A young woman takes action for her future and tries to keep her friendship's alive.
Krail’s deep, knowing eyes, illuminated by the setting sun, bore into Sorrine’s. She looked away, fearing the words she knew would come. She tried in vain to hide her emotions from the wise young man, but those eyes told her that her attempts had failed. She had hoped to sneak away without Krail or Deneri noticing, to avoid the obvious grief it would bring to them all, and the definite resistance to Sorrine’s decision from both of them. Sorrine was afraid that she might change her mind herself, though she knew that she could not be truly happy after that. She wished that they might come with her, but that was not to be. This was a journey that was for her alone, and the two friends that had been by her side almost all her life could not go with her. She almost cried at the thought, but choked back the tears as best she could, trying not to show Krail that she was in indecision, or he would spring upon it.
“You’re leaving,” he stated flatly.
Sorrine gave one more choking attempt to staunch the grief, but finally gave into the tears.
“So what if I am?” she blurted.
They both looked at each other for a long time, saying nothing. The only noise was Sorrine sniveling.
Then, to Sorrine’s great surprise, Krail threw his arms around her and squeezed so hard that Sorrine lost her breath for a few moments. She returned his embrace with equal vigor, along with a few tears that found their way onto Krail’s shirt, mingling with the sweat that already covered it.
“Good luck,” he said, and his first tear began to trickle down his cheek. He released Sorrine and wiped it away. “We will miss you here, the two of us more than any of the villagers. Our lives will not be the same without you.”
"Your lives-our lives- would not be same with me, Krail,” she returned. “We are grown up now. Our lives will never be the same.”
They embraced once again.
“Do you think you shall ever return?” Krail asked.
"I don’t know, but I will try.”
Krail removed the necklace he was wearing from his neck, and held it out to Sorrine. Its emblem brought the tears flowing afresh from Sorrine’s eyes. It was a small drawing of the three companions when they were nine years old. It was a symbol of their friendship-no-their love.
“Take it, and never forget us.”
“I do not need that to remember you by. You are both firmly set in my heart. But I will take the necklace and wear it. It will comfort me when I am sad.”
“Did you think to leave without seeing me?” Deneri had come up behind Sorrine. His cheeks were already wet. Sorrine didn’t say anything, just hugged him tightly.
“Do not grieve me more!” she said. “I am sad enough already!”
Deneri let go of her. He brushed a few wet strands of hair from her cheeks, and then wiped her tears away with his thumb.
“Come back to us. Please.”
Sorrine did not answer. Instead, she fumbled around in her belt, and pulled out two daggers.
“I’m sorry. I have nothing better to give you. An orphaned girl doesn’t have very many possessions, I’m afraid.” She smiled weakly, and handed a dagger to each of them.
“Neither do two orphaned boys.” Krail smiled back, and even managed a weak laugh.
“These are as good a gift as either of us have ever been given. We will cherish them.”
Before any more words could be said, Sorrine suddenly turned and ran as fast as she could, down the road, and on into the open world.
The two men stood watching the road for more than an hour, neither of them saying anything. Tears dripped to the ground, only to be dried up by the setting sun.
Krail looked back towards the village, where the first of the drunken shouts that Krail and Deneri had become accustomed to drifted out past the gates to invade their ears.
“What lies for us there, do you think?” he asked.
“Nothing better than what lies out there.”
The two of them looked at each other for a moment, and then tore off after their friend.
* * * * * * * *
A chill wind lifted Dern’s long robe from its still resting place by his side, swirling it up away from his body, and sending a chill down his spine. He tried to ignore it and continue digging his staff into the soft dirt of the long winding road, but eventually, the cold won over, and Dern shivered, drawing looks from Kinth, his tall, elven companion, and causing the hawk perched upon his shoulder to squawk and flutter its wings in displeasure. The druid stroked the great bird’s soft brown wing feathers, comforting him, but the hawk only shifted more, betraying to Dern that he desperately wanted to fly. Dern looked up at his sturdy walking partner, who showed no signs of the fatigue Dern knew they shared, and smiled at the determined warrior. He stroked the soft feathers for a moment longer, then stopped walking, and held out his wrist for Oron to perch upon. The bird did so, and unfurled his wings, continuing to shift upon Dern's wrist, getting a good hold for a takeoff. Dern brought the hawk’s face close to his, and spoke to it in a series of chirps, then, he held up his arm and sent the raptor into the sky.
