As we approached the trees something strange occurred that I would not have expected. Based on the surroundings that I had been in the past couple of weeks, though not comfortable, the snow had become customary. Would anyone expect any different this far north of Glanderxe? As if battling expectations the snow melted before my eyes causing a great field of mud. I would have complained, but was past the point of caring. I just wanted to get to the forest. The prospect of meat toyed with my stomach and mind, giving me the will to go on.
Glanderxe – Chapter 9
Soon the water began to dry, but by the time we reached the lush fields that lined the forest I was plastered to the waste with mud. Looking behind me, I could see the fields of white in the distance. Not only had the snow melted, but I also noticed a change in the air temperature. I was hot! In the middle of this frozen wasteland, it seemed that we had found an oasis of life and beauty. The purple flowers which previously dotted the snow now created a sweet blanket beneath our feet.
The landscape stretching before my eyes brought me back to the days when Miranda and I would go running in the fields on the outskirts of Coere Ghante. During spring, what time we didn’t spend working the fields was spent at play. We would run with the wind, hands and feet naked like a newborn, playing at adventure like two mighty hunters, or warriors, or any other manner of hero our juvenile minds could conjure up. Mother’s stories tickled our childish minds and we re-enacted those tales or discovered adventure of our own. I remember, in the evenings we used to lay in the grass and watch the sun make its slow trek behind the trees, exploding in glorious oranges and reds as it drew closer to its destination. Such memories almost made me want to remove my shoes and enjoy the feel of the soft greenery between my toes… but I was no fool. If Kyra saw me acting so, I would never hear the end of it. She already had enough reason to point out my naivety and youth. Why should I seek to add to her repertoire.
Soon we were among the trees, and it felt like summer again. The warm moist breeze flowed through the hair of the Tallri causing it to ripple like a lake seen by night. Her dark tresses fell to her shoulders, and for the first time, I saw the beauty she had been hiding. Perhaps it was the harsh weather or her harsh attitude that had previously blinded my eyes to her beauty. No one could match the beauty of my love, Farah, but Kyra was a pleasant sight and seemed at home in the mighty forest.
She turned to look at me, I presumed to give instruction on the hunt, and I felt heat rise to my face. Hoping that my embarrassment was not noticeable by the Tallri, I stood there like a dumb schoolboy, waiting for her to speak. She, thankfully, didn’t seem to notice, or if she had, did not comment on my juvenile musings. “We must be silent and cunning if we are to catch anything today.”
“What is it that we are hunting?” I said, still trying to clear my head of the embarrassment I had caused myself.
“The locals call them spirit dear… Riul only knows why, because there is nothing more spiritual about them than the deer of the south.” She seemed disgusted by the thought that someone would distinguish one animal as “spiritual” and another as not. All beasts were created equal in the eyes of Riul.
I let a smile spread across my lips but dared not entertain speaking my thoughts. Perhaps the heat was getting to her, but I had not yet seen anything of these “locals” and had been travelling through the same wasteland as she. It may just be my juvenile nature, but I found great humour, conceptually, in “spirit deer”. My mind went wild with images of glowing deer with wings, like a fairy/deer cross-breed. I tried not to laugh at the pictures in my mind’s eye. “And where shall we find these spirit deer.” I emphasized, keeping the humour to myself.
“They are with us now, we just have to catch them.” She stated simply, as if it was less of a hunt and more an act of encircling them in a net like a butterfly.
I decided to play along. Though I so desperately wished to mock her, this game would be a lot more fun if I kept my thoughts to myself. I followed her swiftly and silently, as she dodged behind one tree and then another. The way she moved, it truly seemed like she was stalking her prey, though I saw no evidence of the hunted. The game continued for quite some time until I was growing bored of the joke. I was almost ready to call her bluff when I saw that which we chased. The locals (whoever that might be) were correct in their assessment of the “spirit deer” which now materialized before my eyes. As if passing from one plane to the next, the stag became visible in all its wonder. Though I could see it now, its form remained like that of a spirit, glowing purple and translucent.
