Into the Wild

The sun was lighting the horizon when Adran walked into the barroom. A slight, mousy haired girl was curled up behind the bar. Nudging her with his foot, she sat up with a start. “Just resting my eyes Mister, I wasn’t sleeping!”

“Relax, child, I’m not the master of the house. I do require your services, though. Breakfast for four. Fried taters, I think you call them. And smoked meat. Bread. Preserves. Wine. Make it hearty, we have a journey ahead.”

Rubbing her eyes, the girl stood and nodded. “Right away Mister Elf.” And hurried into the kitchen.

By the time the four had gathered in the barroom, a hearty spread of sausages, fried potatoes, thick-cut bread and a jar of preserves covered the table. The sausages sizzled still, smoking and popping in the hot grease. The bread was steamy, fresh from the oven and heavily buttered. Malark and Seraphina didn’t wait for the others, sitting and grabbing food as soon as they sat down.

“Still hungry” Malark said in his usual soft murmur.

“Eat up, Malark. Fill your belly. I think we will be in the thick of it before the day is out.” Adran said as he dished potatoes and sausages onto a plate. Lia joined them. Yawning and stretching.

The quartet ate in silence, until all the food was gone. Sniffing at the wine, Malark sipped it tentatively, then drank deeply. “Not ale.” Was all he said.

“Not ale, no” Adran replied. “Wine. From grapes. Do you know what grapes are?”

Shaking his head, Malark drained his tankard, and filled it again.

“Where are you from, Malark?” Seraphina asked. “Surely not from anywhere near here.”

“Far. Three moons, four?” he held up fingers as he counted.

“Four months walk?”

His head bobbed in a yes-no motion, as if he was unsure.

“You walked for four moons? Four times Selûne was bright?” Adran asked, looking incredulous.

Say Loon?” Malark looked confused.

“Luna, The Great Night Eye. The White Disk. The Moon. The light in the dark night. Selûne.” Adran added.

“Yes. Sealune. The light in the dark. My brothers called it the True Sun. My brothers…” he stared into his goblet.

“Your brothers? Short, stout and loud? Long beards and short tempers?” asked Seraphina.

“You know Malark’s brothers!” he replied, louder than they had heard him yet.

“Not your brothers, but dwarves, I know dwarves. Your brothers are dwarves. I see it in your breeches, and your belts. And those axes you carry.”

“Went into a cave. Too dark for Malark.” he sadly shook his head. “Gone into the earth.”

“What about your family? Where are they?” asked Lia. “You truly are not a dwarf.”

Pulling his fur cloak back, Malark pointed at a tattoo of a wolf’s head. “Family.”

The other three looked at the tattoo, then each other. “Malark Wolf-born.” Adran finally said. “Your family are wolves?” All three looked with concern at their new friend.

Shrugging, Malark drained another goblet of wine. “Brothers told me wolf family not my real family. Only family Malark know.”

“Well, Malark, wherever you family is, may they hunt well while you are with us. For now, should we be off?”

The sun had yet to peak the sky when the small party stopped to look back towards the Blightwood from a small rise. Passing over this ridge would block their view of the forest, and the village beyond until their return.

“Last chance to turn back” Adran spoke softly, barely looking back. “Judging from this map it is four or five hours to the escarpment and our destination.

“I’m in this for the coin, and no heirs or rings, and we won’t get paid” replied Lia, flicking motes of flame off her fingertips.

“Malark go too.”

Seraphina looked back once more, then turned to look up at the tall elf. “Onward. Adventure lies in the unknown, and I’m looking for a bit of adventure.”

“You are a strange one, little friend. I thought your kind preferred a comfortable home and the company of kin to a life of adventure?” Adran looked down at the diminutive halfling with a slight smile.

“Aye. Most do. Me? There are adventures and dragons to see out there!” She spread her arms wide, beaming. “I want to see a dragon. I want to see what more is there beside pipe weed and long dinners.”

“A dragon? Truly you are a strange one.”

“Have you seen a dragon Mr. Adran?”

