank you, I’m feeling a little dizzy.”

“Aye, it’ll do that to you. You’ll get used to it.” Garreth took a few deep draws of the pipe to finish it and dumped the ash out into a bowl for that purpose already on the table. “Now,” he said, after having cleaned and replaced the pipe on the table, “how’s our dinner coming?”

* * *

Chindren could not remember the last time he had eaten so well. He and Garreth had all but devoured the three rabbits and enough hard bread and cheese to last a week back home. Garreth was now onto his third pint of ale, but had insisted Chindren drink tea, which he had prepared before the meal. Nevertheless, the two of them were in equally high spirits and had even sung a couple songs together.

“Ah, now that was a jolly meal!” Garreth announced, raising his stine in a toast. Chindren returned the gesture with his cup and a smile on his face. “I cannot remember the last time I had dinner guests!” Garreth bellowed with a deep chuckle. “To Chindren, my new friend!”

“And to Garreth, mine,” Chindren replied happily.

Chuck, meanwhile, was content with his own meal of rabbit guts and breadcrumbs, and the furs of the rabbits had been cleaned and hung up outside.

After dinner, and the remains had been tossed in the garbage, Garreth got up from his chair and invited Chindren outside. “Go grab my extra coat and meet me out back. There’s something I’d like you to see.”

Chindren raced to the front of the cabin and grabbed the fur coat he had seen previously, wrapping it around his body and tying it with the small leather straps on its front. It was a good few sizes too big, and as he looked down at himself he thought he must look quite funny, with the coat hanging down nearly to his ankles, and the sleeves hanging down past his hands, but was happy to have it and thought to himself it was better to have a coat too large than none at all.

When the coat was securely tied up, Chindren raced back down the hall to the back door in the kitchen where Garreth had exited. The room was silent and the fire low. Chuck was there waiting for him, and though Chindren was no longer afraid of the creature, he still didn’t know quite what to make of him and kept an eye on him as he made his way to the door. As he examined the back door, Chindren could not figure out how it was the animal had been able to enter of his own accord, and so silently as well. Curious, he turned around to see if Chuck was following him, which he indeed was. Chindren grasped the large wooden handle and pulled it forward with a crack as the untamed afternoon air impacted the warm atmosphere of the silent abode. Chindren’s hair fluttered in the breeze as he took a step out into the clean, brisk air.

Before him was a great forest of pines that stretched onward to either side of a narrow dirt road that lead beside the house on Chindren’s left and out towards a tall hill in the distance, that Chindren could see over the tops of the closest pines and through the gap in the roof of the trees caused by the path. To his right, and attached to the house, was an awning of sorts stretching over a pile of logs stacked against the back wall of the house, and a chopping block in its center, and held up by posts driven into the ground at either corner. At the end of a smaller path leading away from the back door and across the small clearing stood a large wooden shed, constructed of thinner beams and apparently intended for work or storage, and not for habitation.

Chindren turned to look behind him, but Chuck was no longer in sight and so he pulled the heavy door closed on its creaky hinges until it thunked into place and would pull no more. As he was glancing down at the bottom of the doorframe to make sure the door was indeed fastened, Chindren noticed out of the corner of his eye a small flap open up a short distance down the wall just above the ground, and out trotted Chuck, flicking his tongue in and out as he tasted the air. The flap was nearly the same colour as the logs and Chindren had not noticed it during his precursory examination of his surroundings.

That settled, Chindren took off at a quick walk along the smaller path across the clearing towards the large shed, while Chuck ran at a surprising speed across the grass, his body twisting this way and that as his clawed feet took purchase in the soft ground.

Just as Chindren was approaching the shed, the door opened and out walked Garreth with a look of impatience upon his face. “Ah! There you are! I was just about to come see what the hold-up was.” Garreth stood to the side of the door and motioned with his arm for Chindren to enter. “Allow me to present my workshop,” he said with a beaming grin.

Chindren stepped in through the doorframe and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting, but as they did he was amazed at what he saw. Wooden contraptions and creations of every kind lined the walls or littered workbenches or were piled in corners. Chuck scampered in through the open door. Chindren saw carvings of men and animals, sleds and snowshoes, wagon wheels, birdcages, tables and chairs. There were metal rabbit traps and slings. One wall held various sizes of shotguns and other weapons and there were carving knives, saws, chisels and planes everywhere, and this is only what Chindren could name! He stood in awe for a moment and didn’t realize that Garreth had entered until he heard him speak from behind.

“This is what I do to keep busy,” he said. Chindren didn’t turn around—he was still staring at all the various creations. “Most of this stuff’s been here for years. Don’t really have a need for a lot of it, just like to keep my hands busy.”

“I’ve never seen so much stuff all in one place before!” Chindren exclaimed. “It’s as though a whole town vanished, leaving everyone’s possessions behind and you gathered them all up in one room.”

Garreth laughed at this. “I’ve never thought of it like that before. Here, let me show you some of my finer creations.”

There was little room to walk in the workshop, large as it was, and Chindren had to move to one side, leaning against a corner of the wall that came out from beside a workbench, careful not to touch any of the tools or creations haning on it, as Garreth slipped past him. Chindren saw a painted wood carving of a scenic vista complete in its own frame, and chisels of varying size hanging near it. There were drawers and bins full of things Chindren had never seen before. The wall inside the house stood no comparison to the plentitude of visual delights that filled this place.

“Over here,” Garreth said as Chindren glanced up from his distraction.

Looking up, Chindren could see that the workshop was illuminated dimly by a couple small windows in the corner the slanted roof made as it met the walls, as well as several larger but dimmer cutouts in the roof itself, which appeared to be covered with some kind of transparent animal skin. Slowly, he made his way over to where Garreth was standing near some large aparatus Chindren could not fathom a guess as to the purpose of.

