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Thread: This thread for parallel stories not directly linked to "Disturbing News"

  1. #1

    Default This thread for parallel stories not directly linked to "Disturbing News"

    Looking forward to reading new stories.

  2. #2

    Default Watching Me Watching

    The following story is in no way related to, or inspired by Istaria. The husband (otherworldly known as Skirnir) likes this story, and suggested that I share it. It's weird. It's twisted. It's dark. It's strange. Which is, honestly, why he likes it. I wrote it for a small writing group I facilitate through the local Council on Aging, about five years ago. Our theme was Deep Dark Secrets, and I took it to heart. Nothing in the story is real, nor is it based on any real events or people. It's simply the product of my (sometimes) dark and twisty imagination. I hope you enjoy it.

    I sat in the cafeteria watching the people go by. They don't know I'm watching. They think I'm reading the paper and sipping my coffee. The latter I'm doing, but not the former. I people-watch, it's what I do. Other people fascinate me. I can sit and watch them for hours. People accuse me of stalking them. Not me. I'm a people watcher – that's all.

    I like to watch them and speculate about their lives. That man in the fancy overcoat. Let's call him Chester. Chester likes being comfortable and being in this place isn't his idea. He's here with a woman, not his wife, I'm guessing. He's careful to keep distance between them, self-conscious if she touches him. Not his wife – his girlfriend. She has something special to tell him – something he won't want to hear. She knows, but also knows she has to. I turn away from her despair.

    In the corner is a family having hot chocolate on this cold, city night. Winter isn't far away. You can feel it in the way they chat about the cold. Their breath clouds around them – it's chilly in here. The air conditioning hasn't been turned off yet. Some optimistic soul thinks it's still only fall.

    The one I really want to watch is that girl by the door. She sits alone, forlorn, forgotten. Medium height, she straight, dirty blonde hair and pale eyes. They show up green in the light of the cafeteria, but then, so does her hair. Her face is drawn, dirty and finely chiseled. I hope she'll find a man or die soon. Either way is okay with me. Anything that will end her suffering.

    I take another sip of my coffee and scan the room again. In the far corner, opposite the family, not far from the unhappy girl, Is a man like me. Not that he looks like me. We're very different. He's got light brown hair and mine is dark. His eyes are hazel, mine are green. He wears all black. Though I do too, his jacket is short, my coat is long. He wears boots similar to mine, but his are scuffed. Mine shine like new, though they are old.

    Both of us have a look – an affectation, if you will – the look of a predator. Though I cannot speak for him, I can for myself. I am a predator. I hunt through the night. I follow the unwary, cutting them down in their prime. Would I harm the family? No. The lonely girl? Also, no. The successful business man and his floozy – yes. Well, not her, him. Perhaps when he's leaving their love nest, sated from a night of debauchery with a woman half his age.

    They rise to leave. I fold my paper and take my coffee. No sense leaving evidence. The man opposite me makes to rise, sees me and hesitates. I glare at him before my eyes flicker to the man. I raise an eyebrow. He shakes his head, tipping his chin at the woman. I make my own negative reply. In agreement, we follow them separately, on different sides of the street. We move quietly, casually, as if we have nowhere else to be.
    Her place must be close, because they're walking. Arm in arm, they walk up the steep sidewalk. They climb slowly. My doppelganger and I match their pace. They enter an apartment building at the crest of the hill. Moments later, lights come on in the first floor apartment. We see our prey silhouetted against the blinds, kissing. They retire to another room and we wait, smoking cigarettes in the dark.

    My shadow walks across the street to stand next to me. He faces the window, a smile on his lips.

    "Tonight?" I ask quietly.

    "I would ask you the same." He finishes his cigarette. Squeezing out the end, he puts it in his pocket, much as I've done with my own.

    "If we take one without the other....."

    "The free one will become cautious," he finished my sentence for me.

    We nodded in unison.

    "When he leaves," I murmured as the door opened.

    Nodding, he faded into the shadows, moving toward the back of the building. I stay in my hiding place, waiting for the businessman to walk away. After many fond kisses, he does, heading back down the sidewalk. He must walk right past me to get back to the cafeteria. He won't make it that far. Or perhaps he will?
    I allow him to walk by, whistling happily. I hear the bushes rustle behind me. My friend returns.

    "Not tonight," he says before I ask him.

    I understand because I feel the same. Silently, I invited him back to the cafeteria for coffee.
    "Tomorrow?" I ask him.

    A shrug answers my question. We're patient, we wait in the shadows with our deep, dark secrets.

  3. #3

    Default And Itza Danced by Dellani Oakes – Part 1

    This story is associated with my sci-fi series. The character of Itza is introduced in The Kahlea (not yet published). She is an interesting character and I decided I needed to explore her character's origins more. She is the First Champion of the people of Bankaywan. She is also a distant relative of Mai's. This story begins before Itza became the First Champion, even before the Duelist's Guild came to be. This is set when Bankaywan was still a primitive, backwater planet in the middle of absolute nowhere. It is a time when only the strong survive and peace must be won with the strength of the fist.

    Itza stood in a defensive pose, facing down the most recent bunch of marauders. So for this month, there had been three, each more brutal and grasping than the last. Every time, her village had fought them and won—just barely. Today, she didn't know. She rather doubted they could win this time, for the others were large and many. The men of her village stood behind her, armed the best they could with farm tools. One or two had actual swords which were ancient, dull and rusted. They could do more harm to themselves than to a burly warrior.

    The leader smiled nastily, as he shifted weight from foot to foot uncomfortably, her stare boring into him. He had thought he had the upper hand in this fight, now he was not sure. Tilting his head to one side, he eyed her critically. She was slightly built, tall for a cat, sleek muscle rippling under her fur. He couldn't help thinking what an attractive little cat she was, wondering how much he could get for her at market.

    Itza saw this and much more in his eyes. He hoped to take her down without spoiling her looks. At least he would be more careful of her and probably not ravage her since he hoped to make some money off her. She automatically sized up her adversary, noting his height, weight and musculature without knowing she did it. An eye for detail, she noticed he was big, but flabby. However, he had close to fifteen stone of weight on her, making him roughly twenty-five stone. Speed and agility did not always win a fight, although it went a long way toward it. She could wear him out if she could keep away from him. He had long, hairy arms, bespeaking half-giant blood in his veins. He would have a lengthy grasp.

    The men behind Itza did not understand what the delay was. They had never seen a band like this stop and stare before. It made no sense and the mounting unrest was causing a feeling of electricity rippling up Itza's spine. She had to do something or the entire situation would explode into something she could not contain.

    "What is it you want?" She spoke more boldly than she felt.

    "We want food, wine, whatever you have. Give us what we want and we will leave."

    "I doubt that. I see how your men are eyeing our village. I see the look of lust in your eyes. You'll take what you want and kill us all anyway. I have a solution."

    The leader threw back his head, laughing gruffly, but he kept a wary eye on Itza. She could be formidable and she scared him. It was ludicrous! He, Elveric Woodgluc afraid of this tiny little cat less than half his size!

    "What is your solution, little one? Do you wish to kiss me? I can arrange far better entertainment than that, I assure you."

    "No. I propose a duel, you and I will fight. If I win, you leave with nothing but your lives, never to return nor do my people any harm. If I lose, you have me and whatever else you want."

    "And if I refuse?"

    "Then we shall see how many of you will die."

    He laughed again, more uncomfortably. "As you wish!"

    His men tried to convince him not to agree, but he was ready to get this over with. He wanted to quell that look in her disturbing, golden eyes.

    Itza walked to the nearest hut, stripping off her extra clothing and arming herself with staves and knives.

    None of the swords were worth anything, but the farmers had all purpose knives which were well balanced, sturdy and a good size for two blade fighting. A quick prayer to her gods, and she let herself fall into a calmness which was virtually unshakable.

    "Itza are you mad?" Her younger sister, Bastia, ran up to her, dragging on her arm. "You can't do this, sister, you will die! We will all die! Please, please!"

    Her protests did nothing to change Itza's mind. As head woman of the village, she had to do something decisive or these men would never leave. Her father and mother were dead, killed in marauder's raids in the last few years.

    "Bastia, I didn't want this job, but I must consider all of you. I can win, just have faith." Taking her things, she walked quickly back to the fighting area which the men had staked out for her and her opponent.

    Elveric was waiting for her in one corner of the ring, smirking as he wrapped strips of cloth around his hands. Itza walked to the corner opposite him where her brother, Orris and Uncle Brev were standing, waiting to wrap her hands as well. They checked them carefully, seeing they were not too tight, and stepped away from her.

    © 2015 Dellani Oakes

  4. #4

    Default Re: And Itza Danced by Dellani Oakes – Part 1

    I will be adding to this story every Saturday. Please come back and enjoy! Dellani

  5. #5

    Default And Itza Danced by Dellani Oakes – Part 2

    One of the bandits and oldest of the farmers were to judge. Each of the combatants took their stance and waited. The signal came and they prepared their attacks. Elveric circled to his left, looking for an opening. Itza countered his moves, eyeing him critically, waiting for a betraying movement which would herald his attack. He lumbered around facing her, limping slightly on his left leg. It was a relatively new injury, he favored the leg, stepping on it gingerly.

    With a feint to his right, Elveric hoped to throw her off, but she came in low from his left, clipping his sore leg. Before he could recover, she fell forward on her hands,balancing on her bent left leg, swinging her right in a low, tight circle.

    Elveric howled with pain and rage. He landed heavily on the ground, shaking his fist as he stood once more. Bellowing like a rabid bull, he ran toward her, forgetting his injury.

    Itza stepped aside easily, watching him flail his hands in helpless circles, trying to grab her in a bear hug. If he succeeded in trapping her, she would have little chance to get away. Her greatest tool was her agility.

