Monday, March 17, 2008

Chapter Ten

Vijhan woke with a start, a growl beginning in the back of his throat. Something felt wrong, but he could not tell what. It slipped away from him like wafting smoke. He stifled the growl, craned his neck around and surveyed the camp. Everything was in place. Brayden and Sethyr were still asleep, just as they were when Vijhan had taken up his vigil over the camp.

Rising to his feet as quietly as possible, he scolded himself. Nodding off while on guard was a serious breach in discipline. He feared his new companions’ reaction if they woke and found him asleep at his post. Vijhan shook his head for side to side trying to clear his mind. The cobwebs cleared in an instant, like a veil lifting from his thoughts. Leaping to his feet, he drew the long-bladed scramsax from his belt and loped around the camp searching for any signs of trouble. He sniffed the air deeply as well, his ears perking up for a moment as an errant whiff of something tickled his nose but it disappeared in the early morning breeze before he could identify it.

Satisfied that all was as it should be, Vijhan sheathed the knife, and yawned a long-jawed canine yawn. He sat back down and rummaged in the pouch hanging from his belt. Feeling around for a moment, he retrieved a bundle of willow sticks. He slipped one from the bundle, placing its end in his mouth, and then returned the rest to the pouch. He chewed the end of the stick slowly, careful to reach every tooth. Satisfied that he had cleaned his teeth well enough, Vijhan stopped chewing and pulled and withdrew the stick from him mouth. His sharp teeth had reduced the stick to a frayed mess. With a quick flick of the wrist he threw the stick away, out into the forest, resisting the urge to chase it. He chuffed in irritation. Sometimes instincts could be such a bother.

Brayden stirred at the sound of Vijhan’s chuff. He shifted, sleepily searching for a more comfortable position and then groaned in resignation. Sitting up bleary-eyed, the protector pulled his blanket around his shoulders tightly and got to his feet. He nodded wordlessly to Vijhan and then shambled out of the camp looking for some privacy.

Vijhan wondered how the humans managed, being without natural fur. He would have felt so vulnerable with all that flesh showing. One of the highest Canid punishments was to be shaved and banished to the wilderness, bereft of the comfort of their coat or their pack. He could not imagine how humans without such comforts. Of course, Vijhan knew that humans had families, but based on what he saw, they were not nearly as close as a Canid pack.

After a few minutes Brayden returned from his business in the woods. He appeared much more awake, but still no happier or warmer.

“Good morning, Vijhan,” he greeted the Canid.

“Yes, a very good one. The first day a hunt is always a good day.”

The conversation woke Sethyr, who hissed in annoyance but did not stir.

“Yes, the hunt. If only we knew what our quarry was. Then we might know where to look.” Brayden spread his arms, stretching the cold muscles to warm them up. He still grasped the blanket, which made him resemble some sort of awkward bird, fanning its wings before flight. Vijhan chuckled silently at the sight.

A realization struck Vijhan like a thunderbolt as he thought about what Brayden said. He suddenly recalled something the hooded figure said offhandedly during one of their meetings.

“Brayden, I may be able to help with finding the trail,” he said.

“That is good news. You must be very talented if you can track him after all this time.”

“No need for tracking, at least not yet. But, I remember something that he mentioned. He once made a comment of how much better the weather was in Kath than here during this time of year. He said he could not wait to get back.”

“Kath? That is a goodly trek from here,” Brayden remarked.

“I have never been there, but how difficult can the journey be? Isn’t it through the Imperial Heartlands? Much more civilized than here.”

“Civilized does not mean safe. Some officials have no love for the Protectors. They see our order as meddling fools. Some even accuse us of sedition.”

“Perhaps you can travel in disguise,” Vijhan suggested.

“That could prove the best course, but will do little for you and Sethyr. As non-humans you two will be distrusted almost everywhere except the larger towns.”

“I can endure their scorn. I am strong.”

Sethyr rolled over and spoke, her eyes still closed.

“Just wait, Canid. You will be surprised how creative their scorn can be.”

