Sorcerer's Child

Sorcerer's Child, cowritten by myself and JanaLee Stocks, is my first full-length novel.  The series
is planned on three full novels, the second of which (Sorcerer's Journey) is half completed at this time. 
The novel is just under 500 pages long, and obviously is of a fantasy nature.

The Sorcerer’s Child: Chapter Three

The cold seeped into the little shelter, waking Renissa from her light sleep.  She grumbled ever so softly, huddling deeper into her summer cloak and pulling the hood further down around her face. Though the huntress was well accustomed to taking the weather as it came, she didn't necessarily like it; particularly in winter, when the cold made old injuries throb and scar tissue ache. It didn't help that the warmest part of her gear was currently sheltering Tyrin and the two horses. She didn't really begrudge him the warmth, as he needed it more than she; but awakening well before dawn several nights running was making her grumpy. She hadn't even gotten a good hunt out of it.

Slowly the huntress clambered to her feet, careful not to disturb the sleeping man as she slipped outside to tend to necessities and see how much snow had fallen.  Movement began to return the feeling to her numb feet and she gritted her teeth until the pins and needles feeling began to pass.  Just at the edge of the shelter Renissa paused to fetch a small pot, the smaller of the two she carried. For a moment her thoughts lingered on the prospect of a real bed and a proper heated bath in town. It would be expensive, but chasing away the cold would be worth the coin and she yearned to be properly clean. She sighed and gave herself a little shake, chasing away the wistful yearning of her thoughts as she moved out of the sheltered glade.

The snow was still falling, though the moisture was tiny points against the dark foliage instead of the broad flakes that had driven them under shelter.  The area was still and quiet, with only the sounds of her footfalls breaking the serene peace as the huntress searched for dry tinder.  It was an ironic contrast to the death and destruction they’d left behind, and for a moment Renissa wondered idly if Rebün was covered as well.  Somehow it seemed a gentle end to lives lost in such violence, almost as though the gods were tucking the dead beneath a blanket of frost.  She glanced back at the shelter and shook her head, deciding to let Tyrin sleep until he woke on his own.  He needed the rest.

It was nearly midmorning before Tyrin awoke. His first thoughts were of how warm he was, which was a stark contrast to the memories of the prior day. Opening his eyes, however, told him the reason for the warmth. Both horses had escaped their tethers and joined him underneath the tent. It was a miracle in and of itself that the tenting remained, given their girth.  He chuckled, shaking his head as he tried to move and found himself pinned.

Tyrin squirmed around until he got one arm free and thumped on Guir’s side to get the horse’s attention.  When the stallion turned his brown eyes to Tyrin, the man smiled. “Come on, time to get up and get out of here. There’s only so much room under this, and you two are monopolizing it. Go on, get.” He pushed against Guir, though he knew he couldn't physically move the horse if it decided to remain.

Guir, however, snorted once and began to stand, careful of where he trod. Horses don’t walk backwards very well, but he somehow managed it without bringing down the tenting. Tyrin then turned his attention to Mica, who had already awoken and was fixing him with a calm look. “Alright, girl, you too. I know you don’t like the snow, but get on out there.”

Mica released a breath that sounded suspiciously like a sigh before she, too, stood and headed out into the snowy frontier. Tyrin laid back and stretched before he got to his feet and peeked out of the tent. He looked at the snowfall around his feet and smiled. “Guess we were both wrong about the amount of snow. This didn’t turn out too bad at all.  This should be no problem to travel in.”  He kicked at the snow with the toe of his boot.  It looked to be no more than a few inches, barely enough to impede their travel.

Renissa looked over at the farmer from where she was crouched in the lee of the tree trunks.  A wisp of smoke rose from a small fire in a warmer. The little device was a flat disk of metal that allowed her just enough flame to heat her teapot. It was silly to try for anything bigger in the confines of the tenting, not to mention in the snow. “Stick your nose a bit further outside before speaking too quickly, boyo.  It looks as though the wind switched around to the west…we were simply very lucky.”

The thin shirt Tyrin wore did little to relieve the cold he felt when he stepped fully out of the tent.  The wind was biting cold though the snowfall had, for the most part, slowed down to a mere dusting.  Within the tight grove of trees they had camped in, the snowfall amounted to only a few inches.  However, just outside of the grove, the snowfall had been heavier; easily passing the foot depth mark, it would make traveling much more difficult for the horses than the prior day had been. 

Guir had already moved back to where they had been tethered the night before and was snacking on some exposed brambles and bushes.  Mica was ignoring the stubbly brush, scratching at the ground with a hoof in search for sweeter roots buried underneath the newly fallen snow.  She looked up as Tyrin approached and nuzzled up to him with a snort, asking where the long grasses she'd come to expect for breakfast were.

Tyrin absently scrubbed at her head as he continued to look around.  He could no longer see the smoke from his former home; he supposed that was a good thing, since his path now lay in a different direction.  Every direction looked the same to his eyes, the heavy storm lingering and obscuring the distant mountains even if it wasn’t snowing currently.  The sky was a murky gray, threatening to open up again if they displeased it.

Tyrin shivered, realizing his arms were covered with goose pimples and the cloak Renissa had given him was back in the tent.  He thumped Mica once more on the side to reassure her that all was well before he made his way back to the shelter.  Tyrin opened the flap and ducked inside, noticing immediately that the small fire Renissa had made for her tea had another effect as well; it was noticeably much warmer in the tent than it was outside.  He motioned over his shoulder and said,  “Looks to be about a foot or more past the clearing.  We’d be best on horseback, but we’ll have to take it slow or risk their footing too much.”

“I suggest simply walking. It will be easier on all of us in the long run, especially the horses. If the horses get caught in anything too deep they can kick out of it if they’re not encumbered by us on their backs, and on foot we won't sink as far.” Renissa rubbed her hands together, crushing herbs into the pot that immediately filled the small area with a musky, sweet scent. She nodded toward her supply bag. “Bread and cheese lasts in there. Eat or you'll be worn out before we've gone around the corner.” She suspected that he'd end up flung over one of the horses before all was said and done, but she spared his pride the commentary. “This will be ready in a moment…warming, but in a slightly different way than your draught last night.”

            Tyrin sighed ruefully.  “I would hope in a different way.  That horrible drink nearly did what burying me in a building couldn’t do.”  He shook his head as he moved over to the mentioned bag, his stomach remembering that he hadn’t eaten for nearly two days.  Tyrin found the cheese and bread, though he ate only enough to stave off the hunger.  He didn’t want to eat all of the food and have them run dry before reaching civilization. If that became a concern, Tyrin’s father had shown him how to find good, edible roots in the forest.  Though not filling and by no means tasty, they would do to keep them alive until they got to the town.  He hadn’t mentioned this fact yet to Renissa, as he suspected she knew about the self-same roots.  He finished about a third of the cheese and bread before he turned back to his new traveling companion.  “My thanks, again.”

Renissa's lips turned in a faint smile as Tyrin spoke about the effects of the spirits he'd drunk last night. She'd grown up on it, her first taste at the tender age of six and she'd been sure she was going to die, but that had passed.  These days it was milder than some of the drinks she preferred when time allowed. She fished a clay mug from the hook on the outside of her bag and checked to make sure it hadn't cracked in the cold or the travel before she poured half of the contents of the pot into it and offered it to Tyrin. “Thanks aren’t needed. I would be an honorless fop had I left you there, and I'm glad for the company.” The last was a half-truth, as there were ways that she was grateful and ways in which she would prefer her privacy. “Have a care for your tongue, the tea is hot.”

Tyrin accepted the mug gracefully, allowing the steam from the drink to waft over his face with a sigh.  The steam was fragrant but not overly so, and the warmth of it immediately began to thaw his chilled ears and nose.  He allowed the liquid to cool slightly before he sipped at it.  It was strong, but not in the way the prior drink had been.  This, though gentle tasting, immediately began to warm him from the inside out. 

            Tyrin sat down cross-legged and sipped at the drink, enjoying the warmth.  After a moment he glanced at his companion, millions of questions coming to his mind.  “I am glad for the company, as you likely know.  Given that I’d likely be dead by now if you'd not come along when you did only sharpens my gratitude.”  He looked back toward the flap of the tent, to the outside world.  “Plus, my knowledge of the world is severely lacking.  If you don’t mind the questions of a fool, perhaps you could enlighten me.”

“It is said that the foolish is not one that has questions, but one who doesn't ask them.” Renissa lifted the pot from the flame, wrapping a scrap of hide around it so that she wouldn't burn herself. “I can not guarantee answers for all of your questions, but I will answer what I can.”

Tyrin nodded, deciding to go with the most basic, yet most complicated question first.  “What are sorcerers?  You told me a bit yesterday, but with everything that was happening, I feel there is more about them than just that they use magic.”

            Dark eyes studied Tyrin and Renissa tapped her fingers on the edge of the cooling pot. “Likely not the easiest question to start with, but fair enough. At the most basic level, a sorcerer is simply someone that uses magic. Legend says that they are those born under a curse, the first of such beings born many years ago under the blood fullness of a dragon moon. The power shows in many as infants, though some are rumored to not manifest until much later.” She shook her head a little, the coiled length of her hair rolling along her shoulders. “Feared and pitiable all at once, they are creatures doomed to fall to the madness of the powers that consume them.”  She paused to take a sip of her drink, steam rolling away from her head as she did so.

“Feared?” Tyrin shook his head, the thought of anyone fearing his parents an absurd thought… until he thought of the fire Ma had produced, and the sheer amount of destruction those fires had wrought.  In defense, admittedly, but the strength was still the same.  He sighed and shook his head, allowing her to continue.

            Renissa nodded, quiet for a moment. “Some are feared simply because of the idea that such power could exist all together, and because there is no specific list anywhere of what they can and cannot do. Every one of them is different. And I have yet to hear of any that did not give into the power madness and eventually strike out against others in anger or for greed. More war and sorrow has been brought to our lands in the name of sorcerer's power than any other force. More loss and more death in the name of sorcery.” Her voice drifted and she could again hear the screams as her parents fell. She gave herself a shake to clear the memory. “It is rightfully called a curse. Perhaps at one time men were made that were big enough to hold the power, to use it for something besides destruction; but it has either become too much larger than we, or mankind has become smaller.”

