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Inspirational Reads

VI

July 22, 2006

I'll try to keep this short, since the rest of the post is long. Ten pages worth. You don't need to read it all or any of it, if you wish. I thought maybe some of you would like it. The paragraphing might be a little off, but hopefully you can figure it out. Let me know if it's bothersome.

Without further ado, Chapter 6:

Six

Redear retreated from the carnage below. The mixture of smoke and blood burned his nostrils. He paused a moment to look over his shoulder at the burning mass crouched alongside the lakefront. Screams of dying Men and animals alike continued to fill the night air, but not like there had been during the height of the battle. Pillars of smoke continued to billow. Most of the fires had burnt themselves out, but an eerie orange glow continued to push through the haze and the smoke left in the wake of the battle. Several of the clans were now abandoning the site. Jane had called it a village when the clans had first arrived; now it looked like a charnel pit, stained black by soot and blood.
He found the girl hidden just inside the edge of the forest. She sat huddled against a fallen tree, much as she had when he and Dappleback and first found her. Skulk sat beside her, resting his chin on her lap. She stroked the fox’s long fur around his head and shoulders. He swished his tail back and forth as she did so. When Redear approached, the little fox opened his eyes and looked up at the young buck. Sadness, much like the emotion that constantly welled within Jane’s eyes, greeted Redear. Skulk sighed deeply, stretching his body and curling it up more tightly against Jane. Closing his eyes once more, he turned his back toward Redear.
Jane stroked the little fox’s fur idly. Her sad eyes looked distantly, off into the blackness of the forest. Her hair was a mess, falling in tangles around her shoulders, the locks festooned with leaves and twigs. Her mouth was pressed into a small line, and her eyes were hooded, masking some of the sorrow and sadness Redear had become accustomed to seeing whenever he looked at the Man child.
“The clans will be leaving soon,” he announced, feeling as if he interrupted something very private. Neither the girl nor the fox acknowledged him. Skulk whipped his tail back and forth, almost menacingly.
“My father has ordered the herd to be gathered. They will be moving on to their next target after the sun rises. He thinks more Men will come to this…village…and see what has happened and they will want to take revenge on the clans. It would be best if we were far from here when the others arrive.”
Jane slowly turned her head toward Redear. Her eyes opened fully as she regarded the young deer. Tears leaked down her cheeks as she looked at him, and he could feel her gaze boring deep inside him. Nervously, he flicked his ears. She said nothing but turned away from him, closing her eyes and leaning her head back against the mossy side of the fallen tree. Skulk lashed his tail again.
“We will not be traveling with the herd,” Redear announced. At those words, both Jane and Skulk opened their eyes and looked at him. He flared his nostrils, picking up the scent of their surprise and wonder. Flicking his ears, he crouched and then laid down beside the two of them.
“My father wishes to push this madness,” Redear explained. “I saw him, briefly, after the fighting had subsided. He was whipped into a frenzy. His coat was slicked with blood, and none of it was his. He smelled of Man blood. His scent was filled with Men’s emotions, of fear and anger and surprise. The way he…cavorted…as if celebrating a grand thing…it made my heart sick. I left then, abandoning him as he bugled his triumph over the village. The wolves and the cats and the other members of the Elk clan bellowed and howled and roared their approval, as well. It was something I never wanted to experience again. This madness must stop. Already the clans are moving on, picking a new place to attack and kill. From what I heard, they will move to the east. I do now know where we will go, but it will not be with them. My herd is here, now: just you two.” He sighed and laid his head down, curling his front legs under him. He closed his eyes, feeling fatigue and exhaustion pulling him down into sleep.
“There are three of us,” he heard a familiar voice announce. Opening his eyes and raising his head, he saw Velvet standing over them. The young doe looked down at him, her head lowered in a sign of deference to Redear. At once, the young buck sprang to his feet, the fatigue he felt a moment ago gone, if for just a moment.
“How did you know where to find us?” he asked, excitement coloring the edges of his question.
“I saw you, after the fight, climbing the hill. I watched when you entered the forest and then when the other does and the fawns left their hiding place to rejoin the bucks of the herd, I lagged behind. Doubling back, I picked up your trail and followed it to here. I knew that when I saw you alone that you had not the heart for this madness and that you would leave the herd. I knew also that you would come to the Man child and attempt to take her from here. I decided that, once I saw you alone, I would join you, and we would make a new herd.” She looked around, at Jane and Skulk and Redear. “A new herd, such as we are.”
“If you followed me so easily,” Redear pushed forward, as if he had not heard Velvet, “then others could follow us.” He looked toward the edge of the forest.
