CAS

CAS

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Spear That Roars for Blood - Part 11



It took Arawn an hour to find his clothes. He fretted over every wasted minute. If that nymph returned he did not think he would have the strength to resist her charms so he knew he must run.

Finally he found his boots, they were lying by the river bank, and as he put them on he paused. "What was he to do now?" he thought. How long had been here? It all seemed like a dream, but his side was partly healed. A long purple-bluish scar ran from ribs to hip. The wound looked like it might have been a week old or even twice that, but he could not believe so much time had passed.

"She must have healed me with some spell," Arawn said aloud. "She must have."

The waters all ran south, and that way lay his home as well. But this Blodeuwedd, her legend placed her among the daunting Crowhorns where man, Aelph, or gnome seldom roamed and never dwelled. He shook his head, legend, that was all she was, and what sent him to her; a voice speaking in a dream.

Going would be slow without supplies. He had some odds and ends within the pouches on his belt, some line, some fishing hooks, a piece of flint and a honing stone. But the jerked meat, nuts and dried fruits were in his pack, left to rot high above the river where he'd jumped. A week's rations there, all gone. His stomach rumbled, he'd lived on love, but little else, during his time spent with the nymph.

He set out on his way, dogging the stream back to the northwest. Somewhere he'd cross to the eastern side. Find his pack, see if the monsters had left anything behind in that hunting lodge then see if he could pick up the other rangers' trail. The last was a very forlorn hope in Arawn's mind. Even if they were dead the hobs would not let their bodies rest. He turned his attention from such thoughts and kept an eye out for some food along the riverbank.

An hour later he sat nearby a small pool, an offshoot of the rushing stream. He'd found frogs and turtles along its muddy shallow depths and now full, his stomach silent, he felt a weight pulling at his limbs, his eyelids drooped, and sleep called softly for him to rest. Arawn fought back, he ducked his face into the muddy pool, he'd wash off later when he was along the river once again, but for now the mucky water chased sleep away, though still his limbs felt weary.

The way was rough; no trail had been cut along this shore, though animal paths were frequent near the offshooting streams and pools. Those paths went south and west most often. Arawn felt he could travel just as quickly by breaking a new trail as following the twists and turns of the small paths he'd seen.

The water roared nearby, he crawled on his belly and peered from behind a thick growth of weeds to see what moved along the river's eastern side. All was quiet but for the stream and nothing moved. The river path was empty, no sign remained that hobs or formorians had ever crossed that way. If the current had been less fierce he would have swam to the other bank right here, but his weariness had never left him.

Now as the day wore on his strength seemed to set with the light. He must find some place to rest, he knew, and soon. As he watched the waters he placed his chin upon his hands and closed his eyes, sleep claimed him and his head lay against the ground.

***

The sound of voices woke him from his sleep. It was nearly dark, the sun had dropped below the mountains and the last rays of daylight lit the clouds with a pinkish hue. Twilight had crept in while Arawn lay asleep.

The voices came again, a pleasant tenor and a lilting soprano, the nymph and someone else, another man. a surge of jealousy ran through Arawn, it woke him and cleared his head. He felt the urge to jump up and out, to confront the pair. Instead he closed his eyes and placed his hands against his ears, he hid from the sight of her and from her voice, they were weapons that he could not face. He thought of Daghdha and his friends, he brought his wandering dreams to mind, and let himself dwell on what was happening down below. These were his armor and his shield against the beauty and desire that the nymph possessed, they warred within him and he lay stunned and wounded while the battle raged, fought between his heart and mind.

Night had settled down upon the river when next Arawn opened his eyes. Had he slept again, he yawned and wondered, but felt better and his limbs less weary. The night-talking insect life had not yet woken from their winter's sleep, the river sang its song alone, the woods were still.

Arawn stood and began his slow-paced journey up the river along its south-western bank. Silver moonlight danced over the river water, two moons chased each other across the starry sky. Arawn breathed in deep, the cold night air making him feel more awake and alive than he could ever remember feeling in his life.

He stood before a familiar scene. Across the river a log house, the hunters' lodge, the waterfall roared down unchanged. He never thought to see this place again. The current was strong, but Arawn could think of no better place to cross. Upstream, below the lake, the river was all falls and fast running streams. The water here was fast, but slower than any other spot the ranger knew. It was cross here or follow the river to its source and the mountain lake was fraught with perils both rumored and deadly true.