Tyrin thought for a moment, reflecting on her words.  Every one was different… this explained why his mother worked with fire, while his father did… something, though Tyrin had no idea exactly what he did to block those arrows.  “And for this, they’re hunted by yourself and others like you?”

            “Most often, yes, if they survive childhood; many do not. I know that it sounds like a harsh thing, and I wish it was not necessary.” She lifted the pot to her lips again, sipping quietly. There were many things she wished hadn't been necessary. “But isn't it better to visit one death, rather than burying a decimated village?”

            Tyrin still didn’t necessarily agree, but he could see her point.  After all, though he’d known his parents all his life, he didn’t know how other “sorcerers” handled their power.  His parents had chosen the simplistic farm life, but he could see how someone with more corrupt morals could take it much, much further.  But far enough so that all with powers like that needed to be killed, almost from birth? 

            He decided to change the subject.  “So where do you hail from?  You’re obviously not from Rebün, but you don’t appear to have come from the south.”

            The change of subject surprised her slightly and she arched an eyebrow at him.  Renissa was never very comfortable talking about herself. “From all over really, though I grew up in the east. MifKartölic.” Her voice took on a guttural accent when pronouncing the city name, though the accent passed back to something softer as she continued. “It's foothills and mountains mostly. More rugged than this.”

            “MifKartölic?”  Tyrin tried to pronounce the name, and came passably close.  “Where is that?”

            She turned her head, looking eastward. “Out there, toward the East and at the edges of our land. Nearly half a season's journey by foot, more if you travel during the winter. It's right at the edges of the kingdom; everything beyond is unclaimed wild lands.”

            Tyrin shivered.  Even he’d heard about the wild lands, places where creatures of strange and supernatural abilities flourished away from the conquering hand of mankind.  He’d read about some of them in his father’s books; dragons that could kill an army of men with a single breath of fire; trolls that could regenerate within an hour from being completely chopped to pieces; marauding orcs that rode on demonic horses; and others he didn’t want to think about at the time.  Towns near the border to the wild lands tended to be very rough towns, and the people that lived there were either very hardy, very foolish, or both.

            “How bad are the wild lands, truly?  I’ve heard and read about them, but though the area north of Rebün is technically a wildland, it’s too cold for anything other than the fire mites to survive.”

            She smiled a strange smile, tilting her head to one side.  “Truly…they're as bad as you make them out to be. Harsh and unforgiving, with more odd things than scholars can even give names to. Most of which you never see unless it's the last thing you see.” She drained the last of her tea, glancing down to the bottom of the pot and the leaves that clung to the metal. There had been women at home that had said you could see one's future in leftover tealeaves. Renissa lowered the pot, continuing, “But they're beautiful too. Water so pure and cold that it's almost painful to drink, and skies that go on forever. People as rugged and beautiful as the land. Life is treasured because life is often all too short.”

            Tyrin nodded.  “I can understand that part.  Past the farm and into the fields, the landscape was beautiful, if a little barren.  And the only creatures beyond normal animals were the fire mites, but they’re as harmless as the few rabbits we get up here.”

            Renissa eyed the farmer as he commented about fire mites and shook her head. “They must breed more politely around these parts. Most of the mites I've encountered have been... surly... at best.”

            Tyrin cocked an eyebrow at that.  “Really?  I’ve never known a fire mite to be anything but docile.  They’ll even let you warm your hands over them if you can get close enough.  They usually stay out in the fields, though, so I’ve only seen them a time or two.”  He chuckled.  “The horses don’t like them, so we didn’t typically let them get too close to the farm.  But surly?  Hardly.  I’ve had to deal with hogs that were rowdier.”  He adjusted his position slightly, taking another full drink of the tea as he did so.

            “Then you're the fortunate ones. Mites are scavengers, and more likely to try to eat your hand than warm your hands. Perhaps it’s something to do with the heavy winters you have here, though I’m unaware of how climate changes affect the mites.”

            Tyrin nodded.  “Well, you’re not likely to, either.  They haven’t come down this far in a few years.  A lot of the townspeople started killing them, since their shells stay warm for almost an entire winter after they die. That became very handy to have around town, especially the Inn.  It didn’t take the mites more than a season or two to realize that coming to our area tended to get them killed.”

            Renissa unfolded her legs, stretching out the muscles as she listened. “Interesting.  Mites away from here aren't that intelligent either. I've seen them attack even the well fortified when they were hungry enough.  Perhaps it’s a different breed of mite, possibly even a different type altogether.”

            “Hmm.”  Tyrin shrugged, changing the subject again.  “Going back to Rebün… you said yesterday that it was unusual for the King to send so many soldiers against sorcerers.  Why?”

            “It is. Usually a Hunter is sent first, though occasionally he’ll send his soldiers if he feels the need is great.  This number of soldiers is quite unusual, though.” She rose to her feet, not wishing to pursue the discussion.  Something about the soldiers still bothered her. “Come. It's growing late and we should make distance while we talk.” Renissa reached up and began to untie the leathers, rubbing her fingers along the insides of the skins. They needed to be re-oiled... yet another thing that she would have to do while in town.

            “Good thinking.”  Tyrin stood and started to help her remove the tenting, rolling it as tightly as he could as he did so.  With their combined efforts, it didn’t take long for the hides to come down and soon they were again exposed to the elements.  Tyrin donned the cloak Renissa had given him, very appreciative of the thick, padded hide.

            The horses watched them from the edge of the clearing, chewing on varied plants without concern.  The grazing didn't even pause as saddles and saddlebags were loaded and balanced.  Tyrin finished packing one of the hides into the saddlebags and turned back to Renissa.  “So how far is the town from here, and what do we do from there?”

            Renissa gathered the last bits and pieces into her bag, rolling the bedroll tight. “Without snow it's about 3 days, with the snow...” She tapped a finger against the bag, running a quick estimate in her head. “5 days at the soonest, more likely 7-8. And from there...” She looked at him. “It rather depends on what you want to do. Find employment and lodging, travel, there are many options.”

            “A week.”  Tyrin frowned.  “And I was eating your food.  You don’t have enough for both of us for a week.”  He glanced around, spotting a hint of blue beneath the snow.  Tyrin smiled.  “How’s your taste for roots?”

            “Rather developed.” The comment was wry. “And there are several options. I found rabbit tracks this morning… a good snare and we'll do fine until we get into town. I have iron rations and smoked meats as well, which will last a good while.”

            Tyrin nodded as he bent down and pushed a bit of snow away from a small plant.  It was buried in the snow and was very low to the ground.  A single bluish-white flower was in partial bloom in the center, and there were few leaves remaining on the bud.  He looked up at Renissa.  “Ever heard of a snow lily?  A tiny little flower, barely noticeable, that grows in abundance around here, especially in winter.  But,” he pulled gently on it, and with a bit of tugging the root system of the flower was exposed as he continued, “the roots run deep, and one flower will feed a person for nearly a day.  It tastes like the devil, but its better than starving if you know what to look for.”

            Renissa looked over at the plant and nodded, taking note of the distinguishing features of the edible plant.  She didn't know this particular variety, but it was similar to others she'd seen. “Let's start with things that don't taste like the devil, and save that for when we are starving.” The words were without rancor, and even slightly amused. “We still have time before bad taste is necessary.”

            “Aye.”  Tyrin placed the plant in the saddlebag with the hide and closed the clasp to secure it.  Mica turned her head and sniffed at it, and Tyrin playfully pushed the horse’s head away.  “One way to find them easily, of course, is to let the horses find it.  They’ll eat the flowers and leaves right off of them if you’re not careful.”

            He enjoyed actually being able to teach Renissa something and getting appreciation shown for it.  Despite everything she knew, he still knew something she didn’t.  That made him feel a little better, and perhaps a little more prepared for the road life had designed for him.

            Renissa showed a little half smile that seemed to be as close to true amusement as she expressed. “Might be just as well. Feeding people is often easier than feeding horses. Nice when they can follow their noses.”

            Tyrin chuckled, affectionately rubbing Mica’s snout.  Mica, for her part, did her absolute best to keep him rubbing on her, leaning up against him.  “Guir’s not as good at finding them as Mica.  She’ll find them even through the deepest snow.  Guir almost needs you to walk him to them.  But he’s the sturdiest mount we had, so it’s a good trade off.”

            Renissa snorted softly, shaking her head. “And he'll just eat me if he gets bored or hungry enough.” She slung her pack across her shoulders. “Are you ready then? We should try to make a warding before nightfall.”

            Tyrin wasn't sure what a warding was, but assumed it was some kind of sheltering place. “As long as there’s a roof there and I don’t wake up with horses again.”  He didn’t look at all unhappy about waking up with the horses, however.  The scared survivor from the day before was nearly gone, replaced by Tyrin’s more typically jovial outlook.  He took Mica’s reins and led her out of the tree grove. 

            Guir looked at Renissa and snorted once.  Without waiting for her, the horse started walking off after Mica and Tyrin, his tail swishing as he walked.

            Renissa shook her head a little, moving off to follow the stallion. “I hope someone eats you...” The comment was very quietly made to the horse's back and far too soft to be heard by Tyrin. She moved around Guir, glancing over their intended path with a critical eye. The snowdrifts were spotty, forming where the wind had been channeled through the trees.  In addition, the snowfall had been reduced due to the heavy forest cover.

            Once outside the grove of trees, however, it got worse.  The snowfall had been heavier here with little by the way of forest cover to impede its progress.  The horses picked their way through fairly well; having spent their lives here, they’d seen more than one large snowfall in their time.  Tyrin also had little trouble in the snow, and they were making good time.

            After they’d traveled about two hours in silence, Tyrin cleared his throat.  “So where did you learn to, ah, hunt sorcerers?  Was this something you took up in trade, or something you’d wanted to do?  What all is involved with the hunt?”