    "Hold still, you wench! How can I best you if you fight like this? She's cheating!"

    He yelled at his official, but the bandit took his job as a marshal seriously, as did the old farmer.

    "She's not cheating, Elveric. She's in her rights to fight this way. No one set any rules up, you'll manage."

    He nodded his head sharply at his boss, noticing the leader's jowls turn red with anger.

    Elveric regrouped, hobbling to his corner to have his leg seen to. It was bleeding again, which annoyed him. It was a fairly fresh wound, less than a fortnight old. Some nasty bar wench had taken a dislike to his advances and sliced him before he overcame and beat her. She'd not forget him, but he'd not forget her easily either.

    Now this little kitten was becoming a plague to him and he had to do something decisive quickly or lose his men. He signaled the marshals that he was ready once again, and took his position opposite Itza.

    "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty," he taunted.

    Itza didn't show any emotion. It was a pathetic attempt to cause her distress, but she found it humorous. Tamping down an urge to chuckle, she stood her ground as Elveric prepared another hulking attack on her person. He reached out with his long, hairy arms, lunged toward her and fell over his own feet. She moved again and he lurched forward, dropping heavily to his knees. Flailing head over heels, he landed on his back, the air knocked out of him. The marshals came to him, bent over and spoke softly.

    "Are you planning to rise, sir?" his underling asked him.

    "You rise or you lose, you sluggard," the farmer said crisply, wishing for an end to all this nonsense so he could get back to his tankard of ale.

    "Course I'm getting up, you fools!" Roared Elveric. "Give me a hand up, Crex! Now if she'll just hold still, I'll finish this right away! Enough rushing about, give me a long staff, Crex. A good one!"

    He pulled himself up, holding onto Crex's surcoat, wobbling slightly as he waited for his staff. Itza called for hers and waited patiently for him to arm himself. Once both were armed, she decided that she no longer wished to wait for him to make the first move. His reach was longer and his arms stronger, he could deliver a devastating blow if he connected.

    With a leap and a spin, Itza seemed to dance in the ring, a powerful pirouette of pain. Each step took her closer to Elveric, who stood open mouthed, gaping at her fascinating aerobatics. With a final hop, she landed on her toes, back to Elveric. Before he could react, she whirled around, using her staff like an extension of her arm, swinging it in a mighty arc around her. The force of her blow knocked Elveric to his knees, gasping in pain and shock. While he was down on the ground, clutching his ribs, she used the staff like a prod, hitting him squarely on the sternum. He heard the bone crack and he fell backward, both hands now on his chest.

    Itza jumped lightly over to him, her staff providing a pole vault for her. She landed on his shoulders, holding him to the ground, forcing his shoulders into the sand, her staff inches above his lowering brow. He looked up at the inch and a half thick piece of wood cross eyed.


    "Do you yield?" Itza said quietly, only he and the marshals heard her.

    Elveric didn't reply, still gasping. Her right heel dug into his shoulder and her staff tapped him lightly between the eyes.

    "Yield?" She said more loudly this time.

    © 2015 Dellani Oakes

  6. #6

    Default And Itza Danced by Dellani Oakes - Part 3

    The marshals walked over, waiting for his decision.

    "She is in her rights to kill you, sir," his man pointed out needlessly. "She offers you a chance to yield, do you accept?"

    Elveric looked from Itza to each of the marshals and back at the tip of the staff. "I yield," he croaked.

    Itza stepped delicately onto the ground beside him, offering him her hand. "Call off your men, send them away."

    "What's to prevent you killing me as soon as they do?" He was angry and it made him bold.

    "My word as head woman of this village," she spoke simply.

    He spat at her feet, anger making him stupid. He swatted aside her hand and pulled himself painfully and slowly up, using his staff for support. "Your word?" he bellowed, mere inches from her face. "What use is your word? And what is to prevent me and mine from coming back here and taking what we want another day?"

    "Your word."

    "You did promise, boss, to go away...." Crex said.

    Elveric smacked the bandit with the back of his big knuckled hand. "Shut up, you! I'm still in charge here and I say we take what we want from these folk and burn the village to the ground!"

    His men made no move to do as told. Instead, they took a few steps away from the ring. Some dropped their weapons, backing completely away from Elveric and the villagers.

    "You promised," Itza told him. "How many of your men will follow you now that you've been bested by me?"

    Elveric glared at Itza, then looked at his men, realizing she was right. They would not follow him against these people and might not follow him anymore at all. He'd lost more than he'd bargained for.

    "Very well," he yelled, spittle flying from his lips. "Very well, we leave this village alone this time!"

    "Forever," Itza prompted. "You leave us in peace for all time. In fact, you can tell any other marauders to pass us by, for all who come shall receive the same treatment you did. However," she raised her voice loudly, turning in a slow circle, facing his men, "tell anyone you meet that though today I spared the life of this man, I shall kill anyone who disturbs our peace. Is there a man among you who disbelieves me? If so, let him come forward, and I shall prove my veracity!"

    No one moved nor did they speak. Instead, the bandits bowed to her with respect and laid their weapons at her feet. Some cut and ran as soon as they could, others walked quietly away, standing a respectful distance, waiting for their boss. Others did neither, but waited patiently for the rest to depart before approaching Itza. One of these was the fellow who had acted as marshal.

    "Miss, I beg yer pardon," he said politely. "But it be rather obvious my boss will no longer have me. Not that I can blame him, but twould make me a proud man indeed if you would accept me to join your band."

    "I've not got a band, fellow. I have a village of farmers, if you wish to stay in that capacity, then you are welcome."

    "That'd do me fine, miss."

    Grinning happily, he joined the old farmer for a drink in the tavern. Many of the village men followed him. Some stayed protectively around Itza until the bandits dribbled away into the woods or across the fields.

    When Elveric and the others had gone, the handful of men approached Itza, bowing as if to a queen. "Miss," their self-appointed spokesman said to her. "We'd be proud as can be if you'd allow us to stay as Crex has done. It's been in me own mind for some time that this bandit life no longer suited me. You'd find us hard workers and ready to help out any way we can to defend your village here, for it's a fair and pretty place. Will ye have us?"

    Itza looked at her brother, uncle and sister for confirmation. All of them gave a slight nod of acceptance.

    "You are welcome here, fellows. See you work hard and act right and you'll find us fair and honest folk. Mistreat this trust we give you and it will be your heads on a pike. You accept these conditions?"

    The spokesman looked around at his comrades. They all nodded happily.

    "Aye, Miss. Me and the boys like that fine."

    They followed their comrade into the tavern, bowing and nodding happily as they went.

    Itza watched them closely, looking for signs of betrayal or subterfuge. She found nothing out of the ordinary. They were what they said, men who were tired of life on the road and wanted a place to settle down. She smiled and looked around at her people. Some were smiling, others looked incredibly puzzled, still more were frowning after the bandits.

    © 2015 Dellani Oakes

  7. #7

    Default And Itza Danced by Dellani Oakes - Part 4

    My apologies, in the bustle of the holidays, I forgot to post on Saturday!

    PART 4

    "Mistake, that was! You'll see!" An old woman called to Itza as she turned to walk back to her house.

    Uncle Brev walked up next to her, taking her arm. "You did well, little one. That was some fight. My heart beat wildly there for awhile. I thought he might actually take you."

    "Had he been himself and not injured, it might have turned out differently. I am ashamed, I took unfair advantage of his wound to beat him."

    "When you fight for your life and all you hold dear, there is no unfair advantage. He'd have killed you and not thought twice about it, like as not."

    "You did great, Itza!" Her brother ran up next to her, taking her hand and gazing with affection and pride into her eyes.

    Where Itza was a light golden color, Orris was a deep russet. Bastia was the most beautiful of them all; pure white with brilliant blue eyes. Uncle Brev was striped like a tiger in bands of black and brown with a white blaze on his powerful chest.

    Looking at her family, Itza's heart filled with pride. She knew she had done the right thing, for their safety and that of her village were the most important things in her life. She could not have watched them die at the hands of the bandits.

    "Come, it's dinner, you three!" Brev's wife Anasafe, their mother's sister, called from the house. "Wash up, then! You're filthy, lass, have you been playing in the dirt?"

    Brev and Itza threw back their heads, laughing heartily. Orris and Bastia giggled and danced in circles around their aunt.

    "Trust you, Ana, to be the one person in the village not to know what's just transpired. Our Itza has saved us all!"

    "That well may be, Brev, but she's still filthy! Go wash, I tell you! Dinner's like to be cold as stone already!"

    Laughing and chatting happily, they went to the kitchen and washed their hands and faces. After dinner, a small group of men, including the bandit Crex and some of his friends, stopped by to see Itza and her uncle.

    "I'd advise ye to post guards this night, miss," Crex cautioned. "Elveric's right mad. He'll want yer hide and there's no doubt." The others nodded their agreement. "He's got pride and a temper. To be shown up by a little mite of a thing like ye be, he's in a tizzy."

    "I'll take care of that, Crex," Brev told him. "There's a few of us used to serve in the militia, we've not forgotten all we knew."

    "The boys and me will be keeping a weather eye as well. We've no love lost betwixt Elveric and us, mark my words. Well, night, miss, sir." They bobbed their heads in brief respect and left to different ends of the village.
    Brev set out right after them and saw to guards. Itza decided to call it an early night and went to her bed, falling instantly asleep.

    Itza sat up in bed, a scream rending the peaceful night. It had been outside, not one of her people, more like an animal. She heard nothing else, but in a moment several people were moving around outside. She heard snatches of conversation. Dressing quickly, she grabbed her father's armor and threw it on. The stiff leather was far too big, but it made her feel better wearing it. His sword hung on the wall. Itza had never used it before, but she cleaned and sharpened it regularly. She belted it on as she dashed out of the house, looking around. All seemed quiet except over by the animal pens.