“This is my lathe,” Garreth announced proudly. “It turns a piece of wood while it is shaved, creating a cylinder. It’s great for making table legs and such, but my personal favourite is to make pipe stems. In fact, you can borrow this one until I can make you a proper one.” Garreth reached to a bin hanging beneath the table the lathe sat atop and pulled out a readily-crafted pipe, somewhat smaller than his own, and handed it to Chindren, who reached out to examine it.

“I can’t accept this,” Chindren protested, while examining the handiwork of the carving, “not without paying for it.”

“Nonsense, that is scrap—hardly worth a penny. I will make you a proper pipe. A pipe, after all, is best given as a gift, and hand-crafted for the person it is given to. Each pipe is different, just as is each individual. I need to get a better feel for you before I attempt that, though, so this will serve you in the meantime. I can’t have you smoking mine all the time now can I?”

“No sir,” Chindren replied humbly, turning the pipe over in his hands. It was plain and unfinished, and still sticky with wood sap, but it was a fine pipe and masterfully crafted, not that Chindren knew much about that sort of thing. His uncle owned a pipe, and this seemed surely at least as good as anything he had seen in Willowbrook, plain as it was.

“Now come, that reminds me. You aren’t truly using that old flint stone of yours to light fires are you?” Garreth asked, walking to another station in the workshop. “Come, you might find this useful,” he said without waiting for an answer.

Chindren stuffed the pipe into his pocket and continued to feel it with his fingers as he followed close behind Garreth, who stopped at another small table that strangely unlike every other table in the workshop was almost completely clear of objects. The table was covered with more than a few black splotches and was nearly charred in a few places.

“I call this my firestick,” Garreth said, holding up a longish thin black wooden rod. “You just hit it on the end here hard, like on a rock and it’ll light up for ya. But be careful not to get it wet, else that will render it quite useless. You can reuse it a few times, but be sure to put it out as soon as you be done with it so it’ll last longer.” With that, he held out the firestick to Chindren who shoved it into his pocket along with his pipe and flint stone. “Now be careful with that ya hear! Don’t want it going off in your pocket or your pack. Always keep it wrapped in something so it keeps try and so it don’t accidentally go off, like this.” Garreth handed Chindren a small rag that appeared to be soaked in some pungeant substance and which felt oily to his hands. Chindren pulled out the firestick and carefully wrapped it in the rag, then replaced it in his pocket.

“Alright now,” Garreth said, “about that payment you mentioned.” He looked down at Chindren who looked up in return. “I do have a proposition for ya,” Garreth said, heading for the entrance.

* * *

Once the two men were back inside the cabin, and were comfortably sitting down in their respective chairs, coats hung up on pegs, and both puffing on their respective pipes, Garreth spoke.

“The fact of the matter is, you aren’t prepared to be out here in the wild all on your own. You be young and inexperienced, and you haven’t the tools you need to survive out here.”

Chindren looked into Garreth’s eyes, and prepared for him to announce that he was going to return him to Willowbrook, to his uncle, but that’s not what the big man said.

“Now tools I can help ye with, but experience, that’ll take some time. I want you to work for me, and in the process I will do teach you about the woods and how to survive in it. I will do teach you how to lay traps and catch rabbits so you can feed yourself, and I’ll teach you how to make a proper fire and stay warm. Now I did save your life don’t forget, so I think it a fair bargain. What ye say, boy?” Garreth asked, looking down at Chindren who was clearly taken aback by the proposition.

“I… that is…” Chindren stammered slightly, then took a puff on his pipe to gather his thoughts. “Yes, I agree, that should be fine I think. Better than fine—it would in fact be most appreciated!”

“Well done, then!” Garreth exclaimed, stomping his foot down hard on the floor and causing Chuck to jump. “It will be nice to have a helping hand around here. I might actually get some proper work done for a change!”

Contented, the two of them puffed silently on their pipes for a while as each of them pondered the days to come. Chindren was concerned about staying in one place for too long, and Garreth still didn’t know about the men supposedly after Chindren. He surely didn’t want to place his new friend in any danger, but he was sure Garreth could stick up for himself, and the knowledge he offered was invaluable. A couple days shouldn’t matter, Chindren thought to himself as he took another draw on his new pipe.

When nightfall came, Garreth offered to sleep in his chair, which he claimed he did more often than not anyway, and Chindren curled up in the warm blankets of the bunk as the fire in the living room slowly died and darkness gradually cast its long shadow across the small cabin deep in the Minnoan wood.

A couple days.

Published in: on February 12, 2009 at 10:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 2: “Seek the Path”

With my heart, not my eyes, Chindren recalled as he stared out among the trees, that was what she had said. He stood in the center of the small clearing not far from the cliff where the great bear had spoken to him. Despite her warning, he felt as though he could not simply leave her body out here in the open, and so had spent the past hour covering her with pine boughs he gathered from the surrounding area. He had scouted out the area first to make sure there were no other search parties in the immediate vicinity, and convinced that he was safe enough for the time being, had spent the rest of the time preparing a proper grave.

But now that he was finished and had paid his final respects to his unexpected new friend, he stood bewildered, staring out at but not seeing the trees that surrounded him, trying to figure out what it was the bear had meant. If anything, her speech had only left him more confused than he had been to start. At the time, he had been so overwhelmed with emotion at having to lose such a noble new friend that her words had barely registered, but burying her had given him a chance to mull over what she and the dying man had said.

Even so, he could not make heads nor tails of it.

The man had called him a “heretic,” which he still didn’t know the meaning of, but the way the man had spat the word out could not mean it was a good thing. He had also mentioned Chindren’s father. Chindren knew nothing of his father—could this man have known him? If so, Chindren wasn’t sure he wanted anything to do with him. The bear had called him “Windrider,” which though he liked the sound of it, still meant nothing to him.