            Renissa was quiet a moment, almost as though she hadn't heard the question, before glancing at her companion. “I learned from another Hunter. He had reached an age where actively hunting was dangerous at best, so he took me in as an apprentice.” She pushed a branch out of her way, dislodging a mass of snow as she did so.  She sidestepped the falling snow with a quick movement before continuing, “Hunting sorcerers isn't just a trade one picks up, despite the mercenary teams that occasionally try. It's something that will push you to the edge of your limits and question everything you've ever believed. To hunt effectively, a sorcerer must have wronged you so you can understand why the hunt is necessary. No one I know will take on an apprentice who doesn't understand such things and has never known true pain.” She reached up and tucked a lock of hair back into the braid.  Her actions folded the collar at her neck slightly and showed the beginning of a scar that disappeared under the fabric. “It requires training, study, and dedication... skill with a blade doesn't hurt either.”

            Tyrin was quiet for a moment, aware of the magnitude of what he’d been told.  He didn’t ask any further questions, letting the conversation drop again.  He knew she’d told him a lot more than she probably told a lot of people, and he also knew better than to pry too deep.  The snow crunched under their feet as the day waned on.

            Behind them at their abandoned camp, sharp eyes peered over the remains of their previous night’s rest.  A few mutters could be heard from a voice that was very, very deep.  Finally, the voice barked what sounded like some orders and heavy footfalls sounded as the intruders headed south, after the humans and their horses.

* * *

Nature, though patient, is also speedy in her ways.  Rebün hadn’t been destroyed a day before the snowfall covered the remains of the town, blanketing the destruction and death in pristine white.  No sound echoed for miles around the desolation, none save that from a hawk passing far overhead.

The hawk winged its way north, traveling quickly with the tailwind.  Rebün came into view first and the hawk landed in a nearby tree.  The town was in full view from the branches and the destruction was quite evident even beneath the snow.  After a few minutes of intense study, the hawk took to flight again, spiraling higher into the sky in order to see more of the countryside.

            It was not long before a small farmland came into view, though the farmhouse itself was destroyed.  Even coated with snow the mass destruction here could not be hidden entirely from the air.  The large crater in the center, near where a farmhouse had stood, was a dead giveaway to the forces that had worked here.  It was to this location that the hawk descended to, his wings flapping to slow himself down as he came to light.

The hawk landed near the crater and stepped cautiously to it, lowering his head towards the ground.  After a few moments of study, the hawk flapped carefully and hopped into the crater.  Here the surroundings had been shielded from the wrath of the storm and the cairn where Tyrin’s mother and father lay was nearly untouched by snow.

The hawk examined the burial site with uncharacteristic intent, hopping closer to it as he did.  He even went so far as to peck a few times at the stone, though even the smaller stones were too heavy for him to move.

Satisfied with its findings, the creature flapped a few times to remove itself from the crater.  Once in the snow, it was very difficult for the bird to navigate, but it hopped over to a telltale mound nearby.  The bird scratched eagerly at the mound until a human carcass was revealed.

The hawk studied the carcass carefully, pecking at the dead man’s armor a few times.  He concentrated especially on the melted links in the man’s chain, pulling at them a few times with his beak.  Once enough of it had been pulled off for inspection, the bird took a few long minutes to peer closely at the fused metals.  Apparently satisfied, he flew to a tree at the edge of the fields and took one final look toward the farmhouse.  From here, the radius of the devastation could be seen, though a large bulk of it was buried in the snow.  Motionless save for its eyes, the bird took in the sights.  Finally, after one last glance at the cairn and the ruined farmhouse, the hawk took back to the skies, heading southward.

The Sorcerer’s Child: Chapter Four

            Snowflakes had begun falling again by the time the trees parted into a clearing. A small, tidy building was tucked into the clearing, a low shed to provide a stabling place for horses beside it. Renissa glanced from the sky to the way station before moving forward. Her boots were soaked from melting snow and she wanted nothing more than to get a fire going and warm her feet.

            Tyrin, though he'd worked all his life at the farm and was in good shape, was nearly worn out. Long marches were not on his daily routine and he realized that it was a skill he'd have to work on if he intended to continue traveling.  He glanced at Renissa and motioned toward the building. "Is this the place?"

            She nodded, shaking her braid back over her shoulder. "It is. If you will settle the horses, I'll see to starting a fire and our provisions."

            Tyrin took hold of Mica's reins and nodded. He made a clicking noise with his tongue and Guir followed him toward the small shed. It didn't take long to settle the pair, especially since long grasses had been left in storage.  The grains were a bit old and the shed wasn't the more comfortable stable they were used to, but it would have to do; after all, their stables had been demolished alongside the farmhouse, leaving them as homeless as he.

            He turned and, after one last check to ensure the shelter latch was secured, left the shed.  He headed into the primary building, knocking some of the snow off of his boots before entering. He removed Renissa's cloak as well, shaking the snow off before he draped it over his arm.

The little shack was simple but provided for the needs of a weary traveler. It was a single room with a hearth on one wall and several neat shelves containing worn blankets and bags of dried foodstuffs.  A small pump for water was kept in one corner, close enough to the hearth to keep from freezing. The wood box was full, and it was from this that Renissa had drawn the shavings to begin the fire. She leaned down as a spark slipped between stone and steel and blew gently on the smoldering ember until the flame began to rise.  She then added larger pieces of fuel to the fire, warmth spreading quickly through the room. She didn't look up as she heard Tyrin enter, her attention turned to the flame in order to keep herself from being burned.  "Make sure to secure the latch, we want to keep the heat in as much as possible."

            Tyrin nodded, throwing the latch securely behind him as instructed.  The wind still howled and some of the cold seeped in through the myriad of cracks and fissures in the door and walls, but it would be better than sleeping outside.

            He sat down facing Renissa as he watched her build up the fire.  His eyes were already starting to droop, though he didn't realize how tired he was until his chin bumped his chest.

Renissa pushed a good-sized log into the hearth and nodded to herself as it crackled and began to burn.  She looked up, seeing Tyrin beginning to sag, and nearly smiled. It was a strange thing to be traveling with someone again; she hadn't done so in a long time, not since Megellan had turned on her.  She didn't allow herself to think of that time, focusing instead on the now. Tyrin had not complained at the pace she'd set though it had been wearing, nor had he taken more than his share of anything. It was... a change.

            The fire catching brought Tyrin back to semi-wakefulness, and he smiled a sleepy smile.  "Do we need to set a watch here, or is it safe enough for both to sleep?"

            "Mmm... I never bet on safe enough unless I'm home in my own bed, which hasn't happened in years." The huntress rose to her feet and padded over to pull down some of the blankets. "I suggest you try another sip of the spirits I carry, eat and then get some rest. I'll wake you later."

            "I'll try a sip, but no more."  His smile became rueful, thankful for the first sleep.  "I'm not at all hungry.  I may have some of that root I found, simply to have something in my stomach, but I'll do that when it's my watch."

            Renissa snorted and shook her head, pointing a finger at him as though it might be a weapon.  "You will eat, and you will not argue with me on the point. You don't feel hungry now, but you've been on the move for hours and eaten hardly anything. You'll feel it in the morning and it will make you slow and tired.  I'm not dragging you all over the country that way." She tossed a bag from the shelves his way. "There's meat in there, start with that and the drink."

            Tyrin had heard his mother use that tone before, and every time it was used, he and his father did exactly what she had been telling them to do.  Now was no different.  He nodded reluctantly and took out some of the stringy, dried meat.  He thought for a moment, contemplating chewing on the dried meat for hours, before he shuddered.

            Better to start with the drink, he mused.  Get that over with first, and then try to get taste back in his mouth with the meat.  Tyrin opened the flask grimly, tossed his head back, and took a large swallow of the fiery liquid.  This time, since he was expecting it, the drink didn't come right back, though he had to force himself to not gag.  Gasping, he set the flask back down and closed it again, readily taking a bite of the meat as he did so.  The thick spices were enough of a difference from the shock of the alcohol that his stomach and throat settled, making him realize just how hungry he was.

            Once she was convinced that Tyrin was eating, Renissa spread a blanket across the floor and lowered herself down onto it.  She removed her boots and wool socks, settling them close enough to the fire to slowly dry. "There are plenty of blankets. If you put several down before lying down, it'll keep the floor from leeching off your body heat.  Add the bedroll to that and I dare say it might actually be comfortable."

            Tyrin nodded as he listened to the advice, gnawing through a second piece of meat.  After he'd eaten enough to satisfy her and his stomach, he moved to drape a few of the blankets on the floor before curling up underneath the bedroll. Through blurry eyes, he watched as Renissa removed the matched blades from their sheath on her back and began the process of cleaning and honing the edges.  The whetstone slid against the metal with a soft whisper of sound, and after a moment Tyrin spoke up from the huddle of the blankets.  "What... what are those?  I've not seen weapons like that."

            "The ulinar."  Renissa's strokes paused and she tested the sharp of the first with her thumb.  "Old weapons rarely used due to the style and training they require.  Most people don't want to close to a couple of hand spans away from their opponent in order to get a strike in.  However, the ulinar are deadly in the hands of someone that knows what to do with them."  She set the first blade aside and began work on its twin, murmuring softly, "Now go to sleep."

            Tyrin nodded, leaning back into the warmth. His head had barely hit the ground before he was asleep.

            As the hours passed, Renissa finished with the weapons and curled up motionless in a half meditative state. Occasionally noises from outside of the small building caught her attention, but they seemed to be only the storm picking up again. Shortly before waking Tyrin she put her boots back on and ventured outside, checking on the sleeping horses and the general feel of the night. There was something in the air that caught her attention and she stood still for a long moment, the wind beating at her and trying to drive her back inside.  Unable to put a finger on what was bothering her, Renissa gave herself a good shake and turned back towards the small building.  She knocked the snow off of her clothing, gladly welcoming the warmth from the fire before finally moving over to where Tyrin lay. Gently but firmly, she shook his shoulder to wake him up. "Tyrin."

            Tyrin was slow to rouse, but finally he sat up and yawned.  "My turn already?" 

