Monday, February 25, 2008

Chapter One

A cricket chirped in the half light of the full moon. It sang out in search of a willing companion, intent on nothing but the urge to mate. It hopped along the crumbling window ledge of the ruined farmhouse, stopping and chirping every few hops. It began to chirp again, but a rustling from a deep shadow froze it. Its antennae whipped the surrounding air, reaching out for any sign of danger, but found none. It settled down, puffing out its wings to chirp again when death descended on it. A reptilian tongue shot from somewhere in the deep shadow, catching the cricket on its sticky tip. The tongue disappeared back into the shadow followed by a crunching sound.

“Gods, Sethyr, I’m sick enough as it is. I don’t need to retch watching you eat bugs,” a voice said from within the shadows deeper inside the farmhouse.

“My apologies, Brayden, but it was a morsel much too tempting to resist. Call it a late evening snack,” a smooth, yet sibilant voice replied from the shadows near the open window.

Sethyr rose from the shadow. Her smooth, well-groomed scales caught the moonlight almost making them glow. She wore a rich, velvety robe which appeared grayish red in the soft light of the moon. The sleeves, neck, and hem of the robe sparkled with brocaded trim of gold and silver thread. She peered out of the window, scanning the clearing for signs of danger. She worked her tongue in the back of her mouth, trying to dislodge one of the cricket’s legs that had lodged itself between her back teeth.

“Could you bring me some water?” Brayden’s voice came out of the dark, disturbing Sethyr’s thoughts. She retrieved the waterskin from her pack and hissed under her breath. It was empty and the nearest place to fill it was a good walk from the farmhouse. If Brayden was not injured she would have told him to get his own water, but the ape-kin had been injured trying to protect her. She felt she owed him some consideration. Despite that, she still was not happy about the walk.

“I’ll go get some,” Sethyr chuffed in annoyance. “I’ll probably take a dip as well. I feel like I’m drying out.”

“Don’t be too long,” Brayden said. “I don’t expect the folk in these parts will be too friendly to your kind.”

“I’ll be careful,” she hissed in mock annoyance. “I am, after all, a mage of no small talent. The local ruffians had better know their place or they might end up a toad…and you know how tasty I find toads.” She flicked out her sticky tongue to emphasize her point but the gesture was lost in the ghostly light.

Sethyr stuffed the empty waterskin back into her pack and lifted the pack onto her shoulder. She stepped into the shadows just inside the crumbling doorway of the farmhouse and peered out into the night. The moonlight washed the land in a silvery radiance, giving it an almost intangible look, almost like spun glass.

She flicked her eyes, lowering the membrane that allowed her to see heat as well as light. She scanned the area again, but still did not see anything threatening. Her reptilian eyesight did pick up the heat of a small, scurrying critter here and there, but nothing big enough to cause concern.

Sethyr stepped out of the farmhouse and began walking to the spring she had visited the day before. Even taking the time to bathe, she should not be more than an hour or so. She thought Brayden would be fine without her until then.

Sethyr set out across a fallow field. The spring lay on the far side in a thick copse of trees, kept green by the spring’s water even through the dry season. The field was dusty and strewn with stones. It was no wonder this farm was abandoned. The soil was obviously poor and the previous tenant had not even bothered to clear away the stone that would make plowing nearly impossible.

Sethyr chuffed again. The thought of having a farm and not taking care of it was foreign. The Cairnfolk, as her people were called, had so little that they treasured every little bit of it. They dwelled in a dark swamp whose most interesting features were massive stone cairns that towered above the muck in a seemingly random pattern.

Some folk told stories of seeing ghostly images of the Great Lizard Kings appearing atop the cairns on the hottest nights of the year. Sethyr had never witnessed any such spectacle, despite spending many nights waiting for the kings to appear.