    Running over quickly, she saw what the trouble was. All the animals in the pen had their throats cut. The scream she'd heard was the dying cry of their sheep. They had no livestock left. If Elveric had wanted them to die, why didn't he attack them outright and not make them slowly die from lack of food? True, the meat could be salvaged, smoked and stored, but no longer had they wool to trade. She hung her head sadly, knowing this was her fault.

    "So he wants it this way, does he?" Brev said solemnly. "You should have killed him when you had the chance," he told Itza. "It's the only thing a man like him understands."

    © 2015 Dellani Oakes

  8. #8

    Default And Itza Danced by Dellani Oakes PART 5

    The men were already gathering up the dead animals, lining them up for dressing as the women set up cook pots, brine barrels and smoke racks. It wasn't going to be a happy day, but it would be a busy one. Even the children would work.

    They were just setting up the smoke houses, stoking them with hardwood for a slow, long burn, when they heard it; the rumble of hooves. What was making the racket? They could not imagine what it might be. Terrified mothers grabbed their children, running for the village hall in the center of town, for it was the sturdiest structure.

    Moments later, the men gathered around Itza casting curious, fearful glances at her and one another as the rumbling grew louder. Suddenly, they burst from the trees and bushes to the northwest of town! Dozens of volfboars, large, wild pigs. Usually docile beasts, they could be formidable and dangerous when angry. Something had them in a stampede and they would not stop until they destroyed all in their path.

    "Take cover!"

    Itza and the men roared to the women and children who were left, but the boars were upon them, goring and trampling anyone in their path. Children fell, battered to death, as their mothers watched.

    "Itza!" she heard someone call her name and saw Bastia shouting to her from their home. It was in the center of the stampeding beasts, but Bastia, focused on something else, had not yet seen them.

    "Bastia! Go in, bar the door!" But her sister could not hear her. Instead, she finally noticed the wild boars only a few yards away and froze in terror, door wide open, screaming and terrified.

    Itza ran as fast as she could, but already she knew she was too late. The lead boar was nearly to her front steps and Bastia had not moved.

    "Bastia! Go inside! Someone, please! Save her! Bastia!"

    A man burst through the back of the house, grabbed Bastia and dragged her inside, slamming the door in the boar's face. Startled, it hesitated for a moment, then battered against the door in anger. The rest of the wild beasts were running around the house on both sides, their momentum slowed slightly, but still a frightening adversary. The house shook with their passing, the porch groaned and fell as the animals flung themselves one after another toward the front door. Thankfully, it held.

    After what felt like hours, the animals stopped running and either wandered around town or out into the woods again. Itza knew it was another warning to them that Elveric was still around; angry and vengeful.

    "What will stop this?" Itza cried, looking at the death and devastation around them. "What does he want?"

    No one answered her, she had not really expected it. The door to her home opened and a very shaken looking Bastia walked onto the porch, stumbled over a broken step and fell on the ground. Itza was at her side in a moment, checking her for wounds.

    "Are you all right? What happened? Who saved you?"

    She looked up to see Crex standing in the door, his arm bleeding freely onto the porch. Leaving Bastia, she leaped lightly next to him, taking his arm gently in her hands. She could see at a glance that it was not only broken, but the skin was ripped away, exposing muscle and bone.

    "Sit," she told him firmly, but he needed little coaxing, his face pale and his knees weak.

    Bastia got a basin of warm water and some soft cloths for cleaning and then ran for the doctor to set his arm for him. She was back in a flash without the doctor.

    "He's busy tending the wounded and says he can't come yet awhile. He said you can manage yourself, he has faith in you."

    "I've never set an arm before," Itza said, "I don't know what to do."

    "I do," Crex told her through clenched teeth. "You just pull my arm till you see the bones line up and pop it back in place. With the skin like that, you should see it well enough." He grimaced, breathing in short, sharp gasps.

    "You hold me, little one and brace yourself, for I'll likely fall into a faint. Arm setting ain't pretty and it hurts neigh like being gored, but it's over quick."

    He nodded at Itza, who took firm hold of his arm and pulled until she saw the bones slide back into place. She released with a sigh and saw Crex slump to the floor. She braced and bound his arm. There was nothing she could do for the skin but soak some bandages in a healing mixture and lay them gently over the wound until the doctor could look at it.

    © 2015 Dellani Oakes

  9. #9

    Default And Itza Danced PART 6 by Dellani Oakes

    She left Bastia to tend to Crex and wait for the doctor to come, while she walked about the village, seeing the damage and helping where she could. Many of the buildings were uninhabitable and about a dozen people wounded, half that dead. Elveric might not move against them personally, but he was doing all he could to get even. There had to be a way to stop him.

    One of the other ex-bandits approached her as she sat on a bench outside the tavern, a tankard of ale at her elbow, untouched. "Miss, if I may?"

    She nodded and he sat.

    "My names Vilfort, Miss. Crex is me cousin though we be closer than brothers. I hear he saved yer little sister."

    "Yes, he broke his arm, but I've seen to it." She took an absent sip of her ale, making a face at the bittersweet flavor.

    "Miss, Elveric won't stop til he crushes this place. He's a heartless bastard, pardon me saying. Like Crex told yer, he wants to make ye pay for making mockery of 'im. He'll not stop till he kills ya all one way or another. We was given the choice of watching 'im kill our families or join up, we made the best we knew how to save em. Nothing'll make us happier than to see him pay for that in spades."

    "We're not an army, we can't stand up against a man like him and the band he leads."

    "Ye do what ye should ha' done before, Miss. Ye call him out to fight ye, only this time, you kill the sorry bastard."

    Itza cringed. It was one thing to kill a man in a battle, it was quite another to duel him and take his life. He'd kill her in a trice, he had no such compunction. It looked like her only way to solve their dilemma, they could not withstand a pitched battle.

    "We could call on other villages to help us."

    Vilfort shook his head. "Ye'd have a right mess on your hands if ye did that. Then they all are targets too. He'll be out rounding up those as run off and recruiting more as he did us. He'll come back here stronger than he was and with blood in his eye. Nothing'll stop him then, mark my words."

    Itza eyed him speculatively. It had occurred to her that this man could still be working for Elveric. They all could and they had taken them in like friends. Was he a wolf disguised as a lamb? He was pushing single combat and warning off calling for help. Although she admired Crex, she did not trust Vilfort. She gazed into his eyes and he would not meet her stare.

    "Why do you really tell me this? Don't tell me it's for our good, because I don't believe you. He wants you to do this, doesn't he?"

    His face crumbled in agony. "He's got my son, and says he'll kill him if I don't help out!"

    "Have you seen the boy? You know he's alive?"

    He nodded sadly. "Saw him last night and spoke with him. He's a little 'un, Miss, of an age with yer sister."

    Now she was hearing the truth. "Do you honestly think this is the best tactic? For me to fight him again?"

    He shrugged. "I don't know no more, Miss. Could be it's best for all but ye've no guarantee he'll keep his word even if you kill him. He could have his men attack soon as he goes down. He's a snake!"

    She waited a few minutes, gazing into the distance, toward the hill where her parents were buried. This was the most difficult decision she had made in her life as head woman. It was not one she made lightly. If she could save the lives of her family by fighting Elveric again, she'd do it. What Vilfort said was true, she had no guarantee, but she might be able to weigh the odds in her favor.

    "Tell him we've spoken and I'm thinking about it. I'll consider doing as he wants."

    Vilfort looked hopeful.

    "But, if you betray us, I'll see to it that not only you die, but your son as well. If you think I can't make that happen, you are quite wrong."

    Vilfort blanched. "I'll see what I can do, Miss."

    "Before I agree, I want to see the boy well and whole. If any harm comes to him, the deal is off."

    "If I tell him that, he'll know I've told you!"

    © 2015 Dellani Oakes

  10. #10

    Default And Itza Danced by Dellani Oakes PART 7

    "If you don't, your son dies. Is that what you want?"

    "He'll kill me!"

    "Then you'll go to your rest knowing you did what you could and I'll raise your boy after I beat Elveric. It's the best deal you're likely to get. Elveric won't give you the same promise, will he?"

    Shaking his head sadly and heavily, Vilfort slunk away to talk to Elveric. She did not expect to see the man again, but hoped he'd live long enough to see his boy freed. Meanwhile, she went to find her uncle and some of the other elders of the village. Preparations must be made to protect the rest of the people. A short while later, she had spoken to them all, and waited for their reply. Her uncle spoke up first.

    "You've made up your mind already to fight him?"

    She nodded. "Yes, I see no other option."

    "We should send to the outlying villages for help." Onrich, one of the elders said. He was an old man of an undisclosed age. The village grandparents remembered him from their youth, he was old even then.

    Uncle Brev frowned and shook his head. "He'll be watching the roads and kill anyone who tries to leave."

    "How do you know?" Onrich was angry at being contradicted.

    "Because it's exactly what I'd do," Brev replied, pinching his lower lip with his fingers while he thought. "There might be a way," he whispered. "Yes, that might just work!"

    He rose and the others followed him with their eyes until he was out of sight. He was heading toward the marketplace. A few minutes later, he returned, a broad smile on his lips.

    "What did you do?" Onrich demanded.

    "I happened to remember that Oot has been training some birds to fly places and come back. Well, his brothers in the other villages have been doing the same. He's sending them messages now. Who will notice a few birds flying over?" He chuckled.

    There was a growing disturbance on the far side of the village, near the cornfields. Itza rose and the men followed her as she ran over to see what was wrong. A little boy of about Bastia's age stood in the road, a heavy, bloody sack in his hands, weeping uncontrollably. He looked fine other than being filthy.

    Itza knelt beside him and took the gruesome package from him. She had a good idea what it contained. This must be Vilfort's son and this was another message from Elveric. The little boy snuffled and wiped his nose on a grime crusted sleeve.

