When a combative Celtic princess and a feral boy raised by wild cats in the ruined jungles of a lost world join forces, neither tribal power struggles nor the attacks of jungle beasts can separate them. But will they be able to survive the monstrous invading horde lying in wait in the shifting Otherworld mists on the edge of the jungle?
Edana is a volatile crown princess who'd rather be a warrior any day. When her tribe is banished from Earth, Edana jumps at the opportunity to take charge of the Connariian war band. But between being saddled with an ambitious, amorous partner and co-captain, the ominous prophecies of her know-it-all druid of a baby sister, and the mysterious wild man in the jungle, Edana's dreams of martial glory are fading.
Torchann is the beast-raised last son of an extinguished race, master of a dying world. As the boundaries between worlds fade and foreign invaders menace, Torchann will have to choose fight for the only home he's ever known, or sacrifice it all to battle alongside a girl he's just met and her alien family.
A story about home, belonging & leading well. YA fantasy adventure.
Serial webfiction; new chapters debut Tuesdays.
20 Mar 2017
Flame of the Connarii is on hiatus until further notice.
07 Mar 2017
Recap: A stranger, Torchan, materializes out of the jungle, warning of danger and offering to guide the Connarii away to the far edge of the jungle. Toryn decides to trust him. Camlin, working to build a base of power for himself and draw a force away under his own leadership, and Edana, urging escape from the jungle, aren’t so sure. Edana is fascinated by the man that lives in the trees as comfortably as in a house, but also suspicious. Torchan challenges her, alone at night, intervenes when she encounters an Atarrh, a snakelike inhabitant of the jungle, and offers to teach her to survive in the jungle.
The ground moved so fast, Edana could hardly see where one tree ended and the next began. It was the most amazing thing, like swimming down a river, like the most perfect battle, like riding the summer waves, a dance where she spun and jumped and fell all at once. The ground no longer pulled at her; she rode on the wind.
Does he feel like this all the time?
Edana leaned her head back to smile up at Torchan. He grinned back, not even looking to his next handhold as he swung forward. He had Edana clamped to his side with one arm, while the other arm and both legs shot forward without pause, grabbing vines and branches, swinging both of them through the jungle many feet off the ground. Coming to a small cliff, he let their momentum carry them off the edge into the air. Edana shrieked as they tumbled through the branches of a tree, then laughed with wonder and amazement when Torchan grabbed a fistful of vines and began their forward motion once again. After several minutes more, she could tell he was slowing down.
“What’s the matter?” she asked as Torchan slowed to balance on a large branch.
He removed his arm from around her waist. “Look!” he pointed, and Edana realized that there was only a thin layer of greenery in front of them, and not the dense jungle growth that she had come to expect. She reached out, parted the hanging vines, and gasped. A large, roughly circular clearing wrapped around the most enormous tree she had ever seen, and halfway up the tree was built a platform the size of a house. Climbing up in terraces from that single enormous floor were several smaller platforms that ascended into the waving branches high above the rest of the forest.
“My home,” Torchan said.
He dropped off the branch to the ground, which was now quite close, then reached up to lift her down. They pushed through the thin layer of brush to stand in the clearing. Edana tentatively approached the tree, only realizing as she looked back that one of the wildcat-like cofu had followed them, and was now rubbing around Torchan’s legs, rumbling out a deep, gravelly purr.
Edana trailed one hand along the smooth bark as she circled the enormous tree, looking for lower branches or a ladder. She made it all the way around – over 30 paces - without finding any handhold nearer than twenty feet up, and turned to stare at Torchan. His lips quirked up.
“I’d forgotten. You can’t on your own. Climb on my back.” Torchan knelt and waved Edana forward.
Edana just looked at him, blinking. She’d forgotten, in the elation of flight, that she hardly knew this man, and didn’t mean to trust him. But it was a long way back to the camp, and Torchan waited patiently on his knees, relaxed, non-threatening. Edana stepped toward him and gingerly clung to his back while he stood and adjusted her arms for a firmer grip around his shoulders.
“Try not choke me on the way up,” he said, and Edana felt his laughter through her knees where they clamped to his sides.
She nearly fell off as Torchan sprang an absurd distance straight up, then shimmied along the smooth bark using invisible handholds, until he reached the lowest branch. From there he leaped and swung his way up the tree until he reached the broad lower platform.
Edana tilted her head back to gaze in awe. An upwardly spiraling series of platforms decreased steadily in size until they swayed in the wind on the slender upper branches.
“Did you build all this?” Edana asked Torchan in wonder.
He shook his head, a mischievous smile dancing on his lips: “Only the upper ones.”
“Only the…? But there are so many. That must have taken years! If you only worked on the smaller platforms, who built the main one? Are there others here too?” Edana straightened her back and widened her stance, scanning the surface of the platform she stood on, and the edges of those above for enemies slinking in the shadows.
She now remembered her suspicions earlier that day, and cursed her foolishness in allowing herself to be separated from the rest of the group. Her sentries had been left without their captain. With only Camlin for a leader; they’d be lost in an attack! And what would that silly, power-hungry boy be up to in her absence? Probably weaseling his way into the confidences of her troops while Torchan’s hordes snuck in through the bushes!
Edana pivoted to glare at Torchan, but saw only confusion and hurt in his eyes.
“There are no others. I already told you. They died many years ago.” Torchan’s eyes were dark, the muscles in his face and body tense and defensive. He didn’t need enhanced senses to perceive Edana’s distrust. “They built the main platform before I was born, died soon after. Why do you not believe me?”
Edana stared at him for a few moments longer, took another long look around for movement, and let out a slow breath, her stance relaxing incrementally.
“I’m sorry. I can’t seem to stop angering people today. “
Torchan reached out and took her hand. “Enough. Left one moment alone, you get into trouble. Come with me.”
Startled, Edana stared at Torchan’s strange face, almost missing the subtle look of amusement written on his dark skin. He tugged at her wrist, leading her towards a gently sloping branch. This time, instead of carrying her, he guided her slowly up the network of branches and sturdy platforms, up to the highest point they could both reach without tipping off into the misty air.
This platform was several yards higher than the other trees, so that Edana could gaze for miles in every direction. Even so, she saw no larger clearings; neither did she see the edge of the jungle. She stared at the miles of treetops softly moving in the breeze, at the subtle hints of green and blue and red, always red, among the many-toned grey of the late night. She was just about to ask Torchan if the sky was ever clear enough to see the moon, or stars, when she felt him move away from her.
“We should go back now, before your people get worried,” he said softly.
Edana turned and looked around the platform, then down. For a moment, she felt a pang of sadness for this meager living, with none of the possessions or companions that give colour to life. Then she remembered the sheer joy of racing through the jungle. Torchan’s life, though different, was not without its pleasures.
She let him help her out of the tree and back into the jungle.
This time, as Torchan was picking up speed on his breathless path through the treetops, Edana ducked out from under his arm. He had swung to the next tree already before he could stop and look back for her. She was laughing as she swung ahead of him, alternating branches and vines from arm to arm, using her feet only for balance against trunks and large branches, but moving fast nonetheless. Torchan stared, frozen for a moment, then laughed and raced to catch up.
UPDATED: On hiatus until after April 5 Come back next week for Chapter 16 on Tuesday, March 15. In the meantime, why not check out my other webserial, Things Got Out of Hand or a preview of my upcoming book Blind the Eyes?
27 Feb 2017
Recap: A stranger, Torchan, materializes out of the jungle, warning of danger and offering to guide the Connarii away to the far edge of the jungle. Toryn decides to trust him. Camlin, working to build a base of power for himself and draw a force away under his own leadership, and Edana, urging escape from the jungle, aren’t so sure. Edana is fascinated by the man that lives in the trees as comfortably as in a house, but also suspicious. Torchan challenges her, alone at night.
Torchan was back in the tree before Edana could catch her breath, or her balance, and she sat down in the decaying jungle muck without meaning to, dizzy. It took her a moment to recognize the deep purring high above her head as the great cats’ amusement, rumbling even louder as she hissed in response.
Edana whirled away from Torchan and stomped off through the forest, her heart pounding. What was the matter with her? She really had to get it together, but all the tension lately hadn’t been helping. And this conflict – power struggles with that upstart Camlin, diplomacy with beast-men, magical doings and her sister going mad – this was not the kind of conflict she thrived on… or at least, not the kind of conflict she could stick a sword in and call done.
It was easier to be mad at Torchan for making a fool of her, than to deal with her inability to solve the Camlin problem, or the whole lost-in-a-jungle problem, or Aislynn’s ravings, or… how dare he berate her for going off on her own! How dare he follow her! And his claims to be so innocent; for all she knew, he could have been sent as a decoy. He could be leading them into a trap, or waiting to pick her people off one by one. He could eat humans, for all she knew!
Edana stormed through the jungle, squirming through curtains of dangling vines and crushing broad, squishy leaves. Mud and decaying plant matter splashed up onto her clothes and bushes caught at her arms and legs, snagging the hilts of her weapons as she thrashed her way through.
An unusually large and knobby root caught her toe, and Edana seized a thick vine to stop her fall. The vine gave, and she fell to the ground with a muffled cry as it tumbled down beside her. The vine twitched. Then it unraveled from its heap on the ground to reveal four eyes staring unblinkingly at her.
“Don’t move. The atarrh will attack.” A voice whispered from above.
Edana breathed slow and deep through her nose and tried not to look at the glowing eyes of the creature- two eyes to each head, on what otherwise looked like a normal, if unusually large, snake.
She took another breath, and tried not to stare at fangs gleaming from weaving heads. From above and behind the atarrh’s head, a tri-forked branch emerged and sunk lower, to within an inch of the softly hissing beast as it reared back to strike.
“Just hit it already!” Edana screamed, throwing herself back as the atarrh flashed forward and the branch whipped down to arrest the reptile’s movement. Then the creature was thrown up and back against a gray trunk. In the same moment, a gleaming spike of metal grew from the spot where the atarrh’s two heads converged.
Edana looked up to see Torchan clinging upside down with both feet and one hand to a handful of vines, the other arm still extended from the throw. He looked down at her, ignoring the writhing remains.
“The jungle is not safe for you. Atarrh are not the most dangerous of its creatures, and if you are not prepared even they…”
“I can handle a little snake, thanks.” Edana interrupted, shoving up off the ground and taking a few hurried steps back from the corpse and Torchan, who was once again too close for comfort. “I didn’t need your help. I was just surprised.”
She brushed ineffectually at her tunic, only managing to smear mud and slimy green fungus further. Edana twisted her hands around the leather straps to still their trembling. She was furious with herself. Pride of the Connarii indeed! Captain of the guard, warleader – she couldn’t even stay on her own two feet. If Camlin had seen!
Edana heard the thump of Torchan’s feet hitting the ground a split second before he grabbed her shoulders and shook her.
“You-are-not-safe!” he gritted out, giving her a bone-rattling shake with each word. Startled, frightened, embarrassed, and not a little angry, Edana tensed and snapped her head back to stare directly into Torchan’s face. She immediately regretted it. Tears stood out in his eyes, his scarred face twisted in anguished terror. He let go and turned away so quickly that she stumbled and nearly fell again.
Torchan strode to where his rough weapon still pinned the atarrh to the tree and wrapped his hand around the end of it.
“You are the first I have seen since I was small,” Torchan wrenched the shard out of the trunk and caught the atarrh’s remains as they fell. He remained facing the tree, a primitive weapon clenched in one fist, a dead snake dangling from the other. “Every other one like you is gone - destroyed by this place. This is home; I do not fear it- but it. Will. Kill. You. You must be careful until I can lead you out. I can’t… I won’t let there be any more deaths. Do you understand? Not one of you can die- your lives are too precious. You must not be hurt.”
Edana swallowed, at a loss. His emotion seemed genuine, if uncomfortably raw. It could be a trap, a clever show of vulnerability to earn her trust. It could be, if this uncivilized creature had the acting skills of a great storyteller. So, probably not.
Edana reached to her hip and grasped the long knife sheathed there. She pulled it free and held it up between herself and Torchan. He turned at the whisper of the blade leaving its sheathe.
“I have carried this with me always,” her voice was quiet, but not soft. “I have trained from the time that I was barely taller than the length of this blade to wield it against all foes, man or beast. This,“-she extended her staff-“and this, and these,“-brushing the hilt of her sword and fingering the coiled ropes around her arms-“these weapons I am well able to use against any enemy. I was wrong to be angry with you for helping me; it was kindly done, and I thank you, but it is no idle boast when I say that I can protect myself.”
Torchan glanced rapidly from weapon to weapon, his chin low and his eyes dark and unreadable.
“It is my duty and my joy to protect myself and my people from harm.” Edana said evenly. This was not a time for boasting. “I respect your fear and desire to help us, but you must also allow us the freedom to protect ourselves, or we will lose our strength. We will leave this place as soon as possible, and we would be grateful for your assistance in that, as we do not know the terrain.”
She was using the measured tones and cultivated speech of her station. She felt it suited the situation, putting space between her and the man of the jungle even as it calmed his emotion. It also made her deeply uncomfortable, as Torchan wrinkled his forehead and shifted his weight, frowning.
“Look,” she said with a heavy sigh, leaning back slightly and grimacing. “Formality aside; I’m not used to people helping me. I never need help. I’m strong enough and fast enough to take care of myself.”
Torchan let out a huff at that and raised an eyebrow. Edana hurried on over his scorn, “It’s not easy knowing how to act when your whole world changes, ok? I can’t trust anyone or anything right now. My senses, my intuition, my instinct, these help me to react accurately and appropriately to stay on top of every situation. Right now I can’t even trust myself. So I’m sorry for lashing out at you, but I can’t promise not to do it again.”
Torchan’s dark face slowly softened as Edana went on, growing thoughtful, then pained.
“I will help you to find your balance,” he said, reaching a hand out to her. “This place may be dangerous, but it is not as unnatural as it may seem. Come with me.”
21 Feb 2017
Recap: A stranger, Torchan, materializes out of the jungle, warning of danger and offering to guide the Connarii away to the far edge of the jungle. Toryn decides to trust him. Camlin and Edana aren’t so sure. Edana is fascinated by the man that lives in the trees as comfortably as in a house, but also suspicious. She hopes to convince Camlin to stop agitating for a permanent settlement, but fails to persuade him of the dangers of the jungle. Aislynn affirms her concerns, indicating that it’s an early sign of ancient power returning to the people.
Edana stomped through the jungle, done with sisters and magical doings and mysteries in general. This was supposed to have been simple. She was supposed to finally have been getting what she’d always wanted – a chance to prove herself, to fight, to lead. But everything was going wrong. With no enemy to strike out at and dissension from within as Camlin divided the people’s loyalty, her dreams of glory were taking a real beating.
Edana blew out a breath, kicked a tree, and turned around, shoulders set. That was it. That was all the time she could afford to feel sorry for herself. Time to get back to work.
She made a mental note to take a turn scouting ahead tomorrow, despite her overwhelming response to the jungle being ugh. It would be good for the men, she thought, to see her leading the way, fearless and unflinching in the face of, well, general misery.
Not that Edana was about to go around admitting it, but she was completely creeped out by the dark, slimy-damp jungle, so unlike the bright forests and friendly streams of her lost home. She couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead even in the daytime, with all the vines and bushes in the way, and the heat made struggling through the growth a constant trial even at night. It smelled weird, too; rotting things and growing things and, now, hordes of sweating humans who hadn’t had a good wash in far too long.
Edana swatted aside yet another vine, skipped sideways around a rusted clump of metal half-grown over with slime and then had to backtrack around a clump of bushes with suspiciously bright, speckled fruit. She made a mental note to circulate a warning against sampling the local vegetation when she got back to camp; they had enough problems without poisoning themselves.
Then she proceeded to worry about the sentries that vanished their first night on the outskirts of the jungle. Maybe they’d gotten bored and lazy and sampled something toxic, wandered off in a stupor and got lost – or got dead. Or maybe something just up and ate them. Or maybe the enemy the stranger spoke of got them. Or maybe the stranger had a whole tribe of cat-loving tree-climbing brown-skinned killers waiting in the shadows.
It wasn’t in Edana’s nature to indulge in futile worrying, so it was just Torchan’s bad luck that he chose that moment to drop down from the branches in front of her. He landed quite a bit closer than she’d have been comfortable with under any circumstances, and given her train of thought and the late hour, he was lucky the she didn’t gut him.
Or perhaps it wasn’t luck. Edana finished at full extension; the tip of her dagger glittering in the vicinity of Torchan’s neck, hilt braced for extra thrust. Torchan’s neck, however, was suddenly a good four feet above its last observed location. He hung upside down from a vine, regarding Edana and her dagger mild interest.
“You are angry with Ashn. You argue over me. Why?” he asked, moving to crouch on a tree branch.
“What? You… Ash- you mean Aislynn? What are you talking about?” Edana skipped back a couple steps, unnerved by the suddenness of Torchan’s entrance and subsequent relocation. She lowered her dagger to a guard position designed for mounted attackers, shifting a little further from Torchan’s tree.
“Ashh-linnn,” Torchan repeated with exaggerated care, “You argued with her, ran into the jungle. You should not wander alone. You do not understand.”
“What don’t I understand? I can take care of myself perfectly well.”
“You don’t know the jungle. You don’t know… me.” Torchan rolled forward off of his branch, landing in an easy crouch.
“I know you could use a pair of trousers,” Edana shot back to cover the squelch of her feet as she edged back. It was proving a challenge to keep a close eye on his movements without getting an eyeful. Edana put on her captain of the guard face and toughed it out.
She adjusted the angle of her dagger to Torchan’s new position and wondered if she dared reach for the sword strapped to her back. He took in her stance with narrowed eyes, then tilted his head and gave his shoulder a casual lick, almost but not quite looking away in the process. Then he stretched, both hands kneading the earth in front of him, the long muscles of his back shifting as he rolled his shoulders, looking like a great naked housecat. Then he lounged, there among the underbrush, forcing Edana to adjust her stance yet again as he settled himself comfortably. She flushed hot with anger at his casual dismissal and reached for her sword. A rumbled warning from the shadows above froze her in place.
“Voc,” Torchan spat, rumbling in return, and the thing hidden in the tree silenced itself.
Edana held her breath. One or more of Torchan’s catlike companions, no doubt. Now she knew they were there, she might – might! – be able to fend off an attack from above. But against one or both of the beasts and the man himself?
She eyed Torchan, lounging at the foot of a tree as if he’d forgotten she were there. He yawned hugely. Corded muscle stood out on his neck. He wasn’t some barely-trained almost-warrior, overconfident and easy to trip up. Edana’s heart sped at the thought of fighting him, fierce anticipation speeding her breath. It would be a real challenge, to overcome not only such size and apparent strength, but to meet his unschooled and beastlike movements, fluid and unpredictable.