Renissa nodded, holding back a glib remark.  She'd already allowed him to sleep two hours longer than she'd originally intended and had considered letting him sleep through, but she'd not slept much the night before and didn't want to risk another completely sleepless cycle.

Tyrin yawned again then stood and stretched, indicating the bedroll he'd just left.  "No sense wasting the warmth.  Climb in there, I'll go check on Mica and Guir... the cold will help wake me as well."  He pulled the borrowed cloak on as he talked, noticing that the hide was nearly dry.  Boots followed as well as gloves as he prepared to head back out into the snow.

            "They seemed to be all right a few minutes ago." It wasn't a protest as much as an observation; if he wished to venture into the cold she wasn't going to stop him. Renissa sank down into the nest of warm blankets, not bothering to remove her boots again. After a bit of contemplation, she leaned over and tugged one of her packs across her lap.  She dug through the contents, drawing a rather wicked looking dagger from her supplies that she offered hilt first to Tyrin. "Here...just in case you need it."

            "Uh, right."  Tyrin warily took the dagger from Renissa, holding it loosely.  Though he had often used a knife in his farm duties, he'd never used one for another purpose; and, looking at this particular knife, it was obviously intended for purposes other than cutting rope and skinning rabbits.  He gripped the dagger more firmly as he opened the latch and stepped outside into the cold air, his breath escaping as the bite of the wind cut into him.  The knife felt heavy and he finally tucked it into his belt, fearing that if something were to come at him he'd be as apt to hurt himself as the enemy.

            Tyrin trudged through the deepening snow over to where the horses were stabled, only to start in surprise.  Somehow, Mica and Guir had slipped the latch and were headed away from the clearing at as fast of a pace as they could manage in the snow.  "Mica!  Guir!"  Tyrin called into the wind, trying to bring them back.  The storm snatched away his words, bringing another sound to his ears.

            Thoom... thoom... thoom...

            He turned toward the north as the sound grew louder.  Scrub trees crashed to the forest floor as whatever approached pushed through them with little care for secrecy.  Tyrin felt the ground shudder, though whether it was real or imagined he couldn't say.  He tried to call for Renissa, but though his lips moved not a sound escaped them.

            Something was coming.  Something big.

            Renissa appeared at the doorway only seconds after the noise had begun. Her cloak and gloves were left behind but the ulinar were in her hands, woman and weaponry stark against the glow of the fire from beyond the door. She peered into the darkness and frowned, her breath escaping as a soft steam. "Tyrin... back... come back where the fire is."  She didn't hope that the fire would scare off the intruders, but she wanted him clear of whatever was coming.

            Tyrin turned as he heard her voice, his hair whipping around his face; but before he could reply, the trees at the edge of the clearing broke away and three gigantic humanoid creatures stepped into the area.  They were each easily over ten feet tall with massively muscled body frames and grossly distorted features.  They were dressed in light animal hides that seemed to be draped in randomly across their bodies, and their massive feet were bare of covering.  The smallest of the creatures was a light gray color and carried a massive bone that he had fashioned into a rudimentary club.  The second creature was a dark brown and also carried a large, rudimentary club, this one made from a small tree.  The largest creature was a sickly green in coloration, and he carried a large bone that had a rusted iron wedge stuck to the end.

Tyrin's blood turned cold at the sight of the massive creatures.  He'd never seen such a creature before, and he doubted there was much Renissa's dagger could do against such a force.  He backed up a step, unconsciously stepping back into the horse shed and out of direct sight.

            "Ogres..." Renissa growled the word, cursing as she did. "Tyrin, get out of there.  Run!"             They must have been driven out of the north by the storm in their search for prey or they'd been tracking the travelers, the thought of which was far from comforting. Renissa didn't glance after the horses, but hoped they'd made good progress away; horseflesh was a favorite for the creatures, and they would follow a horse until the poor creature died of exhaustion. They also had few qualms about settling for man flesh. 

She moved forward into the snow as she eyed the three, blades coming up to defense. She'd never fought more than one ogre at a time; add that to the less than ideal environment... this was not going to be fun.

            The smallest one stepped up to her challenge, a wide grin breaking across its face.  It was always better when the prey put up a struggle.  It looped his club around at head level, looking to take her head off with one massive swipe, but Renissa was already on the move.  She had expected the opening attack and ducked, the odd light from the open doorway catching on her blades as the half moons darted inside of his reach.  She surged forward, trying to get past his weaponry and into an open, exposed part of his body.

            Tyrin stared as the battle between monster and woman was engaged.  Perhaps it was just the light reflecting from inside the doorway, but from his vantage point it was almost as if her blades were glowing.  His thoughts were interrupted, however, as a swing from the largest ogre's club smashed into the way station and brought it crashing down around him.  Before Tyrin realized what was happening, the shed was coming down and, for the second time in only a few days, Tyrin was buried beneath a building.

            The ogre battling Renissa, for its part, was surprised by the quickness of its quarry.  Grunting and scowling, he pushed backwards, trying to put some distance between them so that he could get his club back around to swing again.  Renissa didn't have time to look towards the shed, as she couldn't afford any of her attention away from her opponent as she heard the snap of timber. As the ogre pushed backwards she continued running forward, slashing upwards and driving her right blade up his arm. 

The razor-sharp blade cut easily, slashing through thick hide and deep into sinew and muscle, lodging at his elbow until she ripped it away.  Ichor flowed swiftly from the wound, staining the snow below and steaming in the cold.

            The ogre roared in pain, dropping his club as his arm failed to respond to his commands.  With his good arm, he swung at her in a wide circle, catching Renissa in the stomach.  The wind was knocked out of her as she flew backwards through the air, landing about several feet away in a flurry of snow. 

            The largest ogre, unable to find Tyrin in the rubble, took his chance then, bringing his large spiked club whistling downward toward Renissa's head.  Despite the shock and pain of the previous attack, the Huntress kept her wits about her and rolled out of the way of the club. She kept her blades tucked in close where she could control them, striving to get enough distance to get back to her feet.  The club slammed into the ground, missing her by inches and sending snow and earth flying upwards.

            Renissa kept rolling, coming up short at a tree trunk and pulling herself to her feet.  She broke into a run even as her feet didn't want to stay under her, sliding on the uneven terrain.  Fighting in a storm with snow on the ground against three ogres out for her blood was sheer madness, though it occurred to her that it would make a good story... if she survived long enough to tell it.

            The sound of shifting debris came from the ruined way station and smoke curled from one end where the fire was beginning to spread.  This noise turned the ogres' attention and the other she'd been facing turned from Renissa, seeking the easier prey.  It crossed Renissa's mind that the third ogre had disappeared... she didn't know where it was, but she couldn't allow them to reach the rubble.  Tyrin was under there, and she didn't know if he was hurt...or even dead.

            Without pausing to consider the folly of her actions, she charged at the back of the largest of the ogres, jumping up and bringing the ulinar around to sink into the joint where shoulder met neck.  The blow, however, never landed.

            The third ogre had come up behind her as she rolled.  For such a large creature, he was unusually silent, both walking and attacking.  For a moment he watched the woman, cocking his head to the side, as though he'd heard something unexpected, but as she attacked his kin he strode forward, using her distraction to his advantage.  His club flew side wards, aiming to swat her away from her intended path.

            Renissa jerked towards the attack as it came, hearing nothing but feeling the change in air pressure. It was too late, however, and she couldn't stop herself or turn the attack, though she made an attempt at both.  Her blades went flying into the snow as the club impacted and she was thrown, slamming her shoulders and head into a tree.  She crumpled gracelessly to the ground as a dark trickle of blood began to wind its way down her neck.  She moaned once, managing to pull herself to her knees before falling forward into the snow, her world dissolving into blackness.

            The silent ogre slung its club over its shoulder casually, striding over to Renissa with two quick strides.  He picked her up effortlessly and sniffed her over, much like a large mastiff having found a dying bird.  An odd expression again crossed his ugly face before he tossed her over his other shoulder. 

            The largest ogre paused as he saw that at least one of their intended meals had been dealt with. His progress towards the debris ceased and he moved instead to the snow where Renissa's weapons had fallen.  He sifted through the snow and picked them up, careful of the edges, as even such small things had proven that they could wound ogre flesh.  The fire crackled, spreading as it caught onto oil from a shattered lamp, making the idea of searching for the other man-thing unappealing.  A mouthful of flesh wasn't worth a painful scorching, not when they already had another.  He motioned to the other two ogres, turned, and as one they headed back to the north, their footfalls moving away quickly and leaving behind only the mournful howl of the wind.

            Once the ground had stopped shaking, Tyrin began to work his way out of the demolished lean-to, the heat beneath making it hard to breathe.  He'd been lucky enough to end up on the underside of one of the support beams, which had kept the bulk of other debris off of him.  Shakily, Tyrin eventually broke free of the wooden wreckage, resisting the urge to just stay there and allow fate to finish what had begun at the farmhouse.  He had no sooner removed himself from the destruction before he heard noises coming from the south.

            He turned with Renissa's knife hanging limply in his hand and stood in shock as Mica and Guir came casually walking back into the clearing.  He shook his head, stunned at the behavior of the animals.  "Fat lot of help YOU two were."  The crackle of the fire and the reality of the horses' presence seemed to shake off the haze of shock and made Tyrin realize that his guide was gone. 

            He looked over the trampled clearing, noticing how much blood was on the ground.  The sight made Tyrin's stomach heave and he had to close his eyes, breathing hard and trying to keep from being sick.  After a few moments he again looked up, realizing that there were no bodies.  Wherever the ogres had gone, they'd taken Renissa with them. 

            Tyrin quickly dug into the debris, remembering approximately where Guir and Mica's saddles had been left.  While he had often ridden bareback he doubted Renissa had and she'd need some kind of saddle.  He worked as quickly as he could before he grabbed the reins for Guir as he hopped onto Mica's back.  There was only one thing he could do.  “Come on, we've got to go after them.”  He didn't dare think that she might be dead.  Tyrin glared at Guir.  “No complaining, or I swear I'll let those things eat you too.”