    "Be ye head woman?"

    "Yes."

    "I's got a message from Elveric. My Da spoke to himself about yer fight. Elveric said yer answer be in the bag with.... with...." He burst into tears again.

    Brev had taken the bag away and set it down beneath a tree in front of the elders. It contained Vilfort's severed head with two words carved into the flesh, "I accept."

    Itza fought down the bile rising in her throat, motioning for it to be put away. "Bury him."

    She gagged, stumbling back to her house where she slammed the door to her room and wept bitterly for awhile. Then she went to the family shrine and prayed for guidance and strength in her upcoming battle. Her main concern was to keep her people safe.

    There was a light step on the porch outside the shrine and Aunt Anasafe was standing in the doorway behind her. She took off her shoes and knelt beside Itza in front of the shrine, lighting a stick of aromatic incense. Her hand crept over, taking Itza's in a firm and comforting grip. Itza felt love from her aunt, flowing into her, making her strong.

    "It will be all right, Itza. You can do this, you are much stronger than you know." Her smile was tinged with tears. "There is nothing I can tell you that will help, nothing I can do which will make this go away, but my love, my prayers go with you, Itza." She rose and left, turning to run up the path back to the house.

    Itza sat a few more minutes, thinking. She did not know how to pray about this, did not know who to ask or what to ask for. She had so much on her heart, it was impossible to frame it into words. All that came to the fore was, "Help me." No more.

    © 2015 Dellani Oakes

    (Posted early because we'll be busy tomorrow with errands. Enjoy!)

  11. #11

    Default And Itza Danced by Dellani Oakes PART 8

    Finally, she too stood and walked out of the shrine. The sun was sinking on the horizon, illuminating the sky in shades of rose, crimson, lavender, azure tinged with gold. Despite her fear, the sight did her good and she felt a little of the despair lift.

    The fighting area had been marked out again in the same place as before. Crex had taken his position on one side of the ring. The same old farmer was back where he had been. Elveric did not seem to mind the fact that Crex was there, even if he was no longer his boss. He didn't care, he was so confident that he could beat her. It was apparent in the way he carried himself that he was not afraid. Itza tried to put on the same demeanor, determined not to show her fear.

    Elveric was already in the ring, hands bound with cloth as before, broad chest bare, massive arms flexing as he balanced on his toes, shadow boxing as he waited for her. He still favored his left leg and she could see bruises on his torso from her blows. He would be slower as a result, she hoped she could use that to her advantage. Despite his injuries, he still was a formidable opponent and had a reach half again as long as hers.

    Walking confidently to the ring, she entered to the cheering of her people. Elveric's men took up a half hearted jeering, but she saw their faces. What threats had he made, what demands? Would they attack her people even if Elveric lost? It was possible. Perhaps, instead, they would honor the deal and leave quietly. Some would cause trouble, she could see it in their eyes. Others would be no problem. That was up to the militia, her order of business was to kill Elveric expeditiously, before he could kill her.

    Turning slowly, Elveric noticed her and smiled. It was a cold, mirthless smile, like a crocodile on ice. He was evil, heartless, wicked, devious. She would have to be very careful. Crex stepped between them as the two combatants met in the middle of the ring. Looking from Elveric to Itza, he examined each carefully before speaking.

    "We all know why we are here," he began quietly. "The deal is," he spoke more loudly so that all could hear him, "if Itza wins, Elveric's men will leave this village alone forever. If Elveric wins, his men get the spoils of the town, down to the least crumb of food. The fight is to the death, no holds barred, no rules to break except it must be a clean kill." He looked at Elveric pointedly when he said this. "A clean kill," he repeated, staring Elveric down.

    The bandit leader glared at his former compatriot and spit in Crex's face. Crex wiped the offending spittle from his cheek with the back of his hand, blank expression on his face. The look in his eyes was murderous, but he said nothing.

    "Take your places!" The old farmer cried loudly.

    Itza and Elveric went to opposite corners, waiting for the signal. Crex took an improvised flag, held it above his head for a few seconds, then dropped it. Snatching it up from the ground, he leapt out of the way.

    Elveric ran, bellowing like a bullock, at Itza, who stood her ground quietly. Brutal, meaty fists sought her, but missed as she stepped aside. Elveric faltered, turned, digging deep troughs in the turf with his hobnailed boots. Itza prepared for his next rush, crouching low, fists close to her chest, waiting.

    Elveric ran blindly at her again, roaring loudly, swinging his arms wide, trying anything to land a blow on her. Instead of stepping aside, she ran at him full tilt, silent as death. A foot or so away from him, she ducked low, sticking out her leg. Elveric saw it in time, stumbling to one side. Itza shifted her weight quickly and clipped Elveric's sore leg with her foot. She had the satisfaction of hearing the kneecap pop out of place. Elveric grabbed his leg, bellowing in pain.

    Before he could rise, she sprang forward, grappling for a hold. Summoning his wits, Elveric's huge fist shot out, catching her in the midsection. With a whoosh of breath, Itza doubled up, faltering, nearly falling to the ground.

    Using her as a support, Elveric levered himself upward, pushing her face down. He ground her face in the turf, slamming her head repeatedly with his fist. Itza's hands grasped the grass, pulling her to a kneeling position. Suddenly, Elveric howled in pain, blood gushing from half a dozen wounds. Until now, Itza had not used her best natural weapon, but in a desperate attempt to save herself, the vestigial claws her people rarely used, sprang out of their own accord. Seven inches of razor sharp bone ripped into Elveric's body.

    © 2015 Dellani Oakes

  12. #12

    Default And Itza Danced PART 9 by Dellani Oakes

    (Apologies once more about missing last Saturday. We have company and it slipped my mind.)

    Screaming, he dragged himself from her grasp, but Itza had now the scent of blood and the barbaric nature her people had fought so long to control, had the lust of battle. She could no more control herself than a wind can be pinned down. Roaring like a wild beast, she attacked Elveric. Whirling frenetically, she spun toward him, tail lashing him from all directions at once. Her feet moved with a wild dance of death none of her race had seen in centuries. Claws sang through the air, ripping and tearing Elveric's unprotected flesh, flaying it from his bones.

    Eyes burning blood red, Itza bore down on him in a frenzy of hatred. This was payment for her mother and father, cousins, aunts, uncles, anyone who had fallen prey to the bandits over the years. If she could not punish them all, by the gods and all that was holy, she could devour this beast, rid the world of him!

    Elveric screamed, babbled, begged for mercy. Itza couldn't hear him. The blood pounded in her ears and fury blinded her. She was completely focused on Elveric, but had anyone else gotten into her line of attack, she would probably have killed them too. She was unstoppable, unpredictable, a conflagration of maniacal madness which could only be defused by burning itself completely out, extinguished in blood.

    With a final rush, Itza launched herself at Elveric, spinning in a pirouette, claws extended, balancing carefully with her tail whipping around her. A lunge at Elveric ended his cries, claws embedded deeply in his throat. Teeth bared, a roar of victory rent the air, ending in a gurgle as she buried her fangs in Elveric's throat, ripping his carotid artery. His lifeless body thudded to the ground with Itza still on him, breathless, fury abated.

    Without a sound, the bandits dropped their weapons and fled. Whatever Elveric's plan might have been for revenge, it did not happen. None of them wanted to face the wrath of that insane cat woman! Their flight was short, for closing in on them from the surrounding woods were men from the other villages. No one had noticed their approach in the gloaming. All attention had been focused on the battle.

    Pitchforks and hoes do not seem very impressive weapons, but in the hands of men fighting for their lives and protection of their families, they can be insuperable. It was a short conflict and a bloody one. When all was done, not a single bandit survived. Their bodies were tied to horses and dragged through the countryside, left beside the roads—a message to anyone who even considered trespassing their territory again.

    Itza did not know any of this. Once the battle rage left her, she fell face first to the ground, completely exhausted. Uncle Brev and Orris stepped forward. With the help of Crex, they carried her home. Aunt Anasafe cleaned her wounds and dressed her in a clean robe.

    The evening of the third day, Itza woke, sore but rested. She rose carefully, her ribs and back throbbing painfully. With care, she made her way to the kitchen. No one was there, but she heard voices outside the front door. Slowly, impeded by the protests of her body, she walked across the house and leaned in the open doorway.

    Her uncle and brother were working on the damaged porch with Crex and several other former bandits. They stopped speaking when she approached, looking at her silently. She saw a vast mixture of expressions among them. In her uncle's face, pride. Orris's held a look of awe. Some of the bandits regarded her stoically, having seen worse in their lives, but others showed her fear, their eyes wide.

    A shy smile flickered over her lips, faltering and dying gradually as memories flashed through her mind. She had woken with the vague feeling of surrealism, as if her dreams strove to be real. Nightmarish images had plagued her as she slept and she had hoped to rid herself of them when she woke. There was nothing which could make the dreams go away, they were real. She had killed brutally, barbarically.

    Disgusted with herself, Itza stumbled out the door, down the broken steps and across the yard. The ground was still churned and rutted by the volfboar stampede. The distance to the family shrine seemed to increase rather than decrease. Thinking she would never reach it, she redoubled her effort, changing to a clumsy run. Gasping with effort, she dragged herself up the steps, falling heavily to the floor before the shrine. Weeping bitterly, she prayed for forgiveness, vowing never to raise her hand in anger against another.

    As she lay there weeping, Aunt Anasafe entered quietly, kneeling beside her once more. Strong, gentle hands helped Itza pull herself upright. Aunt Anasafe held Itza in her arms, rocking her like a child, crooning softly as she vented her sorrow and self-loathing. Hot tears fell from her eyes, soaking her clothing. Anasafe didn't let go and didn't leave. Eventually, the tears stopped, replaced by dry, heaving sobs.

