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Wilderness: Book One - The Forest (Chapter Seven - Past Moments)

Colin Frayn
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Doragon collapsed to the ground, his heart pounding heavily. Fortunately, the creature's sharp claws had only just grazed his skin. Without his leather armour, the wound could have been much more serious. He turned to Tarok, and thanked his friend profusely. "One more swipe from that thing and I dare say I would have been in real trouble!" Tarok nodded. A compliment like that gave him a great sense of achievement inside. His magic was becoming truly useful now, and he knew that the group was beginning to depend upon it. All three friends were certainly impressed by Tarok's proficiency, and congratulated the wizard on a magnificent display.

Athena wandered over to the defeated creature and examined it carefully. It was indeed a vicious beast with a powerful, muscular build. One of these creatures could easily kill a human. Perhaps this one already had. Maybe someone in the town would be able to tell them what it was.

The four travellers carried on with their journey, stopping for lunch by a large sycamore tree. The break was understandably brief for they knew that they had to get to Tarnadon as soon as possible so that they could complete their purchases that night. They stopped only for half an hour that day, briefly resting their tired legs. After eating some fruit from their backpacks, they continued on their journey in the direction of Tarnadon. Doragon knew that it would take quite some time to clear out the junk from his house, but hoped that it would be worth it. He had a great number of souvenirs from his travels, and felt sure that some of them would be valuable.

It was mid-afternoon, as they had predicted, when they finally left the forest and strolled onto the farmland surrounding the town. They had made good time, mainly due to Carek's excellent path finding, as ever.

Tarnadon's stone walls could be seen from quite a distance, blocking the town from attacking bands of orcs which swept occasionally from their homelands to the northeast. The river from the forest ran through the fields, and along past the outer towers, affording a natural moat for one third of the town's perimeter. Half a dozen roads converged onto one point just in front of the main town gates, where a number of merchants were moving their wares in and out of the bustling market inside.

It was not long now before the group reached the town gates, and walked once more onto the cobbled streets of their home town. Doragon showed them the route to his bungalow, situated just off the main street, but hidden nicely by a large row of shops. He had kindly offered floor space to Carek and Tarok for the one night, though he had no spare beds. Athena was going to return to her small flat and gather up one or two things that she had forgotten the previous time. This was to be the shortest trip yet as they could not afford to leave the fort for longer than they had to. Besides, they were all so excited about their future home that they were quite eager to get back and continue with the work.

Doragon's house was, rather predictably, a most tidy building. At least, it appeared tidy on the outside, especially compared to the other homes immediately surrounding it. It was set in a small area of grassland, seemingly out of place amidst the sterile surroundings of the busy town centre. Doragon shook his head, uprooting a couple of weeds that had grown up amidst the otherwise immaculate flower border. "I do apologise for the mess," he kept muttering. He had grown up amongst halflings. For them, this was a disgraceful state in which to leave a house. Doragon just imagined his mother coming to visit. She would not be able to put one foot inside the town without having an intense desire to leave immediately.

Through the front door was a short, cramped entrance hall. It was not particularly small, but was filled ceiling high with all sorts of junk that Doragon had collected over the years. "This pile is awaiting sorting," he announced, "then I'll store it with the rest." He opened the door to his lounge. The 'rest' was immediately apparent. So apparent, in fact, that it almost toppled down on top of Tarok, who rather foolishly wandered in to the room without looking where he was going.

"Well," began the halfling, "I'm sure I could get rid of a few boxes. They are mostly mementos of my journeys. The majority is worthless, but occasionally I have a good eye for a bargain." He began to root around in one or two of the smaller boxes on top, presumably hoping that Tarok or Carek would tackle the rest between them.

"I suppose we should leave you to it," suggested Tarok. Doragon said nothing, but instead gave a quiet "hmmmmm," which could have been interpreted as either "yes, make yourselves at home," or "well I was rather hoping you would stay and help." Tarok assumed it was the former and wandered off to make some tea. Carek followed him while he still had a chance to escape.