She spent many nights dreaming, wondering what it would be like to know a life different than the one for which she was destined. From the time she was hatched, everyone simply expected her to become a simple eggwife, a near slave to the clutches of eggs that the tribe relied upon to replenish their numbers. By Cairnfolk standards it was an easy life. She would never be expected to work at anything other than mating, laying eggs and then taking care of them until they had hatched. Once hatched, the young were fostered to other families in the tribe and the eggwife began the process all over again. That life seemed so empty to Sethyr that she had ran away.

Sethyr croaked in amusement. Instead of ending up taking care of a clutch of eggs she had ended up nursing Brayden. Despite the warrior’s bluster, she genuinely liked him. He could be such a boob at times, but she knew that he was a good person, but he was a man. That is why she had not fully revealed her nature to him. Brayden had assumed Sethyr was a male, as most mages were. She had simply never rebutted that assumption. It was more convenient for Brayden to believe that she was male. As long as he thought that, he was prone to treat her as more of an equal. In some ways the Humans here in Brinhalad were as backward as the Cairnfolk.

“Well, no matter. He’ll just have to stay in the dark. Better for both of us, anyway,” Sethyr said to herself.

Her musings had taken her nearly all the way to the spring. She hissed in anticipation when she spotted the wispy cloud floating gently above one of the far pools. Unlike the others, that pool was fed by a hot spring.

Sethyr padded toward the pool, her claws ticking on the large, flat rocks surrounding it. She shed the pack and her robe with a flourish and dove in to the warm water. Her lithe form sliced through the calm surface of the pool, sending up a spray of watery jewels glittering in the moonlight.

Using long, undulating sweeps of her muscular tail, she swam along the bottom of the pool, letting the warmth soak through her hide. It warmed her both inside and out.

With another leisurely flick of her tail Sethyr rose to the surface. Her eyes and nostrils broke the water without a sound, the deep instincts of her reptilian heritage scratching at the back of her mind.

Sethyr blew a spray of water from her nostrils and dove back to the bottom of the pool, trying to shake off the predatory feeling that had come over her. It smacked of the same barbaric instincts that kept the females of her kind in bondage to eggs and younglings. She had hoped that the years away from her tribe had dulled those instincts. She shook her head from side to side trying to clear it, sending twin streams of bubbles from the sides of her mouth.

Whipping her powerful tail back and forth, Sethyr shot through the water toward the shore. At the last minute she angled her body upward and burst from the water. Her momentum carried her over the edge of the pool and onto the bank. With practiced reflexes she landed gracefully on all fours, water streaming from her scales.

She shook the water from her eyes and had just enough time to see a burly man in a shabby, peasant tunic watching her. In an instant her vision turned to shooting stars as a blow landed on her head and then everything faded into darkness.


Brayden awoke with a start, his mouth parched, trying to wet his lips with a dry tongue.

“Sethyr,” he tried to say, but it came out as an unintelligible croak.

“Sethyr,” he tried again, this time able to manage a scratchy whisper.

He wondered where she could be with the water. He turned his head, fighting back a wave of vertigo. From the pallet on the floor he could see most of the room, but there was no sign of Sethyr.

Early dawn streamed in through the eastern window. Brayden groaned, levering himself to a sitting position.

“Where have you gotten yourself too, Sethyr?” he muttered, fighting off another wave of vertigo. Concern creeped into Brayden’s thoughts. It was uncharacteristic for Sethyr simply to disappear. His friend was normally one of the most responsible people Brayden knew. He often teased his friend about being an old soul. Sethyr would just hiss playfully and make note of Brayden’s immaturity and lack of direction.

During their year together Brayden had come to respect and then rely upon Sethyr’s measured judgment and seriousness. They were a natural counterpoint to Brayden’s carefree and jovial nature. In that instant, he resolved to find and rescue the old lizard, no matter what kind of trouble showed itself.