Kinth, who had stopped walking with Dern, finally let go of hiding his physical emotions. He slumped visibly, though even then he still stood almost five inches taller than Dern, and unstrapped his sword belt.
“You mean to stop here,” he proclaimed.
"You know me too well. Is this area safe?”
“As safe as any we’ve been to since we left home. But it still makes me uneasy.” Kinth sent himself a message with those words, and he strapped his sword belt back on. Once again, Dern smiled at him.
“As it should, Kinth. We are no longer surrounded by nature, as you and I are used to. There are the trees to either side of us, yes. And there are many creatures among them. That I sense. But it all stinks of civilization. Even three weeks of traveling cannot harden the likes of us to such a thing, Kinth.”
Kinth shook his head. “Stinks? I’ve heard you speak of men before, Dern, for I know that it is they whom you are referring to, but never have I heard such open disrespect from you. There are many fools among men, I will not argue with you. But there are many heroes as well. The few men I have met have been brave, and not all fools.”
“You wrong me Kinth. I meant no insult to anyone, though my words may have hinted so. You must not forget that I myself am a man.”
“Not at heart, you aren’t.”
“I apologize, my friend. I am a druid of the natural order. I am one with nature, and that is where my true joy lies, thus causing me to speak insensibly.”
“I know, my friend. For that is where mine lies as well. But as much as I love the gods' creations, I love to see the world as well. Being away from home is not what makes me uneasy, though I do miss my home, and my family. I sense fouler things than fools here. Familiar, and yet unfamiliar. And that makes me uneasy.”
“I sense it, too. Let us be on our guard. What food have we brought?"
“Bread and quanti for the road. And water from a stream in the great wood.”
“Pass me some of the fruit, Kinth. No bread, please. Or water. The fruit holds juice enough to satisfy me today.”
They sat for a while on the edge of the road, filling their bellies with the good food from Sephiroth, the golden city, and quenching the thirst they had acquired from long hours on the road. Finally, Dern picked up his staff and stood.
“Oron will be returning soon. Hopefully, he will bring news of a place to stay. But night is fast approaching, and we must get on. Oron will find us.”
Kinth jumped up as a new voice, filled with hate, joined the conversation.
“What’s the hurry? The moon will shine upon your dead bodies tonight, fools. Never have I seen such folly as to openly converse and rest on this road.”
A sword glinted in the waning sunlight, and two dark figures leaped from the brush, one pulling out an axe from its cloak as it came rushing towards the two travelers. Kinth was up to meet them, his twin blades in either hand. Weapons clashed and rang like bells in the formerly serene atmosphere as the three combatants went at each other. Dern wisely got off the road, leaving the fighting to his experienced friend.
* * * * * * * *
Kinth favored no hand when it came to sword fighting, and his coordination astonished his opponents. To them, it was like fighting two equally skilled warriors, though not as spread out, which was an advantage and a disadvantage.
The new moon revealed to Kinth the features of his opponents. One wore a determined scowl that showed Kinth these two meant to stay true to their threat of death, and the other wore a devilish grin, enjoying every moment of the action.
Kinth’s first thought was that the assaulters were elves like himself. They shared many attributes, such as the ears, pointed at the tips, and their eyes, olive green, with tiny pricks of red in the center, and all stood the length of a tall sapling. But then he looked at their skin-black as night-, their eyes-red, like an angry bull’s-and their weapons and the way they handled them, and he knew that these were no close kin of his.
His thoughts distracted him, and he felt a sword blade nick his cheek. But the wound was not serious, so he ignored it, and focused all his concentration on the current battle.
The two dark elves circled Kinth, trying to position him between them. But Kinth was smarter than that, and he countered that maneuver with ease. That did not seem to worry the enemies, however. They simply looked at each other and cackled, going at Kinth full force. They had many opportunities to kill Kinth then, but instead they toyed with him, kept him at bay, and giving him a scratch every now and then. Despite all of Kinth’s skill, he was hard pressed, and two against one proved too much for him. He was driven back and forced to go onto the defensive. Finding himself surviving on pure instinct and determination, Kinth knew he would have to do something soon, or it would end. He hoped Dern would have the sense not to interfere. Kinth had been assigned to protect Dern, but he feared he could not save him from a distracted sword thrust. Luckily, the two elf kin seemed to take no notice of Dern.