Torchan seemed to catch something of Edana’s excitement, raising himself up on his elbow, alert, to watch her. She let the thrill fade, reluctantly. It was neither the time nor the place for such a match, not if she could help it. It wouldn’t be fair to indulge and leave her family, her people, wondering what had happened to her. Though, she didn’t feel bloodlust from Torchan or his beasts – and it was no foregone conclusion that she’d lose the match.
Edana met Torchan’s eyes, then sheathed her dagger, holding both hands up to show she held no weapon.
“Fine. I was about to head back anyways.”
Torchan made a sound of approval, a sort of rumbling hum. “You are not afraid?”
Edana held his gaze as she backed away. “I have better things to do than play games with you, stranger.”
“You think I am dangerous,” Torchan rolled to one knee in an easy crouch, showing teeth in an ambiguous expression that Edana thought could indicate amusement or impending violence. There was a tree at her back, and she moved to put it partly between her and Torchan, reasoning that she could use the solid barrier in the event of an attack. Not that she thought one was likely, but it paid to be prepared.
“That I will betray you,” Torchan continued, rising easily to his feet. Edana slid further behind the tree as he continued, “that I put no value on a man’s life.”
He bounded forward and Edana braced herself, sliding into a ready stance, a dagger in hand as quick as thought. He was quicker, one hand pinning hers to the tree, her long knife scraping moss from its bark, the other catching her wrist and pulling. The tree was too close to try a kick, and though she pulled and twisted, his grip was unbreakable.
Torchan turned Edana’s free hand palm-up and examined it, leaning down to peer at it in the dark, putting his neck too close to her. She considered going in for a bite; she probably couldn’t kill, or even incapacitate him, from this angle, but he might let go in surprise.
From so near, she could tell he smelled different than the jungle; clean and wild like some large animal, and raw and green and alive. His hair was long and knotted in heavy ropes that swung around his shoulders, showing grimy skin at the nape of his neck. Silver-white scars twined through the deep treelike tan of it, vanishing under his hairline and curving down over his shoulders.
He looked up quite suddenly, so that Edana had to jerk her head back or risk colliding with his face. He was too close, close enough that she could see the thin tracery of scars over his high cheekbones, the narrow gold ring around his wide pupils. His breath on her face was another shade hotter than the warmth of the jungle at night.
“You fear that I kill without a thought,” Torchan whispered, and Edana held her breath, fearing something she couldn’t name. “You are wrong.”
14 Feb 2017
Recap: A stranger, Torchan, materializes out of the jungle, warning of danger and offering to guide the Connarii away to the far edge of the jungle. Toryn decides to trust him. Camlin and Edana aren’t so sure. Edana asks Camlin to stop agitating for a permanent settlement and trying to win people over to his side. Camlin waves away her concerns and rebuffs his younger brother’s cry for attention.
Mostly, Edana just thought he looked strange. What kind of man sleeps in a tree? She stared up at Torchan, his dark skin blending into the reddish bark and shadows under the canopy. She thought she wouldn’t be able to move in the morning, if she spent the night all twisted around like that. Then she thought of the way Aislynn slept, all curled around herself like a cat, and smirked.
Probably, she should stop staring at the stranger as he slept. Her cheeks flushed at the thought, but the leaves and the way he curled around the branch covered enough that it wasn’t entirely indecent for her to be looking. And the stranger didn’t seem to care either way.
How different his life must be, she thought. What a strange life he must have, spending all his time in trees, with a pair of cats for company. I wonder if it gets lonely… Oh, but there’s probably more like him, hiding. A whole village of half-naked, brown people living in the trees. I bet they just sent him to get rid of us. I can’t believe father wouldn’t allow a doubled watch. I don’t know how he can be so trusting. I bet those cats are just pretending to be asleep. I-
“It’s not polite to stare, you know.”
“’Lynnie!” Edana shifted, startled. “I’m not staring. I’m keeping watch. Just because father and you are too trusting doesn’t mean that everyone else should just sit idly by and ignore the danger.”
“What danger? Torchan assured us the Cyrch are days away from here, and he said that there’s no danger from the jungle tonight.”
“How can you be so naive, so trusting? We know nothing about this stranger. He might not even be human. Who made him? Who’s is he? Not Connar’s, that’s for sure. Is he one of Danu’s? Look at him - he’s just so different.”
Aislynn’s feathers rustled as she shifted. It took her a moment to reply, and when she spoke, Edana wasn’t sure if it was with a druid’s confidence, or a thirteen-year-old’s. ‘Lynnie could be so absolute sometimes, so sure and so in love with her magical version of reality.
“He’s not, you know,” Aislynn said, nodding to herself in a way that made Edana roll her eyes, “-not in the way that you think. I saw into his mind, ‘Dana. I’m not really sure how, but I understood him. His body may be different than ours, but his mind, his… heart is the same. He’s not lying to us. He won’t hurt us.”
“What are you talking about? You’re mad. Completely insane. Since when have you been able to read minds? Look, I know this is a hard time, but you have to keep a grip on reality. This is no time to be making up stories. Besides, you’re too old for that.”
Edana felt it was her big sisterly duty to keep ‘Lynnie from getting a big head. Bickering came with the added benefit of helping her feel more firmly grounded to the soil – even if it was alien jungle mud and not good rich earth. She felt, more than ever, that she needed to hold on to something real. Like, tangible real, not whatever transcendent real that Aislynn seemed to be tapping in to these days.
“I’m not making up stories.” Aislynn’s words turned petulant, but when she turned her wide, luminescent eyes on her sister, Edana shivered to see the other looking out of them. “You’re the one who’s ignoring what is true. You know I’ve always understood more. You yourself sometimes understand more than the others.”
Edana made a sound of protest, beyond creeped out, but Aislynn carried on over top of her: “I’ve seen the way you look at this jungle. I’ve heard you talking to Camlin. You feel the wrongness of this place. That is the seed of true knowing, the soul of Connar that whispers to you. I feel it too, but I see more clearly.”
Edana snorted, more to keep up the appearance of elder-sister superiority than anything else.
“No, listen.” Aislynn insisted, her voice getting more remote by the second, her posture eerily still in the dim, flickering light. The stirring of her feathered cloak was the rustling of the leaves, the secret voices of the wind as it moved, the pattering endless water that moved throughout the jungle instead of in streams and rivers and lakes and seas where it belonged.
Edana swallowed, wanting to move away and entirely incapable of motion as Aislynn spoke with the voice of another: “The Connarii were already a declining race; we’ve been dwindling and weakening for generations. You never listened to the Elders. Their stories were not just fiction to fill the evening hours. They were the history of our tribe, of the world. The magic in the old tales, it is not a lie. We have grown weak, since those days, but we are still Connarii. Everything that the heroes of old did, that the sages knew, we can also do and know. I can see what the others cannot. You too have abilities and knowledge locked within you, waiting to be called forth. All of us have the potential to regain what we have lost in the passing of centuries.”
“It is a gift, Edana, a gift and not a curse that has been laid upon us. We are free from the thickening air of the old world, from the crushing presence of the younger peoples and tribes, the poisoning that Danu’s tribe brought. The magic is being freed now to run strong and unchecked in us. We will find our way into the Bright Lands. What’s more, I believe that there we will find others like us. Some of the stories…”
The spell was broken. The light in Aislynn’s eyes had dimmed, and the frost in Edana’s veins had melted, her voice finding it’s way out as she shifted back a few steps from the figure that was becoming her sister again. Edana shook off the moment along with Aislynn: “No more of your stories. No more tales, legends, or myths. Take your bards and leave me alone. I don’t want to hear any more of your babblings. I’m going to check the perimeter.”
She pushed past her sister and vanished into the bushes. Aislynn sighed, and made her way back to her father. High above her head, stretched along a thick branch, one of the catlike creatures twitched his tails, and rumbled a sub-harmonic alert to Torchan, who opened his eyes and gazed off after the retreating girls.
07 Feb 2017
Recap: A strange young man called Torchan materializes out of the jungle, warning of danger and offering to guide the Connarii away to the far edge of the jungle. Toryn decides to trust him. Camlin and Edana aren’t so sure.
“Doesn’t waste any time, does he?” Camlin sidled up to Edana as she surveyed the afternoon’s marching formation. The tribe had just resumed their weary journeying after a disappointingly brief midday rest. The stranger Torchan had been racing ahead of the Connarii all morning, gracefully dodging through the treetops while the villagers struggled in the dense undergrowth. The foliage masked his shameless state of undress, a fact for which both Edana and Camlin were greatful, though judging by the twittering of some of the younger, and not so young, female element, not everyone shared their reserve.
“Why are you complaining?” Edana narrowed her eyes and turned her shoulder to Camlin, pointedly. “The sooner this Torchan gets us out of this jungle, the sooner we can get around to finding our new home.”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.”
“Don’t start, Camlin. I know what you’re going to say. It’s the same every time you open your mouth. Let’s just get out of here. I have no wish to stay and build a home in this steaming garbage heap.” Edana shifted uneasily, reaching to scratch at the raw marks where too many days’ march in the sticky humidity and stiffened battle-ready garb had conspired to wear weeping sores into her skin. She stopped herself with a visible show of effort, and Camlin realized it was probably for his benefit. Always trying to act tough. He shook his head.
“Edana, really.” Camlin scratched carelessly at a raw strip where his vest rubbed, affecting a light tone. “ It’s a perfectly nice place, for a jungle. Can’t you see the potential? We’d be able to grow anything here, and there’s plenty of wood for building, not to mention more metal than an army could use in a thousand years.”
“It’s not right.” Edana slowed and angled her steps, moving to inspect the right flank. “The plants, they don’t so much grow as strangle each other, fighting in this dripping air to survive. The wood rots as soon as it hits the ground. The metal, well that’s something different again. It’s the only thing in this place that doesn’t feel alive. It’s all dead; stiff and hard underneath its blanket of vines. Hungry.”
She settled one hand on the dagger strapped to her hip. “Something bad happened in this place, long ago. Can’t you feel it? The metals, lying twisted and bent on the earth – sunken into it - they didn’t just grow that way. Someone put them here, and then just left it like this. Like a forest of blades left to rust after a battle with no one left to bury the dead.Doesn’t the look of them put you in the mind of blood-”
Camlin barked a derisive laugh. “Don’t go soft on me now, girl. You’re sounding as spooky as that loopy kid sister of yours-”
“We can’t live here, boy,” Edana snapped back, “Everything’s wrong. The heat saps our strength, the heaviness of the air, it weighs down our shoulders, slows our movement, our breathing. The vines reach out to trip us, to stop us from entering further into the jungle. They’re trying to trap us.”
Camlin scoffed again, but Edana pressed on, hissing over him while searching the shadows. “The jungle does not want us, and we do not belong in the jungle. We’ve got to leave, to find a healthy forest or some good open seacliffs somewhere. This is not a place where we can live.”
She took a deep breath, then finally looked at Camlin. “Help me get us out of here. I am afraid of losing our people in this cursed place. The man, Torchan, spoke truly when he said that there was danger here.”
“Well, you do know how to ruin a man’s day, Edana.” Camlin said easily, though his jaw was tight and his face tense. “Watch yourself; some might take your words as a sign of weakness. And here I was enjoying the warm weather. You know, you’re almost as paranoid as that nutty sister of yours. The two of you must have run afoul of a witch when you were little. Honestly, you’re spookier than a cat before a thunderstorm.”
Edana gave him a withering look, opened her mouth, paused and closed it with a snap. She hooked a foot out and caught Camlin’s knee midstride and he stumbled, catching himself with hand planted in much of the jungle floor as she ran on ahead, storming through a thick curtain of vines, swatting it aside like a cloud of flies.
Camlin rubbed his arm and wondered what he’d said. She could be so sensitive sometimes. He’d just been trying to lighten the mood. For a moment there, she’d actually had him thinking he glimpsed traces of old blood under the vines and trees really were trying to trip them up at every step. She always had been persuasive, but this was ridiculous.
Lost in thought, Camlin almost tripped over Owen, who had quietly moved forward to walk with him. Owen had obediently stayed with the children after being excluded from the Connarii forces by his protective older brother. Camlin felt bad about the insult, but not bad enough to expose the boy to any danger.
“Problem, big brother?” Owen asked Camlin, darting a glance out of the corner of his eyes while jogging to keep up with his brother’s long strides.
“Nothing you need to worry about. Grown-up troubles.”
“I’m almost grown-up. I’ll be ten soon. I know about lots of stuff. F’r instance, I’m wicked good with a sword.”
“Oh. Oh, well then. I should just take your word on that, then, aye?”
“Well there, you see?”
“I could show you.”
“Uh huh. And who would you take on, little brother? The next youngest recruit is 12. He also has 40 pounds on you and a good six inches. You want a guard position? Very well; I hereby commission you to guard the nursery with your life.”
“Thanks a lot. I can just feel the love.”
Camlin stopped smiling. He also stopped walking. He gripped his brother’s shoulder hard, yanking him back midstride and shaking periodically for good measure.
“Look. It’s dangerous out there. It’s no thanks I’d be getting for putting a child out on sentry duty. You train hard, and in a couple years I may consider putting a real sword in your hand and letting you help out with the watch. Till then, don’t you go giving me any trouble. I’ve got enough on my plate without worrying about you. Soon as we get settled – on my word, I’ll get to the job of training you properly.”
“Uh huh… Why don’t I go ask Captain Edana if she’ll take me. Bet she knows a good warrior when she sees one.”
Apparently Owen’s patience had run out. He grabbed Camlin’s arm, trying to wrestle away from it with little success. Camlin tightened his grip and pulled the boy closer to prove his point.
“Warrior, huh? You’re not even a novice. And I’ll tell you this much; you try to sign on under a girl and no real warband will ever look at you twice. Not that she’d take you. Whatever else ‘Dana is, she’s no fool.”
“Maybe so, but she listens to Aislynn. Bet Aislynn’d put in a good word for me if I asked…”
“Mm. I’ve been meaning to speak to you about that. You’ve been spending too much time with that girl. That sort of thing’s not good for a boy your age. You should be…”
“I should be training with the warriors.” The boy had both hands around Camlin’s, yanking to break his grip with no success. Camlin tired of his petulance, but Owen plowed on, ignoring the warning in his brother’s manner. “Since you won’t take me, I’ve got to be learning something from someone. Aislynn knows lots of things… maybe not about weapons, but cool things all the same. Forget it. I don’t need your help. I’ll become a warrior all by myself.”
Camlin blinked and loosened his grip. Owen wrenched away and was dodging away back down the line before Camlin could decide on an appropriate response. He’d have to pay more attention to his younger brother… later.
For now, Camlin decided, he’d occupy himself with gathering some of his friends together for a little talk. It was about time to stir up some like-minded fellows and see about herding this pack of sheep into a pen. No need to go tramping through the woods when they could all be living comfortably right where they were. It’d be better for Owen, for one thing.
31 Jan 2017
Recap: Four of Camlin’s sentries were lost to the jungle the first night. The Connarii press on through the red jungle with no sign of an enemy the next day, but the people grow tired of journeying. Camlin seizes the opportunity to gain a following, promoting a settlement in opposition to Toryn’s leadership. Aislynn is swept up in another vision and predicts mass deaths in their future.
A wave of heat peaked in contrast to the slowly lowering sun, tangible only as a deepening of shadows as the day’s march progressed through the afternoon. The dense, leafy canopy, layer upon layer, sucked down and held the warmth of the sun while filtering most of the light above. The very earth seemed to sweat.
Toryn sped up in search of Edana, more than ready to call a halt for the day. Apparently she’d gone on ahead of the main body of her troops to check in with her scouts. Camlin burst through the trees to his right in a clatter of swishing leaves and snapping branches.
“There’s something out there!” Camlin barreled ahead, flanked by two wild-eyed guards. “Form a perimeter! Ready yourselves!”
Toryn was not at all impressed by the boy’s urgency. Camlin had been overreaching lately, gaining too much authority among his peers. He might be a useful foil for Edana and a skilled fighter, but Toryn had had enough of his overeager social aspirations. Time to bring him to heel.
“You’ve seen wild animals before, Camlin.” Toryn wiped his face, peering down his nose at the boy. He had to tilt his head back a bit to do it. “What exactly is it that has caused a captain of my guard to make such a spectacle of himself?”
“It- I…” Camlin wetted his bottom lip and swallowed, caught off-balance. “There – there’s something out there! It’s horrible, a monster- a demon! That creature that killed my sentries is coming back for more! Get your spears; get your swords. Whatever it was, it’s coming after us. Look!”
Toryn felt his hair lift as the boy pointed. It might have been the wrong moment to address Camlin’s insubordination, now that he thought of it. He clamped down the temptation to whip around in a panic and turned with magnificent self-possession to stare into the thick underbrush between a close-growing patch of trees.
Toryn’s pulse jumped as he peered through the shifting rust-dark shadows, following the line of Camlin’s outflung arm. There! A deeper darkness, too large and too still for comfort, loomed ten feet above the ground, wedged between two trees. Several feet higher than that, two patches of pure black flanked the larger shadow. A black tail hung down from one, twitching. A low rumble swelled out of the darkness. Toryn’s knees trembled as he drew his sword.
Toryn’s focus snapped back down to the original shadow as a hand extended from the darkness, dirt-stained palm out. Then the leaves rustled and a very tall, very tanned man flipped out of a tree and landed on all fours directly in front of Toryn, knocking the sword out of the Connari chieftain’s hand with a bare foot, before slithering backwards a couple steps. The black shadows leaped from their perches to land lightly beside the stranger, and Camlin raised a spear over his head, his guards falling over themselves to draw. Edana skidded out of the bushes directly behind the stranger and his beasts, poised to attack. She yelled and the creatures – enormous black wildcats, or something much like – howled and spat, whirling to face her.
“Stop!” Toryn flung a hand up in command.
The stranger gazed at Toryn with round eyes, apparently unconcerned with the arsenal pointed in his direction, his gaze open and curious as straightened. He towered at least a foot taller than any of the Connarii men, his intimidatingly muscled and scarred physique entirely and unselfconsciously on display. He stood stone still, watching without fear as Camlin begrudgingly lowered his spear, the other scouts following his lead.
Edana stayed at the ready a beat longer, the point of her sword at the stranger’s back, as she warded off the two beasts at his side with her staff. She withdrew an inch at a time, eyeing the spitting, hissing creatures as she drew back. She edged around to stand beside her father without turning her back on the stranger and his beasts.
“Greetings, friend.” Toryn enunciated each word with care. “You seem to have given us a bit of a scare. Perhaps you would like to explain your actions?” He leaned forward and extended a hand, palm upward, unconsciously mirroring the stranger’s earlier gesture.