Meanwhile, Athena wandered home and dropped her backpack off in her room. Fun though it would undoubtedly be to stay in Doragon's extraordinary little cottage, she rather preferred the idea of a good night's sleep. Besides, she had plenty of time to chat to her new friends and find out about their lives over the following weeks while the fort took shape. She sifted through some of her cabinets and took out a small box of jewellery. There were a few valuable items in there, accumulated over the years from over-generous grandparents. She never wore them and they just sat there gathering dust. She could probably get a good price for them in town, which would go most of the way towards buying a crossbow. She never had been a great fan of jewellery. Quite why people felt they had to improve themselves by hanging precious stones round their necks was beyond her. It was beauty by association; "Nature is beautiful, I wear objects of nature, therefore I am beautiful too." What nonsense! Besides, wearing a diamond necklace was a great way of attracting trouble, especially in Tarnadon.

Athena held the gems up to the dimming evening light. They sparkled brilliantly as the deep yellow of the sun danced across the greens and blues of emeralds and sapphires. Nature was beautiful indeed. She gathered up the few golden trinkets and wandered off in the direction of the jeweller's shop in order to exchange them for some real money.

Tarok decided that he should get his shopping done before nightfall, and set off briskly for the wizardry shop. There was no use helping Doragon clear out his house, and Tarok decided that the best idea would be to leave him to it. He took the first box of junk that Doragon had managed to collect, and wandered off towards the nearest antiques shop, exchanging it for a small sum of money. There was a magnificent variety of items in that box, from dolls and figurines to paintings of exotic lands. He wondered where these places were, and maybe if he would ever visit them himself. Tarok's urge for adventure was growing by the day.

Fortunately, Tarok did not need much money to buy the books he wanted, and he knew exactly which ones they were. There was a book on amateur healing, which he had been thinking of since his last visit, and he bought that first. There were several more about the elements of magic, conjuration, and so on. Tarok spent some time browsing through the shelves, but eventually picked his preferred selection. After handing over the required money, he left the magic shop with a good selection of reading material. Interesting though they would be, he would no doubt be weighed down considerably for the journey home. He wandered back to Doragon's house with a precarious stack of books, dodging through a steady stream of people all of whom seemed to be moving in exactly the opposite direction.

Athena had gained a generous price for her jewellery, and felt sure that she would be able to afford a good crossbow with the proceeds. She carefully checked all the weapon shops in the town, as she had done many times before. She had wanted a crossbow for a long time, but could never justify the cost. Now she had a valid use for one, and was glad to finally wander inside the shops instead of just examining their wares through a dusty front window. She would often search through weapon shops, even as a child. That kind of thing had fascinated her from a young age.

Her father had fought in the guard in his younger days, though he was long since retired now. Her mother left while Athena was still young, leaving her to be raised as a single daughter amongst three brothers. She rarely saw any of them now, though they retained a strong familial bond between them. She had been brought up well, taught how to fend for herself in a world where all possible forces usually contrived to make one's life as hard as possible. Her father was growing old now, and lived on the family farm a dozen miles west of Tarnadon with her two younger brothers. He wanted seclusion in his retirement, after a life of hardship and turmoil. Athena's older brother Eric, however, had long since left for more exciting places, fighting with a group of mercenaries near the border towns. The orcs were a growing threat, and bands of brave adventurers such as these were often the only means of defence. Eric had inspired his younger sister to take up the sword and learn to fight. He was a fine example for an aspiring young soldier.

Athena only wanted a light or maybe a medium size crossbow. She would have to carry this around with her, so was restricted somewhat by what she could strap comfortably to her back. After a long time spent browsing, she eventually found what she wanted, and stepped up to the counter. It cost almost thirty gold pieces, which was most of the proceeds from the jewellery sale. Athena handed over the money before she could change her mind. As she was wandering out of the shop, she remembered the strange animal the group had fought earlier. She turned back round to the shopkeeper.

"I don't suppose you would know anything about dangerous animals in these parts, would you?" she began.

"Indeed I would, young lady," came the reply. "What do you want to know about?"

"Well, we were attacked by a strange beast just inside the forests. I was wandering if you could tell me what it was." The shopkeeper smiled. "I'll try my best, though I'd offer you one piece of advice; Stay well away from those trees! Too many people are killed in there, and it would be a terrible shame to add a fine young lady like you to the list, wouldn't it? Now, what did this creature look like?"

Athena described the animal that they had defeated, and the shopkeeper's eyes opened wide.

"Blimey, " he proclaimed, "I hope it was on its own! It sounds like a tiger rat. Very nasty creatures they are too. They're a bit like a ferocious three foot rat, though much sturdier. They have a great appetite for crops, and people too for that matter. Some farmers will pay you handsomely for killing those things." Athena raised an eyebrow. "I was with three others, and we still had trouble defeating it."

