Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Emerald Forest

Beryl knelt in the kitchen-garden of Seahold, humming to herself. All was well in her wold. At breakfast her mother had announced that Acer was showing certain signs.
“Get out your pipe and leather tools, old dwarf.” she had cheerfully and irreverently addressed the chief of his clan, Beryl’s father. “Time to start making a pair of baby boots.”
After breakfast Beryl, who was very fond of her sister-in-law, had set out to gather certain herbs. Some could be found here, in the safe kitchen garden, gathered in the sun with the company of drowsy bees. Others she would range farther afield for. The sound of a cleared throat caught her attention. She looked up to see a groomsman at the gate, holding her fat pony. Beryl rose to her feet, dusting off her hands.
“Thank you, Bas.”
“No worries, Berry. There’s lunch and what-not in your pannier.”
And her pack-basket lashed behind the saddle on Fat Boy’s haunches, Beryl saw with pleasure. “You are too good to me, Basalt.” she complimented her father’s life-long retainer.
“Tis a pleasure, child.” he smiled up at her. With her half-human blood she loomed a full head taller than he. She mounted and waved cheerfully as her pony ambled reluctantly away from home.
Fat Boy did pick up his pace once he was resigned to not going home until all her errands were done. Beryl slouched in her saddle and mentally ran through the plants she planned to harvest today. Her trips to the deep forest were infrequent for several reasons. One was that Beryl was a homebody who preferred to stay close to her Clan. Of more importance was that few plants grew in the deep shade of the enormous trees. And there were others... She kicked Fat Boy into a reluctant trot.
She found the plant she was seeking near the heart of the forest, where sunbeams were pale golden lances falling silently on the silver-pink blossoms of the wood sorrel. Ground-tying Fat Boy, who was as faithful as a dog in his own way, she set to work with trowel and clippers.
Lost in thought, she almost missed the slight rustling. She looked up and around, cocking her head to one side to better catch the elusive noises. The birds were still singing, undisturbed by her presence as she had been almost still for so long. This other presence, and she was certain someone was there, bothered them not at all. Beryl sighed. She knew what that meant.
In a low, calm voice she commanded, “Show yourself.”
For a moment she thought she’d heard a chuckle, but quickly changed her mind when her stalker stepped out from behind the tree. The tall, icy blond elf in front of her probably never smiled, much less allowed anything as crass as a laugh to cross his lips. Dressed in greens and browns that were never muddy, his long hair hung to his waist, bound back with a gold filet. In his hands he held a bow, drawn, but pointed at the ground in a manner she assumed he meant as non-threatening. Beryl rocked back on her heels and dusted her hands off.
“Merry Meet, kind sir.” she addressed him cordially, hoping he was as she termed him. Elves were not her favorite people. Culturally they tended toward an aloof hauteur that precluded anyone knowing them well, and Beryl herself liked to know the people around her, to see what they needed and provide it if it were in her power. Elves never needed anything.
He took a couple more steps toward her, releasing the bowstring and peering down at her. Beryl suddenly felt very grubby and small. She stood up, her head only reaching to his shoulder.
“What do ye in our wood, human woman?” he demanded abruptly.
Beryl tipped her chin up defiantly. “Simply gathering herbs for a tisane.”
“An whose permission gained you access here?”
“Merely mine own.” She shot back, her eyes flashing. She fell into his speech pattern without realizing she had done so until after she had spoken.
He frowned, his finely sculpted brows lowering over huge green eyes. “No one can enter Ellyndyl’s borders without a permission granted them.”
“Can they not, now?” Beryl decided this one was too stupid for words and bent to pick up her basket.
She concealed her tiny, sharp root knife in one hand as she did so. Aggravated at her indifference to him, the elf raised his bow again, pulling it taut. Beryl set her jaw and took a step toward him, so that the arrow was almost touching her chest.
The second elf appeared almost magically beside her. “Gently, now, cousin. She will unman you before you can let go that arrow.”
Startled, Beryl looked up at him. She knew that richly mocking voice with it’s undercurrent of laughter.
“And besides,” he went on. “‘T’would be very bad form indeed to harm the daughter of Seahold.”
The blond elf showed the first expression Beryl had seen on his face, a fleeting look of consternation, and hastily lowered and released the bow. He was forgotten as she turned and faced her rescuer. Without thinking, she reached up and stroked his cheek.
“Thou hast grown.” she blurted.
He captured her hand and grinned down at her. “As thou hast. Where art thy pigtails and freckles, my friend?”
“It has been ten summers. Thou at least wert old enough to have reached your full size, or at least so I thought.”
He laughed aloud. Beryl was delighted. Perhaps only one percent of all elves even had a sense of humor, but this was one of them, and her friend. He squeezed her hand and she felt a little flutter. More than friend, then. She admitted it to herself and read it in his sea-green eyes as he smiled down at her.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Chaos Mandy challenged me with "1% of Elves" and I challenged Kat with "A chance encounter with the Egyptian god Bes".