The stranger looked confused, cocking his head and shaking it slightly. He opened his mouth an emitted a string of syllables that grumbled and hissed like the beasts that flanked him.
Toryn searched the man’s face, glanced at Edana in clear warning, and stepped forward, ignoring the warning growls of the shadow-beasts flanking the stranger.
“My name is Toryn Ffarach. I lead this people. We had to leave our village. We need to find a new home, but we are lost. Can you help us?”
Toryn stood his ground, smiling, hand outstretched. The stranger’s gaze had been clear and direct throughout the speech. Those eyes had watched him, intelligent despite the clear communication barrier. Toryn saw no hostility in the stranger, though he harboured some concern over the man’s beasts. He held very still as he spoke in a friendly, measured tone.
“Bring me Aislynn,” He said.
It took the guards a moment to realize he wasn’t directing the command at the stranger. Edana huffed and yelled, “’Lynnie!”, provoking an exasperated huff from her father and a sudden tensing on the part of the stranger. The rumbling from the two beasts ratcheted up a notch.
Aislynn melted from the crowd gathered behind her father and sister and paced forward silently, as if in a clear bubble. Her cloak and hair blew back from her shoulders in a soundless gale, feathers shivering in her wake as she approached the stranger from the jungle, and paused, mere inches away. He towered a good three feet above her head, but dropped to his knees to get on a level with her with only a moment’s hesitation. The beasts behind him growled, and he snarled in return. The pair settled back on their haunches without another sound, the only sign of life the twitching tips of their four tails coiling and switching at their sides.
Aislynn reached her hands parallel to the stranger’s temples without a word. Her hair and the feathers of her cloak settled all at once. After a couple of seconds, his eyes went blank and his body sagged back from the young druid. Edana shouted, and lunged for her sister, but Toryn snagged her arm as she passed. The force of the arrest spun her nearly full circle.
“Let me go!”
“Wait. She knows what she’s doing.”
“She’s just a little girl. She’ll get hurt. What if those- those creatures attack?”
“She’s not and they won’t. Stay quiet. Whatever she’s doing, she’ll need all her concentration.” Toryn pulled his eldest back, breathing a remonstrance. “She’s the only one who is even close to knowing what to do right now.”
Edana gave her father a horrified, uncomprehending look, but stilled. She watched on high alert, her jaw clenched, unconsciously mirroring her father’s posture.
Aislynn extended her arms further, rotating her wrists to hold her palms out over the stranger’s prone form. Her hair and cloak swelled again, raying out around her in a spiky globe as the two black beasts cringed back and moaned, rolling their eyes and lashing their tails.
Long minutes later, the stranger groaned and rolled to his feet as Aislynn crumpled to the ground. This time, Toryn beat Edana to her sister, pulling her up and edging as the black beasts snarled. Somebody shoved forward with a blanket, and Toryn wrapped his daughter up, pillowing her head on his knee.
Edana crouched in front of her family, weapons at the ready, eyes fixed on the stranger and his beasts. Her back stiffened when Aislynn moaned, but she didn’t look back. She cut her eyes over at Camlin and he nodded once, edging forward at an angle as Edana stood and slipped forward, gesturing to her guards to fan out behind her.
“He’s alright.” Aislynn’s clear voice cut through the mounting tension, stopping her sister in her tracks. “He’s the only human here; there were others, but they… died, I think,” –Edana craned her neck to give Aislynn a look, and she hurried on-“a long time ago. Something bad happened, and he’s the only one left.
“I tried to wake the memory of language in him, but it’s been a long time since he’s had anyone but his friends over there to talk to, and even then he wasn’t old enough to have learned much.
“He knows this area, but he doesn’t want to help us. He wasn’t sure if we were… safe? No, more like ‘good’. I think that is a no longer an issue now; he’s not afraid of us.”
Edana was speechless, twisted away from the stranger to stare at her sister. Her father had only slightly more composure, sputtering: “He’s… not afraid. Of us.”
Aislynn smiled at him, looking younger and older than her thirteen years at once. Then her brightness darkened. “There’s something else, though. This place isn’t safe for us. He tried to show me, I couldn’t, it’s… there’s something bad in the jungle, something that could destroy us. He wants us to leave; he says it isn’t safe here.”
Toryn cleared his throat as Aislynn pushed aside the blanked at stood up. “Well, all things considering, that was quick,” he said, mildly. “Can I talk to him?”
“By all means.”
Toryn rolled his shoulders back as he stood. He nodded to Edana, and she moved to flank him, waving her guard into a hold position as their king approached the stranger and his beasts.
“Stranger, what is your name?”
The stranger growled, cleared his throat, and coughed out, “Torchan.”
“Torchan,” Toryn tested the name, pronouncing it carefully. “We are the Connarii. We are searching for a home. If this is a good place, we would like to ask your permission to settle here, build a village and carry out our lives and the lives of our children in peace. If this is not a good place, or if others have a previous claim to it, we ask that you tell us, or show us the way out. Can you help us?”
“Go. Jungle is not… safe… for you. Old dangers, new enemies. The Cyrch come.”
“The Cyrch?” Camlin shouldered forward, apparently done providing quiet backup. “What are they? We do not know of these.”
Torchan growled low in his throat, and the dark beasts flanking him echoed him with a deeper, richer rumbling.
“Camlin.” Toryn said. Camlin bristled, but dipped his head in acknowledgement, looking out the side of his eyes to gauge the crowd’s reaction.
“Cyrch. Destroyers.” Torchan rolled his shoulders, hulking, menacing. “Live to kill. Conquer all. Invaders. Demons. Beasts.”
“Monsters? I fear no monsters. We can subdue any enemy. We will not run from these Cyrch. We will fight them for the land, we…” Camlin began to boast in the time-honoured tradition of proud young men, willfully dismissing his fear only a short time before of the ‘monster’ in the trees.
“That is enough, Camlin. We all know of your… courage. Do not burden our ears.” Toryn said, gesturing to Torchan to go on.
“Cyrch greater. Vicious. You not kill, not live with. Follow. I lead you away. Mists in west touch jungle. Escape. Go quickly, now.”
Torchan turned and strode off into the jungle. Toryn moved to follow, but Camlin grabbed his arm.
“Are you crazy, old man?” Camlin hissed into Toryn’s ear. “We follow this stranger – who apparently just learned to talk – wherever he pleases? And you would take us back into those mists, just when we escaped them? There is food here, and shelter. Why should we not stay?”
“It’s a trick!” Edana leaned in from the other side, giving Camlin a shove. “He’s leading us into a trap, baiting us with stories of monsters. We’re not following him into some ambush by the natives. He’s probably the one that took our sentries last night! And even if there are these monsters, these Cyrch, we can fight them. We can find our own way out of here. Do not follow the stranger!”
Toryn shouldered away from the pair. “The last time I checked, I, not Camlin Blyc, was king. Edana, come quietly. This is a time for unity. Aislynn trusts the stranger, this Torchan. I do too. Bring up the rear, Camlin. Edana, order your men to either side of the column. I will take the lead.”
Toryn headed into the jungle, following glimpses of the jungle-man leaping through the trees, though Torchan paused frequently to look back and check on the horde. Edana and Camlin had to race to take up their positions, marshaling the people along as they battled their way through masses of underbrush, hanging vines, crumbling trees, and overgrown metallic mounds that sprang up every couple feet.
Dark fell quickly. Torchan found a perch in the canopy and settled in for the night, leaving Toryn at the base of the tree to sort out the camp. He shut down his daughter’s protests and Camlin’s challenges with a single look. Things had changed. He was in charge. He had a plan.
24 Jan 2017
Recap: Four of Camlin’s sentries were lost to the jungle the first night. Edana wants to go after them, rescue them if possible, identify the threat at a minimum. She’s overruled by her father; they’ll press onward, Camlin and Edana each covering a flank of the camp as they move further into the jungle. Toryn hopes to travel through this land and on to a better place without undue losses; he can accept making a few sacrifices to get there. But without knowing the enemy, will this plan prove prescient or foolish?
Edana and Camlin raced to position their troops as the camp packed up and prepared to march. Edana, fuming and grateful that Camlin’s smug face would be a few thousand souls removed for the day, found her men responsive and alert, for the most part. Apparently the loss of their comrades had shaken them enough that there was no taste to question her right to command. After surveying and instructing her men, encouraging them to keep an eye out for their missing brothers, but not to leave their posts, Edana placed herself at the centre of the forward line, responsible for clearing a path for the Connarii to traverse through the thick undergrowth.
The Connarii moved north, directly away from the mists. The jungle thickened as they went, progressing from the bordering wasteland of stone and scattered shards of metal, covered by creeping plants, to a rust-streaked mess of life. Towering trees of a type unknown to the Connarii dangled creepers and vines to trail over masses of bushes, ferns and flowering plants that grew in heaps, one on top of the other, in the gloom cast by the thick foliage.
The red-hued shadows were eerily reminiscent of dried blood, and the heavy sweet-rot scent that hung beneath the canopy did nothing to dissuade the imagination from dwelling on dark and hurtful things. The leaves seemed to hold in moisture, creating a muggy dense fog that hovered around the Connarii, pearling up on skin and clothes, joining sweat to darken their shirts and chafe the skin.
Small insects swarmed around the Connarii, while larger ones flitted to and fro among the trees. The undergrowth and branches above their heads quivered with the unceasing activity of myriad small creatures going about their business. Edana eyed the unfamiliar terrain and wildlife, unable to identify anything that could have carried off the sentries. So far she hadn’t come across any creature large enough to carry off a full-grown (or nearly so) man. She slashed awkwardly at the greenery in front of her, cringing at this dishonourable use of a weapon and straining to trample down the dense undergrowth sufficiently to allow the Connarii passage. Her muscles ached, but she pushed herself to slog ahead of her men, unwilling to show any frailty and wishing, for once, that Camlin hadn’t had rearguard. He’d be having a pleasant stroll over nicely tamped down turf, after all the feet ahead of him had passed. Edana caught herself picturing Camlin’s self-confident smirk as she hacked at the rubbery vines and wiry bushes. She bared her teeth and hit out harder.
Progress was slow. In addition to the dense greenery that had to be shifted out of the path of the tribe, the strange terrain further obstructed their movement. Heaps of metal jutted out of the soil at uneven intervals. These twisted piles were often overgrown with the multi-toned ground cover and remained hidden from view until an unfortunate warrior made ringing contact with his weapon. The tribe would have to detour around the heaps, which sometimes reached well over the heads of the tallest young warriors, and could dozens of feet wide.
Despite the heavy slogging, the Connarii made their way through the jungle without incident. Whatever had caused the sentries to vanish overnight was either long gone, or doing an excellent job of staying out of range.
At midday there was a brief pause to cook meat from the night before, as well as a number of small and foolishly curious creatures caught on the day’s journey. The complaints and quarrels erupted as soon as the people stopped marching, exhaustion turning to bitterness, irritation to anger.
“Edana,” Aislynn approached as Edana was establishing a temporary perimeter around the halted tribe. “Father requests your presence; Camlin is already with him.”
“This isn’t about last night…”
Aislynn’s expression didn’t flicker. “No. Something else has come up.”
Edana finished positioning and instructing her men, then moved with Aislynn through the resting villagers towards a dense crowd that had formed along the northwestern front. At the centre of the knot, Toryn and Camlin stood facing each other, with villagers flanking. Edana marched right up to Toryn and stood at his right, pointedly, frowning at Camlin.
“What’s all this, then?” Her question was nearly drowned out by the heated cries of the forming crowd.
“The people have made a petition to their chief.” Camlin said. The crowd directly behind him cheered.
“Father?” Edana asked, ignoring Camlin. Toryn sighed.
“A certain portion of the tribe wish to make camp here, a half-day’s journey from the edge of this jungle.” Toryn gestured wearily. “There is a stream nearby that they would like to make a permanent settlement at. They are tired of traveling and wish to spare themselves and the young ones the trial of pushing through this undergrowth.”
“Others wish to further explore the jungle and choose the best location for a settlement with full knowledge of the terrain.”
Edana thought about this for a moment, her brows drawn together. What wasn’t he saying, here in front of the crowd? She cleared her throat and raised her voice, choosing her words carefully.
“We’re staying in the jungle, then? I advise against it, father. It does not seem a good place. I had thought that we would look for someplace more like our previous lands.”
Toryn shot her a look of surprised gratitude, responding, “I had hoped for a better choice as well.”
He surveyed the growing crowd before signaling Edana to step in closer. She leaned in, asking, “So? What’s the problem? Tell them that we travel onwards.”
“It’s not so simple.” Aislynn said, joining in and speaking before Toryn could respond. “The people see only the struggle of the children and the elderly. They care only for their own discomfort; no surprise there. Families are anxious to start building new lives and to settle. They need to be persuaded that it is best for them to continue away from here, and that will not be easy, since I cannot promise a better choice somewhere else; only the hope of a better place.”
“It is foolish to take lands now.” Camlin interrupted loudly, butting forward into the private conversation and hauling it back into the public domain, misunderstanding and pointing it in a new direction all in one go. “I don’t know why you Ffarachs resist this place so strongly, but certainly we needn’t settle at the first spot that some children take a nap. Send my party on ahead as scouts; we’ll explore the terrain and report back with the likeliest areas to establish a new village. It’s the logical thing to do.”
“Have you forgotten so soon?” Edana reared back, nearly spitting with hushed fury. “Four scouts! Four of our warriors, our people, are gone. This is no innocent forest, it is a jungle inhabited by at least one type of creature that possesses the ability and desire to destroy humans. We cannot afford to split up our forces.”
“Then you advocate squatting on this piece of land and ignoring the possibilities that exist beyond? What happened to your ‘conquor all opposition’ attitude?”
“Peace, captains. You quarrel like children.” Toryn said, stepping away from the pair. He waved for the attention of the crowd, who were now debating the points made heatedly among themselves.
“We will not stay here.” He said. A murmer swirled up from the people, of approval or of frustration, depending on their side of the argument.
“I understand the your concerns.” Toryn measured the words, placing each with weighty care. “And we will travel with care, moving at a pace suited to the needs of the frailest of our people, but we will continue on. We need to understand this place better, and I am unwilling to allow the tribe to split in an attempt to satisfy this need. I also prefer to look for some place more familiar to our accustomed way of life to settle in. We continue in one hour. Return to your families and prepare them to journey.”
The crowd wavered and began to disperse, some grumbling as they went, others taking a moment to show their support of Camlin. Edana watched in distaste.
“Sometimes I wonder why I worry so much about what happens to them.” She said to Aislynn under her breath. “Fools. So concerned about their immediate comfort that they’d risk all our futures.”
“It’s our legacy.” Aislynn shrugged, her lips quirking up at the edges as black feathers danced around her. The dampness of the jungle didn’t seem to have touched her. “Duty to the tribe has been drilled into us since before we could walk. Besides, sister dear, you live for the honour and glory of protecting the tribe. What else would you fight so hard for?”
“Y’know it’s really obnoxious when you talk like that?”
“Like what?” Aislynn asked, the picture of pure innocence. Her father, rejoining his daughters after making sure Camlin and his supporters had cleared the area, snorted in amusement.
“Like you know everything. Like the wisdom of the ages is housed in your thirteen-year-old body. Like a druid. It’s annoying.” Edana said, rolling her eyes at Aislynn’s playfulness. “I mean, I’m about used to it by now, but really. You could try being like everyone else. Other people’s sisters limit themselves to helping with the chores, gossiping, and chasing boys. You advise the king and sway the opinions of the tribe, in addition to whatever weird druidic studies you’re into on the quiet.”
“You’re a fine one to talk. If you valued fitting in, why did you just have to become a captain of the guard? Girls your age should be thinking about getting married and having a few kids. It’s not like you haven’t had any offers.”
“Not. Funny.” Edana growled, cutting a glance at their father.
“See what I mean? It’s in our blood to be different; for that matter, it’s in all of the Connarii to challenge the world’s standards of normalcy. It’s not like we came from there, you know.”
Edana relaxed. Toryn showed no sign of reacting to Aislynn’s quip about marriage. She rolled her eyes at her little sister. “This is not the time to delve into your precious myths. I should be organizing the troops, not listening to legends.”
“This is the time.” Aislynn insisted, half in fun, half… not, from the glint in her eye. “You need to be reminded of our birthright. In fact, I think I’d better call a story-circle tonight and remind us all of our own history and being. We were originally more than we have become. Not like the other peoples of the world we left behind. Generations of intermarriage and dwelling alongside the native peoples has weakened and changed us… but I have reason to believe that, released from the influence of tradition, habit and the presence of the other tribes, we may regain much that we have lost over the ages.”
“Eh?” Toryn broke in, suddenly paying attention. “Aislynn, you didn’t say… why would you think…?”
“I feel it already.” Aislynn spoke in a hush, her teasing tone well and truly gone now. “Before, I was merely skilled in the knowledge passed down by the elders and the arts known to all the tribes of that world. Not a druid, not a bard, not even worthy to be called a filidh, an apprentice bard, when it comes to it. I was far less skilled even than those of our ancestors who we still speak of. Since we entered the mists, there’s been an awakening. I’m aware of so much more. So much… There are spirits that watch us as we go. I sense things to come, undecided paths, like the changing mists that we passed through on the way to this jungle. Paths of the future, that may or may not come to pass. I feel the power, in myself, and blossoming in others of the Connarii. You, Edana. We share the same pure bloodline; haven’t you noticed anything since…?”
“’Lynnie, you’d better get some rest.” Edana brushed Aislynn’s eerie tones off, suppressing a shiver that defied the humid air under the canopy. “I’ve got to get back to the troops… but I think you’re hallucinating. Father, make sure she doesn’t over-exert herself. Let me know if she gets worse, and I’ll send a couple of men back to help with her.”
“Edana!” Aislynn said with evident frustration. “There’s nothing wrong with me!”
“Uh huh. Just get some rest. I’ve got to go.”
“I said there’s nothing wrong with…” Aislynn’s eyes opened wide. Her arms dropped limp to her sides as she sagged to the ground. Toryn caught her and held her head up. Edana knelt beside her and waved a hand past her blank eyes. She snapped her fingers in front of Aislynn’s face a couple times before Aislynn started and her eyes refocused, flickering for a moment, before focusing on her family’s worried faces.
Edana sighed and pushed to her feet. “I’ll send a couple men back to help her. Find someone to give her some tea or something. She probably knows what she should take.”
“It’s not safe here.” Aislynn sat up and adjusted her clothes, tension in every movement. “There is danger in the jungle and evil at the borders. Many will die. We must move quickly. There can be no thought of settling here.”
Edana and Toryn stared in stunned silence. Edana blinked first.
