A Sojourn to Hydlaa - Part 2 - Kaiella
Kaiella giggled at the little green leaf-hopper as it slowly made it's way up the long shaft of soffa grass under the huge, ancient horla tree which dominated the meadow behind her house. The soft, bluish light from the Azure Sun streamed through the branches, creating a dappled dance of light and shadow that played upon both the grass and the child, it's constant shifting driven by the gentle breeze, bringing a multitude of smells from across the broad valley below.
Ever curious about whatever caught her eye, she never tired of exploring whenever she could escape the tedious chores and watchful eye of her mother. Often were the times that she would wander too far while moving from one wondrous discovery to the next, and during those times her mother would scold her for causing so much worry. Kai would always act contrite, but secretly thought that her mother worried too much. After all, hadn't her family always payed their share for the wardsmen to assure that predators and such were kept well away from the village? And besides, she was 12 now, almost a woman herself, and well able to take care of herself.
From the top of the hill behind her, Kai heard her mother, calling her in for evening chores. "Alwyas the same," Kai thought sadly to herself. "I never get to go on any grand adventures!" She felt trapped and stifled, but would never let her mother know of these feelings, for she knew that if her mother even got the faintest hint, Kai would end up spending her days buried up to her neck in so many chores that she'd never have any free time to explore.
As Kai topped the hill, she heard her mother say "Goodman Brendik is coming over tonight to fix the roof on the barn, so I want you to make sure the loft is cleaned out so he has a place to sleep." Kai opened her mouth to object, but saw the look on her mother's face and changed her mind. 'Goodman' Brendik was, to Kai's thinking, far too interested in things other than the barn roof, and her mother was either too blind to see it, or was ignoring what should be screamingly obvious to her. Father had been gone a year now, but while he had never been heard from, there was surely still hope that he would return. He had to, after all. He had promised!
Kai slowly made her way to the house and climbed the ladder to the loft. She took up the thick woolen blanket from the pallet and tossed it onto the floor below, then went to the cabinet in the corner and pulled out the chamber pot, placing it in the small recessed alcove near the chimney. She then climbed back down, and carried the blanket outside to beat the dust from it. As she beat on the blanket with the long handled paddle her father had made for that purpose, she saw Brendik talking to her mother, unnecessarily close, and talking in low tones, smiling and touching her mother's arm. Kai shuddered, and unconsciously began to strike the blanket harder. Anger and disgust welled up in her, threatening to overwhelm her. How DARE he act so with her mother! And how DARE her mother LET him?! Unable to bear it any further, Kai dropped the paddle and ran, sobbing, away from that horrible scene.
Kai reached the base of the horla tree and threw herself to the ground, wracking sobs of grief and anger coursing through her uncontrollably. After an eternity, a gentle touch on her arm and the sound of her mother's voice broke through the solitude of her tears.
"Kai? What's wrong, love?" her mother asked, in a worried tone.
"Leave me alone!" Kai cried out. "How could you treat father that way?!" Her anger flared anew as she confronted her mother. "You act as if he's DEAD! I saw the way that man was touching you! I saw the look in your eyes! You WANTED him to do it! I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU!!!"
"Kaiella, please listen to me," her mother said in a trembling voice. "Your father IS dead. He was killed only a week after he left, by bandits on the road to Ojaveda. I just couldn't bring myself to tell you." Tears were standing, as yet unshed, in her mother's eyes, and a look of profound and utter sorrow showed plainly on her face.
"But why? Why couldn't you tell me? Why would you let me keep thinking that father would return?"
"I don't know, child," her mother replied, now crying, as well. "I just don't know. I was so all alone, and I had to be strong for you. I just never could find the right words." She tried to embrace her daughter, but Kai pulled away violently.
"Don't TOUCH me!" Kai screamed as she leapt to her feet. "I don't believe you! I don't believe you! Father's still out there! I KNOW he is! And I'll show you!" She turned and ran, all her anger and her grief fueling her muscles, not knowing where she was going, nor caring. Visions of both her father, and of Brendik and her mother clouding her sight, pushing her on. She ran without plan or purpose, other than fleeing the terrible thought of her father's death. Never slowing, never taking notice as she entered the deep woods. She never felt it as tree limbs and shrubs slapped her legs, causing deep scratches and tearing her dress; Her reckless flight carrying her deeper into the tangle of trees that blanketed the foothills near her home.