In a last-ditch effort, Kinth went on a wild attack, swinging his swords wildly, hoping to connect with something, or, at the very least, drive his enemies back. The axe and sword bearer were startled by the sheer ferocity of Kinth’s swings, fell back. Kinth knelt, glad for the moment of reprieve, and began to form a plan.
It was then that Oron returned. He descended on the two intruders in a blur of feathers, his cry resounding on the quiet road louder than the sword fighting had. His two victims brought up their hands to shield their faces as Oron pecked and clawed at them mercilessly.
Kinth took the moment to sheath his swords as quietly as he could, and duck away into the bushes.
Finally, one of the enemies brought his sword into play with the great bird. Oron flew up to get out of the way of the seeking blade that promised only death. The wielder laughed and looked up to watch Oron’s retreat, only to be confronted with Kinth, kneeling upon a branch in the tree above, his bow double knocked, and a grim expression on his face. A twang sounded, and the laughter turned to a gurgle as the two arrows found their separate marks.
Kinth nimbly dropped to the ground and began examining the two bodies. They were so much like elves, Kinth thought they may be some distant relatives of his that had evolved into this miserable, thieving race, which had obviously not prospered. Or perhaps his own folk had descended from them. Kinth did not want to think of that. The elves were fair and good, and to think that they could have come from such disgusting beings as these was a horrible thought to Kinth.
Dern put his hand on Kinths shoulder.
“We must get on,” he said. “Oron tells me there is a village about nine hundred wing beats from here. That would be about three miles. It will not take long to get there.”
Kinth nodded and had begun to dispose of the bodies, when a dagger appeared at his throat.
* * * * * * *
"Thieves and murderers are not welcome on this road, scum." Sorrine spat, and she applied a little more pressure to the dagger, sending a trickle of blood down the elf's throat. If he was at all afraid, he did not show it.
"If it is so, then do not become one. I would not want your welcome to wane at my account."
Sorrine took an uneasy look at the other man, a staff of solid wood in his hands, and, of all things, a hawk perched upon his shoulder. Sorrine wondered why the bird wasn't ripping the man's shoulder apart. The two of them seemed completely at ease together.
Sorrine was not a fool, and she could hear the reason in the elf's words. With a growl, she removed her dagger, but she did not re-sheathe it.
The staff bearing man smiled.
"You are brave, young one. Though whether your heart is in the right place is yet to come clear to me. Know this. We have traveled long from Sephiroth, the Golden City of the elves. I am Dern, a druid, and this is Kinth, my friend and gaurdian. I assure you, we did not kill these men in cold blood, we were attacked. Now put up your weapons, as we will put up ours, and let us speak as friends."
Sorrine now knew why the hawk did not attack the man. She had heard of druids before, though she had never met one. They were very mysterious. All nature seemed to be at their command, though how it was, Sorrine did not know.
The druid dropped his staff to his side, and motioned for Kinth to do the same wth his weapons. The hawk, however, stayed perched upon Dern's shoulder.
Reluctantly, Sorrine sheathed her dagger, removed her bandoleer and belt, and sat down on the edge of the road with the two travelers, her hand resting upon the hilt of a throwing dirk.
"Here," the elf handed her some food. Bread and a strange type of fruit that Sorrine had never seen before.
"Quanti," he said. "It is sweet. The juice has lots of sugar, among other things. It will keep your strength up." Sorrine took the fruit, without looking at the elf, and took a big bite out of it, realizing for the first time that she had not eaten since that morning, having been so intent on getting ready to leave.
Kinth had been right, it was sweet.
Just then, the elf forcefully grabbed her wrist and with his spare hand, forced her to look into his eyes. In a flash, her dirk had left its sheath. He was too close for a throw, so Sorrine found herself once again with a blade at his throat.
Kinth smiled, and released her, bowing his head apologetically.
"You have been crying," he said. "Do not let my roughness anger you, I was hasty. Please, tell us your story."
Sorrine threw down her dirk, finding to her surprise that she wanted to trust these two, though she knew that she shouldn't just yet, especially after the way the elf had just treated her. But she found she wanted someone that she could call a friend, that she could travel with. Without Krail or Deneri by her side, she felt desperately alone, a feeling she hadn't felt since she was very little, and she did not like it. Her emotions proved more powerful, and overidded her instincts. She would trust these two, and perhaps travel with them.
