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Ayden's Trek (1/3 of Chapter 1) of complete book

By , Belpre, OH



The wind showed signs of early winter’s approach the whole morning had the unmistakable scent of snow on it. It tossed Ayden’s blond hair into his keen blue eyes. They were like the ocean before a storm, calm and dark. Those fourteen year old eyes had seen much that grown men could only dream about. There were parts of the forest which only revealed itself to Ayden, and others which he himself had still to see. He had been raised by the wolves, and educated by the trees, and challenged by the mountains. He was their son, a friend of the lynx, and play mate of the otters, and deer. But he was also a hunter like his brother the bear, and a forager like the mammoth that on occasion chased him just for fun. He did not hesitate to kill for food, but he was not all wild. He could speak elfish, write, and read too, and he did venture into the city of Calarah at times, to buy sweets, and to sell fine flint. But now he would hunt, the winter would be a bitter one, and he needed meat.
He knelt before the curtain of emerald pines and pressed one finger into the shallow print of a deer that had grazed here only a half candle mark ago. The wider stance of the hind quarters indicated that it was a male, and judging from the stride and height at which it had chewed branches it was still not full grown. The low branches had been chewed clear of bark and the lichen on the trunk was nibbled clean off. There had been a small patch of frosty mountain grass on the barren rock sheet, but it was now chewed to the base.
Ayden took his bow string from a pouch and bent his bow to string it. First he looped the string on one end the using his shin to support that end he bent the bow outward over the inside of his other thigh and pulled the string over the remaining end. He flexed it to embed the string in the worn notches that had supported it in place for some years.
Perhaps it is time to make a new one, he thought as he broke the threshold between the mountain side and the forest. He knew the forest better than any other hunter in Calarah, he knew were the stags battled and where the fire fairies slept during winter, he knew each ruined castle and what the trees in the far south spoke of, but most importantly he knew where to find game.
An hour later he heard the young stag walking along a cranberry lined bank. The early cranberries had come out and would be there all through winter. Ayden made a mental note to pick them in the following days, if the hunt proved successful. If he failed to kill the stag he would turn around and go the other way where he knew a group of doe grazed regularly.
Ayden was only a few paces behind the young red deer, the shore of the river was rocky and the curtain of cranberries on the left was so thick that the deer would be trapped when Ayden flushed it. The river on the right could not be crossed, it was fast as ever and even a bear would drown in it if it tried. The people of Calarah had always believed that even the prey needed a fair chance to escape, and he always honored this tradition. Ayden crept silently closer; he was right behind the stag. He watched its small antlers dip as it drank from a pool of water by the river’s edge. He drew an arrow and examined it for just a moment. Ayden knew each arrow in his quiver and the slight differences between them. With a single deliberate movement of the toe he let slide an unstable rock, it was by far enough to alert the deer. It pricked its ears and looked back a second before it darted off down the bank, its splayed hooves clattered loudly on the slate. It’s weaving run was no defense, Ayden let loose his arrow and reached for the second. The young stag ran on with a bleeding side and a rock gave way. The stag fell over onto the sharp stones, but before it hit the ground a second arrows pierced its side. The stag didn’t stir for long when Ayden reached it; its spirit had gone to the sunset. Ayden dragged the body into the shallow part of the river and pulled it along on a cord made of rawhide until he reached a large clearing about a half candelmark downstream. Nightfall was approaching, and Ayden took to skinning then butchering the stag. He slit the belly and washed the organs hanging the emptied stomach and intestines on tree limbs to dry in the wind. He would re-soak, and rework them during the long winter months to make a water bag out of the stomach, and string from the intestines. With flint and a rod of steel he built a small fire by the river’s edge on a slab of slate and hung meat slivers on a frame of branches. While a small portion of the meat was drying he took to curing the hide. He scraped it clean of fat and meat and allowed it to dry by the fire for a short while. As it dried Ayden removed the brain from the skull and a small portion of the liver. After some searching he found a large slab of slate that had a concave shape to it. He crushed the liver and brains in the slate bowl and mixed in some water. This he heated in the embers of his fire until it was warm enough so that he could just barely stand to put his hand in it. Ayden spread the hide on the ground by the fire and pounded the strong smelling soup into it with a round rock. He let the hide dry in a tree so that it would last until he re-worked it in the winter. Ayden returned to butchering what was left of the deer. His hands were red to the elbow and he sat down to see the fruit of his labors. It would take much of tomorrow to finish the butchering and all of the fallowing day to smoke and dry the meat. Over the course of summer and fall he had dried and smoked the meat of two doe and a young ox. He only needed half a deer more to last the winter. The bears were not yet sleeping and the wolves would have smelled the kill long ago. He felt hungry and mashed a handful of cranberries and ate it with some of the dried meat. Ayden heard a pleading grunt-whine and felt a bristly tong lick his bloodied hands. The female wolf, who lead a small pack, was asking for Ayden to share his kill. Three other wolves were close by all watching him with their mysterious eyes. This was all that was left of her pack after a stampeding oxen herd had accidentally killed the others a few winters ago. Ayden knew two of the cubs since they were born, but the old male was always cautious around him. “Were have you been?” Ayden got up and tossed her the lungs, then gave a kidney to each cub. He gave the old male a soft slice of fat, the male looked thin and sickly. Ayden didn’t think he would last the winter. As usual they did not reply, they only whined affectionately at him. Wolves were not very talkative, only when it came to the hunt did they really communicate. The lynx, the bears, and birds were the ones to talk to if you were looking for a friend. The pack, like most of the forest, was his family. They had always shared their kills with him as he did now. Ayden started to hack off one of the stag’s hind legs and after some work he took the heavy leg and offered it to the pack. Soon after they had filled their bellies they left taking the rest of the leg to their den in the East.