Worst of all, Chindren could not imagine who would be after him, or why. The thought gave him a shiver up his spine. These men were not sent by my uncle to bring me home, he pondered, they were sent to kill me. But why? And by whom? I have harmed no one in my life.

Seek the path, she had said. Seek the path indeed. This, on top of everything else, frustrated him the most. He could see no path anywhere out of here, nor could he feel it with his heart as she had instructed him, so he stood in this clearing, frustrated and confused, trying to find a path that could not be seen with the eyes. Tired, Chindren made his way to the large rock in the center of the glade where his pack rested and clambered up to sit atop it. The recent excitement and horror had succeeded in taking his mind of his hunger, but now that things had calmed down he had become all too aware of it again.

He pulled the cheese he had been saving out of his pack, unwrapped it from its oilcloth, and began to nibble on it. The sun was now heavy in the western sky, and cast the clearing in long shadows. Chindren would have to find a place to camp for the night, hidden path or no hidden path. He began to pick up small pebbles that lay in crevices in the boulder and flick them off into the grass of the clearing. He did this several times as he continued to ponder the meaning of the bear’s message, when one of the pebbles made a strange sound as it hit the ground. He looked up to see where it had landed, which he judged to be somewhere near the far side of the clearing, but he could see nothing particularly interesting about the spot from where he sat, and so got up to investigate.

He wrapped up the rest of the cheese and stuffed it into his coat pocket, then walked over to the patch of ground where he estimated the pebble had landed, knelt down and began searching through the grass for the foreign object, but could find nothing at all but dirt, grass and the gnarled roots of nearby trees. Then he found it: a dirty old piece of broken glass. Glass was something only the wealthy had in Willowbrook, but a shard like this would not fetch much. He was about to leave it be, but decided one never knows when something might come in handy, and so fetched it up into his pocket instead.

As he stood, he was suddenly overcome with a feeling of profound serenity. This startled him to no small degree because he had never before felt such a strong feeling come over him so suddenly, and seemingly of its own accord. It was almost as though he was communing with some vast intelligence unapparent to him, yet there were no animals or beings nearby save for a few birds and squirrels scattered throughout the trees, and they were not paying him any mind. Chindren stopped and slowly breathed in the soft scents of the forest—the grass, the earth, trees, flowers and moss, and found the whole mix most intoxicating. He had always loved the forest for its peacefulness, but this was something entirely new to him. It was almost as if the very forest were alive and speaking to him.

The more he focused on the feeling, the more he was sure there was something more, something deeper than just a feeling of peace. The serenity was like but a droning chord beneath an intricate song, and as he focused on it, he began to feel as though he could start to unravel those deeper melodies.

The trees were talking to one another.

He didn’t know how it could be, but somehow these trees were able to communicate. It was not with words, or even with feelings that were easily translated into words as with his bear friend; this was a different form of communication altogether. It was a surreal blending of sound and smell combined with an overriding feeling of peace and serenity. The thoughts were not short and quick like those of man or beast, but slow and continuous, and he got the distinct impression ancient. But it was more than just a feeling; there was a certain wisdom about it. The trees knew things, saw things he couldn’t see.

As he stood there transfixed, he realized his eyes were closed yet he was still sensing the forest around him. He could feel the warmth of the late afternoon sun upon his face, offset by the cool breeze that blew gently across the glade, rustling the grass and the leaves of the immense trees before him. He could almost sense every tree, every branch. He felt as though he knew exactly where they were, even with his eyes shut. He turned his body away from the sun, and felt its rays penetrating him, casting right through him and sending a tingling sensation throughout his body. He held out his arms and smiled, reveling in this profoundly new experience.

In his mind’s eye he began to see ethereal forms take shape, coalescing out of the fog of his thoughts. Each tree, each plant had its own distinct feeling that before had been mixed in a jumble of sensations all felt at once; but they now began to separate themselves until he could actually begin to see individual living forms in his mind. He was amazed to discover they looked nothing like they did to his eyes. They were beautiful. Iridescent lines of pulsating light traveled along flowing, sinuous forms, glowing brightly with the light of life that endowed them. It was as though he were looking right through the trees, seeing every vein of sap as a trickling thread of light that traveled upwards from the tree trunks and branched out hundreds of times to reach each leaf and then back again. The lines shifted and swayed in the breeze, shimmering and glinting like crystal as the glowing beads of luminescence danced along their length.

He looked down and was startled to discover he could see right through the ground to the network of roots below his feet, and was amazed at how far they extended, intertwining with one another and creating a veritable mesh beneath the surface of the earth.

Between the forms, clouds of soft light billowed and shifted through the invisible air, drifting to and fro on the breeze and filling the empty spaces with a substance that became so apparent, so dense, that it felt as though he were swimming through a sea of light, with each plant or creature a glowing beacon in an underwater world.

He could sense the breeze flowing through the trees in currents and eddies. Whereas before, he had been blind to the wind, he could now see its effect, twisting and swirling like dust in a tempest. As he watched, the currents of wind began to take on a distinct colour and form all its own, carrying upon its wing the scent and message of plants and trees hundreds of miles away, all merging with those here and continuing onward.

Chindren began to notice that the wind was taking a distinct path through the trees, almost as though it knew where it was going, or was being somehow directed. It had all looked the same to him with his eyes open, but he could now clearly detect an order—a direction—to the energies that flowed around him.

He had found the hidden path.

* * *

When he opened his eyes, the shock of the real world coming back to him was so startling he lost his balance and fell backwards onto the soft grass. He stared up at the deep blue sky with its cirrus clouds skirting its farthest heights, catching his breath, then broke out laughing. The whole experience had been so unexpected, so exhilarating, that for a moment the joy of having discovered this new ability overpowered the negative emotions that had up until recently been plaguing him. It was good to laugh again, he thought, as he sprawled his arms out to his sides and simply enjoyed the soft ground and bright, clear sky.