“Call me Adran, just Adran, little one. And I have, and far too close. It was a great green wyrm. Huge. Evil. It had laid claim to a swamp deep in the forest my clan called home. I was young. Too young to fight the wyrm. Many clansmen died in that fight…”

“Oh” Seraphina replied softly. “I didn’t mean no disrespect…”

“None taken. I think many desire to see the beasts of legend, without realizing the beasts are more than just legend. And most are really not our friends.” His fingers were stroking a golden trinket on a cord around his neck, and his gaze was far, far away. Finally, he turned to head northeast again, Adran sipped from a wineskin as he strode off.

The group was making good time across the land. Scrub bushes and long grass covered the low ridges and shallow vales. Off in the distance they frequently caught sight of small herds of sheep and cattle. There was a desolate openness. Lonely and vacant, the land was empty. At least by day.

“That I know Mr. Adran. Goblins grew thick in the woods back home. Thick as fleas on a barn dog. Sometimes they would boil out of the wood and pour across the valley. Burnin’ and lootin’. Stealin’ all they could carry. Anyone old enough to hold a spear would try and protect what we had. But there were so many of the them.” Seraphina’s eyes misted for the briefest of moments. She wiped the back of her hand across her eyes, them look up at Adran. “That’s when I decided. If I spent some time adventurin’ across the land, I’d be tough and smart by the time I got bored. Then I could hunt those goblins deep in their own wood. Keep my kin safe.”

“Tis a noble goal, my small friend. My clan spent their long years keeping our home free from such threats.”

“Is your home far away?”

“Aye, both are. One is far to the east, deep in the ancient forest of Cormanthor. Well, that was my home. Now? My clan dwells far across the western sea. In the land where only elves dwell.” Looking far off, Adran’s eyes lost focus again.

Whistling softly, Seraphina shook her head. “You don’t mean Evermeet, do you Mr. Adran?’

They all walked in silence. Malark and Lia were curiously silent as the tall elf and the short halfling conversed. Perhaps happy enough to listen to the conversation.

“Yes.” He finally said. “Evermeet.”

“Is it true what they say?”

“And what do they say?”

“That Evermeet disappeared from the world. And then returned again. How could a place disappear from the world?”

“Well, yes, that is true. At least partially. Evermeet was here, but not here. One could still pass to this world from wherever we were. And return.”

“You were there!” interrupted Seraphina. “You were there when it left?”

“I was. I happened in a twinkling of an eye. I was looking out of the ocean when it occurred. One instant I was gazing at the deep blue sea, and he next an infinite sea of stars was before me. The Gods were truly busy.” Adran laughed quietly. “To be here, and not here was quite a thing. But now? It is here. Mostly.”

“Mostly?”

“Evermeet has always been a place between worlds. And now even more so. The Feywild exists there now, as close as you and I. One needs only to wish it so, and you are there.”

“I was in the Feywild once.”

“Truly?”

“I was, Mr. Adran. I feel asleep in the forest while I hunting mushrooms. When I woke, the moon was full and bright. Even though I knew the forest was not safe in the dark, I was not afraid, you know? Something in here, “she said as she tapped her breast, “something felt safe. A faerie ring was growing near, fresh and new. I felt drawn to it. And once I stepped inside, I knew I was not in my home wood. It was magical. Faeries and sprites and all the other wonderful creatures. Only one spoke to me. I hope to meet her again.”

Nodding to the halfling, Adran walked in silence for a time. “To enter the Feywild, you are marked. Always. For good or evil, that place marks you. You may yet see your friend again.”

The sun peaked in the sky, and was descending when they finally reached the escarpment that separated the great vale from the highlands and the distant hills. Following the Old Road north along the base of the steep cliffs, they began to climb through a deep cleft as the road twisted upwards.

“According to this map, at the second switch, there is a long rift gouged into the cliffs. Somewhere along there is a place marked as ‘the citadel’.” Adran studied the crude map as they hiked along the steep road.

“How can there be a citadel here?” Lia wondered. “Carved into the cliff maybe?”