"Yes, I know; I've killed a couple myself. Trouble is they move so fast. Still, you managed in the end, and that's all that matters. It didn't injure any of you did it?"

"Not really, no. Well, not seriously."

"Good! Those teeth can do some serious damage. Believe me, I know!"

The shopkeeper rolled up his left sleeve, revealing a large scar along his upper arm.

"That's what you get for taking those things on alone!" he laughed. "Stay well clear of them I say."

With her question answered, Athena thanked the shopkeeper, and then walked back to the rest of the group with a fair bit of excitement about her new weapon.

Carek, meanwhile, had also managed to slip away from Doragon's house. He had taken away the second box of Doragon's belongings, and sold them for a fair price in an antiques shop. "Fifteen gold pieces, and not a fraction less!" joked the halfling. Doragon knew that Carek was not used to money and he didn't want to get ripped off. To Carek's surprise, fifteen gold pieces is exactly what he managed to obtain, so he wandered off back into the town with the coins in his pocket. He was beginning to understand how this town worked. All you had to do was find something that you had, and others wanted. Rather than being content with what you actually possessed, people seemed much happier to exchange it for something else equally trite. Whether it was money, jewellery, clothing or weapons, it was all the same to Carek. Quite why anyone would want Doragon's old mementos of journeys past was a mystery to the naïve half-elf, but he freely admitted that he would never understand humans.

Carek was looking for the shop where he had bought his magical bow just a few days earlier. He found it after a short while and entered, to be greeted by the cheerful face of the shopkeeper of last time. "Hello there," the shopkeeper started. "I didn't think I'd see you back here so soon!"

Carek smiled. "Well this may be my last visit for quite some time." He knew that the group would probably remain at the fort for many months. They could not risk losing it to the ogres.

"Have you had a chance to try out your new bow?" enquired the kindly old man.

"Yes, it's very useful, " Carek replied, "but I have a question for you."

The shopkeeper raised an eyebrow, and Carek told his story.

"When we were in a fight earlier on today, the bow just stopped working. There was a dangerous creature quite close by, and I've only had this happen before when the creature posed no threat. This was one particularly threatening beast, I assure you!"

"Oh, it's one of them!" the shopkeeper laughed, "Don't worry about that! I believe its powers have transferred into you. Several magic weapons do that. It's a sign of quality you know!" He grinned again as a particularly perplexed expression crossed Carek's face.

"Are you trying to say that the powers of this bow are now inside me instead?"

The shopkeeper nodded. "Yes, some of them do that, you know. At least I think that's what my friend said. As I said, a sign of true workmanship. Nothing but the best!" He grinned an unfeasibly large shopkeeper smile.

"Mind you, if any of your friends try to use it, they'll have to start over. The bow gets tuned to one master you see. After a few days, it just learns how you think, and can tap directly into your thoughts. It has no need to pull your arms around; you'll just find your arms moving in the right direction anyway. I have a sword like that. It feels a little strange for a while, but you'll soon get used to it."

Carek seemed rather impressed. The shopkeeper had not lied to him before, so Carek had every reason to believe him now. Besides, he was a very trusting man.

"So, what are you after this time then?" the shopkeeper enquired. Carek looked around the shop, and then found what he was looking for, pointing over at one corner.

"A spear," he answered, "This is your selection, I presume?" The shopkeeper nodded, and showed Carek his selection of three spears of varying lengths. Carek chose the medium sized one, and handed over the money straight away.

As the shopkeeper was putting the money away, Carek spoke once more. "I've been thinking about what you said last time I was here." The shopkeeper stopped, and turned round to face his young customer. "Have you indeed? Tell me - what have you discovered?" Carek shrugged his shoulders. "Discovered? Well, nothing at all. I was just intrigued by some of the things you mentioned. You act almost as if we have met before."

The shopkeeper limped over towards the heavy, oak desk, and rested his weight on it. He drew in a deep breath. "Well, my son, there's a very good reason for that. It's because we have."

Carek was shocked. This was not at all the answer he was expecting. "But I don't remember you. How can that be?"

"Well, you were only a young lad at the time." The shopkeeper dropped his head, and turned away slightly. "Your mother knew you would always survive. She said you were strong."

Carek dropped the spear and leapt forwards, grabbing the shopkeeper firmly by his arm, and then releasing it.

"You knew my mother?"

The shopkeeper nodded. "Yes, son. And your father too. You could say I was a friend of the family." He chuckled quietly to himself.