Time both dragged into an endless instant and compressed into infinite eternities as Kai continued her flight through the darkening forest. Only miraculous hapenstance saved her from tripping on an exposed root here, or running headlong into a tree there. Her muscles began to protest the constant abuse of the prolonged running, but she pressed on, blindly and stubbornly refusing to relent to the growing fatigue that began to drag upon her resourses, grief and anger consuming her, yet still she ran.
Finally, with the light of day faded to nearly full darkness, Kai tripped on a stone, and sprawled face first into the dense foliage, and there she lay, crying out the loss she felt. For how long she lay there, she neither knew or cared, and the sound of her lamentations carried through the forest for a long way.
The fire blazed merrily in it's crude ring of stones while a short, thin person hummed contentedly to himself. His meal for the evening now dressed and seasoned, he took up a long, thin stick and skewered the small forest creature, placing over the fire to cook. He then pulled out one of several shiny, faintly glowing objects from a largish leather sack he had placed on the ground, and began to meditate. Swirls of pastel hued energy cavorted around his hands in random patterns, slowly shifting colors till they all merged into a single, cool blue. Satisfied, he placed it into another sack, obtained a second glyph, and repeated the process, till the second glyph, this one as red as flame, was purified. He was reaching for a third when a shrill, high scream of utter terror split the night, bringing him to his feet.
In a flash, he was tearing through the gnarled trees, instantly orienting on the direction of the scream. A myriad of possibilities flashed through his mind, and he tried feverishly to formulate plans for each, knowing that he only had the briefest of instants to prepare for whatever circumstance he was about to encounter, and that if he wasn't properly prepared, things would probably go horribly awry. Just like before.
Branches slapping across his face and chest, as he ran, he fumbled briefly at his belt and pulled out a glyph. Hurriedly mumbling the spell, he released it, and a glowing white ball of energy flew above his head, illuminating his way, and keeping pace with his flight. Deep shadows to either side created monstrous images in his mind as he ran, further clouding his thoughts.
He heard another scream, and could now pick out the disturbingly familiar grunts, barks and raspings that he had heard so many times in his nightmares. Spider Gobbles! And over a dozen, from the sounds of it! He redoubled his speed, hoping he wasn't too late.
As he burst into a tiny clearing ringed by trees and covered over with soffa grass, the small man took in a horrible tableau. Backed into a large tree, and surrounded by a small horde of orange skinned gobbles was a tiny girl, eyes wide with terror. One gobble was down, bleeding from a long gash in it's skull, with a rock nearby, as several of it's former allies ripped it to shreds with teeth and claw, ravenously devouring it, their former prey forgotten in light of this now easier prey. The remaining gobbles stood frozen by the newly arrived light, and by the presense of new prey.
Instantly, the little man flew into action. Blinding bolts of blindingly blue-white energy flew from his fingers as he cast spell after spell, each one unerringly finding it's target; slowing, but not destroying their targets. "Girl! to me!" he yelled, but the girl, paralyzed in fear, did not move. With agonizing slowness, the gobbles advanced on him, with murderous glares of fury and hunger.
"Now, girl! If you want to live, by all the Gods, RUN!!!" he called, and as if suddenly released from a great binding, the girl leapt from the tree, to grip the man in a smothering embrace. Still throwing spells, the man tried to pry her from his torso, but to no avail.
He muttered under his breath, "No help for it. I hope this doesn't burn much of the forest," as he pulled out a flame red glyph and muttered another spell. He spread his arms wide, and a great gout of searingly hot flame enveloped the ground between him and the gobbles. Then, both hands free, he took up the girl in both armes and franticly ran through the trees, back toward his camp. From behind he could hear the raging screams of the gobbles as man and girl made their escape.
A short distance further, no longer able to carry the girl who was nearly as big as he was, the man stopped, chest heaving from the exertion. "I'm sorry, young miss," he said to the girl, "I can't carry you and run at the same time. Can you run on your own?" The girl nodded, so he took her hand and lead them quickly down through the twisting path that led back to his camp. Once there, he said, "Those flames should make them lose interest, but we dare not take the chance. We need to leave, and quickly."
"Thank you, Goodman, for saving me," Kai said to the stranger.