    "Why?" It was hardly adequate, but it was the only question her mind could frame coherently.

    "You know the story of god's whirlwind?"

    Itza nodded, breath coming in shuddering gasps.

    God's whirlwind was a legend among her people. It told of a time when war was common and all races preyed upon one another. One day a god appeared. He was huge, ugly, fearsome. He gave the world a portion of himself, instilling them all with purpose. Rather than end the fighting, he gave them the intelligence and the means to kill one another more efficiently; then he left.

    Among her race, there was a girl nearly the same age as she. In a time of terrible peril, she had slain an entire army in a blind rage. Though mortally wounded, she did not stop until all the enemy were dead, their bodies ripped apart. She killed them with her bare hands.

    "What has this to do with me?" Itza's tone was bitter.

    "It has everything to do with you, little one," her aunt used the term fondly. "Did you think it only a legend? For each legend and myth there is a reality. This was the god's gift to you, something which only a few of our people can do. It has been many years since a girl with god's whirlwind came along. Use it wisely and well—always to protect, or the gift may leave you."

    She kissed her niece softly on the head and rose to leave. Itza took her aunt's hand lovingly in her own.
    "Thank you, Aunt, you have given me much to think on."

    "Our village is safe because of you, our people everywhere protected by your actions. It will, gods willing, be a long time before we are threatened as we were by Elveric and his ruffians. It is because of you and only you."

    Itza sat quietly as her aunt walked out of the building, heading back to the house to prepare the next meal. Itza sat for some time, knees hugged to her chest, chin resting on them. Quietly, in silent prayer, she lit a stick of incense and sank once more to her knees.

    "Thank you," she whispered, "thank you for the gift you have given me."

    Without another word, she rose and walked slowly back to the house. From that day forth, their village was at peace, their people unharmed by outsiders. Wherever she went, she was honored as the woman upon whom god's justice lay.

    THE END

  13. #13

    Default Alton & Velda Part 1 by Dellani Oakes

    I hope you enjoyed And Itza Danced as much as I did. I liked sharing it with you. I decided to pull out a longer tale. For lack of a better title, it's called Alton & Velda, after the two main characters. I've tried giving it another title, but I'm somewhat bad at that.

    Alton & Velda is set in a more Medieval world. Alton is a wood sprite, and Velda is a River Nymph. They travel the world, seeking a place to call home. On their journey, they meet Astrid and Revanth—a princess and a prince in exile. He has been changed into a horse. They set out together to find the witch who cursed him, and set him free. Sounds pretty straight forward—it's not.



    Alton shrugged, stepping back from the perilous edge. If Velda said she could handle it, he wouldn't argue. If his travels had taught him nothing else, it was not to judge abilities on appearance.

    Noiselessly, the slender maiden dove into the icy, turbulent river. For several heart stopping moments, Alton watched without seeing her. A flicker of movement 20 yards away, near the river's center, alerted him to her presence. Smiling, he relaxed a little. A splash and flash of silver got his attention. Was there something else in the water? Could it be Velda was under attack?

    His warrior's senses cautioned him against diving into the turgid current, but also nudged him to protect the young woman. Common sense held him back. He was not a strong swimmer, particularly in scale armor. He'd surely founder and Velda would have to save him. That scenario held little appeal.

    Minutes passed slowly. Alton stood by the water, eyes examining the surface of the rapids. He didn't lower his guard or forget his environment, but his attention was divided, or he would surely have heard the rustling in the bushes sooner. He slid into the shadows, drawing a long dagger from his boot. His dark skin lent itself to concealment. His bronze scale armor helped him blend into the underbrush. He waited, hardly breathing.

    A horse in full tack, riderless, walked up to the water to drink. It was coal black with a white sock on its left foreleg. A stallion, he was kitted out for exploration with bedroll behind the saddle and small panniers on either side. He wore no colors or insignia. The saddle and bridle were unadorned. There was no visible brand on the flank.

    If there was a horse, there would be a rider. Where he might be, Alton didn't know, but intended to find out. Velda was in the water, unprotected. He was vulnerable as well. He stayed in the shadows, casting out with his energy, listening to the vibrations. At first, all was normal forest noise. There was the babble of the river, chattering of squirrels, chirping birds, the swish of a fox's tail followed by the surprised squeak of the rabbit it caught. Leaves rustled in the gentle breeze, pine needles whispered—and someone drew breath, exhaling slowly.

    Focusing on that sound, Alton heard the heartbeat tapping. It wasn't slow, nor was it overly fast. Like his, it was strong and regular. Adjusting his reading further, Alton probed to see if he'd been spotted. The other person breathed normally. There was no scent of trepidation or fear. For the moment, he wasn't noticed. The rider posed no immediate threat. Still, why would he stand back while his horse drank? It made very little sense to Alton.

    A splash and flicker of movement told him Velda was coming back. The rider's pulse quickened. He'd heard it too. The horse raised its head, water dripping from its mouth. Eyes as black as its hide, scanned the river with almost human perception. Ears pivoted forward, listening. It moved into the underbrush. The rider followed.

    Velda rose from the water, dark blue hair plastered to her slender form, falling well below her hips. Rivulets cascaded down her body which shimmered silver in the late afternoon light. She cast about her for Alton, spotting him in the woods a few feet away. His expression kept her from greeting him. Seconds later, she saw the horse. Gasping, she backed away.

    The horse trotted forward, stopping a few feet from her. It bent its front legs, bowing. The rider strode forward. Dressed in black chain mail, he wore a helmet with a white horse's tail at the crest. His cloak was black, as were his boots and leather sword belt. He bowed deeply when he saw Velda.

    Velda hesitated once more, before stepping onto the river bank. The knight offered her his hand, but she declined. Her foot slipped on the muddy bank. Alton leaped forward, grasping her arm to prevent her fall. The knight cried out, hopping away from the pair. Tripping over a rock, he sat heavily on the ground, scrabbling at a knife hilt in his boot.

    Alton whirled on the man, dagger leveled. He strode forward, glittering tip aimed for the downed man's exposed throat. The knight raised his arms to ward off the blow.

    "I mean you no harm," he cried, his voice young and high. "We come in peace. We require the Lady's help."
    Velda dashed after Alton, grabbing his arm. She yanked him back. "No! Let the knight speak, Alton. If we can help, we must."

    "Not until he shows himself."

    "Oh, do stop being such a man," she chided. "My lord," she added with a toss of her head. She moved to the young knight's side.

    The youth shied away, but rallied when it became apparent that Velda, at least, meant no harm. He stood slowly, when Velda pulled at his arm. The black horse came forward, nudging the knight from behind, lending support. The knight grabbed the horse's saddle, standing on shaking legs.

    "We must have your help, My Lady. We're desperate."

    "Who's we? I see only you," Alton snapped. He didn't like this situation. Something went on that he didn't understand. Not understanding meant he couldn't control it. Lack of control made him angry and churlish.
    Velda knew Alton's disquiet. Truth be told, she wasn't comfortable either, but she sensed that the knight and horse were more than they appeared. Just touching the young knight's gloved hand, she knew a lot. Skin to skin would tell her more, but so would a reading of the face. She helped undo the clasps that held the black helm in place, lifting it away as the chin strap came free.

    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

  14. #14

    Default Alton & Velda Part 2 by Dellani Oakes

    Alton gasped, stepping back. It was Velda's turn to steady him, as he nearly lost his balance. Laughing, the blue haired woman admired the person standing before her. The hair was a tousled mess of dark auburn curls pulled back in a braid. No plait could hold the springy mass for long. Being under a metal helmet had done it no good at all. It stood out like a halo of dark and frizzy copper.

    "You're a girl!" Alton said. He couldn't have been more shocked if he'd found her naked. "Yet you wear armor. You pose as a knight! How can this be?" He strode forward, but Velda caught his arm before he could attack the young woman.

    Dark golden eyes met his moss green ones, proud head rising defiantly. The girl was pretty in an angular, too slender way. She hadn't eaten or slept well for some time, Velda noted as she watched the exchange, with eyes as deep and dark blue as ocean water. When Alton lunged for the young woman again, Velda was ready. Grabbing him in arms that were stronger than they looked, she held her angry knight firmly, gazing into his eyes.

    "Let's all have a seat," Velda said.

    Her tone and stance told Alton that Velda would not tolerate much more arguing. Having been on the wrong side of her temper before, he backed off. Velda continued to hold his arm, until they had all taken seats. The young woman sat on a rock across from them, her horse standing at her left shoulder.

    Alton and Velda shared a downed log. It was covered with moss the color of Alton's eyes and the bark was nearly the color of his dusky skin. Velda's dress shimmered silver. Her blue hair dried quickly in the light breeze. She continued to examine the young woman with a wary intelligence that peeled back the layers.

    The maiden shivered under Velda's gaze. "Must you stare at me?" She fidgeted with her clothing, yanking at it as if it didn't fit.

    "Alton, build a fire, there's a good man," Velda said, patting his hand. She continued her appraisal of the woman, tilting her head from side to side. She didn't speak again until the fire was crackling between them.

    Alton dug in his bag, found a packet of tea, and pulled out two battered tin cups. He brewed the aromatic mixture, handing one cup to each of the ladies. The armor clad stranger didn't want to accept until she saw Velda sip from her own cup. To assure her that the liquid was safe, Alton took a sip from the other cup, wiping the rim with his sleeve.

    "I've not got anything catching," he snarled when she shied away. "It's safe, young miss. Why would we poison a complete stranger?"

    She accepted the cup, taking a sip to test it. She must have found the brew to her liking, for she continued to drink. Alton and Velda shared their cup equally, enjoying the sweet blend of herbs and dried flowers. The young woman visibly relaxed, and Alton knew the tea was working. It had a calming affect on him too, which he much needed at the moment.