"Yes, I suppose that's who I was. Just a friend. Though I dare say they never spoke of me. My name is Andur, and you are Carek Thornwind I presume?" He offered his hand to the bemused half-elf, who accepted it reluctantly.

Carek was intrigued. He stepped down to pick up his spear, and placed it lightly on the table.

"So how did you meet them? Tell me more!"

Andur sat down wearily behind the counter on a study wooden chair. "It's quite a story, my son. It may take some time to tell, though I know that you must learn it eventually. Here, you had better sit down too." The shopkeeper motioned towards another chair at one side of the store. Carek fetched it, glad to take the weight off his weary feet.

"I knew your mother when she was still living in Tarnadon. She was a lovely girl; always smiling, carefree, full of life. I don't suppose your parents ever told you of their first meeting, did they?" Carek shook his head. It was something that had always intrigued him, though he knew not to ask. Andur continued his tale.

"Well then, I suppose there's no harm in telling you now. You see I was very fond of your mother at the time, though I knew that she was too lively and adventurous to be interested in a town guard like me. I had joined up in the hope that I would be able to impress people, but in the end I just sat up on the town walls for hours on end, watching my friends laughing and playing in the fields below."

"Well, one day all this changed. I was placed on patrol together with one other guard. We had heard rumours of orc raiding parties over towards the forest, and we had the unenviable duty of scouting out on horseback. There were many tales of orcs claiming lives in nearby villages, and we did not want to risk the same in Tarnadon. We rode out as quickly as we could, soon arriving at the place where the creatures had been sighted. There was no sign of them, but over towards the edge of the forest I spied a young lady playing in the fields, gathering mushrooms. Your mother, as I knew, had a certain spirit of adventure."

"I began to ride over towards where she was sitting. I wanted to warn her about the orc threat in case there were some of the creatures patrolling nearby. It was then that I began to see shapes moving in the forest. Greenskins! I spurred my horse forward, and the other guard with me followed shortly after. I yelled to your mother, and she stood up as she saw me galloping towards her from the distance. Too late, she realised the threat as the orcs charged from within the shadows. I drew my sword, and rode as fast as I could towards her. She ran swiftly away from the forest, but the orcs were catching her with every stride. I feared I would be too late."

"And that is when your father appeared. Two of the orcs at the back dropped down dead, arrows lodged firmly in their backs. Five lightly armoured elves charged out of the forest and attacked the dozen or more muscular orc warriors. The greenskins turned to face their new foe, and your mother managed to evade their grasp, running for cover. I charged in, together with my companion guard, sword aloft. One of the elves summoned a bolt of lightning, which incinerated another couple of the orcs, but the numbers were still against us."

"I reached the battle just as the elves did. Charging through the ranks of orcs, I sliced wildly at my side, drawing dark blood from one of the fierce warriors. Your father and his men threw their spears with deadly accuracy, slaying three more of the creatures. They drew their swords, and I joined them, leaping from the back of my horse towards the melee. The orcs swung their heavy axes, striking one of the elven warriors heavily on the chest and felling him. This enraged your father even further, who sliced yet another of the creatures with his shining blade. My companion was hurled off his horse by the murderous orc warriors, and swiftly killed. I fell back in shock as the nimble elf warriors charged through. I was no match for the orcs, and I had no desire to die that day. I ran over to where the stricken elf lay, but he was already dead on the floor."

"As another of their number fell to the deadly elf blades, the remaining orcs fled. The elves were swift, but could not match pace with the larger, stronger greenskins so fell back. They returned to where their friend lay, and I stepped away as they examined his body. There was nothing they could do, and your father knelt there, saying a prayer in some unknown tongue. It was an emotional sight. I looked over where my partner was lying in a pool of blood on the grass, but had to turn away."

"Then your father stood up and held out his hand towards me. He gave a most genuine, kind-hearted smile. I was transfixed by his gaze. It was the face of a man who had just lost a dear friend, but who could still show gratitude for my own feeble contribution. I shook him by the hand, not daring to speak. There was nothing to say which we could not read from the other's eyes. That kindly visage transcended the language barrier between us. I had never met an elf before, and he was truly a fine ambassador for his race."

"I was about to turn my back when I spotted another figure concealed in the forest. It was another orc, carrying a longbow. He had the string drawn, and was pointing directly towards us. I gave out a yell, trying to push the elves out of the way of the imminent attack. Suddenly there was a thud, and the orc collapsed to the ground."