For a while Ayden fiddled with grass and called the trees spirits to eat with him, they only whispered to him of strangers, and did not emerge from their earthly husks to eat even though they were hungry. He listened to their recounts of what other trees had said in the south. “There is a group of Lore in the South they are under attack,” the trees whispered to him. “Who are they fighting? Is it goblins or maybe demons?” “Twenty goblin kings on horseback and their footmen have ambushed their party. It would be very unwise for you to go there young Ayden.” They had read his mind, before he himself had even known it. “You could at least tell me what they are like if you don’t want me to see for myself.”
Ayden had never seen a goblin before; they were a mystery to most of the north. The goblins never made it to the far north, nor had they any reason to. Gray skinned hairy beasts that ate spoiled meat and ash, they were the perfect characters for mothers to scare their misbehaving children with. “They are much like the stories, Ayden. Fairies are said to nest in their nostrils, and this is true for some are so ugly you would think them a grotesque rock. The first goblins were put together from left over animal parts, and so their children resemble them in almost every way. They are cruel, but mostly out of ignorance, it is their leaders who know kindness but choose to be spiteful. Some have bird feet, and others have horns or tails, or wings. They burn forests and waste the gift of the prey. They are much worse than you can possibly imagine.” The trees talked among themselves for a long while before Ayden bobbed to sleep.
He was too tired for dreams, but he slept for several hours before he was woken with a jolt.“There are six of them, run, Ayden.” The trees woke Ayden to a startling realization of danger. He could not see them but he could hear the goblins with his keen elf ears. Had they smelled the meat? A cold chill ran down his spine and into his limbs, he felt confidence envelope him. They would likely kill him for it, but if he ran now and left the meat he would lose it all. He would not run away, not without killing at least a few of them. “I want to see one,” he thought to himself. But he feared that if he did see one, he might be paralyzed with fear, and they would cut his throat. “Run!” the trees whispered in horror “They will kill you.” This was the last thing Ayden heard from the trees before a girl screamed in front of him. He dove into the cranberry bushes. The thick branches broke and stabbed him in the ribs sharply.By the light of the moon he could see two goblins to his right running to the left were the girl had screamed. The goblins were carrying heavy maces and daggers and were covered in leather armor. Ayden could see that some were barefoot, the rocks here were sharp and a cut foot out here could easily mean a lost leg. He looked closer and saw that their bare feet, were actually bare hooves. His stomach did a flip as he saw the rest of their bodies. One resembled a boar more than anything else, but the other had hints of bat, raven, and boar all in one. It had a single black feathered wing and another leathery one. He had to help the girl, but where was his bow? Ayden looked to where the fire had been. There it was by the embers, along with his quiver, and arrows. Without hesitation he shot out grabbing his strung bow, and shouldering his quiver. Ayden ducked behind a boulder, he doubted that they had heard him even though it was a windless night. He let fly two arrows at the boar like goblins. The one with wings had just leapt into the air as Ayden shot it. They squealed like wounded boars for a while but both died quickly either from the arrows or from falling headlong onto the rocks. Ayden crept quietly through high grass to where the girl had screamed and saw in the moonlight four other goblins but not the girl. Steel on steel clanged sharply covering any noise Ayden might have made. He could still not see the girl. One goblin roared out as the invisible sword wounded him in the side. If only Ayden could see her he could help. For a second he saw her outline against the moon and he loosed an arrow on the goblin farthest from her, a moment later she killed the remaining goblins. “Where are you?” she called out to Ayden who was still hiding in the grass. He didn’t reply for a moment trying to find her form in the dark, then when he finally did he replied, “What do you want?” Though Ayden had helped her defeat the goblins he did not know who she was or if he should have shot her as well. If she was human or an evil, shape shifting, nymph she was a threat, only the elves and darkings were to be trusted. “All I want is to thank you.” She began moving towards him, “Come any closer and you’ll end up like those goblins.” “Why would you shoot me when you’ve just saved me? You should have let them kill me.” There was silence for a moment but soon enough she began again. “Why don’t I go to the fire and you can follow me, I’ll put my sword down when I get there.” Ayden turned his head and looked to his camp; the fire had only been embers before. But now the rising wind had blown it to life again, and it hissed silently. “Alright,” This meant that she would not be able to see him from the glow of the fire, but he would be able to see her quite well. She walked to the fire calmly. When she turned Ayden was too amazed to fallow right away. