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The Way of the Hunter - Meditation (Chapter Twenty-Three)

Author: 
Alya Elvawiel
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
377

What should only be a four- or five-day trek is taking twice as long. Alya is not fully recovered, and has been getting tired easily. Although she has never complained about her fatigue, and has never asked to stop for a rest, Bishop could tell every time she starts to fall behind that it is time for a break.



One part of him, the vocal part, grumbles incessantly about the delay to their journey. Another part of him, the secret part he has banished to the deepest, darkest corner of his mind, silently wishes for more hold-ups.



Karnwyr trots beside him, looking somewhat smug. Naturally, he had not been able to stay mad at his animal companion for long; all the wolf had to do was to approach him, his head held low in a submissive gesture, whimpering and giving him his best puppy-dog look. Even as he forgave Karnwyr, the wolf’s behaviour had mystified him. Never had Karnwyr ever defied his orders before. Bishop still does not know what had gotten into him, and he feels an absurd pang of jealousy that his wolf has gotten so attached to someone else.



He thinks about how Karnwyr had refused to follow him, running instead to Alya. The indignity of rolling around in muddy rainwater, trying to catch a wolf, is still raw in his mind. In the end, what else could he have done but to go where the wolf wanted? He would never walk away from his animal companion…



Still, it’s worked out for the best, hasn’t it? The much-oppressed part of his mind chimes up. The wolf’s made the decision you had wanted to make yourself all along.



Shut up.




He relives the moment Karnwyr had knocked Alya off balance, causing her to slam into him. As he tottered backwards from the force, that damn wolf had decided to run behind him at that exact moment. The backs of his knees caught Karnwyr’s strong back, and he toppled straight over his animal companion, landing on his back in a puddle of mud. Even as he felt the muddy water seeping into his clothing, his hair, and down his neck, he had noticed just how close her face was to his. Her deep green cat’s eyes, sparkling like a beacon against the gloomy backdrop of the rainy day. He could make out all nine freckles that dust the bridge of her upturned nose. Her lips were slightly parted in surprise, just inches away from his own. Her hair framed her face in a red and brown halo, and he could feel a few locks tickling his cheeks. He caught a whiff of her feminine scent, something akin to a mixture of rosewater and cinnamon – sweet and spicy, just like her personality…



Then he had realised that his arms were wrapped tightly, protectively, around her body.



He shakes his head. To banish the sudden surge of desire, he recalls how quickly she had broken free from his embrace, how eagerly she seemed to have welcomed Karnwyr’s playful licks, avoiding his eyes as she tried to defuse the awkward situation. She had then kept her distance for the rest of the journey.



That is not how someone who likes having you close would behave.



He stops to ascertain their position and to confirm that they are still on the right track. As his trained eye scans the vicinity for familiar landmarks, he spots her leaning against an oak, her eyes shut as she concentrates on taking slow, deep breaths. Her arms are crossed, one hand discreetly over the healing wound in her chest. Bishop feels an involuntary wave of concern. Their path has been taking them progressively uphill all day, and the sloping incline has obviously taken its toll on her.



“We’ll stop here for tonight,” he announces.



“You sure?” she asks, as she pushes herself off the tree, trying to look unwearied. “We still have a few hours of daylight left.”



“I didn’t come so far out of my way just to have you drop dead now,” he snaps, as he tosses his backpack on the ground and starts gathering wood for a fire, making it clear that they are going no further.



End of discussion.



* * *



Bishop secretly watches her as she meditates at the edge of the grassy cliff overlooking the valley below. She is sitting with her back straight and her legs crossed, her hands resting on her knees. Her eyes are closed, and her breathing is slow and steady. If Bishop hasn’t known better, he would have thought she was sleeping sitting up.



When she had first left the camp, he had followed quietly, in case she ran into any danger, all the while thinking how ridiculous he was to be concerned for the safety of the Knight-Captain, slayer of the King of Shadows. He watched her looking out over the wooded dale from her lofty vantage point, a testament to how high up they have actually climbed, before seating herself down right at the fringe of the drop-off. When he was sure she wasn’t going to fall off the cliff, he had snuck away to do some hunting.



And now, more than an hour later, she is in the exact same position, as if she had never moved from that spot. A gentle breeze blows up from the valley, and her head tilts back almost imperceptibly, as if savouring the wind in her face. Her hair ripples with the air current, the reddish highlights reflecting the rays of the setting sun, setting her hair ablaze. With her serene countenance and her flaming locks, she reminds him of some sort of fiery angel, perched at the edge of the cliff, guarding the dell below.



Even though he has seen her in meditation numerous times before, he still does not understand how someone could just sit there doing nothing for so long. Doesn’t she get bored? Doesn’t she fall asleep? Don’t her legs fall asleep? He sees no point in what she is doing, and worst of all, when she is in a trance, she seems almost oblivious to her surroundings.