Andur shook his head, and drew another deep breath. Carek listened intently to every word as the tale unfolded before him.

"Your mother was a fine shot with that bow. It was one of the reasons we all loved her. She wasn't like other women."

Carek smiled. That sounded familiar. A bit of her lively spirit had passed down to him, and he was most grateful for it. Andur continued the last part of his tale. "Your mother wandered over to the elves and introduced herself. It was at this point that your father replied in a soft elven accent, but in my own language. He thanked her for saving his life. I had presumed that he would not understand me if I spoke to him, but I was wrong. He took your mother gently by the hand and knelt before her. I am not sure what he said as he spoke in elven, but somehow your mother seemed to know. From that day on they were inseparable. They were married only a few weeks later in a remarkable ceremony about which I could probably speak for another ten hours! I had never seen anything quite like it before. That wedding was the first time I saw the elven village. The second was several years later, and that was when I first met you."

"At the time, you were only a few years old. Three or four perhaps, I don't really remember. Your mother was rather proud of you, and was certainly very keen to introduce you to me. I remember you then, boldly offering your hand to a complete stranger." Andur laughed as he remembered his first meeting with the young half-elf. Carek only wished that he had some recollection of these times, but his youth was little more than a hazy dream to him now.

"From time to time your parents would come to visit me in Tarnadon. We became rather good friends, though their visits understandably reduced until they came only once every year. Your parents would need to buy supplies from the market here. Try as she might, your mother could never quite do without the luxuries of town life. It was mainly the food and clothes, though she did miss the company of other humans occasionally."

"Then one year your parents never came. They would always travel over in mid-summer. Sometimes they brought you along just so that you knew where your mother used to live. This year there was no-one. Nor the next. I woke every morning, half hoping to see two figures walking from the forests and down the dusty farm road, but nobody ever came. I presumed that they had just forgotten about me until a few years later when I heard tales of adventurers stumbling across elven armour and weaponry on orc raiding parties. Apparently, some high wizards had interrogated the orcs, and discovered the origin of their supplies. A roving band of ogres had stormed through an elven village, killed everyone within it and grabbed their possessions. The orcs later bought the equipment from the ogres with gold stolen from human trading posts. I was devastated."

Carek bowed his head. He did not want to interrupt the shopkeeper's story, though he knew that this was the part that he remembered most vividly. Andur found this tale difficult too, though he continued. "Although I still had a glimmer of hope in my heart, my mind was telling me otherwise. I feared the worst, and set off in a search for your village to allay my suspicions one way or the other."

"I guess that was my big mistake. I had never been to your village alone before, only ever having travelled with your parents. I didn't know the way through the forests, and after a couple of days I was forced to turn back. One night I was sprung by a band of hobgoblins, and they very nearly killed me. It was a ferocious fight, and I was lucky to survive with my life. One of them smashed my leg with a club. To this day I don't know how I managed to find my way back out of that forest, but I suppose I was lucky to get away with just this limp."

Carek could not believe what he had just heard. This was a truly remarkable story. He said nothing, but Andur understood. He asked the question that he had feared to ask even himself for so many years.

"So did anyone else survive?"

Carek shook his head. "No. I was the only one."

There was a silence. It was an uncomfortable few moments where both men remembered those dear loved ones who had been so cruelly taken from them. The forest was a dangerous place to live, but that day had been more brutal than any other before or since. Neither dared to break the silence for some time, though eventually Carek spoke. "I'm rebuilding the village, making it into a fort. There's going to be a wall running all the way round it. I wanted to protect the forest from the ogres and defeat them once and for all." Andur raised his eyebrows. "An admirable plan. And how do you hope to succeed?"

"I have three good friends to help."

Andur shook his head. "Well, you're the last of the forest elves; the rest have moved much further away to the east and the south. Make sure you take care of yourself. You are the only remaining member of a long line of proud guardians of the forest. If you die then the last defences will crumble. These are dangerous times, and the burden on your shoulders is great, I know."

Carek had not really thought about it in quite such a serious light before now. There had always been elves in the forest. There had always been a spark of goodness and virtue there, opposing the darkness from all around. That spark was faint now but, as Carek knew, even the tiniest of embers could create a roaring fire.

Carek and Andur spoke for a while longer, exchanging stories of the elven village, the forest, and of course Carek's parents. It was a saddening subject, but Andur refused to let his spirits fade. He told Carek many amusing stories of his parents, and Carek spoke of life in the village, the elven traditions and the many things that his parents had told him about the outside world.