            The horses seemed to understand his need for urgency and headed off to the north, following the tracks before them with little need for coaxing from Tyrin.  The ogres moved fast through the snow, much faster than the horses did, and Tyrin began to fear that he'd lose the trail before they slowed.  Finally, though, the tracks branched off to the east and into a vastly thicker span of forest.  The foliage had held back more of the snow here and the traveling became much easier, Mica's steady trot becoming near a full gallop.  Tyrin worried about her injured foot, but the horse ran as though she'd never been in pain.

            When the forest started to pull in closer to them, Tyrin stopped both of the horses and dismounted, turning to them.  “You two stay here. If those ogres come this way, run south somewhere and find yourself a good home.”  He turned, ignoring their reactions and the fact he was talking to them as though they were human, and headed in on foot.

            The walk deeper into the forest was perhaps the hardest thing Tyrin had ever done in his life.  At any moment, the creatures could suddenly appear from behind a large clump of trees, and then his life would be over.  But sometime during the ride he had stopped trembling; his fate was what it was, and no amount of worry would stop that.  The only thing that mattered to him at this point was that, for him to survive beyond this trouble, Renissa had to be alive as well.  Tyrin did not know in what direction the town was; going back to Rebün was not an option; and he'd only survive a short time in the wild by himself.  Beside, if it weren’t for him she wouldn't have even been here.  It was his fault.  So on he walked, wary of each noise as he followed the ogres' tracks.  Luckily it wasn't a difficult path to find or follow.

            After what seemed like many hours, Tyrin reached the source of the tracks and stopped, staring in absolute shock.  The forest broke away into a sudden clearing and from the look of it, it had been a forced clearing.  The trees had been physically ripped from their roots and tossed to the side, some being used to make large, crude structures toward the center of the clearing.  What little underbrush had survived this mauling was then trampled by the large feet of the ogres, with only the most hardy or the luckiest still standing.

            The three structures were of a sort of lean-to, though a bit sturdier than a basic structure.  In the center of the area was a vast fire pit roughly ten feet across and littered with bones of various animals strewn about in a way that could best be described as chaotic.  Tossed to one side and piled haphazardly, various pieces of metal armor and weaponry of all shapes and sizes were rusting away, giving a chilling tale as to their former owner's fates.  They were simply collected bits held as trophies even when the ogres would never have use for them.

            Apparently these ogres had vast appetites and planned to make Renissa their next meal.  They had carelessly tossed her to one side while treating the wounded one, the firelight showing the depth of the damage to his arm and a spot where a chunk of bone had been ripped free of his elbow.  The largest ogre was rubbing a putrid gel into the wounds and scoffing as the smaller winced and groaned.  The third watched over the fallen huntress, an odd expression on his face, like a man faced with a quandary he didn't know what to do with.

            Grimly, Tyrin gripped the short dagger and steeled himself.  He doubted there was much he'd be able to do against the gigantic creatures, but he was just as dead without her; might as well have his choice of death.  After taking a deep breath, Tyrin stepped out into the clearing, leaving the safety of the forest behind him.

            He'd gone no more than a few feet before one of the ogres, the large green one, turned and saw him.  Its face broke into a nasty toothy grin as he turned to his compatriots.  In a deep, guttural voice, he rasped, "Heh.  Dinner comes to us for tomorrow."

Tyrin blinked as the monster spoke.  He'd always been under the impression that ogres couldn't talk, or if they did, it was in their own language; the fact they spoke in the language of man made him realize that he might stand a chance, if he could keep them talking.

Because if he stopped talking, he'd be dead.

            "No, dinner does not come for tomorrow; instead, I have come to take the dinner you have away from you.  You have no right to take her, and I need her."  Tyrin paused in his advance, looking between the three ogres and trying his best not to show any of the fear he was feeling.

            The large green ogre paused, gaping open-mouthed at Tyrin.  "You... speak?  No hu-man before has ever spoken to ogre.  Not in long time.  And never in ogre language."

            The wounded one grunted.  "Want me to kill hu-man, Gu-Ron?  I want more fight than being hurt.  Is only fair."  He hefted the large bone club with his good arm and leered at Tyrin, making his blood go cold.

            Gu-Ron snarled, swatting the smaller ogre,  "Calm yourself, Ry-Nat.  You no know what we dealing with here.  Mute, you watch Ry-Nat.  He move, you smack."

            The dark brown ogre looked up from Renissa and grinned an expansive grin at the order, obviously relishing the idea of smacking Ry-Nat around.  With a nod, Mute casually stood in front of Ry-Nat.  He crossed his arms and stared down at the wounded ogre, as Ry-Nat scowled back up at him.  Ry-Nat did not, however, make another move toward Tyrin.

            Gu-Ron turned then and approached Tyrin, the ground shuddering at the large ogre's approach.  Tyrin felt his resolve waiver a bit as the gigantic creature came close, but to move would be folly.  He couldn't outrun the ogre, which was obvious.  Finally, Gu-Ron was within ten feet and, without a word, unceremoniously dropped to the ground in a seating motion.  Even seated, however, he still towered over Tyrin by a good foot.

            Gu-Ron studied Tyrin for a long moment before speaking again.  "So, how you speak to us, hu-man?  No hu-man has spoke to ogre, or ogre understand, for long time.  Who you?"

            Tyrin, confused, answered the question he could.  "Um, Tyrin.  My name's Tyrin."

            "Um-Tyrin."  Gu-Ron nodded, seeming pleased with the answer.  "Is ogre name, then.  You small ugly ogre?"

            Tyrin shook his head.  "I don't think so."

            "Well, you somehow ogre understand, or we you understand.  Must be ogre in family then, though you something awful scrawny for ogre...  Why you want meal?  Is meal mate?"  He motioned over his shoulder toward Renissa's limp form.  "Better give good reason, or eat both of you."

            Tyrin swallowed a lump before he answered.  "She... She is a sorcerer hunter, and she was hunting my parents.  I journey with her because the farm my family lived in was destroyed, and I don’t have anywhere else to go.  I owe her my life."

            Gu-Ron studied Tyrin for a very long time, which made Tyrin extremely nervous.  Finally, when he spoke, his words were obviously chosen with care, as though he considered his question of the greatest importance.  "She a magic hunter, yes?"  At Tyrin's affirmative nod, he continued, "And she hunt your birth family, or you orphan, Um-Tyrin?"

            "Um, birth family."  Tyrin was a bit confused as to the direction of the questioning, but decided that truth was the best.  "My father and I were very similar in our appearance, so there was no way possible I was an orphan."

            Gu-Ron nodded, studying Tyrin again.  "So that make you child of magic person."  It wasn't a question.

            Tyrin shrugged.  "I guess so.  Is that strange?"

            Again, the ogre watched Tyrin for the slightest sign he was lying.  "No magic person can have childs.  You lie.  You must lie."  The ogre leaned closer, his putrid breath filling Tyrin's senses.

            Tyrin sighed, certain he was going to die, but he continued on grimly.  "They had me when they were very young, and though they tried again after I was born, I had no brothers or sisters.  But they were my birth parents, and I saw with my own eyes that they were sorcerers."

            "Young."  Gu-Ron nodded slowly, his gaze sharp.  Tyrin realized he'd been wrong to assume these creatures were stupid; likely, he'd not been the only one, though many others had paid a dire price for their assumption.  "Before the change come then.  Could happen.  Very well,          Gu-Ron believe Um-Tyrin.  Ogres not kill child of magic person."

            Tyrin could feel the relief almost as much as he could feel the cold seeping into his bones.  "Then you'll let us go peacefully?"

            "I say ogres not kill Um-Tyrin.  Say nothing about dinner."  Gu-Ron stood then, and smiled a sly smile.  "You want dinner to stay alive, must do ogre bidding."

            Tyrin grimaced, wondering idly if he'd be better off just attacking these creatures directly.  The thought of doing things for these creatures did not appeal to him in the least.  But, with Renissa's life at stake... he sighed.  "What would you have me do?"

            "You do nothing, for now."  Gu-Ron motioned toward the camp and walked toward it, with Tyrin following behind, his brown winkled in confusion.  The ogre picked up Renissa and looked at her very carefully.  He poked her until she groaned, then set her down at Tyrin's feet.  "You get her now, but Gu-Ron changes mind.  Both of you must do something for Gu-Ron."

            Gu-Ron sat down at the edge of the firepit and searched in the folds of the hides he wore, pulling out some parchment that looked suspiciously like dried human flesh.  The parchment was rolled tightly and bound with some form of twine.  Without a word he ripped off a section of it, the sound making Tyrin cringe, and handed it to Tyrin,  "Marked on map is location of ogre outpost.  Go there, tell ogres there that you must speak to Yu-Lot by my wish.  They give you no problem if you say Gu-Ron.  Um-Tyrin bring horses, Um-Tyrin leave on foot."  The last was said as a warning, and Gu-Ron's smirk left no doubt in Tyrin's mind as to the fate of the horses if the ogres discovered them.

            "That's it?  You want me to go speak to another ogre?"  Tyrin scratched his head, taking the parchment with a second cringe.  In his hand the skin was supple and he tried hard to ignore the natural lines that resembled the folds of skin that might be a knee.  "What is the significance of this Yu-Lot?"

            Mute turned and looked down to Tyrin, and his face broke into a wide and ugly grin.  Ry-Nat guffawed loudly, then cringed again as Mute turned back to him and raised his fist threateningly.  Gu-Ron chuckled, his deep voice sounding like the voice from a tomb.  "Yu-Lot king of ogres.  You not visit in two weeks, Gu-Ron hunt you down and feast on your bones.  Take dinner, and go.  Ogres must hunt now."  Gu-Ron removed Renissa's ulinar from a pouch at his belt and tossed them casually in Tyrin's direction, landing them near his feet.  "Take toys too.  Dinner will need them sooner or later."

            They left little room for argument and at Gu-Ron's comment, the three ogres turned and strode out of the clearing, their footfalls quickly becoming fainter and fainter as they put distance between themselves and Tyrin.

            Tyrin shook his head, still confused about the whole ordeal.  He looked at the rolled parchment for a long moment before he folded it up as tight as it would go and turned to the effort of fully awakening Renissa.