Stealthily, like a panther stalking its prey, he moves closer to her, his footsteps falling soundlessly, until he is right behind her. He watches as her shoulders rise and fall slightly, in time to her slow, rhythmic breathing. He crouches down so that his face is mere inches from the back of her head, and again he smells the soapwort she used to clean her hair. Moving cautiously, he cranes his neck over one of her shoulders until his lips are almost touching her slightly pointed ear. He studies her face in profile: her small, upturned nose, the contours of her cheekbones, her moist lips, pulled back in a tiny, contented smile, her prominent chin, perpetually set in stubborn determination…



Through it all, she remains motionless, completely unaware of his presence. He stays there for a moment, then he closes his eyes, breathing in her scent. He wonders if she would even notice if his lips were to brush her…



Enough!



Just as silently as he had approached her, he gets up and steps back, looking at the still form of the monk in disgust. He had been so close to her, and yet she had no idea. Her guard is completely down while she is in that state, and it is such carelessness and disregard of one’s surroundings that gets people killed. You would think that someone like her would know better.



I could have pushed her right over the edge of the cliff, and she won’t have realised it till it was too late.



Still shaking his head scornfully at her ignorance, he turns and starts to slip away.



“Leaving so soon, Bishop?” he hears her ask.



* * *



Alya sits calmly at the edge of the cliff, her eyes closed, as she concentrates on her breathing. Slow, deep inhalations through her nose, and with each exhalation through her mouth, she imagines herself breathing out all her thoughts and troubles, all physical pain and discomfort, everything that normally weighs her mind down, until her consciousness is empty, free of all complex thinking, all burdens, as she allows her primal senses to take over.



“When one sense is disabled, the other senses grow stronger to compensate.” Her mentor’s words linger briefly in her mind, before it too is exhaled. With her eyes shut, she sees nothing, but in her relaxed, thoughtless state, her other senses are sharpened. She feels a gentle breeze play across her skin, caressing her with its fleeting touch, and carrying with it the scent of grass and wildflowers from the woods below. Her ears pick up the song of every bird, the cry of an eagle in the distance, the rustle of the wind in the trees.



She inhales again, and this time she pictures herself breathing in her thoughts again. But instead of falling back into a jumbled heap in her mind, like it was before, she imagines the individual ideas drifting into place, into some form of order. Feelings that are deemed detrimental are not taken in again, but rather blown far away by the same wind that is stroking her cheeks. As her higher thinking returns, she smiles, already sensing the spiritual benefits of her meditation. The Way states that the solution to any problem lies within one’s self, and it is by freeing one’s mind that one gains the enlightenment to see the answer.



She is about to open her eyes when she hears the softest of footfalls behind her, so silent that she would not normally have heard it, but with her sense of sight still disabled, her other senses are on high alert.



Only one person she knows could sneak around so quietly.



The footsteps draw closer, and stop directly behind her. She is tempted to open her eyes, to turn around, but she is curious as to what he would do.



The sound of cotton rubbing against leather tells her that he has squatted down behind her. That, and the heat she can feel emanating from his body informs her just how close he actually is. She has to struggle to keep her breathing steady, to appear unaware.



She feels the warmth from his body moving along the right side of her face. It lingers there, and an almost imperceptible movement of air brushes her ear. He is so close, his mouth is practically touching her ear. Her skin tingles where his breath caresses her, and as a shudder threatens, she fights to remain motionless. She can smell him now, too; a hint of pine needles and musk, and she must admit, it is not altogether a bad combination.



Suddenly, the warmth disappears, as more near-silent chafing of cotton against leather tells her that he has stood up. She surprises herself by actually feeling a little disappointed, despite the fact that if he had tried anything funny, she probably would have reacted by dangling him over the edge of the precipice.



His footsteps start to fade as he walks away. Forcing as much casualness into her voice as she could, she calls out: “Leaving so soon, Bishop?”



She listens as he stops short, and hears a sharp intake of breath. Oh, how she longs to open her eyes and see the look that must be on his face! But she remains as she is, listening for him, knowing that remaining in her calm, motionless, sightless state would unsettle him more.



He makes no sound for a good minute as he just stands there, perhaps hoping that if he doesn’t reply, she would think that she had made a mistake, that he isn’t there. It is a silent stand-off; Bishop waiting for her to doubt her ability, herself waiting for the ranger to admit that he has been exposed.



Finally, perhaps realising that there is no getting out of this, Bishop speaks.



“Not bad, monk, I’m almost impressed.” His caustic tone tries unsuccessfully to mask his bewilderment.



Yes! Score one for me!



More silence follows. She can sense that the ranger has some questions, possibly about how she had known he was there, but he doesn’t want to appear interested.



After a few moments, he finally says, “That’s not the safest of places to fall asleep sitting up.”



She smiles. Trust Bishop to find a way to get the answers he wants without seeming like he wants them. She decides to play along.



