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The Wanderer’s Tale – Part 6 October 13, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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For Grey, the long journey home was fraught with worry and unanswered questions.  Had the wyverns left the plains once their nests were destroyed? Had there been any attacks on his tribe while they were away? Would they even make it back home alive?

That last question was the one that haunted his days – two thirds of the men, including his father had been scratched by tiny spines that lined the female wyvern’s bodies. The poison that coated them took hold so slowly that they hadn’t even noticed it at first, creeping through their bodies in a silent assault. It started with a tingling in the hands and feet one day, and moved on to a tightness in the lungs the next. Then a dry cough set in, and their lungs began to burn like there was a fire in them. Finally, their strength slowly bled away as they struggled to breathe, leaving them too exhausted to move on their own.

Grey and the few others left standing cobbled together stretchers for the injured, with the Wind kin keeping them afloat and the Mountain kin towing them.

Tairwyn trudged alongside Grey, shaking his head at the pitiful train behind them. “It’s hitting your people harder than mine. I’d almost swear the damn beasties were designed to kill off Wind kindreds.”

“Nothing about wyverns would surprise me anymore,” Grey said. “Although, why would anyone want to kill us?”

“Land,” said Tairwyn, with a sage nod. “The things keep gobbling up your territory ‘till your stuck in that canyon, some of the poorest land around.”

Grey thought about that, but it still didn’t fit. “Maybe, but if so then why haven’t their masters come to claim the plains? We couldn’t stop them.”

Tairwyn twirled one of his mustachios thoughtfully. “Now there you have me. Ah well, at least theorizing passes the time.”

A stray puff of wind caught Grey’s attention. He stopped and gripped Tairwyn’s shoulder. “Do you smell that? Someone’s got a stew on! We’re almost home!”

“Your nose is as keen as that hound of yours!” Tairwyn laughed. “Odd though, if we’re close enough to  smell dinner, why aren’t there any guards?”

“If the wyverns are gone, they’ll all be outside,” Grey said, hoping that was the truth. But he motioned the rest of the train to a halt anyway. “Wait here, I’ll fly ahead and find out.”

He rocketed through the tunnels, making his way steadily upwards. The quiet was ominous, broken only by the faint echoes of coughs from the men.  He sped onwards, his concern growing as the sound of coughing did not fade. Instead, it grew louder ahead of him. He flew past empty sleeping chambers and kitchens and deserted children’s playrooms, heading up and up until the only place left was the central council chamber.

The scene that awaited him there was enough to wring tears of pity from a stone. Row upon row of sleeping furs covered the floor, each filled with a quietly coughing occupant. His whole tribe was there. Every single child was sick, their cheeks sunken and their skin had a greyish tinge. There were a few men and women moving listlessly among the patients, the dry cough shaking them.

One of them lifted her head and squinted through the dim light coming from a makeshift hearth she was tending. “Aurengrey? Please tell me that’s you and not a hallucination!”

It was his mother. Grey rushed over and gave her a hug. “I’m home, mom. We’re all home.” He held her as she burst into tears.  “What happened here?” he asked.

“What always happens to us? The wyverns came,” Merina said bitterly, wiping her cheeks. “They couldn’t get in, thanks to the men Tairwyn left here and our own hunters. So they dropped the carcasses of females into the cisterns and every lake and spring, fouling our water supply. By the time we realized what was making us sick it was too late.” She stopped for a moment as a cough shook her. “Your hounds tried to warn us, even pulling the children away from the cisterns. I thought they were simply playing too rough and shooed them off. I should have known better.”

“None of us could have predicted they’d do this,” Grey said, looking around in dismay. “I had better go get the rest of them. We’ll figure out what to do when we’re all gathered here.”

Merina nodded wearily. “I’ll let the Mountain kin know you are back, they’ve been keeping watch with the hounds.”

Everyone gathered in the central chamber. Grey took his usual place, with Cavall pressed up against his legs. The big hound had been so happy to see his master he had nearly bowled Grey over with his joyful greeting.