    "So, now that we've established that we mean no harm, perhaps you'll tell us how we can help." Velda's soft, low alto voice was musical in nature. It wound around the trio, embracing them.

    The horse nickered, nudging the young woman with his nose. Nodding, as if something had passed between them, she poured some of the cool tea in her hand, holding it out for him to drink. She kissed his face, patting him on the neck. It was more like a lover's embrace, than mistress and horse.

    "We heard rumors that there was a lady and her companion traveling these roads," the young woman said softly. "We need your help so very desperately, you see."

    "Perhaps you might introduce yourself," Velda suggested. "Then start at the beginning of your tale."

    The woman blushed, ducking her head. "I apologize, My Lady. I'm so unaccustomed to genteel company lately, I've forgotten my manners." The horse nudged her again. "My name is Astrid, first daughter of King Hels and Queen Sarai of Folds Court. And this," she patted the horse once more. "Is Lord Revanth, my affianced lord."

    Alton's hand stopped halfway to his mouth. The cup tipped, spilling tea on the ground, but he hardly noticed. Velda smiled, her long lashes fluttering.

    "I thought as much. I can smell enchantment. Who did you anger, child? And how do you think I can help?"

    Astrid blushed again, relief flooding her face. "My Lady, thank you!" She knelt before Velda and wouldn't rise until bidden.

    "I can't aid you unless I know the trouble," Velda reminded her.

    "Revanth is from a noble house, as well. His mother, and mine, sought to strengthen our houses with an alliance of marriage."

    "But not to one another," Velda said.

    "No. Though we were promised to one another at birth, his father died—who had made the deal with my father. My mother declared that made the original agreement null and void. She insisted that I marry someone else. But my heart already belonged to Revanth, and his to me. His mother grew furious with mine and a battle loomed.

    "My mother hired a witch to sway the battle in our favor, but Revanth and I went to her. We begged her to help us by forging an alliance between our two houses, instead of a war. Something went wrong with the spell and Revanth became a stallion. That was six months ago. We have been looking for someone to help us break the spell ever since. We travel the back ways to avoid detection. I pose as a man, and do my best to gather food. But I am a gentle lady born. I know nothing of stealing or foraging."

    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

  15. #15

    Default Alton & Velda Part 3 by Dellani Oakes

    Alton and Velda have met Astrid and Revanth. She is masquerading as a man. He is a man, ensorcelled into horse form. They are traveling around to find someone to help them bring Revanth back to himself.

    "No wonder you look so underfed and poorly rested. Alton, have you any food in your pack?"

    She knew he did. Grudgingly, Alton dug around until he found the oiled skin that held his food supply. A secret magic gave it unlimited capacity. Anything that would fit through its mouth, stayed fresh until it was needed. The weight was negligible. He could carry an entire feast on his shoulder, and never tire.

    Opening the pouch, he drew forth a bottle of stout, red wine. Velda uncorked it as he reached into the pouch again, pulling out three glasses and a bowl. He set them on the ground. Velda filled them, giving the bowl to the horse.

    A feast of oatcakes (for the horse) and steaming meat pasties followed. Afterward, they enjoyed the crunchy sweetness of a chilled bread pudding with cream. Astrid ate as if she were starved. Velda watched her carefully, to make sure she didn't overdo. When the meal was done, Alton loaded the remains in the pouch where they would renew and cleanse themselves for the next meal.

    "Where did you get that amazing bag?" the girl asked, concealing a belch.

    Alton smiled. "It was a gift from a very satisfied young woman. She was a user of magic. She gave it me after a week of love—"

    Velda punched him in the chest. Choking on his words, he frowned at her.

    "Enough of your tales of debauch. He stole it," she told Astrid. "He might look and speak like a knight, but he's got secrets that are better left undiscovered."

    "I didn't steal this," Alton protested. "It really was a gift. If it's stolen, it won't work. It's just any old bag, then. Only the true owner can work its magic. And I paid a heavy price for it, my girl," he directed at Astrid.

    "She'll have you thinking I'm a thief and womanizer—"

    "You're that in spades," Velda snapped. "Not a thief, so much, unless stealing a girl's innocence ranks among the punishable laws of the land."

    "They were all willing," Alton replied with a scowl.

    The horse, Revanth, snorted, bobbing his head. He seemed to be laughing, agreeing with Alton.

    Astrid frowned at him. "I suppose you think that's great sport?" She sniffed, pouting. "I hoped you were different," she said to Revanth.

    "My lass," Alton said quietly. "Man or stallion, I fear we're all the same in some respects. Some behave a wee bit better than others, but we're all wild and lusty at heart. Though I'm sure he's a good man—when he's a man—the chances are that he's had his share of sport."

    "While I saved myself, waiting for you?" Astrid shoved the horse's head away. "Don't even try all that prettiness on me now," she fussed. "Thank you, milord Alton, for opening my eyes."

    Alton sighed. "Lady Astrid, he's just being a man. Find forgiveness in your heart, I beg you. I don't want him stabbing me in my sleep, when he retakes his own form."

    Velda giggled. "It's not the end of the world," Velda assured Astrid. "Why, Alton has had many women, since we've known one another."

    "Are you married or engaged?"

    Velda smirked. "Engaged, of sorts."

    "Though how we're engaged is—"

    Velda punched him again. "No one's business."

    "Ouch, woman. Stop that."

    "Then quit being crude." She turned to Astrid. "No, we're not married, but we are lovers, when the mood strikes. Though I don't mind his little dalliances, from time to time. I'm not his wife, so I have no real claim on his fidelity. And it's the way of his people. I can no more put a stop to that, than he can the river's running."

    "What are your people? Both of you?" Astrid asked innocently.

    "I'm a Potamides, water naiad," Velda replied. "And Alton is of the forest."

    Astrid turned her head, tilting one ear closer to her companions. "Of the forest?"

    "I'm a wood sprite."

    "Really?" Astrid leaned forward, gazing at him intently. "I thought wood sprites were tiny, wee little girls, who flit through the trees, and scare easily."

    Alton frowned, his dark brows forming an angry V above his green eyes. "You've been reading the wrong books, little one. We're no more tiny, wee girls than we are big, smelly horses." He glared at Revanth with that remark. "I'm man sized, with a man's same form. My skin's not made of wood, and I don't have sap in my veins. I bleed like you."

    "Though his blood is green," Velda remarked with a sly grin. "And he hasn't a hair on his body, except what you see on his head."

    "Do I tell your secrets, nymph? I do not!"

    "I'm teasing. Though why he'd be ashamed of his smooth skin, I don't know. I find it very appealing, myself."

    "I wouldn't know about such things," Astrid said, becoming uncomfortable. "Revanth became a horse before...."

    "So, no horsing around?" Alton grinned, winking at Astrid.

    "Be polite," Velda said, threatening to hit him once more. "Your sense of humor is as lacking as your manners. She's a fine bred lady."

    Revanth stepped forward, baring his teeth. Alton shied away, grinning.

    "A jest, my horsey friend. All be it, tasteless, still a joke."

    "You haven't told me what I can do for you," Velda said, less than patiently.

    "We were told, by the witch, that a woman, such as you, traveled around these parts, and you could help us. She didn't explain how. She said, Find my sister with blue hair. She can break the spell. That was all. It was quite disturbing, really."

    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

  16. #16

    Default Alton & Velda Part 4 by Dellani Oakes

    "What did she look like, this witch?" Velda demanded.

    "Dark green hair, all snarled and knotted. Her skin was muddy, her eyes the color of scum on a pond...."

    "Did she live in the heart of a swamp in a wretched hovel?"

    "She did, yes. Her name was...."

    "Eleionomae," Velda growled.

    "Well, no, not precisely. She went by Eleion. Oh, I see what you mean."

    "It's not her name, it's what she is," Velda snapped. "One of the Eleionomae—a swamp naiad. I'm surprised she didn't kill you. Not known for their kindly nature, that lot. What else did she say? About me?"

    "Not much. Only described you. We've been trying to find you for weeks, after asking about you all along the road. You're a distinctive pair." She smiled. "That's why I stayed back when Revanth came to the river. He scouted ahead and I would have run for safety had there been need."

    "There is no safety in the forest from a wood sprite," Alton scoffed. "No tree would hide you from me."

    "What if I'd hidden in a cave?" Astrid's chin came up defiantly.

    "Tree roots grow in soil, their roots invade caves." He shrugged, casting off her remarks with a casual toss of his silky, golden brown hair.

    "You're being awfully mean," Astrid said, her lips trembling.

    "And you're being awfully naïve if you think we'll drop everything, and help you out of this mess. What are we to do?" Alton demanded.

    "Kill Eleion," Velda said. Her voice and countenance betrayed nothing.

    Alton felt a shiver run down his spine. Velda rarely turned to violence, but here she was advocating murder.

    "Who is this Eleion to you, Velda? Someone who wronged you?" Astrid asked.

    "Who she is to me, isn't important. The fact she's willing to take part in a battle between humans—is. And she agreed to help you? What, exactly, did you ask of her?"

    Astrid shrugged. "We asked for her help to stop the war."

    Revanth snorted, shaking his mane. He stomped the ground angrily. Velda tipped her head toward him, indicating that Alton do something. The wood sprite stood, dusting the seat of his pants. He walked over to the horse-man, placing a hand on the beast's forehead. The other, he placed on the powerful chest. Closing his eyes, he slowed his breathing, casting out with his energy. The horse snorted, but stood still.

    "Now then," Alton said softly. "I want you to form pictures in your mind of what happened. Think of it as a puppet show in your mind, with talking and moving. Can you do that?"

    The horse snorted, nodding.

    "Well, then?"

    The two of them grew silent. Alton kept his eyes shut, reacting to the images he saw. The women watched his face play through a variety of emotions, ending in deep sorrow. Astrid took a seat near Velda on the log. Alton sighed, stepping back from the horse. He patted Revanth's shoulder affectionately.