“There were no others on the hill when I followed your trail,” Velvet said, echoing a bit of the fear that Redear expressed. She, too, turned and faced the edge of the forest. Unconsciously, both she and Redear flicked their tails from side to side.
“That won’t matter to the wolves and the cats,” Redear said. “They’ll be hungry after the battle. They’ll want meat to fill their bellies before moving to the next place.”
“Won’t they eat the flesh of the Men they killed?” Velvet asked. Fear began to creep into her voice and raise it in pitch.
“No, the wolves won’t eat the Men’s flesh. They’ll eat whatever animals the Men have…domesticated…but they won’t eat the corpses in the streets. Several of the members of the Wolf Clan were having trouble even tearing the Men down with their teeth and jaws. They complained of the taste and how it was poisoning them, turning them into ‘dogs’.”
Skulk huffed a protest but said nothing more. He stood up and stretched. Jane followed him, the girl coming over and laying a hand on Redear’s shoulder. He flinched from the touch, dancing to the side and turning to face her. Silently, she stared at him, the tears still standing on her cheeks, her eyes still red from crying, but the weight of her emotions and her gaze captured him and held him. He returned her stare, calming himself slowly. His tail stopped flicking back and forth and he stamped his foreleg once and then fell motionless. Fatigue washed over him again. Slowly, Jane reached out a hand to touch his shoulder, and this time Redear did not shy away from her touch. He snorted once and looked at Velvet.
“We need to leave,” he said, calmly. He looked at Jane. “Unless you want to stay and wait for the other Men to arrive at this village. They could take you someplace safer, away from here, away from the madness that my father has joined, away from the madness of the Boar Clan.”
“No,” she said calmly, patting Redear on the shoulder and stroking his coarse fur, “the fires will attract soldiers. They’ll come and see the massacre below us and they’ll fly into a rage. If the northerners come first, they’ll want to kill anything they can find. If the southerners come first, they’ll burn what remains of the city to the ground and search for survivors afterward. If they find me, they’ll take me as their own. They’ll force themselves on me. They’ll make me do things to them for pleasure and celebration and fun.” She shuddered. “I’ll be safer with you, even with the Wolf Clans hunting us, or the Lion or Leopard Clans.”
“Are you sure? You don’t want to be with your own kind?” Redear seemed confused.
“I know you don’t understand, Redear of the Red Deer Tribe of the Elk Clan,” she said, using his full name for the first time. Patting him softly again, she repeated, “Redear of Redear’s herd of the Red Deer Tribe of the Elk Clan.” Smiling at him, Redear suddenly felt embarrassed. He had never seen her smile before, and it took him aback for a moment.
Skulk slipped away into the underbrush. Redear paid him little mind while he struggled to find the words to say back to Jane. He opened his mouth several times only to close it again. Looking to Velvet for support or assistance, she only stared back at him, bowing her head as if to urge him on.
“Thank you, Jane,” he said, unable to put any of the emotions that clogged his mind into any better words. “Travel with me, and I will protect you, as if you were one of my herd. You are one of my herd.” He said the last more to remind himself than to reassure her.
“Someone comes,” Skulk said, emerging from the underbrush quickly. He bounded into the scene, looking up at Redear first but then turning to Jane. “Hide. You do not want to be seen.”
“None of us want to be seen,” Redear said. Velvet crouched down beside Jane as the girl ducked as quietly as she could behind the fallen tree. Skulk went to her side, panting as he wrapped his tail around his feet. Redear moved behind a handful of saplings, hoping that their broad, green leaves would hide him in the murk of the forest.
“Skulk,” he asked quietly. The little fox whirled and wordless yapped before turning back beside Jane. The girl climbed up onto her knees and peered over the edge of the moss-covered tree trunk. Skulk raised up on his hind legs, leaning his forepaws against the tree and staring out at the edge of the forest. Redear looked in the same direction but saw nothing but shadows leaping at the edge of the forest. Then suddenly he heard a handful of horses moving along the forest’s edge.
The Men moved slowly along the forest’s edge. The two in the front each held torches, and the flames flickered high as the Men held the fiery brands aloft. The final Man also carried a torch, but he did not hold the torch as high. He carried a crossbow, the bow pulled back with an arrow readied. Redear’s hackles rose as he saw the fiery light illume the edges of the deadly barbed arrowhead. He stood very still while he watched the horses creep past, especially keeping an eye on the last Man. The others carried long spears, but the two men in the middle also had bows strung but with no arrows set to the strings. Redear cared little for them, focusing more on the Man with the crossbow, knowing that one shot from that weapon would fell him. He would be dead before his body hit the forest floor.
“Get down,” Skulk whispered quietly to Jane, his voice pitched so that only she would be able to hear it. Redear’s ears rotated to pick up the noise involuntarily, and he watched as the girl slipped slowly more behind the fallen tree more fully. She looked rather like a person slipping beneath the surface of the water, and as she crouched to the ground fully, she crushed the dry leaves beneath her. Two of the Men stopped, the Man at the end raising his crossbow. Redear’s legs tensed, ready to burst from the scene, to flee or attack, whichever the situation needed. The other men stopped, as well, and they all turned their horses to stare into the shadowy gloom held beneath the forest canopy.