            Renissa opened her eyes momentarily as Tyrin touched her before she closed them again, her world spinning around her.  She'd been partially awake but most of what she heard had made no sense, which lead her to believe she was hurt worse than she thought she was.  She groaned softly, trying to move and pull herself together, though each movement was an exquisite lesson in pain.

            "Don't move if you can help it, Renissa."  Tyrin said as he inspected her head gingerly, his touch making her yelp.  There was a massive lump on her head and blood was oozing from it and one of her ears, and he didn't like the sound of her breathing.  Though she wore thick leathers as a type of armor, they weren't designed to stop the crushing power of an ogre's swing.  He moved to where he could help her stand if she would let him.  "I've got the horses back to the south a bit, we'll get you up on one of them and get you to some shelter."

            "Not sure that not moving is a choice... Gods, my head hurts." She gathered her arms up under her and managed to get to her hands and knees before everything spun again, and she lost the contents of her stomach.   She lurched to the side before falling to the ground again and muttering.  " embarrassing."

            Tyrin shook his head, trying to be encouraging.  "No it's not.  I mean, neither one of us is exactly equipped to deal with creatures like that, you know.  Besides, being embarrassed is still technically alive, which is better than the alternative."  He knelt and helped her to sit up again and then lifted her to her feet. 

The Huntress bit her lip against screaming, her eyes tearing, though the moisture never touched her cheeks.  She stood very still, her feet spread a bit too wide as she balanced, one arm holding her ribs. 

When he was sure she wasn't going to fall over again, Tyrin picked up her weapons, holding them awkwardly as though he didn't know what to do with them.

            Renissa stood with her eyes closed, finally deciding that she wasn't going to throw up again even though her stomach still had other ideas. She opened her eyes, murmuring, "Sheath the weapons... in the harness I'm wearing... it's... easier."

            Tyrin nodded, not entirely comfortable holding the ulinar that had killed more people than he wanted to think about.  He gingerly placed the blades in the appropriate sheathes before he moved beside Renissa, offering her an arm for support as he did so.  "It's not a long distance to the horses.  Come on, lean on me if you need to."

            Renissa took a deep breath, managing to stay mostly upright. "Too slick... to do that much... or we'll both fall." She bit her lip, using the pain to help her eyes focus. Right foot, left foot... she felt drunk, and it showed in her uneven gait and weaving path.

            "Again, it's not like we have much choice.  Though once we're far enough out, I'll try calling for Mica and Guir.  They might get to us fast enough so that we don't have to walk for too long."  Gingerly, Tyrin started to lead her out of the ogre camp, doing his best to tread the balance between speed and stability.

            Renissa nodded slightly, quickly deciding that the nod was more movement than her injured head needed and went back to staring at the ground. She mumbled softly,  "And then Guir will likely try to eat me."

            "Horses don't eat meat."  Tyrin chuckled, trying to lighten the mood a little.  They didn't talk again until they'd moved quite a distance away from the camp, taking steps as fast as she could handle.  Tyrin carried the map while he helped Renissa walk, though he did his very best to keep her from noticing it.  Once the trees thinned out somewhat, Tyrin whistled for the horses.  Not ten minutes later, Mica and Guir approached calmly.  Without being bidden, Guir bent down on one knee to allow Renissa easier access to his back.

            Some part of Renissa's awareness noticed the docile nature of the horse that had thus far tried to injure her; but the parts of her that were in pain demanded more attention and she slumped against Guir, slowing pulling herself up. She sprawled across his back, closing her eyes as the world spun again. "Ugh..."

            Tyrin watched her for a moment, and then dug through Mica's saddlebag until he found a length of rope.  "Do you want me to tie you to the saddle, so you don't fall?"  While he was digging though the scarce contents of the bag, he took the opportunity to shove the disgusting map inside.  The last thing he wanted Renissa to do was find it.

            She jerked back away from him at that statement, almost managing to fall from Guir's back, though the horse shifted for her movement.  She dug her nails into her hand to keep from passing out. "No! Don't..." Renissa shivered, tangling her fingers in Guir's mane. "I'll be fine..."

            Was that fear?  Tyrin frowned, but wrote it off to her wounds.  "Alright then.  I'll walk beside you, since I don't want you to fall.  Falling right now would be very, very bad.  I'm almost positive you've got a concussion.  You're going to be riding for a few days."

            Renissa squeezed her eyes shut, resting her cheek against Guir's neck. "I'll be fine. Been hurt worse before." That was only partially true; she'd broken ribs before, but she'd never been hit in the head this hard.  Even being kicked by Guir was preferable.

            Tyrin chuckled, beginning to lead the horses back into the woods.  "This time, Renissa, you're going to have to listen to me.  I've had a concussion before, as did my father a few times.  They're nothing to play with, and I can handle getting us to where we need to go as long as you can direct me."  As he spoke they turned back to the south, with Mica following along behind.

            "Your father was another horse hand?" Renissa tried to focus on the question, remembering something she'd been told once about head wounds and not sleeping until the pain came down.

            Tyrin shook his head.  "No, he never had much luck with the animals.  That was my job, especially since they liked me."  He knew he had to keep her talking.  If she could make it at least an hour before she slept, she'd be that much better off for it.

            "How'd you get..." She drifted, not finishing the sentence as she leaned harder against Guir. Her eyelids were so heavy she could not keep them fully open, and there was a red haze around the edges of her vision.

            "Renissa..."  He shook her shoulder until Renissa blinked awake again, though it didn't last, her mumbles mostly incoherent.  She slumped forward again against Guir’s saddle and her eyes closed fully.

Finally, Tyrin made up his mind.  He wasn't sure what he could do or even how to do any of this "magic" that Renissa had been talking about; but his parents had used it, and he suspected rather strongly that he could as well.  He remembered the heat and pain he'd felt at the farmhouse, and his parents had already been dead by that point of time.  That left only one suspect…

            Tyrin placed a hand on Renissa's leg to stabilize both of them, even as she slumped further forward.  Guir stopped automatically, as if sensing Tyrin's intent.  Tyrin closed his eyes and reached into himself, looking for something, anything that might be different than what he'd felt before.

            For a few moments, Tyrin felt nothing and frustration welled up.  Finally, a small tingle started in the center of his body, but it simply swirled around without direction.  After a bit of contemplation, he decided he needed to focus on what he wanted the magic to do, and he started to concentrate on just trying to push the energy from himself to Renissa.  Suddenly, it was as though something snapped inside of him.  There was a direct focus; nothing else mattered in the world beyond the immediate second.  He could almost feel something around him, being drawn into him and redirected into the palm of his hand.

            Tyrin could feel the energy core within him growing and expanding, flowing down his arm and into Renissa's body.  He tried to focus on healing Renissa's wounds as best as he could, picturing the skin knitting back together and the bump disappearing.  His hand felt warm, and tingling sensation tickled the tips of his fingers.  His concentration broken, he stepped back with a frown.  Unsure if it had worked, he looked up at Renissa, watching.

            Renissa blinked slowly and pressed the heel of one hand against her forehead. The world wasn't moving quite as much, though she realized that was because the horse had stopped. "Mmm...wha? What were you saying?" Her voice was stronger and steadier.  While she was still obviously injured, the level of injury seemed to have eased and her coloring and breathing were much better.

Tyrin smiled, following along as Guir started walking again.  "That you'll need to stay on horseback for a while until you're well again.  It might be a few days, so you'll have to point me in the direction we need to go."

            Inwardly, his emotions were mixed.  On the one hand, Tyrin was elated that he'd been able to do something he'd never known he could do.  And using magic was an euphoria, a sensation beyond anything he'd ever known in his life.  But, on the other hand, from what Renissa had told him... being a sorcerer also made him the target of nearly every human in the land.  His usage of it had so far been a single time.  Not exactly an experienced sorcerer, definitely not enough to use it on command or to defend himself.

            Renissa returned her fingers to curl in the fine mane hair of Guir, sitting up very slightly before looking down at the path beneath the horse's foot. "Need a mark as to how far we went. Are there... white stones? They'd be on the outer edge of... the path... if we're back to marked routes."

            Tyrin looked around for a moment.  "I can't tell beneath the snow, but our tracks will at the least lead us back to the way station.  Once there, it should be fairly easy to get back on track." 

            Renissa nodded fractionally. "Just keep heading that way then...and hope our fire didn't burn out everything."

            "It didn't."  Tyrin tried to sound confident, though he wasn't sure that he hadn't just lied to her.  He lapsed into silence as they continued toward the wrecked way station.  The snow started to fall again, gently, but enough to accent the silence of the forest as they walked.  In the distance the sky grew light behind the clouds as the sun began to rise and somewhere behind them, eyes watched the measured progress and silent footfalls whispered between the trees.

The Sorcerer’s Child: Chapter Five

It had been a long flight for the large hawk, but it had not stopped to rest for more than a moment.  Finally, after a couple of days, the expanse of the southern kingdom came into view.  Below the hawk, massive stretches of serfdom farmland spread from horizon to horizon.  After a few miles of farmland, the city of Möch-Rûn rose from behind the rolling hills.  The port city was a massive span of buildings, easily numbering into the thousands.  In the center of the city, a castle had been built and added upon over the years.  Now easily a tenth the size of the actual town, its gold plated towers could be seen for leagues.

It was to this castle that the hawk was flying and with the goal in sight, he redoubled his efforts.  Finally, he angled downward, diving into an open window at the far end of the royal entryway.  He stopped and took roost just on the edge of the window, peering down into the vast hallway before him with a critical eye.  A tall, portly man sat at the far end of the hallway with his nose buried in a book, the only current inhabitant of the hall.

Sherim turned as the hawk landed, looking at the creature with a disdainful look. “One of these days you are going to burst your heart doing that.” His voice was precise and slightly nasal in quality, and silently he rather hoped it was a day soon. “His highness awaits your message. You're to join him the moment you've arrived.” Another look was spared the bird. “Though I suggest in a little more... appropriate... form.”

“I rather doubt his highness would appreciate seeing me naked.  Either he sees me in this form, or you fetch me some clothes first.”  The hawk’s voice was gravelly and the sarcasm in his voice dripped with loathing.  He spread his wings again, flying down to a small stand near the entrance to the King’s chambers.