But dusk was not far away, and he had better get moving if he expected to be anywhere else but here when he set up camp for the night. He was also incredibly hungry, but he loathed the idea of having to hunt for food. However, if it came down to survival, he knew he may have to. He thought back to the bush of small red berries he’d seen earlier, but still couldn’t recall why it had stood out to him. He was certain the berries were poisonous. He had learned from a close call at a young age not to eat the berries of the forest, but something still tugged at his consciousness from the recesses of his mind. Perhaps he would take a sprig if he encountered the plant again, but was not prepared to backtrack this late in the day.

When he finally sat up, he became suddenly apprehensive: there was not a sound to be heard amid the trees. It was as though every animal had suddenly become silent. No birds chirped; no squirrels chattered. He could not even hear any crickets or clatterbugs. Only the faint wind rustling through the trees made any sound at all. Something was wrong; Chindren could feel it. His cheerful mood slipped from him like water on a gooseback. The wind turned suddenly cold, sending a chill to Chindren’s bones. He jumped to his feet. The wind also began to strengthen, until Chindren’s hair was flapping about his face. In the distance, Chindren could hear it begin to moan. A storm was coming; a big one.

Never before had Chindren witnessed a storm come so quickly and without warning. The sky, perfectly clear moments ago, had now begun to darken with ominous clouds, that spread visibly across the sky even as he watched it, shrouding the land in premature twilight. Chindren raced for the cover of the trees, and began desperately looking for some kind of shelter he could use to wait out the storm; but the sudden darkness made it difficult to see where he was going, let alone find shelter of any kind. He continued to run in the direction he was facing, which was roughly west, along the Northern bank of the Minnoa, but he could not make out anything in the near-darkness.

Then he remembered the bear’s message. Follow the path. It will lead you to where you need to go. Chindren closed his eyes, but his second sight did not come. Just as he opened his eyes again, his foot caught on a tree root and he flew forward, hands out to break his fall. But the ground did not come when he expected it to, and his entire world tilted and shifted as he continued to fall forward over the top of the hill he had just inadvertently discovered. His hands finally made contact with the ground, but the momentum of his body was too great and he only managed to roll over on his shoulder as he continued to bound headlong down the side of the hill. The wind was now tearing up the ground all around him and whipping dirt, twigs and leaves against his exposed skin. He had to close his eyes to protect them from the debris. As his feet came down in front of him, he bent his knees and pulled his legs close to his body as he was hurled downwards. The second time around, he was finally able to stop his somersaulting, but he continued to slide on the loose ground churned up by the storm.

He held his forearm in front of his face, trying to block the buffetting debris to catch a glimpse of where he was headed, but could make out nothing save the silhouetted tree tops against the dark sky. Suddenly the ground gave out beneath him and as he fell, he could make out the distinct rushing of the Minnoa river below him; then SPLASH! Frigid water engulfed his senses, entombing him in a sudden silence in comparison to the havoc above the surface. Chindren kicked his feet but his waterlogged boots and clothes made him feel like he was swimming in molasses. Finally he surfaced, and the rush of water and howling wind resumed their cacaphony. Chindren desperately flailed his arms out, trying to find anything grab ahold of, but there was nothing. The cold water continued to carry him downstream and he was unable to stop it.

He looked up to the sky, which was by now the only thing not completely blackened out, and could see the high ridges of the ravine to either side of him. Even if he could make it to one of the sides, there was no hope for him to climb the ledge. He would have to wait until the ground leveled out further downstream.

He continued to watch the sky, and as he did, a sudden flash of lightning lit up the area like a flash of daylight and then was gone. Had there been something in the sky? Chindren could have sworn he had seen something flying amid the chaos, like a dark speck against an even darker sky, but as he looked up now he couldn’t be sure. Whatever it was, it was big. Much bigger than a bird. The sky flashed again, but this time there was nothing.

Chindren decided to focus on staying alive, and so tilted onto his back and used his arms to keep his body afloat. He knew the river could get treacherous up ahead and didn’t want to be knocked unconcious by an invisible rock, but the water seemed to be taking him where it wanted him to go and there was not much Chindren could do about it, so he just focused on keeping his feet in front of him and his head above water. Several times he thought he saw large rocks sweep past him, nearly missing him, but in the darkness he couldn’t be sure.

Onward the river carried him.

* * *

As the coldness of the water slowly crept into his brain, Chindren’s consciousness began to drift away from him, as if taken upon its own path down the river. The roar of the water became a constant droning sound that filled Chindren’s being with its presence until it was the only thing he could sense or feel. Chindren started to feel as though he was the river, as though he were consciously controlling it, of the roar that filled him.

He fought to regain control of his mind, but it was useless. He was freezing to death. Amidst the panic and the chaos there was a certain peace. He could no longer fight it now. His mind drifted away, leaving his feeble body behind as it reached out and expanded, finally free of the confines of his corporeal form, of the ridiculousness of time and space.

He was back in Willowbrook with his aunt. But she was much older than he last remembered her. He was a man now, master of the house. He looked down at her and smiled. He remembered it all now. He had come back from his journey a hero, and the town had cheered his return. His uncle had passed away some years before his return and his aunt had been struggling to survive. Chindren could still remember the look on her face when strode through that front door.

He was so happy now. His life was finally fulfilled and he was at peace. He smiled at the townspeople as he walked leisurely down the main street. People called his name and waved at him.

Now he was a child, playing in the brambles outside of his farm home. He did not recognize this place. He was drawing in the dirt with a stick beside an old fence by a dirt road and watching the bugs as they went about their business along the sandy ground. In the distance his mother called him. It was time for lunch. He tossed the stick down and ran towards the little white house on the hill.