Brayden struggled to his feet, taking a moment to steady himself on legs that felt boneless. His knees shook and he shivered in the early morning chill. He slipped a heavy gambeson over his shirt and breeches. He reached to pick up his chain shirt, nearly toppling over from the weight of it. Injured as he was, Brayden realized that he would never be able to struggle into the chain mail. He satisfied himself by buckling on the heavy green belt that signified his place in the sojourner’s guild. His sword hung from a simple baldric attached to the belt. Brayden finished his preparations by pulling on a pair of sad looking boots. They appeared to be nearly falling apart, but they were comfortable and he often explained that they had brought him luck in the past.

Brayden’s chest heaved from the effort of merely getting dressed. He whispered a quick prayer to Chani the Protector, asking for renewal and the strength to find Sethyr. He steeled himself and then strode out of the ruined farmhouse. The sun was bright, beginning to burn off the early morning fog. The worth of the sunrise lifted his heart. “Surely,” he thought, “this must be a sign from Chanti that she is watching over me and Sethyr.

He and Sethyr often argued over issues of faith. The Cairnfolk believed the spirits of their ancestors watched over them, but Sethyr had rejected this idea, just as she had rejected most of her people’s beliefs. She also discounted Brayden’s belief in Chanti the Protector, Lady of Light. However, she was always careful to respect his right to believe as he wished.

Brayden set out; heading in the direction Sethyr had said the spring lay. Frosted grass crunched under his boots with each plodding step. Despite the morning chill, sweat dripped down his forehead. His breath came in short, sharp gasps, accompanied by a slight wheeze. He began to question the wisdom of his venture, but cast aside his doubts when he thought of Sethyr perhaps being in danger.

Despite all the lizard’s faults, Brayden had come to enjoy the mage’s company. He found Sethyr’s wit entertaining and having a companion helped pass the time traveling from town to town. Brayden traveled, spreading the warmth and protection of Chanti. He never knew what drove Sethyr to travel as well, but he was still grateful. The mage and her sporran full of enchanted glass beads proved useful all too often.

One incident flooded up from Brayden’s memory. One evening their rest had been disturbed by a ruckus outside of the wayhouse where they slept. A child of the village was missing and was thought to have been abducted by goblins. The villagers, knowing that Brayden was an acolyte of Chanti, pleaded for his help. Brayden assented, reassuring the terrified parents he would find the child. He began organizing the villagers into groups to search the surrounding countryside.

Sethyr just watched the preparations with a sly smile. Brayden knew that the mage had a different approach in mind, but Sethyr seemed satisfied to let the plan proceed. Irritated, Brayden stalked over to the mage, confronting Sethyr with an accusing finger.

“You Damnable lizard, you know something, don’t you?” Brayden said.

Sethyr’s smile widened, revealing a row of sharp teeth. “Well, my friend, I merely had a simple question.”

“Well…what is it?’ Brayden snapped.

“What makes the boy’s parent’s think he was abducted?” Sethyr responded in a calm voice.

A look of confusion came over Brayden’s face. He scratched his head for a moment and then bellowed for the frantic parents.

A pair of simply dressed but clean peasants shuffled forward. Brayden took a deep breath and turned to question them.

“Good folk, what evidence do you have that your son was taken by goblins?” he asked.

The parents looked at each other questioningly, the mother shrugging.

The father gulped and turned to Brayden. “M’lord, I figured it was goblins cause of what I found in the barn.”

“What did you find in the barn?” Brayden asked.

“Well, the door was wide open and there was a broken milk ewer.” He paused for a moment, pulling on his lip. “Oh, and Old Boots was mighty upset, and so was the cow.”

“Wait, who is this ‘Old Boots’? Was he a witness?” Brayden asked, on the edge of exasperation.

“Oh, sorry sir. Boots ain’t no witness. Why, he ain’t even a person. He’s a cat. Boots is the old tomcat we keep in the barn to eat the rats. He was a hell of a mouser in his younger days. Now he mostly sits around beggin for scraps. He…”

Brayden interrupted the husband with a raised hand. “That will be enough. Thank you.” He then looked over at Sethyr looking defeated.