Arawn took off his boots again and tied them to his sword. He sat upon the bank and slid his feet into the chilly stream and pulled them out again quick. "Oh great," he said aloud. "Now I have to go."

Several moments later he cinched his belt tight and sat on the bank once more. The water was still as cold, but Arawn slid in slow, without a splash. The current pulled him and he swam angled against its force. He made progress, but three paces ahead and two drawn back.

The far bank was high and slick, he'd been dragged far from where he'd thought to cross, his muscles burned, his hands and feet felt like icy blocks. Slick grass and weeds slipped beneath his numbing hands but an old thick root, projecting from a long dead stump of tree, allowed him to wrap his arms tightly round its limb. He used it like a ladder to climb the bank and rolled onto his back once he had pulled his legs and frozen feet from the cold flowing stream.

"Fire..." he said with chattering teeth. He'd need a fire to warm himself whatever the risk might be. The hunting lodge would be best. He remembered the crude comfort of the place. He forced himself to stand, his boots forgotten still tied around his sword.

***

Arawn could not feel his feet as he stumbled through the woods. He shook with cold, soaked to the skin and freezing. The world was at an angle, disjointed. He fought through the thinning trees, half tripping, colliding with branches he hadn't seen or thought were to the side.

The moonlight sapped the color from the earth, all was shining silver and deep black. He knew he ran, but it felt as if he was standing still, the distant lodge came rushing toward him. Trees ran and buffeted him with their boles, scratched at his protecting arms and sought his eyes. His ears were filled with the water's voice, roaring, roaring, always roaring, it drowned his thoughts. Everything around seemed flat, like a picture on a wall, but rolling back and forth. With his arms raised in front of his face he collided hard with the lodge's wall and was knocked back. Arawn fell and lay looking up at the moons and stars, they danced and left sparkling trails like words of flowing script painted in glowing light against the dark backdrop of the night sky. He could not read what the stars were writing, his wonder turned to sickness and his stomach churned. He shut his eyes, but the lights remained, spots dancing on the inside of his closed eyelids.

Arawn rolled to hands and knees. He was sick and heaved till his numbed sides began to ache. It cleared his head though it left him feeling weak. He wiped his mouth and spat then tried to stand. He fell then crawled. His hands touched the rough wooden timbers of the wall. He pulled himself up on cold shaking legs and dragged himself along, head and shoulder scraping across the bark.

The porch was high here at the southern end, its floor came to Arawn's shoulders and its railing was high above his head. He tried to grab the edge but his fingers were stiff and cold, still half-numb. He swung around the corner and plodded up the slope, as the ground became higher the floor of the porch dropped further and further down. Halfway up Arawn could lean over at his waist and place his head and shoulders on the wooden floor. He could barely stand but he could crawl, with his elbows and a small jump he got his right hip over the porch's edge.

The smooth foot-worn boards felt good against his back. Arawn wanted sleep, wanted it too much. The cold had begun to go away and he no longer shook but felt warm. Death could come this way, he thought, even in an early spring. Soaked in icy river water on a chilly night, not how Arawn expected the end to be.

He groaned and dragged himself across the floor of the porch. The lodge's door hung loosely on a single hinge, its frame cracked and showing deep gouges from axe and sword. The long main hall smelled bad, it was very dark inside, only swatches of moonlight angled in through windows along the lodge's side. The hall felt colder than the porch outside, the shutters were open wide or gone, Arawn could not tell. The little light showed splintered wood, the tables, chairs, benches and all else had been hacked to bits and what was not burned as fuel was left scattered about the floor. As he crawled he came across broken table legs, the fragments of a chair, broken plates and cups. Too weak to move them or move aside himself Arawn crawled on and did not note the cuts and scrapes they caused him.

Near the center of the floor he felt a rough rag cloth beneath his arms, a huge lozenge of a rug. Heedless of the sharp scatterings of debris, he grabbed its edge and rolled himself inside. Bundled up and feeling a slow return of warmth Arawn let his conscious mind relax and fell asleep, regardless of what might find him trapped, cocooned within the rug till morning came at least.

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