by von Garrett
Beset by nightmares Jed is forced to confront his past and seek the magic of the Clarndor.
|The Leom’s body ached as he ascended the mountain. He drove his herd of goats before him and his hound Auld walked beside him, ever vigilant. Leom felt that he was getting too old for these treks, he was feeling the affects of age more with every passing day, although he little choice but to move his goats to new pastures. All summer he had kept his goats in the lower meadows and he had not brought them above the tree line in over a year. Knowing that the snows would cover these higher pastures within the next few weeks, he had decided to bring his goats up for the day. He was regretting that decision now as the hours drew out, one painful step after another.
Leom had set out shortly after dawn, and yet the sun was high in the sky by the time he reached his destination. It did not seem so many summers ago that the journey would have taken a fraction of the time, and the herd would be happily graving long before the sun reached its zenith. Up in the high country above the tree line, the grass was tough but there were stunted shrubs on which the goats could graze. Leom set himself down to lean against a large lichen covered rock as his hound, Auld, patrolled the goats ensuring that none wandered out of sight. Leom ate a meal of goat cheese and bread, drunk a little water that he had collected from a small spring on his way up and smoked from his pipe. He had exhausted himself on the way up, as he sat watching his goats he struggled to stay awake and before long he had drifted to sleep.
Leom started awake sometime after noon to the gut retching screech of a scartharok near by. He loathed those black vulture-like scavengers with their ugly reptilian heads. He had not meant to fall asleep. In a panic scanned his goats. They too were unnerved by the cry but were all there (Auld never failed in his duties). Leom then turned his attention to the scartharok. More screaming calls were now answering the first. Their eery cries echoed through the valleys below and reverberated off the mountains above. They were gathering, he could see them now circling in the distance. There were perhaps a dozen of those black winged demons. Leom guessed that they had found a wounded animal and were waiting for it to weaken before descending on it.
Leom watched for another hour, as his herd continued to graze. The scartharok continued circling but had yet to descend upon the dying creature. Leom felt pity for the animal, knowing that as soon as it could no longer walk that the scavengers would be upon it. He had seen how they ate, ripping at their prey’s flesh with razor sharp teeth and plunging their heads into its body to get at the prized organs, all while the creature screamed and spasmed with death pains with eyes full of horror.
After deliberation, Leom decided to go and investigate. If he could get close enough, he could put the creature out of it’s misery with an arrow. He knew a path that would take him near the place the scatharoks circled. The path took him out of his way but would eventually lead back to his home. He knew that if he wasted no time leaving, that he would still be back shortly before dark.
Leom called Auld to him and gave the hound a few strips of smoked goat meat and the last of the water (knowing there were streams along the path they would take to refill the water skin). After he had eaten, Auld knew it was his cue to round up the goats, and following Leom’s whistled instructions the hound sent the goats down the path that would lead them in the direction of the scavengers.
As they drew closer the scartharok’s cries grew ever more grating. They communicated to each other in high pitched screeches. Within an hour Leom and Auld had brought the goats to their destination. The path they followed followed one side of a deep gorge. Far below a figure could be seen moving slowly and stumbling over the loose rocky ground. Leom was shocked when he realised that it was no animal but a man below. He called out “Hey… you down there.” His call echoed through the gorge but the figure didn’t seem to notice. Leom knew that the man must be injured from the way he moved and was likely lost. Leom scanned for a way down. It was scree loose from the path he was on to the bottom of the gorge. He knew that he could get down but it would be a struggle getting back up.
Leom decided that he couldn’t just leave the man to die, and so, instructing Auld to keep the goats together on the path, he began the descent into the gorge. He soon regretted his choice to descend at that particular point as the scree was unstable and began to slid down around him. Never the less he managed to reached the bottom without incident. Exhausted but determined.
The man was now only a few yards alway, coming towards him. Leom called out again “Hey there. Are you okay?” But again the man didn’t seem to notice him. He was close enough now that Leom could see the blood and his torn clothing. He was limping badly, his head was hang low, and he clung to a sword.
“Friend,” Leom cried out. “You are hurt. I can help you.”
Still there was no response as he stumbled forward a few more paces. The scartharok continued to circle over head. Auld let out a distressed bark.
“It’s okay boy,” Leom called back.
The man had tripped and lost his footing. He fell hard and didn’t move for a moment. Leom went to him cautiously. Leom placed a foot on the blade of the sword, and then a hand on the man’s shoulder. The man suddenly jerked away trying to pull the sword free. But he was weak and unable to move the old man.
“It’s okay. I can help you,” Leom said, now realising that the wounded man was little older than a boy. The boy looked to Leom’s eyes with a pleading look of terror in his expression. He then looked up to the sky where the scartharok still circled then tried to scramble away tugging the sword free of Leom’s foot. The boy swung it over his head as if to bat away the black scavengers above.
Leom understood. He took his bow and notched an arrow sending it in the direction of the nearest creature. His aim was true and it hit the creature square in the chest. It fell from the sky and hit the ground hard only a few yards away. At that the flock dispersed realising that their meal was lost.
Leom turned his attention back to the boy, who seemed a little calmer now. The side of his face was covered in dried blood, his clothing torn, and his only possession was the sword he held. He had no clothes that could protect him from the bitterly could nights in the mountains nor any supplies. Leom knew that the boy wouldn’t have survived another night in the mountains, had he not found him.
“We have to get you out of here,” Leom said, putting his arm around the boy so he could rest some of his weight on him.
Leom searched for another place to ascend the gorge back to the path, and finding a place only a little less daunting than the place where he had descended, they began to climb. It had taken Leom ten minutes to descend into the gorge, but it took them close to an hour to climb out again, all but dragging the boy up the slope. Auld was excited to see him master again and sniffed inquisitorially at the boy.
It was after dark by the time they arrived back at Leom’s home. It was a small wooden two storied barn-like structure with a loft. Leom kept his goats on the ground floor and he lived in the loft above. Leom was exhausted when they arrived. Every bone and muscle in his body ached. Never the less, he helped the barely conscious boy up the ladder, and then got to work lighting a fire to heat some water.
As soon as the boy was lying down he fell into a restless sleep, the sword was still clutched in his hand. He awoke soon after when Leom began washing the blood away with a rag and warm water. Leom was no healer but he had added aromatic herbs to the water that he knew aided healing. As the dried blood was washed away Leom could see the extent of the boy’s wounds. Cuts ran down the left side of his face and a gash opened on his chin. As the old blood was removed his wounds began to bleed freely. The left side of his head was swollen. After Leom cleaned and bandaged the boy’s wounds he let him sleep.
After a few hours the boy awoke with a start which in turn woke Leom.
“Where… where am I?” the boy asked.
“It’s okay you are safe.”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Leom,”
“Who… who am I?”
“You don’t remember?”
“No…. I… where…?”
“Do you remember how you got here?” Leom asked. The boy shook his head, then winced with pain. Leom explained how he had found him in the gorge and how he didn’t know who the boy was.
“I… I don’t understand…”
“It’s okay. It will come to you in time,” Leom reassured the boy. “Just get some rest. We can talk in the morning.”
In the morning they had the same conversation. The boy didn’t know where he was, who Leom was, who he was, nor how he had got there. By the after noon, his short term memory was returning but he could remember nothing before waking up in Leom’s cabin. Even after a few days the boy could still remember nothing before the first day he woke up in Leom’s home. Having nothing else to refer to him by, Leom began to call the boy Jed, short for Jedoso