Sherim glared back at the bird before he moved to an alcove and pushed back a panel. It had been prepared for just such purposes and there were loose robes within. Sherim tossed them at the bird's clawed feet. "Can you manage? Or shall I call a nursemaid to dress you?"

“I’d prefer the nursemaid.  Something in a blonde.”  The bird hopped down and buried itself in the robes as it spoke.  A heartbeat later, a small man stood in its place, adjusting his robe to fit.  He tossed the hood back, revealing a sharp, pointed nose, a bald head and sparkling gray eyes.  “You can send her to my room later, Sherim.  I'd enjoy it even better if she’s got a sister.”  He sneered, enjoying the revolted look on Sherim’s face.

"I'm sure you would. You're a disgusting and carnal man, Balar."

Balar smirked.  “Perhaps you’d prefer if I send a stable boy up to your quarters then.  I hear some of them are nice and young, and tender to the touch.  Just how I’ve been told you like them.”  Chuckling, he strode past Sherim and threw open the doors to the King’s receiving chambers, stepping within.

The chambers were massive, easily spanning a hundred feet in length.  Golden tapestries were draped across nearly every inch of wall space, and sconces with varying golden and silver candlestick holders were precisely positioned every six feet along the wall.  The floor was an intricately carved marble masterpiece, as were the multitude of stained glass windows along each wall.  A platinum-embossed candle chandelier threw the light into the room, dancing with the reflections of itself off of the gold and silver therein.  The rooms were designed to display wealth and power, an intimidation to those that would come seeking favor.

King Dru glanced up at the opening of his doors, his position comfortable and lounging against the velvet of his throne.  His silvery hair was pulled back behind his shoulders and his face showed the wear of many years.  His eyes were sharp, however, revealing the intelligence behind them.  He stood and smiled as he recognized the figure in the doorway.  “Welcome back, Balar.  I trust you have good news for me?”

Balar strode forward, dropping to one knee once he reached the foot of the dais. The robes swirled around him, much like the wings he'd born so recently. “News, m'lord. As always the interpretation of it I leave to your discretion.” He looked up, waiting for sign that he was to continue.

King Dru nodded, gesturing for him to speak as he stood from his seat. As Balar spoke, the King started to habitually pace while he listened.  His boots clicked on the marble floor, the glittering dragon hide a sharp contrast to the centaur leathers that made up the remainder of his clothing.  His cloak was bright red and fell behind him casually as he walked.

“As was expected, your troops found the sorcerers and encountered heavy resistance. Some few will possibly return, unless the winter storms find them first.” Which was more likely a circumstance should the king wish it. “The pair are dead... though I found a great crater at the center of the battle, and the sorcerers buried. Someone walked from the place alive.”

“A crater, with the two sorcerers dead.  So unless another sorcerer showed up, the rumor of a child is likely correct.”  King Dru stopped his pacing and turned his gaze out one of the many windows to look out toward the sea.  “What of the weather there?  Did the storm hit, or did it pass by?  If the child survived the attack, he might not have survived the storm.”

“I flew only moments before it for much of the first night. By the second night, the storm had covered everything, but there were a pair of footsteps leading into the forest. It is possible he found assistance.”

“Assistance.”  He smiled, chuckling.  “Surely not from that band of thieves and criminals I sent there.  That fodder well knew they were there to die, but it was better than our prisons.  No, they were there to kill, and would not have been swayed by anything, even if the sorcerer had anything to give.  So it had to have been someone else, someone from the outside.

“But who?”  Dru frowned, starting to pace again.  After a few moments, he turned back to Balar.  “What of the town?  Could the assistance have come from there?”

Balar shook his head once. “No, Sire. Your orders were followed explicitly in the matter of Rebün. Nothing survived, not man, woman, beast or child. In that, your chosen forces took much glee. Whomever joined the child would have had to come from beyond the town.”

“Good.  At least the fools got one thing right.”  He resumed his pacing then as his thoughts tumbled over the possibilities.  “So best guess is a Hunter then.  No one else would willingly follow an army on an attack of a sorcerer.”

A frown turned the King's lips.  “That… complicates things, but it also makes it easier in some ways.  Send the word out.  This Hunter must have traveled to get to Rebün, and the town was remote enough that anyone out of the usual traveling there would be news.”

“And when they are located, Sire?” There was a hint of expectation to the question.

“Find out which hunter it is.  Depending on the hunter, we may be able to buy them off, or we may have to kill them to bring the child here.  That may be the preferred option anyway, now that I think of it.”  King Dru thought for a moment longer, then nodded.  “Find them, kill the hunter, and bring the child here.  Use whatever means you feel you must.  And do it quickly.”  The King turned back to the window then, his hand on his bearded chin in thought.

Balar bowed lower and then rose to his feet. “As you command, Sire.” He began mentally organizing the force to be sent out as he moved to the doorway, the King's silence a dismissal.

It was another few minutes before the King spoke to the apparently empty room.  “You heard that, did you not?”

A voice spoke in reply, a grating rasp of a whisper.  “Yes, father… but why bring the boy here?  Am I not good enough for you?”

The King waved his hand idly.  “You are my son, Ziguard, but as you are the people would never accept you.  The Queen and I have been looking for this child since we first learned of its existence… bringing the child here will help you become whole.”

He smiled toward the shadows at the far end of the room, where the raspy voice had come from.  “After all, what is a King without a Prince? And a kingdom without an heir?  Now return to your room, Ziguard, and sleep; the next months will have precious few opportunities to do so.” 

* * *

Tyrin and Renissa arrived at the demolished way station soon enough, and Tyrin used a combination of the remaining blankets from the way station and their bedrolls to create a crude tent for Renissa to sleep in.  After some heated and disoriented discussion, Tyrin finally had to bodily push Renissa into it to sleep, but sleep she did with no further arguing.

The cloud cover had broken with the first light of dawn, signaling the end to the fierce storm and hinting at the possibility of a few days of slightly warmer weather.  Tyrin hadn’t slept at all since his short break before the attack, and knew better than to even try.  His adrenaline was still pumping from the discovery he’d made the night prior and it kept him antsy and excited.  To calm himself somewhat, he spent the better part of the early morning collecting a few more of the snow lily roots he’d shown to Renissa.  They’d be probably the best food for her right now, given their situation and all.  And luckily, the edges of the forest nearest to the way station had enough of the small flowers around that he could pull a few of them up without worry about over-harvesting them.  Occasionally he glanced over to the makeshift shelter, checking that all was still all right, though he didn't know what he would do if she didn't recover.

Renissa's sleep was not particularly restful and she tossed and turned between the surges of pain and nightmares that her sleeping mind didn't have the strength to fend off. As dawn arrived she jerked upright, pressing her knuckles against her lips to keep from crying out. Her eyes watered and she drew her knees to her chest, curling her arms around them and resting her head against her legs. She wasn't going to cry like a weak willed woman... the pain would pass, it always did, and she'd been hurt worse before.

At the noise of her sitting up, movement could be heard just outside the flap of the impromptu lean-to.  After a moment, a large horse’s head poked into the tent and Guir sniffed unabashedly, eyeing the non-herd.  A cold rush of air followed his entrance, immediately removing whatever warmth had built up overnight.

The woman huddled closer on herself, shivering as the warmth fled. She looked up after a moment and blinked against the light. It took a moment for the shadow to resolve itself as Guir and Renissa sighed softly, muttering, “Decided to come and finish me off, devil-lips?” She knew the horse couldn't understand her, but the distraction helped.

Guir snorted again, his ear twitching as it touched the fabric above their heads.  After another minute or two, he backed up and exited, the fabric swinging shut again behind him.

Renissa sighed as the horse left, very slowly examining the lump on the back of her head with her fingertips. It was tender and she stopped quickly. The scent of blood was also distracting and worrying to her. She needed to get cleaned up before it brought something worse than ogres looking for a meal.  She was still for a moment, listening for Tyrin or anyone else and hearing very little. Another soft sigh escaped her lips and she thought with longing on the soft beds and hot water at the Tabbard Tavern. If she didn't get killed trying to get there, she was going to lock herself in a room and refuse to budge for a week. With a great deal of effort she lurched to her feet, noticing that she was still wearing her boots, and deciding it was just as well.

The world was unstable in her eyes, but not nearly as badly as it had been. Step by step Renissa made her way out of the tenting, squinting against the play of sun on snow as she looked for her traveling companion.  She still had questions about exactly what had happened between getting hit and waking.

Tyrin could barely be seen toward the northern edge of the clearing, just in the forest line.  He was rummaging around along the ground, and Mica was standing nearby him.  The horse was contentedly chewing on something, though what it was Renissa couldn’t see from her vantage point. 

Guir had moved off to the left of the tent and was staring impassively at Renissa.  His tail swished occasionally, and his ears dipped and weaved as they followed sounds from the forest, but other than those movements the horse was still.

After a few moments Renissa decided that the standing was a good thing, helping to clear her vision. She was still far from complete recovery, but it was a start. “Tyrin?”

Tyrin looked up from gathering the roots, and smiled.  “Good, you’re awake.  Do you feel any better?”  He stood, wiping his hands on his pants before he started walking toward her.  Mica took Tyrin’s departure as a sign she had free reign of the roots and immediately began rooting around in the snow near where Tyrin had been searching.

“I'll be fine.” She rubbed the heel of her hand over the bridge of her nose. “We're going to need to move before they come back.” There was a moment's pause and she looked up, squinting slightly against the glare. “And... thank you. My brain is a little fuzzy still, but I get the impression I owe being in one piece to you.”

He shrugged, but didn’t address the issue of how he had helped her.  “No one deserves to be eaten.  Most of it was dumb luck anyway; I was just in the right place at the right time.  Besides, you saved me, least I can do is return the favor.”  He motioned south with a thumb.  “Think you’re able to pull a full day today?  We’ll take plenty of rests along the way, especially since I’ll be walking.”