    "Well?" Velda said anxiously.

    Alton held up a hand as the other went to his temple. "Give us a moment, love." He took several deep, cleansing breaths, before speaking. "Never did that with a horse before. Yes, I know you're really a man," he replied as if Revanth had spoken. "But there's horsey things in there too. Never mind all that." He sank to the rock, holding his head. "What he showed me," he said quietly, "was a conversation with the witch Eleion. They didn't ask her to stop the war, at least not specifically. The young lady asked for a means to bring an end to the war, let their families find peace, and then she asked for a way to always be together."

    "Is the war over?" Velda asked.

    "It's not entirely over, but at a standstill. His mother can hardly insist that he is still my fiancée, when he's a horse. And my mother can't force me to marry another, not when...."

    "When what?" Velda asked sharply. "What haven't you told us?"

    "If we're parted for more than a day, I will sicken, and probably die. We found this out shortly after he was enchanted. Revanth didn't change right away. It was gradual. We went home, watched for events to play out. I took to my bed. When he heard, he came to me, and I revived. That night, we kissed. We were...." She blushed again.

    "Doing what lovers do," Velda finished gently.

    "We were going to," Astrid said. "But after a few minutes, he changed there in my bed chamber."

    "That must have been awful for you," Velda said.

    "Not good for Revanth either," Alton added. "Though I suppose you can now brag you're hung like a horse, eh?" He chuckled.

    Revanth snorted. It sound for all the world as if he were laughing. They sobered when it became apparent the women didn't share the levity.

    "So, Eleion had her fun," Velda said. "She stopped your war, and made it so you must always be together. One must always be specific with one such as she. Your request gave her too many variables to play with."

    "So we've found out," Astrid said. "Can you—will you, help us?"

    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

  17. #17

    Default Alton & Velda Part 5 by Dellani Oakes

    "We can and we will," Velda promised. "But tomorrow is soon enough to start."

    "You ladies get some rest," Alton said quickly. "Revanth and I can watch over you. Astrid needs a night where she's not afraid to sleep."

    Velda smiled at her lover with a tenderness he'd never sensed before. Her blue eyes thanked him, as did her smile.

    "Are you sure?" Astrid's voice quavered like a little girl's. "I can help keep watch."

    "Sleep," Alton assured her, touching her brow. "This is what I do, little one."

    "Not a little one," she mumbled, already sleepy. She leaned heavily against Velda.

    The blue haired woman bundled Astrid into her cloak, laying her on a blanket that Alton spread on a thick bed of pine straw and leaves.

    "Did you have to do that before she was settled?" Velda snipped playfully. "She's a little thing, but no small weight in that armor."

    "Sorry, my love. I'll remember, next time I take away someone's worries, to make sure they are already lying down."

    They kissed and Velda settled beside Astrid, sleeping behind her to ward off the chill. Velda never seemed to grow cold, even in the worst weather, something Alton had appreciated more than once.

    Alton banked the fire and made himself some tea. The horse, who was really a man, lay down nearby. Their connection still in place, they could communicate silently. Alton asked many questions. Revanth did his best to answer him. The two males spent the long night in silent communication, listening to one another, and learning much. The women slept deeply, the first good rest Astrid had experienced since she left her home.

    "Why did you leave?" Alton asked Revanth. "Surely the safest place to stay was at your home?"

    The stallion shook himself, twitching his ear.

    "Oh, I see. They thought you were an enchanter, not enchanted. Awkward, to be sure." Alton chuckled softly. "What would they think of one such as me? I can talk to the trees, read minds and take away a young girl's fears."

    The horse snorted, flicking his tail.

    "I'm sure they'd flay me before burning, but ultimately, it would come to that. You're a brave man to take on such a journey." He paused, listening to Revanth's reply deep in his mind. "Aye, what can you do when you love a woman so much, it hurts? What indeed?" He shrugged. "Follow her to Earth's end, watch her every move, and do your best to keep her safe. Along the way, catch a moment or two alone with her." He sighed. "And hope—always—that one day she'll notice how vast your love is, how all encompassing. So much, you'll do anything for her."

    The horse inhaled deeply, his breath shuddering slightly. Alton and Revanth understood one another. Whatever differences they might have had in the beginning, were gone now. They were brothers, united in their quest to protect the women they loved.

    Morning found a cheerful fire burning, a pot of water bubbling merrily over it waiting to brew tea. The women woke with the chirping of birds, and rustling of early morning rabbits foraging. The horse and the wood sprite were nowhere to be seen. Velda knew they were close, but couldn't help wondering where they'd gotten off to.
    A soft breeze caressed her cheek, leaves whispered in the wind. She heard Alton's voice in the cadence of the leaves, assuring her they were nearby. She smiled and set about making tea. Moments later, the pair of them came into the camp. Alton was wet, Revanth laughing in his horsey way.

    "The river and I came to a disagreement," Alton said as he gave Velda a damp kiss. "It very nearly won, but Rev pulled me out before it got the better of me."

    The horse snorted again, flicking his damp tail.

    "All right, I almost pulled him in with me, but we've brought fish!" Alton held up a string of silvery river perch.

    Velda laughed, clapping her hands in delight. Alton produced cooking utensils from his magic bag. She set about seasoning the fish before sauteing them in butter with a splash of wine. They ate with plates propped on their knees, delicately nibbling the tender bits of fish. Revanth had a bowl of fruit and vegetables, finishing his meal with some grass and wild flowers.

    Alton chuckled, watching his new friend act like a typical horse. "You'll be craving daisies when we've turned you back. They'll call you the Horse King, bringing oats as tribute."

    The horse turned his rear toward the wood sprite, blowing less than fragrant flatulence in his direction. Alton laughed so hard, he very nearly fell off his rock. The women watched the men, rolling their eyes in silent, disgusted, amusement.

    Velda was pleased that Alton had found a friend. He'd been ostracized by his people, when the two of them became lovers. His were a traditional people, taking mates from other neighboring tribes. They accused her of working her wiles on him, warping his mind for her own undisclosed ends. Her people were less conservative, but Alton couldn't survive the environment. A creature of the land, he could not live in water. They traveled the world, searching for a place they could live together, in peace.

    Watching Alton, as he wandered down to the river to wash, Velda sighed deeply. Astrid stood next to her, watching Revanth walk into the water, to clean himself and get a drink.

    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

    Please note that this will be the last post for a while. I am having surgery on Wednesday the 18th, and won't feel like posting. I'll get back with part 6 as soon as I can. Dellani

  18. #18

    Default Alton & Velda Part 6 by Dellani Oakes

    The four companions have spent a quiet night, with Alton and Revanth communicating mind to mind, due to a bond Alton forged. The women watch them head to the river to bathe.

    "Rev needs a friend so very much," Astrid said softly. "Alton is the perfect one for it. They can chat, just as if Revanth could speak." She wiped a tear. "I love him so much. The one regret I have, in all of this, is that we had no chance to be lovers."

    "You'll have your chance," Velda said. "We'll find Eleion and make her reverse the spell."

    "Must you kill her?" Astrid's voice squeaked like a mouse.

    "I hope not. Depending upon how she cast it, will depend on how it's undone."

    "Why would she want us to find you?"

    Velda tossed her head, her long blue hair catching in the breeze. It billowed around her in dark blue waves. "If it's the one I suspect, she and I have unfinished business to settle. I doubt I have anything to do with the spell itself. More likely, she wanted to find me, and you presented her with the perfect opportunity."

    "How dreadful! What did you argue about?"

    "Who said we argued?"

    "You implied...."

    Velda smiled, patting Astrid on the shoulder. "Some things are better left alone." She turned away from the men, and walked to her bedroll.

    Astrid had the distinct impression that whatever was between the two naiads, it had to do with Alton.
    After the men cleaned themselves, and Alton changed his clothing, the women went about their ablutions. Velda had spare clothing for Astrid, a garment of midnight blue with silver trim. Together, they combed and plaited her unruly auburn hair.

    By noon, they were ready. Although it was late in the day, Alton didn't fancy another night in the forest. Astrid needed a bed, and he longed for a bath in something other than icy river water. He helped Astrid into the saddle, pleased to see that Velda had supplied her with a split skirt riding habit of her own design. The breeches appeared to be a skirt until the lady took horse. Astrid declared it her favorite garment, and determined to have half a dozen made for herself when they got home.

    They came across the tavern Alton wanted, shortly after nightfall. He saw to it Revanth was settled in the stable and insisted upon fresh straw and feed for the steed.

    "I'm sorry, my friend. It is the best I may do for you."

    Revanth nodded, nibbling Alton's jacket.

    "Soon, I promise. You deserve better. But it beats sleeping outside."

    The horse snorted.

    Astrid came in a short time later. She carried currying brushes with her. Alton had removed the saddle and bridle for her, hanging them over the rails. He left the two alone, and went looking for Velda. He found her in their room, going through her things.

    "Astrid's currying her lover," he teased.

    Velda barely looked up. She was too intent on her pack.

    "We have perhaps a quarter hour," he mused, coming up behind her. He put his hands on her waist, pulling her toward him.

    Velda giggled, swatting at him. "There's nothing much you can do in that space of time. You're too long winded."

    "I am, but I prefer something to nothing."

    "Never you mind. I got Astrid her own room across the hall. Besides ourselves, the tavern is empty. So, after dinner, you can have as long as you like."

    "Promise me?"

    "I promise."

    "In that case...."

    Alton turned Velda to face him. His fingers dove into her hair, caressing her cheeks with his thumbs. His kiss was passionate, loving, possessive. In all their time together, he'd never kissed her like that. Velda shivered, leaning into his embrace. Her arms circled him as she gave herself over to the desire. Alton chuckled.

    "I do believe you want this as much as I do."