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Though all darklings and elves were beautiful, she was exceptionally so. She had black hair that reached the middle of her back like an ocean of obsidian around her face. She was tall and had mesmerizing light blue eyes that were the color of the summer sky. She put her sword on the slate, taking care not to let the blade slide least the rocks dull it’s finely hewn edge. She stood there scanning the dark for Ayden until he stepped into the illuminated ring where the small fire was dying out. “You must be wondering why I am here with goblins on my tail in the middle of the night. I’ve been separated from my group for two days and …” “Are they the Lore?” Ayden interrupted “Yes.” She looked puzzled for a moment, not sure how he knew this, but continued. “I must talk to you of some very important matters.” Ayden didn’t like strangers they were not always kind or trust worthy, but she was one of the fairy folk, and they were to be trusted. “Are you a darkling?” Ayden asked “I always thought that to be obvious, but yes I am more or less.” “What do you mean more or less? Are you part human?” “I’m part elf like you.” There seemed to be a moment of indecision before Ayden replied, “I don’t…” The forest penetrated his thoughts brushing them aside and replacing them with their own. “Help her, Ayden, the way we have always helped one another.” “…Alright talk.” The forest was always right, and he would do as they saw fit. He could tell though that the forest was not angered when he had gone against their warning. Had they been testing him? “My name is Luna of the Fox clan.” She reached out to shake his hand, and Ayden saw that it was bleeding. “Let me help you.” Ayden placed his bow far from the fire, and unsholdered his quiver to remove a wad of dry yarrow leaves from a side pocket. He gave it to her and she smelled it before chewing the bitter leaves into a paste. She put the paste on the wound and within a few moments the bleeding stopped. Luna washed it off with water from her water skin while Ayden cut a thin strip of deer gut from his kill. “Thank you, Ayden.” Luna looked up at him from her hand. There was something strange in her eyes. Ayden wasn’t sure if he liked it or not. “I haven’t told you my name how do you know it?” “I can tell you in a moment, but first let me sit down I feel dizzy” Ayden helped her sit on a shelf of slate then offered her some of the roasted stag. He made sure to put himself between her and her sword. He wanted to know more about this mesmerizing girl, and more importantly he wanted to know how she knew his name. Could she hear the forest speaking? Had they told her? And why would they do that? “Several days before the attack we came across a group of Perfect. We asked them about you, and they told us they knew of you, and asked the forest to guide us. When the goblins attacked I was separated, and now I am here.” She explained. “Why were you looking for me?” Ayden saw no use in finding a lonely hunter. Why would anyone look for him? “This may sound strange to you, but you are not who you think. You are the key to our problems, in fact the problems of all of Enland.” Ayden gave her a brief unbelieving look, but perhaps he could be of service in some way. She continued after looking down at her feet, and Ayden could see even in the fire light that she was blushing, and that she was holding back a smile. “You are the lost king, the son of Algendor.” Ayden didn’t say anything, It was clear she was ill, or otherwise had an addled mind. He went and put wood on the fire, and brought out a rawhide cup, and filled it with water from the stream. He offered it to her “Here drink some, you will feel better.” Luna looked up at him, clearly astounded. “Did you hear what I just said?” “Yes, and you heard me too, drink up.” “I’m being serious.” “As am I” Luna drank it all, never taking her eyes off of him. “No you don’t understand, Ayden, the perfect assured us that you are Ayden of the Stag Clan.” “See that’s where you made your mistake, my name is Ayden of the Forest, I have no elf or darkling kin.” “You do have kin, your father was Algendor, and your mother Emeltha. You are our king.” “Oh of course I am, and you must be goddess Aurora, I didn’t recognize you in the fire light.” Luna frowned at Ayden’s obvious sarcasm. “I’m not joking,” She said. “Either you bumped your head, or the goblins did it for you.” “I didn’t bump my head!” She argued, “You are the king whether you believe it or not.” “Ok I don’t believe you, but we should finish healing your hand.” “Don’t change the subject, you are the king and I can prove it. Here, do you recognize this?” Luna reached in her cloak and withdrew a small silver pendant. She handed it to him, and he took it from her. It was a simple circle with a stag engraved in it, the edges were decorated with copper and silver leaves. Ayden recognized it immediately. It was the symbol of the Lore, the stag represented the royal family’s clan. “So what? You could have still bumped your head.

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