All too soon, Carek knew that he had to leave. It was dark, and his friends would be worrying about him. He stood up from his chair, and bade farewell to his new friend. "Maybe someday we will meet again," he offered as he wandered over towards the door.

"Perhaps," was the reply. "You tell me when this fort is ready and I'll come and defend it with you!" Carek smiled. Andur was in no state to fight any more.

"Perhaps I shall," lied Carek. Andur had seen enough troubles already. He would do far better living out his years in Tarnadon.

Carek stepped out through the door, turning once more to wave a last goodbye. Then he disappeared into the street and walked away without looking back.

Carek arrived back at Doragon's house just as Tarok was leaving the front door. The wizard was beginning to get worried and feared that Carek had got lost, or perhaps even worse. He was relieved to see his friend walking up to the house, spear in hand.

"Well I thought we'd lost you for a moment there, my friend!"

Carek smiled a tired smile, and stepped up towards the door. "Well, let's just say that my shopping trip lasted a while longer than I could have predicted. I discovered one or two things that I thought I would never know."

Tarok frowned. "Such as?"

Carek shook his head. "Never mind."

Everyone was tired after their hectic day, and went to their rooms to get a good night's rest at last, hoping that their journey back to the huts and the fort would be less dangerous than their journey that day to Tarnadon had been. They would certainly be very glad to arrive back at the fort in one piece, and get the walls and rooms finished as quickly as possible. It was beginning to get rather important and they could not postpone their building work any longer.

In the morning, they woke up and assembled in the market square after breakfast. They said goodbye to Tarnadon, and began to talk amongst themselves about the purchases that they had made, and the work they had left to do back at the fort. They were now more anxious than ever before to return before the ogres discovered their workmanship. They had bought all that they were going to need for quite some time. Tarok even thought to buy some potatoes from the market to plant around the edge of the fort when they got back. Food would certainly be a problem for them over the coming year, but not one that they couldn't overcome. He also managed to collect quite a selection of seeds and vegetables from the market, and placed them all in his backpack after distributing a few of his heavier books to the others.

The morning was beginning to brighten up as the group set off towards the woods for the journey home. A soft morning mist was lifting over the fields, and the sun began to shine from across the sea of green before them. None of them could help feeling sad that this would probably be their last visit to Tarnadon for a long time, but they pressed on and managed to keep their spirits up. They remembered that they had less than two days travel left before they would be back at their real home once again!

The four friends walked briskly away from Tarnadon, and soon reached the now familiar wall of the Eastern forest. After taking one last look over the fields, they began to make their way into the trees and through the undergrowth. Carek practised his skills with the spear, swiping from side to side, and stabbing out at invisible foes. He was a bit rusty, but soon got the hang of it again. All those hours of training with his father were not to be wasted after all. He knew that the spear could be a very effective weapon, and it would help the group immensely in their fight against the ogres. It could inflict quite a substantial amount of damage, he reckoned, even against such large and strongly built creatures.

Athena tried out her crossbow too and after a bit of practice she managed to fire it quite a distance. She started aiming at trees, but she only had two dozen bolts and she didn't want to lose any. She didn't hit much, but after a few hours she began to get the hang of it. At first she found it quite hard work winding the string back but even that got easier with practice. After all, the string was brand new, and would probably require a few days to wear in properly. The crossbow would be a formidable weapon against the many enemies that she would undoubtedly encounter over the next few years, and she knew that it would not take too long before she was proficient enough to use it in combat. Athena was a quick learner, and she knew that with a little bit of training she would soon become deadly.

Tarok tried to read some of his books as he strode along, but found himself walking into trees rather too frequently, much to his friends' amusement. He decided that he would have to restrain himself and read them that night by the fire. When he got back to the fort he would continue to study them properly. He was developing quite a library of various tomes now, and he certainly had enough to keep him going for several months. Some of his books contained a few very advanced spells that he knew he would not be able to master for some time, but they provided him with a goal to aim for at least. That was what he really needed. He had proven that he could perform well in combat, and that he was capable of learning some rather impressive spells. Those many years of study had trained his body and mind to cast magic in the most effective manner. Now all he had to do was study hard and learn the spells to unlock this potential. He would also have to practise a great deal in order to build up the strength of his mind so that he could cope with the more powerful spells, but practice was not something that he was short of in the Eastern forests!

