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Outcast (Part 19)
Only a short amount of time, I had told myself. I was stupid. I barely got away. I had gone into my home village. Or what was left of it. Bandits had burned most of the housed to the ground. Several of the men noticed me. They caught me and took me to their ‘leader’, a skinny, dirty man who was sloppily drinking out of a mug. On the table in front of him, was a large platter full of fruit and a another platter held a large roast chicken. My mouth watered, despite my predicament. He stared at me. I was probably dirty. He dismissed his men, and continued to stare at me. I was tired and obviously he had no manners. I sat down in a relatively clean chair.
“Did I say you could sit?” he said in a gravelly voice.
“No. But you have no manners. And I’m tired.”
He grinned, revealing brilliantly white teeth, sharply contrasting with his filthy skin. “True.”
“Is there a reason I’m here?”
“Well,” he belched and scratched his head. “you wandered into my village.”
“I am just passing through.”
“You have to pay a fee.”
“I don’t have any money.”
He looked at me thoughtfully. “No money. That could be a problem.”
I stood up. “I really need to go.” I turned and started walking to a large open window.
“You’re not leaving without paying.”
“And how would I pay?”
He grinned again, more of a sneer, really. “You could come to bed with me.”
I stared at him. “There is no chance of that.” I swung my legs out of the window and hit the ground running.
A crash and roar came from the building and the man burst out of the window in pursuit. I had an advantage. I was faster. But there was the problem of the men milling about. They were all quick to obey their leader’s command.
“CATCH HER!” was the command.
Every man I passed tried to grab me. I dodged out of the way for most of them. One caught me. I stared directly into his eyes, ignoring the pain it was causing behind my own eyes. I wasn’t Memory Gazing. I had heard of Moon Holders controlling the minds of another person, and I wanted to know if I could do it. The man got a faraway look in his eyes and let go of me. I ran a couple of yard and looked back. The man was staring after me. I ordered him to attack his comrades and he pulled a sword out of his belt and turned on the leader. I only felt a little bad when the leader killed him. One less bandit in the World. There was a path leading out of the village. I followed the path into the forest. I slowed to a walk and listened. It sounded like a fight had broken out in the village. I came to the clearing of ferns where I first met Moondancer. Actually, I hadn’t really met him until the next day when I woke up. I stopped. There was the path, but I wasn’t sure whether that was the right way. Moongazer hadn’t said anything about going off the path, or staying on it. I sat down slowly and quietly, half expecting Moondancer to fly out of nowhere. But he never did. After several minutes of resting, I got up and decided to follow the path. For an hour I walked north. There were several villages, but I didn’t stop. Soon tall, white mountains rose in the distance. The setting sun made them look pink. I desperately wanted to get there before dark, but saw no chance of it. I looked around. A bird took flight out of a tree. I slapped my forehead. I was being stupid. I could fly. I took a running leap and was in the air. The same bird was flying directly in my path. I nearly hit it, but it dropped, startled. I smiled and turned my attention back the mountains in front of me. It was cooler, now that it was evening. I was eager to get back to Arga and Nightflame. And Moonrider. I felt a sense of urgency to get back tonight. A gust of wind from the south pushed me faster, and I allowed it to. I flew over a trail that was barely visible, due to the fog that lay thick on the ground below me. At the end of the trail was a valley. The mountains for a kind of ring around the valley. There were brightly colored tents all over the valley. These would be the Moon Holders. I heard a screech and looked back in front of me. A blur of white dove at me. I dropped a couple of feet to avoid being hit in the face with a sharp beak. It was Arga.
Calm down, Arga.
Arga obeyed surprisingly fast. I angled down and Arga followed me. I landed in the center of the valley. People stared at me. It might have been strange to see a girl drop out of the sky. But there was no way to tell. There were men and women, boys and girls, old and young. It was a surprising number. Arga landed on my right shoulder. Several people on that side gasped when I turned my head toward Arga.
Falcon-friend’s prince is waiting. Arga fluttered off my shoulder and flew in front of me.