"No time for introductions, I'm afraid. Come, help me gather up my things, then we must be off." Quickly, the man grabbed up items that he had haplessly strewn about the camp, and began stuffing them into a large leather bag. "Take anything small you find in the tent. We don't have time to take that with us, I fear," he told the girl as he tossed her a similar bag that had been lying at his feet. He turned to the fire, ready to grab the meal he had begun to cook a short time ago, and stopped.
"Dratted rats! Can't leave anything edible out, with them around," he lamented when he noticed that the food was gone. "well, no help for it. Let's go, miss. We haven't much time. This way. To the road," and, carrying only the two leather sacks, they quickly set out for the road, leaving a great many things behind in their haste.
Once they reached the road, the man stopped. "Well, miss. Do you know which way it is to your home? I'm quite certain that your parents are frightfully worried about you."
"I... I don't... Know," she replied. "I was running through the forest. then those things..."
"Quite alright, miss. We're not far from a village. I can smell it from here. We'll just..."
"We can't! I..."
"Why can't we? Is something wrong, miss?" the man gave the girl a concerned look.
"Well, you see... I... Sort of..."
"Yes?" the man asked, suddenly aware that things were going somewhat awry.
"I sort of... Ran away." Words were now tumbling out of her in an almost panicked fashion as she told the story of her father, and of Goodman Brendik and her mother. "And so I'm looking for my father. I KNOW he's out here, somewhere. I just KNOW it!"
The man grabbed his forehead as he sighed and muttered to himself, "Why does this always have to happen to me?"
"I'm sorry?" Kai asked the man, not quite understanding.
"It's nothing, miss. Nothing at all. So sorry I brought it up. Think nothing of it."
Inwardly, his thoughts whirled as he tried to find a solution to his dilemma. After all, what would people think to see this girl, dress in tatters, in his company. And now, to find out she's a runaway? Words like "kidnap" and worse flashed through his mind. This had all the classic markings of a bad play, and he had enough trouble already. But how was he to extricate himself from this potential disaster? He couldn't just leave the poor girl to her own devices!
Taking his silence as disapproval, Kai pleaded, "Look, Goodman. Please don't drag me back there. I'd sooner DIE than face my mother now!"
"You needn't worry about that. You two aren't going anywhere," came a gravelly voice from the darkness off to the side of the road. "Except with us."
Both man and girl froze, fear locking them in place like blocks of ice. Coming out of the shadows, sword in hand, was a giant of a man, well over two meters tall, dwarfing them both. Leering at the girl, the man said, "yes, I think Larda will be pleased. Yarlo! Frad! Come see to our new 'guests'!"
From the darkness, two more large men, each armed with daggers, came, one carrying a length of rope. Knowing that to resist now would spell death, probably from them both, the small man whispered, "Don't fight them, miss. It will just make it worse."
"That's right, 'missy'. Make it easy on yourself. You may even enjoy it, later. Make sure to search him, Yarlo. We don't want any surprizes."
The burly highwayman next to the stranger roughly searched him, buffeting him as he searched for weapons, but found nothing. Then he rifled through the leather sack, pulling out a faintly glowing white glyph.
"Hey, Raddak! The shrimp's a magic wielder!" cried Yarlo.
"Is that so?" asked the huge man with the sword. "You just might prove useful, then. Perhaps we won't kill you."
"Do whatever you want with me, sir, but please let the child go," plead the small man. "I'll do anything for you. Just release her!"
"That's not up to me, little man. Not that it matters. You're in no position to bargain. Yet. Take 'em, boys."
The two large thugs tied their hands behind them and lead them off the road, following the man called Raddak. They walked in near darkness for what seemed like hours, occasionally shoved roughly by one or another bandit. After a while, they heard the raucous shouts and laughter of a large group of men, and saw the faint flickers of a campfire up ahead.
The sounds of the camp ceased at the shout of, "Ho! Arta! We have guests!", and the sounds of weapons being readied burst forth. When the small group entered the camp, a tall man of slim but powerful build, sporting flame red, curly hair stood and smiled.
"Raddak, you always bring me such interesting gifts," beamed the man. "Where DO you find them?"
"This lot was having a pleasant little discussion down on the road to Ojaveda, Arta. Just standing there, pretty as you please. Didn't even put up a fight, either," Raddak said. "And the little guy is a magic wielder."
"Oh, really? How interesting! Tell me something, little man. What value do you place on your life?"
To be continued...