The group made their way slowly through the undergrowth and at midday they ate the lunch that they had brought with them from the town. They pressed on in the second half of the day to make up for lost time, eating the rest of the food for dinner just as the sun was beginning to set. They slept under the stars that night, and talked for a long time in the light of the camp fire. They decided to stay for a bit longer at the stream the following day to make sure that they had enough food for the few days ahead. Maybe Tarok's fishing trick would work this time, but no-one really believed that it would. They would not tell him that to his face though. Tarok was not totally absorbed by the world of magic, and still had rather many practical jokes up his sleeve with which he could gain a most amusing revenge, should he feel that it was necessary.

They woke up the next morning, arranged their belongings and set off. Carek and Athena had been up for an hour practising with their new weapons. Athena was now getting quite skilful with the crossbow, and could hit a tree at fifty yards more than half the time. Carek with his short bow, determined not to be beaten, hit a tree at sixty yards four times in a row just to prove his point. However, he had been practising with the bow for so long now that he was an extremely proficient archer.

Carek's spear would also prove to be a very useful and deadly weapon. It would do a vast amount more damage to the large, tough ogres than his dagger could, and would therefore help him get his revenge with a lot less personal risk. It would also mean that he would not have to stand quite as close to his enemy now, which was certainly a useful advantage. Apart from anything else, ogres smelt quite bad, and this alone would be enough to put even the hardiest of fighters off guard!

At lunchtime they arrived at the stream as planned, and stayed for a couple of hours. Using some old arrows they managed to catch eight fish between them. Carek even tried fishing with his spear like his father used to do. He was not particularly successful, but it was certainly good practice for him. He was mainly a bit worried about stabbing his feet, so tended to only go for the fish that were a bit further away. Tarok opted not to try out his magic this time as he still had a fear of further injury! He did however manage to pick a selection of berries from the surrounding forest, which the group ate with the fish for lunch. It was a delicious meal, and Tarok was rightfully pleased with his choice of seasoning!

After lunch they started off on the last few hours of the journey back to the huts. They could hardly wait to see their home again. They had planned a lovely fish meal for the night, even though they were getting a little tired of fish after four days now, but they didn't seem to mind very much. Tarok suggested trying one of the spells in his new books, which allowed him to grow an animal or fish to twice its normal size. He wondered if it would work on dead fish as well. If it did, then they would have twice the food and it would therefore last for twice as long. This meant that Carek would have to go hunting only half as frequently, and so the animal stocks of the forest would be preserved. This had been a worry for Carek as there were now four hungry adults to feed rather than just one, and he knew that he was going to have to hunt rather more than he would otherwise have liked to do.

They reached their destination by late afternoon. All was calm, with the posts of the fort standing on their own around the huts, exactly as they had been left. It appeared that the group's hard work had remained untouched. They were about to breathe a sigh of relief when Carek noticed smoke rising from one of the chimneys. He gasped in shock, and then beckoned his friends to go back into the undergrowth. Their optimism had been too presumptuous. Carek ran over into cover, and then crept slowly forward. He arrived at the hut, and looked in through one of the gaps in the walls, taking care not to be seen. It was a scene that he had hoped he would never see, and his eyes opened wide in horror. Sitting round a fire, which had been laid in the middle of the floor, was a group of four tall, hungry looking ogres! Carek almost ran round and attacked them then, but fortunately thought better of it.

Carek ran silently back to the rest of the group, and told them what he had seen. He was seriously considering the idea of a surprise assault, or maybe even burning the hut down with the ogres inside but Tarok, as ever, had a better idea. He hardly dared to speak above a whisper. "Friends, we appear to have quite a situation here. It seems clear to me that a straight assault would be a most foolish course of action. We need to try somehow to turn the balance in our favour." Well that seemed to be a prudent idea. Carek was listening intently. Tarok continued, "Now, ogres are not renowned for their great intelligence, and I'm sure that we can put that to good use here. What we need to do is find a way of weakening them so that we won't be so hopelessly outclassed in a fight." It was a good point. Four on four was not good odds when one side was all ogres. Carek could not think of a better plan, but Tarok was grinning widely.

He took one more look over towards the huts, and then scanned the perimeter of the forest clearing. Then he turned to the group once more, and spoke. "I believe I might just have an idea."


WILDERNESS : Book 1 - The Forest Chapter 7 - Past Moments © Colin Frayn

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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