“For one, it’s a lovely view for when I do open my eyes at the end. For another, there’s this lovely fresh breeze blowing up from the valley. And, of course, there’s the fact that I am not asleep.”



She hears him snort. “You seem well into dreamland to me,” he says, feigning disinterest.



“I close my eyes so that my mind is not bombarded by unnecessary visual images,” she explains. “And concentrating on my breathing relaxes me, clears my head.” Then, cheekily, she adds, “Plus, it sharpens my other senses.”



“So, you just sit there like a stone all day, thinking of nothing?” His scornful words are betrayed by an undertone of curiosity.



Hey, I should shut my eyes more often when I’m talking to him! She thinks as she detects the inconsistencies in his voice. Then I’ll know what he’s really thinking all the time…



“Not exactly,” she replies. “You see, it’s like trying to rearrange furniture in a cluttered room. Things will be getting in each other’s way, and you’ll end up with a big mess. But if you took everything out of the room, and started with an empty space, it’s easier to move the furniture around, and they will all fit nicely into place. It’s the same with my meditation; I remove all thoughts from my head, and when my mind is uncluttered, it’s easier for me to sort things out. It puts everything into perspective.” She angles her head slightly towards Bishop’s direction, and adds, “You should try it sometime.”



“Ha!” he dismisses the idea outright. After another spell of silence, he asks, “So what are you sorting through this time?” The question is made to sound like a throwaway remark.



She sighs. “Thoughts about the future.”



Silence again from the ranger, before: “Any decisions?”



“Sort of. Return to Crossroads Keep, arrange a decent burial for the rest…” an image of Casavir appears in her mind’s eye, and her heart pangs involuntarily. Hadn’t I just locked that grief away somewhere?



Steeling herself, she finishes, “And if there are any West Harbour survivors, go back to the village to help them rebuild.” Cautiously, she slips in a question: “How long before we get to Crossroads Keep?”



“At the rate you’re going, and taking into account the fact that we’ll be travelling downhill from here…” Bishop appears to be making a mental calculation. “Five days at most.”



Alya nods absently. From behind her eyelids, she sees an orange glow that is slowly dimming. The sun has almost set.



“What will you do when we get there?” she asks.



Bishop stays quiet for a while before answering. “What do you think I’ll do? I’m a traitor of Neverwinter. They’ll hang me on sight.” She hears more rustling of clothing. Did he just cross his arms? “I can’t let anyone see me,” he continues. “So I’ll probably just see you on your way and be off.” She detects a slight waver in his last sentence. “Just as well,” he adds. “I’m getting tired of you slowing me down.”



Something about the way he said that doesn’t sound right to her keen hearing.



He’s lying.



“Where will you go?” she asks again.



“Who cares?” She can imagine him shrugging in her mind’s eye. “Somewhere far away…” Why is there an undercurrent of reluctance and regret rippling beneath that statement?



“Bishop,” she begins sincerely, “I really do appreciate all that you’ve done. You never needed to come back for us, and yet you did. Your reasons for your change of heart are your own, and…” her voice catches. “And although I cannot seem to forgive you for what you did to Casavir,” she whispers. “I have accepted that it was probably for the best, and…I thank you.”



That was her freshly uncluttered mind talking. It had been something she had wanted to say for a while now, but until today, she had never found the words. She is hoping that her confession would provide some sort of closure; if she has to travel with the ranger, she has to learn to trust him again.



Plus, it helps to say it without having to look into those piercing eyes of his…



Finally opening her eyes, she turns to Bishop, looking to see how he would react. His face is unreadable as he stands there, arms crossed, staring back at her, his amber eyes glinting in the light of the setting sun.



With a smirk, he says, “Like I said before, it’s your turn to owe me a debt. I might just drop by to collect one day.”



Perhaps it is the after-effects of being sight-deprived for so long, but her other senses still seem quite sharp. She thinks she detects a sort of wistful sadness in his voice. Their eyes meet for a second before Bishop looks away.



“It’s getting dark,” he says gruffly, looking at the sun. Its rays are barely peeking out over the horizon now. “Come on, dinner’s ready.”



“I’ll catch up to you in a bit,” she replies, straightening her legs and stretching, feeling the pins and needles shooting down to her toes from sitting cross-legged for so long. She winces, then glances at Bishop sheepishly. “Legs fell asleep.”



He snickers, genuinely amused. “So you do get cramps from sitting still for so long.” He makes a move to leave, appears to hesitate, then walks back towards her. Wordlessly, he holds out a hand to her. As she takes it, he hauls her to her feet. She lets him support her as she limps, trying to walk off her cramps.



As the sun disappears completely from the horizon, and faint stars start to appear in the darkened sky, neither of them says a word as they slowly make their way back to camp together.



The Way of the Hunter Chapter 23 - Meditation © Alya Elvawiel

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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