He was looking down upon his mother. She appeared to be in incredible pain. Dim candles lit the dark room. There were men here, gathered round. They too bore looks of concern. His mother screamed. The child was in distress. Chindren. She would call him Chindren, after her father.

A tall man with a long beard in a plain dark robe stretched out his arm as filaments of light like those he had seen in the forest began to emmanate from his fingertips and stretch towards her.

“Chindren!” she screamed.

Suddenly he was in a cold river, being swept downstream at an incredible pace. Somehow this was different from the other places he had been. This one was not pleasant like the others. He felt as though he had been here before.

“Chindren,” a voice echoed in his mind.

He looked up to see his mother floating before him. He smiled at her. It must be a dream, he thought: the river, the cold. He would awaken soon and be back among his friends in that peaceful world he had just left. But the figure was not smiling back at him. She looked frightened.

Chindren wanted to comfort her, to tell her everything was okay and not to fear—that he would be with her again soon; but he could not speak. Again something tugged at him from the back of his mind, a warning, perhaps. Not all was as it seemed.

This sparked the tiniest bit of concern in Chindren. He began to worry if perhaps his mother needed him to do something, but he could not figure out what that was. The figure reached out her arm to him. That was it, he thought. She wants me to take her hand. He struggled to lift his arm, which for some reason felt as though it were made of lead. Somehow he managed to reach out and take hold of her, and as he did his whole world twisted and started moving in the most peculiar way.

He noticed there was a river rushing by him. It was cold and wet and unpleasant and he wondered what on earth it was doing there. He realized he was holding onto the branch of a tree that had grown out from the shallow bank and began to pull himself up out of the cold water.

As he hung there, breathing heavily, his thoughts began to come back to him. He remembered the wind and the storm and falling into the river, and some very peculiar dreams, but he couldn’t figure out for the life of him how he had managed to grab that branch, which he now clung to for dear life.

The sky had cleared considerably and the storm had seemed to have passed, but it was now quite late and natural darkness was already close at hand. There were even a few starts beginning to show.

The banks of the river were much lower here, and as Chindren began to pull himself out by the branch of the tree, he managed to reach ahold of a clump of grassy land in his other hand. Pulling by the branch, he managed to hoist himself up so that his waist was resting on the soft bank and only his feet were dangling in the river. His limbs still felt like clubs, but were now shivering violently trying to get some feeling back in them. His whole body shook, making it hard for him to pull himself up any further, but grabbing ahold of two fists of grass, he managed to do so, rolling himself over onto the bank and out of the water.

He lay there a moment, between the bank of the river and the trunk of the tree whose limb he had used to pull himself free of the deadly river. His teeth were chattering and his whole body shook with convulsions as it tried to warm itself despite the sopping wet clothes the cool night air. He began to strip his soaking clothes off and longed for his pack with his blanket and canteen, far behind him in the glade somewhere atop the ravine. He began to search hopefully through his coat, which now lay in a sopping bundle beside him and was relieved to discover his flintstone and cheese had not fallen out in the river. He pulled out the bundle of cheese and began to devour it.

Chindren sat there, cold and naked, shivering so wildly he could barely hold the cheese to his mouth as he tore off big chunks of the hard cheese with his teeth and ate with abandon. After he devoured the cheese, he grabbed his undergarments and tried to wring them out as best he could, despite his frozen hands. When he had done all he could he laid them out to dry atop a nearby bush and went back to his things.

He picked up and shook off as much water as he could from his coat, which having been slicked with oil was at least somewhat waterproof. It was now soaked right through of course, but he turned it inside out and draped it around his shoulders as he sat in a scrunched ball, back to the tree and tried to conserve the little body heat he had left.

The minutes ticked by. Unlike while he was in the river, this time the pain did not go away. Chindren simply focused on staying conscious as he watched the silhouettes of tall stalks of cattails lean to and fro in the breeze. The night was lonesome and empty, and though his teeth were no longer chattering, every muscle in his body was painfully clenched. He sat with his arms around his legs pulled up tight against his body and his chin resting on his knees with the damp overcoat providing a small degree of insulation and protection from the breeze.

He watched the final remnants of light disappear from the sky and the stars come out to shine. There was no moon to be seen in the heavens that night.

The story continues…

Published in: on January 14, 2009 at 11:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Chapter 1: A Small Fire

It was a small fire. But as he sat there, shivering and bundled in his woolen blanket and oiled overcoat, Chindren couldn’t help but smile at his success. He took a deep breath of the cold, damp air and let it out in a puff of breath as he rubbed his hands over the flame. In the distance, squirrels chattered and birds called out to their mates, beckoning them out of the rain. Chindren pulled a piece of hard bread out of his coat pocket and gnawed at it, his stomach growling with hunger. I must ration myself, he thought wisely, else I will not last long.

Though he had never ventured far from home before, he knew the area from the few times he and his uncle and cousins would come out this way in the cart to get supplies from the next town. In fact he knew it well. While his cousins would kill the time bickering amongst themselves, he would be staring off into the rustic scenery as they drove by, observing every nook and every cranny—every moss-covered rock or broken tree limb.

He had camped about a quarter-mile south of the main road—far enough away that he couldn’t be seen from the road, but not so far as to be out of earshot. He wanted to hear every cart and carriage that drove down the road, in case someone decided to try and come after him. He had toyed with the idea of not leaving Aunt Evelyn a note, but he knew if there was anyone at all in the world he could trust, it was her.

He had spent the first few days travelling down the East road, and camping in the brush not too far away from it, but he would travel no further by road now. It had rained the whole time, which he was partially thankful for, as it would help to conceal his tracks, but it was cold and miserable and he had almost forgotten what it felt like to be warm. This was the first night he had been able to start a fire at all. But the rain was letting up, and he had already travelled far enough on the road. He had no intention of going into town and so tomorrow morning he would set south towards the Minnoa river and onwards into the southern lands.