I followed Kyra’s lead as she darted once again to the next-nearest tree. The spirit deer approached a mighty expanse of water which now stretched before us, clear and beautiful. The Thief turned to me, indicating that I should stay put, as the deer lowered its head to take a drink from the water. She crept forward without making a sound, travelling with grace like one walking on clouds. She drew nearer to the animal than I thought someone who showed such knowledge of the hunt would dare before pulling a small knife from beneath her tunic. In one swift motion she lifted her arm above her head, and with a flick of the wrist, launched the blade toward the creature. As it found its mark, she leaped from the ground, mid-air pulling another knife from its concealed home beneath her clothing, and landed on the deer’s back just moments after the knife had found its place, raising it from it’s tranquillity.
If I were the hunter, I would have considered the first knife sufficient, but I saw that Kyra was my superior in more skills than thievery. The spirit tried to launch itself from beneath its assailant, but she remained atop holding the beast tightly between her thighs. It bucked and kicked and struggled to no avail as the Tallri grabbed the neck of the spirit deer in one hand, the other swinging from above her head and slicing its neck. Sweet red blood gushed from the wound as the deer fell on the ground, never to rise again. As the life force drained from its veins it travelled from the plane of the spirit to that of the living, yet was dead, the purple translucent skin being replaced with opaque brown fur.
Kyra pulled her first knife from the side of the beast and proceeded to clean it on the animal’s skin. I approached her from behind the tree which I had witnessed the scene… but said nothing. I knew not what to saw, but could only stand in awe of the events that had unfolded. The hunt was truly a game; I was not a party, but a mere observer of Kyra the champion and the spirit deer the loser.
The meat was warm and tender. Never had I enjoyed the juices of animal flesh running down my face as much as I did that night. My stomach welcomed the meat, but my mind cherished it more. Though curiosity toyed with me about many things, I easily ignored its ravings being soothed by the comfort of warmth and good food.
Though we both were starving, there was more meat than we couple handle. I wanted to continue eating, but my stomach denied me the luxury as it nearly burst from within me like clouds holding back a storm. Kyra showed her survivalist instincts by saving enough of the excess for one more meal, the rest being prepared and dried to prevent it from spoiling.
I reclined heavily against a nearby tree, watching the flames from our fire lick the low hanging branches, the heat curling the leaves like a snail going into hiding. As sparks leaped from the pit, I was mesmerized by the low crackle of wood and flickering lights, barely noticing Kyra get up. “Where are going, Thief?” I asked half-heartedly my eyes not leaving the flames.
“The night is clear and the water calls to me. I seek to wash off the dirt of the journey and the hunt.”
“I won’t stop you, though the water might. The chill of the night is better suited for sleep than bathing.”
“The chill!” Her laughter brought my eyes from the flames as I searched her for the meaning behind the humour. “There will be no chill here, Mert. The Pharosh make sure of that.”
I had seen no Pharosh and knew not what she spoke of. “The Pharosh are of the west, yet you speak of them when we have travelled north. It appears that I am not the only one who is challenged geographically.” I laughed to myself, though she did not share in the joke.
“The water you see before us joins with the Great River West which governs the border of the Pharosh’ homeland. They maintain its warmth to prevent unwanted trespassers crossing by foot over ice.”
I had not been cold since entering this strange forest where snow did not fall and wind did not chill. Warming myself at the flames was not necessary, but I enjoyed the comfort it brought my mental state. “I lack the mental energy for your stories or explanation. Enjoy the water. I will likely be here when you return, though I cannot promise my eyes will remain attentive.” I turned back to the fire, my eyes beginning to close from the fatigue caused by a full belly.
“You know not what your eyes are missing.” I barely heard her and only knew of the clothes she left by the wayside as she proceeded to the water from the shadows they cast in the peripheral of my drooping lids.
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