“Look, I’ve got to go. I’ll have the men make some sort of sling to carry her in; make sure she sleeps.” Edana rose to her feet and turned away, but Aislynn grasped her wrist and pulled her back.
“I am not crazy, sick, or otherwise incapacitated.” She said, insistent, her nails boring into Edana’s flesh. “Get the people through the jungle as quickly as possible. Do not linger for any reason. Be wary; there are hidden dangers.”
“Look. I know it’s dangerous. I have no reason to spend more time than I have to here. You’re sick and you need to sleep. Let me worry about protecting the tribe. And stop raving. It’s weird.” Edana shook off Aislynn’s hand and strode away.
True to her word, about five minutes later two young men showed up, determined to carry Aislynn, who despite her protests, was bundled up and ordered to stay still. Toryn shrugged at her indignation.
“Can’t hurt you any to get a little rest; and I’m not up to fighting your sister for the moment.” He said. He looked away, his mouth tight.
“You don’t believe me either?” Aislynn asked.
“I always believe you, little one. You have never spoken falsely. Still, with all the changes that you’ve gone through, and with the upheaval ahead that you’re predicting, a nap can’t hurt any.” Toryn put a hand to his youngest’s face. Her skin was hot and dry.
“Fine. I’ll meditate as we travel. Maybe I can find out some details about the dangers ahead. Tell these boys not to walk into any trees while I’m out.” Aislynn sighed and put her head down, slipping instantly into a trance. Toryn nodded to the two guards.
“Take good care of her, boys. And let me know if she says anything.”
“You don’t need to tell us, sir.” One of the guards spoke up.
“Yeah, if anything happened to her, our mates would take it out of us but good. Everyone loves the li’l druid.”
17 Jan 2017
Recap: Camlin and Edana’s rivalry comes to a head during the first night’s watch on the fringe of the jungle. Camlin not only makes it clear that he doesn’t see Edana as a worthy opponent, but suggests a very different type of partnership. Edana, less than impressed with his proposal, is nonetheless distracted by the encounter, and neglects to follow up on or report her men’s observations of a mysterious presence outside the encampment. What’s causing the rustling just outside the reach of the nightwatch’s flames?
Edana clawed her way up out of a restless sleep haunted by directionless skittering and distorted echoes of Camlin’s voice, Aislynn kneeling over her.
“I’m awake. What?”
“From a log to a wildcat in ten seconds flat. Crazy.”
“Well?” Edana scrambled to roll up her blankets, get dressed and armed, and knot her hair back out of the way all at the same time.
“As you may have noticed, it’s morning.”
“’Lynnie. The point.”
“Father wants to get everyone moving. If you intend to do that nutty practice thing of yours, you’d better get moving. Oh, and Camlin’s just about to take his men off perimeter duty. Thought you might want to touch base there.”
“Great. Awkward. Just what I need first thing in the morning.”
“You’re a big, tough captain now. Comes with the territory. Have fun.” Aislynn handed her a piece of bread and waved her on her way, grinning all the while.
Edana debated taking some time out for a workout, or meeting up with Camlin right away. It couldn’t hurt to let him cool his heels a little longer. Besides, ugh. He’d had hours to come up with more obnoxious ideas. She decided she needed a little boost before confronting whatever challenges Camlin had dreamed up for her today. She’d run an abbreviated practice, and only then seek out Camlin to hear his report and arrange the day’s patrols as they moved out.
Edana headed off northwest through the Connarii encampment, edging deeper into the jungle. She didn’t pass any sentries; Camlin must’ve just pulled them off duty, since a few watchfires were still smoldering. A little premature, actually. She’d have to speak to him about that.
The terrain proved tricky. Although she’d managed to find a slight clearing, the jungle growth was dense and layered. It tricked the eye and made it hard to swing a weapon; her whips would be next to useless here, and the sword and staff strapped to her back caught on vines and hanging branches as Edana shouldered through. Throwing knives, though she hated to risk losing any, and the longer daggers would have to do.
Edana flicked mold and leaves from her shoulders, wiping her hands in disgust. Her palms were already clammy, and she hadn’t even started yet. She wound rags around the palms of both hands for grip and took a two blade stance to start with. Her scalp felt hot and itchy, sweat dripping from her hairline and making her vest and waistband chafe, though she’d long since abandoned her boots. She rolled her shoulders, casting around for a suitable target. The jungle felt like it was smothering her, a soaked blanket muffling her in suffocating heat. As she stood, shifting her weight slightly for balance, just breathing and feeling her muscles loosen to start with, she heard… it was barely a rustle, at first.
Edana tensed, dropping lower into an attack stance. The sound built slowly as she turned, measuring the jungle, sifting past each leaf and vine as she tried to peer past the rust-dark shadows and deceitful sway of vegetation. The rustling became a roar, like riding towards a waterfall, though it seemed to come from every direction at once. Edana gritted her teeth in frustration; the jungle swaddled her, dulling her senses. She sought for patterns, but every flicker of movement was a lie, the shadows empty, the scent on the air a thick, hot reek of rot that revealed nothing in its cloying consistency. As she shifted, her foot caught on something, an upthrust root or rock, and as she spun to catch her balance, a sharp pain at her calf drew her gaze down even as the rushing sound peaked. And passed.
Edana scrambled for footing, blades on guard, a fraction of her attention on the long, shallow scratch along her leg and the dull, rusty glint of the something that had bit her, up thrust from the ground. The rest of her cast around for an attacker, picking up on the heavy crashing approach so early it took her a moment to identify what she was hearing.
She just had time to straighten, lifting her chin and sheathing one knife to leave a hand free when Camlin burst through a wall of vegetation, roaring wordlessly.
“Where is it? What…?” Caught off balance and surprised by her presence, he tripped, falling toward the spike that had nipped Edana’s skin some few moments before. She kicked him sideways as he fell, knocking him clear, and watched as he hit the ground and rolled, cursing.
“You- you-!” Camlin fought to his knees, sputtering and seething, though he darted glances from side to side, in between glaring at Edana as he rose. “What was that for? Where is it? Where’d it go?”
“Wrong question,” Edana said. Ignoring him, she crouched to examine the ragged spike. Following her gaze, Camlin froze, his skin paling. She knocked the flat of her blade against it with a dull clonk, scraping off orange flakes to reveal dark grey underneath. The spike left the earth at an angle, and when she pushed against it, moved not at all, so firmly was it planted. Its shape was uniform along much of the length, a weirdly hollow angle like two sides of a square, though it tapered unevenly at the exposed end. Edana thought she’d do well to clean the scratch it had produced at the earliest opportunity, filing away the thought for later before turning to look at Camlin over her shoulder. His breath came in pants, and he was wild-eyed as he stared back.
“What you meant to saw was, “Thank you for saving my life,”” she knocked her knuckles against the metal shard for emphasis. Camlin swallowed, took a deep breath in through his nose, and narrowed his eyes in a moment’s silent acknowledgement of what could have been. Then he visibly dismissed his near-brush with death, his face hardening as he drew himself up.
“I’ve got bigger problems than your ego, princess,” He said. “What are you even doing out here? Did you see it?”
“You had to have – I heard it, had almost reached it when you distracted me… Wait. Is this your doing? Some kind of joke?”
“Look, if you’ve been sleeping on duty, I can’t be held responsible for your nightmares-“
“Four sentries missing.” Camlin bit out the words, cutting the argument short. Edana stopped breathing. She drew her shoulders together and locked her knees, fighting the wave of horror. Not good. “No one saw or heard anything except for what your men reported – subdued rustling and clicking about ten feet from the perimeter. The fires were extinguished at the deserted posts.”
Not good at all. Edana felt sick. She should have done something, doubled the watch, forced Camlin to recognize the danger. Instead, she’d been so distracted by bickering with him, she’d… she’d… stomped off in a huff. Gossiped with her sister. Gone to sleep like a good little girl without a care in the world. Unacceptable.
Edana swallowed back the guilt and braced herself. She’d failed in her duty last night, failed as a leader. It was time to do better. Starting now. Starting with him.
“We need to move,” She stepped into the bushes, forcing Camlin to scramble along to keep up.
“There’s something out there, Edana.”
Edana hoped whatever it was, it wasn’t nearby. The way Camlin was crashing along, it would be able to track them without even trying, and worse, she’d never be able to hear it coming. She kept a dagger at the ready as she slipped through the buses and around the trees.
“Looks like our ghosts are real. That or the sentries wandered off to relieve themselves and got lost.” Edana immediately felt bad for the teasing comment. Verbally sparring with Camlin was second nature, but it did nothing to defuse the tension and less for her attempt at mastering the situation. For some reason, though, Camlin just let it go. He tromped along behind her without another word as she led him through the camp, marshaling the troops as they went. The group arrived en masse in front of Toryn. Edana paused to single out sixteen of the oldest and best-trained warriors from both Camlin’s and her groups.
“Pair up and take up posts around the tribe. Space yourselves as evenly as possible and keep the fires burning. Be prepared for anything.”
“What is this?” Toryn eyed Edana and a pale, uncharacteristically silent Camlin. Edana glanced at Camlin out of the corner of her eye, surprised as his lack of response, then stepped forwards.
“Four sentries have gone missing. We believe that there is an enemy in the jungle that has taken them.”
“Just before first light.” Camlin said, finally breaking his silence. “The fires were out when we discovered they were missing. No sign of a struggle. No way of knowing who or what did this – but suspicious noises were reported. I pursued, but the princess here distracted me.”
Camlin’s chin tightened, resentment writ clear on his face. Toryn frowned and opened his mouth to speak, but-
“We need to go after them.” Edana said, interrupting hastily as she saw her father’s attention shift. It wouldn’t surprise her if Aislynn had found time to mention last night’s little encounter to their father, and she wasn’t about to be derailed by matchmaking of all things. “My men will search the jungle around the encampment. We may be able to save them, if we go now. At the least, we have to identify the threat. Camlin can guard the perimeter until I return.”
“No,” Toryn said, throwing up a hand against Edana’s immediate protest. “No, one complement of guards is not enough to ensure the safety of the tribe if these mysterious attackers return. We will proceed through the jungle and hope to run across the sentries as we go. Captains – your recommendations?”
“Same formation as yesterday.” Camlin seemed pleased that Edana’s plan had been shut down so quickly. “Full perimeter around the tribe as we travel – it’s the only thing to do.”
“Torches.” Edana hurried to add, frustrated but quick to try to regain the upper hand. “The attackers only moved when the fires were out. Warriors should move in pairs, with at least one torch to a pair. A double line of guards should be placed at the front of the column to beat down the underbrush and expose anything that might be hiding in the darkness.”
Toryn regarded the pair silently. Edana resisted the impulse to fidget under his gaze, steeling her spine and lifting her chin. She was very aware of the attention of the troops, and even more aware of her own failure to report the danger when she should have – last night. She wondered how many of them knew of her shame – and why Camlin hadn’t seized the opportunity to publically call her out on it.
“Go ahead. Arrange your men. We move in one hour.” Toryn said.
10 Jan 2017
Recap: The Connarii prepare to enter the red jungle. Exiled from their homes, they welcome the easy hunting and shelter of the alien landscape over the strange emptiness of the mists they first arrived in. Camlin and Edana each struggle for recognition and power, as co-captains of the Connarii forces. Camlin leads the charge to set up camp and build a new life in the jungle, but Edana responds with trepidation to the stained landscape, wary of Aislynn’s ominous visions and on guard against the promise of danger to come.
“All right there, boys?” Edana started on yet another round, creeping along the edge of the camp to check on her guards stationed in pairs, equidistant around the perimeter of the sleeping masses. Though each pair kept a flame burning bright, the central campfires had dimmed to smoldering coals, and under the thick canopy the humid air was nearly opaque.
“Nothing to report, captain.” One of the men replied. His partner stifled a yawn.
“Stay alert just a little longer,” Edana advised. “You’ve done a good job – and it’s nearly time for Camlin’s boys to take their turn.” She moved along to the next pair of sentries.
The guards whipped round, tangled together and nearly fell at her feet. Evidently they hadn’t noticed her approach.
“C-clear.” One stammered, trying to salute, regain his balance and stand at attention all at once. Edana stiffened.
“Tell me.” Her eyes narrowed as she peered out into the deep shadows through the trees. The flames behind her tricked the eye, hinting at an enemy behind every bush and trunk while revealing nothing.
“He’s just imagining things.” The second guard gestured towards his partner, misreading his position and awkwardly smacking him on the chest in the flickering light.
“And just what-” Edana shot the pair a hard look before turning back to the jungle, “-is he imagining?”
The men – boys, really – hesitated, shifting their weight. One fiddled with a bit of string tied around his wrist – a charm, perhaps, or a lover’s token. The other held both hands behind his back as if he were standing at attention, though his shoulders rolled forward protectively. Both were nervous; neither was ready for anything, much less a surprise attack. Edana was torn between reprimanding them and addressing the possibility of danger. She settled for a mix of the two.
“What are you here for?” She said. A whisper wouldn’t have had the effect she was looking for, but she took pains to keep her voice low and even, scanning the trees as she spoke.
“To keep watch?” One of the guards answered doubtfully from behind her.
“Which makes you…?”
“And I am?”
“A pri– the! – the princess?”
Edana couldn’t suppress a huff of irritation at the tentative response.
“The captain?” The other guard spoke up, equally hesitant.
Edana risked a look back, making eye contact with each guard as they listened to the crack of the fire and distant rustling.
“You’re sentries. I’m captain. Your job is simple. You keep watch and tell me when anything – anything, you hear? – happens.”
“Yessir.” The sentries replied doubtfully. “Er, ma’am, uh…”
“Captain.” Edana supplied. “Yes ‘captain’. Now, get on with that report.”
She turned back to the trees, alert. One hand rested lightly on the hilt of a throwing knife. The other hung at her side, relaxed, ready to reach for a weapon or guard as the situation demanded. This pair of poor excuses for warriors might have gotten themselves all worked up about nothing… but then again, they might not. They were young, inexperienced. Untried and in a strange place, they might be seeing phantoms in the smoke and shadows… or there might be something out there. Edana thought it a certainty that eyes watched them in the dark; the question was, were they harmless prey or something more sinister?
“It’s really nothing, captain.”
Edana barely restrained herself from spinning to pounce on the fool. How dim could those two be?
“Tell me about this ‘nothing’ that has you two so worked up as to forget your duty.” She clipped each word, edged it in steel and sent it back to impale the two idiots. They, unfortunately, didn’t seem to pick up on their precarious position.
“Well, captain, it’s just this; we’ve been hearing somethin’ moving, for a while now… something scurrying, like. ‘Bout since the fires started dimming low.”
Edana thought there was an excellent chance it was nothing more than the local wildlife getting curious about the camp. The guards were fools, getting worked up about nothing. Still, she’d be diligent in collecting the report, if only to drill the boys in proper procedure.
“Scurrying where?” She asked.
“Can’t see nothing in this here murk,” the guard flapped a hand at the shadows between the trees. “But on the ground mostly, off that-a way, roughly.”
“Probably just some of those tasty little things we ate for dinner, coming back to volunteer for breakfast,” she said, testing them.
“Nah. We thought ’a that too,” one guard said, too fast. The other chimed in, “these sound different. Drier. Sort of clicking or scraping. An’ there’s an awful lot of them. Seems to have backed off since we stirred up the perimeter fires, but… Hear that?”
Edana tilted her head and listened, eyes narrowed. There was… something rustling, just at the edge of her perception, but in an unknown land, it stood to reason that there would be some local wildlife investigating the newcomers. As long as they kept their distance…
“Thank you for your report.” Edana said, her eyes straining to peer into the gloom. “I will check with the other sentries. Perhaps some of them will have noticed a similar phenomenon.”
“We’re not making this up, captain.”
“No. No, of course not. I’m sure you wouldn’t do that.” The guards ducked their heads under Edana’s glare, shuffling their feet. “Shift change in less than an hour. Keep an eye out ‘til then. I expect to hear immediately if you notice anything more.”
Edana continued around the perimeter of guards. Several made similar reports, all equally vague, most more forthcoming with their reports than the slow pair of guards. Edana made a mental note to shuffle the pairs and make sure the slow ones at least had a sharper partner for the next night’s watch. She sent them all off to bed when Camlin showed up with his watch, then took Camlin off to one side.
“Tough night? Ready to hand them over yet?” Camlin grinned, acting like his lot weren’t knuckling the sleep out of their eyes and stamping in place, blinking bleary eyes and yawning. Edana sighed.
“Look. I realize you’re having trouble with this, but back off. I’m not going anywhere, and I’m not handing my men over to you. I’ve got a job to do, as do you. Focus!” She paused, tilting her head back to look down her nose at Camlin, who merely looked amused. Apparently he was tired enough to leave the worst of his needling alone. Good enough. “Now – no serious disturbances to report in the first watch, but a number of my men have observed some sort of activity ten to fifteen feet out from the perimeter. Activity increases as the fires dim, so keep them burning bright and you shouldn’t see any trouble.”
“Men seeing ghosts already, ‘Dana?” – apparently he wasn’t that tired after all - You’ve got to keep a firm grip on the reins. Those boys’ll walk all over you if you give them an inch. Just goes to show a woman can’t-”
“Enough of that talk.” Edana stepped closer, rising on her toes to glare at Camlin from, if not eye-level, as close as she could get. He smirked. “I’ll thank you to leave my leadership out of this. We’re going to have to work together to keep everyone safe. Just keep the fires burning and worry about your own men; mine are safe in bed by now.”
Edana whirled away to head back towards the sleeping tribe, but Camlin reached out and caught her wrist. Startled, she reached for her weapons before remembering herself. She stared back at Camlin, fingertips edging a dagger from its hilt.
“Edana…” Camlin began haltingly, looking first at the ground, then raising his eyes to her face. “Edana, it doesn’t need to be like this. I had thought… I had hoped one day that we might… Well, you are the chief’s eldest daughter, and I-I am well respected by much of the Connarii. Foremost among the young men of our generation.” Camlin’s mouth twisted from the smirk he always faced Edana with into the winning smile that he’d built a following on. He continued, his tone conflicted, an undercurrent of pleading spoiling his practiced speech, “I had always expected that we would rule the Connarii together-”
Edana stared in stunned silence for a moment, then smiled.
“So, as a proclamation of your undying love and devotion, you decided to oppose and mock my every move. Makes sense.” She tugged against Camlin’s grip, more than ready to leave.
“Now listen, ‘Dana. A man is head of his household, as the chief is head of the tribe. A wife serves her husband, encouraging and strengthening him. You upset the natural balance, taking leadership upon yourself and removing it from its rightful holder.”