“So, my friend, what are your thoughts?” Brayden asked.

Sethyr straightened up from leaning against the side of the wayhouse and smiled.

“I suggest we sharpen the point of our search a bit. Let us begin at the barn in question. Shall we?” Sethyr’s voice dripped with sarcasm.

Brayden whistled and whirled his hand in the air gathering the searchers around.

“We shall return momentarily. Please wait here for me,” he said to the crowd of bedraggled peasants.

He turned on his heal and motioned for the missing boy’s parents to lead them to their barn. They were led to a well-kept barn. The surrounding farm showed signs of great care and concern for order and neatness, firewood stacked very precisely and crops arrayed in exactingly aligned rows. Brayden watched as Sethyr merely nodded upon seeing the barn and its surroundings.

The mage took one look at the inside of the barn and hissed in pleasure and nodded once again.

Sethyr turned to the father. “Have you ever been in his Majesty’s army, sir?”

The man nodded. “Yes sir, as a matter of fact I was a sergeant in the royal infantry before I settled down and bought this farm.”

“Just as I thought.” Sethyr said with a predatory grin. “You can come out now, boy.” The mage said in a loud voice. “You’ll only make it worse if we actually have to find you.”

Just then a pile of hay in the back of the cow pen stirred. The cow protested with a loud moo. A young boy emerged from the hay looking forlorn.

The parents rushed forward, crying his name.

Brayden looked stunned. “How did you know?” He asked Sethyr.

“My first inkling came with the full moon. As you know goblins are only about in the dark of the new moon. So we know it was no goblin,” Sethyr said.

“But it could have been something else,” Brayden interrupted

“True, my friend, but having been a youngling once myself, I put my mind in the frame of a child.” Sethyr explained. “From what his father said, it sounded like the boy was probably responsible for the spilled milk. No child likes to be scolded, and seeing the ordered nature of the farm confirmed to me the standards to which the boy is held. It came to mind that he perhaps hid rather than be blamed for the mess. Old Boots was probably merely upset because his treat of fresh milk had been disturbed.”

Brayden stared at Sethyr aghast. “How in Brin’s name did you put all that together?”

“T’was a simple matter…if you use intellect and the deductive process. It is very much like magic, cause and effect.”

All had turned out well that time. Brayden prayed that all would turn out as well this time.

Brayden’s mind returned to the present and his search for Sethyr.

He stumbled onward across the rocky field. His teeth chattered and he began to shiver in the crisp dawn air. Brayden knew that his symptoms were a sure sign of an infection of some sort. If he did not find Sethyr soon, he would be the one in need of rescue.

Almost blind with fever, Brayden stumbled into the clearing beyond the field. His head swam as he scanned the area around the pools for some sign of Sethyr. He shook his head in disbelief when he spied a small crown gathered around the edge of one of the pools. He walked toward them, struggling to keep his feet. As he grew closer his shock deepened when he saw that the people gathered around Sethyr’s prone form. Angry shouts issued from the crowd, drowning out Brayden’s plea for help. Finally reaching the gathered folk, the warrior grasped one tightly by the shoulder. The man whipped around just in time to catch the warrior as he passed out.

Brayden’s appearance sent up a new commotion. The warrior was carefully lowered to the ground. Someone shouted for a cloak to cover him. A grubby rag of a cloak was passed forward and spread over Brayden.

One of the gathered folk stepped forward. He carried a gnarled cudgel, waving it at others and shouting orders. He looked down at the unconscious Brayden with a look of pity.

“Don’t you worry none, good sir knight. We’ll lake care o’ that swamp varmint that done ya wrong. That we will.” The man waved over one of the gawking crowd.

“Cedric, go fetch a sturdy rope. We’re gonna give this here lizard a good bath.”

1 comment:

tsolo888 said...

This is great dude, you really need to do the podcast thing with these stories!