Dern looked at Kinth, and Sorrine understood the unspoken warning between them, for she could sense it as well. They were being watched. She had expected it before. That was why her dirk lay not in its sheath, but on the ground beside her, her hand not six inches away.
She pushed herself a little closer to the two men, and began her story, completely aware of her surroundings.
The scraping of flint and tinder in the courtyard rang out, breaking the silence. Even the soldier’s soft blowing afterward seemed unnaturally loud. But the sparks flew, and the torch lit. Raising it high above his head, the soldier rose, his chain mail coat jingling, and the plain, sea stone brooch around his neck that marked him as a captain of the foot gleaming faintly in the torchlight. Sorrine watched him from the shadows, holding her breath as he passed not so far from where she was hiding. His hand was resting on his sword hilt, and his face was stern. Sorrine had no intentions of coming face to face with that man. Quietly, she slipped past the gatehouse.
With the courtyard behind her, Sorrine knew she had only passed the first stage. All of Castle Lir was silent. It was frightening to Sorrine. She forced herself to breath slowly, each breath seeming to last an eternity. Silently, she advanced. The second set of doors she had squeezed through dissapeared around a corner, and only a few steps later, she heard them slam. She could not help herself. Her fear welled up around her, congregating in her throat, trying to push its way out through her mouth. She resisted, staying silent. Huddling in the darkest place against the wall she could find, she closed her eyes as the first sounds of footsteps reached her ears. She heard voices; a man yelling orders, and others responding. She couldn't listen to the words. Gripping the dagger at her belt, Sorrine waited for them to find her.
But they never came. The voices continued, and Sorrine heard another door slam to her left. Somebody pounded on the door, yelling. Apparently, it was not opened, for shortly, a constant thumping began. The door-banger had started to kick it, Sorrine decided. He was joined by others.
Slowly, Sorrine opened her eyes. The hallway was still empty. Gathering herself, she drew the dagger and crept toward the sounds.
The sound of many feet pounding against the door grew louder, and mingled with the sound of rough male voices. Krail could make out the sound of swords being drawn. He looked wildly about for an escape, but there was none. The windows were locked and boarded from the outside, and the wood was thick. Deneri had already tried to knock them down. It would take too long.
Suddenly, the feet stopped pounding against the splintering door, and Krail could hear the voices more clearly. Soon, he heard the grunting of straining men. They were carrying something heavy. That could not be good. Krail took one more wild look around the room, and, seeing nothing of use, drew the rusty sword that was his fathers, watched as Deneri drew his weapon, and awaited the oncoming doom.
The first hit of the battering ram put a crack in the board holding the door shut. The second shattered it, and the strength of six men barreled through the pile of debris the two friends had compiled. Armed and armored, the men rushed into the room. With a mighty yell, Krail let out a wild yell and charged. He didn’t know if Deneri had followed him into battle, he was pre-occupied with staying alive.
The castle men were taken aback by the determination of this boy who had no skill with a blade and they hesitated, causing them some pain. One man fell back screaming and clutching his hand where Krail’s swing had connected with his entire weight behind it. Krail absentmindedly knew this would not last. Soon, the men would gather themselves, and then he would be dead. Hoping for any kind of respite, Krail made a few more wild swings and backed off, picking up anything he could find and tossing it at his adversaries, trying to slow them down. A voice lifted over the sounds of battle.
“Fall back! They’re not going anywhere! We’ll place a sentry. We’re needed elsewhere, men!”
The castle guard backed away slowly, with their weapons raised, ready to counter any attack from the two young boys. Krail took the opportunity to glance at Deneri. His face was covered in blood from a small would on his cheek, but he did not seem seriously hurt. He was lucky, Krail knew. That wound could easily have been fatal. His moment was over, and he turned back to regard their enemies. They were well outside the doorway. Together, Krail and Deneri moved forward to slam the doors shut once again. Just before they closed, Krail caught a glimpse of a stern face that showed no mercy. That was the captain, Krail knew. He helped Deneri re-enforce the door once again with the rooms furniture, though he did not think it would do much good. He expected to die here, but he would not go easily. Throwing the last chair into the pile, he threw himself down on the bare floor, exhausted and knocked his head against the sack of gold and jewelry he and Deneri had stolen. He laughed.
“While we’re here, we might as well divide it up.” Deneri forced a smile, and they sat there in the center of the floor and divided their spoils, while on the other side of the doors, a real battle was about to begin.