“Idiot!” Edana pushed forward, jamming her heel down on Camlin’s foot and shoving against his chest. Her charge threw him off balance, and his grip loosened as he staggered back, tripping. “I would never marry you. This much you got right; I am not a man. I am a person. You make it sound as if they are one and the same. I will not turn my back and deny my own gifts and abilities merely because they are most commonly found in men. I can fight, therefore I will fight to protect and aid my people. I fight better than the other warriors, therefore I will lead them in battle.”
The heads of the nearest guards had turned when Edana knocked Camlin back; now more watched as she stood over him, ranting. “I was not created to serve a man like you. I wasn’t born to confer upon some greedy and arrogant male the title of chief. I will not marry you and lend my inheritance to your lust for power.”
Edana spun on her heel and stalked away, but after only a few steps, she slowed and spoke without turning back. “We grew up together. We are of the same tribe, but we are not the same. You would make the Connarii weak, by holding to outmoded opinions and customs. Look around you. Everything has changed. So must we change – our perceptions and roles must likewise shift if the Connarii are to adapt.”
“Not a terribly flattering response. Would it help if I said I loved you?” Camlin picked himself up from the dirt, shaking it off while baring his teeth in tight mimicry of a grin.
“Love?” Edana whirled. “What do you know of love? Love does not imprison and bind. Love allows for growth and change. You desire. You pursue power and control with single-minded passion and commitment. Do not speak of me to love. At least do me the honour of honest speech as you always have in the past. You desire my title. Perhaps you even desire my presence by your side as you rule. You do not love me for myself.”
Camlin’s grin widened, his teeth catching the firelight as they ground together.
“A child such as you must not be held accountable for her naivety. For now, I will excuse your foolishness. I must see to my men.” Camlin turned his back and stalked away.
“Child!” Edana huffed, standing for a moment vibrating with rage. She considered rushing after him. “Child indeed! Just because he’s a measly two years older! I thought that was a very fine speech… spur of the moment, maybe, but still! Lucky he didn’t recognize it…”
Edana stomped into her father’s camp. Toryn was snoring peacefully, but Aislynn peeped out of one eye, taking in her sulking sister.
“What is it now?” She raised herself up on one arm, yawning. Edana shot her a dirty look, which wavered and collapsed into a smirk. She started giggling, sitting down quite suddenly as all the tension in her dissolved into a sort of shaky hysteria.
“Camlin just proposed.”
“Proposed what?” Aislynn yawned again, blinking.
“Saw that one coming. So?”
“He was being insulting, so I gave him this great spiel from one of your ballads. You know, the one about love and freedom?”
“You quoted ‘Gareth and Meaghwynn’ to him?”
“Uh-huh. You should have seen his face!”
“Serves him right for always skipping out when I’m telling a story.” Aislynn nodded once to herself, amused. “So that means you didn’t accept?”
“Well, he is a captain of the Connarii. Fine catch, wouldn’t you say?”
“Take this!” Edana hurled a rolled-up blanket into her sister’s face. Aislynn flung it back, grinning evilly.
“Treat me like that and I’ll tell father you accepted tomorrow morning while you’re off with the watch.”
“You wouldn’t dare! My own sister, a traitor!”
“Go to sleep.”
“Aislynn… you wouldn’t.”
“Go to sleep.”
“You’re right. I would never risk saying something like that to daddy. He might die of shock. Imagine, his wild-child, engaged – and to a fine young man like Camlin!”
“Aren’t you a riot tonight. If I weren’t so tired, I’d come over there and strangle you.”
“Hmm. Go to sleep. I promise I won’t say anything to father. Just be careful. I hear jilted lovers can be dangerous.”
“Ha ha. Funny. Hilarious, even. Camlin’s harmless. I’m not. Go to sleep before I come over there and silence you.”
“Promises. Sleep. Now. ‘Night.”
Aislynn rolled over and fell asleep. Edana piled her weapons in a heap and rolled up beside them in her blanket. Despite what she’d told Aislynn, she didn’t feel like she could sleep at all. Less than forty-eight hours ago her entire tribe had been hurled out of the world. She fought and won the right to captain at least a portion of the Connarii warriors. She had challenged, and to a certain degree overcome, generations-old gender relations. Camlin had proposed… sort of. And then there were those creatures that the watch had noticed. What dangers would she face? Unknown challenges faced her and the Connarii both from within and without their ranks. There was no way to anticipate… but Edana was mistaken. The excitement had taken its toll, and she fell asleep mid-thought.
03 Jan 2017
Recap: The Connarii welcome the sight of land. Exiled from their homes, their very world, lost and wandering in a featureless land of mist, they eagerly rush toward the sight of trees on the horizon. But their journey through the mists has not been without benefits for Crown Princess and recently appointed captain of the First Guard, Edana. Not only has she been recognized for her martial and leadership abilities by her reluctant father, the King Torchan, and granted a command of her own, much to the disappointment of co-captain Camlin, she’s even overcome the initial reluctance of her troops, proving herself in combat and winning some hard-earned trust and respect. And just in time, too; with a strange new land on the horizon, and an ominous one at that, Aislynn’s ominous visions forebode more than just internal struggles on the horizon. What dangers await in the red jungle?
Camlin threw himself down beneath the first tree that he reached, a scant inch behind Edana and still fuming about it. The pair had led the mad rush to the edge of the forest, abandoning dignity as they raced each other, Camlin hurrying ahead of his men to get the first glimpse and a few extra minutes of reaction time. Although, to call the canopy they lay under a forest seemed entirely inadequate – now that he had a closer look, what they were laying under seemed entirely too alien – more a jungle, than anything.
Edana’s troops jogged up, gasping for air, scanning the gloom under the trees suspiciously and eyeing Camlin and his close proximity to their captain. The bulk of the Connarii straggled along behind them, making their way between odd hills and humps of land on the edge of the jungle, towards the first spiky weeds at its base. Both the earth and what should have been greenery were stained with eerie shades ranging from an orange rust to deep, bloody reds. Camlin’s men had formed an unsteady perimeter around the stragglers and were ushering them in, while Edana stationed her troops in pairs to form a shallow crescent just inside the tree line, where they beat down the brush to make a shallow clearing at the edge of the jungle.
Camlin eyed the near-solid grey mass in the distance. The mists closed off the horizon like an iron dome, curving up and inwards, and fading finally into the pale aquamarine of the sky at a juncture many times the height of the tallest mountain he’d ever seen. He whistled, shaking his head at it. “Now there’s a sight to make you feel hemmed in.”
“Have you ever seen the dungeons of the underground halls of the Danaan, Camlin?” Edana scanned her troops and the jungle behind them, sparing a scant glance at Camlin as she spoke. He couldn’t read her tone; it was uncharacteristically subdued, so even it made the hair on the back of his neck raise.
“Of course not! What do you take me for?” Everyone knew nothing escaped those hell-holes but the ghosts of the poor wretches that went in.
“Don’t be an ass. I meant from the other side of the door.”
Camlin bit back a snarky retort, disturbed by her tone. She was too thoughtful. Remote and cold, not the overeager, intense to the point of silliness girl that he was used too. He didn’t like it.
“I have. I even went inside one, for a few minutes. Father and I were visiting the castle. We were being shown the royal defense and justice system. It was part of some lame attempt at diplomacy with those Danaan scum. I went into a cell, and had the guards lock me in – told them it was to inspect their security measures. They were so freaked out at the request, they actually complied.” The shadow of a smile flickered across Edana’s face; Camlin blinked and it was gone. “It was only for a couple minutes, and I had a lighted candle the whole time, but it was terrible. There was no escape. Dark rock hemmed me in on all sides.”
Camlin waited, watching her and resisting the impulse to interrupt. Her tone was heavy, but the story wasn’t all that surprising. Of course it was horrible; what else had she expected from the worst prison in the world? Well, that world. Camlin resisted the urge to turn and scan the shadows more intently.
“I feel like I’m back in that cell, when I look at the sky. I feel like the executioner is coming for me with his axe, like I’m locked in with no escape and nothing to do but wait for the end.” Edana grabbed Camlin’s arm. “This is not a good place for us, Camlin. We need to leave.”
Camlin’s eyes narrowed, calculating. A moment of weakness? Her eyes were wide, her lips parted, the brittleness of her speech washed away in the storm of emotion that played across her face. This was his chance to take charge.
“Ha!” He laughed, louder than he needed to, conscious of the attention of Edana’s guards and the edge of the crowd that focused in on him. He steeled his back, puffed up his chest and continued with self-conscious swagger, “That’s girls for you, no stamina. No vision. Whyn’t you just hand over your sword now, princess? You look better in skirts anyways.”
Edana drew herself up, baring her teeth as she hissed in a breath. Camlin rushed on before she could speak, projecting his words for the benefit of the crowd. “We have an entire world before us. There’s plenty of building materials, must be a good amount of rain, and I’ll bet any number of animals in there to tame or eat. I’d rather return to reclaim our home any day, but since that’s not allowed and now we’re here, we ought to be able to turn this to our advantage. I for one want to get into that jungle there, and find out what we’ve got here!”
This got the crowd rumbling. Bobbing heads and grumbled encouragement bolstered Camlin’s confidence. He paused to gauge the reaction, and Edana broke in. “You’re a fool, Camlin. There’s nothing but death in that jungle. Can’t you feel the wrongness in there? Just look at it! Those plants, the earth stained the color of blood, of death, and yet they thrive in it! We have to leave, now, before it’s too late.”
“She’s right, you know. She isn’t often.” Aislynn had come up while Camlin and Edana were talking. She was leading a child with each hand, to whom she had been telling her stories, and moved to sit them down against a tree before continuing. “I feel the darkness too. We should leave. But we won’t.”
“What is it with you two? It’s just a little wood, and I at least, am not afraid of the “menacing evil” found in a couple of trees. I personally find the vividness refreshing after all that grey.”
Camlin strutted off before Aislynn could continue, wary of her effect on the crowd, and the power of the two sisters united.
Aislynn watched Camlin retreat, taking in the way individuals in the crowd, his troops, and Edana’s own boys watched him. He said the things others didn’t dare to voice, sticking his neck out and challenging the powers that be over and over again. Her powers, the leadership of her people, her family. He rarely won, but it was the points he scored within the ranks, with the commoners, that worried her. Stubborn pride could destroy much before it could be reigned in, and Camlin was not the only headstrong young man in the group.
Without unity, the Connarii might not make it through whatever trials would come. They certainly were nothing like the solitary heroes that had come through the Otherworld before, in the bards’ tales, at least. Aislynn sank into thought, setting her back to one of the alien-looking trees and flicking through the stories, the collective wisdom of her tribe, all she knew of people and the gods. Even as she searched for a way to escape the coming danger, the villagers thoughtlessly wandered into the fringe of the jungle, spreading themselves through the trees, marveling at the strange growths, both beautiful and grotesque, often at the same time. A part of her followed them, recording their discoveries as the rest of her sought for direction, cataloguing brightly colored fruits of strange shapes and comparing the small tree-creature captured by one small boy with all the species, of her own world and those mentioned in the tales. This discovery of a two-tailed squirrel-like creature inspired the rest of the boys to start a small-scale hunting operation, while their mothers began to set up cooking fires, finding that the stained wood burned just as well as the golden and brown varieties they were used to.
Aislynn drew back into herself as she saw Camlin approach and start bickering with her sister again. She opened her eyes and stretched before interrupting the fight.
“Aren’t you two supposed to be working on security?” Aislynn poked Edana, who cursed while Camlin laughed.
“How soon the mighty fall.” He couldn’t resist any chance to get a jab in, could he? “You have first shift, princess – unless you’d like to hand over both watches to me? I’d be happy to let you get your beauty sleep.”
Edana rolled her eyes. “As if. My men are already at work – what’re yours doing? Napping in the soft grass like their captain?”
“Ah, let them rest. We’re home free, I tell you. Not an enemy in sight. You go off and play sentry, if it makes you happy.”
Edana snorted and stalked off to re-station her men. She positioned her guard around the perimeter of the camp as the people settled in for the night. Mothers gathered grasses and constructed beds in the deepening twilight, and young boys set to work constructing vine traps. They quickly caught enough small, unidentifiable wildlife to provision the entire camp, an embarrassment of riches. The creatures seemed to have no sense of self-preservation, approaching without fear or wariness. Food was brought in without a rest for the cooks until darkness fell, and the feast began.
The Connarii were caught, addicted to the dream of an easy life. There was plenty of food and no enemies. What more could any reasonable man or woman ask for?
27 Dec 2016
Recap: The Connarii are making their way through the mists of a featureless land, the gateway to the Otherworld(s) in search of a new homeland. Crown Princess Edana and ambitious upstart Camlin have just been awarded co-leadership of a yet-to-be-formed guard in the absence of the warband, who were lost when the Connarii were banished. This is a huge opportunity for Edana, a chance to prove her leadership capabilities, as well as her martial prowess, but she takes it as a failure to have to share any of her power with Camlin, and it doesn’t help when her ‘troops’ think the whole thing is a joke.
The scraped-together band of trainees, b-string recruits and elderly has-been warriors certainly didn’t take their king’s declaration at face value. They rolled with laughter as Toryn announced Edana’s position; co-captain with Camlin, at that. A handful of men stood upright with expressions ranging from distaste to full-out disgust fixed on their faces.
Camlin grinned as Edana’s eyes widened. She stepped forward, and a few more of the men stopped laughing and looked questioningly at Toryn.
“And what exactly-” Edana planted one hand on her hip, dangerously near the dagger strapped there, “-is so amusing?”
A flurry of shouted answers to her question rang out from between the guffaws, although slow patches of confounded silence were spreading. Some of the sharper, or less intensely amused, youths began to realize that something was wrong. The range of unwise comments mainly focused on Edana’s gender and a deep-rooted doubt that her combat skills rendered her deserving of the posting. The hilarity petered off into stillness as Aislynn, in full druidic regalia, stepped up beside her sister, who was staring into the middle distance with steely eyes.
“Fools.” Aislynn said crisply and with genuine regret. A number of young men looked crushed. Aislynn was well-liked, even respected among many members of the tribe for her gentleness, knowledge, and generally elevated position (her delicate beauty didn’t hurt her popularity among the ranks, either.) To put it bluntly, they worshipped the ground she walked on.
“It is not as if there has never been a female warrior before.” Aislynn continued more gently. “There is even precedent for a woman battle-chief. You forget your own history. The Connarii of old were much more varied in their skills. In these uncertain times, it is only fitting that some of our customs change with necessity.”
“And if any doubt my capability to lead, let him choose his weapon, and I will prove my worth, and the worth of the Ffarach bloodline, in front of any who care to watch.” Edana raised her staff, edging her sister off to one side. Aislynn rolled her eyes, but turned back to the men.
“Camlin and his men may go and prepare. The rest of you will gather at the head of the tribe and ensure that you are properly prepared for the responsibility of protecting our people. Your captain will join you shortly.” More than a few of the men looked as if they would have liked to argue, but under Aislynn’s steady gaze, none were willing to speak up and the crowd dispersed. Camlin looked less than pleased as he stumped off with his band in tow.
Aislynn waited until Edana’s group had vanished into the mists before turning to her sister and laying a hand on her shoulder. Edana stared off after the men, and spoke without looking at her sister.
“You should not have interfered.” Edana was quiet for a long moment. Aislynn waited. “They thought I was a joke.”
“You cannot blame them.”
“Really? We grew up with those boys, ‘Lynnie. I trained with them, right from when we couldn’t hardly stand to lift the wooden training swords. I’ve beaten most of them, at one time or another. Not to mention, you and I carry the purest blood of the Connarii in our veins. That means power, however you look at it. How could they dismiss me like that? I’m perfectly capable of-”
“Of what? Overturning generations of implicitly understood beliefs? Of eliminating an entire social gender scheme? Of razing centuries of tradition? Revolution is still revolution to the young. You have a chance for change, not a promise of it. Did you truly expect them to accept you without question?”
“I didn’t expect them to laugh.” Edana breathed the words, her face turned away from Aislynn, as if she were ashamed.
“You didn’t think, or you would have. You’re too focused on what you want. You never try to see it from their perspective. The world is more complicated, people are more complicated, than you give them credit for.”
“I’m not stupid-”
“No, no, of course you’re not–“ Aislynn smirked, “-you’re my sister, after all…”
“Very funny. You’re hilarious, you know that?”
“The point is, take it easy on your men. If you’re a good leader, they’ll come to love you for it, and obey you all the better when needed. In the meantime, try to remember how much of a stretch this is for them, and be patient-” Aislynn held up both hands as Edana huffed and half turned away, “-I know, not really your thing. Think of it as a learning experience.”
“You know, I never liked learning. That’s your love.”
“You loved learning to swing those ropes of yours; this is just an extension of those early lessons – the next step in your training. You know how to fight with your own power; now earn the right to guide the power of others. Learn to lead. You can’t seize leadership; you have to earn it. Now, hurry up. Your men are waiting for you.” Aislynn squeezed Edana’s shoulder and stepped back. Toryn stood a few steps away, just watching. Edana shook her head and looked at him.
“What is there left for me to say?” His shoulders rounded as he stood. “I don’t want my eldest daughter, my heir, going out where she can be hurt-” Edana’s expression turned mutinous; Toryn hurried on, “-I also can’t argue with Aislynn – you are as qualified as anyone now left in the tribe to lead the warriors. It would be unfair of me now to keep you from combat after letting you train all those years. Make me proud, ‘Dana.”
Edana grinned at the nickname, turned, and strode off. Toryn sighed and looked at his youngest, running the feathers of her cloak through nervous fingers – ragged, smooth, ragged – and staring after her big sister.
“Am I right?” He looked away as Aislynn blinked and focused on him. “Is she ready? In some ways, she knows so little of the world, of the people. She does not have your maturity and wisdom.”
“Nor should she.” Aislynn’s hands left off preening the feathers and stilled, calm as usual. “Edana is Edana. That is what will save her and give her the strength to triumph. It’s time for this responsibility. She’ll learn quickly, and be the better for it.”
“If she survives the learning.”
“She’s strong, father. That fire in her will burn up any obstacle. She’ll come out fine.”
“Then, if the tribe survives the learning. They can ill afford to bear the scars of youthful flames.”
Edana laughed, suddenly bright and carefree, “Stop worrying. We could all use a distraction. Flame may burn, but it also warms and illuminates. It brings out the color and texture of life. She may be the best thing for us all right now.”
Toryn wanted to smile back, but he couldn’t let go of the worry that he’d made the wrong move. Sure, that Blyc boy was irritating, but maybe it would have been better to keep Edana out of it and deal with the boy alone. Boys grew up and became men. They grew strong and fierce, warriors for the tribe, leaders. Girls… girls grew up to be mothers. Healers. What was he stealing from his daughter by letting her take this path? What choices, what opportunities, what future joys?