Brennan took the floor, the once fiery leader of Tempest bowed over and walking with a stick. “We will need to organize hunting parties. We need fresh food if we’re to survive this.”

Tairwyn stood up. “You need medicine. We still have a bit from the last group of traders that was brave enough to pass through. I’ll twist my chief’s arm till he gives it up,” he said, with a fierce grin. The smile faded as he looked around. “Not sure it’s enough to cure all of you, but a smaller dose will get you by ‘till we think of something else.”

“When was the last time you saw the traders?” Brennan asked.

“Over a year ago,” Tairwyn said, wincing. “Too much risk, not enough profit for them. Still, no one’s seen hide nor horn of a wyvern since they left their nasty parting gift. If we could get word to the coast maybe we could lure the traders back.”

Grey had listened quietly to the discussion, a plan forming in his mind. He pushed Cavall’s head off his lap and stood up. “My grandfather is captain of a trade ship. If I can get word to him, he’ll help us.”

“Ah, but can you find him laddie?” Tairwyn asked. “Tis the wrong season for sailing into the southerly ports.”

“Then I’ll fly north. The upper air moves fast, I can get to the coast in a few days.”

Merina spoke up from where she sat, holding hands with Grey’s father. “I have a map of every port he visits. He gave it to me in case I got tired of Aurelius and wanted to come home,” she said, leaning down to kiss her husbands’ forehead. “He never has forgiven you for stealing me away. But he won’t deny aid to my son.”

Brennan tapped his stick to get their attention. “We have a plan then. Let’s move quickly while we still can.”

It did not take long for Grey to pack. He found the map in a waterproofed case, the unbroken seals on the lid a testament to his mother’s love for her husband. She never once considered leaving, despite all the hardships they had suffered. There was a pouch full of gold coins in the bottom, the kind traders used that could be broken into smaller bits, and a note of credit to buy passage on any ship. Grey tucked it all into a backpack along with food and a blanket, and bundled himself up in his warmest furs and leathers. He topped it off with a pair of hunting spears slung across his back in an X.

He was just rolling his shoulders to settle everything in when a knock came at the doorway.  Tairwyn let himself in. “Good luck, laddie. You’re going to have to fly fast to catch the traders before they head off north. It’s summer up across the equator, they won’t linger here.”

“I know. That’s why I’m not wearing armor, it’ll slow me down,” Grey said.

“Hmm, well, I don’t know as those pig-stickers of yours will be enough if you get up close and personal with a wyvern,” Tairwyn said. He unbelted his sword and handed it to Grey. “Here, remember what I told you. The sides are sharp for a reason.”

Grey looked at him in astonishment. “I can’t take this; you’ll need it if they wyverns come back!”

“Bah, I can always borrow another one. And it’s just a loan, mind you, I expect it back soon enough.”

Grey put it on the sword, shifting it until he could move without it unbalancing his flight. “Here’s hoping I won’t need it.”

Tairwyn gave a hearty chuckle and smacked him on the back. “Aye, since you’re more likely to cut off your own head with it! Still, it may come in handy.”

They walked up the tunnel that led to the canyon, Cavall close on Grey’s heels. Tairwyn clasped forearms with him. “Safe journey.  I wish I could go with you, haven’t seen the ocean in years.”  He reached down to ruffle Cavall’s ears, and got his hand licked for his efforts. “You watch your master’s back now, eh?”

Grey started gathering the winds, excitement bubbling up in him. As dire as the situation was he couldn’t help but look forward to finally getting out and seeing the world. “We’ll be back before you know it,” he said, giving the thumbs up.

Tairwyn stepped back as the Wind picked up speed, swirling around the young man and his hound. The pressure built, making the stones around them shake until at finally let loose in a deafening roar.

Grey and Cavall shot upwards like a slung stone, cutting through the clouds to burst out into the high, thin upper air. Man and beast were both grinning from the feel of the wind on their faces. The fast moving winds caught them and they were off, hurtling at break-neck speeds to the east…

—-

<–The Wanderer’s Tale, Part 5  —||||—-  The Wanderer’s Tale, Part 7 –>

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