Renissa tilted her head at that. “Walking? Why?” She winced slightly as her head reminded her that it didn't want to move. “And I'll be fine. I've managed with worse. Though we need to...” The haze rode up in her vision and she stubbornly pushed it back, taking a deep breath. “Clean the blood. It'll attract scavengers.”

“I’ll be walking because of Mica.  During our pursuit of that trio yesterday, she re-injured her foot.  I’ll have to walk her for at least two more days to give her foot enough time to heal.”  He handed one of the roots to Renissa, the bulb a bluish contrast to the traces of dirt that still clung to it.  “Here, eat this.  With your wound, the best thing you can do is eat, and this is about the best thing we’ll have without using what rations survived the collapse of the way station.”

She looked at the root, making a bit of a face. It wasn't as though she didn't eat off the land or hadn't eaten worse, but the idea of food was making her sick to her stomach without the help of eating something revolting. Reluctantly she broke off a piece and put it in her mouth, sucking on it for a moment before forcing herself to swallow. “You're correct. It tastes terrible.”

“Eat what you can.  If you can only handle part of it, eat the tips of the roots.  They’re the best for you, followed by the part closest to the actual plant.”  He bent down, scooped up some snow, and handed it to her, which earned him an odd look as the snow cooled her hand.  “Once this melts, we’ll clean up the blood a bit.  I doubt there are much by the way of scavengers around here, though… with those three running around, they’ve likely eaten anything bigger than a fox.”

“You'd be surprised what can escape if it puts its mind to it.” The huntress quietly ripped a piece off of the hem of her under tunic and wrapped the snow in it.  She moved over to a tree, leaning against it while pressing the cold pack against the lump. She felt stupid being hurt this way. There had only been three of them. Bigger than her and tougher than her, yes, but still only three. She nibbled on the roots. “We'll still have a few days to go. We won't be able to reach the next way station before nightfall.”

“Then we’d better get moving.”  Tyrin turned to call Guir, but the horse had disappeared.  “Now where’d Guir get to?”  He looked around, spotting the speckled stallion on the far side of the clearing.  He shook his head.  “Looks like he managed to find some of those flowers as well.  I’ll go get him.  You just work on that root.”

“Go ahead.” She found a certain wry amusement for his gung-ho attitude.  Given her druthers she would have preferred sitting still for a while and properly cleaning the wound, neither of which was likely.  Renissa sighed softly, watching him go to get the horse, and looked down at the root. “I am setting rabbit snares tonight if it kills me.” The comment was whispered and she gagged down another bite, before shoving the rest of the root into the snow and covering it.

It took Tyrin a few minutes to bring Guir back, as the horse was obviously relishing the roots he’d found and reluctant to go when his belly wasn't full yet.  With a bit of bribery in the form of already dug roots, the young man managed to convince Guir to stop grazing and accompany him over to Renissa.  The huntress struggled into the saddle and focused firmly on watching Guir's ears while Tyrin cleaned up the rest of the camp.  

Finally he was ready to go as well, and he started walking beside Guir, who would occasionally glance at the man to see if any more roots would be forthcoming.  Mica followed along behind them, casually strolling along with only a slight limp in her back leg.

Renissa balanced herself carefully, finding that it was easier not to get dizzy if she kept herself focused on the horse's ears. A part of her was just waiting for Guir to try to throw her, startling if he stepped out of stride. It wouldn't take much to land her on her head again and she wouldn't put it past him.  The horse, however, was acting unusually compliant and was making only minimal attempts to brush her off.  He never once seriously tried to throw her, and eventually she relaxed in the saddle somewhat.

The first dozen miles were in silence, with only Tyrin’s occasional whistling to break the sounds of their footfalls.  The day started to warm up considerably, and the signs pointed to a quick melting of the majority of the snow before the day’s end.  Already green and brown patches of forest were starting to appear from under the white carpet, and the sounds of dripping water were increasing steadily.

* * *

Ry-Nat was the first of the ogres to return to their camp, a deer slung over his shoulder.  The ogre was obviously angry to judge from his stride, especially since he was used to returning with three or more creatures a night.  One would earn him ridicule, but with his wounds there wasn’t much he could do.  As it was, he’d lucked out that the deer had already been injured by a hunter’s arrow; it was simply the ogre’s good fortune to come along when he did, though the human had escaped.

A few hours after Ry-Nat had returned, Gu-Ron came stomping back as well, four dead sheep in his arms.  He dumped the carcasses onto the ground beside the fire Ry-Nat had started and looked around.  “Where Mute?  He usually first back.”

“Dunno.  Me check.”  Ry-Nat moved over to the hut that Mute had built for his own and stuck his head inside.  He glanced around quickly before reemerging from the hut.  “Mute gone!  He take sleeping roll from hut!”

“Mute not leave.”  Gu-Ron strode quickly over to the hut, sticking his own head inside before he was satisfied.  “Hmm.  Maybe he do leave.  But where?”  He looked around, thinking. 

“He was with us before we split.  Must have doubled back.  But where he go?”  He walked around the camp carefully, inspecting the ground with a sharp eye.

Finally, he clapped his large hands together and pointed to the south.  “There fresh tracks.  Mute go south, after Um-Tyrin.”

Ry-Nat scratched at his head.  “That make no sense.  What matter if human understand ogre?  What matter is human to Mute?  Ogres got no business with humans beside eating.”

“That where you wrong, Ry-Nat.  Human that can understand ogre possibly very important indeed.  Up to king whether he important or food.”  Satisfied that he’d figured out where the silent ogre had gone, the large green ogre moved back to the sheep and began to skin them.

“But why Mute follow human?  What he want with them?”  Ry-Nat also moved over to the fire, and began to gut the deer.  He sliced it open with one quick slice of a sharpened stone a third the size of a man and began to remove the inedible parts.

“Mute different than other ogres.  Not sure why he do what he do, but Mute have idea.  That good enough for Gu-Ron, should be good enough for Ry-Nat.  He act strange whole time they here.  Maybe he see something we don’t.”  He shrugged, removing the last of the first sheep’s skin and placing it in a pile beside him before he grabbed the next sheep.

Ry-Nat shook his head.  “Maybe he see way to have meal without Ry-Nat and Gu-Ron.”  Chuckling at what he believed to be his associate’s cunning, he bent to the task of pulling the good meat off of the deer carcass.

* * *

The forest itself was starting to thin out considerably as they neared the barrier between forest and grasslands.  The trees here were considerably less dense and the density of low-lying shrubbery was significantly higher.  This meant that more small game animals were likely to be about, making the possibility of fresh meat for breakfast all the more likely and tempting.

Renissa half dozed in the saddle when she could, her efforts on keeping her head still. She'd walked with a broken leg before and never been so out of it. Head injuries were the worst of injuries, as it didn't take much to cause a large problem. As the landscape began to change Renissa finally looked up. “Mmm... water..."  She peered around the area.  "We're close to the lower crossing of the Tindel, I think.” She'd meant for them to cross higher, but many of her plans weren't going exactly as she'd intended lately.

Tyrin frowned.  “Well, I’m afraid at this point, I haven’t a single idea as to how to cross.  Is the river frozen enough for us to walk across it, or will we have to break through?”  He placed his hand on Guir’s muzzle and the horse whuffed at the man's hand before tossing his head to one side.

Renissa listened carefully for a moment, catching the telltale sound of running water.  “Doesn't sound frozen at all. It didn't get cold enough to freeze water running so fast.” She steadied her hands on the pommel of the saddle, pulling herself further upright. “And the melting that's been going on will make the flow high. We need to get through the last of the trees to see where we are. Likely we'll cross in the morning.” She managed to get all of the words out without too much fumbling over them, which was an improvement.

Tyrin nodded, hair falling into his eyes until he raked it back.  “There will still be enough light to travel for about four hours.  Should we stop once we leave the tree line, or continue on a bit further south and see if there’s a better place to cross?”

The huntress tilted her head, continuing to listen. “I can't tell where we are. I need to see the river before I can judge.”

“To the tree line it is then, and from there we’ll make the decision.”  As they walked, the trees began to thin out, gradually turning into a grassy plain as the ground shrubbery became thicker and more widespread.  Finally, the banks of Tindle River came into view, and Tyrin’s breath caught in his throat.

He’d never seen any large body of water in his life, so even a river was a sight to behold.  Fifty feet across from bank to bank, the water within rushed to the southwest with a ferocity he’d never seen in water.  There was ice closest to the edges, but the rest of the river was free flowing and the banks on either side were covered in a mix of brambles, trees, and snow and ice.  Tyrin glanced up at Renissa.  “I’m assuming this is it, then?”

Renissa looked forward, frowning at the rage of the river. “It is, but... we're too far south for the crossing I intended.” She pulled herself further forward on the saddle and slowly dismounted, landing gently despite everything. “There should be markers along the bank. They're set at distances along the whole of the river... Need to find out how far we're off.”

“Do the markers stand through the snow, or are they low to the ground?”  Tyrin gave the area a quick once over, but he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

“Low to the ground, but above the tide. Black and green...we should be able to find one.”

“Right.”  After fifteen minutes of searching, they finally spotted one of the markers imbedded in the opposite bank.  Tyrin pointed it out to Renissa.  “That one of them?”

Renissa nodded slowly, moving over and lining herself up with the marker. She adjusted her position subtly and then tilted her head a little, apparently paying attention to something Tyrin couldn't see. “We're right in between the two fordings that are still going to be open. Most of a day's walk either direction.”

Tyrin glanced to the west, where the sun was about to begin its decent on the other side of the world.  “Should we press on somewhat, and see how much land we can cross before night falls, or would it be better to stop here?”

“Move on.” She dropped very slowly to one knee, pressing her fingertips to the soil. “We'll need to move back from the banks to find anyplace stable enough to camp regardless.  We'll sink in this stuff and it will rot the horse's feet.”

Before Tyrin could reply, a loud splash interrupted their thoughts.  Tyrin turned and shouted, “Mica!”  The horse had moved to the river to drink and the under-dug bank had collapsed beneath her.  Though she tried, the river swiftly carried the struggling horse downstream, threatening to drown her as she attempted to return to the shore.


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