“I will endure it,” Vijhan said, glaring at Sethyr.

Brayden walked over to the heap of firewood that gathered the previous day, retrieved two small logs and placed them carefully on the fire. This sent a glowing flare of sparks to rise from the flames.

“That solves the how in getting there, but once there how do we proceed?” Brayden asked.

“Hmm, if my memory serves, the man also mentioned something called the Argent Tigers,” Vijhan answered.

“I am not familiar with the name. Are you, Sethyr?”

Sethyr lay for a moment, silent. Then one eye opened, glaring at Brayden.

“No, I have never heard it before…but it does sounds like one of those inane names that soldiers are so fond of. I’d wager that anything named so has to have soldiers running it.”

Brayden scowled at Sethyr. “I happen to consider myself a soldier in many ways…”

“No,” Sethyr interrupted, “you are priest. That makes you a hypocrite, not an idiot. The difference is subtle, I’ll grant you, but you’re a bright one.”

Vijhan stared at Sethyr, mouth agape.

“How can you let…” the Canid hesitated for a moment, as if searching for the right word. “that lizard speak to you with such disrespect?”

Brayden gave Vijhan a wan smile. “You have to understand, my friend, that it is just Sethyr’s way. He only bothers to use his wit on those that he has affection for or those that have drawn his ire. Sometimes they are one and the same. For folk he has no feeling for, either way, he probably wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire.”

“I’ll thank you not to apologize for me,” Sethyr said, now sitting upright and wearing an irritated look.

“No apologies here, just understanding,” Brayden said, wearing his most absurdly peaceful face.

“Please…not before I have eaten. If I’m going to retch I at least want to do it correctly.” Sethyr rose and stumbled away from the camp carrying her backpack for some privacy of her own.

Once Sethyr was out of earshot Brayden leaned close to Vijhan.

“Sethyr is like a cup of chicory in the morning: strong and bracing but quite enjoyable once you have acquired the taste.”

“Don’t forget bitter,” Vijhan added with a grin.


Sethyr absolutely abhorred the cold, especially the damp cold that clung to the bones early in the morning. As a reptile she did not retain heat as well as the warm-blooded races. She cursed the furry buggers and their ease in getting the blood flowing. Sometimes she was forced to resort to artificial means to rouse herself from torpidity on chilly mornings. She shuffled out of the camp until she was far enough away to be assured of her privacy. She then sat down, her legs crossed, and set her backpack across her lap. After carefully removing all of the contents of the pack, Sethyr reached into the bottom, releasing a hidden catch that revealed a shallow pocket. Several small vials snugly filled the pocket. She plucked each out, setting them on the ground in front of her next to a small, hammered-copper bowl.

Sethyr picked up the first bottle, holding it up in the direction of the early morning sun. Through the colored glass she could tell that the vial was nearly empty. Grumbling she unstoppered the vial and poured its entire contents into the bowl. She followed this with measured drops from the two remaining vials. Satisfied that she had gotten the mixture just right, she stirred the liquids together using the pinkie of her right hand. She sniffed the residue on her finger. The smell reminded her of the fetid mud that collected at the bottom of stagnant swamp pools in her homeland. She shuddered, wiping the wetness on the hem of her robe and then raised the bowl to her mouth while tilting her head back. Sethyr quaffed the potion, pouring it quickly down the back of her throat. The less that hit her tongue the better. Despite her care, a few drops found their way to her tongue, causing her to stifle a gag.

Forcing herself to swallow, Sethyr chocked down the viscous brew. She let her tongue loll from her mouth rather than risk it coming into contact with any additional reside. She reached for her waterskin and gulped a generous amount. After being satisfied that the last of the mixture had been washed away, she replaced the stopper on the skin and set it down. She carefully replaced the vials in their hiding place, including the empty one.

“I must find more siltblade root soon or answer some very complicated questions,” Sethyr reminded herself. She repack her backpack, took care of her morning business and then returned to the camp, ready to be at least civil this time.

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