I was going to respond, but I noticed that as I followed Arga, the people were bowing. I looked back and noticed that I had gained a sea of people in my wake. I shrugged and guessed that they knew who I was, because of my eyes, and walked on. Arga landed on the ground in front of a gold and grey tent. The tent was large and round, with a conical roof. I noticed Nightwing and Nightflame grazing beside the river. Nightflame lifted his head and nickered. Then he trotted over and nuzzled me. The opening on the tent opened wider and Moonrider came out. He stared at me. I stared back. He had a look of disbelief and relief on his face. I smiled and pushed Nightflame away gently. He huffed and went back to grazing. Moonrider moved over to me in two steps and pulled me into a tight hug. He was squeezing me so tight that I couldn’t breathe.
“You’re hurting me!” I said.
“Sorry. Are you alright?” He let go of me.
“Yes. I’m fine.” We were silent for a minute. “Moonrider?”
“Signing Deer is—”
“One of Vlad’s Cloud Bringers”
“Forget about that, Moonbeam.”
I looked behind me. There was a crowd of people that had followed me. They were talking amongst themselves. A man shouldered himself to the front. It was Moondancer. He stared at me for a while, and then looked over my shoulder at Moonrider. “Is this the Princess?”
Moondancer threw himself on the ground in front of me. “Forgive me, Princess.”
I fought back a smile. I never thought that Moondancer would apologize for his actions. I thought for a while. I wasn’t sure whether I could forgive him. It was almost betrayal that he had sold me, but he had never liked me anyway. I was aware that everyone had gone completely silent. “Of course I forgive you, Moondancer. If you hadn’t done what you did, I wouldn’t know who I was.”
The crowd cheered, although it was more of a roar, with the amount of people. I helped Moondancer up and smiled at him. He gave me a small smile, but he looked nervous, and I wondered again, what had happened in those two years. I didn’t hate him, but I disliked him still. Moonrider touched my shoulder. I looked up at him. He jerked his head in the direction of the large gold and grey tent. I followed him in. the interior was different than what I thought a tent would look like. There was a curtain hanging from the ceiling. I assumed that there were beds behind the curtain. There was a low table to one side. A leather tunic with gold inlays was draped on the back of a chair. My bow and quiver sat propped on the chair. There was a longbow beside it. The bow was etched with gold and silver. Its quiver had the same design in gold and silver. It was filled with razor sharp arrows. Dafar sat on the ground in the middle of the tent, cleaning a sword. He looked up and smiled. I smiled back at him. Moonrider led me over to the chair with the tunic. He held it out to me.
“This is the same design as Moongazer’s tunic, the one she wore into battle. The bow and quiver are hers.”
I ran my fingers over the soft leather. “This is real, isn’t it?” I whispered.
“The leather or the gold. Both are real.”
“No. This war.”
Moonrider didn’t reply, but I already knew the answer.
“Should I put this on?” I asked.
“You can. You don’t have to.”
“No, I want to.”
“You can change back there.” Moonrider nodded to the curtain.
I lifted the tunic off the chair and went behind the curtain. As I had assumed, it was the sleeping area. I laid the tunic on the bed and pulled mine off. I slipped the new one on. The inside was lined with black silk and was smooth against my skin. I opened the curtain. Moonrider stared at me, as if he had never seen me before. Then he handed me the longbow and quiver. I buckled the quiver on my back and the slung the bow onto my back. Moonrider nodded.
“You’ll have to go see Moondancer. He has the last pieces to complete this.”
“I can’t go outside.”
Moonrider stuck his head out of the tent. When he pulled his head back in, he was laughing.
“I’ll never get past all those people.”
“I’ll go with you.” Dafar said.
“I have a better idea.” Moonrider went outside and came back a few seconds later with Nightflame following him. Both came into the tent. “Nightflame can get you there without problem.”
I nodded and mounted Nightflame. Moonrider was about to step out of the way, but Dafar stopped him.
“We should go with her. To make it more formal.”
Moonrider nodded and I rolled my eyes. The men walked out of the tent and mounted their horses. I rode out and the three horsed stood there patiently while we looked at the huge crowd. Arga flew down and landed on my shoulder. I winced as her sharp talons dug into my skin. Moonrider moved in front of me and Dafar behind. The crowd parted for us. Some of them looked at me with admiration, but most of them looked at me with fear in their eyes. A small girl ran out in front of Nightflame. He almost stepped on her, but stopped in time. The girl shrieked and fell to the ground. I jumped to the ground and picked her up.