“I spoke to a few others in town last night. Locally they call it ‘the sunken citadel’, claiming it was once a fortress guarding the road in some long, forgotten realm. And ages ago some cataclysm dragged the citadel deep underground.”

Lia shot a bolt of flame at a rabbit hunched along the broken road, catching it square and killing the small beast. “Sunken, eh? Sounds fun. Dinner tonight is rabbit, unless you all want more hardtack and dried meat.”

Malark barely spoke the whole day. He carried a large pack ladened with rations and equipment without complaint. Looking at the smoking rabbit, he finally spoke. “One rabbit?”

“No worries, my big friend, I’ll find more” winked Seraphina.

“Once we find the rift, we should set a camp. It is too late in the day to start” Adran looked ahead as he spoke. “This is it, the second switchback. Start looking friends, we need to find this rift or cleft.”

The party split up. Clambering over boulders and around tiny thickets. Wildlife scattered from tufts and tussocks clinging to the thin soil and rocks of the escarpment. The only sounds were the scrape of boot and on rock. Two footed and four footed. A shouted “I’ve found it!” broke the quiet.

Gathering back on the road, Lia was snapping tiny mote of fire into the air when the others arrived.

“Along the cliff, that narrow goat path” she pointed to a faint ledge along the cliff.

“Across the road and up a little is a small gully. Its dry now, probably a spring stream. Looks like a perfect place to spend the night.” Seraphina was carrying a pair of rabbits. “Full of rabbits, too” she added, smiling at Malark.

“Lead on” Adran waved up the slope to the tiny huntress, and they all fell in line.

Adran stamped out the small fire they had used to roast the trio of rabbits. After he scattered the ashes with his boot, he looked at the others, “No light. Anyone could see it for miles once it gets dark.” No one objected. All four were close in the narrow, shallow gully. Malark and Seraphina were stretched out on bedrolls. Lia sat in the crook of a low limb on a scraggly oak. All four had eaten their fill. Adran had conjured enough water to fill all their skins after dinner. Sated and satisfied, they relaxed in the waning light.

“We need to set a watch. These lands will be full of creatures after dark.” Adran added.

“I’ll take first watch” Lia offered.

“Wake Malark when his turn.”

Yawning, Seraphina closed her eyes. “Whenever. Just wake me when it’s my turn.”

Lia was still sitting in the tree when they came. Four stunted bushes. Or they looked like bushes. They rushed out of the dark and were on the three sleepers before she could react. Adran drew his sword and slashed one in two before it could strike him. Lia flicked flames at another. It caught and flared with fire, crackling and popping before crumpling into a heap of ash. The other two viciously poked and slashed at Seraphina and Malark. Sleep fled; their reactions slowed by drowsiness. Adran jumped up to kick one aside, a parry and slash from his sword ended its malevolent threat. Seraphina flung a dagger at the last of the creatures, missing it completely. Lia tossed another bolt of flame, setting the creature aflame before Malark stomped life out of it.

“Blights. Evil, vile creatures of malevolent origin. I think we’ve found our threat to these parts.” Adran was crouched over the remains of one of the bushes. “Hopefully that is the last of them tonight, are you ok?”

Malark looked over his injuries, small cuts and a couple tiny punctures. “Malark survive. Tiny cuts.”

Seraphina was binding a long slash on her arm. “I’ve had worse.”

“They were here before I could react” Lia mumbled. “Sorry.”

“No real harm was done. And you ended two of them.” Adran was looking at the moon. “Are you good to finish your watch?”

“Yeah. I can’t sleep right now anyway.” Lia slunk into the night, fingers snapping, tiny motes of flame dancing in her hand.

The other three laid down, waiting for sleep to come.

Its a slow burn. The pace will pick up, I promise.

BG out

*tavern pic off pintrest

*landscape pic by Brett Sayles

7 thoughts on “Into the Wild

  1. Dave Stone March 16, 2022 / 8:50 am

    A great instalment Harry, some real depth added to the characters, and left wanting more

    Liked by 2 people

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