Even as he sat there, rubbing his hands together trying to catch a bit of warmth from the small fire and his teeth chattering in the cold, he had never felt so alive. He was filled with an invigorating feeling of empowerment and of being for the first time in control of his own destiny that he barely even felt the cold. Water dripped off his brow and hung like crystal earrings from his earlobes, dripping occasionally onto his slick overcoat. His leather shoes were completely soaked through and his feet were numb, but the constant walking had kept them warm enough to avoid any fear of gangrene, and at least his blanket was dry enough beneath his coat. He put the stale piece of bread back into his pocket and pulled himself under a haphazard shelter of felled tree limbs that provided at least a modicum of protection from the constant rain. The fire would not last long, he knew, but he was asleep long before it went out.

* * *

He awoke to the sound of a red-tailed hawk patrolling the skies in search of a much needed meal, and was startled to open his eyes to a clear sky. He shrugged off the damp remnants of sleep and arose from his slumber perhaps as refreshed as anyone has ever been after a night out in the rain. He stretched his arms high into the sky as he worked his tired muscles, tight from the scrunched form he had slept in to keep warm. Then he noticed the column of smoke in the sky trailing from the west southward.

So they were coming after him.

It was probably his uncle, he thought, out to save his own hide from the humiliation of having a child run away from his care. The rain and clouds had concealed it before, but the dark, tapering column was now plainly visible high up on the western horizon. They’re perhaps a half-day behind me at most, Chindren thought, and much faster on horseback than I am on foot. He got up quickly and did his best to hide the fire and broken tree limbs he had slept under. He grabbed his pack that lay beside the small patch of burnt ground where the fire had been and the bowl he had set out the night before to collect rainwater. He topped up his canteen, which was mostly full already, having had an abundant supply of rainwater from the previous night, and set out cross-country to the south.

The morning was crisp and cool, and though it had finally stopped raining, the air still had a bite to it that he could not seem to shrug off; but as he made his way through the rough ground and broken brambles he began to work up enough body heat to combat it. Unfortunately this did nothing to bide his hunger, and his stomach growled in reminder of this unfortunate state.

By midday, his hair was finally dry and he was beginning to feel in better health. He breathed in deeply the cool late-summer air as he looked out upon the land that was now his only home.

Then he heard something that made him stop dead in his tracks: a dog baying. He stood silent for a few moments to make sure he had indeed heard it and was about to shrug it off when he heard it again, from somewhere behind him to the north. They had found his trail. Fortunately his pursuers would have been forced to abandon their horses at the road as the terrain was far too difficult to maneuver with any speed on horseback, but with dogs tracking him he had little hope of outrunning them. He was wet and sweaty and they could probably smell him a mile away.

No, he couldn’t outrun them. His only chance was to make it to the Minnoa. He would swim downstream for several miles to where the river turned into Barrowgate Falls, and the rapids that preceded it, then pull himself to safety before the current swept him over the falls. The river would mask his trail from the dogs, but he knew they would probably pick it up again before too long, as there were not many places he could go between here and the falls, and swimming upstream was out of the question.

His heart sank at the thought of being wet again after only having just dried out for the first time in days, but it was the only option. If he merely crossed the river they would easily pick up his trail again on the other side. He needed to buy himself a few hours’ lead.

He heard the dogs bay again, this time slightly closer, and he took off at a slow run. He was already tired from having walked all morning without a break, but could not afford respite now. He scolded himself for not bringing more food, but there had been little in the house to take, and he hadn’t had enough time to properly prepare his escape. Luckily he still had a piece of hard cheese wrapped in oilcloth that he was saving for later.

Knowing his bread would be worthless after his pending swim, he pulled it out and began chewing on it awkwardly as he ran down the side of a rather large hill the other side of which he had spent the last hour gradually climbing. Fortunately the ground was easier here, and consisted mostly of sparse pines and a blanket of pine needles.

The same hawk he had heard that morning cried out. It was warning him. The dogs were close now. The river was perhaps another mile—he wasn’t sure if he was going to make it. He needed something to slow the dogs down… but what? He couldn’t very well stop and fight. Just then, as he was nearing the bottom of the hill, he heard a deep growl and looked to his right as he skidded to a halt on the soft ground.

It was a huge black bear. The bear rose onto his hind feet and growled again, raising his snout to the sky and bearing his teeth. Chindren dared not move a muscle. The animals he had befriended in the forest back home were small critters, nothing larger than a fox. He had never in his life encountered a beast such as this. Chindren’s heart raced; he tried to calm himself down and find the inner peace that allowed him to commune with the animals, but he was so exhausted from running and his heart pumping with fear that he could not.

The bear fell back onto all fours and slowly walked towards him. Chindren was paralyzed. Breathing hard through his mouth, he swallowed hard. Slowly he held out the bread he was carrying as the great bear approached. The bear sniffed it twice and grunted his lack of interest, then bore his teeth again when the dogs barked in the distance.

Go, child, something in Chindren’s mind seemed to echo. Chindren looked at the bear. Could it have been him? No, her, it was definitely a her. Wait, how did he know that? He could feel her; he could feel the bear! It was unlike anything he had experienced before. This bear was wise—wiser than he had expected any animal could be—and old, and she was trying to help him!

Without another thought he took off. He was relieved, thankful, and frightened out of his wits all at once that he dared not stay another moment. He glanced behind to see the bear facing North, waiting for the dogs. His foot caught on a bramble or root and he almost went over, but luckily managed to turn around and keep his footing. He had completely forgotten about the piece of bread in his hand until he saw it flying through the air in front of him. No time for that now, he thought as he watched it fall into a leafy bush full of little red berries. Something about the berries looked familiar but his mind was on other things and he was too intent on escape to remember what it was… something his Aunt had taught him; that was all he could remember.