Toryn knew the weight of leadership, the burden of responsibility for all those lives, the burden his wife had softened and shared in their short years together, the burden that his daughters now shared, but even so. It was one thing, knowing, discussing, even advising, and quite another being the one in charge, the one responsible for lives and livelihoods, the one who the choice came down to when a sacrifice had to be made.
She wasn’t ready. She might never be ready. Too young, too inexperienced, too brash and careless… Toryn had half a mind to call together the men again, to take it back, to appoint one of the doddering old warriors to lead, or one of the more promising trainees. But Camlin, with all his talent and popularity, needed a strong partner to keep him in check, and Edana, for all her faults, would never lack loyalty to the crown. No, there was no way he could take it back now. She’d never forgive him. And without a male heir, if she could prove herself in leading the men and earn the trust of the people now, they would follow her anywhere, support her as queen… It would ensure security for another generation in another land.
It was a crazy plan, but as long as she didn’t get herself killed, alienate the warriors, fail spectacularly or lose the trust of the people, it might just work.
Edana marched through the camp and planted herself directly in front of the pack of lolling young men that she was to command. Hands on her hips, she surveyed the boys who were sprawled across the ground, joking and idly sparring. A few peeked at her out of the corner of their eyes, but were careful not to acknowledge her presence. Their ages ranged roughly from the early teens to barely twenty, with a handful of geriatrics standing stiffly around the edges. Anyone older than the boys and still reasonably mobile had been a veteran warrior, and included in Corwin’s very final excursion, while any boy younger was still at the basic training stage, and not considered eligible for service, even in the current extremity of circumstance. Edana briefly considered accelerating the training process to increase her forces, then shelved the idea for further, and timelier, consideration.
“On your feet.” She ordered. A couple of the youngest warriors quickly got up, and even more rapidly sat down again, feigning a misplaced and untimely nonchalance, small faces flaming, as their comrades roared with laughter. Edana walked straight towards the group, and then through it, as the novice fighters hurriedly tumbled out of her way, yelping as she trod on fingers that were too slow getting out of the path of her feet.
She turned slowly, giving the boys a good look at the weapons strapped around her body. By the time she faced them again, the troops were silent. It was an impressive arsenal, especially when suspended on the small frame of a girl. Brandishing her staff, she paced slowly backwards.
“In my great wisdom,” Edana said, baring her teeth in a disturbingly wide smile. “I have come to the astonishing insight that you are not pleased to be under my command.”
The men were dumbfounded. Many were starting to look nervous, their expectations shifting. Edana grinned, catlike, pleased with the early results of her hastily conceived tactic.
“Come on boys,” She smirked, pacing. Cheerleading and cajoling really weren’t her thing, but she was starting to get into the role. “I’ll forgive you – if you stop rolling around in the muck down there and stand up like men. Come on! You are warriors of the Connarii, the best and brightest of the tribe. You are guardians of our people, body and soul. You are responsible for the honor, pride, and ongoing life of the clans – now let’s get out there and show them what we can do!”
Most of the youths were on their feet now, fingering their weapons and nudging one another. If they weren’t quite inspired, they were at least intrigued. A couple of sullen boys still lolled insolently on the ground. Edana gave the men standing a brilliant smile and waved them into position on one side, turning to face the much smaller group that remained on the ground.
“What? Not tired, my lads? Not too fatigued to defend your tribe, I hope? On your feet, before all the good posts are handed out.”
“I’m not taking orders from no girl – even if she is the king’s daughter.” One spotty boy grumbled.
“We know you ‘Dana,” Another put in. “Your fightin’ s‘all for show. You’re no battle-chief, just a curiosity-like.” A couple of the trainees chimed in with their approval for this statement. The seniors just stood, impassive, at the edges, staring blankly at nothing. Edana lifted one golden eyebrow, and turned to the men standing to one side, watching carefully.
“Obviously it’s been far too long since I’ve been in the sparring ring with any of you.” She told them, her lips curving up at the edges. When she turned back to the critics, who had risen warily, the smile had widened to a wolfish grin. A couple of their number had slunk off to the side, but there were well over a dozen still remaining. Edana reached over to draw her sword, so that she held both sword and the staff at the ready.
“Come on, then. I’m a fair person. I won’t lead men that are forced into service. Let’s choose, here and now. First man to best me takes leadership of the First Guard.” Edana declared, staring down her opponents one by one. The first youth to speak stepped forward.
“I’ll take that challenge.” He drew a heavy double-handled sword. Three years older than Edana, at eighteen he stood head and shoulders above her, his body nearly twice as broad. Though not the oldest recruit, he was certainly one of the largest. He had barely escaped being called into action, and trained at a level nearly on par with an adult Connarii warrior. With a roar he put his head down, brandished his sword, and charged. Edana stepped aside and rapped his wrists with her staff as he passed, sending his sword flying. He skidded to a stop and stared.
“Stop playing around. Go get it.” She pointed to his sword. He walked over slowly and picked it up. Edana scanned the small knot of dissenters and gestured at the second man to speak. “You, join him this time.”
The young warrior blinked, then shrugged and walked over to join the first attacker. They stood together and watched Edana.
“What’s this? You don’t want to be captain? You’ve got to win it, boys, and to do that, you’ve got to beat me.” Edana brandished her weapons as she taunted them. “Look. I’ll even put down the staff.”
She tossed the polished length of wood off to one side and beckoned to the two men. They looked at each other and charged. Edana dropped to the ground just before they reached her, sweeping the feet out from one while she disarmed the other. She beckoned to two more men while the first two regained their feet and weapons.
“Come on already. I’m getting bored.” She announced when they hesitated. This time, instead of taking them out right away, she played with the novice warriors, slipping between their blows while tapping their legs and torsos with the flat of her blade. After a few minutes, she confiscated their weapons one by one and left the four standing flat-footed, red faced and blowing like a herd of winded horses.
“Let’s have the rest of you, then.” She ordered the remaining hold-outs. They were learning a little, by this time, and spread out to surround her. Edana laughed, her eyes alight.
“Captain, a dozen opponents? You’ve already proved yourself. This is ridiculous.” One of the men standing off to the side called out. Others of Edana’s men added their support. A couple of the youngest looked visibly pale, while the oldest looked on speculatively, grumbling appreciation at intervals, and sniffing at the poorly trained lads. She bowed to her supporters.
“I’m happy you’re convinced. Allow me the opportunity to turn your comrades as well.” Edana gestured to the circle of men, a ‘come-on’ beckoning that brought hectic fever-flushes to their angry faces.
In groups of three and four they attacked. Edana danced between them, leading the men to trip over each other as they lunged after her. She sheathed her sword and dove into the center of the pack, flinging her arms outward as she flipped upside-down. She planted her hands on the backs of the churning combatants to spring high, twisting over the melee.
Edana released the cords on her arms as she flew, flicking her wrists to direct them at the boys below. The cords coiled around the combatants, restraining them while at the same time pulling her back towards them with increased velocity. Several hit the ground as she landed. Others she tripped with the cords, while doling out kicks and blows from every angle, using the tension on the whips to spin and weave through the infuriated and increasingly befuddled troops. After a couple of minutes, the would-be captains were sensible enough to stay down. Edana stepped away from the heap of men and bowed to her applauding supporters.
“So?” She rolled her neck to work out the kinks and adjusted the cords coiled around her arms. “I understand you’re convinced. Think they are?”
She turned back to eye the combatants, who knelt, sides heaving and heads down, weapons laid in front of them.
“We’ll swear to you, captain.” The first dissenter told her, panting. “You may be a lady, but you can fight. Blood tells. We’ll do as you say.”
Edana nodded. “I’d hoped you’d see it my way. One thing, though. I’ve trained long and hard to get to this point, and I’ll expect the same of each and every one of you.” She scanned the ranks, making eye contact and taking the measure of each boy and man. Some gazed back in open admiration or awed fear, others avoided her glance or still gazed sullenly at the ground. She nodded again. Hardly surprising. “Now. I’ll take your oaths, all of you – then into formation. We’ve got a job to do.”
Two hours into the second day’s march, the fog thinned. By the fourth hour, Edana pointed out to Toryn, who had advanced to the head of the column to survey her troops, that the ground had become visible beneath the shifting mists. It was dusty, grey, and arid, but it was also the first solid thing they had seen in two days. Cries sprang up from the villagers behind as each group noticed the ground anew. An hour later, the ground had brightened to a pale, grungy yellow, and the occasional stone littered the dust. By this time the mists had thinned to the occasional stray wisp floating along the ground.
“Father,” Edana called. “Look. That mass on the horizon. What does that look like to you?”
“Cafan’na! A forest! We’ve made it!” Toryn noticed Aislynn running up from the side of the column. “Look, daughter! You were right. We’ve made it to the Otherworld!”
“Hush, father,” worry creased Aislynn’s smooth forehead, “this is not right. Look at this place! I am afraid that these are not the bright-lands that we look for. Keep the people together. If this is not the shining land of the tales, it could be a very dangerous place indeed. We cannot know what is here, waiting for us.”
Edana frowned, while Toryn grumbled, “Well, now what?”
“Go forward; we can hardly return to that horrible fog! Let’s go find some trees!”
“Right then. Edana? Forward!” Toryn waved the eager families on.
The long line jolted into action, men and women scurrying forward, slowing only to snatch up children and belongings as they rushed towards the reassuringly solid horizon. Edana’s guard had to work hard to stay ahead of the masses, struggling to maintain their dignity and alertness as they dashed forward, peering in all directions at once.
The mists, however, still floated vaguely around the villagers, and the far russet bounds of the distant forest never seemed to grow closer.
19 Dec 2016
Recap: The Connarii are making their way through the mists of a featureless land, the gateway to the Otherworld(s) in search of a new homeland. Crown Princess Edana and ambitious upstart Camlin have just been awarded co-leadership of a yet-to-be-formed guard in the absence of the warband, who were lost when the Connarii were banished. This is a huge opportunity for Edana, a chance to prove her leadership capabilities, as well as her martial prowess, but she takes it as a failure to have to share any of her power with Camlin.
Edana’s eyes snapped open to take in the unchanging view with perfect alertness and clarity. It felt to her like the early hours of morning, though the pearlescent light that filtered through the mists never seemed to dim. Everyone seemed still to be sleeping; there was no movement as far as she could see across the encampment.
Gathering up the tangled mass of clothing and weapons that she had piled in an untidy heap the night before, Edana edged out of sight of her father and sister. She hummed quietly as she donned the various articles of clothing and weaponry. Over the tightly laced trousers and soft, sleeveless tunic went the stiff leather combat vest. Her mass of shining hair she gathered back from her face and bound with a tie, although several small braids that she had neglected to undo from the night before and a number of recalcitrant short curls she abandoned to swing freely around her face.
Over the whole outfit Edana slung thick leather straps, crossing at her torso and anchored at her waist. From these she could suspend her arsenal. A bow and quiver of arrows were strapped behind her right shoulder, and the hilt of a long sword protruded over her left. A long knife was sheathed at her right hip, with shorter throwing blades slipped between the ties around her calves. A pair of tightly braided hide ropes coiled around her arms, attached at the shoulders to her baldric, and threaded through rings attached to the studded cuffs at her wrists. In her right hand she carried a long fighting staff that could be stowed out of the way beside her sword if necessary.
So armed, Edana began her morning weapon’s practice. Despite the recent upheaval, she would not neglect her usual schedule of workouts, but perhaps she could perform an abbreviated pattern, as a concession to the extenuating circumstances.
Taking a long, slow breath, Edana walked fifteen paces into the mists, throwing a small knife blade-down into the ground every five steps to mark her path, in case she should get lost in this featureless, directionless, silver void. She laid aside her bow and quiver, faced away from the camp, and knelt on one knee. Tilting forward and exhaling slowly, she closed her eyes and reached with her right arm for the long sword on her back. Hooking its hilt with her fingertips, she flipped it out of its sheath and helped it on its way with a soft touch against the flat of the blade as it rose, so that it spun twice and struck the featureless grey earth point first several paces ahead. While the sword was still in the air, Edana flung the long dagger with her left hand into the ground the same distance to her right. Before either weapon had planted itself, she was standing, spinning the staff above her head and in intricate patterns around her body.
As she did this, Edana slowly pivoted, facing back towards the camp, with the sword directly behind her and the knife to her left. Spinning the staff high into the air, she snapped her left arm out so that the braided cords wound around it loosened, and spiralled out into the mists. She twisted her arm and arched backwards directing the cord over her shoulder, while shrugging the cord on her right arm loose and directing it left. The tips of both ropes connected with the hilts of the two weapons in the same instant, coiling around the hilts and snapping back to yank the knife and sword out of the ground, and send them flying back towards Edana. She straightened as the tense cords re-coiled around her arms and caught the falling staff with her right hand, spinning it in and out of the cords as they resumed their former positions.
Leaning to her right as the weapons passed overhead, Edana caught the knife in her left hand, sliding it into its hilt at her right hip while simultaneously tapping the airborne sword with the staff to redirect its awesome velocity into an upward spiral. The staff she slammed into its pocket on her back, as she flipped backwards, releasing the cord on her left arm once again, which snapped up to coil around the hilt of the sword, now spinning down towards the ground, its perilous glint partially obscured by the mists. Edana tugged on the cord, which spun the sword towards her, as she caught herself in a handstand with her free arm. Seconds before the flashing blade would have bitten into her exposed wrist, she twisted her body up and over the revolving sword, flipping to land, the right way up, this time, facing away from it. The force of her midair revolution retracted the cord, which snapped the sword up and over her head, where she caught it and sheathed it in one fluid motion, as the cord re-coiled around her left arm.
Slow, sardonic applause rang out from the mists in the direction of camp. Edana frowned as Camlin’s form emerged.
“Practicing for the traveling fair, I see.” He nodded towards her ropes. “They suit you. After all, if a girl is going to make a spectacle out of herself, why not make it as spectacular as possible.”
“You forget,” Edana crossed her arms and stomped, bouncing the sword and staff from their sheaths on her back and catching them simultaneously in a slight crouch – one of several ready stances that she had perfected. “That I am also proficient in your more traditional weapons.” She began to twirl the weapons in interweaving patterns.
“Save your strength.” Camlin looked down his nose at her, though his eyes flickered as he tried not to track the flashing sword. “You’ll need it today. No cause to go spilling that fine noble blood on something as unglamorous as guard duty. A princess has better things to do with her time. I can’t imagine what your father is thinking.”
“No, I don’t imagine you can.” Edana smiled, showing her teeth and slowing the weave of sword and staff as she dove into the argument. “Not your place, is it Camlin, to see with the eyes of the mighty. Your petty ambition lacks vision; I am more qualified to lead than you’ll ever be. You’ll see, when I lead the men into battle. I will lead them to victory – and you’ll be waiting at home, saving your blood for less risky endeavours and cheering our return just like any other clansman.”
Camlin flinched at the mention of his blood, his inferior blood.
“Big words for a little girl,” Camlin mocked. “If you think daddy is doing anything but keeping you entertained and out of the way with your pretty toys and diversions, you’re fooling only yourself. What you need is a good strong man who can show you your place. You’ve been given your own way far too long.”
“And I suppose you think you’re the one to tame me?” Edana’s knuckles turned a furious white as she clenched her fists around sword and staff, both dropping to the ground, forgotten as she glared at Camlin. They’d competed since they were children, but Camlin had never been so forthright with his criticisms before – of her, or her father. He was going too far…
“Could be.” Camlin eyed her, then paused, visibly struggling against himself. He took a step forward, and Edana noticed for the first time that he too was fully outfitted in the garb of a warrior of the Connarii, although he wore more and heavier garments, and carried an abbreviated arsenal of weapons, restricting himself to a massive sword strapped over the left shoulder, and knives of various weights, and shapes, tightly strapped to his legs and torso.
“It’s time. To set. The guard.” Camlin finally said. He turned away and walked back towards the camp, his shoulders tense. Edana checked to make sure all her weapons were secured before following, pausing to retrieve her knives as she retraced her steps. By the time she made her way back to Toryn and Aislynn, a sizeable crowd of young men had formed ranks, and was being divided into two units by Toryn. She stood silently, across from a smirking Camlin, as her father finished separating the young warriors into two divisions. He looked at her, then at Camlin, before turning to face the men.
“Each one of you has volunteered to be here today. I congratulate you on your devotion to your people, and thank you for your service. I have divided you into two forces. By day, each will cover the tribe as we march. At night you will take it in shifts to keep watch. As you know, Battlechief Corwin and your senior officers are no longer with us, so I have had to choose a new leader.” At this a number of the men gave a friendly nod to Camlin and murmured some few words of encouragement or congratulations. Edana looked murderous. Toryn quickly continued.
“However, due to the dual nature of the force, I have chosen two captains, both of whom will report to me.” Toryn said this last with some force, and the men looked at each other, and Camlin, in confusion, trying to decipher who the second captain might be. Edana straightened and looked hard at her father. She was fairly sure he wouldn’t have changed his mind. Mostly.
“Both captains excel in the various arts of combat, and what they lack in experience, I am confident that they will make up in, (ahem), enthusiasm. Camlin Blyc will lead the rearguard, and take the second night shift.
“The first shift and the frontal guard will be led by Edana Ffarach. Your captains will assign you your positions.” Toryn stepped back.
Then the laughter started.
End, CH4 Continue to Chapter 5: A ragtag team
12 Dec 2016
Recap: The Connarii are suddenly transported to a land of featureless mist in the middle of the night. Younger princess and seer Aislynn identifies this land as the Otherworld, a gateway of sorts, predicting great danger, but recommending journeying through it to seek new lands. Her older sister, Edana, in typical combative fashion, would rather look for a way back and fight their oppressors to regain their lands in Cornwall. Her rival, Camlin, seizes on this idea as a way to advance his own ambitions, but King Toryn overrules the youths and rallies the people and sets off on a quest for a new homeland.
“Father?” Edana moved up the line to whisper into Toryn’s ear. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing? Be reasonable. How can you make decisions about our future when you don’t even know where we are?”
“If you’d spent more time with your sister, listening to the elders instead of running off to the woods and mucking around with swords all the time…” Toryn shot a reproving glance at his eldest. “Better than sitting around all day with those shriveled oldies.” Edana hated being compared to her sister, and she especially despised any form of inactivity. Sitting and listening to tales was well enough for the infants, but once a child could walk, why should they be made to sit and listen when they could be out discovering the world for themselves?
“Aislynn? Explain, will you? I haven’t the energy.” Toryn waved his younger daughter over wearily, hardly helping matters. He stumped away, and Edana made to chase him, but Aislynn called her back.
“You remember Bronwyn Maugh?”
“’Course I do. I’m surprised that you remember her at all. She died years ago, back when you were just a mucky little brat.”