“Are you alright?” I asked.
“Good.” I sat her down and dusted her off. “What’s your name?”
“That is a very pretty name.”
She looked at me with big brown eyes filled with fear.
“Would you like to ride my horse with me?”
“I can do that?”
I nodded. “He’s very nice.”
“Can I touch him?”
“Of course.” I lifted her up guided her hand as she rubbed Nightflame’s nose. I looked up to see Moonrider smiling and nodded at me. I put Moonstar on Nightflame’s back and mounted behind her. “Hold on, Moonstar.”
She did. I nudged Nightflame with my knees and he moved forward slowly, sensing that there was and inexperience and slightly frightened person. i put my arms around Moonstar and she gripped my arm. I felt her relax. She looked up at me. I smiled down at her.
“Can I get down now? Please.”
I nodded and stopped Nightflame. I helped Moonstar down and let her skip back to the crowd. The crowd was loud now, talking to each other. I kicked Nightflame into a fast trot. We came to Moondancer’s cave quickly. He invited us in. I looked around. The place hadn’t changed from when I had been here. Moonrider held a seat out for me and I sat down. He took the seat next to me. Dafar stayed by the door. I wished that he wasn’t so formal all the time. Moondancer sat across from me, but never looked me in the eye.
“You said you have the pieces to complete this.” Moonrider said.
Moondancer nodded and stood. He led us to that back room that I had been forbidden to go in. There was a desk to one side covered in scrolls and books. In the center of the room was a dais. On the dais was a gold circlet with a white Moonstone in the center. A soft glow emanated from the stone. A chest stood against the smooth stone wall across from the desk. Moondancer opened it and pulled out a long hooded cloak, a pair of tall, brown leather boots and a leather arm guard. He handed them to Moonrider, who handed them to me.
“Put them on.” He said.
I pulled my old black boots off and slipped the new ones on. They were soft, almost like moccasins, but sturdy, like my old boots. I strapped the arm guard onto my right arm, since that was my bow arm. The cloak was the perfect size. It seemed that I was the same height that Moongazer had been. It looked heavy, but the cloak was lightweight. Moonrider looked at Moondancer, who shook his head. Moonrider shrugged and moved to the dais. He picked up the circlet and walked over to me. It fit perfectly. It was made to sit on one’s forehead and it did. The Moonstone was in the direct center of my forehead. I reached up and touched it. I was a little overwhelmed. I didn’t think that I was ready to be a Princess, or a Queen. Moonrider stepped back and nodded.
“You’re ready.” he said.
I blinked. Moonrider seemed so sure. Moonrider smiled. I smiled back and nodded, still not sure that I was ready. We walked back into the front. Dafar stared at me. I was being stared at a lot. We walked out and I mounted Nightflame. Moonrider and Dafar mounted as well. I shook my head.
“I need to think.” I told them.
Moonrider nodded and I nudged Nightflame. He snapped open his wings and took off. We soared through the cold air, as it was nighttime and the air in the mountains at night is cold. A bank of clouds moved away from the full moon. I looked at it. It was larger than usual tonight. I took the circlet off my head and stared at it. The Moonstone reflected the moon. It had been white in the cave, but now it was glowing with such intensity that the area around me was as bright as day. I put the circlet back on and nudged Nightflame down and we landed in front of the tent. I slid off and walked inside. Moonrider was pacing the floor. A serious looking man with a scar on his right cheek was standing with his arms crossed. An angry looking girl my age was sitting on the floor, scowling at no one in particular. She scowled even deeper when I walked in and gave me a scathing glance and then turned her attention back to the rope in her hands. Dafar stood by the door. I took my cloak off. The inside of the tent was warm. Dafar took the cloak out of my hands and laid it over a chair. I was going to have to get used to Dafar doing things for me. All my life I had been doing things on my own, then in a single action that was changed.
“What’s happened?” I asked.
Moonrider stopped pacing. “Moonarcher,” he gestured to the scar faced man. “Has spotted Cloud Bringers.”
I looked at Moonarcher.
“They will be here by tomorrow.” He said gravely.