As he continued to make his way across land, which had now turned to a wide grassy meadow, he heard the dogs baying again behind him. Then the barking turned to a vicious barking and finally a yelp, then silence. He silently thanked his new friend, but hoped she had only wounded the dog and not killed it, for he knew it was not the dog that was his enemy. Then he heard a sound that made his blood run cold: a gunshot. He wrung his fists in anger as he ran across the field, as he thought of what they must have done to the bear. Tears streamed down his face as he ran, chilling his face in the cool afternoon air.

Why had they brought guns? Surely they had no need for a gun to capture and bring Chindren back to Willowbrook. Unless it was not capturing they intended to do at all. Chindren’s mind raced with the implication, but he could not fathom why anyone would want to kill him. Just as he had no friends among the townspeople, he similarly had no real enemies that he was aware of. He left them alone and they returned the favour.

The thought that these pursuers might be out to harm him had made the blood drain from Chindren’s face. Maybe they were just hunters thinking they’re on the trail of a deer. But surely the dogs would know the difference in scent of a human from a deer, and unless they were the poorest trackers ever, they could surely tell a bootprint from a hoofmark. Something just didn’t add up.

Despite his exhaustion, Chindren now ran in a cold sweat. He no longer ran for his freedom; he ran for his very life. He glanced behind him again and could see movement in the trees on the far side of the clearing, just as he was himself reaching the cover of trees on his side. He jumped over a thornberry bush and nearly lost his footing as he came down a small drop on the other side. They will be upon me any moment now, he thought frantically. Just as he was about to crouch down and hide in the ditch he had so accidentally discovered, he realized there was a faint whooshing sound, as if water falling over rocks. He ran a few more paces, through a think outcropping of trees and out into the open air, high atop a ravine that overlooked a great river, still churning an incredible amount of water despite the lateness of the season. He had made it to the Minnoa.

* * *

The majestic river flowed in a more or less easterly direction toward the deadly falls several miles downstream. Even here, the water was choppy and full of rocks and white water. It was also a hundred or so feet below.

As he stood there, looking out over the wide river at the tall bank on the other side and no apparent means to get there from where he stood, Chindren took a moment to catch his breath. He had precious few moments and had to think of something quick. Already he could hear the yelling of his pursuers behind him. Chindren looked down again. There were sharp jagged rocks not ten feet out from the point where the clifface met the river. The area in between looked sound, but he had no way of telling how deep it was as the angle he stood at and the motion of the water made it opaque. He knew the river was quite deep in places, but death by falling or a shotgun blast to the chest made little difference in the end.

He glanced along either direction along the tall bank but there were few footholds and in many cases trees and taller sections of cliff came right to the edge, making it impossible to traverse with the urgency he faced. Then he noticed a few paces off in the other direction along the bank an old tree’s roots had jutted out beneath the ledge and hung down like thick vines towards what looked like a small ledge, partially hidden from where he stood. With no better option presenting itself, he quickly but carefully made his way to the tree, being careful to keep a sure footing on the loose rock. He carefully lowered himself over the edge of rock that still supported the huge tree and dangled his feet below until he made contact with one of the thick, twisted roots.

Letting go with one hand, he turned his head downward to get a better view when his foot slipped on the root and, unable to hold himself up with one hand, he went down. Luckily he landed somewhat painfully on the large root he had initially stepped on, and grabbing another with his hands was able to save himself from ending up with some finality on the rocks at the bottom of the ravine. Just as he did so, he heard voices atop the ledge. Quickly, he pulled himself deeper into the tangle of roots that he now saw extended deep into what was almost a small cave, no doubt carved out by the thirsty roots over dozens of years.

Breathing as quietly as he could—which was no small feat unto itself, given his current state of exhaustion—he hugged his body as close to the deepest roots as he could in attempts to conceal himself from his topward observers.

“He came this way; I’m sure of it,” one of the voices said.

“Are you sure he didn’t double back and take off down the bank?” another said.

“Impossible. He wouldn’t have had time.”

Oddly, Chindren didn’t recognize either of the voices. It must not be his uncle after all. Perhaps they were after a criminal on the loose and had mistaken Chindren for a fugitive. But he wasn’t about to take any chances.

“Well he sure didn’t jump.”

“You so sure ’bout that? Why don’t you take a go at it and we’ll know for sure.”

“Always the joker, eh Clint? You better watch that lip or it’ll be you who goes over the edge, with a few ounces of lead in your chest for ballast. Don’t forget who’s got the gun.”

“Yeah I saw how you handled that bear. Sloppiest damn shooting I ever saw.”

“It did the trick.”

Chindren closed his eyes at the thought, barely able to muffle the whimper that wanted to escape his throat.

“Alright, you take East I’ll take West. He couldn’t have gone far. Wait a minute, what’s this?” Chindren held his breath, his heart pounding in his ears. He squeezed his eyes shut. Just then, from somewhere atop the cliff and out of sight he heard a familiar growl. Chindren’s eyes popped open just as a body came hurtling over the ledge, screaming as it plummeted toward its rocky grave below. Shouts and another gunshot sounded from somewhere above Chindren, then another growl, and another gunshot.

“Nooo!” Chindren yelled without thinking, anger and rage having replaced his fear. He pulled himself out of his hiding place as he frantically pulled himself up to get a view of what was happening above him. On the edge of the cliff lay a rather large man holding the side of his torso as blood pooled on the rocks beside him. He was breathing heavily but was mortally wounded and unable to move.

The shotgun lay several feet away from him on the other side of his body. Six or seven feet away beyond that lay a huge bulk of black fur, matted in places with dark red. The bear was also breathing heavily, but much more slowly. Chindren scampered up the ledge and quickly grabbed the shotgun that lay beside the big man. Chindren had never seen the man before.