“Just because you’re a mere two years older than me…”
“Anyways-” Edana spoke over her sister’s retort. “She was really going off, there at the end; her stories never made much sense – always so vague and strange. Gave me the creeps; mostly stayed far away as I could.”
“And do you not find the place that we are in somewhat ‘vague’ and ‘strange’?” Aislynn smiled, regaining the upper hand in the conversation. “Creepy, even? Her stories never made much sense because they came from the Outside. They came from this place; you just had no frame for comparison.”
“But what is this place? You can’t seriously think that-”
“Don’t you remember? Think back to the stories. Remember how they always started? The traveller finds suddenly that the world around him is fading. Fog and mists raise themselves around him until the world that he knows is blotted out, hidden by blank, shapeless clouds. He continues on through these blank lands, and at last the mists begin to clear. Through the sinking fog, he glimpses a bright land, glowing and brilliant with life and happiness… Now do you remember? The Midlands, the boundary lands between us and the Otherworld- it follows all the stories; we have been cast out of our own world and are now in the borders of the Otherworld. If we travel on, we should come to the land of the stories. Except…”
“Except what, all-knowing one? Sounds like you’ve got it all worked out, huh ‘Lynnie? Where’s the catch? Where’s that “Time of Darkness” you were going on about earlier in all this?” Edana shifted her weight, rolling her eyes at Aislynn’s portentous tone.
“Oh, stop your pestering, ‘Dana. It’s just this; in some stories, it is true that the wanderer came to the bright-lands, but that does not account for all the tales. It seems that in some, the fabled land was not so… utopic. Some stories indicate a land that would be somewhat less than ideal. The descriptions have differences that could not be accounted for by one land alone. I believe that it is possible that there are many different lands that may be reached once a traveler enters the edges of the Otherworld. I also fear that many of them may not be such good places to set up house in…”
“Hush, Aislynn.” Toryn had rejoined the girls after making a circuit of the tribe, and now glanced anxiously at the nearest family, but they showed no signs of having heard Aislynn’s comments. Toryn’s brow seemed permanently furrowed.
“Really, father! How can you believe these tales?” Edana glared at her father and sister. “Our people are depending on us, and what do we do? Sit back and speculate about some fairytale dreamland. That’s just not good enough. We need real answers, real solutions to this… this… well, whatever it is, it needs a concrete, logical solution. The last thing we should be doing is wandering off into this bizarre fog.”
“Since when have you been worried about our people?” Aislynn said sweetly, but with an edge of warning to her voice. “And for that matter, now that I think of it, you have never been much of a friend to logic and reason.”
“You little-” Edana started, angling forward aggressively.
“Look around you, Edana!” Toryn hissed through his teeth, trying to avoid catching the attention of a family walking directly behind him. “What exactly do you propose would get us out of this mess? Aislynn’s right-”
“Aislynn’s always right!” Edana muttered under her breath. Her father pointedly ignored the comment as he continued.
“All that we have are your sister’s interpretation of the stories and the hope that there could be a good place ahead – and of course, the Message of Connar. That is not to be discounted.”
“Oh no? Even if there’s some ‘spirit’ contacting us, who’s to say it’s a helpful one? It is foolish to head off into uncharted territory, looking for a land that probably doesn’t exist. We should go back. We should return and fight for our lands. We had a good life; why should we abandon it for an uncertain future and probable danger?”
“You forget, daughter, that we simply can’t return. It is not a matter of fighting to regain what we have lost. It is gone. Do you see an enemy for us to defeat, a force to fight against for the return of our homes? Think, Edana! There is no path back! We are here, for good or ill. I at least have hope to turn this misfortune around. Look to the future. Open your eyes to the possibility of light in the darkness. Expect good to come of this, and then work to make it so…”
Edana tossed her shining head and scowled.
“Spare me. I’m too old for sermons. I know what’s going on here, and I will not accept your idealistic lies. Speak the truth to me, at least, even if you will rinse it out of your speech with your precious subjects. People are stronger than you think. They can take the truth. I can take the truth, so stop muffling it under heaps of hopeful drivel!”
Toryn stared at his daughter. Such an outburst he had not expected from her. Edana was not the type of girl who broke down immediately from stress. Not that she took pains to hide her mood, or restrain her opinion, but at the very least, he’d thought that she had a higher tolerance for emergencies. For her to say such things, well, the subject must have been bothering her for quite a while.
Toryn sighed. Children did not come with a set of instructions, and Edana was growing into a strong, rather opinionated young woman. She was quick, too smart for the taste of most; too strong to submit to a man less than her equal. Emotionally immature, perhaps… but strong nonetheless, and with good instincts for dealing with people, when the mood suited her. But what was the world coming to, when a daughter could challenge her father so boldly? He smiled faintly as he thought this.
Toryn alone was responsible for Edana’s behaviour; he had brought her up as a son and heir to the rule of the Connarii; it was he who had taught her to challenge the whole world for the truth of every matter, and allowed her to train with the men in combat. Too bad her mother hadn’t lived, though. She would have taught Edana a little tact; she would have taught her daughter how to argue as a woman, with subtlety and often far greater success. A woman’s magic, now that was something Edana could use. She was getting a little old to learn new tactics, though.
Toryn glanced sidelong at his daughter, studying her profile as she marched, fuming, alongside him. Edana was fiercely beautiful, a fact that had been conveniently overlooked by her peers as she trained and grew alongside them, but which Toryn feared would soon rise to frustrate her. Of a reasonable height for a Connarii woman, slim and strong, she scorned the modest clothing of her female peers and opted instead for a distinctive costume all her own. Booted leggings tightly laced with rawhide strips to mid-thigh. A sleeveless leather tunic belted at the waist with wide leather straps crisscrossing from shoulders to belt.
Edana was only carrying a small portion of her personal arsenal at the moment, favoring mobility. Besides the ever-present dagger at her waist (and several smaller, concealed knives), she carried a long tapered sword on her back, with a smooth staff strapped beside it. Tightly braided cords coiled along her arms, fastened at the shoulders of her tunic and caught up in metal-studded wristbands. Long red-gold hair was bound by a band that encircled her forehead, though it sprung out of the curiously woven braid at every opportunity. The touches of gold scattered among the tawny leather made her glow softly in the silver mists, but her blue eyes burned with a fierce, uncompromising green light.
Except for the eyes, Edana and Aislynn were polar opposites. If seventeen-year-old Edana shone with the sun’s hue and fierceness, Aislynn had the muted, silvery wonder of a star about her. Her eyes tended to take on a silver or violet hue, and while they could hold an iron determination, at the moment they radiated only a calm peace. Aislynn was her mother’s daughter, just as Edana followed her father in appearance, and to some degree, manner. Toryn smiled nostalgically, wishing for earlier days when his daughters were easier to understand, and to handle, and indulged in a few moments of loneliness before turning to look behind.
The chattering families spread out in clumps, clans for the most part gravitating towards each other in the untidy horde that stretched back into the mist. Toryn examined their faces, noting the signs of worry, fear, and already on some, exhaustion, as well as the brief sparks of excitement and hope that glanced back and forth across the ranks. They had been marching through a featureless, shifting grey mass for most of the day, hauling as many of their possessions as they could carry, drag or push, and the young ones were tiring.
Toryn called a halt, and the families quickly bunched into small groups, huddling together to sort out simple cold meals with their limited rations. For the moment, there was enough to eat, though it was largely uninspiring fare. Soon, however, the food would run out. The Connarii hadn’t seen a single creature throughout the days march. Actually, they hadn’t seen anything at all, except mist and their own neighbours. The excitement of adventure had quickly worn out, as had the inspiring effect of Toryn’s earlier speech.
They had better find that land soon, Toryn reflected, or he’d be dealing with mutiny, as well as starvation. People can abandon trust and commonsense alike pretty quickly when their stomachs are empty and their families in danger.
Toryn put a halt to his musing and spent the next hour moving among the clans, soothing and encouraging each family, doing his best to put fears to rest and rally their hopes. Then he returned to his daughters, to snatch a couple of hours of rest in the misty eternal twilight. Camlin, unfortunately, had other plans for that evening. He was waiting with Edana, the two of them arguing in hushed tones when Toryn returned to his camp.
“My king,” Camlin broke off his whispered fight with Edana to kneel to Toryn, the image of respect and deference. Toryn started to worry.
“I have come to request that you place a guard around the camp, and station the warriors around the tribe as they travel tomorrow. I have spoken to many of the young men who had been training under Corwin, and they would be happy to serve the tribe in this way. I would like to volunteer to-”
“I think that would be an excellent idea, father.” Edana interrupted, brushing past Camlin before he could finish his sentence. “It will make the people feel safe, and we will be prepared against any enemies lurking in this cursed mist. I will assemble the men and position them around the camp immediately.”
“What?” Camlin nearly overbalanced, putting out a hand to catch himself as he whipped around to glare at Edana, while Toryn worked to keep his face stern. Edana looked genuinely surprised. Had he not been the responsible one in the situation, Toryn would have laughed at her exaggerated and clearly feigned innocence, and been no less amused at Camlin’s attempts at smooth and sophisticated maneuvering. They both really were still so young…
“What’s the matter?” She asked. “I’ll just collect the rest of my weapons and-”
“Are you out of your mind?” Camlin howled, aggressively towering over Edana, who refused to back down.
Aislynn, who had been making the rounds of the camp, emerged out of the mists and frowned at Camlin.
“You’re too loud.” She said, making a shushing motion with her hands. The feathers on her cloak rustled soothingly. “Stop getting so worked up over nothing.”
“Nothing!” Camlin was nearly screaming now, his face flushing an alarming and decidedly unattractive purplish colour. “Nothing? Your sister just laid claim to the post of battle-chief!”
“So? Is that any reason to wake everyone?”
“She, she’s a girl!” Camlin sputtered, irritated that no one else seemed to be as concerned.
“Girls shouldn’t even be fighting, much less leading the tribe’s warriors!”
“You’ve known that I could fight for years, Camlin.” Edana said. Her eyes glinted, warning that her short temper wouldn’t hold forever.
“Yes, but… you can’t, I mean – I, I naturally assumed that I would…”
“Oh calm down, Camlin.” Toryn finally interrupted, his amusement ebbing as exhaustion took hold. Bed seemed further and further off all the time. “I’ll admit that it is a valid point you have. I’ll look into setting up a guard immediately – but neither of you is going to be leading it, so off you go to bed.”
“Father!” Edana complained, while Camlin turned a darker shade of red as he struggled for the words to express his indignation.
“Oh come off it.” Toryn told them. “You’re both too young. The battle-chief must not only excel in combat, but also be experienced in battle, and be able to lead. I will choose someone more suitable, and in the meantime, the two of you will cease this unholy racket and allow the rest of us some peace.”
“Father?” Aislynn said softly, drawing Toryn aside, just out of range of the seething pair’s hearing.
“There isn’t really anyone else; they have a point, you know. The more experienced warriors were all with Corwin when the Connarii were cursed. They are the two most advanced trainees. They don’t have the experience, and I won’t speak to their leadership capabilities, but it seems to me that Edana and Camlin are the only ones even close to qualified for this position. Furthermore, for Edana… This may be a good opportunity…”
Toryn stared at Aislynn. Then he shrugged.
“Be that as it may, I’m making no decisions tonight. We’ll talk about this later.”
“But the security of the camp!” Camlin insisted, as he saw Toryn step away. Toryn frowned at him.
“Fine, fine. What do you kids have against sleep? Camlin – south and east side. Edana, north and west.” Toryn pointed as he gave the instructions, indicating the supposed directions in the suffocating, muted landscape that frustrated all attempts at classification.
“Have all the trainees assembled first thing in the morning and I’ll allocate you each the appropriate number of guards. Until then, I will retain the responsibility for this camp’s security. Now – good night!”
Toryn had to stand and glare at Camlin for a couple of minutes, before the young man snapped his jaw shut, turned on his heel, and stalked back into the mists towards his campsite, clearly realizing that he was in no position to push his luck. Edana wouldn’t even look at her father. She spoke in his general direction while glowering after Camlin.
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell him to stand down, father. I should be the one to-”
“Good night!” Toryn said. Edana huffed and went to her bedroll.
“Good night.” Aislynn said brightly to no one in particular.
06 Dec 2016
Recap: The Connarii find themselves suddenly transported to a land of featureless mist in the middle of the night. King Toryn and daughters Edana and Aislynn need to come up with a plan of action quick. Edana, always spoiling for a fight and eager for recognition, wants to turn around and engage the enemy… a poor plan, since they have no idea how to go back to their old home, but one that ambitious Connariian Camlin, seeking a path to greater influence, tries to get in on nonetheless. Aislynn, though the younger of the two princesses, provides better counsel, advising Toryn to unite the people around a common goal and seek out new lands. But then Aislynn is gripped by a vision and prophecies danger and a challenge for the tribe’s future, shocking her father and sister…
Aislynn gasped, and slumped to the ground as the light from the jewel on her diadem flickered and dimmed to its usual steady glow.
“Aislynn? Aislynn! What on earth?” Toryn rolled his youngest daughter over and brushed the long black strands from her face. Her skin was even paler than usual, and beads of sweat stood out on her forehead, but her face was utterly still. Then the long eyelashes quivered, and she opened her eyes, blinking dazedly.
“Father? Edana?” Aislynn sat up and gazed around at the mists blankly for a moment before seeming to regain focus. “We should get moving.”
“Well, yes, but… what was that?” Toryn flapped a hand, wordlessly encompassing Aislynn’s bizarre behavior over the last few minutes. Edana snorted, though it wasn’t clear if she was expressing scorn at her sister’s display or her father’s helplessness.
“The beginning.” Aislynn responded, and stood up, rearranging the weighty folds of her cloak and brushing back her unbound hair. She looked up at her father. “Only the beginning.”
“Outstanding.” Edana said. Then, brightly, “I’ll just gather the men, then, shall I?”
“Whatever are you talking about?” Her father looked blank, then suspicious.
“Battle, yes? I heard her. “Take up your arms…” right? Father, let me lead them! You know I can. I’m perfectly capable. I’ll have them all suited up and ready to go in no time.”
“Out of the question.” Toryn frowned at Edana. “Put it out of your head.”
“This is not the time, Edana. Right now, our priority is to comfort and direct our people. I think we’ve kept them waiting long enough. You’ll never make any kind of leader, dragging the tribe into battle before they even know what’s happening. Aislynn, anything else to add before I brief the tribe?”
“Hey – if I’m the one who needs to learn leadership, why are you only talking to her?”
Toryn rolled his eyes at Edana and transferred his gaze to Aislynn.
“There will be time later. Right now, if we can just get everyone moving in the same direction. Like I said-”
“Yeah. We know. “Only the beginning.” We heard you.” Edana fiddled crossly with the long dagger at her hip.
“I need your support, now, Edana.” Toryn warned her. “The people look to us for guidance, and as my eldest, you need to…”
“Yeah, I got it. Stand straight, smile pretty, and shut up, right?” Edana gave her father a wolfish grin. “I’ll play along for now, but we’ll talk later about the battle, ok?”
“You know that’s not what I meant…”
“Forget it.” Edana spun on her heel and led the way back into the mass of villagers.
“Listen, my people,” Toryn cried, lifting his voice to carry over the milling crowd as he strode out of the mists, putting on kingly authority like a cloak.
He made his way towards the center of the massing tribe, who quieted, going down on one knee in a murmuring wave. His daughters took up position behind him, Aislynn in a dark pool of fabric and feathers on his left, Edana neat and trim in a personalized version of the standard hide outfit of a Connariian warrior on his right. Camlin crouched restlessly a few feet forward and to the right of him, eyeing Edana, who made a point of staring past his head as if he weren’t there. The young troublemaker had cadged himself a spot at the front of the crowd with a cohort of young friends arrayed behind him. Toryn waited until all had settled and were waiting silently before beginning to speak.
“The worst has happened,” He announced, and his words struck the people visibly. They swayed back before this declaration, murmuring amongst themselves. Shouted questions rang out from the crowd. Toryn held up his hands and waited until the flurry ceased.
“Many of you knew of the conflict that we have been facing; the Council of Twelve has been conspiring against us. They have threatened us, demanding our lands and our service. We refused to bow to their demands. Two days ago, Battle-chief Corwin led a force of our finest warriors to confront the Danaan Council. He should have reached them either tonight, or early tomorrow morning. It is clear that his mission has failed. The Council has followed through on its threat. Through their dark magic, the druids of the Tuatha de Danaan have cast a foul spell, banishing us out of the Earth forever. That curse has removed us from our homes, and placed us here.”
“And ‘here’ would be where?” Camlin interrupted from his position to the right of Toryn, who eyed him for a moment before responding.
“I believe this place to be the Otherworld.”
“The Otherworld spoken of in legend? That is a fairytale, great king. Surely you cannot expect us to believe that we have been cursed into a living myth.”
“Are you accusing my father of lying?” Edana demanded, rising and stepping forward to assume an offensive posture just in front of Toryn. Despite her personal misgivings, there was no way that she would let a challenge like that stand unanswered. One hand rested on the dagger at her hip, while the other casually swung a thick cord that snaked its way up her arm before vanishing under her sleeveless tunic at the shoulder. She stood proudly upright, leaning ever so slightly forward, resting on the balls of her feet. Camlin said nothing, but lifting one eyebrow, returned his focus to Toryn, who laid his hand on Edana’s arm.
“It’s all right. The question is valid. I myself was skeptical at first, but consider: The swirling mists and utterly featureless land. The mystery of how we, all of us in an instant, found ourselves here in the dead of night, with our possessions scattered as if our entire village had been lifted up and transported, leaving only the land and the structures attached to it behind. The description fits completely with that given in the stories, and myths are, after all, stories of truth and of past happenings.” Aislynn smiled at her father’s back. She hadn’t moved throughout the entire exchange.
“That is all conjecture.” Camlin interrupted again. Toryn hesitated, then continued.
“There is more. I do not make these judgments myself. Aislynn is studied in lore and is gifted with the Sight. You are all aware of her status in the tribe. Chief Druid, despite her age; bard and seer of the Connarii. It is her knowing that has led me to these conclusions – and a…” Toryn choked a bit getting the word out. “…ah, vision. We have been graced with Connar’s guidance in this time of trouble.”
“Connar has spoken to us. We his children are ever in his thoughts.” Aislynn stood in a rustling of feathers. Her cloak seemed to move in a breeze of its own around the slim bright flame of her silvery shift and moon-pale skin. The crowd stared wide-eyed at Aislynn in uncomprehending wonder. She knelt again, and Toryn swallowed before turning back to address the people.