    "Don't I always?" she whispered. "I left my home and family for you."

    "And I, for you."

    "You've given up so much for me," she replied. "More than I've ever sacrificed for you."

    "You put up with my womanizing and thieving ways," he said with a chuckle. "Not all women would allow her mate to do that."

    "I suppose not."

    "I don't want to do that anymore, Velda. I want only you. If you'd marry me, I would no longer stray."
    "You've told me that before, Alton. Forgive me for not believing you." She struggled to get away.

    He held her firmly but gently. "You don't know as much about my people, as you think. Yes, we men like to wander. Like bees, we shed pollen where we may. But once we are bound to the woman we love, all that stops. We fertilize but one flower from then on."

    "Why have you never told me that before?"

    He chuckled, nibbling her neck. "It never seemed important, until now."

    "What's changed now?"

    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

    I'm feeling better, so I'm back! I hope to have Part 7 for you next Saturday. Enjoy!

  19. #19

    Default Alton & Velda Part 7

    The friends find a tavern for the night. While Astrid is currying Revanth, Alton and Velda talk about their relationship.

    Alton's fingers traced her slender throat. "Now, I see a couple who can't be together, no matter what they want. Revanth loves Astrid, and cannot show her the joys between a man and woman. I can—and have—far more than I should. I have belittled our love, my sweet. I don't wish to do that anymore. I want to marry you, Velda. If you'll have me."

    "Is that your idea of a proposal?" She pursed her lips, raising her chin.

    "It's the best I've got. I love you. I want to be yours alone. Will you?"

    "There is nothing in this life that I want more."

    They kissed a long time. A light tapping on the door forced them apart. It was Astrid.

    "Revanth is settled for the night. Did you want to come down for dinner? The mistress of the house has a veritable feast spread."

    "Yes, thank you. We'll be right down," Velda said.

    Velda's cheeks flushed, her blue eyes dancing merrily. Astrid didn't miss the energy between her friends.
    "Something has happened," she said, smiling.

    "I asked her to marry me," Alton declared, proudly. "She said yes!"

    Astrid squealed, dancing around as she clapped her hands. She hugged them both, and dragged them downstairs.

    "A bottle of the best wine is in order," she said.

    They drank a toast, ate their meal and retired to their rooms. Alton made sure that Astrid had bolted her door before he joined Velda in their chamber. She lay in bed, blue hair cascading around her like a splash of water. Undressing quickly, Alton joined her. Her soft, warm hands explored his lean, hairless body eagerly. Smiling, she pulled him to her.

    "I love how sleek and soft you are."

    "Not soft everywhere," he teased, rubbing against her.

    "No. If you were, what fun would we have?"

    "None whatever, my love. How soon will you marry me, Velda? How soon can I make you mine?"

    "When we settle this thing with Eleion."

    "Not before?"

    "You know why we cannot."

    Alton kissed her deeply, holding her close. They made love long into the night, sharing their love with one another. It was after midnight before they settled down to sleep. Alton lay on his back with Velda's head on his chest, his arm around her. He couldn't sleep, though he lay with his eyes closed.

    How he wanted to forget about the one thing that kept them apart. It would have to be resolved before they could wed. Frustrated, he curled his fingers in the blankets, twisting his fist in silent anger. It was his own wild ways that had them in this fix. He would have to get them out of it. As soon as Astrid and Revanth were squared away, he could turn his attention to the other. Right now, their quest took precedence.

    The next morning, they slept in, getting a lazy start to the day. Astrid picked at her food, anxious to leave. Velda and Alton, who were unused to staying on any kind of schedule, tended to drag their feet even at the best of times. After a late night making love, they were disinclined to move quickly, but made an effort for their friend. While the women packed, Alton went out to the stable to saddle Revanth.

    He checked the stall where the black stallion had bedded down the night before. Saddle and bridle were where he'd left them, but Revanth was gone.

    "Where's my horse?" Alton demanded. "I left him here, in your care, last night. Where is he?"

    "What sort of horse, good sir?" The groom appeared somewhat touched in the head. His speech was slow and deliberate.

    Alton wasn't sure the man understood him, but he described Revanth in detail.

    The groom shook his head. "Warn't narry sech horse here when I come to work dis mornin'. I check 'em all. I'd o' remembered a horse that sleek—all black, you say? And a stallion? Rare, that is."

    "Very rare, hence my irritation that my—horse—is—gone! See here, this is his bridle and saddle."

    "Likely run off," the groom said, scratching his stubbly chin.

    "He wouldn't do that."

    "Why not? All animals like freedom, like us folk."

    "Not Revanth. Who's the law around here?"

    "You don't need the law, young master...."

    "The name is Sir Alton of Lyndon Mead. Not young master. I want the sheriff or constable—whoever the authority is here."

    "You be wanting Tom Joyce, t' Magistrate."

    "That will do. Where is he?"

    "Out back. He owns the tavern."

    Alton barely thanked him. He went behind the tavern, and found a stout, balding man. His homespun pants and shirt were grubby from hard work. He was trying to fix a wagon wheel without much success.

    When Alton approached, the tavern keeper turned toward him, touching his forehead in respect. "What can I do for ye, milord?"

    "My horse is missing from your stable. I saw him put up last evening. My traveling companion curried him before bed. His tack is where I left it, but my horse is not."

    Tom Joyce pulled on his forelock. "Well, then. It appears we've a problem."

    "Do you think so?" Alton said, surprise in his voice.

    The chubby man had enough intelligence to know he was being chastised. He frowned. "No need to be like that."
    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

  20. #20

    Default Alton & Velda Part 8 by Dellani Oakes

    Finally ready to get on the road, Alton discovers that Revanth is missing. He seeks out the owner of the tavern, also the magistrate, to complain.

    "There is, I'm afraid. I have places to go. I need my horse."

    "He's worth a lot of money, is he?" The older man's expression changed subtly.

    Alton frowned, leaning over the much shorter man. "He's worth more than your scurvy life, old man. He's the war horse, for a knight of the realm. The mud in his hooves, is ten times the cost of this flea ridden tavern. If you know where he is, I'll have him back. If, by your ineptitude, you're hoping that the thieves will spirit him away, let me assure you." He took a step closer. "There's no place he can go where I can't find him. And when I do, I'll make it my business to come back here, lay you open from groin to gorge—nice and slow. Am I clear?"

    "As crystal." The taverner gulped, his flabby chins bobbing nervously. "Some lads may have took him," he mumbled. "Early this morning. They might have walked in, and led him out, like."

    "And what direction might they have gone?" Alton played with the hilt of his sword.

    "They might—might be taking him to the horse market. Down to West Farland."

    "And how does one get to West Farland?"

    "Follow the road for two days—or the faster way is by riverside, about a day."

    Alton stepped forward, touching the man's shirt with his fingertips. "You had best hope I find him swiftly, and without hurt, or I will be back. And I'll do what I promised." He stepped back. "Out of curiosity, how often do horses go missing from your stable?"

    "Fairly often, my Lord," the man replied with a leer.

    "Then you'll be accustomed to guests who don't pay," Alton replied. He turned away once more.

    "Now see here!" Tom bellowed, coming hastily after the wood sprite.

    Putting a hand on Alton's shoulder, he intended to stop him. He found himself looking at the business end of the wood sprite's dagger, mere inches from his left eye.

    "My horse is worth more than your house and land. It's only fair that you not only gift us with our night and meals, but guarantee our safe passage. If my horse, or friends, come to harm, no place on this Earth will be safe for you—neither land nor water. Are we clear on that?"

    The man blinked nervously, not daring to nod for fear he impale himself on Alton's blade.

    They made a hasty departure on foot, following the road to where it crossed the river. Alton knew either he or Velda could pick up Revanth's trail.

    Astrid bore up better than he expected. She was quiet and pale, but she kept up the stiff pace Alton set. When they arrived at the river, a decision had to be made. The water was rough and white capped. The water rolled rapidly over rocks and downed trees, creating peaks of white foam and perilous holes so deep, they appeared almost black. Several small boats lay upended beside the water, falling apart from disuse. There was no bridge spanning the water, only the stark remains of a tumbled down dock.

    "Do we try to hire a boat to pursue him? Or do we follow the road?" Astrid asked.

    "Their boats make for better sieves," Velda replied. "I doubt they've been in the water for the last decade."

    "How can you live by the river, and never go on it?" Alton said.

    "Let's find out," Velda replied.

    She walked to the river's edge, dipping her fingers in the water. Reaching out with her naiad's senses, she listened to the voices in the burbles and ripples. Gentle waves lapped against her fingers, tugging her hand.
    "Join us, sister. Join us...."

    "What do you think you're doing?" A loud, angry voice bellowed.

    A man strode purposefully toward them, from what they had taken to be an abandoned cottage, on the high bank behind them. He carried a well used crossbow, aiming it at Velda. Alton drew his sword and stood between the stranger and the naiad.

    "Get away from the water! Does she have a death wish?" he asked, directed at no one.

    Velda rose slowly, placing a gentle hand on Alton's arm. His sword dipped slightly.

    "No cause for alarm," she said softly, her voice layered with the voices of the river. "I was talking to my sisters."

    The bow had lowered, but snapped upward once more. "You're one of them?" His eyes narrowed.

    "I asked them why your people feared the water. I understand now." She took a step forward. "Let me explain."

    "I know what happened. I saw it with my own eyes."

    "You think you know." She shook her head. "But it's far from the truth. What you saw—"

    "What I saw was the river reach out, and gobble up my daughter. It pulled her under before she could even cry out. She was gone before my eyes!"

    Velda took several more steps as he spoke. The bow shook in his hands.

    "No," she said quietly in her own voice. "That's what you think you saw."

    "The river here is tainted—haunted. No one crosses here!"

    "Your daughter wasn't the first to disappear here?" Alton asked.

    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

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