Music: Autumn by Audiomachine
Brash and Pal travel for two days without seeing another person. Plenty of trees, animals, and sky. But not another soul until shortly after sunrise on the third day.
They’re fresh from breaking camp and Pal is picking up a story from the previous evening (one left unfinished when he’d abruptly fallen asleep in the middle of a proper dinner – grilled rabbit, mushrooms, and onions) when there’s a crackle in the trees up ahead.
Pal falls silent.
Brash notches an arrow and scans the area.
Pal raises a hand and electricity sparks from his fingertips.
Brash uses an elbow to nudge Pal’s hand down. “I prefer my food without the charred aftertaste.”
Pal grins, sheepishly, and tucks his hands into the cloak sleeves.
Brash sights the target, takes aim, and lets the arrow fly.
But when he moves in to claim his prize, a girl of fourteen or fifteen summers cuts him off. “That’s my elk.”
“My arrow in its chest says otherwise.”
“I couldn't take the shot because you were in the way.”
“You didn’t have a kill shot from that position.”
“To take an elk down, you have to hit him broadside, so the arrow penetrates the lungs.”
She holds her ground. “Thanks for the tip. But the beast is still mine.”
He hides his amusement. “In which case, I bid you good day.”
He and Pal walk to a creek some distance from the fallen elk but still with the girl’s sight. They take a drink, fill the water skins, and turn north, resuming their route.
They’re a few yards from the creek when the girl calls after them. “Wait. If you help me drag it home, I’ll split it with you.”
Smart girl. He bites back the grin. “Depends which way you’re heading.”
“The way you’re going now. North. A mile up the creek.”
He walks back to her. “You have yourself a deal. Where’s your sledge?”
She glances at her boots. “Don’t have one.”
He puts down his pack and rolls up his sleeves. “Won’t take much time to build a makeshift one. We’ll need some sturdy branches -”
Behind him, several large branches crash to the ground. He turns to see Pal swatting the air in front of him, presumably to dispel the smoke emanating from his hands. “That little burst nearly knocked the breath out of me.”
Brash eyes him sternly. “Nearly knocked the breath out of me too. Permanently.”
“Methinks a recuperative nap is in order,” Pal says, retreating. He wraps his cloak about him and settles against a tree trunk.
Two hours later, the crude sledge is complete and the elk loaded onto it.
Using the smaller leftover branches, Brash fashions an altar of wood inside a circle of stones, and places the elk’s heart on the altar. Pal and the girl join him, and together they bow their heads and speak the words. “For this bounty we give thanks. Blessed be Mielikki.”
They remain genuflected as the heart and altar ignite, and rise after the ash cools and scatters.
Brash puts the sledge’s lead line over his shoulder and heads north. The elk is young, not yet full grown, and the sledge moves fairly well over the damp rock and leaves along the creek. Still, it’s hard work.
Pal resumes his tale but at the mention of Icewind Dale, the girl interrupts. “That’s where my father is. Answering a summons to Icewind Dale.”
“We’re answering the same summons. I’m Brash and this is my companion Pal. What is your father’s name? If we chance upon him, we’ll bring him a good report of you and yours.”
“I’m Svea. My father is Tage. Our little village is called Umaya’s Creek. My uncle Albin oversees it. He and the other men left to hunt the day my father rode out but that was two days ago and they haven’t returned.”
Two days. Too long to leave a village of women and children unattended. Might explain why Svea had been out hunting alone. “Perhaps the men have returned while you were chasing this elk. If not, we’ll help you find them and bring them home.”
As they leave the creek and climb a small rise to the village, a young girl rushes to greet them. “Svea! Come quick. The men are back but many are wounded. They came upon a pair of Orcs.”
Brash’s jaw clenches and his fists ball up. Orcs. Of all the low down dirty …
The child rushes on. “And Aunt Linnea is in labor but all the women are busy tending the wounded.”
Brash turns to Pal. “Do you have healing skills?”
Pal nods. “I think so.”
“Can you control them? We don’t want disintegrating boars or plummeting branches.”
“Understood.” Pal’s eyebrows wriggle like furry gray caterpillars. “I’ll be gentle as a lamb. And you?”
“I’ll deliver the baby and join you as quickly as possible.”
Pal, Svea, and the child stare at him.
He dismisses them with a wave of his hands. “I’m as proficient a midwife as any woman in your midst. Delivered all but one of my own."
Svea hugs the younger girl. “Ignes, take Pal to the men. Send someone to tend the elk. I’ll take Brash to Aunt Linnea’s. Hurry, now.”
By the end of the day, Brash has delivered a healthy baby boy, sunny-side up, set a broken leg and two arms, and picked up substantial intel on the summons and the orc attack (on the hunting party).
Pal has tended and mended the wounded without mishap and not once asked for a nap. After, he seems different somehow. More confident. More himself, his human self, perhaps.
The two of them eat a quiet supper in makeshift quarters in the storehouse. After, they settle into comfortable cots and fall into a deep and restful sleep
In the morning, they depart at dawn with freshly stocked packs, new allies to their credit, and the conviction that whatever is going on in Icewind Dale is a credible threat.