Monday, November 07, 2011

Teaching Time

In the morning, Linn milked the goats and fed the kittens, then her grandfather called her into the yard. 
“Ever built a fire from scratch?” Heff asked. He stood there with his hands in his jeans pocket, looking relaxed and casual. Linn looked at him, puzzled. He was different today. 
“I’ve made fires while out camping with Mom and Dad, they wanted to teach me how to take care of myself.”
“Show me.” He didn’t move. 
She looked at him for a minute and then realized he wouldn’t help. She shrugged and trotted into the house. The things she wanted were easy to find. Back outside, she glanced around to pick a spot. Close by, there was really only one option. She knelt on the driveway and crumpled up paper, then grabbed some dead flower stalks from the border, and a few small pieces of kindling from the woodpile. She struck the match on the box she’d brought out, shielding it from the wind with her hand, and ignited the paper. 
“Good. Do it again. House and woodpile off limits.”
Heff dumped a bucket of water over her kindling blaze, and Linn hopped back, spluttering indignantly. He took the matches from her. 
“But, but!” 
“Nope. You can do it.”
“I carry a match safe in the woods.”
“How many matches in it?”
“Um, about a dozen?”
“What happens if you’re out there,” He indicated the looming mountains with a sweep of his arm. “More than a week?”
She sighed. She knew in theory how to do this. Looking grumpily back at him, she set off for the woods. This collection took a little longer. She was vaguely aware that Grampa Heff was in the woods nearby, but he was very quiet, and she didn’t really want to talk to him, and wasn’t about to ask for help.
The first thing she looked for was a paper birch. The bark was highly flammable and could be lit even wet. She had a handful of it in her survival kit, but Grampa had set the parameters, and her pack was indoors. All she had was her belt pouch and knife. This turned a difficult task into a time-consuming one. With her knife she cut dry twigs down and tied them into a neat bundle with braided grass and hung this from one of her belt loops. The birch bark went into her pocket along with a handful of dry grass. She found some dry, fallen wood. She didn’t bother to break them, long pieces could be arranged radially and pushed in as they burned down. 
When she walked out of the woods with her hands full, Heff was hunkered down by the long driveway. He nodded at her. 
“Come t’ house.”
Linn followed him to the yard, where the fire ring he used for barbecuing had been cleaned out. He had a platter of food on the table. Linn laughed at that, and built the fire carefully. Bark first, shredded and cocooned with the dried grass. The twigs on that, then the tree limbs, arranged to give the kernel of the fire air. Pulling out her knife and flint striker, she rested the striker on the bark, pushing down firmly and creating a stream of sparks that jetted into the tinder. A couple of tries and she could see glowing spots that she blew on to feed the fire. Flames flicked up, and she rearranged the twigs to be in better contact with the tinder. Rocking back on her heels, she smiled up at her grandfather. 
“Very good. I’ll cook lunch while you check on the kittens.”
Linn could feel her cheeks warm at his praise. Grampa Heff didn’t do it much, and she knew she’d passed his first test. She wondered what the next one would be. The kittens were waiting for her at the gate, ready for their bottles. She felt guilty for having left them most of the morning, but then thought of a mother cat. The kittens would be alone while she was out hunting. Linn cuddled them and washed them after their bottles, until they were ready to fall asleep again. They slept a lot. 
Her own stomach grumbled, and she sniffed. Grampa's cooking smelled good. She sniffed again. Smelled like bacon. Linn scrambled down the ladder and Grampa Heff handed her a plate full of bacon and eggs. He’d pulled and washed a handful of sorrel and lightly wilted it in the bacon grease. It was delicious, and she had seconds. 
Her stomach full, she sighed and smiled up at him. 
“Did I pass?”
“Yep. Figured your Mom did ok with you. But I needed to be sure.”
“We used to go camping a lot.” Linn looked at the little fire dying into embers. Grampa had pulled it apart so it would go out. She felt happy. Her Dad would have liked what Grampa had done today. He’d taught her as much as her mother had. They had gone camping in all seasons, and she’d loved every trip. 
“You miss him.”
“Yeah, but it’s ok. This... He would have liked this.”
Heff nodded. “He was a good man.”
“Did he know... about you, and Mom?”
Heff shook his head. “No, he didn’t. But then, most mortals never know. We’re safer that way, both mortal and immortal.”
She nodded. “I won’t tell.”
“I know you won’t. Now, I need to get some work done in the smithy today.”
“I’ll make dinner.”
Heff laughed. “I’ll take you up on that, as long as it’s one of your Dad’s recipes.”
Linn laughed along with him, feeling something in her heart ease a little. If she couldn’t have her father, she at least had the goodness that was her memories of him in her mind. Her mother really couldn’t cook. Everything was burned or raw, with her. Linn had been her father’s “little chef” since she could stand on a stool at his elbow, and she liked to cook. Tonight she’d have fun. 
“Well, if you’re going to cook it, go out and get it.”
“Kill it, clean it, and then cook it, girl. You won’t always have a supermarket and a refrigerator at your beck and call.”
“I don’t know how.”
“You shoot pretty good with your .22, your Mom tells me.”
“I didn’t bring it.”
“Well, here.” Heff reached behind the woodpile and handed her a .22 rifle. Plain and worn, she could see immediately it was old. 
“I’ve had it for a long spell. Time you got to take care of her.”
He handed her a leather pouch which had six cartridges in it. “You can’t get game with that many, we go hungry. Time will come you’ll get two... one for each of us.”
Linn nodded. She wasn’t sure they wouldn’t go hungry tonight. Her parents hadn’t taught her how to hunt. 
Heff smiled. “Don’t look so stricken. Go find a couple of rabbits, bring ‘em home and I’ll teach you how to clean them.”
Linn put the pouch on her belt and picked up her day pack. She knew she needed to learn this, but this was challenging. Then she grinned. “All right, Grampa. I’ll be home soon!”
Heff chuckled as she walked away. She was feisty. She had a chance in this messy world of theirs. He stretched a hand out over the fire, feeling the warmth of it, and then closed his fingers. The fire went out, and he could feel the energy he’d just absorbed racing through his body. Time to get to work. 

For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Bewildered Bug challenged me with "She Was Feisty" and I challenged Head Ant with "Stop the world, I want to get off for a while".