“We must move ahead. There is no going back; the curse cannot be broken, and will not allow us to return. Ahead are new lands. Look to your families. Keep watch, and keep together. Do not allow the children to wander, and stay in sight of the group at all times. Spend the next hour collecting what belongings have been transported across the boundary. In one hour we start our journey to whatever world is waiting for us.”
“Hold on there, old man.” Camlin leaned forward, waving his arms in aggressive punctuation as he argued. “Why should we journey blindly in these mists when we know that a perfectly good land lies right behind us? I say we go back. Any enemy can be fought. We will find a way to regain what has been stolen from us and avenge this outrage! I will personally lead a band against our aggressors.” Camlin looked around for supporters, and found more than a few heads nodding.
“I’m all for a good fight, but I don’t know about this wandering in grey mists. I’d rather return to face the enemy I know, than advance blindly into the danger I don’t. We had a good life back in the village, and I don’t see any reason to throw all that away.” Camlin’s voice got louder as he went on, and it rang in Toryn’s ears ominously. Camlin had a voracious desire for power, as well as a strange magnetism and popularity, especially among the younger generation, despite his impure blood, and right now the tribe could not afford to be divided by his ill-timed bid for support. This had to be shut down, and quickly.
“Such talk borders on treason, Camlin Blyc. You are no counselor. You presume to direct your betters? Remember your place!” Toryn glared at the boy for a moment, until Camlin blinked and looked away, retreating.
“Due to the extremity of the circumstances, and the extent of the shock which we are all undoubtedly suffering, I will regard your disrespect as a product of this unexpected shift and forgive it. But hear me. This subject is not open for discussion, Camlin. You will all do as I say for your own safety. There is no going back to the village; that path is closed to us. We can only go forward, and hope to come to a land in which we can build a new life. It will not be easy, but if we stay together and work hard, we shall build a new home far better than the first, under the guiding hand of Connar and far away from our enemies.” Toryn quickly stepped out of the circle before more argument sprang up.
He made his way to one side of the crowd with his daughters, and there they stood, watching the tribe pack up. It concerned Toryn to notice some of the young men gravitating towards Camlin. It would not do for the people to take sides. Enmity would kill far more quickly than any of the unknown perils here; the tribe could not afford to be split into factions, and the blood quarrels were always roiling under the surface.
An hour later, over a hundred families stood assembled in four unsteady columns, all their belongings slung up over their shoulders or clasped nervously in their arms. The mists that drifted between the lines of the procession caught at all sound, wrapping them in ragged tendrils, muffling the senses until the Connarii felt that they were drifting along with the mists, away from everything solid and real. The feeling lasted for only a few minutes, before Toryn called the crowd back to the business at hand.
“My friends, we embark today on a great journey. Do not fear the future, nor harbor regret for what has passed. We have been given a great opportunity; we, the sons of Connar, will have the legendary Otherworld to make our home in. We are in the domain of magic and dreams, a place that previously only the greatest of us, the true bards and druids, were ever given to walk. We will be counted amongst the great heroes, as we have entered into a mythical quest. We have a chance to find the perfect world, and to build a new life for our people there. We move forward, west, to find the lands where light shines eternal. Come with me on a quest for the shining land of Connar where we can live in happiness forevermore.” Toryn raised his hands as the people cheered. When they had quieted, he waved his daughters into formation behind him, and called out to the people. “Forward, for a new life in a new land!”
The first half-day was terribly exciting. The people chattered incessantly as they walked, dreaming aloud about the land that they would find, and the homes that they would build for themselves and their children. There was laughter and singing. Nearly everyone had forgotten, for the time being, that less than a day before they had lived in a large and prosperous village, in a fertile land, where they had been happy and successful. Few recalled the fact that they had been collectively expelled from their homes and shamefully usurped by evil men. Camlin Blyc did not forget so easily. He had inherited good fields and a sturdy house from his father. He had been building his holdings steadily, accumulating wealth and importance among the villagers, garnering respect for the name of Blyc. He had devoted much time and energy in training as one of the young warriors, and had developed a sizeable following among the other youths. He was popular, he was talented, he was wealthy. What if his blood was less pure than most? The younger generation did not care for such things – they had moved beyond such archaic strictures, and they were the ones who would raise him to the top. He had been working hard all his life, and frantically pushing himself in the last three years since the death of his father. He had a plan; marry the eldest princess, take over leadership of the warband, and then, if all went as planned, the tribe itself. King Camlin had such an alluring ring to it. Now all his hard work, all his carefully laid and executed plans had been shredded down to nothing, and thrown to the clinging mists.
“How can we not go back?” Camlin muttered to his young brother, Owen, as they marched near the back of the mass of people. “How can the great Toryn just abandon our homes? How can we listen to him? It is not right. We should return. We should fight for what is ours. It is not a man’s way to allow others to steal from him without retribution; it is not the warrior’s way.” This last Camlin declared proudly, handsome golden head flung back and bright eyes glittering.
A few heads in the near vicinity turned to look, some with annoyance, more with admiration. Young men raised their fists high into the air and called out approval, while half of the young women followed suit (the other half, blushing and peeking out from lowered eyelashes, darted glances at the young men and edged away from their wary mothers.) Camlin waved to these supporters, pleased, and then returned to his sullen musings.
“Have we sunk to this level? A group of helpless women who will stand and watch their holdings be stripped away? A crowd of spineless cowards who turn tail and run at the first sign of a challenge? I am ashamed of us- ashamed of the proud Connarii who fall at the first sight of adversity. We cannot, we shouldn’t, we…” Camlin’s voice sank into guttural expressions of contempt for the honor of his tribe. His brother inched off a few feet, but remained in sight.
Owen Blyc would never desert Camlin. Of the Blyc clan, only the two brothers remained. It had always been a small clan, one that cultivated the frowned-upon tendency to marry outside the tribe, diluting the purity of their blood, and with members who died young more often than not. Camlin’s father, Coll, had married a frail beauty from the willowy Sythann tribe, who had faded after the birth of her first son. The second birth claimed her life. Two years after the death of his mother, Camlin found his father floating face down in the lake. Eight years had passed since then, and Owen had grown up, for the most part, blissfully unaware of his family’s tragic past. He was, however, quite aware of the fact that his older brother had been acting increasingly strangely. Owen stayed close, but not too close. Things were not good. Even a child would know that.
29 Nov 2016
In the endless darkness, seen only by the eyes of the gods, a single form is suspended. A slim, small body, female, yet encased in supple hide – the form-fitted second skin of a warrior. Weapons are attached at intervals; a sword and staff slung across her back, knives concealed at hip and ankle, whip-like cord wound from shoulder to wrist, embracing the muscled arms. Long red-gold hair escapes from its bonds to curl around the pale, freckled face. A young sun blooming in the darkness, as Connar, god of the life-flame, watches. The face of the god is unreadable, but not still. Sadness, pride, anguish, hope, joy, despair, love and rage chase across his face like the tides, continually shifting and changing; unknowable.
All around the still, silent form, others slowly fade into existence. First one, than another, until the darkness is filled with a blaze of color; men, women, and children arriving to fill the void with suspended life.
Connar sighs, gazing across the human constellations, and gestures. The crowd blinks out of existence in an instant, and the darkness is complete once more.
“What happened? I demand an answer! Where are we?” Camlin had the biggest mouth in the Connarii tribe. Consequently, his cries drowned out the three thousand five hundred and thirty-seven other alarmed voices. Their owners milled about in sleepy confusion, and a not a few in embarrassment, as they exchanged inadequate sleepwear for more modest or functional garb, hunting through the piles of household goods heaped about in the shifting mists where chests and hooks had been only moments before.
“Shut your mouth, Camlin.” That was Edana, glaring daggers beneath blazing hair that refused to be braided back and tamed. She would have enjoyed following up with a more pointed attack – literally, one hand on a dagger – had she not been so distracted. The lingering shreds of a dream unsettled her – something about darkness, loneliness…
Her younger sister’s voice jolted Edana back to attention.
“Please, Camlin. You needn’t add to the confusion.”
Aislynn’s remonstrance went unheeded as Camlin stormed over to the girls’ father Toryn, king of the Connarii.
“Well?” He demanded. “What happened?”
The old man sighed. Camlin had never been the most tractable member of the tribe, and what he was about to hear would very likely incite him to new levels of youthful belligerence. No way around it though; waking up to find the whole world swept out from under you tended to stick in people’s minds, and he’d have to offer some kind of explanation, and worse, a plan of action, sooner or later.
Better make it sooner.
Toryn sighed again, feeling worn through and wistful for days gone by. Days when the Connarii had been strong, their kings majestic and their people happy and undoubtedly much, much less difficult. Camlin was still trying to stare him down, jaw clenched, hands fisted, his poor little brother cowering behind him…
All Toryn wanted to do was go back to bed and wake up, oh, say 200 or 300 years ago, when the Connarii had presided over rich holdings across the west of the Islands, before their wealth and dominion had ebbed to the southernmost spit of land along the Cornish coast… and now, even that appeared to have been stolen. Yes, better to have ruled in centuries past, rather than go down in history as the king who lost it all. Toryn would have happily gone back to sleep and never opened his eyes again. Instead, he held up a hand and tried for imperious gravity.
“A moment, Camlin. Aislynn. Edana. With me.” Toryn gestured to his daughters and moved away from the crowd, trying to hide his eagerness to get some distance from the fearful voices and panicked eyes. Sleepiness was shifting into subdued alarm as people tried to work out what, if any, danger they might be in.
The leader of the Connarii waited, tracing the braided gold of the torc around his neck, a brilliant symbol of his rule, and trying not to look like it was choking him, until Edana and Aislynn joined him in the silvery curtain of swirling mists. There, the sounds of the tribe were muffled and the shuffling, wide-eyed people partially obscured from sight. The mists also blurred the ground, making it impossible to determine its composition, and rendering the strange country utterly featureless. The damp air carried no salt or green rot, no hint of sea or shore, and Toryn couldn’t help running his tongue along the top of his mouth, feeling the cottony un-taste of the curiously empty air.
Toryn turned to look at his youngest daughter. Aislynn suited this eerie new landscape a little too well, and he suppressed a shiver. Both his daughters had been waiting with him that night, awaiting the hand of fate, and were attired accordingly. Aislynn wore the traditional garb of her position: a silver shift under a black-feathered cloak. As clan bard and seer, she wore the cumbersome ceremonial costume with all due honor and respect, the youngest ever to hold that post. Her long hair, the same inky hue as her cloak, hung unbound beneath gossamer veils trailing from a delicate silver diadem, and low on her smooth forehead rested a shining diamond that seemed to emit a steady light of its own, a light which winked and danced where it reflected deep within Aislynn’s eyes. The effect was otherworldly indeed, but at twelve, Aislynn was still so slight as to be barely able to move in the ceremonial garb. The braided torc at her throat, symbol of her nobility, glimmered as she turned her head to scan the mists, before directing her intent gaze at her father.
“Aislynn?” He asked. Toryn wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to hear what she had to say.
The swirling silver mists reflected in Aislynn’s eyes as she responded: “Our worst fears have undoubtedly come to pass.”
“You mean… Is that even possible…?”
“The Otherworld, father. We have been banished to the Otherworld. King Bres and the Danann Council of Druids have thrown us out of our lands, as promised.”
“Impossible.” Edana said, impatient. “Battle-Chief Corwin would never fail, not against that pack of deceitful snakes. He probably has the council member’s heads on stakes as we speak. Our warriors are unbeatable.”
Edana’s shining eyes evinced her adoration of her hero, Corwin the Courageous. She spun a small knife absently as she spoke, flipping it in the air and catching it in the same hand without looking. Unlike her sister, she hadn’t earned her costume or the position that it suited; though she wore a warrior’s garb, she was crown princess, not the battle-chief she wished herself to be. Toryn had allowed the outfit on the grounds that it might be practical in the event of attack, and was already regretting the decision as Aislynn responded to her more volatile sibling.
“Then how have we come to find ourselves in this land of mists in the middle of the night? The entire tribe was asleep in their beds – now they are here. Foul magic is the only explanation.”
“She’s right, Edana.” Toryn said, covering his eyes with one broad hand as he heaved a sigh. “There is nothing else to be done. I must speak to the people.”
Aislynn studied her father in considering silence. He bore the weight of her gaze, the weight of generations of seers that stared out from her luminous eyes. It was a strange thing to have your child as your most trusted advisor, but so, it seemed, had Connar willed it.
“Tell them we will gather another war party!” Edana interrupted. “Tell them we will return, and fight for our lands! Tell them that we will not abandon our own to the grasp of the dark druids of Danu. Tell them that the Connarii are mighty, and will surely triumph over their enemies!”
Camlin edged towards them out of the mists where he’d been eavesdropping, smiling. “Your lovely daughter has an excellent point, Toryn…”
Toryn stared down the young man, who coughed and continued more deferentially “…Your Majesty. I have been speaking to a couple of the men as we wait for your… instruction. We’re eager for a chance at whoever has so rudely disturbed us this night. Allow me to lead a party against our enemies – After all…”
Toryn raised one hand sharply, cutting him off. Resentment stirred in the boy’s eyes, but he lowered his head in a bow and stepped back. Toryn waited a few moments, watching until the boy had retreated out of earshot, before turning back to the argument with Edana.
“What would you have me do? Our best warriors are gone, and since we’re here, presumably dead or as good as. Even if I wanted to attack, how do you propose to engage the enemy? What route would you take? Do you know the path to the Danaan council?”
“Father, you don’t mean that you really believe that this is the Otherworld! That’s just a myth.” Edana set her jaw mutinously, no longer flipping the small dagger, but clenching it in a firm guard position. “This is just a – a bad fog. It’ll clear up by morning – and I’ll have the war band ready by then – just say the word.”
Though her posture was at the ready, even eager for battle, Edana’s gaze was as much pleading as it was challenging. Tory could see how much she wanted him to say yes, but what she wanted was impossible.
“You’ll have the what ready by morning? A fog, you say?” He stared at Edana, equal parts astonished and irritated. “Stop denying the obvious, Edana. We’re not going back.”
“Then you’ve found your answer, father.” Aislynn said.
“Eh? What’s that?”
“There is no going back. So, we go forward; find new lands, make a new home for ourselves.”
Toryn considered this. When he’d sent the warriors, he’d hoped for the best. To lose everything; centuries of Connariian civilization, the citadel and lands – what lands were left – not to mention, apparently, his finest warriors… it hadn’t borne thinking about. But it was all, unquestionably, gone.
“There is somewhere to advance towards, then?”
“According to the lore, yes. This is just the beginning of the Otherworld, a sort of in-between place. Like the shoreline where the tide flows, neither fully sea nor land but shared between the two. Eventually we should come to more… um… distinctive places.”
“You don’t sound so sure.” Edana needled her younger sister, upsetting her poise as only a sibling could.
“Well, as you so kindly pointed out, sister dearest,” Aislynn snapped back, “we are relying on myths. True they may be, but rarely precise. So, we tell the truth as we know it. The people need to have some idea of what has happened, and what will happen next. They need something to hold onto.”
“Yes, yes,” Toryn joined in, catching up to the direction of Aislynn’s thoughts. “Our people need to be reassured, their spirits renewed, their energies channeled. We tell them of the treachery of the Danann, then move on to direct their thoughts outwards, to the future. If they’re focusing on the task ahead, they won’t have time to worry over the injustices of the past. But can we offer them hope without promising what we cannot deliver?”
“There is always hope.” Aislynn said, composed once more, her soft voice deepening as it took on the gravity of a seer.
“There has always been more than darkness in the world, and the presence of light is ever near. Offer them hope, father. Promise them a better life – they have only to seek after it, and in time, it shall be theirs. They-”
Aislynn stopped suddenly, her face still and blank. The diamond on her forehead flashed once, and began to brighten steadily until it illuminated the mist in a sphere around her about three feet across. She dropped to her knees stiffly and her head drooped towards the mist-blanketed ground so that her long dark hair fell over her face.
Edana and Toryn gaped at Aislynn for a moment. Toryn reached out a hand, then paused and looked at Edana helplessly.
“Is this part of…?” He whispered. Edana glanced at him out of the corner of her eyes, her brow furrowed. Her sulky expression shifted to one of intense focus.
“I’m not really sure. I’ve never paid that much attention to her special training, it’s not like I’d have anything to do with it. I’ve always thought of it more as an honorific title. Besides, you know I never hang around to watch that sort of thing – music, stories, stuff…”
“Wouldn’t have hurt you any to pay a little more attention to your studies.”
“I study! Combat… Anyways, what about her?” Father and daughter looked at Aislynn doubtfully. Truth be told, though she was a headache, Toryn had always felt he understood his eldest best. Such a pity she hadn’t been born a son. And both, he was sure, would have turned out much better if only their mother had survived…
“Well, she’s breathing, and conscious, since she hasn’t fallen over yet.” Edana said finally, breaking into Toryn’s regret.
Father and daughter hovered awkwardly, afraid to touch Aislynn as she quivered and murmured incoherently. When she finally spoke again, her voice had changed nearly beyond recognition. It was low and had a weight, a power to it that spread heavily in warmly rippling waves like syrup.
“A time of darkness and of light for my blessed people.” The voice intoned, using Aislynn as a conduit. Her mouth moved slowly, and not in time with the words, while her eyes stared fixedly at the ground, though it was hard to see past the glare of the jewel on her forehead.
“The children of Connar return from their sojourn among the children of Danu, but who among them remembers the true path home? Great strife, great pain, great joy, great deeds await. Sorrow and gladness, death and glorious new life. Through the strife will come a new Hope. Can the warriors heal; can the weak repair the hurts of the worlds; can the unknowing wage their blind war against the forces of the chasm? Take up your arms and set yourselves; danger is near, and with it opportunity. Strength will be found within my people – hold to one another and set your faces against the darkness, and you will triumph. Be ever ready to find good, and constantly on guard against evil.
FotC on hiatus | 20 Mar 2017
FotC CH15 Flight | 07 Mar 2017
FotC CH14 Finding your balance | 27 Feb 2017
FotC CH13 Nighttime fears | 21 Feb 2017
FotC CH12 Secrets and truths in the night | 14 Feb 2017
FotC CH11 Brotherly advice | 07 Feb 2017
FotC CH10 A dark stranger | 31 Jan 2017
FotC CH9 Changes | 24 Jan 2017
FotC CH8 Disappearances in the night | 17 Jan 2017
FotC CH7 A surprise proposal | 10 Jan 2017
FotC CH6 Welcome to the jungle | 03 Jan 2017
FotC CH5 A ragtag team | 27 Dec 2016
FotC CH4 Girls and their toys | 19 Dec 2016
FotC CH3 Edana gets a new job | 12 Dec 2016
FotC CH2 In the mists of the Otherworld | 06 Dec 2016
FotC CH1 The Connarii are lost | 29 Nov 2016