He pointed the shotgun at him and demanded, “Who are you?” but the man remained silent. Still enraged by what the man had done to the bear, Chindren booted him in the side, which made him grunt, and demanded more sternly, “Who are you, and why were you following me? Answer me!” he said, when the man made no attempt to reply. He aimed the gun more deliberately at the man’s head.

“Sent…” the man finally managed to speak, “to find you, Heretic.” Chindren didn’t know what a heretic was and so let the man continue. “The Father of Mages knows…” He coughed a horrid gurgling sound, bright red blood trickling down the side of his cheek. “He knows of you.” With this, the man, clearly in a lot of pain, lifted his head to look Chindren in the eye. “And your father,” he said with contempt. With his final ounce of strength, the dying man managed to spit at Chindren, missing him but making his message clear. “Death to all you heretics. Death to you all!” His trailing words were drowned in a final gurgle of blood that spewed forth from his mouth as his head fell backwards with a thwack onto the stone. Chindren threw the shotgun down and went to the bear.

“Don’t die,” he cried, tears welling up in his eyes. “You saved my life.”

Do not cry for me, little one. Chindren felt the emotion more than heard the words, and knew them to be the true voice of the bear’s spirit. Still, it only made him cry more. I am old and my life has been long. You are young, but destined for things you cannot yet fathom. My life is but a small price to pay for the hope that lies within you. Seek it, and you will discover your true calling. There is so much you do not yet know, Windrider. Listen to the animals. They will guide you; but you must go. There are others who yet seek you. These were but two. I have bought you time, but you are not safe yet. Follow the hidden path and it will lead you to where you need to go.

“Please,” Chindren begged. “I will help you. I will tend your wounds. I need your help, I cannot find the way alone.”

You will find it, Windrider, if you seek it with your heart instead of your eyes. You have the gift. Know this. There is no time for me; I am already lost. But we shall meet again. Go now. Seek the path.

Chindren rose, tears still streaming down his face as he watched the great bear, his friend, take her last laboured breaths, steam rising from her open muzzle. Chindren bent and wrapped his arms around the bear’s huge form. “Thank you. Thank you great one, for saving my life. I will never forget you.” But the bear spoke no more. Her breathing continued to slow until it finally stopped altogether, and a final cloud of breath escaped the bear’s lungs to dissipate in the chill air.

Chindren stood and wiped away the tears upon his cheeks. “I will avenge your death, great one. Whoever sent these men will pay for your death in their blood. I swear it.” With a final surge of rage, Chindren picked up the shotgun and with a yell, hurled it off the edge of the cliff to crash into the white waters of the churning river below.

The story continues…

Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 1:33 am  Comments (1)  
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Prologue

In a dark land, not long after the dawn of time, a child was born to a wizard. Though unplanned, the birth of this child was seen as a miracle to his parents. Unfortunately, as it was against custom for wizards to bear children of their own, he was sent away in secrecy to be raised by his paternal aunt in a land far from his birthplace. There, the child grew and was raised as any child would have been, never having known his true parents, or even their identities.

As a boy, even without knowledge of his true origin—or perhaps because of it—he was outcast. His childhood was far from a joyous one, and though he was well-loved by his aunt and his adopted family, he never felt as though he truly fit in. Chindren, for that was his name, would spend long hours alone in the forest that surrounded the town. No one knew what he did there, though there were rumors and whispers of dark and evil things. In truth, Chindren had befriended the animals of the forest and had found in their gentle spirits the friends he was so sorely lacking amongst his own kind. Over the years he had developed a certain intuition that allowed him to communicate with the animals—not with words as people use (something he now regarded as clumsy), but with the flows of spirit that he learned bound all things living and inanimate.

When forced to deal with others of his kind, he was often amazed to witness mankind’s seeming deafness to the voice of spirit, which he learned manifests itself in truth and honesty, and quickly came to loathe the deception and deceit that all too often lurked beneath the surface of those he encountered. From a young age he swore himself an enemy of deceit and much of his time spent alone in the forest was devoted to meditation and the self-enlightenment one achieves from the pure pursuit of truth and honesty.

Though he was true to himself, he found he was forced to assume an air of mystery when among his own kind; for he had learned that men were frightened of things they did not understand, and could often turn to force to eliminate that which was different from themselves. This seeming hypocrisy of being forced to be less than truthful tried his soul constantly. He wanted nothing more than to be himself among his peers and to in his mind also free them from the shackles he could so plainly see, but it seemed that no matter how he tried, there was always some dark and hidden force lurking in the shadows preventing it.

This only served to further his isolation, and as Chindren grew up, he grew also further and further away from those around him, to the point where even his adopted brothers and sisters appeared to him no different from the townsfolk he so methodically avoided.

When he reached the age of individuality at a dozen and one quad seasons, he was already all but alienated from society and desired nothing more than to leave his memories of this unforgiving town behind him and start anew. He remained close only to his aunt by this time, for of all the people he had known and grown up with, only her spirit was as kind as those of the animals of the forest, and he loved her dearly as he would the mother he never had.

It was therefore only inevitable that his aunt should awaken one morning to find a note beside her pillow and Chindren gone in the night. She cried for him that morning; but though it hurt her to see Chindren gone, in truth she had known this day would come for a long time.

Her husband had been enraged to discover, days later, that she had hidden Chindren’s departure from him. He had yelled again and again that he could not understand why she had just let the boy go if she loved him as she so claimed, but she knew it was out of love that she had; and though she loved her husband as well, she also knew he would never understand her reasons, and so remained silent as he beat her for the humiliation she had caused him among the townsfolk. As he did, she prayed only that Chindren would one day return to her.

And so begins the story of how Chindren left the hamlet of Willowbrook behind to foray out into the world for the first time, and to begin the journey that would define the man he was soon to become.

The story continues…

Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 1:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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