Skulk was quicker, though. He clawed his way onto the fallen tree and paraded up and down its length several times, swishing his tail as he did so. Finally, he came to the end and offered a couple of wordless barks and then bounded down onto the forest floor, crushing leaves and twigs as he landed. He then scurried around to the front of the fallen tree and pushed through the underbrush, disappearing into the shadows.
“Just a fox,” one of the Men said. Redear tilted his ears forward to listen to their words. “The horses probably scared ’im. Anyways, he’s gone now.”
“If there’s a fox, then there’s no one in the woods up here,” one of the other Men offered. “Looks like no survivors made it up the hill and into the safety of the forest.”
“Then why didn’t we see any bodies on the hill leading up here?” the Man with the crossbow said. He hefted the weapon, and Redear tensed again. “They can’t have all run into the lake. It’s dark on the water, and you can’t drown in the forest.”
“Maybe they fled down the lakeshore,” the first Man responded. “Either way, we won’t find anyone until morning comes. We should go down and get some rest and start sorting out the bodies from that town.” “And make sure none o’ them damned Nicorians come back tonight,” the Man with the crossbow said. The others seemed to ignore him, but he continued to stare into the forest as the others turned and began riding down the hill. He stared a while longer, holding the torch up higher to try and push the forest’s gloom further back from him. After a few long, tense moments, he gave up and turned to join his fellows. Redear made sure the light of the torch had disappeared below the edge of the hill before he finally stepped out from his hiding place.
“We need to leave tonight,” he announced as Velvet and Jane both unfolded themselves from behind the fallen timber. “Where is Skulk?” he asked, calling the question into the dark.
“Skulk is here!” the fox announced, leaping gracefully onto the trunk of the fallen tree. He swished his tail dramatically and held his head high. “After I fooled the Men, I came back quietly, wanting to hear what they had to say.” He laughed again, the mirth clearly reflected in his eyes.
“Well done, Skulk,” Velvet said, laughing at the little beast. Her laughter encouraged him, and he marched up and down the tree trunk again, holding his head high and sweeping his tail back and forth proudly.
“Yes, well done, Skulk,” Redear said. “Now, we need to make preparations for leaving.” He looked up at the sky, but the intertwined branches and leaves hid the majority of the sky from him. Somewhere, above the canopy, the moon crept silently across the sky. Without it, he could not tell how long it was until dawn. He wanted to be far from the destroyed village by the time the sun came over the eastern part of the world.
“Where will we go?” Velvet asked. “The Men are already here. And they’re armored and armed.” She turned to Jane. “Do you know where they are from?”
“They’re northerners,” the girl said. “They’re out looking for the southerners, which means there is an army nearby. At least one, maybe more.” She looked up at the edge of the forest. “They probably came down the lakeshore, so they are north of us.”
“That makes sense, since the clans moved to the east. Even if they came from the south, they would not have seen the clans as they departed,” Redear said.
“They came from the north,” Skulk added. “There were many of them gathered around the burning village. Some Men on horses rode the lakeshore south, and then those came up here to look along the forest’s edge.”
“Then we’ll strike south, staying near the forest’s edge,” Redear announced. “Jane can’t be seen, so we’ll move beneath the forest’s cover. We’ll move south until we can cut down to the water’s edge and follow it around to the south end of the lake and then come around and follow the western bank as we move back north.” The others watched him, listening to his words and nodding quietly. For a second, he was stricken dumb at the notion that they would follow him, would obey his commands like this.
“Hopefully as we move south, we won’t come across any…” his voice trailed off as he looked to Jane for help.
“Nicorians?”
“Yes…Ni…Nicorians,” Redear echoed her. “When we get to the western side of the lake, we can follow the lake back north, or if we need to, we can strike over the meadows toward the mountains. Either way, we’ll be going north.” Redear paused again and looked at Jane.
“We’ll find a settlement or another village, where you can get warmer clothing,” Redear stated, “even if you have to steal it and we run.”
“Skulk is an excellent thief,” the little fox barked proudly. Again, he stood with his head high and his tail swishing back and forth.
“Whatever it takes,” Redear said again. “You’ll need something for your feet, as well. There might be snow on the northern marches already.”
“Snow!” Velvet and Skulk said at the same time. “Skulk hates snow!” the little fox added.
“It doesn’t matter,” Redear said. “We need to go there.”
“What is that far north?” Jane asked. “What do we need up there?”
“We need the only person who can stop this war,” Redear announced. “We need the Mother Goddess.”

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