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The Wanderer’s Tale – Part 8 October 29, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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Grey awoke, as he so often did with Cavall’s wet nose snuffling at his hand. He ruffled the wolf-hound’s ears and yawned, but didn’t open his eyes. It felt too good to stretch out and rest his weary bones on a soft bed. The sleeping furs felt strange though, more like fabric…

He sat bolt upright and tore off the thick blankets swathed around him. “Where in Hel’s name are we?”

Cavall let out a happy whuff and jumped onto the bed, taking over the warm spot Grey had just vacated.  Seeing the hound so relaxed was enough to relieve some of Grey’s worry, if not his confusion. The last thing he remembered was the sharp jolt of a sudden downdraft that tossed them into the trees. He felt gingerly along his side and back, but there was no sign of cracked ribs or bruising. He should have been a mess, ribs took weeks to heal.

That thought drove him to his feet. He’d had less than two weeks to find more medicine for his people. He stumbled around the bed, guided by the dim light slipping between the slats of tall wooden shutters. He threw them open, only to realize they were not windows but a doorway leading out onto a broad stone balcony. The sun was rising beyond unfamiliar mountain peaks that towered over a broad plateau, which was covered with buildings and lamp-lit streets. He had only been to one of the port cities as a small boy, but he knew that none of them had mountains nearby. There was no sign of the ocean either, which meant there was no way to find the sea traders, and get back in time.

“I failed,” Grey whispered, and sank back down on the edge of the bed. “They were depending on me, and I failed.”

A polite knock came from somewhere behind him, but Grey was still too deep in shock to answer. The sound was followed by the creak of a door opening and brisk footsteps . “Ah, I see that you are awake! That is very good! You have a remarkably strong constitution, my young friend.”

Grey turned slightly, and found himself looked up at a tall, thin man. He had long black hair that hung straight back from his forehead down to his waist, and he wore strange, flowing robes woven to resemble the blue/grey feather pattern of an osprey.  At any other time Grey would have been fascinated by meeting someone so unusual, but right then the only words he could manage to choke out were, “What day is it?”

The man gave him a kindly smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes. “It is the morning after you landed, the twenty third day of the Flower moon. And let me say, that was quite a feat. Not everyone can ride a typhoon and live to tell the tale.”

Grey shook his head, bewildered. “Flower moon? It’s autumn, not spring…”

The man pulled over a chair and sat down. “Hmm, perhaps we should start from the beginning? My name is Galen, of House Zephyr, and you landed rather precipitously on the outskirts of my city. I am guessing you are from somewhere much farther south?”

“Yes, from the western rim of the plains,” Grey said. “Oh, my name is Aurengrey, of Tribe Cyclonis. But everyone calls me Grey.”

Galen leaned back and frowned. “There are no plains south of here. Unless, hmm…oh dear. You don’t mean the south-west continent, do you? I had heard of some nomadic groups there. That would explain your accent.”

“I crossed the whole ocean?” Grey said, his mind whirling as he tried to calculate the date. He jumped up and cast about the room, looking for his belongings and the precious store of coins he had brought.  “It’s only been 6 days since I left then. There’s still time, if I can find a way home. Please sir, do you have any maps, or news of where the trade ships are?”

“I could find out, but why don’t you tell me what sent you out in such dangerous weather?” Galen said. “Perhaps I can help?”

Grey found his map case lying on a side table, miraculously still intact and with all the coins bundled inside. “Unless you can acquire enough fellsbane and quicknettle to cure a hundred people or more, I’m afraid not. The traders have been stocking it, knowing we need it.”

Galen stood up and placed a hand on Grey’s arm. “Put your money away, young man. I have no need of it, or such simple remedies. What you want is a true healer and fortunately for you, I am the most skilled practitioner in the North.” He smiled at the guarded look on Grey’s face. “I see you don’t believe me. But tell me then, how else were your broken ribs mended in a single night?”

Grey hesitated, not sure what to believe. He had never heard of anyone being able to heal like that, outside of stories, but the man had no reason to lie to him. He was obviously an Air kindred as well; which didn’t necessarily mean he had their best interests in mind, but they had nothing left worth taking. What finally decided him was Cavall. The wolf-hound had followed them across the room and was sitting next to Galen, with his tail thumping on the ground. Grey had learned to heed the hound’s instincts above his own.  “I guess if Cavall trusts you, I should as well.”

Galen gave Cavall a pat on the head, and laughed as he got a sloppy lick for his troubles. “It’s settled then. You can tell me your whole story over breakfast, and we will set out soon after.”

Later, Galen left his young guest to rest while he made his preparations. The calm, cheerful demeanor he had displayed earlier had given way to a deep, worried frown, however. As he entered his suite he motioned to one of his servants to follow him in. “I want you to gather every healer worth the name, and have them ready to travel within the hour. Send word along the portal networks, I want them to stand at the ready to bring back refugees. We’ll need bedding  and food prepared for at least 150 people, possibly more.”

“Yes milord,” the man said, with a quick bow as he hurried out.

Galen’s wife waited until they were alone, and shut the door. “You found out who the boy is? He’s not one of Kalnaeth’s brood?”

“No, though I think I know why we have heard nothing from our cousins,” Galen said, his voice pained. “It is as I feared; their madness led them to breed creatures they could not control. Wyverns, altered for war and genocide. They must have flown down that spit of land to the south-western continent once they had finished with our kin the north.”  He clenched his fists so tightly that his knuckles turned white. “That poor boy is only sixteen, and he has been fighting those beasts for years already. Do you remember the puckered scars on his arm?” Galen said, jabbing a finger at his forearm. “He has been slowly poisoning himself, administering a tiny dose of wyvern venom every day in an attempt to build up a tolerance. And not to survive a sting. Oh no. That is only so that he can live long enough to get away, so that he won’t be paralyzed and have to watch as they eat him alive.”

Elena held his hands in her own, and forced him to look at her. “Beloved, this is not your fault.”

“Isn’t it?” Galen said. “Perhaps if I had stayed, if there was one voice of reason left– “

“-then we would have shared their fate,” Elena finished for him. “You can’t save everyone.”

Galen sighed, and leaned his forehead against hers. “No, but I have to try. Or I won’t be able to live with myself.”

“And that is why I love you,” Elena said, kissing his cheek. “Be careful. You do not know for sure that the beasts do not have masters still.”

Galen let her hands go, his face set in determination. “If they do, then I intend to have a few words with them.”

<– The Wanderer’s Tale – Part 7  ~~~|||~~~  The Wanderer’s Tale – Part 9

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